Thursday, July 30, 2009

Anything But...

I thought I was somewhat adventurous in the kitchen. Show me a delicious-sounding new recipe (with the ingredients in my pantry to boot - oooh-wee!) and sure, I'll try it (in these cases, it helps to gather any and all willing eaters).

So with that bold statement proclaimed, how does it figure that (without having done any fancy calculations), I'm fairly confident that the number one most frequently baked item in this house is (boooring) bar cookies. You know it's bad when even in the heat of the summer (did I mention that we just turned our A/C on 3 days ago?!?), I'm still willing to work in the kitchen... all for some (more) bar cookies.

To give me some credit you might think - "surely these are at least dotted with some gorgeous market-fresh berries... give me something to work with here". But... nope. Not even that. Quite the glowing endorsement, don't you think? (although I must add we've been doing our fair share of dabbling with those fresh fruits and vegetables - and I have at least one to share that you can.not.miss)

So I'll accept the yawn and obvious eye-roll - I know I deserve it but don't hold it against this recipe. It was anything but just another bar cookie recipe. If anything's worth sweating over in 90-degree (and then some) heat, it's peanuts and chocolate.

Bon Appetit's Chocolate Chip and Peanut Blondies

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Pucker Up!

Here I go at an attempt to "make lemonade out of lemons"... also known as really not that bad of a situation(s) - just one that deserves some "lemonading"... or if nothing else, something at least crack-half-a-smile humorous (pity laugh, anyone?).

Aren't these pretty flowers?! I agree. So how can I even pretend that there's something wrong with this picture... when could getting flowers ever be something to complain about?

Let my sob (err... not at all, really, our life is actually relatively full of proverbial flowers, just not any of the zinnia-variety) story begin... you see, we were supposed to have said gorgeous flowers growing in just the spot in our yard this year; they would have added a much needed pop of amazing color, not to mention hours (days, even!) of happiness as cut flowers in casual vases around our house. Instead, however, after two failed attempts at growing these supposedly fool-proof seeds in the aforementioned bed, I moved my efforts to some pots and managed to grow (what are now) "zinnia seedlings". As we speak, I am (still... yes, I know it's much too late and there's no chance my weak, leafy stems are going to grow into these beauties) waiting (hoping... praying!!) for our inadequate stalks to make good on their promises because I refuse to give up - a lesson in persistence (even if naive)!

Thanks to a visitor last weekend, I got my first (please oh please... not last - grow seedlings, grow!) taste of these flowers - and now, as I (purposefully) walk by the flowers numerous times, I have no doubt that were just meant to grow in our garden
(I mean the color!!!! - could they be more perfect for someone so color-obsessed?!?).

Lemon: inability to grow my own zinnias; Lemonade: generous friend bringing me a most glorious bouquet to tide me over until my own flowers pop (they've just got to - I know it).

As if that weren't bad enough (cough cough... I assume you're either heartily laughing now or have moved on)... it's seemingly unfair to pair these color-free (sounds so much kinder than 'colorless') but timeless and unique plates with those balls of color.

Know, however, that while an effort was made to add some color to these plates, it won't get a mention here (Lemon!) but I couldn't pass up the chance to show you what I think are my new (to me - they were in the family, another reason I love them!) favorite appetizer/salad/dessert plates.

Lest I be misunderstood, this isn't about me whining - no complaints here, life really is pretty good. Just a reminder that even when you can't (read: fail miserably 3 times) grow your own beautiful cut flower garden and you serve a cake so sour even the most polite company can't stomach a petite piece, there are always friends who'll bring you flowers and pretty plates on which to serve cake, on another day.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

It's a Secret

This is such a teaser I almost didn't write about it but then I thought "they deserve to know, if nothing else!"

Huh? I'm rambling incoherently again.

So out with it, already: I can't divulge the recipe for what you see here. I've been sworn to secrecy and I'm stickin' to it. This is only one of two recipes that I can not and will not share - awful, isn't it? Everyone who hates secret recipes, stand up now (count me in).

After my first taste of one of these little delights (only one, yeah right!), I just knew that even if I couldn't share the exact recipe with you, I owed you an introduction. If you should ever... ever... EVER come across some little snacks masquerading as "run of the mill Utz Special pretzels" (exhibit A)... do not make the same mistake that I almost did on one fun and beautiful (but dark - that's my excuse - I couldn't see the tastiness exuding from the bowl of pretzels!!!) evening. I owe it all to Chris who knew better and dove in with reckless abandon to discover the miracle that these pretzels are (alas - using their 'everyday' name just doesn't come remotely close to doing them justice).

Because I can't stand the thought of leaving you completely stranded, as a inadequate substitution, I offer you this:

  • I can and will make them for you, c'mon over!
  • Should you come across beautiful salty snacks with bits of ranch-like seasoning scattered about (perhaps even baked in), don't miss them like I almost did - and then beg and plead whomever made them for you (unless it's me - see above) to give you the recipe (and share it all over the internet to make up for people like me)

Friday, July 24, 2009

Off on a Tangent

It just feels right to start a Friday with something light... and fun... and yes, even completely irrelevant (not to mention unrelated to each other). And seeing as how I'll be doing enough cooking and baking tonight and tomorrow for the both of us, I plan on staying food-free here.

Sidenote: The term "food-free" is catchy, yes? Perhaps a new diet-craze about to take over the world.

**Amber, please don't kill me for posting this picture. I really like it (not to mention, you look great)!!

This is what Fridays are for... dreaming about beautiful sunsets on the lake, roasting s'mores on a mild summer night, and then some...

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


I'm passionate about a few things (okay, perhaps more than a few), although, don't look up the definition of passion (goodness knows I'm not a 'by-the-dictionary' type); in this case, I'm just talking about my (yawn-inducing) usual excitement over something pretty, delicious, or on sale (don't worry, not another another introspective list). Lucky for all of us, only a very select few of those items will have you staring danger in the face should you find yourself standing in the unfortunate position between yours truly and said passion-evoking 'thing'.

So you are adequately warned - be wary of the following:

- a great sale (i.e. $1/lb strawberries or $1.25/pint blueberries) on otherwise usually not inexpensive items like summer's best berries

- dessert (in general... hey, I'm not picky!)

- a dessert that's unfairly easy to make (and almost easier, if it's possible, to make extra portions to freeze for later) and even more gorgeous to look at

- a fruit dessert, warm from the oven (I'm not above pointing out the rather obvious theme here...)

- a fruit dessert, warm from the oven with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top

Blueberry Crisp
Adapted from Martha

6 c blueberries
1/4 c sugar
1/4 c light brown sugar
1 TBSP cornstarch
1 tsp lemon juice
1/4 tsp salt

3/4 c flour
1/2 c rolled oats
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp coarse salt
6 TBSP butter, softened
1/3 c sugar

vanilla ice cream

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Make filling (can be made ahead): mix blueberries, sugars, cornstarch, lemon juice and salt in a bowl. Lightly coat 4-5 ramekins with cooking spray and divide berry filling evenly among ramekins.

In a separate bowl, stir together flour, oats, baking powder, and salt. Cream butter and sugar in a mixer until pale and fluffy. Stir dry ingredients into butter. Using your hands, squeeze topping pieces together into clumps.

Sprinkle topping evenly over filling. Bake until bubbling in center and brown on top, about 35-40 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool for 20 minutes before serving. Top with a scoop (or two) of vanilla ice cream immediately before serving.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

What a Difference a Day Makes

A little Hump Day Before and After for your viewing pleasure...

Before: On the left is our adorable hound at any given point in her life up until this past Saturday morning when...

After: She was treated to a day at the 'spa' (yeah right - it was PetSmart). Note to self - the #7 shave is WAAAAAY too short for our cute long-haired dachshund.

"Did someone throw a pine cone??"

All signs indicate she has taken this 'set-back' in stride and is perhaps even enjoying her new "summer 'do"!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Just a List

I live and die by lists - I'm one of those people who has lists of her lists. I would imagine quite a few of you can relate.

I should add, too, that I'm usually a pretty organized "lister" - but this one is beyond me; it started just as a list of things I like to do - morphed into a list of things that I want to (learn to) do or see or places I want to go... and in the end, turns out that it doesn't really have a theme, or even a common thread, except that all these items came out of my head.

And with that illustrious introduction, I present the list - the pesky one constantly swirling around in my head, moving so quickly I actually haven't had a chance to put it on paper.

So proceed at your own risk...

- Learn to write better: there are so many people out there (helllooooooo, out there!) who clearly have the gift of writing, and then there are folks like me (hi, me!) who struggle - but we like it, darn it - so I keep chugging along, and you kind souls read (some of) it

- Learn to sew: I took a step towards this one Sunday and actually made a strap cover using my little sewing machine and all; didn't exactly "finish the stitch" so it may very well have already unraveled itself

- Learn more about and become better at photography: preferably in exotic locales (or I could settle for just great pictures of friends and family); it's hard not to be motivated by all the great photographers here on the interwebs

- Develop my style: don't even know what to say here except I have no clue how to pick out clothes for myself, don't even get me started on make-up, starting to find my way around our house and know when I like or dislike something, but I've got a looonnnnggg way to go

- Learn to prioritize: this is a doozie- after all, I'm sitting here writing this instead of doing... well, that's a whole different list (one that made it to paper)

- Need to satisfy my now 6-month long craving for travel: this time last year we were booking our trip to Eastern Europe, and just recently, friends just came back from London and Paris so I've officially got the itch - but where to go, and for how long and ugh... priorities, right?

- And, one for this week, I want to make some more of Susan's Peanut Butter-Banana and Chocolate Chip muffins - not just because they were amazing but because I honest-to-goodness need something to deliver to some friends and neighbors and I'm pretty sure these are just the thing (even though, of course - I have a list of baked goods that I still want to make and share) *I made these using some of Susan's healthified suggestions - Smart Balance instead of butter and egg whites instead of whole egg and I'd do it again exactly the same

Lists could be my demise - but most of the time, they are this girl's best friend... especially when they contain a recipe for insanely delicious muffins.

What's on your list? Or for that matter, make a list and send it to me - misery loves company, after all...

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

A Real Boost

I like to sing but only when no one's listening. Do you know anyone like me? It's not really about the singing - but someone who is full of energy and confident of themselves when it's well, just them, but the second there are others around (hey, where'd you come from?!), it's all apologies so heavy you can see any confidence that had been there quickly draining away. I'll sing to my heart's content by myself but wouldn't be caught dead doing so in a room full of people (trust me, this is a good thing); insert the word "cook" in that same sentence, and that's how I feel about cooking and entertaining around 99% of the time.

"So you're saying there's a chance" (hope I quoted that correctly - I inherited the innate ability to misquote everything from my mother-so-dearest)

Enter this dish - it lives in that minuscule but crucial 1%. If you're at our house and I serve you something not showered with numerous comments on how I coulda-woulda-shoulda... you'll probably be about to dig into this Grilled Chicken and Strawberry Spinach Salad.

Grilled Chicken and Strawberry Spinach Salad

Marinated grilled chicken (see recipe below)
one large bunch of fresh spinach
1 pint fresh strawberries, washed and thinly sliced
Mrs. Barbin's dressing (see below)
crumbled blue cheese
mixed nuts (optional)

Marinated Grilled Chicken
3/8 c packed brown sugar
1/4 c olive oil
1/4 c apple cider vinegar
2 1/4 garlic cloves, crushed
2 1/4 TBSP Dijon mustard
2 1/4 TBSP lemon juice
1 1/8 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
4 chicken breast halves

Mix first 8 ingredients together in sealable container and add chicken breast halves. Let the chicken marinate for at an hour or more. Grill chicken until done basting with remaining marinade. Off the grill, let the chicken breasts rest briefly before slicing on the bias.

Mrs. Barbin's Dressing
6 TBSP red wine vinegar
6 TBSP sugar
1/2 c vegetable oil
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp pepper

Mix all ingredients together, whisking to thoroughly combine. Can make ahead and store in refrigerator; let come to room temperature for about 15 minutes and shake vigorously before serving.

Wash spinach and separate into equal portions on each of 4 entree-sized bowls or plates. Top with 1/4 of the sliced strawberries, grilled chicken, some blue cheese crumbles and the mixed nuts. Dress the salad and toss to evenly coat.

Sure, some might say that strawberry season is drawing to a close, but I plan on doing everything possible to make it last
(and not just because it's been one of my favorites). And after trying this salad, I'm confident that you'll be joining me in the effort.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Sweet Land of Liberty

However you choose to show it... let freedom ring, today and always.

God bless America! God bless those who have served, serve today and will serve tomorrow! Let us never take their sacrifices to make this country the "land of the free" for granted.

And just in case these images of red, white and blue don't do it for you, read this.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Not Worth Resisting

It was part of me well before I even knew enough to resist it. How's that for a disclaimer?

On an infrequent but regular basis throughout my childhood, my brother and I would arrive home from school to a rather large, meticulously packed, corrugated box (you don't dare utter "cardboard" growing up with a father in the "box business"). Between the two of us, this was cause for immediate excitement; on the other hand, the only indication we had that my mom had even noticed the box was that along with her usual scurrying about, we'd hear an occasional "oh mom!" muttered. It wasn't hard to detect that those words commemorated another one (or more!) of Granny's great "finds".

And while the contents of those boxes certainly aren't the foundation for my love of all things 'culinary', nor did they amount to much interest from my parents, they held (lbs and lbs of) treasures in the eyes of my brother and me; within the walls of that sturdy corrugated box held everything that my mom would never dream of buying us (that's what Grannys are for, after all!). Package after package of Oreos (sometimes Double-Stuffed!), ramen noodles (to go with the hundreds of won tons Granny and I had made and frozen earlier in the year), cheese crackers, granola bars, fruit snacks, and an endless supply of gum; you didn't get between Granny and her "clear the shelves" deals.

I've never resisted this (in fact, I happily embrace it), but I share more with my granny than just a middle name (er... well, first name - long story there). Put yourself in my shoes - pints of deliciously red strawberries greeting me at the entrance of our market for $1! Knowing that price was too good to be true... I bought every last remaining one. The only thing is - strawberries aren't so 'mailable', though I dare to say they'd have been better received than the piles of pre-packaged and processed foods Granny used to lovingly stockpile for us. But this being summertime, I had more than enough easily accessible strawberry recipes at my disposal - so I wasted no time.

Strawberry frozen yogurt it was. And I mean "was" because it's gone. If my memory serves me correctly, this lasted approximately 48 hours in our house of two. Granny would be so proud - both of the deal I snagged and the fact that I turned it into ice cream - the 'food group' I am quite certain she would have been content to eat for the rest of her days.

Make some now so it can disappear in your house too.

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