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Lunch Break!

24 Mar

I always envied people who would actually take their lunch break. They would go outside, take a walk around the block, eat their sandwich, maybe check Facebook, and go back to their desk. This seems nice and constructive and gives your brain a needed break.

I usually just eat mindlessly at my desk while reading random articles and scrolling through Facebook for the 4987th time. It’s not great. Nor is it really a break. My brain is mushy by lunch time, and even if I’m not focused on work, I’m still in “work mode.”

And then, quickly after my lunch is gone, maybe like an hour later, I do need a break. I need to like…get up and stretch, read a magazine, just anything to get away from my desk. So, I decided to actually start taking a lunch break.

So, I actually started making lunch. Brent always gets the leftovers for lunch (lucky) and if there are actually more left, I get the scraps. But a lot of the time, there are no scraps. I would eat frozen meals or weird soup from a plastic microwave bowl. You know the weird metal/plastic bowl that doesn’t seem allowed to go in the microwave? It was not very exciting or inspiring.

I’ve been trying to keep lettuce or spinach around, and some tortillas, so I can at least start from there. I made a pesto, spinach, and cheese quesadilla the other day that rocked my world. Thats really only 3 ingredients (4 if you count the butter i threw in the pan), and it was incredible. Why have I not been making lunch for myself this whole time?

Have you seen those crazy bento box lunches? I’m so into these. I want to get a bento box and fill it with amazing things and then take it somewhere. Look at those cute toothpicks and the organized little cups of food! Those interesting combinations and sections of food! Makes my sandwich/granola bar/fruit cup of the past pale in comparison (Don’t worry, mom, I still loved your lunches even though there weren’t any pizza lunchables or little debbie brownies…)When we were in Japan, there were whole aisles in the dollar store dedicated to bento boxes. Tiny cookie cutters to make flower shaped carrots, themed toothpicks and adorable little containers…So many accouterments. I could definitely get obsessed with packing school lunches.

Well, I think it’s obvious what I did on my lunch break. I wrote this and then looked at bento box lunches. Whoops. How do you make the most of your lunch break?

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Baking Up Some Sunshine (IPA Lemon Bars)

7 May

It’s been slowly turning into spring around these parts. It’s been raining and cloudy constantly, and the thermometer is barely hovering above 50-60 most days. That, plus wind and no sun means it is not warm.

We even tried to have a cook out and froze our butts off waiting for the food to cook and hurried inside to eat in warmth.

Ahh, Midwest seasons.

I’ve cooled off on baking super often, because Lord knows I don’t need a high volume of desserts in my house. But, I really felt like I needed some sunshine in my life, so I whipped up these bright, sweet and tangy lemon bars.

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I used a recipe that involves beer. I love using alcohol in recipes. Beer is in abundance in our fridge, and I chose to use the only IPA we had lying around. It was probably hoppier than I would have liked. If you are an IPA drinker, choose a beer that is citrusy and balanced and not super aggressively hopped. If you’re not, adding in a balanced, not super flavorful beer will probably still work just fine. Steer clear of anything dark or flavored, though, as this will probably alter the flavor of the classic lemon bar we have going on here. DSC04153

Don’t let this scare you away. I promise it’s not beer-y and really just lends another layer of flavor to the tasty lemon filling.

Speaking of the filling. This recipe has the perfect ratio of crust to filling. I think sometimes lemon bars are all crust or equally crust and filling. This one, my friends, is just the right amount crust. The crust is just a vehicle for the real star of the show.

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Both Brent and my brother declared them the best lemon bars they’ve ever had. Brent said he didn’t even really like lemon bars but loved these. Yay! They really are good.

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I actually own the cookbook the author of this recipe wrote. I have yet to make anything from it, but after making these I’m definitely diving into that sucker this weekend to see what other magic I can make.

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These are really pretty, too. Look at them! So bright and sunny.

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RECIPE: IPA Lemon Bars (16 servings)
Adapted slightly from this recipe.
Crust:

  • 1 c flour
  • 1/3 c powdered sugar
  • 6 Tbsp unsalted butter (cut into chunks)
  • pinch of salt

Method: Either blend all ingredients in a food processor until butter is cut into very small pieces and mixed throughout, or stir dry ingredients together and cut in butter with a pastry cutter, fork, or rubbing it in with your fingers. (I started out using a food processor but it wasn’t working for me for some reason, so ended up blending it all up with my fingers.) Mixture will be dry and crumbly. Press into 8×8 pan and chill 15 min.

Preheat oven to 350

Bake crust for 20-25 min. let cool (at least 15 min – you don’t want a hot crust when you pour in filling)

While crust is cooling, make filling.

Filling: 

  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 c sugar
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 2 tbsp corn starch
  • 1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup beer
  • extra powdered sugar for dusting (optional)

Wisk eggs and sugar together until smooth. Wisk in flour and corn starch until combined. Stir in beer and lemon juice until well combined.
Pour filling over cooled crust and bake 20-25 minutes or more until center is set. (I had to bake mine for 30 min). Let cool slightly before putting into fridge. Refrigerate 2-3 hours before cutting.

Enjoy!

For more tips on using beer in cooking or tons more beer and food recipes, check out The Beeroness!

 

My Week in Cooking

5 May

Wow, I just realized I didn’t post a single blog in April. That’s pathetic. I think it’s because I think I never have anything interesting to post. But now, I’m going to post whatever I feel like. So here’s my promise in digital ink: I’m going to post much more often. About whatever.

Today’s topic: cooking!

You know how people list hobbies or interests and it always sounds really cool and interesting? I always wish I was these people, with their novel writing or guitar playing. But Brent just pointed out to me recently that cooking and baking are my hobbies. I cook every day, so I didn’t really consider this a “hobby,” but it totally is. Because I love it.

When I tell people I cook every day, I usually get a side-eyed glance and a polite response, but I’m sure these people think I’m crazy. I admit, I’m lucky with my job and schedule because it leaves me a lot of time to cook, since I don’t commute and my hours are flexible.

I’ve always enjoyed cooking, but ever since I graduated college and got married, it really has become part of my life.

In college, I’d whip up a batch of chocolate chip cookies or make some tacos, but cooking wasn’t my priority (obviously). I’d boil some pasta and cook up some chicken and call it a home cooked meal. Which, it is, but isn’t exactly gourmet.

As I got more time, I started to cook a lot more for people. My roommates and I would collaborate on a meal every so often, sometimes slaving away over a miniature stove (seriously, who puts in a half-sized oven in an apartment!?) with all the windows open and fans blasting in our 1930s, non-air-conditioned apartment building.

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Hey, it’s me in my college apartment kitchen! Notice the total lack of counter space and that stupid tiny stove in the background. I don’t miss that.

But once I had someone to cook for every day, I really got into it. Sharing the food I make is the best part about making food. I love scouring my magazines and cookbooks for interesting ideas, and my my food pinterest boards are totally full of recipes. I love hearing Brent’s approval as he scarfs down my latest creation. It’s one of th best parts of my day, too.

My meal prep actually begins on Sunday. I sit down with my cookbooks and pinterest and comb through recipes for the week. I ask Brent what he’s craving (which is almost always fish or “meat”) and start making a list.
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(Check out my funky new vegetarian cookbook! I picked it up at a garage sale this weekend, and it’s pretty great.)

I plan out what I want to make each day of the week (except for the weekends), and make my grocery list accordingly. This allows me to have everything I need on hand throughout the week, helping me avoid the last minute grocery store run. Admittedly, though, I still end up going back for something.

This approach to cooking also helps us eat healthy all week. Because I plan for it, we rarely play the “what are we having for dinner” game and cave into pizza or Chinese food delivery.
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The menu this week! I’m particularly excited for the broccoli casserole, which I found in a vintage 1960s copy of a Better Homes and Gardens cookbook. There’s cream cheese and bleu cheese involved…yum!

More to come soon! Happy Monday, all.

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday Brunch Day (My newfound love)

3 Mar

Sundays are now officially my favorite day of the week.

I feel like most people don’t like Sundays. They’re like pre-Mondays, right? I used to feel that way. I used to just feel the time crunch bearing down on me…”Monday is coming! Are you ready for 5 strait days of work?” (that was Sunday talking to me.)

But now, it’s my favorite. I work Mon-Sat right now, so Sundays are my only days completely “off” work. They’re lazy. They’re fun. I usually do really mundane things, but it’s entirely enjoyable.

And recently, I’ve been really in to making us a delicious breakfast in the mornings. Our weekday breakfasts are usually just yogurt or a granola bar ( boring) and Sundays give me those extra hours to create something really delicious, most often involving bacon.
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This Sunday I pulled out all the stops. My dear friend Becky joined us for brunch and we had a very lovely time! Brent whipped us up some breakfast cocktails and I made tiny baby donuts. They are an almond donut with a cherry glaze, although the glaze definitely left something to be desired (very powdered-sugary) so I will be tweaking that one. but they’re so adorable.

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I also made an amazing Middle Eastern egg dish called shashuka, which is eggs poached in a spicy tomato sauce eaten with pita. I forgot to take pictures because I was too hungry. I’m making that again for sure. I followed Deb’s take on this dish over at Smitten Kitchen, so head over there for that recipe.

Anyways, my point is that I wish every day could be like Sundays. Just taking my time in the morning, enjoying my coffee and whipping up a super tasty breakfast for people. I’ll be waiting all week for this Sunday morning – I’m thinking some breakfast tostadas are in order!

Winter Does Eventually End (Maybe)

25 Feb

The older I get, the more I resent winter.
January, February, and March taunt me with bitter cold. We’re on the cusp of another polar cold snap and I’m just so sick of it. When will it end!?

I’m slogging through the rest of winter one day at a time. Brent was making fun of me because I have all these plans for “after winter.”  Everything I want to do is for spring and summer. That’s where my whole focus is. But you know, at least I have something to look forward to! I have so many plans.

We signed up for a CSA box (community supported agriculture) so a local farm will pack up a box of fresh produce every week from June-Nov. I am so excited for this! Not only do I not have to fight the crowds at the farmers market, I can support my community’s farmers directly and they’re guaranteed money upfront, and I’m guaranteed yummy veggies. If you’re in the Madison area, check out this link and pick a farm!
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Remember those days? The days that were warm and plants grew out of the ground!

I’m also really looking forward to doing THINGS. I feel like winter puts a stop to activities (which isn’t true…) but things are just more fun when done outside. Camping, biking, ice cream, grilling…you know, the works. There’s an outdoor Shakespeare theatre putting on my favorite play ever (Romeo and Juliet) that I’m hoping we can snag tickets to, and concerts on the square which allows us to drink outside in public…who doesn’t want that?!

With our Mexico trip only a couple weeks away, and the weather heating up in March (well, maybe…sometimes it snows in March and April but fingers crossed) I know I don’t have much farther to go. Mexico will be an absolute dream – I’ve stocked up on new swimsuits and sunglasses and plan on totally soaking in all the sunshine I can…under an umbrella of course!
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Hi, Mexico…I’m coming back for you.  I missed you.

So for now, I’m just doing things that make me happy and keep my spirits up. Today I accomplished this by baking up my favorite peanut butter sesame breakfast bars. I used to make these on hung-over Saturday mornings when friends had stayed over. They gave everyone a reason to get up and gave us a bit of a boost. They’re nutty and sweet, and absolutely the easiest. You can whip these up in about 10 minutes and throw them in the oven, and most likely you have everything on hand.

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You can choose to adapt this recipe, especially if you’re out of ingredients. For the cereal part, I use any puffed or small crunchy cereal we happen to have in our pantry. Don’t like peanut butter? Use almond butter. Don’t’ have sesame seeds? throw in the equivalent of another crushed nut. The honey, though, is a must – but you can halve the amount and add in a mashed banana for flavor without that added sugar. These will definitely put a little sunshine in your day.

Find the recipe here.

 

Easy Food for Hungry People (Or, being a “good” host)

11 Dec

I don’t really need to point out that it’s officially the holiday season. This year they’re kind of in a big jumble together. I’ve been anxious for my Christmas “vacation” ever since my 4-day Thanksgiving weekend!

I’ve also been stuffed full since then. But, there’s so much more eating and entertaining ahead of us.
Look – I made these!

Gingerbread Marshmallows

Gingerbread Marshmallows

Anyways-
Holidays in our family mean lots of pop-in visitors – usually one of my mom’s sisters – just dropping by to chat and drink coffee ( or cocktails, depending on the time of day!) Having “unexpected” guests can be frustrating for the unprepared, pajama-clad hosts who didn’t have time to really rustle anything up to feed their visitors.

At least, that’s what happens at my mom and dad’s house. Everyone ends up grazing and picking through the cupboards and refrigerator. Leftover turkey here, some christmas cookies there…not the best strategy for either party. Even if you’re a twenty-something living on your own, I can guarantee people are either coming over or you’re being the guest yourself. Either way, you’re gonna need something to offer. That’s where this cake comes in!
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It’s simple, strait forward, lightly sweetened and pretty difficult to mess up. It utilizes the produce star of winter – citrus – and makes use of holiday flavors without being obvious. It could be a breakfast treat or an afternoon snack. Regardless if you’re the host or the guest, this is a great cake to have around.
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What do you like to have on hand for guests? Do you bring a “hostess gift” when you go holiday visiting?

Orange Cardamom Olive Oil Cake 
(inspired by this recipe)

  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Zest of one orange (about  1 tablespoon) A few tablespoons orange juice (I squeezed half an orange into the batter)
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon  cardamom

Set oven to 350 degrees and grease a round cake pan (I used a 9 inch). Beat eggs and sugar together until thick and fluffy, about 2 minutes on high. Stream in olive oil while mixer is on (medium) until oil is incorporated. Mix in vanilla and orange zest, along with the orange juice. Whisk all your dry ingredients together in a separate bowl, and with the mixer on, slowly incorporate into wet ingredients until uniform. Pour into prepared pan and bake for 30-35 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean from middle.

Let cake cool in pan for a few minutes before turning out on wire rack to cool completely. While cake is cooling, make the glaze

  • 1 to 1 ½ c. powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cardamom
  • 1  teaspoon orange zest
  • 4-5 tablespoons fresh orange juice (I squeezed in the other half of the orange, but you might need a bit more. you can always thin out a little water.)
    Mix all ingredients together, until glaze is thick enough to coat your spoon. Wait until cake is cool before pouring glaze on top of cake. This can be very messy, so I usually slide some parchment paper under the edges of the cake to catch drips. Let glaze dry and harden before slicing. Garnish with some leftover orange slices, if that suits your fancy.
  • {I actually did almost totally screw up this cake. I put it in the oven, looked up and saw the cup full of olive oil I never actually put in the batter, and had a bit of a panicked moment. So, your cake will probably turn out better than mine if you actually follow the directions…}

Childhood Favorites: Peanut butter and apples

15 Oct

We still have too many apples.

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But, that’s really okay with me. It’s an easy, healthy snack, but maybe I’ve had enough apple treats. I might post one or two more (like that promised apple crisp recipe!) but, this might be the last for a week or two.

Lately, I’ve been indulging in one of my absolute all time favorite snacks: apple slices and peanut butter. Even for a light lunch, this combo is perfect. You get a serving of fruit, a little healthy fat, and some protein in a delicious bite. I could eat this every day.

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Even Rocky wants an apple snack

The other day it occurred to me that I’ve never once in my whole 23 years had a peanut butter apple dessert. Why has this tragedy befallen me?! It’s one of those quintessential flavor combinations, and it’s so obvious.

So, I searched high and low (or, a pinterest search) for a recipe that looked right. All I could find was recipes with caramel. Not that there’s anything wrong with apples and caramel, but it’s a bit overplayed, isn’t it? The recipe I based my bars on is full of way too many flavors (peanut butter, white chocolate, and caramel) that I cut it way back, scaling it to fit my needs.

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The results are just magical. My lovely Holly said, “This is the best thing I’ve ever eaten. I’m being serious.” Although, we tend to wax hyperbolic, but the sentiment remains: these babies are for real. I love that it this is a very simple and straitforward recipe, full of nostalgia. And sugar.

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And even better, you probably have all the ingredients on had (minus the cinnamon chips!) and they’re so easy to throw together. Try not to just eat the whole bowl of batter with a spoon: eggless recipes are dangerous for that reason!

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Peanut Butter Apple Bars (inspired by this recipe from Averie Cooks) 

  • ½ cup applesauce
  • ½  to ¾ cup peanut butter
  • ¼ cup butter, softened
  • 2 cup oats (old fashioned, preferably, otherwise they’ll get too mushy)
  • 1 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 – 1/2 cup apples, diced & peeled
  • 3/4 to 1 cup cinnamon chips

Directions: Set oven at 350 degrees. Combine applesauce, peanut butter, and butter in a large mixing bowl and stir to combine them, heating up the peanut butter slightly if you keep yours in the fridge. Stir in vanilla and sugar until well combined, and then fold in the oats and cinnamon chips. Fold in apples.  Spread into a foil or parchment lined and sprayed 8 x 8 or 9 x 9 pan.  Bake for 30 minutes. They will be bubbly upon taking out of oven, but will continue to bake up as they cool.

Allow bars to to cool very well before slicing, as they are super gooey.  Put them in the freezer for about 20 minutes if you’re impatient like me. Store in the fridge so they stay nice and firm.

Notes:

I used cinnamon chips because it sounded fun and a great accompaniment to the flavors here. If you like, you can use any flavor chip, adding in sprinkle of cinnamon if you desire.