Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Fajitas and Margaritas!

Hey, you guys get two posts today! Since it's snowing like the end of times, we had a tropical vaca in the house tonight. We were not allowed to look at the snow or even talk about it. This was the best idea ever.

First we invited Jimmy Buffet. Because it's not a tropical party without him. We're still waiting for his response, but we pretended he was with us. (the weather is here, wish you were beautiful...)

Second, we mixed up the best margaritas ever. I even surprised myself. The secret is whole blood oranges. After a round or two of these, it makes it hard to prepare dinner. Really hard. Dinner was a bit lame. But at least the margaritas were good!

Third, we made fajitas. Nothing fancy here. Lots of bell peppers and red onions. And some sliced leftover pork and some chorizo. I would give you a recipe, but there are probably more exciting ones floating around internet land. My secret ingredient is Penzey's Spice Fajita Blend. Love it.

The Best Margaritas Ever.

1 cup Tequila (I used the gold stuff, because it's all we had)
1/2 cup Triple Sec (I used Cointreau, again, all we had)
1/4 cup lime juice
2 whole blood oranges, peels removed, quartered (look ma, we're eating fruit)

Blend everything, but ice until smooth. Add in ice and blend until no large chunks. Pour into margarita glasses, rimmed with salt.

Snowpocalypse! Catast-snow-phe! Snow-M-G! Snow-locaust! Snow-mageddon! Snowtastrophe!

It's snowing outside. Nothing new to us. Granted, some of my friends have been getting more snow than me (it was 50 on New Year's Eve), but we are used to the snow. But we're getting dumped on, which I love. I adore snow. Luckily, I already wasn't going to work today and I've had a nasty cold for a few days, so I had no plans today. It has been amazing so far.

The G-unit and I decided to go for a run, because I haven't since Friday... you know, being sick and all. I'm growing to love my snowy runs. Nobody else is out there, so we don't have to worry about looking silly and I don't need to hold G's leash. We had to stop and sniff the snow for any creatures hiding inside.
Then we really had to plan ourselves and really dig into the snow to be POSITIVE that there were no small creatures hiding inside.

I'm not sure how I'm ever going to add up the miles to reach my goal of a half mary this year with the way we have to stop ever couple of feat to sniff, but I wouldn't do it any other way.

After warming up again, I decided that like snow days of the days past, I should only have fun today. I decided to bake my FAVOURITE cookies. Trust me, these cookies will bring you to your knees in extacy. I have been making these for years and they are the ultimate cookie. Kind of like a garbage sink cookie, but better and more refined. I always make a double batch and freezer one batch of dough to make the next time I'm craving cookies, but am too lazy to actually prepare them. Next time you see her, thank Martha Stewart for this wonderful recipe!

Oatmeal Cherry Chocolate Toffee Cookies

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup light-brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups oatmeal
1 cup dried cherries
1 cup bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 cup toffee pieces, (5 1/2 ounces)
  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Sift together flour and baking soda, and set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugars on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl once or twice during mixing. Add egg, and mix on high speed to combine. Add vanilla extract; mix to combine. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
  2. Add the sifted flour a bit at a time on a low speed until well combined. Add oatmeal, cherries, chocolate, and toffee pieces; mix to combine.
  3. Divide dough into three equal portions, and roll into logs using plastic wrap, approximately 1 1/2 inches in diameter. (refrigerate the dough for at least thirty minutes for better slicing and baking.) To bake, cut logs into 3/4-inch pieces. Bake on parchment-lined baking sheets, until golden brown, 8 to 10 minutes  (I make mine fatter so they take closer to 15 minutes). Remove from oven, and transfer to a baking rack to cool.
These are delicious right out of the oven while the toffee is still gooey, but are also delicious any other way (even in dough form). I have made a world of substitutions with this recipe. For my non-chocolate friends (they do exist), I have used white chocolate (I don't care what the name implies, this is not chocolate). I have also used dried cranberries, for the cherries. Or if I'm feeling good, I throw in a ton of toffee bits and no cherries. Because, you know, when you're feeling good about yourself, you don't need to pretend that cookies are healthy. In fact, you feel perfectly content eating a stick of butter dipped in sugar. (But the best part is, when you are down on yourself, you crave the fat and sugar, but punch yourself in the face with each impure thought. So you eat celery by the pound and cry into it. Yum, salty-celery)

So with that thought, I'm going to be proud of myself and eat one dozen of these cookies while curled up under the blankets with my dog and a good book.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Lazy Days are Meant for Brownies

After the horrible Bears game yesterday, I decided to spend the day doing nothing. But I'm not good at doing nothing. I ran this morning with the G-Doggie. We had the path to ourselves, since most people are still afraid of the ice. (PS - how is it that I slip and fall on water droplets when walking, but can run on pure ice with no problems at all?) I have been doing some major laundry and catching up on tv online and now I've moved onto Jonah, a VeggieTales movie (I do LOVE the VeggieTales, almost to an obsessive level). But the best part of this day... I made BROWNIES!

I have this amazing brownie recipe that I have been making for years for every occasion possible, but a few years ago, I made it better. Starbucks introduced their VIA instant coffee stuff not too long ago. I bought some of the Italian Roast, since it's my fav coffee from there, to try and found out it tastes like CRAP, pure unadulterated crap. But I had all these leftover packets with no use for them. I talked to one of my favourite baking experts, my mom, and she suggested using it like instant espresso in any recipe. I struggled at first, but figured, my amazing brownies are so amazing already, why not make them better? I tinkered with the amounts, but seriously, love it. I bring to work all the time and they were dubbed Crack Brownies, since they are as addictive as crack. Bake at your own risk, because I will not be held responsible if you eat the entire tray.

Mocha Brownies with Peanut Butter Coffee Frosting
Aka Crack Brownies

¾ cup butter melted
4 packets Via Italian Roast
3 eggs
2 cup sugar
1 tbsp vanilla
1 ¼ cup flour
½ cup cocoa
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt

·         Preheat oven to 350, grease bottom and sides of 13x9 pan
·         Stir together butter and Via until well dissolved
·         Beat eggs, sugar, and vanilla with butter mixture until smooth
·         Sift together flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt
·         Slowly add dry ingredients to wet until well combined and smooth
·         Bake for about 25 minutes, let cool before frosting

1 stick butter, softened
½ cup creamy peanut butter
1 cup powdered sugar
1 packet Via Italian Roast

  • Mix butter and peanut butter until smooth
  • Add in Via, beat until well dissolved 
  • Slowly add powdered sugar until well combined and fluffy

Monday, January 17, 2011

If I were Oprah, everyone would get CHICKEN MEATBALLS

You read that right! I thing the world would be a better place if we all embraced chicken meatballs. Not literally embrace, that would be messy. I have my family and friends hooked on these nuggets of love. I can change up the recipe every time and they still turn out delicious. Why? Because they are chicken... and meatballs... duh.

So this is my latest version using whatever was in the pantry. I tend to over-shop some weeks and then just flat out refuse to shop other weeks. Some recipes are totally planned in advance with all the right ingredients and in the perfect amount. And, well, other recipes are me just throwing stuff in a bowl/pan and keeping my fingers crossed that they turn out amazingly. I took come notes for this one, because I could feel it in my bones that it would turn out great. I also encouraged some roommate help with the chopping and making of the balls, which always ensures a great recipe.

I served this over some whole wheat and flax linguine with some tomato sauce. I make huge batches of tomato sauce and stick it in the freezer. I also give it to friends and tell them to eat more. I may just be the Italian mother you always needed. It's tough, considering I'm not Italian.

Chicken Meatballs

1.5 lbs ground chicken (get the mixed, not just breast or white)
5 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup whole wheat bread crumbs
1 tbs worcestershire sauce
1 lemon zested
1/2 small onion, chopped finely
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup sun-dried tomatos, chopped (Try to find the ones NOT packed in oil. If you can't find those, rinse and dry the oily ones well.)
3 tbs dried Italian herb blend
salt and pepper to taste
Extra Virgin Olive Oil as needed 

  1. Preheat oven to 400*. Line a pan with parchment paper.
  2. Mix all the ingredients, except oil, together in a bowl.
  3. Drizzle in some oil, at least 2 tbs, more if needed to moisten the meat more.
  4. Shape mixture into balls, approx 1.5 inches in diameter and place on pan.
  5. Bake for 10-12 minutes, until golden and firm.
  6. Bon Appetit!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Bread that is not only delicious, but easy and versatile!

We all know I'm in love with my Irish heritage. If you don't here it is: I'M OBSESSED WITH BEING IRISH. Hopefully you get the picture. The food, music, BEER, culture, people, I love it all. One thing I love about Irish cuisine is that be it traditional or modern, it's relatively easy. So Sunday night, we had a bit of an Irish feast. And whenever we cook Irish food, we have to bake some Irish bread! I've been raised on a savory/sweet Irish soda bread filled with caraway seeds and raisins. This is not the traditional bread, but it's tradition in my family and supposedly tastes just like how my Great Grandma used to make it. And she's directly from Ireland, so it must be good.

There are what seems like millions of recipes for soda bread. It's easy to get lost in the mix, but I have found the easiest that also is versatile. You can switch it up a bit and make it savoury for dinner or sweet for a good afternoon snack with tea. No matter how I make it, one loaf lasts less than 24 hours and is a big request. I got it from Darina Allen's book Irish Traditional Cooking. If you have any interest in traditional Irish cooking, I highly suggest this book. But back to the bread. Like I said it is sooooo easy. Four ingredients. That's it. And you can easily switch it up as needed. I added cardamom, since that was a featured ingredient in my dinner, but I've done it sweet with cinnamon and then a simple egg wash on top with some sugar crystals. You can easily substitute in some whole wheat pastry flour (I do have a really good brown bread recipe like this) or add an egg in and just do a little less buttermilk or based on another recipe, I imagine stirring in a little honey would be good too. It's hard to mess this recipe up.

White Soda Bread
(adapted from Darina Allen)

4 cups flour
(1 tbls cardamom)s
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 - 1 3/4 cups buttermilk

1) Preheat oven to 450*.
2) Sieve dry ingredients into a bowl. Make a well in the centre. Pour most of the milk in at once. Using one hand, stir in a full circle to mix in the flour from the sides of the bowl, adding more buttermilk if neccessary. The dough should be softish, not too wet and sticky.
3) When it all comes together, turn it out on to a floured board and knead lightly for a second, just enough to tidy it up. (It honestly takes about two seconds to do this, don't overwork the dough.)
4) Pat the dough into a round about 2 inches deep and cut a cross on it to let the fairies out. Let the cuts go over the sides of the bread to make sure of this.
5) Bake for 15 minutes, then turn down the over to 400* for a further 20 to 30 minutes or until cooked. THe best way to check is to tap the bottom of the bread; it should sound hollow.
6) Cool on a wire rack and enjoy! (If you prefer a softer crust, wrap a clean tea towel around the bread as it cools.)

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Let me introduce myself!

I've been getting a lot of hits (and I mean A LOT), but almost nobody ever comments. It hurts my feelings, but luckily I don't rest my entire self-worth on this blog (just the majority). But I've been brainstorming ideas as to why I'm not feeling the love over here. I've been more interactive (ever notice the questions I've been adding to each post?). I'm trying to add pictures. I just went digital, so once I figure all that out, there will be pics! But I decided that, well, I've been posting and you've been reading for awhile and it's time we get to know each other!

I'm a 20-something female living in the suburbs of Chicago. I live with my completely adorable dog, Guinness. Guinness has a lot of health issues, so I actually make her food from scratch. What a spoilt girl she is!

Aside from that, I work a job that I don't care for and it is sucking the soul out of me. The only positive out of it is that I have made lots of wonderful friends and connections with people I probably would never interact with. In fact, after much debating, I purchased my camera off of someone who is a professional photographer.

I cook all the time and am applying to culinary school as we speak! I have other hobbies too. Like running. I have had arthritis in one knee for many years, stemming from an injury in 7th grade that never healed properly. After years of therapy, I am finally able to walk and swim and RUN. I love my cooking and eat multiple servings, which means I need to run. I just started getting into running as a sport, not just an exercise. I ran a few races last year (can you believe it? it's a new year already) and am planning on running at least one half next year. I'm also an avid photographer. As I stated earlier, I just bought my first digital camera. I got my first slr in 8th grade as a birthday present and I haven't looked back since. I still love film dearly, but I don't have a dark room and film developing costs a crap ton. So? DSLR it is!

What else is there to know about me? I'm an outdoorsy person and would be content to move to the top of a mountain and be happy. I sing songs to everything. That doesn't mean I CAN sing, it just means I live in a musical and I live it outside of my head. I'm extremely random and will just announce things off the top of my head without any warning. I own an extrememly large amount of movies and tv on dvd. I could watch those all the time. I read like crazy. I'm usually in the middle of two books. One is fiction and tends to travel with me wherever I go, which means I carry a very large bag as a purse. The second is usually "educational." I studied sociology in college and frequently immerse myself in sociological books or else it is about the science of weight loss, food, eating, etc. And if I decide I need a third book, it's usually an older classic. I have the complete works of Shakespeare, Poe, Plato, and so on. They are hand-me-downs from many generations ago. Some of them are falling apart, but I continue reading them.

Finally, I truely hate talking about myself. I wrote a lot hopping you guys realize that I'm not crazy. Well, I am crazy, but the good kind.

So, my dear readers, let me know what you think so far. What else would you like to see (besides pictures, which I swear are coming)? Am I that boring and should close this blog and never open it again? What was the highlight of YOUR day?

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Lazy Sundays with the G-Monster!

Happy New Year fellow bloggers! I'm so blessed to have another year to spend with my family and friends. I don't do resolutions. That's a lie. I don't do NEW YEAR'S resolutions. I do birthday ones instead. Last birthday resolution was to pick up a healthy hobby and get started towards my future career. A couple of 5ks and one blog later, I think I'm doing pretty well. We will check in on those come February.

Do you guys do resolutions? What are they? Any good foodie resolutions out there?

So today I'm spending the day doing minimal work. I've been in my pj's laying around in bed or on the couch with my dog, the G-Monster, or Guinness if you prefer her given name (or any sort of combination of "G" and other words, G-skillet, G-R Puff n Stuff or "Guinny" + nouns, GuinnyMonster, GuinnyPuppy). We've been pretty successful at this endevor so far. I did shower and we did take a brief walk around the park. But otherwise, we have really just laid and watched LOTR. So what does one make when they are being as lazy as I am? Leftovers? Take-Out? Delivery? No, one makes a full dinner, without a crockpot even!

My mom makes the best ribs. We like them juicy and so tender they fall off the bones. Deliciousness. The trick is to pick out some good ribs with enough fat to keep them moist, but not so much that they are crazy fatty after cooking. Chop the ribs up so that they are in chunks of around 2-3 bones. Next, we throw them in a pan with Italian salad dressing and cover them with foil and place in a 300* oven for as many hours as you can (we're looking at about 4 hours). Turn them occasionally. Then take off the foil cover and turn the temp up to 375. When they are looking perfect to your taste, throw on your favorite bbq sauce and bake for another 30 minutes or so. This whole process takes about 5 hours and your house will smell amazing the entire time.

On the side I decide to throw some quick cornbread together. I tried out a recipe for Sage and Honey Cornbread from The Parsley Thief. It was beyond amazing, even though I substituted dried for fresh (I warned you it was a lazy kind of day.) I also roasted up some sweet potatoes and sautéed some apples. Both took almost no time and no attention.

Sage and Honey Cornbread Recipe
(From the Parsley Thief)

1 cup cornmeal
1 cup flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons chopped fresh sage
1 cup whole milk (I substituted unflavoured hemp milk)
1/2 cup honey
1 large egg
1 stick unsalted butter {divided} (I tried a soy based butter substitute here)

  • Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place a 10" cast iron skillet into the oven & let it heat up while you prepare the cornbread batter {about 10 minutes}. 
  • In a mixing bowl, combine the cornmeal, flour, baking powder & salt, with a whisk. Add in the chopped sage & stir it in. In a separate mixing bowl, whisk the milk, honey & egg together. Melt 6 tablespoons of the butter in a small saucepan, or in the microwave & add it to the egg mixture, whisking while adding it so you don't "cook" the eggs. 
  • Remove the skillet from the oven. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter in the already piping hot skillet. Swirl the butter around, to coat the pan well. 
  • Pour the egg mixture into the bowl with the dry ingredients & stir until just combined. Do not overmix! It is okay to have lumps in the batter.
  • Pour the batter into the skillet & bake until the edges are browned & a tester inserted in the center comes out clean, about 15-20 minutes. Depending on how hot your skillet is, it may take even less time. So, keep an eye on it & try not to overcook it. Let it cool slightly, before inverting the pan onto a serving plate. Slice into wedges & serve.

Now I will continue on with my LOTR marathon with some beers. Maybe I will even sing along to some of those great hobbit drinking songs!

Oh, you can search far and wide
You can drink the whole town dry
But you'll never find a beer so brown
As the one we drink in our hometown

You can keep your fancy ales
You can drink 'em by the flagon
But the only brew for the brave and true
Comes from the Green Dragon
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