Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Raspberry Oatmeal Smoothie

Raspberry Oatmeal Smoothie

Written last night:

Today, I totally washed a (clean) diaper unknowingly with the clothes in my washing machine. This is the worst possible thing to happen to a busy Mom. Have you ever done this? It's happened to me at least twice before and each time the clean-up is grosser than the last! Then, when I went to make dinner, I opened a brand new quinoa bag only to have it spill all over my floor. Clean-up was a nightmare with the dust-buster trying to get every last grain under the mats, under the island, etc. On top of it all, my kid (Olivia) got into the dog's food and water four times today. Four. Clean-up on that was in the realms of spectacular. You could say, it's been a day. On the upside, I quite possibly drank my weight in smoothies and vegetable juices today. Do you know how much juice one would have to consume to do this? A lot.

Raspberry Oatmeal

For starters: I had a green apple, kiwi, almond milk, blueberry and orange smoothie for breakfast.

Then I made a berry-spinach smoothie for lunch (raspberry and blueberry, orange, banana, spinach and water)

Berry-Spinach Smoothie

Next, because I did only have fruit and vegetables for lunch, I decided to make the raspberry oatmeal smoothie to share with my son (raspberries, oatmeal, coconut water, banana, plain yogurt). I put his portion in the fridge for when he woke up from nap.

Raspberry Smoothie

Then, my sweet husband was nice enough to bring me home a fresh vegetable juice from the Bamboo Market. A cucumber, lemon, and kale juice to be exact. It was delicious and I recommend this combo highly.


I am also currently drinking green tea. Bonus points! I didn't plan this. It was all very co-incidental, but I guess you could say after a day like today... girlfriend has some major cleaning-up going on, on the inside too.

I really liked this smoothie because the idea of being able to have oatmeal without actually cooking it first is appealing in itself. But then you add raspberries to it, which is one of my favorite fruits, banana for sweetness, some creamy tang from the protein packed Greek yogurt, then a little coconut water to round it all out and, lands alive, it was good! The original recipe calls for a tablespoon of honey but I opted to leave it out. It doesn't need it, and I'm all for leaving out sugar when it's not necessary.

The color of this smoothie is so beautiful, I almost didn't want to drink it. Blend this up in two minutes flat and grab it as you're walking out the door for a super easy and filling no-cook breakfast on the go. Preferably before something or someone gets into the dog food.

Raspberry Oatmeal Smoothie

Raspberry-Oatmeal Smoothie
adapted from Martha Stewart
makes 1 large smoothie

1 cup ice
1/2 cup heaping raspberries (I use closer to 3/4 cup)
1/4 cup plain non-fat Greek yogurt
1 small banana
1/2 cup old fashioned rolled oats (not instant)
1 cup coconut water (or another liquid such as almond milk or plain water)

Place ice and raspberries in the bottom of the blender and add the rest of the ingredients on top. Whir until completely smooth and serve.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Clean Eating 4-Bean Chili

Clean Eating Chili

Everyone have a good weekend? Mine was pretty busy in general but come Sunday I had the day to make dough and sauce for homemade pizzas, which made the perfect food for Red Carpet watching for the Oscars. Cameron Diaz, Natalie Portman and Gwyneth Paltrow looked stunning, didn't they? I also really liked Penelope Cruz's dress, although I'm not quite sure how she will fare with the Fashion Police. Who was your favorite? The best part was sometime between cooking the sauce and assembling the pizzas, I made chocolate chip cookies which were served warm, right after Billy Crystals opening number. Enough Academy Awards talk, let me tell you about this great, new vegetarian chili recipe I happened upon.

Katie from Keep Calm and Carry On profiled this recipe a couple weeks ago on her blog. If you don't know who she is, you should head on over there and introduce yourself. Then, you should click the follow button so you can stay caught up. She posts about fashion, food, beauty, fitness, and her everyday life. If Katie says this recipe is good, I'm apt to trust her.

I do have a favorite chili recipe, but when you like it as much as I do, it's good to have different options. Vegetarian chili can be bland and boring so I'm always glad to come across a recipe full of flavor. Plus, this recipe calls for a can of chili beans in sauce. Anything made with that is going to be a shoe in with the taste department. In fact, after making this, I decided it would be better if there were two cans. I found an organic brand of beans in chili sauce that I was okay with ingredient wise. If you are concerned, you can always substitute for more kidney beans in it's place. This is a tame chili, so if you prefer your with a little kick and were to add, say, a jalapeno to the mix, wonderful things could happen. I'm just saying.

Clean Eating Chili

Also, I found the quantities called for in the recipe below to be a bit scant. One batch fed our family of five, but there were no leftovers and I couldn't help but notice my crock pot was less full than normal. I'll write the recipe below exactly how I made it (adding in the additional can of chili beans) but If you have a family of six or more (or like leftovers), I'd suggest adding another can of diced tomatoes and one to two more cans of beans and keeping all the other quantities the same. Those changes should feed at least eight, which is more like other chili recipes I've seen. Also, this chili is a bit saucier than it looks in the photo. This is my husbands bowl and he likes to drain the sauce out so he is left with a big bowl of beans which can be easily scooped with a chip.

Clean Eating 4 Bean Chili
adapted from The Gracious Pantry

5 cloves garlic, chopped fine
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
3/4 cup carrots, chopped
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 (15 oz) can diced tomatoes, no salt added
1 (15 oz) can diced tomatoes with green chilies (or rotel)
1 (15 oz) can black beans
1 (15 oz) can pinto beans
1 (15 oz) can kidney beans
1 (15 oz) can chili beans in sauce ( I used organic)
2 tsp. ground cumin
1 tbsp. chili powder
3 cups vegetable broth

Optional: add 1 more can each of chili beans and diced tomato to make it stretch farther. Add a diced jalapeno if you like more kick.


1. Saute the carrots, onions, and garlic in the olive oil using a medium sized soup pot
2. Add all other ingredients and stir to combine.
3. Bring to a boil. Allow to boil for approximately 10-15 mins and remove from heat.
4. Allow to cool and serve.

With chili, it's all about the toppings. Make sure you have your favorites on hand. I like finely diced red onion and cilantro. If I'm splurging, shredded cheddar or sour cream is a must as well. My family also likes to have crunchy corn chips for scooping, but no one complains if I've made cornbread instead.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Warm Bean Dip

Bean dip

I made this here dip for the Super Bowl. Being that I hold the title of "food blogger" I should have made this in advance so I could have blogged about it prior to the big game, thus giving you all the chance to partake as well. Here's my confession:

I did.

I made this for the first time in mid-December for a par-tay at the bouncy house thing down the street. I thought I was so clever picking something that I could take pictures of in advance and try out for the Super Bowl. Warm bean dip was the perfect recipe for both occasions. Two birds, one stone, so to speak. Then, like a fool, I waited too late to make my dip and by the time it twas done it was much too dark in my kitchen for any glamour shots. You see, I have zero lighting equipment. You should see my attempts to get good food shots sometimes. It's rather hilarious. Me hunched over my camera, clicking dials like crazy, turning that damn flash off for the hundredth time, usually one hand trying to click while the other pours syrup or sauce over the food, all the while making sure my focus is good, steadying my hand, and making sure it's not too blurry. It's ridiculous at times and it doesn't always work out.

Bean Dip

And this particular night, it definitely didn't work out. And I wasn't even trying to pour anything. So now, you get it late. Sorry. Luckily, this one is a crowd pleaser and good for much more than just the Super Bowl. Any party or gathering is a welcome occasion for bean dip. May I suggest serving it at the party you might throw for The Bachelor finale? One, because it's the finale. And two, because who's not excited to see Ben pick Courtney and then find out they have broken up on After The Final Rose because that woman is a cah-razy, manipulative tool. Don't worry, I'm not spoiling anything. It's just my personal hope.

Disclaimer: I haven't seen hometowns yet, so If he already sent her home then just scratch that last statement.

Mostly, I haven't seen it because we had people over on Monday night so I missed it. I was supposed to catch it the next day on Hulu, but my afternoons have looked something like this as of late:

Hunger Games

I did have the foresight to snap a picture of my new favorite nail polish color for you all. It's Essie's "Fiji". Isn't it dreamy? My friend Danielle gave this to me for Valentines Day and I absolutely love it. It's the perfect color to madly turn the pages of a book in. :)

Essies Fiji

Back to the dip. I had seen a few recipes around for bean dip and decided to cut, pretty siginificantly, the amount of cheese you are supposed to put in this thing. Never fear, I also left in a good amount and it was perfect, creamy and well seasoned. Whats better is how easy it is. Beans, cheese, salsa and taco seasoning. Mix. Bake. Eat. Oh, it's good.

Warm Bean Dip
serves 10 as an appetizer

2 15-oz cans refried beans
1 cup shredded mexican blend cheese, divided
1 12-oz jar salsa
1 taco seasoning packet (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees

Mix the beans, 1/2 cup of the cheese, salsa and taco seasoning packet together in a large bowl. Smooth into a large pie plate or 8x8 pyrex dish and bake uncovered for 30 minutes or until hot in the center.

Top the beans with the remaining 1/2 cup cheese ans place back in the oven until it's melted, about 5 minutes. Serve with salty tortilla chips

The taco seasoning is optional. I made it once without it on accident and really didn't miss it to my surprise.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Banana Snack Cake and The Hunger Games

Banana Snack Cake

Banana snack cake is super delicious and easy. I saw this on Aileen's blog, Happy Little Southern Nest a few weeks ago and knew I was going to drop everything and whip it up that very day. It's the perfect mid-day snack because it only dirties one bowl, and bakes up quickly. I loved the idea of mashing all those bananas in the batter to subtly sweeten the cake which keeps additional sugar usage at a minimum. Besides the banana cake recipe, Aileen had been talking about the Hunger Games in some of her posts. The name alone did not appeal to me so I didn't think much of anything at first. But, if you know anything at all about this book series (and I'm sure you do) one thing is certain. You'll keep hearing about it. The Hunger Games are not going away. It's wildly popular and the movie is coming out in March.

Hunger Games

Aileen was the third trustworthy person to recommend these books to me. I hesitated because the story takes place in the future, and I reminded myself that I don't usually like sci-fi (the book is not sci-fi). Then, when I got my hands on a copy to check it out, the book description started off with this:

"In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts."
A little Star Wars-ish if you ask me

It continues:

"The capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV."
Wha???? The second something is not completely believable, I tend to lose interest. Hmmmm


"Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen regards it as a death sentence when she steps forward to take her sister's place in the Games. But Katniss has been close to dead before-and survival, for her, is second nature. Without really meaning to, she becomes a contender. But if she is to win, she will have to start making choices that weigh survival against humanity and life against love."
Intriguing. But I still hate that the main characters name is Katniss, which is clearly made up. I decide I can get over it, though.

I'm standing in the book store and decide to read the first couple pages and see if I like it. Nothing wows me immediately except I can't help but want to continue, so I decide to go ahead and buy the book. Initially, I was having difficulty making the purchase because it seems absolutely everyone who picks it up loves this book. The same thing happened with Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, and I read it... and then didn't love it. Would this be the same? I asked the girl at the register. She looked me straight in the eye and said "You will love The Hunger Games. In fact, we can't keep it on our shelves. You are lucky it was here today. We must have just got a shipment. When you start the book and decide you like it, because you will, you should call us right away to order and hold a copy of the second book (there's three in the series) since you'll finish this one in two days because you won't be able to put it down, and you'll want the next one."

She was wrong about one thing. It took me three days to read. I am obsessed. End. Of. Story. Recommended highly.

Banana Snack Cake

And now look at what's happened. The Hunger Games have stolen all of the banana snack cakes thunder and it really is a shame because this cake is very, very good. I suggest you get yourself off the computer, buy some bananas and the book, then come home and make the cake and while it's baking, start the first chapter. Make sure you set the timer to go off when it's done though, or you might end up forgetting and reading for hours. No, what am I thinking? The heavenly smells wafting in from the kitchen will get you first.

Banana Snack Cake

Banana Snack Cake
adapted from How Sweet It Is

makes 9-12 squares
1/3 cup loosely packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 ripe bananas, mashed (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour or all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled

1 large egg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray an 8×8 baking pan with non-stick spray

In a large bowl, whisk egg and brown sugar until smooth. Add in vanilla extract and mashed bananas, mixing until combined. Add in flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt, mixing until the batter comes together. Add in melted butter and mix until evenly distributed.

Pour batter in the baking pan. Bake for 20 minutes, or until center is no longer jiggly and edges are golden. Top with cream cheese glaze.

Whipped Cream Cheese Glaze
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup powdered sugar
2-3 tablespoons heavy cream, or more depending on texture

1/4 cup whipped cream cheese, at room temperature

In a bowl, whisk cream cheese vigorously until it smoothes out. Add in sugar, vanilla and cream one tablespoon at a time, whisking constantly. This glaze will be a bit thicker (almost like a thin frosting), so add more or less cream depending on your desired consistency.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Creamy Avocado and White Bean Wrap

creamy avocado and white bean wrap

Hi friends. Let me introduce you to your new favorite lunch, the avocado white bean wrap. For being so simple this is nothing short of delicious. I whipped this up one afternoon after discovering that the stars had aligned and I happened to have every single ingredient necessary in my fridge to make this. Oh, happy day! Don't you just love that?

I expected this to taste good but I was rather surprised at how much I liked it. I crave these babies on a regular basis now. That's the other thing...I use Ezekiel tortillas (wrapped in a damp paper towel and heated in the microwave for 30 seconds to make them soft) for these which are smaller than normal so I end up with the cutest little wrap and get to eat two. Then, because of the size, I resort to calling it dumb names like "cutest baby wrap" or "leetle snack wrap", except then I stop myself because it reminds me of McDonalds. Eeeww.

Creamy Avocado and white bean wrap

I actually do this with my poor dog too. He's a little (about 10 pounds) chihuahua mix named Ham. He has his regular nicknames that everyone uses like "Hammy", "Hamilton", "Ham-hock", or "Hampton", but then you have me who calls him the most random crap throughout any given day. I've been known to squeal "ooooooh, Hammy, Hammy, Hamptons, my tiny baby dog". With the frequency in which it's used, it would seem that "baby dog" is my favorite (he's 3). But there is the occasional time when I call him "Robert" just because. Another in rotation is,"Hampster, my fawn colored love" And just last night he was "Ham, my St. Patrick's Day dog". No one knows what's wrong with me.


And right about now "leetle snack wrap" is not sounding so bad.

Creamy Avocado and White Bean Wrap
adapted from Living Well
serves 4

2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons finely chopped canned chipotle chile in adobo sauce (I just use the sauce)
Kosher salt
2 cups shredded red cabbage
1 medium carrot, shredded (or 1/2 cup shredded carrot)
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1-15oz. can white beans, drained and rinsed
1 ripe avocado
4 8-10 inch whole wheat wraps or tortillas (I wrap ezekiel tortillas in a damp paper towel and microwave for 30 seconds so they are easy to roll)

Whisk vinegar, oil, chipotle chile and 1/2 teaspoon of salt in a medium bowl. Add cabbage, carrot and cilantro; toss to combine.

Mash beans and avocado together with a fork. Add a generous pinch of salt and stir to combine.

Spread the avocado white bean mixture evenly over the wraps and add about 2/3 cup cabbage mixture down the center of each. Roll up and eat.

The chipotle chile in adobo really makes this wrap pop. I usually use a little more than called for because I love the flavor and like to be able to really taste it.

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Ultimate Lasagna Bolognese

Lasagna Bolognese

I stole this recipe from Tyler Florence, then went to town and changed a bunch of things. I really liked his method but not his choice of meats (ground beef and pork accented with cinnamon) so I decided to use both spicy and sweet sausage instead. I also think he used way too much liquid in his sauce and it took forever to reduce, so I used less and it still took longer than he said, so I'll note that in the recipe below. We also decided to dress this up even more and slow roast some tomatoes to nestle on top. Good choice because they surprisingly added a lot to the final product. Well worth the extra step.

Lasagna Bolognese

Lasagna Bolognese

Bolognese is a meat sauce traditionally served over pasta. Normally to make a lasagna, you would just brown some sausage in a skillet and spread it evenly over the layers. In this version you make a bolognese sauce and use it with bechamel (a creamy white sauce) to create your layers with fresh buffalo mozzarella, basil and parmesan. As the meat simmers in the sauce of red wine and tomatoes it gets ultra soft and makes a gravy almost. I point this out because My friend Danielle was expecting bitey pieces of sausage and was very surprised with the outcome and how soft it was. There is a tiny bit of milk added to the sausage sauce, which may sound strange, but it actually helps break down the meat to get that soft texture you want here. I'm not gonna lie- Danielle was worried at first. She did not like the way the sauce looked or how soupy it was. However, she shut right up when she had a bite of the finished product, so...

I'm so sorry the picture is dark
Lasagna Bolognese

Danielle and I spent the whole day cooking at her house the other day. We made one larger lasagna for a Young Life Leader dinner she was catering (along with an Italian salad, garlic bread and ahem, cream puffs...again) and a smaller one for us. We made ourselves a very petite lasagna since our husbands do not eat it very often, or ever for that matter, especially with meat in it. We were certain it would just be us and the kids digging in for a little indulgence.

Let's just say, we were wrong. :)

lasagna Pan

It was off the hook delicious and I highly recommend this recipe. Just in case you are skiddish like Danielle about the sauce, here a are few pictures to bolster your confidence. When it first begins to cook it will look more like soup:

Never fear. As it reduces and simmers (it will take anywhere between 1 1/2 hours to 3 hours) it will transform into a chunky, loose sauce. When it looks like this, it's done:

The bechamel is easier to trouble shoot. The recipe is a guideline, but I found I need about 1 cup more milk to get it to a sauce consistency. If you like yours thick, the recipe as written will be great for you. Don't be afraid to add more milk to it to thin, though. It should look like this:

We had a great night lingering over this lasagna with wine and friends and laughs the whole time. Then, the next day Danielle received a call that this was hands down the best lasagna those Young Life Leaders had ever tasted. Worth every second. I swear.

Like I said, I highly recommend slow roasting tomatoes to put on top before baking. Plan ahead though as they do take 3 hours to cook. You can do this step the day before if you like. Same goes for the bolognese meat sauce. Better to make the bechamel day of.

The Ultimate Lasagna Bolognese
adapted wildly from Dinner At My Place, by Tyler Florence
makes 1 large lasagna

For the Lasagna:
Fresh lasagna dough (or 1 package lasagna noodles)
1 pound buffalo mozzarella, cut into thin slices with a serrated knife
1/2 cup grated parmesan (the plastic jar stuff is fine for this)
1 package fresh basil leaves, torn
1 recipe slow roasted tomatoes (not the soup, just the tomatoes)
1 recipe bolognese
1 recipe bechamel

2 carrots, cut into large pieces
1 large onion, cut into large pieces
3 ribs celery, cut into large pieces
4 garlic cloves, peeled
3 fresh sage leaves
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound hot Italian sausage
1 pound sweet basil Italian sausage
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 cups dry red wine (or 3/4 of 1 bottle)
1 28-oz can of whole tomatoes
1 cup grated Parmesan
1/2 cup whole milk

Put carrot, onion, celery, garlic, and sage in a food processor and process until you have a smooth vegetable pulp. Coat a large, heavy based pot with olive oil and set over medium heat. Add the vegetable pulp and saute until fragrant and some of the moisture has evaporated, about 5 minutes. Empty the vegetable pulp into another bowl and set aside. Without washing the heavy pot, add a bit more olive oil and add both sausages and cook over medium heat while stirring to break up the meat until it's brown. Drain out excess sausage grease and discard. Next, dust the sausage with 2 tablespoons flour before adding wine, tomatoes, reserved vegetable pulp, and milk. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer about 1 1/2 to 3 hours, uncovered, until sauce is thick. Add Parmesan. Set aside while you prepare the bechamel.

2 cups whole milk (add up to 1 more cup to thin if desired)
3 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1 bay leaf
1 stick unsalted butter
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Set a large saucepan over medium heat. Add milk, garlic, and bay leaf and bring to a simmer to infuse milk with the herb flavors. Set a large saucepan over medium-low heat. Add butter and melt, then sprinkle in flour while you stir with a wooden spoon. Once all of the flour has been combined with the butter, grab a whisk and gradually pour the herb-infused milk, passing it through a sieve as you go to strain out the aromatics. As the sauce thickens, continue to whisk over low heat, then add nutmeg. Season with salt and pepper and taste. You'll probably need more salt. If sauce is too thick, add more milk and whisk until desired consistency is reached. Set aside to cool slightly.

To assemble:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. If using fresh pasta, there is no need to cook the noodles first. If using store bought dry lasagna noodles, place them in a 9x13 pyrex dish and pour boiling water over to cover them. Cover the whole dish with foil and let sit for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, the noodles will not be fully cooked but they will be ready to use in the lasagna.

To assemble the lasagna, coat the bottom of the lasagna pan with a thin layer of the bechamel. Top with a layer of lasagna noodles, cutting them to fit as necessary. Top the noodle layer with a layer each of bechamel, bolognese, mozzarella, fresh basil and Parmesan. Continue with layers of lasagna noodles, bechamel, bolognese, mozzarella, fresh basil and Parmesan until you have three complete layers. Make sure you don't finish with noodles. The top should be the same as the rest with both sauces, mozarella, fresh basil and a dusting on parmesan. Next, nestle the slow roasted tomatoes to cover the top. Bake, uncovered, on a tray (to catch the drippings) in the center of the preheated oven for 1 hour. If the top starts to brown, tent with foil. Let the lasagna stand for 20 minutes at room temperature to cool before cutting. By not cutting into a ripping hot lasagna, you will get clean slices.

Try not to eat with a sappy smile plastered across your face. I dare you.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Cream Puffs


It's weird because every year for Valentines Day I want to go out to eat. This year I actually want to stay home. If I could do anything I would turn the music up and have cocktail hour with the family. Champagne and strawberries for me and the husband and pellegrino-cranberry for the kids. At 7:30, the littlest would go down for bed and I would put a special movie on upstairs for the older ones. Then, Jeremy and I would sit down to a late dinner. I would serve something sexy but not pretentious, like an upscale herby, cheesy pasta or a beef bourgiugnon. Or better yet, we would do it up picnic style on the living room floor with homemade pizzas with hot red pepper flakes, Parmesan and wine while listening to Adele, Dave Matthews, and Nora Jones. Then, we'd start a movie, pop some popcorn, share a blanket, and eat the most perfect cream puffs filled with the most indulgent vanilla pastry cream and topped with creamy chocolate ganache for me and a simple dusting of powdered sugar for him. The kids would put themselves to bed, and then so would we, and then proceed to sleep all night long with no crying/bad dreams/sleep walking/crib bashing to disturb us. I would sleep a full nine hours-undisturbed. And that would be the greatest Valentines Day for me this year.


It won't happen. For several reasons. First off, Jeremy can never wait to eat dinner past 6:00pm. He starts to raid the fridge, then inevitably eats all the salsa that I am always saving for tostadas. This always happens. Second, we don't eat meat so beef bourguignon is out. Pasta and pizza are negotiable. Third, we live with other people in the house right now so romantic picnic's with just the two of us is definitely not going to happen. Plus, my husband is the furthest thing from cheesy so I'm not sure it would go down anyway. Maybe- because he loves me. Fourthly, The kids won't put themselves to bed. And lastly, the last time I made these cream puffs (two days ago) my husband walked through the door, saw them and said, and I quote "Oh, no. Am I supposed to eat those again?"

Well, to be fair I have made either cream puffs or eclairs 4 out of the last 5 days because I am completely obsessed with making the most perfect pastry cream on planet Earth. You can quote me here when I say, this is the best, most luxurious, smooth, vanilla pastry cream imaginable. Yep, I just said that. The actual puff part is awesome too, and you can make small or large ones to suit your tastes. Surprisingly, cooking time is almost the same for both.

I don't care for cream puffs filled with whipped cream because I find them boring. I don't like cream puffs filled with eggy vanilla pudding either. I like a cross between the two (and just folding them together sounds simple enough, but with the wrong recipe to start with, it's not good, or smooth.) I like my pastry cream rich, and not too sweet. I like it fluffy, yet dense. In short, I am absolutely head over heels for this pastry cream. And you will be to.

The first secret is in the recipe for the actual pastry cream itself which came from this website and originally from the Laduree cookbook in Paris. The recipe is easy and doesn't ask you to watch a candy thermometer so the eggs won't curdle. It's also not heavy with egg but thickened with cornstarch, so it's almost lighter and it couldn't be easier. Just whisk the egg yolks, sugar and cornstarch together in a bowl.

Then in a saucepan bring the milk and vanilla to a simmer. Then slowly or gradually pour the milk mixture into the egg mixture whisking like mad the whole time. If you don't whisk madly, or pour too much of the hot milk into the eggs they will curdle. I've never had it happen, but just take caution. Pour everything back into the saucepan and bring to boil while whisking. It will thicken up beautifully in just a few minutes. When it looks like vanilla pudding, you are done.


Let it cool for a couple minutes, then whisk in the cold butter until smooth and shiny. Now let it cool to room temperature before folding into your whipped cream:




The vanilla taste and sweetness is spot on. Since the pastry cream has not cooled in the refrigerator it doesn't set up too firm, so it's easy to fold into the cream without lumps. If it's just straight pastry cream you are looking for (like in a fruit tart, don't fold the whipped cream in. Traditionally it's supposed to be thick and generally keep it's shape). For pastries though, folding whipped cream in is the way to go. The result will make you swoon. Refrain from eating right out of the bowl. Now you can refrigerate until ready to use.

Choux pastry (pronounced "shoe") is stupid easy and fast. This is the actual cream puff. Once you make it you'll wonder why you don't everyday.

Step 1: Heat water and butter in a saucepan

Step 2: Measure out flour, sugar and salt

Step 3: Once water and butter is simmering, add all the dry ingredients at once and stir with a wooden spoon until the dough comes away from the edges and forms a ball


Step 4: place the dough in your electric mixer with the paddle attachment and mix on low speed for one minute to cool it off. Next, add your eggs a little at a time until you have shiny dough.

Alternately you can manually mix the eggs with the dough with a wooden spoon. The dough should look like this when done:

You are now ready to pipe your puffs

Press down spiky parts with a wet finger and bake

Voila! Perfection! These are the smaller sized cream puffs

No, wait. Top with ganache, fill with cream and then...Voila! Perfection! Large Cream Puffs

smaller cream puffs

And just to set the record straight, Jeremy was not complaining about having to eat these cream puffs again. He was lamenting that they were in the house, yet again, and he knew (because they are so good) that he would not have as much self control and he would wish, and he would gobble them down. I know most men don't lament like this.

And don't let this lengthy post fool you. Cream puffs are easy, especially when the recipe is explained throughly and there are lots of pictures, which makes the post long and seem complicated. Read through the lines.

Vanilla Pastry Cream
adapted from the Laduree Cookbook
makes enough for one recipe cream puffs

4 eggs yolks
2 cups whole milk
2/3 cup granulated sugar (I just use the 1/3 measurement twice)
1/4 cup cornstarch
2 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter
1 vanilla bean, cut open, seeds scraped or 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tablespoon powdered sugar

In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks and sugar together thoroughly. Add the cornstarch and whisk until combined and thickened.

Heat the milk and vanilla together until simmering. Slowly stream the hot milk into the egg mixture whisking like mad the whole time. Or, add small amounts of the milk mixture from a ladle, a little at a time and whisk like mad (this approach works better if you have weaker wrists, like me).

Once everything is combined, add it all back to the sauce pan and bring to boil over medium heat, whisking constantly. It won't take long, and it is important to whisk so you don't get lumps. You want a smooth cream.

Once mixture has thickened to pudding like consistency, remove from heat and let it cool for 5 minutes. Next, whisk in the butter a tablespoon at a time until pastry cream is shiny. Transfer the pastry cream to a non-reactive bowl and let sit until it comes to room temperature.

Beat the whipping cream on high until stiff peaks form, add the 1 tablespoon powdered sugar and mix to combine. When the pastry cream is cool, add it to the bowl of whipped cream and gently fold the two together. Store in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Choux Pastry
makes 9 large, or 18 smaller cream puffs

1 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter
1 cup water
4 eggs, lightly beaten

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (wax paper works too). Measure out the flour, sugar and salt together and set aside.

Place the butter and water in a sauce pan over medium heat and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and with a wooden spoon quickly add the flour mixture. Put back on the heat and stir together until the dough forms a smooth ball (about 30 seconds to a minute).

Place dough ball in an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix on low speed for one minute to let some of the heat escape. Next, add your eggs slowly, letting some combine into the dough before adding more and mix until you have a smooth, thick paste.

Spoon or pipe (a zip lock back with the tip cut off works) nine large mounds, or 18 smaller mounds of dough onto the parchment paper, spacing them a few inches apart. With a wet finger, push down any spots that are sticking up.

Bake for 15 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees. bake for 30 to 40 minutes further (My large ones took 35 minutes, and smaller 30 minutes) until shells are a nice amber color and when split, are dry inside. Let the shells cool to room temperature on a rack.

Chocolate Ganache
1/3 cup heavy cream
4 oz. bittersweet chocolate

break chocolate into small chunks and place in a small bowl. Heat the milk in a small saucepan to simmering. Pour hot milk over chocolate and allow to sit for 1 minute, then whisk into a thick ganache. use right away to top your cream puffs.

To Assemble The Cream Puffs
Split each cream puff in half horizontally. Fill or pipe with chilled pastry cream. Spoon the chocolate ganache over the top of each and spread slightly to cover. Or sprinkle powdered sugar over instead of the chocolate, if you prefer true vanilla cream puffs.

Store at room temperature if eating the same day, or stick in the refrigerator for a few hours. These are best eaten the same day they are made, otherwise they will get soggy.

Monday, February 6, 2012

My Grandpas Margaritas

Grandpas Margaritas

Today I'm feeling like a gangsta. My In-laws had been gone for 2 weeks and were set to return the night I started writing this post. So we have had the house to ourselves all this time. In case you missed the post where I talked about this, yes, we have been living with my husbands parents while we build our new house. We were lucky enough to sell our old house and decided that throwing money at our new house versus rent a better option. Especially because I like my in-laws and they offered.

The last weekend started out fine. I woke up to find my son and husband watching "Planet Earth" the "great plains" chapter followed by "the mountains" chapter, and after the snow leopard had it's kill and fed the young, I decided it was high time for a cup of coffee. We watched a little more and then proceeded to clean the house. Next, we sat out in the sun even though it was very cold out, for the sake of soaking up a little vitamin D. No, really, we sat out there for the sake of vitamin D. That's how my family rolls. Nap time came around and I found myself with nothing to do. Normally I would read (which didn't appeal to me this afternoon) or bake something, but since I am trying to watch my sugar intake that option was out. So, after thinking it through long and hard, I settled upon making margaritas and sitting out on the deck longer, for you know, more vitamin D.

Yes, margaritas are sugary by nature and definitely not on my cleanse, but I'm sick of the cold and snow and wanted (if only for 10 minutes) to pretend like it was summer, so off to the kitchen I went. In hindsight, totally worth it. I sent my husband to the liquor store for some "top of the shelf" tequila. He came home with Jose Cuervo. I was thinking more along the lines of Patron Silver (I have no idea why, maybe because it is clear?) but I don't think we have ever deviated from Jose in the past, so I shouldn't have been surprised. I made my Grandpa Grillo's margaritas with a few tweaks to fit my taste, a favorite within our family since they are on the sour side and made with fresh citrus juice- lime, lemon and orange for sweetness. It's pleasantly tart, and the first sip taken makes you pucker up a bit, but every consequent sip from there on out is fantastically fresh and delicious. Trust me, with his ratios of tequila to juice, you'll have no trouble getting it down. :) Relaxation station.

The margarita on the snowy deck. If you could see my husband his shirt was off for maximum vitamin D absorption-told you.

Grandpa's Margaritas

And I'm not really feeling like a gangsta. I don't even know what that means. It's just the tequila talking...

My Grandpas Margaritas

My Grandpa likes his margaritas really strong, and he also adds triple sec to sweeten them up a bit and let me tell you, they are delicious but one is my limit. I opt out of the triple sec most times choosing instead to add a touch of honey if they are too tart. I also keep my margaritas pretty strong, but not as much as my grandpas (I prefer to have two). For his exact recipe make them like this- you're guaranteed a good time: 1 part triple sec, 2 parts citrus juice, 3 parts tequila.

1 part fresh squeezed lime juice
1 part fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 part fresh squeezed orange juice (for sweetness)

Mix juices together to use for the margaritas

1 part mixed juice
1 part tequila
1/2 part triple sec (optional) or a drizzle of honey (about 1/2 to 1 tablespoon)

Put all your ingredients in a blender with plenty of ice (about a handful per serving) and blend until incorporated. This should only be enough ice to make everything cold, not to be a blended drink. Taste and add more tequila or honey as needed. Alternately, you can mix everything with a wooden spoon in a pitcher and serve over ice in a margarita glass.

One "part" could be any volume you wish. A cup, a shot, a coffee mug full. You be the judge knowing how many people you are going to serve. I've written the juice recipe and the margarita recipe using "parts" but it's just to keep ratios even. Basically, you are looking for half juice and half tequila with plenty of ice blended in or allowed to melt a bit to water everything down. If you are just making two drinks use a measuring cup and squeeze out 8 oz juice, then add 8oz tequila and plenty of ice to your blender. It'll be enough for two. Also, feel free to blend this up in a vita-mix or another powerful blender with even more ice for a slushier texture.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Thin Mint Cookie Shake

Thin Mint Cookie Shake

It's girl scout cookie time again, and we just got our boxes from our adorable neighbor, Kaisa. Of course we all know that no girl scout cookie buying is complete without at least 1 box of thin mints (or 10). Normally, I chuck my cookie boxes in the freezer and enjoy them ice cold and often. There has long been an understanding that the freezer provides the most delicious method for storing thin mints. Only the thin mints, though. It would be weird to eat a frozen samoa. My daughter apparently didn't get the memo because I found a box of trefoils in there too. It wasn't so much the fact that they were in the freezer that bothered me but, I have to wonder about anyone who chooses trefoils as their girl scout cookie of choice. I just don't think she knows any better. There comes a time in everyones life for learning such important matters.

Thin Mint Cookie Shake

The other day I pinned a recipe for a cookies and cream shake. I was really surprised to see that it had been repinned several times in just a few minutes since shake recipes are pretty simple. Throw some ice cream, Oreos and milk in a blender and your set to go. I only pinned it in the first place because this particular recipe called for 1/8 tsp of mint extract and I wanted to remember it for later. Anyone ever had Ben and Jerry's mint chocolate cookie ice cream? It's basically the same thing and, it's delicious. However, I had this box of thin mints glaring me down every time I opened the freezer, and wouldn't you know it, sitting right next to the vanilla ice cream. Mint cookies, vanilla ice cream, a bit of mint extract to help it along and creamy coconut milk to tie it all together? Um, yes please!

He likes it

Now, the best thing about this recipe is you can customize it to fit your own diets using the same quantities. Use either vanilla ice cream, vanilla frozen yogurt, soy or coconut ice cream for your base. Regular milk, non-fat, soy, coconut, or almond milk can be used to thin. You can leave the mint extract in or take it out completely. Obviously, the point of the recipe is to use thin mints, but if you have already devoured your boxes for the season, Oreos will always work, but use four instead of eight.

Thin Mint Cookie Shake
makes 1 shake (or two small)

2 cups vanilla ice cream, or vanilla frozen yogurt
1/2 cup milk (I used unsweetened coconut milk, but any will do)
8 thin mint cookies
1/8 teaspoon mint extract

Blend everything in a blender on medium speed until throughly combined. Pour out, stick in a big straw and smile.

the 1/8 teaspoon of mint extract is very faint and just helps to bring the mint from the cookies forward, and I think it makes the drink extra yummy.