Saturday, October 8, 2016

Dabbling in the Art of French Cooking: Week One

My sister is (approximately) 1,401 miles away: Minnesota to Boston. Google Maps informs me that there are tolls AND road construction on the 20+ hour drive out east, or that there's a lovely 2 hour and 40 minute flight I could hop on for a few hundred bucks.

Distance is never fun (particularly when you're separated from the one other person in the world who speaks the exact same dialect of faux-Masterpiece Theater British Worrywart as you), and when the drive is too long or the flights are too expensive, you've got to do something to feel connected to one another.

Enter the sister-sister adventure of "Dabbling in the Art of French Cooking".

1. We're cooking through bits and pieces of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Each week, we'll select 2-3 recipes to try- sometimes as a composed 3-course menu, other times...not so much. We haven't discussed an end date or a goal number of recipes to complete, but I would assume our challenge would not be complete until we've successfully made at least Boeuf Bourguignon and Reine de Saba (Queen of Sheba Cake).

2. I've been instructed to inform you by my dear sister that this is most decidedly nothing like the Julie and Julia challenge. We're nowhere near that ambitious, though one of us does blog about cooking and the other one does live in tiny apartment where it would be considerably difficult to de-bone a duck. But that's not the point.

3. While I will share an occasional recipe, I think if I attempt to type out all three Julia Child recipes each week + a blog post, I will develop carpal tunnel by Thanksgiving. I would encourage you to either buy Mastering the Art of French Cooking, or check out the Google Book link above.

So, with that all said- Week One!

Potage Veloute aux Champignons (Cream of Mushroom Soup), page 40 - which there are no pictures of because it was a last minute change!

Supremes de Volaille aux Champignons (Breast of Chicken with Mushrooms and Cream), page 268/269

Tarte aux Pommes (Apple Tart), page 636

Bostonian Chef is on the left, Minnesota Nicely on the right.  

While our tarts turned out mostly the same (save for a bit more browning on the professional baker's tart. Harumph.), we did totally different things with our Supremes. It's a delicious dish either way, but I couldn't be bothered to make any sides that night so I decided to incorporate my chicken, mushrooms, and sauce into one insanely good sandwich. A bit of dijon, baby Swiss cheese and some peppery arugula really rounded this dish off nicely!

The tart will be getting it's own blog post shortly because it is just so lovely and would be a delightful new twist on Apple Pie as we head into the Thanksgiving season. Stay tuned!

And if you want to cook along, here's next week's dishes! (Don't cook them all together for the same would be a rather pale -though tasty!- affair.)

Aigo Bouido (Garlic Soup), page 46
Filets de Poisson Poches au Vin Blanc (Fish Filets Poached in White Wine), page 208
Tarte au Fromage Frais (Cream Cheese Tart), page 646

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Six Things You Could Be Doing Right Now to Get a Jump on the Holiday Season

Did you feel that?

There's a chill *just* starting to settle in the air.

Typically, that means I write a recipe post dedicated to some form of stew or some variety of pumpkin sugar-this-or-that, but this year we're going to kick off fall a bit differently.


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Just kidding. But really- doesn't it seem like the holiday season creeps up faster and faster each year? One minute I'm debating whether or not it's time to pack up my shorts for the season, and the next minute I'm mulling over options for Ugly Sweater parties.

So, before you're caught off guard by Jingle Bells playing in a department store while you're shopping for a Halloween costume, let me help you get a jump on the most wonderful time of the year.

Here are six things you could (and should!) do before November 1 in order to have a holly, jolly holiday season.

1. Start Making a List (checking it twice can come later)

This is really something I do year-round, but better late than never! I keep a list on my phone of anything that gets mentioned as a "want". Sister posts some ridiculous beauty product on Facebook that she OMG TOTALLY WANTS? Check. Friend longingly mentions a kitchen accessory she's always wanted? Amazon & Save For Later. Little Bro mentions a new show he's obsessed with? Jot it down and start researching fan-gear. Hubs says it would be "really cool" to have a random gadget that you've never heard of? Put it on the list and Google it later. Do you have to get the stuff that people mention? No, but at least this way you have a running list of hobbies and interests that should give you a good starting point for gift-giving. (P.S. This list is useful year round for birthdays, anniversaries, or rando-gifting!)

2. Make Some Bomb-Ass Eggnog

Did you know you can age eggnog? Yeah. Last year for Christmas I made Alton Brown's Aged Eggnog and holy cow was that stuff divine. Ours only matured for a week or two before it magically disappeared. Now would be the perfect time to whip up a batch and stash it in the back of the fridge. Come holiday time you'll have a great cocktail for tree-trimming or spontaneous guests. You could even portion it out into mason jars and give out some holiday cheer to friends and neighbors.

3. Determine Your Travel Plans

This might be difficult in September, but doable by October. Figure out if you're headed to Aunt Mildred's for Thanksgiving, or if your whole family is cruising around the Caribbean for Christmas. The sooner you know where things are happening, the sooner you can schedule time off work, make travel plans, and settle any other arrangements. If you have pets and need to board them over the holidays, you should already know that kennels fill up fast and that setting up a reservation now will guarantee you an easy, breezy, beautiful holiday.

4. De-Clutter

Spring cleaning is for fools. Fall de-clutter is the real deal. Think about it....Thanksgiving leftovers, Black Friday loot, Season's Greetings cards from friends and family, Christmas Cookie swaps, presents, wrapping paper from said presents....the holidays do a number on storage space. Take some time to clean out the fridge (you've gotta make room for that eggnog, anyhow!), donate clothes, throw out junk, and organize that random pile of stuff that's been sitting on your dining room table since March.

5. Get Addresses

If you're planning on sending out Christmas cards, you're going to discover that you need actual, physical addresses. The USPS does not, to my knowledge, accept e-mail address or cell numbers as a valid delivery address. Sorry. Now is the time to start harassing your mother for Great Uncle Skippy's address, and to begin pestering your friends for theirs. People will forget and need to be reminded, so give yourself the buffer time. And please, for your sanity, SAVE these addresses for next year. (Note: if you're doing this step, you might as well also start to figure out your Christmas cards/pictures/etc)

6. Nail Down Your Holiday Recipe/s

Contrary to what most women's magazines say, rich food is a huge part of the holiday season. So please- don't be that person that brings a salad to Thanksgiving, or brings raisins to the holiday cookie swap. This is the time of year for butter, sugar and flavor. Set yourself up with one or two awesome recipes that you can whip up to share- preferably one savory appetizer/side-dish and something sweet. Need some inspiration?

Blue Cheese Crostinis (apologies for the picture quality- those were the dark days of camera phones)

Slow Cooker Cranberry Meatballs

Bacon Balsamic Brussels Sprouts

Burgundy Mushrooms  - bonus, these will make your house smell AMAZING all day

Cinnamon Sugar Pecans - perfect for gift giving, or to keep in a snack dish for munching

Chewy Ginger Molasses Cookies - the best cookie I've ever made

My parting words with #6? If mashed potatoes are your responsibility, make them taste delicious with or without gravy. Don't skimp on salt, pepper, garlic powder, butter, cream cheese (yes! trust me!) and heavy cream (alright, alright- half and half OR whole milk. Touch the skim and I'll ex-communicate you from the holidays.)

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Harvest Infused Whiskey and Harvest Fashioned Cocktails

Let's play a round of "Guess What's In the Mason Jar!"

Week 38: Acid - Harvest Infused Whiskey (lemon and blood orange)

Weird lemonade? No.

Sun tea? Wrong.

Sangria? Getting closer.

This baby is full of what I'm calling "Harvest Infused Whiskey"- and no, it's not being infused with pumpkins, corn stalks, or gourds. 

Ingredients (from Thrillest)
  • 750ml Whiskey*
  • 1/4 of a lemon, cut into chunks and seeds removed
  • 1/4 of a blood orange, cut into chunks (yes- you can use a regular orange)
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 vanilla bean, split (but not scraped!)
  • 18 dried cherries
  • 4 dried Turkish apricots, halved 
  • 4 whole cloves
Add all ingredients to a large jar, give a good shake and let steep covered for 5 days. After 5 days, strain and discard solids. 

For the Harvest Fashioned Cocktail (a play on the traditional sugar, spirits and orange of an Old Fashioned):
  • 750ml Harvest Infused Whiskey
  • 3/4 cup honey
  • 1/3 cup peach brandy
  • Orange rind
Warm the honey in the microwave until very liquid. Pour into strained, infused whiskey and add in 1/3 cup of peach brandy. Shake well to ensure the honey is dissolved. Serve on the rocks in a short glass, and garnish with a twist of orange rind.

Note: you can decrease/increase the honey depending on how sweet you'd like this cocktail to turn out. If you don't have honey (or don't want to use honey), you can use sugar- HOWEVER- sugar will not dissolve well in room-temp/cool liquid, so make a simple syrup in a saucepan using equal parts sugar and water, stirring on medium heat until sugar is fully dissolved. 

You can also forgo peach brandy in favor of regular brandy (which you should stock for eggnog!) or more (un-infused) whiskey, but the brandy adds a nice warmth and the peach brightens up the flavors and brings out the apricot. 

*Any whiskey will do, though Revel Stoke makes a Pecan Flavored Whiskey that really amps up the 'warm' fall flavor of this infusion. 

Friday, September 9, 2016

That Time Beef Wellington Almost Made Me Cry

Apparently, Gordon Ramsey is enough of a super-chef that he doesn't even need to be in the kitchen yelling at you in order to trigger a meltdown. In fact, all you have to do is attempt his Beef Wellington and the tears will be on stand-by.

For real though.

Last week, I made Gordon Ramsey's Classic Beef Wellington and Red Wine Sauce. The end result?


Hey- not too shabby! But let me walk you through the 24-hours leading up to this.

1. Make grocery list. I need 2 1-pound roasts of beef tenderloin, 16 ounces of wild/mixed mushrooms, and 8 slices of prosciutto, plus beef trimmings for the sauce. Easy day.

2. Go to Byerly's to buy mushrooms, prosciutto and tenderloins. My bill is $75.00. This better be good.

3. Go to Cub to buy the ingredients for the red wine sauce. Ask if they have beef trimmings I could use. No. They use that for hamburger. Okay. Ask what meat out on the floor would be a good substitute for flavorful, fatty trimmings. Shoulder-shrugs all around. Thanks guys. Buy one beef shank steak for $2.50. Buy puff pastry and remaining sauce ingredients. 

4. Get home and wrap beef in plastic wrap to "shape". Open giant bottle of Barefoot Merlot and drink, leaving 750ml so I have enough wine for the sauce tomorrow. Go to bed.

5. Sear beef and set aside. Awesome. Feeling good.

6. Start making mushroom duxelle. Realize I forgot to brush beef with English mustard as soon as it came out of the pan. Couldn't find English mustard, substitute cream-style horseradish. No clean food brush- have to use hands. Whatever. 

7. Back to the mushrooms. Hands are starting to burn. Mushrooms are not. Finish the duxelle and set aside to cool.

8. Start to make the red wine sauce. Feeling back on track. 

9. Begin to wrap the tenderloins. Grab plastic wrap and discover it's too thin. Oh well.

10. Attempt to lay out prosciutto, but it's sliced very thin and is stupid-delicate. Smear on duxelle to "glue" it together.

11.  Lay beef on duxelle and roll up. Feeling good. 

12. Unroll from plastic wrap and discover I've rolled the whole thing wrong. Duxelle has burst through the prosciutto. 

13. Heart starts to sink. Maybe I can rewrap if I just peel the prosciutto away? Stupid-thin prosciutto is having none of it and falls apart in my hands. Heart sinking rapidly. 

14. Okay. What if I salvage the duxelle and get more prosciutto? Try to separate prosciutto from duxelle. It's like a clingy ex and just dissolves into the duxelle. Heart thoroughly sunk.

15. The red wine sauce seems to be doing well, but it's hard to tell while I'm laying on the kitchen floor in defeat, desperately trying to get my older sister on the phone to ask her what I've become.

16. Pull myself together. Don't have time to go back to Byerly's. Go to Cub and get packaged prosciutto which is sliced even THINNER. What. the. fudgesicle. 

17. Grab tenderloin. Slap on salvaged duxelle, coat in scraps of idiot prosciutto, smother in plastic-wrap and throw in the fridge.

18. Be extra attentive when I take out the second tenderloin and reserved Byerly's prosciutto. Spend 5 minutes mentally wrapping the tenderloin before actually doing it. This one works. Throw it in the fridge with it's Franken-brother. 

19. Open another bottle of wine. Pour a drink. 

20. Take out puff pastry to thaw. Finish up red wine sauce.

21. Forget about puff pastry and realize it's too soft. Toss in freezer to re-firm.

22. Forget about puff pastry and realize it's frozen again. Set on counter to thaw again.

23. Roll out puff pastry. 

24. Somehow manage to roll both wellingtons without issue. Place in fridge.

25. Preheat oven, take out wellingtons and coat in egg wash. Make little decorative marks. Have another glass of wine. 

26. Wait for wellingtons to cook while my husband wines about being hungry. Glare at him until he changes his tune and pours me more wine. 

27. Take out the wellingtons and let them rest. Transfer to cutting board and slice.

28. Burn my hands. 

29. Beef is medium instead of rare/medium-rare. Goddamnit. 

30. Drown the wellington in red wine sauce. Drown myself in red wine. 

What I Do When My Husband Is Gone

My husband has been away a lot this year for various Navy-related reasons. There haven't been any long deployment-stints to deal with, but rather a smattering of one or two week trips that have become frequent enough that I've developed a pattern of activity in his absence. We're coming up on another week of temporary Navy-Wife-Table-for-One-Syndrome, so for everyone who has ever asked "what are you going to do while he's gone?", this list is for you.

Order Pizza

Yeah. This happens within the first two days of him being gone because my husband is always opposed to pizza while I, meanwhile, could eat it every day. In fact, that's usually what I do when he's gone. I order a giant pizza and live off of it for the week. #NoShame

Do My Social Rounds

I don't want to sit at home by my lonesome every evening while my husband is gone, so I try to fill up my card with friends that I haven't had the chance to see in a while. (And then in the morning while I'm trying to get ready for work while chugging Gatorade and aspirin, I'm reminded why I don't see some of these people regularly....)


I love my husband, but he's a trash tornado. I don't know how he does it. When he's around, I can spend a day cleaning and within 30 seconds of him being home there's suddenly a sink full of dishes, a random stain on the counter, dirty clothes on the couch and 10 different crumpled receipts on the coffee table. HOW. When he's gone, I'll spend a day cleaning and then get to enjoy a tidy house for the entire time he's away. It's a beautiful thing while it lasts.

Watch the Chick Flick

I have a standing watch list on Netflix and Amazon Prime that I dip into only when my husband is gone. I get to be the stereotype: cozy couch, ice-cream, wine, sappy movie, ugly cry.

Have a Weekend Getaway

I LOVE long drives by myself. I get to belt out Disney tunes, drink as much Diet Coke as I want, and NOT have to stop for my husband's unusually small bladder. My favorite weekend road-trip is a quick 2 hour drive to visit my lovely friend, Katie G. Maybe it's due to the nostalgia of college days past, or maybe it's because she spoils me rotten and there's typically a bottle of wine waiting, random gifts, and plenty of "You ROCK!" conversation to enjoy all while lounging in a hot tub. Come to think of it, I don't know why I don't do this every weekend.....

Miss Him

Of course I have to end this list with something cliche and lovey-dovey. I do try and have fun when he's gone, but at the end of the day everything that I do is always better when he's part of it. That's probably why I love the guy so much- trash tornado and all.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Ode to a Kitchen Torch (and Creme Brulee)

Alton Brown - my most beloved 'celebrity'-chef who isn't really a chef - often warns of the useless nature of kitchen 'unitaskers'...those items that are really only good for one or two tasks, but are splendid at taking up space. I'm inclined to agree with him on the unneccessary nature of most unitaskers (corn kernel separator, apple peeling wheel, meat shredding claws, etc), and have even formulated my own list of one-hit wonders that I have no intention of ever purchasing (yolk separator, salad spinner, egg slicer). For some reason, a kitchen torch made it onto that list, and I have to publicly apologize to all kitchen torch manufacturers everywhere for that misstep.

Kitchen torches are amazing.

You could toast a marshmallow in an instant!

You could melt cheese in a jiffy!

You could char peppers in a flash!


You could brulee.

Creme Brulee

Creme Brulee is the perfect fancy home-made meal dessert. It's insanely easy to throw together, it's perfect to make ahead, it's impressive to serve and it's just the right amount of sugar to cap off a meal.

Creme Brulee

  • 10 egg yolks (I would say use extra large)
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
  • 1 TB vanilla
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • Turbinado sugar (Sugar in the Raw)
Place heavy cream, scraped vanilla caviar and vanilla bean pod in a small saucepan and heat until warm, but absolutely not boiling. Remove from heat, discard vanilla pod and add in the vanilla extract. 

While the cream is heating, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar until thick and light yellow. 

Slowly drizzle in a bit of the warm cream to the yolk mix, whisking constantly to temper the eggs. Continue to whisk in the rest of the cream. 

Place shallow custard ramekins in a baking dish. Pour creme mixture nearly to the top of each. Place in a 325 degree oven and add enough water to the baking dish to reach halfway up the sides of the ramekins. 

Bake 30 minutes, or until the centers are set. 

Remove from oven and baking dish. Cool slightly, then cover tightly in plastic wrap and chill thoroughly in the refrigerator. 

When ready to serve, top with a thin layer of turbinado sugar and brulee with a kitchen torch until sugar is melted, browned and bubbly. Be sure to move the torch around so as not to burn the sugar (unless that's your kind of brulee..) Serve immediately. 

*Note: you can certainly use deeper ramekins, but know that the baking time will increase significantly and the risk of over-baking the outside of the creme is a very real possibility. 


Sunday, April 10, 2016

Low Carb Cinnamon Muffins

WARNING: This post contains a recipe that is probably only going to be utilized by a very, very small niche of readers. If you don't feel like buying special low carb/sugar baking ingredients, move along.


Every now and then I jump back onto the low carb wagon. I could go on and on about the reasons why and the specifics behind such a diet, but that's a blog post for another day. Right now, all you need to concern yourself with are these Low Carb Cinnamon Muffins.

Lightly sweetened with Swerve and spiced up with some cinnamon, ginger and clove, these little muffins were my first successful recipe with Carbquik.

Yes, that's right- for this recipe you will need to have two specialty ingredients on hand: sugar substitute (I like Swerve, but Splenda could work) and Carbquik. I'll admit that I held out for a long, long time when it came to buying these items, but now that I have them I'm so happy I bit the bullet.

If you really, really don't care about carbs or sugar I suppose you could just use regular sugar and Bisquik- but don't quote me on that.

Carbquik Low Carb Cinnamon Muffins

  • 2 cups Carbquik
  • 1/3 cup Swerve
  • 2/3 cup half-and-half or heavy cream
  • 2-4 TB water
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 2 TB vegetable oil or coconut oil
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 TB cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp ground clove
Preheat an oven to 400 and line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper cups.

Measure out the Carbquik by gently fluffing the mixture, then gently spooning it into your measuring cup. Don't pack it down- just fill to the top and then level off.

Give the Carbquik, Swerve, baking powder and dry spices a quick whisk, then add in the remaining wet ingredients. Gently fold together until everything is just combined and moistened- add more water if the mix seems overly dry or stiff. It should resemble a slightly soft drop biscuit dough.

Divide the dough between the muffin cups and bake for 13-18 minutes, until nicely browned on top. 

Enjoy with some good butter!

*Nutritional Information for 2 Muffins (made with heavy cream): 238 Calories, 22 g Fat, 8 g Protein, 3 g Carbs 

Kitchen Cleaner of Insane Greatness

I'm going to admit something to you, and you have to promise not to judge me- okay?



So. We've lived in our house for about a year and a half, and in that whole time- despite much use and abuse....I've never cleaned the oven.

I know! I know!

I don't know why it took me so long. Maybe it was because I had never been truly schooled in the art of oven cleaning, or perhaps it was because I had reservations about using a bunch of chemicals in my hot box, or maybe it was just easy to forget about the grease and gunk because the oven door was closed. Whatever the reason, I finally caved this weekend and decided to remedy the situation.

Meet the only kitchen cleaner you'll ever need:

This stuff is amazing. I saw the method on Pinterest and I didn't want to believe it could 'really be that easy', but hey! Sometimes you're pleasantly surprised. That bottle holds magic. I used it to clean my oven, my microwave, my electric griddle and my stainless steel pan- all degunked and sparkling new in a matter of minutes.

Ultimate Kitchen Cleaner

  • 2 ounces dish soap (Obviously, I used the blue kind.)
  • 4 ounces lemon juice (from a bottle is fine- no need to freshly squeeze)
  • 8 ounces white vinegar (the vinegar smell doesn't linger after using)
  • 10 ounces warm water
Combine all ingredients in a spray bottle and shake to combine. Spray on desired cleaning areas- allow to sit for a minute or two if the area has a particularly tough amount of build-up. Use a coarse scrubber, sponge, rag or paper towel to remove grime. Rinse with water until cleaner is gone and dry area. 

Revel in your clean kitchen. 

The Cheesiest Mac Ever

You want to know the secret to amazing- and I mean ooey-gooey amazing- mac and cheese? There are a few rules that must be followed in order to achieve a delightful bowl of cheese-tastic goodness, and none of them require two packets of powdered cheese dust.

Rule One: The Cheese Trifecta

I'm a big believer that you need three distinct cheeses in order to really get a full-flavored sauce. Generally, you want a soft/semi-soft for gooey melting, a semi-hard for flavor and body, and a hard for even more flavor and saltiness. Of course, depending on the cheese you pick, those properties (especially flavor) may shift around. Because of this, I recommend you make sure to have at least 2 of your 3 cheese be bold flavors, if not pungent.  That's right- I'm encouraging a stinky cheese. Why? Because the flavor mellows to create a wonderfully tangy cheese sauce. Stinky cheeses also tend to fall into our soft and therefore melty category, so you'll have a luscious and flavorful cheese sauce.

Rule Two: Grated Cheese is Great

If you plan on making your own cheese sauce for anything, step away from the pre-shredded cheese bags. Please, I beg of you. Do you know why grated cheese stays unclumped? Because it's tossed in a cornstarch solution, and while that may result in a thicken up sauce, it also results in a grainy sauce. Gross. So- grate your own cheese just before using and rejoice in your silky smooth sauce!

Rule Three: Find Your Sauce to Noodle Ratio

I am in the camp that likes my mac and cheese to be overly-sauced....almost a mac and cheese soup, if you will. However, there are some that prefer only a light coating of cheese on their mac, resulting in a tight mac that you could almost slice out of a pan. In my opinion, those people are wrong and don't deserve mac and cheese....but to each his own, I suppose. So, regardless of which end of the spectrum you find yourself on, be sure to prepare your mac and cheese recipe ratio intelligently: more mac= less saucy, less mac= more saucy. If you prepare the recipe I'm going to share with you today and complain that it was "too saucy", I'm going to assume you're an idiot and couldn't figure out that you could just add more pasta to achieve your desired ratio. Sorry for the tough love.

So there you have it. Pretty easy stuff, and I think these rules are applicable not only to mac and cheese, but any time you prepare a cheese sauce.

Now on to the recipe! The following sauce recipe makes for an absolutely divine mac and cheese, though the flavor may be a bit strong for young palates. You could also use this sauce to dress up vegetables, or even transform it into the base for a good broccoli cheese soup!

Gnocchi Mac and Cheese (inspired by Gimme Some Oven recipe)

  • 2 pounds gnocchi, store bought or homemade*
  • 3 TB cornstarch
  • 1 cup chicken stock, room temperature 
  • 2 TB butter
  • 5 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup whole milk, warmed
  • 1 1/4 cup fresh grated, good quality soft ("cook's") fontina
  • 1 cup fresh grated, good quality sharp cheddar
  • 1/2 cup fresh grated Parmesan 
  • 1/2 tsp - 1 tsp each salt and pepper
  • 1/4 tsp - 1/2 tsp each cayenne, dry mustard, nutmeg 
  • Fresh basil
Cook gnocchi according to package or recipe directions. Be sure to salt the cooking water in order to add a bit more flavor to the gnocchi. Drain and set aside. 

In a large sauce pot or dutch oven, saute garlic with butter until softened. Whisk together cornstarch and room temperature stock, then add to pot. Whisk in warmed milk and bring the mixture to a low boil, whisking frequently. 

Remove the pot from the heat and whisk in freshly grated cheeses, a handful at a time. Add seasonings and taste, adjusting to personal preference. Stir in a bit of chopped fresh basil if desired. 

Add gnocchi to cheese sauce and stir gently to evenly coat. Serve immediately. 

*If you make your own gnocchi, be sure to cook the potatoes "dry"- i.e. in the oven or microwave like a baked potato. Overly moist potatoes (those boiled in water) will yield dense, gummy gnocchi. 

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Slow Cooked Balsamic Brown Sugar Pork Loin

Time for a fun fact about me: I grew up on a pork farm. And somehow, despite the occasional swiney fragrance on the wind and spending Saturdays scraping out hog barns (yes- it's as gross as it sounds), I still like pork.

However, I've noticed a theme when it comes to pork: people seem to think it's completely acceptable to serve pork tough, dry, and flavorless.

Why?! This is the same animal that gives a bacon, people! Pork deserves better treatment.

There are two cooking methods that I feel really elevate pork to juicy, succulent and flavorful. Your first option is just to brine whatever pork cut you're working with. If you haven't brined a pork chop before slapping it on the grill, you haven't lived, my friend. There are tons of brine recipes out there, but basically you're looking for salt+sugar+liquid.

But this post isn't about brining. This post is about your second pork option: slow cooking. I absolutely love a good slow cooked pulled pork, and recently, my favorite cut of pork to toss in ol' Sally the Slow Cooker has been the loin.

 Slow Cooked Balsamic Brown Sugar Pork Loin

  • 3-5 pound whole Pork Tenderloin
  • 3 TB brown sugar
  • 2 TB soy sauce
  • 3 TB good quality balsamic vinegar 
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp mustard powder 
  • 1/2 tsp white pepper
  • 1 cup chicken broth
Pat pork dry and season lightly with salt. Heat (medium/high) a large cast iron/non-stick skillet with 2 TB olive oil (and 1 TB bacon grease if you have it) and brown the pork loin on all sides, 1-2 minutes per side. 

Remove pork from skillet and place in slow cooker. Season with spices, then add on brown sugar- patting gently into the loin. Drizzle soy sauce and balsamic vinegar over the top and add in chicken broth to the bottom of the slow cooker. 

Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours. 

At this point, you can slice it and serve, or whip up a quick sauce! I always like an applesauce/mustard sauce (1 cup applesauce + 3 TB Dijon + 1 TB maple syrup, adjusting to taste) or you can boost the balsamic flavor here by reducing down a 1/2 cup of balsamic vinegar until it begins to get thick and syrupy. 

(Leftovers are fabulous on a bun with a bit of BBQ sauce.)

Saturday, February 27, 2016

The Laziest Recipes Ever: Creamy White Chicken Chili

I think I love to make soup because the prep work is usually so soothing to me.

Finely mince some onions, chop a few carrots, shred chicken....these are the methodical kitchen tasks that ultimately allow me to forget the worries of the day and become mesmerized by a simmer pot of soup.

This, however, is not one of those quaint soup recipes. This is a "dump it all it, turn the switch and get on with your shit" kind of recipe.

...sorry about the swearing- I'm on a lot of cold medicine right now. Inhibitions are at a minimum.

So anyway- here's the point. If you're looking for a flavorful, hearty, stick-to-your-ribs kind of dinner but you just can't be bothered with all that classic prep work then THIS is your kind of recipe, dahlin'.

We start with this cast of characters:

We toss all that into the slow cooker, along with some frozen chicken breasts... we're cookin'.

And before your very eyes, we've made Creamy, Dreamy, White Chicken Chili.

And we pack up leftovers for our husband to take to lunch and include FRUIT and VEGETABLES and BREAD so he doesn't complain about only eating delicious, delicious soup.

Inhibitions. Gone.

Creamy White Chicken Chili

  • 2-3 frozen chicken breasts*
  • 1 can spicy black beans (regular are fine too!) - drained and rinsed
  • 1 can corn (undrained)
  • 1 can fire-roasted Rotel (again, regular is fine)
  • 1 small can chopped green chilis 
  • 1 packed Ranch dressing mix
  • 1 TB chili powder
  • 1 generous tsp each cumin, granulated garlic, onion powder, red pepper flakes, fresh ground black pepper
  • 8 ounces full fat cream cheese**
Place whole, frozen chicken breasts in bottom of slow cooker. Add all ingredients and seasoning. Stir, then top with cream cheese. 

Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours, stirring about halfway through cook time to incorporate the melting cream cheese. Before serving, remove chicken breasts and shred. Return shredded chicken to pot and allow to rest for 10-15 minutes on 'warm'. If the chili seems overly thick, add in a splash of chicken broth.

Serve with crusty bread, tortilla chips, and your favorite chili fixins'.

*Frozen chicken breasts add a touch more moisture to the overall dish, so if you use fresh chicken, be sure to watch the liquid level and add in a splash of chicken broth as need.

**If you decide to use a reduced fat cream cheese, hold off on adding it to the slow cooker until the last 1/2 hour of cooking, otherwise you may end up with separated/curdled cream cheese. Same advice if you decide to cook the soup on high for 3-4 hours. I've made this soup a few times with the cream cheese added at the beginning and have never had a problem with full fat cream cheese- just be sure to stir it about halfway through!

Restaurant Review: Sanctuary

It's rare that a restaurant can immediately envelope me in a sense of intimacy. I usually find that there is some element that pulls my senses out from being truly together and comfortable- the restaurant is too bright, too dim, too loud, too crowded. Overall, there's a lack of emphasis (or perhaps it's execution) in the role that ambiance- whole, crafted, purposeful ambiance- should play in the dining experience.

The outside world disappeared a little when I stepped into Sanctuary. I felt a warmth and familiarity that was suddenly and noticeably absent from so many of my other dining experiences. I was not here 'for dinner'- I was here to dine. It was as if Sanctuary herself had invited me over for supper. How charming to feel such a sense of inclusion.

Atmosphere is only one part of dining out, however, and usually not the component that most people want to see reviews about. The food! The food! That's what you go out for, that's what you want to know all about. Naturally you can't review a restaurant without commenting on the cuisine, but I put emphasis on Sanctuary's ambiance because it truly permeates every element of the restaurant- including the food. It is impossible to ignore the care and purpose with which Chef Patrick Atanalian creates his menu- as if he is trying to appeal to whatever your heart (and palate) need that day. He crafts plates that are at once whimsical and comforting. He inspires a sense of adventure with his menu- that it is okay to be un-apologetically you in this moment and in this space, that it is okay to change whenever you feel the urge. His offerings are sanctuary for those too bold or too meek to fit into tradition.

So now we discuss the food:

We started with Garlic, Spinach and Artichoke Tartlets with Provencal Olives, Cornichons and a Shot of White Verjus. We were instructed to sprinkle lavender buds over our tarts, and then bite into the olive, the cornichon, the tarlet, cleansing our palate with a sip of the verjus. Delightful and warming. The tartlet crust was truly admirable- sturdy, yet with a pleasant crumble once bit. The verjus was a lovely addition to such a rich morsel. Four come in an order. Not to be missed.

For soup, I selected the Coeur de Guanaja Chocolate Strawberry Soup with Ancho Pepper Whipped Cream. Absolutely smooth, with a luscious mouth-feel. The strawberry flavor stays nestled under the chocolate, while the slight savory flavor from the peppers cuts through the creamy 'hot cocoa' idea. Use the spoon to incorporate the ancho whipped cream throughout, then set it down and proceed to drink the soup straight from the mug.

My aunt had the Restaurant Week menu, which included a starter of Sea Scallop with Saffron Veloute and Garlic Chili Yuzu Aioli. She wouldn't share much, but the little taste I had was phenomenally balanced between fragrance and heat- a combination that is hard to achieve and rare to taste.

And now the dish that first peaked my interest in Sanctuary: Wild Acres Farm Duck Breast with Mexican Vanilla Mashed Potatoes, Blood Orange Sauce and Pico de Gallo. The duck was, of course, cooked perfectly- with a crispy skin that didn't wane under the vibrant orange sauce. The mashed potatoes were an oddity. Plated, they looked deceivingly creamy. I expected to be overwhelmed with butter and cream, but instead, the vanilla brought out the naturally clean and starchy flavor of potatoes. It reminded me of tasting mashed potatoes on Thanksgiving, before they had been doused in gravy. I would have preferred a touch more salt and pepper in the potatoes, but it was interesting to sample such a 'clean' mash.

Whatever you do, stay for dessert and order Antonio de la Sanctuary Tres Leches Cake and Fresh Berries. This is what dessert should be- something as sweet and refreshing as a cool glass of milk, and lovingly made from a family recipe. The kitchen had, by mistake, sprinkled my cake with a touch of cayenne, The heat lingered briefly with each creamy bite, and if you're up for it, I would suggest asking the kitchen to make the same 'mistake' with your dessert.

We also enjoyed the Restaurant Week dessert, Bette Noir with Creme Anglaise and Lemon Sorbet. This- this was chocolate for the sake of chocolate. Absolutely decadent, and truly one of the best executions of a richly chocolate dessert that I've enjoyed.

Sanctuary offers a weekly 5 course Chef's tasting menu for $35. For those of us who have been burned too often by the belief that price guarantees quality, this is the perfect gamble. I highly encourage you to put you trust in Chef Atanalian.

Nuts and Berries Dessert Cocktail

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

One Week Warning! MSP Restaurant Week is Coming...

Alright, ladies and gents- listen up. Minneapolis/St. Paul Restaurant Week is only one week away. Now is the time to formulate your strategy. Three (or more!) courses for $35 bucks: how will you ensure your palate is pleased by as many plates as possible? (Side note: alliteration is a beautiful thing.)

If I had to give some guidance in order to help YOU make the best restaurant week choices that you possibly can, it would be this:

1. Start Scouting Options Now

Here is the list of participating restaurants. There are a lot of options. I would recommend you look to see if any of your 'must try' restaurants have made the list. Think of this as your chance to scout out whether or not the regular $75-a-plate dining experience is worth it.  In my mind, if they can't deliver a solid dish during Restaurant Week, I certainly don't want to go back and spend 2-3x more for a regular dinner that will be sub-par. Conversely, if I go and have a phenomenal dinner, I'm totally going to go back and spend big bucks on a full-on fancy night out.

Side note: it's perfectly acceptable to eat out for lunch and dinner every single day next week. This allowance is coming from a recipe blogger, so you know it's serious.

2. Look at the Menus!

Even though these restaurants are offering an amazing dinner deal, I still want variety*. I'm drawn to the menus that list at least 2-3 options for appetizers and entrees. Ideally, you would dine with another person and order different dinners so you get the chance to try more things.

And don't ignore the 'add-on' items that some restaurants have listed! Yes, it's a touch more added onto your bill, but there are some great options for additional appetizers, wine parings, or protein upgrades that can't be missed!

*There are some restaurants that have only one RW menu option, and that's totally okay so long as I know that the quality is there. This usually means I've been to the restaurant before and I'm willing to forgo options for a guaranteed good meal. 

Minnesota Nicely Picks for Restaurant Week 2016:

  • All Around Choice: 
  • Go There, Probably Ignore the RW Menu:
    • Sanctuary: okay...I'm actually not going to do the RW menu because when I went to Sanctuary's website I started drooling over their insane, inventive menu. I am totally going there on an Aunt/Niece dinner date this coming Monday. Will report back.
  • Something Mom Would Approve of:
    • HauteDish: though some reviewers have found their consistency to be off, I say go for it. My dining experience at HauteDish was lovely. Obviously get the Tater Tot Hautedish. Was that even a question?
  • When You Want a Food Baby:
    • Fogo de Chao: With tableside meat carving service including sirloin, pork, chicken and lamb, I guarantee you will not leave hungry. And don't get me started on those sides. 
  • Ethnic Cuisine Wildcard:
  • Because it's Friday and Because it's Lent:
So there you have it, folks. This is how I will gain 20 pounds in 7 days. 

And now I wanna know- where are you going to go to forsake your skinny jeans? 

Friday, February 12, 2016

Love is in the Air

I've gushed about meringues before, and I'm hear to tell you that I am still in love with this light and airy treat.

So in love, in fact, that I couldn't stop myself from making three different tasty varieties.

Actually, the person responsible for this multitude of meringue is my good friend Katie G. It's her fault that I had to make three different kinds...after all, she's the one who sent me three different tiny, adorable bowls. Did you know tiny dishes are my kryptonite? I can't help myself when it comes to tiny bowls, plates, cups, cutlery...but do you blame me? Just look at how cute they are!

I really should make Ms. Katie come down here to eat all of these meringues that she forced me to make...

Well, at least I would if they weren't pretty much already gone...

Vanilla Bean, Strawberry Balsamic and Chocolate Mocha. Happy Valentine's Day to my waistline.

Neapolitan Meringues
We'll use a base recipe for all three flavors, then separate the mixture into three parts- folding in the flavorings for each variety.

  • 4 egg whites, just below room temperature
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 2/3 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 TB vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp cream of tartar
  • 1 Vanilla Bean, scraped
  • 4 TB finely grated bittersweet or dark chocolate- divided
  • 1 tsp espresso powder
  • 2 tsp strawberry jam*, plus more for topping
Preheat oven to 225 and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl or stand mixture, begin whipping egg yolks and cream of tartar together until soft peaks form. Slowly (1 TB at a time, wait 15 seconds, repeat) add in the white sugar, then the powdered sugar. Add in vanilla extract. 

Divide meringue mixture among three bowl. Working quickly and gently, fold in the vanilla bean scrapings to one bowl, 2 TB of the chocolate and the espresso powder into another, and 2 tsp of jam into the third.

Add mixtures into piping bags (use whatever tip you desire) and pipe onto the parchment lined baking sheet. Sprinkle remaining chocolate shavings onto the chocolate mocha, and make an indentation in the center of the strawberry balsamic. (If desired, you can add a little pink gel food coloring to the inside of the piping bag in order to add a bit more color.)

Bake for 1-2 hours, depending on the size of the meringues and how hot your oven runs. You should be able to easily remove the meringue from the parchment- if there's any sticking, the meringues aren't done. 

Allow to cool, and add a dollop of jam to the strawberry balsamic just before serving. Store leftovers in an airtight container and enjoy!

*Note: I made my own jam by reducing down a cup of frozen strawberries with 1-2 TB sugar and 1-2 TB water. Once the strawberries had broken down and reduced, I added in a splash of balsamic and cooled the mixture. If using store-bought jam for the recipe, you can stir in a small amount of balsamic, or omit all together. You'll still have lovely strawberry vanilla meringues!

Thursday, February 11, 2016

9 Things Every 20-Something Household Needs

Adult life can creep up on us, and if you're unprepared it can be a bit scary. After spending so many years being taken care of by our parents, our teachers, our older-but-so-cool friends and so-on, we all eventually have to start fending for ourselves.

There's a popular fear among a lot of '20-somethings' that they don't know how to be an adult. Guess what?

No one does. We're all just faking it until we 'make it'- whenever that may be.

You can't learn everything about being an adult from a blog post. Obviously. But you can learn a few things that will make your transition from moody teen to totally-chill co-ed to actual functioning adult a little easier.

1. Emergency Comfort Food

I don't care if it's homemade mac n' cheese in the freezer or a can of Chef Boyardee stashed in the cupboard- at some point, you're going to need emergency comfort food. Maybe your grandpa died and you can't bring yourself to cook anything, or perhaps a close friend got her heart broken and all you can do to comfort her is to feed her. Whatever the case, you'll be grateful to not have to scramble for a meal. Next time you make a bunch of chili or a yummy stick-to-your-ribs stew, freeze a portion for a later date. Or, ya know- take advantage of the 10-for-$10 sale on Kraft when you're at the grocery store.

2. Kitchen Essentials

This is a broad category, and will vary greatly depending on your culinary ambitions and frequency to entertain. We'll keep it basic- no dried porcinis or sherry required. We're also not going to include perishables, since those things usually require meal planning. With that being said, a 20-something kitchen should include: pantry staples (flour, sugar, baking soda/powder), spices (at least whatever you use most frequently, and perhaps some powdered chicken/beef stock), a good chef's knife (a cheap one can be dangerous), a large cutting boardsteak knives, wine glasses (for wine, obviously, but also to dress up a dinner party- serve water, lemonade, sangria, heck- even milk if you're so inclined), a cork screwa bottle openera coffee maker (if you're not a coffee drinking, a french press/grinder for your guests is a good idea- plus, a grinder has many uses!), spatula/whisk/rubber scraper (I recommend a plastic spatula to prevent scraping dishes, but a metal whisk for function), a good quality frying pan (non-stick is easy to come by, but a good cast iron or stainless steel for searing steaks/creating crusts is a blessing), mixing bowls (of various sizes), measuring cups/spoons (metal will last the longest- plastic can crack), good quality baking sheet (cheap ones warp and get nasty real fast), 9x13 pan/8x8 pan (I recommend glass Pyrex), food storage (I like Pyrex again for this since it won't stain, but plastic tupperware works just fine too).

3. Contraception 

Unless you are actively ready and trying for a baby, it's a good idea to have some kind of contraceptive in your household- birth control, condoms, the ol' diaphragm....just have something around so that you don't need to worry about changing your yoga room into a nursery. At least for the time being.

4. Household Basics

These are the things you don't think about until you need them. Depending on your level of preparedness (and how much you shop in bulk), this list could include the following: batteries, light bulbs, a plunger, stamps, fire extinguisher (kept up to date!), flashlight, needle and thread (for when that button pops off right as you're about to head out the door), tape (duct tape and scotch tape), cleaning supplies (multi-surface spray is a godsend, as are Lysol/Clorox wipes for bathroom cleaning. Other items include toilet bowl cleaner, laundry soap, dish soap, a vacuum, a broom, something to wash floors with and deodorizing spray)

5. Medicine Cabinet Basics

When I moved into my first apartment, my darling husband (boyfriend at the time) ended up with a small cut on his finger. I dashed off to the medicine cabinet, only to find I had never thought to buy band-aids. I was mortified. My boyfriend was going to bleed to death because I didn't think to spring for first aid 101 essentials. Luckily, it was only a little nick and he recovered quickly. After that, I vowed to keep a well stocked medicine cabinet. This may vary for you, but my basics include: band-aids/first aid kit, good tweezers, antibiotic ointment, antihistamines, cold medicine (night and day), pain reliever (both types: acetaminophen and aspirin), tampons/pads, nail clippers, acne spot treatment, Pepto, Tums, Calamine/anti-itch lotion. 

6. Renters Insurance

If you're still renting, be sure to find a good renters insurance policy. Most places will require you to have renters insurance in order to rent from them, but some smaller/private rents may not mention it. You should be able to find a good policy for only $10-$15 a month, and it's totally worth it. You should be able to carry the same policy with you wherever you move, so make that phone call TODAY.

7. Luggage

It doesn't have to be fancy, but you should have at least 2 pieces of luggage (one smallish carry-on style, one large suitcase) that you can use. My best recommendation is to make sure both sizes have wheels (believe me- that duffel bag gets really heavy when you have to lug it around the airport for 3 hours), and that both pieces are easily recognizable when it comes to baggage claim. Either spring for the leopard print bag, or tie some bright ribbon on your standard black suitcase.

8. Regional Necessities

This will vary depending on where you live regionally, and also the type of housing you have. Here in Minnesota, this category would include things like a shovel, sidewalk salt, a winter survival car kit and a car scraper. Other regions will vary- things like a bad-weather survival bag, extra water, a chainsaw (for yard clean-up after a storm), a good fan (in case the air-conditioning goes out in the middle of a heat wave), or even bear mace might be in order.

*If you've been in apartment or some other communal living situation and have just moved into a home, I recommend you really take inventory regarding what 'outdoor' items you'll need. It's best to have a shovel before the snow storm hits- if you catch my drift.

9. Non-Electronic Entertainment

Sometimes you just need to 'un-plug'. Of course, if the power goes out and the battery on your phone/tablet/laptop is drained, you may have no choice but to enjoy some good ol' fashioned fun. Cards, board games, a few good books- whatever you think might make a 12-hour power outage go by a little faster.

So that's it! If you have any other recommendations, comment below. I'm sure a 20-something out there will be thankful for the in-put, present company included.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

For the Ladies...

In just a few days, the Broncos and Panthers will be duking it out on the astro-turf. For most of us, this means a Sunday full of chicken wings, cocktail weenies, cheesy dips and plenty of beer.

While I thoroughly enjoy a good football spread every now and then, sometimes I want something not so....."manly" to munch on.

"Oh Lauren, why don't you make up a nice crudite platter? That's healthy and delicate!"

And boring. Very, very boring.

I want something dainty and delicious.

I want finger sandwiches, biatch.

Sorry I said 'biatch'. That wasn't very ladylike of me. I'm just so darn excited about these pretty little things. Tell me at least one of these doesn't sound tantalizing:

Curried Egg Salad Sandwich with Watercress on White.

Cranberry Poppyseed Chicken Salad on Whole Grain.

Cucumber and Radish on Rye.

And the best part? Slice these up small enough and you won't even notice that you've eaten the equivalent of 5 full size sandwiches over the course of 30 minutes.

Or maybe you have more self-control than I do and will indulge responsibly. Whatever.

Curried Egg Salad Sandwich with Watercress

  • 6 hardboiled eggs, diced
  • 2 sprigs green onions
  • 3-4 TB good quality mayo
  • 1-2 TB nice Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 tsp each salt and pepper
  • 1 tsp paprika 
  • 1/4-1/2 TB curry powder
  • White Sandwich Bread (your preference, but a slightly firmer 'bakery quality' loaf stands up best)
  • Fresh watercress 

Mix first 7 ingredients together. Depending on the type of curry powder and paprika used, you may find you want a bit more seasoning, so taste and adjust accordingly. Refridgerate for a few hours to allow the flavors to meld. When ready to serve, spread several watercress leaves on the sandwich bread, add the egg salad, slice and enjoy immediately.

Cranberry Poppyseed Chicken Salad on Whole Grain

  • Meat from 1 rotisserie chicken, cubed
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 TB poppyseeds 
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1-2 TB Dijon mustard
  • 3-4 TB good quality mayo
  • Salt and pepper, to taste 
Combine all ingredients, adjusting amount of mayo to just coat/bind all ingredients together. Taste and season to liking, adding in more poppyseeds if desired. Chill for several hours, then spread on whole grain bread. Slice and serve immediately.

Cucumber and Radish on Rye

  • 1 cucumber, peeled and sliced thin
  • 3 radishes, sliced thin
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, softened to room temperature
  • 3 TB sour cream
  • 1 packet ranch dressing mix
  • 1/2 TB fresh dill, minced
  • Good quality Rye bread
Combine sour cream, cream cheese and ranch mix together- an electric mixer works well. Stir in fresh dill. Spread on rye bread and top with cucumbers and radishes. Serve immediately.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Favorite Things: 14 Items You Really Should Try from Trader Joe's

For a long time, I really thought Trader Joe's was an expensive yuppy/hipster grocery stop.....a place where you would shop if you had a bottomless wallet, or if you didn't know how to do your own cooking.

I have no idea why I thought that. Trader Joe's is fabulous, it's affordable, and it's full of amazing items for fridge, freezer, pantry and party. Every time I go there I try to find something new, and 85% of the time it results in another item added to my 'addicted list': items I absolutely must buy whenever I stop in to TJ's.

So, without further ado- here are the 14 items I absolutely encourage you to try from Trader Joe's.

Note: not everything listed is in the picture above!

1. Trader Joe's Demi French Baguette

At $0.99 a pop, these little baguettes are perfect for a sophisticated sandwich, a cheese board, dips, or to split with someone over soup. Keep a couple of these in your freezer and enjoy a crusty baguette whenever the craving strikes!

2. Trader Joe's Fully Cooked Falafel

Okay- first of all, the freezer sections of TJ's is glorious. Spend a lot of time there. While you're there, do yourself a huge favor and pick up a couple of bags of the Falafel. One to two minutes in the microwave and you have an insanely delicious lunch, appetizer or side dish. My personal favorite way to enjoy these guys is on a flour tortilla with garlic hummus, sour cream, cilantro and Cholula.

Other freezer favorites: Chicken Balti Pies, Mandarin Orange Chicken, Pork or Chicken Potstickers, Naan, Riced Cauliflower

3. Trader Joe's 'Bucket' Cookies

This is a broad category, but one of our house favorites. Trader Joe's makes a variety of cookies, all packaged up in clear buckets. Hubby adores the Ultimate Vanilla Wafers (especially dipped in his coffee), while I'm preferential to the Triple Ginger Snaps. The buckets might seem excessive for small households, but trust me- they go fast.

4. Trader Joe's Organic Mango Nectar

Admittedly, this is one of the more 'splurge' priced items on my list. I promise you, though, that it's totally worth it. This juice IS mango in a glass. Word has it that it's also amazing with tequila, but I wouldn't know anything about that.....

5. Trader Joe's Speculoos Anything

TJ's really hit the nail on the head with speculoos. I like to think of it as their response to the Nutella craze. The traditional jar of cookie butter is always a good place to start for the uninitiated (with apple slices or by the spoonful- it's all good), but TJ's boasts tons of other products incorporating this tasty spread. There's really no wrong way to approach this category.

6. Trader Joe's Lemon Curd

This was the first product from TJ's I fell in love with. Fabulous lemon flavor, not too sweet and pleasantly sticky- insane with butter on a crumpet. If you ever have a recipe that requires lemon curd and don't feel inclined to make your own, this is the only acceptable substitute.

7. Trader Joe's Dried/Freeze Dried Fruit

Another broad category, but one not to be ignored. TJ's has a ridiculous amount dehydrated and freeze dried fruits. If you're looking for anything from dried bananas to jackfruit, this is the place to find it. The dried fruit selection makes for fabulous snacking, or as a great addition to cereal, trail-mix, granola or oatmeal.

My favorites are: dried mangoes, dried banana chips, freeze-dried strawberries, dried jackfruit.

8. Trader Joe's Pumperknickel Pretzel Sticks

Sorry kids- these are pretzels for grown-ups. Deep, toasty rye flavor and not overly hard, these pretzels are perfect with mustard (try TJ's Dijon Mustard mixed with a bit of mayo) or any other dip.

9. TJ's Sour Gummis 

I adore sour gummi candy, and while these are overly sour, they are delicious. Flavored with natural citrus juice, there's something refreshingly not over-processed about these treats. I would sneak these in to a movie theater.

10. Charles Shaw Merlot (aka Two Buck Chuck) or Cotillion Tri-County Pinot Noir

Either of these wines are reliably cheap options for wine. While I wouldn't recommend bringing Two Buck Chuck to a party (better to keep on hand at home for when the good wine runs out), Cotillion is a perfectly acceptable host gift. (Though I have many other favorite wines under $10 that I would recommend instead...)

11. Anything Seasonal

Fall and winter boast a plethora of pumpkin and peppermint flavored treats at Trader Joe's, and they go fast. My advice: as soon as a seasonal item hits the shelves, just buy it.

In the summer, be sure to check out their plant selection. I scooped up a HUGE basil plant for $2.99- way better than anything I found at several of the other stores I went to.

12. Trader Joe's Unexpected Cheddar Cheese

"Tastes like an aged premium cheddar with hints of Parmesan". I've spent.....a lot of money on cheese before. What can I say? I'm a girl that loves to entertain with a good cheese board, and at $3.99 a package, this cheese is a winner. Enjoy it on a grilled cheese with slices of apple, or on it's own with a good cracker or sliced baguette.

13. Trader Joe's Corn and Chili Tomato-less Salsa

I don't like tomatoes. I love the flavor, but I just can't do the texture. Don't ask me to change my ways- it won't happen. This whole love/hate affair really comes to a head when salsa is involved. I adore salsa, but I simply can't bring myself to do anything more than dip a chip into the liquid and leave all 'chunks' behind. This corn and chili salsa is a life-saver. Surprisingly fresh and with a pleasant flavor, this stuff is great with Trader Joe's Sweet Potato Tortilla Chips. Another fabulous way to enjoy it: grilled shrimp, cilantro, corn salsa, diced jalapenos and fresh pineapple all wrapped up in a tortilla.

14. Trader Joe's Frosted Maple and Brown Sugar Shredded Bite Size Wheats

This is what breakfast tastes like. Not overly sweet, but with plenty of maple and brown sugar flavor, I can't imagine ever going back to Kellogg's Mini-Wheats.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Opa! It's Greek Night

Greek food is one of those 'ethnic food' categories that I feel goes under-appreciated. I'm not sure how Greek food procured a reputation as 'bland' and 'all the same flavor' (I've heard it multiple times....), but I can assure you that that is certainly NOT the case.

I love Greek recipes because there's a huge focus on  using fresh, bright flavors in combination to create something delectable. And if you're a citrus lover? THIS is your cuisine!

So what's in the bento up above?

First up: Spanakorizo, a delightful way to get your veggies in. Onions, spinach and rice are simmered together with a bit of dill and lemon juice for a truly addicting side.


  • 2 TB olive oil
  • 1/2 cup finely diced onion
  • 1 TB minced garlic
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 4 TB fresh dill, minced and divided in half
  • 1 lemon, zested and juiced
  • 1/2 pound baby spinach, roughly chopped
  • 1 cup rice
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • Feta
Heat olive oil over medium/high heat. Add onions and saute until soft and translucent. Add in garlic and cook for another 2-3 minutes. Add cumin, lemon zest and spinach. Cover pan and cook until spinach has wilted. Add in chicken broth, rice, 1/2 of the dill and bring to a boil. (Note: before boiling, you could transfer everything into a rice cooker and cook according to directions) Once boiling, reduce heat to a simmer, cover and cook until liquid is absorbed and rice is tender, 15-20 minutes. Stir in remaining dill and lemon juice, and add in crumbles of feta cheese. Taste and adjust seasoning, adding salt/pepper if desired.

Next: Chicken Souvlaki with Tzatziki. The marinade for this chicken smells so good- marinate shoe leather in this stuff and I'm sure it would turn out. Whip up plenty of minty-cool tzatziki for dipping (or schmeering on a pita!) and you're in for a tasty main dish.


  • 4 TB olive oil
  • 2 TB fresh lemon juice
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tsp freshly grated black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp oregano (or 1 TB fresh)
  • 1 pound chicken breasts, cut into 1" chunks 
Whisk all ingredients together. Add marinade to a large ziploc bag (or bowl), add chicken, toss, and rest in fridge for several hours, ideally overnight. 

Remove chicken from marinade, pat dry and cook as desired. Grilling is recommended (skewer and grill 8-10 minutes), but oven-baking is also acceptable (lay on a pan and broil until chicken is done, timing will vary based on oven and rack position)


  • 6 oz plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 smallish cucumber, peeled and grated (use large grater holes)
  • Juice of 1/2 a lemon (adding more to taste if desired)
  • 1 TB fresh mint, minced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced fine
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Combine all ingredients, adding in more seasoning until you're happy. Allow to rest in fridge for at least 30 minutes so flavors can meld.

Finally: Greek Honey Cake. I just need to take a minute here and tell you how unique this cake is. It really is unlike anything I've ever had. The texture is almost like cornbread, and despite nearly drowning the pan in an addicting honey syrup, the cake maintains it's structure.


  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • Zest of 1 orange
  • 3/4 cup butter, softened to room temp
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup milk
Preheat oven to 350. Spray an 8x8 pan with cooking spray. Set aside.

Combine flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and orange zest. Set aside.

Beat sugar and butter together until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time, until thoroughly combined. 

Working in alternating batches, add flour mixture and milk to sugar mixture, scraping down the bowl as needed. 

Pour batter into pan and bake 35-40 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean and the cake has pulled away from the sides of the pan. 

While the cake is cooling, prepare the syrup. In a large saucepan, add 1 cup honey and 3/4 cup water. Bring to a boil and cook for 5 minutes. Add in 1 tsp lemon juice and 1 tsp orange juice- cook another 2-3 minutes. Pour over the top of the cake.

Let the syrup soak into the cake for 30 minutes-1 hour. Enjoy! 

Sunday, January 10, 2016

A little Sous-Vide action...Beer Brats!

We just got back from an AMAZING honeymoon in beautiful, sunny, warm, fabulous Mexico.

We're such goons.

Unfortunately for us, we returned to Minnesota just in time to catch the beginning of a fun-filled polar vortex. 


As I'm coming down from my warm-weather high, I found myself craving one last taste of summer. I needed something fresh. I needed something savory. I needed something that would tide me over until I could either escape back to Mexico or drag out the grill in June. 

I also needed to sous-vide something for my 52 Weeks of Cooking Challenge. 

Beer brats. I needed to beer brats. 

(I also needed to pack it all into a Bento Box style for my 'metatheme' weekly challenge)

Here's the deal- I love a good brat. What I can't abide, however, is a brat that is charred to the point of exhaustion. This is why I love beer brats: I get to avoid the char! However, I sometimes find that beer brats, left to simmer away in a bath of beer, can turn out over-cooked and under-whelming. 

Sous-vide brats are truly a revelation. By maintaining temperature, the brats cook evenly and perfectly. Add in some caramelized onions and beer to the cooking bag (along with a divine roasted pepper salad) and you've got a brat that's thoroughly infused with all the flavors of a summer grill out. I absolutely adore this method and will go so far as to say THIS is how I will cook my brats forever, no matter the time of year. 

If you're craving a taste of summer, get yourself some brats and get going on this recipe!

First, we're going to caramelize some onions. Begin by melting some butter in a pan on medium heat. 2 tablespoons should do the trick. When your butter begins to bubble, add in 1 thinly sliced red onion, 2 tablespoons brown sugar, and a good pinch of salt. Cook the onions for 15-20 minutes, until they deepen in color and are thoroughly softened. Add in 12 ounces of your favorite pale ale and bring to a steady simmer. Cook another 5 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.

In the meantime, you'll want to heat up a pot of water to 140 degrees F. It's essential to maintain the temperature at 140 for the duration of the cook time, so be sure to have a reliable thermometer handy. 

Divide the onion/beer mixture between to gallon freezer bags (or 2 vacuum seal bags) and add in 3 brats to each bag. Flatten the bags and remove the air from the bag using the water submersion technique or a vacuum sealer. Be sure the brats aren't overlapping each other.

Add to the pot and be sure to watch the temperature. If it begins to drop, you'll want to turn up the heat in order to maintain 140. Use a pot or other item to help submerge the bags completely. Cook for 1 hour. After 1 hour, brats can be held at temperature for several hours.

Or we can eat them right away! Remove the bags from the water bath and all to rest slightly while you heat up a skillet on high with some butter. Sear off the brats for just a minute or two (they're already fully cooked), or until they begin to split open. 

Beautiful. Juicy. And thoroughly delicious served with the caramelized onions and some mustard. 

If you want to go a step further, though...

Char up a red, green and yellow bell pepper over an open flame or under the broiler. You'll want to char until nearly all the skin is blackened. 

Lovely! Remove to a bowl and cover with a kitchen towel. Rest for 20 minutes, then use your hands to peel off the charred skin. Remove the inner membranes and slice the peppers into thin strips. 

In a small bowl, combine 6 tablespoons olive oil, 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, 1 teaspoon each of dried oregano, basil, parsley, rosemary (1 TB if using fresh), 2 cloves finely minced garlic, 1/2 teaspoon cayenne, and salt/pepper to taste. Whisk well and add the mixture to the pepper slices. Allow to marinate for at least 20 minutes.

Absolutely delicious on a brat!