February 22, 2012


Just look at that sky!
Welcome to my morning view. I had to share!

I'm so thankful that even in February it's warm enough that I can be outside every morning. Remember when I was overwhelmed earlier this month? I'm much better now, & part of that is because I've been enjoying the sunrises. It'll be dissappointing when Daylight Savings Time comes, because then it will be too dark to be roller blading again. For now, I'm enjoying seeing dawn breaking before me!

This is what I see in the mornings. It's definitely worth getting out of my warm bed, bundling up, & heading outside for!

So do not fear, for I am with you;
   do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
   I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Isaiah 41.10

February 20, 2012

Chocolate Martinis

In 2009, I discovered martinis.

For Valentine's Day, the Bup & I went to a Martini Mixology class as part of Chocolate Covered February. We learned how to make 5 martinis, one of which was the signature Hershey's chocolate martini. The class was a ton of fun, so if you ever have an opportunity like that, try it!

I never really had a martini before then, but I've tried a bunch of flavors since.

Chocolate, peanut butter cup*, blueberry, candy cane, apple, key lime & lemon drop, to name a few.

*These are dangerously delicious. It's like dessert in a cup. The peanut rum creme liqueur for this is super hard to find, so I've only made them once as a birthday celebration with some friends. Try it!

I read somewhere that if you offer someone who's full dessert, they'll say no, but if you offer them a martini, they'll say yes.

Hello, chocolate martinis!

This drink is a spin off of the ones we created in the mixology class. For New Year's Eve this year, we had these, & when I went to the store for the marshmallow vodka, I saw chocolate whipped vodka on sale. Buying it was a no brainer (can't resist chocolate!), but when I got home, I just stuck it in the basement & sort of forgot about it.

So then last weekend I went back to the store for something else (recipe coming soon!) & saw crème de cacao on sale. Another no brainer purchase.

When I got home, I told the Bup that I'm never shopping for liquor again. I keep seeing yummy flavors on sale & telling myself liquor doesn't really go bad, I'll come up with something I'll definitely want that for! He can go in for 1 item & leave with 1 item. I need to practice restraint.

At least the same theory applies to me when I'm in the produce section. "Oh look! Eggplant & broccoli are on sale!" & then I get home to find there's not room in the fridge. We never have trouble finished the veggies though!

Don't judge me. :-) Those martini glasses are always spilling. Whoever decided to put pure alcohol into a glass like that was either really dumb or really smart. I haven't decided yet.

 We split this recipe into 2 smaller martinis, but the full recipe will fill a regular martini glass.

So now, after all that, I bring you this yummy creation.

Chocolate Martini
Serves 1 (large) or 2 (small)

3 ounces chocolate whipped vodka (vanilla vodka would work, too)
2 ounces crème de cacao
1 ounce amaretto
hot cocoa powder

Pour a thin layer of hot cocoa powder onto a shallow dish. Use a small amount of water to wet the rim of a martini glass. Turn glass upside down in the cocoa powder to coat the rim. Combine all ingredients (I measured using a jigger but a measuring cup works fine) in a shaker with ice. Shake vigorously until cold. Pour into martini glass & enjoy!

February 18, 2012

Chewy Cherry Granola

 Last week I ordered chia seeds from Chiaseedsdirect.com. A few days later, 4 pounds of chia arrived on my door step. I don't think I fully comprehended how many chia seeds I was ordering until I opened that box.

For those of you who only think of chia seeds as what you plant on a chia pet, guess what! You can eat them! Chia seeds are extremely healthy - check out these stats! They have healthy omega-3 fatty acids, complete protein, & lots of B vitamins. They don't have a strong flavor, which makes them versatile in cooking & baking.

One thing to note - when chia seeds come in contact with liquid, they form a gel. This makes them perfect for chia eggs, but also means that in most baked goods they will absorb moisture & thicken the batter.

So now, lucky for all of you, I'm on a kick to find ways to use all 4 pounds
I'm not really into chia pudding, although I've only tried pumpkin & I think chocolate would probably rock.

I love adding chia seeds to my oatmeal, but at 1 Tablespoon a day, 4 pounds worth will be rancid before I make it through 1 pound.

Of course, I could freeze some, but that would defeat goal #2 for 2012. I think I still will freeze 2 pounds, but for the rest, it's time to start being creative!

All that, just for some simple granola.

This recipe is filled with nutrients including plenty of omega-3's, fiber, & antioxidants. It's low in fat unlike many granolas (and the fat it does have is healthy fat!). It's also low in sugar. Most of the sweetness comes from the cherry puree, the rest from a spot of honey, both of which are natural sugars & have plenty of nutrients.

If you don't like nuts or are allergic, feel free to eliminate them. We have lots of walnuts, so that's what I used, but I think almonds or hazelnuts would be delicious, too. It would be great without nuts, too.

And for those of you who didn't just purchase 4 pounds of chia seeds, feel free to add some extra oats, flax or wheat germ to compensate. It'll still be good, I promise.

Chewy Cherry Granola
Adapted from How Sweet It Is
Yield: 6-7 cups

4 c old-fashioned oats
1/4 c ground flaxseed
1/4 c wheat germ
1/2 c chia seeds
1/2 c chopped walnuts (or other nuts)
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
3 T honey
2 T coconut oil, melted (or substitute canola oil)
1 T vanilla extract
2 c cherry puree (about 1 lb of cherries, fresh or frozen)
1/2 c dried cherries
1/2 c coconut flakes (optional)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Combine oats, wheat germ, flax, salt, cinnamon & walnuts in a large mixing bowl. Using a food processor, blend pitted cherries until pureed. Stir in coconut oil & vanilla. Add the honey to the oat mixture. Once combined, stir in cherry puree mixture.  Make sure everything is evenly coated. Spread in an even layer on a large baking sheet (or use 2 baking sheets, depending on size). Bake for 30-35 minutes, stirring every 7-8 minutes. Granola should be slightly golden when it is done. As granola cools, it will become slightly crunchy. If you prefer your granola to be very crunchy, bake it for about 10 minutes longer.  Fold in dried cherries and coconut flakes. Store in a sealed container for 1-2 weeks.

February 16, 2012

Spinach Dip Filled Ravioli

A lot of my dinner inspiration comes from an increasingly large Excel spreadsheet full of recipes I think look good. Anytime I'm on the web & find something that looks like we'd enjoy it, I add it to the list. I'm picky about recipes, but the list still keeps growing. It's almost embarrassing...but it's handy for dinner ideas!

From there, I decide what I'm hungry for, what ingredients we have on hand, & how much time/energy I have. I'm fortunate, because the Bup isn't picky. He's fully supportive of my quest to conquer my recipe list. So far, 258 tried, 338 to go! And now I wish I hadn't looked that up. Yikes!

This recipe is a combination of two ideas, plus a few variations. It's very rare that I make a recipe exactly like it is. I always feel like I have to make a change: healthify this, add extra that, substitute this because we don't have that, etc.

My Italian grandma always makes homemade raviolis for Easter, from scratch for the dough & the filling. Mom & I made them one year & it was a lot of fun...and a lot of work. I'm sure Grandma would be in shock over this, but I used Joy's idea to make ravioli using wonton wraps. I figured that since I'm using a non-traditional filling, maybe that makes it ok not to make my own dough?

So cute!

The wonton wraps were surprisingly simple to work with. They sealed easily with just a tiny bit of water & I didn't have any problems with them sticking together or tearing. It was a little time-consuming, but not anything near what making my own dough & cutting it would have been.

The end result was delicious. My first bite reminded me of America, Italy & China all at once. The wonton wraps made for a thin, lighter texture than traditional raviolis. Paired with a tossed salad & a glass of wine, it made a perfect Valentine's dinner.

Spinach Dip Filled Ravioli
Adapted from Whole Foods
Inspired by Joy the Baker
Yield: about 4 dozen

1 (12 oz.) package prepared wonton wrappers
2 jalapeño peppers, chopped & seeds removed
1 small yellow onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
3/4 c unsweetened almond milk
1/4 c lemon juice
1/3 c nutritional yeast
3 c (2 15 oz. cans) Great Northern beans (or other white beans)
1 avocado
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 (16 oz.) package frozen chopped spinach, squeezed to remove excess liquid

To make the filling:
In a large dry skillet, cook the peppers, onion, & garlic over medium heat until browned & softened, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add almond milk, scrape up any browned bits, & simmer for 2 minutes.  Measure lemon juice, nutritional yeast, beans, avocado, salt & black pepper into a food processor or high-speed blender. Add the pepper & onion mixture & purée until smooth. If mixture is too thick to process, add 2 T more milk at a time. Stir in the spinach. Taste & season with more salt & pepper as desired.
NOTE: There will be leftover filling, which you can use as a dip for chips & veggies or as a spread. If you prefer to not have leftovers, the recipe can easily be halved.

To assemble the ravioli:
Gather the wonton wrappers, a bowl of filling, a spoon, a small bowl of water, a towel & a platter or piece of wax paper to lay the raviolis on.

Place a wonton wrapper in front of you so that it looks like a diamond.  Place a generous teaspoon of filling on the bottom half of the diamond. (After the first few, you'll get a feel for the exact amount that will fill the wrap but not ooze out the sides.) Dip your finger in water & run your wet finger along the bottom edges of the diamond.  Fold the top half of the diamond over the filling dollop.   Press the triangle edges together, making sure there are no air pockets.  Grab the two farthest points & bring them together in the center.  Use a drop of water to seal the two points together. Lay ravioli in a single layer on platter or wax paper.  Repeat until wonton wrappers are all filled.

In the meantime, heat a large pot of water to boiling. Add raviolis. Stir gently one time & allow to boil for 2-3 minutes. Drain & serve tossed in your favorite tomato sauce or pesto.

Make ahead:
Ravioli can be frozen by placing it in the freezer, in a single layer, until frozen.  Once frozen, seal in a plastic bag & freeze until ready to use.  Frozen raviolis can be cooked straight from the freezer, just increase the cooking time to 7-9 minutes. 

February 14, 2012

A Peek into My Kitchen

I thought you might enjoy a little peek into my kitchen. I had a major cooking/baking day on Sunday, so here are some shots of what I was up to.

Above, you can see the beginning stages of making Cheddar, Beer and Mustard Pull-apart Bread.

White whole wheat flour, sea salt, my Kitchen Aid, Dijon mustard, black pepper mill, kitchen scale, hot sauce, eggs, vegan Worcestershire sauce, spices for the filling, warmed beer + butter

While that was rising, I tried out a new waffle recipe. I'm on a kick with using frozen cherries we got from my in-laws, so when I found this recipe for Whole Wheat Chocolate Cherry Waffles, it seemed like a perfect special treat for Valentine's week breakfasts.

This project is a little teaser for a future post. :-)

Valentine's cookies, in the icing stage.

The pull-apart bread, completed. Boy was that delicious!!

What you don't see in all of these shots is that on the other side of the kitchen, the Bup was making a HUGE mess installing a tile back splash!! No more weird rose color!

It was a little different preparing everything with the stove halfway out of it's usual spot & everything out of place. Our dining room table is currently the catch-all for kitchen stuff. I like a challenge, though, & I only tripped over the stove once!

February 13, 2012

Old-Fashioned Sour Cream Cookies

Here you go!

I make you a plate of cookies filled with love.

Tomorrow is Valentine's Day! I don't get into the big spending on flowers & special fancy restaurants, but I do like to send cards, make cookies & wear pink. It's a great time to take a moment to let your family & friends know you love them.

Growing up, Mom & I would always make these cookies for Valentine's Day. If we forgot or didn't have time, they became St. Patrick's Day cookies instead, using our shamrock cutter instead of the heart one. I was in charge of sprinkling them with colored sugar.

I had to search hard for the recipe, as it came out of Mom's old, falling-apart-and-duct-taped-together Betty Crocker cookbook. I bought one of Betty's cookbooks at a rummage sale, but it's not quite as old & didn't have this recipe in it. I couldn't find it on the internet, either!
(By the way, I'm very disappointed in where Betty Crocker is heading. The website is full of recipes made from mixes & packaged items. It's hard to find anything from scratch! Mom's cookbook was the cooking standard of its time. It has recipes & instructions on doing the simple things, like making pie crusts, cakes from scratch, etc.)

Finally, I just copied it from Mom's cookbook. I guess I could've saved myself a lot of time by doing that first...

For the Bup, it was love at first bite. The next time I made them, he suggested icing them. Now we're hooked, & I'm continuing the tradition with a little extra flair!

Since this is so close to Valentine's Day, maybe you'll have to make them for St. Patty's Day! Either way, I hope you'll enjoy these cookies. We love them!

Old-Fashioned Sour Cream Cookies
Adapted from Betty Crocker
Yield: 4 dozen

1/2 c butter (to make lower in fat, substitute with 1/4 c butter + 1/4 c unsweetened applesauce)
1 egg
1 c sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
2/3 c unbleached white flour
2 c white whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 c sour cream (to make lower in fat, use light)
          colored sugar
Preheat oven to 450*F. Using an electric mixer, cream together butter, egg, sugar & vanilla. Sift together dry ingredients. Add alternately with sour cream to butter mixture. Roll dough out onto a floured surface to 1/4" thick. Cut out cookies with cookie cutters. Sprinkle with colored sugar, if desired. Bake for 8-10 minutes. (Cookies may still appear pale, but do not bake for longer than 10 minutes unless you want crunchy cookies.)

1 cup powdered sugar
1 T almond milk
1 tsp vanilla
1-2 drops red food coloring, if desired

Mix together. Add more milk if necessary, but be aware that ever drop of milk makes a huge difference. The icing should not be too runny or it will run off of the cookies. Ice cookies once they are cool.

February 10, 2012

Take a deep breath

This week completely overwhelmed me. Little stuff irritated me for no reason. I couldn't focus on multiple things at once. Everything seemed like a huge monster task, ready to attack.

Nothing bad happened, it was a normal week. I'm not even sure what made me feel this way. It wasn't one of my busiest weeks, by far. I just feel like there's so much to do, to remember, to process, that I can't keep up. Like I'm letting stuff slip through the cracks but can't do anything to stop it.

I hit my wall after lunch yesterday when I was so completely exhausted that I didn't think I'd make it through the afternoon. I got home, wrapped myself in our fluffy comforter, & fell asleep. (This is HUGE for me. I love naps & never let myself take them.) I woke up when the Bup came home, about 30 minutes later, & was completely disoriented. I thought I was late for work. Nope, just for dinner! Slow Cooked Sweet Potato Chili, you are my friend.

I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the LORD sustains me.  Psalm 3:5

Apparently I'm not the only one, because I found a post that was perfect for me to read: Let it be Simple. Her "Cures for overwhelm" make me feel comforted. I can do this, too. Each time I do yoga, take time outside, or drink tea, I need to stop & think about all the little comforts that I take for granted.

Right after finishing that much-needed read, I went on to find this from Joy: Pink Raised Doughnuts with Toasted Coconut. Ok, yes, the doughtnuts are beautiful & I'm certain they're delicious. But more than that, her words of wisdom in the first few paragraphs are helpful.  Whenever I'm feeling blah, I need to focus in on what's good & beautiful in my life.

So as I come out of this little slump, I wanted to share it with you, in case anyone else is going through something similar, whether on a small scale, like mine, or on a larger scale.

I'm blessed in so many ways. So are you. Let's remember that.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.      Romans 15:13  

P.S. The pic at the top is from my run this morning. It doesn't do any justice to the beautiful pinks in the sky, but I had to try.

P.P.S. I'm hoping to have a few red & pink recipes up soon, in the spirit of Valentine's Day!

February 5, 2012

Hershey Pantry Date Night

In early January, we had date night at The Hershey Pantry, thanks to a friend's parents who gave us a gift card. This post is very delayed, but I was having a lot of trouble getting my pictures to upload. I think I fixed the problem now!

The Pantry is a popular spot for tourists & locals, so I'm always cautious about picking a time to go because I hate waiting forever for a table! We went on a January weeknight, so there was no wait & we had excellent service.

To start, we were tempted by the special appetizer, Mile High Swett Potato Fries with Honey, Pecans, Brown Sugar & Chili Garlic Dipping Sauce. The Bup & I are total suckers for sweet potatoes, so we couldn't resist. When they said "mile high," they really meant it! I was so full from this that I didn't even want my dinner anymore.

I had an envelope with a surprise coupon inside, & when I opened it, I found out we got a free beverage. We both ordered tea. I love the cute teapots that they bring out with the hot water!

My dinner was a small tossed salad followed by Rigatoni tossed in Homemade Bruschetta topped with fresh basil, cherry tomatoes, ricotta, & aged parmesan cheese. It was delicious & I was glad to have a lot of leftovers for lunch the next day!

After some complications with the Bup's meal, he had a Caesar salad & the Mushroom Lover's Pasta, a portobello stuffed ravioli with additional portobellos mixed in. He requested a tomato sauce instead of the garlic cream sauce on the menu. When they brought it out, there were chunks of chicken in it, so we sent it back. The chef was wonderful & made him a fresh tomato sauce for his new plate. We were very impressed with how both the waitress & the chef handled the situation. When we asked to speak to a manager, it turned out that the waitress was the manager. No wonder she got that position - she was great!

They offered to comp the Bup's meal, but we declined because they'd already gone to some extra effort to make things right & we really loved the food. The waitress was apologetic & insisted on at least giving us a dessert, so we split the Key Lime Cake. I loved the instense lime flavor in the cake, but the icing was a plain vanilla. I think it would've been perfect with a hint of lime there, too.

We're planning to go back in February because they gave us another suprise coupon envelope. If I ever run a restaurant, I'm going to do something similar. It's a perfect way to keep customers coming back!

February 3, 2012

Coconut Cornbread

A few weeks ago we went to the cabin with my parents & friends that are practically family. Laura, Andrew, Walter & I were in charge of lunch one day, so we planned chili & cornbread. I've been searching for a cornbread that's plain & simple, but still healthy, & I think I found it! It's a lot lighter than my Corny Cornbread, & similar in taste to the kind out of the Jiffy box, but with a hint of coconut.

Coconut Cornbread
Adapted from SummerHarms
Serves 16

1 c. white whole wheat flour
1/3 c. unbleached white flour
1 c. corn meal
2 T. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
6 T. honey
1/4 c. coconut oil, melted
1/4 c. coconut milk or almond milk
1/2 c. sour cream
2 organic eggs

Preheat oven to 400*F. Lightly grease a 9"x9" pan with cooking spray.

In a medium bowl, stir together the dry ingredients. Measure wet ingredients & add to dry mixture. Stir until well combined. Pour batter into prepared pan & bake for 20-25 minutes. 

Laura made her not-even-a-little-bit spicy vegetarian chili & we got to see her onion goggles in action! It was like watching Inspector Gadget chop onions.

The temps got pretty low, so we were thankful to come back from our hike & enjoy such a warming lunch.

After lunch, we enjoyed a cozy afternoon in the cabin. I put on my slippers & stayed by the fire!

Mom tried to tempt me with a puzzle, but I was reading a good book. :-)

This chili & cornbread would be perfect to enjoy during the Super Bowl on Sunday! We'll be having baked beans & beer, like we did last year. I'm making it a tradition!

February 1, 2012

Vermont: Day 4

On Thursday we planned to go cross country skiing, but nature had other plans.

We had a menu for breakfast, so I ordered the oatmeal & topped it with banana, maple syrup & raisins. Can't go a whole week without my oats!

We started out for skiing but there just wasn't enough snow. Instead, we took a 6 hour hike in the Green Mountain State Forest near the Moosalamoo campground. It was gorgeous scenery!

The trails were pretty icy, especially when we got to the snowmobile trail. I should've had my ice skates.

We didn't start out intending it to be so long, but luckily we had on warm clothes & packed a lunch.

Our map was outdated and they'd installed a dam in the middle of our path, so the road was cut off.
We trekked through the woods following a stream for about a 1/2 mile until we ran into the other end of the road.

I was so ready for dinner that night!!
On the way home we stopped a little grocery store to get some Vermont goodies & found these pre-packaged glasses of wine. We didn't buy any, but what a great idea for bringing on picnics! 
Soup was black bean veggie soup, followed by a salad with feta cheese on it.

Dinner was ravioli with a basil & sun-dried tomato sauce. It tasted much better than it looks! On the side we had broccoli & garlic bread.

At first I was sad to see peach cobbler for dessert since its not usually a favorite. I ate every bite though! Sooo good! After we finished eating we had to pack to leave. :-(

Our last morning at the Swiss Farm Inn, I got the Cinnamon Vanilla French Toast with a mini-muffin, banana, & home fries. That was more than plenty of food to fuel a day of riding in a car, but I couldn't resist one final delicious breakfast!
Can't wait to go back next year!!
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