Saturday, March 31, 2012

Bits and Bites

1.  This is my idea of health food.  BEST CLIF BAR EVER.

2.  Made some rootbeer floats at lunch the other day.  Apparently you're never too old to stop playing with your food :)

3.  The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin is my newest read and wow I'm hooked.  Highly recommended.  Full of interesting thoughts, insights, theories, and opinions.  I can already feel a change within myself and love it!

4.  Fun eats I found across the blogosphere this week:

Herb Gorgonzola Crusted Artichokes with Parmesan Hollandaise (How Sweet It Is): I have always been a HUGE artichoke fan and these look absolutely delicious.  If only those chokes weren't so gosh darn expensive...

Oreo Cookie Spread (Buns In My Oven): What a clever idea to do with America's Favorite Cookie!

Browned Butter Cream Cheese Chocolate Chip Cookies (Beantown Baker): I already have my tried and true chocolate chip cookie recipe but the addition of browned butter and cream cheese could never hurt in any dessert.

5.  These are the springtime favorites I am making at work.  Strawberry, hummingbird, and banana cupcakes.

6.  They taste disgusting.

7.  More beautiful flowers appearing in our yard!

Happy Spring!!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Butterfinger Brownies

I was barely able to post this recipe.  No, it was not out of hesitation because it wasn't very good.  Quite the opposite actually.  We ate through this pan of brownies so fast I almost didn't get a picture!  What a tragedy that would have been as these MUST be shared.  They are rich and fudgy and may even be the best brownie I have ever had (and I have had some pretty awesome brownies in my day). 

Butterfingers easily rank in my top three candy bars so these screamed my name when I came across the recipe a couple of months ago.  Who can resist that flaky, crispy, crunchy, peanut-buttery goodness?  Not I.  And when combined with the dense chocolate-y goodness of a brownie...pure heaven.  Plus a little added bonus: not nearly as much sticks to your teeth when consumed in baked form :)

Butterfinger Brownies

Make one 8x8 inch pan

2 ounces unsweetened chocolate
1/4 cup butter, melted
1/4 cup creamy peanut butter
1 cup light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 Butterfinger candy bars, regular size

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease an 8x8-inch pan.  Set aside.
Melt chocolate in glass bowl in the microwave- short bursts of 30 seconds; stir after each burst and remove from microwave when melted and smooth. Set aside to cool slightly
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the butter, peanut butter and brown sugar. Add the eggs and vanilla extract and whisk those in too. Stir in the melted chocolate. Stir in the flour. Stir in one bar of chopped butterfingers.
Spread batter into prepared pan. Top with second bar of butterfinger chunks.
Bake 25 (mine were done in 25) to 35 minutes. Watch closely and remove from oven when toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool completely.

Adapted from Recipe Girl.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Healthi-Fried Rice

I have a confession to make: I never order fried rice when eating Chinese.  I know, it's un-American.  Is that an oxymoron?  Anyway, I just always opt for the brown or white counterpart (mainly to sop up all that moo-shu and moo goo goodness).  So it is very odd that I suddenly had the urge to make some chicken fried rice for dinner the other night.

Now, I have to admit that I'm a little confused as to why this dish is called fried rice.  Afterall, the term "fried" implies "unhealthy", but this dish is chock full of veggies!  Veggies = healthy.  And it's a good thing because the two of us polished this off in one sitting.  It was THAT good.  Nathan even went back for thirds and that has never happened.  Seconds, almost always, but THIRDS??!  Thank goodness for all those vegetables.  Poor fried rice is getting a bad rap.

Chicken Fried Rice

This served the two of us.

3/4 cup uncooked white rice
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1/2 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup chopped cooked chicken breast
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 carrot - peeled and diced
1/2 green bell pepper, chopped
1/2 cup green peas
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup soy sauce

Cook rice according to package directions. While rice is cooking, heat a wok or large skillet over medium-high heat. Pour in sesame oil and stir in onion. Fry until golden, then add garlic. When garlic is lightly browned, mix in chicken.

Lower heat to medium and stir in celery, carrot, green pepper, and peas. Fry until vegetables are crisp-tender. Stir in beaten egg and cook just until egg is scrambled and firm.

When rice is done, mix thoroughly with vegetables and stir in soy sauce. Adjust seasoning to your preference and serve immediately.

Adapted from AllRecipes.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

DIY Flour Tortillas

When I was young I never was a huge taco fan.  My mom made them a couple of times each month and I always would dread dinner on those nights.  Something about the crisp taco shell and ground beef I just didn't get excited about.  Now the tomatoes and cheese- that's a different story!  I can remember standing in the kitchen after we ate and taking a pinch of cheese with a pinch of tomatoes and eating it all up until the bowls were empty.  Delicious :)

Well, I grew up and discovered tacos aren't just made up of crispy shells and seasoned beef.  You can have soft ones too!  With chicken!  Or better yet....crispy chicken :)

So now I'm hooked on tacos.  I could eat them every day (yes I had them for lunch today).  The combination of a soft, fluffy flour tortilla loaded with juicy chicken, shredded lettuce, piles of cheese, and loads of tomatoes and salsa- how can you go wrong?  Now if only you could replicate those same melt-in-your-mouth housemade tortillas that all the great taco places make...well now you can!  These are incredible!  You will never want to buy store bought again.  Seriously.  They are very simple and don't require much prep or effort at all and they literally make the taco.  They take the taco to a whole new level.  We chose to keep it fairly simple and stuffed ours with just some crispy chicken tossed with a blend of spices, salsa, and a cilantro-lime sour cream (sour cream mixed with lime juice, cilantro, salt and pepper) and they hit the spot.  Make them.  You won't regret it.

Flour Tortillas

Makes 6 tortillas

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 heaping teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons shortening (or unsalted butter, softened)
1/2 cup water

Combine the flour, baking powder, salt, and shortening in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the dough blade.  Pulse the mixture until the mixture is crumbly, about 5 seconds.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl.  (If you don't have a food processor, this same effect can be achieved with a pastry cutter or two forks).

With the food processor running, add the water in a slow steady stream until the dough just forms a cohesive ball. Knead for 30 seconds more, until the dough is tacky. If the bowl is too sticky, add a bit more flour.

Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface and divide into 6 equal pieces. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and let rest for 10 minutes.

Heat a large ungreased skillet over medium heat. Working with one dough ball at a time and keeping the others covered, pat the ball into a disc. Dust lightly with flour and roll the dough into a very thin circle, 8 inches in diameter. Carefully transfer the shaped tortilla to the heated skillet and cook each side for 10-20 seconds, just until bubbles form and are lightly browned. (Do not overcook or the tortillas will be too stiff). Repeat this process with the remaining dough balls, lowering the heat as needed to prevent burning. Store in an airtight bag in the refrigerator for up to 1 week, or freeze.

Adapted from Annie's Eats.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Peanut Butter Oatmeal Sandwich Cookies

It's that time of year again- Girl Scout cookie time!  And each year we can rely on three things:  (1) little girls will be stationed outside grocery store doors everywhere, (2) the price of a box will go up, and (3) the number of cookies per box will go down.

While Do-si-dos never were a favorite of mine (I'm a sucker for the Tagalongs and Samoas), this at home version takes the cake.  They are soft and chewy and delicious.  Really.  They just melt-in-your-mouth and are full of peanut butter goodness.  And I was able to use up some peanut butter!  The recipe said I would get 18 sandwich cookies, and that's exactly what I got- a rarity in baking. 

So step in the kitchen, wear braided pigtails (yes I did this), and make a cookie that takes you back to your childhood.  While saving a little money, too :)

Peanut Butter Oatmeal Sandwich Cookies

Makes 18 sandwich cookies

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup quick-cooking oats

For the Filling:
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1 cup powdered sugar, sifted
3 tablespoons heavy cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, peanut butter and both sugars on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the egg and vanilla extract. Mix until combined. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the dry ingredients, mixing just until combined. Finally, add the oats and mix until just combined.

Take about 1 tablespoon of dough and roll into a cookie ball. Place on prepared baking sheet, leaving about 2 inches between the cookies. Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until the cookies are slightly golden and the edges are set. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes then transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely.

While the cookies are cooling, make the filling. Combine the butter, peanut butter and powdered sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat until smooth. Add the heavy cream and beat until light and fluffy. Using a knife, spread peanut butter filling onto the flat side of a cookie. Find a cookie the same size and sandwich the cookies together, pressing the filling to the edges.

Adapted from Two Peas and Their Pod.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Bits and Bites

Every so often I plan to do a little feature of randoms- just bits and pieces of everyday life with recipes and fun finds sprinkled in.  Here's my first attempt at this "grab bag" post:

1. While I didn't win the "cupcake war" with my Lucky Charms creation, Nathan came home with a little surprise for me and insisted that I "won in his eyes".  So at the end of this week of luck, one thing is for certain: I am lucky to have him :)

2. This is apparently along the lines of what the winner made.  Don't ask.

3. Lucky Charms Treats- this may have to be where the rest of that box of cereal goes...

4.  Went to the store this weekend and had to snag these.  Happy Birthday Oreo!

5.  So ready for spring!!  Flowers are beginning to bloom in our front yard and I love it!!

6.  Spring = Easter = Peeps and I love my peeps!  This idea makes them even better!

Happy Monday!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Trying My Luck with Lucky Charms Cupcakes

"Multi-Layer Perfection"-- that's at least how people are describing these adorable, tasty holiday treats! 

After Nathan came home from work one day last week, he mentioned that there would be a contest the Friday before St. Patrick's day featuring green goodies from the kitchen.  I immediately chose to meet that challenge and became determined to win this little office competition.  My weapon of choice: Lucky Charms Cupcakes! 

Wow.  Not only are these absolutely adorable, they are absolutely delicious!  Start with a lucky charms crust, pour on a vanilla cupcake batter mixed with more cereal, then top with frosting and marshmallow pieces.  How much more fun can a cupcake get?  And to follow the rules of the game, I tossed some green food coloring into the mix!

I found the recipe on Stef's blog, Cupcake Project, and chose to use her Ultimate Vanilla Cupcake recipe as the batter.  They turned out moist and flavorful and I am tucking that recipe away as a keeper for all future vanilla-flavored cupcakes!!  In addition, it does call for cake flour, which I do not have, but you can make your own simply by combining 2 tablespoons cornstarch with 1 cup all-purpose flour; therefore, I have written my version below.  Hope you enjoy these as much as we (and Nathan's office) did!

Here's the full "review" I got in an email from a co-worker.  I was pretty pleased:

"Holy cow Nathan, you need to advertise those babies better.
The adorable little decorations on the top are only the start.
That cupcake was multi layer perfection.
Was that a Lucky Charm crust at the bottom? Really cute and tasty.
Tell Chelsea I really enjoyed her treats."

Lucky Charms Cupcakes

Makes 18 cupcakes

For the Crust:
3 cups crushed Lucky Charms (a mini food processor works well for this)
5 tablespoons butter, melted

The Ultimate Vanilla Cupcake Recipe (+Lucky Charms):
1 cup granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean or 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups + 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
2 large eggs, room temperature
1/3 cup sour cream
1/4 cup canola oil or vegetable oil
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2/3 cup milk
1 cup Lucky Charms cereal
Green food coloring

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a small bowl, mix together crushed Lucky Charms and melted butter.  Divide mixture evenly between ten cupcake liners.  Pack it firmly into the bottoms of the liners.  Bake for 10 minutes.

In a small bowl, combine sugar and seeds from the vanilla bean or vanilla extract.  Using the back of a spoon, move around the bowl and apply pressure to break up any clumps of seeds and to better infuse the vanilla flavor into the sugar. Set aside.

In a medium-sized mixing bowl or bowl of a stand mixer, mix together flour, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  Add the vanilla bean sugar and mix until well combined.
Add butter and mix on medium-low speed for three minutes.  Because there is so little butter, you'll end up with a very fine crumb texture.

In a small mixing bowl, whisk together eggs, sour cream, oil, and vanilla extract until smooth.  Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture and beat on medium speed until just combined.  Slowly add milk and mix on low speed until just combined.  Blend in food coloring.  Fold in Lucky Charms.  Fill cupcake liners about 3/4 full.

Bake at 350 degrees for 14 minutes and then test to see if they are done. They are done when a toothpick comes out without wet batter stuck to it.  The cupcakes should appear white with specks of vanilla bean. They should not turn a golden brown.  If they are not done, test again in two minutes.  If they are still not done, test again in another two minutes.  When the cupcakes are done, remove them immediately from the tins and leave them on a cooling rack (or just on your counter if you don't own a cooling rack) to cool.

Top with vanilla frosting and Lucky Charms marshmallows.

**Note:  Put the marshmallows on shortly before serving as they tend to get wet and soggy after a few hours.

Adapted from Cupcake Project.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Creole Shrimp and Grits

My kitchen was an awfully warm place this afternoon.  After spotting this recipe and other variations on several blogs around Mardi Gras, the flavors sounded right up my alley and I knew I needed to make it soon.  Well, three weeks later I finally did.  On an 80 degree day.  Now, despite the fact that I was literally sweating over my stove with two burners going and an oven baking cupcakes below (more on this Friday!), I will fully admit that this meal was worth it.  So so good!

I was a little concerned about eating a dish with grits (I had them once about ten years ago and didn't care for the texture and thought they were very bland), and my hand almost grabbed the bag of rice on its reach through the pantry, but I fought the urge and made the recipe the way it was written.  Boy am I glad I did.  The grits soaked up all of the juices and the texture complemented the sauce well.  Invest in a box of grits for this!  You won't regret it!

While the recipe is fairly simple, I chose to make it even simpler and subbed in chicken broth in place of cooking shrimp broth.  I have written my adaptation below but feel free to check out the original version if you'd like to make it truly authentic.

Creole Shrimp and Grits

This served the two of us:

3/4 pounds peeled, medium-size raw shrimp (26/30 count)
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
1 celery rib, chopped
1/2 green bell pepper, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
3/4 teaspoon Creole seasoning (recipe below)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 (6-ounce) can tomato paste
1 bay leaf

1 1 /4 cup milk
1 1/4 cup water
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup uncooked quick-cooking grits

Heat butter in a Dutch oven over medium heat; stir in flour and cook, stirring constantly until flour is caramel colored (about 8 to 10 minutes). Add onion, celery, green pepper, and garlic, and cook, stirring often, 5 to 7 minutes or until tender. Stir in Creole seasoning, lemon juice, and Worcestershire sauce. Add the tomato paste and stir until it is evenly coating all of the vegetables. Slowly add 1 cup shrimp broth, stirring constantly to create a thick sauce. Add the bay leaf, reduce the heat to low, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 45 minutes. Add the shrimp, and cook 10 minutes, stirring in ¼ to ½ cup remaining shrimp broth to reach desired consistency.

Meanwhile, bring milk, water, and salt to a boil in a saucepan over high heat. Gradually stir in grits. Reduce heat to low, and simmer, stirring occasionally, 10 to 12 minutes or until thickened. Serve Creole Shrimp over grits. Sprinkle with chopped parsley, if desired.

Creole Seasoning
(makes 4 tablespoons)
2 1/2 teaspoons paprika
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon dried leaf oregano
1 teaspoon dried leaf thyme
Mix everything and store in sealed container.

Shrimp and Grits adapted from Brown Eyed Baker.
Creole Seasoning adapted from Closet Cooking.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Apricot-Oat Squares

Every other Christmas my family travels to Colorado to spend the holidays skiing and each year the group tends to get bigger and bigger as the younger ones become engaged, marry, and have children.  Since there were going to be 17 of us, my mom came up with the idea to do a Dirty Santa gift exchange one night.  As a result, Nathan, my fiance, received a five-pack of Knott's preserves which have been sitting in our pantry, untouched for almost three months. 

Now don't get me wrong.  I definitely like jam, but we just never really get the urge to eat a PB&J (despite the fact that we have five jars of opened peanut butter-- creamy, crunchy, extra crunchy, honeynut crunch, and natural if you must know.  we like a variety).  But anyway, we just never really eat much jam. 

I came across this recipe a couple of weeks ago and bookmarked it.  Not only did it sound good but it was going to use up a jar of jam!  They took no time at all to whip up and were delicious as well; different then anything I've had before- almost like a crumble in bar form.  If you're not an apricot fan, spread on your favorite preserves, but you definitely will want to eat this over a napkin, or even the kitchen sink as they are very crumbly!

Apricot-Oat Squares

Makes one 8x8-inch pan

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cups regular oats
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
6 tablespoons chilled butter, cut into small pieces
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
3/4 cup apricot preserves

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Combine flours, oats, sugar, butter, and nutmeg in a food processor; pulse 5 times or until mixture resembles coarse meal.

Press two-thirds of oat mixture into bottom of an 8-inch square baking pan coated with cooking spray. Bake for 10 minutes. Spread preserves over warm crust. Sprinkle with remaining oat mixture, and press gently. Bake for an additional 25 minutes or until lightly browned and bubbly. Cool completely in pan on a wire rack.

Adapted from Cooking Light.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Recipe #1: Blonde Brownies

{Side Note:  I first wrote this post about a year ago when I thought I would start a blog but never followed through.  While it's not the greatest work, I chose to publish it anyway and let the delicious recipe make up for where the writing falls a little short}

As my first official post I wanted something simple and it doesn't get much more simple than a pan of bars.  Mix it all up in a bowl, pour it in a pan, pop it in the oven and you're done.  Too easy to argue with the time and too good argue with the diet.  Blondies are a recipe everyone should have in their arsenal and a great alternative to the classic brownie.    

On top of everything, all of the ingredients are probably already sitting in your pantry.  Have I convinced you to make them yet? 

Blonde Brownies

Makes one 8x8-inch pan

1 cup sifted all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup butter
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup white chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in small bowl. 
In medium size bowl, melt butter.  Add brown sugar and cool slightly.  Add beaten egg and vanilla.  Gradually add flour mixture until well combined.
Spread in 8 x 8  inch pan. Sprinkle white chocolate and chocolate chips on top.  Bake for 20 to 25 minutes.

Adapted from AllRecipes.

welcome to my food blog!

Well I'm doing it.  Here I am starting my very own blog.  As a baker before dawn, a chef in my home late at night, and a follower of various baking and cooking blogs in between, I have decided to take my finds and eats to the world wide web.

After perusing the internet and making many dinners and desserts for my fiance and I, I noticed that I always had to cut recipes in halves, thirds, and fourths to prevent a bunch of leftovers- hence...Serves Two.  After all, I don't want to eat leftovers the next night for dinner; I am ready to make something new!  (Don't get me wrong, leftovers are nice for lunch, but not for four days in a row).  As a result, I have found recipes and scaled them down to size to feed just the two of us (plus a little extra).  I don't necessarily do this with desserts however.  I have a rather large sweet tooth and love to have homemade goodies available at all times. 

My goal with this blog is to inspire myself to continue to try new things and to inspire other couples (and singles and families too!) to step in the kitchen and join me :)

Bon appetit!