Friday, December 21, 2012

Gingerbread | Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, Happy Holidays, everyone!

I've been enjoying my last few weeks at home with Maxwell and it's been wonderful.  In less than two weeks I'm returning to the office, so I'm getting my fill of baby smiles and baby giggles every day right now.  Of course, there will be plenty of smiles and giggles after I return to work, but right now I get to enjoy them without any time constraints.

What do you think of our Christmas card?  Family and friends, yours is probably in the mail.  We're really late getting them out, but I'm also posting it here for all to see and enjoy.

If you've been on the Facebook page you've probably noticed that I've been experimenting with some new recipes, particularly gingerbread.  My earliest memory of gingerbread was making gingerbread (or molasses bread) with my grandmom. I'm pretty sure my mom doesn't like molasses (and she's not a huge fan of baking), so it was grandmom who introduced me to the sweet goodness of molasses. My pop pop used to bring me back jars of blackstrap molasses from North Carolina.  As a matter of fact, I think I still have one of the jars (and it has to be at least 15 years old).

So I started looking around for some recipes to approximate the molasses bread I know and love and I found this recipe from King Arthur Flour.  I tweaked it a bit to make it gooey-er and a bit more robust in flavor.  I bet you have most of these ingredients (minus the molasses, which can be purchased at any grocery store) in your pantry.  I actually prefer gingerbread over coffeecake in the winter with my coffee.

The sweet spicy taste takes me back to childhood.  It's really easy to make and it keeps at room temperature for a few days. I'm not sure my husband had ever had gingerbread, but he enjoyed it as much as I did. Next year Max will be enjoying it with us!  (He's still on an all-milk diet.)

So here it is!  Bake and enjoy!  Merry Christmas!

adapted from King Arthur Flour

2 cups Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon each cloves and nutmeg (or nutmeg and cardamom... I didn't have any cloves!)
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
3/4 cup molasses
1/4 cup water
1 large egg
1 cup buttermilk

1) Grease and flour a 9" square pan. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

2) In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, brown sugar, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg.

3) Melt the butter in a heatproof measuring cup. Add the molasses to the cup, and pour into the dry ingredients in the bowl, mixing to moisten.

4) Add the water, stirring until everything is moistened. Whisk together the egg and buttermilk. Stir into the batter until it's evenly combined.

5) Pour the batter into the prepared pan, and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the cake just begins to pull away from the edge of the pan.

6) Remove from the oven and cool on a rack for 15 minutes before slicing; serve warm with ice cream or freshly whipped cream for dessert or at room temperature with coffee at breakfast.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Getting Back to Reality | Out and about with a baby

I haven't been blogging as frequently as I used to because I'm soaking up every single solitary minute with this handsome little baby named Maxwell.  I'm returning to work (a.k.a. reality) in just three weeks and I'm making the most of the last few weeks of our uninterrupted time together.

Max is 4 months old and he's growing and changing every day.  He can now roll over (and roll across the room), he smiles, he laughs a little, and he sleeps about eight hours a night.  He also screams and cries for no reason, tries to escape from his stroller, and his latest trick is grabbing things.

In the beginning of my new mom experience it was quite the ordeal to even run to the mall with Max.  Now that I'm getting the hang of this mom stuff I feel much more comfortable going out in public with a baby.  Max has already logged over two weeks total in hotels, he's accompanied us to many restaurants and he's been out shopping more times than I can count (I think they know him by name at Costco and ShopRite).

I've noticed that we dine out less now that Max is part of our family and I think that's a good thing.  I'm cooking a lot more of our meals at home (even breakfast and lunch) and when we do eat out it's often takeout, not a restaurant meal.  We have, however, gone to restaurants with Max and here are some things that I've learned:

1.  Go early.  Lunch or early dinner seem to work best.  Max's bedtime is about 7:30, so if he's with us, there's no point in torturing him (and everyone around) by having him in a restaurant when he's ready for bed.

2.  Places with baby changing tables are preferred.  I'm now keenly aware of which restaurants have baby changing stations in the restroom. Bonus points if the changing facilities are also in the men's room (so mama doesn't have to change a diaper while her soup gets cold).

3.  Sometimes it's easier to go to a "family restaurant".  I used to roll my eyes at buffets, chain restaurants and diners, but I realize that they tend to have ample space for strollers and high chairs, friendly servers who are used to screaming babies, and quick service.  I do still enjoy going to pubs, bars, and exotic ethnic spots... but at this point I'll leave Max at home for those dates.

4.  Pack light.  I try to avoid rolling the stroller through the restaurant and carrying my diaper bag out of the car when dining out.  Instead I put a few essentials in my big purse and just carry Max in his infant car seat.  It (usually) snaps conveniently onto a restaurant high chair.  If not, we just wedge him in a chair or booth next to us.

5.  Learn how to multi-task.  Max is at the stage where he doesn't want to be left out.  Sometimes he sleeps through our meals, but other times he wants to sit in my lap.  I've learned to eat just about everything with one hand.

I'm really looking forward to introducing Max to solid food and I'm planning to make his baby food from scratch (I'm sure there will be a series of blog posts on the topic).  At this point he's not ready for solids, so we're holding off and hoping that we can give him a little something within the next couple of months.

Stay tuned for some Christmas recipes.  My plan is to make at least two cookies/desserts per weekend throughout the holiday season and I've been sticking to that plan.  When I'm not blogging you can always find me on the Facebook page or on Instagram (keeleypowell) or Twitter (@keeleypowell).

Monday, November 5, 2012

Butternut Squash Soup

Summer is usually my favorite season for cooking because of the abundance of fresh produce and herbs.  Yes, I also love Thanksgiving and Christmas cooking, but it seems that people (at least the ones I know) are often so focused on their weight that they don't indulge in traditional holiday foods, so I can't cook as much as I'd like to.  Well, I missed out on a lot of summer cooking this year because I had a beautiful baby in late-July, so now I'm getting acquainted with fall and winter foods:  apples, pears, Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, cranberries, pork and butternut squash.  I'm learning that there's plenty of tasty, fresh and even healthy food that can be prepared during the colder months.

During my trip to the Finger Lakes a few weeks ago I noticed that butternut squash soup showed up on the menu at many restaurants.  Over the last few years I've enjoyed butternut squash soup in restaurants and even pre-made in the grocery store.  Typically, the soup isn't cheap ($6 a bowl in a decent restaurant) and there is a lot of variation in quality.  Some are too thin and some don't have enough seasoning.  For the past few years I've been walking by fresh butternut squash at Costco and this year I decided to just buy it and see what I could do.

I can't believe how easy (and healthy) this soup is.  It's now a fall staple for me and I think you'll love it, too.

I started with pre-cut butternut squash.  You can absolutely buy a whole squash and cut it yourself, but I got 2 pounds of pre-cut butternut squash for less than $6 at Costco.  That was actually cheaper than buying the whole vegetable at most other stores.  Of course, if you cut it yourself you won't really know if you have 2 pounds of squash (unless you use a kitchen scale), but that's okay.  This recipe is a method... an inspiration.  You can adjust the liquid and seasonings up or down to suit your squash.

This recipe is so quick that you can make it at the last minute!  I've made it at lunchtime with a baby strapped to my chest.  Here we go...

Saute diced onion in butter (or vegetable oil if you're keeping it vegan)... sometimes I add a little garlic, too.

Add diced butternut squash.  Fill your pot with just enough chicken broth (or vegetable broth if you're keeping this vegan/vegetarian) to cover the squash.  Sprinkle in a little salt and pepper.

Simmer the squash for 15-20 minutes.  Once it's tender, blend the soup.  I use an immersion blender, but you could also ladle the soup into a standard blender or food processor.

The key at this point is to make sure the soup isn't too watery... see the photo above?  That's how much broth you want.  Check the situation before you start blending.  If it's too watery, ladle some broth out.  You can always add it back in.

So now you have blended soup.  Taste it.  Add stuff to enhance it.  First suggestion?  A dollop of apple sauce.

I also added about a tablespoon of chopped, fresh sage.

In other batches I've done chives instead of sage.  I've added a teaspoon of curry powder instead of sage.  I've added a pinch of nutmeg.  But I always add the applesauce.

I know these combinations may sound exotic, but I'm telling you... it's good!  Butternut squash is naturally sweet (like a sweet potato) and naturally creamy once it's blended.  This soup needs no milk or cream to take on this thick, velvety texture.  It's pretty much 100% vegetables.  You just season it to your liking.

And there you have it!  Quick, healthy and very fresh.  It's fall in a bowl.  It reheats very well, too.  Make a batch and enjoy it for dinner one night and lunch the next day.  I think you'll like this one.

Butternut Squash Soup
a Keeley original
yield 4 servings

1 Tablespoon butter
1 small onion, diced
about 2 lbs. diced butternut squash (about 6-8 cups)
about 4 cups chicken stock (or vegetable stock)
salt and pepper to taste
1/3 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/3 teaspoon nutmeg

optional seasonings (choose one or more, to taste):
curry powder (1/2-1 teaspoon)
chopped fresh sage (1 Tablespoon)
chopped fresh chives (1 Tablespoon)
cayenne pepper (a pinch)

Melt butter over medium heat in a saucepan.  Saute onions in butter until softened, about 5 minutes, stirring frequently.

Add in butternut squash, salt and pepper to taste.  Add enough chicken broth to just barely cover squash.  Bring to a boil.

Simmer, uncovered for 15-20 minutes, or until squash is fork-tender.

Puree the soup.  Use an immersion blender, or transfer soup to a food processor or blender.  Return pureed soup to the pot.

Stir in applesauce and nutmeg.  Add optional seasonings if desired.

Serve hot with grilled cheese or fresh, hot rolls.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Banana Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

I always end up with overripe bananas on my countertops.  Bananas are so cheap and so good, but the moment they start getting brown spots, I'm no longer interested in eating them raw.  They quickly go from perfectly ripe to overripe and my kitchen is taken over by the aroma of too-sweet overripe bananas.  Normally I either place the whole, peeled bananas in the freezer for a future batch of banana bread or I just make a loaf of banana bread right then and there.

As much as I love my banana bread recipe, I wanted to mix it up a bit.  I saw The Barefoot Contessa feature this banana cake on her show, so I gave the recipe a try.  It worked out pretty well, but I did make some adjustments to the icing.  I also had a problem with the center of my cake sinking, but it was still baked through and tasted great.

As much as I love cake, I'm not a huge fan of icing, which is why I shy away from elaborate layered cakes with mountains of sugary topping.  This cake was really easy to assemble and I liked the tangy sweetness of the cream cheese icing.

Oh, and the leftovers were great with coffee at breakfast the next morning.  Banana cake... banana bread... not much difference!

Banana Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
adapted (slightly) from The Barefoot Contessa

3 very ripe bananas, mashed
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Grated zest of 1 orange
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Cream Cheese Frosting (recipe follows)
Walnut halves, for decorating 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 9 by 2-inch round cake pan.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the bananas, granulated sugar, and brown sugar on low speed until combined. With the mixer still on low, add the oil, eggs, sour cream, vanilla, and orange zest. Mix until smooth.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, and salt. With the mixer on low, add the dry ingredients and mix just until combined. Stir in the chopped walnuts, if using. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 45 to 50 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 15 minutes, turn out onto a cooling rack, and cool completely.

Spread the frosting thickly on the top of the cake and decorate with walnut halves.

Cream Cheese Frosting:

8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups sifted confectioners' sugar (1/2 pound)

Make sure the butter and cream cheese are at room temperature and the powdered sugar is sifted before you start.  This will ensure a smooth frosting with no lumps.

Mix the cream cheese, butter, and vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on low speed until just combined. Don't whip! Add the sugar and mix until smooth. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Fresh Bruschetta + ShopRite Extra Virgin California Olive Oil

Please check out my latest post over on Potluck!  Bruschetta is one of my favorite uses for fresh tomatoes and basil.  If you live in the Mid-Atlantic region, ShopRite has a quality (and affordable) California Extra Virgin Olive Oil and it works well in this recipe.

Monday, October 22, 2012

New York's Finger Lakes... Fall Foliage Extraordinaire

In March 2011 my husband and I celebrated our 6th wedding anniversary on Seneca Lake near Watkins Glen, NY.  It was our first stay at the lovely Harbor Hotel and we loved every moment of our trip... including the 18 inches of snow that fell as soon as we arrived.  As much as I loved that trip, I realized that it would be better to visit the region when there was no snow on the ground, preferably during the peak of fall foliage.  I filed that idea away in my head and assumed that I'd always be too busy at work to take a long weekend to check out the foliage in New York.

Fast forward just 18 months and I'm on maternity leave.  I opted to take a quick 3-day trip back to the Finger Lakes and lucked out and caught this...

I couldn't believe our luck.  The leaves peaked early this year.  We left the unseasonably warm 80 degree temperatures in Delaware and five hours later were greeted by all of the fall colors of the Finger Lakes region of New York.  It was breathtaking.  Plus, the temperatures were in the 60s, so we were very comfortable.  I've never seen fall foliage like this.

We live in a flat area that is close to sea level.  While our trees do change color (typically mid-October to early November) we don't have the mountains or the beautiful reflection of the lake to really set things off.  The colors we saw on Seneca Lake and Keuka Lake were nothing short of amazing.

Photos just don't do it justice.  Right before I took the photo above, we drove over a hill and as far as the eye could see were rolling hills that looked like they were painted with fall colors, plus you could see Keuka Lake in the background.  It was unreal.  It was difficult to pay attention to the road.  I wish I had a wide-angle lens.  I pulled over on a random farm road to get this photo.

Our hotel was on Seneca Lake and the view was impressive.  We even enjoyed dinner on the hotel patio with this view...

The only thing I regret is that my husband wasn't able to join us.  My mom and Max came on this trip and we had a fantastic time.  It was the baby's first road trip and he did very well considering that he was just eight weeks old.  Yes, he did cry almost every time we sat down for a restaurant meal.  Yes, he did have several outfit changes as a result of him... um... "soiling" his clothing.  He also didn't sleep as well in the hotel as he does at home.  We all survived, though, and I'm really happy that we took this trip.  I'm also grateful that my mom was there to help me with the baby.

It goes without saying that we bought a lot of wine.  I don't know when I'll have a chance to head back up to the Finger Lakes and they have some very unique wines (I prefer their whites over their reds, but to each his or her own).  We ended up with a whopping 12 cases of wine...

I'm sure it will take us a couple of years to enjoy (and gift) all of that wine.  It wasn't all for us, I promise.

If you're considering visiting the Finger Lakes Region, here are some things I've learned (and I hope they'll make your trip easier):

1.  There doesn't seem to be a lot of travel planning information available about this region.  However, it seems that each lake has its own website with a list of restaurants, wineries and other attractions.  I've visited these three lakes and I've found these sites to be helpful:  Seneca Lake, Keuka Lake, Cayuga Lake.
2.  There aren't a lot of full-service hotels convenient to the wine trail or the lakes.  There are plenty of bed and breakfasts, if that's your thing.  If you're looking for a larger hotel with services (pool, restaurant, bar, room service), I highly recommend the Harbor Hotel in Watkins Glen.  It's right at the base of Seneca Lake and just 30 minutes from Cayuga Lake or Keuka Lake.
3.  The Finger Lakes region is known for wine, particularly Riesling.  There are also fantastic parks and hiking trails.  If you don't like wine (and cheese), you may not enjoy the trip as much as I did.
4.  On the topic of wine, pace yourself.  The roads are hilly and winding.  Make good use of the dump buckets, take your time and consider having a designated driver.
5.  While I brought my baby on this trip, I would not bring him once he gets older (walking and talking).  There's not much for children to do on the wine trail and I feel that it's unfair to the child and to the other patrons to bring an active little one into a winery.
6.  This whole region is full of small towns.  Don't expect to see a Starbucks, a movie theatre, or a chain restaurant.  Go with the flow and ask the locals where they like to eat.

Have you done any road trips recently?  I have two more road trip stories to share... I'm really getting around with this baby!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Roasted Tomato Sauce

I know I just said I wouldn't tease you with summer recipes in the fall, but I just had to share this one.  Yes, it uses fresh tomatoes and basil from my garden (which has been cut down for a few weeks now), but you can still buy fresh tomatoes at roadside stands in the Mid-Atlantic through October and you can always find plum tomatoes at the grocery store.  Nothing beats fresh basil and although it may cost a few bucks to buy, it's worth the purchase.

This recipe uses a similar method to the Roasted Tomato Salsa that I posted this summer.  I loved the simplicity of that technique so much that I opted to try it for a marinara-type sauce.  I'm so happy with the result and it's really simple.

You start with a couple pounds of fresh tomatoes, some garlic and an onion.  Roast them in your oven until the edges are starting to char...

Dump the roasted vegetables in the bowl of your food processor (or a large blender) along with basil, salt, and olive oil.  You may decide to add just a dash of sugar.

I know that looks like a lot of salt, but these tomatoes are fresh and the salt really brings out the flavor.

Give the veggies a whirl...

That's it!  Now you have roasted tomato sauce that you can use to top a pizza, as a dip for mozzarella sticks or pepperoni bread or in your favorite spaghetti or lasagna recipe.

I used it with ground turkey and hot Italian sausage to make spaghetti sauce.

No seeding, peeling or boiling tomatoes and no dicing onions or mincing garlic.  It's fresh and it's easy.  It's also versatile and it's a great alternative to jarred sauces.

I was able to roast the vegetables one day (or early in the morning), refrigerate them, and then blend the sauce at dinnertime.  This comes in handy when you're dealing with the demands of a newborn or any other everyday chaos.

I'm always looking for ways to use up produce that's about to be past its prime and roasting is a fantastic option for extending the life of your fresh veggies.

Roasted Tomato Sauce
a Keeley original

1 1/2-2 pounds of tomatoes, halved with stem removed (your favorite variety)
1 medium onion, quartered
4 cloves of garlic
a handful of fresh basil leaves
1 tablespoon Kosher salt (I use Diamond Brand, use more or less salt to taste)
1 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Cover a baking sheet with foil (spray with cooking spray if you use this option) or parchment paper (no spray needed).  Spread tomatoes, onion, and garlic in a single layer on baking sheet.

Roast until edges of vegetables are beginning to char (35+ minutes).  Remove vegetables from oven and place them in the bowl of a food processor or blender.

Add basil, salt, sugar, and olive oil to food processor.  Process or pulse until sauce reaches desired consistency (chunky or smooth, whatever you like).  Taste and adjust seasonings, if necessary.

Use in your favorite pizza, lasagna or spaghetti recipe or as a dip for your Italian-style appetizers.  Refrigerate leftovers for up to three days.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Refried Black Beans

I've been having computer problems.  I've had tons of issues with photo storage and retrieval, including some scary moments when I worried that I lost my photos and videos of Max.  Yikes!  Speaking of Max, he's 10 weeks old now.  He's awake all day, seldom takes naps, and he's starting to smile at us.  He's also just over 8 pounds... finally putting on some weight.  He's keeping me very, very busy, hence the lack of regular posts.

Despite the fact that I haven't been posting for a few weeks, I've been cooking tons of stuff.  Unfortunately many of my recipes were summer seasonal and I figured it would be cruel to share recipes with fresh basil and tomatoes in October, so I decided to share a recipe that my not look very pretty, but tastes great and is an excellent side with your Tex-Mex dishes:  Refried Black Beans.

I was watching The Pioneer Woman on Food Network and she did a show where she made a Mexican menu.  I made every recipe from that episode, but I ended up altering her refried black beans recipe to make it quick and easy.  Here's what I did...

I dumped two cans of black beans into a saucepan.  I didn't drain them, I didn't rinse them... I just dumped 'em in.  I also threw in some diced onion, cumin, minced garlic and pepper.

I cooked the mixture over medium heat for about ten minutes, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, I heated a little bacon fat in a skillet.  Yes, I keep bacon fat in the refrigerator.  I don't use it everyday, but it's worth the extra fat and calories for some recipes.  It really adds a nice smoky flavor to these beans.  If you don't keep bacon fat in your fridge, you can always cook a few slices of bacon and use the rendered fat.  I'm sure you can find a use for fresh, hot bacon.  :)

And yes, you could use Crisco, vegetable oil or some other fat instead... it just won't be the same, but if you want to keep this dish vegetarian, that's a great option.

After the bacon fat melts, dump the bean mixture into the skillet.  Cook over medium-high heat, stirring frequently for a few minutes.

Then, mash the beans to your desired consistency.  I used a potato masher...

Serve the beans hot with grilled chicken and rice or on a burrito or as a taco filling.  The possibilities are endless.  I reheated the leftovers and used them as a dip for tortilla chips.

I prefer these beans over the typical refried (pinto) beans served in Mexican restaurants.  These have more flavor and they are cheap and easy to make.  I also like that you can leave some beans whole... not everyone likes their beans completely mashed.

I know refried beans aren't photogenic, but they are (generally) healthy and also really tasty!  This is a great recipe to keep in your repertoire for when you have enchiladas or carnitas for dinner.  Also, think about topping these beans with cheddar and a little fresh salsa and serving them as a hot dip with tortilla chips.

Refried Black Beans
based on The Pioneer Woman's Recipe

2 cans of black beans
1/2 cup diced onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
salt and pepper, to taste
2 teaspoons bacon fat (you can also use vegetable shortening or oil)

Combine beans (entire contents of can, do not drain) onion, garlic and cumin in a saucepan.  Add pepper to taste.  (I do not add salt as canned beans are notoriously salted.)

Heat bean mixture over medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

In a separate saucepan (wide, flat pan or skillet) heat bacon fat.  Pour hot beans onto pan and cook for 3 minutes over medium-high heat, stirring frequently to prevent burning.

Reduce heat and mash beans to desired consistency using a potato masher.  Check seasonings and adjust, if necessary.  Serve hot.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Foods I Love and Baby Update

Max is 7 weeks old today.  I think I'm finally getting used to mothering a newborn (getting up every 2 hours overnight, preparation for diaper blowouts, dealing with baby meltdowns).  No, it's not easy, but babies must use their cuteness as a weapon because as soon as I get frustrated he looks at me and does something adorable.  Oh, babies!

I've cooked a few new recipes and I'd love to blog about them.  However, I'm typing this with Max in a  baby sling and sleeping on my chest and I don't know how much time I have.  Instead, here are some foods/drinks (both homemade and store bought) that I've been loving lately:

1.  Soups and stews - Summer is winding down and temps are dropping into the 60s at night.  My husband brings me fresh sweet corn every weekend (he gets 12 ears for $2 in Lancaster County) and I've been making corn and cheddar chowder and creamed corn. I've also made a large batch of chunky chili. I froze the leftovers for future meals. I know it will come in handy when I have a crazy day in a few weeks and I don't want to order takeout.

2. Edy's Fruitbars - I'm sure I mentioned this before, but these popsicles are the bomb! Costco sold them all summer in a 24 pack and ShopRite often has them on sale. Of course, you can probably buy them at every grocery store in America. My favorite flavors are Mango, Grape, and Lemon. The best part is that they are 80 calories a pop and have no artificial sweeteners.  I started loving these during my pregnancy and I'm still hooked on them.  Good thing I have a chest freezer in the basement.

3.  Boxed Wine - Yes, wine in a box. I was skeptical because I associate boxed wine with cheap, inferior product, but there are some decent choices out there. I decided to try boxed wine because I'm nursing Max and I have to limit my alcohol intake.  I enjoy cooking with wine and I also enjoy a glass of wine with dinner, but I felt that opening an entire bottle could be a waste.  I picked up two brands (Bota Box and Volere) at Costco and I was pleasantly surprised. I love that the wines stay fresh for 4 weeks (or more) after opening and that they come with a spout that allows you to pour just as much as you need, whether it's a full glass or just a splash for your favorite recipe.  I've been keeping one white blend and one red blend on hand for cooking and meals.

I've also learned a few things that have worked for me in parenting a newborn.  I know that every single baby is different, but here are a few things I've realized:

1.  Embrace the fact that you'll be up at odd hours.  I do most of the baby duty because I'm on maternity leave and my husband is working.  I'm also the one with the food since I'm nursing.  Max gets up every 2-3 hours (including all night long), so I use my DVR to record daytime talk shows and cooking shows to watch at 3am.  I also use the HBO GO app and the Netflix app to stream movies and television shows during those lonely late-night feedings.  I like to save the most interesting shows for 2am... gives me something to look forward to.

2.  Noise-canceling headphones are great for meltdowns.  No, I'm not telling you to ignore your baby, but when I can't figure out what Max wants I hold him in my arms and turn on my iPod.  I can see and feel him, so I can still console him, but I can listen to Thriller or my favorite financial planning podcast while my baby cries it out.  Sometimes I even sing to him.  By the time the album ends or the interview is over, he's often asleep.

3.  Amazon Mom is the bomb.  It's a version of Amazon Prime that offers free 2-day shipping on tons of stuff (including non-baby stuff) for free for 90 days.  I've used the service so much that I'll be paying the annual fee to continue it.  I've been able to find rare items in the exact color/style I need and have them delivered within 48 hours (or less).  This comes in handy for everything from DVDs to breast pumps to diapers.

4.  Baby wearing is convenient.  Granted, Max only weighs 7 pounds or so, but it's really convenient to wear him in a sling during the day.  I haven't tried it on an errand (I just use a stroller), but the baby sling is great for afternoons when he's fussy and just wants to be held.  I can keep him very close to me, but still fold laundry, start dinner, read email or do anything else that requires two hands without worrying about the baby monitor.  It's one of those things that works for me for now.

So that's my update.  I'm looking forward to getting some free time to write up some recipe posts, but until then this will have to do.  I'm happy that I'm still loving to cook and bake, despite the fact that I have to schedule my cooking around caring for Max.  I'm looking forward to Max getting big enough to help me in the kitchen.  What have you been up to lately?

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Roasted Tomato Salsa

It's September.  Wow.  Where is 2012 going?  My garden wasn't the best this year but I do still have a ton of basil, chives, sage, and rosemary.  I also ended up with a stack of perfectly ripe tomatoes and jalapenos last week, so I decided to make some salsa.  I normally use this recipe (inspired by Pioneer Woman), but I discovered a new option on Pinterest and decided to give it a try since I have a bumper crop of tomatoes and jalapenos at the moment.  I'm pretty sure I'll be cleaning up and clearing out my tomato plants in the next week or so, so here's a recipe for you if you have some tomatoes on their last hurrah.

I modified the recipe to suit what I had on hand and our preferences for salsa.  I used jalapenos instead of serranos, a little less onion and I added lime juice.

This recipe wasn't difficult at all... the worst part was waiting for it to be ready!

Cut up some tomatoes, garlic, onions, and jalapenos and lay them on a roasting pan lined with parchment paper (an oil-free way to prevent sticking... also makes cleanup a breeze).

Roast them at 375 degrees for about 30 minutes, or until everything starts to get a nice char on the edges.  At this point your house will smell intoxicating. I could not stop smiling while waiting to pull this out of the oven. How could something that smells this good not taste amazing?

Next, you need to wait for your hot vegetables to cool down.  I scooped them onto a plate, popped them in the fridge and made a trip to ShopRite to pick up some fresh cilantro (I never have any luck growing my own) and some tortilla chips.  Yes, I'm one of those people who goes to the grocery store three times a week, even though I keep a running list on my iPhone.

By the time I returned home with a bunch of cilantro and a bag of tortilla chips it only took me 5 minutes to whip up this salsa in my food processor.  And you know what?  It delivered on taste!

Here's what I love about this recipe:

1. It yields a thick salsa.  You can process it to have less chunks, or you can leave it chunky.
2. It is fresh.  It doesn't have the overly-processed vinegary taste that you find in jarred salsa.
3. It uses my abundant, fresh summer peppers and tomatoes in a creative way.
4. Roasting the vegetables really transforms the taste... the flavor seems more pronounced, yet the garlic and jalapenos are more subtle.
5. I don't have to peel and seed the tomatoes!

If it's summer and you have access to fresh tomatoes, I'd take this approach.  If it's the middle of the winter and you want a convenient salsa that's just as tasty, try this version.

One note about heat:  I used two seeded jalapenos and I feel the salsa is mild to medium.  I wasn't reaching for a drink as soon as I ate it, but it left a nice tang on my tongue.  You can adjust the heat level up or down by using more or less peppers or by leaving the seeds in or taking them out.  I think that this version, as written, is a crowd-pleaser and should not offend people who are sensitive to spice.

Thanks for being patient with me as I adjust to parenthood.  I know the blog posts have been pretty spotty.  Thank you to everyone who continues to send well-wishes!  Max will be 6 weeks old tomorrow.  Here's a recent photo of our little guy looking more like a toddler than a newborn:

Roasted Tomato Salsa
inspired by One Particular Kitchen
yields about 4 cups of salsa

8 medium-sized tomatoes, halved (your favorite variety)
1 onion, peeled and quartered
2 jalapenos, seeded and halved
4 whole cloves of garlic, peeled
1 Tablespoon kosher salt (if you use regular table salt, start with less and work your way up)
Juice of one lime
1 handful of fresh cilantro
tortilla chips for serving (I like Tostito's Scoops)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Spread tomatoes, onion, jalapenos, and garlic in a single layer.  Roast until onions, peppers, and garlic are starting to develop a black char on the edges and tomatoes are bursting and sizzling.

Set roasted vegetables aside to cool (or speed things up by placing them in the refrigerator).

Place roasted vegetables, salt and lime in a food processor.  Process or pulse to desired consistency.  Use a tortilla chip to do a taste test and add more salt, if desired.  Refrigerate and serve with tortilla chips.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Cinnamon Raisin Scones

Thanks so much for all of the well wishes on the blog, Facebook and Twitter!  Max is 24 days old and I'm finally starting to feel human again.  I'm not going to lie, being a new parent is like being a zombie... especially at 2:00 am when the baby is crying and you don't know why.  My family and friends have constantly dropped off meals and my mom has done my shopping and come to stay with me every single weekday since Max has been home.  But (and this should not come as a surprise) I miss cooking my own food!

I spend hours watching Food Network while I nurse Max, change his diapers or while I'm holding him in my arms.  I've pinned so many new recipes and I can't wait until my baby sleeps more than an hour so I can cook them!  Right now I'm in a cycle of napping, nursing and eating, so I don't have much time to do menu planning and other fun stuff.

Today I'm sharing a recipe for cinnamon raisin scones.  I started making these about two weeks before I had the baby and during my short nesting stage I made a double batch and froze them.  These scones are as good as any I've had from a fancy bakery and everyone in my family loves them.  I know I've shared a few scone recipes in the past, but this is my new favorite method and recipe. The unbaked scones freeze beautifully and they are perfect for sleep-deprived new parents who stumble into the kitchen at 5:45 am looking for a hot beverage and a freshly-baked buttery pastry.

Here's how I do it...

I pulse flour, sugar, baking powder, butter and salt in a food processor.  Don't have a food processor?  Use a pastry cutter or even two forks... it just takes a few minutes longer.  The key to flaky, buttery scones is keeping chunks of butter in your flour mixture.  You want everything mixed together, but you want the chunks of butter to be roughly the size of peas.

I pour the dry ingredients into a bowl, then I mix in cinnamon chips and raisins.

A word on cinnamon chips:  they seem nearly impossible to find in the state of Delaware if it's not Christmas.  I have no idea why these chips are so elusive, but last summer I bought four bags at King Arthur Flour in Vermont and I keep them in the freezer.  If you can't find cinnamon chips you can order them online.  I know it sounds like a pain, but the chips work better than ground cinnamon in this recipe... trust me.  And while we're on the topic of King Arthur Flour, I think their flour is worth the extra few bucks if you're a baker.  I also like White Lilly, but it's not sold in the north, so I can't buy it in Delaware.

Next, mix the eggs, milk (or half and half), and vanilla in a small bowl.  Gently combine this with the dry ingredients.  The mixture will seem very dry and crumbly.  Knead it a few times with your hands, then turn it out onto parchment paper and roll it into a rough rectangle like this:

Notice how you can see chunks of butter in the dough once it's rolled out?  That's a good thing.  That means your scones will be flaky and buttery.

I roll mine about a half inch thick.  Then, refrigerate it for about 30 minutes to one hour.  Cut the dough into 16 small triangles.

Brush with egg wash, bake at 400 degrees until golden brown.

Try not to eat them all in one sitting.  I can easily down four of these... luckily they are small, so I don't feel guilty.  These aren't just for breakfast, either.  I've been known to pop a batch in the oven after dinner.  Who can resist moist, buttery pastry with sweet cinnamon chips and plump raisins?

Don't forget, you can freeze the scones after cutting them into triangles.  When you remove them from the freezer, just brush them with egg wash and add five minutes to the baking time.  I like to wrap unbaked scones in foil and place the foil packets in freezer bags for a quick fix on another day.  Why dirty up the kitchen every single time you want scones?  And believe me, you'll be wanting these scones again and again.

Cinnamon Raisin Scones
inspired by The Pioneer Woman

3 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup sugar
5 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (1/2 pound) butter (I use salted butter), cubed
1 egg
3/4 cup heavy cream or half and half
1 teaspoon vanilla flavoring
2/3 cup raisins
2/3 cup mini cinnamon chips
1 additional egg for egg wash

In the bowl of a food processor, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and butter.  Pulse until butter is pea-sized and mixture has a sandy texture.  If you don't have a food processor, place these ingredients in a bowl and combine using a pastry cutter or two forks.

Pour flour mixture into a large bowl.  Mix in raisins and cinnamon chips.

In a small bowl, whisk together one egg, cream and vanilla.  Stir wet mixture into flour mixture.  Mixture will be crumbly.  Knead gently with your hands.  Pour onto parchment paper (or an oven-safe silicone mat).  Roll into a rectangle about 1/2 inch thick.  Place in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes to chill dough.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Cut dough into 16 small triangles.  [At this point you can flash-freeze the scones and bake them at a later date.]  Place on a baking sheet leaving 1 inch between scones.  Whip one egg and brush egg on top of unbaked scones.  Bake scones for 15 minutes or until golden brown.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Big News!

I had big plans last week.  I had two blog posts ready for My Life on a Plate and two ready for Potluck.

But, we make plans and God laughs.

I was really busy last week... someone decided to arrive a bit earlier than anticipated...

Meet Maxwell Thomas Powell.  He decided to make his entry into this world a few weeks earlier than we expected and with much fanfare. He's a little guy who weighs just a little more than a sack of sugar and we love him to pieces. He's the best. I can't get over how cute he is and both of our hearts are about to burst with love.

Yup, he's the best.  We're so blessed to have him... I'm still amazed.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Blueberry Buttermilk Pancakes

We've been having an old-fashioned blueberry festival in this family over the past two weeks.  We've had Blueberry Buttermilk Pancakes at least three times (including twice for dinner), two versions of blueberry cobbler, waffles topped with blueberry compote, and I've even made blueberry lime jam.

Blueberries are fresh and plentiful around here in June and July and and I'm taking full advantage of the local crop.  I eat them plain, I bake with them and I use them to top my steel cut oats.  I believe that when fruits are vegetables are in season you should eat them to your heart's content, so I'm sharing this recipe with hopes that you'll have your own little blueberry festival.

Up until about two years ago I always made my pancakes from a boxed mix.  I don't know why, but I felt it was easier and I didn't think I'd be able to taste the difference between scratch made and boxed mixes.  I was wrong... very wrong.  A while ago I discovered this recipe for buttermilk pancakes from Short Stop.  Although the recipe yields way more pancakes than I need for two people (we usually cut it in half and we still have leftovers), it's become my go-to pancake recipe.  They are as light and fluffy as promised.  It also only takes me about five minutes to measure out the ingredients and it only dirties up one more bowl than making pancakes from a boxed mix.  These pancakes are one of the reasons why I always have buttermilk in my fridge.

I love pancakes, but I don't like that I have to stand over the stove for at least 20 minutes to make a batch while everyone else eats breakfast... so here's what I do:

1.  Preheat the oven to 200 degrees F.
2.  Find a large, oven-safe platter or plate and tear off a piece of foil large enough to cover the plate.  Put the plate in the oven to preheat.
3.  If you have one, use a large, flat griddle that covers two eyes on your stove to cook your pancakes.  If you don't have a large griddle, use two nonstick pans.
4.  As the pancakes are cooked, put them onto the warm platter, cover with foil and keep them in the oven until serving time.

A 200-degree oven is warm enough to keep your pancakes hot, but not hot enough to burn your hands when you reach in for the platter.  As long as you serve your pancakes within a half hour you shouldn't have any issues... plus, everyone can eat breakfast together.

As far as cooking pancakes... it takes some practice.  Make sure you don't have the heat up too high for thick batters like this one.  Always spray your hot griddle with cooking spray to prevent sticking.  Look for air bubbles as an indication of when to flip your pancakes.  Make sure your spatula gets a good grip on the pancake before you attempt a flip.

I like to cook all of the pancakes at once (it takes me about 25 minutes) and keep them warm in the oven until they go to the table.  These pancakes are absolutely worth the trouble.  They are perfectly fluffy and moist and unbelievable when served with hot syrup and real butter.  These pancakes are better than any I've had in a restaurant.

Here's the full recipe, modified slightly from Short Stop.  This recipe will serve 6 adults, so if you have a smaller household you should cut the recipe in half.

Blueberry Buttermilk Pancakes
modified slightly from Short Stop
serves 6

3 cups flour
4 tablespoons sugar
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
4 cups of blueberries (washed and picked through, stems removed)
3 cups buttermilk
3/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 eggs, beaten
1/3 cup butter, melted

In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Toss blueberries in the dry mixture.  Set aside. In a separate bowl, beat together buttermilk, milk, vanilla, eggs and melted butter. Keep the two mixtures separate until you are ready to cook.

Heat a lightly greased griddle or frying pan over medium heat.

Pour the wet mixture into the dry mixture, using a wooden spoon or fork to blend. Stir until just blended together. Do not overmix. Scoop the batter onto the griddle, using approximately 1/3 cup for each pancake. Cook on both sides until golden brown. Serve with real butter and warm syrup and powdered sugar, if desired.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Design Updates

I just updated the design of my blog a bit (and yes, it needs more than a little tweaking... eventually I should invest in some professional help).  I added buttons to make it easy for you to follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and my favorite addiction: Pinterest.  Just look on the right side of my page and you'll see the icons at the top!

Maybe my nesting instinct will kick in and I'll do some updates that I've dreamed of for this blog... maybe!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Photo Update

Yes, I'm still here!  I'm 32 weeks pregnant (just 8 weeks until my due date) and I'm taking it easy.  I'm still working every day, but I'm limiting my time in the kitchen and I'm spending more time relaxing, sleeping and getting ready for the arrival of Baby Powell.

Instead of sharing a recipe today, I'm going to share a series of photos from my iPhone that illustrate what I've been up to in June.

I'm eating a ton of Rita's Water Ice.  It's a Philly-area favorite and my favorite (only) flavor is lemon.  I buy it by the quart and I can eat the whole quart in two days.  It's much lighter than ice cream, pleasantly tart, and great for a pregnant lady on a hot day.  If I ever move away from Rita's I'll be sad.

It's baseball season!  As some of you know, my husband loves the Phillies, so our evenings are almost always spent with a game playing in the background.  In past years we've been to several games during the season, but I can't take the heat this year.  Fortunately, we were able to score some seats in the shaded and air-conditioned Hall of Fame Club this past Sunday, so I was able to enjoy a game live and in person.  And the Phillies lost.  Go figure.  They aren't doing so well this year.  I still had fun.

I'm doing the best I can to prepare for my new role as mama to this baby of ours.  We've spent evenings in breastfeeding class, newborn class and childbirth class.  I'm even reading this book that's supposed to teach me how to soothe my crying baby.  Yes, I'm overwhelmed, but I'm also excited!  And I'll let you know if the book works for us.

I don't feel like cooking every night.  When I do cook, I often forget to pull out the camera.  We go out to eat often.  This is some pad thai that I enjoyed (courtesy of a Groupon... check out that site!) a few weeks ago.  I miss cooking.  I'm looking forward to getting back to my routine soon.  Part of my lack of desire to cook comes from my small appetite.  This bowl of pad thai lasted me three meals.  I have no idea what's going on, but my stomach seems to have shrunk.  I thought pregnant ladies were supposed to be hungry all the time?

E and I celebrated our 10-year college reunion this month.  This photo is from a booth that was set up at the event.  I can't believe I graduated from college a decade ago.  I also can't believe that I've known this man for almost 14 years.  We go waaay back.  Back to the days of Tommy Hillfiger t-shirts, pagers, and Timberland boots.  Back to living in an un-air conditioned dorm room and having no car.  Back to eating all of our meals in the dining hall and treating ourselves to midnight pizza delivery with Tropicana Twist from 7-11.  Yeah, we go way back.  I love this man and I'm looking forward to our next adventure as mom and dad to this cute little kid.

So cooking?  Not so much at the moment (although I did make some killer blueberry pancakes yesterday and I'm in the process of writing a few product reviews for Potluck, the ShopRite blog).  I'd love to do some summer canning, particularly something with berries, so we'll see how July goes.

What have you been up to?  Any graduations, reunions?  Is anyone else relying on takeout?  Please don't tell me I'm the only lazy/busy one out there.
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