April 30, 2015

Bourbon and Apricot Pork Tenderloin and Quinoa Salad with Spring Mix

I've been seeing and hearing a lot of things lately about the Kentucky Derby. I may not know this year's horses, jockeys, or any specifics, but... you say Derby... I say bourbon. 

This Bourbon and Apricot Pork Tenderloin would make a wonderful main dish for a Kentucky Derby party, your next grill night... or whenever you feel like having pork! If you cook the marinade after you're done bathing your meat, it makes a delicious sauce- perfect if you're pairing your tenderloin with mashed potatoes and (grilled) vegetables. I chose a lighter side this time, so I cooked and saved my marinade/sauce for another time. 

Quinoa tossed with a few fresh veggies and a simple vinaigrette, and served over a bed of mixed greens made a delicious and spring-light side. 

Overall, this meal is definitely a winner!! (We were even inspired to experiment with some bourbon cocktails for the upcoming race!)

Bourbon and Apricot Pork Tenderloin

Serves 4

1 1/2 lb pork tenderloin
1 cup apricot preserves
1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce
1/2 cup bourbon
1/2 tsp dried thyme leaf
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper

Place pork tenderloin in gallon-sized ziploc bag. In separate bowl, mix together all marinade ingredients. Pour marinade over tenderloin in bag, seal bag and gently mix/massage to cover. Place in refrigerator for 2 1/2 hours; 30 minutes before cooking, take tenderloin out of refrigerator, and let sit in marinade at room temperature. 
Set oven to 350 degrees, and heat oven-proof skillet on stove over medium-high heat. Add extra-virgin coconut oil to pan (or canola/vegetable oil) to lightly coat bottom of pan. Place tenderloin in pan, and brown on all sides (about 3-4 minutes each side). Once browned, transfer pan to oven, and bake about 10-12 minutes until internal temperature reaches 135 degrees. Remove from oven, cover with foil and let rest 10 minutes. (This will allow all the juices to redistribute, and continue cooking the meat.) Slice and serve. 
If you choose to cook the marinade, while tenderloin is in oven, pour marinade into small saucepan. Bring to boil, then reduce and allow to simmer until meat is sliced and ready to eat. Drizzle sauce over meat, and serve. 

Quinoa Salad with Spring Mix

3 cups cooked and cooled Quinoa
1 stalk celery, diced
2 tbsp red onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup diced carrot
2 cups English Cucumber, diced
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup good (flavored) balsamic (I used cucumber-melon)
pinch of salt and pepper, to taste
a few handfuls of spring mix, to serve

Toss veggies and quinoa together. In separate bowl, whisk together balsamic and olive oil, season to taste with salt and pepper. Pour desire amount of vinaigrette over quinoa and stir to combine. (You will likely have leftovers.) To serve: place handful of Spring Mix on plate, and top with quinoa salad. 


Notes on these recipes: If you have the good weather, and the desire, you can absolutely grill this tenderloin! I did have some extra quinoa salad, which made for an awesome lunch the next day. I used Cucumber-Melon "Gourmet Balsamic" found at a local oil/vinegar shoppe. Any high-quality balsamic or perhaps a balsamic syrup would work well!

April 28, 2015

Simple Apple Tart

I am a big dessert person. Sometimes, I think that if I could survive on pastries, cookies, cakes, and ice cream- I totally would. Most of the time, however, a little something sweet to end my meal/day with is perfect.

Although I could hardly say no to a brownie sundae, or chocolate cake (I think I'll be baking later!), it is nice to enjoy a simple and light sweet treat. This Simple Apple Tart is just that. Very easy to make and centered around delicious apples, this tart is satisfying, light, and (relatively) healthy.

...did I mention that it's beautiful?!?

Simple Apple Tart
Serves 8

1 pre-made pie crust
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
2lb Golden Delicious apples, peeled and thinly sliced
1 cup apricot preserves
2 tbsp hot water

Preheat your oven to 425. Open crust, and roll out to be about 1/8 in thick, and almost as big as your pan. (You want it to be thin, but not transparent.) Move crust to baking sheet. Mix cinnamon and sugar together; sprinkle 1-2 tablespoons of sugar mixture over crust. Arrange sliced apples in lines, alternating the direction of the slice until all apples are used; leaving about 1/4-1/2 inch rim all around. (You may have some extra to munch on.) Fold up edges of crust to create a border. Sprinkle the tart with remaining sugar mixture. Bake 30 minutes, until apples are tender and crust is golden brown. During last minute or so of baking, combine apricot preserves with hot water, stir to combine and thin slightly. Upon removing tart from oven, brush preserves evenly over tart. Allow to cool slightly- and set- before cutting/serving.
May also be eaten at room temperature, or cool- depending on your preference.


April 25, 2015

Chive, Swiss and Sauteed Asparagus Quiche

It's the weekend!!

I enjoy having a special breakfast/brunch on weekend mornings... There's something wonderful about waking up, and being able to take your time making something delicious to start off a couple of days of fun and relaxation- or full of weekend getting things done.

This quiche is somewhat of a departure from my typical weekend breakfast of fancied up pancakes, and when paired with some fresh fruit, and a hot cup of coffee it makes a great main dish for breakfast or brunch.

Using a store-bought pie crust makes it relatively quick to put together (c'mon it's nice to sleep in a little), so that making breakfast doesn't turn into an all-day ordeal, and you can get to the fun part. The half and half makes the eggs nice and velvety, and the chives provide a light onion flavor that really lets the fresh asparagus stand out.

Chive, Swiss and Sauteed Asparagus Quiche
Serves 6

1 store-bought pie crust, (I use Pillsbury)
1 tbsp butter
1 bunch asparagus, trimmed and sliced into 1/4in pieces
4 large eggs
3/4 cup half and half
1/2 cup lowfat milk
1 cup shredded Swiss cheese
1/2 bunch chives, minced
Kosher salt and fresh black pepper
Pinch of ground nutmeg

Place oven rack in lowest position, and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place butter in large skillet over medium heat. Once butter has melted, add asparagus, season lightly with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until asparagus is tender, about 7 minutes. Remove asparagus from pan, and set aside to cool. In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, half and half, milk, 1/2 tsp salt and pepper, chives, and nutmeg. Place pie crust into pie plate and set plate onto a baking sheet. Sprinkle cheese into bottom of crust, top evenly with asparagus mixture. Gently pour egg mixture overtop, and place into the oven to bake for 50-60 minutes- until the quiche is just set. Rotate pan halfway through cooking, and cover crust with aluminum foil if browning too quickly. Let quiche stand 15 minutes before serving.


Notes on this recipe: One of the wonderful things about quiche is its versatility! If you don't care for asparagus, feel free to replace it with broccoli, spinach, mushrooms, a mix of onions/peppers, or anything else you can think of. For a meatier version, try breakfast sausage/peppers/onions; ham/swiss; bacon/swiss (Quiche Lorraine); ham/onions/peppers/cheese... your only limitation is your imagination. (Use fully-cooked meats.)

April 23, 2015

Crisp and Refreshing: Cucumber and Celery Salad

In the spirit of "National Picnic Day", I set out to make a dinner inspired by my favorite picnic flavors and breezy meals spent spread out on a blanket under the sky.

Although our weather isn't quite what I'd like it to be, one bite of this salad, and I can almost feel the warm summer breeze, and see the fireflies floating around our backyard.

This crisp and refreshing Cucumber and Celery Salad is healthy, light, brightly flavored, and easy to put together- perfect for a picnic!

Cucumber and Celery Salad
Serves 4

1 English cucumber, halved lengthwise
3 stalks celery
1/3 cup plain Greek yogurt
1tbsp lemon juice
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp sugar
1 tbsp parsley

Using mandolin (or good sharp Chef's knife), slice cucumber and celery thin; place in large bowl. In a separate bowl, mix together yogurt, lemon juice, salt, pepper, sugar and parsley. Pour yogurt mixture over vegetable mixture, and gently mix to combine.


Birthday Cake Martini

I recently had the chance to celebrate my mom's (belated) birthday with her, while she was visiting from out of state. One of her requests was a birthday cake martini- a drink that we found/tweaked for my birthday celebration a few years ago. 

This martini has become one of my favorite drinks- not overly sweet, and yet it makes for a great dessert- I need to figure out how to stick a birthday candle in it! 

Birthday Cake Martini
Makes 2

3oz cake vodka (Three Olives)
2oz amaretto (Disaronno)
3oz creme de cacao
1oz white chocolate liquor (Godiva)
2oz cream (or half & half)

Squeeze a small amount of chocolate sauce onto a paper towel, gently slide towel along edge of glass, leaving behind a chocolate rim. Pour multicolored sprinkles onto plate, and gently press down chocolate-rimmed glass onto sprinkles in order to help them stick. (You may need to rotate glass to get even coverage.) Place ice in shaker, pour in all ingredients, shake and pour into (martini) glasses. 

...When I recently made this, it made 2 1/2 drinks (it could have made 3 slightly smaller servings); it was a good amount to provide my mother, my mother in law, and myself with a tasty treat. Don't let its name discourage you- there's no need to wait for a birthday to sip this nip!

April 21, 2015

Crockpot Stuffed Peppers

I really enjoy crockpot recipes, but I usually find myself straying away from their convenience once the weather starts to get a little warmer.

I think that when most of us think about crockpots, we think of a steaming pot of soup, comfort food, and delicious things that help us stay warm through the winter, (and maybe contribute to our own personal "insulation"). I am always searching for crockpot meal inspiration so that I can enjoy some brighter, lighter, seasonally relevant meals while taking advantage of the (incredible) hands-off cooking that the crockpot provides.

Stuffed peppers are kind of a compromise. They definitely fit into the category of comfort food; but with the presence of bright fresh peppers, light (but nutritionally awesome) quinoa, and flavorful yet simple flavors, they are fit for a cool Spring evening- and maybe even a simple Summer dinner. 

After hearing the rave reviews from my taste testers, I'm sure they'd be happily devoured no matter what the season!

Crockpot Stuffed Peppers
Serves 6

6 bell peppers, cored
1lb. lean ground beef
1 1/2 cups quinoa, cooked and cooled
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
28 oz. can diced tomatoes, divided
3/4 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried basil
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper

Slice the tops off of the bell peppers, keeping as much of the pepper intact as possible. Tear out the ribs/seeds/core, and discard. Pour 1/2 of the diced tomatoes into the bottom of the crockpot, then stand your peppers upright, arranging so that all 6 fit in the pot comfortably. In a separate bowl, combine beef, quinoa, onion, garlic, the remaining diced tomatoes, and seasonings. Stir so that ingredients are well combined. (Use your hands, if you prefer!) Spoon beef mixture into peppers, using all filling. (Don't worry, its ok to have 'overstuffed' peppers.) Cook on low for 4-6 hours; until the beef is cooked throughout, and the pepper is done to your liking.
Serve immediately and enjoy!

Notes on this recipe: I served these on their own, but they would be delicious with a simple salad and maybe even a crusty roll... I was almost surprised by how light they were- not overly filling/heavy or dense at all- I believe due to the quinoa. You can use white or brown rice, (or barley or any other grain) instead if you'd prefer, you just may need to adjust the amount of your grain to keep them balanced.

April 16, 2015

One Pot Spring Pasta

Spring is springing!!

One of my absolute favorite spring dishes is Pasta Primavera. The only downside to enjoying loads (I typically include 5 or 6 different veggies) of Spring's freshest vegetables on a pile of creamy pasta is all of the chopping. The prep/cooking time makes it something that I don't get to make on a regular basis despite my cravings... This one-pot pasta, however, provides the perfect solution!!

Mushrooms, zucchini, and garlic are all that gets chopped here- and it doesn't get much simpler than scooping in some frozen peas... Not to mention, throwing everything into one pot and letting it cook!

Simple, delicious, easy, and bright; It's the perfect weeknight meal... (so easy, my husband made it!).

One Pot Zucchini Mushroom Pasta
Adapted from Damn Delicious; Serves 6

1 lb. spaghetti
1 lb cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced
2 zucchini, quartered and thinly sliced
2/3 cup frozen peas
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 1/2 tsp dried thyme leaves
Salt and pepper, to taste
4 1/2 cups water

1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan
1/3 cup heavy cream

Place water, spaghetti, vegetables, garlic, thyme and salt/pepper in a large pot over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer uncovered until pasta is cooked and liquid is reduced, about 8-10 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in Parmesan and heavy cream until the noodles and veggies are evenly coated.


Notes on this recipe: While the pasta is boiling, you may need to stir the pasta and ensure that it sinks completely into your pot. (Alternately, break your spaghetti noodles before adding them in, or used shaped pasta, just adjust your cooking time accordingly.) You can experiment with other veggies to suit your taste- feel free to play! If you're omitting the mushrooms, I'd recommend trading the plain spaghetti for whole wheat- the mushrooms provide an earthy, nutty flavor that would really be missed but would be somewhat made up for with a whole wheat pasta.
Yummy garnishes for this dish would be thinly sliced green onions (to freshen it up a bit), or more Parmesan cheese.

April 11, 2015

Taste Test: Sippin' a Shandy

Ok, so I might be a little early... but I'm craving summer. (Or at least some warm sunshine sans cold breeze... oh, and green grass/trees/anything.) Mother nature, however, seems to have different plans... but, "April showers bring May flowers", right??

Last summer- when the Shandy craze started to hit the states- I was happily pregnant with my baby boy and stuck to regular lemonade, club soda with a twist, or Arnold Palmers if I was feeling fancy. I took note of all of the talk though, and vowed that I'd find out what all of the fuss was about after I'd brought my healthy boy into the world.

Today, when I was at the store- gathering the items on my produce-heavy, springlike list- I decided that there was no time like the present to will warmer weather into fruition by trying a shandy. While standing in the well-stocked beer section, I quickly grabbed my phone to google which brew(s) I should try first.

The review I found- thank you Huffington Post- listed Traveler Beer Company's Curious Traveler as Number 1, and Leinenkugel's Summer Shandy as Number 2. Thankfully, I was able to easily find the top contenders for my own home taste test.

First, let me say, I'm not a huge beer drinker... but its growing on me. (I typically prefer white wine/gin and tonic/mojitos/hard lemonade drinks in the summer.) This, I think, is part of what makes shandy right up my alley. For those who aren't sure what a shandy is, a shandy is a (typically) 50/50 mixture of beer and lemonade/carbonated beverage/apple juice/orange juice/ginger beer. (Very similarly, radlers are drinks made of a 50/50 mix of beer and sparkling lemonade... the name depends on what country the drink is originating from, and all are a lighter alcohol content than traditional beer.)

Back to the tasting!

2. Leinenkugel's Summer Shandy is, apparently, the biggest seller on the market and makes up for a large percentage of the company's overall sales. It's pretty good. My husband, who drinks more beer than I do, refers to Leinenkugel in general, as "soapy"... and wasn't as enthusiastic as I was about trying their shandy. Neither one of us were in love, but it is definitely drinkable. (I found it to be a little bitter, but again- I'm not a huge beer drinker.) It is definitely lemony; it smells and looks almost lemonade-like, is nice and light, and has a decent lemon flavor.
Although it wasn't my favorite, I would drink it again.

1. Traveler Beer's Curious Traveler was a completely different story. It's one of the best beer/beer drinks I've ever had. Very light, refreshing, and interesting- I found myself wanting another one. It's not obviously lemon, like Leinenkugel's offering, but yet offered a similar bright and refreshing feeling. It's smooth and delicious. I am very excited to hunt down and try their Illusive Traveler (a shandy made with grapefruit in place of lemon), and their seasonals when the time comes.
If I were to pick a new summer drink, Curious Traveler would be it!!

As much as I love Curious Traveler, I have seen many more shandies and summer beers out there that I'd love to try- if you have a favorite summer drink, please share!

April 05, 2015

Cooking with Kids: No-bake Easter Treats

Happy Easter!

I like creating, or cooking holiday themed items to really get in the spirit... I especially love finding simple holiday-themed treats to make with my oldest son, who loves playing with me in the kitchen. He has a great time cooking; helping me measure, count, mix, taste, and showing off the fruits of his labor.

For Easter this year, we made beautiful and delicious (no bake) bird's nests together.
I found this recipe a few years ago, and had a great time making and eating them! This year, though, I had much more fun with my son helping me- he got to help me measure, mix, review colors, and put the eggs (mini malted Robin's Eggs) in their nests. I have found more variations of this basic idea... using chow mein noodles in place of fiber one, adding marshmallows, using butterscotch chips instead of chocolate... But the classic chocolate/peanut butter combination, (with the benefit of using a healthy cereal), really makes this version the winner for me.

These adorable treats are super simple to make, and are perfect for making with kids- they come together quickly, involve little mess, and no baking or high temperatures.

Fiber One Haystacks
From Fiber One

12 oz semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup reduced fat peanut butter
3 3/4 cup original Fiber One
Mini Robin's eggs, or other egg-shaped candy

Line cookie sheets with waxed paper. In a large microwavable bowl, microwave chocolate chips and peanut butter uncovered on high for 30 seconds. Stir, and microwave for another 30 seconds. Microwave 30 seconds to 1 minute longer, stirring after every 15 seconds, until melted and smooth. Stir in cereal until well coated. Drop mixture by rounded teaspoonfuls onto waxed paper, slightly flatten into a nest-like shape. Place 2 or 3 egg shaped candies in the center, gently pressing so that they are held in place by the chocolate. Refrigerate until chocolate is firm- about 1 hour. Remove treats from cookie sheets, and put into sealed containers, keeping in refrigerator.

April 04, 2015

Baking Challah: I made bread!!

Ladies and Gentlemen, meet the two most photographed loaves of bread on the internet!

Yesterday was a big day!! A first for people-food and a big first for me; I baked my first two loaves of [amazing] bread.

There is truly something incredible about baking your own bread. It's right up there with eating veggies you grow in your own backyard. (Another goal for this summer.)

After putting it off for I don't know how long, I finally decided not to be intimidated by baking bread, and just go for it. (Partly fueled, I think, by my success with Lemon Curd earlier in the week.)

Easter breakfast was a big tradition in my family growing up. It was the one day of the year that I was allowed to have candy for breakfast... and we also had Polish kielbasa, scrambled eggs, and challah.
 You say Easter, and I can feel the elasticity of the bread pulling apart, smell the yeasty aroma, and taste the slightly sweet and eggy taste of a great loaf of challah. (I was always more excited about the bread than I was about the jelly beans or the chocolate.)

In the past few years, because of work and other commitments, I have missed out on my beloved challah and "traditional" Easter breakfast. This year though- when the sight of the lamb-shaped butter sculpture had me tearing up at the grocery store- I knew it was time to reinstate my tradition.

That's when the panic set in. I couldn't find any challah in my grocery store. So, on a whim ("Let me just see how hard it is to make...") I searched the internet for recipes/how to's... I was very encouraged to see that two of my favorite food blogs had recipes listed, and it all seemed pretty simple. I decided to go for it... that's when I started to get really excited. Not only would I have my traditional breakfast, but I'd get to make the food that meant the most to me, and finally bake some bread!

I chose to use the recipe I found at Smitten Kitchen (minus the braiding instructions). I wanted to make two loaves, I love her blog, and making and enjoying challah seemed to be as important to her as it is to me. I made minor adjustments (I didn't use raisins in my dough, and I chose not to top my loaves with poppyseeds), but I am including photos for some step-by-step help/encouragement...

"Best Challah"
From Smitten Kitchen; makes 2 loaves

3 3/4 tsp. active dry yeast
1 tbsp sugar
1 3/4 cups lukewarm water
1/2 cup vegetable oil, plus more to grease the bowl
5 large eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1 tbsp table salt
8 to 8 1/2 cups all purpose flour

1. In a large bowl, dissolve yeast and 1 tbsp of sugar in warm water and set aside about 5 minutes- until a bit foamy.
2. Whisk oil into yeast. Beat in 4 eggs- one at a time- along with remaining sugar and salt. Gradually add flour. When dough holds together, it is ready for kneading.
3. Turn dough onto a floured surface and knead until smooth.* Then, clean your bowl, grease it with oil, and return dough to bowl. Cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour, until almost doubled in size. (I used the proof setting on my oven.)
4. Punch down dough*, cover and let rise again in a warm place for 30 minutes
5. Divide risen dough into halves. To make a 6-braid challah, take half the dough, and form it into 6 balls, forming a 12-16 inch strand with each ball. Braid*. Alternately, to make a 3-braid challah, divide half of the dough into 3 balls. Roll balls into 12-16 inch long strands, and braid as you would braid hair. (I made one 6-braid loaf and one 3-braid loaf.) Tuck ends underneath. Repeat with other half of your dough. Place loaves on greased cookie sheet (or use parchment paper) with at least 2 inches in between.

6. Beat remaining whole egg, and brush half of it on loaves. Let rise another hour.
7. Preheat oven to 375 degrees, and brush loaves again with remaining egg.
8. Bake in middle of oven for 30-35 minutes, or until golden. (Or, it reads 190 degrees on instant read thermometer.) Cool loaves on rack.

I am really in awe of finished product: two incredible loaves of bread. This recipe produced some of the most perfect challah I have ever had.... and I made it! The 2 egg washes made for some beautiful browning, and a perfect crust over the chewy and tender dough inside... This bread brings back so many happy memories- and has already helped me make new ones with my boys. (We started eating it as soon as it was cooled down!) It was a lot easier to make than I expected it to be, too (a big bonus!), the most challenging part was the braiding (see notes below). 

I can't wait to bake more bread!!

*Notes: "Knead until smooth." This being my first experience making bread, I had to look this up. Kneading until smooth, means kneading your dough for about 8-10 minutes; the dough starts to magically really come together, feels smooth/elastic, and becomes slightly tacky. (It also starts to hold its shape if you pick it up single handedly.) "Punch down" I looked this one up too. You need to do more than just push your fist down into the center of your dough once. Your goal when you punch it down is to deflate it, in order to improve the texture of your final product. After you punch down the center of your dough, you should knead it gently within the bowl/flip it over and make sure that you get all of the air out. Braiding. I found the instructions on Smitten Kitchen to be nearly impossible to follow (partly, I think because I had a fussy baby in the kitchen with me). I had much better luck following the words and pictures that come with the Challah recipe at thekitchn.

April 03, 2015

Homemade Lemon Curd

With Easter right around the corner, and promises of Springtime lingering in the (slightly warmer) air, I have lemons on my mind.

Something about the flavor and scent of a lemon makes me think of sunshine, warmth, and fun to be had. The bright citrusy flavor just makes me happy!

What is more lemony rich than lemon curd?

Lemon curd is something that I definitely enjoy, but had not made by scratch until just the other day. I had only really noticed it in gourmet stores, or tucked away on the grocery shelf in small jars with pretty labels. The pleasing small-portioned packaging, and product placement always made it seem super special... and (nearly) impossible to make.

Thankfully, I was wrong. Lemon curd may be a little time consuming, but it is super simple to cook at home! I will now be able to enjoy this British delicacy straight from my refrigerator. I look forward to savoring a dollop in my yogurt, spreading some on my pancakes, and even giving some to friends and family as a sweet treat.

I used Alton Brown's recipe, found here from the Food Network. I did see other recipes which called for whole eggs, but I chose Alton's because his method appealed to me. (Everything mixes/cooks in one bowl.) Besides, maybe now I'll make an Angel Food cake with my leftover egg whites- lemon curd on Angel Food sounds delicious!

Lemon Curd
Makes 1 pint

5 egg yolks
1 cup sugar
4 lemons, zested
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
1 stick butter, sliced and chilled*

In a medium saucepan, bring about 1 inch of water to simmer over medium-high heat.
In a medium metal mixing bowl, whisk together egg yolks and sugar until smooth- about 1 minute.
Add lemon juice and zest to the egg mixture and whisk until smooth.
Once water is simmering, reduce heat to low (not too low- the water should continue to lightly simmer), and place metal bowl on top of saucepan. (The bowl should not touch the water; you may also use a double boiler if you have one.)
Whisk until thickened- about 8 minutes- or until the mixture is light yellow, and coats the back of a spoon.

Quickly remove from heat and stir in butter one slice at a time, allowing each slice to melt before adding the next. Pour into clean jars, or other containers. Cover with plastic wrap directly on top of the curd (to avoid the formation of "skin"), and place lid overtop. Refrigerate for up to 2 weeks.

*Notes on this recipe: Check your simmering water as you are whisking to thicken your curd- if your water has stopped simmering, adjust temperature accordingly- otherwise, it will take forever to thicken! I did not use the entire stick of butter- I added probably 2/3-3/4 of the butter; taste as you add your butter, and stop when you are happy.

Before heading into the fridge to cool down. 

April 01, 2015

Lemon Poppyseed {Mini} Muffins

I am a sucker for a good muffin... It would also seem that now that Spring is inevitably around the corner (FINALLY!) I have an insatiable craving for all things lemon. So... This morning, after being done coloring eggs in a record amount of time, I asked my son if he would like to play Chef, (YES!), and headed into the kitchen to make something to satisfy my craving for baked goods full of lemony goodness.

I came up with these muffins out of my desire for sunny lemons, and also to loosely recreate the childhood memory of my grandmother's poppyseed cake. The end result? Muffins worthy of breakfast, snack time, brunch, or- if dressed with a simple lemon glaze- a light dessert after a fresh Spring meal. (They'd be perfect after some pasta primavera, or grilled shrimp...) These muffins are perfect- tender, moist, slightly sweet, with a perfect "crust" to the top... four [mini] muffins later, I had to make myself stop "testing" them.

Lemon Poppyseed {Mini} Muffins
Makes 34 mini muffins, or about 16 regular muffins. 

2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup coconut oil, liquid*
1 cup lowfat milk
1/2 tbsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
zest of one lemon- about 3/4 tbsp
3 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
4 tsp baking powder
2 tbsp poppy seeds

Preheat oven to 375 degrees, and spray muffin tins with cooking spray. (Alternately, use paper muffin liners.)
In medium bowl, whisk together eggs and sugar until smooth. Add in oil, milk, vanilla, lemon juice and zest; stir to combine and set aside. (It may look a little foamy or lumpy- don't worry!) In a large bowl, combine flour, salt, baking powder, and poppy seeds. Slowly, fold the lemon mixture into the flour mixture and stir only to combine.
Fill muffin cups with about 1 tbsp batter, and bake for 12-14 minutes- until toothpick comes out clean- rotating pans halfway. Allow to cool only enough to handle, then remove from pans and place on cooling racks to cool completely. (If you wish to glaze the muffins to make them more dessert-like, place wax paper underneath cooling racks to catch drips, and drizzle glaze over muffins while they are still slightly warm.) Enjoy!

I enjoy baking muffins and freezing them for busier days- when I'm short on time, but would really love a little something special. After sampling them, and setting some aside for my husband, I packaged these up. Two mini muffins per sandwich bag, then all together in a gallon-sized freezer bag. They will keep in the freezer for 3 months (but I doubt they will last that long!).

*Notes on this recipe: I used expeller pressed coconut oil, so there is not a strong coconut flavor in the finished product. You could also use vegetable or canola oil. If making standard-sized muffins, the baking time will be about 20-25 minutes (start checking on them around the 20 minute mark).

March 31, 2015

Cheap Eats: Overnight Oats

Good Morning!

So, March- and our budget focused month here on Peoplefood- is over... I am very anxious to welcome Spring, and all of the pleasures that warmer weather will bring.

At the beginning of the month, I mentioned that we were going to try to stick to a very strict food budget this month of only $125. How'd we do?? Well, we were unable to stick to our budget. But, that's ok. Why didn't we? Baby formula (story for another day), no eating out (you spend more at the grocery store when you cook every meal), prepping freezer meals for future enjoyment, and a couple unforeseen special meals. Overall, even though we didn't meet our (likely unrealistic) goal, we are happy with how we did.

One recipe/breakfast idea that I came to love this month is Overnight Oats. Budget-friendly, healthy and super customizable, they make for a satisfying and convenient breakfast.

I have seen overnight oats all over the internet, and at first I was a little skeptical. Cold oatmeal didn't sound all that appealing. However, I tried them and fell in love. I often enjoy them straight out of the refrigerator, or occasionally stick them in the microwave for just 30 seconds before stirring them up. I don't like eating piping hot oatmeal in the warmer months, and this will be a great way to enjoy heart-healthy oatmeal during the summer.

Mixing them up before bed and letting them do their thing all night while I sleep really couldn't be easier. Being able to just grab a ready-to-go breakfast comes in super handy on my work days- and when I'm home with my boys and need to be able to climb aboard a pirate ship couch/take Curious George to the veterinarian/make bottles and change diapers.

Like I said, one of the things I love about these is the fact that you can make them with just about anything! Start with 1/2 cup of old fashioned oats (NOT quick cooking) and 1/2 cup milk and let your imagination and taste buds determine the rest! I have seen recipes which include yogurt, but I haven't tried it that way just yet. Here are some of my favorite combinations so far:

Banana Bread
1/2 cup Old Fashioned Oats
1/2 cup lowfat milk
1 small banana, sliced
1 tbsp sweetened shredded coconut
1/2 tsp pure vanilla
dash of cinnamon
2 tbsp ground flax seed (optional) 

Strawberries and Cream
1/2 cup Old Fashioned Oats
1/2 cup lowfat milk (plus 2 tbsp to help mix before eating)
1 cup sliced fresh strawberries
2 tbsp ground flax seed (optional)

Peanut Butter and Banana
1/2 cup Old Fashioned Oats
1/2 cup lowfat milk
2 tbsp PB2 (or regular peanut butter)
1 small banana, sliced
2 tbsp ground flax seed (optional)

Cranberry Oats
1/2 cup old fashioned oats
1/2 cup lowfat milk
2 tbsp dried cranberries
1/2 tsp pure vanilla
2 tbsp ground flax seed (optional)

The method: In small tupperware (or mason jar), combine all ingredients, place in refrigerator overnight (about 8-10 hours). I have let mine sit in the refrigerator for up to 14 hours, and they have been just right. Take them out in the morning, mix 'em up and enjoy!

Notes: You may find that you need to add an additional 2 tbsp or so of milk to help mix. They are perfect right out of the refrigerator or after microwaving for 30 seconds and stirring up. Vanilla extract is a great way to add some sweetness without adding sugar, and adds another dimension to the flavor (perfect for the banana bread combo or for helping recreate the feeling of baked goods).

I am excited to try chia seeds, trying some yogurt in my mix, and trying some other fruits- I've been dreaming of a peaches and cream version... This works well with both fresh and dried fruits- I am going to try out frozen fruit next!

March 28, 2015

Cheap Eats: Freezer Meals

I have seen the posts on Pinterest... and read the blog posts... and talked to people about their freezer cooking. It is something that I have been on the fence about for a while, but always talked myself out of, citing lack of freezer space, lack of time for all that cooking, disbelief that we'd actually eat it, and some skepticism over how much money is actually saved. 

Then, I really thought about it... and put some effort into looking up recipes that I know my family would enjoy. Especially after a month of paying even closer attention to the budget, adjusting more to life with two kids under 4 (we don't have a lot of time uninterrupted in the kitchen), and realizing that I'm officially back to work (which means 12 hour shifts/13 hours away from home 3 days a week, leaving my husband to pick up the kids, make dinner and handle at least one bedtime on his own), I knew I had to jump on the freezer meal cooking train. 

I am so happy that I did!!

I was able to make: 8 Burritos; 16 Servings of Turkey and Kale Chili; 8 Servings of Chicken and Wild Rice bake; and 8 Servings of Chicken Teriyaki for $72! (That's a lot of food!)

Here's how I did it:

1. I found a partner in crime. (This was, for me, one of the most important parts.) It isn't fun to spend an entire day in the kitchen alone- no matter how much you love cooking, you eventually start to run out of steam. Having my friend by my side kept it fun, split the workload (there was a lot of chopping involved), and kept me motivated. It was great that I got all the cooking done, but even better that I got to hang out with a friend while doing it. Also important: music- turn the radio/Spotify/Pandora on your favorite channel and feel free to sing along!

2. I found recipes that I know my family will eat. (This is big.) No one wants to spend the money, time, and energy cooking/prepping meals that will sit in the freezer until they eventually make their way into the trash can. I made sure that the meals we made were meals that we would enjoy, and were interesting enough that we wouldn't get tired of them. I also made sure we had variety, and complete meals- limiting the need for side dishes. Soup freezes really well, but will my family be happy with soup 3 nights a week? No. We made one chili, one crockpot complete meal (just needs rice/quinoa on the side), one oven baked meal (just needs a veggie of some kind on the side), and one batch of individually wrapped burritos (perfect for lunch, or dinner if I forget to take something out to defrost). 

3. To be budget-friendly: we didn't really use any outrageous/expensive ingredients. We kept it simple. I bought the meat in bulk, used store brand items (canned diced tomatoes, broth, frozen veggies, rice), and planned my shopping list carefully so that I didn't over-buy. 

4. The night before, I cleaned the kitchen and adjoining dining room to make sure that we had the space to spread out (the dining room table made a perfect burrito making station). I also double checked to make sure that we had everything we needed, and laid out the recipes/ingredients together so we weren't running around looking for things. (Next time, I'll lay things out on the buffet table in the dining room so I don't run out of counter space!)

5. Planning: I looked at which recipes required longer prep times and tried to plan our cooking so that something was always in the works. (For example: The burritos we made required roasted veggies, rice and shredded chicken, but we needed them at room temperature before we could assemble our burritos- so those ingredients were the first to cook and then cooled while we worked on other recipes.)

6. Everything is in freezer bags. The use of freezer bags really maximized the available space in my freezer, and helped everything freeze quickly and evenly. (It also means that I still have a full supply of clean tupperware to use for other things, instead of tying them up with freezer goodies.) I also made sure to freeze some smaller portions of the chili so that we could grab and defrost enough for dinner and not end up eating it for 3 days (or wasting leftovers). 

I did not make up my own recipes this time around. I was focused on perfecting storage, mass-cooking (this is a little different than cooking for a holiday or family gathering), and making a variety of meals I knew we would like. I also wanted to make sure that I was making something that I knew would freeze well (because someone else ironed out those details) so that I could get an idea of how well things defrosted and tasted when cooked from frozen. That being said, small adjustments were made to the recipes to make them match our taste. 

The Recipes:

1. The Roasted Vegetable Burritos with Black Beans and Rice from the kitchn. We each made one batch of these burritos, (8 burritos each). We used multigrain tortillas, and brown basmati rice (I had this already in my pantry). I did not use any meat in my burritos- I used just rice, veggies, beans and cheese. But my friend used chicken in hers along with the other ingredients listed. (The chicken breast was poached in water, with salt, pepper, and bay leaf then shredded.) We seasoned the veggies with olive oil, salt, pepper and smoked paprika. 

2. Crockpot Chicken Teriyaki from New Leaf Wellness. We each made 2 batches of this (4 servings each batch). The only adjustment is that we used 20 oz. of frozen stir fry veggies. (The family pack was 80oz. and made more financial sense than buying a smaller amount of veggies in several smaller packages.)

3. Easy Turkey Chili with Kale from the kitchn. We each made 2 batches, or 16 one-cup servings of this. We didn't make any real adjustments here. We used 1 1/2 lbs. of turkey per batch, no salt added diced tomatoes, and Organic chicken broth (its even lower sodium than low sodium chicken broth). 

4. Chicken and Wild Rice Bake from the kitchn. We each made 2 batches of this (4-6 servings per batch). Only very minor adjustments here too... my friend made hers without mushrooms, and I doubled the mushrooms in ours- I used baby bellas. If you're on the fence about buying/using the smoked paprika, don't be. It is a definite must- it's delicious!

I am super excited; everything we made tasted/looked delicious! (I snuck tastes of the teriyaki marinade, the vinaigrette for the chicken and wild rice, the turkey chili, and the burrito components along the way...) 

We are already planning our next cooking session (we plan on doing this about once a month to make sure we always have meals on hand). 

March 23, 2015

Cheap Eats: Loaded Baked Potato with White Cheese Sauce

Hello again!! Our budget challenge for the month has been going very well, and before the month is over, I still have a few more yummy and cheap recipes to share... I also have been working on some awesome recipes for overnight oats (a cheap breakfast!) to share with you soon. 

Baked potatoes are awesome. When done right, the skin is crisp and delicate with just the right saltiness, and waiting inside there is soft, pillowy, creamy potatoey goodness to savor alone... or with every awesome ingredient you can think of. 

The best part? Potatoes are cheap... as were the ingredients we topped them with: a homemade white cheese sauce, crispy bacon and broccoli. These made a great meal- and all of the leftovers were happily consumed for lunch the next day. 

I made this meal (4 potatoes) for about $3.78... that's $0.95 per serving.*

First, let's start with how to bake the perfect potato. The method that I choose to use is oven baking- I have nothing against the microwave, but if your potato is going to be the star of the meal, baked is the way to go. It takes about 45 minutes/ an hour to bake them to perfection, but that's 45 minutes of hands-off cooking that you can spend doing something else... and it is totally worth it!!

Perfect Baked Potato

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Scrub your potatoes (Russets are the way to go),  use a fork to stab holes all over the potato (about 10 times), then rub them down with some oil, and sprinkle with salt. 
Place potatoes directly onto middle rack of the oven, and place a cookie sheet on lower rack, just in case. 
Bake for 45-60 minutes, until the skin is crisp, but the insides feel soft to the touch.
Remove from the oven, split-em open and top as desired...

Now I really want a baked potato...

The perfect accompaniment for these potatoes was my white cheese sauce. It was creamy and delicious- I didn't have to wait for shredded cheese to melt atop my potato- and it poured over the potato so that it was a part of every bite. It doesn't get much better.... The sauce took about 5 minutes to make, stored well in the refrigerator and reheated well for leftovers the next day. Awesome. For anyone a little intimidated by making cheese sauce, I took some photos to help you through it... it is super simple and you'll be very happy you tried it!

White Cheese Sauce

Makes about 1 cup

2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp mustard powder
1/8 tsp pepper
1 cup milk (I used 2%)
1/2 cup cheese (I used Monterey Jack)

Melt butter in medium saucepan over medium heat. 

Whisk in flour, salt, pepper and mustard. Cook, whisking constantly, over medium heat until mixture is smooth, bubbly and slightly golden. 

Gradually add milk, and continue to whisk. Bring to low boil and stir until smooth. Slowly add cheese, and whisk until smooth/all cheese is melted. 

If you prefer cheddar, you could easily substitute some white cheddar for the Monterey Jack that I listed... I'm thinking that some PepperJack would make a pretty incredible sauce as well. Yum!!

*Price Breakdown: 4 potatoes $1.20 (from 5lb bag); frozen broccoli- half bag $0.50; 4 pieces of bacon $1.26 (I found uncured "Never Any!" bacon at Aldi and have fallen in love!); monterey jack cheese $0.66; milk $0.16... Total price above does not include butter, flour, or spices as those things are pantry staples. 

March 17, 2015

Cheap Eats: Homemade Marinara

Ok, so it really doesn't get any cheaper than Spaghetti. Pasta is about as cheap as it comes. Tomato sauce usually isn't that expensive either, but homemade tastes far better, and is often healthier (no added sugar, lower sodium).

This super simple recipe for homemade marinara sauce is flavorful enough to enjoy on it's own, or with meat added (this happened to be a meat-free day's batch). It would also make a great starting point for eggplant or chicken parmesan, lasagna, pizza... or anything else you can think of!

I made this marinara for about $1... that's about $0.17 per serving. Put that together with some pasta for $1/lb and that's a $2 meal!! It doesn't get much cheaper or easier!*

Homemade Marinara
Makes about 6 servings

1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic
1 bay leaf
1 28oz can crushed tomatoes
1 tbsp tomato paste
1/2 tsp basil
1/2 tsp oregano

Warm saucepan over medium-low heat. Add garlic and saute until fragrant and garlic is slightly tender; add bay leaf. Stir in tomatoes, tomato paste, basil and oregano; stir until tomato paste has dissolved. Simmer over low heat for 2 hours, stirring occasionally.

Serve immediately over pasta, or in your favorite recipe. Also keeps well in refrigerator or freezer for future use!

*Price breakdown: garlic $0.15; crushed tomatoes $0.79; tomato paste $0.06. Cost of herbs/evoo not included.

March 13, 2015

Cheap Eats: Quinoa "Fried Rice"

One of the best ways to stay on a lower monthly (food) budget, is to avoid- or at least reduce- eating out. (This budget tip is not only healthy for your wallet, but for your body too!) One of the ways I try to cut down on eating at/from restaurants is to vary our menu at home to include different cuisines. I have found that pretty much whenever we order take-out, we order Chinese or Japanese food, so that is definitely something I try to incorporate into our menu at least once per week.

This Quinoa "Fried Rice" satisfies our craving for takeout but is far healthier and cheaper!! (It's also really yummy!!) Starting with leftover quinoa (I actually made extra the night before to ensure the right amount of leftovers) made this meal super quick and easy to stir up!

I was able to make this dinner for a total of about $3.04!!! That's only $0.76 per serving!!*

Quinoa Fried Rice
Makes 4 servings

2 large eggs
1 1/2 cup frozen stir-fry veggies
1 clove garlic, minced
small yellow onion, diced
1 1/2 cup quinoa, cooked
1 tsp chili garlic paste
1 tbsp + 2 tsp Low-Sodium Soy Sauce
1 tsp. sesame oil
1/2 to 1 tbsp canola oil
Cilantro and sesame seeds, for garnish

In a small bowl, whisk eggs, 2 tsp. soy sauce and 1 tsp. sesame oil. Heat wok (or large pan) over medium-high heat. Add eggs to pan and cook, stirring frequently/using spatula to break up. Remove eggs from pan and set aside. Next, add canola oil to pan (just enough to lightly coat), add garlic and onion; stir fry until onion is tender. Next, add frozen veggies and stir fry until beginning to thaw. Next, add chili paste and remaining soy sauce. Finally, add quinoa and stir fry until well combined, and vegetables are cooked through. Serve immediately, garnished with sesame seeds and/or cilantro. Enjoy!!

*Price breakdown: eggs $0.33; frozen veggies $0.96; onion $0.34; quinoa (which was bought in bulk at Sams) $1.00; chili garlic paste $0.06; soy sauce $0.22; and sesame oil $0.13. Total price above does not include garlic clove and canola oil.

All of these ingredients are staples in my pantry/refrigerator which really helped me make this cheap and delicious dinner!