Monday, October 5, 2009

Music Is What Feelings Sound Like

I'm welcoming Autumn with open arms. It's funny, in the deep of Winter, I can't wait to feel the warmth of the Summer sun. In the thick humidity of Summer, I can't wait for the crisp chill of Autumn. As long as the seasons eventually change, I'm happy.

Now that I've unpacked my scarves, rain boots and jackets, nothing feels better than curling up on the couch after work with a glass of hot apple cider. The farmer's market's are filled with pumpkins, apple butter and sweet potatoes. Leaves are starting to yellow and drop with the brisk winds, and my Sunday afternoons are spent hiking through the park district.

The only thing I tend to bring with me on these weekend hikes is my iPod. I can tune the world out and enjoy the last bit of sunshine before Daylight Savings time ends. Since everyone is always looking for new music, I thought I'd share my current playlist.

Lightning Strikes by Angel Taylor
One I Love by The Bridges
Delayed Devotion by Duffy
Born To Do by Everybody Else
Never Say Never by The Fray
You Make My Dreams by Hall & Oates
These Walls by Hanson
Chinese by Lily Allen
Try a Little Tenderness by Otis Redding
Shelter by Ray Lamontage
Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want by The Smiths
Breathe by Taylor Swift
Messing With My Head by Tinted Windows
You Send Me by Aretha Franklin
Oxford Comma by Vampire Weekend
Why Do You Let Me Stay Here by She & Him
Southern Girl by Amos Lee


Photo Credit: WeHeartIt Entry 777974

Friday, October 2, 2009

Caution: Hard Hat Area

Things are a little different around here, temporarily. I made some administration changes to my blog and my photos have suffered. I'm the process of fixing the issue and uploading the missing photos to my posts again. I hope you understand; have a little faith that everything will be back up and running properly by tomorrow! I hope you all have a wonderful weekend!


Photo Credit: Mr. Zager

Monday, September 28, 2009

Witty Words

"I cannot endure to waste anything as precious as autumn sunshine by staying in the house. So I spend almost all the daylight hours in the open air."

- Nathaniel Hawthorne


Sunday, September 27, 2009

Autumn Apple Pecan Bread

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1.5 cups whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup canola oil
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup apple butter
1/2 cup apple cinnamon applesauce
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup milk
2 apples - cored, peeled, and diced
1/2 cup pecans - chopped

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Coat a loaf pan with non-stick cooking spray and flour surface. In a medium bowl, whisk together both flours, baking soda and salt.

In a large bowl, whisk canola oil and brown sugar. Mix in cinnamon, apple butter and apple cinnamon applesauce. Add vanilla and eggs, one at a time. Stir in the flour mixture, alternating with the milk. Add apples and pecans, fold until combined.

Pour the batter into the loaf pan and tap the sides of the pan to distribute mixture evenly into pan. Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into bread comes out clean.

Enjoy 20 minutes after baking, within a few days refrigerated, or freeze individual slices to take to work!


Friday, September 18, 2009

Peanut Butter Banana Oaties

These cookies have very quickly become my favorite cookie! I'm lovingly calling them "Peanut Butter Banana Oaties" - and they're a sweet, salty, and creamy little piece of heaven! I have used healthy alternatives to butter, all-purpose flour, and peanut butter; and these cookies just so happen to be Vegan (even though I'm not). If you don't have my alternatives readily available feel free to substitute regular butter, all-purpose flour, and your favorite peanut butter.

2 cups old-fashioned oatmeal
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter alternative, like Earth Balance

2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 cup light brown sugar
1 cup crunchy peanut butter

2 bananas
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon sea salt

2 teaspoons baking soda
1 cups all purpose flour
1.5 cups whole wheat flour

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silpat mat.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a large skillet melt 1 stick of butter alternative over medium heat. Add the oatmeal and cook, stirring until toasted. About 5 minutes. Don't skip this step, toasting the oatmeal really adds a great nutty flavor and softens the oats perfectly for the cookies! Meanwhile, mash the bananas with a potato masher.

Mix 2 sticks of softened butter alternative, brown sugar, and granulated sugar and beat on medium high speed until fluffy. Add the peanut butter, bananas, and vanilla and beat until fluffy again. Add the salt and baking soda and beat until combined. Add the oatmeal and beat until incorporated. Add the flours one at a time and mix until just combined.

Using a large spoon, scoop the cookie dough into medium sized balls and place onto the cookie sheet about an 1 1/2'' apart. Bake for 10 minutes. Take cookies out of the oven, flatten with a fork, and place back into the oven for another 5 minutes. Remove from oven, let cool on the cookie sheet for a few minutes, then move to a cooling rack to finish cooling.

NOTE: I wanted the health benefits of using whole wheat flour, so you'll notice in the recipe, I pretty much used half whole wheat flour and half all-purpose flour. If you're using whole wheat flour instead of all-purpose flour, you have to use a little bit more than you would all-purpose flour, because it's finer. But the combination of the two worked great for these cookies. If you only have all-purpose flour, you should use about 2 1/4 cups in the recipe.

Now, a word of advice about butter alternatives. I never used to be the type of gal to substitute anything for butter, I wanted the real thing. Then I started learning more about eating healthy and the difference between good and bad fats (trans fats = bad, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated = good). I'm not going to delve into the science of it all, but lately I just try watch what I put into my body without sacrificing flavor and quality. With my sweet tooth, I sure wasn't going to stop making baked goods, so I found a great substitute for butter! It's called Earth Balance. Whole Foods carries it, I'm sure other grocery stores do as well. They make buttery spreads, and buttery sticks for baking and cooking (which is what I used in these cookies).

I also used Earth Balance peanut butter in these cookies. I was always a JIF lover (and I still am), but I wanted to try a lightly sweetened natural peanut butter, that I don't need to stir or refrigerate. Believe me when I say this is the best all-natural peanut butter I have ever had. It's flying off the shelves at Whole Foods, they were out of it last week!

I hope you enjoy these cookies as much as I did! The recipe makes a lot of dough (approximately 3 dozen cookies), so bake half and freeze half, and that way, when you're craving something sweet, you can whip up a fresh batch of cookies in no time!


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Make It A Movie Night!

I'm an avid subscriber of Netflix - I seriously think it's the best thing since peanut butter and banana sandwiches. Although, lately my rental activity has been less than pleasing. Can someone please explain to me why I felt the urge to rent Dance Flick? Or Adventureland? I was not impressed with Duplicity. I Love You, Man was not Paul Rudd's best work, even though I adore him. Sunshine Cleaning was charming in a grim sort of way, but it didn't blow me away.

The good news is, last night, my luck changed. State of Play arrived in my mailbox. This was just what I needed. I lust after a good thriller, especially a good politcal thriller. The film opens with a fast pace through the streets of Washington D.C. - lots of dark corners, alleyways, and gunshots. Then we're introduced to Cal (Russell Crowe), a reporter, and Della (Rachel McAdams), a blogger, at The Washington Globe. Cal is an old-time journalist who works a little slower than his peers and has a certain charisma that works in his favor. He doesn't want to write a story for the headlines - he prefers to get the facts and print only the truth.

After Congressman Collins (Ben Affleck), the old college roommate and friend of Cal, tearfully announces the death of one of his Congressional aides, we learn that the Congressman and his aide we're a little more than colleagues - they had an affair. In the midst of four murders, a sex scandal, the disappearance of the aide to Congressman Collins, and the Congressman's investigation on a private security group that plans to monopolize homeland security - Cal and Della start sneaking around for answers.

At first, Cameron (Helen Mirren), the editor of The Washington Globe, immediately wants to run the story regardless of whether or not it's fact or fiction, to save their failing paper. But as things fall into place, and Cal and Della uncover more pieces to the puzzle and their connections, Cameron realizes that they have an inside story at their fingertips and that the shocking truth is about to be revealed.

Just as you think you know what's going on, something else is unraveled that will have you rethinking your theory. The film movies along quickly, and I promise you'll be at the edge of your seat. The final moments will surprise you. Other notable cast include Jeff Daniels, Jason Bateman, and Robin Wright Penn. Only after I finished the film did I realize it was based on a BBC series staring James McAvoy and Bill Nighy, which I've never seen, but I'm now tempted to rent.


Photo Credits: Universal Pictures

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Witty Words

"She knows when to hold herself back while everyone else you know gives too much of themselves at one time. So when she comes out, it's a great tour-de-force."
- About Jacqueline Kennedy


Complimentary Culinary Combinations

Previously, I posted about my obsession with cookbooks. We all know that some are better than others - some we buy just for the photography, some we buy to enhance our culinary skills, and some just collect dust on our bookshelves. But The Flavor Bible by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg is a one of a kind treasure for any cook, no matter what your skill level is. This is a kitchen resource, not a cookbook, that will encourage your culinary creativity, and allow you to cook the most flavorful meals without a cookbook.

I'm sure you've all been there. Trying to use ingredients you currently have stocked in your pantry and refrigerator to make a tasty meal is sometimes difficult. What pairs best with certain ingredients? How do I jazz up the same old chicken dish for dinner? What if something I normally use is out of season? This book will give an abundance of combinations to mix up things at your dinner table! For example, did you know that there are 100 different complimentary culinary combinations (I dare you to say that five times fast!) for an orange? It's true!

The Flavor Bible celebrates it's one year anniversary this week, and I'm so happy I came across it. Let's all say it together - "Happy Anniversary to The Flavor Bible!" I am seriously considering purchasing a copy for every friend and family member for the holiday season, it's an outstanding resource - especially for those who like to experiment in the kitchen. Pretty soon, you'll be cooking like a professional chef, whipping up your own creations!


Monday, September 7, 2009

Chipotle Mayonnaise and Fresh Vegetable Wrap

This is my favorite wrap to make for lunch. It's naturally sweet and has the perfect spice from my homemade Chipotle Mayonnaise. Using the freshest ingredients from the farmer's market, I feel good about what I'm putting into my body, and actually feel healthier. It tastes absolutely delicious and I'm planning on eating one for lunch every day this week. It's a great alternative to cold cuts!

To make the Chipotle Mayonnaise you'll need Cholula Chipotle Hot Sauce, 1 6 oz. containter Fage Total 0% Yogurt , and 1 32 oz container Kraft Mayo with Olive Oil. Combine 1/3 cup yogurt, 1/3 cup mayo, and 2 tablespoons hot sauce. Whisk until smooth. Refrigerate in an airtight container for about 1 week. Keep in mind, with the addition of the yogurt, it will tone down the heat of the hot sauce, so make sure you taste test your finished product to achieve your desired level of hotness.

Spread an even layer of the Chipotle Mayonnaise down the center of a whole-wheat tortilla. Top with sweet corn kernals, avocado chunks, slices of red pepper, and bite-sized pieces of pepper jack cheese. Roll it all up and enjoy your fresh lunch!


Witty Words

"To catch a snooping guest, try filling your medicine cabinet with marbles. Nothing announces a nosy partygoer more successfully than an avalanche of marbles striking a porcelain sink."
- Amy Sedaris


Friday, September 4, 2009

'Tis The Season

I'm planning a trip to my local farmer's market tomorrow to stock up on fresh fruits and veggies for my week. I would love to start creating weekly meals revolving around what is in season - I truly believe in the Slow Food Movement. Although I love the market, sometimes I get overwhelmed because I never know how to best use seasonal produce. For example, in Illinois, eggplant is in season - but other than eggplant parmesan, how else can I prepare it?

Well, my problem has been solved! I found this wonderful resource on Epicurious this morning. It's a Peak-Season Ingredient Map. You select the present month, click on your state, and it will then give you a list of ingredients that are currently in season in your area. Once you find the ingredient you have purchased (or plan on purchasing), you can click on it and Epicurious will present you with an abundance of recipes!

Bon Appetit!


Tuesday, September 1, 2009

"I Want To Go To There"

For someone that lives in a bustling urban metropolis, ironically I like to escape it more often than not. Two years ago, on a whim, I moved to The Windy City from rural Ohio with cliched fantasies of life according to Sex & The City. Well, city living is not at all like Sex & The City. Sure, for the first few months I was still living in that daydream, skipping around downtown and heading out every weekend. But, after a while, all that came to a hault. I missed the vast country, the peace and quiet, and not having to look over my shoulder at every waking moment.

Thankfully, I'm slowly finding ways to appease my pastoral desires. Have you heard of "glamping"? Or farm dinners? Or farm vacations, for that matter? With a little time and money (okay, a lot of money), you can have the most relaxing, luxurious and countrified vacation. All three of these outings would appeal to you foodies out there as well - because these hot spots revolve around fresh, local gourmet food.

During a visit to The Resort at Paws Up in Greenough, Montana, you can stay in a "luxury canvas community," as they call it. Don't you worry though, this isn't your typical camping experience - each tent has electricity and heated floors in the private master bath. You can even arrange for a private gourmet chef (or cooking lesson) and butler (because who else would start the campfire?). The nightly rates include three gourmet meals a day and transportation from Missoula International Airport. You can make reservations for between $715-$915 per night. So start saving your money, honey!

But if luxury camping in The American West just isn't your style, then try taking a trip to a farmstead. Blackberry Farm in Walland, Tennessee is just 25 minutes from Knoxville in the heart of the Great Smokey Mountains. This place is the stuff that dreams are made of. The farm sits on 4,200 acres and guests can enjoy and a multitude of activities - from fly fishing and hiking, to cooking classes and yoga.

Blackberry Farm has two inventive gourmet restaurants that prepare meals from the fruits of their own orchards, livestock, produce gardens, and bee hives. They make their own cheese, honey, preserves, breads, and serve their own eggs. Included in the nightly rate are three gourmet meals a day. Estate Rooms start at $995 a night, and private Hill Cottages or Mountain Homes are also available (believe me, you don't even want me to list those prices!). This hotel continuously receives recognition as one of the world's top travel and leisure destinations, but unless I win the lottery, I will just have to settle for a visit in my dreams.

I'm happy to say that I'm looking forward to planning a more afforable excursion, a farm dinner. Outstanding in the Field, a California-based traveling culinary experience, re-connects diners to the origins of their food. So far, they have arranged 54 dinners in ten U.S. States and Eastern Canada. These dinners sell out quickly - but don't worry, there's always next year! Ingredients are almost all local and prepared by a chef of the region. A long white linen communal table is arranged for each dinner. Depending on the location, you may be dining at farms or gardens, on mountain tops or in sea caves, on islands or at ranches. After a quick tour of the site - producers, farmers, culinary artisans and guests all sit down to enjoy the food, company and surroundings.


Outstanding in the Field Photo: Andrea Wyner

Monday, August 31, 2009

Fresh Blueberry Sauce

Ah, blueberries. Although available year round, we have about another month of peak blueberry season and I'm going to fully take advantage of it. I'm very lucky to live in a city that is abundant with farmer's markets and locally grown produce. When you choose to buy local food, you get more than just great-tasting, fresh food. Buying locally strengthens local economies, supports family farms, and promotes a sense of community. It's nice to be able to build relationships with the people who are growing the food that you put on your table each day. It's a win-win for all parties involved!

One of my favorite ways to use a pint of fresh blueberries is to whip up a sauce to smother my pancakes in. Every weekend, I treat myself to a lavish breakfast. It's a good way unwind from a hard-worked week. Below is my recipe for fresh blueberry sauce, to make your everyday pancake just a little bit sweeter. Adding lemon and/or cinnamon to blueberries actually enhances their flavor, so I've added both!

Fresh Blueberry Sauce:

4 cups blueberries
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons corn starch
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 cup water

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir until mixture begins to heat up and dissolve, then use a potato masher to crush blueberries and release their natural juices. Reduce heat and cook until almost boiling, and sauce is to the consistency of your liking (generally, if it coats the back of a spoon). Serve immediately.


Shortbread Cookies

A fellow blogger recently posted a recipe for shortbread cookies and let me tell you, they are heavenly! They're the kind of good that will make you close your eyes and savour every last bite. I dare you not to eat more than one, it's simply impossible. After you make these, you will most certainly throw out that box of Lorna Doones hiding in your pantry because nothing beats homemade. You can also throw out that new form-fitting dress you just bought because these babies are full of sin (*ahem*, butter).

I didn't have any cookie cutters with fluted edges so I used an upside-down metal tartlette shell, and that worked perfectly! The cookies are best chilled, by themselves or with a sweet filling. I played around with fillings this weekend and here are some of my favorites:
  • Haagen Dazs Five - Passion Fruit Ice Cream
  • Nutella and Hazelnuts
  • Homemade Cream Cheese Frosting
    • 8 oz Neufchatel Cheese
    • 1 stick Unsalted Butter
    • 1 tsp Vanilla Extract
    • 3.5 cups Confectioner's Sugar
    • Pinch of Salt
  • Michigan Cherry Jam
  • Lemon Curd
Enjoy! These cookies are so fun to play around with, get creative and personalize them. You can also freeze them for a quick dessert anytime. But, if you're like me, they won't last very long.


Saturday, August 29, 2009

Red Wine Spaghetti

This is not your typical red wine spaghetti. This is spaghetti boiled in red wine. Why didn't I think of this before? I found this recipe in the September 2009 issue of Food & Wine Magazine.

There is an article titled "
When a Mediocre Wine is Good News" with a handful of recipes on what do to do with wine you just won't drink (I know, I know, but it happens!).

You must admit, more than once, you've probably experimented with a new wine only to find out that it just isn't your style. Perhaps, you've been given a bottle as a gift, but it's just not something you'd normally drink. Or, like me, your wine store had an entire bin of $3 clearance wines. The wine enhances the flavor of the spaghetti in this recipe, giving it a very rustic and delightful "wine-soaked" taste.

A very rich aroma flows into your kitchen when making this meal, I guarantee your friends and family will be drooling. Just look at the color of the pasta when all is said and done, it's beautiful! All of the ingredients pulled together look stunning on a white plate, and with the addition of the walnuts and fresh parsley to the whole wheat spaghetti - this dish is full of healthful antioxidants.

I used a bit more crushed red pepper than is listed here (about a 1/2 teaspoon), I like a little heat in my dishes. For the wine, I selected a simple Merlot, but any dry red wine will work. I also substituted whole-wheat spaghetti for regular spaghetti.

Here is the recipe:
  • 5 cups water
  • 3 1/4 cups dry red wine
  • Salt
  • 3/4 pound spaghetti
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 small garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh Italian (flat-leaf) parsley
  • 1 cup walnuts (4 ounces), coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus more for serving
  • Freshly ground black pepper
In a saucepan, combine the water with 3 cups of the wine and a large pinch of salt and bring to a boil. Add the spaghetti and cook, stirring, until al dente. Drain, reserving 1/4 cup of the cooking liquid.

In a skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil. Add the garlic and red pepper and season with salt. Cook over moderate heat for 1 minute. Add the remaining 1/4 cup of wine and the reserved cooking liquid and bring to a simmer. Stir in the pasta and cook until the liquid is nearly absorbed, 2 minutes.

Add the parsley, nuts, the 1/2 cup of cheese and the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil and toss. Season the pasta with salt and pepper and serve, passing grated cheese at the table.