Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Way We Summer

In pictures, the good, the bad, and the ugly.

There is beauty in everything. Sometimes it is quite obvious. Other times you really need to look hard to see it, but the blessing is there.

Soooooo, this summer didn't quite play out the way I envisioned. But, honestly, whatever does? I didn't host as many cookouts (it's nice to have a grill for those....), the deck catastrophe ended up taking the entire summer (which was quite ridiculous and most inconvenient), I only broke out my homemade ice cream maker once, the volleyball net never made an appearance, and date nights involving fun things like the batting cages and putt-putt were non-existent. The CRAZY amount of mosquitoes hindered our bonfires and my outdoor yoga practice. The puppy took up any free time we found. Summer was hectic. Summer was a blessing in disguise. Summer was a learning moment. Summer was patience. Summer was humbling.

Summer is over.

Enjoy this last day of summer before autumn comes a knocking!

With Love and God Bless,

Friday, September 19, 2014

Spinach Mashed Potatoes

You guys....what could be better than a plate full of mashed potatoes? Mashed potatoes with a healthy dose of spinach, of course. I want to face plant right into that photo up there. When it comes to potatoes, I am definitely a potato person. I love them in all varieties and prepared in all ways. Except for the brown sugar, sweet potato mess at Thanksgiving. Yuck. I do not like my potatoes sweetened. I say that like Mr. B adamantly reminds me that he does not like his apples cooked. And I'm game for potato chips as long as there's dip. If not, I'll probably pass.)

When playing Loaded Questions with the in-laws a few months ago, one question asked what is your favorite way to eat a potato? (Y'all if you have no idea what this game is, go out and purchase it. My family has been playing it since I was in middle school. It's my favorite because you learn a lot about your family/friends while playing it. And I love learning about people. Their answers to these sometimes serious and sometimes ridiculous questions are very ENLIGHTENING to say the least. The basis of the game is you're asked a question, you write your answer down, someone reads all the answers, and whoever's turn it is has to match the answer to the player.) Anyhoo, back to the potato question. I answered MASHED. Mr. B was guessing and he guessed incorrectly. He was waiting for LOADED because he knew without out a doubt that was my favorite potato, and he would get at least one match correct.

Boy, he wasn't going down without a fight! He argued that I love LOADED potatoes, that I can't wait to get a LOADED potato as a side when we go out to eat. Apparently my husband has never seen me at Thanksgiving. Or during my childhood when my dinner plate was always more than halfway covered in MASHED potatoes. I almost had to phone a friend (Mama, of course) to talk him down, to convince him of my love for MASHED potatoes. I then had to point out to him that I only eat real MASHED potatoes, not those flakes from a box that he grew up on. He understood, but still believed I tricked him.

And, yes, I know Mr. B's favorite. FRENCH FRIES. While I tend to be picky about my fries, he loves them all.

I digress.

But these mashed potatoes! With spinach! And not loaded with a ton of butter or cream!

They're the perfect recipe to get your mashed potato fix without too much of the other stuff. A heavenly indulgence without too much guilt. A family night favorite. A weeknight favorite. Maybe these just might make this year's Thanksgiving table.

Forget the meal, past the potatoes, please!

---> Also a great way to use up leftover baked potatoes. Next time I plan to try it using cauliflower substituted for half the potatoes.

Spinach Mashed Potatoes
*recipe adapted from my friend Jenny (a Cooking club recipe)

Serves 6

6 large potatoes, peeled, and cubed (I prefer a mixture of golden, red, purple and sometimes sweet potatoes...makes for a colorful dish)
3/4 c plain Greek yogurt
1 t sugar (I'm not sure this is even needed...)
1/4 c butter
1/4 c coconut oil
2 t salt
2 t pepper
1/4 t dill
2 T dried chives
1 (10-oz) pkg frozen spinach, thawed and drained
1 c shredded cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large pot over medium-high heat, cook potatoes in boiling water until tender; drain and mash with potato masher or stand mixer. Add yogurt, sugar, butter, oil, salt and pepper, and continue beating until smooth and fluffy. Stir in dill, chives, and spinach. Place in casserole dish coated with cooking spray. Sprinkle with cheese. Bake for 20 minutes.

*I'm sure this could be done in a crock pot for game days. YUM.

Nutritional Information (for Yukon potatoes): 386 Calories, 26 Fat, 30 Carbs, 3 Sugar, 11 Protein, 3 Fiber

With Love and God Bless,

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Apricot Kielbasa Slices with Sweet Potato Fries + the Perfect Dipping Sauce

I am feeling fall, fall, and more fall over here, which makes these two recipes perfect for this time of year because they highlight the color orange. And orange is everywhere these days. If you don't see it out your front door right now, check back tomorrow! :)

These two recipes are courtesy of Cooking Club (recently highlighted here), theme: the color ORANGE. Given the season, I feel it's quite appropriate to share my favorite dishes from that gathering. A Cooking Club meeting which actually generated a meal Mr. B would enjoy. A definite plus, my friends.

Y'all, I don't think I've met an easier supper that tasted like it took an awfully long time to make. I remember thinking, back when I first tasted this kielbasa, this was extremely tasty. It tasted like it'd been simmering all day long on the stove. I knew I must snag a few leftovers for Mr. B. Good thing, too, because he enjoyed it so much and requested it again a week later. Except when I make it for us, I don't use quite the full jar of preserves. We like it not as sweet, letting the flavor of the sausage come through a bit more.

But these fries! Alas, there were no fries to bring home to share. But since then, I make these sweet fries all the time. A perfect way to get a healthier fries fix. And, again, we don't like them too sweet, so I halve the sugar called for.

Plus, a short bout under the broiler makes them extra crispy. A favorite finger food on game days. Perfect with or without the sauce, but Mr. B is a huge fan of his dips, so give it a try. The lime in the yogurt sauce complements the sweetness of the fries quite well. Oh, and the sauce makes enough for a double batch of fries!

Apricot Kielbasa Slices with Sweet Potato Fries & Dipping Sauce
*recipe courtesy of my friends Kelly and Jenny

Serves 4 (with big side salad)

For the kielbasa:
1 lb kielbasa sausage, thinly sliced
1 (12-oz) jar apricot preserves
2 T lemon juice
2 t Dijon mustard
1/4 tsp ground ginger

In a large skillet, brown sausage, drain, and set aside on a plate. Add remaining ingredients to skillet. Cook over low heat , 2-3 minutes or until heated through and thickened, stirring occasionally. Return sausage to pan. Cook 5-6 minutes or until heated through. Serve warm.

For the fries:
2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled, and cut into spears
2 T olive oil
1 T light brown sugar
1/2 t kosher salt, plus extra for sprinkling
1 t ground black pepper (recipe actually calls for 1/2 t, but I love pepper on my fries)

Preheat oven 450 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil; grease with cooking spray. Place potato spears in ice water for 3-5 minutes to blanch. Blot with paper towel and place spears on prepared sheet, tossing with olive oil. Spread into a single layer. Combine  sugar, salt, and pepper; sprinkle on potatoes. (I didn't use this entire mixture on mine.) Bake 15 minutes, then turn fries with spatula. Bake another 10-15 minutes, or until lightly browned and crispy. (I like mine extra crispy, so I turn on the broiler for a few minutes.) Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper, if desired.

For the honey-lime dipping sauce:
6 oz plain Greek yogurt
1 T mayo
1/ T honey
1 T fresh lime juice
1/4 t cumin
1/8 t oregano
1 t parsley
1/2 t onion powder
1/2 t kosher salt

Mix all ingredients until well combined. Chill until ready to serve. Easy-peasy.

With Love and God Bless,

Monday, September 15, 2014

Re-Visited: Cooking Club #7

[Original post date Nov. 2011. --Updated 9/15/14: original, but separate, content, with updated photos and/or more details, if available.] 

---> Cooking Club is coming up soon, and now that I'm blogging, I want to share these moments but I thought I should play catch-up first. So without further ado, here (and in other posts) is what we've been up to. Enjoy!

#7 January: Pasta

The Menu:
Blue Cheese Gnocchi
Chicken Paprikash
Pesto Chicken Pasta
Rice Noodles with Pork
Garlic-Based Red Sauce with Homemade Linguine
Shrimp/Chicken Pasta
Ham and Cheesy Mac

Someone decided pasta would be a great theme for this month's Cooking Club. And I agreed. Like, two hands up agreed.

Now that we have Andrew back, we lost Jessica's sister. She apparently wasn't as enthused about cooking as one needs to be for Cooking Club. (Cough, I'm sure it had nothing to do with last month's 9-hour cookie disaster baking, cough.)

Mmm. Pasta. I LOVE pasta. There are so many ways to eat pasta. But I definitely wanted to try something new. Gnocchi sounded amazing and I've always wanted to try it. So I thought, what's better than trying gnocchi first-hand homemade?

I went to my trusty over-the-top-fancy recipe book, The 1,000 Best Recipes, which I bought for my husband (then boyfriend at the time) when he first moved into his own apartment. I thought he might learn to cook, more so than the freezer-to-oven meals, and pork chops and a can of green beans. He took one look at this cookbook and tossed it aside (more like heaved it aside; this book is ridiculous). He prefers simpler meals, not ones with fancy ingredients and multiple steps. (Although he did brave this cookbook to make this chicken in a paprika and mushroom sauce, check out this post for the recipe, is to die for. But that's it. He won't try any other recipes.)

Anyhoo, when I saw these beautiful pasta pillows drowning in a white cheese sauce, I was a goner. I didn't need to look any further. Nothing else would satisfy. I counted the days until our next meeting so I could make this amazing dish.

And it did not disappoint.

Oh, and this is such a simple recipe. Only five ingredients total in the entire dish! Potatoes and flour are all you need to make this tasty gnocchi.

Yet, I had no idea that making gnocchi from scratch would be so time consuming, and did I forget to mention a MESS! (I've never made any form of pasta from scratch, and Jessica did warn me it was messy. Uh, understatement.)

But it was so worth it. I'd stop writing this post right now just to get my hands caked with flour and potatoes in order to taste one sweet pillow-y gnocchi. Maybe I should add this to our dinner menu for next week....

However, this dish did require some patience. That yummy sauce up there eventually thickens upon standing and Holy frijoles. (I can't wait to see Puss in Boots. That cat cracks me up.)

I think I have a new pasta favorite. Move over lasagna. My palate is too mature for you.

Oh, and a whole meal with tons of carbs...yeah, we didn't think this one through. We were stuffed and miserable by the end, but quite enlightened and satisfied.

Blue Cheese Sauce
*from The 1,000 Best Recipes

Serves 4 (with salad, but if not I could devour half myself)

10 oz cream
4 oz Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
2 Tbsp chopped fresh chives, chopped
gnocchi, homemade or cooked according to package directions

In a small pan, bring cream to a boil. Boil rapidly, stirring constantly, about 5 minutes, or until reduced by one third. Remove from heat and stir in cheese. Season with salt and pepper, and pour over gnocchi. Scatter chives over top and serve immediately.

If you have the time and ambition, make the gnocchi yourself. For a quicker version, pick up some while you're at the store. Hurry home and make this sauce!

Nutritional Information per serving from cookbook:
calories, fat, protein, fiber, sugar

Nutritional Information per serving (with my adaptions):
296 calories, 6 fat, 45 carbs, 14 protein, 4 fiber, 9 sugar

*I hope you enjoyed these Cooking Club snippets. There are many more to come as I try to play catch-up before this month's meeting. I hope these themes, and even Cooking Club itself, inspire you to gather with your friends and family in the kitchen, and make sweet moments (and delicious food) of your own.

**I've only included the recipes to the dishes I made. Only because I'm unsure of where everyone got theirs...and hey, we gotta give credit where credit is due. If you have any questions about the other dishes, I'll ask the other members where they got their recipes and pass it along!

Check out our previous meetings!
Cooking Club #1-4
Cooking Club #5
Cooking Club #6

[Update: Previous Cooking Club links have been updated, as well as the cookbook link on Amazon. More pictures coming, and the nutritional information has been updated. This is sort of perfect timing since, it's National Linguine Day. Get in your kitchen and make some homemade goodness!]

With Love and God Bless,

Saturday, September 13, 2014


I'm currently....

Watching.... Outlander series on STARZ. Well, I'm not watching it on TV because we haven't had cable in over a year, and our "bunny ears" only allows us to view the local stations for FREE (which means I still see my beloved Browns!), and I'd never subscribe to STARZ anyway. But, alas, that's the station that picked up my favorite historical-fiction series. You can watch the first episode online, but the rest... However, my kind co-worker is downloading the goods and sharing. So, yes, I'm playing catch-up on the first six episodes. There are parts I dislike and disagree with, and have left me going, "Wait. What?! That's not right! Where's wee Roger?!" But for the most part, I like it. Yet, I find I'm skipping a few parts. A little too "bare" for me.

Eating.... PEACHES. They're my favorite. I.cannot.get.enough. But right at this moment I'm devouring this Blueberry Zucchini Bread. While I was off yesterday, I realized I hadn't made any zucchini bread this summer. I knew that had to change immediately, and headed to the farmer's market to purchase an abundance (and I mean an abundance) of one of my garden favorites. On a sad note: this loaf was gone within 24 hours. I am savoring this last piece slowly.

Planning.... social dates with friends, book club, family and most importantly, time with my husband. Summer came and went in a blur, and I never had time to enjoy it really, or see much of the people that matter most to me. The next month or two awaits gelato, football games, a camping trip, fall festivals, Target dates, day trips, Starbucks chats, birthday celebrations, bonfires, and "Gone with the Wind." <--- anyone else attending a theater showing to celebrate its 75 years??!!

Reading.... cooooookbooooks. But, of course, you know this already because I mentioned it here and here, and I have plans of mentioning it on here a few more times. Pretty much until you're blue in the face, and have stopped reading this blog because you've spent your last paycheck on these mouth-watering books. However, now you have a beautiful and eclectic collection. You're welcome.

Actually, I promise I am reading non-related kitchen/cooking books as well. Like a few YA novels, such as An Abundance of Katherines, and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. (Sadly, not a fan of either.) Also, I'm dabbling in the Steampunk genre for book club this month with Etiquette and Espionage. Not yet finished and still not quite sure how I feel about this one....

Inspired by.... the new Bible study I'm in the midst of right now. It's focused on Esther, and even though God's name isn't mentioned in her book, it's easy to find the presence of God and his plan. It's causing me to take a step back and view my life. All the crazy and laughable plans I had for my life. The plans I thought I had when I graduated high school. The plans I made when I finished college with my under-grad. The plans I have now. God's plans are beautiful. And bigger.

Excited about.... FALL! The colors, the COLORS! Mr. Darcy is constantly bringing in sticks and leaves. I can't wait until I rake up a big pile just to watch him run through it with pure glee. I love this puppy. Let's hope Mr. B allows us to do this once before he gets all clean-lawn-happy with his new tractor leaf collector toy thingy. <--- that's a thing, right?

With Love and God Bless,

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Braised Pork {or Turkey!} and Apple Stew

With the weather turning chillier, it's time for chilis, soups, stews, dumplings, and everything else that warms the soul and your belly. I have the perfect stew for you. Not only is it quick, adaptable, and easily doubled to feed a crowd, but it's just so darn good. So good, I've made it twice in the last two weeks. And Mr. B and I have devoured it, barely leaving enough for our work lunches the next day.

This recipe was discovered when my friend brought it to one of our various Cooking Club meetings. I was drooling over it then, and I still find it mouth-watering now. Every time fall starts to peek through, I head to the market for my bushel of apples, fresh carrots, and potatoes because I It just screams FALL to me, and it truly is a tasty way to welcome the season.

You'll often find me making this a couple times a month. Depending on the mouths I'm feeding, the why, and the where, depends on the ingredients. If I'm feeding a crowd (mostly men) or making a hearty meal for us to enjoy during the weekend football games, I use the pork tenderloin. However, if I'm making it as a week day meal, or just for me for a few work lunches, I use a turkey tenderloin and sweet potatoes. Either way, it's just divine. A hearty salad makes it a perfect meal. However, Mr. B prefers it with buttered noodles or buttered bread. He says it soaks up the broth.

I'm sure this would work well in a crock pot, too. My brother says he's going to give it a try.

Braised Pork and Apple Stew
*recipe from my friend Jenny

Serves 4 people

2 tsp vegetable oil
1 lb pork tenderloin (turkey tenderloin is just as tasty!), cut into 1 1/2" chunks
1/4 tsp each salt and black pepper
1 T flour
14-16 oz vegetable or chicken broth
2 apples (not too sweet), cored and cut into wedges
8 baby red potatoes (or sweet potatoes)
1 c baby carrots
1/2 tsp dried thyme
3 T Honey-Dijon mustard

Heat oil in 5-6 quart pot over med-high heat. While oil heats up, sprinkle tenderloin with salt and pepper; coat with flour. Cook tenderloin 4 minutes until browned, turning once. Remove to a plate and keep warm. Add broth, potatoes, apples, carrots and thyme to pot. Bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 12 minutes, or until potatoes are tender. Stir in meat and mustard. Cover and simmer, 4-5 minutes, or until meat is just cooked through. Serve with your favorite side salad, rolls, or buttered noodles.

Nutritional Information
Pork version: 460 calories, 14 fat, 38 protein, 5 fiber
Turkey version: 362 calories, 10 fat, 22 protein, 5 fiber

With Love and God Bless,

Monday, September 8, 2014

Re-Visited: Cooking Club #6

[Original post date Nov. 2011. --Updated 9/8/14: original, but separate, content, with updated photos and/or more details, if available.] 

---> Cooking Club is coming up soon, and now that I'm blogging, I want to share these moments but I thought I should play catch-up first. So without further ado, here (and in other posts) is what we've been up to. Enjoy!

#6 December: Cookie Exchange  

The Menu:
Apricot [& Raspberry] Pinwheels
Chocolate Chip Spritz
Cream Cheese Spritz
Caramel Press Cookies
Chocolate Cookies
Mocha Madness
Eggnog Sandwiches
Cookie Pops
Chocolate Butterscotch Chip Cookies

Christmastime is we thought, why not a cookie exchange? After all, a few of my close friends and I get together every season to spread the cookie cheer. We gather and bake cookies and belt Christmas carols and gossip and talk about our college days and how much we miss each other because life has taken over and we're crazy-busy. You know, girl stuff.

So when Cooking Club decided to make cookies its monthly theme, I was giddy with joy. I LOVE baking around the holidays! In fact, I had four (!) so-called gatherings scheduled for this season: one with my close friends, one with my mother-in-law, Cooking Club, and I always have one at home in case I didn't get a chance to make everything I wanted. [Trust me, my list contains so many recipes, I rarely get to them all.]

For this meeting, I had planned on making another cookie, but after that failed when I did a test run during my baking session with my mother-in-law, I chose to try the Apricot Pinwheels instead. Score! I found this recipe in a Betty Crocker pamphlet my mother-in-law picked up for me two years ago.

These were a lot of fun to make (especially when I got out my ruler and was all precise with my measurements to make sure I got the exact amount of cookies---because I'm OCD like that) and were even more delicious. I wanted to make a double batch, so when I ran out of apricot preserves, I substituted my favorite, raspberry. Ah-Mazing!

These little pinwheels are so yummy that they are now on my "Must-Make-Every-Christmas" cookie list (which is quickly becoming a very looong list). I even took some of these tasty treats home for my family Christmas, and my grandpa enjoyed them so much I had to promise to make him a special batch next year.

OK, so back on topic. We were one member down, again, this month. I guess Andrew isn't into the whole baking thing. "It's too girly." But Jessica made up for his absence because she decided to try three cookie recipes. Yay! More cookies!

Hmmm...or so I thought.

I guess an all-day baking extravaganza wasn't fitting for Cooking Club, especially with two young teenagers who became bored about two hours in. And decided to skip out and relax in the living room for the rest of the day. And brought the most complicated cookie recipes. Yeah, that happened.

Nine hours later, we were exhausted. We watched the day-light hours fade through the window as we continued mixing and baking and covering the kitchen floor in flour and forgetting that the oven temperature does continue to rise after it's been on for hours and hours, sadly burning the Mocha Madness batch.

Yeah, no more Cooking Club cookie exchanges. There really is an art to an all-day cookie baking event. Definitely not for rookies or the faint-of-heart.

Check out my pinwheels! (Above left, the Eggnog Sandwiches & above right, the Chocolate Butterscotch Chips)
However, you must try these pinwheels! They are so cute and fun to make, AND I promise they will be a hit at your next Christmas party. (If not, look me up, and I'll take them off your hands.)

P.S. The Chocolate Butterscotch Chip Cookies were awesome. Easily enough, the recipe was on the back of a Nestle Toll House bag of butterscotch chips. However, I can't seem to find the link for that exact recipe, but here is the web site. (Remember that episode of FRIENDS where Monica tries to duplicate Phoebe's grandma's cookie recipe? Hee hee. BTW, I LOVE FRIENDS, best show ever. I own all the seasons, watch them all the time, and I'm sure you will become tired of my FRIENDS references. But that is just something I cannot apologize for.)

Apricot Pinwheels
*inspired by a Betty Crocker recipe

Makes 4 dozen

1 pkg (3 oz) cream cheese, softened (maybe next time try plain Greek yogurt?)
1 c butter (or go half with coconut oil and half butter)
1/4 c sugar, or sugar substitute (like Stevia)
1 tsp vanilla
2 1/4 c flour
1/8 tsp salt
1/4 c apricot preserves (or whatever you prefer, like raspberry. YUM.)
1/4 c almonds, chopped (optional)

In a large bowl, beat cream cheese, butter, sugar and vanilla until light and fluffy. Stir in flour and salt. Cover and refrigerate, about 30 minutes or until firm. Preheat oven 350 degrees and lightly grease cookie sheets with shortening. (If your oven preheats quickly, I'd wait until you have your first tray ready to go in, then preheat as you work on the next one.)

On a generously floured surface, roll dough into 16x12" rectangle. Cut rectangle into 48 2"-squares, 8 rows by 6 rows. Use metal spatula to place squares 1" apart on sheets. Spread each square with about 1/4 tsp preserves. On each square cut from each corner to 1/4" from center. Bring every other point to center and press together to form a pinwheel. If using, sprinkle each with almonds.

Bake 8-10 minutes or until lightly browned. Immediately remove from sheet to cooling rack. Enjoy!

Nutritional Information
Original recipe, per cookie: Calories 80; Fat 5; Protein 1

[Since I'll be making these this Christmas season, I'll make sure to post a few more pictures.]

*I hope you enjoyed these Cooking Club snippets. There are many more to come as I try to play catch-up before this month's meeting. I hope these themes, and even Cooking Club itself, inspire you to gather with your friends and family in the kitchen, and make sweet moments (and delicious food) of your own.

**I've only included the recipes to the dishes I made. Only because I'm unsure of where everyone got theirs...and hey, we gotta give credit where credit is due. If you have any questions about the other dishes, I'll ask the other members where they got their recipes and pass it along!

Check out our previous meetings!
Cooking Club #1-4
Cooking Club #5

[Update: I included a few helpful tips for the Apricot Pinwheels recipe, and added a link to the Toll House recipe site. Maybe you'll have better luck at finding the butterscotch recipe than I did. However, there are some other great options when it comes to using those butterscotch morsels. The two Spritz Cookies and the Caramel Press ones, those recipes came with Jessica's cookie press tool, which she purchased at Bed, Bath & Beyond, I think.]

With Love and God Bless,

Friday, September 5, 2014

My Beautiful Month

In case you aren't on Instagram, or don't follow me, here's a peek at my Insta-Life lately.
[*All photos are taken from my Instagram account.]

Protein smoothies get my mornings going...especially when I need to get going out the door!

 If I'm in the kitchen cooking, Mr. Darcy is on my feet. It's how we do things.

 Holy frijoles! Siamese is 17!!!!!

He LOVES his puppyccino! Just like Mama.

With Love and God Bless,