Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Thankful Life

I know, I know.  This post is almost an entire week late!  I can't help it.  I go on vacation, I get lost in my family and I always fall off the virtual world.  I checked my email one time last week.  I checked Facebook one time.  Was I in a remote area with limited access to internet? No, just lost in love, food and so thankful for my beautiful life. 

I've seen a lot of food blog posts of people sharing their holidays in pictures with a few words of explanation.  I am going to follow suit here because pictures say so much and this holiday filled my heart more than words can say.

The trip started with my best girlfriend in Minnesota.  She and her cutie picked us up at the airport and we spent the day and night with them.  I hadn't seen them since last Christmas and it was so good to just hang.

We went to visit with my Grandma Mary, Anna's middle namesake.  They are buds.

Anna got to play play play with her cousins....

She got to feed the squirrels out my parents dining room window, and spent a ton of great time with Poppy and Gammy.

I got to see my husband this week!!  We have been apart for seven weeks and I have been anticipating this reunion like nothing else.  It was a short visit, but my parents surprised us with an overnight at a B&B and dinner at a very fine restaurant, The Green Room in Stillwater, MN (I highly recommend it!).  Our 3rd anniversary was coming up and it was a perfect way to celebrate.  Oh, how grateful we are for that time together.  My parents rock!  Three more weeks and Mace is home for good.  What a novelty that will be!  Oh, and Anna got her first overnight away from mama.  We both did great.

Our 3rd Anniversary.  How'd I get so lucky?!?

We got to soak in the love from my sisters, brother and extended family.  And Anna got to soak in the love from her Daddy.  

Now, let's just gaze at some of the amazing food I ate this week....

Our beautiful Thanksgiving table.
And we can't forget Dad's super awesome waffles somewhere
in there.  Delish!
I can't wait to share some of these recipes with you...especially the caramel pie and caramelized onion rolls.   Oh my!  What feasting I did the ten past days!

My heart and belly are full and overflowing.  I am truly blessed with so much love and food in my life.  Its all I need and if I have these two things I am complete.

Hope you all had a very Happy Thanksgiving!  Now...time to do some holiday baking!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

French Onion Soup

Our family loves to cook together.  It is utter chaos and utterly wonderful.  I am in Minnesota this week hangin' with the fam and cooking like crazy.  My mama and I decided to make french onion soup because it'd be a quick and easy meal for a lazy Sunday afternoon.  Ha. Ha. Ha.  Quick and easy should never ever be in our vocabulary when we sit down to plan a meal together because it never ever happens.  But who cares, we have so much fun cooking together perhaps we sub-consciously do this on purpose. 

This mama, Kat, taught me how to cook.  Its how we originally connected one fateful Thanksgiving.  Its how we've connected ever since.

If I may digress from the soup for a moment, I'll share this story because its the beginning of our history, of our love and one we've laughed about since.  My dad invited Kat over for her first holiday with us when I was 14.  Their relationship was still pretty new and I was resisting the idea of my dad dating a new woman.  Kat was trying her darndest to connect with me all day.  Let's keep in mind I was a vegetarian at the time.  It came time to move the turkey from the roasting pan to the serving platter and Kat asked me to help her.  I am sure she thought this would be a great "team" endeavor.  I don't know what got into me, and as much as the idea of touching a turkey turned my stomach inside out, I helped.  I plugged my nose, averted my eyes, and grabbed that turkey by the legs!  It was moments later that she remembered I was a vegetarian and, mortified, tried to back pedal on her need for my help.  Too late, we were forever bound by this turkey movin' moment. 

Over the years we have created some spectacular meals together.  We call each other for cooking advice, we share recipes, we share ideas and we share our successes and failures alike.  We've been planning our Thanksgiving menu over the past few days and we're both excited to spend the day cooking together. 

Now, back to the soup.  This soup was bad ass.  The family descended upon the kitchen on Sunday afternoon and in a great team effort we had this soup on the table in a matter of...um, hours.  It was so worth it.  This soup had so much flavor.  I've had some really amazing french onion soups in my day, but I've had many more that are dull, boring or overly salty.  This soup shined above them all.

In this recipe, the onions are braised in white wine and marsala for 45 minutes before they are carmelized in a dutch oven and I think this is what brought out the complex mix of flavors in this soup.  Totally worth the extra time and forethought required when preparing this recipe.  Maybe not a "lazy" Sunday soup, but a great cozy winter meal indeed!

French Onion Soup 


Makes 6 servings


2 pounds yellow onions, thinly sliced
1 cup dry white wine
3/4 cup marsala wine
1 tbsp sugar
12 tbsp unsalted butter
Salt and pepper to taste
6 sprigs flat leaf parsley
6 sprigs thyme
2 bay leaves
6 cups beef broth
2 cups chicken broth
1 parmesan cheese rind
1 baguette, sliced crosswise into 12, 1/2 inch pieces
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 cups gruyere cheese, grated
1 1/2 cups parmesan cheese, grated

Preheat oven to 400F.  Place onions in a 9 x 13 glass baking dish.  Combine white and marsala wines then stir in sugar.  Pour mixture evenly over the onions.  Put 8 tbsp butter, in pats, on top of onions and sprinkle with salt and pepper. 

Place onions in oven for 40-45 minutes.  Stir the onions every ten minutes, basting with liquid in the bottom of the pan to coat the onions.  When the onions are just beginning to brown transfer the onions to a dutch oven on medium heat, reserving the wine mixture.  Put a lid on the dutch oven and stir every 3 minutes until they are a deep caramel color.

Meanwhile, tie together the parsley, thyme and bay leaf.  Add herbs, parmesan rind, reserved wine mixture and beef and chicken broths to a large stockpot and simmer for 30 minutes.  Remove the herbs and parmesan rind.

When the onions have carmelized, add the broth mixture to the onions and simmer for 10 minutes more. 

While the soup is simmering, combine remaining 4 tbsp butter and garlic and stir until well combined.  Spread butter on both sides of the baguette slices.  Cook in a skillet on medium heat for about 5 minutes on each side, or until toasted and browned.

Preheat the broiler on high.  Arrange 6 oven-safe bowls on a sheet tray and ladle soup into bowls.  Place 2 toasted baguette slices in each bowl and then top each with 1/2 cup gruyere and 1/4 cup parmesan.  Broil until cheese is brown and bubbly, 3-5 minutes and ...

Eat it!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A San Francisco Treat!

I know, with all my heart, how lucky I am to have three sisters.  These three ladies make my heart peaceful, they make me laugh so hard it comes out silent and ends with tear-streaked cheeks.  We hold each other up, cheer each other on, love with all our might.

I got to see my itty-bitty-teeny-tiniest (okay, she's the youngest) sister, Tessa, this past weekend and my heart is so full.  I feel so at home with her, so content and happy and so me.  She seriously brings out all the good parts of me.  She is such a beautiful creature from the inside out.  Man, I wish we lived closer.

Tessa lives in San Francisco with her super awesome hubby bubby, Charlie, and their undeniably cute and witty dog Kayla.

I had never been to San Fran and was super excited to do some city crawling.  We visited the beach where we let Kayla run wildly after a tennis ball, and let Anna eat her yearly quota of sand while she spied on the Golden Gate Bridge.

We rode the BART downtown and ended up in a building that was my wildest fantasy (yeah, I have really exciting fantasies).  The Ferry Building was an unbelievable marketplace full of specialty food stores.  SPECIALTY FOOD STORES!  As in, a whole building full of stores that do not exist in or anywhere near Missoula, MT and I might move to San Francisco based on this building alone.  Cheese, chocolate, a whole store dedicated to mushrooms, jams, herbs, wine, olive oil, aaahhhhhh!!  I went totally crazy imagining the dishes I could create with this resource at my fingertips.  And, I tried my very first macaron in this building.  I know, I know, how could I never have had a macaron?  But, I haven't.  I fell madly in love at first bite.  Oh, pistachio macaron, how I love thee!  Now I'm on a mission to learn how to bake thee.

Anna also showed us what Swiper has taught her and had her first shoplifting experience:

Anna fell asleep while Tessa was carrying her around Sur La Table.
About 10 minutes after we left the store we noticed she had this
little treasure in her paw.  Don't worry we took it back.

Our cousin Laura lives in the Bay Area and has a son that's a month older than Anna.  We went to their house for a delicious lunch and I finally got to meet her little guy.  It was so awesome seeing them and wish we could do it more often!

Charlie is an amazing cook and I got spoiled rotten on this trip.  I didn't have to lift one single finger and had food delivered directly to my face on a daily basis.  What a treat!

Manicotti w/homemade ricotta & caesar salad w/homemade croutons
And my personal favorite, a light and delicious lunch: brie, apple butter and arugula sandwiches.  I picked Charlie's brain during the entire meal to make sure I could replicate this at home (and share the recipe with you).  And guess what?  The apple butter was homemade too.  I am really glad my sister married this guy.

What's your favorite meal that someone else has cooked for you?  I know, those of us that love to cook sometimes have a hard time letting go and allowing someone else to cook for us.  But, when we do, it can open up our eyes to new flavor combinations and recipes like the one below. 

I am going to be very vague on amounts in this recipe because it really depends on your tastes and how much of each ingredient to put on.  So, just go with your gut, follow your tastebuds and then enjoy it!

Brie, Apple Butter & Arugula Sandwiches

Created by: Charlie

1 sturdy baguette (like sourdough)
Apple Butter

Preheat oven to 350F.  Cut baguette horizontally, but do no cut all the way through so that the sandwich is "hinged".  Slather generous amounts of apple butter onto both halves of the sandwich.  Layer brie on top and put it in the oven for about 10 minutes, or until the cheese is melted.

Remove from oven.   Add arugula on top of the cheese and then "close" the baguette and slice into individual sandwich sized portions.

Eat it!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Perfect Peanut Butter Cookies

These peanut butter cookies are the epitome of peanut butter cookies.  They were so perfect I don't even know where to begin.  They were the perfect amount of sweet, they were the perfect density, had the perfect amount of give when you bit into them and, well, the perfect size (I made 'em kinda big). 

I can fess up about all the cookies I've been making lately because they were for Mace's birthday.  And since his birthday was Tuesday he's finally gotten all these scrumptious cookies in the mail.  I suspect a lot of them are goners by now, because let's be realistic here, if you had a giant box of cookies staring at you every time you walked in the door, could you just ignore them?  I didn't think so.  Plus, I think the cafeteria food is starting to wear on him.  If I could have sent him some of my falafel and pita bread I would have, but I think cookies were a pretty good stand-in for now.

So, back to these absolutely perfect cookies.  I highly recommend using all-natural peanut butter in these.  Any of the more commercial PBs like Jif or Skippy would be fine, but they have molasses and other sugars added to them so they'll add to the sweetness of the cookie.  And plus, I think this tastes more like a peanut butter cookie rather than a cookie with some peanut butter added to it.  This is the real deal.

Something else I'd like to talk about briefly is weighing ingredients while baking.  I recently bought a digital kitchen scale and it has changed the way I bake.  It is unbelievable the difference in weights 1 cup of flour can be and if you weigh your ingredients you will get more consistent baked goods every time.  I am going to include weights in my baking recipes from now on, whenever possible, but I'll continue doing volume measurements too because I know scales aren't standard in a lot of kitchens.

Now...onto our feature presentation!

Perfect Peanut Butter Cookies

Adapted from flour by Joanne Chang


1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar
1 cup (220 grams) brown sugar, packed
2 large eggs
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups (455 grams) chunky peanut butter, all-natural is best
2 2/3 cups (375 grams) all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp kosher salt

Cream together the butter and sugars on medium speed in a stand mixture fitted with the paddle.  Cream for about 5 minutes or until mixture is light and creamy.  On medium speed, beat in eggs and vanilla until well combined, about 2 minutes.  On low speed, beat in the peanut butter until thoroughly combined, about 2 minutes.

In a medium sized bowl whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt.  On low speed, add to the butter mixture until all ingredients are just combined and dough is evenly mixed.

Ok, now comes the hard part, but you have to do it.  It makes your cookies shine, I promise.  Put the dough in an airtight container and put in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours or overnight. 

Okay, did you really wait at least 3 hours? 

Preheat the oven to 350F.  Drop the cookies in 2 tbsp sized balls onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Flatten each cookie slightly with the palm of your hand and then make the crisscross pattern on each with the back of a fork. 

Bake for 15-18 minutes or until edges are golden brown and the center is still slightly soft.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool on sheet for 5-10 minutes, then put on wire cooling rack and...

Eat it!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Philanthroper - A website making a difference!

I want to give a quick shout out of this amazing website Philanthroper.  This site features a different non-profit organization each day and you have the option to donate between $1 and $10 to the featured organization.  Their tag line is "A little helps a lot" and the idea behind this site is that if lots of people give just $1 it adds up!  And its true!  They keep a tally of how much is given to each organization and some days it tips the scales at $1,000!  The cool part about this is you can make a difference in someone's life for just $1.  With the economy in the tank these days, Philanthroper  makes it easy and affordable to still make a difference in people's lives without making a dent in our own.

Here's a little blurb from their website:
"You know those daily deal sites? We're another one of those. But instead of selling something, we're sharing the story of a new 501(c)3 nonprofit every day. And if you'd like, you can give them $1. We're trying to make doing good a habit."

The reason I decided to spread the word here is that there's a non-profit featured today that delivers groceries to  seniors in need.  As a food lover and blogger my life revolves around food, great food, every day.   I have never ever even one day in my life been without access to food.  Every single time I cook I am thankful for the bounty and blessing of food given to me and I try to never take it for granted.  Without question, when a food related non-profit appears, I give.  And sometimes I give again.  And again.  Please consider checking out Philanthroper and seeing how you can make a difference.

**A quick disclosure: I have no affiliation or ties to Philanthroper.  I just happen to think they are an amazing organization making a difference in people's lives every day and wanted to spread their goodness around.**

Our blessed table!

PS Another shout out, to my bestest, silliest, cutest, awesomest half...Happy Birthday to you my darling husband Mace!  I love you with all my heart!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Black Bean Burgers

This meal knocked my socks off.  I have tried so hard to like black bean burgers for years.  You know, they're what vegetarians are supposed to eat, and therefore I should really dig these things.  Yet, everytime I try one again I am disappointed.  Usually they are dry, tasteless, boring, and they fall apart so it makes them almost impossible to eat.  But not these.  No, these were moist, they were bursting at the seams with flavor and they were as far from boring you can get.  Plus, they (mostly) stayed together and were way less annoying to eat than traditional black bean burgers.

I never would have tried another black bean burger recipe after several failed attempts.  So, when I showed up to my monthly cooking group, Bitchin' Kitchen, and this was the recipe we were going to make you can imagine my disappointment.  And then utter amazement ensued when these things actually tasted good!  Thanks for finding a winner Jen! 

We made a few changes to the original recipe, like swapping out ground oatmeal for bread crumbs to make this recipe gluten free.  And also I added more garlic, sweet chili sauce instead of spicy and used a red bell pepper to add some color.

This is a food processor meal.  You could theoretically make it by hand but it wouldn't be the quick meal that it is to throw together.  Have I ever told you how much I love my food processor?  It rocks my world on a daily basis.  How people ever lived without these precious things I do not know.

 This is a meal that you can make ahead of time and then throw everything in the oven 30 minutes before its time to eat. I made this whole meal yesterday afternoon (including the buns, which I'll get to in another post after a few tweaks) and then went to have some fun with some friends. We descended upon my house afterwards and all I had to do was turn on the oven and kick back and have a beer while we waited for dinner. My favorite kind of dinner party.


Oh, yeah, and the sweet potato fries.  Easy peasy.  I have been making these about three nights a week for dinner since I mastered them, thanks to Baking Jen's Blog!


Black Bean Burgers

Makes 10 servings


1 cup dried oats
1 red bell pepper, cut into chunks
1/2 onion, cut into chunks
8 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
2 (15.5 oz) cans black beans, drained and rinsed
2 eggs
2 tbsp chili powder
2 tbsp ground cumin
1 tbsp sweet chili sauce
Fixings - avocado, tomato, onion


Pulse oats in food processor until finely ground and set aside. 

Pulse bell pepper, onion and garlic in food processor until finely chopped.  Add black beans and pulse until thick and pasty.  Scrape black bean mixture into a large bowl. 

In a small bowl combine eggs, spices and chili sauce. Add egg mixture to bean mixture and stir well.  Add ground oats and stir well.  Put in refrigerator for at least 20 minutes.  This will allow the mixture to firm up enough to form into patties. 

Preheat oven to 375F.  Line a baking sheet with tin foil and spray with cooking spray.  Form the bean mixture into 10 patties and place on baking sheet.  Bake the bean patties for 20 minutes, flipping them after 10 minutes.

Serve the burgers with avocado, tomato and onion on a bun.

Eat it!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Today I Ran

Missoula 1/2 Marathon-July 2011

This was one of my prouder moments in life, and without question my proudest running moment.  In July of this year I ran a 1/2 marathon, 10 months after giving birth to my daughter.  It wasn't the best 1/2 marathon I had ever run, but it also wasn't my worst.  And also, it didn't matter.  I was just so happy to be running again, to be getting back in shape, to be setting a good example about fitness to my daughter.  I bought a pair of shoes the day before the race (a risky move that turned out okay).  These shoes have had exactly 13.1 miles on them...until today.  Today I ran.

I haven't run, not because I don't want to, but for lack of time/motivation/(insert excuse here).  Mace left for Guard duty 5 days after the 1/2 marathon and I have been struggling to find time to fit any form of exercise into my days since.  Anna hates the jogging stroller, she screams and cries and hates every minute.  This does not make for a relaxing jog.  I just can't justify spending money on a sitter so I can run.  So, I don't.  And I haven't. 

I am tired.  I am tired of having to be "on" all the time.  I'm tired from never getting a break.  I am tired of being so damn responsible all the time!  Also, I am terrible at asking for help.  I have an arsenal of amazing friends that would do anything for me if I asked.  But I don't ask.  Whether its out of pride or stubborness or just being afraid of imposing, I am not sure.  But, I don't ask.  So, I don't run.

I had a meltdown this week after some especially hard, stressful and lonely days.  I was relaying my woes to my awesome friend Jen, who happens to think that running can cure anything from a minor cold to major depression, and she offered to watch Anna today so I could run.  A gift for me, without even asking.

I got up today and I was nervous.  I was thinking of any excuse in the book to back out, hoping maybe the weather would turn nasty at any moment.  Didn't happen.  I hadn't run a step in over three months and was sure I was going to bomb this.  Jen said "Kill it!" as I was heading out the door and I gave her back a sarcastic look that said "yeah right."

You know what?  I am amazed at how easily I re-found my stride.  My muscles remembered!  They remembered and they were happy.  I ran and I breathed and I took 35 precious minutes for me.  ME!  ME! MEEEEEEEEEE!!!  I took 35 minutes and prayed, I dreamed, I envisioned, I hoped, I stared at our mountains, breathed in the crisp air and breathed out "thank you" over and over.  And finally, I remembered why running always always always makes me feel whole again.  I remembered that every time I take running out of my life I also take balance out of my life.  I need to run.  Its a big part of who I am, and without it I am lost.

I don't know how much I'll be able to get out and run between now and when Mace comes home in December.  But what I do know is that I am going to try harder to make it happen.  I am going to find time, I am going to try putting Anna in the jogging stroller again and maybe, just maybe, I'll even try asking for some help. 

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Brown Butter Brownies

I made these brownies the first time for my friend Kate's birthday and have made them several times since.  This is my go-to recipe for brownies now 1. because they are the most amazing brownies I have ever tasted in my whole entire life, hands down, no question about it, and 2. because they take about 15 minutes to throw together but taste like I must have slaved away for at least double that.

Maybe I have never told you this about myself, but I am utterly and hopelessly in love with brown butter.  Brown butter will make anything taste better.  It adds a depth to food that can only be replicated by, well, more brown butter.  It is also a very sneaky-sneaky ingredient because people can often taste that there is something unique in what they're tasting, but can never pin point it.  That's because most people have never even heard of brown butter.  I make a lot of things with brown butter in them and when I giddily reveal my "secret" ingredient, I am often met with a blank stare.  Dang.  But, then I get to educate people on the wonders and awe of brown butter and that makes me happy.  Everyone needs a bit of brown butter in their lives, and especially the tummy part of their lives.

I hope you enjoy these as much as I do.  I don't know what else to tell you about them, except that you should go make them.  So, go!  Go make them!  Then eat 'em and enjoy!

Brown Butter Brownies


Adapted from Bon Appetit


10 tbsp (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 1/4 cups sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (not dutch process)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp (heaping) salt
large eggs, chilled
1/3 cup + 1 tbsp unbleached all purpose flour
cup nuts, chopped and toasted (My personal favorite is pecans, but walnuts are almost as amazing)


Preheat oven to 325°F. Grease and then line an 8x8 baking dish with parchment paper, press paper firmly against pan sides and leave a 2-inch overhang.  Melt the butter in medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Continue cooking until butter stops foaming and browned bits form at bottom of pan, stirring often, about 5-8 minutes. Remove from heat and add sugar, cocoa, 2 teaspoons water, vanilla, and salt and stir to blend. Let cool 5 minutes and then add eggs to hot mixture 1 at a time, beating quickly to blend after each addition. When mixture looks thick and shiny, add flour and stir until blended and then beat  vigorously for one minute. Stir in nuts and transfer batter to prepared pan.

Bake brownies until toothpick inserted into center comes out almost clean (with a few moist crumbs attached), about 25 minutes.  Cool in pan on rack.  Use parchment paper overhang to lift the brownies from the pan.  Cut brownies into squares and...

Eat it!