24.8.14

Summer Reading



Hey friends,

Remember last week how I talked about being busy?

Well, busyness is kicking my butt for real. (Think working two jobs + writing for a journal + starting classes + traveling out of town two weekends in a row)

As a result, I'm taking a break from food posts the next two weeks and sharing other life-stuff instead.


Every summer during elementary school, my mom would challenge my sister and I to read 10 books in the month of July. Given that, my measly list of 8 books read through June, July and August doesn't seem that impressive, but I'll always associate summertime with getting lost in a good book.

I also love reading book reviews, and have found some great books via posts from bloggers like Jenna, JoyJessica, and Jen. (Weird that their names all start with J…)

Anyway, I thought I'd share my thoughts on the books that I've read this summer. I'd love to hear your thoughts on any of these books, if you've read them, or any other book recommendations!


Fiction: 


Love Walked In & Belong To Me by Maria de los Santos.

These were easy, start-of-the-summer, get-lost-in kind of books. The author has a P.h.D in poetry, and that definitely came across in her lyrical descriptions of normal, mundane things. Though the plot sometimes resembled that of a soap opera, my interest in the carefully developed characters kept me reading.





Me Before You by JoJo Moyes

Joy described this as a "break-your-heart-kind-of-book" and I totally agree with this assessment. This book broke my heart. I cried at the end and was irrationally mad for at least a day. I even took some of my anger out on Adam, who was like "What did I do?" It took me a while to decide whether or not I would recommend this book because I was so heartbroken at the end, but the truth is, any book that can elicit that deep of a connection and emotion is worth reading. But, you have been warned. 




Non-Fiction/Memoir


Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan

This book is hilarious. It's probably especially funny for parents of young children, but I loved it, and I think most people would. The letter to his children in the first few pages is my favorite part--“If you are reading this, I am probably dead. I would assume this because I can honestly foresee no other situation where you’d be interested in anything I’ve done. Right now, you are actually more interested in preventing me from doing things like working, sleeping, and smiling. I’m kidding, of course. Kind of. I love you with all of my heart, but you are probably the reason I’m dead.”



Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, by Mindy Kaling

I've recently become obsessed with The Mindy Project and with Mindy herself. I think she's funny and genuine--rare qualities for movie stars these days. In the book, she shares many funny moments from her childhood and her path to success as a writer on The Office.



Bread & Wine by Shauna Niequist

This sort of food memoir/essay style books is my favorite kind of book to read. Each chapter in Bread and Wine can be read and savored independently. I was particularly moved by the chapter describing her experience with infertility. Shauna writes about the way food brings about community, and the spiritual ways it nourishes us. I also wanted to make almost every recipe in the book. That's always a good sign. 



Delancey by Molly Wizenberg

There's been a lot of press buzz about this book. Molly is the author of the famous blog Orangette and the book A Homemade Life. I adored her first book, and thus had high expectations for her second. Delancey tells the story of Molly and her husband opening a pizza restaurant in Seattle. While I didn't love this book as much as A Homemade Life, I thought it gave some interesting behind-the-scenes descriptions of opening a restaurant, and I still think Molly writes about food better than anyone else. 



The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you know how much I love Brene Brown. I am continually inspired by her writing, and her book Daring Greatly changed my outlook on life. The Gifts of Imperfection is similarly inspiring, and  a perfect book to read in the morning before you start your day. The whole book is small and broken down into small chapters that provide 10 Guideposts for Whole Hearted Living. I feel like this is the kind of book that I need to read twice a year, just to remind myself of the important principles. 



17.8.14

Fresh Corn Chowder in the Crock Pot



I've been living in denial.

If I had not bought my books and had not checked my class schedule, then school was definitely not starting soon, right?

WRONG.

Law school starts in a week.

I am so not ready.


These last two weeks of summer have been really busy, (what happened to slower summertime pace?) but I know they're a snail's pace compared to what life will be like this fall semester.

I know some people love fall, (sweaters! pumpkin everything! the leaves!) but right now I feel like I'm just waiting to get hit by a bus. A bus filled with cold weather, lonely nights studying, long days in the library, dreadfully heavy law school books, and stresssssssss.

I'm being a downer, I know. 

I'm so fortunate to have this opportunity, and many others would love to be in my position. I also have met some really beautiful, fun, and inspiring people in law school, and I'm excited to see their faces on a more regular basis. 

So basically, I just need to get over myself, right? 


I just want to have a better handle on this working hard/getting a lot done everyday thing without feeling like a total failure every time I don't finish enough things on my to-do list. Or read enough pages. Or study enough. Or exercise enough.

Enough. Enough. Enough. I want to remember that I'm enough, no matter what I accomplish in a day.  

I know I'm not alone in this struggle, and the book The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown has helped me a ton. Anyone else have advice on feeling enough? Any recommendations for staying sane during a really busy season? 


One thing that keeps me sane is loving on my person, and one way I show my love for Adam is by cooking for him every Thursday.

Thursdays are when he flies home from New York. He gets in around 8:30 or 9:00pm after working 12-14 hour days and staying in a hotel room alone and eating take-out every night. My hope is that when he opens the door to our house, he smells dinner waiting, and feels at home and loved.

During this busy week, I knew the homemade Thursday meal also needed to be (1) something unique and fresh so I could blog about it and (2) easy to prepare since I was working all day and needed at least some natural light to photograph it.

This soup fit the bill perfectly. It's fresh and summery with all the vibrant veggies, and it's easy to  prepare thanks to the crock pot.  You can also add a ridiculous amount of bacon and cheese and be really happy with yourself.

Serve with some crusty bread and a green salad for a perfect late summer/early fall meal.

Have a blessed week, friends.


Fresh Corn Chowder in the Crock Pot


Ingredients:
5 ears of fresh corn, with kernels carefully removed with a sharp knife
1 medium red pepper
1 medium orange pepper
1 large sweet Vidalia onion
4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce, minced
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup milk (I used 2%)
salt & pepper
3 green onions
3-5 slices cooked bacon, diced
1 cup shredded Monterrey Jack cheese


Directions: 
Combine corn kernels, 2 corn cobs, peppers, onion, vegetable broth, chipotle pepper, and bay leaf in a crock pot. Cook on low for 7-8 hours.

Remove bay leaf and corn cobs. Turn heat to high. Microwave 2 tablespoons butter in a small bowl until melted. Add 2 tablespoons flour to the melted butter and stir vigorously with a spoon until no lumps remain. Ladle in some broth from the crockpot into the butter/flour mixture. Continue stirring until mixture thickens and no lumps remain. Continue same process with 3 more ladles of broth, then add flour/butter/broth mixture into soup.

Add 1 cup milk and salt and pepper to taste. At this point, if you want your chowder to be thicker, you can use an immersion blender to blend some of the soup, or transfer a couple ladles of soup into a blender or food processor.

When soup is heated through, you can either add the onions, bacon and cheese and cook until cheese is melted, or you can set them aside as toppings for people to add to their soup. Your choice!

Notes: 

  • To make gluten-free: Use gluten-free flour or nix flour all together.
  • To make more rich: Use a combination of half and half or heavy cream with the milk or replace entirely. 
  • To make vegan: Use vegetable broth and vegan butter & milk. And no bacon or cheese, obvi. 

Inspired by The Pioneer Woman.

10.8.14

Nutella S'more Brownies



Happy National S'mores Day!

Are you celebrating? If not, you should be.

As if we really need an excuse to eat graham crackers, chocolate, and melty marshmallow. . .

It's hard to beat the goodness of regular classic s'mores, but every year I like to have an excuse to try new desserts with three of my favorite ingredients. Last year I made these healthy gluten-free and paleo coconut s'more bars.


This year I decided to go in the opposite direction and make totally decadent nutella s'more brownies.

Whoa, yum.

It all started a couple weeks ago when my mom told me about a recipe she'd seen for 2- ingredient nutella brownies. Yep, two ingredients: 1 cup nutella and 4 eggs. I didn't quite believe her until I found this helpful post from The Kitchn, and then I was hooked. The nutella and eggs undergo some kind of magical transformation in the oven. These brownies have a complex dark chocolate flavor and a fudgy smooth texture.


You already know I have a thing for marshmallow and chocolate together. I've gone in different directions with the marshmallow topping in the past. In these double chocolate peanut butter brownies, I used marshmallow fluff, but for these sweet potato blondies, I used mini-marshmalllows.

I've always been somewhat intimidated by making my own marshmallow topping. Tempering egg whites and cream of tartar? What if it was too much work or I messed it up?


As usual, Smitten Kitchen came to the rescue with a stellar no-fail recipe for marshmallow frosting. I may never go back. While it might take slightly longer than opening a bag of marshmallows or a jar of marshmallow fluff, this marshmallow frosting is well worth the little bit of effort. I loved the thick layer of marshmallow covering the brownie, and two steps of the recipe are pretty hard to mess up. Trust me, I've messed up a lot of recipes.

The resulting s'more brownies are over-the-top good. And rich.  Fudgy brownie, crunchy graham cracker and sweet gooey marshmallow.  What more do you need?


Two-Ingredient Nutella Brownies


Ingredients:
1 cup nutella
4 eggs

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350.  Grease an 8-inch square pan liberally with cooking spray or line with parchment paper.

Crack 4 eggs into a large mixing bowl. Beat with an electric mixer for 7-10 minutes, starting on low and gradually increasing speed to medium high. This might take a little less time with a hand mixer.  You'll know you're done when the eggs have tripled in size and are light yellow and frothy.

Measure 1 cup of Nutella into a microwave safe bowl. Microwave for 1 minute, stirring in 15 second increments.

Gradually add melted nutellla into the egg mixture, keeping the speed on low. Mix until nutella is fully incorporated and batter is smooth.

Pour brownie batter into prepared pan. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until sides pull away from the pan, and a toothpick (or knife) inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Let cool before cutting.


Marshmallow Frosting


Ingredients:
3 large egg whites
3/4 cup granulated sugar
pinch of salt
1/4 teaspoon cream of tarter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions:
Fill a small saucepan with 2 inches of water. Bring to a gentle boil over medium heat.

In a large mixing bowl, add egg whites, sugar, salt, and cream of tarter. Place the mixing bowl over the small sauce pan. Whisk egg mixture together for 2-3 minutes, or until sugar is mostly dissolved. (Watch the temperature of the bowl. If it get too hot, turn the heat down. You don't want to scramble the egg whites!)

Remove bowl from the stove. Stir in vanilla extract, then beat with electric mixer for 5-7 minutes or until frosting is glossy and thick.


Nutella S'more Brownies

Ingredients:
nutella brownies
marshmallow frosting
7 graham crackers, crushed

Directions:
Preheat oven to broil and move rack to upper third of the oven.

Gently press the graham cracker crumbs into the brownie.

Ladle marshmallow frosting over the top, gently smoothing over with a spoon. (You can make swirly designs with the spoon if you desire!)

Broil for 1-2 minutes, watching VERY carefully. Remove as soon as the top is starting to turn golden brown.

Let cool for 1 hour for easy slicing, or just enjoy the crumbly messy gooey brownies hot from the oven.


Notes:

  • Gluten-Free variation--just use gluten-free graham crackers!




Brownie recipe adapted from The Kitchn.

Marshmallow Frosting adapted from Smitten Kitchen.

3.8.14

Low-fat Banana Biscuits


Hey, I made us biscuits.

Yes, they have banana in them, but don't leave yet. They're good, I promise.

Maybe I know what you're thinking. Banana? In biscuits? If you've got ripe bananas, why not make banana bread, or banana muffins, and leave the biscuits simple and unadulterated and laden with butter like normal?


I love banana bread and banana muffins, and I love plain old biscuits, especially with butter and honey.

But if you live in the southeast, you might, like me, be familiar with an eating establishment called Bojangles, which serves the famous boberry biscuit.

I could do without the fries and chicken, (This is blasphemy for some southerners, I know, I'm sorry!) but I happen to have a weakness for those bobery biscuits. They're buttery, sweet, stuffed with blueberries and drenched with icing.


Eating one also leaves you with grease on your hands, sugary taste in your mouth, and a sneaking suspicion that you might have increased your chance of getting diabetes.  Okay, okay, I'm being dramatic, but they're definitely a splurge and not the kind of thing you can eat for breakfast everyday.

Last summer my friend Steph and I made a batch of similar blueberry biscuits with vanilla icing for her boberry biscuit loving boyfriend. They turned out so well that I made another batch a week later for my brother in law. He loved them too.

That's where this fruity biscuit with vanilla icing idea came from.  As for the banana part? Well I had 2 ripe bananas sitting on my counter begging to be used AND I'd read somewhere that you can use mashed banana to replace some of the butter in baked goods.  Could I use less butter in those beloved biscuits and still pull off the fruity biscuit with icing goodness?


The answer was yes. These are still flakey, buttery, and covered in icing, but they've got half the fat of the original recipe, and probably a third the fat of an actual boberry biscuit. 

These banana biscuits didn't rise as much as I'd hoped, but I think that might have been due to old baking soda. I'd love for you to try them and let me know your thoughts. 

Any other boberry biscuit fans out there? Any biscuit purists? Any Bojangles lovers angry with me right now? If so, I'll bring you some of these biscuits and hope that you have a change of heart. . . 


Low-fat Banana Biscuits


Ingredients:
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
pinch of cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups buttermilk. (I hardly ever have buttermilk on hand, so I use this substitute)
4 tablespoons butter (very cold or frozen)
1/2 cup mashed ripe banana, chilled
for the icing:
1 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 tablespoons milk


Directions:

Preheat oven to 450. Grease a cookie-sheet with non-stick cooking spray.

Prepare space on your kitchen counter. Wipe clean and dust liberally with flour. Have a rolling pin and extra flour nearby.

In a large bowl, combine flours, baking powder, salt, cream of tartar, brown sugar, and cinnamon. Place bowl in the fridge while you prepare other ingredients.

If you've frozen the butter, use a cheese grater to grate the butter into small pieces. Remove the bowl of dry ingredients from the fridge. Add grated cold butter, vanilla extract, buttermilk, and cold mashed banana. Stir until just combined, then roll out onto the prepared floured surface on your counter. Use your hands to knead the dough 8-10 times, then use the rolling pin to roll dough out to 3/4 inch thickness.

Use a biscuit cutter (or a glass) to cut out the biscuits. Place biscuits on prepared cookie sheet. Gather together the excess dough and roll out again to make a second round of biscuits. After the second rolling, you'll probably want to discard the excess, as it will make tough biscuits.

Bake at 450 for 8-12 minutes or until golden brown.

While biscuits are baking, make the icing by combining the powdered sugar, vanilla extract, and milk in a small bowl.  Drizzle over warm biscuits.

Eat immediately! Or let cool and then cover and save for later.

Adapted from A Cozy Kitchen.
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