Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Couscous with Chicken, Chevre, and Cranberries

I feel like dinner has been a struggle lately. Can anyone else identify with that? When I get home from work, I'm so hungry that all I want to do is shovel down a bowl of cereal for my evening meal. (And I'm talking Lucky Charms or Cinnamon Toast Crunch. I'm not messing with the healthy stuff.) I can't imagine putting forth the effort to make hot dinner; it would be at least as hard as climbing Mt. Everest. Maybe harder.

When I can think of something to make that's fast--something that involves leftovers or cooks at warp speed--I'm sold. And if it can be eaten all together in a bowl (as if it was cereal), all the better.

P.S. Today's recipe made me chuckle to myself: Four words that start with "C" in one recipe. I'm so clever.

Couscous with Chicken, Chevre, and Cranberries
Serves: 4

1.5 cups low-sodium chicken broth (Water will get the job done, too.)
1 7.6-ounce package couscous*
2.5 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1.5 cups cooked, diced chicken
1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted
2/3 cup dried cranberries
3 ounces crumbled chevre (a.k.a. goat cheese...but that didn't start with a "c")
Salt and pepper

In a medium saucepan, bring broth to a boil. Stir in couscous, cover, and remove from heat. Allow couscous to sit, covered, for 5 minutes, then fluff with a fork.

Stir lemon juice, olive oil, chicken, almonds, and dried cranberries into couscous. Gently fold in crumbled goat cheese. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve warm or at room temperature.

*I usually have a 7.6-ounce box of couscous on hand. If you buy your couscous in bulk (which is probably the smarter and thriftier way to do things), 7.6 ounces is about 1 1/3 cups of uncooked couscous.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Sponge Bobs (a.k.a. Yogurt-sicles)

The husband and I drove way down south to Illinois last weekend to meet up with some pals from college and their three beautiful children. While the men went golfing, the women-folk spent some time around the homestead. We ate a leisurely breakfast, took a walk, and chatted up a storm.

When hunger pangs struck around 12:30 and the husbands were still on the links, Sarah came to the rescue with a delicious snack to hold us over until lunchtime: Sponge Bobs.

I'll pause here because the name of this treat may be a bit confusing. You see, Sarah has a 2-year-old who loves a certain cartoon character who lives in a pineapple under the sea, and she named the snack after the illustration on the packaging. Sponge Bobs are actually yogurt-sicles. (And "yogurt-sicles" may not be any less confusing.)

Anyway, this is a little bit of a cheat in the recipe department, since you don't actually make Sponge Bobs, but they are so easy, refreshing, and wonderful that I had to share the "recipe" with you all. As you can see from the photo below, they are the perfect, portable treat to enjoy while you're working on your laptop. In fact, I might go get one right now...

Sponge Bobs (a.k.a. Yogurt-sicles)
From: Sarah

Buy a box of yogurt tubes (such as Go-Gurt*).

Put them in the freezer until they have frozen solid.

Cut off the top of the packaging, wrap it with a napkin so your fingers don't get too cold, and eat the frozen yogurt like a popsicle.

*Sarah had Go-Gurt at her house, but I bought Stonyfield Farms yogurt tubes when I tried this at home. I have to admit, I think the Go-Gurt ones are the best.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Balsamic Quinoa with Parmesan Cheese

I was looking for an easy side dish, and I decided to throw together a few items from my pantry and fridge: Quinoa from the ginormous bag I bought at Costco, my favorite balsamic vinegar, and a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese that was on its last legs. It was simple and easy, just what I was looking for.

But the best part? The leftovers.

The husband and I were standing in the kitchen the next night, debating what we wanted to do for dinner. Again, I started rummaging through the cabinets. When I told the husband my idea, he was dubious. He thought take-out might be a better option than the concoction I dreamed up, but decided to trust my taste buds. And he was glad he did; we were fighting for the last forkful.

Balsamic Quinoa with Parmesan Cheese
Serves: 4-6

1 cup water
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup quinoa
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
Salt and pepper

Place water, broth, and quinoa in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer, cover, and allow to cook for about 15 minutes, until water is absorbed and quinoa is tender. Stir in vinegar, olive oil, and 3 tablespoons Parmesan cheese. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve sprinkled with extra Parmesan cheese.

And here's the bonus recipe for your leftovers! Sorry I don't have any pictures; we ate it too fast.

Balsamic Quinoa with Chicken and Sweet Potatoes
Serves: 2

1 cup leftover Balsamic Quinoa with Parmesan Cheese
1 cup cooked, diced chicken
1 cup cooked, diced sweet potatoes (I used these frozen ones.)
1/3 cup toasted pecans, chopped
Salt and pepper

Gently stir together Balsamic Quinoa with Parmesan Cheese, chicken, sweet potatoes, and pecans. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve warm (the husband's preference) or at room temperature.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Australia: Part III

This is the third and final installment of Australian food from our vacation. Part III: Melbourne. I hope you've enjoyed eating around Oz as much as I did!

Acland Cake Shop

The husband and I took a train from Melbourne to the darling suburb of St. Kilda. We strolled on the boardwalk and soaked up the sun. Then we ate cake for lunch. Don't judge. Check out the window of this place:

How could we not eat cake for lunch? I ordered some magical concoction called a caramel slice. Shortbread, a thick, creamy layer of caramel, and dark chocolate on top.

The husband chose a vanilla slice with flaky layers of pastry, vanilla custard, and a Milwaukee-style snowfall of powdered sugar. Glory be. I wanna go back there right now.

EARL Canteen

As you may have gathered, I love sandwiches and eat my fair share of them. The Chicken & Chips sandwich at EARL Canteen will go down as one of my all-time favorites. The restaurant's menu describes it best, "roast free-range chicken, crushed peas, candied bacon, aioli, potato crisps." Sigh. It would be worth a 14-hour plane ride just to get this sandwich again.

Cafe Vic

When we were in Melbourne, the husband and I went to the opera for the first time. "How cultured!" You may be thinking to yourself. Well, I won't burst your bubble and tell you that I got sleepy and had to take a little snooze during the second act.

Before "Fiiiiiiiiigaro!" we grabbed some grub at the Melbourne Arts Centre's cafeteria, Cafe Vic. I use the word "cafeteria" very loosely. Yes, you carried your food to the table on a tray, but the entree wasn't mystery meat. It was crispy pork belly with roasted potatoes and veggies. Now that's a cafeteria I can get on board with.


The entire city of Melbourne is crazy for coffee. Seriously. The cafe culture rocks my socks off. The only sad thing is...I don't drink coffee. But I really enjoyed the tea! And I loved to listen to people place their orders for exotic concoctions. Apparently a "flat white" is like a latte without the foam. Who would've thunk?

At this little cafe tucked into a side street, I enjoyed one of the best muffins I've ever eaten in my life. It was a raspberry pear muffin with streusel topping. Just the right amount of fruitiness and sweetness and tenderness. And with a steaming cup of tea, it was just so lovely.

Australia, you are lovely. Thanks for the memories. And thanks for the food.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Australia: Part II

On Wednesday I gave you Part I of our vacation. Vegemite, capsicum, was good stuff. Today, I'll share a few meals the husband and I ate while we were in Sydney, Australia.

Sydney Fish Market

Look at these fun guys! They're called "bugs!"

I knew we were at a good fish place when it didn't have a fishy stench; it smelled like the ocean. In addition to the fresh seafood you could purchase to prepare at home, there were tons of places to grab a bite to eat. Unfortunately, my preggo guts weren't feeling like fish, so I ordered a prosciutto and mozzarella sandwich. It wasn't seafood, but it was delish.

The husband made up for it, though, with lobster bearnaise: Australian lobster (not as rich as the stuff we get in the States, he said) slathered with a buttery cheese sauce and broiled to perfection.

Food on Five

When I was in junior high, my friends and I would go to the mall food court for Auntie Anne's cinnamon sugar pretzels. If we asked nicely, they'd give us a double-dip of the buttery sugar mixture. I was always keepin' it classy.

The husband, being a clever fellow that he is, did a little Yelp research on Sydney and discovered a food court for us to grab an easy dinner one night. I was expecting Auntie Anne's. Maybe one of those Chinese food restaurants with free samples of General Tso's. I didn't know what I was in for. Food on Five at the Westfield mall in Sydney is bonkers. They have every kind of food you could imagine, and it's nice. Fancy food. Stuff they serve on real Styrofoam clamshells here.

The husband got himself a "haute dog" called the Backyarder at Snag Stand, an Australian beef sausage with coleslaw, BBQ sauce, and cheddar. Bonkers.

I, of course, got a sandwich from Reuben & Moore.

The Depot

Bondi beach is gorgeous. GORGEOUS. See?

Eating breakfast with the sun pouring down and looking out over the waves was a pretty wonderful start to the day. Add to that toasted banana bread with ricotta and berry compote, and I think it may have been perfect.

I really thought I'd only have two days worth of Aussie food to share, but there's more. I can't withhold any of these fantastic finds! I need to share this stuff! Monday will be the last of it though. At least I think so...

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Australia: Part I

As I mentioned, the husband and I were lucky enough to spend our vacation in Australia. We visited Sydney and Melbourne, and both cities were wonderful. The scenery was gorgeous, and the people were very kind. But since we're hungry folks, the husband and I were curious what the land down under would have to offer in the food department. We were not disappointed. I hope you enjoy my little foodie tour...

Australia Part I: "Different" Food

A post on Australian food wouldn't be complete without a mention of Vegemite. The husband and I were enjoying breakfast one morning, and we had the option of jam, peanut butter, or Vegemite for our toast. Obviously I grabbed PB&J. (I've told you how I feel about peanut butter and jelly.) Being the brave one in our family, the husband reached for a packet of Vegemite and spread a thin layer on his bread. Tasting it, he proclaimed, "Not bad!" My fears assuaged, I gave it a nibble, too. I would describe the flavor as soy sauce condensed into a paste. Let's just say it's not my favorite.

At that same breakfast, a cereal choice was Weetabix. I asked the hotel proprietor for a description, and he said it was kind of like Shredded Wheat. Then he offered to prepare me a bowl the way he would for himself. I couldn't turn that down. He placed two "bricks" of Weetabix in a bowl, poured milk over the top, and heated it up for a minute. Then he suggested I sprinkle a bit of sugar on top. It was pretty darn good! Sort of oatmeal-ish. (Is that a word?)

Potato Chips
Different countries have the most interesting potato chip flavors. The husband and I both enjoyed Honey Soy Chicken chips very much.

I kept reading about "capsicum" on restaurant menus. For the life of me, I couldn't figure out what it was. So I asked. "What's capsicum?" The waiter looked at me like I was a crazy person. "It's CAPSICUM." After about a week, I figured it out: Capsicum = Red Pepper. Now when you go to Australia you won't look as dumb as me.

Even McDonald's served up different grub in Australia. For example, the El Maco burger is garnished with taco sauce and sour cream. Although I managed to pass on the El Maco, the husband and I had to try a Double Choc Fudge McFlurry. Good gosh was that delicious. But the real question is, what's a "Bubblegum Squash McFlurry"? I guess we'll never know...

Stay tuned for Australian Food Tour Part II on Friday.

Monday, May 14, 2012

I need a vacation from my vacation.

The husband and I got back from vacation on Saturday, and I spent all day Sunday recuperating. There was  certainly no cooking, although I bravely changed out of my pajamas long enough to go to the grocery store.

Why did I need a day of utter and complete sloth after two weeks of vacation, you ask? Two reasons: 1.) The husband and I tend to vacation pretty hard. We can relax at home, but we don't want to miss anything a new town has to offer. 2.) It was a long trip home. Looooong. 14 hour plane ride + 3 hour plane ride + 2.5 hour plane ride + 2 hour drive = TIRED. 

Where did we go that required so many stinkin' hours in the air, you ask? We went to a place where Vegemite flows freely, koalas climb the trees, and The Wiggles call home. We went to the land down under. (And, yes, I am currently singing the 1982 classic by Aussie band Men at Work.) Beautiful Australia.

Of course I documented some food adventures to share with you all, but more on that later in the week. For now, I'm going to continue trying to conquer the jet lag. Wish me luck... 

Friday, May 11, 2012

Peanut Butter and Stuff

I'll try not to go on and on about my pregnancy, but there is one thing I need to share with you...

It's about peanut butter and jelly.

Since I've been pregnant, by appetite has been strange. I can't handle onions or garlic, even if they're cooked. It's like I'd need to scrub my tongue with sand paper to get rid of the taste. It just lingers. Ick. And all I want to eat is carbohydrates. I could eat sandwiches and cereal every single day. Happily. And my favorite, my absolute favorite, is peanut butter and jelly. Preferably on a bagel. Oh, so help me. I eat PB&J sandwiches for dinner at least twice a week.

So you can imagine my delight when a dear friend introduced me to the Peanut Butter and Stuff sandwich at Specialty's Cafe & Bakery when I was in San Francisco for work recently. Get this:

On freshly-baked whole wheat bread, the good folks at Specialty's layer peanut butter, whole cranberry sauce, freshly sliced bananas, and thin slivers of Granny Smith apples. Good heavens. It was perhaps the best thing I've eaten in my life.

So obviously I had to replicate it at home. In case you aren't lucky enough to live near Specialty's (sigh), you can have the next best thing.

Peanut Butter and Stuff
Serves: 1

2 slices whole wheat bread
2 tablespoons peanut butter (I like using natural peanut butter for this sandwich.)
2 teaspoons jam (I used strawberry.)
About 1/4 of an apple, very thinly sliced
2 tablespoons whole cranberry sauce (I just used the canned stuff.)
About 1/4 of a banana, thinly sliced

Spread peanut butter on one slice of bread and jam on the other.

Layer apple, cranberry sauce, and banana on top of the peanut butter and then close up your sandwich with the jammy bread.

Slice in half so it's a bit more manageable to eat, and stuff your face.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Vanilla Frosting for Funfetti Cupcakes

I assume you came back to hear about the frosting for funfetti cupcakes. Well, I'll get right to it.

Vanilla Frosting (for Funfetti Cupcakes)
Adapted from The Cake Mix Doctor
Frosts 24 cupcakes

1 stick butter at room temperature
3.75 cups powdered sugar, sifted
3-4 tablespoons milk
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract (optional)

Place butter in the bowl of an electric mixer. Beat with the whisk attachment on low speed until fluffy, about 30 seconds. Stop the machine and add the powdered sugar, 3 tablespoons milk, vanilla extract, and almond extract. Beat on low until combined, then increase the temperature to medium-high and beat until light and fluffy, about 1 minute. If the frosting is too stiff, beat in the extra tablespoon of milk. 

Use to frost funfetti cupcakes or whatever your baked good of choice may be. 

Monday, May 7, 2012

Funfetti Cupcakes

When I saw homemade funfetti cupcakes on Pinterest, I had to try them. I just had to. Who doesn't like funfetti?! Probably people who don't like soft puppies or snuggly blankets, but I won't go there.

These treats are pretty much vanilla cupcakes with sprinkles swirled into the batter to make them fun. To add some depth to the flavor, I stirred in a splash of almond extract. Admittedly I'm a huge almond fan, but I think the almond extract here is pretty subtle. Feel free to scale back or use only vanilla extract if you prefer. I won't hold it against you.

And there's frosting, too. But I'm cruelly making you come back on Wednesday for that one.

Funfetti Cupcakes
Adapted from somewhere on the internet. I can't remember where, though. To my source: I'm sorry, whoever you are! I wish I could give you the credit you deserve.
Makes 22-24 cupcakes

2 sticks butter, softened
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
1.5 tablespoons vanilla extract
1/2 tablespoon almond extract
3 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2/3 cup milk
1/2 cup rainbow sprinkles

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a cupcake tin with paper liners.

Beat butter and sugar together for about 3 minutes, until it's light and fluffy. Add eggs, vanilla extract, and almond extract. Beat just until combined.

In a separate bowl, whisk together flour and baking powder. Add half of the dry ingredients to the butter mixture and beat to combine. Add the milk and beat until combined. Add the remaining dry ingredients and (you guessed it) beat until combined. 

Gently fold in the sprinkles. (The color will bleed a little bit into your batter, but that's ok. It just adds more fun to your funfetti.)

Fill cupcakes 2/3 full.

Bake 18-20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. This should yield about 24 cupcakes. (I am always too generous when filling my cupcake tins, and ended up filling mine more like 3/4 full. This made 22 cupcakes that I baked for about 25 minutes.)

Cool cupcakes in the pan for 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely. Make sure cupcakes are totally cooled before frosting.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Apple Yogurt Salad

This salad is one of my go-to's. In addition to being incredibly quick to whip up, it's light and refreshing. Sweet, but not too sweet. Crunchy and satisfying. Truth be told, I've been known to eat a giant bowl for lunch. (Yogurt and pecans have protein, right??)

Try serving it at your next BBQ or if you're looking for a healthy dessert. I think you'll like it.

Apple Yogurt Salad
Serves: 8-10

3 apples, cut into 1/2" chunks
2 cups halved grapes*
1 cup dried cranberries
1 cup chopped toasted pecans
2 cups vanilla yogurt

In a large bowl, fold together apples, grapes, cranberries, pecans, and yogurt. Serve right away.

*If I use green apples, I like to use red grapes and vice versa. Since I used red apples this time, I used green grapes. But that's just cause I think it looks pretty. Use your favorites or whatever's on sale.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Happy Birthday, Mom!

Tomorrow is my mom's birthday. Since she lives in Buffalo and I live in Milwaukee, we rarely get to spend birthdays together. This year is, sadly, no exception. Somehow mailing a card just isn't the same as singing a rousing rendition of "Happy Birthday" while Mom blows out her candles. And it sure makes me miss her.

My mom is the one who taught me about making a happy home. The doors were always open for visitors, and parties were the norm when I was growing up. Whether it was a wedding reception for friends, turkey dinner and show tunes on the player piano, my grandma's 75th WrestleMania birthday party (not kidding about that one!), or just hot dogs on the grill after a church softball game, everyone was always welcome.

Since I've been thinking about Mom so much, I thought I'd share with you some recipes that remind me of her. Dishes she made while I was growing up or that we've cooked together. They're all great. Just like my mom.

Butterscotch Cashew Bars: Perfect for the church potluck.

Grilled Peach Salad: My mom and I grilled the peaches for this salad in the dark. It was an adventure. 

Pot Roast with Mushroom Gravy: Mom taught me how to make fall-apart good Pot Roast.

Cheesy PotatoesThese are essential on Christmas Eve.

Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Brussels Sprouts: My mom, sister, and I have been known to eat leftovers straight out of the fridge. (Cold. With our fingers. There's no shame...)

Simple Salad with Celery and Mandarin Oranges: Growing up, mom made a salad that inspired this one.