Monday, July 30, 2012

Grilled Green Beans

I had no plans for Saturday plans except to sleep in as late as I wanted, that is.

When I opened my eyes that lovely morn, birds were chirping. The cheery sun was streaming into my bedroom. (Well, streaming is a bit of an overstatement. It was filtering in through the blinds and the curtains I had drawn to keep it out.) It must be, what, 10:00? 11:00 a.m.? I smiled at my impressive sleep skills and rolled over to check my clock.

6:50. 6:50 a.m. And I was rarin' to go. So much for being well-rested.

Since I was awake, I decided to hit up the Wauwatosa Farmers Market. When I arrived (after getting ready at a leisurely pace), the farmers were still putting the finishing touches on their wares. They hadn't even officially opened yet, for crying out lout. When you're ready to go before the farmers, you know you're out of your league in terms of waking up early.

I swung by my favorite bakery stand (Yes, I go to the farmers market for pastries. Don't judge.), and the owner greeted me with a smile. "Would you like to be our first customer?" I realized I had first pick of all the muffins, all the croissants, all the cookies that I could want.

And that, my friends, is a darn good reason to wake up at the crack of dawn.

Now for something healthy to make up for the gigantic triple berry muffin I ate...

Grilled Green Beans
Serves: 4
Technique discovered on

1 pound green beans, washed and stem ends trimmed
Salt and pepper
1-2 tablespoons water
Butter for serving, if desired

Preheat grill to medium-high. Meanwhile place two big sheets of aluminum foil on top of each other. Pile green beans in the middle of aluminum foil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Carefully pour 1-2 tablespoons of water on top of green beans. 

Gather up the sides of the aluminum foil and crimp them together to make a packet. Place foil packet on the preheated grill. 

Close the lid and cook for 6-9 minutes, until green beans are crisp-tender. Serve with a pat of butter, if desired. 

Friday, July 27, 2012

Slow Cooker "Baked" Sweet Potatoes

I've mentioned once or forty two times how excessively hot it is in Milwaukee this summer. When the air conditioning is on full blast and you're still feeling sweaty and gross, it's hard to turn on the oven. But I had some sweet potatoes lingering on my counter, and I needed to bake them somehow. 

Enter the slow cooker. 

Did you know that you can make "baked" potatoes in the humble crock pot? It's absolutely genius. You get a perfectly cooked spud, and the temperature in your kitchen doesn't hit triple digits.

What unorthodox foods do you make in your crock pot? Share your slow cooker secrets in the comments section.  

Slow Cooker "Baked" Sweet Potatoes*
Serves: 4

4 sweet potatoes
Your favorite sweet potato toppings: Salt, pepper, butter, brown sugar, etc.

Wash and dry sweet potatoes. Wrap them with aluminum foil and place them in your slow cooker. (I lined my slow cooker with an extra sheet of aluminum foil in case the sugary juices from the sweet potatoes leaked out of their foil jackets. I have a particular aversion for scrubbing my crock pot, and this helped me avoid that unpleasant task.)

Cook on low for 8 hours. Serve sweet potatoes with your favorite toppings.

*I tried this technique with sweet potatoes, but I'm sure it would work just as well with regular, old Idahos. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Peaches vs. Nectarines

I was at the grocery store recently, and I ran into a conundrum. There were two bins of sunset-orange fruit in front of me: peaches in one and nectarines in the other. Both were on sale for the same price. Both were high quality and seasonal. Initially I gravitated toward the peaches, but as I was loading them into my basket, another shopper started choosing nectarines.

And then it hit me. What in tarnation was the difference between a peach and a nectarine? I know peaches are fuzzy, but besides that why was I choosing a peach over a nectarine when I didn't know which I preferred? So I did the only logical thing I could think of; I asked the other shopper.

"Excuse me," I interrupted the wise-looking woman as she added another nectarine to her growing pile. "Can you tell me the difference between a peach and a nectarine?"

She furrowed her brow in thought. "That's a good question. I think that peaches can be a bit more mealy. And they're more finicky; you have to eat them at exactly the right time. Nectarines are more forgiving."

Well that was a darn good answer. I promptly put my peaches back in the bin and snagged a few nectarines.

I think that helpful gal in the produce aisle was right. I let my nectarines get a smidge too ripe, but they were totally forgiving. They weren't mealy like the smidge-too-ripe peaches I'd eaten the week before. 

Since I can't leave well enough alone, I did some very official interweb research on the fruits in question. (What I mean, of course, is that I Googled it. It wasn't very serious at all.) This is what I learned:

According to wiki.answers, peaches and nectarines are both part of the prunus family, like plums. "Peaches have a certain dominant gene and a certain recessive one. When the dominant gene is prominent, the fruit is called a peach; when the recessive gene is prominent, it is called a nectarine. Physically, peaches are larger than nectarines; have a larger, rounder stone (pit); and have a fuzzy outer skin. Nectarines are smaller, with a smaller and flatter stone, and have a smooth outer skin. Nectarines are also sweeter in taste than peaches."

So there you have it, folks. Go forth and make educated fruit choices!

Monday, July 23, 2012

I didn't cook. Not once.

My mom, dad, and sister came to visit the husband and me in Milwaukee this weekend. I did intend to cook for them, but it just didn't happen. Instead we spent our time laughing, watching "Alaska: The Last Frontier" on the Discovery channel, and eating at restaurants. It was delightful.

When was the last time you had a footloose-and-fancy-free, no-cooking weekend?

Friday, July 20, 2012

Chicken and Orzo with Goat Cheese

I like this recipe because you stir everything together in one pot and bake it in the oven. It's hands-off. So I can watch TV while dinner makes itself. That's how I roll.

Chicken and Orzo with Goat Cheese
Adapted from Everyday Food
Serves: 6

4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
3/4 cup water
1 1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 pound chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 pound orzo
4 ounces crumbled goat cheese
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large, oven-safe Dutch oven,* bring broth, water, salt, and pepper to a boil. Add chicken, orzo, goat cheese, basil, lemon zest, and lemon juice to the broth. Stir to combine.

Bake uncovered for 35-40 minutes, until orzo is tender and cooking liquid is mostly absorbed. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Let it rest for about 5 minutes (to give the cheese a chance to melt) before serving.

*If you don't have a pot that's safe for the stove and the oven, bring broth and water to a boil in a saucepan and then pour it into a 3-quart baking dish with the rest of the ingredients. I like to use an oven-safe pan so I only have to wash one dish!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Sunny Carrot Salad

I think I've mentioned before that my mother-in-law is a dynamite cook. (She's a dynamite lady all around, really.) There are certain dishes that the husband recalls with a special fondness: Grandma's potato salad, beef stroganoff (with mashed potatoes, please), meat pies, and carrot raisin salad are just a few. 

Whenever we visit his parents in Seattle, the husband usually has a request. "Can you learn how to make my mom's salmon?" Over the years my mother-in-law has taken pity on this budding cook and taught me how to make some of her family classics. I can never replicate them to the level of deliciousness that she manages, but I've done an acceptable job back in my kitchen in Milwaukee. The husband doesn't complain...decent meat pies are better than no meat pies! 

One recipe I can't get quite right, though, is carrot raisin salad. Mine always ends up too tangy. Instead of fighting it, I decided to make a different version of carrot raisin salad. When I served today's recipe, the husband was a big fan.

And I think I know one dish I'll have to work on perfecting next time we visit my in-laws.

Sunny Carrot Salad
Adapted from Taste of Home
Serves: 3-4

3 cups shredded carrots
1 cup crushed pineapple, drained very well (If it's not drained well, your salad might get soggy.)
1/2 cup golden raisins (I'm sure regular raisins would work perfectly fine.)
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
Salt (Just a smidge.)

In a medium-sized bowl, combine carrots, pineapple, and raisins. Stir in mayonnaise and a little sprinkling of salt. Refrigerate until you're ready to serve.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Pudding Poke Cake

Last week, I had a serious hankering. My pregnancy cravings have been pretty consistent so far: PB&J sandwiches and fruit. So I was pretty surprised when I couldn't stop thinking about pudding and Cool Whip. That's right. Pudding and Cool Whip. I had to have them.

So it was a good thing that I was in charge of dessert for book club. After a bit of serious internet research, I found a recipe for Pudding Poke Cake. I got heart palpitations just looking at the pictures. It met all my craving qualifications, and it was all I hoped for. Pudding-filled, Cool Whip-topped, refreshing, and delicious.   

Pudding Poke Cake

1 (18.25 ounce) package yellow cake mix and the ingredients called for on the box (typically oil and eggs)
1 (3.9 ounce) package instant French vanilla pudding mix
1 (3.9 ounce) package instant chocolate pudding mix
3 3/4 cups milk, divided
4 ounces Cool Whip, plus more for serving

Prepare and bake the cake mix according to the box's instructions for one 9" x 13" cake. As soon as you remove the cake from the oven, use the handle of a wooden spoon to poke holes through the cake down to the pan. Holes should be about 1" apart.

Immediately combine French vanilla pudding mix and 2 cups milk in a medium-sized bowl. Whisk together for 1 minute, until evenly combined. (Don't overmix because you don't want the pudding to start thickening up.) Right away, pour the pudding over the warm cake. You want to pour the pudding slowly and try to aim for the holes. (I found it easier to put the pudding into a large measuring cup with a spout to pour over the cake.)

There will probably be extra pudding that didn't sink into the holes. Spread this evenly over the top of the cake. Chill the cake for at least an hour before moving on to the next step.

Once the cake has cooled for at least an hour, combine chocolate pudding mix and remaining 1 3/4 cups milk. Whisk together for 2 minutes, until pudding starts to thicken up. Gently fold in 4 ounces of Cool Whip. Spread chocolate pudding mixture over the top of the cooled cake like frosting. Chill for at least another hour before serving. Serve with extra Cool Whip, if desired.

*You can really use any kind of cake and any kind of pudding for this recipe. I saw a version that used chocolate cake and two boxes of Oreo pudding. That looked crazy good. Maybe I'll make that to satisfy my next pudding/Cool Whip craving.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Chicken Finger Salad

I've mentioned before how much the husband and I love Costco. On our last Costco date, we picked up 82 million pounds of mixed salad greens. Even after making Strawberry Blue Cheese Salad with Balsamic Glaze, I had, oh, about 81,999,998 pounds left. Needless to say, we have more salads in our future.

In addition to the greens taking over my crisper drawer, today's hot dinner was inspired by my dad. The man loves himself a chicken finger salad, and they are a regular on my parents' dinner rotation. Why have I not thought of making one at my own house before? It was a serious DUH moment when the thought finally crossed my mind.

I often find that building salads is more a matter of personal taste and the level of your appetite than science. The recipe below is really more of a guideline. Pile your Chicken Finger Salad as high (or low) with toppings as you'd like. The final result is up to you!

Chicken Finger Salad
Serves: 2

6 cups of your favorite salad greens
1/2 cup shredded carrots
1/2 cup corn kernels (Either frozen corn that you've thawed or cut off the cob.)
1/3 cup shredded cheddar (for the husband) or crumbled blue cheese (for me)
5-6 cooked chicken tenders (Either homemade or store bought)
1/3 cup crushed tortilla chips
4 tablespoons barbecue sauce (or to taste)
3 tablespoons Ranch dressing (or to taste)
Freshly cracked black pepper

Evenly divide lettuce, carrots, corn, cheese, chicken tenders, and tortilla chips between two plates. Drizzle with barbecue sauce and Ranch dressing and sprinkle with black pepper.
See? Toppings are up to you! The husband opted for a hearty pile of shredded cheddar, while I chose crumbled blue cheese.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Overnight Oats II

I'm not always the best at planning ahead. For example, I'm having a baby in, oh, about 9 weeks. After months of hemming and hawing, I finally decided what crib I liked. When I went to purchase said crib, it was on backorder. So I tried another website. Backorder. And another. Backorder. After checking out every single outlet on the world wide web that sells the crib, they are...All. On. Backorder. So, that means my crib should arrive in about 8 weeks. If all goes well, that is.

Guess I should have planned ahead just a bit better.

Thankfully, when I want Overnight Oats, I only need to prepare the night before. I know I've shared my recipe for this tasty breakfast in the past, but this is a new variation thanks to Bill, one of the investment dudes I work with. He recommended stirring frozen berries into my Overnight Oats. After trying it, I think Bill is a true genius. The frozen berries thaw during their overnight stay in the fridge and make it even faster and easier to grab your breakfast in the morning. Thanks, Bill!

P.S. Excuse the sub-par photos of this recipe. This is real-life stuff here. I make Overnight Oats before bed and grab them in the morning, so that's when these pictures were taken. I don't have energy to use anything by my cell phone camera at either of those times.

Overnight Oats II
Serves: 1

1/2 cup old-fashioned oats (not quick-cooking)
1/2 cup vanilla yogurt
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup frozen fruit (I like raspberries.)
1.5 teaspoons maple syrup (or to taste)

Stir together oats, yogurt, milk, fruit, and maple syrup. Refrigerate overnight. When you're ready for breakfast, stir to make sure everything is combined. Enjoy!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Strawberry Blue Cheese Salad with Balsamic Glaze

To celebrate their summer salads, Noodles & Company shared with me a couple recipes for main dish salads. Since the temperature kept skyrocketing last week, it was the perfect opportunity to test one out.

A few notes about this salad:

The Glaze: Part of me (the lazy part) wanted to skip the balsamic glaze, but I dragged by sorry rear end to the stove and whipped it up. The glaze did require a little bit of baby sitting because you need to whisk it regularly, but it was absolutely worth it. It added a flavorful, sweet component to the salad and was the perfect finishing touch.

The Chicken: This salad doesn't need chicken, but it added a bit more substance. And I'm really hankering after chicken these days. Feel free to leave it out if you so desire.

The Blue Cheese: I like blue cheese, so I was pumped to see it in the ingredient list. The husband, on the other hand, does not like blue cheese. At all. So I put blue cheese on my salad and goat cheese on his. Everyone was happy. Another marital dilemma solved by goat cheese.

Strawberry Blue Cheese Salad with Balsamic Glaze
Serves: 4 as a main dish
Adapted from Noodles & Company

1/2 cup balsamic vinegar*
3 tablespoons honey
12 ounces baby spinach or mixed salad greens
1/4 cup thinly sliced red onion (optional)
1 1/2 cups cooked chicken, cut into bite-sized pieces
6 strips of bacon, cooked and crumbled
1/2 cup blue cheese (Substitute goat cheese if you're not a fan of blue cheese.)
1/2 cup toasted pecans, chopped
1 1/2 cups strawberries, thinly sliced
Freshly ground black pepper
Balsamic vinaigrette, to taste (or your best balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil)

First, prepare the balsamic glaze. In a small saucepan, combine balsamic vinegar and honey. Bring the glaze to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat and simmer, whisking regularly, until glaze thickens and becomes syrupy, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let glaze cool completely before using it to top the salad.

In a large bowl, layer spinach, onion (if using), chicken, bacon, blue cheese, pecans, and strawberries. Drizzle with cooled balsamic glaze to taste (you may have a bit leftover) and sprinkle with pepper. Just the glaze was enough dressing for me, but feel free to serve the salad with your favorite balsamic vinaigrette or a drizzle of balsamic vinegar and olive oil.

*Since you're going to reduce the balsamic vinegar and add honey to it, you don't need to use the good stuff to make the glaze. Save the pricier balsamic vinegar for topping salads and dipping bread. 

Friday, July 6, 2012

Healthier Morning Glory Muffins

Even though the thermometer was threatening to push past 100 degrees, it was absolutely worth it to turn on my oven to make these Morning Glory Muffins. I just whipped up the batter, preheated the oven at the last minute, then hightailed it to my heavily air-conditioned living room once the muffins were safely baking away. This heat wave can't keep me from a delicious breakfast baked good!

Now I have to tell you the best thing about these muffins. Since they're healthier than usual, you're absolutely justified when you eat two for breakfast. And then another one for your mid-morning snack. I mean, they have vegetables in them, for goodness sake. It's practically like eating a salad.

Healthier Morning Glory Muffins
Makes 12 big muffins
Adapted from:

2 1/4 cups flour
2/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup applesauce
1/4 cup canola oil (or vegetable oil)
2 whole eggs
2 egg whites
1 (8 ounce) can crushed pineapple
1 1/2 cups shredded carrots (2-3 medium carrots)
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup sweetened shredded coconut
1/2 cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. Set aside.

In a separate bowl, mix together applesauce, oil, whole eggs, egg whites, and pineapple. Stir the pineapple mixture into the flour mixture until just combined.

Use a rubber spatula to fold in carrots, raisins, coconut, and pecans.

Scoop batter into the prepared muffin tin. (Each cup will be just about full to the top...these are big muffins!) Bake in preheated oven for 24-27 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean.

Let muffins cool in the pan for a few minutes before removing to finish cooling on a wire rack.

Eat straight up, or, if they're too healthy for you, schmear on just a smidge of butter...

Yes, that's a smidge.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Date Night

Tomorrow the husband and I will be celebrating 8 years of wedded bliss. With our anniversary just around the corner and a baby on the way, it seemed fortuitous that I stumbled upon a post on the gorgeous blog Not Without Salt about dating your spouse.

Although it may not be your anniversary tomorrow, I'd encourage you to read this little blurb, too. Whether you've been with your partner for 8 years or 80 (or 8 months for that matter), it's a poignant reminder that love is a choice.

There are also several drool-inducing recipes included. Pulled Pork Sandwiches with Fennel, Apple and Radicchio Slaw? Set that on the dinner table and your significant other will have no choice but to remember why he loves you. 

So read this post and then call your honey to get date night on the calendar.

And to my honey...Happy Anniversary!