Creative Blogger Award!

I have been nominated for the Creative Blogger Award by my blogger pal over at Semi-Sweet Tooth! I am so honored to be nominated for something I love doing – cooking, writing, and sharing it with friends. I have no idea what happens next, but I am just happy to be recognized. Below are the rules for continuing the Creative Blogger Award chain!

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Rules/instructions:

  1. Thank and link back to the person who nominated you (mention your nominator in your own award post with a link back to their original award post, which would be this one).
  2. Share 7 things about yourself.
  3. Nominate other bloggers and comment on their blogs (usually on their about page or contact directly if necessary) to let them know.

So, given the rules, here are 7 things to know about me.

1. You have probably already learned this from a few of my blog posts, but I have an unhealthy obsession with using up leftover food whenever possible. I always try and plan how much food we will need before we go on a trip, taking into account any lingering fridge ingredients that might go bad. For example, most recently I made a double batch of Marble cookies JUST to use up the sour cream we had in the fridge.

2. I am the middle child with one older and one younger sister. I think being in the middle has contributed to my personality in a million ways: I’m a peace-maker, I hate conflict, I can be really weird and awkward, and I have a terrible time making decisions. Some of these traits also just might be who I am. We will never know…

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3. My dream used to be to have a cooking show on the Food Network and to own my own bakery. I love teaching others about food and I love cooking for others. I have not given up on these dreams so much as changed what I’m interested in.

4. There is culinary creativity in my blood. My great aunt used to be a food writer in Toledo, Ohio and has published a few cookbooks as well! Though I never got to cook with her, I inherited her love for cooking. I have learned my cooking skills from many people to whom I am grateful: my mother, in her own don’t-follow-recipes kind of way; my father, in his specific techniques and skills; and former bosses and co-workers who have taught me about efficiency, tasting as you go, and making beautiful presentation when it matters.

5. I love animals and currently have two ridiculous cats named Lewis and Magellan. They are named after explorers because they wouldn’t stop exploring and checking things out when we first got them. They are my furry children and they have many talents including fitting into boxes too small for them, giving us “bear paws,” asking for belly rubs, and looking cute.

6. I speak (almost) fluent French and am working on my Spanish. I love the feeling of connecting with someone through a foreign language.

7. In grad school I drank wine, ate delicious homemade food, and talked a lot about food, farming, and culture. It was pretty awesome.

Nominations!

Finally I would like to nominate some other blogs that I enjoy reading in no particular order.

1. Peeled Wellness – Kim’s blog is about more than just healthy eating. She shares tips for getting good sleep and saving money. And every week she connects bloggers from all over with her Tell ’em Tuesdays!

2. Crafty Coin – I think if I lived in Chicago we would totally be friends. BreAnna has great tips for saving money by breaking down her weekly grocery haul and showing you what she makes. She also has some great DIY projects.

3. Rare Beauty – I only recently discovered this wonderful blog but I love it. Her photos and recipes are colorful and creative and give me a glimpse of another side of the world!

4. Girl about Town Dayton – As a former Daytonian myself, I love reading all of Lauren’s creative ideas for having fun in a small town in Ohio (not Daytona, Florida!)

5. Cooking is My Sport – I like this girl’s approach to food and cooking. Jess takes her food seriously and has some amazing and creative looking recipes!

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Quick Whole Grain Pizza – Happ Happ Hurrah!

In my house we never order pizza. It’s not because we don’t like pizza or because we think it’s unhealthy. It’s because we are spoiled… Let me explain.

Upon finishing grad school a few years back, my husband declared he was going to start making bread from scratch. Slightly skeptical but totally supportive, I bought him the book Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, figuring with his culinary background (or lack thereof) and schedule this would be a perfect book. Soon after he impressed me by actually reading the introduction to the book and telling me there were a few other tools we needed. We invested in a pizza stone and pizza peel and have since put them to excellent use making homemade bread and homemade pizza. And as he had promised, there was actually a period of time where he made homemade bread!

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Though it has been a while since he’s done any bread baking, we now have a pizza stone that we use occasionally for bread and pizzas. So why are we spoiled? Have you ever baked homemade pizza on a pizza stone? I highly recommend it – you get a crisp, chewy crust with a nice rise from the preheated stone. When you have a pizza stone that makes delicious pizza at home, it’s hard to spend money ordering pizza or going out. You can easily save yourself money and customize your pizza when it is homemade, so why would you order in?IMG_1615 Nonetheless, pizza making takes time. For our recipe you have to make the dough, let it rise for 2 hours, refrigerate it, preheat the stone, roll your dough, top it and bake it. Most nights when you come home from work you want dinner ready as quickly as possible. This healthy pizza can be your fast solution and it’s just as quick as ordering delivery. The ingredients are basic and the toppings are customizable. You may even have everything in your fridge already.

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Forgive the weird prints on the parchment paper. I reused the paper after roasting my sweet potato slices!

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Spelling or translation error: recipies? Recipes for pies?

This recipe comes from a wonderful book my sister-in-law gave me called Happ Happ Hurrah. This colorful book of healthful, fresh recipes comes from the Happ restaurants located in Luxembourg and Iceland. Someday we will go to the restaurant when we visit them in Luxembourg (where they live now!) The dough comes together in 5 minutes – no rising, no waiting – and bakes in 10. After that you top your flatbread-like crust with whatever you like and throw it back in the oven to melt the cheese. IMG_1609IMG_1611Happ has recommendations for four different types of pizza, but you can top it however you like. I did a combination of two of them using roasted sweet potato slices, fresh mozzarella, basil, peppers, mushrooms, and tomatoes. We also added grated Parmesan for a little extra saltiness. They baked up beautifully and we both enjoyed them (I didn’t know what to expect from Sam, but he gave them a sincere thumbs up). We made them small so that we could personalize our pizzas.

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Quick Whole Grain Pizza Crust

adapted from Happ Happ Hurrah!

makes 6 personal pizzas

2 cups + 2 T. whole wheat flour

1+1/4 cup mix of the following: rolled oats, sunflower seeds, and sesame seeds (see note)

2 T. dried oregano

1/4 tsp. salt

2 T. cream of tartar (optional – see note #2)

1 cup warm water

1/2 cup olive oil

toppings of your choice

Mix all dry ingredients. Add water and oil and stir carefully. Add more whole wheat flour if the batter is too sticky. Gently knead the dough and divide into six equal parts. Gently stretch or roll each part of the dough into a small circle. Bake for 10-12 minutes at 400 degrees F. It should be lightly browned on the bottom when you lift it off the sheet. Turn the oven temperature up to 450 degrees F. Top your pizza as desired and return to the oven. Bake for 5-10 minutes or until toppings warm and cheese melts to desired browness. Cool slightly and enjoy!

Note: The original recipe calls for 3 dl. of oats, sesame seeds, muesli, and sunflower seeds. I did about 2/3 of that in oats and filled the remainder of the cup with a tablespoon of sesame seeds and the rest in roasted, salted sunflower seeds. Feel free to try purchased muesli, use only oats, or try your own ratios of seeds and oats.

Note #2: When I have made bread or pizza it always contains a leavener such as yeast or baking powder or soda. I looked up the properties of cream of tartar, assuming that must give this pizza some rise. Though I learned that cream of tartar is a natural by-product of wine-making, it is still unclear to me its role in this recipe. It is an acidic ingredient often used to make baking powder though it is more commonly used by itself to stabilize egg whites in angel food cakes or other baked goods. This particular recipe didn’t seem to get any benefit from it in terms of rising, though I did not test the recipe without it. Proceed at your own risk!

IMG_1617Bon appetit!

Better-than-Oreo Chocolate Sandwich Cookies

IMG_1597These are not oreos.

These are buttery chocolate shortbreads smashed together with a sweetened thick icing.

IMG_1582The ingredient list is short (and sweet!) You probably already have everything at home to make them. Well, except the cake flour, but I didn’t let that stop me!

IMG_1585Sticky chocolate dough. Don’t add more flour to make it better. Stick it in the fridge. Let that softened butter firm up again.

IMG_1586I used a wedding gift champagne glass as my cookie cutter. That’s because I’m creative. Also I do not own a round cookie cutter. Doesn’t a round cookie cutter just seem unnecessary and boring?

IMG_1589Freshly baked below! (No rising involved so they don’t look that different from the unbaked above)IMG_1591Sandwich them together. Eat a few. Dip in milk if desired.

IMG_1598Wrap up for a friend.

IMG_1599Stamp it with your seal. Let them know: I made these, people!

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Better-than-Oreo Chocolate Sandwich Cookies

adapted from the Totally Chocolate Cookbook

Chocolate Shortbread

2 sticks butter, softened (I used one salted, one unsalted and it was perfect)

1 cup powdered sugar, sifted

1 tsp. vanilla

1+1/2 cups cake flour OR 1 cup + 2 T. all purpose flour AND 2 T. cornstarch (I used the cornstarch)

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted

1/4 tsp. salt

Filling

1/3 cup vegetable shortening

1+2/3 cup powdered sugar

2 T. milk or heavy cream

pinch of salt

1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

For the cookies, beat butter with an electric mixer until smooth and fluffy. Add sugar and vanilla and mix in. In a separate bowl combine flour, cocoa powder, and salt. Add the flour mixture to butter mixture and mix until there are no streaks of white. Do not over mix. If it is sticky (which it should be) wrap in plastic wrap in a flattened disc and refrigerate until somewhat firm – 30 minutes to an hour.

Divide the dough in half and keep one half in the fridge while you roll out the other. Turn out onto a well-floured surface and roll until 1/4 inch thick. Be sure to check the dough as you are rolling it out to make sure it isn’t sticking. Flip over and re-flour as necessary. Cut out rounds of dough (about 2 inches) using a cookie cutter, drinking glass, or champagne glass (if you’re feeling fancy). It is very helpful to flour your cookie cutter every few cookies so the dough doesn’t get stuck. Space the cookies apart about a 1/2 inch on an unlined, ungreased cookie sheet. Be careful transferring them as the dough is fragile. I used a thin metal spatula to keep from crushing the edges. Refrigerate the cookies on the sheet until firm again, while you finish rolling out the rest of the dough (10 minutes should be about right). Re-roll scraps and use as much as possible without overworking the dough.

With the cookie sheets of cookie rounds still in the fridge, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. When preheated, remove the cookie sheets from the fridge and bake the cookies for 18-20 minutes, switching racks and rotating the sheets halfway through to ensure even baking. Cookies should be slightly firm to the touch. Be careful not to over cook them. Since they are already dark, it can be hard to see if they’re done by their color. Let cool and prepare the filling.

For the filling beat the shortening with an electric mixer to loosen it up. Add sugar and half the milk, beating to incorporate. Add remaining ingredients and stir until smooth.

To frost, dab a spoonful of the filling on the bottom of a cooled cookie. Top with another cookie and gently wiggle and smoosh it to distribute the frosting evenly or just spread it on one cookie evenly before putting the second cookie on top. Repeat with remaining cookies. Enjoy with milk. I found this made just the right amount of filling for my cookies, but it depends how much you put on and how many cookies you end up with. You can always measure out the filling and divide it exactly between the cookies.

Makes about 36 sandwichesIMG_1595

As a side note: I decided to get rid of the post numbering. Does anyone really care how many “posts” I’ve written? Probably not. If you do, let me know 🙂 Thanks for reading as always.

Post 123 – Frosted Peanut Butter Bars and Jam Crescent Cookies

Do you ever have cookie expectations? You know, you see this delicious recipe in a magazine or a cookbook (or let’s face it – these days it’s on Pinterest!) and you have a certain idea of what it will taste like and look like. And then you make it and it’s not quite what you wanted, but it’s still a cookie.

IMG_1545That’s kind of what happened with these peanut butter cookie bars. I mean they were sweetened peanut butter cookies with peanut butter frosting, BUT they were soft and cakey instead of hard and chewy like I was expecting. Expectations can ruin everything. I made these cookies, excited to see the results and then when I took a bite, it just wasn’t what I expected! I will admit I may have halved the recipe (though not all ingredients) and probably didn’t bake them quite long enough, so maybe I have no one to blame but myself.

IMG_1528Nonetheless these cookies check another cookbook off my Cookbook Challenge. Who knows where I got this recipe booklet called Bar Cookie BONANZA! but I certainly had a hard time picking out which recipe to make. It’s an older book, the kind without all the pretty food photos enticing you to try a recipe. Instead it has simple instructions and titles that require you to actually read the pages as you’re flipping. Oh reading recipes… who does that?

Just kidding – I do 🙂

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IMG_1541While I was making peanut butter cookies I figured why not make a jam cookie as well to go alongside it. These simple Jam Crescent Cookies come from another similar cookie booklet simply called Cookies! I’m assuming these two booklets were stuck into my collection at some point in my move to Boston by my mother. Just what I need – more cookie recipes!

IMG_1532These cookies start with what is essentially a cream cheese pie dough. It has a tiny bit of liquid and you will think no way this recipe is right, but if you use your hands you can bring this dough together. The dough is then chilled, like pie dough, to allow the fat to get cold again and then rolled out, filled with jam and sprinkled with sugar. Essentially you have simple (and mini) cookie-pies or even Pop-Tarts!

IMG_1542IMG_1544These guys can hold a lot less jam than you think. It oozes out with just a hint too much!

IMG_1549Bake them, sprinkle with powdered sugar, let cool slightly (that jam can burn your tongue – don’t say I didn’t warn you!) and enjoy! Pair with a Frosted Peanut Butter Bar and it’s like a really sweet (in both senses of the word, Sam) PB&J sandwich.

Bon appetit!

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Frosted Peanut Butter Bars

1/2 cup peanut butter, (at room temperature if you keep yours in the fridge)

1/3 cup unsalted butter, softened

3/4 cup granulated sugar

3/4 cup brown sugar

3 eggs

1 tsp. vanilla

2 cups flour

2 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp. salt

Combine peanut butter and butter until creamy. Add sugars, beating well. Blend in eggs and vanilla. Stir in flour, baking powder, and salt. Spread in a greased, 13x9x2 inch pan and bake at 350 for 25 minutes or until firm and a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool and frost with the recipe below.

Frosting

1/2 cup peanut butter

2+1/2 cups powdered sugar

1 tsp. vanilla

1/3 cup milk

Beat all ingredients until smooth. Spread on cooled bars.

Jam Crescent Cookies

2 cups flour

1/2 cup powdered sugar, sifted (plus some for dusting)

4 oz. cream cheese, softened

1/2 cup salted butter (or unsalted plus 1/4 tsp. salt) – COLD

1 T. milk (yes that’s it!)

your choice of fruit preserves in some unknown quantity

In a large bowl, combine the flour and sugar and cut in the cream cheese and butter until you have coarse looking crumbs. Add the milk, mix well though do not over mix. Press the dough into a smooth ball (with your hands is best). Flatten dough slightly, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for about 30 minutes. You can also refrigerate it for several hours or longer, though you make need to leave it out at room temperature for 10 minutes or so before rolling it out if you do.

Preheat oven to 350. Divide the dough into 2 pieces and roll each half out carefully into a rectangle. Cut the dough into roughly similar size squares (the recipe recommends 3-inch). Put 1 tsp. (or less!) of preserves slightly off center. Fold over the dough to enclose the preserves and form a triangle (see photos above). Roll dough toward the point and smooth and seal the edges. Bend in ends of dough to give a crescent effect.*

Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes or until light brown. Remove and cool. Dust lightly with more powdered sugar.

*Without a final photo, some of these instructions were lost on me, but I’m including them for your benefit, in case you’re smarter than I am!

Post 122 – Pesto Couscous Summer Salad

Summer’s a coming. It is here! Or at least it feels like it. The weather has turned humid and muggy and sunny and green and the school children are getting restless (the teachers and staff too! Trust me – I work at a school.) But it is beautiful this time of year where I live. I am loving the views!

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Now I love cooking and baking, but when it gets hot and you have no central air I can lose my energy for cooking, especially in a hot kitchen. When I think of a good summer recipe, I think of something that is quick, fresh-tasting, and doesn’t require the oven. When you don’t have an outdoor grill, these recipes can be hard to come by. Sometimes I sacrifice one night of oven cooking for several nights of tasty leftovers, but other times it is just not worth it.

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Here is a summery flavored side salad or main dish that works well in the summer heat and can be changed to suit your tastes too. You can skip the cooked veggies and throw in raw ones instead (cucumbers, red peppers, shredded carrots) and you can even try quinoa instead of couscous. If your garden has overgrown with fresh basil, make your own pesto! If you just want dinner in 10 minutes, use the store bought kind or the batch you saved in the freezer from last month. If nothing else this simple recipe can be a go-to when you are out of ideas and out of time. Throw in some leftover chicken (or even store-bought rotisserie chicken) and you’ve got a meal. You’re welcome. (Another cookbook checked off the list! By the way, this cookbook was first published in 1977 so if it looks a little old fashioned, that’s why.)

IMG_1564IMG_1566Pesto Couscous Summer Salad

from Betty Crocker’s Cook it Quick!

1 cup uncooked couscous

1 T. olive oil or vegetable oil

1 medium zucchini, cut into 1/4 inch slices

1 medium yellow squash, cut into 1/4 inch slices

1 red bell pepper, cut into 1 inch pieces

1 container (7 oz.) pesto (homemade or store-bought)

2 T. balsamic or cider vinegar

Cook couscous according to package – for 1 cup you will boil 1+1/4 cup water, remove from heat, add couscous, cover and let absorb the water (off heat!) for 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork immediately and set aside.

Meanwhile heat oil in a 10-inch skillet over medium high heat. Add zucchini, squash, and red pepper and cook about 5 minutes or until crisp-tender.***

Toss couscous, vegetables, pesto, and vinegar in a large bowl. Serve warm or cool.

***Alternative method: Now I don’t know about you, but when I try and saute a large amount of vegetables in a 10 inch skillet for 5 minutes until “crisp-tender” I end up with somewhat softened vegetables and maybe a little browning. I found that this amount of time and vegetables in this size pan leaves no room for crisp or tenderness and even leaves some of the veggies raw from not enough heat exposure. If you don’t mind running the oven I recommend roasting the veggies, well spread out on a sheet pan or two. It does not require as much stirring, and you can walk away from the hot oven for at least a little bit of time while they cook. Cut the veggies into sticks, cubes, or slices (so long as they are all even-ish in size), toss with oil, salt, and pepper and spread out on parchment lined sheet pan. Roast at 425 degrees, stirring once toward the end until they are lightly browned and beginning to caramelize.

IMG_1553IMG_1555Mmm tasting looking veggies.IMG_0890Throw these in with your couscous and pesto or serve on the side of your main dish as veggie “fries.” They are addictive and delicious. Happy almost summer!