Monday, February 27, 2012

Spinach Pesto Meatball Soup

I feel comfortable stating that this has been the best winter ever. For a girl that doesn’t like the cold and snow (but mostly the snow), the super warm and dry winter we’ve had has been heavenly for me. I don’t care if it snows a little in March (which it will), or even in April (which it could), because the snow won’t stick around long. Chances are high the temperatures will raise by the next day and the snow will be gone. The beauty of spring.

During a brief cold spell a few weeks ago, we made Spinach-Pesto Meatball Soup. We got this recipe from C’s mom. I don’t know where she found it, but it’s a family favorite. It’s very easy and extremely hearty. We usually make this a few times throughout winter. I’d probably make it at least once more this season if it weren’t for our meat-free Lent.

Spinach-Pesto Meatball Soup

1 16 oz pkg frozen Italian meatballs
2 14-1/2 oz cans diced tomatoes with Italian herbs
1 15 oz can cannellini beans
½ cup water
¼ cup reduced fat basil pesto
1 small can of tomato sauce
2 cups baby spinach (we have used frozen chopped spinach a few times which is good too. Just add it from the beginning so it thaws and heats through)
¼ cup shredded Parmesan cheese plus a little extra to sprinkle on top

Combine meatballs, diced tomatoes, cannellini beans, water, pesto and tomato sauce. (also go ahead and add the spinach if using frozen) Bring to a boil, cover and simmer for about 30 minutes. If you’re in a hurry, you can let this simmer for less time, just make sure the meatballs are thawed and heated through. Stir in baby spinach (if using fresh) and the shredded Parmesan cheese. Let heat for another minute or two to let the cheese melt and the spinach wilt a little. Ladle into bowls and enjoy.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Sacrificing for Lent

Fat Tuesday is almost over and Ash Wednesday is tomorrow, kicking off the season of Lent. This is a time of sacrifice. A time to fast. I can't imagine doing an actual fast given my unending love for food, but ever since I was a child, I was encouraged to pick one item to "fast" from during Lent. As a kid, I almost always gave up soda or sweets. And I always failed. The first year I can remember successfully completing the whole Lenten season without cheating on my fast was my senior year of high school. I gave up soda that year. It sounds crazy now because I drink less than one soda a month on average, but back then, I was working at a law firm where a major part of my job was restocking the soda in the fridge. This was a trying time.

C can't really remember whether or not his church encouraged its congregation to give up something for Lent, but he and his family never really participated if they did. I believe he thought I was crazy the first year we were dating and I chose to give up chocolate for Lent. He wanted nothing to do with it, which was fine since we didn't live together. However, being the supportive husband he is, he chose to (or maybe I told him he was going to) participate in Lent last year. Together, we gave up chocolate and coffee. To put this into perspective, we eat at least a little piece of chocolate almost every day and I drink approximately 3 cups of coffee each morning on average. Lent was long last year. C doesn't really drink coffee, but he does enjoy the vending machine cappuccinos as well as coffee flavored things, like ice cream. For the purposes of Lent, we did not allow ourselves anything coffee flavored or made with espresso, so this made it a little difficult for C as well.

A few weeks ago, C and I were watching television and he turned to me and told me he had been thinking about Lent. This was shocking. This is the guy who thought I was crazy just 3 years ago for giving up something. What is even more shocking, is that C had decided that we should give up meat for Lent. Seriously? Who is this guy? Not only had he just thrown out an idea for Lent that wasn't a joke (last year he wanted to give up working out I believe) but he had suggested something that would truly be a sacrifice.

We have spent the last few weeks thinking and talking about this option, and have decided to give it a shot. I want to be clear. We are not trying to become vegetarians, vegans, or implement any other major lifestyle change. We are doing this solely for the purposes of Lent in the spirit of sacrifice. We have decided that we are still allowed to eat fish and seafood, but since I don't really care for fish or seafood much, these aren't things I cook. Basically this would only apply when we go out to eat, which is usually about once per week. Since we are not going vegan, we obviously are still eating eggs, cheese, milk, etc.

I'm excited for this challenge. I think it will be somewhat difficult to come up with dinner ideas other than pasta (we obviously don't want to gain weight due to this decision). We will definitely have to make sacrifices as we spend time with family and friends in the coming weeks, but I think we can be successful.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Quinoa Wraps

The days are too short. Work takes up too much of my day. But I have to work, so I guess there isn't much I can do about that. This is where easy, weeknight dinners become essential. Dinners that leave us with minimal dishes to do once it's all over are even better. For that reason, we make black bean burritos frequently in this house. They are made in one pan and take about 10 minutes.

Quinoa wraps are a similar concept. They take a little more effort than the burritos, but can easily be adapted for an easier weeknight meal by doing things like using canned corn. Plus they have quinoa in them. Quinoa makes me feel super healthy. It'll make you feel healthy too.

Quinoa Wraps
Source: unknown (I tried really hard to find this online again, but failed. It was not my intention to take credit for someone else's recipe, I promise.)

1 cup quinoa, rinsed well
2-2 ½ cup veggie broth
Pinch of salt
1 can black beans, warmed or cold
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 avocado, sliced
2 ears of corn, shucked (we used 1 small can of corn instead)
2 bell peppers, grilled and sliced into strips
2 whole wheat tortillas
Hot sauce, garnish

Heat broth and quinoa in a small saucepan until just boiling. Turn to low-medium and simmer for 20-25 minutes, or until tender and broth is absorbed.

Heat olive oil in a small skillet over medium heat, add the onion. Cook until browned and caramelized, about 10 minutes. We also cooked the corn with the onions since we used canned corn. Set aside.

If using ears of corn, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Place shucked corn on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil and toss to coat. Bake until just browning, about 7-10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

To assemble:
Slather chipotle sauce or salsa over the middle of tortilla. Scoop a heaping spoonful of black beans, quinoa, caramelized onions and corn. Place bell pepper strips over the top and finish with avocado slices. Roll, serve with hot sauce and enjoy!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Pinterest Recipe 2: Exactly 2 cupcakes

C and I don't really celebrate Valentine's Day much. We never have, even the first year we were dating. Fact: Our very first Valentine's Day was spent at a Mizzou basketball game with the rest of C's family, and then the evening was spent at my parents house, probably eating pizza or something and watching a movie.

Valentine's Day 2009

We really don't have a strong desire to fight crowds at fancy restaurants just because some holiday says we should have a nice dinner. We get each other cards, and maybe a small gift here and there (two years ago C bought 2 dozen cupcakes from Cupcake a'la Moda. Luckily we were spending that Valentine's weekend at my parents house again--it's a thing apparently--so we took them with us to share with the family). Even without a big celebration, I like to do a little something special to recognize the day. Baking is usually my thing. This year, I was so excited to find a recipe on Pinterest to make exactly 2 chocolate cupcakes. I frequently want to make cupcakes, but don't want the added temptation of having 1-2 dozen cupcakes laying around the house. I decided to give the recipe a try, and it did not disappoint.

These cupcakes came out moist and chocolaty. I didn't make the frosting in the recipe because I had some leftover chocolate frosting in my freezer from another baking expedition that I wanted to use up. Also, I let these bake about 5 minutes, and then dropped a Reese's heart in the center for a delicious peanut butter filling. I highly recommend this. Plus, look at the adorable heart on top of the cupcake!

So make a few cupcakes for you and your loved one and celebrate a nice quiet Valentine's Day at home. Or make two just for yourself. Either way, it'll be a good Valentine's Day.

Two (Exactly Two!) Chocolate Cupcakes
By Brett Bara

3 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons cocoa powder
1/8 teaspoon baking soda (just eyeball half of a quarter-teaspoon and it will be fine)
1/16 teaspoon salt (otherwise known as a pinch)
2 tablespoons cold water
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/16 teaspoon vanilla (ie, just a few drops)
1 tablespoon chocolate chips (optional)
Chocolate Frosting (mini recipe follows)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Whisk all the dry ingredients together in a small bowl. In a second small bowl or spouted measuring cup, combine the wet ingredients. Add the dry to the wet and stir till combined, whisking well. (I thought the batter seemed a little thick still and added just a splash more water and oil) Divide batter between two cupcake liners and sprinkle with chocolate chips. (I didn't use chocolate chips since I did the Reese's filling) Bake for 18 minutes or until a tester comes out clean. Allow to cool before frosting.

Chocolate Frosting For Two Cupcakes
By Brett Bara

1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon + 2 teaspoons cocoa powder
3 tablespoons confectioners sugar
1 teaspoon half and half or any milk/cream
dash of salt

Melt the butter in a small bowl. Add all the remaining ingredients to the butter and whisk to combine. Refrigerate for 10-15 minutes or until frosting is partially set. Whisk again then allow to rest at room temperature until cupcakes are cool enough to frost. (Start making the frosting as soon as the cupcakes go in the oven, so that it will be set and ready to go once the cupcakes are cool.)

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Cauliflower Soup!

I made up a recipe tonight and it was so good that I wanted to share it right away. Otherwise, I might forget, or get busy sharing other recipes, and the world (or my 13 followers) would never know how good cauliflower soup is. That would be a shame.

I've read a few different recipes for cauliflower soup so I created this one based on what I remembered reading. It was smooth and creamy and quite tasty. I will definitely make this again. Plus, I'm pretty sure it's super healthy. I mean, there's a whole head of cauliflower in this. How can it not be healthy?

Pureed Cauliflower Soup
makes 4 small bowls

1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 onion, coarsely chopped
1/2 leek, sliced thinly
1 head cauliflower, chopped coarsely
3 cups chicken broth

1. In a 4 quart pot or larger, saute the onion and leek in the olive oil for about 3 minutes. Add the cauliflower and cook another 3 minutes. Add the chicken broth and cook 10-15 minutes, until cauliflower is tender.
2. Use an immersion blender or a normal blender to puree until smooth. If you use a regular blender, blend about half the soup first and slowly add the remainder until all is blended. Be sure to hold the lid on with a towel to avoid any possible burns. (this has never happened to me but I read this warning on almost every recipe I read that involves blending hot foods, so I thought I would pass the warning along)

We topped ours with some leftover turkey bacon we had from last night's salad dinner. C said he would use the bacon again (shocking, I know) but I wouldn't. I felt like the texture of the turkey bacon distracted me from the creaminess of the soup.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Pinterest recipe 1: Chocolate Chip Cookies

Pinterest is full of thinspiration photos, homes that only the 1 percent can afford, and recipes for anything and everything stuffed inside a crescent roll. If you aren't on pinterest yet, and need an invitation, let me know.

Be warned: Pinterest is a timesuck. Way more so than facebook.

I have a board full of recipes I've found through other pinners and websites and am determined to work my way through them. Obviously it's best to start with the chocolate chip cookies, right? Also, I had an excuse to go to Whole Foods and buy fancy flour from the bulk bins. Life is better with fancy flour.

This recipe is huge. It makes a lot of cookies. Truth. I halved the recipe and it still made a lot of cookies. The recipe below is the original. I would definitely make these again with more chocolate. To be fair, I only used about a 1/2 pound of chocolate total, and the recipe (halved) called for a full pound. We just made a few cookies initially and froze the rest of the dough so we could have freshly baked cookies each night. The dough froze really well and baked nicely being pulled straight from the freezer.

Jacques Torres' Secret Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe
Makes twenty-six 5-inch cookies or 8 1/2 dozen 1 1/4 inch cookies

1 pound unsalted butter
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
2 1/4 cups packed light brown sugar
4 large eggs
3 cups plus 2 tablespoons pastry flour
3 cups bread flour
1 tablespoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
2 pounds bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper or nonstick baking mats; set aside.
2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter and
3. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition.
4. Reduce speed to low and add both flours, baking powder, baking soda, vanilla, and chocolate; mix until well combined.
5. Using a 4-ounce scoop for larger cookies or a 1-ounce scoop for smaller cookies, scoop cookie dough onto prepared baking sheets, about 2 inches apart.
6. Bake until lightly browned, but still soft, about 20 minutes for larger cookies and about 15 minutes for smaller cookies.
7. Cool slightly on baking sheets before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Boulevard Brewery Tour

Last weekend, C and I got to go on the Boulevard Brewery Tour with 6 of our friends. This is something we've been wanting to do for a really long time, but these tours book up fast. Finally, back in October, C got online and picked one of the first available dates. He reserved 8 spots and we told our friends to mark their calendars...3 months in advance. This helps build up excitement, right?
The group, minus C (he's behind the camera) at the Employee Bar

This is the third brewery tour I've been to. In 2006, I went on the Heineken tour in Amsterdam. I guess technically it's the "Heineken Experience" in the former brewery. There was still free beer and a lot of information about how the beer is made. I call it a brew tour. In 2009, C and I went on the Anheuser Busch tour in St. Louis. And now we can finally cross the Boulevard tour off our list. Seriously, this was on my 26 before 27 list! Which means, despite getting slightly drunk on the free beer after the tour followed by margaritas and a late lunch at Ponaks, I can actually call that afternoon productive. I crossed something off my list. Then I went home and took a nap.

Joel in the Barrel Room

Overall we really enjoyed the tour. The tour guides were volunteers, or at least that's what they told us. They seemed really informative and entertaining. It's amazing to hear all the cool green initiatives Boulevard has, as well as seeing how they've built their new facility for sustainability. They are a zero-landfill company, meaning they have no trash cans in the facility. The only trash cans are in the bathrooms. If you didn't know it already, Boulevard is also one of the partners in the purple Ripple Glass recycling bins you see around KC. So be sure to recycle all those great boulevard bottles (which are already made of recycled glass) at your nearest purple bin! And checkout the Boulevard Website to read more about their sustainability efforts.

Which brew tours do you recommend? All of them?

The start of our drunken Saturday afternoon. Each person gets this much for free!