Friday, August 31, 2012

Confetti Rice and Bean Salad

I never fail to get a slight sense of panic when I'm in need of a side dish for company or a pot-luck.
A side dish that isn't dessert. (I always have endless ideas for dessert. Bet you'd never guess that about me.)
A side dish that isn't just steamed or sauteed vegetables.

This "salad" is a great option that will nicely accompany different meats or kinds of meals.  It's super easy to throw together and doesn't have any fancy ingredients that I don't normally have on hand.
Okay, I did actually purchase red wine vinegar for this recipe - don't use that one much - but it was cheap and I don't mind having it around.
And I never have cilantro on hand because my dear husband is convinced it's of the devil.

Anyhow, I thought it was really good served chilled, but the rest of my family actually preferred it warm.  Bonus - if you top it with a little cheese, you have a great dip for tortilla chips.

I love dishes that are versatile and can be served warm or cool.  Options are always nice.

Confetti Rice and Bean Salad (adapted from Mel's Kitchen Cafe)

Note: I used brown rice - but you could use wild rice or white rice with equally good results.  Just cook according to the package directions.  

3 cups cooked rice, cooled to room temperature (see note)
1 (15 oz) can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 (15 oz) can black beans, rinsed and drained
1-1/2 cups frozen corn, thawed (or the same amount fresh corn kernels)
4 green onions, white and green parts thinly sliced
1 red pepper, seeded, cored, and diced
1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro (I omitted)

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 T. sugar
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. chili powder
1/4 tsp. black pepper

In a large bowl, combine all of the salad ingredients and toss.  In a small bowl, whisk together the dressing ingredients and pour over the salad.  Toss to coat.  Chill the salad for at least 2  hours before serving to let the flavors blend.

Linked to Finding Joy in my Kitchen

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Double Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies

Some friends from church just had their first baby last Sunday.  A darling baby girl named Eleanor Elizabeth.  Isn't that a sweet name??
I made dinner for them yesterday - and while I was cooking, I couldn't stop thinking about when I gave birth to Corban.  Having a baby is nothing short of miraculous whether it's your first or fifth, but that firstborn is something extra special.  Everything is so new, you have no idea what you've gotten in to, and the complete awe you have of that tiny human being that you are solely responsible for....well, it's pretty much indescribable.

I remember the day we brought Corban home from the hospital - we were so excited to just get home  We placed him in his car seat carefully on the floor of our tiny living room and then....panic struck
Oh. My. Goodness. We were alone with this helpless infant and he was ours to care for.  There were no nurses to call for help, no pediatrician just on the floor below; no, it was all on us.  My milk hadn't come in yet, I refused to give him formula/bottles, and he was dependent on me for everything.  I think I might have definitely cried.

But we made it.  Heavens, the boy has feet as long as mine now and he's not even 9 years old yet.  (I wear size 8.5).  And we've had 4 more babies and somehow we've taken care of all of them!  I know that sounds a little silly, but hey, this whole parenting thing can be ridiculously overwhelming sometimes. 
But mind-blowingly rewarding, too. 

These cookies are rewarding, as well.  (not as much as children, but that goes without saying.)

I had great expectations for them - how could you not when chocolate and peanut butter are involved?  And I have to say, they did not disappoint.  In fact, they just might be one of my favorite cookies ever.  Big words, I know.  Would it help if I admitted that I ate 5 of them yesterday?  I don't know when I've had such little self control with cookies.

I modified the original by using freshly ground whole wheat flour, substituting some brown sugar for part of the white, and adding the Reese's mini pieces instead of more chocolate chips.  Truthfully, you could totally add chopped up peanut butter cups, peanut butter chips, white chocolate chips, or pretty much any other little goodie you want and they'd be delicious.

Soft and slightly chewy, bursting with chocolate flavor, the peanut butter slightly in the background but still definitely present, and the lovely morsels adding texture and goodness, well, I just bet you'd love them too.

Double Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies
(adapted from the Girl Who Ate Everything)
Yield: about 65 cookies (Recipe can be halved)

3 cups white whole wheat flour (or all-purpose)
1 cup cocoa
1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter, softened
2 cups sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup creamy peanut butter
4 eggs
2 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup Reese's mini pieces

  • Preheat oven to 350°. Prepare baking sheets by lining with silicone baking mats or parchment paper.
  • In a small bowl, mix flour, cocoa, soda and salt using a wire whisk and set aside.
  • In another bowl, cream butter, sugar, brown sugar and peanut butter until light and fluffy.
  • Add eggs and vanilla and mix until combined.
  • Add flour mixture to creamed mixture and mix until combined.
  • Stir in chocolate chips and Reese's mini pieces.
  • Use a medium cookie scoop to form balls of dough (or use a rounded Tablespoon of dough)
  • Place on prepared cookie sheets. Bake for 10 minutes. Cookies will still be soft but will set up after cooling. Place cookies on wire rack to cool.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Chewy M&M Sugar Cookies

We have had visits from both sets of grandparents this summer and I have yet to blog about it.
(I'll get to it, I promise!)

I have 3 loads of clean laundry that are waiting in various places to be folded and put away.

Annika's 5th birthday is coming up in a couple of weeks and I need to figure out her birthday party...everything about it.  Oh, and maybe get her some presents. I do have a dress for her, bought from Land's End....super cute.  But I have a feeling she'd like something else also.

But these cookies are begging to be shared, so here we are.

They're a bit unconventional, with melted butter and oil taking the place of the usual softened butter called for in cookies.  And there's a little cream cheese in there, too.

The end result is a delightfully chewy sugar cookie with the pleasant crunch of chocolate candies - and I have to admit, just seeing M&Ms in cookies makes me happy.  That being said, I could totally enjoy these without the M&Ms.....maybe jazzed up a bit with some almond or lemon extract.

The doubled batch I made disappeared in a hurry at the church dinner we attended this week....and I'm assuming everyone liked them.

We sure did.

Chewy M&M Sugar Cookies (from Tracey's Culinary Adventures)
Yield: approximately 26 cookies

Note: Cookies will be thicker and (in my opinion) better if you let the dough chill for a few hours, or even overnight, before rolling into balls and baking.  Not required, but definitely great if you have the time. 

2-1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 cups sugar, plus 1/3 cup for rolling
2 oz cream cheese
, cut into 8 pieces
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and still warm
1/3 cup oil (I used expeller pressed coconut oil - canola would also work)
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 tablespoon milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 (heaping) cup M&M's

Preheat oven to 350 F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or Silpat liners.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Combine 1-1/2 cups of sugar and cream cheese in a large bowl (no need to stir them together yet). Put the remaining 1/3 cup sugar in a bowl and set aside. Pour the warm butter over the cream cheese mixture and whisk to combine - the mixture won't be completely smooth yet, that's fine. Whisk in the oil then the egg, milk and vanilla extract. Mix until smooth. Use a rubber spatula to start folding the dry ingredients into the wet. When the dry ingredients are partially incorporated, add 3/4 cup of the M&M's to the dough. Continue mixing until a soft dough comes together. (Don't wait to add the M&M's until the dry ingredients are completely
incorporated - you'll end up overmixing.)

Using a medium cookie scoop, measure out even balls of dough and drop directly into the bowl of sugar.  Roll around to coat completely, then place on baking sheet.
Gently press 2 or 3 more M&M's into the top of each cookie.

Bake the cookies, 1 tray at a time, for about 11 minutes, or until the edges are set. The tops will be puffy and slightly cracked. Transfer the baking sheet to a wire rack and let the cookies cool on the sheet for 5 minutes then transfer them to the rack to cool completely.

Photo Tip for other amateurs like me: (more experienced people - don't laugh.)

I just bought a white foam board and some white poster boards last week for helping my photos turn out better.
Here is an example of how I used one:

It was overcast and starting to rain when I had the chance to take the photos.  I set up next to our dining room window, which has the best natural light in our house (still isn't great, mind you.....despite all the many windows we have, none of them are ideal for food pictures).  The light was coming from the left.

The picture on the left was how all of my first attempts were turning out.  Not bad, I thought.
Then I remembered the reflecting abilities of the white board...and had Corban hold one up to the right of the cookies.  You can see how the shadows on the right side of the cookies goes away in the right photo.
No flash, nothing else extra....just the white poster board.  Reflecting lousy light from the window.  Cool, huh?

Now I'm gonna go tackle that laundry.  Wish me luck.

Linked to Trick or Treat Tuesday and Crazy Sweet Tuesday

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Fruit Salsa with Cinnamon Chips

My favorite part about summer is the fresh fruits and veggies. 
I'm ambivalent about the beach (gasps of disbelief from some of you, I know, I know)......
I detest mosquitos, and don't even get me started on the heat and humidity. 
I am not a summer gal.
But I do have a tremendous appreciation for the produce. 

Unfortunately for us, our garden has flopped miserably this year - we did get a few meals worth of green beans and my basil plant is fine, but the tomatoes just didn't work out. Sooooo sad.  Fresh from the garden tomatoes are my favorite. 

I love the abundance of inexpensive strawberries throughout the summer, also.....and decided to take advantage of them last week by making this fruit salsa.  I made it several years ago and just adored it.....and for some unknown reason, hadn't made it since.  How silly of me.

The original recipe calls for raspberries, but they're on the pricey side, so I skipped them.  You could certainly add diced mango or peaches also.....I'm sure those would be delicious.

As is, though, it is such a treat.  And the tortilla chips are a completely addicting snack on their own, crispy and sweet and very similar to Stacy's Cinnamon Sugar Pita Chips, but a whole lot cheaper.

And when you scoop up some of the fresh fruit salsa on one of those chips, it's just a party in your mouth.
Love it.

Fruit Salsa with Cinnamon Chips (adapted from Allrecipes)

2 kiwis, peeled and diced
1 Gala apple, diced
1 pound strawberries, stemmed and chopped finely
2 tablespoons fruit-only raspberry preserves (or other desired flavor) 

10 (10 inch) flour tortillas
butter flavored cooking spray
1 cup sugar
2 tsp. cinnamon

In a large bowl, thoroughly mix kiwis, apple, and strawberries. In a microwave-safe bowl, heat fruit preserves until melted, about 20 seconds. Gently stir into fruit to coat evenly.  Cover and chill in the refrigerator at least 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350° F (175 degrees C).
Coat both sides of each flour tortilla with butter flavored cooking spray. (or you can spread with a very thin layer of butter if you prefer).  Cut into wedges. I just stacked the tortillas on top of each other and cut them into 8ths all at once.
Combine the sugar and cinnamon in a pie plate or large bowl.
Dredge the tortilla wedges in the cinnamon-sugar, coating both sides. Arrange in a single layer on a large baking sheet. Bake in the preheated oven 8 to 10 minutes.
Repeat with any remaining tortilla wedges. Allow to cool approximately 15 minutes. Serve with chilled fruit mixture.

Linked to Crazy Sweet Tuesday and Trick or Treat Tuesday

Monday, August 6, 2012

Back to School Cake

Today was our first day of school....and I decided to start a little tradition.

Cake for breakfast! 

Oh, I know I've served cake for breakfast before, with our Breakfast Cake or Blueberry Breakfast Cake -
but this now, real chocolate cake with buttercream frosting...I've never gone that far.

I baked the cake from scratch from start to finish yesterday afternoon while the entire family was watching Olympics on the telly....and much to my surprise, not a single person realized that I was doing it. 

We have a very open floor plan, with the kitchen, dining area, and living room all in one big space.  I was watching stuff with them while working.  

How did they not smell it, at the very least?

I have no idea.

The funny thing was,
after the kids went to bed last night and I started to make the frosting to decorate it, Grant asks, "Where did that cake come from?"

Anyways, I was really happy about their lack of observation, because it made the surprise this morning that much better.   

I started out with a 13x9" chocolate cake (Hershey's Deep Dark Chocolate Cake),
which was obviously cooled.  Wish I had had time to freeze it so it wouldn't be quite so crumby for frosting, but oh, well.

Then I made a batch of Buttercream -
2 sticks of room temp. butter
1/4 cup shortening
4 cups powdered sugar
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2-3 T. cream or milk

I had a little less frosting than I would have preferred, very nearly ran out when I was piping, in fact, so I would recommend using at least 1-1/2 times that much, if you want to have larger borders.

I just used some storebought piping gel for the letters, paper "holes" and apple.
(oh, and in case you don't know, CMAEM is the first initials of all the kids.)

The cake was a HUGE hit and so much fun.....and made the start of school definitely a celebration, which is always a good thing.

Linked to Trick or Treat Tuesday

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Cake that Almost Wasn't

I wish that everything that came out of my kitchen looked as good as this......

Or these.......

Or this.

But that's just not always the case.

Ta da!  

I present to you the cake I made to celebrate my dad's birthday.

I thought about giving my 6-year old the credit for that beauty......

but no, it was all my doing.

See, it was supposed to turn out like this.  Raspberry Chocolate Cake.   It's what Dad picked.  
A lovely, delicious cake.

Except that due to a significant error, it went so. so. wrong.

See, the filling involves cooking some flour and milk on the stovetop until it's thick, and then letting it cool before mixing it in with butter and powdered sugar. 

I got all in a hurry and mixed it in while it was still warm. 

As I was putting the top layer of cake on, I noticed that the bottom layer of filling was oozing out.  Big time.

I kept scraping it up and trying to shove it back no avail.  Then the second layer started oozing.  

Oh boy.

I ended up taking the cake apart, scraping off the filling, adding some more powdered sugar, and chilling it for at least an hour to help it firm up.

Then I assembled the cake again.....but it just kept happening.  Somewhere in there, the notion popped into my head that if I could just get the frosting on, it would "seal in" the filling  So I whipped up the frosting and hurriedly scooped it on there.

But the cake layers just kept sliding, the filling was continually oozing, and it was getting messier by the second.  

It gets even worse.

I remembered the trick of using drinking straws (cut) to hold cake layers together, so I stuck a couple of those in the cake also, in the vain hope that the layers would


And as the cake split around the straws, it made a gigantic crater.  Grand Canyon Cake, as Grant called it.

With no idea what to do next, I just put the cake dome over it all and refrigerated it for a couple of hours, knowing that at least with the dome on there, the cake couldn't slide off the cake stand.

So when it came time to serve the cake and I removed the dome, of course the side that had slid over was completely stuck to the glass and there was no way to avoid taking a huge chunk out of the side of the cake.  


Thankfully, my dad is a great sport and thoroughly enjoyed the mess of a cake anyways. 

 It did taste good.

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