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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Chicken Orzo Salad with Goat Cheese

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Most of the time when I eat pasta, it's more about the other ingredients (and the sauce!) than the pasta, which is why large pieces of noodle can irritate me. Give me more of the other stuff! (The exception being this pasta dish with fresh pappardelle--YUM!) Perhaps that's why I like orzo so much. It's teeny tiny pasta, so you get your carby goodness but it doesn't overtake the rest of the dish.
I made this when I had a few girlfriends over for dinner and it was the perfect spring meal, which we enjoyed with Alexia rolls and finished up with our favorite Ted Drewes for dessert! You could easily remove the chicken and serve it as a side dish. It'd be a great accompaniment to a summer picnic or chicken fresh off the grill.

One Year Ago: Citrus Almond Salad
Two Years Ago: Best of 2011: Bahn Mi So
Three Years Ago: Peanut Butter Cup Brownies

Monday, April 29, 2013

Finding Time in 2013: Cream Puffs

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 If you've grown up in Wisconsin, you're very familiar with the infamous cream puffs sold each year at the State Fair. The cows and the rides and the concerts are there every year, but I'm convinced it's the cream puffs that draw the crowds. The cream puffs there are the size of your face but that doesn't stop anyone from finishing every last bite.
I haven't lived in Wisconsin since I was twelve and I haven't been to the Wisconsin State Fair for a few years before that, but I still haven't forgotten those cream puffs. I've always been under the impression that they're difficult to make, requiring both homemade pastry cream and the perfectly light shell. Thus, they seemed like the perfect thing to attempt for my Finding Time in 2013 challenge.
Unbeknownst to me, cream puffs aren't actually all that difficult and I didn't need to set aside an entire day to make them like I had originally expected. I made both the pastry cream and the pate a choux a day ahead of time but then filled them just before serving. (Note--they did keep well in the fridge for a few days filled but were best the day I filled them) My original intention was to pipe the filling into each shell but my pastry tips have gone missing so instead I sliced them in half and added a large dollop of filling to each. A drizzle of chocolate finished them off and while they were miniature compared to the Wisconsin State Fair's version, one bite in and I was reminded of my childhood.

One Year Ago: Recipe Ideas for Cinco de Mayo
Two Years Ago: Curried Sweet Potato Chickpea Burgers
Three Years Ago: Baked Eggs in Potato Skins

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Austin Eats

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Ryan and I recently spent a few days in Texas, first in Austin and then in San Antonio. Like I do on most of our travels, I want to recap where we ate and a bit about what we did, both for memory's sake and in case any of you find yourselves in that neck of the woods anytime soon! I'm talking about Austin today and I'll be back next Sunday with San Antonio.

This was my first time to Austin, although Ryan had been a few times in high school when he used to visit his aunt and uncle there. I was pleasantly surprised to find it reminded me a lot of Nashville, one of my favorite cities. Austin has a very low-key, casual vibe, with an obvious focus on the music scene as well as the food scene! A special thanks to those of you who made recommendations for our time in Austin--we could've spent many more days there exploring all it had to offer!

If you have no interest in Austin, come back tomorrow for a recipe. Everyone else...bear with me...we did a lot of eating! Also--most of the pics are via my iPhone (you may recognize some from my instagram)-we got tired of lugging around the DSLR!)

Where We Ate:

La CondesaWe arrived in Austin just in time for Happy Hour and were pumped to discover that La Condesa had half off drinks. Even better, the cocktails were super creative and much as I love a regular margarita, I couldn't resist the spicy paloma which features tequila, ginger liqueur, and grapefruit! Ryan's drinks were equally inventive, one with tobacco-infused tequila and another flavored with fresh corn! Because HH was only honored in the bar area, we awkwardly stood around for awhile, holding our drinks and scoping out the little plates of tacos and nachos being delivered around us. When we finally nabbed a table, we ordered some of their guacamole with chipotle peppers and slivered almonds, which made for a smoky, crunchy guac that we had no problem polishing off.

ChilantroNeither of us were starving for dinner after filling up on drinks and guac, so we decided to check out one of Austin's food trucks. Chilantro is a Korean-Mexican fusion truck whose menu includes a variety of burritos, rice bowls, and their infamous kimchi fries. We waited amongst a group of college kids (the truck was parked near UT) and split a pork rice bowl that was super spicy.
Adding the fried egg on top was definitely a good decision!

LickYou can always count on Ryan and I taking advantage of the local ice cream scene wherever we travel and Austin was no exception. This little ice-cream shop was a few miles away from downtown, but worth the short car ride. I'm surprised we didn't go back again because there were so many insanely creative flavors and we were blown away by how light and fresh they all were. Each small included 2 flavors so Ryan tried the goat cheese, thyme, and honey (sooo good!) along with a seasonal flavor that featured coconut milk, peanut butter, and chocolate. For whatever reason, their strawberries and cream stood out to me and in an unprecedented move, I went for something pretty basic! Boring, it was not, however, and it was a good match (the worker even told me it was her favorite pairing!) for my second flavor: chocolate pecan with buttered caramel. My ice cream making wheels are definitely turning...

Walton's Fancy and StapleI've loved Sandra Bullock since her Miss Congeniality days and I was eager to check out her deli. The look and feel of it reminded me of a smaller version of Winslow's Home, here in St. Louis. Although there was no Sandra sighting, we did take some time to ogle all of the baked goods in the display case and I'm still regretting not leaving with a cookie or two. We popped in around 10:30 and Ryan got the challah french toast which was made with the syrup lover in mind--this was borderline dessert for breakfast! Nothing on the breakfast menu jumped out at me so I stuck to lunch and had a sandwich with shaved turkey, bacon, caramelized onion, apple, and white cheddar. Look for something similar on The Sweets Life soon! The best part was definitely the whole grain bread, which was by far the softest wheat bread I've ever tasted.

Whole FoodsThough we didn't eat a real meal here, the flagship store deserves a mention as it was undoubtedly the largest and most impressive Whole Foods I've ever seen. We couldn't resist walking through (and, confession, trying a number of the bread samples) for a quick ogle. Better yet, there was a mango competition going on in the entryway and you better believe we dutifully tasted and voted for our favorite (the mango gazpacho!).

Daily JuiceMuch as we're all about splurging while on vacation, we tried to sneak some healthy eats in there too! We intended to stop in for some fresh fruit/veggie juices but ended up with smoothies. While I don't remember the specifics, I know that mine was very green and sweet, while Ryan's was red and earthy (heavy on the beets!).

Eastside CafeThis house-turned-restaurant is a little off the beaten path over in East Austin, but it was bustling on a Saturday evening. We were a little disappointed to be sitting in the extra addition in the back, rather than the main house which was so cute, but our awesome meal and personable server more than made up for it. We started with their cornbread muffins and a beet salad, both of which exuded the homey, comforting feel of the place. Ryan had the (super creamy and rich!) smoked salmon ravioli for dinner and I tried the wild mushroom crepes. My crepes were also stuffed with walnuts and ricotta, all covered in a roasted tomato sauce. It was one of those dishes that I never would've put together on my own but it worked together wonderfully!

PecheI let the cocktail king himself decide where we'd go for drinks and after strolling by a few different places, he finally settled on this cocktail bar and restaurant. I wished I was hungry because the menu was pretty creative, but we instead cozied up to the very impressive-looking bar and had a great night watching the bartenders work their magic. Peche features per-prohibition style cocktails, which match their tagline "We are the reason prohibition was repealed!". We fell in love with a new-to-us liqueur: Amaro Nonino, which I can't really describe except to say it went perfectly with their housemade ginger beer and grapefruit juice. :) Ryan's two drinks also included it and we left that evening with plans to pick up a bottle for our own bar at home! At $12-13/cocktail, the place isn't cheap, but the atmosphere and look of the place, not to mention the drinks, make the splurge worthwhile!

Once Over Coffee BarWe stopped here on the way out of town so Ryan could sample the infamous locally roasted Cuvee Coffee. The food selection was meager so I kept Ryan company on the back patio while he enjoyed his Americano and a carrot bran muffin. This is definitely a coffee shop for coffee snobs--no frou frou drinks here!

Juicebox/Soup Peddler: Since I passed on coffee and baked goods at the coffee shop, we made a quick stop here before hitting the road for San Antonio. The place is literally just a walk-up window in the middle of a kind of dingy-looking strip mall. Based on the number of people that stopped by in the fifteen minutes we were there, it's clearly popular! I was craving another green smoothie and settled on one that featured spinach, broccoli, banana, peanut butter, and coconut milk. Honestly, you couldn't taste anything but the peanut butter which was a-okay with me. It's kind of ridiculous how much we were shelling out on smoothies I can make at home, but now I have a new flavor combination to give a try. (Also, really wish we could've stayed for lunch. The soups they were making smelled SO good!)

What We Did:
Besides eating and drinking, we did a lot of walking around downtown Austin. One of our favorite things to do on vacation is to just peruse the area by foot and take in the sights. However, we did do a few more 'touristy' things that deserve a mention.

Visited the capitol building--The building is beautiful, especially when lit up at night. We decided to venture on in Saturday afternoon. There were a few tours going on but we opted to quickly check it out on our own...it's probably a lot more interesting for native Texans, but I always love to see where the bodies of government sit and work!

Checked out the farmer's market--We happened by this after breakfast on Saturday and couldn't resist walking through. There were probably as many vendors selling baked goods, juices, soaps, etc. as there were selling fresh produce and it was fun to see what they all had to offer. The highlight was the vendor selling homemade kombucha (via keg!) that we sampled several times!

Rented bicycles--We rented bikes from Barton Springs Bike Rentals. The prices were reasonable and we had fun leisurely biking around the river for a couple of hours. The trails were flat and easy to ride on, though fairly crowded with other bikers and runners/walkers. 

Mt. Bonnell--We thought this would be a bit more of a hike to get to the highest point in Austin, but it was really more of a steep staircase and then a lookout point. Oh well! It did have a beautiful view of the river and Austin from a distance!

People Watching--I seriously did some amazing people watching in Austin. I don't know if I just got lucky or if Austin is full of unique and interesting people, but this nosy girl was pleased as punch to sit back and observe! :)

One Year Ago: Thin Mint Brownies
Two Years Ago: Chicken Paninis with Black Bean Salsa
Three Years Ago: Strawberry Banana Bread

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Odds & Ends

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1. I was recently introduced to Darling Magazine, which is both a print magazine as well as a blog. I've been working my way through the archives and several posts have really jumped out at me, so you might see more Darling links in upcoming Odds & Ends posts. Today you should read this one: You Are Enough, which also fits in nicely with the sermon our pastor recently did on Comparison.

2. Cooking Light is hosting "The Great American Healthy Lunchbox Challenge". Basically, they're picking 10 finalists, who enter a picture and description of their healthy lunch, to win $100, be featured in an upcoming issue of the magazine, and receive a Cooking Light cookbook. You don't have to be a blogger to enter! (P.S. I entered my Shredded Vegetable Detox Salad, pictured above!)
3. Have you heard of Daphne Oz? I hadn't until recently, when I was sent a copy of her book Relish which is part cookbook, part memoir, and part how to throw parties/decorate/live life to the fullest (my own made-up category, obviously). I've been working my way through the chapters but have already flipped through each of the recipes and have fallen in love with the gorgeous photos and her creative, but simple recipes. I highly recommend picking up a copy for yourself...it would also make a great gift!

4. Blog reader Jennifer made my fudgy cosmic brownies and said, "I made these last night and they are delicious! I have to admit I was skeptical of only baking then for 18 minutes, but they turned out perfect. Not exactly like Little Debbie brownies - waaaay better! Thanks for the recipe." Did you hear that? Better than your favorite Little Debbie brownies. Make these!!

One Year Ago: Slow Cooker Whiskey Pulled Pork
Two Years Ago: (Almost) No Bake Nutella Pie with Peanut Butter Crust
Three Years Ago: Oven Baked Potato Chips

Friday, April 26, 2013

Carrot Bread or Carrot Muffins

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 A few weeks ago I came home from the grocery store with lots of extra carrots. I was craving carrot cake, but didn’t have the time to make and frost a layer cake, nor did Ryan and I need a giant cake sitting around. Instead, I decided to fulfill my craving in a slightly healthier way—via carrot bread and muffins.
I used the same recipe for both and baked them in the different pans to see which we liked better. While we liked both (enough to finish everything in record time!), the muffins were the clear winner. I’m not sure if I baked the bread a few minutes too long or if the smaller size of the muffins yielded a moister muffin, but if you’re trying to decide, I vote muffin!
There’s no trying to hide the vegetables in these, as the shreds of carrot are visible with each bite. Carrots are a naturally sweet vegetable meaning these didn’t need a ton of additional sugar included. I kept them pretty plain but they’d be good with shredded coconut or chopped nuts mixed into the batter as well. If you really wanted to, you could top them with cream cheese frosting and find yourself with a much lighter carrot cake than most recipes!

One Year Ago: Salty Chocolate Peanut Butter Bars
Two Years Ago: Chili Glazed Pork with Sweet Potato Hash
Three Years Ago: Caprese Sandwiches

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Southwestern Lentil and Rice Stuffed Peppers

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Why have we never eaten stuffed peppers before? I've seen all sorts of versions out there, both on the web and in magazines, but have for whatever reason never gone ahead and made them. This particular recipe is one I pulled out of Real Simple, but instead of stuffing them with beef, I kept the same flavor profile but we used lentils instead, making them healthier but still hearty!
Ryan actually put this recipe together--the only thing I did was add the finishing touches: salsa, sour cream, and green onions! He once again receives a gold star for taking care of dinner while I continue to knock out my LAST paper of my LAST class EVER.
Our peppers had a bit more heat than Real Simple's, thanks to the addition of some chili powder and half of a jalapeƱo. Feel free to spice yours according to your preference! These would also be good with black or kidney beans, ground turkey, or quinoa. Play around with your favorite Mexican-inspired ingredients! Just make these, and soon!

One Year Ago: Arugula Salad with Browned Butter Vinaigrette
Two Years Ago: Breakfast Tortilla Strata
Three Years Ago: Whole Wheat Baguettes

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Green Salad with Honey Lemon Vinaigrette

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This is the perfect spring salad. Are you making Mother's Day lunch or dinner? You should consider adding this to your menu! My grandma made it for our Easter lunch and I hadn't even cleaned my plate before I asked where she got the recipe.
What I liked about this is that it's so different than most salads I made, which include some sort of dried fruit, cheese, and nuts. This features peas and radishes, two very springlike ingredients, along with a whole bunch of chopped dill. If you don't like dill you can easily omit, but again, I liked it for helping set this salad apart as something special. The original recipe didn't include any cheese but my grandma wisely added crumbled goat cheese to hers, and I of course did the same to mine!

One Year Ago: Turkey Burger Sliders

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Monster Cookies

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 As I’ve mentioned before, I bake “treats” each week for the community group that Ryan and I host at our house. It’s something I genuinely love to do each week, so I almost turned my friend Sarah down when she offered to bring something one week…that is, until Ryan finished off the cookies I planned to serve and I was suddenly without dessert the morning of community groups (in his defense, those cookies are really good and he didn’t realize they were going to be served at community groups!).

Sarah brought these monster cookies over and I held her hostage that night until she promised to share the recipe. I’ve had a lot of monster cookies, even making my own a few years ago, but these were far and above my favorite of any monster cookie I’d ever had before. She’d combined two other monster cookie recipes to come up with this version and thankfully remembered it well enough to email it the next morning.
I followed her recipe exactly, even using quick oats instead of old-fashioned, which are my standby in all cookies featuring oatmeal (thanks Michelle for the oats!). I couldn’t wait to share the finished product with my family over Easter, until my sister Renatta forgot to grab the container of them when leaving our house to hit the road. Our family gave her a hard time all weekend, blaming her for “ruining Easter”, but Ryan and I weren’t too disappointed that we didn’t have to share the remaining cookies!

If you haven’t yet tried monster cookies, now’s your chance. These were thick, chewy, and heavily studded with M&Ms and chocolate chips. I’m pretty sure these will be your new favorite cookie…

One Year Ago: Brownie Macadamia White Chocolate Cookies
Two Years Ago: Mini Truffle Tarts
Three Years Ago: Ranoush Restaurant Review

Monday, April 22, 2013

Avocado Egg Salad

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I’d seen tons of different avocado egg salads around the Internet and the idea intrigued me. I’ve never had egg salad—always opting for tuna or chicken salad if given the choice—but given my love for both avocados and eggs, it seemed inevitable that I give it a try.

 The opportunity arose after my sister Julia, friend Kacey, and I dyed Easter eggs last month. My decorated eggs were nothing to write home about, but this egg salad definitely was! I kept things super basic, mixing a few hard-boiled eggs with diced avocado, chopped bell pepper, and a heavy sprinkle of freshly ground pepper and sea salt. Served atop toasted sourdough bread, this meal couldn’t have been easier. Ryan and I both loved it, so much so that our dinner conversation largely revolved around how much we love avocados (and consequently avocado egg salad). Something tells me I won’t be waiting until next year’s Easter egg dyeing to make this again!

One Year Ago: Recipes for National Pecan Month
Two Years Ago: Open-Faced Teriyaki Chicken Burgers
Three Years Ago: Pasta and Shrimp Primavera

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Onion Focaccia

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I thought this recipe from Everyday Food was interesting, in that it used pizza dough as the base of a red onion focaccia. I almost always have both pizza dough and red onions on hand, so this was an easy bread to put together one evening after work.
My problem? I forgot that even though it was pizza dough I wasn’t supposed to treat it like pizza! I probably used closer to one lb pizza dough vs. the two the recipe called for and then found myself rolling it too thin. This is why what you see looks more like pizza than focaccia. Whatever you want to call it, the end result was met with satisfaction. I’m pretty sure Ryan ate a quarter of it before we’d even sat down to dinner. Pizza, flatbread, focaccia…roll the dough as thinly as you please for the end result you’re looking for…I promise you won’t be disappointed in the finished product!
One Year Ago: Banana Nut Bread Waffles
Two Years Ago: Peanut Butter Milky Way Blondie Cups
Three Years Ago: Panzanella Caprese

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Odds & Ends

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1. Having just spent our Sunday morning two weeks ago cheering runners on at the finish line of the Go! St. Louis marathon and having run a marathon myself, I was both sickened and saddened by the events that transpired in Boston earlier this week and came to a dramatic conclusion last night. You obviously don't have to be a runner or associated with running to feel similarly. My uncle wrote a great post titled Boston Balloons that is a wonderful reminder of God's presence amidst tragedy, which there seems to be all too much of lately! I'm taking great comfort in these truths this week!

2. Guys I am NOT crafty. It's laughable, really, how terrible I am when it comes to crafting, especially since my mom and sister Julia are masters! But that wreath, pictured above? I made that. Julia helped a little bit, but for the most part that was all me. Allow me to brag for a minute because it's definitely the best craft I've ever completed!

3. I made these banana blueberry muffins back in 2010, but a recent comment reminded me that I need to remake them. That reader said, "Great recipe! I used frozen mixed berries and they turned out great! I also used greek no fat yogurt and added some flax seed. I was so thrilled with how they turned out!" 

4. I'm obsessed with Glee's version of FUN's Some Nights. I might watch this YouTube video a lot. I know this song is old news (it will forever remind me of Julia and Nate's wedding!), but I'm still not sick of it!

One Year Ago: Orange Sour Cream Muffins with Poppyseed Streusel
Two Years Ago: Open Faced Teriyaki Chicken Burgers
Three Years Ago: Pasta and Shrimp Primavera