Monday, April 7, 2014

Microwave Puppy Chow

Puppy chow, monkey munch, muddy buddies.  In case you have no idea what I'm talking about, puppy chow is a dessert made from peanut butter, chocolate and cereal. I thought puppy chow is the kind which uses Crispix cereal and monkey munch uses Chex, but then once I get to muddy buddies, I'm not sure there actually is a difference in the cereal you have to use. Call it what you like, just make sure it's delicious.

One of my mom's favorite treats is puppy chow (puppies > monkeys or buddies, whatever those are). Ever the chocolate and peanut butter lover, this has become one of my favorites, too. While it is fairly simple to make on the stovetop, sometimes I just want to make a single (still pretty big) serving for myself and make it quickly. Microwaves are so convenient, no?

Microwave Puppy Chow
makes one medium bowl all for yourself
or you can share. i guess.

1 tablespoon butter
3 tablespoons smooth peanut butter
dash of vanilla
1/4 cup cocoa powder
2 cups cereal*
1 cup powdered sugar

*I used Cheerios for this batch because it's the kind I had on hand, but I personally think Crispix or some cross-hatched cereal is best: it has hollows to keep extra melty chocolate peanut butter trapped inside. :)
In a microwave safe breakfast cereal-sized bowl, heat butter and peanut butter for about 30 seconds or until melted; do NOT overcook! Once out of the microwave, add vanilla and give it a quick stir to make sure everything is incorporated. Next add the cocoa powder, making sure to get out any small clumps of powder. You should have a really delicious and melty looking mixture, but it won't taste very sweet yet.

To this mix, add your cereal and mix until the cereal is completely coated, with no excess of melted chocolate or sad, undercoated cereal. Finally, add the powdered sugar and stir. I did this in two batches because I was stirring it in the bowl and wanted to minimize mess. You can add more or less powdered sugar depending on how sugary or chocolatey you want your puppy chow to be.

At this point, I think we've got ourselves all set up for a good Netflix night, but if you want to add peanuts or M&Ms, that would be a pretty swell idea. I'd advise adding any other ingredients before the powdered sugar so they stay stuck to the rest of the mixture. We don't need candy falling all over the place.


Monday, March 17, 2014

Irish Soda Bread

Peruse our kitchen shelves and you will find a notebook, with recipes handwritten by my mother in inside. The notebook is worn, stained in some places, indented from her firm handwriting, the pages hand numbered and covered in blue ink. Opening this notebook feels nostalgic. I trace her handwriting, which I always tried to copy when I was younger, and picture her carefully copying down each detail from the recipes she gathered over years. My eyes flit over the table of contents and I fondly remember No Bake Cookies (a well-loved page), ponder over why we've not made the Chocolate and Peanut Butter Cream Pie and wonder if I can ever read "Chile Rellanos" without pulling a sour face. Of all her possessions, this notebook is easily my favorite.

In the third grade, we had to do a project on a country. I was given Ireland and had to include information on the country's people, climate and culture. One of my favorite parts, aside from coloring a gigantic Irish flag, was finding Irish recipes. I find these recipes in the pages of my mother's notebook, nustled between Tamale Casserole and the Autumn favorite Pumpkin Roll.

Today was the first time I referenced those Irish recipes since third grade. St. Patrick's day seems a worthy occasion to whip up some Soda Bread.

Soda Bread
4 c flour
1/2 t baking soda
1/4 t salt
1 1/2 c buttermilk*

*can be made with regular milk and vinegar: just add a tablespoon of vinegar to a cup measuring cup and fill it the remaining way with milk. Adjust for the amount of buttermilk needed. Let milk and vinegar stand for five minutes before using.

Preheat oven to 375 F.

In a medium-sized bowl, whisk dry ingredients until well combined and free of any clumps of flour or baking soda. Add milk to the bowl and mix until a loose dough forms. Place the dough on a floured surface and kneed the dough until smooth.

Form dough into a round disk two inches high. Score the bread with a large X on top.

Place dough onto a greased cookie sheet. Bake in the oven for 45 minutes.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Shrove Tuesday Pancake

Shrove Tuesday. Fat Tuesday. Mardi Gras. This day has so many names. But my most favorite name for the day is Pancake Day. Whence all the names? Time for a history lesson:

This Tuesday is always celebrated the day before Ash Wednesday. Back in the day (like centuries back, not decades), Lenten sacrifices went some steps further than abstaining from chocolate (except for those times that, "Oops. I forgot it's Lent. Oh well, I might as well finish this chocolate bar, right?" happened). Eggs and dairy products were completely taken out of the faithfuls' diets. Eating food like pancakes, which tend to call for such ingredients, would use up the last of these indulgent foods before the penitential season began. Such abstinence is also the reason eggs are so popular at Easter time: people were celebrating finally adding dairy and eggs back into their kitchens and I'm-sick-of-being-vegan bellies.
As last year, I wanted to celebrate with some tasty pancakes. Lenten suffering must have been out to get me early, because I dropped and shattered the jar of Jif's chocolate hazelnut spread. Oof. I was able to (painstakingly) salvage about half of it..
To be fair, I'm incredibly clumsy.

Here's my tasty pancake breakfast inspired by and adapted from Joy the Baker's Single Lady Pancake recipe.

This is not a pretty, so much as a delicious, pancake.
Shrove Tuesday Pancake
(makes 1 large pancake)
1/3 cup whole wheat flour
2 Tablespoons whole oats
1 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
1 Tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1/4 cup milk
dash of vanilla extract
handful of pecans
handful of dried cranberries

swirl of honey

tablespoon of chocolate hazelnut spread

Preheat a medium sized skillet on the stove top and add your handful of pecans to get them toasting, swirling the pan every so often so they don't burn.

In medium bowl, mix flour, oats, baking powder and salt together. In separate bowl, mix 1 T oil, milk and vanilla. Add the wet ingredients to the flour mixture. Now add about half the pecans and half the cranberries to the batter and stir until it just combines. The mixture will be thick. (If you like thinner pancakes, add a couple tablespoons of milk. I wanted a thick and fluffy pancake so the batter was just fine for me.)

Add the remaining 2 teaspoons of vegetable oil to the pan and pour the batter into the pan. Cook on each side for 2-3 minutes, whenever the pancake has browned to your desires.

Once the pancake is cooked, flop it out onto your plate and dress it up with the remaining pecans and cranberries, a swirl of honey and a nice dollop of (glass-free) chocolate hazelnut spread.

Then enjoy it because this is your last hefty dose of sugar before Lent begins. Muahaha. ;)

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Chocolate Chai: Super Cozy & Comforting

This Winter has been insane: lots of wind, lots of snow and some travel during it all. It's the kind of frigid onslaught that makes one just want to stay inside all day with blankets and books. I have been doing plenty of cozy reading, but I find nothing more comforting on a cold night than a nice hot beverage. While fluffy snowfall continues with no end in sight, I party it up in the kitchen with two of my favorite flavors: chocolate and chai. This drink is a delicious combination of hot chocolate and chai tea. It feels super indulgent to drink and makes the poor weather seem not-so-bad (but really: when is Spring coming?).

 Chocolate Chai
serves 1, but can easily be multiplied

1 c milk*
1 1/2 T cocoa powder
2 t honey**
1 t vanilla extract
1 chai tea bag
*whole milk is delightfully creamy, but almond milk is also good
**honey is my favorite sweetener; you can use a different kind and adjust the amount to taste

Heat milk in a small saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in cocoa powder and honey, combining completely. Whisk every so often, scraping sides and bottom of pan, until milk is steaming and feels a little warmer than the temperature at which you'd like to drink your beverage. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla extract.

Place a chai tea bag in your favorite mug. Use a ladle or very carefully pour the hot milk mixture into your cup. Steep tea for 2-3 minutes then remove, squeezing out as much flavor from the bag as you can.

From this point you can add a sprinkle of cinnamon or, if you want an extra treat, some whipped cream. It's totally tasty on its own, though. Plus, this cute owl mug is a good addition.

Friday, August 10, 2012

6 Tips for Apartment Packing

I am moving out of my first apartment today to move back home for a couple weeks, then come back to a different apartment when school starts again. In the process I've discovered some things that work really well, so here are my tips:

1. Stay organized by keeping lists. I have a cleaning task list, packing-by-room list and, perhaps most important, a what-in-which-box list. Since I'm only packing for a college apartment, I have a lot of random small things that just end up in a larger box: cleaning supplies, laundry soap, lightbulbs, etc. I also advise labeling your boxes with a marker on every side. It's always a pain to open a box only to find it isn't the box you wanted. Which brings me to...

2. Consider bins, instead of boxes, for packing. I probably spend more time struggling with box flaps than I do actually packing (which makes my degrees pursuit seem way too mature). My roommate went the bin route and it looked so nice to just snap a lid on and be done with it. As for labeling, just throw down some masking tape and write on that; you can simply peel it off if you need to pack something else in it later. Grocery or take-out bags are also good for packing pantry items.

3. Keep boxes that come with your purchases. The box for my blender had so much leftover space inside, so in that I packed not only my blender, but also measuring cups and spoons, an ice cream scoop and my large chef knife. All these odds-and-ends kitchen items are now in one place and not taking up space in a separate box. The same happened with my assorted baking pan box, in which I packed three extra pans that didn't come with the set. Packing win!

4. Be smart about finishing perishable food. Perhaps one of the hardest parts about moving out is trying to not waste all the food in your fridge. First, evaluate: save what can be saved (soy sauce is good at room temperature), throw out what is old or unlikely to be used (I'm looking at you, honey mustard). Second: work ahead. I definitely don't want to cook while I'm packing and cleaning, so I cooked meat, hard boiled eggs and waffles in excess at the beginning of the week so meals were quick, easy and ingredient-saving. Third: focus on getting rid of your current food without adding more. That means no take-out and being okay living without milk for a couple days.

5. Pack, clean, rest, repeat. If you're anything like me, packing and cleaning all at once is super stressful. About a week leading up to moving out, I've tackled a couple projects each day. For example, I rarely use the living room and have a few kitchen items I knew I wouldn't need before I moved out, so I cleaned up the living room first and packed up that blender first thing. Doing it in stages like this has kept stress levels down and satisfied my need for organization.

6. Be realistic about trash. Junk is junk. I like to go through my notes at the end of the semester and throw out whatever isn't worth keeping. I also use this practice for clothes: if I haven't worn it (or refashioned it into something else, as I like to say I'll "one day" do) in six months (with an exception for season-specific items, like scarves), it needs to be tossed or donated. Being honest with yourself about what you really need will reduce the amount of stuff you need to pack and give you a fresh start for your new place.

These tips may seem pretty obvious and standard, but they've really helped me stay organized throughout this move. Have any other packing suggestions? Let me know in the comments below!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Apple Crisp

Apple Crisp
Makes 8x8" baking pan or pie dish.

For Filling:
5-6 medium apples, peeled, cored, sliced 1/4 inch
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon

For Topping:
1 1/3 cups flour
1 1/3 cups brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/3 cup oats

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare desired baking dish with butter.

Mix granulated sugar and cinnamon in small bowl. Layer apples in baking dish with cinnamon-sugar mixture, alternating between apples and cinnamon-sugar until finished.

Combine flour, brown sugar, cinnamon and oats in medium bowl. Add butter and work in with fingertips until coarse crumbs form. Press topping into apples. The apples and topping may rise above dish, but the apples will cook down.

Place baking dish on cookie sheet and bake for 55-60 minutes or until topping is lightly golden and apples are bubbly. Enjoy alone or hot with vanilla bean ice cream.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Lemon Pound Cake

My boyfriend C's and my favorite late night hang out is Starbucks. Since I go to school in a pretty quiet place during the Summer and bar-hopping isn't really my thing, Starbucks trips are a multiple-times-a-week occurrence whenever I'm not closing at work. It's much easier to grab a coffee and a comfy chair and get some work done. In fact, I'm writing this post at a Starbucks right now.

Anyway, on one of these frequent visits, I decided to purchase a slice of lemon pound cake. Now, this isn't a plug for coffee corporations or anything, but C, being a huge fan of anything containing lemon (as previously mentioned), insisted I make some at home.

I looked into my bookmarked recipes and was astounded to find I had no lemon pound cakes ready to go. Fortunately, Joy came to the rescue with a Lemon Drenched Lemon Cake. I halved the recipe below (which makes for some interesting, but very possible, conversions), but the cake is still bursting with lemony flavor. The best part is the lemon syrup poured over the cake after it comes out of the oven. The cake, already full of zest (which is rubbed into the sugar with your fingers: it is one of the most delightful smells in the world), is bathed in a delightfully sweet lemon syrup.

I liked the cake well enough shortly after the syrup was applied while the cake was still warm (let's be honest: I break the rules), but C likes it better after being in the fridge, allowing the lemon syrup to spread throughout the cake and the flavor to intensify.

Lemon Pound Cake
Makes 1 9x5" loaf pan.

For Cake:

1 1/3 cup flour
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
pinch of salt

1 1/6 cups sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 large eggs, room temperature
1/3 cup heavy cream
zest of one lemon
7.5 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled

For Syrup:

1/6 cup water
1/8 cup sugar
juice of one lemon (about 2 tablespoons)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and prepare (grease and flour) one 9x5" loaf pan. Place pan on baking sheet.

Combine sugar and lemon zest, mixing with fingers until the scent of lemon fills the air (thank me later!). Add eggs one at a time, mixing thoroughly after each addition. Add vanilla.
In separate bowl whisk flour, baking powder and salt. Add to wet ingredients in 3 or 4 additions. Add melted butter in 2 or 3 additions. Mix only until incorporated to keep cake light and fluffy.
Pour batter into pans and smooth over with rubber spatula. Bake 55-60 minutes, or until knife inserted into center comes out clean. Check cake half way through (~30 minutes) to check for color: cover with foil if cake is browning too quickly.

While cake is in oven, make syrup. Combine water and sugar in medium saucepan over medium heat until mixture boils. Remove pan from heat and stir in lemon juice. Let syrup cool in separate bowl.

Let cake cool in pan 5 minutes before removing onto wire rack placed over lined baking sheet. Poke holes in cake with knife or skewer. Brush cake with syrup. Let cake cool to room temperature.