Black Bean-Spinach Enchiladas

Black Bean-Spinach Enchiladas

Last week, I made a delicious, healthy version of Mexican enchiladas – using fresh spinach, sweet corn, and creamy black beans.  Did we love them as much as chicken or beef enchiladas?   Almost.

I found this recipe by The Garden Grazer on Pinterest, and besides adding white Cheddar, I did not change much at all.  The homemade enchilada sauce was good, but not great.  It’s a little bland, and I think I also didn’t love it because I’m not especially fond of red sauce; I usually opt for the creamy white cheese sauce atop my chicken enchiladas at our local Mexican restaurants.

Black Bean-Spinach Enchiladas

Let’s briefly talk about the filling.  It’s colorful, easy to prepare, cost-effective, incorporates a leafy green into your diet (!), includes a variety of textures, and is hearty enough to forget about meat for a meal.  The flavor combination is fantastic, especially with the “zing” from green onions and cilantro.

Black Bean-Spinach Enchiladas

Black Bean-Spinach Enchiladas

I used whole wheat tortillas for these, and while they were excellent the first night, they got pretty soggy as leftovers.  Ever since I was little I’ve had an issue with soggy textures, so next time I may use corn tortillas.  I can handle their sogginess a little better.

Black Bean-Spinach Enchiladas

Ingredients
{For the enchilada sauce}
3 cups organic low sodium vegetable broth
1/4 cup tomato paste
1/4 cup all purpose flour
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 tsp. cumin
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. onion powder
1/4 tsp. chili powder
Salt/pepper

{For the enchiladas}
15 oz. can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 1/2 cups corn (I used frozen, thawed)
6 oz. fresh baby spinach
6 green onions, thinly sliced
1/3 cup cilantro, chopped
2 tsp. cumin
3 cups shredded 3 cheese blend (I substituted a cup of Cheddar)
8 whole wheat or flour tortillas

Directions
Make the sauce: in a saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add tomato paste, flour, 2 tsp. cumin, garlic powder, onion powder, and chili powder. Cook 1 minute, whisking. Whisk in broth, bring to a boil. Reduce to simmer, and cook until slightly thickened about 8 minutes. Salt/pepper to taste, and set aside.

Saute the spinach in olive oil over medium heat for 1-2 minutes until slightly wilted.
In a large bowl, combine beans, 2 cups cheese, spinach, corn, green onions, 2 tsp. cumin, and cilantro.
Preheat oven to 375. Lightly spray a 9×13 inch baking dish, and pour a small amount of the sauce to coat the bottom.
Generously fill tortillas with mixture, roll up tightly with ends tucked in, and place seam side down in dish.
Pour remaining sauce over the enchiladas, coating evenly. Sprinkle 1 cup cheese on top.
Bake about 20 minutes, and garnish with cilantro and/or green onions (optional).

Black Bean-Spinach Enchiladas

Weekend Special: Homemade Cinnamon Rolls

Homemade Cinnamon Rolls II Rants, Raves, & Rations

During the week, we do not eat “cooked” breakfasts.  Rather, we eat cold cereals, yogurt, hard-cooked eggs, string cheese, fruit, or sometimes oatmeal.   If we do eat something “cooked,” it’s been made prior to the morning because we don’t allot extra morning kitchen time (such as a quinoa bake or cinnamon quick bread).  On weekends…well, we splurge a little and typically make pancakes or eggs with a breakfast meat, and maybe a hearty slice of toast with a smearing of orange marmalade on the side.  Last weekend, I made buttermilk biscuits.  This weekend…

Homemade Cinnamon Rolls II Rants, Raves, & Rations

I made homemade cinnamon rolls.  They’re soft, moist, and deliciously sweetly spiced.  Topped with a light vanilla glaze, these are some of the best I’ve had.

Homemade Cinnamon Rolls II Rants, Raves, & Rations

(We really want to cut back on this type of carbs.)

Homemade Cinnamon Rolls II Rants, Raves, & Rations

Homemade Cinnamon Rolls II Rants, Raves, & Rations

And I have a long history with cinnamon rolls.  At a family restaurant we used to frequent when I was a child, I would always order their “Sweet Cinnamon Swirl” – which was a flaky cinnamon roll pastry.  Each layer would be eaten first until I could finally savor the perfect center in all its soft, tender glory.  I still do this with any cinnamon roll.

What I find to be an issue with a lot of store-bought cinnamon rolls is that the texture lacks tenderness; the dry roll just tears off in pieces.  The icing usually leaves a lot to be desired, too.  While the glaze for this recipe isn’t my favorite (I normally like a tangy cream cheese frosting), it’s a nice addition to them.

The best part about this recipe is the simplicity.  One rise.  It took around two hours from start to finish because they only need one period of rising.  I turned on the oven to 200 degrees F and put the rolls in, shut the door, and shut the oven off.  This created a great environment for rising – especially when it’s 30 degrees warmer than normal here, and we have the air conditioning going inside.

Homemade Cinnamon RollsHomemade Cinnamon Rolls II Rants, Raves, & RationsHomemade Cinnamon Rolls II Rants, Raves, & Rations

Homemade Cinnamon Rolls II Rants, Raves, & Rations

They got a little larger than “double in size”

A couple of changes I will make to this recipe for next time is adding or substituting the white sugar for brown sugar, and making the aforementioned cream cheese frosting instead of the vanilla glaze.  Other than that, I appreciate Sally’s Baking Addiction for a great base recipe!

Homemade Cinnamon Rolls

Ingredients:

Rolls
    • 2 and 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
    • 3 Tablespoons granulated sugar
    • 1 teaspoon salt
    • 1 package Red Star Platinum Yeast (1 packet = 2 and 1/4 teaspoons)
    • 1/2 cup water
    • 1/4 cup milk
    • 2 and 1/2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
    • 1 large egg
Filling
    • 3 Tablespoons unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
    • 1 and 1/2 Tablespoons ground cinnamon
    • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
Vanilla Glaze
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 Tbs. half & half or cream

Instructions

  1. Make the dough: Set aside 1/2 cup of flour. In a large bowl, toss the remaining flour, sugar, salt, and yeast together until evenly dispersed. Set aside.
  2. Heat the water, milk, and butter together in the microwave until the butter is melted and the mixture is hot to touch. About 125F-130F degrees. Stir the butter mixture into the flour mixture. Add the egg and only enough of the reserved flour to make a soft dough.  Dough will be ready when it gently pulls away from the side of the bowl and has an elastic consistency.
  3. On a lightly floured surface, knead the dough for about 5-6 minutes. Place in a lightly greased bowl (I used non-stick spray) and let rest for about 10 minutes.
  4. Make the filling: After 10 minutes, roll the dough out in a 14×8 inch rectangle. Spread the softened butter on top. Mix together the cinnamon and sugar and sprinkle it all over the dough. Add more cinnamon/sugar if desired. Roll up the dough tightly. Cut into 11 even pieces and place in a lightly greased 9-inch round pan. I used a pie dish, lightly sprayed with nonstick spray. Loosely cover the rolls with aluminum foil and allow to rise in a warm, draft-free place for 60-90 minutes. (*Heat the oven to 200F degrees. Turn oven off. Place rolls inside oven and allow to rise.)
  5. After the rolls have doubled in size, preheat the oven to 375F. Bake for 25-30 minutes until lightly browned. *I covered the rolls with aluminum foil after 15 minutes to avoid heavy browning.
  6. Make the glaze: Right before serving, top your cinnamon rolls with glaze. Mix the powdered sugar and cream together until smooth and drizzle over rolls.
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Berry Scones

Slightly sweet.  Moist.  Rich with cream and butter.  Scones are so versatile and scrumptious.  I enjoy them with all sorts of additions – blueberries, raspberries, cinnamon chips.  They can be lightly glazed or like mine, which have a delightfully crunchy sprinkling of turbinado sugar.

Berry Scones

I’ve done a bit of baking in the past week for Memorial Day and weekend breakfasts, and while I’ve enjoyed the brown sugar pound cake and buttermilk biscuits, I must say these scones came out on top.  My husband (we’ll refer to him as Mr. D) and I had some nice, simple scones at the bed & breakfast we stayed at on our Savannah honeymoon; this tweaked Ina Garten recipe blows them out of the water.  Theirs were a bit dry and just didn’t have the flaky, rich texture of these.

Ina’s original recipe is for “cranberry-orange” scones, but I didn’t have any citrus fruit on hand, so I made them with dried mixed berries (a trio of cranberries, cherries, and blueberries).  Her basic recipe is going to be my go-to from now on because it’s so easy and perfect.  I did cut it in half, as her dishes often yield large amounts.

Scones are wonderful for breakfast, brunch, or a snack, and they can be savory or sweet.  I’ve enjoyed cheddar-dill scones and versions with salty bacon.  I look forward to using this recipe with savory ingredients, too.

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Berry Scones

Berry Scones

Berry Scones

Berry Scones

Berry Scones (adapted from Barefoot Contessa)

Ingredients:

2 cups plus 1/8 cup all-purpose flour
1/8 cup sugar, plus additional for sprinkling
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) cold unsalted butter, diced
2 extra-large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup cold heavy cream
1/2 cup dried fruit

*1 egg beaten with 2 tablespoons water or milk, for egg wash

*Turbinado sugar for sprinkling on the egg-washed tops before baking

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, mix 2 cups of flour, 1/8 cup sugar, the baking powder, and salt. Add the cold butter and mix at the lowest speed until the butter is the size of peas.

Combine the eggs and heavy cream and with the mixer on low speed, slowly pour into the flour and butter mixture. Mix until just blended. The dough will look lumpy. Combine the dried fruit bits and 1/8 cup of flour, add to the dough, and mix on low speed until blended.

Dump the dough onto a well-floured surface and knead it into a ball. Flour your hands and a rolling pin and roll the dough 3/4-inch thick circle (or just pat it out with your hands). You should see small bits of butter in the dough. Keep moving the dough on the floured board so it doesn’t stick. Cut the dough into 8 wedges and place the scones on a baking pan lined with parchment paper.

Brush the tops of the scones with egg wash, sprinkle with sugar, and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the tops are browned and the insides are fully baked. The scones will be firm to the touch. Allow the scones to cool for 15 minutes.

Berry Scones

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Chronicles of a Commonplace Life

This week I’ve done a lot of reading in preparation for a writing institute I’m participating in next month.  One of the books I’ve scanned talks about a writing activity based on Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s book, Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life, which is an alphabetized series of her life observations and experiences.  I love this idea, and it has inspired me to create a space for my own reflective writing.

One of the goals I have for my students is to get them to write expressively and reflectively.  It occured to me that I don’t do much of this type of writing myself, so I look forward to not only sharing some of my non-food-related thoughts and ideas with my readers, but also experiencing personal growth as a writer.

Please come along with me as I embark on this new venture at Chronicles of a Commonplace Life.

Massanutten and Harrisonburg, VA

I apologize for my brief hiatus; I had our state standardized test last week with meals that weren’t quite blog-worthy, and then we went out of town for the weekend.

One of my husband’s friends owns a timeshare at Massanutten Resort in McGaheysville, Virginia, and we were invited there for a “free” owner’s referral weekend.  We deposited $100 for a 3-day/2-night stay with an obligatory tour of the resort…in hopes, of course, that we would buy a timeshare.  They promised that our deposit would be refunded and that we would be gifted a $100 Visa giftcard upon exiting the tour, whether we bought a timeshare or not.  It sounded like a decent deal for a quick getaway, and it ended up being a lovely little trip.  Besides the annoying, interview-like tour.  I literally felt like I was being interviewed about my vacation philosophy – the entire time.  I’m not sure if some car salesmen and Massanutten salesmen sell their souls to the devil, but I have suspicions. It’s a very good possibility.

We spent most of our weekend in the nearby town of Harrisonburg.  There was a small downtown area and a newer, more developed section that we explored.  Of course my favorite activity on any vacation is checking out the dining scene, so we took in a few local establishments.

I apologize in advance for the cell phone-quality photos.  We seem to always forget our DSLR when traveling, so the iPhone was all I had at my disposal.

We arrived Friday evening, so we ate dinner on the road.  This may sound “ehhhh” but when Chipotle is involved, it’s more than all right with me.  I’m not sure if Chipotle is an international chain, but if you’re not familiar with it, they operate as an assembly line, offering burritos, burrito bowls (all the fillings without the tortilla), tacos, and salads.  It’s my absolute favorite fast-food.  They use local ingredients when available, and hormone-free and antibiotic-free poutry and meats.  Their corn salsa is also delicious.

Saturday morning was quite dreary, so our planned horseback riding didn’t happen.  However, we had a nice day exploring downtown Harrisonburg.  I had done a little research on dining options, and put Earth & Tea Café on our list.  I wasn’t disappointed; we had two pots of tea and breakfast sandwiches.

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They have gorgeous tea tins on the back wall, housing some great varieties of loose leaf tea.

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Nothing fancy, but it was tasty and satisfying.

IMG_3252Our next stop was to a little pet shop.  We picked up a new collar for our boxer and a few homemade dog treats.

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IMG_3267We saw an advertisement for a gourmet store with wines and cheeses, so we popped in there for a few minutes.  Overall, we weren’t that impressed and didn’t make any purchases.

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IMG_3281The most exciting moment of the trip was when I saw a flyer for their town farmers market.  I absolutely love browsing the farm-fresh produce, homemade baked goods, and other handmade items.  Harrisonburg really has a great little market.  We enjoyed a wonderfully flaky chocolate croissant, spotted a Mennonite boy eating bits of the cinnamon rolls he was selling, sampled goat cheeses, and just took in the fantastic sensory experience.

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IMG_3276The market closed at 1PM, so after we finished there, we had plenty of time to hit some other local shops.

We had the most delicious cannolis (my very first one, ever) at Shanks Bakery.  The sweet, tangy, citrusy filling was heavenly…and the shell was perfectly crisp.  My sister had told me how amazing cannolis are – and boy, was she right!

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IMG_3287Our next stop was one of the neatest stores I’ve been to.  Ten Thousand Villages – which only sells “fair trade” items – has everything from foodstuffs to crafts and home furnishings.  There were so many interesting, handmade products in one spot.

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IMG_3282After our day of shopping, we made a stop at J’s Bagels in the more updated part of Harrisonburg.  They were out of a few of the flavors we wanted to try, but their Everything bagels were delicious.  We brought a few home, which ended up “stinking” up the car on the ride home.

We took naps before heading back out for dinner Saturday evening.  Surprisingly, I didn’t get “hangry” (hunger-induced anger) from not eating lunch.  My dinner options were narrowed down to two restaurants I previously researched, so we went to one for a brief appetizer, and then headed to the second one for dinner.

Beyond is an Asian-fusion restaurant featuring sushi and other dishes.  Here, I had my first-ever hand roll of yellowtail, avocado, and a sriracha sauce.  It was delicious, and I probably could’ve eaten two more.

IMG_3293Clementine, which had a very cool vibe similar to a restaurant we enjoy in our hometown, had a great “storefront” that I wish I had gotten a photograph of.  They had a live bluegrass-y band playing that evening but not a lot of customers.  Why?  Well, unfortunately, their food wasn’t that great.  I found it underseasoned, uninspired, and overpriced.  The best part of the meal was probably the risotto balls and baked goat cheese appetizers.  They were “good” at best, though.

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IMG_3302Our entrees really weren’t worth mentioning, but I had steak medallions that were cooked well but lacked flavor.  The other entree was a pork chili with grits that was more like pieces of pork in a chicken noodle soup base with a scoop of grits randomly thrown in.  We weren’t impressed.

Although it rained, the weekend wasn’t a wash (pun intended).  I thoroughly enjoyed the downtown shops and spending time in a new town.  We had some lovely tea and got a chance to experience some other eateries, which made for a great weekend.

The Massanutten tour was exactly as I expected – very used-car-salesmen-esque.  We declined the offer at the end and were then passed to two other people who lowered the timeshare price down to a quarter of the beginning offer.  I wonder how many people snatch up the initial offer?  Overall, the sales pitch part was extremely unpleasant.  It began with what I considered an interview of “how” we vacation and “why” and what has the most meaning in life to us.  I’m not the easily baited sort, so I knew where each question was going, and tried to head it off each time.  We were grateful for the opportunity to visit Massanutten, but definitely would not spend money on owning a timeshare there.

If you get a chance to visit Harrisonburg, while it’s not exciting or fast-paced, it is a quaint town with some interesting spots.

Have a great week!

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Teavana’s Customer Service

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If you’ve been following me, you might remember that I “ranted” about Teavana’s terrible sales tactics.  Recently, after another unsatisfactory experience with our local Teavana, I decided to write to the corporate office to express my concerns, and to see how they chose to respond.  I had high hopes that they would at the very least, respond.

First, know that I’m not one of those customers who frequently writes companies with complaints in hopes of receiving free loot.  This was my first time ever contacting a corporate office.  After sending a polite, descriptive e-mail outlining the situation, I received correspondence within a day.

Thank you for contacting Teavana. On behalf of the entire Teavana Corporate Office, I would like to apologize for your store experience, and thank you for your valuable feedback. I would like to share this with the management team and the employees of the location you had visited in order to correct behaviors and prevent future experiences similar to yours. It seems that there was definite presence of aloofness on the employee(s) part, and lack of training. This can and will be corrected. Once again, I sincerely apologize – the experience you had does not represent the virtue that we exude, and this must be communicated. In order to extend our apologies, we would like to send you a gift. Would you mind sending me your shipping address?

I was pleased that Teavana took my issues seriously and aimed to make things “right” with an unsatisfied customer.  While I still don’t agree with some of the sales tactics I’ve witnessed, their corporate customer service has been excellent – and for that, they deserve some praise.  They had an opportunity to show their willingness to acknowledge and act upon unacceptable business when they could’ve easily written off my e-mail as frivolous.

Thank you, Teavana, for taking the time to address the concerns of your patrons.

As far as what they sent to extend their apology, I received a rectangle tin with two 2-ounce bags of teas, and an additional 1-ounce sample.

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Mother’s Day: Reine de Saba Cake

Reine de Saba CakeFor Mother’s Day, I decided to make the chocolate almond French cake, Reine de Saba.  It was a labor of love.  Four bowls, two saucepans, a hand mixer, and a food processor later, I had a lovely, petite cake waiting to be iced with Julia’s fabulous, simple chocolate butter icing.

The cake requires a few steps, including beating egg whites, grinding almonds for almond meal, and chopping and melting chocolate.  However, it’s not a difficult recipe, and it yields an impressive, moist, flavorful cake.  It looks like it’d be very rich, but it’ll surprise you.

Reine de Saba Cake

The most difficult part is probably pressing the almonds onto the sides.  It’s only difficult because I’m very particular about the presentation.  I’ve seen this cake made with the almonds sprinkled on the top of the cake, which is gorgeous, too.

I cut four strips of wax paper to place underneath the cake so that after I iced and decorated, I could easily remove the strips and be left with a perfectly clean cake plate.

Reine de Saba Cake

Reine de Saba Cake

Reine de Saba Cake

Reine de Saba Cake

Reine de Saba Cake with Chocolate Butter Icing

Cake:
4 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
2 tablespoons brewed coffee, or dark rum (I used coffee)
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup + 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt + a pinch
3 eggs, yolks separated from whites
1/3 cup almond meal
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 cup (2 ounces) cake flour, sifted
About 1/2 cup slivered or sliced almonds, for garnish

Frosting:
2 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
2 tablespoons brewed coffee, or dark rum (I used coffee)
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at cool room temperature

For Cake:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Prepare an 8-inch round cake pan by buttering and flouring the inside, tapping the pan to remove excess flour.
  2. Place the chocolate and coffee/rum in a medium heat-proof bowl and set atop a pan of simmering water. Melt, stirring occasionally, until smooth.
  3. Beat together the butter and 2/3 cup sugar, until fluffy, and lightened in color. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.
  4. Add the egg yolks, beating until thoroughly incorporated.
  5. Add the chocolate and coffee mixture, almond meal and almond extract, and mix until well incorporated.
  6. In a medium mixing bowl beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Add a pinch of salt and 1 tablespoon sugar, and continue beating until stiff peaks form.
  7. Lighten the batter by mixing in 1/4 of the egg whites. Then alternate between gently folding in 1/3 of the remaining egg whites and 1/3 of the sifted cake flour, until no streaks remain.
  8. Turn out the batter into the prepped cake pan, and gently smooth the cake batter to the edge of the pan.
  9. Bake for 25 minutes, or until puffed, and just set in the center (it should jiggle slightly when shaken).
  10. Allow to cool in the pan for 10-15 minutes, then run a butter knife around the edge of the cake, and unmold from the pan. Allow to cool completely before frosting.

For Frosting:

  1. Place the chocolate and coffee/rum in a medium heat-proof bowl and set atop a pan of simmering water. Melt, stirring occasionally, until smooth.
  2. Off the heat, beat in the butter, one tablespoon at a time, with a wooden spoon. Once the butter is thoroughly incorporated, and no lumps remain, place the mixing bowl inside a larger mixing bowl that is filled  with ice.
  3. Mix the frosting over the ice bath, until it has chilled down to a spreadable consistency.
  4. Spread the frosting over the top and sides of the cake.
  5. Decorate with the sliced almonds.

Yield: 1 8-inch cake (serves 6-8)

Reine de SabaI like to chill the cake in the refrigerator to give the frosting time to “set” slightly before wrapping.

Yesterday I attended a writing institute during which we discussed incorporating our sense of “place” into our writing – where we come from.  This proved to be a cleansing exercise, as many of the attendees read theirs tearfully to the group.

For Mother’s Day, I would like to share my “Where I Am From” poem with my beautiful, kind, strong, smart, funny mom.  She is truly selfless and the mother I will strive to be when I am blessed with children of my own.

I am from laundry baskets,
from Rainbow-Brite and Barbies.
I am from friendly, kid-lined neighborhood streets.
(Noisy, lively; mimicking a playground.)
I am from the Bradford Pear trees,
the Holly bushes
        whose prickly thorns grumpily “embraced” my clumsy falls.I’m from Humphrey’s Pine Room Thanksgiving dinners and church-goers,
 from itchy, transparent-green Easter basket grass underneath my legs in the back of dad’s Oldsmobile on spring break trips.I’m from the solemn pre-dinner prayers and bantering of opposing politics,
 the feeling of the first time burying my face into the cottony, white fur of a family member for which I so, so long awaited.

From “Remember the Golden Rule!” and “That’s not ladylike.”

I’m from heavy hymnals
        with music note-splattered pages and pristine bindings,
        heaving shoulders of laughter that shook our pew, resulting in the “eye of warning” to my sister and me.

I’m from Seoul and the BWI airport,
        early afternoon meals of crisp, fried chicken legs, and from glistening, jewel-toned miniature fruit cakes during the holidays.

From the burnt hands of my sister who fought through halftime even after        burning herself with fire batons, and “I’ll help you clean your room if  you help me clean mine first!”
Front porch rocking in the cool mornings of summer, and a household with shelves upon shelves of knowledge, wisdom, adventure, and marvels of the world in the form of books.

Tucked tightly into albums on dusty shelves,
pressed onto sticky pages,
Polaroids of happiness, pride, life’s most significant moments,
        some – painful reminders of life’s fragility.
I am from those snapshots–
        ashy knees, unruly hair, glasses, and soiled play clothes,
        birthday candles, Christmas morning Santa Claus wonder.
I am from grace, sweet grace,
        opportunity, resounding laughter, tears, and endless joy,
from family members who may not look like me, but whose souls are beautifully bound to mine. 

Happy Mother’s Day to the most beautiful woman I know.

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Liebster Award

I’m so very thrilled to share that I’ve been awarded the Liebster Award, which is for blogs with less than 200 followers. This completely made my morning! Thank you, applepiezucchini!

The rules for this one are:

• Post 11 random facts about yourself.
• Answer the 11 questions made by the person who nominated you.
• Create 11 questions for the bloggers you pass the award to.
• Choose 11 bloggers to pass the award to and mention them in your post.
• Go to their blogs and let them know that they have been nominated.
• No tag backs.

  • I love Julia Child re-runs. I really wish I had thought of the Julie & Julia blog idea first.
  • I often wish for a “Brady Bunch” type of backyard (the outdoor carpet material found on miniature golf courses) so we wouldn’t have as many bugs.
  • I have no patience when I’ve had less than six hours of sleep; I have very little patience even when I’m well-rested. Clearly, we don’t have kids yet.
  • I played the flute for a little over seven years.
  • When I asked my husband for a fact about me, he said, “You’re stubborn!”
  • I would much rather be cold than hot.
  • I prefer soft lighting in nearly every situation; fluorescent lights are harsh and offer no benefit to the complexion.
  • I have a weakness for puppies. While I don’t want a household full of them, I do love holding a sweet, warm puppy.
  • I’m terribly nearsighted. I got prescribed glasses in fourth grade, and have been dependent on visual aid every since. When I reach the maximum prescription for contact lenses, I’m in big trouble. (Read: bottlecap glasses)
  • I do not enjoy the beach as much as most people due to the fact that I don’t like lounging in the hot sun, and I don’t like seaweed and debris wrapped around my ankles.
  • I do not enjoy long car rides, as motion sickness quickly affects me.

And my answers in response to applepiezucchini are:

  1. What was the first thing you ever learnt to cook? The earliest memory I have of cooking was making yeast rolls in preschool. Obviously, we were the “assistants” for the task, but I fondly remember those little clover rolls.
  2. Where would your perfect holiday be? My perfect holiday would be in New England in the spring.
  3. Are you an early bird or a night owl? EARLY BIRD.
  4. What is the recipe that you’ve always wanted to make but have been a bit scared to try? Fried chicken. I love a great piece of southern fried chicken, but I’m too afraid of deep frying.
  5. What is your favourite song / piece of music? This changes frequently for me, but currently, I’m loving the little intro piece to The French Chef episodes.
  6. Best ice-cream flavour? I’m always a fan of fresh peach, but Homestead Creamery makes a delicious Butter Pecan.
  7. Countryside or city? While I’ve always wanted to spend a day on a farm, I’ll have to say “city.” I could only dodge bugs and bad odors for so long.
  8. Which chef do you admire the most? Julia Child!
  9. Your biggest food dislike is? Raw tomatoes.
  10. What is the next cookbook on your wishlist? Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan
  11. Hearty plates of food or michelin-style precision? I love great presentations and value quality over quantity.

My questions for my nominees:

  1. If you could cook with one famous foodie (chef, food writer, TV cook, etc.), who would it be and why?
  2. What is your favorite kitchen utensil?
  3. Hot or cold breakfast?
  4. Tea or coffee?
  5. What is your favorite cookbook?
  6. Sweet or savory snacks?
  7. What is your favorite travel destination of all time and why?
  8. If you could only eat one specific meal for the rest of your life, what would it be?
  9. What is your most accomplished moment in the kitchen?
  10. What are some of your pantry staples?
  11. What are your top three food aversions?

Here are the under-200-followers blogs that I would like to nominate! I realized that I don’t follow many with less than 200 followers, but here are some great reads.

The Wayfaring Baker

Graceful Nutrition

Heaping Tablespoon

Soul Kandy

Whisks & Chopsticks

Sweet Life Daily

Auckland – A Survival Guide

fotog foodie

These Little Moments

It’s Only Rock and Food and…

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Savory Cranberry-Pecan Cheese Ball: A Party Favorite

Cranberry-Pecan Cheese BallI’m not sure if, in other parts of the world, “cheese balls” are appetizer favorites, but for as long as I can remember there has been some sort of variation of the cheese ball at any significant gathering I’ve attended.

They typically contain cream cheese, seasonings, herbs, vegetables, and either a chopped nut or dried meat coating.  Some involve Cheddar, port wine, or Swiss.  Served with crackers, these are a crowd favorite at potlucks and holiday parties in the United States.

At a work Christmas party, I once had a memorable version laced with scallions and coated with bits of shaved ham.  My mom makes hers with deliciously salty dried beef; my in-laws favor port wine with Cheddar.  I’ve seen them dotted with chopped olives, bell peppers, and even dried fruits.

Our favorite cheese ball (and a favorite of many of our friends) combines savory and sweet flavors in a rich, smooth cheese spread.  I coat it in chopped pecans for a delicious bite.  At our recent derby party, we served it alongside my moscato punch, benedictine dip, and other finger-foods.  In the words of our foodie friend: “This may be the BEST cheese ball I’ve eaten…and I’ve eaten A LOT of cheese balls.”

I usually make the cheese ball, wrap in plastic wrap to chill in the refrigerator overnight, and then coat it the next day.  It’s easier to spread if not served directly out of the refrigerator, so I coat it about a half hour prior to serving.

Savory Cranberry-Pecan Cheese Ball

Ingredients:

1 8oz. package cream cheese, softened

1 cup shredded Sharp Cheddar cheese

1/3 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

1/4 cup sour cream

1/8 cup minced onion

1/2 cup chopped dried cranberries

3/4 tsp. garlic powder

1/2 tsp. dried parsley flakes

1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

Cayenne to taste (a couple of dashes)

1 tsp. fresh lemon juice

*Coating: 1/2 to 3/4 cup roughly chopped pecans

Directions:

Briefly whip the cream cheese with electric mixer and then add all ingredients except for the pecans and combine well.  Scoop mixture onto a piece of plastic wrap, shaping into a ball, and refrigerate for at least a few hours to allow flavors to meld.

A half hour prior to serving, remove the cheese ball from the refrigerator and unroll onto the plastic wrap.  Cupping small handfuls of chopped pecans, press them onto the outside of the cheese ball, using the plastic wrap to assist.

Serve with a variety of crackers.

 

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The BEST Chocolate Chip Cookies. Ever.

The BEST Chocolate Chip Cookies

Chocolate chip cookies can vary so much.

In high school chemistry, we had an extra credit assignment that required us to find a chocolate chip recipe, make them, and bring them in to compare with other students’ results.  The differences were amazing!  There were crispy, chewy, cakey, and soft cookies – and all from seemingly similar recipes.  What a difference baking powder, soda, fats (butter, oil, etc.), and sugars can make.

My favorite chocolate chip cookie is slightly crisp on the exterior with a nice, chewy texture throughout.  Semisweet chips.  No nuts or oats.  Unlike many people, I don’t like them overly chocolatey.  Those hard, crunchy store-bought chocolate chip cookies don’t cut it, and neither do the “Soft Batch” (the ones you can often find in vending machines) that have no crispness at all.

The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies

While searching Pinterest for some new dinner ideas, I saw a “pin” for “How to Make Perfect M&M Cookies.”  Whenever I see “perfect” I have to scan the recipe and photographs to see what might justify the usage of that label.  Picky Palate  claims that using instant vanilla pudding mix creates chewy, bakery-style cookies.  I was intrigued by this and had to try it.  Boy, is she right!

The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies

This recipe yields two dozen amazingly delicious, chewy chocolate chip cookies.  I didn’t use miniature M&Ms, but instead used extra miniature chocolate chips.  (They’re so good that I’ve made them twice this week.)  With the special pudding mix ingredient, you’ll truly get cookies that have that irresistible, crisp edge with a soft, chewy interior in less than 20 minutes.  After demolishing the first batch, we’ve decided that this is the best cookie recipe we’ve found.  Thank you, Picky Palate!

Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies (adapted from Picky Palate)

  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 tablespoons instant vanilla pudding mix
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3/4 to 1 cup miniature chocolate chips

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. and line a large baking sheet with a silpat liner or parchment paper.
  2. In a large mixing bowl cream your butter and sugars until well combined. Add your egg and vanilla mixing to combine. Add your flour, pudding mix, baking soda and salt, stirring to combine. Add chips and stir to combine.
  3. With a medium cookie scoop, place dough 1 inch apart from each other. Bake for 10-12 minutes until cooked through. Let cool on cookie sheet for 10 minutes before transferring to cooling rack. Enjoy!

Makes 2 dozen cookies

Best Chocolate Chip Cookies

 

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