Sunday, July 31, 2011

An Update and A Recipe

As I'm writing this, we are having the most glorious thunderstorm here in Logan! I can't even begin to describe the amount of happiness I am feeling at this very moment. We don't get many rainstorms up here in Utah, and seeing as I grew up in Louisiana where it rains throughout the entire year, I'm ecstatic when I see dark clouds looming and hear a clap of thunder. What a wonderful way to spend a Sunday evening!

I figured it was time to give you a little update on our lives and, of course, to include a recipe in it. We've been busy as always, and definitely this past week has been nothing different from the norm. A friend of mine from LA, who is a student at BYU-I in Rexburg, is staying with my mother for a couple of weeks. We've been entertaining Adrienne quite a bit and it's been fun to have her around. She's about 5 years younger than I am, so I never spent a lot of time with her while we were in Young Women's together. Now she's grown up, it's good to get to know her again. 

We went to Cache Valley's Pioneer Day parade, which was fun. There were floats of gymnasts, dancers, local politicians, and Town "Queens". We went with our friends, the Hadleys, then went to a local Pioneer Day celebration in downtown Logan. We visited the Logan Zoo, which costs only $2 a person and basically consists mostly of birds...the highlight was the bobcat who wouldn't even turn around to look at us! Then we went back to the celebration where we played many rounds of BINGO and danced like nerds for prizes. Sadly, all we won was a couple $1 coupons for Pita Pit. Which I guess was pretty sweet!

This week we also visited the Logan Aquatic Center and played with our friends Ian and Jill and their 3 children for an afternoon in the pool. Again, so much fun! Adrienne was awesome at getting their little boy, Conrad, to sleep. She walked with him, and hummed to him and he was out like a light. I think Jill enjoyed the break!

 Other than that, I've just been cooking, searching for jobs, and Adrienne and I had a girls' day with my friend Natalie. We hiked the Wind Caves up Logan Canyon. It was Adrienne's first high-altitude hiking experience! I remember when I first moved to Utah and how hard it was to breathe when hiking, after been so used to the lower elevation and higher humidity in Louisiana. But, we made it through and it was beautiful!

Oh, and by the way, I got a job to tie me over until internship! I'll be working at Picture Me Portrait Studios in Wal-Mart. I can't believe that I actually said Wal-Mart in a sentence about work, but I'm just grateful that the company only houses their studios within them and are not actually associated with the huge crazy superstore. It should be a fun job with lots of cute kids, crying and not, and the pay is not bad at all! I'm glad to be able to finally have something to fill my time with again. I can't stand not being busy during my days while Michael is at work. It helps me feel worthwhile and accomplished when I can contribute to the family and our well-being through occupation. :)

Well, let's get down to the recipe sharing. This is one of my favorites for any time of the year. I've had several variations of White Chicken Chili, but I think I've pretty much settled on my favorite, so it's time to feature the recipe on here! You'll love the flavors in this and as most of my recipes are, it's SO SIMPLE. That's the wonder of soups, you basically just throw it all in a pot and let the stove-top take care of the rest.

So, without further ado, I give you my version of White Chicken Chili. Try it soon; it's a keeper in your normal recipe rotation!

White Chicken Chili
(adapted from Our Best Bites)

Ingredients:
1 tbs. olive oil
1 lb. boneless chicken, cubed (about 3-4 boneless, skinless breasts)
1 medium onion, diced
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
2 cans great northern beans
1 3.5 oz can green chilies
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. oregano
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
4-6 cups chicken broth, depending on desired consistency
Juice of 1 lime
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
2 tbs. chopped parsley

Directions:
  1. In a large pot, heat olive oil. Add chopped onion and cook for about 2 minutes (just until they start to become translucent). While onions are cooking, drain beans and rinse with cold water and set aside. 
  2. Add chicken to the pot and cook for 3-4 minutes, until there is no more visible pink on it.  Season with garlic, salt, pepper, cumin, and oregano.
  3. Add green chilies and beans. Stir to combine, then add chicken broth.
  4. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer uncovered for 10-15 minutes. Remove from heat and add the lime juice, cilantro, and parsley and more salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Ladle into bowls and top with desired condiments (sour cream, chives, tortilla strips, avocado, or pepper-jack cheese).
Makes about 6 servings

Friday, July 29, 2011

Plum, Peach, and Strawberry Galette

I've been dreaming of making a galette for a LONG time now. It's basically a free-form pie, created by the French. There is the classic "galette des Rois" which is "King Cake" during the time of Mardi Gras. But its interpretation is a bit different than the traditional galette. And actually, "g√Ęteau" is the more used French term for cake, but again, this is a bit confusing subject here, huh? So for our purposes, we are focusing on the simple free-form pie with fruit filling. Say that 10 times fast!

Michael and I shared a Bountiful Basket with a neighbor couple last weekend and it was filled with lots of yummy fruit. So, I knew what I had to make this week in order to use it all. We had some beautiful saucer peaches, which if you've never seen them before, they look like little UFOs, but in white peach form. And we also had gorgeous black plums and strawberries that were aching to be paired with the peaches in this dessert.

I have to tell you about the photo taking process for this recipe, because there was a bit of chasing daylight and desperation associated with it. Thank goodness Utah doesn't get fully dark until about 10 p.m. in the summer time. Because it was 8:30 and I'm pulling this out of the oven, placing it on a cooling rack, and bringing it outside to our front porch in order to catch some Western sun that was still lingering. 

A couple of our neighbors walked by and I'm sure they though that was weird, but the weirdest part was when I cut a slice and took it outside to photograph on the electrical box that sits in the middle of our apartment buildings! Yep, I just laid a little piece of fabric down along with the plate, leaned against the box buzzing with electricity, and proceeded to take the last of my pictures. And, I'm proud to say that they came out not too bad considering the circumstances! The things we must do for our "art"!

Anyway, I digress...this is really such a tasty dessert and so easy to make. I love how some of the simplest things turn out to be the prettiest. I love the combo of peaches, plums, and strawberries and I'm pretty sure you will too. But don't be afraid to play with your own fruit combos here, that's why cobblers and galettes are so easy, you just throw a few basics together and the oven does the rest of the work. This is summer at it's finest my friends!

Plum, Peach, & Strawberry Galette
(dough recipe adapted from Two Peas & Their Pod)

Ingredients:
1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/3 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup coarse cornmeal
1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup cold butter, cut into small pieces

1/3 cup buttermilk
 or "sour" milk
3 small plums
4 saucer peaches or 2 medium yellow peaches
5-6 strawberries
1 egg, beaten

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

Directions:
  1. To make the dough, combine flours, sugar, cornmeal, and salt in a processor; pulse 2-3 times. Add butter and pulse 4-5 times, or until mixture resembles coarse meal. With the processor running, slowing pour the buttermilk through the chute, processing until the dough forms a ball. Remove the dough ball and adhere any remaining pieces of dough to it, then wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 45 minutes before rolling out.
  2. Center a rack in the oven and preheat to 350 degrees.
  3. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and place on a sheet of wax paper long enough to make a 14-15-inch wide circle, then folded over. Fold was paper over dough, then, starting at the center of the dough, roll out, forming a 14-15-inch wide circle. Place the dough on a greased baking sheet. Arrange fruit in the middle of the galette dough, leaving a 2-inch border. Fold the border over the fruit, overlapping where necessary and pressing gently to adhere the folds.
  4. Lightly brush the edge of the dough with the egg and sprinkle crust and fruit with granulated sugar.
  5. Bake the galette for 45-50 minutes, or until the fruit is tender and the crust is golden brown. Transfer the baking sheet to a wire rack to cool for at least 20 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature with a little whipped cream or vanilla ice cream!
Makes 6-8 servings
    Notes
    - You can make the galette dough in advance. It will keep in the refrigerator for 3 days. 
    - Trust me when I tell you to top this with whipped cream. It is a perfect pairing for the slight tartness of the fruits.
    - I would suggest adding a little brown sugar and cinnamon to the fruit before placing it in the dough. I think those flavors mixed together would make it taste even yummier than it does. 

    Wednesday, July 27, 2011

    Layered Mexican Chicken Rice Casserole

    Here's a quick and easy weeknight meal for those days when you don't know what to cook and all you have to use is what's in your pantry. In fact, if you happen to keep cooked canned chicken breast in your pantry, then you can use that and eliminate an extra step of cooking the chicken breast and save yourself even more time!

    Michael and I really enjoyed having this for dinner last night. And our friend Hunter came over to eat some too. He loved the spicy flavor that the green chilies and my mother-in-law's homemade salsa gave to this meal. 

    Now I know some of you are not in the mood to even turn on your ovens during this hot time of the summer, but you can be comforted in the fact that you're only turning it up to 350 degrees, and only until your cheese is nice and melty, since everything inside the casserole is cooked prior to placing it in the oven. You'll have a yummy dinner that will please the entire family (and friends) in no time!

    Layered Mexican Chicken Rice Casserole
    (adapted from Picky Palate)

    Ingredients:
    2 tbs. extra virgin olive oil
    1 medium white onion, finely chopped
    1 1/2 cups chopped bell peppers
    1 1/2 tbs. minced fresh garlic
    4 cups cooked/steamed rice
    1 tbs. ground cumin
    2 cups shredded chicken breast
    1 tsp. chili powder
    1 can green chilies
    1/2 cup salsa
    1 can corn, drained
    1 can red kidney beans (or any bean of choice), drained
    1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
    1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

    Directions:
    1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Place oil into a large skillet over medium heat.  Saute onion and peppers for about 5 minutes or until softened.  Stir in garlic and cook for an additional minute.  Stir in cooked rice, season with 1 tsp. cumin and reduce heat to low.  Transfer mixed rice to a glass baking dish.
    2. Place chicken breast into a medium skillet over medium heat.  Season with the rest of the cumin, chili powder, green chilies, and salsa; mix and reduce heat to low.  Pour corn over rice.  Next layer the beans, cilantro, chicken and top with cheese.  Bake for 25-30 minutes or until cheese is melted.
    3. Serve with hot sauce if desired.
    Makes 8 servings

    Tuesday, July 26, 2011

    Couscous: An Easy How-To

    Since my first attempt at making Ratatouille a couple weeks ago, this household has been craving another appearance for dinner. So guess what we made for dinner last night??? Ratatouille, but this time over couscous. Although you hear about couscous in Cajun cuisine, I've actually never had it or made it until last night. I think that was from lack of understanding, and fear that it was going to be difficult.

    Let me set the record straight: couscous is about the easiest accompaniment to a meal that you can make. And it's really good too. Now the texture is definitely a change from rice, because it is actually made from wheat, but in my opinion, it is a welcome change from the norm. Let me show you the super simple way to make it, then you can feel free to pair it with all sorts of dishes. 

    You ready? Cause I'm not kidding when I tell you how easy this is.

    Super Easy Couscous

    Ingredients:
    1 cup couscous, dry
    1 1/2 cups water

    Directions:
    1. Bring water to boil in saucepan. 
    2. Add couscous and stir just to incorporate granules into water. 
    3. Cover and remove from heat. 
    4. Let sit for 5 minutes. Stir with fork to "fluff" couscous.
    5. Serve and enjoy!
      See what I mean? Super easy. All you have to remember is 1 1/2 cups water to each cup of couscous and you're golden! Have fun with your new side dish, I know I am. :)

      Sunday, July 24, 2011

      Wood Fire Grilling

      Michael and I decided to pull out the ole charcoal grill on Saturday night, and found that we did not have any charcoal, but we did have some wood leftover from camping! So we decided to use that and we were pleasantly surprised with the flavor and aroma it gave our dinner.

      A quick story about this wood: Michael found a rustic furniture company on KSL selling a wheelbarrow full of wood for $15. It seemed like a good deal, so Michael picked some up a few months back. I'm pretty sure they gave him more than a wheelbarrow's amount! This wood has been amazing. Because it was to be used for furniture, it is high quality, and incredibly dry from the baking process I'm sure the store put it through. It only takes a little bit to make a really great fire.

      I'm not even sure what kind of wood it was that we used, but I can't stop thinking about the flavor and smokey-ness it gave to our steaks and sweet potatoes. I felt like we were at an authentic BBQ restaurant. It was that good. If you've never tried grilling with wood, you're seriously missing out. When you try it, you will not regret it and may very well refuse to grill with anything but wood or wood chips from now on!

      The recipe I am sharing with you is not for the steak, because you've already seen my Garlic Marinade before, but for the yummy sweet potatoes we had on the side. They were delicious. I love sweet potatoes in all their forms, but I think these particular ones are on the top of my list. They are incredibly simple to make and make a great side for any dinner, whether it be and inside or outside BBQ. You'll love it I'm sure!
      Wood Fire Grilled Sesame Sweet Potatoes
      (adapted from REAL SIMPLE)

      Ingredients:
      2 large sweet potatoes
      1 tbs. canola oil
      1/2 tsp. kosher salt
      1/4 tsp. black pepper
      1 tsp. sesame oil

      Directions:
      1. Heat grill to medium. Peel and cut potatoes into 1/2 inch wedges.
      2. In a large bowl, toss potatoes with canola oil, salt, pepper, and sesame oil. Grill until tender and lightly charred, 5 to 7 minutes per side. 
      3. If desired, sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds once removed from grill. Serve hot and as a side to some good barbecue!
      Makes about 4 servings 

      And here's a little picture of yours truly, in all my backyard BBQ-ing glory! I love Summer!

      Friday, July 22, 2011

      The Monarch

      I had one of these pay a visit yesterday in my flower bed. I can't tell you the last time I've actually seen a monarch butterfly. They aren't around as much anymore, especially not here in Utah. I remember seeing them in the summers in Louisiana while I was growing up, but it's been a long time since then!

      I was so happy to sit and watch this pretty creature flutter around my zinnias and marigolds. It would fly away for a minute, then keep coming back again and again to my flowers. Guess it really liked them! Kinda made me feel special that it wanted to spend time in the flowers I have planted and taken care of throughout this summer. 

      God's creatures are so beautiful and amazing. I am awestruck at the detail and care He took to give each and every one of them their unique qualities. It is no coincidence that I have a "monarch" looking out for me everyday. Monarch is defined as, "one who reigns over a state or territory, a sole and absolute ruler." I think it's safe to say that our father in Heaven is our monarch. 

      It was nice to be reminded of this yesterday as this week has been a difficult one. I sang at a friend's funeral and Michael and I were both incredibly saddened by his loss. Then we are struggling even harder to find a job in Tallahassee; the search has become more difficult and even now, more of a necessity than before. It is so hard to keep perspective in times like these. Yet this little butterfly reminded me that I am not alone. 

      There are times when faith is tried and it seems like there is no light at the end of the tunnel. But we must remember to trust in the Lord. Trust in his plan for us, trust that He knows what we really need. And also, I must remember to trust in His timetable. Thing don't always work out how we want them to, and for those of us with little patience, we must trust that He will bring us through. We must do what he simply asks: to follow his commandments. I am reminded that prayer and scripture study, are, yet again, two of the simplest yet most vital commandments to follow. Praying and reading the scriptures are our communication with Heavenly Father. They invite the Spirit into our lives, and in turn, provide us with inspiration for what we should do.

      I know that as I follow the commandments and strive to be more like the Savior by remembering him in all that I do, our family will be blessed. I am grateful for little reminders, such as the monarch butterfly, to put perspective into my life. What a beautiful way to be humbled. I hope you are all having a wonderful day!

      Wednesday, July 20, 2011

      Farmer's Market Find

       This past Saturday, I went with 3 girlfriends to the Salt Lake City Farmer's Market. We walked around for about an hour and just had fun looking at all the booths. As we were about to leave, we saw a vegetable stand that had LOTS and LOTS of sugar snap peas. None of us could resist. We tried them and they were sweet, fresh, and crispy. So we each bought a large bag for $5. What a deal!

      That same stand also had beautiful sweet onions for sale, which my friend Jen decided to buy. The prices were so good and much more reasonable compared to all the other stands we passed. If I make it back to the SLC Farmer's Market again this summer, the first place I'm going to be heading is that very stand. I can only imagine what other wonderful goods they will be featuring and selling in the future. 

      Yay for fresh, local produce. It just makes me feel green, happy, and healthy. These peas are perfect just to snack on, or in a stir fry (which Michael and I made last night). Do you have any other suggestions of ways you like to eat them?

      Monday, July 18, 2011

      Blueberry Cheesecake Ice Cream


       
      I made this yummy frozen concoction for dessert at the Black Family gathering on Sunday. I'm afraid that I forgot to take any pictures, so these ones "borrowed" from the internet will have to do. But rest assured that they are incredibly close to the real thing. As I was in the process of making ice cream, Michael's dad asked me if I had ever made ice cream before meeting Michael. I said, "I've seen it done and helped with it before, but no, I definitely have not made as MUCH ice cream before Michael came into my life!" Basically what that translates into is that Michael and his family LOVE ice cream. 
      Every time we visit, Michael opens the freezer to see what new ice cream his parents have that week. And they buy the good stuff too. So we have to be extra careful when we frequent their house or else we'll eat an entire carton during our stay. Because we just love it so much.

      I could eat it everyday, even during the winter when it's cold and snowy outside. There's just something about the sweetness and creamy texture that causes cravings at all times of year, and hours of the night. Personally, I'm a fan of basic flavors, such as vanilla or sweet cream, mixed with fruit or something chocolate-y. So that's why I decided to make Cheesecake as the base flavor. Michael's mother had a bunch of blueberries in her freezer, and so Blueberry Cheesecake Ice Cream emerged. It was a success and everybody loved it. 

      I think this is the perfect ice cream to make at this time of year, when berries and other fresh fruits are at their peak. The cheesecake flavor pairs incredibly well with the tartness of the berries and sort of "mellows" them out. It's a brilliant combination! I'm sure you will love it as much as I did!


      Blueberry Cheesecake Ice Cream
      (cheesecake ice cream recipe adapted from Tartelette)

      Ingredients:
      2 cups whole milk
      3 cups heavy cream
      1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
      4 egg yolks
      8 oz. cream cheese
      6 cups blueberries, fresh or frozen (thawed)

      Directions:

      1. Whisk the egg yolks with the sugar. In a saucepan set on medium heat, bring the milk and the cream to boiling point, slowly pour a small amount on the egg yolks to temper. Pour the remaining over the yolks and sugar. 
      2. Stir well then pour back in the saucepan and cook over medium low heat until the cream thickens and coats the back of a wooden spoon. 
      3. Remove from the heat and whisk in the cream cheese until completely melted and incorporated. Cool to room temperature then cover and refrigerate until cold. 
      4. Process in an ice cream maker until it has reached soft-serve stage and almost doubled in size. 
      5. Mash blueberries lightly, then mix in with ice cream and place in the freezer to harden, which will take about 2 hours. Serve in bowls or ice cream cones and enjoy! 
      Makes about 2 1/2 quarts

      Friday, July 15, 2011

      A Sad Post

       Yesterday Michael and I found out that a friend of ours from our church passed away. He was young and married to a wonderful woman, Shantai, whom I served with in the Young Women program for at least a year.

      I am heartbroken. Words cannot express the depth of sorrow I feel for his dear wife and family. As long as we have known them, they have been the cutest couple. Kind, sweet, fun-loving, serving...are just a few of the things to describe Brandon and Shantai. 

      During our prayers last night, Michael offered a sweet prayer for the family (in French). After he had already fallen asleep, I just struggled to give in to sleep myself. So, I prayed. I prayed for comfort for the family and comfort for myself. It is always so hard when someone young and healthy is no longer here with us. I can barely comprehend it. 

      I thought of Michael and how much I love him. And even though we've only been married 2 years (and known each other almost 3), it would break my heart if he suddenly wasn't there one day. I wouldn't know what to do with myself. Shantai is my age and she and Brandon have been married since she was 19 and known each other quite longer than that. So I can only imagine what she is feeling right now. But I do feel comfort in eternal families. They have been sealed for time and all eternity in the temple, and that is the greatest blessing and comfort at this painful time.

      If you have any room in your prayers, I ask that you please take a small moment for the Kartchner family.

      Wednesday, July 13, 2011

      Ratatouille with Spicy Sausage

      Now this may not be the Ratatouille from Disney's "Ratatouille", but don't let looks deceive you. I've been wanting to make Ratatouille for some time, and finally came across a recipe that interested me. Thank you Biggest Loser Club for your weekly emails of scrumptious (and healthy) recipes!

      And don't worry, I have a goal to recreate the masterpiece featured in the computer-animated movie. But that is for another time and by other time I mean when I own a mandolin so I can slice the ingredients paper thin and with ease.
      Michael, who was lucky enough to spend two years in France whilst serving an LDS mission, happened upon Ratatouille quite a few times during his time there. When I told him I was going to make it for dinner one day this week, he was excited beyond my expectations. That's when I became nervous. "What if it doesn't taste right? What if I cook it incorrectly? What if I'm not French enough?" Okay, that last one is a little over the top, because hey, I do have French blood in me. All these worries were nothing that a little ingenuity and experimentation in the kitchen couldn't fix.

      To make a long story short, he loved it. He said it tasted just perfect, then cleaned his plate and distributed himself a second helping. Yes! Apparently, all I forgot was to serve it with couscous on the side. He said it's the French thing to do. So, next time I make it I will pair it with some good old-fashioned couscous. And what can hardly get more perfect, will finally reach true perfection. Until then, enjoy this super simple and super flavorful recipe of a classic French Provencal dish.


      Ratatouille with Spicy Sausage
      (adapted from The Biggest Loser Club)

      Ingredients:
      2 (4-ounce) links spicy Italian turkey sausage
      3 zucchini (yellow or green)
      1 medium yellow onion
      1 eggplant (about 1 1/2 pounds)
      2 red, yellow, or green bell peppers
      2 large tomatoes
      1/4 cup olive oil
      1 tbs. grated lemon zest
      1 tbs. chopped fresh basil
      1 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
      1 tsp. chopped fresh rosemary
      Ground black pepper
      2-3 cloves garlic, minced
      2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf (Italian) parsley, for garnish

      Directions:
      1. Cook the sausage in a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until there is no more pink. Drain well, crumble, and set aside.
      2. Preheat an oven to 425 degrees. Dice the zucchini, onion, eggplant, bell peppers, and tomatoes into 1/2 inch pieces and place in a large bowl. Lightly coat the vegetables with the olive oil and season with lemon zest, basil, thyme, rosemary, black pepper, and garlic. 
      3. Mix all ingredients together and place on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake for 20-30 minutes, until the vegetables have softened and slightly browned on the outside.
      4. Once the vegetables are cooked, combine with the sausage and garnish with the parsley.
      Makes 4 servings

      Tuesday, July 12, 2011

      Testing Testing 1 2 3...

      The hubby and I finally made it into the realm of smartphones. Took us long enough! We had previously been on a family plan with his parents via Verizon Wireless, but the time came to make a change. Michael's Motorola RAZR was close to death and mine had kicked the bucket (or should I say toilet) a few months back, causing me to have to borrow an incredibly old Motorola "Brick" phone from his sister Janessa. I was grateful, because at least it worked. 

      Anyway, the time came to shop around for a cell phone provider, and even though Verizon was always a personal favorite of mine as far as coverage and service goes, they were just a bit too expensive for out tastes. We were looking for a more economical route in our family. And so we found Virgin Mobile.

      They offered us 300 minutes each, unlimited web, text, and data for just $25 a line each month. No contract, no activation fees. We did have to purchase the phones though. But, since we went through Best Buy and as they have a 30 day return policy, we are in the "testing" phase. If we like Virgin Mobile's service (which I should mention is on the ever growing Sprint network), then we will keep it. If not, we can return the phones to Best Buy for a full refund, and only be out $50. Pretty sweet deal if you ask me!

      We're paying at least half of what we would through Verizon or AT&T and so far we are getting great service. And we looked up their coverage for Tallahassee and it is HUGE, so we should be fine there. I don't foresee any problems in the future (other than some roaming difficulties during long travel), but this is what the testing phase is for. 

      Right now we are just enjoying our LG Optimus V phones, which are Androids. I've been fighting the smart phone for a long time, mostly because I don't want to be super attached to it like I've seen many people do. But I have found some great benefits with the many applications and the fact that I can have all my email, contacts, and calendar synced together in one place. It is pretty convenient I'll admit!

      So what do you think? What providers do you like and how have they treated you in the various places you live? I'm really interested in some cross-country opinions here.

      Monday, July 11, 2011

      Perfect Sunday Dinner Rolls

      For a very long time I have been playing with different versions of dinner roll recipes. I tried some more complicated versions from a variety of cookbooks, I used a bread machine to do the mixing/kneading, I shaped the rolls into crescents, balls, and just worried about them all too much! Some turned out better than others, but I eventually decided to just give in and use a recipe from Michael's family. I tried them one time, then saw the recipe, and knew that the simplicity of everything was a good sign. Surely I could tweak the recipe to my taste and make yummy dinner rolls whenever I wanted (and not necessarily on a Sunday)?!?

      Now Michael's father likes to shape them into the Parker House style, where you roll out the dough, cut out little circles, dip in butter, then fold over. Which is quite good I might add. Michael's mother loves the Bundt pan route (a personal favorite of mine and the only reason I really have requested such a pan for a present). She pours melted butter into the pan and coats the insides completely, layers the small circles of dough, then pours a little more melted butter on the top. The rolls come out crispy and buttery on the outside from being drenched in all the fattening goodness. You should try it...for it will blow your mind!

      Even through all those wonderful examples, I learned and use my favorite way to "roll" the rolls from the Egan family, as I was in attendance to their family dinners quite a lot during my freshman year at LSU. Now their roll recipe is dang good and trust me, I remember many times just sitting at their counter with their daughter Emily (my BFF from the BR),  raspberry freezer jam in one hand and a roll in the other. It was sublime. But what I took home was their way of preparing the rolls for baking. The secret is to roll the dough out into a circle, cut it into 12 triangles (like a pizza), then roll them in to crescents, and here's the clincher: tucking the ends underneath. This way you can make the rolls more compact, thus fitting more on one sheet so they can become close to each other in the oven and stay dense, moist, and just a tad doughy. Which is my favorite way to have a dinner roll be!

      Then all there's left to do is top the rolls with butter, and eat them straight out of the oven while they are hot and fresh. Oh boy are these good! We frequently are asked to make these for friendly gatherings and it seems like no time before they are gone. I personally love the "whole wheat" factor, as it makes me feel a bit healthier than just straight "white" rolls, but you can choose for yourself which flavors you like. Either way, if you make these I'm sure you will be remembered for their perfect homemade taste and smell. People will be begging for the recipe!

      Perfect Sunday Dinner Rolls

      Ingredients:
      2 tbs. yeast
      1/2 cup sugar
      1 1/4 cup warm water
      3 eggs, well-beaten
      1/2 cup shortening
      2 tsp. salt
      3 cups all-purpose flour
      3 cups whole-wheat flour

      Directions:
      1. Combine yeast, sugar, and water in standing mixer fitted with dough hook. Mix and let sit until it starts to bubble. 
      2. Add eggs, shortening, and salt and mix just until combined with other ingredients (shortening will still be lumpy).
      3. Add flour and mix until dough comes off sides of bowl, but still barely sticks to bottom. Knead for 5 minutes and let rise in greased bowl until doubled in size, 45 minutes to 1 hour.
      4. After dough has risen, divide it in half and roll each half into a large circle, about 1/4 inch thick. With a sharp knife or pizza cutter, cut dough into 12 triangles, like you would a pizza. Roll each triangle from the larger end to the tip, into a crescent shape. Tuck the outer ends underneath the roll and place on a greased baking sheet. 
      5. Let rolls rise until doubled in size, about 45 minutes. Preheat an oven to 400 degrees and bake the rolls for 15 minutes, just until the tops are a nice browned color. 
      6. Remove from oven and brush the tops of the rolls with melted butter. Serve immediately!
      Makes 24 large rolls

      Wednesday, July 06, 2011

      Fruity Pizza Stars

       I made these little beauties for a neighborhood BBQ on the 4th of July. When Michael and I walked up the driveway carrying pans filled with these everyone's eye got big, there were gasps of excitement, and I heard a few "oohs" and "ahhs"! I always love that reaction. 

      The inspiration came partly from the fact that my friend Camille and her cute boyfriend, late one night, brought us a couple slices from a fruit pizza they had made. It was darn good. I haven't made one in so long that I knew I just had to whenever I got the chance. The other source of inspiration was, of course, from numerous food blogs I read. It seems fruit pizzas have been on everybody's minds lately.

       
       So, when the hubby and I were invited to a neighborhood BBQ for Independence Day, I knew immediately knew what I would bring! But not only were these going to be fruit pizzas, but they were going to be little star-shaped cookies shaped with only strawberries and blueberries on top (keeping in with the festive theme). My vision turned out pretty cute I'll say!

       And these did not disappoint in the flavor category either. People kept coming back for more and before I knew it, the plates were empty. The son of our neighbors who hosted the party (who is about 18 months) kept making yummy noises when munching on the blueberries and cookie. Apparently blueberries are his favorite. I definitely couldn't have catered to the consumer better. :)

      Anyway, I'll get to the recipe sharing, since that is really the purpose of this post, is it not?


       Fruity Pizza Stars
      (adapted from Our Best Bites)

      Sugar Cookie Dough
      Ingredients:
      1 cup butter, softened
      1 cup granulated sugar

      1 large egg
      1 tsp. vanilla extract

      3 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

      1 1/2 tsp. baking powder

      1/2 tsp. salt

      Zest of 1 orange

      Directions:
      1. For the cookies, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy–about 2 minutes. Add in egg and extract and mix to incorporate. In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt. 
      2. Slowly add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and mix until completely combined. Add the orange zest and mix until combined.
      3. Wrap in cellophane and chill in the fridge for about an hour. 
      4. When you're ready to roll out your dough, lightly sprinkle flour onto work surface and roll our dough with a rolling pin. Cut into desired shapes with cookie cutter (stars, for instance).
      5. Bake on a greased baking sheet at 350 degrees for 8-9 minutes. The key is to keep them soft and take them out before they brown on the edges.
      6. Remove from oven and cool on cooling rack until ready to add the topping.
      Creamy Topping
      Ingredients:
      1 8-oz. package cream cheese (light neufchatel is good too)

      1/4 cup brown sugar

      1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
      1 cup whipping cream
      1/2 cup powdered sugar

      Directions:
      1. When the cookies are cooling, use an electric mixer to combine the cream cheese, vanilla extract, and brown sugar until light and fluffy. 
      2. In a separate bowl, whip the cream and powdered sugar until medium peaks form. Fold the whipped cream into the cream cheese mixture and combine well.
      3. Spread the cream cheese mixture over the cooled crust.
      Fruity Topping
      Ingredients:
      1 pint strawberries, washed, hulled, sliced, and patted dry

      1 pint blueberries, washed and patted dry

      Directions:
      1. Arrange the berries over the top of the cookies as desired. 
      2. If desired, can add additional fruit (kiwi, bananas, or mandarin oranges), as seen below. 

       As you can see, I decorated some cookies with mandarin oranges that I had leftover from another recipe, just waiting to be used. What is great about this recipe is that is completely adaptable to whatever you have on hand and in whatever way you would like to use it. Side note: the creamy topping also make for a really yummy fruit dip, just set it on a platter with a bunch of different types of fruit and you're good to go.

      The dough can be rolled out onto a pizza pan to make an authentic fruit pizza, and you can also add different extracts besides vanilla (like almond, orange, or maybe even mint...that sounds interesting)! What I like about the cookies with the mandarin oranges is that they turned out a bit Picasso-esque. Don't you agree? Many of them look like skewed versions of faces. So fun!

      Saturday, July 02, 2011

      Mexican Shredded Sweet Pork Salad

      I know this is a day later than I promised, but we had some family come in this weekend and ended up being so busy with camping, playing, and entertaining that I simply had no time to post! Maybe the anticipation will make you even more excited for this recipe. So, here goes.

      This is the classic Cafe Rio/Costa Vida Sweet Pork Salad, just my version. Don't worry, all the flavors are the same, and you can add or take away whatever you prefer. Either way, it's super easy to make if you have a little patience and the will. Where there's a will, there's a way!

      Mexican Shredded Sweet Pork Salad
      (Adapted from Our Best Bites)

      Ingredients:
      Homemade Flour Tortillas
      Shredded Sweet Pork
      Lime-Cilantro Rice with Pineapple
      Black Beans
      Shredded Lettuce
      Tomatoes, diced
      Cheese, grated
      Cilantro-Lime Vinaigrette

      Directions:
      1. Assemble how you will. This particular time I did not use rice or tortillas, but they certainly make the meal extra special. 

      Mexican Shredded Sweet Pork
      (Adapted from Our Best Bites)

      Ingredients:
      Boneless pork shoulder roast
      1/2 tsp. salt
      1/4 tsp. black pepper
      2 tsp. chili powder
      1 tsp. onion powder
      1/4 cup brown sugar
      1/2 cup salsa
      20 oz. bottle Dr. Pepper or Coca-Cola

      Directions:
      1. Combine all ingredients in a slow cooker. Cook on low 7-8 hours, until meat is tender. 
      2. Pull meat apart with forks and discard any pieces of fat. Serve immediately, setting slow cooker to low to keep meat warm.

      Cilantro-Lime Vinaigrette
      (Adapted from Our Best Bites)

      Ingredients:
      1/4 cup fresh lime juice
      1/4 cup rice vinegar
      4-5 cloves garlic
      1/2 tsp. salt
      2 tsp. granulated sugar
      1 cup canola oil
      1/2 cup roughly chopped cilantro
      1/4 cup milk

      Directions:
      1. Combine lime juice, vinegar, garlic, salt, and sugar in blender. Blend until ingredients are completely combined. 
      2. With blender running, add oil in steady stream. Add milk also. Then add cilantro and blend until cilantro has broken down but still maintains some texture. Refrigerate for a couple hours before serving, if possible. 
      Notes:
      - Can be used as a marinade for fish or chicken. 
      - I like to add a little milk to just make it a bit creamier. 

      If creamier texture is what you are going for in this dressing, then try the recipe for Creamy Cilantro-Lime Ranch Dressing down below. It's darn good too!

      Creamy Cilantro-Lime Ranch Dressing
      (Recipe from Our Best Bites cookbook)

      Ingredients:
      1 cup mayonnaise
      1/2 cup milk or buttermilk
      1 lime, juiced (about 2 tbs. juice)
      1 packet Ranch dressing mix (ignore directions on packet)
      2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
      1/2 cup roughly chopped cilantro
      1/2 cup green salsa
      Hot sauce (Cholula or Tabasco), to taste

      Directions:
      1. Combine mayo, milk, lime juice, and contents of ranch packet in a blender. 
      2. Add garlic, cilantro, and green salsa and blend to thoroughly mix all ingredients.
      3. Season with hot sauce, if desired. If possible, refrigerate for several hours to allow dressing to thicken and flavors to meld.
      And there you have it friends, your very own recipe for a Cafe Rio/Costa Vida Sweet Pork Salad. Make it your own, I know you'll love it.