Friday, September 30, 2011

Spanakopita and rich (and has layers).

Guess you're wondering what's going on after that title, eh? 

Since I'm busy and don't have much time, I'm going to try the short and sweet approach to this blog post instead of endlessly long paragraphs to explain everything. So here's what's been going on in La Famille Noir. 

Warning: This post may contain "whiny" elements! Bear with me as I detox.

  • Watching nieces a lot because they and their parents moved in to my in-laws for a while. So the house is crammed. Playing is fun, but sharing a bathroom with about 5 others is...something else!
  • Looking for apartments in Tallahassee and frustrated that so many people want 12 month leases when we need 6-7 months. 
  • Cooking and baking many yummy things and forgetting to take pictures in the hustle and bustle of lots of people in the home, so I haven't felt like blogging about the recipes because of lack of pictures.
  • Gaining some pounds because of all the "munchies" and baking. Ugh.
  • In contrast to that last statement, decreasing my mile running time. (Did a 5k in 31:56!) Crazy. Shouldn't I be seeing a loss of pounds?
  • Having HORRIBLE allergies since moving down to SLC. 
  • Waking up about 6-7 times a night because I can't breathe through my nose and my mouth and lips are all dry.
  • Taking many different allergy medications and having nothing work. 
  • Getting a cold sore and discovering Lysine. Taking 1,000 mg/day combined with my one-time use applicator, this cold sore is almost gone in less than a week!
  • Playing piano for Primary in my in-law's ward. Loving hearing the random comments from children each Sunday. I love Primary!
  • Start of Biggest Loser, Parenthood, and Grey's Anatomy seasons. Yay!
  • Prepping for my Level 3 Exam which requires memorization of 75 songs both played on guitar and piano and in 2 different keys. Insane!
  • Getting things figured out to get my father's estate settled between me and my siblings.
  • Listening to LOTS of Christmas music. Can't help myself!
  • Going to the gym on a 2 week trial pass and remembering how much I LOVE lifting weights. 
  • Finally seeing Harry Potter in the theatre. I know, I know. I'm a slacker. I used to go at midnight with all the fun dresser-uppers. But life has been insane! 
  • Crying throughout pretty much the entirety of Harry Potter and feeling sad that this is really the end! I've spent half of my life reading/watching Harry Potter. Wow, has it really been that long?
  • Netflixing Taking Chance and feeling like my life was changed for the better after watching that movie. I also cried throughout the entire thing. I was impressed by the honor, dignity, and respect that is bestowed upon our soldiers as they are brought home to be laid to rest. 
  • Changing our Netflix account to streaming only because of the doubled prices. 
  • Watching an episode of Star Trek every night before Michael and I go to bed. And loving the nerdom of it all.
  • Enjoying playing a real piano again. (Don't get me wrong, my keyboard with weighted keys is AWESOME. But there's just something about a real piano.) 

Whew, that's all I can think of right now. Recipe time!
(Greek Spinach Pie)

2 bunches of spinach, coarsely chopped
3 scallions, diced
12 oz. container cottage cheese
4 eggs
1/4 cup grated parmesan
1/4 cup feta, crumbled
1/4 cup flour
3 tbs. olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste
1 package phyllo dough
1/2 lb. melted butter

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Saute scallions in olive oil for 2-3 minutes, and put in a mixing bowl with all ingredients except phyllo and butter. Mix ingredients together. 
  2. Grease a large baking sheet pan with butter. Take half the phyllo and set the other half aside. Lay one sheet of phyllo across the bottom of the baking sheet and brush lightly with butter. Continue this process until you finish layering the first half of the dough.
  3. Pour the spinach mixture on top of the phyllo and spread evenly.
  4. Layer the second half of the phyllo dough on top of the spinach mixture, just as you did with the first half. If desired, you can score the dough with a knife before baking so as to reduce tearing of the phyllo once cooked and served.
  5. Bake for 1 hour or until golden brown. Let rest for 15-20 minutes, then serve.
Makes about 12 large servings

- This is RICH. So be careful and prepare yourself. You might want to take a nap afterwards, or wait quite a while before exercising. That's what I thought as I went for a run 1 hr. after eating. Should've waited 2. :)
- Make sure to have a basting brush for the butter. This way you'll use a lot less and reduce the richness factor.
- When working with the phyllo, make sure to cover the unused phyllo with a damp cloth, so it doesn't dry out and crack. This is delicate stuff.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Pumpkin Snickerdoodles

 Fall is officially here and I couldn't be more happy! I kind of feel like a little kid when the weather starts to get cooler and the leaves start to change. It reminds me of when I was young and we'd be so happy to have a change from all the heat in the summers of Louisiana. Cooler weather meant my brother's birthday (which was yesterday by the way, Happy 25th Michael!), then my birthday in October. And you know what came right after my birthday? The fair would come to town! We'd go in the evening and ride so many rides, we'd get sick. We'd eat cotton candy, run through the fun house and mirror maze, ride the Ferris Wheel, and always finish the night with a caramel apple on our way out of the fairgrounds. It was a pretty magical time. 

So these cookies remind me of my childhood because anything with pumpkin and cinnamon makes me feel like Autumn! They're pretty magical themselves. Plus my mother would always seem to make snickerdoodles around this time of year. These cookies make me think of apple cider, wassail, and walking through the seasonal aisles in various stores throughout town. The smell is intoxicating. You should really make these. Like right now. 

Because this recipe makes so many cookies, I'm about to head over to share some with a neighbor a couple of houses down. Because that's the kind of cookies these are. Simple, yummy, and waiting to be shared with friends.

Have a fabulous beginning-of-fall weekend and enjoy your football Saturday. Geaux Tigers and Hail the Utah State Aggies! (Who says I can't love both teams?)

Pumpkin Snickerdoodles
(adapted from Annie's Eats)


For the cookies
3 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup light brown sugar

3/4 cup pumpkin puree

1 large egg

2 tsp. vanilla extract

For the coating
1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp. ground ginger

Dash of allspice

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg.  Whisk to blend and set aside.  In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together the butter and sugars on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes.  Blend in the pumpkin puree.  Beat in the egg and vanilla until incorporated.  With the mixer on low speed, add in the dry ingredients and mix just until incorporated.  Cover and chill the dough for at least 1 hour, but preferably overnight.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350˚ F. Grease your baking sheets. Combine the sugar and spices for the coating in a bowl and mix to blend.  Scoop the dough (about 2½ tablespoons) and roll into a ball.  Coat the dough ball in the sugar-spice mixture and place on the prepared baking sheet.  Repeat with the remaining dough to fill the sheets, spacing the dough balls 2-3 inches apart.  
  3. Dip the bottom of a flat, heavy-bottomed drinking glass in water, then in the sugar-spice mixture, and use the bottom to flatten the dough balls slightly.  Recoat the bottom of the glass in the sugar-spice mixture as needed.
  4. Bake the cookies for 10-12 minutes, or until just set and baked through.  Let cool on the baking sheets about 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.  Repeat with the remaining dough.  Store in an airtight container.
Makes about 4 dozen cookies

Monday, September 19, 2011

Four-Ingredient Tomato Sauce

I have made this recipe 3 times in the past couple of weeks, it's that good. We have a large amount of tomatoes still coming in from the garden and this is a great way to use them up. I've never tasted a homemade tomato sauce that is this good. The fact that it simmers for 4 hours, might have something to do with it! ;) 

This is a great "base" for recipes that call for tomato sauce. You can jazz it up with fresh herbs, or just use it in a basic pasta dish. We made a really good Shrimp and Bacon Spaghetti with Fresh Basil the other night, using this very sauce! (I'll have to share that recipe sometime in the future). Go here for 10 Tasty Ideas for this sauce.You won't be sorry!

Four-Ingredient Tomato Sauce 
(adapted from Simple Bites)

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
8 large cloves of garlic, peeled
6 - 28 oz. cans tomatoes, diced or whole
2 tsp. salt

  1. Open cans of tomatoes and using a food processor, purée until smooth. 
  2. Pour the tomato purée into a large stock pot and begin heating over high heat, just until it reaches a simmer, then reduce heat to low and continue simmering. 
  3. While olive oil is heating over medium heat in a small saucepan, finely chop garlic. When olive oil is hot, add garlic and stir continuously for a minute or two, but do not let the garlic brown.
  4. Add about a 1/2 cup of tomato purée to the garlic mixture. Stir and let cook for about 1 minute and the olive oil will take on a golden color.
  5. Add garlic, oil, salt, and tomato mixture into the large stock pot with the rest of the purée and stir well. 
  6. Simmer on low to medium-low heat for at least 4 hours, until sauce reduces to about 1/3 of the original amount, stirring occasionally.
  7. Remove from heat and portion into freezer-safe Ziploc bags or containers, and freeze.
- At the beginning of your tomato puree simmering, you may notice a good bit of tomato "foam" on top. You can skim this off if you like, but otherwise, it will just cook into the sauce and be fine. 
- As I stated above, you can use LOTS of fresh tomatoes from the garden in place of the canned variety. You'll need about 30-35 decent size Roma tomatoes, or 15-20 large round tomatoes to get the same equivalency.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Chicken Enchilada Casserole

 This is one of my best accidental meals. We were planning on basic chicken enchiladas, but seeing as we didn't have flour tortillas, we resorted to corn instead. As we were trying to roll them up, they cracked and split. So, we improvised and decided to layer everything in the baking dish!
It turned out so great and so yummy! And because of that little fact, I was unable to take any pictures of the final product. (But I'm going to make it again soon, so there will be pictures, coming)! Everyone loved the flavors of the green chilies mixed with the pepper jack cheese. I'm a fan of "green" chicken enchiladas, and this casserole is just that. Try it tonight for a quick and easy dinner! And if you aren't ready to eat it yet, I'm sure it will freeze well too.

Hope Wednesday is turning out to be great for all of you. We're halfway through the work week!

Chicken Enchilada Casserole

3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 medium onion, diced
1/2 medium green bell pepper, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 can cream of chicken soup
1/4 cup sour cream
2 - 4 oz. cans green chilies
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. pepper
1/4 tsp. salt
corn tortillas
pepper jack cheese

  1. Cut chicken into bite sized pieces and set aside. 
  2. In large skillet, heat olive oil and sautée onion, pepper, and garlic until translucent and fragrant. Add chicken into pan and cook until the meat is no longer pink, and slightly brown on the outside.
  3. Add cream of chicken, sour cream, and one can of green chilies. Mix to combine, then add the cumin, chili powder, pepper, and salt. Simmer for 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally, just so the flavors can meld.
  4. Line the bottom of a 13X9 baking dish with corn tortillas. Spread an even layer of some of the chicken mixture over the tortillas. Then apply and even layer of pepper jack cheese. Repeat this layering process until you have filled your baking dish. 
  5. For the top layer, spread the second can of green chilies on top, then cover with cheese. 
  6. Bake in a 450 degree oven for 15-20 minutes, or until the cheese begins to brown and get bubbly on top.
  7. Serve with black beans and fresh corn on the cob!
Makes 6-8 servings

Monday, September 12, 2011

Peach Days and a "Peachy" Recipe

As you can tell, we couldn't help ourselves and visited Brigham City's Peach Days again this year! It's so much fun and full of neat things, that we just had to go this past weekend for all the festivities. We enjoyed having a nice and cool morning in Salt Lake with family and a neighborhood breakfast, then heading on up to the festival. 

There's always a large car show and we like to check that out. And when I say we, I actually mean it. Checking out cars has kinda become fun for me. I always find a few that I really think are cool. I found my dream car last year, if you'll remember ;)

This year I discovered the Studebaker, which Michael tells me are made by the former airplane designer. That's why lots of the cars have propellers on the front. Cool-io.

 We also found quite a few Willy Jeeps, which have special importance to the Black side of the family, specifically to Michael's dad Randy. I think I've told you about the old red Jeep before and how his dad drove it around when he was in high school down in Monticello. It's old (think 1950s) AND it's currently being fixed up as a project by Michael, Randy, and Janessa. They just got the engine out this week and have grand plans for it. So when we saw this particular Jeep, we got pretty excited at the future prospect for ours!

Oh, and I saw this house next to the produce stand where we bought peaches, nectarines, and mangoes on Saturday. I loved the contrast of the white house with black accents, that I had to take a picture. Future home inspiration...!

 Okay, time for the story of the mangoes. At our favorite little produce stand, they had boxes of mangoes for 3 dollars, and our friends the Satchwells decided to make a purchase. I went back and decided I wanted some, so I filled a box up and went to the register. The lady at the register said it was only a box of 10, but that wasn't written anywhere on a sign. And I told her that our friends just bought a huge boxful for the 3 dollar price. So...she gave us that same deal. Haha. How's that for simple negotiation?

Yep, I'm proud of myself. And coming home with 17 huge mangoes, I had to figure out what to do with them. I had a few ideas, but Mango Peach Salsa was first on my list!

This is a really simple recipe and it really is SO GOOD too. I'm a huge fan of fresh salsas, I think the flavor and texture is so much better than the canned variety. Also, with fresh salsas, I think you have a better option to use them with grilled meats, such as chicken, fish, or pork. The freshness just lightens up the meat and it's pretty much amazing. 

Anyway, I'm sure you'll enjoy it, as I currently am. Michael's dad said that we were a good team because I like to cook and he likes to eat. Make this salsa and give it to your neighbors, family, and friends and they will love you. But beware, there's a little kick at the end from the jalapeno. Just removed the seeds if you want less heat. Personally, I like the sweet heat combo and wouldn't have it any other way.
Mango Peach Salsa

6 large mangoes
3 large peaches peeled
2 cups fresh tomatoes, diced
1/2 sweet onion or red onion, diced
1 jalapeno pepper, minced
Juice of 1 lime
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 cup cilantro, minced
Salt and Pepper, to taste

  1. Peel and dice mangoes into small pieces. (If you are unsure how to do this, here's a good tutorial with pictures and suggestions). Place in large bowl. 
  2. Dice peaches, tomatoes, and onion and add to the bowl.
  3. Add jalapeno, lime juice, garlic, cilantro, and salt and pepper. 
  4. Mix all ingredients together and add more salt and pepper, if needed. 
  5. Serve with tortilla chips, or over grilled chicken or porkchops.
Makes about 6 cups

Friday, September 09, 2011

Chocolate Chip Cookie "Volcano" Cake

 Yes, what you are seeing is real. It's not a figment of your imagination, or mine...anymore. I "borrowed" this idea from Perry's Plate, who "borrowed" it from Martha. And believe me, my life...and all the other lives in the Black family who tried this last night were changed. For the better! 

From a Martha standpoint, it's referred to as the Chocolate Chip Cookie Icebox Cake, but we made ours a little different. Instead of stacking straight on top of each other to make a perfectly round cake, we went up and got thinner, tier by tier. So it's become the Chocolate Chip Cookie "Volcano" Cake to us!

We served this for the celebration of Tina's (my sis-in-law) birthday. She really wanted to try it out and said that this could be the trial run for my birthday, as I have been drooling dreaming about this ever since I saw it on Perry's Plate.

 As you can see, letting the cake rest in the fridge overnight, allows everything to stick together. The first piece even stuck to the knife! We really like the fact that the cream mixture in between the cookie layers is slightly sweetened. It's kind of like the perfect combo of milk and cookies. Except this whipped cream has cream cheese, a little sugar, and some almond extract mixed in. Amazing!

Here are the basics.

Chocolate Chip Cookie "Volcano" Cake
(adapted from Martha Stewart)

about 6-7 dozen chocolate chip cookies
4 cups whipping cream
8 oz. cream cheese
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp. almond extract

  1. In a standing mixer, whip cream cheese and powdered sugar until lumps are gone. Add whipping cream and almond extract and whip until thick and stiff peaks form. 
  2. Layer cookies and whipped cream in a circle on a baking sheet or cake plate. Repeat application of cookies, then whipped cream, layer after layer, until cake is as large as you prefer.
  3. Cover with plastic wrap and chill in refrigerator overnight.
  4. When ready to serve, remove plastic wrap and top with a little extra whipped cream and chocolate shavings, extra chocolate chips, etc. Cut into slices and enjoy!
Makes about 10-12 servings

And here's Leland, with our niece S. She's sure enjoying that ice cream cone! Cute. :)

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Pesto Pasta Salad

 I'm so excited to share two really wonderful recipes with you today. For a very long time, I have wanted to make my own pesto, but have never gotten around to it, for a couple of reasons. The first would be that every time I plant my own basil, we seem to have a bit of a love-hate relationship! They struggle in pots and then when I plant them in the ground, crazy bugs attack them. So, my journey towards fresh basil has been a long one. That all changed this weekend when I acquired some from my sister-in-law Jennifer's amazingly rich and HUGE garden.

I decided to give it a try, and it is so good. I wish I could describe the smell of fresh basil being mixed with olive oil, garlic, and Parmesan in the food processor. Tantalizing! Now, I will give you my little plug for walnuts in pesto. The price for pine nuts was $18.15/lb. and I don't know about you, but that was a little too expensive for my taste, so we substituted walnuts instead. They were fantastic! I really love the nutty and smooth quality walnuts gave to the pesto. They are definitely growing on me and becoming a favorite nut for recipes. 

You can customize this salad and the pesto to your specific tastes and preferences. I added a little more olive oil than the original recommended 1/2 cup, because I like my pesto to be a bit thinner. And for the salad, cucumbers and tomatoes fresh from the garden were a perfectly fresh combination along with the olives and pesto. Other options could be carrots, fresh mozzarella cubes, peas, or sweet peppers. Whatever you like. I hope your journey to pesto is not as ill-fated as mine. Enjoy!

Fresh Basil Pesto
(adapted from Simply Recipes)

2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup pine nuts or walnuts
3 medium sized garlic cloves, minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  1. Combine the basil in with the pine nuts, pulse a few times in a food processor. (If you are using walnuts instead of pine nuts and they are not already chopped, pulse them a few times first, before adding the basil.) Add the garlic, pulse a few times more.
  2. Slowly add the olive oil in a constant stream while the food processor is on. Stop to scrape down the sides of the food processor with a rubber spatula. 
  3. Add the grated cheese and pulse again until blended. Add a pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
  4. Serve with pasta or with freshly sliced baguette.
Makes about 1 1/2 cups

Pesto Pasta Salad

16 oz. package rotini, penne, or farfalle
tomatoes, diced
cucumber, diced
black olives, cut in half lengthwise
1/2 cup fresh basil pesto (recipe above)
fresh basil leaves, sliced in chiffonade
freshly grated Parmesan

  1. Boil pasta according to package directions. While pasta is cooking, chop tomatoes, cucumbers, and olives. 
  2. Rinse pasta in colander under cool water. 
  3. In large bowl, combine pasta with vegetables and fresh basil pesto. 
  4. Top with basil leaves and Parmesan. Serve immediately or cover and place in refrigerator until ready to serve!
Makes 6-8 servings

Monday, September 05, 2011

Bananas Foster

 This is the easiest (and yummiest, might I add) recipe for Bananas Foster that you will ever find. This New Orleans classic is usually made with rum, which is then ignited at the end of the cooking process for a little flambe-ing action. It's impressive! But, seeing as we don't drink alcohol, this recipe is without. And I don't think it is missing anything in the way of flavor.

I made this for dessert yesterday evening for Michael's family and they LOVED it. Michael's mom said that even though she's a chocolate fan and usually prefers that in a dessert, this changed her mind. Good thing there were leftovers because she and Michael's dad came back to it again for dessert tonight! My bro-in-law Kelly and my sis-in-law Janessa had some for a late night snack yesterday. Apparently they couldn't hold out til the next day. It's that good!

I suppose if you want to the rum flavor to be there, you could add a little rum extract and achieve the overall same effect. I might have to try that in the future. But until then, enjoy this yummy recipe!

Bananas Foster
(adapted from

8 tbs. butter
8 bananas, sliced
3 cups light brown sugar
4 tsp. vanilla
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. salt
vanilla ice cream

Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat.

  2. Add sliced bananas and stir for 2 minutes.

  3. Add brown sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, and salt.
Lower heat and continue cooking, stirring constantly for 2 more minutes.

  5. Serve over a big scoop of vanilla ice cream!
Makes 8 servings

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Gold Star

Short but interesting story. I went to DownEast the other day and found a couple items on sale that I really wanted/needed to buy. 

One of those items was this skirt. Marked down from $41 to $28.70, then 30% off that. I had a little bit of money left on a gift card, so I used that then paid with my card also. The total came to $7.49, which I thought was pretty small, but I paid and went home.

When I got back to the house, I decided to check the receipt because I was pretty sure the amount on my gift card was much smaller than the $20-ish dollars that had to have been on there to pay for that skirt. And I was right; the gift card only had $1.05 on it. Apparently the lady forgot to scan in my skirt and only got the top.

So I made a trip back to the store and told the clerk what happened and that I'd like to pay for the skirt. She took a good bit of time checking the receipt and scanning the skirt into the computer, then said, "I wish I could give you a gold star"!

And it got me thinking. From working retail for all of college, how many times have I had angry customers come back and complain because they've been overcharged or not been treated fairly? A LOT. But I can't even count on one hand how many people come back to pay for an item when they accidentally weren't charged, or something of the like.

Guess it's just how I was raised. To be honest. To treat others as you would like to be treated. To be fair. And you know what, even though I could've gotten away with not paying for that skirt and none would've been the wiser, it felt good to do what was right.

So I quote the all-familiar phrase on this Sunday, "Honesty is always the best policy".

Friday, September 02, 2011

Fall Fashion

Welcome cute and colorful jackets, how I have missed you.

I think Plum and Green are going to be big this year. Plus, who doesn't love a good A-line? ;)

I. MUST. have. this. dress. 
The gray. The gathering. The flowy sleeves. The dots!

Loving the ruffles, warm colors, and general feminine vibe to all these tops.

Pencil skirts NEVER go out of style. I'm drooling over the ruffly bottom and fabric bow belt from the one on the right. 

Well ladies, it's that time again. Time to put away your summer-y prints and colors and move into the warmth of reds, yellows, plums, oranges, and all things fall-colored. Personally, this is my favorite time of year. I love layering, especially with a cute jacket. And these pieces from Anthropologie and DownEast do not disappoint! Now if only I could afford to have all of this in my wardrobe. That would be a dream come true kind of day! :)

Hope you're enjoying the slightly cooler weather, I know I am. What are you most looking forward to with this upcoming fall? Clothes? Food? Decorating?