Thursday, February 28, 2013

Slow cooker chicken sausage and shrimp gumbo

I love learning what tasks other people consider "easy."  And, once I've done that same task myself, I also enjoy assessing how easy I'd consider their version of easy.

For example -- ladies out there, I'm especially talking to you -- French braiding hair.  Few skills elude me quite like that one.  I can't French braid a friend's hair, much less dream of doing it to my own locks.  I've tried.  And tried.  And tried some more with no success whatsoever.

I've tried with dry curly hair, wet hair, wavy brushed hair, and three day old unwashed hair.  I've turned three strands of hair into two and knotted my hair in multiple places, but I've never created a  decent looking French braid.

The genuine rage that I've felt attempting to do so can be compared to little else, possibly only Matt's frustration with the "recalculating" function on our Garmin.  So, whenever a girl with her hair styled in a smooth and symmetrical braid chirps, "Oh, it's so easy.  You can totally do it!" I want to shout, "IT IS NOT EASY!"

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Slow cooker Santa Fe chicken

Turns out I'm not always right.  Please try to bring yourselves out of that state of shock you're currently in.  In fact, I've been wrong about quite a few things, and I'm ready to come clean.

For example, a girl can have too many cardigans.  (Matt and Bryan, don't you dare say a word.)  At the beginning of the year, I cleaned out my closet and counted how many I actually owned -- 22.  Gulp.  But I did toss two into the bag of items to donate to Goodwill.  So, 20.  That sounds much better, right?

And eating four chocolate chip banana muffins right before bed will keep me awake much past my intended bedtime.  I won't sleep soundly and will be groggy the next morning and wind up skipping the early workout I'd originally planned.  Rinse and repeat a few more times, and I'll be concerned about more than just late night hyperactivity.  Coughrealmuffintopcough.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Fast Friday: Steaks with blue cheese onion sauce

Whoomp, there it is!  "It" being Friday.  Nothing like some old school Jock Jams to pump you up and get you excited for the weekend!

But, really, you don't even need Jock Jams to get your blood flowing.  You need only look at these pictures, knowing this was BY FAR the best dish I've ever made.  Like, ever ever ever.  Take that, T. Swift.

Grilled steaks with blue cheese onion sauce.  Swoon!  Be still my fluttering heart and longing taste buds.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Crock Pot baked potatoes with chili toppings

Sizzlin' slow cooker February has been a total hit in our home and for our taste buds so far, if I may say so. Soups, stews, lasagna, and even Indian food have all been ready come dinnertime with minimal human effort.  Thanks for the scrumptious meals, Louie!

But, as I reviewed the dishes I've made in the Crock Pot, I realized that all had a broth or sauce for a base. As I've learned in the past few weeks, you can cook almost anything in the slow cooker as long as there is some kind of liquid to keep the contents from drying out.

For example, I've made pulled pork by simply tossing a pork tenderloin in the crock pot, covering it with water, and cooking on low for 8 hours before draining, shredding, and mixing with our favorite Sweet Baby Ray's barbecue sauce.  Easy peasy!

Again with the liquid, though.  So, I couldn't help but wonder if it were possible to slow cook something without a broth or sauce.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Slow cooker chana masala

It's a little funny to me that two posts in a row are about me trying new things.  And this one's story began before my resolutions -- go me!

For four glorious years, I attended Pitt and was introduced to the perks of city life.  And one of the highlights was a late night dining deal offered by many of the restaurants in town: half off the food bill after 10 or 11pm.  If there's a sure fire way to attract poor students, it's to offer them large quantities of their favorite foods for a lot less cash.  A girl can only eat chicken tenders and deli sandwiches from the dining hall (Eddie's!) for so long.

One of those restaurants that my friends visited time and time again was India Garden.  They didn't just visit the place, they were downright obsessed with it!  I was a little hesitant to try it since I had this notion that all Indian food was supremely spicy and knew I couldn't handle that.  Growing up in Greensburg, I wasn't exactly bombarded with opportunities to try Indian food, so I just shelved the idea of Indian food for an undetermined amount of time.

Sometime during the summer between sophomore and junior years, my boyfriend convinced me to try Indian food... from a truck.  To be clear, I'm not knocking all food trucks (especially since their revival has been grand in the Pittsburgh area), just this one.  All you need to know is that I tried Indian food from that truck, got sick on said food from that truck, and went 8 years without dining on food from that truck or any other Indian restaurant.

That boyfriend and I broke up two years later.

Monday, February 18, 2013

M&M cookies

Most of the time, I feel like I've got my day to day life neatly organized and mapped out.  I have my routines, my beloved to-do lists, and even make (scheduled) time for spontaneity.  I know -- I'm so fun!

But, every now and then, the universe likes to throw me a curve ball when I get too comfortable and too high on my well-trained horse.  To be totally honest with you, I don't like it one bit because it usually means my plans need to be rewritten and my brain needs to be rewired.  I'm a liiiiiiiittle set in my ways.

I'm well aware of this flaw, so on January 1st I made a resolution to work on it.  To be more flexible!  To recognize opportunities for fun and growth!  To go at least one day a week without a to-do list!  As of today, I have 316 days to manage that last one.  Don't hold your breath, please.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Friday five: Friday essentials

Friday!  We made it.  How's your sugar hangover feeling this morning?  :)  I think I've been nursing a minor one all week long.  Who knew that I'd ever be looking forward to a weekend for consuming vast quantities of fruits and vegetables.  That's not to say I won't make room for a treat here and there.  Everything in moderation -- even moderation -- right?

With the work week coming to a close, all I can focus on is the impending fun I'm about to have during the weekend.  Long run!  Date night!  Care package assembly!  Crafting!  Baking!  It's enough to make this girl giddy with excitement.  But, let's not write off Friday before it's even halfway through.  Here are my five Friday essentials to ensure that the weekend ahead is extra fantastic.

1. "Foo Fridays!" - I am so, so very lucky to work in my own office, where I can listen to music most of the time.  My regular station of choice is "Symphonic, Classical Period" since it's nice background music and doesn't disturb anyone.  But, on Fridays, I need something with a little more zing and spunk as my brain shifts to weekend mode.  The Foo Fighters are one of my favorite bands, and their station on Pandora is just what I need to jam all day long.  Rockin' out, baby!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Slow cooker BBQ pulled chicken

It's Valentine's Day!  How are you going to show your love to those most important in your life?  I'm going to start by renaming our slow cooker.  Yep, the inanimate non-living slow cooker. "Crock Pot" just seems so impersonal, you know?  I think I'll call him Louie, mostly so I can say this over and over and over again:

"Louie, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship."

Louie and I, you see, have nurtured a wonderful and functional relationship over the past few two weeks.  For so long, we were like ships passing in the night.  I'd see him, up high on a shelf, but rarely brought him down to chat, to play, to work.  I'd grab the cookie sheets next to him and shut the closet, returning him to a world of neglect and darkness.

But, since sizzling slow cooker February has begun, our friendship has really grown.  We begin our mornings together -- I give him some attention while I make my breakfast.  I plug him in before we bid farewell, and I head off to work as he settles in for a cozy day of cooking whatever delicious ingredients I've given him.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

My Fat Tuesday, illustrated

Brought cookies to work... (recipe coming next week!)

Snacked on some of these in the morning...

Had a salad and leftover BBQ pulled chicken for lunch... (recipe on tap for tomorrow!)

Shared a Baby Ruth in the afternoon...

At last, dinner... and yes, the brownie batter doughnut from Dunkin' is sooooo worth the hype!  The filling is legit brownie batter, even with that signature slightly grainy texture.  Amaze.

And dessert... Razzy Fresh.  Coconut, cookies & cream, and French vanilla with some cookie dough bits and a single gummy worm.  For the win.

Gulp.  At least I started my day off with a run.  Overall, not a bad day.  Not a bad day at all :)

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Slow cooker black bean soup

I've never been the kind of person who listens and quietly obeys instructions.  I've also never been the kind of person who is quiet.  I'm okay with that, and I hope you are, too.

My parents will agree with both of those observations.  For as long as I can remember, my mom or dad would lean over during a certain part of the church service to tell us a little story.  "We were always so happy that the minister never invited kids up to the front of the sanctuary for a children's sermon when you two were little.  We were afraid of what you and your sister would say."

Are you kidding me, Mom and Dad?  What we'd say?

I guess they were referring to things that kids say when responding to a pastor's questions, like that Easter is when Jesus sees his shadow or, worse, something private about their parents.  I'm going to resist the urge to point out that, more often than not, it's parents who say things that embarrass their children.  Because I'm a mature adult.  And mature adults are gracious and don't point out the faults of their elders.  Like I said, I'm a mature adult.

Monday, February 11, 2013

107 ways to treat your lover!

Fifty bonus points (or I'll make you cookies if you live nearby... seriously) to whoever can name what song I'm referring to in this blog post.  I've already given too many clues! ;)

Update: Natalie was the first to correctly identify the song as Paul Simon's 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover.  Unofficial contest officially closed.

In case you've been living under a rock since January 1st and missed the parade of red and pink decorations, Valentine's Day is just around the corner -- 2 days and counting!  While I've never been one to make a huge deal out of 2/14 and I'm not a jewelry/flowers/fancy schmancy kind of lady, I have learned to celebrate and enjoy the day in other ways.  For example, I love sending Valentine cards in the mail, making Matt's card by hand, and wearing an uncharacteristic number of red and/or pink clothing items.

And, last but not least, I pounce on the opportunity show the people in my life how much I love them with food.  Say it with me now: dessert!  Is your sweetheart is a brownie fanatic?  Are your coworkers powerless at the sight of fluffy cupcakes topped with mountains of frosting?  Is your best friend a self-proclaimed cookie monster?  Regardless of their (and your!) tastes, I promise I've got a recipe for every kind of sweet tooth you imaginable.  Whichever of the 107 ways you choose to treat your Valentines, may they be delectable, indulgent, and full of love :)  XOXO!

Bar cookies/brownies
Butterfinger caramel bars
Chocolate chip cookie cake
From scratch "box" brownies
M&M blondies
Peanut butter and jelly bars
Peanut butter cup crunch brownies
Peanut butter cup fluffernutter blondies
Platinum blondies
Pretzel bottom Snickers blondies
Pumpkin gooey butter cakes
Pumpkin spice cheesecake brownies
Salted brown butter Rice Krispie treats
St. Louis gooey butter cakes
Trail Mix Rice Krispie treats

Friday, February 8, 2013

Fast Friday: Coconut acaroons

They say when life hands you lemons, you should make lemonade.  But what should you do if life hands you a big ol' bag of something that you don't know how to use?

A few weeks ago, there was a bit of a baking emergency (because that's really the only kind of emergency in my life):  I was mid-recipe and lacking an ingredient that, I swear, I always have on hand.  The baking was for a gift to someone the next day, so I braved the cold and embarked upon a late-night trek around the city to find the missing piece.

To make things more difficult, said ingredient wasn't something readily available at stores that were open that late, like convenience stores or gas stations.  Something like milk, eggs, or sugar.  Nope.  Said item was a little more, shall we say, exotic.

Shredded coconut.

Um, yeah.  Let me be the first to inform you that you will not find shredded coconut at CVS, Rite-Aid, 7-11, or the stores attached to Sunoco and Exxon gas stations.  I was as shocked as you are.  ;) 

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Slow cooker lasagna

It's sizzlin' slow cooker February 'round these parts, in case you haven't heard!

And, though I'm only two recipes in, I've got a secret to share with you: I'm falling head over heels in love with my Crock Pot all over again.  I totally did not see this coming!

What's not a secret is how much I love to cook.  It's such an important part of my evening routine.  Cooking dinner gives me a chance to work with my hands, create something something delicious, and step away from everything else in my life for a little while.

But, as I noticed last week, everything else in my life seems to be requiring a little more of me lately.  "Pay attention to me!" scream the overflowing laundry basket, still-ailing desktop computer, and pile of W-2s and other tax materials.

In other words, the annoying adult stuff is being super immature and throwing a fit, drowning out the pleasant chirping of the fun stuff ("Pay attention to me!  I'm fun!").  Not cool, adult stuff, not cool.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Slow cooker white bean and kielbasa stew

It was 11 o'clock on Monday morning, and I was at work.  My cell phone started buzzing; it was Matt, calling from home, on his day off.  Happy to take a break from staring at a computer screen, I answered, "Hi, dear!"

"Hi, lovely!" he said.
"How are you?"
"Good.  It smells like sausage in here.  What is it?  I want some."
"Oh, yeah.  That's tonight's dinner in the slow cooker.  It's bean and kielbasa stew."
"Can I have some?"
"Well, no.  It's not finished yet.  And it's for dinner."
"So?  Can I have some, please?"
"Honey, no.  Just... no.  Sorry, dear.  Your leftovers from dinner on Saturday are in the fridge.  You should have those."
"Boo.  Fine."

"So, what's up?" I asked, trying to change the subject.  "Oh, nothing.  I just wanted to know if I could have some of the sausage.  That's all.  Sorry to bother you at work," Matt said.  He wished me a good day and that was the end of the call.

While my dear, sweet, loving husband often calls just to say hi, this was not one of those calls.  This was an unadulterated foody call.  (That's the culinary version of a booty call, y'all.)  He only wanted me for my stew! ;)

Friday, February 1, 2013

Friday five: February fun edition

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Happy February, loves!  After saying, "This month just flew by!" for the past few months, January seemed to take it's time, and that was just fine with me.  It's been nice to slow down, take a look around, and enjoy the snowy winter we're having so far.  I know not everyone loves snow nearly as much as I do, but I would bet that everybody enjoys cuddling up inside with thick fuzzy socks, a mug of hot chocolate, and a a great DVD.  Cozy and happy weekends are the best!

With January in the books, some folks seem to start feeling a little stir crazy in February.  I'm here to banish those feelings with things you can plan and look forward to in the next few weeks.  Fun things on the calendar always make me happy and giddy with anticipation!

Here's this week's Friday five: upcoming fun things in February!

1. Fat Tuesday & Mardi Gras celebrations - Fat Tuesday falls on February 12th this year.  NOLA is #1 on my list of cities to visit, but I think I'd rather pick another time to visit the famous city.  That being said, I'm not going to let geography keep me from celebrating this year!  I'm planning to take a crack at making a quintessential southern dinner -- red beans and rice -- using the slow cooker.  Any other, PG-rated ideas for how to celebrate?

2. The Happiness Project -- I've been making a conscious effort to read more because, as it turns out, I enjoy it!  Plus, having something besides Scripture to read in the evening before bed really helps my mind "power down" and makes sleep more satisfying.  I've heard good things about this book for a while and moved it to the top of my must-read list after I finished my most recent book club selection (bizarre, in case you're wondering).  A long distance friend and I have decided to read this "together", and I'm really looking forward to sharing the experience with her!