Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Best Things In Life Are Filled With Pumpkin

Pumpkin. The quintessential sign that fall is here. What used to be a Thanksgiving pie filling and a luminous Halloween decoration is now making its way into EVERYTHING- almost absurdly. Don't get me wrong, I love autumn and all it's pumpkin-y goodness, but what place does squash have in coffee and beer and...Pringles? After all, no one offers a butternut squash latte. Or a spaghetti squash lager. Because that would be gross, right? But pumpkin, the prize child of the harvest, gets special treatment. I think what happened was the pumpkin teamed up with his friends, sugar and cinnamon, and schemed their way into everything edible while simultaneously tricking the average American into thinking that their "pumpkin" goody was healthy. Oh, the conniving pumpkin...


Now that I've just ranted out against pumpkins, let me reiterate how much I love pumpkin- that it's, the pumpkin that has been mixed with sugar and cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves, then baked within a buttery oatmeal cookie crust...Cue my latest creation (when I say "my" I mean someone else's recipe): Pumpkin Pie Crumb Bars. If you're looking for an off-beat treat to bring to harvest party or reinvent Thanksgiving dessert, this is perfect. Perfect as a pumpkin should be. Happy fall!

Pumpkin Pie Crumb Bars

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease a 8x8 or 9x9 pan.

Mix together 1 1/4 cup each flour and oats, 1/2 teaspoon each salt and baking soda, and 1/2 cup each white sugar and brown sugar. Once incorporated, add 3/4 cup melted butter (unsalted, if possible) and 1 teaspoon vanilla (mix the vanilla into the butter, then add butter mixture to flour mixture). The final product should not be dry nor crumbly. You want it like a cookie dough, but not as sticky. Press half of this mixture into the greased pan and bake for 15 minutes.

While this is baking, mix together another 1/4 cup each white and brown sugar, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, 1/4 teaspoon each ginger and salt, and a pinch of cloves. You could also use pumpkin pie spice if you have it (about 2 teaspoons). Next, add one whole egg and one egg yolk and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla. Then, add a 15-oz can of pumpkin (plain pumpkin- not the pumpkin pie filling) and 1/3 cup of half and half or evaporated milk and mix until well combined.

Once your bottom cookie crust layer comes out of the oven, pour the entire pumpkin mixture on top, spreading evenly over the crust. Put right back in the over and bake for another 15 minutes. Then, remove and carefully sprinkle the remaining cookie mixture over the top of the pumpkin. You should have enough to completely cover the top. Return to the oven for about 20-25 minutes or until the cookie crust is golden and the center isn't jiggly.

This part is essential- cool for AT LEAST one hour at room temperature. This isn't a dessert that is better warm. If time permits, cool in the fridge for another hour (or overnight) for an even better consistency and taste. Top with whipped cream and maybe a dash of cinnamon if you really want to be a fancy-pumpkin-pants.

100% credit for the recipe goes to Cooking Classy, which I found via Pinterest.

Friday, September 13, 2013


A way to a man's heart is through his stomach. A way to 3 men's hearts? Stuffed shells of course....


Two of Michael's best friends from California (and also the best man and a groomsman in our wedding) visited Boston this past week. I took their visit as an opportunity to finally cook up something different. I have to give credit to my brother (and fellow blogger- check out Nourish) for the idea. He just moved to Philadelphia to pursue PA School at Drexel University (go Dragons!) and cooked this for his inaugural dinner in his first apartment. I tweaked the original recipe a bit and made my own sauce, which is a new must in my book. I've gone back and forth on my opinion of jarred pasta sauce, but lately I've been finding them too sugary and extremely bland. Nothing beats a homemade sauce. It's easy to make, it keeps forever in the freezer, and you get more bang for your buck. What's not to love?

For the sauce...
-Sautee one minced onion (white or yellow) and 3-4 cloves of minced garlic in olive oil over medium high heat for about 5 minutes. Be careful not to burn anything!
-Add one 28-oz can plus one 14.5-oz can of whole San Marzano tomatoes. They are more expensive than the non Marzano's, but there's a reason to that. It's worth the extra buck.
-Using an immersion blender, blend up the sauce to your desired consistency. I ended up adding another can of diced tomatoes. You could also add tomato paste prior to adding the whole tomatoes for a thicker sauce.
-Bring to a low boil and add salt and pepper to taste. You can add anything else here, too. Fresh or dried herbs (like basil, tarragon, thyme, parsley, oregano) or if you want a kick, red pepper flakes.
-The sauce is ready to use or store in an airtight container in the fridge.

For the shells...
-Boil a large pot of water, salt it when it reaches a boil, and carefully add one box (12-oz) of jumbo pasta shells. Cook according to package directions (about 9 minutes). Carefully drain and let dry on a baking sheet lined with a paper towel (they need to be cool to handle, and you want to separate them so they don't stick together).

For the stuffing...
-While the shells are cooking, brown about 1lb italian sausage (you can also used ground beef, ground chicken or turkey, or completely omit the meat).
-Also while the shells are cooking, mix together 15-oz ricotta cheese, 1 egg, a good handful (about 3/4 cup) of parmesan cheese, and 1/2 a box (about 5-oz) frozen chopped spinach (previously defrosted and drained). Add salt and pepper to taste. I also added some fresh parsley and basil.
-If you're using meat, add cooled and drained meat to the cheese mixture.

Now put it all together...
-Spread a thin layer of sauce on the bottom of a large casserole dish (13 x 9 pyrex is my go-to).
-Stuffed your cooled shells with a heaping tablespoon full of the cheese-meat mixture, and place on top of sauce.
-Continue until the dish is full (but don't overcrowd)
-Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for about 30 minutes. During the last 15 minutes, sprinkle mozzarella cheese on top.
-Serve with extra sauce, crust bread, and a simple salad.


Side note: I ended up having about 15 extra shells and not enough stuffing, so if you upped the ricotta cheese to the larger size container you would be able to make another (smaller) casserole to either freeze or feed an army :)

I've seen a Pinterest recipe for Mexican stuffed shells, so perhaps I'll try that next. Stay tuned!

Monday, September 9, 2013

Infusion de Miguel

This recipe is 100% Michael. And 100% awesome. He got the inspiration from a local restaurant called The Mission. It's a perfect late summer cocktail when watermelon is in season and tequila is tasty (tequila is always tasty, but it does lend better to summer days).

First, you need a big jug. Anything glass with a lid works. You can get one like in the picture at TJ Maxx or Marshall's for less than $20. For 1.75 liters of tequila blanco you need the following:

1/4 of a watermelon, cut into triangles with the rind left on.
1 cucumber, sliced into 1/2" round
2 medium hot peppers, cut into thin rounds (jalapenos was in the original recipe, but our grocer was fresh out [pun intended] so I used two red chili peppers and a habanero)

Place fruit & veg in the big jug then top it off with the tequila. A little note on tequila while I'm at it- do yourself a favor and don't buy anything less than 100% agave. Jose Cuervo is not tequila...And don't be   tempted by Patron. It's a decent tequila masked by a fancy label and a Cadillac status. Branch out- try Milagro, El Jimador, Camarena, Hornitos. And for this recipe make sure you buy a blanco (aka: clear) tequila.

To make the actual cocktail, shake up 1 shot tequila infusion, 1/2 shot lime juice (about 1/4 lime squeezed), and a teaspoon-ish of agave nectar. Cocktails are all about preference. You like sweet cocktails, go heave on the agave. Potent cocktails, heavy on the tequila.

The infusion should keep a good couple weeks at room temperature, maybe longer. And now that you have a big jug, you can infuse your own concoction. Let me know if you have any successes!


Friday, July 26, 2013

Where Has the Summer Gone?

Finishing my masters
Teaching English to foreign adult-students
Training for a marathon (and this just in, a mini-triathlon, too)
Learning how to swim for said triathlon
Teaching spinning
Planning my wedding 
Contemplating my next move...

...Those are all the things I'm doing right now. Oops, I forgot to add "making people pity me." JK. I promise I'm not complaining. I like my life jam-packed. Idle time and I don't get along well. But needless to say I'm busy. I have been able to squeeze in a couple summer time treats. The annual Indy 500 trip was awesome as always. A little cooler than usual which was nice, and for those of you who don't follow racing, Tony Kannan won which was a long time coming and I great feat to witness. I've also made it to the Cape a couple times. Once when my brother visited (he laughs that I call it "the Cape." I've become such a New Englander). And technically we didn't even go to "the Cape." We went to "the Vineyard," as in Martha's Vineyard. It was my first time there and I loved it. Quaint. Quiet. Quintessential. There isn't anything better in the summer than spending the day at the beach, picking up fresh swordfish on the way home, and barbecuing outside. The second Cape visit was when my parents visited around the 4th of July (aka my dad's birthday, aka the day before my wedding plus one year). One notable foodie adventure was a place called the Glass Onion in Falmouth, MA. Upscale, delicious food without the pretentious atmosphere. Good wine. Great company. Lots to celebrate...After my parents' visit, things have been pretty low key around here. Some day trips to the beach. Backyard barbecues (ok, front stoop barbecues). Tackling the aforementioned list of things to do. Speaking of...I have some things I need to do :) So until next time, I'll leave you with a photo montage of my summer so-far...

How to Make a Dang Good Margarita (See Below)

Beer Sampling @ BigWoods in Indiana

How to Make a Dang Good Salad (See Below)

Cherry Pie for the Star-Spangled Birthday Boy

Port on the Port (in Falmouth, MA)

Grilling things in Foil Packets. Yum!

A Wicked Hot Game @ Fenway on the 4th of July

Fireworks over Boston. Beautiful

Dang Good Margarita: Step one, don't buy mix. Step two, buy good tequila (100% agave). Step three, fresh squeezed lemon, lime, and orange juice (one lemon, one lime, half an orange per marg). Pour juice, a couple shots of tequila, and a shot of Grand Marnier or orange liquor over ice. Shake it up, pour it into a rock glass (with a salted rim if that's your thing- it's definitely my thing), and top it off with club soda. Lime flavored sparkling water is really good here, but any variety works. 

Dang Good Salad: Step one, don't buy dressing (that's the only smart-alec step I have for this one). The key to a really good (family style) salad is layering the ingredients and not over dressing it (and not using bottles dressing, as mentioned). Start by cutting up your salad fixings and tossing it together in a big bowl. Lettuce, mixed greens, cucumber, bell pepper, carrots, tomato...whatever you like in a salad is fair game. Make sure everything is washed and dried. No one likes soggy salad. Next, sprinkle over a generous handful of parmesan cheese, and a not as generous handful of salt, pepper, and seasoning salt (if you have it). You can always add more seasoning, but not take it away. No one likes a salty salad. Right before you're ready to eat, drizzle some olive oil, red wine or rice vinegar (or both!), and juice from about half a lemon over the top. Again, use sparingly. You can always adjust later. Use your hands to toss the salad (please wash them first- your guests will thank you). Test-try a bite and see what it needs. More salt? More oil? It's your call.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Cookin' Cajun for Cinco de Mayo

So, on the eve of Cinco de Mayo, when everyone is making tacos and margaritas, I decided to throw a curve ball and cook cajun. (However, I did not omit the margaritas. Drinking one as we speak). My Cajun inspiration was a lovely little pasta joint in Mission Hill across the street from the school I was student teaching at. It took me until the last day of student teaching to actually be coaxed into going there (I'm a brown bag lunch kind of girl), but I am so glad I did. Lilly's Pasta is a hidden gem- and they deliver to the Boston/ Cambridge area! But if you don't live close by, fear not. I was able to perfect their Cajun pasta so that you can make it in the comfort of your own home.

I also have to give credit to the amazing Pioneer Woman, Ree Drummond. One of my favorite bloggers slash Food Network Stars. Her recipes never fail to make my mouth water, and her blog is amazing for home cooks (http://thepioneerwoman.com/). If it's easier, just follow her recipe for Cajun Chicken Pasta, I promise I won't be offended. If not, here is my rendition.

Prep work: slice up one green pepper, one red pepper, and half a red onion (I'm sure a white onion would be OK too). Chop three cloves of garlic while you're at it. Put a large pot of water on to boil for your pasta.

Next, heat a large skillet over medium- high heat to cook your protein. I happened to have Cajun Spiced Chicken Sausage (how convenient!) so I heated that up. But like Lilly's and Ree's recipes, you can use chicken. If you go the sausage route, cook the links for a few minutes until heated through (they are already fully- cooked, so no need to go overboard here).

Once your protein is cooked, remove it from the pan and add a tablespoon each of butter and olive oil. To the buttery-oily goodness, add your veggies (green and red pepper, onion and garlic). Season them with Cajun seasoning (*see below*) and cook for a good 5-10 minutes until the veggies are soft and slightly browned.

Meanwhile, your water is probably boiling, so add some salt and a box (~1lb) of pasta. Any type of pasta will work here. Cook the pasta according to package directions (and maybe a minute less). No one likes overcooked pasta!

Once your veggies are cooked, add one 14.5 oz can of diced tomatoes and continue cooking for another minute or two. Remove from pan (i.e: pour into a bowl that your tall fiance got down from the top shelf and set aside).

With the pan back on the stove, add a 1/2 cup of white wine and about 2 cups of chicken broth. This will help deglaze the pan. Deglaze is a fancy word for loosening up all the tasty brown bits that are stuck to the pan. Cook the wine/broth mixture for a few minutes. What you're doing is burning off the alcohol (I know, how sad) and condensing the flavor of the wine. Therefore, make sure you use a good wine when you cook (who am I kidding- I used boxed wine...but then again, I drink boxed wine...) Once the wine/broth has cooked down, add 1 cup of heavy cream and let that cook down for a few minutes. I was expecting the cream mixture to thicken more than it did, so don't worry if it looks thin. Once you add back in the veggies, protein, and pasta it will thicken up just fine...

Speaking of, add your veggies and protein back in to the cream sauce. I also added about a cup of chopped spinach. This wilts quickly so the heat of the sauce will do the trick. After a minute or two, add in your drained pasta. I also added a generous palmful of parmesan cheese here, because, let's face it, everything is better with cheese.

*Cajun Seasoning*
If you have Cajun seasoning, you're good to go. If you don't, you can make it from what you already have in your spice rack. Paprika, cayenne pepper, oregano, thyme, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, pepper. I approximated, so feel free to look up Cajun seasoning recipe online (there are tons!) Or, just wing it like I did and mix the aforementioned spices until it tastes good. Beware of the cayenne though. Cajun food is spicy but don't overdo the cayenne. If you're using chicken instead of sausage, you are going to use this seasoning to flavor the chicken so make extra!

I just want to add a quick side note that this is really good. Like, really good. It's spicy. It's creamy. It's veggies, protein, and carbs all in one bowl. And while I love Mexican food, this was the best Cinco de Mayo (ok, Quatro de Mayo) meal I've ever made. Speaking of Mexican, I need another margarita....

Adios y buen provecho.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

A Post for Bean Town

Sunday morning I took an early morning cab to Boston Logan Airport. It was the 14th of April. I was making small talk with the very friendly cab driver about Marathon Monday- an event that brings in thousands of people from around the world to run and celebrate and cheer on those brave and crazy souls that run 26.2 miles for fun. I asked the cab driver if he had been busy because of the influx of people. He laughed and told me “no- the type of people who are in town this weekend don’t take cabs,” he said, “they run...”

His sentiment came back to me a couple days later in the aftermath of the marathon bombing when I heard the news that some individuals, after running a marathon, kept running to the hospital to donate blood. There were several heroes that day. Several unnecessary heroes. Unnecessary because these heroes should have been cheering on runners, grabbing a celebratory beer, or taking a much needed nap. Instead they were running to donate blood, ripping off their own clothes to make tourniquets for injured bystanders, and weeping about a cowardly act that took innocent lives, jeopardized the safety of one of the oldest cities in the United States, and tainted the beloved Boston tradition that is Marathon Monday.

I find myself, in the aftermath of this horrible tragedy, ironically feeling a sense of pride that I live in Boston. Being a (almost) Colorado native, I never gave Boston much credit. The accent is annoying. The drivers are horrible. Dunking Donuts is everywhere and it’s not even good. It’s too windy. Too rainy. Too humid. The sun doesn’t shine enough. I hate the sports teams. I’m not a city girl…So many have said that whoever bombed the marathon picked the wrong city to mess with. They say the people of Boston are strong. You knock us down and we get right back up. It takes a certain kind of person to live in Boston. A person who can tolerate obnoxious accents and horrific drivers. Who can bundle up and walk head first into horizontal rain and ruthless wind. A person who can silently rejoice when the Patriots or the Celtics lose. Who can go to a game at Fenway Park and still enjoy the time-honored stadium despite the fact that the Red Sox squashed the Colorado Rockies only chance of a World Series. Ever. It takes a certain kind of person to live in Boston and after almost four years of living there, I realize I may just be that certain kind of person.

It’s only been a couple days since the historic marathon was terrorized with back-to-back bombs. The criminal is still on the loose. I have no doubts they’ll find it (it being the criminal. I prefer not to give it any human qualities). They’ll find it, punish it, serve it due justice. But what happened has happened. No amount of justice served can take back that day. No amount of justice served can give back lives or limbs lost. And no amount of justice served can erase the horrible images from my mind that are sure to haunt me anytime I walk down Boylston Street from this day forward. And I guess that’s just life. These things happen, and unfortunately they will probably happen again. And if they don’t kill you (God willing), they do make you stronger.  You have to keep on living. You can’t live your life in fear of cowards. You can’t let them win. I’m signed up for my first marathon in November in another old, historic city- Philadelphia.  And I’m going to run it for Boston. My family goes to the Indy 500 every Memorial Day Weekend. It is perhaps the most fun day of the entire year. And I’m still going to go this year, and the year after that, and the year after that. I’m still going to go to the movies on opening night. I’m still going to be an elementary school teacher. I’m still going to go sporting events and the mall and I’m still going to fly on airplanes. Life is full of danger. So what do you do? You live. You pray. You savor every day, every experience, every moment. I strongly believe there is more good in the world than evil. “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.” Evil tries to knock us down, but we get right back up fighting even stronger than the last time. Still don’t believe me? Move to Boston. Become one of us. Then you’ll see. 

And if you're still having a hard time believing in good, here's some inspiration:

Sunday, March 31, 2013

A Case of the Droopy Tulips

Happy Easter everyone. Or Passover. Or March Madness. Or whatever you find yourself celebrating tonight!

I discovered a couple things this weekend. The first was that lasagna is not solely for the Italians. The second was that there is a cure for droopy tulips (exciting weekend, huh?)

So, which of these thrilling feats should I talk about first? How bout' the flowers. I bought a beautiful bunch of orange sunset tulips on Saturday afternoon (yes, orange sunset is a color. Google it). I got them home quickly, filled up a big vase of water, cut off the the bottom of the stems...I did everything you're supposed to do. But as soon as the tulips went into the vase, they drooped right over. Major problem. No one wants a droopy tulip. So I went to my trusty friend, Google, and searched for cures for droopy tulips (something I never thought I would Google). People recommended sugar water, ice water, little to no water, even vodka water. I wasn't about to waste my vodka on tulips (sorry guys) so I sought a second opinion (aka, the next Google search result). I found that by poking a pin-sized hole in the stem right under the flower head, something magical happens and the tulips perk right up. I figured it was worth a shot (and I didn't have to part with my vodka) so I got to pricking. Nothing happened right away, and I had honestly forgotten about it, until this morning (Easter morning) I woke up to perky tulips! It was the resurrection of my tulips! Or the Easter bunny. One of the two. And if you don't believe me, see for yourself!

Before (Sad Tulips)
After (Happy Tulips)

So now that I cured the world of droopy tulips, I'll get back to what I'm really good at- food. We had a little pre-Easter family gathering on Saturday night at our place and I offered to cook (surprising, I know). My initial thought was vegetarian lasagna. I've been really into veggies lately and what better place to put them than layered between pasta and cheese. But, instead of going to the store in the car I don't have to pick up a bunch of ingredients with the money I also don't have, I opted instead to use what I had on had and try my hands at a Mexican-style lasagna. This was seriously easy and seriously delicious. Seriously.

Lasagna Mexicana

Olive oil
1 onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, diced
1 lb ground beef, turkey, or chicken
Taco seasoning 
1 can diced tomatoes, drained
1 can black beans, drained
1 cup corn 

4-8 tortillas 
2 cups shredded cheese

Start by heating olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat (a tablespoon or two is enough). Give the oil a minute or two to heat up, then toss in the onion and garlic. If you don't have onion and garlic, it wouldn't be the end of the world if you left it out. Let the O & G cook a couple minutes then add your ground meat. I used ground turkey, but you can use whatever you like. Ground turkey is pretty inexpensive for the quality, it's a lot less greasy than ground beef, and the other ingredients in the lasagna keep it moist and delicious. Once the meat is about halfway cooked (you'll know) add your taco seasoning. You can use the taco seasoning from the packet (like Ortega or Old El Paso) or you can use another blend. My favorite is Chili 9000 from Penzeys Spices. I probably use about a tablespoon of seasoning, maybe less. I'm really bad at measuring, if you didn't figure that out already. Let the meat cook until just done (again, you'll know). Stir in the tomatoes, black beans, and corn. Set aside for now.

Lightly coat a casserole dish with olive oil or cooking spray (I used an 8x8- any similar size would work). Now, you build the lasagna. The first layer is tortillas. I cut the tortilla into quarters and put the point of each tortilla quarter into each of the four corners of the casserole dish. If you're not a visual-spacial geek like me, just throw the round tortilla in the square dish. It will be fine, I promise. 

Top the tortilla with about a fourth of the meat mixture. Then, a good layer of shredded cheese. Whatever cheese you please. On top of the cheese, more tortilla. Then mean. Then cheese. Rinse and repeat. Just kidding, don't rinse. That would be gross. Just repeat the layers until you run out of ingredients. Bake in a 450 degree oven for about 15 minutes or until the cheese is melted. Slice and serve with your favorite burrito toppings- salsa, guacamole, sour cream. Yum. You won't regret this decision. It's just as good the next day, too, so have at it!

I hope you all had a wonderful weekend filled with good food and perky tulips. Enjoy the sunshine where you are.