Oven Roasted Tomatoes | Versatile & Easy!

28 Apr
tomatoes, olive oil and S&P waiting to be roasted

tomatoes, olive oil and S&P waiting to be roasted

The warmer New England weather is starting to remind me of the summer foods I’ve missed all winter. Top of my list? Fresh tomatoes!

Grocery stores have been taunting me with tomato sales but I know they’re not yet in season. There is nothing quite like a just-picked tomato at the height of its season (or any produce, for that matter). My dad grew them nearly every summer in the garden when we were kids. He’d have competitions with a fellow gardner friend and I have vivid memories of secret tricks and strange apparatuses surrounding the tomato plants in the garden. My mom would make tomato and cheese sandwiches for us to enjoy at the peak of tomato season — hearty white bread spread with Miracle Whip then stacked with layers of sliced tomatoes and cheddar cheese & a little sprinkle of S&P. Yum…summer in sandwich!

So back to my point….since cherry tomatoes have been on sale quite a bit, Jess has been buying them. They were fine tossed into my lunch salads but I wanted a way to make them more delicious. Flour Bakery (a Boston area delight) is smart — and their BLT is the best BLT I’ve ever had in my life. I dream about it.  One of their secrets? They roast the tomatoes when they’re not in season in order to bring out their yumminess. Roasting also rids them of that gross mealy texture that often plagues out-of-season tomatoes. The recipe I used as a guide states, “roasting concentrates their flavor, turning the tomatoes into savory, tender little umami bombs”. Genius, right? It’s very easy & roasted tomatoes are a perfect addition to any recipe, sandwich, salad, pizza, pasta/rice salad, etc. — the possibilities are endless. We added them to a homemade pizza with oven roasted rosemary lemon turkey breast and banana pepper rings.

fresh_to_roasted

top: before roasting, middle: after first 20 minutes, last: after roasting

Oven Roasted Tomatoes (adapted from America’s Test Kitchen: DIY Cookbook, Oven Dried Tomatoes)

Ingredients

12 ounces – 1 pint of cherry tomatoes (grape tomatoes would work fine, too)
1 Tablespoon olive oil
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Steps

  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Rinse the tomatoes and lightly pat dry with a clean dish towel.
  3. Cut each tomato in 1/2 lengthwise & toss into a small bowl (with enough room for tossing later).
  4. Add olive oil, salt & pepper to the bowl and toss to evenly coat the tomatoes.
  5. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper (or aluminum foil) for easy clean-up. Place a wire rack on top of the prepared baking sheet and lightly spray with non-stick cooking spray.
  6. Place the seasoned tomatoes on the rack cut side down (not all of mine were facing down & they turned out fine).
  7. Place tomatoes into the oven for  20 minutes.
  8. Carefully remove the baking sheet from the oven and immediately turn the temperature down to 300 degrees.
  9. Use a fork to carefully flip the tomato halves cut side up and remove any tomato skin that has fallen off. If all of your tomatoes still have the skin on them, there’s no need to remove it since cherry tomatoes have such tender skin.
  10. Place them back in the oven for 20-25 minutes.
  11. Remove from the oven & allow to cool to room temperature before enjoying.

Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week.

roasted tomatoes standing by to be the next pizza topping

roasted tomatoes standing by to be the next pizza topping

Let’s Get Organized! | Spice Rack DIY

2 Mar

DIY spice rack

One result of small space living (or a small kitchen at least) is the true need for clever kitchen storage solutions. We’ve come up with a few that utilized stuff we already had, like an office document/mail organizer tucked in a lower cabinet to neatly store oversized Tupperware/lids & a larger, short, round Rubbermaid container to keep smaller lids tidy that we stuck to the inside of the door of the same lower cabinet with industrial Velcro.

We’ve never had a great solution for storing herbs & spices that we use frequently. We bought these containers that we love, but had them stacked in a two-tiered “system” on our kitchen shelves. It wasn’t the best use of their great see-through lids & it still left us shuffling through spices whenever we wanted to use them.

I’ve seen a lot of terrific spice storage solutions but wanted something that utilized our existing jars & a smallish wall space we have in our kitchen next to some cabinets. Note: the best placement for spice storage is somewhere darkish (or out of direct sunlight) and a coolish/room temp. While the magnetic tins we made would be fine stuck to the side of a refrigerator, the fridge in our kitchen can run a little warm & the side we’d have stuck them to is right next to the window, so we opted for a space on the other side of the kitchen, away from direct sunlight and appliances that emit heat.

I intentionally made the labels take up a large part of the see-through lid – to keep out even more light.

Supply list followed by quickie DIY instructions

Spice rack stainless steel magnetic base: We used this and were really pleased with the quality & speedy shipping. Screws are not included so be prepared to provide your own for attaching the base to the wall.

Tins: Source: Specialty Bottle — I’ve ordered lots of things from SB & they’re great! They’ll send you a couple of samples too (at no charge!). The possibilities are endless but as previously mentioned, we used these.

MagnetsI bought these but you can also search for them on Amazon & elsewhere on the web. I’ve seen other tutorials that use magnetic paper. That would be fine too – but in my experience, it’s not as strong as individual magnets & I didn’t want to go to the trouble to make this whole thing, only to have the heavier spices slide down the wall mounted base.

Glue: I used E6000 (that I bought at a local craft store). It worked well but it’s super toxic AND even with the windows open (hooray for a warm winter!) & a tabletop fan pointed towards the window….WOW — the smell was horrible & made me feel nauseous! I’d forgotten how toxic this stuff is…ick!

1) Measure the space you want to put your jars. Make sure if it’s near a cabinet, that the door when opened, will clear the jars on the wall.

2) Glue magnets to bottoms of jars.

3) Download my free printable spice jar labels & please ignore the little dashed line in the template — I can’t, for the life of me, get rid of it & it doesn’t appear in the original design file. It won’t appear on your finished labels because you’ll cut them out anyway! Print them on a big sheet of label paper (like this kind from Staples) & punch out. I used a 1.5 inch round craft punch.

4) Fill jars with spices/herbs & attach the tops.

5) Write on labels & stick to tops of jars. I love a handwritten label but if you don’t, you could use a label maker/vintage typewriter or add spice names to labels in a design program before printing.

6) ENJOY! If you have space at the bottom, use a magnetic clip to hold grocery lists and a tally of spices you’re running low on or out of.

Other notes
Use a cookie sheet (new or vintage) or have a home supply store cut you a sheet of stainless steel – just make sure it’s magnetic (not all stainless/metal is) and we didn’t go to a home supply store because I wanted rounded corners (pointy metal corners are SHARP!) – also I wasn’t sure I wanted to deal with drilling the holes in the metal for hanging. We’re comfy with DIY (& power tools!) but I really didn’t want to overcomplicate things for this project. If you’re in the mood for a visit to Ikea, this would be an awesome option (it’s nice & tall & comes in white, too).

Spice storage ideas/tutorials/inspiration
I like the jars a lot & the finished product reminds me of honeycomb. 
Friends of ours painted a wall in their kitchen with magnetic chalkboard paint & attached magnetic spice jars to it. Love!
One of many sources online for a DIY vintage soda crate spice rack (swoon!).

Braving the Storm | Blizzard Survival Tips

8 Feb

The predicted blizzard of 2013 is supposed to rival the blizzard of 1978 where friends report to me that they had no school for weeks and that people were lined up for miles to stock up on gas. In January of 1978 I was 2 years old and don’t remember anything, other than a photo that my family has of me, well the Jess toddler version, bundled up and propped up on a mountain of snow that was higher than my Aunt Katie’s ranch style house.

Fast forward to modern-day me, boss by day, happily married and mildly obsessed with my cat and two boston terriers. Kate is out-of-town in Arizona on business and she was supposed to fly home tonight.. mid-week she realizes that this is not going to happen. Logan is closed, there are no flights going into Boston, so instead of being trapped in an airport in Arizona all weekend, she is going to be here…
kate

Well, not exactly in San Francisco, but in Los Angeles to stay with our friends Addie & Channing since she couldn’t get a flight to the east coast. This leaves me to brave the storm alone, well not exactly alone I have to take care of our little fur family on this solo mission. So this post is dedicated to my plans to remain sane and occupy myself and the pets during this blizzard in between getting to and from work tomorrow.

Survival tips and/or preparation suggestions:

1) Rations: be sure you don’t wait until the afternoon of a snow emergency to get back up food and supplies. In the event that it has come to that, you will find that everyone in your city is in the same supermarket and that all of the milk, every single last drop will be gone. The best part about being a bachelor in a blizzard you can get supplies to make home-made pizza, Italian subs, and even double stuffed Oreos in order to help comfort you through the storm.

2) Pets: Make sure you have enough food and litter to last you 3 – 5 days. Provide them with plenty of blankets for warmth and added coziness during snuggling times. (see photo below)
stevie blanket
2) Pets Continued: Peanut Butter is your best ally. Place peanut butter in a Kong toy or hollow bone chew toy and this will keep your pup occupied for hours!
bone
3) Electric Devices: These days no one has a home phone, so be sure to charge your cell phone. This will prove to be useful in two ways, communication obviously, I mean Twitter, Facebook, Words with Friends, but also how else are you going to Instagram those cute photos of all the pets snuggling through the storm?

4) Bake: Most people have gas stoves these days, so kill two birds with one stone: bake something delicious to make someone elses day or enjoy baked goods during those 6 episodes of Grey’s Anatomy that you will probably get sucked into. Baking will also help keep your apartment or home warm too!

5) Netflix: Catch up on your Netflix instant queue, with a decade of Law & Order Special Victim’s Unit, or a documentary made by the former drummer of Hole, or the BBC Sherlock series on-line what else does one need?

So here’s to hoping we all stay warm, calm and collected during the storm. I know Kate will! Miss you 🙂

Tiny Bites, Big Flavors | Turkey Sliders

4 Feb

Saturday afternoon at work I had thought of the perfect idea for dinner on Sunday night, Super Bowl Sunday night. I knew I would have to do some convincing when it came to getting Kate on board, but I was up for the challenge. You see neither one of us are sports fans, so I knew I couldn’t approach it from that angle. Quite frankly I know I was more excited in Animal Planet’s Puppy Bowl, especially since it features adoptable dogs that need homes and uses this event to promote adoption. P.S. We didn’t get to watch that much of the Puppy Bowl because Ollie was so into it, he kept standing in front of the TV on his hind legs and barking along with the puppies, cute, but not conducive to apartment living, ha!

My goal Super Bowl Sunday menu was going to feature all game day themed appetizers. Yes! As I had predicted Kate wasn’t into it, but as she often does she humors me and my crazy themed meal ideas. On one condition, that the menu items had to be healthier versions. Got it, the challenge was on.
I found this amazing hot spinach and artichoke dip recipe on Skinnytaste.com it was amazing. We paired it with Stacy’s Simply Naked Pita chips that were on sale at Shaw’s yesterday, bonus. As an added tip, because Kate had her contribution to the meal cooking in the oven, we made the dip and baked it in the toaster oven my parents gave us for Christmas and it came out perfect.

Kate wanted to make her Mom’s stuffed mushroom recipe, so we had those as well. Upon returning home from grocery shopping she realized that she didn’t buy the French Onion Soup packet that her Mom’s recipe called for, to substitute she finely chopped some shallots, sautéed them and added some garlic salt to the recipe and they were amazing.
On to our main course…
sliders
Turkey Burgers with Sriracha Aoli

Ingredients
1lb Ground Turkey

1/4 c Panko breadcrumbs
3/4 small white onion grated
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp cumin
1 tsp grill seasoning
3 dashes of Worcestershire Sauce
1 egg
2 TBS Dijon mustard

Steps
1) Place ground turkey into a medium size bowl

2) Grate the white onion directly into the ground turkey in order to get all of the onion juice into the mix

3) Add the remaining ingredients

4) Combine with your hands

5) On medium heat, heat a medium-sized skillet drizzled with 1 TBS of olive oil or sprayed with non-stick spray

6) Form the slider patties, make them approximately 3″ in diameter and 1″ thick

7) Cook for 3 minutes on each side, a meat thermometer should read the internal temperature as 165 degrees.

Sriracha Aoili

Ingredients
1 tsp Sriracha (hot garlic chili sauce)

4 TBS light mayonnaise
juice of 1/2 lemon
dash of salt

Steps
1) Combine the Sriracha, mayo, and lemon juice in a small bowl

2) Season to taste with a dash of salt

Notes:
1) We used Sara Lee dinner rolls for buns and they were the perfect size

2) To melt cheese on your sliders, once the burgers are done cooking, remove the pan from the heat, add one half of a slice of your favorite cheese to the top of each burger and place a sheet of aluminum foil over the pan, be sure to fold the foil in half so that it looks like a tent prior to covering the pan, this will keep your cheese from sticking to the foil.

3) The portions were two sliders per person and there was a little more than half of the ground meat mixture left last night, so tonight we are having ground turkey soft tacos in order to make our leftovers count.

4) For best flavor spread the aoli on each side of the bun, the bottom that the meat will sit on as well as the top to help anchor the greens.

Enjoy!

Two For One | Shredded Chicken & Enchilada Sauce

28 Jan

Make it count Monday, two recipes in one blog post. My ever thrifty self has been trying to meal plan on my day off and make the majority of our meals at the beginning of the week in order to have stress free healthy meals during the week when work is in full gear.

I’ve been using these simple principles:
– Cook at least one protein in the crock pot. Why you ask? Here are my tips… I can stretch one protein such as pork tenderloin, boneless spare ribs, chicken breasts, steak tips, etc. into about 2 -3 meals for Kate and I. Of course I get creative mainly because I can’t stand having the same thing over and over. One week we had steak tips cooked in the crock pot that we had with mashed sweet potatoes and kale chips, which then turned into asian spiced steak tacos with corn soft tacos and fresh lime juice.
– Save your money! Using the crock pot to cook at least one meal a week will save you money on utilities. One of my favorite crock pot recipe blogs, A Year of Slow Cooking, listed that there is documentation that suggests that a slow cooker uses approximately $0.02 of power per hour and that the monthly cost of using a slow cooker is $1.17. The slow cooking method of crock pots lends itself perfectly to less expensive cuts of meat that can be tough if not cooked using the low and slow method.
– Save your time! I only make slow cooker meals that require little to no prep ahead of time. That means less prep time, less dishes, and more time to spend with Kate and the pups 🙂

This week I made the recipe below originally posted on The Honest Company Blog.

Easiest Slow Cooker Shredded Chicken
serves 4

Ingredients
3 Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts (fresh or frozen)

1 16oz jar of your favorite salsa
1 onion finely chopped

Steps
1) Pour 1/3 of the jar of salsa covering the bottom of the crock pot

2) Layer the chopped onion over the salsa

3) Nestle the chicken breasts into the onion and salsa that is covering the bottom of the crock pot

4) Cover the chicken breasts with the remaining 2/3 jar of salsa

5) Cover and cook fresh chicken breasts on LOW for 7 hours. If you used frozen chicken breasts cook on HIGH for 6 hours.

Notes:
1) I used fresh chicken breasts and came out amazing, super moist and tender. Yum!
2) The salsa I used was Spike’s Salsa and it was the medium variety, but feel free to use whatever suits your heat level. I discovered Spike’s Salsa one week when it was on sale at the grocery store, it is really good and costs a fraction of the other bigger named salsa brands.
3) I removed the cooked chicken from the crock pot and shredded it using two forks, it basically falls apart on its own so you could use your hands if you want.
4) To store it, I placed the left over shredded chicken in a food safe storage container, we use these Anchor Hocking True Seal glass containers, then I added about 1/2 – 3/4 cup of the reserved cooking juices that were at the bottom of the slow cooker. Only use enough to mix into the shredded chicken to keep it moist.

sauce
Tonight I’m turning the left over shredded chicken into an Enchilada Casserole using a homemade enchilada sauce I made this afternoon.

Here’s the recipe:

Roasted Tomato Enchilada Sauce
inspired by America’s Test Kitchen

Ingredients
1 TBS canola oil

1 14.5oz can of Organic fire roasted diced tomatoes
1 onion diced
3 garlic cloves minced
1 Fresno chile finely diced, seeds and ribs removed
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp smoked paprika
2 tsp sugar
2 TBS salsa
1/2 c water

Steps

1) Heat oil in a 1.5 – 2 QT sauce pan using med/low heat.

2) Start to cook onion, garlic, and chile in the heated oil to soften about 5 mins.

3) Add remaining ingredients and stir.

4) Bring sauce to a boil and then reduce heat to a simmer.

5) Simmer covered for 15 minutes.

6) Remove pan from heat, using an immersion blender submerge into sauce and blend until smooth. If you do not have an immersion blender a food processor or blender would work just as well.

7) Enjoy!

Notes:
1) The enchilada sauce recipe is totally vegan and low-fat!
2) It will freeze well in a freezer safe storage container, try using a canning jar just remember to leave approximately 1 inch of room in the jar before screwing on the lid.

 

Make My Morning | Easy Dairy Free Baked Oatmeal

13 Jan

baked oatmeal

My first post of 2013, making changes and organization continues… are you sensing a theme from our tiny household? Last Fall I got into making a large baked oatmeal recipe that Kate and I would take pieces of for breakfast to have at work during the week. It was addictive and I made it several times, each time mixing it up a bit and changing the fruit I added to it. I even got Kate’s dad, Denny, into making it and eating it!

Needless to say, after a while I got sick of baked oatmeal every morning, and I stopped making it. That was last year and with the new year, Kate asked me to start making it again in order to get back into healthier habits 🙂 Below is the recipe I created for 2013 and even made dairy free and gluten-free! The best part about this recipe is that it can all be made in one bowl, easy to put together and even easier clean up.

Dairy Free/Gluten-Free Baked Oatmeal

Ingredients
2 eggs
1 c soy milk (I used vanilla that is what we had on hand)
1/3 c maple syrup
1/2 c apple sauce
1 tsp cinnamon
1/3 c walnuts (chopped)
1/3 c shredded coconut
2 c frozen berries (I used blueberries and blackberries)
1/3 c dried cranberries
2 c rolled oats (I used gluten-free rolled oats from Trader Joe’s)
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder

Steps
1) Preheat oven to 375 degrees

2) Spray a 9 or 10 inch pie plate with nonstick spray

3) In a large bowl whisk together all of the wet ingredients

4) Add the remaining ingredients to the wet mixture and stir with a wooden spoon or spatula

5) Pour mixture into your prepared pie plate

6) Bake for 40 – 45 minutes until golden brown

Notes:
1) Kate loved this recipe, but I found that it was too dry for my liking.
2) Denny loves his baked oatmeal more moist, he usually adds double the amount of milk to the recipe, I’m sure this would work with this recipe too.
3) Try topping this recipe it with 2 TBS of melted Earth Balance non dairy spread right when you take it out of the oven.
4) Serving suggestions: top with maple syrup, or Chobani Greek yogurt (if you like dairy), or pour some warm soy milk on top.

Happy and healthy 2013!

We Made It! | And…What the Heck is a Dutch Baby?!

30 Dec

YAY, it’s almost 2013! Which means, we’ve made it through the holiday season unscathed. I know…so dramatic. But in addition to the goodies & gifts we like to make around the holidays (granola, candy cane bark, sweet cards & gift tags, DIY all purpose cleaner (more about that in a future post!), broccoli shallot quiche, avocado coffee cake, the list goes on and on…) my Etsy shop, Opal & Ollie was bursting at the seams with holiday orders (I had over 100 Etsy orders in 1 month — not including the 2 local shops I had to keep stocked up!). So I feel like it’s totally acceptable to breathe a deep sigh of relief and reset after a few days off. Now on to organizing, cleaning & putting away our abundance of Christmas gifts (wheeeee!).

This morning, when Jess started flipping through cookbooks BEFORE we’d even had our morning coffee, I knew something was up. In typical Jess fashion, she was looking for the perfect compliment for a jar of Nutting Farm maple butter that I’d tucked in her stocking (from our excursion to Eat Boutique — which was amazing, by the way — where Jess met on of her fav bloggers in all the whole world, Joy the Baker). That perfect compliment came in the form of a dutch baby. What the H is a dutch baby, you ask?! Read on…

photo-8

We were first introduced to dutch babies at a small historic inn in rural Vermont where we spent the weekend attending the wedding festivities of our friends Lindsay and Jonathan. The inn keepers cooked meals for the guests so we headed to the dining room for breakfast one morning. Plates were placed in front of us with an odd looking berry-muffin-popover-like thing in the middle. This particular dutch baby was not my jam (you could tell it had been pre-made & heated) but none-the-less I was intrigued. So fast forward to this morning when Jess stumbled upon the Smitten Kitchen dutch baby recipe below. It’s a delicious breakfast treat that’s like a popover and a crepe/pancake had a baby (maybe that’s where the name comes from?!). They weren’t too sweet — just right topped with a dusting of powdered sugar & some maple butter (or in my case, maple syrup). Dutch babies are also called “german pancakes”. Somehow this makes more sense to me now.

Pros: It’s lighter than a pancake. It doesn’t require the baby sitting/tending that pancakes require — since you bake it in the oven. So I was able to enjoy coffee with Jess instead of stressing about when to flip the pancakes & then how to keep the first batch warm as the other batch cooked in the skillet. It’s also really delicious and paired perfectly with maple goodness and soy sausage patties.

Cons: Ours cooked a little too much on one side so one edge was a little dry — but nothing that a little extra maple butter or syrup couldn’t fix!

Recipe notes: We only had 3 eggs in the house so we made 1/2 the recipe. It worked out great. The tablespoons of butter that the recipe calls for is definitely for the batter (and doesn’t include what you use to grease the cake pan) — we thought that was a little confusing. You could totally make these in muffin tins for cute-sized individual portions.

mapledutch

Recipe credit: Smitten Kitchen

Dutch Babies/German Pancakes

Yield 2 9-inch pancakes.

4 eggs
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup flour, sifted
2/3 cup milk
2 tablespoons soft butter

Heat oven to 400°F. Butter two 9-inch cake pans well. Put eggs in blender container, cover and process at until light yellow in color. Remove cover and add remaining ingredients; process until smooth. Pour into prepared pans and bake 20 minutes; then reduce heat to 350°F and bake 10 minutes. Slide onto hot plates. Serve with lemon slices, powdered sugar and butter if you follow recipes to the letter, maple syrup if you’re me and maple butter if you’re Jess. It would be really yummy with fresh berries too.

Happy baby making! (Ha…) And happy almost 2013!

Saving the World | What Lovely Will You Beckon?

17 Dec

I feel oh-so-lucky to have been part of a small team of graphic facilitators that my company (Collective Next) sent to Dallas to scribe the talks at TEDxSMU. Not that I expected anything less, but it was a truly transformative experience. I mean, where else but at a TED or TEDx event could you witness a tiny 7th grader shock the stage with a booming poetry slam performance and then hear a talk about wabi-sabi (the Japanese term for imperfect beauty)?

I scribed a bunch of amazing talks at TEDxSMU but Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s talk Beckon Lovely and Save the World really stuck with me (click on the title to hear/see her full talk). I’m a born “maker” so I can’t quite imagine anything cooler than the thought of a bunch of strangers making things together — or a 10-day challenge to save the world through an amalgamation of lovely.

krouse_rosenthal

I beckoned lovely this weekend in the form of freshly squeezed orange juice. The loveliest thing about this pictured moment? It represents a little snippet of my weekend where time moved a little slower. I took time out of a busy Sunday morning to make something that I then sipped with the one I love in special little juice glasses that I had to get on a step stool to reach. It’s not something I would’ve typically done on hectic weekend morning and I’m grateful for Amy’s challenge.

lovely

What lovely will you beckon this week to save the world? And…you’d better hurry up…we only have until 12/21/12!

Pantry Dinner | Crock-Pot Pork Tenderloin

12 Nov

Slow cookers are the old-fashioned wave of the future, they are an old standard that is seemingly in everyone’s household, but that are seldom dusted off and utilized.
A few winters ago I decided to try to use ours more. For a few reasons: there seems to be fewer and fewer hours in the day, they are really cost-effective and the energy you use to make a meal that will last 2-3 meals is far lower than the gas we’d use to cook the same meal in the oven, and it is the perfect vehicle for cooking any of the frozen proteins that we have stored in our freezer bought on sale for a cold winter night.
The recipe below was made completely of ingredients that we had on hand in the pantry and in the freezer.

Crock-Pot Pork Tenderloin

Ingredients
1 Frozen Pork Tenderloin or Center Cut Pork Loin
1 Onion (rough chopped)
3 – 4 Cloves Garlic (smashed)
2 Bay Leaves
1/3 cup German Mustard
1/3 cup Dark Molasses
1 tsp Garlic Powder
1/2 tsp Allepo Chile Flakes
1/2 tsp Fresh Ground Black Pepper
1 TBS Light Brown Sugar
2 TBS Cider Vinegar
1 cup Hard Cider (nonalcoholic cider or beer would be fine)

Steps
1) Spray the inside of the crock-pot with nonstick spray

2) Place the onion, garlic and bay leaves in the bottom of the slow cooker. Put the frozen pork tenderloin on top of the cut veggies.

3) In a separate bowl whisk together the remaining ingredients and then pour over pork.

4) Cook on LOW for 7 – 8 hours.

Notes:
1) Spray the measuring cup with nonstick spray before measuring molasses and it will help that sticky stuff come out with ease.
2) Our Pantry meal was rounded out by frozen green beans that are a great economical and tasty option for two reasons: they are flash frozen just after they are picked to preserve freshness and you can often find them on sale for .99 cents for a 1 pound bag.
3) Sweet Potato Orzo “risotto” made in just 15 minutes with 4 ingredients: chicken broth, Earth Balance, salt and pepper. If you don’t have flavored orzo, mashed sweet potatoes would be delish as well!
4) To amp up the sweet potato orzo “risotto” add in chopped walnuts and dried cranberries. Y-U-M.

Happy National Vanilla Cupcake Day! | Our Best Baking Discovery Yet…

10 Nov

We’ve been baking up a storm recently. Yes, even I (“maker”) am inserting myself smack dab in the middle of the confectioner’s sugar and flour melee! The dogs are thrilled. Ollie literally sat behind me in the kitchen, nose up, tongue out, licking the sweet air as I sifted 16 cups of confectioners sugar for buttercream frosting.

I inherited my mom’s endless search for a homemade vanilla/yellow cake that satisfied my picky palate. I was lucky enough to grow up surrounded by home baked goods. The only thing my mom and grandmother ever made from a box was Jiffy cornbread. My dad is famous for his amazing breads and blueberry muffins…oh and his raspberry & peach jams. Lucky, yes…but I’ll never forget my first taste of yellow box cake at a friend’s birthday party. I begged & begged my mom for a box cake for the next several birthdays. She refused but spent lots of time researching cookbooks & experimenting with recipes trying to emulate that funkily delicious yellow box cake flavor. She even tried trickery — adding yellow food coloring to a sponge cake recipe — but I was not to be fooled!

Fortunately, our current searches for recipes have broadened immensely thanks to the interwebs. It’s how I stumbled upon, quite possibly, the best vanilla cake recipe I’ve ever made. I think my search is over! It’s been a long time coming & there were certainly false glimpses of hope. Like the time a friend shared a recipe online for the famous Party Favors (a local bakery) cupcakes. They’ve mastered the yellow cake from scratch. It’s honestly INSANELY good. Like so good, it was our wedding cake — plain & simple yellow cake with vanilla buttercream. The recipe can be found here, BUT I must warn you, it’s not worth your time. 1) I’m sure they didn’t share the actual recipe. 2) It doesn’t seem quite right — as is sometimes the case when bakers/cooks try to scale down BIG recipes for the home baker/cook. The recommended buttercream frosting recipe is amazing. I’ve also shared it below.

Ok. So on with it. The BESTEST vanilla or “yellow” cake we’ve ever baked. To think it was sitting under our noses on one of our favorite blogs, to boot! Mom…this one’s for you! xo

Cake recipe credit: Smitten Kitchen: Best Yellow Layer Cake

Best Yellow Cupcakes
Yield: ~ 20-22 cupcakes

Ingredients
4 cups plus 2 tablespoons (480 grams) cake flour (not self-rising)
2 teaspoons (10 grams) baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon (5 grams) table salt
2 sticks (1 cup, 1/2 pound or 225 grams) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups (400 grams) sugar
2 teaspoons (10 ml) pure vanilla extract
4 large eggs, at room temperature
2 cups buttermilk (475 ml), well-shaken

Steps
1) Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 2 cupcake tins with cupcake wrappers and set aside.

2) Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. In a large mixing bowl, beat butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until pale and fluffy, then beat in vanilla. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well and scraping down the bowl after each addition. At low speed, beat in buttermilk until just combined (mixture will look curdled…don’t panic…this is exactly how it should look). Add flour mixture in three batches, mixing until each addition is just incorporated.

3) Use an ice cream scoop, ladle or large cookie dough scoop to fill each cupcake wrapper about 2/3 full. Rap each pan on counter several times to eliminate air bubbles. Bake until golden and a wooden pick inserted in center of a cupcake comes out clean – 20 minutes. If your oven is a little wonky, like ours, rotate the cupcake tins after 14 minutes. Cool the cupcakes in the tins on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove from tins & let cool completely on a wire rack.

Frosting recipe credit: Wilton’s Cupcake Fun (p. 101)

Silky Smooth Vanilla Buttercream

Ingredients
1 stick butter, softened

½ cup vegetable shortening
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 cups sifted confectioner’s sugar (approx. 1 pound)
2 tablespoons milk

Steps
1) In a large bowl, beat (or “cream”) shortening and butter with an electric mixer until light and fluffy.

2) Add vanilla, mix well.

3) Note: I hate sifting but trust me, you must. It’s important that you sift the confectioner’s sugar BEFORE you measure it (or you’ll end up adding too much sugar to your frosting & it will be a little too stiff/sweet). Gradually add sugar, one cup at a time, beating well on medium speed; scrape sides and bottom of bowl often. When all sugar is mixed in, frosting will appear dry. Add milk; beat at medium speed until light and fluffy.

4) Have fun decorating! As you can see, we love using pastry bags & decorative tips to add gobs of frosting. Oh, and when peanut butter buttercream is involved, Ollie is Head of QC (see photo below). 

ENJOY and happy Vanilla Cupcake Day! Wheeeee!

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