Monday, September 15, 2014

Re-Visited: Cooking Club #7

[Original post date Nov. 2011. --Updated 9/15/14: original, but separate, content, with updated photos and/or more details, if available.] 

---> Cooking Club is coming up soon, and now that I'm blogging, I want to share these moments but I thought I should play catch-up first. So without further ado, here (and in other posts) is what we've been up to. Enjoy!

#7 January: Pasta

The Menu:
Blue Cheese Gnocchi
Chicken Paprikash
Pesto Chicken Pasta
Rice Noodles with Pork
Garlic-Based Red Sauce with Homemade Linguine
Shrimp/Chicken Pasta
Ham and Cheesy Mac

Someone decided pasta would be a great theme for this month's Cooking Club. And I agreed. Like, two hands up agreed.

Now that we have Andrew back, we lost Jessica's sister. She apparently wasn't as enthused about cooking as one needs to be for Cooking Club. (Cough, I'm sure it had nothing to do with last month's 9-hour cookie disaster baking, cough.)

Mmm. Pasta. I LOVE pasta. There are so many ways to eat pasta. But I definitely wanted to try something new. Gnocchi sounded amazing and I've always wanted to try it. So I thought, what's better than trying gnocchi first-hand homemade?

I went to my trusty over-the-top-fancy recipe book, The 1,000 Best Recipes, which I bought for my husband (then boyfriend at the time) when he first moved into his own apartment. I thought he might learn to cook, more so than the freezer-to-oven meals, and pork chops and a can of green beans. He took one look at this cookbook and tossed it aside (more like heaved it aside; this book is ridiculous). He prefers simpler meals, not ones with fancy ingredients and multiple steps. (Although he did brave this cookbook to make this chicken in a paprika and mushroom sauce, check out this post for the recipe, is to die for. But that's it. He won't try any other recipes.)

Anyhoo, when I saw these beautiful pasta pillows drowning in a white cheese sauce, I was a goner. I didn't need to look any further. Nothing else would satisfy. I counted the days until our next meeting so I could make this amazing dish.

And it did not disappoint.

Oh, and this is such a simple recipe. Only five ingredients total in the entire dish! Potatoes and flour are all you need to make this tasty gnocchi.

Yet, I had no idea that making gnocchi from scratch would be so time consuming, and did I forget to mention a MESS! (I've never made any form of pasta from scratch, and Jessica did warn me it was messy. Uh, understatement.)

But it was so worth it. I'd stop writing this post right now just to get my hands caked with flour and potatoes in order to taste one sweet pillow-y gnocchi. Maybe I should add this to our dinner menu for next week....

However, this dish did require some patience. That yummy sauce up there eventually thickens upon standing and Holy frijoles. (I can't wait to see Puss in Boots. That cat cracks me up.)

I think I have a new pasta favorite. Move over lasagna. My palate is too mature for you.

Oh, and a whole meal with tons of carbs...yeah, we didn't think this one through. We were stuffed and miserable by the end, but quite enlightened and satisfied.

Blue Cheese Sauce
*from The 1,000 Best Recipes

Serves 4 (with salad, but if not I could devour half myself)

10 oz cream
4 oz Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
2 Tbsp chopped fresh chives, chopped
gnocchi, homemade or cooked according to package directions

In a small pan, bring cream to a boil. Boil rapidly, stirring constantly, about 5 minutes, or until reduced by one third. Remove from heat and stir in cheese. Season with salt and pepper, and pour over gnocchi. Scatter chives over top and serve immediately.

If you have the time and ambition, make the gnocchi yourself. For a quicker version, pick up some while you're at the store. Hurry home and make this sauce!

Nutritional Information per serving from cookbook:
calories, fat, protein, fiber, sugar

Nutritional Information per serving (with my adaptions):
296 calories, 6 fat, 45 carbs, 14 protein, 4 fiber, 9 sugar

*I hope you enjoyed these Cooking Club snippets. There are many more to come as I try to play catch-up before this month's meeting. I hope these themes, and even Cooking Club itself, inspire you to gather with your friends and family in the kitchen, and make sweet moments (and delicious food) of your own.

**I've only included the recipes to the dishes I made. Only because I'm unsure of where everyone got theirs...and hey, we gotta give credit where credit is due. If you have any questions about the other dishes, I'll ask the other members where they got their recipes and pass it along!

Check out our previous meetings!
Cooking Club #1-4
Cooking Club #5
Cooking Club #6

[Update: Previous Cooking Club links have been updated, as well as the cookbook link on Amazon. More pictures coming, and the nutritional information has been updated. This is sort of perfect timing since, it's National Linguine Day. Get in your kitchen and make some homemade goodness!]

With Love and God Bless,

Saturday, September 13, 2014


I'm currently....

Watching.... Outlander series on STARZ. Well, I'm not watching it on TV because we haven't had cable in over a year, and our "bunny ears" only allows us to view the local stations for FREE (which means I still see my beloved Browns!), and I'd never subscribe to STARZ anyway. But, alas, that's the station that picked up my favorite historical-fiction series. You can watch the first episode online, but the rest... However, my kind co-worker is downloading the goods and sharing. So, yes, I'm playing catch-up on the first six episodes. There are parts I dislike and disagree with, and have left me going, "Wait. What?! That's not right! Where's wee Roger?!" But for the most part, I like it. Yet, I find I'm skipping a few parts. A little too "bare" for me.

Eating.... PEACHES. They're my favorite. I.cannot.get.enough. But right at this moment I'm devouring this Blueberry Zucchini Bread. While I was off yesterday, I realized I hadn't made any zucchini bread this summer. I knew that had to change immediately, and headed to the farmer's market to purchase an abundance (and I mean an abundance) of one of my garden favorites. On a sad note: this loaf was gone within 24 hours. I am savoring this last piece slowly.

Planning.... social dates with friends, book club, family and most importantly, time with my husband. Summer came and went in a blur, and I never had time to enjoy it really, or see much of the people that matter most to me. The next month or two awaits gelato, football games, a camping trip, fall festivals, Target dates, day trips, Starbucks chats, birthday celebrations, bonfires, and "Gone with the Wind." <--- anyone else attending a theater showing to celebrate its 75 years??!!

Reading.... cooooookbooooks. But, of course, you know this already because I mentioned it here and here, and I have plans of mentioning it on here a few more times. Pretty much until you're blue in the face, and have stopped reading this blog because you've spent your last paycheck on these mouth-watering books. However, now you have a beautiful and eclectic collection. You're welcome.

Actually, I promise I am reading non-related kitchen/cooking books as well. Like a few YA novels, such as An Abundance of Katherines, and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. (Sadly, not a fan of either.) Also, I'm dabbling in the Steampunk genre for book club this month with Etiquette and Espionage. Not yet finished and still not quite sure how I feel about this one....

Inspired by.... the new Bible study I'm in the midst of right now. It's focused on Esther, and even though God's name isn't mentioned in her book, it's easy to find the presence of God and his plan. It's causing me to take a step back and view my life. All the crazy and laughable plans I had for my life. The plans I thought I had when I graduated high school. The plans I made when I finished college with my under-grad. The plans I have now. God's plans are beautiful. And bigger.

Excited about.... FALL! The colors, the COLORS! Mr. Darcy is constantly bringing in sticks and leaves. I can't wait until I rake up a big pile just to watch him run through it with pure glee. I love this puppy. Let's hope Mr. B allows us to do this once before he gets all clean-lawn-happy with his new tractor leaf collector toy thingy. <--- that's a thing, right?

With Love and God Bless,

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Braised Pork {or Turkey!} and Apple Stew

With the weather turning chillier, it's time for chilis, soups, stews, dumplings, and everything else that warms the soul and your belly. I have the perfect stew for you. Not only is it quick, adaptable, and easily doubled to feed a crowd, but it's just so darn good. So good, I've made it twice in the last two weeks. And Mr. B and I have devoured it, barely leaving enough for our work lunches the next day.

This recipe was discovered when my friend brought it to one of our various Cooking Club meetings. I was drooling over it then, and I still find it mouth-watering now. Every time fall starts to peek through, I head to the market for my bushel of apples, fresh carrots, and potatoes because I It just screams FALL to me, and it truly is a tasty way to welcome the season.

You'll often find me making this a couple times a month. Depending on the mouths I'm feeding, the why, and the where, depends on the ingredients. If I'm feeding a crowd (mostly men) or making a hearty meal for us to enjoy during the weekend football games, I use the pork tenderloin. However, if I'm making it as a week day meal, or just for me for a few work lunches, I use a turkey tenderloin and sweet potatoes. Either way, it's just divine. A hearty salad makes it a perfect meal. However, Mr. B prefers it with buttered noodles or buttered bread. He says it soaks up the broth.

I'm sure this would work well in a crock pot, too. My brother says he's going to give it a try.

Braised Pork and Apple Stew
*recipe from my friend Jenny

Serves 4 people

2 tsp vegetable oil
1 lb pork tenderloin (turkey tenderloin is just as tasty!), cut into 1 1/2" chunks
1/4 tsp each salt and black pepper
1 T flour
14-16 oz vegetable or chicken broth
2 apples (not too sweet), cored and cut into wedges
8 baby red potatoes (or sweet potatoes)
1 c baby carrots
1/2 tsp dried thyme
3 T Honey-Dijon mustard

Heat oil in 5-6 quart pot over med-high heat. While oil heats up, sprinkle tenderloin with salt and pepper; coat with flour. Cook tenderloin 4 minutes until browned, turning once. Remove to a plate and keep warm. Add broth, potatoes, apples, carrots and thyme to pot. Bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 12 minutes, or until potatoes are tender. Stir in meat and mustard. Cover and simmer, 4-5 minutes, or until meat is just cooked through. Serve with your favorite side salad, rolls, or buttered noodles.

Nutritional Information
Pork version: 460 calories, 14 fat, 38 protein, 5 fiber
Turkey version: 362 calories, 10 fat, 22 protein, 5 fiber

With Love and God Bless,

Monday, September 8, 2014

Re-Visited: Cooking Club #6

[Original post date Nov. 2011. --Updated 9/8/14: original, but separate, content, with updated photos and/or more details, if available.] 

---> Cooking Club is coming up soon, and now that I'm blogging, I want to share these moments but I thought I should play catch-up first. So without further ado, here (and in other posts) is what we've been up to. Enjoy!

#6 December: Cookie Exchange  

The Menu:
Apricot [& Raspberry] Pinwheels
Chocolate Chip Spritz
Cream Cheese Spritz
Caramel Press Cookies
Chocolate Cookies
Mocha Madness
Eggnog Sandwiches
Cookie Pops
Chocolate Butterscotch Chip Cookies

Christmastime is we thought, why not a cookie exchange? After all, a few of my close friends and I get together every season to spread the cookie cheer. We gather and bake cookies and belt Christmas carols and gossip and talk about our college days and how much we miss each other because life has taken over and we're crazy-busy. You know, girl stuff.

So when Cooking Club decided to make cookies its monthly theme, I was giddy with joy. I LOVE baking around the holidays! In fact, I had four (!) so-called gatherings scheduled for this season: one with my close friends, one with my mother-in-law, Cooking Club, and I always have one at home in case I didn't get a chance to make everything I wanted. [Trust me, my list contains so many recipes, I rarely get to them all.]

For this meeting, I had planned on making another cookie, but after that failed when I did a test run during my baking session with my mother-in-law, I chose to try the Apricot Pinwheels instead. Score! I found this recipe in a Betty Crocker pamphlet my mother-in-law picked up for me two years ago.

These were a lot of fun to make (especially when I got out my ruler and was all precise with my measurements to make sure I got the exact amount of cookies---because I'm OCD like that) and were even more delicious. I wanted to make a double batch, so when I ran out of apricot preserves, I substituted my favorite, raspberry. Ah-Mazing!

These little pinwheels are so yummy that they are now on my "Must-Make-Every-Christmas" cookie list (which is quickly becoming a very looong list). I even took some of these tasty treats home for my family Christmas, and my grandpa enjoyed them so much I had to promise to make him a special batch next year.

OK, so back on topic. We were one member down, again, this month. I guess Andrew isn't into the whole baking thing. "It's too girly." But Jessica made up for his absence because she decided to try three cookie recipes. Yay! More cookies!

Hmmm...or so I thought.

I guess an all-day baking extravaganza wasn't fitting for Cooking Club, especially with two young teenagers who became bored about two hours in. And decided to skip out and relax in the living room for the rest of the day. And brought the most complicated cookie recipes. Yeah, that happened.

Nine hours later, we were exhausted. We watched the day-light hours fade through the window as we continued mixing and baking and covering the kitchen floor in flour and forgetting that the oven temperature does continue to rise after it's been on for hours and hours, sadly burning the Mocha Madness batch.

Yeah, no more Cooking Club cookie exchanges. There really is an art to an all-day cookie baking event. Definitely not for rookies or the faint-of-heart.

Check out my pinwheels! (Above left, the Eggnog Sandwiches & above right, the Chocolate Butterscotch Chips)
However, you must try these pinwheels! They are so cute and fun to make, AND I promise they will be a hit at your next Christmas party. (If not, look me up, and I'll take them off your hands.)

P.S. The Chocolate Butterscotch Chip Cookies were awesome. Easily enough, the recipe was on the back of a Nestle Toll House bag of butterscotch chips. However, I can't seem to find the link for that exact recipe, but here is the web site. (Remember that episode of FRIENDS where Monica tries to duplicate Phoebe's grandma's cookie recipe? Hee hee. BTW, I LOVE FRIENDS, best show ever. I own all the seasons, watch them all the time, and I'm sure you will become tired of my FRIENDS references. But that is just something I cannot apologize for.)

Apricot Pinwheels
*inspired by a Betty Crocker recipe

Makes 4 dozen

1 pkg (3 oz) cream cheese, softened (maybe next time try plain Greek yogurt?)
1 c butter (or go half with coconut oil and half butter)
1/4 c sugar, or sugar substitute (like Stevia)
1 tsp vanilla
2 1/4 c flour
1/8 tsp salt
1/4 c apricot preserves (or whatever you prefer, like raspberry. YUM.)
1/4 c almonds, chopped (optional)

In a large bowl, beat cream cheese, butter, sugar and vanilla until light and fluffy. Stir in flour and salt. Cover and refrigerate, about 30 minutes or until firm. Preheat oven 350 degrees and lightly grease cookie sheets with shortening. (If your oven preheats quickly, I'd wait until you have your first tray ready to go in, then preheat as you work on the next one.)

On a generously floured surface, roll dough into 16x12" rectangle. Cut rectangle into 48 2"-squares, 8 rows by 6 rows. Use metal spatula to place squares 1" apart on sheets. Spread each square with about 1/4 tsp preserves. On each square cut from each corner to 1/4" from center. Bring every other point to center and press together to form a pinwheel. If using, sprinkle each with almonds.

Bake 8-10 minutes or until lightly browned. Immediately remove from sheet to cooling rack. Enjoy!

Nutritional Information
Original recipe, per cookie: Calories 80; Fat 5; Protein 1

[Since I'll be making these this Christmas season, I'll make sure to post a few more pictures.]

*I hope you enjoyed these Cooking Club snippets. There are many more to come as I try to play catch-up before this month's meeting. I hope these themes, and even Cooking Club itself, inspire you to gather with your friends and family in the kitchen, and make sweet moments (and delicious food) of your own.

**I've only included the recipes to the dishes I made. Only because I'm unsure of where everyone got theirs...and hey, we gotta give credit where credit is due. If you have any questions about the other dishes, I'll ask the other members where they got their recipes and pass it along!

Check out our previous meetings!
Cooking Club #1-4
Cooking Club #5

[Update: I included a few helpful tips for the Apricot Pinwheels recipe, and added a link to the Toll House recipe site. Maybe you'll have better luck at finding the butterscotch recipe than I did. However, there are some other great options when it comes to using those butterscotch morsels. The two Spritz Cookies and the Caramel Press ones, those recipes came with Jessica's cookie press tool, which she purchased at Bed, Bath & Beyond, I think.]

With Love and God Bless,

Friday, September 5, 2014

My Beautiful Month

In case you aren't on Instagram, or don't follow me, here's a peek at my Insta-Life lately.
[*All photos are taken from my Instagram account.]

Protein smoothies get my mornings going...especially when I need to get going out the door!

 If I'm in the kitchen cooking, Mr. Darcy is on my feet. It's how we do things.

 Holy frijoles! Siamese is 17!!!!!

He LOVES his puppyccino! Just like Mama.

With Love and God Bless,

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

What I'm Reading

I have had quite the eclectic collection of books on my nightstand lately. Titles on yoga with kids, yoga for adults, Yoga Sparks, cookbooks, cookbooks, and more cookbooks (you can read about my favorites here), a few children's lit selections, some Brain Candy, and a few health books (because I'm a researching nerd). Among those, Sarah Wilson's I Quit Sugar is a must-read. The book's layout is absolutely beautiful and really appeals to the reader; it's by far the best healthy/dieting/cookbook I've crossed visually. After reading through, I realized I pretty much follow this mantra daily already. My only downfall: FRUIT. I eat 3-4 pieces of fruit almost everyday, but I always choose sugarless yogurt, granola, nut butter, etc. I can eat just one sugary treat or piece and move on quite easily (or as Wilson calls it "lapsing"). This is definitely the book to read if you can't go a day without eating some sweet dessert, always put sugar in your coffee or tea, or load up on breads and pastas. It's pretty much a less-restricted "paleo" lifestyle. You take eight weeks to recalibrate your body, and then slowly add some sugar back in to your diet to see how your body reacts. I fast sugar often throughout the year, and it's amazing how quickly you lose a taste for the sweet stuff. Since I started my own occasional sugar fast five years ago, I can barely tolerate sweet treats. (Ice cream is always a "yes" though! ---> unless it's DQ. Yuck!)

Because I already limit my sugar intake and always use healthier sugar replacements, I mainly picked up this book for more recipe ideas and tips to eliminate "hidden" sugars, like those found in condiments, pastas, breads, and supposedly "health" foods. Plus, I heard great things about the book, and it didn't disappoint! I really, really loved Sarah's attitude, tone, and honesty. I'm
excited to try the included recipes, which she keeps quite simple and easy. I will own this soon. Another favorite health book I will be adding to my collection in the near future is The Yoga Body Diet. This is the perfect book for yoga beginners, or anyone a fan of yoga interested in integrating the practice in all facets of their life. This book breaks down the three different doshas (or lifestyles/personalities/characteristics), explaining how to apply each one to your every day life through power poses, sequences, ingredients, and recipes. It's really convenient how the book gives one recipe, but breaks it down into the three different doshas' needs. Everyone is different, and I like how the author reiterates this. This is not something to follow to the tee; it's a helpful guideline, and quite forgiving.

I am a KAPHA to the tee, lol, and when I'm getting my particular dosha requirements I'm at my best. When I'm not, my focus, diet, health, practice, and sleep suffer. And I can easily see that now, and better yet, understand why. The Yoga Body Diet is a great addition to any yoga fan's shelf, and reads quickly and can be easily referenced. I heard it's available in eBook format, and I think that would be great, but I prefer to grab the actual book and easily find my kapha sections, to see the routines and pose index. And, since we're (err, I am) talking about recent health reads, I have to mention
The Coconut Oil Miracle. If you aren't on the bandwagon of this miracle oil yet, I suggest you hop a ride quickly. If you aren't obsessed and using it on everything and in everything, I suggest you fix that ASAP. While I'm on board with using this miracle oil already, and I'm aware of its awesome benefits completely, this book is better suited for those who are skeptical and/or really want to know the science behind the benefits of coconut oil. If you have the slightest interest or are using it already, I highly recommend checking out this book. I.cannot.say.enough.about.coconut.oil. LOVE.

Okay, now onto a few fiction titles I stayed up way too late finishing. The first would be my beloved Outlander. Written in My Own Heart's Blood, the eighth installment, hit the shelves this past June (and you can bet I'd been on hold for that sucker since last December. Yeah, buddy). Y'all know my relationship with this fantastical historical fiction series. (It finally went to TV, but of course, I don't have cable or STARZ, so I have to wait until Netflix or Amazon picks it up. I'm throwing a huge adult tantrum right now.) Y'all are quite familiar with how I spent the last two years devouring reading all seven books, and now I could finally settle into the latest. Sadly, I read it all too quickly, and all too soon it was over. The ending left me saying, "What?!" and then "Huh? Hmmmmm...."

I did really enjoy this installment. There were times when I wanted certain scenes to just hurry up so I could get to the scene I was waiting for, but then once I got to it I appreciated the other scenes and characters. BUT, there's a lot more I wanted to know, and the leaving me hanging with multiple opened story lines....darn it, GABALDON!

And I can't forget my book club! Again, each member chose their own book to read for summer, and my choice was originally The Goldfinch (you can read my thoughts on that here), but halfway through I switched to Rainbow Rowell's YA title, Fangirl. I was in desperate need of something to get me out of my fictional rut, and it did just that. (Outlander didn't count. It was an obvious out-of-rut given.) Although it took me awhile to get into because of the whole fan-fiction topic thing, I really did enjoy this novel. I definitely found it relatable, and it is the perfect recommendation for teens in the "books that won't make you blush" category.

My most recent audio book endeavor was a title recommended to me by a friend. She happened to pick it up at her library, gave it a listening to, and mentioned it to me one day on the phone when I asked what books she was reading (I'm a book lover, and a...umm librarian, so I'm always asking). She mentioned The Next Thing on My List ages ago, and I finally got around to requesting it from my local library. Although the audio was decent, I'm sure I would have enjoyed it more had I read it, actually. The main character, June, is involved in a car crash that kills her passenger, a woman she barely knew and had just met at a Weight Watchers meeting. She finds the deceased's purse, and in it a list of 20 things she wished to accomplish by her next birthday. So June sets off to finish the list. I found the story to be quite predictable, but I would recommend it to someone looking for something light and fluffy to add to their beach-reads.

Read anything this summer worth mentioning?

With Love and God Bless,

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Photo an Hour

7 AM

8 AM

9 AM

10 AM

11 AM

12 PM

1 PM

2 PM

3 PM

4 PM

5 PM

6 PM

7 PM

8 PM

9 PM

10 PM

11 PM

Today was all about enjoying the last lazy days of summer. I don't know about you all, but "summer" feels officially over at the Labor Day holiday celebrations. I'm ready for fall. And, yes, I brought out my fall decor. I'm ready for lazy football Sundays. Here's to the last Sunday before the games begin :)

With Love and God Bless,

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Double Coconut Strawberry Smoothie

It was quite chilly here a week or so ago. Like low of 40 at night chilly. Thoughts of fall, boots, football, festivals, and all things pumpkin were filling my brain. I even started preparations for my seasonal wardrobe swap (more on that later). But, alas, it's nearing 90 degrees today. Summer is sticking it out. This means I'm still on my cold smoothie kick and not ready yet for my warm bowl of oatmeal in the mornings.

This smoothie was my go-to breakfast a few weeks ago. I couldn't get enough. I'm that kind of person. When I find something new and tasty, I eat nothing else until I'm sick of it. Which, by the way, usually lasts about two weeks. Afterwards (read: a month or so later), I come back to it occasionally, rotating it through my weekly meal menus.

This is the perfect smoothie for fresh and beautiful strawberries. (Or if out of season, the frozen berries work just as well, usually adding more flavor and color.) The perfect smoothie to satisfy your coconut oil addiction. Oh, wait. Is that just me? I am addicted. I want coconut oil EVERYTHING. In my cooking, baking, health and beauty care. You name it, I will find a way to use coconut oil for it. (FYI, it works wonders on mosquito bites and burns. Trust me, I know.) However, Mr. B cringed the other night when he saw me using it as lotion. Yet I'm the one with amazingly soft skin, not him. I'm pretty sure this is a great addiction. I'm buying the jars in surplus now (or at least begging my friend to because Trader Joe's is too far away!!!! <--- adult tantrum). I digress. Back to this yummy smoothie. Tons of flavor. Try it, please!

As I always say, everything in moderation, right? Well, once the [short] initial obsession wears thin. YUM.

Double Coconut Strawberry Smoothie

Serves 1

1 c coconut water
1 c strawberries, chopped (fresh or frozen, if using frozen ice is optional)
1 T flaxseed or chia seeds
1 T coconut oil
1 T plain Greek yogurt
Handful of ice
Optional: 1 scoop soy vanilla protein powder (when I have it on hand)

Place all ingredients in a blender; mix until smooth consistency. Devour!

Nutritional information (with protein powder): 378 Calories, 18 Fat, 30 Protein, 5 Fiber, 19 Sugar

Pssttt....IT'S GAME DAY. Go Bucks! Go Flashes!

With Love and God Bless,