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Raspberry Drop Chocolate Cupcakes


Last weekend the hubby and I had our first outing with friends in Austin. After two weeks of unpacking, rearranging, exploring, getting stuck in traffic, filling out paperwork, and getting stuck in more traffic we were invited to dinner by a fellow PhD student from Jack’s program. Our task: dessert.

Raspberry Drop Chocolate Cupcakes - Sweet Peonies

I decided to branch out from my typical go-to desserts and make something new. Austin’s fresh, organic fruits and vegetables have completely won me over so I wanted to make a dessert that would highlight one of these beauties. The result? Raspberry drop chocolate cupcakes. With a hint of coffee and a fresh juicy raspberry baked into the center, the cupcakes were covered in rich chocolate frosting and finally sprinkled with lemon zest. Unfortunately, the Texas heat turned my frosting into more of a glaze but they were still incredibly satisfying.

Raspberry Drop Chocolate Cupcakes - Sweet Peonies

The recipe I used comes from a magazine the hubby bought for me a while back, “Taste of Home 100 Best Desserts.” I altered a few minor ingredients and instructions. The original recipe called for a drop of seedless raspberry jam in the center but I wanted the tangy flavor of a fresh raspberry instead. I also left out the coffee liquor in the frosting, mainly because I didn’t have any, but also because the added liquid would not help the frosting harden in this heat. My last change was adding the lemon zest on top. It seems small and perhaps insignificant but I loved the faint hint of lemon and raspberry with every bite.

Raspberry Drop Chocolate Cupcakes - Sweet Peonies

The recipe said it made 2 1/2 dozen cupcakes, but I would estimate it making closer to 3 1/2 dozen. I filled my cupcake liners 2/3 full and after 2 dozen, still had close to half the batter leftover. My last observation, the batter looked more liquid-y than any other cupcake recipe I have used. I was very skeptical that it wouldn’t cook in the time allotted but they cooked perfectly. So, if you are anything like me and tend to change recipes before seeing them through to completion, don’t do it. Trust me, you will be pleasantly surprised on this one.

Raspberry Drop Chocolate Cupcakes - Sweet Peonies

I’ll leave you with the recipe now while I figure out what to do with 3 1/2 dozen cupcakes.

Raspberry Drop Chocolate Cupcakes

Batter 1 c. baking cocoa 2 c. boiling water 1 c. butter, softened 2 1/2 c. sugar 4 eggs 2 tbsp cold brewed coffee 2 tsp vanilla 2 3/4 c. flour 2 tsp baking soda 1/2 tsp baking powder 1/2 tsp salt 1 small package fresh raspberries

Frosting 1 can coconut milk (13.6 oz) 1 pkg. dark chocolate chips (12 oz) 1/2 c. butter, cubed 1/3 c. confectioners sugar 1 lemon (to zest)

I recommend beginning with the frosting, which is supposed to refrigerate for 1 1/2 hours, a detail I missed on the first read-through. Translation: long pause between cupcakes being complete and being able to chow down on the finished product.

Spoon 1 cup of cream from the top of coconut milk and place into a saucepan to boil. Once the cream starts to boil, remove from heat and add chocolate chips, whisking smooth. Stir in butter and confectioner’s sugar. Refrigerate for 1 1/2 hrs or until well chilled.

Now to the cupcakes, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a small bowl, combine cocoa and boiling water and set aside to cool.

In a second bowl, cream the softened butter and sugar until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time until well combined. Add coffee and vanilla. Combine flour, salt, baking powder & soda and add to creamed mixture alternately with cocoa mixture.

Fill cupcake liners 2/3 full, drop a whole raspberry into the center (no need to push it down, just set on top and the batter will cook up around it). Bake for 18-20 minutes, until toothpick comes out clean.

Cool for at least 10 minutes before frosting.

Once the frosting has chilled, beat mixture until soft peaks form. They said this should take about 15 seconds. We had to take ours out of the fridge early due to poor planning and so it took longer than 15 seconds to see soft peaks.

Frost cupcakes. Grate lemon zest over frosting and top it all off with another raspberry. Enjoy!


Mango Avocado Salsa & Chili-Coke Chicken


Austin Countdown: T-17 days. That’s right, in just two weeks the hubby and I will be packing the wagons and heading to the big land of Texas where Jack will work hard on his PhD and I will lounge lazily by the pool, work on my tan and eat Fro-Yo. Have I mentioned I am still unemployed? Hopefully that will change soon after we get settled and then off to work for me as well. Now, on to more tasty topics…With most of our home packed into boxes, there have been few projects for me to share with you, that is, until this week.

Jack and I have been on a constant scouting mission for avocados. Avocados are my all time favorite summer food. Unfortunately, finding these delicious fruits is easier said than done. Produce options are ridiculously limited in our small town and when we do find a decent batch, they typically sell for around $2/fruit. Yikes! Lately, our local produce stand down the street has had a fairly good showing of avocado however and we have been taking full advantage.

Mango Avocado Salsa & Chili-Coke Chicken

This week, we had avocado every night. Since the weather here is hot and sticky, we wanted our meal to highlight the avocado flavor and also remain light and fresh tasting. Here’s what we came up with:

Mango Avocado Salsa & Chili-Coke Chicken over Spinach and a Toasted Tortilla

That sounds long and complicated as I write it out but it is pretty simple and incredibly delicious.

Mango Avocado Salsa & Chili-Coke Chicken

Chili-Coke Chicken

2 chicken breasts 1 tbsp red pepper flakes 1 tbsp Adobo seasoning 2 tbsp Brown sugar pepper to taste coke to taste –start at 1 tsp rum to taste –start at 1 tsp 2 tsp lemon juice

Boil 2 chicken breasts until cooked. Run cold water over chicken and shred. Mix above ingredients, adjust according to taste. All our sauces are done by taste so these are rough measurements. Toss chicken with seasoning and let sit.

Mango Avocado Salsa & Chili-Coke Chicken

Mango Avocado Salsa

1 Mango 1 Avocado 1/4 cup chopped red onion 1/8 cup chopped fresh cilantro 1/4 cup yellow tomato chopped 1/4 Feta Cheese 1 tsp lemon juice salt and pepper to taste

Combine ingredients by tossing gently. Set Aside.

Next, pour 1-2 tsp of olive oil into a pan. Allow the oil to warm up and then toss your tortilla into the oil. Cook on each side until slightly crisp.

Pile spinach on top of the tortillas, followed by the chicken and topped off with the mango avocado salsa. Enjoy!


Summer Refreshments: Mojitos


Nothing quite compares to the thrill of that first refreshing splash of summer. The anticipation as you drive toward the lake, the squeal of delight as your toes dip playfully at the water’s edge and the rush of adrenaline as you hold your breath and dive on in. The humid summers of East Tennessee have made me appreciate more fully the therapeutic refreshment that water brings. Whether it be by poolside, lake, river, or ocean, water gives us a chance to beat the heat, both literally or figuratively. Although for many the mayhem of work continues into the summer, the endless heat eventually beckons people out of their cubicles, into their cars, and toward the water.

While we can’t spend every moment of summer lakeside with a drink in hand, we can find some satisfaction in the refreshments of summer. I’m talking Mojitos, people!

Virgin Mojitos

The hubby and I have been experimenting with different refreshing cocktails this summer, and while I’m always game for the traditional Mojito, I wanted to try an alcohol-free version that would taste light, refreshing and full of summer. Today I attempted a Mojito spritzer. There is no fancy trick to this little number, just simple minty deliciousness.

Recipe: 1 oz simple syrup/1oz lime juice (Cheat: 2 oz Mojito Mix) 10 Mint Leaves 3 oz Club Soda 1 tsp. brown sugar Ice

To Mix: Grind fresh mint leaves with brown sugar in separate bowl and place in shaker. Place ice in cocktail shaker. Add Mojito Mix or simple syrup and lime juice. Shake. Pour into glass. Add club soda. If you prefer less minty flavor, simply add more club soda or you can always add rum.

Virgin Mojitos


5 Beautiful Blogs


Happy Friday! Today I’d like to take a moment to share with you five beautiful blogs & websites that I just can’t get enough of. These are my daily go to blogs for inspiration and an overall feeling of goodness. Check them out and be sure to spread a little love their way.

KinfolkMag: A photographic/journal-style blog that provides casual entertainment ideas. They put out a beautiful magazine that is available for purchase on the site and also have a Journal site as well as galleries of their various events.

Kinfolkjournal

My Ideal Home: A beautifully crafted tumblr page filled with awe-inspiring architecture, design, and decorating elements.

myidealhome

Sunday Suppers: Beautifully staged photographs and details of class-cooking-dining experiences, pairing friends and food. Classes are held in a waterfront loft in Brooklyn, NY and are taught by local Chefs. The food is market fresh, local and organic and the approach is to create seasonal and fresh meals together.

Sunday-Suppers

Treasures and Travels: Hosted by the two girls behind the online shop, Kalos which sells handmade jewelry and vintage clothing. They post about anything and everything they see, love, wear, etc.

TreasureandTravels

Tiny White Daisies: Beautiful photography is king at this tumblr page. The photographs range from nature, to architecture, to everyday sightings. A must see sight for beautiful finds.

tinywhitedaisies

Happy browsing!


Brussel Sprouts & Toasted Pecans


I didn’t grow up a vegetable-eating child, not even a semi-compliant vegetable eater. I spent many a night sitting at the table after everyone else had finished their supper staring down the grotesque stalks of broccoli and cauliflower that threatened my sensitive palate. I hated vegetables forever, and then one day, I didn’t. I tell you about my childhood vegetable woes because it is necessary if I’m to convince you that this brussel sprouts recipe is absolutely delicious!

brussel sprouts

Yes, despite the common misconception that brussel sprouts are a child’s worst nightmare (and many adults’) these little vegetables are so tasty when cooked right. I had the pleasure of trying my first sprouts at a friends home a few weeks ago and decided I needed to attempt my own recipe.

Roasted Brussel Sprouts with Toasted Pecans

1 package brussel sprouts
1/2 cup chopped pecans
olive oil
1-2 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
garlic powder or 2 minced cloves
pepper
salt

Instructions:

Rinse sprouts and place in casserole dish (or similar). Coat generously with olive oil, balsamic vinegar & lemon juice–adjust vinegar for individual taste. I cannot emphasize enough to coat the brussel sprouts well with the olive oil, this is the key to getting them cooked just right, all the way through to the middle.

Chop pecans and garlic (unless you use powder) and place in small oven safe dish. Place dish under broiler for 5-10 minutes, until lightly browned.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Add toasted pecans & garlic to the sprouts. Add a dash of salt and about 1 tsp of pepper. Place in oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour, you want the sprouts very tender. Stir contents every 15 minutes.

Once sprouts are tender, broil on high for about 15 minutes until the outsides begin to char. Remove from the oven & allow to cool. Serve alone as a side dish or add to a mixed-green salad with artichoke hearts.


Table Setting: Mercury Glass + Blue + Yellow


I hope each of you had a fantastic Thanksgiving holiday with your loved ones. We had the pleasure of having a family member in town this year, hooray! I always miss our family around the holidays and can’t say enough about how thankful we were to have my mom in town. Here is just a tiny glimpse at our shiny Thanksgiving table setting.

Blue & Mercury Glass Table Setting

Blue China: TJ Maxx
Grey Napkins: Target
Yellow Raffia: Walmart
Mercury Glass Votives: Target

This table setting was incredibly simple to put together and the mercury glass votives went a long way to making it dressy for the holiday.

Enjoy the rest of your Thanksgiving weekend. Happy Thanksgiving!


Freezer Meal Schedule & Planning: Month #3


Hello friends. Let’s jump right into our third month of freezer meal schedules, grocery list and tools for planning (if you haven’t read Freezer Meal Schedule & Planning: Month #2, check it out first). Our schedule for month #3 worked out to be even better than the month before. This is getting easier and easier each month because we always have a few meals leftover so I don’t have to add as many new recipes to the mix and yet we still have much variety to work with.

Here is the link to our shopping list for this month. Our total store amount added up to $93.10. We decided we would allow an extra trip for milk each month since our freezer isn’t big enough to buy 2 gallons and freeze one. So our extra expenses for this month added up to $18 with one extra carton of eggs, milk and produce.

See our month #3 meal schedule.

Monthly Meals:

Dinner:

Chili over rice–leftover from last month (2 meals for 2)
Curried Carrot Soup–leftover from last month (new batch-8 meals for 2)
BLT Sandwiches
Tomato soup & Grilled Cheese sandwiches
Burgers–leftover (2 meals for 2)
Sloppy Joe Chicken Sandwiches (6 meals, new twist)
Taquitos (24 individual-6 meals for 2)
Potato Corn Chowder (2 meals for 2)
Hawaiian Chicken and Carrot slaw (8 meals for 2)
Spaghetti (5 meals for 2)
Baked Potatoes (5 lb bag, about 8 meals for 2)

Sides:

Oriental Chicken Salad
Homemade Cornbread
Rice

Lunches:

PB&J
Tuna
Small Baked Potatoes

Breakfast:

Toast & Jam
Eggs
French Toast
Oatmeal

Snacks:

Bananas
Apples
Yogurt
Grapes

Sweet Sloppy Joe Chicken:

I used the same sweet & sloppy joe chicken recipe as last month but we decided to use a rotisserie chicken at Ingles since they were on sale for $4.89 instead of chicken breasts. The rotisserie chicken proved to be a bit less expensive and yielded the same amount of chicken as the chicken breasts. Click link above to see recipe at “Freezer Meal Schedule & Planning: Month #2″ post.

Curried Carrot Soup:

I cooked up a double portion of our curried carrot soup this month because, well, it’s delicious! Click the link above to see our recipe.

Taquitos:

Since I used the last of the shredded beef in last month’s taquitos, I decided to go for simple rice and bean taquitos this month. We used brown rice, kidney beans, green onions, cilantro and a bit of cheddar cheese to fill the tortillas along with a sprinkling of adobe powder and pepper.

We bought a 40-pack of small flour tortillas, which were $.05 cheaper/unit than smaller amount packages.

Hawaiian Chicken & Carrot Slaw:

We bought our usual large package of chicken breasts and a bottle of Hawaiian marinade. When we get home from the store, we always cut the chicken into 8 oz portions (4 oz = 1 single serving). This makes it easy to quickly thaw a bag for dinner. You can choose to marinade the chicken before freezing or after it thaws.

Warm up your pan and get your chicken cooking. Now peel one large carrot with a potato peeler. Then chop your shavings into smaller pieces and combine in a bowl with chopped sweet onion, a dash of pepper and garlic, 1 tsp balsamic vinegar and a dash of red wine vinegar. Combine, chicken, carrot slaw, and rice in your tortillas and enjoy!

I love this recipe, it tastes very light, flavorful and fresh. We used the leftover tortillas from our 40-pack that was bought for taquitos. Ours lasted all month long but they freeze well too if you are worried about them staying fresh.

Spaghetti:

Kielbasa was on sale this month so we changed up our usual spaghetti recipe (which uses ground sausage) and substituted kielbasa. Yummy! I purchased some pasta noodles, diced tomatoes and tomato paste last month when it was on sale so I thought I should use up those items this month. Of course, I recommend sticking with what you know best and use your favorite spaghetti recipe. Divide the sauce into meal-sized baggies to freeze and when you’re ready for spaghetti, just thaw your sauce and cook up the noodles. My recipe yielded 12 cups of sauce.

Cornbread:

Simple and quick golden sweet cornbread recipe from all recipes. We poured our batter into muffin pans, which left us with 12 large cornbread muffins.

Snacks:

For our snacks this month, we tried to eat the bananas first, as they expire more quickly, the apples last us pretty much all month long. Yogurt Jack can space out with his lunches for about 3 weeks. The grapes, we separated into individual baggies and froze to be eaten later. They taste just as wonderful when you pull them back out.

I hope you found some helpful recipe ideas in this post. If you have any questions about recipes or amounts please leave a comment or shoot me an email. Be sure to check out the rest of the posts in this series:

Lowering Your Grocery Bill (Part 1): Many tips for lowering your grocery bill with once-a-month grocery shopping and freezer meal preparation and schedules.

Lowering Your Grocery Bill + Monthly Shopping (Part 2): A few more tips to help you make the most of your food purchases along with our first month of freezer meal planning and recipes.

Freezer Meal Schedule & Planning: Month #2: Our second month of recipes, grocery lists and planning.


Freezer Meal Schedule & Planning: Month #2


Hello Friends! I have two months of freezer meals, schedules and recipes to share with you today. You can link directly to Freezer Meal Schedule & Planning: Month #3 here.

Our second month of once-a-month-shopping and freezer meals was a little haphazard due to my lack of diligent planning on the front-end with meals, however, we made it through the month with only one extra trip to the store for a special dinner we hosted for a couple of friends. At the end of Freezer Meals: Month #1 we still had about six burger meals leftover, four carrot soups, and five servings of chili. Those meals were then incorporated into the next month’s meal schedule.

Here is a link to my groceries for month #2. I only included the food groceries for a general guideline and left off the detergents, lunch baggies, etc. There weren’t as many BOGO deals at Ingles this month but I took advantage of some of their discounts on chicken broth, kitchen bags and tomato sauces for the following month. Our total grocery store trip (between two stores) cost $102.47. Throughout the month, we also spent $12 more at the produce stand down the street.

Month #2 Meals:

Dinner:
Chili over rice–leftover from last month (5 meals for 2)
Curried Carrot Soup–leftover from last month (4 meals for 2)
BLT Sandwiches
Burgers–leftover (4 meals for 2)
Sloppy Joe Chicken Sandwiches (5 meals)
Taquitos (24 individual-6 meals)
Potato Corn Chowder (5 meals)

Sides:
Oriental Salad
Roasted Red Potatoes
Homemade Dinner Rolls

Lunches:
PB&J
Cheese Sandwiches
Tuna
Rice and Beans

Breakfast:
Toast & Jam
Eggs
French Toast
Oatmeal

Snacks:

Bananas
Apples
yogurt

Check out our first month of freezer meals for recipes that were re-made or leftover (carrot soup, roasted red potatoes, homemade dinner rolls, Chili)

Grilled Corn and Potato Chowder:

Since the weather was starting to cool down a bit, we decided to make another soup, and this time a bit heartier one. We chose this grilled corn and potato chowder from MyRecipes–it is awesome! I was a bit skeptical, especially as I was making a corn paste with our food processor, but it is really a treat. We ended up adding in more of the corn paste, because it added such a good flavor, and a bit more milk (1%). I did not use fresh thyme, just the ol’ dried stuff, and instead of actual corn ears, I used canned (cause it’s what I had) and grilled it with salt and red pepper before throwing into the food processor.

Taquitos:

We also bought a package of those mini flour tortillas, great for making taquitos. I pulled out my last bag of plain shredded beef from a roast we made last year and placed rice, beans onion, and the shredded beef into the tortillas, rolled them and lined them up in a casserole dish to freeze. Every time we wanted taquitos, we simply pulled out the dish, broke off four taquitos and baked them in the oven for about 35 minutes. We typically ate these with a side of rice and a salad. I used about 3 cups of shredded beef and 3 cups of rice and 2 cup of beans to make 24 taquitos (we adjusted this for the next month if you don’t want to use the meat).

Our last addition to month #2 of freezer meals was an experiment by me for sloppy joe chicken. I love normal sloppy joes, minus the grease and I wanted to at least pretend I was making a slightly healthier version by using chicken (we really like our chicken). I basically just started throwing things together to see what I could come up with and this sweet & sloppy sauce hits the spot every time. Seriously, it’s our favorite meal now, and yes, we continued it into the next month.

Sweet & Sloppy Joe Chicken:

4 large chicken breasts
2 cups ketchup
2 tbsp Worchsetershire
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
3 tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp ground mustard
1 tsp pepper
2 tsp garlic powder
salt

Since it was our first attempt at this sauce we started off with a small batch and only used four large chicken breasts (the next month we tried it with one rotisserie chicken from the store ($4 and same amount of meals). Put the chicken in the crockpot, let it cook through, add the rest of the ingredients, allow to cook on low in the crockpot for one hour. Voila, sweet and sloppy chicken. We toasted wheat hamburger buns and piled on the sloppy joe chicken.

Hope you are able to find some helpful recipe ideas in this post. Be sure to check out the rest of the posts in this series:

Lowering Your Grocery Bill (Part 1): Many tips for lowering your grocery bill with once-a-month grocery shopping and freezer meal preparation and schedules.

Lowering Your Grocery Bill + Monthly Shopping (Part 2): A few more tips to help you make the most of your food purchases along with our first month of freezer meal planning and recipes.

You are reading Month #2 of freezer meal planning and recipes.

Skip ahead to Freezer Meal Schedule & Planning: Month #3


Lower Your Grocery Bill & Monthly Meals (Part 2)


I hope you enjoyed Lowering Your Grocery Bill Part 1 of tips to lowering your grocery bill and preparing monthly meals. Today I am going to show you a sample meal plan with various recipes.

I mentioned in our first post that you should prepare your meals on a different day than your shopping day. We shop on Friday evenings when people are out painting the town red, this allows us to come home, put away groceries, soak beans, relax and then start fresh on Saturday morning. Prior to preparing your meals look at all of your recipes to consolidate prep time. If more than one recipe requires onions, then by all means, chop all of the onions at the same time. Trust me, this will save you oodles of time. Also, look for alternate cooking methods–if you have two items that can be baked at the same temp, prepare them first, put them in together, and move on to the next meal while they cook. You can also throw lots and lots of meals in a crockpot (chili!) while others are cooking in the oven.

Month #1

Dinners:
Roasted Red Potatoes, sauteed onions & salad
Chili over rice (don’t knock it til you’ve tried it)
Curried Carrot Soup
Grilled Eggplant Tomato Aioli Sandwiches
Grilled Chicken Salad
Chicken and Rice (with a variety of marinades & seasonings)
Burgers
Jerk Chicken Sandwiches
Frittatas

Sides:
Salad with tomatoes, cucumbers, onion, pine nuts
Grilled Zucchini or zucchini salad
Red potatoes (smaller portion than the dinner potatoes)
dinner rolls
corn on the cob

Lunches:
PB&J
Tuna Sandwiches
Our favorite Rice and Beans with salad
yogurt
granola

Breakfast:
Toast
Eggs
Homemade granola

Here are some of the recipes I used and the ways I’ve adapted them to keep costs low. Although the recipes are simple you can mix them up quite a bit with different seasonings and by mixing up the paired sides. Also, most of my seasoning is done by taste and I am not shy at all with adding seasonings especially when it comes to garlic and curry so be generous, I’ll try to keep track of my amounts when these items come back into our rotation.

Dinners:

carrot soupCurried Carrot Soup:
Adapted to save money From Rachael Ray
12 servings/6 meals
(6 ziplocks filled with 2 c. each)

I used Rachael Ray’s recipe as a guideline for making a cheaper version of the soup. Since I was making a lot of soup (ended up being 12 individual meals), I used 1 whole bag of the giant carrots instead of the baby carrots, 1/2 stick of butter, 2 tbsp. olive oil, 1-1/2 onions (chopped), salt to taste, cayenne pepper to taste, curry to taste (lots and lots of curry–don’t be shy). I also added 3 tbsps of honey to sweeten it a bit and break up the heavy carrot taste, you can probably just use a 2 tbsp or so of regular sugar for this. Last change was cutting out the sour cream to keep it healthier. Also, these soups always seem a bit thicker after thawing them so Jack and I will add water, milk or cream to them to make it more soupy and give us a bit more per serving.

Roasted Red Potatoes:
Makes about 7 meals for 2, 1-5lb bag)
2-3 potatoes/person x 7

Jack and I wing this recipe every time. We ended up cutting 2-3 red potatoes into smaller cubes drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with garlic, rosemary, pepper and a dash of salt. Toss potatoes to make sure they are thoroughly coated. Place in skillet, we use our cast-iron, place in oven at 350 degrees until they brown. Turn potatoes every 10 minutes to heat evenly and prevent burning. Pair with a larger portion of salad and veggies.

Also, did you know that according to food regulations, the bagged produce (like potatoes and onions) must weight at least what it says on the bag? Apparently this means that may times, distributors will throw in extra potatoes just to make sure they exceed the listed poundage. How does this help lower your grocery costs? If you weigh your bagged veggies, like onions and potatoes, you can end up with more bulk for your buck since the bags are a set price. Pretty neat, right?

Chili:
20 serv./10 meals
(10 ziplocks filled with 2 c. each)

My chili recipe changes each month depending on spices and what not but typically it takes 1 bag of beans (kidney, black or pinto–we like kidney best). Yes, I said bag, meaning you must soak them overnight or attempt the quick-soak method which requires bringing the beans to a boil then letting them sit in the water for 1 hour before cooking. I quick soak when we get back from the store and then throw them in the crockpot, cover with water and let cook overnight. In the morning, I brown 1 lb of ground beef and toss it into the crockpot along with lots of onions, chili powder, garlic, a little cumin, some tomato sauce (small can), 2 small tomatoes, Worcestershire and my favorite part of our chili recipe–cocoa powder! Seriously, this is the best discovery of my cooking life thus far. The cocoa gives the chili such an incredible savory taste. If your chili tastes too tomato-y, add brown sugar and Worcestershire to balance it out. I’ll be making a fresh batch next month and will write down my steps to share with you all. For now, don’t be afraid to use your favorite chili recipe. The main money saver is buying bagged beans, purcasing your produce from a produce stand or farmer’s market, making do with what you have on hand and limiting fancy ingredients.

Now, I must admit, we have a bit of a leg-up in the meat department. We buy local grass-fed beef once a year, and I work on the farm that we buy it from in the summer so that is extra money I don’t have to factor into my monthly totals (not that it would increase it too much). Just be aware this will raise your monthly amount a bit more than ours. However, if you are able to find some, I highly recommend buying grass-fed beef locally–it’s delicious! We buy about 30lbs and it lasts us the entire year, so we don’t actually eat very much beef.

Burgers:
Makes 10 burger patties

Since we have ground beef on hand it seems a shame to not make a round of tasty burgers. I hate preparing burgers for just one night, it’s a lot dirty work for just the two of us. I decided to see how well I could freeze these guys. I broke out 2 lbs of beef and added 1 chopped onion, about 1 cup of bread crumbs (depends on how juicy your meat is), garlic powder, pepper, 3 tbsp Worcestershire, basil and a touch of salt.

Perfect Burger PattiesNext, I made perfectly round patties by placing a large round cookie cutter onto wax paper and pressing the meat mixture into the cookie cutter as a mold which when lifted up, reveals a perfectly round patty. Yes, I like consistency that much. I experimented and wrapped some of the patties in foil then in saran wrap and some just in a healthy layer of saran wrap. Both seemed to keep well in the freezer. The 2 lbs made 10 burgers that we then paired with $.20 corn cobs from the produce stand down the road.

Egg, tomato, eggplant sandwichEggplant, Tomato, Aioli Sandwiches:
2 sandwiches/eggplant

I have already written an entire post on these bad boys. They are SO SO SO delicious. My favorite nights of the month are our hot sandwiches. Once again, be creative! There are so many different ways to combine your simple foods that turn them into favorite family recipes.

Chicken:
1 large package yields roughly 10 baggies for 2 people

We eat quite a bit of chicken but we have learned how to combine well with other sides to make it stretch. First of all, we almost always buy our chicken at Walmart, the large 5 breast packages, and usually when it is $.99/lb. We buy boneless, skinless breasts but there are other things like drumsticks and what not that you can buy cheaper if that is more your style. The reason we stick to breasts is because of their versatility.

chicken portionsThe only other prep task you might see us doing the same night of our grocery run is cutting up our chicken and placing it into smaller baggies. We slice the breast in half thickness-wise (so it’s half as thick making it a quick thaw) then cut into strips and place 2 serving sizes (3-4 oz–it’s a small handful) in one ziplock baggie. To give you an idea, Jack and I usually get about 10-12 baggies of cut-up chicken out of 1 large package of chicken.

Now you have chicken in meal bags ready to freeze. We typically pull out one bag of chicken/meal, thaw and cook to go on a salad or with rice. We also give variety to our chicken meals by adding marinades to the chicken prior to cooking or experimenting with the seasoning. One of my favorite ways to cook chicken is to sprinkle it with Salad Supreme, pepper and garlic, saute onions and serve with rice. Our first month we also ate Jerk Chicken sandwiches, where we simply pulled the chicken out, poured caribbean jerk sauce into the bag while it thawed, cooked the chicken and served on a burger bun kind of like a sloppy joe but with lettuce, tomato and onion. Delicious!

Since the chicken makes many loose bags in the freezer we store it in what used to be our ice bin. The bin seems to be the perfect size for a full month of chicken baggies.

Frittatas:
4-5 eggs/1 large frittata

Eggs are pretty stinking cheap around here. We buy ours at the little produce stand down the road for $.99/dz and since it’s at the produce stand we allow ourselves to buy it more than once a month. Jack eats one egg pretty much every morning but we have also incorporated eggs into our evening meals (the open-faced sandwiches and frittatas). The frittata ends up being about $2/meal for two people so it is great on the wallet. This is basically like scrambling eggs with veggies but here’s how we make it: Cut up some veggies (onion, green pepper, tomatoes) and sautee in olive oil in a medium-sized saucepan, season with garlic, curry, pepper and a little bit of salt. Whisk together 4-5 eggs in a separate bowl with about 1 tbsp of milk. Once the veggies are ready, spread them evenly around the bottom of the pan and pour the egg mixture over the top. Your eggs should fill all the space around the veggies and just barely reach the top of the veggies (so basically, you want to still see your veggies sticking out in various places, don’t cover them like a soup). Sprinkle the eggs with a bit more seasoning and place a lid over the pan and let cook for about 20 minutes. The eggs should fluff up nicely and create a little egg pie–kind of a quiche-like consistency without the crust. Cut into the middle to make sure your eggs are cooked all the way through. Pull out of the oven, allow to cool and serve with toast.

Sides:

I’m not sure I need much explanation on our sides. But here’s a quick overview:

saladSalads–just like any salad, we make do with what veggies we have on hand. Sometimes that can include many ingredients (cheese, cucumber, tomatoes, oriental noodles, onions, pine nuts, hard-boiled eggs) and other times we just use the last bits of produce in the house which may just be onion and tomato. Sometimes we buy salad dressing if it is on sale but often we make individual portions of dressing to go on our salad. This dressing is a mixture of balsamic vinegar(2 tbsp), olive oil(2tbsp), lemon juice (1/2-1tbsp), garlic powder and pepper. We just combine these until we’ve reached the right amount of zing.

The red potatoes we cook just like the dinner version but we usually just need 1/person, so it’s a smaller batch.

Grilled zucchini–cook however you normally would. We drizzle in olive oil with garlic and pepper sprinkled on top and place on the grill. We also grill it on skewers with peppers and onions.

Zucchini Ribbon SaladZucchini Ribbon Salad–Using a potato peeler, peel the zucchini in long ribbons and place in a bowl. Chop 1/2 of an onion and add to the bowl along with pepper and garlic (can you tell I like these two seasonings?). Prepare the balsamic/olive oil dressing listed above under “salads” and pour on top. I also usually have a package of pine nuts on hand for when I make pesto so I sprinkle those on top of this salad for a little added crunch. A small package of pine nuts costs about $2.38.

Corn and other veggies– just grill as you normally would. This veggie item varies according to which produce is the best price and better quality.

homemade dinner rolls Homemade Dinner Rolls– these are incredibly easy to make and cost nearly nothing if you typically have flour and yeast on hand.

Lunch:

Obviously sandwiches need little explanation but Jack’s favorite lunch meal, seasoned rice and beans, is so stinkin’ simple, I wonder sometimes why he loves it so.

On Sunday evenings I usually cook a small batch of brown rice (1-2 cups), pull out some extra beans that I’ve already cooked and put in the freezer and put about 1/2 cup of each into a lunch container. I also add a little pepper, salt and garlic along with a little chopped onion and tomato. In the other half of his lunch I chop up some lettuce and veggies and voila! A warm and healthy lunch for him to enjoy and it took me all of 10 minutes to throw together three for the week. Sometimes I’ll shred some cheese to go on the rice and beans, other times, if we’ve found tortillas on sale that month, I’ll give him a tortilla to wrap the mixture into, just to give a little bit of variety. Of course, he likes his staples and still swears the simple rice and beans mixture is his favorite lunch item.

Jack also makes homemade granola to eat with yogurt for snacks or lunches.

Here is a link to my grocery list from month #1. Keep in mind, I chose my menu recipes based on some of the ingredients already in my home. This is very important to keeping your grocery bill low. It takes a few extra minutes to take inventory of your fridge, freezer and cupboards but it lowers the cost tremendously. Google Recipes can come in handy here if you don’t yet have staple meals for various recipes. You can go to Google and type in “chili recipes” then over on the left column click the items you already have and see what links appear that use those items. From there figure out what else you would need from the store to make that recipe. This was very helpful when I wanted to find a carrot soup recipe.

Anyways, I say all that to inform you that if the item is not on my grocery list but I listed it above in my recipe instructions, I already had that item at the house. In month #1 this mostly pertains to seasonings. Also, although throughout the month we buy our produce at various farmer’s markets and the local produce stand, our first trip of the month we tend to buy the bulk produce and maybe a few other items if needed at the store.

Ok, I think that is plenty of information for you all to process. Keep in mind this was my very first month of monthly meal planning so, now looking back, the meals are terribly exciting but they tasted good and worked well throughout the entire month. We even had leftovers of some of these items to use in month #2 which helped break up the meal routine.

As always, let me know if you have any questions at all or if anything is unclear. Good luck!


Lower Your Grocery Bill + Monthly Shopping (Part 1)


lower grocery billThis past year Jack and I have picked up the speed on our ongoing money-saving mission. Although we don’t make very much money (we each work a normal job, an odd job for extra cash, and go to school full time), we have figured out where we can scrimp and scrape without robbing all the fun out of our lives. Despite bringing in very little money each month we are able to continually put money into savings and still afford a few niceties from time to time. We are not one of those insanely strict couples who never ever strays from the plan because, let’s face it, some days you just need a cheeseburger, but we do try to abide by our little rule set as closely as possible. However, allowing ourselves the flexibility to say, “screw the plan, we need a night out,” has actually given us motivation to stick to our budgeting strategy more consistently.

Now, this post is not meant to be a long lesson on how to save money and budget well, although I may be sharing some of our strategies and tracking sheets eventually. No, I tell you all this to say that our latest step in the long process of living simply and saving money one small piece at a time is to cut down our grocery bill. We don’t spend a lot of money on groceries, especially with just two of us, but we had been noticing that those unexpected mini trips to the grocery store throughout the month were causing the bill to be much higher than necessary. That realization is all it took for me to start researching–have I mentioned how much I enjoy researching? If you don’t believe me you will with this next bit of news…I ordered a book from the library that solely discussed lowering your grocery bill. Let me further emphasize to you how much I enjoy researching, this book was 300 pages long and I read every single page and loved every minute! The book I chose was, “Cut Your Grocery Bill in Half with America’s Cheapest Family.” It was awesome! At first I didn’t think I would actually learn anything because I constantly read about cheap and healthy eating on blogs and I think Jack and I have learned a great deal about saving on groceries but trust me, if you think you know cheap grocery shopping, think again.

Although many methods of saving are presented in this book, you can choose to use just one or combine many of their strategies, for instance, I refuse to cut coupons so I disregarded that chapter of saving tips. The one strategy that has made the biggest impact on our grocery bill is once-a-month shopping. This was/is very appealing to Jack and I and our current lifestyle. Last year was our most difficult school-wise, we both had very full class loads plus work and we felt like we were losing our minds much of the time. Luckily though, I had the idea to make a bunch of freezer meals we could thaw to save time cooking once or twice a week. This idea of once-a-month shopping takes my random amount of freezer meals to an entirely different level. Shopping once a month can seem like a daunting task, but if you check into it with an open mind, I believe you’ll agree it saves time, energy, money and effort.

Last month we spent $90 at the grocery store and $14 in produce for the entire month. Keep in mind this is just for two people but still, with all of our extra trips we were spending about $100 more than that.

The idea with this once-a-month shopping trip is to stock up on items that are on sale and that complement what you already have in your cabinets and fridge. Once you decide what you have to work with, choose a few recipes(6 to 8). You want your recipes to be simple and freezable. Of course, if every single meal is frozen you may find yourself lacking in produce. Jack and I, remedy this by adding a side (salad, rice, red potatoes, or grilled veggies) to every meal. We also have one night a week where we make some sort of breakfast meal, usually something with eggs–eggplant, egg & aioli sandwiches or frittatas. This month we also added BLTs to our weekly mix because turkey bacon was BOGO at Ingles, so for $2.38 we bought 2 packages of turkey bacon (12 slices in each), one is in the fridge and one the freezer for later in the month. Be creative with your recipe selection, although a large portion of your food will reside in the freezer, there are many other ways to incorporate fresh vegetables and other ingredients that won’t break the bank.

The next step is to write a menu for the month (this is the trickier part). Once you’ve chosen your recipes see how many portions each will make and how many meals this will actually amount to for your family. If you made a fabulous vegetable soup that contains 8-1 cup servings, you can scoop 2 cups into a baggie, flatten, freeze and have 4 meals ready to go for 2 people (remember you are pairing this with salad and perhaps a roll, so 1 cup is a normal serving size). Not all recipes end up having exceptional accuracy on serving size so I’ve now reached a point where I make my final monthly menu (actually write the meals on each day of the month) after I’ve cooked everything and seen how many meals it made.

Now that I’ve touched on writing a menu, let me take a moment to address keeping your produce fresh. Shopping once a month has taken a little bit of the variety out of our produce, for instance I don’t experiment too much with the fruits & vegetables we buy and basically just stick to apples and bananas to pair with our lunches. Other great fruits and vegetables that seem to last longer include grapes, carrots, oranges, celery, red potatoes, sweet potatoes, & zucchini. However, you are still able to incorporate those shorter-shelf-life fruits and veggies as long as you plan your menus well. If you buy avocados, buy some that aren’t quite ripe so you can hang on to them a few more days. If you need them to hurry up and ripen, toss them in a paper bag for the afternoon and they’ll ripen up quickly. If you buy them ripe, plan your meal so that you use those items in your first week of meals. Since we buy produce about twice a month, our 1st and 3rd weeks typically have more fresh veggies incorporated into the meals but that is not to say the week 2 and 4 are lacking, it’s just a different type of produce. Make sense? Back to our shopping steps.

Now, of course, you need to go to the store (or brave it before menu writing but after choosing your recipes). We go to 2 stores now. The week that we end up buying food, instead of giving in to the idea of coupon-ing (I just won’t devote that much time), we buy a Sunday paper and look at which store has the most deals with their “club card” that fits the most items on my shopping list. For instance, this month Ingles had about 75% of the items on my list (or some version of them–be flexible!) on sale and most of those were BOGO. We went there first and I purchased the sale items only, then I brought along last month’s receipt from Walmart and checked some of our staple items to see how their prices compared. If the staple item was cheaper than what Walmart had listed last month than I bought it at Ingles, if not, I head over to Wally World and purchase the item there instead. So yes, two stores in one night, it sounds crazy but it only took 20 minutes longer than my old shopping trips used to take AND I am not having to go back to the store ALL MONTH LONG. We shop on Friday nights, if you go later in the evening you can get discounted meats and breads (discounted meat is OK to buy just smell it first, it shouldn’t go bad if you put it back in the freezer–take advantage of the discount!). Friday evenings are also typically a quieter time to go gallivanting about the grocery aisles.

Once you’ve purchased all your items, bring them on home, pat yourself on the back and take a break. I like shopping on a Friday cause I can get beans soaking overnight for chili or to go in our rice and bean lunches and then get to work on the other meals in the morning after a nice long evening of sleep. When you prepare your freezer meals, take extra time at the beginning to get organized. This one day of cooking goes by very quickly if you can recognize ahead of time how many onions you will need to chop up, how much ground beef you need to brown, which casseroles can go in the oven together, what you can place in a crockpot and so on.

Once your meals have cooled, break them into individual or family-sized portions to freeze. If a recipe makes 4 servings and you are cooking for two people, split the meal into two baggies or containers so you only have to thaw what you are going to eat that evening. We have also discovered strategies for making the most of a very small freezer for those of you without a separate one, like us. If you do have a separate freezer, I even more highly recommend reading the book mentioned above. The family has so many more tips for those of you who can buy multiple gallons of milk, cheese, and so on.

Alright, if you are still with me, thanks for hanging in there, we are getting close! If you didn’t write your menu on a white board or some other handy visual prior to shopping, now’s the time to do so. Once again, I now find this easier to do after I have all the food prepared and laid out in front of me. You’ll quickly find that many of the recipes make more portions than you will need in one month. This is when meal planning gets really fun! Now you get to start having more variety in the following months. Example: Last month I made a giant batch of chili and a giant batch of carrot soup so this month I still have 5 packages of each leftover. I can now add those meals into the mix for this month’s menu, make the same amount of new meals to mix in and then, voila! More variety and you guessed it, even more left over the next month. I also like having the extra meals because it makes giving away a meal so simple.

You may be wondering what about breakfast and lunch? Well, here’s where we may vary a bit on pricing. I rarely eat more than a piece of toast and a banana for breakfast and Jack has 1 egg and a slice of toast so we are very boring there. For lunches we typically rotate PB&J, tuna, or a little rice and beans mix (will share recipe later) with a side salad. All very inexpensive lunch items to incorporate into your routine and none of which require making and freezing ahead of time. So, our lunches add extra bread, PB, jelly, tuna, a large bag of rice, and bagged beans to the shopping list. These are almost always on our list and are usually pretty inexpensive even without a sale.

As I mentioned before, our sides typically consist of rice, salad, veggies or roasted red potatoes. I usually just rotate these around with the freezer meals so we aren’t always eating the same main course with the same side–break up that routine. We also bake a batch of homemade dinner rolls to go with our soups each month. These cost next to nothing if you already carry a few basic baking supplies in your kitchen. Which raises yet another point, baking a few items from scratch–bread, rolls, pizza dough–goes a long way to keeping you on budget while giving you variety.

Are you overwhelmed yet? I know it’s a lot of information to take in but I promise 2 months in you’ll be singing it’s praises just like I was. I will leave you to soak in this information but will be posting our first month’s grocery plan with recipes and more details in the next few days. I will also be posting tips on storing all this food in a tiny freezer, showing you menu options and my grocery price tracking system. I hope you’ve enjoyed this little peak into the way we’ve learned to cut our grocery bill in half!


Grilled Eggplant, Tomato & Aioli Sandwiches


In preparation for the coming school year our kitchen has once more turned to freezer-meal central. I recently read a book on cutting your grocery bill in half and while I began the read thinking it would be quite useless, I can proudly say, it works! I’m very excited to share some tips with you throughout the coming months. For now, let me just emphasize the importance of going to the grocery store once monthly and taking one day each month to cook up a couple staple meals that will keep in the freezer. Last year we realized just how valuable freezer meals can be with a schedule like ours.

Anyways, I’ll get to more freezer meal recipes, tricks and tips in a few weeksMore freezer meals here, but I’ll get to back to the point… While freezer meals are wonderful on the wallet, we love our fresh fruits and veggies so we supplement our menu with produce dinners from the farmer’s market. Whipping up a quick vegetarian meal once or twice a week goes a long way to incorporating variety into your month of meals.

Egg, tomato, eggplant sandwich

This week one of our produce meals consisted of eggplant, tomatoes, onions and eggs. The tomatoes were from our very own garden, the eggplant was thrown into my produce bag for free after buying 5 zucchinis and 5 yellow squash and the eggs are from a local farmer. Neat-O, right? I love fresh!

Here’s how we put this dish together:

1.) Grill Eggplant: Slice eggplant, sprinkle with salt, parsley, pepper, thyme and garlic, place in a sauce pan with 2 tbsp. of olive oil, cook each side 3 minutes or until slightly browned

2.) Saute onions in 1 tbsp of olive oil

3.) Cook 2 over-easy eggs

4.) Prepare Aioli Sauce: 1/4 c. light mayo or Greek Yogurt, 1 tbsp. olive oil, 1 tbsp. lemon juice, 1 minced garlic clove

5.) Slice tomatoes, toast bread and assemble sandwiches

Egg, tomato, eggplant sandwich

Easy as pie! My favorite part was slicing open the yolk and letting it drizzle all over the sandwich, seriously, it was SO good.

Next time you are looking for a healthy, tasty and filling dinner recipe, give these open-faced sandwiches a try. Trust me, it’s a decision you won’t regret.


Baltimore + Friends


Sorry for the brief hiatus from posting, I hope you all have had a chance to check out last week’s Jungle Safari Baby Shower. The hubby and I decided to take a last-minute trip up to Baltimore this weekend to visit our good friends Adam and Leslie. We kind of love them. With classes starting back in one week, we figured it was one of those “now-or-never” moments.

Baltimore

We had such a blast in Baltimore. Breakfast at Gertrudes outside the BMA, seriously the most amazing basil hollandaise sauce over eggplant and poached eggs. It was so delicious that I decided my latest mission is to cook the perfect poached egg.

Anyways, back to our weekend. We took in the beautiful views on Federal Hill overlooking the harbor.

Took a walk around Fort McHenry (think Star Spangled Banner). Loved the ocean views surrounding the fort.

We even managed a mini beach trip on Sunday followed by dinner in Little Italy and the most amazing cannolis. Yes, it was a great weekend.

Tomorrow is another day of flower cutting and market arranging at the farm. Kristin and I will be running the flower business at the Kingsport Farmer’s Market on Saturday so anyone in the area should come out and visit us. I promise, once you see the flowers you won’t regret giving up your Saturday morning. I’ll be sure to take some fun market pictures for you all. Happy Weekend!


Sunday Morning Inspiration


“And while it takes courage to achieve greatness, it takes more courage to find fulfillment in being ordinary. For the joys that last have little relationship to achievement, to standing one step higher on the victory platform. What is the adventure in being ordinary? It is daring to love just for the pleasure of giving it away. It is venturing to give new life and to nurture it to maturity. It is working hard for the pure joy of being tired at the end of the day. It is caring and sharing and giving and loving…”
-Marilyn Thomsen

blueberry pancakes

It is a beautiful Sunday morning here in East Tennessee. Here’s wishing you a fabulous day filled with many ordinary adventures.


Curry Egg Salad Sandwich


Curry is a seriously under appreciated seasoning. While living in Ukraine, I learned many unconventional ways to incorporate curry into everyday recipes. One of my absolute favorite curry recipes is this curry egg salad.

Ingredients:

3 hard-boiled eggs
2 tbsp miracle whip (or mayo)
3 green onions (chopped)
2 tsp curry
pepper
1 leaf of lettuce
1 slice of wheat bread

Directions:

Boil the eggs and allow to cool. Chop the eggs into smaller pieces and place in a small bowl. Add onions, curry, and miracle whip to the bowl. Toast your bread slice. Add a slice of lettuce, the egg salad and a dash of pepper on top.

That’s it. One incredibly simple curried egg salad recipe. All that’s left is digging in! What’s your favorite curry recipe?


Lazy Chocolate Spice Cake


After a rigorous year of classes, I can finally say my hardest year of nursing school is complete! Today was my last final and I can’t express how much relief I am feeling right now. Here’s a small glimpse into my life these past few weeks… as if finals aren’t bad enough with cumulative nursing tests, we had a grand total of 12 tests piled on for our last three weeks of classes. Can we say “insane?!” That’s what I thought. Anyways, it is over and I am relieved and ready to finally be in my final year of nursing. This degree (and the attempted others) has been a very long time in the making and I am so excited to be so close to the finish line.

Now, I say all these details about my finals to butter you up since my posts the last few weeks have been scattered and brief. But guess what? All that is about to change! Jack is helping me with some exciting changes for the blog including, a new title and domain, new categories, design changes and hopefully a much better posting schedule. You can look forward to all these changes taking place in about a month (poor Jack still has classes to finish).

Now on to the fun stuff…

This weekend, in the midst of all my studying, I had one of those moments where I simply couldn’t go a minute longer with being crafty. I settled for baking since it is quick and I get to enjoy it for days to come (this cake didn’t last that long). Since I was short on time I cheated and brought out a boxed (gasp), yes, boxed Dunkin Hynes spice cake. Of course, I couldn’t just make a boxed cake so I added 2 tbsp of chocolate baking powder and 2 tsp of vanilla. I then added all the ingredients on the back of the box (3 eggs, oil, water) and threw it in the oven for 25 minutes.

This was a huge success. I really wasn’t expecting much out of this haphazard baking attempt but the finished result was tasty and moist–really, what else matters? I also had half of a package of cream cheese in the fridge so I softened the block, added about 1-1/2 cups of powdered sugar, 2 tsp of vanilla and a smidge of milk. And voila! Delicious cream cheese frosting (spread between the cake layers). Chocolate spice cake, cream cheese frosting, pear slices on top–trust me, this is a winning combination.

So there you have it, my lazy chocolate spice cake for those of you with crazy lives like mine. Keep checking back with us, lots of fun projects coming up. Happy baking!



Watermelon Turtle + Edible Books


The Milligan library held their second annual Edible Books Festival this week (year #1 here). My contributions included a “Holes” carrot cake made with graham crackers, coffee frosting and cinnamon as well as a “Tortoise and the Hare” watermelon turtle, complete with hair-get it? I crack myself up.

Anywho, I thought I’d share a few quick and dirty instructions for carving Mr. Turtle. I’ve seen several versions of this turtle but the one at Down Memory Lane is my favorite.

Instructions:
1. Cut watermelon in half along the longer line.

2. Use a melon-baller, or if you don’t have one (like me) use a metal measuring spoon-1/4 tsp, and scoop out as much watermelon as possible.

3. Scrape all remnants of the watermelon out of each side.

4. Take one side of the watermelon, and draw an oval-shaped shell, four feet, and a head with a dry-erase marker (dry-erase makes it easy to wipe off once you’re done carving).

5. Carve out your shapes.

6. With a flat head screwdriver, carve out the lines on your shell. If you are afraid to eyeball it, use the dry erase marker to draw your shapes. I basically just dragged the flat edge back and forth to make the lines–took about 15 minutes total.

7. Poke two small holes in the head and poke in two whole peppercorns for eyes.

8. Use toothpicks to secure your legs and head to the shell.

9. All that’s left is filling the non-shell side with fruit (and adding strawberry-leaf hair if desired). I used the previously scooped melon balls, strawberries and grapes as filling.

This turtle is really easy to make and adds a fun element to any party.

Here’s a little shot of the carrot “Holes” cake. I basically just used a round cookie cutter to make the holes, crumbled the cake into piles and added ground-up graham crackers so it looked more textured and desert-like. I also sprinkled cinnamon into the holes and on one side of the mounds to act as a sort of shading. The “shovels” are broken wood skewers and the rocks are ginger candies.

Some of my other favorites from Edible Books 2012 were “Where’s Wal-dough” (cookie people with Waldo hiding among them) by Grace Jackson, “Pigs in Heaven” (a plate of bacon) by Seth and Stacey Tramel, and “Book of Fungi” with meringue mushrooms (I totally thought they were real mushrooms) by Meredith Sommers.

If you ever have the opportunity to bake for an Edible Books event, DO IT! It’s so much fun! I hope you’ve enjoyed this little tutorial. Let us know how your watermelons turn out. Happy carving!


Lemon-Berry Pie Jars


Working in a public relations office and running a blog definitely has its perks. This past week I was asked to help bake treats for the re-accreditation committee coming to review our college. My contribution was one of multiple treats and favors made by alumni and faculty. After much deliberation I decided to make pie–not just any pie, mini pies in cute little jars–who could resist?

lemon berry pie

Berry pies are not terribly difficult to bake so I was at a loss for how to spice up my treat. I settled on creative crusts and lots of lemon. For my first trial pie, I used raspberries and lemon zest. The lemon zest alone didn’t give it enough pizzazz so I altered my ingredients and came up with this tasty recipe.

lemon berry pie

Lemon-Berry Pie Jars Yield: 6 pie jars Ingredients * 1-10 oz. bag frozen raspberries * 1-14 oz. bag frozen blackberries * 1/2 c. sugar * 1 tsp lemon juice * 1.5 tbsp tapioca * 1/4 tsp vanilla * 1/4 tsp cinnamon * 1 lemon zest (whole lemon) * 3 c. flour * 1/4 tsp salt * 2/3 c. shortening * 6 tbsp cold water Directions 1. Thaw berries and drain in a strainer. 2. Place berries, lemon juice, sugar, tapioca, zest, cinnamon and vanilla into a large bowl. Gently combine until berries are well coated. 3. Allow to sit for 20 minutes. 4. Preheat oven to 400 degrees and prepare the dough. 5. For the pie crust, combine flour and salt. 6. Cut in the shortening a small amount at a time. I use a fork for this portion of the process. Scoop out a little shortening at a time and press the clumps into the flour. You want to see the flour turn crumbly. 7. After all the shortening is combined. Add cold water one tablespoon at a time. Toss dough until it forms an even mixture. This is the point where most instructions will tell you to refrigerate the dough for at least one hour. I have done this with and without refrigeration and honestly couldn\'t tell the difference, so, I leave it up to you. 8. The last step is filling your container-of-choice and laying the crust over the top. For my jars, I used two different types of flowers cookie cutters and laid the first pattern over the top of the jar. I cut the middles out of each flower with a frosting tip. The second, smaller cookie cut-out I baked separately on a cookie sheet. 9. Brush your crust with egg wash (1 egg and 2 tbsp water) before placing in the oven and again after 10 minutes. Don\'t forget to also sprinkle the crust with cinnamon and sugar. 10. Bake for at least 15 minutes (see baking precautions below). 11. The berries are full of liquid so you need to monitor the pies carefully. I didn\'t want the berries overflowing onto my crust so I let it bake until the juice started bubbling over (about 15 minutes), then removed the pies from the oven to cool for a a few minutes before putting them back in under the broiler to finish browning the crust (about 15 minutes). 12. I finished my pie packaging by hot gluing fake leaves onto the side of the jars and tying them with twine.

Happy Baking!


Granola Trail Mix


Jack and I are always looking for low-calorie, high protein and of course, good tasting snacks to hold us over throughout the busy day. We have been trying out various trail mix varieties over the last few weeks and finally figured out an inexpensive way to make our very own.

homemade granolaInstead of using a nut-based mix, we decided to use granola as the main ingredient and add in mixed nuts, M&Ms, and craisins. We bought a bulk bag of craisins for $3 and a bulk nuts for $4.

As for the granola, all it takes is a few cups of old-fashioned oats.

Granola:

3 c. old-fashioned oats
3 tbsp. brown sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/3 c. honey
1/4 c. canola oil
1 tsp. vanilla

_Directions:_

Preheat oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Combine oats, sugar, salt and cinnamon in a large bowl. Combine remaining ingredients in a separate bowl. Pour honey mixture over oats-coat thoroughly. Once the oats are coated, spread onto a cookie sheet, thin and even. Place in oven. Stir the granola at least every 12 minutes to keep it from burning–you really don’t want this to burn. Remove granola from oven after 30 minutes or when oats turn a golden brown. Allow to cool completely. Add mixed nuts, fruit, chocolate, craisins or whatever else you can think of to spice up your trail mix. Here’s where I learned all about granola making.

Adding fruit to your mix can become quite expensive, however you can easily dry your own fruit pieces. Jack is currently drying mangoes to add to our mix–yummy!

I used 1/4 of the bag of craisins and 1/4 the box of nuts with 1 batch of oats to yield about 8 cups of trail mix. Why is this important to note? We can make a few more batches!

You can also skip the trail mix and simply eat the granola for breakfast.


Lemon Chocolate Truffles


Just a few lemon chocolate truffles to share with you for Valentine’s day.

You can find the recipe at Swapna’s Cuisine. First, I made her version using white chocolate…

Then I made them with milk chocolate. This version has a flavor combination similar to the orange -chocolate eggs, surprisingly delicious.

The envelope was for Jack’s card. I simply wrapped red string around it until I approved of the pattern.

Hope you all are able to spend some time with those you love and who love you. Happy Valentine’s Day!


100 Posts + Lemon Cake


Today we are celebrating our 100th post! What better way to celebrate this milestone than with a moist lemon cake and meringue-ish frosting? Hooray!

When I realized last week that I had just published post #99, I couldn’t decide what project was worthy of #100. So I finally decided to allow my hectic schedule to dictate the project depth, and thus my free time this week allotted enough time to bake a single cake.

I chose to bake a lemon cake for two reasons:
1.) I had leftover Meyer Lemons from an impulse buy (they were so pretty).
2.) I had never attempted a plain lemon cake.

Plain lemon cake may not seem like much in the way of motivation, however, as an ex-hater of all things lemon, I now feel the need to devour as much citrus-flavored goodness as humanly possible. So, that’s the story of how I came to bake a lemon cake.

While scouring the internet for lemony treats, I decided to abide by three rules for choosing the recipe:
1.) Simple
2.) Legitimate source
3.) Already purchased ingredients

As typically happens, my friend Martha Stewart came to my rescue. Martha’s lemon cake is a slight variation of her vanilla cake, which was perfect considering, I love her vanilla cake. Really, you can’t go wrong. She also used a whipped frosting on top which looks meringue-like but is actually lighter, almost foamy.

This lemon cake was incredibly moist with just the right amount of lemony goodness. So, if you’re looking for a simple, fail-safe, and super-moist cake recipe, Martha’s Lemon Cake is the way to go.

And so, here we are–100 posts down and hopefully many more to come. Thank you to all my diligent readers who hang in there with me through the good, the bad, and the ugly posts.

On another miletsone note, we are quickly coming up on the one year anniversary of The Kitchen Curtains and I would love to hear from you. Please shoot me an email or leave a comment letting us know what your favorite post has been so far.

Happy 100!


No Bake Bites


You remember how I made all those healthy freezer meals for the hubby and I to enjoy this semester? Well, if you’ve learned anything about me from reading this blog, it is most likely the fact that I love sweets. Yes, I admit I have a bit of a sweet tooth. And when I say “a bit” I really mean, “I would probably die without sweets.” Dramatic? Perhaps. However, I’m pretty sure my husband (who has to make midnight Sonic runs) would agree that the above statement is indeed accurate.

Where am I going with all this? While preparing an abundance of healthy and appropriately portioned meals, I reached a point where I couldn’t stand to look at one more vegetable, and then, I caved.

Here’s my philosophy (also known as justification): healthy eating deserves unhealthy rewards (sound familiar). Where’s the fun/motivation in eating well if you can’t treat yourself to something bad from time to time?

With that in mind, I set to work whipping up these easy and surprisingly, not too unhealthy, No Bake Bites.

I’m sure most of you have made these tasty treats once or twice. I used this No-Bake Cookie recipe from Skinny Taste (a great website for low fat, family-friendly recipes). I liked Gina’s version better than my no-bake recipe mainly because they stick together well for rolling into balls, thus making it easier to have a consistent size, and thus a consistent measurement of calories per cookie bite. According to her blog, 1 serving=2 cookies for a total of 105 calories.

Once the cookies were cooled and covered in powdered sugar, I split them equally into four bags, froze three, and put one in the fridge for us to enjoy after meals. Once we start getting low, I simply pull out another bag to thaw so we never find ourselves wishing for chocolate and settling on something five times worse for us to eat.

Oh and one more thing, these are delicious! Trust me, they’ll satisfy that late night sweet craving. Enjoy!


Crockpot Chili Recipe


Woke up this morning, my third day back in class, to a wonderful text message alerting me of our snow delay! Looking outside it was hard to not mock our little corner of Tennessee for their never-fail overreactions to winter weather (less than 1 in. this morning). However, I got to go back to sleep for 45 minutes before my long day, so no complaining here. I’ve been hanging onto this chili recipe, waiting for that perfectly brisk and chilling day to share it with you. I think you’ll agree after seeing this picture that today’s the day!

This savory chili is sure to warm both your heart and tummy on days like these when you just can’t seem to escape the winter chill. Simply throw the ingredients together at night or in the morning, and leave the crock pot on low throughout the day–allowing your humble abode to fill with the welcoming aromas of coffee, chocolate, and spices.

Crockpot Chili

3 cups pinto beans (or 2-3 cans if not using dry)
2 cans kidney beans
1 lb ground beef
8 oz can of tomato sauce
1 tsp cocoa
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp parsley
1 tbsp Worcestershire
Easy BBQ Sauce (see recipe below)
1 sweet onion (chopped)
5 carrots (shredded and chopped)
2 Roma tomatoes (chopped)

_Easy BBQ Sauce
_

1 cup ketchup
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons spicy brown mustard
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon olive oil

Directions:
If you are using dry pinto beans, soak overnight and prepare beans per instructions on the bag.

Place 1 lb of thawed ground beef in your slow cooker. Season with cinnamon, garlic, parsley and anything else that floats your boat. I threw in a pack of Goya seasoning. It is fantastic and can be found in the Hispanic food section of the grocery store, it is in an orange and white box.

Separate the meat a bit and allow to brown slightly. Add beans, tomato sauce, Worcestershire, and cocoa. Prepare the Easy BBQ Sauce by simply combining the ingredients above on the stove then pour into the crock pot. I changed a few ingredients to work with what we had in the fridge, but the here is the original.

Shred the carrots first, then chop. Chop the onion and tomatoes. Add vegetables to crock pot. Stir well and let sit until you are ready to eat. If you are preparing this a couple hours before eating, set the crock pot on high, if you are planning to leave it on all day, set the crock pot on low. Remember, as with most crock pot dishes, the longer it cooks the tastier it becomes. This is also the recipe I used to prepare our semester of freezer meals.

Hope this warms you up on the cold days to come. Welcome to Winter!


How to Prepare Freezer Meals


Our kitchen has seen much progress in the past 4 years as Jack and I develop new ways of cooking that keep us healthy, provide warm homemade meals, and save time. This past year we started following some of the Biggest Loser protein menu guidelines to help define our eating styles. We both attend classes and run back and forth between 2 other jobs–this means our eating time is limited and usually involves us scarfing down whatever is quick and easy. Not to mention the hassle of coming home and attempting to prepare dinner. By the time 6 o’clock rolls around, the last thing we want to do is thaw and prep food. The Biggest Loser protein packed menus are fabulous (sample menu), because as the name suggests, they are packed with protein. What does that mean for us? We can eat less throughout the day and still remain full and energized enough to exercise those valuable brain cells.

What does our daily food system usually consist of?

Breakfast: 1 slice whole grain toast, 2 poached egg whites, 8 oz fat-free milk, coffee, fruit (you can even have 2 sausage links in this meal plan)

Snack: 1 medium apple, sliced, with 1 tablespoon peanut butter or 1 non-fat yogurt cup, 1 nature oats granola bar

_Lunch:_Black Bean Burrito with salsa, onions, tomatoes, romaine lettuce, and 1 wheat tortilla or 2 cups chopped romaine lettuce, tomato, cucumber and 4 oz lemon-pepper seasoned chicken (cooked ahead of time and separated into baggies to freeze)

Dinner: This is where we added in a bit of variety. Usually we pair fish with either 1 cup of brown rice, a side salad, or 1 serving of penne pasta with vegetables.

However, with school in full swing I pre-made 37 freezer meals for two in order to help us stay healthy, eat smaller portions and still have time for the necessary nightly study extravaganza.

The meals I included are made from fresh ingredients and are separated into moderate serving sizes. Most of these meals are to be paired with either brown rice or a side salad for a healthy and filling meal.

Spring Semester Freezer Meals:

Roasted Red Pepper and Tomato-Basil Soup
Yields: 8 cups
Serving Size: 1 cup
2-Person Meals: 4
Pair with: salad or homemade wheat bread

BBQ Chili
Yields: 10 cups
Serving Size: 1/2 cup
2-Person Meals: 10
Pair with: 1/2 cup brown rice or homemade wheat bread

Vegetable Pork Roast
Yields: 10 cups
Serving Size: 1 cup
2-Person Meals: 5
Pair with: 1/2 cup brown rice or side salad

Steamed Vegetables
Yields: 18 cups
Serving Size: 1 cup
2-Person Meals: 9
Pair with: 1 cup brown rice or 1 cup penne pasta
Note: We eat vegetables with everything so you can throw these into the steamer basket while your rice cooks or toss them into a pasta dish or simple cook as a side to go with your fish.

Rump Roast
Yields: 44 oz
Serving Size: 4 oz
2-Person Meals: 11
Pair with: sandwiches, salads, tacos, soups, pasta, etc
Note: I cooked an extra roast and shred the meat just to have extra meat on hand for whatever other dish we may want to throw together. I didn’t do anything special to this meat so there could be a variety of uses.

Pinto Beans
Note: I cooked 1 whole bag of dry pinto beans, using 3 cups for the chili, 2 cups to make hummus (great low-calorie snack), and 2 cups of leftover to use as a side or to throw into a stew. The bag only cost $1.49 and the resulting meals make the extra cook time worthwhile.

I was able to buy all of the ingredients for these freezer meals including a large bag of brown rice and salad fixings to go along with the meals for under $100. The only part that wasn’t included was the rump roast and 1 lb of ground beef because we bought grass-fed beef last summer from the Doan’s farm.

Freezer Meals Tips:

1.) When dividing your portions into baggies, think about how much unthawing/rethawing you want to do. I don’t put more than 4 individual portions into each bag, i.e. 2 nights of meals for 2 people.

2.) Flatten bags of food onto cookie sheets to freeze. Once frozen remove from sheet and stack upright to conserve freezer space.

3.) Many people will tell you not to cook your meat ahead of time for beef/pork crockpot meals as you will lose some of the flavor. I have frozen crockpot meals both ways, and I didn’t think it made that much of a difference so if I have time to cook it all ahead of time I will. Chicken, however, you really should cook ahead of time if mixing with other foods.

4.) As always, be creative. You might be amazed to find that most of your meals can be prepped ahead of time and set out to thaw or thrown into a crockpot to cook or even just thaw all day. And let’s face it, who doesn’t like coming home after a crappy day to a house that smells like Grandma’s old-fashioned pot roast? Brings a smile to my face just thinking about it.

5.) Keep your freezer organized. I’m a stickler for organization. I love thinking of ways to organize and the process of organizing my life. For instance, my favorite part about January is buying a new planner for the year–so refreshing! I grabbed an old filing bin to store our randomly packaged meats. It also works well for “filing” flattened soup ziplocks. You can find little bins of all sizes to fit your freezer at the dollar tree so don’t let a few dollars discourage you from years of organized freezer bliss.

I hope you’ve enjoyed these few ideas and tips. I will be posting my freezer meal recipes throughout the next few posts. If you have any questions, suggestions, or tips to share please send them my way.

Happy freezing!


Spiced Orange Chai Concentrate


Merry Christmas from the West Coast! Jack and I arrived safely this weekend and have been keeping ourselves busy visiting the family and soaking in the fresh smell of Oregon air.

[![](jekyll_uploads/2011/12/chaispicetea-325x487.jpg "chaispicetea")](http://www.sweetpeonies.com/2011/12/spiced-orange-chai-concentrate/chaispicetea/) Photo Courtesy of: Foodie With Family

While preparing for all the Christmas get-togethers, I realized I previously promised you all a recipe for Spiced Orange Chai Concentrate. I think I may have even teased you with a comment about how wonderful it tastes but never actually gave you the recipe–so rude. Anyways, this recipe is great for your Christmas get-togethers and as a bonus, it makes your house smell delicious enough to eat.

Orange Chai Concentrate Prep Time: 5 minutes Cook Time: 30 minutes Total Time: 35 minutes Ingredients * 10 Bags Black Tea * 1 Packet Mulling Spices * 1 tsp Cinnamon * 1/2 Orange * 1/2 c. Brown Sugar * 1 Tbsp Honey * 1 Tbsp Vanilla extract Directions 1. Pour 4-1/2 cups of water into a pot and bring to a boil. Make sure to use a pot with a tight-fitting lid. Add the tea bags, mulling spices, cinnamon and orange slices to the pot. Once the mixture is boiling, turn off the stove, apply the lid and allow the concentrate to steep for 20 minutes. 2. Once the 20 minutes is over, pour the mixture through a fine mesh strainer (we used a reusable coffee filter to strain). Strain a second time if needed. 3. Pour concentrate back into the pot and stir in the brown sugar, vanilla and honey.

To enjoy your concentrate, simply mix equal parts milk to concentrate. You can serve this over ice or with warmed milk.

We made jars of this for Christmas gifts this year. This can be a really easy and cute idea. Simply fill a mason jar with concentrate, apply the thin plate of the lid, cover with a scrap of Christmas fabric, then screw the outer part of the lid over the fabric. Tada! Easy wrapping for orange chai Christmas gifts.

Here’s the link to the original Spiced Orange Chai Concentrate recipe. The main difference is they used individual spices instead of one mulling packet. I chose the packet simply because it’s cheaper. They also used a ginger root, which I’m sure tastes great but in case you don’t have one on hand, doing without tastes just as wonderful.

Happy steeping!


Lemon Molasses Spice Cake + Maple Syrup Frosting


Happy Thanksgiving everyone! I hope right about now your tummies are full and you are enjoying friends and family. For our Thanksgiving, Linda invited us out to the farm to celebrate with her family. I was asked to contribute a dessert–one dessert…too many options.

In an attempt to branch out from my typical holiday dessert contribution, rum cake, I decided to try making a spice cake of sorts to take to the farm. I already had a box of Duncan Hines lemon cake mix, and in an attempt to not waste, I decided to add spices to the pre-made mix and see what happened. Although the finished appearance was less-than-wonderful, the cake tasted absolutely delicious and super moist!

Spice Cake Ingredients:

1 box of lemon cake mix (Duncan Hines)
1/2 c. molasses
1 1/3 c. water
1/4 c. oil
3 eggs
2 tsp. ginger
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg

The maple syrup frosting is courtesy of Country Living.

Maple Syrup Frosting:

2 1/4 c. confectioners’ sugar
1/2 c. brown sugar
8 tbsp. (1 stick) butter
1/8 tsp. salt
1/2 c. maple syrup
1 tsp. vanilla
2 tbsp. whole milk

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, combine cake mix, water and oil. Add molasses and eggs. Beat on medium speed for 2 minutes. Add spices.

Grease two circular cake pans with shortening. Divide batter between pans. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until toothpick comes out clean. Allow cakes to cool completely before removing from pans.

While cakes are cooling, prepare the frosting by mixing the sugars, butter and salt on medium speed. Continue beating and add the maple syrup in a slow stream. Add the vanilla and continue to beat until light and fluffy, add milk as needed.

P.S. If you haven’t guessed by now, I’m extremely thankful to have my own kitchen in which I can bake whenever and whatever I want to.

Happy Thanksgiving!


Multi-purpose pesto recipes


There are so many ways to use those last few batches of basil in your summer garden. Here are a few we’ve enjoyed throughout the summer. Remember you can also hang basil to dry and then crush it up to use for seasoning all winter long, or you can pulse it in your food processor and make pesto ice cubes ready to be melted into pasta dishes, dips or spreads.

Ingredients:

15-20 basil leaves
2 tbsp sunflower seeds (the insides)
1 tbsp olive oil
pepper/salt to taste
2 tsp garlic or 1 clove of garlic
1/4 c. butter
1 wood cutting board

Butter Pesto

Instructions:

Pull out butter so it can warm to room temperature.

Chop your basil leaves into very very tiny pieces. You should sharpen your knife, if possible, before chopping the leaves, you want to be able to cut through the leaf without the edges turning black (which happens with a dull knife). Once you have minced the leaves, pour a handful of sunflower seeds (no shell) over the top of the basil and mince finely. You will continue to chop, scrape, and gather the mixture.

Add 1 tbsp of olive oil (right onto the cutting board), 1 tsp. at a time (for a total of 3 tsp/1tbsp). Continue to mix and chop, mix and chop. Add pepper, salt, and garlic to mix (mince cloves before adding to the mixture). Once you are satisified with the consistency dump the pesto into a bowl with the butter. Use a fork to combine ingredients. And voila, pesto butter. Sometimes I add a dash or two of lemon to the mix as well.

Jack and I use the pesto butter on our corn instead of plain ol’ butter. It is SO delicious and definitely worth trying out at least once.


Pesto Bread Dip

For those of you who, like us, fancy going out to eat just so you can chow down on warm bread with oil & balsamic vinegar dip, you can use the ingredients above to make your very own dipping mixture. Simply, use the recipe below in a dish of olive oil with 2 tsp. of balsamic vinegar. This is quick and easy to throw together. Of course, you may have to try your hand at homemade baguettes to truly enjoy.

Ingredients:

Same as above, minus butter
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 tsp. balsamic vinegar

(Adjust to fit your individual tastes. We like lots of vinegar!)

Traditional Pesto

If you prefer traditional pesto, the steps are the same as pesto butter but with more of each ingredient and obviously, no butter.

Ingredients:

2 c. basil leaves
Adjust seasoning to fit your tastes (a good batch needs about 3 cloves of garlic)
1/4 c. olive oil for decent consistency (don’t add onto cutting board as with pesto butter, mix i n bowl)
Roughly 1/3 c. shredded Parmigiano Reggiano

Of course you can make both pesto butter and pesto more quickly with a food processor, but there are pros to chopping by hand. I’ll be honest, I only started making pesto by hand because I do not own a food processor. (Gasp) Although it takes more time, chopping your pesto mix by hand is well worth the effort. Hand chopping gives the pesto a coarse texture that has bold pops of flavor in every bite.

Hope this post inspires you to make the most of that last bit of garden basil. As always, leave a comment or shoot me an email if you need any clarification. Enjoy!


Guest Post: Mint milk with chocolate ice cubes


Our guest post this week comes from Meredith of Garden in the South. Meredith is a talented cook, wife, and mother of two adorable children. She is our College Archivist and Information Resources Librarian. Jack and Meredith work together at the library and I’m so grateful they do because I have had the pleasure of getting to know her these past 2 years and she is fabulous! She cans, cooks, bakes amazing baklava and so much more. Please be sure to head over to her blog and show her a bit of love today.

First of all, I’d like to thank Tiffany for asking me to guest post! I blog (such as it is) at Garden in the South, but not nearly as often, or with as much focus as I’d like. C’est la vie, for now. But I love The Kitchen Curtains, and everything Tiffany posts I think, “Oooh! I want to try that!” So this is an honor.

The other day, my friend Sarah sent me a link to this [Vanilla Milk with Chocolate Ice Cubes](http://translate.google.com/translate?client=tmpg&hl=en&u=http%3A%2F%2Fsandrakavital.blogspot.com%2F2008%2F08%2Fchocolat-det-frais-et-gourmand.html&langpair=fr en “Le Petrin”) at Le Pétrin (Google translates this as “Trouble.” That seems an apt title, given the deliciousness of this recipe, and how much of it I want to drink.) I had to make it immediately, but first I had to go to the store for some chocolate (because all of mine was old and chalky looking) and instant coffee powder (which I generally do without, but often wish I had). I considered Via, because it’s better, but went with Maxwell House, because I think it’ll mix in more completely, being that it’s freeze-dried. Via, which I’ll drink in a pinch, is super-finely ground, and so doesn’t dissolve well. Also, it’s crazy expensive. So $2 jar of Maxwell House it is.

I also did not have a vanilla bean. Sarah used one for her Vanilla Milk, and I suspect it’s essential. In something this simple, extract might be a bit harsh. I also live far from my spice purveyor of choice, and definitely couldn’t wait for shipping. But I do have a beautiful pot of fresh mint, and very fond memories of a Fresh Mint-Chocolate Truffle Tart I’ve made a few times. Mint is refreshing, of course, and perfect for summer, but the herbal quality of the fresh mint steeped in the cream is a little unexpected and wonderful. So I decided to go with Mint Milk, instead. And I’m so very glad I did. I’m sure the Vanilla Milk is wonderful, but the Mint . . . Seriously. This might become a staple in my refrigerator. The Chocolate Ice is nice – it melts into the milk, and I think it’d be good in all sorts of drinks. But it was all my husband and I could do not to drink the milk right up, and make more immediately.

So here’s the recipe. I was going to be all helpful and do the metric-American conversion, but then I realized my handy 2-cup Pyrex has mls on the other side, and I’ll bet yours does, too.

For the Chocolate Ice:

200 ml milk

50 ml water

1 T instant coffee

1 T unsweetened cocoa powder

1 t sugar

70 g dark chocolate, 66% (I used a combination of 82% and 60%, because I forgot to write down what I needed before I went to the store, and was thinking I was looking for 77%. It worked out ok.)

Whisk the coffee, cocoa powder, and sugar together in a small saucepan. Whisk in the milk & water, and bring to a boil over medium heat, whisking often. Meanwhile, finely chop the chocolate, and put into heatproof, pourable vessel (I used the aforementioned 2-cup Pyrex.) Pour hot liquid over chocolate. Let stand a few minutes, and whisk smooth. (The original suggests a wooden spoon, but I’m pretty excited about my new 4-inch whisk, so I used it.) Pour into ice cube tray, and freeze. This made 12 cubes for me.

For the Mint Milk:

600 ml milk (I used 500 ml 1%, which is what I had, with 100 ml 1/2 & 1/2 for richness. I think I’d just use the 1% next time – I’m not sure the creaminess added that much.)

60 g sugar (about 1/4 cup)

8-10 sprigs fresh mint

Heat the milk & sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring frequently. When milk is very hot and sugar dissolved, remove from heat, toss in mint sprigs, and cover. Let steep half an hour or so (I forgot to look at the clock when I started, which, of course, I didn’t realize until some time later.) Remove mint, and chill. I poured it through a strainer into a Mason jar, but there wasn’t really anything to strain out.

To Serve:

Place 2-3 cubes chocolate in glasses, and pour milk over. This recipe makes 4 servings (at three cubes each, and milk divided 4 ways.) I think next time, I’ll double the milk, and use 2 cubes per serving. We had a hard time sipping slowly enough to let the chocolate melt in, and ended up topping off with regular milk (and a splash of Bailey’s) just so we’ll have more Mint Milk left for tonight. But, seriously, the Mint Milk? You must try it.


Tomatillo Avocado Dip


If you haven’t figured it out yet, there is no method to my kitchen madness. I sort through buckets of recipes and after “getting the gist” of the ingredients needed, I just go at it. Sometimes I substitute ingredients because I’m curious, and other times simply because I don’t have an ingredient. Really, it is only through great pains and a lot of luck that I am able to produce something resembling a recipe for you each week.

Why am I telling you this?

I made this dip. It was fantastic.


However, I didn’t measure all the ingredients.

The recipe I’ve written below should be very close to the original, but be sure to taste as you go and adjust if needed.

I know many of you have never used tomatillos before, but trust me they are worth the gamble. Tomatillos are delicious when mixed with the right ingredients. They are responsible for the tart flavor in many Mexican green sauces. I encourage you to give them a try and add a new ingredient to your family meals.

Tomatillo Avocado Dip

Ingredients:

2 tomatillos
1 avocado
1 tbsp half and half
1 tbsp lemon
2 tsp garlic
1 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp salt

Instructions:

Remove skin and pit of avocado. Chop tomatillos into smaller chunks. Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor. Use the half and half to smooth out the dip.

Serve with your favorite chip or a plateful of fresh veggies and enjoy!


7 Links Project


There’s a fun little project moving through the blogging community which asks individuals to weed through their posts and rank them. Rank my posts!?! After choosing the best post for each of the 7 categories, the individual then tags more talented bloggers to continue the thread of “7 Links.”

Although I have found these posts entertaining, I have secretly been hoping no one would tag me because the thought of weeding through all of my posts and only being able to choose 7 seems overwhelming to me. However, thanks to Meghan at Scratch-Made Wife, I am now officially a part of the 7 Links community. Don’t worry Meghan, I forgive you. Please be sure to head on over to Scratch-Made Wife and show her some love.

Without further ado, here are my 7…

MOST BEAUTIFUL POST: White Wedding Bridal Luncheon or to stay in the food realm…Mini Blueberry Pies

Along with the recipes at The Kitchen Curtains, I post a lot of pictures from working out at Aunt Willies Wildflowers. So, although this project mainly emphasizes food, I couldn’t resist including one of my all-time favorite bridal luncheon posts.

I also included the mini blueberry pies because I just LOVE the final two pictures I settled on for this one. They are by far my favorite food-related pictures so far.

**MOST POPULAR POST:** [Gyro Pizza](http://www.sweetpeonies.com/2011/05/gyro-pizza/) I couldn’t decide whether to go off of my stats or off of responses. Since I love this pizza SO much, I chose responses. I have had numerous individuals email me their praises for this recipe. It’s so simple but still so delicious.

MOST CONTROVERSIAL POST: Ramekin Baked Eggs I write about food, crafts, and flowers–to be honest there isn’t much controversy there. I decided, like most food-bloggers before me, to take a different spin. I chose these baked eggs as most controversial because I feel like everyone has some personal slant on the way they like their eggs, so trying something new could stir up some deeply-rooted convictions.

MOST HELPFUL POST: How to Hem Jeans This post was a no-brainer for me to choose. There are numerous ways to hem jeans and this one works. Really! I received many comments about how simple this hemming process was for the beginner seamstress.

**SURPRISINGLY SUCCESSFUL POST:** [Frosted Banana Bars](http://www.sweetpeonies.com/2011/06/banana-bar-recipe/) I think the mere fact that they tasted great was the surprise. I love all things sweet and adding the frosting was more of a personal preference than what I thought others would enjoy. However, the feedback on this recipe was fabulous.

[![](jekyll_uploads/2011/02/misc-2-325x243.jpg "Honey Ginger Shrimp")](http://www.sweetpeonies.com/2011/02/honey-ginger-shrimp-with-rice/misc-2-2/)

POST THAT DIDN”T GET THE ATTENTION IT DESERVED: Honey Ginger Shrimp with Rice Granted, there is not a whole lot to this post, but it was one of my very first on The Kitchen Curtains and I was SO proud of it and my pictures but unfortunately received very little (no) feedback. tear Ok, I’m over it. Really.

POST I’M MOST PROUD OF: Caribbean Shrimp Cups This was a very hard decision to make. I love all my posts and although I love seeing how much better they have become as we progress, I still love those first few that barely qualify as a real blog post. I also had a hard time because I feel as if the craft-related posts are some of the ones I am most proud of, like Rosette Tote and 15-Minute Dress. But in all matters food related, hands down the Caribbean Shrimp I most love. I love the idea, the photo, and the taste.

Now to pass along the 7 links love, if you have already been tagged I truly apologize.

Kira at Kira Noble Photography for her beautiful of everything from weddings to morning coffee.

DayDreamer Desserts because she makes delicious looking desserts like Blueberry Cheesecake Martinis.

Rachel at My Naturally Frugal Family, because she is all about health and happiness.

Michelle at That’s So Michelle, because she takes beautiful pictures of her food.

And finally, Runs With Spatulas, because I love the name and she posts nutrition information on all of her recipes.


Almond Vanilla Pound Cake


One of our regular farm ladies, Jane Mullins, has kindly shared her sour cream pound cake at two farm workshops now. One taste is all I needed, I’ve been raving about the cake for months. It is very moist with subtle hints of almond. Seriously, SO amazing!

I made the pound cake this weekend for a going-away party and unfortunately was too cheap to buy a bottle of almond extract so my cake was nowhere near as delicious as Jane’s. All that to say, don’t be cheap like me! Spend the $3.

Since I don’t believe I could ever come up with a better tasting pound cake, Jane has graciously allowed me to post her recipe for you all. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have.

Ingredients:

3 cups sifted All-purpose flour
6 eggs
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon Vanilla
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon Almond extract
3 cups sugar
8 ounces (1 cup) Dairy Sour Cream
1 cup real butter

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour a 10-inch tube pan and set aside. Combine flour, salt, and baking soda in a large bowl. Set aside.

Cream sugar and butter with mixer until fluffy. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla and almond extract. Alternately beat in flour mixture and sour cream, beginning and ending with flour (Don’t over beat).

Pour mix into prepared pan. Bake 1 hour 15 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 30 minutes in pan. Turn onto wire rack to cool completely. Eat alone or with berries and whipped cream. We used a Farmer’s Market raspberry sauce and whipped cream. Yum!

I didn’t have a tube pan like the one Jane used so instead I used my bundt cake silicone which is much more shallow. If you too have to use a more shallow pan be sure to reevaluate your timer setting. I only ended up cooking mine for 40 minutes instead of 1 hour 15 minutes.

This cake freezes well. Be sure to double wrap and thaw completely before serving. And, as always, enjoy!


The Best Banana Bread Recipe


Last night Jack and I went grocery shopping. Or as many here refer to it, we went to “the grocery.” We are attempting to find a weekly meal plan for our upcoming semester. The goal is to prep healthy meals for two weeks at a time in order to eliminate the decision-making process from our busy schedules. Let’s face it, after a long day of work and school, the last thing we want to think about is cooking before we start in on homework. Last night, I prepped food for three hours. Sometimes being an adult is fun. Yes, you heard me…it was fun.

In the midst of prepping and cleaning, I discovered yet another banana bunch gone bad, and instead of tossing it, I decided to whip up a loaf of banana bread. Normally I stick with an old family recipe that is super moist and delicious but I did not have sour cream so, as usual, I made do with what I had on hand.

The finished result was spectacular. Seriously. Incredibly moist and light inside, dark and shiny on top. It was perfect. And now, I am sharing it with you. I hope yours turns out to be just as tasty.

Ingredients:

5 very ripe bananas (mashed)
1 cups sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup shortening
2 cups flour
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Mash up your bananas and combine in a large bowl with sugar, eggs, shortening and vanilla. Be sure to mash up the shortening well so there are little-to-no clumps. Once combined mix in remaining dry ingredients. Butter your loaf pan. Pour mix into pan. Bake for 1 hour and 10 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.

Tip: I noticed the top of my bread starting to look pretty brown around 40 minutes. I immediately put foil over the top and it didn’t brown any more throughout the baking process. In fact, when I was finally able to pull it out of the oven, it was browned perfectly. I would recommend allowing the bread to cook for 30 minutes and then place foil over the top.

If you are worried about burning in the last 10 minutes and the bread seems so close to being done, pull it out early as it will continue to cook while the pan is hot.


Guest Post: Cookbook Reviews


This week I am welcoming back the talented Mary Jackson who recently updated you on Google Recipes. Today she is sharing a little bit about herself as well as a few reviews from cookbooks she has used throughout the years. I went ahead and included one of my own photos for you as well. Hope you enjoy!

I am Mary Jackson, wife of John Jackson, Milligan Bible/Humanities professor and mother of two teenagers, Quincy, 16 years old and Grace, 13 years old. I fortunately have a job I love as the Research and Instruction Librarian at Milligan. I work 30 hours of the week most of the year, but take time off in the summers and during holidays. All of that would keep me pretty busy, but I am also the fellowship coordinator along with other responsibilities at my church, Hopwood Christian Church, and teach an online course several times a year.

My hobbies are reading, traveling, internet fun and for purposes of this blog, cooking and baking. I was raised by a mother trained in all the traditional home economic arts, culminating in a Masters’ degree. Most of my childhood, she worked as a registered dietician. In another era, I think my mother would have chosen more of a science oriented path. While completely lacking in creativity, my mother knew how to do lots of things involving cooking, sewing, and crafts. More importantly she was willing to try just about anything. If she didn’t know how to do something, she was more than willing to find out how and buy the supplies necessary to do it. My childhood had plenty of art supplies, cooking ingredients, and sewing materials.

I lack much artistic ability and I am, at best, a very basic seamstress—I can usually get 75% of a project completed before the pattern completely baffles me and I just don’t enjoy it. But what I love is baking and cooking. I also married a man with very few cooking skills, but who was very keen on learning. We now cook well together. He took a great interest in yeast products, which I don’t enjoy, and has become an excellent bread man.

Baking is my favorite activity and baking in large quantities is my specialty. To give you some idea of what I consider “normal”. I make treats (usually two-three choices of cookies, bars or muffins) on test days for my husband’s classes. He has 100+ students most fall semesters. Needless to say I have some standby large quantity recipes and a good work routine. I have also been cooking for church groups and potlucks for most of my adult life. I’d like to blog on recipes/tips/strategies on cooking for large groups and as the owner of a large collection of cookbooks, I’d like to review a few that I love…

Since I work with college students, I get invited to a lot of weddings. Shortly after one of this year’s crop of weddings, one new bride posted on FB asking for recipe suggestions and cooking advice. This got me to thinking about what cookbook I would give to a couple just starting out.

Two classics deserve a bit of discussion. Back when I got married, 28 years ago (oh, my!), the traditional book for all new brides was The Joy of Cooking. I still have mine. The book went through a number of editions, some better than others. I used to refer to it occasionally as it is packed with lots of useful information. But with the rise of the Internet and other newer cookbooks, it is no longer my book of choice. Many of the recipes now seem dated.

Another of my wedding gift cookbooks, was The Better Homes and Garden New Cook Book in the three ring binder. It is truly a cookbook with only a little additional information. I love several features of this book. The inside front and back covers have one of the best equivalency charts (1 lemon = 3 Tbsp juice) and emergency substitutes. Very handy and I still use them. I like the three ring binder as the book lays flat, but now after all these years and several big moves, the pages are starting to fall out and have gone missing.

However, the book that I have gifted to many people and the one we most, is Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything. Bittman is a long time food writer for the New York Times. He just stopped writing his weekly column this year. We have both the original edition (falling apart) and the revised 10th Anniversary edition. I have given this as a gift to everyone from experienced cooks to beginners.

Most of the recipes are straightforward and use ingredients commonly found in U.S. grocery stores. If the ingredient is more exotic, he tells you and usually gives a more readily available alternative. What I enjoy most are his many ideas for how to change up ordinary foods. He includes snazzy boxes labeled: 19 Thirty-Second Ways to Jazz Up Plain Rice, 12 Alternative Toppings for Pasta, and lists over 20 ways to cook chicken cutlets. Who hasn’t looked at a package of chicken breasts in the fridge and hoped for some dinner inspiration? He provides basic information about fruits, vegetables, grains, and beans including buying, storing, preparing and best cooking methods.

My only criticism, and it is very minor, is the desserts section is weak. If you need a desserts cookbook, comment on this post or just keep reading as I’ll soon be submitting dessert reviews.


Saturday + Baked Eggs + Market


This morning was a beautiful Saturday morning. It was one of those mornings that make all that waiting and wishing for the weekend to arrive, completely worthwhile. After setting my alarm for 8 a.m., in an effort not to sleep the day away, I woke up to enjoy a hot cup of java.

Contrary to popular belief, the best part of waking up is not always Folgers. In my case, it was Coffee Co. Tanzanian Peaberry. After a sip of java and a hot shower, I walked around the apartment in my very comfy, over-sized sweats.Next, I set to work making a breakfast treat for my Jakie as he slowly brushed the sleepy from his eyeballs. What was our special Saturday treat? Ramekin baked eggs. Yum!

Lately, I’ve seen numerous versions of baked and coddled eggs: Caprese, southwest, seafood, etc. I decided to throw together my own version. It’s nothing special, just my staple ingredients for the first attempt. I think next time I am going to go with a curried egg theme. Here’s what I did this morning:

Ingredients:

2 tbsp butter
6 basil leaves
1 small tomato
1/8 c onion (one slice down an onion, all rings)
pinch of cheddar cheese
2 tsp pepper
dash of salt

Directions:

Butter 2 ramekins. Chop tomato, onion, and basil. Drop 1/2 of each ingredient into the bottom of ramekin, yes salt and pepper too.

Crack one egg (or two if you are really hungry) and drop into the ramekin. Sprinkle the remaining 1/2 of veggies, basil, and seasoning on top. Bake at 350 degrees for 8 minutes, then broil for 3 minutes.

Carefully remove ramekins from the oven and enjoy! I read numerous articles that also added a hint of cream to the mix. I wanted to give it a shot but totally forgot. If you are brave, go ahead and give it a try. I’ll be sure to include cream next time and let you all know what it added.

Back to my Saturday morning…after enjoying a delicious ramekin baked egg, Jack and I decided to head to the Saturday market to visit Roy and Linda. Here is one of my favorites from the morning.

More market pictures to come. I hope your Saturday was as splendid as mine. Happy weekend!


This and That Sloppy Joes


There are two dishes that I tend to crave without warning, macaroni and cheese and sloppy joes. Luckily, both of these dishes can be quickly thrown together, even with the measly ingredients found in the dark barren wasteland I commonly refer to as my fridge.

Last week, following a particularly hot and muggy day on the farm, I haphazardly threw these ingredients together in the hopes of creating something spectacular. Both Jack and I were VERY happy with the finished result, especially considering how quickly this pulls together. It is oh so tasty! If you don’t have all of these ingredients, feel free to substitute (I always do). As long as there is ketchup and Worcestershire, I don’t think you can fail.

**
Ingredients:**

2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp Worcestershire
1/4 medium onion
1 tomato, diced
1 small green bell pepper
3 cloves minced garlic
1/2 pound lean ground beef
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp steak seasoning
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 c. ketchup
hamburger buns

Instructions:

Melt butter in a large skillet. Add meat, Worchestershire, and minced garlic. Cook on medium heat until beef is nearly cooked through. Stir occasionally. Add chopped onions, tomato and pepper. Let cook 5 minutes.

Add ketchup, brown sugar, salt, pepper, and steak seasoning. Let cook for 15-20 minutes stirring occasionally.

Grate Parmesan cheese on top and enjoy!


Crumble Top Zucchini Bread


Working in the Milligan College public relations office has given me the opportunity to test out various recipes on the hardworking individuals in my building. Luckily, they make it easy for me as a few days ago, a bag of squash and 3 very very large zucchinis were left on the back table for whomever wanted to take them. I, of course, couldn’t pass up the opportunity and decided to try my luck at baking my first batch of zucchini bread.

After perusing 30-or-so zucchini bread recipes, and realizing I could not, in fact, choose just one, I instead decided to combine a few recipes and techniques for my very own version of zucchini bread.

The finished result was very moist and sweet (would you expect anything else?). I am in love! This recipe makes 2 loaves of bread. The zucchini was so large I only ended up using half of it to get my 3 cups worth of shredded zucchini. However, I believe 2 normal-sized zucchinis should be enough for you.

Bread Ingredients:

3 eggs
1/2 c. applesauce
1/2 c. vegetable oil
dash of nutmeg
3 cups flour
2 cups white sugar
3 cups grated zucchini
2 tsp. vanilla extract
3 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt

Crumble Topping:

4 tbsp. butter (melted)
3/4 c. flour
3/4 c. brown sugar

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Grease 2 bread loaf pans. I also sprinkled flour in the bottom of mine to help keep it from sticking.

Whisk eggs until frothy. Add in sugar, vanilla, applesauce, and oil. Combine well. Add in 1/2 of the flour mixture, baking powder, salt, baking soda, cinnamon and nutmeg.

Grate zucchini and add to mixture. Add remaining flour. Mix well. Pour mixture into 2 loaf pans.

Combine crumble topping ingredients well. You want the flour and sugar to kind of stick together into little granola-like clusters. Sprinkle on top of batter.

Place loafs into the oven for 60-70 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.
Update: I received a comment recently about difficulty getting the center of the loaf to cook through. I’ve made this recipe a few times and it was always cooked through so I’m thinking it could be my oven which tends to run a bit hot. I’d recommend testing your loaf with a toothpick and adjusting the temperature and cook time accordingly. Thanks for the feedback!

Allow to cool and enjoy!


Cookbook Review


Following a busy weekend as wedding coordinator in Mechanicsville, Virginia, I came home to find a wonderful surprise. After a long year of watching and waiting, and waiting and watching, and perhaps a little impatient complaining, Whitney Miller’s first ever cookbook finally arrived at my front door. Miller is the season 1 winner of MasterChef (summer 2010). Her new cookbook, “Modern Hospitality” has been one year in the making and is 172 pages long.

In the past two years I have become quite obsessed with cooking shows, mainly those involving either Chef Curtis Stone or my all-time favorite, Gordon Ramsay. Last summer’s MasterChef became an instant favorite with the 22-year-old Southern underdog, Whitney Miller, rising to the forefront. I enjoyed watching Whitney create her dishes because she uses simple ingredients and simple techniques to create fabulous looking and I’m sure, fabulous tasting food. Although she is far more skilled than I am (and younger, I will now swallow my pride), I feel that our cooking methods and priorities are similar, therefore, I can’t wait to dive into her cookbook.

Whitney’s cookbook is a modern twist on Southern cooking and hospitality. She takes many of the “boring” and less-sought-after vegetables and somehow manages to glamorize them.

Some of my favorite recipes so far include a carrot souffle, cauliflower mac n’ cheese, upside down quiche, turnip green pesto, and pulled pork BBQ. She also gives a southern affogato recipe. Affogato is a type of ice cream dessert, usually in the form of a scoop of gelato with shots of espresso over the top. When I was living in Ukraine, this was one of my all-time favorite treats. Whitney’s version has a home-made butter pecan ice cream. Yummy!

If you can’t tell yet, I am so excited to dive into this great southern cookbook. So, off I go. I’ll be sure to update you all as I cook my way through Whitney’s recipes.


Mini Blueberry Pies


The Fourth of July is far from my favorite holiday. Can I say that without getting into trouble? I think it has something to do with having to stay up late to enjoy fireworks that only last about 10 minutes. I have never been a night owl, and I fear that the older I get, the earlier and earlier I hit the sack.

I have many wonderful memories from the fourth. I enjoy families gathering together, the variety of BBQ smells wafting through the neighborhood, my father lighting fireworks from on top of a ladder in order to give us more height (that’s my favorite). One more thing I love about the 4th of July, bountiful blueberries. I picked fresh blueberries once and the experience somehow sold me on the fruit. Blueberries are, simply put, a fun fruit. Small, blue, sweet and tart all at the same time. They can be used in salads, pies, and drinks. So much versatility. Seeing as I have an insatiable sweet tooth, this week I opted for the traditional blueberry pie, in mini form.

mini blueberry pie

For this recipe, I simply threw in a mixture of powders and sugars hoping the proportions were right. I think you will agree, the finished result was exceptional. I also finally found the perfect ramekins for me at World Market (yes, I am a picky ramekin shopper). They’re blue and I’m in love! I was so excited to fill them with mini blueberry pies that I couldn’t even wait until the 4th.

Filling Ingredients:

1 pint fresh blueberries
1/3 c. flour
3/4 c. white sugar
1 tbsp. brown sugar
1 tbsp. lemon
1 egg
1 tbsp. vanilla
1 tbsp. cinnamon
1/4 stick of butter

Crust Ingredients:

2 c. flour
2/3 c. shortening
7 tbsp. water
1/2 tsp. salt

Instructions:

Wash blueberries and let drip dry while you make your pie crust.

Mix flour, salt and shortening by hand. I use a fork to press the shortening into the flour to make it crumbly. Once the mixture is crumbly, add in the water 1 tbsp. at a time.

Roll out the dough and 4 circles 1-1/2 times the size of your ramekin as well as 4 circles that just fit the size of your ramekins.

In a large bowl, mix blueberries, sugar, flour, cinnamon, and lemon. Let sit for 10 minutes so the blueberry juices absorb the sugar.

Press large dough circles into the bottom of the ramekins. Scoop blueberry mixture into each dish. Cover the top of blueberries with 3-4 thin slices of butter. Cover with dough and twist edges into each other.

mini blueberry pie

Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes.

Pair with vanilla bean ice cream and enjoy!

Servings: 4 Prep time: 20 minutes Cook time: 20 minutes


Shrimp Creole Recipe


Have you ever had that feeling of dread when you reach into the dark recesses of your cabinets only to find an empty space in place of that vital ingredient necessary for your meal? I had such a feeling a few weeks ago. Unfortunately, I did not discover the lacking ingredients (yes, multiple) until I was fully emerged in cooking the meal, already at the point of no return.

After a small mental tantrum, I pulled myself together and set to work finding and making substitutes.

Here is the link to the original recipe.

And here are the ingredients to our version, which, by the way, turned out to taste fantastic.

Ingredients:

2 tsp olive oil
1/2 cup yellow onion, chopped
1/2 cup green bell pepper, chopped
1/2 cup celery, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 cups tomato sauce
1 teaspoon of chili powder (I also sprinkled more haphazardly throughout the cooking process to our liking)
1/2 tsp. salad supreme seasoning
1 tbsp of all purpose flour
2 tbsp water
1/2 lb of large shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 tsp Soy sauce
1/4 jalapeno chopped finely
3 green onions chopped
2 tbsp parsley
1 tsp oregano
1 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons paprika
1/2 tsp. pepper
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1 c. white rice

*I know that seems like a lot of seasoning but it was in lieu of the Cajun seasoning which includes all of those ingredients and a few more.

Instructions:

Begin by preparing your rice. Follow instructions on bag.

Heat olive oil on medium heat and add onion, bell pepper, celery, and minced garlic. Once the vegetables are tender, add tomato sauce, soy sauce, and all seasonings. Bring to a boil, cover and reduce to a low heat. Simmer 15-20 minutes.

Lightly season shrimp with garlic, paprika, chili powder, and lemon juice. Warm 1 tbsp of olive oil in a separate pan and cook shrimp. Add shrimp to sauce. Cook 5 minutes.

Mix flour and water and add to tomato mixture. Cook 5 more minutes.

Add chopped green onions. Taste, taste, taste! Adjust any seasonings necessary to fit your preference.

Serve over rice and enjoy!


Parties and Paella


Jack and I flew out West (California) last week to help celebrate three momentous events: grandparents 50th wedding anniversary, aunt and uncle’s 25th anniversary, and uncle’s 50th birthday

In the middle of the party, the grandparents decided to surprise the guests by throwing a second wedding and renewing their vows. It was a beautiful day full of friends, family, and lots and lots of food.

[![](jekyll_uploads/2011/06/cali-2011-076-575x431.jpg "paella closeup")](http://www.sweetpeonies.com/2011/06/parties-and-paella/cali-2011-076/) Paella Closeup

Other ingredients for this spectacular bash: 200 guests, 300 BBQ Oysters, 3 roasted pigs, 1 giant pan of paella, 4 bands,  and lots and lots of appetizers

I thought you all might enjoy pictures of the beautiful paella dish. For those of you who may not be familiar with this dish, I will attempt to explain.

Paella is a type of Spanish rice dish, associated with the region of Valencia. Paella can take on many forms with many different combinations of ingredients which may or may not contain the following:

chicken, pork, shellfish, fish, eel, squid, beans, peas, artichokes or peppers

The essential spice is saffron, which also turns the rice a golden color.

What I believe is most intriguing about paella is the way in which it must be cooked. Paella is cooked in a giant flat pan over an open fire. The meat is browned first on a higher heat and later reduced to simmer the rice.

Our paella included clams, sausage, chicken, rice, asparagus, red peppers, and much more.

[![](jekyll_uploads/2011/06/cali-2011-075-575x431.jpg "Paella Pan")](http://www.sweetpeonies.com/2011/06/parties-and-paella/cali-2011-075/) Large Paella Pan

The final pictures are absolutely beautiful and reinforce my belief that beautiful looking food is the key to wonderful tasting food.


Frosted Banana Bars


These banana bars were absolutely delightful. I added a hint of rum to the batter and topped them off with rum frosting. Best of all, they are actually not too terrible of a calorie killer, sitting at about 130 calories per bar.

Banana Bar Ingredients:

3 tbsp. butter
1-1/2 c. sugar
2 eggs
1/4 c. applesauce
2 or 3 mashed ripe bananas
2 tsp. rum
1 tsp. vanilla
2 c. flour
1 tsp. baking soda
pinch of salt

Frosting Ingredient:

1 stick of butter (1/2 c.)
1-1.5 c. powdered sugar
2-3 tbsp. rum

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cream butter and sugar on low with an electric mixer. Add eggs one at a time. Mix in mashed ripe bananas (3 will make them more moist). Add remaining ingredients and blend well.

Pour batter into a large dish. These bars rise quite a bit. I used a 9×13. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.

For the frosting, barely soften the butter and blend with powdered sugar until the sugar binds to the butter. Add rum. If the consistency looks too runny, simply add more powdered sugar until the mixture is spreadable.

Once the bars are baked, let them cool completely before cutting and frosting.

Happy baking!


Mocha Frosted Chocolate Cake


On Memorial Day, we had a few of our close friends over for a little BBQ. The evening was enjoyable, filled with food, cornhole and a backstabbing game of phase10 twist. However, the evening was also a bit solemn as we said goodbye to two of our closest friends, Adam and Leslie Bean. A fabulous couple whom we feel privileged to have known these past 6 years. Adam was recently accepted to Johns Hopkins University so they will be moving to Baltimore after spending the summer at an archeological dig in Jordan.

I have never been good at saying goodbye to those I love. I usually end up awkwardly changing the subject. To this day I cringe when I remember my response to my favorite youth pastor of all time when he and his wife told me they were moving away…

“You’re moving? Well, you sure didn’t give us much time to throw you a going away party!” This is what I really wanted to say, “But, I love you! Why are you doing this to me! You can’t go!”

As you can see, I am definitely not one for goodbyes. So, what is my secret to dealing with them now? Cake!


You can tell my degree of sadness by either the size of the cake or the amount of sugar added to it. I think the picture above should clue you in on how much we love the Beans.

This recipe is from the May issue of Real Simple magazine which had a section devoted to different cake, filling, and frosting combinations to mix and match.

This is what I came up with…

Mocha frosted double layer chocolate cake with white chocolate chips and chocolate shavings on top. If that doesn’t make saying goodbye easier, I don’t know what does.

Chocolate Cake Ingredients:

1 c. unsalted butter
3/4 c. unsweetened cocoa powder
2 c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1-1/2 c. sugar
2 tsp. vanilla
3 eggs
1-1/2 c. milk

Chocolate Cake Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter two circular pans, line with parchment paper, butter and sprinkle with cocoa powder.

Mix butter and sugar on high until fluffy. Add vanilla and eggs. On low, slowly add flour, then milk, flour, then milk, until all ingredients are mixed together. Pour batter into pans and bake until toothpick comes out clean.

I used two 9-inch round pans and baked them for 30 minutes. Let the cake cool completely before trying to remove from the pan.

Coffee Frosting Ingredients:

1 tbsp. instant coffee powder
1 tbsp. hot water
2 c. butter
1 lb. powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Coffee Frosting Instructions:

Combine instant coffee powder and water. Stir until powder is completely dissolved. Set aside. In a large bowl, mix butter on high until fluffy. Slowly add sugar, coffee mixture, and vanilla. Mix on low until smooth.

I ended up adding a second 1/2 batch of the coffee mixture to my icing (because I really like coffee), if you do this you must also add a little bit more powdered sugar or your icing will be too runny.


Frosting Tips:

1. Frost the top of the first layer, then stack the layers.
2. Frost the top of the cake before moving to the sides.
3. Allow the icing to firm in the fridge before adding toppings.

I hope your cake tastes as delicious as ours did. Happy baking!


Google Recipes


A guest post from a very talented individual Jack and I have had the pleasure of getting to know over the past 2 years. I love this new feature on Google. If you haven’t tried it yet, give it a shot. It is fabulous!

I am Mary Jackson, friend of Tiffany and co-worker (and friend) of Jack. I was talking with Tiffany about a blog post I was writing for the Milligan library blog that related to cooking. Tiffany suggested that it might be a good choice for her blog (which I love).

This spring Google launched a new feature, Google Recipes. I stumbled across it when I was craving lemon meringue pie. I did a regular Google search for lemon meringue pie, then realized while scanning the recipes that I didn’t have a required ingredient, cream of tartar. I went back to revise my search and what did I see:

I could now filter my results: by ingredients that I did (or did not) have, by cook time and by calories. WOW! I quickly clicked the NO box next to cream of tartar and instantly I had a new list of recipes that did not require me to make a trip to the store. The best part is you don’t have to do anything. If you type search terms into the regular Google search box and it yields results including recipes, the recipe features automatically pops up on the left hand side of the results. I love it! And the lemon meringue pie made without cream of tartar? Delicious.


Gyro Pizza


It is not uncommon to find myself at a complete loss in the kitchen. Every few weeks I feel as if I have hit a cooking rut. There are only so many different ways to combine the same 7 ingredients. I know the simple solution is to incorporate more ingredients, but every time I find myself at the breaking point, another idea comes along. This time, my lovely husband provided the idea, a Gyro pizza.

You see, we kind of like Gyros. Actually, that is probably the understatement of the century. We kind of LOVE Gyros! More specifically, we love Ozzy’s Gyros in the mall. Not only are the gyros delicious, but we love Ozzy’s family. In fact, we rarely go to the mall for the actual mall, we just go for the gyros.

So, of course, the idea of a Gyro pizza sounded genius to me. Here’s what we did to make it happen.

Dough Ingredients:

2 tsp. dry yeast
1 c. warm water
2 c. flour
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 tsp. white sugar
1 tsp. oregano
1 tsp. garlic
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. thyme
1/2 tsp. basil

Dough Instructions:

Mix yeast in water and let sit until creamy, about 10 minutes. In another bowl, combine the rest of the ingredients and mix. Add in the creamy yeast mixture and blend until dough is firm and joined.

Cover the ball of dough and let sit until it doubles in size, roughly 30 minutes. Mine never doubles in size, but somehow Jake is able to make it work. Basically, if it doesn’t double, you’ll have a thinner crust. Since I love thin crust, I am ok with it.

Once the dough has risen, roll it out into the shape of your stone and get ready to bake.

Next, make my Greek sauce. This is very simple and is the same one we recently used on the Greek Turkey Burgers. You can view instructions here. Once you’ve made the sauce, coat your dough generously. Why generously? Well, aside from more being better, this tends to soak into the crust a little bit so you want to start with a healthy amount.

We used ground Italian sausage for our meat, mostly because it is easy and you don’t have to season it. Just open the package and crumble bits over your pizza.

Jack and I wanted this to taste very Gyro-ish so we decided to add the traditional veggies after baking so it would taste fresh. However, I still love the smell of baking onions so…I went ahead and added 4 stalks of green onions to the pizza before popping it in the oven. I also added half of a package of feta cheese.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes.

Once, your pizza is done baking, pull it out of the oven (thank you Captain Obvious) and add your freshly chopped tomato, lettuce, and sweet onion.

Last step, enjoy your Gyro pizza. So good.


A Few of My Favorite Things


Jack and I celebrated three years of marriage on Tuesday. Woohoo! Here’s a little tidbit about year three of marriage…apparently, leather is the gift of choice for three years of marriage because it is at this point the couple realizes the durability of their relationship. I don’t know if that is true or not, but I like the sound of it. I can hear you married veterans chuckling right now, “oh newlyweds.”

Anyways, I was able to take the entire day off for some much-needed R&R. Poor Jack still had to go in for most of the day, but I was able to catch up on a bit of cleaning and partake in a few activities I’ve been missing.

So, what did I do today, you ask?

After waking up at the delightful time of 9:30, I lazily walked into my kitchen for a cup of coffee and was greeted by a beautiful lily plant and a very sweet card from my best friend and hubby. This particular lily had three blooming flowers, one for each year of marriage. Awww.

Next, I enjoyed a cup of coffee on our front porch and watched the morning haze wear away. Here’s a picture of our porch growing progress.

I then walked down to the mailbox and was blessed to find five anniversary cards from our friends and family. Thank you all for the well wishes. We wouldn’t be where we are today without your love and support.

After a tearful read over the cards. I headed to the bank and then our local Starbucks to get coffee #2, but more importantly, to say hello to my friend Jane.

After a brief visit, I made the trek down the block to Target for a little “window shopping,” or at least that’s what I told myself. Just look, don’t touch, don’t buy, just look. That didn’t last long.

I’ve been wanting a pair of boots for the farm since last summer. These were cheap and cute enough for me to finally cave.

I mean, just look at these beauties, aren’t they perfect for a wildflower farm? I love boots!

I wasn’t completely selfish, however…I bought Jakie an individual mug/french press that he’s had his eye on for months.

We decided the one thing we absolutely wanted on our anniversary was sushi. So, we headed to our local Earth Fare and bought a few varieties of sushi, artisan bread, and Tillamook cheese. Yes, we bought sushi from a store, not a restaurant. Trust me their sushi beats any restaurant in the area.

I thought Tillamook Cheese would be a treat as well since we can’t buy normal blocks of it like we do back home. In fact, half the amount of Tillamook cheese costs double the price here in Tennessee. So, it truly was a treat.

We also rented a movie we’ve wanted to see since February. You ready for this? Gnomeo and Juliet.It was SO cute and my kind of clever with remarks along the lines of, “What’s in a gnome?” Yes, I am easily entertained.

We followed dinner with another favorite, French Silk Pie from Dairy Queen.
All in all, a very enjoyable anniversary, probably my favorite so far, and all for a reasonable price. Which, for practical me, feels wonderful.

A fabulous day of all the things I love: coffee, friends, gardening, sushi, Tillamook Cheese, boots, French Silk Pie, and of course, Jack. And now, I am finishing the day with one last favorite, blogging. So, thank you for indulging me as I take a break from the usual crafts and recipes to bring you a few of my favorite things.


Greek Turkey Burgers


Today was a great day. Instead of the isolated thunderstorms the weather man called for, today’s forecast was bright and sunny. A much-needed reprieve from the past two weeks of dreary rain, although I’ll take the rain over tornado warnings any day.

Aside from the beautiful weather, Jack and I were able to partake in a day of celebrations as our friend Adam graduated from a 4-year-long Master of Divinity program. Yay Adam! He will soon be attending Johns Hopkins so, ya, you could say were pretty proud to know this guy.

Anyways, after a fun day of friends and mocha cake, I am going to try to crank out this recipe for you. Jack and I broke out the ground turkey Thursday evening to make one of our favorite meals, Greek turkey burgers. If you are one to criticize the authenticity of food origins than you might want to stop reading now as I have no idea if this can really be considered Greek at all.

However, we do use Greek yogurt to make the sauce, so that’s the name I am going with.

We have made these numerous times and this last batch was the best yet.  Just goes to show, if at first you don’t succeed…well, you know the rest.

Turkey Burger Ingredients:

1 package ground turkey
1/4 of a large sweet onion
1/4 c. mushrooms ( I think I chopped 6 or 7 mushrooms)
1/4 cup bread crumbs
1 egg
1 package of feta cheese
1 tbsp Worcestershire
salt/pepper
oregano
garlic powder

Turkey Burger Instructions:

Thaw turkey. Chop mushrooms and onions.

Combine turkey, Worcestershire, onion, and mushrooms in a large bowl. Add egg and bread crumbs.

If you think the mixture looks super liquidy, you either need to mix it up some more (using your hands works best), or add a few more sprinkles of bread crumbs. I added less crumbs this time and the burgers ended up super moist, which was awesome.

Next, add 1/2 the feta package to the mix as well as seasonings. Be generous with the seasoning, really… you can never over-season. General seasoning guidelines??? I would say add at least 1 tbsp of oregano and garlic and 1 tsp of salt and pepper. The image below has all the seasonings on top of the meat, you should also have this much seasoning.

Form mixture into patties. You should be able to get 4-6 patties depending on the size you prefer. Cook in a pan, not on the grill to prevent any slippage through the grate.

At the same time, you should sautee some onions in olive oil to add to the top of the burger. Trust me, it’s the right choice.

Now to the Greek sauce…

Greek Sauce Ingredients:

1 single container of Plain Greek Yogurt (in the size that costs $1)
1/4 grated cucumber
2 tsp. pepper
1 tbsp dill
1 tbsp olive oil
1-2 tbsp lemon (tast it after 1 to see what you think)
1-2 tsp. garlic

Greek Sauce Instructions:

Grate the cucumber, yes, like on a cheese grater. The end product will look something like this…

Combine all ingredients.Taste it as you go, you may not like as much seasoning as we do or you may want more. Either way, these amounts should be a good starting point.

All that’s left is to place your burger on a bun, add sauteed onions, lettuce, Greek sauce, and voila, deliciousness on a bun!

These are fabulous, really, truly, fabulous. Happy cooking!


Chocolate Covered Peanut Butter Balls


One of my favorite guilty pleasures growing up included a tub of peanut butter, a jar of jelly, and a spoon.  Yes, I realize this is ridiculously unhealthy but how can you resist? Luckily, my peanut butter cravings have diminished enough for my husband to not be completely disgusted by me, however these tiny treats take me back to my love affair with peanut butter.

Ingredients:

1 lb. powdered sugar
1/2 c. butter
2 c. peanut butter (smooth or chunky)
1 package of dipping chocolate (almond bark brand works well)

Instructions:

Blend peanut butter and butter with mixer. Add powdered sugar.
If you use smooth peanut butter try adding corn flakes to the mix and taking out a little bit of powdered sugar. This gives you a more subtle crunch than you would get with crunchy peanut butter and it just happens to be my favorite way to eat peanut butter balls.

Shape dough into 1-1.5 inch balls and place on a cookie sheet.

Ok, this next step is IMPORTANT…once all the balls are rolled place the sheet in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. The peanut butter must be firm before coating with chocolate or they will fall apart.

Melt dipping chocolate in a double boiler. You can microwave if your chocolate allows but read the directions carefully.

I do not own a double boiler so instead, I put a glass bowl on top of a pot of boiling water to melt the chocolate. This works well, but be sure the two are a good fit. You want to avoid letting out steam that will get into your chocolate and cause bubbles.

Next, drop a couple of peanut butter balls into the chocolate at a time, use two spoons to move the peanut butter balls around until coated. Carefully drop onto wax paper and let cool.

I know that seems like a lot of writing to explain this process but it’s really very simple, waiting to eat the finished product is the hardest part. Enjoy!


Pecan Tarts


I made these tasty pecan tarts this weekend, recipe courtesy of momma Mary, for the Chamber Youth Leadership graduation reception at Milligan. These mini tarts are quick and easy to make, not to mention they taste phenomenal. Great for any shower or large get-together.

Ingredients:

Shell:
1/2 c. butter
3 oz. cream cheese
1 c. flour
Pecan Filling:
2 tbsp. butter
3/4 c. brown sugar
2 tsp. vanilla
1 egg
1 c. chopped pecans

Instructions:

Starting with the shell, blend butter and cream cheese. Once blended, add flour and mix. Dough will be crumbly.

Mix dough into 1.5 inch balls and place each in muffin slots on a mini muffin pan.

Use a mini-tart shaper to press down in the middle of the dough, pushing the dough up along the sides of the pan.

If you do not have a tart shaper, like me, use the end of another tool from your vast array of cooking utensils. I used the blunt end of a pizza cutter.

I also flattened out the edges of my dough, pressing them into the side of the pan so there would be more room for filling.

Now to the filling…

Mix all filling ingredients except the pecans with a blender.

Once ingredients are combined, pour in 1 c. of chopped pecans and mix with a spoon.

Now, fill your tart shells with the filling. Fill only to the top edge of the shell.

Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes and voila! Mini pecan pies.

A few tips:

  1. You do not need to grease or spray your muffin pan prior to filling with dough. The butter in the dough keeps it from sticking.
  2. If you have trouble getting the pies out of the pan, use a thin piece of cardboard or a thick piece of paper to slide along the edges and it will pop right out.
  3. Dust the end of your dough-pressing tool with flour to keep it from sticking.
  4. Although small, these are fairly rich so you really do not need to make them any bigger than mini-muffin size.

Happy baking!


My First Catering Gig


I love summer and I love Saturdays and today is both (at least summer break, even if the weather is still spring). I am currently sitting at my kitchen table, cookbooks haphazardly strewn about, coffee in hand, laptop playing Feist, and way too many baking supplies crowding the already crowded counter tops.

I always seem to have great expectations for my summers. You would think a break from all the classes and studying that normally consume my days would free up some time, however, that does not seem to be the case so far.

My list of things to do looks something like this:

  1. finish Avynlea’s blanket before she arrives: Due date T-one month
  2. cut a sew 50 yards of fabric into table runners for Kelly’s wedding
  3. finish at least 1 of the 3 wardrobe transformation projects originally intended for the blog 2 months ago
  4. read the book Ellyn sent me
  5. practice my violin so I continue to shame my instructor
  6. fix the curtains in my kitchen
  7. make curtains for the spare room instead of the sloppy draped fabric that’s been there for 2 years now
  8. finish my picnic quilt

The list goes on, but I think that gives you a good idea. Back to the point of this post…my boss asked if I would be interested in catering this Chamber Youth Leadership graduation ceremony on Monday. Because I love to bake, and can’t seem to turn down a challenge, I eagerly agreed. So, this weekend, my list will have to wait.

Here’s what I am making:

  • red velvet cake cookies with powdered sugar coating
  • shortbread cookies with cream cheese frosting, sprinkled with cocoa powder
  • pecan tassies (mini pecan pies)
  • chocolate covered peanut butter balls
  • homemade cheesecake layered brownies
  • sparkling pineapple/orange punch

So far this morning I have made red velvet cookies and pecan tassies. Included are a few pictures. You can find the red velvet cookie recipes here. The shortbread is basically the same recipes as my Rummy Shortbread Cookies, minus the rum. I know, big disappointed sigh from my readers, but high school students and parents, I figured it’s better to not chance anyone being offended.

I stole the pecan tassie and the peanut butter ball recipes from my mom-in-law. Thanks mom!

I am freezing the juices from my punch into two flower-shaped rings for the punch bowls and putting my home-grown mint leaves into the mix. I think it will turn out very nicely (will post a picture here once it is frozen so keep checking back). I’ll be sure to post the pecan tassie and peanut butter ball recipes shortly for you all when my oven isn’t beeping at me. Have you ever catered an event for 75-100 individuals? Feel free to leave any tips you may have. Wish me luck!


Bruschetta Baguettes


We have officially entered my favorite time of year, that time of year when there are more than 2 veggies in the store that both look and taste fresh. Maybe it’s just me but I’m pretty sure our meals taste 500 times better in the spring.

With summer just around the corner, Jack and I have started phasing out our heavier meals in exchange for lighter, more fresh versions of our favorites. Monday’s meal was fantastic! I made broiled bruschetta baguettes. This one is a must for the Weinbender recipe box.

Ingredients:

1 baguette
1/2 large tomato
1/4 c. onion
1/4 c. cucumber
feta cheese
graded cheddar cheese
3 garlic cloves (minced)
lettuce or spinach leaves
2 tbsp olive oil
pepper
salt
oregano
basil

Instructions:

Slice the baguette lengthwise, so you separate the top from the bottom. Brush olive oil lightly over the tops of the bread. Mince garlic cloves and spread evenly over baguette.

Chop tomatoes, onions, and cucumbers. Place veggies on baguette. Lightly sprinkle with cheddar cheese. Sprinkle all seasonings according to your individual tastes.

Place baguette slices under broiler for about 10 minutes. Be sure to check every few minutes to make sure it doesn’t burn.

Chop a few slices of spinach or lettuce. Pull baguette out of oven when edges are browned. Sprinkle with lettuce and feta cheese.

I hope you enjoy it as much as we did. Happy broiling!

Tags: http://www.staying-awake.org, http://www.whyhcg.com, http://www.myprovigil.com


Vegetable Shrimp Soup


I absolutely love shrimp. I could eat shrimp every single day and never tire of it. So, the other night, I decided to experiment with a make-shift shrimp soup. I was pleasantly surprised with the result. This recipe will feed 4 individuals 1 cup apiece.

Ingredients:

30 deveined shrimp without tail
1/4 c. tomato sauce
2 tomatoes
2 green onions
1/4 of a large cucumber
1/4 c. red onion
1 avocado
1 leek
1 tbsp. fresh cilantro
1-2 tbsp. lime juice
2 tsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. garlic

Instructions:

Thaw, rinse and drain shrimp. Place in frying pan to cook. Season with salt, pepper, and garlic. Add 1 tsp. lemon juice. Cook 2-3 minutes on each side.

Chop cucumber, tomato, leeks, and onions and place in a pot on low with a small amount of butter.

Add tomato sauce, lime, lemon, cilantro, 1 tbsp. garlic, salt and pepper.

Add cooked shrimp to soup. Let cook for 5 minutes. Add avocado and serve.

I also think this meal would work well cold or over rice. Don’t let the recipe limit your imagination, feel free to add to or take away from the ingredients, especially seasonings. I try to provide a general idea of how much seasoning I use but I normally season to taste, so taste your food as you go to make sure you like the finished product. Happy cooking!


Grilled Vegetables


Grilling is one of the things I most look forward to about summer and this past weekend was perfect grilling weather.

Growing up, dad was always our designated grill master. I’d like to think I learned a few things from him throughout the years. However, I had never tried to grill the sweet potatoes before this past Saturday.

Prior to living in the south, I had never eaten a sweet potato. I suppose you could argue that I must have tried yams at Thanksgiving or something to that effect, but I am convinced it never happened.

In Tennessee, everyone eats sweet potatoes, also known as yams (although there is a difference between the two). Apparently, this root vegetable is some sort of nutrient super food, outranking all other vegetables in nutritional value in a 1992 study by the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

Anyways, all that to say, this weekend, we grilled our sweet potatoes and they were fantastic. We also grilled baby asparagus and zucchini (my all-time favorite grilled veggie).

Our simple and tasty grilling tips:

Using a brush, lightly coat veggies with olive oil. Sprinkle with garlic and pepper.

Grill until tender.I know… it’s super complicated, but simple always turns out the best.

Another method for the zucchini is to coat with Italian dressing instead of olive oil, then sprinkle with garlic. Delicious!

Best of luck with your grilling days to come. May it bring you and yours closer together this summer.


Amaretto-Coconut Pound Cake


Took out my good ol’ Betty Crocker cookbook the other night and threw together a combination of recipes that were oh so tasty. One part pound cake. One part coconut glaze.

Pound Cake Ingredients:

2 1/2 c. sugar
1 c. butter
2 tbsp amaretto (my substitute for vanilla)
5 eggs
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 c. evaporated milk
1/4 c. coconut flakes (only if you are also making the coconut topping)

Instructions:

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease bundt cake pan with shortening. Beat sugar, butter, vanilla, and eggs with electric mixer on low for 30 seconds. Beat on high for 5 minutes.

Mix flour, baking powder, and salt in a second bowl. Beat flour mixture into sugar mixture on low speed alternating with evaporated milk. Add coconut. Pour mixture into pan.

Bake for 50 minutes, until toothpick comes out clean. Let cool. Sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Or add a topping of choice, like this…

Amaretto Coconut Glaze Ingredients:

1 c. sugar
1/2 c. butter
1 c. evaporated milk
1 tbsp amaretto (my substitute for vanilla)
3 egg yolks
1 1/3 c. coconut flakes

Mix all ingredients minus coconut in a saucepan. Cook over medium heat for about 14 minutes, until consistency is semi-thick (like pureed soup). Add coconut flakes. Remove from heat and let cool about 30 minutes. Stir occasionally until consistency is spreadable.

Apply liberally to top of cake and enjoy!


Momma Tammy’s Spaghetti Sauce


My mom (momma Tammy) makes the best spaghetti sauce of all time. Even with the recipe, somehow mine is never quite as good as hers. Personally, I think the key to this yummy sauce is using ground Italian sausage instead of hamburger meat. The sausage is SO much more flavorful.

Despite my inability to recreate this sauce exactly, I thought I would share the recipe in the hopes of you making a sauce that is just as tasty. I have adjusted some of the ingredients to make the serving size for two.

Normally, momma Tammy dishes the sauce over spiral rotini noodles. If you are going to use noodles, you must use this kind. I don’t know why but it makes the dish so much better. You can also try my style, over garlic bread.

Ingredients:

1 package ground Italian sausage
1 can stewed tomatoes
1 can tomato sauce
1/2 can tomato paste
1/2 green pepper
5-7 mushrooms sliced
1/2 red onion chopped
2 tbsp garlic powder
2 tbsp oregano
1 tbsp Italian seasoning
1 tbsp pepper
1 tsp salt
1 loaf french bread
Olive oil

Instructions:

Set oven to broil. Spread a thin amount of olive oil and sprinkle garlic powder and oregano over tops of slices. Place in oven about 5 minutes before sauce is completed.

Chop all ingredients. Place Italian sausage in frying pan with 1/2 tbsp of olive oil. Cook until browned.

Add onions, peppers, and seasonings to meat. Cook for 5 minutes. Add stewed tomatoes after draining excess juice. Add tomato sauce (I like to buy one with some flavors added). Let simmer for 25 minutes. Stir occasionally.

If the sauce looks watery, add 1/2 can of tomato paste (mine varies with the type of sauce I buy).

Once you have allowed time for the flavors to mix together, pull the bread out of the oven add sauce and enjoy!

A few tips for making Momma Tammy’s spaghetti sauce…

  1. The longer you let it sit on the stove, the better it tastes. One thing I always thought was excessive was the amount of oregano and garlic she added. YOU CAN NEVER HAVE ENOUGH! Every time she went to stir the sauce, she added more oregano and more garlic. Trust me, this is the key to a spectacularly flavorful sauce.
  2. Watch your bread. Our family is notorious for making a delicious meal and then forgetting our bread in the last 5 minutes. We almost always end up fanning the smoke alarms. A sure-fire way to ruin the finishing touches of a great meal.

Good luck and happy cooking!


Edible Books Festival


In order to celebrate the nourishment that books bring to our lives, Milligan College library staff threw the college’s first ever Edible Books Festival at the P.H. Welshimer library. The event was a hit! It looks like next year the staff will throw a full-out competition due to all of the positive feedback.

Neither of my entries were as elaborate as I had hoped (this week was abnormally hectic). Jack asked me to make his entry since he works late Thursday evenings. I immediately said, “of course!” Unfortunately, I underestimated the precision required to make caramel apples. It will be a long time before I attempt those by myself again. Timing is key and between keeping caramel melted, crushing candy bars, and dipping apples, I did not have good timing. Oh well, I’ve learned my lesson.

[![](jekyll_uploads/2011/04/Edible-Books-026-325x243.jpg ""Green Eggs" Cupcakes")](http://www.sweetpeonies.com/2011/04/edible-books-festival/edible-books-026/) "Green Eggs" Cupcakes

Anyways, my “Green Eggs” entry wasn’t anything special so I am not even going to bother giving you the recipe. The icing was the same powdered sugar frosting from my previous Rummy Shortbread Cookies post, minus the rum.
Here are the other entries…

[![](jekyll_uploads/2011/04/Edible-Books-036-575x431.jpg ""Candide Apples"")](http://www.sweetpeonies.com/2011/04/edible-books-festival/edible-books-036/) Jack’s, oh so clever, “Candide” apples. He’s so witty.

And a few other entries that were both creative and clever…

[![](jekyll_uploads/2011/04/Edible-Books-030-575x431.jpg ""If You Give a Mouse a Cookie"")](http://www.sweetpeonies.com/2011/04/edible-books-festival/edible-books-030/) Kirstin Blackburn: "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie"
[![](jekyll_uploads/2011/04/Edible-Books-031-575x431.jpg ""The Illiad" (aka Book-la-vah)")](http://www.sweetpeonies.com/2011/04/edible-books-festival/edible-books-031/) Meredith Sommers: "The Illiad" (aka Book-la-vah)
[![](jekyll_uploads/2011/04/Edible-Books-034-325x433.jpg ""The Invisible Man"")](http://www.sweetpeonies.com/2011/04/edible-books-festival/edible-books-034/) John Jackson: "The Invisible Man" (we gave him a hard time but it's pretty clever)
[![](jekyll_uploads/2011/04/Edible-Books-037-575x431.jpg ""The Very Hungry Caterpillar"")](http://www.sweetpeonies.com/2011/04/edible-books-festival/edible-books-037/) Mary and Grace Jackson: "The Very Hungry Caterpillar"
[![](jekyll_uploads/2011/04/Edible-Books-042-325x433.jpg ""The Giving Tree"")](http://www.sweetpeonies.com/2011/04/edible-books-festival/edible-books-042/) Melissa Nipper: "The Giving Tree"
[![](jekyll_uploads/2011/04/Edible-Books-033-575x431.jpg ""The Lion and the Mouse"")](http://www.sweetpeonies.com/2011/04/edible-books-festival/edible-books-033/) June Leonard: "The Lion and the Mouse"

And there you have it, a few highlights from the first ever Milligan College Edible Book Festival. I am also including a little background information on the event for those of you who might be curious…

Judith A. Hoffberg originally came up with the International Edible Book Festival idea in 1999. Beatrice Coron created the Books2Eat website for participants worldwide to enjoy each others edible creations. The first Edible Books event took place in 2000 and has since taken off as an annual sensation.

Edible Book festivals take place on or near April 1 in honor of the French gastronome, Jeane-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin’s (1755-1826) birthday. He is famous for his book, “Physiologie du gout,” a witty mediation on food.


Mandarin Pizza


Jack and I have a slight bias toward our little pizza joint back home, Ugo’s Pizza. Since moving to Tennessee, we have tried our best to find a comparable pizza joint but have had zero luck. Because of this, we now make our own pizzas, with each one becoming increasingly more creative.

This past week we decided to add fruit to our colorful masterpiece and it was delicious. Probably my favorite pizza so far.

As usual, Jack made the crust while I chopped up a variety of veggies. I’ve included a simple crust recipe from All Recipes. We prefer thin crust but feel free to substitute your favorite.

Dough Ingredients:

3 c. flour
1 package of dry yeast
1 c. water
1 tsp. salt
2 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 tbsp. sugar
Toppings:
1/2 package of grape tomatoes
25 pepperoni pieces
1/4 c. green peppers
1/4 c. onions
1 cup mandarin slices
1/2 c. cheese (we used, cheddar and pepperjack)
1/4 c. pesto paste

Directions:

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Mix dough ingredients. Knead dough. Roll to fit your pizza stone.

Spread pesto onto crust. Chop all toppings.

Add meat, veggies, and fruit. I especially liked the sweeter grape tomatoes with the fruit.

Place in oven for 20 minutes. Check the bottom of the crust for crispy-ness and voila! A beautiful and tasty pizza.

Get creative and try substituting veggies with different fruits. Here’s another we’ve tried recently, strawberries!

The combination possibilities are endless. Good luck!


Quick and Simple Meatballs


Have you ever had a late night craving you just can’t shake? Well, I have for the past two weeks! I am not sure why, but suddenly a meatball sandwich sounded glorious. I don’t think I have ever eaten a meatball sandwich but I wanted one none-the-less.

When I realized this craving was not going away, I broke down and went to the store for some ground Italian sausage and made these quick and easy meatballs for my sandwich.

Ingredients:

1 package ground Italian Sausage
1/4 c onions
1/2 c bread crumbs
1/4 c shaved parmesan
1 egg
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp Italian seasoning
1 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp salt

Directions:

Set oven to 350 degrees. Chop the onion into small pieces. Mix all ingredients.

Roll mixture into 1in. meatballs and place on a cooking sheet. Cook for 20 minutes.

Once the meatballs are done cooking, combine meatballs and a sauce of your choice in a large saucepan. I of course went with what we had in the cupboard which was a simple traditional spaghetti sauce (yes, from a can… gasp).

Only add enough sauce to be able to coat your meatballs after you’ve rolled them around for a bit. I used half of a 16 oz jar. I also added 2 tsp. of Worcestershire, 2 tsp. garlic, 1 tsp. oregano, and a dash of pepper and salt.

Let your meatballs simmer in the sauce for about 10-15 minutes.

If you are looking to make a meatball sandwich as well, slice some onions and mushrooms and saute over medium heat while the meatballs are simmering. Once the meatballs are finished remove your sauteed veggies and create your sub.

Oh so yummy with very little work. Good luck and happy cooking!


Caribbean Shrimp Cups


I was so excited to share this post today. I have been wanting to cook this meal for two weeks now and finally made myself take a break from homework to try it out.
I found the original recipe on The Pioneer Woman’s website, posted by one of her followers. You can find the original instructions here. I adapted the recipe to fit the flavors I tend toward and, of course, those that I had on hand. Making the trek to our local grocery store during the 5 o’clock traffic is not exactly ideal.

Now to food…

Ingredients (for 2):

1 c. rice (basmati rice would be my first choice but any rice will do)
8 large lettuce leaves

Marinade:
1/4 c. lime juice
1/4 c. teriyaki sauce
1 tsp pepper

Shrimp:
1 tsp. garlic
1 tsp salt
1/2 c. cornstarch
16 shrimp, deveined with tails removed

Salsa:
10 grape tomatoes
2 green onions
1/4 c. sweet onion
1/2 stick carrot (peeled and then chopped)
1/2 medium-sized orange (chopped)
lime juice

Directions:

Start your rice. Prepare marinade by combining all ingredients with shrimp in bag. The original recipe has you marinade for an hour. I only marinated for 20 minutes and it was fabulous so don’t let the hour time frame stop you if you are in a hurry.

While the rice is cooking and shrimp marinating, chop up your salsa ingredients. Make sure you peel the carrots first and then chop up the peels so the salsa doesn’t feel heavy when it is mixed together. You could also use mango or your favorite fruit in place of orange. A citrus-tasting fruit is best. I added about 1 tbsp of lemon juice to my salsa, you can add to taste. I also sprinkled in a dash of garlic and pepper to taste.

Next, peel and wash your lettuce from the head. Head lettuce makes the best cups for eating. Our lettuce was just regular green leaf and it was harder to manage when we attempted to eat. Go ahead and lay your lettuce cups out so they are ready to fill once the shrimp is finished.

Mix cornstarch with garlic and pepper. Coat shrimp with mixture.

Heat 2-3 tbsp of oil in a pan. Make sure the pan is hot before placing in the shrimp. If it sizzles, you are on the right track.

Cook shrimp about 2 minutes on each side. There should be a beautiful golden brown coating when you flip them over. So exciting!

Now comes my favorite part! Dress your plate. The rice should be finished by this point. Scoop a spoonful of rice into each cup, followed by a salsa, and then top each with two golden shrimp.

These can be a bit messy, but they look so beautiful on the plate that I think it is worth the hassle. If you aren’t going for beauty you can always chop up the lettuce and make these into shrimp tacos. Happy cooking!


Apple Spice Soup


My friend Kelly is getting married in a few months and asked me to sew her table runners for the reception. She brought over a sampling of fabric to work with on Tuesday and since I don’t need much of an excuse to make a big pot of soup, I went ahead and experimented with a new combination of veggies for the evening.

This soup was a bit spicy for me but Jack loved it so I recommend deciding what level of spice you can handle before you cut up your jalapeno. If you like just a little kick at the end I would only use 1/4 of a large jalapeno.

Ingredients:

2 apples
1 large sweet potato
1/2 onion
1/2 large jalapeno
1/4 c. white wine
1 32oz. box chicken broth
1 tbsp butter
1 tsp. garlic
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp/ pepper

Directions:

Chop the apples, sweet potato, onion, and jalapeno into thinly sliced chunks. Add ingredients to large soup pan along with 1 tbsp. of butter. Add spices. Mix well. Add 1/4 c. white wine of your choice, mine was a chardonnay. Stir until ingredients are coated. Add half the broth, cover, and bring to a boil. Stir, add the rest of the broth and let simmer for at least 30 minutes.

You only have to let it simmer until the veggies are soft but the flavors are better if you let it simmer longer, plus cooking it longer makes your house smell fabulous!

Finally, pour ingredients into a mixer and puree. Presto your soup is complete! If you want a creamier soup, simply add a small amount of cream to the mix after you puree.

I also made this herb quick bread from allrecipes.com to go with the soup. It was quick (which is what I needed) but had an interesting texture. I added rosemary, garlic, and thyme in mine and it paired well with the soup.

Good luck and happy cooking!


Honey Ginger Shrimp with Rice


Ingredients:

10-15 Shrimp (precooked, detailed, and de-veined)
1 tbsp honey
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp ginger
1 tsp fresh chopped sage
1/4 c. onion (chopped)
1/2 c. mushrooms (sliced)
1 tsp pepper
2 cloves minced garlic
1 c. rice

Instructions:

Follow the directions for your rice of choice. Add 2 tbsp soy sauce and 1 tsp ginger to the rice before covering. Set the rice aside to cook and get started on the shrimp and veggies.

Warm the olive oil in a skillet on medium heat. Add shrimp, honey, pepper, sage, and garlic. Wait until shrimp is lightly browned and add mushrooms and onion. Cook until veggies are tender.

The rice should be done by now. So, now for the best part, dress your plate and enjoy!


Rummy Shortbread Cookies


I made these cookies for our New Year’s Eve get together this year and they were a hit. The cookie is a simple shortbread recipe that takes about 10 minutes to throw together and the frosting was a combination of ideas from Linda (Aunt Willies Wildflowers) and the Pioneer Woman. You can see her original hard sauce recipe here.

I also made these more recently for a catering event and added chocolate shavings to the top, making the shortbread look much more elegant.

Cookie Ingredients:
2 c. butter
4 c. flour
1 c. white sugar
2-3 tsp. vanilla extract (I always put more vanilla)

Cookie Prep:

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Soften the butter. Cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Add vanilla. Add flour. Mix well. Place dough balls onto a non-stick sheet. Bake for 10 minutes. Some recipes have you cook these longer but they tend to harden once you pull them out of the oven so I like to pull mine out early so they are still somewhat soft.

The frosting combines Linda’s powdered sugar frosting and the Pioneer Woman’s idea to add liquor to the mix, she uses whiskey, I went for rum.

Frosting Ingredients:

1 stick of butter
1-1.5 c. powdered sugar
2-3 tbsp rum

Frosting Prep:

Barely soften the butter and mix it around in the bowl. Add in the powdered sugar. I don’t normally measure this out. When Linda makes her frosting she uses more of a pour and stir, pour and stir effort until you get the consistency you want to frost with. Once that is all mixed together, add in the rum. This is really to taste so you might as well start out slow and taste as you go until you are satisfied.

Before you frost the cookies make sure they are cool. If the cookies are not completely cool you will have runny rum sauce all over the place.

Once cool, frost the cookies. My last addition to these cookies was to add a dusting of cocoa powder, really yummy addition. You could also try coffee grounds, brown sugar, chocolate shavings, the possibilities are endless.


Lemon Tilapia with Zesty Salsa


Ingredients:

1 cup rice
2 Tilapia fillets
1/2 bunch of cilantro (chopped)
2 roma tomatoes (diced)
3 stalks of green onion (chopped)
1/4 c. red onion (chopped)
1/2 small zucchini (chopped)
2tbsp olive oil
1tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp lime juice
pepper/salt/garlic powder

Preparation:

The rice takes the longest amount of time to prepare so go ahead and boil your water and get the rice going before you start in on the following steps.

Chop all the vegetables. Heat 1 tbsp of olive oil in a frying pan on low. Add in the vegetables and let them warm up slowly in the pan (do not add in the cilantro now). Add in just a dash of pepper and garlic (or more if you’re like us and can’t get enough garlic).Sprinkle in a bit of lime juice (1-2 tsp). Stir occasionally and leave the vegetables to warm up while you prepare the fish.

Heat 1-2 tbsp olive oil in skillet. If you have a large enough skillet feel free to cook both fillets at the same time. We eat so much fish that we buy the prepackaged fillets in the seafood section of the store. These kind are thin enough where they only take about 3 minutes to cook so it doesn’t take long if you choose to cook them separately. Once the olive oil is hot drop in the tilapia and cook about 1.5 minutes on each side (may be longer depending on how thick your fillet is). Sprinkle each side of your fish with pepper and just a touch of salt and well as a spray or two of lemon juice.

Go ahead and add the cilantro to the vegetables and mix it up. With any luck your rice will be finished by this point. This is when I dress the plate. I use about a 1/2 c. of the rice as my base, then I lay the tilapia on top of the rice bed and go back over to the pan of veggies (make sure the cilantro is warm but not soggy looking) to dish the salsa on top of the fish.


Key Lime Pie


This is an extremely simple pie to make and one that I wish I would have added cool whip and a few shavings of lime on top for the picture, but you’ll all do better right?

Ingredients:

5 beaten egg yolks
1/2 c. key lime juice
1 (14 oz) can of sweetened condensed milk
6 tbsp butter
1/3 c. white sugar
1-1/2 c. finely ground graham cracker crumbs

Directions:

Crust:
Combine melted butter, sugar and crumbs until well-mixed. Press mixture into 8- or 9-inch pan. Bake shell at 375 degrees for 5-7 minutes to harden.

Filling:
Combine lime juice, yolks, and milk. Mix well and pour into crust. Bake at 375 degrees for 15 minutes. Allow to cool and top with cool whip and graded lime rind.


Chicken Feeder Centerpiece


chicken feeder lettuceMany of the projects you will find here on Sweet Peonies come from the Doan farm or are at the very least inspired by the farm.

The Doans run a specialty cut-flower farm called Aunt Willie’s Wildflowers. Linda spends most of the spring and summer growing cut flowers for farmer’s markets. She also teaches various flower arranging workshops and arranges flowers for weddings. Her workshops feature a variety of creative arrangements–from teapots to stumps, you name it, she can arrange in it. Check out Linda’s website Aunt Willie’s Wildflowers.

Linda used this centerpiece for one of the workshops last spring and I, of course, fell in love with the idea. All she did was take an old chicken feeder, fill it with soil & plant multiple lettuce varieties. The centerpiece at the workshop lunch was this feeder and the ladies were able to pick leaves of lettuce to add to their salads.

chicken feeder lettuce

For any of you looking to bring a bit of country to your next get together, I highly recommend giving this a try.


Sweet Success


I thought I would start off my blog with an article I wrote for Milligan College on a recent graduate, Autumn Pruitt, opening her own bakery. Check out her website (www.blissbakery.com) to see some mouthwatering treats!

The article and its beautiful layout (courtesy of Art Brown) can be seen at here.

Sweet Success
by Tiffany Weinbender

When it comes to successfully beating the current economic climate, 23-year-old Autumn (Hardy ’09) Pruitt, seems to have found the recipe for success. When Pruitt arrived at Milligan as a freshman, her love of baking was nothing more than an enjoyable pastime. Now, equipped with a business degree and a liberal arts education, Pruitt has turned her passion into a reality.

Pruitt and her husband, Luke, recently purchased the former Bickford Bakery in Omaha, Nebraska. On May 1, 2010, with a new name and a bright future ahead, Bliss Old Market Bakery opened its doors releasing the smell of fresh pastries into the Eastern Nebraska air. Since the grand opening, Pruitt has been baking relentlessly to facilitate the high demand for her tasty sweets.

As a Christian institution that offers a liberal arts education, Milligan was the natural choice for Pruitt, who graduated in the spring of 2009 with a double major in humanities and business with an emphasis in management. Pruitt applied every aspect of her Milligan education to turn her business into a reality. She even used her senior humanities project as an opportunity to develop the business plan for Bliss Old Market Bakery. The project served as the capstone of both her humanities and business majors.

“So much of the confidence I had in approaching the business plan for the bakery can be attributed to the painstaking process of writing one as a student with the guidance of my project advisers: Dr. Heather Hoover, Dr. Phil Kenneson and Dr. David Campbell,” said Pruitt. “I felt like I had the tested tools to tackle the process here in Omaha after going through a similar process in the classroom.”

Pruitt credits much of her success to the format of the business program and the way each class builds on those before. “My humanities 490 project was extremely helpful, but I wouldn’t have been prepared for that project, or my new endeavor, had I not had the less glamorous classes like accounting, business law, corporate finance and marketing, among others.”

Pruitt’s dream of opening her own bakery and coffeehouse began at the age of 19, although her love of baking goes back much further. In fact, she can’t remember a time when she didn’t love baking with her family. Pruitt acquired her baking expertise from her mother and began adding to her recipe collection weekly after graduating high school. Pruitt continues to experiment with ingredients and add her own personal recipes to the bakery’s recipe box.

As for the current economic climate, Pruitt believes that despite the downturn, this is a great time in her life to fully pour herself into her dream. Although Pruitt did not expect to open her business this soon, she felt the opportunity was simply too good to pass. She completed extensive market research on Omaha’s growing industry and more specifically the culture and climate of the downtown area, not least of which was obtaining a job in the bakery long before any talk of buying it. In doing so, she was able to learn about the equipment, recipes and tricks of the trade before committing to the process. It only took one day for her to realize that she didn’t just like the idea of owning a bakery but fell head over heels for it.

Pruitt is well aware of the hardships that come to small business owners, but she remains confident that her education, skills and enthusiasm will make this venture a success.

“The life of an entrepreneur sounds glamorous sometimes, but unless you are really passionate about the industry and have had a chance to wrap your mind around the immense amount of time it will require, you will not be satisfied. That being said, there is nothing more rewarding than seeing your dream realized and to have the opportunity to nurture its growth” said Pruitt.

Pruitt is an ideal example of how a liberal arts college like Milligan equips individuals to successfully reach their personal and professional goals. The college’s emphasis on applying faith to every facet of the world has impacted the way Pruitt runs her business.

“Milligan has reinforced the fact that you don’t need a religious title to be a servant leader or to minister. I treat people with respect. I provide my employee with a steady income and a healthy work environment. I listen to customers’ problems and we have become a part of each others’ daily lives. I try to live life with integrity and good character and to take a genuine interest in others,” said Pruitt. “Selling delicious baked goods is a good way to come in contact with my neighbors and develop a relationship with people I wouldn’t normally have the opportunity to meet.”