April and May, in photos

I am so constantly amazed that you can take such lovely images with an iPhone!  I’ve got a beautiful bunch of peonies gracing my yard right now and it never ceases to make my day when I catch a glimpse of them.  I’ve been running around like a crazy person for the past few weeks – celebrating several Baby Showers, training for my first Half Marathon (four weeks away!), fundraising for the New York Marathon (yay Fred’s Team!), and getting into some serious yoga.

Here’s a little summary in photos of my past few weeks:

Baby Showers…

Planting herbs…

Running…

Fundraising for Fred’s Team…

Yoga!  I’m learning to handstand, among other things.

 

 

A New Hobby

You may have noticed that I’ve made myself scarce around here for the past few months.  Well, I got into a new hobby – and I mean big time.  It all started last summer when I finally decided to get serious about my health and weight loss goals.  I don’t know about you other ladies out there, but pretty much my entire life I’ve been trying to lose some amount of weight.  I wasn’t overweight by any means, but I also wasn’t overly fit, and I had gained a few pounds over the past couple of years.  So I buckled down and started a workout regimen, and more importantly for me, I started to keep track of my calories.  Now, I love to eat, y’all.  For reals.  I love to cook and try new things, and pretty much enjoy me some dessert and fried foods.  So it was a little bit of a struggle to get into the habit of limiting myself. Once I realized that I could still eat pretty much anything I wanted as long as I was careful with the portion sizes I got a lot better at it. And then I started to see results. I lost a pound. And another. And then 5, and then 10…

You guys. I lost 20 pounds. Twenty. No kidding. I still have a hard time believing that I did it, but I feel awesome.   And it’s not just knowing that I look better (because I know that I do. I tried on some jeans that didn’t even look good on me in high school and they were too big. I almost died.), it’s more just the fact that I did something that I set out to, and that I had never really been successful at in the past. I didn’t do anything really hard core – no crazy diets or P90X. I just cut back on my eating and added a 20 minute workout 4 times a week (I did Jillian Michael’s 30 Day Shred, which I definitely recommend if you have trouble finding extra time). Ultimately, I reached my goal weight, and I feel a thousand times better. I have more energy, I have a lot more confidence in not only the way I look, but also in myself in general. I overcame what was to me a huge obstacle and I have this great feeling that I can accomplish anything now.

But that’s only the beginning of the story. A very dear friend got herself a fitbit last year and told me how cool it was – and me being all into this new healthy lifestyle, I, of course, asked Santa to slip one into my stocking. He obliged, and I was loving being able to track my daily activity on a whole new level at about the same time I reached my weight loss goal. Once I hit the magic number on the scale I was a little lost about what I should do next. I had pretty much been doing the same workout for several months and I was looking for something new to pique my interest so I could maintain my healthier self.   My friend came to the rescue again when she invited me to run the New York Marathon with her later this year. Yep, that’s the for real New York Marathon. 26.2 miles of one of the largest, and most prestigious marathons in the world. Apparently I got a little carried away with the confidence thing because I was all “Sure! That sounds fun! I can totally manage that!” And the rest, as they say, is history.

I started with the Couch-to-5K app on Dec 31, 2013 and I haven’t looked back since. I wasn’t sure about it at first… But as I got better, I started to like it. Then I started to like it a lot. And now I really really love it. I ran my first 5K race in March, I’ve got my first Half-Marathon in June, another one in August, and then the big mac-daddy Marathon in Novemeber. I never thought I’d have the ability to run a single mile, much less 26.2 of them in a row, but this running thing has really taken hold of me. I’m starting to see my body get stronger and more efficient, and I really look forward to my time on the trails/track/road.

All of this fun I’ve been having has taken a bit of toll on my free time, however, and that’s why you haven’t seen much of me lately. With my work schedule, I just have time to get my run in before grabbing a bite to eat and then heading off to work. On the weekends I relax with my husband and the dog, do some cooking, etc. As I’ve settled into a routine with the running, I’ve started to find more time here and there, and I’d really like to share with you more often again. I’ve got some great recipes I’ve been saving, and some little projects too, and hopefully you’ll enjoying hearing about them as much as I’ll enjoy sharing. In the meantime, I hope you’re all getting to enjoy some beautiful springtime weather, and that 2014 has been as wonderful for you all as it has been for me so far.

PS:  I’ve been neglecting my photography lately, but I recently started going through the giant pile of photos I took over our winter trip to visit family in Oklahoma;  Oh my goodness, you guys.  I got some really great shots that I can’t wait to share!  Cheers!

Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble with Basil

So I made mention of this recipe a few weeks ago via facebook and instagram, but am only now getting around to sharing it with the rest of you. I will be getting into some details about what exactly is keeping me so busy lately in the next few days, but for now you’ll just have to settle for this. And when I say settle, I mean you should be prepared to drool a little over it. Unless you hate springtime, and strawberries, and rhubarb, and other such lovely things. Which would be weird, you know, since Spring is the best. But I digress.

I usually love nothing more than a Strawberry Rhubarb Pie, but I went the crumble route this time for a bit of a change. Ahem. Ok, that’s not really true. I needed a breakfast that I could eat on all week and I thought crumble sounded better than pie. Crumbles have oatmeal toppings and stuff, and oats are definitely healthy and breakfast-esque. Call it whatever you want, but I’m just gonna call it delicious and let you decide which meal you want to add it to.

 

Oh! You may have noticed that I added basil to it. Well, that’s an interesting story, actually. See I had just poured all these beautiful strawberries into my baking dish and I noticed a piece of a strawberry leaf stuck to one of them. In typical Emily fashion (easily distracted) I thought “Hey, that’s pretty. I wonder if I have any herbs to throw in here…” Turns out that the only herb I had was basil, and I kind of thought that might not be too bad. And it was actually awesome.   The bright basil flavor perfectly balanced out the sweet strawberries/tart rhubarb, and I felt like a total genius. So go out and try something new. It might be awesome. Also, try this, because I can guarantee that it is.

Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble with Basil*

Serves 6-8

Topping:

1 1/3 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons Demerara sugar (coarse sugar)
Zest of one lemon
1 stick unsalted butter, melted

1 ½ cups rhubarb, chopped into 1-inch pieces
1 ½ pints strawberries
Juice of one lemon
1/2 cup sugar
3 to 4 tablespoons cornstarch

¼ cup fresh basil, roughly chopped

 

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Topping: In a mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, sugars and lemon zest and add the melted butter. Mix until small and large clumps form. Refrigerate until needed.

Filling: Toss rhubarb, strawberries, lemon juice, sugar, cornstarch, basil, and a pinch of salt in a 9-inch deep-dish pie plate.

Remove topping from refrigerator and use your fingers to break it apart over the fruit.  This part doesn’t have to be pretty – just crumble it over top and it will spread out as it bakes.   Place baking dish on a foil-lined baking sheet, and bake until crumble topping is golden brown in places and fruit is bubbly, 40 to 50 minutes.

*I usually like to be very clear where I’ve gotten my recipes from, but in this case, I have no idea from whence it came.  I had this recipe saved on my hard drive simply as Fruit Crumble and I haven’t the slightest whom to credit it to.  If it looks familiar (like I may have plagiarised it from you) do drop me a line and I’ll be sure to give credit and link back.

Sometimes you just need a brownie…

I tend to hear people say they need a brownie/drink/massage when they’ve have a rough day – and there’s definitely something to be said for indulging in a favorite treat when you’re feeling down.  But today has been pretty good, and I made a pan of brownies to celebrate.  It’s my Friday today, the sun peeked out from behind the clouds, I found a lovely little bloom on my peach tree, and why not add some chocolate to make it just that much better?

Cranberry Pepper Jelly

Do you all love cranberries as much as I do?  They’re sweet and tart and oh-so-versatile and really pretty little things, too.  We always had cranberry sauce (from the can.  Best. Stuff. Ever.) at our holiday get togethers, and I’d be lying if I told you that I only ever had one helping.  This year for Thanksgiving I tried a homemade “canned” cranberry sauce recipe that turned out beautifully, if I do say so myself, and I plan to share that with you in just a few days, but right now I’m kind of obsessed with this stuff: Cranberry Pepper Jelly.  It was the simplest jelly to make – I spent about 45 minutes on it yesterday – and even though the ingredient list is (perhaps oddly) lacking in spices, flavor-imparting liquors, or other such things, it still manages to pack a knockout punch of tart-sweet-hot that will blow your mind.

I found this on the Bon Appetit Thanksgiving App (aside:  At first I was like, Really, Bon Appetit?  Do we really need an app for that?  Turns out: Yes.  Yes, we do.  It’s a wonderfully concise collection of holiday recipes that runs the gamut from traditional favorites to modern twists, and my OCD mind loves their genius organizational scheme.) in the Southern Menu section.  Folks down here love to serve pepper jelly over cream cheese as an appetizer and I see no reason to fix what ain’t broke.  My guests for Christmas Dinner will be arriving in the afternoon a few hours before the meal is set to begin, and my ancestors would no doubt do some of that much threatened “Rolling Over in Their Graves” if I didn’t have something for my partygoers to nibble on in the meantime.   Another plus for this one is that it doesn’t require any canning.  I put mine in a wide mouth pint jar for easy dipping, and according to the recipe it will keep for 3 weeks or so in the fridge.  But, really, good luck with that.

Cranberry Pepper Jelly

Adapted from Bon Appetit

I couldn’t find red jalapeños in my neck of the woods, so I bought “Red Chiles”.  Which, in my experience, could range in flavor from bell-pepper-mild to habanero-hot.  Mine were on the hot side, which is what I was going for to balance out all the sweet-tart from the cranberries, but I think this would be an excellent area in which to experiment if you were so inclined.  Although I would recommend sticking with peppers on the red side of the spectrum so as not to muddy up the lovely color of the jelly.  I’ll be serving this over whipped cream cheese with some sort of very elegant cracker (ahem. Triscuits anyone?).

3 red bell peppers, finely chopped

2 Fresno or red jalapeño chiles, seeded and finely chopped

1 cup sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 cup liquid pectin

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

3 cups cranberries, fresh or frozen and thawed

Combine peppers, chiles, sugar, red pepper flakes and salt in a heavy wide pot over medium heat and bring to a simmer, stirring to dissolve sugar. Stir in pectin and lemon juice. Reduce heat and simmer gently for 10 minutes.

Stir in cranberries and simmer gently until they burst and juices thicken, about 10 minutes longer. Transfer jelly to a jar, let cool, and cover. Will keep for up to 3 weeks in the refrigerator.  Makes about 1.5 pints.

Homemade Moon Pies

Are you guys familiar with Moon Pies?  They’re a southern favorite – you can get them at any gas station or snack machine below the Mason-Dixon line.  We loved these as kids and I am so excited to (finally!) be sharing this recipe for a homemade version with you.  I first made these almost a year ago for a baby shower that I co-hosted – the shower was Children’s Book themed and I made these to accompany “Goodnight Moon”.  They were divine you guys, and I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to give you the recipe.  Now don’t be intimidated.  When I tell people that I make homemade Moon Pies they all get this look on their face, the “That’s so cool. I can’t believe you can do that.  Why did you do that? You’re a crazy person.” look.  But really, they’re pretty straightforward.  A Moon Pie is basically a graham cracker cookie with marshmallow filling, dipped in chocolate.  The cookies take about an hour to make, but 30 minutes of that is dough-chilling time, and I usually get my marshmallow fluff going while I’m waiting (you could totally use store bought marshmallow fluff if you wanted to skip this step.  Then it’d be super easy and you’d have no excuse not to try this).  The filling is as simple as whipping egg whites and boiling syrup, and if you can’t drop a cookie in a bowl of melted chocolate, then I don’t know what to tell you.  I usually make these at a pretty leisurely pace – I did the entire process in about 3 hours a couple of days ago, but if you were being really efficient and wanted to knock it out I’d think that you could do it in about an hour and a half.  I got the recipe from a really good source, and I only tweaked one minor detail: I did only single layer cookies, rather than the “Double Decker” version.  So although there are several components to this cookie, they are all relatively simple and even beginner bakers should be able to handle this project.  If you’re looking for something to put in your Christmas Gift Baskets and you want to blow everyone’s mind with your baking prowess, I’d totally recommend this.  Happy Holidays!

MOON PIES

Adapted from Brown Eyed Baker, makes around 24 sandwich cookies

For the Cookies:
1 cup unsalted butter, room temp
¾ cup light brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2¼ cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt

For the Marshmallow Filling:
2 egg whites
Pinch cream of tartar
Pinch salt
2/3 cup light corn syrup
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup powdered sugar, sifted

For the Chocolate Coating:
12 ounces semisweet chocolate
¼ cup vegetable oil

To Make the Cookies:

With a mixer on medium speed, beat the butter until creamy, about 3 minutes. Add the brown sugar and beat at medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Reduce the speed to medium, add the egg and the vanilla extract, and beat to combine. Reduce the speed to low, add the flour and the salt, and mix just until a soft dough forms. Divide the dough in two, shape into disks, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 350º while dough is chilling.

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat; set aside. Working with one disk at a time, roll out the dough to about 1/8-inch thickness. Using a 2½-inch diameter round cutter, cut out the rounds and place them on the prepared baking sheets, about ½ an inch apart.  Try to end up with an even number of cookies, since you’ll be making sandwiches with them.  Bake the cookies for 10 to 12 minutes, or until lightly browned. Cool completely on a wire rack before filling.

To Make the Marshmallow Filling:

Using a mixer with the whisk attachment, beat the the egg whites with the cream of tartar and the salt until firm peaks form, gradually increasing from medium-low speed to medium-high speed as the egg whites gain volume. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, boil the corn syrup over high heat without stirring until it registers 230 to 235 degrees F on a candy thermometer (thread ball stage). Slowly drizzle the hot corn syrup into the egg whites and beat at high speed until glossy, about 2 minutes. Reduce the speed to medium-low, beat in the vanilla extract and the powdered sugar.

Using either a pastry bag or a spoon, mound about 1½ tablespoons of marshmallow filling into the center of a cookie. Top with another cookie and press lightly to spread the marshmallow to the edges. Repeat until you run out of cookies.

To Make the Chocolate Coating:

Using a double boiler (or in the microwave on 50% power and in 30 second increments) melt the chocolate and vegetable oil together until completely smooth. Let cool for a few minutes – you don’t want it to be piping hot when you dip the cookies or they tend to slide around a little and lose their shape.  Using a fork, dip the sandwiches into the chocolate, turning over to coat. Place cookies on a wire rack set over a baking sheet or wax paper and allow to set at room temp for a couple of hours – or move them to the fridge to speed up the process.

Thanksgiving

I had the most lovely Thanksgiving!  I was able to visit some family (at a very lovely locale) and the food was, of course, delicious.  I’m so lucky to have such a fun and wonderful extended family with many good cooks and it was one of the best holidays I can remember.  Here is just a tiny peak at the lovely week we spent on St. Simon’s Island.  Enjoy!

Thai Coconut Curry

So I’m having a moment with Thai food right now.  I love it, you guys.  We have a Thai restaurant near us that we have abandoned all of our other old favorites for, and now that I’ve learned that I can make it at home I’m pretty sure it’s going to be making a fairly regular (and by that I mean weekly.) appearance on our table.  But first you should really hear the story of how I learned to make it, because it’s a pretty cool one.

So it all started almost a year ago when I received a very nice comment here on the blog from this lovely lady.  Of course I ran right over to her blog to check her out and proceeded to spend the rest of the night rummaging through her archives and commenting back and forth with her on almost every post, while she did much the same on my page.  This continued for several weeks until she mysteriously disappeared from the internet (side note:  you should all run over to her site and blow it up so she’ll come back and start writing again.  Go on.  Do it.)  at which point I sent her an email to say hello and see what was holding up our comment chat.  She emailed back, I replied, she replied… you see where this is going?  So we discovered that we have quite a bit in common, and in fact our husbands are pretty much carbon copies of one another.  We kept up our email correspondence, then moved on to texting, a phone call, and finally, we got to meet in person (!!!).  We live quite a long ways from one another so it was pretty much the coolest news I received all year when I heard that they were headed to Georgia for a vacation.  We met in the North Georgia mountains and spent a lovely relaxing weekend cooking, eating, talking, and wandering around looking at scenery.  It was pretty exciting to have made such good friends from something so small as a comment on a blog, and it reminds me how small all this technology has made the world these days. 

 So what does this have to do with curry?  Well, Eve was very kind and did some shopping for me since she lives near one of the coolest cities in the world and can find all sorts of ethnic goodies that I just don’t have access to out here in the boonies.  She brought me fish sauce, sesame seed oil, several varieties of  curry paste, crab paste, shrimp paste, some lovely noodles, lemongrass… all sorts of things.   And she showed me her method for this delicious Thai Coconut Curry.

The best thing about it (besides being yummy-scrumptious, I mean) is that it’s basically a one pot meal.  I use my 6-quart Lodge pot, and besides that you just need a pot for rice, a cutting board, a good knife, and a spoon.  That’s not even a quarter of a dishwasher load.  Or a half of a sink-full of dishes.  Or whatever.  My sink is pretty small, so if it all fits in one side then I consider that a victory over the dirty-dishes devils.  The point is that you can make restaurant quality Thai food in your own kitchen in under an hour, and with only like 7 ½ dishes to wash.  Or whatever. 

The recipe is sort of made up – for the curry paste and fish sauce you just taste as you go.  I’ll tell you approximately what I used, but I’d recommend that you start with less than that and work up to whatever level you’re comfortable with.  And I know that fish sauce is intimidating to a lot of people – I mean, it does smell sort of funky, and  it can have a pretty strong flavor if you’re not careful, but please please please give it a try.  It won’t be the same without it.  Also, I give instruction to brown the chicken and mushrooms separately and set aside before cooking the veggies and adding the liquid.  You could just dump all the ingredients in the pot – chicken, veggies, mushrooms, liquids, etc – and cook it all together that way.  It would probably go a little quicker if you’re short of time, but if you’re not then I definitely recommend browning your meat and ‘shrooms first.  Anytime you caramelize something, you’re concentrating the flavor and making it a little deeper, a little more intense.  That’s never a bad thing in my book, and it only adds about 15 or 20 minutes at most to the cooking time. 

Thai Coconut Curry

Adapted from ImpishEve

 1 lb mushrooms, sliced

1 large bell pepper, sliced

1 large onion, sliced

3-4 cloves garlic, minced

1 lb chicken, cut into medium chunks

1 can coconut milk

1 ½ cups chicken stock, approximately*

2-4 tbsp Thai Red Curry Paste**

2-4 tbsp fish sauce**

Olive oil, or butter, for cooking the veggies

Fresh basil, cut chiffonade for garnish

 

Heat a little olive oil in a large heavy pot (like this one) over medium-high heat.  Brown chicken in batches, turning once, until browned on both sides.  Set aside.  Brown mushrooms in batches, turning once, until browned on both sides.  Set aside.  Add onions and peppers to pan and cook until onions are starting to turn golden, 6-7 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add garlic and cook another minute or two until garlic is golden and fragrant.  Add the can of coconut milk and chicken stock and stir to combine.  Add the curry paste and fish sauce, tasting as you go.  Add the mushrooms and chicken back to the pot, along with any juices they’ve lost, and allow mixture to simmer for a few moments so that everything is nice and hot.  Garnish with fresh basil.  Serve over rice and enjoy!

*I just fill my empty coconut milk can with stock and add that, plus a little more.  The curry will look soupy.

** I like curry and fish sauce so I feel like we added around 4 tbsp of each.  I really just scoop a little curry paste in, add a glug of fish sauce, taste, and repeat.  When it tastes good, I stop adding.  I realize that’s not very precise, but taste is very personal you know?  Do what you like.  Same goes for the garlic.

Peanut Butter Bars

So, is it just me or does pretty much everyone look forward to the special holiday editions of Reese’s Peanut Butter products?  The Reese’s Peanut Butter Eggs, Pumpkins, Christmas Trees, etc, pretty much make my day when they appear on store shelves.  They’re just better than the normal ones, for some reason.  But that’s beside the point.  I really wanted to tell you about these peanut butter bars I’ve been making.  They have the taste and texture of a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, but in bar form – and homemade, so you don’t have to worry about any mystery ingredients.  I like to have a little something sweet around for after mealtimes or a snack, and this recipe make a pretty good size batch (I cut them into 1 in squares, so I get a ton of them) that I can keep in the fridge for that little bite of something indulgent.  This recipe requires no baking, and while I like to use my double boiler to melt the chocolate, you could just stick it in the microwave if you wanted to skip that step, so they’re super simple to make.  I can usually have them chilling in my freezer in about 25 minutes, so it makes for very little work with a pretty high yield of awesome.

 

Peanut Butter Bars Recipe

Adapted from Just a Pinch

Serves: 20-36 bars

Base:

1 cup butter, melted (2 sticks)

2 cups graham cracker crumbs (2 sleeves ground to a fine crumb)*

2 cups confectioners’ sugar

1½ cups peanut butter

Topping:

¼ cup peanut butter

8oz semi-sweet chocolate, chopped.

 

Line a 9×13 baking dish with parchment paper, letting the ends overhang.  Combine first four ingredients in a large mixing bowl until smooth. Spread evenly into lined baking dish.

Combine chocolate and remaining 1/4 cup peanut butter in a double boiler.** Melt, stirring occasionally until smooth.  Spread on top of the peanut butter bar base and place in the freezer for 15 minutes.

Remove from the freezer and cut into 1inch squares.  Enjoy!

*I tried to do this with the ziploc bag/rolling pin method, but the crumbs just aren’t fine enough and you won’t get a smooth texture.  It still tastes delicious, but this is one case where if you have a food processor, this is the time to use it.

Also, I may occasioally not be so good with keeping my pantry stocked and only had 1 sleeve of honey grahams, so I substituted a sleeve of chocolate grahams for the remainder and it was awesome.  Just a little more chocolate-y flavor, which is never a bad thing in my opinion.

**You could also do this in the microwave if you prefer.