Asian Lettuce Wraps


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If you've ever been to PF Chang's China Bistro, you likely know about and love lettuce wraps.  Before the first time I went to PF Chang's, everyone told me I HAD to try the lettuce wraps, that they were the best thing on the menu.  The lettuce wraps practically have their own cult following, and after I tried them, I understood why.  They're a great combination of satisfying but light, and the contrast of the cool, crunchy lettuce wrapped around the warm filling is a great sensation in your mouth.  Add the dipping sauce and you have a real crowd pleaser. 

Over the past couple months I have begun to see various recipes for lettuce wraps in magazines and on the internet, and Monday night I decided to try my hand at them.  Monday night was the first night I had cooked anything other than eggs and baked beans in over a week.  You see, all weekend and most of last week were devoted to a wedding cake (more on that later) and that didn't leave much time for cooking or eating on a regular schedule.  I am ashamed to say that I ate a lot of fast food, and I don't even really like fast food very much.  I felt like I needed something lighter and healthier, and the lettuce wraps were on my mind.  Lettuce wraps are a healthy food and easy to make, which are great qualities for a recipe to have when you're still feeling blah from the food you ate during the weekend.  These are great for a light dinner or an appetizer, as PF Chang's serves them.  For all you Atkins fans, I think they're decently low carb too.

I drew inspiration from recipes in the September issue of Cooking Light, and the June/July 2010 issue of Taste of Home.  One of the ingredients in PF Chang's wraps that people really love are rice noodles that have been broken into short pieces and then fried so that they're light and crispy.  You can't buy that in stores, and I don't really care to make those myself, so you have to find something else to make the crunch in your mouth.  Based off the TOH recipe, I went with peanuts.  I bet cashews would be great, too.  I think every recipe I saw recommended water chestnuts, and I don't like those, so in my version I have left those out.  I also wanted a little more vegetable presence, so I included a julienned carrot.  Next time I will probably include some bell pepper, too.  That's the beauty of cooking on your own- add or subtract according to your preferences.  These came out great!  They had the lightness I desired, the contrast of the cold, crunchy lettuce worked great with the warm filling, and the peanuts were a great crunchy and flavorful addition. 

All that to say that below is my own recipe for the lettuce wrap ingredients.  The sauce is taken directly from the recipe in Cooking Light.  I give credit where credit is due! 

Lettuce Wraps
1 lb ground chicken or turkey
1 pkg or 8 oz mushrooms, sliced or diced
1/2 to 1 large carrot, julienned or 1/2 c. shredded carrots
1 bunch green onions or scallions, thinly sliced
1/2 tsp. minced ginger
1/2 tsp. minced garlic
1 head Boston, Bibb, or Iceberg lettuce leaves
3 Tb. hoisin sauce
3 Tb. soy sauce
1 Tb. rice vinegar
2 tsp. Sriracha or hot chili sauce
1/4-1/2 c. chopped peanuts
2-3 Tb. vegetable oil

Heat 1-2 tb. vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the mushrooms and carrot (and bell pepper, if including); sauté 5 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally.  Remove mushrooms and carrot from the pan and place in a large bowl.  Heat another Tb of oil in the same pan.  Add the meat, ginger, and garlic to the pan.  Cook 6 minutes or until the meat is fully cooked, stirring occasionally to break up the meat.  Once the chicken is cooked, add all but about 2 tablespoons green onions and stir.  Sprinkle 1-2 tsp soy sauce over the meat and onion and stir around to distribute.  Add the peanuts and meat mixture to the mushroom mixture in the bowl and stir to incorporate all ingredients. 

In a small bowl, make the sauce: stir together the hoisin, soy, vinegar, sriracha, and remaining green onions. 

Spoon about 1/2 of the wrap filling into each lettuce leaf and spoon over desired amount of sauce.

Cook's Notes
  • I am intentionally leaving the mushroom variety out.  The Cooking Light recipe called for shiitakes, which would have been great, but I am pretty sure my local grocery store's produce guy would think I was cussing him.  I used portobellos.  They were on sale and delicious.  I am sure button or white mushrooms would work great here, too.
  • Next time I will increase the vegetable to meat ratio because I like vegetables.  This time I used 1/2 a big carrot.  Next time I'll likely use a whole one. 
  • I'll probably also add 1/2 to 1 whole bell pepper.  Red is my favorite. 
  • Don't try to get too healthy or fancy with the lettuce.  You're looking for a fairly neutral flavor with a flexible leaf and some crunch, so endive or arugula won't be great.  You could try romaine or green leaf.  If you do let me know how that works out for you.
  • The sauce by itself is a little funny tasting, but over the filling, it works.  I am not as familiar with Asian ingredients, so I did follow the amounts somewhat carefully.  I still didn't use measuring spoons. 
  • This is a slightly more expensive dish than others I've made, so be forewarned.  I spent about $15.  I am, however, getting 4 good sized meal portions.
  • I ate this as a main course and had no side dishes.  If you can't live without a side, go for brown rice or edamame. 
If you make this, please post in the comments section and let me know what you think!

BONUS: How to julienne your carrots, in a completely amateur sort of way

Step 1: Cut your carrot in half lengthwise so you're left with two semi circles. 

Step 2:  Thinly slice each of those semi circles lengthwise so that you have little carrot planks

Step 3: Thinly slice each of those planks lengthwise so that you're left with match sticks.

Now you have julienned your carrot, and it's perfect for this and other recipes!

Ground Beef Casserole


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I have for you today a dish that is not very impressive in its presentation, and food snobs would likely scoff at the posting of this recipe altogether because it's old fashioned and not very culinary.  It's also tasty, and reminds me of home and family dinners.  Sounds a little hokey, but seriously, every time I make or eat this dish I am transported to the table where my family and I ate when I was a kid.  It's funny how certain foods can make you recall things like that.  So, while this recipe won't be featured in the next Bon Appetit magazine, you could easily make it for your next potluck dinner or family dinner. 

I made this for the same family reunion where I took the Snickers Pie.  Since I also happened to be preparing for a wedding cake (more on that later), that was all I took.  If you're looking for a side, go for a salad or maybe some green vegetable. 

For people with busy schedules, this dish is good because it comes
together rather quickly and involves few ingredients.  The results are, to me, so good!  I truly love this dish.  Part of my attachment may be sentimental, but it has a lot of flavors that work well together.  Think of it as a cheeseburger in casserole form, and you sort of get the idea. 

Ground Beef Casserole
from my mom's recipe collection

1 lb. ground beef
1- 10 oz can cream of mushroom soup
1 medium onion, chopped
1-14 oz can diced tomatoes
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup (4 oz) cheddar cheese, grated
1/2 to 1 large bell pepper, cut into strips
4 oz egg noodles

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Brown beef and onion in a skillet and drain any fat.  Add tomatoes, salt, soup, and pepper.  Let simmer while you cook the egg noodles according to package directions.  Drain the noodles and add to the beef mixture.  Add 1/2 c. cheese.  Pour into a casserole dish or 9x13 pan and sprinkle remaining cheese on top.  Bake for 15 minutes. 

 So, if you try it let me know what you think by posting in the comments section.  Have a great day!

Snickers Pie



Stick with me and you'll be a diabetic in no time.  A couple weekends ago we had a family reunion, which I see as a time to test out new recipes.  Think about it- there's a huge group of people available to eat your food.  If it's good, you'll likely hear a lot of praise, and if it's bad, well, there are a lot of people who will take the food anyway because they didn't know it was bad to begin with.  Luckily I haven't bombed yet, and the Snickers Pie upholds my reputation as a good cook.  I took this one from the Paula Deen cookbook, The Lady and Sons Just Desserts.  Paula is a great source of foods, but especially desserts, and this cookbook has a collection of all sorts of desserts destined to make you praised as a good cook. 

You start out with Snickers and peanut butter.  If you like Snickers or the combo of chocolate and peanut butter, you will love this!  Melt 5 Snickers in a double boiler (or maybe the microwave, though I can't speak from experience with that method) with peanut butter and some half and half.  Then mix with whipped cream or whipped topping, pour into a pie crust (graham cracker or oreo) and freeze.  That's it!  To quote Paula, "this is too easy and too good!"


from The Lady and Sons Just Desserts
1 graham cracker pie crust
4 king sized Snickers bars
1/2 cup peanut butter
1 1/2 tablespoons half and half
4 cups cool whip
In the top of a double boiler, melt together four candy bars, peanut butter, and half-and-half, stirring until smooth. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly. Fold in whipped topping, pour into crust, and freeze for 4 to 6 hours before serving. (For a richer pie, substitute 2 cups heavy cream, whipped with 1/2 cup sugar until stiff peaks form, in place of prepared whipped topping.)

When ready to serve, top with additional whipped topping and drizzle wth chocolate syrup. Add small chunks of a snickers bar on top as well. Store in refrigerator.
  • I used creamy peanut butter, but if you try it with chunky let me know.
  • I used 5 regular sized Snickers as I couldn't find the king sized in a multi pack.
  • I made my own graham cracker crust, but I wonder how this would taste with an Oreo crust

Part II: Burger Buns


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Welcome back and thanks for stopping by!  So, if you read the last post you saw that it was a two part series (can you call that a series?) on the burgers I recently made.  Today's post is on the buns.  I like my buns toasty, how about you? (snickering) 

I know, once again I have managed to make something that most people roll their eyes at and ask why I'd bother to make it if I can buy perfectly good ones in a store, but homemade hamburger buns are so good compared to the storebought counterparts, and they're healthier too- no preservatives as opposed to loaded down with preservatives. 

I have made burger buns before, but the recipe I used yielded a slightly firmer bun that had a good taste but was just not that softness you expect from a burger bun.  This time I pulled out my latest bread book purchase, Artisan Breads Everyday by Peter Reinhart.  I used the Soft Sandwich Bread and Rolls recipe and made rolls as opposed to loaf breads.  I am so glad we had a lot of bread left over so that I could freeze it for later use because these were AMAZING/  They were light and delicious- think Fuddrucker's bun meets steakhouse yeast roll. 

What's different about this book and the recipies contained therein are that you start the dough at least one day before you plan to bake.  This breaks up the rising time, thereby reducing the amount of time in one day that you will spend baking.  It also allows the dough's first rise to be a long, slow one, which allows for greater development of flavor. 

So, you start the way most bread recipes begin, which is to measure or weigh all ingredients, activate the yeast in warm liquid, and to mix them in a mixer according to directions.  Then of course you switch to the dough hook or knead by hand. 

After that, instead of letting the dough rise for an hour or so at room temperature, you stick the dough in the fridge for its long, slow rise.  The next day, or when you get around to baking, you take the dough out and divide it up.  In my case, because I made burger buns, I weighed each piece of dough so that each bun would be around 3 oz. raw dough each.  Then I shaped them into discs. 

After that comes the second rise and then baking them in a preheated oven.  After removing them from the oven, you have to wait for them to cool down, which is one of the most agonizing parts of the whole thing because they just smell so good.  I couldn't quite wait, so one roll/bun met an early demise.  It was so good!

Have you ever made bread before?  How did it turn out?  If you try this one, let me know!

Hamburger Buns
from Peter Reinhart's Artisan Breads Everyday

1 Tb (.33 oz) instant yeast
1 3/4 c plus 2 Tb (15 oz) lukewarm milk of any kind
6 1/4 cups (28 oz) unbleached bread flour
2 tsp. (.5 oz) salt or 1 Tb. kosher salt
5 1/2 Tb (2.75 oz) sugar, or 1/4 cup honey or agave syrup
6 Tb (3 oz) vegetable oil or melted unsalted butter
1 egg

Whisk the yeast in the lukewarm milk until dissolved.  Let stand 1-5 min. 

Combine the flour, salt, sugar, oil, and egg in a mixing bowl and then pour in the milk mixture.  If using a mixer, use the paddle attachment and mix on the lowest speed for 2 minutes.  If mixing by hand, use a large spoon and stir for about 2 mintues.  The dough should be coarse and slightly sticky. 

Switch to the dough hook and mix on medium-low speed for 4-5 minutes, or knewd by hand on a lightly floured work surface for 4-5 minutes, until the dough is soft, supple, and tacky but not sticky. 

Whichever kneading method you use, knewd the dough by hand for 1 minute and then form into a ball. 
Place the dough into a clean, lightly oiled bowl, and then cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight or up to four days.  If you plan to bake the dough in different batches over different days, portion the dough and place it into two or more oiled bowls at this stage.

On baking day, remove the dough from the fridge about 2.5 hours before you plan to bake and divide it in half; each piece should weigh about 25 oz.  If you are baking loaves, this is the optimal size for 4 1/2 x 8" pans.  For HB buns, shape into balls about the size of the palm of your hand (to be more accurate, weigh into 3 oz. balls).  Place on 2 parchment lined baking sheets and cover the pans loosely with plastic wrap or waxed paper.  Let the dough rise at room temperature for about 2 1/2 hours.

About 15 minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 400 degrees Farenheit.  If you want, you can cover the buns with egg wash and sprinkle with poppy or sesame seeds.  Bake for 12-18 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through. 

  • I did not proof the yeast in the milk- oops!  It still turned out well, though. 
  • I used kosher salt and granulated sugar, and I think vegetable oil
  • I didn't do an egg wash or sprinkle seeds over because I forgot.  Still delish! 

Turkey Burgers


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This is the first in a two part "series" on these burgers, but the recipes are entirely separate and can be used separately.  Today's is about the actual burger recipe, which I saw in the July issue of Cooking Light.  For the last several months, I have tried to greatly decrease our beef usage in the Givens household because Drew eats it sometimes twice a day at the fire station, so I don't want to overload him.  We still eat beef, but I am just trying to make it less so that neither of us gets sick of it or dies early from how bad they tell us red meat is. 

So, in this CL special on all kinds of healthier burgers, I decided to try out this turkey burger with roasted eggplant.  Cooking Light claimed that this particular recipe tasted meaty due to the addition of Marmite and soy sauce and stayed moist due to the incorporation of roasted eggplant. 

This was the first turkey burger I have made, and here's what I've learned:
1.  The roasted eggplant would probably be better in the burger mixture if your food processor would actually work properly.

2.  Keep the mixing of the turkey to a minimum as it will turn to mush in no time flat.

3.  If you don't have Marmite and don't want to spend $6 on a little jar (or if your store doesn't carry it at all), then you can use some Worcestershire sauce to similar effect and taste. 

4.  The burgers are more sturdy than the black bean burgers, so they can be grilled, but they're still soft and sink down a bit.  Caution!

So, the verdict:  I wasn't crazy about these (sorry to post a sort of dud recipe), but they weren't bad, either.  With some tweaking, I'd likely do turkey burgers again. The Worcestershire sauce that I used in place of the Marmite and soy sauce did impart a more meaty, burger like flavor, and the grill helped with that, too.

The eggplant was what I wasn't so crazy about.  Now, my food processor is on its way to meeting the same fate that the copier did in the movie Office Space because it doesn't process so well.  It's only really good for turning Oreos or graham crackers to crumbs.  With that rant out of the way, it could have been that my eggplant wasn't properly processed, but either way I didn't like biting down on the eggplant seeds in my burgers.  So, for the future I might try to add some grated onion or maybe even zucchini or yellow squash for moisture.

So, without further delay, here is the original recipe and its link:

Turkey Burgers with Roasted Eggplant
from July 2010 Cooking Light

1 (8-ounce) eggplant

Cooking spray
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley, divided
4 teaspoons olive oil, divided
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 garlic clove, minced
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
1 pound turkey tenderloins, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 teaspoon less-sodium soy sauce
1/4 teaspoon Marmite
4 (1 1/2-ounce) hamburger buns, toasted
4 Bibb lettuce leaves
4 (1/4-inch-thick) tomato slices

1. Preheat oven to 400°.

2. Lightly coat eggplant with cooking spray; wrap eggplant in foil. Place eggplant on a jelly-roll pan; bake at 400° for 45 minutes or until very tender, turning once. Remove from foil; cool slightly. Cut eggplant in half. Carefully scoop out pulp to measure 1 1/4 cups; discard skin. Place pulp in a food processor; process until smooth. Reserve 1/4 cup pureed pulp. Combine remaining pulp, 1 tablespoon parsley, 2 teaspoons oil, juice, and garlic. Stir in 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper; set aside.
3. To prepare grinder, place feed shaft, blade, and 1/4-inch die plate in freezer 30 minutes or until well chilled. Assemble the grinder just before grinding.
4. Arrange turkey pieces in a single layer on jelly-roll pan, leaving space between each piece. Freeze 15 minutes or until meat is firm but not frozen. Combine meat and remaining 2 teaspoons oil in large bowl; toss to combine. Pass meat through meat grinder completely. Immediately pass meat through grinder a second time. Combine reserved 1/4 cup eggplant puree, turkey, remaining 1 tablespoon parsley, soy sauce, and Marmite in a large bowl. Divide mixture into 4 equal portions, gently shaping each into a 1/2-inch-thick patty. Press a nickel-sized indentation in the center of each patty. Cover and chill until ready to grill.
5. Preheat grill to medium-high heat.
6. Lightly coat patties with cooking spray; sprinkle with remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and remaining 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Place patties on grill rack, and grill 4 minutes until well marked. Carefully turn patties over, and grill 3 minutes or until done. Place 1 patty on bottom half of each bun; top each serving with 1 tablespoon eggplant mixture, 1 lettuce leaf, 1 tomato slice, and top half of bun. (Reserve remaining eggplant mixture for another use.)

  • While sometimes I want to go the extra step of grinding my own meat, today was not one of those days.  I purchased 85% lean ground turkey from the store.  Don't let the foodies make you feel guilty about that.
  • I didn't make the eggplant topping.  I also didn't top the burgers with the tomato and lettuce.  If you're like me, you only need 1 lb of turkey, 1 tb. parsley, the eggplant, salt, pepper, and the marmite/soy sauce OR the Worcestershire. 
  • I topped mine with avocado, because avocado makes everything better.

If you make these or have a better recipe to share, let me know what you think by posting in the comments!

Chocolate Cupcakes



This past week my friend Kim's daughter turned 4.  Her party had a pink and yellow flower theme, and the birthday girl requested chocolate cupcakes and buttercream frosting.  Kim asked if we could do pink flowers with yellow centers on top of 3 dozen cupcakes.

After modifying the original design plan a bit, we settled on the ones you see in the picture.  Aren't they cute?!

The actual chocolate cupcake recipe is what I'm sharing with you.  The recipe in my Southern Living special edition magazine (the same one where I got the pound cake recipe) said that it made 36 cupcakes.  Perfect!  When I make cupcakes to decorate and need the tops slightly flat, I make sure I fill it less than the recipe suggests, which usually means about halfway.  That also means extra cupcakes to enjoy.  Those few extra cupcakes that I made into minis from the leftover batter are all but one gone because they're so delicious!  This is probably my favorite chocolate cake recipe so far.  It has an unapologetically chocolatey flavor and a very light texture.  They're moist and just delicious!  They're very bad for dieters. 

My only complaint, and this could be baker error (not baking them long enough, etc), are that they're difficult to ice without the crumbs getting into your white icing.  Yikes!  Other than that my only complaint is that I can't stop eating them if I make them. 

If you make these, let me know what you think by posting in the comments section!

Chocolate Layer Cake With Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

from Southern Living special edition magazine, Our Favorite Dessserts
1 ½ c. semisweet morsels
½ c. butter, softened
1-16 oz. pkg light brown sugar
3 large eggs
2 c. AP flour
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp. salt
1- 8 oz container sour cream
1 c. hot water
2 tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350. Melt chocolate in a microwave safe bowl on high 1 ½ minutes or until melted and smooth, stirring at 30 second intervals.

Beat butter and sugar at medium speed with an electric mixer until well blended (about 5 minutes). Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating just until blended after each addition. Add melted chocolate, beating just until blended.

Sift together flour, baking soda, and salt. Gradually add to chocolate mixture alternately with the sour cream, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Beat at low speed just until blended. Stir in vanilla. Gradually pour in hot water and mix until all is blended.  Batter will be runny. 

Pour into cupcake pans and bake at 350 for 18 minutes or until a tester comes out clean.

Makes 36 cupcakes.

  • Did you know that approximately 1 1/2 cups of semisweet chips is the same as 8 oz. of chips?  Thankfully I did and used my Baker's brand semisweet chocolate and didn't have to make that mad dash to the store to buy chips.
  • You can also melt the chocolate on a stove in a double boiler. 

Here are the ingredients that will make it happen- part of the uniqueness of this recipe are its use of sour cream and brown sugar.

Sifting the dry ingredients together.  This is how I do it.  Alton Brown uses his food processor.  The goal is to break up clumps and incorporate air.

Oh, yum.  How can you go wrong creaming butter and brown sugar together AND THEN adding chocolate?!

Here's the batter when it's finished and about to be poured.  It's much less viscous than other cake batters, so don't be alarmed. 


Alton Brown's Granola Bars


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I love Alton Brown.  While I really enjoy other chefs' shows, his is the one I'd DVR if I had anything other than rabbit ears.  What I like about him is that his entertaining show highlights the scientific side of food, helping you to better understand what you're doing in the kitchen, and why different ingredients work the way they do.  His recipes, I've found, are great and have very little room for error.

That's why I chose to do his granola bar recipe before anyone else's.  I scoured allrecipes.com, smittenkitchen.com, and foodnetwork.com before settling on his.  I will probably try out others' recipes, as well, but here's how my first crack at granola bars went: the taste was good, bordering on addictive, and the bars were soft, which is how I like them.  My only complaint is that they may be too soft- they were falling apart! 

Either way, I would recommend these over the purchased granola bars, because it's more economical, and more importantly, you're controlling what goes in there.  My goal was to make a nutritious and healthy bar with as little sugar as possible.  That meant, that while tasty, the chocolate chips and corn syrup recipes were out. 

The process of making these bars was fairly easy, so I am not sure why the finished result fell apart.  I wonder if maybe I did something wrong?  If you notice it, please post in the comments! 

Alton Brown's Granola Bars
courtesy of foodnetwork.com

8 ounces old-fashioned rolled oats, approximately 2 cups
1 1/2 ounces raw sunflower seeds, approximately 1/2 cup
3 ounces sliced almonds, approximately 1 cup
1 1/2 ounces wheat germ, approximately 1/2 cup
6 ounces honey, approximately 1/2 cup
1 3/4 ounces dark brown sugar, approximately 1/4 cup packed
1-ounce unsalted butter, plus extra for pan
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
6 1/2 ounces chopped dried fruit, any combination of apricots, cherries or blueberries

Butter a 9 by 9-inch glass baking dish and set aside. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Spread the oats, sunflower seeds, almonds, and wheat germ onto a half-sheet pan. Place in the oven and toast for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

In the meantime, combine the honey, brown sugar, butter, extract and salt in a medium saucepan and place over medium heat. Cook until the brown sugar has completely dissolved.

Once the oat mixture is done, remove it from the oven and reduce the heat to 300 degrees F. Immediately add the oat mixture to the liquid mixture, add the dried fruit, and stir to combine. Turn mixture out into the prepared baking dish and press down, evenly distributing the mixture in the dish and place in the oven to bake for 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely. Cut into squares and store in an airtight container for up to a week.

  • I measured most everything out by weight
  • I had whole almonds that I chopped.  The result is not having pretty, uniform slices, but the taste is the same.
  • I love pumpkin seeds more than sunflower, so I used 1/4 c. of each.
  • Here's possibly where I went wrong- I used an 8" square dish.  It's all I had.  It could also be my oven.
  • I didn't have dark brown sugar.  I am not even sure that my grocery store has dark brown sugar.  I used light brown in its place. 

The mixture at the beginning- much like my granola.

Cooking the sugar, honey, and butter.  Another possibility of where I maybe messed up- I tried cooking it like the directions, but maybe it's like making candy on a humid day or making no-bake cookies and it's just left up to chance-?

The pre-baked mix.  It also looked a lot like that coming out, so maybe I didn't bake it long enough.  I was worried about overbaking and ending up with a tough mess.

Either way, happy cooking!

Peter Piper...



I haven't been so good about posting our garden pictures because I haven't been so good about taking garden pictures.  Last night and a few weeks ago, Drew made some hot pickled peppers out of the banana and jalapeño peppers that we've been growing in our raised bed.  They've taken off like weeds in the last month!  Having started canning almost anything we can in the last year, we decided to give these a whirl. 

Now, a few words on canning- before starting to can last year, it seemed almost mystical to me.  Most of my family knows how to can, and when you ask about it they reply that it's easy.  That made me feel like I had to be missing something- it's like when you ask someone how they know they're in love and they say they just know.  It's like canning was like that- until you just know, it seems like a complicated, black magic sort of kitchen exercise.  Fortunately, canning is pretty easy, given that you speak with people who know how to can, obtain the right ingredients, and read up on the subject.  We've canned jellies, beets, tomatoes, and now peppers, and all have turned out fine.  I plan to post a canning how-to on here at a later date, but for now google it.  Unless, of course, you already know how, and then you can smile and congratulate yourself that you're in the canning know-how club. 

We used the Ball Blue Book guide to canning and their recipe for hot pickled peppers.  Since we didn't have enough peppers for a full batch, we adjusted down the brine and followed the rest of the recipe. 

First, gather your peppers.  Wash and leave them whole or cut them into slices.  We chose to slice.  If you ever cut a lot of peppers, wear gloves or you'll be burning for days.

Next, make sure your canning station and supplies are ready- wash some pint jars (or a combination of pint and half pint jars) and the accompanying lids and rings.  Begin to sterilize them in your boiling water canner for 15 minutes. 

Meanwhile, make your brine by combining vinegar, garlic, and water.  We used white vinegar, but the recipe doesn't actually specify.  Bring them to a boil and simmer 5 minutes. 


Now, once the jars are sterilized, pack the peppers into the hot jars.  Really pack them in there tight.  Leave at least 1/4 inch room between the top of the peppers and the top of the jar.  Now, pour the hot brine over the peppers into the jar and use the handle of a spatula or a popsicle stick or anything that is kind of flat and has a little width to it to slide down into the jars and press against the peppers to let any air bubbles out.

Next put the lids on the jars and twist on the rings so that they're secure but not tight.  The canning people call this "finger tight."  Place the jars back into the boiling water canner, making sure that each jar is covered with water, and boil or process for 10 minutes.  After that, remove from the canner and place on a surface, such as a wooden cutting board or a counter covered with a towel.  Wait for the lids to make that exciting popping noise.  To be around us, you'd think that's the whole reason we can. 

Here's what you end up with!  Both times we did about half batches.  The recipe below is for a full batch and is taken from the Ball Blue Book Guide to Canning and Preserving.

Hot Pickled Peppers
adapted from the Ball Blue Book

2 3/4 lbs. assorted serrano, jalapeño, and hot banana peppers
6 cups vinegar
3 cloves garlic, smashed
1 cup water

Makes about 4-5 pints

Prepare peppers and canning equipment.  Combine the vinegar, garlic, and water in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat.  Bring to a boil; reduce heat to simmer brine 5 minutes. 

Pack peppers into hot jars, pour over brine, and process in a boiling water canner 10 minutes. 

What to do with all those peppers?  Well, use them in Mexican cooking, eat them straight out of the jar, or top salads with them.  You are only limited by your own imagination and tastes!

Do you can?  Does this make you want to start?  It's fun, and kind of exciting to tell people you made it yourself!

Labor Day Burgers


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What did you do for labor day?  We cooked out with family, and when you make a burger just right, there's nothing better.  Here are some tips and a recipe for making the best burger.

1.  Start with beef that has about 15-20% fat content.  If you really want to be hardcore, grind your own using a grinder or even in the food processor (pulse about 10 times).

2.  Mix in 1/2 tsp. kosher salt for each pound of beef. 

3.  Patty the burgers out into 4-5 oz. patties.  You can be really crazy and weigh them on a scale or just sort of eyeball it.  For each pound of meat, 4 oz. will yield 4 burgers.

4.  Place a thumbprint type indentation in the middle of your burgers.  I can't really explain it, but it helps them to cook evenly. 

5.  Grill them to your liking, which for me is about 6 minutes on each side for medium-well burgers.  It is IMPERATIVE that you not cut into the burger when it's being grilled because that causes the juices to run all out.  Also, don't mash down the burgers with a spatula- that also squeezes the juices out. 

Now put them on a bun and top with your favorite toppings.  This time we used cheddar cheese, mustard, ketchup, onion, and tomato, but here's where your preferences and imagination can take over.


Sick Day Soup



Wow, I didn't make it out of August before I made my first soup of the upcoming cold weather season.  Stick with this blog long enough and you'll learn that soup is probably my favorite thing to make during winter.  They just seem like the most appropriate thing to eat- filling, warm, and there's so much variety.  If you were raised in a house like mine, you probably also think of chicken soup and sickness together.  Not that chicken soup makes me sick, but it's one of those foods I want when I don't feel well.  It just makes you feel better, and there is some research that suggests that it's not a placebo effect.  The warmth of the broth, combined with some of the gelatin and other goodies in chicken stock, really do help you feel better.

Yesterday firefighter husband Drew was sick.  He was so sick that he called in to work.  This has happened maybe one other time in his career so far.  It's not like when people with 9-5 office jobs call in.  You better really be sick to call in sick as a firefighter because so many people depend on you.  So what I'm trying to say is that it's a pretty big deal that he called in.  I knew this called for soup. 

Now if you're sick and really want the healing powers of chicken soup, you will make a slow cooked stock that simmers on the stove for 12 hours.  It's hardcore.  The bones of the chicken are soft and pliable like Gumby when you're done.  That's another post for another time.  If, however, you've worked all day and have no homemade stock on hand, you go for what you can- storebought.

I have made the chicken soup off the back of the Swanson brother box, and I have made a soup from a Southern Living that added lemon.  Now, the Swanson recipe is a good, solid chicken soup recipe.  It's one that you can call yours because it takes more work than opening a can and pouring its contents into a pot.  The Southern Living recipe was good as well, and I liked the lemon twist, especially when your throat is sore. 

Upon scouring the internet for a good recipe combining lemon and chicken in soup, I came across a lot of avgolemono recipes that I want to try, but felt that it was too risky to try a new recipe on a sick patient.  Then I found Giada de Laurentis' Lemon Chicken Soup with Spaghetti and decided to give it a whirl.  This is the recipe, right here.  I have a feeling that from here on out it will be our sick day soup.

Lemon Chicken Soup with Spaghetti
from Giada de Laurentis, courtesy of foodnetwork.com

6 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice (about 2 lemons)
1 dried bay leaf
1 (2-inch) piece Parmesan cheese rind, optional
2 medium carrots, peeled and sliced into 1/4-inch pieces
1 cup (about 2 1/2 ounces) spaghetti, broken into 2-inch pieces
2 cups diced cooked rotisserie chicken, preferably breast meat
1 cup grated Romano cheese
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Kosher salt
In a large stockpot, bring the chicken broth, lemon juice, bay leaf, and Parmesan rind, if using, to a boil over medium-high heat.

Add the carrots and simmer until tender, about 5 to 8 minutes.

Add the broken pasta and cook until the pasta is tender, for 4 to 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the chicken and heat through, about 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the bay leaf and the Parmesan rind and discard. Stir in 1/2 of the cheese and the parsley. Season with salt, to taste. Ladle the soup into serving bowls and sprinkle with the remaining cheese.

  • I purchased two boxes of broth (most chefs/cooks seem to prefer the box to the can) and used around 7-7 1/2 cups of broth. You may want more than the 6 cups this recipe recommends.
  • I used a 7 qt stock pot and had a TON of room left. I recommend a pot that holds maybe 3-4 qt.
  • I used spaghetti, but next time I think I'll try ditalini or orzo pasta. Just a personal preference
  • I did use a cheese rind- even though parmesan or parmigiano reggiano cheese on a block seems expensive, it will last a long time and is worth the cost. When you have gotten all you can off the cheese, you can freeze or save the rind for soups, which gives the soup a salty nuttiness. It's the gift that keeps on giving.
  • I didn't measure the lemon juice; I just used the juice of two lemons.  It probably equated to 1/3 to 1/2 cup.  The lemon flavor is pretty pronounced.  Feel free to use less or dilute that flavor with more broth.

This is how I juice a lemon, which can be pretty subjective in the kitchen.  Juicing it through a strainer, though, cuts down on a unitasker filling up your drawer and it allows you to have filtered juice to pour straight into your pot.

I hope you all enjoy this- if you make it let me know what you think!