Monthly Archives: February 2012

Semi-scratch cookies

As much as I love to bake delicious goodies from scratch, I do think there is a time and place for relying on the box (or bag) mix. BUT that doesn’t mean that you can’t tweak it to make it taste homemade!

This whole ordeal started around Thanksgiving when we were at the commissary searching for our weekend grub. I spied a bag of Pumpkin Spice cookie mix. During the weeks before Thanksgiving, I’m a pumpkin spice fanatic. If they sold pumpkin spice floss I’d buy it! (Once Thanksgiving is over I give in to my other love, peppermint bark!)

So I spied these on the tippy top shelf and rather than do the sensible thing and wait for my 6-foot-something fiance to assist me, I decide to get them myself. My own personal Everest. In the baking goods aisle. Challenge. Accepted.

I managed to get them down without knocking everything else off the shelf. It was a Thanksgiving miracle, folks!

But this bag of cookie mix that I scaled mountains for, wasn’t actually used until LAST NIGHT. Whoops. It was hidden behind the powdered sugar and white balsamic vinegar…I need to re-organize Ryan’s kitchen….

Ok, back to the recipe!

Semi-Scratch Oatmeal Pumpkin Spice Cookies

1. Start with one bag of Pumpkin Spice cookie mix (Pictured above.) Preheat your oven to 375 or 350 (depending on your cookie sheet being nonstick/dark)

2. Follow the directions on the back of the bag: Add 1 stick of room temperature butter and 1 egg (per bag instructions)

3. Then add 1/4 cup of quick cooking oats, 4 TBS water (the recipe calls for 2 but you’ll need 2 more for a total of 4 TBS), Add 1 generous TB of coconut oil (in solid state)  1/4 tsp of vanilla extract and a shake of cinnamon.

4. Mix until combined and follow baking instructions on bag.

They will come out DELICIOUS and warm and chewy!!

Ryan loved them. I loved them. They have a somewhat cake-y texture when they are warm and melt in your mouth. The edges were nice and crispy with a softer center! Basically, everything I look for in a good cookie.

I’d share a picture of the final product…but we REALLY liked them…

Do yourself a favor and pick up a bag of this cookie mix in the stores!

***You could also do the same with their Chocolate Chip cookie mix! Adding my additional ingredients would make for a fabulous Oatmeal Chocolate Chip cookie ingredients!***

Have a great week!!

-Brittany

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Product Review: The Bobble

I like to think I’m a pretty easy going girl. I’m really not all that particular when it comes to food or drinks. I mean, I have my preferences and issues with texture but that aside, I don’t consider myself to be picky.

That being said, I’ve always been a “tap water” kinda girl. I laugh at the idea of a reverse osmosis filter. The ice/water filter on my dad’s fridge hasn’t been working (nor any attempts made to repair it) in over 5 years.
If I’m out and about and there is NO water fountain available, or I’m REALLY thirsty, I’ll buy a bottle of water. But I’m not the type that can’t drink from the tap. (On a hot summer day, I’m not above drinking from the hose)

And honestly, I’ve never tasted a difference in tap water…until now.

When Ryan moved into his new apartment things changed. There were many good changes; a kitchen, bigger spaces, a patio, not having to go through a security checkpoint to get to my love…I love the Air Force but I always get so nervous on base! I feel like I’m breaking the law cause I’m a civilian! I know that’s silly and untrue, but holy moley tell that to my nerves. I’m hoping that feeling dissipates when we’re married and I have legitimate access (sans Ryan) to the base.

But then there was one change that was not so good…and that was the water.

At first Ryan thought I was crazy. I could tell if he had been drinking water as soon as he started speaking. Brushing teeth didn’t get rid of the smell…cause you rinse your mouth out with WATER. Ice cubes were also out of the question. The shower stunk, the toilet stunk, any faucet stunk; It was like I had the nose of a bloodhound!

So after weeks of my wincing when the water turned on and lukewarm beverages, we finally caved and bought a Brita pitcher. It eliminated the funky smell and taste, but it was a pain to have only one limited source of purified water.

Enter, The Bobble.

The Bobble is a water bottle with a built in carbon filter. It purifies your water as you drink! You can purchase replacement filters and they come in a variety of different colors. I got the pink one.

** If you are interested in purchasing a Bobble of your own, at some Target locations they are selling a Bobble with an extra filter for $14.99 (A regular 34 ounce Bobble retails for about $12.99 and a replacement filter runs about $6.99, but with this bundle you get your replacement filter for a mere $2!!)**

I was skeptical of such an ambitious product. I was skeptical that it could quickly filter out the unfortunate smell and taste in our tap water. If you own a Brita pitcher you know that you have to pour the water into the reservoir and wait for it to drain through the filter. Whereas with this product, there is no “pause for drain” and it filters in real time. So, given my distaste for the tap, you can understand my skepticism.

But folks, it works.

I was AMAZED! It works like a champ! The bottle itself is BPA and PVC free, so you can drink pure water in every sense.

A few other surprising pluses:

-The water doesn’t dribble out. You have to give it a good squeeze (filtering the water) and while that might be annoying to some, just remember, this means NO SPILLS. I feel comfortable carrying it in my purse, knowing it won’t be leaking all over.
-The bottle shape is aesthetically pleasing and fits in your hand comfortably. I didn’t think much about it, but the shape makes it easier to grip than most water bottles. Any other small handed people will appreciate this!
-When you replace the filter, you replace the entire mouthpiece. The filter is built into the mouthpiece so when you swap it out for a new one you can change the color AND you don’t have to worry about washing and disinfecting multiple pieces.

If you get a Bobble for yourself, let me know what you think! What is your favorite hydration product?

-Brittany

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Lessons From My Mother

I’m sorry for being such an absentee blogger! I probably sound like a broken record by now. But between,packing, staying on top of my online classes, and the million and one other little things that go along with moving, blogging has been the last thing on my mind. My parents were also gone all last week, so I was in charge of the house and both the dogs. That’s a lot of work for someone used to apartment life! But anyway…I have a new post for you tonight.

My mom has taught me so many things: how to cook with wine, how to dress for work in ultra conservative Washington DC without giving up my personal style, and how to get what I want without forgetting the good manners she also taught me (just to name a few). I’m sure I learn countless other lessons from her in the future. But one thing I really wanted to learn before I move away and see her in person less often, was how to make risotto (in case anyone out there has never had risotto, it’s an Italian grain that looks like rice but eats like pasta). She makes it fairly often and I love it! But I have yet to attempt it on my own. A lot of people think risotto is a challenging dish, but it’s really not. It just takes awhile to make (approximately 30-45 minutes, which isn’t too bad if it’s the main dish but quite long for a side dish) and requires a lot of attention. Nevertheless, I figured the chances of getting it right my first time weren’t very good, unless I made it with my mom. We originally intended to do it over Christmas break, but never had the time. So when she asked me what I wanted for dinner tonight, I asked if we could make risotto. She said yes and it turned out great! I’m hoping that means that I’ll be able to make completely on my own the next time 🙂

I apologize for the lack of pictures, I didn’t have my phone or camera handy and I didn’t think to go get it until halfway through the process (I know, I’m totally out of practice!). I did get a picture at the end though. So here are my my mom’s tips for mastering risotto (Any recipe will have more specific instructions, these are just tips that may or may not be included).

1. Before you start cooking the Arborio rice, set the broth to a low simmer. You don’t want to work with broth that is either room temperature or cold.

2. Once the arborio rice has been added to the olive oil, keep a close eye on it. When it looks mostly translucent with a tiny white dot in the center, you’re ready to start adding the broth

3. Don’t over stir the risotto. It cooks on low so it’s not going to burn as long as you’re watching it, and over stirring will disrupt the process

4. The most important part of making risotto correctly is to add the broth two or three ladelfulls at a time and wait for the rice to absorb it before adding more (don’t let it get too dry though). This is also what makes the dish so time consuming. It’s totally worth it though, trust me!

5. Make sure you regularly scrape down the sides of the pot because the rice can’t absorb the broth if it’s stuck to the side of the pot

6. If you’re adding cheese, save that step for the very end, also save your last cup of broth until right before you’re ready to serve it

That’s it, you’re done! following all of these steps will ensure that you can get

From this

Source

 To this

Risotto with chicken, rosemary, and caramelized onions

Now that’s something worth spending a little time on!

XO,

V

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Cupcakes CONQUERED!

I have finally conquered the cupcake.

I used to scoff at the show “Cupcake Wars,” saying, “how hard can it be to make a cupcake?!”

Well it can be extremely difficult, if you make them from scratch. When it comes to baking, I usually get myself a box of cake mix, add the eggs and oil, and POOF instant perfect cakes. I’m no baker, by nature. I feel cooking allows for more leeway and room for error. An overzealous hand with the garlic can take bland chicken to an exotic, zesty dish. However, baking is less forgiving. Too much flour, no baking powder, too much baking soda, over-mixing, under-mixing; there are numerous things that can go wrong.

I was determined to use my new stand mixer and make the best cupcakes. I’m all about icing, but I think the true test of a cupcake is the cake itself. It needs to be succulent (I hate the M word. Rhymes with hoist.) with a good crumble. It should be able to stand alone and be delicious without icing.

So I bought a book. I watched this video.

And I went to work!

Here’s a basic chocolate cupcake recipe, and it is delicious with my Coconut Buttercream Frosting (Trust me, I’ve tried it…several times….QUALITY ASSURANCE, PEOPLE!)

Chocolate Cupcakes

Ingredients:

-1 1/3 c all purpose flour

-1/4 tsp baking soda

-2 tsp baking powder

-3/4 c unsweetened cocoa powder

-3 TB butter

-1 1/2 c sugar

-2 eggs

-1 tsp vanilla extract

-1 c milk

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl cream the butter, sugar and vanilla extract. Add the milk and eggs and stir until combined.

2. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, salt, baking powder/soda and mix.

3. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix until combined. DO NOT OVERMIX. Take it from me, a chronic overmixer, they will turn out very tough and non cake-like!

4. Line 2 cupcake tins, add the batter to the tins, filling 3/4 of the way. This recipe made me 19 cupcakes…I don’t pour well. If you measure better I’m betting you could get the full 24!

5. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes

6. Remove and allow to cool on a cooling rack, frost and ENJOY!

These are SO tasty and delicious. They hold up well in the refrigerator, they have a nice crumb and they are succulent (read: M word, rhymes with “hoist”)

What is your favorite cupcake recipe? Have you tried the butterbeer cupcakes?

I feel like I see those butterbeer cupcakes everywhere lately! Especially on Pinterest!

Have a great day!

-Brittany

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Lovely Layers

This recipe is a Super Bowl staple, with a few twists!

Layered Dips are a classic party dish. The ingredients are easy to come by and vary based on your number of layers. I’ve got 2 tricks to take your layered dip to the next level!

Trick one: Make your own beans. Sure, you can go to the store and grab a can of refried beans, scoop out the congealed mass and beat it into submission with a spoon, OR (with a bit of pre-planning) you can whip up the beans from scratch. **Warning!** Once you make these from scratch, you won’t be able to eat canned refried beans again!**

Homemade Refried Beans

Ingredients:

-1 1/2 cups dried kidney beans

-1/2 large onion

-2-3 cloves of garlic

-1 generous TBS of Earth Balance (vegan butter) or regular butter

-Salt and pepper to taste

1. Rinse 1 1/2 cups of dried kidney beans in a strainer or colander

2. Cover beans with water, leaving about 2 inches of extra water.

3. Soak overnight

4. After soaking drain and rinse your beans and re-strain

5. Chop 1/2 large onion and 2 cloves of garlic

6. Add the onions and garlic to a warmed pot and cook until onions are translucent.

7. Add the beans and add enough water to cover the beans.

8. Give it a good stir and bring to boiling

9. Boil for 5 minutes then reduce to medium heat, cover and let cook for 1 1/2-2 hours
**dried kidney beans must be vigorously boiled and cooked.The kidney bean contains phytohemagglutinin, which is poisonous. Undercooking your kidney beans is not something I recommend!**

10. Drain some of the excess water, then using a potato masher, begin to mash the beans

11. Add the Earth Balance along with your other spices (taste to check and see if it is what you want!)

12. ENJOY!

Trick 2: Make your own Guacamole! It took me quite a few years to enjoy the taste of avocados, but now, I don’t know how I lived without them! There are a few decent pre-made guacamoles out there, but nothing beats freshly made guacamole!

My Standard Guacamole Recipe

-1-2 avocados

-1/2 a lemon

-garlic powder, Nature’s Seasons

Mash your avocados, add the juice from 1/2 a lemon, and add the spices to taste. Easy peasy!

(I’m allergic to cilantro, a common guac staple, so I make up for it with a generous amount of lemon juice and garlic.)

By making your own beans and guacamole you really bring major freshness and flavor to a common dish.

Here’s what my layered dip consisted of:

-Sour Cream (Mixed with 1 packet of Taco Seasoning)

-Refried Beans

-Sliced Olives

-Guacomole

-Shredded Cheese

Alternate each ingredient in a bowl or container. You can garnish with cilantro (if you’re not allergic, ahem) or diced tomatoes. Helpful Hint: alternate a “solid” (olives, cheese) between a “liquid” (Sour cream, guac) and use the back of your spoon to smooth out the layers. An offset spatula would also work wonders (depending on your container of choice) The trick is to spread the layers in the same way you would ice a cake!

Mine is a basic “recipe” but with the addition of 2 homemade components, it really takes it to another level!
While I made this yummy dip, I didn’t actually watch the Super Bowl. Some of us have to wake up early. Some of us are not naturally morning people. I mentioned this to my father the other day and he promptly responded with, “You’re not even a midday person! You’re a vampire!!” And then he proceeded to hiss and bellow “CLOSE THE CURTAINSSSSSSS” into the phone, repeatedly.

I love him.

What are your favorite Game Day snacks?

-Brittany

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On the Menu: Super Bowl Snacks

Which team are you cheering for this weekend?!

While I don’t really enjoy football, I support any sport that has snacks as a game day requirement.

This weekend I will be creating some layered dips and clever casseroles. I’m all about finding ways to maximize kitchen efficiency! I will also give you a delicious Fettucini Alfredo recipe!

What’s on your agenda this weekend? Are you a football fan? 

Last year’s Super Bowl was when Ryan and I became an official couple, so it holds a very special place in my heart!

I’m looking forward to creating some super snacks!

Side Note: Does anyone else watch the show “Infested” on Animal Planet?

My skin is CRAWLING! It’s so hard to watch and yet I can’t look away. It’s all about people living in places that are infested by insects, rodents, parasites, etc. IT IS TERRIBLE. We’ve watched episodes on on bed bugs, roaches, bird mites, opossums, scorpions, brown recluse spiders and so much more. The last few episodes I watched were filmed in Texas cities.
I turned to Ryan and said, “I don’t know how I made it out of there unscathed!” He then pointed out that I hadn’t actually lived in those cities, I had just lived in that state.

Logic. Sucks.

Either way, I’ve decided that the best method for eliminating these pests is fire. LOTS OF FIRE. They seem to be able to survive insecticide and bug bombs, but I’m betting a healthy amount of lighter fluid and a match would solve that problem real quick.

 

Have a Happy Superbowl (and Infested) weekend!!!

-Brittany

Images sources:   source  source

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Change Can Be Good

I’m back! It’s been a crazy few days, and I’m on quite an emotional roller coaster as moving day gets closer and closer. In the meantime, I’ve had a couple small fun changes.

As I mentioned, I’m staying at my parents’ house until I move for good. There are definite downsides to this, as my parents and I are both quite used to our privacy. But there are good things too, one of them being my mom and her kitchen! I did cook dinner last night because it was one of the days that my mom had to make her hour round trip to a nearby city to help out her parents (I made Hearty Vegetarian Pasta). But the rest of the time, my mom cooks dinner and you know I’m enjoying it! (both her cooking and not having to do the cooking myself. Haha!). I’m also taking full advantage of her huge and very well stocked kitchen. Remember my pasta creation from day 2 of Eating Simply? Well I recreated that for lunch yesterday. But this time I used this amazing tuscan herb infused olive oil my mom has (I meant to go to this specialty store where she gets it and buy my own bottle, but it never happened and now I couldn’t move it with me) and added pine nuts. Holy yum! I definitely need to find some flavored olive oil somewhere in my new city.

Also, my new phone arrived today! My iPhone 3GS is the first cell phone I’ve ever had that hasn’t started dying a slow and painful death more than a year before I’m eligible for an upgrade. Score! However, it has started showing its age recently. So I decided to upgrade to the  iPhone 4S before I left so I would have reliable means of communication when I’m in a brand new city all by myself, and so that I can keep my current number. I love it!

Yes, the case is cheetah print. Why are you surprised ;p

Finally, I dyed my hair tonight! I’ve had blonde highlights and dyed my hair red in the past (I LOVE my hair red but red dye fades super fast and is expensive to maintain). But it’s been a long time since I changed my hair color. I was looking in the mirror the other day and noticed how blah my natural hair color is. But I don’t have the time or the money to keep up a professional dye job right now. And then I thought, why don’t I buy a store bought dye? In the past I never trusted them, and preferred to have a professional do it. But I know a lot of people who dye their own hair and it looks great. So I enlisted my mom’s help. I didn’t want to attempt dyeing my own hair for the first time, but I trusted her. I bought John Freida precision foam color because my mom’s best friend had recently used that to dye her daughter’s hair and they really liked it. I wasn’t looking to go blonde or anything, I just wanted a darker richer shade of brown. So I bought the color called dark chocolate brown. I was really hoping it would turn out well, because i tried to go darker once before and it ended up looking exactly the same. Here’s a before shot:

Please ignore the frizzy hair, I figured I shouldn't use any styling product right before dyeing it

And here’s the after shot:

Exactly what I wanted!

I took these pictures all by myself with my new phone’s front facing camera 🙂 There are a lot of really big changes coming in less than a week, so I’m enjoying these minor ones while I can.

Question of the night: Are you one of those people who loves change, or do you avoid it whenever possible?

XO,
V

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