Another Little Taste of Fall

I am engaged in a long-standing love affair with Starbuck’s. To be specific, Starbuck’s pumpkin spice latte. Also their gingerbread latte, but the pumpkin spice one will be in the cards a bit sooner.

But let’s face it: their drinks ain’t cheap. I only indulge in the “real thing” every once in a while.

In my recent fall craving (it’s supposed to be 95 degrees here today; my craving is woefully premature) I wanted one of these decadent treats. But Starbuck’s isn’t even selling them yet. What to do?

Figure out how to make my own, of course. And seriously, this turned out to be one of the easiest and most rewarding kitchen experiments in quite a while.

Pumpkin Spice Syrup

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 C. sugar
  • 3/4 C. water
  • 6 whole cloves
  • 6 whole allspice
  • 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
  • 2 cinnamon stick (or 2 tsp. ground cinnamon)
  • 2 Tbsp. pumpkin puree.

Step 1: put everything in a saucepan together.

Stir it all together and heat it until it’s boiling.

Step 2: Reduce the heat and simmer for about 10 minutes.

Step 3: Let it cool to room temperature, then pour it through a fine-meshed sieve to remove the whole spices. Store in a 1/2 pint mason jar in the fridge for up to two months.

So if you, too, crave this tasty treat from Starbuck’s, whip up a batch of this syrup, and drizzle some into your next cup of coffee.

The Wife

Messing with a Good Thing

I have been making this granola every weekend for over a year now. I could do it in my sleep. I haven’t changed anything, or tweaked it since I got it “just so”. It is perfect: just the right balance of sweet and cinnamon, with extra pecans thrown in.

But this week was different. I have been craving fall; fall weather, fall flavors, fall smells. And while September in SE Texas is decidedly not fall, I still start to crave the season right when September begins.

So this week I’m diving in and breaking out my fall recipes. I’m still cooking light for summer, but there are a lot of “extras” I make for fall that I’m starting to make now. Because my internal season gauge and TX weather don’t jive yet.

The first thing I did was mess around with my granola recipe to make it more “fall-ish”. I’m not going to post a full recipe, because it’s still mostly the same; I just made a few substitutions.

Instead of olive oil and honey for the liquids, I used 1 C. of pumpkin puree, 1/4 C. of honey, and 1/4 C. of maple syrup (okay, I used the fake stuff, so sue me).

I dialed down the cinnamon, but shouldn’t have. Keep it the same. I also forgot to add the coconut, but that was an accident. Don’t be like me.

The end result was very maple-y. It was darker in color than the other granola, and the pumpkin taste didn’t shine through as much as I would have liked. Next time I’m going to up the pumpkin and dial back the maple just a touch.

But it was still very tasty and reminded me of pancakes.I am now determined to find a “fall” flavor for my granola, so this might not be the last you hear of it.

It definitely won’t be the last you hear of fall flavors, either.

Can September 1st be the official start of fall? Please?

The Wife

 

Burgers with a Twist

You all may have noticed that I don’t grill. I am fully capably of operating that beast of a cooking device in our backyard, but it is not something I enjoy. The Renaissance Man, on the other hand, loves the variability of it; getting the temperature, ingredients, and time balanced perfectly to create the ultimate burger, steak, or side. I love the things he grills, and so I will not de-throne him from “grillmaster” status.

Instead, I recently purchased a cast iron indoor grill and griddle (from Lodge, of course).  This way, if I need to sear some steak or grill  some chicken, I can do it quickly, without having to put on shoes.

The first thing I made was a black bean quinoa burger. I can’t compete with TRM’s burgers, so I don’t even try.

These were originally supposed to be vegetarian, but TRM expressed some hesitation, so I added ground beef. I think I would have preferred them meatless, but I’m not just cooking for myself.

Black Bean Quinoa Burgers

  • 1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1/4 C. quinoa
  • 1/2 C. water
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 Lb. ground beef (optional)
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 C. bread crumbs
  • 2 tsp. Italian seasoning
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cucumber, sliced
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp. balsamic vinaigrette
  • 4 large portabella mushrooms
  • feta cheese for topping

Step 1: Prepare the quinoa by combining the quinoa and water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then let it simmer, covered for 25 minutes.

Step 2: While the quinoa is cooking, preheat you grill (outdoor or indoor) If it’s an indoor grill, preheat it on medium heat.

Step 3: Mix together the black beans (mash them a bit with a fork first), onion, ground beef (if using), egg, bread crumbs, Italian seasoning, and salt and pepper. Mush everything together and set it aside for a moment.

Step 4: Slice the cucumber thinly and place in a bowl. Drizzle olive oil and balsamic vinegar over the slices. Add a little salt and pepper and toss the cucumber around. Put it in the fridge until you need them.

Step 5: When the quinoa is done, mix it in with the other burger ingredients. Form the mixture into patties and set aside.

Step 6: Once the grill is hot, place the portabellas on it and let them cook for about 5 minutes per side, or until they are soft through.

Step 7: Remove the portabellas to a plate once they are soft. Place the burger patties on the grill.

Cook them until they are done through (or hot through, if there is no meat). It took about 5-7 minutes per side.

Note: My onions were not chopped finely enough, so a few of the burgers tried to fall apart on me. Don’t chop them like the are in the picture. Chop them super fine.

To serve, place a portabella gill side up on a plate. Top with some cucumber slices, then a burger, then sprinkle feta on top.

This was a wonderful, light meal with a lot of Mediterranean flavor. We both enjoyed it.

Do you cook vegetarian meals, even though you’re not a vegetarian? I’m curious if I’m alone in this…

The Wife

Another Healthy Make-Ahead Breakfast

I’m sure many of you are wondering why I am so obsessed with make-ahead breakfasts lately. Or maybe it’s just me. But there’s a good reason, I promise.

Since I’ve been watching what I eat (mostly watching it as it disappears into my stomach) I have realized that I have to eat breakfast. Because if I don’t, I snack on weird things while I’m at work (like peanut butter, or mac and cheese). When I snack, I blow my calories on weird stuff, and then I am over my calorie count for the day after dinner.

So I’ve been amassing an array of low-calorie, filling, and delicious breakfasts that I can make over the weekend. Because I am never hungry for breakfast, and unless there’s something already prepared, I am not going to make myself breakfast.

So far I’ve done homemade granola, and homemade yogurt. I eat the two together. I also have been making bran muffins every once in a while to mix it up.

But this is something new. I kept coming across recipes for overnight oatmeal, or refrigerator oatmeal. I finally decided to see what all the fuss was about.

The fuss is about an easy to make, creamy, delicious treat that is only limited by your imagination.

Overnight Oatmeal

Ingredients (per jar):

  • 1/4 C. oats (old-fashioned or quick)
  • 1/4 C. plain yogurt
  • 1/4 C. milk (regular, almond or soy. Pick your poison)
  • 1 1/2 tsp. chia seeds
  • 1 tsp. sweetener (again, this is up to you)

This is the basic recipe. You can easily add any fruit and flavorings that you like.

Step 1: Combine all ingredients in a 1/2 pint mason jar.

I used almond milk, honey for my sweetener, and a splash of vanilla in each jar.

Step 2: Close the jar and shake it up.

Step 3: Open the jar and add fruit, nuts, and/or spices to fill the jar. These had cherries added.

Step 4: Place in the refrigerator overnight.

Step 5: Enjoy in the morning cold, right out of the jar.

These were cherry vanilla flavored. I have also used blueberries, and left out the vanilla. There really is no end to the combinations. Next I’m going to experiment with cocoa and bananas…

The Wife

Cuban Revised

The Renaissance Man and I are lovers of many different ethnic cuisines. We eat Tex Mex, love sushi, and make Indian at home. We also like Cuban food, but Cuban restaurants seem hard to come by.

Fun fact: my bachelorette party started out at a Cuban restaurant (I miss you, Boogaloo!).

But I had never looked into making Cuban at home, until a recipe search introduced me to a dish called Ropa Vieja. It sounded amazing; lots of cumin mixed with shredded skirt steak and vegetables.  But, it had tomatoes,  and I only had chicken, so I had to overhaul the recipe.

I’m sure this does not even remotely resemble the actual Cuban dish, but boy, was it delicious.

Tomato-less Chicken Ropa Vieja

Ingredients:

  • 3-4 chicken breasts
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • 2 onions,  one quartered, one chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 2 bell peppers, red and green, chopped
  • 3/4 C. white wine
  • 2 tsp. cumin
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • brown rice
  • plantain

Step 1: Place chicken breasts, carrot, quartered onion, and two garlic cloves into a pot and cover with water. Or place the same into a crock pot.

If cooking on the stovetop, simmer  the ingredients for 30 minutes. If using a crock pot, cook on HIGH for four hours.

Step 2: Once the chicken is almost done, chop the remaining vegetables, and mince the remaining garlic.

Step 3: Once the chicken is done, remove it from the pot and shred it. Reserve 3/4 C. of the cooking liquid. Note: I froze the remaining liquid for the next time I need chicken stock.

Step 4: Add a little olive oil to a large, deep skillet. Heat the oil, then add the peppers, onion, and garlic. Cook until the onion begins to soften.

Step 5: Once the onion begins to soften, add the shredded chicken, the reserved chicken stock, the wine, and the seasonings. Stir everything together and let it simmer for ten minutes.

Step 6: While the chicken is cooking, prepare some brown rice. Put a pan of oil over medium-high heat. There should be enough oil to fry the plantain in.

Step 7: Peel the plantain. Cut it in half and then lengthwise into slices.

Once the oil is hot, lay the plantain slices in the pan. Fry for two minutes a side. They should be caramelized when done. Set them on paper towels to drain.

Step 7: Serve the chicken over brown rice with plantains on the side.

If you want, you can add a diced tomato to the chicken stock liquid before cooking the chicken, and add some tomato paste to the chicken when you add the wine and stock.

Without the tomatoes, this dish was very light, and the sweet plantain went very well with it.

Plus, we’re going to use the leftovers to make nachos later in the week. I love repurposing leftovers.

The Wife

 

Simple Blueberry Muffins

For a very long time (too long, in my opinion) I was a frequent buyer of boxed blueberry muffin mix. They taste good, they’re easy to make, and those tins full of tiny blueberries are irresistable.

Irresistable, that is, until I found this recipe for Texas blueberry muffins. Yup, I was cooking like a Texan before I was one!

One reason I love this recipe is because it calls for plain yogurt. The yogurt gives it a nice slightly tangy taste. The original recipe called for sour cream, but I found that when I used sour cream, they tasted kin of like corn muffins. Which is weird, but what can you do?

Whip up a batch of these muffins today, and just grab one and go all week long. They’re good with all-purpose, or whole wheat flour.

Texas Blueberry Muffins

Ingredients:

  • 1 stick of butter, softened
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/4 C. sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 C. plain yogurt
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 C. flour
  • 2 C. blueberries (fresh or frozen)

Step 1: Cream the butter and sugar together. Add the eggs and beat until smooth. Mix in the yogurt and vanilla.

Step 2: Combine all the dry ingredients and mix into the wet ingredients.

Step 3: Fold in the blueberries. Spoon into a lined or greased muffin tin.

Step 4: Bake at 400 degrees for 25 minutes.

The upside to baking muffins at 5:30 in the morning: you get to eat muffins. The downside: I was too sleepy to remember to take a picture of a finished muffin. Just imagine a picture of a blueberry muffin here:

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Wife

 

I Call This “Rustic”

I know a lot of people like to call imperfectly prepared meals “rustic”. I am one of them. This is especially true when I make pies. My crust is never neat and tidy. instead, it always wrinkles in the wrong places, or doesn’t cover the right spots.

But guess what: no matter what shape it takes, it always tastes great.

This is a great chicken pot pie recipe, but it is rather labor-intensive. I like to split up the steps and do a little bit at a time, over the course of the day. But you can make it all at once.

Sometimes we need a little “rustic” in our lives.

Chicken Pot pie

Ingredients:

  • 2 pie crusts (I make mine from scratch)
  • 3 chicken breasts
  • 1 potato, cubed
  • 1/2 C. carrots, sliced
  • 1 C. snow peas
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 3/12 C. chicken broth
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 C. milk
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1/2 C. flour

Step 1: Make the pie crusts and refrigerate. Or buy some from the store and refrigerate.

Step 2: cube the chicken. Put the chicken and chopped veggies in a saucepan with the chicken broth. Bring to a boil, then simmer covered for 10 minutes.

Step 2: After everything has simmered and the chicken is cooked through, strain the mixture, reserving the broth and the meat and veggies in two separate bowls (at this point I usually stop and resume cooking closer to dinner time).

Step 3: Roll out one of the crusts to fit a pie pan or baking dish. I use this big baking dish because I can fit more filling into it. When I use a pie pan, I always have half the filling left over.

Bake the bottom crust for 10 minutes at 350 degrees.

Step 4: While the bottom crust is baking, melt the butter in a saucepan. Whisk in the flour and a little salt and pepper. Slowly whisk in the reserved chicken broth and the milk. Add the chicken and veggies.

Step 5: Cook the chicken mixture until it begins to thicken. Pour it into the baked bottom crust.

You will note that the filling is overflowing the crust. This is what I meant by “rustic”.

Step 6: Roll out the top crust and lay it over the filling. Cut a few vents in the top crust.

Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes.

This chicken pot pie is wonderful with white flour pie crust, as well as whole wheat. The photos feature whole wheat.

The Wife