Monday, March 26, 2012

The One with the Jam

Anyone else know why I chose this particular episode of Friends for the post's title?  The following is a (big) hint:

Joey: Remember when your mom used to drop you off at the movies with a jar of jam and a spoon?
Rachel: You're so pretty.

You're so pretty - That is one of my favorite quotes from Friends and that is what I thought about while making this jam.  When I came across this recipe, I was very excited because the recipe included three ingredients - Berries, agave and lemon.  It is a super simple recipe and the outcome is delicious.

The original recipe calls for just strawberries.  That's what I used in the first batch, but I ate all of it before I had a chance to take photos for this post.  Whoops!  I had no issues whipping up another batch of the jam, but this time I used strawberries, raspberries and blueberries.  This is why the last picture has a blueberry in it since I never got to shoot the final result!  I threw in the raspberries and blueberries since I had only a handful of each and thought it wouldn't hurt.  I think you could use any combination of berries in this recipe.  Next time I will double the recipe since I am literally eating the second batch by the spoonful and it's going quickly!  I may even make a strawberry mojito version since I have fresh mint on hand.  Yum!

With Easter around the corner, this jam would make a nice hostess gift - Just put the jam in a cute jar and add some pretty ribbon or twine.  I would be completely happy if the Easter Bunny left a jar of this in my basket!

You can find the full recipe here.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Homemade Refried Beans

ohmygosh!  I think know these are the best refried beans I've. Ever. Had.  I want to plant my face right into a huge bowl of these beans!  I literally just cleaned my serving bowl with my finger and that's only because the bowl was too small for me to get my face into.  These are just too good not to make!  Upon finishing a bowl of beans, I sent an invite out to my friends for a Cinco de Mayo party.  Doesn't everyone plan a party around a dish of refried beans?  Well, they should!

I decided to make these on a particularly warm March day (75 degrees!).  While the beans simmered away on the stovetop, I had the windows open while dancing around to One Direction.  I'm secretly a tween.  Even with the windows open, the delicious smell of the beans and bacon wafted throughout the house.  Apparently, you could smell them outside as well because my neighbor interrupted my dance session came up to my kitchen window and asked what smelled so good!

The recipe is really simple - Much of the time it takes to make these beans is just waiting for them to cook.  The only real prep time (should you choose to soak the beans beforehand) is very minimal.  This is a great recipe to make while you're cleaning the house or folding laundry since the beans need to simmer for around two hours.  The recipe didn't call for bacon but I decided to add it for a smoky flavor.  Also, next time I make these I think I'll add smoked paprika instead of just regular paprika.  The flavor of these beans is like none I've ever had before.  They addition of brown sugar and onions makes them sweet, yet the red pepper flakes adds a nice spicy kick.

Homemade Refried Beans
Serves: 10

2 1/2 cups dried pinto beans
3 quarts water
2 strips of uncooked bacon, diced
1 onion, chopped
1/2 T. red pepper flakes (more or less to taste)
1/2 T. paprika
2 T. brown sugar
4 T. salt, or as needed

1. If possible, soak pinto beans overnight. This will cut down your cooking time a lot. If not, it’s okay. Instructions are the same as below.
2. Rinse the beans to get off any dirt.
3. Add the beans and bacon to a pot and cover with the water. Make sure there is at least 3-4 inches of water above the beans. Bring to a boil and simmer for for 2 1/2 hours (about 1 1/2 hours for pre-soaked beans).  I kept the pot covered until the beans came to a boil.  Then I half removed the lid so the beans would continue to simmer, but not boil over.

4. Once the beans are cooked, reserve 1 cup of the water, then drain the rest. Set aside.
5. In a skillet, saute the onions, red pepper flakes, paprika, and brown sugar for about 5 minutes. Add this to the pot where the beans are and add the reserved cup of water.

6. Using an immersion blender, lightly blend the beans until they’re the consistency you want. If you don’t have an immersion blender, you can use a pastry blender. It gives a coarser consistency than the immersion blender since it’s harder to get every bean.
7. Season with salt as needed. Keep tasting it occasionally - I added only about 1 1/2 tsp to the entire pot. This is also where you can add more red pepper flakes if desired.

I'm off to eat myself into a refried bean coma for a run.  Make these soon!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Homemade Bailey's Irish Cream

I hope you all enjoyed your St. Patrick's Day.  It was a great, but very busy and fast weekend!  I had two birthday parties to attend - One of which was for my dad.  As soon as I found this recipe for homemade Bailey's Irish Cream, I knew I had to try it.  I thought it would make the perfect gift for my dad since he's a big fan of the liqueur.

The recipe I used happens to be vegan because it calls for coconut milk as opposed to cream.  I enjoyed the end result because it had a nice hint of coconut.  It may be because I used cream of coconut instead of full fat coconut milk, but everyone seemed to enjoy it.  If you do use cream of coconut, please note that once the liqueur has chilled the fat will separate and rise to the top.  I simply strained the liquid into another bowl and it was fine after that.  The liqueur will separate but that is because no emulsifier was added to prevent separation (vegetable oil is added to the real deal to prevent this from happening).  It's not a big deal - Just be sure to shake or whisk the liqueur before using.

Since I gave this to my dad for his birthday, we all made sure to do a celebratory shot (or three) in honor of the birthday boy.  My brother and I opted to toast my dad with some car bombs - Man are they good with homemade Irish cream!  This is a super simple recipe and is delicious on its own or with your morning coffee.  :)  You can find the full recipe here at Oh She Glows.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Irish Bread

I'm excited to share this family recipe with you.  It's one of my favorites and I look forward to making this every March.  My mom calls this bread scawn, but I just don't like the name.  It's...  Weird.  So, it's my blog and I will refer to the bread as just Irish bread.  :)  Every year I look forward to St. Patrick's Day because of this bread.  My family may be the only one that associates this holiday with food but you would too if your mom made this every year for as long as you can remember!

I dug out the recipe and decided I wanted to adapt it to make a healthier version - There are a few swaps that can be made to beef up the nutritional value of this recipe.  I replaced part of the all purpose flour with whole wheat pastry flour.  I also used skim milk and only half the amount of sugar.  Truth be told, I was unable to tell I used less sugar and I plan on using my version of the recipe from now on.  Good thing my mom doesn't know how to surf the web so she won't see that I prefer my recipe over hers!  ;)

Irish Bread
Serves: 1  :)

4 cups all purpose flour (You can substitute up to half of the flour with whole wheat pastry flour)
1/2 - 1 cup sugar
5 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cups raisins (I used a combination of golden and Thompson)
2 eggs
About 1 1/4 cups skim milk (or fat free buttermilk)
1 tsp. vanilla
1/4 cup granulated or green sanding sugar
Nonstick spray

Preheat oven to 350.  Prepare two 9x5 or 8x4 loaf pans by spraying with nonstick spray and set aside.  Tip: I find using the 8x4 disposable foil pans are great for this recipe as I usually give away one loaf.  I also prefer the smaller pan as the loaf bakes up a bit taller than when you bake the bread in the 9x5 loaf pan.

Combine flour through raisins.  Add the eggs to a 2 cup liquid measuring cup and beat together.  Add enough milk so that the eggs and milk equal 1 1/2 cups.  Add the vanilla and add the mixture to the dry ingredients.  Stir until just combined.  The dough will be sticky, so resist the urge to add more flour.

Evenly divide the dough between the prepared loaf pans and bake for about 40 minutes.  Optional: While the bread is baking, combine the sugar and enough water for a thin glaze (You can also sprinkle sugar directly on the dough before baking).  It's not necessary to add the sugar, but it adds a nice crunch to the top.

After 40 minutes of baking, brush the top of the bread with the glaze and bake for another 10 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

This bread is great toasted and topped with some delicious Irish butter.


Sunday, March 11, 2012

Spinach and Basil Pesto with Lemon

St. Patrick's Day is less than a week away so I decided I would share a few recipes inspired by the holiday.  While pesto doesn't tend to come to mind when you think of traditional St. Patrick's Day fare, the color is definitely on point!  Also, with spring right around the corner, this is a great recipe that pairs well with seafood and chicken as well as pasta.

I'm always looking for easy weeknight meals and pesto comes together really quickly so it is a great option for those nights you need something fast.  It also freezes well so you can always double the recipe and put any unused portion in a zip-top bag and freeze for another meal.

Since I was serving this with pasta and shrimp, I decided to add lemon zest to the mix.  That's one of the great things about pesto - You can add in anything from cilantro to sundried tomatoes.  I also added spinach to increase the nutritional value - Any way to fit in a veggie!  This recipe is super simple because you toss everything in a food processor and let it whirl (I made mine in a food processor but you can easily make it in a blender).


Spinach and Basil Pesto with Lemon
Serves: 4

3 handfuls of fresh spinach
2 handfuls of basil
1-2 cloves garlic
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
Zest and juice from 1/2 a lemon
1/4-1/3 cup olive oil
Salt & pepper

Add everything but the olive oil into a food processor.  Cover and begin blending while streaming in the olive oil.  I like my pesto a bit on the thicker side if I'm serving it with pasta.  I'll use the pasta water to thin it out some.  If I am serving this over chicken, I'll add a bit more olive oil so it's slightly thinner.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Homemade Thin Mints

Happy March!  I don't know about you, but I think the year is flying by very quickly.  I did manage to make it through the first couple of months without buying any Girl Scout cookies (or eating any, for that matter).  But, I felt a bit left out, so I decided I would make some cookies from scratch.

Thin mints are one of my favorite Girl Scout cookies and when I stumbled upon this recipe, I decided I needed to make them...  And soon!  I suppose I could just buy a dozen boxes box to benefit the Girl Scouts, but what fun is that?  Besides, this way, I can control the quality of the ingredients and I can feel better about eating them all in one sitting.

These were not the easiest cookies to make.  While the technique is very basic, it's a bit time consuming when it comes time to dipping the cookies in chocolate.  It also gets a tad messy, but again, that's part of the fun!  Because of the time these took to roll out and coat in chocolate, I will make these again, but only for a special occasion.

While the cookie isn't an exact replica of what you would buy from your friend in a green beret.  Wait.  Do Girl Scouts wear green berets?  Or am I confusing them with the army???  Whichever, these cookies have a very similar texture and taste to the original.  I suggest keeping these in the refrigerator or freezer as they don't contain any stabilizers to keep the chocolate from melting.  The only thing I would change is adding more peppermint to the chocolate coating and maybe a dash to the dough.  Otherwise, I wouldn't change a thing.

Oh, and the only reason I made these heart shaped is that I didn't have a small enough circle cookie cutter and this was the closest I could find to the size listed in the recipe.  For a the full recipe visit Handle the Heat.

Go forth and prosper.  Or serve God and your country.  Whatever it is Girl Scouts swear to do - Is it obvious I wasn't a Girl Scout?