Saturday, November 22, 2008


I made it -- I am blogging on location in Malaysia!! So far, I am loving being in a country as diverse culturally, linguistically, and religiously as Malaysia. I know that big things are going to happen both in me and through our work during this trip. And -- the food is a-ma-zing. Seriously. Curry is my new best friend. As is dal. And roti. And naan bread. And cipati. And dim sum. And . . . well, you get the idea.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Going Radio Silent

This is it! I'm leaving for Malaysia today! I doubt that I'll have blogging opportunities, so I'm signing off until December. Farewell, blogosphere!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Soggy Rice Pudding

This week's recipe for Tuesdays with Dorie was Arborio Rice Pudding, either chocolate or vanilla. Being a fan of regular pudding as well as what seems to be its close relatives like yogurt and cottage cheese, I was all for trying this recipe. Unfortunately, all did not go as planned.

I got all of my ingredients together, and soon had the rice and milk simmering away on the stove. After the allotted time, when Dorie's recipe says that the rice should have absorbed 80 to 90% of the milk, my mixture still looked pretty watery. I ended up cooking the concoction for close to an hour, nearly ruining the pot in the process. And even then, the pudding seemed soupy. On top of that concern, I forgot to add the sugar until the last ten or so minutes of cooking. Whoops.

Unwilling to concede defeat, I stirred in the vanilla extract, lay a sheet of plastic wrap over the pudding, and placed it in the refrigerator to set. Six or more hours later, I dished some up for dessert after dinner, sprinkling a little cinnamon on top. The result? Still watery!! After reading some of the comments and complaints of other TWD participants, it seems that many upped the amount of arborio rice or cut back on the milk. Ah, well. In terms of taste, though, this dessert was sweet, cool, and light, perfect for a summer picnic or snack. For me, the biggest perk of this venture was the opportunity it afforded to use a number of my brand new pink mixing bowls from the Best Husband Ever!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Adios, Barbie

I'm sick, so you'll have to excuse the utter lameness of this post. I was going to write a lengthy review of a website I came across recently, Adios Barbie. But my head feels fuzzy, so you should just go check it out for yourself. The website promotes healthy female body images, and is pretty cool.

Although I do disagree in how the site leans more toward the view that curves are always fabulous, no matter what, which I think can sometimes turn into a an excuse to not take care of your body. I feel that a curvy woman who makes nutritious diet and exercise choices is darn sexy. But completely neglecting your health in the name of revolutionizing western physical feminine ideals just seems irresponsible and even a little bit lazy. I'm not saying that every woman has to be a body builder, but maintaining a minimum of physical activity in addition to a steady diet is in our best interests. We'll be strong, feel strong, and be better able to lead energized lives. And it's just an extra special bonus that we'll look lovelier, too. Let's take care of the skins we inhabit, ladies, and then use them to change the world!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Portrait of the Muffin as a Young Sandwich

Muffins rock my world. And not just the cousin of that usurper confection, the pretentious cupcake. As much fun as muffins are with their little beer belly tops and fruity fillings, I also enjoy English muffins. I'm not really sure what qualifies English muffins as muffins in the first place, but I'm also not complaining. They are tasty with a little bit of jam, or something more savory like cream cheese, hummus, and peanut butter.

Since the Best Husband Ever and I bought a bulk-sized package of English muffins from Costco recently, they've been infiltrating every meal of the day. I love spreading a toasted English muffin with pumpkin butter for breakfast (or really any time -- pumpkin butter never tastes bad!), or making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich of it. Topping one of these puppies with a wedge of garlic Laughing Cow Swiss cheese when it's fresh from the toaster oven is heavenly.

The go-to sandwich of the week, however, involves hummus. So tangy, simple, and healthy, especially when it's extra garlicky! A standard English muffin hummus 'wich lunch is quick to prepare in the morning and keeps pretty well. Here's my sandwich-making technique!

First I spread each half of the English muffin with a tablespoon of hummus. I like to have a little more substance to a sandwich than hummus alone can provide, so I add some veggies. Sprouts and dill pickles are perfect, but I didn't have any on hand. Instead, I thinly sliced a mushroom and lay the pieces over one half of the muffin.

Then I added a couple of spoonfuls of pickled red cabbage. This will make the bread a little soggy (I try to keep the spoon as free from extraneous liquid as possible), but I like it that way!

Place the other half of the muffin on top of the vegetables and -- voila! You're done! Enjoy your amazing hummus sandwich! Some good variations might be to toast the muffin before building the sandwich, adding a slice of turkey, or sprinkling a little feta over the veggie toppings.

In this particular bento lunch, the spotlight sandwich generously shared the stage with a salad with peanut ginger dressing. I also packed some roasted Brussels sprouts, mushrooms, and grapes, and some cottage cheese mixed with a spoonful of apple butter. A tasty lunch? You betcha!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Home Sweet Home

Yesterday was a rare treat. In our school district, this week was scheduled for parent-teacher conferences. Which meant that I, a para educator, had Friday off while the certified teachers conducted the meetings. I took advantage of the time to do some things that a) I've been wanting to do, or b) need to get done, especially for my impending Malaysia trip (4 more days until lift-off!).

On my fun to-do list were some extracurricular cooking adventures. So I spent the morning baking Amish friendship bread, trying out a recipe for Tuesdays with Dorie (more on that on Tuesday, of course!), and experimenting for the Royal Foodie Joust. Even though I botched the bread-making and may have destroyed a perfectly good pot in my TWD efforts, it was so peaceful and rejuvenating. The light was streaming in through the windows in all its cozy, almost-winter glory. The dogs were peacefully snoozing. Bluegrass music draped itself over every surface. I soaked up every rejuvenating second.

Do you ever have an at-home experience like that? I miss being here in the mornings, having to work all week and then attending church on Sundays. Saturday mornings tend to be occupied with bakery excursions. All that adds up to me being out of the house when that perfect morning light is filling up the living room. I love it when home feels so very sweet-home-y.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Eggs, Cowboy-Style

It's old news that I heart Mexican food. A lot. I mean, what's not to like? Gooey cheese . . . sour cream and salsa . . . beans galore . . . and, my favorite, guacamole. Mexican can't be beat in my book! Plus, Mexican foods can be quick and simple to prepare as well as be extremely healthful and filling. Yum!

We'll come back to the Mexican. When I saw this month's ingredients for the Royal Foodie Joust hosted by The Leftover Queen, I have to admit that I was stumped -- at first. The three required ingredients are coffee, black peppercorns, and honey. My initial inclination was toward a savory scone, bread, or pfeffernusse cookie, muffin-lover that I am. From there I started thinking about some sort of tangy, cowboy coffee-inspired pancake. My creative juices flowing along the barbecue vein at this point, I finally decided to create my own sauce/marinade.

I combined both sweet and spicy flavors in a liquid base of lime juice and brewed coffee. Pumpkin puree also made its way into the mix to add a little thickness. I then simmered the concoction over low heat for 45 minutes or so. This could probably be cut down a little by upping the heat, but I wanted to give the sauce time to cook off some of the liquid without burning the rest. Also, I didn't use just black peppercorns but a medley of black, white, pink, and green peppercorns. Not only did these little gems add some fun color to the sauce, but they lent a lighter spice than plain black peppercorns.

Finally, the sauce was ready to be put into action. But how? Here's where my Mexican food fetish comes in. For lunch today, I decided to make one of my favorite south-of-the-border meals: huevos rancheros. Except this time, I spread some of my brand new sauce over the black beans, corn, and wheat tortilla before cracking an egg into the middle of the mess. I sprinkled a little jalapeno soy cheddar over the top, drizlled a little more of the sauce, and then closed it into my toaster oven for about twenty minutes.

When the egg was set, I topped the entire thing with more cheese, quark, and a little mango-peach salsa. Paired with a seasonal flavored yogurt from Safeway (caramel apple, which was not my favorite) and a salad with balsamic and Dijon mustard, this meal truly hit the spot on a chilly almost-winter afternoon. The sauce really brought a special smokey-sweet zing to the table (no pun intended!). I have more sauce stored away in the fridge that I think will probably end up marinating over some chicken in my slow cooker next week. And what's more, I have a feeling that that chicken is going to be one tasty bird!

Huevos Rancheros

1 tortilla
1/4 cup black beans
1/4 cup corn
1/4 cup diced pineapple
1/4 cup cheddar
1 egg

3 T Cowboy Sauce (see below)
toppings of your choice (sour cream, quark, avocado, salsa, etc.)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (I used my toaster oven, and upped the temperature to 400 because it's a little on the weak side). On a tray lightly coated in non-stick spray, place one tortilla (I used a wheat tortilla that measured about 8 inches in diameter).

In a separate bowl, mix the beans (I used black, but feel free to use refried, kidney, or any other bean of your choosing), corn, pineapple, and 2 Tablespoons of Cowboy Sauce. Arrange this mixture in the middle of the tortilla in a circle, leaving a space in the center. Into this space crack one egg. Sprinkle about half of the cheddar cheese over the top of the egg and beans, then place the tray in the oven.

Bake for 15 minutes. When the egg is set to your liking, remove the tray from the oven. Slide the [very hot!] tortilla onto a plate, and spread the rest of the cheese over the top. Garnish with your favorite toppings, then chow down vaquero-style.* Yeehaw!

Serves 1.

Cowboy Sauce

1/2 tsp hot sauce
1/4 cup lime juice
1/2 cup brewed coffee
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup tomato sauce
1/4 cup pumpkin puree

4 tsp brown sugar
1/4 cup honey
2 tsp peppercorn medley
1 T garlic, minced

In a small saucepan, combine all the ingredients. Stir well, then simmer on low heat for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.

*"Vaquero" means "cowboy" in Spanish. And if you were wondering, "huevos rancheros" translates to "rancher eggs."

Thursday, November 13, 2008

T-Minus Seven Days and Counting . . .

Can you believe that I leave for Malaysia in less than one week?! I can't . . . it doesn't seem like a year could have passed since I first attended the informational meeting about this missions trip. And yet, here we are -- a team of eleven awesome women of all ages, equipped with faith, hope, love, a heck of a Christmas program, Thanksgiving meal ingredients, and a heap of games, crafts, and songs, more or less ready to set sail next week. Wow!

I thought it would be fun to share a little of what we're going to be doing in Malaysia. First, we will be helping with a ministry to college students that is similar to our American Intervarsity, Campus Crusade for Christ, and Chi Alpha. We'll discover the specifics of that ministry's needs when we arrive, but we do know that we'll be helping to prepare a traditional Thanksgiving dinner for the holiday. That means that we're toting not only canned pumpkin, cranberry sauce, pie spices, and mashed potato-makings across the Pacific -- but we're also bringing two turkeys! They'll be preserved in dry ice and should travel fine, I'm told, but I'm glad I'm not in charge of them.

After Thanksgiving, we'll be heading to a Hindu orphanage for a few days. There we'll teach them the story of Christmas, which will probably be quite foreign to them. We have a little program to perform that involves decorating a Christmas tree with the kids, and we're bringing two days' worth of Christmas-themed crafts as well. In addition, we're armed with an arsenal of small and large group games. I'm in charge of rounding up and packing a kickball and supplies to make coffee filter butterflies. Fun!

The next and possibly final stop on our trip are a few downtown ministries in a major city. We don't know exactly what we'll be doing there, but the ministries serve the homeless, poor, prostitutes, and general down-and-out-ers. I'm thinking these will be similar to our Poverello Centers, soup kitchens, and the like.

Whew! What a whirlwind those two weeks in southeast Asia will be! Although it doesn't sound like it, we'll also have a little time to explore both Hong Kong and locations in Malaysia. I might even have the opoportunity to swim in the Indian Ocean just like the Best Husband Ever did on his missions trip to Kenya two summers ago! Both I and the missions team have a lot of things to fine tune before next week, but even with the stress of those tasks, I'm very excited.

In honor of my impending equatorial departure, I decided to try a simple southeast Asian-themed recipe I've had my eye on for quite some time. The Fitnessista's chana masala is a quick and easy concoction that not only tastes fabulous, but also is hearty and healthy. Chana masala is a spicy north Indian dish that always includes at least chickpeas, and usually some sort of citrus flavor. The only elements I changed from the original recipe is that I opted out of the oil, and didn't use the coriander because I didn't have any on hand. Chana masala is traditionally served with some sort of flatbread, but we ate ours over bulgur wheat with some golden raisins mixed in.

*The first photo is not mine but instead belongs to the Peace Corps.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Best Husband Ever Cooks

He made shrimp jambalaya for dinner. And he even washed the dishes afterward! Either he's truly the Best Husband Ever, or I'm having a lazy wife week. . . .

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Slow and Fruity

Encouraged by the success of my first slow cooker endeavor, I decided to give it another shot. Besides, I've got a Costco-sized bag of chicken breasts in my freezer that are crying out for a purpose. And so, meet another Crock-Pot chicken dinner.

This time I prepped the chicken at night, refrigerated the mixture until the morning, and then set it in the slow cooker before I headed out the door to work. As a result, the chicken was more thawed than in my first attempt (where I put the frozen chicken straight into a heated Crock-Pot), and the 10 hours of cooking turned it a little dry. Still, it wasn't bad. Next time I do an at-night prep, I'll include a little water to counter the drying.

Dryness aside, this chicken recipe was a winner. Tasty and tangy, intriguing flavors combined with fruit and the meat to make a wholly satisfying meal. Based off of this recipe, I served the chicken over cracked bulgur wheat and with a side salad and two TWD rugelach cookies for dessert.

Fruited Fall Chicken

1 chicken breast
1/3 large onion, sliced
1 T orange juice
2 tsp soy sauce
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp grated orange peel
2/3 garlic cloves, minced
2 heaping T dried branberries
1/2 cup diced pineapple

Place the onion and chicken in the slow cooker. Combine the spices in a separate bowl, then pour the mixture over the chicken. Sprinkle with fruit. Cook on low for 8-10 hours. Serve over brown rice, bulgur wheat, couscous, or with your whole grained carb of choice. Serves 2.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Autumn Burritos

I think that Mexican food is great. Enchiladas, quesadillas, nachos, huevos rancheros -- I love it all! Give me any form of beans topped with salsa, melted cheddar, sour cream, and guacamole and I'm one happy lady. It's only natural, then, that one of my favorite standby recipes is for simple and healthy burritos. But, as wonderful as these burritos are, there's something that I like even better -- pumpkin burritos!

When Costco starts selling pureed pumpkin in bulk, I stock up. And when I do, pumpkin begins finding its way into everything, from muffins to eggs to cottage cheese. I can't help myself, the stuff is so darned delicious! Of all my pumpkin-laced foods, my favorite is this tasty burrito. The combination of spices and flavors is quite tangy without loosing the taste of the pumpkin itself. They can be topped with cheddar, guacamole, or salsa -- I prefer mine with fat-free quark. The burritos are just as good plain, though. In fact, I often can't decide if I want naked or quarked burritos, so I'll make four little burritos and put quark on just two. The best of both worlds!

I found the inspiration for this recipe somewhere on the internet, I'm sure, but have since lost track of the original source. It's probably somewhere on All Recipes, but who knows for sure now? What I do is know is that these burritos taste amazing and always hit the spot.

Perfectly Pumpkin Burritos

4-8 corn tortillas (6 in.)
cooking spray
toppings of your choice

For the filling:
1 clove garlic
1/2 cup black beans
1 cup pumpkin puree
1 T soy sauce
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 T chili powder
3/4 tsp cumin
pinch of cayenne

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Cover a baking sheet with a layer of non-stick cooking spray.

In a small bowl, mix the filling ingredients. Stir until well-blended.

Microwave the tortillas for approximately 15 seconds so they are floppy and don't crack when rolled. Spoon the filling into the tortillas. This amount of filling will either make 4 stuffed burritos, or 8 more modest burritos. (I usually halve the recipe and have 4 modest burritos, which total about 270 calories when topped with 1/4 cup fat-free quark.) Add shredded cheddar if you choose. Roll the tortillas closed, securing them in place with toothpicks.

Bake for 15 minutes, or until the tortillas are crispy and browned. Remove and garnish with toppings of your choice, from sour cream to guacamole to salsa. Enjoy while warm!

Sunday, November 9, 2008


Happy D-Blog Day! Wait . . . what's that? You have no idea what D-Blog Day is? No worries -- it's another name for Diabetes Blog Day, in honor of Diabetes Awareness Month. Diabetes, especially childhood diabetes, is becoming more and more prevalent in our western culture of convenience. Too many trips through the McDonald's drive through lane plus too little physical activity makes for obesity and heightened blood sugar, which in turn can lead to the development of diabetes. It's true that heredity plays a role, as having diabetes is one's family makes a person 25% more likely to get diabetes, but diet is also a major factor. Too many empty carbs and bad fats make a person highly susceptible. It's important to eat a balanced diet!

I don't have diabetes. But it's a part of my family history, both in the family I was born in as well as the family that I married into. Growing up, my mother warned me (the possessor of a humongo sweet tooth) that one day I would develop diabetes if I wasn't careful with what kinds and proportions of sugary foods I was eating. Thankfully, I haven't proven her right -- yet. But she was correct about one thing. At the time of her admonitions, I was consuming a ton of refined sugars that I didn't need while living a fairly sedentary lifestyle. The result was that I put on weight. I was lucky that diabetes did not factor in.

Today, I am much more mindful of what I put in my mouth. (Overly mindful, I'm sure, but I'm making big strides toward less stringent nutrition habits.) I don't sit down with one of those jumbo boxes of Nerds candy or a gallon of ice cream and chug through the entire container. I haven't touched a soda in two years. Fruits and vegetables are among my favorite foods, and I cannot get enough salad in a day. Fast food is off my menu, and eating out is a treasured treat. I make sure that I eat complex carbohydrates like whole wheat bread products, healthy fats such as those found in almonds, as little saturated fat as I can manage, and plenty of protein.

Take this morning's oatmeal breakfast, for example, based on this recipe (pictured below). This hot bowl of goodness contained old-fashioned oats (complex carb), skim milk (protein, calcium), pumpkin (fiber), dried cranberries (fruit, antioxidants), a sprinkling of sunflower seeds (protein, healthy fat), almond butter (protein, healthy fat), fat-free Greek yogurt (protein, calcium), and fat-free cottage cheese (protein, calcium), plus some vanilla extract, cinnamon, and sugar-free maple syrup for flavor. Plus, on top of minding my diet, I exercise for at least 30 minutes each day and try to vary my workouts to include both cardio and strength training.

Sound hard? Like a lot of work? Maybe, and if it's not something you're used to it could be quite a challenge. But -- it's worth it. Diabetes is not something you want to add to your life and to your family. If you want to start making better food and activity choices, begin with small changes. Try changing up your dairy foods from full fat to low fat or skim, for example. Exercise for 20 minutes a couple times a week. Take the stairs, or get outside for a walk. For more info on diabetes, visit sites like The Diabetes Talkfest and Children with Diabetes.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

A Bento Face-Off

This week, I got a little crazy with my bento lunches. After enjoying the revival of my long languishing Laptop Lunch box, I decided to set up an experiment. A lunch packing experiment, that is!

Here's what I did. I made lunch -- twice. The first day, I packed the lunch in my Mr. Bento. On the following day, I packed an identical meal into the Laptop Lunch box. I wanted to see which was more efficient at this particular form of lunch. I already know, for example, that the Laptop Lunch box is better for packing sandwiches and wraps as the shape of the Mr. Bento is simply not suited to such items. What about something like this meal, though? Neither box seems particularly suited to the shapes and consistencies of the lunch items. And so my experiment began!

The meal itself was wonderful: nutritious, filling,and 100% satisfying. I had no trouble eating the same exact meal two days in a row! I started with a salad consisting of romaine, mushrooms, broccoli, and purple grapes, topped with Berry Delight dressing (the Bountifuls salad dressings are quite extraordinary -- they include chunks of fruits and veggies right in the bottle). I also mixed up some black and refried beans with fat-free quark and mango-peach salsa. I sliced up some carrots to dip in a quarter-cup of hummus, and rounded the meal off with five wheat Melba Toast crackers. Delectable!

It's difficult to say which bento box best contained this meal. I prefer Mr. Bento with its separate sealed containers, ensuring that none of the different "courses" get mixed together. Also, since Mr. Bento is insulated, it kept the lunch (especially the veggies) cool and fresh for a longer time. However, the round containers didn't lend themselves to the long crackers, and meant that I had to cut my carrots into smaller chunks. The Laptop Lunch was most accomodating in terms of container shape, but again I did not like having to worry that sweat from the beans might mix in with the hummus. The one sealed Laptop Lunch container (which I put my salad in this time around) doesn't seem foolproof in terms of said sealant and I often have salad dressing leaking into other compartments. The same is true for the mini dressing container, which I did not use in this particular lunch.

If I absolutely have to pick a winner, Mr. Bento is the victor. Although his cylindrical containers are not ideal for long crackers and carrot sticks, I don't mind trading that slight inconvenience for the separate sealing compartments. The improved insulation of Mr. Bento also is great for when a refrigerator isn't available to keep my food fresh through the morning. Let's hear it for Mr. B.! To be fair, however, if I had chosen a hummus wrap for this meal, the Laptop Lunch would have won hands down.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Breakfast Brainchild

As I read other health-conscious blogs such as The Fitnessista or Eat, Live, Run, I continue to be tantalized by these writers' creative oatmeal concoctions. Every new combination I see seems so delicious, adding toppings from nut butter to chocolate chips to coconut, and even homemade cookies! I'm a little impatient in the morning, however, and don't like having to think too much about what I'm eating for breakfast and how to make it. A little lazy, I know, but I eat early and my brain isn't quite up to the task of conquering new culinary creations.

This morning, however, I decided to try something a little different. Not with oatmeal, but with one of my stand-by breakfast foundations: yogurt. One of my go-to morning meals is one cup of yogurt topped with cereal or granola and fruit, usually a sliced banana. I really enjoy maple yogurt with pumpkin flax seed granola, or vanilla yogurt with berries and Kashi GoLean! cereal.

This morning I wanted the former, but didn't have any more pumpkin granola. I did have, however, a pumpkin flax seed granola bar by the same makers of the granola (Nature's Path brand). I also had my new favorite trail mix, pumpkin spice trail mix from Archer Farms. I decided to get a little creative and crumble the bar and sprinkle it over maple yogurt and a sliced banana, topped with a quarter cup of the trail mix.

It tasted . . . okay. Not bad. But it was nothing special, either. However, it got the job done and filled and fueled me up for the day. Next time I'd leave the trail mix on the side for nibbling since the yummy pumpkin-spicy-ness of it got lost in the maple yogurt. Adding a ton of cinnamon after I tried the first couple of bites helped as well. The granola bar was also a little too firm and chewy to be quite the right consistency for a yogurty breakfast. Still, I'm glad I tried it. Here's to early morning breakfast freestyling!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Bringing Laptop Back

This week saw the revival of my Laptop Lunch box. It hasn't been seeing much use because I pack lunches that are more efficiently accommodated by my Mr. Bento. Yesterday, however, I wanted to take a wrap, among other things, and the tall, cylindrical Mr. Bento does not pack sandwiches and wraps well. So, out came the forlorn Laptop Lunch box!

I'm so glad I decided to switch things up with the different box. This lunch was refreshing and completely satisfying. For the main course I made a wrap with a wheat tortilla, hummus (yum!), Smart Deli turkey, and sprouts. I also had a salad that incorporated romaine, broccoli, sliced carrots, and balsamic-roasted beets. For the dressing I mixed up some more balsamic vinegar with rosemary, sage, thyme, and orange zest. It was tangy and delicious after marinating until lunchtime. For some extra protein and calcium I packed fat-free vanilla yogurt with some rather freezer-burned berries which thawed nicely by the time I ate them. For dessert was a quarter cup of Archer Farms Pumpkin Spice trail mix. This trail mix tastes amazing. I found it at Target and am in love. My favorite part is the cinnamon-glazed walnuts. Double yum!

You might not be able to see it, but I also tucked a ZonePerfect Dark Chocolate Strawberry bar for a mid-morning snack. These bars are also quite delectable. They taste like a chocolate bar, but pack 12 grams of protein. I like to refrigerate mine, which lends a more satisfying texture and chew. Plus, who doesn't like chilled dark chocolate? I'm not a die-hard chocoholic, but I do find chilled chocolate difficult to resist. So these ZonePerfect bars are just that -- perfect for me and my palate.

All in all, my away-from-home food was extremely satisfying yesterday. My snack held me over until I could enjoy this lovely little lunch. And speaking of lovely -- it's snowing! I can see the flakes falling through the glow of the streetlights. It makes me think of Narnia and lamp posts and the Great Lion and Christmas, and a thousand other things delicate and light and beautiful.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Ruining Rugelach

This week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe challenged us to make one of my favorite cookies: rugelach! Well-made rugelach have a great combination of textures, from the fluffy dough to crispy sugar and nuts and the sticky apricot jam oozing from the rolled up cookie. This cookie of Jewish origin is not only one of my most beloved, but it also brings back memories of childhood holidays with the Polish side of my family. Is there any better way to finish off a traditional white Christmas Eve dinner (all the food is white, more or less, from mushroom soup to pierogies to fish) than with this amazing fruited cookie? I don't think so!

So when I heard that this week's TWD challenge was to make Dorie Greenspan's rugelach recipe from her Baking: From My Home to Yours, I was thrilled. Then I saw the photo in the cookbook and started feeling a little nervous. Dorie's rugelach didn't look much like the ones I know and love. Reading the recipe, I saw that it called for chocolate, something I've never had in a rugelach cookie before. Still, I was game and decided to give it a shot.

I only changed a few things in the recipe due to what I already had in my fridge and pantry. I used a lower fat yogurt-based spread instead of butter, fat-free cream cheese instead of regular, egg substitute, and dried cranberries instead of currants. I used almonds as my nut of choice, and apricot for my jam.

The result? Well . . . they taste pretty good. Not as delicious as my childhood rugelach, unfortunately. But definitely not bad at all. The chocolate-apricot combination was interesting, and delightful still warm from the oven.

No, the problem was not in the taste of this cookies. Instead, it was in the baking technique, for lack of a better description. Dorie's recipe called for two baking pans lined with parchment paper. I didn't have any parchment paper -- indeed, I don't really know what exactly it is since I've never used it -- so I lined my pans with waxed paper. Ungreased waxed paper. I'm sure you can guess what happened. My cookies baked, and then burned, to the waxed paper. The cookies themselves turned out fine, aside from the fact that they either are missing a bottom half, or have crispy tatters of waxed paper stuck to their undersides.

It's sad, really, since otherwise this was a successful recipe! Still, I suppose that's what my participation in Tuesdays with Dorie is all about -- learning how to bake. And, as I tell my own elementary school students, making mistakes is part of that learning process. I'll enjoy my mutilated rugelach and hope for a better baking adventure next week!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Trial by Fowl

This summer, I hit the jackpot while garage sale-ing. At two separate garage sales, I found two kitchen appliances I had long been in the market for: a toaster oven and a crock-pot. The total that I paid for the two items was three dollars, so even factoring in the price of gas, that's quite the steal! The toaster oven has seen quite a bit of love and use since it moved in with us, but the crock-pot has been feeling rather forlorn and forgotten.

Until now. I decided that, as the crisp fall weather is quickly cooling into winter, it was time to inaugurate my slow cooker. I wanted to use up some of the bulk package of Costco's Kirkland brand chicken breasts that have been languishing in my freezer, and I thought that the crock-pot would be fun and new way to prepare the chicken. Not only did the slow cooker allow the tastes to really seep into the meat while simultaneously shortening the evening dinner prep, but it also drastically reduced the number of times I had to touch raw chicken with my bare fingers. Bleaachhh.

As you may know (or surmise, at this point!), while I do enjoy eating chicken, I do not like cooking it. My mom drilled the fear of salmonella into me growing up. As a result, it was with great trepidation that I first tried chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream (which I now adore, thankfully). If I felt that nervous about cookie dough ice cream, you can imagine with what difficulty I chop uncooked chicken.

But with the crock-pot, I barely had to touch the raw chicken at all! And the one or two times that I did touch it, the chicken breast was frozen, and somehow that seems safer. I know that I must come across as very OCD in this area, but what can I say -- raw chicken grosses me out.

This [fully cooked] crock-pot chicken, however, did not. I found a simple recipe online, whipped up a quick sauce, and in about ten minutes had dinner marinating away before I took my morning shower. When I came home that evening, the apartment smelled amazing, and the chicken tasted just as good. I served it over bulgar wheat, and it made the perfect autumn dinner -- simple, warm, and hearty.

A word of warning, about the marinade. Adapted from this recipe, I tasted the sauce before pouring it over the chicken. It tasted incredibly salty, to the point where I thought that that's night dinner was already a failure. I decided to carry on with the crock-potting, though, and am glad I did because the tastes and saltiness all worked themselves out over the day-long cooking. So if you taste-test the sauce before it cooks, don't be too nervous about the final result! It will come out right in the end.

Crock-Pot Inauguration Chicken

1 chicken breast
1 carrot, thinly sliced

2 T soy sauce
1 T brown sugar
1 T maple syrup
1 garlic clove, minced
1/3 of an 8 oz. can of tomato sauce

Whisk all the ingredients except for the chicken and carrots in a small bowl. Place the chicken and carrot medallions in a slow cooker. Pour the sauce over the chicken and carrots. Cover and cook on low for 8 hours (I cooked mine for ten and the chicken was wonderfully tender).

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Sweet November

How is it possibly November already? As trite as it may sound, sometimes time truly does fly. And I'm not just worried about the incumbent winter weather. This November is bringing big changes in my life. For one, this is the first November in four years that I will not be participating in National Novel Writing Month. Why? I'm too busy getting ready for my two week missions trip to Malaysia at the end of the month! I'm so busy, in fact, that I can't even make it to the write-in's to say hello. That makes me quite sad, although the trip is more than worth the sacrifice.

Those aren't the only ways that this November is singular. On Tuesday, I'll be practicing democracy and voting in the presidential election. It's going to be a close one, and I think we'll see its effects either way the vote goes more clearly than usual this election. Also, for the first time in, well, ever, I have a guaranteed, full-time, eight hours a day, five days a week teaching job that keeps me hopping. I do enjoy it, though, and am privileged to work with a great bunch of kids.

Whew! That's a lot of change and newness! I'm sure that there are other elements as well, but right now my brain is too full to recall them! Some things are, to my happy relief, staying quite the same. Such as the sweet treat that the Best Husband Ever and I indulge in every Saturday. Yesterday we visited Bernice's Bakery, where he got his usual (a cinnamon roll) and I tried the best croissant of all time. Seriously. I had a pumpkin cream cheese filled croissant and it was that good. I cannot begin to do this delicacy justice with words -- buttery, fluffy, creamy, smooth, delicate, melts-in-my-mouth amazing don't even touch the reality of this autumn-y twist on the French standard. All I can say is, drool-yum-drool, and that I'll be partaking of this treat again. Soon.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Happy Blog Birthday!

Muffin Love has officially turned one year old! I missed the blog's actual birthday (October 29), but I figure that this is close enough. Writing a birthday post on November 1 is very appropriate, I think, because I created Muffin Love in order to participate in in NaBloPoMo 2007 (National Blog Posting Month) -- and today's the kick for the same event, only one year later!

I have really enjoyed writing this blog. After NaBloPoMo ended last year, I kept on posting. Not everyday, to be sure, but fairly regularly. Then my posting gradually dropped off, only to be revived later that winter. Since then, I've had a fantastic time participating in food blogging events like the Royal Foodie Joust which push me to try new things in the kitchen that I probably never would have thought of, much less attempted, on my own. Reading other food and sane nutrition blogs has also been both fun and educational as I work on revising my relationship with food, exercise, and my body. And of course I've loved creating, cooking, and sharing recipes and receiving your feedback!

Thank you for your readership! I think my all-time favorite aspect of blogging is how community-oriented it can be. My hope for Muffin Love is that it can continue to grow and be an entertaining read, a helpful resource, and a melting pot of people, ideas, tastes, and places. Happy birthday, fellow muffin lovers!