But Sugar is Sweeter

Archive for April, 2011

Patio Herb Garden

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School is finished!  (Well sorta…)  We are done with all of our classes for the 2nd year of medical school, but we still have “Step 1 Boards”, which is this huge test that covers everything we’ve learned in the past 2 years.  It’s kinda important, so if you don’t hear from me for a while – that’s why.  I take ‘um June 9th, but I’m still gonna try to post occasionally until then (fingers crossed).  I actually made a few freezer friendly meals, and stocked up my freezer so there would be some homemade food,  without having to worry about it while studying.  I still plan on cooking, (I’ll need some breaks!), but I know it will be nice to have a few things to just pull out and bake.   As soon as I do bake them, I will take some final product pictures and share them with you (provided they taste as good as I’m hoping :-)).

In the meantime, I’ll share with you my other project this week – an herb garden!  Growing up, we had a shady backyard, so my mom and I would plant  herbs in little pots and keep them on the deck.  While currently, I live in an apartment and don’t have the choice of a yard, I can’t really see myself ever getting away from making a cute potted herb garden.  It’s just so convenient  to have everything right on your patio, and unless you’re Ina Garten, you probably won’t be needing more than a few pots of herbs.

There is something very satisfying to me about watching a garden grow under the warm summer sun,   and with fresh herbs costing about $3 a pack at the store, having them fresh on your back porch is an added bonus.  It is, amazingly, actually cheaper to buy an entire herb plant, then it is to buy cut fresh herbs at the store.  I got each of mine for 99 cents at Monnette’s Market (that’s a local Toledo chain, but any farmer’s type market would be a great place to look).   Here’s a  few tips I’ve learned about potted herb gardens.

Potted Herb Garden

1) Don’t buy fancy ceramic pots and expect them to last all winter.  Last year I bought some nice pots, planning on planting my herbs in them for years to come, only to have them cracked and demolished by the ice and snow.  So this year I opted for the $5 Walmart plastic brand.  They’re not as cute, but they do the trick. If you just can’t resist the ceramic pots, just be sure to bring them inside in the winter.

2) Fill about 3-4 inches of the bottom of the pots with stones.  Or if you’re like me and had a bunch of cracked pots with no purpose – you can crack them up some more with a hammer, and use that in the bottom of your pots.  This will help the soil to drain so you don’t end up with water-bogged plants.  My mom and I used to use styrofoam packing peanuts, which are great because it won’t weigh the pots down – but it seems that almost everywhere now sells packing peanuts that “degrade when exposed to water” (obviously those won’t work, but it’s a good trade-off for the environment I think).

3) Don’t plant too early, and watch out for the frost.  Last year I planted on the first nice day we had in the beginning of MARCH!  This is too early for a garden in Ohio, (but it would’ve worked fine in Louisiana.) It can also freeze pretty late into the spring, so if there is a chance of frost, just bring your plants inside or cover them with a beach towel or plastic wrap for the night.

4) Plant a lot of basil.  A lot of recipes treat basil like lettuce, and you might even need 2 cups for one recipe.  You can really never have enough, and it smells so good on the patio that I would recommend planting a lot.  A trick to make it grow more bushy is to plant it deep into the soil, don’t be afraid to cover some of the leaves.  Another trick I learned from our friend Linda, is to always pluck the flower buds off – this will also help to keep bushy, rather than stalky.

5) Plant mint in it’s own pot.  I almost avoided planting mint all together this year because I didn’t want to buy a separate pot for it, but then I remembered that my favorite drink ever is mojitos, and mint is pretty much a necessity.  Mint needs its own pot because it is actually like a weed.  You really couldn’t kill it if you tried.  If you plant it with other herbs, it will strangle them out, so it needs it’s own pot.

So here’s what’s in my herb garden….

ANNUALS annuals tend to need more water than perennials, so make sure to water them at least every other day in the hot summer.

    • Dill – planted with the soul intention of making some homemade ranch dressing.  I can’t wait to share the recipe – it looks divine.

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    • Parsley – a nice accent to most meals, especially italian. I end up buying it at the store bi-weekly anyway, so I figured having it on the patio would be nice.

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    • Cilantro – the classic salsa flavor.  You either hate it or love it, but I personally just don’t think it tastes like Mexican food if you don’t have cilantro.

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    • Basil – pesto, pasta, with goat cheese on sandwiches, with tomatos, etc.  I ended up planting 5 plants of basil in their own pot because the possibilities for basil are endless.

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PERENNIALS  – Unfortunately not all of my perennials came back in full force this year.   The cracked pots caused their roots to be exposed to the cold – so I think they will fare better this winter with plastic pots.  I also plan on wrapping the pot with plastic, and covering the soil with some mulch.  I chose to plant 4 of my perennial herbs in 1 pot.  I think 3 per pot would be much better, but I couldn’t decide which one to cut out.  Plus having them all in 1 pot will make it much easier to take care of would be much better, This is pushing it, but I wanted it to be easier to take care of them over the winter.  Additionally, generally the perrenial herbs have a strong flavor, so you don’t need a lot to make a big impact.

    • Chives – these came back in full bloom from last year, cracked pot and all.  This is a hearty plant, and will also be used in the ranch dressing I can’t wait to make.

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    • Oregano – great for meatballs or any greek dish

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    • Rosemary – great on potatoes or bread, or as part of a dipping sauce with olive oil.

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    • Thyme – great for poultry

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  • Mint – a fast growing herb perfect for mojitos, desserts, and a variety of Lebanese dishes.

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Cinnamon Sugar Pull Apart Bread

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Have you ever made homemade cinnamon rolls?  After receiving some delicious ones as a gift, we decided to give them a whorl ourselves this past Christmas.  Yes, they were absolutely delicious – but they happen to be something that I’m not sure I can imagine myself making again.  Just a little too much.  Something I personally would prefer as a dessert , and with SO many wonderful options for dessert out there, cinnamon rolls wouldn’t be my first choice.  It also probably had something to do with the fact that I think I ate 4 of them on Christmas morning and then felt like a dying sloth the rest of the day.  So moral of the story,  4 cinnamon rolls = too much for me.   But homemade cinnamon sugar pull apart bread = perfect.

This bread is really divine.  It’s easier to make than cinnamon rolls, it’s unique and it uses ingredients I had around the house.  I adapted it slightly from Joy’s original recipe, only because I almost never buy whole milk, and I hate buying it for the 1/2 cup that a lot of recipes call for.  I know a lot of people just substitute skim – but I think of baking as a science, and I don’t like to mess with science.   When you really think about it, skim milk even looks a lot different than whole milk.  No milk mustache with skim.  So I figured, what could I combine  with skim milk to  give me a milk mustache?  Yogurt!  The recipe came out great, even with fat free yogurt – but if you happen to have whole milk, just use 1/3 cup of it instead of the 1/4 cup milk and 2 T. yogurt.

Cinnamon Sugar Pull Apart Bread

  • 2 3/4 cup flour + more for rolling
  • 1 packet (2 1/4 teaspoons) quick rise yeast
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 T. butter (1/2 stick)
  • 1/4 cup skim milk
  • 2 T. plain fat free yogurt
  • 1/4 c. water
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 eggs, slightly beaten
For the Filling
  • 4 T. butter, melted and browned in a frying pan (about 5 minutes on medium)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

In a large bowl, stir together flour, yeast, sugar and salt.
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In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, warm butter, milk and yogurt, until butter is just melted.  Remove from heat, add water and vanilla and let cool for 3 minutes.
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Using a spatula, stir the milk mixture into the flour mixture.  Then add the eggs, and continue to stir with the spatula.  Dough will be very sticky, but avoid trying to knead it with your fingers like I did.
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If you must, add a little bit of flour.  Just so that you can form the dough into some resemblance of a ball.  This dough should be sticky so try not to overdo it on the flour.

Once formed into ball, place in a well greased bowl.  Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour.

Once about doubled in size, place dough ball onto a lightly floured surface, and roll into a rectangular shape, about 22 x 14.  ***Alternatively, you could refrigerate the dough ball at this point, and do the remaining steps the next day. (A good plan if you want this for breakfast).

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Mix the sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg in a small bowl. Spread the browned butter over the surface with a brush, then sprinkle sugar mixture all over the dough.  (It seems like a lot of sugar – but it’s worth it).
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Cut the rectangle into 6 equal strips.

Then lay the strips on top of each other, and cut again into 6 pieces.
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Place the pieces in a well greased 9×5 loaf pan. Cover and let rise for 30 minutes more.
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Bake at 350 for 30-35 minutes. You might need to cover the top with tin foil to keep it from overbrowning. Remove pan from the oven, let rest for 20 minutes, then slide a knife around the edges to loosen the loaf.  Remove from pan and serve warm.
cinnamon sugar pull apart bread
Slightly adapted from Joy the Baker


Salmon with Mango Salsa

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For some reason whenever I put salmon on the weekly menu, it seems to get pushed back to another day, or another week.  The last time I bought salmon, it sat in the fridge until I was afraid to look at it and had to throw it out.  This is really a shame considering that once I actually make salmon, I LOVE it!  This meal was no exception to my salmon “fear”.  I had gotten all the ingredients for the salsa and couscous, but when dinner time rolled around, I was really hesitant to pick up the salmon and make this dinner.  Because we didn’t really have anything else planned for dinner, and because if I didn’t make it, all the other ingredients would go bad,  I couldn’t really talk myself out of it (although I tried).

As soon as I starting chopping for the salsa, I was over my fear and glad that I had decided to make the salmon.  When I tasted the final product, I was even happier. I actually couldn’t believe that I was considering scraping this dinner for grilled cheese instead :-)!  This dinner came together quickly, and was delicious!   I served it over plain couscous that I cooked with chopped green onion and dried cranberries – which was also pretty yummy.  I think once the weather gets a little warmer, I’ll grill the salmon instead of broiling it, but broiling is easy and it came out great.

Salmon with Mango Salsa

– Makes 3-6 servings depending on the size of salmon filet used (Estimate ~4 oz per person)

For the Mango Salsa

  • 1 Mango, peeled and chopped
  • 1/2 of a cucumber, peeled and chopped
  • A few strips of red bell pepper, chopped
  • ~1/4 cup of red onion, chopped
  • ~3 Tablespoons cilantro, chopped
  • Juice from 1/2 a lime
  • pinch of salt

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and mix.

For the Salmon

  • 1-2 lbs wild salmon filets
  • Juice from 1/2 a lime
  • 2-3 Tablespoons light mayonaise
  • Salt and pepper

Preheat broiler.  Sprinkle lime juice over the salmon. Spread mayonaise over the filet using the back of a spoon.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Place salmon on a broiling pan lined with tin foil, and broil for about 10 minutes, until cooked through.  To serve, cut into smaller filets, top with mango salsa, and serve over couscous or rice pilaf.

Source: A Spice Is Nice Original


Toffee Bars

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You know the saying, “When it rains, it pours”?  Well that was my day yesterday.  A multitude of factors (in addition to the cold rain outside my window) lead to a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.  Okay, so actually it was only  like a terrible, horrible, no good very bad 3 hours – but still upsetting.  I’ll spare you the details, because I’m trying not to think about it, but in addition to a good dinner of commiserating with friends, I knew I had to come home and bake something.    I had bought a giant sized bag of chocolate chips at Costco (they were on coupon special), with the intention of making all kinds of delicious treats with them.   While I did make some delightful chocolate chip cookie dough cupcakes and chocolate chip cookies, for the most part I have been enjoying the chocolate chips by the handful, mixed with some almonds and raisins (that makes it healthy….right?).  I really wanted to avoid making plain chocolate chip cookies for the billionth time, so I scoured the internet for something that would not require a trip to the store, and that would use up some of my chocolate chips.

When I found this recipe on Ree’s blog, it seemed to fit the bill.  I was a little skeptical that these “bars” would end up tasting just like a chocolate chip cookie in a bar form since they pretty much have all the same common ingredients you find in a cookie.  I even thought about making the real toffee I made for Christmas instead – but that requires a candy thermometer, which I don’t have here.  Anyways, these bars actually taste like… wait for it…. that’s right….. TOFFEE (I know, hard to believe given the name and all).  I think it’s the increased ratio of brown sugar to butter in this recipe that gives it  something extra special.  These were super easy to put together, and were delicious.  I’m actually a little scared that I’ve found such a wonderful sweet treat that only requires ingredients I usually keep in the pantry, and that can be made from start to finish in less than 30 minutes – dangerous!  Apparently these freeze well…but I doubt there will be any leftover to find out for myself.

Toffee Bars

– Makes about 24 squares

  • 2 sticks butter
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 cups chocolate chips
  • 1 cup (finely) chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350°.  Cream butter and sugar on high until fluffy.  Add egg and vanilla and mix.  Stir in flour until fully incorporated.  Spread the mixture onto a cookie sheet, trying to create some resemblance of a square. Bake for 15-18 minutes, or unti golden brown.
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Once baked, sprinkle the chocolate chips over the top, and bake for 2 minutes.  Then spread the chocolate using a spatula.  Finish by sprinkling with chopped pecans.  Cut bars into squares, and then let cool for at least an hour to let the chocolate harden (this was definitely the hardest part).
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Barely adapted from The Pioneer Woman 


Bunnies, Chicks and Eggs, Oh my!

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Decorating cookies for every holiday is starting to become a tradition, and I’m more than okay with that!  I have my final test of pre-clinical medicine next Tuesday (hooray!), but that makes going home for Easter weekend a little tricky.  So what did I do instead?  I went home this past weekend, and celebrated Easter a little early.  We had a great visit, and collectively decided that decorating cookies is WAY more fun than decorating eggs.  John even joined in on the fun, and he may have actually won the award for best cookie decorator (yes, this was hard for me to admit :-)).

While I was ridiculously excited about this set of 4 Easter cookie cutters I found, I think next time I might just stick to making eggs.  The chicks and bunnies were cute, but there wasn’t very much room for creativity with them – I ended up just wishing that I had some more eggs to try out all the ideas I had.  My favorite thing to do was to  drag a toothpick through lines on the cookies, and create fun designs.

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I made a double batch of royal icing (using a full 2 pound bag), and it was more than enough! To get started just see the tutorial I posted earlier.  We actually had a lot of icing left over, but I wanted to make sure I had plenty to make 6 different colors (white, green, aqua, pink, violet, and yellow).

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FYI – Those are John’s fingers (not mine).

I made the sugar cookies dough one day, then rolled it out the next, and then the next day we decorated the cookies back at home.  Spacing out the project really makes it a lot less of a project, and more of a fun family activity. So instead of dying boiled eggs – try decorating some egg cookies this year!  Finishing with an iced cookie is a lot tastier than a hard boiled egg :-)!

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Peanut, Chicken & Soba Noodle Salad

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This meal has been John’s favorite for a long time.  That’s right,   I said John’s favorite – Despite the fact that it has a weird looking buckwheat noodle, and is just about as far from a hamburger as you can get, John still loves this dinner.  If that isn’t reason enough to make it, I really like it too.  The first time I made it, I remember thinking, I have no idea how this is going to be – little did I know it would turn into a house favorite!  I’m not usually  a huge fan of ultra-healthy “hippie” food (no offense to the hippies out there), and soba noodles for some reason had that ultra-healthy sound to them.   Take quinoa, for example.  I know its uber healthy but every time I make it, I’m slightly disappointed.  I still keep trying, but I usually end of thinking, “This recipe would’ve been better without the quinoa”, and then the leftovers sit in the fridge, untouched.   This meal is not like that, at all.  The soba noodles really add depth and a slight nuttiness to the meal.  I made this once with spaghetti instead (because I didn’t have any soba noodles), and while it’s still good, it lacks the uniqueness and dimension that the soba noodles bring.  So that’s my rant about soba noodles.  You can find them in the Asian section of most grocery stores (I got mine at Kroger).

While this meal isn’t the quickest and easiest meal in my repertoire, it’s also not that involved, especially if you have the chicken left over or cooked in advance.  I usually end up boiling the chicken because it’s the fastest way I know, but when summer comes, I’m going to marinate the chicken in some lime juice, and then grill it because I I think the grill marks on the chicken would be pretty in this salad.  Oh and about that word – salad.  I didn’t really know what to call this.  It’s not really a salad – it doesn’t involve any lettuce and is more like spaghetti texture, but it’s a salad in the fact that you can eat it cold if you’d like.  I actually prefer it refrigerated, but John likes to heat his up – so it’s just personal preference.  I think this would be a great “salad” for a picnic lunch though (can you tell I have summer on the mind :-))!

Peanut, Chicken & Soba Noodle Salad

Makes about 6 Servings

For the Sauce:

  • 1/2 cup natural creamy peanut butter*
  • 1/3 cup warm water
  • 2 T. honey
  • 3 T. soy sauce
  • 2 T. ginger, peeled and grated
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper (or more if you like it spicy)

Stir all ingredients together until somewhat smooth.  If sauce is still to thick, add another 1-2 T. of water, but also remember that the cooked soba noodles will likely add some liquid to the sauce.

*I like natural peanut butter here because I think it gives a stronger peanut flavor.

For the Salad

  • 1 package (~10.58 oz) Soba noodles
  • 5 carrots
  • 5 celery stalks
  • 3 green onion
  • 2 large chicken breasts
  • Sliced limes and Chopped peanuts for garnish (optional)

1. Begin by cooking the chicken – I usually simmer chicken in a pot of water at medium for 15 minutes.  You can also wrap in foil and roast in the oven at 450° for 15 minutes, or marinate in lime juice for an hour, and grill. (Lime, and citrus in general, helps to keep chicken tender). Shred or chop the chicken into bite-size pieces.

2. Prep the Veggies. Peel the carrots, and slice very thin or shave with the peeler.  (I got a julienne peeler at TJ Maxx, and it works great for this).  Wash the celery, and slice on a diagonal to create large slices.  Slice the green onions.
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3. Cook the Noodles. Boil a pot of water, and cook the soba noodles for 4-minutes.  Do not overcook (they cook a lot faster than pasta).
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4. Assemble.  If you want to serve the meal warm, quickly toss the sauce, soba noodles, chicken, and about 3/4 of the vegetables together in a large bowl and top with remaining vegetables to serve.  If you want to serve the meal cold, rinse the soba noodles under cold water, toss with the sauce,  chicken and 3/4 of the vegetables, and refrigerate for 10-20 minutes.  Then top with the remaining vegetables before serving.  A final sprinkling of lime juice and peanuts gives a lot of extra flavor to this meal.

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Inspired by Cooking Light


Lemon Bars

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I have never really been a lemon bar lover.  In fact, if I have to chose between a fruity dessert and a chocolate  one – chocolate will win out every time.  (Well, unless you count Twizzlers as  fruity dessert :-)) That being said, our friend Lydia has made lemon bars for us a few times, and every time I try one, I am pleasantly surprised.  With the weather being over 80 degrees on Sunday, I just had this craving to whip up a batch of lemon bars.  The result was so summery that I now officially have spring fever!  I actually really like the box mix of lemon bars, but I will tell you that these have a definite extra punch of lemon flavor.  So be warned: True Lemon Lovers Only!

Lemon Bars

For the Crust

  • 1 3/4 c. all purpose flour
  • 2/3 c. powdered sugar
  • 1/4 c. cornstarch
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 sticks (12 T.) butter, slightly softened, cut into 1 inch pieces

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a 13×9 baking sheet with parchment paper, then line the pan again with parchment in the opposite direction to allow you to lift the bars out when finished.   In a food processor, pulse the flour, powdered sugar, cornstarch and salt.  Add the butter and pulse until mixture resembles course meal.  Sprinkle mixture into the pan and press down evenly with fingers.  Bake until slightly golden, about 20 minutes.  In the meantime start on the filling…

For the Lemon Filling

  • 4 large eggs, slightly beaten
  • 1 1/3 c. granulated sugar
  • 3 T. all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 2 teaspoons grated lemon zest (about 2 lemons)
  • 2/3 cup lemon juice, strained (about 4 lemons)
  • 1/3 cup milk (I used skim, but whole would be better)
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt

Whisk eggs, sugar and flour in a medium bowl.  Add the lemon juice, lemon zest, milk and salt and blend. Once the crust is golden brown, reduce oven temperature to 325° and pour the lemon mixture into the warm crust. Bake for about 22 minutes, or until the filling feels firm.

Remove from the oven and cool to room temperature (at least 30 minutes).  Remove the lemon bars from the pan by lifting up on the parchment (The bars may bend, but won’t break).  Cut bars using sharp knife and cleaning the knife between cuts.  Sift powdered sugar on top right before serving.

Slightly adapted from Cook’s Illustrated