Green Tea Smoothie

Green Green SmoothieSo, remember when I posted this recipe for Green Green Salad?  I am at it again, but this time its drinkable.  I keep creating these verdant recipes and all I can think of is, “Awesome.  It is sooooo greeeeeen.”

Side Note:  I have been looking for a green couch for my family room, but don’t tell my husband.  Sssssshhhhhhh.

I love the color green and every time I make this smoothie I do a little happy dance because it just looks so vibrant and energizing and positive.  In general, food of this shade is on the healthy side so how can you think of anything else but the power of the nutrients coursing through your veins?!  This is why Popeye got so revved up on spinach!  Green just does something to us!  It makes our arm muscles bulge and that look of heroic wisdom cross our faces.  It is life!

Yes, in case you are wondering, there is spinach in this smoothie, but the color and health factor get a bit of a boost from some matcha powder.  What the heck is that, you ask?  Only the coolest stuff on the PLANET!  Ok.  The pyramids are cooler, but matcha powder is pretty neat.  It is just a finely ground green tea that uses the whole green tea leaf and a little bit goes a long way.  It is actually so potent that 1 tsp of powder mixed with a cup of hot water to dissolve it, is the equivalent of 10 cups of brewed green tea.  Neat huh?  You can find it in the health food sections of most grocery stores nowadays, and for sure in any health food/specialty store worth its salt.  Heck!  You can even find it at Vitamin World!  Yes, it is a bit expensive, but it lasts for a long time.  And it is the perfect boost in this smoothie.  It kinda gives it that herbal taste without adding more fibrous veggies.  Because, hey.  I love broccoli as much as the next person, but I personally don’t like to drink it cold and raw.  *shudder*

Regardless of wether or not you are gluten free, dairy free, nut free, vegan, or like me, proud to be at the top of the food chain and eating anything you can get your hands on, this drink has you covered.  It won’t weigh you down and I swear it makes you feel healthier just looking at it. And you know why, right?  Because its green.
Green Green Smoothie Green Green Smoothie*Todays recipe can be found on the JRose Fitness page on Facebook by the lovely Jessica McKenzie!  I will regularly be contributing feature recipes that are good for da body and good for da soul so check it out here!  Be sure to ‘like’ the page so you don’t miss anything.  And bonus!  You get a boost of healthy living and fitness inspiration as well!

Green Tea Smoothie
This drink is full of good things.  It may be tempting, but don’t skip the lemon juice.  Not only is it incredibly beneficial (health wise) but it gives a brightness of flavor to this smoothie that brings it from OK to outrageous!

1 c coconut milk (I use light)
1 banana
juice of 1/2 of a lemon
1/2 bag frozen, organic peaches (1 1/2 c or so)
2 extra large handfuls of baby spinach, preferably organic
1 T honey (optional)
1 tsp matcha powder

Blend all ingredients together in a blender until smooth, adding ice of desired.  Serve immediately.

Quick & Easy Pita Chips

Pita ChipsJust popping in to post a quick recipe for an easy snack!

We really love crunchy pita chips at our house.  However, the five of us can easily finish off a whole bag in one sitting so generally, it just makes more sense for me to make them myself.   Very easy and much cheaper to do.  In addition, I can control the level of crunchiness and get them a toasty as we prefer them.  My husband likes things VERY crunchy and just one head scratch away from burnt so I always leave a handful or two on the pan a bit longer for him.  For those of you that prefer your food toasted, but not cooked to ashes, just a few minutes is all you need.
Pita ChipsAbove, these beauties are all set and ready to pop in the oven!  Below?  Toasted and perfect to dip in some hummus!
Pita ChipsQuick & Easy Pita Chips 
These do lose their crunch after a day or so.  My advice is to make them fresh when you need them so you can finish them off while perfect and toasty!  If you have access to different flavors of pita bread or even flavored oils, this would be a good application for that.  These are pretty basic so please experiment with herbs and spices to customize your chips!

Pita Bread-homemade or store-bought (I usually buy it whole wheat and fresh from the bakery.  Then I tuck them in the freezer for whenever I need them!)
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.  Cut your pita bread like a pizza, into 8 or even 16 pieces, depending on what kind of dippers you like.  Spread them out in a single layer on a dry sheet pan and spray or lightly drizzle evenly with olive oil.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper and pop in the oven for 10 minutes.  Check on the chips and continue to toast until desired crispiness.  How long it will take will depend on your oven, your individual tastes, and the moisture content of your bread.  Just keep and eye on them so they don’t burn.  You can turn them over halfway through if you like, but it isn’t necessary.  Cool slightly and enjoy!

Roasted Pepper Hummus

Roasted Red Pepper HummusRoasted pepper hummus is one of the most common things I find in the refrigerators of my friends.  Well, that and red wine.

Whenever I talk to someone who has made hummus for the first time, they always mention how incredibly good it is.  As yummy as store bought hummus is, there is nothing like the flavor of a batch you made yourself.  Making it specially flavored is just that much better.

The following recipe is my standard, quick hummus that I make all the time, with simply some roasted red peppers added!  Easy, huh?  The smell is fantastic and it is incredibly hard to stop eating it.  Smooth and creamy, this hummus is outrageous on a sandwich (recipe coming soon) but is also a handy recipe to have in the fridge.  It makes it SO much easier to get your daily veggies in if you have this stuff to dip your celery, cucumbers, carrots, and whole grain pita chips in!  Because, seriously!  Isn’t that color gorgeous?  I love the colors of food…

Speaking of recipes, I often like to share what I call my BONUS RECIPES on social media.  Occasionally, I post a recipe exclusively to Brittany’s Pantry Twitter feed (brittanyspantry), Instagram (@brittanyspantry), Google+ , and the Facebook page.  Why?  Because I like to reward those who spend excessive time on their phone whilst in the grocery line!  Today was one of those bonus days so be sure to follow BP and get every tasty recipe you can!  Here is the link to my favorite Double Chocolate Recovery Drink! Enjoy!
Roasted Red Pepper HummusRoasted Red Pepper HummusRoasted Red Pepper Hummus

2 cans garbanzo beans (chickpeas) rinsed and drained
3 T tahini
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 T lemon juice
3/4 tsp cumin
1/3 c water
1/3 c extra virgin olive oil, plus more as needed
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 of a 1 lb jar of roasted red peppers, drained (about 2)

Pulse all ingredients in a food processor, adding more evoo or water to achieve desired consistency.  Continue to puree until smooth.  Store tightly sealed in the refrigerator.

IMG_9820There really is no other way to say this: This stuff is awesome.

Not much in the way of frills.  It just takes something really great (three kinds of summer melons) and takes it up a smidge to make it spectacular. And contrary to my usual rants, I am not exaggerating!

You know by now how much of a honey freak I am.  I have always loved honey.  Have I ever told you the story about aspirin and honey from when I was a kid?  No?  Well then… When we were kids and we would wake up in the night with a headache or fever or some kind of ailment, my Mom would give us aspirin.  Remember the big, clear bottle of tiny, white pills with the little white cap?  That is what we had.

Ah! The 80′s.

Anyway, because we were generally too small to swallow pills on our own, and because aspirin is enormously bitter, my mother would put a half (or whole, depending on our age) pill on a huge spoonful of honey.  We would take the whole thing in one bite and no matter how shocking the taste of plain aspirin was, we could chew it up with a huge gob of raw honey in our mouths.  Not a bad way to take your medicine, I must say.  To this day, the smell and taste of aspirin makes me think of honey!
Melon Salad W/Honey & LimeIn this case, we are just using it to boost the already sweet flavor of the fruit.  Super simple but with a big impact, this is a great-and healthy-dish to set out for brunch, lunch, or even bring to your next barbecue.  Besides!  Honey goes with everything!  Even aspirin.
Melon Salad W/Honey & LimeAbove is just a big bowl of fruit that I cut up, layered in the bowl to make it pretty, and then covered with cellophane and tucked in the fridge.
Below is the drizzled final product.  YUM!
Melon Salad W/Honey & LimeTri-Melon Salad W/Honey & Lime
Go ahead and cut the fruit and even put it in your serving bowl up to a day ahead.  Don’t drizzle on the syrup until just before you serve.  Bite sized chunks are great for eating, but go just a bit bigger than that so that they hold together in the bowl better.

Cantaloupe, Watermelon, and Honeydew-trimmed and cut into large chunks
1/2 c honey, preferably local and raw
1 T water
zest of 1 lime
juice of 1 lime, about 2 T

In a large serving bowl, layer the fruit in a bit at a time.  You aren’t going to stir this so however it goes in the dish is how you want it. Clear vessels are beautiful but it ultimately doesn’t matter.  Cover and chill until ready to serve.  When ready to eat, microwave the water and honey for 30 seconds in a glass measuring cup, stirring and heating longer if necessary to make it easily pourable and warm.  Add the lime juice and zest, stir, and drizzle over the fruit just before you serve it.  Do not stir.  Garnish with mint or lime wedges if desired.  Note: The chunks on the bottom that sit in the syrup the longest are the pieces you are going to be fighting over!!

Fizzy Apricot Coolers W/Lemon

Fizzy Apricot Coolers W/LemonIt all comes down to synchronized swimming.  Let me explain…

A little over a week ago, I shared this post that was all about me.  I wanted to give you a few details into the woman who actually writes this crazy blog!  If you may recall, I mentioned that I don’t drink pop.  While this is true, I would like to add an amendment to that.  As a general practice, I don’t drink it.  In general, I wasn’t allowed to drink pop when I was a kid and as I got older, I realized that it was just too sweet for me.  When I became a synchronized swimmer, the insane amount of breath control you need sort of puts the kibosh on all things carbonated.  (Besides being really bad for you, pop causes, among other things, shortness of breath.  Not cool when you doing the equivalent of simultaneously sprinting and lifting weights above your head, and not breathing while doing it.)  When I got to college, I coached synchronized swimming and tried to instill the same fear of soda products in my athletes that I had.  As a general practice, I have just continued to never order it at restaurants (I drink water), buy it when I grocery shop (I prefer milk), or indulge in it when I am out on the town (nonfat iced Chai Latte, please!).

Ok.  Now.  THAT SAID, I have one stipulation.  I am a big fan of serving special drinks or punch when I get together with friends, and occasionally, pop makes it into the mix.  Fun beverages are almost always ridiculously easy and it makes any day-no matter how ordinary-seem kinda special.  One of my most favorite things to serve to just about anyone are these June Bugs.  So.  Good.  And there is ginger ale in there.  So yes, when I drink June Bugs, I am drinking pop.  And you know what??  I LIKE it!
Fizzy Apricot Coolers W/LemonThis drink is made individually and is, again, super easy.  You know what I love most about it?  Its not sweet!  The apricot nectar is not a sugary juice (it is actually a bit tart) and ginger ale is not nearly as sweet as a lemon lime pop.  The fresh lemon is not essential, but it makes a big difference in the taste and I never leave it out.  It kind of showcases the other flavors and makes it that much more refreshing.  Bottom line?  It is wonderful to sip on a hot day.  Even if you are a non-pop drinking synchronized swimmer.
Fizzy Apricot Coolers W/LemonFizzy Apricot Coolers W/LemonTwo Years Ago: Maple Glazed Ribs
Three Years Ago: Plum Crunch

Fizzy Apricot Coolers W/Lemon

Gingerale
Apricot Nectar (in the little cans in the juice section of your super market)
Fresh Lemon Wedges
Ice

Fill a glass of desired size with ice.  If it is a tall glass, add about 1/3 c of apricot nectar, several wedges of lemon, and fill glass with ginger ale.  If it is a small glass, add a few T of nectar and adjust as necessary.  Enjoy!

Cucumber StackersYes, I am sharing a recipe of sorts, but that isn’t what this blog post is really about.  This blog post is about two things: The magic of what you can come up with when faced with limited kitchen utensils, and what you should pack so that you at least have those few limited kitchen utensils.

Before the movers packed up our house in IL, I needed to separate out the items that I didn’t mind being without, and those I really wanted to bring along to our rental apartment in South Carolina.  We had planned on staying there until our house was done being built, which should happen sometime around Christmas.  The apartment was furnished with the basics.  In the kitchen, this included a full set of dishes, glasses, and flatware, a knife set in a block on the counter, a can opener, a basic set of pots and pans, one large plastic colander, a toaster, coffee maker, a set of plastic mixing bowls, and several other random, everyday items that although cheaply made, would serve their purpose.  Often these are the same items in your run of the mill hotel kitchenette or home/condo rental.  I wanted to mention my situation as we are full into vacation season and there is a good chance that you will be faced with my same dilemma.  The only exception is for those of you flying to your destination.  I do not recommend you take your Santoku chefs knife with you in your carry on.  They may frown on that.

I realize that ‘kitchen essentials’ is a broad term, as everyone had a different view of what those are.  Some people can’t live without a garlic press or George Foreman Grill.  I am not one of those people.  I do, however, like to have items that can be used as multipurpose tools as much as possible.  My Kitchen Aid mixer, while one of my favorite and most used appliances, was hard to justify packing for our temporary rental home, being large, awkward, and heavier than all three of my children combined.  I knew that space would be a factor so I was brutal and sparing during the selection process.  Sorry, favorite wooden cutting board I got at a garage sale in college and have brought with me through 9 homes and 6 states.  I can’t cut meat on you so you don’t fit the whole ‘multipurpose’ requirement.  Into the box with the popover pans you go.  Vegetable peeler?  Nope.  A plain old pairing knife will do fine, thank you.

So what did come along?  A group of items that I quite simply use on a regular enough basis that I can’t be without them.  And ooooooh boy were my choices tested.  Little did I know, I would be moving out of our little rental apartment and into a little-and oh so empty-rental home mere days after arriving.  Turns out there was a crazy man living below us who liked to pound on our door and scream obscenities at us when we did wild things like laundry at noon on a Tuesday.  Very uncool with three small children.  Sooooo…I unpacked, with the unfailing help of my Mother-In-Law (who also bravely yelled at said Crazy Man to, and I quote, “Watch your language!  There are children present in this apartment!!” :) and then the following day, repacked again.  The majority of our household goods are in storage, but our clothing and all items we would have need for for the next 6 months are with us.  We threw our belongings in our truck and hauled them to a rental house that, by the grace of God, we discovered was immediately available.  The bummer?  It was completely empty.  Noth.  Ing.  No dishes.  No colander.  No can opener.  And the microwave was broken.  Boo.

So what, you ask, have I been cooking and cooking with these last three weeks?
In no particular order, and with very bad photography as I was packing well past midnight and it was obviously dark, here are the items I make sure are ALWAYS in my kitchen.
IMG_1027Up first, my microplane.  Not the utensil you were expecting?  Let me explain.

I use my microplane almost daily, especially in the summer.  I cook and bake with fresh citrus and fresh ginger so often during the warmer months, I really didn’t want to leave it behind.  Of all the items, this is the one I could have skipped, but it takes up almost no space, so into the laundry basket of necessities it went.

Honorable Mention: The stone pot that it is leaning against is actually an old fashioned bread pan.  I got it from my Aunt years ago and it does indeed make a great loaf of bread.  These days, it stands on our bookshelves as a decorative piece and we use it to hold our loose change.  Making it to the bank to cash all the coins inside did NOT happen in the last frantic days before the move so it ended up coming with us.  Is it weird that I am comforted by that familiar sight in the midst of all kinds of moving chaos?
IMG_1026My blender and slow cooker.  My blender was a no brainer, due to the fact that we eat smoothies almost daily.  In addition, I use it to make no cook sauces like this one (pesto too) and refreshing drinks, like these margaritas.  The slow cooker was a last minute decision which I am SO glad I made.  I moved to South Carolina, a state known for sun and sand and heat.  I wanted to make sure I had access to an appliance that wouldn’t heat the whole house during our summer of acclimation.  :)  It is getting a TON of use, which you will see more evidence of as the weeks continue.
IMG_1025Yes, this is a lime green rubber scraper and really ugly spatula.  Before you judge, hear me out.

The green one is silicone so I can use it with hot pans to stir scrambled eggs, toss sautéed shrimp, and stir sauces or soups etc, without melting it.  The fact that is it just a great bowl scraper is nice, as well as the slight bowl that allows me to scoop, divide, and serve using one utensil.  The nasty looking 1.99$ spatula on the right I have had since I got it at the dollar store in college some 16 years ago.  Why do I still have it, you ask?  It is the thinnest spatula I have ever found.  And let me tell ya, I have been looking!  It gets under the edge of a cookie, pancake, fillet of fish, or slice of fruit with no problem.  The edge is uber skinny and for some reason, every time I try to replace it, all the new ones are super thick and squash my pancakes instead of sliding underneath them to flip.  It is discolored and half melted and stands out like a sore thumb in the utensil bucket on my counter, but I can’t seem to part with it.  It also makes a great scepter when your kids are reenacting the movie The Princess Diaries.
IMG_1023No, I did not bring my whole knife block, but I did bring my favorite 6 inch Santoku Chefs knife.  I use it for everything and wrapped in a thick towel, it was one of the first things I packed to come with me.  It is the perfect size and weight for my small hands and I use it to chop, slice, mince, carve, and a myriad of other things.  Not pictured is a super sharp pairing knife that is a tiny bit bigger than average and has a nice tight guard that fits over the blade.  It also happens to be neon green and I am always tossing it into our picnic basket.  I packed it as well because the color makes it easy to find in a bag full of random things and the guard keeps it safe from my searching fingers.  It is small enough to peel potatoes, scrape carrots, and cut up an apple but large enough to cut sandwiches in half for little hands, slice small amounts of meat, and divide a loaf of bread.  It has become an invaluable traveling tool (again, not on an airplane) with children.  This knife is similar to what I have.
IMG_1022Of course, I brought along two restaurant grade, half sheet pans, and a large plastic cutting board.  The sheet pans are for roasting, baking, toasting, and broiling.  The cutting board is indestructible and just big enough to handle any job, but not so huge that it is a nuisance to tuck in a small kitchen.
IMG_1330Lastly, I made sure to add all my older kitchen towels.  They are super soft, but well worn and can be used as actual towels or rags.  I have a lot of them I need to replace so I just figured I would wear them out entirely until the house was built and then finally buckle down and purchase some new ones to go with my new kitchen.  Pot holders are obvious.  I brought my dark ones because they hide stains better and are a bit thicker.  I use them as trivets too.

Also not pictured: an 8 inch, nonstick saute pan, a 10 inch high sided fry pan that is oven proof, and a 1 quart glass measuring cup.

So thats it!  I have NOTHING else in my kitchen!  It has been a rough few weeks and after a quick trip to Target, we nabbed disposable silverware, bowls and plates and I did grab a can opener.  Other than that, I have been VERY creative.  If you are driving to your own rental place for vacation this summer, think about these items and what you can get the most use out of if you will be cooking your own food.  There is nothing worse than getting somewhere, only to find out there are no pots and pans or that the only knife is good for only slicing bananas.

Speaking of creative, I felt like my kids and I were consuming WAY too many bread products, as they are easy snacks when you have little to cook with.  In the interest of cleaning out what limited items were in the fridge before spoiling, I made these for lunch a few days last week.  So fun, the kids helped build them, and we goofed around with the ingredients based on what we had available.  Not much of a recipe, but a neat idea for the summer!
Cucumber StackersCucumber StackersOne Year Ago: Classic Potato Salad & Chocolate Cherry Almond Clusters
Two Years Ago: Yogurt Salads
Three Years Ago: Rum Raisin Rice Pudding & Garden Salsa & Guacamole

Cucumber Stackers
Inspired by my leftovers.

sliced cucumbers-I like the thin skins of English cucumbers but use whatever you want
sliced tomatoes
sliced cheese
ranch (optional)
whatever else you think would be good

We just stacked and ate.  I had some pre-grated carrot leftover from making this salad and used that too, but it was harder to eat that way.  The kids didn’t mind though!  What would you put in your stackers?

Whole Wheat Cheese & Chocolate Snack RollsRight around this time of year I start to feel like this is my life.  Make no mistake, I know it will only get worse as my kids get older, but preparing for a move across the country, trying to sell our house and buy a different one in a different time zone, transitioning insurance (…and doctors and ballet studios and karate dojos and playgrounds and pharmacies…) I am just barely hanging in there.  It is only slight exaggeration when I say that this little snack saved my life about a month ago.

Sometimes, when I am just. so. bored. with what is in my fridge and I just can’t make myself make/eat another peanut butter sandwich or ham and cheese roll-up for me OR my kids, I tend to kinda loose it.  I am not a creature of habit.  No no.  I need variety.  I know you know this already, but it bears repeating so that you understand the full reasons behind the chocolate chips.

I was desperate.

Truthfully (and this is a safe place so I feel as though I can be honest here), I wanted some cheesecake.  Badly.  I wanted the thick, rich, toothiness that comes with a super cold slice of New York style cheese cake.  The ‘clog your arteries with one bite’ kind.  Of course, living in the heartland of the midwest and surrounded by cornfields, I would have to make it myself.  Unfortunately, my kitchen contained exactly zero of the elements that make a cheesecake as I am in the middle of trying to empty my cupboards, freezer, and fridge.

This little snack was my compromise and I have been dishing them out as a part of lunches, snacks, and late breakfasts ever since.  I usually add honey to just about anything that I smear with cream cheese, but in this case, I um…well…I forgot.  That was  my intention, as I stood at the fridge and blankly decided to add chocolate to cream cheese, and then I spaced it.  Turns out, that was a smooth move because it doesn’t need that added blast of sweetness.  Whole wheat tortillas are a staple in our house and if you make them from scratch yourself, all the better!  Smeared with low fat cream cheese and sprinkled with mini chocolate chips, this snack is not really sweet at all, but is actually quite satisfying.  I have been passing them off to the kids as we struggle to the end of the school year, and even whipping them up as a quick, protein snack to keep me from crashing after a workout.  And lets face it; mini chocolate chips make everyone happy.  Especially when you are just days away from summer vacation.

*deep breath*  I’m ready.
Whole Wheat Cheese & Chocolate Snack RollsWhole Wheat Cheese & Chocolate Snack RollsWhole Wheat Cheese & Chocolate Snack RollsTwo Years AgoTofu Chocolate Pudding
Three Years Ago: Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream & Lemon Thyme Orzo

Whole Wheat Cheese & Chocolate Snack Rolls

whole wheat tortillas
low-fat whipped cream cheese
mini chocolate chips, dark if you can find them

Spread a thin layer of cream cheese on the tortilla, sprinkle with mini chips, roll and eat or slice into bit sized pieces.

Pioneer Bread

Pioneer BreadCan I just, say something…crazy?
In my head, that request was stated like Princess Anna in Frozen.
Ok.  Here is the crazy thing.  Are you ready?

This bread tastes like history.  Like the Old West.  Like The Oregon Trail.

I TOLD you it was crazy, and although I am not a woman prone to exaggeration (*cough cough* ahem), I promise you this is true.  It makes you think of covered wagons, sod houses, and Little House On The Prairie.  I take a bite, close my eyes, and I no longer hear the beep of the microwave timer, but instead, the clang of the iron cookstove door as my husbands adds more logs to the fire.  I can almost smell the waist high grasses blowing outside of the open kitchen window.  My calloused hands bring the still warm slice of bread to my lips for another taste and a sudden bellow from Mazy in barn reminds me that its almost time for evening milking.

Don’t you love it when food does that to you?  Transports you to another time and place or evokes a thought or feeling with just a taste?  I do.  That is one of my favorite things about food.  Perhaps a little of it is the name, but I feel stronger, more independent, and more adventurous just mixing up a batch.

The recipe-or a version of it-has been handed down through families for generations.  It relies on the acid of sour milk to do its leavening and contains no refined sugars and no butter or oil.  Certain items have been changed over time, such as the use of  wheat flour, but I think it still stays true to its name.  It is hearty and a bit heavy, due to the denseness of the ingredients, but it isn’t TOO heavy.  The dried fruit helps sweeten the bread but the honey flavor comes through and results in a bread that nearly tastes like sunshine itself.  We like to eat it sliced thick, plain, right out of the hand.  When you get to the end of the loaf after a day or two, toasted with butter is down right excellent.  Milk cow and covered wagon optional.
Pioneer BreadPioneer BreadPioneer BreadOne Year Ago: Pomegranate Sorbet W/Mini Chocolate Chips & White Sangria,
Two Years Ago: Classic Buttermilk Biscuits, The BEST Strawberry Rhubarb Jam,
Three Years Ago: Lemon Chiffon Pie & Outrageous Grilled Pork Chops

Pioneer Bread
Adapted from Americas Test Kitchen
The little boost of sugar is not necessary, but I found that it makes the honey flavor a bit stronger in the finished bread.

3 c white whole wheat flour, or regular whole wheat flour
1 c all purpose flour
1/4 c sugar (optional)
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 egg
2 c buttermilk
1/2 c honey
1 c chopped walnuts
1/2 c chopped dates
1/2 c raisins

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.  Combine dry ingredients in a bowl.  In a large glass measuring cup, whisk together the buttermilk, egg, and honey until combined.  Gently stir into dry ingredients, folding together until not quite mixed.  Add the nuts and dried fruit and gently fold together until completely combined.  Pour the batter into two, well greased or sprayed 9X5 inch loaf pans.  Bake for 50-60 minutes or until golden brown and toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a rack and let cool the rest of the way.  Store well wrapped on the counter for a day or two, or freeze.

Honey Cardamom Snack Cake

Honey Cardamom Snack CakeA year or so ago, my friend Thea and her family stopped by to visit on the way through town.  Aside from the fact that I have know her more than 20 years and she remembers what I looked like in the mid 90′s, she is a professional baker.  She has been mostly special occasion cakes for the last 8 years, but recently opened up a store front, giving the general public a chance to enjoy her creations on a day to day basis.  Needless to say, we talk flour, butter, sugar, and eggs whenever we are together.

On this particular visit, I was baking something.  For the life of me I canNOT remember what it was, but I assure  you, it wasn’t cake.  Of all the things to feed a professional baker, I avoid baked confections as much as possible.  Usually I lean toward things like creme brûlée, fruit bars, and puddings.  Whatever it was I was making, Thea walked into the kitchen, sniffed, and her eyes lit up.  “Are you using cardamom?” was her immediate question.  Yes, I told her.  Why?  “It is one of my favorite spices,” she declared.  “But it is so under-used!’

I agreed.  Even though it is a warm flavor with an almost herb-y quality to it, and is often mixed with Christmas spices, you don’t often see it used completely on its own.  I happen to love it.  I add it to my plain banana bread, shortbread cookies, and most recently, as the feature flavor in snack cakes!
Honey Cardamom Snack CakeHoney Cardamom Snack Cake As you can see, my two year old wasn’t willing to wait until I was done photographing.  The honey is the only sweetener in this recipe so please please PLEASE use local, raw honey if you have the chance.  The flavor is incomparable to the stuff from the grocery store.  It also gives it the perfect level of sweetness.  Paired with a simple, sour cream snack cake base and the warmth of the cardamom, it is just homey.  If you want to use it as a dessert, fresh strawberries and sweet whipped cream are outstanding with this cake.  But generally, I just like to pick it up and take a bite.

Thea would approve.
Honey Cardamom Snack CakeIMG_9145IMG_9102 One Year Ago: Loaded Black Bean Quesadillas

Two Years Ago: Cream Cheese Banana Bread

Three Years Ago: Honey Carrots & Non-Traditional Shepherd’s Pie & One Bowl Chocolate Cake

Honey Cardamom Snack Cake
This tastes great on day two so whip it up when you have time and enjoy as an after school snack!

1/2 c (1 stick) butter, room temp
1 c honey
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 c white whole wheat or whole wheat flour
1 c all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
large pinch of salt
3/4 c sour cream

Preheat the oven to 325.
Using a hand or stand mixer, combine the butter and honey until creamy.  Add the eggs and vanilla and beat until smooth.  In a separate bowl, combine the dry ingredients and add half of the mixture to the honey mixture.  Mix slowly until starting to combine, and add half the sour cream.  Still mixing slowly, add the last of the dry ingredients and the last of the sour cream.  Mix until just barely combined, finishing by hand and scraping down the bowl at the end.  Pour batter into a greased and floured 9 inch cake pan and bake for 40-45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Let cool on the counter for 10 minutes or so, and then turn out onto a rack and let cool the rest of the way.  Slice into wedges and serve!

Whole Wheat Naan

Whole Wheat NaanA few days ago I posted this recipe for Butter Style Chicken in the slow cooker.  At the end of the recipe, I casually mention that you should serve it with naan.  What I really wanted to say was, “Eat it with naan or you will regret it.”  Or even, “If you don’t eat this with naan, you are dead to me.”

Naan, if you are not familiar with it, is an Indian flatbread that is usually baked in a fire oven.  Tandoori oven actually.  Not having access to one of those, and being a bit leery of cooking near open  flames with a rambunctious 2 year old, I make do with what I have.  A dry pan on the stove works great and while I am sure it can’t even TOUCH the flavor of authentic naan, it works out fine for me and my family.

I replaced some of the flour in it with white whole wheat flour, but feel free to stick with regular ‘ol all-purpose if you like.  This is so wonderfully chewy and yeasty with just a bit of char on it.  Do me a favor and make the chicken and then make this naan to go with it.  Then we can stay friends.

On that same note, I like to do nice things for my friends!  Which is why I am giving away a copy of the fantastic, healthy cookbook, Cooking With Greek Yogurt, by Cassie Johnston.  It is ridiculously easy to put your name in the hat (click here to head to the post), costs nothing, and heck!  You may win!  Just ask the winners of my past giveaways!  Loot actually shows up in your mailbox!  From me!  Sweet deal right?
Whole Wheat NaanSlow Cooker Butter ChickenOne Year Ago: Cream Cheese Ice Cream
Two Years Ago: Root Beer Baked Beans & Lime Sherbet Punch
Three Years Ago: Speedy Glazed Salmon

Whole Wheat Naan
Recipe adapted from Half Baked Harvest
This is so great fresh, we never have any leftover.  It is really best eaten right after it is made, but I have heard of other people freezing the extras and then warming it in a low oven.

2 c white flour
2 c white whole wheat flour or whole wheat pastry flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 T sugar
1/4 c warm tap water
3/4 tsp active dry yeast
3/4 c warm, low fat milk
1 c nonfat yogurt

Dissolve the sugar in the warm water and add the yeast.  Stir to combine and let the mixture sit and bloom-bubble and grow a bit as the yeast activates!  Meanwhile, combine the flours, baking powder, and baking soda.  Add the warm milk and yogurt to the yeast mixture, combine and stir into the dry ingredients with a fork.  When it starts to stick together, use your hands to gently combine it evenly into a ball.  Do not over work the dough.  Cover with a piece of cellophane and let sit and rise for about an hour or so.  When ready to cook, divide the dough into 8 equal pieces.  I just eyeball it, but you can use a kitchen scale to be 100% accurate.  Place a dry, cast iron pan, or other heavy bottomed skillet, over medium to medium high heat until very hot.  You can even grill it!!  While the pan heats, roll the dough pieces out one by one on a bit of flour.  Traditionally, it should be rolled in to an oval or tear shape, which is fortunate for me because they never seem to turn out round anyway.  Brush both sides of the dough disc with olive oil or grape seed oil.  Toss quickly onto the hot, dry pan and let set, without moving, until it puffs a bit and is good and toasted in spots.  This should only take a minute or two-tops!  Flip it (Careful! Its hot!) and let it toast on the other.  Remove them to a tea towel lined plate and wrap gently to keep warm.  Immediately brushed with butter and dipped in Butter Chicken, Curry, Tikka Masala, or any other saucy dish, may be the best thing you have ever eaten.  Sometimes, I drizzle a piece or two with honey while the butter is melting.  That would make anyones day.

Traditional Irish Soda Bread

Irish Soda BreadI think Irish Soda Bread is one of those things that people always think is really complicated, when really, it couldn’t be simpler.  I make soda bread year round because it is just so darn good, but given the impending Irish holiday-a heritage that my husband and I both share-I thought posting it now was apropos.

I know this sounds a little crazy, but I like making things like this bread because it makes me feel like I have stepped back in time.  Everything about the way it looks, smells, and even the way it feels in your hands when you break it apart calls up images of green fields, rock walls, a heavy knitted sweater or two, and cloudy skies.  You get a feeling that you are doing something, that at the root of it, is worthwhile.  Meaningful.  Rustic.  Do  you ever feel that way when you get your hands dirty?  Wether it is digging in the garden or mixing a hearty bread with your fingers, you just feel like you have survival skills.  Like you know you would make it in a post apocalyptic world.  Assuming you survived the zombies, of course…

The basics of this bread, traditionally, consist of whole grain flour, baking soda, some sort of acid to activate the soda and make the bread rise, and water.   It was plain and eaten with meals or on its own as a quick lunch.  Different regions of Ireland have different variations on shape, cooking, and flavorings, but there are a few things that seem universal.  Most include some sort of dried fruit, such as raisins or currants, and often have the shape of a cross carved in the top of the loaf to ward off the devil.  Who am I to break tradition??

Irish Soda BreadIrish Soda BreadI really have nothing more to say about this fantastic recipe other than it is just fabulous.  I have made a LOT of Irish Soda Breads in the last few years and all of them are good.  I may even share a different one some other day.  But as for a great, straight up, fairly traditional and classic recipe-this is it!  I actually tossed out and deleted several of my other versions because they just don’t compare.  And now I am one step closer to surviving the end of the world.
Irish Soda BreadIrish Soda BreadIrish Soda BreadOne Year Ago: Smokey Smoothie & Quick Peanut Noodles
Two Years AgoPineapple Upside-Down Cake, Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip CookiesStrawberry Orange Pineapple Smoothie, & Chicken Tetrazzini
Three Years Ago: Two Kinds of Cranberry Sauce & Crock Pot Chocolate Mess

Irish Soda Bread
Recipe inspired by numerous places.
This bread is not sweet by any means.  It is rustic and thick and heavy and lovely.  It seems to have the best flavor and texture the day it is made, but toasted on day two is wonderful as well.  Serve this with plenty of cold, salty butter.

3 c flour, plus more as needed
2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
4 T (1/2 stick) cold butter, cut into pieces
1 c wheat bran
1/4 c caraway seeds
1 c raisins
1 2/3 c buttermilk or 1 1/3 c whole milk + 1/3 c apple cider vinegar

Preheat oven to 350.  If you are using whole milk and vinegar in place of the buttermilk, combine them now and set aside.
In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the first four ingredients together until combined.  Add the butter and pulse until mixture resembled course crumbs.  Alternatively, cut the butter into the flour mixture using a pastry blender, to knives, or by rubbing the butter between your fingers.  Dump into a large bowl and add the caraway, raisins, and bran.  Mix gently to combine.  Pour in the buttermilk and stir with a large fork until the mixture starts to come together and is just combined.  Dough will be very sticky.  Flour your hands and gently pat the dough into an 8 inch domed round on a large baking sheet covered with parchment paper or a Silpat.  Score the top of the round with a large cross and sprinkle with a dusting of flour if desired.  Bake for 1 hour, or until golden brown and toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Let cool on a wire rack.  Slice, or break into four chunks along the grooves and then slice.  Serve with lotsa buttah!

Mission Fig Bites

Mission Fig BitesI never had Fig Newtons growing up.

If it wasn’t a generic brand or purchased in bulk (Hydrox cookies all the way!!), I didn’t eat it.  In high school on the bus to a swim meet, a friend of mine passed me my first Fig Newton.  Now, I learned a lot of things from my fellow chlorine addicted athletes.  They taught me how to whistle, what a fish tail braid was, and introduced me to the benefits of facial moisturizer.  But these?  I was a bit underwhelmed, to say the least.  What was all the fuss about?  I knew what they were of course, the 80′s and 90′s being filled with the slogan, “A cookie is just a cookie, but Newtons are fruit and cake.”  Remember that?  Yeah.  They don’t tell you that you need three glasses of water handy just to get one of them down.  Dry, tasteless, and with a weird figgy crunch, I never saw the need to eat one again.

After this, I assumed I just didn’t like figs.  Fast forward a few years to me eating a slice of pizza at a vineyard in Temecula CA.  I don’t remember the specifics, but the super thin crispy crust, roasted fresh figs, arugula-and maybe some cheese?-had me hooked.  Obviously I was missing out.

When I found this recipe in this cookbook, I raised my eyebrows.  Lots of foods taste good dipped in chocolate (peanut butter, strawberries, bacon…) but figs?  You have to draw the line somewhere and I assumed it was well before this combo.  But I love little bites of things I can make ahead of time and if it is good for me, even better.  So I gave them a try.  And you know what?

Eureka!  The sweetness of the figs is more than enough to satisfy any sugar craving, so naturally, my kids devoured them.  They found the crunch of the fig seeds highly entertaining…My husband inhaled his share, confessing that he has always loved  figs and then asking why I didn’t cook with them more often.  Apparently, they were a hit.  The few people I passed them along to went wild for them as well, despite my constant skepticism about wether they would appeal to most people.  I mean, I liked them, but I’ll eat just about anything and therefore tend to try not to use myself as a chocolate barometer.  I can’t wait to tuck them into goodie containers during the holidays and these are SO going on my list of treats to send along with dinner when I have a friend in need.  My daughter took one in her lunch today.  I’ll think of it as this generations version of a Fig Newton…
Mission Fig BitesMission Fig BitesOne Year Ago: Sweet Potato Hash
Two Years Ago: Strawberry Avocado Salad W/Honey Lime Vinaigrette &  Bite Sized Cinnamon Rolls

Mission Fig Bites
Recipe adapted from Giada DeLaurentiis
I am not a calorie counter, but I noticed that these little babies are only about 60 calories a piece.  Yippee!!  Fortunately, the figs in them are so sweet, I only need to eat one!

3 c roughly chopped dried mission figs, stems removed (about 14 oz)
2-3 T almond butter
1 bag good quality dark chocolate chips
1 T vegetable or grape seed oil

In a medium microwaveable bowl, dump in the chocolate chips and pour the oil over top.  The oil makes the chocolate just a tiny bit easier to dip and gives the set chocolate a smooth and shiny appearance.  Melt them together in 30 second intervals, stirring after each one and stopping just before completely smooth.  Stir vigorously until the last lumps are out, being careful not to overheat.  In the meantime, combine the figs and just 2 T of the almond butter in a food processor and let run until combined and chopped together.  If the mixture won’t hold together when you pinch it, add the last tablespoon of almond butter.  This will depend on how dry your figs are.  When it is done, use a teaspoon to scoop out a ball the size of a large grape.  Press and squeeze the mixture into a ball, rolling it gently into an even circle.  Dip it in chocolate-a fork is best for this-letting the excess chocolate run off.  Use a toothpick to slide the balls off the fork and onto a wax or parchment paper lined sheet pan.  This will keep the tops perfect and smooth.  If you don’t care if they are pretty, just plop them down onto the pan. :)  Let cool for about an hour for the chocolate to set and harden.  Store in an airtight container on the fridge for a week or two, or freeze for up to 1 month!

Homemade Instant Hot Cocoa Mix

Homemade Instant Hot Chocolate {Brittany's Pantry}So…um….yeah.  This weather sucks lemons.

Before we get to todays recipe and my witty ramblings, I want to point out the handy dandy little icon on the top right of this page.  YES!  The rumors are true! Brittany’s Pantry has joined INSTAGRAM!!!  Do you know what this means, faithful readers?  It means that you now have photographic visual aids to keep up to date with my kitchen, my cooking, my failures, and yes, my pantry!  So click on the link to join me and while you are at it, check out Brittany’s Pantry on Pinterest, Facebook, and Twitter!

So.  Between the church cancelations, school closings, impassable roads, and dangerous cold here in central IL, it is safe to say that we are kind of stuck in the house for a bit.  I’ve made soup, roasts, stews, baked desserts, and I am finally breaking free from the comfort food coma and heading in a lighter direction tonight; Roasted Fish with veggies and Baked Garlic Brown Rice.  I am still using the oven to give that warm, cozy feeling to the main floor of the house, but with something a little healthier than a baked/chicken/pasta/cheese/cream/bread crumb/butter type of casserole.  But this meal is no less comforting.  The rice is going to make the house smell deeeee-VINE ( a kind of…pre-requisite for food made during a winter storm) and the rest will be hot and tasty.  *sigh*  I can’t wait for dinner.

Between meals that could sustain olympic swimmers with their sky-high calorie count, you need to sip something just as warming to your soul.  For me, that will always be hot chocolate.  If you are a long time reader of this blog you know my obsessions with hot chocolate.  I have no less than three different recipes for it in archives here and I am always looking for different versions.  No matter what kind I make, it is always from scratch.  I am a bit of a snob when it comes to hot chocolate and I haven’t bought anything in a packet in years.  Why would you when you can make it sooooo much better yourself?

That said, I am the mother of three and sometimes, I just need the convenience of the already mixed up instant stuff.  Luckily, my Mom is the mother of six and wouldn’t ya know-she used to make her own!  This is not a revolutionary idea, but strangely, I don’t know many people who do this.  The monetary savings are enormous, but that aside, it just tastes better!  And the fact that I know exactly what is in it gives me that same warm fuzzy feeling that drinking it does.  Sometimes I make different versions of this that contain actual grated chocolate instead of cocoa powder, but my master version does not.  The cocoa powder adds incredible chocolate flavor while allowing you to control the level of sweetness.  Is it the best hot chocolate in the world?  No.  But it is cheap, easy, super fast, adaptable, and last a long time.  That is a major success in my book and definitely earns it a spot here to be shared with all of you.
Homemade Instant Hot Chocolate {Brittany's Pantry}I have made a ridiculous number of versions of this over the years and the main goal has always been to create a mix that doesn’t actually taste like a mix.  It should be rich.  It should be chocolatey.  It should make you go ‘Mmmmmmmmmmm’ (like Will Farell does in elf when he adds the booze to his coffee thinking it is maple syrup) instead of ‘Mmmm-Hey!  I can taste the preservatives and high fructose corn syrup in here.  Can you?’

Because that is most defiantly NOT comforting.

So when it comes to a hardy, non-perishable mix, this is what I use.  When I was a kid, my Mom used to make this in huge double batches (6 kids, remember?) and store it in an empty gallon ice cream pail.  Come to think of it, we stored a LOT of stuff in ice cream pails.  They seal tight on the top and they have a handle.  What could be better?  Snack mix, cookies-all kinds of things.  Either way, my batches aren’t doubles, but we do store ours in an gallon ice cream bucket too.  It tastes even more nostalgic that way.  In the picture above, the last of the mix-we had been using it quite a bit before the weather cooperated enough for me to photograph it-in a quart tupperware container.  A gallon plastic bag works great as well, for mixing and for storing.  Obviously this would be fantastic gifted to friends and family around the holidays, but when the weather turns ugly, it is a handy thing to have tucked in your pantry.

And that is very comforting.
Homemade Instant Hot Chocolate {Brittany's Pantry}One Year Ago: My Go-To Sloppy Joes
Two Years Ago: Forgotten Kisses (Peppermint Meringue Cookies)
Three Years Ago: Honey Waffles & Filet Au Poivre & Fettuccine W/Spinach Alfredo & Shrimp Quesadillas

Homemade Instant Hot Cocoa Mix
This is OK made with hot water, but it is MUCH better made with milk.  Use whole milk if you are being particularly indulgent, but I have made it with skim and it is still lovely and creamy.  A heaping spoonful added to cup of coffee gives you a nearly perfect mocha.  Feel free to add Tablespoon or so of cinnamon to the batch to make a spiced hot chocolate mix.

Sift together:
2 c powdered sugar
1 c cocoa powder (dark is fine)
Add:
2 c powdered milk
1 c powdered non-dairy creamer
heavy pinch of salt

Combine ingredients well and store in an airtight container.  When ready to use, fill whatever size mug you are using about half full of mix and fill the mug with hot water or hot milk.

Whiteout Smoothie

Whiteout SmoothiesHave I ever mentioned how much I love white?

I don’t like to to wear it-that is just an accident waiting to happen-but I love it in my house, my dishes, my kitchen, my decor, and now, in my smoothies.  My cupboards are white, my appliances are white, and I collect milk glass to display all over my house.  If it wasn’t so darn impractical, my couches would be white.  I love the look of a clean blanket of new snow, and if I can ever get my husband to agree, my dream bathroom would be ALL white.  It looks great with everything and makes any color it is with that much more beautiful.  Naturally, my heart rate accelerated when I recently came across a recipe for white hot chocolate.  Even though I don’t plan on ever making it due to my usual and wildly selective aversion to white (read: fake) chocolate, I couldn’t take my eyes from the pure white drink.  All white.  Clean.  Creamy.  Starkly gorgeous.  White on white on white.  Classic.

With that in mind, I was whipping up smoothies for my kids this week when I realized I didn’t have any fresh spinach left to make this recipe.  So I decided to forgo color all together.  A few fine tuning adjustments and this final recipe was the result.  It is wonderfully thirst quenching and chug-able since it has nothing fibrous to make it super thick.  Its clean and refreshing and a fantastic change of pace from the berry/spinach/kale/ broccoli concoctions that are so popular right now.  And you know what else?  Its white.
Whiteout SmoothiesThe above picture is my special smoothie transporter.  I got it a bajillion years ago when my aunt was cleaning out her Tupperware supply and tossed this into the box that I was getting.  It holds as much as a large drinking glass and the lid seals tight and secure.  If I have a busy morning planned for the next day, I fill this the night before, shake it up on my way to the car, and pop the lid while driving to my destination.  It feels so retro.  However, if I wasn’t going old school with the Tupperware, I would (and might still) pick up one of these bad boys.  I’m thinking they are kinda perfect after I read this write up about them.  They come in two sizes and are kind of awesome.  This is the only place I found this particular model-with a wide spout for smoothies and a sport spout to use as a regular water bottle-that wasn’t in foreign currency.
Whiteout Smoothies Whiteout Smoothies One Year Ago: Asian Smokies
Two Years Ago: Midnight Crackles
Three Years Ago: Hot Wings

Whiteout Smoothies
If your avoid smoothies because you don’t fancy the thick texture, this is a great alternative.  It is thinner but no less nutritious.  It also makes a great base to add other fruit to, thus making it a ‘non white’ smoothie!  The amount of honey you add will depend on the ripeness and sweetness of your bananas and your overall individual preference for tang.

2 c plain yogurt, low fat-I use half of a large 2 lb container
2 c unsweetened refrigerated coconut milk
2 bananas
2 T honey (or to taste), preferably local
1 T ground flax seed

Blend all ingredients together in a blender.  Taste a bit to see if you need to add more honey.  This makes two large servings for breakfast or four 1 c servings to share.

Outrageous Caramel Dip

The BEST Caramel Dip I stumbled across this recipe on another food blog and the picture of an apple doused in hot caramel dip drew me in.  Actually, ever since I was pregnant with my second, caramel has been at the top of my ‘eat it’ list.  I haven’t been a very big caramel fan in the past, but ever since Eli, it started tasting really good.  And that yummy taste hasn’t waned.  Unfortunately.

I really love this cold, creamy dip for apples.  But friends, I am telling ya.  Todays dish is a whole other ball game.  A horse of a different color.  Totally different dip, people.  I can see it making a legend out of you.  It is that kind of recipe.  You bring it to a party or get together just once, and you will forever thereafter be known as the-one-who-brough-that-amazing-caramel-dip.  I am not exaggerating in the least when I say that it tastes best when devoured with a spoon, but if people are watching, you generally want to be a bit more civilized and use an apple slice or pretzel.  If you happen to be among family who will love you no matter what, just put the bowl in the middle of the table with a handful of spoons and announce, “Dessert is served!”
Outrageous Caramel Dip The BEST Caramel DipTwo Years Ago: Leek & Potato Soup
Three Years Ago: Sweet Cream Biscuits

The BEST Caramel Dip
Recipe adapted from Bless This Mess
This is good with pretzels, but even better with apple slices.  Warm it up and douse your vanilla sundae or hot pancakes with it!

1/2 c (1 stick) butter
1/2 c brown sugar
3/4 c light corn syrup
1-14 oz can sweetened condensed milk
1 tsp vanilla

Put the first four ingredients in a small, heavy bottomed sauce pan over medium/medium low heat.  Stirring constantly, melt all the ingredients together and bring to JUST below a bubble.  It will scorch if it gets too hot, but you want to go just until the brown sugar is melted. Remove from heat and store at room temperature for a day or two or in the fridge for up to two weeks.  Caramel will become extremely firm when cold, but setting it out at room temperature will make it pliable enough to dip.  This also freezes great so make it ahead if you need to, or freeze half for later.