Honey Cinnamon Peanut Butter Hi everyone!

I know I have been kind of missing the last week or so and I have a good excuse.  Its summer!  I have been immersed in home improvement projects, little red wagon walks around the neighborhood, bike rides, picnics, and appointments!  I am also in the middle of trying to perfect an oatmeal raisin cookie recipe (that still is not ready after 9 batches-argg!) so that has been keeping me in the kitchen but away from my computer and all of you!

That said, I have been making big plans and am excited to share!  Today marks the first day of my Back To School Series!  I have been compiling lists, recipes, ideas, and tips to help make lunches, snacks, and weeknight dinners a bit easier, more streamlined, and less monotonous!  The series will continue through August and September as we all get back into the swing of things and nail down a new routine for a new school year.  Not everything posted here in the next few months will be geared toward kids, but the great thing is that even if you are single, married without children, or empty nesters, its nice to have some fresh ideas for healthy snacks, brown bag lunches at the office, and even pre/post workout food!
HoneyIn addition to what is hopefully  useful ideas for you, starting today, I will be featuring one of my favorite ingredients throughout the month: HONEY!  If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know how much I luuuuv to cook and bake with it!  My local supplier has been harvesting and I am celebrating with a wealth of new recipes all highlighting the golden sweet stuff.  Which brings me to my next announcement-another GIVEAWAY!  My third and final giveaway of the summer will be a box of raw honey shipped straight to one lucky winner!  More details on that later so keep checking back so you don’t miss it!  Be sure to follow Brittany’s Pantry on Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, and subscribe via email so you are sure to get all my updates and witty prose!

And now, on to the eats!
Honey Cinnamon Peanut ButterWe love peanut butter at our house.  As in, we go through an obscene amount of it every month.  We never get sick of pb&j and it makes its way into my baking and cooking on a regular basis.  Unfortunately, we don’t have access to good natural peanut butter here-which we far prefer-but we make do with our favorite brand.  We are a JIF family all the way, baby!  But as much as I like peanut butter, I dislike repetition.  I get bored with food quite often and even though the chitlins and the hubs don’t complain, I like to shake things up.

Can I confess something to you?  Every time I watch the movie Matilda and I see her make a sandwich with that Smuckers Goober Grape, I wonder why I don’t do the same thing.  I mean, what a genius time saver!  So here is my version, sans the retro look and just a bit more versatile.

These two recipes are kicking off the Back To School series because they are, well, peanut butter!  Can you get more traditional than that?  Feel free to post your ideas in the comments section below!  Here are some snack and lunch ideas to get you started:

– use either spread to make a sandwich but use banana bread instead

– dip apple or pear slices in it

– we LOVE them smeared on a warm multi-grain bagel

– make a chocolate peanut butter and cream cheese sandwich with raisin bread

– spread it on a graham cracker with some marshmallow fluff and make an extra special fluffernutter snack

– spread it on a rice cake

– top sliced bananas

– use it as a dip and pack it with graham crackers, pretzel sticks, or mini vanilla wafers
Honey Cinnamon Peanut ButterHoney Cinnamon Peanut Butter Honey Cinnamon Peanut ButterOne Year Ago: Ranch Dressing, Saucepan Brownies
Two Years Ago: Smashed Potatoes W/Spinach, Cherry Hand Pies, Grilled Yogurt Chicken
Three Years Ago: Earth Bread, Banana Bran Muffins

Honey Cinnamon Peanut Butter
This will keep tightly covered in the fridge for weeks.  Although I doubt it will last that long!

1 c creamy peanut butter
3 T honey
1 1/2-2 tsp cinnamon

Whisk all ingredients together.

Peanut Butter W/Honey & Cocoa
I wanted this to taste like peanut butter with chocolate in it, not chocolate with a bit of peanut butter.  This has just a hint of chocolate without being too sweet.

1 c creamy peanut butter
1/4 c honey
1 T cocoa powder
a splash of hot water

Whisk all ingredients together.  Add the splash of hot water if needed, as the cocoa can make it a bit dry.

Chocolate Cherry Almond Clusters

Chocolate Cherry Almond Clusters
I have never really like almonds.

Ok.  I shouldn’t say that.  Its not that I don’t like almonds, they just always seem to be in the way.  Ground up and coating my fish?  No thanks.  A whole, big, chunky almond in my trail mix?  Too big of a bite.  And for some reason, they just never seem to be as crunchy as other nuts.  Really, the only exception to this is when my sister introduced me to these, which incidentally, are strangely addictive and I highly recommend them.

But I digress.  Chocolate, cherries, and almonds are obviously not an original combination.  But I have never actually taken the time to combine them simply in a little snack.  And I have NO IDEA WHY!  Almonds are crazy good for you with all the fiber, healthy fats, and Vit E to benefit your skin and lower cholesterol.  Of course, cherries and dark chocolate are both filled with a wealth of nutrients and antioxidants.  That triple health combo makes these a powerhouse of good things for your body, but satisfying as well.  Just three little foods!  No muss.  No fuss.  Nothing extra, and using good, quality ingredients.  I am a little embarrassed to say just how many of these I have had over the last few weeks, so….I won’t tell you how many I have had.  But I may or may not be eating one right now and typing with one hand.

The only warning I have for you about these, other than the fact that you may hate me for turning you on to this incredibly munch-able snack, is that they will melt in your mouth, but also in your hand!  The point here is to use good ingredients so that you end up with something fairly good for you, not filled with chemicals and extra sugars.  Because a good quality, dark chocolate won’t have stabilizers in them like a commercial chocolate chip does, they will melt into a mess rather easily.  But as for downsides, thats all I got.  They are awesome.  And they make staying healthy taste oh so good.

Chocolate Cherry Almond ClustersOne Year Ago: Yogurt Salads
Two Years Ago: Guacamole & Red Velvet Cupcakes

Chocolate Cherry Almond Clusters
The key here is to use good quality ingredients, with as few additives as possible.  These are awesome right out of the freezer.

8 oz good dark or bittersweet chocolate, at least 60% cacao, finely chopped
1 1/2 c roughly chopped unsalted almonds
1 1/2 c roughly chopped dried sour cherries

In a medium glass bowl, melt the chocolate at 30 second intervals, stirring in between, and stopping before it is smooth. At the end, the heat of the bowl and a vigorous stir will work out the last of the lumps without overheating your chocolate.  Always err on the side of less heat when it comes to chocolate.  Stir in the almonds and cherries until well mixed.  Line a baking sheet with wax or parchment paper and scoop and portion out the mixture in large tablespoons.  I consistently get exactly 20 clusters out of a batch!  Chill until set in the fridge and store in an airtight container in the fridge or freezer.

Classic Deviled Eggs

Classic Deviled Eggs I learned a lot of things from my parents.

I learned how to sew, how to cook, how to check all the fluids in my car, and how to change a tire.  My Mom taught me how to be a good public speaker and how to bake.  My Dad taught me how to make eggs over easy and how to grill the perfect steak; salt and pepper only please!

Among other (more important) things, of course, I can add ‘how to make deviled eggs’ to that list.  You may think this isn’t any great feat, but every time I serve them to people other than my immediate family, they always say Wow!  And I always give the same surprised response.  I just assumed, like grilling a good steak, that making great deviled eggs was something everyone knew how to do!  We ate them all the time growing up, and these days, I like to surprise my family by whipping them up for casual occasions like a picnic in the park.  BLT’s, deviled eggs, a big container of fruit, and a jar of olives is quite spectacular on a breezy summer day.  Without fail, a bite of a these takes me right back to my childhood, where I must say, there never seemed to be enough to go around.  For some reason, they also conjure images of my Mom in a floor length orange and yellow flowered skirt and a long sleeved, chambray shirt, circa 1975.  I would imagine they are nostalgic to a lot of people as they are, after all, a bit of americana, right?  Deviled eggs seem to surface at every pot luck around the country; usually sitting right next to the lime and pineapple jello salad with the carrots shredded on the top.  And they are always the first to go, whether they have the controversial pickle relish stirred in or not!  Because we Americans know a good thing when we see it.

But mine are plain.  Plain and classic.  Four, maybe five ingredients, and you are all done.  The kind of recipe that you really don’t need actually.  You will make them once and you are set.  Ready for the park or a neighborhood pot luck.  Just don’t forget the jello salad.
And congratulations to Noelle #19 for winning the giveaway!!

Classic Deviled EggsClassic Deviled EggsOne Year Ago: Tofu Chocolate Pudding
Two Years Ago: White Chocolate Rainbow Cake

Classic Deviled Eggs

6 large eggs, hardboiled *see note*
1/4 c mayo
1 tsp mustard, classic yellow is preferred, dijon is OK too
black pepper to taste

Cut the eggs in half lengthwise.  Put five of the yolks in a small howl and discard the sixth.  Mash the yolks with a fork and add the mayo, mustard, and pepper.  Mix well.  Pipe or scoop the filling into the egg halves.  Dust with paprika.
*Note*  There are a ton of different methods and tips out there for making the perfect hardboiled egg.  Through experience, this is how I do them.  Put your eggs in a shallow saucepan and cover with cold water.  Put them over high heat and when they come to a boil, turn the unit down so they boil, but not vigorously, and set your timer for 7 minutes for extra large eggs, 6 minutes for large eggs.  When they timer goes off.  Pull them off the heat and let them sit in the hot water for 10 minutes.  Drain, and chill in ice water.


A few weeks ago, I confessed my love of quinoa.  When I recently came cross a recipe that called for cooked quinoa in granola, I nearly fell off my chair.  I thought it was brilliant, and before I had even made any I was sold.  Granola is a protein, nutrient rich food anyway (check out our favorite basic recipe here!), but add a grain like quinoa to it and it becomes a full on powerhouse of a snack!  Pair that with vitamin and antioxidant rich berries, low fat, organic yogurt for an extra boost of calcium, and you have yourself a nutrient dense breakfast or lunch that will give you energy for your day or boost your recovery after a workout.  Truly powerful.


This recipe begs to be stirred into something.  This is not your, snack-out-of-the-bag type of granola that is all clumpy.  Um, no.  That would be crumby.

Get it?  Crumby?  Heh heh…

Nope, this is a crunchy and dry, sprinkle over yogurt or eat out of the bowl with berries, type of granola.  I like to leave this plain.   As in, I don’t add any kind of dried fruit or chocolate chips to it.  I want it straight up so that I can do with it whatever my mood calls for.  Obviously, you can add whatever you feel like and because it is granola after all, mix-ins are allowed and encouraged.  The picture above is how I like to serve it to my kids.  The plain glass, footed dishes are fun and they feel like they are eating something extra special.  Being able to see the layers just makes mealtime that much more exciting!  And if they eat it with chunks of ripe peach or apricot, fresh blueberries, or even bananas on the bottom, the rainbow just looks cool.  And whether you are a parent, kid, or a kid at heart, it is kinda nice to have your meal look cool.  Dontcha think?

And there isn’t anything crumby about that!


One Year Ago: Chocolate Cheesecake Bars
Two Years Ago: Grilled Pork ChopsStrawberry Ice Cream & Sweet Veggie Pasta Salad

Quinoa Granola
Adapted from How Sweet It Is
This granola is great sprinkled over frozen yogurt.  For breakfast, if yogurt isn’t your style, pour milk over it and eat it like cereal!

2 1/2 c rolled oats
1 c cooked quinoa (I freeze one cup portions of my leftovers)
1 c sliced almonds
1/2 c ground flaxseed
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 stick of butter (4 T)
1/2 c honey
1 tsp vanilla
pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

In a large bowl, mix all the dry ingredients together.  Melt the butter in the microwave and stir in the honey and vanilla.  Pour the warm mixture over the oat mixture and mix until evenly moist and well incorporated.  Spread out on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper and bake for 10 minutes.  Stir well, and bake for 10 minutes more.  Continue to bake, checking every few minutes, until dry and crunchy.  The amount of time will vary based on the moisture in your quinoa and your particular oven. For me, it takes about a half hour total.  Remember, the granola will crisp up a bit as it cools.  When its done, let it cool completely on the sheet pan before storing in an airtight container.  The granola freezes great!

Layer with fruit and yogurt for a healthy parfait.  Enjoy!

White Sangria


Don’t let this simple and unassuming picture fool you.  That little drink above packs a heck of a flavorful punch!

If you are a regular reader, you know that I don’t really drink.  But there are a handful of cocktails and party drink recipes that I rely on when I have adult company over.  And with Cinco De Mayo coming up, you could make the best margaritas on the planet, or you could make this sangria.  Citrusy, refreshing, and delightfully tangy.  This recipe has to be made ahead so it is a great recipe to use when entertaining.  It also doubles very easily, so you won’t ever run out of refreshment!  After serving it a half dozen times at a half dozen different kinds of occasions, I listened to all the people who raved about it and made it part of my regular party repertoire.  It has easily become my favorite drink to serve, expertly slipping into lots of different menus with a comfortable sense of belonging.


One Year Ago: Strawberry-Ruhbarb Jam
Two Years Ago: Lemon Chiffon Pie

White Sangria
Adapted from Gina Gallows
When I make this in fall and winter, I use sliced granny smith apple and pears.  The rest of the year, I like to use pears and lemons, or lemons and oranges.  So pretty.

In the bottom of a large, glass pitcher, stir together:
1/3 c sugar
1/2 c brandy
juice of 1 lemon
1 bottle of fruity white wine
1/2 lemon sliced
1/2 pear sliced
Or 1/2 lemon, half orange or 1/2 tart apple, half pear, and 1/2 lemon

Stir to dissolve the sugar and chill for 3-4 hours.
Just before serving, add 1 liter of seltzer water.
If desired, serve over ice.

I love love love sharing recipes like this with you.

I love them because they take something as simple and humble as baked sticks of sweet potatoes and elevates them to a side dish or snack that you remember.  Like the difference between wearing a little black dress on a date with your sweetie with 1.99 flip flops from Old Navy or these sandals from Yves Saint Laurent.  It makes a difference.  Can you eat sweet potato fries without this dip?  Of course.  But every once in awhile it is really nice to…well…dress up.  You know?

This is especially good to serve guests as an appetizer.  Just make a whole big tray of fries, dump them on a big platter and plunk this dip down with it.  Healthy, easy to make ahead, and utterly snack-able.  It is unexpected and fun without being all froophy.  Yeah thats a made up word, but it fits here.  And when you are finally able to brush the snow off your grill (sorry MN) and enjoy a burger, this dip is equally good smeared on a bun.  Heck, we even dunk our carrot sticks in it.  As it turns out, just like this dip, a sleep pair of black stilettos is a nice change of pace from flip flops.
One Year Ago: Cherry Frozen Yogurt W/Mini Chocolate Chips
Two Years Ago: Egg Ribbon Soup

Pepper Lime Mayo
Inspired by Giada

1 recipe sweet potato fries
1 heaping spoonful of sour cream
2 heaping spoonfuls of mayo
2 T lime juice
1/2 tsp pepper
salt to taste

Mix all ingredients together.  Taste it.  You should be able to taste the lime and it should thin it out a bit, but it shouldn’t be sour.  And it should be peppery but not choke you.  Add more lime juice and seasoning as needed.  Serve with fries.

IMG_9739 Greetings!

Sorry I have been MIA for a week!  I have been cooking and baking up a storm but it has been mostly new recipes and experiments.  We were out of the state for several days and I literally didn’t even have time to sleep, let alone get any blogging done.  Our two boys share a birthday and we had the opportunity to celebrate it with our families in Minnesota! Aren’t they cute?
IMG_9561 While it is nice to unplug sometimes, I uh…well…I missed you.  I blog because I love it, and when life keeps me from my computer, I spend most of my time away writing recipes and posts to all of you in my head. Not like, love notes or anything.  Food notes.  Sheesh!   This is one of those recipes!

To be fair, I feel like I should mention that this is SO not what I had planned on sharing today.  I actually have another stellar scone recipe to pass along and my new go-to chocolate cupcake recipe.  But until I get them finalized and dress them up fancy and take their picture, you get quesadillas!  Healthy and flavorful, you can think of them as the ‘good’ food before the chocolatey ‘bad’!

This recipe has been years in the making.  I keep messing with it, changing it, forgetting what I did last time and starting over.  But eventually, I paid attention and became consistent.  Aren’t you proud of me? 🙂 Sometimes some of the ingredients don’t make it in due to lack of proper grocery shopping (ahem), but in general, this is how I throw them together.  They are so chock full of good things-heavy on the veggies and beans-that they are more than enough to satisfy for dinner!
IMG_9681 One Year Ago: Lime Sherbet Punch & Cream Cheese Banana Bread
Two Years Ago: Honey Carrots, Non-Traditional Shepherd’s Pie & One Bowl Chocolate Cake

Loaded Black Bean Quesadillas
Feel free to omit the chicken and make an entirely vegetarian dish!  Check out the note below for a freezer tip!

2 T olive oil
1 onion, diced small
3 cloves garlic, minced
6-8 oz portabella or shitake mushrooms, diced small
2 huge handfuls fresh baby spinach
salt and pepper
1 1/2 tsp cumin
2 cans black beans, rinsed and drained
2 c cooked, shredded chicken
1/4 c salsa, plus additional for serving
2 c shredded cheese
8 whole wheat tortillas

salsa, sour cream, and diced avocado for serving

In a small bowl, mix together the chicken and the 1/4 c salsa.  Set aside.

Drizzle the oil into a medium skillet over medium heat.  Add the onion, garlic, mushrooms, and a bit of salt and pepper, and sauté until mushrooms are brown and the onions are translucent and caramelized, about 6 minutes or so.  Add the cumin and heat together for an additional minute or two.  Taste for seasoning.  Add the spinach and stir and heat for another minute or two, until the spinach is wilted, but not mushy.  Remove from heat and set aside.

In a large bowl, mash the rinsed and drained black beans with a potato masher (my personal weapon of choice) or a fork, until most of them are broken, but it is still chunky.  We don’t want it smooth like baby food here people!  Stir in the mushroom and spinach mixture.  Taste for seasoning.  Go ahead and add a little cayenne here if you like it spicy!

Smear 1/4 of the black bean mixture onto a tortilla, making sure to spread it evenly out to the edges.  Top with some of the chicken and then sprinkle with cheese.  Top with a second tortilla, and toast until crispy on the outside and melty on the inside.  We like to use our panini maker, but a toaster oven, or dry, nonstick skillet is great too!  Repeat with remaining ingredients and tortillas.  Serve with more salsa, sour cream. and avocado!

NOTE: We usually can only eat two, full quesadillas in our family, but the there is the perfect amount of black bean mixture to make four.  So usually, I use up all the chicken on only two of them, and I make the  other two quesadillas vegetarian with just beans and cheese.  Smoosh them together a bit, but don’t toast them!  Put them on a sheet pan in the freezer and when they are solid, carefully place them in a gallon freezer bag and freeze for later.  Then you can defrost a bit and toast as normal!

Blueberry SmoothieThis smoothie is what I have been making lately so naturally, I want to share it with you!  It gets frozen in these little thingamabobs and then added to my daughters lunch.  My boys-especially my almost 1 year old-suck down whatever can’t be frozen, and I just end up trying to steal little tastes between their bites.

As much as I support the ‘lets throw everything we have in the fridge in the blender’ type of mentality when it comes to smoothies, I rarely do that.  I like to have a plan.  While I have never met a smoothie combination that I didn’t like, when I make them myself, I want to have things that go together.  That is why there is no pineapple in this one.  I like my pineapple in this smoothie and the flavor is so great, I don’t want to mess with it.  So when I created this one to help use up some fresh spinach I had, I wanted the flavors to go together, not just be thrown together.  As it turns out, a simple ingredient list proved that less is more.  You don’t need a million different kind of fruits to make it.  Just a few.  The best part?  The flavor is unusually plain.  It doesn’t scream any one flavor so those of you who are raising your eyebrows about spinach in your smoothie can just simmer down!  You can’t taste it specifically, but it makes the whole thing kind of mellow.
Blueberry SmoothieSee??  So pretty.  Ready for a whiz.

And the title of the recipe?  Smokey smoothie?  Well, I kept calling it that for lack of a better name and it stuck.  The color is kind of dusky and it looks a bit mysterious.  Don’t we all want a little adventure in the morning?

One Year Ago: Pineapple Upside-Down Cake, Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies, Strawberry-Orange-Pineapple Smoothie
Two Years Ago: Two Kinds of Cranberry Sauce

Smokey Smoothie

1 c fresh or frozen blueberries
2 bananas, frozen if you like
2 huge handfuls of fresh spinach
1 c vanilla yogurt, preferably low fat and organic
2 T ground flax
water, milk, almond milk, or soy milk, as needed to blend

Put all ingredients in a blender and whiz away!  This smoothie doesn’t separate so you can make it in advance and stick it in the fridge.  Just give it a stir before enjoying!

Roasted Garlic Spread I was mixing up this spread and found myself telling my husband this story:

When I was a kid, there was always a quart mason jar in the back of the fridge filled with what looked like mayonnaise, but that I knew was really filled with a strong smelling garlic concoction my dad used to make.  It was bright snowy white and every time it was opened it made our whole house smell like raw garlic.  I actually have no idea what all he put in it, but I am assuming it was a kind of garlic oleo; I only have a vague memory of it being mixed up in a blender.  It lasted forever and didn’t seem to spoil or go bad!  My dad smeared it on meatloaf sandwiches (now that I am older than six this sounds incredible), cold cuts, and just about anything else you can put between two pieces of bread.

The first time I threw this in my little mini food processor, I giggled to myself and thought about how much roasted garlic I would need to make a whole quart of this!  The second time I made it, I had a momentary lapse in judgement and planned on making mayo from scratch and then adding the roasted garlic to make the same spread, but even BETTER!  Then my 10 month old started chewing on my pant leg (because he is teething, not out of hunger :), my daughter needed help with her spelling words, and Eli walked into the kitchen in tears because the fort he was making out of couch cushions wouldn’t stay up.  So I abandoned my ambitions of homemade mayo (at least for now) and stuck with the realistic process of throwing a few ingredients in the processor and whizzing away!  I keep thinking I will change this recipe and tweak it a bit, but I never really do.  It tastes so amazing, why change what works?  On the off chance that you want to fill a quart mason jar and stash it in the back of your fridge, I recommend multiplying the recipe by eight.
Roasted Garlic Spread Roasted Garlic Spread One Year Ago: Party Potatoes & Hot Chocolate #3
Two Years Ago: Honey Bran Muffins & Freezer Coffee Cake

Roasted Garlic Spread
Want to make this even more amazing?  Add a tiny squirt of dijon mustard to taste or even a bit of honey.  Heck!  Add both!  Then smear it on a panini or broiled chicken.  Just make sure you are close to your counter or a sturdy chair because it may make you swoon.

1 recipe (two whole bulbs) of Roasted Garlic
1/2 c mayo-canola or olive oil mayo is great
just a pinch of salt and pepper

Whiz all ingredients in a mini food processor until smooth.  Taste for seasoning.  Store in the fridge and use on sandwiches or panini.  Alternatively, chop or mash the roasted garlic and just stir the ingredients together in a bowl.
Note: If you double the amount of mayo, it makes a great dip for veggies or chips!

Garlic Parmesan Pull-Apart Bread

IMG_7467 So, I am told there is some kind of big deal football game coming up.  Did you hear about this?

I actually had to google it to find out when it was happening!  My husband and I don’t really follow sports, unless you count the Olympics.  I do, of course, love the food that is associated with the Super Bowl.  I can put away my share of chicken wings, let me tell you!  But in the interest of serving something different, I love this bread.

Think of this as a savory monkey bread, if you will.  Just when everyone is expecting heavy, salty, gooey food, you can plunk this down on the table.  It is light and airy with just the right amount of garlic.  No, this isn’t health food (note: there is butter in the recipe below 🙂 but it doesn’t weigh you down like a lot of other snack bread.  And is it just me or is there something decidedly satisfying in ripping off hunks of bread?  Of course, you can serve this with marinara sauce for dipping, but I have also made it to go alongside a big pot of tomato soup.  Dare I say it was better than croutons?  Its neutrality lends itself to just about anything you can think of to pair it with so be creative.  Or heck!  Just stick with plain marinara.  Because in the end, warm garlic bread is just plain great.
Garlic Pull-Apart Bread IMG_7505 One Year Ago: Banana Snack Cake, Black Bean Salsa
Two Years Ago: Vegetable Couscous, 5-Minute Meatloaf, Enchilada Pie

Garlic Parmesan Pull-Apart Bread
Adapted from The Pastry Affair
If you are short on time, or the thought of making bread from scratch makes your knees weak (and not in a ‘Oh my gosh, I just saw Tom Selleck!’ sort of way) just use a purchased 1-1 1/2 pound loaf of bread or pizza dough.

1 pkg (1/4 oz) active dry yeast
1 1/3 c warm water
2 T olive oil
2 tsp salt
3 1/2 c bread flour or all purpose flour
1/4 c butter, melted
2 cloves garlic, minced fine
1 T dried parsley
grated parmesan

In the bowl of a mixer with the dough hook attachment, combine the warm water and the yeast.  Let bloom for 5 minutes, or until a few bubbles appear.  Add the olive oil and salt and with the mixer on low, add the flour, 1/2 c at a time until all the flour is mixed in.  Turn the mixer up to medium and let the hook knead the dough until elastic, about 5 minutes. The dough should bounce back when pressed with a finger.  Alternatively, just mix with a wooden spoon until incorporated. Knead by hand on the counter with a bit of flour to keep from sticking, about 8 minutes.  Drizzle the dough with a bit of oil, turn to coat and cover with plastic wrap.  Let rise on the counter for an hour or until doubled in size.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mix together the butter, garlic, and parsley.  Pinch off pieces of dough about the size of an un-cracked walnut.  Dip the dough in the butter mixture and line the bottom of a bundt pan with a single layer of dough pieces.  Sprinkle generously with parmesan.  Use the second half of the dough to make another layer, drizzling any leftover butter over top.  Sprinkle again with parmesan.  Cover with plastic wrap and let rise a second time on the counter until puffed, about 1 hour more.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Bake the bread for 25-30 minutes, or until evenly golden brown.  Let the bread sit for a few minutes and then invert onto a serving plate.  Serve plain, or with marinara for dipping.

Asian Smokies

Asian SmokiesThe title of this dish may be just a bit of an oxymoron.  You know, like mexican meatloaf; I could be wrong, but I don’t think there are many meatloaves being made south of the border.  And again, this isn’t first hand knowledge as I am not an expert on it, but my guess is there are very few places in asian cuisine for small cocktail sausages.  But given my distaste for ridiculously long recipe titles, this one seemed to best sum up a recipe that only has four ingredients-six if you count the optional garnish.

So what can I tell you about this dish?  It is good.  It is easy.  And my favorite part?  It is different from the other ho-hum cocktail sausage dishes you see at parties and holiday gatherings.  BBQ smokies, sweet and sour smokies-same old same old.  This version is just different enough that you won’t be embarrassed to serve it or bring it along.  These little gems are wonderfully flavorful and won’t be intimidated if you park them on a buffet next to stuffed mushrooms, Caramelized Onion Dip, or a fresh bruscetta.  And they would love to join the ranks of a menu line-up that included hot wings, salsa, and sliders.  The become a quick and easy filler, if you will, to round out your menu.  Familiar, yet interesting.  Tasty, yet fuss-free.  International, yet…OK.  Enough. Just make them, mmkay?
Asian SmokiesOne Year Ago: Leek & Potato Soup & Midnight Crackles
Two Years Ago: Sweet Cream Biscuits

Asian Smokies 
This is an easy recipe to halve if you are making it for a small gathering instead of a crowd.  Leftovers reheat wonderfully.

2 packages smoked cocktail sausages-all beef please!
1/3 c orange marmalade
1/4 c dijon mustard
1 T freshly grated ginger (recommended) or 2 tsp ground ginger
chopped green onions and orange zest for garnish, optional

Mix all ingredients, except the garnishes, in a medium bowl.  Spread in one layer in a 9X13 glass baking dish and roast in the oven at 450 degrees for about 20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes or so.  They are done when the glaze is thick and slightly darker, and the sausages are browned in some spots. If you want, you can broil them at the end but WATCH CAREFULLY!  They will burn very quick!  Transfer to a serving dish, garnish, and serve with plenty of toothpicks for snacking!

Rum Banana Bread: Fruit & Booze

Rum Banana Bread Did the title of this post reel you in?  I must admit…that was my secret plan…. (or not so secret if I am telling you)
*Evil laugh* while ringing hands…

The first time I tried this bread I was intrigued.  The extra step of cooking the bananas in the rum was kind of a red flag, given the fact that I like to keep my quick bread recipes…well…quick.  Duh.  But the obvious pairing of bananas and rum (i.e. bananas foster) sounded so blasted scrumptious I decided to go for it.

And a new traditional holiday bread was born!  I mean, don’t get me wrong; regular banana bread is great.  I make it every once in awhile.  See?  Cream Cheese Banana Bread, Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins, Earth Bread, and Banana Bran Muffins, Double Chocolate Banana Bread… Oy.  But this bread is special enough to add to your holiday platter of sweets.  I tell you, the flavors just makes sense.  And people will look at you and say, “What IS this?” and you will just smile and continue to mingle amongst your guests, secure in the knowledge that you were smart enough to make an extra loaf and get to eat all you want for breakfast in the morning  You are so smart…

And while we are on the subject of intelligence, it would be a fabulous step in the right direction if you wanted to wrap up a loaf of this in a clean, Christmas tea towel, tie it gently with a big ribbon and gift it to a friend or neighbor.  Gratitude will abound and fruitcake will never be mentioned among your circle again. 🙂
Rum Banana Bread Rum Banana Bread Rum Banana Bread One Year Ago: Sun-Dried Tomato Dip, Baked Doughnuts, Rosemary Orange Mixed NutsParmesan Dip & Butternut Squash Crostini

Rum Banana Bread (Bananas Foster Bread)
Adapted from Cooking Light
Bananas with dark spots that are just starting to go soft are perfect for this or any other kind of banana bread.  Don’t be tempted to use under-ripe fruit.  It has little or no flavor for baking.

3 bananas, mashed
1/2 c brown sugar
5 T butter
3 T dark rum
Combine the above ingredients in a small saucepan over medium heat.  Cook until the butter and sugar are melted and the whole thing just starts to bubble.  Remove from heat and set aside to cool slightly.  In the meantime, in a large mixing bowl, add:
1/3 c plain, low fat or fat free yogurt
2 eggs
1/2 c brown sugar
1 tsp rum extract
Beat till smooth and add banana mixture.  Mix till smooth.  Add:
1 c all purpose flour
1/2 c white whole wheat flour or whole wheat flour
1/4 c ground flax seed
3/4 tsp baking soda
pinch of salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp allspice

Mix until ingredients are just incorporated.  Pour into large (about 9X5), sprayed loaf pan and bake at 350 for about an hour, or until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Cool for 10 minutes and then turn out onto a cooling rack to cool completely.
Note: If desired, add 1 T of melted butter & 1 T of dark rum to 1/2 c of powdered sugar and drizzle over top of warm bread.  This will make you swoon, but hang in there.  Cool completely.  You can also add a few drops of rum extract in place of the rum in the glaze.  Just add a bit of water or milk to get it to a nice, pourable consistency.

Killer Fries

Baked Fries“These are the best fries I have ever had!”

That was my husbands response the first time I made these.  Now, after a few batches, he just scolds me for not making enough.  Success!

I should let it be known that I am not a ‘fry’ person.  I like fries and on certain days I really love fries.  I can’t order a burger without them, and if we are being totally honest here (this is a safe place after all-namaste…) I actually go through phases where I strongly crave the chili cheese fries my best girlfriend used to get at Rubys.  It is a 50’s style diner we used to go to all the time when we were stationed in San Diego.  Fantastic burgers.  Awesome milkshakes.  And truly stellar chili fries.  Really, the perfect meal when you are missing your hubby; all salt and grease.  Mmmm.  But other than that, my kids and I can split a small order from a fast food place and barely finish them.  I guess I treat them as more of a condiment, not unlike the ketchup I eat them with, instead of a side item.  Well, all that ends today.

Also, just in case some of you are about to click over to Facebook, assuming I am going to lecture on the importance of double frying your potatoes– HALT!!  You will never catch me doing something so ridiculously time consuming.  If I want fluffy potatoes that are perfectly and uniformly crunchy and taste like they just came out of a restaurant fryer, I will go to a restaurant.  No sirree, Bob.  I would like my fries hearty, and crisp, and hot, and light, and fresh, and…*gasp*…I’ll just whisper this next part-healthy.

I like to sprinkle my fresh and hot out of the oven fries with garlic, parsley, and salt that has been minced together.  However, none of these options hurt anyone either:

* drizzle them with melted butter with a bit of sweet or smoked paprika mixed in
* garlic butter
* freshly grated parmesan
* season salt
* celery salt
* a quick squeeze of fresh lemon juice
* hot sauce
* chili powder, cumin, and brown sugar mixed together and lightly dusted over top

Now you can obviously inhale these with a burger, hot dog, or any other traditionally American main dish you see fries with.  But I urge you to serve them to your guests as an appetizer or snack.  Hot fries are meant to be eaten immediately.  Who better to scarf them down than hungry people loitering in your living room sipping cocktails?  They will eat them.  Your kids will eat them.  Your family will eat them.  Eat them ALL.  And maybe-just maybe-they will think they are the best fries they have ever had.
Baked FriesOne Year Ago: Fluffy Caramel Apple Dip
Two Years Ago: Fried Noodles

Killer Fries
You won’t need to serve these with ketchup.

4 medium russet potatoes, scrubbed well
olive oil
salt and pepper
1 handful of fresh parsley
1 clove garlic
extra pinch of salt

Cut the potatoes into sticks, a bit smaller than a half inch square.  You don’t want them as tiny matchsticks, but you don’t want big wedges either.  When in doubt, go smaller.  Spray a half sheet pan or cookie sheet.  THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT!  When I don’t do this, they stick and steam and don’t turn out crunchy.  Trust me.  Toss the potatoes with a drizzle of olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Spread them out in a single layer in the sprayed sheet pan and bake at 450 degrees until crispy and browned, turning them with a spatula half way through.  This will take about 20 minutes, but depends on your oven, how big you cut your fries, and how crowded your pan is.  I like to figure one potato per person, but Mike always wants me to make more, so you be the judge!  Let them go longer if you like them really crunchy!  Meanwhile.  Put the parsley, garlic and salt on a cutting board all together and chop the heck out of it.  Keep going until the garlic is minced.  The flavors will all end up mixed and lovely and the salt helps mash it all together.  Sprinkle over hot fries and enjoy immediately.

Caramelized Onion Crostini

Onion CrostiniA little over a week ago I posted a How To recipe for Caramelized Onions and promised to post an additional recipe using them.  Well, I wasn’t fibbing!  And I have even more ideas-ideas up the wahzoo!-so brace yourself for a sweet onion overload.  Something on the list below has got to make your toes curl.  That is, if you are tired of eating them straight out of the pan…

* Stir them into mashed potatoes
* Top mashed sweet potatoes with them
* Top a baked potato
* Add them to scrambled eggs
* Use them in a quesadilla
* Layer them in a sandwich or pita
* Make quiche!  Sprinkle them in the bottom of a store bought, unbaked pie shell, along with a cup of shredded Gruyere cheese, top with eggs whisked with a bit of cream and bake until set.  Serve it with a salad for lunch or a light dinner.  Mmmmm.
* Put them on a hot dog or brat
* Make this dip!!
* Serve them on a burger with a slice of swiss
* Top a freshly grilled steak
* Can you say philly cheesesteak?
* Add them to your salad
* Toss them with roasted butternut squash and a tablespoon of chopped fresh sage
* Stir them into the filling for deviled eggs
* Mix them into your hummus

Remember when I told you that there is a restaurant nearby that serves caramelized onions but they are always colorless and crunchy?  Well this appetizer is my version of that dish.  They are very similar.  Except mine is flavorful, sweet, creamy, and makes you want to swoon and theirs is crunchy, vinegary, and makes you want to throw things at the chef.  So, big differences here people.  Mine?  Goooood.  So good.
Onion Crostini Onion Crostini Onion CrostiniOne Year Ago: Spice Muffins W/Pumpkin, Chocolate, & Streusal & Heather’s Dip
Two Years Ago: Vegetables W/Pasta & Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

Caramelized Onion Crostini
You won’t believe how incredible a few simple ingredients can taste!  Feel free to sub out the bread for your favorite cracker or toast points!

One Recipe Caramelized Onions
2 T balsamic vinegar
crumbled bleu cheese
salt and pepper
1 large french baguette

Warm the bread in the oven just until it gets nice and crunchy on the outside.  Slice into thin rounds.  Set aside.  When making the caramelized onions, add the balsamic vinegar about halfway through the recipe, just when the onions are getting really soft, but haven’t acquired too much color yet.  Continue with the recipe, leaving the heat low so the sugars in the vinegar don’t burn.  Taste for seasoning.  Spread the onions in a thin layer on a plate and sprinkle with the crumbled bleu cheese.  Serve with bread and a large fork.  This can be served warm or at room temp!  Enjoy!

How To: Caramelize Onions

Caramelized OnionsIt has been awhile since I have done a How To post, but not for lack of ideas!  Just lack of time.  I have a list of different How To sort of ‘tutorials’, if you will, that I am very excited to post here for your cooking pleasure.  And I am finally getting around to doing one!  Now, I should preempt this with the fact that I am kind of disappointed in the way these beautiful onions photographed.  The color is not nearly as lovely as it is in person and of course, you can’t smell it either.  Which really, is one of the best smells in the world.  I mean, come ON!  Onions sauteed in butter?!  Hel-LO!  It is right up there with the smell of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies.  Am I right, people?

But back to the onions….
The ingredient list is so simple you won’t believe it.
3 onions
2 T Butter
1 T olive oil
salt and pepper
And I am adding one more thing.  Patience.  You need to have patience to make caramelized onions.  Without it, you will f-a-i-l.  There is a restaurant near my house that has a caramelized onion bruschetta appetizer on the menu and they make it in five minutes.  The onions come out crunchy and tasteless.  It seriously drives me so crazy I lay away at night and dictate letters to their head chef in my head.  But I digress…

Let us get started!
Caramelized OnionsThree onions with stem ends removed, cut in half, skins removed, and then sliced stem end to stem end.  I happen to think this looks the best when caramelizing onions, but feel free to slice and dice however you feel it is necessary!
Caramelized OnionsVoila!  Three large, sweet onions sliced.  These happened to come from the Farmer’s Market and were labeled ‘Candy’ onions.  Lovely. Next, heat your butter and oil over medium heat.  I like to use a nonstick skillet, or even cast iron, but whatever you use will be fine.
Caramelized OnionsToss them in!
Caramelized OnionsOne quick note about my stove.  Due to the nature of our older house and the lack of certain requirements needed (like a way to run a gas line) I cook on a *gulp* electric stove.  Uhg. Doesn’t that even sound terrible?  I have no choice otherwise I would of course have a gas stove.  Basically, my point is that if I can cook the things I do on an electric stove that I spend a significant amount of time cursing at under my breath, then you can easily do this too.  Lighting in that part of my house also leaves something to be desired, but you work with what you have!  So!  Salt and pepper and give it a toss!
Caramelized Onions Caramelized OnionsAlready looking good, huh?  Here is where the patience thing comes in.  Give them a toss every few minutes, making sure they don’t actually fry.  You don’t want them to have color on them.  Just slow cooking, turning them translucent and bringing out the natural sugars.  Turn your heat down until you know they are cooking and you can just hear the sizzle, but again, not frying them.This is just after a few minutes.
Caramelized OnionsAnd this is another 5 minutes later.
Caramelized Onions
The color is already starting to deepen.  Pure flavor, baby!  Gah!  This smells so good!
This is another 5 minutes.
Caramelized Onions
At this point, some people like to add a teaspoon of sugar.  The onions are basically cooked, and you are just trying to ‘caramelize’ the sugars for flavor.  Adding a bit of sugar helps them along a bit, gives then a deeper color, and brings out even more of the sweetness of the onions.  I prefer to leave it out, but feel free to do whatever you like.

And another 5 minutes later.
Caramelized OnionsAlmost done!
Caramelized OnionsBeautiful.  Taste for seasoning.  And again, I just want to say that in person, these are a lot darker.  Regardless, they are ready to eat.  Use them immediately or chill in the fridge for up to a week.  My house guests were eating them out of the pan with a fork!  So sweet you won’t believe it.  The length of time it takes to get your onions to the end stage, which is really a matter of taste, depends on the water and sugar content of your onions, the temperature of your stove, and the heat distribution of the kind of pan you use.  But no matter what kind of combination of heat, pan, and onions, just be patient and taste them along the way to understand the reason for the process.  Next post, recipes to use these gems!  Assuming you don’t just eat them all with a fork! 🙂