Archive | May, 2012

Southwestern Quinoa Salad

29 May

I saw a recipe similar to this in Food & Wine magazine a couple months ago. I passed it by because it was February (or thereabouts) and I wasnt thinking about summertime side dishes….When I saw it recently on foodgawker, I knew I had to snag it and try it!

Look at all those fresh ingredients

We had it on Memorial Day to accompany our marinated steaks and other assorted fare……We couldnt get enough of it!! It’s delicious. I couldnt find the Spike Seasoning that the recipe references, but I looked it up and just combined a couple spices together in my cupboard to give it a boost. I also couldnt use the spicy Ancho Chili powder because my parents cant tolerate spicy food, but I can only imagine how INSANELY AWESOME that would make it! Especially since it was already amazing without the extra kick.

There are so many fresh ingredients in this dish. And quinoa is a healthy grain and an excellent choice if you are trying to watch your carb intake.

Here is the dressing mixture:


Here is the finished product:


Extreme Closeup

Here was our Memorial Day Spread – look at all those summer salads!

The Spread

Southwestern Quinoa Salad with Black Beans, Red Bell Pepper, and Cilantro

Salad Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup quinoa (rinsed if needed, check the package)
  • 1 and  1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped into small dice
  • 1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced green onion
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Dressing Ingredients:

  • 2 T fresh-squeezed lime juice
  • 1 tsp. Spike Seasoning (optional but highly recommended)
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp. ground Ancho chile pepper (or use regular chile powder if you don’t have Ancho)
  • fresh ground black pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil


Check the quinoa package to see if it needs to be rinsed (it often does) and rinse in a fine-mesh strainer if needed. Combine quinoa, water, and salt and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer covered for 15 minutes, or until all the water is absorbed. Fluff quinoa with a fork and let it cool while you prep other ingredients.

Drain the beans into a colander placed in the sink and rinse well with cold water, until no more foam appears. Let beans drain until they are quite dry (or pat dry with paper towels if you want to speed it up.)

Cut out the stem and remove seeds from the red bell pepper and cut into very small dice (about the size of the black beans.) Slice the green onions into thin slices and wash, dry, and chop the cilantro.

When the quinoa is fairly cool, combine quinoa, black beans, diced red bell pepper, and sliced green onion in a bowl. Add enough dressing to moisten all the ingredients. (You probably won’t need all the dressing, but save the extra to stir into any leftover salad that’s been in the fridge.) Gently stir in the chopped cilantro and serve.

This keeps very well in the fridge for several days. The salad absorbs the dressing when it’s refrigerated, so it’s best with a little more dressing stirred in when you’re eating the leftover salad.

Healthy Peanut Butter Bars

25 May

My sisterinlaw, Julie, passed this recipe along to me – and I am soooooo glad she did! My mom has been cleaning out old cookbooks and Julie snagged one that is all about meals that provide energy for your body. Julie is always on-the-go and looking for healthy snacks – and it doesnt hurt that she is a fabulous baker, too!


She emailed me the recipe as soon as she had made it and vouched for its excellence. She uses golden raisins and craisins – and mentioned a week or two later that she started to put some chocolate chips on top after they came out of the oven. That sounds amazing – cant wait to try! These are versatile with regards to the types of dried fruits and extras you can add.


Word of caution: I got so excited about trying them immediately, that I thought I could just use my 2-minute quick cook oats in place of the rolled, non-quick……I was wrong. They came out so crumbly that we had to eat them with a spoon. But they still tasted so good that we knew it was simply a matter of getting the correct oats and re-making.

Fresh Baked

This is a nice sweet snack that deems the phrase “Oh, those dont stand a chance against me” from Robbbbb. They are THAT tasty. And the great part is that they are so versatile – you can use any mixture or type of dried fruit and make it to your liking. They are portable and good for you – perfect to take to work, too! What more could you ask for in a fabulous treat?

Nutty Oaty Texture…so good!

Healthy Peanut Butter Bars

  • ¼ cup crunchy peanut butter
  • ¼ cup honey
  • 1 ½ cup rolled oats (not the quick cook kind)
  • 1/3 cup golden raisins (or dried cherries or cranberries)
  • 1 tablespoon stoneground whole wheat flour

Put peanut butter and honey in saucepan and heat gently until melted, about 4 minutes. Be sure not to burn! Add oats, raisins and flour and stir well until thoroughly mixed and has consistency of crumbs.

Pack into a 6 x 9 no stick pan and bake at 375 for 15 minutes. And take out of the oven to cool.

IMPORTANT: Leave until completely cooled before cutting/removing. Can be stored in airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

Brown Butter Vanilla Cake with Dark Chocolate Buttercream Icing

22 May


I saw this recipe in Food and Wine (Feb ’12) and it looked good and had wonderful photos attached. It also called for whole vanilla beans (split and seeds scraped) and my gurrrrl, Beth, brought me some whole vanilla beans from her travels to Indonesia or Bali or some place “over there” like that.



Whip it…..whip it good

Vanilla seed scrapings and sugar!

I decided to make it a month or so ago, and while it’s a smidge more laborious than some other vanilla cakes, it’s totally worth it! The cake was soooooooooooooooooooo moist and delicious and buttery.

Golden cakes

(Here is the recipe for the cake part. The Dark Chocolate Buttercream frosting recipe follows.)

Brown Butter Layer Cake


  • 3 sticks unsalted butter (12 ounces), plus more for greasing the pans
  • 2  ¼ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the pans
  • 2  ¼ teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 and 2/3 cups sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 and ¼ cups milk, at room temperature

1)     Preheat oven to 325°. Butter two 9-inch pans (I used 8 inch) and line the bottoms of the pans with parchment paper. Butter the paper and dust the pans with flour, tapping out the excess.

2)     In a medium saucepan, melt the 3 sticks of butter. Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until foamy, about 5 minutes. Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the milk solids turn brown and the butter smells nutty, about 4 minutes longer. Scrape the melted butter and browned bits into a large heatproof bowl. Set the bowl in an ice water bath until the butter begins to set around the edge, about 8 minutes.

3)     Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk the flour with the baking powder and salt.

4)     Remove the bowl from the ice water bath and scrape up the hardened butter. Transfer the butter to the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with the paddle and beat until creamy. Add the sugar and vanilla seeds and beat at medium-high speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in the egg yolkds followed by the whole eggs. Beat in the dry ingredients and milk in 3 alternating additions, scraping down the side and bottom of the bowl as necessary.

5)     Pour the cake batter into the prepared pans and bake in the center of the oven for about 40 minutes, rotating the ans halfway through baking, until the cakes are golden and a tootpick inserted in the centers comes out clean. Cool the cakes in the pans for 20 minutes and then invert them onto a rack to let them cool completely. Peel off the parchment paper.

Now for the Chocolate Buttercream…….

Ingredients for Buttercream

Egg whites, salt, and sugar mixture

Egg whites, salt, and sugar mixture

This Rich Chocolate Buttercream tastes delicious! It’s not too dark and it’s so light and fluffy.

Melted chocolate

Beating in melted chocolate

Frosted cake!

Let me just have a piece

Rich Chocolate Buttercream


  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 large egg whites
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 sticks plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter (9 ounces), cut into tablespoons, at room temperature
  • 4 ounces extra-bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled

1) In a blender or food processor, pulse the sugar until powdery. Transfer the sugar to a medium heatproof bowl and whisk in the egg whites and salt. Set the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and whisk gently until the sugar is completely dissolved, 5 minutes.

2) Transfer the warm egg-white mixture to the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with the whisk. Add the vanilla and beat at medium-high speed until stiff and glossy, about 8 minutes. Beat in the butter a few pieces at a time, making sure it is fully incorporated before adding more. The buttercream should be light and fluffy; if it appears runny at any time, transfer the bowl to the freezer for 5-10 minutes, then return it to the mixer and continue.

3) Beat in the melted chocolate until fully incorporated, scraping down the side and bottom of the bowl. Remove the bowl from the mixer and beat with a wooden spoon to remove any air bubbles. Then spread frosting on cake.

Layering the cake:

Invert one of the cakes so that it sits upside-down on a platter. Spread the filling/icing over the top of the cake in a thin layer and put the other cake right side-up on top of the cake. Put in the fridge (if necessary) to set for 5 minutes.  Finish icing the rest of the cake starting with sides first and then top. Refrigerate the cake until frosting is firm – 15 minutes.

Doesnt this look amazing?????



Gardening Weekend…and the Farmers Market!

20 May
The forecast for this weekend was supposed to be 78-82 degrees, 100% sunny, and slight breeze….PERFECT for gardening! This weekend was also the opening day of the Lansdale Farmers Market! I’ll have to do an update of pics later in the season to show all of the fabulous produce. Obviously, since it’s May, there isnt much in the line of produce at all.

Finally open!

It was great to see my summer market friends again 🙂 Here are my faves:

Tabora Farm and Orchid – great stuffed rolls and breads! I’ve been frequenting their stand since the market first opened.

Tabora Farm Stand

Overbrook Herb Farm – my favorite stand at the market. Paul and his wife are the most gracious people with their wonderful produce and amazing knowledge of all plants and herbs. They always have something unique and I always come away having more information and knowledge than ever! Their produce and herbs are phenomenal and their prices are super!

Overbrook Herb – they are on the left

Philly Bill’s Dills……I love pickles. I am addicted to their habanero and jalapeno pickles!

Tub o’ pickles

Mainly Mushrooms….This was a new stand in the middle of the season last year and I fell instantly in love. Chris has such a fabulous collection of mushrooms that he has foraged and also has foraged for him and shipped. Some are also cultivated. He has signage that clearly explains what the mushrooms are and where they have come from. He also has interesting things other than mushrooms – like ramps and fiddleheads and dried mushrooms. My favorite are the locally harvested maitake that come out later in the season. I’ve also had his lobster mushrooms – they TASTE like lobster and you can put them in eggs and risotto. Delicious! Chris will tell you how to cook up your various types of mushrooms in order to get a great flavor from them.

Mainly Mushroom Stand

Red chanterelles on the right, maitake on the left

The spread….

Lobster musrooms – it even looks like lobster meat!

Windy Springs Farm…..I love their produce. It tastes AWESOME and is always priced so well. I frequent their stand for tomatoes, cantaloupe (honestly, the BEST cantaloupe i’ve EVER tasted), and zucchini. In the fall, I get my pumpkins and squash from them! Today they only had honey and beef and eggs. I bought 2 dozen of their eggs that were just laid that morning – talk about fresh! I am planning to try their meat this summer. My neighbor swears by it.

Windy Springs truck…I’ll update later this season with their produce

It was crowded and there were a couple other vendors that I perused….here is a scene:

Random aisle of vendors

It was also the local 4H Plant Sale. I had never been but heard that it was one of the best plant sales around! They have nursery/gardencenter-sponsored plants for sale in all types of species. They also have plants that Master Gardeners have started and planted for sale…..There were some amazing collections! They had a TON of heirloom veggie plants and fruit plants, annuals, perennials, herbs, bushes, shade plants, trees, and pond plants. It was FABULOUS. I know for next year to get up EARLY and stand in line when it opens!

4H Plant Sale

And another view of the plant sale

After runing some more errands, I was ready to start gardening! I love this time of year. Since it was about 3:30 and I was getting a late start, I decided to do my front yard to get it over with. I had 5 azalea to plant and then all the mulching. I loathe mulching, but when I start doing it I realize how easy it really is! I should have taken a before picture…I only have an after picture though.

Front Yard

Sunday is the day for the backyard! After some rest in the morning, it was time to turn the backyard into a thing of beauty. I got ALL of my vegetables from my local farm that I adore – Skippack Creek Farm. They are all organic, chemical/pesticide-free, and their tomatoes are to DIE for, amongst their other delicious produce! They are the reason I have fallen in love with Oxheart Heirloom tomatoes. They are generous and great to talk to!

Anyway, here are my before pics….

Patio and Veggie Garden

Back Garden

Some local compost I got from my brother’s township free community pile:

Compost Buckets

And the after……

Tomatoes in the back, rosemary on the left, jalapeno at far end, and 9 basil plants!

Impatiens, choleus, and milkweed planted and mulched!

Patio looking out

Herb pot….except for parsley, mint, and rosemary which are planted separately

Facing the house

I am exhausted, but sooooo happy that all the plants are in the ground. Now I sit back and watch and water 🙂 I hope everyone else was able to take advantage of the beautiful weather we had this weekend!!!

Peanut Cookies

18 May

These are HANDS-DOWN one of the best Peanut Cookies you will EVER make in your life. I wouldnt joke around about Peanut Cookies.

Simple ingredients

For some reason, during the Christmas Holidays this year, I was so excited about my kitchenaid mixer, I decided to have a Peanut Cookie Cookoff with myself and pitted 2 recipes against each other. I found one online and it sounded decent to me, so I tried that. And then I tried the Peanut Cookie recipe my mom made growing up and included in our Family Recipe Book this year. I just wanted to see if it really WAS the best ever……

In the bowl of love

Oh baby i like it rawwwwww

I ended up with a batch of the best ever cookies and other peanut cookies that paled in comparison. I got rave reviews from everyone who tried them. They are just downright insane with how peanut buttery they taste with peanuts baked right in. They melt in your mouth but dont taste greasy like so many other Peanut Cookies do.

Poppin’ Fresh Out the Kitchen

I highly recommend you have your own peanut butter cookie cookoff – but just stick with THIS recipe and be happy! These are a total crowd-pleaser 🙂


Peanut Cookies


  • ½ cup (1 stick) butter
  • ½ cup peanut butter
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup white flour
  • ¾ tsp baking soda
  • ½ cup peanuts


Preheat the oven to 350°.

Cream the butter, peanut butter, and sugars with an electric mixer until light in color.

Add the egg and vanilla. Beat until well mixed.

Add the flour, baking soda, and peanuts. At low speed, mix until all traces of flour are gone and the batter seems well-mixed.

Drop tablespoonfuls of batter, 3 inches apart, onto a buttered cookie sheet. Press down lightly.

Bake for 12 minutes.

Yields: 18 large cookies

Individual Pancetta and Spinach Egg Cups

15 May

I found this recipe in Coastal Living magazine….totally random, I know! But it grabbed my attention because it looked SO EASY and tasty. And they are crustless.


For Mother’s Day every year we plan a potluck brunch at my brother’s house and I am always looking for something unique to bring. This year, Mother’s Day fell on the day after my huge Supper Club Greek Feast. I knew I would be cooking for a couple days and wouldn’t be able to handle anything too crazy.

Pancetta-lined muffin cups

Spinach and Cheese in the cup

Voila! Pancetta and Spinach Egg Cups! These puppies are SO easy and take literally minutes to prepare. And they look so fancy when they are finished!

Egg inside, ready to bake!

Oh, the original recipe called for Prosciutto, but I thought it said Pancetta when I quickly looked at it  so that’s what I bought. It turns out that it doesn’t really matter! Pancetta was super good and bacon-y  so when I make them again, I will stick with it!

All baked!

Cross section – you can see the gooey cheese and spinach in there

It was a great Mother’s Day Brunch! My sister-in-law, Julie, made her famous french toast; I brought the egg cups; my brother, Jerry, made a nice salad and breakfast sausage; and my mom brought the fruit salad. Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there 🙂

Mother’s Day Spread

I gotta show this picture again – it was soooooo good.


Individual Pancetta and Spinach Egg Cups


  • 12 thin slices Pancetta (about ½ pound or so)
  • 10 eggs, lightly beaten
  • Dash of milk
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 cup loosely packed fresh spinach, stems trimmed and roughly chopped
  • ½ cup grated sharp Cheddar cheese


Preheat oven to 350°. Lightly grease a 12-cup muffin pan (or 12 ramekins).

Place pancetta slices into bottoms and up sides of cups, overlapping. I used 2 slices per cup – you can just use 1 slice and be fine if you like.

Divide spinach first and then cheese among muffin cups.

Combine eggs, milk, salt, and pepper as you would if you were preparing scrambled eggs. Then pour evenly into muffin cups. Don’t fill all the way to the top.

Bake muffin cups 14-16 minutes or until just set. Using my brother’s convection oven, it took more like 25 minutes – but I would start out with 15 minutes and play it by ear to see if it needs more time or not.

Let stand about 5 minutes. Then loosen cups by running a knife around the edges of each cup, and lift out of the pan with a small spatula. Serve immediately. Makes 12 servings.

Supper Club – Greek Night

13 May

My BFF John and I love to cook. We are both always trying new recipes and talking about our recent culinary adventures. So in March, John came up with the idea to form a Supper Club. For now it’s just the 4 of us (John/Jeff and Me/Robb), but there is potential to add others and include guests from time to time. We both researched Supper Clubs online and looked at different rules and technical aspects of other people’s Supper Clubs and we took a couple tips from other clubs and formulated our own rules and standards.

Essentially, you have to be able to cook like a mofo and WANT to cook like a mofo once every other month. You have to want to challenge yourself. And you have to be prepared to buy top ingredients and cook everything on your night. The host prepares everything on their turn and the guests are able to just show up!

We sat down in April and wrote out a bunch of themes (greek, indian, mexican, finger foods, old classics, etc) and tossed them in a hat. Then we took turns picking themes and organized the remainder of the year so we know what we are cooking throughout 2012. We wanted to challenge ourselves and choose themes that are out of our comfort zone or realm of skill.

I was up first with GREEK night! I knew NOTHING about Greek food really… I enlisted my parents to take me to their favorite Greek Restaurant (Yianni’s Taverna) so I could study up! Once I tasted the food there (their food is DELICIOUS), I solidified my menu and developed my plan. OPA!

My menu:


  • Beef Patties with Mint
  • Tzatziki Sauce
  • Homemade Pita Bread
  • Melitzanosalata (eggplant dip)

Main Course

  • Moussaka
  • Lamb Souvlaki with Tzatziki Sauce
  • Roasted Potatoes


  • Baklava

Appetizer Spread

Greek Wine

Dinner Spread


Lamb Souvlaki


I started prepping my meal on Thursday night. Then I cooked by butt off on Friday night and all day Saturday (except to take a 2-hour break for water aerobics). It was exhausting but so well worth it. The food turned out FABULOUS and we were stuffed before the meal was even over. And now I am not afraid to make Baklava (phyllo dough was easy!) and I learned that moussaka was a bit more involved than I thought it would be.

I will post a couple of the recipes in the coming weeks so everyone can try making greek food for yourselves. I’ll update my blog each time we have Supper Club – even if I am not cooking –so everyone can see what we both come up with!

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