Sunday, April 15, 2018

Zucchini Coconut Bread - Breakfast Favorite

I love quickbreads.  Always have. Banana bread.  Banana nut bread.  Chocolate banana bread.  Zucchini banana bread.  Zucchini banana nut bread.  You get the idea.  Then I discovered Zucchini Coconut bread.  Imagine those words scripted in the sky with angelic voices singing "ahhhhhhhh" in the background while James Earl Jones says the words aloud, causing all the worlds sick to be healed.  It is really that good.  

After I discovered it a good 5+ years ago, I've played around with a few different recipes.  Since it has coconut in it, I have settled on a version that uses melted coconut oil in lieu of any other type of oil or butter.  That plus the Greek yogurt keep it nice and moist. If you are one of those people who always has to butter everything, then you can still put a dab of butter on your slice before you eat it. No one will judge you.  

Since this uses melted coconut oil, which is solid at room temp, NONE of your ingredients can be cold.  I have skipped this "bringing to room temp" step many times and the texture is more dry because a lot of the oil hardens and sticks to your bowl or whisk.  So don't skip this step. Yes it requires a little more forethought on your part when making it, but so did remembering to buy the ingredients at the store, right?  So don't skip this.  The ingredients that are used that I normally keep cold are the Greek yogurt, egg, zucchini, and whole wheat flour.  I keep my whole wheat flour in the freezer because it lasts generally forever that way.  Whole wheat anything goes bad a whole heck of a lot faster than the white varieties when left out at room temp.  So keep it in the fridge for freezer.  Wondering "I wonder if this is still good" is something I like to minimize, so even if I'm going through a lot of whole wheat flour, the freezer is its permanent home.    

So how long to let this stuff sit out to get to room temp? And what the heck is room temp anyway? Our house can vary 15+ degrees inside from summer to winter.  Ultimately I have decided it is so it doesn't feel cold at all to the touch.  That is not scientific I know.  If you google it, the internet will tell you room temp is 70-75 degrees.  Yesterday when I made this it was warm out and our house was around 75-76 F.  I didn't keep track but after 3 hours it seemed at an appropriate temperature for me to not worry about hardening the coconut oil.  Maybe it would have only taken 2 hours or less, but I am not making this harder than it needs to be ok.  I could get all engineer on you and set up a thermocouple submerged in the yogurt set to alarm when it reaches the upper 70s, but that's my day job talking.  If you have kids and want to teach them about science, there seems to be a good opportunity here. They can learn about heat transfer and thermodynamics for sure.  Cooling naturally in air takes a lot longer than cooling under running water in a vessel for instance.  Ok, sorry, I'll stop talking now, the engineer is taking over this blog again.  (now that I think about it we have a meat thermometer that has an alarm feature. Note to self - use that next time to see how long it actually takes to get to room temp....)

Quick sidebar - We eat A LOT of Greek yogurt. I mean a. lot.  Breakfast most days for one or both of us involves Greek yogurt.  Thanks to Publix for FINALLY having a organic option for 0% fat plain Greek.  I am seriously not going out of my way to get it (ie Whole Foods or Fresh Market).  So thank you Prattville Publix! 

While you are waiting on everything to get to room temp, get out the rest of your ingredients.  If you don't have enough of something, you have plenty of time to get to the store and back. Separate the "dry" ingredients (flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg) from the "wet" ingredients (sugars, coconut, vanilla, egg, yogurt, and zucchini).  You will end up using the "Muffin Method" (I don't know who coined that, but Alton Brown uses it - he taught me a TON about cooking right as I was really learning in the early-mid 2000s).  The Muffin Method mixes the dry ingredients independently from the wet, then you stir them together but not too vigorously and not for too long.  You are allowed to have lumps.  You don't want to overmix or you'll mess with the texture of the final product, and disturb the baking powder action that happens that moment the stuff gets wet.   I could really go all geek on you here, but just google the Muffin Method if you are more curious.   Once I started using it for baked goods, pancakes, waffles = WOW.  Textures were better!  And the pancakes really fluffed up more.  I was apparently a big over-mixer before I learned that it is so wrong to over-mix certain things like pancakes batter. 

Coconut - you can certainly use regular sweetened coconut for this. This is what we all grew up with in the clear bags.  I have not found one that is all natural though, but I HAVE found unsweetened organic coconut.  So that is what I use.  You can certainly use the sweetened kind if that is your thing.  

It doesn't take long to melt the coconut oil, and you don't want it getting too hot since you will mix it with an egg.  Curdling your egg is bad news.  I've done it and you will want to throw a spoon across the room because you just ruined everything and have to start over.  So, start melting in the microwave on 5 seconds, swirl it, 5 seconds more, swirl, etc until it's all liquid and no lumps.  By swirling you are lowering the temp of the stuff while melting the rest so at the end it's not too hot.    This is a good tip for melting butter to use in baking as well.   It's also no fun to get it too hot, then have to wait for it to cool down some but no too much it solidifies again. 

Flour - I don't weigh flour, generally. You certainly could. I scoop with a small spoon into the measuring cup, then level with a knife, thinking of aerating it as I scoop.  Don't use your measuring cup to scoop the flour from the container or it will be too compact.  You will end up with too much flour.  That is why you see many people weighing it, or recipes calling for weights vs volume, because 1 cup of flour isn't equal to another 1 cup, depends on how you scooped and measured, the humidity, elevation, etc.  I also am a fan of sifting, so I sift all my flour after measuring.  I sift as I put it in the mixing bowl. 

The Dry Ingredients
Shredding the zucchini - I love this part.  I love it because I love using my food processor.  This is fun stuff for me.  It makes so many things SOOO easy.  I have the shredder blade, which makes short work of anything you want to shred.  I used my food processor to shred more than any other task to be honest.  Cheese and zucchini are the two made things to get shredded in this house.  You can throw the blade, and all the plastic parts right into the dishwasher too if you don't want to hand wash them.  Just stick all the plastic stuff on the top.   

Shredded Cheese sidebar - Did you know the pre-shredded cheese in bags is coated with a substance, an anti-caking agent, to keep it from clumping in the bag? It's generally cellulose, which is wood pulp.  It's "food safe", supposedly.  It's in other foods too where you see "added fiber".  Fiber literally does grow on trees, wood is fiber, so where do you think added fiber comes from? Often trees.  And no, using wood in food may technically mean it's still all natural (I'm trying to be all-natural with my food) since wood is natural after all, but I just don't particularly like the idea of eating wood with my cheese.  I just want cheese. And oh I love cheese so I do eat a lot of it.  It can have as much as 4% wood in the shredded cheese and still be legal to be called cheese vs "cheese product with added wood".  If I want to eat wood I'll go chew on a stick thank you very much.  It's also SO easy to shred your own with an electric appliance, just do that and save yourself from eating a tree with your cheese.  Food processors and stand mixers both have shredding attachments (like the blade below for a Cuisinart food processor), or you can get a hand crank kind like they use at Italian restaurants, or use a good old box grater and you can get some arm exercising in while you cook. Win win.   Also, once you use freshly grated cheese you will not want to go back.  You will notice it's not all powdery (which is a bit of a turn off anyway you have to admit) and melts a whole lot easier than the pre-shredded kind.  Cheddar cheese should melt very easily folks. If it just sits there, well, that is not normal. Thank the wood pulp.  

Tip on shredding zucchini - use zucchinis on the smallish side.  They fit right in the food processor food feeder tube without having to cut them up that way.  All I do is wash them and cut off the stem end.  Wa-lah. 

Zucchini has a lot of moisture that you need to squeeze out.  This part is fun too.  You can use paper towels (make sure they are sturdy) or a cheese cloth (that you can then wash and reuse). I got lazy yesterday and just used paper towels.  Squeeze and let the juices drain.  No need to go crazy here and squeeze it to death.   FYI the four zucchini's I shredded are over twice as much needed for this recipe.  I will use for other things like Zucchini Fritters - cue James Earl Jones and angelic music again!  I love zucchini fritters.  

Now it's time to get to mixing.  Mix all your wet ingredients sans zucchini, then add in zucchini.  Mix all your dry ingredients together too. I use whisks for both (I have two so that makes it easy).  Then, combine them together, adding in the wet to the dry.  Don't use a whisk for this next step, use a rubber spatula or something else rigid.  Use a folding and stirring action while rotating the bowl to make it even. Don't forget to scrape the bottom.  Definitely DON'T use an electric mixer. You will certainly overmix.  A good rule is to count to 10 and you should be about done stirring by then.  After that, fold in the coconut.  

Scrape into your prepared loaf pan (buttered or sprayed, or use parchment paper).   

This is great opportunity to show off my new Micky Mouse scraper.  See isn't it awesome! On the flip side is a measurement cheat sheet with conversions, etc.  I love it.  Got it at Disney World earlier this year. 

Now it's time to bake!  When it's done, just like a cake, test it with a toothpick until it comes out clean.  For me and my oven, it takes exactly 1 hour.  

Let is COMPLETELY cool before you cut it or else the moisture will escape, and well, you will have ruined it.  Ok not ruined, but you should really wait before you cut it until it's cooled.  I  have certainly not done this as it is pretty darn good right out of the oven.  But just know the consequences of not letting it cool before you slice.  Moisture will escape. Perhaps you are eating/serving the entire thing right away so it's no big deal.  For me, I let it cool on a rack for a couple hours, then put in the refrigerator overnight still in the loaf pan (mine has a lid).  This morning it was time to slice, warm for 20 seconds in the microwave, and eat!

For you butter freaks, now is the time you can put a little butter on your slice and enjoy. I don't think it needs it.  

Zucchini coconut bread


  • 1 cup whole wheat flour (at room temperature if you store in freezer)
  • 1/2 cup white wheat or all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg - fresh is best, grate from a whole nutmeg
  • 1-1/2 cups shredded zucchini (at room temperature)
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup granulated white sugar
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil, melted (but not too hot!)
  • 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt, at room temperature
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup shredded unsweetened coconut


  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9×5 inch loaf pan and set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together flours, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Set aside.
  3. In a separate large bowl, combine shredded zucchini, sugars, coconut oil, yogurt, egg, and vanilla extract.
  4. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until moistened. Stir in the shredded coconut.
  5. Pour the batter into prepared pan. Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let zucchini bread cool before slicing.  
Inspired by the recipe from Two Peas and Their Pod - a great food blog! 

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Mmmmmm Ribs!

Ribs are awesome.  Just awesome.  Don't let anyone fool you into thinking ribs are just a summertime or fall food, that is a lie! Ribs are for anytime you want them.  If you do need an excuse to make them, the Super Bowl is tomorrow, so get cooking!  Also, this recipe I'm sharing uses exclusively the oven and stovetop, so no grill needed (in case it's frigid where you are or your grill is covered in snow).  I've actually only ever used one recipe -  it's perfection so I haven't tried another.  It's Alton Brown's Baby Back Rib recipe.  I've copied it below. If you go to the link, you can watch a video of him with some tips.   But don't feel overwhelmed, these are actually pretty easy to make.  Your family and friends will thank you (if you decide to share them).

A not-so-rare conversation when anyone mentions ribs, is for them to tell you who makes the best ribs.  Dry rub vs saucy, memphis style vs some other style, spare ribs vs baby back, the choices are endless.  I was raised being told that Dreamland BBQ ribs in Tuscaloosa have the best ribs.  My dad would bring them home after going there for work, we'd get them when going to football games, and they were awesome.  I have to say "were" because when I went to college at UA, I discovered Archibald's in Northport on Watermelon Rd.  Talk about amazing ribs! Sorry Dreamland, ever since then Archibald's (and Archibald's and Woodrow's in Tuscaloosa) are my favorite.  Tuscaloosa location is super convenient too to stop and grab a slab or two on my way back home to Prattville! That said, I must say that this rib recipe give all the others I've ever had a run for their money.  A lot has to do with the quality of the meat you buy, so get good meat. 

Ok, now for the main event.  Ribs.  First, buy some baby back ribs.  This recipe is based on two slabs. Put them on tin foil, shiny side down (so meat is on the non-shiny side).  Be generous with your foil, and use thick foil, not the cheap stuff, you'll thank me.  It's no fun for a bone to poke through and you spill braising liquid all over the place.  I speak from experience.  You'll want a nice loose "tent" around the sides and tops of the slabs.   Mix up your dry rub, and pat it all over both sides of each slab.

VERY loosely wrap up the ribs, trying to make a tent on the top. Roll up one end, leave the other end open like a funnel. You'll see why in a minute.  

Make the liquid, pour it in a measuring cup (with a pour spout), and pour half of the liquid into each rib tent.  The solids will want to hang out at the bottom, so you may have to divide those up once you get to the end of your pouring. 

Put each slab on a pan, they can hang off but make sure your ends are turned up so any liquid will stay in the bottom of the foil "tent".  Both pans need to fit in your oven at once.  Braise the ribs for at least 2-1/2 hours.  

Now for the tricky part, when the ribs are done, you will need to transfer the liquid from the slab foil packets back to a pot so you can reduce the liquid to a sauce.  This is where you will be glad you used a lot of nice thick high quality foil. After you reduce your sauce, brush the ribs with the sauce, then put the ribs back in the oven without the foil to broil. I divided mine up into half slabs for broiling since the whole slab hung over the pan. 

If you are a saucy rib kind of person, you can brush the ribs with more of the sauce after they have broiled.  You can dip them in the sauce as you eat them. Or both.   


Baby Back Ribs - Recipe from Alton Brown

2 slabs baby back ribs

Dry Rub:
Braising Liquid:


Preheat oven to 250 degrees.
In a bowl, combine all dry ingredients and mix well. Place each slab of baby back ribs on a piece of heavy-duty aluminum foil, shiny side down. Sprinkle each side generously with the dry rub. Pat the dry rub into the meat. Refrigerate the ribs for a minimum of 1 hour. In a microwavable container, combine all ingredients for the braising liquid. Microwave on high for 1 minute.
Place the ribs on a baking sheet. Open one end of the foil on each slab and pour half of the braising liquid into each foil packet. Tilt the baking sheet in order to equally distribute the braising liquid. Braise the ribs in the oven for 2 1/2 hours.
Transfer the braising liquid into a medium saucepot. Bring the liquid to a simmer and reduce by half or until of a thick syrup consistency. Brush the glaze onto the ribs. Place under the broiler just until the glaze caramelizes lightly. Slice each slab into 2 rib bone portions. Place the remaining hot glaze into a bowl and toss the rib portions in the glaze.
Cook's Note
This recipe makes several batches of dry rub. If more rub is needed, it can be extended by any amount, as long as the ratio of 8:3:1:1 remains the same.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Shrimp and Sausage Gumbo

Who doesn't love a good gumbo, right?  We love it, and love to make it about as much as we love to eat it. (Ok eating it is way better, but making it is fun too!) Many moons ago I actually make a post about our gumbo, 5 years ago to be exact, you can see it here if interested.  We haven't deviated from this recipe very much over the years, but have made some tweaks. 

The biggest change this time is we used Alabama farm raised shrimp from Sumter County Shrimp.  This was their first harvest year, ending in November.  Unfortunately, harvest season is over but I am very much looking forward to next year.  I had never had farm raised southern shrimp before, but it is DELICIOUS.  West Alabama has very brackish ground water, apparently perfect for raising shrimp.  They are slightly sweeter tasting, have lower sodium, and are all around far far better than imported shrimp (who knows how they raise that).  It's even better than Gulf shrimp because of the lower sodium content.  Did you know "fresh" gulf shrimp are often not actually fresh-never frozen because they freeze them on the boat, using salt water to freeze them? I didn't know that.  So, see link above to their Facebook page, follow them to get updates, and get ready next year for some tasty fresh shrimp! They sell at the farm in West Alabama and this year sold in Tuscaloosa.  Oh, and the shrimp were super jumbo size this year, so even better! 

Here I am after picking up my first order - one very happy customer.  Yes, first order, meaning I had to go back and get more!  We love shrimp, and have no shortage of freezer space in our big freezer, so why not!  I'm in Tuscaloosa all the time for work (Roll Tide!), so was fortunate to be around during harvest on multiple occasions.  These guys below were alive and swimming around the day before.  They are on ice to keep them cool because of my nearly 2 hour drive.   See the shrimp up there in the blog header at the top of this page, sitting on top of tasty looking grits? Sumter County Shrimp.  Stay tuned for that recipe!

One cannot have too many shrimp

Typical size in my multiple batches

On to the gumbo.  First things first, prepare some shrimp if you have the with shells/heads on.  Second, brown some sausage.  I got andouille sausage, all natural, no nitrates or nitrites, from Whole Foods.  We always brown it in a separate pan than the one we'll use for the gumbo, in case it's an especially greasy batch.

Next, chop up the veggies.  I'm not a celery person, meaning I think it tastes gross when raw, or if not cooked enough, but when cooked in something like a soup or gumbo I don't mind it at all and it adds to the overall tastiness of the dish.  So if you hate celery like I do, don't skimp on it.  It will be OK.  

As always, I am a strong proponent for getting your act together before you do any cooking, as things always go more smoothly that way.  Measure it all out, and get it handy near where you will use it.  Read through the recipe too before you start so you don't miss anything! 

Roux time!

TIP - sift your flour as you add it to your pan.  It's just better and will make a smoother roux.  I used canola oil for the oil, but plain vegetable oil is fine too.   

Making a roux is almost an art.  There is no right or wrong way, and everyone has a different preference.  Usually the darker the better, but too dark and you've burned it, and that is not good eats as Alton Brown likes to say.   The key is to keep stirring constantly, and watch your heat.  You may need to turn it down if it starts changing color to fast.  The roux below I cooked for 15 minutes.  We have an electric cooktop, so I actually lifted it up off the burner quite a few times if I thought it was going too fast.  Gas reacts more quickly to heat adjustment, so you probably would not have to lift up the pan like I do. 

Roux progression

Next up, add in your other stuff, cook a bit, then add in water or shrimp stock.    TIP - stuff can splatter, so wear an oven mitt to avoid getting splatter burns!  After it's incorporated you should be fine.

simmer simmer simmer.  Simmer with cover on. 

Sidebar - I froze some of my Sumter County Shrimp just straight up with their heads and tails on (out of sheer laziness, generally you want to remove the heads before you freeze, but I'm still here.....).  So, I had heads and shells, and made a quick stock.  I used the onion skins and extra celery from the gumbo prep, and threw in the heads and shells. I let it simer for about an hour.  Foam will rise up to the top at the beginning, just skim it off and discard.   Below - shrimp, stock making, gumbo making. 

Final step - Add in shrimp and sausage.  Get ready to eat!!

I use good ole plain white rice as the base.  We rarely eat white rice, usually use brown or wild, but for gumbo kept it traditional. 

Hope you enjoy! 

Shrimp and Sausage Gumbo 

1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup canola or vegetable oil
1 cup chopped onion (we use sweet or Vidalia if available)
1 cup chopped celery, not the white bottoms though
1/2 cup chopped green bell pepper
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 gallon warm water or vegetable or seafood stock
2 cups sliced okra (frozen if fresh not available)
8 oz. tomato sauce (1 small can)
1 Tbsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
2 lbs shrimp
1 lb andouille sausage, sliced
4 cups cooked rice
Small bunch scallions

Combine flour and oil in a large heavy bottom stock/soup pot, over low to medium heat, stirring constantly until roux is dark, 10-15 minutes.  Add onion, celery, garlic, and green bell peppers to roux. Cook 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly. Gradually add warm water (or stock), blending well after each addition. Add okra and tomato sauce. Bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 1-1/2 hours, stirring occasionally (approx every 20-30 minutes). 

While gumbo is simmering, cook the sliced andouille sausage in a pan over medium heat to brown. Drain off fat and pat dry.   You can also do this first if like me, you were using your stove top to make stock while the gumbo was simmering.  But do it in a separate pan than the gumbo, and brown first before adding even if it's pre-cooked sausage. 

Stir salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper, andouille sausage, and shrimp into gumbo. Bring gumbo back to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes or until shrimp are cooked. Remove from heat. Serve in a bowl over rice with chopped scallions on top.

If freezing any, let totally cool in the refrigerator first, then freeze.  This recipe also works great doubled if you have a crowd or want to freeze a bunch for later. 

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Classic Tiramisu

Choosing a favorite dessert is tough. TOUGH I tell ya.  But we must choose.  You never know when you will be in some crazy situation where you only get to have one more dessert for the rest of your life, and you need to have an answer.  For me, it's a very very close call between tiramisu and chocolate cake.  Two very different things, both super decadent, but in the end tiramisu wins out by a nose.  My obsession is my mom's fault, or in a less negative way, she gets all the credit.  She loves tiramisu too and from my recollection first encouraged me to try it at an Italian restaurant when I was a teenager.  My first memory of it is during a quick trip we took, the two of us and a friend of mine, to Chattanooga when I was in high school.  We ate at a local looking Italian restaurant, don't remember the name, and we all ordered it at my mom's urging.  After that I was hooked!  She's made it occasionally over the years and it's always excellent.  This is the recipe she has used.  Lately she has started making a Tiramisu mousse, which takes all the elements sans ladyfingers.  Now on to making a classic tiramisu!

I skipped a few steps with my picture taking.  First things first is really the toughest part, and it's not that tough.  Make the egg yolk custard like stuff - Separate the eggs, whip with sugar, put it in the top of the double boiler, and cook for about 10 minutes.  YOU MUST STIR CONSTANTLY.  Don't stop stirring or you may curdle the egg yolks.  That would be bad and you have to start over.  When you are done, transfer to a bowl and cool to room temp.  For me, by the time I brushed all the lady finders, whipped the first batch of whipped cream, the mixture was cool enough.  (It's winter and my house is a balmy 67F degrees so that probably had something to do with it).  The egg yolk mixture is pictured below in the middle.

What dish should you use?  I have used a trifle clear dish before, but mostly use my 8x8 glass pan.  This recipe will be more than you can fit in an 8x8, so I'm using two of that size.  You can certainly use a 9x13 glass pan too, but for me two smaller dishes is easier to put in the refrigerator.   

Below is the egg yolk mixture blended with the mascarpone, and ready for the whipped cream to be folded in.  When folding in whipped cream, don't over mix!!   The key is you want to keep it light, and if you are too aggressive with your mixing you will flatten out all the nice air bubble you just created in the whipped cream.  Also, don't fold it all in at once.  I start out with a small amount, maybe 1/4 of it, then add the rest in thirds.  It isn't exact science, so remember the key is to not over-mix. 

fold fold fold

All done folding! 
 Now the layering begins.  Layer on the cream mixture on top of the ladyfingers (that you have already brushed both sides with the coffee liqueur), then add another layer of ladyfingers, then another layer of cream.  Leave some room at the top for the Sweetened Whipped Cream!

Now add on your Sweetened Whipped Cream layer to the top. Watch out for others in your house that may want to come and steal the whipped cream as it's super delicious.  

I'm making this for a family get together, so plan to take the 8x8 pan and keep the other for myself.  Hey, for all this work I need a reward, right? 

Dust the cocoa powder on the top. Word of advice, don't breath in deeply when doing this as you may sneeze, and that would be gross.  See the little fine mesh strainer? It's new! Part of a 3-strainer pack I got for Christmas.  LOVE THEM.  Perfect for this!  Oh, and the other good thing about making two dishes, is you can practice on the "keep" dish so you are better at it for the "share" dish. 


Classic Tiramisu

Makes 10 to 12 servings

6 egg yolks
1-1/4 cups sugar
1-1/4 cup mascarpone cheese
1-3/4 cups heavy whipping cream
2 packages ladyfingers (3 oz each)
1/3 cup coffee liqueur (or Brandied Espresso, recipe follows)
Double recipe of Sweetened Whipped Cream (recipe follows)
Unsweetened cocoa powder for garnish

Combine egg yolks and sugar and whip until thick, about 1 minute.  Place in top of a double boiler over boiling water. Reduce heat to low and cook 8 to 10 minutes stirring constantly.  Remove from heat, transfer to a bowl, and let cool to room temperature. Add mascarpone cheese, beating well.  Whip heavy cream in a separate bowl until stiff peaks form.  Fold into egg yolk/mascarpone mixture; set aside.  Brush each side of the ladyfingers with the coffee liqueur.  Line bottom of a large dish or two small dishes with ladyfinder halves.  (I used two 8x8 glass pans).  Spoon half of the egg yolk mixture and spread evenly.  Repeat ladyfinger layer then another cream layer.  Spread sweetened whipped cream on top.  Using a fine sifter or fine mesh strainer, garnish with cocoa powder on top.  Cover and refrigerate several hours or preferably overnight. 

Sweetened Whipped Cream:
Combine 1/2 cup whipping cream, 1 tablespoon unsifted confectioners sugar, 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract in a large bowl.  Whip until stiff peaks form. 

Brandied Espresso:
Combine 1/3 cup hot espresso  or strong coffee with 1 teaspoon brandy. 

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Recipes to Help Keep Your Sanity in 2018

First things first - Happy Holidays!  I love Christmas time.  Taking time off, being SUPER lazy, seeing friends and family, and having time for lots and lots of cooking!  What's not to love.  

Us at the end of the day on Christmas.
I am writing this on Friday December 29th, or day 7, DAY SEVEN, of taking off of work for Christmas and New Years.  Can't remember the last time I was able to unplug this much! Ok I did go by the office today for a minute, and did a little bit of emailing yesterday, but that doesn't really count because both were brief and completely stress free.  This break has been very relaxing and fun so far.  No big trips - have just enjoyed low key good ole Prattville Alabama.  Have had some family gatherings and friends in town for the holidays.  Saw the new Star Wars movie.  And I still have 3 more days off to go!  

I have been looking forward to cooking, cooking, and more cooking, and my break did not disappoint.  This post is about ideas and recipes of things to do ahead of time, so you will be less likely to eat out and more likely to eat healthier in the new year!  Let's face it - it's HARD to cook on work days.  So I'm all about doing things ahead.  This post will be in 2 parts.  First is using the crockpot to make things for later when things get most certainly nuts; second is more make ahead ideas but with your stovetop and oven. 

Slow Cooker Chicken Fajita and Quinoa Soup
Slow Cooker Red Bean, Sweet Potato, and Chicken Stew
Make Ahead Western Omelet "Muffins"
BBQ Beer Pulled Chicken

Part 1 - Use the crockpot to keep you sane

I love using the crockpot.  But having to do the chopping and prep sometimes can defeat the purpose of not having time to cook during the week.  So I did two things - 1) I made a soup, portioned and froze for later, and 2) chopped and prepped another that I can dump in the crockpot straight from the freezer and wha-la.  

Slow Cooker Chicken Fajita and Quinoa Soup
If you aren't eating quinoa you need to be.  It's super healthy and filling and I make it all the time.  The only perplexing part of cooking with it has been rinsing it. It's TINY.  Rinsing takes off this outer coating that can taste bitter (so you need to rinse it).   For Christmas I got a set of three fine mesh strainers, perfect for quinoa rinsing!! (they will also be great for stock straining, rice rinsing, etc).  This recipe is from Eat Yourself Skinny.  After cooking I portioned into ziploc freezer containers (two servings per container), cooled overnight in the refrigerator, then put them in the freezer.  Labeled with sticky notes so I'll remember what the heck it is later when it's a solid block of frozen goodness.   

Rinse yo quinoa

Add everything to the crockpot

Take out the cooked chicken and shred

All done! 

Slow Cooker Red Bean, Sweet Potato and Chicken Stew
One idea that really helps out when things are busy is doing the entire meal prep ahead, dumping it all in a single freezer bag, freeze, then the day off dump it in the crock pot and go.  It can be that simple! Well pretty much.  For this recipe, you will add the stock/broth the day off (but how hard is opening and pouring in an entire carton, no measuring!), and then stirring in peanut butter near the end right before you eat.   Like the previous recipe, you can freeze this after cooking if you don't want a lot of leftovers.  

Makes 6 servings

2 - 15 ounce can no-salt-added red beans, rinsed and drained (or one can chickpeas and one red beans)
4cups peeled, cubed sweet potatoes (about 1 pound)

  • 8ounces boneless chicken breasts, cut into bite-size pieces

  • 8ounces boneless chicken thighs, cut into bite-size pieces

  • 32 ounce carton reduced-sodium chicken broth

  • 2 1/2cups chopped green sweet peppers (2 large)

  • 114 1/2 ounce can no-salt-added diced tomatoes, undrained

  • 110 ounce can tomatoes and chopped green chiles, undrained

  • 1tablespoon Cajun seasoning

  • 2cloves garlic, minced

  • 1/4cup creamy peanut butter
  • chopped cilantro (topping)
  • chopped peanuts (topping)

    With a sharpie, write the directions on the front of a large gallon size freezer bag.  Add all items except the chicken broth, peanut butter, and toppings to the bag.  (You don't want to have to be hunting around for the recipe and how long you cook it at the crack of dawn). Seal, flatten, and put in the freezer.  

    Day of cooking - Run warm water over the bag to so that you can break it up slightly and fit it all in your crockpot.  Dump everything in the crockpot.  Pour broth into crockpot.  Cook on low 10-12 hours or high 5-6 hours.  When it's ready, mix peanut butter with about 1 cup of the liquid in a separate bowl, then add back in and serve.  Top with cilantro and peanuts. 

    Part 2 - More Make Ahead Ideas

    This next part has two recipes, one for breakfast and one that is just meat that you can use in all kinds of ways.  Meat is a struggle for me on busy days/weeks because it takes forethought with buying, thawing, and cooking.  Granted fresh vegetables and fruit take forethought, but for me far less than meat.  So, making a lot at once and freezing in small portions is genius! 

    Make-Ahead Western Omelet "Muffins"
    Makes 12 muffins or 6 servings

    This recipe is adapted from the SkinnyTaste cookbook, which I highly recommend owning.  The website ( is great too and I make recipes from there all the time.  The great thing about this recipe is you can really adapt it to other veggies, cheeses, and meats you like or have on hand and need to use up. 

    6 large eggs
    6 large egg whites
    3 oz chopped ham (or turkey if right after a holiday and you have leftovers)
    3 oz shredded smoked cheddar
    1/2 cup chopped bell pepper (red or orange preferred, but any color works)
    1/4 cup chopped chives or green onion tops (green part)
    pinch of salt and pepper

    Preheat the oven to 350F.  Spray 12-count muffin tin with cooking spray.  In a large bowl beat the eggs and egg whites.  Add in the rest of the ingredients and mix together.  Pour about 1/4 cup mixture into each muffin cup.  Bake 22-25 minutes.  

    To Freeze:  
    After cooking, let completely cool to room temperature on a cooling rack.  Individually wrap each in plastic wrap, then place all of them in a gallon size freezer bag.   When you are ready to eat them, unwrap and microwave for about 1 minute.  2 muffins = 1 serving.  

    I put too much in each tin, so I actually made 11.  That just won't do so I ate one.  

    BBQ Beer Pulled Chicken

    This last one can actually be made in the crock pot or on the stove top.  Since my crockpot was busy making the Quinoa soup, I made this on the stove top.  It honestly was more fun too on the stove top.  Recipe is from Half Baked Harvest (they also have a very tasty cheddar popover recipe on the same post as the chicken).  

    This may seem really weird, but when I was ingredient shopping I came across whole chickens on sale at Whole Foods, and felt a strong desire to buy it so I could break it down.  I've broken down a whole chicken a few times, but it's been a while.  Something about it makes me feel very accomplished when I'm done......So, for the chicken, I broke down a 4.5 lb chicken and used both breasts, both tenderloins, and both thighs.  I've put the drumsticks and wings in a freezer bag in the freezer for later.  


    Simmer, simmer, simmer

    Stir near the end to keep from sticking to the bottom
    Portion into small freezer size bags for one meal for however many folks you have.  The skies the limit on how to use it, but few ideas come to mind:
    • on a bun (brilliant, right?)
    • on a baked sweet potato.  This is my favorite of this list.  I make a lot of "baked" sweet potatoes and then pile things on top that I have around.  Canned black beans (rinsed) with some cheese and avocado is a good idea. To "bake", wrap a washed sweet potato in plastic wrap, microwave for 4-6 minutes depending on size. Done. 
    • on a salad
    • on chips (nachos)
    • in a tortilla shell - BBQ tacos
    I hope you enjoyed these recipes and tips on how to make life more sane during your busy work week! 

    I'll end with Fritz, because, well, he's adorable.   For some reason he hangs around a lot while I'm cooking, looking like I'm going to drop something.......(because I often do).

    Good luck to everyone in the New Year!