Big beef and the windowsill gang

Sounds like a great name for a band, huh?

I had a very busy day today running errands and packing. Brian and I made a very exciting purchase of a bamboo kitchen island for the kitchen when we move. I wonder what I will prepare on it first? After going to get the island, we stopped at Home Depot and I got a Big Beef tomato plant. I immediately started day dreaming about all the BLTs I would be eating this summer. I also got seeds and a container to grow chives, parsley and basil.

After getting home and doing some packing, I took a break to plant my new purchases. After potting them, I wasn’t content. I need more. If it weren’t for space restrictions, I would have had the urge to plant an acre. Fortunately, I was restricted to containers. I headed back to Home Depot for more containers, soil, seeds and another tomato plant. I picked up another variety of basil, cilantro, microgreens and an heirloom tomato plant.

My night consisted of potting those and more packing.

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Pizza on the grill

Pizza on the grill is one of my favorite meals. I think it is so fun to make. All you have to do is make the dough and a toppings station and everyone makes their own. It’s perfect for small get togethers and picky eaters. One batch of dough with make 4 decent sized pizzas.

Turn the grill burners on medium and let the grill heat up. While the grill is heating, have each person roll out their piece of dough to desired thickness. Keep in mind that the dough will almost double in thickness while grilling.

Once dough is rolled out, carefully spray grill with non-stick spray and lay dough on grill grate.

Grill for 4-6 minutes for until dough is golden brown on one side.

Remove from grill and place toppings on grilled side of dough.

Return to grill(raw side of dough on grates) for 5-7 minutes or until dough is golden brown and cheese is melted.

We made fun combinations like buffalo chicken(buffalo sauce as the base with strips of pre-cooked chicken on top with cheese) and bbq veggie(use bbq sauce instead of marinara).

Fast French baguette

I am slowly conquering my fear of making bread. Slowly.

I ran across this recipe for a fast French baguette the other day and decided that it was probably too good to be true, but I’d try it anyway. It was either this or those pretzel bites everyone has been blogging about lately. Fortunately, I found out that this recipe isn’t too good to be true. My results were a little on the ugly-looking side but excelled in taste.

This recipe will give you 2 foot long baguettes. I made mine slightly longer than a foot. I adapted this recipe from Girl Versus Dough, who adapted it from Mark Bittman.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup warm water
  • 2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 2 tsp salt

Directions:

In a large, nonreactive bowl, stir yeast and 1 cup warm water together. Let stand for 5 minutes.

Add flour(both all-purpose and whole wheat) and salt and stir until combined.

Once combined, knead 5-10 minutes or until dough is fairly smooth and elastic. Shape into a ball and place in a lightly greased bowl.

Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled, about one hour.

After doubled in size, punch down dough and divide into two equal pieces.

Roll each piece into a 12-16 inch rope. Place side by side , about 3 inches apart, on a lightly floured baking sheet. Cover loosely with plastic wrap. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

When oven has preheated and bread has risen slightly(about 20-30 minutes), remove plastic wrap and cut a few slashes into bread with a sharp knife.

Place baguettes in oven, reduce heat to 375F and bake until lightly brown 20-25 minutes. Remove from oven spritz lightly with water bottle and let cool before cutting.

While you are making this bread, I would also recommend making buffalo chicken.

This bread goes great with salads.


Or slice it almost all the way through, top with buffalo chicken and bleu cheese, broil and devour.

This bread is definitely an upgrade from store-bought and easy enough to make on a week night.

Iowa: fun, food and run

This past weekend, Brian and I took to the friendly skies and flew home on Air Choice One. It is perhaps the only airline that flies in and out of my hometown. Lucky for us, they were having a $25 each way flight sale out of Chicago. We took the 8-seater plane to my parents back yard for a relaxing weekend.

I went home to run the Great River Bridge Race with my mom. I’m so proud of her. She just took up running in the past few months and finished first in her age group! Published in the local news and everything. The 6.6 mile race was a little long so we settled on the 2.2 miler. A very fun race that is held once a year providing you with the opportunity to run UP Snake Alley and over the Great River Bridge taking you from Iowa to Illinois and back to Iowa.

After the race we headed home to make homemade pizzas on the grill(post coming soon). One of my favorite things to do when I’m home. I used the world’s easiest no-rise pizza dough recipe for a nice fresh crust. Then my mom, dad, Brian and I each made our own pizzas.

My parents had a bunch of high school graduation parties to attend so Brian and I headed to Big Muddy’s for a nice dinner of frog legs and crab legs over looking the Mississippi River.

Sunday for lunch I made orange salmon salads for everyone. My parents loved them and plan on making them again in the near future. However, goat cheese is not all that easy to find in Burlington. We practically went on a scavenger hunt to find it.

Sunday night we convinced my dad to pull out the grill again and headed to Tom’s to get some bone-in sirloin. Wow, they were over an inch thick and I knew we could count on my dad to grill them to perfection. We also had some zucchini and summer squash.

We finished off this delightful meal with angel food cake with fresh berries for dessert.

We needed something a little on the healthier side to balance out all that beouf.

We had an early flight back to Chicago, so early, it allowed us to watch the sunrise over the city skyline and we entered the city. We were lucky to get diverted through the down town area and got some great pictures from the air.

Bust-a-gut buffalo chicken

If you like buffalo chicken, this is a MUST MAKE recipe.

Why is it called “bust-a-gut”? Well, you won’t want to stop eating it.

The best part? Amazing simple. I adapted this recipe from What’s Cookin with Mary.

Put on your easy pants, because this easy. And make sure they have an elastic waist band.

Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds of raw chicken breast(trim all fat off)
  • 1 1/2 to 2 cups Frank’s wing sauce (or your favorite wing sauce)
  • 3 Tablespoons butter
  • 5 cloves garlic(peeled and lightly smashed)
  • Additional wing sauce for sandwich

Place chicken in the bottom of your slow cooker, in a single layer if possible.

Tuck garlic cloves around chicken. Cube butter and place on top of chicken.

Pour wing sauce over chicken.

Place lid on slow cooker and cook on low for 6 hours. After six hours, shred chicken.

It should be so tender that you can just shred it right in the slow cooker. My chicken was so tender I couldn’t lift it out of the pot without it all falling apart.

Stir chicken and remaining sauce together and cook for one more hour on low.

Serve on bun with your choice of topping.

I broiled bleu cheese on the buns for 3-4 minutes to make it warm and bubbly.

To die for.

I served our sandwiches with a nice side of asparagus.

Easy egg bakes: The perfect breakfast in 10 minutes or less

I used to hate breakfast. Fortunately, I had a mom who understood the importance of breakfast and would make my brother and I eat breakfast everyday. Even if it was in the form of S’mores Poptarts. In recent years, I have come to love breakfast. I have come to prefer a savory breakfast to sweet. For example, Brian and I went to Flat Top’s make your own breakfast on Sunday and I had an egg white omelette with tons of veggies. Brian had pancakes with Reese’s peanut butter cups and coconut.

Combining my love for eggs and simple but delicious recipes, I couldn’t wait to make a variation of Shutterbean’s Egg and Asparagus Gratins.

For starters, I needed to get gratin dishes. Lucky for me, they had them at the local Dollar Tree…one dollar for a ceramic gratin dish. Yessiree. I love a bargain.

Pre-heat oven to 450.

Next up, generously spray gratin dishes with non-stick spray. Then, I sliced up some ham steak and divided it among the dishes. Add spices and herbs. I added a little salt, pepper and dill to each dish. 

Then I added 2 eggs to each gratin. Shutterbean recommends adding cream, but I didn’t have any, so I didn’t. 

I topped the eggs with  some feta and parmesan cheese. Place on a baking sheet and cook for 6-8 minutes or until the eggs are done to your liking.

Enjoy a nice hot breakfast. This is almost the perfect, easy breakfast dish to me. Easy to customize with different meats, veggies, cheeses and spices…so many possibilities. You can also make them the night before, refrigerate and bake in the morning. How nice would it to be to preheat your oven before you shower. Pop in the gratin while you get ready and have a complete, hot breakfast before you head out the door? Well, it would be nice.

Birthday birthday, birthday

I feel like I’ve been doing a lot of eating out lately. Not necessarily bad for my taste buds, but not so great for my wallet, blog posts or my waistline. While none of these things necessarily deserve their own post, I would be sad if I didn’t share some of them with you.

The weekend of Brian’s birthday, we ventured out and I ate at Five Guys for the first time. The burger was good, but there are places in Chicago to get much better burgers for about the same price. I have heard people rave time and time again about their fries. Disappointing. The best thing about Five Guys was the ultra modern touch screen Coke machine. I LOVE FOUNTAIN POP.  There had 6 different flavors of Diet Coke and six different flavors of Fanta Zero. I can’t say I’ll be headed back for their food any time soon, but I might stop in for a bevvy.

A much more exciting burger venture was at Epic Burger. Truly a tasty burger. With all grass-fed beef and a whole wheat bun with oats on top this burger is my new favorite. And their fresh-cut sea salted fries are uh-mazing. I think it says something when you are in a restaurant and no one is talking, because they are happily eating. I looked around and I did not see a single person not finish all of their food(and they have generous servings). Then, I witnessed several people push their basket to the center of the table and give a sigh of contentment. I can’t lie, I did the same. Epic Burger, you have a place in my heart.

Another delicious sandwich that has left me wanting more was my recent visit to Which Wich. It’s like a supped up Potbelly. You build your own sandwich by checking little boxes on a paper bag, turning it in to the cashier then wait for your masterpiece to be created. I had buffalo chicken with bleu cheese and they didn’t skimp on the bleu cheese. That’s a sandwich I can get down with.

When it came to my birthday, I didn’t want to cook. I didn’t want to go out to a fancy restaurant. Do you know what I love? Salad. My boyfriend loudly protested my choice for my birthday dinner, but I won….because it was MY birthday after all. Do you know where I chose to go? Call me loony, but Whole Foods was my choice. You might think this is weird, but then you’ve probably never been the new Whole Foods in Lincoln Park. They have wine tastings, they have a bar, they have pretty much anything you could ever want…and I wanted to eat there for my birthday. So we did. Brian loved my decision once we got there. So many choices. Bonus, it was a Wednedsay…fresh gelato special day. Score.

I always like to treat myself of my birthday. A present to myself. Nothing too big or extravagant. For my birthday last year, I had wanted a pair of Tom’s shoes. Well, they were out of my size in store and online for months, those months turned to winter and snow boots. So, I decided I’d stop back into Akira and see if they had my size in store. They did. I like the concept of One for One and found it fitting that I get them for my birthday this year. Everyone is asking me how it feels to be 30, well, to be honest, I feel better now than I did at 29 or even 25. I’ve become much more health conscious and in better shape. I’m better to myself and have come to realize the important things in life. I know, I’m still young and have a long way to go, but feel like I’m on a good path. And my Tom’s are going to help me stay on that path.

I also came home to a “Happy Birthday” sign hanging in my house. I have such a sneaky boyfriend.

I finished off my week long birthday celebration with a great dinner at local Mexican restaurant. They have amazing margaritas and giant burritos. What more can you ask for in life?

Birthday cake cookies

 

Don’t say I didn’t warn you about it being birthday central around here. To make things even more intense, it was my birthday this week! Woo hoo!

I made these birthday cake cookies for a friend’s brithday. Super simple and fun.

Start with a box of funfetti cake mix. I had never used funfetti cake mix before and had no idea until I poured it into the bowl that it just appears to be a vanilla cake mix with sprinkles in it. Is everyone else aware of this? Why do people buy it? Why wouldn’t you just add your own sprinkles to a scratch cake recipe? This was a very shocking thing to me. I felt like there should have been something more in the mix, like some magic. Oh well.

Preheat oven to 375F.

In a bowl, combine: 2 eggs, 1/3 cup vegetable oil, 2 tablespoons of milk and a teaspoon of vanilla. Look, it’s like the wet ingredients are smiling at me.

Add funfetti cake mix to bowl and stir until combined.

Drop teaspoons full of dough on greased cookie sheet for bite sized cookies or tablespoons full of dough on sheet for normal sized cookies. I made the larger sized cookie.

Bake 7-9 minutes or until bottoms are light brown. Let cool completely.

While cookies are cooling, make some very vanilla frosting.

Very vanilla frosting:

Beat one stick of softened butter with 1 1/2 tablespoons of pure vanilla extract until creamy. Add a pinch of salt. One cup at a time, slowly add 3 cups of confectioner’s sugar to the mix. Once combined, add one tablespoon of milk at a time until desired consistency is reached. I used 2 tablespoons of milk.

Put frosting in a in ziploc bag and snip the corner so you can squeeze it into a cream layer between two cookies to make a sandwich.

Once assembled, roll the cookies in sprinkles for fun-tastic decoration and another dose of sugar.

You have just made birthday cake that can be eaten with your hands while walking around.