Chocolate Peanut Butter No Bake Cookies

My latest efforts at weight loss have been successful, which is fantastic. I won’t be bikini ready for my trip to Florida in a week, but hey – I’m in law school, I deserve cookies. Tonight after eating my healthy leftover soup I wanted a sweet treat. After perusing my Pinterest board, I decided that no bake cookies sounded perfect.

I’ve actually never made no bake cookies before, which is silly because they’re so easy. I was a little short on some of the ingredients that most recipes call for – I had no milk or chocolate chips. But I couldn’t resist the chance to improvise, so I looked at a few recipes and decided to wing it myself.

Chocolate Peanut Butter No Bake Cookies

What you’ll need:

1/2 cup butter

1/4 cup half and half

1 cup Splenda or regular sugar

3 tablespoons cocoa powder

1/2 cup peanut butter

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 cups of quick oats

Prep time: less than 10 minutes          Set time: 30 minutes

Calories: 217 per cookie*

What to do:

Melt the butter in a pot over medium heat. Add the half and half, cocoa powder, and the Splenda and mix well. Turn the heat up and let the mixture boil for 3 minutes. After 3 minutes, turn the heat off and add the peanut butter and vanilla, letting the peanut butter melt in, mixing well. Add the quick oats and stir well. Drop two tablespoons at a time onto wax paper, and put them in the fridge for 30 minutes.

* A note on the calorie count – I am not a nutritionist, a doctor, or even a super sophisticated foodie. I wanted to know the calorie count for my own purposes, so I calculated it all out based on the labels of my ingredients and the 2 tablespoon serving size per cookie that I used. So, know that this is an estimate, and may vary depending on what brand of ingredients you’re using. But, it’s an accurate ball-park for your informational purposes.

After seeing the calorie count per cookie, next time I will be cutting down the butter and maybe putting in less cocoa powder and peanut butter. But this evening, while I have about 40 pages to read for International Financial Regulation, I’ve decided that one 217 calorie cookie is fine by me.

Happy snacking!

Sausage, Kale, and Black Bean Soup

I was definitely late to the kale party. I’ve had it a few times, but always in the company of another vegetable – usually in the pre-packaged bags of mixed greens from the grocery store where kale is mixed in with lettuce, spinach, and arugula. I bought a big bag of it in the raw last week and packed a salad for lunch the morning that I got sick. By the time I got back to my house, I was so sick that I didn’t take the time to fully unpack my car, and my lunch stayed there overnight. My poor kale leaves froze. And then thawed. And I can tell you with utmost certainty, thawed, decaying kale leaves are one of the WORST smells that I have EVER encountered. I had to double bag the garbage, throw it outside, Febreeze the whole kitchen, light a candle, and turn on the overhead fan. And it still took a day for the smell to wear off. It turned my stomach so much that I couldn’t even look at the rest of the kale in the fridge for a few days. Tonight I finally got over it, but not enough to eat it raw. The solution? Soup!

Sausage, Kale and Black Bean Soup

What you’ll need:

5 cups of vegetable or chicken broth

5 cups of water

1 pound of sausage (I used our own homemade pork sausage)

1 can of diced tomatoes

1 can of black beans

1 white onion, chopped

5 cups of kale, roughly chopped

4 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced

1 tablespoon of black pepper

1 teaspoon of salt

1 1/2 teaspoons of fennel seeds *

1 teaspoon of dried thyme

Prep and Cook Time: 1 hour

Servings: 5

What to do:

Take the sausages out of the casings and break them up into quarter sized chunks, or slice it thinly. Put about a teaspoon of olive oil in a pan and brown the sausage, cooking it through. Meanwhile, put about a teaspoon of olive oil in a large stockpot. Chop up the onion and slice the garlic and put them in the stockpot, cooking about 5 minutes. Add the broth, water, tomatoes, and black beans to the stock pot. Roughly chop the kale and add it to the broth. When the sausage is cooked through, add it to the soup. Add the pepper, salt, fennel seeds, and thyme. Simmer on medium low heat for 30 minutes.

*A note about the fennel seeds – most sausage that you buy in the store, like hot Italian sausage, has a lot of fennel in it already. Fennel can be a very overwhelming flavor if you use too much of it. I used 1 1/2 teaspoons because I was using homemade pork sausage that had very little seasoning in it to begin with. If you’re using store bought sausage, I would recommend decreasing the amount of fennel, to one teaspoon or even a half a teaspoon, depending on what kind of sausage you’re using.

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Honey Soy Chicken with Balsamic Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Late Wednesday night, after my steak with garlic mushroom bok choy, I came down with a nasty stomach bug. Or the flu, the jury is still out. Thursday morning on my way to work I became violently ill on the side of the highway. It was…..not suitable to recount in a food blog. I ended up leaving work early on Thursday and sleeping for over twelve hours. Thursday I wasn’t able to eat anything at all, Friday I was only able to drink straight chicken broth, and by Saturday I had graduated to soup. This morning was the first morning that I was able to drink coffee (a miracle, that) and I had this lovely chicken and a bunch of brussels sprouts waiting in the fridge, so I decided to venture back into real, solid food. I’m still exhausted and generally worn out, but never to tired to cook!

As long as the cooking requires little effort, of course. I used this recipe for a lovely honey soy marinade, and I didn’t change a thing about it. My only post-dinner comment would be that, if you use a three pound package of chicken, there isn’t quite enough marinade to get a good solid coat over everything (at least I think). But it was still absolutely delicious.  This recipe was actually out of character for me, because I generally don’t use honey outside of desserts. But I love soy sauce. My hesitation for honey is because I usually find “sweet and sour” combinations to be far too much sweet, not enough sour, but this recipe does a good job of balancing the soy and honey by sticking to a simple 1:1 ratio.

I’ve also recently developed a taste for brussels sprouts. It is tricky, though, to get them to a point of being soft enough to pleasantly eat, without charring them beyond recognition. The natural nutty flavor of the sprouts quickly becomes overpowering if they’re over-cooked. This recipe is very simple and the cooking time is spot on. The acidity from the vinegar deliciously compliments the natural flavor of the sprouts. Not as good as brussels sprouts roasted in duck fat (that was a special New Year’s meal, shortly before I started this blog, but maybe I’ll post it anyways), but still scrumptious! Especially for a veggie.

Overall, this was a lovely, simple, delicious meal and I would highly suggest both recipes. And now that my stomach is cooperating again, it was an excellent transition back into real food.

Now, I believe there are some real Girl Scout Cookies in the cupboard that would aid my ongoing recovery…….

Steak with Garlic Mushroom Bok Choy

I had an unexpected day off today. Both of my classes were cancelled because my professors were out of town, which really worked in my favor because in the middle of the afternoon the weather turned nasty and I would not have been happy to drive home in it. More cooking time for me!

On my last grocery shopping trip, I focused my list on foods that I have been looking forward to trying, but I knew J would not be thrilled about. So, first up, a red wine vinegar and soy marinaded flat iron steak. The recipe is extraordinarily simple: 1/2 cup soy sauce, 1/2 cup red wine vinegar, a pinch of salt and pepper. That’s it! I’m accustom to marinades that have a teaspoon of everything in them, so this was refreshingly easy to throw together. The end result, however, was only ok. Not bad, but not super exciting. The 1:1 ratio of the salty soy to the tangy vinegar blended a little too well, and it seemed to turn into a one unexceptional flavor. But hey, that’s why we experiment.

The bok choy, on the other hand. Oh my goodness. Who new such a simple veggie could taste so amazing! I have never worked with fresh bok choy. I wasn’t really sure what to expect. Bok Choy itself does not have a ton of flavor, but sauteing it creates a really wonderful crunchy, fresh texture, and it soaks up any other flavor you give it.

Another super simple recipe: Rough chop 8 oz of mushrooms of your choice (I wanted shitake, but the store didn’t have any, so I used baby bellas). Put a teaspoon of olive oil in a wok or large pan and put in the mushrooms. Chop or mince 4-5 cloves of garlic and add to the mushrooms. Rough chop the bok choy and add to the mushrooms and garlic. Add one teaspoon of lemon juice, and a pinch each of salt and pepper. Let this all saute until the boy choy wilts. Serve and enjoy!

I know! So easy, right! Easy, fast, and healthy! Sometimes you don’t need fifty ingredients and every kitchen utensil you own to enjoy a delicious home cooked meal.

Holy Brownie Batter, Batman!

I received a request for baked goods in the shape of the Batman symbol. To which I said, “uh, YES!”

So I hopped on Amazon and found this awesome invention:

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Yes, Justice will be served….along with some cookies….and perhaps and glass of milk!

The requester didn’t specifically ask for brownies, but I’m still shopping for the perfect brownie recipes, so I thought, “Brownie Batmans!”

I used this brownie recipe over on Handle the Heat for the first time. It promises “chewy, but not raw batter.” Yes, that’s what I need. They came our of the oven GORGEOUS, with a beautiful glossy crust on top, and my tester toothpick came out with just a few non-goopey crumbles.

batmanbrownies1Last time I made brownies, we tried to cut and serve them while they were still pretty warm. This time, with that cookie cutter in mind, I let them cool for several hours. Really. At least 2. I touched the top of them, and they felt cool. The pan felt cool. Ok great, time to make NANANANANANA BATMAN!

Then, disaster struck Gotham.

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These were the remnants.

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Out of that WHOLE PAN, this is what I managed to get. Four pathetic, crumpled bat signals.

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This was my most successful one.

The next day, after they’d cooled and settled overnight, they were ok. I still didn’t love them. They were not the brownies that Gotham needed.

So I’ve come to the conclusion that what I’m really pining for is CAKEY brownies. Brownies that I can successfully eat while they’re still warm. Is that such a crime? Everybody seems to be down on cakey brownies. Well I’m going to make me my own brownie recipe, that I can eat straight out of the oven. Darn it.

Mushroom Bacon Frittata

Originally, I intended to make the Frittata with Tuna and Tomatoes out of Giada de Laurentiis’ cookbook, “Giada’s Feel Good Food.” It is a very health-focused, easy-to-follow cookbook with gorgeous photography. But I don’t like tomatoes, generally, unless they are in sauce form. And although I love tuna, I’m not sure it sounds like a great pairing with eggs. So I dug around my fridge for a few substitutes, and came up with mushrooms, which both J and I love, and leftover bacon from yesterday’s breakfast.

Mushroom Bacon Frittata

8 eggs

1/4 cup milk (the original recipe calls for whole milk. I used skim milk and added a little extra butter to make up for it)

1 tablespoon dried parsley

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon butter

5-6 pieces of cooked bacon, roughly chopped

1 cup mushrooms, roughly chopped

1/2 cup sharp cheddar cheese, shredded

Prep and Cook time: ~25 minutes

Servings: 6

Position an oven rack in the middle of the oven, and preheat to 400 degrees. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs. Add the milk, parsley, salt and pepper and whisk again. Add in the mushrooms and stir thoroughly.

Melt the olive oil and butter in a large, oven safe skillet on the stove over medium high heat (a 7 on my electric stove). All of my normal pans/skillets have rubber handles and are not oven safe, so I ended up using my oven safe wok. The shape of the frittata ended up a little weird, but it didn’t change the cooking time.

Pour the egg and mushroom mixture into the pan and let it cook, WITHOUT stirring, for 5 minutes. Sprinkle the bacon and cheese on top, let cook without stirring for another 3-5 minutes. Then put the pan in the 400 degree oven for about 8-10 minutes. This will get the inside cooked through without burning the edges. When it is done in the oven, loosen the edges of the frittata with a spatula, and it should slide right out of the pan for you. Cut into wedges and serve!

J and I both really liked this (he said “Thank you for breakfast! Well, dinner. Both!”) and it was just so EASY. I can’t believe I haven’t made one before. And the beauty of it, is that you really can put anything you want in it. If you’re looking for something vegetarian, use mushrooms and spinach instead of bacon. Or go with the tuna and tomato combo from the original recipe. Or get spicy and add hot peppers and onions. The diversity of the dish makes it a good go-to dinner for someone with not a lot of time on their hands.

I had grand ambitions today to go on an organizing spree, and bake, and catch up on some studying. Instead I started out my day with energy, then was suddenly hit with an awful, depressed, grumpy mood. This isn’t unusual in and of itself, its just that I’m never sure when it will hit. This past week was very good – I got to go help Boo, J and I spent some great, fun quality time together, I relaxed and had some “me time” yesterday with my DVR. I’m super excited about our Valentine’s Day plans – going on a double date to a charity raffle dinner / dance. I have an interview for my dream job on Tuesday that I am very pumped for.

But, in the back of my mind I’m also thinking about J leaving. He is a state trooper, but he is also in the Guard. When we first moved to PA, I started school and less than a week later he left for the state police academy, which requires cadets to live down in Hershey, PA (far away from us) for six months. He was allowed to come home or have a guest visit every other weekend, and he was allowed to use his cell phone for 30 minutes per night. That was it, no texting, no computer, no freely coming and going. Two months after he graduated and came home, he left again, this time going away for the military for almost seven months. Then he came home and was sent away again for three weeks. Then for another three weeks, with no communication at all. Between early fall of 2012 and late spring 2014, he was home for a collective total of maybe four months. He was gone during almost the first full year of our marriage.

He’s been home for about nine months solid now, and the initial “re-adjustment,” as I started describing it, was extremely difficult. After two different houses and two years of law school essentially living by myself, I had a hard time learning just to share a space again, let alone the learning curve of compromise that comes with the first year of marriage. But we made it through, and late this spring we’ll be celebrating two years of marriage. It doesn’t sound like much, but to us, it’s the product of so much hard work.

Intellectually, I know I’m dreading his next stretch away with the military way more than necessary. It’s only eight weeks. Compared to what we’ve already been through, an almost insignificant amount of time. And at this point in our marriage, we are certainly stronger as a unit that we were the first time he left – emotionally, mentally, and financially. But maybe there’s an ingrained response that I’ve developed, something that triggers depression and stress, when anticipating another period of separation.

He leaves on February 15th. The past couple of days, he has mentioned casually that he wants to go out to dinner a few times before he leaves, that he doesn’t want me to stress too much about meals, and that he would love a few easy dinners that I used to make, back when we first started living together and before I started developing my cooking skills. He knows, without us having to discuss it, that I’m stressed at his impending departure. I know he wants me to handle these negative feelings by being in the moment when I do spend time with him in this week before he leaves, instead of bottling it all up and hiding out in the kitchen.

So this frittata was my first attempt this week at doing what he’s been asking me to do, even though he never actually asked. I’m cutting down my kitchen time so I can spend more time with him. But I’m still doing what I want to do, too – experimenting with recipes and finding the best way to express my love for him on a plate. And even though when he’s been gone in the past I’ve let the depression pin me down, that doesn’t mean the same thing has to happen this time. This time we’re stronger, I’m stronger, and my arsenal of culinary equipment is stronger.

Besides, when he’s gone, I’ll be able to eat the WHOLE frittata.

A Week of Working With What We’ve Got

I’ve been on the road and away from home since Thursday. Between the traveling, the awful weather that dumped inches upon inches of snow in exactly the places I was driving, living out of other people’s houses for almost a week, and trying to cook and bake on the fly, I’ve come to appreciate the importance of adaptability.

Thursday morning I was off to school, got out of class at 8:30 pm, spend the night at a friends house, went back to class Friday morning at 8 am. Friday after class was done in the afternoon I drove up to my in-law’s home. Saturday morning I left for Connecticut to stay with my friend who was scheduled for surgery Monday morning. Boo, as I nicknamed her long ago (yes, it is a Monster’s Inc reference), has been having foot/leg/back problems for years, and some doctors finally got around to figuring out she’s been living with a bad disk in her back, and decided that surgery was necessary to fix it. So I thought I’d spend Saturday and Super Bowl Sunday with her, go to the hospital with her Monday, and stay until Wednesday morning to make sure she she has some cookies and some company during her first few days home.

Super Bowl Sunday, the plan was to make a Philly Cheesesteak Stromboli. I took Boo’s grocery list and my own grocery list and attempted to navigate the local grocery store. On Super Bowl Sunday. How do you think that went? Yes, yes, very well, thanks for asking. I COULD NOT find pizza dough. Anywhere. Looked up and down every aisle multiple times. It just wasn’t happening. So, my options were 1) puff pastry dough, or 2) pre-cooked pizza crust. I opted for the pre-cooked crust because I thought that the puff pastry dough would give the finished product a weird, not-pizza texture. Turns out, this was the wrong choice. The pizza crust wasn’t malleable enough to fold into a stromboli shape, so it ended up more like a philly cheesteak sandwich on pizza crust. But it was still yummy, and there were only three of us for our wild super bowl party, so, good enough!

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Then today’s project was cookies. I let the patient pick out the type of cookies she wanted, and she opted for Mocha Crinkle Cookies. While her parents were picking her up from the hospital, I was scrambling to clean her apartment and make the cookies. However, this involved a total of FOREVER looking around her pantry and kitchen trying to locate all the cleaning necessities/ ingredients/cookie sheets/baking utensils, ect. Not to mention, in my desperate need for coffee, I couldn’t find coffee filters. So I ended up using a paper towel as a coffee filter, only to stumble upon the coffee filters after said coffee was brewed. Then I proceeded to spill the whole cup of said brewed coffee all over the kitchen just as Boo arrived home. (I’m sure she would have appreciated the comedy in the situation had she not been in miserable pain – my poor girl). I really had my shit together, as you can tell. It also turns out that we didn’t have granulated sugar, just powdered sugar, and I couldn’t find the proper sized measuring cups, so I eyeballed most of the ingredients. The cookies weren’t done when she made it home, but she did get to lick the spoon, so she was happy. And the finished product turned out pretty good.

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And just in case you were wondering, that plate has a picture of a bell pepper and an onion holding hands and it says “Lettuce Be Friends”

I guess being adaptable is really the key to minimizing stress. Boo wasn’t ever expecting to have the kinds of physical issues that she’s had over the past few years, but she’s handled every new twist and turn and development in a graceful, calm manner. Her attitude inspires me to take my problems as they come and stay calm and collected while evaluating my options and coming up with solutions. Just like her. Sometimes when I feel overwhelmed, remembering to take this attitude is very difficult. Thankfully I have people in my life like Boo, who are always there to lead by example.

So, that’s what I’m going to really focus on for the next few months, while J and I are buying our first house, while I’m interviewing for jobs, while I’m trying to get through my last semester of school  – working calmly with what I’ve got. No coffee filters? No problem, you can still get a cup of coffee with a paper towel. No granulated sugar or cookie sheets? No problem, powdered sugar and a pizza tray still get you cookies. Unexpected developments don’t have to send me into a depressed panic – I can always work happily with what I’ve got.