Monday, April 21, 2014

popping in…plus, cookies!

came here for cookies? scroll down for the recipe. :)

Ohhh hellooooo there. I know, I’ve been a terrible blogger lately. Shame on me! But I’ll be real… every time I open up the “new post” window I end up closing it within minutes because I either think but I don’t want this to be a food blog OR but I don’t want this to be a “poor Laura, her baby died” blog OR but I don’t want to write just for the sake of writing.

Well all of that sounds pretty silly now that I’ve laid it out there. A lot of y’all love to cook (and I love to eat), so why not post recipes? A lot of y’all know me personally and care about how my heart is healing, and those who don’t know me personally might care because their hurt is hurting, too. Why not post about my baby? It’s my blog, and he’s my baby! And I should always be willing to write for the sake of writing, because that’s what a writer is supposed to do! AGH! (I’m not yelling at you, I’m yelling at myself.)

:)

It’s been an interesting year so far. There have been a lot of ups and downs... a lot of sorrow and sickness and a lot of time spent in prayer. I’ve seen growth in my relationship with God and also in my marriage. I’ve seen changes in the way I grieve. I’ve been experiencing a period of… quietness? Solitude? I’m not sure what to call it. I spend a lot of time out of doors, walking the dog or sitting with her on our deck or our stoop. I’ve always enjoyed being outside, but ever since John died I find it more than just relaxing. It’s healing. (Up until your neighbor starts screaming at her children to “shut up” or all the neighborhood dogs start barking.) I’m finding joy in the little things—gratitude in every thing I can possibly think of. When I approach God with frustration or exhaustion, it helps to have something to bring to mind and say, “but, thank you for ____.” Sometimes it’s my bed, or my book, or my husband. Or dessert.

Other times it’s answered prayer. The kind of answered prayer that you recognize INSTANTLY and think whoa, that was only You, God!  I’ve been seeing a lot of that lately, and it makes me tear up just thinking about it. I know God has a lot of reasons for answering prayer, but I like to think that He’s been answering mine lately not just for His glory but also because I needed to be given clear signs that He is working in my life. That He hears me when I call.

One of those answered prayers has to do with my desire to share God’s truths with other people in person—not just through my blog, or through my articles on ibelieve.com. (Here’s my most recent article, btw. It’s a reflection on Isaiah 6.)

I miss meeting with other women and sharing about how God is working in my life. I miss seeing the look on peoples faces as they begin to understand how much God loves them and how accessible His gift of salvation is. I’ve been praying that God would put someone in my life that wanted to learn more about Him, and He has! You know you “click” with someone when you go out to grab coffee and end up chatting for four hours straight. :)

Bear with me, friends. Sometimes my thoughts seem to be so many they could fill a book, and other times I feel completely blank.

In case I feel blank for a bit longer, here are some cookies to tide you over. I wrote about these back in 2010 (what!) but thought I should re-post about them since they’re so fantastic.

photo by Alice Currah 
"The Best Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe EVER!"
slightly adapted from Savory Sweet Life
time from start to finish: about 25 minutes
makes 48 cookies (easy to halve, though I recommend forming balls out of cookie dough and freezing half of a full batch. You can bake them from their frozen state.)

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened (not melted)
½ cup sugar
1½ cup packed brown sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2¾ cups all-purpose flour (if halving the recipe, use one cup + 1/4 cup + 2 tbsp)
1 tsp. smallish-medium coarse sea salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1½ tsp. baking powder
1½ cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 360 degrees.
2. Cream butter, sugar, and brown sugar until it is nice and fluffy (about three minutes on medium-high speed).
3. Add both eggs and vanilla and beat for an additional two minutes.
4. Add baking soda, baking powder, salt, and flour until cookie batter is fully incorporated.
5. Mix in chocolate chips until well distributed. 
6. Drop about 2 tablespoons of dough or use a medium cookie scoop and plop the batter onto a baking sheet that’s either lightly greased or lined with parchment paper.
7. Bake for 12-14 minutes until the edges are nice and golden brown. (I remove them at 12 min.)
8. Remove from heat and allow the cookies to stay on the cookie sheet for an additional 2 minutes. Then remove the cookies and place on a plate or room-temperature surface and let cool for another couple of minutes.

To give your cookies that crackled look like they have in the picture, quickly bang the cookie sheet against the stovetop one time. That should do the trick! Just make sure you don’t bang so hard that the cookies fall off. :)

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

the perfect banana (and nutella!) bread for when you only have one banana

picture from Lemons and Anchovies
I was looking for a banana bread recipe that only used one banana and stumbled across the perfect one at Serenity Now. I changed the recipe slightly and was WOWED by the results. It tastes more like a moist cake than a breakfast bread, and while the banana flavor isn’t strong, you can taste the banana. My bread turned out looking similar to the ones above (but please note that I’m not posting the recipe for that particular banana/nutella bread—I’m simply showing you what it will look like). Next time I might add 1/4 tsp of salt just because I love salt in baked goods, but it’s truly a great recipe as is. The mini loaf is perfect for gifting to a friend, or you can freeze one loaf and nosh on the other.

(One) Banana and Nutella Bread
makes one regular loaf and one mini loaf

1 large, ripe banana, cut into chunks
1 egg with enough milk to make 1 cup (crack the egg in a liquid measuring cup and then pour milk over)
1/2 stick of butter, softened
4 tablespoons of coconut oil 
1 tsp. vanilla
1 and 1/2 cups flour
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 cup chocolate chips (and/or walnuts would be yummy)
1/4 cup softened Nutella

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. 
1. Place everything BUT the chocolate chips and nutella into a mixing bowl 
2. Mix on low to medium-low until most of the chunks are gone. 
3. Grease your pans. I used one regular-sized loaf pan and one mini loaf pan.
4. If you're adding chocolate chips, mix them into the batter.
5. Dump half of the batter into a separate mixing bowl so that your batter is now divided into two bowls.
6. Stir softened Nutella into ONE of the bowls of batter.
7. Pour batter into the muffin tins, alternating between using the plan batter and Nutella-fied batter. 
8. Use a toothpick to swirl the batter around.
9. Bake at 350 for 50-55 minutes. Use a toothpick to determine if the bread is cooked all the way through.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

February recipe challenge results

Can we blame February for being short and for FLYING BY instead of blaming my frazzled brain? I didn’t quite hit four new recipes and I definitely didn’t make a bread or a pork entrée. But let’s focus on what I did do, shall we?

that’s all me, baby
I tried kale chips and I’ll admit it: they’re good. They’re good AND they’re easy. I made them a few times over the course of a few weeks and I still haven’t quite perfected the amount of olive oil, but I’m getting there. Use a light hand when drizzling—the chips taste better when you get just a hint of oil. I’ve yet to explore various seasoning blends because plain old salt is rather perfect.

bonapetit.com
These "perfect" pan-roasted chicken thighs from the June 2011 issue of Bon Apetit were pretty darn perfect. I made them twice in one week because the first batch had me instantly craving more. If you don’t own a splatter screen for your skillet, you’re going to want to get one before trying this recipe. Also, wear an apron. They’re worth the mess. I ate a cold thigh for lunch and the skin was still crispy!

thepioneerwoman.com
I posted about these oatmeal whoopie pies earlier in the month because I made them for the Super Bowl. They still count as a new recipe for February, though! And I technically made TWO new recipes because I made both the cookies and the frosting from scratch. So really, I nailed this whole four-recipes-in-February thing.

:-/ Maybe that’s a stretch. I’ve been trying to keep track of what we’ve been eating for dinner the last two months to help me see what meats and veggies we’re missing out on. We’ve been having a lot of chicken lately thanks to a sweet sale on breasts and thighs at Weiss. Chicken soup, chicken burritos, chicken tikka masala, red curry chicken and fried chicken.

What new recipes did you try this month? Do you have any go-to recipes you wouldn’t mind sharing?

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Laura’s Thai red curry chicken

My friend Kelly shared something with me that she had read in a book. It’s the idea that a dish becomes your own after you make it three times. The first time you should follow the recipe exactly. The second time you should add your own twist. By the third time you should be comfortable making it, perhaps even comfortable enough to do it from memory. At that point, you can call the recipe your own.

I’ve made Chef Michael Smith’s Thai Coconut Curry Soup twice now, and by the third time I made it I really did feel like I was doing my own thing. I’ll admit I didn’t follow the recipe to a T the first time I made it, but it was very close! The soup is delicious with rice noodles (which the recipe calls for), but the second time I made the soup I served it over rice. We enjoyed it over rice more, but both are worth trying.

For my third attempt I wanted to try to make the dish more like the kind of red curry entrée you would see at a Thai restaurant, as opposed to a soup. I took out the chicken stock and added more red curry paste, as well as adding red pepper slices and mushrooms. Andy said, “now we’ll never have to order out for Thai!” (I wouldn’t go that far—I’m a sucker for panang chicken. When I get that dish down at home, then we can stop ordering Thai.) I’ll try to remember to take a picture the next time I make it!

Notes: I used a rice cooker to cook up some jasmine rice. I started with one cup of dried rice and it ended up being not quite enough, but we like a lot of rice. Next time I will use one and a half cups of dried rice. This is a two pot meal—one for the curry and one for the rice!

Laura’s Thai red curry chicken
makes 4 generous portions

-2 chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces (about an inch or smaller)
-2 cans of coconut milk (don’t use light!)
-2 TBSP of red curry paste
-1/2 red bell pepper, cut into 1 inch strips
-1/2 cup roughly chopped mushrooms
-2 TBSP fish sauce
-1 TBSP of lemongrass paste
-1/2 TBSP of minced galangal or one small knob of fresh ginger, grated
-the juice from 1 lime
-2 TBSP corn starch
-1 bunch (handful) of cilantro, rinsed and chopped
-1 to 1.5 cups of dried jasmine rice

1. Don’t forget to prepare your rice in a rice cooker or in a separate saucepan. :) I used the “quick rice” setting and it was ready in half an hour.

2. Remove the thick layer of coconut cream from one can of coconut milk and place in a large saucepan over medium high heat. (It’s not hard—the cream is separated from the juice, so just use a large spoon to scoop out that top layer of thick goodness.) Add the red curry paste and stir. Stir in the chicken and cook for 5 minutes, or slightly longer if your chicken pieces are thick.

3. Add the juice from the first can of coconut milk as well as the entire second can. Add bell pepper, mushrooms, fish sauce, lemongrass, galangal/ginger, and lime juice. Stir. Bring to a boil, then turn to a low simmer.

4. Remove 2 TBSP of the sauce and put it in a small bowl. Let it cool for a few minutes and then whisk in 2 TBSP corn starch. (This is called a slurry.) Return the thickened sauce into the pot and stir. Continue simmering the chicken for 10-20 minutes.

5. Serve the curry over rice and top with chopped cilantro.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

my experience with NatureBox

(this is not a sponsored post)

Chances are you’ve seen ads for NatureBox on Facebook or in sponsored posts like this or this. If not, here are the deets: NatureBox is a monthly snack subscription advertising wholesome snacks. You get a certain amount of bagged snacks based on the level of subscription you sign up for. Your first box of snacks are chosen for you, but after that you can go on the website and pick what snacks you want in your next box. You can cancel your subscription any time. The lowest level subscription is $20 for five bags of snacks. Shipping is free in the continental U.S.

from LGN


The snacks do not contain high fructose corn syrup, partially hydrogenated oils, artificial sweeteners, artificial flavors, artificial colors or trans fats. They offer snacks under each of the following categories: vegan, soy free, gluten conscious, lactose free, non-gmo and nut free. They’ll also tell you if a snack is low in sugar or sodium, and you can view the full nutritional info for each individual snack.

I chose to quit NatureBox after two months, but I think it’s a neat company and I wouldn’t necessarily not recommend it.

What I liked: I received two boxes for only $10 after first using a promo code and then using my savings from a referral, so no complaints on the price. They also have a lot of different snacks to choose from, and I like that they provide user reviews. The customer service was pretty superb—you might have to wait a day or to before hearing back, but you’ll get an e-mail assuring that help IS on the way. You also might get a “surprise snack” in your box now and then (free of charge). I got one in my second box. 

What I didn’t like: I don’t think $20 for five bags of snacks is terrible (many snacks that claim to be healthful are expensive), but because I didn’t LOVE the snacks, I didn’t want to pay $20 to try more. Of the five snacks that the company picked for first month, I only liked two (praline pumpkin seeds and French almond vanilla granola). I got a second box because I was able to get the referral discount, plus I wanted to see if I’d like the snacks better if I was able to pick them out myself. I only picked snacks that I really thought I’d like, and all of them got mostly rave reviews. Unfortunately, I wasn’t wowed by what I got. (Nothing terrible, just nothing fabulous.) When I was putting the snacks away I realized I never even finished a full bag of any of the snacks from my first month, and that told me that it’s just not worth it for me to have a monthly subscription.

I don’t keep a ton of snacks in the house. We tend to have crackers, nuts, apples and popcorn on hand, and I’ll occasionally buy a bag of chips or a sleeve of mini candy bars as a treat. We simply don’t need five bags of snacks (granted, they’re small) sitting around.

On one hand, if you are looking for snacks that you can feel good about eating and serving your family, I’d say give NatureBox a shot. You’re not obligated to keep up with the subscription, and you should be able to find a discount code floating around. Plus, there are so many snacks to try! I can’t give a fully fair review of NatureBox considering I have only tried a handful of what they have to offer.

On the other hand, if you don’t normally spend $20 a month on snack food and you’re content with the snacks you normally eat…it might not be worth it.

Let me know if you try NatureBox! I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts.