Thursday, December 29, 2016

Berry, Pecan, and Greens Salad with Caramel Vinaigrette

Who needs champagne?

Did you read that part about caramel vinaigrette? Yeah, I thought it sounded weird too. But it totally works. More than works. It is delicious. The fruit, the greens, a sharp cheese. It's the perfect salad for a perfect new year. It's healthy. Just a tiny bit indulgent. And lately berries have been on sale everywhere (why? I don't understand myself... At Meijer today blackberries were $.77, twice as many blueberries were $.99.)

You can eat this as a meal if you're on a New Year's diet, but if you'd like to make it more of a filling meal, you can add chicken.

Berry and Greens Salad with Caramel Vinaigrette
serves 6
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cost: $6.60 (that's $1.10/serving!)
blackberries: 1.00, blueberries: 1.00, raspberries: 1.00, greens: 1.00, caramel sauce: 1.00, pecans: 1.00, cheddar: .50 vinegar: .10

4-6 C greens
1 handful blackberries
1 handful blueberries
1 handful of raspberries
1 C pecans
1/4-1/2 C crumbly cheese--we used a very sharp cheddar; a feta would also work
3/4 C caramel sauce (store bought or homemade)
sugar (for candying the pecans)
1/4 C apple cider vinegar
optional add-ins: caramelized onions, chicken

First, prep the dressing. If you're making homemade caramel, you'll have to do that. Otherwise, take your caramel sauce and whisk it together with your vinegar. Done.

Now throw your pecans into a skillet with about 1/4 C sugar, turn up the heat to medium or just above that. Stir occasionally and cook until the sugar is melting and adhering to the pecans. Remove them and place them on some parchment paper to let cool.

Assemble your salad--greens, berries, crumbly sharp cheddar, then the cooled pecans. Dress with the dressing. And you're done.

Note: If you wanted to skip the candying of the pecans, you totally can. I did once and this salad was still amazing.


Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Easy Double Chocolate Chip Cookies

Generally, I really hate dessert recipes that "cheat." I pretty much loathe all cake box recipes, for example (yeah yeah, haters gonna hate) as well as things made with cinnamon rolls in a tube or Jello in any form (ugh, Jello, why?). But this. For this I will break all my rules. For this perfect and dumb easy cookie, I will add a box of instant chocolate pudding into a regular cookie dough and have some of the best double chocolate chip cookies you will ever taste. I'm not sure what dark magic that pudding uses, but it gives the cookies that moist, fudgy consistency, yet still lets the butter shine through and has a little crisp to the edges. Fool proof every-time-perfect cookies. #welovedarkmagicbutonlyincookiesandmaybefantasynovels

On over HERE I've got a triple chocolate cookie recipe that is amazing in every manner, yet a pain in the bootyttocks to make (it is still forgiven due to its utter awesomeness, but it's not a lazy afternoon cookie). But these. These are simple, yet with the perfect flavor, perfect texture and consistency. Perfectness (yes, I know it's not a word; what of it?). Plus ease.

I got the recipe from my good friend, Becca, who baked them for December's book club, thereby making the universe completely happy. So add some Christmas M&M's to these things and make the people in your life happy.

Easy Double Chocolate Chip Cookies
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes/batch
Cost: $.4.90
butter: 1.35, brown sugar: .20, white sugar: .05, eggs: .20, cocoa: .15, chocolate pudding mix: .85, flour: .20, chocolate chips: 1.90

1 C (2 sticks) butter, soft or a tiny bit melted
1 C brown sugar
1/2 C white sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
a little less than 1 tsp baking soda
a little less than 1 tsp salt
1/4 C cocoa
1 small packet instant chocolate pudding mix (NOT cook and serve)
2 C flour
2 C chocolate chips (or 1 C chocolate chips and 1 C M&M's)

Preheat oven to 375. (You're going to drop the temperature to 350 after you put the cookies in.)

Cream butter and sugars. Add vanilla and eggs. Add soda, salt, cocoa, and chocolate pudding mix. (Note: You may want to stir those powdery cocoa ingredients in by hand at first, so you don't get a puff of chocolatey powder in your lungs and die or at least cough and then have to clean all the walls near your mixer.) Add the flour. Mix until combined, then add chocolate chips and M&M's.

Put in preheated oven, drop temperature to 350. Bake for 9-10 minutes.

Refrain from consuming them all and then blaming science, or at least social science for forcing upon you this experiment on impulse control. Give some to Santa for goodness sake. Or, well, maybe a few of your neighbors if Santa also has poor impulse control.


Thursday, December 15, 2016

Beef Stroganoff

In my continuing efforts to throw a few quick, painless dinners into your holiday repertoire and thus rescue you from only eating cookies this holiday season, I've got another meal for you that can be pulled together in 20 minutes. It's hearty and comfort-y and could even be considered healthy as long as you're cool with fat and dairy products (at any rate, it's healthier than stale cookies and/or another night of take out).

It can go with any veggie on earth although spinach and/or mushrooms are especially good pairings (because we're talking about pairings because this is a sophisticated blog about sophisticated stuff). Ahem. In actuality, my mother used to make beef stroganoff by combining browned beef with a can of cream of mushroom soup--a thing which you could still do and live to tell the tale and still be eating healthier than cookies and fast food. But. We're going to raise the bar just the tiniest smidgen and make this whole foodsy and even chop some garlic and throw in fresh spinach, folks. It's that kind of awesome.

Beef Stroganoff
adapted from Learning Patience
Serves 4-6
Prep and cook time: 15-20 minutes
Cost: $7.25
noodles: 1.00, beef: 4.00, cream cheese: 1.00, sour cream: .50, spinach: .60, other stuff: .15

1 lb egg noodles
1 lb ground beef
1 fat clove of garlic, minced
1 Tbsp fresh thyme or 1 tsp dried
8 oz cream cheese
8 oz sour cream
salt and pepper to taste
2-3 handfuls chopped fresh spinach, lightly chopped

Get the water going for your egg noodles. When it's boiling, put the noodles in to cook.

While the noodles are cooking, brown your beef with a bit of salt in a skillet. When it's brown or mostly brown, add your garlic, thyme, and salt and pepper. Then add the cream cheese and sour cream. Stir until combined and creamy. This makes for a fairly thick stroganoff. If you want to loosen it up a bit, add some milk or pasta water to the mix.

Throw in your spinach and cook until wilted.

Serve over the egg noodles.


Thursday, December 8, 2016

Pizza Dip

(bleh; photos in the early evening darkness of winter; so hard)

I was going to do a post titled, "Three Healthy Soups When You're Feeling the Blahs," and that is still coming. Because sometimes with the cold weather and abundance of cookies, it gets really easy to feel the blahs. But today I wanted to address another December problem that sometimes contributes to eating the junk that contribute to feeling the blahs: Time. When you don't have time to cook, what do you do? You buy crap food. I know, we all do it sometimes. I do it too. I've felt it more keenly as I've been working the Santa Shop at my kids' school this week.

P.S. Teachers, a hundred hats off to you because just doing a fun Christmas shopping activity with kids can be pretty exhausting. Teaching the little lambs for seven hours a day. You all deserve a really long nap. And then this pizza dip.

Yes, pizza dip. Because it's better than going to Little Caesar's and helping yourself to a self-medicating dose of $5 pizza. It just is. It's basically the same sort of thing and it gives you the same self-medication you might need. But it's made with whole foods (well, whole-ish--I mean, that is a picture of pepperoni above) and it's not full of preservatives and chemicals. Seriously, it tastes better. And you'll notice that it feels better in your body too (even though it's still a far cry from the spinach soup I was planning to post). Also, it only takes 30 minutes to prepare, with less than 10 minutes of actual hands-on work. We all know that that's less time that it takes to drive to Little Caesars and place your order. And of course, it's cheap, coming in at a dollar a serving. 

Pizza Dip
serves 4
adapted from An Affair from the Heart
Prep time:
Cook time:
Cost: $4.45 (that's $1.10/serving)
cream cheese: .50, sour cream: .15, mayo: .10, mozzarella: .90, Parmesan: 1.00, pizza sauce: .80, bread: 1.00

4 oz cream cheese, softened
1/4 C sour cream
1/4 C mayonnaise
1 C shredded mozzarella cheese (divided)
1 C shredded Parmesan cheese (divided)
1/2 tsp oregano
1 C pizza sauce (I make my own, but any will do)
pepperoni or other toppings
bread for dipping (French or sour dough work nicely; sour dough is our favorite)

Combine cream cheese with sour cream and mayonnaise, 1/2 C mozzarella, 1/4 C Parmesan, and oregano. Spread into bottom of a deep dish pie plate or that size-ish casserole dish.

Top with pizza sauce, sprinkle with remaining cheeses. Add pepperoni or toppings.

Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes, or until bubbly and yum.

Serve with slices of bread or breadsticks.


Friday, December 2, 2016

Zinnegael's Cinnamon Oat Crispies (aka Cinnamon Lace Cookies)

Just in time for the holidays I have a perfect recipe for you.

And a perfect book to go along with it.

Grey Stone
In Grey Stone (the young adult fantasy that I wrote that was released this summer), there's a witch named Zinnegael. She likes to bake and has lots of extinct cats as friends, and the king can't kill her even though he can kill whoever the heck he wants. And did I mention Zinnegael likes to bake? So I stole one of her recipes. It was the right thing to do.

These are soooo good and soooo sweet. They're easy to adapt to gluten-free if that's something you or one of the people on your cookie list is needing this year. They are a thin little cookie that spreads and caramelizes at the edges. Since they spread so much, a batch of batter goes a LONG way and you get a bunch of cookies from them (which actually makes them cheaper per cookie if the cheapskate in you is looking for a way to gift a lot of people something buttery and sweet without breaking the bank. It also makes them less heavy and filling than many holiday cookies. I'm not going to call them diet food, folks, but they're not intensely calorie dense either since they're so thin). You can drizzle them in chocolate or not. You can fill them for an oatmeal cream pie effect. You can even add orange rind or almond extract or coconut flakes for awesomeness. I used cinnamon. Because that's what Zinnegael does.

Cookies are good for everyone. So is the book Grey Stone. But it's especially good for fantasy lovers, especially those in the 10-16-ish age range. So if you've got one of those kids on your Christmas list this year, hop on over to Amazon (or Barnes and Noble) and order your copy today. If you get the hardback, it ships for free. Now check that off your list, Santa.

Grey Stone

Zinnegael's Cinnamon Oat Crispies (aka Cinnamon Lace Cookies)
adapted from Add a Pinch
Makes 50-ish cookies
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 5-8 minutes
Cost: $2.25 (that's $.04 per cookie. I didn't even realize how cheap these actually were till doing the math)
butter: 1.25, sugar: .50, oats: .25, egg: .10, other stuff: .15

For gluten-free adaptation, use a gluten-free flour or skip it altogether. You may also need to use oats that haven't been grown or harvested with wheat or gluten-y foods.

1 C (2 sticks) butter
2 1/4 C brown sugar
2 1/4 C rolled oats
3 Tbsp flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper or silicon baking mats. You must do this. Don't skip it or these will not come off.

Heat butter and brown sugar in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon  until butter is melted and mixture is smooth. Stir in oats, flour salt, cinnamon, egg, and vanilla.

Drop the batter by the teaspoon or half tablespoon onto the baking sheets (did you notice how little those scoops are. They must be little; they are going to SPREAD and if you use too much you will have one huge pan-sized rectangle of cookie at the end).

Bake to 5-8 minutes until the edges have browned (you can make these blonder, but they crumble more easily).

Allow to cool. Then remove from parchment paper.

Store in airtight container. These will last well for several days and freeze wonderfully.



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