what makes life beautiful – and edible

Impress-Your-Guests Chocolate Bundt Cake

This easy breezy chocolate cake is a total hit. Every time. Everywhere. With everyone.

I first sampled this delectable happiness when a friend made it for bookclub. She, in turn, says, “I got the recipe from my Aunt. She makes it for special occasions. It is probably a cake doctor recipe from 10 years ago. It’s always a hit with chocolate fans!”

IngredientsImage

1- Devil’s food cake mix (make sure it does not already have pudding in the mix)
1- 5.9 oz pkg chocolate pudding (if you can only find the 3.9 oz, that’s fine, just reduce the bake time 5 minutes)
4 eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup regular or light sour cream
12 oz semi-sweet mini morsel chocolate chips (you can use regular chips but the minis distribute a bit more evenly)

Directions
Mix the first five ingredients together. Stir in the chips and mix another minute or so. Pour batter into a greased bundt pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 50-60 minutes. Cool at least 15 minutes in the pan before inverting and removing the cake from the pan. Sprinkle with powdered sugar if desired. Ooh and ahh. 

Saying the word “bundt” brings to mind this vignette from “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WPvO53JHnmY 

10 Lessons for Your 30′s

I liked this piece from Mark Manson, “10 Life Lessons to Excel In Your 30′s” — even if the title doesn’t roll off the tongue. I’ve captured the 10 points below, and encourage you to read the full piece.

1. Start Saving for Retirement Now, Not Later

2. Start Taking Care of Your Health Now, Not Later

3. Don’t Spend Time with People Who Don’t Treat You Well

4. Be Good to the People You Care About

5. You Can’t Have Everything; Focus On Doing a Few Things Really Well

6. Don’t Be Afraid of Taking Risks, You Can Still Change

7. You Must Continue to Grow and Develop Yourself

8. Nobody (Still) Knows What They’re Doing, Get Used to It

9. Invest in Your Family; It’s Worth It

10. Be Kind to Yourself, Respect Yourself

 

Fajita Marinade

I recently faced a total food fail while attempting Baked Spaghetti Squash with Cheese. I figured it’d be the perfect healthier mac ‘n cheese. Truth? It was downright terrible. My roux never thickened, I burned my hands pulling out the ‘noodles,’ the whole thing came out a liquidy wet blob lacking flavor. Not to mention that I wasted $14 on cheeses! I tried reinventing the leftovers by making little cheesy noodle ‘pancakes’ in the skillet. Nope. I don’t know what went wrong in those 2 hours but I know it did not go right.

Given that disappointment, my level of cooking effort is greatly diminished of late. Sometimes I just need a break from planning meals.

Aligned with that mindset, here’s an easy marinade that worked really well for chicken fajitas, and I imagine would be great for steak, pork or tempah too. I put 2 chicken breasts in a gallon ziplock and added these ingredients, smooshing them around to blend and then allowing the chicken to marinate for 1 hour in the fridge:

  • 1/4 cup worchestire
  • 4 TBS olive oil
  • 1 TBS brown sugar
  • 1 TBS minced garlic
  • 1/2 tsp celery seeds
  • 1/2 tsp chipotle chile powder
  • 2 TBS cumin
  • juice of 2 limes
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro

We sliced the raw chicken and added it with the ziplock sauce to a cast iron skillet. When the chicken was cooked, we removed it and added diced onions, bell peppers, jalapeno and more chopped cilantro for a quick stir-fry. Because the marinade boiled while the chicken cooked and then boiled again with the veggies, I wasn’t worried about raw chicken bacteria.

Better-for-you Butter Chicken

According to my fiance, this should be called “Righteous butter chicken.”

I love butter chicken and order it every chance I have. Officially known as ‘murgh makhani’ and described as ‘Indian chicken in tomato cream sauce,’ I’m rarely disappointed. This is baby Indian food — almost zero heat, sweet and hard to resist seconds, or thirds.

However, generally I place it in the category of ‘foods best made by others’ since the amount of cream sends my stomach racing into hiding. To avoid lactose overload, I gave this version from Natural Noshing a try. It’s light on dairy but still full on flavor, and can easily be made lactose free. Overall assessment: it’s good. It’s not EPIC or a copycat recipe but it’s solid.

Next time I’ll use vegetable or peanut oil, though. I apparently don’t like the scent of heated coconut oil; it reminds me of being stuck in a car on a hot day with a box of melting crayons and a coloring book. Also, lemon juice is an absolute must for finishing the dish. I’ve made the changes that I will make next time to the recipe below.

TIP: This will take you about 2 hours, start to finish.

Ingredients for the Chicken:
4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
2 cups yogurt (can use dairy-free options)
2 TBS ginger-garlic paste
1 tsp salt or to taste
1 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp garam masala
1 tsp cayenne pepper
3 tsp tandoori masala powder
2 tsp kasuri methi or 1 tsp ground dried fenugreek seeds
4 TBS canola oil, coconut oil or other neutral oil

Directions For the Chicken:
1. In a small bowl mix together cumin, garam masala, salt, cayenne pepper, tandoori masala and fenugreek/kasuri methi. Rub on both sides of the chicken and refrigerate for at least 30-60 minutes.
2. Line a pan with parchment or foil. In a large bowl, whisk together yogurt, oil and ginger garlic paste. Dip each chicken breast into the yogurt mixture. Coat well. Lay on prepared pan.
3. Heat oven to broil and cook 10-18 minutes or until cooked through (depending on thickness of chicken), flipping them over halfway through. For 4 meaty breasts, I cooked 15-20 minutes on each side. When cooked through, let chicken rest for 5 minutes. Optional: slice chicken into 1 inch cubes.

Ingredients for the Butter Sauce:
4 TBS coconut oil, canola oil or other neutral oil
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
3 TBS ginger-garlic paste
4 cups diced tomatoes (use canned or marinara to save time)
2 TBS flour
1 tsp cayenne pepper
2 tsp cumin powder
2 tsp garam masala
3 TBS kasuri methi or 1 tsp dried ground fenugreek seeds
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 TBS sugar or sweetener of choice
1/2 cup coconut milk OR greek yogurt OR  sour cream
4 TBS butter, ghee, or margarine
Juice of 1 lemon

Directions For the Butter Sauce:
1. Heat the oil in a medium sauté pan. Cook onions until soft and translucent. Add ginger-garlic paste and stir for about 1 minute.
2. Add tomatoes, flour, cayenne, cumin, garam masala, kasuri methi, salt and sugar. Cook on medium heat until thick. Optional: Puree sauce in a blender and return to the pan. Personally I find blending hot liquids in batches a messy business.
3. Add dairy (yogurt/coconut milk/sour cream) and butter. Stir and cook for another 5 minutes. Add lemon juice. Taste and adjust. If you prefer a thinner sauce, add a bit more coconut milk.
4. If you opted to cut up the chicken, add it to the pan and simmer for a few more minutes. I sliced up the chicken and poured sauce over it instead.

Serve hot with lentils, rice and buttery garlic naan. Sigh contentedly and enter righteous butter chicken food coma.

 

Valentine’s Humor

Not for the faint of heart,  I present these riotously uncomfortable Horrible Love Cards from The Oatmeal. Thanks for the link, sis! You’re all very welcome.

And there are pages and pages more…

Homemade Oatmeal Creme Pies (Take 1)

I’ve decided – for no particular reason – that 2014 is the year of making oatmeal creme pies. I started with this recipe from Cooking Classy, and made a few minor tweaks as a newbie to this realm of cookie sandwiches. I don’t know how they managed to make these in 25 minutes, as it took me 2 hours, but the end result is pretty impressive. And by that I mean that the creme filling made unicorns cry tears of joy. I will never make another frosting again.

In the words of the Birthday Boy & Official Taste-tester, “Seriously, it is so damn good. You nailed it, hun.”

Ingredients

1 3/4 cups + 2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1 cup quick oats
3 tsp cocoa powder
1 1/2 tsp cornstarch
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup shortening (unflavored)
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
3 TBS molasses
2 large eggs (or egg product)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/8 tsp almond extract

Marshmallow Buttercream Filling
1/2 cup butter, nearly at room temperature
1/4 cup shortening (unflavored)
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
7 oz. marshmallow creme

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a mixing bowl, whisk together flour, oats, cocoa powder, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger, set aside. In the bowl of an electric stand mixer, whip together butter, shortening, sugar and molasses on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Stir in eggs, mixing until combine after each addition. Mix in vanilla and almond extract. Slowly add in dry ingredients and mix until well combined.

2. Scoop dough out about 2 Tbsp at a time and drop on cookie sheet lined with a Silpat or parchment paper. Depending on size, you can fit 6-9 per sheet. Bake in preheated oven 10 – 12 minutes. Cookies should still be soft, not fully set – don’t over bake. My oven runs hot so I pulled them out at 9 minutes, since 11 minutes made a batch of crunchy granola bars.

3. Allow to cool several minutes on baking sheet before transferring to wire rack to cool. Cool completely then spread marshmallow buttercream filling along bottom side of one cookie and sandwich to the bottom side of another cookie. Store cookies in an airtight container at room temperature.

4. To make the marshmallow buttercream filling:
In the bowl of an electric stand mixer  or hand mixer (not an immersion blender, folks), whip butter and shortening on medium-high speed, until pale and fluffy, about 3 – 4 minutes. Add powdered sugar and blend on low-speed until combined, then increase speed to medium-high and whip for 1 minutes. Mix in marshmallow creme and taste. Try not to keel over in drooling bliss. 

The cookies are good, but not enough of an improvement over the classic Quaker Oats recipe that I’d say you have to use this recipe.  For Take 2, I’m looking at these Oatmeal Buttercream Pies. Any other recipe suggestions?

Tattoo Parlors > Mall Kiosks for Piercings

I read this great piece in TIME on why tattoo parlors are better for piercings. My first piercing was the ears. Like many

Ear Piercing Gun

girls my age, I was absolutely dying to be deemed grown up enough to pierce my ears. My dreams came true on my 7th birthday: I remember sitting in the lavender chair in a Claire’s at the mall, the odor of rubbing alcohol heavy and my ear lobes cold, trying not to squirm while a woman put a dot on each ear and shot an earring through a piercing gun. I clenched my eyes tight and hoped that the dots would be parallel and centered, or ‘straight’ in 7-year old speak.

I admit a bias towards tattoo and piercing parlors: my undergraduate honors thesis was on the gender differences in piercing preferences, and involved a number of interviews at local businesses. I found shop owners and artists to be respectful, honest and scrupulous about sanitation — which I can’t say for any mall kiosk on the planet. When I got a nose piercing and entered the world of body jewelry purchasing, I found businesses ready to offer advice and suggestions, often with simple instructions and easy DIY recommendations.

In sum: save time and headache and likely money – go to a tattoo parlor for all your piercings. 

Why I Took My 7-Year-Old to a Tattoo Parlor

By Bonnie Rochman
“Last month, following a long period of girlish cajoling, my daughter finally got her ears pierced in celebration of her 7th birthday. The setting was not the traditional mall kiosk staffed by some bored and minimally trained 16-year-old. Instead I took my daughter to a tattoo parlor.

Surprised they even allow 7-year-olds in those kinds of places? Think again. A growing number of parents are apparently turning to tattoo parlors to bejewel their children’s little lobes. I didn’t come up with this crazy idea out of the blue; I’m a reporter, after all: I researched where to take Shira and weighed the pros and cons. I found that tattoo parlors — despite the blaring heavy metal music — were mom-approved by a local parenting email list. When even a nurse cast her vote in favor of the tattoo parlor, I deliberated no longer.

“There is a stigma attached to tattoo parlors that they’re dirty and will be bombarded by foul-mouthed people,” says Sarah LaRoe, a mom with multiple facial piercings and tattoos creeping up her neck, who pierced my little girl’s ears so tenderly that she left her not in tears but with a big, happy smile on her face.

Contrary to what you might think, tattoo parlors — at least the one I went to — are actually bastions of cleanliness. Some states regulate them, and reputable ones use disposable needles and sterilize all their equipment in an autoclave. In contrast, mall piercers and many jewelry stores use piercing guns that have been associated with complications and can’t be completely sterilized. Armed with that knowledge, which would you choose?

While some parents might be freaked out by the idea of taking their kid to a tattoo parlor, I looked upon the outing as an adventure, joking with my daughter about getting a Hello Kitty tattoo for mom. What I didn’t expect was that the experience would evolve into a lesson in tolerance. In that unnerving way little kids have of speaking their mind, Shira took an initial look at LaRoe and stage-whispered: “I think she looks ugly like that.”

I immediately flashed her my scary mom eyes to signal her to clam up. But later, after we’d left the store, her comment served as an opportunity to point out that just because someone looks different, it doesn’t mean she’s not a good person. LaRoe, regardless of her unconventional piercings, was super-professional and extremely kind.

For professional piercers like LaRoe, who stick needles through noses, eyebrows, tongues and nether regions, ears are the most mundane of piercing locations. But that doesn’t mean they don’t take it seriously. LaRoe spent nearly an hour with us, versus the quick in-and-out that I remember from getting my ears pierced at the mall as a girl. Before leading us into the piercing room — which looked just like a doctor’s office — LaRoe handed the birthday girl a bag with a lollipop, which expertly distracted Shira from being overly nervous about what was going on.

The bag also contained non-iodized sea salt and instructions for mom on how to mix a saline solution to clean newly pierced ears. Unlike the alcohol that mall kiosks recommend for cleaning, salty water doesn’t burn.

Now for the gory details: at tattoo parlors, piercers use hypodermic needles to core out a sliver of skin, making room for an earring — a relatively painless procedure. In contrast, at the mall, the piercer uses a gun that painfully jams a blunt-tipped earring stud into the ear lobe; the process does not remove skin, but effectively pushes it aside.

LaRoe is so convinced of the superiority of needles over piercing guns that she’s signed petitions to ban the guns; one such petition makes the case that “only cowboys use guns.” In her quest to reform the ear-piercing industry, LaRoe leaves her business card at schools and pediatricians’ offices. When she takes her own son to the doctor, she’ll frequently get questions about her multiple piercings; sometimes she gets customers that way too.

Ultimately, though, change starts parent by parent, through word of mouth. “It kind of acts like a trendsetter,” says LaRoe. “All it takes is one little girl who goes to school and says it didn’t hurt.”

It didn’t hurt? Well, maybe a little. But so little that Shira didn’t even blink when LaRoe pierced her first ear. During the procedure, LaRoe had her do some deep, yoga-like breathing, which Shira is familiar with from her weekly yoga class. In and out, in — pierce! Of course, the lollipop helped too.”

Coconut Curry Salmon

After rocking out a bear-sized portion of epic BBQ at the famous Salt Lick BBQ, I wanted some fish this week as a counterbalance. Who would have guessed that Kraft would have a great recipe for coconut curry salmon? Of course, my revisions excluded the one Kraft ingredient, but I give them kudos for inspiration. This took maybe 25 minutes to prepare, resulting in full flavors that belied the quickness of the dish. We gave it 2 thumbs up and decided it’s a keeper recipe!

Ingredients
1 can (13.5 oz.) regular or lite coconut milk
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
3 tsp curry powder, divided – I used yellow but red or green would work too
4 salmon fillets (1 lb.), with skins
Juice from 2 limes
2 tsp oil
1 bell pepper, cut into strips
3 plum tomatoes, seeded and chopped OR 1 can diced tomatoes
1 onion, cut lengthwise in half, then sliced crosswise
2 TBS chopped fresh cilantro
Salt and Pepper to taste
Extra lime for garnish

Directions
1. Heat oven to 375ºF. If you’re making rice, start that now. TIP: For extra oomph, add a touch of coconut milk,  salt and some sugar to the rice before it cooks. 

2. Blend the coconut milk, cumin, red pepper flakes, 1/2 tsp salt and 2 tsp curry powder with immersion blender until smooth. Set aside.

3. Place the fish, skin-sides down, on a baking sheet sprayed with cooking spray. Mix lime juice and 1 tsp curry powder; brush onto fish. BAKE 8 to 10 min. or until fish flakes easily with fork.

4. Meanwhile, heat oil in large skillet on medium heat. Add the bell peppers, tomatoes and onions; cook 5 minutes. Stir in coconut milk mixture, then taste and season per preferences. We added more heat and curry powder and lime juice at this stage. Cook 5 minutes or until heated through, stirring frequently. Stir in cilantro.

Serve the salmon with sauce and jasmine rice. Sprinkle with cilantro and an additional squeeze of lime juice. TIP:

Kindness Is Free

I’m not a mom but I am a woman, and I am embarrassed to admit how often I contribute to catty commentary and girl-on-girl meanness. Mostly it’s limited to internal dialogue or snarky comments; I’m not one of THOSE girls who actually writes cruel internet posts or insults someone to their face (see, it just comes out). Anyhooo… I dug this piece from the Huffington Post about what we can teach young girls – and ourselves – about treating others with respect.

Are You Teaching Your Daughter to Be A Mean Girl?
by Lyndsi Frandsen

One night, during my senior year of high school, I received a text message from a group of girls telling me I was fat and needed to lose weight.

At the time I felt bad and embarrassed for them. It honestly stunned me that people could be so downright mean and insecure. Now that I am married with a daughter of my own, my thoughts about it have slightly shifted. I find myself wondering about those girls’ moms. Where were they? And why didn’t they teach their daughters to be kind?

Years later, I ran into one of those girls at the store. We both had our young daughters with us. I didn’t have ill feelings toward her and honestly assumed that we had both moved past the petty immaturity that tends to accompany those high school relationships. We were both wives and mothers now. Surely things that happened then would seem silly now — even laughable. So, in passing, I said hello.

Nothing.

With a cold glance, and without a word, she walked away.

I was stunned.

It was at that moment, I realized two things:

1. Mean girls grow up to be mean moms.
2. Little girls learn from their moms how to be mean girls.

This “mean girl” gene doesn’t come on intentionally. I don’t think there are many people who pride themselves on being mean. However, we live in a technology-driven world that, in my opinion, breeds competitive feelings and makes that mean behavior all too common.

Social media has created an atmosphere where people feel entitled to peek in on every aspect of your life. People feel entitled to say whatever they want. I cannot tell you how many times I have observed mothers, via social media, being downright nasty to one another about anything and everything. It is shocking and sad. But if it starts with us, it has to end with us. It’s our responsibility, as mothers, to do everything in our power to make sure we aren’t (even unknowingly) raising mean girls.

Be aware of yourself. Being a teacher, I can assure you that your children hear you. (And often quote you.) They observe you. They mimic you. They hear you tell your husband how that woman on Facebook “is so full of herself.” They listen when you are on the phone with your girlfriend gossiping about the mom down the street. They even take in the critical things you say about your own appearance. They hear you. And then they become a product of everything they hear — a product of you.

Teach them how to give a compliment. Doesn’t this seem so simple? Complimenting is a lost art. We live in a self-centered society, and it shows. By teaching your children how to compliment others (and themselves), you are encouraging them to find things they like about other people.

Encourage positive conversation. I am a firm believer that when we start being pessimistic and negative, we train our brains to automatically think that way. By encouraging and participating in positive conversations with our daughters, we can help train them to think in an optimistic way. It’s hard to be mean when you see life and see others in a positive light.

Teach them to root for the underdog. I have my mom to thank for this life lesson. When we were growing up, my mom would always remind us to “root/cheer/vote for the underdog.” Whether it was during student council elections, team tryouts or just a regular day, she would always say that to us as we got out of the car. Promoting this message teaches children to be aware of others. It will teach them kindness and empathy. And think of it this way: At some point in time, we will all be the underdog. How would you want to be treated?

Praise niceness. Nice is a simple world. So simple, its powerful meaning often goes unnoticed. Growing up, “Because Nice Matters” was our family motto. My mom plastered the phrase all around the house, and now I have done the same. Being nice does matter. We need to make kindness a conscious lesson. We need to compliment our daughters when they demonstrate kindness. In a world that values looks, achievements, accomplishments and awards, let your home value kindness.

I hope one day, if I run into that high school acquaintance again, she will accept the smile I throw her way. But even if she doesn’t, I’m just going to keep on smiling. After all, nobody is perfect. But everyone can be nice.

Pumpkin Cream Cheese Cinnamon Rolls

Kudos to the bakers over at Food52 for crafting this delicious recipe. I made these on Christmas morning, and though they take a fair amount of time to create and more than enough calories, the flavors make for a celebration. Plus, did you notice they use pumpkin? My pursuit to teach the world that pumpkin is more than a fall food continues.

I learned a couple things that will make my next batch even better:

  • Adjust the oven down 25 degrees for a glass pan.
  • Measure the icing ingredients.
  • Clementine zest and juice are not culinary equivalents to orange zest and juice.
  • Despite my insistence that it didn’t matter, sifting powdered sugar is actually important.
  • This recipe makes two pans of rolls.

INGREDIENTS

Post cutting and ready to rise for a second time!

Dough
2 TBS tablespoons active dry yeast
1/2 cup milk, warmed but not boiling
4 cups all purpose flour
1/3 cup light brown sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1 TBS salt
4 TBS butter softened
3 eggs
1 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 cup cream cheese

Filling
1 cup  brown sugar
1/2 cup  butter
2 TBS ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp orange zest

Icing
1/2 cup cream cheese
1 cup confectioner’s sugar, sifted
3 TBS orange juice — measure this, trust me

DIRECTIONS
1. Combine the yeast and the warm milk and let sit until foamy, about 5 minutes.

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook combine the flour, sugar, spices and salt. Add in the eggs, pumpkin puree, and yeast mixture. Mix until just combined, then add the butter. Mix the dough until well combined, then knead the dough for 5 minutes until smooth and elastic. The dough will stick to the bottom of the bowl, but resist the temptation to add more flour.

3. Transfer the dough to a clean, oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise until doubled in volume, 1-½ hours at a warm room temperature.

4. When the dough is almost finished rising, prepare the filling by browning the butter in a skillet until it is golden and toasty. Let the butter cool slightly then combine it with the brown sugar, cinnamon and orange zest. Prepare two, 8 or 9-inch baking pans by buttering or oiling them generously.

5. After the dough has risen, transfer it to a well floured surface and pat the dough into a 12-inch square. Break up the cream cheese and gently spread it on top of the dough, being careful not to tear the dough. Fold the dough into thirds, starting from the bottom so the cream cheese is completely sealed inside of the dough. Then roll the dough into a roughly 16-inch by 20-inch rectangle with the long side facing you, dust off any excess flour with a pastry brush.

6. Sprinkle the filling evenly over the top. Starting from the bottom, gently roll the dough into a log. Use a serrated knife and use very, very gentle and even pressure to cut the log into generous 1-inch slices. Gently place the cut rolls into the prepared pans, cover and let rise until almost doubled in size, 1-1 ½ hours. TIP: If you’d like to freeze some rolls to bake off at a later date, now is a good time to do it. Wrap the pan in 2 layers of plastic wrap and a layer of foil and freeze. To bake, let the frozen rolls come to room temperature and complete their final rise before baking.

7. Twenty minutes before you are ready to bake the rolls preheat your oven to 350º. Bake the rolls until they are cooked through and lightly golden, 20-25 minutes. NOTE: If you’re using a glass pan, adjust the oven to 325º and watch carefully, as glass transfers more heat and will take longer to cool down once out of the oven.

8. While they are baking, prepare the glaze by whisking the cream cheese, powdered sugar, orange juice, and a tiny pinch of salt together until smooth. It won’t be smooth if you don’t sift the sugar. I know, it’s an extra step but worth it! Let the rolls cool for about 5 minutes before glazing and digging in. Be judicious with the glaze, a little goes a long way.

These were good, and can be even better. I’ll try out the wisdom gained on batch #2, which is chilling in the freezer until a special occasion arises.


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