Vanilla Milk Iced Coffee

homemade vanilla milk

There is nothing better than a cup of coffee for an early morning wake up.  A large cup of coffee.  A very large cup of coffee, delivered to my bed.  I need coffee in the mornings.  Ok, so maybe I don’t need coffee right when I wake up, and to be honest if I had to stop drinking coffee for whatever reason, I probably could.  But there’s something about the routine of coffee – waking up to a cup, and drinking it while still having time to actually wake up – that really makes my morning.  Think about it…you are taking a break before you’ve even done anything.  Combine that with a caffeinated pick-me up, and I’d say coffee is pretty much the best thing ever invented.

You know what’s even better?  You can take that coffee break whenever you want.  I like to take a  coffee break after work, to break up the afternoon and keep me more productive.  With this summer’s heat, my afternoon coffees have been iced and in an effort to tame my coffee-house vice, I came up with a way to make my own coffee treat with homemade vanilla milk!

Ingredients:

Vanilla Milk:

-really good vanilla beans (not the extract)

-milk (skim is OK, but I find a little fat helps the flavor stick, I used 1%)

-sweetener, optional

*Use maximum 2 cups milk per one half vanilla bean, I used 1½ cups

 

Iced Coffee:

-coffee, cold or at least room temperature

-frozen coffee ice cubes

 

Pour some room-temperature or already chilled coffee into an ice cube tray, and freeze until set.  Make sure to save some coffee to pour over the ice later!

frozen coffee iced coffee cubes Iced Coffee Ice Cubes

Next, pour milk into any storage container that has a lid.  I use glass mason jars, so that I can shake them up every once in a while to mix the vanilla beans through the milk, and so that I can see the seeds freckled throughout the milk.  You can find organic vanilla beans in the spice or baking aisle – I highly recommend that you buy these.  They are more expensive, but much more flavorful, and you’d be spending more if you got the barista beverage at your local chain.  Slice your vanilla bean (pod) in half – all the way in half – lengthwise.  Using the dull edge of the knife, scrape the seeds out of the pod, tap them off of the knife into the milk, and add the pods.  Try not to use your hands, because the seeds will stick to the oils in your fingers and you won’t be able to get all of the seeds into the milk ($$).  Here is where you would add sweeteners, if you wanted to.  I made two batches – sweetened and unsweetened – because I don’t like sugar in my coffee, but I do like a little sweetener in my lattes.  I also used coconut nectar as my sweetener, but you can substitute this with any one that you like.  Coconut nectar is a newer product, and can be found in most health food stores big and small.  It’s made from the meat of coconuts, has a lower glycemic index than most sugars, contains healthy amino acids, and is less processed than regular sugars and syrups.  And it doesn’t taste like coconut!  It tastes like an earthy sugar, sort of like maple syrup without the maple.  Try it!  The milk will last just as if it were non-vanilla, if you can make it last that long.  I find myself drinking the unsweetened vanilla milk all by itself.  It’s so good!

how to cut a vanilla bean

how to scrape the seeds out of a vanilla bean

When all is frozen and vanilla-d, pop your ice cubes into a glass, pour in some additional coffee, and the milk.  That’s it!  I like to make mine more of a cafe au lait, and just pour over the milk and give it a stir – you can really taste that vanilla when you do that.  This would also be a good method for iced lattes – just replace the coffee with espresso cubes!

frozen coffee iced coffee cubes with vanilla milk

I love vanilla milk in this iced coffee and latte, and I can’t wait to try it with some oven-hot chocolate chip cookies!

Mini-Meatloaf Cupcakes

mini-meatloaf cupcakes with mashed potato frosting

As an invitee to a highly anticipated “B.Y.O.M” (Bring Your Own Meat) party, I anxiously sought out a recipe that would look great and appeal to many different pallets.  After brainstorming for a while and coming up with some pretty stellar ideas, I decided that I didn’t want to risk trying a fancy meat recipe for the first time and end up with a disaster, so I settled for a comfort food classic – meatloaf!  As good as this recipe would have been in loaf form, I wanted to amp up the presentation and make them more appetizer friendly – mini-meatloaf cupcakes were born!  These little appetizers are simple and delicious, and can be served at any temperature for the ultimate party-win.

mini-meatloaf cupcakes ingredients

Ingredients:

Meatloaf “Cakes”

  • 3 lbs ground meat (I used 85% lean)
  • 1 large white onion
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 2t minced garlic, or 1-2 cloves
  • 1 cup breadcrumbs
  • 2 eggs
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • ketchup, to cover
  • salt & pepper, to taste
  • cooking spray

Mashed Potato “Frosting”:

  • about 10 smaller potatoes, peeled
  • ¼ cup milk
  • ¼ cup sour cream
  • 2T butter, unsalted
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • chives, for garnish (optional)

Preheat your oven to 350.  Heat a large frying pan on the stove on high, and drizzle enough olive oil in the pan to almost coat the bottom (about 2T).  Finely dice the onion, toss it into the hot pan, and reduce the heat to medium low.  To really get that good caramelized flavor, be sure to be patient and cook them over lower heat – we don’t want the outside to be crisp and the inside to have that raw onion bite.  Once the onions are done, remove the pan from the heat, add the garlic, and stir.  The garlic adds a little extra flavor (and aroma) without being overpowering if it’s not sautéed in with the onions.  Let the mixture cool for about 5 minutes, so that it won’t burn when you blend it into the meat.  Place the meat in a large bowl, add the cooled onions, a few shakes of Worcestershire, 2 eggs, the breadcrumbs, enough ketchup to just coat the top, and salt and pepper to taste.  Now, I know that there’s a debate about eggs to meat ratios, and after talking with some expert chefs, I’ve learned that there is no real answer.  The egg serves purely as a binder – it doesn’t really help to make the meat moist or enhance flavor or texture – and you don’t need to add one per pound of meat you use.  I used two because three pounds of ground beef is a lot of beef, but for servings under 2 ½ pounds, I’d say stick with one.

caramelized onion meatloaf

I mixed up my meatloaf by hand, mostly because that’s how I’ve known it to be done, but also because it’s easier to tell if the mixture is consistent throughout.  Spray the mini cupcake tin with cooking spay, and fill each cup up with the meatloaf mixture.  Remember, these are not real cupcakes, and will not rise or take form of the pan unless you make them – so press the meat into the cup to prevent any misshapen mini-meatloaves.  Bake the meatloaves for about 10-15 minutes, or until the meat is cooked completely through.  You can use a larger tin for the cupcakes – just be sure to add on some cooking time, maybe 18-22 minutes.

Now for the frosting.  While the “cakes” are cooking, peel and boil potatoes until tender.  Mine took longer than expected – about 15-20 minutes – but I was also using a very small pot.  To check for doneness, you want the potato to fall off a fork but not completely break apart in the water. When they’re done, drain the potatoes, add in all ingredients (except for the chives), and using an electric mixer, whip the potatoes for a nice, creamy consistency.  You want to avoid lumps here – lumpy mashed potatoes are difficult to pipe and will be very frustrating.  Chop the chives, and set aside.

When the meatloaves are all cooked, set them aside to cool to the touch.  Prep your icing bags with a star tip, fill with potatoes, and frost your cupcakes.  I sprinkled over some chives for color.  Because these were for a party, I made the meatloaves the night before – try to make the potatoes the day of to keep the texture just right.   Just like regular meatloaf, these are great hot or cold, as two bite appetizers or mashed up on an italian roll with gravy for lunch later in the week.

sour cream mashed potatoes

I’d show you a picture of that sandwich I was talking about, but there were no leftovers…

mini-meatloaf cupcakes with sour creal mashed potato frosting

 

Air Drying Herbs from your Garden

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I love cooking with fresh herbs from my garden, but unfortunately, up here in New England I’m not able to grow these plants year-round. Drying excess herbs in the summer when they are fresh, and storing them for winter use, allows me to get the most out of my garden even in later months.

There are several techniques to dry herbs, and some work better than others for different types of plants. Air drying is the most simple, and perhaps the best if you don’t have a lot of time. It works best for herbs that have sturdier leaves and lower moisture content like rosemary, thyme, sage, or lavender, but with a little extra monitoring and good air flow, leafier herbs like basil, parsley, and mint can be dried using this method as well.
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To start, pick some herbs from your garden, wash, and lay out on paper towels to dry completely. For the larger leaf varieties like basil, sage and parley, pull leaves from the main stem to reduce internal moisture flow into the leaves while drying. Gather your herbs into small bundles, and tie together using twine or string.
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Hang your bundles upside down in a place that gets good air flow. Indoors is usually better as humidity outdoors can be very variable, and direct sunlight can bleach out color and flavor. If you like, you can cut a hole in the bottom of some small paper bags and drape these over each herb bundle to keep the dust off. (I chose not to this time, but it can be helpful). Leave your herbs hanging to dry. This can take anywhere from 10 days to several weeks, depending on the type of herb and the humidity and air flow in your area. Hot and dry is obviously best for this process, but we can’t always control the weather! Check them every few days, particularly the leafier greens, to make sure that no mold is developing. (If you do get mold on any of your herbs, throw them out and start over!)
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Herb bundles will feel dry and crunchy to the touch when fully dried. Some retain their green color better than others. (If you are not having success with your more tender leaved herbs, you may want to try a quicker drying method, such as oven drying.)
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To prepare dried bundles for storage, remove the dried leaves from their stems and crush. You can use a mortar and pestle for this, or just your fingers.
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Store your herbs in airtight containers for later use. I love these pretty glass jars for mine, since we have open shelving for spices in our kitchen. When you are using theses herbs later in your fall and winter recipes, be sure to crush them up a bit more just before using to release the flavors. Also keep in mind that dried herbs are stronger, so you can use a bit less than you would when cooking with fresh.

Learning this process is all about trial and error, but its really fun, looks pretty, tastes great, and can save you a bit of money on your grocery bill. I can’t wait to make some fall soups with mine!

 

Roasted Graffiti Eggplant and Yellow Zucchini Salad

You can find some pretty interesting things at a farmers market, and on my last trip I snagged some graffiti eggplant and yellow zucchini – not squash, neon yellow zucchini.  To be honest, I had never seen these vegetbles before, but was excited to take them home and experiment.  I made big plans for these finds – grilled vegetable skewers, using a few veggie add ons I had at home – but quickly realized that I’d have to come up with a new idea, due to “equiptment restrictions” (I don’t have a grill).  Roasted vegetables are great as a side dish, or sprinkeld over some greens  for a savory lunch salad, and in retrospect, I’m so happy to have roasted these veggies.  Graffiti eggplant’s opaque white center becomes completely marbled in the oven, and the zucchini skin retains it’s vibrant yellow color – it was a great surprise, and a great lunch add-on!

Ingredients:

  • 2 graffiti eggplant (they are about half the size of a standard eggplant)
  • 1 yellow zucchini
  • half of a red onion
  • 2T (or more) extra virgin olive oil
  • Spices, to taste
  • spinach or other salad greens
  • 2 cups balsamic vinegar
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic

Instructions:

Preheat your oven to 350.  Chop the eggplant, zucchini, and onion into any shape or size that you want to eat – just remember that the vegetables will shrink down when you roast them so don’t cut them too small.  Because I keep the skin on my vegetables, I also have to cater my shapes to the texture of each one.  For example, eggplant skin can be chewy when roasted, but the flesh stays soft, so I cut mine into smaller cubes as opposed to round slices – if not, you’d end up mashing the middle to cut through the skin when you’re ready to eat.  Next, place your vegetables on a foil-lined baking sheet, drizzle over the olive oil, and toss the veggies to coat.  Sprinkle over your spices, and toss again.  I used salt, black pepper, and a mix of oregano, basil, and parsley.  If your spices are dried like mine were, crush them between your fingers before sprinkling them over the veggies to release the flavors.  Distribute your veggies inthe pan, and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the vegetables are roasted, but not too soft.  I used the onions as a judge for this one – once they were translucent and browned but not completely mushed, I knew they were ready.

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I used my 25-ish minute wait time to make a balsamic reduction to dress my vegetables.  I used to think that this was a complicated, fancy dressing, but really it just sounds fancy and complicated, and you can bump your chef-cred in no time.  Take 2 cups of balsamic vinegar and 2-3 cloves of garlic, and heat on medium-high for about 30 minutes, or until the vingegar has reduced by about half, stirring often – cool before serving.  The vinegar will bubble and simmer, and reduce into this syrupy-sweet drizzle, perfect for a salad.  You can make the reduction without the garlic, or subsititue in any other flavors that you’d like – sage leaves, thyme sprigs – just cater the spices to those you’ve already used on the vegetables.  I love garlic, so I used 3 cloves that I had roasted earlier to enhance the flavor.

When the veggies are done, and the balsamic is cooled, assemble your salad, and enjoy!  I also added baby heirloom tomatoes for an extra color boost – add in whatever you like!

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Bow Ties for Kitties

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Sometimes, for that special occasion, a bow tie is just the thing… I’m talking about for your cat, of course! Today’s tutorial is for all you crazy cat ladies out there (I count myself among you). My kitty, Lu, is one classy gent, and now with his new collection of bow ties, he can always look the part! So if you too have a special kitty in your life, who maybe needs some more adorable accessories, how about a bow tie!?

Kitty_bowtie_suppliesYou will need:
– scrap fabric
– self-adhering velcro dots
– needle and thread
– pins
– rotary cutter or scissors
– ruler
– a sewing machine*
– iron

*I made this project using a sewing machine, but if you don’t have one, you could easy adapt this tutorial for hand sewing.

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Step 1. Cut out three rectangles of your fabric: one 7″x7″ square, one 2″x4″ rectangle, and one 1.5″x10″ strip. Please note that this last measurement is based on the size of your cat (10″ fits my cat, but may not fit yours). I would suggest using an existing collar, or a piece of string to estimate.

Step 2. Fold your square piece so that two ends meet in the middle, then again in the same fashion. Pin in place.

Step 3. Fold this piece in half, so that the two raw ends meet, with the pinned side facing outward. Then sew across the raw edges.

Step 4. Carefully turn this loop right-side-out, and pinch the middle together. This will be the “bow” part of your bow tie.

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Step 5: Fold the 2″x4″ rectangle in half, lengthwise, with the right sides together. Pin and sew along the raw edge, creating a tube.

Step 6: Carefully turn this tube right-side-out. I find that the best tool to use for this is a regular pencil with an eraser. The eraser end does a good job of gripping the fabric so that you can more easily push it through.

Step 7: Press this piece flat with an iron, and wrap it around your bow piece with the wrong side facing out. Pin, sew across, and trim off the extra fabric.

Step 8: Turn the small loop that you just made right-side-out and slip onto the center of your bow piece to hold the shape.

If you like, you can stop here and simply slide this cute little bow onto your kitty’s collar! To make and attach a matching collar band, read on…

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Step 9: Using your long strip of fabric, fold lengthwise with right sides facing in, sew, and turn right-side-out in the same way that you did with your last piece. Turn the raw ends of the tube in on themselves about a quarter inch, and press flat. Then, sew a few stitches across each end to close.

Step 10: Slip the collar piece through the back of the bow piece, position the bow in the center, and secure all three layers together with a couple of hand stitches, using a needle and thread. Finally, stick two opposing velcro dots onto the ends of the collar. You can put extra dots if you would like this accessory to be a bit adjustable.

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Check out Lu modeling his flashy new bow tie in Blue! Doesn’t he look dapper!? =^..^=

Dapper_Kitty*A side note on pet safety – I chose to use velcro with this project as it pulls apart easily. This is important for your kitty’s safety, so that if his or her new fashion statement gets caught on something, it will easily detach so as not to cause any risk of choking or injury! Choosing a “safety collar” for all of your pets is very important! Meow!

Dark Chocolate Almond Biscotti with Walnuts

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Italy is to biscotti and espresso as England is to scones and high tea, and as America is to fries and vanilla milkshakes.  The pairings are deep rooted in heritage, tradition, and respect – they are like history and sentiment in edible form, and they are delicious.  Luckily for me, my dad appreciates nothing more than those exact things – Birthday Biscotti it is!  These italian twice-baked cookies are crunchy-crispy, semi-soft centered, and chocolate-y, and inspired by my dad’s favorite flavors.

 

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Ingredients:

Dry Ingredients:

  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • ¼ heaping cup of dark cocoa powder (unsweetened)
  • 2t instant espresso powder (you can omit, but you won’t taste it – it boosts the chocolate flavor!)
  • 1t baking powder
  • 1t salt

Wet Ingredients

  • 1 stick of butter (unsalted)
  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 2 eggs, whole
  • 3t almond extract
  • 2t vanilla extract

Extras

  • ½ cup of dry roasted, unsalted almonds
  • ½ cup of raw walnuts
  • OR 1 cup of any nut, dried fruit, or chocolate chip combination that you’d like

Instructions:

Preheat your oven to 350°.  Measure out all of your dry ingredients, whisk them together, and set aside.  When measuring flour, I use a sort of fluffing technique – there’s no need to bring out a sieve.  Using a spoon, fluff up the flour before sprinkling it into the measuring cup, and when you’ve got a heaping pile of aerated flour in the cup, level it off with the back of the spoon.  This method of flour measuring is one of the most useful I’ve learned to date.  Ever follow a recipe completely, but your cookies still turn out too dry, or your brownies are cake-y, or your pie crust just crumbles?  Just remember that you can always add an ingredient, but un-adding one requires a complete recipe re-work.  I once added too much flour to a recipe – I know, what was I thinking – and my double dark chocolate chip cookie recipe turned into a tin full of rocks.  Literal, rocks.  People were simultaneously “enjoying” the cookies and making dentist appointments because their teeth chipped.  Horrible.  Don’t add too much flour.

Now that that’s settled, on to the wet ingredients.  Using a mixer and a separate bowl, beat your sugar and butter together until they are creamy.  Not grainy, creamy.  If your mixture still looks ricey, keep beating.  The butter is already butter, so there’s no need to worry about overworking your dairy.  Next add in both eggs, and the extracts.  Note to the reader: Whenever I give a measurement for an extract, I almost always add a spill more and I rarely leave out the vanilla.  Like the espresso, vanilla is a flavor enhancer, and really rounds out any baked good.  Because your butter sugar mixture was so well incorporated, mixing in the eggs and extract should be pretty easy.  Once your all blended, begin mixing in the dry ingredients a little at a time, until incorporated, chop up the add-ins and fold them in until evenly distributed.  You also want to be sure to not over-mix at this stage in a baking recipe unless specified.  I think there is a science behind it involving gluten or something, but all I know is that mixing my brownies 25 turns of the bowl gets me not-good-chewy chocolate things, and that 20 turns gets me of the best things I’ve ever created (you’ll have to wait for December for that one, but it will be worth it).

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When you’re all mixed, divide your dough into to sections, and with floured hands, form two biscotti loaves on a parchment lined baking sheet, 2 or more inches apart.  There’s no perfect width or length for these cookies – make them the shape you want to eat them, just know that they’ll expand a bit when baking.  Bake the biscotti for 30 minutes or until set.  Leave the tray to cool for 15 minutes, then using a serrated knife, gently cut your biscotti into sections, lay back on the tray, and bake for another 8 minutes.  These treats aren’t too sweet, and are the perfect texture to eat alone or to enjoy with coffee, tea, or milk.  Be sure to store your biscotti in an air-tight container, that is, if they last longer than the hour they take to make.

 

Summer Blackberry Margaritas

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It’s August, and the blackberries in our back yard are finally getting ripe! I went out to pick some after a long day at the office, and after a few pricks and snags (blackberry bushes are VERY thorny!) I decided the best way to put these little gems to use would be in a batch of margaritas!

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Margaritas are one of my favorite summertime cocktails, they always seem to put people in a relaxed and festive mood. Blackberries make a great compliment to the traditional tangy lime flavor, not to mention add some rich color (and probably some health benefits too, right???)

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For a batch of 4 you will need:
– 2 cups of fresh blackberries
– 1/2 cup of simple syrup (or to taste)
– 1/2 cup of triple sec
– 2/3 cup of tequila
– juice of 3 limes
– coarse sea salt for the rim of your glasses

DSC_0695Blend all ingredients in a blender until smooth, about 10 – 15 seconds should do. Next, pour the liquid through a mesh strainer into a cocktail shaker filled with ice. This step can be a bit tedious, but is definitely necessary, because getting tons of raspberry seeds stuck in your teeth is really no fun. You can help the process along by pressing the juice against the strainer with a small rubber spatula.
DSC_0723Now tighten the lid and give that baby a good shake. Prep your glasses by running a lime wedge around each rim, and dipping each glass into a saucer of sea salt to coat. Fill up each glass with ice cubes, and pour. Garnish with a lime wedge or a few whole berries and sip away!
DSC_0715Cheers to Summer! It’s not over yet!

DIY Carved Cork Stamps

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Today’s project combines two of my favorite things: crafts and wine. It’s really a match made in heaven, don’t you think? So why not break out that stash of wine corks you’ve been saving for some undecided creative project (everyone has one of those, right?) and make yourself some fun, bold stamps!?

carved_cork_stamp_DIYAll you need for this project is a few corks, a utility knife, and some paint or stamping ink. Personally, I prefer to use paint with these, because it fills in all the little nooks and crannies of the cork and makes a fuller looking stamped image.

soaking_corks_for_carved_stamps_2Start off by soaking your corks in a bowl of warm water. This will help when you begin carving, because the cork will be less crumbly when it has absorbed some moisture. It should be noted that you can use those plastic-y corks as well, and this step can be skipped for those.

carving_cork_stamps_1Draw your design on the flat end of the cork. Bolder, simpler designs usually work best, unless you are extremely skilled with that exacto blade (I am not).

carving_cork_stamps_2Then begin to carve away the negative space around your design, trying to cut straight down at the edges of the shape. You don’t need to go very deep, a couple millimeters will do.

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Finally, using a foam brush or flat paintbrush, load up your carved surface with some paint, and get stampin’!

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I like to use these to make customized cards, tags and wrapping paper. But they could work equally well on fabric. I’m already thinking about some hand-stamped tea towels for my kitchen!

Summer Fruit-nola Parfait

 

Yogurt is NOT boring.    But eating it on its own or with the same-old granola can be, and though delicious, grabbing an off the shelf flavored yogurt isn’t always the best option.  Making your own yogurt topping with mixed fruit and crunchy add-ins lets you control the flavor combination and ingredients, and turns up the volume on this otherwise plain snack.  I like to think of it as a hydrated granola, with the emphasis on the fruit instead of the oats and nuts.

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Ingredients:

  • fresh, seasonal fruit (strawberries, black cherries, raspberries, pomegranate seads)
  • the juice from half of a lemon
  • crunchy add-ons (dried coconut, dark chocolate coated cacao nibs)
  • yogurt of choice (I used non-fat, plain greek)

 

Instructions:

Wash and roughly chop your fruit, add lemon juice, toss in pomegranate seeds, and mix.  I had a red on my mind, so I chose strawberries, black cherries and raspberries.  You can serve this mixture as a topping for yogurt, pancakes or waffles, or with some cinnamon pita chips as a fruit-salsa.  The mixture will be sweet enough like a granola with a little crunch from the pom seeds, but I like to add in dried coconut and dark chocolate coated cacao nibs for texture and flavor.  The coconut will be fatty and slightly salted, and paired with the bitter nibs and sweet fruit, you’ve really covered all the bases.  You can make the fruit mixture in advance and even assemble a parfait to-go,  but hold off on adding in any other ingredients until right before serving to keep the crunch.  I make a large batch of the fruit-nola and keep it in a bowl in the refrigerator, overnight.  The lemon and fruit juices mix together to make a natural syrup – can you say ice cream topping?  If you are going to chop your fruit in advance, stay away from fruit that might brown like apples or bananas.  Next time, I think I’ll try mangos, blueberries, pineapple, and lime juice, with some roasted and salted pistachios and dried goji berries.

Yogurt is even less boring when its served out of a wine glass, as a Gilmore Girls snack, on a weekday.

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What to do with Driftwood

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I’m a beach scavenger. Any time I spend a day at the beach I find myself coming home with at least one or two prized pieces of ocean debris. One of my favorite finds are pieces of perfectly sand-smoothed driftwood. The project possibilities for driftwood are endless, but today I thought I would share a few of my favorite driftwood crafting ideas in case you too have a few pieces tucked away after combing the sands this summer.

1.) Driftwood Bead Necklace

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For this project, take a smooth driftwood branch, and using a small hack saw, cut it into 1-2 inch cylindrical sections. Drill a small hole through the center of each cut piece. Paint the flat ends of each of your newly crafted beads in a bright color. Once dry, string the beads onto a length of cord, (I used waxed cotton) alone or with any combination of glass or wooden beads. Tie on a clasp and get ready for compliments!

2.) Painted Driftwood Photo Holders

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This project is really fun and easy! It makes for a super cute way to display photos or cards that’s different from the average frame and easy to interchange. To make one, take a small piece of driftwood and flatten a lengthwise section with a piece of sandpaper. This will give your photo holder a steady base to keep it from rolling off the table. Next, using a small hack saw, make a straight cut about one quarter of the way into the piece, lengthwise from the top. Then have some fun painting designs to give the piece a nice pop of color. Stick a photo or postcard into the groove, and place on a flat surface to display.

3.) Driftwood and Leather Jewelry Hanger

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For this project, find a piece of driftwood that is about a foot long. Wrap both ends of a long piece of leather cord around the stick, about two inches from each end, and tie off. Screw a few mug hooks into the bottom (you should be able to do this with your fingers, but a pair of pliers can be helpful). Hang against the wall from a small nail or tack and use the hooks to keep your jewelry organized and neatly displayed!

We would love to see your project ideas too! Send us an email, comment below, or hashtag a photo of your project with #WTDWLemons!

Chicken en Papillote


This is by far one of the easiest ways to make a delicious and healthy meal, fast.  It’s also a great option if you’re cooking for more than one, or with kids – you can customize each parchment paper package with whatever protein, vegetables, and spices that you’d like, and because each option is individually sealed,  you won’t have any cross-contamination of tastes or scents.  I personally love cooking en papillote because it looks super fancy, and you can cook fish without having the entire house smell like a boat dock.  Plus, it all cooks up in 15-20 minutes, depending on what type of protein you use.  How amazing is that?

Ingredients:

– 4 oz. chicken or fish

– raw, mixed vegetables

– 1 t olive oil

– cooking spray (optional)

– salt and pepper, and any other seasonings desired

– parchment paper

 

Instructions:

Preheat your oven to 350° for chicken, or  375° for fish.  Gather, wash, and cut your vegetables into bite sized chunks, or long strips (julienned, if you will) for presentation purposes.  Having some longer or leafier vegetables helps to create a bed for your protein to bake on – keep in mind, your vegetables won’t cook down much, so the size you cut will be the size you eat.  Tear off a piece of parchment paper that is about 1½ times as big as the meal you want to eat.  When in doubt, remember it’s always better to have a larger piece.  Spray the sheet with cooking spray, or drizzle with 1t of olive oil.  Put your vegetables on top of the spray/oil in the center of the parchment, and place your protein on top.  Add another teaspoon or so of oil, and all of your spices.  The more fat and spice you add, the more flavor – I’ve found 1t of fat to be the minimum amount to use.  Once all of your ingredients are prepped, it’s time to seal the package.  Take two opposite corners of the parchment, and fold them together.  Continue folding and rolling the edges together until you’ve completely sealed the package – it will look sort of like a giant empanada (or calzone) on its side.  Place your finished packages on a baking sheet, and place in the oven for 15-18 minutes for fish, or 18-20 minutes for chicken.  The vegetables and protein will steam, and the flavors will circulate in the parchment as it cooks – hungry yet? When the timer goes off, let the packages sit on the stove to rest for 3-5 minutes.  Place the sealed packages on dinner plates, and open them up – the aroma that floods out of that package is going to make you so happy – I’m salivating just thinking about it.

This time around, I used chicken, asparagus, zucchini, grape tomatoes, spinach, and red bell peppers, and seasoned with salt, pepper, and dried oregano and basil, and finished the cooked chicken off with some balsamic vinegar.  I’ve also used the same vegetables, 4 oz. of swordfish, a few lemon slices, garlic, and red pepper flakes – it’s hard to go wrong with this one.

I’d recommend eating this meal right after it’s cooked – you can’t replicate that experience!

Upcycled Clementine Crates

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Every time we finish a batch of clementines, I always feel the need to keep the cute little wooden crate that they come in. I am the biggest sucker for cute packaging! But after compiling a few of these after this year’s clementine season, I decided it would be nice to pretty them up a little if I was going to keep them around. Heres what I did to upcyle these cuties into some fresh looking storage boxes:

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What you will need:
– empty clementine crate (or 2 or 3 or 5!)
– craft paint
– Mod Podge (I used the hard-coat kind but any type will do)
– some pretty paper
– foam brush
– a craft knife or scissors

I decided to go with a sea foam green paint and floral scrapbooking paper, but you can customize these with any combination you like to match your style or decor.

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First remove any excess staples or splinters from your box so that you don’t poke yourself, then get to painting. I painted all the wooden surfaces of the crate except the bottom.

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Trace the ends of the crate onto the back of your paper sheets. Cut these 2 pieces out, making sure to keep nice straight lines. Spread a thin layer of Mod Podge onto the end surface and lay your paper on top to adhere. Press flat to remove any bubbles or wrinkles.

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Cover the papered AND painted surfaces with a liberal coating of Mod Podge to seal and protect your crate. This layer will dry clear. Once the Mod Podge has hardened, you’re all done! These little cuties (pun intended!) are great for corralling any kinds of odds and ends around your house, or piled up with someone’s favorite goodies, and would also make an adorable gift basket!

Weekend Frittata and Bruschetta

I love breakfast. Breakfast makes it OK that your first waking thought is food and makes eating mandatory.  It’s the most important meal of the day, and it’s my favorite meal of the day.  I also love to eat fresh foods, but cooking every morning is hard!  Frittatas and egg bakes are great options for single-chefs, because you can cook them in bulk and eat them all week.

This recipe is easy, affordable, and versatile – substitute any vegetables you want, or swap the basil, red onion, olive oil and parmesan for cilantro, white onion, lime juice and manchego and you’ve got a completely different dish.  It can also be eaten at any temperature!

Ingredients:

Frittata

  • 2 t extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 t garlic, minced
  • ½ white onion, diced
  • 10 oz. spinach, chopped
  • 1 pack of mushrooms, chopped
  • 1 large carton of egg whites, or about a dozen eggs

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Bruschetta

  • 1 large tomato
  • 2 medium kumato tomatoes (taste the same, but adds awesome color)
  • ¼ red onion
  • 10 fresh basil leaves
  • 1T extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 t garlic, minced
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • really good parmesan

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Instructions:

Start by preheating your oven to 350°.  In a large pan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat.  Dice your onion, and chop up the mushrooms and spinach.  When the oil looks like it’s starting to spread around the pan by itself, you’re ready to start cooking.  Add in the minced garlic and onion, and turn the heat down to medium.  Cook for about 4-5 minutes, or until the onions become translucent.  Add in all of the mushrooms and about ⅔ of the chopped spinach, and continue to cook and stir for 5 more minutes or until the mushrooms soften and the spinach wilts.  While you’re sauteeing, spray your baking dish with non-stick spray, and add in the uncooked spinach – this will add bright color and texture to your frittata, and it will also help to cool down the cooked veggie mixture so you won’t cook your eggs before they go into the oven.  Once the veggies are done, toss them in with the raw spinach, pour the egg whites over the mix, and set the pan to bake for 20-25 minutes or until the mixture doesnt wiggle when you shake it.

While that’s baking away, get started on your bruchetta by chopping up the tomatoes and onions.  I like to finely dice half of the tomatoes, and keep the other half bite-sized – bruschetta always looks better when it’s rustic.  Mix the olive oil and garlic in a bowl, and add the tomatoes and onion.  The red onion adds some spice that, along with the basil, turns these tomatoes into bruschetta and not salsa.  Don’t worry if there is a lot of tomato juice in your bowl.  It will help to spread the spices around and act like a dressing.  To cut your basil, layer the leaves on top of one another, and roll the stack along the longer edge.  Then chop the leaves into thin ribbons, and sprinkle them over the tomatoes, add salt and pepper to taste, and stir.

At this point, your eggs will be (almost) done – let them cool, cut, and serve!  Top your eggs with the bruschetta, and a few parmigiano shavings, or chunks. I never need an excuse to add more cheese.  And this is bruschetta, so don’t forget about the toast.

That’s it! From start to finish, the entire meal takes less than an hour and looks pretty impressive.  If you don’t want to eat the eggs right away, stick them in the fridge. You can even make the bruschetta ahead of time and keep it in the refridgerator to let the flavors marinate.