Thursday, June 28, 2012

Quark (Savory Yogurt Sauce)

*Pronounced ca(short a)-va(long a)-ck (hard k) in German*

I love this sauce! It is savory from the herbs but lighter than butter, cream or mayonnaise sauces. Traditionally, Germans make this for the summer; they boil/steam potatoes and serve the hot potatoes with this over it (think like sour cream).  This yogurt sauce is perfect on just about everything; I am experimenting by putting it on different items and using it in different ways. :o) 

In the summer, no one wants to eat anything too heavy!  Plus, yogurt has all those good health benefits (gut bacteria and calcium)!!!  I make this with fresh herbs from my garden, and I cannot keep this in my house!


Serves 8-12 (depending on the use)

32 oz plain Greek yogurt (can use low-fat or non-fat, but I usually use the full fat)
1 cup green onions, chopped (1/2 cup dried chives)
1 cup parsley, chopped (1/2 cup dried parsley)
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper

  1. Mix ingredients together.
  2. Adjust seasonings (amounts were guidelines).
  3. Chill at least one hour if not overnight before serving.


>Sauteed onions, spinach, and mushrooms together while baking some fish with salt and pepper.  Assembly: spinach mixture on the bottom, fish on top, and a healthy dollop of quark on top of the fish.  Verdict: DELICIOUS!!!!

>As a spread. YUMMY!!!  *Note: Ben ate all of it before I remember to get a picture!  Just spread some on bread or crackers as a light snack!*

>With gravlax (cold smoked salmon) and the spinach mushroom mixture (what can I say? I love it!).  FABULOUS!!!

>Mix with COLD potatoes for a new twist on potato salad!  FANTASTIC!!!

What is your go-to summer dish?  
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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Red Velvet Cake Batter Ice Cream

The best friend came up for a weekend to host my bachelorette party.  (Woohoo!!!)  Our time is limited as she is leaving for graduate school this summer (across the country no less :o(  ).  Soooooo I decided to make her favorite ice cream because A) I love her--to death and beyond, B) because she can't get it anywhere anymore (the chain that sold it closed), and C) because in the several years I have known her, I can count on one hand how many times I have made food (of any kind!) for her (tragedy?--most definitely!).   

No this is not healthy (by any means), but it was an adventure!  I had never made Red Velvet Cake before last year (her birthday), and the ice cream was a challenge but fun!

This recipe does take some time (and dishes), but all ice cream takes at least two days: one to make the ice cream base and one to cool it down sufficiently to turn into ice cream.  I have always chilled the base overnight because that's what I like to do; if you are impatient, you can do it within a few hours of making the base.

Red Velvet Cake Batter Ice Cream
Makes 3 quarts

Ice Cream Base:

1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup sugar
2 egg yolks
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups heavy cream
1/2 box of Red Velvet cake mix

Cream Cheese Icing:

8 oz cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup powdered sugar, sifted**
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 tablespoon whole milk (might need more to make it runny)

Red Velvet cake bites:

1/2 box of Red Velvet cake mix
items on the back of the box to make cake

Day One:
  1. Make cake according to the package directions.  When cake is cooled put in the freezer until frozen.  Then, cut it into bite-sized pieces and freeze.
  2. To make the ice cream mixture, pour the cream and vanilla into a medium sized bowl (one that has a lid), sift in the cake mix and whisk until well combined, set aside.
  3. In a small saucepan whisk the milk, sugar, and egg yolk together until well blended. Cook the mixture over medium-low heat until stirring constantly until it starts to give off steam (about 160 degrees).
  4. Remove the mixture from the heat and pour it into the cream and cake mix mixture. Whisk together until well combined. Put the lid on the bowl, and place in the refrigerator overnight.
  5. Then make cream cheese icing (which will be used as the swirl inside the ice cream),  by combining the cream cheese, powdered sugar**, vanilla, and milk in a medium sized bowl until smooth. The icing should be slightly runny, but not watery. Put in the fridge until ice cream is made. **I don't like super-sweet frosting; if you do then by all means, put more sugar in!  :o)
Day Two:
  1. Pour the chilled mixture into an ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer's directions until it reaches "soft-serve" consistency.
  2. Pour 1/2 of the of the ice cream mixture into a plastic container (one that has a lid), and then swirl a few spoons of the cream cheese icing into the mixture. Gently stir in the frozen red velvet cake chunks. Pour the other half of the ice cream mixture on top, and then swirl in a few more spoonfuls of the cream cheese icing and red velvet cake chunks. (You can leave some of both for toppings!)
  3. Place the ice cream in the freezer for several hours or overnight until it has firmed up. 
  4. Serve and enjoy!

Unfortunately, my ice cream maker broke (the new one is pictured) so I didn't have the ice cream done until after the bestie got up for the weekend, and that was a blessing because the ice cream was FANTASTIC!  Even Ben loved it, and I don't believe he's even had Red Velvet cake before.  This ice cream did not last the weekend :o)

I will be making some other ice creams (hello homemade drumsticks!), lemonade pops, and trying my hand at frozen yogurt (my favorite!) over the course of the summer.  If you want to try this recipe with your favorite cake, just substitute all of the Red Velvet items for your favorite!

Do you make ice cream?  What is your favorite flavor?

Update  June 2014:

If you just want cake batter ice cream see the recipe below!

Cake Batter Ice Cream

1 box cake mix
1 quart half and half, divided
1/2 cup sugar
2 egg yolks
2 teaspoons vanilla

Day One:
  1. To make the ice cream mixture, pour the 3 cups half and half and vanilla into a medium sized bowl (one that has a lid), sift in the cake mix and whisk until well combined, set aside.
  2. In a small saucepan whisk the remaining half and half, sugar, and egg yolk together until well blended. Cook the mixture over medium-low heat until stirring constantly until it starts to give off steam (about 160 degrees).
  3. Remove the mixture from the heat and pour it into the cream and cake mix mixture. Whisk together until well combined. Put the lid on the bowl, and place in the refrigerator overnight.
Day Two:
  1. Pour the chilled mixture into an ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer's directions until it reaches "soft-serve" consistency.
  2. Place the ice cream in the freezer for several hours or overnight until it has firmed up. 
  3. Serve and enjoy!
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Thursday, June 21, 2012

Basil Steamed Corn

So how many of you make corn by just steaming it?  I thought so.  No offense to the basic steamed-cron-with-butter-salt-and-pepper, but every now and then, that corn needs something!  I have come up with the solution--steamed corn with lemon, basil and garlic!

Basil Steamed Corn

Serves 4

1 pound frozen corn
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped (can substitute 1 tablespoon dried basil)
1 clove garlic, mashed
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Salt and pepper
  1. Put everything in a pot.
  2. Steam until corn is done.
  3. Season to taste.
This can be made for corn on the cob too--just softened the butter and add the rest of the ingredients until blended through (you will need to add salt and pepper to the butter itself); slather on fresh, steamed corn on the cob!

What flavorings do you like to put in corn?Pin It

Monday, June 18, 2012

Sneak Peek: Wedding

After two years of being engaged, Ben and I are getting married this October!  YAY!!!  He is my best friend; he is the calm to my high-energy neurotic self.  He supports me, and he grounds me when I'm frustrated or upset.  He is the shoulder I want to lean on when I need to rest my head.  *sigh*

Anyway--we took engagement pictures in March at our ceremony venue: The Arboretum.  Below are my favorite photos from that session taken by husband-wife team, Gabe and Mary Lawson from Honey Heart Photography.  I have followed her photography for many, many years, and I was so ecstatic that she took our pictures!

As stated, the ceremony will be held at The Arboretum.  Below is the gazebo under which we will get married. :o)

The reception will be held at the historic Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill in the Winter Kitchen which is a small, cozy room with a beautiful fireplace!

This will be the end of wedding posts until after we are married--sorry guys!  I can't very well spill the details!

Have a wonderful day!
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Thursday, June 14, 2012

In the Jungle

The one part of spring and summer that I love is the fact that I can plant a garden and watch it grow. (My favorite time of year is fall followed by winter--I HATE hot weather!) As I don't have a house and yard (yet!), I have to make do with my 7'x4' balcony that gets FULL SUN especially in the afternoon. Thankfully, the basic herbs don't need much room, and they LOVE full sun! So every April, Ben and I skip/run to the home improvement store and buy seeds and potting soil, and we spend an afternoon planting and the next two months watching it grow. I lovingly call it my Jungle, and my cats love it too! In fact, they beg every morning and night to be let out. They climb the rails, sniff the bird feeder, and try to steal my chives (really--cat breath mixed with onion breath--phewweee!!!)!

**Ari is THE most expressive-faced cat I have ever seen!  He is also camera shy.  Look at those cheeks!  Don't you just want to pinch them?! (Okay so maybe I do...)  Ziffi is her usual hoity-toity self.**

I try to have plants that the cats can eat and not get sick, but I have to have a few (lavendar, petunias, aloe, bamboo, and nasturtiums).  Surprisingly, the only plant they touch are the chives despite a large pot of cat grass sitting right beside the sliding door.  They love wheat grass (especially Ari), and I guess chives look close enough--probably have better flavor than grass hahahaha :o)

The wheat grass is not pictured because it is near dying/dead. The wheat grass cannot handle full sun or heat above 80 degrees which is what the weather was doing, and I forgot to take it inside. Not to worry! I will try to revive it or buy some more.

Having said all of that, everything was grown from seed besides the chives.  The cats got to them this year so I had to buy an actual plant.  Some of the seedlings are starting to pop their head up since the protection of the larger plant appeared.

As a cook/baker, I have to have aloe!  Makes a burn hurt much less!  Bamboo is for luck and serenity.

I know what you are thinking--"What the heck is a nasturtium?"  Well--it's an edible flower!  The flower has a peppery taste, and some even have a bit of heat to them!  Ben loves these flowers so I figure we'd grow them this year and put them in salads!  (Plus, he'll just eat them right off the plant!)

This is  my first time growing cilantro, and I am excited!  I have come to love cilantro over the years, and I am incorporating it into my cooking more and more especially with Indian and Mexican foods.  The homemade flags were for distinguishing plants before they take their characteristic shapes; plus, Ben is not too herb savvy hahahaha!

I LOVE purple petunias!!!  I always have and have a pot of them!  The color justs makes me smile.  Oh!  Let me introduce you to Moose; he is my garden gnome!  The mint is taking FOREVER to grow (it's my first time with that herb too!), and so I set Moose to watching it to see if it was dead.  Thankfully, it started coming up a few days after I set him to it (maybe I planted them too deep?....)  Moose reminds me of Diddl-Maus from Germany (small mouse bodies with ridiculously large feet like Moose) so I had to take him home with me.

These herbs put off a TON of clippings especially if you keep them trimmed up.  My grandparents have a dehydrator (dried spices anyone?), and I have researched some freezer techniques for keeping these herbs as fresh and flavorful as possible.  Check back later for those tips and hints!

**Ziffi loves to walk on the rail; I have a hard time getting a good picture since she is on the move, but I will one day!  I have seen her 'study' the gutter that runs next to the balcony...  She also 'studies' the glass and screen doors; this cat is EXTREMELY imtelligent.  She might figure out how to get out!  Thankfully, we don't have a tree near the balcony (like the ones on either side of us) because she would have definitely been down that in a heartbeat!**

Have you planted edible plants or a full garden?  What do you grow?
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Monday, June 11, 2012

(Soon-to-be Famous) Black Bean Brownies

Yes you read that right!  BLACK BEAN BROWNIES!  They are supremely delicious!  I have yet to meet one person who thinks these are god-awful!  Almost everyone loves them immediately, and a few say they are 'good but different' and reach for another.

Not only are these brownies HEALTHY, but they are EASY!  Everything goes into a food processor then poured into a pan.  How much easier can you get?  They also happen to be gluten-free!

My family prefers these brownies, and I am asked to make them all the time.  In fact, I brought some into work and was almost killed.  The reason: people raved about the brownies to others, and the others wanted to try them!  I RAN OUT!  This makes me VERY excited! 

Not to worry!  I will make more for my co-workers.  Plus, I am looking for contests to enter these babies into because they are THAT good!  One square is so deliciously good and chocolatey that the 94 calorie (yes REALLY!) is plenty to quench that sweet-craving.

INTRIGUED?  I thought so!  Here is the recipe, and please DO NOT eat more than two in one setting!

Black Bean Brownies

Serves 20

2-15 oz cans of black beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup applesauce, unsweetened
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 and 1/2 cup sugar
6 eggs, room temperature
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 tablespoons vanilla
2 tablespoons vanilla whey protein (about one packet from the store)
3 and 1/2 tablespoons instant coffee
3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup nuts (optional)
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Layer the ingredients, except chocolate chips, in the exact order listed in a food processor or blender.
  3. Puree until completely smooth. 
  4. Batter WILL BE extremely runny!!!  This is normal!
  5. Grease a 9x13 casserole pan.
  6. Pour batter into baking dish.
  7. Bake for 15 minutes.  Then toss chocolate chips on top.**
  8. Bake an additional 25-30 minutes or until sides pull away from the pan.
  9. Cool, cut and serve!
Keep brownies in the fridge because they are SUPER moist and will go bad quickly at room temperature.  The batter will be a light brown, and the finished brownies will bake to a very dark, deep brown almost black.

**If you put in the chocolate chips while the batter is runny, then they will sink straight down.  In my experience, the chocolate chips will then stick and stay at the bottom of the pan instead of in the delicious brownies!  OH NO!!!  Letting the brownies bake and create structure first ensures that the chocolate chips stay in the brownie lending to the chocolatey flavor!

I am in the process of entering them into some local competitions; maybe I'll make it to the State Fair!  I'm also looking into national contests.  If anyone has some suggestions, let me know!

There you have it!  Some of the most delicious brownies in the world!  Make them!  I SWEAR you will love them!  If you've made them, let me know what you think!Pin It

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Those DARN Cats Introduction

As every cat owner knows, nobody owns a cat. --Ellen Perry Berkeley

Growing up, we had a cat named Garfield. He was a long-haired cat that didn't like many people besides my mom (I guess pulling a cat around by his tail when a toddler is an act to be revenged for the rest of the toddler's life). Then we got a dog when I was about thirteen, and we called him Magic. Magic loved cats; in fact, he would lay down to be cleaned by my grandparents' cat. Since he loved cats, and I wanted a cat I decided to rescue one for him for Christmas in 2008. Unfortunately, fate had other plans, and Magic was killed about three weeks before Christmas. Utterly grieved, I told my best friend supplying the cat that I didn't want it anymore. She said she would just bring it over, and the rest, as they say, is history!

Year by year I have rescued cats, and now I have a glare of cats! No more will be rescued by me, I am afraid. Three cats in one apartment is plenty! Let's meet them! (Yes--I realize that they are all tabbies, and yes, it was a complete accident!)

 Loki came to me as a fuzzy little hellion named Little Devil/Demon (seriously).  Not a name I was fond of; I wanted something easy to say and short.  Someone suggested Thor, and my brain immediately landed on Loki.  He was instrumental in my healing process; I made sure to play with him at least once a day.  Although a mischief maker in his baby years, Loki has turned out to be a very laid-back cat; he is not clingy although he does get VERY jealous when Ben and I sit on the couch together.  He is a very long and lean cat; if he was in Egypt at the height of it's pharaoh-glory, he would have been worshipped.  He is my towel warmer in the morning, and he is the biggest of my cats at about 11 pounds and the alpha.   

Ari was an accidental rescue.  Christmas 2009, I stopped at Petsmart to get Loki a Christmas present (pets should really have presents on their birthday, Christmas, and all other respective holidays).  Being as it was Christmas, many shelters were there for adoptions.  I spotted a little kitten that was so scared and tiny; I held him and fell in love.  The adoption agency had just caught him feral a few days before so I got him for free because they didn't know his temperament.  So instead of getting Loki a toy for Christmas, I got him a kitten.  Ben and I had been discussing getting Loki a companion, and fate just seemed to give us the kick we needed.  Ben named Ari which is Hebrew for "Lion of God".  Ari is very scaredy; he doesn't like loud noises, and even after having him for so many years, he can't take our sudden movements or standing over him.  He does love to be scratched everywhere, even his belly.  He LOVES to play fetch, and he is the most vocal of our cats.  He is not clingy, but if you sit or lay down, he is right there to sit on you.  He loves to chew on anything cloth; I can't bring a new toy into the apartment because as the sun will shine, he will have it destroyed before the hour is up.  He has even eaten through some of our clothes, and he has stolen our dish rags and towels.  We bought him dog chews and learned to put all cloth materials out of his reach!

Ziffi was another rescue although she was on purpose.  She was abandoned in the apartment across from us for at least three days with no food and water.  We got the landlord to open the door, and this poor, starving flea-infested kitten ran out.  She was very sad-looking.  We tried to find her a home, but after a few days, she and Ben strongly bonded.  She didn't necessarily hate me, but she would let Ben pet her and pick her up--just things like that.  We didn't name her, but when we decided to keep her, we had to name her.  Long story short--I saw the name Ziffel, and I immediately came up with Ziffi.   She seemed to like it because she answered to it almost immediately.  She is such an energetic, intelligent cat; she is a born huntress, and we can tell she is very bored being inside.  She climbs anything she can; she gets into any food left out.  We tried to break her of her counter-surfing habits, but short of electrocuting her, we just learned to put everything up.  All of my kitty stories usually involve her in some form  or fashion!  I must admit though, she has snuck into my heart!

So there you have it!  My glare of cats!  Do you have any pets?  What are their names?  How'd you adopt them?  I love pet stories so tell me yours!Pin It

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Strawberry-Rhubarb Crumble

One of my favorite blogs, Smitten Kitchen, has some incredible recipes so please check her site out!  When left standing in the kitchen with a bag of rhubarb, this was the website I turned to for help.  Of all the recipes I have made from her site, not one has failed me yet! 

I'm not a big fan of rhubarb so I wasn't thrilled about making this.  However, this recipe was DELICIOUS!!!  I am converted to rhubarb!  I must confess--this is the second time I've made it in three weeks!  I've always been a crumble-girl so this was perfect!  The sweetness of the strawberries was a perfect compliment to the tartness of the rhubarb, and the buttery-raw sugary crumble topping was just the icing on the cake! 

Serves 8 (if the person cutting it is nice!)

For the topping:

1 1/3 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons Demerara sugar (or turbinado sugar aka Sugar in the Raw)
Zest of one lemon
1/4 pound (1 stick or 4 ounces) unsalted butter, melted 

For the filling:

1 1/2 cups rhubarb, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
1 quart strawberries plus a few extras, hulled, quartered
Juice of one lemon
1/2 cup sugar
4 tablespoons cornstarch
Pinch of salt
  1. Heat oven to 375°F.
  2. Prepare topping: In a mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, sugars and lemon zest and add the melted butter. Mix until small and large clumps form. Refrigerate until needed.
  3. Prepare filling: Toss rhubarb, strawberries, lemon juice, sugar, cornstarch and a pinch of salt in a 9-inch deep-dish pie plate.
  4. Remove topping from refrigerator and cover fruit thickly and evenly with topping.
  5. Place pie plate on a (foil-lined, if you really want to think ahead) baking sheet, and bake until crumble topping is golden brown in places and fruit is bubbling beneath, about 40 to 50 minutes.

This crumble topping is a great basic recipe to have, and believe me when I say that I will try it on the blackberries, blueberries and peaches that are coming into season shortly!  (If you can't tell, this recipe really excites me!)

I dare you to try this!  You won't be disappointed!Pin It

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Farmer's Market

This is the first year that I have gone to my local Farmer's Market.  WOW!!!  What a treasure!  How could I have been missing this?!

My mother and I head there every Saturday morning to buy local fruits, vegetables, eggs, dairy, and meat.  I have always loved farm fresh eggs, and I can't wait to have some chickens!  (Yes, Ben and I want a small farm some day!)  This week, I bought fresh milk to make cheese for homemade pizza (coming to the blog later!) with my best friend who is coming up for the weekend visit. 

We also found this lovely looking rhubarb!

I know what some of you are thinking--RHUBARB?! YUCK!!!  I thought so too, but my mother loves it.  So being the baker of the family, she bought it and begged me to make it into something yummy for afternoon coffee (yes--she does this often!).  **HINT:  I see a rhubarb-related post coming soon!**

Along with local produce, growers and farmers of all sorts come to sell their wares.  Beekeepers sell honey and bee pollen (a supplement--did not know that!).  Musicians play; knitters sell already made scarves, hats, and other clothes.  A flower farm sells made bouquets and choose-your-own flowers.  The roses were lovely and large in pinks, creams, and a soft lilac I had never seen before.  (I can see these as the flowers for my wedding! ;o) )

Do you go to your local farmer's market?  If you don't, I encourage you to do it at least once this summer!  Who knows?  You might get as addicted as me!
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Sunday, June 3, 2012

Recycling and Composting

I am not a tree-hugger by any means--I'm more of a tree-petter.  I love trees and the woods and the environment in general!  However, I am VERY ashamed to say that I didn't get on the recycling and composting bandwagon until April of this year.  Sad, I know--better late than never I suppose!

Nothing really spurred me into action--I just went and bought a second trash can which turned into the recycling can.  I fill up the can, and then I bundle the recyclables and take them to my local co-op.  Our apartment doesn't have a recycling program although I could encourage them too--hmmm...  The really great aspect of my recycling is that nothing has to be separated!  That makes life so much easier! 

Anything with the trademark recycle symbol can be recycled.  If you are wondering why some have numbers (usually plastic items) it's because that is the classification of plastic.  Just make sure that all items have been rinsed out, and I usually try and flatten as much as possible.  Researching this has led me to the answer of my burning question: are Ziploc bags (and their generic brands) recyclable?  The answer is YES: if the community recycles plastic classification #4. 

If you didn't know, you can also recycle old computers, electronics, batteries, engine oil...  The list is endless!!!  Please check with your local waste management company for drop-off locations!

With my recycling endeavors, I have also started composting.  This is a HUGE deal for me; I make most of my meals (about 98%) from scratch which means lots of biodegradable and compostable materials such as onion skins, vegetables trimmings, egg shells, and fruit trimmings.  My grandparents started composting at their house about two years ago (again--I know--a little late) so I fill my compost bucket, and when I see them for my weekly visit, I drop off the compost.  Sometimes, we don't see each other (or I have lots of compost) so I freeze the compost until I can dispose of it.

Having started recycling and composting, I am ASTOUNDED by the amount of 'trash' I have reduced in my apartment; we went from 3-4 full trash bags a week to just one!  AMAZING!  I also create about a gallon of compost and two bags of recycling.  I feel awesome just being able to do this small change in my life to help the planet and environment!

If you have any questions or want to start recycling and composting in your own home, please visit EPA Waste Conserve for more information!  Don't worry if you don't have wonderful, composting grandparents like me!  The EPA website under "Practice Composting" has a link for local and regional composting programs.  Heck, you could start one yourself too!

I challenge you to start recycling and/or composting if you don't already!  If you do, how long have you recycled and/or composted?
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