Saturday, May 31, 2014

First Time Gardener: End of May Update

Happy Saturday friends!

My little container garden is chugging right along. While I do sometimes look at my little corner of the patio and wish I had a huge garden out in the yard, I have to remind myself that this is Year 1.  This is my first time trying to grow, well, basically anything so it's wise to start small while I'm learning. Almost everything I've planted has sprouted, which I'm extremely proud of. Nothing has died, save for my oregano at the beginning of the season. I've got little, tiny green tomatoes growing, and true leaves starting on my zucchini. Let's take a look!

Tiny green tomatoes!

Beefsteak tomato plant.

Roma tomato plant.

Bell pepper sprouting. This pot (today) has at least 12 sprouts now. I only took this picture 2 days ago!

Chard sprouts.


Cucumber sprouts.

Zucchini sprouts.

Here's my little container garden. Year 1. I can't wait to compare this to what I'm doing in 10 years.

And my herb garden? Doing fab! I went through and pretty much harvested ALL the basil, but it's starting to come back as you can see.

The parsley is growing like there's no tomorrow. I've already cleanly harvested it 3 times, and it still looks like this. More parsley pesto for us!

Mom was right. The mint is out of control. It's humungous!

The mint spreads itself like this. This particular vine is try to escape the box.

The thyme is also spreading out.
So, Year 1 is off to a great start. Now, all I've got to do is invest in a canning system so I'm prepared when the veggies start rolling in. I've been doing research, trying to figure out if I go with a water bath canner or a pressure canner. There's a lot of information out there, but as of now, I'm leaning toward a pressure canner. Just so I have more options. We'll see. It'll be Year 1 for canning foods as well. If anything, I'll be able to say I learned a ton this year!

Have a great weekend everyone!

Friday, May 30, 2014

Buffalo Chicken Mozzarella Melts

Let's talk Subway. Subway is the only fast food restaurant I frequent. It also happens to be the only fast food establishment in the town where I live (a town of ~1200 people). I still go to Subway because #1, I love sandwiches and #2, you can get something other than a greasy hamburger on a weebly bun. My go-to sandwich there, as of the last year or so, is the Buffalo Chicken. This girl is obsessed with buffalo sauce. Obsessed. So why wouldn't I want to recreate the magic at home?

I was making Grilled Chicken Sandwiches for dinner, because I had some leftover grilled chicken breast. Chicken sandwiches are a great option for leftover chicken breast. I've learned through trial and error, you really only need 1 chicken breast to make 2 sandwiches. Maybe it's because the chicken breasts I buy are unusually thick, but I find if I cut the chicken breast in half (thickness-wise), it's perfect for a sandwich. Anyhoo- I was making the sandwiches. My head was in the fridge, scanning for the mayo when my eyes moved over the bottle of buffalo sauce. That's all it took.

My favorite buffalo sauce is the medium sauce from Buffalo Wild Wings. Or "Buffies" as I like to call it. I buy a 3-pack at the restaurant every couple of years or so. They last us a long time! I ended up making the hubby's sammie plain with just mayo, but mine? Mine I added the perfect amount of spice to.

My current go-to technique for sandwiches is putting them under the broiler. There's something about the heating action, and the oozy-gooey cheese that oozes from the sandwich. Heavenly. My favorite bread to use for dinner sammies are Ciabatta rolls. Depending on the thickness of the roll, I'll occasionally scoop some of the bread out of the roll. You know, to even out the bread-to-innards ratio.  I'll spread the bread halves out on a cookie sheet, and top the bottom half with chicken, a tomato slice, and a generous amount of mozzarella . Stick it under the broiler for a few minutes and voila! Super-yummy sandwiches made at home.

I served these alongside some homemade potato salad. The creaminess of the potato salad was a great foil for the heat provided by the buffalo sauce. This is a great meal idea for a weeknight or a quick lunch. They literally take less than 10 minutes to make. Better than Subway, indeed :)

I know I say this every week, but how is it Friday already?? This week flew by. I mean, wasn't it just Sunday and I was in Columbus having a girl's day? Seems like it. The hubby is working days this whole weekend, so I've got lots of time on my hands to be productive. And believe me, my to-do list is lengthy. Lots of running, cooking, baking, cleaning, couponing, picture-taking, and grocery-shopping to do!

And quite possibly, a dinner out with friends on Saturday night. We'll see :)

Have a great weekend everyone!

Ingredients (makes 2 sandwiches):

2- Ciabatta rolls
1 chicken breast, previously cooked
1/2 cup buffalo sauce
2- tomato slices
1/2 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
2- lettuce leafs


1. Set oven to broil. 
2. Cut Ciabatta rolls in half. Depending on the thickness of the roll, scoop out desired amount of bread (optional). Arrange bread halves on cookie sheet, with the middle of the roll facing up. Place under broiler until toasted, about 2 minutes. Remove from oven.
3. Do a quick preheat of the chicken. My method- I place the breast on a plate, and cover with a damp paper towel. Microwave for 1 minute. Remove from microwave. Cut chicken breast in half, thickness-wise. Using a basting brush, thoroughly coat chicken breast halves in buffalo sauce. Set aside. 
4. Set "top" of sandwich roll aside. Arrange bottoms of rolls on cookie sheet, middle facing up. Brush buffalo sauce on rolls. Place chicken breast halves on top of the buffalo sauce. Top with a tomato slice and 1/4 cup of cheese. Place under the broiler until cheese is melted and browned. Remove from oven. 
5. Brush buffalo sauce on the top-half of rolls. Place 1 lettuce leaf on each sandwich, and then press the top of the roll onto the sandwich. Cut sandwich in half, if desired. Serve immediately. 

If you liked this recipe, you might also enjoy:

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Strawberry Lime Basil Sparklers

The day I thought would never come has come. The day that I feature a non-alcoholic cocktail on my blog. Oh, how college-age Jessica would have rolled her eyes and let out a snort of derision. Then she would have smacked me upside the head and said, "Where the vodka?".

There's no vodka in these.

I will concede that vodka would be a nice addition to these mocktails, I just wasn't in the mood. I made these last week one day after the hubby had gone to work, and I was settling in for an evening of reading my book (I'm currently in the middle of "The Secret of Nightingale Palace"). I love to sit down with my book and a big glass of ice tea. Or a glass of wine. Or now, a glass of this!

It's not hard to make your own much healthier soda. It's not necessarily the carbonation that's bad for you in commercial soda. It's the chemicals. And the preservatives. I've read articles that say commercial soda is basically like drinking battery acid. I like my Diet Pepsi and Diet Coke probably more than the normal person, but I make a serious effort to limit my consumption. 

So there I was. Home alone. A couple handfuls of freshly harvested basil sat on the counter by my kitchen sink. One sad lime, leftover from Cinco de Mayo, laid on top of my fruit bowl. I had strawberries and soda water in the fridge, and suddenly, I had an idea. An idea to make my own beverage. I ended up taking a pestle and muddling the strawberry and basil in the bottom of my cup. Every time I brought my pestle down on the fruit and herbs, I released more juice to be combined with soda. If you wanted to make a big pitcher of this beverage, I would suggest muddling the strawberry and basil right in the pitcher. Since I was making an individual drink, I just muddled right in my glass. Add some soda water, a splash of lime juice, some ice, and you are set! 

I recommend letting these sparklers chill for 30 minutes before consumption. The flavors really meld together with a quick chill. You won't believe how much you can taste the basil in these. I've never had basil in a beverage before, so I was pleasantly surprised. Paired with lime and strawberries, the basil really shines. If your palette is bored and you're looking for something new, try this!

So. This post was brought to you today by my kitchen errors. The recipe I was wanting to post today was screwed up yesterday. The hubby has been having a lot of stomach and digestive-related issues lately, mainly related to acid reflux. I've been trying to make tummy-taming meals, and indeed, I had to alter my planned recipe of Eggplant Parmesan yesterday. I feared the marinara would have been too much for the hubby. I decided to batter my eggplant and bake it in the oven till it was browned and crispy. I was then going to make a lightened up Alfredo sauce with almond milk to pour over the eggplant. A little parsley and a side salad would make the perfect light dinner for the hubs. My eggplant came out beautifully, but my sauce? Not so much. I must have been off on my butter and flour ratios, because the sauce never thickened and even seemed to separate. Kitchen fail. The hubby and I both loved the flavors though, so I won't be giving up on this one. You'll be seeing it soon, especially with so much eggplant at the store right now. In the meantime, I was glad I had this recipe in my back pocket to post today!

Kitchen fails. They happen to the best of us :)

Happy Wednesday!

Ingredients (makes 1 beverage):

1/2 cup strawberries, diced
1 handful of basil leaves
1 1/2 cups soda water
1-2 tbsp freshly squeezed lime juice
garnish- lime wedges, strawberry halves, basil leaves (optional)


1. In a glass, combine diced strawberries and basil leaves. Using a pestle, begin "smushing" strawberries and basil at the bottom of the cup. Continue until you have a pulp at the bottom of your cup. 
2. Add soda water and lime juice. Stir. Add more lime juice to taste. Add ice, stir. Garnish with lime wedges, strawberry halves, and basil leaves, if using. Serve immediately with straws. 

Helpful links:

Monday, May 26, 2014

Mixed Berry Cupcakes

Happy Memorial Day!

I've got a treat for you. These cupcakes are amaze balls! I finally managed to knock my socks off. I tried a different cake base for the cupcakes, and I think I'm done searching for the best basic cake recipe. This is it. I'm hanging my hat up, untacking my horse, and giving up the hunt. This is the best cake I've made, traditional or cupcake. The texture is perfect, fluffy and moist. They rose perfectly, and the integrity of the cake was strong enough to hold up to all my garnishes. I'm just so impressed with the results from this cake technique, which is once again from Sally's Baking Addiction. Like my favorite cookie base, this recipe starts with melted butter. Who knew?? Sally is a genius, that's all I can say.

Now that I've got this recipe under my hat, I'll be playing endlessly with it. Different flavor combinations, maybe add some chocolate, maybe make a traditional cake out of it...The possibilities are endless!

Let me tell you about these cupcakes though, since that is the point of today's post. I knew I wanted to make Mixed Berry Cupcakes, but I wasn't sure how I was going to go about it. My original idea was for a vanilla cake with chopped berried folded in. The more I thought about it, the more I thought a compote running through the cake would be more fluid. Plus, I've never tried folding fruit into a cupcake, I wasn't sure if it would make them too heavy. An experiment for another day. So I made a compote which I swirled through the vanilla batter. Definitely the way to go! For the frosting, I'd always had a Raspberry Buttercream in mind because I had half a jar of raspberry jam earmarked to be used up. I followed a recipe for Raspberry Buttercream, and found I had a light pink frosting that barely tasted like raspberries. 

So, what did I do?

I added a whole heck of a lot more raspberry jam, that's what I did! In the end, I ended up with frosting that tastes similar to raspberry sorbet. Any raspberry fans out there dislike raspberry sorbet? 

No one? Didn't think so :)

This is hand's down my new favorite frosting. Granted, I don't like frosting and this tastes more like ice cream... But yes, this frosting is the!

I believe due to the amount of raspberry jam in the frosting, it turned out a bit soft. I'm personally ok with this, because I ended up storing the cupcakes in the fridge. The cold didn't ruin the integrity of the cupcakes at all; the cake held up nicely under the cold and the frosting hardened up. A small price to pay for this delicious frosting.

I hope everyone has a safe and happy Memorial Day! I know I will. I'm fresh off a "Girl's Day Out" yesterday, so I will be recouping today. The hubby and I are grilling chicken tonight and making spinach salads, and it's supposed to be sunny and in the eighties today. It's going to be the perfect relaxing day :)

Happy Monday!

Ingredients (makes 12 cupcakes):

1 cup blueberries
1 1/2 cups chopped strawberries
1/3 cup  granulated sugar

1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 cup granulated sugar
2 egg whites
1/4 cup Greek yogurt, plain
3/4 cup almond milk
2 tsp vanilla extract
seeds scraped from 1/2 vanilla bean

1 cup butter, softened
4-5 cups powdered sugar
1 cup raspberry jam (you can use less!)

halved strawberries, blueberries, mint leaves (all optional!)


1. Preheat oven to 350º. Line a cupcake pan with liners, set aside.
2. Make the compote- in a small saucepan, combine the blueberries, strawberries, and sugar. Heat over medium heat, stirring often. Cook for 10-15 minutes, or until the berries have broken down and the mixture is very thick. Set aside to cool slightly.
3. Make the cake- In a small bowl, combine the flour through baking soda. Stir to mix. Set aside. In a large microwave safe bowl, melt the butter in the microwave. When melted, add sugar. Stir until no lumps remain, mixture will be very gritty. Add the egg whites through the vanilla bean seeds, stir until no lumps remain. Add dry ingredients to wet, and mix until no lumps remain. Batter will be very thick.
4. Divide the vanilla batter among the cupcake pan. Take the compote and with a spoon, spoon a tablespoon of compote onto the vanilla batter. Take a toothpick and thoroughly swirl the batter. Bake in preheated oven for 20-25 minutes, or just until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely before frosting-----> This is necessary since the frosting is so soft. The cupcakes must be cool or the frosting will slide off. This is non-negotiable.
5. Make the frosting- In a large bowl, combine butter and powdered sugar. Beat with a hand mixer until combined, 1-2 minutes. Start by adding 1/3 cup of jam to the frosting. Beat until you reach your desired texture. Taste test. From here, you can either stop because you like your frosting, or continue to add jam until you reach your desired level of "raspberriness". Put frosting into a piping bag, and pipe onto the cupcakes. You could always use just a knife to frost too :)
6. Garnish cupcakes, if desired. Serve immediately! Store cupcakes in the fridge, up to 1 week.

Cake recipe adapted from Sally's Baking Addiction. Frosting recipe adapted from 
Linked to: Treasure Box Tuesdays, Weekend Potluck, Foodie Fridays, Feature Fridays

Friday, May 23, 2014

Spinach and Mushroom Frittata with Fresh Thyme

Frittatas are like summer's soup. They are cheap to make, low-fuss, and you can toss whatever you want in them. Really. Anything. Some leftover stir-fry veggies taking up room in your fridge? Throw em' in! Leftover rotisserie chicken? Sure! Chopped bacon or ham? Perfect frittata fodder! I've found with frittatas it really is as easy as mixing your ingredients with egg, pouring the mixture in a skillet, and then popping the skillet in the oven for a quick bake. If you keep an eye on how long you bake your frittata, they are practically foolproof. And as for that leftover chopped bacon- I just happened to have a couple of tablespoons leftover that I sprinkled over the top of my frittata, but that would be a totally optional call. This recipe can stand on its own, with or without the bacon.

Frittatas are just one of the amazing things you can make with egg. I like the frittata, which is similar to a quiche but without the trouble of making a crust. They make a lovely light meal, all you have to serve on the side is a light salad or some fruit. If you have family members with large appetites, you could serve this with bacon and English muffins as a breakfast for dinner. Or heck, just make this for breakfast. I'm not much of a morning cook, so we make this for dinner.

The recipe I used called for ground thyme so, of course, I swapped that out for garden fresh thyme. I love the smell of fresh thyme. Actually, you'd be hard-pressed to find an herb I don't like the smell of.  It's pretty normal for me to walk by my herb garden, grab a mint leaf, and rub it between my fingers just to enjoy the scent. Mmmmm. These were the first of the thyme sprigs I've harvested, and I was not disappointed. I don't know what I'm going to do this winter when I don't have fresh herbs anymore. I'm going to be really sad, I'll tell you that much. And cranky from having to spend money on them :)

This recipe makes a fairly large frittata. I'd say it would serve 6 people with large portions, 8 if you are serving this with side dishes. Normally, I quite enjoy eating leftover frittata cold. However, I don't always put spinach in my concoctions. I found I wasn't overly thrilled with the texture of the spinach in the frittata when it was cold. I'd recommend covering the frittata with a damp paper towel, and gently heating it back up in the microwave if you are eating it the next day. 

Wanting to re-purpose some leftover frittata? I didn't get a chance to experiment with this frittata, but I was inspired by an idea for the leftovers I read about online. Fried rice! Take some leftover rice, chop up your leftover frittata, and toss it with the rice. Easy, peasy fried rice. Something I plan on experimenting with sooner rather than later.

Happy Friday! And start of a 3-day weekend for most people. We're due for a gorgeous weekend here. Sunny, but not too hot. No rain. No humidity. I'm most excited. The hubby has to work nights all weekend, so we won't be doing much. I am going to Columbus on Sunday with a girlfriend for a girl's day. Brunch and shopping at an outdoor mall. And Memorial Day sales? Yes, please! As for today, I'm going to be baking Mixed Berry Cupcakes, which I'm hoping I can get baked and photographed in time to post on Monday. I've actually got a couple of desserts on tap for soon, including Chocolate Malts with Caramel Cream, and Dark Chocolate and Fresh Mint Cookies. Heck yeah!

Have a great Memorial Day weekend everyone! Stay safe :)

Ingredients (serves 6-8):

1 tsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
8 ounces fresh mushrooms, sliced
3 sprigs fresh thyme, minced
3 cups spinach, roughly chopped
10 eggs
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 cup feta cheese, crumbled
1 strip bacon, crumbled (optional)


1. Preheat oven to 350º.
2. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When hot, add onions. Sauté 2-3 minutes. Add garlic to the pan. Sauté 30 seconds. Add mushrooms and thyme. Sauté for 5 more minutes. Add spinach to the pan, sauté for 1 minute or just until wilted. Remove from heat, and allow to cool a few minutes. 
3. In a large bowl, combine eggs, salt, pepper, and feta cheese. Whisk briskly to combine. Add slightly cooled vegetable mixture to egg mixture, stir. 
4. Wipe skillet out with a paper towel. Spray liberally with cooking spray, you don't want your frittata to stick to the pan. Place skillet over medium heat, and allow pan to heat. 
5. When warm, pour egg mixture into pan. Sprinkle bacon over pan. Place in oven, and bake uncovered for 10-15 minutes, or just until the center of the frittata is set and doesn't jiggle anymore. 
Remove from oven, slice into sections, and serve immediately.

Recipe adapted from Food Reference.
Linked to: Weekend Potluck, Foodie Friday, Treasure Box Tuesdays

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Mocha Swirl Muffins

This is one awesome muffin recipe. Coffee flavored muffins, with a creamy vanilla swirl, and studded with chocolate chips. These muffins rock with a cup of coffee, and they aren't bad for dessert either. I found myself reaching for these after dinner, as well as with my morning cup of joe. I passed a couple of these to the hubby's aunt and uncle (as well as the hubby), and everyone has put their stamp of approval on them. Honestly, it's hard to screw up any muffin with chocolate chips in them.

I had to make up this recipe on my own. My original idea was for a Coffee and Cream Muffin. The name didn't sound exactly right, and sure enough, I had a hard time finding prototypes for my muffins on Google. Not a lot of swirled muffins out there on the net. This did not deter me however, as I already had a batter I had in mind for the "cream" portion. 

Ok, I'm interrupting this post.

I did not save the recipe I used to adapt my coffee batter from, and it just took me 30 minutes to find it on Google! I couldn't even remember what picture I clicked on to get to the recipe, and that's usually my saving grace. I always remember the picture that caught my eye. LOL. Not this time! Luckily, I found it. Whew. 

So the coffee batter! There's a cup of very strong coffee in the batter, as well as cocoa powder and chocolate chips. What an amazing combination. I made a large, normal amount of the coffee batter and a tiny portion of the cream flavored batter. Most of the muffin is the coffee flavored, but I took a spoonful of the cream batter, dropped it into the coffee batter, and swirled liked crazy with a toothpick. I love the marbled look this gave the muffins.

I've found with coffee flavored muffins that they dry out significantly when they are over baked. It makes them tough, and chewy. Therefore, it's important to keep an eye on these muffins and pull them as soon as you can. Mine baked in my convection oven for 22 minutes, I pulled them as soon as the toothpick came out clean. The result was perfectly moist and delicious muffins.

Even with making 2 batters, these muffins really didn't take long to make. You could even just make the coffee flavored muffins on their own, minus the vanilla swirl. I found this recipe made 14 muffins with the extra cream batter, but I think this would make an even dozen muffins if you eliminate the cream. But why would you want to do that? I recommend going the extra mile and swirling in the cream. It's worth the extra effort. 

Happy Wednesday! Another week is flying by. How does this happen? I'm left shaking my head. I got my last 2 container plants for my garden yesterday, 2 roma tomato starters. All in all, when it comes to tomatoes, I've got 2 beefsteak, 1 red cherry, 1 yellow cherry, and 2 romas. I'm going to have lots of tomatoes! I can't wait. I'll be transplanting them later today, and setting them out with the rest of my containers. I wish I could say my little garden looks pretty and is organized, but right now it's a hodgepodge of planters sitting on my porch. I think the hubby is going to make some stands so I can artfully arrange my pots, but all in due time.

Well, it's time for this girl to get her butt in gear. I wasted way too much time on Google this morning. Have a great day everyone!

Ingredients (makes 14 muffins):

Vanilla Batter:
1/2 cup almond milk
1/2 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract 
2 tbsp butter, melted
1 cup flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt

Coffee Batter:
1 egg
1 cup strongly brewed coffee, cooled
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups flour
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup chocolate chips


1. Preheat oven to 350º. Line muffin pans with liners. Set aside.
2. Prepare the vanilla batter: In a small mixing bowl, combine milk through butter. Whisk to mix. Add flour through salt. Using a spatula, fold ingredients together until they are just combined. Set aside. 
3. Prepare the coffee batter: In a larger mixing bowl, add egg, coffee, and vanilla. Whisk to combine. Add flour through salt. Using a spatula, fold all ingredients together until they are just combined. Fold in the chocolate chips. Be careful not to over-mix the batter, or the muffins will be tough.
4. Using a spoon, place a spoonful of coffee batter into muffin cup. Follow with a dollop of cream batter. Follow with more coffee batter, and finish with another dollop of cream batter. Using a toothpick, swirl the muffin. Repeat until both batters are gone. Make sure the spoonfuls of coffee batter are larger than your spoonfuls of cream batter.
5. Bake in preheated oven 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Allow to cool in pan for 10 minutes, then remove to a cooling rack. Cool completely before storing in an airtight container.

Coffee batter recipe adapted from Kitchen Daily. 

Linked to: Weekend Potluck, Foodie Friday, Treasure Box Tuesdays

If you enjoyed this recipe, you also might enjoy these recipes: