Monday, July 30, 2012

Cupcakes and Heirloom Tomatoes

Our weekend ended nicely with another barbecue with friends and family. This time for the 2nd birthday of one of my favorite little peanuts, Delia.

That's not actually from her birthday, but I love that one so I had to share. It's from the day she came to visit Riker in the hospital after he was just born, and I gave her a taste of her very first lollipop. Important stuff!

Delia's parents, our good friends Heather & Kevin, put on a great party filled with snacks, salads, BBQ and other goodies. The best part, though, was hands down the cupcakes.

I split a PB&J cupcake with Matt, which was sooo good. I need to try to make them at home with my homemade jam.

It's always a great time with this bunch!

By the time we got home in the early evening, neither Matt or I were hungry for dinner, but felt like we needed a little something more before bed - something with veggies after indulging my sweet tooth earlier in the day. I had a bowl of tomatoes on hand from my farm class the other day, so threw together an heirloom tomato, basil and fresh mozzarella salad to snack on while we watched the Olympics (um, yes, I am an Olympics addict in case you couldn't tell by now).

Aren't those tomatoes gorgeous? I drizzled them with olive oil and sprinkled them with sea salt and pepper, and called it a day. 

We ate the salad scooped up on Wasa fiber crackers - which to be honest, kind of taste like cardboard to me. Good thing those tomatoes were juicy. :)

Great "midnight" snack if you ask me!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Craft Beer Summer Party

Yesterday was a pretty cool day. Earlier in the month I got an invite from Mike - who did the beer tasting for Matt's 30th birthday a few months ago - to attend his 2nd annual New Jersey Craft Beer summer party.

We are always game to hang out with craft beer connoisseurs, so were looking forward to meeting new people and tasting some new brews. We ended up having some insane thunderstorms in the early afternoon, but Mike said the party was still on so we braved the giant road puddles and made our way up.

There were plenty of snacks and interesting beers to choose from, along with a bunch of "shareable" beers people brought for everyone to taste. I picked up an Epic Sour Apple Saison and a Great Divide 18th Anniversary Double IPA to share; both were decent, but the Great Divide was really unique. It's aged on oak chips, and while it isn't aggressively hoppy like other IPAs I love, it's smooth, mellow and drinkable, and has a mild hint of vanilla.

Some of the other party goers were beer brewers, so Matt had a great time chatting them up and tasting their beers.  When we arrived, I spotted Heather right away, who also helped with Matt's birthday beer tasting. The last time we met we didn't have much time to chat, so I was happy to get a chance to know her better.

I tried several new beers, but one of the most unique was the Dogfish Head Wrath of Pecant, which is brewed with plantains and carob. I loved this beer.

I also had a tiny sip o fthe Ghost Face Killah, which is made with habanero peppers. It was honestly way too much. It's good for shock value, but one tiny sip sets your whole mouth afire. Not pleasant!

All in all it was a fantastic afternoon with great people. So glad we braved the rain to join the party! 

We arrived back home around 6:00 to spend the rest of the evening with a few of our friends while watching the Olympics. Did anyone else catch Michael Phelps' performance last night? Not impressive. Ah well, I guess you deserve a break once you have 14 gold medals. But enough with swimming, off to watch gymnastics!

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Dark Knight Date Night

Summer Fridays are awesome. My office closes at 2:00 every Friday in the summer (one of the best perks of working in the city), but most of the time I don't actually get to finish work that early. Yesterday was the exception, so we decided to make use of my afternoon off with an early date night.

Matt and I are both huge fans of the new Batman series, and we were both on pins and needles to see the "epic conclusion" of The Dark Knight Rises. I honestly can't remember the last time we saw a matinee, so catching a movie at 3:00 PM on a Friday was a major treat. After the movie we headed over to Artisan's - the same place we had Lindsay's bridal shower - for drinks and eats. 

We had a gift card we hadn't used yet from Matt's birthday a few months ago, which made it a free date night  (thanks Nicole and Joe!). Artisan's brews their own beer, so we ordered a sampler to try each one. I wasn't a huge fan of any of the beers unfortunately; the fruit beers were a little too sweet for me, and the IPA was quite mild, so I ended up ordering a white sangria instead. For dinner neither of us wanted big entrees, so we ordered some nibbles to share.

The grilled peach & arugula salad with goat cheese was awesome. We also ordered a bar pie with mushrooms and garlic, which was pretty tasty as well. After dinner we didn't feel like going home, but were in the mood for a different scene, so we headed to Acme Draft House in Bayville for a night cap.

Smuttynose and Kane IPAs hit the spot. We finished off the night sitting on bar stools watching the Olympics Opening Ceremony - never miss 'em!

And with that, I'm off to watch Michael Phelps kick some booty. Hope you're having a great weekend!

Silverton Farms + Thai Peanut Soba Noodle Salad

If you've been reading for a while you might remember the healthy cooking class I went to a few months back where we made the white bean dip. My friend Forrest and I have been trying to make plans to go together again for a while now, but I don't usually get home from work in time. Well on Tuesday I worked from home rather than in the city, so it was the perfect chance to go.

During the summer, Maureen's classes are held at Silverton Farms, which is an organic farm about 10 minutes from my house. I'm so glad I got a chance to go to a class on the farm, it was beautiful! There were about 25 people in the class, including a few more of our friends plus Matt's parents who came to check it out for the first time. We sat outside on picnic tables shaded by big trees, looking at the crops in the evening sunlight and sipping on cold Red Zinger iced tea while learning new recipes. Perfect evening!

Maureen picks a different topic for each class, and this week it was all about cucumbers.

Maureen had made some Greek tzatskiki sauce, which was really refreshing and went great with veggies. She also made some refrigerator pickles; they were similar to the ones I made last week, but Maureen added sliced jalapenos to hers so they had a little zing. Loved them!

Next up was a cucumber and avocado tea sandwich. Can't go wrong when avocados are involved.

 The last menu item was my favorite, though. Everyone at our table was raving about the Thai Peanut Soba Noodle Salad. I'm a huge fan of peanut sauce, and this one didn't disappoint!

I will definitely be making this dish again. It was the perfect cold noodle salad for a 90 degree day, full of veggies and with a really light Asian style dressing. I think it'd be a great side to bring to a BBQ.

Maureen explained that soba noodles are a great choice since they're made with buckwheat and have a lot of protein (I think it was 11 grams per serving), but they can be tough to find and/or a little pricey, so whole wheat cappelini or angel hair will work just as well here. Check out her recipe below - it may seem like a lot of ingredients, but it all comes together quickly and the flavor is amazing!

The farm store usually closes at 5, but the owners picked a bunch of fresh veggies in the late afternoon and kept the store open just for us class-goers. I couldn't wait to check out the goodies, and left the very proud owner of a big container of heirloom tomatoes.

The whole quart was only $5! And to top it off, the owner dumped a pint of sugar baby tomatoes (those are they sweet yellow cherry-size tomatoes) in my bag for free. Sweet! I can't wait to make a tomato salad with these guys.

If you're a local, definitely check out this little slice of heaven out in Silverton (it's on Silverton Rd. in Toms River). All the produce is 100% organic, fresh and delicious, the grounds are pretty and the owners are really friendly. They're planning a couple of events over the next month or two, including a movie night on the farm and potentially a music festival, which you can bet I'll be at. ;-)

Maureen's Thai Peanut Soba Noodle Salad

Serves 6-8

2/3 cup creamy natural peanut butter
1 Tbsp. toasted sesame oil
1/3 cup rice or red wine vinegar
1 Tbsp. red chili flakes
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp. ground coriander
2 Tbsp. low sodium soy sauce
Zest and juice of 1 lime
2 tsp. Thai chili sauce (optional - adds heat)
1/2 tsp. grated fresh ginger (optional)
1/2 cup canola oil
1 pound soba (buckwheat) noodles (may substitute whole wheat cappelini)
1 large cucumber, halved, peeled, deseeded, and cut into small slices
2 red pepper, julienned
1 or 2 large carrots, grated
1 small bunch scallions, sliced
1/2 cup roasted, salted peanuts, chopped

In a bowl, whisk together peanut butter, sesame oil, vinegar, chili flakes, sugar, mustard, coriander, soy sauce, lime juice, Thai chili sauce and ginger until smooth. Whisk in canola oil and check for seasoning. In a large bowl, toss dressing with cooked pasta, cucumbers, red peppers and scallions. Garnish with peanuts and serve.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Mediterranean Couscous Salad

The other night when we were visiting my sister in Philly, we had a late night BBQ at her place and I was in charge of bringing a side dish. I had a bunch of zucchini and peppers on hand from the garden, but we were already grilling veggie kabobs and I didn't feel like doing a boring old green salad. 

After wracking my brain for a few flavors that sounded like they'd work with my veggies, I came up with feta, Greek olives and walnuts. Can't go wrong with that mix! Throw in a box of couscous and you've got a warm Mediterranean salad that comes together in about 20 minutes. I happened to have purple peppers and purple basil from my garden, and I loved how their dark color worked with the kalamata and green olives. But any kind of pepper or basil will do, of course.

And want to know an interesting fact? A block of feta cheese (as in, a whole block, not cut up) is made with normal ingredients like milk and salt. Crumbled feta cheese, however, includes hydrogenated oils and other strange additives. My sister Amanda alerted me to this as I was dumping a container of pre-crumbled feta into the salad, and I was really surprised. I guess the oil helps the cheese to crumble easier, but from now on I'll be crumbling my own, thanks. 


I added balsamic vinegar to the salad as an afterthought since the olives and feta are quite salty, and it really helped balance all the flavors. This is definitely a good one!

Mediterranean Couscous Salad

Serves 8

1 box whole wheat couscous
1 large zucchini, cut in medium chunks
1 Bell pepper, chopped
1/2 cup kalamata olives, chopped
1/2 cup green Greek olives, chopped
6 oz. feta cheese, crumbled (I used fat free)
1/2 cup basil, minced
1/2 cup parsley, minced
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

Cook couscous according to package directions (do not add the oil or butter as directed). Meanwhile, warm a skillet on medium heat and spray with cooking spray; add the zucchini, salt, pepper and garlic powder, and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring often and adding cooking spray as needed. Once the zucchini is soft and slightly brown, remove from heat.

In a large bowl, combine the cooked couscous, sautéed zucchini, peppers, olives, feta cheese, basil and parsley, and toss to combine. Add the balsamic vinegar and stir again. Serve room temperature.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Baked Taco Salad Bowls

It's been a while since we've done any Mexican food around here, and you know it's only a matter of time before the addiction rears its head.


Every once in a while I get a craving for taco salad, but I don't usually order them out because restaurant versions are pretty high in fat and calories - especially the ones with the crispy delicious taco shell bowls. Which we all know we love.

There are some gadgets out there to help you make fried taco salad bowls, but ta-da - these ones are baked! To make these fancy taco bowls, I just took 8-inch tortillas (I use Tumaro Low in Carbs Tortillas) and placed them inside glass bowls to make them a bowl shape. Then I baked them at 400 degrees for 13-14 minutes, until the taco bowls were slightly browned and held their shape. That's it! Make sure to keep an eye on them so they don't burn.

I filled my taco bowls with lettuce and a bunch of garden veggies including purple peppers, green peppers, cucumbers and onions. I also topped them with Morningstar Farms soy crumbles for some protein, black beans, a little shredded cheddar cheese, and hot sauce.

Every salad needs a dressing, so I made a version of "sour cream" dressing by combining fat free Greek yogurt, lime juice, lime zest and sea salt.

These shells are not as crispy as the deep fried taco bowls, but they are fun and do the trick. Ripping pieces off and dunking them in the sauce is the best part anyway. :)

Monday, July 23, 2012

Grilled Dessert Banana Boats

If you love the banana-PB-chocolate combo, and are a fan of easy summer desserts that taste like a baked good but take as much effort as cutting up watermelon, then these dessert banana boats are for you.

Yesterday after coming home from a mini weekend trip to Philly, we headed over to Heather & Kevin's house for an afternoon BBQ with some friends from college we hadn't seen in a while. I was tired after being away the night before, but pina coladas by the pool and catching up with one of my best girlfriends were on the agenda, so I was game.

The girls were happy sitting poolside chatting, but the boys played in the water all afternoon. They are still kids at heart, after all.

I had promised to bring dessert, but didn't have time to whip up anything fancy since we had just come back from Philly. So, I brought a bag of bananas & fixings and stuffed these babies onsite after dinner.

This is really more of a method than a recipe. Just slice a banana down the middle and spread it apart so you have a nice deep crevice. Then stuff it with chocolate chips, peanut butter chips and walnuts.

Wrap them in foil and toss them on a grill and let them hang out for 15 minutes.

Then relax in a lounge chair and scoop out the gooey insides with a spoon. Ah-mazing.

And no cleanup! Next time I'm trying brown sugar and pecans. 

Grilled Dessert Banana Boats

Serves 6

6 large bananas
5 oz. chocolate chips (half a bag)
5 oz. peanut butter chips (half a bag)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Split each banana down the middle (peel left on) and spread it open so there's a deep crevice. Stuff each banana equally with chocolate chips, peanut butter chips and walnuts. Wrap each banana in tin foil and place on a grill on low heat. Grill, covered, for 10 minutes; flip each banana and cook for an additional 5 minutes, until the banana and all fillings are melted and gooey.

Eat straight out of the peel while warm with a spoon.

Note: If you don't have a grill, cook in the oven at 350 degrees for 15 minutes, flipping halfway through.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Off to Philly

A few weeks ago my sister made the move from Connecticut to Philadelphia for a change of pace in her career and so she could live closer to us (yay!), but since Matt broke his leg we haven't had a chance to go visit her yet. This weekend we finally were able to head down to see her new place, catch up and check out her new neighborhood.

A few of our cousins came down for the day as well, so it was really nice to catch up with everyone. Since it was pretty hot out we spent the day by the pool at her apartment building, cooling off and enjoying a picnic lunch.

We each brought something to share for lunch. My sister Amanda brought fixings for sandwiches, my cousin Barb brought macaroni salad, and I brought garden veggies and hummus. I had a bit of each, and all were great. I don't normally like macaroni salad with mayo, but I loved Barb's - it was so light and full of carrots and celery. Yum!

Once we got sick of the pool, we quickly dressed and headed to downtown East Falls to check out a local pub for happy hour, called Falls Taproom. We were able to grab an outside table and I really loved the atmosphere. 

We each ordered a drink or two and some apps to share. I wasn't a fan of the first beer I ordered - a Bells Two Hearted Ale - since it didn't have a very robust flavor profile. I gave it to Matt and moved on to a local brew, BrewWorks' Hop'Solutely, which was much more my speed. It wasn't overwhelmingly aggressive but had nice body. And it paired great with the homemade spinach dip (super spinach-y!) and whole wheat pitas.

We also tried the house cut sweet potato fries with curry aioli, which were awesome. The curry complemented the sweet potatoes so well. The rest of the group also ordered the pineapple habanero wings, which they said were great as well.

I loved Falls Taproom and can't wait to go back and try more of the menu. Most of the items were typical American fare, but done really well and with a unique twist. Our server told us they're also adding on a bourbon room and a mixology bar upstairs. Talk about an eclectic mix!


We ended the night with a late BBQ dinner and chatting back at Amanda's place. Grilled shrimp and veggies for all! Well, steak for everyone else, but my sister is good to me and made jerk-marinated shrimp skewers just for yours truly. :)

Good eats and great times with the fam. Our cousins went home Saturday night, but Matt, Riker and I slept over and came home this morning. I'm so glad my sister finally lives close enough that we can go visit her without packing for three days. I've only been waiting for her to move here since we graduated high school! ;-) Can't wait to do it again and check out more of the area!