Saturday, November 30, 2013

Peanut Butter "Truffles"

Ooooh do I have a recipe for you today. I have loved peanut butter balls, or "buckeyes" ever since I was a little kid. My earliest memory of them is at a family friend's house when I was probably 5 or 6, watching Stand By Me with a a troop of kids, then wandering through the kitchen for a bathroom break at some point and stumbling upon my mom's friend making a big batch of them as a surprise for all of us little ones. She brought out a big bowl of them for us all to snack on during the movie and I died. My love for chocolate and peanut butter was born.

Last Monday we had an office potluck Thanksgiving lunch, and I signed up to bring a dessert. I had originally planned to bring something fall flavored, like pumpkin bars or apple crisp, but I just couldn't get peanut butter balls out of my head.

These take a bit of time to make, but they are super easy. Just mix the filling, shape into balls and throw in the fridge. Meanwhile, melt the chocolate - it helps to use a little shortening so the chocolate chips don't seize up and get hard.

I take any chance I can get to use my double boiler. Love that thing! But the microwave or a glass bowl over a pot of water will work just fine.

Then dip and dip away.

And if you're feeling festive, top with some pretty little garnish like sprinkles, colored sugar or mini sugar shapes. I chose gold sugar crystals since it screamed holiday to me.

Put them back in the fridge and let them harden for about an hour. Or less if you can't wait to taste them and don't mind a little melty chocolate fingers.

Clearly that's not a problem in our house.

I made a batch of traditional balls and then a batch with Rice Krispies for something different (I used this recipe from my Pinterest Sweet Treats Board). The crispy ones were definitely good, but I'm more of a peanut butter purist and prefer the simple creamy version.

I will definitely be adding these to my annual Christmas cookie list. Yummmm.

Peanut Butter "Truffles"

Makes 30 balls or "truffles"

1 cup creamy peanut butter
6 Tbsp. melted butter
2 cups powdered sugar
2 cups milk chocolate chips
2 Tbsp. vegetable shortening
Colored sprinkles

Mix together peanut butter and melted butter until smooth. Add powdered sugar and mix until combined well (you might need to use your hands here). Roll into balls and set on a cookie tray lined with wax or parchment paper; place in the fridge for about 30 minutes, until hardened.

In a double boiler over simmering (not boiling) water, melt chocolate chips and shortening together. Once the chocolate chips turn shiny and begin to melt, stir them together and remove from the heat. (If you don't have a double boiler, use a glass bowl over a pot or microwave according to the package directions. If microwaving, it might be best to melt the chocolate chips 1 cup at a time).

Drop the peanut butter balls one by one into the melted chocolate; roll around and remove with a fork. Place back on the cookie tray.

Return to the fridge for at least one hour, until chocolate is fully set. Store in plastic containers either in the fridge or at room temperature.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Back from the Grave

Happy Thanksgiving from beautiful snowy Vermont!

We arrived here yesterday evening, and after chatting with my parents and getting Riker settled, Matt and I headed out for a little birthday dinner with my good friend Julie, her sister and her brother-in-law. We went to a little Italian place in Montpelier, Sarducci's, where we had a table on the water with the snow falling outside and twinkling white lights all around. So picturesque. It's good to be home!


It's been a whole week since I've had a chance to post, so we'll do a quick catch-up on the happenings since last weekend. I've been dealing with a slow burning flu/cold for about the last 5 weeks, which has been annoying to say the least, but on Sunday the thing turned mutant and I felt like I was on my death bed. Riker also caught croup, so our whole house has sounded like a giant infirmary. Needless to say the blog got back burnered since I was crawling into bed every night right after work, but thankfully I got into the doctor this week and he gave me some meds to clear things up - I even got an inhaler since my lungs were wheezing so badly - and I'm finally feeling normal again. Phew!

So that said, here's a peek at what's been going on before and post-death bed.

Saturday was a pretty normal day, but that evening we had plans with a bunch of our good friends (12 to be exact) - the same ones we went to Labrador Lounge in September - for a dinner to catch up.

We went to Ryan Michael's Riverfront Grille in Brick and it was quite good, but the company was even better. ;)

We all shared appetizers, and then I ordered Asian salmon and crispy spinach for my entree.

With the most amazing mashed potatoes I've ever eaten on the side. I also had a few bites of Heather's fish tacos.

Pretty much everyone ordered dessert, which almost never happens, but when I heard "warm chocolate chip cookie sundae" I was sold. Talk about a monster dessert!

The rest of the weekend was pretty ordinary. Oatmeal, reading, tea (um, sugar cookie tea?!), laundry, laying on the couch watching football praying for cough relief, and a little baking for my office Thanksgiving potluck party.

And in not-so-ordinary happenings:

Matt and Riker got into a car accident :( Thankfully they were not harmed at all, which is the most important thing. But we just heard from the insurance company yesterday that they're calling it totaled. It's a little sad and feels like the end of an era since Matt's had a 4-Runner for as long as I've known him, and we brought Riker home from the hospital in that car. But it was getting older and starting to need some fixing up, so we had been planning to trade it in soon anyway. If it had to happen, now was the best time. I guess next weekend we'll be looking for a new car. Eek!

Alright, I'm off to spend some time with my family and get my cooking on. Have a wonderful holiday weekend!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Christmas Kettle Corn In a Jar (Recipe ReDux)

This month's Recipe ReDux theme is riiiiight up my alley. When I read the November theme - "From hostess gifts to holiday gifts, it's the season for DIY offerings from your kitchen" my brain immediately started churning with ideas. We were challenged to come up with innovative homemade mixes to share with others during the holidays, so I wanted to do something beyond the classic bread mix-in-a-jar (which I love by the way, and give out to neighbors and family nearly every year).

For some reason I couldn't get the idea of sweet & salty kettle corn out of my head.

So I went with it. And it was not only super easy to put together, but seriously snackable. I of course had to make a batch to taste test the measurements, and I couldn't keep Matt and Riker out of the kitchen for more than 2 minutes at a time while I was playing around and snapping photos. Those two were like hungry little birds snatching handfuls every time I turned my back.

The recipe, if you can call it that, calls for the simplest of ingredients: popcorn (I use organic, and that's really about the only healthy thing in here - but come on, it's the holidays after all), sugar, salt, pretzels and red & green M&Ms.

When you give it to your neighbor/friend/coworker/babysitter/anyonewholovespopcorn, all they have to do is melt a half stick of butter from their own fridge, dump in the jar of goodies and they're good to go. They have a whole bowl of the perfect movie snack to munch on while watching Elf. Or whatever's on the ABC Family Countdown to 25 Days of Christmas (which, um, started last night and you know will be on in our house for the next 30 days straight).

Plus how cute are they?

I adore.

Christmas Kettle Corn in a Jar

Makes 1 Jar, or 1 large bowl of popcorn (can easily be multiplied for additional jars)

1 12 oz. mason jar
1/2 cup popcorn kernels
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup red & green M&M's (I use peanut M&Ms)
1 cup mini pretzels
1/2 stick butter (recipient will have to supply this)

Place the popcorn kernels in a snack size plastic baggie. Remove all air and seal tight.

Mix together the sugar and salt in a small bowl, set aside.

To layer the jars, place the sugar & salt mixture on the bottom; then add the M&M's, then the pretzels, and finally the baggie of popcorn kernels. Screw the lid on tight.

The gift tag should read:

Christmas Kettle Corn

You'll need: 1/2 stick butter

Pop the corn kernels in an air popper or on the stove top with 1 Tbsp. oil.

Melt 1/2 stick of butter, and pour over the popped kernels. Toss to combine.

Pour the contents of the jar into the popcorn, toss and enjoy!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Proud Wife

We're finally more than halfway through the work week, woo! Matt has a very optimistic way of counting down to the weekends and vacations which always cracks me up, and in his mind tomorrow may as well already be Thanksgiving. It goes something like's already past hump day, and there are only 2 more work days till the weekend, then only 2 days of work next week before we head home to Vermont on Wednesday for the holiday weekend, which means essentially it's already Thanksgiving break. Whatever helps you keep your chin up. ;)

But enough about work, let's talk about food. Dinners this week have strayed pretty far from the meals list, partly due to laziness and partly due to Matt catching a cooler full of striped bass when fishing in the ocean on Sunday.

I'll admit the bloody ice is kind of gross, but I always feel like a proud wife when Matt comes home from a day at sea with a big catch for the family. Striped bass is high up the food chain, which means it has a high mercury content, so - while it's delicious - we try to limit our intake to once every few weeks. This is enough to last us a while! Sunday night Matt cleaned and filleted the fish and we packed it away into portioned bags in the freezer, but kept out some for dinner this week.

On Monday after work, I cut the fish into strips and made homemade "fish sticks." I breaded Riker's with panko breadcrumbs, but for ours I used plain unsweetened coconut; then I baked them in the oven until crispy, and on the side I made a seriously delicious dip with Fage Greek yogurt and some toasted coconut dip mix I picked up at the wine fest over the summer.

I could've eaten that dip by the spoonful, so good!

Last night I finally made the Broccoli "Cheese" Soup I've had on the list for a few weeks now, from my Eat Clean cookbook. It seemed the perfect curl-up food for a cold evening, served alongside a few Lightlife "chick'n" strips.

I loved, loved this soup. It was filled with broccoli and carrots and pureed with vegetable broth and milk till creamy. It also used one of my favorite ingredients, nutritional yeast, instead of cheese, and honestly you couldn't even tell. It tasted just like cheddar. I typically only use yeast for coating popcorn and tofu, and occasionally in salad dressing, but this soup expanded my horizons and I can't wait to try using it in dips, potatoes and all other kinds of things.

Tonight Riker and I were on our own for dinner since Matt had plans to go for a night mountain bike ride with his friend Chris. When carb-hater dad's away, mom will play - veggie pasta for dinner! Shh.

I steamed some broccoli and spinach, then sauteed red and green peppers, zucchini and cherry tomatoes together with olive oil, herbs de Provence and crushed red pepper. Then I tossed all the veggies with mini curly pasta. I made a double batch so I have some for lunch tomorrow too.

Riker ate his at the table with some homemade chicken nuggets, but I saved mine for after he had bath and bedtime and I could eat my big bowl of goodness parked on the couch watching last week's CSI. Another guilty pleasure for when Matt's away in the evening. He's a CSI-hater too.

This mama's pretty tired so it's off to bed to read a few chapters of my newest book (the last book of the Legend trilogy is out, finally!) before I crash. Have a good night!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Too-Short Weekend

This weekend has gone by entirely too fast. It seems like it was just Friday afternoon and now I'm prepping lunches and gearing up for another week ahead. I am super excited that this is the last full week of work before Thanksgiving and a nice little break from the usual routine.

Although this weekend felt short, it really was a nice and relaxing one. Friday evening was low key with dinner and a movie at home. I had a meeting up in north Jersey and arrived home about 6:00 to the smell of Ahi tuna cooking in the kitchen.

Matt seared it in the cast iron skillet with a little butter, soy sauce and sesame seeds, and served zucchini slices on the side. So good! I fell asleep on the couch watching Just Friends, an oldie but goodie, and one of my faves to get into the Christmas movie season.

Saturday consisted of a bunch of errands, grocery shopping and stuff around the house, but it started with a delicious family breakfast at our favorite diner, Four Seasons.

We had absolutely no food in the house and our grumbling tummies wouldn't have made it through a whole shopping trip without some breakfast, so it was a good excuse to go out for lox eggs Benedict. I think I get this every time I go out for breakfast now; never gets old. I asked them to sub out fruit for the potatoes, but they ended up bringing me fruit AND potatoes. Which kind of stunk because I can't not eat at least a few homefries when they're sitting right on my plate. Oh well. I made up for it by having yogurt and berries for lunch.

The best part of the day though, was meeting up with a few of my best girlfriends for a girls evening out.

We haven't had a girls dinner in a while, and our little group has a lot of things to celebrate all the sudden - new jobs, new houses, and new babies on the way. So many exciting things going on! We had planned to get together anyway, but then we found out it was Jersey Shore Restaurant Week, so the dinner date was sealed. After much back and forth and multiple reservations made and broken (we are so picky about menus!), we finally settled on The Lobster Shanty in Point Pleasant. I joked that it seemed a little classy for our group, since it was reserved and quiet, and we can get a little loud and giggly when we're all together. Hopefully no one minded. ;)

In addition to having Restaurant Week, they were also featuring a "Lobster Mania" fixed menu so I went with that option. I started with lobster bisque and then my entree was a broiled half lobster with coconut shrimp.

How huge is that plate? I had thought the lobster would be de-shelled since it was broiled rather than steamed, but they made me work for it. It was really good though.

Dessert, however, was sorely disappointing. There were three options - blueberry cobbler, key lime pie (my first choice, but they were sold out) and a chocolate fudge sundae. Something about hot fudge sounded really appealing to me so I went with that. And was served something out of a hospital cafeteria.

There was no hot fudge on there, my friends. It was plain old boring Hershey's syrup. I was so bummed! That didn't stop me from eating the whole thing though. Apparently I have a problem not eating things that are sitting in front of me for too long.

Dessert aside, it was a great evening and so fun to catch up with the girls.


Today Riker and I were home the two of us all day since Matt left before the crack of dawn to go striped bass fishing (and brought home 6 fresh fish!). I made yogurt bowls for breakfast and then we settled in for a morning of watching The Polar Express and doing some online Christmas shopping.

I don't know what it is about this year, but I am getting into the spirit waaaay earlier than I usually do. Maybe it's because of Riker, maybe it's because T-day is a little later than usual this year, and maybe it's also partly because I'm already having to start planning some holiday posts for Jersey Bites and Recipe ReDux...which resulted in a little kitchen playtime today.

Oh mama. I whipped up some salty & sweet popcorn this afternoon that will be up on the blog in a few days, and

Good thing I ate a somewhat decent lunch - a simple sandwich on sprouted wheat bread with mesclun greens, cucumbers and Cabot cheddar, with a side of celery sticks - because after munching on sugary popcorn late afternoon, I completely lost my appetite for dinner.

I think I'm gonna skip the evening meal and just make some tea to sip on for the weekly ritual of Sunday Night Football and laundry-folding.

How was your weekend?

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Healthy Banana Bread (Grain-Free)

I promised you a banana bread recipe.

Here it is!

I'm a huge lover of banana bread, have been my whole life. Now a lot of banana breads are unfortunately, in my opinion, really dry and flavorless. I've perfected my version of this warm fall/winter loaf over the years, adding more cinnamon and nutmeg, more bananas to keep things moist, walnuts, chocolate chips (I mean, banana and chocolate, come on) and a sugary crust on top. It's to die for.

But I'm actually not here to share that one with you. Sorry!

That one I actually haven't made yet this year, and am trying to hold out on doing so. As you can imagine, it's pretty carby and sugary, and not very healthy at all. It's a great treat, but ends up getting eaten for breakfast and snacks until the whole thing is gone in less than 24 hours. I wanted to stay away from that, but I can't shake my annual fall banana bread baking/eating craving completely - especially when there are two sad-looking brown bananas sitting in the fruit bowl begging to be mashed up and bread-i-fied.

So for this recipe, I swapped out wheat flour for nut flour, cut the chocolate chips from half a bag to only a few teaspoons, removed the walnuts (nut flour is nutty enough so you don't need the extra crunch), and traded my usual refined brown and white sugar for unrefined, all natural coconut palm sugar. I also used grapeseed oil instead of canola oil or butter, since it's a healthier fat.

The result was delicious (note: that piece up there looks a little smooshed because I couldn't wait more than 5 minutes to cut a piece and eat it, warm with a smear of butter). I'm not going to lie and tell you I liked it better than my chocolate chip sugary crust loaf, but I could eat it guiltlessly for breakfast with a little peanut butter, and it honestly is really moist and flavorful. It's also gluten free if you're into that. Unfortunately it still disappeared in 24 hours, so I'm probably going to have to make another one on Sunday.

Grain-Free Healthy Banana Bread

Makes 1 loaf

2 cups almond flour
1 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup organic coconut palm sugar
2 very ripe bananas, mashed
1/4 cup agave nectar (may substitute honey or maple syrup)
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup grapeseed oil or other flavorless oil
2 eggs

Topping (Optional)
1 tsp. coconut sugar
3 tsp. chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, combine flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and sugar. Set aside

In a separate bowl, combine mashed bananas, agave nectar, milk, oil and eggs. Whisk well to combine. Slowly pour the wet ingredients into the dry and stir to combine; do not over beat.

Pour the batter into a greased loaf pan. Top with remaining coconut sugar and chocolate chips, if desired. Bake for 40 - 45 minutes, until toothpick comes out clean.

Let cool for about 10 minutes before slicing.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Sunday Cooking

Happy Monday, everybody! Hope you had a great weekend. Our stay-at-home three day weekend was nice and relaxing, just what I needed.

After my lazy Saturday morning, I met up with Heather and Cathleen for our usual 10:30 am yoga class. I don't get to go every weekend, but try to make it whenever I can. It's such a great way to start the weekend. Even better, Matt agreed to watch Riker and Heather's girls for a few hours so we could go out for coffee, snacks and catching up afterward. Perfect little Saturday morning.

Yoga and girl time relaxation was followed by doing my duty as a teacher's fisherman's wife: bundling up and heading to the cold November beach so Matt and his dad could try to catch some striped bass.

It's been a while since we all went fishing together, and actually I really do enjoy going, even if I'm frozen and, let's be serious, not fishing. I mainly sit under a blanket drinking Starbucks, chatting with MomMom and calling out when the lines look like they caught something.

It's serenity. Being at the beach always makes me thankful for where we live. The guys didn't catch any fish, but Riker had a great time running around and we all got to enjoy an incredible sunset.

Is that magnificent or what?

A new takeout Thai & Japanese restaurant just opened by us and Matt and I have been dying to order from there (we've actually called every weekend for the last 4 weeks to see if they were open yet - stalkers), so after the beach we booked it straight home to take hot showers and order up some spicy food for dinner. Matt's dad and MomMom joined us, so we ordered a bunch of things to share. My favorites were the penang curry with tofu, and the shrimp tempura sushi.

Sunday was a true homebody day and all I really felt like doing was cooking, baking and watching football. So that's what I did. Somehow about 5 loads of laundry found their way into my life too, but folding isn't so bad when you're watching the games and seeing your fantasy football points go higher and higher.

The last time I was home my mom gave me a ton of lentils, so I finally put them to use and made a big pot of lentil soup for a late afternoon dinner. I used my Moosewood cookbook recipe, but adapted it for the crockpot. Something about fall Sundays just really call for using the crockpot.

The recipe called for serving the soup with a drizzle of red wine vinegar, which I'd never heard of. It was fantastic! The vinegar gave it a nice little perkiness without having to use lemon, which would've really changed the flavor of the soup.

I also made a loaf of paleo banana bread, which is now almost completely devoured. I'll share the recipe with you soon!


For a quick Monday dinner recap, tonight the frittata made its lovely first cold-weather appearance.

Easy and delicious as always, this one was filled with baby bella mushrooms, kale, cheddar and mozzarella cheese. We had some roasted asparagus on the side for extra greenery.

There are plenty of leftovers, so I know what I'm having for breakfast tomorrow.

Riker's curled up in bed and now that my blog post is done, I'm about to boot Matt off his Wii Golf game so we can watch last week's episode of Top Chef. I'm so cliche. Enjoy your evening!