Baked ‘Fried’ Okra

Justin Timberlake came out with a new song. It’s the first thing since 2006 when he brought sexy back.

I have been a fan of JT since his NSYNC days, of which I will proudly and openly admit my JC Chasez crush. Sorry Justin. I switched to a JT fan once his first solo album came out  … and JC struggled as a ‘judge’ on some dance show. (I know Justin’s married now but we obviously had a chance together, especially when he got to his suit wearing years.)

There’s a point to this. Promise.

You see, JT and I are a lot alike. Sometimes we just need a little break to perfect our crafts, or just work overtime. And in the blogging world… 2+ months = roughly 7 years.

Well…I’m back. And it’s time… so let me show you a few things, including this baked ‘fried’ okra.

'Fried' Okra

Being from Texas I know there are only two ways to ever eat okra. 1) Pickled and 2) Deep Fried (surprise!).

Having grown up and lived in the Evergreen state I’ve learned that 1) Okra isn’t nearly as popular and 2) Neither is fried food.

Side note: okra is slimy and a little weird. You’ve got to move past it because it’s so dang good.

Prep Okra

This recipe is simple. No messy goopey battered fingers and easy clean up thanks to freezer ziplock bags. This is a kind of a non-chicken version of shake and bake.
Breaded

Using the bag also helps to get a nice even coating. I’m a fan of thick, crispy coating. (I think it’s a carb thing, like wanting only the cobbler part of fruit cobbler.) The corn meal and egg combo really does the trick. Okra Dipped

So get out there, whip these up and eat the whole batch. I mean, why not? They’re baked!

Baked Fried Okra

12 oz. frozen okra, thawed

3/4 c. corn meal

1/2 tsp. Creole seasoning

1/4 – 1/2 tsp. Salt

1/4 tsp. garlic powder

1 egg

1/4 c. milk

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place the thawed okra into a gallon size freezer bag. Beat together egg and milk and pour into the bag with the okra. Mix around to completely coat the okra.

After the okra is coated, scoop the okra out using a slotted spoon (to drain off excess egg/milk mixture) and put it into a clean freezer bag. Pour over the corn meal and spice mixture. Shake around until completely coated. If you don’t drain off the excess, it can be a little gloopy and won’t have the nice separate pieces. If that happens, adding a little more cornmeal can help. Then pour onto a lightly greased baking sheet, in a single layer.

Bake for 20 minutes, then flip and bake an additional 20 minutes. Eat hot, right out of the oven with a side of ketchup.

Oreo Truffles

Oh Christmastime. It is most certainly my favorite time of the year.

Christmas music. Cinnamon spice candles. Candy canes. Cookies. Cheer.

Candy coated Oreo truffles. Yes please.

The first time I was gifted an Oreo truffle was last year when we received one of my favorite cookie trays from my parent’s neighbors. After taking one bite, we immediately added them to our Christmas ‘baking’ repertoire.

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It’s as if you’re eating a fancy chocolate truffle. So smooth and creamy but it tastes like an Oreo. Hallelujah.

…And there are only 3 ingredients. Oreos, cream cheese and candy coating. It’s that simple.

Oreos

I. LOVE. Holiday. Oreos. For three main reasons 1) Double stuffed 2) Festive red filling 3) Wintry designs.

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Not only are there only 3 ingredients, there are really only 3 simple steps. Starting with grinding the Oreos to a fine crumb.

It is very easy to eat the crumbs with a large tablespoon. I’m not at all saying that happened. Just an FYI.

Before adding in the cream cheese, reserve a 1/4 cup of the crumbs for topping the truffles later.

I decided to add the cream cheese in chunks to the food processor. Moments later, I was thisclose to a meltdown, as I thought I burnt out the motor on my food processor. There were some noises that sounded a little like when I describe my car problems to the service man. But KitchenAid came through and we were back in action.

That being said, I tried to be smarter than the recipe. I wasn’t going to use more than one bowl! No. Way. But I think the recipe writers knew what they are talking about. Shocking. Because of the thickness of the cream cheese, its almost a little too much to mix in the processor.

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Nonetheless, once it’s combined, roll the cream cheese and cookie mixture into small balls, not quite a tablespoon size. Stick ‘em in the fridge for a few. While those are chilling, melt some white chocolate chips or vanilla candy coating.

Also, take the time to review the weekly grocery store advertisements from the newspaper you ingeniously laid on your counters for while you’re cooking and baking to make clean up a breeze. (My fellow baking friends give the best tips ever.)

After noting to pick up the 99 cent oranges, start the coating process.

Dunking and covering each truffle before placing back on the cookie sheet and sprinkling with the excess crumbs.
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Just a few minutes in the fridge to set up and they are ready to go.

Santa Claus is coming to town pretty soon and I think he’d be pretty impressed with a few of these waiting for him by the tree.

Here’s how to do it:

I didn’t change much (as there isn’t much to change), so I’ll send you right to the source.

Oreo Truffles

Instead of regular chocolate, I used vanilla candy coating and don’t worry about counting 36 Oreos, just dump in a whole package.

Enjoy!

Squash Casserole

I can’t believe it’s been so long since I’ve last posted, almost 2 months!!! I guess I’ve just been too busy living… :)

Today it’s a throwback… all the way to the 1960′s when casserole was king.

A fantastic 1966 cookbook that was my nanny’s… I’m sure it would be a top seller these days. And no we aren’t making Poached Salmon in Aspic, but that would be soooo vintage of me. After I figured out was aspic was…

I completely understand why casseroles were such a big deal.

1) It’s easy.

2) It’s relatively inexpensive.

3) It’s a complete meal in one dish… veggies, protein, and delicious.

4) You can feed an army… or myself for a week.

This squash casserole comes from Mrs. Judy, my sunday school and pre-school teacher for many years while we lived in Texas. The amount of love she has for everyone is immeasurable. She is true salt and light. (Matthew 5:13-16) She was a champion in the kitchen and she made the best bread-and-butter pickles ever.

One of the most remarkable women I have ever met and likely will ever meet.

The casserole is so filling, creamy, crunchy, and yet another reason to thank Mrs. Judy.

Start with some fresh veggies, including the obvious and necessary Summer Squash. Zucchini can easily be used as a substitute.

And some other, less obvious vegetables.

Saute the onion, bell pepper, celery, and green onion until just softened. Then add in the squash and saute slightly, making sure it is still crisp.

Sausage or “Sausage” is the protein of the dish. These links easily crumbled for incorporation into the casserole. It just needs a quick saute to brown it up.

Non-vegetarians, Jimmy Dean ground sausage is written in the recipe or to lighten it up, a Turkey sausage would work great.

When Mrs. Judy wrote this recipe I doubt there was a such thing as turkey sausage. It’s that vintage.

There aren’t too many step by step photos, why you ask? It’s a casserole! You just throw it all together, pop it in the oven and 20 minutes later… “ding!” Ready to eat!

Stand on your chartreuse shag carpet, in your shift dress, listening to the Beatles, take a trip back in time and whip yourself up some squash casserole.

Here’s How to Do It:

1 lb. Sausage

2 tsp. Olive Oil (if using low-fat sausage or sausage substitute)

1 small Onion, diced

1 Bell Pepper, diced

3-5 Celery stalks, diced

3-4 small to medium Yellow Squash, halved and sliced (about 1 to 2 lbs.)

1 can Cream of Mushroom Soup

1 cup Yogurt (plain) or Sour Cream

1 cup Pepperidge Farm stuffing mix

1 cup Grated Cheddar Cheese

1-2 tbsp. butter, melted

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9X13 baking dish.

If using real sausage, cook and break up the sausage until browned. Drain off any excess fat, keeping a small amount in the pan for the vegetables. If using vegetarian sausage, break up and brown slightly in a saute pan. Pour into the 9X13 baking dish.

Cook the onion, bell pepper, and celery in olive oil. Cook until almost softened and then add in the squash. Saute 5-7 minutes to cook the squash but it should still be crisp. Pour the cooked veggies into the dish with the sausage.

While the veggies cook down, combine the mushroom soup and yogurt or sour cream in a medium sized bowl. Pour into the 9X13 baking dish and stir the sausage, vegetables, and soup mixture all together to combine.

Combine the stuffing mix, cheese, and melted butter into a small bowl and sprinkle over the casserole to cover.

Bake in the oven at 350 for 25-30 minutes.

Monkey Bread in Jars

I’m coming off a high… sugar and altitude related.

For a post busy season de-stresser, I took a long weekend trip down to Denver to visit Becky (you’ve seen her on here before) and her husband Brent.

Becky and I had discussed from the day I purchased my ticket that we would be doin’ some serious work in the kitchen. We made 3 desserts including meringues, marshmallows, and pumpkin cupcakes (many of which you will see shortly here), salmon with miso sauce, and this…

Monkey bread… in a jar. It is to die for.

And all that dark stuff on the bottom??? It is indescribably good. Off the charts. Gooey, cinnamon-y, out of this world.

This was the first time either of us had really experimented with yeast. We had our reservations. But man oh man, we sure did get excited when it started working.

Excitement in the kitchen seems much more normal and less psycho when it isn’t talking to yourself.

On top of not being considered crazy there are so many benefits to having a partner-in-crime in the kitchen.

 Including a dough-kneader.

And someone to help you take and stage the food photography.

Sometimes I get so focused on getting things done in the kitchen I forget to have fun. After this Bake-a-thon weekend, I remembered how much fun being in the kitchen can be.

Yeast in action, part 2. After the yeast activates and is incorporated into the dough and the dough is kneaded, it is set to rise for about 1-1.5 hours or until doubled in size.

Disclaimer, we started this process at 9 PM. I would not recommend this, as there are multiple “stop and let the dough rise for 50+ minutes” in the instructions. That being said, we wrapped this bad boy up around 1 AM.

Doin’ work.

Once the yeast doubles, place on a clean surface to roll out.

The original recipe did not state how thick to roll out and a “large rectangle” is not nearly specific enough for 2 CPA’s. So we went with approximately 1/4 inch and it turned out great.

Using a pizza cutter, slice up the dough into small squares, roughly 1-2 inches in size.

Take those darlin’ little squares and dip in melted butter (oh em gee), then a cinnamon-nutmeg-brown sugar mixture (oh yeah) and “plop” into the jars.

Also, this is a highly recommended snack time. Instead of a “plop” into the jars, just “plop” right into your mouth.

The buttery sugary squares need to rise for another 50 minutes but then are ready for the oven. 25 minutes later and you are ready to experience heaven on earth.

Here’s how to do it:

Monkey Bread in a Jar

Ingredients:

12 tbsp butter

1 cup milk, heated to about 110 degrees F

1/3 cup water, heated to about 110 degrees F

1/4 cup sugar

1 (1/4th oz) package dry active yeast

3 cups flour

2 tsp salt

1 cup brown sugar

2 1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp nutmeg

Directions:

Warm the milk and water in the microwave until it feels like warm bath water. Combine the warm milk, water, yeast and sugar in a mixing bowl. Let sit for five minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk together the flour, salt and 1/2 tsp cinnamon together in another bowl. After five minutes, add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix on medium high speed using a dough hook attachment for about eight minutes, or until dough becomes a smooth ball. If you don’t have a dough hook, you can knead using your hands, just keep kneading the dough until it becomes smooth and elastic. (It may still be very slightly sticky as you form the ball but don’t let that scare you, as long as it has a smooth appearance after the ball is formed.)

Spray a bowl with cooking spray and place your dough ball inside. Cover with a dish towel or plastic wrap and set in a warm spot to rise for about an hour. You want the ball to double in size. (This could be anywhere from 50 minutes to 1.5 hours.)

After the initial rise, roll out dough to a large rectangle approximately a 1/4 inch in thickness. Using a pizza cutter, cut one inch squares of dough out of the rectangle.

Melt four tablespoons of the butter and use it to grease eight 8-oz glass jars (OR four 12-oz mason jars or three 16 oz jars).

Melt the remaining butter and pour it into a small bowl. In another small bowl, mix together the brown sugar, nutmeg and cinnamon. Dunk each square of dough in the melted butter and then into the brown sugar. Drop it into a greased glass jar. Fill each jar only half way full then set the jars in a warm spot to rise for another 50 minutes.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Place jars on a baking sheet two inches apart and bake for 25 minutes, or until dough has cooked through. Serve warm!

Meringues 101… and 201

This all started way back in March… when there was this little thing called March Madness, the NCAA basketball tournament, and of course related bracket challenges.

There was one bracket in particular for the bridal party of the wedding I was in this past July. The Best-Man surprised the bride and groom by putting an unknown gift from their registry as the prize.

I usually participate in multiple brackets most of which end in me losing big due to my unfailing hope in the underdog. Not this time. I actually WON the bracket challenge, by picking the favored winner.

What was this prize you ask?!?

That’s right, an egg separator. I was stoked. Yeah yeah, I can use the eggshell to separate but that doesn’t make me nearly as happy.

You know all those books from childhood. If you give a mouse a cookie, if you give a pig a pancake, if you give a moose a muffin. The list goes on and on (and on).

So this? This is what happens when you give a cook a smiley egg separator…

Ok, let me re-phrase…. this is what happens when you give an amateur baker an egg separator and said amateur decides to make meringues for the first time.

When I initially attempted the meringues myself… it failed miserably, as evidenced above. I’ve never felt more of a failure in the kitchen when my meringues didn’t turn out not just once but twice!

So, I knew it would be the perfect thing to try when I was in Denver during our phase 2 of the 1st annual Cook/Bake-a-thon.

With a little hand-holding, guidance from a more experienced meringue maker and a new recipe… IT WORKED!

Oh-so-glossy and ready for the oven.

But, stiff peaks are no easy achievement. It’s a lot of concern and questioning, “Is that stiff peaks?… Well, maybe… let’s give it 2 more minutes….” And then the cycle repeats 2 minutes later.

Then you just have to make the game-time decision and get them on the sheet and ready to bake.

For guidance on what a stiff-peak looks like… I recommend google images or the Kitchn has a great tutorial. Also highly recommended, find someone else who knows what they are doing.

… And then after a little/long time in the oven… it’s magic. Meringue magic and success!

Here’s How to Do It:

Lemon Infused Meringues

Adapted from Betty Crocker

Ingredients:

6 egg whites

1/2 tsp. Lemon Zest

1 tsp. Vanilla extract

1/2 tsp. Cream of Tartar

Pinch of Salt

Directions:

Heat oven to 275ºF. Line cookie sheet with heavy brown paper or aluminum foil.

Beat egg whites and cream of tartar in medium bowl with electric mixer on high speed until foamy. Beat in sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time; continue beating until stiff and glossy. Do not underbeat. Add in the vanilla and lemon zest and beat to combine.

Drop meringue by 1/3 cupfuls onto cookie sheet. Shape into about 3-inch circles, building up sides. Bake 1 hour. Turn off oven and leave meringues in oven with door closed 1 1/2 hours. Finish cooling at room temperature.

Plum Cobbler

I’m tired…. like eyeballs hurt, huge bags under my eyes, “Ally, you look really tired” tired…

It’s never good when people call you out on it.

The last few weeks at work have been crazy. We’ve got a deadline today and it’s been balls to the walls insane.

But the one thing that always gets me through is a little baking session. Nothing relieves stress better than a little chopping, blending, mixing, and taste testing.

Cobbler is the perfect dessert to transition from summer to fall. It’s warm and comforting but still fresh with fruit of the season.

For this cobbler I used plums. A friend has a tree outside her house and brought me a big bag of them on Friday. I was so excited. Probably too excited for a bag of plums…

I’ve never baked a lot with plums, but really plums are never the star of the show…

It’s always peaches, nectarines, and cherries… well this one goes out to all the plums.

P.S. – Did you know that plum pudding doesn’t have any plums in it?!? I learned that on my google recipe search… so deceiving.

Anyways…. Plum Cobbler actually has plums in it! So start with plums cut into 1 inch pieces. I had smaller plums and just quartered them.

Once the plums are cut, add sugar and a little cornstarch and the filling is done!

While the fruit macerates, start on the biscuit topping. If we are all being honest, the point of a cobbler is the BISCUIT topping.

Start with corn meal, flour, sugar, baking powder, and candied ginger. Pulse together and add in the cubed butter.

FYI – This probably isn’t for the figure watching crowd… there is a lot of buttah (see above). Consequently, it is ridiculously delicious.

After pulsing in the butter, add milk and ta-da! the biscuit dough is ready.

I substituted almond milk for regular milk, as well as adding in some warm spices (cinammon and nutmeg).

Once the dough is ready, pour the plum filling into the baking dish and drop spoonfuls of the dough on top. Easy as that! A sprinkle of turbinado sugar really just sets it over the top.

I went with 4 smaller sized portions, plus a single serving just for me! Taste-testing required.

I love the bright fuschia color of the cooked plums.

The tartness combined with the crunchy sweetness of the biscuit is the most perfect combination.

I’ve got just what I need to get me through today. Now, if only I could find the time to get my fall decorations up…

Here’s How to Do It:

Plum Cobbler 

Slightly Adapted from Huffington Post

Ingredients:

  • 4 pound(s) plums, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 3/4 cup(s) sugar
  • 2 tablespoon(s) cornstarch
  • 2 cup(s) all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup(s) cornmeal
  • 3/4 cup(s) sugar
  • 2 tablespoon(s) minced candied ginger
  • 1 tablespoon(s) baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon(s) kosher salt
  • 2 stick(s) cold unsalted butter, cubed
  • 3/4 cup(s) almond milk (or regular milk)
  • 1/8 tsp Nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp Cinnamon
  • Turbinado sugar for sprinkling

Directions:

  • Make the filling: In a bowl, toss the plums with the sugar and cornstarch and let stand for 10 minutes.
  • Make the dough: Preheat the oven to 375°. In a food processor, pulse the flour with the cornmeal, sugar, candied ginger, baking powder, salt, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Add the butter and pulse until crumbly. Add the milk and pulse until moistened.
  • Spread the filling into your chosen baking dish (this makes enough for a 9×13). I used 3 mini loafs, a 4X4, and a mini ramekin. Scoop mounds of dough over the filling and sprinkle lightly with turbinado sugar. Bake in the center of the oven for 50 minutes to an hour, until the fruit is bubbling and the topping is golden and crisp. I baked my smaller versions for about 40 minutes, you mainly just want to check on it when it gets close and you can start to really smell it.
  • Let cool briefly before serving warm.
  • Recommended serving suggestion: whip cream and/or ice cream would be perfect pairings.

Watermelon Mint Green Tea

Summer is gladly making it’s way into Fall, so here’s one last Summer post before the spice, crisp air, pumpkins, sweaters make their official comeback….

I love getting mail. Really anything in the mail. Even bills. Is that weird?

I think its the surprise and excitement of opening an envelope. Even if it means I owe Utility Billing Services a whopping $38.

Send me a package and it’s GAME OVER. I am thrilled.

So when I found out Joy the Baker was going to have a quarterly mailing of something awesome if you subscribed and paid the nominal $25 price tag, I couldn’t say no.

I found myself anxiously waiting the arrival of each new quarter. AND with the arrival of July, I received my “gift” from Joy.

The package included 3 of these awesome Takeya Swirl Shatterproof Tumblers and a yummy recipe for this watermelon green tea mint…

All it takes is a few simple ingredients including: honey, green tea mint leaves, water (for the tea), and watermelon juice. What’s even better is that only one ingredient requires any prep.

To get watermelon juice simply add cubed watermelon to a food processor or blender and blend until the chunks have turned into juice.

Strain through a fine mesh sieve and discard the pulp.

Feel free to substitute with any kind of juice including peach or mango nectar which would all be equally delicious and remove virtually all prep.

Now, usually I’m a HUGE fan of sweet except when it comes to beverages. I’ll take a cold beer over some fru-fru daquiri every any day of the week.

But this is just the right amount of sweet thanks to the honey and natural sugars in the watermelon. And Oh So refreshing on the last fleeting hot, no AC, summer days.

Here’s how to do it:

From Joy the Baker and Lost Crates! I didn’t really change anything from the original recipe.

Makes about 5 cups.

2 C. Watermelon Juice (or other juice/nectar)

3 Tbsp. Honey

2 Heaping Tbsp. Green Tea Mint

(If you don’t have green tea mint, I think you could easily subsitute with green tea bags and some spearmint leaves.)

4 C. Water

Bring the water to a boil and remove from heat. Place the tea bags in the water and steep for approximately 5 minutes. Then add in the honey and stir to combine. Stick in the fridge to cool.

Meanwhile (if you decide to make the watermelon juice yourself) take 3 cups or so of cubed watermelon and add to your food processor. Blend until it becomes a liquid. From there strain the juice through a fine mesh sieve and remove any excess pulp/seeds/etc.

After the tea is cooled, add the watermelon juice and serve on ice. Nice and cold!

Sweet Corn Polenta with Eggplant Sauce

At the beginning of July, I applied for an international rotation at work.

Well at the beginnning of August, I found out I didn’t get the rotation. It’s one of those things where the chances were slim to begin with but you start talking yourself up and then dreaming that the dream comes true.

That dream within a dream thing. And then none of the dreams become reality. Yeah… that kind of thing.

So, then I made the executive decision that I would be going to Ireland and Scotland anyways. Of course, on my own dime.

That’s after my trip to  Denver in September, Puerto Rico in November, Orlando for some work & fun in January and Houston early next year when my cousin has her baby.

Okay, okay… I can’t be too upset, the rest of this year and next is looking to be pretty fantastic.

But sometimes when you’re in the moment, there is nothing that can make it better, no matter how many times you tell yourself “there’s always next year.”

So here’s what usually happens to me when something goes awry 1) I completely shut-down. This include tears (complete sobs) and a phone call to my mother. 2) I decide to challenge myself in another way. And hope that I succeed. 3) I do both in that order.

This time I decided to try a new, somewhat daunting (or so I thought) recipe. Sweet Corn Polenta with Eggplant Sauce.

When this recipe says polenta… it means homemade by me (and you), not the kind from the tube.

Woah, wait, what?!?!  You said make your own polenta? Yeah, that’s right. This is the part I considered completely out of my league.

But don’t fret, dear friends, this was so much easier than I ever thought it could be. And I even cheated a little on the recipe to make it even easier.

Start with frozen corn. (This is where I cheated) Or 6 fresh ears kernels removed, as the recipe recommends. Bring it to a simmer with some water and then strain the kernels with a slotted spoon into the food processor and let her rip.

My food processor is a girl.

Pulse and process until it becomes a fine paste.

After processing, the recipe says to place back into the saucepan with the cooking liquid. I’m not so sure I would keep the cooking liquid. You want a mashed potato like consistency and when I added the cooking liquid, there was no way it was going to thicken up, even after the 10 minutes of simmering.

Thank goodness for my southern roots and always having instant grits on hand. I added 2 packets and voila, it thickened right up to the perfect consistency.

Once you simmer the polenta and get to the right consistency and apply the instant grits band-aid, in my case. Add in 3 tbsp. of butter and 7 oz of Feta. Or 8. Unlike alcohol, an extra ounce of Feta never hurt anybody.
For the sauce, start with Eggplant. Duh. Get her all diced up in about 1/2 inch cubes.

Apparently, my eggplant is also a female.

Then you’ll need some tomato and tomato paste.

This tomato paste was only 99 cents at Trader Joe’s… and it’s easy to keep in the fridge and use a teaspoon here and there. No more wasted, partially used cans!

After letting the eggplant cook up and soften, add tomato paste and a little white wine. Let that all meld and add in the tomato and some oregano with a little water, and cook it down for ten minutes or so.

Once the sauce has simmered, it is ready to pile on top of your polenta and enjoy.

This is so so good. And the homemade polenta blows the store bought polenta out. of. the. water. I would greatly appreciate you trying this out for yourself. K, thanks.

Here’s how to do it:

Sweet Corn Polenta with Eggplant Sauce

Adapted from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi and the WSJ.

Serves 4-6 depending on meal size.

Polenta: 

4.5 cups frozen corn kernels (6 ears fresh corn kernels)

2 1/4 cups water

7-8 oz. Feta, crumbled

3 tbsp. butter

Salt and Pepper, to taste

Place corn kernels in a medium saucepan and cover with water. Cook for 12 minutes on a low simmer. Start eggplant sauce below. Using a slotted spoon, remove the kernels to the bowl of a food processor. Reserving the cooking liquid, to adjust consistency, if necessary.

Return the corn paste to the pan and cook over low heat for 10-15 minutes to get a mashed potato like consistency. Fold in the  butter and feta, salt and pepper, and cook for 2 more minutes.

Eggplant Sauce:

1 medium eggplant, 1/2 inch diced

1/4 c. vegetable oil

2 tsp. tomato paste

1/4 c. white wine

1 tomato, diced

1/2 c. water

1/4 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. sugar

1 tablespoon fresh oregano, chopped (1 tsp. dried)

Heat vegetable oil in a large saucepan at medium heat and cook the eggplant until softened and browned. Add 2 teaspoons tomato paste, stir, and cook for 2 minutes. Add white wine, stir and cook for 1 minute. Add the tomato, water, salt, sugar, and oregano and cook for 5 minutes.

To serve, divide the polenta among bowls and top with eggplant sauce.

Hazelnut Cocoa Granola

I live my foodie life with one common theme. What can I do to make “x” (any given recipe) reflect the flavors of Nutella?

Okay this doesn’t exactly apply to things like fish or rice and grains or beans but most everything else (think sweets), it works. Just hear me out…

Oatmeal – add some chocolate and hazelnuts.

Pretzels – just dip those suckers in Nutella.

Cookies – definitely add some chocolate and hazelnuts. Maybe make some breakfast cookies.

Granola – add some chocolate and hazelnuts. It seems to be the only logical thing to do.

This recipe was inspired by the Joy the Baker Cookbook. But her recipe seemed like a little too much work, heating the wet ingredients in a saucepan and then combining with the dry…

Okay not really that much work but the less heating appliances to use the better. It’s been warmer (I’m using that term relatively, as in 75-80 degrees) in the city for multiple days now and most apartments don’t have AC, including mine. Oh and one of my fans broke. Thus apartment = sauna-esque.

Start with the dry ingredients. There’s oats under all that goodness along with almonds, coconut, cinnamon, cocoa powder, brown sugar, hazelnuts and wheat germ.

I decided to add hazelnuts and the wheat germ. Not to be confused with wheat cooties.

Okay, no one’s going to confuse them. I’m a CPA, we get 1-5 lames jokes a week. It comes with the title. I’ll cross number 1 off.

Add in the agave, oil, and vanilla. The cinnamon repels the liquid mixture… my nerd brain finds this fascinating.

Now, I can see why swallowing a tablespoon of cinnamon would be a terrible idea.  Because there are soooo many other reasons why it’s a good idea. Kids these days….

Combine it all together. It kind of starts to look like no-bake cookie batter without the peanut butter and butter (a.k.a. healthier) and it’s just as tasty. Make sure its all coated before spreading in a thin layer on a baking sheet and popping in the oven.

It’s so easy and delicious by itself as a snack but perfect with yogurt or milk too!

P.S. I realize I need to get some new bowls, not everything works in a red bowl and well, that’s all I got. Or maybe I’ll make more plate foods. I’ll let you know how this develops.

Here’s how to do it:

Chocolate Nut Granola

Inspired by Joy the Baker

Ingredients:

3 c. Oats

1/2 c. Slivered Almonds

1/2 – 3/4 c. Chopped Hazelnuts

1 c. Coconut

1/2 c. Wheat Germ

2 tbsp. Cocoa Powder (unsweetened)

1 tsp. Cinnamon

1/4 c. Brown Sugar

2/3 c. Agave Nectar

1/3 c. Canola Oil

1/2 tsp. Vanilla

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 1-2 large baking sheets with parchment paper or foil.

Combine all the dry ingredients and mix together. Add in the agave nectar and oil. Stir to thoroughly combine and coat all of the dry mixture.

Place on the baking sheets in a thin layer and bake until a deeper brown color, about 25 minutes. Flip the mixture 2-3 times during the baking process.

Let cool and then break apart. Serve as a snack by itself, with milk, or my favorite Greek yogurt. It will last in an airtight container for up to a week.

Half-Yearly Favorites

Since it’s now over half-way through the year, I thought I’d share with you some of my favorite things as of late (both food and non-food related).

Here’s 5 things that might just make your life a little better, like they did mine….

1) Fage Greek Yogurt with Fruit (pronounced Fa-yeh!)

This stuff is unreal, it is so good. I have to have it every morning. I mean it. If I don’t, the whole day is out of whack. It’s got the protein to get you going and keep you full, it’s slightly sweet, and just plain good.

They sell the variety pack at Costco and it’s the best price around. I usually buy 2- 12 packs at a time…. I told you, I have to have it!

2) Vitamins… the gummy variety. (Vitafusion brand)

I have never been so calcium filled in my life. These gummies are so good, you will swear you are eating candy.

They have the multi-vitamin version as well. Obviously, I eat those too. They have 10-30 calories for 2… I just pretend its zero. But in all seriousness, I read a news article just recently that discussed the absorption ratios between the vitamin varieties. With vitamins in pill form absorption is about 10-20% and Gummy vitamins are close to 50%! ( I don’t know if this is exact science but you can digest it better and what’s more… no upset stomach!)

It just so happens, I also get them at Costco*, even though I have seen them around at other stores, their price can’t be beat.

* This is not a Costco endorsed blog post, I swear.

3) Morning Quiet Time and Bible Study

MUST also involve a nice hot mug of coffee…

After my Bible study ended in May, I knew I needed something else to help me keep my routine of being in the Word daily. My aunt recommended Charles Stanley’s In Touch magazine. It’s a monthly magazine that has short daily readings with commentary and one longer 15-20 minute study AND it’s free. Just go to the In Touch website and sign up. (You will get the occasional mailing asking for donations, but it’s worth it.)

4) Amazon Mp3 store

Recently I was looking to buy a few albums online and remembered my mom had given me an Mp3 CD from Amazon so I thought I’d check out what they had before purchasing on iTunes. I am so glad I did. There are daily deals and I found most of what I was looking for priced at around $5… and that’s the whole CD!

…And I was looking on Friday and the daily deal was Justin Bieber – Believe for $1.99. You’re darn right I bought it… I just can’t shake this fever… Bieber Fever.

The best part, once you launch the download, it automatically goes into your iTunes. Bam.

Here’s some of what I’m loving to listen to at the moment:

Luke Bryan – Drunk on You – Tailgates & Tanlines – It’s my unofficial-official song and album of summer. (or is it official-unofficial? You know what I mean.)

Blind Pilot – Keep You Right – We Are the Tide- This is a recent addition, it’s a little Indie and I can’t take credit for ‘discovering’ them but this Portland based group just makes good music. It is the perfect background music during a mundane day at work.

Florence and the Machine – the entire Ceremonials album – If you ever have the chance to see her live, you have to go. It may just be one of the best concerts I have ever been to. I didn’t think this was possible but she sounds even better live than on CD.

Josh Abbott Band – Some good ol’ Texas country, enough said. Oh and he has some amazing duets from all of his albums including Good Night for Dancing and Oh, Tonight.

One Direction – What Makes You Beautiful – It’s my guilty pleasure. Let’s leave it at that.

5) Shhhhooooooeeeessss (aka: Kicks, Sneaks, etc.)

Back in the early 00′s, I had a shoe obsession. It died out a little as I started running more and more and found it more and more difficult to find shoes that were comfortable. Well… it’s back.

I got 2 pairs of these Nike Free 5.0 at the Nordstrom anniversary sale (the other pair is purple). It feels like I’m wearing slippers.  The first wear for these bad boys was at the Florence and the Machine concert and I could have danced all night.

The sale goes through August 5th.* Just in case your interested.

*This is also NOT a paid Nordstrom advertisement.

Can’t wait to see what the last half of the year brings!