Tuesday, May 31

Being Foster's "Furever Home"

A year ago this month I forced Roy's hand on the great dog debate.  We'd been talking about it for nearly a year with Roy remaining firmly in the "not happening" camp.  He had valid reasons.  We live in a condo with no backyard, in a part of the country known for it's gnarly winters, meaning we'd have to walk this dog 3 times a day, every day.  Even when it was -10 or snowing.

I continued to fight the good fight, talking about how great a dog would be.  An excuse to get outside and exercise, something to help us unwind and relax at the end of stressful days, a reason to leave the bar before last call.  These discussions, they were heated.

It's tough to know exactly what turned Roy, whether it was my perseverance and don't-quit attitude or the fact that I sneakily showed him some photos of dogs available for adoption during a Deadliest Catch commercial break, got his input on what he preferred, and then turned in an adoption application the very next morning before he could stop me.  By the time we went to meet Foster that weekend, it was all over.  How can you say no to that face?  It's impossible.  You can't.  Scientists are working on proving that theory right now.

So to celebrate Foster being a part of the family for a year, I thought I'd share a few photos that most people haven't seen before, some shots that haven't made it to Facebook.  This will give you a taste of what life is really like with Foster the Monster.

"Socks.  What socks??"

"I'm sorry, did you want to do work?"

Snow is not as evil as it seems, the snow piles get Foster closer to the tops of the trees where the squirrels live

Must be touching. Always.

Keeping warm on a cold day (don't worry, I turned the space heater off and moved it away from the dog as soon as I snapped the photo, I'm not as irresponsible as these photos make it seem)

Foster likes to hold midday meetings with Roy when he works from home.  He negotiates for more treats and lobbies for "second breakfast".

Can you spot the little black dog who is "helping" me get my work done?

Again, must always be touching.  Even if it requires sleeping like this.

What, your dog doesn't use the desk in the spare bedroom as a jungle gym?

Now that we've made it through a full year, including a looong Chicago winter and a crappy spring, I can say that I wouldn't have changed anything.  We're glad to have you with us little buddy. 

Monday, May 30

Lemon Raspberry Bars

I've been dying to make this recipe since I stumbled upon it earlier this winter.  I love lemon desserts.  They're so refreshing.  And if you add in a few raspberries?  It's enough to make me forget the best chocolate dessert I've ever had.  That's saying something!


With the spring we've had in the Midwest, it hasn't felt right to make anything too summery.  But I threw caution to the wind for the holiday weekend and made a batch of these bars for a "grill and games" night we were having with friends.  [Side note: my new favorite game is Qwirkle.  It's like Scrabble for people who can't spell.  It's a ton of fun and very easily turns into a drinking game, in case you were wondering.]

I'm not one for making desserts from scratch.  Why recreate the wheel, or the baking mix when Betty Crocker did such a good job with it the first time??  But this looked worth the effort, which turned out to be pretty minimal when all was said and done.  And ohhh they are so delicious


The crust is made of graham crackers but it includes lemon zest so it's got an amazing light, fresh flavor.  The lemon filling strikes a perfect balance between sweet and tart.  And the best part?  Roy doesn't particularly care for desserts with lemon so the leftovers are all mine! 

Definitely give these a shot this summer, you won't be sorry!  Happy Eating!


1-½ cup Graham Cracker Crumbs (I used 8 graham crackers)
6 Tbsps Salted Butter, Melted
¼ cups Sugar
Zest of 1 Whole Lemon

2 whole Egg Yolks
1 can Fat Free Sweetened Condensed Milk, 14 Oz.
½ cups Fresh Lemon Juice
1 tsp Lemon Zest
6 ounces Fresh Raspberries

Preheat the oven to 350F. Spray an 8x8 inch baking dish with cooking spray. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine the graham cracker crumbs, melted butter, sugar, and lemon zest. Don't worry if your graham cracker crumbs aren't all the same size, bigger pieces here and there are ok. Stir until graham cracker crumbs are moist. Press crumbs into the prepared pan, pressing the crust mixture one inch up the side of the pan. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool to room temperature.

Once the crust is cool, combine the egg yolks and condensed milk until well mixed. Stir in the lemon juice and lemon zest. Stir until the mixture begins to slightly thicken. Gently fold in the raspberries. Make sure to fold them in carefully so you don't break the raspberries, otherwise the bars are pink instead of the pretty lemon yellow color.

Pour the lemon raspberry filling evenly over the graham cracker crust. Bake for 15 minutes, or until just set.

Cool to room temperature, then chill for at least one hour before serving. Cut into bars and serve. Keep bars in the refrigerator for up to five days.

Serves 16

Wednesday, May 25

Three Things I'm Loving - Spring edition

Talk about a bait-and-switch...  I finally take this little blog public to all my friends under the guise that I'll be sharing recipes and then I switch it up with a post like this. Apologies for the brief interruption but there are plenty of recipes to keep you busy until this weekend when I have time to write up a few new posts.  If you're new to the site, try the sweet potato chipfries and my new favorite snack.  They are reader tested and approved!

In the meantime, I wanted to share some of the food related things I'm loving right now.  A little bit like "Oprah's Favorite Things" only minus a few 0's at the end of my bank statement and without the high priced goodies.  Sorry friends, raw deal!

1. Garlic Twist - this little gadget peels, crushes and minces garlic faster and better than I ever could.  Garlic is tricky for me.  I love cooking with fresh garlic but I can never mince it as finely as I'd like and it makes everything sticky.  This is a winner of 6 industry awards and is my most beloved kitchen gadget next to my food processor.  Pick it up on Amazon for about $15.  Then pick up some more and give them to your friends.  This photo is awful, check out the website to see it in all it's glory. 

2. Fran's Sea Salt Caramels - Bless the person that thought up combining sweet and salty flavors.  And double bless Miss. Fran Bigelow, the artist behind my most favorite truffle (cheesy yes, but these really are a work of art).  They're like a little piece of heaven.  If heaven was a caramel filled truffle with the perfect smattering of salt.  I can only get these in Seattle so I always grab a package of the gray and sea salt caramels when I'm in town.  During my last trip I grabbed the economy sized package and have been nibbling on them ever since, which I tried to conceal in the photo below.

3. Jack's Special Salsa - the Royfriend's sister introduced me to this a few weeks ago and I'm already on my second container.  It's like fresh restaurant style salsa, but right in my fridge whenever I want it!  Which unfortunately is quite often.  They have a bunch of different flavors like mango-peach and sweet onion that I'm dying to try.  This is a serious upgrade for taco night!

Be back later this week with some new stuff.  Happy Eating!

Friday, May 20

Spinach Garlic Mashed Potatoes

A few weeks ago I mentioned some friends who had recently hosted a traditional Irish dinner in honor of St. Patrick's Day.  John and Kylie (ok, mostly Kylie) cooked a bunch of delicious dishes, including this gem which blew all of our minds.

Spinach Garlic Mashed Potatoes

I would never have thought to put spinach in mashed potatoes.  I would assume it would wilt or dye the potatoes green.  Turns out it makes a really beautiful, healthy dish.  And who knew it was that easy to make mashed potatoes from scratch?!?  I've always been a boxed mashed potato girl but this recipe turned me.

When I made this at home, I added garlic because I've grown up on garlic mashed potatoes.  I used a combination of garlic cloves and garlic salt.  If you'd prefer to go Au natural, just leave the garlic out.  And make sure you used red skinned potatoes, they look gorgeous with the green of the spinach!

A couple other notes... you can make this up to a day ahead of time so it's good for a dinner party or a holiday.  And if you prefer, you can use kale or any other leafy green in place of the spinach.

Happy Eating!


Spinach Garlic Mashed Potatoes

1 - 3 lbs. bag of red skinned potatoes
Half a stick + 2 tbs. of butter
1 - 2 cups of buttermilk (or heavy cream)
Half an onion, finely chopped
4 gloves of garlic, finely sliced
1 bag of baby spinach (you can also use kale/other leafy greens)
Salt and pepper
Dash of garlic salt

Wash potatoes and quarter them.  Place them in a large pot and fill with water until just covered, add salt to season.  Boil potatoes until very tender, approx. 20 minutes.
Drain the potatoes and return the empty pot to medium heat.  Add 2 tbs of butter to the pot and saute the onion and garlic until translucent.  Add the spinach and saute until fully wilted, stirring occasionally.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

While the spinach is cooking down, use a hand mixer / food processor / standing mixer / good old fashion hand potato masher to mash the potatoes.  Add the half stick of butter, salt and pepper to taste.  Stir in buttermilk or cream in half cup increments until desired texture is achieved (Kylie usually ends up adding at least a cup, sometimes more).

Add the mashed potatoes to the pot with the spinach, sprinkle with a dash of garlic salt and stir to combine. 

Can be made up to one day ahead of time.

Tuesday, May 17

Corn and Sausage Chowder

I'm excited to be sharing one of my favorite, favorite comfort food recipes with you!  Before we start though, please accept my apologies as this recipe is not exactly "bathing suit season friendly".  Although at the rate we're going in Chicago, I'm not sure we'll ever get to bathing suit season (Foster's walk this morning required a winter jacket, gloves and ear muffs - in the middle of May). 

My Dad brought this recipe home from a golf trip to Whistling Straits in Kohler, Wisconsin and it's exactly what you'd expect to come out of the great state of Wisconsin - good, simple, comfort food.  For me, this dish has become synonymous with family and home. 

that dark blob in the upper left corner is a bay leaf, I promise!

I usually make this a few times during the fall and winter months, typically making 2 batches at once and freezing the leftovers.  They come in handy for days when I'm exhausted or just craving the taste of home.  And the Royfriend never complains when I mention making this for dinner (he likes to add a bit of smoky hot sauce to his soup). 

The chowder takes anywhere from an hour and a half to two hours to make so break out a bottle of wine and try it on a weekend.  If you're reheating a batch that you'd previously frozen, let it thaw completely and then put it in a large soup pot and warm slowly over medium heat, stirring regularly.  And whatever you do - don't forget the crusty bread!

Happy Eating!


Corn and Sausage Chowder

1 lb bulk pork sausage (I use mild, feel free to try hot to kick it up a bit)
1/2 c. coarsely chopped onion
1/2 c. coarsely chopped celery
1/2 c. diced red peppers
2 large baking potatoes, peeled and cut into a 1/2 inch dice (4 cups)
1/2 tsp. crushed dried marjoram
1/2 tsp. chopped rosemary
1/2 tsp. chopped basil
1 bay leaf
3 c. water
3 Tbsp chicken base or 3 bouillon cubes
1 - 17 oz can whole kernel corn (do not drain)
1 c. whole milk
2 c. heavy cream
1/2 c. brandy
salt and pepper to taste

For the Roux:
Take 3 Tbsp flour and 4 Tbsp of butter (half a stick) and mix with a fork until pea size balls are formed.  When the recipe alls for it add 1/2 the roux at a time.

In a large soup pan, brown sausage over high heat and drain the fat.

Add onions, celery and red peppers, saute until onions are transparent.

Add brandy and let it reduce until it's almost gone.

Add herbs, bay leaf, potatoes, water, chicken base or bouillon cubes, and corn.  Let simmer until potatoes are tender (takes me about 30 minutes).

Add milk and heavy cream, bring to a boil.

Reduce heat and thicken to desired consistency with roux (takes 20-30 minutes to thicken after you add the roux).

Season with salt and pepper, serve with crusty bread.

Friday, May 13

Honey Mustard Pretzel-Coated Chicken Tenders

After I graduated from Virginia Tech (GO HOKIES!) I spent two years living in Northern Virginia with Eric, one of my best friends from college.  Eric is like a brother to me, but unfortunately neither of us could cook.  Dinner typically came from a can, the freezer or a take-out menu.  There was even an instance where I made a pie, added the filling and put it in the fridge to set all before Eric kindly reminded me I hadn’t actually baked the crust.  Whoops!

While the genesis of our dinners were the same (can, freezer, or take-out menu), the actual food varied quite a bit.  I stuck mostly to frozen entrees like Eggo waffles, pierogies with kielbasa or Bagel Bites with a can of green beans (what, you don’t consider Bagel Bites an entree?). 

Eric on the other hand, has been known to consume a bag of frozen chicken tenders for dinner.  Or a bag of Ore Ida fries.  Or occasionally both!  Sometimes he would polish off a pint of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream as an appetizer.  He was working out a lot back then, so he had the kind of metabolism that would make women weep with envy. 

Eric actually met and started dating his wife during those days and I knew he’d found a keeper when I saw her match him in the kitchen, can of chili for can of chili.

Eric and Shannon tailgating for a Hokie football game

Despite how good those chicken tenders and fries smelled when Eric cooked them, I was never much of a chicken tender fan.  Until I stumbled on these babies.  They redefine “chicken tender” and the honey mustard flavor is unexpected and delicious.  Bonus: they’re from Hungry Girl so they’re healthy! 


The pretzel coating gives it the crunch you associate with chicken tenders without requiring a deep fryer.  Plus the sweetness of the honey mustard flavoring goes perfectly with the saltiness of the pretzels.  The only modification I made to this recipe was that I used a food processor to crush the pretzels.  I served these with a side of fresh broccoli and an awesome spring salad of mixed greens, strawberries, mandarin oranges and Raspberry Walnut dressing. 

Happy Eating!  And if you have any other healthy “fake out” recipes that you’d recommend, share them in the comments below.


Hungry Girl's Honey Mustard Pretzel-Coated Chicken Fingers

6 T. honey mustard
4 T. fat-free liquid egg substitute
10 ounces boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 4 strips (or just buy a package of boneless skinless chicken tenders)
salt and pepper
2 ounces (about 20 twists) hard salted pretzels (I use honey mustard wheat pretzels)
4 t. granulated sugar

Mix honey mustard and egg substitute together in a small bowl. Season the chicken strips with salt and pepper, then submerge in the mustard-egg mixture.  Set aside to marinate for at least 5 minutes.

Crush pretzels and mix with granulated sugar.  It’s ok if the pretzels don’t all get crushed up.  I actually like it better with some variety.  Spread the mixture out on a plate or in a shallow dish. 

Spray a baking sheet with non-stick spray.  Thoroughly coat chicken strips with the pretzel-sugar mixture, and then transfer to the baking sheet.  Discard the remaining mustard-egg mixture. 

Mist the tops of the strips with non-stick spray.  Bake in the oven at 375 degrees for 20 minutes, flipping chicken about half way, until chicken is cooked through.

Note: completely forgot to mist the strips with cooking spray and flip them halfway.  Just know that yours will look even better than the pictures!

Per serving: 349 calories, 2.5g fat, 928mg sodium, 39g carbs, 1g fiber, 13.5g sugars, 37g protein

Monday, May 9

My New Favorite Snack

I have a new obsession these days when it comes to food - yogurt and berry parfaits with Cascadian Farms oats and honey granola.

Let me tell you, that granola is life changing.  The little clusters of granola have a light coating of honey.  When you add the granola to the yogurt, the honey coating mixes into the parfait and it's amazing!  You can see the beginning of what happens when the yogurt and oats and honey granola start to mix in the bottom of the picture above.  It's so sweet and delicious it's hard to believe it's actually healthy for you (just gotta watch the serving sizes!)  And it's surprisingly filling.

More proof:  Blogger Amanda calls it her favorite desert, snack, and lunch (really, insert any meal here).  She specifically describes it as an every day alternative to cupcakes.  I'll try anything that's described as a fix for supersized sweet tooth cravings.

So in case you're keeping score at home, we've got...
      Healthy and guilt-free
      Something that satisfies even my enormous sweet tooth craving 

All that adds up to a winner in my book.  Here's Amanda's original blog post about the parfait.  I switched it up and used Stonyfield organic non-fat vanilla yogurt (trying to avoid the high fructose corn syrup). 

There's really no recipe... just a suggested ingredient list.  Mix it together in a bowl or layer it in a glass.  Below are pictures of everything I use but switch things up so it works for you.  I love it equally with blueberries and raspberries. Enjoy!

Happy Eating!

Friday, May 6

Caesar Salmon "Two-fer" with Parmesan Crisps

With the weather warming up I'm trying to switch from my heavy, heartier "winter" recipes to lighter items that go well with this couldn't-be-any-slower-to-arrive spring.  It's partially because with the warmer weather, I just feel like eating fresher, lighter meals.  And partially because hibernation season is coming to a close in the Midwest and I'll have to take this fleece jacket off eventually.

But it's so hard. 

To me, those typical winter dishes are the epitome of comfort food.  It's not easy to say "so long" to my favorites like mashed potatoes, pasta that swims in cream, vegetable meatloaf, chili, hearty crock pot recipes and mac 'n cheese masterpieces. 

Enter Caesar Salmon!  It's my transitional crutch.  A two ingredient recipe that goes back and forth between hearty or light, depending on how you serve it.  And because the secret ingredient is fat free Caesar dressing, you can enjoy the indulgent flavors without feeling guilty.  Which is exactly what I need when I'm trying to change my habits back to fresher, healthier eating.

I've included that really hard, really complex, two ingredient recipe below (this is one of those times when a sarcasm font would come in handy).  You prepare the salmon the same way and then serve it anyway that floats your boat.  Here are my suggestions:

For those chilly nights when dessert is a hot chocolate with marshmallows...
Cook salmon according to the recipe and serve with a side of garlic mashed potatoes and your favorite vegetable or a Caesar salad.  Maybe add in some crusty french bread if you dare.

For the nights when you just want to sit on the patio with a glass of wine...
Cook salmon according to the recipe.  While the salmon is cooking, bake Parmesan crisps to go on the side (see recipe below).  Try not to eat the Parmesan crisps before your salmon is done.  Build a salad of romaine greens and using your hands, pull apart the cooked salmon and spread over the salad.  Top with croutons and Cardini's dressing and add whatever remains of your baked Parmesan crisp to the side. 

It's delicious however you prepare it.  Enjoy!

Happy Eating!


Caesar Salmon Salad with Parmesan Crisp

Baked Caesar Salmon

Salmon fillets
Cardini's fat free Caesar salad dressing

Rinse salmon fillets in cold water and pat dry.  Place in a Ziploc bag or a shallow dish (whatever you prefer) and marinate with Caesar salad dressing for 30 minutes.

Lay a piece of aluminium foil on the counter (about 1' x 1').  Place salmon in middle of foil and fold and pinch the edges on all sides so it makes a little tented envelope or package.  Place on a baking sheet.  Repeat with other salmon fillets. Discard the remaining marinade.

Bake the packages at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes until the fish flakes.

Baked Parmesan Crisps

1 c. coarsely grated Parmesan Reggiano

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat.  Make 4 flat circles of cheese on the baking sheet.  Make sure the cheese in the circles is spread out a bit so you get the lacy effect. 

Bake 8-9 minutes until cheese is golden and lacy.  Remove and let cool 1-2 minutes.  Loosen from the baking sheet with a spatula.

Note: Stay in the kitchen and watch these cook.  Once they are done, they're done!  I start checking mine after about 5 minutes.

Monday, May 2

Sopapillas - Spanish for "YUM"

A few weeks ago, a group of volunteers from my company got together to cook dinner for the guests of the Comer Children's Hospital Ronald McDonald house.  We would be feeding 25-30 people (including kids) and RMH suggested if possible, we think outside the box since the guests usually eat things like pasta or burgers and hot dogs.

Our fantastic coordinator put together a Mexican Fiesta.  Everyone signed up to make an item or two for dinner and holy cow did these people deliver!  Homemade cheese enchiladas, steak  and chicken fajitas, tacos with shredded beef, cheese quesadillas and all the essential fixings - salsa, guac, queso and loads of chips.  There were also a ton of desserts, everything from your usual suspects like ice cream, brownies and cookies, to authentic Mexican sopapillas.

Fiesta crew after the cooking and cleaning were all done

Sopapilla is Spanish for "YUM".  They are light and puffy and wonderfully sweet with the cinnamon sugar topping. I've eaten them plain, dipped in chocolate and dipped in honey.  It's good pretty much any way you do it.

Given Cinco De Mayo is this week I thought I'd share this recipe in case you were looking for a way to spice up your normal taco or enchilada dinner.  It is a more labor intensive recipe than I usually post and full disclosure - I didn't make these, I just got to eat them.  But the recipe has 127 4+ star reviews so I think it's worth your while if you're interested :)

Happy Eating!

Real Mexican Sopapillas
30 minutes to prep
15 minutes to cook
Makes 24 servings
(this is from allrecipes.com which means you can go here, modify the number of servings you want to make, and have the recipe adjusted accordingly)

4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons shortening
1 1/2 cups warm water
2 quarts of oil for frying

In a large bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, salt and shortening.  Stir in water; mix until dough is smooth.  Cover and let stand 20 minutes.

Roll the dough out on a floured board until 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick.  Cut into 3 inch squares.

Heat oil in large pot until 375 degrees F.  Fry dough squares in small batches until golden brown on both sides. 

Drain on paper towels and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar.  Serve hot.