Monday, May 27, 2013

Homemade Peanut Butter

Lately, I have been trying to make more of the staples in my pantry from scratch.  By now, we all know that eating whole, minimally processed and preserved foods is better for your health.  Well this peanut butter has three ingredients... and it is delicious!  It was a breeze to make and I feel so much better eating something when I know exactly what is in it.

I had a large bag of salted peanuts in my pantry so I just used them.  In the future, I will use unsalted so I can control how much salt goes in.  Make sure the peanuts are roasted.  The honey I used is locally harvested in Ohio.  Instead of grapeseed oil, you could also use coconut oil.  

Place the peanuts in a food processor and turn it on.  Let it do it's magic for about 5 minutes.

After it has been buzzing around for 5 minutes, it should look like this.

Add the honey and oil and process for another 5 minutes.

It will not look like Jiff creamy peanut butter.  This has more of a grainy texture and will keep in the refrigerator for about 2 weeks.

Homemade Peanut Butter
3 c. unsalted, roasted peanuts
2-3 T. honey
2 T. grapeseed oil
salt to taste

Pour peanuts into a food processor and turn on for about 5 minutes.  Add honey and oil and continue to process for another 5 minutes.  Taste and add more salt or honey to taste.

I like to serve mine on a slice of whole wheat bread topped with peanut butter, bananas, honey and cinnamon.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Our First Garden

Let me just preface this post by saying that I do not have a green thumb. I love to cook and I love home grown vegetables, but they usually come from other's gardens. In the past, I have tried planting herbs in pots and due to lack of attention, they have died.  

But, I am on a mission this year.  One of my co-workers was kind enough to bring me a bunch of different organic plants that he and his partner planted from seedlings.  He brought me a variety of heirloom tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and eggplant.  I decided since I was given these gorgeous plants, that I would do everything in my power to keep them alive!  So Matt and I built and planted a garden bed yesterday.

I will keep you posted on the process and hopefully feature some recipes that include the fruits of our labor.  

We went to the lumber yard and picked up some wood for the bed.  Our bed is 3'x 5'.  Lay out the boards so you can outline the plot you need to dig out.  Get a shovel, hoe and metal rake and begin removing the grass and loosening up the soil in the ground.  

This was the hardest part.  You need to make sure you remove all of the grass and then break up all of the dirt in the ground.  This provides better drainage   

Take the boards and form the bed in the ground.  Make sure all of the corners tightly fit together.  

Take 2" deck screws and secure the corners together.  We put about 4 screws in each side. 

Fill in the sides of the bed with the grass and dirt you removed.  To ensure the bed stays in place, we hammered eight 2 foot rebar poles into the ground; three on each long side and one on each short side.  

Fill the bed with potting soil.   We used a mixture of a few different kinds.  It ended up being about 8 large bags.  

Time to plant!  Tomato plants need to be planted pretty deep because the stems will develop roots and create a stronger support system.  I secured the pepper plants to small wooden skewers with floral wire.  On the bottom of the bed, I planted a row of each green onions and endive.  

Now give it a good drink of water and hope for the best!  My grandmother said the she puts old coffee granules and crushed egg shells in her garden and that helps it grow.  I think I might try that for some good luck! 

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Chocolate Lava Cakes

My. Husband. Loves. Chocolate.  He does not even consider it a dessert if it doesn't have contain chocolate.  Which is somewhat of a shame because I do enjoy a good pie, cobbler, spice/pumpkin dessert every once in a while. But personally, I would choose savory over sweet any day.  

I found this recipe years ago and I kid you not, Matt will ask me at lease once a week to whip up some lava cakes.  Of course I do not oblige because I these are incredibly decadent... and lacking in the nutrition department.  But he asked tonight and since he has made us dinner for the past two evenings, I decided to spoil him a bit.  

For a while, I would always make these in individual ramekins but my friend Jaeda turned me onto the genius idea of making them in a cupcake tin.  Worked like a charm! 

Melt the butter and chocolate in 30 second increments, stirring after each time.

Instead of buttering and flouring, you will be buttering and sugaring

Beat the eggs, yolks, sugar, salt and vanilla until they are a light, pale yellow color.

Chocolate Lava Cakes
Preheat over to 350 degrees
12 tablespoons. unsalted butter
ounces good chocolate (2 ounces unsweetened, 4 ounces semi-sweet)
large egg yolks
large eggs
1/2 cup sugar
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
cup flour
1/2 cup sugar

    Place butter and chocolate in microwave safe measuring cup or bowl and microwave in 30 second increments  stirring in between.  Heat until both butter and chocolate is completely melted and combined.

Beat the eggs, the egg yolks, sugar, salt and vanilla with a mixer on medium-high speed for about 5 minutes, until they are thick and a light yellow color.On low speed gradually add the flour and then the chocolate/butter mixture.

Coat the cupcake pan with non-stick cooking spray and dust with the sugar. Tap out the excess sugar but make sure they are well coated. Pour the  batter into the ramekins filling them about 7/8 of the way to the top.

Bake for 12-14 minutes. The consistency when done should be where the edges of the cake are firm and the top is still soft to the touch. Unfortunately, this dessert has very thin line between being under and over done.

Remove from the oven and let sit on a cool surface for about 2 minutes. Run a paring knife between the cake and the pan to loosen. Invert the cupcake pan over a foil lined cookie sheet and flip over. Tap the pan lightly and lift off the cookie sheet.. Top with powdered sugar and garnish with fresh fruit, whipped cream, vanilla ice cream, caramel sauce and anything else sweet!  

If the cake runs all over the plate you need to increase the cooking time. If the cake is hard and does not ooze chocolate, lessen the cooking time. I cooked mine about a minute or two too long.   If the cake does not come out, then make sure it is well buttered and covered in sugar.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Handmade "Whatever, I'm late" Clock

This Monday, May 20th, is one of my best friend's birthdays.  Allison and I met in 5th grade and she is one of my dearest friends.  We have been through so much together and I can honestly say she knows me better that most people.  She is incredibly smart, witty, talented, creative, caring and I'm lucky to have her in my life.

Now with all that said, punctuality is not one of her redeeming qualities (sorry Al)!  We often have to tell Allison that functions start hours before they actually do in order to get her there on time.  A few months ago, I had my girlfriends over for dinner and Allison was of course, fashionably late.  We started joking around that she had some crazy Willy Wonka-like whimsical clock that had hands pointing everywhere, multiple faces, colors and  cuckoo birds popping out and singing at all different times etc...

Our friend Leah found this clock on Etsy and I thought it was perfect!  I had every intention of ordering it through the vendor but with all my traveling this month, it just didn't happen.  So I drove myself to Hobby Lobby and decided to make my own... at a fraction of the cost!

My sister Kristina helped me with this today.... Thank you!  I could not have done it without her... or her Cricut! That machine is a crafting savior.  I'm thrilled with the finished product and hope you might give it a try to make for that punctually challenged person in your life!

You will need:

one 12x12 canvas

white spray paint
mod podge clear acrylic spray
clock attachment
larger clock hands
metal bracket for back to hang
Elmer's glue
x-acto knife
letters and numbers
(we used a heavy black card stock and cut out the letters and numbers on her Cricut. If you don't have a Cricut, any type of flat, stick-on letters will work)

If you do have a Cricut, we used the following fonts and sizes for the letters:

Font = Tall Ball

All lowercase except the I
Whatever, = 1.5 inches
I'm late anyway = 1 inch
1 5 0 = 1 inch
2 3 7 = 2 inches
4 8 = 3 inches
9 6 = 3.5 inches

First, secure the metal bracket to the back of the canvas so you can hang it.  Then. take the canvas outside and liberally spray on one coat of white spray paint.  After it is dry, measure the exact middle of the canvas and mark a small dot with a pencil.  This is where the clock hands will go.

Prior to gluing,  arrange the letters and numbers where you want them on the canvas. Pick each letter up and glue it into position.  For the larger letters, we simply placed a small amount of Elmer's glue on the back and stuck them to the canvas.  I intentionally tilted the letters different ways so it looked a bit more "scrambled".

For the smaller letters, we spread a thin layer of glue on with our fingers, then placed the letters on the canvas. Once all of the letters are glued on and dried, spray on 2 coats of Mod Podge, waiting 10 minutes in between each coat.  Let dry overnight.  

Here it is in the morning, all dried and ready to assemble.  Poke a small hole with a sharp knife through the center dot.  Use an x-acto knife to slice a small X in the hole.  

After I pushed the front through canvas, I used a hot glue gun to secure the clock to the back of the canvas. 

Now it is time to assemble the face of the clock.  Follow the instructions on the package.  Be careful because there are a lot of tiny parts.  At first, I chose to omit the second hand but later changed my mind.  

Here is a better view with everything assembled.  The final test was to put a battery in and thank heavens  it worked! 

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Surf and Turf with Grilled Corn Relish and Creamy Polenta

Finally. Back. To. Cooking.  The month of May has been so busy that I really have not had much time in the kitchen.  Although I had some excellent food in New Orleans, nothing beats a home cooked meal so I decided to make something nice for Matt and I tonight.  

It is warming up in Cleveland which means grill weather!  I love using the grill because it just reminds me of summer.  Plus, there is less clean-up!  Everything is grilled in this meal... except the polenta.  And you could even grill that if you wanted (not the mushy kind but rather the firm kind).

By the way... For my birthday, I got an ice cream/sorbet maker and a pasta attachment for my Kitchen Aid so stay tuned for some new recipes!

Here is the marinade for the shrimp.  Do this first to give those little shrimpys time to soak up the flavor.  

Grilled veggies for the corn relish.  I roasted the corn, husk and all, in the oven at 375 for 30 minutes then finished it off on the grill to get a char. You will want to remove the skin from the peppers with a knife.  Just scrape it right off. 

Use fresh corn for this.  Grilling it makes a huge difference.  To take the corn off of the cob, just run your knife down the side.  

Oh just a little chiffonade of basil.  Roll those leaves up and slice away.   

Corn relish all mixed up

Keep a close eye on the polenta and whisk until it thickens.  

Hello stars of the show....

Surf and Turf with Grilled Corn Relish and Creamy Polenta

Shrimp Marinade
10 large grilling shrimp
2 t. chipotle adobo sauce
1/2 t. smoked paprika
1/2 t. dried basil
1/2 t. salt
2 cloves of garlic, crushed and finely minced
1 lime, juiced
2 t. honey
1/4 c. olive oil
1/4 c. grape seed oil

In a small bowl, mix everything except the oil together.  Once ingredients are combined, slowly drizzle oils in until mixture emulsifies.  Reserve about 1/8 cup of this marinade to drizzle over the finished plate.  Place shrimp in the bowl to marinate and refrigerate until ready to grill. 

Grilled Corn Relish
2 ears of corn (cooked in husks at 375 degrees for 30 minutes. Take out of oven, cool and remove husks)
1 red bell pepper, sliced into 4 and seeds removed
1 poblano pepper, sliced in half and seeds removed
2 scallions
2 large slices of red onion
5 large basil leaves, chiffonade
olive oil, salt and pepper

Lay cooked corn, red pepper, poblano pepper, scallions and red onion on a foil lined baking sheet.  Drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper.  Grill over high heat until you see grill marks and veggies soften. Take corn off the cob by running your knife down all sides and removing kernels.  Remove skin from peppers with the sharp side of your knife.  Dice everything and add to bowl with basil and mix until combined.  Leave at room temperature to rest. 

Creamy Polenta
2 c. water
2 c. milk
1 t. salt
1/4 t. thyme
1 cup polenta ( I use the Red Mill brand- Corn Grits/Polenta)
1 T butter
2 T. mascarpone cheese
1/3 c. fresh grated parmesan cheese

In a medium saucepan, bring water, milk, salt and thyme to a boil.  Watch this because the milk will expand and boil over.  Add polenta in and whisk for about 10  minutes, or until it becomes thick and creamy.  Once cooked, add butter, mascarpone cheese and parmesan cheese.  Cover until ready to serve. 

Bring filet to room temperature before grilling.  Drizzle with olive oil and salt and pepper all sides.  Remove shrimp from refrigerator and place on skewers.  Grill over high heat until shrimp is fully cooked and filet is medium rare.  The shrimp will only take about 5 minutes.  Depending on how thick the filet is, you will need about 4-6 minutes on each side.  Remove from heat, let rest for 10 minutes and cut into 1/4 inch slices.    

Spoon polenta onto plate.  Stack slices of filet and shrimp on top.  Top with corn relish, fresh basil and drizzle with a little bit of the marinade.  

New Orleans

This past week, I traveled to the New Orleans for my Interstate Hotels and Resorts Conference.  All of our region's General Managers, Directors of Sales, Sales Managers and Corporate team came in for it.  This was my first trip to The Big Easy and I am absolutely smitten. We flew in a day early so we could explore the city a bit before the conference began.  

We ate grilled oysters and beignets (not in the same sitting of course!). We wandered around the French Quarter and took a tour guided horse drawn carriage ride to see more of the city.  On top of having meetings for three days, I still managed to get to Bourbon Street every night for some live music and stiff drinks.  

Now it wasn't all play and no work.  Interstate threw a fabulous conference... they always do.  When your company is the hospitality industry, they tend to go all out for events like this.  On Wednesday night, we had a parade from our hotel to another Interstate managed hotel.  Now this was not some rinky-dink parade...  We had a 6 piece brass band, 3 police escorts and 1 fire truck.  Each region dressed up differently and we marched our butts through New Orleans with Hurricanes in our hands and beads around our necks.

 All in all, it was a fabulous time.  I am incredibly fortunate to work with some of the best in our industry.  Seeing old faces and meeting new ones year after year is so special to me.  On top of everything else, I was honored on stage by my Vice President of Sales with the Interstate Special Achievement Award for my efforts and results at my hotel.  I am equally humbled and elated to have been recognized in this way.  

Here are a few glimpses into my trip to NOLA...

The BEST chargrilled oysters
Gumbo and Jambalaya 
Bourbon Street
Beads and shoes on the lines

His bucket was FULL of cash

I bought one of the identical owl vases on the right/left

Me and our mule, Red Bean
Some houses were big...
And some small

Above ground cemetery

Balcony on Bourbon
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