Monday, September 27

Roid-eos (Homemade Oreos)

Between trying to get through various nursing textbooks, keeping my house clean, watching the entire last season of House, MD to be ready for the new season, throwing the tennis ball for Layla, starting my workouts again and cleaning the fish tank, I've made it my mission (read: something I want to do occasionally) to turn all my favorite hydrogenated/high fructose corn syrup laden/over processed foods into homemade, more wholesome and non-chemical yumminess.  What better to start with than Oreos?

For homemade versions of, well, anything, I turn to my favorite baking goddess, Deb over at Smitten Kitchen.  She has a recipe for homemade Oreos that just about nails it, down to the frosting in the middle.  Apparently, however, I lack the necessary visual capacity to judge size.  Instead of cute little half-dollar sized cookies, I wound up with giant, Little Debbie Oatmeal Creme Pie sized cookies on steroids.  In retrospect, I should have realized that these cookies will spread.  They're so big (how big are they?) that you have to break them in half to dunk.  But when you finally wrangle them into the milk...delish!

Nursing Diagnosis: Mug - smaller than cookie requirements.

(shamelessly stolen from Smitten Kitchen)

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened Dutch process cocoa
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar 
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons room-temperature, unsalted butter
1 egg

In a large bowl, mix flour, cocoa, baking soda and powder, salt and sugar until combined.  Add butter and egg, mix until dough forms a semi-sticky mass.  Roll a teaspoon (better to actually measure this instead of eyeballing it, unless you, unlike me, have some frame of visual-spacial reckoning) of dough into a ball, then lightly flatten into a circle.  Leave about 2 inches between the cookies.  Bake at 375 for 9 minutes, transfer to wire rack to cool.  Cool completely before icing.
Beside my awesome Frida Kahlo mug - Thanks Brad!
1/4 cup butter, room temperature
1/4 cup shortening (I used Crisco - no transfat!)
2 cups powdered sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla

Beat the butter and shortening together until completely incorporated.  Gradually add sugar and vanilla, alternating each.  Fill a pastry bag and pipe frosting in the center of  the bottom of one cookie.  Press a second cookie on top, allowing the filling to spread so that it covers the middle of the sandwich.  It can be easier, if your cookies came out a little uneven (some monster-sized, some dwarfs) to match them up before you add the frosting.

Dunk into milk.  Savor.  Repeat.  :o)

Dunk win!

Friday, September 24

When life hands you bananas... (Banana Cup-fins)

Make some cupfins!

I had some brown bananas, left over from my first Cooking for Canines experiment.  (More of those to come, hopefully in the upcoming week.)  I have a fantastically easy recipe for banana bread that seems to be a big hit with everyone (including my former boss - I'm still required to take him two loaves every Christmastime) but honestly, another loaf of banana bread sounded so boring.  Also, since this week was our return to school (ahhh!  where did all this reading come from?) I wanted something that was relatively easy to grab and go.  I thought about banana bread muffins, but I wanted to try a few different things with them.  

The end result tastes pretty delish, but is a little heavier than I anticipated.  If I was going to make them again, I would probably either 1) substitute baking soda for the baking powder, which should work because of the yogurt, or 2) use self-rising flour, or 3) eliminate the almond flour, which in my opinion tends to be a little heavier than regular wheat flour.  The result that I got was flat on top, like a cupcake, but heavier and substantial, like a muffin.  Hence, my sister dubbed them "cupfins", which was cute enough to stick.

Since the little buggers had flat tops, I decide that they needed something to dress them up.  Fortunately, I had a cabinet full of peanut butter and a fridge full of cream cheese.  They met, fell in love, and took up residence on top of my cute little cupfins.  Yum!

Banana Cupfins 
1/2 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup almond flour
1-1/2 teaspoon baking powder (see above)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 bananas, pureed
5 tablespoons vanilla yogurt

Cream the butter and sugar until fluffy.  Add the eggs and vanilla; beat until smooth.  Stir in the bananas. Sift together the flours, baking powder, salt and cinnamon.  Add half the flour mixture to the banana mixture, then half the yogurt, then the rest of the flour, then the rest of the yogurt.  Mix well but do not over beat.  Bake at 350 for 25 minutes, until pick inserted inside comes out clean.  Cool completely before frosting, but you can eat the plain muffins warm - they are already pretty good.

Peanut Butter Icing
4 ounces cream cheese
1/2 cup peanut butter
1-1/4 cup powdered sugar

Beat the cream cheese and peanut butter until completely incorporated.  Add the powdered sugar, beat until stiff.  Store in the refrigerator.

Thursday, September 23

Perfect for Us

This week is the Adopt an Adoptable Pet Week!  If you're looking for a pet, look in shelters first.  Look at the black dogs.  Look at the senior dogs.  Look at the scared dogs.  They'll look back at you like this:

How can you say no?

I'm not going to reiterate again why you should look at a shelter first, or never buy an animal from a pet store, or make sure that you're going to a responsible breeder, because these are the things that you hear over and over again.  I will tell you the store of how we found Layla.

It was February, and I had just left my job to start nursing school.  I had a few weeks before school started.  Hubby and I had been talking about getting a dog since, oh, the first day that we met.  Each time, the conversation went something like this:

One of us:  Let's get a dog!
The other:  OK, let's do it!  Oh wait, what about we don't have a place of our own/our apartment is tiny/we're never home/we can't afford it?

So now here we were, with a place of our own, a big yard, (relatively) stable finances and 6 weeks of someone being here all day.  It was the perfect time to get a dog.

We started looking.

And looking and looking and looking.

We looked on, and narrowed our search to shelters and rescues.  We oohed and aahed over each picture.  We looked at the older dogs.  We looked at puppies.  We looked at small dogs, large dogs, medium dogs, white dogs, black does, purebred dogs, crazy mixed dogs.  I cried at each and every story.  We decided maybe the Petfinder approach put me at risk for dehydration.

It would be a better idea to actually go meet some dogs.  

We went to a shelter down the road and met a pointer/pit mix who was very friendly - and hyper.  We spent about 5 minutes with her before the (I'm sure well meaning) shelter people said all we needed to take her home was a collar.  They about shoved her out the door with us.

We decided to give it some thought.

We went to an adoption event at PetSmart in Moorestown.  We met a nice man from the Burlington County Animal Shelter with two black lab puppies with huge paws. They pulled me around the store, jumped all over me, drenched my face with kisses and tangled me in their leashes.  The man said that the pups were brothers and he wanted them to be adopted together, if possible.  I was imagining how much fun it would be to run around the yard with two adorable little puppies.  I started to feel a little weepy.  Ten seconds later, Bob took the adoption papers out of my hands and carried me out of the store.  No, he said, we could not adopt two puppies who would grown into large dogs.  He apparently had been imagining feeding and cleaning up two huge dogs' worth of poop.  Men's minds work so funny sometimes.

We drove down the road to the next PetSmart where the West Jersey Volunteers for Animals were hosting an adoption drive.  This time each dog had a volunteer or foster family with them.  We walked around and looked at each dog.  One lady had a little chihuahua beside her - when we came near, the dog yipped and jumped at us.  I thought he was adorable, but not exactly the kind of dog I envisioned.  I asked the lady about him.  Instead of saying what we expected, which was "He's a great dog and loves everyone and you should adopt him right now so that he won't have to spend another moment here, and if you don't we'll have to put him down and it'll be all your fault,"  she said this:  "He's a feisty little dog.  He would work best in a family with no other animals because he likes to be the boss.  He'll protect you and cuddle with you, but he's not a big player.  If you want a little dog to keep you company, he's it.  If you're looking for a dog who will go on walks and fetch tennis balls, he's probably not the guy for you."

Wait, what?

The WJVA group was fantastic.  They told you everything about their animals - the good things, the bad things, the things to be aware of, the dogs' likes and dislikes.  We talked to the people about the dogs' personalities and needs. It was an awesome experience - you could really tell that these people cared about each and every dog for itself, not just because it had a sad story that needed a happy ending.  We were thrilled with the empathy and the enthusiasm and the honesty that we found there.  When you're looking at shelter dogs, how you interact with the people is just as important and how you interact with the animals.  Don't be afraid to ask questions.  Don't let someone guilt you into taking home a dog you can't handle or don't really want.  Be upfront and honest with everyone, and deal with shelters and people who will do the same for you.

Anyway, back to PetSmart.  We played with lots of dogs that day, walked them around, petted them, sat on the floor and wrestled with them.  There was one little dog who curled up behind her foster dad and wouldn't come out to play.  She was so scared of the other animals that her tail was so far between her legs it practically reached her chest.  Her ears were flicking back and forth trying to take in everything that was going on. She could barely move.  Bob went over to her, knelt down in front of her and put out his hand.  She looked up at him with giant brown eyes, sighed, and put her head on the ground.  The foster dad suggested we walk her away from the other dogs and maybe she would loosen up.  We took her a few aisles away, out of sight of the others.  Her tail came up, her ears relaxed and she grinned at us.  We played around with her a little bit, walked her back and forth.  We decided that we just weren't sure about her.

We walked her back to the group.  As we got close, she stopped walking, her tail went down a little, and she curled up behind Bob's legs and peered out at the others, then up at us.

We looked at each other. 

And that's the story of how Layla chose us.

Saturday, September 18

Palooza is a fun word. (Toffee Bars)

Sometimes, you're just in the mood for chocolate.  The way that my husband was in the mood for meat.  So, we decided to host a Meat-A-Palooza, a little "grill/deck warming" party.  He got his meat, I got my chocolate.  Win!

I wanted something easy to make, chocolaty, with a crunch.  These bars fit the bill on all accounts, and I was able to make them with what I already had on hand.  They're different than brownies or blondies, fancier than cookies, and easily creative.   And good with coffee.  

In fact, I'm calling them Coffee Toffee Bars. 

Because who doesn't like rhyming names?

Coffee Toffee Bars
(adapted from Betty Crocker's Cookbook)
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg yolk
2 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1-1/4 cups chocolate chips or 4-5 chocolate bars, chopped
2/3 cup chopped nuts

In a large bowl, stir together butter, brown sugar, vanilla, egg yolk until well mixed.  Stir in flour and salt.  Press dough in an ungreased 13x9 pan.  Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes, until light brown and soft.  Immediately sprinkle the chocolate chips over the hot crust.  Let stand for a few minutes, until soft, then spread evenly.  Sprinkle the wet chocolate with the nuts.  Cool 1 hour, until set.  For easier cutting, slice before the chocolate is set. 

Tuesday, September 14

Oh, the shame... (Cherry Apple Tarts)

I cheated on this dessert.  There's no excuse for this.  I was looking for tomato sauce.  Instead, I found my weakness.  Sitting there, on the top shelf of the lazy susan, staring at me.

My love..
Cherry pie filling.

I brought it out onto the counter.  I stared at it.  You will not beat me, processed fake pie filling!  I will not use you!  I will not give in to your pretend sweetness!

But if The Pampered Chef says it's OK, well then, that's a different story.

The cherry temptress...
A different, delicious, "maybe just one more" kind of story.

Cherry Apple Tarts
(adapted from The Pampered Chef)
1 box refrigerated pie crust
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/3 cup cold butter
1 large Granny Smith apple, sliced 
1 can cherry pie filling

Let pie crust stand for 15 minutes, until malleable.  (I made miniature tarts, but you can make a whole pie instead, or really any shape you want.)   In a medium bowl, combine the flour, brown sugar and cinnamon.  Cut in the butter until the mixture is crumbly.  Roll out the pie crust and cut into 4 inch circles.  Grease a cupcake pan with cooking spray and place each circle into a cupcake cavity.  

Line the bottom of each tart with apple slices, top with a 1/4 cup cherry pie filling.  Top with heaping tablespoon of flour mixture.  Bake at 400 for 25-28 minutes.  Eat warm. 

Sunday, September 12

Cooking for Canines: Peanut Butter & Banana Biscuits

First things's first:  Here we go, Steelers, here we go!!  1-0 baby!!!

Ok, now that we've taken care of that.

Food for thought: what does your pup eat?

Last week, on Layla's birthday, we got her some treats from Jake's Dog House.  For as much as they cost, they weren't as great as I thought they would be.  The cupcake was hard and dry, and though I didn't taste it, it didn't smell particularly exciting.  We also got her a doggie doughnut, but it was so hard I couldn't even break it with my hands.  I decided that we should take the same approach with her as we do with ourselves - isn't homemade food better than processed chemicals?  And since we love Layla as part of our family, so shouldn't we have the same philosophy when feeding her?

What are you making for me, Mom?

I've been looking for some recipes for homemade dog treats, and today was my first foray into homemade doggie noms.  I'm going to be doing more experimenting and trying new things for Layla, so I'll post the results from time to time for other people who want a more wholesome approach to feeding their own pupsters.

Today's treat is very easy to make, and actually tastes pretty good from a human standpoint (oh yeah, I went there).  You can get creative with the recipe; I cited the original from allrecipes, and you can see in the comments about how some people have made their own substitutions.

I think she gives them two paws up.

Layla's Peanut Butter and Banana Biscuits
1 egg, beaten
1/3 cup peanut butter
1 medium banana, mashed or pureed
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup wheat germ
1 egg white

In a medium bowl, whisk together the peanut butter, egg and banana.  Stir in the flour and the wheat germ until you have a thick dough.  On a lightly floured surface, roll out into a rectangle about 1/4 inch thick.  Cut into strips, roll into a rope and tie a knot in each end.  

Place on a lightly greased cookie sheet, brush with the egg white and bake at 300 for 30 minutes.  Cool on a wire rack.  Share with your furever buddy.

Not too shabby, Shaggy. 

Saturday, September 11

Some assembly required (Ham and Cheese Scones)

What should I do on this lovely Saturday afternoon?  I weeded the backyard.  I sat outside and read.  I threw the tennis ball for the Layster.  I made some scones.  What else should I do? 

Giant box of grill.

How about putting together the grill? shiny!

It'll be a great way to surprise hubby when he comes home from work.

How hard can it be?

Just a few pieces.

I'm not allowed to put things together.  It has something to do with an entertainment center from IKEA that was backwards and a dresser drawer that was inside out.  Honestly, these things just happen.  Not my fault.

Today ended up much better, though. 

Ta da!  So proud of myself!
Won't the hubster be surprised when he comes home?

Maybe he'll be so happy, it'll stir up his man-sized appetite and grill us up some steaks.

*Crosses fingers and hopes*

These are my backup plan.  In case the steaks have to wait until tomorrow.

Scone?  Biscuit?  Who cares.  Ham and cheese!

Hey, girl's gotta eat, right?

Ham and Cheese Scones
1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
Generous pinch of salt
1/2 cup butter, cold and diced
1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar
1/3 cup chopped, sliced deli ham
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
3/4 cup sour cream
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon dijon mustard

Can never go wrong with ham and cheese.
Preheat oven to 375.  In a large bowl, combine the flours, baking soda and powder, sugar and salt.  Rub the cold butter into the flour mixture until the consistency is that of damp sand.  Fold in ham, cheese and dill.  Whisk sour cream, egg and mustard in a small bowl.  Add all at once to ham mixture, stir with a fork until incorporated.  Be careful not to overmix.  Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead until the dough holds together.  Roll or pat to 3/4 inch thickness (or thicker, if you like).  Cut into 3 inch circles (I use the bottom of a drinking glass).  Bake on a baking sheet for 18 minutes, until golden around the edges.  Cool on wire rack.  Use to surprise someone you love.

Friday, September 10

Compromise (Forever Krispie Treats)

They say the key to every marriage is compromise.   When Hubby and I were getting ready to tie the knot, a big piece of me was afraid we would become those people with a "marriage".  Marriage sounded like something you had on your mantle that needed weeded and watered and dusted and sacrificed for.  That sounded like work.  I didn't want that kind of work. I just wanted to stand up in front of everyone I cared about and declare that I loved this man, that he was the one for me, and then get on living our lives together.  We had been together for several years and had worked past the newlywed "living together" things - his socks on the floor, my neurotic issues about eating together.  What more could there be to learn?  Getting married just makes it official, right?

Yeah, sure, because I know everything.

Actually, as it turns out, being married does change things.  It means that what used to be two people, half me and half him, is now 100% me and him.  It means that everything I do is now for us - becoming a nurse, changing the sheets on the bed, learning to cook, even shaving my legs.  It means that my new last name on my driver's license announces to the world that I'm part of something bigger than just myself.  It means that my mantle now holds this thing that needs weeded and watered and dusted and sacrificed for.

And I wouldn't have it any other way.

Marriage also means that when we're walking through the grocery store deciding what yummy treat we want that week, and he wants rice krispie treats and I want chocolate cookies, we have learned to compromise.

Forever Krispie Treats
7 cups rice krispie cereal
1 bag (10 oz) large marshmallows
3 tablespoons butter
8 oz chocolate chips
4 oz peanut butter chips
25 Werther's Original chewy caramels
8 mini-Twix bars,

In a large pot over medium-low heat, melt the butter.  Add in the marshmallows and melt, stirring occasionally.  Stir in the cereal.  (Note:  I know the original recipe calls for 6 cups, but I like my treats crispy, as opposed to mallowy.  I always hated it when the room mother brought in the mallowy treats, with the marshmallows barely melted and studded with five little pieces of krispie.  You can adjust the ratio however you like.)   Pour the mixture into two 8x8 glass pans and pat down flat.  

While they settle, melt the caramels (I did this in the microwave for 30 seconds, then stir, then 30 seconds, etc) until completely melted.  Pour over one of the pans. Coarsely chop 7 of the Twix bars.  Eat the remaining one. Spread the candy over the caramel.  On the other pan, spread 1/3 of the peanut butter chips over the treats.  Melt the chocolate chips (over a double boiler or in the microwave) and pour over both pans (half and half).  Sprinkle the remaining peanut butter chips over the peanut butter treats.  Allow to set, about 2-3 hours.  Store covered.  Share with someone you adore.

Wednesday, September 8

Happy Birthday, Dear Layla

Happy birthday to you!

Layla's officially two!  Her birthday was on Sunday, so we celebrated at the shore.  (Well, OK, we were at the shore celebrating Labor Day and the end of exams and the start of my two week break.  But we can pretend it's all for her.)  We presented her with a doggie cupcake from Jake's Dog House. 

She was patient, practicing her "shake".

Then she was curious.

Then she nommed.

For about 15 seconds.  Then she practiced her "vacuuming". 

It struck me that the doggie treats from Jake's were not as great as I thought they would be.  New mission:  find some doggie recipes worthy of my beautiful pupster.  Anyone have any good homemade dog treats?

Thursday, September 2

My Brain Hurts... (Chocolate Covered Strawberries)

Finals week is almost over.  Tomorrow at 3 in the afternoon, I will have (successfully, I hope) taken 7 exams in 4 days.  Seven!!  In four days!!!  This kind of stress requires advanced planning.  This kind of ridiculousness can only be helped by one thing:  chocolate.  

Who wouldn't rather be out enjoying the pre-fall sunlight?

 OK, it can also be helped by Red Bull and goldfish crackers.  But also chocolate.  Luckily, I had everything on hand for the best grab it and go dose of summertime chocolate craving satisfaction.

Bite sized noms.

Chocolate Covered Strawberries
1 quart fresh strawberries
6 oz chocolate chips
1 tablespoon Crisco
Coconut (shredded) for rolling (about 1/3 cup)
Almonds (crushed) for rolling (about 1/4 cup)

Look, they're fruit!  That makes them healthy!

Melt the chocolate chips in a double boiler.  Add Crisco, stirring until combined.  Wash strawberries and pat dry.  Line a tray with wax paper.  Dip strawberries into chocolate.  Roll in coconut or almonds, or leave plain.  Chill in refrigerator until chocolate is set, about 1-2 hours.  Store in a sealed container in fridge for 3-5 days. 

Big Daddy Strawberry and the little lady.
Eat during study breaks to maintain mental health.  :o)
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