Three Recipes That Have Changed My Life

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As many of you know, cooking is not my favorite thing. This has not always been the case. In fact, there was a time in my life when I used to love cooking. That era was when I had the time to cook what I wanted and then actually sit down to eat and enjoy what I’d prepared. That era, my friends, ended nearly 9 years ago on October 27, 2010 (Also known as the day my first baby was born).

Somehow, though, I am still expected to cook 3 meals and 5,463 snacks every. Single. Day. That’s a lot of cooking for someone who has lost the joy of cooking.

But there is hope! I have a few go-to recipes that have changed my life. I rotate my favorite recipes with such precision that my family knows what day of the month it is purely by what is served on our dinner table. It’s a survival mechanism, and it works.

My criteria for an outstanding recipe are:
1. It is easy to make. We’re talking, so easy I can make this dish while simultaneously helping a kid with homework, assisting a preschooler to build a Duplo city, and breaking up a sibling fight.
2. Is it tasty enough that either:
A) at least 60% of my family will eat it.
Or
B) it’s so delicious that I won’t mind a bit if I have to eat the whole thing myself.

That’s it. I’m pretty easy to please (Motherhood has lowered my standards by a not-insufficient amount).

When I was thinking about what recipes I wanted to share with you here today, I was reminded of one of my favorite shows–Master Chef (I have no problem at all watching other people struggle in the kitchen.). For the grand finale of Master Chef the competitors must prepare a 3-course meal: appetizer, entree, and dessert.

So that is precisely what I will do for you today, my friends. Although I will be presenting 3 courses worth of recipes, I would not necessarily recommend eating them all together at the same meal. It would be a weird combo of foods, but I suppose anything is possible. Free country and everything.

And, since this is a free country, I’m going to start with my favorite course first: Dessert.

5-Minute Chocolate Mug Cake
AKA The Most Dangerous Cake Recipe In The World
Cake is by far my favorite meal of the day, so it’s only fitting that I would highlight a cake recipe for my dessert course.

Ingredients

  • 4 Tablespoons flour
  • 4 Tablespoons sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons cocoa powder (Get the good stuff here, folks. No off-brand Kroger Cocoa or similar rubbish. We’re looking for something along the lines of Ghiradelli or Godiva–go big or go home!).
  • 1 egg
  • 3 Tablespoons milk
  • 3 Tablespoons oil (vegetable, canola, whatevs…as long as it’s the edible kind of oil)
  • 3 Tablespoons chocolate chips (Optional. JK. Chocolate chips are never optional. If you want to succeed at life, definitely always add chocolate chips.)
  • A small splash of vanilla extract

Instructions

  1. Get a big ‘ol coffee mug. Make sure it is microwaveable. Otherwise you’ll make sparks in your kitchen, and I’m not talking about what you and your husband do after you put the kids to bed.
  2. Add dry ingredients to the mug and mix well.
  3. Add the egg and beat it like you’re Mike Tyson in the boxing ring.
  4. Pour in the milk and oil and mix well.
  5. Add chocolate chips. Now add a little extra. You’ll thank me later.
  6. Put your mug in the microwave and microwave for 2 minutes 30 seconds – 3 minutes. This is not an exact science. Well, maybe it is. But when I’m cooking chocolate cake in a mug in my microwave I don’t want to mess with the math of microwave watts and the volume of my mug or any of that mumbo-jumbo. Just watch your cake and take it out when it looks done-ish. If you like your cake moist, take it out earlier. If you like it really well-done and dry so you kill all of the salmonella or whatever, cook it longer.
  7. The cake might rise over the top of the mug while it’s cooking. DO NOT BE ALARMED! This, like toddler tantrums in a grocery store, is an expected part of life.
  8. Unless you enjoy the sensation of molten lava on your palette, allow your cake to cool a little bit before you dig in.
  9. EAT!!! Supposedly this dessert is meant to share, but I’ve never tested that theory.

Moving on, now. I’m rather enjoying the excitement of presenting these courses out of order, so let’s do something really crazy!

May I present Course 2: Appetizer

Pan-Roasted Vegetables
Seriously? Roasted vegetables as an appetizer?! Yes, vegetables are an appetizer. Just look in the “Starters” section of any fancy-by-millenial-standards restaurant and I guarantee you’ll find fried brussels sprouts. Roasted is just the healthier version of fried, and I’m oh-so-healthy (as indicated by Course 1 above). But seriously. These things are highly addictive and I almost always eat the whole pan myself.

Ingredients:

  • One big handful per person of a hearty vegetable (Broccoli, Asparagus, Brussels Sprouts, green beans, Potatoes, Carrots)
  • Olive Oil (the big jug from Costco works just fine)
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Finishing pizzazz (Varies depending on the veggie and the mood you’re in. Includes but is not limited to: squeeze of fresh lemon juice, balsamic glaze, honey, parmesan cheese, crumbled bacon)

Instructions

  • Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.
  • While your oven is getting ready to work some magic transforming bland produce into heavenly bites, rinse and pat dry your veggies.
  • Spread out your veggies on a large baking sheet with enough room between them so nobody is touching or passing along any cooties.
  • Douse the whole thing with Olive Oil. Don’t be too stingy here. We want enough oil that the veggies won’t get a sunburn, but they don’t need to swim in the stuff either.
  • Use your fingers to massage the oil into your veggies the same way (you wish) your husband would massage your back after you’ve had a long day of caring for his offspring.
  • Sprinkle some salt and pepper fairy dust all over those veggies.
  • Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes. I use a very scientific method to determine when this dish is done. Jab a fork in one of the veggies after 10-15 minutes and if it’s hard as a rock, then it’s not done. If the fork goes in the way I would want my fork to go in when I’m eating it, then it’s done. If the vegetable is black like burnt vegetables, it is over done.
  • As soon as you take the tray out of the oven, spread some pizzaaz. My favorite combos are: broccoli + lemon juice + parmesan cheese, brussels sprouts + balsamic glaze, carrots + honey, green beans + bacon
  • Watch as your children refuse to touch the green stuff while you gorge yourself on a farmer’s market’s worth of vegetables in one sitting.

And, finally, the main event (or, in our case, the main course).

Panang Curry with Chicken, 3 Stars
Jon makes fun of me because any time we go out to eat I order the exact same thing. As in, if we go to restaurant X, I 100% will be ordering entreé Y. What can I say–I know what I like, and I like what I know. Thai food is my absolute favorite, and every time we eat at any Thai restaurant I order the Panang Curry with Chicken, 3 Stars. And since I can’t go to eat every day I have learned how to make a darn good copycat of my own.

Ingredients

  • 1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts, thinly sliced
  • A splash of vegetable oil
  • Panang Curry Paste (Just buy the good stuff on Amazon and save yourself a trip to a grocery store that probably won’t have it anyway).
  • 1 can coconut milk (Not coconut creme, that’s for your piña coladas…which, coincidentally, would go quite well with this dish…)
  • 1-2 Tablespoons peanut butter (Unless you’re allergic to peanuts, in which case I bid you adieu.)
  • 1-2 Tablespoons brown sugar (Or, if you’re not a sugar addict like me, 0 Tablespoons of brown sugar)
  • 1-2 Tablespoons fish sauce (Ewwww! Right?! I hate fish more than probably anyone else on the planet, so trust me when I say that this stuff will not make your curry taste like the ocean. It adds salty flavor, that’s it. Start with just a splash in your curry if you don’t trust it, and see what you think. Again, Amazon to the rescue.)
  • (optional) 1-2 teaspoons lime leaf powder (I don’t think this stuff is totally necessary, but it does taste good and it makes me feel fancy when I see lime leaf powder in my spice cabinet).
  • 1/2 red bell pepper thinly sliced
  • 1/2 green bell pepper thinly sliced
  • 1 small handful of frozen haricot vert (Fancy words for the skinny green beans)
  • 1/2 cup fresh diced pineapple if you have it (Really, you don’t need to buy a whole pineapple for this recipe just so you can throw a few chunks into your curry.)
  • For serving: Cooked rice

Instructions

  • In a wok (1st choice) or large pan (2nd choice), brown your chicken in the vegetable oil. If you’re going to be saving out some of the chicken to feed plain to your picky children, then make sure it’s cooked throughly. Or, if you’re adding the whole batch of chicken directly to your curry, you can even just skip this step entirely.
  • Remove chicken from the pan.
  • In the same pan add the curry paste (Hint: more = SPICIER! 3 stars–medium/hot–is about 1-2 Tablespoons of curry paste. Start by adding just a bit and then add more if you want it spicier), coconut milk, peanut butter, brown sugar, and fish sauce, and lime leaf powder. Heat on medium until you get a nice simmer going and everything melts together.
  • Add the chicken (if you didn’t already cook the chicken, simmer for about 20 minutes until the chicken is totally cooked through). Now would be a good time to make that piña colada. This is also a good time for you to prepare your picky kids’ not-curry dinners.
  • Add whatever veggies you want to use and simmer for another 5 minutes, until your veggies are softened but not mushy.
  • Serve over cooked rice.

That’s it! Three of the simplest and most delicious courses of food you’ll ever prepare. I hope I’ve un-inspired you to cook this week and always. Enjoy creating in your own kitchen (and if all else fails, there’s always Grub Hub!).

Cinnamon Cookie Butter Muffins

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When we went back to the states for Christmas I noticed several changes that had already taken place since we’d move: new housing developments had sprung up all over the place, all of our friends had new babies, and the Seahawks were on their way to the Superbowl (!). Lots of big changes. No change struck me as much, however, as the introduction of this new product into the American marketplace: cookie butter. What the what?! Cookie BUTTER? I mean, come ON.

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I just had to try it. Thankfully, my ever-observant sister-in-law read the desires of my heart and I was the happy recipient of my own (rather large) jar of cookie butter on Christmas morning. The stuff is good. Really good. It tastes a bit like creamy shortbread or graham cracker pie crust. The only problem is, what am I supposed to do with nearly two pounds of cookie butter?

I’ve tried the cookie butter spread on toast (yummy) and as a dip for fruit (delicious), but I was ready to step out of my cookie-butter-comfort-zone and try something new. I found this recipe for cinnamon cookie butter muffins and, after a few tweaks, I was on the road to cookie butter perfection. It’s not exactly health food in a muffin tin but, man, are they tasty:

Cinnamon Cookie Butter Muffins
Makes 1 dozen mouth-watering muffins

Ingredients:

1 ½ cups flour
½ Tablespoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cinnamon
5 Tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
½ cup sugar
1 large egg
½ teaspoon vanilla
¼ cup cream cheese
¼ cup milk
8 Tablespoons cookie butter (find cookie butter at Trader Joe’s, Costco, or on Amazon)
Cinnamon sugar (combine 2 Tablespoons sugar and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon)

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C for all of my Irish friends who may be reading this!).
2. Line a muffin tin with muffin papers.
3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon.
4. In a large bowl using a hand mixer, beat butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla and beat until well combined. Add the cream cheese, milk, and 2 Tablespoons of cookie butter and beat until combined.
5. Add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients and mix until just combined.
6. Spoon muffin batter into muffin liners until about 1/2 full. Spoon about 1/2 Tablespoon of cookie butter onto each muffin, then top with another small spoonful of muffin batter.

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7. Top each muffin with a sprinkling of cinnamon sugar.
8. Bake muffins for 10-12 minutes, until the muffins start to turn golden brown.
9. When you go to pull your muffins out of the oven, DO NOT TOUCH THE SIDE OF THE OVEN thus burning your hand and spilling the muffins in the process. This may have happened to a friend. Her muffins looked like this:
IMG_1313 (Don’t worry, I was able to salvage all but one muffin from this little incident)

10. Let the muffins cool completely before you eat them (remember, there’s a molten core of cookie butter in the middle). Enjoy!

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The final verdict? Cinnamon cookie butter muffins are every bit as delectable as you imagine they would be. So go bake yourself a batch. Now!

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Rhubarb Custard “Dream Bars” Recipe

We went to my parents’ house last weekend, and the first thing David wanted to do was go to Nana’s garden. My mom always has some amazing new thing growing in her garden and David loves seeing what he can find. Plus, there’s something amazing about picking veggies straight out of the ground and then eating them right there on the spot.

rhubarb-leaf

This week we found rhubarb. Lots and lots of rhubarb–a rhubarb forest, if you will. We picked a whole bag-full of the ruby red stalks…which I promptly forgot to bring home with us. All week I’ve been dreaming about the rhubarb I forgot, mostly because of this recipe. This is one of my favorite desserts of all time. If I were a rhubarb, I would be honored to find my end in such a sweet place. I now give you…

Rhubarb Custard Dream Bars

Crust Ingredients:
1 1/2 Cups flour
1/2 Cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
9 Tablespoons butter

Custard Filling Ingredients:
1/3 Cup flour
1 1/2 Cups sugar
1 1/2 Cups milk
3 eggs
5 Cups rhubarb, diced

Topping Ingredients:
1/2 Cup sugar
1/2 Cup fat-free cream cheese (4 ounces)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 Cup thawed frozen fat-free whipped topping

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. For crust: cut flour, sugar, butter and salt into a coarse meal. Pat the crust mixture into the bottom of a lightly greased 9×13 inch baking pan. Bake for 15 minutes at 350 degrees.

3. For the filling: whisk together the flour, sugar, milk and eggs. Add rhubarb and stir. Pour over the baked crust, and bake another 40 minutes at 350 degrees, or until the custard is set. Cool to room temperature.

4. For the topping: mix together the sugar, cream cheese and vanilla until smooth (I use an electric mixer for this). Fold in the whipped topping. Spread over the cooled custard and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

5. To serve: slice into bars of your desired size. Try to stop yourself from consuming the entire pan of rhubarb bars so you will have some to share with your friends. Keep leftover bars covered tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerated.

Our Family Recipe For The Best Darn Cinnamon Rolls You’ll Ever Eat!

Sometimes things just don’t go according to plan. Last week was one of those weeks. Jon and I were both sick with bronchitis and ear infections (not sure how we both got the same two unusual ailments). Between caring for our own illnesses and trying to take care of the boys, we were pretty wiped out. But, what’s that I hear?! Duh-duh-duh-duh! Grandma to the rescue!

Jon’s mom was kind enough to come over last week and help us out a bit. She helped take care of the boys while I took a shower (all by myself, no munchkins at my feet!) and attempted (but failed) to actually take a nap. She also made us dinner before she left–such a welcome treat to this tired mama. One of the things grandma made for us was while she was visiting was our family recipe for dinner rolls. They are one of my absolute favorite foods–there’s nothing better than the smell of warm bread baking in your oven. Well, there’s actually one thing that’s better. Turning those dinner rolls into cinnamon rolls.

A number of years ago my mother-in-law figured out how to use the dinner roll recipe to make cinnamon rolls, and they are the best cinnamon rolls you’ll ever taste. Better than Cinnabon. They’re ooey-gooey, melt-in-your-mouth, close-your-eyes-and-sigh delicious. They take a bit of time and effort but, trust me, they’re worth it. You may gain 10 pounds after making this recipe (because you’ll want to eat the whole batch) but, again, it’s worth it! So, with no further ado, our cinnamon roll recipe.

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Peterson Family Cinnamon Rolls (AKA The Best Darn Cinnamon Rolls You’ll Ever Eat)
Makes about 30 rolls

2 1/4 cups milk
1/2 cup butter, plus an additional 1-2 cups (2-4 sticks) of softened butter
3 cups flour, plus an additional 3-5 cups flour (can be white, wheat, or a combination of flours–this time I used half white and half whole wheat flour)
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons salt
2 packages rapid rise yeast
2 eggs
2 pounds brown sugar
1/2 cup cinnamon
1 recipe for frosting or glaze (we like this one)

  • Heat the milk and butter to 120-130 degrees (use a thermometer to ensure accuracy–too hot and you’ll kill the yeast, too cool and the yeast won’t grow)
  • In a large mixing bowl, combine, 3 cups flour, the sugar, salt, and yeast.
  • Lightly mix the flour mixture (I use a stand mixer with the dough hook attachment, but you could do this by hand), then add the heated milk/butter
  • After slightly blended, add the eggs one at a time, blending well after each egg.
  • Slowly add 3-41/2 cups flour to form a dough that holds together well but does not stick to the mixer. This part you just have to go by feel–not too dry, not too sticky.
  • Turn the dough onto a floured board and knead the dough into a soft smooth ball.
  • Lightly grease a clean mixing bowl, put dough ball in the bowl, cover with a clean dish towel, and let your dough rise (follow the instructions on your yeast packet for how long the first rising should be, usually about an hour if you’re using rapid rise).
  • During the first rising, mix together the brown sugar and cinnamon (use a fork and/or your fingers and make sure there are no lumps in the mix)
  • After the first rising, divide the dough in half. Cover half of the dough. Roll out the other half of the dough to a thickness of about 1/2 inch (it should make about a 12″ x 18″ rectangle).
  • Spread with 1-2 sticks of softened butter
  • Sprinkle with about half of the cinnamon sugar mix; pat the mixture into the dough
  • Roll the dough tightly, then pinch tightly along the seam to keep it sealed
  • Slice into 1 1/2 inch thick rounds and place in a lightly greased pan
  • Repeat the roll out/butter/cinnamon sugar/slicing steps with the second half of the dough
  • Bake at 375 for 15-20 minutes, until lightly browned.
  • After baking, flip rolls upside down onto a cookie sheet covered in wax paper and scrape all of the extra cinnamon goo on top. Then, flip the cinnamon rolls with the wax paper right-side up onto a cooling rack.
  • Let rolls cool, then top with icing. (I usually can’t wait for them to cool before I eat about half the batch, but if you have the self-control to wait, kudos to you)
  • Eat, eat, eat!