Rocky Road Brownies

Friday night was a celebration of sorts. My friend, Lauren, celebrated a birthday during the week, and we all gathered at a Music in the Park in Millenium Park for a low key party.

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I knew the dessert I brought would have to be a chocolate one, since the birthday girl and many of the other attendees are big chocolate fans, so I tried to figure something out that was new and different. I ended up making rocky road brownies.

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I can’t eat enough ice cream in the summer, and if there was an easy way (like not having ot take a huge cooler on the el) to bring ice cream to the concert, I would have. Instead, I decided to try to replicate the flavor in brownie form. I was successful.

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Start with yoru favorite plain brownie recipe. I make my brownies with more a fudge consistency, as opposed to a cake-like taste. To my basic recipe, I added the following:

1/4 cup chopped peanuts

1 cup miniature marshmallows

3 squares of German baking chocolate, chopped

Just add those 3 extra ingredients to your batter, mix until combined, and bake the brownies at 350 in a 9×13 inch greased pan for about 28-30 minutes. That’s it.

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In a pinch, go ahead and use a brownie mix and doctor it up with the peanuts, chocolate, and marshmallows. This is a great recipe to make brownies from a box taste homemade.

 

Bird’s the Word

I went shopping with my mom the other day at Homegoods. I always take a walk down the clearance aisle to see what’s there, though honestly, my Homegoods purchases rarely come from that aisle with the red sale sign over it. Why? A friend and I have a running joke that everything in that part of the store is broken. Whether a candle lid is missing, a ceramic monkey is chipped, or a frame is cracked, it’s all the same. Clearance section = a bunch of stuff that most people would never buy.

I think this bird frame is the first item I found that was salvageable.

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Sure it has a huge mark down the middle of it and the cut outs appear to be weird colors that don’t really match, but there weren’t any chips or dents in the frame itself, so I thought I’d shell out the $5, take it home, and see if there was any way to fix it.

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I popped out the backing of the frame and was glad to see it wouldn’t be too difficult to change out the paper colors.

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I decided on a bold blue pattern for the bird and a dark brown with a slight brick pattern for the branches.

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With just some careful cutting and some spray mount, I turned this $5 investment into a fun piece.

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Oh, and that black mark was easily removed with a magic eraser.

I like that I can change out the paper choices again and again, without too much hassle (just more cutting and more spray mount). This looks like a pretty spring-y piece of wall art, but I’m thinking an update of shiny silver paper for the bird and some red on the branches would transform this into a great Christmas piece. We’ll see!

Spicy Salmon Supper

I went with alliteration today. I was feeling it.

I made this salmon dish for dinner on Monday night. I assumed I’d shared the recipe long ago because it’s been a staple in my house for a while, but no. I never let you guys in on this tasty (and easy) dish. I will now.

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I’ve adapted this recipe to my own tastes from this dish.

Basic Ingredients (will serve 2 people):
1 1/2 cups brown rice
1 pouch of frozen broccoli OR 2 chopped cups of spinach
1 tablespoon of soy sauce (I prefer low sodium)
1/4 cup habanero pepper jelly
dash of ginger (the kind from a jar, not the freshly grated kind)
dash of pepper
2 salmon filets

I start by cooking the rice, whether I’m using spinach or broccoli. For spinach, I cook the rice on the stove and for broccoli, I use my rice cooker. You could probably use the rice cooker for the spinach, but I like the way the rice tastes more if the spinach is wilted in the rice itself. In any case, start your rice.

Prepare the filets by sprinkling a little bit of pepper over each. Broil for about 4 minutes.

In the mean time, prepping the salmon sauce takes less than a minute. Simply combine the soy sauce, pepper jelly, and ginger. That’s all.

Take the salmon out of the stove, pour the sauce over each filet, and return the fish to broil another 4 minutes or so. Check often to make sure it doesn’t burn. It happens quickly. Watch out.

If you’re using broccoli, steam the broccoli until it’s still a crispy consistency, but cooked. Add the broccoli to a plate over rice and top with the salmon.

If you’re using spinach, add it to the rice when it still has a few minutes left to cook. You can add salt or pepper if you want. Serve the salmon directly atop the rice.

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This is one of those recipe I pull out whenever I’m not sure what to make. We always have salmon around, and it just depends on whether I have spinach or broccoli around in deciding which to make. The total time for this meal is just how long it takes the rice to cook.

One final note on the pepper jelly, I’ve noticed that the consistency of my sauce depends on the type of jelly I have. The store bought pepper jelly makes for a thicker sauce that stays put on the salmon. Farmer’s Market jelly lacks many preservatives and is fresher, so the sauce is more liquidy and will more easily slide off of the salmon. Both kinds of jelly work, I jsut wanted to give you a heads up on what will happen if you change the kind of jelly you’re using.

It takes a lot for me to willingly eat fish, so I think it speaks very highly of this recipe that it’s one of my go-to dishes.

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Try it for a healthy meal.

Halfway through Summer – A Check List Check In

Wow. More than half of summer just snuck by me. It’s late July now, which means there’s only about 6 weeks left until the unofficial close of summer: Labor Day.

I thought now is as good a time as any to check in and see where I am on my Summer Fun Check List. Here’s how it’s looking these days:

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And here’s a closer look at some of my latest summer shenanigans.

Beach Volleyball

I decided that while beach volleyball was a lofty goal, it wasn’t one I was likely to reach. A group we know that plays beach volleyball on Sunday mornings at North Ave beach meets much too early for me to get out of bed. Plus, why exploit the fact that I couldn’t set someone up for a spike if my life depended on it? No, the intent was more for me to enjoy the opportunity to lay on a beach while my can’t-sit-still husband had an activity to do. Well, we discovered an alternative: the dog beach.

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I sit away from all the action and read a book while Dan plays with Phoebe and watches her run around with the other dogs. We’ve been to the beach a few times already, and plan to head there more before summer’s end. We can check this one off our list.

Boat Ride

This one was completed several times over.

A couple weeks back, we enjoyed a booze cruise in the river with some of our closest friends. Here I am, chatting away.

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The view wasn’t too bad at all.

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Additionally, Dan and I went on a mini vacation last week to Lake Geneva. There, we passed our time lounging on my dad’s pontoon boat in the middle of the lake.

I’m so glad we went. Dan and I both have had crazy schedules lately and it was so nice to just relax, unwind, have nowhere to be, and, believe it or not, unplug from the world.

Canoe

Substitute “kayak” and we can check this activity off of our list.

Kayak

As part of our anniversary celebration last month, Dan and I set up a 2 hour kayak tour with Northwest Passage. We were supposed to go on Lake Michigan, but a riptide warning got in our way, so we found ourselves setting adrift in the Skokie Lagoons. I really enjoyed it, and could easily see myself spending more time on the lagoons.

Mini Golf

We mini golfed on our little getaway at Paradise Golf Park in Lake Geneva. I got a hole in one, baby!

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Farmers Market

We went to the Farmers Market near our place the first day it opened up for the season. We got some yummy homemade hot habenero jelly and some of my favorite cheese – apricot brie.

I’d say I’m most of the way to completing my list. Hope you’re having fun with all of your summer to-dos.

Waffle Iron Hash Browns

I thought I would share this quick recipe for has browns today, so you can try it out over the weekend. In our house, weekends are for yummy breakfasts that don’t include cereal or oatmeal. Omelets, waffles, or french toast fit the bill.

Last weekend, we came home from the dog beach around 9:30 and we were starving. We wanted a filling breakfast, and fast.

We came up with a veggie scramble and waffle iron has browns.

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It was a hit.

I had heard that you could use your waffle iron for more than just waffles, but never tried it before. We had some potatoes we needed to use before they went bad, so with little to lose, I suggested we try hash browns.

I started by grating a whole potato. I squeezed the pieces in a paper towel, to get rid of excess moisture. I put the potato in a bowl, seasoned it with salt, pepper, and a tad of garlic powder, then stirred.

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Spray your waffle maker really well with non-stick cooking spray. Add in the potato mixture (1 potato filled the whole waffle iron) and let is cook for about 10-15 minutes, until crispy.

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These were a great substitution for fried hash browns, without all the extra oil and calories, but keeping the satisfying crispiness. Try it out with your favorite weekend breakfast items.

Colored Keys

My key ring consists of about 10 keys, all of which look really similar. In the dark, and sometimes even in the light, it’s hard to tell them apart. So trying to find the right key to open the door while it’s steaming hot outside, is dark out, and I’m carrying 5 bags of groceries isn’t the easiest task in the world. I needed a better system than just trying all the keys until one worked.

I painted my keys. Using nail polish.

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Yep.

It actually worked surprisingly well.

Before you ask, I did get the idea from pinterest. You find the greatest tips there.

Not sure how nice the keys will look if they start chipping, but a few days in, they still look pretty good, which is more than I can say for the manicure I gave myself the same day.

Cake Batter Blondies

Over the weekend, I needed to make a quick, easy to make, non-messy, finger food dessert. I settled on cake batter blondies.

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I followed this recipe and the results were great.

One thing that really surprised me was just how thick the batter was. It took a while to get all of the batter in the baking pan.

I changed up the recipe a little bit in that instead of rainbow sprinkles, I used sprinkle dots. I liked the pastel colors against the blondie.

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To offer some variety, I also made some brownies. Just plain old straight from a mix brownies doctored up with some baking chocolate. Oh, and of course, I added the sprinkle dots to make them match the blondies.

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I highly recommend these tasty treats.

4 Ingredient Peanut Butter Cookies

I went to another Movie in the Park showing last night. Last time, we saw Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. This time, it was the Wizard of Oz.

Again, I brought cookies. This time, it was peanut butter stamp cookies.

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I stole the recipe from here. I was perusing the magazine when I saw this only took 4 ingredients, and I was sold on making them.

You will need:

1 cup of peanut butter

3/4 cup brown sugar

1 egg

3/4 teaspoon of baking soda

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That’s it. I swear.

Here are the oh so hard directions: Mix everything together until it’s well combined (the dough was much more crumbly than I expected). Spoon onto a baking sheet by the teaspoon. Bake for 8-10 minutes.

Because they were so easy to make, I thought I’d make them a little fancier by stamping them on the top.

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Any ideas on what I used?

A meat tenderizer. Got that fun tip off of pinterest. They cookies didn’t come out so obviously stamped when they were done, but they still held some of the pattern.

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The verdict: Delicious.

I would definitely make these again, now that I know they are a great base cookie. In the future, I’ll add to the recipe and see what works. I always love to stumble across a basic recipe that you can customize for yourself. These would be good with some nuts, perhaps some raisins/craisins, and of course, some chocolate chips.

Oatmeal To Go

On weekdays, I eat breakfast early. Like so early that I never thought I’d willingly be up so early. Like 6am early. You can laugh now.

But one thing that is true is that eating early throws off my whole day. I’m starving by 10:30am on most days. I found the cure for my eating troubles: the oatmeal to go jar. I bring it and eat it at work.

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And yes, this is a photo from work, using my phone.

I know, I know. I could bring bagels, cereal, hard boiled eggs, etc. to eat at the office. For some reason, I found it difficult to pack those items up and bring them with me in the mornings. Not so with the oatmeal jar.

I came up with my own recipe based on this one from skinnytaste.

1/4 cup old fashioned oats
3/4 cup of skim milk
1/4 of a banana
1/2 cup of blueberries
handful of craisins
pinch of cinnamon
1 packet Sweet ‘N Low

Dump the oats, milk, banana, blueberries, craisins, and cinnamon in a mason jar. Refrigerate overnight.

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Before eating, add in the Sweet ‘N Low.

I like this as a cold oatmeal, but you can always let is sit out if you prefer it warmer.

I haven’t tried it yet, but I think you can substitute in any fruit you have on hand for the blueberries and banana. I have some strawberries in the fridge I’ll go ahead and add in next time to mix it up.

You can adjust how much milk you want in your oatmeal. I upped the amount from the original recipe because there were bananas that remained outside the 1/2 cup of milk I poured in. I wanted to make sure the banana was fully in the milk, so it wouldn’t get gross overnight. Plus, I like a lot of milk in my cereal, so I really liked the extra liquid in my oatmeal. Adjust accordingly.

Jalapeno Watermelon Gazpacho

I needed a quick side to go with grilled steaks and corn over the weekend. We had a whole ripe watermelon just sitting on our counter, but I wanted something a little more than sliced fruit. I ended up making jalapeno watermelon gazpacho.

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Calling this dish “quick” still gives me too much credit. The part that took the longest was the cutting of the watermelon.

Here’s what you need:

1 personal size watermelon of 1/4 of a large watermelon, sliced (all totaled, about 6 cups)
course salt
1/2 of one lemon
1 jalapeno

Start by cutting the watermelon, and put it to the side.

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Next, slice the jalapeno. I took all the seeds out, and cut the pepper into pretty small pieces.

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Get your blender out and puree about half of the watermelon.

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Add a few shakes of salt, the juice from 1/2 a lemon, and the rest of the watermelon. Puree the mixture again, but be sure to leave some chunks (so it’s not a perfectly smooth consistency).

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Take the pitcher off the blender, put it in the fridge for an hour or more, and enjoy. The key is getting the gazpacho really cold.

This totally hit the spot on a super hot day.

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