What We Ate: Strawberry & Toasted Pecan Salad (with Blush Wine Vinaigrette)

Last night I tried my hand at salad-making and put together a Strawberry & Toasted Pecan Salad. This is not so much because I am a fancy Master of Salads but is much more related to the fact that unless a salad is disguised as Not a Salad, I view it with deep suspicion and mild loathing.

Salad is disgusting.

I want to like salads, and many a depressed head of lettuce has rotted it’s days away in solitary confinement in my veggie drawer, but I’ve come to terms with the fact that if I want to eat more salad, I’m going to have to tempt/lure/trick myself. Look, a strawberry! Pay no attention to the green stuff. This salad looked and tasted pretty delicious and is perfect for spring, so I thought I’d share the recipe. I wrote it to serve two, but it can be easily doubled or tripled or… you get the idea.

What We Ate: Strawberry & Toasted Pecan Salad

Strawberry & Toasted Pecan Salad

Serves 2

Ingredients:

  • A sufficient amount of greens. I used half a head of Romaine and some young Black-Seeded Simpson lettuce from my patio garden, but I think baby spinach would be a delicious substitution.
  • 8-10 strawberries
  • 1/3 cup pecan halves
  • Brianna’s Blush Wine Vinaigrette dressing

Method:

  1. Wash the lettuce and spin off excess moisture in a salad spinner, before tearing lettuce into bite-size pieces. (This is my least favorite part. I don’t know why I hate washing lettuce when it’s so easy, but I do). Toss it in your salad bowl.
  2. Pour the pecans into a skillet over medium heat and toast, tossing occasionally, until you just begin to smell a nutty aroma and they seem… well… toasty (about 5-7 minutes). Give them a quick rough chop or throw them in as is.
  3. Wash, hull, and slice your strawberries over the salad.
  4. Drizzle as much dressing over the top as you desire (I like to have a little salad with my dressing).

Strawberry & Toasted Pecan Salad

As you can see, it’s so easy and simple it hardly calls for a recipe, and I’m sure you can think of plenty of ways to make it your own. I’ve tried this salad with candied pecans (for a quick and very easy tutorial, click here), but personally, I prefer the pecans just toasted, since the strawberries and dressing already add a bit of sweetness. If you have some feta cheese on hand, especially if you choose to make this salad with spinach, I’m sure that would add some delicious saltiness.

The dressing really makes the salad. I’m sure you could substitute a balsamic vinaigrette and it would be delicious with the strawberries, but really recommend the blush wine vinaigrette. It’s amazing.

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Do you all have any favorite salad recipes (in particular, ones that make you forget you’re eating a salad)? ;) I could really use some more suggestions. I’m trying to be mature and responsible and make salads with dinner, but it’s hard to get excited about a bowl of leaves with a bit of tomato and carrot on top (how depressing!). Do you have any tricks for making salads more fun?

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What We Ate vs. Friday Favorites: Moist Chocolate Mug Cake with Strawberries

Happy Friday!

I thought I’d share another list of favorites to kick off the weekend, and one of the favorites happens to be a recipe, so I guess this post is a What We Ate and Friday Favorites mash-up… the best of both worlds! :)

Vader's Little Princess

Vader’s Little Princess

Beatrice received this book for Christmas from two of her wonderful aunts, and we pulled it out this past week in honor of May the 4th. Each page is a short comic or illustration imagining Darth Vader bringing up little Princess Leia (and tapping into his softer side). ;) Although I wish they’d put a little less emphasis on Leia as the “rebellious teen,” I get it… she IS a Rebel after all. There are a lot of funny Star Wars references and the illustrations range from cute to clever – it’s a fun little book. :)

White Collar

White Collar

I think my friend Anna first told me about this series several years ago, but I was probably too swept up in Psych or Merlin to investigate it further at the time. Last month, however, my sister-in-law Rebekah told us how much she was enjoying White Collar and suggested we might like it. We enjoy having a good show to follow together so we looked into it and were immediately hooked. The characters are likable and fun, the crime-solving is clever and interesting, the over-arching story is suitably mysterious, and because the crime is “white collar” every episode doesn’t start with a murder (unlike Monk or Psych). Will and I enjoy the sweet, supportive marriage between Agent Peter Burke and his wife Elizabeth, their almost parental relationship with smooth, charming ex-con Neal Caffrey, and of course the “Crazy Uncle” and conspiracy theorist extraordinaire, Mozzie. ;)

Will and I have a deal that we are only allowed to watch movies or shows on the weekend (unless by special dispensation ;D). I enjoy this rule because it helps us make sure we spend time just talking, reading, or playing board games together several nights each week, but it’s also fun having our little Friday Movie Night tradition, and we get really excited snuggling into the couch to find out what’s going to happen next and will Neal ever get his hands on that elusive music box?! ;) We’ve only just started Season 2 so I can’t speak for the entire show, but if you’re looking for a fun and interesting series to get started on, I would really recommend this one. Just be warned: it’s really hard to watch just one episode! ;D

Moist Chocolate Mug Cake with Strawberries (For Two)

Mug Cakes

While you’re all settled in for a weekend White Collar marathon, you’re probably going to need some snacks… and while baking is really fun, sometimes you just want a quick treat at 9pm without an hour of cook time and a sink full of dishes. I bring you… the mug cake. Now that Will and I have a microwave (that I actually remember to use 25% of the time!), I have been mastering the art of these magic little miracles. This recipe is our favorite so far, and makes enough for two mugs (because treats are better with a friend). You can easily halve it if you’d like though. :)

Moist Chocolate Mug Cake with Strawberries (For Two)

Moist Chocolate Mug Cake with Strawberries (For Two)
Adapted from Table For Two

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 4 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 4 tablespoons white sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons milk
  • 4 tablespoons vegetable oil (melted coconut oil works too)
  • 2 tablespoons peanut butter (or Nutella!)
  • 8-10 strawberries

Method:

  1. In a medium bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients.
  2. Whisk in the milk and oil until all ingredients are combined and the batter has no clumps (there may be a few tiny clumps of cocoa powder – that’s okay).
  3. Divide batter equally between two microwave-safe mugs. Be sure you use a fairly generously-sized mug so the cake has room to rise (it doesn’t have to be massive, but just make sure it’s not tiny).
  4. Drop a spoonful of peanut butter (or Nutella) into the center of each mug, and push it down a little into the batter so the surface is level. This will form the moist, gooey center of your cake. Mmm.
  5. Place a paper towel in the microwave and set one of the mugs on top (just in case you have a volcano situation… it didn’t occur in any of my tests, but if your mug is a bit too shallow, you never know).
  6. Microwave the mug cake for 60-80 seconds.
  7. Carefully remove mug from microwave and repeat with the second mug. Top each mug with 4-5 sliced strawberries. Dig in with a spoon. YUM.

These cakes may not be gourmet but they really are delicious, and just the right amount for one person. :) They’d probably be even more scrumptious with some fresh whipped cream on top, if you’re feeling extra decadent.

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What about you all – any weekend plans? Are you reading any good books? Are you a fan of White Collar, or is there a different series you are currently enjoying? Are you a believer in the magic of microwaved mug cakes, or do you consider them to be a baking abomination? I’d love to hear what favorites you guys are enjoying this weekend – please share in the comments! :)

Monday Inspiration: Seven Sweet & Savory Strawberry Recipes

Strawberry season has arrived! Will and I visited a u-pick farm on Saturday and took Beatrice picking for her first time. And by picking, I of course mean sitting in her stroller looking cute (and mildly anxious) while we picked, but you have to start somewhere. :)

Now we have several flats of strawberries and are eating them on EVERYTHING before I make the rest into jam. Since strawberries are plentiful this time of year and you may be staring at your own small mountain of berries, I thought I’d share a few recipes – some are old favorites and some I’d like to try for the first time. If you’d like to visit the original recipes, just click the titles. :)

nutella cake

Chocolate Strawberry Nutella Cake

This is a recipe I haven’t tried yet, but I’m predisposed to love anything that includes the words “chocolate,” “strawberry,” and “Nutella.” Not convinced? Go read the recipe on The Pioneer Woman’s blog. By the time I was halfway through the photos I wanted to drop everything and bake a cake. Go clear your schedule, tie on an apron, and check it out! (If you need help eating it, I am willing to offer my services).

Almond-Honey-Cake-with-Strawberry-Ripple-Cream.-16

Almond Honey Cake with Strawberry Ripple Cream

If “chocolate,” “strawberry,” and “Nutella” are my magic words, “almond,” “honey,” and “strawberry ripple cream” (okay so that’s not one word…) are my husband’s. He loves almond-flavored anything and would probably eat an entire jar of honey with a spoon if I didn’t guard it carefully. This cake is a work of art (don’t you love how she used the strawberry blossoms on top?), and if it tastes as good as it looks… YUM.

Also, a friend pointed out that this cake looks like it’s straight out of a Redwall feast. If you’ve read the books you know exactly what I’m talking about.

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Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

If you have rhubarb on hand, this is one of my favorite pies of all time. It looks beautiful, and the tartness of the rhubarb is perfect with the sweetness of the strawberries. I’ve made it the past two years and I will probably be making it again this year. I’ve even made it with just rhubarb, but it really is better with the strawberries. Mm, delicious. Will and I have been known to eat this for breakfast (surprise), but it’s also scrumptious as a Sunday afternoon dessert.

pork and strawberry

Pork with Strawberry Balsamic Sauce

In case you were feeling yourself gain 15 pounds and become diabetic while reading these recipes, here is something savory to give you a break. Strawberries, basil, and balsamic vinegar sound like they would be amazing with pork, don’t they? I would love to try this one.

Bonus Round: Here’s another recipe for pork, strawberries, and balsamic vinegar from Southern Living that looks pretty amazing.

strawberry pizza

Strawberry Basil Pizza

Here’s another savory strawberry idea. The recipe suggests baking it on naan if you want to switch things up. This looks like it would be an amazing lunch on a hot summer day. Or maybe just lunch in general. Or even a snack. I’ve been craving pizza all weekend and this recipe is really not helping. But it’s a recipe from Fitness Magazine so that makes it healthy, right?

jam

Strawberry Jam

I made strawberry jam for the first time 4 years ago, and I’ve been hooked ever since.  I generally either use the recipe that comes in the box of Ball brand No-sugar/Low-sugar pectin, which consistently made 5 half-pint (8 oz) jars per batch, or the Pioneer Woman’s recipe. Her recipe requires what seems like an unholy amount of sugar, but it tastes AMAZING and looks beautiful. Even when I use a different recipe I like to look at her step-by-step instructions which you can find here and here – they’re so helpful! I’ll probably be referring to them again when I make jam this week. :)

I also found a variation for Strawberry Balsamic Jam here – doesn’t that sound delicious? You just reduce the lemon juice to 1 tbsp and add 3 tbsp of balsamic vinegar. It’s supposed to enhance the strawberry flavor and give the jam “a robust taste.”

layer cake

Strawberry Layer Cake

I know, I know… enough cakes already! But this cake just looks so fresh and elegant. Can’t you imagine eating it at an outdoor brunch with tea? I can. Let’s just take a minute to all drink tea in airy sundresses while eating slices of strawberry layer cake in my fantasy world, okay?

Alright, back to reality. But who says that can’t be a reality? If you bake this cake, put on a pretty frock and pearls, and have a tea party picnic in the backyard… this dream can come true!

I think I had too many cups of coffee this morning. In case you were wondering.

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Of course my other favorite way to eat strawberries is plain, or with fresh whipped cream. :) What about you all? Which recipe do you think looks the best? I would LOVE to hear if you all have any favorite strawberry recipes, or recipes you are hoping to try soon. :)

What We Ate: Venison Chili & The Best Cornbread Ever

Happy Wednesday!

Today I’m sharing a new recipe and an old standby. :) I tried out the venison chili recipe just this week, but the cornbread recipe has been a favorite with Will and I since our marriage. Let’s start with the chili. I am always looking for new ways to cook venison since Will likes to hunt, but recipes for game are definitely not as plentiful as they are for the usual grocery store staples like beef and chicken. I scrounged up a recipe for venison chili, made a few alterations, and ended up with a meaty chili that was perfect for a chilly, damp spring day.

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Hearty Venison Chili
Recipe adapted from Food.com

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb ground venison
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 onions, diced
  • 5 red/yellow mini bell peppers, diced (1 normal-sized bell pepper of any color would work, but the red and yellow added some nice color to the chili)
  • 1 14-oz can Ro-tel diced tomatoes (any variety)
  • 1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 14-oz can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 14-oz can chili beans (black, red, or pinto beans would also work)
  • 1 cup chicken broth

Method:

  1. Heat olive oil in a dutch oven over medium high heat. Add onions and peppers and saute until the edges begin to brown. Add venison and cook until meat is browned, stirring often.
  2. Add tomatoes, seasonings, and chicken broth. Bring to a boil.
  3. Add beans and simmer for 1-2 hours. I left the lid off for the first hour to reduce the liquid a bit, and then put the lid on for the rest of the cook time.

This recipe can obviously be changed up quite a bit and is more of a guideline than actual rules. You could make this with ground beef instead of venison, you could add chopped jalapenos or crushed red pepper, top with green onions and cheese… the sky (or the size of your dutch oven) is the limit. In retrospect, I think this chili could definitely use another can of diced tomatoes and I would use black beans in place of the chili beans.

IMG_20150429_082940

Of course, you can’t eat chili without cornbread (well, you could, but why?!). This is a sweeter cornbread (which is more popular in the north) and not the more savory kind I grew up with in the south, but it’s just sweet and moist enough to make Will happy without being too soft or cakey – it still has that hearty, cornmeal crumb. This cornbread is the best of both worlds. Really… you have to try it. I ate a square of it for breakfast this morning with my coffee. It’s that delicious.

Best Ever Buttermilk Cornbread
Original Recipe Here

Yield: One 8″ pan (about 9 servings)

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
  • 2/3 cup white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Grease an 8-inch square pan with butter.
  2. Melt butter in a large saucepan. Remove from heat and whisk in the sugar. Quickly add the eggs and beat until well blended. Combine buttermilk with baking soda in a liquid measuring cup and whisk into the mixture in the pan. Whisk in cornmeal, flour, and salt until well blended and few lumps remain. Pour batter into the prepared pan.
  3. Bake in the oven for 30-40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Mmm, delicious. Have a slice. Or three. I won’t judge. ;)

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So what’s your take on cornbread – southern or northern style (or all of the above)? Also, if you have any good venison recipes, send them my way! :)

What We Ate: Banana Oatmeal Muffins

Oatmeal is a great breakfast food, but the other day I was wondering how I could get the nutritious power of oats into a more portable form. Will is often looking for a quick breakfast he can grab on the way to work, and I am always on the hunt for snacks. ;) As I looked for recipes, I also realized we had two very ripe bananas languishing on our counter. Naturally, I bring you the Banana Oatmeal Muffin.

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This muffin is kind of like banana bread in muffin form – very moist and it gets better with age. It tastes healthy in a good way (not “Mm, this tastes like sawdust and flaxseeds,” but more like “Mm, this tastes delicious yet wholesome”), and is surprisingly filling… I can actually eat one for breakfast and not be hungry for an hour or two (for me, that’s a long time). If you’re in the mood for a batch of on-the-go breakfast or wholesome but delicious snacks (or have a few overripe bananas), these might be just the ticket.

Banana Oatmeal Muffins
Adapted from allrecipes.com

Yield: One dozen muffins

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup of white sugar
  • 1/4 cup of brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil (coconut would work fine too)
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup mashed overripe banana (about 2 bananas)

Method:

  1.  Preheat oven to 400° F.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flours, oats, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. Add sugars and whisk until combined (you will have what looks kind of like a crumbly muesli topping).
  3. In a large mixing bowl (I used my Kitchen Aid with the whisk attachment), beat the egg lightly. Stir in the milk, oil, and vanilla. Add the mashed banana and combine thoroughly (If you’re still using the whisk attachment, you can get the mixture nice and smooth and beat out some of the banana lumps). Stir the flour mixture into the banana mixture until just combined (if you’re using a mixer, switch out the whisk for the paddle attachment, or go old school and just use a spoon).
  4. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper muffin cups, and divide the batter evenly among them. They might seem dangerously full, but it’s not a mistake.
  5. Bake the muffins in the oven for 18-20 minutes (or until a toothpick stuck in the center of a muffin comes out clean). Remove from oven and let rest in the tin for a minute or two before popping them out and placing them on a rack to finish cooling.

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There you have it. :) You can store the muffins in a large ziplock bag or container in the fridge for several days. As I mentioned before, the muffins actually get better with age – just like banana bread they become richer and more moist.

All bananas were personally sampled by Beatrice.
All bananas were personally sampled by Beatrice.

I’m sure this recipe could be adapted in any number of different ways – if you click to the original recipe you can find lots of variations and substitutions people have used in the comments section (applesauce instead of oil, less sugar, more spices, soaking the oats, adding nuts, etc.). I used old-fashioned oats because I like the firmer texture, but I’m sure quick oats would work just as well and probably cook down a bit more.

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Let me know if any of you discover a good variation so I can try it out next time. :) Do you have any favorite recipes for make-ahead, portable breakfast foods or snacks?