Happy Easter!

I didn't get to do much cooking over Christmas, so I wanted to make sure and show/tell you what I cooked/ate over Easter weekend. I started out with the assignment to make a "lemony cake" for the Easter potluck I was going to at church. After making lemon curd a couple of weeks back, I was grateful to stumble across thisrecipe, thanks to recipegirl.

I used my lemon curd, made the cake from scratch, and even whipped the cream myself! It was fun and the cake turned out SO well. I was a little nervous about it sitting in my car during church with the whipped cream on top, but it served up really well, although the texture got a bit weird, which I think you can kind of see in the photos.

Here it is sliced up.

Once it was sliced into, you could see the layers..... yum!

As you can tell, the whipped cream looked much better when it was still fresh from the fridge at my house.

Sink or swim? Swim! It was great that I already had homemade lemon curd (what are the odds?) for me to start from. It was super satisfying and creamy and lemony at the same time, and it got tons of complements. Way to go recipegirl!


Lemon Curd

I'm adverse to the word "curd." It brings to mind expired milk. Upon researching, wikipedia did not give any peek into the derivation of the word curd in the sense of fruit curd.

If you are put off by the word curd, just look at this picture.


If you've never had lemon curd, it tastes similar to the center of a lemon bar, or the filling of a lemon pie. It's cream, thick, and super lemony. I found a recipe in Rachel Ray magazine last fall, and only recently pulled it out to make. As I'm on spring break, I've had lots of extra time to do some cooking, so I thought it would be fun to do some seasonal cooking since my favorite season is upon us. What says spring more than crisp, fresh lemon?

Fruit curd is essentially egg yolk, sugar, butter, and fruit juice/zest. Ummm....yes to all of those things, please.

Essentially you take a saucepan, mix together sugar, egg yolk (and some whites), butter, and a ton of juice and zest. My recipe called for 1 cup (about 6 lemons' worth) of juice and 1/4 c (about 3 lemons' worth) of zest.

Here's the middle of the juicing process.

Lots of juicing.

And lots of zesting.

My first try ended up a little soupy, but the flavor was amazing! Here's some more photos-

Lemon Curd is great on cookies, stirred into yogurt, on ice cream, possibilities are endless. Think of it like caramel, except it tastes spring-y.

Sink or swim? Sink on the consistency, swim on the flavor. Happy spring, cats and kittens!



Yogurt is one of my favorite foods- great source of calcium and protein, lots of good healthy bacteria for healthy digestion, and a much better fuel for starting your day than a lot of other breakfast foods (i.e. cereal, bagels, etc).

When I was visiting my parents last weekend, I remembered that my mom used to make yogurt for us as kids. That was back when I thought plain yogurt was gross- too tart and flavorless. Oh, 10 year old Amy..... how little you knew. I ADORE plain yogurt now. You can add jam, fruit, granola, honey, etc, and you get to control the ingredient list, thereby controlling the sugar content. Plus you get that nice tart flavor that I hated as a 10 year old, but can't get enough of now.

So when I remembered that my mom at one time owned a yogurt maker, I asked her if she still had it. After a little digging, she pulled it out, complete with owners manual! Hooray!

I was SO excited to start whipping up a batch. After getting all my ingredients, I started my first batch. The instruction manual had this recipe:

4 c milk
2 T powdered milk
1/4 plain yogurt (which acts as the bacterial starter)

I bought some greek yogurt and 1% milk for the first batch. I didn't want to bother with the powdered milk because it's kinda weird to me, and I figure it's just a thickening agent.

The instructions tell you to heat the milk to 110 degrees and then cool it before adding the yogurt. I turned the milk on in a pan and then started washing some dishes. Oops! When I came back it was definitely too hot. I took it off the burner to cool and then finished my dishes. Sarah and Deb came over just then, and as I added my yogurt starter and began stirring, Sarah observed that is smelled like burned milk in my house. I looked at the bottom of the pot and, double oops, I had actually burned the milk. The bottom of the pot was nicely charred.

Yogurt attempt #1: SINK.

So that batch went down the drain. There goes a quart of milk and most of my yogurt starter. Determined, I scoured the pot and started from square one. I poured more milk in (only used 2 cups since I only had enough yogurt left for a half batch) and began heating it, determined to keep an eye on it this time. Started talking to Deb and Sarah. The milk got pretty warm, but not burned, and I let it cool, then added the rest of my yogurt, stirred, poured it into the pre-warmed yogurt maker, and let it do its thing.

The instructions in the owner's manual said to leave it in for 4-10 hours, depending on desired tartness. SIX HOURS!? That's a HUGE time variation. I was glad Sarah was there. I explained the time variation to her and said "how am I supposed to know how tart I want it!? I just want it normal tartness. Like, as tart as yogurt normally is!" She talked me off a cliff and suggested I try 6 hours, which is a good middle ground. This meant that I had to get up at 1:30 to turn it off. So I sent my alarm, stumbled out of bed later that night, unplugged the yogurt maker, and threw it in the fridge. I woke up the next morning, excited to eat my yogurt for breakfast, and saw that I had this:

Yogurt attempt #2: SINK (I know it's hard to tell, but this is a bowl of MILK!)

I have no idea what happened. Sarah suggested that milk may have still been too hot, which killed the bacteria. Well....that went down the drain too. By now I was pretty disappointed, still determined, and out of ingredients. A couple nights later, I swung by the store to pick up fresh ingredents and start attempt number 3. This time I got 2% milk (maybe it would help with thickness?) and regular organic yogurt instead of greek.

I heated the milk this time, trying to feel the temperature with my finger as I went. I was determined not to over-heat the milk. (I really need to buy a cooking thermometer.) I knew from my coffee shop days that milk in a latte shouldn't be heated past 160 or 180 (I can't remember which), so I knew that in order to get to 110 it had to be significantly cooler than a cup of Starbucks. I tried to think baby-bottle warm. The milk has to be warm enough to FEED the bacteria, not scald it. Think night-time, sleep-inducing warm milk.

Once the milk felt right(ish), I added my yogurt starter. This time I tried a ratio my friend Sarah Mones (who makes yogurt for her baby Eli!) suggested via facebook: 3 c milk/ 2 T yogurt. I used probably closer to 3 T, because I was afraid I wouldn't get enough bacteria in there to start with. Put it in the yogurt maker for 8 hours this time, and woke up the next morning to PERFECT YOGURT! (Which I unfortunately, in my excitement, forgot to take a picture of.)

Attempt #3: SWIM!

It was SO yummy. Seriously. I didn't need to add ANYTHING to it. I could have sat down with a spoon and eaten the entire thing right then. Unfortunately it was still hot, so I couldn't have any for breakfast, but the next day I had some for breakfast, and I couldn't get enough.

I'm going to keep experimenting with it to try to make it even thicker (like greek yogurt), but the good thing is now that I have my own starter, all I really need is milk. How cheap is that??? I can make it every weekend and have my week's worth of breakfast for the cost of a half gallon of milk. Woo hoo!

I made some blueberry compote to go with (you know how much I <3>
Here's some photos of my end product. Hopefully I can keep you updated as the process continues. I'm excited to have my homemade yogurt for breakfasts.

I really thought it was SO much better than store-bought yogurt. I asked Deb to sample it and tell me if it really was better than the store brand or if it just tasted that way to me because I made it. She said it tasted the same as store-bought to her. So take that for what you will. At least it wasn't WORSE than store brand. And if you do choose to make your own yogurt, you too might think it tastes better because you made it with your own blood, sweat, and tears. =)


Granola Breakfast!

My friend Kristin and I made granola while I was recovering over the Christmas break. The granola was definitely a sink- we had to do some major doctoring to it just to make it passable. So I've been trying to find different ways to use up this granola. And I've actually been able to come up with a couple of good ones.

Last week I made granola-crusted french toast. My favorite brunch place serves a granola-crusted french toast, so I thought I'd give it a shot myself.

It turned out alright for a first attempt. The granola didn't stick to the bread too well, and the dark chocolate that was in the granola burned in the pan onto the french toast. But the toast itself was good (I used some Great Harvest Dakota bread) and the strawberries on top were a nice addition.

Over the weekend I decided to make some pancakes using a mix one of my students made me as a Christmas present. The mix was really good- it was made with wheat flour, and she even included a recipe and instructions. So cute! I decided it might be good to have some crunch in with the pancakes, so I pulled out the granola again.

This worked much better. It was like crunchy chocolate chip pancakes. yum! The crunch stayed and the chocolate melted, and the spices and flavor in the granola came out from being heated up.

Sink Or Swim? Granola outside, sink. Granola inside, swim.


Working Backwards

Well, it's been....a bit.

I've been cooking and photoing, but I haven't been faithfully blogging. (I did warn you this could happen.)

I cooked ALOT over Thanksgiving (in fact, too much). And because I had to have surgery right after Christmas, I didn't get to do very much fun cooking over the Christmas break either.

But onward and upward! I have the photos, I have the memory of the food, and so I am going to ATTEMPT to resume blogging-BACKWARD!

We'll start with dinner tonight-

Say it with me now.....YUM!

This is one of my old standbys. I do a variation of this from time to time when I have one of those nights that I don't feel like cooking anything. Great comfort food.

Sarah made something similar a few years ago and called it a Pepperad Sauce. Google isn't returning any useful results about what makes up a traditional Pepperad, but here's what I made tonight.

I started with olive oil, garlic, and anchovy paste in the pan. Chopped up a red bell pepper and let it sweat. Usually I do some onions too, but I was out of onions today.

When the red peppers were well on their way, I quartered some mushrooms and threw those in. Once they were most of the way done, I put in some kalamata olives (yum!) and some spinach. Normally I like to use basil, but I didn't have any tonight, and the spinach was great in there. The spinach needs an extra eye- it just needs to be in there long enough to heat through- if you leave it in too long it wilts too far and ends up being cooked spinach. blech.

I put it in with whole wheat pasta. Normally I like to put in some ricotta cheese, but I had none. (Okay, I'm starting to notice a pattern here....) So I put in a little bit of cream cheese. Same effect....a bit of creaminess in with the pasta and veggies!

The broken down sweet red peppers and the tart olives and all of it combined is awesome. This is why it's a go-to. I usually have the stuff laying around the house. And as you can tell, if you don't have everything, you can swap it out with other stuff.

Sink or swim- always a swim, and hard to mess up!


Fall Flavors

I haven't been cooking anything ultra exciting and grandiose lately, but I thought it might be fun to post some of the more day to day things I've been eating lately. I'm probably somewhat inspired by my new favorite blog.

My friend Kelly told me once that she loved how I "eat by the seasons," which is one of the greatest compliments I've ever received. Weird, I know. I LOVE eating seasonally- probably because by the time that specific season come around, it's been a year since I've had a good fruit salad, pumpkin bread, fresh popsicle, hot chocolate, etc. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, perhaps?

So, in lieu of a new, fun, exciting recipe, I'm going to post a couple of fall flavor favorites, to spice up your day to day life.

1.Pumpkin Pie Spice + Coffee- I do my coffee a la french press, but no matter how you brew it, it's great with a heavy-handed dash of pumpkin pie spice. You can make a pseudo-latte by putting 1/3 of a coffee cup full of milk or half and half, plus your sweetener of choice, and then heating it up. Then put a small whisk in the cup and briskly roll it back and forth between your palms until the milk doubles in size. Then add your coffee and top it with pumpkin pie spice.

2. Apple Butter + Cream Of Wheat- Since I'm a low-carb baby, I do a smaller portion of cream of wheat ( 2 T of cream of wheat and 2/3 c of water). After you microwave it, stir in a big spoonful of apple butter. I ADORE apple butter. It makes the beautiful swirl of dark and white and makes a great warm breakfast (or sometimes dinner) when you crave comfort food. (The picture has crushed walnuts on top for protein.)

3. The last one is still in the idea stage- I've been wanting to make some homemade cinnamon rolls with lots of fall spices instead of just cinnamon. My friend Brian has a great bread recipe, so when I have time soon I'm going to give that a whirl- it will probably end
up here when I do make that, so keep an eye open for that.

I've got lots of ideas spinning around in my head, so as the fall months progress, I'll be making more of my fall favorites- cranberry nut bread, pumpkin dip, mulled cider, the list goes on and on!

sink or swim?- can I say neither and both?


Cayenne Caramel Corn

Over the last week I've been anticipating fall in a big way. I've been drinking pumpkin-spice lattes, listening to Sarah McLachan's Christmas album, and counting down the days until fall starts. It's been rainy and I can pretend like the weather is cold(er). I LOVE fall cooking. The flavors and spices are unique, comforting, and make me so happy!

Last weekend Sarah and I whipped up a batch of honey-butter popcorn after a long, rainy day at the Dallas Zoo. This started me on a week-long popcorn binge. Caramel popcorn ensued at 6:00 Tuesday morning to take to bible study after work. Then I had some people over for an impromptu viewing of the premiere of The Office and realized 10 minutes before they showed up that I should probably provide a snack. So I whipped up some more caramel corn. This time I had a moment of pure inspiration. I promise, it was like my hand just reached into the cabinet, and when it came out it was holding-

Cayenne pepper.

The result of this recipe was a sweet, slightly spicy, fallish delight, thanks to the cayenne and a host of other fall spices. If you think making caramel popcorn is very very difficult or are incredibly impressed by homemade caramel corn, be prepared to add it to your list of foods to try. I promise you, it's really simple.

For the popcorn:
1/2 c unpopped popcorn kernels
2-3 T vegetable oil

For the caramel:
1/2 c butter (1 stick)
1 c brown sugar
1/2 t cayenne pepper
1/4 t nutmeg
1 t cinnamon
1/2 t baking soda
1 t salt

Begin by heating the oil in a large pot. Add 1 kernel of popcorn and when it pops, add all of the kernels. Put the lid on and shake the pot vigorously until all of the popcorn is popped. Remove the popcorn immediately into a 13x9 cake pan, or a cookie sheet with a big lip on it.

The caramel is really easy. Melt the butter in a small pot and add the brown sugar over medium/low heat. Whisk them together until they are well mixed and then allow it to heat for about 5 minutes without stirring. It will get puffy and bubbly. After it gets nice and puffy, give it a stir and add in the cayenne, nutmeg, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt. (The baking soda is what gives it that creamy-ness.) Mix it all together well and pull it from the heat.

Drizzle the caramel over the popcorn and stir it all up so that all of the kernels of popcorn are well coated. Put it into a 300 degree oven for about 10 minutes. This allows it to get crispy on the outside, rather than just be a soft coating. Take it out after about ten minutes and spread it out into one layer on a counter on some wax or parchment paper. Let it cool and harden the rest of the way.

The balance of sweet caramel and cayenne is just enough to be sweet at first and the hit you with that slight tingle of cayenne at the end. Fall officially starts on Tuesday, so start looking for many more fall recipes!

Sink or swim? Swim, but with room for improvement as I perfect this recipe.