Monday, August 31, 2009

-- A Cookie a Day... --

One of the best parts about baking is getting to share sweet treats with friends/family. Cookies are the easiest to package and carry around. Here is an example of how I packaged some of the cookies I baked in the previous post. A little 'home-made' seal, some ribbon and a cellophane bag used to package lollipops does the trick! You can also add a card on the side. Since I have the world's worst handwriting, I found some great stamps with little messages you can quickly stamp on. Easy and inexpensive; a thoughtful & tasty gift everyone loves.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

-- Raining Goodness --

It has been raining all day, so the though of warm cookies fresh out of the oven sounds fantastic. There is something overwhelmingly comforting about it.

I decided to mix up a batch for a friend who recently moved into a new place; oddly enough some of them ended up finding their way into my cookie jar too. Originally,the plan was to make sugar cookies but I decided to come up with something completely different...Chocolate Dipped Coconut Cookies. I'm pretty happy with the result! This newly created recipe is a keeper.

2 2/3 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 package coconut instant pudding
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla
3 tablespoons milk
1 egg
1/2 cup tempered chocolate chips

Heat oven to 380 degrees. Mix the butter and sugar until creamy in a large bowl. Add vanilla and the egg until combined. In a separate bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, pudding powder, and salt. Slowly blend in the dry ingredients to the butter mix. Add milk, one spoon at a time.
Drop the dough in rounded spoon fulls. Bake for approximately 8 minutes or until edges are golden. Cool.

To decorate, dip half a cookie in the melted chocolate and sprinkle with flaked coconut. Cool on parchment paper.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

-- Project Bathroom --

I received lots of positive feedback on the before and after shots, so here is another bathroom makeover. You can make big changes to a bathroom by simply adding a new mirror, lighting, repainting and or fixing the existing cabinets. In this case, there were cheap round mirrors glued to the wall (thats right, glued!!) and odd looking wall sconces over the sinks. No paint and bad cabinet hardware. Here are the before and after pictures.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

-- The Fixer Upper, Patio --

Clearly, I love entertaining so with warmer weather came the task of fixing up the patio so the fun could be moved outside. I needed a large grill and enough space to seat 6 as well as a large grill. Some online research helped me find the perfect patio set; mostly because I got a deal on it due to the less than desired cushions it came with (I wonder why no one wanted to buy a set with VERY bright, neon green cushions!?). I picked a new striped fabric to cover the existing cushions and then added small red cushions for the back to make the chairs really comfortable.

Friday, August 21, 2009

-- Tequila & Shrimp, Together in One Dish --

There is a fantastic fish market in the meat packing district here in Chicago. Many of the small local restaurants purchase fresh seafood there. You don't get a fancy storefront or
packaging but the quality is simply amazing. I purchased a couple of pounds of shrimp for the Paella I made on the previous post and ended up having some leftovers so I decided to create something on the lighter side that still packed lots of flavor. I had seen a recipe on the Food Network at one point that included tequila and shrimp so having both ingredients on hand I decided to come up with my own twist for a salad.

What you Need:
8-10 medium sized shrimp
6 grape tomatoes, halved
1/3 of a large onion, finely chopped
1 shot of tequila
1 garlic clove
1/2 lime
Chili powder (optional)
Salt and Pepper to taste

In a medium saucepan, heat a tablespoon of olive oil on medium-high. Cook the onions until translucent. Add the garlic and shrimp. Cook for 4-5 minutes or until the shrimp turns pink. Add the tequila, tomatoes, chili powder, salt and pepper. Serve over a bed of mixed field greens that has been lightly tossed with olive oil and red wine vinegar.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

-- Flowers with a Drinking Problem --

Flowers can do two things, add beauty to a dull space and an amazing natural fragrance. After all, they are the largest source of aromatics when it comes to perfume making. Unfortunately, they are not cheap so it is hard to have fresh cut flowers at home all the time. I find most people purchase flowers to a. give to someone or b. when they are having guests over. If your flowers don't come with one of those food packages, just add a shot of vodka to the water. If you don't have vodka, try 7up. It will help keep the water clean and your flowers looking beautiful longer.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

-- Bad Bananas, Oh SO Good! --

Everyone comes across this problem, you buy a bunch of bananas and before you know it half of them are speckled and a little too ripe. Instead of tossing them, try making some tasty banana muffins. My recipe follows.

2 1/4 cups of flour
1 cup of granulated sugar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon of salt
4 mashed ripe bananas
3/4 cup milk
1/3 cup oil*
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 eggs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line muffin pans with paper cups. Set aside.
In a large bowl mix the first 6 ingredient (dry). In a separate bowl, combine the bananas, milk, oil, eggs and vanilla. Add the dry mix one cup at a time to the banana mix until blended. Using an ice cream scoop, add batter to the prepared muffin pan. Fill about 2/3 of the way. Bake for 18-22 minutes or until toothpick inserted comes out clean.

*can be substituted for applesauce to make a low-fat version of this recipe

Monday, August 10, 2009

-- Not Your Typical Salsa --

Chips and salsa are one of the most popular snacks/appetizers. Its a definite crowd pleaser! Instead of the usual tomato salsa, try a corn and black bean variety. I made this over the weekend . It is so easy to make and I LOVE that you can easily put it in a tupperware and take it with you on a picnic or bring along next time you're in charge of bringing an appetizer or dip for a party.

Smoked Black Bean and Corn Salsa

1 can of black beans
1 can of corn
1 can of diced tomatoes
1/2 green pepper, diced
1/2 sweet spanish onion, diced
1 tablespoon smoked chipotle tabasco (adjust quantity depending on heat level you prefer)
1/4 teaspoon of chili powder
1/8 cup italian dressing

Mix all the ingredients in a large bowl. Allow for it to sit in the fridge for at least 4 hrs to get the best flavor. Serve with tortilla chips.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

--Empanadas! A Taste of South America--

One of my favorite things in the world are empanadas. Growing up in Colombia, I ate these all the time. There are different varieties across each region; all fairly unique but in essence you are talking about some sort of meat/potato/vegetable filling wrapped in a pressed corn dough that's rolled into a flat disk and then fried.

Here is my version of an empanada (I had to make some adjustments based on what is available at local stores).

These are great as an appetizer.

1 package of Goya brand white corn disks (found in the ethnic frozen food section)
1 pound of ground beef
2 potatoes, boiled and diced
1 spanish onion
2 large tomatoes, diced
1 garlic clove
1/4 teaspoon cumin
bay leaves
2 tablespoons canola oil
1/2 package of chorizo

In a large saucepan, add onions and garlic until slightly browned. Add chorizo, ground beef, cumin and bay leaves; mix with the onion blend until the meat is mostly cooked through. Add tomatoes. Cover and cook on low heat for 15 minutes. Add cooked and diced potatoes after 10 minutes and let sit . Allow the ground beef mix to cool before making empanadas.

Lay the Goya disks on a floured surface. Put filling in the middle and join the edges. Press with a fork to seal the empanadas.

Fry them in a large pan until the edges are slightly browned. Serve with lemon wedges and garnish with cilantro.

For a healthier option, you can bake the empanadas in a 375 degree oven for 8-10 minutes.

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