I decided to go for it.

Girl in the world…but mostly Illinois


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Caramelized Onion and Garlic Hummus

Growing up, my family didn’t eat a lot of meat. Occasionally burgers, pepperoni pizza, or chicken enchiladas made their way to the table but more often than not, meals happened to be vegetarian. As a result I’m not the kind of person who likes a big, meaty main course.

Living back at home I have noticed that I might not need a lot of meat but I do crave protein noticeably more than the rest of the house. Around noon you may find me tearing through the kitchen, searching for something substantial to make a snack into a meal. WHY IS THERE NO LUNCH MEAT IN THIS HOUSE. IF I HAVE ONE MORE BORING MORNINGSTAR CHIK’N NUGGET AND KALE WRAP I MAY LOSE IT.

Enter the chickpea. Canned chickpeas are a $1 wonder of versatility. Drained and rinsed, they are immediately ready to be poured over a salad or made into, my form of choice, a hummus. It brings excitement to a pile of raw veggies. It glues together leftovers from the night before. It makes a sandwich, a SANDWICH.

Just in case you don’t already know this; there are innumerable ways to flavor hummus. I have literally never measured out my ingredients because it’s so easy to freestyle with what you already have in the fridge and pantry. Every time I make a batch I use a different combination of spices, veggies, and flavored oils. One of my friends puts balsamic vinegar in his recipe and it tastes amazing. Shake it up and it never gets boring. I’m in in the middle of a caramelized onion phase, hence Caramelized Onion and Garlic Hummus.

Fixings

Caramelized Onion and Garlic Hummus
Butter and oil for caramelizing
1 small onion
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 15oz can of chickpeas, drained
A small handful of fresh basil
Juice from half a lemon
2 tablespoons tahini
1/8 teaspoon chili powder
About 1/2 cup of water
Salt and pepper to taste

Start by caramelizing a whole, small onion. Towards the end of the caramelization, throw the minced garlic into the pan as well.

In a food processor, combine the onions, chickpeas, basil, lemon juice, tahini, chili powder, and 1/4 cup water. Start blending, adding more water as needed. Give the hummus a taste before adding salt and pepper.

Hummus

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Basic Focaccia Bread

The weather finally cooled down this week. You know what that means? FALL! It also means NOT HAVING TO WAIT TO USE THE OVEN UNTIL AFTER 8PM! Thank goodness. Welcome back, the most wonderful of Seasons. I will celebrate your return with a slew of baked goods.

I find baking extremely satisfying. And there’s something about baking bread that really makes me feel like I’m taking care of business. Like, really providing. Reflecting on why I feel this way, I think it might have something to do with years of church-going. I also really enjoy wine as well as sharing a meal with others. Apparently Communion left a mark on my young, impressionable eating habits.

If a grainy wheat bread was representative of a well balanced meal, focaccia bread would be splurge-worthy take out. The melt in your mouth consistency of focaccia comes from the addition of quite a bit of olive oil. So much so, that if it were known by any other name I don’t see how it could not be called Olive Oil Bread. Different bakeries have their own take on focaccia (some recipes are more oily or salty than others) but this here is a basic recipe that’s perfect for adapting to your own preferences.

Foccacia

It seems like people shy away from making bread because they don’t know how to eyeball whether a dough needs more flour or not. For this recipe, if you’re using a stand mixer the dough should pull away from the sides of the bowl. It should feel a little rubbery at first touch but get sticky of it’s held for too long.

Dough

Little bread dimples are a focaccia trademark. Yes, they’re cute but functionally they provide pooling nooks to evenly incorporate excess olive oil.

Once the dough is effectively drenched, you add your toppings. This loaf was topped with flaky sea salt (Maldon), freshly cracked pepper, and rosemary from the garden. Simple and delicious. Other topping options include, but are certainly not limited to: caramelized onions, cherry tomatoes, a brushing of pesto, roasted garlic, olives, roasted red peppers, grapes, or sesame seeds.

IMG_0445

Golden, flaky glory! This particular loaf barely had a chance to cool down before before it met it’s end.

Bread

Easy Focaccia Bread
Recipe adapted from Anne Burrell. This dough requires two rises, so the recipe ends up taking about 3 hours from start to finish.

1 3/4 cups warm water
1 package active dry yeast
1 tablespoon warmed honey
5-6 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon salt
1 cup olive oil, plus a little more
Coarse sea salt
Black pepper
Fresh rosemary, chopped

Combine warm water, yeast, and warm honey in a small bowl. Stir it all up and let it sit for 15 minutes or so, until there’s a thick, yeasty froth on the surface.

In a mixer fitted with a dough hook (or if you don’t have one, put it all in a bowl, you poor fool) add 5 cups of flour, the tablespoon of salt, 1/2 cup of olive oil, and the yeast mixture. Let it mix on a low speed for 5 minutes, until the dough is smooth and uniform. At this point, add flour until the dough reaches the desired consistency. It should feel a little rubbery at first touch but get a sticky of it’s held for too long (picture above).

Move the dough into a bowl that’s been coated with olive oil (just reuse the mixing bowl), cover the bowl with a damp towel, and let it sit some place warm until the dough has doubled in size (should take about an hour).

Pour the remaining 1/2 cup of olive oil into a cookie sheet with a lip. Stretch and press the dough out with your fingers until it’s evenly spread across the pan. Then, flip the dough over so both sides of the loaf-to-be are coated with oil. Cover the pan loosely with plastic wrap and let it sit for it’s second rise, which should take about an hour.

About 45 minutes into the second rise, preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

When the dough is done rising, flip it over again in the pan to get it all oiled up. Use your fingertips to make dimples in the dough by pressing down to the bottom of the pan. Now add your chosen toppings. I added coarse sea salt, cracked pepper, and fresh rosemary.

Bake the focaccia for 25-30 minutes, or until the top is golden brown. When it’s ready to come out, let it cool a few minutes before slicing and serving.

 

 


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Experimental Smoked Jalapeno Margaritas

This summer I’ve had two especially delicious drinks: a Smoked Margarita and a Jalapeno Margarita. I got to thinking, what if these flavors were combined to make one super cocktail. ONE DRINK TO RULE THEM ALL. Smoked margaritas generally get their flavor by coating the rim of the glass with smoked sea salt…but could you bring the flavor up a notch by infusing the tequila with something smoky too? Ooo, I hope so.

Being a good little scientist, I set up some trials in mason jars. All jars contained a few slices of jalapeno but the first had a few drops of liquid smoke, the second had some charred apple wood, and the third was left with just peppers. After the jars had sat for two weeks, I managed to scrape together some taste-testers (struggle), and we sat down to determine which combo worked out the best.

We all agreed that we preferred the tequila with the charred apple wood. It taste more woody than smokey but had great overall flavor. Where it was smooth and authentic the the liquid smoke tequila was hokey and in your face, like banana Runts candy.

Fixins

The non-experimental dimension of this drink was the jalapeno. Part of me doesn’t want to share this information (because for some reason, doing anything with alcohol makes people think you have wizard skills) but the bigger part of me wants to shout it from the rooftops: FLAVORING ALCOHOL IS TOO EASY. There are only three steps:

How to Infuse Alcohol
1) put whatever you’re using for flavor in a mason jar
2) pour in some booze (vodka works with basically everything)
3) close the jar and try to wait 2 weeks before drinking it

I’ve tried quite a few flavor combinations and this one, tequila with jalapenos and charred apple wood, is at the top of my list. I chose to leave out the seeds this round to get a better feel for the pepper flavor but if you’re a fan of spicy foods, by all means throw in the seeds too. Also, a hotter batch would be an ideal addition to a Bloody Maria (if for some reason you had tequila leftover from margarita night).

Fixins 2

Tequila

Smoked sea salt sounds wonderful, but let’s be serious, that’s not an ingredient most people have in in their pantry. If you do, I aspire to be an fancy as you someday. If you don’t, coating the rim of your glass in sea salt that’s been mixed with lime zest is also pretty exciting.

Limes

As far as I’m concerned, margaritas should be celebrated year round, but I’ll allow that there’s something about a warm summer breeze that begs to be paired with an ice cold margarita. They’re simple drinks that are made better with good ingredients.

Smoked Jalapeno Margarita
Serves one

Coarse sea salt
2 parts jalapeno and charred apple wood tequila
1 part lime juice
1 part triple sec

Prep the serving glass by wetting the the rim with a lime and then twisting it in a coarse salt. Fill a mixing glass with ice. Add the tequila, lime juice, triple sec and swirl it around to mix everything up and cool it down. Transfer the drink into the serving glass and enjoy!

Night drinks


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Cake for Breakfast

There is no shame in this game. Cake and coffee is an entirely appropriate breakfast. Especially if your fridge is flush with cherries and the garden rhubarb won’t quit. Plus, this is my favorite kind of cake. It’s the kind of cake that’s packed with flavor, not sugar. It’s dense without being dry and you can pretty much make it with whatever seasonal fruit you have on hand. While breakfast cake is most widely accepted when introduced at a brunch, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be used to make a regular morning feel a little more special.

RhubardWith my summer being as unstructured as it is, there’s no reason why I shouldn’t be making an effort to add a little more “special” to every day. I’d say I’ve done a decent job so far but it’s amazing how before you know it, a schedule that’s wide open fills up with new activities. I moved home in May and since then (while looking pretty hard for a job) I’ve sort of been absorbed back into my neighborhood life. When I was at school I talked to my parents at least once a week but now we’re basically in constant contact. You know who is on the favorites list on my phone? My parents and my grandparents (it’s a new phone, but still…). A lot of that has to do with “Who’s making dinner”, “Did you put the dogs out”, etc. but for real, we hang out. I’ve already determined that getting the chance to have so much face time with my immediate family (and the people I’ve known for so long that I call them family) after not living here for a few years, will be looked back on as a major summer highlight. It might not be remembered as stunning an experience as hiking in Sedona, AZ or pulling in my first fish of edible size in Saskatchewan but the memory of joking with my mom while we eat cake for breakfast instead of cereal will be treasured all the same.

Rhubarb 'n cherries

Rhubarb and Cherry Summer Breakfast Cake
Recipe adapted from Not Without Salt. I added 3 cups of fruit total to this cake but if you wanted to add more I think it could stand at least another cup.

2 cups chopped rhubarb
1 cup pitted cherries
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, soft
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup plain strained or Greek yogurt
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon baking soda

Mix together the rhubarb, cherries, and 1/4 cup brown sugar in a small bowl. Let that sit for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 8″ or 9″ (2″ high), round cake pan.

In a larger bowl, cream the butter and the remaining 1/2 cup of brown sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg and the vanilla. Also mix in the rhubarb-cherry mixture and the yogurt. Stir until combined.

In another bowl whisk together the remaining dry ingredients. Pour the dry mixture into the wet and stir until just combined. The batter will be fairly thick.

Spread the batter into the pan and bake for 50-60 minutes or until the a toothpick poked into the center of the cake comes out clean. Let the cake cool in the pan for 5 minutes before turning it out of the pan to cool the rest of the way on a wire rack.

A thick cake like this stores best in the refrigerator and lasts for about 3 days…if it manages to stick around that long.

Summer cake


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Papa Owns Pesto

Even though my grandpa, Papa, passed away years ago, as far as my family is concerned he still has a lock on homemade pesto. Pretty much any mention of this sauce/spread/spoon accompaniment is met with a comment about “Papa’s pesto”. For good reason- his recipe is classic and delicious. Over the years I’ve strayed from his original recipe, substituting full basil for a variety of greens and pine nuts for (usually) whatever nuts I already had in my pantry. It turns out that as long as you keep the proportions relatively the same, it’s nearly impossible to make a bad batch.

This time around, for my greens I used 2 cups basil and 3 cups kale and for the nuts I went with 1/4 cup pistachios and 1/4 cup walnuts. Usually I like to use at least 2 cups of basil but I’ve made this recipe before entirely with kale (known for its toughness) and it was still highly devourable.

Greens and nuts Old standards Garlic and nuts PESTO

“Papa’s” Pesto

1/2 cup nuts (pine, walnuts, almonds, pistachio…go crazy)
3 tablespoons chopped garlic
Juice from one small lemon
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
5 cups greens, packed (one type of green or a combination of basil, spinach, arugula, kale, collards, etc.)
1 1/2 cups olive oil
1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

DO IT:
In a food processor, blend the nuts and the garlic. Pulse until all the nuts are a broken down to an appropriate size. Add in the salt, pepper, and lemon juice and pulse to combine.

The greens probably won’t fit in the food processor bowl all at once, so start by adding a handful or two at a time. The olive oil can be poured in as needed (to better control pesto thickness).

After all the greens have been added, pour in the cheese and pulse to combine.

This pesto freezes really well as long as it’s kept air-tight. If you freeze it in a container you can pour a little olive oil, air-defense layer over the top. Sometimes I freeze it in an ice cube tray before putting the blocks in a freezer bag (so I can pull out smaller portions as needed), and then I just try to get as much air out of the bag as possible before deep-6ing it in the freezer.


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Oaty, Nutty, Fruity Granola Bars

I’m about to hit the road to spend a highly anticipated vacation week with some friends in the Southwest. It promises to be a week filled with hugs, hot tubs, and desert hikes. I wanted to bring a gift for my hosts that screamed THE MIDWEST but local beer violated all sorts of TSA rules and, let’s be serious, would be really heavy to lug around various airports. As a backup plan, I made granola bars…in the Midwest. Not the same thing but it’s still a tasty treat that will be transported with love. AND instead of clanking around and being a general hassle in our day-packs these bars will make us strong because they’re filled with all sorts of good-for-you oats, nuts, and fruits.

These granola bars are of the cakey variety. To get cakey, you need some fat. Peanut butter and coconut oil will do the trick. You can also add any liquid sweetener at this point- I used maple syrup.

Oils

Mix your melted sugar/oil mixture with the other liquids you’re including. In the glass bowl I’ve got applesauce, vanilla, and ground flax seed (which mixes in more evenly with the liquids because it’s finely ground).

wet

In a separate bowl, prep your oats, fruit, nuts, and spices.

Dry stuff

Combine the wet and the dry…

wet and dry

…and pour it all out in to an 8″x8″ pan lined with parchment paper. Make sure to pat the mixture down to create a dense, granola-y block. There’s nothing in this recipe to make the bar pop up as it bakes so the ingredients pretty much look the same when they go in as when they come out.

pan

Bake at 325 degrees for about 45 minutes. When it’s done, wait to cut the block up into bars until the pan is totally cool. Seriously, WAIT. The warmer it is the more crumbly the insides. Because I have no patience, I tried cutting when the pan was “kinda warm”, “just noticeably warm”, and “totally cool”. Results were increasingly better with time.

done

“Cakey” Granola Bars
Recipe adapted from the Kitchn. Ps. if the only nuts you can find happen to be a mixed bag of salted pepitas and sunflower seeds (because you moved home and people in your parents town aren’t known for valuing a low-sodium diet) enjoy how little you’re now paying for groceries and simply opt out of including the extra salt.

1/4 cup coconut oil
3 tablespoons peanut butter
3 tablespoons maple syrup
1/4 cup ground flax seed
1 1/4 cups apple sauce
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups old fashioned oats
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup dried apricots, chopped to raisin size
1/4 cup pepitas
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt

DO IT:
Preheat the oven to 325°F. Line an 8″x8″ baking pan with parchment paper.

Over low heat, combine the coconut oil, peanut butter, and maple syrup and stir until melted. Remove from heat. Lick your spoon because it tastes delicious. Add the ground flax seeds, apple sauce, and vanilla, and stir to combine.

In a large bowl, combine the oats with the dried fruit, seeds, cinnamon, and salt. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until well combined.

Pour the mixture to the baking pan and flatten it down to create a dense bar with a flat surface.

Bake until golden, about 45 minutes. Let the giant bar cool completely in the pan before lifting it out and cutting it up.  An 8″x8″ pan cuts nicely into 12 single-serving bars.

Wrap individual bars tightly for transporting or store them in an airtight container. They should last for about a week in the refrigerator.


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C-O-O-K-I-E Spells “Comfort”

Last week marked the end of my scholastic career. All of a sudden I’m lacking the predictable structure of student life. Before when I would lay on my bed with a glass of tea or read a book in the lawn I was taking a break. Relaxing with purpose. Now I’ve got (relatively) all the time in the world to lay around and stare at the clouds or whatever and all of a sudden, hanging out, doing my fave relaxing activities makes me feel LAZY. It’s just too much of a good thing.

I think it’s probably pretty natural to take a few weeks to adjust to a wildly different schedule in a new location but it would be comforting to have an answer for questions like “What are you going to do?” and “Where are you going to go?”. Really, answering these questions is a matter of scope. RIGHT NOW= I’m going to celebrate the reclamation of my personal time by making a ton of chocolate chip cookies while rocking The Fugees. LATER= I’m going home to my parents where I’ll undoubtedly be having some quality family time. Hopefully I’ll get to take advantage of not having a regular schedule by visiting friends who live out of town. And it would be great if sometime in the next few weeks I could pinpoint how exactly I want to spend the rest of my life.

Butta and suga

In an world where the future is uncertain, I find solace in the predictable awesomeness of this chocolate chip cookie recipe. It’s the one my mom has made forever and it was probably the first recipe hers I ever wrote down for my own personal use. Supposedly it’s the recipe for Mrs. Fields Chocolate Chip Cookies, so I have to give some credit to the good lady Fields, but we’ve made it so many times I’ve come to think of it as a family recipe.

Batter up

This recipe makes so much dough. SO MUCH. If you’re like my family, this is perfect because it means that on any given day there will be a cache of cookie dough in the freezer. The majority of this dough will never realize it’s cookie potential, but rather will stay forever young and be enjoyed as a doughy treat.

Chillin

Mrs. Fields Chocolate Chip Cookies
Two tips: Chilling the balled dough for 15 minutes or so before baking will give you a taller cookie. Also, if you want to cut the recipe in half (like I said, it makes a ridiculous amount of dough) half all the ingredients but use 2 eggs instead of 3.

1 pound of butter, softened
2 cups brown sugar
1 1/2 cups white sugar
3 eggs
2 T vanilla
5 1/2 cups flour
1 cup quick oats
1 1/2 t baking soda
1 1/2 t salt
3 cups chocolate chips

DO IT:
Combine the butter and sugars. Add in eggs and vanilla. Mix dry ingredients in a separate bowl and slowly add the dry to the wet, mixing well until creamed. Finally, add in the chocolate chips. Bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes.


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Guest Blogger: Derek shows us how to cure salmon

Today’s Guest Blogger is the multitalented Derek Nurkowski! He could have talked about quite a few different topics today but the public demanded his recipe for cured salmon. In case you feel like curing meat is out of your league, he’s here to walk you through the process with step-by-step pictures and expert instruction. See for yourself…

Cool kids cure their own fish.

Today we are going to be curing some salmon which serves as an excellent platter for a party and appetizer. Curing is an ancient process of preserving food that people have used to keep meat safe to eat much longer. It may seem intimidating, especially since most people have very little experience with curing, but it is actually a very easy process. Believe me, I had never cured anything before attempting this recipe and I executed it just fine. It is nowhere near as dangerous as home canning or mushroom hunting, so let’s give it a shot.

To start let’s gather the necessary ingredients:

  • 1 whole salmon fillet pin bones removed, as far a quality is concerned I have found that Jewel   has plenty good enough cuts, no need to stake out a farmers market
  • ½ cup sugar. The recipe calls for white but I only keep brown sugar and haven’t noticed an issue
  • ¼ cup salt.
  • 1.5 tbsp. pepper.
  • 1 cup fresh chopped dill
  • Olive oil- just enough to coat the fillet

Potential Sides (these aren’t needed until you intend to serve the dish but if you can save a trip…)

  • 2-3 chopped/crumbled hard boiled eggs
  • 1-1.5 cup chopped red onion.
  • 1 jar capers (leave them in the jar unless presentation is an issue)
  • 1-2 sleeves saltine crackers (feel free to experiment with other crackers, I feel the mild flavor of saltines won’t overwhelm the flavor)
Here are the dry ingredients we will use to cure the salmon

Here are the dry ingredients we will use to cure the salmon

To kick things off we will mix our salt, sugar, and pepper in a big bowl. Be sure to mix all the powders evenly. For the fillet, you will need a flat dish with a lip that can sustain the liquid that will be drawn from the meat. With the skin side down evenly press the mixture over the fillet. Be sure to cover all the flesh. Then apply half of the chopped dill to the powder-coated fillet.

2new

Carefully flip the fillets so they are now skin side up. Some of the powder mix will fall off- pack it around the edges of the fillet.

Flipped fish

Now find yourself a flat board and at least two pounds of weights. Depending on what you use it may be prudent to wrap it in cling wrap. Be sure to check that when pressing the fillets your board doesn’t rest on the lip of the dish and take weight off the fillet.

This compression is key to the curing. Note how the metal tray I used rests on the fillet and not on the lip of my plate, which has a significant lip to catch runoff.

This compression is key to the curing. Note how the metal tray I used rests on the fillet and not on the lip of my plate, which has a significant lip to catch runoff.

Make some room and slide it into the fridge now uncovered. This will be the actual curing process and will take at least 24 hours, feel free to leave it in there longer if your schedule is tight.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

With the fillet now cured it is time to wash off our curing agent. Wash your fillet in the sink under cold water. Do this briskly and don’t soak it!

You don’t need to scrub and remove all the spices, just give it a few swipes under the faucet

You don’t need to scrub and remove all the spices, just give it a few swipes under the faucet

Once you are done pat dry and rub with olive oil. I prefer to keep the coat light. With the filets cured and coated in olive oil you can leave it in your fridge for a very long time. Keep it covered in saran wrap and it can last for weeks (I personally don’t know how long it will last, but it’s at least 2-1/2 weeks.)

When it comes time to prepare your fillet to be served you will need a sharp, thin blade, a cutting board, and any of the side dish ingredients discussed earlier. Your first step is to remove the skin.

My preferred method is to slide the knife between the skin and the meat on a cutting board

My preferred method is to slide the knife between the skin and the meat on a cutting board

After the skin has been removed flip the fillet over and remove any traces of the skin, which has a very ‘fishy’ taste most people aren’t accustomed to. It will appear grey. You can go also go back and remove any extra meat you left on the skin.

Cleaning up the filet and getting extra meat off the skin

Cleaning up the fillet and getting extra meat off the skin

Slice the fillet as thinly as practical. Some may prefer thicker slices, so feel free to play around and find your own tastes.

Slice the fillet as thinly as practical. Some may prefer thicker slices, so feel free to play around and find your own tastes

Mix in the remaining dill. Looking at this image I think I should have chopped up the dill a bit more.

This is just one filet- that's a lot of fish!

This is just one filet- that’s a lot of fish!

 Your fish in now ready to be served. Now all that’s left is your presentation.

If you have guests, you may want to provide a fork or spoon for each of the ingredients. Take the capers out of the jar you bought them in as it is difficult to fish out of and the juice presents a spill hazard (sudden thought, try the juice in a martini). As your guests top their crackers some will spill off and fall- it may be a good idea to place all your ingredients on a platter. Also, move this ensemble closer to the edge of the table so guests don’t have to lean over other dishes to make their crackers.

Who would have thought such a classy hors d'oeuvres could be so easy to make?

Who would have thought such classy hors d’oeuvres could be so easy to make?


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Are Homemade Sprinkles Worth the Trouble?

Did you know you can make your own sprinkles? When I saw this post, detailing the many (*ahem..3) benefits of making/eating homemade sprinkles I immediately thought to myself, why have I not been doing this? It makes so much sense. You can flavor and color them however you want. You know exactly what’s in them. And just, how cool.

And so I set about making my own sprinkles. I went on a wild goose chase looking for powdered egg whites. Was unsuccessful. Seriously, no where in town sells that stuff. Decided to use a regular egg white instead. You’re only really dealing with one dry ingredient (powdered sugar) so you can just keep adding little portions of powdered sugar and water until you get the desired consistency.

Sugarsugarsugar

Whisking out lumps

I also didn’t have the proper set up for piping out hundreds of little lines of frosting so the first few unsuccessful tries involved exploding plastic sandwich bags. A good portion of the frosting that leaked out somehow ended up in my mouth. Waste not, want not, right?

Do you know how much food dye is required to make red sprinkles? More than I'm ready to commit to.

Do you know how much food dye is required to make red sprinkles? More than I’m ready to commit to. Bright pink it is.

Something this recipe neglected to mention was that making little lines of frosting takes HOURS and you have to stop because your hands cramp the-F-up from squeezing so hard. I have to acknowledge that if I wasn’t using a sandwich bag, containing the frosting may have been less of a chore. But still, the recipe said this whole production was going to be a “piece of cake”. At the time I was sure she had meant to describe it as a “pain in the ass”. And how could she have forgotten to mention the stomach ache that accompanied the inevitable consumption of half a cup of frosting?

Sugar sticks

It took a while, but after an hour I realized that if I was cool with slightly larger sprinkles, using a larger pastry tip would make the job a lot easier. And if I put less frosting in the bag I could get a much better grip. By the time the sprinkles had completely dried (24 hours later) and I had cut them into sprinkle-sized bits, I had almost forgotten about damning sprinkle production to hell. I even caught myself thinking about when I could make more and what kind of cake would go best with “creamsicle” flavored sprinkles.

Sprinks

It’s funny, when I was reflecting on my change of heart the first thing that came to mind was that this experience was a lot like my time in grad school. *Side note: I graduate in May so I finally feel like I can look back on the past 3 years and make some conclusions. When I first went back to school I hated it. I felt like my life was a comedy of errors and I was in way over my head. Who did I think I was, enrolling in a geology program when I had no special interest in rocks and had never taken a geology class. That first semester I contemplated throwing the towel in on the daily and if it wasn’t for a few encouraging friends reminding me to take it day-by-day, I might have let myself off the hook. School isn’t something I love but I knew hoped that if I stuck with it it would give me the skills I needed to find a career I’d be happy with. Now that the end is in sight, I can say with confidence that sticking with school was the right choice, hands down. It feels so good to say that. There were challenges, I cried in frustration, but every semester was easier than the last. It wasn’t that the material was getting any simpler- it was that I was learning how to deal…how to deal with stress, how to deal with realization that there is SO much I don’t know, and how to deal with using my inevitable failures to make myself better. I learned some geology-related lessons too (thank goodness- I do need a job) but what I really took away from the past few years was that if you can manage to stick with giving 100%, you’ll eventually toughen up/wise up and as a result, you’ll end up a better version of yourself.

Travel-ready

In retrospect, this jar is half full.

Whether or not these sprinkles are worth making is up to you. I’ll give it to you straight- if you make as many as I did it will take forever and you will somehow get frosting all over your body. On the other hand, the recipe is nearly impossible to mess up and making your own sprinkles is undeniably impressive (at least I think so). Isn’t that combination kind of the point of DIY projects? I know when I make these again I’ll be much faster and will have a better attitude to boot. And now I’m that girl who can make her own sprinkles. My personal conclusion: they’re not for every day but if you’re looking for something extra-special homemade sprinkles are worth the trouble.


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Green Lentil Coconut Curry Soup from “Super Natural Every Day”

Everyone in the Midwest has been talking about the weather for the past few weeks- I know, it’s shocking. It’s actually cold out. But come on people, it is January after all. Accept the temperature. Layer up. Put on some cozy socks.  Remember how much more enjoyable it is to use a stove in the winter and how comforting it is being all cuddly in a pile of blankets.

My sister and I stayed in for New Years Eve this year. She had recently gotten her wisdom teeth out and was on some drugs that didn’t mix well with parties so we hung out with our parents’ dogs, ate some tasty soft foods, and reflected on the year. Around midnight some local reinforcements came over for a champagne toast and to watch fireworks over the lake. It was a far more low-key night than was had by most but it ended up being one of my favorite New Years celebrations OFALLTIME.

On the top right, Sister is posing next to a piece at the Art Institute of Chicago that best expresses what the inside of her mouth looks like. Bottom right is a picture from a crisp winter walk on the first of the year.

On the top right, Sister is posing next to a piece at the Art Institute of Chicago which best represents the gaping holes in her mouth. Bottom right is a picture from a crisp winter walk taken on the first of the year.

Our main course on New Years Eve was a delicious and surprisingly hearty soup from a Christmas present cookbook, Super Natural Every Day by Heidi Swanson. Her velvety Green Lentil Soup is made with ingredients you probably already have in your pantry and is guaranteed to warm you from the inside out (even on a cold January day like this). I’ve already made it twice since the holidays (once with split peas instead of lentils) and mmmmm I’m going to keep making a batch every few weeks until the weather warms up.

Green Lentil Soup

Heidi Swanson’s Green Lentil Soup

2 tablespoons butter
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 large yellow onion, chopped
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
5 ½ cups veggie broth
1 ½ cups green lentils
3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon curry powder
½ cup coconut milk
A pinch of sea salt
Fresh chives, minced

DO IT:
Combine onions, 2 T butter, garlic, and red pepper flakes in a soup pot until onions soften. Add veggie broth and lentils and simmer, covered, until lentils are tender (20-30 minutes).

While the lentils are cooking, warm 3 T of butter in a saucepan over medium heat until it browns. Stir in curry powder until they’re “fragrant” (less than 1 minute) and then remove from heat.

When the lentils are soft, stir in coconut milk, salt, and puree. Stir in half of the spiced butter (save the other half for creative drizzling) and serve with minced chives.

Creamy lentil soup, all ready to be taken for lunch the next day.