Friday, May 27, 2011

Strawberry Sesame Spinach Salad

 
Happy Memorial Day Weekend, everyone!

So I know that, for most people, Memorial Day is the official start of summer.

But for people that live at the beach like myself, it's also the start of traffic and crowds of tourists.

All the places that were nice and peaceful during fall, winter, and spring are now inundated with people.

And the holiday weekends (Memorial Day, July 4, and Labor Day) are always the most packed.

When I was young, I loved it.  I thought it was fun.

But as time goes on, I am getting weary of it.

Today I only had to drive a short distance for work (normally I drive a lot) but all I did was sit in traffic.

And more traffic.

And I missed half my lunch break because I didn't properly calculate just how long I'd be sitting in said traffic.

Grr. 

I was getting so frustrated. 

I just wanted to go home, and shut the door, and say "Alright, bennies," (that's what we call tourists at the Jersey shore), "you win, the beach is yours! I quit!"

But today my brother-in-law is visiting us for the first time in Asbury Park.  So I knew at some point tonight I was going to have to suck it up brave the crowds.

And probably walk up to the boardwalk.

In case you didn't know.... Shore Town + Boardwalk + Memorial Day Weekend = Crowded Craziness.

But a miraculous thing happened. 

We walked up the boardwalk and it wasn't crazy.

Sure, there were a good number of people out and about- but not only could you walk freely, you could walk quickly.

I'm a fast walker, so this makes me happy.

At the boardwalk where I grew up (in Point Pleasant Beach), I'd be willing to bet there is no fast walking happening right now.

Ha  ha! Suckers!

I knew it was a good idea to move.

What's also a good idea is making this salad for your Memorial Day barbecue.

According to my sassy middle-aged friend from Vanessa's party last weekend, this is her most requested recipe for parties.

I tweaked it slightly (it had an ungodly amount of sugar) but once you make it, it won't take you long to figure out why it's so popular.


Mr. Vittles hates vinegar, but even he enjoyed this salad.

If you're feeling crazy, you can add some feta or goat cheese.  Mmmm :)

Just stay away from my beach or I'll have to hurt you.

Strawberry Sesame Spinach Salad

  • 6 C. fresh spinach (rinsed, dried & torn into pieces if large)
  • 2 C. sliced fresh strawberries 
  • 2 T. olive or canola oil
  • 2 T. apple cider vinegar
  • 1 T. sugar
  • 1/4 t. paprika
  • 1/4 t. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 T. sesame seeds
  • 1 1/2 t. poppy seeds
  • 1/4 t. onion powder, (or 2 t. minced red onion)

In small bowl, whisk together oil, vinegar, sugar, paprika, Worcestershire, sesame, poppy, and onion powder.

Place strawberries and spinach in a bowl.  Top with dressing when ready to serve (do not dress in advance- spinach will wilt.  If bringing to a party, bring dressing separate from salad and dress before serving).  Serves 4.

Adapted from a family friend's recipe (original source unknown)

Monday, May 23, 2011

Crispy Peanut Butter Nutella Bars


This weekend my good friend Vanessa hosted a surprise 60th birthday party for her mom's best friend.

Vanessa's mom Lucy is adorable and hilarious and makes the most gorgeous sea glass jewelry and has five dogs and owns a sub shop and says things like "Oh, balls."

 Lucy & Vanessa, 2009

So it would only be natural that she has an equally fabulous best friend.

Enter Paulette.  She cracks me up by saying the funniest things, and her mannerisms top it all off.  Frankly she's a little scatterbrained and spastic, but it's really quite endearing.

So... I knew that I had to make something amazing for her special day.   For a while I've had Peanut Butter Crispy Bars from Baked on my list of "Must Try" recipes, but I got to thinking ... what if I made the base layer with peanut butter, and added some Nutella in the mix?

And ate half the Nutella jar in the process?

Actually that last part wasn't in the plan, it just sort of spontaneously happened.

Anywho I brought the bars to the party, and aside from surviving the 'end of the world,' I think that dessert might have been the best thing to happen to about 10 middle-aged, chocolate-fiending females on Saturday night. 

Not long after the desserts were put out, Paulette flew into the kitchen, eyes wide & pointing frantically at her over-stuffed mouth.

I was about to start giving her the Heimlich when she swallowed and said "Maggie! Those thingys you made are delicious, what are they?"

I explained that they were peanut butter crispy bars with dark chocolate & Nutella, and she was so overjoyed that she hugged me!

Then I walked outside onto the back deck, and was greeted by more excited chatter from the other ladies who had sampled my wares.

I heard a lot of very generous compliments, but my favorite was that they were "orgasmic."

!!

One woman asked for the recipe, but I didn't have it memorized so I promised to get it to Vanessa for her.  Another woman asked for the basic ingredients, which I was able to explain.

Then not long after, the first woman came up to me all upset that the second woman was given the recipe and she wasn't!

I kindly explained that it wasn't actually a recipe, just the list of ingredients - but she still seemed suspicious.

Ironically, I had just asked her not more than an hour earlier for a recipe for her spinach salad with strawberries.  And she threatened to take it back!

I'm sure she was kidding.

I hope.

But here's a little piece of advice - if you are planning to bring these bars to a party, make sure you also bring the recipe.

Otherwise you might get jumped by a gang of 55 year-old women.

And it would be awfully awkward to explain that black eye to your friends & coworkers the next day.

Crispy Peanut Butter Nutella Bars

Peanut Butter Crisp:
  • 4 C. crispy rice cereal
  • 2/3 C. brown sugar
  • 2/3 C. light corn syrup
  • 2/3 C. peanut butter

Nutella Layer:
  • 1 1/2 C. chocolate chips
  • 1 C. Nutella spread

Chocolate Icing:
  • 6 oz. dark (bittersweet) chocolate, chopped
  • 1 t. light corn syrup
  • 8 T. butter, cut into tablespoons

Grease a 13 x 9 inch pan with cooking spray and set aside.  Place corn syrup, brown sugar, and peanut butter in a large saucepan.  Cook, stirring frequently, until mixture begins to boil (be careful here, it can burn quickly).  Remove from heat and stir in rice cereal.  Stir to coat thoroughly, then press into prepared pan evenly using a greased spatula.

Place pan in refrigerator to cool.  Meanwhile, make second layer: place chocolate chips and Nutella into a microwave-safe bowl, and microwave in 20-second intervals, stirring after each, until melted and smooth.  Pour over cooled cereal mixture and spread evenly with offset spatula.

Allow second layer to cool completely.  Then make chocolate icing: place dark chocolate, 1 t. light corn syrup, and butter into microwave-safe bowl.  Melt in 20-second intervals, stirring after each, until melted and smooth. Pour over cooled bars and spread evenly with offset spatula.

Allow to cool, then cut into bars.  Keep leftovers in refrigerator in air-tight container, for 4-5 days.  Makes about 18 (they are very rich, so I actually cut them a lot smaller for the party- but you can cut them whatever size you like).

Recipe adapted from
Baked: New Frontiers in Baking, via Smitten Kitchen

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Chocolate & Kahlua Coconut Milk Ice Cream


Do you ever just get tired of life sometimes?

Not in a creepy suicidal way or anything - just more that the prospect of waking up tomorrow and doing everything all over again is bordering on painful.

I get like that every once in a while.  Today is one of those 'whiles.'

This week has consisted of work, rain, boot camp, rain, make dinner, rain, eat dinner, shower, go to bed, rain some more.

I am sick of work.

I am sick of rain.

I am sick of exercising.

Perhaps due to the fact that I actually went to boot camp 2 days in a row this week.

Mr. Vittles was surprised, to put it mildly.

"Boot camp again?" he asked.  "Didn't you just go yesterday?"

"Yes," I said, "but it's either tonight or tomorrow morning, because there are no Friday night classes.  And I want to do my own thing Saturday and not worry about class."

"Ok..." he conceded.

Then, "Are you sure you're not having an affair?"

Joking of course.

I think.

(I would not cheat on my husband... but if I did, let's hope it would be a lot more fun than exercising until I'm sick to my stomach.)

Now there are a few different trainers that run the classes, but the one that runs Thursdays' is BRUTAL.

With a capital B.  For Butt-Kicking

His name is Darrell & he is short, spunky, built beyond belief, and gives the Energizer bunny a run for its money.

Ironically, he is also the inventor of the Fat Darrell sandwich.

??

Go figure.

Now with that fact in mind - when we were leaving class today, he praised us for our hard work but warned us "Don't eat too much ice cream on the way home."

Since he didn't reference the amount of ice cream I can eat AT home, I guess that means unlimited?



Sweet.  Good thing I made this fabulous ice cream on Sunday :)

Chocolate & Kahlua Coconut Milk Ice Cream

  • 2 C. coconut milk (full fat is best, but I used the kind from the refrigerated aisle)
  • 1/2 C. whole coffee beans
  • 1 C. heavy cream
  • 3 T. agave nectar (use more if you like it sweeter)
  • 1/4 C. Dutch-processed cocoa powder
  • 3 T. Kahlua liqueur

Heat coconut milk in medium saucepan over medium heat, and bring to a simmer.  Add coffee beans and stir - remove from heat and let steep 30 minutes.

Strain mixture into a bowl, and discard coffee beans.  Add heavy cream, agave, cocoa powder and Kahlua to the coconut coffee- whisk until smooth.

Pour mixture through fine-mesh sieve (gets out any cocoa powder lumps) into the frozen container of an ice cream maker.  Freeze according to manufacturer's instructions.  Either serve directly from container (will be soft) or allow to ripen in freezer in a freezer-safe container.  Makes about 1 quart.

*For those of you that were looking for a non-dairy ice cream - ha, I tricked you!  No no, just kidding - you can replace the 1 C. heavy cream with another cup of coconut milk.  It will likely get harder in the freezer than the one with cream, so just leave it out on the counter for a few minutes.

Original Recipe

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Black-Bottom Cupcakes


So this week my brain decided to take a vacation and not tell my body.

I forgot sooo many things.  I'm not sure if it's funny or just sad.

Like ... I had to use a work vehicle Tuesday, and drive it home.  But I forgot to pick up MY car where I left it until the next day.

I prepared pork for the slow-cooker one morning, but I forgot to turn it on.

I went grocery shopping and forgot one of my bags at the store... and I didn't realize until I was already home so I had to drive back & "re-shop" the items they put back on the shelves.

I drove up with Mr. V to visit my grandmother Yaya Vittles in Connecticut, and I remembered to take my digital camera but I forgot to take the battery out of the charger in the wall.

I also made these cupcakes to bring her, but I forgot to put the sour cream in the chocolate batter.


Ahh!

Surprisingly, the cupcakes still came out pretty good.  So I'd say that with the sour cream they would probably be awesome.


Maybe you can remember to make them properly and let me know.

In other news - thankfully, I didn't forget to pick a giveaway winner of DIY Cocktails!  Congrats to All That's Left Are the Crumbs, and thanks to everyone who entered!

Black Bottom Cupcakes

  • 8 oz. cream cheese
  • 3/4 C. sugar
  • 1/4 t. salt
  • 1 large egg white, at room temperature
  • 1 T. + 1/3 C. sour cream, at room temperature
  • 1/4 C. mini chocolate chips
  • 3/4 C. all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 C. dutch-processed cocoa
  • 1/2 t. baking soda
  • 1/8 t. baking powder
  • 1/2 t. vanilla
  • 4 T. butter, melted and cooled slightly
  • 2/3 C. water

Line a standard muffin tin with 12 cupcake liners, and preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position.

In bowl of an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese with 1/4 C. of the sugar, and 1/8 t. of the salt until smooth (about 30 seconds).  Beat in egg white and 1 T. sour cream until combined, about 1 minute.  Stir in chips and set the filling aside.

Whisk remaining 1/2 C. sugar & 1/8 t. salt with flour, cocoa, baking soda, and baking powder.  Make a well in the center of the bowl, and add remaining 1 T. sour cream along with vanilla, butter, and water.  Whisk until just combined.  Divide chocolate batter evenly among liners in tin, and top with 1 heaping tablespoon of filling.

Bake until tops of cupcakes just begin to crack, about 23-25 minutes.  Cool cupcakes in tins for 10 minutes before transferring to wire rack to cool completely.  Cupcakes can be refrigerated in airtight container for up to 2 days.  Makes 12.


Recipe Adapted from Cook's Country

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Strawberry Basil Mojito... and a giveaway!


*The giveaway has now ended.

I was contacted a couple weeks ago by the publisher of a book entitled DIY Cocktails: A Simple Guide to Creating Your Own Signature Drinks, asking if I would be interested in reviewing it for my blog.

(PS I know there are many bloggers out there whose in-boxes are brimming with emails like this, but me... not so much.)

I responded, "Sounds great, I will give my honest opinion though - if you're still interested, here's my address."

And... then I ever heard back.

So imagine my surprise when I get home from work on Friday evening to find a copy of the book on my doorstep!

Which was extra great because as I've said before, I'm not much of a drinker - so if I'm gonna do it, 95% of the time it's on the weekend.

Saturday afternoon I thumbed through, checking out all the photos and recipe titles, and the Strawberry Basil Mojito jumped out at me.  (Much like coconut and chocolate peanut butter, you can always entice me with a recipe that has fresh strawberries.)


The recipe definitely did not disappoint, and honestly neither did the book.  What I like about it is the fact that along with the recipe they give you the ratio of ingredients that should be in the drink- like '3 parts strong, 2 parts sweet, 1 part sour' etc.

This is an especially handy tool for people (i.e. me) who need Cocktails for Dummies because they have no idea what goes well with what.

For this one I just followed the recipe exactly as it was printed, but it's nice to have the option to customize your beverage with different ingredients using the ratios as a guide.

Hence the name "DIY Cocktails" I suppose?  (Ah ha!)

I also specifically looked up Sangria, another of my favorite adult beverages, and they have a lot of tips for putting flavors together.

All in all... this Cocktail Dummy gives the book two thumbs up.

So while I was feeling sassy on mojitos, I decided it would be fun to do a giveaway of the book (sponsored by yours truly by the way - I'm just barely cool enough to get one copy of the book for free so let's not push it.)

If you are interested in entering the giveaway, please leave me a comment below telling me your favorite cocktail... and make sure you leave me a way to contact you if it's not in your Google profile!

To get extra entries, you can also:

  • become a follower of V&B, and leave me another comment telling me you became one or you already are
  • follow Vittles & Bits on Twitter and leave me a comment that you did or that you're already doing so
  • "like" Vittles & Bits on Facebook and leave me a comment that you did or that you're already a fan

You'll get one entry for each of the above.  I will choose the winning comment randomly - which means Pam you can enter the giveaway too (that's my mother-in-law :).  The giveaway ends this Sunday, May 15 at noon, EST and I'll announce the winner later that day.

So get to it.

And if you're not interested in entering, I'm not hatin' ... but give the Strawberry Basil Mojito a try anywho.  It has fruit & green things in it so technically it's good for you.

At least that's what I like to tell myself?

Strawberry Basil Mojito

  • 3 basil leaves, torn
  • 3 small strawberries, sliced
  • 1 1/2 oz. white rum
  • 1 oz. simple syrup (see note below)
  • 1/2 oz. lime juice (from 1/2 medium lime)
  • 4 oz. club soda

Muddle basil, strawberries, and simple syrup at the bottom of a highball or Collins glass.  Add rum and lime juice, then fill with ice.  Top off with club soda.

*To make a simple syrup, you can place 1 part sugar with 1 part water in jar or coverable bottle and shake vigorously until sugar is dissolved.  If making in advance, you can also boil water, then add sugar & simmer until dissolved.

Recipe from DIY Cocktails, by Marcia Simmons & Jonas Halpren

Note: While I did receive a copy of the book, I did not receive any other compensation to write this post- the opinions are my own.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookie Dough Truffles


So I can't believe it's May already and that tomorrow is Mother's Day! 2011 has been flying by.

Maybe that's because I was out of work (translation: stress-free) for a month and a half... ha!

But whatever it is, I'm pretty psyched that Spring is in full swing, Memorial Day is just around the corner, and that in general things are looking up this year.

Last Mother's Day I was admittedly pretty bummed out.

Ok, that's putting it lightly.  Truthfully, I was on the verge of totally losing it.

If you're new to my blog, my mother lost her 6-year battle with cancer in November 2009, the day Mr. Vittles and I returned from our honeymoon.  Thankfully we made it home to say goodbye but the next few months that ensued were pretty much a blur.

I made it through her birthday, then Thanksgiving, then Christmas, then my birthday.  I was on auto-pilot, but I was handling it no worse than could be expected.

Then Mother's Day hit me like a Mack truck.

I was a complete disaster during the weeks leading up to it.  As if I didn't think about it enough, now I was being bombarded with ads and commercials reminding me how 'Mom was always there for you!' about how I need to 'Make her feel special!' and 'Show her I care!' etc etc.

A year later, I am in a much better place.  With things like that, your mind can be your own worst enemy so I learned to make peace with my thoughts.  Now, when I think about her, my mind is on a leash - I only let it go certain places, and if it starts to stray into the negative I have to yank it back to the positive.

The positive being, I have 26 years worth of beautiful (and hilarious, and awful) memories with her that some people aren't lucky enough to have with their moms.  And I'm blessed to have a wonderful stepmother and mother-in-law who are always there for me, and with whom I can still celebrate the day.

So I know I said this last year, but I'll say it again because it's important - please tell your mom, your stepmom, your mother-in-law, your grandma, your aunt, your like-a-mom (whatever!) that you love her and she's great.

Not necessarily in those words, or in words at all in fact.  Just make her feel loved and special.  And I don't mean tomorrow, I mean as often as you can.

And... you can start with these truffles.

Hello, deliciousness!

Actions speak louder than words, my friends. What mom wouldn't love chocolate peanut butter fudge swirled with chocolate chip cookie dough??

None that I know.

Happy Mother's Day to all the moms out there - you ladies are awesome!

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookie Dough Truffles
  • 1/4 C. butter, softened
  • 1/4 C. + 2 T. brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 t. vanilla
  • 1/2 C. flour
  • 1/4 C. mini chocolate chips
  • 1/2 C. sweetened condensed milk
  • 3 oz. dark chocolate, chopped (or 1/3 C. semi-sweet chocolate chips)
  • 1/4 C. peanut butter

In medium bowl, cream butter with brown sugar. Add salt, vanilla, flour, and mini chocolate chips.  Beat to combine.  Add 1/2 t. water to the mixture and mix well (you can add another 1/2 t. of water if needed).  Grabbing finger-fuls of dough, sprinkle onto bottom of greased 9” pie plate.  Set aside.

In a separate microwave-safe bowl, combine sweetened condensed milk with dark chocolate and peanut butter.  Microwave in 20-second intervals, stirring after each, until mixture is melted and smooth.  Pour chocolate peanut butter fudge over cookie dough bits in pie plate, and use a spatula to spread the mixture evenly.  (It doesn’t have to be perfect, you’re going to roll everything into balls – this is just to try and get a relatively equal ratio of layers per truffle).

Cover pie plate & refrigerate 45 minutes, or until firm enough to shape into balls.  Grabbing even fingerfuls, roll the mixture into 1” balls, then placed on waxed paper-covered baking sheets or plates.  Refrigerate an additional 30-45 minutes until truffles are firm enough to handle and hold their shape.

Finish the truffles by either rolling each in unsweetened cocoa powder or dipping in a mixture of 8 oz. chocolate or vanilla bark melted with 1 T. vegetable shortening.  If dipping, decorate with sprinkles as desired. Truffles can be kept at room temperature or refrigerated.  Makes about 2 dozen.

Recipe adapted from Willow Bird Baking’s “Safe-to-Eat Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough”

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Mexican-Style Creamed Corn


Happy Cinco de Mayo everyone!

I have been craving creamed corn a la Rosa Mexicano for a while now, and I found a recipe on this fabulous blog Muy Bueno Cookbook that seemed very similar.

It's not quite the same, but it's absolutely delicious nonetheless!

I did not have some of the ingredients so I had to make some substitutions... not to mention corn is not in season yet.  But when it is, I will definitely make this again with fresh corn from the cob.

In other news... I went to my second boot camp class still sore from the first.

And I am still sore.

And that was last night. 

Ahh!  Ok so creamed corn probably isn't helping.


Good thing I only ate a little.

Mexican-Style Creamed Corn
  • 2 C. good-quality frozen sweet corn (I used Trader Joe's Roasted Corn - you can also slice kernels from 4 freshly husked cobs)
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 4 T. butter, cut in tablespoons
  • 4 T. lime juice (from about 4 medium limes)
  • 1/4 C. crema mexicana (I used sour cream)
  • 2 T. cotija cheese (I used finely crumbled feta), or to taste
  • chile powder, for sprinkling
  • hot sauce, to taste (optional)

Place corn in medium saucepan, and cover with water and 1/2 t. salt.  Bring to a boil, and boil about 2 minutes.  Drain and place corn back in saucepan.

Add butter to hot corn, and mix until melted.  Add lime juice and sour cream- mix to coat.  Divide corn amongst 4 serving bowls and top with hot sauce (if using).  Sprinkle with chile powder and crumbled cheese.

Serves 4.

Recipe Adapted from Muy Bueno Cookbook

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Slow-Cooker Pulled Pork Sliders


Ok so I just joined a boot camp class, and my first one was last night.

Oh. Sweet. Jesus.

I did a similar thing years ago in college ... key words being 'years ago.'

This is only a 45 minute class but honestly - I don't think I could take much more than that.

Muscles that I didn't even know I had are sore.  And I can only imagine what tomorrow will bring, as I find I usually feel the worst 2 days after.

Just in time to go back.

Ahaha! :)

In the meantime... delicious pulled pork sliders!

Slow-Cooker Pulled Pork Sliders

  • 1 t. vegetable oil
  • 1 2 to 2 1/2 lb. boneless pork roast
  • 1 C. barbecue sauce
  • 2 T. apple cider vinegar
  • 2/3 C. water
  • 2 T. light brown sugar
  • 1 T. yellow mustard
  • 1/2 C. ketchup
  • 2 T. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 t. chili powder
  • 1/2 onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 1 clove minced garlic
  • package of 12 slider rolls

Combine all ingredients except roast & rolls in pot of a slow cooker.  Whisk or stir until ingredients are evenly distributed.  Score both sides of roast with a few diagonal cuts, and place in slow cooker.  Roll roast to coat with sauce, and cover. 

Cook on low for 7-8 hours (high for 5-6) or until roast shreds easily with a fork.  Shred in pot (or remove to shred, then return to pot) and stir to coat meat with sauce.  Toast slider rolls if desired.  Spoon pork onto buns and serve.  Makes12 over-stuffed sliders.

Recipe Adapted from Allrecipes.com
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