Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Cranberry Salsa

I don't know how, but this happens to me every year - Christmas sneaks up on me!

I love this time of year but I do wish it wasn't so busy.  In the desire to see our loved ones and celebrate the holiday (as well as December birthdays!), it can get a little hectic and stressful.

This holiday season has luckily been pretty low-stress for me so far... our decorations are up, my cards are mailed, I have my shopping done, and this week I've even been able to fit in some baking.

If I can just finish my wrapping, I'll be in good shape!

But that leaves little time for blogging.  When I'm not working, it seems I'm either busy around the house, or watching the movie Frozen for the umpteenth time with the Mini.  (I know we're a little late on the bandwagon, but she only turned 2 in October - so this is the first time she's had enough of an attention span to watch even part of a movie.  Be careful what you wish for, by the way.  Saturday we watched it 3 times in a row!)

So anyway, I actually made this yummy salsa for Thanksgiving... but 'tis still the season for cranberries!  This comes together quickly, and would be a festive addition to your holiday appetizer table.

Feel free to experiment with the amount of sugar and jalapeno in the recipe.  I would start out with less and add more if necessary, to suit your taste. If you like spicy, you might consider more than the two jalapenos.

More importantly - I wish you and your families a wonderful holiday and a happy, healthy 2015!

Cranberry Salsa

  • 1 12-oz. pkg. fresh cranberries
  • 1/3 C. sugar (or, to taste)
  • 1 bunch green onions
  • 1/2 C. packed cilantro leaves
  • 2 fresh jalapenos, stemmed & seeded
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 1/4 t. kosher salt

Combine all ingredients in food processor, and pulse until coarsely chopped. For best results, refrigerate overnight or at least 3 hours before serving.

Slightly Adapted from Recipe of Unknown Source

Sunday, November 16, 2014

(Flourless) Peanut Butter Blossoms

Sometimes, you think you know a person.

Seven years ago in October, I met Mr. Vittles.  Five years ago (from almost the same day) I married him.

Two days ago... I found out his favorite cookie.

Friday I had gotten a flourless peanut butter blossom recipe from someone at work, but it had a few ingredients I was unsure of.  So I did a quick internet search and found a recipe that had only peanut butter, sugar, egg, and vanilla in the dough.

I was still a little skeptical that it would make a good cookie, but it looked so easy it was worth a potential fail.  Especially when I took into consideration the only person I'd be disappointing is myself. 

Or so I thought.

When I took them out of the oven Friday night, Mr. Vittles asked "Are those gluten-free?"  

"Ummm... yes, duh, I'm eating them."

But apparently his actual question was whether or not the original peanut butter blossom recipe is gluten-free.  I said that I didn't think so, but I honestly didn't know - I hadn't made them in years.  I thought maybe my mother-in-law would know, because she usually makes them at Christmas.

That's when he said "Yeah I know. Those are my favorite cookies."


All this time I had thought his favorite cookies were scotcheroos, a chocolate & butterscotch crispy rice cookie that his grandmother makes.  But apparently I was wrong.  Peanut butter blossoms take the #1 spot on his cookie list.

Who knew???

Then I figured these would be a huge disappointment to a Blossom Connoisseur such as himself.  The first pan I made wasn't even rolled in sugar, and he loooves his treats sweet.  So I tried to redeem the second pan by rolling them in coarse sugar.  

Much to my surprise, he said they were more peanut-buttery than his mom's, but still really good.  Success!

On another note... I would like to dedicate this post to my mom, who would have been 60 years old today.  

We just celebrated my dad's upcoming 60th birthday with a fabulous surprise party, and I only wish that she was here to celebrate as well.

She is the one who fostered my love of baking and creating, and I know she would love the idea of this blog.  

Mom, I miss you every day, and thank you for everything.  I would not be the person I am today were it not for you.  I hope you are somewhere having a huge piece of cake that's as delicious as all the treats you baked for us over the years.  Pssst... I love you!

(Flourless) Peanut Butter Blossoms
  • 1 cup smooth peanut butter (I used Jif's Natural creamy peanut butter)
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar 
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 14 Hershey's milk chocolate kisses
  • Extra sugar, for rolling (optional)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Unwrap chocolate kisses, and set aside.  Line a baking sheet with nonstick foil or parchment paper, and set aside as well.

In a medium bowl, combine peanut butter, brown sugar, egg, and vanilla.  Stir until well-combined.  If rolling balls in sugar, place some in a shallow dish.  Wet hands until damp, then roll about 1 Tablespoon of dough into a ball.  Roll in sugar (if using) and place balls onto prepared baking sheet at least an inch apart. 

Bake 10-12 minutes until set and lightly browned (although dough will still be soft).  After removing from oven, press a chocolate kiss into the center of each cookie.  Let cool on baking sheet for 5-10 minutes, before transferring to wire rack to cool completely.

Makes 14 cookies.  Recipe slightly adapted from nutritiouseats.com 

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Gluten-Free Pumpkin Muffins

Fall is undoubtedly my favorite season. The cool, crisp air.... the leaves crunching under your feet... Halloween... and of course, the apples and pumpkins.

It's only natural that I would try to foster the same love of everything autumn in the Mini.

So we have been reading books about Halloween and Fall- mostly in an attempt to persuade her to put on her Halloween costume- but we inadvertently created a pumpkin-loving monster.

She points them out everywhere.  On walks, at the store, driving in the car.  "Mommy look! Punkins!"

So we thought bringing her to the pumpkin "patch" last weekend would be the greatest thing ever.  Better yet, they offer pumpkins at the orchard where we pick apples every year, so we figured we'd kill two birds with one stone.

At first it was great...

...but after about ten minutes of apple-picking, she was turning into Grumplestilksin.  It was no fun that Mommy kept trying to take pictures and wouldn't let her pick up the rotten apples on the ground, or run around with giant sticks.  So she refused to smile for any photos, and said she didn't want to pick out a pumpkin.

Although she did eventually come around a little, and tried to carry her pumpkin to the wagon.

But alas, it was too heavy.

Who knew the pumpkin patch would be a field of disappointments.

But the good news is, Mini has never met a pumpkin muffin she didn't like.  Even these gluten-free ones, which no one will even guess are missing wheat flour!

Gluten-Free Pumpkin Muffins

  • 2 C. Gluten-Free Flour Blend* (see below)
  • 2/3 C. firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1/3 C. sugar
  • 1 T. baking powder
  • 1/4 t. baking soda
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 1 t. ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 t. ground ginger
  • 1/8 t. ground nutmeg
  • 1/8 t. ground cloves
  • 6 T. butter, melted
  • 3/4 C. canned pumpkin
  • 1/3 C. buttermilk**
  • 2 eggs, slightly beaten
  • 1 t. pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 400°F. Place paper baking cups into 12-cup muffin pan cup, or grease cups. Set aside.

Combine flour, sugars, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices.  Whisk to combine.

In smaller bowl, whisk butter, pumpkin, buttermilk, eggs, and vanilla.  Stir into flour mixture just until moistened.

Spoon batter into prepared muffin pan. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 5 minutes; remove from pan & cool completely on wire rack.  Makes 12 + muffins.  Store muffins in an airtight container for up to 5 days.

*Gluten-Free Flour Blend: Combine 2 cups rice flour, 2/3 cup potato starch, 1/3 cup tapioca flour and 1 teaspoon xanthan gum. Use appropriate amount for recipe; store remainder in air-tight container. Stir before using.

**If you don't have buttermilk, substitute 1 teaspoon vinegar or lemon juice plus enough milk to equal 1/3 cup.  Let stand 5 minutes

Recipe Adapted Slightly from Land O Lakes

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Roasted Tomato & Jalapeno Salsa

Mr. Vittles and I have grown our own veggies almost every year since we met.

Some years have definitely been more successful than others.  Before we owned a home, we would plant everything in containers on our deck, but last summer was our first time having a "real" garden space.

Interestingly enough, it was our worst crop to date.

Thankfully, this year we redeemed ourselves, and I think next year will be even better now that we've had two growing seasons in our home to learn from our mistakes.

One thing I learned this summer was to let Mr. Vittles do all the harvesting.  He got rather prickly when I picked a bell pepper before it was apparently 'ready.'  Jeez... do NOT mess with a man and his peppers.  Just sayin'.

Anyway, our jalapeno and tomato plants were going crazy toward the end of summer, and I could not keep up.  I love a good caprese salad, but we were getting tired of that, and there is only so much one can do with fresh tomatoes!  And I was really at a loss with the jalapenos, because even if I would use a sprinkling here & there in various dishes, there was always a bunch still left.

So I made this slightly time-consuming salsa, and it killed two birds with one stone... used up our veggies, and tasted amazing.  Totally worth the extra time and effort of roasting.

In fact, I'm not gonna lie - I basically had a dinner of chips and salsa a couple nights after I made it.

And even the Mini enjoyed it!  My dad & stepmom were over a little while after it was finished, and we were all hanging out on our deck.  I put the salsa out with some chips, and my dad (her Poppa) was breaking off chips for her - naturally, she wanted to dunk them in the salsa, too.  He was a little skeptical that it would be too hot, but I knew she likes other spicy things, so I figured we should let her try it.  Lo and behold, she loved it.

The next day, just Mini and I were sitting on the deck in the very same place.  She got a far-off look in her eye and said "Poppa.  Chips.  Hot."

Dreaming of food - that's mommy's girl.

And that's how memorable the salsa was!

Roasted Tomato & Jalapeno Salsa

  • 1 1/2 lb. ripe whole tomatoes (about 10 medium), preferably plum
  • 2-3 fresh jalapeño peppers, stemmed (amount depends on your preference for spicy & also size of the peppers)
  • Half of a small white onion, sliced into 1/4 inch thick rings
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1/3 C. chopped fresh cilantro, loosely packed
  • 1 t. salt
  • 1 1/2 t. cider vinegar

Preheat the broiler on high. Lay the whole tomatoes and jalapeños out on a broiler pan or baking sheet. Set the pan 4 inches below the flame and broil for about 6 minutes, until darkly roasted on one side.  The tomatoes may split and lose some juices. Using a pair of tongs, flip over the tomatoes and chiles and roast the other side for approximately 6 more minutes. The tomatoes may get charred on the outside, but the idea is to cook them through. Set aside to cool.

Turn off broiler, and preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place onion rings & garlic on another baking sheet, and roast in the oven, stirring every couple minutes, until the onions are browned and wilted and the garlic is soft and browned in spots (approximately 15 minutes). Cool to room temperature.

Peel the cooled tomatoes with your fingers and cut out the cores, working over your baking sheet to keep all the juices. Place whole jalapenos with the onion and garlic in food processor and process until finely chopped, scraping everything down with a spatula as needed. Place jalapeno mixture into a large bowl.  Without washing the processor, coarsely puree the tomatoes & excess juice from baking sheet.  Then add them to the bowl with cilantro, and stir to combine.  If needed, stir in some water to achieve a spoonable consistency.  Add salt & vinegar to taste, using ingredient amounts as guidelines.  Can be eaten immediately, or covered & refrigerated for up to 5 days.

Recipe Slightly Adapted from Rick Bayless with JeanMarie Brownson and Deann Groen Bayless, as found on Epicurious

Friday, September 5, 2014

Coconut Water Strawberry Banana Smoothie

I hope everyone enjoyed their Labor Day weekend - the official "last hurrah" of summer!

We spent a good portion of it at the beach with family.

Long Beach Island, NJ with cousins 

Point Pleasant Beach, NJ with Poppa & CandiGram

I find it incredible that The Mini started summer afraid of the ocean, and now she can't get enough.  Amazing what a few months can do!

Overall, though, I'm just not sure where summer went this year.  I think in large part it hardly felt like summer because we had so many unseasonably cool days.

Except for this week when it decided it would make a September appearance with extreme humidity and near-90 degree temps!  Weather like that makes me want a refreshing smoothie.

Cocozia* was nice enough to send me a case of their organic coconut water for review here on the blog, and so my first thought was to create a smoothie with it.

Personally, I find that coconut water has a bit of a peculiar taste - which is not to say that it's bad, but rather nothing like you would typically associate with "coconut."  However, I started drinking it a few years ago because of its supposed health benefits, and grew to enjoy the taste.  Cocozia happens to be one of the better ones I've tasted, and I love that it's organic.

Especially because I like to give it to The Mini - she thinks it's juice, and is perfectly content to drink it plain over ice.  Sometimes I throw some fresh raspberries or sliced strawberries in it, and she thinks its fancy.

But make it a smoothie, pour it in her Princess cup, and now you're really speaking her language!

Coconut Water Strawberry Banana Smoothie

  • 1 C. coconut water
  • 1 C. plain yogurt
  • 1 banana
  • 1 C. frozen strawberries
  • sweetener, if desired (honey, agave, or sugar to taste)

Place all ingredients in blender, in the order listed above.  Blend until smooth.  Makes 1-2 servings.

Original Recipe

*Special thank you to Cocozia for allowing us to sample their coconut water at no cost. Please note that I did not receive any compensation to write this post, and it reflects my personal opinion.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Turkey Meatloaf

A couple of months ago, one of my coworkers asked if I had a classic meatloaf recipe.

I immediately went to V&B, thinking I could just forward her the link ... when I realized I do not have a "traditional" meatloaf on my blog!  I couldn't believe it.  I make this recipe often, in a rotation with buffalo chicken meatloaf (which is now also a staple in our household.)

So I wanted to remedy this oversight immediately, but it's usually tough to snap a decent picture during the madness of weekday mealtimes.  Which meant I had to wait until I made it on a weekend... and the pictures are still pretty rugged, haha!

Look, as I've lamented before, it's tough to make a mound of barf-colored meat look 'sexy.'  I think I've gotten a little better, but this time I also had a hungry Mini Smalls circling like a shark.

Don't mess with the Mini when she's ready to eat - trust me, the girl is serious about her chow.  Does this look like the face of an amateur to you?

Don't be fooled by the kitty in the bottom of her bowl.  She's hardcore, I tell you.  Ruthless.

(I think she gets it from her momma - I get "hangry" too.)

In any event, I promise the taste makes up for my poor food styling & photography skills!

Turkey Meatloaf

  • 16 oz. ground turkey (I use 94% lean)
  • 1 egg
  • 2 T. milk
  • 1/2 C. plain breadcrumbs
  • 1 t. garlic powder
  • 3/4 t. onion powder
  • 2 T. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 T. dijon mustard
  • 2 T. fresh parsley, minced
  • 1 t. salt
  • freshly ground pepper, to taste

  • 1/3 C. ketchup
  • 1 T. barbecue sauce
  • 1 T. brown sugar
  • 1 T. apple cider vinegar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Grease a glass pie pan or 8" square baking dish, and set
aside.  (If you like to make it in a loaf pan that's fine too, but I prefer to a larger dish so the end result is less greasy.)

Whisk eggs & milk in large bowl.  Add breadcrumbs, garlic & onion powders, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, parsley, salt, and pepper.  Stir to combine.  Add ground turkey and mix well with hands until
thoroughly combined.

Form into a mound in prepared pan/dish and bake 50 minutes.  In bowl, prepare glaze by combining ketchup, barbecue sauce, brown sugar, and apple cider vinegar.  Spread over meat, and bake an additional 15 minutes.  Let stand 10 minutes before serving.  Serves 2-4 people.

Original Recipe

Friday, July 4, 2014

Baked Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal

Happy 4th of July y'all!

It's currently raining here, courtesy of Hurricane Arthur, so there is not much celebrating to report from the Vittles household.

The rest of the holiday weekend is supposed to be beautiful, but I knew most of today was supposed to be a wash.  So last night I made this oatmeal to bake in the morning.  

I never liked oatmeal until recently, though I was also never sure why.  Much like hot tea, it seems like something I would enjoy, yet every time I had it I found it to be... bleh.

I still don't know what brought me around to it.  Maybe the fact that I started feeding it to the Mini, and eating her inevitable leftovers?  Maybe the fact that I started having it with a little brown sugar and cinnamon?  Maybe the fact that I don't have a lot of "hearty" breakfast options since going gluten-free?

Not really sure.  But in the meantime, the Mini is also starting to get a little more discerning with her tastes - she has started asking for specific things at mealtime, and refusing others.  (Our newest favorite is cherries.)  But so far, this has been a hit.  

It's also great left-over, so no worries if you don't eat the whole pan.

Hope everyone has a fun & safe holiday - Happy Birthday, America!

Baked Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal
  • 2 C. uncooked quick-cooking oats
  • 1/2 C. packed brown sugar 
  • 1 t. ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 t. ground cloves
  • pinch salt
  • 1 t. baking powder
  • 1 1/2 C. milk
  • 1 t. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 C. unsweetened applesauce 
  • 2 T. butter, melted 
  • 1 large egg, beaten 
  • 1 apple, peeled, cored & diced

Preheat oven to 375°.  Grease an 8" square baking dish with cooking spray, and set aside.*

In a large bowl, whisk together the oats through baking powder, & set aside.  In separate bowl, combine the milk, vanilla, applesauce, butter, and egg.

Add milk mixture to oat mixture; stir well. Fold in diced apples. Pour mixture into prepared baking dish & bake for 20-25 minutes, or until set in middle. Allow to cool 5 minutes, then serve warm.

*Note: This recipe can be made the night before, and stored in the refrigerator.  If making ahead, skip the step of preheating oven until ready to bake.  Also you may need to add an extra few minutes to bake time.

Recipe adapted from Cooking Light, as posted on MyRecipes.com

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Red White & Blue Mini Vanilla Cheesecakes

Strawberries have always been one of my favorite things about summer.

Much like my obsession with pumpkin in the fall, we always have plenty of strawberries on hand during the summer.  I look for any excuse to eat them or use them in recipes!

Now it seems our Mini has inherited this love as well, except she refers to them as "strawbees."

Not long ago she went strawbee picking with some of her cousins, and apparently took her job very seriously.

I was also told that she did not eat one single, solitary strawberry while they were at the orchard!

She made up for it at home of course, but I was still able to snag a few to adorn these mini cheesecakes.

I am loving this recipe because you get to enjoy the creamy richness of a cheesecake without having to deal with the fickleness of baking one that's full-sized.

And... you get to cover them with blueberries and "strawbees" (or any other fruit of your choice.)  But of course, I love the red, white & blue theme for the 4th of July!

Red, White, & Blue Mini Vanilla Cheesecakes

  • 1 1/2 C. graham cracker crumbs
  • 5 T. melted butter
  • 3 T. sugar
  • Pinch salt
  • 2 (8-oz. packages) cream cheese*, room temperature
  • 2/3 C. sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean, split and seeded
  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • 2 t. pure vanilla extract
  • Sliced strawberries & blueberries, for decoration

Preheat oven to 325°F. Line one 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners.**

Mix together graham cracker crumbs, melted butter, 3 T. sugar, and salt. Place 2 tablespoons of the graham cracker mixture into bottom of paper liners. Using the bottom of a small juice glass or your hands, press mixture down firmly into each cup.

Using electric mixer, beat cream cheese, 2/3 C. sugar, and vanilla bean scrapings until light and fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla extract, and beat well.

Divide batter evenly amongst cups (each should be about 3/4 full). Bake for 22 to 24 minutes, or until the centers are just set. Cool in pan on wire rack, then transfer to plate and chill for 4 hours or overnight in an airtight container.

Before serving, top with sliced strawberries & whole blueberries.  Makes 12 cupcakes.  Cupcakes are good for 3-5 days when refrigerated.

*You can substitute Neufchâtel for some or all of the cream cheese, that is what I used for a slightly lower fat version.
**I really like the Reynolds StayBrite® baking cups (available in most grocery stores) for these, because they are thick and peel away from the cheesecakes easily.

Recipe Adapted Slightly from Bree at goboldwithbutter.com

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Corn, Tomato & Basil Salad

I hope everyone had a great Memorial Day!

Here at the Jersey Shore, Memorial Day weekend is the official start of summer.

And I am psyched to break out some new summer recipes with you guys.

This one came from my friend Pauline, who got it from her mother-in-law.  I'm not sure where she got it from, so I apologize in advance for not properly crediting the source.  But I had this at their house last summer, and had to get the recipe.  It is super easy, has simple ingredients, and is really refreshing.

In fact, this salad is so delicious that The Mini actually reversed her ban on tomatoes.  Yup - cut up tomatoes were a food I tried early and often, but to no avail until I gave her a bowl of this salad.  I think it's the garlic and basil, which obviously makes everything delicious. (Although now she will even eat tomatoes plain, go figure.)

I can't complain too much though, because she has actually been a great eater for the most part.  I am just crossing my fingers that toddler-hood doesn't ruin that!  I know most kids get more fickle with age, and I was pretty much the poster child of picky.  Family folklore tells me that when I was a baby, I actually ate (and enjoyed!) a wide variety of foods.  My only memory, however, is subsisting on chicken nuggets, yogurt, and mac & cheese for about the next 12 years of my life.


I cringe just thinking about it.  I really don't know how that happened because my parents both love food.... but let's hope we don't repeat that.  Although I'm sure my mom is somewhere chuckling & saying, "Ohh, just wait.  She's only 1 1/2!"

So until then I guess I'll just be happy that we can all enjoy this summer treat together :)

Corn, Tomato & Basil Salad

  • 12-oz. bag frozen corn (about 3 cups, or the kernels removed from about 6 cobs)
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 C. fresh basil, thinly sliced
  • 1 pint grape tomatoes, cut in half
  • 2 T. white vinegar
  • kosher salt & ground pepper, to taste

Season tomatoes with some kosher salt, stir, and set aside in a colander to draw the juices out.  (This is an optional step, it just takes some of the liquid out of your finished salad).

Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add minced garlic, and saute about 1 minute - do not brown.  Add corn kernels (still frozen is fine) and saute about 4 minutes, until just cooked through.

Remove pan from heat and add half of the sliced basil.  Season mixture with salt & pepper & transfer to a bowl.  Stir to combine.  Allow to cool slightly, stirring occasionally.  Stir in tomatoes, vinegar, and remaining basil.  Adjust salt & pepper to taste.  Cover & chill 3-8 hours, or can be served immediately.

Family Recipe - Origin Unknown

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Heath Bar Brownies

By now you might be like "Another brownie recipe?"

I dunno.  I like brownies, I guess.

And pants with elastic waists.

(In case you didn't know, brownies and stretchy pants go together like Thelma and Louise.)

I made this recipe when Mr. Vittles' parents and grandmother came over for a visit this past weekend, and my mother-in-law also made brownies.  Hers were not only deliciously dense and fudgy, they were healthy! I'll share them with you someday.

Alas, these are not healthy.  But you knew that already.  Your first clue was probably the part about Heath.  Anything with toffee in it cannot possibly be healthy, right?

So the Mini has been going through this phase (like many 18-month-olds, I'm sure) where she says "no" when she actually means yes.  Our 'conversations' go something like this:

"Mini, do you want to eat breakfast now?"


And then she takes off running into the kitchen, climbs into her 'eating' seat, and bounces with sheer excitement and anticipation of whatever food is about to be placed on her tray.

She probably gets that from me.  I definitely do a mental dance every time I think of my next meal. (Sadly, The Pancake Shimmy is not nearly as adorable when you're 31 as it is when you're 1.)

As for the confusion between No and Yes - I think she gets that from her daddy.

Mr. Vittles told me he could "take or leave Heath bar," but ended up eating more than half of these brownies singlehandedly.  Go figure.

Heath Bar Brownies

  • 1 1/2 sticks of butter (12 T.) cut in chunks, plus more for greasing foil 
  • 4 oz. unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 2 C. sugar 
  • 3 large eggs 
  • 2 t. vanilla extract 
  • 1 C. all-purpose flour 
  • 3/4 C. Heath bits, divided (or other brand of English toffee bits) 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Line bottom and sides of a 9x13-inch pan with nonstick or buttered foil, and set aside.

In a medium microwave-safe bowl, heat butter and chocolate at 30-second intervals, stirring after each until mixture is completely melted (1 1/2 to 2 minutes total).

Stir in sugar, and beat for 100 strokes.  Beat in eggs and vanilla until combined.  Add flour and stir gently, just until no streaks remain.

Spread half of batter in prepared pan, then evenly top with 1/2 C. of toffee bits. Pour & spread remaining batter over top, then sprinkle with remaining 1/4 C. toffee bits.

Bake brownies until a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack to cool, then cut into 16 pieces.

Recipe Adapted from Kim Jameson, as it appeared in Country Living Magazine

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Banana Coconut Chia Muffins

I'm sorry to report that it's been a bit of a sad and stressful week in the Vittles family.  My grandmother (mom's mom) went in for heart surgery on Monday, and on the same day my grandfather (stepmom's dad) passed away.

Luckily Grammy seems to be doing ok, but my grandpa, who we knew as Pop Pop, will be sorely missed.

I have happy memories of listening to him play guitar, and he would always keep us laughing - about anything from how he wooed my grandma, to his fondness for his "cream puff" of a car, that faithfully transported him from Florida to New Jersey at least once a year.

As the years go by, I know I will be forced to say goodbye to more and more people that I love.  But now I also watch our Mini grow with each passing day - I guess this is what they refer to as the 'circle of life?'

Well today our little munchkin floored me, and I think that was just what I needed to lift my spirits this week.

Our good friend Pauline came over with her beautiful, almost 5-month old daughter Genevieve, and Mini was going to meet the baby for the first time.  They arrived while Mini was napping, and we put G in her old bouncy seat.  G was having a blast, but I couldn't help but wonder what Mini's reaction would be - she is not exactly known for sharing.

But after waking up and getting past a brief bout of shyness, she was not only fine with G using her seat, she was excited.  G was excited to see her too, smiling and kicking.  Then my heart melted when Mini, without any prompting, bent over and gave G a kiss.

Unfortunately Pauline and I were completely unprepared for this moment of cuteness, but we were still able to capture a reenactment a few minutes later:

I said that when they get older, we'll have to tell them they had an instant connection!

Speaking of which, I had an instant connection with these muffins I made to accompany our coffee this morning.

You may know by now that I love me some coconut, but I found out today that Pauline does too!  And with both shredded coconut and coconut oil, these muffins have a double dose of the good stuff.

Banana Coconut Muffins

  • 2 C. flour
  • 1 t. baking soda
  • 3/4 t. salt
  • 1/4 t. nutmeg
  • 2 T. chia seeds*
  • 1/2 C. unsweetened, shredded coconut (you can also use sweetened, flaked if you prefer)
  • 1 C. brown sugar
  • 1/2 C. coconut oil
  • 4 mashed bananas
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 t. vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease 12 muffin tins with non-stick cooking spray, or line with muffin cups.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, nutmeg, chia seeds, and shredded coconut. Set aside.

Cream the coconut oil and brown sugar until well combined. Add the egg, and beat well. Add the mashed banana and vanilla, and mix until blended.

Stir the dry ingredients into wet ingredients, and mix only until just combined (be sure not to over-mix here!). Scoop batter into prepared muffin tins, about 3/4 of the way full.

Bake for 23-25 minutes, or until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.  Yield 12 muffins.  *If you do not wish to use the chia seeds, you can either substitute poppy seeds or leave them out completely.

Recipe Adapted from Jenna Weber, as found on PBS online

Sunday, March 30, 2014

White Balsamic Apple Vinaigrette

I've always enjoyed a good salad, but ever since I became gluten-free about 4 months ago, I've taken my salad game to a whole new level.

Which is probably for the best, since we signed the Mini up for a "parent & me" swim class and I've had to squeeze my doughy, ghost-white body into a bathing suit two months earlier that I usually would.

It doesn't help that my partner in crime looks adorable in her bathing suit.

Ah the things we do for our children.

In any event, I am a creature of habit and when I find something I like, I stick to it.  For example, I have spent countless lunches at Panera Bread with my coworkers over the years, and have only sampled probably 4 different menu items.

Even before I went GF, one of my main go-to meals has been their Fuji Apple Chicken Salad. A-mazing.  I don't know who decided apple chips would be a good topping for salad, but I would like to thank this person for changing my life.

However, I am not much into Gorgonzola cheese, so I always ask to substitute with Feta cheese.  I also prefer almonds to pecans when I make it at home.  So it's totally up you what you put this on, but my recommendation for a salad base is as follows:

-mixed greens/baby lettuce
-grilled chicken strips
-slivered almonds (or pecans)
-crumbled feta cheese (or Gorgonzola)
-red onion
-crispy apple chips (you can find my recipe here, or use store-bought)

Either way, you can't go wrong.

White Balsamic Apple Vinaigrette
  • 2 T. canola oil
  • 1 T. olive oil
  • 1/2 C. apple juice (I recommend using a "natural" apple juice)
  • 3 T. white balsamic vinegar
  • 2 T. apple cider vinegar
  • 1 t. lemon juice 
  • 1 t. sugar
  • 2 t. honey
  • 1/4 t. salt
  • 1/8 t. pepper
  • 1/4 t. garlic powder
  • 1/4 t. xanthan gum (optional - it just makes the dressing a little thicker)
Whisk all ingredients together, or process in a blender to emulsify.  Makes about one cup of dressing.  Any leftovers can be refrigerated for up to a week.

Original Recipe

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Pina Colada Smoothie

Well... you know you're a parent when you catch an illness you haven't had since the 4th grade.

In fact, my supervisor put it all in perspective when he texted me Friday morning "You worked 31.75 hours in the past 2 weeks - when you come back, I may need to reintroduce you to the group."

Yup.  Between a snow day, the Mini getting pink eye, and then ME getting a random virus followed by my own case of pink eye... I did not even work the amount of hours in two weeks that I would usually work in one.


My father-in-law did warn us that a young child is like a Petri dish, and boy was he right.  Although the Mini has been fairly healthy (almost shockingly so), I feel like have not been able to go longer than a month without catching something since she was born.

The addition of the Petri Dish to our household has also spelled trouble for Mr. Vittles.  Once known for a powerful immune system my friend Joe nicknamed "Super Blood," he too has fallen victim to a surprising number of "bugs" in the past 17 months.

While he was able to avoid the pink eye this week, he was not so lucky with the virus that left us both with the worst sore throat in the history of sore throats, and a cough that still won't quit.

At its peak, the only things that gave us any relief were frozen treats.  Not only is the cold temperature soothing, but apparently the sugar is as well.  The two days that I managed to drag myself to work last week, I had a smoothie for lunch.

At home, it was more smoothies and ice cream.  Not great for the girlish figure... but desperate times call for desperate measures.  And after this brutal winter (with snow storms aplenty) I figured a little tropical treat would be good for the soul as well as the throat!

Pina Colada Smoothie

  • 1 C. full-fat coconut milk
  • 1 C. canned crushed pineapple, with juice
  • 1 ripe banana
  • 1 T. sugar (optional)
  • ice

Add coconut milk, pineapple, banana, and sugar (if using) to blender with about 2 handfuls of ice cubes.  Blend until smooth.  Makes 2 smoothies, approx. 12 oz. each.

Original Recipe

Monday, February 17, 2014

Instant Mocha Latte Mix

If you know me well, you know I am not a "morning person."

I hate waking up, in fact I have hated it since I was a kid.  I can remember epic battles with my mother, as early as kindergarten, where she would be trying to get me out the door while I was throwing a fit.

When I was a few years older, I also tried to get out of walking to school by telling my parents that "my legs don't work in the morning."  I'm sure you can imagine how that ended... with me trudging grumpily to school.

I'm happy to report that at this point in my life, I don't cry and scream anymore (though Mr. Vittles might disagree) and my legs work just fine at 7AM.  But no matter what time I wake up, or how smoothly my morning duties go, I still always seem to be scrambling at the end.

In case you didn't know, I am also a coffee-a-holic, so those aforementioned "duties" typically include making myself either iced coffee or a latte.  Or if things are REALLY going well, I may forgo that duty and stop to buy one instead.

But then there are those mornings when nothing goes right.

When... every outfit I put on looks terrible.

When... I happen to notice I forgot to put on makeup (eek!)

When... the Mini is running around, refusing to get her clothes and/or coat on (maybe she inherited my morning-hating?), OR decides that 30 seconds before we leave is a good time to test-drive her fresh diaper.

When... I can't find my keys, anywhere.

When... I'm pulling out of the driveway and I realize my cell phone is still sitting on my dresser.

Or maybe some awful combination of the above, who knows.

But whatever the reason ... there are sad, sad days when I get to work coffee-less.  And for dire times like these, I keep a stash of instant coffee at my desk.

Coffee snobs are likely horrified, and I'll admit my early experience with instant coffee was not too positive - but when Starbucks came out with their Via line, I felt instant coffee was redeemed.  Then, when I recently saw their new instant lattes, I was even more excited.  I'll take a hot latte over a hot cup of coffee any day.

It pains me to say it - I am a Starbucks lover from way back, and gold card-holder for many years - but these lattes just have a weird taste... which I happen to dislike immensely.

So my disappointment gave me an idea.  What if I made my own mixture, and I could save the servings in little baggies at my desk?

Well it turns out, not only does this NOT taste weird (at least, not to me), it has the added benefit that you can adjust the mix to your personal preferences.  If you like the coffee flavor to be strong, add more espresso powder.  If you like it super sweet, add more confectioners sugar (or vice versa if you prefer less sweet, or even unsweetened).  If you like it creamier, add more milk powder.

It's the little things that make the mornings a little more bearable :)

Instant Mocha Latte Mix
  • 5 T. nonfat dry milk powder (I used Carnation brand)
  • 1 T. unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 T. confectioners sugar
  • 1 1/2 t. instant espresso powder (I used Medaglio D'Oro brand)

Combine all ingredients and mix until evenly distributed.  Store in airtight container until ready to use.  To make a latte, empty mixture into mug and add 1 C. boiling (or very hot) water.  Stir until powder is dissolved, and enjoy.  Makes 1 serving.

Original Recipe

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Flourless Fudgy Brownies

Cake-like brownie lovers, look no further.

No, seriously - I mean don't even bother scrolling down, because this recipe is not for you.

That's right, better luck next time.  These bad boys are only for those of us who enjoy thick, chewy, barely-cooked, melt-in-your-mouth, death-by-chocolate, get-out-your-stretch-pants brownies.

And if that wasn't enough, they also happen to fit into my new gluten-free diet.  Holla!

Ok now wait, stay with me here.  If you're like Mr. Vittles, don't get all weirded-out by the "GF" term.  This isn't one of those "These are pretty good ... for being gluten-free" situations.

Like, even if I was still eating wheat, I would make these brownies.  And then eat the whole pan, single-handedly.

Much to my own amazement, I even managed to achieve the flaky top (which always seems to elude me with flour-based brownies.)

Yep.  This is my new go-to recipe.

So thanks to a storm this week that dumped about a foot of snow on us, I was forced to take my brownie photos indoors this morning.  Which meant, I had a little assistant who was way more interested in munching on my subject than helping me snap photos.

I know... still in jammies and eating brownies.  What kind of mother am I?  But judging by her miniature chocolate beard and persistent requests for "Mo'? Mo'?" I would say she agrees that these brownies are pretty awesome.

Flourless Fudgy Brownies

  • 1 T. unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 3 T. cornstarch*
  • 6 T. butter (salted)
  • 8 oz. semi-sweet baking chocolate, chopped
  • 3/4 C. sugar
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature

Let eggs come to room temperature.  Sift together the cocoa powder and corn starch in a small bowl, and set aside. Line the inside of an 8-inch square pan with non-stick or lightly greased foil and preheat oven to 350º F.

In a medium metal saucepan over very low heat, melt butter.  Add chocolate, and continuously stir until mixture is smooth.  Remove from heat and stir in the sugar, then the eggs one at a time.

Stir in cocoa/cornstarch mixture, and beat vigorously for at least one minute, until the batter is no longer grainy and nearly smooth.**  It will pull away from the sides of the pan a bit.  Scrape batter into foil-lined pan.

Bake for about 28-30 minutes, or until the brownies feel just set in the center. Do not overbake.  Remove from oven and let cool completely before removing from the pan and slicing.  Makes 12 brownies.

*Some cornstarch contains gluten so check the label if you are making this for someone with an allergy
**Beating everything thoroughly is very important - the batter should be shiny and fairly smooth, otherwise the brownie consistency may be crumbly after baking.

Recipe slightly adapted from David Liebovitz

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Frozen Coconut Chocolate Chip Mousse (Vegan)

Whether it's for medical necessity or personal preference, in this day and age I feel like everyone knows at least one person who has dietary restrictions.

After having some medical issues myself, I had a blood test done in October that seemed to indicate I had mild food allergies to basically every staple of the American diet (namely milk, wheat, corn, eggs, soy, peanuts, and beef).

Let me tell you, this can really mess with your mind.  I challenge anyone to walk into the average grocery store and load up their cart with a variety of foods that do NOT contain any of the above.

Not easy.

Well after getting a skin test done by an allergist a few weeks ago, it turns out I do not have allergies to any foods, except fish.  The doctor suggested that at worst, I may have a sensitivity to gluten and recommended I try a "GF" diet.

But this all came after 6 weeks of avoiding eggs, wheat, and dairy as much as possible.  So although it pains me to give up my breads and flour-based treats, it has been a lot more manageable to avoid one type of food than 3+.

I have only just begun being gluten free after the New Year (and a pasta-filled visit to my grandmother's house yesterday broke my streak!).  But I have to say, whether it was all in my mind or not, I did feel better after limiting those foods.  And in the process, I also realized that while there is really no true substitute for milk (at least in my mind), you can still make some tasty things with alternatives.

Not that I'll be going vegan any time soon.  Right after my allergist appointment, the first thing I did was head to Dunkin' Donuts for an iced coffee with cream - heaven!

Frozen Coconut Chocolate Chip Mousse (Vegan)

  • 1 14-oz. can full-fat coconut milk*
  • 1/3 C. cocoa powder
  • 1/2 C. powdered sugar
  • 1/4 t. salt
  • 1 t. vanilla extract
  • 1/3 C. vegan chocolate chips

Refrigerate coconut milk until cold.  In a large bowl, combine coconut milk with cocoa powder, powdered sugar, and salt.  Mix with an electric mixer on high speed, until fluffy (about 3 minutes).  Add vanilla extract and mix until combined. Stir in vegan chocolate chips.  Transfer to a freezer-safe, coverable container and freeze until firm.

*Note: I have read on more than one occasion that not all coconut milks are created equal.  For one, I don't think this would work with a "lite" coconut milk, or the refrigerated kind in a carton - make sure you use canned, full-fat.  Also, you may need to experiment with different brands of coconut milk.

Recipe Adapted from Kojodesigns


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