Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Homemade Granola

On this last day of August, I have got a treat for you - a guest post by Natalie Vittles!

She has been kind enough to take some time out of her busy schedule to share not only her super-secret and super-delicious homemade granola recipe, but also a little history of how it came to be!

I'm not sure which I'm more excited about.

You be the judge.  Enjoy :)

As Maggie mentioned in her last post, I don't have a lot of spare time on my hands these days. I am a mother to a very rambunctious 3 year old boy and a happy-go-lucky, but still needy 5 month old infant. Oh and I just started law school.  I ever-so-wisely rode the late pregnancy hormone-induced wave of ambition straight into that logistical calamity.

As you may have guessed, a lot of my time-consuming stay-at-home-mom-with-a-perfectionist-hippie-streak obsessions have fallen by the wayside. While our first child was on a super strict cloth diaper regimen (which even included toting giant bags of soiled linens on vacation) our second receives this conscience-soothing treatment in increasingly rare cases such as when the toosh isn't a little bit irritated, or when he isn't about to take a nap, or for that matter when dirty diapers aren't in queue behind 2 days of backlogged laundry - i.e almost never.

But there is one law school felled tradition that I quickly resurrected - making my own granola. It's just too good. It makes the store-bought stuff (even the organic, pumpkin seed, super omega, etc. stuff) seem like Cap'n Crunch in comparison. Nothing against the Cap'n, but that's dessert not breakfast.  

I had been making this recipe every week for a year, slowly changing things as I went along. Finding a good granola recipe to start with was no easy task. Even my trusty Mark Bittman, the man who taught me how to cook..well.."Everything..," left me with burnt and bland granola after way too many steps and way too many pans and bowls. I eventually adapted a recipe from Delicious Living magazine, a free handout at our local co-op. 

If you compare the recipes, you'll see that in the end I just added almond butter (to create the crunchy clumps), subtracted the coconut (because it really didn't add anything to the taste), and greatly reduced the cooking time (to avoid the burnt taste). Amazing how it took me a whole year to get to this point, but hindsight is 20/20. 

The final recipe is very adaptable and customizable. You can add different seeds, nuts and dried fruit for a completely new taste. It's equally as good with yogurt as it is with milk, which is a plus since I've been addicted to Greek yogurt lately. Is that stuff amazing or what?!  And I assure you that you do not need to be a domestic goddess like Ms. Vittles to make this recipe. If your idea of cooking is throwing ingredients into a giant bowl (or if you've just got a lot on your plate), this recipe is for you:

Homemade Granola
  • 8 cups uncooked rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1/2 cup sesame seeds
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
  • 1 cup almonds, chopped or sliced
  • 3/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/2 cup sunflower oil*
  • 1 TB Molasses
  • 1 TB vanilla extract
  • 1 heaping spoonful (or more) Almond Butter
  • cinnamon
  • salt
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, mix first 5 dry ingredients. Make well and add in next 6 ingredients. Stir to combine. Press mixture into two jelly roll pans and sprinkle with a little bit of salt and a lot of cinnamon. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove from oven, stir, and bake for 10 additional minutes. Remove granola from pans immediately (otherwise it will stick) and put in resealable bag or storage container. I keep mine in the same giant Pyrex bowl that I used to mix the ingredients. After it comes out of the oven you can add dried fruit to the recipe.

*Any neutral, high heat oil could probably be used if sunflower oil isn't available.

Recipe Adapted (by Natalie) from Delicious Living Mag.com

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Moroccan Chicken Kebabs

I know I posted a recipe about kebabs a couple weeks ago... but I just tried a new one, and since Kebab Season is quickly coming to a close, I had to share it with you!

It's no secret that I love Greek yogurt (some past recipes that have featured this amazing ingredient are Whole Wheat Yogurt Waffles and Cucumber & Yogurt Salad.)  It has such a thick, creamy texture and is very high in protein - especially considering it comes not only in whole milk and 2% but also nonfat!

Not everyone is down with yogurt though.  When I was preparing this chicken tonight, Mr. Vittles asked what I was making.

"Yogurt chicken" I said, to keep things short because I knew I'd totally lose him if I said the word "Moroccan."  But even without the ethnic spin, his radar was up.

"What's in it?" he said, hovering around the bowl.  I started listing the ingredients, and he said "No - I mean, what kind of yogurt?  Strawberry?  Banana?"

I'm pretty sure he was kidding, but sometimes it's hard to tell. 

However, I know he was not kidding when he commented twice that the chicken came out "really good." 

And I didn't even have to ask.

"Who knew that yogurt could make chicken taste so good?" he wondered aloud.

Umm... I did. 

That's why I made it.  :)

Moroccan Chicken Kebabs
  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed of fat and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1/4 C. nonfat plain yogurt
  • 1/4 C. chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 T. chopped fresh basil (recipe called for 2 T. cilantro but I didn't have any)
  • 2 T. lemon juice
  • 1 T. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced (1 1/2 t.)
  • 1 1/2 t. paprika
  • 1/2 t. ground cumin
  • 1/4 t. onion powder
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 1/4 t. freshly ground pepper
  • 1/8 t. cayenne pepper
Stir together yogurt, parsley, cilantro, lemon juice, oil, garlic, paprika, cumin, salt, pepper and cayenne in a medium bowl. Add chicken and toss to coat well. Cover with plastic wrap and marinate in the refrigerator for 20 minutes.  Meanwhile, preheat grill or broiler.

Place chicken pieces on metal or bamboo skewers*.  Grill or broil the kebabs until the chicken is no longer pink in the center, 3 to 4 minutes per side.

*If using bamboo skewers, I would recommend soaking them in water while chicken is marinating so they don't catch on fire.  Eating Well also recommends wrapping the exposed ends in foil.

Recipe slightly adapted from Eatingwell.com

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Coconut Cake

This past Saturday I left for a trip to California to visit my roommate from college, Natalie Vittles, and her family.  She is married with two sons - Otto just turned three, and Felix is five months old.  She also just started law school.

So... I'm gonna go ahead and state the obvious by saying she has her hands full.  But it was a great trip, and I had a lot of fun with her, her husband, and the kids.

 Otto, Me, and Felix

Some of the highlights included: touring the playgrounds of Sacramento, eating at an Ethiopian restaurant, seeing the movie Wall-E for the first time, trying some of Nat Vittles' homemade foods - such as her homemade granola (which is hopefully making an appearance on here soon!) and sunflower seed pate wrapped in collard greens - AND chuckling at about 75% of the comments that came out of Otto's mouth.

He is extremely smart for his age, but as Nat V put it - he is at the point where he knows what he wants to do, but not mature enough to understand why he isn't allowed to do most of it.

In other words - his parents (and now Auntie Maggie) are The Meanest People On Earth.

The beauty of being three, though, is that you get over it pretty quickly.  Tuesday night when I told him I had to go home, he grabbed my hand and said "But I want you to stay here!"

Melted my heart :(

I took an overnight flight back and didn't get much sleep, but oddly enough I felt very energized when I got home yesterday around 12:30 PM.

Being home this "early" I was thinking of all the things I could do - namely catch up on some baking and cooking!  I unpacked (arguably the worst part of traveling), did all my laundry, and noticed the cookie jar was empty.

Somebody ate all the cookies in the house while I was gone.  I wonder who that could be?

So I thought maybe I would make some cookies to fill up the jar.  But I made some cookies at Nat's and so I ultimately decided I wasn't feeling like it.

Then I remembered a request I had the weekend before, from Dan's cousin Devon Vittles for a coconut cake.  She and her parents had some at a restaurant that sounded incredible, and she was wondering if I had any good recipes.

I made one with chocolate coconut icing last year for Mr. Vittles' birthday that came out really good, and I thought I wrote it down.

Mr. Vittles' Birthday, September 2009
I didn't.  ...sigh...

Thus I went searching online, and found a recipe for Fresh Coconut Cake which sounded pretty yummy.  But since there was not even a banana nor an apple left in the house, I figured the chance of fresh coconut suddenly appearing in the fridge was about as likely as me spending my day 'off' at the dreaded grocery store.

So I ended up adapting the recipe quite a bit and I sort of made up the frosting based on what I had (ice at your own risk!) but Mr. V gave it his seal of approval.  "Its good... no, actually, really good."

That's what I like to hear.

Of course, I used up all my energy on making cake and toasting coconut and assembling the darn thing, so we had this elaborate dessert and some Boboli-crusted pizza for dinner.

Oh well.  Guess the 2 hours of plane sleep didn't do much for me after all.

Coconut Cake
  • 2 1/4 C. cake flour*
  • 2 t. baking powder
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 3/4 C. coconut milk
  • 1/2 t. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 t. coconut extract/flavoring
  • 1 1/4 C. sugar
  • 8 T. butter (1 stick), softened
  • 1/4 C. canola oil
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 C. shredded sweetened coconut
Preheat oven 350 degrees.  Spray two 9" round pans with nonstick spray or grease with butter.  In a medium bowl, combine cake flour, baking powder, and salt.  In another small bowl, combine coconut milk and extracts.

In the bowl of a mixer fitted with paddle attachment, beat butter on medium until light & fluffy.  Add sugar and cream, scraping down sides of bowl as needed with a spatula.  Add oil and mix on medium speed until combined.  Then add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. 

Add coconut mixture to the mixing bowl alternately with the flour mixture, beating on low speed & scraping down sides after each addition until all are combined.  Spoon batter into prepared pans, and spread evenly.

Bake 20-25 minutes, or until top is browned, sides of cake are pulling away from the pan, and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Cool in pans 15 minutes, then invert cake directly onto wire racks to cool completely.

Meanwhile, turn down oven to 300 degrees.  Spread the cup of shredded coconut on a baking sheet and place in oven.  Bake in 5 minute increments, stirring after each increment, until coconut is toasted.  (Be careful here - it burns easily if you don't pay attention to it).  Set toasted coconut aside.

Once cake is completely cooled, prepare Coconut Buttercream Frosting**:
  • 8 T. (1 stick) butter, softened
  • 1 C. powdered (confectioners') sugar
  • 2 T. milk
  • 1/4 t. vanilla extract
  • 1/4 t. coconut extract/flavoring
Beat butter on medium speed until light & fluffy.  Add sugar and cream together.  Add milk and extracts, and blend on low.  Then switch speed to med-high until frosting reaches desired consistency.

Assemble cake - place one round on a plate or cake stand and frost the top.  Add the next layer and frost as desired (note that the frosting recipe above is enough to frost the tops of both layers, but NOT the sides).  Sprinkle toasted coconut on the top.

*If you don't have cake flour, you can substitute a mixture of all-purpose flour & cornstarch.  For each cup of cake flour a recipe calls for, first place 2 T of cornstarch in the bottom of the measuring cup. Then fill the rest of the cup with flour.  For a half cup, use only 1 T cornstarch.  For 1/4 cup, use 1 1/2 t. of cornstarch.

**I use frosting pretty sparingly.  This recipe makes enough to frost the tops of each layer but not the sides of the cake.  I recommend doubling the recipe if you want to do the sides as well, or if you like a lot of icing. 

Cake recipe adapted from About.com - frosting recipe is original

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Caramel Corn

You know what they say... when the hubby's away, the wife will play :)

Ok wait.  Not like that

It's all very innocent.

I'm just eating my weight in popcorn, watching bad reality tv, and going to Target at 9PM.

And... dancing around the house in my pj's and doing laundry at midnight and writing blog posts at 2AM.

Mr. Vittles is at a bachelor party tonight in Atlantic City, so he's probably getting into waaay more trouble than I am.

I'm sure it involves lots and lots of alcohol.

Although tonight is actually just the pre-party festivities, so maybe it's a bit more low-key?



But more importantly - this caramel corn is amazing.  I mean, I could seriously eat this for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. 

Is popcorn a food group?

Well, at least it's a whole grain.

...covered in buttery, sugary goodness.

Which reminds me - what you definitely don't want covered in buttery, sugary goodness is your finger.


Or as my dad used to say, "Ooch McGooch."


Me, I always manage to burn the #%$* out of my hand at least once with anything involving hot caramel.

And while its sooo worth it in the end, it totally sucks every time.

So let that be a warning to you.  Just "go easy" with the molten sugar, ok?  For Pappy V's sake and mine. 

Now.  Back to the Real Housewives :)

Caramel Corn
  • 3 quarts plain popped popcorn (1/2 C. unpopped kernels)
  • 1 C. brown sugar
  • 1/4 C. light corn syrup
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 1/2 C. butter (1 stick)
  • 1/4 t. baking soda
  • 1/2 t. vanilla extract
  • 1 C. dry roasted peanuts (optional)
Preheat oven 250 degrees and place popped popcorn into 2 shallow greased baking pans (I usually line a roasting pan with foil becuase it can get rather messy).  Add peanuts to popcorn, if using.

In a saucepan over medium heat, melt brown sugar, corn syrup, butter and salt in saucepan and stir occasionally until mixture starts to boil.  Boil 5 minutes while stirring constantly.

Remove from heat, and stir in baking soda and vanilla (mixture will be light and foamy).  Immediately pour over popcorn and stir to coat.  Note: at this point, there is no need to go crazy making sure all the corn is covered - the baking process should take care of that.

Bake for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes to evenly coat the corn.  Line the countertop with waxed paper, dump out corn, and break any clumps into pieces to separate.  Allow to cool completely, then store in airtight containers or resealable bags.

Recipe barely adapted from Allrecipes.com

Monday, August 16, 2010

Teriyaki Chicken Marinade (for Kebabs)

Now is that time in the summer when constantly having something to do gets exhausting.

I think we talked about this already in the beginning of the summer, and I knew it was just a matter of time before I found sweating and sitting in traffic (hopefully not simultaneously?) to be utterly hellacious.  Especially since I drive for about half of my work day, and being in the car on my days off is not one of my favorite activities.

I must say, work has been surprisingly busy - I'm getting transferred to another group under another supervisor, which is probably for the best in the long run but a little bit stressful for the time being.

And, while the beginning of the summer was unusually quiet, we have had a lot of activities and visits with family and friends over the past month.

Don't get me wrong, it's all worth it - I love spending time with everyone.  But you know what they say, "when it rains it pours."

And I think I forgot my umbrella at home.

Sooo... this is kind of my roundabout way of telling you - I don't have as many new recipes to share with you as I would like :(

However, I do have this recipe to marinate chicken for kebabs that is always a favorite of mine.  Momma Vittles used to make this, and I loved it even in my Super Annoying Picky Eater days.  She would use any leftovers to put in a green salad the next night which was extremely yummy - and highly recommended.

Unless, of course, you have a husband who commandeers all delicious leftovers for lunch at work the next day.

I might possibly maybe perhaps have one of these types of husbands.

Whose name ends in Ittles.


Teriyaki Marinade
  • 1/2 C. vegetable oil
  • 2 T. toasted sesame oil
  • 1 C. soy sauce
  • 3 T. brown sugar
  • 3 t. garlic
  • 1/2 t. ground ginger
  • 2 T. sherry (optional)
  • 2 T. scallions, sliced thin
  • freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1 1/2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut in 1-inch chunks*
  • skewers (if using wooden, soak in water for 30 minutes before threading to prevent them catching on fire)
Combine all ingredients in shallow coverable dish or in plastic ziploc bag.  Marinate chicken at least 4 hours, up to overnight.

When fully marinated, thread chicken onto the skewers.  (If using any vegetables, first drizzle the veggies with some olive oil and mix with salt, fresh pepper, garlic powder to taste).  Turn grill on high heat and cover 15 minutes.  Then reduce heat to medium-high (medium hot fire, if charcoal).

Place chicken on grill and cook about 7-8 minutes, turning slightly every couple of minutes, until chicken is thoroughly cooked & no longer pink when you cut into it.  (Cook veggies until lightly browned- may not need full amount of minutes).  Serve immediately.

*I believe you can also use this marinade for beef!

Recipe Origin Unknown

Friday, August 13, 2010

The World's Best Chocolate Chip Cookies

Last weekend, Mr. Vittles and I went to a family reunion in Connecticut for my dad's side of the family.

They call it a reunion, but it's kind of misleading- the term makes it seem like these people haven't seen each other in 15 or 20 years.  Really, we saw each other last year.

And the year before that.

And... the year before that.

But my dad's father has seven siblings (more than half of them still living), and almost all of them have kids and grandkids and some even have great-grandkids.  So with such a large extended family, the 'reunions' are a good reason for everyone to get together.

The Elders - Yaya and Poppa Vittles are front right

I especially look forward to these events because Yaya Vittles is quite a pistol, and so is my grandfather Poppa Vittles- there is always at least one comment or event that makes me chuckle the whole three hour drive back home.

This year they did not disappoint.

But first let me give you the lowdown on Poppa Vittles:
  • name an ailment, he's had it - he scoffs at cats with only nine lives because (I'm convinced) he has at least 17
  • he will be married to my grandmother 60 years (!) this September, and they have probably driven each other half crazy for most of them
  • growing up he would tease us grandkids that she was too bossy, so he was "gonna run away" - he called his lottery tickets 'runaway tickets'
  • his favorite show is "Walker, Texas Ranger" and his favorite expression is "Holy Socks!"
  • he loves money, and as kids if we got cash in our Christmas cards he would always try to 'steal' it
  • he earned the nicknames 'Shrek' and 'Ozzy Osbourne' because he is big, amusingly grumpy, and most times you can't understand a word he's saying
  • he claims he was the only kid in history to get kicked out of kindergarten
  • and, even though he's not really supposed to be drinking, there is nothing he loves more than a glass of red wine
Or three.

Sure enough, he was not at the reunion more than five minutes before he started complaining there was no wine. My cousin tried to distract him with a beer and he took it grumbling, "What's this?"

"It's a beer," my cousin responded. "No one has any wine."

Poppa V shrugged and raised the can.  "Salute," he said... and down the hatch it went.

Not one to discriminate, I guess.

As we have already discussed, Yaya Vittles is a do-er.  She was always go-go-go, which is how she got the nickname Fast Mary (and how she ends up doing things like making cookies without putting in the eggs, etc).  Even though she's wheelchair-bound due to losing her leg years ago, she never turns down an opportunity to get out & about and she is sharp as a tack.

"Oh Mag," she lamented on Saturday, "If only I had a leg and a car, I would go back to work."

When I talked to her on her birthday in June, "if she only had a leg and a car" she said we would "never find her."

Apparently now she's decided she would stick around, but get herself a job.  Most people can't wait for the day they retire, but I guess there are a few who actually would want to go back to work!

She probably misses the daily interaction with people, though, not to mention having a few extra bucks - like many elderly couples on a fixed income, budgeting can be a struggle for them.

Especially when my grandfather demands an "allowance" of $75.00 a week... even though neither one of them can leave the house without help anymore, and he has absolutely no place to spend this money.  Yaya Vittles said the cash was starting to pile up, so she eventually asked for some of it back.  He begrudgingly gave her all but a $20 bill, because he "likes the way it feels in his pocket."

Oh boy.  I can't wait to see what joys await Mr. V and I after 60 years of marriage.

We also marveled at the way Yaya Vittles was able to take down an entire plate of baked goods without batting an eye.  I know she likes her sweets, so I got a plate with two brownies, a piece of cake, blondies, and two types of chocolate chip cookies for her to choose from.

Key word there being "choose."  But she ate all of them except for a brownie that I managed to grab before she gobbled it down.

So in honor of my grandmother, I am posting my favorite recipe for chocolate chip cookies.  

Mr. V and Chris Vittles love these cookies because they come out chewy and are loaded with chocolate chips.  The recipe comes from America's Test Kitchen - which, by the way, is an excellent resource for home cooks that I would highly recommend!

And no, I did not get paid to say that :)

The World's Best Chocolate Chip Cookies
  • 2 C. plus 2 T. all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 t. baking soda
  • 1/4 t. salt
  • 12 T. (1 1/2 sticks) melted butter, cooled slightly
  • 1 C. brown sugar, packed
  • 1/2 C. granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg plus 1 yolk
  • 2 t. vanilla extract
  • 2 C. semisweet chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 325 and melt butter in microwave. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Whisk dry ingredients together; set aside. With electric mixer, or by hand, mix butter & sugars until thoroughly combined. Beat in egg, yolk and vanilla until combined.  Add dry ingredients & beat at low speed just until combined. Stir in chips.

Roll scant 1/4 cup dough into ball. Holding dough ball in fingertips of both hands, pull into 2 equal halves. Rotate your hands palm up (so that the jagged edges are facing up) and rejoin the two halves of the cookie. With jagged surfaces facing up, place formed dough onto cookie sheet (you should only put about 8 per sheet).

Bake, reversing position of cookie sheets halfway through baking, until cookies are light golden brown and outer edges start to harden yet centers are still soft & puffy (12-14 minutes in my oven).

Cool cookies on sheets, until able to lift in one piece. Cool on wire rack.

Recipe from Cooks Illustrated

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Spiced Apple Bread

Sometimes there is just not enough time in a day.

Or a week.

I don't know what it has been about this week (maybe the night of no sleep?) but I have been totally off my game- particularly in the kitchen.

I made a chicken chili that I had really high hopes for sharing with you, but it just wasn't blog-worthy. I also had an idea for a dessert that went completely WRONG.

Disappointments, disappointments.

But after stopping at an orchard/market for lunch last week and picking up some of their unbelievable apple cider doughnuts, I got inspired to make a tried & true recipe - apple bread.

Or should I say, "Autumn Apple Loaf" as it's called?

Usually around the beginning of August, I start getting sick of the hot weather and wishing it was fall already. 

Then once September hits, I go on a pumpkin recipe rampage and lose what little self-control I had to begin with.  And it's all downhill from there.

Seriously though, fall is the best.  I just love the cool, crisp air... apple picking... football... pumpkins... HALLOWEEN (my favorite holiday)... and now, our wedding anniversary! 

Ahhh.  I can't wait.

Anyway, back to the apple bread.  I found this particular recipe on the packaging of a loaf pan I bought from Baker's Secret years ago.  I thought it needed more spice, though, so I added nutmeg, cloves and extra cinnamon.

I don't think Mr. V has eaten any of this batch yet, but I brought a couple pieces to work for Joe Vittles and he ate them both in one sitting.  So I guess that speaks for itself :)

Spiced Apple Bread
  • 1/2 C. butter (1 stick), melted & cooled slightly
  • 1  C. sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 t. vanilla
  • 1 C. apples - peeled, cored & grated (about 2)
  • 2 C. all purpose flour
  • 1 t. baking powder
  • 1/2 t. baking soda
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 1/2 t. cinnamon
  • 1/4 t. nutmeg
  • 1/8 t. ground cloves
Preheat oven 350 degrees.  Grease a 9x5 loaf pan.

In a medium bowl, mix flour, baking powder, soda, salt, and spices.  Set aside.

In a large bowl, beat butter, sugar, and one egg until smooth.  Mix second egg and beat well.  Stir in vanilla, then grated apples.  Pour flour mixture into batter and stir only until moistened.  Scrape into loaf pan.

Bake for 45-50 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.  Let stand 10 minutes, then remove from pan and place on rack to cool.

Recipe Adapted from Baker's Secret

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Black Bean Tostadas

Do you ever have one of those days where you just want to run around screaming like a maniac, out of sheer frustration with the world?

To say that I "woke up on the wrong side of the bed" today is a definite understatement.

First of all, I'm pretty sure that in order to wake up, it is first necessary to fall asleep.

After a whole night of listening to Mr. Vittles snore away happily, I did finally manage to do this around 5 AM this morning...

...until I woke up in a panic at 6:54 AM thinking for some reason that it was 9:54 AM and that I was horribly late to pick my partner up for work.

I'm not entirely sure why it was so difficult for me to fall asleep last night, but the longer it went on the more frustrated I got... and the more frustrated I got, the more awake I felt.

And the more awake I felt, the more I thought about how silly it was for me to devote 3 hours of my life to watching Bachelorette Ali give away her final rose to Roberto and talk about how 'in looove' they are, even though only 2 out of like 700 couples have actually stayed together.

And the more I thought about how my neighbor, who only speaks to me when he has a proverbial 'bone to pick,' is undoubtedly Beelzebub disguised as a crotchety old man and his minions are the chipmunks and squirrels that like to take big bites out of my garden tomatoes as soon as they turn ripe enough to eat.

And the more I thought about how odd it was that our bird was banging around in her cage and munching her seed in the middle of the night, when I finally decided to get up and investigate and realized it was actually a mouse doing the nibbling.

And the more I thought about how bad it would have sucked if I really did catch my pointer finger in one of the mouse traps I decided to set at 3:15AM and almost detonated on myself because I was so @#^$ tired.

And the more I thought about how great it would be if I could only fall asleep and stop watching the minutes on the clock tick by.


As you can probably guess, an hour and 50-some-odd minutes of sleep is really not enough to sustain a person through the entire day.

And so I have been lumbering my way through it like some flesh-hungry zombie since The 6:54 AM Panic - or at least I was until I bent down to pick something up and cracked the side of my cranium on the pointy edge of a wooden table and decided enough was enough.

Ok, Life, you win.  Maggie - 0,  Beelzebub - 1.

On days like this, I turn to my old friend The Black Bean Tostada.

He is simple and wise.  He knows that some days we do not have the time nor the energy to 'whip up' Panzanella salads and sweet & sour chicken, but we still deserve a delicious meal that we don't have to order from a Chinese restaurant or pizza parlor.

He knows that some days we can only use our outstretched zombie arms to open a can of refried black beans and a jar of salsa.

And that's ok.  He loves us anyway.

Black Bean Tostadas

*Note: this is more of a meal suggestion than a recipe, so use your discretion as to how much of each ingredient you want to use- if you even want to use it at all!  (But I would definitely do, at the bare minimum: beans, cheese, salsa & lettuce.)  Mr. V usually eats 3 tostadas with "the works" and I usually eat 2.
  • Sleeve of store-bought tostadas**
  • 15-oz can of refried black beans
  • Shredded lettuce
  • Cheddar or Mexican Cheese
  • Store-bought salsa (or if you're feeling bold - try a recipe for pico de gallo, or salsa verde)
  • Diced tomatoes
  • Store-bought Guacamole (or if you're feeling extra bold - try this recipe for a fresh version)
  • Sour Cream
Lay out the tostadas on a microwave-safe dish (or dishes).  Spread each one with a layer of refried beans, then sprinkle with cheese.  Microwave 10-20 seconds until warm and cheese is melted.  Drizzle with salsa, and sprinkle with lettuce and diced tomatoes.  Add a few dollops of sour cream and/or guacamole, or whatever ingredients you prefer to taste.  Serve.

**You can also make your own tostadas using corn tortillas- brush each side lightly with canola oil, sprinkle with a little salt, and bake in 400 degree oven for 10-12 minutes (flip halfway through).

Original 'Recipe'


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