How to Survive a Cold

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The only way I know how to survive Death Cold 2012 is with homemade oatmeal and some Jane Austen.

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Coming Soon: Fast and Healthy Work Lunches

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At the urging of several of my coworkers to share my lunch secrets, coming soon will be a series of posts about my favorite quick, healthy, and flavorful lunches. From salads to revamping leftovers there school be something for everyone so no one has to resort to eating out every day.

Sneak Peak Photo: Romaine, fresh pinto beans, and Mexican rice topped with serranos, fresh pico de gallo, and cubed mangos dressed with freshly squeezed lime juice.

Baby Shower Cupcakes and Tea

I have been to more than my fair share of baby showers, not that I am complaining. There is something about babies, their soft skin, the smell of their shampoo and body wash, their smiles, snuggles, and their grogginess after they eat. Oh I love babies. I even love the not-so-attractive side of babies: the burps, the spit-up, the dirty diapers, and the lack of sleep Mom and Dad get.

When my sister had my niece seventeen months ago, I love the nights I took over to let my sister get some extra sleep. I loved my sleepless nights soothing my Little Bean who had a wicked case of acid reflux keeping her up and fussy most of the first nine months of her life. I never complained (much) about the lack of sleep, even if it meant going to my then-current job at The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf at 5am with little more than a half-hour of sleep the night before. I will do anything for a baby.

But back to baby showers, yesterday we celebrated the pregnancy and impending birth of my friend Melanie’s little girl. Due in just shy of three months, Melanie still have time to savor those last months of pre-motherhood, meaning sleep, childless date nights, and…well I was going to say sleep-filled nights, but I am pretty sure most pregnant women do not have a night of solid sleep.

However, the main topic of interest for this post (I’m sure) relates to this photo I posted much to the horror and delight of my Instagram and Facebook followers on Friday night:

Yes, that is one stick shy of three pounds. Now don’t you worry your pretty little hearts, when I say I used every stick of this butter, I should probably make a note that I ruined 3 whole sticks of butter and 9 eggs in my first baking attempt.

What? Sarah made a mistake? I know, it’s shocking, unbelievable really. But I make mistakes all the time. I can’t tell you how many times I have made silly mistakes while cooking and baking. But let me tell you, I make sure to never make the same mistake twice.

SIDE NOTE: There is thunder and rain at the moment. Let’s take a moment to reflect on the wonderful smell that is rain on hot cement. Breathe deep my friends. Savor that smell. It is quite possibly the best smell on Earth.

Now, back to the baking…let’s move away from the fact that I made a mistake while cooking, and focus more on the recipe itself.

Let’s be honest and up-front here. When it comes to baking, I rarely come up with my own cake recipes. Instead, I, like you, read countless blogs, following the baking adventures of others and following their lead when they find a recipe winner. This brings me to the most delicious Vanilla Bean Cake I have ever eaten thanks to Sweetapolita, who by the way, if you don’t read her blog, you really should. I love her, which in effect, means you will probably love her.

Vanilla Birthday Cake Recipe
(thanks to Sweetapolita for the recipe and her directions which I only slightly edited with my snarkiness):

1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 2/3 cups granulated sugar
9 egg whites, at room temperature
4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups buttermilk
1 vanilla bean, split & scraped (not cheap, but oh so worth it. I have been ruined for life by vanilla beans)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (get pure people, none of that disgusting imitation foolishness)

(1) Preheat your oven to 350° F and make sure that your oven shelves are in the middle rack of your oven. You will thank me for this. While you are at it, prepare your pans. Sweetapolita uses her batter to make three 8″ x 2″ round cakes. For my baby shower purposes, I used two 8″ x 2″ round cake pans and one cupcake pan (making 12 cupcakes). If you are making round cakes, please grease your entire pan, bottom and sides, with butter. Then line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper. Make sure it is parchment and not wax paper. Wax will melt in the oven. You do not want waxy cakes, no one wants that. THEN, dust the entire pan with flour to make sure all areas of your pan are covered with butter. This is for two purposes, to makes sure you have enough butter and to make sure you can get your cakes out with ease when they are done baking. If you are making cupcakes, this recipe will probably make between 36-48 cupcakes, so make sure you have enough liners.

(2) Using a mixer (either a stand mixer with a paddle attachment OR you can be like me and use an electric mixer because I am poor and KitchenAid mixers are not on my parent’s budget list for my Christmas gifts)…but yes, using a mixer, beat the butter and sugar on medium-high speed until the mixture if lighter in color and slightly increased in volume. This will take about 3-5 minutes. I just set a time and beat it for 5 minutes to be safe. Then lower the speed to medium and gradually add the egg whites. For my egg whites, I separated them all into a big bowl and then let them come to room temperature and poured them into the butter and sugar recipe from that bowl.

(3) Before you start creaming the butter and sugar, like, after you butter and flour/prep your pans, you should sift the flour, baking powder, and salt into a medium bowl. Also, in a different bowl, you should wish the buttermilk, vanilla extract, and contents of the vanilla bean together. I also let this come to room temperature, but it is not necessary.

(4) On medium speed, alternate dry ingredients and buttermilk into the creamed mixture, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. NOW PLEASE, please make sure you do not over-work the mixture. You do not want to upset the gluten in the flour which will make your cake dense and/or tough. If your mixer is staring to strain with the batter, switch to a wooden spoon and gently mix by hand to finish your batter.

(5) Evenly divide the batter between your pans/cupcake liners. For my cakes, I used my digital kitchens scale to make sure each pan had the exact same amount of batter, but you can also just eyeball. Then smooth the tops of the batter to ensure even cooking. For my cupcakes, I use a small ice cream scoop and each cupcake gets just under two level scoops. If you are making cupcakes, never fill your liners more than 2/3 of the way full. Otherwise they may overflow, which isn’t bad, but the tops of the cupcakes might stick to the rest of the pan.

(6) Bake the cakes for about 30 minutes. Sweetapolita says to rotate once after baking for 20 minutes. I didn’t do this, but please feel free to. If you are baking cupcakes, mine took between 15-18 minutes. For either the cake or cupcakes, you can check to see if they are done by inserting a toothpick and having it come out clean (or with a touch of crumbs) OR by lightly touching the top of the (cup)cake and if it springs back, it’s done.

(7) For either your cakes or cupcakes, let them cook in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Then remove to let cool completely on the wire racks. If you made cakes, you can peal away the parchment at this time.

 

At this point in time, your house will smell AMAZING. For it, it was just after 10:30pm when everything was done baking and LORD HAVE MERCY, the smell made me feel like I had died and gone to baking heaven. This cake has made a vanilla cake lover out of me. Honestly.

But you can’t have cake without frosting. It is just, well, against the law. For this occasion, I went wild and crazy and wanted two frostings. I live on the edge. Here is what delighted me that late Friday night:

 

Fresh Raspberry Frosting:

12 ounces fresh or frozen raspberries (I used frozen because well, fresh were way too expensive)
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
4 1/2 to 6 1/2 cups sifted powdered sugar
kosher salt

(1) In a medium saucepan, cook the raspberries over medium heat, stirring often, until the begin to break down. Once they are broken down and saucy, turn the heat down to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, for at least 20 minutes. You are going to want to keep an eye on these beauties. What you are looking for is the the raspberry goodness to reduce by at least 1/2 to 2/3. You want your final sauce to be incredibly thick and a deep wonderful red color.

(2) When your raspberry sauce is at the desired thickness, Pour the raspberry sauce into a fine mesh strainer, which is over a bowl, please don’t forget a bowl people! Press the sauce through. What you want is all the delicious raspberry juice (which will be thick) and none of the seeds. I mean, you could keep the seeds, I just didn’t want them. You are looking for about a 1/3 cup of very concentrated sauce. If you have too much, put it back on the stove and reduce for a little bit longer. Let cool completely.

(3) In a medium-largish bowl, combine the cool raspberry sauce, butter, and 3 cups of the powdered sugar, as well as a nice pinch of kosher salt. Using your mixer, beat over medium heat until well mixed. Then slowly start adding the rest of the powdered sugar. You are looking for a consistency here which makes you happy. I like stiffer frostings so I can pipe them. this however, would be perfect thinner if you wanted to say, use it as a filling, or if you wanted to drizzle it over slices of chocolate loaf…yum. For me, I used about 5 1/2 cups of powdered sugar.

 

Lemon Buttercream:

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
2 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest (or you could mince your lemon zest like me)
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 tablespoons heavy cream (please use cream, not whole milk)
3 cups sifted powdered sugar

(1) In a medium-large bowl, beat together the butter and lemon zest with a mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy. Slowly start to add the powdered sugar, beating until smooth. At this point it will seem slightly thick.

(2) Add the lemon juice and heavy cream. Now, please do not panic. It will look soupy and watery. Trust me, turn the mixer back on and slowly work up to medium-high speed and beat for one more minute. Your results should be light, fluffy, and oh so lemony-delicious.

 

Here are what my end results look like:

Look at that gorgeous red raspberry color. And you know what makes it even better…IT”S ALL NATURAL. There is no food coloring added. Isn’t that amazing? Oh the beauties of nature. For my lemon buttercream, I did use a dash of buttercup yellow food gel from Wilton. Let’s also take a moment to behold the beauty of grease-proof cupcake liners. Ahem.

 

I would also like to add that the cake was a hit. Only one slice is missing here, but let me just say, out of the cake and 12 cupcakes I brought to the baby shower, I only brought two slices home. Let’s also thank Instagram for these last three beautiful photos. I love you Instagram.

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It was a High Tea themed party. I do enjoy myself a nice cup of tea, especially in such beautiful china.

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I love my niece, don’t you. She didn’t have tea, but apple juice. But still, I’d say it was one successful baby shower.

Easy Shrimp Tacos

There is nothing I love more than a dinner you can throw together in a moments notice. While I am a planner at heart, there are times I like to live on the wild side and do things at the spur of the moment. Like tonight. Why plan dinner when I can figure it out on the way home. But shhhh…this is my favorite “go to” dinner. Here’s why:

How could you not want to sink your pearly whites into that? Quick and easy shrimp tacos make even the most stressful day seem less tedious and were just what I needed after an entirely too long and too busy week at work. And since there are so many easy steps to this tasty dinner, here are several step by step instructions on how to get your Taco Tuesday on any night of the week.

Salsa. Mmm let’s say it again. Salsa. SALSA! Is there anything tastier than fresh salsa. All those firm juicy tomato chunks, those crisp and sharp onions, clean, tangy cilantro. And of course, my favorite part, spicy peppers. Since salsa’s ingredients are fairly well…obvious (unless you live you know, on the Moon in which case, I’m sorry you don’t know the best topping ever)… I am going to resist listing the ingredients, but I will say, choose your chiles based on your heat tolerance. Do not be like me and choose the hottest pepper you can find. You probably did not have a Grandma who fed you chiles when you started to walk. Repeat: DO NOT think you can handle more heat than you can. Don’t complain when you do, I warned you.

So how do you take tomatoes, onions, cilantro, and chile peppers into delicious salsa. You CHUNK it up baby. Dice up your tomatoes and onions. Mince your cilantro. And mini-dice your chiles. Which reminds me: DO NOT REMOVE THE SEEDS. All those wimps on TV telling you to remove the seeds clearly are well…wimps. Leave the seeds in. If it is too hot for you then just add less of the minced chiles. The seeds offer so much flavor and you don’t want to miss that.

Also, I’m silly and didn’t take a photo of any kosher salt. Please salt your salsa. Your mother will thank you, your father will thank you. I will thank you. How much salt you ask? Here is what I do: sprinkle liberally kosher salt over your entire bowl of salsa. Stir. Taste. You want to make sure you have enough salt to bring out the tastiness of everything, but not too much salt that it tastes salty. Trust me, I have given many friends this recipe. They have never been disappointed.

GUACAMOLLLLLEEEEEE. Sweet Nature, thank you for the delicious delicacy of avocados. And like I said with the salsa, if for some horrible, depressing reason you don’t know what guacamole is here is how I throw down and make it:


What you will need:

Avocados (ripe please)
Tomato
Onion
Cilantro
Garlic Power (not shown, I’m silly)
Kosher Salt (not shown, I was in a rush)
Lime (not shown, because well, it was an afterthought)

And for once I invite you to be like me and set aside some minced cilantro and some diced tomatoes and onions. Or you could make life even easier and just stir in some salsa (but my wimpy mother and sisters hate spicy things, so I set the extras aside.) Oh and….duh…mash your avocados. I am going to give everyone the benefit of the doubt and trust they know how to cut open an avocado and take out the pit. If not, well I will explain that another day.

Mix everything together (note: now would be a good time to invite your kids in the kitchen. Kids love stirring. Trust me). As for the spices, sprinkle well with salt and sprinkle less well with garlic powder. Sorry for being so cryptic. I suck at explaining spices. Also, if you can’t tell, I am making individual portions today. One day I promise to make a gigantic-way too much to be just for me-portion and then I will give actual spice measurements. The key here is you want it nice and seasoned, but not too much garlic. Unless you like that sort of thing.

At this point, please put the salsa and guacamole in the fridge. You want then nice and chilled. It will also clear the counter so you can make what might be my favorite part of fish and shrimp tacos: WHITE SAUCE. Yum.

You will need:

1/4 cup Plain Non-Fat Yogurt (I had Greek yogurt on hand so I went with that)
1 teaspoon Mayonnaise (I like light mayo, my dad likes real, whole fat, mayo. Whatever floats your boat)
Lime Juice (I used I think 2-3 limes)

This might be the easiest thing in the world to make. I made enough for four tacos because well…that is how it turned out. And i wanted to give more exact measurements for this. Here is what you do: put ingredients in bowl. Whisk. Chill. Done.

I said it was easy.

Now. There are many incarnations of fish tacos. My dad beer batters white fish and fries them. I don’t because well…I try to not gorge on fried foods and I love gorging on these tacos. I usually broil my fish in lime juice and spices, but remember, I said this was about fast go-to dinners. So meet my lifesaver:

Let’s just say it now: Thank you Jesus for Trader Joe’s. Ahem.

Seriously.

Cook your fish or shrimp. For instance, I followed the directions on my box. These cook in 14 minutes. You could easily make the guacamole, salsa, and white sauce while the oven heats and while the shrimp cooks. I did this.

Now. I am going to say something that will blow your minds. Here it goes:

Only white people like flour tortillas.

Yup. It’s true. No self-respecting Mexican would ever eat a taco with a flour tortilla. It’s against our culture. *ick* I just got the shivers even thinking about a taco on a flour tortilla. Do yourself favor. Repeat this over and over again: eat. breath. eat corn tortillas. Corn tortillas are your best friends. They will make your life complete.

I cook mine on open flame because well that is how my Grandma did it and I do a lot of things like her. If you don’t have a gas stove, let’s mourn together….feel any better? No? Well, you can always nuke them. How long? I have no idea. Sorry. Experiment and find out.

YUM! I could live off the smell of charring corn tortillas for the rest of my life.

And as if this post wasn’t long already, we are in the home stretch. ASSEMBLY!

Step 1. Put tortilla on a plate (not totally necessary, but let’s pretend to be civilized).

Step 2. Lay out shrimp/fish on the tortilla. Adorn with guacamole and salsa. Remember your portions people. Yes avocados are good for you, but in controlled portions. I use 1 ounce of guacamole per taco. That turns out to be about a rounded tablespoon.

Step 3. White Sauce. This was going on the easy side for me. I ended up adding more.

Step 4. Add some shredded cabbage. There are no pictures for this because I became way too eager to eat and totally forgot. Today I had Napa cabbage, but your everyday green cabbage is a tastier pick. Trust me, I would never lie to you.

Step 5. Lime juice it up people. You won’t regret it.

Step 6. That’s obvious isn’t it.

And for those of you who like lists, keep these things on hand to make one quick, and delicious dinner any night of the week:

Salsa:
Onions
Tomatoes
Cilantro
Chile Peppers (I personally like Serrano peppers)
Kosher Salt

Guacamole:
Avocados
Onions
Tomatoes
Cilantro
Kosher Salt
Garlic Power
Lime Juice

Frozen Shrimp/Fish (for a quick easy dinner)
Cabbage
Corn Tortillas

…you can add cheese too. But I don’t. Feel free to add cheese. I won’t look down on you. At all…this time.

Caprese Pasta Salad

What is not to like about tomatoes, basil, and mozzarella cheese? I could honestly eat that trio every single day and never be bored. However, as much as I would like to think, tomatoes and cheese on their own are just not that filling to eat alone as a meal. So why not toss in some whole wheat pasta to boost the fiber and fill factor and make what is normally a side dish into a main dish star? Sure, you can still serve this as a pasta salad side dish, or you can be like me, spoon it into a bowl, and enjoy it while sitting by the pool trying to stay cool in this heatwave.

Here is what you will need:

14 oz (or one box) Whole Wheat Pasta (feel free to use regular pasta and any shape that tickles your fancy)
4 teaspoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 Tablespoons Balsamic Vinegar
1/2 teaspoon Salt (I used sea salt, but kosher salt is also acceptable)
1/2 teaspoon Black Pepper
1 teaspoon Dried Oregano
1/2 cup Minced Basil
3 cups Cherry Tomatoes
8 ounces Whole Milk Mozzarella (you can use part-skim, but I really like fresh whole milk mozzarella)

Start off by bringing a large pot of water to a boil. Make sure you have plenty of water and enough space for the pasta to plump up and cook in. I cooked the pasta for 8 minutes, but yours may take longer or shorter. What you are looking for, is for the pasta to still have a nice bite to it. No one likes soggy pasta salad…or really soggy anything for that matter.

While the pasta is cooking, mix together your olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper, and dried oregano. Now yes, this is not a lot of dressing. But you are looking to flavor the noodles and other ingredients, not overpower them. You want enough to coat, not enough to spoon out of the bottom of your serving dish. Dressing is a condiment, not the main attraction people, remember this!

Now take a quick taste to make sure you have enough salt and pepper for your taste. Attempt not to dip bread into it and sop up the vinegary goodness.

Wash your tomatoes! I happened to walk outside and pick mine straight off the vine and even though I am an organic gardener, you never know what kind of many-legged critters have crawled on your veggies so give them a good rinse. While you are at it, rinse your basil and give it a rough chop. No need for it to look pretty…unless you want pretty basil and then by all means mince it pretty.

Cube your cheese. Please do not be like me and toss several cubes into your mouth every few slices. Repeat, Do not be like me.

As you can tell, there is no need to keep your basil from your cheese while prepping. It all ends up together in the end. Speaking of the end result…now would be a good time to check your pasta. At this point, mine was ready, in exactly 8 minutes, but last time it took longer. Pasta is fickle. Like me.

Drain your pasta and give it a good shake. Then put it back in the pot that you cooked it in while it is still hot. Pour on the balsamic/olive oil mixture and give a good toss. Inhale. Inhale again. It is a beautiful smell when balsamic vinegar hits warm pasta. Let sit. You don’t want to add the cheese now. You want cheese cubes, not melted cheese. If you are pressed for time (or are impatient) like I was today, you can transfer to your serving bowl and pop in the freezer for a few minutes to cool off the pasta.

Mix in your tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, and basil. What beautiful colors! At this point, you can eat it room temperature or you can refrigerate for for several hours to let the flavors mingle. Which is what I did. Although..then I let it come to room temperature as I drove to the party I was bringing it to. In other words, room temperature or cold, this is a delicious pasta salad.

Tomatoes, cheese, basil, and pasta. All in moderation, they can make one delicious salad. I normally eat about 3/4 cup serving as a side dish. If I want to eat it it’s own I only eat about 1 1/2 cups. But you are welcome to eat more or less. Just watch your portions and remember whole wheat pasta expands after you eat it. Enjoy!