White Chocolate Cherry Muffins

What’s your first memory?

While I’ve always considered myself to have a good memory (I’ll never forget a birthday or an appointment!), I find this question incredibly difficult to answer. Often, I’m not sure whether the sprinkling of memories I have from childhood are solid memories or scenes sparked from photos.

There are a few incidents I’m sure I remember because there aren’t any photos. The time I got 88 stitches in my forehead (still have the–thankfully subtle–scar to prove it) and my mom held me in her lap while our neighbor drove us to the hospital.

We didn’t have many babysitters growing up, but, oddly enough, many of my other early memories involve our babysitters. The carrot juice Allison used to make for us. The time Emily revealed my neighborhood crush to a crowd. And, the time Dorian told me how lucky us kids were because we could eat whatever we want without gaining a pound, then warned us it wouldn’t last forever.

Well, she was right. Those muffins will stick with you. I don’t know when I made it over that hump, but here I am.

white chocolate cherry muffins
These white chocolate cherry muffins were so tasty that I ate ‘em like it was 1999 and I wouldn’t gain a pound. I gained three that weekend. It was worth it.

The dried cherries are reconstituted in a couple tablespoons of lemon juice, and that lemony flavor really ended up shining through in the final product. Couple that with the tart cherries and a burst of sweetness from the white chocolate, and you’ve got yourself one tasty muffin.
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How to Make Beef Jerky (In the Oven)

We made this beef jerky for the first time over Super Bowl weekend, and loved it. Since the instructions are a little more complicated than your average recipe, it’s taken me way longer than average to get my act together and share it with you all.

I don’t remember when my mindset shifted from ‘beef jerky is disgusting’ to ‘omg i love beef jerky, give me more,’ but it happened. Maybe a few years ago. I still haven’t gotten on board with Slim Jims, but I have been known to waltz into 7-Eleven and walk out with a few bags of jerky. It’s actually a pretty great snack. Sure, some brands are packed with high-sodium ingredients, but if you pick the right ones–like Krave (<— affiliate link!)–it’s a high-protein, diet-friendly option. But, why does it have to be the most expensive snack in the place!? The price always makes this frugal girl think twice.

I thought I’d need another fancy kitchen gadget to make my own jerky, but I googled it anyway. The Kitchn comes to the rescue once again: Beef jerky you can make in the oven! Sold.

How to Make Beef Jerky in the OvenThough it’s a time consuming process (give yourself two days), it’s so worth it. Our jerky was the perfect consistency, had amazing flavor, and only cost me about $8 to make nearly five times the amount you get in a bag that costs $6.75 per bag. That right there is a savings of nearly $26. I’ll spend the time making my beef jerky if that’s the case!

The great thing about homemade beef jerky is you can really play around with the marinade. Don’t like this Asian-inspired option? That’s fine. Try your favorite store-bought marinade or throw together your own with Worcestershire sauce, balsamic vinegar, some spices like garlic powder, and dried herbs. The possibilities are endless.

Here’s how to make beef jerky in the oven:

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Gluten-Free Pancakes

I’m not a breakfast person. In fact, I’m a coffee-will-hold-me-over kind of gal. I know, I know: Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. But, you know what else is important to me (and ultimately wins out)? Sleep.

Until a few months ago, I had, no lie, five alarms that are each five minutes apart. For the better part of my adult life, it took me at least 25 minutes to finally pull myself out of bed. I’ve made serious progress, and can typically get up with just two alarms 15 minutes apart. Since I only give myself about 15 minutes to get up and out, a real breakfast is still out of the question on week days.

Since weekends are more leisurely and Stephen inevitably wants a big ol’ breakfast, we generally indulge a little bit more. I know I could make more time for breakfast during the week if I tried. But, the truth is, breakfast just doesn’t excite me that much. If I have a big breakfast, I find I’m hungrier throughout the day and, ultimately, overindulge. I’d rather save the calories for the rest of the day, particularly dinner. Oh, how I love dinner.

While thinking about healthier breakfast alternatives that still feel indulgent enough for the boy of the house, I discovered that I could make gluten-free pancakes that tasted just like regular pancakes. I know a pancake is a pancake, and it’s still not the healthiest option, but… baby steps, people.

Gluten-Free Pancakes
If you do follow a gluten-free diet, this is one recipe you’ll definitely want to add to your arsenal. You do have to buy almond flour (<– affiliate link), which can be more expensive than all-purpose flour. Don’t worry: It’s totally worth it to enjoy a big breakfast complete with fluffy, flavorful pancakes. You might not even have to tell your gluten-loving dining companions that these are gluten-free pancakes!

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How to Color Sugar

I love baking and decorating cookies–especially if I have somewhere or someone to bring them to. What I don’t like, however, is buying lots of dyes, colored sugars, and sprinkles to decorate said cookies with. I’m a very frugal grocery shopper and, at $2-5 a pop, that stuff will really kill your grocery budget.

I know they exist, but I have yet to give natural, homemade food dyes a try. Though I’m still buying that stuff, I have managed to cut the colored sugars out. It’s way too easy to make my own! And now I’m going to tell you how to color sugar. Ready?

How to Color Sugar
Just mix plain granulated sugar with liquid food coloring, one drop at a time, until you reach the desired color (for this pink I used 1/2 cup of sugar and 10 drops of this food coloring).

That’s it!

It’s hard to believe I’ve gone nearly 27 years without learning and using this trick. Some of you likely know how to do this already but, if I had no idea, there must be some others who didn’t either.

Use the colored sugar to decorate sugar cookies or give swirl cookies an extra somethin’ somethin’ by rolling the log of dough in your colored sugar before slicing and baking.

Save and store any leftover colored sugar in an airtight container for the next time you get the urge to bake.

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Salsa Verde Chicken Enchiladas

mil·len·nial
noun
1. A person reaching young adulthood around the year 2000.

Can I tell you how many times I’ve had to hear this word this year? The articles, the presentations, the conversations about what millennials are like and what they want seems to be ever-present. I know it’s important, because we can deliver a better product if we know how millennials think, act, talk, and walk, but OMG.

I kind of want to crawl under the table every time I go to a presentation about millennials and the presenter says, “Are there any millennials in the room? Raise your hand!” Sorry I don’t really want to raise my hand and shout “I’m a millennial!” when you’re giving a presentation about millennials having short attention spans, thinking their special, needing instant gratification. GAH! I swear I try to be a nice, smart, contributing member of society.

At the dentist office last week, the only other person in the waiting room was an older gentleman who offered me part of his newspaper. I smiled and said no thank you because I was happily reading a book on my phone, yet he still glanced knowingly at my phone. I know what you’re thinking: “well maybe you should stop playing on your phone and read something of quality.” No wonder I feel like shrinking into a corner every time I’m asked to admit I’m a millennial!

Of course I do have plenty of characteristically millennial tendencies, but that doesn’t have to be such a bad thing. We can multitask, we have multifaceted interests that help us to know a little bit about a lot of subjects, we’re optimistic despite less than stellar job prospects and finances, the list goes on.

I’m sure my compulsion to cook something new every night is also partly a product of my millennial-driven ADD, but that’s not a bad thing either. I’m always experimenting and trying new things. And, every once in awhile, I come out with a big success—like these Salsa Verde Chicken Enchiladas. Ah, they are so good. I think I’ve now made them on four different occasions. Four! I don’t do anything four times….

Salsa Verde Chicken Enchiladas
Initially inspired by vegetarian enchiladas I had at Rosa Mexicano’s last year, I used this recipe as a base to create a meat-filled version.  Making enchiladas is much simpler than it seems. You just stuff the tortillas with shredded chicken, onions, and a sprinkling of cheese. Then, pour a mixture of salsa verde and sour cream over the rolled tortillas, dump a whopping handful of cheese on top, and bake them for a half hour. There are no words.

They really don’t photograph well (which is so sad!), but trust me here. Your family will ask for these again and again. I know mine does. And, even this millennial will make these Salsa Verde Chicken Enchiladas time and time again.

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Valentine’s Day Cookies (Swirl Cookies)

Happy Valentine’s Day!

I know some people hate Valentine’s Day. Not me! Sure, I understand the argument that it’s a Hallmark holiday invented to get people to bleed money on silly material things like flowers, chocolates, and stuffed animals. That’s partly true. I’m also a firm believer that we should reaffirm our love for those that are close to us every day–not just Valentine’s day.

But, at it’s core, I think Valentine’s Day provides a great excuse to stop what we’re doing and take some time to focus on our loved ones. How you want to celebrate is up to you! Some people want a fancy dinner and a big bouquet of roses and some would rather a home-cooked meal and a movie. Either way, I’m a fan.

We did our Valentine’s dinner last night. We finally got to try a new restaurant in town called Thirty Acres–a restaurant owned by a the former chef de cuisine at Momofuku Noodle Bar in NYC. The restaurant has made it onto a bunch of “must-try” NYC restaurants, which is exciting for Jersey City.

Instead of wining and dining tonight, we’ll be grocery shopping and then hitting the road to my parent’s house upstate. We’re hosting his brothers and their families as well as his cousins for a weekend of skiing. Should be some great conditions thanks to all the new snow we got yesterday!

To stay in the spirit of the holiday, I whipped up a batch of these delicious (and absolutely adorable) Valentine’s Day cookies. They look complicated, but they’re really pretty easy. Just split the dough in half, color one red, then roll up together into a log, slice, and bake.

Valentine's Day Cookies (Swirl Cookies)
Don’t feel limited by the pink and white. You can certainly make these cookies for just about any holiday. Try green and white for St. Patrick’s Day (it’s coming up!) or get crazy and dye both halves of the dough. Green and red would be fun for Christmas!

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Chinese Chicken Salad

Have you ever tried convincing a meat lover that salad is a viable dinner option. No, not an appetizer. Not a side dish either. The main event. As in, that’s what you’re having to eat tonight. Chinese Chicken Salad!

Chinese Chicken Salad

Well, I used to ask my meat-loving other half what he wanted for dinner (Exhibit A: meatloaf), but then I realized we’d become pretty rotund pretty quickly if I cooked only the dinners he suggested.

Cook lean meat, his sister-in-law recommended. Sometimes I try. But then I add a side of scalloped potatoes. Maybe the boy isn’t the only one to blame.

At a recent blogger event, Carly suggested telling a tiny fib: This one is heavy on the butter and cream. Since it’s pretty fattening, I’m dishing out small portions. That sounds like a great idea in theory, but we have less than zero percent self control when there’s good food to be had. In this house, small portions = more time spent getting up and returning to the kitchen for seconds and, dare I say, thirds.

I kept plans to make a salad for dinner mum, but was pretty quickly caught red handed chopping veggies. “Salad?? You should have told me.” Um, why? So you can make sure to have a extra large lunch? I don’t think so!

Fast forward a few minutes and imagine my surprise when the comments started coming, “wow it smells really good.” Then, “wow this is really good!” Then the real kicker: “I think this is the best salad I’ve ever had.” Night made.

In short, this long tale confirms one thing: This is one good salad.

We finished the whole bowl.

To our credit, we’re making progress with this healthy eating thing. Eating a healthy Chinese Chicken Salad made for four is much better than eating a tray of enchiladas made for four. No?

We just won’t talk about the dozen cookies that disappeared shortly after our Chinese Chicken Salad was gone. No, definitely not.
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Fresh Salsa

Hope everyone had a good weekend. Another Monday is upon us. After nearly three years in the same cubicle, I’m kicking the week off in a new spot. They’ve moved us all around a bit and, although I’m just around the corner, it’s kind of exciting. Well be sharing cubes now (womp!), but I now face the front of the office. It’s a brighter, more trafficked part of the office, and I’m glad to be more in the thick of things!

The fresh salsa recipe I’m sharing with you today, on the other hand, is about as tried and true as you can get. I’ve been making this salsa with my best friend, Bretton, since we were maybe 8 years old. When I make this staple it often elicits remarks from my family members like “yesss, you’re making salsa?!” Double batches are always absolutely necessary.

fresh salsa

I even bought a mini food processor before my freshman year of college so I could recreate this fresh salsa in my dorm room, despite the fact that a microwave/mini-fridge combo was my only other kitchen appliance. Sidenote: You don’t need a food processor to make this. In fact, I couldn’t find the blade to my food processor when I made the salsa pictured here, so I just chopped things up by hand. It definitely takes more time, but it’s oh so worth the effort.

Even if I weren’t biased, there’s no getting around it. This is one good salsa. I’m sure it’s a recipe I’ll be making forever. It’s already been in a mainstay for nearly 20 years.

This salsa is nothing like the jarred stuff. It’s so fresh and juicy as opposed to saucey. And the scallions, cilantro, and lime add this wonderful fragrance that’s only matched by the fresh taste.

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Lemon Chicken Orzo Soup

It’s another cold, snowy, icy day in New York. Do I sound like a broken record? Yeah, I thought so.

Today is one of those days where it’d be nice to curl up on the couch with a bowl of soup and forget about the frightful weather and slippery sidewalks. But, today, I’m thankful to be getting up and going to work. Almost exactly a year ago, my company laid off about 6% of staff. Yesterday, we watched management let another 500 people go. So, while staying in with this Lemon Chicken Orzo Soup sounds mighty good, going to work sounds a little bit better. Plus, I finished the rest of the Lemon Chicken Orzo Soup last night.

Lemon Chicken Orzo Soup
On Monday I briefly mentioned how much junk we’ve been eating lately. It seems like since we moved in together in November, the food just keeps coming and the gym just keeps waiting.

We’ve had a lot of fun spending all of our free time together turning our new apartment into a home to share. But part of that included lots of excitement about having our own kitchen, and I cooked a lot. A lot of unhealthy, but very tasty food. And we’d almost always finish it all–no matter if it was intended to be a recipe for four.

Then throw all the holidays into the mix, and let’s just say my waistline is feeling it just a tiny bit. How I’ve managed not to gain more than a few pounds is beyond me, but I’d like to reign it in before my pants don’t fit anymore!

This Lemon Chicken Orzo Soup was the perfect way to kick off my attempts at cooking lighter, more healthful meals. It’s so flavorful, but it doesn’t have those excess calories that many flavor-rich foods do. Despite being low-calorie, thanks to the chicken, the orzo, and the spinach, this soup will definitely fill you up.

They always say an easy way to add flavor without the calories is to work with high-flavor, low-calorie ingredients like lemon, vinegar, and pepper (among others). I attribute this soup’s flavor to cooking the chicken in the broth (rather than adding it at the end) and the lemon. The lemon adds a bit of complexity and brightness to the broth that separates it from your average chicken noodle soup.

I hope you’ll give this Lemon Chicken Orzo Soup a try if you’re looking for a light, but satisfying lunch or dinner!

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The Best Homemade Guacamole

While I was incessantly refreshing my email this morning to see if the snow would provide the chance to work from home (it did not!), this popped up on my Facebook feed.

monday cupcake

Between the sluggishness I feel from all the food I consumed yesterday and having to drag myself to work in the cold, snowy weather, I’m definitely feeling the Monday blues a little more than usual this week. This cute and bright image was all it took to remind me that it’s not really so bad…

After all, we did have a great weekend.

I know snacks are pretty synonymous with Super Bowl Sunday, but we took it to another level this year. I’d say we turned Super Bowl Sunday into Super Bowl weekend. It feels like I was snacking on something all. weekend. long. There was plenty of takeout, dinner and drinks out for my friend’s birthday, our first attempt at homemade beef jerky (can’t wait to share that recipe!), and all the snacks at our friend’s Super Bowl party.

I was happy when I was asked to bring the chips and salsa, since it’s something I’m very comfortable with making. I’ve been making the same salsa for nearly as long as I can remember (to read more about that tradition check out my post on Salsa Verde), but I’ve never really spent any time perfecting a homemade guacamole recipe. Since everyone loves guac, I thought this weekend was the perfect opportunity to give it a go.

the best homemade guacamole
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