Sunday, January 18, 2015

Brownie Bottom Coconut Bars & Honoring MLK

For about 8 years my family has sought to celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King on his birthday weekend.
We talk about the life and work of Dr. King, and we think about what we can do in our lives to carry on the work for equality and dignity for all people that he and his colleagues did. I posted HERE about this tradition. As my kids are getting older, I want to think of some even more significant things we can do for this holiday.

I always make a treat that somehow incorporates chocolate and vanilla to represent racial integration and togetherness.  I have made cookies and cakes of various sorts.  Like this one.

I was trying to decide what to make for this year- a new recipe, one we've done in the past, a variation on a standard.  But when I was looking for another recipe in a stack of my old Martha Stewart's Everyday Food magazines I found this recipe for Brownie-Bottom Coconut Bars.  I have had the recipe in my torn out magazine pages for years but have never made them.  I knew they would have to be good since they are brownie on the bottom and coconut macaroon on the top!  I decided MLK weekend would be a good time to make them, with their black and white togetherness.  They are simple to make and they are really, really good!

They are pretty and feel special.  All of my coconut-loving people gobbled them up.

Brownie-Bottom Coconut Bars 
from martha stewart's Every Day Food magazine

Chocolate Brownie Base:
1 stick butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 tsp coarse salt
1 large egg
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup all purpose flour

Coconut Topping:
2 large eggs
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 package (7 oz.) sweetened shredded coconut (1/2 cup reserved for sprinkling)

For the brownie:
Preheat oven to 375˚
Line a 9 inch square baking pan with aluminum foil, leaving a slight overhang; butter bottom and sides of foil (not overhang)
Place butter in a large microwave-safe bowl; melt in microwave.
Add sugar and salt; whisk to combine.
Whisk in egg, then cocoa and flour until smooth.
Spread batter into prepared pan.

Bake just until sides begin to pull away from edges of pan, 10 to 15 minutes (do not over bake). Let cool slightly while preparing coconut topping.  Keep oven on for topping.

For the coconut topping:
In a medium bowl, whisk eggs with sugar and vanilla.  Gently mix in flour and coconut (except 1/2 cup reserved for sprinkling).
Drop mounds of mixture over chocolate base; spread and pat in gently and evenly with moistened fingers.  Sprinkle with reserved 1/2 cup coconut.

Bake until golden and a toothpick inserted in center comes out with moist crumbs attached, 25 to 30 minutes.  Cool completely in pan.  Lift cake from pan,  peel off foil, and cut into 24 bars.

It makes 24 small bars- but they are rich- so being small is good.

In our city Regal Cinemas and Metro Public Schools teamed up to offer free admission to students to see SELMA in the theaters.  We went on Saturday and it was very impactful.  If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend that you do.

It was hard  to watch.  It was emotional  and painful  and honest  and hard.  Lainey and I held hands most of the time and cried a lot during the film.  It was really important though.

It is a very well done film and a raw look at the difficulty of a tumultuous and unjust time in our country and the bravery of some amazing people. I think we need to know and remember and in doing so deepen our compassion for the not-so-long-ago events that continue to have ripple effects today.

Thanking God for the courage, clarity and spiritual strength of Dr. King and his comrades this weekend and praying that we might be people of conviction and action like them.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Last Call for Cranberries: Cranberry Orange Bread

Cranberries are so lovely.  They add such zip, color and flavor to recipes!  November and December are the main cranberry months, but if you look quick you can get some in January!  I always stock up for the following 10 months!

I am always looking for a great quick bread recipe that can be thrown together easily for breakfast or to take somewhere. This recipe is a favorite- chock full of cranberries, orange juice and zest and chopped walnuts!  (As for Cranberry muffins these, from King Arthur Flour, are my all-time favorites - though they require a little more time to prepare with more chopping and measuring than this Cranberry bread).  

My friend Emily shared this bread recipe with me a few years ago.  I can't even remember when or in what context, but I printed it out, tucked it in a notebook, and have reached for it many times through the years.

Emily continually inspires me.  She has an lovely blog Celebrate Today, where she shares about her daily life and beckons the reader to celebrate each day- in grand and small ways.   You can check it out HERE.

This week she wrote about her morning run - seeing the sun rise (inspiring, I told you) and she noted seeing the crocus flowers starting to peek through the ground, signaling that spring is coming soon.  I needed to hear that.  I needed the reminder that these gray days will end and there will be green grass, blooming blossoms, and sunny days again. This gives me hope. 

In the meantime as I wait for those spring days, I am going to use my cranberries, and try to embrace these days.

2 cups all purpose flour (or combination of whole wheat/ all-purpose or whole grain pastry flour)
1 cup sugar (or a little less)
1 ½ tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
1 egg
½ cup orange juice
grated peel (the zest) of 1 orange
2 Tbsp. melted butter
2 Tbsp. hot water
1 cup fresh cranberries (or frozen)
½ to 1 cup chopped walnuts (depending on how nutty you like it)

In a large mixing bowl, combine dry ingredients.  In another bowl, beat egg. Add orange juice, peel, butter and hot water.  Add to flour mixture, stirring just until moistened. Gently fold in cranberries and walnuts.  Spoon into greased loaf pan (or mini loaf pans).
Bake at 325 degrees for 60 minutes (if using large loaf pan- reduced if using small pans) or until toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. 
Cool for 10 minutes before removing and placing on a wire rack.

I made it a couple of weeks ago and doubled the recipe.  I baked 1/2 in my mini-loaf pans to slice and take to church and the other 1/2 in a large loaf pan, which I wrapped up, froze and took to the Joneses when we went to visit during the holidays. 

It freezes well, thaws easily, travels well, and is good for breakfast, lunch, or for snacking!

We got to enjoy it for breakfast at their home with omelets, yogurt and homemade granola.  Delicious! 

While the cranberry bread was baking, I couldn't resist making a jar of cranberry sauce with the rest of the cranberries in the bag.  I wrote about making cranberry sauce HERE. So easy, pretty, and delicious on sandwiches, with dinner, or in my yogurt for breakfast!

Seize the cranberries while they last, and hold out hope that spring is coming soon!

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Chicken Chili on a Chilly January Day

I hope you are having a great start to the new year.  Choosing Happiness is the goal that we set for this new year.  On our road trip home on New Year's Day, Dave and I did some reflecting on 2014 and vision casting for 2015 and realized that last year was more of "survival" year in many respects and we want this year to be marked with more joy, happiness, play and laughter!  I have determined that my motto for this year is: "Complain Less, Hug More, Choose Happiness!"  We'll see how it goes.  So far, I already feel more hopeful.  I realize that when I extend love (via hugs and other extensions of generosity and compassion), it's hard not to be happier.

I'm glad that the bleak, cold, grey days are more than 1/2 way over. In the meantime it helps if I look for the wintery beauty in the midst of the bleak.  And I find great comfort with a piping hot bowl of soup!

 I have made this Chicken Chili several times over the past month.  During the winter, I really just want to eat soup, sliced apples and crusty bread everyday.  Healthy and Comforting!
This recipe has become a new favorite in our house.  I'm delighted to have another soup that is 5 for 5 at my table!  
This is so very easy to make.  In fact, there aren't very many photos because… there is not much to photograph, unless you want photos of me opening cans and stirring.  
Also, this soup is hard to capture in photos because the good stuff tends to sink to the bottom of the bowl and pictures don't do it justice.  
Every year our Social Work department has a chili supper and the faculty/staff provide crock pots of Chili for students to enjoy.  Patsy always makes this Chicken Chili and I always choose it.  It is delicious!  I got the recipe years ago, but was reluctant to make it for the family because my girls are sensitive to spicy (sad!), and my boy has a bean aversion (really sad!).  But Dave loves chili and wishes that I would make it more. So, I decided to make it with mild salsa and reduce the number of beans to accommodate my kids and give it a go.  It was very well received!  I was happily surprised!  It wasn't too spicy and Asher had just come from a 2 hour wrestling practice and was famished and therefore wasn't too picky with the beans!  Progress is being made in the bean situation!
It is a Weight Watchers recipe originally, so it is healthy and is simple and versatile. 
I roast chicken tenderloins in the oven while I "prepare" the rest of the soup.  (The original recipe says to boil them but I prefer the roasted flavor.)  It only takes about 25 minutes to roast and then I tear it apart and add it to the soup.  

I serve it with sour cream and shredded cheese, like the recipe recommends, but I also add some slices of lime, tortilla chips and diced avocado.  OH MY!

I have shared the recipe with a couple of friends and decided that I needed to post it to share with even more friends.  It's too great to not pass along!

Chicken Chili

6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (or I used about 12 tenderloins)
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 jars (16 oz. each) of picante salsa
49 oz. chicken broth
48 oz. Northern white beans
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. garlic powder

Roast chicken in oven:  Preheat oven to 400˚.  Drizzle or brush chicken with olive oil.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper (and garlic powder and cumin, if you'd like).  Place on baking sheet, place it in the oven and bake until fully cooked.

Mix all other ingredients: salsa through garlic powder.  Shred cooked chicken and add to the pot.  Bring to a boil and cook 20 minutes.  Reduce heat and simmer slowly until time to serve.  (You can also put it in the crockpot in the morning and let it cook on low all day).

Garnish with sour cream, shredded cheese, slices of lime (for squeezing), tortilla chips and diced avocado.  And if you want to turn up the heat, you can splash some hot sauce in your bowl!

Another new year's goal is that I hope I will be able to blog more frequently this year.  Last year was much less often than I would choose (thus, the year of surviving). December was so full and blogging didn't happen after all of the grading and closing down of the semester, and then Christmasing and New Year's travel.  But I sure did cook a lot last month!  And I made some really yummy things, which I photographed for the time when I can post them here and share the recipes.  Some will probably have to wait until next year, as they are Christmasy, but others, I will share promptly - like this Chicken Chili.   
Enjoy! Wishing you the happiest new year!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Gratitude (and a Recipe Sharing Friend)

This time of year, between Thanksgiving and Christmas, breeds thankfulness. Unfortunately, I am easily overwhelmed in my life, and it sometimes feels paralyzing, and this time of year is so full that it is especially overwhelming.  I am engulfed with the messes in my house, the responsibilities that I carry, the individual and enormous needs of each of my children, things I need to do and things I want to do.  During this season, even the fun things (like holiday gift buying, baking, card sending, and decorating) can feel overwhelming. 

I have to stop and breathe and focus on GRATITUDE.

Gratitude is a powerful force.  It is more than a fluffy idea.  There is science behind it!
The research that has emerged recently on gratitude is incredible. 
Here are a couple of interesting pieces on the power of gratitude.
This short piece, by my hero Brene Brown, is about the link between Gratitude and Joy:

And this fun experiment measuring the link between Gratitude and Happiness, from SoulPancake.

So, I am stopping for a moment and making a list of 10 things for which I am grateful TODAY. 

Some things I am grateful for are:
1.     The health of our family
2.     Wonderful schools with great faculty and administration that are impacting my kids everyday
3.     Good coffee
4.     Meaningful work with incredible students
5.     Laughter
6.     Neighbors with whom we can loan ingredients and tools, and lend a hand and feel so not alone in this life.
7.     God’s faithfulness- His mercies that are new every morning!
8.     The seasons
9.     A good night’s sleep under a fluffy comforter
10. Friends- old and new, near and far

#10- friends old and new, is the inspiration for this post.  I have a new friend, Sandi.  She is a very talented, wise and generous woman that I have gotten to know this fall.  She and her husband are in our small group at church and one of the unexpected blessings of this new friendship are the food and recipes that have come from her kitchen.  Because we share a meal together each week at group, we have the chance to eat each other’s food weekly!  (That is not a typical opportunity in many friendships).

She is a great cook and has so many recipes that are NEW to me.  It has been a boon for me and my kitchen! Through the years of my food blogging, one of the things that has kept me at it (when I wonder why in the world am I doing this in the vast number of food blogs on the internet) is knowing that some friend or some unknown friend, is finding inspiration and help with what to make for dinner.

Sandi’s gift of new, delicious, do-able recipes has been so great.  I couldn’t decide which recipe to share with you that I have tried of Sandi’s lately, so I decided to share both!  At the rate I am posting lately, I might should double-up when I do sneak the time to create a blog post!  

Recipe #1 is her Apple Cole Slaw.
I love it!
It is sweet and tangy and healthy!  It is good as a side with just about anything!

I have made it twice and I approached it differently each time, and it produced different results.  I liked them both.  I made it once in my food processor and it yielded a much finer, juicer slaw (think Chick fil a slaw texture) and the second time I chopped with a knife and it yielded more of a loose, crunchy salad.

1 apple, chopped
4 slices pineapple, chopped
2 cups cabbage, chopped

2 Tbsp. mayo
2 Tbsp. milk
1 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp. sugar
¼ tsp. salt

Mix together the dressing in a small bowl or measuring cup.
Toss together the apples, pineapple and cabbage.
Pour dressing over. Stir to completely coat.
Cover and refrigerate for about 30 minutes before eating.

Recipe #2 is Nani’s Cake
It's called Nani's cake because the lady who gave her the recipe got it from her Nani.   
My mom tasted it and said she thinks she has this recipe from somewhere in her past and called it Butter Pecan Cake.  I'd call it Sticky Coconut Bundt Cake.  It is a simple- throw it in a bowl, stir and bake cake.  It has a can of coconut pecan sticky frosting stirred into the batter- so it needs no frosting on top.  It gets even stickier and moister after a couple of days, so it is a great make-ahead dessert.  The coconut and nuts are not dominant, so even people who don’t love those ingredients would like it, I think.

1 box yellow butter cake mix
4 eggs
1 cup vegetable or canola oil
1 cup milk
1 can (Pillsbury)- coconut pecan frosting*
1 tsp almond extract

Beat all together (including frosting).
Spray bundt pan generously.
Bake 350 for 40 minutes.

It gets better with each day so try not to eat it all the first day.

 * we used Betty Crocker frosting because they didn't have Pillsbury

Another gift from Sandi was the book, Not By Sight by John Bloom (President of Desiring God ministries). Click the link to read more about it.  It has been a refreshing morning read this fall.  I highly recommend it. 

So, thank you, Sandi, for sharing your kindness, and generous gifts.  What a blessing.


I hope in the midst of these busy December days we can all purpose to spell our days with gratitude.

But be forewarned, it is sometimes vulnerable to do so!

PERSONAL CONFESSION: Surprisingly the act of writing the gratitude list in this post felt challenging- though in a good way.  I had to dig deep, and be still for a few moments to really think about the things for which I am grateful today
And the act of sharing the list feels/felt vulnerable and somehow risky, and I wonder if that may be part of what holds us back from practicing and expressing gratitude more! 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

A Must Try Apple Pie

I love apples! I eat an apple every day. (After all, an apple a day keeps the doctor away.) 

I love the crunch and juiciness, the heartiness and ease of apple-eating! This season is apple's prime time and there are so many great varieties on the market.  I don’t know if you have had a Honey Crisp Apple but they are all the rage!  We have been marveling at our house at all the new varieties that are popping up lately. 

There are a couple of interesting NPR segments about the Apple industry.  Click HERE  or HERE if you want to listen/read the recent segments about the Apple industry. 

These next few weeks, pies will be made by many people – as Thanksgiving is such pie-holiday! So, I thought this recipe would be a good one to share.  My mom has been making this apple pie for events lately and I’ve been the lucky recipient of a leftover slice here and there!  This one is a winner.  I asked her to teach me how to make it and in the translating of the recipe I realized that she has combined a couple of different recipes - Southern Living and Trisha Yearwood.  The result is this incredible deep dish, made in a skillet, two-crust pie with a gooey caramel bottom. 

Mom has tried it with apple pie filling instead of fresh apples, and a combination of the two.  Using canned is far simpler, as the peeling of the apples is the biggest chore of the pie, but we like the fresh apples better.  It’s less mushy.  We didn’t make our own crust, but rather used purchased pie crust dough.  (I really like the flavor of the Trader Joe’s or if you don’t have that, you can use the Pillsbury crusts found in the refrigerated section in the red box).

2 refrigerated pie crusts- ready to be used
1 stick butter
1 cup brown sugar
4 pounds tart apples (peeled and sliced)
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tsp flour
1 egg white
2 Tbsp. granulated sugar

Peel and slice apples.
In a mixing bowl place apples, cinnamon, sugar and flour and toss well to coat.

Preheat oven to 350˚.

Place butter and brown sugar in skillet on top of stove on medium heat, let melt, swirling with wooden spoon until fully melted.  Remove from heat. 

Carefully drape one of the pie crusts into the skillet filled with brown sugar/butter sauce. (I know this seems counterintuitive to place this over the goo, but it is correct).

Immediately spoon all of the apples on top of the crust.  Cover with the 2nd pie crust and crimp the edges with your fingers to seal along the edge. 

Whisk egg white in a small bowl until foamy.  Brush egg white over the entire top of the pie.  
Sprinkle with 2 Tbsp. sugar.  Cut a few small slits into the top of the crust dough.  

Bake for 1 hour. 

Let sit for a few minutes to set.

Serve slices with vanilla ice cream.  

I wanted to snap some photos in the daylight but this was the last
slice of pie remaining when I got a chance to photograph it.
You can see the goo in the pan from the brown sugar butter sauce.
I made this for Bible study this week in honor of my friend Kristin's birthday because I knew
she likes apple pie.  I offered her the various candles from my bin and she chose
the 1 and 7, representing 17.  She thought this would be a good year to do again. :)
(We had to hold up the candles since they wouldn't stand alone in the pie.)

Happy apple eating and pie baking! 

P.S.  WARNING: I'm not sure that the adage "an apple a day" applies to apples doused with butter and sugar and hidden between 2 pie crusts.  You'll have to eat a raw apple for that promise to be valid.