18 April 2014

Salted Caramel Turtle Cinnamon Rolls

I'm not big on breakfast foods...or sweet foods...or caramel.  What on earth am I doing with this recipe?  Lately I've been using any flimsy excuse for gathering people, and I can't remember the last time I had brunch.  So we had people over for brunch!  And what better way to tempt people to brunch than by wafting a delicious dessert breakfast cinnamon roll under their noses?
Since I was short on time and used pre-made dough, this recipe has a grand total of seven ingredients.  The caramel can be made the night before, leaving about 20 minutes of working time + baking time the next morning.  The caramel sets up on the cinnamon rolls, giving them an easy crunch - it's not as hard as rock candy, but does add a fun textural element to these cinnamon rolls.
It starts with a homemade caramel:  butter and sugar.  This caramel freaked me out because it set up as soon as it hit the cinnamon roll pan, but that worked out okay.  Don't freak out.  Just let it be free spirited and lumpy.  This needs to be refrigerated until set (minimum 2 hours, can be done the night before).
I used a pre-made seamless dough sheet.  Judge away - I can't make everything from scratch.  Two canisters of dough made the perfect amount of cinnamon rolls.  Start by unrolling them, then paint on a butter-cinnamon mixture, then sprinkle on chocolate chips and pecan pieces.  Roll the dough up.  I rolled it up with the long side facing me so that the cinnamon rolls would be smaller - they're very rich, so smaller is better.
Slice into 1.5-in. to 2-in. pieces, then set upright on top of the caramel, leaving space for expansion.
Bake until the dough is golden brown (the directions on the dough canister called for 11 minutes, but these cinnamon rolls needed about 15 minutes).  Then comes the scary part.  Get a big serving tray or cutting board and flip the whole thing over while the caramel is still warm and pliable.  Everything holds together pretty well, so this step is pretty easy, but I know it doesn't sound like fun.  Just trust me - it will turn out okay.  I had a lot of caramel still in the bottom of the pan so I spooned it out over the cinnamon rolls, then sprinkled them with more pecans and sea salt flakes.
Salted Caramel Turtle Cinnamon Rolls
Ingredients:
  • 3/4 c sugar
  • 6 tbs butter
  • 2 canisters crescent seamless dough sheets (8 oz. each)
  • 4 tbs butter
  • 2 tbs cinnamon
  • 1 c chocolate chips
  • 3/4 c pecan pieces
  • 1 tbs sea salt flakes
Instructions:
1.  In a saucepan, heat up the sugar and 6 tbs butter over medium heat.  Keep and eye on it and stir frequently.  After about ten minutes, it will start to brown.  Continue stirring until caramel has a copper hue.  Pour the caramel into a 9x13 baking pan (caramel may set up quickly - just spread it as best you can and do not worry).  Refrigerate caramel for at least 2 hours.
2.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
3.  Get caramel out of the fridge.  Melt the 4 tbs of butter and mix with the cinnamon in a little bowl.  Open and unroll the first dough sheet.  Paint the entire dough sheet with the cinnamon-butter mixture.  Sprinkle on half the chocolate chips and half the pecans (reserve some pecans for garnish).  Roll up the dough sheet with the long side facing you (so that you get a long roll rather than a short roll).  Slice the roll into 1.5-in to 2-in slices.  Set them upright on top of the caramel, leaving a little space in between each.  Repeat with the second dough sheet.
4.  Bake for 15 minutes or until the cinnamon rolls are golden brown.
5.  While the pan is still hot, flip the pan over onto a serving tray or cutting board.  Scrape extra caramel out of the pan onto the cinnamon rolls if necessary.  Sprinkle with reserved pecans and sea salt.
These are a special-occasion type of cinnamon roll, but absolutely worth it.  Like a turtle sundae...for breakfast!

11 April 2014

Seared Tuna Tacos with Pico de Gallo

I'm assuming you like tacos, because...tacos.  But maybe you haven't yet tried any tacos del mar, in which case it is time to change that.  Pick your fish.  I chose tuna, because it's kind of tangy and just a little bit fishy and 100% delicious.
Tacos are best when you carefully choose ingredients from the ground up.  Fresh corn tortillas from a tortilleria in Mexico are the best.  I found some corn / wheat tortillas that looked similar and while they are nothing like the real thing, they are pretty good.  Next layer is the tuna, seared then fully cooked with some cumin and garlic.
You will definitely need some pico de gallo in the mix, which is basically a salsa fresca with fresh tomatoes, onions, a jalapeno, and cilantro (a little salt and garlic powder are good too).
Don't skip the queso.
Avocados might go out of style, but not in my kitchen.  A little salsa verde seals the deal.
And there you have it:  a meal fit for a king.  Or at least fit for a beach side shack, on a warm day, with your toes in the sand, listening to the waves lazily hitting the shore.
I won't embarrass myself by telling you how often we've had tacos for dinner in the past two weeks, but suffice it to say we've gone through more tortillas than is socially acceptable.
In other news, today is my last day of work.  We're trying out another Carolina - this time the southern one.  In two weeks, I start work down in Charleston, SC.  I'm sorry to leave my friends and family - we've had such a great time here - but I'd like to live somewhere where summer is more than just a memory for nine months of the year.

04 April 2014

Spicy Chicken Vindaloo

Or not spicy.  You can make it either way.  But spicy or not, you should really try this dish.
I learned something about my husband this March.  He LOVES rice.  He is not a big fan of quinoa.  I guess things could be worse.  So I promised him a rice meal for lunches this week.  I had just stopped at an Indian restaurant and tried their chicken vindaloo, and it seemed like a fun dish to try at home.
I keep my onions in a drawer, yet somehow they still know when it's spring.
This is the first time I've ever de-seeded tomatoes for a recipe.  How great are fresh tomatoes?
Lots of spices.  This dish has FLAVOR!
Everything gets processed until it is more paste-like in texture.
Then gently simmer it on the stove, adding the raw chicken and a cup of water.  Add in some jalapenos if you can take the heat.  This dish normally has potatoes in it, but I did not add any.
The turmeric turns the chicken yellow as it cooks through.  And my hands.  And the counter.  And...the microwave?  Oh yeah, I was thawing some broth to make rice with.  Don't forget to make some rice.
Chicken Vindaloo (loosely combining this and this)
Ingredients:
  • 3 smallish onions (2 cups)
  • 1.5 c. tomatoes, de-seeded
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 2" piece of ginger root, minced (a couple tablespoons)
  • 2 tbs + 1 tsp white vinegar
  • 2 tsp pepper*
  • 1 tbs ground mustard*
  • 2 tsp ground cumin*
  • 2 tsp ground coriander*
  • 1 tsp ground cloves*
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 3 tbs paprika
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tbs coconut oil
  • 4 jalapenos, de-veined and de-seeded and chopped**
  • 1 c. water
  • 2.5 lb chicken, cut into 1-in pieces (3 large breasts)
Instructions:
1.  Put the onions and tomatoes in a food processor.  Add in the garlic, ginger, vinegar and spices.  Process until paste-like.
2.  Heat the oil in a large skillet.  Add the onion-tomato paste and bring to a simmer.
3.  Add the jalapenos, water and chicken to the skillet.  Simmer for 25 minutes (chicken will cook through).
4.  Serve over rice.  Cilantro makes a great garnish.

I decided to add a little cornstarch to thicken up the dish - if you feel this is necessary, combine two tsp cornstarch with a tablespoon of water and mix until there are no lumps.  Stir this into the simmering vindaloo mixture.

*One of the recipes recommends using whole peppercorns/spice seeds and toasting them, then grinding them in a spice grinder.  I bet this is a really tasty route to take, but I did not have unground versions of these spices.
**Skip or reduce the quantity of the jalapenos if you aren't looking for something spicy.
I found this dish to be incredibly filling.  It is a delicious new take on some of my kitchen staples - chicken, tomatoes, onions, peppers.

28 March 2014

March in Summary

March was definitely a wild ride.  Lots of big things!  Starting with the bus.
Here's the quick and dirty on March:
  • I had two books I wanted to read.  And I read 1 of them.
  • I added another tasty soup recipe!  Check out the wild rice and chicken soup here!
  • Plan out my garden!  Check out the photos below for the progress on the garden front.
  • Quick jaunt down to Indiana.  We went not once, but twice!  The second time was just in passing...on our way to pick up our new VW bus ("new" is relative here!).
  • I started doing Jillian Michaels 30 Day Shred and I'm working my way through levels 2 and 3 this month.  Level 3 is now kicking my butt!  I'm definitely feeling the pain.
And if March was a wild ride, then April is going to be a party.
  • A lunch date w/ the fam.  We don't get together enough!
  • A block party w/ the friends.  We're hoping to take the bus!
  • I'm hoping to recreate a recipe for these awesome seared tuna tacos I had this month.
  • Some montepulciano wine needs to be bottled.  I'm not quite sure how this one will turn out.
  • This will be an intense month for the plant babies.  I've never been able to successfully grow starters of anything, so maybe this is my year!
  • Hopefully the lake will finally melt.  I'm ready.  But I hear there's two feet of ice separating me from happiness.
Okay, enough of the boring things, on to the fun photos!  We started out the month by bottling the last of our hard cider.
We went snowshoeing on the coast of Lake Michigan.
It was such a beautiful hike.  We had a great day for it.  The lake landscape is just surreal.
We followed this up with a fantastic lunch in Frankfort, MI - after checking out the lighthouse, of course.
And lastly, we hit up the brewery in town.
Nothing like beer to reward a hard morning's snowshoe trek!
We had a couple warm-ish days in March.  They took their toll.  Snow sculpture suffered.  (for reference: building, finished product, end of February)
Oh yeah!  We went to Chicago and enjoyed some hot coffee on a cold day.  Dressed in green, hit up the river, saw the sights.
Later in the month, I had some excellent seared tuna tacos with pico and avocado.  Can't wait to try making my own version.
And last but not least, here are my plant babies, on March 2 and on March 27.  What a difference a month makes!
Still having a hard time getting those peppers to grow, but the herbs are out of control!  Happy Spring!

21 March 2014

The Bus Story

Every bus has a story.  Our story is just getting started, but it's already been an adventure. 
Here's how our bus story begins.

07 March 2014

Wild Rice and Chicken Soup

I checked out the Recipes page twice while making this soup - I just couldn't believe I had never blogged about it before.  Think of this as a creamy chicken noodle soup, except gluten-free and way more delicious.
I think it was the chicken broth that really put this soup over the top, taste-wise.  The combination of chicken, mushrooms and wild rice is pretty great as well.
I use soups as an easy way to sneak more vegetables into my diet.  I'm not a huge fan of carrots or celery on their own, but I don't mind them in soup.
Wild Rice and Chicken Soup
Ingredients:
  • 1 c. wild rice
  • 2 tbs coconut oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped (about half a cup)
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 4 oz mushrooms, chopped (about a cup, and these are optional)
  • 4 large carrots, chopped (1.5 cups)
  • 4 stalks of celery, chopped (1.5 cups)
  • 5 c. cooked, chopped chicken*
  • 6 c. chicken broth*
  • 1 c. half and half (or 1/2 c. of milk and 1/2 c. of cream)
  • 1 tbs rosemary
  • 1 1/2 tsp basil
  • 1 1/2 tsp oregano
  • Salt, to taste
  • Pepper, to taste
  • Parsley
    Instructions:
    1.  Cook the wild rice according to the directions on the package (mine says bring 4 c. water / chicken broth and 1 c. rice to a boil, then reduce to a low simmer for 40 minutes).  This is a great time to chop up all those veggies!
    2.  Heat up the coconut oil in the bottom of a stock pot.  Saute the onions and garlic for three minutes.  Add in the mushrooms, carrots and celery and saute for another three minutes.
    3.  Add everything but the parsley.  Simmer for 20 to 30 minutes.  Serve hot, garnish with parsley.

    *If you've followed this blog for any length of time, you probably know that my preferred method for chicken is to roast a bird (this recipe is perfect, because it's rosemary lemon!), and shred the meat to use for soup.  Then the carcass is perfect for making broth/stock - especially in conjunction with the celery and carrot scraps, because really, once you've made your own chicken broth, no tiny yellow sodium cube will ever come close in comparison.  In this soup, I seasoned the bird extremely well, so I didn't need to add any seasoning to the soup.  Okay, fine, I added a tiny bit of cayenne pepper.  OKAY, it was more than a tiny bit.  I have a problem!

    28 February 2014

    Return of the Revenge of the Polar Vortex

    February is such a short month.  And yet, it feels like it's been such a long time since my last goals post - for instance, snow sculpture seems like forever ago!  Probably because I stayed pretty busy this month.  We've been to Sleeping Bear Dunes in the summer - this year we decided to try it out in the winter!  The wind and cold were brutal, but the photos are unbeatable.
    But hey, let's whip through those goals:
    • Get the photobook ordered.  Done and done!  And it should arrive today!
    • Go through my clothing and get rid of the stuff I don't wear. Um yeah.  I'm sure you saw this coming - didn't happen.
    • Win first place with our snow sculpture.  We're so good, we got first AND second place! 
    • Bottle the peach wine.  Okay, so this isn't exactly done, but I have it stabilized and backsweetened so it's ready to go.  
    • Make a nice warming soup to survive the revenge of the polar vortex.  Check out this Szechuan hot and sour soup - it's sure to warm you right up.
    Okay!  So let's make some March goals:
    • I've got two books I want to read - I'm hoping to get through them in March.
    • In honor of this week's Return of the Revenge of the Polar Vortex (sounds like a bad Syfy remake...) I've got another tasty soup recipe!
    • Plan out my garden!  I'm a little behind on this game - gotta get those peppers started!
    • Quick jaunt down to Indiana - as long as the weather doesn't interfere, we've got a quick family trip planned.  I hear the menu is Mexican!
    • I started doing Jillian Michaels 30 Day Shred and I am SO sore.  I'm hoping to work my way through levels 2 and 3 this month.
    Goals out of the way, let's get to the photos!  Let's start with the sculpture.  It's still standing and I have a feeling it will be up until April or May.
    Kyle and I went for a walk on one of the sunny days this month and I snapped this shot with my cell.
    And while we were out for a walk, we were stopped by a photographer for the local newspaper.  This is what we get for going outside on the first sunny day in a long time.
    In case you missed it, I made some awesome cupcakes for my friends gender-reveal party.
    As a Christmas present from my parents, the whole family went to see a hockey game and partake in some fun post-game activities.
    So that brings us to SBD.
    The landscape looked and felt like Mars - barren, hostile, unforgiving.
    The ice shelf was a testament to how violently the waves are driven into the shore.
    At the same time, the formations were phenomenal, and the waves breaking inside the ice caves were amazing to watch.
    The sun peeked out from the clouds occasionally, but there was nothing warm about it.  However, it really brought out the color of the water.
    All in all, it was a wonderful trip that I hope to never do again - at least not when it's that cold and that windy.

    Update:  stupid polar vortex...