Chocolate Walnut Biscotti

Happy Monday!

I made cookies.  Cookies to be enjoyed with coffee.  And on Mondays, coffee is essential.  But if you are like me, coffee is essential each and every day…(as are cookies!)  Not because you need the jolt of caffeine to get you going in the morning or through the dreaded afternoon lag…but because you truly enjoy the flavor.

I have loved coffee since I was a small kiddo – which makes me think that the old wives tail about coffee stunting one’s growth is, well spot on.  On Sunday mornings, after church, grandma and grandpa would come by for a visit and a cup of coffee.  Grandma and Grandpa took theirs black, while mom and dad took theirs with a splash of milk.  How cute, right?  I wonder if each couple always drank their coffee alike or if one conformed to the other.

On these Sunday mornings, I would beg for a cup of coffee.  And on most occassions I would be granted my request.  I took mine with lots of milk.  It was more like coffee flavored milk, but it was warm, in a coffee cup, and I got to sit at the table and listen to the grown ups talk.  Plus, if I didn’t slurp, I could drink it with a spoon.  I don’t ever remember my brothers begging for coffee…which is why to this day they are over six feet tall and don’t drink coffee, and neither do their wives…I am starting to think that if and how one takes his/her coffee is a pretty strong indicator of a couples compatibility.

Just recently I have began drinking espresso in the morning.  All thanks to Jenna over on Eat, Live, Run (an AMAZING blog, give it a go, you will love her too)…I read her blog daily and a few weeks ago she turned me onto stove top espresso makers.  I was always under the impression that you needed a fancy shmancy top of the line Italian counter top hogging machine to make espresso.  Boy was I wrong.  Like way wrong.  Let’s just say I now cruise into work on a true caffeine high…Italian style, double espresso style.

Whichever way it is brewed , in the afternoon, I like to enjoy my caffeine with a bit of something sweet.  I don’t think I am alone on this one.  My go to is most generally chocolate.  A square of dark chocolate or a Hershey Kiss…small and simple.  But sometimes I want something a bit more special.  Something a bit more substantial.  Something  dunkable.  Enter in biscotti.

Chocolate biscotti to be exact.

On Saturaday morning, I woke up with biscotti on the brain and by the time the sun was up…biscotti was in the oven and the coffee was brewing.  When it comes to coffee and cookies, I mean business!  Traditional recipes for biscotti do not contain butter – a cookie without butter…what?!?- instead eggs are used as the binder and since biscotti are supposed to have a considerable ‘snap’ or ‘crunch’ to them, butter is not needed to keep things moist.  These chocolate walnut biscotti are not overly sweet and are for the true chocolate lover…containing a good dose of cocoa powder and mini chocolate chips.  I will be packing one of these in my lunch all week to enjoy with my afternoon coffee…

Oh and for those wondering…I like my coffee strong with a splash of cream or half and half.  :)

Walnut Chocolate Biscotti

Makes about 2 dozen

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Ingredients 

    • 1 Cup Walnuts
    • 2 Cups All Purpose Flour
    • 3/4 Cup Cocoa Powder ( I used Hershey’s Special Dark)
    • 1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda
    • 3/4 Teaspoon Baking Powder
    • pinch of salt ( about 1/4 teaspoon)
    • 1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
    • 1 Cup White Sugar
    • 1 Cup Mini Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips
    • 3 Large Eggs
Egg Wash
  • 1 Large Egg
  • 2 Tablespoons Water
  • 1-2 Tablespoon Sugar

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Place walnuts in small skillet over medium heat.  Cook for about 3 to 5 minutes, stirring frequently.  You will smell them once they are done, trust me!  Remove from heat and let cool.  Once cool, roughly chop walnuts and set aside.

Sift together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.

In a mixing bowl, beat together 3 eggs, sugar, and vanilla.  With mixer on low, gradually mix in the dry ingredients.  Once those are well incorporated, stir in the walnuts and mini chocolate chips – you may have to forgo the mixer and use a wooden spatula.

Empty out contents onto a lightly floured surface and divide dough into two equal parts.  Form each half into a log of sorts, measuring about 12-15 inches long and 2 inches wide.  Gently pat the tops of the logs to flatten them a bit.  Transfer logs to a parchment lined baking sheet, several inches apart – they will rise and spread just a bit!

Prepare egg wash…combine egg and water in a small bowl and whisk until frothy.

Liberally brush on egg wash onto the tops of each log ( you will not use all of it ).  Sprinkle the tops with about 1 tablespoon of sugar per log.

Place tray into preheated oven and bake for about 20 to 25 minutes, until firm to the touch.  Remove from oven and let cool on baking sheet for about 15 minutes.  Once cool to the touch, transfer logs to a cutting board and with a serrated knife cut each log into 1/2 inch cookies on the diagonal.  Lay cookies back onto baking sheet, cut side up, and return them to the oven for about 10 to 15 minutes.  The longer they stay in the crisper they will be.  Remove from oven and let cool completely.  Store in an airtight container for upto 2 weeks.

Happy dunking!!!

Lentil Soup

I feel like it was just yesterday that I started working nights.  Adapting and conforming to a new schedule, a new pattern, finding what worked for me and then of course what didn’t.  It probably feels like it was just yesterday because it took such a LONG time to make work.

I never knew when to wake-up, let alone when to sleep, and how many hours of shut-eye I needed to function.  How much was too much coffee – the horrid knawing stomach ache was the indicator that I had a tendency to ignore.  Ulcer avenue here I come.  Realizing that I needed much more sleep during the winter vs. the summer – that took a full year.  Figuring out how to make my bedroom pitch black at noon on a July afternoon, that took a few sleepless afternoons to fix, an art I never truly mastered.

At the beginning I had a hard time scheduling meals, at home and at work.  Do I eat breakfast food at 6pm or dinner?  And at 6am do I eat dinner or breakfast food…all very confusing.  And when was the best time to workout?  Motivation was lacking both morning and night.  And then how was the best way to come onto and then go off of nights, naps or no naps?…And when I started this blog, well that threw a whole new factor into the equation…

It was three years of trial and error.  It was three years of sharing ideas with other night owls. And after three years, I had finally gotten the swing of things.  And then I decided that it was time for a new job.  A new position.  Therefore, a new schedule.

So, here I go again!

Creating and adapting to a new schedule.  The biggest change I have had to adjust to is not having every other week off.  I am very used to letting the house ‘go’ for a week and then reining it in on the off week.  So, you might say my house is a wreck.  Serious wreck.  If it can be piled, it is.  Laundry, dishes,mail…piled, and piled high.  It happens…no biggy.

I am very grateful for all the evenings that are now open and free.  I spend a lot of them in the kitchen or researching recipes…exactly where I want to be, doing what I want to do.  That is a great thing.  When I am cooking, I am also fiddling with my camera.  Snapping pics.  Pics to post here.  Which won’t be a problem in the summer, but did you know that the sun does not shine in Cleveland during the winter?  So natural light is difficult to capture during the afternoon, let alone in the evening.  I rush home from work, praying for the sun to shine, but no luck so far.  So, I just take pictures, with or without natural light.  Hoping I can get a few decent pics.  Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t.  I try to remember what I did right when I capture those few good ones…generally it is luck and I am back to square one!  Ah well.  It is fun and that is why I continue.

One of the great changes that I have enjoyed getting used to (besides sleeping every night!) is eating the correct foods at the correct times, each and every week.  It is the small things.  With every evening free, dinner is where my focus is when I leave work.  This week and for many weeks, truth be told, I have been craving soup at night.  And this week has been no different.  I am not a big fan of brothy soups, but thick and filling soups.  Soups that feel like a meal in a bowl.  Usher in lentil soup.  Talk about thick and creamy and filling.  Oh and lentils are seriously healthy.  Just packed full of good things!  So, let us make soup!

 

Lentil Soup

Servings 4-6

Ingredients

  • 2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
  • 1+1/2 Cups Carrots ( about 7 small carrots), finely diced
  • 1 Cup Celery, finely diced (about 4 stalks)
  • 1 Large Yellow Onion, finely diced
  • 4 Cloves Garlic, minced
  • 1 Can Diced Tomatoes (15 ounce)
  • 1 lb Green Lentils, rinsed and picked over
  • 1 teaspoon Oregano, dried
  • 2 Small Bay Leaves
  • 1 teaspoon Thyme, dried
  • 1/4 teaspoon Cumin
  • Salt, to taste ( I used about 2 teaspoons)
  • Pepper ( I used about 1/2 teaspoon)
  • 6-8 Cups Chicken Broth (or vegetable broth)
  • Optional toppings include a dollop of sour-cream or Greek yogurt, chopped chives, and bacon.

Heat olive oil in a large dutch oven over medium heat and once warm, add the carrots, celery, onion, garlic, and just a pinch of salt and cook until the onions are soft and translucent, about 5-10 minutes.  Add the lentils, diced tomatoes, oregano, bay leaves, thyme, cumin, and broth.  Taste and add salt and pepper to your taste-buds.  Increase the heat to high and bring the soup to a boil and then reduce the heat to medium/low and let the soup simmer (uncovered) for about 35 to 40 minutes or until the lentils are tender.  Remove the bay leaves now and throw them away.

Remove soup from the heat and transfer, in small batches, about half of the soup into a blender and blend until smooth.  You can also use an immersion blender if you own one.  Stir blended soup back into the large pot and serve immediately.  Top with anything you like or just serve with a side of crusty bread!

This soup does stand up well in the freezer so you can have a healthy, filling, and warm dinner in moments!

Spinach and Feta Quesadillas

Don’t you love being pleasantly surprised?

Not shocked.  No surprise party heart attack.  No racing heart or sweaty palms.  Just pleasantly surprised.

Monday was a day chock full of pleasant surprises.

First off, it was Monday.  Sometimes Mondays are rough.  Sometimes Mondays are straight out ugly…from the sound of the alarm at way-too-early o’clock to the climbing back into bed some 16 hours later, exhausted and spent.  However, Monday, January 23rd … started off with me getting out of bed before my alarm, awake and rested.  Mark this day in history.

Second, I awoke to thundering.  Thunder in January?!?  Yep.  Sometimes we get thunder snow and so when I realized it was raining and 50 degrees at 7am…to say the least, I was pleasantly surprised.

Third, I spent my whole day in orientation.  A day that I was not exactly looking forward to, to say the least.  Sitting for 8 plus hours, in a small auditorium, among strangers, listening to monotone HR peeps talk about mission statements….not my idea of a good time.  However, it turned into one of the best orientations I have ever sat through.  I left there knowing that I was exactly where I was supposed to be.  No doubt about it.  Plus, it is the friendliest place, full of the nicest people.  EVERYONE says hello  and people actually smile.  Kinda sorta awesome.  Again, pleasantly surprised.

Fourth, I remembered my grocery list.  And I went to the grocery.  On a Monday evening.  And I didn’t have to wait in the check-out lane for 30 minutes.  I was in and out and didn’t forget a darn thing.  That doesn’t happen, ever.

Fifth, I had a good run.  After a weekend of lounging, sugar, and a whole day of sitting…I wasn’t expecting much.  But once again, I was pleasantly surprised when my legs took me six miles without issue.

I don’t know what came over Monday, but it was quite cooperative.  I think it was because it marked the 4 month count down to my birthday…

So, for my 28 + 2/3rd birthday dinner, I made quesadillas.  If there is something I love more than going out to dinner, it is ordering appetizers while out.  And if I can make an appetizer a meal, I do.  Not at the restaurant of course…I always get a meal too, let’s be real.  But at home, when I am not over indulging…I’ll make just an appetizer.  Monday, it was quesadillas.  Not your run of the mill chicken and cheddar cheese in a flour tortilla with sourcream and salsa…nah, I fancied it up a bit.  We are talking spinach, feta cheese, black olives, roasted red peppers….A bit Greek if you ask me.  They too were a pleasant surprise.

 

Spinach and Feta Quesadillas

flexible

Ingredients

  • Whole Wheat Tortillas
  • Roasted Red Peppers, drained and thinly sliced
  • Red Onion, thinly sliced
  • Feta Cheese (about 3 Tablespoons per quesadilla)
  • Mozzarella Cheese ( about 1/4 Cup per quesadilla)
  • Baby Spinach ( small handful per quesadilla)
  • Black Olives, thinly sliced
  • Butter, 1 Teaspoon per quesadilla

Thinly slice red onions, roasted red peppers, and black olives.  Tear baby spinach into chunks.

Heat a non-stick skillet or cast iron skillet over medium heat.  Spread 1/2 teaspoon of butter onto one side of both tortillas.  Lay butter side of one tortilla down onto a plate.  Evenly spread the mozzarella cheese, roasted red peppers, red onions, feta cheese, black olives, and baby spinach onto tortilla.  (careful not to overfill!)  Top with second tortilla, butter side up.  Carefully place quesadilla into pre-heated skillet.  Cook on each side for 3 to 5 minutes until golden brown and crisp.

Transfer quesadilla from skillet to cutting board and with a sharp knife or pizza cutter, cut each quesadilla into quarters.

I topped mine with a Greek yogurt and ate it along side a spinach salad.

I hope you enjoy!

 

Snow Storms and Chocolate Cupcakes

I love snow storms.  It is more of a conditional love, but love nonetheless.

The conditions include…

Being at home, in sweatpants, on my couch, drinking a hot cup of something, watching the snow accumulate out side my window.  I don’t want to go to work or attend any planned event…Truth be told,  I really don’t want to leave my house when it is snowing…

True hibernation.

The snow accumulation must be greater than 4 inches.  Less than four inches, well that is just a dusting.  Nothing is going to be cancelled, school will still be in session, you can still see the tops of the grass blades and corn stalks.  Life will go on, it’ll just be cold, wet, and slushy.  Eh.   More than 4 inches, preferably lots more, turns the world into a black and white photo.  The dreariness of winter is gone.  The brown grass, the bare trees, the empty brown fields…all covered in a glorious blinding bright white.

Untouched snow.  No cars or trucks packing it down, turning it black and dirty.  Untouched snow before the snow plows come along and throw it (and the top layer of the road) into the ditch.  Uncovering the bleak and gray road beneath, making it passable.  Making it safe for travellers, making it so we no longer have good reason to stay in hibernation.  Growing up in a small town (one square mile small)…I was spoiled with days on end of untouched snow.

The temperature must be freezing ( so it’ll snow and not rain of course), but not too far below freezing.  If it is too cold then the snow is powder like.  Great if you ski, at least I would think so, but since I have never skied, I truly don’t know.  Powder snow is not great for building snow men, snowball fights, or fort building.  We are snowman making,  snowball fighting, fort building aficionados in my family.  That I do know.

We had a snow storm this weekend, as did most of the midwest and eastern side of the country. It was a true snow storm…more than 4 inches fell.  The world was a black and white photo.  And to top it off, I spent the weekend at my parent’s.  Untouched snow galore and nothing pressing to do…Perfect!  The temperature never reached snow packing heights on Saturday to create anything, but it was enjoyed all the same.

Were you snowed in this weekend too?  Wasn’t it great?!  I hope you didnt have to go anywhere.  I hope you were able stay cooped up in the house and enjoy time with your family.  I hope you lounged in your pajamas all day long.  I hope you made comfort food and enjoyed every last bite ( it is not bathing suit season yet!!)  If not, winter is no where from being over…you will have time.  Promise.

Our comfort food this weekend was chocolate.  Chocolate and Peanut Butter.  In cupcake form.  No biggy.  Just tastey.  You can never go wrong with chocolate and peanut butter, at least not in my family.

Chocolate Cupcake w/ PB Frosting

16 Cupcakes

Ingredients

Cupcakes

  • 1 Cup Cocoa Powder ( I used Hershey’s Special Dark Cocoa)
  • 1/2 teaspoon Salt
  • 1 teaspoon Baking Soda
  • 1 + 1/2 All Purpose Flour
  • 1 + 1/2 Sticks Butter, melted and slightly cooled
  • 1 + 1/4 Cup Sugar
  • 2 teaspoon Pure Vanilla Extract
  • 2 Large Eggs
  • 1 Cup Buttermilk, well shaken
  • 1/2 Cup Greek Yogurt

Icing

  • 1 Stick Butter, softened
  • 1/2 Cup Creamy Peanut Butter
  • 2 + 1/2 Cups Confectioner’s Sugar
  • Pinch of Salt
  • 1 teaspoon Pure Vanilla Extract
  • 3-4 Tablespoons milk, half and half, or heavy cream…whatever you have on hand.

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Line muffin tin cups with paper cupcake wrappers.

In a small bowl, sift or whisk together flour, salt, baking soda, and cocoa.  Set aside.  Also, in another bowl, mix together the buttermilk and yogurt.  Set this aside too!

Cream together melted butter and sugar for about 3 minutes.  If using a stand mixer, use the whisk attachment.  Add the vanilla and the eggs, mix well.  Now, beat in the flour mixture, alternating with the buttermilk/yogurt mixture, starting and ending with flour.  (Flour, dairy, flour) Mixing well between each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl.

Fill the lined muffin cups about 2/3rds the way full and place in preheated oven.  Bake for about 15 to 17 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.  Remove from oven and let cool for about 5 minutes before removing the cupcakes from the pan and placing them on a wire cooling rack to cool completely.

While they are cooling, prepare icing.

In a large mixing bowl, cream together the softened butter and peanut butter.  Mix in vanilla.  With mixer on low, slowly add confectioner’s sugar until all of it is mixed in.  Now, add the milk, tablespoon by tablespoon until the consistency desired is reached.

Once the cupcakes are completely cooled, ice the cupcakes and then enjoy!  They can be stored in an airtight container for about 3 to 5 days, if they last that long!

 

 

Berry Oatmeal Smoothie

I drank this Monday night for dinner.  I didn’t feel much like cooking.  I was still catching up from the weekend fun.  I think I was in bed by 9pm.  I am getting old.

I had just finished running.  One more episode of ER watched.   Am I the only one that watches ER while running?  If the sight of Doctor Ross doesn’t motivate you, I am not sure what will.  That man has aged well.  Very very well.  However, he did look much younger in 1995.  But didn’t we all?

I am glad I ate light Monday night, because tonight (Tuesday) I ate like a pig.  Oink OINK.  I am not exaggerating.  Italians know how to eat…I think my stomach is Italian.  Mel and I went to another cooking class and for 2+ hours we ate.

The menu’s main focus was on the spud.  Potatoes.  Pommes de terre.  Patata.  We started with potato breadsticks and dipped them into potato leek soup…I was literally eating a carb with a carb.  Oh my word!  We then swiftly moved onto potato gnocchi which was smothered in a light tomato and basil sauce.  I could have eaten this all night long, but there was more to be had.  From the gnocchi we went straight to the main course…roasted chicken with roasted potatoes, garlic, and olives.  Mel went bonkers for the whole roasted garlic cloves.  The chicken was served with a creamy potato dauphinoise.  People…let me tell you, this was decadent.  We are talking layers of thinly sliced potatoes.  Layers upon layers.  And in between said layers…there was butter and cream and all things good.  Gruyere cheese topped the whole potato shindig.  I think this is when I went into a carb coma.  For the rest of the night was a tad blurry.  But wait…we had more to eat!  Twice baked potatoes were up next…Yukon gold, russet, and sweet potato.  We were so delirious and giddy aboute nearly forget about them in the oven!  And finally, for dessert, we had sweet potato bread pudding with a warm caramel sauce.  When no one was looking….I licked my plate.  After eating that much in front of strangers…well they are no longer strangers.  More like partners in crime.

I might be stuffed this time next week.  Not joking.

I am going to drink this smoothie for the remainder of the week.  Light and healthy.  Quite the opposite of tonight.  Coconut milk and almond butter.  Frozen fruit and oatmeal and flax seed.  All good things.  All healthy things.  No potatoes.

My recipe makes enough for one large smoothie – perfect for a quick meal/breakfast on the go.  Or it makes enough for 2 small smoothies.  For those of you who like to share.

OK…enjoy the smoothie…I will am going to roll myself off this couch and up the stairs and into bed.  Oh potatoes….

Berry Oatmeal Smoothie

Makes 1 Large or 2 Small

Ingredients

  • 1 + 1/4 Cup Coconut Milk
  • 2 Tablespoons Almond Butter
  • 1 Cup Frozen Mixed Berries
  • 1/2 Banana – preferably frozen, peeled and thickly sliced.
  • 1 Tablespoon Flax Seed
  • 1/4 Cup Old Fashioned Rolled Oats

Place all ingredients into a blender.  Blend until smooth.  Pour into glass, top with extra berries, and enjoy!