Happy Easter

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I hope everyone had a wonderful Easter. Even though I am a Christian, I don’t currently attend a church. So, Graham and I took Hermione on a nine mile hike through the Great Dismal Swamp. The drive wasn’t bad; it was only about an hour away in Suffolk. We took the Washington Ditch path, which was a 4 & 1/4 mile straight shot to Lake Drummond. The path was newly green and absolutely beautiful.

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One side of the path switched from dry to marshy, and the other side looked like this the entire route:

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The end of the trail ended at Lake Drummond, which is one of only two natural lakes in Virginia. It was honestly kind of a disappointment. There was an overlook, and that was it, which meant no place for Hermione to swim =( It was pretty, though.

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We spent a whopping 10 minutes at the overlook before turning around and heading back. The only bad part of the walk? This.

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There was a portion of the walk that was nothing but mud & muck. My shoes were filthy, my socks went in the garbage, and I had mud splatters all over my legs. So gross. By the time we got back to the car we had completed nine miles (over half of it with wet socks) and I was beyond happy to see the parking lot.

Once we got home, I got to work on our Easter dinner.  Everything we had was absolutely delicious! We had ham, sautéed asparagus, roasted thyme carrots, dill potato salad, deviled eggs & pesto crescent rolls.

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And for dessert we had strawberry shortcake made with orange bundt cake (recipe coming this week =)), strawberries and homemade whipped cream.

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Hope everyone has had a wonderful Sunday!

Chicken & Buttermilk Dumplings

I first posted this back in 2011 (with horrible pictures and our ugly coffee table in the background)…and it has remained a regular in our dinner rotation ever since. Sometimes I cheat and use store bought chicken stock and a rotisserie chicken, and it’s still amazing.

But nothing tops this dish when you use homemade stock. I like to break this dinner up into stages. I typically make the chicken & stock the day or two before. After I make the stock, I stick it in the fridge over night (getting it cold makes removing the extra fat a breeze). With the stock already made, and the chicken already shredded and in a Ziploc baggie, throwing this together takes no time at all.
This is seriously my favorite chicken & dumpling recipe EVER. I’ll never make it another way ever again. It’s seriously THAT good.
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Chicken and Dumplings 
Recipe adapted from this one

Ingredients:
For the Stock:
  • 1 (3 to 3 1/2 pound) whole chicken
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 4 to 5 black peppercorns
  • 1 head of unpeeled garlic, split through the center
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • Enough water to cover chicken

For the Sauce:

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • A small onion; diced
  • 5 carrots, diced
  • 5 stalks celery, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 6 cups chicken stock
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • Freshly ground black pepper, for garnish
  • Chopped chives, for garnish

For the Dumplings:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup chopped chives
  • 3/4 to 1 cup buttermilk
Directions:
Chicken & Stock
Place the chicken and all stock ingredients in a large Dutch oven and cover with water. Bring water to a boil over medium-high heat and then reduce to a simmer.  Cook for one hour until the chicken is tender and internal temperature registers at least 165 degrees. Skim the surface of fat as it cooks.

 

Dumplings:

Sift the dry ingredients together in a large bowl. In a small bowl, using a whisk, lightly beat the eggs, chives and buttermilk together; pour the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients and gently fold. Mix just until the dough comes together; the batter should be thick and cake-like.

Sauce:

In a Dutch oven, over medium heat, add the butter and oil. Add the onion, carrot, celery, garlic and bay leaves and saute until the vegetables are soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in the flour to make a roux and continue to stir for two minutes to coat the veggies in flour and remove the starchy taste. Slowly pour in the chicken stock, 1 cup at a time, stirring well after each addition. Add frozen peas. Let sauce simmer, stirring occasionally, until it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 15 minutes. Stir in heavy cream.

Bringing it all Together:

Fold the reserved shredded chicken into the sauce and bring to a simmer. Using 2 spoons, carefully drop heaping tablespoonfuls of the dumpling batter into the hot mixture. The dumplings should cover the top of the sauce, but should not be touching or crowded. Let the dumplings poach for 10 to 15 minutes until they are firm and puffy. Discard the bay leaves, season with freshly cracked black pepper and garnish with chopped chives before serving.

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Tortellini with Spinach & Sausage

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Tonight’s dinner is a favorite around here for three reasons:

  1. It’s easy.
  2. It’s comes together super fast
  3. Most importantly it is so, so delicious!

It’s also extremely versatile. You can pretty much throw in whatever you like, add some sauce and you’re good to go! I kept it simple with sautéed onions, spicy chicken sausage from Trader Joe’s, baby spinach and of course the pasta and sauce. You can also change it up based on what type of pasta you buy. I’ve seen so many different types of tortellini at the various grocery stores I frequent, and so far the classic cheese filled is my favorite.

Tortellini with Spinach & Sausage

Ingredients:

  • 1  package of tortellini (I used whole wheat, cheese filled)
  • 2 Spicy Italian chicken sausage links; thinly sliced
  • 5-6 cups of baby spinach
  • 1 onion; thinly sliced
  • 1 cup of marinara sauce
  • Olive oil
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • Optional: Red pepper flakes, fresh basil & Parmesan cheese

Directions:

  1. Bring large pot of water to a boil.
  2. Heat 2 T. of olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet. When the oil is hot, add the onions & sausage. Let cook for about 5-7 minutes.
  3. Add the spinach to the onions and sausage (add it a little at a time, let it wilt down and then add some more).
  4. Once the spinach is wilted, add the marinara & the red pepper flakes, and reduce heat to low. Let simmer while pasta cooks.
  5. When the water is boiling, add a little olive oil to the water, then add the pasta. Cook according to package instructions (my package said 7-9 minutes, but it was ready in 5).
  6. Toss pasta with the sauce and serve. Garnish with shaved parmesan cheese and fresh basil if you wish.

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Celebrating Spring with Kirin & Cherry Blossoms

“I participated in an Influencer Activation on behalf of Millennial Central for Kirin. I received product samples to facilitate my review as well as a promotional item to thank me for my participation.”


One of my favorite things about living in Virginia is our proximity to our nation’s capital. Since moving here in early August, we’ve taken four day trips to DC. Sometimes we do the touristy things and visit monuments and museums. Other times, a trip to DC just means an amazing dinner and a trip to Ikea.

This past weekend we headed to DC for the annual Cherry Blossom Festival. In 1912, the Mayor of Tokyo gifted 3,000 of these beautiful trees to the city as a token of friendship. As a historian, I think the story of how the trees came to DC is fascinating, but seeing them lining the Tidal Basin was truly spectacular.

The timing of our day trip to DC coincided perfectly with the request for me to sample beers from Kirin Ichiban. When Millennial Central reached out to me for this campaign, they not only sent beer for us to sample, they also included an informational booklet that contained Japanese recipes from celebrity chef Candice Kumai and the tools we would need to make them.

All of the recipes sounded delicious, but I was the most intrigued by the thought of making my own sushi. I took the recipe in the book and modified it to make a spicy tuna roll. Other than the fact that we used too much rice, we had so much fun making these, and they turned out SO well!

I had never tried Kirin before, and I was very pleasantly surprised with it. Kirin Ichiban is a 100% malt, first-press beer with rich flavor, a smooth finish and clean aftertaste. They only use the first strain of malt liquid, which means it’s truly beer at its purest.  Kirin is known in Japan and all over the world as beer at its purest because of its first-press brewing process and clean taste, and that was something I definitely appreciated. It didn’t have an aftertaste, or taste artificial; which is something that I get from a lot of beers. It was simple and clean. We tried both the Kirin Ichiban and the Kirin Light, and I must say, I preferred the Kirin Ichiban. It had a more crisp flavor and a smoother finish.
The Kirin Ichiban was the perfect accompaniment to our dinner. The beer was light and very flavorful. It was exactly what I needed after a long day of traipsing around DC. I also appreciated that it complimented the sushi (and the seaweed salad I served on the side) and didn’t take away from those flavors. 
If you’ve never tried Kirin, I would recommend it. Throughout the year Candice Kumai will share more recipes and pairings, so I also recommend heading over to the official Kirin USA Facebook page

Recipe: Banana Split Cupcakes


Over Labor Day weekend, Graham & I took a day trip to DC and we experienced Georgetown Cupcake for the first time. I’ve never waited in a line like that for a cupcake before… but the banana split cupcake that I ordered was absolutely worth it. 


When I got home, I googled and I actually found “their” recipe. And eventually I made it. 

And, to be honest, it was an utter disappointment. The addition of bananas to cake batter instantly turn any cake into a fancy banana bread. Maybe I waited too long to make it, but it tasted nothing like the cupcake that I remembered. 

So, for Graham’s birthday, I decided to make them again, using the method that I use for my banana pudding cupcakes. These were a HUGE hit. Graham’s friends and family devoured them, and gave them rave reviews.

(If you’re against doctored up cake mixes, turn away now. Or just use this as inspiration and make a from scratch version of this delicious cupcake =))



I also made another change to the original cupcake… A banana split has pineapple, strawberry & chocolate toppings. This was a banana cupcake, filled with hot fudge, and then more fudge drizzle on top. Too much chocolate, and not enough fruit for me. So when I made it again, I filled the cupcake with strawberry jam & then drizzled the chocolate on top. The fruity addition was exactly what this needed!


So, here is a banana split cupcake that I’m in love with, and I hope you enjoy it as well.

Banana Split Cupcakes

For the Cake
Ingredients:
  • 1 box of yellow cake mix
  • 1 3.9 ounce box of instant banana pudding
  • 1 cup of vegetable oil
  • 1 cup of sour cream
  • 1/2 cup of hot water 
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 tsp. of vanilla
  • hot fudge
  • sprinkles
  • maraschino cherries 

Directions
Mix all ingredients together, except the bananas and the Nilla wafers. Spoon one spoon full of the batter into the lined muffin tins. Place one cookie and then two slices of banana in the batter. Then finish filling all of the tins. The batter should completely cover the bananas.

Bake at 350 degrees for 18-20 minutes (I baked mine for 19 minutes) or until a tester comes out clean.

For the Frosting
Ingredients:
  • 1 stick of softened, unsalted butter
  • 12 oz. of softened cream cheese
  • 2 T. of vanilla extract
  • 1 lb. of powdered sugar

Directions:
  1. Beat the cream cheese & butter together. 
  2. Slowly add in the powdered sugar. 
  3. Add in the vanilla extract. 
  4. Mix until combined, scraping the sides as needed. 
Garnish with a drizzle of hot fudge, sprinkles & a maraschino cherry =)




Let’s #fighttoxins with Seventh Generation

Full Disclosure: I participated in a campaign on behalf of Millennial Central for Seventh Generation. I received a promotional item and product samples as a thank you for participating.

Things I wasn’t aware of until now:

  • More than 80,000 chemicals available in the US have never been fully tested for their toxic effects on our health & environment. 
  • Scientists have linked exposure to toxic chemicals to many health risks, such as Cancer, Alzheimer’s, learning disabilities, asthma, birth defects, and various reproductive problems.
  • The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) was passed in 1976, and unlike other major environmental laws, has never been updated. As it currently stands, tens of thousands of potentially harmful chemicals continue to be used in the marketplace since the 1970’s without proper testing and without disclosure by the companies that produce them.

Over the past few years, I’ve started to care more and more about the impact I have on the environment, and the impact that my environment has on me. When I became more interested in cooking, I began to care more about the quality of ingredients I cook with. I’ve switched to organic vegetables. I buy organic, hormone free, antibiotic free meat & meat products. (The size of a big brand, hormone laden chicken breast in comparison to a hormone free chicken breast is ridiculous. I started thinking… God only knows what they’re injecting those poor birds with… Do I really want to ingest whatever it is?)

Then I realized how silly it was to spend more money on higher quality meat & produce, and still wash our dishes with chemical filled dish soap. The Seventh Generation dish soap was the first product from that brand I tried, and I absolutely love it. The scent is light and it lathers really well. 


The health of myself & my family is more important to me than anything else. It factors into every decision that I make. And the information I received from Seventh Generation makes it shockingly clear that we need to rid toxins from our daily lives. 

The country’s main chemical safety law (the TSCA) was passed almost 40 years ago, and is in serious need of reform. Please help Seventh Generation reach their goal of 100,000 signatures on their petition as they seek the reform so desperately needed. Just click on the button below to add your name to the petition. Let’s #fighttoxins!

That one weekend where I ate way too much cake.

And then wrote a blog post with a much too long title.

Oh well.

This past weekend, Graham took a few days off and we headed back to Charlotte. He didn’t get to go with me two weeks ago, and Friday was his birthday, so we went home to celebrate.

I baked some banana split cupcakes a few weeks ago, but I didn’t love the way they turned out. So, I tweaked the recipe, & used the guests at his party as my guinea pigs. These were a HUGE success. 

He requested a strawberry cake for his birthday, so I made that as well. He teased me about the four layers, and the homemade jam filling. I know he would have been happy with a cake baked in a 9×13 pan and iced… but, I had to get creative somehow! 
As if that wasn’t enough cake, my friend Kelly & I attended the Sweet Tooth Festival on Sunday. 

Thanks to the power of social media, I found out about this AWESOME event. Tickets were $30, the proceeds went to RAIN (an organization that provides support services to HIV+ individuals in the Charlotte area), and you got sample all kinds of delicious stuff from local bakeries and sweet shops. We left with a bakery box full of all kinds of delicious items.

Most of what we sampled was absolutely wonderful. I had only heard of two of the vendors that were participating; Cupcrazed (a winner of Food Network’s Cupcake Wars) & Got What it Cakes, my new favorite Charlotte bakery, so I was excited to try some new places. Here my favorites of everything I got to sample. 
This little bit of deliciousness was called “Gone Wild” from Sweet Elations. It had peanut butter and coconut (which reminds me of my beloved Earth Balance peanut butter) and was so good! 

These brownie bliss bites from My Sweet Celebration were so good. This one had toffee and caramel, and I would have loved about five more. 
Royal Oats Granola was there with something a little healthier. Their blueberry lemon granola was the best granola I’ve ever had. 

 My favorite treat of the day was this lemon bundt cake from Nothing Bundt Cakes (and how cute is that name!). The cake was so moist, had tons of flavor, and the perfect amount of lemon. 

I’m not a 100% sure, but I’m pretty sure this amazing chocolate mousse cake (with a rum soaked cherry =)) was from Neet’s Sweets (if it wasn’t, please correct me). The cake was delicious, but what’s even better is what the shop does for women who are victims of sexual trafficking and exploitation. 

The Secret Chocolatier was giving out amazing truffles and chocolates. I had a chocolate sea salt butter toffee and a violet truffle. Both were amazing, but the toffee absolutely knocked my socks off. 

I’m honestly not a huge peanut butter fan, but this slice of chocolate cake with a PB filling from Got What It Cakes was wonderful. And they were definitely the most generous with their serving size =)
The Sweet Tooth Festival is an annual event, so if you’re in the Charlotte area you should check it out. The money raised goes to a great cause, it’s a great way to learn about awesome local businesses, and you leave with a box full of cake. =)