Being Mrs. Pierce

Life as a wife, hiker, wanna-be chef, book-lover, traveler, and now, mom

September/October Recipes: The Pooh Cook Book October 17, 2018

Filed under: Cooking — skpierce12 @ 6:03 AM

You’d think nine years into teaching, I wouldn’t be engulfed by the busyness of the start of the school year.  And yet I am, every year.  So that, along with a whirlwind, weekend trip to California for a family wedding last month, is why it took me two months to complete my latest cookbook challenge.  I selected The Pooh Cook Book by Katie Stewart, which was inspired by A. A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner and published in the early 1970s in Britain.  My parents gave me a used copy of the cookbook (which is now out of print) for Christmas a couple of years ago, as I’ve loved Winnie the Pooh since I was a young girl.  The cookbook is geared for children, which made me love it all the more. (I already was swooning at the Britishness of it: “Cooking, like most things, is easy when you do it properly.”  How can you not read that with a British accent in your head?)


It being a cookbook for children and one inspired by the honey-loving Pooh bear, there were as many sweet recipes as there were savory ones (or perhaps even more).  All four of my recipes for this challenge were the former.  Two came from the chapter titled “Smackerels, Elevenses, and Teas” and two were from “Provisions for Picnics and Expotitions.”  Some of the baking ingredients took a little extra effort to find (I ordered golden syrup from Amazon and tracked down a small bag of castor sugar at my local HEB) or research (after baking two recipes which turned out a bit salty, I finally looked up British self-raising flour, which is NOT the same as American self-rising flour, it turns out), but I enjoyed the process a great deal.  Perhaps I was imagining myself as the next Great British Baker.


Starting with my number one favorite, here are my four bakes from The Pooh Cook Book:


1.  Honey Cookies – p. 46 – 5 stars


These cookies were refreshingly simple in an age of professional baking bloggers whose recipes seem increasingly over-the-top and elaborate.  Made with pantry staples (apart from the slivered almonds for decoration), I quickly made the dough and baked the cookies while James napped one Saturday afternoon – no chilling of dough required.  The dough was a little sticky, so I skipped the rolling-into-balls-and-then-flattening steps and just went with the drop-cookie technique.  They weren’t as uniform in the end, perhaps, but they were faster to make.  And they were delicious!  The cookies were a bit salty because I used American self-rising flour instead of salt-free British self-raising flour, but they were still soft, sweet, and worth making again (although I do plan to use the correct flour next time).


2.  Pooh’s Raisin Bread for Eating with Honey – p. 12 – 4 stars


I picked this recipe largely because of its name, but it turned out to be our second favorite recipe from the book!  It’s a cake-like quick bread, and like the honey cookies, simple to make and simple in makeup.  We especially enjoyed lightly toasting slices of this bread with a thin layer of butter and a drizzle of honey on top.


3.  Honey and Raisin Scones – p. 14 – 4 stars


British scones are American biscuits, so I was a little surprised that I wanted to make this recipe considering that I already have two go-to biscuit recipes.  But both of those are plain biscuits, so I suppose I was a little curious about the addition of raisins and honey to these.  I ended up making this recipe twice because the first time, I once again used American self-rising flour when I shouldn’t have and had somewhat salty biscuits as a result.  I really wanted to see what these would be like when baked correctly, and I’m glad that I made the extra effort to make a second batch.  They were slightly sweet and extra-tasty served with a little butter.  The honey and raisins made for a nice change-up from our beloved plain biscuits.


4.  Flapjack – p. 42 – 3.5 stars


This recipe caught my eye because it called for something named ‘golden syrup.’  How could I not try it?  I also was intrigued by the idea of preparing something akin to baked oatmeal batter but that would harden into breakable, crispy pieces.  In the end, it was more like making homemade granola than baked oatmeal.  The golden syrup was worth the extra expense, as it had a flavor I’ve not experienced elsewhere.  It made this oat-centered snack truly unique.



I will be holding on to The Pooh Cook Book, no question.  My husband was an especially big fan of all the recipes because he often prefers simple baked goods over flavored or fussy ones.  He also seemed to enjoy that the recipes call for just white flour, which is different from my normal bakes with either 100% whole wheat flour or a white/wheat blend.  The Pooh Cook Book also will be fun to look through and bake from once James gets a little older and can help me more in the kitchen.  It’s a keeper!


August Recipes: The Oh She Glows Cookbook September 2, 2018

Filed under: Cooking — skpierce12 @ 11:35 PM

This has been my summer of vegan experimentation, so what better cookbook for August than The Oh She Glows Cookbook: Over 100 Vegan Recipes to Glow from the Inside Out by Angela Liddon?  My parents had gifted me the cookbook from my Amazon wish list at Christmas, so it was time to open it up and give it a try.


During my first pass through the cookbook, I flagged nearly 20 recipes of interest.  The difficult part of this month’s challenge was narrowing down which of those 20 I wanted to make first!  I ended up preparing almost double the goal amount of recipes (seven instead of four) because so many of them sounded so appetizing.


The recipes I tried in August from The Oh She Glows Cookbook are below, in order from most liked to least liked:


1.  Classic Hummus – p. 89 – 4 stars


Several years ago my sister-in-law Kalyn directed me to The Pioneer Woman’s Restaurant Style Salsa, which I immediately loved, and I haven’t made a different salsa recipe since.  I’ve been wanting to find a similar go-to recipe for hummus.  I used to make a Weight Watchers version, but it relied too heavily on garlic to make up for just 2 TB of tahini.  Last year I tried Minimalist Baker’s 5-Minute Microwave Hummus, which John and I both love, but it has 1/2 cup of tahini in it per can of chickpeas.  This Oh She Glows Classic Hummus recipe takes the middle road – it has 1/3 cup of tahini per 2 cans of chickpeas.  And it’s good!  Time will tell if it becomes my “keeper” hummus recipe, but it’s truly a solid recipe.


2.  Out-the-Door Chia Power Doughnuts – p. 41 – 4 stars


I’ve had a huge carton of chia seeds sitting in my pantry, just waiting to be used.  As soon as I saw this recipe in the cookbook, I knew that I’d found a way to use up some of those seeds.  These baked doughnuts are simple to make, calling for oat flour, the chia seeds, and a few pantry staples.  The seeds provide a crunchy texture to the finished doughnuts, which are lightly flavored with cinnamon and maple syrup.  The recipe yields six doughnuts; James ate half the batch for breakfast one morning.  These were a definite winner!


3.  Ultimate Nutty Granola Clusters – p. 31 – 4 stars


I’ve tried a few granola recipes over the years and with some success, but homemade granola is a treat, something I only make when on break from work.  This recipe, however, has me wanting to make granola more often!  I loved, loved this recipe, especially because the granola truly did stick together in clusters once it had set rather than break into a million individual pieces.  I liked it better than John, but he also gave it a thumbs-up.


4.  Indian Lentil-Cauliflower Soup – p. 133 – 4 stars


I rarely cook with curry, but something about this recipe caught my eye.  It might have been the use of red lentils or perhaps just the fact that it calls for a lot of vegetables that I love – cauliflower, sweet potatoes, and baby spinach.  At any rate, I’m so glad that I made this soup.  I used Penzey’s Now Curry, which worked beautifully in the recipe, and although curry is a bit of an acquired taste, John and I both enjoyed having a flavor change-up from our usual fare.


5. Effortless Vegan Overnight Oats – p. 29 – 3 stars


These overnight oats are a basic recipe, and the resulting flavor was unsurprisingly simple as a result.  Angela does list a number of suggestions for add-ins and/or toppings, but I wanted to try the oats on their own in this first attempt.  I liked the inclusion of chia seeds in the mix and the fact that the recipe relies on mashed banana for sweetness over refined sugars.  I plan to make this again, but I’ll be sure to stir in some fresh berries or crunchy granola (or maybe both!) to jazz it up a bit.


6.  15-Minute Creamy Avocado Pasta – p. 173 – 3 stars


I’d never tried a pasta recipe with an avocado-based sauce before, so this dish became a must-make one on my August recipe list.  It turned out nice and light thanks to fresh basil leaves pureed into the sauce and used for garnish.  John didn’t like its aftertaste, but I didn’t discern one myself.  I rather doubt I’ll make this recipe again since John wasn’t a huge fan, but I’m glad that I gave it a try.


7. Super-Power Chia Bread – p. 229 – 2 stars


This was the recipe that I had wanted to like the most out of this bunch, so of course it’s the one that I liked the least.  With 9 grams of protein per slice, I had visions of eating this bread for breakfast daily so that I could keep the first meal of my day vegan instead of relying on eggs or sausage for protein.  It was not to be.  The grains/seeds of this bread consist of rolled oats, buckwheat groats, chia seeds, sunflower seeds, and pumpkin seeds, all of which add interesting texture to the bread.  But there was just something off about its taste.  I didn’t include the optional teaspoon of sugar, so perhaps that would have improved the final result.  I don’t know that I will experiment much, if at all, to try to get the flavors just right for my tastes.


With more successes than fails from The Oh She Glows Cookbook, I’ll be keeping a tight grip on this cookbook rather than sending it to the resale shop.


Up next in September: The Pooh Cook Book.  Stay tuned for my foray into British baking!


July Recipes: Minimalist Baker’s Everyday Cooking July 29, 2018

Filed under: Cooking — skpierce12 @ 2:14 PM

One of the motivations for my 2018 cooking challenge was to spend time preparing recipes from the cookbooks that have been sitting on my shelf, unused, for a while.  However, when my best friend DM gave me Minimalist Baker’s Everyday Cooking by Dana Shultz for my birthday earlier this month, I couldn’t resist selecting it as my July cookbook.  After the mostly successful experiments in vegan baking I’ve had this summer, I was eager to try new recipes from the creator of one of my favorite blogs, Minimalist Baker, which features mostly vegan recipes of both the savory and sweet variety.


Sadly, this month’s round of vegan cooking did not go as well as my previous one.  I purposefully chose many of the recipes that mimic non-vegan dairy-heavy foods, as I have been curious if it would be possible to largely eliminate dairy from my family’s diet while still preparing beloved dishes such as queso, mac-and-cheese, and homemade ice cream.  The answer is no.  Perhaps if none of us had partaken of queso, mac-and-cheese, and homemade ice cream for several years, the vegan versions of those items would have tasted pretty good.  However, that was not the case.  Vegan dairy substitutes are just no match for the real thing.


The Everyday Cooking recipes I tried this month are below, in order from most to least liked:


1. Southwest Sweet Potato Black Bean Dip – p. 79 – 4.5 stars


This was both mine and John’s favorite recipe from the month.  The sweet potatoes are roasted in both olive oil and maple syrup, and they are seasoned with chili powder, cinnamon, and cumin.  Interesting, no?  Honestly, I could’ve eaten the whole pan of sweet potatoes by itself.  In fact, sometime I plan to roast sweet potatoes this way and serve them as a side dish with another meal.  But for this dish, they are added with corn and black beans to an avocado-based sauce.  I served this with sweet potato tortilla chips, which was especially tasty, but it also was delicious just eaten with a fork.  Along with some summer fruit, this made for a fresh and filling lunch.


2. Simple Tomato + Lentil Ragu – p. 205 – 3.5 stars


As its name suggests, this sauce is full of simple ingredients and is easy to make.  The lentils add texture and protein to the vegan sauce, which I served with spaghetti and grated Parmesan cheese (which obviously meant we had a vegetarian rather than vegan meal).  John evaluated it according to traditional spaghetti and meatballs standards, which meant he dubbed the ragu “okay.”  I thought it was a solid dish, and I felt much better after eating it than I do when eating heavy, beef-laden spaghetti.  I can see myself making this again.


3. Butternut Squash Garlic Mac ‘n’ Cheese – p. 193 – 2.5 stars

This was the first of the dairy-alternative recipes I prepared from the cookbook, and it would turn out to be the best of the bunch.  We’re big butternut squash fans around here, but unfortunately none of us found the nutritional yeast (an ingredient used to add cheesy flavor to vegan dishes) palatable.  It was my first time cooking with nutritional yeast, so I’m not sure if it was the brand I used (Trader Joe’s) or just the ingredient itself, but after the first couple of bites it left a bit of an aftertaste that was hard to shake.  We did end up eating all of this dish as leftovers, but it only earned 2.5 stars.  Unless I discover a better version of nutritional yeast, I doubt I attempt this vegan mac ‘n’ cheese again.


4. Peanut Butter Fudge Swirl Ice Cream – p. 251 – 2.5 stars

This was my biggest disappointment.  After failing in my attempt to make vegan chocolate homemade ice cream earlier this summer, I was eager to right the wrongs I’d done that first time and nail this recipe.  But just as with the chocolate version, the ice cream base that is prepared the day before became much too thick while chilling overnight.  I thinned it with plain unsweetened almond milk before pouring it into the ice cream maker, which did allow it to freeze up into soft serve unlike last time.  However, the balance of flavors was thrown off by the addition of the milk, and the ice cream just didn’t taste quite right.  I couldn’t decide whether it needed more salt, sugar, peanut butter, or what, either.  We put the leftovers in our freezer, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we never finish this vegan ice cream.

(For non-dairy ice cream options in the future, I’m going to stick with the banana soft serve variety.  Last night I made this Tahini Chocolate Banana Soft Serve from the Minimalist Baker blog that turned out very well.)


5. Better-Than-Restaurant Vegan Nachos – p. 156 – 2 stars / Best Ever 20-Minute Vegan Queso – p. 73 – 1 star


These nachos looked great, and several of the components tasted great, but there were two elements to the dish that ruined the overall effect.  The first was the homemade tortilla chips which were too hard and thick.  Store bought chips would’ve been a much tastier (and easier) way to go.  The second was the vegan queso.  It called for nutritional yeast like the mac ‘n’ cheese above, but it contained much more of it and therefore became quite overpowering.  If eaten in very small quantities with the rest of the nacho toppings – black beans, pico de gallo, guacamole, and salsa – the queso was edible.  But very quickly it got to be too strong.  I very rarely throw food out, but the leftover queso went in the trash.


I learned through these experiments that vegan cooking is at its best when it’s not trying to mimic non-vegan foods.  Were I to become a full-time vegan, I’d rather give up cheese than poorly imitate it.  Luckily there are many more recipes in Everyday Cooking that do not involve nutritional yeast or an ice cream maker, and I plan to hold on to this cookbook until I can give more of them a try.  Working more plant-based foods into my diet makes me feel and look better.


June Recipes: Keepers June 16, 2018

Filed under: Cooking — skpierce12 @ 10:22 PM

I could not let my 2018 cooking challenge, with its goal of finding “keeper” recipes from the cookbooks I already own, to pass by without spending a month cooking from Keepers: Two Home Cooks Share Their Tried-and-True Weeknight Recipes and the Secrets to Happiness in the Kitchen by Kathy Brennan and Caroline Campion.  After John gave me the cookbook a few years ago, I immediately tried several of its recipes.  Then I mostly forgot about it, occasionally skimming through it only to set it aside once again.  I wanted to give the cookbook another shot, however, before making the final decision of whether to keep or sell.


Cooking during the summer months is much easier for me than the rest of the year thanks to my annual two-month-long vacation, so it felt a little like cheating to be cooking from a book designed to get dinner on the table fast during June.  I suppose I should have picked one of my more challenging cookbooks for this month, but Keepers just gave me more time to enjoy the sweltering Texas heat and swarming mosquitoes.  (Yeah right.  Y’all, it is HOT down here, and poor James has red, itchy splotches all over his little body from bug bites.)


Here are the Keepers recipes I made in June, starting with most liked:


1. Penne with Broccoli Rabe, Garlic, and Crushed Red Pepper Flakes – p. 114 – 4.5 stars

This was our favorite dish, hands-down.  And it was so easy – only seven ingredients, including seasonings and garnish.  As a kid, I thought you only ate pasta with marinara or alfredo, but as an adult I’ve come to relish eating pasta dishes based on a bit of olive oil rather than a heavy sauce.  I used broccolini instead of broccoli rabe and lessened the red pepper to keep the spiciness down for James.  While it could be a main dish on its own, I did serve it with Italian-flavored chicken sausages (night 1) and pork tenderloin (night 2).  This recipe is a true “keeper.”


2. Sautéed Tilapia with Citrus-Soy Marinade – p. 28 – 4 stars


Talk about easy – this quick entrée had only five ingredients, four of which I already had on hand (I had to buy orange juice).  Normally I either bake or grill tilapia, but these fillets were quickly pan-fried in a little oil after a 15-minute marinade.  They were done in about six minutes.  I served the tilapia with brown rice and Orange-Ginger Sugar Snaps, which I prepared while the marinade cooked down into a thicker sauce.  Fast and delicious, this is a second go-to weeknight recipe to remember.


3. Black Bean and Butternut Squash Enchiladas – p. 104 – 2.5 stars


My good friend Rebecca was in town for a visit, and she helped me prepare these enchiladas.  I used black beans from the Everyday Black Beans recipe in the cookbook as directed (also my #4 recipe this month) and diced butternut squash that my husband kindly cut up for me.  Typically we buy the precut version which is expensive but handy.  James loves butternut squash, however, so I’m glad to know that John is now an expert at chopping one up; this should save us some cash.

I would not consider this to be a weeknight recipe.  I know that I, at least, would not want to prepare these enchiladas after a day of teaching.  Furthermore, there was too strong of a lime flavor, as lime zest was present in the filling and lime juice in the sauce.  The butternut squash disappeared into the filling, which perhaps would be great if you’re trying to sneak in vegetables into your kids’ diet, but we wanted to taste the butternut squash.

In the end, I have a casserole recipe that (minus the lime) has similar flavors but that we like much better.  Even tweaked, I doubt that I try these enchiladas again.


4. Everyday Black Beans – p. 188 – ? stars

I can’t give these black beans a star rating yet because I forgot to taste them on their own before I put the rest of my batch in the freezer after making the enchiladas.  They smelled delicious, with the aromatic additions of garlic, jalapeño, and cilantro stems, but as for how they tasted, we’ll just have to wait and see.




So despite the enchilada disappointment, I found enough keepers in Keepers to want to hold on to the cookbook.  Sorry, Half Price Books.  This one’s still mine.


May Recipes: Babycakes May 29, 2018

Filed under: Cooking — skpierce12 @ 9:28 PM

For my May cooking challenge, I selected Erin McKenna’s cookbook, Babycakes: Vegan, Gluten-Free, and (Mostly) Sugar-Free Recipes from New York’s Most Talked-About Bakery.  I had randomly picked up this cookbook, as well as its follow-up, Babycakes Covers the Classics, at a Half Price Books over a year ago, but I hadn’t baked a single item in either book since then.  I’ve dabbled in vegan cooking here and there thanks to Mark Bittman’s VB6 program, but apart from vegan banana bread and pancakes from the Minimalist Baker blog, I’ve stayed away from vegan baking.  I’ve never believed that vegan baked goods recipes could compare to my full-of-dairy favorites.


There’s nothing like a mother’s motivation, however, to finally push one to make a change.  James appears to have a dairy allergy, breaking out in red rashes around his mouth and chin (and sometimes belly) when he eats dairy products.  He drinks almond milk as a result, although we have given him cheese, yogurt, and ice cream.  Cheese is the dairy item least likely to cause the rash, while yogurt and ice cream are culprits nearly every time.  So as he’s growing older and getting to enjoy more sweets, I’ve had twinges of guilt for not making a greater effort to prevent his rashes.  It was time to give Babycakes a try, and luckily I had a three-day Memorial Day weekend in which to bake up a storm.



James’s red spots after eating yogurt.


As it turns out, vegan baking is not nearly as intimidating as it sounds – at least once you locate the ingredients.  It did take us multiple trips to HEB, Whole Foods, and Sprouts before we (mostly) found the ingredients for the recipes I’d selected from the cookbook.  But I learned a lot in the process, knowing now, for example, to simply order some items online and save us the grief of unsuccessfully scouring health food store shelves.


It also helps to carefully read not only the individual recipe instructions but the introductory material to the baking cookbook, as well.  It turns out that all of the recipes in Babycakes use dry measuring cups for dry ingredients and wet ones.  Too bad that I read that AFTER I had made all of my recipes – oops!  It didn’t seem to skew my results very much, except for #4 below, but that recipe had multiple issues going on with it anyway.


And so on to the recipes!  The four Babycakes recipes I prepared in May, ranked in order from most liked to least liked, are as follows:


1.  Spelt Biscuits – p. 37 – 4.5 stars



I knew it was risky trying vegan biscuits, as I already have a beloved buttermilk biscuit recipe from Southern Living that made my husband say the first time that I made them for him, “We would’ve gotten married sooner had you made these for me while we were dating.”


So expectations for these were rather low.  But, wow, these spelt biscuits were good.  The recipe calls for white spelt flour, which was one of those ingredients we had trouble finding at first.  (John finally tracked some down in the bulk foods section of the downtown Austin Whole Foods.)  I keep regular spelt flour on hand, as it’s the primary grain in the vegan pancakes I often make, but white spelt flour was new to me.  The remainder of the ingredients were simple: baking powder, salt, coconut oil, and hot water.  [Side note to those of you wondering – no, spelt flour is not gluten-free.  Spelt is a distant relative of wheat which often causes less distress to those with gluten issues, but it is not considered gluten-free.  The subtitle of the book isn’t entirely accurate.]


The dough came together very easily, and it was nice to be able to skip the rolling step of making biscuits, as the spelt biscuit dough was easily patted down by hand.  I did have to bake the biscuits longer than the 8 minutes stated in the recipe, but otherwise they did just as the recipe indicated they would.


We all gobbled these biscuits up and laughed as James repeatedly pointed to the bread basket and begged, “More! More!”  Are they as good as the Southern Living buttermilk biscuits?  No, not if you’re doing a side-by-side comparison.  But on their own, they are more than worthy of the biscuit name.


2. Strawberry Shortcake – p. 41 – 4 stars



Growing up, strawberry shortcake meant store-bought round spongy cakes, sliced strawberries, and Cool Whip.  I loved it.


As an adult, I find that combination less appetizing, especially after my mother-in-law made a biscuit-like strawberry shortcake last year that was extremely tasty.  That is likely why I selected this particular recipe from Babycakes to prepare – the photograph in the cookbook looked just like Loveta’s strawberry shortcakes from last summer.


The recipe for the shortcakes is very similar to the spelt biscuit recipe above, but it includes cane sugar and vanilla extract where the biscuit recipe does not.  I used a 3.5-inch round cookie cutter for the shortcakes, which yielded impressively large shortcakes (the recipe calls for a 3-inch cutter).  None of us minded the XL size too much.


Instead of a whipped topping, the recipe uses vegan vanilla frosting (recipe #4 below).  Because my frosting turned out to be coconut frosting instead of vanilla (read on for that fun story), the shortcakes had a slightly tropical flair to them.  But coconut frosting or no, the shortcakes were downright delicious.  I will make these again!


3.  Zucchini Muffins – p. 31 – 3.5 stars



If you’re on the hunt for a moist, spiced muffin, look no further.  These zucchini muffins, while not much to visually look at (hello, flat tops with sad depressions in the middle), were super yummy.


Most of the ingredients I had on hand, including spelt flour, flax meal, and coconut oil, but I did have to pick up a bottle of agave nectar and a carton of rice milk.  Those ingredients overlapped with other recipes that I’ve been eyeing, however, so I didn’t feel that they would be going to waste.


I baked these while James napped one afternoon, so I offered one to him for his post-nap snack.  He picked it up in two hands, brought it to his mouth, and then proceeded to hold it there, without a break, while biting, chewing, and swallowing just as fast as his little jaw could go.  Then the muffin was gone and he asked for another.  Same procedure.  Two muffins gone in about two minutes flat.


I call that a successful muffin recipe.


4.  Vanilla Frosting/Vanilla Sauce – p. 91 – 2 stars

I love my mom’s buttercream frosting recipe.  I spread it generously on cakes and cutout cookies throughout the year.  But it has dairy, obviously, so I wanted to see if it was possible to make a vegan frosting that came anywhere close to that beloved buttercream.


The Babycakes frosting recipe, sadly, did not make the cut.  The photographs in the cookbook show a gloriously creamy, spreadable frosting atop cupcakes and cookies.  My frosting was grainy and a tad bit crumbly.  It tasted great in the strawberry shortcakes, but I would not be able to frost a cake with it.


Before I judge the recipe too harshly, however, there were two variables at play (in addition to the dry vs. wet measuring cup issue) that may have adversely affected my outcome:


a) I could not find dry soy or rice milk powder at any of our grocery store stops, but I did find one bag of dry coconut milk powder at Sprouts.  I used that to prepare the frosting, which was why my strawberry shortcakes above had that coconut presence to them.


b) The frosting is made in a blender or food processor.  Once it’s prepared, you can either refrigerate it overnight (in which it’ll firm up into frosting) or leave it on the counter (in which you’ll have a sauce).  I did not add the coconut oil and lemon juice while my blender was running as the recipe instructs.  There was already so much liquid in the blender that I feared it would splash out the top if I removed the center piece of the lid to add the oil and juice while the rest of the liquid was spinning.


So before I toss out this frosting recipe for good, I want to give it a second chance in which I follow the recipe exactly.  I have a carton of dry rice milk powder on order from Amazon, and I’ll try making the next batch in my food processor instead of blender.




All in all, I consider my weekend of vegan baking to have been a success.  I even managed to work in a few additional vegan baking adventures by also trying recipes from one of my favorite blogs, Minimalist Baker: Aquafaba Granola (yes, John, I DID use chickpea brine to make that granola that you loved – surprise!), Almond Meal Chocolate Chip Cookies (also known as secret aquafaba recipe #2), and Vegan Chocolate Ice Cream (no chickpea brine here, but maybe it would’ve helped this to not be so thick and pudding-like; this, even more than the vanilla frosting, was the big disappointment of the weekend).


I don’t have my June cookbook selected yet, but perhaps I’ll keep rolling with the vegan baking train and try recipes from Babycakes Covers the Classics.  Stay tuned!


April Recipes: Skinnytaste Fast and Slow April 29, 2018

Filed under: Cooking — skpierce12 @ 9:57 PM

My cookbook of choice for April was Skinnytaste Fast and Slow: Knockout Quick-Fix and Slow Cooker Recipes by Gina Homolka.  This recipe collection perfectly fit the 2018 cookbook challenge guidelines by being a book that has sat largely untouched on my shelf for months.  I love the original Skinnytaste cookbook, but for whatever reason I never became that interested in trying many recipes from Homolka’s follow-up book.  Thanks to this challenge, though, I’ve quickly discovered some “keepers” from Fast and Slow, and now I know that this is a cookbook to keep.

In order of ranking, here are the four recipes I tried from Skinnytaste Fast and Slow during the month of April:

1.  Greek Chicken Sheet Pan Dinner – p. 158 – 4.5 stars


One-pot and one-pan recipes always receive a second glance from me, so I was excited when John seconded my interest in this recipe while looking through the cookbook.  We love Mediterranean food, so we both found this recipe particularly interesting.  I was a little nervous about the amount of lemon that is called for (1 sliced lemon, 1 juiced lemon, and 1 TB of lemon zest), as neither of us love a strong lemon flavor, so I omitted the lemon zest.  I’m glad that I did, because the balance of flavors was perfect.

This came together quickly – perfect for a weeknight dinner.  I used regular carrots, halved, as heirloom carrots are not to be found at our grocery store.  I also subbed out dried oregano for fresh (and reduced the amount called for), as apparently there was a run on fresh oregano the day that John went grocery shopping.

The recipes says it serves four, but between John, James, and myself, we about finished the entire recipe.  Only a few carrots remained on the sheet pan when we all finally called it quits.  Not only is this a “keeper,” I’m already planning on which night to cook it again.


2.  Burnt Broccoli – p. 255 – 4 stars


On the same night that I prepared the Greek Chicken Sheet Pan Dinner, I also made this side dish in order to add a little green to our dinner plates.  Roasted broccoli is a staple in our house, but the addition of the whole garlic cloves and the trick of broiling the broccoli for two minutes at the end of its baking time elevated this particular roasted broccoli recipe to another level.

Peeling the six garlic cloves did add to the prep time for this, but it was worth it.  Again, this was a recipe that serves four, but a couple of broccoli spears was all that we put in the fridge for leftovers at the end of the meal.


3.  Brussels Sprout Hash with Bacon and Eggs – p. 26 – 4 stars


This recipe is filed under “Healthy Mornings” in the cookbook, but Homolka notes that it’s delicious any time of the day.  I made it for dinner and served Baked Sweet Plantains (see below) and toast with jam on the side.

I loved, loved this hash.  Brussels sprouts are one of my favorite green veggies, and I’m always on the hunt for new ways to prepare them.  The bacon and shallots added a lot of flavor, and the sprouts ended up soft without being mushy – perfect.  Each serving of the hash is topped with a fried egg, which I cooked until the yolk was firm.  Runny yolks gross me out.


This hash also would be delicious without the egg, served on the side of a main.  This is yet another “keeper.”


4.  Baked Sweet Plantains with Cheese – p. 259 – 2.5 stars


The one disappointment from the cookbook were these plantains, but it’s likely due to the fact that my plantain was still green (and therefore lacked sweetness) when I made this recipe.  I had left the plantain on my counter to ripen for over a week, but it remained as green as ever.  I wanted to make this fourth recipe by the end of the month, though, so I decided to just see how the recipe would turn out with a green rather than a ripened yellow plantain.

As expected, there was no “sweet” to the baked plantain slices.  The additions of grated mozzarella and chopped cilantro at the end were tasty, however.

John enjoyed these more than I did, but I haven’t given up on the recipe just yet.  I have a second green plantain still sitting on my counter, so once it finally ripens, I’ll give this recipe a do-over.


I have yet to decide which cookbook I’ll cook from during May, but stay tuned!



March Recipes: Eating in the Middle March 25, 2018

Filed under: Cooking — skpierce12 @ 9:06 PM

After failing to cook any new recipes in February for my 2018 cookbook challenge that I’m completing with my sister-in-law, Kalyn, and mother-in-law, Loveta, I was back on track this month.  (Although I have to admit, I probably wouldn’t have gotten around to this except for a visit to see Kalyn.  Hearing her talk about her cookbooks and seeing her enthusiasm inspired me to get going again on this challenge.)


For the first time this year, I actually selected one of the cookbooks on my shelf.  In January, I stuck with online recipes that followed the “Lean and Green” requirements of my newly-begun Optavia program.  I haven’t been as strict with my diet, however, during March, so I didn’t feel the same compunction to be as rigid on my recipe selections this month.


My husband gave me Andie Mitchell’s weight loss memoir, It Was Me All Along, and her cookbook, Eating in the Middle, over a year ago.  I quickly read the memoir, but the cookbook had largely sat untouched on my bookshelf.  Considering its goal of blending healthy, everyday recipes with occasional indulgences, Eating in the Middle was the perfect cookbook for me this month as I’m working to find my own way to “eat in the middle” (instead of at either extreme) of the feast-or-famine dichotomy.  Of the four new recipes from the cookbook that I tried, three were wholesome and one was decadently rich.




1.  Baked Banana Bread Doughnuts – pp. 16-17.  4 stars.

Several years ago, one of my students (whose mother knew I love to bake) gave me a doughnut pan for an end-of-year gift.  The pan then tagged along with me on two moves but never saw the inside of an oven.  That, along with the fact that this recipe uses staples that I already had on hand, secured the making of this recipe.  And I’m so glad that I did!  Never having made doughnuts before (baked or otherwise), I wasn’t sure what to expect.  I was surprised, for example, at how thick the batter was as I spooned it into the pan.  I’ve never loved cake doughnuts, either, so I wasn’t too hopeful about a “light” cake doughnut recipe.  I am happy to admit that I was wrong!  These doughnuts were delicious.  My husband didn’t quite believe me at first that the flour in the recipe is entirely whole-wheat–which I didn’t tell him until after he’d expressed approval of them.  James gobbled up his doughnut with exclamations of “More! More!” after every bite.  I didn’t make the optional maple-cinnamon cream cheese glaze, but even unadorned, these doughnuts earned “keeper” status from the Pierces.


2.  Turkey Breakfast Patties – p. 22. 3 stars.

I’ve made homemade turkey “sausage” patties before with middling success, but I wanted to try this recipe anyway because it has a fairly short list of ingredients and it’s easy for me to cook early in the morning before James wakes up.  A breakfast recipe is more likely to come to fruition than many other types of recipes these days.  In the end, these were fine.  I did like that the recipe included grated zucchini, which seemed to help keep these from getting too dry as Mitchell promised.  We ate all the patties over a couple of days, but I wasn’t sad to see them go.  I doubt I make these again.


3.  Coconut Oatmeal Cookies with Caramel Drizzle – pp. 222-224. 4 stars.

If you haven’t guessed based on the name alone, this is the indulgent recipe on this list.  It has butter, brown sugar, walnuts, shredded coconut, chocolate chips, caramel–the works.  There is no question that the cookies taste as good as all of those ingredients imply!  I loved the particular blend of textures, especially, as the cookies are simultaneously chewy, soft, and crunchy.  They easily earned their 4-star status!

This recipe taught me that I still have much to learn about the art of drizzling, however.  My caramel drizzle was goopy and completely unlike the thin, artistic drizzles so elegantly photographed in the cookbook.  I ran out of drizzle two-thirds of my way through decorating my cookies, and considering that I was nursing a couple of minor burns on my fingers and feeling too angry at the caramel to make another round of drizzle, I gave up.  John ended up preferring the non-drizzled ones, anyway.

Despite my drizzling disaster, these cookies are keepers.  I’ll make them again–but hopefully after watching a YouTube video or two about drizzling.


4.  Kale Chips – p. 83. 3.5 stars.

I used to like kale, but then I tried Swiss chard and kale became my forgotten leafy green stepchild.  But since I’m all about simple recipes these days (caramel drizzles notwithstanding), the four ingredients for this recipe–kale, extra-virgin olive oil, salt, and black pepper–were singing my tune.  These were easy to prepare and quick to bake (in fact, I should have taken mine out of the oven sooner than the minimum 10 minutes listed on the recipe, as a few pieces burned).  James and I were the biggest fans of the kale chips, and John found them decent.  I doubt I’ll make these often, but I do like that they are a healthier way to satisfy a salty, crunchy craving.


All in all, I enjoyed my experiences with Eating in the Middle, and I look forward to finding more “keepers” in the cookbook in the future.


January Recipes: Lean and Green January 23, 2018

Filed under: Cooking — skpierce12 @ 9:01 PM
This is my first blog installment of my 2018 cooking goal, done in conjunction with my mother-in-law and sister-in-law (the latter of whom came up with this idea), to cook at least 4 new recipes from a cookbook I already own each month this year.
It’s month 1, and already I’m cheating.
I didn’t select my recipes from a physical cookbook on my shelf because I’ve also started a new health plan from Optavia.  In order to stick with my “lean and green” meal guidelines, I chose recipes from Sandy’s Kitchen Adventures blog, which features a number of approved lean and greens.
So without further ado, here are my 4 new recipes that I’ve tried in January, in order of most liked to least liked:
1.  Avocado Cauliflower Rice – 4.5 stars
This is a delicious side dish that was approved by husband, toddler, and myself!  I made my own cauliflower rice with my food processor, and I’m glad I did.  I processed it down quite small (even smaller than typical rice grains), but that ended up working well for the dish.  In my experience, the store-bought cauliflower rice tends to be both a bit expensive and heavy on bits from the stalk rather than the florets.  I made this dish twice (doubling the recipe each time), but I made enough cauliflower rice the first time in order to make the dish again a couple of nights later.  That really sped things up on night 2 of making this, so if you can make your “rice” ahead of time, I would do it.
I used just regular olive oil instead of the flavored one Sandy mentions, and that worked great.  I ate mine with baked Cajun-seasoned tilapia both nights, but John had grilled fajita-seasoned chicken breast with it on night 2 and said he liked that even better than the tilapia (which he also thought was great).  He had his both nights with tortillas, diced avocado, and salsa, which he recommends.
We’re calling this one a keeper!
2. Thai Turkey Burgers – 4 stars
Turkey burgers have been a staple in our house, as patties are easy to find pre-made and they are quick and easy to grill.  HEB recently stopped selling our favorite brand of turkey patties, however, so we’ve been eating them much less.  As a result, this recipe caught my eye.  I liked the idea of infusing a turkey burger patty with Thai flavors, which I typically like.
I doubled the recipe, which therefore yielded 4 patties total.  The ingredients list isn’t long, so the patties came together quickly.  John then grilled them for me.
I ate my serving cut up in lettuce wraps, but John had his as a traditional burger on a bun.  He especially liked these, commenting on the flavorful addition of the green onions and cilantro.  I found mine slightly dry; adding a condiment to the lettuce wraps would’ve helped.
Despite that, they were yummy and different, and I do intend to make these again!
3.  Crock Pot Chili – 3 stars
I typically stay away from slow cooker recipes that require you to brown meat separately because that seems to defeat the purpose of a “one-pot” meal, but I made an exception for this dish.  With our recent cold snap, chili sounded good.  And this chili was good.  It’s not the best chili I’ve ever had (my father-in-law’s chili wins that award), but it’s a solid recipe.  It did fill the house with appetizing smells all day like Sandy promises, which was nice apart from the fact that it kept me thinking about food all afternoon!
I may or may not make this one again.
4.  Crock Pot Thai Chicken – 2 stars
This was my biggest disappointment of this set of recipes.  The Weight Watchers Slow Cooker Thai Chicken has been a favorite for several years now,  so I initially was excited to find a similar but “lean and green” approved version of it.  The problem with this particular recipe was that there wasn’t enough sauce to really keep the chicken moist and flavorful.  I served it with cauliflower rice, which made for an overall bland meal.  I highly doubt I try this again.

2018 Goals January 3, 2018

Filed under: Cooking,Hiking,Reading — skpierce12 @ 10:17 PM

My husband has inspired me to set my 2018 goals in writing on my blog so that I will be held accountable to them.

  1. Lead a healthier day-to-day lifestyle, which will hopefully also lead to me losing a little weight.
  2. Cook at least 4 new recipes from a different cookbook that I already own each month.  I’m doing this challenge in conjunction with my mother-in-law and sister-in-law, the latter of whom came up with this fun idea.
  3. Read at least 30 books this year.
  4. Write at least one blog post per month.
  5. Go on a hike at least once every 2 months.
  6. Finish James’s baby photo book and keep relatively up-to-date with his current one.

Yay for goals!


Fall Baking October 26, 2016

Filed under: Cooking — skpierce12 @ 8:54 PM

We always have a long wait for fall weather to come and stay here in central Texas, but we’ve had enough cooler mornings of late to get me in the mood to turn on my oven and bake.  I’ve also wanted to take advantage of my last few weeks of maternity leave to restock our chest freezer before life really gets crazy.  Marriage, motherhood, work, personal time…I know millions of women out there do this juggling act daily, but I’ll be learning how to do so for the first time as a working mother come October 31.


I kicked off my fall-inspired baking spree earlier this month with these Pumpkin Crumb Cake Muffins from Sally’s Baking Addiction.  My friend DM introduced me to this blog a while back, and I finally got around to making one of the enticing recipes from it.  Despite the worry about how long it might take (I never really know when Mr. Baby will awaken and want to eat, after all), I made all three components–muffin, crumb topping, and icing.  I saved time by measuring out the muffin and crumb ingredients at the same time, as there is a lot of overlap on what’s needed.  To make these rich muffins slightly more healthy, I substituted whole wheat pastry flour for some of the all-purpose flour and used unsweetened applesauce in place of the oil.  My icing turned out much thicker than Sally’s, and it definitely ended up looking globular on top as opposed to her more artistic drizzles.  This may have been partly due to the fact that my crumbs spread apart quite a bit during baking, so there were gaps in which the icing pooled.  Appearance-wise, my muffins weren’t the prettiest I’ve ever seen.  Taste-wise, though, they were worth the effort.  These muffins were delicious, even with my substitutions, spreading crumbs, and gloppy icing.  They had just the right amount of pumpkin flavor, and I loved the contrast between the moist muffin and the crumbly bits on top.  I would highly recommend them as a special breakfast treat or afternoon snack.


For my next baking project, I stuck with muffins (which freeze well and are already individually portioned) and made the Skinnytaste Maple Pecan Banana Muffins.  I’ve had wonderful luck with Skinnytaste recipes, and I love Gina’s Skinnytaste Cookbook.  I was especially drawn to this recipe because of its lack of refined sugars.  My husband, John, doesn’t like his breakfasts super-sweet, and I’ve been trying to watch my sugar intake a bit more closely lately (easier said than done).  A maple syrup-sweetened muffin seemed perfect.  This time, I followed the recipe exactly.  And this time, my muffins looked exactly like the pictures on Gina’s blog.  I loved these muffins!  While they are not of the BEST MUFFINS EVER caliber, they aren’t trying to be.  They are a healthy-but-tasty, everyday kind of muffin, and I will make them again.


Next up were Pumpkin Waffles.  I’m a longtime Ellie Krieger fan and own all of her cookbooks.  I’ve been trying out a few new recipes from her most recent, You Have It Made, and the pumpkin waffles caught my eye.  I rarely make waffles, but every once in a while I get in the mood for them.  I liked the healthy aspects to these waffles, which included whole wheat flour, flaxseed meal, and no sugar.  I followed the recipe exactly, but I ended up finding them to be a disappointment.  There was something off-balance with the pumpkin flavor of these – it was somehow both too much and too little at the same time.  The recipe yielded 8 large waffles, so after John and I ate breakfast, I had 6 for the freezer.  I’ll eat them up so as not to be wasteful, but I’ll look for another recipe next time I get a hankering for a homemade waffle.


The waffles called for 1 cup of pumpkin puree, so I went looking for a way to use up the rest of the can.  I didn’t have to look far, as Ellie Krieger’s Pumpkin Spice Overnight Oats in Jars recipe, also from You Have It Made, sounded worth a try.  (I realize this is not a baked goods recipe, but it’s autumnal so I’m writing about it here anyway!)  I prepared the oats around lunchtime one day, and we tried them the next morning.  I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked them!  I’ve had hit-or-miss luck with overnight oatmeal recipes in the past, so I was wary when I first opened up my jar to take my first spoonful.  But it had just the right amount of sweetness to it, the pumpkin spice flavoring was spot-on, and the add-ins (walnuts, pumpkin seeds, and dried cranberries) added texture and flavor.  John wasn’t as big of a fan, as he didn’t like being able to taste the plain yogurt (he hates yogurt on its own unless it’s of the frozen variety).  I, however, would make these for myself again!  Plus, they are just pretty to look at:



Finally, I made up a batch of The Pioneer Woman’s Maple Oat Nut Scones last week.  My mother-in-law first made these during the holidays one year, and since then they’ve been a favorite among the Pierces.  When I was needing a baked goods thank-you gift for some of John’s students who kindly cleaned up our yard after some other students toilet-papered it (oh the joys of being married to a high school teacher), I almost immediately thought of these scones.  They are decadent and unhealthy, but oh-my-goodness they are delicious.  The only change I ever make to this recipe is to divide the dough into 2 balls, which then yields 16 reasonable-sized scones rather than 8 massive ones.  They were amazing, as always, and the perfect end to my month of autumn baking.


Happy Fall and Happy Baking to you!