Being Mrs. Pierce

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

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:

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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.

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Happy Fall and Happy Baking to you!

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VB6 Chronicles: Week 1 March 29, 2015

Filed under: Cooking — skpierce12 @ 3:29 PM
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I have eaten more vegetables in the past week than I ate for all of January and February.

 

Kidding. But still – my greatest takeaway from one week of VB6 is that vegetables come first. This, of course, is Mark Bittman’s main point throughout VB6, and the advice that I dutifully followed this week. Among the veggies that I ate:

kale in Greens and Beans Soup
Carrot Candy
Spicy Wilted Spinach
green leaf lettuce with assorted raw veggies in salads
carrot, celery, and jicama sticks
Tofu Scramble with Spinach
roasted zucchini and onion
Napa cabbage in the delicious Chinese Chicken Salad at Mason’s Square Plate restaurant
Garden Vegetable Soup

My favorite from the above list? Spicy Wilted Spinach, a basic recipe for preparing baby spinach on the stove. I first made the WeightWatchers recipe over two years ago, but then I promptly forgot about it. It was a happy (re)discovery a couple of weeks ago when I felt stuck in a vegetable rut and began looking back over previous blog posts for inspiration.

 

The Carrot Candy was good with potential for being great. I took the carrot slices out of the oven after 2.5 hours, but I wish I had given them another 30 minutes. It was late on a weeknight, however, and I was wanting to go to bed. This means that I also packaged them up and put them in the fridge before they were completely cool. When I opened the container the next day at work for my after-school snack, the carrots were chewy but not at all crisp. Beads of moisture clung to the insides of their plastic container. I ended up eating the “candy” with a spoon, as some of the slices had shrunk down into minuscule bits:

 

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It was hard to believe that I had barely been able to see the bottom of the cookie sheet when I first put the carrot slices into the oven.

 

In addition to being tiny the carrots also were a little greasy, and I didn’t want to get olive oil all over my keyboard as I multitasked at work. They were tasty, though, and I look forward to trying them again when I have more time to cook and cool them.

 

Mark Bittman’s Tofu Scramble with Spinach was my most daring meal of the week, by far. While I have eaten tofu at Asian restaurants and my sister-in-law’s house a time or two, until this week I had never purchased nor prepared it myself. I made the scramble for my breakfast on Saturday morning, and I have to admit that I told myself “it’s just like scrambled eggs” more than once throughout the cooking process:

 

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The scramble was VERY spicy, even when tempered with the plain, cooked wheat berries that I served on the side. But I rather liked it! The consistency of firm tofu will take some getting used to, but eating the scramble for leftovers over the next few days will help with that, I imagine. I was impressed that my husband, who is decidedly NOT doing VB6 with me, gave the scramble a try. He ate his serving with flour tortillas smeared with grape jelly. His final verdict on the tofu scramble: “It’s not my favorite.” Fair enough.

 

I rounded out all of my breakfast and lunch meals this week with lots of beans and whole grains. The chickpeas I cooked last Sunday came in handy for both salad toppings and for the batch of Roasted Red Pepper Hummus that I made later in the week (which was the tastiest it’s ever been thanks to the home-cooked chickpeas). On Thursday night I made a batch of lentils to use in Bittman’s Lentil Salad, which I took to work on Friday for a lunch potluck, and his Bean Burgers, which I served for lunch today. The salad was good, but the lentil burgers were my favorite recipe of the week. They were absolutely delicious–5 stars in my book! They also were huge; next time I may make 6 patties out of the bean mixture. I did have some issues with the patties wanting to fall apart, but I only gave the mixture a little time in the refrigerator both before and after forming the patties. Next time, I’ll give them more time to stick together before pan-frying them. Here they are, at full sizzle:

 

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Grain-wise, I relied mostly on rolled oats and wheat berries this week. The adjustments to the John’s Daily Oatmeal recipe on Penzeys that I mentioned in my Day 1 post were perfect: using almond milk instead of water and just 1 TB of the flax chia blend made for much tastier oatmeal. I tried dried cranberries instead of raisins one morning, but I will stick with raisins in the future when preparing this recipe.

 

Wheat berries were something new to me, but I discovered that I like their soft-but-chewy texture and how they become porridge-like when warmed with almond milk and sweetened with ripe mashed banana — a new morning favorite.

 

I am happy to report that I not only survived week 1 of VB6, but that I also flourished! It’s been fun making so many new recipes at once and doing something good for my health and weight that doesn’t involve weighing and measuring every morsel of food that I eat. I also like how flexible the program can be. When eating a lunch out with family yesterday, I had chicken on my salad. No problem — I just had a vegan dinner last night.

 

Week 2, here we go!

 

VB6 Chronicles: Day 1 March 23, 2015

Filed under: Cooking — skpierce12 @ 9:17 PM
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When I selected vegetarian dishes to be the focus for my March cooking challenge at the new year, I had no idea that vegetarian would turn into vegan.

 

As 2015 has progressed, however, I’ve been reaching for more junk food than fresh fruit and vegetables, and my waistline has expanded accordingly. I once again find myself looking to drop a few pounds. WeightWatchers has been my go-to weight loss method for over 5 years now, but I have tired of the boomerang effect that occurs every time I go off (and then back on) the plan. I do not deny that counting points helps me lose weight and eat healthier, but I do not want to have to count points for the rest of my life in order to maintain that weight loss and healthy eating.

 

So I’ve been reading and thinking about taking a different approach to weight loss and maintenance, and I’ve settled on VB6, or Vegan Before 6, the “part-time vegan” plan developed by Mark Bittman. Essentially, you eat a vegan breakfast and lunch but relax the rules on meat and other animal products for dinner. While skeptical upon first hearing about the program (after all, incorporating more vegetarian dishes into my diet was already a bit of a stretch, so going vegan–even part-time–was on a whole new level), I was quickly sold after reading through Part One of Bittman’s book. His description of the effects of the Standard American Diet (with the appropriate acronym SAD) on our health was all too real for me, and I liked the idea of having a reduced role in supporting the animal industry of today. I decided to give it a genuine try.

 

I set today, March 23, 2015, as my first official VB6 day. In anticipation of today’s launch, I devoted several hours yesterday to preparing food for this week, as I know that preparation is key to healthy eating. In the morning I cooked a pound of dried chickpeas in my slow cooker according to Bittman’s Big-Batch Beans recipe in the book. For the record, chickpeas smell terrible while cooking. I suppose I should not have been too surprised, as I hate the smell of an open can of chickpeas. I love to eat them, though. The recipe yielded nearly 5 cans’ worth of chickpeas, and when I tossed some on my salad at dinner tonight, they were delicious — much more flavorful than canned, even when seasoned with only salt and pepper. I put most of the beans into the freezer in can-sized portions so that hummus or other yummy chickpea dishes will be easily made in the weeks to come.

 

I also prepared Bittman’s Greens and Beans Soup recipe using dried navy beans and 2 large bunches of kale for my work lunches this week. My typical weekday lunch for the past 5 years has been a turkey sandwich. Obviously with VB6, the turkey sandwich would have to go. I’ve been wanting an excuse to get away from so many sandwiches, anyway, so this became yet another reason to go VB6. The soup recipe yielded 9 individual-sized portions; I stocked the freezer with 4 of them and kept the remaining 5 in the fridge for this week. I clearly have no problems eating the same thing for work every day.

 

To kick off my day today, I tried my own variation on the John’s Daily Oatmeal recipe from Penzeys Spices. I had come across the recipe in my latest Penzeys catalog and had been immediately struck by the concept of hands-off, stove top oatmeal. I followed the cooking instructions exactly, but I used the following ingredients:
1 cup water
1/4 cup old-fashioned oats
2 TB Hodgson Mill Flax Chia Blend
2 TB raisins
Dash of cinnamon

 

While I got myself ready for the day, the oatmeal cooked on its own to a perfect, creamy consistency. I need to tweak the ingredients a bit, though. I purposefully avoided putting sweetener in it as I’m trying to pull away from eating a lot of sugar, but I definitely would have liked it better had it been a bit more sweet. Tomorrow I’m going to try the oatmeal with just 1 TB of the flax chia blend and use unsweetened almond milk instead of the water.

 

For lunch I got my first real taste of the Greens and Beans Soup, and I was thrilled with how it turned out. It doesn’t seem like much–some onion, beans, and greens–but it was very tasty and quite filling. Rounded out with an apple and some raw almonds, my lunch kept me satisfied through a long work afternoon and evening (it was annual Open House night at my school).

 

I snacked on jicama sticks on my drive home and then prepared myself a simple salad (with chickpeas!) for dinner. I wasn’t feeling that hungry after my lengthy day at work, but I anticipate preparing more substantial meals at dinnertime on most days.

 

Overall, I’m feeling excited about VB6 after day 1. There are plenty of yummy-sounding breakfast and lunch recipes in the VB6 book that I am curious to try, and I look forward to feeling (and looking) better in the days and weeks to come!

 

Skinny Broccoli Mac and Cheese March 22, 2015

Filed under: Cooking — skpierce12 @ 8:40 PM
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On the same day that I made the Crustless Swiss Chard Pie for lunch, I made a second vegetarian recipe from The Skinnytaste Cookbook for dinner: Skinny Broccoli Mac and Cheese. John comments from time to time about loving broccoli-and-cheese or mac-and-cheese. Since I rarely cook either one, I thought I’d treat him to both in one go while also getting in another recipe for my vegetarian cooking challenge.

This dish is designed to be a vegetarian main, but I have to admit that I pulled out some leftover steak from the fridge to serve alongside it. I know, I know. That seems especially like cheating to me now, 10 days later, when I am on the eve of launching Mark Bittman’s VB6 (Vegan Before 6) diet plan.

At any rate, the broccoli mac and cheese was delicious, and it would make for a tasty main. It was very filling thanks to the pasta (I used 100% whole wheat rotini) and cheese (2% cheddar). The leftovers were surprisingly good, as well. Milk-based dishes often don’t hold up to refrigeration and reheating, but this one did fairly well. John, especially, loved this recipe all three nights we had it. It earned a solid 4 stars, putting it at the top of my March Cooking Challenge list.

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Crustless Swiss Chard Pie

Filed under: Cooking — skpierce12 @ 1:54 PM
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The focus of my March cooking challenge is vegetarian dishes, so while on spring break earlier this month I cooked up the Crustless Swiss Chard Pie from The Skinnytaste Cookbook. I have grown to love Swiss chard, and it is now my go-to leafy green. Typically I sauté the chard in a little olive oil (and unsalted butter, if I’m feeling indulgent) with minced garlic, salt, and pepper, so I was curious to try this alternate way of preparing the vegetable.

I found the pie slightly tedious to prepare. There were vegetables to chop, two cheeses to grate, and eggs to beat. The onion and chard had to be sautéed on the stove before being added to the pie filling. While none of this was difficult, it did take time and dirtied up a lot of dishes. And then when the pie was all assembled, it still had to bake for half an hour before being eaten.

I served the pie for lunch alongside some leftover French onion soup. It was tasty, no doubt, but not so delicious that I found the effort of its preparation truly worthwhile. Skinnytaste author Gina Homolka admits that this pie is her way of getting picky eaters in her family to eat Swiss chard. Since both John and I happily eat sautéed Swiss chard, I will likely stick with that in the future. The pie did hold up well as leftovers, however, and we rated the recipe at a very respectable 3.5 stars.

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Crustless Swiss Chard Pie

Cooking spray
1 small bunch Swiss chard, washed well (I used red Swiss chard)
1 TB unsalted butter
1 large white onion, cut into thin half moons
salt
black pepper
1/2 cup grated light Swiss cheese (2.5 oz)
2 TB grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup white whole-wheat flour
1 tsp baking powder
2/3 cup fat-free milk
1 tsp olive oil
2 large eggs, beaten

1. Preheat oven to 400°. Lightly spray a 9-inch pie plate with oil.

2. Separate the stems from the leaves of the chard. Finely chop the stems; roll up the leaves and slice them into thin ribbons.

3. In a large skillet, melt 1/2 TB of the butter over low heat. Add the onion and a pinch each of salt and black pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent, 8 to 10 minutes. Increase the heat to medium and cook until the onions caramelize, 8 to 10 more minutes. Transfer to a large bowl.

4. Increase the heat to medium-high, add the remaining 1/2 TB butter and the chard stems. Cook, stirring, until tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the chard leaves and cook until wilted, 2 to 3 minutes. Season with 1/4 tsp salt and black pepper to taste and add them to the bowl of onions. Add the cheeses and toss well.

5. Sift the flour and baking powder into a medium bowl. Whisk in the milk, olive oil, eggs, and 1/4 tsp salt. Pour into the bowl of Swiss chard and mix well. Pour the mixture into the prepared pie plate.

6. Bake until a knife inserted in the center of the pie comes out clean, 27 to 30 minutes. Let it stand at least 5 minutes before serving. Slice into 6 wedges.

Yield: 6 servings. Per serving, 4 PointsPlus.

 

Deep Dish Chocolate Chip Cookie Pie March 1, 2015

Filed under: Cooking — skpierce12 @ 9:42 PM
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It is well established among my family and friends that I am a planner. I like to know, well in advance, what I am doing and when. The word “spontaneous” is rarely used to describe me.

 

So when the most recent round of winter weather got in the way of long-ago-made plans to drive to DFW on Friday night and go to The Avett Brothers concert in Dallas on Saturday night, I was not happy. Sure, John and I could have made a last-minute drive up Saturday afternoon once the ice had melted, but that would have been rushed and not according to plan.

 

So we didn’t go. Some lucky soul snagged our tickets for cheap on StubHub. I worked on grad school assignments. John wrote lesson plans.

 

In other words, we had the exact same weekend that we’ve had nearly every weekend this school year. Can I say how much I am ready to finish my counseling certification program?

 

Our change of plans at least allowed me to make one last chocolate dessert for my February cooking challenge. While both the Chocolate Pain Perdu and the Dark Chocolate Peppermint Mocha Brownies were huge hits, they also were decidedly guilty pleasures. Butter, eggs, whole milk, chocolate…they were delicious for good reason. With no one but John and me to eat this weekend’s dessert, though, I decided I had better go with something light. I picked the Deep Dish Chocolate Chip Cookie Pie recipe that I had recently seen on the Skinnytaste blog. Instead of flour, the recipe calls for white beans. I’ve had middling success with using beans in place of flour in desserts. These Flourless Chocolate Chip Chickpea Blondies were quite yummy, but these Black Bean Brownies were rather disappointing.

 

I used my 7-cup KitchenAid food processor to make the batter. When I pressed the “on” button to blend the dates and milk, I had quite a surprise. The machine gave a great lurch and the lid popped off, sending almond milk everywhere. Hmm. That was new. I resecured the lid, held it tight with one hand, and pressed “on” once again. It shook. It grumbled. My food processor made its displeasure at having to puree dates obvious. Frankly, I was a little scared of my machine. I hoped that adding the additional ingredients would soothe it, but no. It jiggled and gurgled for as long as I dared to keep it running. Hmm again.

 

For the beans, I used great northern. For the oil, pecan. And for the chocolate chips, milk. I only have a 9-inch springform pan, so that’s what I used instead of the 10-inch. For this reason, I should have baked my cookie pie for at least 40 minutes, but I baked it only 35. It seemed “firm” enough after 35 minutes, but when I cut into it 20 minutes later, it was still rather gooey. With the recipe being egg-less, though, I wasn’t too worried about it being slightly under-done.

 

I served the cookie pie warm with Blue Bell light vanilla ice cream, and it was fine. The melted chocolate chips tasted great with the cold ice cream. But it had the consistency and taste of a dessert made with beans. I gave it 3 stars. We will eat the rest of it, but I doubt I make it again.

 

Epilogue:
While eating a piece of the cookie pie today, John discovered a date pit. Was this the source of my food processor’s discomfort? Or was it just mad at facing 2 cups of sticky dates?  Or is my machine on the fritz?  Hmm.

 

Dark Chocolate Peppermint Mocha Brownies February 22, 2015

Filed under: Cooking — skpierce12 @ 9:32 PM
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Typically I am not a joiner, especially when it comes to work-related social events. I enjoy sharing lunch with my teammates, chatting with colleagues at professional development meetings, and exchanging rants over the error-prone copier in the workroom. But I usually avoid work parties and Secret Santa and the like. They’re just not for me and my introverted self. So I surprised myself by signing up for the Secret Valentine exchange at work earlier this month. Graduate school has me rather stressed, so perhaps it was a moment of sleep-deprived whimsy. When I drew my secret valentine, though, I was rather excited because I would get to surprise Jenny, our school receptionist. She beautifully handles a job I could never have. She is the one person standing between irate parents and the rest of us. She is kind but firm. I would cry.

 

On her secret valentine profile, Jenny wrote in the food section that she likes dark chocolate, peppermints, peanuts, and coffee. Immediately I thought of the Dark Chocolate Peppermint Mocha Brownies that I had seen on the Girl versus Dough blog around Christmastime. These brownies would incorporate three of Jenny’s four favorites in one go. Plus, they would count towards my February chocolate cooking challenge. I picked up the ingredients for the brownies that very day.

 

I followed the recipe directions exactly, and soon I was rewarded with a beautiful pan of brownies that smelled ridiculously good.

 

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I made the brownies on a work night, so I hurried along the final stages of brownie making in which the chocolate mocha brownies are transformed into peppermint-topped ones. I did not take as much care as I could have when drizzling on the dark chocolate at the end, so my brownies often had globs rather than decorative streaks of chocolate running across their tops. I wasn’t too worried; I just knew they were going to be delicious no matter what the topping looked like.  The only deviation I made from the recipe was that I used soft peppermint candies rather than hard peppermints, mainly because I knew the leftover soft candies would happily be eaten by my husband.

 

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While the dark chocolate topping was still slightly soft, my husband and I ate a brownie apiece. They truly were as amazing as promised on Stephanie’s blog. She and I apparently share not only a first name but also the exact same taste in brownies–fudgy and chewy, if you please. I gave them 5 stars. John was slightly less enthusiastic, as neither dark chocolate nor chocolate-and-mint are his favorite flavors, but he still gave them 4 stars.  I wrapped up a plate of the brownies and couldn’t wait to surreptitiously deliver them to Jenny the next day.  I knew the brownies were a hit when she oohed and aahed about them on Facebook that night.  Maybe I can be a joiner after all.