Let’s just sit back and unwind? No.

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Who says resolutions are only for the New Year? For many people, summer is when you really come alive and inspiration is abundant. Why not monopolize on this energy and make some goals for yourself?

Here’s what you do.

Choose 5 realistic goals for yourself. It helps if they’re measurable as this makes you more accountable for following through. You’ll notice I didn’t do this at all, but I really didn’t know how to make most of what’s up there measurable without tiptoeing into serious OCD land. So, for my sanity (and that of my loved ones), I didn’t.

Choose goals of things you love or once loved. You’ll stick to them this way. It’ll make your summer memorable regardless of how far your success goes. Fun is fun. I’ve chosen things like bike riding because nothing defines summer nostalgia better. Take good-for-you goals like exercise and eating better and spin them so that your stomach gets butterflies and not the willies.

Use asterisks only when necessary. I can’t have dairy, but I have an ice cream maker. I asterisked the ice cream goal because I will likely make most of this stuff for other people. You lucky, lucky people in my life. I will experiment with coconut and rice milk frozen treats, but only to a certain extent because you will notice the running/biking goals would kind of be at odds with massive ice cream consumption.

Fun it up. I found a fun pin up girl on a bike because she is the spirit I’m going for this summer. Please, though, coax me off my bike gently, sit me down and talk to me if I’m sporting a garter about town like that.

Post your resolutions somewhere. Blog it, Facebook it, tweet it, Instagram it, print it out and stick it somewhere. Look at it all the time. Once your people know about it, too, it’s out there and it’s real.

I invite you to create your summer resolutions! What’s been nagging at you that you want to deal with finally? Let’s do it!

A note on my resolutions (the full disclosure addendum to this go-get-em-tiger post):

1. I’ve fallen behind in my reading. And I’m a librarian. I’m in big trouble with myself if I can’t do this one. For this exercise, let’s say “summer” starts now and ends August 31.

2. We’ve discussed this. It’s going to be amazing.

3. I say “again” rather loosely. When I was little, I could be found to run across a playground at times. That was once. Now is again. See?

4. Breakfast and lunch have been vegetarian lately. I feel better. Life is good.

5. I want that bike, damn it.

Pumpkin Baby Cakes

Pumpkin Baby Cakes

Not just a sugary term of endearment, but perhaps the most amazing recipe to come to me in the recent past. Ready for it?

1 box cake mix (I used yellow)
1 can pumpkin

Mix. Fill bake cups and bake at 350 for 20-25 min. Yield about 16 cupcakes.

THAT’S IT.

I mean, enjoy, obviously, but truthfully you won’t have to be told that once these babies start mixing up and then baking. They smell like heaven and taste like it, too. They are moist and easy and you have absolutely no reason not to make them rightthissecond.

“Recipe” from Sweet Verbena and they got it from Big Red Kitchen, but I am sure it was thought up by angels.

Waiter, There’s a Cookie in My Cookie

The Mt. Everest of cookies.

Remember when Madonna went to that awards show with Michael Jackson and the earth stood still because–oh, my God, were they dating? If so, could that union really work? Isn’t there a cap for how much awesome can exist in a couple? (The Jolie-Pitts answered that question by becoming progressively lamer over time.)

I was confronted with a similar feeling of exasperation when my dear friend FB-posted a recipe of a cookie that could only have been invented by the food demons that keep Paula Deen from dying of a heart attack (I mean, that lady’s vital!). The Oreo Stuffed Chocolate Chip Cookie.

What the what, you ask? Surely you’ve stuck bite-size Snickers in a sugar cookie before, right? Delicious. This, however, intrigued me to the point of action! (A tough feat for my lazy butt these days). Not only is it a cookie within the very same cookie entity, it’s a chocolate cookie within a chocolate cookie. I mean, come on. Don’t your teeth hurt just reading that?

So, after I purchased my second container of Double Stuf Oreos ever (I have absolutely NO idea where the first went!), I got to work.

(The recipe can be found at Picky Palate.)

The verdict? Amazing first bite. Second, pretty darn good. The third, you want to die. No amount of milk can better this situation. Also, they’re so substantial that you could easily use them as training discus…-es. Disci? (It’s discuses. I looked it up. Because I’m a librarian.)

I called my mom, the queen of unbelievable desserts and she suggested the mini Oreos for a regular, human-sized result.

I, myself, will never eat one of these again (it’s just all too much, as another very wise dear friend predicted) but I have been commissioned to make a ton for someone’s birthday this weekend. They will be smaller.

*Popcorn Marshmallow, I am not going to bring you any of these after all. I brought them to work to impose their sweetness on strangers. I love you too much to do this to you. (I’ll make you a batch of the smaller ones this weekend!)

Savoring Sunday

I have lots of standby dinners that are always in my pocket, ready to go. My husband has his collection as well and this is how we feed ourselves at home. Sunday morning, however, my mom and cousin visited from Tucson and interwoven among the regular catching up came a few dishes my aunt made in the recent past that were delectable enough to mention in full detailed recipe. Yes, ordinary conversation with my family would read like the G-rated pages of Like Water for Chocolate.

My mom mentioned an easy peasy casserole that, the more she spoke, sounded like heaven. This casserole was to chile rellenos as chilaquiles were to enchiladas and I can get down with that. I had my first chile relleno, embarrassingly enough, at a mediocre restaurant in Phoenix at the age of 26. I don’t know what took so long, but I loved it. I continued to order them at restaurants I liked and they got better and better. However, I knew from the start I’d never make them at home because as a rule I don’t deep fry things at home. Too much effort and mess for something not so good for you. Give it to me in a restaurant, though, and we’ll pretend the indulgent preparation never happened (wink, wink). So, when I heard this, I immediately started making a grocery list. My cousin piped in that her husband didn’t think that the dish was filling enough to be its own entrée, and, just like it was meant to be, I was–at that moment– flipping through the most recent Real Simple and had already bookmarked a chopped steak salad that I thought looked good. My husband’s belly would be just fine.

So, I took a sleepy boy to the grocery store (hamming it up for nana takes energy!) and got to work. Try one or try both. They’re yummy either way.

Tia Angie’s Chile Relleno Casserole

Serves 8-12.

1-27 oz. can Hatch whole green chilis
1 -4 oz. can chopped green chilis
1-12 oz. can evaporated milk (I got fat free, which, I’m not sure makes much of a difference)
8 oz. tomato sauce
1-16 oz. bag of shredded cheese
(I used half a bag of pepper jack/Habanero and half a bag lite Mexican blend from Trader Joe’s)
3 eggs
2 tbsp. minced garlic
oregano
onion powder
salt
pepper

Preheat oven to 350 and spray a lasagna pan with cooking spray.

Layer the green chilis flat, covering the entire bottom of the pan. This usually meant tearing the chili in half for two flat sides. Next, add half of your cheese mixture. Repeat.

In a bowl, mix the three eggs and evaporated milk. Pour this mixture evenly on your chili and cheese layers, so that it covers the whole top of the casserole.

Cook in the 350 oven for 40 minutes.

In a blender, blend the small can of chopped green chilis with the tomato sauce, garlic and spices.

After the casserole’s been cooking for 40 minutes, pull out of oven and drizzle the tomato/chili mixture over the dish. Cook an additional 15 minutes.

Let cool slightly and enjoy!

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Homemade Power Protein Plate

Now to figure out how to make a Venti Iced Unsweetened Green Tea at home...

I can often be accused of being dense. There are just some things I don’t pay attention to. I’m off dreaming, or, as my dad says, I’m off in la la land. Once, in the quad at lunch in high school, I found myself singing the words to “Too Close” by Next at the top of my lungs until I was politely told to stop by my good friend Di. Who would’ve thought those lyrics were so nasty? Suffice it to say, this is a personality trait that I’m stuck with and I constantly have moments that make me feel like I’ve learned nothing in these 28 years.

So, it came as no surprise when I got addicted to Starbucks’ Power Protein Plates in 2008 and I didn’t realize the magnificent “duh” quotient (of, you know, making my own, for heaven’s sake) until, literally, last Friday. I don’t even want to discuss the amount of money I’ve wasted on novelty and convenience and unnecessary (though recyclable) packaging.

I just want to give you data.

Starbucks’ Power Protein Plate
Total calories: 370
Price: $4.95

Homemade Power Protein Plate
Total calories: 401
Price: $1.66

The reason the PPP (I’m not going to lie, sometimes I want that to stand for Peter Piper Pizza) is the ideal breakfast for me is three-fold.

1)      It is wildly convenient to eat on the way to work and at my desk.

2)      Its sweetness comes from bits of fruit and not traditional breakfasty sources which, for some reason, I don’t like. At all.

3)      It gives me 1/3 of my protein for the day. That’s good for someone who doesn’t eat a whole lot of meat.

I also like that you can switch out the type of cheese, among other things. No one wants to burn out on cheese. That would be the saddest thing ever.

BacoGorgo Potato Salad

It's like breakfast in a salad. That is, if you eat Gorgonzola for breakfast.

4 lbs. red potatoes, skin on, washed, and cut into bite-sized pieces
8 hard boiled eggs, shelled and cut into bite-sized pieces
10 pieces of turkey bacon
10 oz. crumbled Gorgonzola
1 1/2 c. light mayonnaise
1/2 c. yellow mustard
the zest of 2 lemons
5 tblsp. fresh minced parsley
Freshly ground mixed pepper to taste
Sea salt to taste (but careful, that Gorgonzola packs a punch)

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 375°.

Bring a stock pot of salted water to a boil and add potatoes.  Cook potatoes until tender, but not too soft (about 15 minutes).

While potatoes reach their supreme level of being, bake turkey bacon in a single layer on a parchment covered (or you’ll be sorry) baking sheet for at least 10 minutes. You might even forget about it, as I did. This is fine, it turns out. When you think the turkey bacon is ready, it’s not. If you want the turkey bacon to pass as real bacon, you must let it get very, very (very) crispy until it’s brownish black. Okay, black. Once you’ve reached the point where you think you might have to run to Safeway to get more turkey bacon, remove the baking sheets and let the turkey bacon cool. Pat dry with a paper towel and bask in the glory of the magic you just performed by being just a little patient and not fearing your smoke alarm. Set aside. You have other stuff to do.

Once the potatoes are ready (you’ll notice the timelines will crash right into each other), remove from heat and drain immediately. Run cold water over the potatoes and drain some more. Do it again if it feels right.

Next, you’ll want to dump those potatoes into a couple of large mixing bowls so that you have ample room for mixing. (It turns out I have severe portion control issues when cooking and not one mixing bowl that could handle this on its own.) Moderately salt. Pepper to your heart’s content.

Add light mayo, mustard, eggs, Gorgonzola, parsley, and lemon zest. Take those crisp little bacons and break off small bits into the bowl ruthlessly with your bare hands. I found this very fun. My wedding and engagement ring did not.

Toss until well-combined and then refrigerate so it tastes really good. Or, if you’re me and you’ve been working on this since you got home, eat some and then clean up afterward.

Prep & cooking time: I don’t know… what time is it?…
Servings: A million

*Maybe make before taking to a potluck? Memorial Day, Flag Day, Independence Day, and various other summer bbqs are coming up…

Hot Mama Tip: Add a couple shakes of Tabasco to this dish if you really want it to rock your world.

Ash Wednesday

I was seven years old. I was eating carrots.

My dad’s white Oldsmobile Omega pulled alongside the I-10 approaching Starr Pass Boulevard.

From the back seat, I heard mumblings from the adult domain that was the front seat. Something sparked my carrot-chomping interested in the hushed voices of my dad and nana.

“What do you mean give up? Give up what?” I nosily asked.

“For Lent,” my dad said. “You have to give up something for Lent.”

“Like what?”

“A sacrifice. Something you love.”

I knew Lent. It was that time when, every Friday, the adults around me yelled at each other for forgetting the day and making chorizo for breakfast. I knew it ended in Easter and to me, that meant Cadbury Eggs.

But I had to give up something?

I wish they had told me about this sooner. It was my understanding that we were fast approaching the day where we go to church for not the whole time and they put black ash on your forehead in what was supposed to be a cross shape. So, now I had the challenge of thinking about something to give up for what would be the eternity of a child’s Lenten season?!

I took a bite of my carrots and a wash of realization hit me.

“Carrots,” said my meek voice from the back seat.

“Mija?” my dad said, clearly having moved on from our conversation.

“I will give up carrots.” My last crispy orange swallow was a hard one. Carrots were delicious.

Laughter erupted from the front seat. We were now driving on the freeway and both my humiliation and the chilly February air rushed over me. I know I was just a kid, but why did me trying to do something holy and good have to be so funny?

I later found out:

1) Carrots were hilarious because apparently my whole family thought I was a weirdo for adoring them all this time. They just never had the opportunity to laugh about it.

2) Carrots are healthy. The consensus in my family was that everyone has more than one vice that could stand a 40-day vacation, so carrots were kind of ludicrous to even consider. And kids need carrots. For their eyesight. (Nevermind I would be wearing glasses in two years).

3) When they said “you,” they didn’t mean me. They meant people. Others. The Vatican doesn’t expect children under the age of 14 to fast or abstain from anything during Lent and my family was clearly of the same school of thought. How nice of them.

Here we are. Twenty-one years later and much like my family all those years ago, I have been contemplating what to give up. By no means is this purely religious. In fact, that part of me needs some serious work. What I do welcome is the season as a springtime renewal of healthy habits that seemed to have been buried under the truffles and tinsel of the holidays. In years past, I’ve given up everything from soda (easy) to meat (not so easy). This year, my choice came like an epiphany during the microwaving of a frozen Amy’s burrito this morning.

I would give up eating out.

Besides the sacrifice (and if you know us, the obvious sacrifice), reasons for this were three-fold:

  • It’s healthier
  • It’s cheaper
  • I get to cook more (and a gospel chorus sings)

I thought I should announce it on Facebook because, I don’t know, what drives any of the decisions we make regarding announcing things on Facebook anymore? Either way, outcry much!?  Friends have weighed in differently on my goal from the extreme purists (“no, Kristl, you can’t have Starbucks”) to the loopholey (“technically, Starbucks is drinking out”). I knew by the reaction that I picked something good.

The rules are thus:

  • I cannot get drive-thru, takeout, delivery, nor can I sit down and eat at a restaurant.
  • This will include drinks as drinks have calories and cost money.
  • Water is allowed. I can be sociable and have water. I love water. Maybe not so much by the end of this, but right now, I do love water a whole lot.
  • If the situation arises where the above are not possible, I starve. Well, till I get home. Luckily, my social calendar is not as exciting as it once used to be so I don’t anticipate this turning into pseudo-anorexic behavior.
  • Home is where the food is cooked and/or assembled.

The end. I’m excited. It’ll be a challenge and I’m positive I will be crabby by the end of the week, but that just means it’s doing what it’s supposed to.

So I didn’t even realize it until now, but, today for lunch, I had Trader Joe’s Dal Makhani, some Greek plain yogurt, a V8 and, yup, some baby carrots.

The test of time just cannot mess with true love. Yay Lent.

Laissez les bons temps rouler!

Here is the King Cake I made for my work’s Mardi Gras-themed staff meeting. We have still not found the baby Jesus. I’d normally make some joke about resurrection and the empty tomb (although, I think I just did anyway, but unfunnyly), however this close to the beginning of Lent, it just seems wrong.

But, seriously, where’s the baby Jesus? I put him in there.

Make your own Gâteau des Rois by following Emeril Lagasse’s delish recipe. Except, if you can’t find candied citron and don’t feel like chiseling into that age-old fruitcake in your pantry, use simple-syrup-soaked dried fruit and be done with it.

Dharma Cupcakes

My friend Cristine is an amazing cooker. I know that makes her sound like a big pot, but she is, indeed, a lady. She cooks and bakes and makes and blogs about it and recently, she opened up her blog (which is amazing food porn) to guest bloggers and ta-da!…  I think of last weekend’s SNL sketch where my fave fellow University of Arizona alum, Kristen Wiig (take that Greg Kinnear and Craig T. Nelson!), dressed in 1930’s glam, is at a dinner party and keeps repeating “Don’t make me siiiing.”

Well, don’t make me post. (‘Cuz you know I’m gonna.)

Here is my entry for Cris’s cooking blog. My endeavor satisfied a feisty itch to get back into the kitch and I am oh-so-glad I did it.

The Dharma Cupcake’s story is a lovely one. I found myself on the cusp of my Lost Final Season Premiere Party searching for trifle recipes that would be 1) quick and easy 2) have a fruity, island theme, and 3) go well with graham crackers because the latter I planned on crumbling into a fine sand atop the trifle so that I could crash a doctored model airplane on top of it.  Foam Oceanic Flight 815 in hand, I browsed my way into 17andbaking.com and my world changed. Dramatic, yes, but hang on.

The girl is seventeen and, well, baking (read her story on her blog). In one of her recipes, she pays tribute to the all-American Hostess cupcake by adding something just as American to the mix: caffeine.

Alarm bells rang as I immediately removed the iconic Hostess swirlies in my mind’s eye and replaced them with perfect Dharma Initiative logos in espresso-spiked frosting. My dessert dilemma was over. We would have Lost cupcakes!

Now, artistic people should always challenge themselves technically as well as creatively in order to maintain their skills. I can boast that, since toddlerhood, I’ve known my way around a crayon and now have decent strengths in acrylics, ink and pencils stolen, er, borrowed from favorite sushi restaurants. I can draw a straight line like nobody’s business.

Enter piping. Is that what it’s called in The Biz? When you squeeze luxurious sugar crème from a bag, through a metal opening and onto a scrumptious treat? (Did I mention these were mini cupcakes? Holy carpal tunnel, Batman!). Yeah, I’m awful at it. There’s definitely room for improvement here.

But do you want to know the best part? They could look like rubbish and they would still be d e l e c t a b l e.

That being said, I introduce the Dharma Cupcake (I renamed it for my own tv-holic purposes). Imagine this: espresso-choco airy cake filled with espresso-sugar frosting, covered in bittersweet ganache and decorated with even more espresso-sugar frosting. All in the span of one itsy bitsy bite. Critics of sweetness will find that it is not overpowering, but delicate, yet adult in its coffee essence.

I am a fan. I will be making them again and again because I will overcome my shaky piping hand. Until then, I am fine with messing up because licking that rogue frosting is not the worst thing in the world.

Notes: I did find that the recipes for both the frosting and the ganache yielded a bit too much product, while the cake batter yielded the perfect amount.  I also found that filling the mini cupcake liners ¾-full was more effective. Bon appétit!

Recipe can be found here.