Chili Topped With Fresh Ranch/ Ginger Ale

Jack Frost has definitely been nipping at our noses lately, so what better way to beat the cold than with some hearty chili? I've been dying to try my hand at my own Ranch recipe as well (a good excuse to use my homemade mayo), so let's let the two of them get acquainted, shall we? Let me start off by stating that I'm no chili fanatic, so I'm not really interested in debating style or authenticity (beans or no beans? BEANS.) or setting new thresholds for heat and spice. Since its origins as a tex-mex staple make it purely an American dish, I'm sure the recipe can handle some diversity, much like our country does every day.

Chili is usually a great bang for your buck, since it will make some leftovers that will last at least a few days (or months, if you freeze it). I usually throw it together from memory and add spices to taste, but here I'll attempt to transcribe a recipe.

Bryan's Plain Ole Chili With Beans
16 oz ground beef (I go with 80% lean for extra heartiness/flavor/fat)
1 can pinto beans (12 oz)
1 can red kidney beans (12 oz)
1 can tomato sauce (12 oz)
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1 medium red bell pepper, diced
3 cloves garlic, peeled
2 Tbsp. olive oil
4 Tbsp. onion powder
2 Tbsp. salt
3 Tbsp. chili powder (I used Ancho chile powder)
1 Tbsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. black pepper

Add beef and 2/3 of the onion to a medium-large pot. Cook over medium-hi heat until beef is browned. Add onion powder, chili powder, cumin and 1 Tbsp. salt; stir into beef. Strain and rinse beans. Add beans, tomato sauce and 1 tomato-sauce-can-full of water. Bring to a simmer. Combine garlic and olive oil in a food processor or blender. Process until garlic is finely chopped. Add garlic/oil mixture, bell pepper, remainder of onion and 1 Tbsp. salt to chili. Simmer for 3-5 more minutes. Remove from heat and serve!

Fresh Ranch Dip
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup mayonnaise
3 cloves garlic, peeled
2 Tbsp onion powder
1 tsp salt
Fresh cilantro (equivalent of about 3 Tbsp chopped)
1 tsp ground sage
1 dash basil, oregano, paprika

Combine ingredients in food processor or blender, blend until garlic is fairly fine. Refrigerate at least half an hour before serving. Add a very small amount of milk ONLY IF you desire a thinner dressing. 

I love the chili with a dollop of the Ranch, it makes it even more hearty and satisfying. If you attempt any of these recipes, remember I do most of my cooking by taste, so some adjustment may be required depending on your preferences.

Ginger Ale

Yesterday I started some ginger ale based on this "scientific" recipe. I used ginger juice (fresh from the juicer, unbelievably spicy!) instead of shredded ginger, which made the whole thing less messy to prepare. I set the bottle near a heater vent overnight and by mid-morning it looked ready to go nuclear! I put it in the fridge before work and opened it when I got home. It's delicious! Unfortunately, just a tad yeast-y (not necessarily a bad thing). It came out pretty sweet, too, so next time I'll use less sugar than it calls for. I think the fermentation cut the bite of the ginger a little, it definitely was not as powerful as the ginger juice was when freshly juiced. It was really exciting to open the bottle for the first time and watch the CO₂ bubbles begin to activate. I was pretty scared the mixture would explode when I wasn't paying attention, but lucky for us (and our fridge) it was fine!

Since the first attempt came out so promisingly, I will definitely make this again; next time I will make some slight changes, though. Buona Sera!


Lemon Cupcakes and Lavender Blueberry Lemonade

These cupcakes may not be very attractive, but they were so yummy! I quickly improvised on this recipe when I realized that I had nothing for dessert planned for tonight. Due to a shortage of milk and cupcake pans I had to divide the recipe into 'a little less than half', which got a bit tricky. Regardless, nothing with lemon as the main ingredient can come out too horribly, and despite their rustic appearance they were very delicate and delicious.

Instead of the buttercream frosting used in the original recipe, I decided to make use of the rest of our cream cheese and make lemon cream cheese frosting instead.

To keep with the lemon theme I decided to make Lavender Lemonade with the leftover Lavender Syrup I had made a few days ago. I added a few frozen blueberries to give it a Lavender-like hue, since the syrup itself is clear. 


Chocolate Hazelnut Pudding Pie with Candied Cashews

When I asked Bryan last night what he would like me to bake for him today, he simply replied 'Pudding.' I decided to make him a more sophisticated version of the first dessert I ever mastered...Chocolate Pudding Pie. Normally, I would buy instant chocolate Jell-O, chill it in a store-bought graham cracker crust, top it with whipped cream and crumbled Oreos, and refrigerate for about an hour. I decided to spice up this recipe by making the Pudding from scratch, adding Hazelnut extract, and topping with home-made whipped cream and home-made Candied Cashews. It is SO good.

I used this pudding recipe, and used half vanilla, half hazelnut extract. It had an Amaretto-like taste, which is my favorite flavor!

The candied cashews were a great alternative to crumbled Oreos. To candy them, I let them simmer in water until soft, dried them on a paper towel for 1/2 hour, sifted them with powdered sugar, and deep fried them for 2-3 minutes. I then added more sugar, salt, cayenne, and cinnamon.


Chocolate Zucchini Bread with Cream Cheese Frosting

I am going to try and ignore the fact that Bryan has just blogged about mayonnaise (ew!)  in order to tell you all about Chocolate Zucchini Bread with Cream Cheese Frosting, also known as THE BEST THING I HAVE EVER MADE.

Unlike mayonnaise, which is disgusting, this Chocolate Zucchini Bread is rich, moist, and decadent. Not too long ago I was lucky enough to try Chocolate Zucchini Muffins for the first time, and they were incredible. I had been too scared to attempt them myself, thinking mine would pale in comparison. I was wrong. Although this is the loaf version, it is even better than the muffins, and the tangy cream cheese frosting balances out the sweetness of the chocolate. You can barely taste the zucchini, but it definitely adds to the moistness of the bread. Everyone should try this recipe!

The recipe can be found here, and the cream cheese frosting was 4 oz cream cheese, 1 cup confectioners sugar, 1/2 tsp vanilla and 1/2 stick melted butter, whipped together to creamy perfection.


Mayonnaise: Confidential

Kelly hates mayonnaise. That is, she thinks she does. She claims she's never tried it. Apparently, even the sight of it makes her retch somewhat, which is why my trusty jar of Best Foods often ends up at the back of the refrigerator. Since she was going to be out of the house this morning, I figured it would be a perfect time to try this recipe. Since my success with hollandaise, I've been dreaming of making fresh mayo. I've been pretty obsessed with the idea for the last few days, actually. 

It turned out perfectly in my opinion, thanks to Julia Child's "Top Secret" method of ensuring proper temperature by whisking over a bowl of hot water. I used fresh squeezed lemon juice instead of vinegar, and pure canola oil. I think next time I'll try olive oil to see what happens.

Emulsions are pretty cool. I had a lot of fun making this, even though my arm got worn out pretty fast.

I quickly realized that I did not have anything to eat it on, so I just had to make a good egg & bacon sandwich. Oh, darn.

This either looks creamy and delicious or totally disgusting depending on how you feel about mayo.

Bacon! makes it even better.

I think my next quest will be ranch dressing or dip from scratch using this mayo. Happy chow time!



Ever since seeing this recipe I have been dying to make these Honey Lavender Lemon Shortbread Cookies. We bought some lavender yesterday in preparation, and it turns out Lavender is a lot more versatile than I anticipated! I ended up with a cup of Lavender Syrup, Lavender Cookies, and some Lavender Limeade! The entire house smelled like Lavender by the time I was done, which was a lovely surprise.

Lavender Syrup

And I can't forget to mention the AMAZING hot chocolate Bryan made from scratch last night-- I topped mine with sea salt, nutmeg and cayenne. In retrospect, Lavender would have worked, too!!


Eggs Benedict

For years I've been nervous about making a hollandaise from scratch, but it turned out to be a lot easier than I thought. Honestly, how can you go wrong with a whole stick of butter and four egg yolks? That's right, there are only five ingredients, making it a pretty cheap way to clog your arteries. Poached eggs, on the other hand, I have had a demonstrably poor history with. I finally found that bringing the water to a high boil before reducing it does the trick for me. I threw some swiss cheese and prosciutto on a couple pieces of multi-grain toast and broiled it til crispy, and here are my poached eggs on top with cracked pepper:

I really don't think you can use too much vinegar when poaching; worst case scenario, your eggs taste vinegary, and what's wrong with that?

A slice of good cheese makes this hearty winter breakfast just that much richer, last time we used smoked gouda and it really blew our minds. In this case, the prosciutto and swiss worked well together to provide a little bite.

Fresh squeezed lemon juice is the real kicker in the hollandaise. It had a perfect tang that nearly made you forget it was suspended in a sauce made of pure cholesterol. I spent about ten minutes whisking vigorously while the egg yolks, melted butter and lemon juice were heated as high as possible without actually cooking the egg, which would result in chunky hollandaise (bleh). As a result of the constant whisking you introduce a lot of air to the sauce which makes it nice and fluffy. Here you can see swirls of butter and yolk:

Using four yolks makes a bit more sauce than two people need, but I'm wary of reheating something that's never really fully cooked to begin with, so we just use the toast to soak up the extra.

Now that I've made some minor changes on a classic recipe, I would like to try some even more exotic variations. Any ideas?


Chicken Cordon Bleu

Knowing how broke I am and how little there is to do when one is broke, my father literally insisted that I purchase and prepare dinner for Bryan tonight and assured me he would reimburse me for the cost on Monday. On the condition that I spend at least $25. He suggested a few venues and meal options and with my moms help we settled on Chicken Cordon Bleu, with Muenster, Swiss cheese, and Prosciutto. She sent me the recipe she uses via email shortly after, and a few hours later it was done! We had it with a side of pasta with pesto, a glass of wine and our favorite chocolate mousse for dessert. Thanks, Dad!!


Coffee Cake and Carrot Soup

I love Coffee Cake! It is the perfect breakfast (right after Peach Bread). Not too sweet or rich. And the version I just made is stuffed with Blueberries, Raspberries and Blackberries! If I hadn't eaten the entire thing in 24 hours I'm sure it would have made an excellent breakfast!

We have jars and jars of turkey stock in our fridge from our Thanksgiving feast, and I decided to make use of them and Invent-A-Soup! Stock, Heavy Cream, Onion, Spinach, Carrots and Sweet Potato Soup, to be exact. Yum!


Chocolate Orange Tart and Sweet Potato Fries

I was looking for cheap chocolate desserts to make this weekend, and i stumbled upon this amazing Rich Chocolate Tart Recipe. I had plenty of time to spare so I decided to make the crust instead of buying it, which proved to be more difficult but also more rewarding than i had imagined (A big thank you to our roommate Erica for letting me use her Starbucks tumbler in lieu of a rolling pin) 
I decided to spice it up by using a few tablespoons of orange zest, which was a great idea. I can't WAIT to make this again. It was incredible.

Since Thanksgiving we have been craving more sweet potatoes, and so we decided to make some Sweet Potato fries with our Pork Chops last night! We sliced them up, put them on a greased pan with salt and olive oil, and baked at 450 for 20 minutes. I drenched mine in vinegar and devoured them.


A Whole Foods Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday of the year, by far. This year was extra special, because it was Bryan and my first Thanksgiving together! I am lucky enough to have a Whole Foods Thanksgiving feast purchased for me annually by my awesome mom and dad, and this year was no exception! 
We started off with Grapefruit Mimosas, followed by Tangerine Grape Mimosas. Delicious!

For Breakfast Bryan made a twist on Eggs Benedict; Toast, Poached Eggs, Bacon, and the most delicious Hollandaise ever!! Unfortunately we ate this before it could be photographed.  Oops!

Sweet Potatoes with Brown Sugar and Bacon
Cranberry Sauce


Juice, Continued

Today we made Cucumber Spinach Ginger Tangerine Juice! We used Persian cucumbers and organic spinach. It was delicious!

Then, in celebration of the holidays we decided to make Spiced Apple Pear Cider! We used Honeycrisp and Granny Smith apples, Red Bartlett pears, cinnamon and nutmeg. This was even MORE delicious! 

Later on this afternoon we decided to make fresh red grape juice! Bryan thinks it looks disgusting but it was incredible.


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