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the haas machine: July 2013

Monday, July 29, 2013

The Blog Is Moving! The Blog Is Moving!

I imagine the title of this post to sound a bit like chicken little's "the sky is falling." Except that it's not scary, annoying, or foreshadowing the end of the world. It is, in face, something I'm super pumped about & I hope you will be too!

The blog's new address is thehaasmachine.com. Not only will this be sooooo much easier for all of us to remember, it will help my posts show up when people search for things. By switching from Blogger (which I have loved, by the way) to WordPress, it will give me more opportunities to beef up the blog a bit & really make it more like the picture I get in my head. You will get a chance to go deeper into this little brain. My, oh, oh my, that might be scary.

Please make sure that you follow me along during the switch! Blogger will still continue to host all my old posts (no new ones), but all of my old posts will also be in the new blog, so make sure you head over there from now on.

And if you haven't yet followed on social media, give that a go too (just click on the links below):

If you have any questions, please let me know!

Friday, July 26, 2013

Blog Goals July 2013

Hello friends! I told you that I would be sharing some of my new goals for the blog, so here they are. You might think it's a liiiiiiiittle silly to have goals about writing a blog, but let me first share with you why I think it's important & then I'll let you in on what they are.

I'm extremely goal-oriented in mostly everything I do. Most of you should know that about me by now. I figure, if there's something I want/need to accomplish, it's surely not going to happen on it's own, so whether it's tackling a massive cleaning project, having a rummage sale, or filing my taxes, I usually have goals. John & I are trying to get better at planning future goals (not just project goals) for things like vacations, big purchases, & other dreams, but it's a challenge because it's something that you really have to work hard at.

One of my favorite mottos in life is "if you don't set any goals for yourself, you certainly won't reach them" (thank you to whoever said that). If I don't start planning or saving money for a trip to Europe, it's not gonna happen; if I don't research or set aside time to tend to my garden, it certainly won't grow; if I don't think through or assess how to re-purpose an old dresser it's going to be a big ol' mess. See where I'm going here?

Now it's one thing to have goals, but it's another thing to have SMART goals. Now this is where I get even dorkier than you thought was possible. "SMART" is an acronym for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, & time-specific. So if I say that one of my life goals is to hop on a rocket ship to go to the moon, that would not be a SMART goal. A SMART goal would be something more like "attend space camp in Madison so that I can experience what going to the moon is like by December 2013." That's more specific, more attainable, measurable, etc.

I want to have goals for my blog so that I can:
  • Have a clean, functioning blog that is easy for readers to navigate, that reflects who we are, & is inspiring to my readers
  • Earn at least $20 a month so that I can invest it back into the blog
  • Find outside resources so that I can grow as a blogger
  • Meet other like-minded bloggers who can support, resource, & encourage me in my blogging endeavors
  • Have fresh, unique creations so that I can share them on my blog
Now some of these things might happen without having goals, but I'm doubtful. Blogging for me is something that I really want to grow in & I figure that if I want to grow, then dang, I gotta get some SMART goals! Blogging well is something that is a challenge for me, as it is for most people just starting out. I know I have a lot of room for growth, & I want to get better at it. I want to learn how to be a better writer, photographer, & creator, & I know that these goals will help in in achieving that, or at least helping me get a little bit closer.

Here is a list of the goals that I have set up as of July 2013 (the struck-through goals have already been completed):

(what do you think of my new logo?)

Blog Design & Upkeep
  1. Write 2-3 posts a week (specifically Wednesday's "What We Ate" & 1-2 others)
  2. Set aside Mondays & Tuesdays to work on blog posts
  3. Go through some of my poorly taken pictures & replace with better ones
    1. Come up with a list of pictures that need to be replaced by August 2013
    2. Make those recipes again, take a better picture, & re-post one per week
  4. Learn to take better pictures with my Iphone so that I can have at least one post accepted by foodgawker &/or tastespotting
    1. Find 1-2 better camera apps by August 2013
    2. Buy more props, specifically 2-4 pieces of fabric, silverware, & wood boards for backgrounds by October 2013
    3. Create a space to house all of my props by October 2013
    4. Set 10-15 minutes aside prior to each photographing session to set up the photo area
    5. Edit photos in photoshop by using contrast & other tools necessary
    6. Post at least 3 pictures per post
    7. Buy Tasty Food Photography by August 2013
  5. Improve overall design/look
    1. Create a logo & put it on all pictures, main header, etc. by October 2013
    2. Improve the main header to reflect our mission by October 2013
    3. Create & order business cards by October 2013
Financial & Promotion
  1. Continue to submit at least one recipe weekly to foodgawker, tastespotting, & tasty kitchen
  2. Participate in at least 3 collaboration boards on Pinterest by November 2013
  3. Use social media smarter
    1. Post to Facebook between 9am-4pm M-Th, Twitter around 1pm M-Th, Pinterest between 9am-12pm on Saturdays
  4. Set up advertising on the blog by August 2013
    1. Amazon associates
    2. Pinch of Yum affiliate
    3. BlogHer (applied in June)
    4. Look for 1-3 other sources to have set up by November 2013
  5. Set up domain (thehaasmachine.com) by Jan 2014
  6. Move blog over to WordPress by Jan 2014
  1. Read 2-4 books/other meaty resources on blogging by Jan 2014
  2. Invest in "31 Days To A Better Blog" (online resource) & complete each of the assignments by October 2013
  1. Attend 1-2 conferences on blogging by Jan 2014
  2. Invest in the Facebook blogging  groups, specifically by joining in on 1-3 pinning parties by Jan 2014
  1. Post, at minimum, 1 new recipe each week
  2. Post weekly "What We Ate" on Wednesdays
  3. Post, at minimum 1 new project each month
    1. Specifically, furniture make-overs once every other month
  4. Set aside 2 hours a week to plan, prepare, & create a project, even if it's something very simple
Whew! There's some exciting things around the bend! In the next week or so, I will be finishing up moving the blog over to WordPress from Blogger (hoorah!) I'm also pretty pumped about 2 blogging conferences in October (1 online, another in Minneapolis) that I will be attending, as well as a 6-week home herbalist course (which will for sure inspire some blogging!)

Thank you for sticking with me & investing in my blog. I really treasure each of my readers & I hope that in the end, you've found even just a teensy tiny bit of inspiration here. Please let me know if you have any comments or questions about these goals or anything else in the comment section below.

I will let everyone know the exact date of the move to WordPress so that you don't miss any Haas Machine creations!


Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Wednesday's "What We Ate July 15-21, 2013"

How's your summer been treating you? For us, it has kind of been a whirl wind with lots of visitors, but we're hoping to slow down in August & enjoy some extra quiet times & get to a few projects around the house that have been staring us in the face (our bathroom floor needs some help, our fence & patio need to be sealed & some other actually fun projects too!)

This past week, I scored a free solid wood table that I plan to start lovin' on in the next couple of weeks. John also brought me home a sweet wood box that I plan to clean up a bit (is there anything better than free treasures?!) I really want to get into restoring furniture since I really love doing it & it could be a helpful source of income (at least to fund the hobby!) My only problem will be parting with each piece, as I strangely get attached to furniture (as demonstrated by the 13 or so random chairs that fill our house). I also picked up some old, tarnished silverware that I plan to clean up a bit & use for some of my food pics. I can't wait to shine those babies up!

We also had a kickin' BBQ at our house on Tuesday. It was hoooooot, so we were thankful to hang out in our shady yard.  Shady, as in, there was shade. We packed in 23 people in that little space! The kids enjoyed swimming in Ruby's tiny pool. Well actually, they enjoyed taking the water out of the pool to water my gardens, but I wasn't complaining. Free labor!
We had more family in town this week: John's mom & grandma came up from Springfield, MO. We were able to do some fun things with them, like the La Crosse Interstate Fair & riding on the La Crosse Queen. While they were here, it topped out over 100 a few times & even my "anti-oven summer meal" list couldn't encourage me to be in the kitchen. We ate out several times & had our fair share of treats while they were here, & although it was fun (who can resist cheese curds at the fair or ice cream at the Pearl??), I can't wait to get back to cooking healthier meals at home. There's just something so right about getting back into a healthy meal routine, at least for me.
Some of our friends joined us at the fair too! Ruby was quite hesitant about the animals...
Sweaty, happy girlies

After all the hub-bub, I've been feeling quite run down & sick these past couple of days. It is such a physical reminder that food can either help or hinder your body. I think I've just had too much eating out this week & we're not used to that! I'm excited to fill our coming weeks with more fresh veggies, which will include many zucchini, tomatoes, celery, green beans, squash, & plenty of herbs from our garden, as they are looking plump & rich.

On Friday, our baby girl turns two (!!!) & we are celebrating by going camping with some of our neighbors. Stay tuned for a post on her birthday cake, pending I feel much better & it all turns out!

Also, in very exciting news (to me, & maybe only me), I have started the process of switching our blog over from Blogger to WordPress. Why? Well there's a whole host of reasons (this guy posted a list of 35 reasons), but to keep it short, let me just say that with WordPress, there is way more potential for the blog to look like something more representative of us. Don't worry... you'll hear all about the juicy details as they come along!
 Saturday's dinner: grilled pork steaks with zucchini, onions, mushrooms, tomatoes, & basil (grilled)

What We Ate July 15-21, 2013
Monday: Creamy avocado pasta with chicken & strawberries
Tuesday: Fillet mignon on the grill with southwest stuffed peppers (the vegetarian version)
Wednesday: John's mom & grandma got into town & we went out to Polito's Pizza
Thursday: We ate at Buzzard Billy's for some cajun food (we weren't hot enough)
Friday: We ate at the La Crosse Interstate Fair (pulled pork sandwiches with cheese curds)
Saturday: Grilled pork steaks with zucchini, onions, mushrooms, tomatoes, & basil (grilled)
Sunday: We ate on the La Crosse Queen (carved turkey & roast beef, carrots, wedge potatoes & a roll)

I also made a batch of my homemade deodorant this week


Thursday, July 18, 2013

Steak Tacos with Pico De Gallo

Where do you draw inspiration for your meals? Do you look to pinterest to find something that will satisfy your family & your wallet? Do you check out five bazillion cookbooks at your library, hoping you'll actually have time to look through one entire book before they are all due in three weeks? Are you a food blog addict & steal recipes from your beloved bloggers?

I am guilty on all three accounts. I pin waaaay too many recipes to actually try, check out waaaay too cookbooks to actually read, & devour waaaay too many food blogs to actually keep track of.

But I also like to take some of my life experiences & apply them to the food we eat & my most of my favorite experiences have come through traveling.
My very first time in Mexico lasted just over a few hours. My dad & step mom brought us to Arizona for spring break or something, so we made the few hour drive to Mexico, basically to cross the boarder, buy a few treasures to prove that we were there & journey back to the States. It was less than impressive & I don't even think we had lunch. Depressing!

My second time to Mexico was more of a deep plunge. I studied abroad in Mexico City & Oaxaca City, getting to experience both the crazy big city Mexico & the quaint work-your-bootie-off Mexico. I was studying Women's Rights & Globalization, so we saw & experienced some pretty heavy things. We learned first-hand from many women who were suffering to gain their rights, earn a decent wage, & support their families. We watched demonstrations, we visited museums, we toured significant places of Mexican history. And of course, we ate incredible food.
Have you eaten traditional Mexican food? I'm not talking about the taco-whatever you get, covered in refried beans, Spanish rice, & gallons of melty cheese. I'm talking about fresh & simple ingredients, lots & lots of cilantro, & a flavor that is comparable to none.

Here in La Crosse, we don't have too many authentic Mexican joints. Our favorite (by a landslide) is Burritos House, which looks like a shady little place you should speed past, but believe me, it's da bomb. 

I'll never forget my first meal from a street vendor in Mexico City: shrimp tacos. Our instructors advised us against eating from the vendors because, well, you know... we were American & would probably get sick. But when these shirmp tacos were staring me in the face, I just couldn't resist them. A few other (probably naiive) students joined me in devouring these tacos & we didn't regret it one bit. We ate plenty of other funky things (like grasshoppers!) but these tacos were definitely the right choice.

Since being in Mexico, it has really changed how I like to eat this kind of food. Although I love a good melty cheese most days, sometimes I'd rather pass & enjoy each of the individual flavors in the fresh veggies & herbs that make Mexican food really come alive.

Have you ever traveled somewhere that has "wrecked" how you used to eat that region's food?

Steak Tacos with Pico De Gallo
(Serves 2)
1 4-ounce steak sliced very thin
Salt & pepper to taste
Lime juice to taste
8 corn tortillas
1 recipe for Pico De Gallo
1/4 cup cheese (we used 1 string cheese, but you could also use crumbled queso or any mild white cheese, shredded)
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped

Prepare your Pico & set in the fridge until you're ready to use it. Make sure that you slice your (raw) steak very thin & season with a little bit of salt, pepper, & lime juice. We cooked our steak in a cast iron skillet for just a couple of minutes (you can also cook it on the grill if you are going the 100% anti-oven rule, just cook it as one whole piece & then slice it. We really liked how when you slice it before cooking, each piece gets evenly cooked & a tiny bit crispy). Cook the steak to your level of comfort (we go medium rare).

Then warm up your corn tortillas, either in an additional cast iron skillet, on the grill, or in your toaster oven/microwave. Next, layer two tortillas on top of each other & add the steak, chilled Pico, cheese, & cilantro (we use two tortillas per taco so that they don't rip when we stuff them full of the ingredients).

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Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Wednesday's "What We Ate July 8-14, 2013"

One of my favorite lunches: hummus, cucumbers, carrots, whole wheat pita, & La Croix water!

I've been really excited about blogging lately. There have definitely been seasons in my short-lived blogging life when it just felt like an obligation (=no fun) & other times when it's been super exciting & energizing (=super fun) & I guess I'm in that super fun time right now. Note to self: this post will be a good reminder for me when I inevitably stumble upon my more grumpy, lazy, no fun blogging times. That reminds me, have you guys ever used a dictaphone to record your thoughts/notes to self? I kind of want one. Then I can feel even more nerdy like Lewis on Suits. Do you guys ever watch Suits? Sooo good.

(Mom I don't really want a dictaphone, so please don't buy me one for Christmas).

If you haven't noticed, I've been changing things up, little by little. I've created & have tightened up some of my blog goals (which I will share with you soon!) by SMART goaling the heck out of them. I've also been adding a few things like an "About The Machine" page, a "Project Index," & a "Recipe Index", which I have already found personally helpful, so hopefully you will too.
My dad & step mom were in town, so we ate out at Dublin Square so we could eat outside on Saturday

I have also become an affiliate with Amazon & Pinch of Yum (one of my most favorite blogs, evah!) Being an affiliate simply means that if you were to buy POY's e-book or anything from my amazon "favorite list," then I would get a small bit of the profit. One of my financial goals is to be able to make at least $20 a month so that I can pour it back into the blog (i.e. more gourmet desserts, sweet food props, conferences, resources, kitchen necessities, better design, etc).

(Pinch of Yum & Amazon Affiliate info)
I'm also trying to get more connected with other bloggers. I recently joined a few blogging facebook groups & they have already been SUPER helpful, especially when it comes to how to improve your blog. I've registered for a few conferences this fall & I just had breakfast with one of my friends from The Live-In Kitchen, whose recipes you've seen me steal before. We were able to chat about goals & ideas & it was suuuuper helpful to have someone in person, sort of mentor me a bit in this blog world I've found myself in (thank you Lindsay!)

I'm excited about these changes & there are definitely more to come, so stay tuned. Remember to stay connected through my new-ish facebook page, on pinterest, twitter, & blog lovin' so that you don't miss any of the juicy details!
Friday's dinner: breakfast tacos (corn tortillas, hash browns, eggs over easy, sausage, & cilantro) with red grapes 

What We Ate July 8-14, 2013
Monday: Chicken, chickpea, pesto salad with whole wheat pita & red grapes
Tuesday: Black bean spinach enchiladas with pineapple
Wednesday: Dill pesto fettuccine with mixed green salad (romaine lettuce, cucumbers, carrots, sesame seeds, balsamic dressing)
Thursday: Roasted vegetable sandwich with goat cheese, spinach, & balsamic with french fries & pineapple
Friday: Breakfast tacos (corn tortillas, hash browns, eggs over easy, sausage, & cilantro) with red grapes
Saturday: My dad & step mom were in town, so we ate out at Dublin Square so we could eat outside
Sunday: Hamburgers with whole wheat buns & au gratin potatoes

I also made another batch of whole wheat bread & crockpot yogurt this week. I also posted a starting list of "anti-oven" summer meals on Monday, so make sure that you keep coming back to check that out, as I will be adding more!


Monday, July 15, 2013

Anti-Oven Summer Meals

Here it is! The beginnings of my "anti-oven summer meals" list. I wanted to get this list out to you while it was, in fact, still summer, but please check back often, as I will be adding other meals. I've been testing out a few of these goods lately & have been pleased at the results. Plus, my kitchen has stayed below 87, so that's a bonus!

All of the meals in blue are links with recipes that I have posted. All of the others are just ideas to get you thinking about summer cooking, so you will need to search for the specific recipes if you need them. I'll be adding more recipes as I land upon them, but in the meantime, enjoy these cool dinners!

Meals that are 100% anti-oven
Tomato, Avocado, & Mozzarella Salad
Smoked Salmon Salad
Hummus Pitas
Smoked Salmon with cheese, vegetables, & bread
Gourmet Sandwiches (take a look at your favorite sandwich shop's menu!)
Greek Salad
Gazpacho (a tomato-based soup that is intentionally served cold)
*Shredded Chicken Tacos (using rotisserie chicken)
*Chicken, Chickpea, & Pesto Salad (use rotisserie chicken)
*Chicken Caesar Pitas (use rotisserie chicken)
*Chicken Caesar Salads (use rotisserie chicken)
(Chicken, Chickpea, & Pesto Salad)

Meals that use the crockpot
Crockpot Mac 'n' Cheese
*You can also make all of the above meals that use chicken in the crockpot as well (sometimes I will even set my crockpot out on the porch so that it doesn't heat up the house any)
(Roasted Vegetable Sandwich with Goat Cheese, Spinach, & Balsamic)

Meals you can grill
Portobello Sandwich with Caramelized Onions, Roasted Red Peppers, Eggplant, & Mozzarella
Roasted Vegetable Sandwich with Goat Cheese, Spinach, & Balsamic
Fish, Chicken, or Steak Tacos (serve with pico do gallo!)
Kabobs (tofu or meat with vegetables like bell peppers, onions, zucchini, sweet potatoes, etc.)
Pizza (homemade or frozen)

(Grill-able Vegan/Veggie Burgers)

Meals that involve minimal stove use
Dill Pesto Fettuccine
Broccoli & White Cheddar Mac 'n' Cheese
Creamy Avocado Pasta
Whole Wheat Almond Pancakes
Cauliflower Alfredo
Easy Eggs, Rice, Spinach, & Cheese
Cheesy Broccoli Quinoa
Falafel Salad
Edamame, Carrot, & Red Pepper Lo Mein with Peanut Sauce
Roasted Beet Garden Salad (if you buy cooked beets)
Huevos Rancheros
Pizza Quesadillas
Breakfast Burritoes
Chicken Enchilada Pasta (use rotisserie chicken)

What are your favorite anti-oven meals?
(Dill Pesto Fettuccine)


Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Wednesday's "What We Ate July 1-7, 2013"

I'll let my pictures do the majority of the talking from this week. As you know, it was the 4th of July & you should know by now that in our house, we take every holiday super seriously. We plan special foods & special activities with special friends. For the past couple of years, a group of 6-7 of our friends have gathered from Minneapolis, Chicago, & Duluth at our house to celebrate the 4th (you may have seen this post before). Two years ago, I was very pregnant with Ruby, so I recruited all of my friends to help with a little nesting (we made this too). Last year, it was literally 115 degrees all weekend, so we just mostly were sweaty & hunkered down in our basement. This year, we ate every meal out on our finished patio, lingered long into the night since we now have beautiful lights out there, & drank far too many (not really, mom) margaritas.  It was a blast.
Thursday's dinner: fish tacos (corn tortillas, lime-grilled tilapia, black beans, rice, queso, salsa verde & cilantro) with roasted corn guacamole & tortilla chips
This little beer treat was from our friends in Chicago. Hibiscus beer? Yessss.
Ruby may have experienced her first (& second) temporary tattoos this weekend. Here is Batu, the fox.
 She wanted the second one on her neck. Honest.
 Enjoying our patio on the 4th
Waving at all the people walking on the street, just before the fireworks
 Breakfast of champions on Friday. Corn tortillas, scrambled eggs, black beans, queso, roasted corn guac, & salsa verde with strawberries.
 We took a hike on the 5th because it was a gorgeous day. Here is Ruby gazing at two of her aunties.
 It's a sweaty job, but doesn't he look good?
We bought a new couch & love seat ($30. Vintage. Floral. Ethan Allen.) from a rummage sale on Saturday, so we said goodbye to this lovely couch. Even though it's gorgeous, it was starting to seriously fall apart. 
Saturday's dinner: fresh spring rolls (shredded cabbage, carrots, bean sprouts & cucumber) with peanut sauce & veggie fried rice

What We Ate July 1-7, 2013
Monday: Shredded chicken nachos in mini bell peppers with pineapple
Tuesday: Vegetable kebabs (red bell peppers, onions, sweet potatoes, mushrooms, & zucchini) with strawberry short cake for dessert
Wednesday: Hummus pitas with carrots, cucumbers, & french fries
Thursday: Fish tacos (corn tortillas, lime-grilled tilapia, black beans, rice, queso, salsa verde & cilantro) with roasted corn guacamole & tortilla chips
Friday: Chicken & vegetable kebabs on the grill (sesame marinated chicken, red bell peppers, onions, sweet potatoes, mushrooms, & zucchini)
Saturday: Fresh spring rolls (shredded cabbage, carrots, bean sprouts & cucumber) with peanut sauce & vegetable fried rice
Sunday: Frozen pepperoni pizza with lime margaritas & sliced apples

I also made a batch of whole wheat bread this week.


Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Peanut Butter Chocolate Pudding with Whipped Cream

I know, I know. I've been trying to post mostly anti-oven cooking recipes lately, but really, who could pass up this delicacy? When I first saw this recipe on Joy the Baker's page, I just knew it was go-time. You know how there's some recipes that you see & you're like, "Ahh that looks nice. I should maybe make that some time. Maybe." & then there are others like, "I'm going to the store to get the ingredients for this recipe right now & I might get a speeding ticket on the way & it will so be worth it." Yep, this was one of those urgent desserts that I just haaaad to make.
I've always had a rocky relationship with pudding. I'll never forget the time that my family was eating at a buffet for dinner & my younger brother pounded a mouthful of whipped butter, thinking it was pudding. We still talk about that. That was actually kind of funny. But my aversions to pudding are a bit more serious.  First of all, has anyone ever had pudding from a tin can? Am I the only one? For some reason, when I think of chocolate pudding, I am brought back to those huge tin cans full of pudding (think school cafeteria or daycare). I shudder to think of it, to this day.

I also had a horrific chocolate pudding incident while I was babysitting one of my cousins. I won't go into details because then you will for sure never make this pudding (& you sooo should!), but let's just say pudding should always, always, always be cold & definitely not room temperature, or heaven forbid body temperature (if you want the full story, by all means let me know). So between my tin can experiences & this one vague babysitting experience, chocolate pudding hasn't really been on my "to eat" list. Not to mention all the crazy ingredients in most already made pudding or instant pudding mixes. Yuck.
This pudding was celebration pudding at its best! I figured that since it was on Joy's page, it had to be delish & I was feeling especially adventurous. We were relaxing after a busy, busy weekend & while John was prepping our steak tacos with homemade pico, I was whipping us a batch of this bad boy. Have you ever made pudding from scratch before? It's really quite simple & super satisfying. I don't know, I just get a kick out of making things myself, knowing what all the ingredients are & altering them to my liking.

The pudding is a cinch to make, only requires just a smattering of ingredients & ohmygoodness, the flavor! I kind of want to kiss whoever decided that peanut butter & chocolate should be paired together. The real whipping cream on the top is kind of a deal sealer, too. Please don't offend me (or anyone you're serving it to) by using cool whip. Please, just don't. Again, whipping your own is hardly work at all (thank you Kitchen Aid) & it is so, so, soooooooo much better.

If I ever have to gain a whole bunch of weight, this is how I will do it. If I ever want to impress someone, this is how I will do it. And if I ever ever celebrate anything with food again (it's bound to happen), this is how I will do it.

Eat your hearts out, people. And you're welcome for introducing you to your new love.
Peanut Butter Chocolate Pudding with Whipped Cream
Ingredients (for the peanut butter pudding)
1/3 cup demerara sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup creamy all-natural peanut butter
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Ingredients (for the chocolate pudding)
1/3 cup demerara sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
4 ounces dark chocolate chips
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Ingredients (for the whipped cream)
1 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon agave
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

First focus on making the peanut butter pudding. In a large saucepan whisk together the demerara, cornstarch, & salt (just to combine). If it's lumpy, that's totally OK. Add the milk & heavy cream & whisk. Turn the stove on to medium heat & bring the mixture to a simmer, whisking occasionally. Be sure to whisk in the rounded corners of the pan so that pudding doesn’t burn.

When the pudding comes to a simmer, whisk constantly for 1 minute. The mixture should thicken but still remain a bit loose. Remove from the heat & add the peanut butter & vanilla extract, & quickly whisk. The pudding will thicken substantially. Divide the warm pudding between six glasses & store uncovered in the fridge while you make the chocolate pudding.

To make the chocolate pudding, in a new large (or completely clean & dry the one you just used) saucepan, whisk together the demerara, cornstarch, cocoa powder, & salt (just to combine). If it's lumpy, that's totally OK. Add the milk & heavy cream & whisk. Turn the stove on to medium heat & bring the mixture to a simmer, whisking occasionally. Be sure to whisk in the rounded corners of the pan so that pudding doesn’t burn.

When the pudding comes to a simmer, whisk constantly for 1 minute. The mixture should thicken but still remain a bit loose. Remove from the heat & add the chocolate chips & vanilla extract. Stir until the chocolate is melted & pudding is thickened.

Spoon the pudding atop the peanut butter pudding. Cover each pudding cup with plastic wrap & chill for at least 2 hours before serving.

When ready to serve, whip heavy cream, agave, & vanilla extract into soft peaks. Top each pudding with whipped cream

Recipe adapted from Joy the Baker

And now for a few "reaction pictures"...
I think they liked it!


Friday, July 5, 2013

Pico De Gallo

When it comes to fresh, light, summery foods, really nothing comes close to some homemade pico. "Eat pico de gallo for dinner" you ask? Well, of course you can! Although it's preeeetty tempting to devour an entire bag of tortilla chips & a bowl of this goodness & call it dinner, I wouldn't always recommend that (although I sometimes would). 
We like to use pico as a fine, fine addition to our tacos (chicken, fish, steak, or bean). Usually we like to keep our tacos pretty simple: warmed corn tortillas (always corn, always warmed), protein of choice (best grilled with lime), pico, & cheese. If we're feeling particularly spunky, we'll add in some sliced avocado &/or Greek yogurt to top them off.

Tacos are great because they are so versatile, but also because they're a hearty, yet light meal, & they don't take much oven time at all. We like to use our grill as much as humanly possible in the summer, so that keeps this meal completely oven-free for us.
The pico, of course, doesn't use the oven at all, so you can whip up a batch without adding extra heat to your kitchen. And if you're actually into heat this time of year, you can play around with the amount of jalapenos or the amount of seeds you keep. I would recommend wearing some gloves while chopping the jalapenos so that when you're done chopping them & when you rub your eyes immediately after, they won't get smeared with hot jalapeno juice (is it just me that does that?)
Picco De Gallo
2 Roma tomatoes, seeded & chopped
1 medium white or red onion, chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, seeded & chopped
1 medium jalapeno, seeded (unless you like it hot) & chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
A few handfuls of chopped cilantro
1-2 tsp lime juice
Salt & pepper to taste

It's very important that you take the extra time to seed the tomatoes so that the pico doesn't get really runny. We also patted the tomatoes with a paper towel to make sure they were extra dry. Once you've seeded & chopped everything, mix the veggies in a medium sized bowl. Mix in the cilantro & drizzle the lime juice on top of that. Mix until incorporated well. Season with salt & pepper to taste & serve with tortilla chips, tacos, or anything else you'd like.

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Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Wednesday's "What We Ate June 24-30, 2013"

This past weekend, John & I had the pleasure of officiating at a wedding for some friends of ours. It was quite the gorgeous day- the rain stopped just long enough for a lovely ceremony & then just sprinkled a little bit over dinner. Every little detail from the succulents in the bride's bouquet to the thoughtfully-made guest book were all so them. It was also at one of the area's most gorgeous getaways, so it was quite the treat all around.
Of course, at almost every wedding we attend, we are drawn back into reflecting on our wedding. All of the crazy amounts of questions that need answering, decisions that need to be made, & energy that goes into every detail is enough to give someone a serious anxiety attack.

John & I were only engaged for 5 months & we planned our wedding while living almost 5 hours apart from each other. At the time of planning our wedding, I was also trying to sell my house in Duluth & John had just bought our house in La Crosse & was furiously working on it so that it could be ready for when I moved in. So when it comes to weddings, believe be, I know anxiety.
I distinctively remember the days & weeks after our wedding... wait, we could just watch movies & go on long walks & make dinner... together?? Whaaaat? It was like something straight out of a fairytale. It was crazy amazing awesome, to say the least & I'm hoping that wherever you are right now, Dave & Meagan, that you are enjoying every little moment of your honeymoon!

One of the most important details of a wedding, of course, is what's being served for the meal. At our wedding, we had originally planned to serve a traditional Thanksgiving-type meal, complete with turkeys on the grill, garlic mashed potatoes, & homemade stuffing. About 6 weeks before the wedding, our caterer became unavailable, so that left us in a panic, to say the least. We needed something delicious & something that fit into our ridiculous budget!

Enter Famous Daves. Yep, we had Famous Daves cater at our wedding & it was, without a doubt, one of the best decisions we were forced into making. You should have heard the oogles & moans at the reception. And there was so much food left over that my parents had pulled pork sandwiches, literally for weeks.We had a handful of family & friends chip in to make our desserts-- homemade apple & pumpkin pies, two of our favorites. So in the end we did still get a touch of our Thanksgiving meal.
At the wedding this past weekend, Gracie's catered. They have, hands down, the best Greek food in La Crosse & we weren't disappointed one bit. There were mounds of hummus, spinach pie, pita bread, feta, olives, chicken kabobs, roasted potatoes, Greek salad.... it was incredible. We ate until we were full, & left quite satisfied by the whole day. It was gorgeous, God was so in it, & we were the pleasant kind of exhausted.

To celebrate all the happened over the weekend, we made ourselves some steak tacos with homemade pico de gallo for dinner on Sunday & I made a batch of peanut butter chocolate pudding with homemade whipped cream for dessert. We try not to treat ourselves with food for every celebration, but this weekend really called for a bit of luxury.

What was the best food you've ever eaten at a wedding?
Sunday's dinner: steak tacos (grilled steak, corn tortillas, cheese, & homemade pico- tomatoes, red pepper, cilantro, & onions)

What We Ate June 24-30, 2013
Monday: Chicken Caesar pitas with strawberries
Tuesday: Cauliflower Alfredo lasagna with carrots, cucumbers, & hummus
Wednesday: Grilled hamburgers with whole wheat buns & maple glazed carrots
Thursday: We ate at the Waterfront for happy hour with the bridal party & family
Friday: We ate with the bridal party & family for the rehearsal dinner
Saturday: We ate at the wedding (catered by Gracie's!!)
Sunday: Steak tacos (grilled steak, corn tortillas, cheese, & homemade pico- tomatoes, red pepper, cilantro, & onions) with homemade peanut butter chocolate pudding for dessert

I also made a few batches of bread & nutty chocolate chip granola bars this week.