Wednesday, August 29, 2012

In A Pickle

The hubby and I like to watch Food Network, but it never fails to get us in trouble. I mean, how can you watch total deliciousness being made in front of you and not want to eat massive amounts of unhealthy foods?  I guess if you have a little something called willpower you can resist, but here in this house there is sometimes a shortage of that. Last week we were watching The Best Thing I Ever Ate: Finger Food and one of the segments included fried pickles from The Blue Ridge Grill in Atlanta, GA. I already had pickles on the brain since I was getting ready for my first adventure in pickling and canning by making homemade dill pickles the next day, and seeing these yum-o fried pickles being made put me in even more of a pickle mood. Fast forward a few days (homemade pickles are made and set aside for their 2 weeks of fermenting--is it just me or does that word make them sound totally gross? I prefer not to think of my food fermenting...) and I was still thinking about those fried pickles. Well, it was another rainy cozy day which always puts me in the mood to cook or bake something delish. Cue, fried pickles. I had everything on hand including a jar of Vlassic dill pickle chips. The one thing I took away from The Best Thing I Ever Ate: Finger Foods was that the chef at The Blue Ridge Grill used cornmeal in his batter. From there I dug around in my pantry and pulled out some additional things to whip up a batter. Here is my recipe:

Fried Pickles

Dry Batter:
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup cornmeal (I had white on hand but I am sure yellow would work just fine too)
1 tablespoon of cornstarch (this makes the batter super nice and crispy!)
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Cayenne pepper, to taste

Wet Batter:
1 cup milk
1 egg
A few dashes of hot sauce, to taste

*Note: We made a small serving of fried pickles, so we had a fair amount of batter left over. Next time I  make them for just us (hubby is still deciding how he feels about pickles so he barely ate any anyway) I would half the dry batter recipe. You can't really half the wet batter unless you want to mess with trying to separate out half of an egg...? I didn't think so. If you are making pickles for a crowd the full recipe should do.

Drain your pickle chips in a strainer (you will still want them wet--don't pat them dry or anything--but let the excess drip off into the sink). Coat the bottom of a dutch oven or deep skillet with vegetable oil. It does not need to be deep enough to cover the whole pickle, just enough to cover the bottom of the pan and one side of the pickle. Heat oil over medium heat. While oil is heating, mix up dry ingredients in one bowl and wet ingredients in another bowl. Once your oil is hot and lightly bubbling and popping you are ready to fry. {We did a single pickle first to taste test our batter seasoning. After our "test pickle" we went back and spiced things up with more cayenne and hot sauce.} Dredge your drained pickle chips into the dry batter first. Shake excess off and then dredge them in the wet batter. Dredge them once more in the dry batter and then carefully put them into the hot oil. Let them fry until golden brown and then using tongs flip them to the other side to fry. It only takes a minute or so for them to get brown so keep a close eye on them! Remove fried pickles from the oil and place onto a paper towel lined plate to drain. Serve immediately with a side of ranch dressing. I used store bought light ranch dressing (I had to save calories somewhere you know) although these would be 10 times more delicious with homemade ranch. I wasn't up to that for a random afternoon snack made from items in my pantry, but I would definitely step it up and make homemade dressing if I was serving these for guests. So, who wants to come over and be my reason for homemade ranch dressing?

Dry and Wet Batter
"Test" Pickle 

Yummy Fried Pickles!

Pickles and Ranch

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Low Fat Oatmeal Banana Nut Bread

Every once in awhile I get a taste for a banana. They are not my favorite fruit, but I like them. I like my bananas almost a little green and they turn so quickly that many times I can't eat them all before they get too ripe, so I only buy a few at a time. Translation: I am that person at the grocery store who pulls 2 or 3 bananas off of a bunch and leaves the rest behind. Sorry.

I recently learned a trick from my Aunt Kathy to help bananas keep a little longer. The trick is to break the bananas apart when you get them home and then use a sharp knife to cut off the very tip of the stem. This did seem to work and kept them fresher a little longer. But, this last time around I still got stuck with 2 very brown bananas (I got a little overzealous at the grocery store and bought 4 at once?!) that were about to be sentenced to the trash can. Lucky for them I had the idea to bake up a banana bread instead. On the day I decided to do this it was unusually cool outside and it was a dreary rainy day. In other words, it was a perfect day to be snuggled inside in my comfies baking. Between the weather and the smell of freshly baking banana bread I could almost close my eyes and pretend it was fall. It was fabulous!

As I thought about baking my bread I decided that I wanted to change things up by adding oatmeal to my recipe. I searched the internet for different oatmeal banana bread recipes and I found one for Low Fat Oatmeal Banana Bread from Joy the Baker that looked pretty tasty. I made a few changes and additions of my own to come up with my recipe.

Before you read on I will warn you that this bread is not like your traditional sugary fluffy banana bread. This is like power banana bread. It is dense, like seriously dense. It makes a delicious and really filling breakfast, especially if you toast it and put some peanut or almond butter on top. While it is still not the healthiest option, the protein from the oats and nuts along with the low fat content make this bread a pretty decent choice, especially compared to traditional recipes. You could clean it up even more by using a whole wheat flour and a natural sugar substitute such as Truvia or Agave Nectar (taking away the brown sugar will change the flavor).  

Low Fat Oatmeal Banana Nut Bread

1 1/4 c. flour
1 c. uncooked old fashioned oats
1/2 c. packed brown sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
3 tsp canola oil
1 whole egg
2 egg whites
2 very ripe bananas, peeled
1/2 c. toasted walnuts
1tsp vanilla

Preheat the oven to 350. Heat a small skillet over medium low heat and toast walnut halves until lightly browned, set aside to cool. Butter and flour a loaf pan and set aside.

In a large bowl stir together all of the dry ingredients.

In another bowl mash the bananas with a fork, add the oil and whole egg and stir to combine.

Add the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix well. Take the cooled nuts and use a knife to give them a rough chop (I kept mine pretty chunky but its up to you). Incorporate the chopped nuts into the batter. It will be very thick and it won't look like a lot of batter.

Set the batter aside and in a separate bowl use an electric hand mixer to beat egg whites into medium stiff peaks. Fold the egg whites into the batter in three additions.

Pour batter into prepared pan and bake at 350 for 35 minutes or until golden brown and firm on top. *I used the convection setting on my oven which I find often cooks things more quickly. You may need to bake your bread up to 45 minutes. Keep a close eye on it and test for doneness by inserting a toothpick  super cool cake tester.

Isn't it the cutest thing?! I registered for it from Crate & Barrel when we got married. I remember getting teased about it at my bridal shower when I unwrapped it along with some other goodies, but what can I say? It doesn't take much to amuse me and I seriously loved this cute little guy.

Speaking of cute kitchen gadgets I also have a brown sugar bear. I got him randomly from Plow & Hearth. I went in to the store with a friend and there he was. The purpose of the brown sugar bear is to keep your brown sugar from crystalizing into a hard rock. I wasn't too sure about it, but let me tell you, it works great!! It seems to be made from some kind of clay? To use it you soak it in a glass of water for about 10 minutes. Then I pat the excess water off and stick him down into my bag of brown sugar. The bear keeps the sugar for months before you need to remoisten it. I looked for the bear on the Plow & Hearth website and couldn't find it. :( I am not sure if they no longer carry it, or if it is a store by store kind of thing. Anyone know where else you can find a brown sugar bear? It has become one of my kitchen must haves!

Happy Baking!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

A Giveaway, A Bloggy Friend, and Fabulous Earrings

Hi Friends! Today I am excited to introduce you to my friend Darby at Life With The Hawleys. Darby and I were sorority sisters in college (yay Delta Zeta!) and in recent months she has become my blog mentor. I have followed along with Darby's blog via her Facebook page, so when I first got the idea to start up my own blog Darby popped into my mind right away. I emailed her that night asking for advice on starting up my own blog. I had questions about who I would write to, what I would write about, and how I would do the technical part of creating a cute (very important to me!) blog. Darby has been gracious, helpful, and encouraging from the beginning, and I am so thankful I have had her to help me along the way.

Starting today Darby is having an awesome giveaway on her blog for a beautiful pair of Grace Adele earrings. Click here to visit Life With The Hawleys and view the details for entering her giveaway. You will definitely want a chance to win these fun, fancy, and stylish earrings! I love how they can transfer seamlessly from day to night. While you're on her page make sure you stay awhile, check things out, and sign up to follow along in her adventures!

**Giveaway Closed**

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Hello, Gorgeous!

The other week I posted about my must have fall item, riding boots. In case you missed it you can read that post here. Of course once I get an idea in my head I have to make it happen, so just a few days after my original post I went shopping. I had received a DSW coupon in the mail for $20 off (!) and it was about to expire. Obviously the right thing to do would be go to DSW and see what I could buy. I mean who would waste a $20 coupon?! I don't always have luck at DSW but they had tons of boots in stock. I was really excited to have so many options to try on, and everything was available in my of the advantages of shopping for fall items in the summer. By the way, it is totally frustrating that you have to start shopping 2-3 months ahead of a season so you can get what you want before it is sold out. Have you noticed that? For example Hobby Lobby has had Christmas decorations out for weeks now. If I wait until October (which I think would be the appropriate time to start thinking about Christmas decorations) to shop I can bet that they would all be on clearance and completely picked over. There is something wrong with that in my opinion, it seems like our world is happy to live in fast forward. What happened to living in the moment and enjoying the now? But anyway, before I get too deep, back to the boots!

The pair I chose are made by Matisse and all things considered were a pretty good in general are just expensive, but the DSW discount price plus my coupon made the cost bearable.

What do you think? I can't wait for fall and to start wearing my fabulous new riding boots! Now I just need some cute new outfits to pair with the boots. Hmm, I guess I have more shopping in my future! ;)

Monday, August 13, 2012

Oh, la, la....

...a French braid! I am once again growing my hair out and this has been the most successful attempt so far. I usually get impatient (there's that word again...hmm) and chop it all off when it gets to the weird in betweeny stage. Anyone know about that? It's the worst! Anyway, I think I am about past the weird in betweeny stage and I am still holding strong--no itch to chop it off. I think I am at about the longest my hair as ever been. in. my. life. This is progress. But as usual I am off topic...

Whenever my hair gets long enough I like a french braid as an alternative to the wet pony tail or bun on days that I don't feel like/don't have time to do anything with it. Those days seem to happen pretty often. Whenever we are at the beach I always have my sister in-law braid it for me, but now that I am rocking the long hair I figured I need to know how to do it myself. So, I did what anyone in my generation does when they want to learn something new, I went onto YouTube. I clicked on one of the first videos I found and it was so easy. I mean easy. How have I missed out on this for the last 15 or so years? Here is my braid on my second attempt:

Its a bad phone camera pic, but that's a pretty good braid, right?! Wow, I didn't really realize how long my hair has gotten until I see this picture. Now that I have conquered the braid I want to work up to all of those super cute hairstyles you see pinned on Pinterest. I always think, yeah right who can actually do their hair like that, but now I feel like I can do anything! Haha! No, really. I do. I add the hairstyles I like on Pinterest to my Hair and Accessories board. You can check it out here.

Here is the YouTube video I used if you want a quick and easy tutorial on french braiding your own hair. I think one of her best pieces of advice was when you are just beginning don't use the mirror, just do it by feel.

Happy hairstyling!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

One Sauce, Two Meals, Happy Wallet

This week has been a little out of the ordinary for me because we have made two meals that are based around a red tomato sauce. Italian is one of my least favorite types of foods, and I am not a fan of red sauce in particular. I know that is probably offensive to some of you but I just can't help it! However, on a rare occasion I get a taste for Italian, and brace sauce. 

This week Hubby had a craving for spaghetti. That sounded pretty good to me, but I knew that we would no way eat a whole jar of spaghetti sauce, so I brainstormed a recipe that would use the leftover sauce (another crazy moment--I planned to eat leftovers! Ick, they are not my favorite either), and I came up with Rustic Veggie Polenta. This recipe was actually inspired by a frozen meal that I sometimes get during the school year for lunch (ironically I think I was able to make the entire recipe for not much more than the frozen version--although I think Amy's is a bit healthier than mine!)

Image Source
Here is my sauce recipe that was the basis of the two meals. It is pretty simple (another goal of these meals was to keep them budget friendly) and it is something I thought up as we were making our grocery list.

Simple Sausage Pasta Sauce:

1 jar of spaghetti sauce--I used Prego Light Smart Traditional Sauce. I liked that it was 100% natural, had lower sugar and calories, 1/2 serving of veggies in 1/2 cup, and was on sale...yippee!
1 small can tomato paste 
3 mild Italian sausages, casings removed
1/2 of a medium yellow onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced or use a garlic press

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Use a sharp knife to gently slice through the sausage casing. Remove and discard casing and put sausage in heated pan. Use a spatula to break apart sausage into small crumbles. Add the diced onion to the pan and let meat and onion brown, stirring often. Once the meat and onion are almost done add your minced garlic (the garlic is more delicate and will burn quickly--that is why I saved it to the end). I used a garlic press and pressed it right into the pan. Once your meat, onion, and garlic are nicely browned and happy, drain any grease and add your jar of sauce and can of tomato paste to the pan. The tomato paste gives the sauce a nice thickness and flavor. Turn your heat down to low and let the sauce simmer about 20 minutes.
*Note: We used pork sausage to keep it classic, but you could clean this up by using an all natural turkey Italian sausage. 

Meal #1:

Spaghetti with Simple Sausage Pasta Sauce--I must admit we had regular pasta but you can clean it up with whole wheat pasta instead. We cooked a small portion of pasta and added the amount of sauce we wanted directly on top of our pasta. Remember you are saving the rest of your sauce for meal #2! 

Steamed veggies--We love using the Bird's Eye steamer bags. They are all natural and a super easy and healthy side dish!  

Meal #2:

Rustic Veggie Polenta

1 small green pepper, diced
1 small red pepper, diced (I used half of a large one and saved the other half for Asian grilled chicken salads later in the week. I told you all this was budget meal week!)
1/2 medium yellow onion, diced (the other half that I saved from the sauce)
1 package white button mushrooms, sliced
Leftover Simple Sausage Pasta Sauce

Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add a dash of olive oil. Wash and dice your veggies and add them to your hot pan. Sauté the veggies until they are soft and slightly browned. Add in the leftover Simple Sausage Pasta Sauce and turn the heat to low. Let the sauce simmer while you prepare the polenta. 

We use Trader Joe's Organic Polenta. It comes pre-made in a handy little tube and you just slice it into rounds. Bonus at our TJ it is only $1.99 (yay budget friendly!!). We followed the instructions on the tube for pan frying the polenta in olive oil. The only change was we wanted the polenta nice and crispy brown on each side, so rather than cooking for 4-5 minutes per side on medium-low heat it was more like 10 minutes (I think they took longer to brown because we had too much oil in the pan). 

Once your polenta is done put it on your plate and top with Rustic Veggie Sauce and a shake shake of parmesan cheese. This is an entire meal in itself, no side dishes needed! Delicious! 

Note: I named this recipe Rustic Veggie Polenta because of the rustic veggies. You see, I am not good at chopping. Usually when I attempt to start chopping something my hubby steps in and takes over--my chopping skills do not impress him. He wasn't around to help me this time because he was making a last minute run to the grocery store for the ingredients to make a yummy dessert (I'll have that post for you later this week!). I think my issues with chopping are due to {ok, fine} not great knife skills and impatience. I really just want to get it done, and here is what that looks like:

Do you notice how none of the veggies are the same size?! My favorite is the ridiculously tiny red pepper piece. I figured "rustic" was a nicer term than "hot mess", so that's how Rustic Veggie Polenta was born. 

I hope you enjoy! 

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Got Magazines?

I don't have time for a long post today because I have homework to do:

Yes, this is my homework. I love getting magazines and they are where I have gotten tons of great ideas on decorating, gardening, and cooking. In fact, most of my recipe binder is made up of Southern Living recipes that I have clipped out of my magazines. That being said, with my schedule this summer I feel like I have barely been in my own home, much less had time to sit down and read a magazine. So, now that summer is winding down I am left with this lonely stack of magazines that have been neglected for the last few months. I'm sure I will come across some great new ideas and recipes in this gigantic stack, so I'll be sure to share the best with you!

The magazines that I currently get in the mail are: Southern Living (thanks, Aunt Kathy!), Veranda (thanks, Grammie!), Traditional Home (thanks again, Grammie!), Clean Eating, and Food Network (thanks, Arthur fam!). Phew! That's a lot of magazines isn't it (and I love each one of them!)?! I have a very generous family. :) I am off to catch up on my reading. Catch you all later!

Monday, August 6, 2012

Boots, Boots, Boots

Some of you may know this already, but I live for Fall. It is my absolute most favorite time of the year. I start to get ready for it around the end of July. Yes, July. Don't get me wrong I enjoy each of the seasons and I l-o-v-e a beach vacation, but once I get in that week at the beach, bring it on Fall.

I love everything about Fall. The cooler crisp air, wearing jeans (I could live in jeans-more on that another day), fall scents (check out my Scentsy site!), fall decorations, colored leaves, a fire in the fireplace, apples, apple picking, hot apple cider, cold apple cider, fried shrimp broiled shrimp...sorry I got caught up in the moment (a little Forest Gump allusion--its my hubby's favorite--are you here reading this honey?!)

Anyway, this post was supposed to be about boots. So another thing I love about Fall is Fall fashion. I love jeans or leggings with sweaters, cozy flannels, down vests, etc AND a good pair of boots. My last boot fashion was my tall slouch boots. But this Fall I MUST have a pair of tall riding boots. Here are some of my favorites that I have found (warning--some of these boots should come with a free deposit into your checking account, ie. they are really expensive, but a girl can dream, right?):

Frye Paige Tall Riding
Lacoste Rosemont 5 Tall Boots

Spirit by Lucchese Annie Boot
Coconuts Blakely Riding Boot

Can you guess which ones I like the best? I'll give you a hint...they are the most expensive ones. Isn't that always the way it goes?!? Its seriously frustrating. Now that I have my boots picked out, here are some of my favorite Fall fashions that include tall riding boots:

Classic and Preppy

Cozy Casual Love
A Big Scarf and Pearls?!
All of these fashions and more can be found on my Pinterest board, Get In My Closet! And, now I feel the need for a shopping spree...

Are you into riding boots? Which ones are your favorites? Any other fall lovers out there? Can't wait to hear from you!