Brown butter cinnamon apples with walnuts

Cinnamon apples

I don’t always have my stuff together.

As much as I’d love to be the sort of person who preps meals for the week on Sundays, moving deftly through the kitchen wielding a knife and storage containers, it just never seems to happen. I can’t blame being busy for this; I mean, we’re all busy. The truth? I just don’t make the time.

In an effort to attack our grotesque grocery bills, though, I’m trying to get better about meal planning — and limiting the number of dinners and lunches we eat out. I started keeping a budget sheet at the beginning of September just to get an idea of where our funds are going, and it’s definitely been enlightening.

Apples

Where am I going with all this? Using up. Consolidation. Waste not, want not. When Spence grabs the big bag of apples at the grocery store for $5, I look at them warily . . . because until recently, most of them went into the garbage. They’d go bad before we’d have a chance to eat them — and having to toss money (er, food) into the trash feels awful.

I noticed quite a few of the apples on our kitchen table were getting to the end of their shelf life yesterday . . . so I did what any budget-conscious lady would do: I hurried up and cooked them. With a little inspiration from the Food Network, I whipped up some pan-fried apples that tasted delicious and soothed my guilty conscious.

Spencer happily declared that they “taste like fall,” too, so there’s that.

You know I’m all about that.

This dish comes together quickly, uses ingredients you probably already have on hand and would be a great alternative to a more traditionally sugary dessert. The result is a warm, tasty side — but if you’re feeling bold, you could certainly add brown sugar or up the amount of walnuts. Despite all that butter in there, I was trying to err on the side of healthy.

You win some, you lose some.



Brown butter cinnamon apples with walnuts

Ingredients:
Six medium red apples, cored and diced
4 tbsp butter
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
Pinch of salt

In a medium-sized skillet, add butter and cook over medium-high heat until melted. When the butter turns a golden brown (about 5 minutes), add apples, cinnamon and vanilla. Cook apples until softened but still firm, about 10 minutes, and add chopped walnuts. Cook together an additional 3-5 minutes until apples are fork tender. Serve immediately; refrigerate any leftovers. Serves 4.


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Cookie butter mug cake

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It poured yesterday. The rain fell in heavy sheets, flooding the streets and parking lots and mailboxes left accidentally ajar. I watched it all from my office with damp shoes, damp hair, damp slacks . . . and by the time I got home to an empty house, I knew I needed dessert.

Spencer gets home from a business trip tonight — which means my solitude in the new house will finally end! I’ve been alone before, of course, given I’m 29 years old and not physically sewn to loved ones. Solitude is inevitable. But the last few days have been my first time by myself in our new place, and I had to really psych myself to fall asleep alone in a (somewhat) unfamiliar house with its creaks and groans.

But I did. It wasn’t awful. And I didn’t have any panic attacks, unlike the last time my husband went out of town . . . so: progress.

Left on my own for dinner last night, I was somewhat tempted to just gorge myself on sweets or wimp out and make a PB&J . . . but then I got a weird hankering for Brussels sprouts, and I don’t fight the greens. After a quick dinner of Old Bay sausage and vegetables, I geared up for a mug cake.

Rainy Tuesdays definitely call for mug cakes.

These popular desserts have been on my radar for a while — but sort of in a perplexing way. How does mixing and microwaving a few ingredients lead to a tasty dessert? The science was confusing to me. But when I saw Pumpkin ‘n Spice’s Cinnamon Cookie Butter Mug Cake recipe, I knew I had to experiment.

Cookie butter

What is cookie butter, you may ask? Everything you think it might be and more. When I started doing a little research on the goodie, I learned it’s popular at Trader Joe’s — and the closest store to me is nearly an hour away. But just as I was Googling around, a friend happened to mention her sister was going up to the Annapolis store that very weekend.

If that isn’t fate, what is?

After delivering my jar the following week, I offered Sandy a taste as a thanks — and she just described it was “the single most delicious thing [she’s] ever put in her mouth.”

She’s not overselling it.

In the last few weeks, Spencer and I have struggled to just not eat it by the spoonful . . . which is my gut instinct, honestly. A mug cake seemed like a good way to enjoy it that would, um, help me keep my addiction manageable.

As if that’s possible.

What’s cool about mug cakes? They work. I couldn’t believe how fast my dessert puffed up; I was actually scared it was going to overflow. Though the texture of this mug cake is far more dense than a traditionally-baked treat, it was tasty — and hit the spot for me, a drenched woman watching tons of coverage on the late Robin Williams.

For one evening, I ate my feelings.

They tasted like cookie butter, and the sad was a little less sad.



Cinnamon Cookie Butter Mug Cake

Recipe from Pumpkin ‘n Spice

Ingredients:
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
3 tablespoons sugar
Dash of salt
1 egg
4 tablespoons milk
1 tablespoon coconut oil, melted (I used vegetable oil instead)
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon cookie butter

Instructions:

Spray a standard-sized coffee mug with non-stick cooking spray.

Into the mug, pour the flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt. Stir briefly to combine.

Add in the egg, milk, coconut oil, cinnamon, and cookie butter. Mix well so that everything Is combined.

Microwave for approximately 2 minutes 30 seconds (2:30) or until cake is firm but the edges are still wet.

Remove from the microwave and let cook for 2 minutes.

Run a knife along the edges of cake. Top with whipped cream, if desired. (Trust me: you desire it.)


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Simple summer side: cucumber + sweet-onion salad

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We’ve had an embarrassment of cucumbers lately.

Our new tradition of hitting the farmers’ market on the weekend brought us three of them for $2 — a steal! — and they’ve been patiently hanging out in our new fruit bowl since Saturday. Spencer came home with two more from a friend’s garden on Tuesday, bringing our total of OMG-HUGE vegetables to five.

Martha Stewart to the rescue, it seems! With some quick Googling, my husband found this recipe for cucumber and sweet-onion salad, and it is light, refreshing summer deliciousness.

And now nothing will go to waste. Just the way nature intended it, I think.

Between you and me? Um, we didn’t exactly have fresh dill or freshly-squeezed lemon juice . . . so we improvised with a dried variety as well as lemon from a bottle. The results were still great. In case, like me, you don’t feel like hitting the grocery store.

Just don’t tell Martha.


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Cucumber and Sweet-Onion Salad

Ingredients:
3 English cucumbers, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced on the diagonal
1 medium sweet onion, such as Vidalia, halved and thinly sliced
1/2 cup fresh dill, coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons white-wine vinegar
Coarse salt and ground pepper

In a large bowl, toss together cucumbers, onion, dill, oil, lemon juice, and vinegar; season with salt and pepper.

(Recipe from Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food)


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Italian pasta salad. Like, half a recipe.

Pasta salad

I haven’t made much that’s recipe-share-worthy in ages, friends.

Lest you be ridiculously disappointed with me, in my own defense? Our kitchen is still only half unpacked, which means Spencer and I are looking at each other with befuddled expressions searching for spoons or meat thermometers or butter at least once a night. I mean, we have the basics covered; the fridge is stocked with diet soda, I have plenty of chips and salsa, and Spence and I haven’t resorted to arm-wrestling for the last of my grandmother’s homemade peanut butter cups from a recent birthday party.

Yet.

But dinners around here? A little sparse. Simple. Full of fresh vegetables, which is certainly not a bad thing — but I do miss having more at my disposal. Much like before the move, we’re all about streamlined eating around here . . . and though I’m optimistic that we’ll repair our battered pantry before too long, allowing me to un-box about half of our former kitchen, we’re still trying to get organized and find all the things we’ve lost.

Luckily, you don’t need much for pasta salad.

A few years back, Spencer and I went to New York City for a long weekend (and the Book Blogger Convention of yore!) and met up with some of his college buddies in Queens. We had a picnic out in Corona Park, very close to the Unisphere (cool!), and a friend had a big bowl of this pasta salad there for the taking.

We were hooked.

The thing is? It’s really rather simple. Simple enough that I feel a little weird sharing it like I’m a side dish aficionado, but . . . it’s a Thursday, pasta is delicious, and we’re friends, so I know you won’t judge me.

We’ll call this Katie’s Italian Pasta Salad, because Katie is super-nice — and she didn’t get mad when I, a suburban girl with apparent balance issues, fell on her on the subway that day. So. Thanks, Katie! Your kindness has not been forgotten.

And shall be rewarded, someday, with more pasta.

Please note that measurements are, um, suggestions; you can modify as desired to transform this into the side dish of your dreams. Double the tomatoes, double the salami, make it meat-less — whatever floats your boat. This is how we made ours, but I’m pretty sure you can’t mess this up.

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Italian Pasta Salad

Ingredients:
1 box orzo pasta, cooked
1 bottle Italian salad dressing
2 cups cherry tomatoes, chopped in half
1/2 lb. salami, thickly sliced, diced
1/2 lb. provolone cheese, thickly sliced, diced
2 tbsp Italian seasoning
1 tbsp black pepper

Cook orzo pasta according to package directions; strain and rinse under cool water, then pour into a large bowl. Add half the bottle of Italian dressing, cherry tomatoes, salami, cheese, Italian seasoning and black pepper, then stir well to combine. Add additional dressing and stir again. Chill before serving. Make and refrigerate for 24 hours for extra flavor and awesomeness.

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Slow cooker steak and veggie soup

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We’re all about quick, filling eats around here.

Preparing for the big move this weekend has meant our dinners are a little . . . unusual here at the Johnson residence. We spend most after-work evenings taking carloads of stuff to the new house, where we scrub and sand and shuffle before eventually pouring ourselves home around 10 p.m. Sometimes we meet at the apartment, eat first and head over. Other times we go straight to the house . . . where we lack food. Unless you count Fig Newtons and diet soda, which I don’t.

So all that has translated to oddball concoctions, like boxed mac and cheese with a ham steak added in, or take-out. Not great for the waistline, but definitely helpful for a tired couple trying to bring order to their universe. It’s so much easier to grab Chick-Fil-A than it is to dirty pots and pans and labor over a hot stove. (I haven’t packed up the kitchen yet, by the way. Just don’t have the stomach for it.) (See what I did there?!) (Okay, sorry. Sorry.)

But we’re trying to stay healthy. When our home isn’t in an uproar, Spence and I have gotten into the habit of cooking big meals on Monday evenings so we have leftovers for lunch throughout the week. The slow cooker has been our best buddy.

Regardless of the weather, I’m a big soup girl — filling, inexpensive, made in bulk. On our list of meals that provide ample leftovers for two hungry adults is this steak and vegetable soup, concocted from a recipe shared by my good friend Sandy. Bonus? It ain’t bad for you. And that’s important, too.

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It’s one of the first recipes of our young marriage happily added “into the rotation,” and we usually make it once a month. Thrown in a slow cooker before work, it requires about 10-15 minutes of prep for a gigantic serving of soup ready when you get home. It’s simple, flavorful and built largely by ingredients you may already have — and even uses canned vegetables! Especially fantastic when you’re moving the contents of your pantry. Six less cans to haul is a good thing.

You can add to this, take away from it, throw in some other veggies, add spices to your heart’s content. My favorite recipes are becoming ones I can play with, and this steak and veggie soup? It’s where it’s at, friends. Totally buildable.

Could you use fresh vegetables instead of canned? Maybe. I’ve added fresh celery to supplement the canned veggies, but I think the texture of the canned vegetables actually works well in this soup. Because it’s cooking all day, you’d think they get extra mushy — but they don’t! Soup magic? I don’t know.

Whatever it is, it’s good.

(P.S. Do not drain your canned vegetables before adding them to the pot; the water makes up part of your liquid. If you like your soup soupier, add an additional 1/2 cup of water. If you prefer more of a stew, prepare as follows.)


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Slow cooker steak and veggie soup

Ingredients:
1 lb. stew beef (or chuck roast)
1 large can (28 oz.) tomatoes, crushed
1 can (14.5 oz.) cut green beans
1 can (14.5 oz.) sliced carrots
1 can (14.5 oz.) sliced potatoes
1 can (14.5 oz.) of corn
1 can (4 oz.) mushrooms
1 packet of onion soup mix
1 cube of beef bouillon, dissolved in 1 cup of hot water
1 bay leaf
2 tbsp chopped onion, dried
2 tbsp Italian seasoning
Salt and pepper to taste

Chop beef into bite-sized pieces and layer in the bottom of a slow cooker. Add crushed tomatoes, covering the beef. Add green beans, carrots, potatoes, corn and mushrooms WITH liquids, stirring gently. Add beef bouillon dissolved in water with onion soup mix and bay leaf. Flavor with Italian seasoning and chopped onion, plus salt and pepper to taste. Stir. Cook in slow cooker on low for 8-9 hours, then remove bay leaf. Serve and enjoy!


Glazed lemon olive oil muffins: tart, sweet, addictive

Lemon olive oil muffins


Though I was never much of a breakfast eater until I joined Weight Watchers (and came to understand the morning meal really is important), I’ve always been a fan of the humble muffin. And, you know, baked goods in general, but especially before work . . . when I’m hungry and really need a boost.

Like so many, I’ve been working to integrate healthier versions of favorite foods into our diet. Typical muffins and pastries are too much of a splurge for yours truly, but I love scouring the Internet for tasty, lower-calorie baked goods so I can continue bumbling around in the kitchen and make my husband super glad he married me.

Enter Nosh My Way’s Lemon-scented Olive Oil Muffins, a dense and almost cake-like treat that can operate as both dessert and/or coffee accompaniment. With a fresh citrus punch in the batter and the glaze, these muffins are a delicious way to say “good morning.”

Or “good evening.” Or just, um, “hello.” Whatever works for you.

The glaze is the real highlight — don’t skimp on the good stuff. You could even poke holes in the cooling muffins to allow even more of that delicious sugary mixture to infiltrate, just like I do with the Key lime cupcakes.

Apparently I have a thing for fruit-flavored treats?

Eh, there are worse things.


Lemon muffins


Lemon Olive Oil Muffins

Recipe from Nosh My Way

Ingredients for muffin:
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup vanilla-flavored Greek yogurt
1 1/2 tablespoons grated lemon rind
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 Tablespoons 2% milk
Fresh juice of half a lemon (or about two tablespoons)
1 egg
1 egg white

Ingredients for glaze:
1 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon rind
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Grated lemon rind (optional)

Directions:
Lightly spoon flour into a dry measuring cup; level with a knife. Combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a large bowl; stir well with a whisk. Make a well in center of mixture.

In a separate bowl, combine yogurt, lemon rind, olive oil, milk, lemon juice, egg and egg white in a small bowl; stir with a whisk until well combined.

Add to flour mixture, stirring just until moist.

Spoon batter evenly into 10 muffin cups coated with cooking spray or cupcake liners.

Bake at 350° for 25 minutes or until muffins spring back when touched lightly in center. Remove from pans immediately. Cool completely on a wire rack.

To prepare glaze, combine powdered sugar, 1/2 teaspoon rind and 3 tablespoons juice in a small bowl; stir with a whisk until smooth. Spread about 1 teaspoon glaze over each muffin; let stand 5 minutes or until set. Garnish with lemon rind, if desired.

Yield: 8-10 muffins.
Weight Watchers PointsPlus value without glaze: 3; with glaze: 4


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Classy it up: the Messy Joseph

Messy Joseph


It’s been a while since I posted a recipe, no? It’s not that I haven’t been cooking, exactly . . . it’s just that, well . . . okay, we haven’t really been cooking. Not in a share-this-awesome-recipe-on-my-blog way, anyway. Mostly skillet meals and such.

I’ve been trying to get serious about meal planning, but last week’s dinners looked like this:

Monday: Skillet meal
Tuesday: Slow cooker ham and bean soup
Wednesday: Pizza with friends
Thursday: Dinner out with family
Friday: Pizza with my parents

And yeah.

I did bake banana bread over the weekend to use up a bunch of brown fruit. But that barely counts.

Spence and I were back in action on Tuesday, though! Back, hungry and ready for something new. I discovered this recipe for Messy Josephs — the older, sophisticated brother to the popular Sloppy Joe — a few months back, and I can finally say that I pinned it and made it.

And it was delicious.

I had to modify the original because we were missing a few of the ingredients, including fresh basil, and it was raining and my hair was already poofy and yeah, no grocery run for me. Because we also lacked portobello mushrooms — a hallmark of the recipe! — I had to get even more creative.

It all worked out.

The Messy Joseph is tangy, interesting, a little bit sweet from the addition of balsamic vineger (LOVE) and red wine. It retains the structure and texture of a Sloppy Joe, but the flavors are totally turned up a notch. It just tastes fresh in a way that a prepared-from-a-can-mix Sloppy Joe cannot.

If Sloppy Joe was the affable high school athlete beloved by teachers and classmates alike, Messy Joseph is the Ivy League-bound senior who heads up both the National Honor Society and the drama department. He’s a little bit finicky, maybe, but a total smartypants who can also please a crowd.

The recipe made enough for a hungry couple to devour with leftovers for the next day — a criterion that has become increasingly important as I realize being an adult means preparing meals for yourself every evening. Leftovers for lunch or other dinners are pretty much the best.

Serve it over rice, in a bun or atop a portobello mushroom . . . or just, you know, eat it by itself. I totally just dove in at my desk the next day, though I had the forethought to secure half a bun to create a little open-faced meal as I answered emails.

I was right proud of myself, friends. And it sure as heck beat some lukewarm Progresso soup.


Messy Joseph


Messy Josephs

Recipe adapted from Diving Into Vino Again

Ingredients:
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, diced
1 package (about 2 cups) fresh mushrooms
Sun dried tomatoes, diced
Marinated red peppers, sliced
1 lb ground turkey
2 tbsp garlic, minced
1/3 cup tomato paste
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
1/3 cup red wine
1 tbsp dried basil
Salt and pepper, to taste

Saute the onions and mushrooms in olive oil over medium heat until onions turn translucent and mushrooms begin to brown, about 10 minutes. Add ground turkey and cook until cooked through. Add the garlic, sun dried tomatoes, marinated peppers, balsamic, red wine, tomato paste, basil and salt and pepper. Continue to let it simmer for 15 minutes over low-medium heat. Serve in a bun or over rice.