Category Archives: peanut butter

Bad Reputation

Guess what. I’m on to you. Yep. You have quite the reputation, don’t you? Yeah…I know your type. I’ve seen you ‘round these parts before….with your pots and pans – sporting that cute apron of yours. Some might even say people like you – you’re straight up trouble. You’ve got sugar, spices, butter and cream and you’re NOT afraid to use ‘em.

Among your family, you’re The One who Pulls Off Flawless Holiday Meals Wearing Pearls, Heels and an Effortless Smile.

Among your co-workers, you’re The One who Kills Everyone’s Diet Plans by Showing up on Monday with Piles of Homemade Treats.

Among your friends, you’re simply The Crazy One who Actually LIKES to Cook.

Does that sound like you? It’s okay. It’s not a bad thing. In fact, that reputation of yours can work in your favor…. Everyone knows the most effective way to win friends and influence people is to FEED them. 🙂

::evil laugh::

And you LOVE to feed people. You could spend hours – DAYS, even – shopping, chopping, stirring, straining, baking, boiling, toiling…all in the name of feeding people.

Then comes the day, and this day will come, when you are desperate need of something to feed to other people. You forgot about that work potluck. Your husband invites 6 friends over to watch the big game at the last minute.

The situation – is dire. Time – is slipping away. Panic mode – on.

Others throw up their hands in despair and result to store bought brownies and pizza delivery. But not you. You are SUPER WOMAN! Crusader of the Kitchen. Queen of the Cookie. Master of the Mixer!

And you’ve got a rep to protect! So what to do, in this a moment of great despair and darkness? How do you scale the impending mountain that is providing tasty, homemade food when there’s exactly NO time?

You take a small shortcut. All girls with this kind of reputation should have an arsenal of shortcuts in their possession. It’s the only way to stay sane. And since we’re kind of kindred spirits, you and me – seeing as we’re both keepers of this elusive foodie rep within our respective circles – let me share one of my favorite shortcuts with you.

No-Bake Peanut Butter Bars.

Got that…NO BAKE. No Bake is code for fast. And easy. No Bake means you can make these in pearls and heels before your shoes even start to pinch your feet. These bars…they WILL win you friends. They WILL influence people. And that sweet little rep of yours…will not suffer in the least.

No one has to know how easy they are. I won’t tell if you won’t!

These bars are my go-to Oh My Goodness I’m Panicking Because I Need to Bring Something and Have No Time recipe. They come together in a snap and people LOVE them. They taste just like a peanut butter cup or a buckeye without all that pesky rolling and dipping. Just press into a 9×13 inch pan, smother with melted chocolate, pop in the fridge for about an hour and cut into small squares. They are pretty rich so a little goes a long way. You can feed quite a crowd if you cut them small enough. People just go crazy over these! Can’t beat ‘em!

NO BAKE PEANUT BUTTER BARS (Recipe Adapted from: Verybestbaking.com)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 3/4 cups peanut butter, divided
  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter, softened
  • 2 cups powdered sugar, divided
  • 3 cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 1 12 oz package Chocolate Chips (semi-sweet, milk, dark – whatever you like – I like milk here because it gives these a bit more about Reece’s feel.)

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Spray a 13 x 9-inch baking pan with cooking spray.
  2. Beat 1 1/4 cups of the peanut butter and butter in large mixer bowl until creamy. Gradually beat in powdered sugar, then graham cracker crumbs. Press evenly into prepared baking pan. Smooth top with spatula.
  3. Melt remaining 1/2 cup of peanut butter and chocolate chips in medium saucepan over very low heat, stirring constantly, until smooth. Spread over graham cracker crust in pan. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour or until chocolate is firm. Cut into bars. Store in covered container in refrigerator.

ENJOY! 🙂

One Year Ago: Grilled Shrimp Tacos with Cool Scallion Yogurt Sauce
Two Years Ago: Bubbly Baked Rigatoni with Sausage and Parmesan Panko/Basil Topping

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Filed under bars, chocolate, peanut butter

New Decade, New Directions

Hello 2010! Wow! I can’t believe it’s been 10 years since we wondered if Y2K was going to wipe out life as we know it.

My computer will think its 1900! There were no computers in 1900! Will my computer blow up because it thinks it doesn’t exist?! Oh no! I’m playing MYST and halfway through! My life’s ruined!

More shockingly, of course, is that 2010 marks 10 years since high school. Whoa. There will probably be some kind of Class of 2000 reunion this summer. Wonder if I’ll go… Last time I got an alumni newsletter (Yes, my high school sends out an alumni newsletter. And I fully elected to let them find me so I get one. LOL.) no one had stepped up spearhead the dang thing. Hm. Knowing my class, that does not surprise me in the very least. Ha.

Plan the 10 year reunion? Eh. I’ll let someone else handle that. Hand me another beer.

I can see one problem with this decade already. Raise your hand if you’ve already uttered the word “Oh-Ten.” You know, ’08, ’09, Oh-10. I totally have. Can you say embarrassing? Also, will you say Twenty-Ten or Two-Thousand-Ten. I’ve already found myself saying two-thousand-ten, but when you think about it, that really makes no sense. I mean, I don’t say I was born in the year one-thousand-nine-hundred-eighty-two. So by default, to say two-thousand-ten is wrong, correct? But on the other hand, how many people would have looked at you funny if you went around saying twenty-one in two-thousand-one? That’s what I thought. (10 year) Old habits die hard. So yeah.

ANYWAY! Looking back at the last 10 years, I almost can’t believe all the stuff that’s happened. This decade, I think, has defined me as a person more so than any other of my life so far. Obviously, in the 1980s, I was just a wee babe and toddling tot and whiny kid. In the 1990s, I was a scrawny, skinny, stringy-haired, knobby-kneed preteen with coke bottle glasses. (Can Mom swoop in with the photo proof here too? LOL. On second thought, just take my word for it.) Then I was a shy, insecure high school student with a fondness for chunky shoes and zits.

At the start of the 21st century, I was 17, about to graduate, and really looking forward to the next stage of my life. Armed with an acceptance letter to UIUC, a 9 month supply of Accutane and new outlook on life, I decided to throw caution to the wind and STOP worrying so much about what other people thought. New millennium, new me.

And now, 10 years later, I can see how far I’ve come. I still have a long way to go, obviously. Still learning, still growing. Every single day without fail. I like it that way. Keeps thing interesting. But in the last decade, I went off to college. College is scary. And hard. I met some of the very best friends a girl could ever have. I watched with millions as the world changed forever on 9/11. I had the best time of my life, struggled harder than I ever had before, and had my heart shattered for the first time.

Then I met this boy. THE boy. This adorable, sweet, amazing, farm-raised Mechanical Engineering student from a tiny town I had never heard of. And I fell – head.over.heels. in love with him. We spent a year dating, having a crazy, amazing time with all our friends, and falling madly in love. Graduation came quickly. The real world was calling like Grim Reaper ready to zap the fun out of everything.

So I did something a little crazy. I followed him to Iowa. Was I super-duper excited to move from the bustling metropolis that is the greater Chicagoland area to a small city in Iowa? Hm. What do you think? But it didn’t matter. His real world (ahem, job) had brought him here, and, gosh darnit, I wanted to go to! So, five years ago this very week, we packed up a U-Haul full of hand-me-down furniture and headed west.

These years here in Iowa have been a test for sure. I was jobless and broke when we got here. Took a job selling clothes in the Junior’s department at a department store. When I got burned out on that, I moved on to the next crap job I could find – telemarketing. Yes, I was ONE OF THEM. That lasted about 4 months before every hang up and expletive I received felt like a dagger in my poor, soft, sensitive heart (I cried a lot. True story.) In the midst of all that, he put a ring on it! Ah! Our wedding was by far one of the best days of my life so far. Picture perfect spring day in Chicago. All our family and friends there. One helluva party. People talk about it to this day!

And we bought a house! A small, ranch-style starter home of our very own. We learned about radon and how it must be mitigated…less sucking down carcinogens is your bag, baby. 😉  And we learned how much a new roof costs. And that seashell and birdhouse and southwest wallpaper borders are really hard to scrap off. And that if you stuff a half a pound of old taco meat down the garbage disposal and the kitchen sink overflows, it’s YOUR responsibility to call a plumber, put your life on hold while you wait for him to come and, of course, PAY THE MAN. Kinda miss that landlord after that first bought of the dreaded “unexpected home repair,” huh?

Not that I ever did that or anything….

Um. Moving on!

Toward the end of the decade, having gotten that pesky getting-married-buying-a-home part of adulthood all taken care of in my early twenties, I was FINALLY ready to get a Big Girl job. Farewell, Folding T-Shirts. Too-da-loo, Telemarketing. Ta-ta, Temping! And I did. In the end, it didn’t work out. Although it was difficult, I am eternally grateful to have even had the opportunity to work side-by-side with the folks I did. I learned so much and grew so much from that experience, I don’t regret a single second of it. A new job came relatively quickly, and I found myself settling comfortably into a perfect work/life balance.

And now, here we are, at the dawn of a new decade! I’ve got my hubby by my side who still gives me butterflies just like he did when we first met. We’re still having a blast every single day. Still learning from each other and growing with each other every day. I’ve got this humble little blog which is quickly becoming one of my favorite things. It’s the perfect place to share recipes, swap stories and just be me. This blog certainly wouldn’t be what it is today if it weren’t for the adventures of the last 10 years! Thank you, thank you for sticking with me! I can’t wait to see what the next year brings. I have a few things in mind, a few adventures up my sleeve, but you’ll have to stay tuned to find out what they are!

So, what triggered all this nostalgia? Besides, the obvious new year, of course. Believe it or not, it was these super cute Peanut Butter Chocolate Cheesecakes! We were headed to a New Year’s Eve gathering and I wanted to make a sweet treat to take along. I figured everyone would be tired of cookies (I’ve still got holiday cookies to blog! I’ll get to them soon!) so I went in search of something else. Bite-sized is always best for big groups, so I made the cheesecakes in mini-muffin tins.

I had to find something to press my crusts into the pan and I grabbed an one of our old college shot glasses. It totally made me laugh when I realized how I had repurposed an item used almost exclusively for college parties to fit into my Suzie Homemaker lifestyle. Shot glass? Nope. Cheesecake crust press? YES! Perfect!

So. The cheesecakes. These are a peanut butter batter dotted with chocolate ganache. And the crusts? How about a bit of a salty bite with some crushed pretzels? Mmmm. Really, just about anything that can be crushed into fine crumbs and mixed with melted butter can be a cheesecake crust, so get creative.

I really liked the salty/sweet combo here! And they were a hit at the party. Rich, chocolaty with just the right kick of saltiness. YUM! These were a bit denser than other cheesecakes I made, probably because of the peanut butter, but since they are just one little bite, I didn’t mind that here. I used regular peanut butter because that’s what I had on hand, but the original recipe uses natural. That may help improve the consistency of the cakes, so I’d use that if you’ve got it.

The one thing to note is to be careful not to overbake the crusts their first go-round in the oven. Be especially careful if your pan is darker. One of my mini-muffin pans has a darker coating on it and my crusts got way too dark after only five minutes in the oven…so heads up!

PEANUT BUTTER CHOCOLATE CHEESECAKES (Recipe adapted from: Amazing Dessert Recipes)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 cup finely crushed pretzels
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 4 to 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 pound cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 eggs, room temperature (add 1 more yolk if you like a lighter cheesecake)
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 2 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 mini-muffin tins with paper liners.
  2. Combine pretzels, sugar and melted butter in a bowl. Mix to moisten the crumbs. Spoon about 1 teaspoon of the pretzel mixture into each cup. Press each crust into the bottom with a shot glass. (Bonus points if the glass has your Alma Mater on it!)
  3. Bake the crusts for 4 to 6 minutes, just to make sure they hold together and get a tiny bit of color on them. Set aside to cool.
  4. Meanwhile, make the filling. Place the cream cheese and peanut butter in a large mixer bowl and beat on medium speed until creamy. Add the sugar and vanilla, and beat until well combined. Scrape down the bowl and beat a bit more. Add eggs one at a time and beat until combined after each addition.
  5. Spoon cheesecake batter onto prepared crusts, filling about three quarters of the way full. Bake in preheated oven for 12 to 15 minutes or until set. (Note: Mine did crack a bit, but since you’ll be covering the tops…no worries. No one has to know!) Remove from pan and cool completely on a wire rack.
  6. Heat cream in a small saucepan until small bubbles form along the edges. Do not boil. Remove from heat and add chopped chocolate. Stir until smooth.
  7. Spoon about a teaspoon of ganache onto each cheesecake. Refigerate for at least two hours before serving. Garnish with a pretzel piece just before serving, if desired.

ENJOY! 🙂

One year ago: After I published these Chicken Parmesan Calzones, I saw my first real “spike” in hits on my blog. Aw, memories. 🙂

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Filed under chocolate, desserts, peanut butter

Milk and Honey

Did you know that the Milk & Honey in this blog’s namesake is actually code for Eric and Erin? It’s true. He’s Milk. I’m Honey.

He’s Milk because he’s pale. Wait, no. He’s Milk because he’s rich? Um. Definitely not. He’s Milk because if you leave him out overnight, he turns sour? HA HA!

No, no. I kid, I kid.

The Milk is a nod to his dairy farm upbringing. Country goodness squeezed fresh daily. Squeezed by me –in the form of lots and lots of hugs, that is. Awww. My Milkman. He’s the best!

And I’m Honey because, well – that’s pretty obvious….

I attract bees.

I mean – um. Wait. No. Well, Yes. I suppose that’s true. If there’s an outdoor eating adventure to be had, I’m usually the one running down the sidewalk screaming “There’s a beeeeeeeeeeeeeee!” So maybe I do attract bees.

Anyway, I’ve been told I’m sweet as honey. And sugar. And pie. I’m as sweet as a pie topped with sugar and drizzled with honey. Such a nice girl. All smiles and sunshine. All rainbows and puppy dogs. Most of the time. Usually. Well, except for first thing in the morning. Okay, I’m as sweet as honey about 90% of the time – The other 10% of time spent being sour, pouty, cranky, crabby, grouchy, mean, cantankerous (great word, eh? Thank you, Thesaurus!), surly, ornery and all around unpleasant is reserved exclusively for my husband (aw, what a lucky guy!) Can’t be sunshine and rainbows all the time, right? Have to give major props to Eric for putting up with the non-sweet me so well that she doesn’t rear her ugly head with family and friends, at work, or in public. Thanks, Eric!!

So, basically, what I’m saying is I’m a firm believer in the old mantra ‘you catch more flies with honey than vinegar’ and just try to treat each and every person I come in contact with in the respectful, friendly manner I would like to be treated. The Golden (Honey) Rule. Simple. More people should think about trying it. Seriously. That said, I’m not really all about catching flies (ew…) or bees, for that matter (yikes!) so maybe we can change flies to cute little honey bears that look like Winnie the Pooh. Agreed? Awesome.

Moving on!

Even though it’s in my blog’s name, honey has never been a go-to ingredient for me. Sure, sure I always have it on hand for when it’s needed, but I found myself rather indifferent toward it. Didn’t love it, Didn’t hate it, would never specifically search out recipes that featured honey as a main ingredient.

Until. Yes. Until I had really, really good honey.

See, before I bought honey the way I’d buy…say…a can of black beans. I looked for the absolute cheapest, stuffed off into a corner on the bottom shelf, most generic brand I could find. A black bean is a black bean is a black bean. Therefore, by the transitive property (I have no idea what I’m talking about, can you tell? What’s the transitive property again? I forget…) Anyway – honey is honey is honey, right?

Wrong!

I have changed my tune. I have seen the light. I am totally, completely and hopelessly in love with fresh, golden, locally produced HONEY!

::Insert choirs of angels singing::

I bought this cute little honey bear at the farmer’s market a bit earlier this summer. As you can see, I’ve plowed right on through it. It’s absolutely delicious and the pure honey flavor really shines through. I can’t say enough good things about it. Plus, it’s wonderful to support a local producer right here in Northeast Iowa! I’ll never go back to the store brand again.

I wanted to try something that would really highlight the delicious, sweet flavor of the honey. When I saw this Peanut Butter, Banana and Honey Ice Cream recipe, I bookmarked it immediately. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. And with how quickly I was plowing through my honey bear, I knew I needed to get to it…um, NOW!

Now, this is not a cooked/custard type ice cream so some of the creaminess of those types of recipes is certainly sacrificed here. So heads up there. But it’s so easy, and since it uses 2% milk and half and half, you feel like you’re saving a bit on the fat and cals. That’s always good. I’m willing to give up a bit of creaminess in favor of saving my butt from not fitting into my pants. LOL. The crunchy peanut butter adds great texture and helps cut some of the sweetness. The bananas are a nice surprise. It is quite sweet – if you get a bite without any peanut butter or banana it’s like – WOWZA! I might knock back the white sugar next – with a half a cup of honey, I’m not sure how much sugar is really needed. Overall, this is an interesting flavor combo that we really enjoyed.

PEANUT BUTTER, BANANA AND HONEY ICE CREAM (Recipe Source: Cooking Light)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 3/4  cup  half-and-half
  • 1/2  cup  honey
  • 1/2  cup  sugar
  • 1/3  cup  chunky peanut butter
  • 1  teaspoon  vanilla extract
  • 1/8  teaspoon  salt
  • 2  ripe bananas, mashed
  • 2 1/2  cups  2% reduced-fat milk

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Combine first 3 ingredients in a large bowl, stirring until sugar dissolves. Stir in peanut butter and next 3 ingredients (through bananas). Stir in milk. (I always chill my ice cream batter before freezing – I did so here for about 8 hours)
  2. Pour mixture into the freezer can of an ice-cream freezer; freeze according to manufacturer’s instructions. Spoon ice cream into a freezer-safe container; cover and freeze 1 hour or until firm.

Note: If you wanted to cook the first three ingredients to disolve the sugar, you can. Just combine the half-and-half, sugar and honey in a medium saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until bubbles form around the edge of the pan and the mixture thickens slightly. Pour the mixture into a bowl and let cool completely (about an hour or so) before proceeding. You’ll probably get creamier results this way. 🙂

ENJOY! 🙂

One Year Ago: Illini (Orange and) Blue Velvet Cupcakes – Red velvet cupcakes turned Illini blue. Although, I’m pouty and mad at them now so….yeah…. LOL.

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Filed under fruit, ice cream, peanut butter

He’s Gone

My husband left me.

Yup, you heard that right. Last Friday he packed his bags and walked out the door. I begged him stay, pleaded with him to reconsider, professed my love, graveled, cried, whined. Nothing worked. He still left. There may or may not have been tears. The horror! The heartbreak!

Oh, three days later, he came back, of course. You didn’t think I meant he left for good, did you? Like LEFT me, left me. No, no, no, of course not. He went to see family and friends for the long weekend and I stayed behind. I could have gone with him, of course, but all my summer travels had left me tired and craving a little bit of me time. Just because I decided to stay home doesn’t mean I didn’t pout a little bit when he left. I just tend to be a little…overdramatic when he leaves. Why? Because I’m needy like that.

Just call me a Stage Five Clinger very loving wife. 😉

The only plus side of my husband leaving town with out me is the opportunity to cook up something I know he wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole. I love him and I miss him terribly when he’s away but it’s nice to cook for me. I have a tendency to put his tastes before mine in my cooking because, well, it’s just easier that way. All that goes right out the window when he’s gone.

The first thing I did when he left was run down to the farmer’s market and stock up on fresh veggies to eat over the weekend. Tomatoes, zucchini, red peppers, oh my! And let’s not forget eggplant – cute and purpley eggplant! Yum! I love to enjoy a nice meatless meal loaded with veggies when he’s away. I’m STILL waiting for him to get just a TINY bit better about eating his vegetables. He’s gotten a million times better in the last year but there is room for improvement (sorry, babe, it’s true. but I still love you!)

When I saw this recipe for Spicy Sesame Noodles over at Joelen’s blog What’s Cooking, Chicago, I immediately thought Mmmmm! Then I thought, boo, Eric won’t like that. Bummer. It immediately got pushed into the never ending Recipes to Try when Eric’s Not Home file.

With the abundance of late summer veggies available, I thought this would be a great recipe to load up with freshness and turn into a main dish instead of a side. Turns out, I was right! I added a chopped red bell pepper, a zucchini sliced thinly into long ribbons and planks of delicious grilled eggplant. Mmmmm…

For the noodles, I was going to scope out the Asian foods aisle at the store to see what kind of noodle offerings they had. I forgot. I do this a lot. I don’t think I have once in my life ever been to store without forgetting SOMETHING. Even with my list I can’t seem to remember everything. So, needless to say, I had to go with my usual store-brand 100% whole wheat penne that I always have on hand. In the end, I think the nuttiness of the whole grain pasta paired well with the sauce.

Speaking of the sauce – I really enjoyed it! I did end up adding about of a cup of the starchy pasta water to thin it out a bit before tossing with the noodles, but that’s just my personal preference. I don’t care for really thick, goopy sauces. Since this sauce has a peanut butter base, it was pretty thick. The pasta water was the perfect addition. In the past with similar recipes I have used a dark toasted sesame oil and I think that it really provides an intense sesame flavor. I didn’t have that on hand this time and used a regular light sesame oil. While still good, I did miss the really intense sesame flavor. I also knocked back the cayenne at bit because I didn’t use quite a whole pound of pasta. Next time, I’ll go ahead and do the entire 1/2 teaspoon. I’m not afraid of little kick! Overall, this meal totally hit the spot. Perfect comfort food when I’m missing my hubby. And tasty cold for lunch all week! 🙂

SPICY SESAME PEANUT NOODLES WITH GRILLED EGGPLANT (Recipe seen at What’s Cooking, Chicago, adapted from About.com)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1/2 box whole wheat pasta
  • 2/3 cup peanut butter
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 green onions, sliced
  • 2 tbsp sesame oil
  • 1/2 tsp ginger powder
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • juice from one lime
  • 1/2 tsp. canola oil
  • 1 medium bell pepper, diced
  • 1 smallish zucchini, cut into thin ribbons
  • 1 smallish eggplant, cut into diagonal slices 1/2 inch thick
  • 2 tbsp sesame seeds

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Cook pasta, reserve one cup of cooking water, drain and set aside
  2. Heat canola oil in small saute pan. Cook red pepper until tender. Set aside.
  3. Combine peanut butter, soy sauce, garlic, green onions, sesame oil, ginger, cayenne, and lime juice in a sauce pan, stirring until smooth.
  4. Brush a tablespoon or two of sauce on eggplant slices. Prepare outdoor grill or grill pan to medium heat.
  5. Add red pepper, zucchini ribbons, and cooking water to sauce mixture. Stir to combine.
  6. Grill eggplant for about a minute per side until just tender.
  7. Toss pasta with sauce, add eggplant and garnish with sesame seeds

ENJOY! 🙂

One year ago: A MANLY meal – Bacon Cheeseburger Calzones with Spicy Cajun Ketchup

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Filed under pasta, peanut butter, sides, veggies

No Fear

So, I’m probably one of thousands and thousands of food bloggers out there who ran right out to see Julie & Julia this weekend. Eric even agreed to come with me. Way to take one for the team, babe! That’s why I love ya! I absolutely adored this movie – I think I had a smile on my face the entire time. Meryl Streep was fantastic as Julia and I loved learning about her fascinating life. (My Life in France is on my mile long to-be-read list but I haven’t gotten to it yet. I may have to move it up in the rotation!) I even heard Eric chuckle a few times.

I first picked up Julie Powell’s book Julie & Julia after seeing a preview for the movie earlier this summer. I had heard good things about the book in the past but it always slipped my mind when it came to deciding what to read next. When I saw the preview, I knew I had to get my hands on it right away. Off I ran to my public library to grab it.

This is going to sound off-the-wall bizarre and probably a bit nutty but…this book spoke to me. This book changed me. This book truly inspired me in a way that I’ve never been inspired before. Yeah, yeah roll your eyes, lean over and whisper to your friend that this Milkman’s Wife chick is all kinds of crazy. Go ahead…I won’t be offended. 🙂

I saw myself in Julie. I saw my life in parallel with her’s before she started her blog project. Frankly, it scared me. Some of the criticism I’ve read about the book is about Julie as a person. “How can she be nearly thirty and still be floating aimlessly through life?” The Cool, Confident, In-Complete-Control Masses argued. “Who gets that far into their adult life with so little sense of purpose. She is infuriating, childish and unambitious. She should quit whining and do something.”

Whoa. Back the truck up. This is the part where I hyperventilate and panic. Where I need to breathe into a paper bag and sit down with my head between my knees for a moment as I wonder, much to my horror, if that’s what people see…when they look at me.

I am a 27 year old college educated secretary. That is my actual job title. I didn’t even know anyone still used that word anymore (aren’t we all admin assistants now? Much more PC, right?) Apparently, they do. I’m one of them. I make the pennies to prove it too. I didn’t plan on making this my career (not there’s anything wrong with it. Honestly, I’m grateful anyone hires me to do anything at all. I’m pretty worthless.) It just kind of happened. Now I’m feeling rather…well, stuck with it, if I’m being perfectly honest. Just like Julie. I’ve spent the last five years since college just bouncing around from here to there, not ever really finding my place. Just like Julie. I find myself looking around at everyone else doing something spectacular with their life and I wonder how did I get so far behind? Why don’t I have anything to offer like everyone else? What’s the point of my life? Just like Julie.

If you haven’t figured it out from blog already, let me fill you in a little secret. I LOVE words. I love written words. The written word is a carefully crafted masterpiece, a true hidden talent. It’s deeper and more profound than speech. I don’t have much to say, but I have plenty to write. I’ve always been that way. Ever since I was little girl and I first picked up a pencil and began to write stories and poems littered with charming first grade mispellings, I’ve felt drawn to words. Back in high school, when English teachers were fawning over me and handing out A’s like candy and reading my stuff aloud as if to say “why can’t the rest of you do it this way?” I thought maybe I wanted to BE a writer.

At 18, they make you decide what you want to do with the rest of your life. You have decide what you want to be when you grow up so you can go off to college and study it and then come out on the other side ready to do it. Forever. This is ri-freakin’-diculous, if you ask me. How is a mere child, without a fully developed brain, supposed to make such a drastic and life changing decision? Even at the time, when most teenagers think they know it all, I thought the entire thing was completely laughable.

And I was different from other 18 year olds. I was mature. And wise. And smart. I was practical. I was going to have a good, sucessful life. A career. You don’t make a career out of writing, I thought. That’s like saying I want to be a rockstar, or an actress, or a professional athlete. EVERYONE (and their mom, brother, and second cousin twice removed) wants to be writer. Sure, sure, I stood out in my high school English classes (and then my college classes too, when I got there) but that’s not the real world. That’s just pure, dumb luck. And I, being the mature, wise, and smart 18 year old I was, was NOT going to jump head first into thousnads of dollars worth of student loans only to put my future in the hands of pure, dumb luck. I shelved the idea of studying creative writing and got a marketing degree instead.

All aboard the Practical Train! Toot Toot! Next stop, Careersville!

After reading Julie’s book, I realized I’ve been riding the Practical Train for way, way, WAY too long. Fellow passengers include Fear, Doubt and What If. I’m still waiting for the Careersville stop. Meanwhile, LIFE is whizzing by outside the window.

I’m surrounded by incredibly supportive and encouraging people in my life. My parents, my family and my friends. My husband is my biggest cheerleader and my biggest fan. His gentle encouragement has become outright pushing. Just like Julie’s husband. (coincidence that my husband is also Eric? Hm. I’m thinking it’s a sign. Ha.) He wants me to do this. To WRITE!

At the end of the movie, as Julie gets ready to tackle her very last recipe in the Mastering the Art of French Cooking – she whispers to her DVD of an old Julia Child television show…”No Fear, Julia.” Well, this is it for me. No more fear. It’s time to take a serious look at this writing thing. It’s time to see if I can make it happen. I’m going to see if I can pursue freelance opportunities. I’m going to work up the courage to share my other blog (Oh, that’s right – I have a second blog. It doesn’t have much in it yet, but that will change) I’m going to jump right in and do NaNo again and see if I can actually get something workable out of 50,00o words.

I have to try. I, like Julie, am not content with where I’m at. It’s up to ME to change it. Can’t just sit around and wait. I want to do this. I think I CAN do this. Congratulations, Self. I think you just figured out the reason you were put on this earth.

I’d like to thank my husband, Eric, all my family and friends, all those high school teachers and college professors that handed out A’s like candy, and fellow food blogger Julie Powell, for helping me realize there’s more to life than just being a secretary. Stay tuned for more from me!

And now the reason you are here…a recipe! Here, have a cookie for being a good sport and sitting through this post where I explain my sudden life epiphany. Peanut Butter Blossoms. The true, unadulterated classic. Perfectly chewy and kissed with chocolate, these are destined to improve your life in just one bite. Savor the flavor, my friends. 🙂

PEANUT BUTTER BLOSSOMS (Recipe source: Hersheys.com)

Makes about 4 dozen

INGREDIENTS:

  • 48 HERSHEY’S KISSES Brand Milk Chocolates
  • 1/2 cup shortening (I used butter)
  • 3/4 cup REESE’S Creamy Peanut Butter
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Granulated sugar
DIRECTIONS:

1. Heat oven to 375°F. Remove wrappers from chocolates.

2. Beat shortening and peanut butter in large bowl until well blended. Add 1/3 cup granulated sugar and brown sugar; beat until fluffy. Add egg, milk and vanilla; beat well. Stir together flour, baking soda and salt; gradually beat into peanut butter mixture.

3. Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Roll in granulated sugar; place on ungreased cookie sheet.

4. Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until lightly browned. Immediately press a chocolate into center of each cookie; cookie will crack around edges. Remove from cookie sheet to wire rack. Cool completely. About 4 dozen cookies.

ENJOY! 🙂

One year ago this past week:
Chicken Fried Rice – Tastes just like takeout…only better!
Pizza Margarita – This is one my favorite posts in my entire blog. Check out my story about hating homemade pizza. You get a good sense of “writer me” in this post. I think it’s where I found my voice for the blog.
Banana Cupcakes with Honey Cinnamon Frosting – Oh, these are insanely delicious.
Skillet Bruschetta Chicken – Simple and easy weeknight meal.

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An Open Letter to the Guinness Book of World Records

To Whom it May Concern:

I realize that my humble banana bread here is no way close to being to the largest loaf ever made, however, if you were ever so inclined to include a new record in your collection for the largest banana bread ever made with one measley bunch of bananas and a standard loaf pan, I think I may have a contender right here. This is one massive loaf of breakfast bread. That’s gotta be worth a mention!

Think about it.

Sincerely,
Erin

Okay, so my banana bread is no where close to breaking world records, but I do have to say this is biggest loaf of bread I have ever seen in my life! HA! And pretty darn tasty too. Technically, the recipe made two loaves, but when I realized my loaf pans were larger than the 8×4 inch pans the recipe called for, I ended up just making one larger loaf. I had every intention of making two in my larger pans, but after I finished assembling the first one in the pan, I realized I had no where near enough batter for the second. Oops! So I added what was left in the bowl to the pan and sent it off baking. Holy crap it is giant, but it’s excellent. YUM!

This recipe intrigued me because the batter called for the addition of cream cheese, which I thought would make for a totally moist and tangy bread. It did! And the peanut butter crumb topping is super yummy. If anything it could use a bit more peanut butter. The chocolate in the middle is a yummy surprise too. Overall, a very good bread that I will totally make again. After I obtain the correct size pans, of course.

PEANUT BUTTER BANANA BREAD (Recipe Source: Taste of Home, February/March 2009)

Topping:

  • 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

Batter:

  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1 (8 oz) pkg. cream cheese, softened
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup mashed ripe bananas
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsps. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

DIRECTIONS:

  1. In a small bowl, stir the flour, brown sugar, peanut butter and cinnamon until crumbly, set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, cream the butter, cream cheese and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in bananas and vanilla. Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and cinnamon; stir into creamed mixture until just moinstened.
  3. Divide half of the batter between two greased 8×4 inch loaf pans; sprinkle with half of the topping. Top with chocolate chips. Reapeat layers of batter and topping.
  4. Bake at 350 degrees fpr 45-55 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pans to wire racks.

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Up to the challenge!

One thing I never thought I’d be comfortable doing in the kitchen would be to make up my own recipe for a baked good. Baking is such a science….and we all know that’s not my strong suit. With cooking, it’s all about feeling around…going with the flow, following your gut. Baking has to be just so or else the flavor and texture will be all wrong.

I’m for sure more confident in my abilities in the kitchen these days and I got inspired after receiving and email about the Pilsbury Bake-Off. Now, I’m pretty sure I’m not Bake-Off ready but I decided I was going to try my hand at making up my own recipe for a sweet treat. Just to give it a shot. First, I had to decide on the kinds of flavors I wanted to go with. For some reason peanut butter was sticking in my brain. But peanut butter  and what? What do I like with peanut butter? Chocolate, of course…that’s a given. But, eh, it’s been done. Peanut butter and banana, peanut butter and jelly…hmmmm… Then it hit me! One of my favorite snacks…peanut butter and apple! Okay, now we’re on to something here!

I decided I wanted some kind of cookie something or another. LOL. In the end I decided on a cookie bar that incorporated oatmeal with an apple and peanut butter filling. After reading a ton of recipes for cookies and bars, I was actually pretty confident in my ability to put something together.

Below is the recipe exactly as I prepared it. I am the first person to admit that it was far from perfect, but just the fact that it was not a total disaster either made me smile a bit. Check out my thoughts and notes on how I plan to improve it. Not bad for a novice!

APPLE PEANUT BUTTER CRUMBLE BARS (Recipe Source: Me)

Bars:

2 ¼ cups all purpose flour

1 cup packed brown sugar

½ tsp. baking soda

½ tsp. salt

1 tsp. cinnamon

¼ tsp. ground nutmeg

1 ½ cups rolled oats

1 cup butter, slightly softened.

Filling:

4 large apples, peeled and chopped

1 cup water

½ cup granulated sugar

½ tsp. cinnamon

2 tsps. Cornstarch

½ cup creamy peanut butter

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Line a 13X9 in. pan with foil. Grease with cooking spray

To prepare filling: In a small bowl, whisk together sugar, cinnamon and cornstarch. In a medium saucepan, combine apples and sugar mixture. Pour water over apples and stir to combine. Bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer, uncovered, until the apples are tender and the mixture thickens slightly; about 15 minutes. Add peanut butter and stir until the peanut butter melts and the mixture is nice and thick. Set aside.

Meanwhile, combine flour, brown sugar, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and oats in a large bowl. Using your hands or a pastry blender, cut the butter into the mixture until coarse crumbs form.

Pour 3 ½ cups of crumb mixture into prepared pan. Press firmly into the pan. Pour filling over the top and spread evenly with a rubber spatula. Sprinkle remaining crumb mixture over the top.

Bake for 30 to 40 minutes until top is golden brown. Cool completely before cutting into squares.

Cooks Notes:

I noticed two things right off the bat that I think are related. One, the texture was a tad dry and two, the bottom layer was a bit thick for my taste. I think if I decreased the amount of flour by 3/4 of a cup or so that might help some. Then I’m trying to decide if I want to make it more “cookie” like by adding eggs, but then I wouldn’t have a nice crumbly topping….so, I don’t know. I’m going to keep thinking on it.

Anyway, I just wanted to share because I was pretty proud that I even attempted to do something like this. I’ll repost after I tweak it some!

ENJOY! 🙂

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