Thursday, July 29, 2010

Greek Salad, is there anything better?

This picture really doesn't do this salad justice. I was just entirely way too hungry to take a bunch of artistic pictures. I wanted to dig in ASAP! This was really easy to make and the dressing was to-die for!

Greek Dressing Ingredients:
Makes enough for a few salads :)
1/2 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 cup olive oil
2-3 cloves pressed or minced garlic
1 1/2 tsp dried oregano
pinch of dried thyme
big pinch of salt and fresh ground pepper

Combine lemon juice, vinegar, oregano, thyme and salt and pepper in bowl.  Using a whisk, slowly stream in olive oil and whisk into vinegar mixture.  You will see it thicken up a bit (emulsifying) while combining.  Store in a jar with a tight lid in the refrigerator after using.  Always give the dressing jar a couple of shakes before serving.  In my opinion, best at room temperature, so take it out a few minutes before using.

Salad Ingredients:
Add any, some, or all of the following:
chopped romaine lettuce
chopped green and red peppers
chopped cucumbers
chopped tomatoes
sliced red onion
feta cheese, cubed or crumbled
kalamata olives

xox, Jen

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Cheesy Goodness (with lots of veggies!)

This recipe is NOT simple, I repeat, it is NOT simple! Okay... I'm being a little over-dramatic, but it did take me about an hour to chop and grate everything. Maybe if I had a food processor it would have been a little bit simpler. :) But, since I don't, I had to everything by hand.

Vegetable Pie with a Zucchini Crust
Adapted from:  For the Love of Cooking 

4 zucchini, shredded and patted dry with paper towels (don't skip that part!)
2 eggs
2 1/2 cups of shredded mozzarella, divided
1 cup fresh mozzarella  (optional but recommended)
2 tomatoes, diced
1 green pepper, diced
4 oz of presliced mushrooms
2 green onions, chopped
1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese, shredded
2 basil leaves, chopped
dried oregano, to taste (skipped this because I didn't have any)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Coat a casserole dish with cooking spray. (I skipped that step and the casserole came up off of the dish fine.)

After you grate the zucchini, pat it dry with a few paper towels, removing as much moisture as possible. (I didn't remove enough moisture and my "crust" was more of a cheesy addition to the rest of the dish. I didn't mind it, but if you want a more crust-like texture, remove moisture!!)

Combine the zucchini with the eggs and 2 cups of mozzarella. Push the zucchini firmly into the casserole dish, forming a crust. Season with sea salt and freshly cracked pepper. Bake in oven for 10 minutes.

After the zucchini has baked, layer the casserole with green pepper, mushrooms, green onions, tomatoes, fresh basil, and then top it with the remaining 1/2 cup of shredded mozzarella cheese, the cup of fresh mozzarella and the Parmesan cheese. Sprinkle top with dried oregano, to taste. (Omitted this step.)

Place into the oven and bake uncovered for 25 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes before serving.

This dish reminded me a lot of a quiche. So, if you don't like to eat eggs, but don't mind them in a crust, then I definitely recommend this dish as an alternative to a quiche or egg casserole. This recipe could really be served for breakfast, lunch, OR dinner! It is extremely versatile and can be switched up to use whichever veggies you happen to have on hand. I hope you enjoy :)

xox, Jen

Monday, July 12, 2010

{recipe} welcome to the good life

Reese's Peanut Butter Cup Cheesecake Squares

I didn't think there was anything better in the world than chocolate and peanut butter put together. Reese's peanut butter cups? My favorite childhood candy. Oreos with peanut butter slathered across? Another favorite. I have a major sweet tooth and this combination always satisfies. I am also a huge fan of cheesecake (who isn't?!), so when I saw this recipe on The Sweets Life I could NOT resist. No, really. I showed the pictures of these delectable bars to my roommates and a few of my friends and could not stop coming back to the page. Okay... maybe I shouldn't admit all of this.. :)

This recipe is extremely easy to make, and most of the ingredients you probably already have sitting around at home just waiting to be used! I am usually apprehensive about making cheesecake, but like I said, I couldn't resist the urge!

-7 whole graham crackers, broken into small pieces
-6 tbsp unsalted butter, melted & cooled
-3 tbsp brown sugar
-2 tbsp all-purpose flour
-1/8 tsp salt

-2 packages fat-free cream cheese, softened
-2/3 cup granulated sugar
-2 eggs
-1/4 cup fat-free sour cream
-1 tsp vanilla extract
-1 normal-size bag mini Reese's peanut butter cups, chopped
-2 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped

Start out by preheating the oven to 325F. Line an 8-in pan with aluminum foil, leaving a 3-4 inch overhang on each side. Grease foil. (I forgot to grease the foil and my bars came off of it without a problem.)

Make the graham cracker crust by adding crackers to food processor and pulsing until fine. Add butter, brown sugar, flour, and salt. Pulse until mixture is combined. Press into the bottom of the baking dish. (I do not own a food processor. I instead put the 7 graham crackers in a pint size ziplock bag and zipped it up tight. Then I crushed the graham crackers to as fine as possible and poured the crumbs into a bowl with the rest of the ingredients. I combined all of the ingredients with a large wooden spoon, then crushed graham cracker pieces I missed with a fork. My crust turned out just fine!)  

Bake crust for 12-15 minutes until browning. (I used a dark glass baking dish so it took my crust about 19 minutes to brown.) Cool for at least 30 minutes before putting cheesecake filling in.

In a large mixing bowl, beat cream cheese until smooth. Slowly add sugar, beating well. Add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Make sure they are fully incorporated in the mixture before adding anything else. Beat in sour cream and vanilla extract until fully combined. After chopping Reese's peanut butter cups, set aside approximately 1/2 cup to use as the topping. Carefully fold the remaining chopped candies into the cream cheese batter. 

Pour batter into baking pan, spreading evenly over crust. Bake at 325F for 35-40 minutes. Rotate halfway through. (I took my cheesecake out after about 30 minutes. It was starting to brown at the top and seemed to be cooked through.) It will be done when the edges are set and middle still jiggles slightly. 

Cool cheesecake for 2 hours at room temperature. Cover and refrigerate for 3 hours (up to 24) before adding the chocolate and garnishes.

Remove cheesecake from fridge and using the foil overhang, remove bars from pan. Cut into small squares. Melt bittersweet chocolate in microwave (stirring every 15 seconds). Drizzle chocolate over bars and top with remaining chopped Reese's peanut butter cups.


I'm just going to say that the flavors together are absolutely heavenly.

xox, Jen

Friday, July 9, 2010

{life} thoughts on dance

I feel as though I haven't really gotten too personal with any of my posts thus far. They have all been very cut and dry and quickly written. I have discovered that if I am going to keep a passion to continue to write on here I am going to need to get more "down and dirty" about my thoughts, feelings and opinions. With that being said, I will begin with talking about dance.

I was an avid dancer from age 3 (yes, I did wear a little chicken costume and wander around the stage aimlessly like in those videos submitted to America's Funniest Home Videos) until age 14. Eleven whole years flew by in what seems now to be a pinch of time. I didn't quit willingly, well not at first that is. It started with a tingling sensation in my left foot and leg and ended with a diagnosis of a herniated disk in my lower back. My orthopedic doctor joked with me last time I went in.  
Him: "Are your ears burning?"
Me: "What do you mean?"
Him: "I always tell all my patients about you. You are the youngest patient I have ever had with a herniated disk. I always tell them about your success in getting back into a normal life pain-free."
 Why, thank you doc. So, as you see, my injury was not exactly common for someone of my age and with my strength (considering I danced 6 days a week for hours upon end). Having to tell all of my dance friends and teachers that I would not be coming back for a while was devastating for me. While the hours were long, and the work intensive, dance was one thing that made me truly happy. It was my get-a-way from the constancy of homework and tests.  I loved the costumes and the glitz and glamor of competitions and conventions as well as the family I formed in the dance community. Dancers are extremely open and honest people. You leave everything off of the dance floor. Nothing else seems important when the music turns on and you start to feel it coursing through your body to the point that you cannot voluntarily keep your body still. I did an entire year of physical therapy and tons of stretching to keep my body fit for the dance world. Looking back now, I know that I could have easily jumped back into my classes and competitions. At the time however, everything seemed utterly impossible. I was nowhere near ready (I felt then) to take class with my old dance company members (the girls I competed with against other studios) and I was way too advanced to be dancing with the normal classes (the girls that danced about once a week just for fun.) Even after a year of being gone without leaping, or turning, and hardly moving, my technique and ability was higher than anyone in the intermediate classes. While that sounds snobbish, it is simply the truth. I guess dancing for that long with such advanced students made it impossible for me to dumb down to a level of just a pure-fun dance class.

My decision to quit dance was rash. I have always been extremely stubborn and a bit of a drama queen so when my mom asked me to reconsider registering for my company dance classes again I refused. I would say, "Mom, I will never be able to keep up with them ever again. I am too far behind, it's impossible." It is sad to say that I lost my passion for dance (if only temporarily) during that year of physical therapy. I claimed my back was too weak, I was too behind, I would never be the dancer I was. In reality I could have conquered all of the above easily by strengthening my core again and by being all-around careful until I knew my back was up to par. I think a huge part of why I wanted to quit dance forever was not because of my injury but because of the stage of my life I was in. I loved my dance friends, but I felt as though I didn't know my school friends well enough. We were more acquaintances than anything. I was transferring from my small middle school to a huge high school, where the possibilities to get involved were endless. Maybe I was being rational when I realized that I would rather spend more of my time getting involved in school activities with friends than spend time in a studio rehearsing for 6 hours straight. While getting involved in high school did help me get into a great college, I wish I had made the opposite decision. I feel as though a little piece of me is still empty without dance in my life to the fullest extent. I don't think that most people that know me now know just how much this art means to me. I think that everything about it is absolutely beautiful. Everything really does happen for a reason however. I feel that this post makes me sound like an empty and unhappy person, but that is furthest from the truth. I have amazing friends and an incredibly supportive family. I know that if I had chosen to continue on with dance my life would be in a completely different place right now. I may not have gone to Florida State, I may not have joined my sorority, I may not already know what I want to do with the rest of my life and I may not have met some of the most incredible people to ever touch my life. Just because I can no longer personally dance as I used to doesn't mean that I cannot enjoy watching others (and oh, do I ever.)

The reason I even began to think about writing this post was because of tonight's SYTYCD episode (Top 8 Elimination). Alex being cut from this season for his Achilles's tendon injury was heartbreaking. He is truly one of the most gifted and breathtaking dancers that has ever graced the SYTYCD stage. I teared up watching the judges explain his injury and during his goodbye speech and tape (and I'm not afraid to admit it!) I cannot wait to see him perform again and I am wishing him a safe surgery and a speedy recovery. If you do not watch the show I really challenge you to. Some weeks are better than others like all competition reality shows, but this one has more heart than any other I have ever seen... every week! Here are a few links to some of my favorite (and the poster's too) dances from, in my opinion, the best season... Season 4!

I hope you check out the youtube videos above and come to appreciate this beautiful art as much as I do.

xox, Jen

**No Copywrite Infringement Intended**

Thursday, July 8, 2010

{life} american lovin'

I haven't updated in forever! I was in Orlando for the holiday weekend visiting some friends that attend UCF. It was a lot of fun! I was completely set on making a flag cake for the 4th and I made it happen. :) We didn't have a lot of time to bake / let the cake cool so we could frost it so we just went with a box of marble fudge cake and pre-made whipped, vanilla icing. Our cake was super yummy and pretty too!

We went to Celebration, FL to watch the fireworks display.

Two of my best friends, Krista (left) and Chelsea (right).

That's all for now! I made vegetable pie with a zucchini crust last night for dinner. I'll be posting about it soon!

xox, Jen

Thursday, July 1, 2010

{recipe} dinner party fun

Appetizer: Spinach and Artichoke Dip with Carrots, Celery & Pita
Salad: Spinach Salad with Apple and Red Onion
Dinner: Maple Pork Tenderloin & Sweet Potatoes w/ Cinnamon Butter
Drinks: Homemade Sangria
Dessert: Triple Chocolate Chunk Cookies (aka Heaven)

I had some girlfriends over the other night for what is turning into our weekly dinner party! It has been so much fun looking forward to these get-togethers. I find myself searching for recipes throughout the rest of the week for the next dinner party. This time I decided to break away from my comfort of / dependence on cooking chicken. I know it is always a safe alternative. Although chicken can be tricky, since you have to cook it until it is completely done, it is the one meat that I can say I am the most confident in making. I have caught onto the exact time it takes to grill, roast and saute. When I came across the recipe for the pork tenderloin I was a bit apprehensive. I found myself thinking, "Am I reallly ready for such a jump in the kitchen?" After a bit of pondering I decided that I was. I always love it when my parents cook tenderloin at home so I gave it a go. The one essential kitchen utensil for the pork tenderloin that I didn't have at home was a meat thermometer, so I had to add that to my shopping cart when I went to the grocery store. While it was an extra ten dollars added to my bill, I knew it would come in handy in future cooking endeavors as well, so it didn't hurt quite so bad. As soon as I got home form the store I began to marinate the pork in a plastic ziplock bag. While I wish I had thought ahead enough to get the meat the night before my party, it was perfectly flavorful after only marinating for 5 hours. My friend Kaitlin brought over one of my favorite appetizers of all time, spinach and artichoke dip. Leanne brought homemade sangria and Brianna brought absolutely delicious triple chocolate chunk cookies. Amanda brought some pepper (I told her to just relax this time as she made us dinner the last time we had a dinner party). The night was so much fun and I got some really awesome recipes from good friends :) Enjoy!

Spinach and Artichoke Dip
Currently still waiting on this recipe :) I will update as soon as Kaitlin sends it to me!

Homemade Sangria:
I didn't take any pictures of the sangria, which is a shame because it was really pretty :) I also didn't get the exact recipe but Leanne said it was basically a bottle of red wine and a few splashes of peach schnapps. She added limes, lemons and oranges to hers, but the beauty of sangria is that you can add any fruit you want!

Spinach Salad with Apple and Red Onion
This is one of my favorite salads from my mom's recipe collection. It is the perfect amount of tangy mixed with sweet. She found this recipe on, at the bottom of a webpage for a recipe for pasta with pumpkin and sausage (which is another of my all-time favorites, especially during fall and winter!) We both make the salad all the time though, as the flavors mesh well with meals from any season.

1 lb triple-washed spinach, de-stemmed (I bought Publix brand)
1 small Golden Delicious apple, quartered, cored and sliced
1/4 small red onion, thinly sliced and separated
1/4 cup olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon grain mustard
1 tablespoon honey
Coarse salt and black pepper to taste

Place spinach, apple, and onion in a salad bowl. Place oil, vinegar, mustard and honey in a small mixing bowl. Whisk the dressing ingredients with a fork until combined. Pour dressing over salad immediately and toss. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Maple Pork Tenderloin & Sweet Potatoes w/ Cinnamon Butter

Maple Pork Tenderloin:
Recipe adapted from Lipstick Blogspot
2 pork tenderloin (approximately 1.5-2 lbs together)
2/3 cup pure maple syrup
1/4 cup soy suace
1/3 cup teriyaki sauce (I used Ken's marinades)
1 tbsp finely minced garlic (I used the bottled, pre-minced garlic)
1 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
Yield enough for 5 people

1. Put pork tenderloin in a ziplock bag. In a separate bowl, mix all the remaining ingredients and pour into the ziplock bag. Marinate for as long as you can. (I marinated for about 5 hours, but overnight would be best.)
2. Remove pork from the plastic bag and grill or bake in a 400 degree oven until the pork reaches an internal temperature of 145 degrees (Check after 20 minutes, and then keep checking every few minutes after if the temperature is not correct after the 20.)
3. While the pork is cooking, boil the remaining marinade in the bag for at least 10 minutes.
4. After you take the pork out, let it sit for about 5 minutes before slicing. Once that time passes, slice and serve with the marinade as a sauce.

Sweet Potatoes with Cinnamon Butter
1/2 cup butter, softened (I used "I Can't Believe It's Not Butter")
2 ounces granulated sugar
2 ounces brown sugar 
4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
Large sweet potatoes (I used 5)

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Mix and stir all ingredients (besides the sweet potatoes) until smooth. Put into a tupperware, close lid tightly, and then place in refrigerator as soon as possible.
3. Put tinfoil on a cookie sheet and then place the sweet potatoes on top of it. Place cookie sheet carefully onto the bottom rack of your oven. Leave in for about an hour, checking with a fork how soft the insides are as it gets closer to the end. The time will vary with how small/large the potatoes are. The skins should look wrinkled and there should be a sticky substance coming out of the bottom of the potatoes. 
4. Enjoy :) 
**The cinnamon butter tastes wonderful for breakfast the next day spread on toast!

Triple Chocolate Chunk Cookies
These cookies literally melt in your mouth. Here is Brianna's recipe for them that she sent me.

-16 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, chopped (or use chocolate chips) **I use bakers semi sweet chocolate
-1 stick (½ cup) unsalted butter
-1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
-1 tsp baking powder
-1 tsp salt
-4 large eggs
-1½ cups (packed) light brown sugar
-2 tsp pure vanilla extract
-2 packages (24 ounces) semi-sweet chocolate chocolate chunks (or chopped chocolate)**I used one bag of regular chocolate chips and one bag of white choc chips (but only needed 1 and a half bags total because it was way too much)
**I added 2 tsp of instant coffee powder, but this is optional. It helps bring out the chocolate flavor

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
2. Place chopped chocolate (Bakers) and butter in a large, heatproof (metal or pyrex) bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Stir until melted and smooth. Add the chocolate slivers it in batches, it will be a bit quicker.
3. In another bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt; set aside. Make sure to sift the dry ingredients for lumps
4. In a large bowl, with electric mixer beat eggs, brown sugar and vanilla on high speed until light and fluffy. Reduce speed to low and beat in the melted chocolate mixture. Then mix in dry ingredients and blend just until combined. Stir in chocolate chunks(as many as you like)
5. Drop heaping Tablespoonfuls of dough onto baking sheets, keeping a round shape as much as possible- 2 to 3 inches apart.
6. Bake until cookies are shiny and crackly, yet still soft in the center, 12 to 14 minutes. Cool on cookie sheets for about 10 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack with a spatula. I only had to cook them for 10 minutes so watch them! :)
Yield: About 4 dozen

 I am so excited about all of the new recipes I have been finding and getting from friends. We will definitely be keeping up with our newly found tradition of dinner parties once a week, so check back often!

xox, Jen