Friday, August 29, 2014

Blackberry Pie Bars

Summer is quickly coming to an end. But first! Labor Day weekend! Summer's last hurrah, in my book. If you are having a barbecue or not having a barbecue, I suggest you make one last summer-y treat before September starts. School may have started, but I'm determined to keep living like it's summer, which means more grilling out, one more beach trip, and more summer desserts with fresh berries like these blackberry pie bars.

Blackberry Pie Bars
for the crust & topping:
1 1/2 cups flour
3/4 cup sugar
pinch of salt
zest of half a lemon
3/4 cup (12 Tbsp) unsalted butter, cold

for the filling:
2 eggs
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup sour cream
6 Tbsp flour
pinch of salt
juice of half a lemon
1 tsp vanilla extract
15-16 oz blackberries, fresh or frozen (thawed and drained of excess juices)

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9x9-inch baking pan with foil and grease lightly. In the bowl of a food processor or electric mixer, combine the flour, sugar, salt and lemon zest. Pulse briefly to blend. Cut the butter into small cubes, then add to the bowl with the dry ingredients. Process in short pulses to cut the better into the dry ingredients until only small pieces of butter remain and the mixture is crumbly.

Reserve 3/4 cup of the mixture for topping the bars. Add the rest of the mixture to the prepared pan and press to form an even layer of crust on the bottom of the pan. Bake 12-15 minutes, until light golden. Let cool 10-15 minutes before proceeding.

In a medium bowl, make the filling mixture. Combine the eggs, sugar, sour cream, flour, salt, lemon juice and vanilla. Whisk until smooth. Gently stir in the blackberries with a spatula. Spread the filling mixture over the pre-baked crust in the baking pan. Crumble the reserved topping mixture over the filling evenly.

Bake until the top is beginning to brown and the bars are just set, about 45 minutes. Let cool completely on a wire rack. Chill to firm up before slicing and serving.

source: recipe from annie's eats, originally from The Pastry Queen via pink parsley

Thursday, August 28, 2014

How to learn any foreign language

How many languages do you speak? I have always loved foreign languages, and I just finished this fascinating new book on how to learn a foreign language and actually remember it. I've studied four foreign languages but would only say I am proficient/can remember anything in one, and I truly believe it's due to how I (tried) to learn them and how often I practiced speaking. For Latin (kindergarten - grade 4), we sang songs and learned conjugations; for French (grades 10-12) we did projects and watched movies; for Arabic (one semester in college), we learned vocab and took so.many.quizzes; for Chinese (grades 6-9, and then in college), I lived in China for three of those years, had a tutor who didn't speak any English, spoke it every single day, and then later spent three months in an intense immersion program with no English allowed. Not surprisingly, I remember a couple of songs in Latin, I know enough French to order food, I can say thank you in Arabic, and I can actually speak Chinese.

The methods described in Fluent Forever are very detailed and provide all the information and resources you would need to begin tackling the language you'd like to learn. Some of the methods from the book are:

*Never translate. Cutting out English (or whatever your native language is) allows you to actually think in your target language. You can use pictures at first to learn words, slowly graduating to simple definitions and fill-in-the-blank flash cards. This allows you to learn the vocab and grammar of your target language without having to translate back and forth. This will help you attain fluency rather than just the ability to translate.

*Make personal connections. We can remember a concept with a personal connection 50% more easily than a concept without one. For example, if you can connect the word for dog in your target language with an image of a cute little dog, you'll probably be able to remember that word pretty easily. But if you can connect the word for dog in your target language with the dog you had growing up, it will be essentially impossible for you to forget the word.

*Study using spaced repetition. This is a learning technique that incorporates increasing intervals of time between reviews of previously learned material. The intervals are specifically chosen to have you recall material at the optimal time to push them deeper into your long-term memory.

*Choose the right vocabulary. Pick up a frequency dictionary to begin studying your target language by learning the first thousand most frequent words. Beyond that, target the specific type of vocab you need, whether political, academic, financial, etc.

If you're interested in learning a foreign language, or want to delve back into one you studied years ago, I suggest picking up this book. It has motivated me to get back into regular Chinese study, incorporating some of these techniques I've not tried before. If you don't want to read the book, you can also check out the website here for more information on the tips and techniques.

What do you think? Will you try to learn a new language? Would you want your kids to be bilingual?

Disclosure: I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for my review. I picked this book to read + review, and I absolutely loved it. All opinions are 100% my own.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Mocha Brownie Milkshakes

I confess that I am an ice cream addict. I would have no problem eating a bowl of ice cream every night (and some weeks, I do). I blame it on my parents and the ubiquitous half-gallon of Breyer's we had in the freezer growing up. And while I do love a good milkshake (looking at you, Cook-Out), rarely do I make them at home. So this weekend I threw together this mocha brownie milkshake to switch things up a bit. The brownies that I used were from an Immaculate Baking mix. Have you tried their products? Their new dry baking mixes have no trans fat and do not contain any artificial preservatives or high fructose corn syrup! Two thumbs up. You can find their new baking mixes in the baking aisle at Target.

Mocha Brownie Milkshake
1 pint vanilla ice cream
2 brownies, cut into small pieces (I used Immaculate Baking)
1/4 cup milk
3 Tbsp cold coffee
1-2 Tbsp chocolate syrup

Place all ingredients in a blender. Blend until smooth with tiny brownie pieces visible. Drizzle chocolate syrup on inside of a glass. Pour in milkshake and serve with whipped cream and crumbled brownie pieces. Makes 2 large or 3 small milkshakes.

source: recipe from bakerella

Disclosure: I received the information and prize pack from General Mills through Platefull Co-Op. All opinions are 100% my own.

Friday, August 22, 2014

REESE'S Dessert Bars

Continuing my recent obsession with all things chocolate + peanut butter, I made these REESE'S bars a couple of weekends ago. We had friends over for dinner at the last minute since bad weather canceled our beach trip plans, and I didn't have time to make a time-consuming dessert. Enter these bars, and a confession: they are from a box . Yes, I prefer to make many things from scratch, but I am not above a Betty Crocker box mix. These bars were so good our friends asked me for the recipe.... and then I had to admit I served them dessert from a box. Thankfully they are good friends and totally didn't care :) These bars are really quite delicious and all it takes is mixing up each of the three layers with butter, egg, and milk (only the bottom layer has to be baked!). Next time I need a quick and easy dessert, I'm going to try the HERSHEY'S S'mores bars. 

Disclosure: I received the information and prize pack from General Mills through Platefull Co-Op. All opinions are 100% my own.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

National Lemonade Day

Apparently today is National Lemonade Day (is it just me or is there a "national day" for everything?), so I thought I would share some of my favorite lemonade recipes today. Or maybe this is just another desperate attempt of mine to hold onto every last second of summer!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

How to add fiber to your diet (that tastes good!)

A couple of weeks ago, I had such terrible stomach pains. Caleb was out of town (of course) and I was on the couch crying, absolutely convinced I was going to die (or have an appendectomy or some other horrifying medical procedure). Thankfully, the intense pain subsided after a while and I was able to get in to my doctor's office the next day. My doctor did an exam and had x-rays done and concluded I had had a strong reaction to something I had eaten... resulting in violent spasms of my colon (hence the pain) and... other intestinal difficulties (I'm really not trying to get all TMI here, so sorry!). The funniest part was that I came home from work to a big package filled with the new Fiber One cookies to taste and review. The timing just made me laugh! I was pleasantly surprised to find the cookies actually tasted good! They are soft and chewy, and the double chocolate and chocolate chunk ones are my favorite. Thankfully, I am feeling MUCH better these days. We'll just never know if it was the medication, the spinach salads I was eating twice a day, or all of the Fiber One cookies. But if you're looking to add some more fiber to your diet, I suggest these cookies... they go down much easier than the alternative :) You can find them at Publix and here is a coupon.

Disclosure: The information and prize pack were provided to me by General Mills through Platefull Co-Op. All opinions are 100% my own.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Peach Crumble Pie

This past weekend we had Caleb's parents in town visiting us, and as I was planning the menu and thinking about what to cook, I realized I had made not one peach dessert this summer! I'm trying to hang on to summer as long as possible (even if school has started), so I figured a peach pie would be the perfect summer-isn't-over-yet dessert. This was my first go at peach pie, but I have to say I'm quite pleased with how it turned out. I always make my pie dough a couple of days before I make a pie (I store it wrapped well in the fridge or freezer), and I also made the crumble the night before and stored it in the fridge. When it came time to make the pie on Friday afternoon, I prepped the peaches and made the filling and put it all together in no time at all.

Peach Crumble Pie
one recipe for pie crust dough (I use this recipe)

for the filling:
3 lbs peaches, peeled, halved, pitted, and cut into 1/2-inch slices
2 Tbsp light brown sugar
2 Tbsp flour

for the crumble:
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1/3 cup flour
1/3 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
6 Tbsp (3/4 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly flour a rolling pin and work surface and roll out pie dough to a 12-inch round. Place in a 9-inch pie plate, fold overhang under, and crimp edges.

Make the filling: in a large bowl, toss together peaches, brown sugar, and flour until combined.

Make the crumble: in a small bowl, combine brown sugar, flour, and oats; using a pastry blender, work in butter until large clumps form.

Transfer peach filling to pie shell, then sprinkle crumble evenly over top. Place pie on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until juices are bubbling and topping is golden, 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack 1 1/2 hours before serving. Store, covered, at room temperature up to 2 days. 

Source: Everyday Food, July/August 2011

Friday, August 15, 2014

Reese's Cup Stuffed Brownie Cupcakes

These might be the most dangerous treats I have ever baked. And by dangerous I mean ridiculously-good-can't-stop-eating-them. I was inspired by my aunt who made these brownie cupcakes stuffed with Reese's cups over the 4th of July, and I loved them so much I made them the very next weekend. I have been all about chocolate + peanut butter lately, and these brownie cupcakes are the perfect combination. You could virtually stuff any candy inside of a brownie cupcake, so get creative and let me know what you come up with! The next one I want to try is York Peppermint Patties... yummm.

Reese's Cup Stuffed Brownie Cupcakes
one package of your favorite brownie mix (I used Ghiradelli)
one package of snack size Reese's cups
chocolate sour cream frosting (recipe below)

Prepare your brownie mix according to package instructions. Grease a standard cupcake pan with non-stick cooking spray. Add enough brownie batter to cover the bottom of each cupcake holder. Unwrap a Reese's cup and place in each cupcake holder over the small amount of brownie batter. Add more brownie batter to cover each Reese's cup and fill the cupcake holder 3/4 full (brownies will not raise up much). Bake at the temperature on your brownie package, being sure to start checking for doneness after 15 minutes of baking. Check every 5 minutes or so until a toothpick inserted into the center of the brownie cupcake comes out clean. (Brands of brownie mixes vary so sorry the timing is not more specific here!) Allow brownies to cool slightly before removing from the cupcake pan. When cooled completely, frost the cupcakes as desired. Cupcakes will stay fresh in an airtight container for 3-4 days. Makes 12-15 cupcakes.

Chocolate Sour Cream Frosting
4 oz semisweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup confectioners' sugar
1/4 cup sour cream
smidgen of salt (less than a pinch!)

Heat the chocolate in a double boiler or medium heatproof bowl set over (not in) a saucepan of simmering water, stirring often, until melted and smooth. Remove from heat and let cool, 10-15 minutes.

Using an electric mixer, beat the butter on high until light and fluffy, 3-5 minutes. Reduce mixer speed to low. Gradually add the sugar and beat until smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Add the chocolate, sour cream, and salt and beat to combine.

source: stuffed brownie recipe inspired by my aunt, frosting recipe adapted from Real Simple, May 2011

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Slowing Down in the Morning

I know I've shared this before, but mornings are a whirlwind of crazy for me. Flipping through my clothes in the closet, throwing all of the outfits that didn't make the cut on the bed, ironing the outfit that did make it, making lunch (and sometimes dinner too!), doing the hair + makeup, getting out of house on time - I mean, you all get it because we're all doing the same mad getting-ready-before-work dash, right? What I rarely do is sit down and eat breakfast, because I'd rather stuff something in my face while I'm doing something else to save on time. Yesterday morning, though, I sat down with a bowl of Cheerios Protein Cinnamon Almond and my Jesus Calling and let myself eat slowly while I filled my mind with some truth before starting my day. I hate how rushed I feel in the mornings, so taking the time to actually sit and eat was a nice treat. Do you take time in the mornings to sit down and eat breakfast?

Disclosure: The information and prize pack have been provided to me by General Mills through Platefull Co-Op. All opinions are 100% my own.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Finding My Green Thumb: Flowers that are easy to grow

Caleb and I will be the first to admit that gardening is not our strong suit. I can cook and Caleb is quite the handyman, but when it comes to growing plants and actually keeping them alive, we fall considerably short. Caleb's mom always has a beautiful garden filled with gorgeous flowers and great veggies, and Caleb's brother has a PhD in something to do with plants that is way too complicated for me to understand, but that green thumb did not get passed along to Caleb. In case any of you struggle with plant life like we do, I thought I would share a few flowers that we've found to be easy to take care of  this summer (read: they haven't died). 

1. Hydrangeas // I love hydrangeas. My aunt and uncle gifted up this plant when we first bought our house, and we haven't done anything to it except water it. We will probably prune it now that it has gotten a little bigger. I know there is something about the pH of the soil that determines whether the flowers are blue or pink, but ours are pink and I'm fine with keeping it like that. Read more about hydrangea care here.

2. Zinnias // We planted these zinnias around our mailbox from seeds - seeds, people! If we can put tiny seeds in the ground and have flowers spring forth, you can too. We planted a couple of varieties and just followed the instructions on the packets. Again, all we've done is water them and they've done great. I love these because they are great for cutting and putting around the house. More about zinnia care here.

3. Marigolds // Marigolds are known as one of the easiest annuals to grow, so it's no surprise we picked them! We picked up several trays at Lowe's and planted them in neat rows in one of our front beds. They've done great with just watering. Tips for caring for marigolds here.

4. Petunias // ok full disclosure here: I think these are petunias. That might give you a clue as to how plant illiterate I am. Petunias and impatiens look deceivingly similar, but impatiens don't thrive in lots of sun, so that leads me to believe that ours are indeed petunias. Plus when we bought them at Lowe's I remember that they were a flower that started with a "p". How's that for some reliable gardening advice?! Again, all we do with these guys is water them. They are in our front bed next to the marigolds, and I love all of the color! More instructions on petunia care here. And just in case I've steered you wrong, care for impatiens here.

5. Knock Out Roses // There are several varieties of knock out roses, but I believe ours are the double knock out rose. We have these planted all along our deck and screened-in porch, and I absolutely love them. They were already planted when we bought our house, and they are super easy to care for. I don't even think we water them that much. We prune them back each winter (no careful pruning needed, Caleb just lops some off the tops with garden shears), and they bloom several times throughout the spring and summer. You can see the different varieties and read about care instructions here.

I hope this helps some of you who may be intimidated about growing flowers in your yard! I am, by no means, an expert, so please take everything with a grain of salt. These are just the flowers that we have found to be little to no maintenance needed, and we love how they look. We live in South Carolina, so please also keep in mind I am only familiar with our plant hardiness zone and temperatures throughout the year. 

What flowers or plants have you found you enjoy growing? Please share any tips you have - I still need all the help I can get!

Monday, August 11, 2014

New Suddenly Grain Salad

Our dinners in the summer are pretty predictable: we marinate some meat to put on the grill and add some sort of side pasta or salad. This has been my favorite marinade lately, and for the sides I love Greek orzo saladbulgur, or couscous. General Mills recently sent me a sampling of their new Suddenly Grain Salad mixes, so I last week I whipped together the Southwest Grains salad. I boiled a little mesh bag filled with a mixture of brown rice, quinoa, black beans, and corn, let it cool, and tossed it with the provided chipotle vinaigrette. I also added some tomatoes for an extra fresh taste. I was pleasantly surprised with how tasty it was, and it is a great option for a quick way to get some grains into your meal on nights when you might be pressed for time.

Disclosure: The information and prize pack have been provided to me by General Mills through Platefull Co-Op. All opinions are 100% my own.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Reading, Lately

1 // 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess I've heard things about this book for while, but I just recently read it when my sister let me borrow her copy. It is an extremely easy read, and I love Jen Hatmaker's writing. She is so honest, and she words things in a way that can just make you laugh! I loved the premise of the book, which is to simplify seven areas of life to focus more on what matters and to fight against the lifestyle of excess that is so prevalent in the U.S. The extent to which Jen experimented cutting back in these seven areas was quite impressive, as practically I don't think I could do what she did. For that reason, I didn't see the book as a guide or an example of something I would like to try, but I did like that it made me stop and think about how much food I waste, how many things I throw away, how much time I spend on the internet/phone/social media, how many clothes are in my closet that I don't wear, etc. I think it is important to be mindful of just how much we are blessed with, because it moves us to be more grateful.

2 // Undetected I love all of Dee Henderson's books, and this was no exception. It's a perfect summer read, as evidenced by my reading the entire book by the pool one Saturday. Dee Henderson writes in such a way that you feel like you really get to know the characters, and I love that in her books. It is a sweet love story that is maybe a little predictable, but very enjoyable nonetheless.

3 // Bittersweet I have to admit that this book was a little darker than I was hoping. It's about a poor college girl who spends the summer with her very wealthy roommate's family at their summer estate. The girl finds herself mixed up in the family drama and works to uncover the many secrets she believes the family has. The book was good in the sense that I wanted to keep reading it to find out what happens, but it wasn't uplifting or funny or inspiring by any means. Overall it was just not the type of book that I normally read, but that isn't to say it's not worth picking up if you'd like an easy read with some twisted rich people drama.

4 // The Girl You Left Behind This was by far my favorite book out of this bunch, both for the writing and the story line. I hadn't read anything by Jojo Moyes before, but I'm excited to read some of her other works now! The book starts in France during World War I, where the main character Sophie and her sister work to keep their families safe as their husbands fight at the front. Sophie's most prized possession is a portrait of herself painted by her husband, but exactly what happened to the painting during the war is a mystery, as a century later the new owner of the painting is threatened with losing it forever. I couldn't put this book down - highly recommend!

5 // We Were Liars This book has quite a good plot and a great twist at the end. I don't want to say too much else because I don't want to give it away, but I really enjoyed reading this one!

Disclosure: I received Bittersweet from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for my review. All opinions are 100% my own.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Meatballs with Couscous & Feta

In the busyness of the work week, coming home and throwing dinner together each night can quickly become a burden. My favorite part about cooking (besides eating, duh) is trying new recipes, but I don't often want to try something new on a weeknight without knowing how long it might end up taking, or if it will even be tasty once I go to all the effort. I found this recipe linked on this blog and thought it sounded delicious. I was pleasantly surprised to find that per the recipe's instructions, this whole dinner really only took 25 minutes (so many times those recipes lie!), AND it was delicious. I don't often cook with lamb (read: never), so I substituted ground venison. Substitute with your preferred ground meat and you have a delicious and easy weeknight dinner!

Meatballs with Couscous & Feta
1 pound ground lamb, beef, or venison
1/4 cup dried apricots, finely chopped
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 small red onion, finely chopped
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup couscous
3 Tbsp olive oil
3 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
2 tomatoes, sliced
1/2 cucumber, halved and thinly sliced
4 oz Feta, crumbled

Heat broiler. In medium bowl, combine the meat, apricots, coriander, chopped onion, 1/2 tsp salt, and 1/4 tsp pepper. Form the meat into 1 1/2-inch meatballs (about 20) and place them on a broiler-proof baking sheet. Broil until cooked through, 8-10 minutes.

Meanwhile, place the couscous in a bowl. Add 1 cup hot tap water, cover, and let sit for 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork.

In a small bowl, mix together the oil, lemon juice, and 1/4 tsp each salt and pepper.

Serve the couscous with the meatballs, tomatoes, cucumber, and Feta. Drizzle with the dressing.

source: recipe from Real Simple, October 2010