Monday, April 14, 2014

Celebrating Spring with Kirin & Cherry Blossoms

“I participated in an Influencer Activation on behalf of Millennial Central for Kirin. I received product samples to facilitate my review as well as a promotional item to thank me for my participation.”


One of my favorite things about living in Virginia is our proximity to our nation's capital. Since moving here in early August, we've taken four day trips to DC. Sometimes we do the touristy things and visit monuments and museums. Other times, a trip to DC just means an amazing dinner and a trip to Ikea.

This past weekend we headed to DC for the annual Cherry Blossom Festival. In 1912, the Mayor of Tokyo gifted 3,000 of these beautiful trees to the city as a token of friendship. As a historian, I think the story of how the trees came to DC is fascinating, but seeing them lining the Tidal Basin was truly spectacular.


The timing of our day trip to DC coincided perfectly with the request for me to sample beers from Kirin Ichiban. When Millennial Central reached out to me for this campaign, they not only sent beer for us to sample, they also included an informational booklet that contained Japanese recipes from celebrity chef Candice Kumai and the tools we would need to make them.

All of the recipes sounded delicious, but I was the most intrigued by the thought of making my own sushi. I took the recipe in the book and modified it to make a spicy tuna roll. Other than the fact that we used too much rice, we had so much fun making these, and they turned out SO well!


I had never tried Kirin before, and I was very pleasantly surprised with it. Kirin Ichiban is a 100% malt, first-press beer with rich flavor, a smooth finish and clean aftertaste. They only use the first strain of malt liquid, which means it’s truly beer at its purest.  Kirin is known in Japan and all over the world as beer at its purest because of its first-press brewing process and clean taste, and that was something I definitely appreciated. It didn't have an aftertaste, or taste artificial; which is something that I get from a lot of beers. It was simple and clean. We tried both the Kirin Ichiban and the Kirin Light, and I must say, I preferred the Kirin Ichiban. It had a more crisp flavor and a smoother finish.


The Kirin Ichiban was the perfect accompaniment to our dinner. The beer was light and very flavorful. It was exactly what I needed after a long day of traipsing around DC. I also appreciated that it complimented the sushi (and the seaweed salad I served on the side) and didn't take away from those flavors. 

If you've never tried Kirin, I would recommend it. Throughout the year Candice Kumai will share more recipes and pairings, so I also recommend heading over to the official Kirin USA Facebook page

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Recipe: Banana Split Cupcakes


Over Labor Day weekend, Graham & I took a day trip to DC and we experienced Georgetown Cupcake for the first time. I've never waited in a line like that for a cupcake before... but the banana split cupcake that I ordered was absolutely worth it. 


When I got home, I googled and I actually found "their" recipe. And eventually I made it. 

And, to be honest, it was an utter disappointment. The addition of bananas to cake batter instantly turn any cake into a fancy banana bread. Maybe I waited too long to make it, but it tasted nothing like the cupcake that I remembered. 


So, for Graham's birthday, I decided to make them again, using the method that I use for my banana pudding cupcakes. These were a HUGE hit. Graham's friends and family devoured them, and gave them rave reviews.

(If you're against doctored up cake mixes, turn away now. Or just use this as inspiration and make a from scratch version of this delicious cupcake =))


I also made another change to the original cupcake... A banana split has pineapple, strawberry & chocolate toppings. This was a banana cupcake, filled with hot fudge, and then more fudge drizzle on top. Too much chocolate, and not enough fruit for me. So when I made it again, I filled the cupcake with strawberry jam & then drizzled the chocolate on top. The fruity addition was exactly what this needed!


So, here is a banana split cupcake that I'm in love with, and I hope you enjoy it as well.

Banana Split Cupcakes

For the Cake
Ingredients:
  • 1 box of yellow cake mix
  • 1 3.9 ounce box of instant banana pudding
  • 1 cup of vegetable oil
  • 1 cup of sour cream
  • 1/2 cup of hot water 
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 tsp. of vanilla
  • hot fudge
  • sprinkles
  • maraschino cherries 

Directions
Mix all ingredients together, except the bananas and the Nilla wafers. Spoon one spoon full of the batter into the lined muffin tins. Place one cookie and then two slices of banana in the batter. Then finish filling all of the tins. The batter should completely cover the bananas.

Bake at 350 degrees for 18-20 minutes (I baked mine for 19 minutes) or until a tester comes out clean.

For the Frosting
Ingredients:
  • 1 stick of softened, unsalted butter
  • 12 oz. of softened cream cheese
  • 2 T. of vanilla extract
  • 1 lb. of powdered sugar

Directions:
  1. Beat the cream cheese & butter together. 
  2. Slowly add in the powdered sugar. 
  3. Add in the vanilla extract. 
  4. Mix until combined, scraping the sides as needed. 
Garnish with a drizzle of hot fudge, sprinkles & a maraschino cherry =)






Monday, April 7, 2014

Let's #fighttoxins with Seventh Generation

Full Disclosure: I participated in a campaign on behalf of Millennial Central for Seventh Generation. I received a promotional item and product samples as a thank you for participating.


Things I wasn't aware of until now:

  • More than 80,000 chemicals available in the US have never been fully tested for their toxic effects on our health & environment. 
  • Scientists have linked exposure to toxic chemicals to many health risks, such as Cancer, Alzheimer’s, learning disabilities, asthma, birth defects, and various reproductive problems.
  • The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) was passed in 1976, and unlike other major environmental laws, has never been updated. As it currently stands, tens of thousands of potentially harmful chemicals continue to be used in the marketplace since the 1970’s without proper testing and without disclosure by the companies that produce them.
Over the past few years, I've started to care more and more about the impact I have on the environment, and the impact that my environment has on me. When I became more interested in cooking, I began to care more about the quality of ingredients I cook with. I've switched to organic vegetables. I buy organic, hormone free, antibiotic free meat & meat products. (The size of a big brand, hormone laden chicken breast in comparison to a hormone free chicken breast is ridiculous. I started thinking... God only knows what they're injecting those poor birds with... Do I really want to ingest whatever it is?)



Then I realized how silly it was to spend more money on higher quality meat & produce, and still wash our dishes with chemical filled dish soap. The Seventh Generation dish soap was the first product from that brand I tried, and I absolutely love it. The scent is light and it lathers really well. 



The health of myself & my family is more important to me than anything else. It factors into every decision that I make. And the information I received from Seventh Generation makes it shockingly clear that we need to rid toxins from our daily lives. 

The country's main chemical safety law (the TSCA) was passed almost 40 years ago, and is in serious need of reform. Please help Seventh Generation reach their goal of 100,000 signatures on their petition as they seek the reform so desperately needed. Just click on the button below to add your name to the petition. Let's #fighttoxins!



Monday, March 24, 2014

That one weekend where I ate way too much cake.

And then wrote a blog post with a much too long title.

Oh well.

This past weekend, Graham took a few days off and we headed back to Charlotte. He didn't get to go with me two weeks ago, and Friday was his birthday, so we went home to celebrate.

I baked some banana split cupcakes a few weeks ago, but I didn't love the way they turned out. So, I tweaked the recipe, & used the guests at his party as my guinea pigs. These were a HUGE success. 

He requested a strawberry cake for his birthday, so I made that as well. He teased me about the four layers, and the homemade jam filling. I know he would have been happy with a cake baked in a 9x13 pan and iced... but, I had to get creative somehow! 

As if that wasn't enough cake, my friend Kelly & I attended the Sweet Tooth Festival on Sunday. 

Thanks to the power of social media, I found out about this AWESOME event. Tickets were $30, the proceeds went to RAIN (an organization that provides support services to HIV+ individuals in the Charlotte area), and you got sample all kinds of delicious stuff from local bakeries and sweet shops. We left with a bakery box full of all kinds of delicious items.


Most of what we sampled was absolutely wonderful. I had only heard of two of the vendors that were participating; Cupcrazed (a winner of Food Network's Cupcake Wars) & Got What it Cakes, my new favorite Charlotte bakery, so I was excited to try some new places. Here my favorites of everything I got to sample. 

This little bit of deliciousness was called "Gone Wild" from Sweet Elations. It had peanut butter and coconut (which reminds me of my beloved Earth Balance peanut butter) and was so good! 

These brownie bliss bites from My Sweet Celebration were so good. This one had toffee and caramel, and I would have loved about five more. 

Royal Oats Granola was there with something a little healthier. Their blueberry lemon granola was the best granola I've ever had. 

 My favorite treat of the day was this lemon bundt cake from Nothing Bundt Cakes (and how cute is that name!). The cake was so moist, had tons of flavor, and the perfect amount of lemon. 

I'm not a 100% sure, but I'm pretty sure this amazing chocolate mousse cake (with a rum soaked cherry =)) was from Neet's Sweets (if it wasn't, please correct me). The cake was delicious, but what's even better is what the shop does for women who are victims of sexual trafficking and exploitation. 

The Secret Chocolatier was giving out amazing truffles and chocolates. I had a chocolate sea salt butter toffee and a violet truffle. Both were amazing, but the toffee absolutely knocked my socks off. 

I'm honestly not a huge peanut butter fan, but this slice of chocolate cake with a PB filling from Got What It Cakes was wonderful. And they were definitely the most generous with their serving size =)

The Sweet Tooth Festival is an annual event, so if you're in the Charlotte area you should check it out. The money raised goes to a great cause, it's a great way to learn about awesome local businesses, and you leave with a box full of cake. =)


Thursday, March 13, 2014

Accent walls, FTW.

When Graham's away, I paint stuff. 

During his deployments over the past few years, I pretty much painted our entire house. And, since we're in an apartment, I'm not wanting to spend the time creating an amazing quatrefoil wall or painting stripes, I can't keep myself from painting accent walls very, very bold colors. 

Like this wall. I'm so.freaking.tired. of this wall. 

The day Graham left for Germany, I bought an Expedit shelving unit from Ikea. It was already assembled and a great price. Unfortunately, I was driving my Civic. 

That day, I learned a very valuable lesson: an assembled 5ish foot tall shelving unit will NOT fit into a Civic. Since it was on sale, I couldn't return it. So what's a girl to do? Go inside, get some tools and sit down on the floor to disassemble it. 

On the way home, I was texting Graham and asked him to pick a color: pink or purple. And the image started together in my head. 


This wall HAD to be painted. Had to. Putting a while shelf in front of an off white wall was just more boring on top of boring. 


So, I went to Home Depot, and picked a bold & bright shade of purple. 


And ta-da! I am SO thrilled with how it turned out! The bold purple is really pretty with every tone in the room. I love the way it looks against the dark cabinets, the off white walls, the dark gray couch, the recycled glass countertops, etc. Its a bit brighter than the navy I usually use, and I love it. 


Accessorizing my book case was challenging... I need more hardcover books with brightly colored spines. Too bad you can't sort books on Amazon based on spine color....


The only thing left do do: take care of the bar stool situation. A certain puppy I know and love chewed these up during her chewing stage. I'm thinking something like this, but in cream & gold. 


I know that painting walls in an apartment isn't everyone's cup of tea. Some apartments don't allow it, and other people don't think that painting is worth it when you have to repaint when you move. But here's the thing- even though you don't own the apartment, it's your home for a specific amount of time. We're going to be in our apartment until next February. So, I want to make it feel like home while we're here. 


Sunday, March 9, 2014

Recipe: Chicken Tortilla Soup


I've been trying to cook some of the original recipes I posted on this blog, and re-photograph them with a higher quality camera.

This one just needed to be photographed, period. I know soup isn't the easiest thing to take a picture of, but what was I thinking posting a recipe with no picture?

Anyways, this soup is a favorite in my house. It is spicy, hearty and delicious and so easy to make.

Chicken Tortilla Soup
Ingredients:
  • 2 10 oz cans of Rotel w/ green chili's
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil.
  • 1 14.5 oz can of black beans, drained & rinsed
  • 1 14.5 oz can of corn, drained & rinsed
  • 6 cups of chicken stock 
  • 2 bell peppers; chopped
  • 1 onion; chopped
  • 1 jalapeno; finely diced
  • 1 lb. of chicken; chopped into bite sized pieces
  • 2 T. chili powder
  • 2 T. cumin, 
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • Jalapenos, avocado, sour cream or any toppings you like as a garnish

Directions:
  1. Heat oil over medium heat and add peppers & onions. Saute until tender; about 8-10 minutes. 
  2. When peppers & onions are tender, add the stock, tomatoes, corn, black beans & seasonings.  
  3. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Add chicken and let simmer for 15-20 minutes.
  4. Top with any toppings you desire. 


Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Recipe: Chicken Gumbo Soup

I made this soup a few days ago when Graham left for Germany, but I thought I'd wait and share it today in honor of Mardi Gras.


Every time Graham leaves for a trip, I make soup. Why? It's simple. I like making soup. It comforts me. And I'm one of those weirdos who will happily sit down with a bowl of soup & a grilled cheese when it's a hundred degrees outside. I also hate doing dishes... so this way, I only have one pot to wash, and can just throw the bowl & spoon in the dishwasher every night.

Lucky for me, I don't mind eating leftovers. Because the soups I make always make a ton.

This one was no exception. My 5.5 quart dutch oven was filled nearly to the brim. Luckily the soup was delicious. The only change I'll make for the next time is adding half the rice. Like the orzo in the Italian Wedding Soup, the rice kept sucking up the liquid and the next day it was more of a stew.

After looking at about a 1,000 gumbo & gumbo soup recipes, I've decided that going to the World Championship Gumbo Cook-off in Louisiana is now on my bucket list. There are so many different ways that people make gumbo, and I'm dying to try them all.


Anyways. Regardless of liquid sucking grains, this was delicious. I'm glad... because I'm having leftovers again tonight =)

Chicken Gumbo Soup
(Recipe Inspired by this one.)

Ingredients:

  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts; chopped into bite sized pieces
  • 1 yellow onion; finely chopped
  • 1 green bell pepper; seeds & membranes removed and finely chopped
  • 5 celery stalks; thinly sliced in half moons
  • 2 C. of chopped okra (frozen or fresh)
  • 2 cloves of garlic; mined
  • 1 28 oz. can of diced tomatoes 
  • 1 T. of tomato paste
  • 2 T. of creole seasoning
  • 2 T. of Tabasco (or any other hot sauce)
  • 1/4 C. of all purpose flour
  • olive oil
  • 2 quarts of chicken stock (8 cups)
  • 1 C. of rice (I'm only going to use 1/2 C. next time)

Directions:
  1. Heat olive oil in the bottom of a large dutch oven over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the chopped vegetables and cook until tender (about 10 minutes). Add the garlic and cook for an additional 1-2 minutes. 
  2. Sprinkle the flour over the vegetables and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly. 
  3. Whisk in the chicken stock slowly, scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Then add the tomatoes, the tomato paste, the seasonings, the hot sauce, the chicken and the rice. Raise the heat and bring the soup to a boil. The reduce the heat to low and let simmer for 20 minutes. 
  4. You can either cook the chicken in the soup, or cook it separately and add it at the end. I let mine cook with the soup, but I know some people feel weird about that. 


Wednesday, February 26, 2014

What I'm Loving Wednesday: Monograms



Like almost every southern woman, I love monograms. If I could, I would have an embroidery machine and I would monogram everything Graham & and I own. 

One day I will have an embroidery machine (I should probably learn to use a sewing machine first...), but for now I'll just pin all kinds of fabulous monogrammed things and give Etsy shops way too much of my money. 

Here are some of the monogrammed things I'm really loving right now. 

Monogrammed J. Crew chino shorts. So cute. 

I'm not nearly in shape enough to wear this, but I adore it. 

I need the duffel. With pink script, please. 

How cute is this monogrammed stationary? 

Graham is being stubborn, but this pillow is eventually going to find its way onto our bed. 




Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Recipe: Italian Wedding Soup with Turkey Meatballs

*** I first blogged this recipe almost two years ago. Over the past two years, my skills in the kitchen have gotten better, and with my recent camera purchase, so have the pictures. One thing that hasn't changed is how delicious this soup is! ***



Italian Wedding Soup with Turkey Meatballs & Orzo
(Recipe adapted from this one.)

Ingredients:
  • 1 lb. ground turkey
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 3 T. Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 3 quarts chicken broth
  • 1 10 oz. box of frozen spinach, thawed and liquid squeezed out.
  • 3 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 3 stalks of celery, chopped
  • 2 cups orzo pasta
  • 3 T. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 t. of red pepper flakes
  • Salt and Pepper to taste 

Directions:
  1. Saute carrots, onion and celery in oil until soft and starting to brown.
  2. While veggies cook, make the meatballs: mix turkeys, eggs, breadcrumbs, parmesan, salt and pepper in a separate mixing bowl. Form into ½ inch balls, and set on a baking sheet.
  3. Cook meatballs on the baking sheet in 375F degree oven for 12-15 minutes.
  4. Add chicken stock to veggies and then stir in the thawed spinach and add the red pepper flakes.
  5. Let the mixture reduce on high heat.
  6. Add pasta to soup to cook.
  7. When meatballs are cooked, add them to the soup.
  8. Boil 5 minutes and season with salt and pepper. 
This was SUPER delicious. Really. Hardcore delicious. Graham and I both LOVED this soup, and it made a TON. The only problem? The orzo keeps sucking up the chicken stock. And the next day it had turned from soup to pasta salad. Completely different texture, but still really good.