Tag Archives: NanaBread

Papaya Cheesecake Bars

Papaya Cheesecake Bars - Cut Bars & Pan

The Polar Vortex killed our papaya tree. Poor little guy. We just planted him last summer, so we barely knew him. To make matters worse, we’re having trouble finding another papaya tree to replace him. Not that we’re interviewing or anything, but the nursery doesn’t have any. Which is a round-about way to say The Complete Package bought a fresh papaya last weekend that was bigger than my head so he could germinate the seeds in an attempt to grow papaya trees. That’s great, but it left us with a gallon of diced papaya. Thatza lotta papaya.

What does one do with a gallon of fresh papaya? Not much, apparently. I searched the internet for ideas, but recipe choices were mainly limited to smoothies. After two or three of those, I was done. Then I saw a recipe for papaya jam, and that really got me thinking. Surely I could so something with papaya jam, right? Enter Papaya Cheesecake Bars.

Papaya Cheesecake Bars - In the Pan

Sometimes I come up with an idea that actually works. Surprising, I know.

NanaBread’s Papaya Cheesecake Bars:
(makes two 8″ x 8″ square pans or one 13″ x 9″ rectangle)

For the papaya jam:
4 cups fresh papaya – peeled, seeded & diced
1/2 cup orange marmalade
1/4 cup orange juice
1/4 cup sugar (optional, or add to taste)
2 tablespoons cornstarch dissolved in 3 tablespoons cold water

In a heavy-bottom saucepan, combine the fresh papaya, marmalade and orange juice. Simmer over medium-low heat until the papaya is soft and the mixture begins to thicken a little. Taste to determine if sugar needs to be added. If so, add up to 1/4 cup of sugar (to your taste) and cook until the sugar dissolves. Whisk in the cornstarch slurry and continue to stir constantly until the mixture thickens. Place a strainer over a mixing bowl, and pour the papaya mixture into the strainer. Using a flexible silicone spatula, press the papaya mixture through, straining out any fruit fiber or lumps. Allow the strained mixture to cool completely. While it’s cooling, you can start your shortbread crust.

For the shortbread crust:
1 cup Bob’s Red Mill coconut meal
1 cup Bob’s Red Mill almond meal
6 tablespoons brown sugar
a pinch of salt
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, cold & cubed

Pre-heat your oven to 375F. In a food processor, combine all of the shortbread ingredients. Pulse until well combined and the texture of course sand. Line your baking pan(s) with parchment and add the shortbread mixture (it will be crumbly). Shake the pan to distribute the crumbs, then tap it flat on the counter a few times to help settle them in an even layer. Cover with a sheet of parchment and use a rolling-pin or heavy glass to roll the crumbs into a solid, compact layer. Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until the edges start to brown. While the crust is baking, mix up your cheesecake filling.

For the cheesecake layer:
1 package (8 ozs.) cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 egg yolks
1 whole egg
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 teaspoon coconut extract

In a mixing bowl, combine the cheesecake ingredients. Whisk until the mixture is completely smooth. Pour over the baked shortbread crust, tapping the pan on the counter to remove any air bubbles. Pop it back into the oven for 10-12 minutes, or just until you can shake the pan gently and the cheesecake doesn’t jiggle. Remove from the oven and allow it to cool completely. Once cooled, top with papaya jam, spreading it into a smooth even layer. Chill for at least 2 hours before serving. Keep refrigerated.

Papaya Cheesecake Bars - Cut

Truth in Marketing Moment: I dusted mine with powdered sugar, but it really served no purpose other than adding texture to the photographs. The sugar dissolved almost immediately into the papaya jam and vanished. Feel free to skip that step unless you’re also photographing your papaya bars, in which case it’ll look pretty and everybody loves pretty desserts.

That papaya jam? It’s supremely tasty, so I’ll be canning more of that.

Remember when people used to ask “If you were a crayon, what color would you be?” I’m changing my answer. It used to be Cornflower Blue, but now it’s Papaya Orange. That color just screams SASSY.

Papaya Cheesecake Bars - Horizontal

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OKMHHOU: The Great Reunion

OKMHHOU - Group Snap

I love this photo! What’s most notable is not the colorful donkey piñata (whom we named Kevin), but that all seven of our OKMH (One Kitchen Many Hearts) crew are in the same place at the same time for the first time ever. That’s right. We all gathered here in Houston so that we could gaze upon each other’s faces live & in person for the first time ever. Granted, some of us have met over the past 3 1/2 years since we met via The Pioneer Woman‘s website, but never have we all been in the same place at once. Until now. But let’s start at the very beginning. In a galaxy far, far away…. no, wait. That’s another saga.

Once upon a time, about 3 1/2 years ago, several of us started reading The Pioneer Woman‘s website. And during that time, we began to reply to one another’s comments, or comment on the recipes each of us would upload to the Tasty Kitchen page. Over time, we began to write our own blogs and continued to comment and subscribe to each other’s blogs. That gradually morphed into closer friendships via Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Eventually, we all joined Group Me (an instant messaging app) where we began to share even more personal aspects of our lives. Things we wouldn’t share on the Internet for everyone to see. Personal things. Things you share with your closest girlfriends. And eventually, we became more like sisters.

Before the girls arrived, I made two keepsake crafts for them – handmade monogrammed pillowcases and toast-themed coasters (aka Toasters). Pinterest – it’s where the magic begins.

OKMHHOU - Pillowcases

OKMHHOU - Toast Coasters

Kirsten of Comfortably Domestic was the first to arrive. This was actually her second visit; she came last May for a long weekend. We joke that we are Sisters From Other Misters. She came in from Michigan around noon. When she left that morning, her journey involved black ice on the highway and a night spent with family in another city to ensure she could get a plane out. Once here, it was sunny and 70F and we were dining on burgers on the patio at Good Company Taqueria. The Polar Vortex can bite it.

OKMHHOU - Kirsten @ Lunch

After lunch, we drove home to prep a Mexican fiesta banquet for the others because nothing says “Thanks for flying all day” like a fiesta and a pitcher of Mexican Martinis. This is where things got dicey. The remaining five of our group (Madelyn from La Petite Pancake, Megan from Country Cleaver, Beka from Kvetchin’ Kitchen, Allison from Decadent Philistines and Kat from Tenaciously Yours) were subjected to all kinds of drama. First, three of them were delayed in Denver due to high winds. It all worked out, though barely in Allison’s case, and they all 3 boarded the same plane from Denver to Houston. Kat came from the tundra of Minnesota where the roads were treacherous, but the airport was up and running. Let it be noted that Minnesota knows how to winter. Ice and 8′ of snow? They barely flinch. Madelyn, from the LA area, flew straight in. No sweat. Californians make everything look easy.

But wait – there’s more! After being blown away that they had scheduled all their flights to arrive within 30 minutes of each other, they gathered at baggage claim and made their way to the car rental shuttle. Our group had made a reservation for a 7-passenger Dodge Caravan minivan for the weekend. As soon as Madelyn stepped up to the counter to get the car, the entire building lost power. I’ll let the others explain what occurred since they were there in person, but let’s just say the rental company failed us. There was no car rented and the cab called by the rental company charged them $115 to drive them one-way to my house that night (which they were told would be reimbursed but still haven’t been). If ever a group of ladies deserved a pitcher of margaritas, this was it.

The next morning, Madelyn & Kat spent at least 2 hours on the phone with Customer Care only to be shifted from number to number, each time getting yet another disinterested service rep. After two hours, the bottom line was no rental van, a strong probability they would be forced to eat the cab fare, and no car to use for our planned day trip to Brenham. Finally, we resolved it by canceling the reservation from hell and calling another rental company near my home. It cost twice as much and ended up being a 10 passenger panel van, but hey… it was wheels and they were great to deal with. Thank you Walter at Avis! Of course, we took Kevin the Piñata Donkey with us everywhere.

OKMHHOU - Party Van Collage

For our first full day together, we were off to the Hill Country and Brenham, Texas where we met up with Katie from The Hill Country Cook. We had so much fun! We hit a few antique shops and bought a few blog props, then hit Must Be Heaven for lunch. It’s a family owned sandwich shop that also has an old-fashioned ice cream counter and a case full of pies. What is not to love about that? I chose the daily special consisting of a slice of quiche (I chose the bacon, cheese & mushroom) and a bowl of soup (broccoli cheese).

OKMHHOU - Lunch at Must Be Heaven

Then we dove into the pie case. Together, we tried the Dutch apple pie, the cherry, a lemon meringue and a slice of chess pie. Madelyn opted for an ice cream cone and although I don’t remember what it was called (something something Mexican cheesecake maybe?) I’ll never forget her face while she was eating it. When asked if it was vanilla, Mads said something like “It looks like vanilla, but it tastes like heaven in my mouth.” Ringing endorsement indeed. A cookie made it in there, too, but my focus was on the pie. I love pie.

OKMHHOU - Desserts at Must Be Heaven

After lunch, we had no choice but to walk it off with more shopping. Here in Texas, we love our state. Not just “Oh, it’s great here” but in a more rabid “Our state is the best. Long live the Republic!” way. As such, we hang lone stars and things shaped like Texas in the same way others hang family photos. Case in point – this wall hanging made from vintage Texas license plates. Because the only thing better than Texas stuff is Texas stuff layered on more Texas stuff.

OKMHHOU - License Plate State

It wasn’t all antiques and rusty metal, though. There were hats, vintage clothing, baubles & beads, sandals & flip-flops and crocheted vests galore. Also food blog props, vintage literature and a handful of Christmas ornaments were involved. We stayed so busy shop-hopping that when we finally slowed down enough for a few of the ladies to try on clothes, the rest of us hit the sofas and took advantage of a Twitter & Instagram break. As we like to say, “Snaps or it didn’t happen!”

OKMHHOU - Twitter Break

When we eventually noticed that the shops were closing and the streets were rolling up, we said a sad farewell to our buddy Katie. So happy she joined us! Top Row: Kirsten, Allison, Me & Beka. Bottom Row: Megan, Kat, Katie & Mads.

OKMHHOU - Group in Brenham

We waved goodbye and crawled back into the panel van to head home. On the way, we impulse stopped at Buc-ee’s – the greatest convenience store on earth. Why? 1) ladies’ restrooms with 30+ stalls featuring full wood doors, complete privacy, individual hand sanitizer dispensers and a full-time cleaning crew. 2) clothing department with beaver emblazoned t-shirts, cammo everything and beer koozies to match. 3) full-size BBQ grills, Lodge cast iron cookware and a cooking/cookbook area. 4) an entire aisle devoted to jerky. 5) Beaver Nuggets – both caramel corn & the nugget equivalent of Flaming Hot Cheetos. They’re seriously addictive. What’s truly hilarious is while we were in Buc-ee’s near Hempstead, Katie was simultaneously hitting Buc-ee’s on Highway 71.

One kitchen, many hearts. Many kitchens, one mind. It’s spooky, really.

OKMHHOU - Buc-ee's Stop

Back at the ranch, we feasted on TCP’s brisket, sausage, beans, slaw, and all the sauces & relish tray items you can imagine. If it could be pickled, it was probably there. We also cracked open the Shiner and assorted beers on ice. When we were filled to the brim and crying for mercy, The Complete Package broke out the homemade peach cobbler and Blue Bell vanilla ice cream. Lord, I love that man.

Sunday, we slept late and were treated to French toast waffles. The recipe isn’t on the blog yet, but it’s coming soon. After snarfing up waffles and enough bacon to make your eyes roll back in your head, we hit the road for Alvin, Texas. On the way, we stopped at Rustic Metal Works where we checked out the cute lawn art, wall hangings and assorted hardware. And since there was a taco truck right next door, we decided to stop for a snack that included one 5-piece taco plate with salsas, one lingua taco (tongue) and a chicharrón (pork rind) taco. Following the Blogger’s Rule, first we photographed and then we dug in.

OKMHHOU - Taco Truck Snacks

After passing the wet-wipes and blowing out a flip-flop, we made a quick pit stop at Walmart for replacement footwear and to take in the local color (read: topless woman in a pickup truck). From there, we hit the antique mall to shop for more blog props and household items we couldn’t live without. I found this vintage locker basket and fell in love. For $20, I couldn’t resist and now it’s on my sewing table holding fabric and ribbons. Love it!

OKMHHOU - Locker Basket for Fabric

Since Kirsten’s visit last May, we have cooed over the miniature donkeys near my house more times than I can count, so of course we had to take the others to visit. Luckily, when we arrived they were in the meadow close to the road and we even got an up-close encounter with two of them. They are beyond adorable. Keep in mind when you view the photos – these donkeys are full-grown adults. The baby we saw last May was the size of a cocker spaniel. That’s right, people – the babies are practically pocket donkeys and I adore them.

OKMHHOU - Field of Miniature Donkeys

OKMHHOU - Miniature Donkeys Coming to Visit

OKMHHOU - Allison & Beka Pet the Donkeys

Mads & Megan - Petting Donkeys

OKMHHOU - Donkey Close-Up

OKMHHOU - Megan & the Donkeys

Two out of two tiny donkeys agree: ear scratches are the best.

Monday was another late start. Over many coffees and a few chai teas, we pulled together the breakfast we’d dreamed of while planning our weekend – The Biscuit Bar. We made a big tray of buttermilk biscuits, a pan of sausage gravy, and pulled all the jams & jellies out of the fridge. Oh, and there was more bacon. Of course.

After breakfast, we broke out the packing supplies and the flat-rate boxes, and packed up everything that couldn’t or wouldn’t fit in suitcases. It was frantic. And hilarious. And Mads & I both scored a bag of Beaver Nuggets that wouldn’t pack. Hooray for Bonus Nugs!

OKMHHOU - Packing Suitcase Overruns

The only thing left was a return trip to Rustic Metal Works to rescue a flying pig. You see, Beka fell in love but talked herself out of it. Then we were distracted by street tacos, and it was decided that if she still woke up the next morning thinking of her new spirit animal, we would go back for him. Arriving to find the place locked up (closed Mondays) was like listening to air slowly released from a balloon. Luckily, if it fits it ships, so I agreed to go back later in the week and rescue a pig. Meet Al Porccino.

OKMHHOU - Al Porccino Comes Home

He’s adorable. And speaking of Beka, she had my name for our last OKMH box exchange. Check out my package. (Stop giggling.)

OKMHHOU - OKMH Box Items

That’s an assortment of hot sauces from her recent trip to Mexico, a bag of Australian Jungle Jellies, assorted bars of chocolates (not sharing), a bottle of Mexican vanilla, and a squirrel ornament from our day in Brenham. Perfect.

And so, after four days of endless chatter, late nights, very little sleep, way too much food and a few bottles of wine, beer and bubbles, our first live & in person One Kitchen Many Hearts weekend came to a close. It was fun. It was heartfelt. And it was way too short. Anyone who says friendships formed on the internet aren’t real are doing it wrong. These ladies are my friends, and I couldn’t love them more. We may be different shapes, ages and personalities, but that’s what makes us work as a group. We fill each others gaps. We support each other, both on our blogs and in our personal lives. It may have started with random comments on a website, but it has grown into so much more. I treasure these ladies, and it was really hard to watch that huge panel van drive away. If you don’t believe me, just ask Kevin.

OKMHHOU - Goodbye is Never Easy

I seriously can’t wait to do it again next year! I’ll bring Kevin.

OKMHHOU - The End

To see what the other ladies posted from our weekend, visit:
Megan at Country Cleaver
Kirsten at Comfortably Domestic
Beka at Kvetchin’ Kitchen
Allison at Decadent Philistines Save the World
Mads at La Petite Pancake
Kat at Tenaciously Yours

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Filed under Blogger Collaborations, Things I Love, Travel Tales

Pizza Week: Pepperoni Rolls Two Ways

Pizza Week Calzones - Cut - Vertical

It’s hard to compete with pizza places – they’re fast, cheap and sometimes a little too convenient, if you know what I mean. How does any parent compete with a $5 pizza from Little Caesar’s? We can’t, really. But we CAN make easy pizzas at home. Are these going to pass for gourmet? No way! But that’s not what I’m going for here. For Pizza Week, I’m shooting for quick and easy.

TIP: I use frozen bread dough. You can make your own, but I’m a confirmed yeast slayer so prepared frozen dough works for me. To thaw it more quickly on a cold day, spray the inside of a gallon zip bag then insert 2 loaves of frozen dough and seal the bag shut. Place the bag on an electric heating pad turned to high heat and cover the dough & heating pad with a thick towel. Every once in a while, check to see how it’s progressing and flip the bag over.

Once the dough is soft and warm, flour your cutting board or work surface. I always get excited when a board gets floured. A myriad of warm and wonderful goodies begins right here.

A Floured Board - Inside NanaBread's Head

Place your bread dough onto a floured board, and using your fingertips, gently press the dough into a rectangle (roughly 8″ x 12″). Cover it with a lightweight kitchen towel and allow it to rest for 10-15 minutes. When it is well rested, grab a rolling-pin and roll the dough into a larger rectangle (about 12″ x 18″).

Pizza Week - Bread Dough

I like a simple sauce on my pizza, so a small can of tomato sauce with Italian herbs & spices blended in is perfect for me. I usually throw in a little garlic salt and hot chili flakes, as well as an extra pinch of dried oregano, but that’s optional. When you’re ready to assemble, lay out your toppings and get busy. Here’s how I put together an easy Pepperoni & Mushroom Calzone.

Pizza Week Calzones - Collage

Top to Bottom: a little sauce, provolone, pepperoni, button & baby bella mushrooms sauteed in butter, Italian 5-cheese blend & parmesan; stretch out the sides of the dough & cut with pizza cutter; pinch together ends, brush with olive oil (or see below) & bake until golden.

Want to blow your family’s mind? Melt half a stick of butter, throw in a little garlic salt & oregano and then brush it all over the top of your calzone just before you pop it in the oven. Bake until golden brown, then remove from the oven and allow it to cool for 5-10 minutes before slicing. Soft, gooey pizza has to be one of the greatest things to ever come out of an oven. Can I get an amen?

Pizza Week Calzones - Vertical

Pizza Week Calzones - Cut - Horizontal

Okay… so everyone loves pizza, but sometimes we don’t have time to make bread dough or wait for it to rise. Here’s my second version of quick pizza rolls – wonton-style. These could not be simpler. You’ll need a package of wonton wrappers (produce section), a package of string cheese, a package of pepperoni, a small bowl of water and a frying pan with about 3/4″ of canola or vegetable oil.

Pizza Rolls - Wonton Style - Collage

The key to these is that small bowl of water. Use the water to ‘paint’ the edges of the wonton wrappers. It acts as glue and causes the cornstarch coating on the wrappers to seal these puppies shut, which is really important when you drop them into hot oil. If yours start to peel open again, just dip your finger in water and stick it back together again. Fry in hot oil (325F) until golden brown, then remove to paper towels to cool. Presto! Pizza Rolls!

Pizza Rolls - Wonton-Style & Ready to Serve
I like to serve these with warm marinara. Again, I usually toss in some oregano and chili flakes. I like my marinara zippy. If you like your cheese ooey and gooey, just microwave these for 30-45 seconds just before serving.

Pizza Rolls - A Perfect Bite

Ready for MORE pizza? Check out our merry band of Theme Weavers and their gooey contributions to Pizza Week:

Monday:
Carrie @ Bakeaholic Mama – Pizza Dough & a King Arthur Flour giveaway

Tuesday:
Kat @ Tenaciously Yours – Zorbaz Taco Pizza
Kirsten @ Comfortably Domestic – 30-Minute Cornmeal Pizza Crust

Wednesday:
Megan @ Country Cleaver – Proscuitto & Pear Pie
Madelyn @ La Petite Pancake – Tangy BBQ Chicken Pizza

Thursday:
Beka @ Kvetchin’ Kitchen – Clam & Bacon Pizza
Monica @ The Grommom – Pesto & Roasted Veggie Pizza on Gluten-Free Crust

Friday:
Jeanne @ Inside NanaBread’s Head – that’s me!
Lauren @ Climbing Grier Mountain – Caramelized Onion, Sausage, and Barbecue Pizza with Ranch Dressing
Kirsten @ Comfortably Domestic – Greek Pizza

PizzaWeekBadge

Honorable Mentions: The following are blog posts I’ve drooled over on other blogger’s websites. While not a part of our Pizza Week shenanigans, they are definitely worth a mention.

Megan @ Country Cleaver – Carnitas Pizza with Mango Margaritas

Carrie @ Bakeaholic Mama – Jalapeno Popper Buffalo Chicken Pizza

Lauren @ Climbing Grier Mountain – Pot Roast Naan Pizza with Caramelized Onions & Fontina

Anne @ From My Sweet Heart – Sausage, Egg & Cheese Breakfast Pizza

Michelle @ Brown-Eyed Baker – Pizza Dip

Christina @ Dessert For Two – Chocolate Raspberry Dessert Pizza

Bev @ Bev Cooks – Simple Tandoori Chicken Naan Pizza

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Foodie Challenge: Balsamic Reduction

Ever read the fabulous food blog Country Cleaver? You should. It’s author, Megan Keno, is amazing. Each week, she posts an instructional kitchen how-to lesson. This week, it was how to make a perfect balsamic vinegar reduction. One ingredient, one method, one beautiful result. As a new twist, she is turning her How-To Tuesday posts into a monthly contest. The winner receives a $25 gift card to Target. I like Target, but I love a food challenge. Let’s do this!

Photo courtesy of Megan at CountryCleaver.com; used with written permission

Photo courtesy of Megan at CountryCleaver.com; used with written permission

To participate, you must follow Megan’s how-to lesson and then show your work. I like this SO much better than math class word problems. Since I had a bottle of balsamic vinegar in the pantry, I jumped right on it and used my reduction for lunch. First, let’s talk about the process. All you need is a bottle of balsamic vinegar and a heavy-bottomed saucepan with rounded edges.

Bahn Mi - Balsamic Reduction Collage

Step 1: Measure 1 cup of balsamic vinegar.
Step 2: Pour it into a saucepan with curved sides (important for whisking).
Step 3: Cook over medium-low heat until reduced by 1/2 and syrupy.
Step 4: Pour into a heat-proof glass container & cool to room temp.

It’s really that simple. I will say, I was afraid I would burn this and have to pour it out or start over. To prevent that, I stayed close to it, whisked often, and when it started to bubble and thicken, I reduced the flame to low – just to be sure. When it was thick enough to coat a spoon and I could scrape a path through the pan with a silicone spatula, I knew I was golden.

Bahn Mi - Balsamic Reduction Test

So what do you do with balsamic reduction? I decided to use mine on sandwiches for lunch – specifically spicy chicken bahn mi sandwiches. Because why eat a boring bologna sandwich when you can have something schmancy? Actually, I hopped on this one because I had all the ingredients at hand.

Bahn Mi - Finished Sandwich Glamor Shot

Oh yeah, baby…. come to momma! This sandwich was so flipping good, y’all. It was absolutely packed with flavor. Would I eat it again? You bet your sweet bippy I would. Here’s what you’ll need to make it at home.

NanaBread’s Spicy Chicken Bahn Mi:
1 boneless, skinless chicken breast
1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp. garlic salt
1 tsp. Penzey’s Bangkok Blend spice mix
2 bakery buns (soft on the inside/crusty on the outside)
1-2 tbsp. Thai chili garlic paste
6 baby carrots, julienned
1 jalapeno pepper, thinly sliced
1 orange mild pepper, thinly sliced
2-3 tbsp. roasted peanuts, chopped
a few rings of purple onion, thinly sliced
one leaf of romaine lettuce, julienned
one handful of cilantro, stems removed
1-2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar reduction
lime wedges, for garnish & squeezing

This recipe starts with the balsamic vinegar reduction.

Bahn Mi - Balsamic Reduction

While your vinegar is reducing, prep your chicken breast by trimming off any excess fat and slicing it into 1/2″ cutlets. Heat a non-stick skillet over high heat, add 1 the olive oil, then carefully add the chicken cutlets to the pan. Sprinkle generously with garlic salt and Bangkok blend and cook just until done, flipping once (approx. 2 minutes on each side). Remove to a plate, tent with foil, and allow them to cool. And try not to snitch, which isn’t easy, because that Penzey’s spice blend smells amazing.

Bahn Mi - Finished Chicken

While your chicken rests, warm your bakery buns. I like to wrap mine in aluminum foil and throw them in the oven on low for about 15 minutes. While they’re warming, julienne your vegetables and chop your peanuts.

Bahn Mi - Ingredient Round-Up

Bahn Mi - Roasted Peanuts

When you’re ready to assemble, slice your bun almost in half horizontally (don’t go all the way through). Smear a generous tablespoon of chili garlic sauce on the bottom half of the bun (or less, as you prefer). Top with a row of chicken cutlets, then layer on the lettuce, peppers, purple onion, carrots and cilantro. To finish, drizzle with balsamic reduction and a squeeze of lime. Hello, gorgeous!

Bahn Mi - Finished - Grey Background

Oh, how I wish we had smell-a-vision. There’s so much going on here. The chicken smells warm & spicy, the chili garlic sauce opens your sinuses, and the balsamic vinegar is tangy and sweet all at the same time. This entire sandwich is an explosion of flavors, and the beauty is that they all seem to balance each other out perfectly – spicy but sweet, crispy yet soft, crunch and creamy.

I served these with one of those microwaveable Asian pad-thai-style noodle bowls topped with a sprinkling of chopped peanuts, a few pepper slices and some fresh cilantro. {Claps hands, drops mic, walks away. Boom!}

Bahn Mi - Finished Sandwich Glamor Shot2

I think Megan’s How-To Tuesday challenges and I are going to get along just fine. And if I don’t win the Target card, I’m still a winner. Because I got to eat that sandwich.

If you want to follow along or jump in and participate, follow Megan at www.countrycleaver.com, or on Twitter @CountryCleaver, or on Instagram and follow the #HowToYOUsDay hashtag.

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Traveling TX: Lost Maples State Park

Do you ever dream of getting away from it all? Job, cell phone, e-mail, other people… all of it? The Complete Package and I found a place that does that for us. It’s called St. Clare’s Cabin near Leakey, Texas. If you’ve been a reader for a while, you’ll remember we went there last Christmas. This rustic, fabulous cabin is everything we look for in a getaway – quaint, quiet & remote.

LeakeyTX - Porch at St Clare's Cabin

The cabin is in the middle of nowhere in the Texas Hill Country – 4 miles from Vanderpool, 11 miles from Leakey. Still don’t know where that is? Well, that’s the point. It’s waaaaay out there, in the mountains northwest of San Antonio. So far out I had to drive to Bandera to get a cell signal. For real. And I loved it.

Last year, we went just before Christmas. This year, we decided to go right after Thanksgiving and I’m so glad we did. There was still some fall color to ‘ooh & aah’ over. To make the most of it, we visited Lost Maples State Park to try to catch the maples at their finest. We were almost too late, but there was still some beauty to behold. Here’s a sampling of our afternoon hiking Lost Maples.

Lost Maples - Lone Maple with Cliffs

Lost Maples - Pond at Trailhead

Lost Maples - Orange Maple

Lost Maples - Creek withTexas Rock

Did you notice that big rock in the middle of the creek? It immediately caught my eye. Why? Because it looks like the state of Texas, if the entire eastern side of the state crumbled and fell off. Err… sorry, Houston!

Lost Maples - Texas Rock

I’m taking that as a sign that we should move to the Hill Country. {wink} Another cool feature found near the water is the limestone rock that has literally been picked up by the cypress tree roots and incorporated into the trees.

Lost Maples - Cypress Stump with Rocks

The trails through Lost Maples are lovely. Some are steep and challenging; some are more level and lazy. Whichever you choose, the most important thing is to get out of the car and enjoy the trails. Pack a picnic lunch and find a quiet spot by the river. Take a nap under a maple or hike the loop & enjoy the foliage.

Lost Maples - Steps on Maple Loop

It’s so beautiful under the canopy of maples, you can’t help but relax.

To learn more about Lost Maples State Park, visit Texas Parks & Wildlife.

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Luscious Leftovers: Lettuce Wraps

We meal plan in this house. Each Sunday evening, I sit with a notepad and plan out our week. Lately, my game plan involves picking a few main dish meats that can be re-used as leftovers in a variety of ways. With just two of us, it makes it easier to buy, easier to stretch, and easier to save money as well.

For example, The Complete Package recently smoked a rack of pork ribs. That night, we had a traditional barbecue feast of ribs with beans and macaroni salad. The next night we one of my favorite simple go-to meals – Asian lettuce wraps. When I say this one is easy, I’m not even kidding. Not one little bit.

Lettuce Wraps - Inside NanaBread's Head

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • leftover smoked pork (ribs, pulled pork, chops, etc.), warmed up
  • a small pan of steamed white rice (we love basmati)
  • scallions, cut into 2″ strips lengthwise
  • butterhead or Boston lettuce, rinsed & patted dry
  • your favorite Asian hoisin or sweet chili sauce

Lettuce Wrap - Inside NanaBread's Head

To serve, simply lay out a leaf or two of lettuce. Add a spoonful of steamed rice, some smoked pork, a few scallions and a drizzle of your favorite hoisin or chili sauce (or both). Roll it up and stuff it in your pie hole. BAM! So good, and ready in mere minutes. This meal confirms my favorite motto: Keep it Simple.

Lettuce Wraps Collage - Inside NanaBread's Head

What is your go-to dinner in a hurry meal? I’d love for you to share it! -jeanne

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What we ate this summer.

Boy, did we eat well this summer! We may have consumed more than our fair share of fresh veggies in a wide variety of simple yet flavorful dishes. What is summer for, after all, if not the consumption of goodies from the farmers market and excuse to work on your tan? Here’s a peek at what we ate this summer.

Chicken Stir-Fry - My Bowl

It started with this chicken stir-fry over rice. I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned this before, but The Complete Package and I love rice. Like L-O-V-E it. You could put a bowl of plain rice in front of us and we’d be happy, but smothering it with this zesty stir-fry made us really happy campers. The recipe came from the Weber’s New Real Grilling Cookbook. Seen it yet? Well, you should. Holy smokes (yes, that’s a grill joke) – it’s exceptional.

When I brought this book home from the BlogHer Food Conference in Austin (Thank you, Dole!), we immediately decided to jump in and try as many recipes as we could as quickly as possible. Here’s another winner from the book.

Weber  - Avocado, Red Onion & Sun-Dried Tomato Quesadillas

This beauty is an avocado, red onion and sun-dried tomato quesadilla. It’s ooey, gooey, crispy and crunchy. It was meat-free, but it still had it all, and in an easy to eat portable package, too. So much flavor!

This next one came from an internet search TCP did for smoked chicken. Now that he has officially conquered brisket and ribs (his are to die for), he decided to tackle smoked chicken. The recipe he found was for a ‘competition grade’ chicken, and while I don’t think he’ll be competing anywhere, this bird deserves a blue ribbon. Isn’t it gorgeous? Smokey, juicy poultry in motion.

A Smoked Chicken

Next was our pizza phase – where we attempted to live out our “More Is More” motto to the fullest. This one was grilled chicken with a smokey BBQ sauce, red onion, sliced jalapenos and a blend of cheddar and monterrey jack cheese.

BBQ Chicken Pizza

Think that one was loaded? You ain’t seen nothing yet. THIS baby was loaded. I call it “All The Veggies” pizza, and it was an exercise in excess. Instead of a tomato sauce, I smeared a whole wheat dough with basil pesto, then layered on oodles of veggies – artichoke hearts, mushrooms, orange & yellow bell peppers, roasted piquillo peppers, fresh spinach, kalamata olives, and red onions – then topped it with ricotta, toasted pine nuts and a drizzle of olive oil. We could hardly pick it up, but the flavors were over-the-top fabulous.

DeLallo Veggie Pizza

Speaking of flavor, this simple dish from the Weber’s grilling book blew our minds. It is deceptive in that it doesn’t look like much, but practically explodes in your mouth. Yummy is an understatement. It starts with eggplant grilled over charcoal, which is then topped with a sun-dried tomato, shallot & garlic relish dressed in a balsamic vinaigrette. Wow. Just wow.

Grilled Eggplant with Sun-Dried Tomato Topping

Next up was a Cuban Sandwich made with leftover smoked pork tenderloin (also from the Weber book), but the star of this show was the tostones we made on the side. Ever had tostones? It’s hard to describe them, but if you ever have an opportunity to try them (or even make them), take it. They’re like thick chips made from plantains. Now, if you think plantains are just fat bananas, you are mistaken. They’re actually starchy like a potato, and unless you let them over-ripen, they are not sweet. Think of them as a potato substitute.

Cuban Sandwiches from Grilling Book - July10, 2013

To make tostones, peel and slice plantains and fry them in a little canola oil until they just start to crisp a little. Remove them from the oil, drain on paper towels, and flatten them with a metal spatula. Then, and I know this sounds strange, throw them BACK into the oil until they are a golden, crispy brown. Sprinkled with kosher salt & served with your favorite salsa, I promise you will never reach for corn chips again.

All this talk of chips and pizza is making me thirsty, which brings me to my last treat of the summer. The fine folks at Double Decker were kind enough to ask if I’d like to try their wine. I don’t think I could have said “Heck yes!” any faster. To my surprise, they sent two full-size bottles – Pinot Grigio (white) and their Red Blend. The red was opened first. We drank half the bottle with a nice steak dinner and used the last half the bottle for Blackberry Sangria. Mmm…. I can still smell and taste it just looking at this photo. My friend Beka pointed out that it appears the ice is giving a fist-bump. Wildly appropriate; it rocked!

Double Decker Blackberry Sangria - Inside NanaBread's Head

Blackberry Sangria is my new ‘must have’ for summer. To make, muddle one pint of fresh blackberries with 1/3 cup of sugar and add to a bottle of Double Decker Red Blend. Cap it and put in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours so the berries & wine can fall in love. Then strain and serve over ice with a few fresh berries for garnish. So good, and so refreshing. This would also work with red plums or raspberries. The pinot grigio is superb and crisp on its own, but also makes a great summer sangria with the addition of peaches, apples, orange slices and a handful of white grapes. If you lika de’ bubbles, top it with a splash of champagne, club soda or lemon-lime soda. Then sit back and reflect on a summer worthy of the record books.

Did you try anything this summer that knocked your socks off? Do tell!

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Filed under Food & Recipes, Miscellaneous Thoughts, Things I Love

DIY: A Pink Ombre TuTuTorial

Lilly Bug, our sweet spunky granddaughter, just turned four. FOUR! Can you believe it? We can’t. To celebrate her big day and her inner ballerina, I whipped up an easy pink ombre tutu inspired by Pinterest and just in time for her first ever dance classes. The best part – it only takes a few items from the store and about an hour of your time.

It starts with a specific type of stretchy headband. I found a set of 5 in various colors for only $3 at my local HEB (grocery) store. Two were pinks. Bonus!

Lilly's Tutu - headband starter
Next, you’ll need three shades of pink tulle, sold in 6″ wide rolls. I purchased a pale pink, medium pink and deep raspberry pink. To cut it into even lengths, I used a piece of cardboard that was 8 1/2″ x 11″ (or you can grab a picture frame off your shelf). Wrap the tulle around the 8 1/2″ side of the frame multiple times, then cut along both edges to create a handful of 8 1/2″ lengths of tulle. Start with 40 pieces in each shade, but be prepared to cut a few more, if needed.

I love how easily this comes together – NO SEWING! It’s all hand tied.

Tutu Collage1

1. Place the headband around a roll of paper towels to hold it in place.
2. See the gaps? We’ll be looping tulle through them, starting at the top.
3. Fold one piece of tulle in half and bunch it together at the fold.
4. Working along the top row, stick the fold through & make a 1″ loop.

Tutu Collage2

5. Grab both loose ends and pull them through the loop.
6. Gently pull the ends until it is firmly knotted.
7. Skipping one hole, start the process again.
8. Work around the headband until you have one row of the lightest pink, then repeat the process in the middle of the headband with the medium pink, and then around the bottom edge with the deepest pink. If your tulle is cut in advance, it will take approximately 30-45 minutes to complete the tutu. So easy!

This is how it looks on the inside of the headband when you’re done. Clean, simple, with no loose ends and plenty of stretch left in the headband.

Lilly's Tutu - Tied On

This is how it looks on the outside. I love the ombre effect!

Lilly's Tutu - Finished

Lilly's Tutu - Ombre Detail

If you have any tulle sticking out in odd places, simply trim them with a pair of scissors until all of the tulle is uniform in length. That’s it! Easy peasy tutu breezy. Because it was for Lilly Bug’s birthday, I tied it to the top of her other presents and put a flower on it to create a big fluffy bow.

Lilly's Tutu - Flower On Top

Lilly's Tutu - As Gift Topper

She really had no idea it was a tutu until she untied it to open her packages. It was so much fun. And here’s our little ballerina showing it off.

Lilly's Tutu Collage

Oh, Lilly Bug. You really are too sassy & cute for words, girlfriend!

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Horchata at Home

Horchata - long grain rice

Rice. My family loves it. In fact, it we might even prefer it to potatoes. Sounds crazy, but we find ourselves craving rice more than french fries. This weekend, The Complete Package whipped up one of our favorite summer refreshers.

Horchata - Inside NanaBread's Head

Horchata: a refreshing Mexican drink made with rice & cinnamon.

So simple, delicate, and fragrant – a good horchata is a revelation. And it’s easy to make. It only takes a few ingredients, most of which you probably already have in your fridge or pantry. Horchata is best when allowed to sit and bloom overnight, so plan to start this a day in advance for best results.

Horchata - Ingredient Collage

TCP’s Horchata (updated 2/26/2014):
1 cup long-grain white rice
2 1/2 cups boiling water
1 3″ Mexican cinnamon stick (canela)
4 cups whole milk (not skim or reduced fat)
1 can (12 ozs) evaporated milk
1 can (14 ozs) sweetened condensed milk
1 teaspoon Mexican vanilla
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Combine the rice and boiling water in your blender; blend on medium to medium-high until the rice begins to break up into small pieces (about a minute or so). Add the 3″ cinnamon stick. Cover the blender jar and allow it to sit on the counter at room temperature overnight (or up to 48 hours).

Strain the rice water to remove the kibbles & bits and discard the rice. Rinse out the container to remove any debris and pour the strained rice water back into the blender pitcher. Add the milks (all 3), vanilla, and ground cinnamon. Blend on medium speed for one minute. Pour into a serving pitcher and refrigerate. Stir just before serving to blend all the ingredients, as the fine rice pulp tends to settle to the bottom.

Horchata - CloseUp

Notes:
1. Mexican cinnamon & vanilla really are different that the version you’ll find in most markets. If you can find it in your area, please use it. The delicate, floral aroma is heavenly and takes this recipe to a whole new level.
2. This recipe can be doubled for a crowd.
3. This recipe is adapted from Lola’s Horchata at AllRecipes.com.
4. Horchata is perfect on a hot day or paired with spicy foods.
5. Horchata will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week.
6 Horchata makes excellent coffee creamer.

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My Favorite Season: Fall

Maine - Somesville Bridge

Oh, fall… I miss you so much. I miss experiencing all four seasons and the benefits of each like leaves turning, snow falling or bulbs blooming. But mostly I miss sweaters and drinking hot cocoa at high school football games. I long for those days when you can step outside and see your breath. In the suburbs south of Houston, we have only two seasons – Summer & More Summer. Our change of season comes down to this: in February, we stop mowing for 3-4 weeks.

The Complete Package and I both love Fall. So much so, we usually travel north each year just to celebrate autumn. Since we’ll be remodeling our master bathroom instead of traveling this year, I’m celebrating the advent of fall with a few photos from our trip to Acadia National Park in Maine back in 2008. It was glorious. So welcome, Fall. Please come see us. We miss you something fierce.

Foliage in Acadia Natl Park

Acadia Maine - Sun Through Fall Foliage

Acadia Maine Leaves in Water

Acadia - Path to Jordan Pond

Somesville Main Tree in Fall

Ever thought of visiting Acadia National Park? Learn more HERE. Some of our other fall favorites – Glacier National Park, Calgary & Banff, Yellowstone & The Tetons, and the Oregon coast. Do you have a favorite place to visit in the fall? Please share! You may just inspire our next fall vacation or someone else’s.

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Filed under Things I Love, Travel Tales