The Smart Cookie’s Guide to Royal Icing

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Royal icing is having a major moment. Seriously. Decorated cookies are almost as popular as Pokemon Go right now.

There is a cookie cutter for virtually anything or any occasion you can think of.

So if you’re planning a party, or just want to do something special for a friend, you can just jump online and order a cookie cutter specific to whatever tickles the person’s fancy, from unicorns to 50s muscle cars to French Bulldogs and saguaro cactus (yes, everything and anything!)

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Of course, I want all the pretty things I see online.  And, I suffer short-term memory loss when it comes to my inability to bake, and whatever my last failed attempt was. So whenever I see some intricately decorated iced works of art on Pinterest or Instagram, I think “Oooooh, I want to do that!”

But royal icing seemed so intimidating! I’m a canned frosting from the baking aisle kind of girl. However, the fancifully decorated cookies you see everywhere right now require royal icing, which has that beautiful, smooth matte finish that makes a cookie look so professional, like it came straight from a wonderful bakery.

I enlisted the help of my go-to baking expert and good friend Mary, and said, “TEACH ME! I want to be your icing Jedi!!!” So she shared her techniques in this video, along with her amazing set of decorating supplies, and we set out on an odyssey of summer cookie decorating adventure.

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I got to do what I do best. Shop. I found adorable summer-themed cookie cutters on Etsy from Frosted. There are a bajillion great shops – just enter your desired shape + the word cookie cutter in the search box on Etsy and you’ll find some really unusual ones. Or, you can request a custom cutter if you don’t find what you’re looking for. Etsy is my go-to for unique and original everything.

I did manage to make the cookies beforehand using the package Betty Crocker Sugar Cookie Mix, although I baked one batch on wax paper instead of parchment. But the real purpose of this exercise was for Mary to teach me to decorate cookies using royal icing. My only other experience with it was a disaster, trying to make my own Ginger Bread House with a store-bought kit containing premade icing. It was too thick and well…see for yourself.

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Needless to say, Martha Stewart chose a different photo for her December issue of Living.

For this icing, my baking Yoda used a recipe from Sweet Sugar Belle which she modifies slightly. Mary used the whisk attachment rather than the paddle attachment on her KitchenAid mixer, and Vanilla Bean paste. We also added additional warm water by the drop as necessary when it came time to ice, in order to get the desired consistency, so the icing would settle when the cookie was gently tapped.

Take a look at the video Mary & I made, and you’ll never be intimidated by making royal icing again.

 

 

Smart Perks Blogger, Melanie Bisson, learned the hard way, NEVER to put plastic cookie cutters in the dishwasher. Special thanks to icing guru, Mary Haehn. 

 

It’s a Cool, Cool Summer

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When I was young, one of the highlights of summer was the ice cream man coming to our neighborhood once a week to deliver sweet relief from the sweltering heat. We’d hear the familiar melodious sound of his truck down the block and dash into our houses to grab a few quarters from our piggy banks. By the time he stopped at our street we were ready with coins in hand, eagerly waiting to dig into orange cream bars, Push-up Pops, Eskimo Pies and sundae cups. Aaaahhh, those were the days.

Sadly the ice cream man wasn’t around when my kids were little. So, we’d get ice-cold goodies at the community pool, local DQ or the grocery store.

Now that I have grandchildren, I want to start a new tradition – creating our own refreshing frozen treats.

You’ll find a fabulous assortment of fun and colorful containers and contraptions to prepare and enjoy your favorite frosty creations.  Check these out…

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Ice Pop Molds – Make your own pudding, fruit, yogurt and juice pops with these handy little molds! Pick up a 6-Pc. Set now from Amazon!

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Zoku Ice Cream Maker – Whip up a bowl of fresh gourmet ice cream, gelato, sherbet or sorbet in less than 10 minutes!

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Ice Cream Bowls & Spoons – I love these cute little bowls with matching spoons! They’re perfect for picnics, birthday parties & summer celebrations. Get a set of 12 bowls & spoons for only $13.99 at Oriental Trading Company.

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Zoku Slush & Shake Maker – Use this specially-designed cup to mix up milkshakes, smoothies, iced coffee and floats, or turn your favorite soft drinks into slushies!

Here are some recipes you’ll want to try, too!

Chocolate Pudding Pops
Ingredients:
1 (3.9 oz.) pkg. instant chocolate pudding
2 cups milk
1 cup thawed whipped topping
Directions:  Beat ingredients with whisk for 2 minutes. Pour into ice pop molds (or you can use paper/plastic cups and wooden pop sticks). Freeze for 4-6 hours or until firm. To unmold, run water on the mold for a minute or so. (If using paper cups, peel paper off pops before serving). Variation: try other flavored puddings like vanilla or banana. Serves 6.
Recipe from Kraft.com

Fresh Fruit & Yogurt Pops
Ingredients:
2-1/2 cups plain vanilla yogurt (divided)
1 cup fresh blueberries
1 cup fresh raspberries
1 tbsp. honey
Directions: Mix honey and berries together in a bowl; set aside. In blender, combine 2 cups yogurt with berry mixture, blend until smooth. Fill ice pop molds a quarter full with yogurt and layer berry mixture on top. Freeze about 6 hours or until frozen. Serves 6.


Homemade Strawberry Ice Cream  
Ingredients:
1 pound strawberries
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
1 cup sugar
Directions:
1) Wash and trim strawberries; cut into 1/4″ slices. Place half of sliced strawberries in food processor or blender and puree. Set aside both sliced and pureed strawberries.
2) Combine cream, milk and sugar in medium saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring until sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from heat and pour mixture into large bowl. Add strawberry puree and mix well. Cover with plastic wrap and chill in refrigerator until completely cool.
3) While cream mixture is chilling, dice remaining sliced strawberries into smaller pieces to mix into ice cream. Pour cooled cream mixture into Ice cream maker and process according to manufacturer’s instructions. Towards end of process, stir in diced strawberries. Transfer ice cream to airtight container and freeze for at least 2 more hours before serving. Makes approximately one quart.

See more ice cream recipes at RealSimple.com
Find ways to make smooth no-churn ice cream without a maker!

Hot Fudge Sauce
Ingredients:
2 cups powdered sugar
1 (12 oz.) can evaporated milk
1 cup chocolate chips (milk or semi-sweet)
1/2 cup (stick) butter
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
Directions: In saucepan, mix powdered sugar, evaporated milk, chocolate chips, and butter. Melt and bring to boil. Boil 8 minutes, stirring constantly. Stir in vanilla. Take off heat and serve over ice cream. Store in airtight container in refrigerator and reheat as needed. Makes 2 cups.

sundae closeup finalTop off your sundae with sprinkles, nuts, cherries, fresh fruit, candy pieces, pretzel bits, cookie crumbs, peanut butter, whipped cream… you name it!

Think Outside the Ice Box
Tickle your taste buds with unique flavor combos like brown butter & bacon, cilantro & lime and curry & mint – click here for recipes
Or, try this Miso Butterscotch Milkshake  (It seems like an odd combination – miso paste and ice cream? But, I’ve been told it’s surprisingly delicious, a perfect blend of sweet and salty.)

As you can see, the sky’s the limit when it comes to creating your own frozen treats. Here’s to a cool and sweet summer!

Smart Perks Blogger Catherine B. adores ice cream. If she didn’t care about calories, she could probably eat a carton of chocolate almond in one sitting.

 

Planting Herbs: A Feast for the Senses

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If the thought of a garden nursery or farmer’s market makes your pulse quicken, then you’re probably familiar with the intoxicating allure of the herb. Even if I never once used my herbs for cooking, I would still plant them every year, because they are literally a feast for the senses, their heavenly aromas released with a touch, stunning colors and foliage, wonderful variety of textures, and oh, the taste of fresh versus dried herbs! C’est magnifique!

Martha Stewart & the British pronounce them with a Her rather than a Ur, which always makes me laugh because I think of my Great Uncle Herbie and the 70s classic Herbie “The Love Bug”.  But I digress.

Before I plant my window boxes or garden, I plant herb bowls. I can plant them early in the season, and if the temps are going to fall too low, I can easily bring them indoors or cover them to protect against frost damage. Basil is especially susceptible to damage from the cold weather, and should not be planted outdoors until all danger of frost has passed.

Another reason I love herb bowls is because I can get creative with mixing and matching complementary plants for simple aesthetics. My favorite pot would contain a variety of different colors and textures. For instance, thyme is one of my all-time favorite herbs for container gardening, because it comes in so many beautiful varieties. I love the tiny green teardrop leaves on woody stocks. My favorite thyme plants are English Thyme, Woolly Time, a wonderful fuzzy creeper, and Lemon Thyme, with its gorgeous variegated foliage and fresh citrus scent.

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Clockwise: Pesto basil, lemon thyme, english thyme, rosemary and french lavender

A good rule of thumb when planting for aesthetics is to plant one tall plant such as a silvery rosemary or chives, a trailing plant like creeping Rosemary, a small to medium-sized colorful plant, like a purple sage or purple basil, a bright lime green plant thyme, and a specialty variety oregano.

Or, I can plant for a more utilitarian theme, like a bowl containing the most common herbs for cooking (basil, oregano, sage, chives and thyme or rosemary), or, for sweets, teas, soaps and oils (chamomile, lemon verbena, mints and lavender).

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Clockwise: Peppermint, purple basil, woolly thyme, and golden sage

When I say mint, you probably think peppermint. But there is quite a variety of mints to choose from, including pineapple or chocolate. My favorite cheap thrill of summertime is to pluck a fragrant leaf or two of pineapple mint and just inhale the deliciousness.  A word of caution, though: mint is best grown in pots as it is an aggressive grower, and will quickly take over a garden, spreading year after year.

Watering – Unlike house plants, herbs need to be watered frequently. The good news is unless left for several days without water, most herbs will bounce back from wilting once watered. During hot summer days, you may have to water at least once a day. They should never be allowed to dry out, completely.

Clipping & Pruning – Using basil as an example, when clipping, start towards the top. That’s where the tender, young leaves are. The large, older leaves at the bottom of the plant absorb the energy from the sun that helps produce new leaves. With basil, and other herbs, you should never allow them to flower unless you’re growing them for decorative purposes only. All of the plant’s energy goes to the flower instead of producing new leaves. You want your basil growing out, not up.

Storing Fresh Herbs – Most cut fresh herbs will keep for at least a week, wrapped in a damp paper towel and stored in a sealed plastic bag in the refrigerator.

Cooking  – One tablespoon of chopped fresh herbs will equal approximately one teaspoon of dried herbs. Or you can simply remember you’ll typically need 3 times the amount of fresh herbs as dry.

I have to share two of my favorite ways to use fresh herbs, beyond pizza and bruschetta.

I could eat Italian food, seven days a week, 365 days a year. A hearty red sauce is my favorite. However, every home chef should have at least one classic summertime pesto recipe. Here is one from The Barefoot Contessa herself, Ina Garten. While many know her now from Food Network, I have all of her cookbooks. She is a true icon! http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/pesto-recipe.html

Another summertime staple at my house is Herb Butter, which can be made sweet or savory. You can’t go wrong with a lemon thyme herb butter, which is fabulous on pasta, fish or hot, crusty bread. And, it couldn’t be simpler to make, so you’ll spend less time in the kitchen and more time outdoors.

Lemon Thyme Herb Butter

½ cup softened butter

2 tsp. flat leaf parsley (finely chopped)

½ tsp. lemon thyme (finely chopped)

2 tsp. lemon zest

Roll on wax paper into a tube shape. Refrigerate until hardened.  Slice off a round pat when ready to use. Garnish with a thinly sliced lemon half or a sprig of curly parsley.

However you use them, from salads to steaks, I hope you enjoy a summer full of delicious herbs!

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For a free download of this darling watering can cross-stitch from Country Living visit http://bit.ly/20bD3Hp.

Smart Perks Blogger, Melanie B., enjoys fresh herbs for their scent as much as their taste!

All uncredited photos taken by Mary Haehn.

 

 

The Perfect Mother’s Day Meal

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Was your mother always begging you to “Eat your vegetables!” like mine was? As a kid, I had no interest. Boiled Brussels sprouts and canned green beans? Blegh, no thank you. But between growing up and developing a more nuanced palate and finding new ways to cook vegetables in the current veggie-centric food world, I’ve become a veggie (and fruit!) fiend.

So mama, this one’s for you – here’s your Mother’s Day menu chockfull of those greens and things that abound in spring.

Though technically spring started in March, let’s get real: if you live anywhere in the northern or eastern states, you’re only now getting to really experience this awesome season. The beautiful greenery, fresh flowers, spring vacations, those warm but not hot days, and my favorite part of spring – the produce!

Asparagus, apricots, artichokes, fava beans, leeks, radishes, rhubarb, peas, carrots…  it truly is the best time of year for a fruit and veggie lover like me.

There are so many different options for how to use the spring crop bounty, but where to begin? It feels like for every time I see a new recipe I’m dying to try, the next day I find three new ones, and then they all just get lost in the bookmarks and I never end up making them!

But fear not. You don’t have to suffer the same sad fate as me, where I’ve followed the instructions to a t only to be left with starchy asparagus or smushy peas. Here is a menu collection of my favorite spring recipes – starting with an appetizer, ending with a dessert – that are as tried and true as can be. You won’t be wasting your precious spring veggies and fruits on disastrous recipes…just the absolute best ones.

Appetizer: Cauliflower-Leek Soup

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Photo from AllRecipes.com

I like this recipe for two reasons: 1) it switches out starchy potatoes for cauliflower, lowering the carb count, and 2) it’s pretty much as simple as sautéing a few ingredients and tossing them in the blender. Although this recipe calls for a warm soup, I actually have preferred serving it chilled, but both work.

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3 leeks, cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 1 large head cauliflower, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 8 cups vegetable broth
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 cup heavy cream (optional)

Directions:

Heat the olive oil and butter in a large pot over medium heat, and saute the leeks, cauliflower, and garlic for about 10 minutes. Stir in the vegetable broth, and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer 45 minutes.

Remove the soup from heat. Blend the soup with an immersion blender or hand mixer. Season with salt and pepper. Mix in the heavy cream, and continue blending until smooth.

 

Entrée: Crispy Catfish Sandwiches with Quick Cabbage Slaw, Plus Simple Spring Salad

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Yes, there is a bite taken out of the sandwich. Don’t judge me!

This is a personal recipe I based on a dish I had at a restaurant, and I’ve tweaked it over and over just to my liking. What’s great about it is you could totally substitute another flaky fish if you’d like, or even thin chicken cutlets, and although it is fried, the batter is so light it feels just indulgent enough without being heavy.

Plus, the salad is more than flexible – I’ve swapped radicchio for romaine, fresh French beans for radish, and tried a variety of dressings, though I’m partial to this vinaigrette.

Ingredients:

  • 1-3 whole French baguettes, or individual sub rolls per person depending on size of party
  • 1 catfish fillet per person
  • 1 cup shredded red cabbage
  • 1 lime
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon creamy Dijon mustard
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon each cayenne, garlic powder, onion salt, paprika, and cumin
  • 2 hearts of Romaine (or lettuce of your choice)
  • 4-5 thinly sliced radishes
  • Handful of multicolored halved cherry tomatoes
  • Simple lemon vinaigrette dressing
  • Note: will use extra mayonnaise from side dish in this dish

Directions:

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. In a large bowl, mix the flour, 5 tablespoons of water, and half of the spice mixture, plus salt and pepper. In another bowl, mix shredded cabbage, the juice of the lime, the apple cider vinegar and the mustard, stirring well. Then place in fridge. On a dry plate pat the catfish dry. In a nonstick skillet, add just enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan on medium heat. Test the temp of the oil by adding a tiny drop of water; if it sizzles, you’re good to go.

Dredge the catfish in the flour mixture, then add to the nonstick skillet. Cook the catfish 4-7 minutes on each side, checking that it’s not burning or sticking but just turning golden brown and crispy. Once cooked, place on clean, paper towel-lined plate, and season with salt and pepper again.

Cut the bread of your choice, and toast in preheated oven gently, just until edges are turning a warm brown. Add the cleaned romaine (or other lettuce), thinly sliced radishes, and the tomatoes to the plate. Drizzle vinaigrette on top; add a grind or two of fresh black pepper. I like to garnish with finely chopped herbs, such as oregano, chives, or basil, but feel free to leave out.

Spread mayonnaise on toasted bread, add catfish fillet, topping with the quick cabbage slaw and serve warm with the side salad.

Side Dish: A Cozy Kitchen’s Roasted Asparagus

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Photo from A Cozy Kitchen.

This is an easy to make side that truly stuns (if you like asparagus, that is). Here, we’re doubling the recipe for the hazelnut mayo, adding half to the catfish sandwich. Trust me, it works, but if you have nut allergy concerns, just omit the hazelnuts. Also note: she calls for white asparagus, but I made it with only green and it works wonderfully; though she uses an immersion blender, I’ve used a regular blender and everything turned out fine.

Ingredients:

  • 2 whole large eggs
  • *1 cup sunflower or grape seed oil (a clean, mild-tasting oil)
  • *1/4 cup hazelnut oil (optional – if not using, then add 3/4 cup sunflower or grape seed oil)
  • Juice from 1 lemon
  • 4 teaspoon whole grain mustard
  • Salt
  • 3/4 pound green asparagus, washed and ends trimmed
  • 1/4 pound white asparagus, washed, ends trimmed and peeled
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Juice from 1/2 lemon

Directions:

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Place hazelnuts on a parchment-lined baking sheet and transfer to the oven to toast for 10 to 15 minutes. Immediately transfer warm hazelnuts to the center of a clean kitchen towel. Wrap the kitchen towel around the hazelnuts and rub them vigorously until all of the skins have fallen off. (A little bit of skin staying on is normal and totally fine.) Set nuts aside to cool.

Meanwhile, add the large eggs, sunflower or grape seed oil, hazelnut oil (if using), juice from lemon, mustard and a few pinches of salt to a tall plastic cylinder (note: most hand immersion blenders come with a tall plastic cylinder for blending). Allow the egg yolk to settle to the bottom. Using a hand immersion blender, stick the blade to the very bottom and blend on high for about 30 seconds; you’ll immediately see the mayonnaise begin to form. Slowly raise the immersion blender near the surface to incorporate all of the oil and until very thick. Salt to taste. In a food processor or using a knife, pulse the hazelnuts until they resemble a coarse meal, about 30 seconds. Add the aioli to the food processor and blend until completely incorporated and smooth(ish).

Preheat the broiler. On a baking sheet (you can use the same one you toasted the hazelnuts on), add the green asparagus in an even layer. Rub the asparagus with the olive oil, lemon juice and a few pinches of salt. Place the baking sheet under the broiler and roast for 5 minutes. At the 5-minute mark, add the white asparagus to the baking sheet. Place the baking sheet back under the broiler and roast for an additional 10 minutes. Serve the asparagus alongside the hazelnut mayonnaise.

Dessert: Smitten Kitchen’s Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

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Photo from Smitten Kitchen.

You just have to end your meal on a sweet note. I tend to like more delicate little bits and pieces of treats, but my mom is a pie fanatic. This one perfectly walks the line between sweet and tart. Plus, it can be made up to 3 days in advance and left at room temperature, so you don’t have to worry about dessert the day of.

Ingredients:

  • 1 recipe All Butter, Really Flaky Pie Dough or double-crust pie dough of your choice
  • 3 1/2 cups (about 1 1/2 pounds, untrimmed) rhubarb, in 1/2-inch thick slices
  • 3 1/2 cups (about 1 pound) strawberries, hulled and sliced if big, halved if tiny
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup quick-cooking tapioca
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1 large egg yolk beaten to blend with 1 teaspoon water (for glaze)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. On a well-floured counter, roll half of pie dough into a 12-inch circle and carefully transfer to a 9-inch pie plate. (I like to fold my gently into quarters, to transfer it more easily, then unfold it in the pie plate.)

Stir together rhubarb, strawberries, sugars, lemon, salt and tapioca in a large bowl. Mound filling inside bottom pie crust and dot with bits of unsalted butter. Roll second half of pie dough into an 11-inch circle and cut decorative slits in it. Transfer it to center over the pie filling. Trim top and bottom pie dough so that their overhang beyond the pie plate lip is only 1/2-inch. Tuck rim of dough underneath itself and crimp it decoratively.

Transfer pie to a baking sheet and brush egg yolk mixture over dough. Bake for 20 minutes then reduce temperature to 350 degrees and bake for an additional 25 to 30 minutes, until the pie is golden and the juices bubble visibly.

Transfer pie to wire rack to cool. When full cool (several hours later) the juices gel.

So, just to recap: This menu has cauliflower, leek, cabbage, lettuce, radish, tomatoes, asparagus, lemon, strawberries AND rhubarb. Is that enough veggies (and two fruits!) for you, Mom?

Whether you make this full meal or just some of the recipes, you’re sure to host a home-run Mother’s Day luncheon. Just don’t forget the wine and spritzers!

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Katie U., a Smart Perks employee, wishes all mothers a wonderful Mother’s Day.

 

Meal Kits for Inspiration in the Kitchen

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I think we can all agree that simplifying weeknight meals is a top priority. Whether you’re a busy working parent or a retired Baby Boomer, trying to cook homemade dinners can be a real pain.

As a result, a lot of different meal  delivery kits have become popular in the past couple of years, such as Plated and Hello Fresh, but my go-to (and the most popular of the bunch) is called Blue Apron.

So what is it, you may ask?

Each week, you get mailed all of the ingredients (less salt, pepper and cooking oil) you will need to make a well-portioned meal, along with step-by-step recipe instructions with pictures. The services vary slightly, but in general, the meals are truly delicious while being reasonably priced (Blue Apron’s costs, for example, are $60 for 3 meals for 2 people, or 2 family style meals for 4 for $70).

Whereas some people who are new to cooking enjoy learning new techniques they never thought of before, I like trying ingredients I never would have purchased myself (chicken demi glace or the nut-spice mix dukkah, for instance).

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A recipe from Hello Fresh.

The team of Smart Perks is all about giving you the best bang for your buck, which is why I started meal delivery services in the first place. Shipping is free and you can cancel or skip weeks, but this way I’m not spending time driving to the grocery store, waiting in line behind the person writing a check while trying to calm their crying baby, and then ultimately making a meal that leaves leftover ingredients I won’t use.

Seriously, who among us finishes a whole head of cabbage in one meal, or the rest of the bag of arugula before it goes bad? It’s an awful feeling to throw away perfectly edible food because you didn’t use it before it spoils, and that’s a huge advantage to the carefully packaged individual portions of ingredients in meal delivery kits.

Now, on to the fun part: the meals themselves!

Since I already order Blue Apron, I chose to highlight one of their meals here, but I’m also including two sample recipes from the other major meal kit services. Hey, whatever floats your boat!

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Doesn’t this motivate you to try this dish?!

 

Blue Apron’s Trinidadian Chicken Curry with Coconut Grits and Collard Greens:

See what I mean about the recipes being exciting and different? I for one would never think to cook this meal on a Thursday night after a long day of working, exercising and volunteering, but here we are! Just cooking away at a fragrant Caribbean curry with toasted coconut and fresh lime and cilantro accents. Not exactly the type of meal I think of, but totally a dish I am happy to have in my repertoire. Warm, filling, and just the right amount of spice!

Ingredients:

  • 4 Boneless, Skinless Chicken Thighs
  • ¾ Cup Yellow Grits
  • 1¾ Cups Light Coconut Milk
  • 3 Cloves Garlic
  • 1 Bunch Collard Greens
  • 1 Lime
  • 1 Bunch Cilantro
  • 2 Tablespoons Dried Coconut Flakes
  • 1 Tablespoon Butter
  • 2 Teaspoons Trinidadian Curry Spice Blend (Curry Powder, Ground Nutmeg, Smoked Paprika, Dried Thyme, Ground Cumin & Ground White Pepper)
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The ingredients laid out for easy cooking.

Although I linked to the recipe, here are the basics:

Step 1 – Prepare all of your produce by washing and drying it. Combine the coconut milk, salt and 1.5 cups water in a medium pot and bring to a boil. Zest the lime, mince the rind, and quarter it. Pick the leaves off the collard greens and the cilantro, discarding stems. Peel and mince the garlic cloves. Dry off chicken and sprinkle on salt, pepper, and spice blend.

Step 2 – Cook the grits by slowly adding them to the boiling coconut milk mixture, then reducing the heat and whisking occasionally, cooking for 12 minutes. Turn the heat off, and add half of the butter and the lime zest, and salt and pepper. Keep covered.

Step 3 – As your grits cook, heat a nonstick pan until just hot. Add the coconut flakes and toast by stirring frequently for about 3 minutes. You’ll know they’re done when they’re golden brown. Then transfer to a plate.

Step 4 – Also while the grits are cooking, add 2 teaspoons of olive oil in the (now-empty) pan, adding the garlic and collard greens when it’s hot and seasoning with salt and pepper. Cook 2-4 minutes, and then transfer to a plate.

Step 5 – In the same pan used to cook the coconut and the collard greens, heat 2 teaspoons of olive oil until hot. Add the chicken and cook for 5-7 minutes, making sure to cook through. Turn off the heat, and then add: the rest of the butter, the juice of 2 of the lime wedges, 1 tablespoon of water, and salt and pepper to taste, stirring until combined (and mixing up the yummy brown bits from the bottom of the pan).

Step 6 –Divide coconut grits between two bowls, topping with the collard greens and pieces of chicken. Garnish with the coconut, cilantro and 2 leftover lime wedges.

Still not your thing? Try one of these recipes from Plated or Hello Fresh.

smoresS’mores Fondue – Can you say ‘yum?’ This Plated dish takes all of the elements of a delicious s’more and turns it into a one-pan delectable dessert in under 10 minutes. Crunchy toasted marshmallows sit atop chocolate ganache, just waiting for your graham crackers to dip themselves into the sticky treat. No campfire required.

Jamie’s Incredible Sicilian Eggplant Stew – This dish was created by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, a frequent Hello Fresh contributor. Combining rich eggplant with salty baby capers and olives, tart tomatoes and crunchy almond slivers all atop warm couscous certainly sounds like a brilliant idea.

For more recipe inspiration, check out the Smart Perks Pinterest page. Juicy Lucy cheese-stuffed meatballs, anyone? Be still my beating heart!

In the words of Julia Child, “No one is born a great cook, one learns by doing.” So try!

Blogger Katie U., a Smart Perks employee, can’t wait for her chicken curry leftovers for lunch.

Here’s to a Magically Delicious St. Paddy’s Day

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Faith and Begorrah, March 17th is a mere two weeks away and soon people across the country will be parading around in shiny green bowler hats and “Kiss Me I’m Irish” t-shirts, consuming mass quantities of green beer or shots of Jameson whiskey, and engaging in various festivities (or shenanigans) to celebrate the patron saint of Ireland. My good friend Kathy is three-quarters Irish, my daughter Meghan almost half and I know a slew of others whose ancestors hailed from the Emerald Isle. But, on St. Patrick’s Day it doesn’t really matter what nationality you are because everyone is a Murphy, Doyle or Sullivan.

If you’d rather skip the pubs and observe the holiday at home, consider inviting a few friends over for a traditional Irish meal of Corned Beef & Cabbage with Soda Bread, along with a pint of ale or a glass of limeade. You’ll want to save room for dessert, of course, and what could be more fitting than a Guinness Cake! You may not be a fan of the bold stout, but this moist, mouthwatering chocolate confection with heavenly cream cheese frosting is sure to win you over!

Give these recipes a try and who knows? They may become a St. Patrick’s Day tradition.

Corned Beef Cabbage

Why eat out when you can enjoy a traditional Irish meal of Corned Beef & Cabbage at home!

Corned Beef & Cabbage
Ingredients:
3 lbs. corned beef brisket
Water, to cover meat
2 tbsp. pickling spices
3 tbsp. salt
2 tbsp. peppercorns
1 head cabbage
Directions: Place corned beef with all the seasonings in a large stockpot. Cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until tender, about 2 hours. If not tender after 2 hours, keep checking at 15 minute intervals. Remove corned beef, save broth for cabbage. Cut cabbage into wedges, place in a large pan, cover with broth from the beef and simmer until tender. Keep cabbage warm in broth until needed. Serve corned beef and cabbage together with some boiled potatoes and carrots. Don’t forget the mustard!
Recipe courtesy of Food.com

If you don’t care for corned beef, check out this recipe for Irish Beef Stew

Irish Soda Bread
Ingredients:
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tbsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/3 cup white sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 cups buttermilk
1/4 cup butter, melted
Directions: Preheat oven to 325º F. Grease 9×5 inch loaf pan. Combine flour, baking powder, sugar, salt and baking soda. Blend egg and buttermilk together, and add all at once to flour mixture. Mix until moistened. Stir in butter. Pour in prepared pan. Bake for 65-70 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in bread comes out clean. Cool on wire rack. Note: for better flavor, wrap in foil for several hours or overnight.  
Recipe from epicurious.com

Chocolate Guinness Cake
Ingredients:
1 cup Guinness (stout beer)
10 tbsp. (1 stick + 2 tbsp.) unsalted butter, cubed
2 cups superfine (granulated) sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
2 large eggs, beaten
2/3 cup sour cream
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2-1/2 tsp. baking soda
Topping:
1-1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 (8 oz.) package cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
Directions: Preheat oven to 350° F. Grease a 9-inch spring form pan and line the bottom with parchment paper; set aside. In a large saucepan, heat Guinness and butter on medium-low heat until butter melts. Remove from the heat; whisk in sugar and cocoa until well blended. In a small bowl, combine the eggs, sour cream and vanilla; mix well. Add to Guinness mixture. Combine flour and baking soda; whisk into beer mixture until smooth. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake until risen and firm, about 45-60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Place pan on a wire rack and cool completely in pan. Remove sides of pan. In a large bowl, beat cream cheese until fluffy. Add confectioners’ sugar and cream; beat until smooth and spreadable (do not over-beat). Remove cake from the pan and place on a platter or cake stand. Spread icing on top of cake so it resembles a frothy pint of beer. Refrigerate leftovers, if there are any.
Nigella Lawson’s recipe from NYTimes.com

Luck_o_Irish_2

Blogger Catherine B., a Smart Perks employee, is a wee bit Scotch-Irish and although she’s not sure what that means, you can bet your Blarney Stone she’ll be wearing green on March 17th.

Tasty Ways to Start Your Day

Rise&Shine

“All happiness depends on a leisurely breakfast.”
– John Gunther

Everyone from moms to nutrition experts contend we should start the day with a good, hearty breakfast. Yeah, well, I work full-time so most mornings I’ll just have a cup of coffee and a piece of toast or a small carton of yogurt, which I tend to scarf down as I head out the door. I realize that’s not enough to sustain me until lunch, but with everything I need to do to get ready in the morning (shower, dress, style my hair, put on makeup), I don’t really have time to whip up an omelet or some fancy fruit smoothie. My husband usually makes pancakes from a mix or pops a frozen waffle in the toaster. Sometimes he’ll eat leftover cake or pie (I swear, the guy could live on desserts!). Bottom line: we don’t put a lot of thought and effort into our morning meal during the week.

That’s why we look forward to Saturday, when we can indulge in more satisfying breakfast fare like homemade pancakes or waffles with sausage, some kind of eggs with ham, or French toast with bacon. We don’t worry about calories (often times we skip lunch anyway) and we take time to savor every bite.

My specialty is scrambled eggs. I like to spice mine up with a little cheddar cheese, green chiles and a dash of cayenne, or add ingredients like ground turkey, roasted peppers (I buy them frozen), onions, mushrooms and spinach to give them more flavor and texture. My husband gets in the act with his own French toast concoction. Not to brag or anything, but I have to say our breakfast creations are pretty flippin’ delicious!

The proof is in the pudding (or in this case, the batter?). I’ve included a few of my favorite recipes to tantalize your taste buds.

Tasty waffles

Instead of the usual syrup, top off your waffles with fresh fruit & whipped cream!

Grandma Vi’s Buttermilk Waffles (Worth all the time and effort, believe me!)
Ingredients:
2 eggs (beat whites separately)
2 cups buttermilk
1 tsp. salt
1/3 cup sugar
2 cups flour (scant)
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 cup melted butter

Directions: In large bowl, sift together all dry ingredients and set aside. In large bowl, beat egg yolks thoroughly with a whisk. Add 1/2 cup buttermilk to egg yolks and beat. Add 1/2 cup sifted dry ingredients and rest of buttermilk and whisk together. Mix in rest of dry ingredients (do not overmix). Stir in melted butter. In a separate bowl, beat egg whites until stiff. Gently fold beaten egg whites into batter with a rubber spatula. Pre-heat waffle iron and spray with non-stick cooking spray. Ladle about 1/3 cup of batter onto each section of the waffle iron (be careful not to overfill). Close lid and cook about 3 or 5 minutes, until steaming stops and waffles are crisp and golden. Place waffles on cookie sheet in warm oven until ready to serve. Top with butter and maple syrup, or whipped cream and fresh berries.

Casserole with sausage, bacon and apples in a pumpkin sauce

Sausage & Cheese Strata (A great make-ahead dish for brunch!)
Ingredients:
12 eggs
12 slices white bread (torn into bite size pieces)
1 tsp. prepared mustard
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese (I use sharp cheddar)
1/4 tsp. ground pepper
3-1/2 cups milk
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup chopped onion
1 lb. pork sausage, crumbled
1 cup chopped green pepper

Directions: Preheat oven to 350°. Brown sausage in a large skillet, pour grease from pan and set aside. In a large bowl, whisk eggs, milk, mustard, salt and ground pepper. Stir in bread, cheese, sausage, onion and green pepper; pour mixture into greased 13″x 9″ baking pan. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Bake uncovered for 75 minutes or until set. Variation: Substitute 1-1/2 cups cubed ham for sausage.

Country-Style French Toast (Extra spices turn a basic recipe into something magnifique!)
Ingredients:
Loaf of French bread, sliced or 8 slices of white bread, slightly dry
3 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
2/3 cup milk
Butter

Directions: Whisk eggs in a wide shallow bowl. Stir in rest of ingredients and mix until well-blended. Heat griddle or skillet coated with a thin layer of butter on low or medium heat. Add bread slices to egg mixture, one at a time, coating both sides (do not soak). Place bread slices on griddle/skillet and heat slowly until each side is golden brown. Serve warm with butter and maple syrup or sprinkle with powdered sugar. Serves 4.

Upside Down Caramel Rolls (So sweet and gooey, they melt in your mouth!)
Ingredients:
2 rolls of frozen bread dough
Cinnamon
1 stick butter
1 large box vanilla pudding mix (not instant)
2 tbsp. milk
1 cup brown sugar

Directions: Place loaves of frozen bread dough on a cookie sheet and store in fridge overnight. The next morning, heat the oven to 200°. Take first loaf out, pull apart into pieces and place on greased 9×12 glass pan, then sprinkle with cinnamon. Mix other ingredients in a saucepan and bring to boil, stirring occasionally. Pour mixture evenly over dough. Take out second loaf, break into pieces and sprinkle with cinnamon. Spread dough pieces over other dough pieces on cookie sheet and set in the oven to rise (cover dough with a dish cloth, put oven light on and shut oven off until dough raises to level you want.) Bake at 350° for 20-30 minutes. Dump upside down onto plate covered with tin foil and serve hot.

You’ll find hundreds of enticing breakfast recipes on Pinterest.

Bon appétit!

Blogger Catherine B., a Smart Perks employee, admits she doesn’t always eat a decent breakfast, but as long as she gets her morning cup of Joe (she likes it strong with flavored creamer), she’s good to go.