slow cooker spinach lasagna

Slow Cooker Spinach Lasagna

Auuuuuugh.

That’s the sound I made when I woke up on this, the first Monday after “Springing Forward.” My typical day starts at 5 am. Due to the time change, it really started at 4 am. Which, to me, is the equivalent of being mauled by a bear while simultaneously being dunked in ice water.

Then, after nearly crashing and burning during my entire morning routine (including somehow sandwiching my earlobe between the plates of my hot straightening iron), I arrived at the metro to find a crowded platform and 20 minute delays.

So, yeah, the best way I can describe today is, “Auuuuuuugh.” That is until I got home, opened the door, and was smacked in the nose with the awesome smell of a spinach lasagna cooking in the crock pot.

Slow Cooker Spinach Lasagna

That smell (and the subsequent dinner)? Heaven. I had my doubts about the quality of a lasagna made in a slow cooker, but it was really, truly delicious. The lasagna (courtesy of Real Simple) is super cheesy and flavorful, and holds its shape like a champ.

Next time, I’m going to brown some hot Italian sausage to throw in with the layers of cheese, spinach, marinara and noodles, but this version is a fantastic starting (and ending) point.

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snow day bagels

Bagels!

Today I had a good ol’ fashioned Snow Day. And, if I’m being honest here, it felt GOOD. There were no snowmen or igloos in the front yard (or, in my case, in the street in front of my condo), but it was still pretty awesome.

I slept in. ON A WEDNESDAY. I decided against washing my hair and wore it up instead. PJs weren’t a luxury, they were a must. And I got the chance to try my hand at something I’d been interested in baking for a long, long time. Today, I made bagels.

The first step was choosing a worthy recipe from the hundreds available online. I went with this one from Emeril Lagasse because it didn’t require dough proofing overnight. Also, the reviews were generally glowing, which is always a good sign.

I’m going to be honest with you here, because I like you: I had some difficulties with this recipe. BUT, I don’t think it was the recipe’s fault. You see, though my dough rose beautifully, it just didn’t hold it’s shape all that well in the water bath. My theories are 1) I should’ve added extra flour to the recipe (might have avoided bagels too sticky to hold a “hole”), considering we were having such a humid day here in the DC area, and 2) I shouldn’t have let the bagels rise as long as I did for the second rise (the recipe calls for 20 minutes, but due to cooking times and other factors, some of my bagels got 40 minutes or more…yikes!). But they still tasted great–chewy with that distinct, yummy bagel flavor. That’s why I think you should still try this recipe. I know I’ll be giving it another go! I’m just waiting for the next snow day…

Happy baking!

brown butter brown sugar cookies

Brown Butter Brown Sugar Cookies

How is it still winter?

I not asking you to explain seasons or the Earth’s proximity to the Sun or anything like that. I just want to know how in the heck is it still winter? Haven’t I suffered long enough? My nose is always numb. It’s still dark when I leave for work in the morning. I have to wear TWO PAIRS OF PANTS for chrissake.

I’m over winter. And I’m rebelling by making comfort food in hopes that it will comfort me in my time of need. Or at least put me into a sugar coma until Easter.

The recipe comes from a blog I just started following, Butter Me Up Brooklyn. This is the first time I’ve baked anything from this blog but I’m going to go out on a limb here and call her a COOKIE GURU. Because seriously, these things are fantastic. I mean really, truly fabulous. And very, very easy.

You start by browning butter. Throw in some brown sugar, vanilla, espresso powder, and an egg yolk. Fold in flour, baking powder and soda, roll out balls of dough, and bake. You don’t even need your mixer!

Eight to nine minutes later you have a completely unassuming but absolutely great dessert. It’s wonderful with coffee, vanilla ice cream, and as a midnight snack. These cookies will make you forget about your frozen toes and lull you into a state of pure bliss. They are Prozac in cookie form. So don’t forget to take a dose!

sophisticated fudge brownies

I’ve always considered myself something of a brownie connoisseur. In fact, back in high school I would make big batches of them to share (this was significant considering my only other culinary accomplishment was boiling water for hot dogs or Kraft Mac & Cheese). Everyone LOVED my brownies, and I felt no need to tell them they were courtesy of Mrs. Betty Crocker.

Since then, I’ve become a bit more adventurous, making brownies from scratch and trying out all sorts of add-ins (with a brownie base, you really can’t go wrong). On this blog alone I’ve shared FOUR recipes. And I wouldn’t bring you another one if it weren’t different (better?) than all the rest. Behold, The Baked Brownie (via Pink Parsley).

If you aren’t familiar, Baked is a bakery in Red Hook, Brooklyn with a reputation of having some seriously ROCKIN’ sweets, especially brownies. And while I’ve never tasted their version, this recipe has made me seriously rethink my whole delicious brownie criteria. I mean, they have the requisite deep chocolate flavor and amazing fudginess, but they also showcase the instant coffee and salt in a way that is both surprising and delicious. They are the sophisticated brownie lover’s brownie, and they are wicked good.

chocolate pecan scones

Chocolate Pecan Scone

So, I’ve been sick. And the thing is, I’m no good being sick. I’m terrible at it, in fact. You know those movies, like Fried Green Tomatoes, where the sick girl is pale but lovely, propped up on a pile of delicate pillows and smiling bravely? Now imagine the opposite. That’s me. Hacking, whining, sniffling, dressed in ratty old PJs and sending nonsensical text messages about NyQuil and soup.

Being home sick is boring, and I’m prone to cabin fever. But with absolutely no energy to venture outside, I decided to do the next best thing: bake. Because there’s no better way to forget your troubles than with sugar, flour, and plenty of vitamin B(utter).

Since I had the get-up-and-go of a sedated sloth, I knew an easy recipe was the best choice. And it only took a quick browse of King Arthur Flour’s site to know that these scones were my destiny.

Now, I’m no scone expert, but I think these turned out delightfully. They’re perfectly moist, have a dense crumb, and are lightly sweet. I tossed 3/4 cup of chocolate chips and 3/4 cup of pecans into my dough, but you can experiment with all sorts of add-ins. You really can’t go wrong.

the ultimate tip: clean your stove with ammonia

I realize I’ve been on a non-food bent recently. And I do apologize for the temporary change in trajectory. But seriously, guys and gals. If you have a gas stove, you have GOT to try this.

Before. Ew. I'm ashamed to share this photo.

Before. Ew. I’m ashamed to share this photo.

When Nate and I moved in to The Condo, we inherited filthy carpets, terrible light fixtures, a bad paint job, and greasy stove grates. We took care of the first three offenses right away, but the fourth was out of our reach. We tried scouring with Bon Ami and hot water, drowning the grates in Lysol, and tons of elbow grease. Nothing EVER worked. I was so desperate for a clean-looking stove that I was even researching the cost of buying all new grates when I came across this tip: put your grates in a sealed bag with a little bit of ammonia. Let sit for 24 hours. Then watch the grime practically fall off.

I was skeptical. How could the fumes from ammonia clean the most stubborn gunk I’ve ever encountered? But I was up for a try, since the cost of new grates would reach somewhere in the hundreds. Ack.

So I put my stove-top grates, the stove-top pans, and the caps in double-bagged garbage bags, pouring about half a cup of ammonia (bought at Home Depot) in the bag before sealing it up and leaving them on my porch overnight.

After. Sooo much better.

After. Sooo much better.

When I got home from work the following evening, I held my breath and retrieved the pieces. Using just the scratchy side of an ordinary sponge and wee bit of Dawn, I was able to easily scrub off every last bit of grime and grease from all of my stove-top parts. It was a freakin’ miracle.

If you have a gas range, I absolutely recommend trying this method to clean your nasty grates. I’ve heard that ammonia isn’t great for aluminium or cast iron grates, so keep that in mind. Also, never EVER combine ammonia with bleach. Alone they are fine, but together they create an extremely toxic gas. And that is not groovy.

awesome semi-homemade lotion

Okay, so this has nothing to do with food. If you are looking for a recipe that you can ingest, check back next week. BUT, if you’re interested in something to nourish your body’s largest organ–your skin–then stick around. This is pretty great.

I started looking for homemade lotion recipes this winter when, for the first time ever, my hands looked almost as dry as Nate’s (sorry for putting you on blast, dude). I was applying lotion all day long, but my constant hand washing (due to the super germs that are making ALL of my coworkers sick) was seriously zapping any chance I had of replenishing the moisture I was depleting with each scrubbing. I had tried practically every lotion at the grocery store AND Sephora, and kept coming up short.

So I went online to search for my lotion-y grail. One recipe that kept popping up around the interwebs included baby lotion, Vitamin E cream, and petroleum jelly. I was all for the baby lotion and E cream, but I really have no desire to slather myself in Vaseline. I blame it on the years of applying it to chapped lips, only to be left with a greasy kisser. Yuck. So, instead I decided to go au natural with coconut oil.

First I gathered my ingredients (baby lotion and Vitamin E cream–both purchased at Harris Teeter in the lotion aisle–and coconut oil, bought on Amazon).

Image

I wanted to start with a half-batch, so I used 8 oz of the baby lotion, 4 oz of the Vitamin E cream (the whole container) and 4 oz of the coconut oil. I dumped it all into a bowl and mixed it with my hand mixer on a medium speed until it resembled whipped cream. (Note: I didn’t warm up my coconut oil first to take it from its solid state to a more liquid one, and I wish I had–I have tiny bits of coconut oil in my lotion, which doesn’t bother me since it absorbs very quickly, but it could be smoother.)

I then decanted my lotion into jars using a rubber spatula (you could totally use a ziplock bag and pipe the lotion into containers). Voila! A big batch of lightly-scented, ultra-moisturizing lotion.

I’ve been using this concoction for over a week now, and the results are pretty amazing. My cracked skin has healed and is super soft, and I’ve only used a fraction of the batch I’ve made.

If you’ve been suffering this winter, too, do yourself a favor and try this out. And while you’re at it, make some for your girlfriends. They’ll think you’re magic and you might be able to get them to do things for you. Like bring you drinks with little umbrellas in them. Yum.

baltimore’s finest: the berger cookie

Berger Cookie

If you know me or have been following the blog for a while (or if you’ve read my tagline), you know that I live in Northern Virginia. What you may not know is that I was born and raised in Maryland, not all that far from Baltimore.

If you aren’t familiar with Baltimore, you might think of it as some strange amalgamation of The Wire and Ace of Cakes, where drug deals and turf wars go down outside of  bakeries that make $2,000 desserts. And while that isn’t wrong exactly, there is actually a lot more to Charm City. Like an awesome aquarium, a phenomenal music school, tons of smarties in the vicinity of Johns Hopkins U, HonFEST, Bertha’s mussels, and perhaps the best dessert EVER: The Berger Cookie.

Berger Cookie

What’s so great about this cookie, you ask? Well, the Berger is a cake-like cookie topped generously with chocolate fudge icing. It is best eaten with coffee or a tall glass of milk, in pairs, and with reckless abandon. It defies diets, carbs, and portion control. It is the very best. Which, I guess, is why I shouldn’t have been surprised when the best baking team–King Arthur Flour–took on the Berger Cookie* and made a fantastic version for those of us who can’t get to Lexington Market to get our hands on the real thing.

You start by making the fudgy icing, because you want it at room temp before you dip your cookies. Next, you mix up the super simple batter, drop dollops of dough on your cookie sheet (being sure to flatten them with the bottom of a glass), then bake for 10 minutes at 400 degrees. When the cookies have cooled, dip them in the icing, distributing any of the leftover fudgy goodness atop the already-dunked cookies.

The general consensus is that these are even better the second or third day. But I wanted the full experience sooner than that, so I popped mine in the fridge for a few hours. I think this step is key–it helps the icing to firm up, just like the real thing.

Please give these a try. Whether you know what the original tastes like or not, you will LOVE them.

*Be sure to use Version 2 of the recipe offered by KAF. It is WAY closer to the real deal.

mustard-soy glazed salmon with brown sugar and ginger

You know that saying, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade”?  Well, the other day, life totally gave me lemons. And not the metaphorical kind. I literally found a bag of zested lemons in our freezer. (No, I don’t clean out our freezer very often–why do you ask?)

And while it was kinda fun finding a hidden ziplock of icy tartness, it seriously did me no good. I was scouring the freezer in a last ditch effort to find SOMETHING to make for dinner, and lemons weren’t going to do the trick.

So off to Harris Teeter I went, returning with two very large salmon filets and only a vague idea of what to do with them. Lucky for me, my trusty Not Your Mother’s Weeknight Cooking came to the rescue with Mustard-Soy Glazed Salmon with Brown Sugar and Ginger.

All you need are a few common ingredients: soy sauce, Dijon mustard, ground ginger, Worcestershire sauce, garlic, brown sugar and butter. Make a sauce, slap it on the salmon, sprinkle it with sugar and butter, bake it for 15 minutes, and enjoy the heck out of it.

Seriously, if I had known cooking salmon could be this easy and this yummy, I would’ve made it many, many times, instead of always relying on my old stand-bys of chicken, turkey, and beef. Sometimes even this old cook can learn new tricks. 🙂

shredded brussels sprouts salad

I know that sharing a salad as my first post of the New Year is akin to saying, hey fellow binge-eating cookie lovers! Let’s get this food thing under control, shall we? Let’s gnaw on celery and baby carrots, and try to convince ourselves that these snacks will ABSOLUTELY hit the spot.

But (I pinky-swear) that’s not what I’m getting at at all. While I’m all for thoughtful eating, I’m also all for eating delicious, home-made food. It’s in this spirit that I’m sharing this recipe for Addictive Brussels Sprouts Salad from Shutterbean.

Sure, it’s a salad. But it’s also delicious, containing all sorts of yummy ingredients like Parmigiano-Reggiano and toasted walnuts and a Dijon dressing. It’s sophisticated and filling and goes with just about any main dish.

So whether salads are part of your New Year resolutions or you just like to eat well, this salad is sure to satisfy.