Tuesday, January 31, 2012


I've been on a caramel-chocolate baking binge lately.  And it started with these carmelita bars from Brown Eyed Baker.  I had never heard of carmelitas before, but then after I baked these, I saw them for sale at the cafeteria where I work.  Strange coincidence!

These bars are excellent and fun to make.  And they gave me an excuse to buy a bag of caramel candies at the grocery store!  My husband isn't a huge fan of chocolate, but he does like oatmeal desserts, so he ended up eating quite a few of these carmelitas.  I'm planning to make these for our Super Bowl party at the office.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Homemade Larabars

The local grocery store chain, Hy-Vee, publishes its own food magazine, and the latest issue includes several recipes for homemade energy bars.  I've been looking for a good granola bar recipe, so I gave these chewy almond energy bars from Hy-Vee Seasons magazine a try.  This recipe was almost no-bake, except for a quick trip in the oven to toast the almonds.  And I always like to find another reason to break out my food processor.

However, these bars were just OK.  My husband and I ended up eating the whole batch, mostly because we're trying to eat a little healthier.  But we didn't love these bars.  I did substitute one ingredient -- the almond butter -- for peanut butter because I didn't want to buy a whole jar of almond butter when only a small amount was needed for the recipe.  Maybe they would have tasted better with the almond butter?

These bars were fun to make, though.  The Hy-Vee Seasons magazine has several other energy bar recipes as well, so maybe I just need to experiment a little more to find the combination we like. You could find the recipes on the Hy-Vee Seasons website right now. The recipes will likely be under the "Past Issues" tabs later this month.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Fried eggplant

My husband's favorite way to eat eggplant is rather odd.  He likes to peel and slice up an eggplant, then dip it in eggwash, bread crumbs and flour before frying it up in his cast-iron skillet.  But what's really odd is that he likes to serve it with maple syrup -- like a pancake.  That's the way his dad used to make eggplant.  And surprisingly, it's very good!

My husband took these pictures himself! His plate of fried eggplant, topped with maple syrup & served with sausage.
My husband is excellent at breading & frying.  He's gotten a lot of practice from frying up the catfish he brings home in the summer.  I'm not exactly sure how he does it, but he's told me a few secrets: Let the eggplant (or fish) sit a few minutes after dunking it in the eggwash & flour/bread crumbs and make sure the pan is hot enough (sometimes he uses a frying/candy thermometer). He also likes to use Panko bread crumbs when possible for extra crunch.  Let me tell you, this eggplant dish was quite a treat!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Cocoa nib cookies

Remember a couple weeks ago when I visited the Allspice store in East Village, Des Moines?  I bought a small bag of cocoa nibs while I was there, but I didn't really know how I would use them.

A couple weeks later, I found this recipe for Oatmeal Walnut Cocoa Nib Cookies from Joy the Baker. Finally, a great recipe to try out the cocoa nibs.  And this was a great recipe.  I love a good oatmeal cookie, and the cocoa nibs added a nice coffee-like kick to these treats.  If you don't have cocoa nibs at home, then you could probably just add dark chocolate chips, or just stick with the semi-sweet chips.  Either way, these are a good go-to cookie for snacking.

I hear you can also use cocoa nibs as a topper for yogurt or oatmeal, but I thought the flavor was too bitter. But they were perfect in cookie form!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Iowa eats: Ames Cupcake Emporium

During the holiday break, I finally took the time to visit a bakery I've been wanting to check out for the longest time -- the Ames Cupcake Emporium in downtown Ames.  I wish I would have taken a few photos of the bakery itself, because it was so retro-adorable, but I was in a hurry.  (I realized on my walk to the store that I forgot to feed the parking meter. The city of Ames loves to give out parking tickets, even on the weekends. I've discovered this the hard way.)

But back to the cupcakes, I ordered a red velvet and a white chocolate raspberry.  The cupcakes weren't as big as I thought they would be, but the frosting more than made up for it. Wow, was the frosting good!  I actually think there was more frosting than cupcake, but that was fine by me.  My favorite cupcake was the white chocolate raspberry. The red velvet cupcake was just so-so for me, but I'm not really a red velvet cake fan; I chose it for my husband, since it's one of his favorites.  Next time I stop, I'm going to try a chocolate cupcake, and maybe a vanilla one, too!

If you're ever in Ames for a ball game or event, be sure to stop downtown and check out the shops.  Downtown Ames is way nicer now than back when I went to college there.  It's actually become one of my favorite weekend shopping destinations in central Iowa.  But don't forget to pay the parking meter!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Iowa recipes: Three bean salad

I realize this salad is a bit of a departure from my usual Cookie Friday recipes. But it's definitely worth sharing.

My husband and I are trying to eat more vegetables (or "green things" as he likes to say). I saw this recipe for Three Bean Salad in a local ag newspaper and decided to give it a try just to see if my husband would like it.  According to the newspaper article, this salad is one of the most popular items offered at a family-owned diner in central Iowa.

Overall, I think this salad was excellent. My husband's only complaint was that he still isn't that fond of kidney beans. But I think the kidney beans add a lot to the texture and color. So next time, I'll probably only put half a can of kidney beans in the salad.  This would be an excellent salad to take to a potluck or picnic because it doesn't include any mayo. You can find the recipe below, if you want to give it a try. Recipes don't get much easier than this!


Three Bean Salad

  • 1 (14.5-oz.) can cut green beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 (14.5-oz.) can wax beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 (14.5-oz.) can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 green pepper, diced
  • Dash of salt and pepper
  • 1 C. sugar
  • 1/2 C. vinegar
  • 1/4 C. vegetable oil
  • 1/4 C. water

Combine all beans, onion, green pepper, salt and pepper in a bowl. Combine sugar, vinegar, oil and water, and mix with beans.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Pre-cooked lobster

I thought it would be fun to cook a seafood dinner to ring in the new year last week.  Yet when I got to the grocery store, I almost changed my mind.  The lobster tails on sale at Hy-Vee were frozen and small, but still cost $24 for two tails. The king crab legs, also frozen, were packaged together in shrink wrap, with a price tag of more than $40!  I wasn't feeling too flush with cash after the Christmas holiday, so I passed on both of these "sale" items.  I went up to the butchers' counter and saw cooked, whole lobsters on sale for $10 each.  I would have loved to have bought a live lobster, but Hy-Vee didn't sell them.  So I bought one of the cooked lobsters, since it was a little more in my price range.

We weren't exactly sure how to warm up a pre-cooked lobster in the shell.  My husband searched on the Internet for instructions.  The best advice he found was to place the lobster in boiling water for just a couple minutes to warm it up.  So that's what he did.

The lobster turned out pretty good, although not the best we've ever had.  My husband said he'd like to try the pre-cooked lobster again so he could try to make a lobster roll or salad recipe.  Lobster is always a treat, especially when we live in land-locked Iowa!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Carrot quick bread using Ultragrain flour

A couple weeks ago, I won a free bag of Ultragrain flour from the company's Facebook giveaway.  I discovered Ultragrain flour at the Iowa State Fair this summer, where the company reps were handing out free, warm chocolate chip cookies made with Ultragrain.  Even though Ultragrain is a whole-wheat flour, you can bake with Ultragrain like white flour.  It has more fiber than all-purpose flour, without the whole-wheat texture.

My husband and I are trying to eat healthier, but my hubby isn't a big fan of whole-grain breads and pastas.  That's why I buy the soft white whole-grain breads at the grocery store.  The Ultragrain flour is used in a lot of those breads, according to the company's website.

I've been using Ultragrain flour for the past few months in my cookie and quick bread recipes.  For the most part, I haven't noticed a difference in the taste of the baked goods, although sometimes the texture seems a little heavier, but it might just be imagining a difference.  My husband hasn't noticed a difference at all.  He'll gobble up anything I make for him!

I have found Ultragrain flour at the East Lincoln Way Hy-Vee in Ames and at the Fareway store in north Ames.  I believe the packaging has been redesigned and is no longer called "Eagle Mills" flour, according to the company's Facebook page.  Instead, look for the "Ultragrain" name.  The flour is available in both all-purpose flour and white whole wheat flour varieties.  I've been baking with the all-purpose flour.

One of my husband's favorite recipes is a carrot quick bread I found in Cooking Light magazine years ago.  It's a fun breakfast bread to make, mostly because it uses not one -- but three -- different types of flour, including soy flour for added protein. I thought it would also be a great recipe to showcase the Ultragrain flour.

Look for soy flour in the baking aisle, with the other flours.
As you could probably guess, the real reason why my husband likes the carrot quick bread is because of the cream cheese frosting!  It's like eating carrot cake, but a lot healthier.  You can find the recipe on the Cooking Light website.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Garden update: January 2012

Yep.  That's right.  I'm sharing a garden update -- in January!  We've been snowless here in central Iowa, and it's been wonderful!  I actually went for a bike ride on Christmas day.  No snow or ice, plus mild temperatures, have made for a memorable holiday season.

As you can see from the photo above, the spinach I planted in late August is a little frost-bitten, but still green.  I'm betting that even after we get a blanket of snow (yes, the snow will eventually arrive) that the spinach will start growing again when the temperatures warm up in the spring.  Spinach is very cold tolerant, and it's the first thing to pop up from my garden in April.

Here's a wider view of my backyard.  Can you believe the grass looks green in January?

A closer look at my perennial garden. Looks a little messy because I thought it would be covered with snow!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Iowa Caucus Recipe: Grassley Family Meatloaf

With the 2012 Iowa Caucus just a few days away, I thought it would be fun to share a politically inspired recipe on my blog.

To be honest, I've been glued to my TV the last week, watching the pre-Iowa caucus coverage. Of course, I want to hear what the presidential candidates have to say (I'm still an undecided voter).  But I'm also getting a kick out of seeing the places where the presidential candidates are visiting in Iowa.  It's been fun to see all the stump speeches in restaurants, towns and stores I'm familiar with.  I have yet to see a presidential candidate up close and in person, mostly because all of their events are held when I'm at work.  But I'm thinking of driving to Des Moines this weekend to see all the national media in town for the caucuses.

In honor of all the caucus excitement, I prepared a special dinner at home.  I inherited a stack of cookbooks from my grandmother, and in her recipe clippings, I found a pamphlet of recipes from Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley's family, dated 2004.  If I remember correctly, it was the year when Grassley ran virtually unopposed for the Iowa Senate seat.  He's a very well-respected politician in our state.

I decided to try the Grassley's "Tasty Meatloaf" recipe, since my husband and I were a little tired of eating Christmas ham leftovers.  It's pretty much a standard meatloaf recipe, with the spicy addition of chili powder.  I also "frosted" the meatloaf with ketchup, just like my husband likes it. Definitely a comfort food favorite -- and a winner on caucus night or any night of the year. The recipe is below, if you want to give it a try.  Enjoy!


Tasty Meat Loaf
From Grassley Family Favorites

  • 1-1/2 pound ground beef
  • 1 C. oatmeal (uncooked)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 C. (or more) chopped onion
  • 1 Tbl. worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp. chili powder
  • 1/4 tsp. pepper
  • 1 Tbl. ketchup
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 1 C. milk

Mix all ingredients thoroughly -- hands work best.  Shape into two meat loaves.  Put crosswise in 9 x 13 cake pan.  Pour water around the loaves. (I skipped this step, and it turned out fine.)  Bake in a 350 degree oven until loaves are brown -- 45 minutes to 1 hour.  (Note: I like to spread ketchup on top after 45 minutes of bake time, then pop it in the oven for the remaining 15 minutes.)
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