Basic Apple Cider Recipe

mulledcider

Happy Halloween everyone! I’ve had a blast celebrating it this year. First I attended a friend’s spooky Halloween party where I was dressed up as Inside Out’s Joy. I had never had so much fun creating a look.

Then last night I went to a 80s High School Reunion Murder Mystery Party. Is it bad that my outfit came mostly from my closet? I didn’t need to buy anything! I went for the big 80s hair and neon pink makeup. I felt a little sad when I washed it all off later that night. Long live the beautifully terrible 80s.

For the past few years on Halloween I’ve made mulled apple cider. And every year, I search the Internet for a recipe. I have no idea why I don’t write it down. It’s always the same. I stand looking into the Crockpot wondering what I put in there with the apple juice. I usually have cinnamon and oranges standing by, waiting patiently to be plunked into the juice.

This year, I decided to spice it up a bit more (pun intended.) I decided to search, once again, through the Internet for a mulled cider recipe including other spices, and here’s what I’ve learned: they’re all different. There are HUNDREDS are ways to make mulled apple cider. And I think it’s wonderful, even if it means I can’t find just the right basic recipe.

So I’m adding my own recipe to the mix of other wonderful cider recipes people are probably searching. I’m calling my “basic” because I decided to buy the spices listed on the back of a complete mulling spice package (I already had half of the spices at home.) If you’re one of the many searching for a basic recipe that mixes fresh and ground spices, well, I’m your girl!

Enjoy.

Basic Mulled Cider Recipe

1 64 fl oz apple juice or cider

2 cinnamon sticks

3 orange slices

1/4 tsp cloves

1/4 tsp freshly ground nutmeg

pinch of black pepper

4 tbsp brown sugar

1/4 tsp allspice

1 star anise

pinch ground cardamom

  1. Pour apple juice or cider into Crockpot and add spices. Stir and cover with lid. Serve when hot.
  2. Keep leftover juice or cider in it’s original container. Will keep in the fridge overnight and probably for at least a day after.

Make it Vegetarian: Cranberry Sauce Stuffed Vegetarian Bean Balls

Cranberry
I’ve made these vegetarian bean balls stuffed with cranberry sauce at least 10 times in the past three months. They take about 5 minutes to prep and 20 minutes to cook. Serve them with this delicious Brussels sprouts salad (I use feta instead of the blue cheese and slivered almonds instead of pecans) and oven roasted potatoes.

The bean balls were adapted from this recipe from Daily Burn for Cranberry Stuffed Chicken Meatballs.

Cranberry-Sauce Stuffed Vegetarian Bean Balls

1 can white beans, drained and smashed
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 cup breadcrumbs
1 tablespoon Worchestershire
1 tablespoon ground sage
1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
pinch of salt and pepper
Cranberry sauce (the whole berry kind or homemade)

1. Mix all ingredients except for cranberry sauce into a large mixing bowl.
2. Using clean hands, take out a tablespoon of the mixture (either eyeball it or measure with a measuring spoon) and put it in the palm of your hand. Using a teaspoon, scoop out the cranberry sauce and insert it into the center of the mixture in your hand.
3. Cover the cranberry sauce with another tablespoon of the bean mixture, and then work with it until it forms a ball.
4. Place the bean balls onto a greased baking sheet and bake in the oven at 425 for 15-20 minutes.

Energy Ball Recipes

EnergyBall Recipes (1)

I’ve wanted a food processor for years, but every time I decided to go get one, something told me no.  I would put the food processor back on the shelf and walk away. I have done this at least four or five times a year.

And yet, I’d see recipes for energy balls, nut butters, hummus, etc., and try them in my low-powered blender. The outcome was OK, but not great.

But about a week ago, I was blessed with a food processor from my boyfriend’s sister. I couldn’t believe it! I finally had one!

Yesterday, a chocolate craving hit me around 2 p.m. and I decided that after going to the store, I’d use my food processor to make the energy balls I’d been dying to make for years now and have them turn out correctly. (Most energy ball bases, I’ve noticed, are made with dates. Dates in a low-powered blender? Not good. Here’s a trick I heard but haven’t actually tried if you want to make them in a low-powered blender: soak the dates to soften them. I’ve read anywhere from 15-30 minutes will do.)

After seeing so many energy ball recipes, you can build your own easily. It goes a little like this:

Base. Something sticky. Ideas:

  • Dates
  • Agave Nectar
  • Maple Syrup
  • Nut Butter
  • Honey

Fillings. Any combination of the following (but the possibilities are endless!)

  • Nuts (Almonds, pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts, peanuts, pistachios)
  • Seeds (Pumpkin, sunflower)
  • Nut butters (Almond, Peanut Butter)
  • Oats
  • Dried fruit (cranberries, raisins, currants, cherries)
  • Chocolate (Cocoa powder, chocolate chips)
  • Canned Pumpkin
  • Coconut

Flavorings and Spices. This is where it gets really fun. Try

  • Crushed Peppermint Candies or Peppermint Extract (holidays)
  • Pumpkin pie spice, nutmeg, and cinnamon
  • Vanilla extract
  • Coconut extract

Phew! Those are a ton of combinations, but again, the possibilities are endless. Play around with the ingredients. Don’t be afraid to get creative.

I made two versions yesterday:  A chocolate date ball adapted from one of my favorite recipes from Chocolate Covered Katie’s cookbook, and a No Bake Cookie inspired one.

And boy, did the energy balls turn out EXACTLY how I wanted them too! They were creaming, not too sweet, and stuck together perfectly.

Version 1: Chocolate Coconut Energy Balls

This recipe was adapted from Chocolate Covered Katie’s recipe for “Anytime Fudge Balls” from the Chocolate Covered Katie Cookbook. (Please go buy it! It’s amazing and a wonderful healthy dessert cookbook. I look through it at least once a day.)

9 pitted dates

½ cup slivered almonds

1 tbsp cocoa powder

2 tbsp dark chocolate chips

Unsweetened flaked coconut

¼ tsp vanilla extract

¼ tsp agave nectar*

Pinch of salt

  1. Add all ingredients to a food processor and pulse until crumbly but stick together when you ball it in your hands by making a fist.
  2. Roll into balls, try not to eat them all, refrigerate.

Version 2: Peanut Butter, Chocolate Chip, Coconut, Oat Energy Balls

9 pitted dates

Heaping ¼ cup crunchy peanut butter

½ cup old fashioned oats

2 tbsp semisweet chocolate chips

¼ cup unsweetened flaked coconut

¼ tsp agave nectar

  1. Pulse in food processor until crumbly but sticks together when you ball the mixture in your hands by making a fist.
  2. Roll into balls, try not to eat them all, and refrigerate.

September Blogging Challenge: Link Love

As part of Girl Meets Life’s September Blogging Challenge, here’s my Link Love: a series of blogs, news, videos, music, etc. that I’ve been enjoying or have been intrigued by.

Dog Getting a Head Massage

My sister sent this to me a few weeks ago, and I can’t stop watching it because it’s too cute.

Berlotti Bean and Farro Soup

I love Fresh Princess’s cooking videos, and I’m adding this one to my list of dinner ideas for this week.

Blogilates “Cheap Clean Eats” Chicken Lettuce Cups

I love the Thai twist she adds to it.

Vegetarian Pad Thai

I made this twice last week, and I plan on making it again this week. Can’t get enough of it!

Vintage Lace Scarf knitting pattern from The Casting On Couch
An amazing knitting teacher with amazing knitting patterns. I just finished this vintage lace scarf last week, and I plan on making another.

Italian Quinoa Patties

Dinner Tonight (2)

I am a huge fan of bean patties and quinoa patties. The one I usually make comes from one of my favorite blogs, Dashing Dish. One night, I wanted a Italian/Mediterannean twist, so I created this recipe. I made them a few weeks ago, and forgot to post about them. But don’t worry–now you have a dinner idea for tomorrow night. Enjoy!

Italian Quinoa Bean Patties
1/4 cup quinoa, cooked and cooled
1 can white kidney beans (cannellini beans), drained and smashed
1 egg, slightly beaten
4 sundried tomatoes, chopped
1 tbsp oregano or Italian seasoning
1 tsp dried basil
1/4 tsp cracked red pepper flakes
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup breadcrumbs

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. Cook your quinoa and set aside to cool. A good trick is to place a bowl into the freezer a few minutes before the quinoa is finished cooking, and then placing the quinoa in the bowl once you’ve drained all the excess water.

3. In a medium to large mixing bowl, combine the smashed beans, slightly beaten egg, and the quinoa. Mix to combine.
4. Add in the tomatoes,seasonings, salt, and pepper, cheeses, and breadcrumbs. Mix to combine.
5. Place a sheet of tin foil onto a baking sheet. Spray the sheet with cooking spray.
6. Using clean hands, pick up the bean pattie mix and form into patties about to the size you want it. (They will not shrink or expand.) Place on cooking sheet. Amount will depend on the size of the patty.
7. Bake in oven for 20-25 minutes.
8. Serve with Greek salad, fresh pita, or on a hamburger bun.

Daily Discovery Series: Raspberry Brownie Bars

I haven’t added to the Daily Discovery series in a long time, and what I’m about to show you is worth the reboot of the series.

What I’m about to show you might change your life.

Because I think they have changed mine. They’re beautiful, just sweet enough, and don’t involve too many ingredients.

They’re raw raspberry brownie bars that I came across while scrolling through one of my favorite websites, Mind Body Green. You can go here for the full recipe, but here are a few changes I made:

I swapped out all the sugary items (dates, maple syrup) for agave nectar, since that’s what I had on hand. I sweetened each of the layers a small amount at a time, tasting along the way.
Here are a few other changes I made to the base layer of the brownie bars:

– For the nuts, I used almonds, walnuts, and hazelnuts.
– I added a pinch of salt.
– I added a tsp of vanilla extract.

For the base layer, it says to blend the nuts in a blender. If you don’t think your blender could handle it, or if you just don’t have a blender, use a ziploc bag and something to smash the nuts with. I used a rolling pin. You get just as delicious a base layer.

The resulting bars are beautiful, cold, and sweet. They’re chocolaty in a dark chocolate sort of way. If you’re not a fan of dark chocolate, you will probably want to add more sweetness to the chocolate layers, or add in more vanilla to take off the edge of the dark bitter taste.

You could make these anytime. As they say on Parks and Recreation, “Treat yo self!”

I encourage you to try these bars, whether with the changes I made or with the original recipe. And be sure to go over to the site and thank the recipe’s author for such delicious and gorgeous bars.

Small Kitchen Cooking: Sometimes, Simpler is Better

It’s easy, when you discover that not only do you know how to cook but that you love cooking, to get caught up in the pretty food magazines and recipes you find on Pinterest. When I first started out with exploring the kitchen and finally cooking, I would have stacks of complicated or extensive recipes that would leave me standing in the kitchen when I finally got home from the grocery store wandering why in the world I had just bought a bunch of stuff for a one-off recipe.

Over the past four years that I’ve been cooking, I’ve learned something: sometimes, simpler is better. Instead of roasting my potatoes in a bunch of different spices, I’ve discovered tossing them in olive oil, salt, and pepper does the trick. Sure, I still love to make complicated, fun, and new recipes, but I’ve really enjoyed learning that I don’t need all the fancy things to make a really good meal.

Joey Lawrence’s character on Melissa and Joey summed it up recently in an episode I was watching, where he’s teaching the teenage boy, Ryder, how to cook:

“If the world had only olive oil, garlic, and onions, they would be able to rebuild in about a month.”

Sometimes, making a gourmet-tasting meal comes from few ingredients. It’s also fun to make something new and complicated.

Just don’t become overwhelmed. Know that when you’re discovering your kitchen and stretching out your cooking legs, go for the simple things. See how those turn out. See how they taste. Build upon them if you want. And don’t be afraid to try the complicated from time to time.

Happy cooking!

Small Kitchen Cooking: Poached Eggs Aren’t Terrifying [Recipe]

I made poached eggs on Sunday morning because I was tired of seeing so many gosh-darn delightful looking recipes and me being to scared to try them. I don’t know about you, but I’ve stayed away from attempting to make poached eggs because I’ve heard how intimidating it can be.

But this morning, I cracked open one of my cookbook essentials, Mark Bittman’s “How to Cook Everything,” and got to work. And it wasn’t terrifying. I used a 1 cup measuring cup and cracked each egg in there, using the cup to place the eggs into the water, one at a time. And then I turned on the timer and waited for 5 minutes.

But that was it.

Nothing to it.

The result? Well, I will admit, I don’t think I added enough water to my saucepan, because the eggs had no white tops! It was kind of cute, actually. Despite their missing tops, the poached eggs were everything I’ve heard they are: silky, smooth, and light. Gorgeous to look at, and delicate to eat. I savored every moment. And now I don’t think I’ll ever look at fried or scrambled eggs the same way again. I’ll always be left with this sinking feeling of “if only I had poached eggs.”

Believe me, they’re worth trying. They’re not terrifying. Just go out there and try it.

Next on my list of intimidating foods I’ve avoided making? Souffle. I have no plans to make it anytime soon.

Happy Tuesday! What’s your favorite way to have poached eggs? I had mine over hashbrowns, sauteed bell peppers, and sharp cheddar cheese.

Here’s another way I want to try them:

Arugula, Asparagus, and Poached Eggs

Small Kitchen Cooking: Learning how to cook

Learning how to cook isn’t difficult, but from the overwhelming amounts of cookbooks, online recipe sites like FoodGawker and AllRecipes, blogs, and good ol’ fashioned cookbooks, it can seem like an overwhelming task to take on. But it isn’t. Or it shouldn’t be. It’s actually very simple: just cook.

After college and while I was unemployed, in between searching sites for job listings, I stumbled across Oh She Glows. It came from the Glamour Vitamin G blog, and it was for apple cupcakes. This involved no cooking, obviously, but it was so different in a such a simple way that I became curious. And so I kept searching. I discovered blog after blog, asked for a cookbook for Christmas, and started trying out different recipes on my two roommates and my sister. (Lesson No.1 I learned: do NOT use fresh spinach in a quiche.)

Anyway, what I’m trying to say here is that cooking isn’t challenging at its core. There are complicated or tiresome recipes such as beouf bourginion (see the movie Julie and Julia and you’ll know what I’m talking about) or souffle (still haven’t tried to attempt that one) but at its core, cooking is simple. And don’t worry about being creative right at first: start simple. Here are some of my tips to get you into your kitchen.

1. Read the recipe before deciding to make it. Too many times I’ve started a recipe and halfway through realized it took an hour of cooking, when I only had a half hour. Or one of the ingredients I could have sworn I had was gone. Cooking is easier when you look over the recipe and go through your kitchen. Take everything out that you’re going to need and place it on your counter. As you use the ingredients, put them back.

2. Sometimes simple is better. Just last week, I had a craving for pasta sauce. I went over to my pantry and thought about what I’d needed. I had tomatoes, oregano, fresh basil, garlic, and olive oil. Toss it all together and it was the best pasta sauce I think I’ve had ( with the exception of my middle sister’s amazing meat pasta sauce.) Do you love pasta and avocado? Then this avocado pasta from Oh She Glows is an incredibly easy dish to make. Pizza Margherita is easy too and gorgeous. (If you’re worried about making the dough, you can buy fresh premade dough.)

3. Don’t be afraid to look it up or call a friend. I can’t ever remember how to boil eggs. Do I put the eggs in with the water before I start to boil it? Every time, I look it up. Something so simple you think I’d remember right? (And I can remember how to make crepes from scratch without looking up the recipe.) Don’t be afraid to look up recipes, techniques, or call a friend. There are great Youtube channels out there such as this one from Tara Stiles and this other one from Fresh Princess. You’ll notice that their recipes are simple and easy to make. (Not to mention that Tara has a cookbook coming out in November that I cannot wait to get my hands on.)

4. Start slow. If you’re just starting out getting comfortable with your kitchen, try cooking at least one meal a week homemade. Find a simple recipe (if it has over 10 ingredients, I’d skip it. Go for the easy recipes, like this 4 ingredient pasta sauce inspired by Mark Bittman’s tomato pasta sauce recipe in his How to Cook Everything cookbook.)

I’ll leave you with those for now.

Monday Night Pasta Sauce

Last week I wanted a bright and very tomato-y pasta sauce. Mark Bittman, in his cookbook “How to Cook Everything,” has several variations on tomato pasta sauce. I combined the spiced, garlicky, and spicy versions together to make this very simple and delicious pasta sauce. It doesn’t take very long to prep or cook, making it a great and quick weeknight meal. Try it and let me know how you like it!

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 28 ounce can whole tomatoes (or diced), in their liquid
1 small can of tomato sauce
8 leaves fresh basil, minced
pinch of red pepper flakes
salt, pepper, oregano, to taste
2 servings spaghetti noodles, cooked according to package instruction
shredded Parmesan or pecorino Romano, for garnish

1. Heat the oil over medium heat in a large saucepan.
2. Add the garlic to the pan and saute for 2 minutes, or until the garlic starts to brown slightly. (I’ve learned that if you can smell the garlic, it’s ready.)
3. If you’re using whole tomatoes, chop them first before adding them. Add the tomatoes and tomato sauce, and season with the oregano, red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper. Add about 1 1/2 teaspoons of the minced basil.
4. Let everything simmer over medium heat for 10-20 minutes.
5. While the sauce is simmering, boil water and cook pasta according to package directions.
6. Strain the pasta and add into the sauce. Turn off the heat to the pasta sauce. Top each individual serving with the rest of the fresh basil and cheese.
7. Enjoy!