Goat Cheese & Rosemary Dip

I’m a huge fan of bringing some form of chips & dip to parties. They’re generally easy to transport, easy to eat, and can even serve as good conversation starters. Most of my dips have a story behind them (let’s be honest; pretty much everything in my life has a story behind it), and the one I’m writing about today is no exception. This recipe was shared with me by the friend of a dear friend who, a couple of years ago, had a bachelorette party in Pensacola. Every time I make this dip – which is often – I think about that group of friends, and how much fun that particular trip was. This dip was the most popular one at the condo that weekend – it didn’t last an afternoon with a room full of girls who’d been out enjoying the sun & fun of the panhandle and who needed something to tide us over until dinner. 

In the interest of full disclosure, I don’t actually measure any of this out when I make it. Measurements are strictly for those of you who are more type A than I am when it comes to dip preparation. Come to think of it, I never measure anything when I make a dip. That’s probably why I love making them so much. 

Goat Cheese & Rosemary Dip with Fig Preserves

4 oz goat cheese

4 oz cream cheese

3 tablespoons fresh chopped rosemary (it absolutely MUST be fresh; don’t bother with dried)

freshly ground black pepper

pinch of salt

2 tablespoons honey

1 jar good fig preserves (my personal favorite is Dalmatia; it’s soooo good – and good fig preserves are crucial in this dish)

Let cheeses come to room temperature, and then blend them with a hand mixer. Add in the pepper, salt, rosemary and honey; mix to combine. Taste and adjust seasonings accordingly (add more honey if you’d like, more salt, or more pepper). Let it sit in the fridge for at least 2 hours to marry the flavors of the rosemary together. 

Immediately before serving, top the dip with the fig preserves. Serve with pita chips. Enjoy! 


Fall Cider Grilled Pork

Most of you already know about my obsession with Woodchuck Fall Cider. It is, quite simply, fall in a bottle. I’ve described it, on various occasions, as follows: “it’s a cozy sweatshirt on a crisp fall day.” Or “It tastes like the leaves are changing from green to red and yellow and orange all at once.” Or “It’s got nutmeg, cinnamon, apples and magical unicorn fairy dust in it.” And “Imagine Auburn, on a home game Saturday in the fall. It’s 10 am and the game isn’t until 6. You’ve got your tailgate set up with the rest of the Auburn family and you’re hanging out in the most perfect weather with your best friends. Drinking fall cider is sort of like drinking that feeling.” It’s only available for 2 months out of the year, and I stockpile it like a squirrel does nuts.


(I should tell you that if you don’t like cider, or you don’t like overly sweet things, you won’t enjoy this beverage. And I should also warn you that you probably will not want to drink more than 1 at a time. Not because they’re high gravity, but because they are intense. Like that unicorn I mentioned. One is enough. Oh, and if you can find it on draft… lucky you. Draft fall cider is the holy grail of adult beverages: fruit category.)

I know it’s February, and fall cider season is long gone. But I still had one fall cider left in the fridge, saving it for a special occasion. Since yesterday was Valentine’s Day, I figured it was a special enough occasion to us the last little bit of fall cider we’ll have until September. I emptied the bottle into “marinade” and “sauce” containers, and smiled just smelling it. Mmmmm.

As one who pretty much refuses to go out for Valentine’s Day (overrated, Hallmark holiday, can’t we just go out next Friday instead and avoid all these people?), I knew I wanted to make us a tasty at-home meal. I had this super on-sale pork loin hanging out in the fridge that needed to get cooked, and even though it’s no longer fall, I figured an apple-flavored grilled pork loin is always in season.

I’m sharing the recipe so I won’t forget what I did. Because it turned out pretty good.

Fall Cider Grilled Pork Tenderloin with Apple-Onion Compote

In a small bowl, prepare the marinade for the pork. I used: 1/2 of a Woodchuck Fall Cider, a couple tablespoons olive oil, a few big pinches of salt, freshly ground black pepper, dried thyme and about a half tablespoon each of grainy mustard and dijon. Whisk together and pour in a ziploc bag with a 1.5 pound pork tenderloin. Make sure the marinade covers the pork, seal the bag, and let it hang out in the fridge all day. (Pro tip: pork chops would work just fine in place of a pork tenderloin – just adjust the cooking time.)

When you’re ready to cook it, grill the pork on high heat for 6 minutes per side. Then transfer to an oven heated at 375 for roughly 12-15 minutes, until the internal temperature reaches whatever level of “I think we’re safe from a foodborne illness” you’re comfortable with (for me, that magic number is 160.)

Let the roast rest for about 5 minutes, slice and serve.

Apple-Onion Compote
If you feel like being extra special fancy, while your pork is cooking, heat a skillet over medium-high heat with some olive oil. When the oil is hot, add about half a sliced onion and sliced apple, with salt, pepper & dried thyme. When the onions start to caramelize and the apples start to soften, add in about a tablespoon of grainy mustard, the remainder of your fall cider, crank the heat up to high, and let the moisture reduce completely, whisking to combine the mustard with the liquid. Then finish it off with a splash of heavy cream. Serve the pork with this on top.

Suggested sides: I made mashed potatoes and broccoli, but any mild starch and your favorite green vegetable would work.

Dr. Nelson

Dr. Larry Nelson, photo credit Shannon Wells, Florence, AL

Dr. Larry Nelson, photo credit Shannon Wells, Florence, AL

This story takes place in Florence, Alabama. It starts out on a hot, muggy, humid Wednesday morning in the middle of August, 1999. I was wearing exactly what my newly-pledged sorority told me to wear: a bright blue Alpha Delta Pi bid-day t-shirt and khaki shorts. I had a brand new, dark blue Jansport bookbag securely fastened on my back, jam-packed with 3 heavy books and plenty of brand new binders, and I started on what seemed like a long walk from the Rice Hall “residence facility” to my very first college class ever in beautiful Bibb Graves Hall at the University of North Alabama. And I was terrified.

Climbing the three flights of stairs with that heavy bookbag was a challenge. The gorgeous, wooden, winding staircase up the middle of the building is the sort of stairway that even those of us who are in shape would struggle climbing. Little did I know that what awaited me at the top of those stairs were a few things that would change my life and stick with me forever.

One of those life-changers at the top of the stairs was the first person I made eye contact with at approximately 8:47 am, when I arrived outside the classroom where my Intro to American History class was supposed to take place. Kellie Butler had one of those faces that you glance at once and know you’ve found a kindred spirit. I’m sure our conversation started out with me asking some neurotic questions, like “Are you here for American History? Does it start at 9 am? Am I in the right place? Are you in this class too? Who are you? Will you be my friend?” We became fast friends and, eventually, sorority sisters. It was true serendipity we ended up in that class together – and KB’s friendship today reminds me of the fact that you really never know when you’re going to meet someone who changes your life.

At approximately 8:57 am, another life-changer – the professor – arrived. He looked just like what you thought a professor *should* look like – jacket, dress slacks, book & papers in hand.

The room got quiet as Dr. Larry Nelson wrote the following words on the board – the same words he wrote on the board every single day for the rest of the year:

“Good history is intellectual history.”

(sometimes, if he was in a hurry, he’d abbreviate… “GHIIH”… but we all knew what it meant.)

And then he started his class the way he started it every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for the rest of the year:

“Hello, and welcome! It’s another beautiful day at the University of North Alabama.”

And, it truly was a beautiful day, every day, at UNA. Our class was early enough that we’d hear Leo the Lion roar at us on our way to class (or during class), and the way the sun shone through those old, huge windows made it feel like we were in a college classroom you’d see in a movie somewhere.

But these are all aesthetics; the sort of things that frame a story like this one and make it seem pretty and idealistic. The true beauty of this story, and the story I really want to tell, is the story of how Dr. Nelson and his class influenced me, personally and professionally.

Every college has that one professor that everyone knows, loves, and desperately tries to take. Dr. Nelson was that professor at UNA – which is really a huge compliment because UNA is full of amazing professors, many of whom I was fortunate enough to have in my 4 short years there.

He was the first history teacher I ever had who made me think about history in terms of more than just dates & names. He truly opened up my eyes, and expanded my worldview. He was a storyteller. This intrigued me. To think of history as a series of stories – stories which likely had different endings, and different tellings, and different versions – just totally rocked my world, and made me extremely interested to learn more. Had I not had him and experienced his perspective on history, I doubt I ever would have had an interest in communication history, which means I would never have picked up my current research project on the TVA which hopefully will be published in book form soon. I owe him a huge debt of gratitude for that alone.

With that said, I don’t exactly remember any of his lectures, in particular. But I do remember a lot of other things about him.

His attitude was infectious. I never saw the man in a bad mood. Students coming in late weren’t called out or shamed – they were encouraged to just sign the roll sheet after class (and we were encouraged to write notes to each other on that roll sheet as it got passed around the room). Classroom management wasn’t an issue – you wanted to listen to this man’s stories and hear what he had to say. How could you not? He was brilliant and energetic and obviously loved history.

He was a HUGE supporter of everything UNA-related – sports, student life events, Greek life stuff, like parties and mixers and philanthropy events – you name it, the man was there (probably with his sweet wife in tow). Not only did he show up to our crazy events, he took pictures for the end-of-the-year slide-show he made. The slide show he featured at his Christmas party, held at his home. For all of his students. I thought that was the coolest thing ever. He seriously extended an open invitation to his home to all of us – it was as much a part of the class announcements as reminders about the next exam. (He promoted it as an “edifying gathering” complete with “Check Cola and Verlie Cake.”)

During finals, when our papers were due, he held office hours in the library – not during the day, convenient for him, when we were likely doing other things (sleeping or watching Price is Right, maybe?) but at night, for those of us who procrastinated, from something like 7-11 pm, when we were in the middle of crunch time and most likely to need assistance with our papers.

At that point in my life, as a college freshman, the idea of becoming a college professor hadn’t even entered my brain. But I do remember thinking that if I ever did become a professor, I could only hope to be a fraction as awesome as Dr. Nelson – not just because everyone loved him, but because he did cool things like write books, admit when he was wrong about something, talk about important, intelligent topics, make students care about things they didn’t think they cared about, enjoy his family (who he dearly loved), and support his students in every single way. (He never once turned down a request to write a recommendation letter for me… and I asked for several, along with everyone else who tried out for things like the LaGrange Society). Those, to me, are characteristics of a truly great professor. It does all of us in academia well to remember (especially on those days when we feel like our lectures fall short or what we think is going to be an amazing class just doesn’t work for whatever reason) that students are probably not going to remember those days. They’ll instead (hopefully) remember things like our passion, our kindness, our enthusiasm, our knowledge, our desire to share that knowledge with others, and our ability to help others learn. At least, that’s what I remember about Dr. Nelson, one of the most influential people on my teaching style today.

The UNA community lost a great educator, and great man, last night to a terrible illness. I send my sincere condolences to his family, as well as a thank you to them for sharing him with us. The life of a professor is crazy and hectic, and the families of the truly great professors so often end up giving up some of their time with them so that they can belong, for a short time, to their students. It was a selfless sacrifice for his family to be supportive of his career, and I hope that they know just how much he meant to so many of us at UNA.

Dr. Nelson will be missed. But, to paraphrase another great professor’s comment today (thanks, Mrs. Darnell): aren’t we lucky to have had him?

Leftover Chicken & Vegetable Soup

soupAnyone else out there feel like all you’ve been doing the past two weeks is eating? I don’t know about the rest of y’all, but Dave and I spent several days this week in my hometown (Athens, AL) stuffing our faces, completely abandoning any hope of trying to stay “healthy.” When we got back from Athens, we were just full. As much as we enjoyed every bite of the grilled pork chops with home-grown greens & mashed potatoes (thanks, Dad & Malena), Mama Charlie’s Out-of-this-World Cake (don’t worry; she gave me the recipe), Whitt’s BBQ, Mom’s specialty/magical chocolate oatmeal cookies (they were still warm when I got to them… mmmm…), Heath’s cake balls, Grandmother’s over-the-top spread of food on Christmas Eve (which we nibbled on for about 5 hours while opening presents, playing Taboo and chasing around an adorable baby girl!) and, finally, my Christmas morning breakfast (biscuits from scratch, veggie frittatas, and sausage balls), the thought of a big meal made both of us sort of nauseous.

The challenge, of course, was to figure out what to make out of the remnants of last week’s farmer’s basket. The result was pretty delicious. This isn’t so much a recipe as a method, like most of the things I’ve been posting lately. I mean, I’ll give you the recipe, but I’m also going to highlight two or three little tricks to keep in mind next time you make soup from scratch.

Leftover Chicken & Vegetable Soup

couple of chicken thighs

diced onion

diced green bell pepper

couple cloves diced garlic

a few diced carrots

A small can diced tomatoes

fresh green beans, ends trimmed & chopped into thirds

about 1/2 cup white wine (optional)

about 5 cups chicken stock

about 2/3 cup ditalini

salt & pepper & EVOO

leftover rind of parmesan cheese

First: start to cook your pasta in a small pan with boiling, salted water, but only for a few minutes – don’t let it cook all the way through. It’ll continue to cook in the soup. When it’s partially cooked (maybe 4-5 minutes?) drain it and set it aside to add to the soup later. I love ditalini for this soup, but any small pasta will do. Tip 1: pasta in soup adds heartiness and helps make soup feel like more of a meal rather than an appetizer or first course. Tip 2: I mean it when I say to only cook your pasta partially in the soup. The starches that come out of the pasta in the broth will thicken the soup and make it even heartier. Tip 3: don’t have pasta? Add some white or red beans, drained & rinsed from a can.

Meanwhile, preheat a large pot over medium high heat with a couple tablespoons of olive oil. Season a couple of chicken thighs with salt, pepper & Italian seasoning. Cook them in the pot, searing for 4 minutes per side. If they don’t get completely cooked through for some reason and you’re paranoid about, like, e. coli, throw them in a 350 degree oven for about 7 minutes to let them finish cooking. However, 4 minutes per side should get them cooked just enough for you to shred the meat and set aside. You’ll add the shredded meat back to the soup later, and the chicken will cook all the way through in the simmering soup if they aren’t completely done when you pull them off the stove.

Tip 4: chicken thighs are fantastic for soups. Dark meat gives the soups more flavor than white meat, thighs tend dry out less than chicken breasts, and they’re usually much cheaper than chicken breasts. Keep a few individually wrapped in the freezer for emergency soup cooking days, like I do. Tip 5: browning the chicken in the same pot you’ll use for your soup also gives a TON of delicious flavor in the form of crusty brown bits that form on the bottom of the pan. You’ll scrape up those brown bits when you deglaze the pan later.

Once you pull the chicken out of the pot and set it aside to shred, add a tiny bit more olive oil and your onions, bell peppers, and carrots, with a dash of salt & pepper. Let them cook until just tender – maybe 7 minutes? – then add the garlic. Then, pour in your wine, and start scraping up all those little brown bits at the bottom of the pan (we call that deglazing the pan). Bring the wine to a simmer and add chicken stock. If you aren’t using wine, just do the same deglazing thing with your chicken stock. Then add your can of tomatoes and your green beans.

At this point, add salt & pepper to taste, and throw in the chicken and pasta. Also, if you’ve got it, throw in an old parmesan cheese rind you’ve stored in your freezer. Tip 6: I know it sounds odd, but adding a rind of parmesan cheese adds a velvety, salty, nutty flavor and texture to soups that no other ingredient can match. I always save the rinds of my big chunks of parm for this purpose. Just keep them in a freezer bag in the freezer (duh), and pull them out to use whenever you make soups – especially those that have some sort of Italian flare, like this one, with the tomatoes and Italian seasonings and such.

Let the soup simmer for as long as you can stand it – up to an hour. Enjoy with a piece of buttered crusty bread, and freeze the leftovers. As you can see from the picture, I enjoyed mine with a delicious IPA in a frosty glass – but let’s be honest, I’ll enjoy just about anything with an IPA in a frosty glass.

Easy Salsa

When life gives you tomatoes, make fresh salsa.

When life gives you tomatoes, make fresh salsa.

I know we’re way beyond fresh, delicious, perfect tomato season, but my weekly farmer’s market basket keeps giving me tomatoes. (Y’all, seriously, FMB is the best deal on fresh fruits & veggies in Kennesaw. Check ’em out already.) And those pretty little gems keep sitting there in my fruit & veggie bowl, gradually turning from not-so-ripe dark pink to eat-me-now deep ruby red, patiently waiting for me to figure out what to do with them. They’re not summertime perfect tomatoes, but they are still darn good this time of year, if they ripen properly.

Last night, as I was making guacamole as a side dish for dinner (grilled chicken tacos), I realized that I also wanted salsa with our meal. I didn’t want just any salsa, though; I wanted good salsa. I didn’t want anything from a jar, nor was I in the mood to taste-test one of the hit-or-miss fresh, pre-packaged, overpriced salsas you can find at your favorite neighborhood pretentious foodie market. What I really wanted was Laura & Heyward’s famous homemade salsa. But, it was 7 pm on a Sunday night, and L&H probably had a million other things to do besides make me some delicious salsa and bring it up to my house. So, I had to take matters into my own hands, and – glancing at my tomatoes – got the bright idea to attempt my own version of homemade salsa.

And, it turned out great! So, L&H: thanks for the inspiration. I think I followed your recipe almost exactly, but you can let me know for sure.

Theirs is still fantastic, but mine will work in a pinch.

Homemade Salsa

In a food processor (Note: I opted for the food processor because I wanted a very specific, chunky texture. You could probably achieve similar results with a blender – you’d just have to be careful not to pulverize it into a liquid), combine the following ingredients:

*roughly a quarter of a purple onion, cut into large pieces

*5-6 tomatoes, cored and pretty much seeded

*1 clove garlic

*1 jalapeño, seeded (unless you want super spicy salsa; then leave the seeds in)

*Handful of cilantro (leave it out if you’re making salsa for someone who is cilantro-averse)

*couple pinches of salt, maybe some pepper

* juice of half a lime

Then, pulse the salsa 6-7 times, until you get the consistency you want. I like chunky, so I didn’t over-mix it. Dig in & enjoy.

If you’re wondering how to make the tacos, they’re simple: sprinkle chicken breasts with olive oil, salt, paprika, cumin & oregano, then cook them on the grill. In the meantime, blacken a few corn tortillas over your gas stove, then top them with grilled veggies (peppers and onions are my favorite), spinach, cilantro, the shredded grilled chicken, homemade salsa & guacamole. I promise, they’ll give your favorite Mexican restaurant tacos a run for their money.

Cinnamon-Cocoa Almonds

This might be an un-appetizing picture, but trust me: cocoa-covered nuts are delicious.

This might be an un-appetizing picture, but trust me: cocoa-covered nuts are yummy. I ate them today with a homemade iced coffee with soy milk. Chocolate + caffeine = a happy LBDelicious.

I was just telling my good friend Jonathan a few weeks ago that I tend to only blog when I’m stressed out. This, readers, is one of those times. But since this is a public blog and I’m pre-tenure, I’m not going to go into many details about what particular incident has been the source of my stress lately. Instead, I’ll just passively-aggressively throw in a few links here and there that were published in public news outlets for you to do some research and find out for yourself.  

Needless to say, it’s been a tense week around campus. It’s been especially hard to focus. And, this time of year is usually tense anyway, what with the time change freaking people out, the holidays sneaking up on us, and the building end-of-year, ohmygod-are-there-really-only-4-weeks-left-in-this-semester sort of anxieties.

A constant struggle with just about everyone I know is how to best handle stress, especially the sort of overwhelming stress that strikes at the most inopportune times. We all have different coping strategies, and mine have varied from walking the UNA track or going to Casa Mexicana (I remember when Karen figured out that we could eat an entire dinner of flour tortillas, salsa and cheese dip for $3! It was stellar), to visiting Bodega, to Britney Spears movies and a glass of (A50 style) wine. However, lately, I’ve had to come up with healthier (and, true to form, much more intense and Type A) stress management techniques. Over the past week, I’ve done the following to help me cope:

* Thrown myself into research and writing for my book, spending a couple of hours every day thematically analyzing newspapers from the mid 1930s

* Ran my fastest 5K ever, going into the race with no training whatsoever (turns out, I do run faster when chased – so, thanks, Shaun)

*Did a 5 mile trail run/ really hard spin class brick workout

*Swam – hard – multiple times, focusing on stroke drills and kicking as hard as I could (angry swimming might be a good way to describe it)

*Came up with a creative new frittata recipe

*Eaten. A lot. I am a stress eater.

The only thing left to do to that usually helps me reduce stress is: this. Blogging. A little creative writing tends to go a long way with me, so I’m crossing my fingers that writing all of this down and sharing it with you will serve as a little cathartic relief and help me get ready to focus in on a long night of grading and paper editing.

If not, well, maybe I can go run around the block, then FaceTime with someone I love while eating some cheese dip, watching a really crappy movie (she’s not a girl, but not yet a woman…) and drinking something yummy, as a measure of last resort.

I’m rambling. On with the recipe.

Inspired by a snack Chris was telling me about today, I decided that I needed to make some chocolate-covered almonds. I found this delightful little recipe that I followed almost perfectly: I ran out of almonds, and decided to throw in some walnuts to the mix. The result was fantastic. This with a delightful homemade iced coffee with soy milk was just the pick-me-up I needed this afternoon. This sort of snack is what I like to call “brain food.” Whenever I’m writing or doing something that requires a lot of mental energy, I like to have something around that I can eat. It really does help me think. Almonds and walnuts are a great snack for that purpose – they’re full of protein, which is what I always look for in a snack, as you’ll feel fuller faster and have more energy without the dreaded sugar crash that I tend to get when my snack is something like a big handful of Reese’s peanut butter cups or a spoonful of Nutella.

Judge me if you must.

Cinnamon-Cocoa Almonds and Walnuts

Place 2 tablespoons cocoa, some cinnamon, and a pinch of sea salt in a quart-sized Ziploc bag. In a small saucepan, heat up about a teaspoon of honey and a dash of vanilla extract. You sort of want to just melt the honey so it can coat the 1 cup (total) of almonds & walnuts (or whatever other nuts you have; anything really would work here) you’ll add to the pan when the honey is melted. Once the nuts are coated with the honey and vanilla, toss them in the bag with the cocoa mixture. Seal the bag, and shake to coat the nuts.

Store in an airtight container and enjoy!

Pumpkin Pie Smoothie

PumpkinsDuring my run this morning, I decided that today was the day. It’s time for pumpkin in the LBDelicious kitchen. But it’s not time for just any pumpkin. It’s time for the revival of a fall treat that I couldn’t quite get perfect last fall – the pumpkin smoothie.

I love smoothies. I drink one almost every day. They’re my favorite post-workout snack, and I change them up nearly every day based on whatever fruit, juice, and protein sources I have in my fridge or freezer. They work so well for workout recovery because they’re nutritionally balanced. I always put some carbs, some fiber, some protein, and of course, some sugar in my blender, and 30 seconds later, I’m in fruity, yogurty, frozen heaven. In fact, I love smoothies so much, that I may or may not do a smoothie happy dance on occasion. (You can ask Dave for details on that.) Sometimes I even blend them up extra thick, pour them in a bowl, top them with granola and eat the whole thing with a spoon (I learned that trick in Hawaii… dang, after looking at that site, I *really, really* want to go back to Hawaii). If you’re not a runner or work-out-er, you should still be drinking smoothies – they’re excellent meal replacements if you make them right, and they’re perfect meals-on-the-go for those of us in a hurry all the time.

Last year, I kept playing around with the concept of a pumpkin smoothie, and I just couldn’t get the proportions or ingredients right. I tried various amounts of pumpkin with soy milk, regular milk, Greek yogurt, plain yogurt, bananas, and nut butters. They were all okay but never stellar, as I knew they could be. By some fall-induced miracle, this morning, I nailed it. I had to blog about it not to brag, but to write it all down so I wouldn’t forget how I made it, and – of course – to encourage y’all to make one, too.

Pumpkin Pie Smoothie

In a blender, combine the following (in this order):

8 ounces plain soymilk (I use unsweetened, but sweetened or vanilla probably wouldn’t suck, nor would dairy milk)

about 1/2 cup 2% Greek yogurt (I’m totally brand loyal to, if not a complete snob about, Fage)

couple tablespoons of ground flaxseed (optional, but it definitely helps fill you up)

1/2 cup canned pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling: just plain pumpkin.)

some ground cinnamon, allspice, cloves and freshly grated nutmeg (I guess you could just throw in some pumpkin pie spice, but then you don’t get to freshly grate your nutmeg, which is oddly rewarding)

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (I really think the vanilla is what did the trick today.)

big ol’ squirt of agave nectar (or honey)

1 small or half of a large banana

Blend it up, pour in a glass, stick a straw in it, and enjoy. I think the Greek yogurt gives it a tangy bite, so it’s almost like a pumpkin pie with a little cream cheese frosting on top. Another benefit to this smoothie is the amount of protein you get: soy, flax and Greek yogurt are all excellent sources of lean protein. It’ll keep you full and happy. Enjoy, and happy running!


Nutella Cookies

I have a long history with cookies. I’ve been baking them since I was 5 – old enough to read and follow the directions on the back of the Betty Crocker “Just Add Water!” chocolate chip cookie package. I can’t promise those actually got baked in the oven; it’s likely I just mixed things together and ate the batter. My sweet tooth runs deep.

Happy 2nd birthday to me!

Happy 2nd birthday to me!


Not too much has changed…









I started making cookies from scratch when I was 12, memorizing my mom’s famous no-bake chocolate oatmeal cookie recipe. I’ll give y’all that recipe in another post, because chocolate oatmeal cookies are a whole other story all together.

When I got to Auburn, Mrs. South’s party cookie recipe became famous, and has since become my most requested recipe, making appearances at every sort of gathering from tailgates to random Tuesdays in a shared teaching assistant office to baby showers. They are buttery, melt-in-your-mouth deliciousness.

However, I recently found my absolute favorite cookie of all time. I’m not being dramatic – I’m being totally serious. They’re cookies made out of Nutella. Are you surprised these are my favorite?

They’re based on a recipe from Giada, but I adjusted it based on some suggestions in the reviews. The first two ingredients are Nutella and softened butter. I just… I mean… there are no words to describe how much I love these cookies. They turned out different than how Giada said they should, which would be to stay in a ball-like shape that you dust in powdered sugar. Mine flattened out into chewy discs that melt in your mouth, and I think I liked them better that way. nutella

Nutella Cookies

Preheat oven to 350.

With a mixer, combine 2 sticks room temperature butter, 1/4 cup powdered sugar, 1 tsp vanilla and 1 cup Nutella.

Here’s where I veer from Giada’s version: take out a spoon, and eat some of the batter at this stage. Try not to eat all of it, though; you still have cookies to make. But seriously. If you need to make someone love you, and that person is in your house, take them a spoonful of the batter at this point. I would dare them not to make out with you.

If you’ve been able to refrain from eating all of the Nutella buttery goodness, continue with making the cookies.

Add in 2 cups of flour – not all at once, maybe in thirds – and mix until just incorporated.

Place dough onto a silpat or baking sheet lined with parchment, in small, teaspoon-sized balls. Bake for 8-10 minutes.

Here’s something that requires great patience from me: let them cool before trying to remove them from the baking sheet. They will be all melty and gooey and irresistible. However: patience, grasshopper. Let them cool, so you don’t have a mess on your hands. While they’re cooling, dust them with some more powdered sugar.

Sorry I don’t have any pictures of them. I ate them all. 299000164_4d7398dbf6

Cheesy Vegetarian Lasagna


I really can’t explain what on earth possessed me, at 5 pm in Kroger, exhausted from working all day, to randomly pick up a few ingredients that would facilitate my creation of a lasagna, a dish that I know takes at least 2.5 hours to compile and cook. Maybe it’s part of the start-of-the-semester nesting that takes place every year, where I try to stock my freezer with individual portions of food, ready to grab & go for quick lunches or for those emergency nights where I just can’t bring myself to cook anything. Or maybe it’s because this weekend, when we went to Nino’s, I was secretly drooling over the lasagna one of our friends ordered (I held back on ordering something decadent since I decided, that day, to sign up for a triathlon the next – cheese, cream-based sauces and a 3 hour, 3 sport race don’t exactly mix, but my eggplant & tomato penne fueled me up just fine).

But really, I think I just *had* to make this lasagna because sometimes, the only thing that makes me feel better after a long couple of days at work is coming home and totally destroying my kitchen, blaring my “The Hollies” Pandora station, and getting totally lost in the creative act of throwing together something that may or may not work, from scratch, just for the fun of it. Luckily for both Dave and me, tonight, it turned out pretty delicious.

I learned something by making this particular version of lasagna, too: if you run out of homemade marinara sauce but you have extra homemade bechamel, you can substitute the bechamel for marinara and it works just fine. In fact, it works better than fine, because bechamel is basically cheese sauce, and I just don’t think there’s any such thing as a lasagna with too much cheese.

Cheesy Vegetarian Lasagna

First: cook 1 pound of lasagna noodles in salted, boiling water for about 5 minutes. (They’ll finish cooking in the oven.) Drain & drizzle with oil to keep them from drying out. Set aside while you continue your prep.

Second: make some homemade marinara sauce. Sure – use a jarred Barilla if you must. But I gave up on jarred sauces a while back – they just don’t taste as good to me anymore. Here’s my basic, go-to recipe:
* In a large saucepan over medium heat, sautee a small onion, diced, with salt & pepper.
* After a few minutes, add a few diced garlic cloves. Then add some dried oregano (or Italian seasoning blend).
* Then add 1 28-ounce can of tomatoes, pureed. Add some more salt & pepper to taste.
* Simmer for 15 minutes & set aside. Add fresh parsley & basil at the end if you’ve got it.
* See? That’s nothing. You can totally make your own marinara. You’re welcome.

Third: make your bechamel. This isn’t a perfect ratio, but it worked for me and is based loosely on Giada’s recipe:
* In a saucepan, melt 3 tablespoons butter.
* As soon as it’s melted, add a scant 1/3 cup all purpose flour
* Stir constantly for 2 minutes
* Whisk in 2 cups whole milk (or, if you’re like me and don’t keep whole milk, something like 1 cup heavy cream & 1 cup 2%, or some half & half… whatever you’ve got will work)
* Add some salt, pepper & freshly grated nutmeg (mmmm… fresh nutmeg)
* Bring to a simmer, whisking frequently. The sauce should thicken up & coat the back of a spoon.
* Set aside.
* Try not to eat it all before it goes in the lasagna.

Fourth: prepare your veggies. You’ll need:
* 1 package frozen spinach, thawed & drained
* a diced bell pepper, squash & zucchini, sauteed in olive oil
* about a pound of mushrooms, diced & sauteed in butter

Fifth: get your ricotta filling ready. I used:
* about 16 ounces whole-milk ricotta

* some grated parmesan (maybe 1/4 cup… whatever I had leftover from the last big parm purchase)
* 1 egg
* salt & pepper
* fresh parsley
* whisk all that together.

Oh, somewhere in there, you should probably preheat your oven to 375.

Sixth: assemble the lasagna. Here’s what I did:
* Spray a 9 x 13 pan with nonstick cooking spray
* Cover the bottom of the pan with half the bechamel
* Put one layer of semi-cooked lasagna noodles on top of the bechamel
* Put half the ricotta mixture on top of the noodles
* Put half the spinach, mushrooms & sauteed squash & pepper mixture on top of that
* Put a whole bunch of mozzarella cheese on top of the veggies
* Put at least half, up to 2/3 of the tomato sauce on top of all that
* Repeat the process as follows: noodles, ricotta, veggies, mozzarella, and then – the rest of the bechamel (mmmm)
* Top with another layer of noodles
* Then top with the rest of your tomato sauce and another large few handfuls of cheese
* Throw in the oven uncovered for 45 minutes
* Allow it to sit out at room temp for 15 minutes before eating

Yeah, I can’t believe I did all that after working all day either. This is more like a Saturday afternoon sort of meal, but it really did alleviate some of my stress.

Of course, if you absolutely must have meat in your lasagna, add some crumbled ground beef or Italian sausage, but I happen to prefer vegetarian lasagna to the meat-based one. This makes enough to feed a small army, so if you aren’t feeding a small army, have your Ziploc containers ready & freeze small portions for a rainy day.

Peanut Butter Banana Muffins

Some mornings, I wake up at 4:30 am, unable to sleep any more because my brain just knows that the fall semester starts in a week, and I still haven’t finalized my syllabi, despite (presumably) having the last “3 weeks off” since my summer course ended, and I have no choice but to get out of bed – rather cheerfully, for 4:30 am – make some espresso, and get to work. (That was yesterday.)

And then some mornings, I have to have a little conversation with myself while laying in bed, convincing myself that getting out of bed is really what needs to happen *pronto* because there’s still *tons* of work to do between now and next Wednesday, drag myself out of bed, take a few hours to get going, and eschew the work that prompted me to get out of bed in order to make some banana muffins. (That was today.)

Anyway, y’all: I’m super proud of myself for making up, all by myself, this muffin recipe. It’s rare that I come up with things like this on my own. Usually I steal other people’s recipes and tweak them, or – like the rule-follower that I am – do exactly what they say. Not this time! Granola bars and biscuits are the only two other baked items for which I have invented my very own, original recipe – and those took months of disastrous experimenting. Today marks the third thing I’ve just invented on the fly, after reading a few recipes that did not give me exactly what I wanted. They turned out surprisingly well for such a renegade attempt. There’s actually no butter or milk here, so your lactose-intolerant friends can enjoy them as much as you will. 

Peanut Butter Banana Muffins 

(this yielded 21 muffins for me, but could be more or less depending on your pans & the amount of batter you pour in there)

Preheat oven to 350, and line two muffin tins with paper liners. Spray them with nonstick cooking spray.

In a large bowl, combine the following dry ingredients with a fork:

1 cup all purpose flour

1 cup thick rolled oats

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp cinnamon

pinch of salt

In another small bowl, mash together 3-ish bananas. (Only have 2 bananas? Use them; don’t run out to buy more. Have 4 and don’t want to just use 3? Use all 4. That’s why I said 3-ish. It’s flexible.) I used a fork to mash mine into a pulp, but if there happens to be a small child somewhere within yelling distance, I imagine they would take great pleasure in using their hands to smash the bananas without the help of a fork.

In another medium-sized bowl, combine the following wet ingredients:

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1/3 cup granulated sugar

1/3 cup brown sugar

1 egg

1/2 cup natural peanut butter (if you use non-natural peanut butter, definitely cut back on the sugar content)

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, mixing with a fork, just to combine. Then add your mashed bananas. Throw in a handful of chocolate chips and maybe some chopped walnuts or pecans if you feel so inclined.

Bake in lined muffin cups for 18 minutes.

I wouldn’t be offended if you decide to slather one with Nutella or more peanut butter (or both, depending on what kind of morning you’ve had) before chowing down, but these are dang tasty all by themselves. Like I do with almost all of my baked goods, I froze most of these. Zap a frozen one in the microwave for 30 seconds on your way out the door for a nice treat on your way to work.