Sunday, August 26, 2012

Chocolate Peanut Butter No Bake Cookies

Armed with mixing bowls, measuring cups and spoons, cookie trays and cooling racks, and all the ingredients to make three different types of cookies, twelve members, myself included, of Highland Presbyterian Church headed to The Winston-Salem Rescue Mission on Saturday morning to make cookies for the residents. It was part of Highland's Helping Hands, a community service event where 100+ church members headed out into the community to participate in various service projects.

I usually pick projects with Habitat for Humanity, but given my current "condition" I figured that climbing up on a roof or smelling paint fumes all morning were probably less than ideal projects for me. Breakfast cookies, on the other hand, sounded right up my alley!

Our top-notch leader had organized everything wonderfully, as was exemplified by the recipes she chose for us. Instead of choosing to make three different types of cookies that would all have needed the oven, she picked this recipe for no bake cookies. Combined with traditional-style chocolate chip and sugar cookies we also made, these no bake wonders were perfect!

Chocolate Peanut Butter No Bake Cookies
Food Network

In a small saucepan, bring to a boil:
2 cups sugar
4 tablespoons cocoa
1 stick butter
1/2 cup milk

When the mixture has been boiling for one minute, mix in:
1 cup peanut butter
1 tablespoon vanilla
3 cups oatmeal

Remove from heat.

Line several cookie sheets with waxed paper. Drop spoonfuls of batter onto the waxed paper. Place in refrigerator to let cool. When they've hardened, they're ready to eat.

Eat up!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Carrot Cake with Spiced Cream Cheese Frosting

While there are countless headlines about the upcoming presidential elections, I think it is important that we remember our local elections. It is in these local elections - the ones I am generally the least educated about - that we elect the individuals who make the decisions that have the potential to directly affect our lives the most dramatically. For those of you who live in Winston-Salem, please check out and support my colleague, Andrew Keever, in his campaign for District Court Judge. He's a great person, an excellent attorney, and will be a fair and impartial judge.

Important voter information for 2012:
Last day to register to vote: October 9th
Early voting period: October 22nd through November 2nd
ELECTION DAY: November 6th

Carrot Cake with Spiced Cream Cheese Frosting
Kelley Gondring

Preheat oven 350 degrees

Carrot Cake
12 ounces unsalted butter, softened [3 sticks]
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 heaping teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
4 large eggs
3 cups shredded carrots (not packed)
1 cup craisins, coarsely chopped
1 1/2 cups pecans, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup raisins, coarsely chopped

1. Preheat oven 350 degrees
2. Lightly grease and line with parchment paper three (3) 8" cake rounds. [Don't skip the parchment paper or your cakes will stick to the pans.

1. In a large electric mixing bowl, cream together butter, sugar, and vanilla extract for one minute.
2. In a medium bowl, combine dry ingredients.
3. Add the dry ingredients 1/2 cup at a time to the butter/sugar mixture, alternating with the addition of the eggs. Scrape down the sides of the bowl after each addition.
4. Fold in the carrots, craisins, pecans, and raisins.
5. Pour batter into lined cake rounds.
6. Bake 30-35 minutes or until inserted toothpick comes out clean.
7. Let cake cool in the pan ten minutes before transferring to wire rack.
8. Let cool completely on wire rack before frosting.

Spiced Cream Cheese Frosting

8 ounces cream cheese, softened
4 ounces unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 pound confectioner's sugar
3/4 to 1 cup toasted diced pecans

1. In a large electric mixing bowl, cream together butter and cream cheese.
2. Mix in vanilla, cinnamon, salt, and nutmeg.
3. Gradually mix in confectioner's sugar.
4. Assemble cake. Sprinkle pecans on the sides of your carrot masterpiece.

Eat up and remember to VOTE!

After a little contemplation, I decided this cake needed a little more color, so I added a circle of red stars.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Roasted Salt + Vinegar Chickpeas

It takes some real time to adjust to being on a diet for the rest of your life because your body has to the gall to not process gluten. I mean, once you start looking, it feels like gluten is in everything! No brainers like sandwich breads and cookies are one thing, but worrying about the malted barley in Rice Krispies and learning that the main ingredient in soy sauce is actually wheat feels absolutely overwhelming.

In the last couple of months, several of my friends have figured out that what has been making them feel so poorly is gluten. As they navigate their lives towards healthy, happy living and eating, they are constantly playing detective, sniffing out and finding gluten wherever it may be. Because food is not only essential to living but is the foundation upon which we build our social lives (What are you doing this weekend? Wanna go to dinner? Brunch? Out for drinks?), it becomes nearly as important for the friends and loved ones of those who have celiacs or a gluten-intolerance to be cognizant of these necessary dietary restrictions.

Now one of my gluten-intolerant friends would probably argue with this point. She wouldn't want to be considered "that girl" - a perceived pain in the ass who dictates where to go to eat on Friday night or what others serve as Game Night snacks. But I'd vehemently argue otherwise, for what kind of friend doesn't take into consideration another friend's health and happiness?

With all that being said, I've decided to add a "gluten-free" label to my recipe posts and whenever possible to add substitutions that will make a seemingly gluten-free dish actually gluten-free.

Here is a great recipe I found for Salt + Vinegar Chickpeas, a gluten-free snack for everyone to enjoy.

Salt + Vinegar Chickpeas

In a large pot, bring to a boil:
4 cups vinegar
2 cans chickpeas, drained
Turn off heat, cover with lid, and let sit for thirty minutes.

Preheat oven 425º

Line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil. Use a slotted spoon to carefully place chickpeas on foil. Drizzle chickpeas with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt.

Bake for 45 minutes, shaking pan gently to flip over the chickpeas about halfway through. Because the heat so high, it is more likely for the chickpeas at the edges to burn, so I set my timer in five (5) minute increments for the last twenty (20) minutes and shook the pan from side to side to switch up the inside and outside chickpeas.

Let cool completely before storing in an airtight container.

Eat up!

Peanut Butter + Chocolate Rice Crispy Treats

Whenever I make rice crispy treats, I think of Christmas 1997. I was in the eighth grade and had all the style of a fourteen year old growing up in the '90s - the poofy, unbrushed hair, the patterned shirts with stone washed jeans, a smattering of acne, and a smile full of metal with green and blue rubber bands . . . who let me out like that?!?

But back to my point. My family from Kansas was visiting that winter so there was more activity in the house than usual. It was also the year that we had a lot of snow, by North Carolina standards, anyway. Snow plus four kids meant the constant slamming of our back door as we trudged in and out between sleigh rides. We'd strip off our multiple layers of clothing, leave them uncaringly in a wet pile by the door, and come inside for a half a cup of hot chocolate and two (or three) rice crispy treats. We'd turn on the T.V. and hang around until we got bored and decided to go play again. Fourteen is the age where it almost isn't "cool" to go play anymore, but because there was snow on the ground all pretenses were dismissed. So we'd once again pile on our layers of clothing, put on our hats and gloves, and head back out the door to make a dozen more runs down the hill. We lost many a sled and toboggan to the lake at the bottom of the hill when we got going too fast and were forced into an emergency evacuation, lest we end up in the lake, too. Every once and awhile we were able to fish a seemingly condemned sled or toboggan out of the lake by fetching my dad's fishing rod, hooking the abandoned vehicle, and reeling it into safety.

I couldn't tell you where our parents were for any of this fun - probably doing adult things like braving the icy roads and driving to work since we were old enough to stay by ourselves. After the third or fourth day of this, my cousin, Laura and I got tired of sledding so we mostly sat around and ate. A lot. Like the entire dish of holiday rice crispy treats my mom had made before departing for her grown-up obligations. It isn't that we necessarily meant to eat the whole thing, but over the course of the day with one bite here and another bite there, they were gone.

And boy was my mom pissed! She loves rice crispy treats, so when she came home to an empty casserole dish that we'd had the audacity to leave dirty she was not a happy camper. Especially since Laura and I were just sitting there like "bumps on logs" watching whatever dribble happened to be on our non-cable television at the time. I remember hearing her walk (stomp) from the kitchen to the living room, holding that empty dish, and ripping us a new one about the lack of respect it takes to eat every last rice crispy treat that we hadn't even made and then leave the dirty dish on the counter.


I'm not sure how we managed to get our hands on more Rice Krispies or marshmallows since neither one of us had a license or a car, but I certainly do remember that when Mom left for work the next day, Laura and I got busy making another batch together. And we didn't eat a one.


I decided to make rice crispy treats to serve at Game Night because they are a relatively easy sweet to make AND they can be easily be made gluten-free (Kellogg's now makes gluten-free Rice Krispies) for my two of my girl friends. Unfortunately, the gluten-free boxes don't come with a recipe so I relied upon my memory and a little creativity. (Yes, I could have just done a google search, but I was lazy. For traditionalists like me who like plain better, here is the original recipe.)

Peanut Butter + Chocolate Rice Crispy Treats
Kelley Gondring

In a large pot, melt over medium heat:
1 stick butter

Once butter is melted, add:
1 bag mini marshmallows
1 bag Reece's peanut butter chips
Stir constantly with a wooden spoon until all the marshmallows and peanut butter chips have melted.

Turn off heat. Stir in:
6 cups Rice Krispies
Once the ingredients are thoroughly mixed, transfer them to a large, buttered casserole dish (13x9). Use a spatula or buttered piece of wax paper to press down the treats so that they are even. Set aside.

Pour into a medium microwave-safe bowl:
3/4 bag semi-sweet chocolate chips*
Melt in microwave being careful not to let burn.
*For a thicker chocolate base, use whole bag.

Pour the melted chocolate over the rice crispy treats. Use a spatula to evenly spread. Let cool. Cut into small squares to serve.

Eat up!

Blackened Halibut with Peach Avocado Salsa

As I've mentioned, we caught a whole lot of Halibut when we were in Alaska. We have been slowly working our way through our supply (though you'd never know it by opening our freezer, where you'd find nearly two shelves full of one pound pieces of fish). I searched around for a different way to prepare it last night, and happened upon quite a few recipes with mango salsa. Unfortunately, when I got the "ripe" mango home from the grocery store, it turned out to be deceivingly soft on the outside while still hard as a rock on the inside. I looked around my kitchen for an appropriate substitute and spotted the two lone peaches in the fruit bowl and thought Why not? I actually liked peaches much better than mango, so it worked out perfectly!

Blackened Halibut with Peach Avocado Salsa
Kelley Gondring

Serves 4.

In a small bowl, combine:
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon oregano
3/4 teaspoon thyme
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon cumin

2 pounds halibut (It is preferable to use a thick cut of fish so the spices don't overwhelm the fish; if unavailable, don't use all of the rub.)

Sprinkle rub on non-skin side of fish. Heat grill on high. Once heated, grill fish skin side down until the flesh is flakey. We used a less-thick piece of fish, so it took about 10 minutes. The thicker the filet, the longer your cooking time will be.

Peach Avocado Salsa
Combine in a medium bowl:
1 large avocado, peeled and diced
2 medium peaches, peeled and diced
1/2 medium red onion, diced
1 small sweet red pepper, diced
1 small hot pepper, minced
Juice from 2 limes
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon cumin

Carefully mix together. Let sit at least 10 minutes before serving.

Serve fish with Peach Avocado Salsa and a green veggie, such as green beans or asparagus.

Eat up!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Spinach and Chicken Macaroni + Cheese

Today, I got home from work and cooked away my bad day. It was one of those days where kind words and smiles were not just not in abundance but were generally lacking in existence; instead, the day was replete with complaints and accusations. You know those days...the ones where you leave the office feeling more than just a little jaded. Example: A client of mine called, allegedly to thank me for what happened with his case. He gets a couple sentences into his thanks and then says "I didn't think you had it in you, but I guess God was working through you." Wait, was that a compliment or not?

While it was tempting to head home after that lovely voicemail, I stayed the course and promptly left at five o'clock. As I am apt to do, I headed to the grocery store and proceeded to buy whatever looked good (this can probably also be attributed to the fact that I am hungry all the time! I hope I don't go through the next half of my pregnancy with an insatiable appetite.). Anyway, by the time I was done, I had ingredients for rice crispy treats, macaroni and cheese, and zucchini + rosemary soup. Do those scream comfort food to anyone else?

As I worked in the kitchen with a fervor I've lacked for the last couple of months, I also worked through my icky day. Mouth-watering mac + cheese certainly made it easier to let go of the day's badness. While it is temptingly easy to keep a vice-grip on bad days, somehow my irritation and frustration seem to melt away when I make a delightfully beautiful dish.

Spinach and Chicken Macaroni + Cheese
Kelley Gondring

Serves 8.

One of the great things about this recipe is that it is possible to use just one large skillet or pot.

Macaroni + Cheese
In a large pot or skillet, add:
8 cups water
When water is boiling, add:
1 pound elbow macaroni
Cook 6-7 minutes or until pasta is al dente. Drain in colander and set aside.

Add to skillet/pot:
1 tablespoon olive oil
6 cups washed spinach

Turn heat to medium-low. Use lid to cover and let cook until all the leaves are wilted, 2-3 minutes. Transfer to medium bowl and drain off excess liquid. Set aside.

Add to skillet/pot:
1/2 cup water
2 chicken breasts

Turn heat to medium-high. Simmer for 8-10 minutes or until no pink remains in the chicken. Cut into bite size pieces and add to bowl with spinach.

Add to skillet/pot:
1 stick butter
Turn heat to medium-high. Once butter has melted, add:
1/3 cup + 1 tablespoon flour
Whisk butter and flour together to make the beginnings of a roux. Whisking constantly, add one cup at a time:
3 cups milk
2 cups heavy cream

Once all the milks are incorporated, mix in:
2 tablespoons Texas Pete
4 cups sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons pepper

When all the ingredients are thoroughly combined, add the chicken, spinach, and macaroni to the cheese mixture. Use a spatula to mix together.

Pour into a large casserole dish or distribute evenly amongst eight (8) two-cup ramekins [I used disposable aluminum containers so that we could freeze what we didn't have for dinner tonight].

In a medium bowl combine:
1 1/2 cups breadcrumbs [I made my own breadcrumbs by slicing up some French bread, dousing the slices in olive oil, and adding a generous amount of basil, oregano, salt, and pepper. I baked them 10 minutes on each side at 400º. I then used my food processor to turn them into breadcrumbs. Store bought Italian breadcrumbs will work just as well if you don't have the time or the desire to fuss over the homemade ones.]
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon olive oil

If using one large casserole dish, spread evenly over top of mac + cheese. If using eight individual containers, place 1/4 cup of topping on each.

Bake at 350º for 20 minutes or until the topping is golden brown.

Eat up!

Zucchini + Rosemary Soup

I didn't have super high hopes for this soup, but I decided to give it a try because I'm tired of eating zucchini sautéed, fried, and grilled. When I gave Jason a spoonful to try, he, too, was impressed by its palate-pleasing qualities. The potatoes help give this soup a nice consistency without overwhelming the zucchini, and the rosemary is the perfect spice for this soup.

In addition to using our remaining zucchini, I also used the garlic, potatoes, and onion from our CSA, as well as chicken stock from my freezer! I felt sorta like a kitchen souperstar (don't judge me).

Zucchini + Rosemary Soup
adapted from epicurious

In a large skillet, melt:
3 tablespoons butter

1 stalk celery, diced
1 large onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, diced

Let cook over medium heat for 5-7 minutes or until the onions are translucent.

3 medium zucchini, diced
Let cook over medium heat for 7-10 minutes or until the zucchini is tender.

1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon dried rosemary
5 cups chicken stock
4 small yukon potatoes, diced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Cover an let simmer 15-20 minutes.

Working in batches, puree in blender.

Serve with homemade croutons. Garnish with fresh rosemary.

Eat up!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Greek Salad

I'm not exactly sure why, but I've had my mind on making this salad all weekend. I thought I'd wait to have it for Sunday night dinner but it turned out I was too impatient to wait the extra six hours and we had it for Sunday lunch!

Greek Salad
Kelley Gondring

In a medium bowl, combine:
1 cup cucumbers, peeled, seeds removed, and coarsely diced
3/4 cup celery, coarsely diced
1/2 cup crumbled feta
1/2 cup banana peppers
1/2 cup artichoke hearts
10-12 green or black olives (preferably pits removed)

(I am not a fan of raw tomatoes, but if you are add 1/2 cup coarsely diced roma tomatoes)

To make dressing, combine in a small bowl:
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 1/2 inch squirt of anchovy paste

Pour over veggies in the medium bowl and use spatula to evenly coat.

21 leaves romaine lettuce, chopped

Combine the lettuce and dressing/veggie in a large salad bowl. Toss and serve immediately. Serve with toasted pita points.

Eat up!

Cajun Style Fried Okra

I never gave okra much, well any, thought before Jason. It just seemed so slimy and icky. After giving it a good faith try, though, I've determined that while it is definitely slimy, done right, it is not icky at all. Jason normally prepares okra when we have it, but after careful observation, I decided to try my hand at it in hopes of impressing my teacher. I addition to the salt and pepper he normally uses, I added some extra spices to give it a little more depth. It was an excellent snack before dinner!

Fried Okra
Kelley Gondring

Trim tops and bottoms of:
10-12 medium pieces of okra
Slice into 1/4 inch discs.

In a medium bowl, combine:
1 egg
2-3 tablespoons milk
1 tablespoon salt
2 teaspoons black pepper
2 teaspoons white pepper
2 teaspoons oregano
2 teaspoons thyme
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

In a plastic bag, evenly combine:
1/3 cup flour
2/3 cup cornmeal

Place sliced okra in bowl with egg/milk mixture. Coat evenly and let sit for 5 minutes. Transfer okra to the bag of flour. Close bag tightly and shake to evenly coat the okra. Let sit for a minute or two and then shake again.

In a large skillet, heat on medium:
1/2-3/4 cup olive oil
When oil is hot, add okra in batches so that none of the slices of okra overlap. Fry 7-10, flipping after about 4 minutes.

Serve hot.

Eat up!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Sugar + Spice

Deciding how to tell people you're pregnant is thrilling yet nerve-wracking. Should you wait to do it in person or is calling okay? What about more modern forms of technology like email or text or Facebook? And what words to use? Do you just let it come up in conversation, create a cute story, or just blurt it out because you can't possibly keep it inside any longer? And what about the times when a friend or family member beats you to the punch and asks??

Over the course of the last several weeks, Jason and I have mostly kept quiet about little snow pea's nine month long stay in my uterus. While Jason probably would have been fine limiting that knowledge to only our parents, I just couldn't keep it from several of my closest girlfriends, my brother, and my grandparents. With each passing week, I gave myself permission to induct one more person to our secret society (yes, this is probably news to Jason).

Most of the dozen or so people I told in the first trimester have learned via the "blurt it out" method. Ashley, for example, agreed to meet me in Chapel Hill for a quick visit while I was in Raleigh for a work conference. She didn't know it, of course, but my heart was racing and I had to stop myself from breaking out into a grin as we ordered our ice cream. We went to sit outside, and just as she was taking her first bite of ice cream, I blurted out "I'm pregnant!" Her spoon literally stopped just centimeters from her lips and I'm pretty sure I saw her brain churning as she worked to absorb my words.

I basically used the same method with my parents. After Jason and I returned from our trip to California, we drove straight from the airport to my parents' house to pick up our Sydney. In the car, we agreed to wait to tell them until Mother's Day. Being as helpful as ever, I just stand and chat in the foyer with my parents while Jason packs up the dog crate and walks outside to put it in the car. Dad looks at me and says something to the effect of "You look different, what's up?" I look in the opposite direction of my all-knowing parents and try to fight back my smile. Unsurprisingly unsuccessful, I turn around, cheesy grin and all, and say "It's because I'm pregnant." Their excited yells were loud enough for Jason to hear halfway down the sideway. So much for keeping a secret.

Grandpa has been itching for me to get pregnant since the day I got married. Grandma did her best to keep him at bay, though her success rate steadily declined with each passing visit. One Wednesday evening, I drove to my grandparents with the intent of telling them the good news. I had no idea how I'd bring it up, but I figured the "blurt it out" method had worked so far. As I sit down at the dining room table, Grandpa pulls a stuffed animal off the table, hides it behind his back, and says:

"Kelley, I have an incentive for you." He proceeds to pull the white stuffed seal from behind his back, leans forward to get close to me and says, "I'll give you one if you name him Jason Augustus and I'll give you two if you name him Augustus Jason."

If that isn't a reason to procreate, I don't know what is.

"Well, what if it is a girl?" I ask him.

He sits back in his chair and ponders the question. "Hmmm, I hadn't thought about that."

"Good thing you have until January to figure it out."


Maintaining eye contact, saying it more slowly this time, I repeat, "It's a good thing you have until January to figure it out."

"JO! Do you hear what she's saying?!?!"

At a mere 97 years old, it never ceases to amaze me how sharp that man is.

Not like my dear friend, Catherine. This story is my favorite, probably because Catherine's desire for me to have a baby is second only to my Grandpa's. Months and months ago, I'd told her that I'd figured out how I would tell her when I learned I was pregnant. So one afternoon as I was leaving work I sent her the simple text of "+". I figured she'd get it immediately. Minutes passed. Maybe she was on the train without a signal. Minutes turned to hours. Did she receive it? Did she understand it? Was she upset I told her via text?

Over 18 hours later and I still had no response from Catherine. Hmmm...How to get the conversation going? So I asked her opinion on a semi-immigration case in the news at the time thinking maybe that would prompt her to follow-up on my previous text. Nope...she just gave me very educated answers to questions I cared little-to-nothing about. Sensing failure, I cut to the chase:

Huh, Catherine? Really?

And finally the lightbulb.