2019 Intentions - Status Update

6.17.2019

I stumbled upon my own 2019 Intentions post last week - and realized I was dropping the ball. So with half the year almost behind us, it seemed like a good time to check-in and see how I was doing across the board.

I can say with a great degree of confidence, I am failing fabulously in every area except sleep. I'm not super upset with myself at all but cognizant I should be achieving more. It is not that hard to try a new coffee shop.

As a refresher, here were my goals:
  • 12 Books
  • 12 different restaurants/coffee shops/farmers markets
  • Health goals (good sleep, great water)
  • Continue meditation practice
  • More letters/packages in the mail

As of last Friday I had:

  • read 0 books
  • been to 1 new restaurants / coffee shops (local only. traveling doesn't count)
  • mediocre to poor water drinking
  • excellent attention to sleep
  • poor meditation practice
  • mediocre to poor letters in the mail
I have made some improvements in the last couple days. It could be better but I have already read one book. And let's be honest, knowing that I'm failing at my goals is half the battle. I can be better and these aren't impossible goals. I pretty much just have to drink water, send nice notes in the mail, and pick up some lunch to eat while I read a book. I can do this.

  • Books // I I have quickly turned this around and already read one book. I picked it up on Saturday morning and quickly crushed it while lounging on my front porch. It was a great read. Summer is really my reading season so I should be able to get half my goal accomplished in the warm beach months.
  • New shops // There is a new general store in the next town over that I'm excited to try out. If nothing else, I hear it has wonderful potato salad and that is really the key to my heart if we are being honest.
  • Meditation // Real bad here. I have even stopped going to yoga mostly so I'm very much in a meditation debt. 
  • Letters // I have put a few letters in the mail but could be better about it. Most recently I mailed a note to my 97 year old neighbor who is seriously adorable. But I have a whole pile of stamps so I could be a lot better about this.
  • Health Goals // I am vigilant about my sleep. I will leave any social occasion and turn off any tv show when it gets to my bedtime. I do think there is a chance that I might need a new mattress ... 

Quick Cinnamon Roll Caserole

... and when I say Quick, I really mean quick. This whole recipe was complete from start to finish in about 75 minutes - which is impressive considering its not just a "dump it all in" casserole. You have legit manual labor to do here.

I was in the market for a good Father's Day breakfast dish. Typically I default to a batch of Monkey Bread for just about every holiday. It's incredibly easy and customizable. Christmas time? Make the glaze with eggnog. Summer? Toss some blueberries in. But I felt like doing something a little different.

I've made quick cinnamon rolls before but nothing quite as simple and straight forward at these. I would just about guarantee you already have everything you need - except for the cream cheese in the frosting. It was rather astounding.

That being said, I don't think the flavors in this were incredibly deep. To me, it did taste like I had only spent one quick morning on it. Everyone else that consumed it loved it for one reason or another. My dad said he liked it more than monkey bread. Monkey bread is loaded up with sugar and sweetness and this was a gentler version of that.

A few notes:

  • The dough is a very quick dough. As a result, you do need frosting or glaze to amp up the appeal. 
  • The filling is very important. Do not skimp on this at all. Go heavy. I doubled what the recipe originally called for. I have no idea how they got by with it.
  • Frosting. It might seem silly but absolutely whip the frosted for 3-5 minutes. Yes, it will be fully mixed after a few seconds but the extra time really lightens it up and gives it a wonderful whipped texture. Highly recommend.
Frosting on the side? I added all the frosting before serving just to make it easy. I stand by this too because it helped people not stress about cutting a roll in half. That being said, my mom felt like I could have cut back on the frosting. So just think about your audience and go with your sugar filled gut.

Here's how it goes:


  1. In a medium bowl, dissolve yeast and sugar in warm water. Let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes.
  2. Stir in flour, salt, and oil. Beat until smooth. Let rest for 5 minutes.
  3. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Roll to 1/4 or 1/2 inch thick.
  4. Heat oven to 350°F (or 325°F in a convection) and dish with bakers spray or butter.
  5. In a small bowl, combine butter, brown sugar and cinnamon with a fork.
  6. Spread brown sugar and spice mixture over dough making sure it covers entire surface.
  7. Starting at either end of the dough roll it up like a log. I tend to go with the longer edge, but either is fine. It'll just affect the size of the roll at the end.
  8. Cut the log into even pieces and place in dish so that layers of the roll is visible.
  9. Bake for 25-35 minutes. 
  10. While the rolls are baking in the oven, make your frosting. Add cream cheese, butter, confectioners sugar, and vanilla in stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment.
  11. Mix on low to just combine. Once ingredients are all incorporated turn mixer on high and leave it for 3-4 minutes. Frosting should be light and fluffy.
  12. When rolls are done baking allow them to cool for up to five minutes before frosting.

Shopping List
dough
1 1/2 packages active dry yeast
1 1/2 teaspoon white sugar
1 1/2 cup warm water (110 degrees F)
3 3/4 cups flour
3 tablespoons olive oil

filling
5 tbsp. butter, room temperature
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
2 tbsp. McCormick® Cinnamon

frosting
4 oz cream cheese, softened
5 tbsp butter, softened
2 1/4 cup confectioners' sugar, sifted
2 tsp. vanilla extract

banana hazelnut cake

6.11.2019

Well, this is my second cake. The frosting didn't come out quite as beautiful as the first one last week - but it tastes pretty delicious and I'm good with that. On Friday, I googled "spring cakes" and landed on this website called "The Cake Blog". So many good options. I'm actually a little tempted to try and do one cake a week - or other similar-ish dessert.

I still had a couple of bananas leftover so this is a banana cake again - but it is different. There is a little less banana in the actual cake and the frosting has nutella in it. Amazing right? I'm not totally invested this whole cake baking process quite yet, so when the recipe also called for "homemade chocolate ganache" .... I just drizzled chocolate syrup on the cake and called it a day. I don't feel bad about it.

The funny part about this cake baking is that I really have never thought of myself as someone who "likes" cake. I'll choose a cookie or a tart or a shortcake or a biscuit before I'd ever choose cake. But, when you make it yourself the affection grows a bit more. That being said, I need to start giving this cake away more aggressively because it is not healthy to eat cake this much. I already have a lot of other troublesome things I like to eat regularly and cannot add cake to the list. Dunkin Donuts coffee rolls are a new favorite. It's like a glazed donut and a cinnamon roll had a delicious baby. So good.

Either way, the reviews on this cake were really solid. My cousin Molly liked it more than the prior banana cake. After eating it my dad said to me "I thought you said this cake didn't come out great?" To clarify that last point, I think the cake itself was great. A little bit sweeter and lighter than Cake #1 but the frosting definitely lacked a better consistency. I should have added more butter probably.

Here's how it goes.
  1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and lightly flour round pans.
  2. Mash ripe bananas in a small bowl with a fork and set aside.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt until well combined. Set aside.
  4. Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter until smooth. Add sugar and beat on med-high until pale and fluffy (2-3 minutes). It truly is worth it to beat for the extra time. The consistency on the butter and sugar changes and you'll see a difference.
  5. With the mixer on low, add eggs one at a time, fully incorporating after each addition. Add vanilla extract.
  6. With the mixer on low, add in half of the dry ingredients.
  7. Mix in the sour cream.
  8. Add in the remaining dry ingredients and mashed bananas. Mix until combined.
  9. Pour batter into prepared pans and bake until golden – about 22-25 minutes for the 6-7 inch recommended size. 
Assembly
  1. In between layers of cake, you can drizzle chocolate syrup. I think it helped to keep the cake extra moist - but what do I know?
Shopping List
3 ripe bananas
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup plain sour cream 

For the Frosting1/2 - 3/4 Cups Butter Softened
4ish Cups Powdered Sugar
1 tablespoon Vanilla Extract
3-5 tablespoons Heavy Whipping Cream

cinnamon banana muffins

6.08.2019

Feel free to file these under "fastest muffin making". 

I've been slowly working through a batch of very ripe bananas. It would be easiest to just eat them or put them in a smoothie - but oddly that feels like more work that baking with them. Last week I made this DELICIOUS banana cake that was so very very good. This weekend, I whipped up these cinnamon banana muffins very quickly on Saturday morning. 

The muffins are a home run. They are so light and delicious - but would be very boring without the sugary topping. Yes, it would be healthier but also sad. It takes minimal seconds to melt the butter and dip them so don't scrimp on it. It just will not be worth it.

I still have 2 bananas left so I'm not quite sure what I'm going to do with them. Only time will tell.

  1. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Spray 12 regular-size muffin cups with cooking spray.
  2. In medium bowl, combine the sugar, oil, eggs and stir with wire whisk. Add in bananas and vanilla, whisk until combined.
  3. Add in flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon and stir together until just combined.
  4. Divide batter evenly among muffin cups. Each muffin cup will be almost to the top. About 3/4 full.
  5. Bake 17 to 21 minutes. Remove muffins from pan to a cooling rack.
  6. For the cinnamon & sugar topping : Combine the sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl. Put melted butter in a separate small bowl. Dip muffin tops into melted butter and then into cinnamon-sugar. Serve warm or let cool completely.
Shopping List
banana bread muffins2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup vegetable or canola oil
2 large eggs
2 mashed bananas
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

topping3 tablespoons butter, melted
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

banana cinnamon cake

6.01.2019

Ah banana bread. So delicious and wonderful ... and you secretly think you are making a healthy decision because of the bananas. I had/have a pile of very ripe bananas from when my baby brother stayed with me a week or so ago. It would have been very easy to just whip those bad boys into some bread, but I decided to stretch myself a bit more... and make this banana cake.

Making a cake is not incredibly challenging - but I think making it look good is. Or at least for me that is the case. Since I am but one person, I opted to make a much smaller cake than the recipe called for. I used an adorable 7 inch springform pan and cut the recipe by a third. One human does not need a giant cake for themselves, but an adorable 7 inch cake? Sure.

The upside to working from home is that I was able to do this all at some point during the work day. I made the batter in the morning, baked the layers during lunch, and frosted in the late afternoon. Candidly, I really wanted to use blueberries with this cake but did not feel like going to the store. Blueberries and banana are just a traditional home run, but raspberries and banana meant I never had to leave the house.

Truthfully, I have no idea why this cake turned out so well (at least from my perspective). I am historically known to be a terrible cake decorator in the family. But in this case I was just patient and channeling my strong inner spirit. Earlier in the day I had been very up front with someone who was gaslighting me and perhaps was still riding the "honesty" high of that event. Either way, this cake is my masterpiece.

Long live the 7 inch cake rounds. I hope to make more of them this summer.

Here's how it goes.
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray cake pan with baking spray and set aside.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  3. In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the vanilla, sour cream and canola oil until combined.
  4. Beat in eggs one at a time until combined. Add the mashed bananas.
  5. Gradually beat in the dry ingredients a little at a time until combined.
  6. Divide the batter between the 3 cake pans and bake for 25-30 minutes or until a tooth pick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  7. Cool completely.
Frosting
  1. In a large bowl beat butter and vanilla until light and fluff. 
  2. Add in powdered sugar a little at a time. 
  3. Stir in whipping cream as needed to reach you desired consistency.
Shopping List
1 1/2 Cups Sugar
3/4 Cup Butter Softened
1/2 teaspoon Vanilla extract
3/4 Cup Sour Cream
3 tablespoons Canola Oil
3 Eggs
1 Egg White
2 1/2 Cups Flour
2 teaspoons Baking Powder
1/2 teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt
1 Cup Mashed Bananas About 3 Large Ripe Bananas

For the Frosting
1/2 - 3/4 Cups Butter Softened
4ish Cups Powdered Sugar
1 tablespoon Vanilla Extract
3-5 tablespoons Heavy Whipping Cream

what I planted

Gardening season is a wonderful thing. It's the time of year when I'm legit filthy and with limited cares in the world. My mind is a tangle of tomato plant arrangements and drip irrigation plans. I think about whether the peppers would like to be near the dahlia plants and whether it is worth it to grow kale again.

Since the 2018 garden, I moved houses and then subsequently built the very same garden structure that I was used to. Often times the size felt too big but it was more work to make it smaller, and so why not just fill it with plants?

I spent several weeks constructing the structure because I'm incredibly stubborn and don't accept help very well. But, after last weekend we are good to go! I am back to my old habits of just standing in front of the garden, staring off into space, and rearranging tomato cages with my mind. Part of me wonders if any of my neighbors enjoy watching this show happen.

Either way, this year is probably 80% the same as years prior but I've trimmed back on the things that I just didn't use very well. Here is what I'm planting this year:

  • 11 tomato varieties
  • snap peas
  • green egg squash
  • patio baby eggplant
  • peppers
  • kale
So, a far cry from prior years when I also did beans, onions, carrots, radishes, and cucumbers. I just wasn't able to consume all of that ... and so I trimmed back variety and was able to spread things out a little more. The tomato plants have more room to breath and love life.
I'm not quite confident in the tomato varieties this year to be honest. Last year was the best year I've ever done. If I didn't love experimenting with new varieties so much, I would have just completely repeated it. But unfortunately I do and so only 3 tomatoes are carryover from 2018: black truffle, 4th of July, and big rainbow.
For posterity sake, here are some previous garden plans: 2018, 2017, and 2016.

southwestern slow roast

5.11.2019

So candidly this original recipe called for short ribs... but I'm on a budget. Short ribs feel like an expensive cut of meat. Now, I'll be honest if I was having a special guest over for dinner I might pull the trigger on a trip to Whole Foods for short ribs - but I'm less likely to buy them (or find them for that matter) from my local grocery store. While I was in the grocery store I did a quick google for substitute options and came up with beef chuck. I selected a cut style that wouldn't feel like beef stew and feel pretty great about it.

For a recipe like this, they can often all blend together. Like how can you always put celery, tomato and onion in a pot and it not taste the same? The answer in this case is tequila, chili powder, and beer. The end result of this definitely has a spicier kick to it. I'm a pretty gentle soul when it comes to spicy / hot seasoning but I could handle this. It feels very on brand for a Cinco de Mayo meal.

I served my meal over cauliflower rice to keep it nice and light. It was also the absolute easiest option. Other great ideas? Cauliflower puree, rice, grits, mashed potatoes... Pretty much anything would be good.

Here's how it goes.

  1. Preheat the oven to 325.
  2. Heat the oil in a large stockpot or dutch oven. Season the ribs with salt and 1 tsp. pepper, then cook in batches – being careful not to crowd the pan – until browned on all sides (3 to 4 minutes per side). Transfer the ribs to a platter and repeat with the remaining ribs. Pour off all but a thin layer of fat from the pan.
  3. Add the onions and celery to the pan. Season with a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring and scraping up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan, until the vegetable are soft, 6 to 8 minutes. Add bay leaf, garlic, jalapeno, and chili powder. Cook for 1 minute.
  4. Deglaze the pot with tequila, stirring to scrape up any browned bits on the bottom of the pot. Cook for 1 minute, or until reduced to about 2 Tbs.
  5. Add all the ribs back into the pot. Pour the tomatoes and beer and 1 cup water over the ribs. Bring the liquid to a simmer, cover, and put the pot in the oven. Cook, turning the ribs occasionally, until they are fork tender, about 3 hours.
  6. Transfer the ribs to a serving platter or dish. Let the sauce and solids sit in the pot for a few minutes to cool and with a shallow spoon, skim off as much of the fat as possible from the surface. Season the sauce to taste with salt and pepper, and stir in the lime juice. Sprinkle with chopped cilantro.

Shopping List
48-ounce beef short ribs
olive oil
1 onion, thinly sliced
3 ribs celery, chopped
1 bay leaf
2 clove garlic, minced
1 jalapeno, chopped
1 teaspoon ancho chili powder
1/4 cup tequila
1 can diced tomatoes (15 oz)
1 cup light beer
1/2 lime, juiced
Fresh cilantro, chopped

margarita macarons

5.10.2019

To continue on the Cinco de Mayo party.... I also made a margarita macaron. I figured if I was buying tequila, I might as well use it for two things instead of just one. As a result, we have these beautiful babes on a plate. 

It's been awhile since I made macarons. It always feels so arduous and rife with concern about the precision that is required. Macarons can so easily go wrong seemingly. You look like a lunatic examining the almond flour after sifting it. Turning the egg whites upside down to see if they are stiff enough. Whacking the pan on the counter so the cookies develop "feet". But it is all worth it when you take that first bite of a macaron.

A few notes:
- coconut v almond extract. I intended to do coconut but grabbed the wrong bottle from the cabinet. I truly think either is fine but the coconut will give you a much more distinct flavor. I wouldn't use vanilla, that's the only thing.
- filling. In the past I've done a couple varieties but I believe buttercream is the most ideal. It creates a bit of a heftier filling that is more visually appealing. 
- Cooking time. I had two sheet pans of macarons and slightly undercooked the first one. They turned out okay but the bottoms were a little soft. It's definitely a hard game because you see the shell developing a slightly brown color that you want to avoid. You can probably improve this with different placement in the oven.

Also for reference, here are the other macaroon recipes I've tried: raspberry with coconut filling, standard, and these award winning Christmas cookie variety.
  1. Set your oven to 375 F
  2. Combine your almond flour and powdered sugar in a flour sifter and sift until you have a nice, pretty pile. 
  3. In a mixing bowl, beat your egg whites with an electric mixer until nice and foamy. Gradually add the granulated sugar until they develop stiff, glossy peaks. I added my sugar in 1 tablespoon at a time. If you think your egg whites are stiff enough, they probably aren't. Keep going. One blog I read said you should be able to flip your bowl upside down ... I make enough of mess in the kitchen without doing this step, but you get the idea.
  4. Add coconut extract and mix gently. If the mixture gets a little less stiff, just toss that mixer on again for a jiffy.
  5. After the meringue is stiff and glossy, you essentially get to mix it all up again - but none of that "folding in the egg whites" business. This is straight mixing folks. Add about half of the flour/sugar mixture and stir with your spatula until mixed. Then, add the rest and stir again.
  6. This is now a "crucial" part in the macaron process.... you need to stir until the mixture is even and smooth. A smooth mixer makes for good meringues and that is what this is all about folks. What you do is spread the batter against the sides of the bowl, then flip it back into the middle, and repeat. And repeat. And repeat times 15 or so times. Just like the flour sifting process, I thought this would be all phony and silly and not worth it, I was wrong. You can see the difference in the batter. Add in food coloring until you get the shade of green you'd like.
  7. Fill your "pastry" bag with the batter and squeeze it out gently into small circles on your parchment lined baking sheet. Note: the batter will settle a bit so, don't worry too too much about having a "tip" in the middle of your circle. Just try and keep your circles in similar small sized circles - about 1.5-2 inches.
  8. After you have filled you pan with little circles, whack the sheet against the counter several times. According to the post I read, "This will set the pied or little pastry lip at the base of the cookie (an essential for an authentic macaron)." Now, set the tray aside for 30 minutes to dry. You'll know they are dry when you tap the surface of the circle and it does not stick to your finger.
  9. Place in the oven for about 8 minutes. After 8 minutes, turn the sheet so that the front-facing macarons are now towards the back of the oven for an even bake. If after 14 minutes, they are still super-soft, reduce heat to 325°, cover in aluminum foil and bake for 2 more minutes. Watch them carefully.
  10. When the macarons are done baking, take them out of the oven and let sit until cool. When they are cool, they'll pop right off the parchment but they won't before then.
  11. Fill a new pastry bag with the filling and create about 1/2 inch dot on one macaron cookie, then sandwich another on top. Be careful not to squeeze the filling out on the sides.
  12. That's it. Now eat them... and store them in the fridge.
Making the Filling
  1. In a stand mixer with a whisk attachment, cream butter on high speed until light and smooth (about 5 minutes).
  2. Reduce the speed to low and add powdered sugar. Mix until fully incorporated.
  3. Add lime juice, zest, tequila and salt and mix on high speed until light and fluffy (2-3 minutes).
Shopping List2/3 cup almond meal/flour
1 1/2 cup powdered sugar.
3 egg whites
5 tablespoons of white, granulated sugar
1 teaspoon almond or coconut extract
green food coloring

Filling
1/2 cup softened butter
1 1/3 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp lime juice
1 Tbsp tequila
1-2 tsp lime zest
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