Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Perfect Grilled Cheese

I mentioned in an earlier post that one of my favorite uses for pesto is to combine it with mayonnaise.  Pesto mayo is a great spread on many different types of sandwiches, but my choice always and will be to use it on a grilled cheese sandwich.  I had never even heard of pesto mayo until I went to a cafe in DC with my roommate and she ordered this sandwich.  I ordered one as well after hearing her gush about it and I absolutely fell in love with it.  It's such a simple sandwich but the flavors combine together to make such a savory lunch.  While I was at school I was always dying to recreate it.  Unfortunately, I was without a food processor, so once I made pesto in my new processor at home I knew this was going to be the first thing I did with it.  I don't know if I'll ever put pesto on anything unless it's mixed up with mayonnaise.

The combination of basil, mayo, garlic, and cheese is so savory and the red onion and tomato give extra body to the sandwich.  I'd suggest mixing different types of cheese when making this sandwich to add more depth to the flavor.  I've been eating these sandwiches for weeks and would love to take the time now to show you how to make the perfect grilled cheese.

There are three tips to making the perfect grilled cheese:
- Use lots of cheese
- Keep the frying pan on medium - low heat
- Use lots of butter

So first, here's how you put the sandwich together.

Take your pesto mayo, which is just equal amounts of pesto and mayonnaise mixed together, and spread it on a piece of bread.

Layer with a piece of cheese (my favorite is white American cheese) and pieces of tomato.

Layer with a second piece of cheese and slices of red onion.

Layer with a third piece of cheese and spread more pesto mayo on the second piece of bread.

Melt about 1/2 tbsp of butter in a frying pan over medium to low heat.  When the butter begins to bubble, place the sandwich in the frying pan.

Spread butter on the top piece of bread and when the underside is golden brown flip the sandwich and cook on the other side.  Leave the stove on medium - low heat so the sandwich cooks slowly and all of those layers of cheese have time to melt.  At this point, you can also cover the pan with a lid to allow the steam to melt the cheese.

Remove from heat and enjoy!  You're welcome.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Banana Bread

I am constantly bookmarking new recipes to try, saving them to my Pinterest board to pull on them whenever I need (or just want) to make something.  Because I'm always searching for something new and exciting to bake or cook, I often forget that my family has many delicious recipes that we have been making since I was a little girl.  My mom makes phenomenal macaroni and potato salad, and I have had my recipe for pancakes/waffles memorized since I was old enough to use a skillet (one Christmas, I got 2 waffle irons).  During the winter, and during the summer too because it's so good, my mom makes a chili that doesn't taste like paste and my dad has this delicious marinade that goes well on fish, chicken, or steak.  We make these recipes about once a week and I've never thought of sharing them here, until I made banana bread last night.

"Ew Ali that was in your fridge?" - Disgusted reader
When I have 1 or 2 bananas that look like they're going bad, I usually throw them in a smoothie to salvage whatever is left of the fruit.  If I happen to let a whole bunch of bananas go overripe (whoops), I choose to make banana bread.  The bananas took a turn for the worse very quickly when Hurricane Irene knocked out our power on Sunday, but believe me all was not lost.  This is the absolutely ideal thing to do with overripe bananas.  The bread is moist and not too sweet, and I recommend not completely liquifying the bananas when you mash them, some little chunks of banana will certainly come through in the bread.  This bread is delicious for breakfast or as a dessert, especially with some of that Nutella toasted almond butter

The bread can be cooked in a larger pan, but we have found that the bread seems to burn on the top and stay uncooked in the middle when the pan is too big.  Plus, with two smaller pans, you can always freeze one loaf to save for a later date.  I, however, do not like to freeze anything because I always forget it's there and before I know it my brother is leaving for Virginia with one of my loaves of banana bread.  I mean come on can't my 20-year-old brother bake for himself at college?  No?  Oh fine.

The bread is also very dense, so one of these small loaves will probably last you through the week.  Maybe instead of freezing one you can give the other to a friend?  Like someone who was recently affected by the hurricane and is still left without power?  Some of the streets here are flowing like rivers and I know people who still do not have power, it's pretty unreal. 

Oh and yes I am definitely that person that cuts the end off of the loaf, then takes a second slice from the middle.  Did you know that leaving the end on and just eating from the middle keeps the inside of the bread from getting stale when you have the loaf wrapped up in plastic wrap?  I am clearly doing everyone else a favor by leaving them the crusts.

Banana Bread

- 1 egg
- 4 bananas, overripe
- 3 tbsp butter
- ½ c brown sugar
- ½ c sugar
- 2 c flour
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp baking powder

Preheat oven to 350F and grease the bottom and sides of 2 7 ½ x 3 ½ in bread pans.

Scramble the egg in a large mixing bowl.  Add the bananas and mash together.   Melt the butter and add to the banana mix and combine.  Sift together the rest of the dry ingredients and combine.

Pour into bread pans and bake for 35 – 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the bread comes out clean.  Allow to cool in pans for about 5 minutes and then transfer to wire racks. 

Friday, August 26, 2011

A Fund for Jennie - Let the Bidding Begin!

I'd first like to thank everyone who voted on what they'd bid on to raise money for a Fund for Jennie.  I want to make sure that we raise the most money for Jennie and her girls and I want to make sure that the winner gets something they'd love!

So, on Quarter Life Crisis I will be auctioning off 2 dozen (24) sugar cookies with a custom design for a Fund for Jennie. 

I will use my personal sugar cookie recipe (which is pretty delicious if I do say so myself - so delicious I've been keeping it a secret) and decorate the cookies with royal icing.  The winner of the auction will request a cookie design (apples for back to school, little hurricanes for Irene, anything your heart desires!).  The winner has 2 weeks to claim their prize and will receive the cookies within the next 2 weeks.

Exciting, right?  Here's how it'll work:

The bidding will begin today, Friday August 26th, and end on Monday, August 29th at 9:00PM EST.

To participate, leave your bid in the comment section below.

We're going to start the bidding at $25.  This is just a little more than $1 per cookie (and shipping will be covered by me as well!).  It's a great prize and 100% of the money raised will go directly to Jennie and her two little girls.

If you have any questions about the auction please email me at

To read more about what Bloggers Without Borders is doing for the Perillo family, please visit their site here.

If you'd like to donate directly to Jenny instead, please click on the button below: Donate to Bloggers Without Borders

Thank you for participating and good luck!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A Fund for Jennie - What Would You Bid On?

As many of you in the blogging community know, fellow blogger Jennifer Perillo lost her husband, Mikey, to an unexpected heart attack.  On August 7th, at 5:52pm, Jennifer's (Jennie's) world was ripped apart as her husband was taken too early from both her and her two little girls.

A few weeks ago, the blogging community showed their support by making hundreds of peanut butter pies for Mikey, his favorite dessert that Jennie said in a heartbreaking post she'd make it for him tomorrow.  And then tomorrow never came.

I was unable to make a peanut butter pie, but that did not mean I didn't want to show my support.  Bloggers Without Borders, a site designed for bloggers who want to do something decided to start a fund for Jennie.  The tragedy of losing a loved one is excruciatingly painful, but few of us think of what comes afterwards.  Bills need to be paid, children need to be taken care of, and loose ends need to be tied up.  Bloggers Without Borders decided to start a fund for Jennie for this very reason, because she faces a long, hard road ahead.

"As you can imagine, Jennie is overwhelmed not only by her grief, and the sudden responsibility of raising two children by herself, but she is also struggling with this financially. She just learned that she cannot collect widow’s benefits from Social Security because she earns too much money each year. The health insurance for her and her kids runs out in December and she just learned that the total she will have to pay will be more than her mortgage. It’s possible she’ll have to pay off the entire mortgage in one lump sum because the apartment was in his name alone. And more than anything, Mikey wanted Jennie to continue living her dream of being a food writer. And he wanted to make sure his kids were taken care of well. That’s why he worked as hard as he did. So we want to help. And we hope you want to help too."
- Bloggers Without Borders

I was deeply moved by these words and wanted to help, but wasn't sure where to start.  After getting in touch with Shauna from Gluten-Free Girl, I was given tips on how to conduct an auction on my blog.  If you've been reading my blog, you are well aware that I have many interests, yet I'm not sure which one would be most desirable if I were to auction something off on Quarter Life Crisis.  So I want to ask my readers, the ones who will be doing the bidding, what they would like to win.  More details on the auction will come at a later post, but for now, which item would you be most likely to bid on to raise funds for a fund for Jennie?

Please take the survey here.

The option that receives the most favorable response will be the item that I auction off to benefit a fund for Jennie.  You will be bidding on these items, I want to make sure you get something you'd actually want!

Thank you for taking the time to vote, get excited for the auction!!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Biking on the Cape

I kind of fell out of my workout routine last week and I honestly have no excuses as to why I hadn't been keeping up with my runs. As any runner knows, though, once you stop - even if it's just for a few days - it gets harder and harder to pick it back up. You begin to lose motivation, other matters take priority, and you forget the reasons why you love to exercise in the first place. I tell myself that it happens to every athlete, but it still means that I need to motivate myself to get back into it. It's just part of the challenge.

 I'm on vacation yet again and each morning I've tried to convince myself to get out of the house and go for a run. I'm staying in a house on Cape Cod and although I've been waking up nice and early because my room faces the East, I still haven't "found the time" for a run. I put this in quotes because it is not a real excuse, but you know when you're on vacation and you decide to go to the beach and then you spend the whole day at the beach and then you come home and you contemplate going for a run but you're sunburnt, hot, and tired and all you want is a nice cool shower. Then once you're showered, it's a little too late to go for a run.

What a difficult life I lead.

 So yesterday morning, I was relieved to have other people motivating me to work out. We had all brought our bikes up because we heard there are beautiful bike trails here on the Cape. I've never been on a true bike trail before (in Hilton Head there were paved paths along the roads for bikers and runners but they were more like slightly wider sidewalks), so I really didn't know what to expect. Therefore, I was very hesitant to bring that bike that isn't mine with me for fear of something happening to it. But Chris made the good point that anything that would happen to the bike up here could just as easily happen to the bike at home. So lest I be a party pooper, I asked my friend to hook up my bike to his bike rack and bring it up to Cape Cod. And honestly, I am so glad I did. The paths were so beautiful. They were about as wide as a road with very little crossings, so they were very safe and secluded. We passed by teal colored lakes, cranberry bogs (which I learned aren't always flooded with water like in the Ocean Spray commercials), and little shops that are set up to sell lunches and ice cream to weary bikers. There was a cool breeze coming off of the lakes and you were just surrounded by trees. It was so relaxing and enjoyable I barely even thought of it as a workout. The path can be quite challenging, though - overall we had about a 170 ft elevation gain and the path itself is 26 miles long. We obviously did not go the full 26 miles because we'd have to go an additional 26 miles back home, but we certainly went far enough (15.6 miles total!). I wish there were bike paths like that near me - biking is such a different experience when you don't have to worry about getting clipped by cars.

I also forgot how much I love riding that bike. I haven't been riding it much at home because I won't be doing the sprint triathlon anymore (but more on that in another post), so I've been focusing on light sprint work instead to boost my ultimate game (more on that in another post too!). But if I had a couple thousand dollars lying around I would buy that bike in a heartbeat. The carbon frame weighs less than the water bottle I had brought along with me and the tires are so thin that only millimeters of the tire make contact with the ground. Therefore, when that bike gets going in the up gears she flies! At times I felt like I was barely putting any effort in yet I was zooming along on these trails. I'll be sad to see that bike go.

So here I am the next morning, legs only slightly sore and covered in chain grease (I'm terrible at getting off of that bike). It's beautiful here on Cape Cod and I honestly do enjoy running on vacation. I love being able to explore your new neighborhood, check out what types of stores are in the little town, and just getting lost in the change of scenery. And (except for my run two weeks ago), running just makes me so happy. It's hard to remember that sometimes, especially when you've been a little lax in your training.

What I'm trying to say is that it's ok if you mess up and miss one or two days (or maybe a week...), the important thing is to just get back on track at the same intensity you left off, unless you're just getting off of an injury. I motivate myself by remembering why I love to run: I love how accomplished I feel at the end of my runs, how healthy and strong my muscles, lungs, and heart are, beating a PR to see the results of all of that effort I put in. And all of that effort can be lost in just 1 week! I don't want to let that happen. I still have 5Ks to run and Ultimate to play before winter sets in.

I know what motivates me, but what are some of the things that motivate you to get back on track?

Thursday, August 18, 2011


Sometimes nature sucks.  Believe me, I know, I worked in nature for a year.

Sometimes nature is a chipmunk that likes to jump into your garden and eat your ripe tomatoes.  And leave traces of said eaten tomatoes all over the garden and patio as if to say "your fence stinks."

Sometimes nature is a groundhog that likes to climb over your fence (yes, that actually happened), realize it's trapped in your garden, and crush your zucchini plant in a panic.

Sometimes nature is a zucchini plant that refuses to provide for you, even after you try fertilizing it by hand and even though everyone else is getting overrun by giant zucchinis.  So what do you do?  You rip that zucchini plant out of the ground because that little plot you fenced off for your garden is already overloaded beyond capacity.

But sometimes nature is really awesome, in the form of a golden orb spider, that has spun her web between your tomato plants and is wrapping a bug that she just caught and eating it right before your eyes.  Crazy.

I guess nature is still pretty cool after all.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Almond Joy Cupcakes

I had another culinary surprise for my mom on her birthday.  My family usually gets ice cream cakes for birthdays, but I had the perfect cake in mind for my mom so I insisted on making something.  My mom's favorite candy has always been Almond Joys so for a few days I have been thinking of how I'd turn this candy bar into a cupcake.

To get uniformed size cupcakes,
use an ice cream scoop
If you remember from my post on mini blueberry tarts (which were such an unexpected hit - thanks for all of the comments!), what I envision in my mind is not always what turns up on the plate.  Almond joys, for those of you that never had one before, have a shredded coconut center, are topped with an almond, and are dunked in chocolate.  I would have loved for this cupcake to lend itself more towards that concept, but I still had about half of a jar of that Nutella toasted almond butter left over and I wanted to use that up.  My mom also preferred a cake that wasn't overloaded with chocolate, so I then worked around that and the almond butter and decided to make a white coconut cake with a coconut buttercream frosting.  Not exactly what I had in mind but with that much coconut I didn't think I could go wrong.

So how do you assemble these cupcakes?  Once the cupcakes have cooled, use a knife to cut a cylindrical-shaped hole in the middle of the cupcake.  The coconut milk gives the cupcakes this beautiful sheen on the top, but it also makes the cupcake crumble a little bit when you try to cut a hole in it.  Therefore, don't drag the knife through the cake when you make a hole but go in and out of the cake with the knife instead.

Take a spoonful of the Nutella almond butter and spoon it into the hole.  Finally, top with the coconut buttercream icing.  I used a Wilton #12 tip to pipe the frosting - hold the bag upright with the tip about just above the cake and squeeze until the frosting comes up over the tip.  Very simple and easy plus I love the light, airy feel it gives the cake - kind of like the coconut filling of an Almond Joy (well, that's what I was going for at least).

When I make these cupcakes again, I will definitely be tweaking with some technical things, like the texture of the frosting and the strength of the coconut flavor, but in all honesty these cupcakes were still delightful.  The coconut frosting was sweet, but not too sweet, and you could definitely taste a subtle hint of coconut milk.  The cake, however, did not have the coconut flavor I was hoping for, so I'll have to experiment with that a little further.  But honestly, that's the best part about experimenting in the kitchen, even if what you make doesn't turn out quite how you wanted it to, if it has butter, sugar, and flour in it, it will probably still come out delicious no matter what, like these cupcakes did.

Almond Joy Cupcakes
Makes about 20 cupcakes

For the cake:
- 2 ¼ c flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp salt
- ½ c unsalted butter (room temperature)
- ¾ c sugar
- 1 lg egg
- 1 1/3 c coconut milk
For the Nutella almond butter:
- 2 c almonds, raw and unsalted
- 1¼ c Nutella
For the frosting:
- ½ c unsalted butter, room temperature
- ¼ c vegetable shortening
- 3 c + 1 ½ c confectioner's sugar, divided
- 1 tbsp merengue powder
- ¼  tsp salt
- 1/4 c coconut milk
- 1 c sweetened shredded coconut

Preheat oven to 350F and line 2 12-count cupcake pans with liners.  Line a baking sheet with a non-stick mat or parchment paper.

To make the cake, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl and set aside.  In a separate bowl, cream together the butter and the sugar.  Add in the egg and combine.  Alternate adding half of the dry ingredients, combining, followed by half of the coconut milk and combining.  Repeat. 

Fill cupcake liners about 2/3 of the way full and bake in oven for 23 - 28 minutes.  Allow to cool in pans for about 5 minutes, then remove and allow to cool on wire racks.

To make the Nutella almond butter, spread the almonds on a baking sheet and bake in the oven for about 15 minutes.  Remove and let cool.

Add the roasted almonds one cup at a time to a food processor and process until ground and creamy.  Add the Nutella ½ c at a time and process until creamy.

To make the frosting, combine the vegetable shortening and butter in a bowl and beat until creamy.  Add 3 c of the confectioner’s sugar 1 c at a time and combine completely after each addition.  Add the merengue powder, salt, and coconut milk and combine.  Add the remaining 1 ½ c of confectioner’s sugar and beat until the frosting becomes light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.  Fold in the shredded coconut.

To assemble the cupcakes, cut a cylindrical-shaped hole out of the middle of the cupcake and fill with a spoonful of the Nutella almond butter.  Top with the coconut frosting and sprinkle with shredded coconut.  

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Palmetto [Pimento] Cheese

Since I have been back from Hilton Head (which feels like years ago) there are two things I have been dying to make: palmetto cheese and hush puppies.

For those of you who have not met my mom, you may not know that she loves talking about the time she spent on her grandparents' tobacco farm in Maryland in a Southern accent and reading books written by Southern authors.  So when we went down to Hilton Head she just had to bring down a book that was written about a woman who used to live in Alpine, NJ and then moved down to a small South Carolina island.  My mom kept relating herself to the woman: they both read the Bergen Record, drove down I-95 to the low country, went to the Piggly Wiggly, and bought Palmetto cheese.  None of us had any idea what Palmetto cheese actually was but my mother insisted that we get it.  This cheese, to all of our surprise, was delicious.  By the end of the week, we went through about three tubs and brought one home.

So I thought it would be fitting for me to try to recreate this cheese for my mother's birthday.  I used a recipe I had found online because I did not want to get it wrong, yet it turns out the recipe itself is very simple.  It’s pretty much cheddar cheese, cream cheese, mayonnaise, pimento (Palmetto cheese is also called pimento cheese), and some spices.  What's a pimento you ask?  It's that red stuff that is sometimes stuffed in olives (I thought it was actually the olive pit - the more you know...).  But before it was stuffed in olives it was actually a slice of a red chili pepper, soaked in oil.  Alone it's very delicious and you could use the leftovers in the jar to put on sandwiches or with some Italian meats and cheeses in an antipasto dish.  

When my brother and I were in Hilton Head we were putting that Palmetto cheese on everything.  Literally everything.  We'd dip crackers and pretzels into the spread, or slather it on BLTs and hot dogs.   It really goes well with anything that you'd put cheese on (and maybe even some things you wouldn't...)

Palmetto (Pimento) Cheese
Makes about 2 cups
Adapted from: Paula Deen

4 oz cream cheese
¼ c mayo
1 ½ c shredded cheddar cheese
2 tbsp pimentos, diced and crushed
1 tsp onion, grated
Pinch salt, pepper, garlic powder, to taste

Place cream cheese in a bowl and beat with an electric mixer until fluffy, like a frosting.  Fold in remaining ingredients with a spatula.  Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and serve cold. 

Monday, August 15, 2011

Mini Blueberry Tarts

Let me just start by saying that cooking on vacation is an interesting experience.  Even though I was out of my element, I knew I wanted to make something this week and I've had a ton of ideas on my little recipes board on Pinterest.

Other than the cold weather, Maine is known for something else (after lobstahs): blueberries.  Maine blueberries are so delicious.  I love that their size is perfect for baking with and yet they seem to have the same sweetness as their gargantuan counterparts.  I have so many memories of being up in Maine and plowing through poison ivy and spiderwebs to pick fresh blueberries from the woods behind the house.  We'd bring them back in our little coffee cans, rinse them off, and throw them in pancakes.  I never remember being more ambitious with blueberries than making blueberry pancakes, so this year I decided that needed to change.

While skimming the internet, I found a post about these little mini pies.  How freaking cute are these?  I was thinking of making a regular blueberry pie, but those can be so messy and are not great for sharing.  So how about a little blueberry pie for each person in my family?  The plans were already under way.

The next step was to find the equipment.  I first checked the cabin where we're staying and found three little muffin pans, but no cooking equipment.  I went over to the big house where the rest of my family is staying and started rifling through drawers where I found round cookie cutters, a pasta cutter, a rolling pin, and my dry ingredients.  I tried to plan out the actual baking of my little pies and decided that I'll be damned if I'm spending my vacation trying to make my own pie dough (plus I didn't have a pastry cutter or a food processor), so I elected to go with the boxed version instead.

Tips for rolling out dough: make sure everything
- board, rolling pin, and your hands -
are lightly coated in flour. 
The box said it was enough to make 2 9-in pie crusts, which I assumed to be more than enough for my mini pies.  Now I'd like to explain why I like to be a little secretive (read: sneaky) when it comes to making desserts. See, I have these wonderful desserts planned out in my head and I know exactly what equipment I'll need, what ingredients I'll need, how I'll prepare it, and how I will design it and that little confection looks so perfect in my mind.  And then I start to prepare my carefully planned dessert and the end product is usually not what I had imagined.  So when my family, aunts, uncles, and cousins were asking me about what I was making, I simply answered "a dessert" and ran out of the house with the rolling pin I was borrowing.  This way, if I kept the dessert a secret, I wouldn't have to answer to why the mini pie I promised wasn't exactly what was on the plate.

Cooking on vacation is always an
adventure, like when your oven only
holds 1 cupcake pan
So here's what happened: I'm in the cabin rolling out my dough and even though I'm making it as thin as possible I'm starting to worry I won't have enough dough leftover to make that pretty lattice design on the top of the mini pie.  And then I start to worry if I'll even have enough dough to make all 13 mini pies.  So I end up with the perfect amount of dough for my 13 little mini pies and the perfect amount of blueberry filling for my little pies and as I begin to crimp the edges of the dough over the filling I exclaim, "these are no longer pies, these are now tarts!" (to no one but myself) because I clearly did not make enough dough to craft that beautiful lattice pattern I had envisioned in my mind.  So I throw them in the oven, checking on them every 5 minutes and deciding they're done with the crust is a beautiful golden brown and the blueberry filling starts gushing over the edges.  I fashion two spoons into tongs (because I could not for the life of me find a spatula in either of the houses - oh cooking on vacation) and carefully pry the little tarts out of the wells, making sure not to puncture the crust and send blueberry filling everywhere because if I mess up just ONE tart someone isn't getting dessert tonight.  So I have my little tarts on a platter and bring them outside and set them up with the cardboard canister of blueberries and snap a quick "artistic" photo before bringing them over to the main house.  At this point, my relatives have all been in and out of the kitchen in the cabin and therefore the dessert is no longer a surprise yet I try to sneak the little tarts past everyone anyways.  Dinner is perfect and dessert is served and rave reviews are given all around and I chuckle to myself thinking of how these little tarts were not in fact the pies I had originally intended to make but no one needed to know that - they were close enough.  Well, of course now everyone knows that my little pies did not quite turn out how I envisioned them to but at least you all know that after the fact.  Regardless of how they looked, they were still incredibly delicious.  They were sweet, but not too sweet, and the filling was a perfect consistency - not too stiff but not too runny either.

Oh, and when you're cooking on vacation, make sure you're flexible and prepared to make some changes.  For those times when, you know, you don't have a spatula.

I will definitely be making these pies (tarts) again, maybe next time with enough pie dough.  Or with a different flavor filling.  They make such cute desserts and will definitely be a huge hit at any party or gathering.

Oh and a very happy birthday to my mom!  I'll be posting some yummy recipes this week that I'm making for her birthday :)

Mini Blueberry Tarts
Makes about 12 tarts
Filling Adapted from Annie's Eats

- 1 box pie crust (11 oz)
- 2 c blueberries
- 1/3 c sugar
- 1 ½ tbsp. cornstarch
- 1 egg + 1 tbsp milk

Preheat oven to 350F and grease the liners of a 12 count cupcake pan.

To make the filling, sift together the sugar and cornstarch and add the blueberries.  Toss the blueberries in the dry ingredients until they’re evenly coated and the sugar and corn starch have dissolved.

Make pie crust according to directions on box.  Lightly flour a flat work surface and roll out the dough until it’s about ¼ in. thick.  Measure the diameter of your cupcake pan wells and cut circles out of the dough that are at least ½ in. longer than the diameter of your wells.  You want to be able to place the dough in the wells and have a little bit dough come over the edge.  Once all of the wells are filled with dough, scoop the filling into the wells, about ¾ of the way full.  Crimp the excess dough over the filling.

Beat egg with milk to create an egg wash and brush each mini pie with the egg wash.  Place in oven and bake for 13 - 17 minutes, or until the crust is a golden brown.  Allow to cool in pans for about 5 minutes and then remove.  

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Mojito, revisted

The food blogging community has been inundated with different fruity cocktail drinks throughout a good part of the summer.  Some of the drinks had only 2 ingredients while others could have up to 6 but one ingredient that stayed fairly constant was simple syrup.  I had never heard of simple syrup before but it is actually a "simple" "syrup:" 1 part water to 1 part sugar, pour into a saucepan and boil until the sugar dissolves (which literally takes under a minute).  This is a great alternative to trying to get sugar to dissolve in your mixed drink.

So with this new concoction in hand, I decided to revisit my recipe for mojitos.  I was also lucky enough to have some spearmint growing in my beach house's backyard, while at home I only had access to peppermint.  I feel like the peppermint did not have a strong enough flavor for the mojito and found myself stripping my plant bare whenever I wanted to make a pitcher.  With the spearmint, you only need about 6 or 7 large leaves to get a sweet, minty taste.  I'll definitely be taking some home to plant in my backyard.

To really bring out the mint flavor, I decided to throw the mint leaves in with the simple syrup while the sugar was dissolving.  I brought the mixture to a boil, stirred it until the sugar dissolved, and then muddled the mint leaves once the syrup had cooled back down to room temperature.  Everything else I basically kept the same.

The simple syrup and spearmint combination makes for a very sweet mojito, which I enjoyed immensely. There is a downside (or maybe an upside?) to this, however: the sweetness masks the alcohol in the drink.  I started with a cup of rum and could barely taste anything over the spearmint, so I added more lime and more rum.  The lime cut into the sweetness slightly but I still couldn't taste any alcohol.  After adding about 1 1/2 cups I decided that would have to be enough and believe me, it was.  This is a very delicious and sweet treat and I'd certainly recommend playing around with the proportions in order to get your preferred taste.

Mojito (pitcher)

6 – 7 large spearmint leaves
1 c sugar
1 c water
2/3 c lime juice
1 ½ c of rum
1 L club soda
Lime slices

Place the water, sugar, and spearmint leaves into a pot and bring to a boil, stirring until the sugar has dissolved.  Remove from heat and allow the syrup to cool to room temperature.  Muddle the mint leaves until they become fragrant, about 1 minute.  Pour syrup into a pitcher and add the lime juice, rum, and club soda.  Stir to mix and serve over ice.  Garnish each glass with a slice of lime.  

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A Book vs. A Nook

I'm spending the week at my family's beach house up in Maine.  If any of you have been to Maine before you have a good idea of what the weather is like - cold and rainy.  Being the last-minute packer that I am, I completely forgot to go to the library to pick up some random books to read this week in preparation for the rainy weather.  However, this gives me the opportunity to explore my grandparents' beach house for books to read.

My cousins are here too and they all planned ahead and had books to read.  Well actually, most of them have Kindles or Nooks, not books.  I've never really liked the idea of eBooks because I loved being able to hold a book in my hand and flip through the pages.  I do, however, agree that having a Nook or a Kindle is great when you're going on vacation for a while and want to bring lots of books but not necessarily all of that weight.  Or if you're trying to read your book on the beach and it's windy and you get sand stuck in the binding.  Or if you have kids and you download them one of those interactive books so they can play along with the story.  But that just completely destroys creating the story in your own mind, which was always my favorite part of reading.  And honestly, I cannot see myself spending money to download books when I could just go to the library and rent them for free.  Do the Kindles and Nooks even have a library like that?  Alright, back to exploring the house...

Look at how thick these pages are!
The edges weren't even cut evenly.
It's a rainy day and there's not too much to do with all of the cousins out and my brother still asleep.  I meandered around the bedrooms and the television room and found this fantastic book about Salem witches.  I carefully cracked open the book and looked at the printed date.  1908!  This book was over 100 years old.  Impossible, right?  But that's what the cover says.  I started reading the book written in Olde English and was immediately enraptured by this story of a young girl who ran into a man in the forest and told him about how she was made to stand in the public square because she wore a silk dress and the Puritans are not allowed to indulge in such frivolous things.  They talked of witches and the man asked her to give "the Cavalier" a message about black powder and the little girl ran off before the sun set so she wouldn't be abducted by witches or wizards and convinced to partake in black magic.  Oh and she was a teacher at a Dame School (a school where only women were allowed to teach).  I loved the sound of the binding crackling as I turned the thick pages between my fingers.  The pages were stained and smelled of the attic.  There is nothing like rifling through those old pages in the dark back room of the cabin while listening to rain fall on the roof.  Honestly, how could a Kindle or a Nook even compare?

Also, please excuse the quality of the photos - I forgot my camera cord and I wanted to get one or two posts in while I'm on vacation.  Don't want to leave you all hanging :)

Saturday, August 6, 2011


For a blog titled "Quarter Life Crisis," I never actually talk about crises.  Maybe I thought that if I talked about crises I'd be opening up a whole new can of worms on my personal life that my readers may not enjoy reading; these are no longer the days of Xanga and LiveJournal.  However, one of the reasons why I wanted to create this blog was to let other 20-somethings know that there are others who feel like they're going through a quarter life crisis as well, which underneath all of the baking and running sometimes it still feels like I am.

I've learned two lessons in the past few weeks.  The first one is:

Make sure you know what you're doing when you're filling out your FAFSA.

I needed to get a loan to pay for college next year, so I filled out my FAFSA to see if I could qualify for some financial aid or a loan with low interest.  When I got to the dependency page, I was confused as to which option I should put down.  My family already paid for me to go to college, so this time around it is my turn to pick up the tab.  Therefore, wouldn't that make me an independent?  However, I still live at home with my parents and my father claims me as a dependent on his taxes, therefore shouldn't I be a dependent on my FAFSA form?  I decided to go ahead a click "dependent" since that's what it says on my father's taxes and figured I could go back and change it on the questions later.  So then I answered a series of questions along the lines of "are you an orphan?" "are you homeless?" "are your parents unemployed?" each of which I marked "no."  I had to fill in my parents' financial information and a few weeks later I heard back from Stafford and learned that I got an unsubsidized loan for about $7000, which got reduced to $5000 once my college learned I was in a post-baccalaureate program and I was not technically an undergraduate.  That wasn't even going to cover 1/3 of my expenses for the year, so I declined it and tried to see what other loans I could get.  Along the way, I had learned that my friends got all of their expenses covered by loans and some even got federal grants.  They were all paying for school themselves, like I was, going to public colleges, like I am, and all from family backgrounds similar to my own.  So how come they were getting so much more than me?

Well it turns out that regardless of taxes, if you're paying for college yourself, you're an independent.  If I had put that and the state saw my meager income, I could certainly have been eligible for more money.  I tried calling FAFSA, and they referred back to those questions where they determined the state of my dependency based on if I was an orphan or not and told me that since I answered all of those questions as "no" I was not an independent.  Well then, why were all of my friends independents?  They couldn't answer that for me, so I gave up and applied for other loans.  A few weeks wrought with apprehension later, I was approved for a SallieMae loan once I cosigned with my father.  The funds will be disbursed and I'll just have to make up the difference.  Luckily, I can make up the difference using a tuition payment plan so I won't have to put a ton of money down at once, which brings me to my next point...

Second lesson: if a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Since graduating from college, I lost my dental care.  I've been putting off going to the dentist for a while because I didn't want to pay full price, I was busy, my teeth weren't bothering me, etc etc.  I've been following deals on Groupon and finally found one where I could pay $56 for a check up, cleaning, and x rays with a dentist.  Perfect!  I bought it and went to the dentist and honestly really did enjoy my visit until the dentist told me that I had two cavities and needed a periodontal scaling (a deep clean beneath the gum line that you need Novocain for).  I was staring at 3 or 4 days worth of procedures and $1400 in fees.  I went home to think about it and look at my options and got a chance to talk to my friend (who I made the sorbet for the other week) who works for a dentist.  She thought it was crazy that they wanted to do that procedure on me since it's usually for people who are much older than me with really severe cases of gum disease.  She told me I could send the x rays to her practice and the dentist would look at them for me.  Perfect!  Except the other dentist wanted to charge me $150 to release my x rays.  Seriously?  I could not catch a freaking break.  I went ahead and just paid for it because it would cost about that much to get my x rays taken at the place where my friend works.  And I'm glad I did; she called me back a few hours later and said her boss said I definitely needed a cleaning, but with proper care of my teeth and gums they should go back to their original gum disease-free state.  I went back to get my cavities filled earlier this week and will go back one last time to get that cleaning I signed up for so long ago.  I really do have to say that I like the facility, and if I had insurance I would definitely go there.  I was nervous about getting my cavities filled because I had never had that done before, but luckily the cavities were caught early enough so they were relatively small, therefore I didn't need Novocain or anything.  I couldn't feel a thing and the doctor had me all patched up in about 15 minutes.  And you can't see a thing!  No pain, nothing.  Needless to say, I was very very relieved.

So moral of the story, take care of your teeth.  I went out and bought a water pick and some original strength Listerine and added that to my brushing routine every night.  The water pick works well, although the first few times I used it was quite entertaining.  I was hunched over the sink, not sure if I was getting the water pick in the right spots, and whenever I went to look up at the mirror I sprayed water everywhere.  I've even squirted myself in the eye more than once.  It'll take some getting used to that's for sure.

The lessons learned here are don't be afraid to call your school a million times asking them for help and advice when it comes to something like your tuition.  They're there to help you so definitely take advantage of that.  Once I realized that and began calling my school about every day with questions, the people at my college were very helpful, and the woman in the bursar's office even made a phone call and got me signed up for a tuition payment plan right then and there when if I did it on my own it would have taken 2 or 3 days.  And just adding a couple more things to your nightly routine can do wonders on your teeth.  Now that I'm taking better care of my teeth, I'm hoping to avoid any more surprise expenses.  It's amazing how quickly a $60 trip to the dentist can end up costing 10 times that much.

I think this was also why it was so hard for me to leave Wildwood this past weekend.  It was such a nice escape from all of this and I loved being able to be back with my friends and not having to think about any real-world drama.  Oh well, crises averted, for now.

Friday, August 5, 2011


There is a legendary beach ultimate frisbee tournament held every year on the last weekend of July right here in New Jersey.  Hundreds of teams sign up, thousands of ultimate players flood the beach, and a weekend of debauchery ensues.

There's nothing like playing ultimate on the beach.  When you run, it feels as if you're running through half of a foot of water (sometimes burning water depending on the time of day), but when you lay out for a disc it's like landing on a Tempur-Pedic mattress, except of course for all of the sand that gets everywhere and scrapes off your skin like a rug burn.  The spirit of the game changes as well - people aren't as jumpy to call fouls and hammers and other upside-down throws are highly encouraged. After the Saturday games, the tournament directors invite everyone 21 and over to a free biergarten on the beach, followed by a party at the Bolero.  Games commence Sunday morning, and before I knew it all 6 games (4 the first day, 2 the second) were over and I was driving back up the Garden State Parkway.

Blowing up the Bolero
But I think my favorite part of Wildwood was having everyone I had ever wanted to see at the same place in one weekend.  Imagine walking down the street in some random town and seeing everyone (and I mean everyone) that you've gotten close to over the past 5 years.  I saw friends from college that I haven't seen in over a year, and seeing them again at an tournament brought back wonderful memories of those weekends in college that I spent traveling across the country to play ultimate.  I made friends on both the men's and the women's team that I know I will keep in touch with for years to come, even if I do only see them once a year at Wildwood.  While some of my friends have remained in DC, some of my other friends from college are living near Philly, NYC, and Boston (some of them have even traveled to the west coast).  So to have them all in one place, playing together and partying together like we were back in college, was really (as corny as it sounds) special.  No matter where our lives take us we always have one thing in common, which will hopefully bring us back together year after year.

It was also great to see friends from my summer league in Wildwood as well, and needless to say playing in a tournament for the first time in months definitely got me excited for our summer league finals this coming weekend.  I feel like I've finally gotten back my edge when playing ultimate, and if I play in the finals like I did this past weekend I will be very happy.  Most of the time, I knew where to cut, didn't drop the disc, and didn't throw any discs away.  I am pumped for finals this weekend - I really do think that our team can do well.

This weekend was also bittersweet because it was actually harder to say goodbye to my team and my college friends than I thought.  We were all going back to our lives, mine in Jersey and theirs in DC or Boston or Philly.  School will start again in a little less than a month.  I still have some trips to look forward to in August, but that end-of-summer feeling is definitely hitting me hard right now.

I have no idea what's going to happen over the course of this year and I expect to go through a lot of life changes next summer after I finish school, but I do know that I will be spending the last weekend of July 2012 in Wildwood, and I hope to see you all there again.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Food Processor Gets a Workout Day 5: Nutella Toasted Almond Butter

I had a few suggestions for something to make in my food processor, but I have to say my favorite suggestion was from Juliet.  Heather, I was very intrigued by your recipe and will definitely be making that once my hummus runs out!  Juliet's suggestion was simply "nut butter," so of course the first thing that came to mind was peanut butter.  I love peanut butter - I'll devour it with banana, apple, on toast, on crackers, basically anything that I can spread peanut butter onto.  However, while I was shelling peanuts and realizing I didn't have enough, I was reminded of the almond butter that Juliet had made.  I don't think almonds are that much better for you than peanuts - they're high in proteins and healthy fats (as long as you eat about a handful) but I've never had almond butter before so the almonds won out in the end.

There is a second spread that I'm absolutely obsessed with: Nutella.  In college, there was a restaurant called CrepeAway, which my friends and I frequented often, usually after the hour of 12AM.  I would get a crepe with nutella, strawberries, and bananas and it was heavenly.  So why not combine two delicious spreads into one?  BOOM: Nutella Toasted Almond Butter.

You don't have to, but I wanted to remove the skin.  This is a fairly simple process in which you pour boiling water over a bowl of almonds, let them sit there for about 5 minutes, and then peel off the skin.  Then, you roast the almond to get their crunchy texture back.  You could also just get almonds without the skin - but the supermarket wasn't carrying any that were unsalted.  If your almonds don't have skins, I'd still recommend toasting them anyway.  You'll know the almonds are done roasting when you can smell them from the next room.  They'll be crispy and dried out.

I'm not going to lie, this spread basically tastes like Nutella, except it has a thicker and grainier texture (and the grainy texture is by no means a bad thing) with a slight hint of the almonds.  So if you really like Nutella, process it with some toasted almonds and you will get a thick, delicious spread that will taste good on pretty much anything.  Right after I made it, I slathered it on a slice of banana bread.  So delightful.

I hope you all enjoyed this week of recipes and tips for using your food processor!  My whole family is now using the food processor, so getting one is definitely worth the investment.  Happy processing!

BTW, I also made the most divine sandwich yesterday.  I had hinted to it in my basil pesto post, but today I finally recreated it: grilled cheese sandwich with red onions, tomatoes, and pesto mayonnaise.  It was so incredibly delicious that everyone in my family had one.  And it was super simple too: just mix the pesto with mayonnaise.  Then layer as follows: slice of ciabatta bread, pesto mayo, slice of cheese (I used American), red onions, 2nd slice of cheese, tomatoes, 3rd slice of cheese, pesto mayo, 2nd slice of bread.  Then melt butter in a pan, toast one side of the sandwich while buttering the second side, and then flip.  Believe me, it's the most delicious lunch you'll ever have.  I've never been a fan of lunch, but this sandwich makes me look forward to noon every day.

Nutella Toasted Almond Butter
Makes about 2½ cups

- 2 c almonds, raw and unsalted
- 1¼ c Nutella

Preheat oven to 350F and line a baking sheet with a non-stick mat.  Spread the almonds on the baking sheet and roast in the oven for about 15 minutes.  Remove and let cool.

Add the roasted almonds one cup at a time and process until ground.  Add the Nutella ½ c at a time and process until creamy.  Store in airtight container – does not need to be refrigerated. 

Tips for using your food processor
- When making something thick like a spread or nut butter, add the ingredients in smaller increments to make sure everything is processed fully and evenly.  This will result in a very creamy spread.