pumpkin cheesecake bars with streusel

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Justin and I went to our good friends’ wedding this weekend in Lawrence, Kansas. Our friends are Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones fans so they decided to have elements from both series in their wedding much to our delight! For example, when it was time to exchange wedding bands, the groom relinquished The Ring to Rule Them All he was wearing by tossing it into a mini fuming paper mache-looking volcano two groomsmen brought out just for the occasion. And as is the wedding tradition in Game of Thrones, the groom draped his bride in a necklace and a fur cloth bringing her under his protection.  Instead of a unity candle, the couple mixed two different types of wine they had made themselves, and at the end of the ceremony, the couple got on horses and rode off into the sunset, or perhaps in this case, the parking lot. Later on in the evening, they had a wooden catapult robot made to launch the bride’s garter for the garter toss. Needless to say it was a cool wedding. The wedding was also a mini college reunion for me, as many of my college friends and their spouses and members of the fraternity house I used to frequent were there.

It was a little surreal being back in my college town after eleven years. I was astounded to see what had changed since I’d been there. Restaurants that were new when I had lived there had since gone out of business. Old staples of the town had been replaced by new trendy stores and coffee houses. Sometimes I wish I could bottle up places and people in a time capsule so that I could revisit them periodically for nostalgia’s sake. But I recognize that most of the change is for the better. Other places around Lawrence looked completely unchanged like much of the campus itself. And downtown, I saw many familiar faces of people from my past—one girl had lived on my floor in the dorms, and I ran into the man who was the assistant orchestra conductor in the short stent that I was a music major.

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Well, you can’t turn back time, but you can make this delicious multi-layered cheesecake. I took it to work, and within an hour, it was gone. The bottom layer is homemade graham crack crust, the middle layers are made up of the regular and pumpkin cheesecake, and the top is the crunchy cinnamon streusel. It’s an impressive dessert, and if you are inclined to share it with others, it travels well. I feel like you can’t go wrong with cheesecake, ever, but this version is especially good. Before you begin to combine the ingredients, keep in mind the cream cheese needs to be at room temperature and that takes a full hour. And then once out of the oven, the cheesecake needs a couple hours to set. Enjoy!

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pumpkin custards with cardamom crumble

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My brainstorming ideas for what kinds of recipes to post for Thanksgiving have been all over the darn place. I thought about trying to re-create the first Thanksgiving feast, but then I read the meal predominantly consisted of seafood and vegetables, and that there was no green bean casserole, or any kind of potatoes, or butter (no butter! I can’t even!). I mean, can you imagine Thanksgiving without all the carbs? I don’t think it counts as Thanksgiving if you don’t go into a full-on post-meal sleep-induced food coma.

Then I thought, what about Thanksgiving foods from eras, like the 60s, 70s, or 80s, but that’s when I discovered lots, and I mean lots, of Jello and aspic. Don’t get me wrong, I get Jello deserts, but aspic? Think savory gelatin with chunks of meat, egg, or seafood. I’ve never tasted it, but if my stomach’s reaction to the description is any indication, I am good. Certain foods, especially ones that aren’t sweet, just shouldn’t jiggle. Maybe I should look into joining a non-jiggly food therapy group, but I digress…

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Anyhoo, this year, I thought I’d keep it simple by making a bunch of unique pumpkin-based desserts (much to Justin’s delight!). There’s nothing wrong with classic pumpkin pie, but why not change it up this year like trying these cute little pumpkin custards with cardamom crumble?  While these still taste like pumpkin pie, the custard is denser and creamier than normal pumpkin pie. The cardamom adds an almost gingerbread-like flavor to the crunchy crumble. To say these are good is an understatement. I made eight of these like the recipe calls for thinking I’d take some to work… and Justin and I unapologetically ate them all instead. And after we finished the custards, we licked the ramekins, the spoons, and then the ramekins again just to be sure there was nothing left.

This recipe does require a roasting pan, and trust me when I say a regular baking pan does not work. This is because you have to have boiling water half way up the ramekins to properly bake the custard. I think it’s easier to add the boiling water to the roasting pan once the pan is set on the oven rack, but you must pull it out enough so you can pour the water into the pan. Be very careful when adding the boiling water as it can splatter and being that close to the hot oven is a worry as well. I wore oven mitts and still got splattered, so please heed my oops! Lastly, and just as important, is that this recipe has to set a couple hours so please plan accordingly. Bon Appetit! Continue reading “pumpkin custards with cardamom crumble”

justin’s slow cooker chili

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Y’all are in for a treat! I didn’t have to be the cook this week since Justin decided the weather had gotten cool enough for chili. Since this has become a staple of cool/cold weather in our house, I asked him to take pictures and document what he was doing (we really work on measuring and not over seasoning over here!).

A few weeks back, a discussion was started on a favored social media site about chili versus stew, what the difference is, and, of course, the usual banter about the “right” way to do it. One of Justin’s friends at work, Scott Bibbee, makes some fantastic worldly meals, regularly posts photos of his creations (we already have our favorites), and he is one of those people who can tell what the ingredients of something are just by tasting it (so jealous!). I asked if he would write something up about the different ways chili is made around the U.S. Here’s what he said,

Many folks, mostly Yankees, believe strongly that they can add whatever they want to a chili and still call it “chili”. Never mind that “chili” is short for “chili con carne”, that it originated in San Antonio, TX more than 150 years ago, and certainly did not contain frijoles or any other additions when it was invented. The addition of anything other than meat, chiles, and spices is a culinary appropriation of a regional specialty with a long, well documented, and distinct history. Here’s the simple fact – all chili is stew, but not all stew is chili.

There are many reasons that people debase, taint, and dilute this dish. The most reasonable explanation Continue reading “justin’s slow cooker chili”

slow cooker barbacoa tacos (or nachos)

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Up until recently, I just assumed everyone loved leftovers. I mean, it’s already prepared food you just have to reheat or assemble. It saves so much time and prep especially on weeknights when you’re tired from the day and don’t feel like cooking. I know some people don’t want to eat the same food two meals or days in a row. Other people think that leftovers aren’t as good the second day, and for a lot of foods like salads with dressing, I wholeheartedly agree. The lettuce becomes soggy and it affects the integrity of the salad. But there are other foods like pasta that I believe are better the second day because the flavors have had time to sit and coalesce.

In fact, liking leftovers is one of the first things that first attracted me to Justin. We were on an early date at a cocktail bar that served artisan pizza, and while trying to decide whether we should split a pizza or I should get one of my own, Justin said, “Why don’t you get your own so you have leftovers?” And I thought, Hey, this might work out!

These barbacoa tacos are easy, tasty, and make for great leftovers! The original recipe called for the roast to be cooked in an instant pot, which we don’t have, so we repurposed the recipe for the crock pot to great results. We literally dropped all ingredients up through the bay leaves into the crock pot and let it cook for 6 hours on high. The chipotle chile in adobe gives the barbacoa a spicy and smoky flavor, which is awesome! We added salsa and pico de gallo, as well as the cotija cheese, which is tangy! It makes for one delicious taco!

Update: The second night, we tried the the barbacoa on nachos, and we actually liked it even better than the tacos. We liked the crispy, salty chips with the spicy barbacoa. Give it a try!

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ugandian ginger tea

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One of the fiction stories I’m writing takes place in Uganda. I decided to check out Ugandan recipes, and that is how I stumbled upon this delightful tea recipe. The ginger is what makes this tea amazing. It is a soothing tea with the creamy milk. You can make it with fresh ginger or with powdered ginger. For the black tea, I used loose leaf English breakfast, but you can use any kind of black tea you’d like. Now that it’s FINALLY  getting cold outside, this tea will help warm you up! Enjoy!

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hatch green chile corn casserole

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Every year, my department has a hatch green chile competition in September. Contestants are allowed to make anything as long as it has hatch chiles in it. Most of us go to Whole Foods and pick up already roasted hatch chiles. For my entry, I made hatch chile macaroni and cheese. It was good, but honestly it didn’t even come close to this year’s winner: the hatch green chile corn casserole. Not only was it voted best dish by the judges, but it also won the popular vote. It may not look like much, but this little unassuming dish packs a punch and is full of flavor.  This corn casserole is spicy, creamy, and delicious! This dish is, of course, better with freshly roasted hatch chiles, but you can also use canned green chiles, which is what I used since Whole Foods is a bit of a drive for me. And it’s an easy dish to make: you literally add all the ingredients together in a bowl,  pour them into a baking pan, and put the pan in the oven for 45 minutes. This would be a good Thanksgiving side dish! Happy eating!

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lost in st. louis

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Recently I went to visit my friend and her husband who live in St. Louis. I’m notorious for being directionally challenged, but in a different city, I have absolutely no sense of direction. So when the cabbie shooed me out of the cab and told me my destination was just down the street and that he didn’t want to get any closer due to road construction, I believed him. My friend lives in an upscale neighborhood around lots of trendy restaurants and boutiques. Upon closer inspection of the houses I walked past, I noticed that a lot of the homes were boarded up with plywood or were in disrepair.  I thought, either I’m in the wrong spot or this place has gone downhill in the last year and a half since I’ve been here. I started walking faster, lugging my big orange suit case behind me. Nothing looked familiar, and I quickly realized I was lost. I wasn’t sure whether I was just on the wrong block or on the wrong street entirely. Then I smelled fried food and got excited. I followed my nose until I ended up in the Grove, a trendy part of St. Louis. And that’s when I stumbled across the Urban Chestnut Brewery, and thought, well, since I’m here…

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zucchini in spiced tomato sauce

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It is high time for my semi-annual haircut. I knew you’d want to know. I have this cave woman mop-like shag going on that is in desperate need of taming. I tend to wait until I catch an unsettling glimpse of myself in the mirror, and then I call my hair dresser in frantic desperation, pleading, “Can you get me in today?” My main goal is not necessarily to look trendy but to not scare children. Which is also why I always wear some form of makeup. I also struggle with coordinating my outfits. I once bought an outfit off a mannequin so I wouldn’t have to coordinate it. You do what you gotta do!

Justin and I have been attempting to incorporate more vegetables in our diet.  It is an ongoing battle. Just adding salt and pepper to vegetables is fine and dandy, but after awhile, it gets old. When looking for flavorful vegetable-based recipes, I took my cue from India because they are known for their flavorful vegetarian dishes; I was not disappointed.

This zucchini dish has layers upon layers of wonderful flavor.  You have turmeric and garam masala, which give the dish somewhat of a curry flavor. The chili powder makes it spicy, and the garlic, coriander, and cumin make up layers of delicious savory goodness. Then add the tomatoes and fresh cilantro, and you end up with a wonderfully complex tomato sauce. We ate this as a side dish with grilled chicken, but it can be paired with any kind of meat.

I first attempted this recipe in a wok, but I found it too small to really cook the zucchini. I quickly transferred it to a larger pot, which worked better. Vegetables cook best when they’re directly touching the pan to access direct heat. This recipe took 30-35 minutes to make, and it was well worth it! Enjoy!

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roasted salmon with dill sauce

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Are you all as ready for Fall as I am? And does anyone other than me think they’ve taken the pumpkin spice thing a little too far? I’m as much a fan of pumpkin spice as the next person, but they have pumpkin spice butter, cream cheese, creamer, lip gloss, TOOTHPASTE (ugh!), Pepto-Bismol, you name it. It’s taking over, and every year, there seems to be more products. But that being said, I am excited to try many pumpkin pie-alternatives for Thanksgiving this year. Stay tuned in the upcoming weeks for pumpkin recipes.

I had my wonderful parents-in-law over for dinner on Saturday and served this delicious salmon recipe with dill sauce. It was a hit! The creamy dill sauce with the tangy Dijon mustard is what makes this sauce delicious. Preparing the salmon is easy—I drizzled a little olive oil and then sprinkled salt and pepper over the fillets and then put them in the oven for 10-12 minutes. They come out tasting like you spent hours in the kitchen instead of minutes! And I baked a couple extra fillets so we’d have leftovers. Happy eating!

Don’t forget to follow the Speckled Spork for more delicious recipes!

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strawberry and spinach salad with honey balsamic vinaigrette

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Hear ye, hear ye! Let it be known that I, Lauren from the Speckled Spork, am posting a salad recipe. I know we’re nearly five months in, and this is my first salad post, but it’s better late than never, as they say. Perhaps with this post I can also dispel the totally unfounded rumor (please disregard all previous posts) that all we eat over here are carbs.  I mean, I ate a carrot just last month. Or was it the month before? Whatever. That’s not important. What is important is that this is a delicious salad and one I’ve been making for years. The tangy Gorgonzola cheese with the sweet strawberries, honey balsamic vinaigrette, and crunchy pecans make this one delicious medley. You can substitute feta cheese if you’re not a Gorgonzola fan. Stay tuned for when I post the next salad recipe in another five months! Bon Appetit!

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basic mac and cheese

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When I was making this recipe, I misread one of the quantities in the ingredients so instead of making 3 cups of elbow pasta, I made three pounds. Three pounds! We have pasta coming out our ears over there. It’s taken over the kitchen, the fridge, and Justin says if it makes its way to the bedroom we’re in real trouble. But, I mean, as far as problems go, having too much pasta on your hands is a good problem to have. I have been making all kinds of mac and cheese recipes, and I’m happy to announce most of them have turned out (stay tuned for future mac and cheese posts).

This week it seems I’ve been on an all-carb diet, and unlike past diets, I have had tremendous success sticking to it. I eat biscuits for breakfast and mac and cheese for lunch and dinner, and then I repeat it. I should probably throw in a salad in there somewhere. I feel I would eat salads more regularly if vegetables tasted more like bacon…or cheese or chocolate. Most days, I try to fit in at least one vegetable serving a day, but I have fallen off the health bandwagon and am eating all the golden mac and cheese I want. In an unrelated note, I have been looking up muumuus on Amazon…

I want to invite you to make the baked cheesy goodness that is this dish. There are a lot of steps to this recipe but they go pretty quickly. This is a basic mac and cheese recipe. If you’d like some spice, add a dash of cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes. You could probably also add Chipotle chile powder; just remember a little goes a long way. Regarding special equipment, this recipe calls for a food processor, but if you don’t have one, you’ll just need to cut up the bread with a knife to make breadcrumbs. Fresh or stale bread can be used. I think the breadcrumbs are a great addition because they give the dish a crunchy texture. Also, you can substitute different cheese combinations if you like. The following cheeses are recommended: Cheddar, plain or herb Jack, fontina, mozzarella, Asiago, provolone, Gruyere, blue cheese, and Comte. If you use Gruyere or blue cheese, keep these to less than one-fourth of the total cheese mix as these cheeses are very strong. Enjoy!

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cheddar and cornmeal biscuits

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Is there some miraculous law of physics that explains how dirty dishes in kitchens seem to constantly multiply? It’s like in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows Part II when Harry, Ron, and Hermione are in the vault at Gringotts, and the cups spontaneously start multiplying, growing until the trio nearly becomes buried in them. I have been cooking up a storm the last few days, and consequently, Justin and I have loaded and unloaded the dishwasher multiple times, but somehow it’s barely made a dent. And now I feel the dishes and I are having a standoff. So far, I’m winning. Though every time I walk into the kitchen, I feel them staring me down. I just want to section off the room with yellow tape, but the kitchen is one room that’s hard to avoid. So I suggested to Justin the only logical solution: the kitchen is uninhabitable and we need to move. He didn’t seem keen on the idea. Maybe cleaning is a small price to pay for awesome deliciousness.

These biscuits certainly fit that description. This recipe came from a cookbook my best friend gave me last year when I got married called, The Newlywed Cookbook. Everything I’ve made out of it has been excellent. These biscuits are reminiscent of the delicious cheesy biscuits served at Red Lobster.  To cut the biscuits, you can use a biscuit cutter or the rim of a drinking glass. You could add ham or bacon to these to make a scrumptious breakfast sandwich. These biscuits also pair well with savory spreads like butter and tomato jam. I would not, however, recommend combining these with fruit jams (as I did in the photo) as the sweet jam tends to overwhelm the cheese, and nothing should ever overwhelm cheese. Happy baking!

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white russian martini

IMG_5469Is it me or does summer seem like a flurry of activity? Justin and I have had something nearly every weekend so far—birthdays, baby showers, wedding showers, weddings, family reunions. At least it’s fun activities! The summer is flying by.

I usually have a back log of recipes to post, but the unusually large amount of flops I’ve made lately have caused my queue to get rather low. You never know what you’re getting into when you try a new recipe. Some of my recent flops include foods I thought would be surefire hits like jalapeno mac and cheese with bacon (sounds like it’d be awesome, right?), a quick coffee cake (I mean, it’s cake. How do you mess up cake?), and odd-tasting manicotti (mentioned in a previous post). It’s not that these recipes were horrible; it’s just that they weren’t good. Going through all the work to try a new recipe that doesn’t turn out or that is just mediocre is so disappointing, but it is also a valuable part of the learning experience. I usually follow recipes exactly on the first try, and if I like how it turns out well enough, I’ll tweak the recipe for next time. I am always thinking of what I might have done differently to get a better turn out.

For this week’s post I perused my liquor cabinet, and there was the Kahlua smiling back at me. Yes, I am unabashedly posting a recipe for the three-ingredient classic martini: the White Russian. This was my drink of choice in college. My college boyfriend even bought me a shirt that said, “I like White Russians,” honoring my affinity for the drink, as well as Sasha Kaun, the large white Russian player we had on the KU basketball team then. You can use any kind of milk for this martini except for skim as skim milks tends to be less creamy and more watery. Enjoy!

Ingredients:

2 ounces vodka

1 ounce Kahlua

1-2 ounces Half and half, heavy cream, or milk

Torani dark chocolate sauce (optional), for garnishing

Directions:

Mix together and stir.

lemon-thyme shortbread cookies

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This was my first attempt at making shortbread cookies, and they turned out great! It was a little unusual working with a chalky dough that is more fragile than the traditional flexible dough, but the end results are well worth the extra effort. I love all shortbread, but the thyme and lemon zest in this recipe really makes it stand out.

This recipe called for some special utensils that I didn’t have, like a pastry blender and a pastry wheel, but I substituted things I had. Instead of a pastry blender, I used a fork to mix in the butter with the dry mixture. I confess it is an arm workout, but it can be done. Using a pastry blender will make your life easier.

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And I didn’t have a pastry wheel so I just used cookie cutters. It was a little difficult trying to remove the cookie cutter without breaking the dough, causing the shapes to be not as well defined as I would have liked, but they still turned out pretty well. And I would recommend cutting the cookies closer together than I did. I left a lot of space between them so I didn’t yield as many cookies as I should have. But all these notes are about presentation. No matter what utensils you use to make these, they will taste delicious!

I took these cookies to work for a mini tea party I threw on Friday afternoon. I love bringing people together, especially over tea and cookies. I even brought some of my great-grandmother’s china to work for the mini party.  Is it just me, or do things just taste better when they’re served on china? Paper plates and utensils just don’t cut it. Happy baking!

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fiery fish tacos with crunchy corn salsa

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My parents came to visit this weekend. On Saturday, we woke up feeling ambitious, so we decided to clean out Justin and I’s junk room that is supposed to be our third bedroom. So, we all rolled up our sleeves, donned our HAZMAT suits, fired up the backhoe, put the finishing touches on our last will and testament, and bravely stepped into the disaster zone. It took the four of us three hours to clear it out, and we emptied two carloads-worth of furniture at a furniture consignment store. But I am proud to announce we now have a functioning third bedroom (anybody have a spare few mattresses?!). You can even walk in there. Whoa!

On the cooking front, I made the worst manicotti of my life Sunday night. Luckily, mom and dad had already headed home and weren’t subjected to it. First off, I forgot to buy mozzarella. And, I mean, if you’re not going to include mozzarella in your Italian dish, why bother? I substituted what I had which was cheddar cheese. It wasn’t quite right.

And then the sauce was a catastrophe. I bought traditional pasta sauce of a certain brand, and I always assumed that all pasta sauces were flavored with Italian seasoning. To me, this traditional sauce tasted like tomato sauce with salt or watered down tomato paste.  Justin said whenever he has used that version of sauce, he usually has to add his own spices. After tasting it, we marched straight to the seasoning rack and loaded it up on basil, oregano, and several other Italian spices. But even then, the dish was just mediocre. What can I say?  When we fail, we fail in spectacular fashion. Good thing I doubled the recipe! Ugh. We’ll be eating manicotti for weeks! Needless to say, the manicotti didn’t make the cut for the blog, but this fish taco recipe definitely did.

I made these fish tacos for my parents this weekend, and they loved them. I have been making these fish tacos for years, and I still get excited when I make them. I love the blackened tilapia and the fresh corn salsa. Jicama is a unique ingredient in this recipe. Jicama is a Mexican potato, but has a light and crispy texture when biting into it that is more reminiscent of biting into an apple than that of a potato. It’s wonderful in this. I also love this recipe because it is “street taco-esque” with the corn tortillas and salsa with fresh ingredients.

I always drizzle Thousand Island dressing over these tacos. Honestly, I’m not even a big Thousand Island fan, but the zesty dressing complements the spicy tacos and fresh salsa to a T.  And per my usual, I doubled the recipe. Happy eating!

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