In the Kitchen: Gooey Peanut Bars

Today I have a simple treat that’s as easy as it is delicious. Three ingredients and 15 minutes is all you need to make these sweet and salty peanut bars.

Ingredients
2 cups coarsely chopped salted peanuts*
14oz caramel squares (about 50 pieces)
1 cup mini marshmallows
*Did you know that if a word such as chopped, diced, sifted, etc comes before the ingredient, you are to measure the ingredient after you prepare it as directed. If it comes after the ingredient, you first measure the ingredient, then prepare it. So in this case, you are measuring out 2 cups of already chopped peanuts, rather than measuring two cups of peanuts and then chopping them, which would read ‘2 cups peanuts, chopped.’

Lightly coat an 8 inch square baking dish with cooking spray. Line the baking dish with parchment paper, letting it hang over two sides, then lightly coat the parchment with the cooking spray. Evenly spread 1 1/4 cup peanuts across the pan.
In a heavy saucepan, combine 1 tablespoon water, the unwrapped caramel squares and the marshmallows. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until the caramels and marshmallows melt and become smooth.
Pour the caramel mixture over the peanuts in the baking dish, then top with the remaining 3/4 cup peanuts, lightly pressing them down into the caramel.
Let cool until solid, about 2 hours. Remove the entire square from the pan using the parchment paper flaps and cut into bars. Store leftovers in a airtight container between layers of parchment or wrap individual bars in professional grade plastic wrap for a delicious grab & go snack!
p.s. The pot you melt the caramels in will be really sticky and the caramel hardens quickly on the sides after you pour it out. You may think that you’ll never get the pan clean, but just fill it with hot water, let it sit in the sink for about 10 minutes and it will all rinse right away!
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In the Kitchen: Hummus

Chances are you fall into one of three categories when it comes to hummus — you love it, you hate it or you’re too freaked out to try it. I know, the consistency can get to some people. That’s why I never loved guacamole, until I made it myself and left it chunky. But hummus, I dig me some hummus. I eat it almost everyday, in fact.

What’s so great about hummus anyway, you ask? I’ll give you three simple reasons, it’ll make you healthy, wealthy and wise. Really, it’s true! Let me break it down…

Healthy: The two main ingredients in hummus, chickpeas and tahini, are both good for you. Chickpeas do not contain any cholesterol or saturated fats and they are rich in protein, making hummus a favorite among vegetarians. Chickpeas are also known to be effective in preventing build up of cholesterol in the blood vessels. Tahini is also high in protein and is an excellent source of calcium.

Wealthy: Ok, so it won’t technically make you money, but it will save you money! Buying hummus at a grocery store can add up quickly, but if you make it yourself using dried beans and fresh ingredients, it’s insanely inexpensive!
Wise: Two more ingredients found in most hummus recipes are garlic and lemon juice. Both are filled with antioxidants that reduce stress in the body. They also work to improve immune functions and fight off bacteria and viruses. Hummus contains plenty of Omega 3 fatty acids, which are great for improving intelligence and maintaining a healthy heart. On top of that, it also has iron, vitamin B6, manganese, copper, folic acid and amino acids that can promote good quality sleep and uplift one’s mood.
Ready to give it a try? Here’s the recipe…
Ingredients
15 oz chickpeas (garbanzo beans), cooked & chilled*
1/3 cup tahini (ground sesame paste)**
4 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
3 large cloves of garlic, peeled
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cayenne pepper
1/2 cup water
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil (soybean or canola will work, too)
You’ll also need a large food processor to make this. And by large I don’t mean gigantic, I just mean bigger than those mini cuisinart choppers. I imagine you can also use an immersion blender or Vitamix, if you have one. In fact, the Vitamix would probably work best of all!
*I generally always cook with dried beans. Aside from being super cheap, I like that they are naked — no added salt or any other funny business. You can find dried chickpeas at most grocery stores and will pay about $1 for a one pound bag, which will make you about two batches of hummus.
**You may be wondering what tahini is and where the heck you can find it. This is the only ingredient you may have trouble locating. You probably won’t find it at most local grocery stores, though you should be able to find it at any whole foods or natural grocer. You can also find it at a mediterranean market, which is where I purchase mine. It looks like natural peanut butter, with the separated oil sitting on top. Just be sure to stir up it really well before using it.

If you are using dried beans, soak and cook them according to the package directions, then weigh out 15 oz. I’m kind of a nut about weighing food and a little kitchen scale is really a very useful tool. When I’m trying a new recipe or baking something precise, weighing helps you get exact amounts or help you judge amounts that you can later eyeball. I meant to measure 15 oz chickpeas in cups for those without a scale, but I forgot, so I’m sorry! I’ll update the post next time I make a batch (which will be soon, Im sure).
If you are in a hurry, just can’t deal with dried beans or can’t find them, you can use canned beans. Just be sure to drain and rinse them well before using. I’ve never weighed a 15 oz can after it was drained and rinsed, but it should be close enough to 15 oz to do the trick.
A couple things to note for those using dried beans. I always soak them overnight, as opposed to a quick soak method, and I also add a little baking soda to both the soaking and the cooking water. It allows the water to penetrate the chickpeas more easily, which reduces the cooking time and produces a better hummus. I also find that chilling the cooked beans, as opposed to pureeing them warm, makes a big difference in the creaminess of the finished product.
Another element that affects this is the chickpea skins. Did you just imagine yourself sitting around peeling popping hundreds of chickpeas out of their skins just pop into your head? Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about. It takes a little time and patience, but the result is worth the effort. After cooking the soaked beans, chill them until cold and the skins will just pop right off most when you squeeze between your fingers. This is not a mandatory step, just one that creates a smoother, richer and better tasting hummus.
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I’ll continue now by saying this is one of those flexible recipes. Aside from the chickpeas and tahini, the other ingredients can be adjusted to suit your personal taste and texture preferences. And really, even the tahini is adjustable. A little more will give you a little creamier result, but also more of a sesame taste. Adding additional lemon juice will help balance this out.
I’ll tell you that I like my hummus pretty middle of the road when it comes to flavors. I’m not a huge fan of garlic, I don’t love it too lemony and I definitely don’t love spicy foods. Perfecting hummus to your taste preferences is kind of an art. The measurements I provided here are how I love it, but they can all be adjusted. If this is your first time making hummus, I suggest you stick with the recipe and then add more or less of any seasonings to suit your taste. Other spices you can include or swap out for the cayenne are cumin, coriander and paprika. There’s lots of flexibility!
Start by blending the chickpeas, tahini, lemon juice, oil, garlic, salt and cayenne pepper in the food processor until well mixed, but not entirely smooth.
Next add the water and blend until smooth. If you’d like it thinner, you can add more water. This is also when you can give it a taste and decide if you’d like more lemon or other spices.
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You can get creative and add other flavors when pureeing, such as hot sauce, green onions or fresh herbs like parsley. Pine nuts and pureed roasted red peppers are also popular additions to hummus. You can buy jars of roasted red peppers packed in oil at most grocery stores. Simply drain the oil, reserving it, and puree the peppers in a food processor or blender until smooth, adding oil as needed/desired. If you want to make your own (which I recommend!), quarter red peppers, discarding seeds and stems, and place them skin side up on a baking dish lined with foil. Place them under the broiler until the skins begin to blister and peel. Remove them from the oven and wrap them in the foil or seal them in a zip top bag. Once cool, the skins will peel off easily leaving you with roasted red pepper flesh which you can then puree (add your favorite oil when processing if needed).
However you like it, humus is a delicious and versatile snack that is loaded with nutrients. Serve it as a dip with pita, flatbread, crackers or veggies such as sliced cucumbers, carrots and baby romaine or bok choy leaves. It’s also delicious as a spread on sandwiches and wraps or for topping a salad.
If I’ve inspired you to try hummus for the first time, I’d love to hear about it! Alternatively, if I’ve inspired you to make it homemade for the first time, I’d love to hear about that, too. If you’re still scared of it, well, better luck next time.
And find more easy and delicious recipes here.

In the Kitchen: Cinco de Mayo!

It’s Cinco de Mayo! Well, actually it’s cuatro de mayo, but this way you’ll have time to hit up the market and be ready to prepare some delicious treats for tomorrows celebration! Today I have three easy and tasty appetizers or side dishes that you can enjoy not only on Cinco de Mayo, but all year long.
Today’s recipes use three types of peppers, so I’ll begin with a little lesson on chilies. You can find these varieties at most grocery stores with a decent produce section and can certainly find them, plus many many more, at any local market, but if they aren’t labeled properly, it can be hard to tell what you’re buying. Poblanos are large, often bigger than your hand, and have a dark green coloring to them. They rate mildly on the Scoville scale, falling just below jalapenos.

Anaheim peppers are long and skinny, often the length of your hand or so, and have a bright, yellowy green color. Most rate equal to poblanos on the scoville scale, though some rate above, and I find them to be spicier than most poblanos.
Jalapenos are small and have a dark green color to them. They still fall pretty low on the scoville scale in spiciness, under cayenne and serrano, but will add a good amount of kick to any dish. Later in the post I’ll show you how to roast and peel peppers, which is a common step needed for many recipes of all kinds.
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FRESH MANGO SALSA

First up in our fiesta is a delicious Mango Salsa. I’ll admit, I’ve never been into the fruit salsa kick, but I’m growing by leaps and bounds in my culinary adventures and found this to be exceptionally delicious. It has the perfect blend of sweet and savory and tastes remarkably refreshing. While mango is a very common ingredient for salsa, you can substitute other fruits for the base of this recipe including papaya, pineapple, peaches or plums.
Ingredients
1-1/2 cups chopped, peeled mango (or fruit of choice)
3/4 cup chopped red sweet pepper
1/4 cup thinly sliced green onions (about 2 stalks)
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons lime juice
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh Anaheim pepper (can also substitute jalapeno or serrano, use 1-2 peppers)

In a medium mixing bowl stir together all ingredients. Cover and chill at least 2 hours before serving to let the flavors infuse!

This salsa is great with chips or fresh vegetables and can also be used as a condiment for tacos, quesadillas, burgers, steaks, chicken, or fish.
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STRAWBERRY AVOCADO SALSA

Here’s another fruit salsa that has a slightly sweeter taste to it accented with the richness of avocado, the crunch of cucumber and the spice of jalapeno.
Ingredients
1 cup strawberries, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup avocado, seeded, peeled, chopped
1/2 cup cucumber, coarsely chopped, seeded
2 – 3 teaspoons honey (start with 2 tsp, add more if desired)
1/2 teaspoon lime peel, finely shredded
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 tablespoon jalapeno pepper, seeded, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon coarse black pepper

I’ll start by showing you the easiest way to cut and peel an avocado. If you’re not used to working with them, they can be confusing and slippery at first, or maybe it was just me…
Using a sharp knife, carefully cut lengthwise around the avocado until you hit the pit. Using two hands, twist the two halfs of the avocado in opposite directions and separate. Using a spoon, separate the meat for the skin, it peels away very easily leaving you with a nice piece that you can then chop up.
To make the salsa, combine all ingredients in a medium bowl. Cover and chill for 2 to 24 hours. Serve with chips or as a condiment for grilled chicken, fish or pork.
Lotus bowl and lilypad plate by Whitney Smith
Before I move onto the last recipe, let’s talk chips. There are about 12 million varieties available these days and everyone has their favorites. Whether you like them white, gold or blue or flavored with lime and salt, many people believe they are healthier than your standard potato chip, but you have to be careful with your choices if you’re trying to be health conscious. Read the labels and look for products made with natural ingredients that have a low sodium content or are salt free. A little salt or flavor won’t kill you, of course, but when you make delicious, flavorful salsas like the two above, keep the delivery vehicle simple.
Here are my recommendations for the two recipes above. I love the Frontera Lime + Sea Salt with the Strawberry Salsa and the Garden of Eatin’ Black Bean with the Mango Salsa. They each accent the flavors nicely and happen to be healthy choices while still tasting great. I’m a big fan of both of these brands in general, all flavors.

The Garden of Eatin’ no salt added Blue Chips are my tortilla chip staple. Some may find them bland, but I think they are quite yummy for being salt free. They don’t work well with everything but I especially love them on homemade guacamole.

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QUESO FUNDIDO WITH CORNBREAD DIPPERS

Last but not least I have a delicious, hot Queso Fundido that is sure to please everyone. Who doesn’t love dipping things in hot cheese? As with salsa, there are a million and one ways to make Queso Fundido, but this is how I like it – without sausage, with crunchy jicama and just the right amount of spice.

Ingredients
2 fresh roasted poblano peppers
1 small fresh roasted red sweet pepper
12 ounces Monterey Jack or Pepper Jack cheese
2 tablespoons flour
1/3 cup finely chopped onion
1 tablespoon butter or margarine
3/4 cup half-and-half or light cream
1/3 cup finely chopped jicama
When a recipe calls for fresh roasted peppers or says to roast, skin and peel peppers, this is how you do it. It’s really quick and easy and makes the peppers smell and taste just delicious.

Start by quartering the peppers, discarding the seeds and cutting away any membrane inside. Lay them flat, skin side up, on a foil lined baking sheet. Broil on low for about 5 minutes until all the skin blisters and browns.

Remove them from the oven and wrap them in the foil. Let stand for about 15 minutes then open the foil and let them cool for a couple minutes.

You’ll now be able to easily peel away the skin and chop up your peppers! For this recipe, you will do the same thing with the sweet red pepper. You can do them all at the same time or separately, then chop them coarsely.
If you read the ingredients for this recipe and said, what the heck is jicama? You’re probably not alone. This mystery ingredient is actually in the legume family and can also be referred to as the mexican potato, yam bean or chinese turnip. It’s increasing in popularity and if you’re a big veggie or salad eater, it’s about to become your best friend.
I would personally describe it as a cross between a potato and an apple. There is no pit or core, so you can use the whole thing and the meat has the same texture and consistency of an apple. It is delicious eaten raw alone or in salads and has a semi-sweet flavor and light crunch to it. It’s high in vitamin C, low in sodium and has no fat, and one cup has only 45 calories.
You can find it at more and more grocery stores and usually at any farmers market.

For this recipe, you will chop it semi coarsely. You’ll want some chew in your dip, but not huge chunks. Next chop the onion finely, you will saute it later.

I use a mix of monterey jack and pepper jack cheese, just for a little extra kick. Shred it and toss with the flour in a bowl.

Saute the onions in a medium saucepan with butter until tender. Stir in the half and half or cream and then begin adding the cheese, a little at a time, stirring until melted over medium-low heat.
Once all the cheese is melted, add the chopped peppers and jicama and stir until heated through. Serve immediately or transfer to a fondue pot and keep warm for up to 2 hours.
If you’re a meat eater, add 1/4 lb cooked, crumbled chorizo when you add the peppers.
This recipe is delicious with tortilla chips, cubes of bread, even veggies or meat, but I especially love it with crunchy sticks of cornbread.
To make the cornbread dippers, prepare a batch of your favorite cornbread and cook it in a 8″ or 9″ square pan according to the directions. I always recommend making cornbread from scratch, it’s amazing what they sneak in those mixes. It’s easy and you can control the flavor by adding your preferred amount of salt or sugar, but I find a less sweet cornbread is best for this recipe. I usually use a coarse, stone ground cornmeal but for this I recommend a finely ground cornmeal, or it will be too crumbly.
When the cornbread is done cooking, place on a wire rack and cool completely. Using a long serrated knife, cut the bread into 1/2 lengths, then into halves or thirds to create the dippers. Yes, it will crumble a bit and they won’t be perfect, but it doesn’t matter!
Place them in a single layer on a large, ungreased baking sheet and cook for 5 minutes at 400°. Flip them over and cook for another 5 minutes. Let them cool and store in an airtight container for up to 4 days. Great part is you can make these ahead of time!
You can store any leftover dip in an airtight container in the fridge and reheat on the stove or in the microwave as needed, but it’s much creamier and delicious when enjoyed fresh.

I hope you give one of these recipes a try and let me know what you think – Feliz Cinco de Mayo!

In the Kitchen: Guacamole

Guacamole! I’ll admit I’ve never liked the stuff, but it sure is fun to say, don’t ya think? Say it again… guacamole! Ok, now that we’ve gotten that out the way, why am I making it if I don’t like it? Well, I’m all for second chances, when it comes to food at least, and guess what? I liked it! Turns out most things are much more delicious when you make them from scratch with yummy, fresh ingredients. Who knew? 😉
This recipe has minimal, basic ingredients and is really easy to make — doesn’t get much better than that, right? Read on for the how-to and find a printable recipe card at the end of the post.
Ingredients:
2 ripe avocados (they should be firm, but yield to gentle pressure)
juice of half a lime
3 tablespoons red onion, finely diced
3 tablespoons fresh cilantro, stemmed and chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
dash freshly ground pepper

Peel, pit and coarsely chop the avocados.

Add the lime juice, diced red onions, cilantro, salt and pepper.
Mix gently with a fork and (about to get technical here) smush to your chunkiness liking. You can also puree in a food processor if you like it smooth. Optionally, add two tablespoons fresh chopped tomatoes.

Serve immediately or place in an airtight container and chill in the fridge. Delicious with chips or on your favorite entrees, like these Hawaiian Tacos. Enjoy!

And find more easy and delicious recipes here.

In the Kitchen: Havarti Cheesecake Appetizer

I’ve been doing a lot of cooking and not as much Crafting lately, but I promise that will change soon! With Superbowl Sunday coming up, I just had to share this delicious appetizer that I’ll be taking to the party we are attending. It’s easy, it makes a ton and it’s a crowd pleaser. You will find a link to a printable recipe card at the end of this post.

Ingredients

Cheesecake:
three 8 oz packages of cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
3 eggs
6 oz Havarti cheese, shredded
1/2 cup sun dried tomatoes (packed in oil), sliced
1 tbsp liquid from sun dried tomatoes
8 green onions, sliced
Crust:
1 1/4 cup (about 28) crushed butter crackers (Ritz)
3 tbsp butter or margarine
To make the crust, mix crumbs and butter until well blended. Press evenly into the bottom of a 10″ spring form pan. Bake about 10 min at 375° until golden brown. Set aside and reduce oven heat to 325°.
In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese until smooth. Add whipping cream, eggs and tomato liquid. Beat until creamy. Add havarti cheese, tomatoes and onion and stir until blended.
Spoon evenly over crust and bake 40-45 minutes or until center is set. Run knife around edges to loosen cheesecake. Cool completely at room temperature, cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
Serve with crackers and enjoy! By the way, when I said this makes a ton, I mean it! I made this for a party Christmas and had enough left for New Years plus more leftovers! But it stores well in the fridge and we ate it for over two weeks.

And find more easy and delicious recipes here.

In the Kitchen: Spicy Corn Dip

Today’s recipe is so easy I don’t even need how-to photos, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t delicious! This cool and refreshing dip is perfect for a summer party or just to have on hand for snacking. Jalapenos and green onions give it a little kick but you can easily customize it to your own tastes. You will find a printable recipe card at the end of this post.

Prep Time: 10 min | Serves about 32
Ingredients:
8 oz sour cream (I use fat free)
1 cup mayonnaise (I use low fat)
2 cans (11-15 oz) mexican style corn (drained)
4 green onions, finely chopped
3 jalapeno peppers, seeded and minced
6 oz can diced green chilies
1 1/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese
Mix all ingredients in a medium bowl and chill for about 30 minutes before serving. Garnish with extra shredded cheddar, green onions or even some fresh cilantro and serve with tortilla chips – enjoy!

You can find more easy and delicious recipes here.