Ranch dip for veggies

Today I'm sharing my new finding from Penzeys Spice Shop. Penzeys is a fun place to visit. The spice shop has locations throughout the country and you'll find most items your kitchen spice pantry needs here. There are sweet and savory spices, herb blends, and a variety of salts and peppers.

The past few times I had gone into Penzeys, which has a location in Raleigh's Cameron Village, the Buttermilk Ranch dressing base caught my eye. It's described as:
"Ranch style salad dressing is lower in fat than most, as it uses buttermilk for flavor and body. Also excellent for fresh vegetable dip, or sprinkled on baked chicken or fish, 1-2 tsp. per lb. To make 1 cup dressing, mix 1 TB. seasoning in 1 TB. water, let stand five minutes, then whisk with1/2 cup buttermilk and 1/2 cup mayonnaise. For a lower calorie version use low-fat mayonnaise, or up the proportion of buttermilk, which will make the dressing thinner, but equally tasty. Ranch dressing should be refrigerated, check the freshness date on the buttermilk carton, and write it on the dressing bottle.
Hand-mixed from: salt, bell peppers, garlic, onion, sugar, black pepper, parsley, thyme and basil."

We don't use a whole lot of Ranch spice mix but whenever we're hosting a party and will have a veggie platter with dip I take the shortcut and mix sour cream with a Hidden Valley Ranch packet. The Penzeys ingredient list for the Buttermilk Ranch dressing base is much more appealing than the previous packet I had been purchasing. I recognize everything from the list and can pronounce everything as well. With the Penzeys mix in a bottle I can also use as much or as little as I need and keep the rest without wasting it.

A few weeks after I had purchased the Buttermilk Ranch mix Patrick and I were wanting an afternoon snack. I found some leftover snap peas in the refrigerator and knew they would be wonderful served next to a light Ranch dip. I mixed a 1:1 blend of sour cream and yogurt before adding to the Buttermilk Ranch mix to taste. It was delicious! This is a fun addition to the pantry and I recommend it!

Pork Lo Mein

Patrick and I make the majority of our Asian noodle dishes with soba noodles. After coming across this recipe for lo mein I decided to swap out our soba noodles and try something new instead. The lo mein noodles don't pack quite the nutritious pack that soba noodles so but we really liked them so I imagine they'll be making more appearances in the future. This lo mein recipe calls for repurposing leftover pork tenderloin. I was starting the dish from scratch though and needed to incorporate cooking the pork into the recipe. I followed the meat preparation from one of our favorite stir fry dishes (on the blog here). I've added those steps below.

Pork Lo Mein inspiration from Martha Stewart
   Serves 4
3/4 pound lo mein noodles or spaghetti
4 tsp vegetable oil
9 garlic cloves, minced
2 tbsp minced peeled fresh ginger (from a 3-inch piece)
1/2 pound cremini or button mushrooms, trimmed and thinly sliced
1 red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and thinly sliced
6 oz snow peas, trimmed and thinly sliced lengthwise
Reserved pork tenderloin, cut into thin strips*
3 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp toasted sesame oil
*May use pork tenderloin, thinly sliced (marinated in soy sauce, sherry, and water then tossed with sesame oil, cornstarch, and flour)

   Prep pork tenderloin. Slice thin and then marinate 20 minutes to an hour in 1/4 cup soy sauce, 1/4 cup sherry, and 1 cup water. Drain the pork, then toss in a mixture of 2 tbsp sesame oil, 1 tbsp cornstarch, and 1 tbsp flour.
   Cook noodles, according to package instructions; drain.
   In a large skillet or wok, heat 3 teaspoons vegetable oil over medium-high. Cook half the pork for 1 minute on one side and flip to finish (about 1 more minute). Remove and repeat with other half. Empty the pan and if needed add more oil and then continue by adding garlic and ginger and cook, stirring, until fragrant and golden, about 1 minute. Add 1 teaspoon vegetable oil and mushrooms and cook, stirring constantly, until beginning to soften, 4 minutes. Add bell pepper and cook until crisp-tender, 3 minutes. Add snow peas and cook until crisp and bright green, 2 minutes. Add noodles, pork, and soy sauce and cook, stirring constantly, until noodles are coated with sauce and pork is warmed through, 2 minutes. Drizzle with sesame oil before serving.

Meal Plan Monday Post

The meal plan is a little late this morning - I'm putting it together on Monday morning rather than Sunday evening but (!) this week there are lots of pictures. Spring food is so much more delightful than winter food. A lot of the recipes I linked to were used as inspiration for many of these meals so I'll do my best to get all of these recipes featured on the blog soon with details of what we did.

In other fun news Patrick's mother was visiting this weekend. We had a nice, relaxing weekend doing fun Durham things and chatting all things future Baby Eibl!

Meal Plan for Monday April 18 - Sunday April 24

Monday - Carrot-beet slaw with spinach, cod with lemon butter and capers
Tuesday - Cheesy quinoa casserole with mushrooms and white beans
Wednesday - Pork braise with arugula and orzo
Thursday - Brussels salads with lots of toppings
Friday - Mahi mahi with basil butter, sweet potato casserole, kale salad
Saturday - Breakfast Gulghupf bread and strawberry refrigerator jam
   Lunch Parker & Otis before DPAC matinee
   Dinner Tortellini with asparagus and goat cheese
Sunday - Brunch Frittata, pastry assortment, fruit
   Dinner Fairview Dining Room

Meal Plan Monday Post

The meal plan is holding up the blog! I'm hoping to get a few more posts published this week. Hopefully it'll be a bit easier to do considering that as of this weekend everything downstairs is painted!! Actually everything but the office / bedroom is painted!! Painting and pregnancy is quite exhausting but we're making lots of progress. Our CSA started back this past week and that was particularly exciting as well. We got some red leafed lettuce, beets, green onions, eggs, and some other goodies.

Meal Plan for Monday April 11 - Sunday April 17

Monday - Chicken Parmesan meatloaf, kale salad, roasted potatoes
Tuesday - Pasta peperonata
Wednesday - Leftovers
Thursday - Margherita calzone
Friday - Dinner with friends
Saturday - Breakfast French toast
   Lunch out in downtown Durham; ate at Blue Note Grill
   Dinner Chef's salad
Sunday - Breakfast Chorizo egg bake
   Dinner Avocado-tuna salad and beet carrot slaw

Spring Jelly Bean Pregnancy Announcement

In case you haven't heard the news Patrick and I were excited to announce our pregnancy last week! We're sharing the details here today with how we revealed the news to our immediate family.

After Patrick and I had a positive pregnancy test and a few doctor visits we realized that Easter was a few weeks away and that would be the perfect opportunity to break the news. Easter also happened to fall right along the end of the first trimester and at the point we knew we'd feel comfortable revealing our secret. With this in mind I googled "spring pregnancy announcements" and was hit with a lot of Easter egg, bunny, baby chick, and jelly bean inspiration. I decided to have the jelly bean as the main theme with an egg and a baby chick making an appearance.

Below is the assembled announcement. It contained the message, a pack of jelly beans, and a more official announcement in a card. If you were a family member that we were spending Easter with then your announcement was tucked into an Easter basket. Otherwise the announcement was bundled up and put into a mailer to be sent to unsuspecting family members. If you were a lucky family member that received a basket then you received strict instructions not to tell the secret for a whole week to ensure that everyone was able to open their package!

I found the cutest felt Easter eggs at Target and knew they would be a perfect addition to the announcement! After I decided on the jelly bean theme I didn't have a firm vision for how the announcement would look. It came together over a month or so as I kept seeing things I liked. With the felt egg as my original purchase I began to add to the announcement with that in mind. The felt egg would contain a baby chicken with the phrase "We're egg*cited to say... A jelly bean is on the way!" When you first saw the egg and baby chicken only "We're egg*cited to say..." would be visible and you'd see the fun message when you pulled the chick out of the egg! Or maybe you'd just think you were getting some jelly beans. Finding personalized Jelly Belly jelly beans was a lot harder than I thought but eventually I snagged some and at that point knew the announcement would be a hit! In case someone thought they were just getting a bag of jelly beans we put an official "Baby Eibl Expected October 2016" on a card and wrote a personalized note. And finally the basket was put together with colored grass and a polka dot bow. 

If I thought finding Jelly Belly jelly beans was tough then I was really surprised when I couldn't find any gender neutral stickers! My original idea was to put some sort of generic baby stickers on the card like a bottle or stroller but everything was overwhelmingly blue, pink, or said "girl / boy". So on the front of the card I placed a felt egg sticker that I found in the Easter section which worked well with the other felt egg and then I placed a nursery blocks clip art piece on the announcement. 

And there you have it! Our spring jelly bean pregnancy announcement. 
We are at fourteen weeks and looking forward to Baby Eibl's arrival. 

Meal Plan Monday Post

Oh man, last week was a blog bust. We were tied up with painting the kitchen and writing posts just wasn't a priority. If you're curious the kitchen looked like this the majority of the week:

On Wednesday we were finished with the painting and were able to clean up the paint supplies and move the furniture back into place. This left us with a somewhat functioning kitchen (or at least one where we could easily open the fridge). However we hadn't painted the pantry shelves so the pantry supplies remained on the dining room table for the rest of the week and are actually still there now. Like so: 

As you might can imagine the majority of our meals this past week were eaten out because we weren't able to cook. On Wednesday since the furniture was back in place we were able to prepare a simple baked fish filet and asparagus (both cooked in the oven at the same time) and microwaved a sweet potato. That didn't require much prep or cleanup! 

Patrick was out of town over the weekend for a bachelor party so I asked my mom to come keep me company. Well she kept me company and somehow got our household back in order! She scrubbed the kitchen counters, vacuumed, steam mopped, scraped paint off those kitchen windows, and even painted our pantry shelves so we can reassemble the pantry this week! Since the kitchen still wasn't up to par we ate out some but also managed a few meals in the kitchen. 

Our CSA starts back this week and even though the pantry is still in limbo we'll be back to cooking this week! Here's what we did manage to scrape together this past week:

Meal Plan for Monday April 4 - Sunday April 10

Monday & Tuesday - out
Wednesday - Lemon pepper salmon, roasted asparagus, sweet potato
Thursday - Scrambled eggs and fruit for breakfast
   For dinner Mom and I walked to an Italian restaurant at the edge of the neighborhood
Friday - Breakfast Cinnamon rolls from the freezer and fruit
   Dinner Spaghetti and sauteed mushrooms with garlic
Saturday - Breakfast Leftover cinnamon rolls and more fruit
   Dinner Grilled eggplant sandwich, arugula, roasted sweet potato
Sunday - Breakfast Breakfast croissant sandwich
   Dinner Thai turkey chili

Meal Plan Monday Post

It was an interesting week for us on the meal plan front! We had two evenings where we each had different plans to meet friends out. So we made sure to cook the rest of our meals at home with the one exception of picking up Rise donuts on Saturday morning. The donuts were a necessity to fuel us for a weekend of painting! We're knocking one more room off the list - the kitchen! Needless to say having this room out of commission really cramps our living style. Our original plan was to pick up some takeout over the weekend but one of the two meals eaten out was unplanned! I made us a pasta casserole on Friday night that we could warm up throughout the painting adventure.

Meal Plan for Monday March 28 - Sunday April 3

Monday - Corn chowder with scallops
Tuesday - Ham pasta with veggies
Wednesday - Junior League social outing
Thursday - Met friends for dinner
Friday - Asian pork with soba noodles
Saturday - Breakfast of champions! Oatmeal, sausage patties, donuts, banana
   Lunch Leftovers
   Dinner Cheesy pumpkin sauce with tortellini and chicken
Sunday - Breakfast of champions again! 
   Lunch Hearty salads
   Dinner Leftovers

It's Always Caturday
 Dupree taking a comfy nap

In kitty news, both boys needed to make an unscheduled trip to the vet. Nacho was showing signs of a tapeworm so he was dewormed (and Dupree too as a precaution). Then Dupree had a skin irritation that the vet says is a manifestation of allergies. He's on an antibiotic and steroid for the next two weeks to clear everything up. Fortunately for Nacho this was just a one time event but we're afraid Dupree will always suffer from the allergies and we'll have to keep on an eye on him. There's nothing preventative we can do. We had noticed some minor skin irritations before so they could be seasonal and will pass shortly. He came home from the vet and took a nap (above); the skin irritations don't seem to bother him so that's good. He's behaving like his energetic, cuddly self! Also we celebrated their second birthday last week! We are so happy to have them as family members - we couldn't imagine living without our kitties these days.

Homemade Granola

Today's post is no joke - I finally decided to tackle homemade granola! I had put it off for quite some time because there seemed to be a research learning curve I needed to tackle. When I start on new projects like these I try to find someone who does it so I can ask them questions and get some insider tips. Well I couldn't find anyone who made homemade granola so that led to many Internet tabs being open as I began my quest for figuring out how to make homemade granola.

As you might can imagine all of those open tabs had websites that were telling me different things. So this tells me that I really can't go wrong since most of the recipes / instructions were similar. I did, however, find this Buzzfeed article "How to make the best granola ever" most helpful. It is what I chose to reference for making our homemade granola. I liked it because it shares a template for how to make granola and then you can customize it however you want. For example, the recipe calls for grains and nuts but gives you several different options for what kind of grains and nuts to use. They share this idea in the article: Bottom line: All granolas are variations on the same simple formula. Definitely hop over to Buzzfeed if you're interested in making your own granola!

Here's my picture shortcut for the granola and below is the condensed Buzzfeed information. I have this printed and grab it whenever I'm making a batch.

How To Make The Best Granola Ever Source: Buzzfeed

With approximate amounts per batch, but feel free to tweak.
What we primarily use is noted below each ingredient.

GRAIN — 3 cups
   Plain rolled oats; use the “old-fashioned” kind, not instant or quick-cooking. Also consider: other rolled/flaked grains (rye, barley, etc); a couple tablespoons of (uncooked) quinoa, which bakes up nice and crunchy;a tablespoon or two of wheat germ or wheat bran, which are very good for you and will help bind the granola together.
   *We primarily use old fashioned oats.
NUTS — 1 to 1 1/2 cups
   The pecan may be the most perfect nut for any and all granola. Also consider: almonds, pistachios, hazelnuts, or walnuts. If you have raw nuts, mix them in with everything else and bake normally. If you have nuts that are already roasted, wait until after baking and add them along with the dried fruit.
   *We use either raw pecans or almonds and add them in before baking; then sometimes we'll add pistachios after the baking.
SWEETENER — 1/2 to 3/4 cup
   Use a liquid sweetener (maple syrup, honey, agave or brown rice syrup). Maple syrup is much less globby than honey, thus easier to mix in. Combining the syrup with a little brown sugar can add a nice caramelized, crackly edge.
   *We prefer honey; I tried a batch with maple syrup and we didn't like it as much.
OIL — 1/4 to 1/2 cup
   Oil is important because it encourages the granola to get delightfully crispy-crunchy, keeps it from turning into a sticky mess, and makes it generally more delicious (fat carries flavor). Neutral oils like canola or grapeseed are a safe bet, but here’s a better idea: use good extra-virgin olive oil. It gives the granola a slightly bitter and very excellent complexity. Melted coconut oil is also a fun way to add flavor.
   *We use extra virgin olive oil
SALT — 1 tsp kosher or 3/4 tsp regular

Use if you like, skip if you don’t.
SEEDS — 1 to 2 cups
   Mix in raw seeds with grains and nuts and they’ll toast while baking. Also consider: pumpkin seeds, sunflower, flax, millet, and sesame seeds.
   *Sometimes we add pumpkin seeds.
COCONUT — 1 cup
   Big unsweetened coconut flakes or “chips” will toast nicely without burning.
   *We're not big coconut fans so we don't add this.
DRIED FRUIT — 1 cup (add after baking)
   The most important thing to remember if you’re adding dried fruit to granola is that you should NOT mix it in with the other ingredients until AFTER baking. Bigger fruits you should slice/chop before adding: dried apricots, dried figs, dried apples, dried pineapple, dried mango. Little fruits you can throw in as-is: raisins or golden raisins, craisins, dried cherries, dried blueberries. Citrus zest is also nice - try lemon, orange, or grapefruit.
   *We typically add dried cranberries but have also experimented with dried blueberries.
SPICES — 1 tsp.
   Cinnamon is pretty standard. Nutmeg and ginger are very nice too.
   *We've experimented the most with spices; I try to complement whatever other ingredients I'm using.
CHOCOLATE - 1/4 cup cocoa and/or 1 cup chips
   Option 1: Add 1/4 cup cocoa powder along with other dry ingredients before baking.
   Option 2: Add 1 cup chocolate chips AFTER granola has been baked and is cool, unless you want them to melt into globs.
   *We added chocolate chips to one batch and they were really tasty.
EGG WHITE — 1 egg white (about 2 Tbsp.)
   If you want to feel more virtuous about your granola, lightly beat one egg white until it’s foamy, and mix it in as a replacement for some of the oil (2-4 Tbsp). This will help bind the granola together and make it crispy.
   *We have not tried this.

   Measure grain, nuts, seeds, salt, and spices into a large bowl. *I add them directly to my baking pan to save myself a bowl to wash.
   Add sweeteners, oil, and egg white (if using). *I mix them together in a measuring cup then add to the pan.
   Stir, stir, stir.
   Spread out on a large rimmed baking sheet. You can line the sheet with parchment paper to guarantee zero sticking (helpful if you’re using less oil), or not worry about it.
   Bake at 300 degrees for 30-45 minutes, giving it a stir after about 20 minutes. All ovens are different, so check yours at the earlier end of the time range to see how brown it is, and keep a nose out to make sure it’s not burning. Keep in mind that it won’t be crunchy even when it’s done baking; the granola will set and harden as it cools. *I usually don't keep it in the full 45 minutes.
   Stop when the granola looks toasty brown and smells incredible.
   Let the granola cool completely in the pan, then store in an airtight container. *See below for clusters; we don't like big chunks / clusters so I give the granola a stir about 5-10 minutes after it's come out of the oven.

If you want big chunks/clusters of granola for snacking…
1) Definitely use egg white. Whisk in a small bowl until it’s foamy, then add to the granola mixture. Pat the granola into an even layer on a baking sheet.
2) Do NOT stir the granola while baking it. Just bake normally (45+ min at 300 degrees), let it cool completely in the pan, and then break into whatever size chunks you fancy.

We have fun experimenting with various granolas!

Patrick had really gotten into eating granola but I guess I was the one who wanted to venture into making homemade granola so that it could be a bit more cost effective and we could control what went into it. Here's Patrick's thoughts on the granola: "I was really surprised with how much better the homemade granola was than the various store-bought brands we had tried. I keep a jar at my desk to snack on when I get hungry in the late afternoon, and it's very filling and delicious (with some nutrition too!)." 

As Patrick mentioned he primarily snacks on his granola at work. I like adding the granola to a dollop of yogurt and have it at breakfast. Or we'll do this during the weekend as an afternoon snack too. Check out some of the flavors we've tried; they all use old fashioned oats and extra virgin olive oil so the nuts, sweeteners, and spices are what I changed. 

Nuts: Pecans (added before cooking)
Dried fruit: Blueberries
Sweetener: Maple syrup
Spices: Cinnamon
Thoughts: The maple syrup is stickier than the honey and makes the granola a bit more clustery than we like.

Nuts: Almonds (before cooking)
Dried fruit: No fruit, added mini chocolate chips
Sweetener: Honey
Spices: Cinnamon
Thoughts: This one is dangerously addicting but a bit on the sweet side.

Nuts: Almonds (before cooking, pistachios after cooking)
Dried fruit: Cranberries
Sweetener: Honey
Spices: Nutmeg and ginger
Thoughts: This is a bit more savory with the extra nuts and lack of cinnamon. Patrick requests this one the most.

If you're a granola eater I promise trying a homemade batch will be easier than you think!