Simple Pleasures: Roasted Red Pepper Hummus

Thrifty Travel Mama Roasted Red Pepper HummusOne of the things I miss the most about living in America is the snack food.  The options here in Germany are highly unimaginative and (mostly) unappealing.  There are only so many bags of paprika potato chips and cans of peanuts that one can eat, and that’s about as good as it gets outside the bread-and-sausage box.

I’ve only found a few types of crackers, and the only place I’ve seen (plain) hummus is real,-.  Want some pita chips with that hummus?  Forget about it.  One can’t even find pitas but once in a blue moon (and they’re rather gross – thick and reeking of preservatives).

So, what’s an expat girl to do?  Why, make her own dang snack foods of course… and then share the recipes with you.

Thrifty Travel Mama Roasted Red Pepper Hummus

Red pepper, garlic, and lemon – the beginnings of delicious hummus.

My absolute favorite hummus in the whole entire big wide world is Sabra Roasted Red Pepper.  It’s divine – completely creamy, sinfully smooth – and don’t even get me started on that well of flavorful peppers nestled in the center.  The recipe I’ve come up with below doesn’t match exactly (how could it?), but it’s a very good alternative given the ingredients and equipment at hand.

If you are used to chowing down on plain hummus, be prepared for a massive flavor party in your mouth.  And please-oh-please-oh-please don’t let all that garlic scare you.  Roasting the cloves takes the bite out and leaves a mild, pleasant taste that really complements the red peppers.  No after snack mints required.

Lucky for you and me, making hummus is totally easy.  If you’re short on time, you could make plain hummus, omitting the red peppers and garlic.  But adding these two ingredients really makes the snack special; and, honestly, it really doesn’t take that much longer.

Roasted Red Pepper Hummus

1 whole head of garlic
1 red bell pepper, washed and patted dry
1 15-oz can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 lemon, washed and cut into wedges
2-4 Tbl olive oil
1/2 tsp salt

Lop the whole top right off.

Lop the whole top right off.

Preheat oven to 400F/200C.  Cut the very top off the head of garlic.  Place it in a square of foil, bring the edges of the foil together, and twist together like a piece of candy.  Place it in the oven to roast while prepping the red pepper.

Into the foil you go little flavor bomb.

Into the foil you go little flavor bomb.

Line a baking sheet with foil and spray lightly with oil (sunflower or vegetable, but not olive oil).  Remove the stem, seeds, and ribs of the red pepper.  Cut into four large strips and break the curved ends to allow the pieces to lay flat.  Put the pepper pieces on the baking sheet, and place it in the oven next to the garlic (or put the garlic on the baking sheet with the peppers if your oven is small like mine).

Snip and smack down.

Snip and smack down.

Juice the lemon in a small bowl, and remove any seeds.

Tart but totally necessary.

Tart but totally necessary.

When the skins of the red peppers are blistered and black, take them out of the oven, but leave the garlic to roast a little longer.  Place the roasted peppers in a zip top bag or plastic container with a lid.  Leave them to sit for 5-10 minutes to soften the skins.  Remove as much of the skin and burnt bits as possible.

If you've never roasted garlic before, the end result should look like this.

If you’ve never roasted garlic before, the end result should look like this.

Check the garlic, and remove it from the oven when soft and fragrant.  Allow to rest until cool enough to handle.

Ready to take a whirl.

Ready to go for a spin.

Place chickpeas in the bowl of a food processor.  Squeeze the soft garlic cloves out of their skins and into the bowl along with the red peppers.  Add 1-2 tablespoons of lemon juice and olive oil to taste as well as the salt.

It's about to get allllllll mixed up.

It’s about to get allllllll mixed up.

Puree until smooth.  If your hummus is dry, add a bit more oil or a tablespoon or two of water.

One perfect bite!

One perfect bite!

Keep the hummus in a sealed container in the fridge for up to 5 days.  Hummus can also be frozen for up to 3 months.

Enjoy with pita chips or these homemade Wheat Thins!

Signature-Marigold

Simple Pleasures: Cinnamon Vanilla Almond Butter

Thrifty Travel Mama Cinnamon Vanilla Almond ButterWhen I was growing up, health food was not hip.

If Pinterest had been around then, you can bet your bottom dollar no one would be pinning quinoa this or kale that.  The cool kids ate Lunchables and PB&J on Wonder Bread.

And then there was me, shoving my almond-butter-on-sprouted-grain in as fast as it would go before the other kids would go, EWWWW what is that?

If only I had been a kid in this decade.  I’m sure Lunchables are still around, but peanut butter is a no-no in many schools, and whole wheat is making a come back.  The “with it” moms are definitely jumping on the almond butter wagon, determined not to miss this decade’s hottest sandwich trend.. or at least not to violate the school’s peanut-free zone rules.

Popular or not, almond butter is really healthy.  If you’re a peanut lover, spreading another nut butter can take some getting used to.  Luckily, this cinnamon vanilla almond butter is sure to shorten the learning curve.

This decadent condiment is delicious enough to enjoy straight from the jar.  Oh, and did I mention it’s easy to make?

Cinnamon Vanilla Almond Butter

1 1/2 cups raw almonds
Sunflower or melted coconut oil for thinning
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract (make your own!)
1/4 tsp sea salt
1 Tbl pure maple syrup (optional)

Thrifty Travel Mama Cinnamon Vanilla Almond ButterArrange the almonds on a rimmed baking sheet, and toast at 325F/160C for 10 minutes.  Let cool completely.  (You can skip this step if you’d rather use raw almonds; I prefer the taste of dry roasted.)

Thrifty Travel Mama Cinnamon Vanilla Almond ButterGrind almonds in the bowl of a small food processor, alternating pulsing and scraping until a “butter” forms.  For more detailed instructions, see my post on making your own peanut butter.

Thrifty Travel Mama Cinnamon Vanilla Almond ButterDrizzle a few swirls of oil over the ground almonds to thin out the butter and make it more spreadable.Thrifty Travel Mama Cinnamon Vanilla Almond ButterOnce the almond butter is to the consistency of your liking, remove it from the food processor into a bowl.  Add cinnamon, vanilla, and salt.  Stir to combine.

Thrifty Travel Mama Cinnamon Vanilla Almond ButterIf desired, add maple syrup.  The maple really brings out the cinnamon and vanilla flavors while only adding a hint of sweetness.  Alternatively, if you want to use raisins instead of maple syrup, try this Cinnamon Raisin Almond Butter from Two Peas and Their Pod.

Store your homemade almond butter in a jar in the fridge.  It should keep for several weeks.

Thrifty Travel Mama Cinnamon Vanilla Almond ButterNot sure how to eat it?  I recommend a spoon, but fingers are also acceptable.. provided you’re not sharing your jar with anyone else.

I think a positively swell use of this cinnamon vanilla almond butter would be white chocolate almond butter cups (based on these homemade peanut butter cups).  Simple, yet decadent.

For more everyday uses, try spreading the almond butter on sandwiches, rolls, pancakes, waffles, apples, etc.  Add it to your morning oatmeal.  Stir a scoop in your yogurt.  It’s yummy, healthy, and totally trendy.Signature-Marigold

Simple Pleasures: Crunchy Brown Sugar Walnut Granola

How could you resist?  Good and good for you!

How could you resist? Good and good for you!

Though I am a pancake fan, my true breakfast love is cereal.  I could eat cereal for several of my six small meals a day and be totally content.  But I’d have to be in America, because Germany doesn’t have any of my favorites.

Sure, we have cereal here, but it’s of the Frosted Flakes variety (eh).  Germans usually go for muesli, and most stores stock something called Knusper (crispy) Muesli which Americans know as granola.

Mmmmmm, granola!  The best granola in all the world (according to yours truly) is Cascadian Farm Organic Oats & Honey.  It’s crunchy with the right amount of sweetness, neither overpowering nor bland.  I couldn’t possibly hope to replicate it, though it’s not for lack of trying.

I’ve made at least a half a dozen granola recipes (even this one in the crockpot!), but none of them came out crunchy.  They all either started out soggy or ended up there within a few days.  No good.  In my book, granola MUST have a good, tooth-endangering bite to it.

I’m stoked to report that the following recipe provides all the crunch you could want… and without any oil!  Now, how’s that for helping you pick up where you left off on those New Year’s resolutions?

Though this recipe is titled Crunchy Brown Sugar Walnut Granola, please give yourself permission to break the rules.  I would much prefer my granola to have pecans, but they’re scarce around these parts.  Don’t like nutmeg or can’t stomach wheat germ?  Leave it out.  Have a hankering for coconut, raisins, pumpkin seeds, or all three?  Toss ’em in!

The main thing to remember is that the more liquid you have, the more clumps you’ll end up with.  So if you go crazy adding extra ingredients, you might need to increase the liquid or decide you can live with less chunks.

Crunchy Brown Sugar Walnut Granola

5 cups old fashioned rolled oats
1 cup chopped walnuts
1/4 cup ground flax seed
1/4 cup oat bran
1/4 cup wheat germ
1 Tbl ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 cup raw or brown sugar
1/3 cup water
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp kosher salt

Preheat oven to 275F.  Whisk together oats, walnuts, flax, oat bran, wheat germ, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a large bowl.  Combine water and brown sugar, microwaving at 30 second – 1 minute intervals and stirring until dissolved.  Add maple syrup, vanilla, and salt to the sugar syrup.  Pour liquid mixture over dry ingredients.  Stir to combine, making sure to coat the oat mixture as thoroughly as possible.  Pour onto a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet.  Using a spatula, press granola down until flat.  Bake for 45 – 60 minutes, flipping carefully every 15 minutes.  Cool completely.  Store in an airtight container or zip top bag.  Granola should keep for one week at room temperature.

First, start with your oats.  Get the big'ns, none of that short quick oat stuff.

First, start with your oats. Get the big’ns, none of that short quick oat stuff.

Scoop some nuts.  Get a little sassy and don't measure exactly.

Scoop some nuts. Get a little sassy and don’t measure exactly.

Chop the suckers up as fine or as course as suits your fancy.

Chop the suckers up as fine or as course as suits your fancy.

Be kind to your insides - pile on the ground flax, oat bran, and wheat germ.

Be kind to your insides – pile on the ground flax, oat bran, and wheat germ.

Spice things up with a heaping scoop of cinnamon and a few shakes of nutmeg.

Spice things up with a heaping scoop of cinnamon and a few shakes of nutmeg.

It's time to bust out the sugar.  One cup may seem like a lot, but remember it's going to be watered down.

It’s time to bust out the sugar. One cup may seem like a lot, but remember it’s going to be watered down.  Pour the sugar and the water in a microwave-safe measuring cup or bowl, the bigger the better.

Microwave the sugar water at one minute intervals.  Do not walk away!  These two get a little feisty, bubbling and foaming all over the place.  Remove from microwave, stir, and repeat until all the sugar is dissolved.

Microwave the sugar water at one minute intervals. Do not walk away! These two get a little feisty, bubbling and foaming all over the place. Remove from microwave, stir, and repeat until all the sugar is dissolved.

You will then find yourself in the presence of this drippy deliciousness.

You will then find yourself in the presence of this drippy deliciousness.

But we can't leave our mixture mediocre - no, we need to take it to a whole new level with the addition of pure maple syrup and...

But we can’t leave our mixture mediocre – no, we need to take it to a whole new level with the addition of pure maple syrup and…

pure vanilla extract.  Remember this?  Yep, still going strong one year later!

pure vanilla extract. Remember this? Yep, still going strong one year later!

After adding the maple syrup and vanilla extract to the brown sugar syrup, toss in some salt.  You can leave this out, but unlike most baked goods, I can taste this when I eat the granola, and the salty/sweet combo is a (delightful) kick in the pants each morning.

After adding the maple syrup and vanilla extract to the brown sugar syrup, toss in some salt. You can leave this out, but unlike most baked goods, I can actually taste the salt when I eat the granola, and the salty/sweet combo is a (delightful) kick in the pants each morning.

Give the liquid mixture a good stir, and the dry ingredients a quick whisk.  Then it's time to pour the sweetness alllllll over the oaty-nuttiness.

Give the liquid mixture a good stir, and the dry ingredients a quick whisk. Then it’s time to pour the sweetness alllllll over the oaty-nuttiness.

Mix it up, leaving no oat uncoated.

Mix it up, leaving no oat uncoated.

Pour onto a parchment-lined baking sheet (or, in my case, broiler pan).

Pour onto a parchment-lined baking sheet (or, in my case, broiler pan).

Smash it down, pressing it as if you were making granola bars.  This encourages clumping, a definite "yes" in my book.

Smash it down, pressing it as if you were making granola bars. This encourages clumping, a definite “yes” in my book.

Bake at 275F for 45 minutes - 1 hour.  I usually bake for 30 minutes, flip carefully as to not break up established clumps, and then return to the oven for another 15 minutes.  Occasionally, the granola needs another flip and a few more minutes.  Watch carefully, and don't let the oats and nuts burn.

Bake at 275F for 45 minutes – 1 hour. I usually bake for 30 minutes, flip carefully as to not break up established clumps, and then return to the oven for another 15 minutes. Occasionally, the granola needs another flip and a few more minutes. Watch carefully, and don’t let the oats and nuts burn.

For a super awesome snack or dessert, make a parfait!  Layer non-fat plain yogurt, homemade chocolate syrup, and your freshly baked brown sugar walnut granola.

For a super awesome snack or dessert, make a parfait! Layer non-fat plain yogurt, homemade chocolate syrup, and your freshly baked brown sugar walnut granola.

Simple Pleasures: Amazing Chocolate Chip Cookies

Mmmmmmmmmm!

It’s been a stressful two weeks around here.  There’s been entirely too much talk of braking distance, autobahn speed limits, and right-before-left rule exceptions.  Heck, there’s just been too much talk around here – in German, that is.

What’s a mama to do?

Why, make some delicious chocolate chip cookies of course.  And take a nap.

Well, okay, minus the nap part.  That was just wishful thinking.

But, speaking of wishing, I should warn you in advance to freeze most of this chocolate chip cookie dough or you will be wishing you weren’t so sick from eating the ENTIRE batch.

Yes, they are THAT amazing.

In case you’re wondering, I usually just make the recipe on the back of the chocolate chip bag.  But, the amount of butter freaks me out, so I halve it and use a substitute like applesauce or yogurt.  I feel guilty about all that white flour, so I use half whole grain.

Now that I’ve confessed my fat fears to you, I have to add a disclaimer for this recipe.  Don’t do that with these cookies.  Make them exactly as stated.  Really.

These almost-as-good-as-Ritz-Carlton-cookies come from the New York Times.  You can find the original recipe here.  I used the directions found on My Baking Addiction, but the recipe is the same.  I’m not going to repost it here; just click either of the aforementioned links.

Note that this recipe requires some advance planning as most of us “normal” people don’t have bread and cake flours on hand.  Nor do we have the patience to wait while the dough chills for 24 hours.  But that’s another matter entirely.

The ingredient lineup. Yep, count ’em, I used FIVE bars of dark chocolate.

And while we’re talking ingredients, if you happen to be living in Germany, my friend Erin over at Texanerin Baking has some super helpful tips on making these cookies with German ingredients:

Flour: weigh it. (I didn’t do this since I don’t own a scale, so use the scoop & sweep method if you have to measure it.)
Cake flour: Wurzener Kuchen Mehl. It’s found almost everywhere except at the discounters.  (I used Edeka Professional Quality Weizenmehl, type 405 since I couldn’t find the Wurzener Kuchen Mehl anywhere in my city.)
Bread flour: Kathi Weizen Mehl 550, NOT 405! Found in the same places as above.  (I used Gold Puder Weizen Mehl again because I couldn’t find Kathi Weizen Mehl, but mine was Type 550 as recommended.)
Butter and eggs: room temperature!
Brown sugar: the moist kind from Asian shops or make your own.  (Even though I make my own, I had a bag of Trader Joe’s organic brown sugar from the US that I’d been saving for an occasion such as this.)
Vanilla: make your own!
Chocolate: Forget chocolate chips.  Use Zartbitter blocks from discount grocery stores that cost around 3.50 or 4.00/kg.

The chilled and plastic-wrapped dough after 36+ hours.

Other tips from Erin:

– You MUST wait the 24 hours.  (You can actually wait longer if you need to – I waited about 36.)
– I think the sea salt on top isn’t needed but go ahead if you like.
– I’m always tempted to press down the cookies a little before baking, but don’t do it with these. They came out better without any pressing.
– Bake at 160 Celsius with the fan on.  (I don’t have a fan, so I obviously didn’t use one.  And 170C worked better for me than 160C.)
– Ovens are different. Be around to check on the first batch to make sure the time is accurate for you.  (True – my cookies took much longer than the recommend baking time!)

And one final note – only bake the amount of dough you are willing to consume instantly (or have enough willpower to give away)!  Freeze the rest.  Erin recommends freezing the dough according to this method.  This was my first time freezing cookie dough (and putting more than one stick of butter in a batch of cookies), and I’m so glad I did.

Now whenever the stress level gets too high or we have unexpected guests, I can defrost some dough while the oven preheats, bake, and have warm ooey-gooey cookies ready to go!

Simple Pleasures: Peanut Butter Cups

Have lots of homemade peanut butter on your hands?  May I suggest you put that protein to good use, say in a dessert?

It seems sort of obvious that it’s possible to make your own peanut butter cups ala Reese’s style.  So, why am I just now trying this when I’m married to such a peanut butter fiend?

Because, you see, decent peanut butter was a scarce commodity.  It must be consumed wisely.  And making 24 peanut butter cups and then eating them all hardly seems wise.

But I did it anyway.

For a party.

Really.

And, since I was making these for a party, I sorta kinda doubled the recipe.  I say sorta kinda because my ingredients are in grams (as in I had 200 grams of chocolate), but I have a hard time going between English and metric.  So, I guess on amounts, and everything (usually) still tastes good.

Good thing it’s REALLY hard to mess up peanut butter and chocolate.

But, before you go and make these delectable little thingies, I must warn you.  Not about the calories.  You already know what you’re getting into there.

What you should know is the process to make the cups is very simple.  However, it can become a bit time consuming because each layer must be chilled.

So, consider yourself warned.

Should you choose to make these peanut butter cups, you do so at your own risk.

I won’t be responsible for any peanut-butter-chocolate binges.

K?

K!

Peanut Butter Cups

adapted from Have Cake Will Travel

For the chocolate:
1 1/2 cups (273 g) chopped semisweet chocolate (I used a mix of dark + milk)
2 tablespoons (32 g) natural or homemade peanut butter
Pinch salt

For the filling:
12 tablespoons (or 3/4 cup) (192 g) natural or homemade peanut butter
1/3 cup (64 g) powdered sugar (or brown sugar)
2 tablespoons (10 g) graham cracker crumbs, optional
Pinch salt

Line a 12-cup muffin tin with papers.  I don’t have a mini-muffin tin, but I would have used one if it was available.

Melt the semisweet chocolate, 2T peanut butter, and a pinch of salt.  I used the microwave, but use a double boiler on the stove if that’s what you fancy.  Stir until smooth.

Drop 2 teaspoons of the chocolate mixture in the bottom of each muffin cup.  Using a small spoon, spread the chocolate over the bottom of the paper liner and only 1/4 of the way up the sides.    After all 12 cups have been sufficiently coated in deliciously smooth chocolate, refrigerate until hard (about 20 minutes).

Mix together the 3/4 cup peanut butter, powdered sugar, and graham cracker crumbs, if using (I didn’t).

After the chocolate has hardened, divide the peanut butter mixture equally between the 12 cups.  Smooth and flatten.  Refrigerate another 20 minutes or so to reduce the stickiness of the peanut butter filling.

Add 2 more teaspoons of the silky smooth chocolatey goodness on top of the peanut butter.  Spread evenly over the top, making sure to completely cover the peanut butter.  Again, refrigerate, this time for at least one hour.

Instead of counting down the minutes impatiently, thank God that you have refrigerator.  These peanut butter cups wouldn’t be possible without electricity!

After the peanut butter cups have completely hardened, enjoy!

Store in the refrigerator or freezer as these puppies melt quickly at room temperature.

Simple Pleasures: Peanut Butter

Have I told you before I’m married to a man obsessed with peanut butter?  I guess I did kinda mention it here, here, and here.   That’s all fine and dandy I suppose.  Everyone has their vices, right?

The problem, you see, lies in the fact that he’s raising two boys with healthy appetites to love peanut butter as well.

Unfortunately, Germany does not love peanut butter…  not. at. all.

As ridiculous as it sounds, we have friends and family ship or bring us peanut butter from the US.  The German peanut butter is either the hydrogenated oil and sugar laced kind or it’s pure peanut puree.  No salt.  No flavor.

Our current delicious peanut butter supply is dangerously low, and I was about to start panicking.  That is, until I came across a post by Texanerin Baking (who also happens to be an American living in Germany) describing how to make homemade peanut butter.

Whoa.

This could revolutionize my transatlantic luggage situation.  This could save my friends and family some serious cash on shipping charges.  This could make my husband – and my boys – verrrrrrrrrrry happy.

The best part?  It’s ridiculously easy.

A 200 gram can of peanuts, my food processor, and sunflower oil.

You need peanuts and a food processor.  I also added a smidge of sunflower oil.  If your peanuts are not salted, I’d highly recommend adding salt one pinch at a time to taste.  Mine were roasted, salted, and also had a bit of oil on them.

Screech helped me out with this project.  I’d say it’s two year-old approved as long as child and food processor blade do not ever meet.

Making homemade peanut butter really is as simple as peanuts and a food processor.  But, here are a few things I learned.

Peanut crumblies.

First, you’re going to need to scrape the sides of the food processor several times.  Second, keep going.  You may think this experiment is NOT going to work, but it will.  Third, continue blasting the peanuts to smithereens until you reach the consistency of natural peanut butter.  It should be smooth and creamy, not peanut paste.

Almost there!

Then, taste test.  My littlest helper (Screech) would’ve eaten the entire batch if I let him.  I stuck to one spoonful.  I only let Doc Sci have a small sample since it was dinner time.  I’ve kept the secret from T-Rex thus far.

Peanut butter perfection.

But, I’ll let you in…. it’s delicious!

p.s. – Store your homemade peanut butter in the fridge.

Simple Pleasures: Beer Steamed Shrimp

Have you ever found yourself at Bubba Gump Shrimp Company, devouring the Shrimper’s Net Catch almost entirely by yourself?

I have.

And, I might add, on more than one occasion.

I love shrimp.  But I really love these spicy, juicy, delicious shrimp.  And they just can’t be had anywhere in Germany.

For starters, we don’t have any seafood restaurants in our city.  And, even if one existed, it wouldn’t be dumb enough to serve anything spicy to the bland-loving Germans.

I’ve been coming across oodles of copykat recipes on Pinterest.  So, I thought I’d see if anyone had a recipe for the Bubba Gump shrimp that are so totally delicious.

Well, whaddya know.. someone in an HVAC (that’s heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) forum posted one.  Of all places!  I never would have guessed.

What’s more – these little yummies are seriously easy to prepare.

This recipe belongs to Key, who posted it in 2007.  First I’ll give you his recipe, and then my notes.

Beer Steamed Shrimp

2lbs deveined shrimp (uncooked & shells on)
4 tbl spoons “Old Bay”
3 tbl spoons Paprika
1/2 tea spoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
3/4 cup Beer
1/4 cup Vinegar
1/2 Lemon (cut into wedges)

In a deep fry pan bring ingredients to a boil…add shrimp and cover for 8 minutes…thicken with cornstarch/water mixture, & serve.

I put the cayenne pepper in the picture, but I decided not to use it. I dunno, I just didn't feel like it.

I halved this recipe.  My shrimp were not easy to find, and not easy on the grocery budget.  At almost 10 euros per kilo, I wasn’t about to ruin the whole bag if it didn’t taste good.

If possible, I would highly recommend using fresh shrimp.  No one sells fresh shrimp here, so I had to settle for frozen.   You may end up with slightly rubbery results if using frozen shrimp.

In case you’re wondering, I brought the Old Bay seasoning from the US.  No such luck finding it here.

About to add my shrimp to the steamy pan!

I thought 8 minutes was WAY too long.  The next time, I’ll probably steam for 1-2 minutes, then remove from heat and let stand at the table until ready to serve, allowing the residual steam/heat to finish cooking the shrimp.

I did not thicken my sauce, but rather just dipped the peeled shrimp in it.  Good enough for me!

I totally forgot to take a picture of the finished shrimp. So here's the aftermath. And that's an empty baking sheet where an entire batch of onion rings used to be.

p.s. – I’ll let you in on a little secret.  This the first beer I have ever bought at a grocery store.  Ever.  And I have only bought one other beer in my life that I can recall, at the Hofbräuhaus in Munich in 2005.  I wasn’t sure what to do with the rest of the bottle, so I made beer bread.  YUM.

Simple Pleasures: Sweet Potato Fries

Germans have the potato thing down.  Potato salad, potatoes au gratin, boiled potatoes, mashed potatoes, roasted potatoes, baked potatoes, potato pancakes, fried potatoes, French! fried potatoes, etc.

But one thing they either don’t know about or choose to obviously ignore (or snub?) is the SWEET potato.

It’s a shame really.  Not that there’s anything wrong with potatoes, but why discriminate?  Sweet potatoes have so much going for them.

Luckily, I have found a store that regularly carries sweet potatoes, but they are always imported – often, ironically from the US – with a hefty price tag to boot.

But whatever.  Sometimes you just fork over the euros, go home, and make yourself some sweet potato fries because Alexia just isn’t available.

These are as crunchy as oven-fried sweet potato fries get.  They’re also ridiculously delicious and a smidge sassy.  The way I see it, that’s how fries should be.

Below is my own recipe for homemade sweet potato fries.  Hold onto your hats though fellas and ladies, I must warn you that it’s not at all exact.  I may be OCD in some things, but I have issues following directions or sticking to precise quantities in recipes (for better or for worse).

Sweet Potato Fries

1 large sweet potato

a few tablespoons of olive oil

a few tablespoons of corn meal

a dash or two of seasoned salt, garlic powder, and onion powder

a pinch or two of Cajun seasoning (optional)

Preheat the oven to 425F (or 220C).  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Or don’t, if you happen to be one of those crazy people who love washing dishes.

Wash your sweet potato thoroughly – you will be eating the skin!  Don’t get all skittish on me – it’s full of nutrients, and you won’t taste it through the spicy smoke screen.

Cut the sweet potato into sticks (carefully!) resembling french fries.  The skinnier you make the sweet potato fries, the faster they cook and the crispier they get.  Don’t make them matchstick size though – you’ll end up with a baking sheet of burnt twigs if you’re not careful.

Put the sweet potato fries in a bowl.  Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with the cornmeal, seasoned salt, garlic powder, and onion powder.   If you like a little heat with your fries, sprinkle in the Cajun seasoning.  (No, you totally cannot buy that in Germany.)

Toss to coat.  For the aforementioned lazy folks, use the same spatula to stir the sweet potato sticks with the seasonings that you will to flip the fries later.  Make sure all sticks have a decent coating, adding a bit more oil if necessary.

Spread in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet.  Bake for 25-30 minutes.  Flip/stir/shake at 10 minutes, 20 minutes, and 25 minutes, always making sure to rearrange fries again in a single layer.

If you feel so inclined, add a tray of chicken nuggets to the oven after your first flip.  Oh and make a salad while you’re waiting to indulge.  Extra healthy is the way to go, right?  After all, that’s why you’re eating sweet potato fries and not just any ol’ run-of-the-mill French fries.

When sufficiently crispy, remove from oven, cool slightly, and serve with ketchup.  YUM!

Simple Pleasures: Honey Roasted Almonds

I’m kind of a boring snacker.  I tend to eat the same foods at the same-ish times every day.  In the morning I normally go for a mug of yogurt or a granola bar or leftover muffin.  In the afternoon, I always have a fruit and/or a vegetable (usually a carrot and/or an apple), a carb of some kind (hello, marathon nutrition), and a protein.

For a protein snack, peanut butter is the house favorite, but it’s in short supply.  So, I usually go for the runner up, a handful of almonds.  Except I absolutely positively cannot stand raw ones.  Eating raw almonds makes my mouth all itchy inside.  Weird.  Not fun.  No thanks.

In Germany, raw almonds are the only kind sold unless it’s some sort of special week at Aldi or Lidl.  I’m fine with simply roasted and lightly salted.  The problem is I can’t seem to get the salt to stick without any oil.  Then the oil gets, well, uh, oily.  Annoying.

And, if I’m going to go to all the trouble of dressing up my almonds, why not make them fancy?

Yes, these have a bit of sugar and a bit of honey.  But they’re also full of fiber, protein, and all sorts of other nutritious schtuff.  Delish.

Honey Roasted Almonds

Recipe from Cooks.com (as seen on Natalie’s Killer Cuisine)

2 cups Raw Almonds
2 TBS Honey
2 TBS Water
2 TBS Oil (Almond, Peanut or Canola)
1/4 cup Sugar
1/2 tsp Salt

preheat oven to 350 degrees

1. Place the almonds on a baking sheet and in a preheated oven for 10 minutes. (If the almonds are already roasted, skip this step) Set the almonds aside and let cool.

Simply roasted.

2. In a medium sized sauce pan add the honey, water and oil. Bring to a boil and add the almonds. Stir around for a few minutes, until all of the liquid has been absorbed by the nuts.

Shiny new suit.

3. Transfer into a medium bowl and toss with the sugar and salt.

Crunchy crust.

4. Spread back on the baking sheet with wax paper, let cool. (Try not to eat them all at once.  Portion control, people!)

If honey roasted isn’t your thing, try roasting your raw almonds with tamari or soy sauce.  Dump 1 cup of almonds in a plastic container.  Pour 1 tablespoon tamari or soy sauce over them.  Put the lid on the container and shake.  Marinate for 2-24 hours (the longer the better).  Then roast at 350F for 10 mins.

Simple Pleasures: Cookie Dough

I love my husband.  No, no, you see, I rrrreeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaly love my husband.  Enough to make that man a whole lotta cupcakes.  Almost eighty, in fact.

And, not just any cupcakes, mind you.

Two batches of these cupcakes (but one and a half batches were with super delish peanut butter frosting instead of the toasted marshmallow), and one batch of this recipe in cupcake form with cream cheese frosting.

This hotel room / dorm fridge is what we use every day for our four-person family. We eat through more leftovers than you want to know to clear out two shelves in the name of peanut butter love.

And…

I cleaned up my mess.  Every last utensil, dish, pot and pan in my microscopic kitchen.  Now, that’s real love.

I am a mess maker, not a mess cleaner-upper. Only a good man's birthday would make me wash and dry this all by hand.

And, speaking of love, I’ve always had a thing for cookie dough.  The problem is, I won’t eat it.  Not the homemade kind, anyway.  You see, I have a thing about raw eggs.  After seeing someone firsthand suffer a bout of salmonella and having food poisoning once myself from Caesar salad dressing made with raw eggs, I just can’t bring myself to eat it.

(I know the toasted marshmallow frosting has raw egg whites in it.  I did research on the temperature at which salmonella dies a quick and painful death.  And I also broiled the junk out of the topped cupcakes so that the frosting was practically a baked meringue.  Just in case you’re wondering…)

But, thanks to these cupcakes, I now have a container of cookie dough bites in my freezer.  Sans eggs.  Whip up a batch, and show your dude (or dudette) how much you heart them.

Container 1 of 2 of the finished product.

(Unfortunately, I did not take any “how to” pictures.  But, as this recipe is shamelessly ripped off from Joy, you can visit her blog for pictures.)

Cookie Dough Bites

1 stick (1/2 cup or 4 ounces) unsalted butter at room temperature

1 cup plus 2 Tablespoons all purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda (i know we’re not baking them, it’s for flavor)

3/4 teaspoons salt

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/3 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2-3 tablespoons natural peanut butter (if you have a nut allergy, 2 tablespoons of yogurt will work as a binder as well)

1 cup semi sweet chocolate chips (I used mini chips I lugged back from the US)

 

In the bowl of a stand mixer fit with a paddle attachment (or with a large bowl and hand mixer if you just ogle stand mixers in kitchen stores but do not personally own one yourself), cream butter and sugars until light and fluffy, about three minutes in the machine.  Beat in peanut butter (or yogurt if using) along with the vanilla extract and stir to combine.

Whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt.  Add all at once to the butter and sugar mixture and stir until incorporated.  Fold in chocolate chips.

Spoon a scant tablespoons size amount of dough in your hand.  Roll into a ball and place on a cookie sheet.  Make 24 little cookie dough balls.  Refrigerate or freeze.  These little pups taste better cold.