Chocolate Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Buttercream Frosting

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Aw yes. The old favorite pair: chocolate and peanut butter. It’s hard to resist the salty and sweet combination. Want to make it even more irresistible? Add in butter. A weight watchers trifecta of evil, if you will. I made these bad boys for a surprise welcome home party for my sister a few weeks ago and they were a hit.

I used my favorite chocolate cupcake recipe and then topped them with a glorious whipped peanut butter buttercream. It’s fabulous on cupcakes and it would also be great on brownies, graham crackers, rice cakes… ok, let’s get real- these foods are just going to be a vehicle to get this stuff from point A to your mouth. I liken it to my mom serving us steamed artichokes when we were young and we got to dip them in melted butter. We were just in it for the melted butter. Honesty is the first step to acceptance.

To actually make the frosting, you must know that the whipping of the butter is the key to a great buttercream. Allow the butter to soften to room temperature and then beat it with an electric mixer or handheld mixer for 8-10 minutes at a medium-high speed. The butter will become pale yellow and fluffy and it will strengthen your faith in God. It’s magical, really, and it yields pillowy frosting that pipes like a dream.

Piping icing gives me an inner peace that I imagine yogis feel while they are in the middle of meditation. Namaste, my friends, and have a fabulous weekend!

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Peanut Butter Buttercream Frosting

Yield: About 2 cups

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 3 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Directions

1. Place the butter  into a bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on medium-high for 8 minutes, until pale yellow and fluffy. Add in the peanut butter and beat for about 4-5 mins longer. Add in the vanilla extract and powdered sugar. Mixture will appear crumbly. Add in the cream and beat until smooth and fluffy, about 2 mins longer. Add more cream if mixture is still too thick. Frost your baked good of choice or store in an airtight container for 2-3 days.

Source: Adapted from Allrecipes.com

 

Oatmeal Cinnamon Chip Cookies

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We just got back from a lovely Independence Day celebration at Lake Erie with my sister’s family. Selby is now officially back in Ohio and I couldn’t be more excited. I have already seen her more in one month than I probably did in one year while she was living out of state. It’s fabulous.

A lot of people have already started asking Robert and me if we want more childrenMy first thought is, “more kids already?! My little pup is not even crawling yet!”  But my next thought (and my response) is, “absolutely- we would love nothing more than to give Smith a sibling.”

You see, there is no bond like that between siblings. My sister and I didn’t always get along. In fact, we really butted heads growing up. We had different interests and different personalities. She was always very outgoing and assertive and I was more shy and sensitive. Selby was the homecoming queen. I was focused on school and sports. She has the dainty, thin feet and I have pizza wedge, size 11 feet.  I once joked, “I don’t think we would be friends if we weren’t sisters.” Probably not the nicest thing I’ve ever uttered; but to the naked eye, it’s the truth.

It wasn’t until Selby was in college that we started to connect more. I started to realize how much I really needed and depended on my older sister. And I think we both started to see that we were more alike than we had previously thought. We shared the common bond of childhood. Selby was my first friend. All the road trips, holidays, and even the fist fights at Vacation Bible School created this strong relationship that trumped those moments when I lambasted her in my fourth grade diary or the time she threw scissors at me (kids do the cutest things). Yep, Selby and I are two peas in a “night quite right” pod; but we wouldn’t have it any other way. I think the line from Little Women sums it up pretty well, “I could never love anyone as I love my sister(s).”

As for these cookies, they have absolutely no tie in to my little narrative above; but they are still lovely in their own way. Chewy and soft, they are very comforting and their looks don’t do them justice. They won’t win awards for looks; but they will win your heart with taste. They are even better if you let the dough chill for 24 hours to allow the flavors to really meld and develop.

Here’s to more random thoughts and unrelated recipes.  Plenty more where that came from. :)

Oh and I just have to share this picture of my nephew, Jack, enjoying his first ever s’more over the weekend!

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Oatmeal Cinnamon Chip Cookies

Yield: About 4 dozen cookies

Ingredients

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 2 eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 3 cups quick cooking oats
  • 2 cups cinnamon chips

Directions

1.In a medium bowl, cream together butter and both sugars.

2. Beat in eggs, one at a time until well blended. Stir in vanilla. Add in the molasses and whip until combined. Scrape down the sides as needed.

3. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder, and cinnamon.

4. Add in the oats and stir just until combined. Add in the cinnamon chips and, again, mix just until combined.

5. Transfer the dough to plastic wrap, cover, and chill for at least an hour (24hrs is best!).

6. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease cookie sheets. Roll the dough into 1 1/2 inch diameter balls and place on the cookie sheets, about two inches apart. Press down gently with fingertips.

7. Bake for 10-12 minutes. Don’t overbake. Allow to cool on baking sheets for about 5 minutes and then transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.

Source: Adapted from allrecipes.com

 

Food Memory Friday: Strawberry Shortcake

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It sure has been a long time since I’ve posted a “Food Memory Friday.” Today’s recipe happens to be based on one of Robert’s favorite treats. The summer after Robert and I started dating, I was over at his house (now our house) eating dinner and mama Connie served up some strawberry shortcake for dessert. It was much different than the kind my mother made. I watched in curiosity as Robert and his dad tore up the biscuit-like cake, scooped macerated strawberries with lots of sugar on top, and then poured a generous amount of whole milk over it. I was skeptical. Just as skeptical as I think they were of me when I decided to top my strawberry shortcake (sans milk and with the cake still in its original form) with a little drizzle of chocolate syrup. “Chocolate?,”Connie questioned with a friendly smirk. Yes- chocolate. Because, is there any dessert where chocolate doesn’t belong? No.

Bert and I got to see a lot of the differences in our families as we continued to date and spend more time together. My Irish catholic side and his Amish/Mennonite side. His parents focused on teaching their boy how to put in a hard day’s work and mine focused on studying hard to get good grades and get into college. His house was always stocked with a candy bowl that I couldn’t (still can’t) avoid dipping my hand into. My house never had a regular supply of desserts. My family reunions involved adult beverages. His family get togethers featured lots of delicious Amish food. It was, and still is, an eclectic mix of two cultures that has been beneficial for both of us.

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Now here we are, sitting in the same spot enjoying strawberry shortcake that we first did over a decade ago. I like to think we’ve successfully brought pieces of both of our sides together into our little family. I’m hoping our baby rump roast will get the best of both worlds. A nice blend of feisty Irish and hard-working Amish.

And time will tell what type of strawberry shortcake he will prefer.

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Strawberry Shortcake

Yield: 6 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 cups flour
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 4 tablespoons butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup low fat milk
  • 1 pint fresh strawberries
  • Additional sugar for berries, as desired
  • Whipped cream, optional

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar. Sprinkle in the butter and use your (clean) hands to rub the butter and flour mixture together until the mixture resembles flakes of oatmeal.

3. Combine the milk and vanilla and slowly pour into the flour mixture. Gently fold with a wooden spoon, until just combined. Drop a generous spoonful of dough onto a baking sheet, spacing about 2 inches apart. Bake for 15 minutes, or until lightly browned.

4. Remove from oven and allow shortcakes to cool. Split in half and top with berries, sugar, and whipped cream. Store unused shortcakes in an airtight container for about 2 days.

Source: Slightly adapted from Alton Brown

Homestead Living: Maple Syrup Granola

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It’s  been three weeks since we moved into our little house on the hill and I must say that settling into country living is going pretty smoothly so far. Smith and I are starting to get into a good routine and I am really enjoying my newly updated kitchen (pictures to come soon). One of the goals I have for our new location is to attempt to embrace more of a homestead type of living. This doesn’t mean I’m swearing off modern medicine (I’m a physical therapist, after all). It just means I am hoping to broaden our horizons with more made-from-scratch foods, gardening, and composting. I plan on including my steps toward a modified version of this type of lifestyle. The first project? Homemade granola.

t am always shocked to see the price of granola in grocery stores considering how easy it is to make and that all the ingredients for a basic batch are readily available. Robert has finally joined the Greek yogurt train, but he prefers eating it with a bit of granola. As a result, i decided it was time to start making our own at home.

I perused through recipes and landed on this one. It’s from the folks of the ever-reliable Cook’s Illustrated. It’s a simple concoction with a delicious result. The original recipe calls for almonds and raisins, but old Bert is a no frills type of guy and we kept it simple. This is a great granola recipe that you can jazz up with lots of ingredients depending on your personal preferences. Nuts, dried fruits, seeds, chocolate chips, etc. The possibilities are endless so save yourself some moolah and start making your own granola today!

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Oh and I just couldn’t resist throwing in this picture of my little ham loaf…

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Maple Syrup Granola

Yield: 5 3/4 cups

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup maple syrup
  • 4 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup dark brown sugar, packed
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 5 3/4 cups old-fashioned rolled oats

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

2. In a medium bowl, mix together the maple syrup, vanilla, brown sugar, and salt. Whisk in the oil until well combined. Add in the oatmeal and mix until the oats are evenly coated.

3. Pour the mixture onto a baking sheet. and gently pat down with a spatula.

4. Bake for 40-45 mins, or until lightly browned. Be sure to rotate the pan after about 20 minutes to ensure even baking.

5. Remove from oven and allow to cool for 1 hour. Break up the granola with a spatula and store in an airtight container.

Source: My Year Cooking with Chris Kimball

The Amish “Monte Cristo”

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For all the food purists out there, I want to start by saying I understand this sandwich is not a true Monte Cristo. A Monte Cristo (based on my dining history and a quick google search), is a ham/turkey and cheese sandwich that is dipped in an egg/milk batter and then pan fried like French toast and served with jam. It is a delightful combination of sweet and savory and a fabulous Sunday brunch meal.

This version has not been dipped in a batter, but it contains the other components and I thought it wouldn’t upset the food gods too much if I deemed it the Amish Monte Cristo.

What makes it Amish, you may ask? Well, all of the ingredients come from an Amish origin. Not only did I grow up in an area that has a dense population of Amish; but there is a small settlement of Amish about 20 minutes west of Columbus in Plain City. On my days off of work, I sometimes venture out west to stock up on a few items. The bread, ham, and cheese all come from an Amish Farmer’s market in Plain City. The apples are from an orchard back in my hometown; and the apple butter was made by my in-laws, who share a family tree with this unique group of people.

The good news is you don’t have to have super magical Amish ingredients to make this sandwich. Just some good (as Ina Garten would say) ham, cheese, apple butter, apples, and bread. It’s a fast and tasty way to dress up a boring ham and cheese sandwich on cold Fall nights.

Amish Monte Cristo

Directions:

1. Spread a generous amount of apple butter on 2 slices of bread

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2. Layer one slice of bread with thinly sliced apples of your choice (I used Honeycrisp)

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3. Top with ham and swiss cheese.

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4. Grill in a lightly-buttered, heated pan until the cheese is melted.

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5. Enjoy!

Vanilla Bean Cupcakes with Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

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Oh sweet baby Jesus- I do love Septembers. While I enjoy summertime, I sometimes get a little overwhelmed with how chaotic it can get. Weddings, traveling, cookouts. It’s all wonderful stuff, but I find I always welcome the return to routine that the ninth month of the year brings. We are home more on the weekends and football Saturdays seem to make time slow down a little bit.

Another good bonus is that I have more time to bake. I made these particular  cupcakes for my friend Jess’s owl-themed baby shower that her husband’s side of the family threw her. I also made pumpkin cupcakes with cream cheese frosting, and chocolate cupcakes with peanut butter buttercream, but these were my favorite of the three. The cake has a lighter texture and the addition of real vanilla bean takes the flavor up a notch. The fluffy buttercream frosting is delicious and a perfect pairing with the cake base.  I found the idea for the royal icing owl toppers from the fabulously-creative Bridget at Bake at 350. I am always amazed at the magical nature of royal icing and was very pleased with how these babies turned out. They are a much cheaper option than the cupcake-toppers available online and in craft stores.

I will definitely be saving these recipes for future vanilla baking adventures.

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Vanilla Bean Cupcakes with Vanilla Buttercream Icing

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Yield: About 2 dozen cupcakes

Cupcake Ingredients

  • 2 1/4 cups cake flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 1/4 cups buttermilk, at room temperature
  • 4 large egg whites, at room temperature
  • 1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • Seeds scraped from one vanilla bean
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Cupcake Directions

1. Center a rack in the oven to 350 degrees F. Line 2 cupcake pans with paper liners. Set aside.

2. In a large bowl, whisktogether the flour, baking powder and salt.

3. In a liquid measuring cup, whisk together the buttermilk and egg whites.

4. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, sugar and vanilla bean seeds at medium speed until light and fluffy (about 3 mins). Add in the vanilla extract and one third of the flour mixture, still beating on medium speed. Beat in half of the milk-egg mixture, then beat in half of the remaining dry ingredients until well incorporated. Add the rest of the milk and eggs, beating until the batter fully incorporated and smooth, then gradually add in the last of the dry ingredients.

5. Once ingredients are well incorporated, mix the batter for 2 minutes longer to ensure that it is thoroughly mixed and well aerated. Using a 2 inch ice cream scoop (or large spoon), distribute the batter evenly, filling each well 2/3 full.

6. Bake for 18-22 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the centers come out clean. Cool on wire rack. Decorate with vanilla buttercream icing as desired (recipe below).

Frosting Ingredients

  • 1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks or ½ pound), softened (but not melted!) Ideal texture should be like ice cream.
  • 3-4 cups confectioners (powdered) sugar, sifted***
  • ¼ teaspoon table salt
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 4 tablespoons heavy cream

Frosting Directions

  1. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter on medium high speed for a few minutes with a mixer with the whisk attachment until light and fluffy. Turn the mixer off and gradually add in the powdered sugar (about 1 cup at a time), mixing on low speed after each addition until the sugar has been incorporated with the butter. Increase mixer speed to medium and add vanilla extract, salt, and 4 tablespoons of cream and beat for 3 minutes. Store in an airtight container or ice cupcakes right away.

Source: Cupcakes- slightly adapted from My Baking Addiction; Frosting- Savory Sweet Life; Owl Royal Icing Cupcake Toppers- Bake at 350

Chocolate Chunk Espresso Cookies

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You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout, I’m telling you why: Christmas cookie baking is in full swing. Woohoo! I spent a good amount of this last weekend in a kitchen whirlwind and these chocolate chunk espresso cookies were one of the first items that popped out of the oven.

While they aren’t a traditional Christmas cookie, they are definitely something to celebrate. The flavor of chocolate (as the Barefoot Contessa will tell us) is amplified with two flavors: vanilla and coffee; and these cookies have both. The coffee flavor comes from espresso powder, which can usually be found in the coffee section of most grocery stores (I used Megdalia D’oro).

These bad boys are rich, dense, and go fabulously with a chilled glass of milk. Leave them under the tree on Christmas eve and Santa will surely lick the plate clean.

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Chocolate Chunk Espresso Cookies

Yield: 3 dozen cookies

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 tablespoons instant espresso powder
  • 2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup packed light-brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg, plus one large egg yolk
  • 7 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 4 ounces white chocolate chips

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

2. In a small bowl mix together the espresso powder and vanilla. Set aside.

3. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugars on medium-high speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add in the egg and egg yolk, one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Mix in the vanilla/espresso mix and beat until well-combined.

4. Whisk together the dry ingredients (flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt) in a medium-sized bowl. With the mixer on low, slowly add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture until just combined. Gradually fold in the chocolate pieces.

5. Drop the dough in even spoonfuls (I used a 1.5 inch ice cream scoop) onto the cookie sheets and flatten slightly with your hand. Bake for about 15 minutes, or until the cookies are just set. Remove from oven and place on cooling rack before transferring to parchment paper to cool completely.

6. Store in an airtight container for 1 week or freeze for 3 months.

Source: Adapted from Martha Stewart

Homemade Lemon Curd

I’ve grown to love the peace and solitude of the mornings. Now that we’ve put up our Christmas decorations, I especially look forward to getting up before the sun rises, drinking my coffee, and sitting under the glow of the lights from our tree. The mornings keep getting colder and the low temperatures seem to magnify my affection for these moments.

On the weekends, I obviously have more time to cherish these times and I like to savor something special for breakfast besides my standard cereal or oatmeal to celebrate the freedom from the daily grind. This lemon curd fits into that category.  It helps cultivate my ongoing daydream of sitting in a French cafe with Ina Garten and her friends (and maybe even Jeffrey is there too,  on leave from Yale) and we’re sipping espressos and planning our day. Ahhh…. I live a wild life.

But seriously, this lemon curd is delightfully tart and sweet and a little bit goes a long way. It goes very well with plain Greek yogurt or as a tasty addition to pancakes. It’s also a delicious in baked goods and I actually used the majority of this batch to make lemon curd cupcakes for a friend’s birthday (recipe coming next week!).

Enjoy your weekend, my friends. And don’t forget to take a few extra minutes to relax and sip your cup of coffee, with or without Ina on your mind.

Homemade Lemon Curd

Yield: 2 cups

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup (7 oz) granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup (7 oz) fresh lemon juice, from roughly 8 lemons
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 9 tablespoons (4.5 oz) unsalted butter, at room temperature

Directions

1. Whisk together the eggs and egg yolks in a medium-sized bowl.  Set aside.

2. Pour the lemon juice through sieve to ensure there are no seeds or pith remaining. Combine the lemon juice and sugar in a medium, heat-resistant bowl. Place the bowl over a pot of simmering water (also known as a double boiler). Stir occasionally until the sugar fully dissolves.

3. Take the lemon juice mixture off the simmering water, but don’t turn off the stove or remove the pot. While whisking the eggs, slowly add in about 1/4 cup of the lemon juice to the egg mixture at a time, stirring vigorously after each addition. If you add the eggs all at once, you will end up with chunks of scrambled eggs. Not cool.

4. Next, put the bowl with the egg and lemon juice mixture back onto the double boiler. Whisk continually, for about 5 minutes or until the mixture begins to thicken. You’ll know it’s done when the curd coats the back a spoon and doesn’t slide right off.

5. Remove the curd from the heat and add in the butter. Whisk until smooth and no lumps of butter remains. Place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the curd and over the bowl so that a film doesn’t form on top of the curd while cooling. Place in the fridge for an hour to allow to cool completely. Store in the refrigerator.

Source: This very informative video from The BALSAMS Grand Resort Hotel (skip to 0:30 to avoid the intro)

Corn and Crab Chowder

I’ve been on a bit of a blogging summer break. I could go on and on about how it has been a jam-packed summer for us, but I know it’s the same for everyone. Life is busy. That’s just the way that it is. I keep thinking it will calm down soon; but I think my friend Jess summed it up when she told me, “you know, you’re not going to get any less busy, right?”

Sometimes, I catch myself thinking, “I will do x, y, and z as soon as I have more time.” The truth is that I can’t keep putting things off until then, because it will never come. This is how life is and I will never do the things I want unless I make them more of a priority. This is living, my friends.

This crab and corn chowder is a wonderful summer meal, especially with Ohio sweet corn being positively scrumptious right now. Despite the seemingly long list of ingredients in this, it really comes together quickly and it’s a great alternative to the more traditional corn chowder we enjoyed last year.

Go get yourself some corn, and whip this up for a tasty weeknight meal. Happy Monday, everyone!

Corn and Crab Chowder

Yield: 6 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium red onion, diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 serrano pepper, minced
  • 4 ears raw corn, kernels removed and cobs reserved
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 cups low sodium chicken broth
  • 1 cup low-fat milk
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 bunch fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
  • 1 pound lump crabmeat, picked over to remove shell pieces
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice (from 1 lime)
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Directions

1. Heat oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add in the onion, garlic, Serrano pepper, and corn kernels. Stir to combine and allow to cook for 2-3 minutes, or until the onions are translucent.

2. Add in cumin, chili powder, cayenne, and paprika and stir to coat the vegetables evenly. Mix in the chicken broth, milk, and water.

3. Add in the corn cobs and cook over medium heat for 12-15 minutes.

4. Remove the corn cobs and transfer 2 cups of the soup mixture into a blender (with a tightly-secured lid) and blend until smooth. Add the puree back into the pot and stir to combine.

5. Reduce the heat to low and add in the cilantro, crab meat, lime juice, and salt and pepper. Cook for an additional 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

6. Remove from heat and serve hot.
Source: Adapted from The Fresh 20

Copper Mountain, Colorado

No new recipes for today. Things have been pretty simple in the meal department the past two weeks, but I wanted to share a few pictures from our ski trip to Copper Mountain, Colorado. My dad has been planning this family vacation out west for several years now. I remember he was even talking about it when I was still in high school. It’s been a long time coming. Finally, we were all able to make it happen. The trip was set in stone for over a year and, I must say, it lived up to the hype.

Having never been to Colorado before, I was taken back by the beautiful scenery. I can’t imagine living with a view of evergreen-studded, snow cap mountains through my back window. Simply amazing.

The altitude was a big adjustment for us Ohio folk. The first day we got in, we walked down to the village to get helmets and we could barely talk because we were so out of breath. Luckily, though, we were feeling better after a few days and none of us got too sick from the high elevation.

Robert and I were also able to meet up with Jeff, one of my friends from PT school, as well as one of his fellow engineering friends from college. I am a bit envious they get to live in Colorado year round, but I won’t hold it against them.

Another thing I noticed- everyone’s in good shape. I barely saw any overweight people. In fact, I think I may have been the plumpest one around. It turns out, Colorado is the thinnest state in the nation. Can’t say that about Ohio. :)

Aside from my mom’s injury on the last day, we had a wonderful time in Colorado. I can’t wait to go back again!

Oh, and how could I forget… we got to spend lots of quality time with this little leprechaun…