Monday, July 22, 2013

Zesty Quinoa and Black Bean Salad

This past weekend was very special, as we had a party to celebrate the engagement of my sister-in-law, Melissa and her fiancee, Rick.

Here are the top 5 reasons I'm excited about this union (in no particular order)

  1. Rick's last name begins with the same letter as Melissa's maiden name - so no matter which she chooses to use, she will still have the glorious initials MMF (Mini and I also happen to share the same monogram :))
  2. Rick is a super smart lawyer who is also a world traveler that enjoys cooking... and has read some posts on Vittles and Bits (what what??)
  3. Technically that last one was like 4 reasons so I will take a breather here
  4. Melissa is no longer late to every family event (which is huge, compared to the days she missed the train from NYC, that came after the train she originally missed)
  5. In the almost 6 years I've known her, I don't believe I've ever seen Melissa this happy; see example below:

Umm... is that not one of the most adorable couple pictures you've ever seen?

Anyway, everyone seemed to have a great time celebrating, which included lots of delicious food & drinks, excellent company, and a beautiful setting.

Mr. Vittles' aunt, Betty and uncle, Carl were kind enough to host the party at their house (their daughter, Devon, is the Maid of Honor!)  Betty is an incredible gardener and their back yard is absolutely beautiful.  Maybe I've been watching too much HGTV, but I can't think of any other way to explain it than, "it's the perfect outdoor space for entertaining."

And despite the fact that it felt about as hot as the surface of the sun last week, the weather was much better Saturday night than I was expecting.  It was slightly cooler, and the predicted thunderstorms held off for the entire duration of the party. Looking at the radar, we later realized it was raining literally everywhere else in the area.

(FYI it also happened to be my mother-in-law's birthday - guess that rain had more sense than to come anywhere near us.)

Anyway, since Betty is also probably the most organized home party planner in the entire world, she not only assigned people dishes to bring, but also gave out recipes for them.  I think she may have pulled them out of her "party files" .... oh yes, she has party files!

But I'm glad that she did, because it prompted me to make something totally new.  Though I've eaten quinoa before, I'm a little embarrassed to admit I've never made it until now.

I was happy to find out it's much easier and quicker to prepare than rice (of which I am a habitual ruiner).  And although we had this salad as a side at the party, Betty said she's made it as a main before.  It's a pretty hearty salad, so I can see how it could go either way.

It also seems pretty healthy, so perhaps I need to start eating this as a main myself to drop a few L-B's before I have to put on my bridesmaid dress.  September will be here before we know it!

Zesty Quinoa and Black Bean Salad
  • 1 C. quinoa
  • 2 C. water
  • 1/4 C. extra-virgin olive oil
  • juice of 2 limes
  • 1 1/2 t. ground cumin
  • 1 t. salt
  • 1/2 t. red pepper flakes (or more to taste)
  • 1/2 t. garlic powder
  • 1/4 C. fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 1 pint halved cherry tomatoes
  • 1 (15-ounce) can black beans, drained & rinsed
  • 4 scallions, finely chopped
  • salt and ground black pepper to taste

Combine quinoa and water in a medium saucepan, and bring to a boil.  Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer until quinoa is tender and water has been absorbed (about 10-15 minutes).  Allow to cool.

In the meantime, whisk olive oil, lime juice, cumin, 1 teaspoon salt, red pepper flakes, garlic powder, and cilantro together in a bowl or  measuring cup.  Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine quinoa, tomatoes, black beans, and scallions.  Pour dressing over quinoa mixture, and mix to coat evenly.  Add ground pepper, and adjust seasoning to taste.  Serve immediately or chill in refrigerator.  Serves 6-8.

Recipe Adapted Slightly from Allrecipes

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Soft Lemon Cookies

I hope you guys enjoyed your Fourth of July holiday!

Mr. Vittles and I had a great day off, and we were busy bees with the Mini.  She actually had a few "firsts," such as...

...first time in her baby pool;

...first time seeing fireworks;

...and first time not having a complete melt down at a social outing.

(Mommy was probably most excited about the last one, not sure about her though.)

We stopped by my grandmother's house, where my aunt, uncle and cousins were visiting in addition to my grandmother's friends from Florida.  We then went to a barbecue at our friends' house nearby.  The Mini barely napped in the afternoon, but she was so well-behaved I could hardly believe it.

Our friend's mother was holding her for almost half the party, and Mr. Vittles and I kept looking at each other like, "Has our child been abducted by aliens?"

Then, the fireworks were more than 2 hours past her bedtime, but we decided to wake her up and give it a go.  We weren't sure how she'd react to the loud noise, so we watched from a marina one town over - she really liked looking at them, however did not enjoy the boat horns of an over-zealous yachter nearby.  For that reason, we left before the finale but I would still consider it a success!

I would also consider these lemon cookies to be a success.

If anyone has ever had my ricotta cookies, these have a similar consistency (very soft and cake-like).  But the lemon adds a freshness that is perfect for summer.

Soft Lemon Cookies
  • 1/3 C. milk
  • 2 t. lemon juice
  • 1 3/4 C. flour
  • 1 t. baking powder
  • 1/4 t. baking soda
  • 1 t. lemon zest
  • 3/4 C. granulated sugar
  • 1/2 C. (1 stick) butter
  • 1 egg
  • 1 t. vanilla
  • 3/4 C. powdered sugar
  • 1 T. + 2 t. water or milk

Combine milk with lemon juice, and set aside.  Let sit 5 minutes.

In a medium bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, and baking soda to combine.  Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine lemon zest with sugar.  Using your fingers, rub the zest into the sugar until very fragrant and evenly-distributed.  Add butter, and beat on medium speed with a mixer until butter is pale and fluffy (about 2 minutes).

Add milk mixture, egg, and vanilla.  Beat on medium speed until combined.

Add half flour mixture, and mix on low until incorporated.  Add remaining flour mixture, and mix on low.  Increase speed to medium, and mix until well-combined, scraping down sides of bowl with a rubber spatula as needed.  Let dough chill for a few hours in refrigerator or overnight.

When ready to bake cookies, preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease a cookie pan, or line with non-stick foil or parchment.

Using a small cookie scoop or tablespoon, drop dough by rounded spoonful onto prepared sheet about 2 inches apart (I put 8 cookies on my sheet, staggered - these will expand).  Bake 8-10 minutes or until edges are starting to brown.

Remove from oven, and let cool on sheet 1-2 minutes before transferring to wire rack to cool.  When cooled completely, make glaze by mixing powdered sugar with water or milk until runny.  Dip cookies in glaze, and return to wire rack to dry.  Makes about 2 dozen cookies.

Recipe Adapted from Taste of Home's Community Forum 


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