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Eclecticisms: January 2011

Sunday, January 30, 2011

New Items on Etsy!

I am FINALLY focusing on my Etsy shop, in preperation of a giveaway that I will soon be sponsoring! (Details to come soon!)

Please check out my shop and give me some feedback. What do you want to see more of? Do you have any tips for me?

Thanks for your support!


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Sunflower Seed Butter Cookies

Some of you may recall my recent obsession with trying to make sunflower seed butter cookies, and the minor setbacks that put this recipe on hold. I'm please to announce, I finally got around to making them! For those of you who've never heard of or tried sunflower seed butter (SFSB from now on... I'm too lazy to keep typing it!), it tastes a lot like peanut butter and has the same consistency. You can get it at Whole Foods or Trader Joe's, but I'm sure there are many other stores that carry it.

I'm not just proud of these cookies because they turned out delicious, but I'm proud because I made up a hybrid recipe, based mostly on the one I used last week when I made peanut butter cookies. I've never experimented like this when it comes to baking, and it WORKED! I'm super excited!

The best thing about sunflower seed butter? It's nut-allergy friendly! Apparently, nut allergies are so common that many schools have banned peanut products. When I heard that, my heart sank a little. Not because I am some peanut butter activist, but because the idea of a kid not being able to eat PB&J for lunch kills a long tradition of bringing those squished sandwiches in paper bags to school. (I never thought I'd see the day when cell phones were OK but peanut butter was not. I was suspended for having a cell phone in school back in 1997ish... I want an apology! Haha) Long story short, your kids can once again enjoy these yummy sandwiches without making one of their friends break out into a full-body rash.

Nothin' but goodness...
 Note: I had 2 people with peanut allergies try these cookies. (Neither have had peanut butter cookies before, for obvious reasons.) One seemed to like them, but my Dad (who is DISGUSTED by the smell of peanuts and peanut butter) wasn't a fan. He still ate a couple of bites though, which really surprised me! Thanks for being a trooper!

Makes 20 cookies

1 Cup Sunflower Seed Butter
1/2 Cup butter, unsalted
3/4 Cup organic white sugar
1/2 Cup organic brown sugar
1 organic (cage-free!) egg
2 Tbs Milk
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/3 Cup organic All-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt

Begin by preheating your oven to 375 degrees. Combine sugars, peanut butter and butter. Mix on medium-high until well blended, or about 2-3 minutes.

Add the egg, milk and vanilla, beating thoroughly after each addition.

In a seperate bowl, mix flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Gradually beat the flour mixture into the SFSB mixture.

Now your dough will be thick and easy to work with. If it's not quite firm enough for you, refridgerate the dough for an hour or two.

Form 1 1/2" balls and place on ungreased cookie sheets. Press the cookies down with fork tines or create the classic peanut butter cookie pattern. (You can also sprinkle them with sugar for a pretty effect.)

Bake for 8-10 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on the baking sheets for about 3 minutes. (They are way too crumbly to take off right away!)

Transfer to cooling racks to finish cooling.


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Saturday, January 29, 2011

Shiitake Mushroom and Spinach Pasta

Have you noticed that I love mushrooms and spinach? Well, I do. I recently decided that shiitake mushrooms are my absolute favorite, with their amazing earthy and savory flavor. (I wish they were cheaper though!)

I wanted to make another rice dish with some organic spinach and shiitakes that I'd just bought, but saw this recipe and realized that I haven't had angel hair paste in a LONG time. It's one of my favorites, so, I swung by the store on my way home to grab some and made a slight variation of this. I have to say, it was pretty damn good! It's a fast and cheap dinner, with some vitamins packed in.

Spinach= fiber, niacin, zinc, vitamins A, C, B6 and K, and folate
Mushrooms= Potassium, riboflavin, niacin and selenium

Pasta= Near-future hip and gut insulation
Cheese= Goodness


6 ounces angel hair pasta

6 ounces fresh sliced shiitake mushrooms

1 clove garlic, minced

1/2 large bundle of fresh spinach

1/4 cup white wine

1 tablespoon olive oil

4 Tbs salted butter (Give or take, depending on taste)

1/4 cup veggie broth

1/2 cup heavy whipping cream

salt to taste
ground black pepper to taste

Freshly grated grated Parmesan cheese
*Angel hair pasta cooks super fast, so don't start making it too soon. You'll want to time these to be done about the same time. It's good to start the noodles around the time you're ready to add the veggie broth.

Add oil and garlic into a large pan, and cook over medium-low flame until aromatic (about 3 minutes).  

Add mushrooms and 1 Tbs butter (the butter is so the mushrooms can cook a bit without being too dry). Cook for about 2 minutes.

Add veggie stock and white wine. Cook until the sauce has reduced by about half, or most of the liquid is gone.

Add cream and cook until reduced to your liking.

You want a little liquid, but you don't want it to be too watery. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Add fresh spinach, stirring occasionally until cooked, or about 3 minutes.

Toss sauce with pasta, and top with freshly grated parmesan cheese.


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We Have a Winner!

Congratulations to Ginger, comment #24! (Picked using You are the winner of my first giveway, for a $20 gift certificate to Gypsy Jewel's Etsy shop!

I don't need to tell you to respond within 48 hours, since you already did while I was writing this post. :)

Thanks to all for participating! I will host another Giveaway soon!

*Please contact me if you're interested in sponsoring a giveaway!*


Tuesday, January 25, 2011


Wondering what was on our menu for Mexican dinner + game night this weekend? Here ya go! (Everything listed is homemade, though not all by me.)

Pico de Gallo
Tomatillo Salsa


Pork tacos
Chicken mole tacos
Veggie "gound beef" taco filling
Refried black beans

Flan cheesecake
Rice pudding

Apparently, I'm one of the few people in Chicago who had no idea what jicama is. Jicama (aka Yambean) is a vegetable from Mexico and South America whose texture and taste is a cross between an apple and a potato. It's packed with fiber and vitamin C, so it's super good for you! Jicama has a lovely flavor on its own, but when simply garnished with lime jiuce and chili pepper is really takes on a whole new dimension.

Here are the super simple steps to making this dish. (Thanks for this, Derrick!)


Fresh Limes
Chili Powder

First, peel the skin off the jicama and cut it into finger-like pieces.

 Put them into a large Ziplock bag. Next, squeeze the juice of several limes (enough to throughly coat the jicama) into the bag and shake it up. Allow to macerate for at least an hour or two.

Serve sprinkled with chili powder.

Sorry there isn't another picture... sevring dinner got pretty crazy!

That's it! These are great to munch on as a snack, too. (Though popcorn will still be my #1 choice for movie food.)

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Refried Black Beans

Last Saturday, my friend Derrick and I hosted a dinner and game night for just over 20 friends. I had a last minute panic attack and felt there was something "missing". I love making Frijoles Negros con Arroz (black beans and rice) but the way I make it is Cuban style, and we were cooking all Mexican foods. Not wanting to stray from the theme, I instead decided to make a dish that I understand is popular in southern Mexico, refried black beans. I didn't follow a recipe here, but did look at a couple for ideas and info. They turned out REALLY good and they're super filling! We had enough food, but I'm glad we had them as back up, and to help complete our delicious meal. The next time you get stuck and aren't sure what to have as a side, give these a try!

*Measurements all based on personal taste and how many you'd like to serve.

Olive Oil
Black beans

This was the biggest can of beans, EVER!

Start by sauteeing the onions and garlic in the olive oil over medium heat, until the onions begin to appear translucent. Then add the beans (including the liquid from the can).

Continue cooking until the beans are hot, or about 5 minutes. Now, use a potato masher to crush them up well.

Continue to cook over low/medium heat until they thicken to the desired consistency, or about 30-45 minutes. I worried they were too watery (I didn't know how long it would take to thicken) so I made a roux out of flour and olive oil to help the process along. It was probably unnecessary, but it's good to know you can always fall back on it!

That's it! Serve as a side or on tacos or chips. Super easy, right?


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Tickled Tuesday

So, I got this sent to me at work and thought it was too cute to not share.

Happy Tuesday!


Monday, January 24, 2011

Flan Cheesecake

While baking this cake there was a brief moment where I thought to myself, "It's finally happened. I'm in over my head. This isn't going to work". To be fair, this was around 9:45 at night after I'd scalded my wrist, hurt my pan while digging through my pantry and snuck into my parents house looking for a roasting pan. It was all worth it in the end, and I plan to do it all again. Ok... maybe not the scalding part.

This recipe is from Wolfgang Puck's site, but the credit goes to pasrty chef Sherry Yard.


1 1/2 Cups sugar
1/2 Cup water
1 Tbs lemon juice

Cheesecake Base
1 1/2 lbs cream cheese (room temp)
1 1/4 Cups sugar
1 vanilla bean
1 Tbs grated orange zest
6 Eggs
1 Cup heavy cream

To begin, you will make the caramel that will top your cake. In a heavy metal sauce pan, combine the water, sugar and lemon juice. Over high heat, bring the ingredients to a boil and continue to cook until the mixture is a deep caramel color. I was a bit impatient and afraid to over cook this, so I kept checking the color in the cake pan. It's not easy to tell when this is getting darker when you use a black pot. If you have a lighter color, I'd recommed using that instead.)

As I've been doing in all my recipes lately, I used organic sugar. I swear, it tastes better!

The mixture will get very bubbly as it boils. I stirred it very often, though now that I've read up more on carmelized sugar, I  see that some people say not to stir it at all, but it worked fine for me.

Definitely too light of a color, so I kept boiling the mixture.
Let me say that this doesn't smell very good while you're cooking it. Also, it's incredibly hot and dangerous so be mindful of any kids or pets running around the kitchen. After it's been boiling for awhile and the sugar has liquified, it will start to get a sort of spider web effect (very thin hair-like texture when you pull your spatula or wooden spoon out). The adjective spindly comes to mind, though I'm not sure that's really the word to use. When it cools, it resembles glass. Anyways. It was on my next try to pour a tiny bit into the pan to check how the color was progressing when I dripped it on my wrist. Needless to say, it hurt like a son of a.... and I was in a lot of pain! Lukily, I just ended up with a small, albeit painful, blister.

I probably could have gone just a bit longer, but got a nice, rich color.
Once the  caramel is done, pour it into a 9" cake pan and rotate it so the carmel completely covers the bottom and a bit of the sides. Use a poholder, because that pan will be HOT! Set aside to cool while you prepare the cake base.

Set your oven to 325 degrees and put a kettle of water on. (Seriously. And no, we are not making tea.)

Beat your cream cheese on low speed until smooth, or about 3 minutes.

Scrape the sides of the bowl well. low speed until the cream cheese is smooth. Stop the machine. With a small knife, split the vanilla bean in half lengthwise. With the knife tip, scrape the tiny vanilla seeds from inside each half into the mixer bowl.

Vanilla beans smell heavenly!
Add the orange zest and sugar, beating on low until everything is thoroughly mixed (about 2 more minutes).

This batter smells AMAZING. The vanilla beans give it a very cool color, and reminded me of ice cream!
Add eggs one at a time, beating throroughly and scraping the sides of the bowl after each addition.

With the blender on low speed, slowly add in the cream, stopping 2 or 3 times to scrape the sides of the bowl.

Put your cake pan into a roasting pan or any metal dish that will hold it, with room to spare. Now, pour this mixture into your pan. Be careful, so you don't spill over the edges!

This is the pan I got at my parents' house. I had planned on using one of my casserole dishes but they are too small to fit the cake pan. (Make sure you have something big enough!) This vegetarian does NOT own a roasting pan, and apparently they aren't the same size. Oops!
Pour the boiling water into the larger pan, so it comes about halfway up your cake pan. Carefully place it in the oven and bake for about 1 hour, or until the cake begins to firm on the edges. (The center will be very jiggly, but don't worry... that's how you want it!)

A little spillage, but nothing serious.

Very carefully remove the cake from the oven and once cool enough, take the pan out and let cool on a wire rack. Chill in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours. I find it best to chill over night, partly because I like to bake so late, but mostly because this way I won't be tempted to pick at it early!

Once chilled, place a plate on top of the cake pan and holding it securely, flip the cake pan over. My panic really kicked in here, because I was convinced the cake wouldn't come out all at once and I'd end up with a huge mess on my hands.


guess what.

It came out PERFECTLY! (And I cried out with glee, like a little girl.)

Expect some of that sugar to drip out! It's messy!

Gorgeous! (If I do say so myself.)
To help ease the cake out of the pan (assuming your's sticks like mine did) you can gently press around on the bottom the the pan to loosen the cake. You'll hear the sugar cracking as you go. The bottom of the pan will look super cool when you're finished.

Even Pickles came to see the neat cracked-glass look!
After I marveled at the beauty left in the pan, I realized I had to clean it out and lost some of the excitement. It was much easier than I initally thought though. Just run super hot water on it and rotate the pan as it comes off, making sure to get all the spots.

My stove is a mess in this pic because my friend Derrick and I had just prepared dinner for 20 people, but I had to get a shot of the cake after I cut it. It looked so neat!

Enjoy! This is one of the lightest and tastiest cheesecakes I've had. I can't wait to make it again, and I think Brian agrees...

... since he so obviously enjoyed this one.

Happy baking!

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Sunday, January 23, 2011

Pickles in the PM

This isn't Pickles in the AM, but in the PM, while I was making my bed. She didn't want to move, the jerk!

There she is, under the sheet.

Haha, I win! Val=2, Pickles 1

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