Thursday, March 31, 2011

Whole Wheat Oatmeal Peanut Butter and Apricot Jam Muffins

Well that was a long name!

Cooking in this studio-sized apartment does have its challenges when there's no oven or stove (we use a camp-type gas stove and convection oven for baking).  It also forces you to be creative, and I'm sure that when we do move into a bigger apartment I will never take space or kitchen appliances for granted.  Amen.

I was so excited when the hubby and I were grocery shopping last night at Publix and I found a 6-cup muffin tin for only $4.99!  It fits perfectly into our little oven, like it was meant to be.  My dear sister had gotten me one for Christmas but its rounded edges stuck out, and the only way it would fit was if it was placed diagonally... leading to uneven cooking or only baking two at a time.

I adore cupcakes and muffins.  But since I moved here, when looking at recipes I automatically skipped over all the fun cupcake and muffins recipes, knowing I wouldn't be able to make them.  But now all those previously impossible recipes are now possible!  I feel like a whole new world has opened up.  I immediately started thinking of all my favorite muffin combinations... peanut butter and banana, chocolate and peanut butter, blueberry and cream cheese, oatmeal and peanut butter, oatmeal and chocolate chip... you get the idea.

Israel doesn't really like peanut butter, so I don't normally bake anything with it in, even though I could (and probably do) eat it every single day.  It's always a good idea if the other person you're baking for likes the same thing you do... or you'll end up eating it all by yourself.  Which is not good.  But I could not resist my peanut butter obsession any longer, and I tried to make some muffins as healthy as possible... and so Whole Wheat Oatmeal Peanut Butter and Apricot Muffins were born.

The apricot is just barely peeking out...

Sweet explosion in my mouth.

Makes 12 muffins
Adapted from HowSweetEats


1 3/4 c. whole wheat flour
1/4 c. sugar
1/4 c. brown sugar
1 T. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/4 c. fat-free milk
1/2 c. peanut butter (heaping)
1/4 c. egg whites
1 tsp. vanilla
1/4 c. apricot jam (or any other flavor you prefer!)
1/4 c. oats
2 T. butter

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Combine flour, baking powder, salt and sugars in a large bowl.  Stir with a whisk until well-combined.  Make a well in center of mixture.  Combine milk, peanut butter, egg whites, oats, butter, and vanilla and add to flour mixture; stir just until moist.  

Spoon batter into 12 muffin cups coated with cooking spray or butter.  Fill each cup half full with batter. Spoon 1 teaspoon jam into each cup, then spoon remaining batter on top to cover jam.  Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes or until muffins spring back when touched lightly in center.  Let cool in pan for at least 5 minutes.  Remove from pan and cool on a wire rack.  

These make for a delicious and healthy morning snack at only about 200 calories per muffin!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Menu Monday: 3/28-4/4

Posting this a day late because I was still figuring out the menu for this week.  But here it is!

Monday:  No groceries, eat out

Tuesday:  Sausage, Peppers and Onions over rice (got this idea from Jenna's Everything blog... awesome quick and easy meal!)

Wednesday:  Sweet and Sour Chicken with bell peppers, pineapple (hopefully, if I can convince the hubby of their goodness) and rice

Thursday:  Breaded Tilapia with Mango Salsa
-Parmesan biscuits

Friday:  Leftovers or eat out

Saturday:  Hamburger Hash with rice

Sunday:  Omelettes or Spaghetti

Treats for the Week:  Dulce de Leche Ice Cream Pie

I just realized that looking at this menu for the week, we probably eat rice with our meals at least three or four times a week!  This is how your life changes when you're married to the Cuban.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Weekend Update

This weekend was full of good food, friends and family.  On Friday, we took Zach and Jenn to Vicky Bakery for their first experience with Cuban pastries.  It was fun visiting that place again- I don't think I've been back since my parents visited shortly after we got married.  After a delicious sampling of cafe con leche, pastelitos, and tostadas, we took the metro into the city and toured the history and art museum downtown.  We had a little car trouble on the way back home, but it was such a wonderful day, we (nearly) forgot about the car issue.

On Saturday, I experimented with a new brownie recipe to take to Marili and Vladi's (Israel's aunt and uncle) house that night.  It was so fun hanging out with Giselle and Deimy and playing Just Dance 2 and another game that Deimy mercilessly beat me at.  Giselle is 9, Deimy is 6 and they are both Israel's cousins, or "nieces," as he prefers to call them.  They're both so funny and adorable.  Vladi always has a story to tell about his days in Cuba, and he's a very animated, hilarious storyteller.  We stayed there until very early in the morning listening to his stories and playing with Joel and Giselle.

Yesterday we indulged in two lunches-- one with Zach and Jenn after church, and another with Darin and his family at an amazing Chinese restaurant in Miami Lakes.  Darin's mom still chides us for having our wedding on a Thursday, so we thought it would be fun to bring the wedding video over there to show them.  It was really fun to look back on that special day, and to me that feels like at least a year ago or more, and not six months ago.  So much has changed since then.

This weekend made me realize and appreciate just how much the Lord has truly blessed us with some amazing people in our lives.  I'm so thankful for each and every one of them.

Some photos from our adventure with the Oliva's in the city...

Sweet Shot Day

Saturday, March 26, 2011

What I needed to read today

"Spread love everywhere you go.  Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier."
-Mother Theresa

Bitterness and self-pity does nothing but destroy opportunities to love others.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Skillet Chicken Parmesan

About a month after we were married, I wanted to impress my husband by making an easy version of Chicken Parmesan that I had found in a cookbook.  I wasn't very experienced with making chicken dishes and hadn't learned yet that I actually don't like baked chicken all that much.  So I let it set in a baking dish with tomato sauce and cheese piled on high.  I took it out an hour later, and it was soupy, way too cheesy, and didn't have nearly enough flavor as I had expected.

I decided to attempt this dish again last night, trying a few new things that I've learned.  I combined frying with baking, so it didn't have that flat texture that often accompanies baking.  I made it completely different than last time, and it seriously was one of the best things I've made!  It was flavorful, sweet, and crispy.  I didn't really measure anything as I was adding it, but these are the measurements to the best of my memory:

Chicken Parmesan:

3 boneless skinless chicken breasts
1/2 cup all purpose flour
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup Panko bread crumbs
1/2 tsp. garlic salt
1/2 tsp. parsley
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
1/4 tsp. basil
1/2 cup Mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
3 T. Olive Oil


1 10-ounce can of tomato sauce
2 T. Olive Oil
3 cloves of garlic
1/2 c. onions
1/2 tsp. basil
1/4 tsp. garlic salt
1/4 tsp. parsley
1 T. brown sugar
dash of salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.

Place the chicken breasts side by side on a cutting board and lay a piece of plastic wrap over them.  Pound the chicken breasts with the flat side of a meat hammer (or a can... I used a can of black beans to flatten these things and it did the trick) until they are about 1/4-1/2 inch thick.  Put the flour into a bowl and the eggs in another one.  In a third bowl, combine Panko, garlic salt, parsley, salt and pepper, and basil.  Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat in a large skillet.

Coat both sides of each cutlet with flour, dip in the egg wash, and then dredge in the Panko mix.  Add the cutlets to the skillet and fry for about 4 minutes on each side until golden and crusty.  Place in baking dish and set aside.

Add additional olive oil to a saute pan, and when the oil is hot enough, add onions and garlic cloves.  Cook and stir for about 5 minutes until onions are translucent and fragrant.  Add tomato sauce gradually, cook and stir until the liquid is cooked down and and the sauce is thick.  Stir in garlic salt, brown sugar, parsley, basil, salt and pepper.

Pour sauce over the chicken and sprinkle with cheeses and additional dash of basil.  Bake for 30 minutes or until the cheese is bubbly and the chicken is cooked through.  Serve hot with pasta.  


Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Pastelitos de Guayaba

Miami is a huge melting pot of Latin, South American, European and Central American influences.  What I love is that you can drive down Calle Ocho and spot a Venezuelan bakery, followed by a Cuban bakery a few doors down.  I've never been exposed to such diversity all in one city!  When I first visited Miami almost a year ago, Israel took me to a couple Cuban bakeries and I tried all of the popular snacks:  pastelitos de guayaba, pastelitos de carne, tostadas, and croquetas de jamón.  These can be found at any Cuban cafe, bakery or walk-up counter.  

I had never heard of guayaba or guava, as the "gringos" say, but it has a similar taste to a strawberry rhubarb filling.  The paste is a thick puree of guava fruit and sugar.  I discovered Marta's blog, My Big Fat Cuban Family, and her recipe for homemade pastelitos de guayaba and it looked so easy that I had to try it!  She even made these for her friend Desi Arnaz Jr. (I know, right?!) and they are Desi-approved.  

I love that living in Miami you can find things like guava paste at a normal grocery store without having to visit an international specialty store.  Israel was surprised when I told him that they didn't have these kind of things in the Midwest.  So if you do live basically anywhere else than Miami, you can usually find them at a Latin market or in the Hispanic section of your grocery store.  :)

La Cubanita means the "little Cuban woman."  :)  I am in love with the packaging!

I've never made anything with these pastry sheets before, but I think this will turn into a new obsession.  It's so easy!

I made these at night under horrible lighting conditions, so I regret the flashy quality of this photo.  But here are the infamous guava slices!  They're sticky but firm like gelatin.  

Están casi listos...

I could only fit about 6 pastelitos onto my 8x8 cookie sheet, but on a 9x13, you should be able to get in about 15.


1 package of Pepperidge Farm Puff Pastry Sheets

1 bar of guava paste

1 eight-ounce block of cream cheese

1 egg white, beaten

1/2 tsp. sugar

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and thaw puff pastry according to package directions.  Line 9x13 (or 8x8) cookie sheet with parchment paper so guava won't stick.  Unfold one of the pastry sheets and place on sheet (you'll definitely want to wait until they are well thawed out, but not too flimsy, because I was a little impatient and tried unfolding it while it was still a bit frozen and I cracked part of it off... don't follow my example). 

Cut guava into 1/4 inch (or whatever desired thickness suits you) slices and line two-by-two on pastry sheet.  For an even richer pastelito experience, spread cream cheese over guava slices.  Unfold second pastry sheet and place on top of guava paste/cream cheese mixture.  Cut into desired size before baking.  To add a slight glaze, beat egg white and sugar together.  Brush mixture over pastry before baking.  

Bake at 400 degrees or until golden brown.  Allow to cool for at least 10 minutes before eating, because that guava is steaming HOT!  I was impatient once again and ended up burning my tongue.  Trust me, it will be worth the wait. 

I was so happy to share this with my Cuban in-laws who were impressed that an American had made these.  Enjoy this flaky, gooey, guava goodness!


Monday, March 21, 2011

Menu Monday: 3/20-3/27

In order to be better organized when it comes to cooking, I'm going to start occasionally blogging my weekly dinner menus.  I say occasionally, because I don't want to promise something I'm not sure I'll keep up, but I will try!  For this week...

-Dinner at Bertha's house:  Black Beans, Rice, Tostones, and Pork Chops

-Black Beans and Rice
-Salad for me :)


-Skillet Chicken Parmesan
-Spaghetti with homemade sauce
-Sauteed Zucchini


-Eat Out

-Haven't decided yet... either Whole Wheat Spinach Alfredo Pasta or Omelettes

Treats for the Week:  Chocolate Cielo Cream Pie!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

A Tour of the Deering Estate

Yesterday was enchanting.  I love when Israel has days off, because we can get out of the house and be tourists in our own city.  We visited the Deering Estate in Cutler Bay, which was built in 1922.  Not exactly the oldest house ever, but the grounds it was built on have some serious archeological roots, dating back to the Paleo-Indians, way before the 1700's.

We explored the grounds and houses, and even got to sneak into an undisclosed area, before we heard a strange woman cough upstairs and pretended that she actually lived here.  My theory is that she stays up there all day and when the whole place closes down at 5, she comes back down and dances around in the kitchen.

The first place we headed to after arriving at the estate.  I'm so drawn to water!

What do you see, honey?

I couldn't help myself but take endless pictures of the chandeliers inside.

An interesting rendering of Ash Wednesday

I love contrasting shots of shadows across black-and-white surfaces

Most people think Israel's eyes are brown, but in the sunlight they are a warm amber shade.  I love them!

There was a box that visitors could leave their own written poems in, and Israel contributed this:

Things lost, lives found
Eternity is in the moment,
This moment will live on.

The front of Stone House.... I Photoshopped out some ladies who were blocking a good view of the house :)

I saw this tree as were heading back to our car, although you can find them all over the Gables.  These trees are so magical.

We took a peak at the wine cellar right before they closed up...

Sweet Shot Day

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

"Oye, tiene una llave?"

It's been an interesting morning.  Let me first say that I have one key in my possession, and it's to our apartment.  But let me now say that before today I did not have it on a key ring, since I left my old keys with my parents in Topeka.  Key rings are important, people.

Before Israel left for work this morning, we took our laundry next door.  I said goodbye to Israel, did a few things around here, then grabbed a letter I had planned on leaving for the postman.  I was on my way over next door to check on the laundry and without really thinking, I headed outside, locked the door and slammed the door behind me.  And then I realized what I had done... I had officially locked myself out.  I was still dressed in my sweat pants and t-shirt, hair in messy bun and wearing no makeup, and I immediately thought I might be spending the whole day like this, with my cell locked inside the apartment.

I went next door and tried to explain in Spanish to María, Israel's grandma, what had just happened.  I have no idea how to translate "locked out," but I was able to use other words to convey my situation.  Before I knew it, Jorge had taken two huge cuchillos (knives) and tried to pry our door open.  He even tried a screwdriver-- Cubans are resourceful like that-- but it still would not budge.  And just when I thought I would be spending the rest of the day there in my pajamas, I got ahold of my dear husband who said his boss would let him come home to save me.  I was worried that this would not work originally, because he now works at least 30 minutes from here.

While I waited for Israel to come, I listened to the sounds of Christopher screaming and throwing a paper ball back and forth with him.  I even watched Joel beat an army of zombies in Call of Duty.  Even if I was going to be locked out all day, I think it would have been a good day to practice my Spanish a whole lot!

As soon as my husband came and let me back in, I found the key ring I had bought at Harry Potter World and fastened my key to it, and therefore reminding me that I do own a key and should take it with me.

I've got Dumbledore's Army on my side now.

And eventually the laundry did get done!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Adventure at Harry Potter World

My husband and I just got back from a fun weekend trip to Orlando, where we spent our days wandering around Magic Kingdom and Harry Potter World.  I had really been looking forward to Magic Kingdom, but was surprised by how much more I enjoyed Islands of Adventure.... I mean there's Harry Potter, obvio, but it was a much more relaxed atmosphere there.


We spent most of Sunday at Harry Potter World, and it was truly magical.  It was my first time there, and I was so impressed by how much it really did feel like Hogwarts and Hogsmeade.  All of the stores and restaurants mentioned in the books are there in the little village-- Zonko's, Ollivander's, Honeydukes, etc.  We didn't go into all of the stores because of the long lines going out the door, but we did look around at most of them.

Oh yes, and I let Israel wear my Edna glasses the whole time... best idea ever.

The first thing we did was get in line to ride The Forbidden Journey, the ride that goes through the castle.  We waited about an hour and a half, but it went pretty fast as the line kept moving the whole time.  And the wait was well worth it!  That was one of my favorite rides from both days!  I just wish I had brought my camera with me onto the ride.  I had to store my big one in a locker, and didn't even think to take my smaller one out.  But my husband did snap a few shots as we toured through Hogwarts.

We ate lunch at the Three Broomsticks which was a pretty fun experience.  Wooden tables and chairs made for a pretty genuine atmosphere, and the food was delicious!  And the butterbeer.... oh, the butterbeer.  I hadn't known how to imagine the taste, but it went above my expectations.  It was frothy and creamy and very, very sweet.  I don't normally like overly sweet drinks, but I couldn't resist getting a refill before we went onto the other parts of the theme park.

Me and my Butterbeer mustache 

I do feel lucky that we live so close to Orlando that it makes for a quick trip.  It was so nice to get away, to get a little escape from the routine and stress and just be together, enjoying silly rides and immersing ourselves completely in Harry Potter World.  I'm so thankful for Israel, that he's so patient with me and will hold my hand as I'm freaking out on a ride that shouldn't have been so scary (Jurassic Park River Adventure).... He's a very good travel companion.  :)

More pics soon to come...

Sweet Shot Day

The Trendy Treehouse

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Sweet and Sour Chicken Bliss

I have this unhealthy food obsession.  Particularly with Chinese food.  I'm not sure how it started-- did I come out of the womb wanting egg rolls and won ton soup?  (My husband jokes about how if we did adopt a little girl from China one day she would naturally know how to cook Chinese food-- like it's hereditary or something)... anyways.  

I'm pretty sure this addiction started when I was in third grade.  I often went over to my friend Heather's house after school and her mom sometimes took us to this wonderful Chinese buffet (which years later I learned they may or may not have also served cat there).  But I was young and ignorant, and did not think such things could happen.  

As I walked up to the steaming buffet of Westernized Chinese food, my eyes bulged as I surveyed the glorious array of foods before me.  I scoured the big platters of chicken lo mein, kung pao chicken, crab rangoons, egg rolls, sesame chicken and lastly-- sweet and sour chicken.  I didn't realize then that fried food was bad for you so I ate as much as I could.  I feasted.

This affair followed me into my high school years, when I would order Chinese food at least once a week, sometimes twice or more.  It was a treat to get it in college, often buying it on a Friday night to settle into a nice movie night by myself.  Chinese food is a huge comfort food to me.  I was afraid to actually try making the stuff (especially when I didn't even know how to cook in the first place), but then I was afraid I wouldn't be able to mimic the taste found in cheap buffets.  

But then I thought, Why not?  It's about time Elena made her own.  And for the record, I don't often talk to myself in third person.

I found a great recipe online and attempted to make one of my favorite unhealthy dishes, sweet and sour chicken.  I have to use a foot stool to reach our tiny oven on the second shelf (limited counter space) and I stood up there waiting as I salivated for nearly an hour.  When we finally sat down to eat, I stabbed a chunk of chicken and tasted all of the flavors I was expecting-- tangy but sweet, with a lightly crusted exterior.  It was like being right back at China Pavilion.  

I added veggies, so it's semi-healthy right? 

The salivating has started again...

Sweet and Sour Chicken:

3-4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 eggs, beaten
1 c. cornstarch
salt & pepper
1/4 c. canola oil

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  

Cut chicken breasts into chunks and season with salt and pepper.  Coat chicken in egg and then in cornstarch.  Pan fry in oil until golden brown, but not cooked through.  Place in a single layer in a baking dish (all of my pans-- which is really just an 8x8-- were all in use so I used a loaf pan.... turned out okay anyways).


3/4 c. sugar
4 T. ketchup
1/2 c. vinegar
1 T. soy sauce
1 T. garlic salt

Mix all ingredients together and pour over chicken.  Bake chicken for 60 minutes, turning every 15 minutes.  You can also make extra sauce-- add all ingredients and simmer until thick.  Serve with rice.