Sunday, November 6, 2011

fall, flannel & football!

Oh hey, November! Can't believe it's been two months since I posted. I have a few moments to spare before heading out to visit some friends, so I figured a quick update on the Crane household would be apropos!

With fall in full swing, I have been keeping busy with the typical teacher workload (grading, grading, and more grading), bi-weekly bikram yoga classes, a wonderful new bible study at our church, and trying to keep up with my high-energy, occasionally-willing-to-cuddle puppy. In addition to his job, the class he's taking, and being an all-around terrific chef, husband, and dad to Izzy, Jake has been occupying his time with football. Reading about it, talking about it, dreaming about it... and probably wishing I shared his passion for it (I'm really trying!).

Because our weeks are so busy, we both look forward all week to Friday night date night. We like to try a new restaurant every week. This Friday, we ate at Coastal Flats. They serve great seafood dishes and appetizers! We are obsessed with one of the starters there--the Blue Crab & Rock Shrimp Fritters with grilled corn salsa & lobster ginger butter. Holy amazing!

Last night I was excited to have some time to do a little cooking and baking (my favorite!). I made a big pot of yummy chili, which I left simmering on the stove while we took Izzy for a walk. To continue the "comfort food" theme, I tried these Pumpkin Whoopie Pies with Maple Cream Cheese Filling for dessert.

Can't wait to share these little treats. They are delish!

I am also really looking forward to two visitors tomorrow--my mom and little brother :) It's definitely been hard to be far away from family, but I'm thankful that the distance can be covered in a day trip!

Until next time (or next season, at the rate I'm going!).

Sunday, September 11, 2011

guilt-free brownies

No, that was not an oxy-moron. No-remorse, guilt-free, sinless brownies that actually taste amazing do in fact exist, and can be made with a few ingredients that you probably have on hand. I HAVE to share this recipe in case there is someone out there craving chocolate but trying to "behave." This, my friend, is going to change your life (or at least make it a little better!).

As many of you probably know, you can use the healthier alternative of subbing applesauce for oil when making boxed-brownies. However, since I've stopped using box mixes when it comes to baking (so worth it, even it takes more time), I started researching healthy brownies from scratch. When I had a full-on chocolate crave attack last night after having minimal amounts of chocolate for the past two-and-a-half months (Jake is not a fan), this recipe for Jillian Michael's Fudge Brownies not only satisfied my craving, BUT also left me feeling guilt-free.

[disclaimer: I am not a huge J.M. fan or anything, but the woman can make some brownies!]

Jillian Michael's Fudge Brownies

2/3 cup mild honey, such as clover (what I used) or Orange blossom
1/3 cup natural unsweetened cocoa powder (I used Hershey's)
1/2 cup white whole wheat flour (I just used all-purpose flour)
1/4 tsp aluminum-free baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
2 tbs olive oil (I used EVOO)
1 large egg at room temp.
3/4 tsp pure vanilla extract
*1/2 cup of natural peanut butter (optional, but highly recommended!)

1. Pre-heat your oven to 350. Spray an 8x8 baking dish with olive oil (I used regular cooking spray because I wasn't sure how that would turn out!) and set it aside.
2. Place the honey in a glass bowl and microwave it for 45 seconds. Add in the cocoa and mix it all together until it is all very well combined. Let it cool.
3. In a small bowl, Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and mix through.
4. In a large bowl, combine, the applesauce, EVOO, egg, and vanilla and mix together. Add the honey and cocoa mixture and whisk through, then add in the flour mixture and whisk together until no traces of flour are remaining.
5. Pour into your greased baking dish and cook for 25minutes. When you stick a toothpick in the middle loose crumbs will cling to it.
6. Let cool completely before slicing. Cut into 16 bars and store in an airtight container for up to 3 days at room temp.


My suggestion:
Before placing the brownies in the oven, microwave 1/2 cup of natural peanut butter in a glass mixing cup for about one minute. Using a spoon, drizzle the melted pb over the brownie batter. Delicious!

Nutrition Facts (without Peanut Butter):
Calories: 86.2 kcal
Fat: 2.2 g
Protein: 1.3 g
Carbohydrates: 16.0 g
Sodium: 63.6 mg

I LOVE these brownies. They are moist and fluffy, have just the right amount of sweetness, and taste amazing right out of the refrigerator--not to mention, they are SO easy to make! They will take care of even the most intense chocolate craving without making you feel like you need to hit the gym after. No remorse here. :)

Friday, September 9, 2011

floods, free-days, and four-wheel drive!

Due to a series of unfortunate events (namely, the four days of rain that caused flooding on many of the major highways and roads in Fairfax county), my first week at my new school has ended a day early. Although the timing of this "rain day" is rather inconvenient, I'm taking this time to get some things done around the house, play with my puppy, and share a little about what's been going on in the Crane house via blog post!

First of all, I'm excited to report that I am SO happy at my new school! I thank God everyday for providing me with such a great job (and a carpool buddy to make the commute easier!). I've received an incredible amount of support from my co-workers, who are all amazing teachers and all-around wonderful people. I am LOVING my three classes of seniors, and really enjoying my two sophomore classes as well. I feel so at home at Langley, which has made the transition to a new school district so much easier. I can't wait to post some pictures of my new classroom and share some ideas that I'm trying out.

In related news, the roles have really been reversed in our house since I went back to work. I had a lot of fun being a little house-wifey over the summer (and I'm pretty sure Jake enjoyed it as well!), but now that I'm working, we've been dividing up the household tasks. I can safely say that my husband has prepared more meals than I have the past couple weeks! He's also taken on the responsibility of packing lunches, which is a huge blessing (and it always makes me laugh when I open my lunch box and see a "Jake-size" lunch that I could never finish!). Jake has also been doing the grocery shopping, which has been a nice break for me. Even though life has been crazy these past couple weeks with the new school year starting, my husband has been an awesome support-system and source of encouragement.

Izzy, of course, is still her adorable, rambunctious self. She's growing so much and is too smart for her own good. My favorite part of the day is coming home to a REALLY excited puppy who can't wait to play!

This past week, after quite some time of looking and debating, we purchased a 2012 Chevy Equinox! I've never had a brand new car before, so it's been a lot of fun to have such a pimped-out ride. Having a bigger, more powerful vehicle was a huge blessing while driving through multiple "ponds" on Route 50 yesterday during the flood!

I'm hoping the rain will start clearing up so I can run some errands on this unexpected day-off. For now, this housewife/teacher is off to clean and grade some papers!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

coffee cake muffins

although the name is somewhat contradictory, this deceivingly easy breakfast treat proves that the flavors of a traditional coffee cake AND the handy, compact shape of a muffin can exist in perfect harmony. since I pretty much jump at any opportunity to bake these days, I made these muffins for an early morning meeting with the other new English teachers in my school district. it's been a LONG and information-packed week getting oriented to Fairfax County Public Schools, and since anything strudel-topped usually provides great comfort, I figured these grab-and-go muffins could assist us in "eating our feelings" without allowing us to eat TOO much. teaching is hard work, people!

Coffee Cake Muffins

For the Streusel Topping:

* 2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
* 3/4 cup brown sugar
* 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
* 3/4 teaspoon coarse salt
* 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons butter, room temperature

For the Muffins:

* 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
* 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
* 1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
* 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
* 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons butter, room temperature
* 1 cup sugar
* 3 large eggs
* 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
* 1 1/4 cups sour cream

For the Milk Glaze:

* 1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
* 3 tablespoons milk


1. For the topping: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, stir together the flour, brown sugar, cinnamon and salt. Add the butter and toss with a fork to coat with the flour mixture. Mix on medium-low speed until the texture resembles coarse cornmeal, with the butter pieces no larger than small peas. Transfer mixture to a medium bowl and place in refrigerator for 30 minutes before using.

2. Preheat oven to 350F. Line 24 muffin cups with muffin liners or spray with nonstick cooking spray.

3. For the muffins: In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt; set aside.

4. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time, scraping down bowl as needed. Stir in vanilla extract by hand. Add flour mixture and sour cream and stir until just combined.

5. Next, fill each muffin cup with about a tablespoon of batter, so it's just covering the bottom of the cup. Then, sprinkle a tablespoon or so of the strudel mixture over the bottom layer. Spoon a little more batter over the strudel "layer" (this can get tricky; be patient!). Finally, top with more strudel.

6. Bake rotating the pans halfway through until golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 20-22 minutes. Transfer pans to a wire rack to cool completely before removing muffins.

7. To make milk glaze, whisk the powdered sugar and milk together in a small bowl.

8. Place muffins on a wire rack set over a baking sheet and drizzle with glaze. I used the whisk to do my "drizzling"--it worked great!

source: adapted from Sweet Pea's Kitchen

Sunday, August 21, 2011

piña colada cupcakes

In my opinion, piña coladas are the definition of the perfect summertime beverage. Whether you're enjoying one on a beach in the Caribbean (I highly recommend this option!), or making one after work in your kitchen, a piña colada is like a little piece of pineapple-coconut heaven. So, why not have one in cupcake form?

I tried out a recipe for piña colada cupcakes this past weekend for my newly-engaged friends Julie & Jeremy's housewarming party. Great food, good company, cornhole, and cupcakes with a little rum in the batter = a great way to end the summer and celebrate friends moving into a beautiful home!

Piña Colada Cupcakes

* 1/3 C coconut rum (or any rum you have on hand)
* 3/4 C coconut milk (cream of coconut works great too)
* 1/4 C pineapple juice
* 1 tsp vanilla
* 1 1/2 C all-purpose flour
* 1 tsp baking soda
* 1/4 tsp salt
* 1/2 C unsalted butter, room temperature
* 1 C
* 3 large eggs
* 1 C shredded baker's coconut
* 1 C crushed pineapple

1. In a small bowl, combine rum, coconut milk, pineapple juice, and vanilla. Set aside.
2. In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
3. In a large mixing bowl, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
4. Add eggs to the sugar mixture one at a time, beating well after each addition.
5. Alternately add the flour mixture and the rum mixture, beating well after each addition.
6. Fold in the coconut and pineapple.
7. Fill cupcake liners 3/4 full.
8. Bake at 350 F for 25 minutes or until cupcakes bounce back when lightly touched.

*Yields 18 cupcakes.

Whipped Cream Topping

Although the original recipe calls for a cream cheese based frosting, I decided to go with a lighter topping for these cupcakes, similar to what I've had on piña colada cake before.

1 1/2 C. heavy whipping cream
1/2 C. confectioner's sugar

Use an electric mixer to blend until stiff peaks form. Pipe or spread on cupcakes.

If desired, top cupcakes with a sprinkle of shredded baker's coconut (if you're feeling colorful, add a drop or two of food coloring to the coconut beforehand! I was in a pink mood when I made mine).

Source: The Cupcake Project

Thursday, August 18, 2011

izzy crane

reasons why I love my dog today (and every day):

[yes. this entire post is about my dog. you've been warned!]

1. she makes me laugh when I'm frustrated.

2. she has not only mastered "shake," but is "high-fiving" now, too. pretty soon, we'll probably have our own secret handshake.

3. she is a tad bit (very) clumsy--just like me.

4. she appreciates my cooking.

5. she always finds my lost hair ties.

6. she enjoys bumming around with me. and watching movies.

7. she loves her dad and so do I.

8. she is great at making new friends everywhere we go (mostly the human kind right now).

9. she keeps the kitchen floor clean for me.

10. she doesn't care if I look nice or smell good.

and last but not least:

11. she is the BEST photo subject ever.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


I found a recipe for easy chicken marsala with mushrooms last week, and finally got around to experimenting with it tonight. this is such a quick, easy, and delicious meal--the only "out of the ordinary" items you'll need to pick up on your next grocery store run are marsala wine, baby bella mushrooms, and green onions.

chicken marsala with baby bella mushrooms


* 4-5 thin-sliced chicken breasts
* cooking spray
* salt
* black pepper
* 1 and 1/2 cups of baby bella mushrooms, sliced
* 1 and 1/4 cups of marsala wine OR marsala cooking wine
(this will not be in the wine section of the store; look near the vinegar!)
* 2 green onions, finely chopped (about 1/3 cup)
* 4 tablespoons butter
* 2 tablespoons flour (to thicken sauce)


1. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Sprinkle chicken evenly with salt and pepper. Add chicken to pan. Cook 5 to 6 minutes on each side or until done. Remove chicken and drippings from pan; set aside, and keep warm.

2. Heat pan over medium-high heat; coat pan with cooking spray. Add mushrooms. Coat mushrooms with cooking spray; cook 2 minutes or until tender, stirring frequently. Add wine and 3 tablespoons onions. Cook 30 seconds over high heat. Reduce heat; add butter, stirring until butter melts. Sprinkle in the flour, stirring gently to thicken the sauce and break up any flour clumps.

3. Add chicken and drippings to pan, stirring gently. Place chicken on platter. Spoon mushroom sauce over chicken; sprinkle with remaining onions.

note: I modified this recipe.

I served my chicken marsala over fettucine tossed lightly with olive oil (I suggest using a Misto olive oil sprayer--these are so handy and are only $9.99 at Bed Bath & Beyond).

fresh. fast. feast!

that is Jake's dinner plate, by the way! :)