Salsa Salsa Salsa!

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Having lived in San Diego for graduate school, I ate tons and tons of salsa. The green kind, the chunky kind, the way too spicy kind, and the crappy kind. I could also never eat salsa that you buy in stores; it always tasted like old pasta sauce to me.

In most restaurants in southern California, salsa is not some bright red, warm, chunky, and questionably tart concoction. It’s a nice blended array of fresh ingredients with fresh tortilla chips that don’t have 1,000 pounds of salt on them.

This salsa is always, and I mean ALWAYS a hit with people. It has hints of cilantro, lime, and garlic that really gives it a great, fresh flavor. It’s incredibly easy to make but people will think you put forth a lot more effort than you really did. But they don’t have to know that…right? “Yes, I hand picked the tomatoes, jalapeño, cilantro, onion, and garlic from my own garden that I planted two months ago. I cried and cried through the hard labor of making this.”

Now I know, I’ve been saying “fresh” over and over already and you will see below that I used canned tomatoes. Don’t get me wrong, I love fresh tomatoes but I have experimented with this thoroughly enough to decide that canned tomatoes just make this salsa taste right. Fresh tomatoes tend to not have enough “tomato-y” flavor, while these canned tomatoes have a savory flavor that ties all of the ingredients together. Make sure to use either diced, whole, or crushed canned tomatoes. Don’t worry, it won’t taste like canned tomatoes.

Ingredients:

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First: place all of your ingredients, but the salt and lime, in your hamster grinder. I mean, your food processor. If you don’t have one, a blender will work just fine. I used about 1.5 cups of tomatoes, handful of cilantro, 1 jalapeño, 1/2 onion, and two small cloves of garlic (or one large one?). Blend until smooth.

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Second: pour your mixture into a bowl and squeeze 2 wedges of lime with 1 teaspoon of salt and mix.

Third: place in the refrigerator and chill. This salsa tastes better the next day but can be consumed right after you’re done making it.

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Extras: you can use any type of onion, I prefer vidalia onion. Since you don’t cook this salsa, make sure not to use a tear-inducing yellow onion.

You can also use serrano peppers instead of jalapeño.

Enjoy!

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Painfully Easy Pimento Cheese

I won’t lie. I only recently tried pimento cheese for the first time. Every time I saw it in the market in a little tub, I wondered (1) what the hell is this? and (2) that looks like what it would look like coming back out. Too much information? Too bad.

But that all changed recently when I tried a homemade version, which was so appetizing and flavorful for how simple it was. It never occurred to me that there were cherry peppers in it, although I knew what pimentos were. Pimento cheese = pimento + cheese. Duh, Kyungso.

You’re probably wondering why I’m even posting this, since it has literally three ingredients. But I’m the type who forgets little simple recipes like this one that can be a great snack to have around. It’s also a ridiculously easy appetizer to bring over to a party, if you’re not feeling inclined to actually put forth a lot of effort.

This version is a quick and easy version of pimento cheese. I know more elaborate recipes have ingredients such as onion, cream cheese, different types of cheeses and such. I didn’t have pimentos but I did have leftover roasted bell peppers to use.

Ingredients:

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First: dice your pimentos (remember, I only had roasted peppers), grate your cheese, and get some mayo out.

Make sure to grate your own cheese. Most pre-grated cheeses are coated with cellulose to keep from clumping. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t want something like cellulose (manufactured kind) going into my stomach.

Second: ratio wise with pimentos:cheese:mayo, I would say 1:3:2. I made a very small amount for two. But all you need is the end product to be of creamy consistency. See below for the picture.

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Enjoy with some crackers!

Glorious Fried Chicken

“Fried.” Not my favorite word, but sometimes necessary in life. For as long as I can remember, I always stood by my parents while they cooked their signature dishes. Ranging from traditional Korean food to Italian to Japanese, I’ve learned a lot. But this dish is by far my favorite (and I think everyone else’s).

In Korean, it is written as 깜풍기 or “kkahm poong gi.” I have absolutely no idea what it actually means but it makes my heart flutter every time and it’s a fun word to try to teach to your fiancé. It is bits of fried chicken in a sweet, sour, and spicy sauce.

Despite the fried component, this dish is actually very light tasting, thanks to the loads of lightly cooked onion, garlic, cucumber, and ginger.

One of the most important ingredients to this dish is tapioca starch in the coating of the chicken. As you can see below, this is the brand I use but I assume any other brand will work fine. Compared to cornstarch, tapioca starch creates a firmer fried texture, even after being doused in the sauce. If you prefer, you can use cornstarch for a chewier and gummier texture. I once considered bringing a pack of this on the plane because I didn’t think I would find it here in Pensacola..but I really didn’t want a repeat of “We want to make sure you don’t have an exploding sausage in your bag”…more on that later.

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Warning: this is not the easiest dish to make so proceed with caution. If you are a newbie to cooking, all I have to say is “I told you so.”

Additionally, cornstarch plays an important role in this dish as a thickening agent for the sauce.

If you don’t like chicken breast, you can use other meats like chicken thigh or shrimp (shrimp is my favorite).

Ingredients:

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First: get your sauce ingredients ready. Dice your onion and cucumbers into 1/2″ cubes. Take whole cloves of garlic and slice vertically. Take your ginger (skin peeled) and cut into smaller cubes. I cut mine big because we have had far too many moments during dinner where we look up at each other after happily biting into a piece of ginger that we thought was garlic. Take 2 tablespoons of cornstarch and mix with about 1/2 cup of water. Mix and set aside.

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Note: the dried chiles are also key to this dish, which you can find in almost any asian market. I’ve also found them in the Mexican section at American markets. If you absolutely cannot find these, red chili flakes are an okay option.

Second: start heating up your oil to fry in.

Third: cube your chicken. I prefer mine to be about 1″ for texture. In a large bowl, place the chicken, 1.5 tablespoons of soy sauce (for two chicken breasts), tons of ground pepper, and about 1/2 cup of tapioca starch.

Fourth: with your hand, start massaging the ingredients together. Yes, I said massage. Just pretend the chicken is your significant other. Or your leg after exercising too much. To each their own. Anyway, the mixture will seem really dry at first but keep on mixing. Once you’ve at least attempted to coat the chicken with the starch, add bits of water and more starch to create a crumbly but sticky coating on the chicken. You want the final product to be pretty dry and crumbly; trust me, it’ll fry up wonderfully; each piece of chicken doesn’t have to be perfectly coated. Look at the picture below for the best reference:

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Fifth: when you’re ready, start frying your chicken in batches. I’m not going to tell you how to fry something. I told you this wasn’t for amateurs. But do remember, don’t put in too many pieces at once; this will cause the oil to decrease in temperature quickly.

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Sixth: once you’re close to being done with frying, heat up a sauce pan over medium heat. Once heated, add some vegetable oil and add your onions, cucumbers, and chiles. After about 2 minutes, add your garlic and ginger. At this point, carefully watch your heat so your garlic doesn’t burn. Once your onions have reached the translucent stage, add 3 tablespoons of brown sugar, 2 tablespoons of vinegar, and about 1/2 of your cornstarch mixture. Increase your temperature and let it simmer. Add more cornstarch mixture if the sauce is too watery. Be careful when adding; I remember adding too much one time and the sauce became a pudding consistency. Not something you want. More cornstarch = thickness increases.

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Seventh: pour your sauce over your chicken and enjoy!

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Brutally Easy Bruschetta Snack

Sad Dog

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I have an overabundance of grape tomatoes, if you haven’t noticed already. I also have an overabundance of mozzarella, as per the usual. And of course, I have an overabundance of basil growing in my little garden. Am I overabundantly using the word overabundance?

Anyway, with these ingredients, I thought making bruschetta toast would be a perfect lunch.

Bruschetta is an incredibly simple but flavorful appetizer. If you have ripe tomatoes, make this!

Ingredients:

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Note that I did not use any balsamic vinegar in this recipe (it typically is used in bruschetta so add it if you’d like). It might be because I forgot to add it in…but no one has to know.

First: Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. Dice your tomatoes (whichever kind you have. I find grape tomatoes to be the sweetest and most flavorful) and place in a bowl.

Second: add chopped basil, 1 clove smashed garlic, and some extra virgin olive oil and toss. Add some salt as well.

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Third: take any bread you have (I am using ciabatta), slice into 1 inch thick slices, and top with the tomato mixture.

Fourth: take a break to bother the dog.

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Fifth: top off with mozzarella. If you don’t have easy access to this cheese, using parmigiano reggiano or any other type of cheese (such as romano) will be fine as well.

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Sixth: stick in the oven for about 15 minutes, or until the cheese is melted to your liking (I like mine super melted) and enjoy!

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Bagels! I DID IT!

I made bagels! Holy crap!

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Warning: this is not an easy task to take on. But you can only get better with practice.

Being from New Jersey, I am a huge bagel snob. We are lucky to have the best bagels on the east coast, but no one else from other states seem to understand our obsession and pride with them.

Of course, living in Pensacola, we have ZERO access to good bagels. The one bagel I had was flat and crumbly. Not what a good bagel should be like. It should have a chewy outer layer with a light, almost string-like texture where you can peel away the layers. After coming back from New Jersey last week, I stuffed into my bag 1 dozen New Jersey bagels. Unfortunately, I (for some reason) chose 6 everything bagels to be included in there so you can imagine what my suitcase smelled like once I got back home.

After viciously consuming these bagels day after day, I finally ran out and thought, “Why not just try to make my own? It can’t be that hard…right?” Right and wrong. I was able to get the flavor and look (sort of) down, but being excited and impatient, I put the bagels into the oven way too quickly. This seemed to cause the dough to be more dense than normal. Nonetheless, they turned out great and I highly suggest giving these a try.

Ingredients:

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First: take 1.5 cups of water and heat it for about 1.5 minutes in the microwave. I don’t have a thermometer; I literally dip my finger in the water and if it’s just hot but not hot enough where you want to urgently take your finger out, then it’s ready. Otherwise, the actual temperature should be about 120 degrees.

In a big bowl, combine 1 teaspoon of molasses (or honey), 4 teaspoons of salt, and 1 packet of yeast. This yeast is the best yeast for baking. It’s not the easiest brand to find but if you can’t find it, any other type of yeast will work. Mix these ingredients, making sure the yeast has dissolved, and put the bowl in the microwave for 10 minutes. EDIT: this means just let the bowl sit in the microwave for 10 minutes, don’t actually microwave for that long! The yeast just needs a warm place to activate and I find using the microwave prevents the water from cooling off quickly. I wonder what would happen if I did microwave it for 10 minutes..

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Say hi to the dog

Second: after 10 minutes, you will see a foamy mixture in the bowl. If this has not happened, you likely did not heat your water enough/too little to activate the yeast and you’ll unfortunately have to start over.

If you’re ready, start adding the bread flour 1/2 cup at a time to the yeast mixture. Slowly stir with a wooden spoon or spatula to combine and continue to add more flour until a shaggy ball of dough forms. As you “mix” the dough, it should start pulling away from the sides of the bowl. If you have a stand mixer with a dough hook, then by all means use it!

Note: the mixture may stick to your hands as you start to knead it. Don’t have a panic attack and be patient. As you keep kneading it, the dough will become elastic and stop being a moody pile of sticky dough.

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Third: start kneading your dough on a clean surface. Slowly add more flour if the mixture is too sticky. But be careful; it’s better to add less than too much. You don’t want a stiff ball of dough from too much flour. It is really tough to get the dough to rise at that point. Trust me on this one.

Four: knead by hand for about 10 minutes; you will see that the lumps in the dough will slowly disappear and the dough will freely move about the surface. The easiest way to knead efficiently is to take the ball of dough, take the palm of your hand, stick it in the middle of the ball and push forward, creating a rift; then take the farther half and fold it onto the other half, rotate 90 degrees and repeat over and over. You want the dough to be elastic and smooth; be patient, you have to knead thoroughly. When you are at this point, put the ball of dough in an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and place it in the microwave to rise for at least 1 hour or until it’s doubled in size.

Big tip: finding a suitable, warm place for your dough to rise can be a bit annoying, especially if you live in a cooler climate. By heating up the microwave by just microwaving literally nothing for 2 minutes, a perfectly warm space is created for your dough to rise on time. 

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Five: in the meantime, get any toppings ready for your bagels, as well as an egg wash (1 egg + 1 tablespoon of water, whisked). I chose onion and garlic. As I was preparing the dough, I did have bouts of flavor ideas, ranging from tomato to balsamic to strawberry. What’s with me and balsamic? I don’t know. I stopped myself before coming up with some weird concoction.

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Here, you will see my cast iron pizza pan. This tool is amazing and incredibly useful in all aspects of cooking so I highly suggest purchasing one. I find that a cast iron retains it’s heat very well and creates a nice texture on the bottom of whatever you’re baking.

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Six: Once 50 minutes has passed (or once you’ve noticed your dough has pretty much doubled in size), start boiling a large pot of water. Once it starts boiling, add 1.5 tablespoons of sugar. Also, preheat your oven to 425 degrees fahrenheit with the cast iron pan inside.

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Seven: When your dough has become doubled in size, take it out of the microwave and punch down the dough on a clean and floured surface. With either a knife or pastry scraper, cut about an apple sized piece of dough (I know, this is so scientific) and start rolling into a log. Once here, attach the two ends together and start rolling again to make them stick. You won’t need too much flour to keep the dough from sticking at this point.

Note: make sure not to overwork the dough too much; I find it better to leave some bubbles and “fluffiness” in the dough in order to create a lighter texture. 

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Eight: after allowing the bagels to sit for at least 10 more minutes, take two at a time and gently place them in the boiling water. They should eventually float to the top. Flip after 30 seconds and boil for 30 more seconds.

Nine: take your bagels out carefully with a slotted spoon and place on a rack; brush with egg wash and sprinkle on your toppings. If not using toppings, skip the egg wash.

As you can see in my pictures, there’s a fourth bagel that has mysteriously disappeared in the final pictures. He, unfortunately, did not make it. And by make it, I mean he kind of exploded into a big ball of dough in the oven.

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Ten: once ready, place your bagels (I used a big spatula to transport) in the oven on the iron pan and bake for 20 minutes, or until light golden brown. Eat away!

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Daikon Radish Salad

Daikon radish has always been a staple vegetable in my diet. It is one of the most versatile vegetables and is great for digestion.

As you can see below with my Korean barbecue ribs recipe, sometimes Korean foods can get quite heavy and greasy from the ingredients. Hence, the reason for this daikon radish salad! It is light and has a great texture, complimenting the chewy barbecue ribs. This radish is also known to benefit your health.

I have been buying these radishes at a local Vietnamese market, but they are obviously available elsewhere. This specific radish (the only one I can find here in Pensacola) is the Japanese daikon radish, which is spicy compared to it’s Korean cousin that is much rounder and sweeter. You can use either one.

This salad is a great alternative to the traditional lettuce salad and has a lot more flavor. You’ll find that it is incredibly addicting. It is sweet and tangy, a perfect match for Korean barbecue.

Ingredients:

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First: take your radish and peel the outer skin with a potato peeler. This skin is not very pleasant to eat.

Second: julienne your radish into thin slices, however long you’d like. This radish maintains it’s texture very well.

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Third: in a bowl, combine white vinegar and rice wine vinegar (1:1 ratio. Per one cup of julienned radish, 1/2 cup of each vinegar). Add the sugar (once again, per one cup of julienned radish, add about 2 tablespoons of sugar) and 1/2 tablespoon of chili flakes. Mix.

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Fourth: let this mixture sit and marinate for about 30 minutes (or longer). Pair with grilled meat.

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Extras: the chili flakes I used are Korean chili flakes. These can be found in virtually any asian market. If you cannot find this ingredient, I have used ground red pepper, which I found in a regular market. If you don’t have rice wine vinegar, you can use just the white vinegar but I would add a little bit more sugar.

 

Ahi Poke

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Living in Pensacola, we have unbelievable amounts of fresh seafood available. So I figured, why not take advantage? One of the most common appetizers at restaurants here is Ahi Poke. It truly is a very, very easy appetizer to make. If you have sushi grade ahi available, take advantage of this recipe.

Ingredients:

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First: dice your avocado, tuna, and cucumbers into uniform 1/2 inch cubes. Thinly slice your scallion. Set all of this aside in a bowl.

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Second: add about 1 tablespoon of soy sauce and 1 tablespoon of sesame oil to the tuna (I used 1/4 pound), scallions, and cucumbers and mix. Freely adjust the amount of soy sauce to your liking. I prefer less salty foods so hence, the 1 tablespoon.

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Third: add your avocado and gently mix to avoid smashing it to smithereens. Top off with nori and enjoy!

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Extras: I eat this solo but many restaurants serve it with rice crackers (which you can find in most Asian food stores). You can also top it off with toasted sesame seeds or macadamia nuts.

Earl Grey Macarons

Macarons are the death of me. With the little patience I have with simple baked goods, I don’t know why I still try to make these terribly temperamental cookies. But alas, I took on the challenge and I think I accomplished my goal of not failing.

I’ve been drinking tons of Earl Grey tea lately and thought it was a great flavor to incorporate into this pesky cookie. I, for some reason, started thinking of strange flavors to infuse into these macarons. I truly considered basil and balsamic vinegar infused macarons…but was a little too afraid of the outcome. Maybe next time.

So with the little patience I have, I made every possible effort of finding a macaron recipe that (a) did not require a scale (b) did not require me to wait 40 minutes after piping before placing the cookies in the oven. Laziness? Sure. Impatience? Absolutely. Efficient? Arguably yes.

This is NOT at all traditional or perfect. So don’t go saying “How dare she not use a scale??? How dare she not  make her own almond meal? How dare she even publish this?!”  I fully am aware I have minimal knowledge. I simply wanted to share my experience with you all. Cooking and baking, to me, is about fun and enjoying your creations with friends and family. It’s not trying to be the best/most correct one out there.

Macaron Ingredients:

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I suggest having everything, and I mean everything, ready and measured and sifted. Including your piping bag (with a size 12 round tip. If you don’t have this, I’ve used Ziploc bags before with a corner cut off). You don’t want to be scrambling to put your piping bag together as your labor intensive mixture sits in your bowl. As you can see, I have mine ready to go sitting in a large beer glass. A nice reminder that it will be five o’clock somewhere after I’m done with this insanity.

One big detail is the aged egg whites. This means egg whites separated 2 days prior to making this cookie (and left in an airtight container at room temperature). I coincidentally separated my egg whites thinking I was going to make them two days ago but forgot. I’ve used non-aged egg whites and still got the same results so either way (in my opinion) is fine. I honestly have little to no idea what this aging actually does to the recipe and I’m sure some macaron enthusiast will be shaking their head while reading this, but look in my About Me section. A recipe is a recipe. I tend not to follow them directly.

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Also, make sure your oven is preheated to about 275 degrees F. Line some cookie sheets with parchment paper and you’re ready. If you don’t have the confidence to pipe even and circular cookies, I have seen people draw templates on the other side of the parchment. I’ve had a decent hand when it comes to these things, so I didn’t do it.

First: sift your almond meal and powdered sugar together in a bowl. I found almond meal at a local organic supermarket since I don’t have a good food processor.

Second: in a larger bowl, start whisking your egg whites with either a hand mixer or stand mixer. When it gets frothy, add your granulated sugar 1 tablespoon at a time.
If you want to add food coloring (powder or gel), do it now. I attempted to make mine a nice pale purple but instead, I got a nice flesh color.

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Mix at a relatively high speed for about 5 minutes until the mixture gets a nice sheen and firm texture. To check if your egg whites are ready, stop and pull out your whisk. The end of it should have a pretty firm peak.

Third: get a strong spatula out and add the almond mixture in about 6 sessions. Fold. I repeat, FOLD your almond and sugar mixture into the eggs. The mixture does not have to be perfectly mixed in every time you add more almond mixture. And fold clockwise. It’ll be easier.

Fourth: continue to add your almond mixture. Once you have added all of it, start really incorporating the mixture together. You want the consistency to be thick but able to flow off of your spatula. Check every few folds.

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Fifth: get this glorious mixture into your piping bag and start piping onto your parchment paper. Go in a slow circular fashion.

Sixth: once done, tap your cookie sheet firmly on the counter to get rid of any bubbles in the mixture.

Seventh: check on your suspiciously quiet dog, who has apparently gutted her hedgehog toy.

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Eighth: stick your cookie sheets in the oven for about 17 minutes. You will see that a little “foot” will form at the bottom of the cookie, which gives the macaron it’s distinctive look.

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Ninth: take out and let cool. Move onto the buttercream filling.

Earl Grey Buttercream Ingredients:

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First: take your softened butter and cream in a bowl.

Second: add remaining ingredients and mix. If needed, add more sugar to thicken the frosting.

Third: add 1/2 the contents of an Earl Grey teabag. Mix.

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My fiancé asked if this was ranch dressing when he walked in…

Once the cookies have cooled, assemble your macarons!

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Cheater Caesar Dressing

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I’ll admit, for someone who loves to cook 24/7, you’d expect me to have every tool in the shed. But I don’t. For a proper caesar dressing, I know one needs a food processor. Well, I made the smart decision to buy a smaller one on Amazon, primarily because it was hot pink. Good decision? NO. Whenever I turn it on, whatever is inside with the blade starts bouncing off the sides and it sounds like 1,000 hamsters are screaming. So instead of going off and spending $150 on a big sturdy one, I decided to figure out a fast and easy way to make caesar dressing.

It may not be authentic. It may not have the traditional egg yolk and anchovies. But if my fiancé doesn’t make a disgusted face after the first bite, I assume it must be okay.

Ingredients:

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And surprise ingredient: mayonnaise! Now I know, you’re wondering, “What the crap?” Especially those who hate this condiment. But trust me, it works and gives the dressing the appropriate creamy consistency. Without a proper food processor, it’s hard to get an emulsified dressing. Unless you’ve been practicing your extreme whisking skills, just whisking the above ingredients sans mayo will give you a oily and drippy mess. The mayonnaise also softens the flavors overall and I promise, you won’t think “Holy mayo” after trying the dressing.

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First: place all ingredients (minus the 1/2 lemon and mayonnaise) in a bowl. Approximate measurements: 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, 1/4 cup grated cheese, 1 teaspoon ground pepper, 1/4 teaspoon worcestershire sauce, 1 clove garlic (put through garlic press). Whisk together.

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Second: add the juice of 1/2 lemon. Whisk again.

Third: add about 1/3 cup of mayonnaise. You can freely adjust this measurement to how thick you’d like your dressing.

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Fourth: toss with romaine lettuce, add toppings such as croutons and shaved cheese and enjoy!

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Extras: add more or less lemon juice, in accordance to your taste. I prefer it to be quite lemony. Additionally, I recently used whole grain mustard instead of the coarse mustard and it was equally as wonderful.

Greatness Guaranteed GuacaMOle

Sorry, couldn’t help myself. Every time I hear the word guacamole, I picture this:

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Guacamole is a staple snack in our little household. I know many people like to put lemon juice, cilantro, and all sorts of ingredients. But I prefer to keep it to 6 simple ingredients: avocado, lime juice, jalapeño, grape tomatoes, red onion, and my beloved garlic.

I always find other recipes for guacamole to be far too bland. Adding red onion and garlic really amps up the flavor of the avocado, although adding a bit too much garlic may keep conversations at bay. Maybe a good thing?

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Ingredients:

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First: get one whole avocado into a bowl. If you don’t know how to pit an avocado, google it.

Second: dice your red onion, tomatoes, and jalapeño. I highly suggest finely dicing your jalapeño…unless you’re a brave soul. I’m not going to lie, my mouth just watered a little bit.

Third: take one small clove of garlic and shove it through a garlic press. If you don’t have this horribly annoying and hard-to-clean tool, just super finely dice it.

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Fourth: place the red onion, tomatoes, garlic, and a pinch of salt in with your avocado. Take a strong fork and mash away! The consistency is completely up to you; I prefer it to be mashed up pretty well, while others prefer it to be chunky.

 

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Fifth: consume. If your jalapeño is letting you down on the spiciness, put a dash of Tabasco in and you’ll be all set.