a balanced plate with room for dessert

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Easy Pasta Salad

As the GRE crept closer and closer, I found myself cooking less and less. Looking back, I can’t even remember what I ate for the past week. The only thing I remember is going to Harvest with Mike for our fourth anniversary.

Now that I’m done with the GRE, I have a little time to enjoy food again… or at least until I start applying to grad school ­čÖé

This pasta salad is probably the easiest thing I’ve ever made. It’s food like this that keeps me sane when I’m stressed.

Easy Pasta Salad

Easy Pasta Salad

1 pound tri-colored rotini
1 pound mushrooms, sliced
1/4 cup black olives
2 green peppers, chopped
1 onion, chopped
2 cucumbers, sliced
4 Roma tomatoes, chopped
1/2 cup Italian dressing

  1. Cook pasta according to directions. Rinse with cold water and set aside to cool completely.
  2. Mix mushrooms, olives, green peppers, onion and cucumbers together with the dressing. Stir in the pasta, chill for 2 hours or overnight and serve cold.



Peanut Butter Cups

Mike and I made a trip to Minocqua two winters ago and he got peanut butter cups at one of the fudge shops in town. I can still remember how happy he was to eat such a huge peanut butter cup. I don’t know why I never thought about doing this earlier, but I finally decided to make some peanut butter cups myself!

They turned out great. My only complaint is that they need to be kept in the fridge or freezer until you eat them because they will melt at room temperature. Other than that, they’re nearly perfect.

Peanut Butter Cup

Peanut Butter Cups
yields 7 large cups

3 cups semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup powdered sugar

  1. Fill a small pot with 2 inches of water. Boil and then turn heat to low. Place a heatsafe bowl over the pot, making sure the pot doesn’t touch the water.Melted chocolate
  2. Pour chocolate into the bowl and stir chocolate constantly with a spatula or whisk until melted. Remove chocolate from heat.
  3. When chocolate reaches a comfortable handling temperature, begin making the chocolate cups.
  4. Place a large spoonful of chocolate into the bottom of a cupcake liner and carefully smear the chocolate over the entire surface of the cup, making sure everything is evenly covered.
    Chocolate cups
  5. After all cups are covered with chocolate, place them onto a plate and put them in the freezer for 15 minutes to harden the chocolate.
  6. Meanwhile, make the peanut butter filling. Mix the peanut butter and powdered sugar together in a bowl until well combined and smooth.
  7. After the chocolate cups have hardened, remove from the freezer.
  8. Place a spoonful of peanut butter into each cup until it’s about 1/4 inch from the top and smooth flat.
    Peanut butter cup filling
  9. Spoon remaining chocolate on top of the peanut butter. Push the chocolate to the edges of the cup, creating a seal.
  10. Place the cups in the freezer for 20 – 30 minutes, or until the chocolate is hard. Carefully (and quickly) peel off the muffin liners.
  11. Serve straight from the freezer or allow to thaw for 5 minutes at room temperature.
    Peanut Butter Cup

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Shepherd’s Pie

I remember the first time I tried shepherd’s pie. It was at Brocach in Madison, WI and I loved everything about it. One day I was standing in front of my fridge trying to figure out what to do with all the random food I had laying around and it dawned on me to make an attempt at recreating the deliciousness I had encountered at Brocach.

This meal is the perfect comfort food. I will definitely make it again when it gets colder out.

Shepherd's Pie

Shepherd’s Pie
serves 4

6 large potatoes, peeled and quarted
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons onion, minced
1/2 cup shredded cheese
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 large onion
1 pound lean ground beef
1/4 cup worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons onion powder
1 tablespoon flour
1 tablespoon ketchup
1 cup beef broth
5 carrots, peeled and diced
1 cup frozen peas

  1. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add potatoes and boil for 15 minutes. Drain and mash with butter and minced onion. Mix in 1/4 cup shredded cheddar and set aside.
  2. Preheat oven to 375┬░F.
  3. Heat oil in a large pan over medium high heat. Add onion and cook until clear, about 3 minutes. Add in beef, worcestershire sauce, garlic powder and onion powder. Cook until meat is browned.
  4. Stir in flour and ketchup until well combined. Pour in beef broth and simmer for 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
  5. Pour ┬ábeef into a 9×9 ovensafe dish. Top with peas and carrots. Smooth mashed potatoes over the top and sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup shredded cheddar.
  6. Bake for 20 minutes, or until cheese is melted and lightly browned.


Peach Cobbler

When I went home for the weekend I was asked to make a dessert for dinner. I went to the grocery store to buy the ingredients to make a rhubarb crisp. When I got there, there was no rhubarb to be found. I stared at all the fruit in front of me and decided to pick peaches. It turned out to be a great decision because this cobbler was amazing.

You know it’s good when my brother, who dislikes most desserts, and my step dad can polish off the majority of it within 20 minutes!

Peach cobblerPhoto taken by Becca Li

Peach Cobbler
serves 8

8 fresh peaches: peeled, pitted and sliced wedges
1/4 cup white sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons cornstarch

1 cup flour
1/4 cup white sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
1/4 cup boiling water

3 tablespoons white sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

  1. Preheat oven to 425┬░F.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together the peaches, 1/4 cup white and 1/4 cup brown sugar, 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon, nutmeg, lemon juice and corn starch. Let sit until the sugar thickens. Pour into a 2 quart baking dish and bake for 10 minutes.
  3. While the peaches are baking, mix together the flour, 1/4 cup white and 1/4 cup brown sugar, baking powder and salt. Blend in the butter with a pastry blender or your fingers until the mixture represents a coarse meal. Add water and stir until just combined – be careful not to over mix.
  4. Drop dollops of the flour mixture on top of the baked peaches.
  5. Mix together the 3 tablespoons white sugar and 1 teaspoon cinammon to make a topping. Sprinkle over the cobbler.
  6. Bake for 30 – 35 minutes, or until the top is golden brown.
  7. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream!

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Fried Rice

I love rice. Mike and I went through 30 pounds of rice this year! Whenever I have leftover rice, Mike asks me to make fried rice. He claims that it’s the best he’s ever had. I normally just mix a bunch of random stuff together and call it fried rice, but this time I actually measured out the ingredients. My thoughts? It didn’t taste quite as good… I’ll keep tweaking this recipe until I am able to write down a recipe that tastes as good as the fried rice I improvise.


Fried Rice

1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon vegetable oil
1 bunch green onion
4 Chinese sausages, sliced
2 cups leftover white rice, refrigerated
1 head broccoli
3 large carrots, peeled and chopped
4 celery stalks, chopped
3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
4 tablespoons cup soy sauce

  1. Heat the sesame oil and vegetable oil in a wok over medium high heat. Add the green onions and cook for 2 minutes.
  2. Add in the sausage, broccoli, carrots and celery and cook until the sausage is cooked through.
  3. Stir in the rice and stir fry until the rice is heated through and slightly browned.
  4. Drizzle the soy sauce and vinegar over the fried rice and mix in thoroughly!

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Frosted Brownies

I whipped up these brownies when my sister was over for dinner. These turned out great and they are so easy to make! If you are a person who only makes brownies from the box, please try these out. It dirties only 2 bowls and you are very likely to have all the ingredients already! Mike and Becca loved these so much that I just had to make them for a picnic dinner I had with a bunch of friends during Concert on the Square.

Although I love these deep chocolate brownies and these rich chocolate brownies, I think these brownies will be the ones I make when I’m short on time. I mixed these brownies by hand and they came together easily that way. I would suggest hand mixing so that you don’t accidentally over-mix the batter.

Frosted Brownies

Frosted Brownies
makes one 8×8 pan

1/2 cup butter
1 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
3 tablespoons butter, melted
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup confectioners’ sugar

  1. Preheat oven to 350┬░F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour an 8 inch square pan.
  2. Melt butter in a large saucepan. Remove from heat and whisk in the sugar. Let cool slightly (so you don’t cook the eggs) and then whisk in the eggs and vanilla.
  3. Mix in the cocoa powder, flour, salt and baking powder. Pour batter into pan and bake for 20 – 25 minutes – be careful not to over bake!
  4. While brownies are baking, make the frosting: combine the butter, cocoa powder, honey and vanilla extract in a medium bowl. Gently mix in the confectioners’ sugar. Frost brownies while still warm.

If you want to use a 9×13 pan, double the recipe and bake for 30 minutes.

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Red Velvet Cake

I made this cake for Mike’s 21st birthday party. It was a huge hit and everyone thought it tasted great. I made the cake with cream cheese frosting, even though that isn’t the traditional frosting used for red velvet cake. I think next time I will make the cake with the traditional frosting though!

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get great pictures of the cake after it had been cut since my camera ran out of battery, but I managed to get a few during the assembly process.

Red Velvet Batter

Red Velvet Cake

2 1/2 cups cake flour, sifted
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
2 ounces red food coloring
1/2 cup unsalted butter,  room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk,  room temperature
1 teaspoon white distilled vinegar
1 teaspoon baking soda

  1. Preheat the oven to 350┬░F. Grease and flour two 9 inch round baking pans.
  2. In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder and salt. In a smaller bowl, mix together cocoa powder and food coloring until a smooth paste forms.
  3. In a large bowl with a mixer, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Mix in eggs one at a time and then blend in vanilla extract and red cocoa paste. Make sure to mix thorougly, scraping the sides of the bowl with a spatula.
  4. Add 1/3 of the flour mixture to the butter mixture. Add in half of the buttermilk. Mix in another 1/3 of the flour mixture, followed by the remainder of the buttermilk. Add the last 1/3 of the flour mixture and mix in, making sure that the batter is well incorporated.
  5. In a small bowl, mix together the vinegar and baking soda. Add this to the batter and mix in thoroughly. Divide the batter equally between the two pans.
  6. Bake for 25 – 30 minutes, rotating pans once during baking. The cake is done when a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
  7. Cool cakes in pans on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove cakes from pans and place on rack to finish cooling after 10 minutes.
  8. Frost the cake with the traditional┬áicing or cream cheese icing – recipes are included below.

Red Velvet Assembly

Cream Cheese Icing

2 packages cream cheese, room temperature
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted

  1. Blend together cream cheese and butter with a mixer until smooth. Add in vanilla extract.
  2. Add powdered sugar with the mixer on low speed.
  3. Blend the frosting on high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.

Red Velvet

Traditional Red Velvet Cake Icing

1 cup milk
5 tablespoons all purpose flour
1 cup white sugar
1 cup butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

  1. In a medium saucepan, combine milk and flour. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens. Cool completely.
  2. Using a mixer, blend together sugar, butter and vanilla until light and fluffy.
  3. Stir in the flour mixture. Mix until the icing is a good spreading consistency.