Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Cherry Granola Bars

It's Tuesday again and we're making our way through another summer week.  Where did you weekend go?  I know exactly where mine went.  I spent one half of it shopping for cars, which I have decided is way more fun if you are the one buying said car.  Or you actually bring said new car home when you finish buying.  Boyfriends new car is currently spending some quality time with the dealer, while he is away on a business trip in Florida.

The other half of my weekend was spent watching the new Batman movie.  Seriously, it's that long.


Okay, so the Dark Knight Rises isn't really 24 hours long.  It's three hours long.  It is long enough, that it can go from being sunny, to down pouring and back to sunny and dry, over the course of the movie.  I know this because boyfriend and I have discovered a new found love of biking around our area. 

We live in Montclair, NJ, which according to the signs posted in the town, is "Where the city meets the suburbs."  It's a cute little town with a main street full of shops and restaurants.  There's a Whole foods and a weekend farmers market.  If you're into antiquing, there are at least four antique stores right downtown.  There is an indie movie theater and a Red Mango, right next to a cupcake shop and just down the street from a gelato shop.



A coal oven pizza place just opened up that serves the most amazing thin crust pizza.  You can go to Tosca and have their amazing corn salad, full of roasted corn, goat cheese and walnuts.  You can head to Raymond's (lovingly referred to as Raymondo's around our house.  I have no idea why.) and fill up on a plate of eggs Benedict, if you can get a table.  Or you can just get an espresso and macaron from Le Petit Paris and people watch.

It's a great little place to live and conveniently located on the train line.  But since this is New Jersey, we are only a few miles away from several other fun towns.  This Sunday we rode three miles, all uphill, to Upper Montclair (hence why it was all uphill).  While Montclair boasts our little Indie movie theater, Upper Montclair has an equally small movie theater playing the newest releases.


The clouds started to clear around two o'clock this Sunday, so we hopped on our bikes and rode up the hill to Upper Montclair.  (Much faster than our first attempt a few weeks ago I might add!)  We stopped and got sandwiches and smuggled them into the movie theater where we enjoyed three hours of Christian Bale and Anne Hathaway.  We came outside and it smelled like rain, but it was also intensely sunny and warm.  The only trace of the rain was a few puddles here and there and a wet bike lock.

One final random question here.  How much does it cost for a movie ticket at your local theater?  I felt like I was getting a deal the other day only having to spend $11 per ticket on our movie.  This is after buying two IMAX 3D tickets a few weeks ago for $18 each!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Why Bother? 2012 - Tortillas

Okay.  Confession time.  I do not like corn tortillas.  There, I said it.  I don't really like going out to "authentic" Mexican restaurants because they always serve tacos on corn tortillas.  It's a combination of the texture, flavor and the fact that they fall apart so easily.  My taco fillings always wind up on the plate (or my lap).

When I was confronted with the tortilla challenge, I asked myself  - Should I really bother making corn tortillas?  I'm not going to eat them.  I've eaten in some pretty good Mexican restaurants in the city and I don't even like their tortillas.  I would also never buy them from the store to begin with.


With these thoughts running through my head I decided against making corn tortillas.  I did do a little corn tortilla research and they seem pretty easy to make.  Mix some masa harina with water and press balls of dough flat.  Grill the flattened dough on a skillet for a minute each side.  Ta da?  Gross corn tortillas.  Sorry, I mean corn tortillas.  To each their own.

I am a flour tortilla girl all the way!  And I really enjoyed making these this week.  The total amount of time I spent on the recipe was an hour.  Those sixty minutes include all the required resting time for the dough, shaping and grilling!  You can have a Mexican party on the table in no time flat.

These homemade tortillas were a blast to make.  Once I got the right consistency of the dough, somewhere between a still ball of play-doh and a sticky blob of oatmeal, rolling and grilling the tortillas was like making little pizzas.  I went with a recipe that included a mixture of all-purpose and whole wheat flour, pretending that they would be healthier (as I planned on filling them with melted cheese, any level of healthfulness would be good!).


Compared to store bought, my homemade circles were flavorful, airy and flexible.  I used the tortillas for dinner, the same night that I made them.  I had another quesadilla a few days later and it was still pretty delicious!  If you have time, get in the kitchen and make tortillas yourself.  Think of the possibilities of making your own!  The different flour options, adding different herbs and spices and the different tortilla sizes you can make in your own kitchen.  I know I have a few ideas that I want to try out next time!  Stay tuned for more Mexican nights!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Chocolate Peanut Pralines

Last week, the days seemed to drag on.  The hours at work seemed endless and Friday took twice as long to get here.  It was just one of those weeks.  A week that required a relaxing weekend at the very end of it.  What did boyfriend and I decide to do in order to wash away the previous five days?  We went tubing.


If you are in the New Jersey/Pennsylvania/New York area this summer, I would recommend you set aside some time  and head to the Delaware River.  Boyfriend and I were a little wary as we got to the River.  Would it be cold?  Is the river deep?  Will I really need this life preserver?  What was the compelling story that the river tube staff member didn't tell me that would make me want to actually wear this life preserver?  I feel a little strange wearing a bikini in the middle of rural New Jersey.

When we stepped in the water, all my fears were set aside.  At this time of the year, the Delaware River is like a bath tub.  It is slow-moving and hip-deep along most of the tube riding route.  Most of all, it is the most relaxing way to spend an afternoon.  Although boyfriend and I apparently can't find the current in a river to save our lives.  We slowly floated along as everyone else in a tube passed us by.


The one fun thing about floating along in the slow current?  You find stuff on the bottom of the river!  Boyfriend and I rescued a fishing weight, a rubber wristband and a set of car keys from the riverbed.  If you're out there and find your long lost keys in the mail one day, that was us!  (and Shop Rite!)

So boyfriend and I started our workweek yesterday refreshed, relaxed and a little sun kissed.  Nothing like floating down a river for a few hours and enjoying a riverside barbecue to melt away the stress from the previous week.  Ahhh, floating away...

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Chicken Stuffed with Peppered Goat Cheese

Since I just celebrated my one year anniversary at work, I thought I would take a minute to reveal...

My top ten favorite things about working in industry!

(for those of you who haven't taken the long road through grad school to your job, working in industry means working in the public sector, rather than in academia or for the government!)


1. The first time I heard "Your time is too valuable to spend it doing X.". When I heard this I just about fell over. No longer would I have to do menial tasks to save a buck. No more cutting TLC plates, no more pulling spotters, no more making Dess-Martin! (all very time consuming things that are terribly boring)

2. Paid time off. And you're urged to take your time off so that you don't lose it at the end of the year! Three weeks where you don't want me to come in? Deal!

3. Bagel day. What? Your company doesn't have bagel day every Thursday? Mine does and it's awesome!

4. Dressing up. Gone are the days of wearing the standard t-shirt and jeans to the lab everyday. Now I get to wear button down shirts, pressed pants and nice shoes. Sure, I could wear jeans to work, but when I dress nicely people don't ask why I look so nice.

5. Work hours. What does your standard grad student work week look like? Usually between 60-80 hours a week, depending on your advisor. Never again.

6. Coworkers that care! In grad school you want to work hard and get out. There is competition, gossiping and sometimes back-stabbing. In industry, teams work toward a common goal, the whole "we all succeed together" motto goes here.

7. Free lunch. That's right grad students of the world, there are
Lots of free lunches in industry. Usually they are associated with lunchtime meetings, but not everything can be great!

8. Mr Softee Wednesdays. Yup, you read that right. The ice cream man comes to my office on Wednesday during the summer and gives us I've cream. For free.

9. Robots. Robots to do work for me, save me time and make my life better. I'm going to name them all this coming year. That way I can say "Hi Bert! Ready to run that purification for me today?"

10. All of the learning I still get to do on a daily basis. Pharma is an ever evolving industry and you've got to keep on your toes to stay in the game!


It seems that three of my favorite things involve food... Well, here's a recipe for the food you saw throughout the post, we'll keep up the theme!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Chicken Tacos and Corn Relish

What happens when it's time to celebrate something huge?

Taco night!!!

That's right, we're celebrating in the Wilde household today because I've made it one whole year at my new job!  Well, technically my anniversary was July 6th, but we were busy doing the fourth of July thing, then I was busy being sick, so TODAY we celebrate.  (And by today, I mean we had this for dinner last night...  Stay with me on this one).


Yes, I have passed the one year mark as a medicinal chemist and it feels great! 

When I was a student for all those years, I looked forward to being done and moving on.  The five years I spent as a grad student in Madison were great, but I couldn't wait to defend my thesis.  The two years I spent as a postdoc were fun, busy and intellectually stimulating, but I couldn't wait to start job hunting.  Now that I'm in the real world, with a job working in my chosen field, it's a total change in perspective - I want to stay right where I am.


I've learned so much this year and there is still so much more to know.  My job is special.  Why is that?  In order to become a really good medicinal chemist, I need to know what is going on in every facet of a project.  I need to not only understand the chemistry and chemical matter, I also need to know the biology, pharmacology, genetics, clinical indications, formulations and still more things that I don't even understand yet.  I've still got a lot of information to stuff into my brain!  Here's to another year working hard in the real world.  Let's celebrate with tacos!


Saturday, July 14, 2012

Why Bother? - Homemade Jam

Back in the early eighties, my mom tried her hand at making jams and jellies.  Unfortunately my dad dubbed the products "Not like my mom's jams."  The canning materials went into the basement where they gathered dust for the next twenty-five years, until I went poking around.  Which is why last year, I inherited a large canning pot and three boxes of vintage Ball mason jars. 


I have fuzzy memories of my grandmothers basement.  It was dark, dusty and scary for an eight-year old.  It was full from front to back with old furniture, boxes of Christmas decorations and musty vintage clothing.  One corner also held a make-shift shelving unit, built into the stud of the walls, that was filled from floor to ceiling with dusty mason jars.  From what I remember, they were all filled with peaches.  I have no idea why.  My grandmothers house was in Upstate New York, where there are a dearth of peach trees.  If she had jars of jam in her basement, they looked like peaches to my young, frightened of the dark, eyes.

This weeks challenge was to channel my jam-making grandmother, using my moms vintage canning supplies and churn out modern preserves.  There are so many varieties of jams, jellies and preserves available in the grocery store and at the farmers market, I didn't want to make a plain, single fruit jam.  Why make plain strawberry jam when I can buy fresh, locally made strawberry jam at the farmers market right around the corner from my house?


There are a few reasons why you could make all of your own jam.  1. Using fresh, in season, organic fruits gives the most flavorful product possible.  2. Jam-making and canning is a simple process.  3. Make a batch of homemade jam - you have presents for everyone!

For my canning-fest, I chose two very different flavor combos.  First - fresh and bright Strawberry-Lemon preserves.  Next - tangy ginger-pear preserves.  Yes, I decided to go with preserves for both of my jams.  Personally, I like a bit of chunky texture to my spreads and therefore I'm not really a jelly fan.  I also didn't want to go with any tricky recipes that required added pectin from apples or the baking aisle. Maybe I'll give jelly a go once we finish these jars of jam!


Results - the strawberry-lemon jam was bright and fresh.  The recipe was super simple to follow and the jam came together very quickly.  This was exceptional on my morning English muffin and I will have no problem finishing the two jars that I made.  The ginger-pear preserves took a bit longer to make because the pears were very juicy.  Once complete, this jam made a striking change in a traditional peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

When it comes to jams, jellies and preserves I have two suggestions - Head to the farmers market or "Pick your own" farm and stock up on local, in season produce.  And, when making your own jams, try something a little different, you can get strawberry jam anywhere.

One Year Ago: Peanut Butter and Chocolate Ice Cream

Important!  When it comes to canning, you want to be sure to follow canning rules to ensure a safe product.  To sterilize your jar and lids - Bring a large pot of water to a boil, it will probably take between 15-30 minutes for your water to boil.  Get it ready in advance.  Add your jars to the pot and boil them for 10 minutes.  Remove with tongs and pour out the water.  Let jars cool on the counter top on a kitchen towel.  Place lids in a heat-proof container and pour a few ladles of boiling water over them.  Try not to touch the inside of the lids with your fingers.

Once the jars are full, return them to the water bath and process for the required amount of time.  Remove them from the water bath and set them on a kitchen towel.  Let the jars sit at room temperature for 12 hours.  You should hear the jar lids pop closed after a few minutes.  If the lids haven't sealed in an hour, put those jars in the fridge.

Strawberry-Lemon Preserves
Adapted from Canning for a New Generation

2 pints strawberries, hulled and coarsely chopped
2 lemons, washed
1 cup sugar

Cut the ends off of the lemons.  Cut lemons in quarters and remove the seeds.  Slice lemons very thinly, about 1/8-inch thick.  Gently toss strawberries, lemons and sugar in a large bowl.  Cover and put in the fridge overnight.

Prepare 2-3 1/2-pint jars and their lids.  Combine fruit with 1/3 cup water in a large saucepan with high sides.  Bring to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes.  Pour fruit into a colander and collect the liquids in a bowl below.

Return liquids to the pan and bring to a boil.  Cook for 15 minutes until the liquids are reduced to a syrup.  Return fruit to the pan and bring to a simmer.  Stir frequently and cook for about 20-25 minutes.  The strawberries should hold their shape, but be shiny and glossy.

Remove jars from the water bath and ladle hot water over the lids.  Add preserves to the jars.  Wipe the lip of the jars clean with a wet paper towel.  Place lids on the jars and screw on collars.  The lids should just be finger-tightened.  Process in the water bath for 5 minutes with the lid on the water bath.  Remove jars from the bath and let sit on a kitchen towel.  Do not disturb for 12 hours.

You can store the jam in the pantry.  Store opened jars in the fridge and eat within a few weeks.

Ginger-Pear Preserves
Adapted from Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving

6 pears (choose your favorite type), peeled, cored and chopped
Zest of 3 limes
Juice of 3 limes
2 1/3 cups sugar
1 tbsp grated gingerroot

Prepare 3-4 1/2-pint jars in a water bath.  Place 3 spoons in the freezer.

In a large, non-reactive, saucepan, combine pears, lime zest, lime juice, sugar and ginger.  Bring to a boil over medium heat.  Stir frequently and cook for 15 minutes. 

Test the gel - Take one of your frozen spoons and scoop up some of the liquid from the pan.  If the liquid drips off in small drops, the gel is not ready.  Cook for another 5 minutes, stirring constantly and test again.  If the liquid falls off the spoon in a sheet, it it ready to can. 

Remove jars from the water bath and ladle jar into the jars.  Wipe off the lip of the jars with a wet paper towel.  Place lids on the jars and screw on the collars.  Process jars in the water bath for 10 minutes the the bath lid on.  Remove the lid and let boil for 5 more minutes.  Remove jars from the bath and place on a kitchen towel.  After 1 hour, check to see if the lids have sealed (the tops should not pop when pressed down).   If any jars have not sealed, place them in the fridge immediately.  Do not disturb the sealed jars for 12 hours. 

Sealed jars can be stored in the pantry.  Opened jars should be stored in the fridge.  Try this with peanut butter for a new take on your classic PB&J!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Simple Arugula Salad

It's officially summer in my book!  While Memorial day is the "unofficial start of summer," June 20th is the official start of the summer season, I consider July 4th to be the real beginning of summer.  Why?  The weather has turned hot.  Weekends are filled with fun events.  The sun sits high in the sky during the day and sticks around until late at night.  Fourth of July was also always a great day as a kid.  School was out, there were fireworks and summer was on!

Most of the country has been in a heat wave, with several consecutive days with temperatures reaching over the hundred degree mark.  Here in the New York Metro area, we've been lucky enough to avoid triple digit temps, but it's still been a warm few weeks!  Personally, it makes me very happy. 


I love it hot!  Hot weather means I get to spend the weekends in cute, summery dresses.  Ninety-degree temps send boyfriend and I outside and up into the hills of New Jersey.  The high sun, coupled with some SPF50, has me sporting a tan, something that I haven't done since I started grad school nine years ago. 

Of course, the high temps mean that I have to take a few showers each day and that we've been doing a lot of laundry.  It also means that I've been avoiding my oven and making lots of salads.  Feeling the heat too?  Head to the farmers market and stock up!

What day do you consider the beginning of summer?

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Peanut Chicken with Asian Slaw

Happy birthday America!  You're looking pretty fine for being over two hundred years old!  As a patriotic citizen of your shores, I plan to spend your big day enjoying the glory of the outdoors.  I'll be biking over your hills, playing frisbee on your glens and resting under your trees.  Thanks America!

How are you spending your Fourth of July?  Personally, boyfriend and I went to see fireworks on Monday, along with hearing the musical stylings of the Glenn Miller Orchestra.  There were little kids running around, families picnicking on the lawn and adorable older couples dancing at the stage.  Come sundown the announcer called for fireworks and we enjoyed a serious half hour of colorful explosions, loud bangs, crackling sparkles and arches of fireworks that looked like "anti-aircraft fire" according to boyfriend.


For today we'll be taking it easy and not fighting with the crowds of folks heading to Manhattan and Hoboken for the Macy's fireworks (we did that last year!).  Whenever you drive to fireworks, you wind up spending just as much time waiting in traffic to get home.  Luckily the events on Monday were at a park that was only three miles from our house.  Boyfriend and I biked ourselves over to the park, a workout and fun, all in one!

I hope you have a great Fourth and get to have some relaxing time of your own!
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