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Sunday, July 31, 2011

Foodbuzz 24 x 24: Cheesecake Extravaganza

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There's a reason The Cheesecake Factory restaurant is always packed. People love cheesecake, particularly on National Cheesecake Day (Yesterday, July 30th!) when they can stop in at the popular restaurant for a piece of half-priced cheesecake.

National Cheesecake Day is not a holiday I've celebrated in the past, but this year Foodbuzz selected my proposal as part of their monthly 24 x 24 event (24 bloggers are selected to create 24 meals on a given day). My idea? A Cheesecake Extravaganza!

After moving in to our new house in April, we never officially threw a housewarming party. Granted, we entertain friends on a weekly basis and have hosted several out of town guests. However, this was the first "big" party we threw. And big it ended up being! As it turns out, people can't resist cheesecake!

I wanted to show our friends a more creative side of cheesecake, so I created a party menu that showcased several different spins on cheesecake, including a few savory options!

Our Menu:
Southern Banana Pudding Cheesecake
Mexican Brownie Bottom Cheesecake
Chocolate Covered Peanut Butter Cheesecake Pops
No Bake Orange Vanilla Creamsicle Cheesecake
Cheesecake Stuffed Strawberries
Lemon Blueberry Ginger Cheesecake Parfaits
Greek Cheesecake
Blue Cheese Cheesecake with Pear Onion Jam
Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Cheesecake Bars
S'mores Cheesecake Bars
Caramel Apple (Cheesecake) Dip
Oreo Pretzel Cheesecake Bites

And if that wasn't enough...we finished it off with Cheesecake Martinis!

All in all, the evening couldn't have gone off any better. I had a blast watching our friends sample the many varieties of cheesecake, updating me on their favorites throughout the evening. It was interesting--there was no one favorite that stood out among the others. Everyone seemed to have a different cheesecake of choice, and there wasn't a single type on the table that went neglected or uneaten. Several people told me they spent extra time at the gym that morning, in preparation for the big event...and I don't think anyone regretted the extra calories consumed last night. Life's too short not to celebrate National Cheesecake Day!

The party prep was rather insane. 150ish ounces of cream cheese purchased. At least four different grocery trips. More than twelve hours spent in a very hot kitchen (that's what you get for living in St. Louis in July!). Random meals of freezer foods to make room for all of my cheesecakes. Tons and tons of dirty dishes. But it was all worth it to spend a summer evening with some of our closest friends, stuffing our faces with cream cheese, and taking part in a true Cheesecake Extravaganza! Thank you Foodbuzz!

And while I'm on the subject of thank you's...My creative side (little of it that there is) comes through in the kitchen. Decorating and crafting are quite a different story. Still, I really wanted to up the ante for this party and have a bright and colorful atmosphere to match our fun theme. Special thanks to Maggie who patiently talked me through decorating ideas, helped me pick out supplies at Hobby Lobby, and even made the adorable labels to accompany each of my foods (despite the fact that she couldn't make it to the party). She's kind of the best (and I didn't even mention all of the chocolate dipping she did last week for me!).

By the way...Recipes for all of the foods we enjoyed at our party will eventually be posted. I'm going to try to space them out over the next several weeks or so, lest I lose any readers who may not like cheesecake (the shock and horror!). Bear with me as The Sweets Life might be dessert heavy for awhile ;) Don't forget to browse my recipe index for some healthy meals to balance all this cheesecake!

Now excuse me, I'm off to finish some banana pudding cheesecake...! (it might not look like much but I assure you it's to die for!)

(if you're dying for one of the above recipes before I get a chance to post it, shoot me an email at natalie.mclaury@gmail.com and I'll be email you the recipe!)

One Year Ago: Caprese on a Stick

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Buffalo Blue Cheese Dip

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If you spend a little bit of time on the appetizer page of my recipe index, you’ll find quite a few vegetable dips, like white bean roasted red pepper and black bean hummusNow I can add this buffalo blue cheese dip to the list, and the top of the list at that!

I find blue cheese to be a food that induces strong opinions. People are usually emphatically supportive of it or refuse to touch the stuff. I err on the side of loving it, though It isn’t necessarily the first cheese I’d choose. Even if you aren’t a blue cheese fan, this is worth a shot. I didn’t find the blue cheese flavor to be overwhelming, even after the leftovers had refrigerated overnight. Blue cheese lovers may want to stir in some extra before serving.

We served this with a variety of vegetables, but Bree suggests using it as a dip for chicken fingers as well. Step aside ranch, this dip has you beat!

One Year Ago: Mexican Couscous Dinner

Did you know that today is National Cheesecake Day? In case you want to make something to celebrate, I recommend Brownie Bottom Nutella Cheesecake Squares, Cheesecake Cookies, or Reese's Peanut Butter Cheesecake Bars. As for me, I'm taking this "holiday" to the extreme this year...come back tomorrow to see what I mean!

Buffalo Blue Cheese Dip
from Baked Bree

-1 package cream cheese at room temperature (I used 1/3 less fat)
-1/2 cup flat leaf parsley
-1/4 cup green onions
-1/2 cup sour cream (I used light)
-2 tbsp white wine vinegar
-1 clove garlic
-1 tsp hot sauce
-1 tsp lemon zest
-1/2 tsp pepper
-1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese
*serve with vegetables or chicken strips

1. Place all ingredients except for the blue cheese into the bowl of a food processor. Process until smooth.
2. Add the blue cheese and pulse a few times to incorporate.

This post is linked to Eat at Home.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Best of 2011: Spinach Salad with Nectarine, Blueberries, and Lime Balsamic Vinaigrette

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I realize yesterday's Best of 2011 recipe had blueberries in it. However, they aren't the only food from the list in The Twelve Best Foods Cookbook that are a component in this salad. Any guesses as to what the "best" ingredient is here?


No surprise that this food makes the list. As the cookbook states,

  • Is loaded with folate, reduces the risk of heart disease, and helps protect against various cancers
  • Is a source of several other vitamins (C, K, beta-carotene) and Minerals (iron, calcium, zinc)
  • Is best eaten with citrus to make the iron easier to be used by the body (hence the inclusion of lime juice in this recipe)
I frequently use spinach in recipes, so this food from the list wasn't anything new to me. However, I was excited to find new options to use it, such as this salad. This salad is great for summer, when blueberries and nectarines are in season. It makes a small batch, to serve as a first course for four (or two, in our case), but you could easily multiply the ingredients to make a salad to serve a crowd. It was great as is, but could also benefit from some chopped toasted nuts (almonds, walnuts, or pecans!). 

Looking for other Twelve Best Food recipes?
Sweet Potatoes: Sweet Potato Butter

Walnuts: Broccoli Pesto Dip
Six more foods to go!!

One Year Ago: Blueberry Crumb Bars

Spinach Salad with Nectarine, Blueberries, and Lime Balsamic Vinaigrette
from The Twelve Best Foods Cookbook

-4 cups baby spinach (4 oz)
-1/4 cup mint leaves
-juice of 1/2 lime
-2 tsp balsamic vinegar
-1 tsp chopped shallot
-1/2 tsp salt
-1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
-freshly ground black pepper
-1 nectarine, thinly sliced
-1/2 cup fresh blueberries (or 1/4 cup dried)

1. In a large mixing bowl, toss spinach with chopped mint leaves.
2. In a small bowl, combine lime juice, vinegar, shallot, and salt. Whisk in the oil and season to taste with pepper.
3. Pour the dressing over the greens, tossing to coat lightly. Divide the greens among 4 plates and top with nectarine slices and blueberries. Serve immediately.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Best of 2011: Blueberry Polenta Muffin Tops

What happens when you find a recipe for muffin tops but don't have a muffin top pan? You use a DONUT pan instead! I wasn't really sure if this method would work, but I ended up with perfectly cooked muffin top donuts. Sadly, this was my first time breaking out my donut pan (must change that ASAP!), despite buying it over a month ago.

These were one of my recipe selections for this month's Best of 2011 Challenge. Once again, I selected one of the twelve foods from The Twelve Best Foods Cookbook. The ingredient of choice this time? Blueberries! According to the cookbook,

  •  Have the most health-protecting antioxidants of all fresh fruits and veggies.
  • Are a good source of Vitamins A, C, E, Potassium, several Phytonutrients , and Fiber
  • Are best (in terms of retaining nutrients) the least that they're cooked
You don't have to convince Ryan or I twice--we both love all berries, blueberries included. I'm perfectly content to eat them by the handful, but we've also enjoyed them in muffins, danish cakedessert bars, and even as a waffle topper! These blueberry polenta muffin top (donuts) are now a new favorite. I knew they'd passed Ryan's litmus test when he asked me if there were any more than what was sitting out. It took us less than 24 hours to finish off the batch of six. The little cakes had a tight crumb and the flavor was reminiscent of a sweetened corn bread, with bursting pockets of blueberries. 

No muffin top pan or donut pan? No worries...I'm pretty sure you could fill a regular or mini-muffin tin (greased) with the batter and still have success. Let me know if you try!

One Year Ago: Minty Cabbage Salad

Blueberry Polenta Muffin Tops
from The Twelve Best Foods Cookbook

-1 large egg
-1/3 cup sugar
-1/3 cup orange juice
-1/2 tsp grated orange zest
-1/4 cup canola oil
-1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
-1/2 cup quick-cooking polenta (I just used cornmeal)
-1 tsp baking powder
-1/8 tsp salt
-1 1/4 cups blueberries

1. Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat oven to 350F.  Coat a muffin top pan (or donut pan) with cooking spray and set aside.
2. In a mixing bowl, beat egg and sugar with an electric mixer until thick and pale (2 minutes). Mix in the juice, zest, and oil. Stir in the flour, polenta, baking powder, and salt. Fold in the blueberries.
3. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 15 minutes, until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Cool for 2 minutes before removing muffin tops and cooling completely on a wire rack.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Double Cookie Dough Ice Cream

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There was a period of six months or so when I was in fifth grade that our six person family moved in with one set of my grandparents. We had sold our house and were in the process of building a new house so they graciously let us invade their home. Their house wasn't tiny, but with 1.5 bathrooms, it definitely wasn't intended for 8 people! Even so, we enjoyed our few months there and in retrospect, our grandparents were saints for putting up with us!

Two things stand out in my mind about that time: cookie dough ice cream and Nickelodeon. We came from a non-cable household, so this whole new world of Doug, Rugrats, Legends of the Hidden Temple, and Figure it Out was a delight for myself and my three younger siblings. Not only did my grandparents let us dictate what was on TV most nights, but my grandma always made sure to have an ample supply of cookie dough ice cream in the freezer. I don't even want to think about how many half-gallons of cookie dough we went through in that six month period! I have such vivid memories of watching Nickelodeon after dinner, counting down the hours until Grandma headed to the kitchen to start scooping out bowls for each of us. To this day, each time we visit Grandma, we can still count on cookie dough ice cream in the freezer!

Because we don't get to visit far often enough, I decided to recreate that memory with a homemade version of cookie dough ice cream. Though it wasn't scooped by Grandma, and it wasn't eaten while watching Nickelodeon, it was still pretty dang good! It's called Double Cookie Dough Ice Cream because the custard is supposedly dough flavored as well. I didn't quite catch that in this batch, but I think my use of light brown sugar in dark might have had something to do with it. That, and I don't know that I let my butter brown enough, so take extra care in this step! Next time, I'll make those changes and see if I get more of a dough-flavored ice cream. I may also make 1.5x the cookie dough to mix in and leave it in bigger chunks. Everyone knows the best part of cookie dough ice cream is the cookie dough chunks! I shared this with my family, who all loved it, and even if you don't have nostalgic reasons for loving cookie dough ice cream, I'm confident you'll fall in love with this recipe too!

One Year Ago: Bean Curry

Double Cookie Dough Ice Cream
from Annie's Eats

for the cookie dough-
-5 tbsp salted butter, melted (or unsalted + 1/4 tsp salt)
-1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
-1/4 cup flour
-1/2 tsp vanilla extract
-3/4 cup mini chocolate chips

for the ice cream-
-3 tbsp unsalted butter
-2 cups heavy cream
-2/3 cup dark brown sugar
-4 large egg yolks
-pinch of coarse salt
-2 tsp vanilla extract
-1 1/2 cups whole milk
-1 cup chocolate chips

1. To make the cookie dough, stir together the butter and sugar in a small bowl until smooth. Add the flour, vanilla, and chocolate chips, stirring to combine. Form the dough into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate until firm. (Can be refrigerated overnight, allow to warm slightly when ready to use so that pieces are easier to break off)
2. To make the ice cream, melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium-high head. Heat, stirring often, until the butter is deep golden brown (be sure not to burn it!). Whisk in the heavy cream and heat until simmering.
3. In a separate bowl, whisk the brown sugar with the egg yolks until pale and fluffy. Once the cream mixture is simmering, add a small amount to the egg yolks, whisking constantly. Slowly whisk in all the cream and then add the salt. Return the mixture to the saucepan and heat until slightly thickened (or 170-175F on an instant-read thermometer).
4. Remove mixture from heat and pour through a fine mesh sieve into a bowl. Stir in the whole milk and vanilla extract. Cover and allow to chill overnight.
5. Churn the ice cream mixture according to the ice cream maker's instructions. Once finished churning, transfer the ice cream to a large bowl or airtight container and stir in chunks of cookie dough and chocolate chips. Store in the freezer until firm.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Sesame-Soy Green Beans

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I’ve said it many times before, but I have a bad habit of overlooking side dishes, especially when I’m only cooking for Ryan and I. I get too caught up in the main dish and am likely already anticipating my nightly dessert, that I usually depend on super easy sides (shout out for my beloved kale chips!) or omit them altogether. However, ever since making the raisin and pine nut asparagus out of Cooking Light, I’ve paid a little more attention to their featured side dish each month.

The July issue of Cooking Light featured green beans and offered four different variations, everything from citrus-nut to peppery-bacon. They all sounded good, but I opted to make the sesame-soy green beans, since I had all of the ingredients on hand.

I liked that this side dish wasn’t particularly time consuming or complicated, meaning it wasn’t too difficult to make alongside of my main dish (a pasta dish, that evening). My slight mishap with burnt sesame seeds can be blamed on my inability to read the labels on my stove correctly, not the complexity of the recipe! Be warned, these green beans carry a bit of heat from the crushed red pepper. Omit or reduce if you’re sensitive to spice! 

(Scroll down for an additional side dish idea!)

Thanks for those of you that participated in yesterday's auction! My mocha coconut granola bars (+ cookies!) ended up going for $75...just a small portion of the over $25,000 raised!

Sesame-Soy Green Beans
from Cooking Light July 2011

-1 lb green beans, trimmed
-1 tbsp dark sesame oil
-2 garlic cloves, minced
-1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
-1 tbsp lower-sodium soy sauce
-1/8 tsp salt
-1/2 tsp toasted sesame seeds

1. Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil. Add beans and cook for 5 minutes. Plunge beans in ice water and drain.
2. In a skillet over medium-high heat, heat sesame oil with minced garlic and crushed red pepper. Saute for 30 seconds. Add green beans, soy sauce, and salt. Cook for 2 minutes, tossing frequently.
3. Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds and serve immediately.

While we're on the subject of side dishes...recently Foodbuzz sent me a coupon (as part of their Tastemakers Program) to try out some Ore-Ida Sweet Potato Fries. Though I typically make my own baked sweet potato fries, I was eager to see how these compared. It was nice to not have to worry about uniforming chopping and slicing my potatoes---that part was already done for me! The ingredient list on Ore-Ida's fries was decent, a few more ingredients than when I make them myself, but they're still pretty natural, especially for coming from a package!

I lightly seasoned the fries with seasoned salt and we enjoyed them (along with okra fries-not from a package) dipped in a sauce I concocted: about a tablespoon or two of plain yogurt, a tablespoon or two of light sour cream, a few squeezes of Sriracha sauce, and half a lime, squeezed. The sauce was a tangy accompaniment to the vegetables and one I'll be making next time we have sweet potato fries of any sort.

All in all, we liked the Ore-Ida fries. They were impressively crispy and not at all greasy. Though I'll probably still make my own from scratch most of the time, these are a great option for those who don't want to deal with the mess or time of making their own!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Cranberry, Orange, Chocolate Sour Cream Muffins

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Aside from a brief stint in high school before prom, when I was a younger, less-wiser, version of myself, I stay away from tanning beds. Skin cancer and wrinkles are not something I’m willing to risk, no matter how pasty I am now as a result. I actually tan quite easily, but 5 am runs followed by long hours in the office and evenings in the kitchen means I don’t easily attain that tanned glow that I used to. No big deal, except I didn’t want to be the ghost standing among my friends in Kacey’s wedding a few weeks ago.

In a moment of foresight, I purchased a Groupon a few months ago for two Mystic tans. My plan was to try one a few weeks before the wedding and, if all went well, use the second the week before Kacey and Keith’s big day. This is how I found myself at a Tan Company at 9:00 pm on a Wednesday evening.

I won’t go into all of the embarrassing details, but just know that my first Mystic tan experience was the ultimate fail that left me running home to shower off the 3 sides of my body that had been sprayed as well as the gobs of lotion that covered my knees and elbows (let’s just call that a misunderstanding of directions!).

That experience was just so “me”. I swear, awkward and semi-hilarious-if-they-don’t-happen-to-you moments are the epitome of my life. I have plenty of stories I could share with you, but I’ll save those for another day…

What does my awkward Mystic tan experience have to do with these muffins? Not much, except that I returned home after my frustrating 45 minutes at The Tan Company and was instantly cheered up when I bit into one of these muffins I’d made earlier in the day. Tender and only slightly sweet, after I added some whole-wheat flour and reduced the sugar from the original recipe, these burst with flavor. As I settled in with my bedtime snack, I said a little prayer of thanks that the only overtly orange thing in sight was my little muffin. (And in case you were wondering, I did have a Mystic tan success when I returned the next day ;))

Cranberry, Orange, Chocolate Sour Cream Muffins
adapted from Evil Shenanigans
*Makes 18 Muffins

-1 cup all-purpose flour
-1 cup whole-wheat flour
-1/2 cup granulated sugar
-1 tsp baking powder
-1/2 tsp baking soda
-1/2 tsp salt
-1 orange, zested
-1/4 cup butter, melted
-1 tsp vanilla extract
-1/3 cup orange juice
-3/4 cup low-fat sour cream
-2 eggs
-1/2 cup chocolate chips
-1/2 cup dried cranberries

1. Preheat oven to 375F and line 18 muffin cups with paper lines.
2. In a large bowl, whisk together flours, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
3. In a separate bowl, mix orange zest, orange juice, butter, vanilla, sour cream, and eggs.
4. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, stirring just until moist. Stir in dried cranberries and chocolate chips.
5. Divide batter evenly among muffin cups. Bake for 16-20 minutes (mine were good at about 17), until the tops are golden brown. Cool in the pan for 3 minutes then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Don't forget to go bid on my granola bars & cookies, or any of the other auction items, as part of The Great Fundraising Act. Auction is live from 8 AM EST to 11 PM EST!! Let's raise some major money for Susan! Auction found here!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Reese's Peanut Butter Cup Ice Cream

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When my parents and youngest sister Renatta visited over Father’s Day weekend, I was excited to introduce them to my newest love: homemade ice cream. I had three different kinds in the freezer awaiting their arrival: butter pecan, cake batter, and rocky road. Although I figured they’d enjoy it—we are an ice cream loving family after all—I did not anticipate the insane enthusiasm I witnessed. One of the best parts of cooking and baking is sharing with people I love (and hoping they enjoy it as much as I do!)….so needless to say, their unbridled excitement over the ice cream made my day. I got a major kick out of watching everyone dig in until not a drip was left. Don’t tell him I said so, but I’m pretty sure my dad would have licked the container if I’d let him!

When my dad said “you have to bring some home for the 4th of July!,” I didn’t think twice about it. It wasn’t until I had started brainstorming the flavors I wanted to prepare for Gorski Ice Cream Domination Round 2 that I started to consider the logistics of it all. You know, that whole 4 ½ hour drive that separates St. Louis from Chicago. Still, I was not to be deterred.

With a cooler and a few bags of ice, I managed to successfully arrive at my home on July 1st with 4 quarts of Sweets Life ice cream. Soft ice cream, but ice cream nonetheless, and nothing a little bit of time in the freezer couldn’t fix!

This was one of the batches of ice cream that made the voyage from St. Louis to Chicago. My family doesn’t just love ice cream; they also love peanut butter, which is why I knew this would be perfect for them. You can’t go wrong with peanut butter-flavored ice cream chock full of chopped Reese’s peanut butter cups! I’ve made peanut butter ice cream in the past, but this recipe uses whole milk and heavy cream (2 ingredients I have a LOT of on hand lately) instead of half-and-half, plus includes the candy addition! Both are great—it just depends on what you have in your fridge!

Have you ever attempted anything crazy while traveling with food? Let’s hear it in the comments! (and please scroll down past the recipe for an important announcement!)

Reese's Peanut Butter Cup Ice Cream
from RecipeGirl

-1 1/4 cups creamy peanut butter
-1/2 cup granulated sugar
-1 1/4 cups whole milk
-2 cups heavy cream
-1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
-1 package snack-size Reese's peanut butter cups, chopped

1. In a large mixing bowl, beat peanut butter and sugar with an electric mixer until smooth. Add milk and mix on low speed until sugar is dissolved (~2 minutes). Mix in heavy cream and vanilla, beating until well combined.
2. Chill mixture at least 4 hours, or overnight. Freeze according to ice cream manufacturer instructions. Once fully churned, stir in chopped Reese's. Serve immediately (for soft-serve texture), or freeze in an airtight container.

So. I'm about a month away from my 25th birthday. At 25 I have a lot of things on my mind--career goals, house projects, throwing fabulous dinner parties...you get the picture. One thing I'm not thinking about?! Cancer. And no 25 year old should have to be (or anyone for that matter). Needless to say, I was a bit shaken when Susan from The Great Balancing Act was recently diagnosed with cancer.

I briefly met her at the Foodbuzz Festival back in November but other than that I don't necessarily "know" her. Even so, I feel for her. I worry about her. I am praying for her. I'm not the only one. A large portion of the healthy living/food blog community has rallied around Susan in this time of need and is working to raise money to help pay for her medical bills. How? There is a GIANT auction taking place tomorrow. To see what's all being auctioned off, beginning tomorrow (8AM EST to 11PM EST), click here. All bids start at $10 and all proceeds go towards Susan.(FYI, I'm auctioning off a batch of mocha coconut granola bars and 2 dozen cookies of your choice from my cookie index!...if you want to bid on my items--they're found here)

I know you may not know Susan, but I do know that you likely know someone struggling with cancer. This is one small way to help fight against this awful disease! Please take some time tomorrow to go bid, or feel free to make a direct donation!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Banana Oatmeal Breakfast Bars

I didn't really plan to blog these, as they were part recipe experimentation and part "operation use up the 11 ripe bananas in my freezer". My family was in town the weekend they were sitting in our fridge and I didn't have time to make them breakfast before they had an early morning college visit, so I mentioned that they could grab some on their way out the door.

Later, they both mentioned how much they liked them and my mom asked me where I got the recipe...turns out they went over better than I anticipated! Thus, I've decided to share the recipe with you, in case you too have some overripe bananas.

These are a healthier adaption of granola bars, with no oil and minimum mix-ins. Of course, I couldn't resist the chocolate chips, sometimes you need a little dose of chocolate first thing! I also used PB&Co's dark chocolate peanut butter in these, which is why they're so dark in color, but you could swap in any kind of nut butter. These do need to be kept chilled and you'll find that they're a little stickier than the other variation. The 9 x 13 pan didn't make it through a weekend and I'll be whipping these up frequently for an easy breakfast/snack!

One Year Ago: Spinach Black Bean Pita Pizzas

Banana Oatmeal Breakfast Bars

-2 1/2 cups old-fashioned oats
-1 cup whole wheat flour
-1/4-1/2 cup chocolate chips
-1/4 cup brown sugar
-3 ripe bananas, mashed (approximately 1 cup worth)
-1/4 cup peanut butter, melted in the microwave
-1 egg, beaten
-1/2 tsp salt
-2 tsp vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Line a 9 x 13 pan with aluminum foil and spray with cooking spray.
2. Mix together oats, flour, chocolate chips, brown sugar, and salt in a large bowl. Stir in bananas, peanut butter, egg, and vanilla extract until well combined.
3. Bake for 15 minutes and remove from oven. Allow to cool, cut into bars, and store in refrigerator.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Mushrooms, Caramelized Onions, and Spinach over Creamy Goat Cheese Polenta

(Welcome to those of you stopping by from My Little Celebration after reading my guest post! I hope you find a recipe or two that you'll enjoy. Let me know if you have any questions!!)

As I continue to learn more about food and my confidence grows in the kitchen, I get a kick out of recreating menu favorites from restaurants. Most recently, I did this with the asparagus goat cheese gratin inspired by Salt. Excuse me while I take a moment of pause to remember that fabulous meal and my successful recipe adaptation.


ANYWAYS, after a relaxing Friday night dinner on the patio of 1111 Mississippi last time my parents were in town, I found myself once again inspired. Based on a server recommendation, I had ordered a mushroom and spinach dish that was served over goat cheese polenta. It was a simple dish, but executed perfectly, and one I couldn’t wait to try again.

My recreation was mostly successful, save for the fact that I realized I was without an onion after setting out to make this. Thus, our version didn’t contain the sweet caramelized onions that the original had. Because I think they’re a great addition, I’ve included them in the recipe below. This is easy to put together and makes for an elegant light supper. It goes without saying that the goat cheese polenta was my favorite part…if nothing else, give that a try!

Mushrooms, Caramelized Onions, and Spinach over Cream Goat Cheese Polenta
inspired by Mississippi 1111
*serves 2

-2 cups water
-1/2 cup polenta
-4 oz. goat cheese
-1 package mushrooms, washed and sliced
-4 cups fresh spinach
-1/2 large onion, sliced
-1 tbsp olive oil
-1/2 tsp dried rosemary
-salt & pepper

1. Add 1 tbsp olive oil to large saucepan. Add sliced onions and cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally. Cook onions for 15-20 minutes, until brown and beginning to caramelize.
2. Add mushrooms and sprinkle with rosemary. Season with salt and pepper. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms release their juices. Add spinach and allow to wilt.
3. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, bring 2 cups of water to a boil. Stir in polenta and cook, stirring occasionally, until smooth and creamy. Remove from heat and stir in goat cheese, stirring until all lumps are gone.
4. Divide polenta between two plates. Top with spinach, mushroom, onion mixture and serve immediately.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Asian Edamame Salad

Nearly every time Ryan or I make a trip to Trader Joe’s, we inevitably find ourselves coming home with a package or two of edamame. Sometimes it’s the shelled, other times it’s the whole pods. Since discovering it at a sushi restaurant a few years ago, we can’t get enough of the stuff!

My friend Maggie brought a variation of this edamame salad to a cookout at our house after receiving the recipe from a sushi-making class she and Mike took at the Kitchen Conservatory in St. Louis. It’s quickly become one of our favorites and a great side dish for summer grilling (like my new favorite burgers) or unique lunch salad. It has a great variety of textures and flavors and you can easily adapt the recipe. I posted my version below, but know that Maggie’s subbed red onion for green and sliced almonds for pepitas, so feel free to get creative!

Looking for other ways to use edamame? Try edamame succotash, edamame hummus, or creamy vegetable and edamame risotto!

Asian Edamame Salad
adapted from The Kitchen Conservatory

-2 packages frozen shelled edamame
-2 small red peppers, diced
-1 bunch green onions, diced
-1/2 cup dried cranberries
-1/2 cup pepitas (roasted pumpkin seeds)
-1/4 cup rice vinegar
-1/4 cup sesame oil
-1 tbsp hot sauce or chili paste (or more to taste)

1. Cook edamame according to package instructions. Drain and add to a large bowl.
2. Add in diced peppers, onions, cranberries, and pepitas.
3. Add rice vinegar, sesame oil, and hot sauce, stirring to mix completely. Chill completely before serving. (Can be made ahead of time and lasts in the fridge for up to one week)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Loaded Baked Potato Dip

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When surrounded by sweet or savory items, 9 times out of 10, I'll go with the savory option. If it were healthy (and socially acceptable) to eat dessert in place of meals, I would do it. I do it anyways, sometimes. I made this baked potato dip for all of my friends with savory taste buds, not expecting to like it. I mixed it up and dipped my finger in, figuring one bite would be enough to fulfill my quality control duty (always required as a food blogger, am I right?)...but then I found myself grabbing a potato chip to steal a second, and then a third, bite.

I caught my sister Julia, the infamous potato-hating sister, dipping chips into this. When I questioned her, she admitted that she was that desperate for a vehicle to transport the dip from dish to mouth! If that's not proof of a good dip, I don't know what is! Baked potatoes are a little heavy for the heat of July, but you can still get your fix with this dip...tasty enough to convert a sweets lover and a potato hater!

One Year Ago: Whole Chicken on the Grill

Loaded Baked Potato Dip
from Southern Living January 2011

-1 (2.1 oz) package fully cooked bacon slices
-1 (16 oz) container sour cream
-2 cups (8 oz.) freshly shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
-1/3 cup sliced fresh chives or green onions
-2 tsp hot sauce
-potato chips or waffle fries, for dipping

1. Cook bacon according to package instructions, until crisp. Drain on paper towels and crumble once cooled.
2. In a medium sized bowl, stir together sour cream, cheese, chives/green onions, hot sauce, and bacon. Cover and chill for at least 1 hour, or up to 24 hours.
3. Serve chilled with potato chips or waffle fries. Leftovers keep in the refrigerator for up to 7 days.

This content was originally posted on Honest Cooking in my featured column "Cooking the Magazines".

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Rocky Road Ice Cream

Oops, I did it again.

I made another irresistible ice cream that has Ryan and I sitting on our hands until dessert time rolls around each evening and we can grab it out of the freezer. Yes, each evening. This is The Sweets Life, we don't mess around with our dessert. Sometimes we use bowls, sometimes we don't.

Maybe I should lay off the heavy cream and whole milk for awhile, let my ice cream maker gather a little dust in the cabinet.

Then again, that's what Winter is for. It's July. It's hot. We're craving ice cream, the real stuff. We eat fairly healthily, we exercise regularly, and we regularly indulge in real ice cream. I don't see that changing anytime soon. And I'm pretty okay with that!

On another note...remember that wedding I mentioned in my Homemade Cheez-Its post? I have over 400 pictures from the weekend...and though this is a food blog, I can't resist sharing a few of my favorites! It was a perfect day and an amazing celebration...congrats again Kacey & Keith!

One Year Ago: Strawberry Amaretto Shortcakes

Rocky Road Ice Cream
from Brown-Eyed Baker

-2 cups heavy cream
-3 tbsp cocoa powder
-5 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped (I used semisweet chocolate chips)
-1 cup whole milk
-3/4 cup sugar
-pinch of salt
-5 egg yolks
-1/2 tsp vanilla extract
-1 cup walnuts
-1 cup miniature marshmallows

1. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, warm 1 cup of the cream. Stir in the cocoa, whisking to blend. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer at a low boil for 30 seconds, whisking constantly. Remove from heat and stir in chopped chocolate, stirring until smooth and melted. Add remaining 1 cup cream. Pour the mixture into a large bowl and set aside.
2. In the same saucepan, warm the milk, sugar, and salt. In a separate medium bowl, whisk together egg yolks. Once milk is warmed, slowly pour mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly. Return warmed egg mixture to the saucepan and stir constantly over medium heat.
3. Continue to stir until mixture thickens slightly and coats the spatula (5-7 minutes or 170F). Place a sieve over the bowl with the chocolate and pour the custard through it, stirring to combine. Stir in the vanilla and refrigerate the mixture (covered) until completely chilled (preferably overnight).
4. Churn ice cream according to the manufacturer's instructions. Once finished, fold in marshmallows and walnuts. Freeze in an airtight container until ready to serve (mixture will need to freeze for an additional few hours).

Monday, July 18, 2011

Whole-Grain Shells with Goat Cheese and Walnuts

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Why do I love this pasta dish? Let me count the ways...

1. It's easy. Start to finish, about 30 minutes to make, and no complicated steps.
2. It's simple. No crazy ingredients, and yet its simplicity causes it to shine!
3. Goat cheese. Need I say more?

I made this for dinner one evening for me and Ryan along with Julia and her boyfriend Nate. My grandma had passed the recipe along to me and, as always, her recommendation proved to be on par with our taste! All four of us happily dug in and even threw out a few "thank you Grandma!"'s during dinner.

If you need to get dinner on the table fast and you want something tasty that isn't too elaborate, this recipe is for you. Enjoy!

One Year Ago: Chickpea Pasta with Spinach, Sun Dried Tomatoes, and Walnuts (another great & easy pasta dish!)

Whole-Grain Shells with Goat Cheese and Walnuts
from Good Housekeeping
*serves 6

-salt & pepper
-1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
-2 cloves garlic, chopped
-1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
-1 box (13.25 oz.) medium whole-grain shells
-1 bag (16 oz.) frozen peas
-6 oz. goat cheese, softened

1. Bring a 6-quart pot of water to boil. Add 2 tsp salt.
2. In a 8- to 10- inch skillet, add olive oil, walnuts, and garlic. Cook over medium, stirring occasionally, until golden. Stir in 1/8 tsp salt and freshly ground pepper.
3. Add pasta to boiling water and cook 1 minute less than the minimum time on the label, stirring occasionally. Add peas and cook for 1 additional minute. Reserve 1 cup of the pasta cooking water. Drain pasta and peas; return to pot.
4. Stir in goat cheese, 1/2 cup pasta water, 1/4 tsp salt, and 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper. Top with walnuts and garlic mixture.

This content was originally posted on Honest Cooking in my featured column "Cooking the Magazines".

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Sweet Potato Kale Pizza

Kale and sweet potatoes are two foods that are almost always found in our kitchen. If you come over and don't find them there, it's because we've already finished them off and I haven't yet returned to the store. However, it wasn't until I saw this pizza on Shannon's blog that I ever thought of putting them together.

After a long and busy Saturday, I found myself rushing to finish a midterm for the class I was taking before we headed out to our next event. Ryan was a champ and agreed to make dinner, so I showed him this recipe and asked him to make a variation of it. Rather than roasting the potato, he shredded it and sauteed it with the onions. Since we didn't have goat cheese on hand, he made two different pizzas--one with feta and the other with bleu cheese. Though Shannon made hers in the oven, he used the grill (grilled pizza is one of our all time favorites!) and the two flatbread pizzas came out perfectly!

We both preferred the bleu cheese variation over the feta, but any of the three (bleu, feta, or goat) would be fabulous...so make according to your preference. This is definitely a different-sounding pizza combination, but I think you'll be surprised by how good it is. Kale and sweet potatoes will definitely be two regular toppings for us from here on out!

One Year Ago: Peanut Butter Nutella Brownies

Sweet Potato Kale Pizza
adapted from Tri to Cook

-1 medium onion, thinly sliced
-1-2 tbsp olive oil
-1 medium-large sweet potato
-pizza dough or flatbread
-kale, chopped/ripped into small pieces (1-2 cups)
-1 tbsp chopped fresh sage
-1 clove garlic
-3 oz. cheese (goat, bleu, or feta)
-1/4 cup milk

1. Shred sweet potato in a food processor or on a box grater. Set sweet potato strands aside.
2. Heat oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add onions, stirring to coat, and cook for 1-2 minutes. Turn down heat to low and cook for 15-20 minutes, until browned and caramelized. Add sweet potatoes for the last 5 minutes of cooking and stir occasionally.
3. Whisk together milk, rosemary, garlic, and cheese in a small bowl until smooth and spreadable.
4. Top pizza crust with the milk sauce, chopped kale, shredded potato, and caramelized onions. Bake for 400F in an oven for 10-12 minutes, or for 5-10 minutes on your outdoor grill, covered.

This post is linked to Eat at Home.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Homemade Cheez-its

Remember Nate? My sister Julia's non-dessert loving boyfriend? He may not love dessert (yet), but he does love Cheez-Its. Now Cheez-Its are not my favorite, not even close. Granted, I'm a sweets girl through and through, but even when it comes to savory snacks, Cheez-Its aren't something I have even a remote interest in. Still, I've had such great success with homemade crackers that I was eager to give Cheez-Its a go.

I have to admit, these far exceeded expectations. Not only did I find them adorable, but I couldn't get over how fresh they tasted. With an ingredient list much shorter than what you'll find on the side of a box, you can't help but feel you're getting a higher quality snack in this homemade version. Though they don't look or taste exactly like Cheez-Its, from what I can recall, they completely lack that fake cheese flavor. They're salty and cheesy and buttery and I found myself sneaking several crackers while I packaged them up for Nate, the Cheez-It King, who gave them his stamp of approval.

Today's an exciting day! One of my very best friends, my college roommate, and one of the Maids of Honor in my wedding is getting married today. I couldn't be more thrilled to be a part of Kacey & Keith's special day and I am so excited to watch them profess their love and commitment to each other for the rest of their lives....and then to join them on the dance floor in celebration! I'll be sure to show you all a few pictures later this week :)

One Year Ago: Grilled Vegetables in a Foil Pack

Homemade Cheez-Its
from From Away

-1 cup flour
-4 tbsp cold butter, cut into small squares
-8 oz. grated extra-sharp 2% cheddar cheese
-3/4 tsp salt
-1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

1. Preheat oven to 350F. In a food processor, combine all ingredients and pulse until crumbly.
2. Add cold water, 1 tbsp at a time, until dough comes together (I used 3 tbsp of water). Wrap dough in plastic wrap and place in freezer for 30 minutes until chilled.
3. Remove from freezer and roll out between two pieces of plastic wrap or parchment paper (I cut dough in half and did this in 2 batches). Roll out to 1/8-inch thickness and place on parchment-lined baking sheets. Use a pizza cutter or knife to cut into 1-inch squares. Sprinkle with kosher salt and bake for 25 minutes. (Crackers made need a few additional minutes if you want them on the crispier side).
4. Remove from oven when crisp and brown. Allow to cool and serve or store in an airtight container.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Raspberry Cream Sandwich Cookies

Before even taking a bite into them, my mom introduced these cookies to me as “the best cookies in the world”. I paused. Whoa. That’s quite a statement. One I hesitate to make, especially on the blog, for fear of setting people’s expectations too high, only to have them disappointed. Still, I trust my mom and take her opinions seriously, so I bit in. I chewed. I swallowed. And then, I smiled.

Two weeks later, I made them again. 

There are a lot of good cookie recipes on this blog, but this absolutely ranks up there as one of the best. These super sweet cookie sandwiches are not for the faint of heart. It may be one of the only cookies I’ve made that I’ve been able to stop at one. But there is something irresistible about the tender sugar cookies sandwiched around the raspberry white chocolate ganache.

Everything about these—the texture, the flavor, the scent—is satisfying…make them and don’t be surprised if others declare them “the best cookies in the world”!

One Year Ago: Grilled Pork Chops with Fresh Nectarine Salsa

Raspberry Cream Sandwich Cookies

-1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
-1 tsp baking soda
-1/2 tsp salt
-1 1/4 sticks (10 tbsp) unsalted butter, softened
-1 1/2 cups plus 2 tsp sugar
-1 large egg
-2 tsp pure vanilla extract
-1 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise, seeds scraped and reserved
-6 oz (1 cup) fresh raspberries
-7 1/2 oz. best-quality white chocolate, coarsely chopped
-1/3 cup heavy cream

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
2. Mix butter and 1 1/2 cups sugar with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, 2-3 minutes. Add egg, extract, and vanilla seeds; mix until smooth. Reduce speed to low. Gradually mix in flour mixture.
3. Scoop batter using a 1-inch ice cream scoop; space 2 inches apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper.
4. Bake cookies 4 minutes. Remove from oven; gently tap baking sheets on counter to flatten cookies. Return to oven, switching positions of sheets; bake until cookies are just set, 4-6 minutes more. Let cool on parchment on wire racks.
5. Puree raspberries and remaining 2 tsp sugar in a food processor. Pour mixture through a fine sieve into a small bowl, pressing to extract juice; discard seeds. Set mixture aside.
6. Melt white chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Remove from heat; whisk in cream in a slow stream. Whisk in reserved raspberry mixture. Refrigerate mixture for several hours or overnight.
7. Spread 1 heaping teaspoon raspberry cream on the undersides of half the cookies. Sandwich with remaining cookies. Cookies can be stored at room temperature in an airtight container for up to 3 days.