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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Grilled Salmon with Tomato-Peach Salsa

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Several times a year, Ryan has the opportunity to travel to San Diego for work. I was lucky enough to join him one time, but usually I kiss him goodbye and patiently await his return. Five days later, I pick him up from the airport and am welcomed with stories of fresh seafood, great wine, and Pinkberry. It’s no secret that St. Louis lacks some of what San Diego can offer (ahem, Pinkberry!!), so I don’t blame him for his great culinary-inspired enthusiasm.

Last time he was in San Diego, I made the mistake of putting salmon on the menu for the weekend he returned. It wasn’t until after we had picked up our fresh salmon from Bob’s Seafood (a must for anyone in STL!), that I realized I should’ve saved this meal for a day far removed from any West Coast travel and lingering food memories. Oops. Still, I forged on with the menu, preparing this dish along with the Summer Tomato, Basil, and Feta Galette and a grilled zucchini dish soon to be posted.

Five minutes into filling our plates over a candlelit dining room table with friends, Ryan declared this meal to be better than any meal he’d had in San Diego the previous week.  Needless to say, I was thrilled…and after tasting everything myself and watching our friends enjoy the meal, I knew he wasn’t just saying it because he’d missed me. This salmon was incredible. The fish was smooth and buttery, the salsa fresh, and the combination worthy of serving company, or your long-lost husband!

Grilled Salmon with Tomato-Peach Salsa
from Cooking Light July 2011

-1 cup chopped peeled peach
-3/4 cup quartered cherry tomatoes
-1/4 cup thinly vertically sliced red onion
-3 tbsp small fresh mint leaves
-3 tbsp small fresh basil leaves
-2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
-1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
-1 tbsp honey
-1 jalapeno pepper, thinly sliced
-1 tsp kosher salt, divided
-4 (6 oz) wild Alaskan king salmon fillets
-1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
-cooking spray

1. Preheat grill to high heat.
2. Combine the first 9 ingredients in a bowl. Sprinkle mixture with 1/4 tsp salt and toss gently. Sprinkle fillets evenly with remaining 3/4 tsp salt and black pepper. Place fillets on a grill rack coated with cooking spray and grill for 10 minutes (or desired degree of doneness), turning after 5 minutes. Serve topped with salsa.

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

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

No-Bake Chocolate and Peanut Butter Oatmeal Bars (and my two-year blogiversary!)

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Two years ago today, I created my first post on The Sweets Life. My, my how times have changed! I reflected on some of those changes in my one-year blogiversary post and can continue to echo those same sentiments. My confidence, enjoyment of, and creativity in the kitchen have all increased. I have more people finding my website on a daily basis. I started a recipe index, as I mentioned wanting to do last year. I also unveiled a new blog design and created a Facebook page. It's been a good year for The Sweets Life, and I suspect this next one will be full of more good eats.

Thank YOU to all of my readers, for joining me on this journey. Thanks to those of you who faithfully read on a daily basis, to those of you that subscribe to The Sweets Life in Google Reader, to those of you that leave comments on my blog or Facebook page when you try a recipe, to those of you that share your favorite recipes with me, and to those of you who willingly taste test whatever crazy recipe I throw at you! I appreciate each and every one of you! Blogging is a fun outlet for me, but it is all the more rewarding when I get the chance to interact with readers, whether its helping you plan your dinner parties, envying food on your blogs, or just making good food to share with you via The Sweets Life!

It is so very appropriate that I share this Martha Stewart recipe for No-Bake Chocolate and Peanut Butter Oatmeal Bars. Not because I've become a Martha Stewart-like extraordinaire in the past two years, quite the opposite actually! When making these bars, I learned that you cannot melt peanut butter in the microwave. I was also reminded that I am still incapable of melting chocolate without burning it....which is why my bars are topped with simply a peanut butter drizzle instead of a peanut butter AND milk chocolate drizzle. So yes, this is an appropriate recipe to share today...because no matter how many recipes I post, how many readers I gain, and how much time I spend in the kitchen, I will still be humbled, still be learning, and still be sharing those stories with all of you!

And in true Sweets Life fashion, I discovered that these bars make for a really good breakfast ;)

One Year Ago: Peanut Butter Cookies & My One Year Blogiversary
Two Years Ago: Homemade Blizzards and Marshmallow Brownies
**Read below the recipe for another fun take on my two years of blogging!

No-Bake Chocolate and Peanut Butter Oatmeal Bars
slightly adapted from Martha Stewart Living, August 2008

-cooking spray
-1 box Chocolate Teddy Grahams, finely ground (I did this in my food processor)
-1 1/2 cups old-fashioned oats
-1 1/4 cups confectioners' sugar
-1/4 tsp coarse salt
-5 oz. (1 stick plus 2 tbsp) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
-1 cup chunky peanut butter
-3/4 cup plus 3 tbsp smooth peanut butter
-10 oz. semisweet chocolate, melted
-1.5 oz milk chocolate, melted

1. Line a 9 x 13-inch baking dish with foil so that there is a slight overhang and spray with cooking spray. Set aside.
2. In a large bowl, combine wafers, oats, sugar, and salt. Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat, then add chunky peanut butter and 3/4 cup smooth peanut butter, whisking until well combined. Add peanut butter mixture to wafer mixture and stir to combine.
3. Pour mixture into prepared baking dish and use a spatula to firmly press into an even layer. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
4. Melt semisweet chocolate in the microwave or over a stovetop and pour over chilled bars, using a knife or spatula to evenly smooth across the bars. Refrigerate until hardened, at least 15 minutes.
5. Heat 3 tbsp peanut butter in a small saucepan over low heat until runny. Drizzle over the chilled chocolate layer. Melt milk chocolate and drizzle atop the peanut butter. Return to the fridge for 15 more minutes.
6. Using the foil overhang, remove bars from the pan. Cut into squares before serving.
*Bars can be refrigerated up to 1 week or frozen up to 1 month.

Several weeks ago, Ashley tagged me in the 7 links game, which is essentially a way for bloggers to reflect on and share some of their previous posts. Though most blogs doing this aren't recipe blogs, I wanted to participate, 1. because I thought it would be a fun way to look at the past two years and 2. because I really love Ashley, who I had the pleasure of meeting at the Foodbuzz Festival last year and who is one of the most genuine, kind people I think I know! Then, a bit later, Tina (another friend I had the chance to meet at Foodbuzz, not to mention talented blogger...I'm always drooling over her seafood recipes and her husband's cocktails!) tagged me to play the game as well. So, without further ado, my 7 links...

1) My Most Beautiful Post
When it comes to savory foods, I think these Grilled Pork Chops with Nectarine Salsa were pretty visually appealing...and they had the flavor to match the look! But of course, I also have to include a dessert in here and that has to be a tie between Reese's Peanut Butter Cheesecake Bars and my favorite Raspberry Amaretto Trifle!

2) My Most Popular Post
Thanks to some serious attention on StumbleUpon, my Cinnamon Rolls are actually the recipe with the post hits over the past two years. I was surprised to realize this, but I guess I shouldn't be...these are pretty dang amazing!

3) My Most Controversial Post
Although this post wasn't controversial in the blog world, my Latin Nacho Bowls caused quite a bit of controversy between Ryan and me. Check out the post for the story!

4) My Most Helpful Post
I don't really do many 'how to' posts on here, but I did take several pictures when I made the Whole Grain Challah with Cranberries, which I suppose could be helpful if you're a bread-baking newbie, like I was when I made it!

5) A Post Whose Success Surprised Me
Although Taco Pasta Salad isn't necessarily anything fancy or special, I've had several people make this and email me or tell me how much they loved it! Along the same lines, I've received positive feedback from a lot of people who have made Buffalo Chicken Chili.

6) A Post I Didn't Think Got the Attention it Deserved
The photo isn't great (note to self: update!) but the Panzanella Caprese salad is one I've returned to again and again. It's the perfect summer salad! However, I have a lot more readers now than when it was originally posted and it definitely deserves a shoutout!

7) The Post I'm Most Proud Of
This is tough, because to be honest, I'm just pretty proud of this blog in general. I don't mean to come off as conceited, because as I explained above, I'm still incredibly humbled in my kitchen and when I see so many other food blogs that are on a completely different level than mine. That being said, I never would have anticipated being where I am now and with the sheer insanity that is my life right now, I'm proud that I'm still able to devote as much time to making new recipes, photographing them, and drafting blog posts! But, to be fair, I'll answer the question and choose a post at random...the Curried Sweet Potato Chickpea Burgers are special because this was a completely original recipe that not only ended up being successful for me, but enjoyed by others who also tried it!

And there you have it...7 (and a few more, oops!) links!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Turkey Quinoa Meatloaf

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Orange you glad I'm posting about meatloaf today?! Sorry, I couldn't resist. I figured I might as well state the obvious:

1. This is a rather orange looking meal (that is shredded and sauteed sweet potato/zucchini, heavy on the sweet potato, beside the zucchini).
2. Meatloaf doesn't photograph well.

There's no way around it. Sometimes the best tasting foods aren't exactly the prettiest. Not everything we put in our mouths can be as beautiful as cinnamon rolls or grilled pizza. Don't let that deter you though...Ryan and I were both pleasantly surprised by how much we loved this dish. Most meatloaf has the reputation for being solid, bland, and ugly. While this one might still be ugly, it's falling apart it's so moist and it's anything but bland! I wasn't sure how this would taste, but the jalapeno, cumin, and basil all did their part in spicing up the dish.

The secret ingredient in this meatloaf, or not so secret if you read the title, is the quinoa. Recently, Swanson Health Products gave me the chance to review some items for the blog. I was like a kid in a candy store, or in this case, a kid in a health food store ;) Though it took me awhile to choose, I ultimately decided on whole wheat pastry flour, clover honey, organic coconut oil, garbanzo bean flour, and the organic quinoa I used in this.

So far I've been incredibly impressed with Swanson Health Products...not only did I find the prices reasonable (despite the fact that these were given at no cost, I would definitely pay these prices on my own dime!), but I was thoroughly impressed with their customer service. My box of goodies arrived in a bit of turmoil--the flour had exploded and the liquid products were leaking a bit. All it took was a 5 minute phone call with an incredibly friendly and helpful employee before I had replacements on their way. I LOVE good customer service!

The quinoa was a great addition to this meatloaf. It gave the dish that extra moisture I mentioned and an extra dose of protein! This took minimal prep work and resulted in a healthy, hearty meal...exactly what we're going for in The Sweets Life kitchen!

Two thumbs up to Swanson Health Products for great service and great products! I've already been using the whole wheat pastry flour in a few quick bread recipes and I have grand plans for some of the others!

One Year Ago: Columbia Crest Cork & Fork Dinner Party

Turkey Quinoa Meatloaf
slightly adapted from Erin's Food Files

-Canola Spray
-2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
-1 large onion, finely chopped
-1 medium jalapeno, seeded and finely chopped
-1 tbsp ground cumin
- 1/2 cups cooked quinoa (1/2 cup quinoa cooked with 1 cup water)
-1 lb ground turkey
-1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
-2 tbsp tomato paste
-1 tbsp tomato ketchup
-1 large egg
-1 tsp coarse sea salt
-1 tsp fresh black pepper

1. Preheat oven to 375F. Coat a 9-inch loaf pan with cooking spray and set aside.
2. In a pan over medium heat, add olive oil. Add onion and jalapeno and cook, stirring frequently, until onion is softened (3-4 minutes). Stir in cumin and cook for 1 more minute. Remove from heat.
3. In a large mixing bowl, combine the onion mixture with the remaining ingredients. Mix thoroughly until well combined and transfer to the loaf pan. Bake for one hour. Turn the oven off and allow the meatloaf to sit in it for 10 minutes. Remove from oven, cool for 5 minutes, and slice.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Snickerdoodle Scones

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One week ago, we celebrated my birthday. I then jumped on a plane to Canada and here we are one week later, celebrating Ryan's birthday! You may remember the amazing celebration we had in Chicago last year. Though Columbia Crest & Foodbuzz aren't sponsoring any meals this time around, we've returned to Chicago with friends Mike and Maggie once again.
(unrelated to this weekend, but such a "Ryan" picture!)
By the time you're reading this, most of our weekend has passed... On this year's agenda? An architectural tour of the city by boat, shopping (in particular checking out the Mad Men collection at Banana Republic...and having to tear the birthday boy away!), dinner at Girl and the Goat (insert squeal!), and a "meeting" (aka cocktail party) with our RAGNAR DC team to prep for our upcoming relay.
(clearly I chose him for his dance moves)
A busy weekend, for sure, but worth it...and all in celebration of my dear husband Ryan. At twenty-five, Ryan is more confident, more hardworking, and more dependable than most men his age. Aside from his boyish good looks, people, particularly at work, are always shocked to find out how young he is.

I couldn't ask for a better or more supportive husband and he deserves far more than a mere shout out on the blog! Ryan, you are my favoritest ever. I cannot imagine a life without you and I thank God every day for blessing me with someone far better than what I deserve. I love you more than I can ever show or say!

...and for those of you who aren't here to listen to me go all gaga over my husband, I do have a recipe for you today! These snickerdoodle scones don't need much introduction. If you are against snickerdoodles for breakfast, this is the next best thing! With cinnamon and sugar in both the batter and coating the outside of the scone, you'll get your fix. Eat them shortly after baking; I always find that scones are best the day (or within a few hours!) that they're made!
One Year Ago: Chicken, Mushroom, Asparagus Bread Pudding

Snickerdoodle Scones
slightly adapted from here

-1 cup all-purpose flour
-1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
-1/2 cup granulated sugar
-2 tsp ground cinnamon
-1 tsp baking powder
-1/2 tsp kosher salt
-1/8 tsp cream of tartar
-1/2 cup unsalted butter
-1 large egg
-1/2 cup sour cream (I used low-fat)
-1/2 tsp baking soda
For the topping-
-1 tbsp granulated sugar
-1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Mix sour cream and baking soda together in a small bowl and set aside. In the bowl of a food processor, place sugar, cinnamon, flour, baking powder, salt, and cream of tartar. Pulse a few times to combine.
3. Cut in butter, pulsing in your food processor, until butter is broken into small chunks throughout. (These steps could also be done by hand)
4. Beat the egg into the sour cream mixture and pour into the flour mixture. Mix by hand, just until moistened. Place the dough on the prepared baking sheet and pat into a large disk.
5. Cut disk into 8 wedges and separate slightly. (My disk was hard to form, next time I might just drop chunks of dough on the sheet) Mix cinnamon and sugar and sprinkle over the scones.
6. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown. Allow to cool for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Summer Tomato, Feta, and Basil Galette

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I have a thing for galettes. Never mind the fact that I’m not sure I’m correctly pronouncing the word (or maybe I am, but it just does NOT roll off the tongue nicely), I haven’t met a galette I don’t love. Surprisingly, I’ve only made savory versions, though technically a galette is a pretty generic term for any flat, round, or freeform crusty cake (according to Wikipedia). Though I’m sure I’ll eventually foray into the world of sweet galettes, I’m perfectly happy to fill my galettes with savory ingredients.

I’m pretty sure you can put anything in a pastry crust and enjoy it, but I particularly loved this Summer Tomato, Feta, and Basil version. It truly is the epitome of summer and reminded me a lot of my favorite Caprese Tart with Basil Garlic Crust. The moral? Tomatoes and Basil taste good with CHEESE, whether it be feta or mozzarella! Much as I loved the butternut squash and caramelized onion galette, I wasn’t crazy about the pastry in that recipe. This crust will probably be my new go-to…whole wheat cornmeal crust happens to be my favorite type of pizza crust and that’s what this reminded me of.

A galette makes for a good side dish or an appetizer, particularly because they’re often incredibly easy to put together…which is why they’ll continue to be served up in The Sweets Life kitchen!

One Year Ago: Banana Blueberry Bread

Summer Tomato, Feta, and Basil Galette
from Cooking Light June 2011

-3/4 cup all-purpose flour (I subbed whole wheat pastry)
-1/4 cup yellow cornmeal
-3 1/2 tbsp chilled unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
-3/4 tsp salt, divided
-3 tbsp ice water
-1 pint jewel box tomatoes (I just used sliced roma tomatoes)
-1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
-1/2 cup crumbled reduced-fat feta cheese
-1/4 cup small basil leaves

1. Lightly spoon flour into a dry measuring cup, leveling with a knife. Add flour, cornmeal, butter, and 1/2 tsp salt to the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal. Slowly add ice water through the chute of the food processor and pulse just until combined and starting to come together (but not forming a ball). Press the mixture into a 4-inch circle on plastic wrap. Cover and chill for 30 minutes.
2. Preheat oven to 425F. Unwrap doll and roll out into a 13-inch circle. Place dough on a parchment lined baking sheet. Arrange tomatoes on dough, leaving a 1 1/2 inch border. Sprinkle with remaining salt and pepper and fold edges of dough up over tomatoes to partially cover.
3. Bake at 425F for 25 minutes or until golden brown. Sprinkle with feta cheese and bake for an additional 5 minutes. Remove from oven, cool for 5 minutes, and sprinkle with basil. Slice into 8 wedges.

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

Friday, August 26, 2011

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Cheesecake Bars

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These rank right up there with the Reese's Peanut Butter Cup Cheesecake Bars in terms of popularity from the masses. Rather than make those again for the Cheesecake Extravaganza, I went with something I was equally confident people would love. These went over just as well as anticipated. In fact, I think I refilled the tray of these more than anything else in the first hour or so of the party. Are you surprised though? 

As you can see from the picture, the little bars are packed with cookie dough. I opted to cut them into pretty small squares and serve them in cupcake liners, but you may find yourself just digging into the baking dish with a fork ;) As I sliced these babies, I made sure to cut perfect edges, ensuring that there was plenty of discarded pieces to shovel in my mouth!

One Year Ago: Salsa Verde Bake (LOVE this meal!)

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Cheesecake Bars
as seen on Brown-Eyed Baker, adapted from Bake at 350

for the crust-
-1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs (about 8 whole graham crackers)
-5 tbsp unsalted butter, melted

for the cookie dough-
-5 tbsp butter, melted and cooled
-1/3 cup light brown sugar
-1/4 cup all-purpose flour
-1/2 tsp vanilla extract
-3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips

for the cheesecake filling-
-10 oz. cream cheese (can use 1/3 less fat), at room temperature
-1/4 cup granulated sugar
-1 egg
-1 tsp vanilla extract

for the chocolate drizzle-
-1/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips
-1 tsp vegetable shortening

1. Preheat oven to 325F. Lightly grease an 8 x 8 inch baking pan, line with parchment paper, and butter the parchment paper. Set aside.
2. Stir together the graham cracker crumbs with melted butter until crumbs are evenly moistened. Press the mixture into the bottom of the prepared pan. Bake for 6 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool on a wire rack.
3. To make the cookie dough, stir together the butter and sugar until smooth. Stir in flour, then the vanilla and chocolate chips. Refrigerate until firm (30 minutes), before rolling dough into teaspoon-sized balls. Place balls on a plate and refrigerate while preparing cheesecake filling.
4. In a mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese and sugar until smooth, scraping the bowl if needed. Add the egg and vanilla extract, beating until combined.
5. Remove the cookie dough balls from the fridge and toss with 1 tsp of flour. Drop into the cheesecake filling and mix together carefully. Pour the filling into the cooled crust, spreading evenly over the top. Bake for 30 minutes, until cheesecake filling is set and no longer jiggly. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Chill in the fridge for at least 2 hours.
6. Remove the bars from the pan and place on a cutting board. Cut into squares. Melt chocolate chips with shortening in the microwave, stirring until smooth. Drizzle chocolate over the bars and allow to set for about 20 minutes. Store leftover cheesecake bars in the frige.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Best of 2011: Harvest Restaurant

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Harvest Restaurant is almost a little-known secret in St. Louis. Obviously it has received enough attention to make it on STL Mag's Top 40 Restaurant List, but I'm willing to bet people drive by it every day without even noticing its presence. It's on a busy corner, but from the outside it looks like nothing more than a mediocre restaurant. Despite its lack of curbside appeal, Harvest is actually one of the finest restaurants in our city...certainly one that may have been forgotten with the arrival of some new kids on the block (Farmhaus, Salt, etc.), but definitely not one to be overlooked!

Months ago I had signed up for Harvest's newsletter list so when I received the email for a free entree in my birthday month, our decision for this month's Best of 2011 restaurant was easy! Sadly, we only had a free few nights the entire month during which to squeeze this in, but we stopped in embarrassingly early on a Thursday evening (I think we beat the old people! ;)) before Ryan jetted off to the Cardinals game.

The restaurant itself is rather dark and the decor might be a little outdated, but we were there for the food! Our server was pleasant, answering our questions about the menu and offering up suggestions when asked. We ordered and then dug into the warm bread brought to our table. Harvest automatically gets two thumbs up for providing more than just the standard olive oil or butter--our bread arrived with a vegan black bean spread as well as some sort of dill herbed butter. Both tasted like they were freshly made and I'm pretty sure I would have asked for another dish of the bean spread had we not had an appetizer coming!

The baked olives we ordered arrived with lavash, a thin cracker, as well as baba ganoush (a pureed eggplant spread) and a red pepper emulsion. The olives themselves were interesting, warm and wrinkly. I can see people being weirded out by the texture, but any olive is a good olive to me! My favorite part of the plate was the baba ganoush, something I've been meaning to make at home for ages.

Our entrees followed shortly thereafter, and despite the awful pictures (dim lighting will do that to you!), we were both impressed with our dishes. I ordered one of the two items off of their spa menu, which boasts a few entrees and salads that aren't made with butter or cream. Though we don't eat out often enough for me to worry about ingesting a little extra butter in a restaurant meal, I was impressed that Harvest even offered such an option!

My salmon was perfectly cooked, but I did question the pairing of the dish. Served atop zucchini noodles with arugula, it was also topped with a tsaziki relish. This all worked, but I wasn't crazy about the tomato broth it was sitting in. I suppose that was their solution for avoiding butter and cream! It wasn't a bad combination--just not what I was expecting. Regardless, I can't get enough of salmon lately and I really enjoyed my meal, nearly cleaning my plate.

Ryan's duck, however, was the true winner of the evening. Duck is not something I would normally pay attention to on a menu, but after trying his, I might have to reconsider! I snagged a few bites of his, as well as the mushroom and bean ragout his was served with. The fresh flavor of his dish--from the basil drizzle to the parmesan cracker, is what really stood out.

Though I've heard good things about the bread pudding at Harvest, the clock was ticking and Ryan will always choose a first pitch over dessert (me, on the other hand, is quite a different story!). We could definitely see why this restaurant made STL Mag's list and are glad we opted to try it for our Best of 2011 challenge!

Looking for other STL restaurant reviews? Check them out here!
One Year Ago: Banana Caramel Cake
Harvest on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Strawberry Basil Pesto Pasta Salad

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Ryan and I make a really good team. I know this, I’ve always known this, but sometimes I forget. Please tell me I’m not the only person who tends to exaggerate their contribution to something while not fully recognizing another’s!

Just me? Awesome. (But I don’t believe you)

So yes, there are times when I get caught up in me me ME and get these crazy thoughts in my head. Thoughts like “Why do I do EVERYTHING around the house ALL the time?” or “Why isn’t Ryan doing X,Y, Z? Doesn’t he know he needs to do X, Y, Z?” Now, anyone who knows Ryan and I as a couple realizes that these are pretty unfair thoughts. Most women would kill for a guy as willing to help around the house as he is…but like I said, I’m human. And therefore forgetful. Or just silly.

I’m reminded just how helpful he is when he takes off to San Diego on business travel for work, as he does several times a year. Suddenly, I really AM the only one doing things around the house. I spent five days making the bed, watering the flowers, and driving myself to work, and then I’m reminded just how helpful Ryan is and just how much he does, often thanklessly and often only because I want it that way (guarantee he doesn’t make the bed when I’m out of town!).

One other major way I am reminded of his absence is when it comes to food. Last time he was out of town, I made this pasta salad the day before he left. We each sampled a little bit that evening,  and he ate some for lunch before he left, but then I found myself eating it for the next three days…and that was AFTER taking some to share with friends!

Thankfully, this salad was good enough that I didn’t mind eating it for a few dinners. I adapted the original recipe, subbing zucchini for cucumber and adding a can of chickpeas for extra protein (this would also be good with some grilled chicken!). My only complaint was that it wasn’t heavily dressed for my taste—next time I’ll make 1.5x the batch of strawberry pesto, or stick to the solution I discovered this time around….drizzling some balsamic vinegar on my portion just before eating, which ended up being rather delightful!

This meal is easy, fresh, and healthy…not to mention completely vegan, for any vegans out there!

Strawberry Basil Pesto Pasta Salad
adapted from Daily Garnish

for the basil-
-1 cup loosely packed basil leaves
-1/4 cup sliced almonds
-1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
-1 tbsp lemon juice
-10 medium strawberries
-salt & freshly ground pepper, to taste

for the pasta salad-
-1 package whole wheat pasta (I used rotini)
-2 cups sliced strawberries
-1 medium zucchini, diced
-1 cup fresh basil leaves, whole
-2 cups spinach leaves, whole
-1/2 cup sliced almonds
-1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
-salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
-1 cup strawberry basil pesto sauce
-balsamic vinegar, to taste

1. In the bowl of a food processor, add basil leaves, olive oil, almonds, and lemon juice, pulsing until well combined. Add strawberries and pulse until smooth. Season generously with salt and pepper.
2. Prepare pasta according to package directions. Drain, allow to cool slightly, and place in a large bowl.
3. Add strawberries, zucchini, basil, spinach, almonds, and chickpeas. Toss with strawberry pesto. Season to taste with salt and pepper. If desired, drizzle pasta salad with balsamic vinegar before serving.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Cheesecake Stuffed Strawberries

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These aren't anything complicated. With five ingredients, they take only a few minutes to put together. In fact, these were probably the least time-intensive food at my Cheesecake Extravaganza. Yet, I had more than a few people come up and proclaim their love for the finger food.

You don't have to throw a cheesecake party to serve these....I imagine they'd be welcomed just about anytime! Another great party food, these can be made ahead of time. I did all the steps, even the sprinkling of graham cracker crumbs, twenty-four hours ahead of time and they suffered no ill consequences. Just be sure to wrap them well (I covered my plate with plastic wrap).

Next time, I'll make more... this was the first food to go at the Cheesecake Extravaganza, and with good reason!

One Year Ago: Brownie Roll Out Cookies

Cheesecake Stuffed Strawberries
from Nutmeg Nanny
Print this post
-1 lb large strawberries
-8 oz. cream cheese, softened (can use 1/3 less fat)
-3-4 tbsp powdered sugar (4 tbsp for a sweeter filling)
-1 tsp vanilla extract
-graham cracker crumbs

1. Rinse strawberries and cut around the top of the strawberry. Remove the top and clean out with a paring knife, if necessary (some may already be hollow inside). Prep all strawberries and set aside.
2. In a mixing bowl, beat cream cheese, powdered sugar, and vanilla until creamy. Add cream cheese mix to a piping bag or ziploc with the corner snipped off. Fill strawberries with cheesecake mixture. Once strawberries are filled, dip the top in graham cracker crumbs. If not serving immediately, refrigerate until serving.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Lemon Basil Hummus

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I went searching for a basil hummus recipe because I was once again looking for a new way to use up our abundance of basil (seriously...STL friends, let me know if you want some!). Though I've made hummus from scratch a few times before (Black Bean, Edamame, and Garlic & Sun-dried Tomato varieties), we still tend to purchase it more than make it. After whipping up this lemon basil hummus though, I might be making it more often!

This literally takes all of five minutes to make and I loved how fresh it tasted, I'm guessing due to the large amounts of basil. I added twice as much as the original recipe (my version below) as well as extra lemon juice because Ryan thought it was too bland at first. With the additions and some time to sit in the fridge, the end product was much better than I'd anticipated. It's perfectly creamy despite the minimal oil (reserve extra chickpea liquid from the can so you can add enough to get to your desired texture) and was great as a sandwich spread, dip for vegetables and crackers, or smeared on a hunk of bread, as you see in the picture above :)

Between this hummus and the Strawberry Basil sorbet, I suppose I know what to do each time my herb gets out of control!

By the way, thank you for all of the birthday wishes yesterday! I've had a lot of fun birthday celebrations in years past but none that can even compare to the amazing weekend I had. I think it's safe to say my twenty-fifth birthday will go down in history, at least my history ;) I was anticipating a fun weekend full of cocktails with friends, an 80s themed birthday party for Ryan and I, thrown by my sister, and a crazy bike race...what I wasn't expecting was the rest of my family (+ best friend from high school) to surprise me and show up at the party. I'm seriously still reeling in shock and happiness because if I had one wish for my birthday this year, that was it. Well done, family. You guys are the best. And since that apparently wasn't enough surprise for one weekend, Ryan then gifted me with tickets for us to head out east to Connecticut this October to visit my friend Paige. Tears were shed, I did NOT see that one coming!

So as you can see, amazing birthday weekend with my most wonderful friends and family. I am blessed, no doubt about that! Thanks for listening to me gush a bit...now it's back to the real world as I headed out to Canada on a jet plane at 6:00 this morning for work. Regular recipes to continue this week, I just might be a little delayed to responding to any comments or emails!

Lemon Basil Hummus
adapted from Pepperidge Farm

-1 can chickpeas
-1 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves
-1 clove garlic, peeled
-juice from 1 lemon
-1 tbsp olive oil
-1/4 tsp ground black pepper
-1 tsp soy sauce

1. Drain the chickpeas, reserving 1/4 cup liquid. Rinse the chickpeas with cold water and drain in a colander.
2. Add chickpeas, 1-2 tbsp reserved liquid, basil, garlic, lemon juice, oil, black pepper, and soy sauce to the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until the mixture is smooth and creamy, adding additional reserved liquid if needed.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

S'mores Cheesecake Bars

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Today, I turn 25. Weird. Weird because in my head, I still think I’m 21. In fact I sometimes catch myself answering the question “how old are you?” incorrectly. It’s not because I’m worried about growing older (that’s not to say I don’t feel old seeing kids I used to babysit for graduate from HIGH SCHOOL)…I know I have a lot to look forward to in the future, I just seem stuck in this youthful mindset. The years between turning 21 and turning 25 have been fast and furious, but also really fun. I graduated college. I started my first “real” job. I got married. I traveled to 4 countries and at least twice as many states. I watched my husband go through a career change. I transitioned into a job and a career path that I love. I endured several running injuries and many, many tears.  I started this blog. I discovered a passion for cooking. I ran a marathon. I joined a church that became my second family. I started school, again. I made and ate a lot of ice cream.
(me on my actual 21st birthday!)

Whew. I get tired just typing that out, and that isn’t the half of what my last four years have all entailed.
Interestingly enough, I’m not the same person I was at 21. At twenty-five, I’m more sure of myself and what I stand for. I care less about what people think about me, my choices, and my interests. I’m more balanced and more laid back than I was four years ago (I know those of you that know me well are laughing at this, but I promise I am!). I’m more confident in my faith. I’m more careful with my friendships and the people I share my innermost self with.

And yet, in so many other ways, I’m still exactly the same. I am still fiercely loyal to my family and long to be in their company more than anyone else’s (besides Ryan’s of course!). I can still laugh at myself, especially when I find myself in embarrassing situations. I still get choked up during sappy TV or movie moments way more than the average person. And I still love anything s’mores flavored!

These cheesecake bars, another gem from the Cheesecake Extravaganza, are just one more thing to add to my list of s’mores delights (which now includes brownies, cake, bars, ice cream pie, ice cream, and granola bars!)…only time will tell what other s’mores treats I’ll spend enjoying for the next twenty-five years!

S'mores Cheesecake Bars
As seen on Annie's Eats

for the crust-
-1 cup graham cracker crumbs
-1 tbsp sugar
-4 tbsp unsalted butter, melted

for the cheesecake-
-4 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
-8 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature (I used 1/3 less fat)
-1/4 cup sour cream
-1/2 cup marshmallow cream
-2 tsp cocoa powder
-3/4 tsp vanilla extract
-2 large eggs

for the topping-
-1 1/2 cups mini marshmallows
-chocolate chips or candy melts (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Line an 8x8 inch pan with foil and spray with cooking spray. In a small bowl, combine graham cracker crumbs, sugar, and melted butter. Stir until wet and press in an even layer into the bottom of the prepared pan. Bake for 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool slightly. Reduce oven temperature to 325F.
2. To make the filling, melt the 4 oz. of chocolate in either the microwave or using a double boiler. Once melted, stir until smooth and set aside to cool slightly. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat cream cheese, sour cream, and marshmallow cream on medium-high until well combined (1-2 minutes).
3. Add cocoa powder, vanilla extract, and eggs, beating to incorporate. Stir in melted chocolate until well blended. Pour the filling over the crust and use a spatula to spread evenly. Bake for 30 minutes, until teh center is just set (does not jiggle when gently shaken).
4. Remove from oven and top with the marshmallows. Return to the oven for 2-3 minutes, until marshmallows begin to puff and melt. Turn oven to broil and watch carefully, removing when marshmallows are just browned (could also remove and use a kitchen torch). Once bars have cooled to room temperature, drizzle with melted chocolate or candy melts. Transfer to the fridge and chill for at least 3 hours before slicing and serving.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Chocolate Peanut Butter Granola Balls

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Certain flavor combinations seem to stand above others. Dark Chocolate-Raspberry...Balsamic-Strawberry...White Chocolate-Cranberry...Curry-Coconut...Caramel-Pecan...Tomato-Basil-Mozzarella...Apple-Cinnamon...Apple-Brie!

After drooling while writing that list, I don’t think I could ever choose a favorite. Still, one that I can never get enough of is the oatmeal-peanut butter-chocolate combo. I’ve combined them before in Candy Bar Cookie Bars (which has become one of my mom’s go-to desserts…smart lady!) and now they meet again in these (slightly healthier?!) Chocolate Peanut Butter Granola Bars.

These are a piece of cake to put together. I literally saw them, checked to make sure I had the ingredients, got to work in my kitchen, and had a double batch made within an hour. Doubling the batch was a smart choice—I was able to share with friends and munch on these for a few extra days. They made a good pre-run bite of fuel, or late-night snack, or post-breakfast dessert ;)

Next time I’ll use regular-sized chocolate chips. The mini chocolate chips melted and disappeared into the batter. You still got the chocolaty taste, but I would have appreciated the texture. These are easy to play around with. Swap out regular peanut butter for chocolate, mix in some dried fruit, or add some butterscotch chips. The possibilities are endless!

Tell me, what are some of your all-time favorite flavor combinations?

Chocolate Peanut Butter Granola Balls
adapted from Two Peas & Their Pod

-2/3 cup honey
-1/2 cup chocolate peanut butter
-4 tbsp unsalted butter
-2 cups crisp rice cereal
-2 cups old-fashioned oats
-1/2 cup chocolate chips

1. Place honey, peanut butter, and butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir until melted (1-2 minutes) and remove from heat. Stir in cereal and oats.
2. Let the mixture cool for about two minutes before stirring in the chocolate chips.
3. Drop tablespoons of the mixture into mini paper cupcake liners. Place on a rimmed baking sheet and refrigerate until set (~15 minutes). Store in refrigerator until ready to serve.