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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Texas Sheet Cake

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I was intrigued by a feature in Cooking Light's most recent issue--a chocolate dessert bake-off. Set up in tournament style brackets, the magazine displayed 16 chocolate recipes from the magazine's past and pitted them against each other, re-testing each to declare an ultimate chocolate recipe winner. I studied the outcome of each rivalry--bourbon-caramel truffles vs. chocolate baklava, chocolate pudding vs. chocolate-hazelnut mousse, and Mexican chocolate cream pie vs. triple-chocolate cheesecake, to name a few.

The championship came down to Texas Sheet Cake and Classic-Fudge Walnut Brownies. Although the brownies pulled through for the title, it was the pictures of the sheet cake that screamed "make me!" from the pages of the magazine. Normally I'd always choose brownies over cake, but I've long heard praise for Texas Sheet Cake and I was eager to give it a try.

I'll have to make the brownies to declare my own personal winner, but this cake was definitely a winner in its own right. It makes enough for a crowd, especially because a small piece is enough to satisfy any chocolate cravings you have. It's very chocolatey and very sweet--there's no questioning why it was picked by the editors of Cooking Light. Don't omit the nuts-they're a nice texture addition and help cut some of the sweetness!
P.S. My favorite way to eat these was FROZEN! They don't get rock hard in the freezer and the cold chocolate and creamy frosting was divine. I originally froze them with the intention of thawing them, but then I just started eating them frozen!

One Year Ago: Butternut Squash and Caramelized Onion Galette
Two Years Ago: Zucchini Banana Bread

Texas Sheet Cake
from Cooking Light Jan/Feb 2012

-cooking spray
-2 tsp all-purpose flour
-2 cups all-purpose flour
-2 cups granulated sugar
-1 tsp baking soda
-1 tsp ground cinnamon
-1/4 tsp salt
-3/4 cup water
-1/2 cup butter
-1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa, divided
-1/2 cup low-fat buttermilk
-1 tbsp vanilla extract, divided
-2 large eggs
-6 tbsp butter
-1/3 cup fat-free milk
-3 cups powdered sugar
-1/4 cup chopped pecans, toasted

1. Preheat oven to 375F. Spray a 15 x 10 inch jelly-roll pan with cooking spray and dust with 2 tsp flour. Set aside.
2. Weigh or lightly spoon 9 oz (2 cups) flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour with sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt in a large bowl.
3. In a small saucepan, combine 3/4 cup water, 1/2 cup butter, and 1/4 cup cocoa. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Pour chocolate mixture into flour mixture and beat with a mixer until well-blended. Mix in buttermilk, 1 tsp vanilla, and eggs. Beat well before pouring batter into prepared pan. Bake at 375F for 17 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Place pan on a wire rack.
4. In a saucepan, combine 6 tbsp butter, fat-free milk, and 1/4 cup cocoa. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and gradually stir in powdered sugar. Add 2 tsp vanilla and pecans. Spread frosting over hot cake and allow cake to cool completely on a wire rack.
*Note--these bars freeze well, even frosted! Just wrap them well before freezing.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Wilted Greens and Roasted Sweet Potato Winter Salad

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I was flipping through the Epicurious app on my phone when this recipe caught my eye. Admittedly, it was the word "kale" that grabbed my attention. Regular readers of this blog know I love the superfood! I set out to make it that weekend, but ended up putting my own spin on the recipe. Sweet potatoes instead of regular and collard greens instead of kale (the horror! Our grocery store was out!).
I wasn't quite sure how the different elements would work together, particularly the lemon tahini dressing. The finished product proved me wrong. I loved the slivers of roasted garlic, the Parmesan-crusted potatoes, and the earthiness of the greens. I will say if you aren't a huge tahini fan you may not like this because its flavor is pretty prominent in the dressing (though you could also add extra lemon).
Worried about that whole jar of tahini you'd have to buy to make this salad? You can also use it in sweet potato butter, warm butternut squash and chickpea salad, and edamame hummus (or any of your favorite hummus recipes).

Two Years Ago: Ten Minute Tomato Soup (perfect if you don't have time to roast and simmer!)

Wilted Greens and Roasted Sweet Potato Winter Salad 
adapted from Gourmet December 2008

-2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
-1/3 cup olive oil
-4 garlic cloves (3 thinly sliced and 1 minced)
-1 tsp salt, divided and 1/2 tsp pepper
-1/3 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
-1/4 cup well-stirred tahini
-2 tbsp water
-3 tbsp fresh lemon juice
-3/4 pounds greens, stems and center ribs discarded and leaves thinly sliced

1. Preheat oven to 450F. Toss potatoes with oil and 1/2 tsp each salt and pepper. Place on a foil-lined baking sheet in one layer. Roast, stirring once, for 10 minutes. Add sliced garlic and roast for an additional 10 minutes. Sprinkle with cheese and roast for 5 more minutes, until cheese is melted and slightly golden).
2. Meanwhile, in a blender, food processor, or with an immersion blender, puree tahini, water, lemon juice, minced garlic, and 1/2 tsp salt. Puree until smooth, adding a bit of water if too thick.
3. (Do step 3 only if you prefer more wilted greens) Place greens in a large saucepan with a few tbsp water over medium-high heat. Cover to steam. Stir occasionally, until greens are wilted.
4. Toss greens with hot potatoes and any remaining garlic and oil from the pan. Toss with the dressing and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Banana Bread Ice Cream with Peanut Butter and Chocolate

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Never mind that it's January. The ice cream maker is still in full force in the Sweets Life kitchen! Of course, it's helped that we've had a few fifty and even sixty-degree weather days this month. The weather here in Missouri certainly keeps us on our toes, that's for sure. Although you won't find me denying ice cream any month of the year, it's been easier to swallow this January with a few warmer days!

The ice cream of choice? Banana Bread! I had a ton of bananas on hand, after I went a little crazy buying a HUGE bag of bruised bananas on clearance at the grocery store. I made banana bread and some banana oatmeal breakfast bars, but still had a pile of bananas hanging out on my countertop. I remembered seeing a recipe for banana bread ice cream awhile back so I headed to google to find it again and immediately go to work making it.

I was skeptical about calling it banana bread ice cream. In my mind, a more appropriate title would've been Roasted Banana Ice Cream with Chocolate and Peanut Butter. But then I served this and my friend Colleen, without any knowledge of what flavor it was, said, "Hey! This tastes like banana bread!"

I stand corrected.
Like pretty much every ice cream I've now made, we had a hard time staying away from this one....with ample chunks of peanut butter and smatterings of chocolate throughout, every bite was to die for!

One Year Ago: Oregano and Prosciutto Pinwheels
Two Years Ago: Butternut Squash Lasagna

Banana Bread Ice Cream with Peanut Butter and Chocolate
from Guilty Kitchen

-2 lbs ripe bananas (I used about 6)
-1/3 cup butter
-1/2 cup sour cream
-1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
-1/2 tsp salt
-3/4 cup heavy cream
-3/4 cup half & half
-2 tsp vanilla

for peanut butter chunks-
-1/2 cup peanut butter
-1 tbsp confectioners' sugar

for stracciatella
-3 oz. dark chocolate
-1 tbsp + 1 tsp butter

1. In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt the 1/3 cup of butter. Continue to cook until the butter begins to foam and bubble. Don't stir. When the foam dissipates you'll be left with brown butter.
2. Slice bananas and place in a large baking dish. Pour browned butter over and stir gently to combine. Bake at 400F for 20-25 minutes. (Remove when bananas are caramelized and golden). Allow bananas to cool before continuing.
3. In a blender or food processor, puree the banana mixture with the sour cream.
4. Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan over medium heat, heat heavy cream and half and half with brown sugar, salt, and vanilla. Bring to a high heat that it begins to steam and sugar is dissolved (don't bring to a boil). Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature. Once cooled, blend with pureed bananas.
5. Cover mixture and refrigerate overnight. That same day, mix peanut butter and confectioners' sugar until well blended. Drop teaspoon-sized portions of peanut butter on a cookie sheet lined with wax paper. Place in freezer overnight.
6. The next day, in a double boiler or a metal bowl set over a pot of gently boiling water (or in the microwave, carefully!), melt chocolate and butter until smooth.
7. Churn ice cream according to manufacturers instructions for your ice cream maker. When ice cream is almost finished, drip chocolate in a fine stream into the ice cream. It will form stracciatella (little bits of chocolate). Before storing ice cream, stir in peanut butter chunks. Place ice cream in an airtight container and freeze for at least four hours.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

2012: Eat and Repeat - Salt

For our first 2012: Eat and Repeat challenge of the year, I found myself at one of my all-time favorite restaurants in St. Louis. Yes, we’ve been there before. I’ve even gone so far as to recreate one my favorite dishes from last summer’s menu (asparagus goat cheese gratin). But Salt still made the list, for a few reasons. I wanted to introduce my parents, in town for a weekend in January, to the restaurant I’d been raving about. I also knew Ryan and I had limited time to hit up a restaurant this month, given our travel schedules. Finally, I know some St. Louisans use my restaurant reviews when researching local restaurants and Salt is one that should not go unnoticed!

Much like my other visits to Salt, our service was spot on. Our waiter was attentive, quick to recommend dishes when asked, and generally friendly. The more I spend time in restaurants, the more I appreciate good service and Salt has this down to a science!

Not wanting to pass up any of the delectable-sounding dishes on the menu, our party of eight found ourselves ordering nearly all of the small plates. For a leisurely two hours, we passed plates around the table, getting tastes of everything from smoked pig’s tongue (yes, pig TONGUE…which wasn’t all that bad!) to duck-fried frites to the most heavenly butternut squash soup I’ve yet to taste.

Seated at a large table in one of the back rooms, we sipped wine and shared stories, all while oohing and aahing over each new dish brought to us. It’s hard to pick a personal favorite, or to even predict which dish I’ll try to recreate next month for the “repeat” portion of the challenge. Everything was delightful—perfectly cooked (and yes, full of salt!), it’s easy to see why Chef Wes Johnson has decided to stick to simple flavors. He manages to make magic with just a few ingredients!

We of course couldn’t pass up dessert, not when chocolate brulee with a goat cheese oreo and an apple crostado with salted caramel ice cream were on the menu. A few bites of each and our group headed out into the evening with satisfied—but not stuffed—stomachs full of Salt’s fantastic small plates!

One Year Ago: M&M Dream Bars
Two Years Ago: Carrot Cake Pancakes
Salt on Urbanspoon

Friday, January 27, 2012

Dark Chocolate Almond Cranberry Quinoa Cookies

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As it turns out, quinoa is not just a healthy ingredient, but it’s pretty darn versatile too! After using it in chili, salad, and meatloaf, I’ve discovered it’s one of those staples I need to keep on hand in my kitchen. Even better, I can now use it for COOKIES! I first saw these Bon Appetit cookies on Baking and Boys and made a mental note to try them sometime when I had some extra cooked quinoa. No less than a day later, my mom arrived in town with a Tupperware full of cooked quinoa! Aren’t moms the best?!

After making a batch of my favorite quinoa fried rice, I still had some quinoa left and remembered the cookie recipe. I mentioned to my mom, my friend Colleen, and Ryan that I intended to make quinoa cookies. All seemed intrigued and a little skeptical. As it turns out, Colleen thought I planned to use the leftover quinoa fried rice in the cookies!

Because all cookies are better with chocolate, I added a handful of dark chocolate chips to the dough along with the dried cranberries and chopped almonds. The dough, even with the quinoa folded in, tasted no different than your standard cookie dough. These cookies baked up nicely, although I made them quite a bit smaller than the original recipe called for (and consequently took them out of the oven a few minutes earlier). Although they were good at room temperature, I had a sneaking suspicion they’d be really good cold, so I stuck a bag of them in the freezer. As it turned out, my favorite way to eat these cookies was straight from the freezer. They were still soft enough to bite into and had a great crunch from the almonds and cold chocolate chips.
Next time you’re matching a batch of quinoa, make a bit extra and give these cookies a try…you can’t beat cookies with an extra boost of protein!

One Year Ago: Baked Vegetable Egg Rolls
Two Years Ago: Puppy Chow

Dark Chocolate Almond Cranberry Quinoa Cookies
from Bon Appetit January 2012

-1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
-1/2 tsp baking powder
-1/2 tsp baking soda
-1 tsp salt
-1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
-1/4 cup granulated sugar
-1/4 cup light brown sugar
-1/4 cup honey
-2 large eggs
-1 tsp vanilla extract
-1/2 tsp almond extract
-1 cup cooked quinoa, cooled
-1 cup old-fashioned oats
-1 cup dried cranberries
-1/2 cup slivered unsalted almonds
-1/2 cup dark chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 375F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. In a small bowl, mix together flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda. Set aside.
2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat butter, both sugars, and honey for 3 minutes, until light and fluffy. Add eggs and extracts. Beat until pale and fluffy (about 2 minutes). Add flour mixture 1/2 cup at a time, beating until mixed in.
3. Stir in quinoa, oats, cranberries, almonds, and chocolate chips. Spoon dough (2-tbsp--I made mine closer to 1 1/2 tbsp) onto prepared baking sheets and bake for 11-13 minutes, until edges are lightly browned.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Hot Ham and Cheese Sandwiches

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I actually posted this recipe before. However, it was in the very early days of the blog when I had just a handful of readers (most of them related to me). The pictures in that post are awful and because this is one of favorite meals/party foods, they deserved a new post.

In all the times I've made these, or someone I've passed the recipe along to has made them, I've never had someone say they don't like them. I've had ham haters tell me they like them. I've had mustard haters tell me they like them. Something about these converts even the pickiest eaters!
The best thing about these is that they can be made ahead of time. This most recent batch I made on dollar rolls (feel free to use whatever size roll you prefer)...I prepared 48 of them and stuck about half of them in the freezer, wrapped in their foil. When we want to eat them, I pull out a few and just throw them in a warm oven. Those that you make and bake right away will keep, cooked and still wrapped in their foil, for a few days in the fridge. Unwrap them and zap for a few minutes in the microwave to reheat!
These would be a great food option for your Superbowl party!
One Year Ago: Scotch Oatmeal Soup
Two Years Ago: Mexican Pot Pie

Hot Ham and Cheese Sandwiches

-Rolls (small to medium sized)
-Sliced deli ham (I've also used leftover baked ham sliced as thinly as possible)
-sliced Muenster cheese (can substitute swiss if you'd like!)
-1 stick butter, softened
-1 tsp dried mustard
-1 1/2 tsp poppyseeds

1. In a small bowl, mix butter with dried mustard and poppyseeds until well-combined.
2. Slice each roll in half. Spread a generous amount of butter mixture on one half of the roll. Top with ham and cheese.
3. Wrap individual rolls in aluminum foil, making sure to wrap completely.
4. Bake sandwiches at 350F for 20-30 minutes, until cheese is melted (sandwiches can be placed directly on oven rack). Remove sandwiches and allow to cool for 5 minutes before unwrapping and serving.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Roasted Sweet Potato Salsa

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Sometimes I see a recipe and I want to try it because the pictures of it, whether from a magazine or a website, are so beautiful. Sometimes I see a recipe and I want to try it because it forces me to try a new ingredient or technique in the kitchen. Sometimes I see a recipe and I want to try it because I am 100% confident we’ll love it. Such was the case with this roasted sweet potato salsa, which I pulled from an Everyday Food magazine a few months ago. With roasted sweet potatoes, avocados, cilantro, tomato, and lime juice, I knew it fit well-within the “favorite ingredient” standards in our household.

As predicted, this ended up being as loved as I anticipated. I brought this to a potluck to friends where we ate it as a side salad, but it could be used in a variety of ways—served with chicken or pork, scooped up with tortilla chips, or eaten atop greens. Next time I’ll double the recipe because the only thing better than roasted sweet potato salsa is LOTS of roasted sweet potato salsa!

One Year Ago: Kaleslaw with Red Pepper
Two Years Ago: Three Bean Salad

Roasted Sweet Potato Salsa
slightly adapted from Everyday Food November 2011

-2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and diced small
-1 red onion, diced small
-1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
-2 medium tomatoes, diced small
-2 avocados, diced small
-4 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
-juice of 1 lime
-coarse salt

1. Preheat oven to 450F. Line a baking sheet with foil and spray with cooking spray or olive oil. Toss together sweet potato, red onion, and olive oil on top of sheet. Roast for 20-25 minutes, until potatoes are tender and brown in spots.
2. Transfer to a large bowl and let cool completely. Toss with tomato, avocado, cilantro, and lime juice. Season with salt and toss to combine.

This post is linked to Eat at Home.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Homemade Oatmeal Creme Pies

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I know I’m not the only one who grew up with Little Debbie snacks in my lunchbox. Although I have stronger recollections of the cream-filled Zebra Cakes, as well as the Hostess Ho-Ho’s that I received from my friend Rose nearly every day of 8th grade, I also had my fair share of oatmeal crème pies. I actually think these were my favorite of the bunch—so soft and chewy and sweet!
For years now I’ve seen copycat recipes for Oatmeal Crème Pies on the internet, but for whatever reason never got around to making them. Recently, I was reminded of them again and decided to go on and give them a try. Of course it wasn’t until after I’d already made the batch that
I realized I’d completely omitted the granulated sugar from the recipe. The brown sugar I included, but somehow missed the white.
This unintentional omission explains why my soft and chewy oatmeal cookies turned out a little puffy. More sugar certainly would’ve helped these retain the intended shape. Even without the extra sugar and that recognizable crème pie shape, the taste wasn’t negatively impacted. These were quickly gobbled up by friends at church and I returned home with a completely empty plate. I of course now need to re-attempt the recipe the correct way but can assure you that either way, these are a pretty good substitute for the plastic-wrapped originals!

One Year Ago: Whole Wheat Quick Bread with Pumpkin Seeds (perfect paired with soup!)
Two Years Ago: Greek Salad Pita Sandwiches

Homemade Oatmeal Creme Pies
from Natalie's Killer Cuisine

-1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks), softened
-3/4 cup brown sugar
-1/2 cup sugar
-1 tbsp molasses
-1 tsp lemon juice
-1 tsp vanilla
-2 eggs
-1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
-1/2 tsp salt
-1 tsp baking soda
-1/2 tsp cinnamon
-1/2 tsp nutmeg
-1 1/2 cups quick oats (I used old-fashioned)

for the filling
-1 tbsp hot water
-1/4 tsp salt
-1 (7 oz) jar marshmallow fluff
-1/2 cup shortening
-1/3 cup powdered sugar
-1/2 tsp vanilla

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
2. In a large mixing bowl, cream butter with sugars until fluffy. Add molasses, lemon juice, vanilla, and eggs, beating until combined.
3. In a separate bowl, combine flour, salt, baking soda, and cinnamon. Add to the wet ingredients and mix until combined. Add oats and mix to combine.
4. Place 1-inch balls of dough on prepared baking sheets. Bake for 8-10 minutes until cookies begin to brown around the edges.
5. To make the filling, in a small bowl dissolve salt in the hot water. In a large mixing bowl, beat fluff, shortening, powdered sugar, and vanilla until fluffy. Add water and beat until mixture is glossy.
6. Spread 1 tbsp marshmallow filling on a cooled cookie and sandwich with another cookie. Repeat with all cookies. Store in a covered container at room temperature.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Roasted Tomato Basil Soup

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The summer between 8th grade and freshman year, I participated in the sports camps at the high school I was about to attend. Soccer camp was from 1-4 pm followed by basketball from 6-9 pm. There wasn't enough time to trek home between the two camps, but a sophomore girl--Jessica--befriended me and invited me to her house between sports each day. We used the two hours to swap out basketball shoes for shinguards and "refuel" aka stuff our faces.

Our meal of choice? Kraft macaroni and cheese with a generous amount of ketchup swirled in.

I know what you're thinking. Ewwwww! Maybe mac and cheese with ketchup isn't your thing (although don't knock it until you try it!), but what about tomato soup and grilled cheese? I consider this the more grown-up version of my fourteen year old self's favorite meal. This tomato soup takes a little bit more effort than the Kraft blue box, but when you take your first bite, you'll be so glad you roasted your tomatoes! This soup is a little spicy (omit the red pepper flakes if you want a milder version) and bursting with the flavor of basil. Paired with grilled cheese, it's perfect comfort food!

Roasted Tomato Basil Soup
from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook, as seen on Food Network

-3 lbs ripe plum tomatoes, cut in half lengthwise
-1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp olive oil
-1 tbsp kosher salt
-1 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
-2 cups chopped yellow onions (2 onions)
-6 garlic cloves, minced
-2 tbsp unsalted butter
-1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
-1 (28 oz) can plum tomatoes, with their juice
-1 bunch fresh basil leaves, packed
-1/2 tsp dried thyme
-1 quart chicken broth

1. Preheat oven to 400F. In a large bowl, toss together tomatoes, 1/4 cup olive oil, salt, and pepper. Spread tomatoes in one layer on a baking sheet lined with foil and roast for 45 minutes.
2. In a large stockpot over medium heat, saute onions and garlic with 2 tbsp olive oil, butter, and red pepper flakes. Saute for 10 minutes, until the onions start to brown. Add the canned tomatoes, basil, thyme, and chicken broth.
3. Add the oven-roasted tomatoes and their liquid and bring mixture to a boil. Simmer, uncovered, for 40 minutes. Blend to desired texture with an immersion blender.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Steamed Kale and Broccoli with Sun-dried Tomatoes

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I don’t think one should force themselves to eat certain nutritious foods if they can find an equally healthy substitute. For instance, if you absolutely hate cauliflower, don’t choke some down. There are plenty of other vegetables chock full of nutrients that you might like better. Eat those instead and you likely won’t be missing anything essential!

That being said, I do think everyone should at least give foods they don’t like a chance. For one, taste buds change. Just ask my previous self and its hatred for pickles, olives, and guacamole! For another, there are so many different ways to prepare vegetables.

Case in Point:

As you can see, there are a variety of preparation methods when it comes to vegetables, and there’s a chance you might hate steamed broccoli but love it roasted.

Although I’ve long been an advocate for kale chips, I’ve been trying to branch out lately and try it in other ways. I throw it in soups, toss it with sweet potato hash, and now, have a new side dish to add to my kale repertoire. This side dish came together quickly and easily. It’s healthy, but isn’t boring or tasteless, thanks to the addition of sautéed garlic, sun-dried tomatoes, and a squeeze of lemon juice. I bet some sprinkled parmesan would be good on here too!

Does the thought of kale chips make you grimace? (My sister Julia thinks they taste like burnt paper) Try this instead!

One Year Ago: Mini Double Chocolate Cheesecakes
Two Years Ago: Pineapple Orange Pork Chops

Steamed Kale and Broccoli with Sun-dried Tomatoes
slightly adapted from allrecipes.com

-1 tsp olive oil
-4 cloves garlic, minced
-1 head fresh broccoli, chopped
-1 bunch kale, stems removed and chopped
-1/4 cup water
-1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes, cut into thin strips
-1/2 lemon, juiced

1. In a large wok or skillet, add olive oil and heat over high until shimmering. Add garlic and cook, stirring frequently, for 2 minutes. Add broccoli, kale, and 1/4 cup water. Cover and allow to steam for 5-6 minutes, until vegetables are tender (stir occasionally).
2. Remove cover, stir in sun-dried tomatoes and squeeze lemon juice over vegetables. Season with salt to taste and serve immediately.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Chocolate Caramel Banana Hazelnut Tart

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Tell me I’m not the only one who gets satisfaction out of the words “I told you so”. Granted, these four little words have the power to jumpstart an argument or hurt feelings, so I try to use them sparingly. But seriously, doesn’t it feel so good sometimes to say “I told you so”, if only in your head?!

I made this Banana Hazelnut Caramel Tart in a chocolate crust for New Years Eve. Unfortunately, we had an overwhelming amount of food and sweets that night and I was left with the majority of a tart heading into January. Wanting it as far away from my sweet tooth as possible, I packed it up for Ryan to take to work. He tried to resist. Rolled his eyes. Mumbled something about his coworkers not wanting any and it being January—the season of resolutions and healthy eating. Not to be deterred, I grabbed the plate on the way out the door, once again reminding him to take it in to work as he dropped me off at my office building.
Shortly after lunch I received an instant message from him. I believe the exact phrase was, “People are going crazy for this tart.”

I told you so. (Couldn’t resist)

Why wouldn’t they? It’s a chocolate crust filled with a mixture of homemade caramel, Nutella, and banana then topped with ganache. A variety of intense flavors, but too good to stay away from-even in early January! I’ll admit, this dessert gave me a few problems. My caramel seized up and it wasn’t until I brought out the secret weapon (my KitchenAid mixer) and mixed on high with the Nutella and mashed bananas that I got it all into a smooth, pourable texture.
Not a fan of banana? Omit. No Nutella on hand? Swap it out for peanut butter. I left mine plain, but it’d also be pretty sprinkled with hazelnuts, as Bria did.

One Year Ago: Mini Turtle Cheesecakes
Two Years Ago: Popovers

Chocolate Caramel Banana Hazelnut Tart
from These Peas are Hollow

for the crust-
-1 stick unsalted butter, softened
-1/2 cup powdered sugar
-3 egg yolks
-1/4 tsp salt
-1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
-1/4 cup cocoa powder

for the filling-
-1/2 cup granulated sugar
-2 tbsp water
-2 tbsp heavy cream
-2 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
-1/4 cup nutella
-2 bananas, peeled and mashed

for the ganache topping-
-1 cup dark chocolate chips
-1/2 cup heavy cream

1. To make the crust, beat the butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer until combined. Add the egg yolks one at a time, beating after each addition. Add the flour and cocoa powder and mix just until combined. On a floured surface, shape the dough into a disc and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least one hour.
2. To bake the crust, preheat the oven to 350F. Remove the dough from the fridge and roll out on a floured surface. Carefully transfer to a tart pan (sprayed with cooking spray) and press to fit, cutting off excess if needed. Top the crust with parchment paper and fill with dried beans or pie weights. Bake for 15-20 minutes. Remove from oven, remove the parchment and weights, and allow to cool completely.
3. To make the filling, bring the sugar and water to a boil in a medium-sized saucepan over high heat. Once it turns a deep caramel color (it may first just be piles of dried sugar that will then start to melt and change color), remove from the heat. Add the butter and cream and stir to combine (it will bubble). Return to the stovetop and stir over low heat until smooth. Allow to cool slightly before stirring in the nutella and bananas. Pour into the cooled crust. Cover and chill for at least 2 hours.
4. To make the ganache, place chocolate in a glass bowl. In a small saucepan, bring the cream to a simmer. Pour the cream over the chocolate and allow to sit for 30 seconds. Stir with a wooden spatula until smooth. Allow to cool for a few minutes before pour and spreading over the chilled tart. Sprinkle with chopped hazelnuts. Refrigerate until firm.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Tijuana Trash (Snack Mix)

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In another life, I would be fantastically talented in the arts, particularly singing and dancing. Alas, my cousins Ashlyn and Benjamin nabbed those genes in the family and I’ve resigned to singing showtunes while I bake and making a fool of myself at every wedding I’m invited to. I told you I was recently introduced to the Wii’s Just Dance 3 at my friend Kacey’s house. What I didn’t tell you is that I now have a borderline obsession.

Unfortunately (well, fortunately), we don’t have a Wii. I managed to borrow one “for our New Year’s Eve party” and then proceeded to spend more than six hours over the course of two days playing. SIX hours. That’s a lot of dancing. Over 100 songs, I believe. Don’t laugh, I was fulfilling a dream.
In those two days, I discovered a few things:
1.       It is possible to make dramatic dancing improvements after several hours of play.
2.       Six hours of flinging around your arms will result in sore elbows. Six hours of jumping will result in sore calves. Forget working out, I’ll just dance!
3.       That kind of continuous movement makes me hungry. 
Thankfully, I had some of this Tijuana Trash on hand. As soon as I saw it on Amanda’s blog, I bookmarked it. Having a thing for various snack mixes, I knew I’d be a fan of this one. It has all the best elements of a snack mix—crunchy, sweet, crispy, and with a bit of heat in the aftertaste. My favorite part was the tortilla chips, a new snack mix ingredient to me! This is a great make-ahead party food. Or, you know, dance fuel.

One Year Ago: Cauliflower and Chickpea Stew with Couscous
Two Years Ago: Curried Butternut Squash Soup

Tijuana Trash (Snack Mix)
from Fake Ginger

-4 cups tortilla chips, broken into 1-inch pieces
-3 cups Corn Chex cereal
-3 cups Cheerios
-1 (10 oz) can of mixed nuts
-1/2 cup light corn syrup
-1 stick butter
-1/2 cup brown sugar
-1 1/2 tbsp chili powder
-1/4 tsp cinnamon
-1/2-1 tsp cayenne pepper

1. Preheat oven to 250F.
2. In a large bowl, combine tortilla chips, Chex, Cheerios, and nuts.
3. In a small saucepan, mix corn syrup, butter, brown sugar, chili powder, cinnamon, and cayenne pepper. Heat to boiling.
4. Pour mixture into the bowl and stir to completely coat. Pour mixture out onto two baking sheets lined with foil. Bake uncovered for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes.
5. Allow to cool completely before placing in an airtight container to store.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Cranberry Poppyseed Bundt Cake

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When six people eat almost an entire bundt cake in one morning, you know it's good. Such was the case with this bundt cake, which I served my parents and friend Colleen when they visited a few weeks ago. More cake than healthy breakfast bread, at least you get a dose of fruit from both the fresh and dried cranberries. You could certainly try to healthen this--subbing some whole wheat flour for the all-purpose or some applesauce for the oil, but this is pretty perfect as is. Serve as part of a brunch spread or a special occasion breakfast.
The middle of my bundt cake was still a little gooey--keep that in mind as you're checking it in the oven. We tend to like a softer center but leave it in a few extra minutes if that's not your preference. Don't omit the nuts unless you really don't like them; they were a nice texture and flavor contrast to the rest of the cake. This is also easily made ahead. I had my cake wrapped well (saran wrap, foil, and a freezer bag) and it thawed on the countertop wonderfully--no one would've guessed it hadn't been freshly baked!
What's your favorite "breakfast that's more of a dessert"?!

One Year Ago: Southwestern Potato Nachos
Two Years Ago: Chocolate Chip Bailey's Torte

Cranberry Poppyseed Bundt Cake
from Anecdotes and Apple Cores

-1 cup dried cranberries
-2 cups all-purpose flour
-3 eggs
-1 1/2 cups sugar
-1 tsp vanilla extract
-1 cup canola/vegetable oil
-1 tsp salt
-1 tsp baking soda
-1 tsp cinnamon
-1/4 cup poppy seeds
-2 cups fresh cranberries
-1 cup chopped and toasted walnuts

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Butter and grease a 10-inch bundt pan and set aside. In a small bowl, mix dried cranberries with 2 tbsp flour (to prevent them from sinking in the cake).
2. In a large mixing bowl, beat eggs and sugar until fluffy. Add vanilla and oil and mix on low until combined.
3. In a separate bowl, combine flour, salt, baking soda, cinnamon, and poppy seeds. Add to the egg mixture, beating until combined. Fold in fresh and dried cranberries and walnuts.
4. Pour batter (it will be thick) into the prepared bundt pan and bake for 45-60 minutes (mine took just over 50 minutes), until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Allow pan to cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes before removing from pan.
*Cake can be wrapped well and frozen or served immediaetely. Will keep at room temperature for 2-3 days.

This post is linked to Eat at Home.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Slow-Cooker Balsamic Pulled Pork Sliders

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I'm hesitant to fill this blog post up with words. This is about the fourth time I've sat down to write this post and each time I find myself struck with writer's block. Occasionally this happens, but I'll set the post aside and come back to it later, at which point I've either come up with a little anecdote to share or a way of describing the recipe.
For these balsamic pulled pork sliders, I have neither. Deep down, I think I'm afraid of being unable to do this recipe justice. The thing is, these were good. As in, hit of our New Year's Eve party good. As in, I will be pulling this recipe out for party after party because they're the perfect appetizer/small plate for entertaining. As in, I'll sometimes make this just for me and Ryan, simply because I want to eat the leftovers for days on end.
Does that about capture it? I hope so, because I'm not going to say much more. This is easy and so, so good. Make it and see for yourself. Report back-I'm anxious to hear what you think!

Thanks to those of you that entered my giveaway the other day--if you love reading you should check out the comments on the post, lots of good book suggestions! The winner of More Than Words Can Say is Sarah! Sarah--please send me an email (natalie.mclaury@gmail.com) with your mailing address so that the publisher can get the book to you!
One Year Ago: Buffalo Chicken Cheese Bites
Two Years Ago: Thai Turkey Burgers

Slow-Cooker Balsamic Pulled Pork Sliders
from Handle the Heat, adapted from Better Homes and Gardens

-1 (2 1/2-3 pound) boneless pork shoulder roast
-1 large onion, chopped
-1 medium green pepper, chopped
-1 tsp dried thyme
-1/2 tsp dried rosemary
-1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
-1 cup balsamic vinegar
-3/4 cup ketchup
-1/4 cup packed brown sugar
-1/4 cup honey
-1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
-1 tbsp Dijon mustard
-pinch red chili pepper
-1 clove garlic, minced
-1/2 tsp salt
-1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
-15-20 slider buns or small dinner rolls, split

1. Trim the fat from the meat. Add the onion and the green pepper to the slow cooker. Place the meat on top and sprinkle with rosemary and thyme.  Cover with broth. Cook on low for 8-9 hours.
2. Meanwhile, make the bbq sauce. In a medium saucepan, combine the vinegar, ketchup, brown sugar, honey, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, chili pepper, garlic, salt, and pepper. Bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat and allow to simmer, uncovered, for 20-25 minutes, or until thickened, stirring occasionally.
3. When meat is finished, transfer to a cutting board. Shred meat with two forks, discarding the fat. Strain the vegetable mixture, discarding the liquid. Add the strained vegetables and the pork back to the slow cooker. Add the sauce and stir. Cover and cook on low for 30 minutes before serving.

This post is linked to Eat at Home.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Spicy Homemade Salsa

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Unless I’m making “salsas” like cowboy caviar, I’m usually content to purchase my salsa when I’m eating it at home. The grocery store has a lot of good ones—fresh and canned—and they met my salsa needs, or so I thought. Then my coworker brought his infamous homemade salsa to our Christmas luncheon at work and my eyes were opened to the world of homemade salsa. Although he claims he makes it differently every time, he was kind enough to email me this particular version—so hot it had me sweating and munching on extra (plain) tortilla chips to quell the heat.

When I set out to remake the salsa for our New Year’s Eve party, I reduced the heat-slightly-so as not to scare off my party guests. Even so, it was a fantastically spicy salsa—hot, but not enough to bring out the sweat and tears!
This makes a HUGE batch. I had to put half of the ingredients in my food processor before removing and doing the second half. Even so, this disappeared within two days. Ryan, Nate (future bro-in-law), and Mike (friend) went so far as to turn the remaining smashed chip bits into “salsa cereal”. Determined not to let a single drop go to waste, they literally poured in crushed chips and ate the salsa with a spoon—a culinary delicacy, or so they declared!

Whether or not you turn it into salsa cereal, this is one ‘from scratch’ recipe you don’t want to pass up!

One Year Ago: Feta and Sun-dried Tomato Torta
Two Years Ago: Spinach and Black Bean Pasta

Spicy Homemade Salsa from my coworker Chris

-1 whole white onion, diced
-1/2 red onion, diced
-2 small cans mild green chilies
-4 small fresh chilies, de-seeded and diced (to tone down the spice, reduce the number of chilies. I used 1 small green chili and 1 anaheim chili)
-4 cloves garlic, minced
-1/2 bunch cilantro, de-stemmed and leaves chopped
-1 bunch green onions, chopped
-3 (14 oz) cans diced tomatoes
-1 jar sliced jalapenos
-2 tbsp cumin
-1 tbsp chili powder
-1 tbsp salt
-2 tbsp dried oregano
-juice from 1 lime

1. Add all ingredients to the bowl of a food processor (I did this in two batches) and pulse until consistency is fairly smooth but with chunks.
2. Store covered in the refrigerator until ready to use.