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Monday, December 31, 2012

Best of 2012 - Recipes

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Seriously?! Another year has passed?! The thought kind of blows my mind! 2012 was another year full of blessings and of good food. While I have my sights set on more delicious recipes in the new year, I wanted to take today to highlight some of my favorites from the past year!

It was not at all an easy decision, but I tried to keep things reasonable and am sharing ten of the best from 2012. 

Without further ado...

More than anything I cherish the memories associated with these Black and White Cookies--they will forever remind me of one of my best friends and the fun we had celebrating her wedding in 2012. And after having a Black and White cookie while visiting her in NYC in August, I have to say I liked mine better!

When my mom asked me to recreate a sundried tomato spread she'd had at a restaurant (that I had never tasted), I wasn't sure what would come of it. Little did I know I'd be discovering one of my favorite new appetizers!

We ate a lot of Mexican food this year and honestly I'd recommend most of the recipes we tried this year (especially this salad and these enchiladas)! These tostadas were at the top of my list--I think I could eat these once a week and not get sick of them!

If a recipe is a repeat in our house, you know it's above average. I make this whenever we're in need of a veggie-full meal...this grilled salad with balsamic appeared at least four times at our house in 2012!

I of course can't skip the contest-winning Peanut Butter and Jelly Ice Cream Cheesecakes. I'll never be too old for the classic flavor combination and this was definitely a fun twist on the original!

Our search for the perfect turkey burger is over. We might change up the toppings, but the base recipe for these burgers were by far the best thing we discovered this summer!

I made lots of ice cream again this year, mostly recreating flavors I'd had elsewhere. I loved the Cinnamon French Toast and the Maple Whiskey with Candied Bacon flavors, but the Salted Pretzel Caramel ice cream was my favorite of the favorites! If you don't have an ice cream maker, I also loved the exact same flavors in these bar cookies.

While these are a little too indulgent for an everyday breakfast, these Buttermilk Pancakes with Mascarpone, Berries, and Granola are seriously awesome when you're wanting something a little more exciting for your morning meal. Ryan and I 'mmmmed' our way through the stack of pancakes!

I didn't make a lot of new pumpkin recipes this year, mostly sticking to old standbys like these cookies. However, I don't think many new pumpkin recipes are needed when you have a cake like this one. Cover anything in [brown butter] cream cheese frosting and I'm bound to like it but this was truly outstanding!

Another year of kale love! Our fridge is rarely without a large bag of fresh kale and I tried several new kale recipes this year. It was tough to pick a favorite between the sweeter salad with apples, craisins, and feta and the one pictured above, but there's something about the shaved brussels sprouts, almonds, and parmesan that I just can't resist.

Special shoutout for the amazing birthday cake Ryan made me in August! I still cannot get over the sheer hugeness of it! 

One Year Ago: Favorite Recipes from 2011
Two Years Ago: Favorite Recipes from 2010

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Slow Cooker White Bean and Sausage Ragout with Tomatoes, Kale, and Zucchini

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Whenever I get a new issue of Cooking Light, I pore over it and pick out at least a half dozen recipes that I want to make. However, I love that I can also access old recipes online from the days long before I was reading Cooking Light. This recipe was a find from the online Cooking Light archives, all the way back to 2005, when all I knew about food and cooking was that I showed up in the university dining hall a few times a day to be fed!
I was looking for a recipe that used chicken sausage and came across this ragout (aka stew). It turns out Cooking Light was using kale way before it was trendy! This tastes healthy, and IS healthy, making it a good recipe as we move past the holidays and try to get back to balanced eating. That being said, make sure you add a hefty amount of fresh parmesan to each bowl--it added a necessary burst of flavor!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Odds & Ends

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1. I laughed out loud, multiple times, while reading through The 25 Funniest AutoCorrects of 2012. I've seen this linked on a few other blogs so I'm sorry if you've already seen this (except if you have, I'm guessing you aren't going to mind reading through and laughing again!). 

2. We're just a few days away from NYE. Are you going out or staying in? I think I've always stayed 'in' on New Year's Eve, sometimes at a big party, sometimes just a small gathering. If you're staying in this year, we made these balsamic pulled pork sandwiches last year and they were a huge hit--we've had them at least three times since! This year we're doing a progressive dinner with a few other couples. Soup and salad are at our place...recipes to come!
3. We've been off of work since the 23rd and it has been GLORIOUS. Lots of relaxing, lots of quality time with family, and lots of puzzles! We started and completed a 1000 piece puzzle with Ryan's family before Christmas and we currently have a 1000 piece puzzle in work with my family. Note: Map puzzles are difficult! 

4. This Christmas was yet another reminder of our many blessings and how generous our loved ones are. Gifts were in abundance, but one of my favorites was this peanut necklace from Anthropologie. My mom gave them to us in remembrance of our great grandma, affectionately known as Peanut in our family.

One Year Ago: Spinach and Artichoke Dip with Bacon
Two Years Ago: Cranberry Orange Cinnamon Rolls (I can't look at the picture without getting hungry!)
Three Years Ago: Gingerbread Pancakes

Friday, December 28, 2012

2012 Eat and Repeat: Bacon, Steak, and Blue Cheese Pizza

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Ryan and I have very different opinions when it comes to boots. It's not that Ryan doesn't like boots. He's actually quite fashionable and compliments me each time I bring home a new pair (which is, admittedly, a few times each 'season'). The problem is the scuffs that the boots leave on our floors. I'm constantly chided for leaving my boots on in the house, and the man clearly doesn't understand my need to keep my calves warm!

One thing we can agree on is pizza. We love all kinds, but both prefer a thinner crust with lots of toppings, just like we enjoyed at PW Pizza as part of our 2012: Eat and Repeat challenge. Our absolute favorite was the The Blues, which included bacon, steak, blue cheese, and red onion on a honey wheat crust topped with chimichurri sauce. When I set out to recreate it, I stumbled upon the recipe for PW's chimichurri sauce on STL Today's site which made the recreation much easier!
Ryan and I tag-teamed this pizza (I didn't wear my boots). I made the sauce in the food processor while he cooked the onions and the steak. This pizza could be made much more quickly if you made the various components (sauce, steak, sautéed onions) a day ahead of time...so plan ahead if you're in a hurry! Although we used sourdough pizza crust instead of honey wheat, our pizza tasted pretty darn similar to the original. This goes right up there with this pizza as one of the best (and most creative) pizzas we've made at home!

One Year Ago: Dark Chocolate Cake with Hot Chocolate Buttercream(best chocolate cake I've had!)
Two Years Ago: No Potato Venison Stew
Three Years Ago: Black and White Bean Soup

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Individual Chocolate Peanut Butter Trifles

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Try as I might, I am not a cupcake connoisseur. St. Louis is actually home to a rather famous cupcake blogger and I'm starting to think it's time I beg her to teach me (some of) her ways. What you see in the picture above is clearly not a cupcake, but it started out as one!
I was set on making peanut butter filled cupcakes with chocolate ganache for my friend Maggie's birthday. Usually I run into cupcake problems when I try to pipe the frosting on, so I figured a thin layer of ganache was well-within my capabilities!
What I didn't account for was the cupcake part failing me. A few of the reviews on Food Network's site mentioned the cupcakes overflowing, so I was careful not to overfill them--making 24 vs. the 18 cupcakes the recipe supposedly yielded. As it turns out, my attempts were futile. The cupcakes overflowed and I was left with a giant mess on my hands!
Rather than panic, I remembered how last time I had a cake fail, I turned it into banana cake balls. This time, I went for trifles instead of cake balls. I took the cheater route, using instant pudding and cool whip because I was short on time. While I'd like to try these with all homemade ingredients, these are just as good as is. Not wanting to mess with homemade cake? Cake mix would work just as well! These received rave reviews from friends, who claimed they were better than any cupcakes would've been! Cupcake fail for the win!
One Year Ago: Zucchini Parmesan (one of my favorite meals!!)
Two Years Ago: Baked Potato Soup

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Black Beans and Rice with Chicken and Apple Salsa

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...And just like that, Christmas has passed. The passage of time kind of freaks me out. I know everyone is always saying it, but time really does appear to be flying by faster and faster. I'm doing my best to be present in the place and the time that I am. It's way too easy to be looking forward to things in the future and, inadvertently or not, wishing time away. Instead I'm spending the next few days soaking up the present. For me this means another week off of work and extensive time with family. Needless to say I'd like time to pass sloooooowly for the next seven days!
That has nothing to do with this meal, just something that's on my mind today! We've been on a big Mexican kick lately. It seems every week I'm working enchiladas or quesadillas or nachos into the menu. I was drawn to this recipe because it reminded me a lot of our favorite Chipotle burrito bowls. I've made similar recipes before, but was drawn to this one because of the apple salsa. I've eaten a lot of different salsas, but this one was new to me!
The apple salsa was a crunchy, refreshing topping amidst the more standard Mexican ingredients. I jazzed up the rice with cilantro and lime juice, in an attempt to make it more reminiscent of Chipotle's rice. There are several components to this recipe that have to be cooked separately making this a bit involved, but you can cut time by using pre-cooked chicken, making the salsa a day ahead of time, or buying pre-chopped vegetables. The end result is a fantastic combination of your favorite Mexican flavors. Don't be fooled by the pictures--as soon as I took them, everything was mixed together, just like I do at Chipotle!

One Year Ago: Best of 2011 - Taste Cocktail Bar
Two Years Ago: Giant Smores Cake

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas Hope

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The past few months we have witnessed a lot of tragedy in life. Personal tragedies, tragedies in those we know and love, and national tragedies like the Newtown, Connecticut shooting. Amidst all of this death and darkness and utter despair, I am so thankful for the hope we have in Christ.

Let us reflect on that today--the hope that we have, all because two thousand years ago, God sent His Son to earth to be our Savior. May you rest in this assurance of hope today, as we celebrate Christmas!

2 Corinthians 4: 16-18  Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Cranberry Bran Muffins

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This is a season of abundance. No matter how much we try to avoid it, the month of December is a lesson in excess. Excessive amounts of food, excessive spending, excessive gift-giving. Suddenly you find yourself dropping twenties like they're going out of style, drinking a glass of wine or two every more nights than not, and eating cookies for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Don't get me wrong. I understand that this is a season of celebration. And no matter how much I try to focus on the true meaning of the season, it's easy to get caught up in the commercialized version of the holidays. These muffins take things in the opposite direction. They're humble, they're healthy, and the only thing excessive about them is the ratio of cranberries to square inch! 

These are a nice contrast to the heavy, rich food you've likely been eating all month and will continue to chow down on for the next few days. Much as I love to dig into a giant cinnamon roll on Christmas morning, these are a good alternative for the other days this week. They're best served warm from the oven, but ten seconds in the microwave and a smear of butter will keep these fresh for several days.

One Year Ago: Christmas Breakfast Ideas
Two Years Ago: Monster Cookies

Sunday, December 23, 2012

7 Random Questions

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(Siblings and me at Julia's wedding)
I thought I'd change things up a little bit today. There are way fewer people reading the blog on Sundays anyway, so I figured I'd take a break from posting recipes (come back tomorrow for a healthy Christmas breakfast!) and do something different. A few weeks ago Mica tagged me in her 7 Questions post...so I'm going to answer the questions she posed. Read on to read a little more about the blogger behind the blog... :)

1. Do you wear make-up every day? I wear makeup almost every day, although I love the occasional lazy weekend day when I have no need to put any on! That being said, I'm incredibly low-maintenance when it comes to makeup. I have no qualms about buying super cheap drugstore makeup and it takes me all of 5 minutes each day to apply a little bit of powder, blush, eyeliner, shadow, and mascara. I recently went to a Mary Kay party where I reminded just how low key my routine is. Do some of you really put all of those lotions and foundations and other stuff on your face every day?!

2. In your opinion, what is the best part of the holidays? Hands down, my favorite part of the holidays is spending time with family. Ryan and I are fortunate to work for a company that gives us off between Christmas and New Year's and I love having that extra time to visit our families. I know I gush about family a lot on this space, I just really love them and value time together!

3. Which character are you most like from Winnie the Pooh? As a kid I remember really liking Piglet although I can't figure out why. I was pretty scrawny like Piglet, but definitely nowhere near as timid or quiet! Soooo I'd have to say I'm not really like any of the characters in Winnie the Pooh, from what I recall of their dispositions. 

4. What holiday movie are you excited to see? My three favorite holiday movies that I try to fit in every year are Elf, Love Actually, and Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. I'm not one to rewatch a lot of movies, but those three never get old!

5. How many pairs of jeans do you own? I recently went through my closet and gave away a lot of clothes, including several (probably 10) pairs of jeans. I now have about 4 or 5, but of those there are only 2 that I really wear regularly. This year I'm all about the leggings and dresses...way more comfortable than jeans!

6. What’s a gross fact about yourself? Ummm I got lice in the 5th grade. I still vividly remember the school nurse saying "uh oh" while she picked through my hair. On the plus side, I got the day off of school (along with my siblings and our best friends, all of whom were infected)!

7. What would you choose to eat as your “last meal”? Seriously?! That is WAY too hard. Probably pizza from Serious Pie and for sure ice cream. As for everything else, it'd depend on the  day!

One Year Ago: White Chocolate Peppermint Fudge
Two Years Ago: Vanilla Bean Cupcakes with Vanilla Buttercream

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Odds & Ends

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1. Two weeks ago our community group assembled Homeless Kits. We got the idea from Pinterest after some of our conversations the past few weeks (while reading this book) revolved around ways we might be able to reach others in our community. St. Louis unfortunately has its fair share of homeless people often spotting begging at busy intersections. Our group made twenty-four kits full of everything from toothpaste and a toothbrush to Clif bars to cough drops to socks. We're excited to give them out as we see people in need!

2. Ever since making the Chocolate Covered Oreo Cheesecake Pretzel Bites for my Cheesecake Extravaganza, I've been wanting to make them again. As I mentioned in the original post, they're laborious. LOTS of dipping! Last time I roped my friend Maggie into helping me and once again she came through for me [this time we dipped in chocolate and white chocolate and covered in Christmas sprinkles!]. While I made them to go along with a bunch of other Christmas cookies, I think I'm going to have a hard time parting with the stash in my freezer!

3. Speaking of Maggie, during our marathon cookie baking session last weekend, we also made Ina Garten's salted caramels (but added 1/4 cup bourbon!!). Anytime I make caramel, I'm terrified I'm going to burn it. Despite the caramel not getting quite as firm as we had hoped, they were still a success and I now think all caramel should include bourbon!

4. I'm not a huge movie buff (mostly because my attention span is too short. I prefer TV shows!), but there are a slew of them that I'm wanting to see right now. Silver Linings Playbook. Les Miserables (planning to see this on Christmas Day!). Argo. (Saw Lincoln, by the way, and loved it. Highly, highly recommend!) Have you seen any of these? Any others to recommend? (Don't say The Hobbit. Sorry, but not a fan...)

One Year Ago: Gingerbread Espresso Bundt Cake
Two Years Ago: Brownie Bottom Nutella Cheesecake Squares
Three Years Ago: Sugar Cookie Bites

Friday, December 21, 2012

Popcorn Cake

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I kinda, really, sorta love popcorn. My love affair started as a child, when my grandpa would take us to the movies and always buy us popcorn. We weren't allowed to eat it until after the movie credits began. I remember us impatiently waiting for the previews to conclude so we could dig into our treat. 

The love affair continued in middle school, when a friend and I would make microwave popcorn and then melt butter and pour it on top of the already buttered pieces. Things only got unhealthier. I have vivid memories of adding brown sugar to that mix a few different times. I've nixed the microwave popcorn and melted butter but still love the stuff. I pop it on the stovetop and add lots of sea salt or sometimes a sprinkle of sugar plus salt for kettle corn. On special occasions I prefer Bacon Bourbon Caramel Popcorn
This cake takes popcorn love to a new love. It reminds me of a giant rice krispie treat, with popcorn instead of cereal. You can add whatever mix-ins you like--coconut & caramel, graham crackers & chocolate chunks--but I stuck to M&Ms, peanuts, and pretzels this first time. The cake doesn't take more than 15 minutes to make which is good because you'll want to eat it the day you make it. It keeps okay store in an airtight container, but it tastes freshest if you eat it right away.

Feed your popcorn addiction with this cake!

One Year Ago: Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies with Hot Chocolate Buttercream
Two Year Ago: Mint Oreo Truffles
Three Years Ago: Smores Bark

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Chicken, Squash, and Chickpea Salad with Tahini Dressing

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Looks can be deceiving, especially when it comes to this recipe. First of all, the picture above? No tahini dressing. It was supposed to have tahini dressing, but when I went to make the dressing, my tahini was mysteriously missing. I'm guessing it was lost during the dying fridge incident last month. I've still posted the original recipe below, because I think the tahini dressing would be excellent on this, but we quickly whipped up a homemade balsamic vinaigrette.
Furthermore, I totally forgot to add the broken pita chips before I took the picture. We did eat these salads with copious amounts of pita chips. Does anyone else have zero self control around pita chips? I find the crunchy saltiness irresistible! 
And finally, looks are deceiving because the salads we actually ate were much larger than this. I took the photograph on a salad sized plate, wanting to snap a picture before winter's darkness settled in. When we actually ate dinner a few hours later, we pulled out the large dinner plates! This was a great main dish salad, with a variety of tastes and textures that married nicely in the tahini (err, balsamic) dressing. I roasted the squash and cooked the chicken a day ahead of time so all we had to do was assemble and eat the following day. This would also be a great salad to bring to lunch--make the chicken and squash at the beginning of the week and pack a few different salads to 'grab and go' each morning!

One Year Ago: Oatmeal Cheesecake Cranberry Bars
Two Years Ago: Rocky Road Fudge
Three Years Ago: Candy Cane Cookies
*all three are perfect last-minute holiday recipes!