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Thursday, May 31, 2012

Salted Caramel Pretzel Ice Cream

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Oh my gosh. This ice cream. Oooooh this ice cream. Add it to the list of brilliant ideas I've had because salted caramel pretzel ice cream has moved straight to the top of my favorites list! In March, we spent a weekend in Branson, MO and paid a visit to Andy's Frozen Custard (thanks for the recommendation Kristen!!). Andy's is the true inspiration behind this ice cream because it was there that I discovered a concrete that included caramel and pretzels, which I thought were an ingenious topping idea. After devouring my concrete, I vowed to recreate a similar flavor when I returned home.
...and here I am, a few months later, doing just that! This turned out even better than expected. I contemplated starting with a salted caramel base, but ultimately decided to make a vanilla base and incorporate a caramel swirl and chopped pretzels, similar to the concrete I'd had. This ice cream is the perfect balance of sweet and salty, the perfect balance of creamy texture and crunch from the pretzels, basically the perfect ice cream. I'm obsessed, and rightly so! Do yourself a favor and give this ice cream a try!

*Note--I made this ice cream a second time (because I ate it so quickly the first time!) and didn't have enough half & half and heavy cream...I subbed in 2% milk and while it was still good (albeit, icier in texture) I highly recommend following the below recipe. You can't beat the creaminess!

One Year Ago: Asian Noodle Salad (perfect Potluck dish!!)
Two Years Ago: Blue Cheese Coleslaw

Salted Caramel Pretzel Ice Cream
caramel adapted from Food Network
-2 cups half and half
-1 cup heavy cream
-1/2 cup sugar
-1 tsp vanilla extract
- pinch salt
-2 cups coarsely chopped pretzels

for the salted caramel sauce
-1 cup packed brown sugar
-1/2 cup half and half
-4 tbsp butter
-1 tbsp vanilla extract
-1/2 tsp sea salt

1. To make the ice cream base, combine half and half, heavy cream, sugar, vanilla, and a pinch of salt in a blender. Blend until smooth. Place in an airtight container and refrigerate overnight or until completely chilled.
2. The next day, prepare your caramel sauce. Mix the brown sugar, half and half, butter, and salt in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook, whisking gently, for 5-7 minutes, until slightly thickened. Add the vanilla and cook for an additional minute. Remove from heat and pour into a separate bowl to cool to room temperature.
3. Place the ice cream base mixture into the ice cream maker and churn according to manufacturer's instructions. Once ice cream is thick and nearly finished, add pretzels (you may need to add some of them after you finish churning to evenly distribute).
4. Layer the ice cream and the caramel in your ice cream storage container, beginning and ending with the ice cream. Freeze at least four hours, until firm.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Dried Mango Coconut Muffins

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I've been a little obsessed with fresh mango lately, enjoying it in salsa, ice cream, rice, and whatever else I can stick it in. Dried mango, on the other hand, is a different story. I'd never eaten it, let alone baked with it. When my Melissa's Produce package included some dried mango, I first though I'd just make Vegan Mango Banana Bread, using dried instead of fresh. But then I remembered the buttermilk I had hanging out in my fridge, and a google search led me to these muffins which featured coconut, another favorite. In just fifteen minutes, I mixed up the muffins and before I knew it I was breaking one in half, fresh from the oven.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Herb-Roasted Chicken with Lemon and Sage

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Have you ever tried basting a chicken or turkey with an eyedropper? I don't recommend it. I worked my way through this recipe, marinating the chicken for twenty-four hours, stuffing it with lemon and sage, and then sticking it in the oven to begin roasting. Suddenly I read the word "baste" in the instructions and I panicked. My attempts with a spoon were futile, as my roasting rack foiled any attempts to remove liquid from the bottom of the pan. With no baster and an immediate need to baste, I found myself improvising...with an eyedropper.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Cook's Illustrated Chocolate Chip Cookies

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Pre-blog days, when making cookies, I usually stuck to chocolate chip cookies. I would buy a bag of chocolate chips and make the recipe on the back of the bag. For whatever reason, the classic cookie fell by the wayside the last few years and I found myself making everything BUT chocolate chip cookies: raspberry cream sandwich cookies, chocolate mint puddles, and cake batter truffles, to name a few. When planning my menu for the Cookies and Milk baby shower, I knew chocolate chip cookies were a given....and so began my hunt for the perfect chocolate chip cookie recipe. I'd recently checked Baking Illustrated out from my local library and opted to use the Cook's Illustrated Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe. I have yet to be let down by an America's Test Kitchen recipe!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Summer Party with Nestle Drumsticks

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The last few weeks have been crazy. I say that all the time, and it's pretty much always true, but our travel schedules in particular have been busier than normal. I went to Seattle. Ryan went to Chicago. I went to Memphis. Ryan road-tripped to Vegas. I met him in Arizona, where we rendezvoused and celebrated his sister's wedding for a few days. Less than twelve hours after returning home, he was on a plane to Philadelphia. Next week, I'm back to Seattle...and we'll meet each other in Chicago, the first of three weekends we'll be spending there in June.
Yup, pure insanity. Not only do we miss seeing each other, but our social lives take a hit when one of us is always on the go. When Foodbuzz and Nestle Drumstick offered me the chance to throw a bit of a party featuring their ice cream cones, I jumped on the chance. There was nothing more that I wanted to do this weekend, then to kick off summer with friends we haven't had the chance to spend quality time with lately.
We spent Friday night on our back patio, starting with grilled vegetable salads and homemade sourdough bread. The night then took a turn for the indulgent and we chowed down on Nestle Drumsticks and a few new flavors of homemade ice cream that I can't wait to share with you guys in the weeks to come! I picked up some of the cookie dipped and pretzel dipped drumsticks, both of which were new to us. The drumsticks were a huge hit, conjuring up memories of ice cream trucks and summer treats when we were kids.
It was so nice to keep things super simple--the easy meal and even easier dessert were perfect for the end of a long week when you want to be chatting in the backyard over cocktails (watermelon gin fizz, to be exact!), not slaving away in the kitchen. Here's to many more similar evenings throughout the summer and in-between our crazy schedules!
One Year Ago: Broccoli Pesto Dip
Two Years Ago: Whole Wheat Focaccia with Olives and Tomatoes

Full disclosure: Nestlé has provided me with free product and other items in order to help with my review, but anything I receive from Nestle does not affect my thoughts on its company or their products.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Banana Cake Balls

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A month or two ago I headed to Seattle for a business trip. I took an evening flight, after a long day of work, and by the time I arrived, it was long past my bedtime and all I wanted to do was change out of my work clothes and get some sleep. Needless to say, I was a little perturbed when the front desk employee at the hotel informed me that I was booked in a smoking room. I immediately launched into a persuasive argument to get my room changed, only to find out the hotel was completely booked. I was stuck.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Grilled Cheese with Tomato Chutney

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In high school, my cooking portfolio consisted of macaroni and cheese from the box, pancakes (from a mix), and grilled cheese. My mom was a wonderful cook, so I still ate well, and consequently didn't feel any pressure to expand my skills. Things certainly have changed...my mac and cheese is still cooked on the stovetop, but no blue box is in sight, and I have a whole host of pancake recipes found on The Sweets Life. Grilled cheese, on the other hand, has stayed tried and true.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Memorial Day Remembrance

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Originally I was going to use today to share some recipes that might be perfect for a Memorial Day BBQ or gathering. After all, that's what Memorial Day weekend is all about...an extra day off of work, the kick off to summer, and grilling out, right?
Sadly, this year the true meaning of Memorial Day, so often overlooked, hits a little closer to home. One of my brother's childhood best friends was recently critically injured when an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) went off near him, where he was deployed in Afghanistan. All around the world people prayed for Sam and his recovery, but God had other plans, and he died last Saturday.

My heart goes out to Sam's family, as they mourn and honor their son and brother this weekend. Take some time this weekend to reflect on what Memorial Day is really all about--the amazing men and women who have bravely lost their lives serving our nation!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Red Potatoes with Olives, Feta, and Mint

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Until last summer, when I made the Southwestern Potato Salad, my eyes were opened to a new world of potato salads. Previously I'd only had mayo-based versions and I just wasn't a fan. Now that I know there are tons of potato salads that don't require mayonnaise, I am all bringing back the picnic classic. With mint, feta, and kalamata olives, this potato salad has a Mediterranean twist, but would fare well with most any entree. It's intended to be served warm, but I didn't bother reheating the leftovers and liked the salad just as much that way. Don't skimp on the fresh mint--it really makes the salad pop!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Lemon Poppyseed Gobs with Blueberry Filling

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Back with more gobs from the Gobba Gobba Hey cookbook that I am having way too much fun with (thanks again Mom!). When I posted the Chocolate, Coconut, Almond Gobs earlier this month, I got a few questions about the word "gob". No, I didn't make up the word. Yes, these are basically a whoopie pie. However, it's easier to say gob and they're from the Gobba Gobba cookbook, so I'm sticking with the name. I believe the name originated from Pennsylvania, who apparently felt the need to differentiate their whoopie pies ;)

Monday, May 21, 2012

Chicken with Kale and Freekeh-Lentil Pilaf

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Freekeh? What the heck is freekeh? That was my first thought when I received a package of it in the mail from Melissa's Produce. I can barely pronounce quinoa, and now here I am with another strange-sounding grain. A little research taught me that freekeh is a roasted green wheat, and that for a grain, it's high-fiber, high-protein, and low-carb. So now that I knew what it was, what the heck was I supposed to DO with it? Theoretically, you could use it in place of any recipe that uses rice or quinoa or couscous, but I stumbled upon this Bon Appetit recipe that not only uses freekeh, but kale. Regular readers know about my (weird) obsession with kale, so it should come as no surprise that I had to try this!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

2012: Eat and Repeat - The Block

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Another month, another new restaurant for our 2012 Eat and Repeat Challenge! Although we're only choosing 6 of the 25 restaurants from Sauce Magazine's Best New STL Restaurants list, I knew from the start that The Block in Webster Groves would for sure make the cut. I've heard nothing but positive things about this place which isn't just a restaurant, but has its own butcher shop as well! The restaurant strives to be a "cozy, community gathering space" (per their website) and after an excellent dinner there, I'd say they've succeeded.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Gooey Sandwich Cookie Bars

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Several weeks ago, I saw the invite on Stef's blog, Cupcake Project, to participate in St. Louis' Share Our Strength bake sale. The annual event is part of the nationwide campaign to raise money to fight childhood hunger in America. As much as I wanted to participate, I knew my schedule that weekend would not allow me much time to bake, let alone attend, the bake sale. Thankfully, there are a number of baked goods  that freeze beautifully, which is perfect in situations such as these! After making and freezing four loaves of Healthified Zucchini Bread, I knew I wanted something a little more decadent to serve at the bake sale.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Spicy Kettle Corn

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A few weeks ago, I spent the week in Memphis for work. It was my first time visiting the city and, like every time I visit a new city, I was excited to check out the local restaurant scene. Although I'm not going to do a formal post on my Memphis eats, like I often do on vacation, I think it's worth noting a few restaurants I tried, lest any of you end up there sometime. Our work event was held at the Peabody Hotel, which was not only beautiful, old, and ornate, but served darn good hotel food. The breakfasts/lunches we had during the conference were better in terms of options and quality than I'm used to at events like that--no complaints from me!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Spinach Salad with Beets, Asparagus, Caramelized Onions, Lentils, and Feta

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A few weeks ago a representative from Melissa's Produce sent me an email offering me the opportunity to try a few of their products. I'd never actually heard of the company, but I'm not one to turn down free food...especially when it comes in the form of produce, which typically makes up the bulk of my grocery bill (that and butter, sugar, and flour)! Imagine my surprise, then, when a box arrived filled with beets, lentils, freekeh (a new-to-me grain that I'll be posting about soon), quinoa, shallots, dried cranberries, and more! Not only does Melissa's supply produce, but their product line is actually huge.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Chewy Peanut Butter Butterscotch Cookies

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What's your idea of the perfectly textured cookie? For me, this is it. Not too thick, not too thin, and perfeeeeeectly chewy. I'm pretty sure if these tasted like dish soap, I'd still be tempted to eat them because the texture is just that perfect!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Slow Cooker Indonesian Chicken with Peanut Sauce

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This is another recipe I'm pulling deep from the archives of The Sweets Life. It's one that, when I originally made it, both Ryan and I said we'd love to eat again and again....and here we are a few years later and it still hadn't been remade. That recently changed when I picked up the ingredients and tossed everything in the slow cooker one Sunday afternoon.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Homemade Thin Mints

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If you're a diehard Thin Mint fan, you probably have mixed feelings about this post. On the one hand, you're pumped...a recipe for homemade thin mints = thin mints whenever you want them. On the other hand, you're cursing me for providing you the means to have thin mints whenever you want them one month before bikini season. The beauty of these is that, much like the original Girl Scout cookies, these are absolutely delightful (maybe even best!) from the freezer...so you can make a batch and ration the three or four dozen cookies however you please!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Cookies and Milk Baby Shower

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I am not a super crafty or artistic person. These genes definitely run in my family, as anyone who knows my mom or my sister can attest. The only creativity I have comes out in the kitchen, and even there it's more about things tasting good than looking good.
When I decided to throw a baby shower for my friend Maggie, I honestly wasn't sure I could pull it off. In a world full of amazing parties and showers (spend five minutes on Pinterest and you'll see what I mean), I felt incredibly inadequate. However, thanks to my sister Julia, I managed to successfully host the shower...and although the pictures don't do the party justice (a dark, cloudy day made for unideal photo conditions!), it turned out pretty darn cute!
The shower menu (my area of expertise) revolved around cookies. I made four types--homemade thin mints, lemon poppyseed gobs with blueberry filling, peanut butter butterscotch, and chocolate chip--all of which will be posted with recipes and better pictures in the next few weeks. The cookies were placed in glass cookie jars, reused from the candy bar Ryan and I had at our wedding! In addition to the cookies, I made Amaretto Fruit Dip, which I served with an assortment of fruit. When guests left, I sent them on their way with decorated sugar cookies (baby rattles!).
For beverages, we of course had milk (chocolate and regular, but chocolate was a HUGE hit!) and baby blue punch, always a shower favorite. Drinks were served in my Irish coffee glasses, with blue polka dotted straws purchased from Etsy.

Because I'm not huge on cheesy shower games, we instead decorated bibs for Baby V! Each party guest was given a white bib (I purchased 2 packages on Amazon) and some potatoes and fabric paint. Potatoes? Yup! We took Martha Stewart's brilliant potato art idea, which ended up being super cute. I have very creative friends and thanks to them, Baby V will be stylin' while eating!
A special shout out to my sister Julia, who was the mastermind behind the adorable invitations and the banner we hung from the fireplace. Lest you think I'm completely worthless, she did allow me the very important task of cutting out chocolate chips ;)

Hopefully this post gives you some ideas on how to throw a fun and cute baby shower, even if you think you lack the skills!! Get excited for those cookie recipes...you don't want to miss them!

Happy Mother's Day to my truly amazing mom, whom I so sincerely wish I were with today! I love you so very much and there is very little (this shower included) that I could do without your support and encouragement! And Happy Mother's Day to all of the other wonderful mothers in my life...from my mother-in-law to my grandmas to my friends who are mothers!

One Year Ago: Double White Chocolate and Pretzel Peanut Butter Cookies with Sea Salt
Two Years Ago: Peach Pie