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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

2012: Eat and Repeat - Slow Cooker Applesauce

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 I suppose it would have been the logical thing to recreate the chicken wings or the pulled pork after our 2012: Eat and Repeat Challenge visit to Bogart's Smokehouse. To be honest, I don't even know where to begin to recreate the wings--I'd rather just return for the real stuff!--and I've made a few different pulled pork recipes lately, so I decided to branch out. Besides, it's fall and apples are in abundance. As I write this, I think I have over two dozen apples hanging out in my fridge! Making applesauce was a given!
The applesauce at Bogart's was okay--certainly nothing to write home about--so rather than recreate it precisely, I set out to make homemade applesauce that was even better. At least a few times every autumn growing up, my mom would make homemade applesauce on the stovetop. My brother and sisters and I went crazy for the stuff which was warm and heavily spiced with cinnamon and melt-in-your-mouth chunks of apples. With this version in mind, I set out to make mine, but in a slow cooker instead. I kept the peels on my apples for a greater textural contrast but if you prefer a smoother applesauce, you can peel the apples first. This is actually pretty low in sugar and cinnamon, allowing the flavor of the apples to really shine (so pick your favorite variety!), but you can always add more to taste. I loved this warm over vanilla ice cream and straight from the fridge!
One Year Ago: Creamy Cauliflower Soup with Havarti Croutons
Two Years Ago: Pumpkin Granola Bars
Three Years Ago: Stuffed Acorn Squash

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

French Apple Galette

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I foolishly agreed to participate in a golf scramble at a work teambuilding event a few weeks ago. I say foolishly because I’d only golfed once before, and I’m pretty sure it was nearly five years ago! Ryan kindly took me to the driving range and did a good job keeping a straight face while I whacked and whiffed my way through a bucket of balls. My siblings weren’t quite as supportive, as evidenced by our group text message (for the record, I wasn't actually wearing a visor!):

I sucked it up and survived those few hours on the green, but barely. It wasn’t pretty! My achievement of the day was making not one but TWO putts for my team and no I was not the first person to putt (the first question my husband asked!). When it’s all said and done though, I am not a golfer and I definitely don’t aspire to be one. I’ll stick to things I’m good at, like mini-golf (putting ONLY!) and baking!
It’s safe to say my kitchen results will always be better than my golf game, and I think this French Apple Galette proves my point! I made this for our friend Mike’s French-themed birthday dinner and it was the perfect way to end our meal. The pastry came together easily in the food processor and was flaky and buttery, an ideal vehicle for the baked apples. This tart varies from others in that it is first filled with chopped apples which are then covered with the layered, sliced apples for greater aesthetic appeal. Despite not pre-baking or sautéing the apples, they softened nicely in the oven, the final result a medley of flavors and textures. Served with scoops of vanilla ice cream, I can’t think of a better Fall dessert!
One Year Ago: Chocolate Cupcakes with Ganache Filling and Buttercream Frosting
Three Years Ago: Mountain Dew Apple Dumplings

The winner of Saturday's cookbook giveaway was Commenter #5, Barbara N, who said: "My favorite cookbook is a Betty Crocker cookbook that was my moms...with handwritten notes included" Barbara, please email me at natalie@thesweetslife.com so that I can arrange for your cookbook to be mailed to you!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Lentil Quesadillas

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This meal was the result of two leftover ingredients: corn tortillas and lentils. At first I thought I’d use them for lentil tacos, until I realized I was going to have a hard time photographing them. #lifeofafoodblogger Quesadillas it was! I made the mistake of trying to make the whole meal in one evening, which led to a later than usual dinner. Next time, I’d prep the filling a day ahead of time and just assemble and cook the quesadillas, which won’t take more than a few minutes!
I wasn’t sure how this would come together, but it worked really well. Even if you aren’t crazy about lentils, it’s hard to dislike anything that’s surrounded by gooey cheese! I loved that this was a million times healthier than most Mexican food you’ll find, and I promise it didn’t taste like health food! At the last minute I threw together a “salad” of avocado and tomato which ended up being a great addition. We liked it so much, in fact, that I rushed out to buy another avocado for us to use when we ate the leftovers! In total this made 9 quesadillas, which was enough for us to enjoy for 2 meals. I used the vegetables I had on hand, but you could easily throw your favorites into the mix. If you don’t want to deal with the mess of flipping quesadillas, throw the mixture over some salad greens and make some homemade tortilla strips like I did in this butternut squash and black bean salad.
One Year Ago: Candy Corn Sugar Cookie Cupcakes
Two Years Ago: Cranberry Bliss Bars (Starbucks Copycat)

Sunday, October 28, 2012

8 Easy Snack Mixes

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When I made the monster munch a few weeks ago, I realized that it's just one of many snack mixes that I love. There's just something more exciting about getting a variety of tastes and textures in a handful instead of simply grabbing a bunch of chips or pretzels or M&Ms. Are you with me?

Because they often make large batches and can be made ahead of time, I love to make a snack mix or two for parties. It's also the perfect snack to mix up and have on hand for Sunday afternoon football or Wednesday night Modern Family viewing. Below are a few of my favorites!

Autumn Snack Mix-Don't let the title fool you, this is good all year long! Cranberries, walnuts, and yogurt covered raisins are mixed with a sweetened mixture of Life cereal and oats.

Bacon Bourbon Caramel Popcorn-I honestly can't make this very often because I make myself sick eating it. SO good, TOO good!

Cinnamon Pretzels-Not a true snack mix, in that it's only pretzels, but the cinnamon sugar coating on these makes them much more exciting than a regular bag of pretzels!

Life Cereal Snack Mix-A Sweets Life recipe that was not a "one and done"...both myself and friends have made this several times. It's salty and sweet thanks to Life Cereal and salted nuts!

Monster Munch-a recent favorite, I've already made this a few times this season and think it'll be a new fall tradition!

Nuts & Bolts Snack Mix-100x better than any Chex Mix you'll buy in the store! It's Martha Stewart's recipe, so you know it's good!

Praline Party Mix-This is long overdue for a new picture, but this is the most famous of all snack mixes on my blog. Literally, my mom's famous for this stuff. Most recently she made enough to give as favors to over 200 people at my sister's wedding!

Tijuana Trash Snack Mix-This one packs a punch from the cayenne pepper and the tortilla chips are an unusual but perfect ingredient in this mix.

One Year Ago: Snickerdoodle Ice Cream
Two Years Ago: Pumpkin Pancakes
Three Years Ago: Pumpkin Bran Date Bread

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Odds & Ends

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1. I'm guessing I'm not the only one who is obsessed with candy corn this time of year, right? My sister-in-law Erin and I set out a few weeks ago to make our own from scratch. We followed this recipe and it was a GIANT fail. We ended up with a rock hard clump of sugar sitting in the pot. There was nothing candy corn-like about it. No big deal...we scratched the homemade stuff, went out and bought bags of Brach's, and instead had an awesome afternoon chatting. So, so thankful for that girl! Anyone else out there ever tried making it from scratch?

2. Do you like my Facebook page? I recently discovered that even if you do, you might not be seeing anything Sweets Life related on your newsfeed. Facebook is trying to force pages to pay to promote their posts...kind of lame! I'd much rather spend that money on groceries so here's the deal...if you want to ensure that The Sweets Life posts show up in your newsfeed, go to my page, click on the little icon next to "Liked" (see diagram below) and select "add to interests". It'll take all of three seconds and you won't have to worry about missing posts!

3. Speaking of Facebook, I asked on my page for some advice the other day....Ryan's work group is having a contest for the most "to die for" baked good (or appetizer) for their Halloween party (yes, his group has a Halloween party!) and I can't decide what to make! I thought about these mini chocolate chip cookie sandwiches or maybe the butterscotch blondies with peanut pretzel caramel, but I am more than open to suggestions! Help me out, leave a comment on Facebook or this post!

4. Almost two weeks ago, my great grandma passed away. She was 96 and one of the most joyful, lively people I've ever had the pleasure of knowing. While we are sad she's no longer with us, we are thankful because we know she's now singing and dancing in heaven! My uncle wrote a fantastic blog post about "living large" in her honor and I couldn't have said it better myself--check it out

(image from Amazon)
5. BONUS odds & end today--normally I stop at 4 but I have another giveaway for you guys today! I was recently sent John McLemore's "DADGUM That's Good, Too!". I'd never heard of John, or his cookbook, but I'm always open to checking out a new cookbook. The book is separated into three sections: smoking, frying, and grilling. I was impressed by the variety of recipes. I would've assumed it was a bunch of meat, but John has some creative ways to smoke, fry, and grill foods. Some that intrigued me included smoked mac and cheese, fried apple fritters, and grilled salsa! Want to check them out yourself? Leave a comment on this post telling me your favorite cookbook, or one you'd love to own. I'll pick a random commenter on Monday night and announce the winner in Tuesday's post!

One Year Ago: Apple Ricotta Coffee Cake
Two Years Ago: Chicken, Black Bean, and Goat Cheese Tostados
Three Years Ago: Creamy Sweet Potato and Kale Soup

Friday, October 26, 2012

Caramel Apple Dip

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Forget those containers of storebought caramel dip. If I’m going to dip my apples in something that isn’t peanut butter, it’s got to be this dip! This is one of those recipes from my mom’s kitchen, and one of the first I posted on the blog. Three years later, it was time to take a new picture and share it again, although it certainly isn’t the first time I’ve made it since then. I’ve made it for several different church gatherings as well as the Cheesecake Party because it’s always a guaranteed hit. With only a few ingredients, it could not be easier. Think cheesecake meets peanut butter meets caramel. It really does taste like a caramel apple!
One Year Ago: Autumn Snack Mix
Two Years Ago: Vanilla Spiced Butternut Squash Ice Cream with Salted Ginger Caramel Sauce
Three Years Ago: Crockpot Pork Chops

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Ginger Cookies

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Four years is a long time, and you change a lot in four years. There's the four years of high school, when you enter the school as a gangly fourteen year old who looks like a goat (just me?) and leave feeling a bit on top of the world, or at least the school. Then there's the four years of college where a similar transformation takes place, starting again as a naive freshman and leaving ready or not to go "be a grown-up". In both instances there is growth, there is change, and there are lessons learned. The four years don't necessarily make you a different person, but usually a bit stronger, a bit wiser, and certainly more secure.

Four years ago today I set out on yet another journey. This one was less about studies and making new friends, but it has had every bit as much change and growth. Our wedding was four years ago today and thinking back over the past four years, it has been quite a journey. Where we are today is very different than where we set out on October 25, 2008, and very different from where we thought we'd be today. And yet, it's been better than I ever could have imagined. Ryan, life will you has been an absolute joy. You really are my better half, the one who manages to be strong when I am weak, positive when I am negative, clean when I am messy (especially in the kitchen!). You show me so much grace and patience and encouragement, time after time, day after day. I love the quirks that make you you and the couple we have grown to be. Four years in, and so many more to enjoy together--I can't think of anything better!
These cookies are some of Ryan's all-time favorites and the cookies he asks for the most frequently (along with these pumpkin cookies). He's actually in South Korea of all places right now, so our anniversary celebration will have to wait, but I was sure to make a batch of these before he left! These are perfectly chewy with just the right amount of ginger--this makes a huge batch (about 5 dozen cookies), but they stay soft for days! I love a crispy gingersnap but they don't even compare to these--you must give them a try this fall or winter!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Spicy Asian Chicken with Brussels Sprouts

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Sometimes I make a meal and ask myself, "why don't I do this more often?". Today, this = stir fry. Stir fries come together quickly, don't mess up a ton of dishes (relatively speaking), and are usually pretty healthy. This stir fry was a little bit more involved since it involved coating the chicken in an egg and cornstarch mixture before sautéing, but even that extra step wasn't too time-consuming. 
We really liked this. It definitely lived up to its name, but it wasn't so spicy that we were running for glasses of milk. The fresh ginger was a great addition to the stir fry and if you aren't a fan of Brussels sprouts, have no fear, they completely take on the flavor of the sauce and you don't even realize what you're eating. That being said, you could always opt to swap them out in favor of some other vegetables. 
With the exception of the Brussels sprouts, I had everything already on hand for this meal...and I'm willing to bet you have most of it too! Spice up your regular stir fry and give this one a try!

One Year Ago: Pumpkin Roll
Two Years Ago: Pumpkin Cheesecake Dip

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Pumpkin Spice Granola

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I've made pumpkin granola once before, but when my grandma mailed me some newspaper clippings from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, I was reminded how much I loved the stuff and decided to try a new version. As luck would have it, the recipe called for mixing in dried dates, which I had recently picked up from the grocery store with no plan in mind for them.

The good luck ended there. The evening I made this granola can only be described as disastrous! First I spilled coconut oil all down the front of my dress and all over the kitchen floor. Have you ever tried to clean oil up off the floor? Not fun! Disaster #1. I was simultaneously cooking dinner while prepping this granola and then spilled cayenne pepper all over my stovetop. Sigh. Disaster #2. And because disasters apparently come in threes, I had the brilliant idea to transfer my newly purchased bag of popcorn kernels into a Ziploc bag...except I somehow missed the bag and they ended up all over the floor. Disaster #3.
Yes, that would be popcorn kernels all over my floor ALREADY slicked with oil. Thank God for my husband, who silently shook his head and went to get the broom. At the end of the day, a disastrous hour in the kitchen was well worth it. I think I liked this granola better than the last pumpkin granola. It was a little chewier than I would have preferred, but that could be prevented by baking the granola on two cookie sheets instead of one, which I've reflected in the instructions below.
Make your breakfast a little more fall-like with some of this! I enjoyed it with milk, yogurt, and just by the handful! If you don't like dates, add raisins or dried cranberries instead!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Nacho Black Bean Burgers

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There’s always the chance that recipes I love and enjoy will be a flop for you. Maybe your execution of the recipe didn’t work out so well. Maybe I have weird taste buds. Maybe your butter wasn’t room temperature or your baking powder was old. Maybe you just don’t like kale, dang it!

On the flip side, there’s always the chance that when someone recommends a recipe to me it’ll be a flop. I’m always a little more nervous to try something that someone has made and passed along to me than something I just chose at random and decided to give a go. Such was the case with this recipe, which my friend Lauren made and then sent the link to me and a few girlfriends, with words of high praise. It helps that I trust Lauren’s tastes, of course, and I’m no stranger to black bean burgers, but you just never know…
As it turns out, this was an AWESOME recommendation. These belong right up there with the black bean and corn burgers! The secret ingredient was definitely the crushed blue corn chips. That, and lots of cheese! These were definitely aptly named—so much “nacho” flavor happening, and they were over the top with some sliced avocado and tomato accompanying them.

In case you’re doubting, trust my recommendation on this one. Be sure to make them ahead of time and let them chill (mine sat in the fridge for almost 24 hours), which I think helped avoid the crumbly mess that black bean burgers sometimes turn into. I can’t wait to make these again!

One Year Ago: Salty Caramel Ice Cream
Two Years Ago: Shaksuka
Three Years Ago: Cereal Dessert Bars

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Sautéed Cabbage with Red Onions and Bacon

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Seriously, cabbage again? Yes, seriously! I told you I accidentally bought an extra head of the stuff and so I continue to take advantage of the ideas featured in the October Better Homes & Gardens. This is another quick and easy side dish that could be further modified. Throw some feta or blue cheese in there, or a sprinkle of toasted nuts. Eliminate the bacon if you must, although that was my favorite part! As the temperatures continue to drop, warm salads are the way to go, starting with this one!
Sautéed cabbage not your thing? Try it roasted! That's still my favorite!

One Year Ago: Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Capers, Walnuts, and Anchovies
Two Years Ago: M&M Cookies
Three Years Ago: Black Bean Burgers

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Odds & Ends

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1. Cupcake decorating is not really my thing (although I SO want it to be. Someone, teach me!). Last Halloween I found ways to make cupcakes look adorable without having to pipe any frosting on. Exhibit A (Candy Corn Sugar Cookie Cupcakes) and Exhibit B (Chocolate Cupcakes with Ganache Filling and Buttercream Frosting) below. If you only have time for one between now and Halloween, go for the chocolate....INCREDIBLE!

2. My friend Laura of Food Snob St. Louis recently started an etiquette business called Please & Thank You. Laura was trained in etiquette (and actually had us over for a multi-course etiquette dinner to teach us some lessons a few months ago...I learned a lot!) and is now using those skills to train corporations, girl scout troops, and anyone else in need of a reminder about how to cut your food and what to do when your napkin falls on the floor. If you're in the St. Louis area, check out her upcoming events--she has a children's table manners class coming up in November!

3. The Huffington Post recently featured my Cilantro Lime Black Bean Pitas in their black bean slideshow. Check out their other black bean recipes here (I want to make the stuffed poblanos!).

4. Last weekend I judged a pie baking contest for a nearby neighborhood festival (Dutchtown Harvest Festival). All pies had to contain were to contain a vegetable and we judged each pie on presentation (whole pie and slice), taste, texture, and creativity. Of the six pies we tasted, four were pumpkin (one of which was pumpkin cheesecake), one was sweet potato maple, and one brave contestant went the savory route with a quail egg, cheese, and mushroom pie. The pumpkin cheesecake took the coveted number one spot (and golden apron!), but my personal favorite was the sweet potato maple! When it comes to fall pies, I've made a caramel pecan pie and a few different apple pies (like the caramel apple cheesecake pie), but never pumpkin or sweet potato! Sounds like I need to give them a try this year!

One Year Ago: Pumpkin Snickerdoodles
Two Years Ago: Easy Turkey Chili
Three Years Ago: Pumpkin Cake