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Friday, November 30, 2012

Spinach and Goat Cheese Bisque

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This soup is the same brilliant shade of green as the smoothies I make most weekend morning. While my green smoothies mask the taste of spinach, the same cannot be said for this soup. Thankfully, I like spinach! I like goat cheese even more, and the addition of it is the perfect tang to counter the earthiness of the spinach. This isn’t a thick, stick to your bones soup, making it a great first course or light accompaniment to sandwiches. Salads are much less appealing as the temperatures drop and we’re all craving warm, hearty meals. This soup ensures you still get your greens!

One Year Ago: Quinoa Salad with Sweet Potatoes, Butternut Squash, Kale, Red Onion, and Cranberries
Two Years Ago: Butternut Squash, Sweet Potato, and Pomegranate Soup

Thursday, November 29, 2012

German Chocolate Cake Pecan Pie Bars

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One of my first major baking endeavors was with my sister-in-law Katelyn, when we made a German Chocolate Cake from scratch. I haven’t made one since, although it’s on my ever-growing baking to-do list. For Katelyn’s birthday this year, I thought I’d give it a go, until I saw the recipe for these German Chocolate Pecan Pie bars. Last year Kate’s birthday dessert was a caramel pecan pie, per her request. Two favorites desserts > one favorite dessert so rather than try and choose between the two, I went for the gold!
These might be better than German Chocolate Cake. They’re just as rich (a small piece will satisfy!) but the dense chocolate base was much preferred to a cake base, which is often too dry or too crumbly. The gooey pecan topping is reminiscent of pecan pie, but with less of that sickly sweet, cavity-inducing chew. Even better, these bar cookies are way easier than rolling out a pie crust or delicately balancing cake layers. If you love German Chocolate Cake or pecan pie, you won’t be disappointed with these!
One Year Ago: Pasta with Bacon and Cauliflower

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Tortellini with Butternut Squash, Mushrooms, and Fontina

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A few weeks ago we had a Girl's Dinner reunion! Long-time readers might remember that I used to have monthly dinners with my two friends Paige and Ashley. Paige left us for Connecticut and while I like visiting her, I'd much rather she just return to St. Louis! She and her boyfriend Zach were in town a few weeks ago and I soaked up every spare minute with her, which of course included the return of Girl's Dinner!

Sitting in my kitchen with Paige and Ashley reminded me how much I miss our monthly tradition, where sweatpants are the dress code, storytelling makes the cooking time fly by, and we always fit in dessert, no matter how stuffed we are. They even help me do the dishes (sign of true friends!)!
Both Paige and Ashley found themselves with men who dislike mushrooms. Naturally, something with mushrooms was regularly on the menu for Girl's Dinner and this one was no exception! This was met with approval from all three of us, including my mushroom-loving (thankfully!) husband.  Real Simple claims this serves four but we all had seconds and there was still quite a bit leftover. Ryan added steak to his the next day and said it was great, so serve this with steak if you're looking to add some meat!

Cheese, mushrooms, squash, and pasta....I'm pretty sure this combo can do no wrong!

One Year Ago: Pumpkin Cream Oreo Tarts
Two Years Ago: Sea Salt and Poppy Seed Crackers

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Carrot Cake Cheesecake Bars

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Carrot cake cheesecake bars are the cousins of carrot cake. They have all the same elements of carrot cake but require significantly less time and energy to make. No multiple pans or uneven cake layers! The ratio is about 1:1 when it comes to the carrot cake and cheesecake portions. I included raisins, nuts, and coconut in the cake layer, but purists could just as easily eliminate them.
I made these for my brother-in-law Nate’s birthday last month, knowing that carrot cake is on his supposedly short list of approved desserts (becoming part of our family has seemed to expand his sweet tooth! Mission accomplished!). He gave them two thumbs up (literally--it's the boy's trademark) and I now have a solution next time we're craving carrot cake but not the time involved!

One Year Ago: A Very MARRY Pizza Party (the celebration of Nate & Julia's engagement!)
Two Years Ago: Loaded Turkey, Vegetable, and Wild Rice Soup

Monday, November 26, 2012

Grilled Eggplant, Roasted Red Pepper, Spinach, and Ricotta Sandwich

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We dealt with a broken fridge a few weeks ago. It was shortly after Hurricane Sandy, when we’d heard reports of people without power for days. It put my complaints about a broken fridge into perspective, and I’m certainly not making a comparison, but I definitely have an increased understanding of how difficult it can be to be without power!
We lived out of a cooler for the first half of that week, buying only the minimum at the grocery store and taking advantage of the working fridges at work. I planned dinner recipes that didn’t have too many refrigerated ingredients. These sandwiches worked—only the ricotta had to be kept cold. I then wrapped the leftover sandwiches in foil and stuck them in the cooler, which kept them chilled enough until dinner the following night.
Working fridge or not, these are an easy vegetarian dinner. I recommend salting your eggplant before you grill it (I used a Panini press) to draw out the bitter flavor, but there are only a few quick steps before you have a café-worthy sandwich ready to eat! If you don’t have or don’t like ricotta, goat cheese (especially herbed goat cheese) would be a fantastic substitution!

Two Years Ago: Pomegranate Spinach Salad with Persimmon and Turkey

Grilled Eggplant, Roasted Red Pepper, Spinach, and Ricotta Sandwich
from Women's Day Magazine

-1 medium eggplant (about 1 lb), sliced into quarter-inch thick rounds
-1 tbsp olive oil
-1/4 cup pesto (store-bought or make your own!)
-4 ciabatta or other rolls, sliced in half
-1 cup ricotta cheese
-4 medium roasted red peppers, halved (I bought a jar and used most of the jar)
-1 cup spinach
-kosher salt & pepper

1. Heat grill to medium. Brush both sides of the eggplant with the oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill, covered, until eggplant is slightly charred and tender, 2-3 minutes per side.
2. Spread pesto on the rolls and add ricotta, eggplant, peppers, and spinach. Top with other half of roll. Serve immediately or wrap tightly in foil and refrigerate until ready to serve. 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Mozzarella, Raspberry, and Brown Sugar Panini

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I think it’s safe to say I’m attracted to “weird” recipes. If it’s an odd or untraditional combination, you can bet I’m going to want to try it. Such was the case with this grilled cheese sandwich, which couldn’t be further from the well-known white bread and American cheese version.

Thankfully, my sister and brother-in-law are used to me straying from the norm, and accept my dinner invitations even when I put jam and herbs on our grilled cheese sandwiches! Weird as these sounded, the combination actually worked quite well. The photo isn't great because my camera was on some weird settings, but I felt compelled to post the recipe regardless! I’ve put rosemary in bread before, but never inside a sandwich, especially a fruity one! The mozzarella was mild enough to give the rosemary a chance to shine, and the raspberry jam sweetened the deal! (Confession-I totally forgot to add the brown sugar, but am including the whole recipe below because I bet it'd be an excellent addition! I can assure you it's good without too!)

Find yourself a hearty loaf of bread and break out the Panini press! If you don’t have one, make it on a skillet but spread olive oil on the bread instead of butter. Pair it with some soup, like we did, or a salad, and enjoy your introduction to “weird” food.

What’s a “weird” food combination that isn’t weird to you?

One Year Ago: BBQ Collard Greens with Edamame
Two Years Ago: Turkey Sandwiches with Cranberry 
Three Years Ago: A Thanksgiving Post (and Ryan's proposal story!)

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Odds & Ends

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1. As promised, let's kick things off this Saturday with a giveaway from Alexia. As I announced last weekend, I'm going to be an Alexia Tastemaker...part of which means you guys get the chance to win some fun stuff from time to time. Pictured below is what's up for grabs this weekend: a cooking prize pack that includes an apron, an oven mitt, a spatula, a kitchen timer, and a coupon for a free Alexia product (pictured below). The prize is worth it for the coupon alone! To enter the giveaway, head on over to my Facebook page and tell me you want to win! You have until Monday at 9 pm Central to enter--I'll pick a winner randomly and announce in Tuesday's post!

2. It's the busiest time of year! Oh wait, I haven't found a time of year that isn't busy. Still, these months get a little crazy with lots of extra stuff going on...which is why I loved my sister-in-law Erin's post about menu-planning. I completely agree with her tips and think I'm going to start using her adorable weekly menu printable!

3. I’ve mentioned that my brother Quinn is starting to venture into the world of cooking. Last weekend I got a call from the grocery store, asking what ground turkey looked like. The next night, there were multiple texts and phone conversations as I talked him through this easy turkey chili. It was a success—he fed himself and some friends AND gave the recipe rave reviews. So proud of that boy!

4. Last Saturday I woke up to an email from my friend Katie who was excited to see that my creme brulee cheesecake was featured on Cup of Jo's weekend links. One of my favorite cheesecakes! And I got a few comments from people who made it over the past week and loved it. It's not too early to start thinking about your show-stopping Christmas dessert...

Friday, November 23, 2012

Kit Kat Blondies with White Chocolate Chips

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 A few weeks ago Ryan and I visited his grandparents in Tulsa, Oklahoma. It was shortly after Halloween and, like any good grandma, Nanny sent us home with an absurd amount of candy. Of course, like any good grandchildren, we happily accepted!

These blondies were my solution to the handful of Kit Kat bars in our variety bag of candy. I used a blondie recipe from the America’s Test Kitchen cookbook, but swapped out their mix-ins for some chopped candy bars and white chocolate chips.
Our community group devoured the plate of these, squashing my fears that they wouldn’t go over well (totally unjustified, I just thought they seemed pretty basic). My friend Mike managed to eat three before his wife Maggie pointed out they were cookie bars. Turns out Mike claims to like cookies, but not cookie bars. I think it’s safe to say he’s changed his stance on cookie bars!
The blondie base is perfect, a blank canvas for just about anything you want to add. If you aren’t still hiding a bag of Halloween candy in your dresser drawer (what? Just me?) , add any combination of nuts or chocolate chips or dried fruit!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Giving Thanks

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I've spent quite a bit of time the past few weeks reflecting on what I'm thankful for. I mentioned last weekend that we've had some tough stuff affecting us and the people around us lately. Unfortunately, it sometimes takes the hard things to remind you that most of your complaints are petty and selfish and that, at the end of the day, there is much to be thankful for. 

While the following list is by no means extensive, these are just a few things I'm offering up thanks for today...

-My husband, Ryan. I am so fortunate to be married to someone who challenges me daily to be a better person!
-My family. From my in-laws to my parents to my cousins to my grandparents and everything in-between. I'm convinced one of life's greatest gifts is your family. 
-My siblings. Julia, Quinn, and Renatta are my best friends. I love who they are individually and I love who we are as a family unit (with Dennis, Jane, Ryan, and Nate of course!).
-Group text messaging. Seriously. It allows me the opportunity to stay constantly engaged with my siblings and makes me laugh multiple times a day (#GorskiGroupMessages)
-My job. A job is a job, but I can honestly say mine is worth spending 40+ hours a week at. I like what I do, who I work with, and I get the chance to travel (just returned from Seattle yesterday!).
-My friends. I'm spoiled when it comes to friendships. Some of my closest friends are hundreds of miles away (too far!) and others are just a mile away, but all have an incredibly special place in my life!
-My community group. And along with that, our church. Both offer ample opportunities for learning, growth, and faith.
-This blog. The Sweets Life can be an incredibly time consuming and sometimes expensive hobby, but I wouldn't trade it for the world. Thank you to all my readers who leave comments, send kind emails, and come back day after day to read!

On that note, I'm off to spend time with my family and of course eat good food! Have a blessed Thanksgiving!

One Year Ago: Cranberry Sauce with Crystallized Ginger
Two Years Ago: Pumpkin Whoopie Pies
Three Years Ago: Mom's Famous Sugar Cookies

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Red Velvet Cookies

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Can you get past the idea of red velvet without cream cheese frosting? You must. You will, after you try these. Like you, my favorite part of red velvet cake is always the frosting but there’s no cream cheese or frosting in this recipe. You’ll survive, really!
I made these for our friend Greg’s surprise party, knowing he loved red velvet, but since I was already making a cake, I needed to find another way to incorporate copious amounts of red food coloring. These cookies did it—a deep red color and the perfect chewy texture (and you know how picky I am about this!), studded with white chocolate chips—no frosting needed! 

One Year Ago: Caramel Pecan Pie
Two Years Ago: Caramel Apple Cheesecake Pie
Three Years Ago: Chocolate Chip Cheesecake Bar

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Bacon, Onion, and Cheddar Corn Muffins

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Cornbread can be tricky. Too dry and you feel like you’re swallowing a handful of nails. Too crumbly and you can’t use it as a dipper in your soup or stew or chili. Lucky for me—and for you—these corn muffins from Cooking Light had neither of these problems. The buttermilk keeps them moist, but they were still sturdy enough to eat with our chili. Bacon and cheddar make these a little more exciting than most corn muffins and I promise they're nearly as easy as buying the boxed mix (and infinitely tastier!).
 My favorite meal from October to February is a steaming bowl of soup with some bread on the side. Need a soup to serve these with? I have over fifty here!

One Year Ago: Butternut Squash and Kale Torte
Two Years Ago: Shredded Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Walnuts
Three Years Ago: Rosemary Bread

Monday, November 19, 2012

Three Bean Chili with Bacon

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You can never have too many chili recipes, as evidenced by the number of chili cook-offs out there. No two bowls of chili are alike and I tend to think this is a good thing. There’s always something for everyone. Turkey chili for the beef hater, sweet potato chili for the vegetarian, and white chicken chili for the anti-tomato eater. You can vary the level of spice or the amount of liquid. At the end of the day, there’s always room for one more chili. Today, I’ve got another chili for you. This one hails from Food & Wine Magazine. It doesn’t require a long simmer (bacon adds a smoky flavor in a short amount of time), features three different kinds of beans, and is moderately spicy, when made as directed below.
As with all chili recipes, you can change this one up to suit your needs, but I liked it just as is. The best part was how little attention it required—a little sautéing at the beginning followed by dumping, stirring, and a little bit of simmering. Make a batch on a Sunday evening, like I did, and eat it throughout the week, reheating for lunches or dinners.
What’s your favorite chili? Share links in the comments—I anticipate a lot more chili making the next few months!

[Winner of the Dahlia Bakery Cookbook Giveaway is Commenter #13 Beth who said she's thankful for her hubby, careers, and health! Beth, please email me at natalie@thesweetslife.com so we can get you your cookbook!]

One Year Ago: Pumpkin Ice Cream
Two Years Ago: Pumpkin Knots
Three Years Ago: Very Veggie Soup

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Alexia Tastemaker Announcement

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If you follow me on Facebook, you might have noticed that I shared an announcement on Friday. In case you missed it, I've been selected by Alexia Foods to be one of their Tastemakers.

Who is Alexia Foods? 
Perhaps you've noticed the name in the frozen foods aisle. They sell everything from vegetable side dishes to breads to potato products. (See a full list on their website!)
Why did I want to be a Tastemaker? 
Long before I was selected to be a Tastemaker, I was a huge fan of their stuff. You know I like to cook and bake from scratch around here, but that I'm more than willing to take shortcuts when needed. With Alexia products, I can skip a few steps in my cooking and still get healthy, tasty meals on the table (case in point: Black Bean and Corn Burgers [above], from scratch, served with Alexia's sweet potato fries!). Needless to say, I love the company and their products, so I was excited for a chance to work with them!

What does this mean for The Sweets Life?
My ambassadorship with Alexia means a few different things. I'll be using some of their products to create new recipes to share with all of you. In the next few months you can expect to see some fun ideas, everything from brunch dishes to easy dinners to lighter meals for Spring! You aren't going to be bombarded with Alexia stuff from now on, but there will be a few dedicated posts in the next couple of months.
How can you get involved?
One of the reasons I was excited to be an Alexia Ambassador was not just for me, but for YOU! My goal in all of this is to get my readers involved, and I have a few fun things up my sleeve. There will be giveaways from time to time as well as coupon codes and some opportunities for you guys to help me create some recipes with Alexia products!

A few more things...
First--those rolls up above? Those are Alexia's newest product, their sweet potato rolls! I was too busy to cook last week so Ryan whipped up one of our favorite quick meals--sweet potato hash--and we pulled a few Alexia rolls from the freezer. They were awesome. You'd never guess they were previously frozen and the sweet potato flavor was incredibly subtle (I'm pretty sure my potato-hating sister would have approved!). The rolls will be in stores soon and I highly recommend you keep your eyes open for them!

Secondly, let's kick things off with an Alexia coupon! Click here to print a coupon for $1 off of any Alexia sweet potato product.

Third, I have a fun giveaway of some Alexia items (the first of a few you'll see around here!)..come back on Saturday for more info on that! In the meantime, go sign up for Alexia's Club 350, a rewards program that allows you to earn points for coupons, kitchen swag, and more!

One Year Ago: Sauteed Brussels Sprouts with Poppy Seeds
Two Years Ago: Bananas Foster
Three Years Ago: Chocolate Crinkle Cookies

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Odds & Ends

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1. Last week I made this ginger molasses pumpkin bread. I knew I’d like it, and figured I’d post about it, even though some of you may be pretty over pumpkin. Then, I decided I wouldn’t, because I liked it, but I didn’t love it…I didn’t feel like you could detect enough ginger, despite a hefty amount of both fresh and powdered. Then it sat a day and the flavors developed and I was officially in love. Back to wanting to post it! Unfortunately, we ate the majority of the loaf before I had a chance to snap a picture. The little end nubbin’ of a loaf bread doesn’t make the prettiest picture. So I'm not writing an actual post, but you should still make this recipe…especially if you’re a ginger and pumpkin fanatic like we are!

2. We’re on weekend two of three weekends of house guests. As you’ve probably realized, I love people by feeding them. There’s nothing better than prepping a bunch of meals for friends and family, especially when they’re staying over. Unfortunately, I’ve been insanely busy and didn’t prepare a big breakfast spread for our friends Paige and Zach last weekend. Normally I make sure there is an egg casserole, cranberry orange cinnamon rolls, or at the very least freshly baked muffins. Last weekend, none of the above. #FriendFail I did manage to throw together a giant pan of scrambled eggs with every vegetable we had in the fridge and paired that with toast. Fancy? No. But P & Z were satisfied and appreciative. Note to self: stress less. You can love people through food without making a big scene of it!
3. My whole family is coming for Thanksgiving weekend and they've requested one thing: ICE CREAM. As a result, my ice cream maker is getting more of a workout than I am lately! Ice cream recipes are some of the few that I don't mind making again and again and this time I'm returning to some favorites: cake batter for my mom, maple whiskey with bacon for my dad, plus pumpkin and snickerdoodle to go with my grandma's pies! You should probably whip up a few batches yourself...everyone will forget that the turkey was dry or that the mashed potatoes were lumpy if you have homemade ice cream on hand!

4. My heart has been very heavy lately. I’ve witnessed a lot of sadness and pain around me lately, some of it impacting my life and some of it impacting the lives of people I care about. I don’t typically consider myself a very sympathetic or empathetic person, but the last few weeks have proven otherwise. I’ve been hurting a lot, but in that have been continuously reminded of Psalm 55:22 "Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall." I am so thankful for a God who carries our burdens when we feel like we can’t anymore!

One Year Ago: Green Beans with Toasted Walnuts and Dried Cranberry Vinaigrette 
Two Years Ago: Red Velvet Pancakes
Three Years Ago: Sweet Potato Apple Casserole