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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Best of 2013 - Recipes

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Wow, I had a tough time coming up with my favorite recipes from 2013. This was a year of good eats! While these are in no particular order and I could probably throw another dozen recipes in this post, here are a few of my very favorite eats from the past year! Without further ado...

chocolate chunk cookies
Salty Chocolate Chunk Cookies
These are my favorite chocolate chip cookie I've had to date. I'm not done trying recipes, for the heck of it, but I could stop right here and call it good because it doesn't get much better than this! Crispy edges, chewy centers, chunks of dark chocolate, and sea salt! Their sister cookie, the peanut butter cup pretzel cookies, are just as fantastic and deserve an honorable mention!

blue cheese stuffed chicken
To be honest, it wasn't until I started looking at the recipes from the year that I even remembered that I'd made this. As soon as I saw the post, however, it all came back to me and I immediately wanted to make it again. This is one of those dinners that looks way fancier and more difficult than it actually is, and everyone needs a few of those in their arsenal! 

king cake
King Cake
I think making a King Cake will be an annual tradition, even if I never attend another Mardi Gras celebration in my life. I was obsessed with the texture and flavor of this yeast cake/bread and Ryan and I finished it off alarmingly fast! Fat Tuesday falls on March 4th this year and I'm guessing I'll have my hands too full with a newborn to make this happen but if anyone wants to send one my way I will not be disappointed!

black bean chili fries
(Black Bean) Chili (Sweet Potato) Fries
I had so much fun developing recipes as an Alexia Tastemaker this year, and this creation was definitely my favorite. You can't go wrong with a healthier spin on chili cheese fries, especially when they don't taste healthy at all! Is it too soon to plan your Superbowl Party menu? Serve this and I promise you'll give the commercials a run for their money in terms of excitement!

cream cheese frosting
Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
Any recipe that I make more than once automatically screams favorite because I'm always so anxious to try new things. I've made this cake three times this year. See for yourself why! Cream cheese frosting wins, every time!

chicken salad veronique
Chicken Salad Veronique
This is another repeat recipe for the year. 2013 might just be the year of chicken salad. There was chicken salad with avocado dressing, mixed fruit chicken salad, and even chicken salad lettuce wraps. We loved them all but if I had to pick a favorite, this is the winner. It's fairly basic, but the tarragon addition as well as the perfect amount of mayo make this particular recipe stand out. 

steak and vegetable salad
Grilled Steak and Vegetable Salad with Chipotle Chimichurri Dressing
It was a toss up between including this steak salad or the barbacoa beef salads with black bean avocado salsa. They were both fantastic, but I included this one in the round-up because of the chipotle chimichurri dressing which made this salad stand out for the typical "Mexican" salad. I could eat either of these salads weekly and not get sick of them!

peanut butter
Peanut Butter Pudding
Perfectly creamy, perfectly peanut buttery, this renewed my faith in making pudding after I had a few disasters with lumpy puddings in the past.  Now anytime I find myself with leftover cream and milk, I struggle deciding whether to make pudding or ice cream! 

eggplant parmesan rollatini
Eggplant Parmesan Rollatini
A spin on Eggplant Parmesan where you don't have to worry about frying? This make-ahead recipe is comfort food without all of the added fat or calories. I still remember how excited we were to eat this for dinner and how thankful we were that there were only two of us, meaning plenty of leftovers!

veggie burger
Zesty White Bean Burgers
And last, but certainly not least, these bean burgers were another recipe we enjoyed several times this year. 2014 will be the year to take a better photo of these (!), but in the meantime, know that they opened my eyes to the fact that bean burgers don't have to mean black beans and more importantly, bean burgers doesn't equal dry or tasteless!

I'd love to hear your favorite (Sweets Life or other) recipe from the year! Leave a comment with a link so we can all try each others favorites this year!

One Year Ago: Best of 2012 - Recipes
Two Years Ago: Favorite Recipes from 2011
Three Years Ago: Favorite Recipes from 2010

Monday, December 30, 2013

Beef and Bean Chili

beef and bean chili
Beef and Bean Chili
As a kid, chili wasn’t a food I got necessarily excited about. Then again, as a kid, I don’t recall being excited about many foods, save for my grandma’s beef stroganoff, jellied cranberries straight from the can, and the miniature fruity marshmallows. Yup, you could say my tastes have expanded over the years.
Pin Itchili

Today, I get excited about chili. If I’m going to trudge my way through the winter months, you better believe I’m only going to do it with comfort foods at hand. When I made this chili a few weeks ago, Ryan commented that it was rare for me to make such a traditional chili. He was right—the types of chili you’ll find on this site are definitely a bit more outside the box…chili with quinoa, for instance, tequila turkey chili (a must try!), and of course my (healthier) spin on chili fries!
beef chili
Although this appears to be a no-nonsense chili, I don’t think eaters will be disappointed or bored. It’s meaty and hearty, and a little bit spicy from the jalapenos. Next time I’d up the jalapeno—the recipe calls for 2-4 and I stuck to the low end of that but would’ve appreciated a bit more heat. Topped with sour cream, shredded cheddar, and corn chips, this is definitely a meal to get excited about!

One Year Ago: Slow Cooker White Bean and Sausage Ragout with Tomatoes, Kale, and Zucchini
Two Years Ago: Slow Cooker Chicken and Barley Stew and Spinach and Artichoke Dip with Bacon
Three Years Ago: Cranberry Orange Cinnamon Rolls and Chicken Sausage and Apple Strata
Four Years Ago: Gingerbread Pancakes and Bay Scallops Gremolata

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Finding Time in 2013 Challenge Wrap-Up

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apple pie
Dropping in on a rare Sunday to wrap up the our Finding Time in 2013 challenge because I'll be back on January 1st to introduce our 2014 challenge!

This is the fourth year I created some sort of challenge for us (see: Twelve in Ten, Best of 2011, and 2012: Eat & Repeat), but as I explained in the introductory post, I didn't want it to be bogged down with self-imposed rules or regulations that stressed me out. Instead, it was supposed to be about making time for things we wanted to try, both in the kitchen and around St. Louis, without feeling obligatory.
where the wild things are cake
Overall, I'd say we succeeded...so much so that I didn't even post anything in December. I had a few ideas in mind for what I wanted to make, but instead I worried less about making something challenging or unique in the kitchen and more about spending time with our friends and family. I have the rest of my life to try new things in the kitchen, but I can't get back precious evenings with those I love! 
January through November were a different story, however:

January: Rooster Cafe
February: King Cake
March: Pastaria
April: Cream Puffs
May: Olio
June: Where the Wild Things Are Shower (working with fondant)
July: Fozzie's Sandwich Emporium 
August: St. Louis Food Media Forum
September: Meskerem Ethiopian Restaurant
October: Grandma's Apple Pie
November: Sidney Street Cafe

Another year of trying new things in the kitchen and discovering new favorites in St. Louis...here's to more of the same in 2014!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Odds & Ends

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odds & ends

1. The importance of being courteous. It's always important to be courteous (and often, so easy to forget!), but amidst the hustle and bustle of this time of year, it seems people get LESS courteous...everyone's stressed out and rushing around and not at all paying attention to how they're treating those around them, from family members to strangers in the cars around them (guilty as charged). This article was a good reminder to show love by extending courtesy!

crown candy
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2. Check out this list of America's 20 Best Dessert Spots from Fodor's Travel. I was pretty excited to see two St. Louis places on there: Bailey's Chocolate Bar and Crown Candy Kitchen. We love both of those places--the blondie at Bailey's is to die for and you can't go wrong with any of the milkshakes at Crown Candy. Put these places (along with Ted Drewes of course) on your list if you plan to visit STL! Have you been to any of the places on the list? 

brussels sprouts
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3. I didn't worry about blogging over Thanksgiving (or Christmas, for that matter...yay for unplugging!), which is why I don't have pictures of my own to share, but I did want to pass along the recipe for the fabulous brussels sprouts dish we enjoyed at our feast. These melted brussels sprouts from Feast Magazine STL were one of my favorites that night! We typically go sweeter with our brussels sprouts, but I loved this savory, salty version that included bacon and parmesan. Brussels sprouts season isn't over yet--give this a try!

black eyed peas
Black-Eyed Pea Stew
4. Do you eat black-eyed peas on New Year's Day? Whether it's a long-standing tradition in your family or one you'd like to adopt, you can get your fix (and the supposed good luck and prosperity that come with it!) with this healthy and heart Black-Eyed Pea Stew with Greens & Bacon!

Three Years Ago: No Potato Venison Stew
Four Years Ago: Black and White Bean Soup

Friday, December 27, 2013

Winter Vegetable Hash with Fried Eggs

Winter Vegetable Hash with Fried Eggs

Move over sweet potato hash, there’s a new hash in town that, no offense, blows yours out of the water! I mentioned this particular dish when I talked about our brunch at Hot Suppa! in Portland, Maine, and since then it’s pretty much become a weekly staple in our house. By the time I finally took pictures of it, we'd already eaten it probably ten times. We eat it for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, sometimes making it on the fly and other times chopping vegetables a few days ahead of time so that we’ll be ready when the craving strikes. 
Pin Itwinter vegetable hash with fried eggs
After loving on beets for so long but still not making them at home very much, we’re finally realizing they aren’t at all difficult to make at home. Sure, roasting them can be a bit of work (still worth it!), but in the case of this hash, you just peel, chop, and sauté with the rest of the veggies. We made some changes from the original, using sweet potatoes instead of red, butternut squash instead of kabocha, but the end result is still the same: a colorful meal, amplified by the presence of fresh herbs, that is best when drippy in runny egg yolks! 
hash with eggs
I’ll stop gushing, but really, go make this...especially if you're like me and need to get some nutrients that don't come in Christmas cookies!!

One Year Ago: Individual Chocolate Peanut Butter Trifles and Black Beans & Rice with Chicken and Apple Salsa
Two Years Ago: Taste Cocktail Bar and Zucchini Parmesan
Three Years Ago: Baked Potato Soup and Giant S'mores Cake

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas!

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Christmas tree black and white

Wishing you and yours a very Merry Christmas today! 

Advent took on a whole new meaning for me this year. I've always heard and known that Advent is a season of expectant waiting for the King, but sitting in wait for our own baby this year has taught me so much about the beauty of this tradition. I am by no means comparing the birth of our child to the birth of Jesus, just saying that I have a greater appreciation for how it feels to eagerly prepare and patiently wait for something amazing. Today, on this Christmas, I'm thankful for the blessing we're waiting for and even more thankful for the blessing that came to the city of Bethlehem two thousand years ago!

Luke 2:14 "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those whom his favor rests!"

Monday, December 23, 2013

Chocolate Mint Cake

chocolate cake
Chocolate Mint Cake
 Chocolate and mint is not a combination I immediately get excited about. I'm not sure why, since I love these chocolate mint puddle cookies, homemade thin mints, and these adorable chocolate mint sandwich cookies. Hmm okay maybe I do love chocolate and mint! Still, when I decided to make this cake, it wasn't so much for my enjoyment as it was for my friend Maggie, who was celebrating a December birthday!
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chocolate mint
The cake was actually intended to be way more extravagant than what you see pictured. The Bon Appetit recipe called for splitting the cake in two, filling it with ganache, and then covering the whole thing in a chocolate glaze. I intended to go this route, but when 9 pm rolled around and I still had several steps left in the recipe, I decided to go a different direction. Sleep wins when you're seven months pregnant. My version was just one cake layer, and the mint ganache served as frosting...I didn't even bother to try and cover the entire cake and instead spread the ganache over the top and decorated with sprinkles. 
chocolate cake
I couldn't have been happier with my spin on this cake. The cake is deeply chocolaty but the mint--by way of chopped Andes in the cake and peppermint extract in the ganache--shines through creating a perfect marriage between the two. Even without the extra steps, the cake manages to be a showstopper that would be a great addition to your Christmas dinner! Serve with a scoop of vanilla ice cream to really put it over the top!

One Year Ago: 7 Random Questions
Two Years Ago: White Chocolate Peppermint Fudge and Gingerbread Espresso Bundt Cake
Three Years Ago: Brownie Bottom Nutella Cheesecake Squares and Vanilla Bean Cupcakes with Vanilla Bean Frosting
Four Years Ago: Sugar Cookie Bites 

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Odds & Ends

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odds & ends

1. Love my pastor's sermon from a few weeks ago on Simple Presence and the meaning of this during Advent. It's only 15 minutes long...I highly recommend you give it a listen!

formula x
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2. Has anyone tried this Formula X nail polish system from Sephora? I'm always looking for ways to improve my manicures at home and I'm intrigued by the claims that this one really does prolong the length of your manicure and prevent chips. Before I drop $32 on it I'd love to hear from some beauty gurus who can substantiate the claims!

(image source)
3. How about a chocolate giveaway on this fine Saturday? Chupon Chocolate recently sent me a few products of theirs to try but the best part is, they want one of YOU to try as well! I particularly loved their Mayan chocolate, which had just a hint of spice. The Green Tea chocolate was a bit on the unique side and while I prefer to keep the two separate, it was fun to try. Best of all was the shaved chocolate, which can be used to make hot chocolate...it'd be EXTRA good with a bit of Bailey's in it, but that'll have to wait until after February sometime for me. Hopefully you can win and try it out on my behalf! To enter to win a box of shaved chocolate and a mixed gift box of chocolate squares, leave a comment on today's post with one thing you're looking forward to this Christmas season (4 days!). I'll pick a winner on Monday at 9 pm Central and contact them via email (be sure to leave your email in the comment). Commenter #9 (Nate) was the random winner chosen and has been contacted. Thanks for entering!

4. Need a last minute appetizer for Christmas Eve or Christmas Day? You could do a taco dip, but isn't there always taco dip?! Change things up with this Asian Layered Dip or Seven Layer Greek Dip!

One Year Ago: Popcorn Cake
Two Years Ago: Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies with Hot Chocolate Buttercream
Three Years Ago: Mint Oreo Truffles
Four Years Ago: S'mores Bark

Friday, December 20, 2013

Brussels Sprout Apple Slaw

brussels sprouts salad
Brussels Sprout Apple Slaw

 It’s rare that I make a grocery trip in the winter that doesn’t include picking up at least a pound of Brussels sprouts. You may have noticed that I sneak them into recipes wherever possible, like in this pasta or this salad, but also letting them star on their own by simply roasting or sautéing them and eating them alongside our main course.
brussels sprout apple slaw
            Given that Brussels sprouts are essentially mini cabbages, they also work exceptionally well in slaws! I’d seen a few different slaws featuring the vegetable lately and combined a few of the recipes to come up with this one that also includes apples and sunflower seeds. Greek yogurt and lemon juice dress the slaw, making it a lighter option than your typical mayonnaise-laden slaws.
Pin Itapples brussels sprouts

Slaws often seem to me like a summer food and while this one would certainly fit in at a 
summer BBQ, it was a breath of fresh air to have something crisp and tart alongside a warmer, heavier dinner. Bonus—it can be made ahead of time and doesn’t require use of the oven or the stovetop, making it a good addition for your Christmas dinner!

One Year Ago: Chicken, Squash, and Chickpea Salad with Tahini Dressing and M&M Cheesecake Bars
Two Years Ago: Oatmeal Cheesecake Cranberry Bars and Molasses Crinkle Cookies
Three Years Ago: Priyaa Indian Cuisine and Rocky Road Fudge
Four Years Ago: Candy Cane Cookies and Chocolate Mint M&M Cookies

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Dulce de Leche Brownies

Dulce de Leche Brownies
You've been running around like crazy for the past three weeks, things picking up just before Thanksgiving and not slowing down since. You've been the host one day and the guest the next. You've played Santa, or at least started shopping for your gifts (hopefully!). You're consisting on a diet of party foods and cookies, no matter how many times you swear you're going to eat clean for a day. On top of it, you're meeting pediatricians, attending childbirth classes, and decorating a nursery. Okay, maybe that last part is just me! Needless to say, though, you're busy...and just when you think you might be getting all the cooking and baking and cleaning and gifting all together, you remember you volunteered to bring something to that (fill-in-the-blank) party you were invited to. 
Pin Itbrownies
Have no fear, these brownies will save the day! They're easy, much easier than cookies which require you to shape each one and break out multiple pans. They're simple thanks to using store bought dulce de leche (a jar of caramel sauce would also work)...heck, you could even use brownie mix if you're so inclined! Best of all, they're popular...because who doesn't love chocolate and caramel?! Slow down, take a deep breath, and make a batch of these, then savor the last week before we celebrate Christmas!

One Year Ago: Slow Cooker Vegetable Sausage Soup
Two Years Ago: Soft Frosted Sugar Cookies 
Three Years Ago: Baked Vegetable Mac and Cheese and Green Tea Sugar Cookies
Four Years Ago: Strip Steak with Rosemary Wine Sauce and Chocolate Covered Pretzels

Monday, December 16, 2013

Pork Tenderloin with Date and Cilantro Relish

Pork Tenderloin with Date and Cilantro Relish
I really like pork tenderloin. It's relatively inexpensive, easy to cook, and a good, lean source of protein. Furthermore, it's basically a blank canvas for however you want to season or flavor it! Previously our favorite pork tenderloin was this bourbon-marinated one that is grilled. While that's still near the top of the list, I think the fact that I've now made this particular recipe twice in the last month speaks for itself! Ingredients and process wise, it couldn't be easier. The pork doesn't need to be marinated. Rather, you sear it in a pan on the stovetop, then transfer it to the oven to bake. Pan drippings are added to the relish, which is a simple combination of orange juice, dates, and cilantro that's just bursting with flavor. 
Pin Itpork tenderloin with cilantro
This is certainly 'fancy' enough to serve to company, despite how easy it is. I'll admit, however, that both times I've made it, it's been just Ryan and I, and we were perfectly okay with not having to share the leftovers! Bon Appetit hit a home run with this tenderloin recipe, and you're sure to impress whoever you serve it to!
pork tenderloin
One Year Ago: Thai Turkey Salad
Two Years Ago: Double Chocolate Peppermint Cookies and Slow Cooked Smoky Chipotle Brown Sugar Chicken
Three Years Ago: Baked Southwestern Egg Rolls and Cinnamon Sugar Pretzels
Four Years Ago: Tortilla Black Bean Pie and No Bake Granola Bars