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Friday, May 31, 2013

Chunky Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies with Fleur de Sel

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 Thanks to these sweet and salty brownies as well as the salty chocolate chunk cookies, I have an insatiable desire to cook any dessert that includes fleur de sel. In our house we actually call it "flurry de soul", thanks to my friend Colleen who renamed the salt to something much easier to remember, and pronounce for that matter!
These peanut butter chocolate chip cookies would be good on their own. They stay soft for days, but the peanuts and chocolate chips add a nice crunch. They'd be fine without any flurry de soul, but I can't deny that the sprinkle of salt added when they exit the oven takes them to a whole new level. If sweet and salty is your thing, you need to make these stat!

One Year Ago: Salted Caramel Pretzel Ice Cream
Two Years Ago: Asian Noodle Salad
Three Years Ago: Blue Cheese Cole Slaw

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Bacon Apple Butter Flatbreads with Caramelized Onions and Gouda

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When Musselman's sent me some of their apple butter in preparation for grilling season, my first instinct was to use it in a marinade or some BBQ sauce. I even went so far as to select a sauce from Musselman's extensive list of recipes, when I decided to change gears a bit and use it on my favorite grilled flatbreads.
Much like the white bean flatbreads with prosciutto, we started off by grilling the flatbreads until they were just beginning to char. I then spread a thin layer of apple butter on them. Bacon pairs well with, well, everything, so a sprinkle of that was next, followed by some chopped pecans and smoked gouda. At this point I stuck the flatbreads in the oven where I broiled them until the cheese began to melt. The finishing touches were onions that had been caramelized in balsamic vinegar and chopped spinach. 
I love my friends and family in that they are always willing to sample whatever crazy combination I put in front of them. This one was no different! My hesitancy turned to relief when they immediately started raving about the flatbreads (which I cut into squares with a pizza cutter). These definitely have a lot going on, but each of the ingredients works so well together. If you don't have gouda, I think blue cheese would have also complemented the flatbreads well.
Lucky for me, I still have the majority of my jar of apple butter left, so I can still try a BBQ sauce recipe  or a number of Musselman's other ideas...they have some fantastic sounding desserts that feature apple butter! Want to try it yourself? Musselman's has offered to send one of my readers their very own jar of apple butter, along with a sauce mop, and recipe cards. Just leave a comment on this post by tomorrow at 9 pm, telling me how you'd use the apple butter...either one of the Musselsman's recipes or your personal favorite use for apple butter. I'll randomly pick a winner and announce it on Saturday!

I used random number generator to pick a winner for the Musselman's Giveaway and the winner was commenter #12, Serena, who wants to make an apple butter cheesecake (YUM)!
Serena, send me an email at natalie@thesweetslife.com so that I can get your prize to you!

P.S. The winner for the Champion tshirt was announced in the original post. 

One Year Ago: Dried Mango Coconut Muffins
Two Years Ago: Spicy Stuffed Mushrooms
Three Years Ago: Grilled Fattoush

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Pound Cake with Strawberry Topping

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 Pound cake sometimes evokes thoughts of a dense, heavy dessert, laden with butter and sugar and eggs. Cooking Light manages to turn pound cake into something that still includes butter and sugar and eggs, but considerably less than most traditional pound cakes. Better yet, slices of it aren't going to weigh you down. The cake has a tight crumb but an overall lightness that is accentuated by the chunky strawberry glaze sitting on top.

The original recipe had you strain the strawberries from the glaze, but I felt like you were doing away with the best part that way! Yes, it was a little more messy, but definitely worth it. Alternately, you could serve the glaze on the side and spoon it over each individually cut piece, especially if you don't plan to eat it all in one day. I brought this to church, where leftovers were not a concern!
One Year Ago: Herb Roasted Chicken with Lemon and Sage
Two Years Ago: Lemony Kale Pasta
Three Years Ago: Peanut Butter Brownie Cups

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Summer Salad with Walnuts and Raspberries

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 In case you couldn’t tell, we love fruit in our green salads! Mango, grapes, blueberries, strawberries, apples, oranges, grapefruit, peaches…I thought I’d done it all! And then I was flipping through the pages of my Always Superb cookbook and realized that raspberries were one fruit I had yet to feature in a salad.

Aside from the raspberries, the ingredients were things I almost always have on hand, making this salad very easy to throw together to accompany our burgers for dinner one night. I added feta to the original recipe and its saltiness was a welcomed addition. Next time I might slightly reduce the honey in the dressing, it was almost a little too sweet for me. Modify to your tastes accordingly.
Do you have a favorite salad that features fruit?!

Two Years Ago: Warm Avocado Salad

Monday, May 27, 2013

Crispy Candy Bar Cookies

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When I asked you guys on The Sweets Life Facebook page what kind of cookies you would like to *hypothetically* receive in the mail, I got all sorts of good answers. Everyone seemed to have a different thought but one thing was clear—you guys have good taste in cookies!

The question wasn’t all that hypothetical, as I wanted to send my brother Quinn some cookies. He’s the only sibling on our group text message who isn’t in St. Louis and he gets tired of reading about what baked goodies I’m offering up to the family and not being able to partake. Couple this with the fact that the poor boy had two snow days in April, and it was clear he was in need of some cookies!!!
I wanted something that would ship well and still taste fresh when it arrived in Minnesota, which is what led me to my secret ingredient chocolate chip cookies. The pudding mix in the dough results in a chewy cookie that stays soft for days—perfect for a journey via mail! Instead of chocolate chips, I diced up a bunch of fun-sized candy bars (Twix, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Milky Way, etc.) and added a cup of rice krispies for little pops up crunch. 

The cookies arrived safe and sound in Minnesota where, from what I hear, they didn't last long. The ones that I kept back at our house disappeared at a similarly quick rate!

One Year Ago: Summer Party with Nestle Drumsticks
Two Years Ago: Broccoli Pesto Dip
Three Years Ago: Whole Wheat Focaccia With Tomatoes and Olives

Crispy Candy Bar Cookies
adapted from secret ingredient chocolate chip cookies

-2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
-3/4 cup brown sugar
-1/4 cup granulated sugar
-2 eggs
-1 tsp anilla
-2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
-1 packet instant vanilla pudding (small size)
-1 tsp baking soda
-1 tsp salt
-1 cup fun-sized candy bars, coarsely chopped
-1 cup chocolate chips
-1 cup rice krispy cereal

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Cream butter and sugars in a large mixing bowl until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and eggs and continue to beat. Stir in the pudding mix until fully combined.
2. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, and salt. Gradually add the flour mixture to the butter mixture, beating until combined. Stir in candy bars, chocolate chips, and cereal.
3. Drop tablespoons of dough onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Bake for 10-12 minutes, just until set and edges are lightly brown. Allow to cool on pan for 4-5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container at room temperature. 

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Finding Time in 2013: Olio

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 I had a couple of restaurant ideas in mind for our May "Finding Time in 2013" challenge, but the fact that Olio had a patio sold me. After an endlessly long winter, we have finally had a few weeks of spring weather and I am determined to take advantage of as much al fresco dining as possible until the heat and humidity sets in and Ryan refuses to step foot outside ;)
Olio's only been open since November, but from the reviews I read on Yelp and what our server told us, the place has done quite well in its six months of existence. An old gas station converted into a restaurant, the space has been restored to its original appearance as much as possible and the interior is very funky. We didn't get that great of a look because I was so eager to sit outside at a rustic picnic table under the lights, but next time I want to cozy up to their bar!
Their menu, like most places these days, changes frequently, primarily featuring a number of small plates (segregated into a few categories: cheese, vegetables/salads, pantry, spreads & dips, salumi & charcuterie, fish & seafood, and sandwiches). Additionally, they feature one rotisserie item each night which is a larger, entree sized dish. They have an extensive wine list (pages and pages!), but Ryan and I stuck to cocktails on our trip there.
Our cocktails were good--creative spins on classic drinks. At $10-12 a drink, they aren't cheap, but we're finding this to be the norm at most places classic cocktails are served. We split three items for our meal: the rotisserie of the night (pork with a panzanella salad), the spicy carrots, made with citrus and harissa, and the charred eggplant dip.
The food was all solid. No complaints about the way anything tasted and all of it was presented well on the plates. None of it blew us away, however. The spicy carrots weren't actually spicy at all, though the charred eggplant dip did taste like it came right off the grill, which I loved. I'd love to go back with a bigger group and try a greater variety of items. They also have a great sounding brunch menu and I would definitely not mind popping in to hang out on the patio after church one Sunday!
Finally, Olio is connected to Elaia, its fine dining sister restaurant which is in a renovated 1890s home next door. We had the chance to walk through the restaurant and peek at the menu and it looks like a fantastic place to celebrate a special occasion. I'm confident both of these restaurants, located two blocks from the Botanical Gardens, will be rousing success stories!
P.S. Check out the pictures of Olio on their website--definitely more beautiful than the ones I snapped with my iphone, and give you a better idea of what the space looks like!

One Year Ago: Banana Cake Balls
Two Years Ago: Summer Spiked Lemonade
Three Years Ago: Cereal Mix-Ins Cookies Olio on Urbanspoon

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Odds & Ends

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1. I've been reading ALL about Cafe Rio from Hungry Runner Girl for a few years now, but haven't ever been around one. When traveling to San Diego for work a few weeks ago, I had a layover in Salt Lake City and couldn't resist picking up Cafe Rio for lunch. [Side Note: The SLC airport has awesome food options!] After much debating, I ordered the pork salad and I totally get the obsession now. SO GOOD. I'm not going to try to compare it to Chipotle, but I definitely liked it more than Qdoba and I would not be disappointed if Cafe Rio decided to expand to St. Louis! If you find yourself near one, try it!

2. I'm back with another book recommendation. I read Calling Me Home a few months ago but it's stuck with me. I love books that flip back and forth between two time periods and this one flip flops between present day and 1930s Kentucky. I'm not the only one who thinks so...it has over 100 five-star reviews on Amazon!

3. Champion, one of my favorite fitness wear companies, sent me a few of their new products to try out recently. Specifically, they sent the PerforMax Aero Shorts (in hot pink and black, like the picture!), the Show-Off Sports Bra, and the Power Cotton Women's T, pictured above (excuse the awkward mirror pic). The shorts are awesome. I love that they have built in spandex so you don't have to worry about them riding up, which is ideal when I'm tooling around town on my bike. They're surprisingly comfortable and don't feel too constrictive at all! The sports bra is okay. To be honest, my all-time favorite sports bras are the C9 Champion ones that they sell at Target, but for those looking for more support, the Show-Off would be a great bet. Finally, the tshirt is soft and comfy. I don't wear it to work out, but it's good to lounge around in or throw on with shorts to run errands. It's fairly fitted, so you may want to go a size up if you prefer a looser T. Want to try one yourself?! Champion is going to give away one of their cotton tshirts to one of YOU. Because I'm nosy, leave a comment telling me what you're up to this holiday weekend!  Giveaway closes on Tuesday at 8 pm Central. I'll pick a random winner that evening! (SCROLL to the bottom of the post for the winner!)

4. Going on a picnic this weekend? Greatist did a roundup of their favorite healthy picnic foods and included my Roasted Carrot, Leek, and Goat Cheese hand pies which I'm now craving!

UPDATE: Winner of the Champion tshirt, picked via random number generator:
Commenter #1--Julia! Julia, email natalie@thesweetslife.com so we can get you your tshirt!

One Year Ago: Grilled Cheese with Tomato Chutney
Two Years Ago: Chocolate Truffle Bread
Three Years Ago: Italian Pasta Salad

Friday, May 24, 2013

Citrus Cheesecake Bars

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 You’d think after my cheesecake extravaganza, I’d be over making cream cheese laden desserts! Not the case, however, not at all! It turns out there are so many things you can do with cheesecake (turn it into cake pops, mix it with M&Ms, makeparfaits, stuff strawberries…don’t even get me started…!) that I likely won’t ever quit making new cheesecake desserts.
These citrus cheesecake bars reminded me a little bit of the lemonblueberry ones I made a few years ago, but feature oranges and limes in addition to lemon. The finished result is a cheesecake bar that is both sweet and tangy. I made mine in a 9-inch pan, but you can certainly use an 8-inch pan if you want the crust and cheesecake filling to be a little thicker.
Long live cream cheese desserts!

One Year Ago: Memorial Day Remembrance 
Two Years Ago: BLT Bread Salad
Three Years Ago: Caramel Brownies

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Guacamole Tostadas with Sweet Potatoes and Fried Eggs

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 A few weeks ago I received Melissa Lanz’s book The Fresh 20 in the mail. The book features a series of weeknight meal plans, by season, each with 20 ingredients total. I love the idea of seasonal menus and her guacamole tostadas caught my eye, especially since these roasted vegetable tostadas are one of our favorite meals!

When I looked at the ingredient list I knew I had some of what I needed and figured I could make substitutions for what I didn’t (i.e. black beans instead of kidney beans). It wasn’t until I set out to make dinner that I realized my cabinet and fridge were barer than I thought. Rather than postpone my plan until I had a chance to hit the grocery store, I decided to make do with what I did have on hand.
The end result was a mishmash of the original recipe.  I kept the guacamole and the fried egg, but added a layer of mashed sweet potatoes and a sprinkle of feta cheese. Unsure of whether it would all work together, I placed it in front of Ryan and hoped for the best. I shouldn’t have been surprised that he (and I!) loved this. Neither of us is picky, but this also included several of our favorites: sweet potatoes, avocados, and fried eggs! These look pretty on the plate but I definitely mashed it all up in a bowl to eat to ensure I got a taste of everything with each bite. Sweet potato haters (ahem-Julia!) can definitely revert to the original recipe and top the tostadas with black beans, but I don’t think I’ll be straying too far from this new variation!

One Year Ago: Red Potatoes with Olives, Feta, and Mint
Two Years Ago: Grilled Chicken Fajitas
Three Years Ago: Quinoa Salad with Shrimp, Cucumber, Mango & Mint

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Turkey Burgers with Lemon Mayonnaise

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 Even though I’ve already found the turkey burger to beat all turkey burgers, I feel compelled to keep trying new ones. I honestly don’t think I’ll find one I like more, but I’m sure you’d get sick of me talking about the same one again and again, plus I figure there are some of you who aren’t about to trash up your turkey burger with bacon (a travesty, really).
As a result of having a favorite of all favorites, it’s hard for me to compare the turkey burgers that follow. Regardless, this was still a really good burger…and unique, to boot! Sautéed celery, green apple, and scallions keep the meat moist, while the chipotle pepper adds smokiness. I’ve never topped a burger with mayonnaise before, but the lemon thyme mayo spread on the bun actually elevated the burger from good to great. Greek yogurt can likely be substituted in place for the mayo, but I’ve turned a new leaf with the ingredient ever since falling in love with Ina’s chicken salad and I’ve found that you only need a small amount to transform a dish!

One Year Ago: Lemon Poppyseed Gobs with Blueberry Filling
Two Years Ago: Mexican Salad with Pomegranate Lime Dressing
Three Years Ago: Creamy Caper Sauce

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Raspberry Tart

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 According to Ryan, this dessert could win contests. Now, he’s not by any means a contest judge, but living in our house, the boy has tasted a lot of different desserts so I tend to trust his opinion! He claims it’s beautiful enough to be behind the glass case at some bakery or dessert shop. I can’t disagree—it’s definitely one of the most beautiful desserts I’ve made (although my sister-in-law Katelyn gets all raspberry arranging-credit!).
We shared this with Ryan’s family and it was met with rave reviews from everyone—not always easy to do when there are 9 of us with differing tastes and opinions on what qualifies as a fantastic dessert. The tart is only moderately sweet and the cheesecake layer is so thin it is barely noticeable, but together they form a fantastic base that allows the raspberries to shine as the star ingredient. I recommend making this several hours ahead of time to give the flavors a chance to meld; the one piece that lasted until the next day was even better! (Note—the raspberry jam does start to bleed by day 2 so just be aware if you want to make it a full day in advance)

One Year Ago: Chicken with Kale and Freekeh Lentil Pilaf

Two Years Ago: Black Beans and Coconut Lime Rice
Three Years Ago: Poppyseed Bread

Monday, May 20, 2013

Cheesy "Pizza" Broccoli

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I have to say, this broccoli really did smell like pizza when I pulled it out of the oven! This is a feat in and of itself because it’s no secret that broccoli is one of the stinkier vegetables! If you’re playing the game of trying to convince your kids, or your husband, to eat vegetables, this is one sleeve you might want to have up your sleeve. In that case, I recommend going heavy on the cheese and perhaps lighter on the red pepper flakes.
I’m not one to confuse pizza with broccoli and you certainly aren’t going to fool your family, but hopefully the fact that it smells like pizza and tastes way more exciting than plain old broccoli is enough to have everyone at the table gobbling up their veggies! 

One Year Ago: 2012 Eat & Repeat - The Block
Two Years Ago: Chicken stuffed with Spinach, Feta, and Pine Nuts
Three Years Ago: Carrot Salad with Raspberry Vinaigrette