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Saturday, November 30, 2013

Odds & Ends

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1. What Your American Girl Doll Says About the Rest of Your Life. I had to laugh when my sister sent us this article because it hit a little too close to home. I had Samantha, my sister Julia had Kirsten, and my sister Renatta had Molly. The descriptions in the article were pretty darn accurate in our case!

2. Um, gorgeous chocolate, right?! When zChocolat offered to send me some chocolate to try, this is not exactly what I expected. Besides the fact that it traveled all the way from France, it arrived in this wooden keepsake box, complete with my name engraved on the front, and three trays of chocolate like you see in the photo above. We've been having way too much fun sampling, in case you couldn't tell from all of those half-eaten squares of chocolate! When I'm gifting food, it's usually of the homemade variety, but this is a fun idea for the future...especially because it looks so luxurious, with tastes to match. There's no guide to the chocolate, so every bite was a guess...filled? creamy? crunchy? I've yet to be disappointed! This box is unsurprisingly pricy, but they have a number of options on their site at a few different price points in case there's someone you'd like to surprise and impress with chocolates from afar! 

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3. I've done a lot of reading lately (and, by the way, still loving my Goodreads account--I actually use the app more than the website). My latest recommendation? The Soul of a Chef. I absolutely loved this book! Written in three sections, author Michael Ruhlman tells three stories, all in pursuit of discovering the soul of a chef. Beginning with the Certified Master Chef exam at the Culinary Institute of America, moving on to Lola, Michael Symon's first restaurant in Cleveland, and finally ending with the legend Thomas Keller and his journey to begin The French Laundry, I was captivated cover to cover. While home cooks and restaurant lovers alike will particularly love this book, I truly believe Ruhlman's conclusions at the end of the book are beneficial for any reader.

Easy Turkey Chili
4. I dove into the archives and recently made this easy turkey chili which moved quickly to the top of my favorite fall/winter recipes list. I'd forgotten that, in addition to being incredibly easy, it is so good. After browning the turkey you just mix in the remaining ingredients and heat until warm. Leftovers reheat wonderfully, and cheese quesadillas are a great accompaniment!

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

Friday, November 29, 2013

Maple Cranberry Scones

Maple Cranberry Scones

Although I get a lot of recipes and recipe inspiration from magazines, cookbooks, and other food blogs, I do enjoy the challenge of recipe creating when I have the time and creativity strikes! It was for this reason that I agreed to be a Tonewood Maple ambassador. Though I had never heard of the company before, maple is a flavor I enjoy and I thought it would be fun to create a few recipes using their products.
Pin Itscones
When I received their maple seasoning and maple flakes, I hemmed and hawed for awhile about what I could do with one of the other. That is, until I realized it was a no-brainer: scones! I've been on a major scone kick lately, whipping them up for weekend brunches or mid-week snacks. In addition to adding maple flakes to the batter and sprinkling them on top, I also used maple syrup in the batter. In fact, the syrup was the only sweetener in this recipe, making these a little more guilt-free! The maple flavor was fairly subtle, so if you want the taste to come through more, I recommend adding an addition 2 tbsp of maple syrup, or including some maple extract.
tonewood maple
As I've discovered with most scone recipes, these are best the day they're made. If you aren't going to finish them off, share them, or freeze and reheat in the oven! I would've used fresh cranberries if I had them, but if you'd rather not use dried or fresh cranberries, chocolate chips, raisins, or nuts would also be good in these. I made my scones on the smaller size, but if you prefer thicker scones just use more dough for each. The maple flakes are completely optional, but if you're interested in using them, you can spend $25 on Tonewood's site and receive the maple flakes for FREE if you order beginning on December 1st!
Note: I am not being compensated by Tonewood Maple for this post. They sent me a few of their products to use, but all thoughts and opinions are my own.

One Year Ago: Tortellini with Butternut Squash, Mushrooms, and Fontina and German Chocolate Cake Pecan Pie Bars
Two Years Ago: Pasta with Bacon and Cauliflower and Pumpkin Cream Oreo Tarts
Three Years Ago: Sea Salt and Poppy Seed Crackers and Cinnamon Oatmeal Raisin Scones
Four Years Ago: Creamy Wild Rice Soup and Streusel Coffee Cake

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Fall Vegetable Soup

vegetable soup
Fall Vegetable Soup 

I’ve started to think about how our lives are going to change when Baby McLaury makes his or her debut in three (!!!) months and I know that cooking is one area that’s going to need some adjustments. It’s not unusual for me to spend an entire weekend cooped up in my kitchen, knocking out more than half a dozen recipes and washing quadruple the amount of dishes, only to then gear up for cooking three or four weeknights. I have a feeling our eating is going to get a lot simpler and quicker, at least for awhile.
Pin Itvegetable soup
Thankfully I’m already pretty good about planning our meals and making efficient use of my time. And thankfully, we love leftovers! Meals like this soup, paired with a simple sandwich, are probably going to be even more of the norm for us. I’m okay with that—this soup was healthy, satisfying, and easy to make ahead of time. If reheating leftovers thrilled me this time around, I envision I’ll only be all the more thrilled when it allows me more time with my new baby come February!

(For the record, yes this soup is unashamedly green and might scream too healthy for some of you…I promise you can’t taste all of the greens in there. It reminded me more of a broccoli potato soup than anything else, and you can easily throw in plenty of extra cheese!)

One Year Ago: Grilled Eggplant, Roasted Red Pepper, Spinach, and Ricotta Sandwich and Carrot Cake Cheesecake Bars
Two Years Ago: A Very MARRY Pizza Party and Salmon & White Bean Salad
Three Years Ago: Pomegranate Spinach Salad with Turkey and Persimmons and Loaded Turkey, Vegetable, and Wild Rice Soup

Monday, November 25, 2013

Chocolate Pecan Tart

pecan tart
Chocolate Pecan Tart 

When I plan my meals each week, I almost always start by flipping through my manila folders stuffed with recipes ripped from magazines. Since I’m also usually baking for one thing or another each week, this includes a look through the “desserts” folder. Almost every week I would pause at this Chocolate Pecan Tart, mouth watering at the deep chocolate color splashed on the page of Real Simple, and then opt out of making it for one reason or another.
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pecan tart
Last month I finally bit the bullet and yanked it from the folder, determined to finally give it a try. Of course, it’s always the recipes you wait the longest to try that are the ones you should’ve made immediately! This dessert got more comments and compliments when I brought it to church than anything else I can remember in the recent past. People snuck extra pieces, hounded me for the recipe, and more than anything made me realize what a terrible mistake I’d make in holding out on making it.
chocolate tart
The tart isn’t anything outrageous or complicated: it’s a basic chocolate crust filled with what is essentially a chocolate ganache studded with toasted pecans. Then again, can you ever go wrong with chocolate?! Because this comes together in a snap and can be made ahead of time, it’s likely the missing dessert for your Thanksgiving spread!
chocolate tart

One Year Ago: Mozzarella, Raspberry, and Brown Sugar Panini
Two Years Ago: BBQ Collard Greens with Edamame
Three Years Ago: Leftover Turkey Sandwiches
Four Years Ago: Ryan's Thanksgiving Proposal

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Finding Time in 2013: Sidney Street Cafe

We're closing in on the end of the year, which also means the end of our Finding Time in 2013 challenge. This month we were due for a restaurant post and we ventured out to one of the well-known fine dining establishments in the St. Louis area: Sidney Street Cafe. After having it recommended to us by several different people, we finally decided to head there for our anniversary. Although it was a chilly October evening, the restaurant itself was warm and welcoming, the perfect spot to sit at a cozy table and reflect on five years of marriage.
L to R: Starter Menu, Cocktails, Beignets

Sidney Street was a lot bigger than I anticipated. I had expected an intimate spot, but the restaurant was larger and brighter than I envisioned. The exposed brick and dark wood fit the space, however, and it still gives off a fine dining atmosphere (which explains why I only took a few, discreet, iPhone pictures!). Service aligned with this perfectly; our server was professional, attentive (almost overly-so), and enthusiastic, eagerly explaining the majority of the menu to us.

Beginning with the beignets which are served warm with butter, we knew we were in for a good meal. The cocktail menu is small, but Ryan--our resident cocktail snob--found something he liked, and the bartender was gracious enough to whip me up a mocktail. Although we were enticed by several of the starters on the menu, our server sold us on the veal dumplings which he claimed were his favorite. We immediately understood why; the meat inside each dumpling was extraordinarily tender and the cilantro salsa and teriyaki sauce the dumplings were sitting in introduced an entirely unique flavor to the dish. I probably would've been happy ordering another round of these for my entree!
L to R: Veal Dumplings, Menu, Butternut Squash Soup, House Salad

We pressed on with the next course. Each entree comes with a selection of soup or salad. Ryan opted for the butternut squash soup, and I selected the salad. Unfortunately, when I declined the anchovies on my salad, I mistakenly also declined the cheese, so my greens were rather bare and the salad wasn't anything special. I hardly had time to be disappointed, however, before my meal was brought out: the redfish. Served atop dirty farro, the combination of tastes and colors came together impressively. It was one of those dishes where you don't really know what's contained in each bite, but you don't care because it tastes so good! For the curious, the menu description of my dish mentioned cucumber relish, charred tomato gelee, raspberry glazed sungolds, and dill in addition to the fish and farro. Ryan ordered the Missouri lamb, which he decided was not the best lamb he's ever had in a restaurant, but certainly a stellar entree.
L to R: Snapfish, Missouri Lamb, White Chocolate Turtle Blondie

By now we were stuffed, but our server insisted on bringing us out the white chocolate turtle blondie with pecan brittle and vanilla ice cream for dessert in honor of our anniversary. Full as I was, I never turn down dessert, and managed to enjoy a few bites before crying uncle! The blondie was rich and buttery and exactly what you would expect, given the description. Next time I'd also love to try their "Snickers Bar" dessert!

How does this compare to other similar restaurants we've eaten at? For what we spent, we both agreed our meals at Girl and the Goat in Chicago were better, but it's a completely different type of restaurant. Sidney Street is probably most like Harvest, where we ate a few years ago, and if I had to pick a favorite of the two, I'd say Sidney Street wins this round! All in all, it was a lovely anniversary dinner and a fun way to wrap up the restaurant portion of this year's challenge. Sidney Street Cafe on Urbanspoon

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Odds & Ends

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1. 35 Gifts Your Children Will Never Forget. As we are bombarded by a culture of excess, particularly as we prepare for baby and all of the "necessities" that come along with that, this article was a good reminder that the real things children (or anyone, for that matter) need aren't material possessions!
pumpkin white bean soup
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2. I made this white bean and pumpkin bisque from Cooking Light's November 2013 issue. I had every intention of blogging it, but a mix of laziness and dark evenings meant I never got around to photographing it. I ran out of time to make the sage pesto and we still really liked it without (threw homemade croutons in there instead), but I think it'd extra good with the pesto addition! 

knee sock
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3. The picture quality is unfortunately terrible (you can see them up close here), but I've fallen in love with American Eagle's Cable Shine Knee sock. They're the perfect socks to wear under boots and look so cute peeking out above the boots with their shimmery thread. I may or may have sometimes worn them two days in a row, and I plan to go back and get them in charcoal as well!

pumpkin ice cream
Pumpkin Ice Cream Pie with Pretzel Crust
4. I have a really good idea for you: pumpkin ice cream pie with pretzel crust. Basically you take the pretzel crust from margarita pie (half of it to yield one pie) and add pumpkin ice cream, either store bought or homemade. The finished result is sweet and salty and seasonal...plus it'd make a great make ahead dessert for Thanksgiving!  

One Year Ago: Kit Kat Blondies with White Chocolate Chips
Two Year Ago: Sausage and Egg Casserole with Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Mozzarella 
Three Year Ago: Figgy Wild Rice, Mushroom, and Sourdough Dressing/Stuffing

Friday, November 22, 2013

Apple Oat Crisp

apple oat crisp
Apple Oat Crisp

Several weeks ago our friends Greg and Sara invited us for dinner. Aside from the fact that it was so wonderful to catch up with them, it was positively a treat to not have to lift a finger for dinner. I do a lot of cooking for other people, on top of cooking for us, and while I love it, there’s something nice about just showing up to eat sometimes…no matter how much I love time in the kitchen!
Pin Itapple oat crisp

Our fabulous dinner concluded with this apple oat crisp, which was actually from the archives of The Sweets Life…the ultimate compliment for this food blogger! I was instantly won over by a recipe I’d made years ago, and after a trip to the apple orchard, this was the first thing I set out to make with my bounty! I changed up the recipe a bit based on the comments I made when I originally posted it, adding a bit of extra “crisp” topping. It’s perfect hot or cold, but the vanilla ice cream (or if you’re feeling fancy, make some snickerdoodle ice cream!) is a requirement regardless!

One Year Ago: Red Velvet Cookies
Two Years Ago: Caramel Pecan Pie and Cranberry Sauce with Crystalized Ginger
Three Years Ago: Pumpkin Whoopie Pies and Caramel Apple Cheesecake Pie
Four Years Ago: Chocolate Chip Cheesecake Ball and Mom's Famous Sugar Cookies

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Pumpkin Cranberry Bread

pumpkin bread
Pumpkin Cranberry Bread

No matter how many pumpkin treats I bake in a season, it never feels like enough. I feel like I always blink and suddenly pumpkin is OUT and gingerbread and mint are in. This year in particular I don’t think I took advantage of pumpkin enough. Though you can find a multitude of pumpkin recipes on The Sweets Life, I only managed to remake a handful of them this year and even fewer brand new pumpkin recipes. 
Pin Itpumpkin bread

If you’re feeling the same way I am, don’t fear, this is really the only pumpkin recipe you need to get you through the rest of the season. Although, if I’m being honest, I have a feeling I’ll be stocking up on canned pumpkin and making this bread all winter long! I’m convinced this is the best pumpkin bread I’ve ever had. The pumpkin flavor shines, the cranberries add just the right amount of punch and color, and the tight crumb still manages to melt in your mouth. I froze the second loaf of this and audibly squealed in joy when we returned from vacation last month and I remembered that this was waiting for me. I've since made several more loaves and plan to share with family during our Thanksgiving day breakfast!
pumpkin bread
Maximize the remainder of pumpkin season (or extend it as long as you like!) and give this a go. Bring it as a thank you gift to whoever’s hosting Thanksgiving or serve it for breakfast to your out-of-town guests. Better yet, double the recipe, share a few loaves, and freeze the rest for when you’re craving a little fall in the dead of winter!

One Year Ago: Bacon, Onion, and Cheddar Corn Muffins and Three Bean Chili with Bacon
Two Years Ago: Pumpkin Ice Cream and Butternut Squash and Kale Torte
Three Years Ago: Shredded Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Walnuts and Pumpkin Knots
Four Years Ago: Very Veggie Soup and Rosemary Bread

Monday, November 18, 2013

Green Curry Shrimp with Vegetables

green curry shrimp
Green Curry Shrimp with Vegetables

We love seafood, but I still haven’t become comfortable cooking it regularly at home. After cooking very regularly for about five years, it’s high time I overcome this, especially with foods that I enjoy so much! I’m starting simple, with things like this green curry shrimp dish, but I’ve also been saving some more ambitious recipes (Bon Appetit's Whole Baked Fish in Sea Salt, for example) to tackle sometime in the future. 
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green curry
Friends had us over for dinner a few months ago and served this dish, which was met with approval from both Ryan and me. I like curry, but Ryan loves curry, so I knew this was one recipe I needed to try in our kitchen as well. Save for picking up a few ingredients I don’t normally keep on hand, this wasn’t all that difficult. It looks like in addition to making more seafood at home, I need to start making more curries at home! 
green curry
I’m not sure where the original recipe came from, but you can make it your own by changing up the vegetables and adjusting the amount of curry to your liking. My friend included significantly more than the original recipe (her version, below) and I would add even a bit more next time. We ate this over rice the first day and noodles the second day, both good vehicles for sopping up that excess curry sauce!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Odds & Ends: Cookbook Edition

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I've recently received a number of cookbooks from publishers and while you'll likely hear about all of them as I cook from them, I thought it might be fun to give a round-up in today's Odds & Ends...especially since cookbooks make great gifts and you're probably starting to think about what you'll be buying for Christmas gifts...or what you might be asking for! For the record, I wasn't asked to blog about any of them, but I always love hearing cookbook reviews and wanted to pass along my thoughts!
Lighten Up America
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1. First up: Cooking Light's Lighten Up, America! The premise? Author Allison Fishmas Task basically took a road trip around the United States in search of classical, regional dishes. She found them...and then created a lighter version of them. Recreating dishes I experience on our travels is one of my favorite things, so I loved the idea behind this cookbook. Like every Cooking Light cookbook I've seen, the pictures are beautiful and the recipes aren't anything complicated. If you love to travel, you might love this book filled with cuisine from across the country. Recipes I can't wait to try: Grilled Vegetable Caprese with Pesto, New Orleans Gumbo, and the Vanilla Cheesecake with Cherry Topping.

A Year Of Holidays
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2. The Pioneer Woman Cooks--A Year of Holidays. This is the first Pioneer Woman cookbook I've owned, but it seems reminiscent of her blogging style. The recipes are indulgent and the introduction to each section in the book makes you feel like you'er sitting down with Ree and listening to her stories as a friend. I love that its celebrated by holiday, making planning for the occasion simple! Recipes I can't wait to try: Lemon Cream Pie Shooters, Watermelon Pico de Gallo, and Burgundy Mushrooms.

Patricia Wells
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3. The French Kitchen Cookbook. While I'd never heard of Patricia Wells prior to receiving this cookbook, a little research (and a look at her gorgeous book) made me realize I was really missing out! Besides the fact that we share a birthplace (Milwaukee, WI!), I love that she's blazed trails in her career (the only woman and only America to be a restaurant critic for a major French publication) and that she describes her cookbook as a "way of life and a lifestyle of food and entertaining". My kind of life! Recipes I can't wait to try: Char-grilled Eggplant Salad with Fresh Mint, Penne with Tomatoes, Rosemary, Olives, Artichokes, and Capers, and the Fig and Almond Tart. 

Emeril's Cooking with Power
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4. Emeril's Cooking with Power. This Emeril Lagasse cookbook focuses on four kitchen appliances: the slow cooker, the multi cooker, the pressure cooker, and the deep fryer. Although I only have one of the four (the slow cooker), I still found myself dying to try a ton of the recipes. I'm also intrigued by the multi cooker and thinking someday when I have a giant kitchen, that might be a good addition to it! I've already made a fabulous slow cooker tomato soup that I'll be sharing with you soon, but other recipes I can't wait to try include the Colombian Chicken, Corn, and Potato Stew, the Jerk Chicken with Rice and Peas, and the Gingered Short Ribs and Carrots. 'Tis slow cooker season after all!

Sparkpeople Cookbook
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5. The Sparkpeople Cookbook. Although I'm not interested in losing weight (ask me again come February when I have bundles of pregnancy pounds to drop!), I appreciate that this cookbook is full of healthy recipes that won't leave you feeling deprived. The book offers tons of extra tips throughout its pages on further lightening the meals and the benefits of certain cooking methods, amongst much more. Recipes I can't wait to try: Grilled Spicy Fish Tacos, Warm and Spicy Banana Waffles, and Dark Chocolate Cake!

What's your favorite cookbook? My cookbook shelves are overflowing lately and I'm hoping I start using them more come 2014!

One Year Ago: Caramel Brownies
Two Years Ago: Crockpot BBQ Beer Chicken
Three Years Ago: Snickers Cookie Cups
Four Years Ago: Upside Down Apple Pie

Friday, November 15, 2013

Coconut Cashew Dulce de Leche Bars

coconut cashew bars
Coconut Cashew Dulce de Leche Bars
Funnily enough, I made these caramel cashew bars with some Stonewall Kitchen Maple Dulce de Leche before I went and visited Stonewall Kitchenin Maine. I actually won a giveaway on Delicious Dishings and was the lucky recipient of some Stonewall Kitchen products. I immediately began brainstorming how to use the dulce de leche and I was reminded of one of my flavors at Kopp’s Custard in Milwaukee: caramel cashew. 
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coconut caramel bars
Transforming the custard flavor into a bar cookie wasn’t all that difficult. I made a buttery oatmeal crust and reserved half of it for the topping. Between the two layers I stuffed the maple dulce de leche, chopped, salted cashews, and some toasted coconut for good measure. The finished result exceeded my expectations and made me think Kopp’s should start adding coconut to their caramel cashew custard! 
dulce de leche
Friends went crazy for these bars. The maple in the dulce de leche adds an interesting element, but any dulce de leche (or even caramel ice cream topping) would work equally well. Because they’re so rich, you can cut them in small pieces and serve a crowd. The filling makes them pretty sticky, so you’re best off storing them in the fridge and serving them slightly chilled.

One Year Ago: Roasted Carrot, Leek, and Goat Cheese Hand Pies and Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Maple Syrup
Two Years Ago: Mini Chocolate Chip Cookie Sandwiches and 50 Thanksgiving Recipes
Three Years Ago: Oatmeal Buttermilk Muffins with Peaches and Pecans and Shrimp Fajitas
Four Years Ago: Candy Sushi 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Mixed Greens with Pecans, Goat Cheese, and Dried Cranberries

pecans, goat cheese, dried cranberries
Mixed Greens with Pecans, Goat Cheese, and Dried Cranberries

Last month I hosted a dinner party for three other couples. Because it was scheduled for a Wednesday night I had to be super intentional about my meal-planning. I didn’t have hours to mess around in the kitchen and instead spread out my cooking over a few days. It made that Wednesday after work much less stressful and dinner for 8 by 6:30 pm totally manageable.
Pin Itpecans, goat cheese, cranberries
This salad was on the menu that night and while salad isn’t all that time-consuming to make, I shaved a few minutes of time off of the preparation by making the candied pecans and the dressing a day ahead of time. All that was required to finish it off was throwing all of the ingredients together.
candied pecans
Of course, you could also omit the homemade candied pecans and just buy some or even throw plain ones in there. I liked the bit of spice these gave to the rest of the salad. Judging by the amount of leftover salad (none), this would be a good addition to your salad repertoire!