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Thursday, December 29, 2011

Our top picks from 2011!

2011 was a big year here at IWBTC, obviously...the blog was born just two weeks before the year started!  So, I want to showcase some of my favorite dishes from the year - 11, to be exact, for 2011.  I'm also getting a little help from my biggest fan and the lucky taste tester, my husband.

Here they are, in no particular order...although #1 might be a tad bit ahead of the rest :)  Enjoy, and if you haven't already tried these, now's your chance!

11. An easy, healthy and comforting stew that we dug right into - Lentil, Kielbasa & Garlic Stew

10.  A frozen treat that easily reminded us that homemade is always better - Pistachio Ice Cream

9.  This was by far our favorite of the year from south of the border - Mexican Pulled Pork Carnitas

8.  A burger that surpasses many others - Minted Lamb Burgers

7.  Frank loved his birthday, but he thought my Dad's really "took the cake" - Sicilian Cassata Cake

6.  Our favorite crockpot meal - an oldie but a goodie - Crockpot Pot Roast with Veggies

5.  A make-ahead breakfast that really wowed our friends - Baked Panettone French Toast

4.  It wouldn't be a "favorites" list if it didn't include pasta -  Pumpkin and Sausage Baked Pasta

3.  Actually, make that two pasta dishes - Nana's Lasagna

2. Frank LOVES my braciole, but has a real soft spot for this dish - "Mambo Italiano" Chicken Parmigiana

1.  A dessert that many of my readers have made and RAVED about...always a big hit, and one I'm definitely happy I created!  Key Lime Cupcakes

Did I leave any of your favorites off the list?  If so, comment and let me know!

Bring on 2012...I'm ready for more great food!  Hope you are too :)

Linked to: Tastetastic Thursday


Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Winter freshness

How many of you do the Feast of the Seven Fishes for Christmas Eve?  Or, maybe you don't, but would like to start?

I plan on sharing some of our recipes with you...I was going to do one big Christmas Eve roundup post but now I'm not really feeling it.  So, I hope you can be patient, which should be fine...after all, you have just about a year to prepare if you want to make it yourself :)

Today's recipe actually doesn't include fish.  It's one of the best side dishes that we serve every year - a nice, light, fresh salad that compliments the fish and pasta very nicely.  It's so easy to make, and really delicious.  It would go well with just about any main dish, really.

We don't normally add grapefruit to it, but thought we'd try something different this year.  It was great!  This is another one of "those" recipes that doesn't include exact measurements...just taste as you go.  You can do it, I promise :)

Citrus Fennel Salad
2 blood oranges
1 large pink grapefruit
2 meyer lemons
1 fennel bulb
black olives of your choice, left whole (I took the picture before adding the olives!)
1/2 large red onion
extra virgin olive oil
citrus vinegar
a few squeezes of fresh orange juice
a few squeezes of fresh lemon juice
freshly ground black pepper

Cut unpeeled oranges and lemons into very thin round slices.  Lay them on bottom of serving platter.  Peel the grapefruit and section it.  Line pieces around edge of platter.

Cut fronds off fennel bulb and cut bulb into thin pieces.  Lay on top of oranges and lemons.  Peel onion and cut into thin round slices and place on top of fennel.  Add olives.

Squeeze orange and lemon juice on top, then add a few splashes each of oil and vinegar.  Top with pepper and serve.  This can be served cold or at room temp (we serve at room temp).

Linked to: Back to Basics

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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The obligatory holiday treat

Technically, it may be a few days late...but the truth is, there's never a bad time for peppermint bark.  I've been making this for years - it's one of the most popular holiday treats around, and by far the easiest one to make!

So, take those candy canes off the tree and make some today!

Peppermint Bark
1 (12 ounce) bag semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 (12 ounce) bag white chocolate chips
candy canes (or peppermint candies), crushed

Line a baking sheet with wax paper.  Melt semi-sweet chips in microwave, stirring once, then pour onto wax paper.  Spread across pan evenly.  Place in freezer for 20 minutes.

Repeat melting process with white chips, then stir half of the crushed candy canes in.  Spread evenly over frozen semi-sweet chocolate.  Sprinkle remaining candy over chocolate, and place back in freezer for at least another 30 minutes.

Break into pieces and serve.  Store in airtight container in refrigerator.

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Monday, December 26, 2011

Keep the party going

I hope everyone had a great Christmas!  We're still knee deep in celebration...that's what happens when you have a huge family.  And I wouldn't have it any other way :)  For those of you doing the same, or those who just love trying out new dip recipes, this one's for you.

The tart, sweet and spicy tastes in this dish make for a great combination.  Even my almost 2 year old nephew thought so!  It was a big hit at our Christmas Eve celebration.  Perfect for this time of year!  It makes a good amount, too...I put it in a deep dish pie pan and it filled up nicely.

Keep eating, drinking and being merry!

Cranberry Salsa Dip
slightly adapted from that's some good cookin'

1 (12 ounce) bag fresh cranberries, rinsed and picked over
1/2 cup sugar
1 bunch green onions, chopped (mainly the green part)
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped
1 lime, juiced
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
pinch of salt
2 (8 ounce) blocks cream cheese, softened

Put all ingredients except cheese in a food processor.  Pulse until ingredients are chopped coarsely.  Put in an airtight container and cover.  Leave for at least 4 hours.  (I did this 3 days ahead and refrigerated it...the longer ahead of time you make it, the better the flavors are)

Spread softened cream cheese on a serving plate.  Spread salsa over cream cheese.  Serve at room temperature with crackers.

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Saturday, December 24, 2011

Don't forget your Christmas morning breakfast!

Merry Christmas Eve!  I hope everyone has finished their shopping, errands and most of their food prep, and can spend the majority of the next few days relaxing and enjoying the time with their loved ones.

Still looking for something quick and easy to make ahead for breakfast tomorrow morning?  Here are some ideas.  This way, after you spend half the night putting together the train table/dollhouse/play kitchen (insert your current toy nemesis here), you can sleep in just a little bit longer tomorrow...

Baked French Toast with Maple & Praline

Baked Panettone French Toast

Cinnamon Raisin Cream Cheese French Toast

Make-Ahead Scrambled Eggs

Make-Ahead Italian Strata

Orange Walnut French Toast

Happy Holidays!

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Friday, December 23, 2011

Kala Christougena!

Our Christmas Eve celebration is all about our Italian heritage.  The Feast of the Seven Fishes is in full swing, along with many other Italian dishes and sweets.  So, it's only fair that something from our Greek side makes an appearance.

Enter Melomakarona - a Greek cookie traditionally served at Christmas time.

I'm in love with these little things.  They're sometimes forgotten during our celebration, but not this year.  I think my aunt made a bunch too.  Yum, yum, yum...plenty for everyone!

These are chock full of nuts and honey, very typical of Greek sweets.  And, they seem to taste better with age!  A few days, even a few weeks after baking them, the flavors all have time to really settle in.  

I had to find a recipe online that was similar to the one that my Mom's ancient Greek cookbook has...it was temporarily lost but has since been found, thankfully!  This recipe is great anyway.  Don't let the length of it fool you, by the way...they are not hard to make, and are totally worth all the effort!  You could even whip up a batch for this weekend - you know, with all that free time you have.

Happy Holidays to all!  Surround yourselves with the people you love most...while eating lots of delicious food, of course :)

from Kalofagas

For the cookies:
10 cups pastry flour
3 cups vegetable oil
3 tablespoons honey
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup orange juice
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
4 teaspoons baking powder
3 eggs
1 cup walnuts, roughly pounded
zest of one orange
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Add zest, honey and sugar into a large bowl, using hands to mix together.  Pour in orange juice, cloves and cinnamon and mix.  Add eggs and mix well.

Combine flour, baking powder and baking soda and add to wet ingredients, mixing well with hands.  

Roll dough into small balls (about the size of apricots) then form into round or oval shapes.  Using side of box grater that is for zesting, place cookie on top and lightly press, so that grid pattern is formed.  Repeat for all cookies.

Place cookies on baking sheets lined with parchment.  Bake for about 30 minutes.

For the syrup:
2 cups sugar
2 cups honey
2 cups water

Put all ingredients in a pot and bring to boil, then lower to simmer.  Using a large slotted spoon, drop cookies into syrup for a few minutes until fully absorbed.  Reserve on a cooling rack until all cookies have been dipped.

For the walnut topping:
6 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 cups ground walnuts
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

Combine all ingredients and mix well.  Brush each cookie with remaining syrup, then sprinkle walnut topping over them.  Let cool.  Store in a cool, dry container for up to 6 weeks.

Makes about 100 cookies.

Linked to: It's A Cookie Party!
                   Holiday Blog Party
                   Sweet Tooth Friday
                   Sweets for a Saturday

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Thursday, December 22, 2011

Dessert with a jolt (What's Baking?)

I was searching for the perfect dessert to serve with my eggnog ice cream over the weekend.  Then I remembered I still needed to choose a brownie to bake for our What's Baking? challenge this month.  So, I put on my thinking cap and tried to come up with a flavor that would be a nice compliment.

I had a few in mind, but ultimately I chose this chewy, rich, flavorful, caffeinated deliciousness.

The cappuccino brownie.

Hello, lover.

This really is a "brown"ie...the color is much lighter than its traditional counterpart.  The middle is actually darker, and super rich.  I LOVED this!  And it really was perfect with the eggnog ice cream.

Nicole from Seven Ate Nine chose brownies this month, since, well, December is National Brownie Month :)  I can't wait to see what the other ladies come up with!  Keep an eye out for the roundup that will be on Nicole's blog soon.  And make these for the holidays...you'll make a lot of people very merry!

Cappuccino Brownies
from Blue Eyed Bakers

1 pound (approximately 2 1/4 cups) dark brown sugar
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter (I used salted...gasp!...and they turned out just fine)
2 tablespoons instant espresso coffee
2 eggs, at room temperature
2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
2 cups AP flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 (12 ounce) bag semi-sweet chocolate chips (I used mini ones, since that's all I had on hand)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Grease and lightly flour a 9x13 pan.  Dissolve instant espresso into 1 tablespoon boiling water.  Set aside.

Heat butter and sugar together in microwave until dissolved.  Beat until mixture is smooth.  Add coffee and let mixture cool.  In separate bowl, sift together flour and baking powder.

Add eggs and vanilla to butter/sugar mixture once completely cooled.  Blend well, then stir in flour mixture until blended.  Add chocolate chips, stir until just combined, then turn into prepared pan.

Bake for 25 minutes.  DO NOT overbake.  They taste best slightly underdone.

Allow to cool at least 10 minutes before cutting.  According to the original recipe writer, they're also great frozen!

Makes 36 brownies.

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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

We got a contender...

I love chicken.  I've always loved chicken.  My parents always joke about how when I was a kid, I'd order chicken whenever we went out.  Any way I could get it.  Even for breakfast.  (okay, that may be an exaggeration, but it's not far off)

But pork tenderloin runs a close second.  It's been showing up a lot here lately, hasn't it?  Well, here's why:

It's not very expensive.
It takes just minutes to cook.
It's low in fat.
It's totally versatile.
It's delicious!

So juicy and tender...and EASY!  Another perfect weeknight main dish!

Greek Pork Tenderloin
1 (approximately 1 pound) pork tenderloin
1-2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
3 garlic cloves, chopped
2 tablespoons oregano
salt and pepper

Combine all ingredients with pork in a large ziploc bag.  Move around gently, then marinate at least half an hour (over an hour is better!), turning a few times.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Heat skillet over medium high heat.  Add a little oil, then place pork inside and pan sear for 3 minutes on each side.  Place in a baking pan and cook for about 15 minutes.

***this can also be grilled, if you like...in which case you can skip the pan sear***

Serves 2-3.

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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Comfort - in leftover form

How many of you eat beef for the holidays?  I know a lot of people who do...it's a pretty popular tradition.  Chances are, though, you always end up with some leftover...and what a sin it would be to throw it away (you all know how much I hate that!).  So, I thought this post would be helpful right about now.

After having a TON of leftover roast beef a few weeks ago, I had to come up with creative ways to use it.  'Tis the season for comfort food...and what screams comfort more than pot pie?

This is what the inside looks like.  YUM.

And this is what the outside looks like when you're in a rush to cut slits into the crust :)

Obviously the same can be done with chicken, ham, turkey, or even a vegetarian version would be delicious.  The point is - don't waste good food!  This takes about 10 minutes to throw together and is a great meal for this time of year.

Leftover Beef Pot Pie
leftover roast beef, cut into bite size pieces
leftover gravy (or make some, or use jarred)
1/4 cup red wine (optional)
3 potatoes, cooked and cubed
3 carrots, chopped
1 yellow onion, chopped
3/4 cup frozen peas
oregano, salt, pepper to taste
1 tablespoon butter
1 pie crust (homemade or store bought)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  In a medium size skillet, add butter, followed by beef.  Add gravy and wine, and season with oregano, salt and pepper.  Let cook for about a minute, then add potatoes, carrots, onion and peas to skillet.  Toss to combine and distribute flavors.

Pour mixture into pie plate and cover with crust.  Bake for 30-40 minutes.  Let cool for a few minutes before serving.

Serves 4.

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Monday, December 19, 2011

Dusting it off

...and by "it", I mean my ice cream machine.  Haven't used it since late summer, and thought it was high time I changed that.  With a winter-ish flavor, of course.  I was torn between a few different ones, then remembered, there's always tomorrow :)

I don't know about you, but eggnog pretty much screams winter to me.

Words can't begin to describe this creamy deliciousness.  Grate a little fresh nutmeg on top, and you've got yourself a bowl of awesome.  Heavenly!

Eggnog Ice Cream
from Epicurious

1 cup whole milk
1/4 teaspoon salt
7 egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar
2 cups chilled heavy cream
3 tablespoons dark rum
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Bring milk and salt to a boil in a medium size pot over medium-high heat.  Remove from heat.

In a bowl, whisk egg yolks and sugar together.  Gradually add about 1/4 of milk mixture while constantly whisking.  Add yolk mixture to egg mixture in pot slowly, whisking the whole time, while over low heat.  Stir constantly with wooden spoon until mixture is thickened and coats back of spoon, about 3-5 minutes.

Immediately pour through fine mesh sieve into a clean bowl.  Add cream, rum, vanilla and nutmeg.  Chill, covered, until cold, at least 2 hours.

Freeze in ice cream maker according to manufacturer's instructions.  Transfer to airtight container and freeze at least 2 hours.  Add freshly grated nutmeg on top before eating, if desired.

Makes about 1 1/2 quarts.

Linked to: Tastetastic Thursday

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Friday, December 16, 2011

Need more cookies?

I know, I know...the blogosphere is being flooded right now with holiday goodies, endless sweets, more recommendations for your cookie tray than you can handle...so, what's another one ;)

I love these little bite size beauties.  They bring a little something different to the table...they aren't round, they don't include chocolate, they aren't flat.  They're little bits of nutty goodness, and they're SO easy to make.  No excuses!

And yes, you can cheat and use premade pie crust...I promise I won't tell.

Mini Pecan Pies
from Meg's Everyday Indulgence

For the crust:
1 stick butter, at room temperature
3 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup AP flour

For the filling:
1 egg, slightly beaten
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon butter, melted
1 cup pecans, finely chopped
1 teaspoon vanilla

Crust prep:  cream butter and cream cheese then mix in flour.  Roll 24 balls and press in mini-muffin pan.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Stir together filling ingredients.  Evenly fill dough cups.  Bake for about 20 minutes.

Sprinkle confectioners' sugar lightly over pies after cooled, if desired.

Linked to: It's A Cookie Party!

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Thursday, December 15, 2011

Happy 1st Birthday to my blog! :)

One year ago today, I finally took the plunge and began writing this little blog of mine.  I wanted to start years before, but was dealing with other things that unexpectedly came along.  No matter...it all worked out, and here I am, 365 days later and still going strong!

I've been having such a great time here...I am so thankful for my readers and followers, my family for supporting me and sharing their "secret" recipes, my husband for being patient while I take (hopefully what will continue to improve) pictures of dinner even when he's starving, all of the new food blogging friends I've made along the way...it's been an amazing experience!  And I'm only getting started :)

That being said, this might just be the most anti-climactic blog birthday ever!  Life has been totally crazy and the thought of baking myself a cake was short-lived...especially after the marathon cookie baking we did this past weekend.  So, I'll just showcase one of the new cookies we made that I really enjoyed.

Jaida from Sweet Beginnings shared this recipe in our latest swap, which was for holiday baking ideas, and I was the lucky one who got this deliciousness in cookie form.  It's SO good, and so easy you can practically make them with your eyes closed.  They're going to be a perfect new addition to our big assortment this holiday.

If you're looking for a new cookie to add to your dessert tray for the holidays, make it this one!  They've made IWBTC's first birthday that much more special :)  Thanks again for all of your support!!

Mint Chocolate Chip Cookies
from Sweet Beginnings

1 cup sugar
1 cup butter
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon mint extract
8-10 drops green food coloring
1 egg
2 1/3 cups AP flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 bag (12 ounces) semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line baking sheets with parchment paper.  Beat butter and sugar on low speed until fluffy.  Add vanilla, mint extract, coloring and egg.  Mix well.

Combine flour and baking powder in a bowl, then slowly add to sugar mixture while mixing.  Once combined, stir in chocolate chips.

Drop tablespoons of mix on sheet pans about 2 inches apart.  Bake 7-9 minutes or until set.  Cool on racks.

Linked to: Tastetastic Thursday
                  Fusion Fridays
                 Sweets for a Saturday

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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Soup in a flash!

Another quick-weeknight-especially-on-days-I'm-in-the-office dish!  This one seriously couldn't be easier.  It's a great idea to keep homemade stock in the freezer for times like this - or, you can definitely use a store bought one.

Either way, this can be on the table in about 20 minutes and tastes delicious!  Perfect for the chilly weather we've been having :)

Quick Tortellini Soup
6 cups chicken stock
1 cup frozen chopped spinach
1 bag frozen tortellini (I use cheese but meat is fine)
1 cup chopped carrots (I didn't have any the night I took this pic but normally add them in)
freshly ground pepper
grated pecorino romano cheese

Place stock in a medium size dutch oven and bring to a boil.  Add spinach, tortellini, carrots and pepper, bring to a boil, then simmer and cover.  Cook for about 10 minutes.

Spoon into bowls, sprinkle with cheese and serve.

Serves 3-4.

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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Sunday dinner - delicious and cheap!

Even though it was 55 degrees out when we decorated our house and put up our tree, I still felt the Christmas spirit running through my veins.  What made it even better was that Bella was totally into it this year - it was so much fun watching her get excited over helping out and getting ready for the holidays.  She decorated the whole bottom half of the tree herself.  We had a blast!

Since we were home most of the day, I was able to take my time with dinner.  The whole atmosphere was calling for a comforting dish...something other than the traditional Sunday Italian meal.  Different, but just as homey and warm and delicious.

I don't normally feel compelled to make roast beef, but now that I found this recipe, that will change.  I love that a cheap piece of meat can be turned into a "fancy" dish!  We bought it at $2.79/lb.  Obviously 4 pounds made for LOTS of leftovers, which made this meal even more budget friendly.

And don't forget the horseradish sauce - it makes it even more delicious!

Sunday Best Roast Beef with Pan Gravy
slightly adapted from Country Living

1 (4-5 pound) boneless bottom round roast (you can also use rump roast)
2 tablespoons worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 teaspoon paprika
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
2 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt

For the gravy:
3 tablespoons AP flour
2 cups beef broth

Adjust oven rack to bottom of oven.  Preheat at 425 degrees.  Blot excess moisture from the meat and rub worcestershire all over it.  Let marinate for 30 minutes, turning twice.

Combine garlic powder, paprika and pepper in a small bowl, then sprinkle and press it evenly around the meat.  Let stand for 20-30 minutes.  Rub meat with 2 teaspoons salt, place fat side up in a shallow roasting pan, and cook for 15 minutes.

Lower oven temperature to 325 degrees. Continue to roast about 2 hours, or until meat's internal temp reaches 130 degrees.  Let stand for 20 minutes before slicing.

To prepare the gravy:  Skim any fat in roasting pan.  Whisk flour and 1/2 cup water together in a bowl to form a paste and set aside.

Scrape drippings from bottom of pan, add beef broth and stir over medium heat until mixture starts to simmer.  Add flour while continuously whisking and bring to boil.

Reduce heat to medium-low and let simmer 4-5 minutes.  If necessary, add a little water to thin the gravy.  Add a little salt and pepper and serve warm.

Horseradish Sauce
from Simply Recipes

3 tablespoons prepared horseradish
1/4 cup sour cream (I used light)
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
1 tablespoon chopped chives or diced scallion (I omitted because I had neither)

Mix ingredients together.  Store in refrigerator until serving.

Makes about 1/2 a cup.

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Monday, December 12, 2011

The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap!

When I first saw this advertised, I signed up immediately.  I love cookies and I LOVE surprises...it was like this swap was made especially for me! :)

Julie from The Little Kitchen and Lindsay from Love & Olive Oil pulled off the event of the year.  Hundreds of food bloggers committed to sending a dozen cookies each to 3 random bloggers, and received 3 dozen in return from 3 different bloggers.  Over 22,000 cookies were shipped!  That's 625 different bloggers, folks.  Amazing!

My contribution was a simple but delicious Italian cookie that my family has enjoyed for decades - the Italian Walnut Crescent Cookie.

In return, I got some pretty freakin' awesome cookies.  I mean, REALLY good cookies.  So good that I wasn't even able to take pics of them before they were chomped up.  Oops!

The first batch were gorgeous cookies called "Almond Joy to the World", made by Jessie who writes Body and Soul Food.   These delectable treats were incredibly moist, delicious mounds of coconut on top of chocolate with a big almond pressed on top.  SO GOOD.

The second - beautiful sugar cookies shaped and decorated like snowflakes - were from Kelly at Eat Yourself Skinny.  I have to wonder how an amazing baker like Kelly stays so skinny with the ability to make tasty cookies like that ;) They were perfection!

The final batch were delicious peanut butter cookies with a kiss plopped on top.  Yum!  Heather from Dr. Hbar's Adventures in Food was the master behind these sweets.  My love for the chocolate and peanut butter combination was easily fulfilled, thanks to her.

If you'd like to be a part of the festivities next year, submit your information here.  I highly encourage you to do so - I had a blast!  So much fun.

Now, get busy baking...add my cookies, an old family favorite, to your holiday tray!

Italian Walnut Crescent Cookies
1 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup confectioners' sugar, plus more for covering
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups ground walnuts
2 cups AP flour

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Line baking sheets with parchment paper.  Beat together butter and sugar until creamy, then add vanilla and walnuts.  Add flour, one cup at a time, and mix until combined.  Refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

Form crescents with small pieces of dough (about a tablespoon for each) and place on baking sheets.  Bake for about 15 minutes or until very slightly brown.  Let cool completely, then cover with confectioners' sugar.

Makes about 4 dozen.

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Friday, December 9, 2011

Working out the kinks

I'm trying to get into a routine now that I'm in the office two days a week.  My goal is to do one make-ahead meal, and maybe one crockpot meal, for those nights.  So far, it hasn't worked out as planned, but I'm getting there.  I just want to keep my momentum going...

I made this dish a day ahead, let it cool, covered and refrigerated it so it was ready to go the next night - it would just need to get popped in the oven.  Unfortunately, there was a problem.  The chicken didn't cook all the way!  Then I realized - I had a pan of baked ziti in at the same time.  Hello, cooking 101...duh.  So, it needed to be cooked a little longer, but no worries - it turned out just fine and reheated beautifully.  

My new situation has prompted me to start a "make ahead" tag, which is a bit different than freezer friendly, like this dish.  Just bear with me while I go through all of my recipes to make sure the appropriate ones are tagged.  Hopefully it'll help a lot of you other crazy busy ones out there.

The taste of this chicken was amazing...we loved the blend of spices used, along with the sweetness of the honey.  Delicious!

Chili Roasted Chicken and Sweet Potatoes

from Serious Eats

2 sweet potatoes, cut into chunks
1 onion, sliced
extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1 tablespoon honey
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar (or a squeeze of lime juice)
6 chicken thighs, bone in, skin on

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Place the potatoes and onion in a 9x13 roasting pan and toss with oil, salt and pepper.

In a small bowl, combine chili powder, cumin, honey, vinegar, a tablespoon of olive oil and a pinch of salt and pepper.  Rub mixture all over chicken and place on top of potatoes.  Roast for about 55-60 minutes or until chicken is cooked through.  Midway through, turn chicken and stir potatoes.

Serves 3.

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Thursday, December 8, 2011

Grab n go

I'm loving granola more and more these days.  This is another "must make" variety.  It's all I've been eating for breakfast lately.  I love it with milk, or on top of Greek yogurt, as seen below.

Life has been one big ball of craziness lately, so making a big batch of this comes in handy.

Cinnamon Walnut Granola
slightly adapted from food. com

7 1/2 cups rolled oats
1 cup walnuts, chopped
1 cup raisins
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup honey
1/2 tablespoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 275 degrees.  In a big bowl, combine oats, nuts and raisins.

In microwavable bowl, blend together brown sugar, oil, honey and cinnamon.  Cook until it starts bubbling.  Remove, add vanilla and stir.  Pour over oat mixture and mix well.

Spread mixture evenly over baking sheet.  Bake for 15 minutes.  Stir and bake for another 15 minutes.

Cool thoroughly and store in an airtight container.

Makes about 10 cups.

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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Crazy sweet boozy goodness

I'm getting a little overwhelmed.  And it has something to do with the nearly full tray of fudge in my fridge.

I've taken on yet ANOTHER cooking challenge.  Yes, in the midst of all others, plus the holiday madness, plus starting a new job...well sure, why not throw something else into the mix?  

I think I just like being kept on my toes :)


Tina from Mom's Crazy Cooking runs the show with this one, and I can already see how much fun it is.  When I saw a submission for last month's challenge on my friend Jey's blog, I immediately inquired.  She pointed me in the right direction so I could take part in the madness this time around.

Every month, a new item is chosen, and your job is to find a recipe for it (that's a little "offbeat") on another blog that you may not normally know about, or just one that isn't super popular.  No famous chefs, cooks, recipe sites, etc. are allowed to be used!  

This month's item...well, take a look:

Helllloooo, fudge.

I found this recipe on Eat Good 4 Life, a blog that I hadn't seen before.  Miryam is a fellow Jersey Girl and her blog is terrific...I'm so glad I stumbled upon it!  This fudge is VERY tasty, super rich, and yeah, a little crazy.  Eat enough of it and you may get a little tipsy.  Perfect for the holidays :)

So take a look around...and don't forget to vote for your favorite!

Irish Cream & Pistachio Fudge
barely adapted from Eat Good 4 Life

36 ounces white chocolate chips ( 3 bags)
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup Irish cream liquor (such as Bailey's) plus 3-4 tablespoons
1/3 cup salted pistachios, chopped (more if you like)

Line a 9x9 pan with foil paper and lightly grease it. 

In a sauce pan, at low heat, pour in all of the ingredients except pistachios. Stir constantly until chocolate has almost melted.

Turn off heat and continue stirring until chocolate is completely melted. Add pistachios and pour evenly into prepared pan. Let cool until set. Remove fudge from pan and peel off the foil paper. Cut fudge into small squares.

Linked to: Sweets for a Saturday

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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Takeout? Nope.

We're still on the hunt for a good Chinese takeout place.  In this area, good food is usually not hard to find, but for some reason none of them are "doing it" for us lately.  They're good, but not great.  

Time to get busy in the kitchen.  

I don't have to tell you that homemade Chinese food is better for you...less greasy, you have control over ingredients, blah blah blah...and in this case, just like with a few of my other dishes, it tastes way better.

Unfortunately, we'll still have to hunt around - with me recently going back to work we need options once in a while.  Sometimes I just don't have the time to devote to cooking.  But, it's nice to know that dishes can be replicated very easily when I'm not so busy.

Grab your chopsticks and enjoy!

Orange Chicken with Green Beans
slightly adapted from Blogchef

For the chicken:
2 pounds boneless chicken breasts, cut into chunks
1 1/2 cups AP flour
1 egg, beaten
salt and pepper (a few pinches of each)
vegetable oil, for frying

For the sauce:
1 1/2 cups water
2 tablespoons orange juice
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/3 cup rice vinegar
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon orange zest
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ginger root, minced
1 teaspoon garlic, minced
1/2 pound green beans, ends trimmed, slightly undercooked
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper (optional)
sesame seeds (optional)
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 cup water

Combine flour, salt and pepper in a bowl.  Dip chicken in egg mixture, followed by flour (shake off excess). Deep fry (or use a wok or skillet) until completely cooked.

In a large saucepan, combine water, orange juice, lemon juice, vinegar and soy sauce.  Blend well over medium heat for a few minutes.  Stir in sugar, zest, ginger and garlic.  Bring to a boil.

Combine cornstarch with 1/4 cup water and mix thoroughly.  Slowly stir cornstarch mixture into sauce until it thickens.  Pour sauce over chicken, add green beans, and mix until everything is evenly coated.  Top with red pepper and sesame seeds if desired.  Serve with rice.

Serves 4-6.

Linked to: Tastetastic Thursday

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Monday, December 5, 2011

Veggin' out (Secret Recipe Club)

Every month I get more and more excited about the Secret Recipe Club.  I impatiently wait for my blog assignment, then hurry over to see all the fun recipes I have to choose from.  Kinda like a foodie version of Christmas :)

Going through the recipes in my assigned blog, An Opera Singer in the Kitchen, was fun!  The majority of them in Noelle's blog are vegan, vegetarian and gluten free...so, not exactly how I cook on a regular basis.  There were a few that stood out, and I finally chose one that proved to be a winner.  

Chickpeas are a big favorite of mine, and not something I get to enjoy very often since Frank isn't a big fan of them.  So, I saved this dish for when I was home alone for dinner, then had some left over for a few lunches.  I love the fact that this is a warm salad...and a spicy one, too!  Right up my alley.  

The tahini dressing was SO good!  Of course, I had to add a little extra garlic to it (and to the salad!).  I'll definitely try it out with other dishes.  I was very happy with this salad...thanks Noelle!

Warm Sweet Potato & Chickpea Salad
slightly adapted from An Opera Singer in the Kitchen

1 large sweet potato, peeled and cubed
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 pinches sea salt
1 (15 ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
Tahini Goddess Dressing (see recipe below)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Combine potato, garlic, cayenne, oil and salt in a bowl.  Toss until potato is evenly coated.  Roast on a baking sheet for 20-25 minutes, or until soft.  

Let cool, then put in a bowl and add chickpeas, onion and parsley.  Toss with 1/3 cup dressing.  Serve.

Serves 2.

Tahini Goddess Dressing
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup tahini
4 teaspoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons agave nectar
1/3 cup water
2 tablespoons chopped parsley

Place all ingredients except parsley in a food processor and blend until smooth.  Add parsley at end and mix well.

Makes 1 cup.

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Friday, December 2, 2011


I've mentioned here before about the food blog community being a tight knit group...one that unifies for a number of things, including when one of its members is dealing with sudden tragedy.  Unfortunately, this is one of those posts for one of those times.

On Thanksgiving morning, Annie from Annie's Eats received a heartbreaking phone call.  Her father, only 59 years old, passed away unexpectedly.  Many of us who know her virtually have offered to dedicate a post to her for comfort and healing, as a way to show our sympathy and pay our respects.

A bowl of anything warm usually makes people feel better, even if only temporarily.  I thought this dish would be appropriate to send Annie's way during this time.  I can only imagine how she's doing during a time like this.

Annie, you are in my thoughts and prayers...I hope your family can find some peace soon.

Beef, Mushroom & Barley Stew
slightly adapted from the kitchn

3-4 tablespoons canola oil
1 1/2 pounds flank steak, cut into small pieces (it's what I had on hand...normally I'd use stew meat)
1 large onion, diced
1 package (8-10 ounces) sliced mushrooms
3 celery stalks, diced
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon thyme
1 bay leaf
1 cup red wine
3 cups beef stock
1 cup barley
salt and pepper to taste

Add oil to a large dutch oven, then place meat in (working in batches if necessary).  Let sit on each side for 2-3 minutes until golden brown.  Set aside in a bowl, pouring juices on top.

Cook onions with a pinch of salt (add a teaspoon of oil if necessary) until translucent and brown around edges.  Add mushrooms and another pinch of salt, and cook until golden brown.  Add celery and cook until just softened.

Add garlic to middle of pot (push cooked veggies to sides) and saute for about 30 seconds.  Add thyme and bay leaf, and mix all together.

Pour wine into pan to deglaze, scraping up bits from bottom of pot.  Let wine reduce until most has been absorbed by veggies.

Add meat and drippings back to pot.  Pour in stock, then add enough water to just cover ingredients about half an inch.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer and cook for about 1 hour, covered.

Add barley and cook for another 45 minutes, until barley is cooked and meat falls apart when pierced with a fork.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Serves 4.

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Thursday, December 1, 2011

Keeping it interesting

How often do you make a new dish at home?  As I've mentioned so many times before, I LOVE variety.  I can't eat the same thing over and over.  That's one of the reasons why this blog is easy for me to maintain...lots of new material :)

We love pork tenderloin and eat it pretty often.  So, I try to come up with different ways to prepare it so boredom doesn't set in.  This dish was a huge hit...especially with the addition of mushrooms and onions.

Best of all, this can be made in about half an hour, which has become more important to me than ever before, now that I'm back at work.  Put this on your weeknight meal list - I'm sure it'll become a favorite in your house, too!

Smothered Pork Medallions
heavily adapted from Tyler Florence

3/4 cup flour
3 tablespoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 pork tenderloin, thinly sliced into medallions
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 package (8 ounce) sliced mushrooms
2 yellow onions, sliced
chopped fresh parsley, for garnish

Put the flour in a shallow plate and add garlic powder, cayenne, salt and pepper.  Mix with a fork.  Dredge medallions in flour mixture, shaking off excess.

Heat oil in a large skillet and add pork, mushrooms and onions.  Fry pork on each side until golden brown, 2-3 minutes.  Remove everything from pan and add a little of the seasoned flour to pan drippings.  Mix together, then add chicken broth.  Once liquid is reduced and slightly thickened, add buttermilk and stir.

Return pork and vegetables to pan and cover in sauce.  Simmer for about 5 minutes, until pork is cooked through.  Season with salt and pepper and garnish with parsley to serve.

Serves 3-4.

Linked to: Tastetastic Thursday
                  Mushroom Blog Hop

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