Thursday, December 27, 2012

icebox potato rolls

It's no secret that I'm a sentimental gal - the kind that keeps every sweet cards she get in the mail...cherishes family traditions...mourns those "last time I'll ever [fill in the blank]" moments...and captures every special moment with friends on film for future review (all the while saying, "You'll thank me for this later!" ;-). So, while we've already established the fact that I love church cookbooks, it goes without saying that this one holds a special place in my heart.

First, it's a recipe that was submitted by a dear friend of my parents - the wife of the pastor who married them 30 years ago. Not only does Annie make amazing yeast rolls, but she's also known for her phenomenal pies...and ever-present sweet smile.

Second, it's a recipe my mother has been making for years - her go-to pick for every holiday and company gathering. Piping hot from the oven, they can always be counted on to show up in a towel-lined basket at her dining room table for such special events.

And if those aren't reason enough for me to want the recipe for my own kitchen, the perfect taste and tender texture certainly are.

Sentimental or not, I'm sure you'll agree.

Icebox Potato Rolls

1 cup warm milk
3/4 cup shortening
1 cup boiled, mashed potatoes
2 packages yeast
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon salt
2 eggs
5-6 cups flour

In a small pan set over medium-high heat, warm the milk until just beginning to boil. Allow to cool to lukewarm.

In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast in 1/4 cup of warm water. Add the milk followed by the potatoes, shortening, sugar, and eggs. Add the flour and salt, starting with 5 cups of flour and using up to 1 additional cup until the dough is no longer sticky.

Cover and store in the refrigerator overnight or up to 5 days.

Roll the dough out to an even thickness, about 3/4 inch thick, on a floured surface. Using a biscuit cutter or cup, cut out rounds in the desired size. Place on a greased pan and allow to rise for 1-2 hours or until doubled in size.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400°. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown on top.

Can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for several days or frozen for later use.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

purposeful celebration

In homes around the world, today holds the promise of so many cherished traditions. The excitement of gift giving and receiving. The reunion of family and friends from far and wide. The expectant hope for snow flurries and subsequent dreams of Bing's White Christmas. And, yes, the devouring of gourmet meals and tasty treats.

Amidst all of these wonderful memory-makers, though, is a truth far more sacred. Set aside to celebrate the holy birth of Christ here on Earth, Christmas is most importantly a day of thanksgiving and reverence - for Christ's sacrifice and salvation.

And so, my friends, I hope this day is full of all the goodness of the season in your hearts and homes. But, between the wrapping paper and bows...Christmas ham (or turkey, if you please) and endless baked traditions and antics, I hope you'll take some moments to reflect on the greater meaning of this most special day.

Merry Christmas, y'all!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

fudge brownies

Remember those fabulous wedding cake fillings I posted about way back when? You know, before pumpkins and butternut squash got in the way?? At the time, I promised a follow-up recipe to make with any leftover mocha, Nutella, or raspberry goodness...and then I just left you hanging. My most sincere apologies.

When looking for a new brownie recipe to accompany these flavors, I knew that Deb wouldn't let me down. Almost fudge-like in their denseness and chocolatey richness, these bad boys are pretty near perfect on their own. Top them with a dollop of any one of the fillings, though, and they're somehow even better. Either way, they're pretty life changing.

Fudge Brownies
Yield: One 8x8 pan

3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 stick unsalted butter, plus more for pan
1 1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon flaky sea salt or 1/4 teaspoon table salt
2/3 cup all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a 8x8 square baking pan with parchment paper or foil, extending it up two sides of pan. Butter the liner. Set aside.

In a medium heat-proof bowl set over gently simmering water, melt chocolate and butter together until only a couple of unmelted bits remain. Off the heat, stir until smooth and fully melted. Whisk in the sugar, then eggs one at a time, then vanilla and salt. Stir in the flour until fully incorporated and then scrape batter into a prepared pan, spreading out until even. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Let cool before cutting into desired size bars. May also be frozen prior to cutting for cleaner margins.

From Smitten Kitchen

Thursday, December 20, 2012

butternut squash lasagna

Some dishes are a favorite simply because of how tasty they are. Others are loved for the wonderful memories they evoke. For me, this dish qualifies for both categories.

The first time I had this meal was last year in my dear friend Erienne's home. One bite, and I was smitten. With it's predominant butternut squash flavor and the depth of heat from the spicy meat, it was the perfect dinner for a cold, fall night in my book. So with a firm resolve, I determined that it would definitely be on my calendar for this year's Autumn harvest.

And alas, if truth be told, I made this dish a couple of months ago in the prime of fall when butternut squash cheered eagerly for attention from the produce aisles of every grocery store in Virginia. Unfortunately, the chaos of work got in the way of our little blog visits, leaving me now rushing to capture the fleeting moments of Autumn's bounty on this, the eve of Winter Solstice, before you, too, are forced to wait a year before adding it to your menu.

At first glance, this dish may seem complicated and difficult with its instructions to cut the awkwardly round and hard squash into thin slices. But, let me assure you, it's surprisingly easy to do so. Trust me...and see for yourself.

Butternut Squash Lasagna
Yield about 6 servings

1 pound hot Italian sausage (I found hot poultry Italian sausage at Wegmans and loved it, but regular pork sausage is delicious as well, though.)
1 medium red onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 15-ounce can pizza sauce
1/2 cup roasted red peppers
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 bunch of fresh basil
1 large butternut squash, peeled

Preheat the oven to 400°.

Cut the neck from the bulb of the squash and set aside the bulb for another use. Slice the neck in half lengthwise then carefully slice into thin cross-sections. Set aside.

In a large saucepan set over medium-high heat, brown the sausage and onions. Add the garlic and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Remove from the heat and set aside.

In the bowl of a food processor, combine the pizza sauce, red peppers, oil, and 2 large leaves of basil. Puree until smooth.

In a 9x13 inch baking dish, spread a dollop of the sauce mixture to cover the bottom. Place a single of the squash over top, fitting in as many pieces as possible in a uniform direction. Top with the meat mixture, evenly distributing it throughout the dish. Chiffonade 2 additional basil leaves and sprinkle over the meat. Pour half of the remaining sauce evenly over the top. Place a second layer of squash slices evenly on top. Top with the remaining sauce.

Cover the dish with foil and cook in the oven for 40-45 minutes or until the squash is fork-tender.

Garnish with additional chiffonaded basil leaves.

Adapted from Easy Paleo

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

graham crackers

This year has most definitely been a year full of weddings for me - five in all - with three of them being those of my closest friends.

First there was Rach - my Kindred Spirit...and the one who can make me smile at the very thought of her. :) Hers was the stuff of fairy tales - the celebration of a truly great man at last marrying the girl he had fallen in love with as a thirteen year old boy. Oh, and did I mention it was a double wedding with the bride's fabulous sister and her Prince Charming? Such a fun day...and such an honor to not only stand up in support of my beloved friend in Malibu Blue but also make the 'cutting' cake for the bride and her groom.

September brought the wedding of Lolo - my greatest encourager...and the one I can always count on for amazing hugs and late night giggle parties. :) Hers was the perfect Southern affair - Hotlanta style. With a bridal party that included our group of close friends - looking mighty fine in Italian Plum, if I must say so myself - and a reception full of fabulous dance moves, it was pretty much the perfect wedding weekend.

And alas, most recently, there was the wedding of Cater - my rock...and the one who's listening ear, wise counsel, and patient heart mean the world to me. Hers showcased the beauty of Virginia Autumn like none other. Held at a quiet, rural vineyard and embraced by the last fall-tinted mountain trees of the year, the evening was the very definition of understated sophistication. Opting to forgo a wedding cake for a bonfire and s'mores bar, the lovely bride had, like most any reasonable person, planned on purchasing some good ol' dependable store-bought ingredients for the sweet treats. Ah but I, of course, would have none of it. Without having ever made either of them before, I insisted upon contributing enough homemade graham crackers and marshmallows to feed 100 hungry s'mores makers. Oy pressure there!

First up, graham crackers. Talking about the project at work, my coworkers repeatedly asked me if it was worth the effort...are homemade graham crackers really any better than the ones in that dependable blue box at the store? The conclusion? Absolutely. Especially considering the fact that I had to go a step further and...wait for it...monogram them. Seriously, how can you say no to homemade monogrammed graham crackers?!

The flavor of the crackers wasn't incredibly different than the store bought was just better. Using basic pantry staples, the final product boasted a pure, uncomplicated honey graham flavor. The texture - though slightly less crunchy and crumbly than the packaged ones - had just the right amount of crispness and chewiness to enjoy as a simple snack...or as a piping hot s'more... :)

Note: While I very often measure my baking ingredients by volume, I took the time to weigh everything but the baking soda and salt for this recipe.

Graham Crackers
Yield: about 4 dozen 2-inch squares

2 cups plus 2 tablespoons (300 grahams) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (75 grams) whole wheat flour
1 cup (176 grams) brown sugar, lightly packed
1 teaspoon (6 grams) baking soda
3/4 teaspoon (4 grams) coarse sea salt
7 tablespoons (100 grams) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes and frozen
1/3 cup (114 grams) mild-flavored honey (I used clover)
5 tablespoons (77 grams) whole milk
2 tablespoons (27 grams) pure vanilla extract

3 tablespoons (43 grams) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon (5 grams) cinnamon

Combine the flours, brown sugar, baking soda, and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Pulse on low speed to incorporate. Add the butter and pulse in 1-second bursts until the mixture is the consistency of a coarse meal.

In a small bowl, whisk together the honey, milk, and vanilla. Add to the flour mixture and pulse in 1-second bursts until the dough has come together. It will be very soft and sticky. Transfer the dough to a large piece of plastic wrap that has been lightly dusted with flour. Form into a disk, wrap, and chill until firm, at least 2 hours.

Meanwhile, prepare the topping by combining the sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl, stirring until blended. Set aside.

Divide the chilled dough in half and return one portion to the freezer. Working on a large sheet of parchment paper that has been evenly dusted with flour, roll the dough into a long rectangle, approximately 1/8 of an inch thick. Use either a cookie cutter or a pastry cutter to cut the crackers into the desired shape. Transfer the cutouts to a silicone mat-lined baking sheet, leaving at least an inch between them. Re-chill and re-roll dough scraps as needed. (The dough will get stickier as it warms to room temp.)

Chill the dough once more in the freezer until firm, about 15 minutes. (I started skipping this step on about batch 3 out of 5, and I didn't notice a difference in the final product.)

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350°.

If desired, use the blunt end of a wooden skewer to create a dotted pattern on the top of each cracker or use a small cookie/fondant cutter to lightly press a unique design. Lightly and evenly top with a dash of the topping mixture.

Bake for 12-18 minutes until firm and slightly firm to the touch. Allow the crackers to cool on the baking sheet for 2 minutes then transfer to a cooling rack until completely cooled. Store in an airtight container.

(Note: These freeze very well. Simply allow the crackers to come to room temperature before serving.)

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Saturday, November 24, 2012

turkey pot pie

Sweet potato casserole. Green bean casserole. Corn casserole. Homemade rolls. Cornbread dressing. And yes, turkey. The memory of Thanksgiving dinner is still vibrant in my mind - all the more so thanks to the fact that I had to work a 12 hour shift at the hospital on Turkey Day, which meant my family had to postpone the celebration until Black Friday. But oh my, was it worth the wait!

And so today we were left with the timeless question of what to do with all that leftover turkey. If truth be told, I'm not generally a huge fan of Thanksgiving turkey - I'd choose Christmas ham any day of the week. But good golly Miss Molly do I get excited about those inevitable turkey leftovers. Why?? Because I love pot pie. As in I consider it one of my all-time favorite comfort foods and would be strongly tempted to choose it for a last meal if forced to do so. Ahhhh it puts me in a thankful mood all over again - especially considering the fact that this dish, in full disclosure, was actually make by my loving mother, for me, as a special birthday dinner. ;-)

Clearly this dish can just as easily be made with chicken, which is the more common version. But I urge you, friends, to live on the wild side and use those turkey remnants as an excuse to enjoy every bite of the goodness that is flaky, buttery crust and savory, creamy poultry and veggies.

Turkey Pot Pie
Yield 6 servings

Savory pie dough topping:

1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
3-4 tablespoons ice water


1 1/2 pounds pre-cooked turkey breasts and/or thighs, shred into bite-size pieces.
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium-large onion, finely chopped
3 medium carrots, peeled and cut crosswise into 1/4-inch thick slices
2 small celery ribs, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch thick slices
salt and ground pepper
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups milk
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme
3 tablespoons dry white wine
3/4 cup frozen peas, thawed
3 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves

for the topping:

Mix the flour and salt in a food processor. Scatter the butter pieces over the mixture and pulse in 1-second bursts until the flour is pale yellow and resembles coarse cornmeal, with butter bits no larger than small peas. Turn the mixture into a medium bowl.

Sprinkle 3 tablespoons of the ice water over the mixture. With a rubber spatula, use a folding motion to mix the water in. Press down on the dough mixture with the broad side of the spatula until the dough sticks together, adding up to 1 tablespoon more ice water if the dough will not come together. Shape the dough into a ball, then flatten it into a 4-inch wide disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate 30 minutes or up to 2 days before rolling.

for the filling:

Preheat the oven to 400°.

In a Dutch oven set over medium-high heat, heat the oil. Add the onion, carrots, and celery and saute until just tender, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Transfer the cooked vegetables to a bowl. Add the turkey, and set aside.

Heat the butter over medium heat in the now-empty pan. When the foaming subsides, add the flour and cook for 1 minute. Whisk in the chicken broth, milk, and thyme. Bring to a simmer, then continue to simmer until the sauce fully thickens, about 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper to taste and stir in the wine.

Pour the sauce over the chicken mixture and stir to combine. Stir in the peas and parsley. Adjust the seasonings. (The mixture can be covered and refrigerated overnight; reheat before topping with the pastry.)

Pour the mixture into a 9x13-inch baking pan.

Roll the dough on a floured surface into a rectangle approximately 11x15 inches and 1/8 inch thick. Place the dough over the filling, trimming the dough that overhangs to within 1/2 inch of the pan lip. Tuck the overhanging dough back under itself so the folded edge is flush with the pan lip. Flute the edges all around. Cut at least four 1-inch vent holes in the crust.

Bake until the pastry is golden brown and the filling is bubbling, about 30 minutes. Serve hot.

Adapted from The New Best Recipe

Sunday, November 11, 2012

pumpkin blondies

When I discovered this recipe last year, I knew it was going to become a yearly staple in my kitchen. The first time I baked them was in Greenville, SC (one of my very favorite cities!) as a special treat for the resident physicians I was working with for a month...and they disappeared within a few hours. The second time I baked them was in Charlotte, NC (ahhh the Queen City) as a special treat for the resident physicians I was spending the following month with...and they disappeared within a few hours. And this year, I made them as a special treat for my coworkers...and - you guessed it - they disappeared within a few hours minutes. Sense a theme? :)

With their super moist texture, these bars, in all honesty, probably resemble cake more than blondies - not that that's a bad thing! The pumpkin flavor is predominant, shining through in all its glory, and is perfectly sweetened by the two types of chips.

As a bonus, these bars also freeze wonderfully. I reserved a few of them from my 'take to work' tray and stashed them in the freezer to save for a 'welcome back from Iraq' party (more on this later!), and the second version was just as delicious as the first. Simply allow them to thaw at room temperature and serve as usual.

Pumpkin Blondies

2 cups all1purpose flour
1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
16 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup pumpkin puree
1 cup white chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups butterscotch chips, divided
1/2 cup chopped, toasted nuts (optional - I've never added them)

Preheat the oven to 350°. Line a 9x13-inch baking dish with parchment paper or aluminum foil, leaving an overhang on the long sides.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, pumpkin pie spice, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, beat together the butter and  sugars on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in the egg and vanilla until well combined. Mix in the pumpkin puree. With the mixer running on low speed, add the dry ingredients and mix until just incorporated. Stir in the white chocolate chips 1 cup of the butterscotch chips (and the nuts, if using). 

Spread the batter evenly in the prepared pan and sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup of butterscotch chips over the top. Bake until the edges begin to pull away from the sides of the pan and a tooth pick inserted in the center comes out with just a few crumbs, about 35-40 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and allow to cool completely before cutting.

Use the parchment paper/foil hangers to remove the bars from the pan. Cut into 24 squares and serve.

Adapted from Martha Stewart via Annie's Eats

Thursday, November 1, 2012

spaghetti squash with pomodoro sauce

I think it's probably safe to say that when most people - myself included - think of fall squash, butternut and acorn are likely the first varieties that come to mind. But, my friends, it would be a tragedy to not consider further and spend some time exploring the wonder that is spaghetti squash. Whether you're one who is hoping to sample another of this season's fresh goodies...or are simply looking to cut back a little on the refined grains in your diet...spaghetti squash is a delightful option.

As is, this recipe has been a fall go-to for me for a few years now. This time around, though, I decided to make a little addition to the sauce in the form of sliced mushrooms. Conclusion? You can't go wrong with either version. And, as a bonus, that little dash of red pepper flakes offers the perfect little kick to combat those quickly dropping temperatures from the inside out. Brrr y'all!

Spaghetti Squash with Pomodoro Sauce
Yield: 4 servings

1 spaghetti squash (about 1 1/2 pounds)
extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 cup white button mushrooms, sliced (optional)
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon dry white wine
1 28-ounce can whole or diced tomatoes in their juice
2 teaspoons dried Italian seasonings
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
fresh basil or parsley

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

Halve the squash lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Cover a baking sheet with aluminum foil and lightly coat the oil with olive oil. Position the squash halves, flesh side down, on the sheet. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until you can easily pierce the shell with a fork.

While the squash bakes, heat 2 tablespoons oil over medium heat in a large sauce pan. Add the onion and mushrooms and saute until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and saute an additional minutes, stirring often to ensure the garlic doesn't burn. Add the tomato paste and stir to coat, about 30 seconds. Carefully add the wine, working quickly to scrape the bottom of the pan free of residue. Add the tomatoes, seasonings, and red pepper flakes, stirring to mix. Cover and simmer over medium-low heat for 30 minutes. 

Remove the squash from the oven. Scrape crosswise to remove the strands from the shell. Plate and pour sauce over the squash. Garnish with fresh herbs.

Adapted from Epicurious 

Sunday, October 28, 2012

apple crisp

When it comes to desserts in this country, I feel like there are two opposing camps: those who prefer cake and those who side with pie. Well, I suppose there's the third group, championed by my dad, who will take a slice of both, thank you very much...but we'll just humor them for the moment. ;-) I'm a cake girl myself (though I would never turn down a piece of good peach pie).

That being said, this time of year, members of both dessert parties tend to pay more than a little attention to that great all-American favorite: apple pie. Served warm with an essential side of melty vanilla ice cream, it's the perfect fall treat to break up the pumpkin dessert obsessions of the season. The trouble is, I've had one too many disappointing slices of that particular pie. You know the kind. That pie that looks so pretty on the outside but is little more than soggy crust and watery apples on the inside. Oh, I know there are zillions of recipes for genuinely delicious versions of the dish. But, in my mind, I'd rather just have one of my childhood crisp. Specifically, my mom's apple crisp.

In our home, pie may have reigned supreme during the summer in the form of strawberry, but come fall, it was always pushed aside in favor of our favorite crisp. I'm not sure where my mother got this particular recipe, but it's been our go-to version for as long as I can remember. Try it, and I'm sure you'll understand why.

By the way, when I made this a few weeks ago for some girlfriends in honor of our movie-night-slash-slumber-party at my house (fact: us gals are never too old for slumber parties!), some people who will who will remain nameless snuck into the leftovers to finish it off for breakfast. ;-) No judgement here. It is half fruit...

Note: My mom usually increases the recipe a little to fit in a 9x13 inch baking dish by adding a couple of apples, which spreads them out a little and speeds up the cooking time. I actually wanted a slightly thicker finished product this time around, so I stuck with the smaller dish. If you make it in the larger dish, it should definitely be done by 40 minutes. If you go with the smaller dish, you may have to increase the time by 10-15 minutes. Just keep a close eye on it to make sure the topping doesn't get too dark!

Apple Crisp

6 medium apples, peeled, cored, and chopped

for the topping:
1 cup oats
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup butter
1 tbsp cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 375°.

Place apples in a greased 9x9 inch square pan, spreading evenly.

With a pastry cutter, mix the topping ingredients until crumbly. Sprinkle evenly over apples. Bake for 40-45 minutes, covering with aluminum foil if the topping starts to darken too much.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

pumpkin chicken chili

There's something about the crisp coolness of Autumn temperatures and the changing of the leaves - which any good current or former Blacksburg resident will quickly use to point out that God clearly shows his college football loyalties by painting the trees in orange and maroon...Hokie colors! - that put me in the mood for chili. In fact, one of my favorite memories from my years in Blacksburg revolves around chili. Eager to enjoy a day off from school as well as the the gorgeous fall weather and mountains of southern Virginia, four of my closest friends and I decided to explore the local chili cook-off featuring a dozen culinary masterpieces from area restaurants, caterers, and college fraternities. Let me assure you, we had no regrets. I wish I could tell you now what our favorite variations were, but the passage of three busy years have sadly dimmed those finer details from the afternoon - though the cherished memory of yummy hot chocolate, a beautiful hay ride, and a less than impressive corn maze resonates eternal in this heart.

So, the sentimental comfort of chili + the goodness of the season's beloved pumpkin? My curiosity compelled me to action. And, I must say, I was pleased. With just the right amount of spice thanks to a heavy dose of chili powder, just the right amount of chunk compliments of cubed chicken and diced bell peppers, and just the right amount of uniqueness due to the addition of pumpkin, cocoa powder, and cinnamon - this dish is all kinds of goodness.

Pumpkin Chicken Chili
Yield: 4-5

2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 cup red onion, diced
1 cup green bell pepper, diced
2 jalapeno peppers, diced with seeds and membranes removed
1 1/2 pounds chicken breasts, cubed
1 garlic clove, minced
1 1/2 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
3 ounces tomato paste
1 cup white wine
1 cup chicken broth
1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes with their juice
1 1/2 cups canned pumpkin puree
1 tablespoon fresh cilantro, minced
1/2 tablespoon cocoa powder

Heat the oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion and saute until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add the bell peppers and jalapenos and saute an additional 5 minutes. Add the chicken and garlic and saute until the chicken is lightly browned on all sides, stirring constantly. Add the chili powder, pumpkin pie spice, coriander, salt, cinnamon, and tomato paste, stirring constantly until all moisture is absorbed, about 30 seconds. Carefully poor in the wine and quickly scrape the bottom of the pan to release all the spices. Stir in the chicken broth and tomatoes with their juice. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes over medium-low heat. Stir in the pumpkin, cilantro, and cocoa powder. Cover, and simmer for an additional 5 minutes. Serve hot.

Adapted from Civilized Caveman Cooking

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

blueberry banana bread pancakes

We've already established the fact that I love pancakes. What I don't love, though, is having a heavy breakfast first thing in the morning on a regular basis. Special occasions? Good heavens, yes. But not before a 12+ hour day at work. That, my friends, calls for something hearty but healthy to set the tone for such a marathon of responsibilities.

These pancakes are most definitely up for that challenge. Gluten-free and speckled with juicy blueberries, they're a guilt free way to start the day. Given the sweetness of the berries, I expected them to take center stage in the flavor department. But oh my, was I in for a surprise. The addition of a pureed banana gives these hotcakes a moist and tender texture and a taste reminiscent of a not-too-sweet banana bread. Topped with a pat of coconut oil or butter and a drizzle of agave nectar, syrup, or honey? I'll take a tall stack, please.

Blueberry Banana Bread Pancakes
Yield: 1-2

1 ripe banana, mashed
1 large egg, scrambled
2 tablespoons almond meal
1 tablespoon almond butter
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup frozen blueberries

Mix all of the ingredients together in a medium sized bowl. Allow to rest for 10 minutes.

Over medium-low heat, melt a pat of butter or coconut oil in a griddle pan. Spoon the batter into individual mounds in the pan, spreading them out to uniform thickness. Cook for 3-4 minutes or until the underside is golden brown, and the topside turns from glossy to dull. Carefully flip and cook for an additional 1 minute.

Serve with butter or coconut oil and syrup, agave nectar, or honey of your choosing.

Adapted from Souvlaki for the Soul

Sunday, October 14, 2012

quinoa with moroccan winter squash and carrot stew

In the past few years, trips home to my parents' house during the fall and winter months have almost certainly included time in the kitchen for my mom and I, making this dish together. An absolute favorite of ours, it has become a must-make staple on our menu and often, in fact, gets doubled in quantity just so we can savor it for several days each time. Fortunately for us, the spicy kick is far too much heat for my spice-phobic father, meaning one thing: more for us enjoy...a consequence we're more than willing to deal with. :)

This year, long work hours have me much too busy for any quick trips to my beloved central Virginia until Christmas. Feeling a tad homesick...and eager to savor my first taste of Morocco this season...making this dish wasn't an option. And oh boy, did it hit the spot. I do have to confess, though, that I came to one conclusion: as perfect as the recipe is, the secret ingredient is Mom's Company...because it somehow doesn't taste quite the same without it.

Quinoa with Moroccan Winter Squash and Carrot Stew
Yield: 4 servings

for the stew:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons Hungarian sweet paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 cup water or broth (I use chicken broth for added flavor)
1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes with their juice
3 cups 1-inch cubes peeled butternut squash (about 1 1/2-pound squash)
2 cups 3/4-inch cubes peeled carrots
salt to taste

for the quinoa:
1 cup quinoa
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1/4 cup finely chopped peeled carrot
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
2 cups water or broth (again, I use broth)
salt to taste

1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro, divided

for the stew:
Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and saute until soft, stirring often, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and 7 spices, stirring constantly for 1 minute. Add the water or broth and tomatoes with their juice. Bring to a boil. Add the squash and carrots. Cover and simmer over medium-low heat until vegetables are tender, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes. Season with salt. (Can be make 1 day ahead. Cover and chill.)

for the quinoa:
Using a large sieve, rinse the quinoa under cold running water, draining fully. Melt the butter with the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and carrot. Cover and cook until the vegetables begin to brown, stirring often, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and turmeric and saute 1 minute. Add the quinoa and stir for 1 minute. Add the water or broth and bring to a boil, reducing the heat to medium-low. Cover and simmer until the liquid is absorbed and the quinoa is tender, about 15 minutes.

Rewarm the stew. Stir in half of the cilantro and salt to taste. Spoon the quinoa onto a platter, forming a well in the center. Spoon the stew into the well. Sprinkle the remaining cilantro over the top.

Adapted from The Flavors of Bon Appetit 2007

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

pumpkin bread

Though I don't make them very often - simply because I don't have the willpower to refrain from eating an entire loaf by myself - I really, really love a good sweet, dense, quick bread. In my mind, it's one of those foods that is totally acceptable at the breakfast table even though it probably should be classified as a dessert...along with cinnamon rolls and donuts. What's not to love about that? - they're all winners in my book. But this time of year, the clear winner has to be pumpkin.

A couple of weeks ago, my dear friend Sally came to visit for a couple of days, which gave me the perfect excuse to make a sweet, Autumn treat for breakfast. Deciding on pumpkin bread and wanting to share some of it with my lovely coworkers as well, I decided to make half of the recipe into muffins instead of a second loaf like the recipe called for. With both forms turning out a-mazing, folks, I can confidently say that this recipe is going on my yearly "I.can't.wait.for.fall" baking list.

Of note, since I figured that the muffins had more surface area than the loaf, I increased the topping to 1.5 times the original recipe and used nearly all of it. If making 24 muffins, I would most likely double the topping. After all, isn't that everyone's favorite part, anyway?

P.S. Thanks for the pics, Sally! :)

Pumpkin Bread
Yield: 2 loaves or 1 loaf and 12 muffins or 24 muffins

For the topping:
5 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt

For the bread:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 (15-ounce) can unsweetened pumpkin puree
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup canola oil
4 ounces cream cheese, softened and cut into 12 pieces
4 large eggs
1/4 cup buttermilk
1 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped fine

For the topping:
Using fingers, mix all ingredients together in a bowl until well combined and topping resembles wet sand. Set aside.

For the bread:
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease two 8 1/2 x 4 1/2 inch loaf pans (or standard muffin pans). Set aside.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and baking soda together in a bowl. Set aside.

In a large saucepan set over medium heat, combine the pumpkin puree, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. Cook the mixture, stirring constantly, until reduced to 1 1/2 cups, about 6-8 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat. Stir in the granulated sugar, brown sugar, oil, and cream cheese until combined. Let the mixture stand for 5 minutes then whisk until no visible signs of cream cheese remain and mixture is homogenous. 

In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs and buttermilk. Add the egg mixture to the pumpkin mixture and whisk to combine. Fold the flour mixture into the pumpkin mixture until combined (some small lumps of flour are alright). Fold the walnuts into the batter.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pans. Sprinkle the topping evenly over the top of each loaf. Bake until a skewer inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean, 40-50 minutes (20-25 minutes for muffins). Let breads cool in pan on wire rack for 20 minutes. Remove breads from pans and let cool for at least 1 1/2 hours. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Slightly adapted from Cook's Illustrated September/October 2012. 

Sunday, October 7, 2012

red curry with chicken, sweet potato, and baby bok choy

This dish wasn't supposed to be high maintenance. Boasting a reasonable number of ingredients and a very simple cooking method, it was supposed to come together with ease. And yet, somehow, the grocery shopping for it turned into the ultimate treasure hunt. With two Asian grocery stores mere miles from my house and a Whole Foods just a little further down the way, I would have never imagined how much effort I would have to put into finding one solitary ingredient: kaffir lime leaves. Ultimately, they became my Holy Grail, my pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. And after visiting four stores and calling three others? Success! Victory is sweet indeed...or, in this case, curry-flavored.

So was the craziness worth it? Absolutely. Balancing the sweetness of the coconut milk with the saltiness of the fish sauce and the lovely spice of the red curry paste, I have no doubt that those little leaves made the dish. ;-) Could I have simply skipped that one ingredient? Probably. But I wanted authentic, people! And after tasting the finished product, and can assure you: I would do it all again.

Note: this dish was made as a contribution to ONE's ongoing sweet potato campaign. Be sure to check out their tumblr.

Red Curry with Chicken, Sweet Potato, and Baby Bok Choy
Yield: 2-4 servings

1 (15-ounce) can unsweetened coconut milk
2 tablespoons red curry paste
1 large sweet potato, cut into bite-size chunks
1-2 cups chicken broth
1 tablespoon palm sugar or dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 cup roasted chicken, shredded
6 kaffir lime leaves
1 red or green chili pepper, minced
1 bunch baby bok choy, chopped into bite-size pieces
1/2 - 1 cup chopped fresh cilantro or Thai basil (or a combination of the two)
fresh lime juice to taste, optional
Srirachi or your favorite hot sauce to taste, optional

cooked rice

Combine coconut milk and red curry paste in a wok or deep saucepan. Stir well to combine and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium and add sweet potato, simmering for 10 minutes or until slightly tender.

Add 1 cup of stock, sugar, fish sauce, chicken, lime leaves, and pepper. Stir together and continue to simmer for an additional 10 minutes or until the sweet potato is fork-tender.

Add the baby bok choy and cilantro and reduce heat to medium-low, simmering for 3-4 minutes or until greens are wilted.

Adjust taste and thickness as desired by adding up to a cup of additional stock.

Serve over rice with optional toppings.

Adapted from Savoring Southeast Asia: Recipes and Reflections of Southeast Asian Cooking via Healthy Green Kitchen

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

gingerbread cookies with pumpkin spice dip

If your home was anything like mine growing up, there are certain foods that immediately jump to mind when thinking about certain seasons, holidays, and/or events. In our family, Christmas requires homemade cinnamon roll 'wreaths', summer equals strawberry pie, my birthday can't be celebrated without German chocolate cake, and fall calls for gingerbread cookies with pumpkin dip. (Sidenote: Contrary to reasonable misconception, we do, indeed, eat foods other than dessert. I promise.)

When I made these cookies as a special treat for my coworkers, my roommate walked into the kitchen and exclaimed, "It smells like fall in here!" Then she took a bite of one and said, "They're the perfect combination of soft and chewy." I'm not sure I need to say anything more. Chewy gingerbread cookie + pumpkin cream cheese dip = success.

Gingerbread Cookies with Pumpkin Spice Dip
Yield: enough to help a whooole lot of people celebrate fall

For the cookies:
1 1/2 cups butter, softened
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup molasses
4 cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon salt
additional sugar

For the dip:
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 cup canned pumpkin pie mix
1 cup confectioners' sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger

Preheat the oven to 375°F. 

In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the molasses; mix well. In a second bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and salt. Add to the creamed mixture and mix well. Chill overnight.

Shape into 1/2 inch balls and roll in sugar. Place 2 inches apart on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake for 6 mintues or until the edges begin to brown. Cool for 2 mintues before removing to a wire rack.

For the dip, beat the cream cheese in a mixing bowl until smooth. Add the pumpkin, mixing well. Add the sugar, cinnamon, and ginger, beating until smooth. Serve with the cookies, storing any leftover dip in the refrigerator.

From Taste of Home

Sunday, September 30, 2012

sweet potato, lentil, and goat cheese salad

As the calender changes from summer to fall, bringing with it cooler temperatures, earlier sunsets, and discussions about the ridiculously early Christmas decorations that already fill the stores, I feel like most people inevitably say goodbye to the light fare of summer and welcome in a season of heavier, richer foods. But, it doesn't have to be that way. Take this salad, for example. Blending the fall-friendly flavor of roasted sweet potatoes with nutritious lentils, guilt-free arugula, and just a smidgen of creamy goat cheese - its the ideal way to hold on to the refreshing meals of summertime while still embracing one of Autumn's most beloved harvests.

This recipe was made in honor of ONE's ongoing sweet potato campaign. Please be sure to check out their tumblr for a delightful collection of yummy recipes.

Sweet Potato, Lentil, and Goat Cheese Salad
Yield: 6 as an appetizer, 3 as a main

3/4 cup green lentils
6 cups cubed sweet potato, 3-5 sweet potatoes depending on size
3 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon hot smoked Spanish paprika or Hungarian paprika
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
2 large bunches arugula (about 4 cups)
1 cup soft crumbled goat cheese, divided
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar, plus additional to taste

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Toss the sweet potatoes with 2 tablespoons oil, cumin, paprika, and salt. Arrange in a single layer on a lined baking sheet and roast for 20 minutes. Flip the pieces and roast for an additional 10-15 minutes or until tender. Cool and set aside.

Meanwhile, soak the lentils for 10 minutes in a small bowl, then drain. In a large pot, cook the lentils in boiling salted water until tender but firm, about 30 minutes. Rinse with cold water than drain and cool.

Combine the lentils, sweet potatoes, any accumulated oil from pan, arugula, half of the goat cheese, vinegar, and 1 tablespoon oil. Season with salt and pepper and additional vinegar if desired. Divide among plates and sprinkle with remaining goat cheese.

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Thursday, September 27, 2012

paleo carrot cake pancakes

I have several friends who have adopted the Paleo lifestyle as their standard diet...most notably one of my favorite people in the whole world. Erienne, this post is for you, dear friend. :)

Having enjoyed several 'caveman diet'-friendly meals at E's house in the past...and always intrigued by the plethora of recipes that pop up on Pinterest...I decided to venture on the wild side and try whipping up one of them myself. Now, if there are two things I can't resist, they're carrot cake and pancakes. So, a guilt-free breakfast that offers both of those in one? I'm game.

The conclusion? The texture of these is probably never going to be mistaken for ol' fashioned buttermilk pancakes. Slightly more eggy and tender than the norm thanks to the obvious absence of gluten, they still manage to be extremely light with just the right amount of chewiness. As for the taste, the carrot and spice flavors truly shine through and are perfectly accented by a splash of agave nectar or honey (which I'm not sure are technically in line with strict Paleo) and a pat of coconut oil (aren't you proud, Erienne?). In other words, they're worth making. Today.

Oh, and in case you missed it, the National Book Festival took place this past weekend on The Mall in DC. First hosted by the lovely Laura Bush in 2001 and organized yearly by the Library of Congress, this fabulous event stretches much of the distance between the Capitol and the Washington Monument, filling the lawn with big white tents and hundreds of thousands of people. Famous authors from across the country came for speeches/Q&A sessions and book signings...including R.L. Stine (of Goosebumps fame) and former Olympian Dominique Moceanu. I think it's safe to say that I wasn't the only one who was starstruck...

Paleo Carrot Cake Pancakes
Yield: approximately 5 medium pancakes

1/2 cup almond meal
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup carrots, shredded (approximately 2 medium)
3 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup canned coconut milk
2 tablespoons coconut oil
2 tablespoons coconut flour or arrow root
1/4 cup raisins (I used golden raisins)
1/4 cup walnuts, chopped
coconut oil
agave nectar, honey, or maple syrup

Mix all of the dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Add the carrots, eggs, coconut milk, oil, raisins, and walnuts. Mix thoroughly.

Preheat a large skillet on medium-high heat, and add enough coconut oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Pour batter into small mounds on the hot surface. Cook until bubbles form on the surface and bottom is golden brown, 3-4 minutes. Flip and continue to cook until the bottom surface is golden brown, about 1 minute.

Serve with coconut butter and agave nectar.

Adapted from paleOMG

Thursday, September 20, 2012

sauteed chicken with sun-dried tomatoes and white wine

Fresh summer produce may be winding down and abruptly getting pushed aside in favor of pumpkin and butternut squash, but that doesn't mean we have to say 'so long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, adieu' to tomatoes. (Sound of Music, anyone?) Enter: their sun-dried variety, which have all the rich, caramelized, chewy sweetness to handle the heavier dishes of fall and winter.

Inspired by a desire to use some of these candified treats hanging out in my fridge as well as a grumbling tummy that wasn't willing to wait for a lunch that required a lot of prep, this meal came together in my mind on my way home from church last Sunday and was on my plate less than 30 minutes later. Per-fect.

Sauteed Chicken with Sun-Dried Tomatoes and White Wine

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, brined in salted water, rinsed, and patted dry
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 large yellow onion, diced
heaping 3/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes, packed in oil (about 20), coarsely chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 cups dry white wine
salt and pepper to taste

Cut the chicken breasts into bite-sized chunks. Set aside.

In a Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and saute until softened and golden brown. Add the chicken, garlic, and tomatoes, stirring frequently until the chicken is lightly browned on all sides. Carefully add the wine, scraping up any bits from the bottom of the pan. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until the sauce is reduced and slightly thickened.

An Ashleigh Original :)

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

project wedding cake: mocha, nutella, and raspberry fillings

Shame on me. I told y'all I was making a wedding cake weeks ago...gave you the recipe for the yellow cake layer...and then got so busy actually baking the cake and its components that I failed to share with you one of my favorite parts of the finished product: the fillings! Yes, you read that correctly: the epic wedding cake is now an adventure of the past. I survived...the cake was successfully was enjoyed by all...and, most importantly, both the gorgeous ceremony and reception were the perfect celebration of a sweet couple's love and covenant commitment to each other.

As a quick recap, the cake consisted of three flavor combos: marble cake with mocha filling, devil's food cake with Nutella filling, and yellow cake with raspberry filling. When choosing recipes for the fillings, I already had a go-to one for the raspberry, which I had previously discovered for my friend Rachael's wedding cake.  The other two required a little research, though. And let me just tell you. The research paid off.

Top layer = mocha filling. As someone who doesn't drink coffee, I had no expectations of actually liking this one. But oh, I did. With the perfect balance of chocolate and coffee, this won over my heart and my taste buds.

Middle layer = Nutella filling. Starting with a base of store-bought chocolate-hazelnut goodness and adding just a few ingredients, this may be my new favorite food. Oh my, is it dangerous.

Bottom layer = raspberry filling. Have made this for yellow cake, chocolate cake, and cheesecake, I can assure you....something this simple should not taste this good.

Oh, and if you're looking for a way to use these yummies for something other than cake, have I got a suggestion for you. Stay tuned... ;-)

Mocha Buttercream

1/2 cup butter, softened
2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup cocoa powder, unsweetened
1 tablespoon espresso powder
4-6 tablespoons cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

In a small bowl, sift together the powdered sugar and cocoa powder. Set aside. In a large bowl, beat the butter on medium speed until smooth. Add vanilla. Alternatively beat in cocoa/sugar mixture and cream until smooth. Beat on medium speed until light and creamy, about 3 minutes.

Nutella Buttercream

3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup Nutella
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon milk
1 cup confectioners' sugar, sifted

In a large bowl, beat the buter and Nutella together until creamy. Add the vanilla, milk, and sugar and beat low speed until just about incorporated. Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat until the frosting is smooth.

Raspberry Filling

2 10-ounce bags frozen raspberries, thawed
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons arrow root or cornstarch

Puree the raspberries in a food processor, blender, or immersion blender. Press the puree through a fine-mesh strainer with the back of a spoon, removing the seeds. Heat the puree in a small pot with the sugar and cornstarch until the mixture boils, stirring constantly. As it boils, it should quickly thicken. Pull from the heat and let it cool completely.

Mocha from Dollhouse Bake Shoppe; Nutella from Tracey's Culinary Adventures; Raspberry from Smitten Kitchen

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

sweet potato, corn, and black bean chili

If you were to ask my Blacksburg girlfriends what I think about sweet potatoes, I have no doubt that you would get a jolly chuckle and emphatic answer in reply. You see, in our four years at school together, where our intimate knowledge of each other included everything from ice cream preferences to greatest hopes and fears, my obsession perfectly normal love for that most wonderous root veggie was well known. Annnnd the fact that I would eat them often enough each fall and winter to make the palms of my hands turn a nice, sweet shade of orange may or may not have been a frequent source of entertainment within our circle. ;-)

So, when my bff invited me to take part in ONE's latest nutrition campaign, which just so happens to be focused on none other than the great sweet potato, I knew it was a cause I wanted to be a part of. For those of you who share my enthusiasm for this nutritious and versatile ingredient, get excited about the numerous recipes that will be posted in the coming weeks during the course of the campaign! For anyone else, allow me to make an attempt at changing your opinion with a few taste bud temptations.

Sweet Potato and Black Bean Chili

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 large yellow onion, diced
1 large sweet potato, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons chilli powder
4 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon paprika
1 (14-ounce) can diced tomatoes
2 1/2 cups broth or water (I used chicken broth for an added depth of flavor)
2 (15-ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup frozen corn, thawed
1/3 cup fresh cilantro, minced

In a Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook until soft and lightly browned. Add the sweet potato, garlic, and spices and cook 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Add the tomatoes with their juice and stir, scraping any bits from the bottom of the pan. Add the broth and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer until the potatoes are tender, 15-20 minutes. Add the beans and corn and continue to simmer for 5 more minutes. Serve with a heavy sprinkle of cilantro.

Adapted from Fort Mill SC Living

Sunday, September 16, 2012

apple harvest cake with salted caramel cream cheese frosting

Oh Fall, how I've missed you! All winter, spring, and summer, I dream about your arrival and the party that ensues in the form of apples, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, and acorn squash. And rest assured: this gal is ready for that party.

Yes, I know that autumn doesn't technically begin until the end of this week, but I just can't wait any longer. So brace yourselves, Friends. A year's worth of harvest recipes are about to come bursting forth.

And what better way to welcome in this most lovely time of the year than with a caramel apple-inspired celebratory cake?? Having reached an exciting milestone at work, I decided that a tasty reward was in order for my coworkers. They didn't object.

Of note: this cake was surprisingly fluffy for an apple cake. While I was expecting a dense and heavy treat, this was actually quite light. More spice flavored than overtly apple, it tasted like autumn on a plate. And, paired with a fabulous cream cheese frosting made extra special by the addition of a homemade salted caramel sauce, it was definitely a flavor combo that showed off the best tastes of the season.

P.S. Please excuse the less than lovely photo. Booo for long work hours and decreasing daylight!

Apple Harvest Cake with Salted Caramel Cream Cheese Frosting

For the cake:
3 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 cups sugar
2 tablespoons molasses
6 large eggs
3 cups cake flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 cup sour cream
3 Granny Smith apples, peeled and shredded (approximately 2 cups)
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

For the icing:
16 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into pieces, at room temperature
2 cups confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
pinch of salt
heaping 1/3 cup salted caramel sauce, more or less to taste

For the salted caramel sauce:
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons Kosher salt or sea salt

1/4 cup walnuts or pecans for garnish, toasted and chopped (optional)

To make the caramel sauce:

Pour the water into a medium saucepan. Add the sugar and corn syrup to the middle of the pan, avoiding any contact with the side of the pan. Over medium heat, bring to a boil, swirling the pan periodically but never stirring, until a deep amber color forms, about 6 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and carefully whisk in 1/4 cup cream. After bubbling subsides, add the remaining cream, butter, vanilla, and salt. Let the caramel cool to room temperature before using.

To make the cake:

Preheat the oven to 350°. Grease 3 9-inch cake pans, then line each one with a parchment paper round and grease the rounds.

In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in the molasses, scraping down the sides of the bowl. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. In a second bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, and ground spices. Add the flour mixture and sour cream alternately to the batter, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Stir in the shredded apples and vanilla.

Evenly distribute into the three pans (the batter will be very thick). Place in the oven and bake until a tooth pick inserted in the center comes out clean, 35-40 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the pans for 10 minutes. Run a knife along the edges and carefully unmold the cakes onto cooling racks. Cool completely before icing.

To make the frosting:

In a large mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese and butter until smooth, about 2 minutes. Add in the confectioners' sugar and continue beating until smooth. Add in the vanilla and salt. Slowly add in the caramel sauce. Beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3-4 minutes.

To assemble the cake:

Place one cake layer on a cake stand and spread a layer of icing on top. Repeat with the second layer of cake and additional icing. Top with the final layer and cover the entire cake with a thin 'crumb coat' layer of frosting. Refrigerate until icing is firm to the touch. Use the additional frosting to cover the cake in a final coat (you may have leftover frosting). Decorate as desired with toasted nuts and/or additional salted caramel.

Cake barely adapted from Pink Parsley; Frosting barely adapted from Good Thymes and Good Food

Thursday, September 13, 2012

candied pecans

When asked to make a salad for dinner at my bff's house a while back, my mind immediately traveled to all of the corners of possibility, trying to decide on the perfect combination for a hot weather, mid summer, al fresco dinner. My conclusion? Said salad must include peaches. Is there anything better than a fresh, sweet, and juicy summer peach?? Quite possibly, no. Adding romaine lettuce, goat cheese, these candied pecans, and a light balsamic vinegar made it perfect, indeed.

The beauty of these nuts is their versatility. Yes, they were delicious in the salad. But, they are also absolutely perfect for decorating cakes or cupcakes. So, moral of the story? Make these to add a sweet crunch to sensible, nutritious salad...and then use the leftovers as an excuse to make a decadent treat for dessert. Now how can you argue with that logic... ;-)

Candied Pecans

1 egg white
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 pound pecan halves
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 250°. Line a baking sheet sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat.

In a medium-sized bowl, mix together the sugars, salt, and cinnamon. 

In a large mixing bowl with the wire whip attachment, combine the egg white and vanilla until frothy. Add the pecans and stir to coat the nuts. Toss the nuts in the sugar mixture.

Spread the nuts on the baking sheet. Bake 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes.

From Ezra Pound Cake

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

southwest eggs and potatoes

I was blessed to attend school in beautiful Blacksburg, VA (go Hokies!!) for 2+ years. If you've never been to the area, let me paint you the picture. Nestled between the breath-taking Blue Ridge Mountains, this close-knit college community - proudly blanketed in all-things orange and maroon - just may boast the finest combination of endless university energy, homespun family values...and unique hippie flair. Resilient in the face of outstanding tragedies and unstoppable on the football field - there's nowhere else on Earth like it.

What truly gives Blacksburg a part of my heart, though, are the friendships and memories that are forever associated with it in my mind. An epic fondue party...a stellar murder mystery dinner first time shooting discs...a competitive gingerbread house challenge...popcorn-and-a-movie-nights...a hiking trip that ended in a lightening storm...themed dinners...and countless s'mores and Taboo games - those years were filled with the very best of times with the very best of friends.

One of my most beloved memories? Brunch at Gillies. A town favorite and a personal obsession, their food is local, fresh, and just plain amazing. My personal favorite? Their multigrain (Full House, anyone?) That being said, I always looked with envy at my friends' plates whenever they would order their egg and potato specials - topped with cheese and/or salsa depending on the preference. My solution? Make this oh-so-yummy-but-ridiculously-simple dish at home. Delicious breakfast AND a palatable reminder of dear memories?? That's definitely a winner in my book...a Hokie win!

Southwest Eggs and Potatoes
Yield 1 serving. Multiply as needed.

2 small or 1 medium red potato(es), scrubbed free of dirt
1/4 medium yellow onion, finely diced
2 eggs
2 tbsp milk
1/3 cup cheese, divided (I love Trader Joe's Jalapeno Monterey Jack Cheese, but many different types of cheese would work)
extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup salsa, slightly warmed in the microwave or on the stove top
1/4 avocado, cut into long strips (optional)
1 tablespoon fresh cilantro, minced (optional)

Pierce the potatoes with a knife a few times and microwave on high until cooked through, 2-4 minutes depending on size. Carefully move to a cutting board and allow to cool for 1-2 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, scramble the eggs and milk and a dash of salt and pepper. Stir in 1/4 cup of the cheese. Set aside.

Cut the potatoes into bite-size chunks. Then, in a medium-sized pan, heat a drizzle of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions and potatoes and simmer until the onions are soft and the potatoes are golden brown, stirring every so often. Salt and pepper to taste. Move the mixture to a plate, and, in the same pan, add the eggs and quickly stir to scramble them as they cook, 30-60 seconds.

Once finished, distribute the eggs over the potato-onion mixture. Quickly top with the remaining cheese and then the salsa. Sprinkle the cilantro over the top and add a side of avocado, if using. Salt and pepper to taste.

Inspired by Gillies

Sunday, September 2, 2012

fish en papillote with tomatoes and olives

I realize this dish is never going to win a beauty pageant. But trust me on this: the quick preparation, fun presentation, and fresh taste definitely make up for that. This fish truly takes just minutes to pull together, which means that if you pair it with a simple salad, you'll have a complete, healthy meal in less than half an hour. Plus, thanks to the ease of the parchment paper, you can count of one hand the number of dishes you'll dirty in the process. Oh, and it's the ideal light dinner to showcase those glorious homegrown/farmers' market tomatoes of late summer. A fabulous "garment" and bathing-suit-fit? Well, maybe it does deserve a pageant crown and sash.

Note: I used cod instead of red snapper, because that is what I had on hand. I think most any white fish would be good.

Fish en Papillote with Tomatoes and Olives
Yield 4 servings

4 (6-ounce) red snapper fillets (1-inch-thick), skinned
salt and freshly ground black pepper
12 (1/4-inch-thick) tomato slices (from 3-4 medium tomatoes)
12 Kalamata or other brine-cured black olives, pitted and thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into bits
zest from 1/2 orange, removed with a microplane grater
4 fresh herb springs, such as sage, thyme, or parsley

Preheat the oven to 500°F.

Cut four 12x15 inch sheets of parchment paper. Fold each sheet crosswise in half to crease, then unfold. Set aside.

Drain fish on double layer of paper towels, making sure any excess moisture is absorbed by the paper. Season fish with salt and pepper and put 1 fillet to the right of the crease on each sheet. Top each fillet with 3 tomato slices, 1/4 of olives, 1/8 tsp red pepper lakes, 1/4 each of butter and zest, and 1 herb spring. Starting at one corner of crease, fold edge of parchment over in triangles (each fold should overlap previous one), following a semicircular path around the fillet, smoothing out folds as you go and tucking last fold under to seal papillote completely.

Heat a large baking sheet in the oven for 5 minutes.

Put papillotes on hot baking sheet and bake for 9 minutes.

To serve, transfer packets to four plates; with a knife, slit top of each packet and tear it to expose fish. Slide fish and sauce onto plates and discard paper.

Adapted from The Gourmet Cookbook 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

peanut butter-oatmeal chocolate chip cookies

You know that scene from My Big Fat Greek Wedding where Toula says, "My dad believed in two things: That Greeks should educate non-Greeks about being Greek and that every ailment from psoriasis to poison ivy can be cured with Windex"?? Well, seeing as I'm not Greek, I can't really weigh in on the first half of that statement. But, I do have a challenge for him regarding the second half. Multi-purposeful and exciting as Windex is, America's most beloved glass cleaner simply doesn't compare to the therapeutic effects of this: chocolate and peanut butter. Having a stressful day at work? They can sooth the soul. Healing from a breakup? They work wonders on a broken heart. Rainy days and Mondays got you down? They're comfort food at its best. Celebrating a special milestone? They bring the party.

Having to work the night shift at work all of last week, I decided that a little pick-me-up was in order for my weary coworkers. And, wanting a recipe that wouldn't require a trip to the store, I settled on these. I'm pretty sure my colleagues approved of the choice considering how fast these babies disappeared from the plate. Combining all the goodness of peanut butter, chocolate, and oatmeal - these cookies are most definitely the cure for stress and fatigue...and possibly even psoriasis and poison ivy.

Peanut Butter-Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies
Yield 2 dozen

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg
1/2 cup rolled oats
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350°.

Whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

On medium speed, cream together the butter, peanut butter, sugars, and vanilla, about 3 minutes. Add the egg and beat to combine. On low speed, slowly add the flour mixture until just combined. Stir in the oats and then the chocolate chips.

Drop by heaping tablespoons about 2 inches apart onto a parchment paper- or silicone mat-lined baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes or until the cookies are lightly golden. Cool completely on the baking sheet before storing in an airtight container.

From Brown Eyed Baker

Sunday, August 26, 2012

roasted vegetables with quinoa and goat cheese

In case I haven't mentioned it before, I have a slight obsession with roasted veggies. I can't help it...something magical just happens when you toss fresh produce with oil and seasonings and throw them in a hot oven to caramelize. Spring and summer = asparagus, summer squash, eggplant, tomatoes, and peppers. Autumn and winter = sweet potatoes, butternut squash, acorn squash, pumpkin, and Brussels sprouts. i.e. Whatever the farmers' market is selling.

After another quick trip to PA to see my sister and pick up a certain Italian Plum bridesmaid dress from my seamstress this weekend, I came home with a car full of locally-grown Lancaster produce. Wanting something light to showcase the fresh veggies, this dish accomplished just that.

Oh, and goat cheese? Another obsession.

Roasted Vegetables with Quinoa and Goat Cheese
Yield 4 servings

2 cups quinoa, uncooked
4 cups water (I use broth for extra flavor)
2 medium zucchini, cut into bite-size chunks
1 large red bell pepper, seeds and membrane removed and cut into bite-size chunks
1 cup sliced button mushrooms
extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons Italian seasonings
salt and pepper
3 ounces goat cheese, crumbled into pea-size bites

Preheat the oven to 425°.

In a fine sieve, rinse the quinoa under cold running water. Drain fully. In a large pot, bring the water or broth to boil. Reduce the heat to low, carefully pour in the quinoa, and cover the pot. Cook until the liquid is fully absorbed, 20-25 minutes.

Meanwhile, add the vegetables to a large bowl. Add a heavy drizzle of oil, Italian seasonings, and salt and pepper to taste. Stir until the vegetables are fully and evenly coated. Transfer to a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and spread the vegetables out into a single layer.

Roast the vegetables in the hot oven until golden and caramelized, turning them every 8-10 minutes, 20-25 minutes in all.

In a large bowl, toss the quinoa with the vegetables and goat cheese. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot.

Inspired by Iron Hen Cafe.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

make-ahead stuffed peppers with black beans and corn

With a job that requires long hours, a necessary stop by the gym after work, and the chaos of NOVA/DC traffic, I very often get home too late in the evening to make something time-consuming for dinner. My solution? I save the multistep, multicomponent recipes that I love for those beloved weekends/days off and focus on quick dishes that I can throw together in a few minutes/prep ahead of time for those many, many days in between.

These peppers are the perfect example of a dinner that can be partly made ahead of time, saving valuable minutes on those days when you walk in the front door late...and starving. By simply making the stuffing and boiling the peppers ahead of time, you can put the rest of the dish together in about 30 minutes. Ahhh perfect.

While most stuffed pepper recipes call for ground beef (or a combination of meats) and tomato sauce or ketchup, the good folks at Cook's Illustrated decided to lighten things up a little by using simply black beans, corn, and diced tomatoes as the key components. They stood by the usual commitment to white rice, but I took it a step further and broke with tradition by using healthier brown rice. Rebel, indeed.

Also, apparently I have a little not-so-secret crush on stuffed veggies...

Stuffed Peppers with Black Beans and Corn
Yield: 6 servings

6 large (or 8 medium) red, yellow, orange, or green bell peppers, 1/2 inch trimmed off top
1 cup long-grain brown rice, uncooked
2 cups broth or water
1 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 medium jalapeno pepper, minced
3 medium garlic cloves, minced
1 14.5-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 15.5-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained
1 cup fresh or frozen corn
1 cup shredded cheddar or pepper Jack cheese (I used Trader Joe's Jalapeno Jack Cheese...yum!)
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350°.

In a large pot, bring the broth or water to a boil. Add the rice, cover the pot, and decrease the heat to low. Simmer until the liquid is fully absorbed, 20-25 minutes.

Boil 4 quarts of water in a large pot or Dutch oven. Add 1 tbsp of salt and all of the peppers, making sure that the pepper are fully submerged. Cook for 3 minutes. Remove the peppers from the water and drain in a colander. Stand them up on a paper towel-lined plate to absorb any additional water.

Meanwhile, add the oil to a large skillet and heat over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion and jalapeno and saute until translucent and soft, 5-8 minutes. Add the garlic and saute until fragrant, 30-60 seconds. Add the black beans, tomato, and corn and cook for 2 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl and add the rice, cheese, and cilantro. Season with salt and pepper and stir until fully mixed.

Evenly distribute the filling among the peppers and place in a baking dish. Cover and refrigerate for future use or bake immediately for 25-30 minutes.

Adapted from The Best Light Recipe via Cheap Healthy Good

Thursday, August 16, 2012

stuffed eggplant

During my recent vacation, I was thrilled to enjoy a few days visiting my sister and several dear high school friends in my one-time home of Lancaster County, PA. If you've never been to the area, please do so as soon as possible. With its rolling farmland and beautiful countryside barns...unique Amish influence...110 community fairs...theatres...and endless shopping options, it truly is a great place to live...and a vacationer's paradise. Oh, and did I mention that it also boasts an abundance of delicious food?? ;-)

In listing all of Lancaster's great qualities, I would be remiss in skipping over a local favorite, Central Market. Heralded as the country's oldest farmers' market, it can be found in a 120 year old building that is packed to the brim with area farmers and venders selling fresh produce, homemade breads and pastries, tasty jams and jellies, homespun crafts, aromatic coffees and teas, local meats and cheeses, and vibrant fresh flowers. Three days a week and year-round, locals flock to their beloved market, filling their bags with goodies and stopping to chat with friends and neighbors.

When my sister and I stopped by Market on the bright and sunny Saturday morning of my trip, I was determined to stock up on fresh fruits and veggies to take back to Northern Virginia with me. If I hadn't been limited by how much I could fit in my arms, I could have bought one of everything. Cantaloupe (big ones...for $1 each!), zucchini and yellow squash, green and red peppers, tomatoes...and eggplant. A produce treasure chest!

Once home, I knew I wanted to do something special with the eggplant. Remembering a recipe from one of my favorite cookbooks that I had once made in medical school, I knew exactly what that finished dish would be.

Stuffed Eggplant
Yield: 4 as a main course or 8 as a side dish

4 Italian eggplants (about 10 ounces each), halved lengthwise
1/4 cup olive oil
salt and pepper
1 medium onion, minced
3 medium garlic cloves, minced (about 1 tbsp)
2 tsp minced fresh oregano leaves, or 1/2 tsp dried (I used dried)
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1 pound plum tomatoes (3-4 tomatoes), cored, seeded, and chopped medium
2 ounces Pecorino Romano cheese, grated (about 1 cup)*
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
2 tbsp minced fresh parsley leaves

Place a rimmed baking sheet in the oven and preheat to 400°.

Brush the cut sides of the eggplant with 2 tbsp of the oil and season with salt and pepper. Set the eggplant cut side down on the hot baking sheet and, using oven mitts, carefully cover with foil. Roast until the eggplant is golden brown and tender, 50-55 minutes. Carefully transfer the eggplant to a paper towel-lined baking sheet and let drain. Do not turn off the oven.

Meanwhile, heat the remaining 2 tbsp oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion and 1/2 tsp salt and cook until softened and browned, about 10 minutes. Stir in the garlic, oregano, cinnamon, and cayenne and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in the tomatoes, 3/4 cup of the cheese, nuts, and vinegar and cook until warmed through, about 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper to taste and set aside.

Return the roasted eggplant cut side up to the rimmed baking sheet. (I used a large casserole dish). Using two forks, gently push the flesh to the sides of each eggplant half to make room for the filling. Mound about 1/4 cup of the filling into each eggplant. (At this point, the eggplants can be covered and refrigerated for up to 24 hours.**)

Sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 cup cheese and bake until the cheese is melted, 5-10  minutes. (If refrigerated, increase the baking time to 8-12 minutes.) Sprinkle with the parsley and serve warm or at room temperature.

*I actually only had Gruyère on hand and didn't feel like running up to Trader Joe's for the Pecorino, so I substituted...and loved that decision.

**I've made it both ways: cooked straight through...and refrigerated for 24 after assembly. It tastes just as good either way.

Barely adapted from The Best International Recipe