Celebrate (with donuts!!!)

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This weekend was full of celebrations.  First, and most importantly, it was my mama’s birthday!  She looks really amazing for 37 😉  We celebrated by going to an awesome Italian restaurant in Little Italy.  I found out it was just blocks from where my grandma and Nana grew up.  It was super yummy and nice to spend a schmancy (and snowy) night out.

The tail end of my weekend was also cause for celebration.  My family and boyfriend spent our day participating in a Bowl-a-thon for a wonderful cause.  We Grow Dreams, a greenhouse in West Chicago, employs special needs teens and adults giving them a supportive environment in which to work and provide services to the community.  Our close family friend is one of the founders and organized the bowling event.  While it was just fun to spend the day bowling and supporting this great cause, I ended up WINNING something.  There were a number of baskets and grand raffle prizes and I put a few tickets in along with my boyfriend.  Well… I won the grand raffle 3rd prize.  I kind of screamed.  And then I laughed a lot because I never win anything.  So, sometime in the next year I get a free vacation.  Something to look forward to!

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I really hope you had something to celebrate this weekend.  I think a celebration calls for some donuts.  Or just anything covered in sprinkles.  I made these donuts for mama’s birthday breakfast and they were divine.  They require a donut pan, but I feel like that is a kitchen necessity so you probably already have one.  If you don’t, they are commonly found in kitchen supply stores for cheap.   I love mine because they allow me to make donuts 4 times a day.  AND since they’re baked, you can eat like 800 of them guilt-free.  #nutricious

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Here’s the recipe that I used: http://joythebaker.com/2013/09/brown-butter-baked-doughnuts/

They have a hint of nutmeg and a rich flavor from the brown butter.  Oh, they also took a really short amount of time to make.  Easy, and delicious!

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2014, you sly fox

So here we are…

Post-holiday doldrums.  The sad, sad calm after the storm.

For some reason, 2014 is making me feel old.  It’s probably because I can vividly recall having celebrated Y2K with a little cosmic bowling and NYSYNC.  It’s just occurring to me that that was FOURTEEN years ago.  Sigh.  So many butterfly clips, so much glitter lipgloss.

I rang in the new year with my handsome fool of a boyfriend, HGTV, and a sip or two of champagne.  You know, like how 80 year olds party.  But do not fret because we woke up early the next morning and WORKED OUT.  Like, I broke a sweat and everything.  And it’s fine because the chocolate candy I’m eating right now doesn’t even count because I was the girl who woke up fresh as a daisy on January 1 and worked out.  That must count for the whole year.

I’m looking forward to 2014 for so many reasons.  I think this year is going to be labeled the year of “Change and Adventure”.  And for the first time, the word change does not rock me to my core.  That is a beautiful thing.  To celebrate this, why don’t we eat some cookies?

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I recently bought a new camera and thought there would be no better way to test out some shots than with some chocolate chip cookies.  Then, I decided to get really fancy and throw in some heath bits.  They’re everything.

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Especially if you’re dealing with the snowy tundra that is the Midwest, throw together a batch of these cookies.  It will make everything a little better.

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Heath Bar Chocolate Chip Cookies:  http://www.simplyrecipes.com/recipes/heath_bar_cookies/

Garlic Rosemary Flatbreads

A few weeks back, I went on an excursion to Whole Foods.

Cue the funeral march.

My poor, poor bank account.  Literally.

If I had all the money in the world, I would shop there exclusively.  One of my friends affectionately refers to it as the “food museum”.  It makes me laugh every time.  This particular visit was for an assortment of cheeses for girl’s night.  I always go to Whole Foods for quality cheese and meat and other specialty items that I can’t find at my regular grocery store.  And, let’s be serious, I spend most of my money on cheese anyways.  I made a cute little cheese board that was a huge hit:

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From left to right: Aged cheddar, Gouda, Goat cheese

I bought some olive oil crackers, almonds, and apples to accompany the cheeses.  An additional accompaniment to the cheeses could be these delicious rosemary flatbreads.  They took almost no time to make and were a delicious homemade snack to have around.

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They would be just as delicious dipped in hummus, or a fragrant olive oil, or even alongside a bowl of soup.  Although sometimes it seems like dough can be a hassle (I tend to stay away from recipes involving pastry dough), this would be easy for bakers with little experience.

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Garlic Rosemary Flatbread

1 3/4 cups plain flour
1 tablespoon chopped rosemary plus 2 extra sprigs
1 tsp garlic powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup water
1/3 cup olive oil plus more for brushing

Preheat oven to 450 degrees and place a sturdy baking sheet on the middle rack.  Combine flour, rosemary, garlic powder, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl.  Create a small well in the middle of the dry ingredients and add water and olive oil.  Mix carefully with a wooden spoon until ingredients are combined.  Pour onto a clean surface and knead just until dough comes together.

Divide dough into 3 equal portions.  Place one piece of dough onto parchment paper and wrap remaining dough in plastic wrap.  Roll out dough until it is in your desired shape and about a 1/8 inch in thickness.  Brush with a little olive oil and sprinkle with extra rosemary.  Lift parchment paper carefully onto heated baking sheet and bake at 450 for 8-10 minutes.  Repeat individually with remaining dough.  Serve broken into pieces.

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Carolina Pulled Pork with Homemade Sweet Potato Chips

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A few weeks back, my manfriend/lover boy/better half spent a romantic weekend away to celebrate our anniversary.  We stayed in a really cute town and did some (window)shopping and a lot of eating.  Of course in this really cute town, there was a really cute specialty foods store.  And of COURSE we went in.  Upon entering, we were thrilled to find an assortment of locally produced condiments, baked goods, and WINE.  We splurged on two amazing bottles of wine (which we were lucky enough to taste beforehand).  In addition, we fell in love with a Carolina Gold BBQ sauce.  And if you know me, you know you don’t have to twist my arm to make some pulled pork.  Obviously we bought some and obviously I made pulled pork.  Blah blah.

Here’s the recipe for the pork:  http://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/carolina-pulled-pork-sandwiches

I would recommend using whatever BBQ sauce you love.  We also made homemade sweet potato chips. Here’s my recipe for those:

Homemade Sweet Potato Chips

1-2 cups canola oil
2 medium sweet potatoes
sea salt flakes

Pour oil into a medium saucepan to a depth of 1-1 1/2″.  Turn heat to medium and heat oil to 320 degrees.  Slice the sweet potatoes as thinly as possibly (a mandoline is extremely handy for this recipe).  When the oil reaches 350 degrees, carefully add about 10-15 slices of sweet potato at a time to the oil.  Allow potatoes to fry until they are golden brown around the edges.  Remove chips quickly and carefully from the oil and put on paper towels to drain.  Sprinkle generously with sea salt while still warm.  Repeat frying process with remaining potato slices and enjoy!

Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Balsamic-Sage Brown Butter

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I did something awesome.

I, like, actually made the best thing I’ve ever eaten this weekend.

And as a bonus?  I had other people eat it who agreed.  WITNESSES.

So, this is a recipe I came across ages ago and knew I had to try.  #1. Gnocchi is my favorite. #2. Sweet potatoes are my life. #3. Brown butter.  #4. I ADDED PANCETTA.

Yes, you read that correctly.  As if this dish wasn’t already divine, I decided to add some bacon.  Everyone’s lives just got a lot better.  I have a few justifications for this.  One of them is:  Just because.  The other one is real and is: The salty, fatty pancetta contrasted the sweetness of the sweet potato and balsamic in an insane way.  By insane I mean undoubtedly good.

I’m going to keep this brief because I feel like my words are only preventing you from making this and also eating this, so just leave right now and make this OK??

Here’s the recipe you need: http://www.aidamollenkamp.com/2012/11/sweet-potato-gnocchi-with-balsamic-sage-brown-butter/

*I bought a 1/4 lb of pancetta and browned it in a pan until it was crispy.  I then added it to the dish when I tossed the gnocchi with the sauce.  DO NOT FORGET ABOUT THE PANCETTA.

Best of luck.  Now off you go…

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Brown Butter Oatmeal Chunk Cookies

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It snowed this week.  I mean, it’s the second weekend of November and all of Chicagoland has already had a light blanket of the fluffy, white stuff.  It’s like the universe knew I needed an extra little push to turn up the Christmas tunes.  Judge me, I’m perfectly fine with it.

In addition to the inappropriately early Christmas celebrating, make some cookies.  It only makes sense.  No wonder this time of year does nothing for my waistline.  All I want to do is bake things and eat them while cuddling under a cozy blanket.  That’s the very opposite of exercising, in case you were wondering.

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These cookies are amazeballs mostly because of the addition of brown butter.  Basically you melt a stick of butter until little brown bits form at the bottom and caramelize.  It’s good, folks.  Real good.

Mine turned into little nugget cookies I believe because I put the dough in the freezer to chill.  Ugh, I was running short on time.  They turned out just slightly denser than I would’ve liked, but the flavor was still on POINT.

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I found the recipe on one of my favorite food blogs How Sweet It Is.

You can find it here:  http://www.howsweeteats.com/2012/03/brown-butter-oatmeal-chunk-cookies/

I did alter the recipe slightly by adding butterscotch chunks in addition to the chocolate chips.  I just halved the amount of chocolate chips and added a 1/2 cup of butterscotch morsels.  Yum.

Even if you didn’t get any snow this week, you should still make these.  And if your Harry Connick Jr. Christmas album magically starts to play, I won’t tell anyone.  I promise.

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Caramel Shortbreads

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I recently took a stand against pumpkin flavored things which many may feel is not only wrong, but Un-American.  If you share this opinion, I gotchu.  It’s not that I dislike pumpkin.  In fact, I quite enjoy it.  BUT, I am a little peeved at pumpkin for thinking it has a place in every dessert, dish, scent, decoration, and children’s costume this time of year.  We can’t all be good at everything, pumpkin.

Would you like to know which Fall flavor know’s its place and excels every time?

Caramel.

Caramel is chewy and buttery and delicious and sweet and rich and I love it.  I love you, caramel.  I love you for sticking to what you do best and making no apologies.  Can you be added to a multitude of desserts, thus improving its richness and flavor?  Yes.  Can you be added to hot holiday drinks to add a depth of warmth and comfort that is unmatched?  Absolutely.  Thank you, caramel, for being the quiet hero of the Fall season and for not feeling the pressure from your friend pumpkin to up the cockiness.  We are all grateful.

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If you would like to celebrate the Fall season with me and enjoy my favorite flavor, then make these Caramel Shortbreads.  After learning that bittersweet and unsweetened chocolate were NOT, in fact, the same thing, I omitted the chocolate on most of them and opted to melt some semi-sweet chocolate chips to decorate a few.  I used them as a small going away treat for my best friend who recently moved.

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I used this recipe from Style Me Pretty:  http://www.stylemepretty.com/living/2013/06/12/sweet-salty-shortcake-bars/

Although the caramel is quite rich, the shortbread cuts the sweetness and adds an awesome texture.  I didn’t even miss the chocolate!  These would make a great hostess treat for all of the holiday parties that fill our calendars this time of year.  Just don’t forget to keep a few for yourself!

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Spaghetti with Roasted Cauliflower, Smoked Sea Salt, and Breadcrumbs

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During the week, I regularly feel like a crazy person.  I run from job to job and eat more meals than I care to admit in the car.  This is not ideal for a number of reasons.  One: crumbs. Two: it’s incredibly unhealthy to eat on-the-go.

On certain weeknights, I have enough time to prepare dinner.  Even on nights when I have the time, though, I typically gravitate towards recipes I either know very well, or ones that will take me a short amount of time.  You know, something in between opening a can of Spaghettio’s and roasting a turkey.

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This past week I created an easy pasta dish with minimal, yet special ingredients that my family really enjoyed.  It is a wonderful reminder that good, fresh ingredients trump complicated recipes almost every time.  I was also happy to experiment with the smoked sea salt that I purchased a few weeks ago.  I enjoy the smoky flavor, but find that it works best when it is in the background.  Something that makes your guests say, “What is that?”

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Spaghetti with Roasted Cauliflower, Smoked Sea Salt, and Breadcrumbs

4 cloves of garlic, unpeeled
1 head cauliflower, cut into bite-sized florets
1/2 tsp smoked sea salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
3 tbsp olive oil
1 lb spaghetti
1 tsp crushed red pepper
1/2 cup seasoned breadcrumbs

Heat oven to 450 degrees.  Place cauliflower on a baking sheet and toss with smoked sea salt, pepper, and olive oil.  Spread out cauliflower so that it is in a single layer.  Roast for about 20 minutes, or until golden brown and tender.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil.  Cook spaghetti according to package directions.  Drain pasta, and toss with roasted cauliflower, breadcrumbs, and crushed red pepper (may use more if you like it spicy!).  Serve with a drizzle of olive oil and sprinkling of parmesan.  Enjoy!

Homemade Take-Out

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One of my favorite things to do is to not do anything.

I’m sure you understand.  And I’m sure I sound like a really fun person.  I promise I am.

Let me explain…

When given the choice between getting dressed up on a Friday night and staying in my yoga pants with a good flick and great food, I’m going to choose the latter.  For me, it makes the fancy nights that much more special.  They almost always end up being fun and I think it’s because they are the exception to the norm.  Which is yoga pants.  And food.  God, I need to get back to the gym.

Anyways, another great benefit to staying in is that you can make your own homemade take-out.  It almost always guarantees that you save some bucks AND you can control the ingredients making it a healthy alternative to your usual greasy pizza place from down the street.

My main squeeze and I have been experimenting with gluten-free recipes lately.  When I’m not baking pies, that is.  A few weekends ago, we made our first gluten free pizza and buffalo wings with blue cheese dip.  It was delightful.  And yes, I wore yoga pants.

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I think the buffalo wings were the highlight of the night.  I love a good spicy chicken wing and what’s better than blue cheese dip? Oh that’s right… literally nothing.  We baked the wings and tossed them in our favorite buffalo sauce.  So easy.  Here’s a link to the blue cheese dip provided by the incomparable Ina Garten.  I die for her.  She’s everything.

Chunky Blue Cheese and Yogurt Dip: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/chunky-blue-cheese-and-yogurt-dip-recipe/index.html

Our attempt at making gluten free pizza crust was a success in the sense that we did it.  I don’t know if there will be a day when we will crave gluten free crust over regular pizza, but maybe the universe will surprise us.  I used this recipe from the Minimalist Baker.

Gluten free Pizza: http://minimalistbaker.com/the-best-gluten-free-pizza-crust-sauce/

Xanthan gum was perhaps the most challenging ingredient to locate.  Ever.  Of all the ingredients of everything I’ve ever made.  I finally found it at a natural foods store.  I should add that I didn’t bother to ask anyone who worked at any of the establishments that I searched.  For some reason, I challenged myself to finding a needle in a haystack all by myself.  ‘Twas cute.  The bottom line?  Make your own take out sometime.  A portion of the excitement from the night was due to the fact that we spent time together in the kitchen.  You know, romantic stuff.  Enjoy dudes!

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Chicken Fricassee

or Fricassee de Poulet a L’Ancienne.

Um, excuse me…what!?

French.  I know.  Even by just looking at the name, I feel fancier and more sophisticated.  The French know what’s up.  I will be traveling to Paris for the first time next summer and I can hardly contain my excitement. I am hoping that they will present us with Chanel bags as we exit the aircraft.  I don’t think that’s an unrealistic expectation.

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Since I have many months before I actually get to experience France in all it’s romantic glory, I have to settle for delicious French meals at home.  Woe is me.  Not really though, because the French seem to do everything right when it comes to delicious, rich, and special meals.  This dish is in between a saute and a stew, and is perfect for a Sunday dinner as the weather gets crisp and cool.  Chicken fricassee is totally comforting and delicious.  I served mine with a slice of crusty sourdough bread to dip in the rich and velvety sauce.  Heaven.

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If you can’t eat this at a small cafe on the streets of Paris, then why not make it at home?  It amps up any regular evening and immediately makes dinner a special event.  Plus, it’s always nice to have an extra one pot meal in ones repertoire.  Less to clean up, amiright?  Below is the link to the recipe that I used off of Martha Stewart Living.  That Wisconsin girl can cook.

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Chicken Fricassee:  http://www.marthastewart.com/925889/chicken-fricassee

Enjoy!