Monday, December 31, 2012

Top 10 recipes of 2012

Happy 2012, friends!

(Gotta squeeze in one last dodecahedral greeting before midnight, right?)

After almost two merry weeks of visiting, hugging, unwrapping, dining, and driving, we're finally back in snowy Pittsburgh.  Can you guess how big my smile was when we were blessed with nearly 6 inches of the white stuff this past weekend?  This should give you an idea:

Basically, somewhere between extreme elation and utter delirium.  My happiness was confirmed by the many messages I received from groaning friends, asking if I were, indeed, happy at "this white stuff."  Yes, yes I am, thank you :)

For most of that time, I was totally unplugged and savoring every last moment with family and friends, reliving much of the past year's events.  I realized that there has been so very much to be thankful for, and it's hard to believe everything that's happened in 2012.  I couldn't help but recall a few times when I thought (or said), "Man, I wish I could just stop time for a few days and not go anywhere or do anything."  Thankfully, that never happened.  Life is what's happening, and I certainly don't want to miss a single second of it.  Whoever first said, "I can sleep when I'm dead!" was right on the money!

Speaking of the last year, it's been a monumental year for this blog.  Three years strong and counting, readership is through the roof, and I even hosted the very first giveaway.  All of it is thanks to you for visiting, following, pinning, reading, laughing, encouraging, inspiring, cooking, and, of course, eating.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart (and stomach)!

To show you how much you mean to me, I wanted to feature the top 10 recipes from 2012, according to you, the most loyal readers!

Friday, December 28, 2012

Fast Friday: Puppy chow

Have you suddenly run out of cookies and need to whip up something sweet in a flash?  You know it's going to happen to all of us at least once over the holiday season.

A good friend will call and say, "Hey, we're in the neighborhood and thought we'd visit!  Is that okay?"  You look down at yourself, clad in the same sweats you wore yesterday and planted on the couch, and enthusiastically chirp, "Ohmygosh, of course!  We'd love to see you!"  "Great, we'll see you in about 15 minutes!"

15 minutes.  15 minutes!

You jump up, panicked, and look around the house, thinking, "Thank goodness I already cleaned the place."  That's one major headache carefully avoided. All that's left are munchies for company and your less than presentable self.

If you can manage to get yourself into some, ahem, real clothes in 10 minutes, I can help you get dessert made in the remaining 5 minutes.  Yes, 5 minutes.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Fish en papillote

This is a bit belated, but I'll blame my still ailing computer for the that.

Ailing computer, wrapping presents, holiday travels, and cookie parties.  Especially cookie parties.  Because cookies totally take priority over real food.  At least before the holidays.

But after, whew, don't we all need a break?  Maybe just a little one?

Whenever you reach the space between "All I want for dinner is leftovers and cookies" and "I can't look at another container of leftovers or tray of cookies", I've got a light and elegant dinner that will make you feel alive, rejuvenated, and downright fancy.

This was what I made for Matt for dinner on our wedding anniversary!  That was December 10th.  Two weeks ago.  Like I said, belated.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas!

Last year at this time, Matt and I were on our honeymoon... on a cruise ship... in the middle of the Caribbean ocean.  I can't believe it's been a whole year.  While we had such an incredible and unforgettable trip, I've gotta tell you how much I'm looking forward to our first Christmas together in our home.  Send all of your snow our way, please!

From our home to yours, wishing you a very merry Christmas, full of love, warmth, happiness, and delicious dishes! :)

Friday, December 21, 2012

Friday five: Holiday breakfast

TGITWBC - Thank goodness it's the weekend before Christmas!

Okay, I'll admit that doesn't have quite the same ring as "TGIF", but I couldn't help myself. Weeks of watching Christmas movies have me adding a little holiday cheer to anything and everything. Even yesterday's eggy breakfast looked positively dashing with green spinach and red peppers.

While we woke up in western PA, we went to sleep in eastern PA.  Matt and I made the drive to Reading last night to spend a long weekend visiting with his family.  We'll be making merry and spreading joy there through Monday before making the (hopefully snowy!) drive back to Pittsburgh on Christmas Eve, clad in our flannel pajamas and singing along to Matt's Christmas tunes mix.  I cannot tell you how genuinely excited I am for the sleigh car ride!!  I've even promised to stay awake for the entire thing and be a good passenger/wife.  Any bets on how that goes?

I know that Matt's parents, like so many others, are really looking forward to a house full of people and have already planned so many fun activities for all of us.  I thought it'd be a perfect time to share with five of my favorite breakfasts to please a crowd and give them all the energy they'll need for days full of house calls, shopping, skiing, and, well, feasting!

It's my Friday five: holiday breakfast edition!

1. Breakfast apple granola crisp -- Because the smell of apples and cinnamon make the whole house smell so cozy and welcoming, right?!  Curl up with a bowl of this and top with some vanilla yogurt first thing in the morning (or, ahem, ice cream for an afternoon snack).

2. Sausage kale breakfast strata -- If it was satisfying enough for a pack of hungry football fans tailgating on a cold fall morning, it will surely please a house full of eager kids and adults, ready to tear into a pile of presents!  All of the prep can be done up to a full day before cooking, and any leftovers you might have will reheat wonderfully.

3. Sour cherry coffee cake -- Sour cherries hold such a special place in my heart because of family tradition, and I think your family will love this, too!  A light fruit coffee cake that will go so well with a cup of tea or coffee.  Bonus: It's just as delicious for breakfast, lunch, a snack, or dessert with a scoop or ice cream.

4. The Pioneer Woman's cinnamon rolls aka the best cinnamon rolls ever -- I have been looking forward to making these for weeks once Matt and I sorted out our Christmas day plans.  I'm dreaming of a white Christmas... with a cup of hot chocolate and a plate of my favorite cinnamon rolls! :)  BEST. EVER.

5. Quiche -- my all-time favorite breakfast for guests.  You can personalize it any way you like, with peppers or mushrooms, broccoli or spinach, cheddar or Swiss... if you can think it, you can do it.  Friends and guests have never met a quiche of mine that they didn't love, and they think I went to such effort to do it.  Little do they know it's so incredibly easy!

Bonus: For a festive and non-alcoholic drink to start your morning, try my beloved famosa!  Orange juice and diet ginger ale make such a fizzy and fun special occasion.  Or, you know, champagne is always delicious, too, if you don't have to be family-friendly.

Happy entertaining and save travels if you are driving, flying, or going by sleigh :)

Two years ago: Chicken cacciatore, Applesauce cake

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Natalie's white chocolate and apricot chunk cookies

Sugar and spice and cookies so nice!

It's the third day of recipes from the holiday cookie party we hosted this past weekend.  This recipe is brought to you by Natalie and Nick.  Weren't they such a gorgeous bride and groom?!  Looking at those pictures again reminded me what a blast their wedding was.

Especially the cookie table.

Oh yes, the cookie table.  Have you heard of this?  It's apparently a western Pennsylvania tradition.  Even Wikipedia says so!  So, you would be correct in assuming that they were totally on board with the concept of a holiday cookie party.  One of the many reasons why we are friends :)

When I asked Natalie what they were bringing, she said she was deciding between two recipes.  One she'd made before and a new one.  Anyone who has cooked or baked under pressure knows that new recipes can be risky.  We discussed that briefly before I said that, if all else failed, she could head to the store for a package of Oreos.  Or...

Natalie:  I'll bring Chips Aholy
Natalie:  I mean Hoy ha
me:  is that the Christmas version?

HA!  Every time I read that it gets funnier and funnier, and I just had to share it with you.

Anyway, the cookies.  Come Saturday night when we were both baking in our kitchens (and our husbands were out of our hair at a basketball game), she went with the new one.  

White chocolate and apricot chunk cookies for the win!

Light and chewy and chock full of good stuff.  I mean, really good stuff.  This was no ordinary chocolate chip cookie.  Natalie used good quality white chocolate and studded the dough with bright dried apricots.  Yum!

How about dried apricots as a nominee for most underused baking ingredient of the year?  Come to think of it, whenever I buy trail mix, I always pick out the dried apricots first because they are my ultimate favorite.  So chewy and sweet and fresh!

Oh, and can we please, please discuss the utterly adorable  tray for the cookies?  All of the guests couldn't help but ooh and aww and hover around this tray, inspired by (what else) Pinterest.  Simply arrange star mints on a parchment lined baking sheet, pop into a warm oven for a few minutes, cool, and you've got a very sweet and seasonal serving tray.  For step by step instructions, check out this link.

Happy baking!

One year ago: Chewy chocolate chip cookies

Natalie's White Chocolate and Apricot Chunk Cookies

-makes 4 to 5 dozen cookies

A few notes: Per Natalie, "For a variation, try se 7oz orange candy slices (again chopped into small pieces) and semisweet chocolate chips

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs 
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 12-ounce bag (about 2 cups) white chocolate chips
7 ounces dried apricots, cut into small pieces

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, salt, and baking powder and set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer on medium speed, beat butter and both sugars until light and fluffy, about 3 to 4 minutes.  Beat in eggs and vanilla.  Slowly add flour mixture to wet ingredients, mixing until just combined.  Stir in chocolate chips and apricots.

Drop rounded tablespoons onto lined cookie sheet.  Bake until beginning to turn golden at edges and centers are set, about 15 minutes.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Val's chocolate chip cookie cake

Today's recipe comes from Val, my sugar-coated candy soulmate!  This girl.

The girl who had a cookie and candy buffet at her wedding.  The girl who has introduced me to so many confectionery joys over the years, like Sarris chocolates, Hershey's Drops, Oreo truffles, pretzel M&Ms just to name a few.

The girl who is the other half of a daily exchange of candy reports.  Never will one of us feel (too) guilty about eating an entire box of Whoppers for lunch because we know the other has most likely done something very similar.  That and we are avid runners.  Girls have to keep their figure somehow, right?

As soon as the idea for a cookie party was concocted, Val was the first person to know because I knew it was a fete right up her alley.  To say that I was eagerly anticipating her cookies would be an understatement.  And girl certainly did not disappoint.

She brought homemade chocolate chip cookie cake!  All together now: eeeeeeeeeee!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Red velvet cookies with cream cheese icing

'Tis the season to be jolly!
Fa la la la la, la la la la!
Invite your friends to make some cookies!
Fa la la la la, la la la la!
Get together -- share the lo-ove.
Fa la la, la la la, la la la!

(Just be thankful that you are only reading my singing rather than listening to it.)

With familiar Christmas tunes playing in the background, Matt and I threw an old fashioned cookie party yesterday!  Rather than fussing over a table full of all kinds of foods, we decided to K.I.S.S. -- keep it simple, stupid!  Cookies -- lots and lots of cookies -- and cold milk.

We asked guests to bring two dozen of of their favorite cookies for sharing.  In return, we hosted, decorated, and did a little baking of our own, too!

Every day this week, I'm going to share recipes for the cookies that were a part of our sugary cookie buffet.

First up is my recipe.  I contributed to the buffet with something old and something new.  The former being a fresh batch of pumpkin oatmeal cookies.  And the new?  Red velvet cookies with white chocolate glaze!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

40 cookie recipes perfect for the holidays!

Did you know that, according to culinary historians, the first historic record of cookies was their use as test cakes? A small amount of cake batter was baked to test the oven temperature.

(Thanks to my dad and his subscription to the What's Cooking America e-newsletters for that little factoid!)

Talk about the perfect intro for a post entirely dedicated to cookies!  Just in time to meet all of your baking needs and wants, here is a complete list of every cookie recipe I've ever posted.

Whether you're planning to bake cookies for everyone on your nice list or simply make enough to take to a holiday party, there's something for variety of sweet tooth on this list.  I've organized the recipes into three basic categories for easy browsing.

Happy baking!

Drop cookies
Chewy chocolate chip cookies 
Coconut macadamia nut cookies
Crispy Butterfinger cookies
Double chocolate cookies
Giant chewy sugar cookies 
Meringue (cloud) cookies 
Mint chocolate chip cookies
Monster cookies 
Oatmeal raisin cookies
Pumpkin oatmeal cookies 
Thin & crisp chocolate chip cookies with sea salt
Walnut shortbread wedges

Cutout, iced, filled, rolled, or stuffed cookies
Black and white cookies
Caramel stuffed apple cider cookies
Chocolate crinkle cookies
Chocolate gingersnap cookies 
Chocolate sandwich cookies (homemade Oreos)
Chocolate shortbread fingers
Coconut shortbread (minus the ice cream)
Cranberry & pistachio biscotti
Cutout sugar cookies
Molasses crinkle cookies
Nutella Kiss cookies
Orange creamsicle cookies
Pumpkin gingersnaps 
Pumpkin whoopie pies
Very peanut butter cookies 
White chocolate covered Ritz Bitz peanut butter sandwiches 

Bar cookies
Butterfinger caramel bars
Chocolate pudding dump cake bars
From scratch "box" brownies
Maple walnut blondies 
Peanut butter & jelly bars
Peanut butter cup crunch brownies 
Peanut butter cup fluffernutter blondies 
Platinum blondies
Pretzel bottom Snickers blondies
Salted brown butter Rice Krispie treats
Trail mix Rice Krispie treats

Monday, December 10, 2012

Anniversary + Matt's favorite recipes

Exactly one year ago today I married my best friend!

[photo by Joanna Fassinger]

I can't believe it's already been a year.  And, I can't believe it's only been a year.  Simply put, I can't imagine my life without Matt.  He brings so much laughter and joy into my life, day in and day out.  How can one person be so blessed?

While I always try my best to provide all of the love and support for Matt that's possible, I also like to spoil him with more tangible things, too.  You know where this is going, don't you?  Tangible things = edible things. 

I absolutely love cooking and baking for people I love, especially Matt.  Even if it's something as simple as a batch of pancakes, I get such joy seeing the look on his face as he drizzles syrup on a short stack and digs in on a lazy Saturday morning.  Food is love, people!

(Just to be clear, I'm no saint.  I'm most likely sitting next to him enjoying my very own syruped short stack, too.)

[photo by Joanna Fassinger

Today is about us, but, for me, it's about Matt.  So I thought it'd be fun to share with you Matt's favorite recipes of mine that I've passed onto you over the past few years.  He was consulted as I made this list, so it's the whole truth, folks.

One small note, however, is that he had a little trouble understanding the idea of a top 10 list and kept insisting that I include more recipes.  I suppose there could be worse problems to have, right? :)

Without further ado, here are Matt's top 10 12 favorite recipes:

Friday, December 7, 2012

Friday five: Fridge edition

Hey, I've got a serious question for you: what day is today?  Seriously.  If you have a firm grasp on reality, would you please be kind enough to inform me?  I think my calendar is trying to trick me.

All week I've been suffering from a serious case of "what day is today?" and no end is in sight.  I'm placing 100% of the blame on the unreasonable weather patterns around these parts.  68 degrees and sunny one day, while the next is 38 and damp and gray.  I've got one thing to say about fluctuating weather in December: Bah humbug.

I want snow, darn it!

I also want to go to the grocery store for a big-time stocking up the pantry, fridge and freezer trip.  It's slim pickins' at our place right now, aside from ingredients to make an amaaaaaazing new pizza recipe tonight (to be shared with you next week!).  We're down to the essentials. 

I've always enjoyed reading interviews with people, from food personalities and chefs to celebrities and regular folks like ourselves, that include the question, "What are five items almost always found in your fridge?"  In other word, the essentials.  So, today I'm sharing with you my list:

1. Baby spinach - Without a doubt, one of my favorite goes-with-anything ingredients.  I'll add it to smoothies, eggs, pasta, soups, sandwiches, and of course salads.  Popeye was spot on!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Herbed chicken in puff pastry

Okay, so this is a few days belated, but the sentiment is still the same: happy December to you!  Can you believe it's here?  The month of decking the halls, wrapping presents, baking cookies, and, hey, even getting married is upon us.  All of those require a certain level of excitement and just a smidge of crazy, right?  :)

I've been working on a secret anniversary gift for Matt the past few weeks and still can't believe it's been almost a year since we said "I do."  I've been thinking about everything to do with our wedding, our first blissful year of marriage, and every single milestone along the way... even those that seem like a decade ago.

Like our first conversation.  It was at work, and I baked oatmeal cookies for my coworkers.  Matt passed me in the hall and asked if I was the baker.  "Yep!"  "Well, thank you!  These are really good."  The interaction was short and sweet (pun intended) and just enough to catch each other's eye.