Fall Toddler Activities

I thought it would be a fun detour out of the kitchen to show you some of the things Ladybug and I have been doing this fall! Don't worry, the focus of this blog is still going to be food, I just thought it would be fun to throw some other stuff in every once in a while. I try to do different activities with Ladybug, and art projects just seem to be some of our favorites. I always try to remind myself that I stay at home with her to raise her, not to plop her in front of the TV while I do my own thing. So in addition to toys and reading and baking together, I try to give her lots of different experiences.

One gorgeous day we went for a walk in the park down the street. I've learned that talking a small bag with us is important, otherwise my pockets will quickly fill up with goodies we find along the way. This walk, however, I encouraged Ladybug to collect lots of different things, which we then brought home and glued onto a piece of cardboard. She loves looking at it (yes, it is displayed in our living room!) and we often talk about the different things she glued on there - their names, colors, textures, etc. And yes, Peanut does have to help, with everything we do. He's not a dog you know, he's another kid. 

I already shared with you that we made a fun fall playdough (with glitter!), and we have played with it a LOT. We used lots of fun cookie cutters in the shapes of leaves, pumpkin, apple, a squirrel and an acorn. Its still got lots of play in it, and we've managed to keep it mostly dog-hair free (hey, at least I'm honest) so I think I'll keep it into November, too. 

Sensory bins are a BIG hit with Ladybug. If you are unfamiliar with what a sensory bin is, I suggest you check out Counting Coconuts, do a google search, or Pinterest has tons of ideas, too. But basically, they are bins filled with lots of different sensory items - different colors, materials, textures, smells, etc. You can make them for all age ranges, and for different themes or seasons.The little ones can then scoop and play to their heart's content. I usually ask questions like "Can you find something rough (or smooth, red, shiny, etc)". Our fall bin was filled with birdseed as a base, and then we added in sticks, rocks, acorns, buckeyes, some dried flowers (black eyed susans and purple coneflowers, the kind with seeds), some silk leaves, silk flowers, plastic gourds, plastic jack-o-lanterns that opened up (perfect for scooping into!), a few cookie cutters, and a plastic horse (that was Ladybug's addition, haha). I also always include something to scoop and stir with (a spoon and a wooden tongue depressor this time), and something to scoop into. I love watching Ladybug play with her sensory bins, and how she decides to incorporate other toys or bits of nature into them.

We normally play with the sensory bin outside, but when weather keeps us indoors we play in the kitchen. Which eventually leads to an exercise in learning to sweep! 

In preparation for Halloween, I cut out a simple pumpkin out of felt, as well as different mouth, nose, and eye pieces so Ladybug could make her own Jack-o-Lantern. She loves playing with this, constantly changing out the different pieces to make new faces. I love how the simplest (and cheapest!) of toys can bring about the most fun. 

We also did some stamp-painting. Painting is a BIG thing at our house, so I'm always trying to figure out new ways for us to explore painting. During nap-time one day I cut a potato in half and carved a pumpkin on one half and an apple on the other half. Armed with a plate of red, yellow and orange paint, Ladybug went to painting heaven! She had a lot of fun stamping, smearing, and mixing paint. And we got some awesome new art work! (Yes, we hang up every. single. piece. of art.)

We also did a fun leave painting one day. I drew a tree on a big piece of paper (go to your local newspaper and ask if they have any "end-roll" you can buy. You can get a huge roll of paper perfect for drawing and painting for just a few dollars!) I gave Ladybug some cotton balls with red, green, yellow, orange and brown paint and we spent quite a while painting leaves on the tree! 

I got ideas for these activities through pinterest and other blogs - The Imagination Tree, The Artful Parent, Living Montessori Now, and the Nurture Store are some of my favorites, but there are literally thousands of blogs (probably more than there are cooking blogs!) about raising kids and homeschooling out there, and they are all full of wonderful ideas to do with your kids! Whats more, it doesn't take a lot of time or money to set up activities like these for your kiddos to do. Let's face it, we're not made of money. Pretty much everything we do comes from either what we already have at home, the dollar store, or the craft store (with coupons!), or...my mom! She is a Montessori teacher and awesome at finding the perfect addition to and inspiration for our activities. 

So, that's what we have been doing - what have you been up to?

Chocolate Chip Potato Chip Cookies

A few months back a friend of mine emailed me a cookie recipe that combined crushed up potato chips with chocolate chip cookies and dared me to make them. I said I would definitely try them, because they sounded crazy, but then promptly put them on the back burner. Waaaaaay back.

So this month for Secret Recipe Club, I was assigned the blog Adventures of A Yankee Kitchen Ninja, which is a fun blog written by Julianne. Her blog is about "stealthy and healthy cooking, eating and farming on a farmette in Vermont" and is chock full of gorgeous photography and delicious recipes! I thought I was going to have a really hard time choosing just one recipe, but while I was perusing it, I found this recipe. And we just happened to have half a package of potato chips left over from a party. So, finally, challenge accepted!

These cookies were really the easiest cookies I have ever made, and that's saying a lot when there is an almost 2.5 year old helping! Just a few simple ingredients (I had to triple check the recipe because I was pretty sure I was leaving something out) combined to make a soft and easy to work with dough. A mere 15 minutes later they were done! I am really glad I only had enough chips to make half a batch, because we REALLY liked these! All twelve of them were gone by the end of the night! They were firm but soft, with a fantastic sweet/salty combination! They sound weird, but you will love these!

Chocolate Chip Potato Chip Cookies (Adventures of a Yankee Kitchen Ninja)
(yields 24 cookies)

2 sticks butter, soft
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup crushed potato chips
2 cups flour
3/4 cup dark chocolate chips

1/4 cup sugar
2 TBSP crushed potato chips
2 tsp kosher sea salt

Preheat oven to 350F.
In a small bowl, mix together the salt and crushed chips for the topping. Set aside.
In another small bowl, measure out 1/4 cup of sugar for rolling.

In a large bowl mix together the sugar and butter until soft and creamy.
Add the vanilla and mix until smooth.
Add the potato chips and flour and blend well.
Mix in the chocolate chips.

Scoop out the dough into TBSP sized clumps and roll them into balls (you should get exactly 24).
Roll the balls in the sugar and place on a parchment lined baking sheet.
Using the bottom of a drinking glass, gently flatten the balls onto the cookie sheet.
Sprinkle each cookie with a little bit of the chip/salt topping.

Bake for 15 minutes or until the edges are lightly browned.
Cool on a wire rack.

Check out all the other delicious things made by the Secret Recipe Club Members this month:

The Daring Bakers make Cranberry Orange Napoleons

Our October 2012 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Suz of Serenely Full. Suz challenged us to not only tackle buttery and flaky puff pastry, but then take it step further and create a sinfully delicious Mille Feuille dessert with it!

I almost didn't make this challenge. But Suz is a friend of mine, and she always makes amazing things for Sourdough Surprises, and I didn't want to bug out on her. I won't lie, though, I did cheat a tiny bit. See, I've already made puff pastry before, back in 2009, and I have made a sourdough laminated pastry, too, so I knew I could do it. I just didn't have the time this month. I wanted to, it just wasn't going to happen. So I used store-bought. Please don't hate me. To make up for me being totally awful, I did decide to jazz up my napoleon with fresh cranberry relish and an orange-vanilla bean cream patisserie. I topped it off with a simple dusting of powdered sugar and a few drizzles of a simple icing (with powdered sugar and orange juice). It was pretty amazing. I ate a lot of it. :)

Cranberry Napoleon with Orange-Vanilla Bean Cream Patisserie
(yields enough for 3 large pieces or 6 smaller ones)

1 sheet of frozen puff pastry, thawed

Cranberry Relish
1 TBSP orange zest
1/4 cup orange juice
12 ounces of cranberries, fresh
1 cup sugar

In a medium saucepan, combine all the ingredients and heat over medium-high heat.
Stir almost constantly as it cooks, until the cranberries begin to pop and the mixture starts to thicken, about 5 minutes.
Take a small taste to see if you need more sugar, then cool to room temperature.

Orange Vanilla Bean Pastry Cream:
1 1/4 cups whole milk 
1 TBSP orange zest
3 egg yolks
1/4 cup sugar
1 TBSP flour
2 TBSP + 2 tsp cornstarch
1/4 tsp almond extract
1 vanilla bean

Scrape out the vanilla from the inside of the bean.
In a small saucepan, bring the milk, vanilla beans and orange zest to just barely boil.
Whisk together the egg yolks, sugar, flour, and cornstarch until the mixture is thick and smooth,.
When the milk is just barely boiling, add about 1/4 of it to the egg mixture and whisk constantly to combine ( this also heats the egg mixture up without cooking it).
Slowly, slowly, slowly pour in the remaining milk, whisking constantly until thoroughly combined.
Heat the combined mixture of 1-2 minutes, until the custard reaches 170F on a digital thermometer and is very thick (and covers the back of a spoon).
Remove from the heat, stir in the almond extract, the vanilla beans.
Pour into a heat proof bowl.
Place a piece of plastic wrap directly on top (to prevent a skin from forming) and chill at least 2 hours.

1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 tsp orange juice

In a small bowl, combine until smooth.

Preheat oven to 400F.
Unfold the pastry sheet on a lightly floured surface.
Cut the sheet into 3 strips (along the fold marks).
Place the strips onto a baking sheet.
Bake for 15 minutes, or until golden brown.
Remove the strips from the baking sheet and let cool for 10 minutes on a wire rack.
Split the pastry into 2 layers, baking 6 sheets in all.

Evenly spread the cranberry jam onto three of the pastry layers.
Place another pastry layer on top of the cranberries.
Pipe (or spread) the pastry cream on top of the top layer of pastry.
Top each stack with the remaining plain pastry layers.
Sprinkle powdered sugar on top of each stack and drizzle with the icing.

Roasted Cauliflower Fettuccine

Well, we survived vacation! It was awesome to go see our families, especially since its been a year and a half since we have seen some of them. We had a lot of fun shopping, eating, laughing and talking. And shopping. You know its a good vacation when you leave with one large suitcase + a small carryon and return with TWO HUGE STUFFED suitcases, a guitar case, and a bulging carryon. I think Ladybug got spoiled in the clothing and shoe department while we were with family, haha! She loved spending time with everyone, especially helping Grandma and the Aunts baking in the kitchen!

I think it is going to take us the rest of the week to recover - not only do I have a toddler to get back on a semi-normal schedule, but I have 37 million loads of laundry to do. And then there is our poor digestive systems to regulated too. Oh man, did we abuse them. But everything was soo delicious, and we had to get our fill of Chipotle, Starbucks, Gates, Gram's no bake cookies, and Zombie Burger. No joke, I gained 5 pounds. I heard Joel grumbling when he weighed himself this morning, too, but he won't tell me how much he gained. We will definitely be subsiding on produce this week and nothing else! :) 

Roasted Cauliflower Fettuccine (Cooking Light, September 2012)
1 head cauliflower, cut into florets
3 TBSP water
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
4 1/2 tsp olive oil, divided
8 ounces uncooked fettuccine
1 1/2 ounces pancetta, finely chopped
1 1/2 tsp lemon zest
1 TBSP lemon juice
2 tsp chopped fresh thyme
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 ounces parmesan cheese, shredded

Preheat oven to 400F.
Combine the cauliflower florets, water, salt and pepper.
Drizzle with 2 tsp olive oil and toss to combine.
Arrange the mixture on a baking sheet and bake for 40 minutes, until the cauliflower is tender and golden (stir twice during baking).
Cook the pasta according to package directions, omitting the salt and fat in the water - reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta water before draining.
Heat a large skillet over medium heat.
Add pancetta to pan and cook for 5 minutes, or until crisp, stirring frequently.
Remove the pancetta and set aside.
Add the remaining 2 1/2 tsp oil and the 1/2 cup pasta water to the pan.
Bring to a boil over high heat, for 30 seconds, whisking constantly.
Add the zest, juice, thyme and garlic to the pan.
Add pasta and toss to coat.
Remove the pan from heat.
Add in the cauliflower and pancetta and toss.
Top with cheese and Enjoy! 

Sourdough Rosemary Garlic Ricotta Grissini Twists

This month for Sourdough Surprises we did something twisted fun! We made filled breadsticks, which turned out to be a lot easier (but just as messy) as we thought they would be! They were the perfect combination of slightly crunchy and slightly chewy, with tons of great flavor. And an awesome addition to soup! 

** A note to my Sourdough Surprises friends: I am currently somewhere between Missouri and Iowa, driving between one family and the next, and stopping to stretch my legs at my old stomping grounds for Graceland University's Homecoming! It will probably take me a while to get both internet connection and a bit of free time, so please bear with me! :) How about you help us out and take up for my being gone? Can you pin, tweet, and facebook this into oblivion? And while you are at it, invite some friends to join us! :)

Please check out all the other awesome Grassini Twists made by the other members of the Sourdough Surprises Gang! :) Stop by the website in a few days to see what we will be making in November.

Sourdough Grissini Twists, with Garlic, Rosemary and Ricotta (slightly adapted from Delectable Tidbits)

120 grams bread flour
220 grams whole wheat flour
200 grams water
1 1/2 tsp salt
23 grams olive oil
230 grams 100% hydration sourdough starter, fed
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
fresh rosemary, chopped* (I didn't measure this, sorry, I just threw some on until it looked good)
olive oil
pinch of salt

In a large bowl combine the flours, water, salt, 23 grams of olive oil and starter.
Mix well, until it forms a soft dough.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead 5-10 minutes, until you can stretch the dough without breaking it.
Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl, cover with a kitchen towel, and allow to rest 2-3 hours, with a fold at 40 minutes and 80 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350F.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a small bowl, mix together the ricotta, a bit of olive oil, and a pinch of salt until the ricotta is smooth.
Divide the dough in thirds. Working with 1 part at a time, roll the dough out into a 6x4" rectangle.
Gently and evenly spread the ricotta over the dough.
Sprinkle the garlic and rosemary over the ricotta, so that it evenly covers the dough.
Cut the dough into 8 strips (so you will have 24 all together).
Working with one strip at a time, fold the strips in half so the two ends meet and twist them around each other.
Place the twisted strip on the baking sheet.
When all the strips are done, bake for 30-40 minutes, until golden brown.
Transfer to a wire rack to cool and Enjoy!

Chardonnay Braised Chicken Thighs with Parsnips

Hello dear friends! I am happy to report that we survived our airplane trip perfectly fine. There were no hiccups and everything went smoothly! Its wonderful to be at home with our family and friends, even if it is for just a few short days. Hopefully today (if the weather holds out) we will be going to the zoo! 

This was a simple and delicious meal. Ever since I discovered parsnips I have been a huge fan of them, and this is a perfect use for them! The chicken is crispy and moist, and very flavorful. The parsnips were perfectly cooked and delicious. I might have eaten more than my fair share of them! 

Chardonnay Braised Chicken Thighs with Parsnips (Food and Wine, Oct. 2012)

2 TBSP butter
2 TBSP olive oi
8 chicken thighs (about 2 3/4 pounds)
1/4 cup flour
4 small shallots, peeled and sliced
1 pound parsnips, peeled and cut into 3x1/2" batons
1 sprig rosemary
1 cup Chardonnay
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
chopped flat-leaf parsley for garnish

Preheat the oven to 425F.
In a large deep ovenproof skillet, melt the butter and oil.
Season the chicken with salt and pepper.
Dredge the chicken in flour and shake off the excess.
Add the chicken to the skillet skin side down and cook over high heat, turning once, until browned, about 6 minutes.
Transfer to a plate and keep warm.

Add the shallots, parsnips and rosemary to the skillet and cook, stirring, for 1 minute.
Add the wine and boil until reduced by half, about 3 minutes.
Add the broth and bring to a boil.
Nestle the chicken skin side up into the skillet, tucking it in between the parsnips.
Transfer the skillet to the oven and braise the chicken, uncovered, for 25 minutes, or until cooked through.

Turn the broiler on.
Broil the chicken for 3 minutes, until the skin is crisp.
Return the skillet to the stove-top and turn on high heat, and boil the sauce until thickened, about 3 minutes.
Discard the rosemary sprig.
Garnish with parsley and Enjoy!

Squash, Bacon and Mozzarella Quiche

Is it too late for zucchini recipes? I think I can get away with it since I bought some at the store this week. But by that account, it would also be ok with me to post a rhubarb recipe because they had the most beautiful looking rhubarb I've ever seen. Yes, there was rhubarb at the store in October. And it cost $8 a pound, no joke. But enough of rhubarb, we are talking squash here, while we can still get away with it! I've actually had this recipe on the back-burner for a while now. Sometimes there are just so many delicious things to show you I can't keep up! Haha. But this week I am actually on vacation (although you will never know it because I have a whole week of posts scheduled for you!) 

This quiche is delicious, and a perfect use of any squash you can find in the stores! Add in some mozzarella and bacon, and a light version of a pie crust and YUM! This is perfect for brunch or dinner, and leftovers are great for breakfast, too! 

Squash, Bacon and Mozzarella Quiche (Cooking Light, July 2011)

1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
3 TBSP butter, cut into small pieces and chilled
2 TBSP vegetable shortening, cut into small pieces
1/4 cup ice water
cooking spray

1 TBSP olive oil
2 cups sliced (1/8" thick) yellow squash
2 cups sliced (1/8" thick) zucchini
1/4 cup chopped shallots
1 TBSP fresh chopped thyme
1 cup milk
3/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
4 slices center cut bacon, cooked and crumbled
3 large eggs
3 large egg whites
3/4 cup (3 ounces) shredded mozzarella cheese

In a food processor, combine flour and 1/2 tsp salt and pulse twice.
Add the butter and shortening and pulse 4 times, or until the mixture resembles course meal.
With the food processor on, add the ice water through the food chute, processing just until the mixture is combined (you do not want it to form a ball).
Press the mixture into a 4" circle on plastic wrap.
Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 400 F.
Slightly overlap 2 sheets of plastic wrap on a slightly damp surface (this will help the plastic wrap stick to the counter as you roll out the dough).
Unwrap and place the chilled dough on the plastic wrap.
Cover with an additional 2 sheets of overlapping plastic wrap.
Roll the dough (still covered in plastic wrap) into a 12" circle.
Place the dough in the freezer for 5 minutes, or until the plastic wrap can be easily removed.
Remove the top 2 pieces of plastic wrap and fit the dough (remaining plastic wrap side up), into a 9 1/2" deep dish pie plate covered with cooking spray.
Remove the remaining plastic wrap from the dough.
Fold the edges under and flute/crimp them.
Prick the bottom and sides of the crust with a fork.
Bake for 15 minutes.
Cool on a wire wrack.

Reduce the oven temperature to 350F.
Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat.
Add oil to the pan and swirl to coat.
Sautee the squash, zucchini, shallots, and thyme for 5 minutes or until the squash are tender, stirring frequently.
Cool the squash mixture slightly.

In a large bowl, whisk together the milk, salt, pepper, the bacon, eggs and egg whites.
Arrange the squash mixture in the bottom of the cooled crust.
Sprinkle the mozzarella cheese on top.
Pour the egg mixture over the cheese.
Bake for 45 minutes or until the filling is set.
Cool for 15 minutes on a wire rack.

The Daring Cooks go Brazilian!

Rachel Dana was our October 2012 Daring Cooks' Challenge hostess! Rachel brought Brazil into our lives by challenging us to make Feijoada and Farofa along with some other yummy side dishes traditionally served with Feijoada, which is a delicious black bean and pork stew.

I want you all to know that this was the challenge that almost caused me to get divorced. See, when Joel and I first started dating, he made it absolutely, without a doubt, known that he detests ham and bean soup. Detests it. And when we got married, he made it perfectly clear that if I ever ever make ham and bean soup, it would be cause for an immediate divorce. Apparently he has very strong feelings about ham and bean soup. So when I set out the ingredients for this brazilian stew on the counter, we might have had a few issues. It look a lot of convincing to make it clear that this was not in fact, ham and bean soup. No, no, this was Brazilian Stew with Black Beans, Bacon, Pork Ribs and Ham. Toooootally different. Right...?

I may have suffered through dinner with quite a few looks, eye rolling, pretend dying, and exasperated sighing, but I am happy to report that he ate it, and we are not getting divorced. But I have been thoroughly, thoroughly reminded of his hated of ham and bean soup. Haha. This meal was a lot of fun to put together, even with commentary from the peanut gallery. I loved how all the different components worked together perfectly! And it was delicious!

** Joel wants me to add a statement here, just to let you know that he would never truly divorce me for cooking soup. :)

Brazilian Feast 
(Yields 6-8 servings) 

Onion-Garlic Base
2 medium white onions
4 large cloves of garlic
1 TBSP salt

Roughly chop the onions and garlic.
Place everything in a food processor and blend until smooth.


2 cups dried black beans
12 ounces bacon
2 pounds mixed meats (typically an array of pork - sausages, ribs, ham, etc) cut into 1" cubes or 1/2" slices
4 bay leaves
3 TBSP onion-garlic base (recipe below)
1/4 cup bacon grease or veggie oil

Wash the beans thoroughly and place in a 5 quart pot and fill with water, so the water is twice as high as the beans.
Bring to a boil, and boil for 1 minute.
Turn off the heat, cover, and let sit for 1 hour.
Uncover, and add another 4-8 cups of water, until the beans are completely covered again.
Bring to a boil and then simmer, uncovered, for 1 hour, until the beans have softened but are still firm.

Place the oil/grease in a large frying pan.
Fry all the meat in the hot grease until well browned and cooked through (cook each type of meat separately, but you can use the same pan/grease).
Drain the meat on paper towels to remove excess grease.

To the beans add 3 TBSP of onion-garlic base, 4 bay leaves, and the meat (reserving half of the bacon for later!!!!).
Add enough water to make sure everything is covered.
Continue simmering until the beans are done (about another 2 hours).

1 large bell pepper, diced
1 large tomato, diced
1 medium onion, diced
1/2 cup white wine vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
2 TBSP water
2-4 TBSP chopped parsley
salt and pepper to taste

Chop all the veggies and parsley.
Put all the ingredients into a bowl and stir to combine.
Press down on the veggies to release some liquid, and ensure everything is immersed.
Cover and refrigerate at least 30 minutes.

1.5 cups long grain white rice
4.5 TBSP oil
3 TBSP onion-garlic base
boiling water

Wash your rice in a sieve and let it dry.
Heat the oil in a pan.
Cook the onion-garlic paste for 1 minute, until it starts to soften.
Add the dried rice and stir fry for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally so it doesn't stick to the pot and burn.
Add enough boiling water so the water comes 2 fingers over the rice.
Cover and simmer for 20 minutes.
Turn off the heat.
Fluff with a fork, cover, and let rest for another 10 minutes.

Hot Sauce
1 spoonful of your favorite hot sauce
a few spoonfuls of the liquid from the completed feijoada
1 spoonful of the vinaigrette

Mix together in a bowl!
That's it!

1/2 cup butter
4 large eggs
1 cup chopped onion
12 ounces fresh bacon, fried (set aside from the feijoada)
1 cup fine ground cornmeal or dry breadcrumbs

Melt half of the butter over medium-high heat.
Add the onions and cook for a few minutes, until they start to soften.
Crack the eggs into the pan and lightly break the yolks and spread around (don't break it up too much).
When the egg is almost fully cooked, break them up into med-large pieces.
The onions will brown quite a bit under the eggs, but its ok!
Add the cooked bacon and stir.
Add the rest of the butter and stir to melt.
Lower the heat to medium, toss in the cornmeal and stir well.
Cook, stirring, for 1 minute.
Add a pinch of salt and pepper and keep stirring, until the cornmeal has clumped together nicely and become golden, about 3-5 minutes.
Be careful not to let it burn! Keep tasting it until it tastes toasty.

Collard Greens
4 collard greens
1 TBSP olive oil
1 TBSP onion-garlic base

Wash the greens, cut out the stem, and cut in half.
Stack all of the leaves on top of each other and roll them up tightly into a log.
Holding the tube tightly, slice off thin slices of the greens.
When you are almost ready to eat, heat the oil in a large pan over medium-high heat.
Add 1 TBSP of the onion-garlic base and let it soften for a minute.
Add all the collards at once, and stir to coat with oil.
You can add a pinch of salt and pepper if you want.
Cook, stirring, for about 1 minute, so they just start to soften.
Remove and serve!

Roasted Grape and Ricotta Cream Cheese Braid with Honey Thyme Glaze

You would think by now I would be 'challenged out". The Daring Cooks and Bakers were the ones that started it all. Actually, the Daring Kitchen was one of the main reasons why I started blogging in the first place. But then throw in Secret Recipe Club, Twelve Loaves, an occasional Bread Baking Day, and of course my own baby, Sourdough Surprises, and that's 1.5 challenges every week of every month! I keep telling myself I need to cut one, to slow down a bit before I burn myself out. And yet, I cannot seem to say no. I must say that I am really enjoying the Willow Bird Baking Challenges. It is great to actually sit down and think beyond just filling out this week's menu, to think "What am I going to do with this". 

I've been curious about roasted grapes for a while now, and particularly drawn to one appetizer I've seen over and over again - roasted grapes with ricotta and honey on crispy bread. I decided to model my cream cheese braid on this - a ricotta/cream cheese mixture topped with roasted grapes, sprinkled with a little balsamic vinegar syrup, sealed in a buttery pastry, and then topped with a thyme honey glaze. Yeah, it was as good and as rich as you are thinking. While it was definitely decadent and delicious, I was happy to find that it wasn't too rich - I could definitely finish my piece...and might have snacked on a tiny bit more as I was cleaning up. Maybe. 

Roasted Grape and Ricotta Cream Cheese Braid with Honey Thyme Glaze

Dough (slightly adapted from Willow Bird Baking)
2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter
3 ounces cream cheese
1/2 cup milk

Preheat oven to 425F.
In the bowl of a food processor, mix the flour, baking soda and salt.
Add the butter and cream cheese into the flour and pulse to cut the fats into the dough (about 6 pulses).
Add the milk and blend into a loose dough.
Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead very lightly for 4-5 strokes (be careful not to overwork it or you will get tough pastry!).
Sandwich the dough between two sheets of waxed paper and roll the dough out into an 8x12 " rectangle.
Measure and mark the dough lengthwise into thirds.
Spread the grapes down the center of the middle third.
Divide the cream cheese mixture in half and place each half on the outside of the grapes (keeping everything in the middle third of the dough.
Using a pizza cutter, cut 1" strips out of two sides of dough. Don't cut all the way to the middle, leave a little dough at middle, or all your fillings will ooze out.
Fold the strips, rotating from one side to the other (like you are braiding) over the filling.
Bake for 12-15 minutes, until the dough is cooked through and the top is lightly brown.
Pour the honey glaze on top, cut into slices, and Enjoy!

Roasted Grapes:
3 cups red seedless grapes, washed
olive oil

Preheat oven to 450F.
Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil or parchment paper.
Spread the grapes on the baking sheet.
Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with a pinch of salt and toss.
Bake for 7-9 minutes, just until the grapes begin to burst.

Ricotta Cream Cheese (slightly adapted from Ellie Krieger)
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
1/2 cup cream cheese
2 TBSP honey
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

In a medium bowl, mix all of the ingredients together until smooth (a hand held mixer is great for this!)
Transfer to a small bowl and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

Balsamic Syrup:
3 TBSP balsamic vinegar
2 TBSP sugar

Combine the ingredients in a small saucepan.
Simmer for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Allow to cool completely.

Honey Thyme Glaze: (Food and Wine)
1/2 cup honey
1/2 tsp thyme leaves

Bring the honey to a boil over moderately high heat.
Remove from the heat and allow to cool about 10 minutes.
Stir in the thyme leaves.

Ginger Pork Meatballs

Sometimes it is fun to switch things up, to take something down an unexpected path. And I'm not just talking metaphorically here, I'm talking about food! These gingery pork meatballs were a fun asian-twist on a traditionally Italian dish! They had fantastic flavor, and we really enjoyed them! The original recipe suggested serving them with rice noodles sauteed in sesame oil, red bell pepper, snow peas and green onions. Even after doubling the "sauce" we thought the noodles were pretty dull, so I am not including the recipe. But serve these up with some rice instead, and a good helping of veggies and you will have a great treat! :) 

Ginger Pork Meatballs ( slightly adapted from Cooking Light)

1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
2 TBSP soy sauce
2 tsp grated, peeled fresh ginger
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 pound lean ground pork
1 large egg, slightly beaten

Preheat an oven to 450F.
Line a jelly roll pan (or rimmed baking sheet) with foil and place in the oven to heat up.
In a large bowl combine all the ingredients and mix well.
Shape the meat mixture into balls (about 20 balls) and place on the preheated pan.
Bake for 20 minutes or until done.

Cheddar Cornbread with Pepitas

Well, we did it! We finally get camping as a family together, and it was awesome! Both Joel and I grew up camping, where camping was our family's vacation. Several days in a tent, going hiking, cooking over a fire and just being out in nature. There is nothing better than coming home smelling like a campfire and everything covered in mud. We were really excited to take Ladybug camping for the first time, and I am happy to report that she LOVED it! It was cold, windy, and really muddy, but we had an awesome time. 

West Virginia sure is beautiful in the fall! 

This month's Twelve Loaves was hosted by Cake Duchess, Life's a Feast and Creative Culinary, and was all about nuts, seeds and grains. When we camp, we tend to be those people. We bring everything. And that includes bringing a campstove, plenty of cast iron and a cooler packed with plenty of food! (I mean, really, I have a food blog, you know we like to eat!) I decided to make some cornbread to take with us camping, and thought it would a perfect excuse to make something for Twelve Loaves!

This cornbread turned out awesomely! The cornbread was perfect, crumbly but still moist, with the great taste of cheddar cheese. And the pepitas (which are hulled and roasted pumpkin seeds) added a bit of a salty crunch, which I loved! This was a great addition to take camping with us! We reheated this for breakfast in a dutch oven over the fire for a bit, which turned the edges a bit crunchy and the fire gave it a bit of smokiness. The morning was cold, about 45F, and the hot cornbread (with a drizzle of honey, of course!) was amazing as we were all cuddled up in our blankets around the fire.

Cheddar Cornbread with Pepitas (slightly adapted from Cooking Light)

1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 cups cornmeal
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 1/4 cup buttermilk
2 TBSP olive oil
2 TBSP honey
3 eggs
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
3/4 cup frozen corn kernels
1/3 cups pumpkin seed kernels (pepitas)

Preheat oven to 350F.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, baking soda, and salt.
Add the buttermilk, olive oil, honey, eggs, cheese, and corn and gently mix together, until just incorporated.
Pour into a buttered 9" cast iron skillet.
Sprinkle the pepitas on top.
Bake for 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
Cool in the pan for 10 minutes before serving.

Caramelized Apple Walnut Cinnamon Rolls with Brown Butter Cream Cheese Frosting

Sometimes there is nothing better than getting together with a friend or two and baking something delicious. And sometimes it can be even more fun when you do it with a huge group of people all around the world. Between blog hops and monthly challenges, the food blogging world loves to bake and cook with other people. So when one of my favorite bloggers decided to issue up a new challenge, I immediately to join. If you don't know Julie of Willow Bird Baking, you are really missing out. Julie constantly fills her blog with delicious treats, and her posts are so fun to read. I am pretty sure that everyone who reads her blog feels like they could instantly be good friends with her - she is warm, funny, down to earth, and charming! Julie is all about teaching confidence in the kitchen and helping you to find your inner creative spark - taking a recipe and making it your own. So this week she has challenged all her friends to bake cinnamon rolls - but not your ordinary cinnamon roll. She wanted everyone to give it their own spin - to make up your own filling and frosting for it. 

I wanted these to be all about fall, and while most people immediately think of pumpkin, I feel like the apple gets left out a lot. Fall, and especially early fall like it is now, should be about apples! They are perfectly in season right now, and their crisp texture and sweetly sharp flavor should find its way into everything - both sweet and savory. These were utterly delicious and totally fall. I used both apple cider and apples, and they paired perfectly with the cinnamon. The frosting was amazing, too, with brown butter, a hint of coffee and cream cheese. These rolls are nothing but pure decadence. I am really happy with how these turned out, and if I don't gain 10 pounds by sneakily eating all the rolls myself, I will totally make these again! 

Caramelized Apple Cinnamon Rolls (The Gingered Whisk)

dough (slightly adapted from Willow Bird Baking)
2 1/4 tsp yeast
1/4 cup warm apple cider
2 TBSP white vinegar
2 cups (minus 2 TBSP) milk
2/3 cup butter
3 TBSP sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
5 cups flour
2 TBSP butter, melted *to brush on top after baking

Cut the butter into small chunks and place on a plate in the freezer.
In a small bowl, mix together the yeast and warm apple cider and let sit for 10 minutes.
Pour the vinegar into a 2 cup measuring cup and then fill the cup up to the "2 cup" line with milk and let sit for 10 minutes.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the salt, baking soda, baking powder and flour.
Remove the butter from the freezer and using your fingers (or 2 forks) cut the butter into the flour until it resembles course sand, with a few pea sized bits of butter remaining.
Pour the milk and yeasted cider into the flour mixture and mix until combined. It will be a sticky mess.
Place some plastic wrap over the bowl and place the dough in the fridge overnight.

8 apples, peeled, cored, and diced small
1 cup brown sugar
4 TBSP butter
2 tsp ginger
8 TBSP apple cider
3 TBSP cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg

In a large skillet, melt the butter.
Stir in the apples, brown sugar, ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon until all the apples are evenly covered.
When the brown sugar melts, stir in the apple cider.
Cook for 15-20 minutes, until the apples are tender and the brown sugar is thick and caramelizing.
Allow to cool before use (you can even refrigerate this part until you need it if you want to make it ahead).

8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
6 TBSP butter
4 TBSP brewed coffee, room temperature or cold
4 cups powdered sugar

In a small sautee pan, melt the butter and carefully watch it until it browns. You want it to just start to turn brown and it starts to smell nutty and rich. 
Turn the heat off and allow the butter to cool (you might even need to place the butter in a bowl so the hot pan doesn't burn it).
In a medium bowl, mix together the cream cheese, coffee, powdered sugar and cooled browned butter until fluffy.
Spread evenly over the cooled rolls. 


The next morning, remove the dough from the fridge and dump it out on a lightly floured surface.
Roll the dough out into a large rectangle.
Brush with 5 TBSP of melted (slightly cool) butter.
Spoon the filling on the dough and evenly spread it around.
Roll the dough up into a long log.
Using a sharp serrated knife, cut the log into 24 even pieces (I find it easiest to cut it first in halves - so first cut the into 2 pieces, then cut each half into half (so you have 4 pieces) and then you can cut each fourth into thirds - getting you 24 equal sized pieces).
Place each circle cut side up into the bottom of two greased 9x13 pans.
Cover the pans with plastic wrap and allow to rise for 1.5-2 hours.
Preheat your oven to 400F.
Remove the plastic wrap from the pans and place the pans in the oven, spacing them out so one pan is on the top left of your oven and the other pan is on the bottom right. 
Bake 10 minutes, then switch the location of the pans (so they bake evenly).
Bake another 5-10 minutes, until golden brown (make sure they are evenly golden, if they are just barely golden the rolls will still be gooey in the middle).
Brush with the 2 TBSP of melted butter and then place the pans back in the oven for another minute.
Cool in the pans completely before frosting.

Brown Sugar Baked Wings with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce

I honestly thought that once summer was officially over we would be less busy. I don't know where this crazy idea came from, I just had it in my head that fall = more time. Turns out, its not true. At all.  At least a good portion of our time has been enjoying the beautiful outdoors lately! Another thing we have been enjoying are these chicken wings (awesome segue, huh?). They are very quick (and cheap) to throw together, and are so delicious we have eaten them at least three times in the last month. Sweet and just a little spicy, these wings really hit the spot! 

Baked Brown Sugar Chicken Wings (slightly adapted from Damn Delicious)
yields: 4 servings

2 LBS chicken wings
2 TBSP olive oil
1 TBSP brown sugar
1 tsp onion powder
2 tsp garlic powder
1 1/2 tsp chili powder
2 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper

Preheat the oven to 425F.
In a large ziplock bag, combine all of the ingredients and squish around really good until the chicken wings are completely covered in the seasonings.
Line a baking sheet with foil and place the chicken wings on top (do not skip the foil, it will make a seriously ridiculous mess if you skip it!)
Bake for 25 minutes, turning over halfway through.
Serve immediately with the dipping sauce on the side.

Roasted Red Pepper Dipping Sauce (Damn Delicious)
1/3 cup roasted red peppers, chopped roughly
2 ounces goat cheese
2 TBSP sour cream
1/4 tsp salt

In a food processor, combine all the ingredients until blended well. 
Refrigerate until needed.

Sweet Potato Pancakes

I've been holding onto this for a long for now, guys, and I am really excited to finally show you! See, I made this back in July, when my mom came for a visit. She had once eaten some sweet potato pancakes at a restaurant, and apparently they were life-altering good. And she wanted me to re-create them. She also wanted them to be healthy.  

While these pancakes were not the life-altering ones my mom was dreaming of, these were in fact VERY good! I liked the combination of the sweet potato with the buckwheat pancake mix and the spices. These are very easy to throw together (as long as you have cooked sweet potato on hand). I also really liked the syrup that Weight Watchers suggested with these. It is very different than just straight maple syrup, but very tasty. I encourage you to give them a try and tell me what you think! 

Sweet Potato Pancakes (slightly adapted from Weight Watchers)
yields: 3 pancakes and 3 1/2 TBSP topping per serving, 4 servings total, 6 Points+

3/4 cup dry buckwheat pancake mix
1/2 cup cooked and pureed sweet potato
3/4 cup apple juice
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1 egg 

1/2 cup low fat vanilla yogurt
2 TBSP maple syrup (the real stuff)
1/3 cup apple (or pumpkin) butter
1/4 cup fresh blueberries

In a medium bowl, whisk together the pancake mix, sweet potato, juice, egg and the spice.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the apple butter, yogurt, and syrup - set aside.

Warm a large non-stick skillet over medium-low heat. 
Spray the skillet with cooking spray and ladle about 2 TBSP of batter onto the grill. 
Cook until bubbles form in the batter and the underside is golden,  and then flip.
Cook until both sides are golden brown. 
Repeat with remaining batter. 
Serve with the topping and blueberries.

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