German Chocolate Cheesecake

It's my birthday and I'll make my own cake if I want to! Yup, that's right. Today is my birthday! My Golden birthday to be exact - I'm turning 30 on December 30. I definitely don't feel 30, but I don't think I could put a number on how I "feel". And yes, I do like to make my own birthday cake. I feel like there are never enough times during the year to make a really good cake from scratch, and a birthday is definitely one of those occasions. Since my husband insists on a store bought cookie cake for his birthday (honestly...), I always want to make something special for my birthday. Because, it's my birthday! I actually made this amazing German Chocolate Cheesecake for Christmas, but I wanted to have a cake to share with you today. I'll post my birthday cake in a few days! :)

Taking a look at this cheesecake, you might think that it is complicated and hard. And while it will take you the better part of an afternoon to make, it is not hard. Repeat - time does not = difficulty. So often I see people look at a long recipe and immediately assume it is way beyond their skill level. This is sooo not the case (ok, sometimes it is). This recipe is a fantastic example of that. There are five components to this cheesecake, and start to finish, it took probably 2 hours, plus extra chill in the fridge time. But each component is very simple to put together, and I guarantee that as long as you can follow directions (and even I have problems with that sometimes) you can make this! 

And you will be sooo happy that you did make this! This cheesecake is rich and decadent, but amazingly delicious. Each part is delicious by itself, but put together, it is a total show stopper. We took this to Christmas dinner and everyone loved it. I was super happy that there were a few pieces left that we could bring home and eat later. 

German Chocolate Cheesecake (Willow Bird Baking)

1 package of chocolate sandwich cookies (think oreos, but go cheap)
6 TBSP butter, melted and cooled
small pinch of salt

1/4 cup + 2 TBSP heavy cream
5 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips

24 ounces (3 packages) cream cheese, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 tsp vanilla extract
3 eggs, room temperature
3 ounces chocolate chi[s, melted and cooled

3/4 cup flour
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup + 2 TBSP unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
3/8 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 egg
1/4 cup + 2 TBSP buttermilk
1/8 cup + 1/2 TBSP vegetable oil
1/4 cup + 2 TBSP warm water
1/2 tsp vanilla

2/3 cup heavy cream
2/3 cup sugar
2 egg yolks
2 ounces butter, cut into small pieces
1/3 tsp salt
2/3 cup pecans, toasted and finely chopped
1 cup unsweetened coconut, toasted

Using a food processor, finely crush all the cookies (and frosting, too!) until they are crumbs.
Toss in the melted butter and pinch of salt until well combined.
Toss the crumbs into a buttered springform dish, and using a flat bottomed glass, press the crumbs all the way up the sides of the pan and evenly on the bottom (using a twisting motion helps the crumbs not stick to the glass). Be patient, it takes some time, but they will go.

Place the chocolate in a medium bowl.
In a medium saucepan, bring the cream to a simmer.
Pour the cream over the chocolate and allow to sit for 1-2 minutes.
Whisk smooth.
Pour the ganache over the bottom of the crust.
Place the springform pan in the freezer for 30 minutes to harden.

Preheat oven to 350F.
Butter a 9" round cake pan.
Cut a circle of parchment paper and place it in the bottom of the cake pan, and butter the bottom.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
Add the egg, buttermilk, warm water, oil, and vanilla.
Whisk until well combined and smooth.
Pour into the pan and bake 25-30 minutes.
Let the cake cool in the pan for 10 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.

In a medium bowl, beat the cream cheese and sugar until well blended and creamy.
Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well between each addition.
Add the chocolate and mix until combined.
Pour over the prepared crust and smooth the top with a spatula.
Bake for 55 minutes or until almost set (the top may crack, but you're going to cover it anyway so its ok!)
Cool completely, and then chill in the fridge until ready to assemble.

Place the butter, salt, toasted coconut and toasted pecans in a medium bowl.
In a small saucepan, heat the cream, sugar, and egg yolks over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture is thickened and reaches 170F on a candy thermometer.
Pour the mixture over the coconut mixture and stir until the butter is melted.
Set aside to cool.

Place half of the coconut filling on the top of the cheesecake and spread it evenly.
Carefully place the chocolate cake layer on top.
Spread the remaining coconut filling on the top of the cake layer and smooth out.
Decorate the top of the cake with pecans!
Chill for 3 hours or overnight.
When ready to serve, wrap the springform pan in warm dishtowels for a minute or two, and then remove the springform pan.
Serve and Enjoy!

Pasta with Sausage, Tomatoes and Arugula

I've kind of been dreading writing this post. Don't get the wrong idea here - nothing terrible has happened, but in 3 short days, something significant is going to happen. And it involves a birthday. And the numbers 3 and 0. 

I can barely look at those numbers together. I'm just not entirely sure I am ready for this. I don't feel that old. Not that 30 is old, because, here I am, about to turn it...but something inside of me kind of wants to curl up on the couch and hyperventilate a little bit. And so I decided I wanted to do something "Drastic" in celebration of such a monumental birthday...
  • Cut my hair? No, I like my rather simple hair style where I don't really have to do anything with it.
  • Dye my hair a crazy color - like purple? Sounds fun, but honestly, I have never ever dyed my hair, and I am kind of nervous about it. What if it ruins my natural color, which I happen to love? 
  • Tattoo? I like the idea of a tattoo, but not of actually getting one. Until I can decide 100% what and where and how I want a tattoo, I won't get one. I once saw a girl with a tattoo of a potato on her ankle...because she got drunk one night and she thought it was funny. Oh boy... 
  • Go on a crazy diet and loose 20 pounds? Pa-leaz...Not gonna happen. LOL
  • A piercing maybe? But where? And is 30 too old to have fun piercings? Probably... 
Finally, I decided on something that may not sound as drastic as all that, but will still make a dramatic impact on my life. First, I want to start incorporating fish into out diet. Both Joel and I grew up in the midwest, where the only fresh fish was catfish and bluegill, and we never really grew a taste for either. Not that the Mid Ohio Valley has a ton of fresh fish choices, either, but we can always buy it frozen, right? And there have been a few times where we were at expensive restaurants and bought it and liked it. So apparently I just like fancy expensive fish, haha. Ok, so here is where I need your help! I know NOTHING about fish. Not a thing! So, tell me - how do you like to cook it? What is your absolute favorite fish dish that you would serve to a fish hater? Haha

Secondly, and this is a super big one for me... I am going to start running. Ugh. I hate even typing that word. Running is definitely my least favorite thing, but it is such a good form of exercise. And I need something, because there is definitely zero exercising happening right now. Plus this is free, and if I get a jogging stroller I can take ladybug with me. And when Joel is home, we can all go as a family, and there will be zero excuses. Except when its cold. Or raining. So... what are your best running resources for beginners? 

Ok, so you probably want to know something about this pasta dish, huh? It's perfect for a weeknight, or when you are in a rush. Its simple to throw together, relatively healthy, and tastes delicious. There you have it, the perfect trifecta - easy to throw together, healthy, and relatively cheap! 

Pasta with Sausage, Tomatoes, and Arugula (Cooking Light, December 2010)

9 ounces fettuccine
1 TBSP olive oil
6 ounces turkey sausage
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 pint cherry tomatoes
1/2 tsp pepper
3 cups baby arugula leaves
2 ounces Romano cheese, shredded

Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain in a colander, reserving 2/3 cup cooking liquid.
Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat.
Remove the casings from the sausage, break into bite size pieces and add to pan.
Cook 3 minutes, or until browned, stirring frequently to crumble.
Add garlic, cook 30 seconds, stirring constantly, until fragrant.
Add the tomatoes and pepper.
Cover the pan and cook 2 minutes.
Mash the tomatoes with the back of a wooden spoon to break them up.
Cover the pan back up, reduce the heat to low, and cook 3 minutes.
Remove the pan from heat.
Add the pasta, 2/3 cup reserved cooking liquid, and arugula.
Toss well and sprinkle with Romano cheese.

Sourdough Panettone

The December 2012 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by the talented Marcellina of Marcellina in Cucina. Marcellina challenged us to create our own custom Panettone, a traditional Italian holiday bread!

I honestly don't know what got into me. I think I had temporary insanity. When I saw that this month's Daring Bakers Challenge was Panettone, my brain immediately went to sourdough. And then when I saw that the recipe makes 3 loaves, I immediately thought, "Oh, I'll just double the batch and give them as gifts to my friends"! Because taking 4 bags of flour and almost an entire freaking week to make the most complicated, fussy, precise bread you have ever made sounds like a good idea.

skewered molds 

But I did it anyway. I spent several days prior reading all the information I could on making panettone, filled four whole pages with notes, and spent 1 whole day trying in vain to find panettone wrappers in my town (and then just ordered them from Amazon). Add another day to transform my 100% hydration starter into a 50% hydration, and another day to transform it to an Italian sweet starter (you have to change the acidity levels).

Just hanging out!
The list of ingredients is almost mind boggling (although, it really is only flour, water, starter, egg yolks and dried fruit), and the instructions take up several pages. It doesn't seem technically hard, as long as you know your stages of gluten development and have the time to spare. The "hard part" comes in when your toddler insists on helping you, flour flies everywhere, and you have no idea if any single ingredient made it into the bowl in the correct quantity. I am fairly certain I did not reach the correct gluten stage, as things were all the sudden very messy and crazy in my kitchen. The first rise overnight was great. I got up early the next morning to get started, and had my molds, hanging apparatus and dough ready to go by 10 that morning. I nestled all the molds with towels and locked them in the bathroom (the warmest room in the house), and was sure they would ruse quickly. Everywhere I looked, I saw posts about sourdough panettone taking 12-19 hours to rise, but I am certain this was not going to happen to me.

Not very pretty. 

One of my favorite quotes (from the super amazing show "Deadwood" that aired on HBO a while ago) is "Announcing your plans is a good way to hear God laugh" (gotta love Al Swearengen!). This quote applies perfectly to this situation, as 6, 10, 12 hours passed and my panettone dough was barely halfway up the molds. I decided to go to bed and checked on it regularly throughout the night - every two hours to be exact. Finally, by 7 the next morning two of my panettone were ready to go and the others didn't look to be far off. I started baking them, two at a time, hoping that the others would finish proofing as I was baking. No such luck, though, and after nearly 24 hours of proofing, I decided they weren't going to get any higher. And to add insult to injury, I got practically no oven spring during baking.

They are definitely not the classic high raised loaves you see, and they don't even reach the top of the paper molds! The paper molds were another disappointment - they seemed to get greasy looking during the baking process - not the pretty paper I wanted to give gifts in at all! I knew I could not find corn flour for the glaze, so instead I used just egg whites with a smattering of cocoa powder whisked it. I did not like how it turned out at all, they got way too dark. So the next ones I just "X"'d and put a pat of butter in. Didn't really like how those looked, either, as they formed a kind of crater in the center.

I was not giving up, though, since I put a whole week into these little guys. When all else fails, there is nothing like a dusting of powdered sugar and a pretty little bow to make things seem much better. And even though these did not look like I wanted them to, they still had great taste and the texture was great, too! (disclaimer: I've never had panettone before this so I can't compare it to the real thing. But I liked mine!) I haven't quite decided yet if I want to try this again (someday) to perfect it, or if next time I will just take the shortcut and use active dry yeast. And no one I gave them to gives as commented on them, so I don't really know if they liked them or not. Haha.

I am submitting this panettone to Yeastpotting, a wonderful weekly collection of all things yeasted and delicious! And, to make three birds with one stone, I am also going to submit this to Twelve Loaves, (whose theme this month was boozy bread, yum!) hosted by Cake Duchess, Creative Culinary and Life's A Feast.

Sourdough Panettone (only very slightly adapted from Wild Yeast)
Yields: 3 loaves

Ingredients for Stiff Starter:
20 grams 100% hydration starter
80 grams flour, divided
40 grams water, divided

Ingredients for Sweet Starter:
20 g 100% hydration dough
80 g flour, divided
40 g water, divided

Ingredients for First Dough:
346 g flour
130 g water
1 g instant yeast
83 g sugar
55 g egg yolk
7 g diadastic malt powder
83 g unsalted butter, room temperature
86 grams sweet starter

Ingredients for Final Dough:
82 g flour
114 g water
5 g salt
82 g sugar
25 g egg yolk
126 g unsalted butter, room temperature
19 g honey
126 g cranberries, chopped
44 g crystallized ginger, chopped
126 g dried cherries, soaked overnight in brandy, and chopped
zest from 1 medium orange
seeds scraped from 4/5 of a vanilla bean (use remaining seeds for glaze)

Glaze Ingredients:
55 g granulated sugar
3 g ground almonds
4 g vegetable oil
4 g corn flour
4 g cocoa
30 g egg whites
scraped seeds from 1/5 of vanilla bean

powdered sugar
pearl sugar
blanched almonds

To change your starter from 100% to 50% hydration:
Start with 20 grams of your starter. Feed it 40 grams of flour, and 20 grams of water.
Cover and let it sit on your counter for 10-12 hours (or until nearly doubled in size).
Repeat twice.

To change your starter into a Sweet Italian Starter:
Start with 20 grams of stiff 50% starter.
Feed the starter 20 grams of flour and 10 grams of water.
Cover and allow to ferment for 4 hours at 85F (the best way to do this, I think, is to either wrap it in a towel and place it in the oven with the light on, or to microwave one of those cherry pit heating packs and place your starter in there (don't actually let the heater pack touch your starter). )
Again start with 40 grams of starter, feed it 20 grams flour and 10 grams water. Cover and ferment at 85F for 4 hours.
For the third feeding, start with 40 grams of starter and feed it 40 grams of flour and 20 grams of water.
Again ferment for 4 hours.

To Make First Dough:
Scale out 86 grams of the sweet starter (you can discard the rest, or keep it, whichever you prefer).
In a large bowl, combine all of the ingredients for the "First Dough" until just combined.
Place the dough in a lightly oiled container, cover, and let ferment at room temperature (72F) for 12 hours.

To Make Second Dough:
In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the flour, salt, egg yolks, orange zest, vanilla seeds, all of the first dough, and about 1/4 of the water.
Mix on low speed until combined, about 5 minutes.
Slowly start adding the sugar, in about 5 or 6 increments, mixing for 2 minutes between additions.
Continue to mix until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl and the gluten is almost fully developed.
Gradually add the butter to the dough, mixing for a minute in between each addition, until the butter is fully incorporated into the dough and the gluten is fully developed.
Add the honey and enough of the remaining water to give a very soft dough.
Add the cranberries, cherries, and crystallized ginger, mixing until they are evenly distributed.
Place the dough in a lightly oiled container (preferable low and wide) and cover.
Ferment at room temperature for 30 minutes.
Fold the dough a few times, re-cover, and ferment another 30 minutes.

Make the Skewer Molds: 

Shaping the Panettone:
Turn the dough out onto a buttered surface and divide the dough into 3 pieces and form each piece into a light ball.
Allow the balls to rest for 20 minutes.
Shape the dough into tight balls and place into the skewered molds.
Proof at 80F for 4-6 hours (or 12 hours at room temperature), until the dough has risen to an inch or so below the top of the molds.

Baking and Final Steps:

When the dough is nearly proofed, preheat the oven to 350F. (if your loaves have been proofing in the oven, PLEASE take them out before turning the oven on!!!)
Mix the glaze by whisking together all of the ingredients,.
Pour, pipe, or brush the glaze on the loaves (don't worry about pooling).
Sift powdered sugar over the tops, then sprinkle with pearl sugar and a few blanched almonds (If you want to leave the tops unglazed, use scissors to snip an "X" into the top of the loaf and tuck a pat of butter inside).
Place the loaves directly on the rack and bake for 35-40 minutes, or until the tops are dark brown and the internal temperature is 185F (if the tops start to get too dark after 25-30 minutes, turn the temperature down to 325F).
While the panettone is baking, set up your hanging apparatus.
When the bread is done baking, hang them as quickly as possible.
Allow the panettone to hang for at least 4 hours, up to overnight.

Sourdough Cookies times two!

Making sourdough cookies was one of the first things I tried after I got my starter - and so I am so excited that this month's Sourdough Surprises is all about cookies! Just like how there are countless cookie recipes out there, there are a lot of variety in sourdough cookies, too. There were so many that I wanted to try, but I thought my family might stage a coup if I made only sourdough cookies for Christmas. In the end I tried two - a peanut butter cookie topped with a chocolate kiss, and one for a spiced oatmeal with cranberries and orange zest!

The Peanut Butter cookies were great! I was a little worried about them when I started adding the kisses to the cookie, it seemed like they were getting over-baked, even though they didn't look like it. I reduced the cooking time, and the cookies still seemed really "stiff", even though they were hardly over-baked. Even eating them straight from the oven they seemed crunchy. I was kind of disappointed in them until I ate one later that night and they were utterly perfect! You can't really taste the sourdough tang, but you can tell there is a greater depth of flavor in the cookie. 

The Spiced Oatmeal cookies were easy and fun to make. I love that they included a "souring" time, which greatly enhanced the sourdough taste of the cookies. 

Cranberry Orange Spiced Sourdough Cookies (Just Making Noise)
1 cup sourdough starter
1 cup butter, melted and cooled
2 cups whole wheat flour
1.5 cups oatmeal
1/4 cup raw honey
1/2 cup brown sugar
3/4 tsp sea salt
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp cloves
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
zest from 1 medium orange
1 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 cup dried cranberries, chopped
1 cup walnuts, chopped

In a medium bowl, mix together the starter and butter.
Add 1 cup of flour and the oatmeal, stirring to incorporate.
Continue adding flour until you have a thick dough.
Cover and allow to sour for 8 or more hours.

Preheat your oven to 375F.
In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the honey, eggs, sugar, vanilla, sea sal, cloves, cinnamon, orange zest, ginger, baking powder and baking soda.
Pour the mixture over the soured dough and mix (using your hands is easiest for this) until well incorporated.
Stir the cranberries and walnuts.

Drop by spoonfuls onto parchment paper lined baking sheets.
Bake 10-12 minutes, or until lightly golden.
You may also spread the whole batter into a rimmed cookie sheet and bake for 20 minutes to get bars. 
Cool on a wire rack and Enjoy!

Peanut Butter Sourdough Cookies (Pink Peony
1 cup starter
1 cup peanut butter
1 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
1/2 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350F.
In a large bowl, mix together the starter, peanut butter, butter, brown sugar, eggs and vanilla.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
Add the dry ingredients to the starter mixture and combine.
Roll the dough into balls and place on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet.
Bake for 12-15 minutes, until golden brown.
Pull the pan out of the oven, plop a kiss in the middle of each cookie and place back in the oven for just a few seconds, until the chocolate just starts to look shiny.
Remove to a wire rack and cool.

Basil Chicken with Coconut Cream Sauce

** I feel like I can't really publish this post without adding a comment about what happened in Connecticut.  I am so saddened by what happens, and my heart aches for those poor families who have lost loved ones in this tragic event. I cannot even begin to imagine, and all I want to do is hold my Ladybug close to me. I find it terrible that so many people feel so alone and so angry, and don't have anywhere or anyone to turn to, that they feel hurting others is acceptable - that the only way to get people to pay attention to them is by becoming a monster. Please, teach your little ones to love, to respect others, and that all lives should be valued. It is important to know that all people are created equal, but that everyone is also an individual, with different personalities and needs, and everyone needs to be recognized as such. It all boils down to love. 

We seem to be on an Americanized-Ethic food kick at our house, trying all kinds of new dishes. We've been trying to shop mostly the perimeter of the grocery store, staying away from the majority of the center isles and the "processed foods". It is a wonder what it has done not only to our diets (lets ignore all the cookies we have been eating, though, ok?) as well as our food budget. I've been spending a lot more time focusing on our menu/budget for each week, trying to get the best meals while not spending all day in the kitchen or going broke. For instance, last week we spent $70 on groceries for the three of us (things like diapers, dog food and toilet paper are usually purchased at Wal-Mart) ! Now I call that awesome planning! If you need a refresher on how to plan meals and budget, you should check out the series I did called Smart Mama's Cook! Anywho, I loved this dish! It is definitely going to make a reappearance in our house! The spices were awesome, I loved the creamy sauce soaking in the rice, yum yum yum! Try it, you'll like it! 

Basil Chicken with Coconut Cream Sauce (slightly adapted from Baked Bree)

1 Pound chicken breasts, cut into 1" pieces
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cardamom
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp coriander
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp tumeric
1/4 tsp chili powder
1 TBSP olive oil
1/2 red onion, chopped
1 jalapeno, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 (14 ounces) can coconut milk
2 tsp cornstarch
3 TBSP fresh basil, chopped
1 TBSP fresh ginger, minced

Rice to serve (jasmine rice is especially nice)

In a small bowl, combine all of the seasonings.
Cut the chicken into pieces and combine with the seasonings (I only used about 2/3 of the seasoning mixture because I didn't want it to be too spicy for Ladybug. You can always add more seasonings after you thicken the sauce if you feel it is called for) so the chicken is well coated.
Chop and mince the onion, garlic, jalapeño, basil and ginger.
Heat a large skillet over medium heat, with the olive oil.
Saute the onion, garlic, ginger and jalapeño for 2 minutes, or until they begin to soften. Remove from pan and set aside.
Cook the chicken until browned and done, about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from pan (place with the onion mixture) and set aside.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the cornstarch and coconut milk until combined, and then pour it into the pan.
Simmer the coconut milk until it begins to thicken, stirring frequently.
When the sauce is thickened, add the chicken and onion mixture back to the pan and stir to combine.
Add the basil to the pan, stir to combine, and serve with rice!

The Daring Cooks Make Shepherd's Pie

Our Daring Cooks’ December 2012 Hostess is Andy of Today’s the Day and Today’s the Day I Cook! Andy is sharing with us a traditional French Canadian classic the Paté Chinois, also known as Shepherd’s pie for many of us, and if one dish says comfort food.. this one is it!

I have made Shepherd's Pie a few times before, and usually it involves just throwing some random leftovers together, topping it with mashed potatoes and calling it good. So I knew I needed to actually give this an honest shot. You know, with a recipe. I found an awesome recipe from Food and Wine that actually uses leftovers (WIN!), so I got two meals out of one, and both meals were superbly excellent. The first night was Red Wine Braised Roast with Glazed Root Vegetables. Only, I realized the only bottle of red wine I had in the house was a really nice one, and, you know, since I wanted to drink it, I didn't want to use the whole bottle in dinner. So I made up my own "wine substitute". You might think that throwing beef stock, some dry vermouth, a few splashes of Marsala Sherry and a splash of coke into a pot and letting it simmer for 20 minutes sounds extremely crazy, and you wouldn't be wrong. But  it totally worked. While I wouldn't want to actually drink a glass of it, it made an excellent braising liquid! 

I have realized that I am a huge fan of parsnips. Madly in love with them. I want to use them in everything. So of course I had to put a ton both in and on top of this pie. Both of these dishes turned out super delicious. I love them both equally, and think this would be an awesome two night meal to serve when you have company over. 

You know how in all the magazines and "big blogs" you see amazingly beautiful pictures of Shepherd's Pie with the mashed potatoes artfully piped on top and broiled to a golden perfection? And you think, that can't be too hard, I just don't really feel like getting out a bag and tip and messing with it? Me, too. So I decided, since I'd taken the time to make everything else, I would go ahead and pipe on my mashed potatoes. Only I forgot about one thing. Freshly made mashed potatoes and parsnips are HOT. Like, completely scald your hand while you hold the bag hot. So hot that the piping bag stretches and the tip falls out, causing molten lava mashed parsnips to smear themselves all over your already burnt hands. 

Night One: 
Red Wine Brasato  (slightly adapted from Bon Appetite, February 2007)
Yields: 4 servings (if you include another side like a salad or mashed potatoes) plus leftovers for night 2

1 750 ml bottle hearty red wine (such as Zinfandel, Syrah or Cabernet Sauvignon)
3 TBSP olive oil
4 pound beef pot roast
1 large onion, roughly chopped
1 large carrot, roughly chopped
1 large celery stock, roughly chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1 heaping spoonful of tomato paste (save the remainder for the next night)
14 ounces beef broth
2 tsp dried sage
2 large sprigs fresh parsley
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp pepper

Adjust the oven rack to the lower 1/3 of the oven and preheat to 300F.
In a large saucepan, simmer the wine over medium heat for about 30 minutes, until reduced to about 1 cup.
In a large dutch oven, heat the oil over medium heat.
Using paper towels, pat the roast dry on all sides.
Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and then lightly dredge all sides with flour.
Place the roast in the dutch oven and brown on all sides.
Transfer to a plate and tent with foil.
Add the onion, carrot, celery, and garlic to the pot, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and sauté 6 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add the tomato paste and stir for 1 minute.
Add the broth, and bring to a boil.
Add the sage, parsley, and bay leaf.
Return the roast to the dutch oven, along with any juices on the plate.
Pour the reduced wine over top and cover.
Braise in the oven for 1 hour 15 minutes.
Turn the roast over and braise for another 1 hour 15 minutes.
Transfer the roasts to a cutting board, tent with foil.
Strain the braising liquid into bowl. 

Glazed Root Vegetables
2 TBSP butter
1 TBSP olive oil
2-3 medium turnips, peeled and cut into 1" cubes
3 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1" chunks
2-3 large parsnips, peeled and cut into 1" chunks
2 tsp sugar
2 tsp dried sage
2 TBSP chopped parsley

Melt the butter in a large skillet over high heat.
Add the vegetables and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Sautee about 8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables start to brown in spots.
Add 1 cup of the braising liquid from the pot roast.
Cover, reduce the heat to medium, and simmer for about 10 minutes, or until tender.
Uncover, increase the heat to high, and bring to a boil.
Stir in the sugar, sage, and parsley, and cook until the sauce is reduced to a glaze.
Season with salt and pepper.

Serve the roast sliced, with vegetables, and braising liquid.
Remember to save some for the Shepherd's Pie! :) 

Night Two: Shepherd's Pie (slightly adapted from Food and Wine, February 2007) 
Yields: 6 servings

2 TBSP butter
1 cup sliced shallots or chopped yellow onion
2 TBSP flour
3 TBSP red wine (or Marsala Sherry)
1 cup of the braising liquid reserved from night 1
2 cups chopped beef, reserved from night 1
1 1/2 cups chopped glazed vegetables, reserved from night 1
1 spoonful of tomato pasta, reserved from night 1

2 large parsnips, peeled and chopped
2 large potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 TBSP butter, room temperature
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 cup (3 ounces) shredded Gruyere or Swiss cheese

Preheat oven to 375F.
In a large skillet, melt the butter over  medium heat.
Sautee the shallots about 6 minutes, or until beginning to brown. 
Add the flour and stir 1 minute.
Add the wine, the braising liquid, and the tomato pasta, and whisk until the mixture begins to thicken and boil, about 3 minutes.
Stir in the beef and vegetables. 
Keep warm until ready to use. 
In a medium pan of water, boil the parsnips and potatoes until tender, about 12 minutes.
Drain and return to saucepan.
Add the butter and cream and mash until smooth.
Stir in 1/3 cup of the Gruyere or Swiss cheese.
Transfer the meat/vegetable mixture to a 8x8 baking dish.
Top with the remaining 2/3 cup cheese.
Spread the potato/parsnip mixture on top.
Bake until bubbling and beginning to brown, about 30 minutes. 

The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap!

Last year I was totally late to the party. I didn't hear about the Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap until it was all over. Over 600 food bloggers from around the world played secret Santa with each other and did one of the biggest, coolest, yummiest cookie swap ever. And I missed it!! However, I signed up for the notification email for this year so I wouldn't be the un-cool kid again. And I am so excited that I got to participate!

I received cookies from Teacher by Day, Chef by Night, who sent me some really delicious Molasses Snickerdoodles! Two awesome cookies combined into one, these cookies had all the awesome molasses flavor you expect plus rolled in cinnamon and sugar! I was really excited to get these, because my husband hates molasses cookies. That means I got this entire dozen all to myself, Muahahahaha!

Jill  from Goodbye Fat, Hello Jill sent some amazing vegan oatmeal nut thumbprints with blackberry jam! They were soo delicious - I loved the healthy oat and nut "cookie part", and the dollop of blackberry jam on top was pretty much perfect. They didn't taste healthy at all, even though there was no butter in there (how scandalous!),

And Shelby from The Life and Loves of Grumpy's Honeybunch sent me some delicious cranberry orange white chocolate cookies! Probably one of my all time favorite flavor combinations, these went straight into my nightstand drawer. Ok, they didn't really. Ok, fine, they did.

I, of course, could not make things simple. Or read directions. Instead of making one kind of cookie to send to three people (apparently like the direction state...), I became massively over-zealous and made three different kinds of cookies to mail out. I sent out Citrus Butter Cookies, Chocolate Chai Snickerdoodles, and Kitchen Sink Cookies. I spent a lot of time trying to decide which cookies to send to my three bloggers (  ) but in the end, I ran out of packing tape and the labels fell off the boxes in route to the post office, so I just randomly taped the address labels back on. Hey, the post office with a toddler and boxes is complicated enough! Hehe! So, I hope you ladies like the cookies I sent you!

"You aren't eating cookie dough, are you?"
"No Ma'am!" 

I think I've been baking too many cookies lately. I heard rustles and banging coming from the pantry, and when I went to investigate Ladybug was in there with a bowl, dumping all kinds of ingredients in there - brown sugar, chocolate chips, baking soda... When I asked her what she was doing she sweetly replied "Makin' Cookie Mama! Wanna help?' How can you say no to that? Even if it happens to be 4:45 and you need to start making dinner soon, when

These are addictive. I've actually made them the last three Christmas's in a row, but they have all been eaten before being photographed. I was finally determined to get you this recipe, so I hope you will love them as much as we do!

Citrus Butter Cookies (Pioneer Woman)
4 sticks salted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs, separated
4 cups flour
the zest and juice from 2 oranges, 2 lemons and 2 limes, divided (some goes into the icing, too)

3 cups powdered sugar
2 TBSP milk
dash of salt
some of the zest and juice from above oranges, lemons and limes

Preheat oven to 350F.
Zest all the oranges, lemons, and limes and combine the zest in a small bowl. Set aside.
In another small bowl, combine the juice of the oranges, lemons, and limes. Set aside.
In a large bowl cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.
Add the egg yolks (set the whites aside for the icing).
Add 3 TBSP of the zest to the dough, along with the flour and mix until just combined.
Add 2 TBSP of the juice to the dough and mix until combined.
Scoop out teaspoons of the dough and roll into balls.
Bake for 13 minutes.
Remove the cookie sheet from the oven and allow the cookie to cool on the pan for 3 minutes.
Remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the icing, whisk together 1 egg white with the powdered sugar, milk, 2 TBSP of the zest, and 2-3 TBSP of the juice (depending on the consistency you want). If you need to thin the icing out, add more juice. If you want to thicken it up a bit, add more powdered sugar.
Either drizzle the juice on top of the cookies or dunk the cookies into the icing.
Sprinkle the tops of the cookies with the remaining zest.

These cookies are crunchy and sandy, and the chocolate is perfectly paired with typical chai flavors!
A definite fun cookie

Chocolate Chai Snickerdoodles (adapted slightly from Baked Bree)

2 1/4 cups flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp cream of tarter
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla

1/4 cup sugar
1/4 tsp cinnamon
3/4 tsp cardamom
1/4 tsp ginger
sprinkle of cloves

Preheat oven to 400F.
In a small bowl combine the sugar, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger and cloves. Set aside.
In a large bowl whisk together the flour, cream of tarter, baking soda, and salt.
In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.
Add in the cocoa powder and eggs and mix until combined.
Mix in the vanilla.
Add the dry ingredients and mix until just combined.
Roll the dough into balls.
Roll each ball into the spiced sugar mix and place on a parchment lined cookie sheet.
Flatten each ball slightly with the bottom of a glass.
Bake for 12-15 minutes.
Cool cookies on a wire rack.

These cookies are fun to make - soft and round, almost cake-like.
Plus you can throw pretty much anything you want into them!

Kitchen Sink Cookies (slightly adapted from Martha Stewart)
2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 TBSP vanilla
2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped dates (or raisins)
1/2 cup chopped pecans (or walnuts)
1/2 cup coconut
1/2 cup old fashioned oats

Preheat oven to 375F.
Line two baking pans with parchment paper and set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda.
In a large bowl, cream together the butter and brown sugar.
Add the eggs and vanilla and mix until well incorporated.
Gradually mix in the flour until just combined.
Using a rubber spatula, fold in the chocolate chips, dates, coconut, pecans and oats.
Roll the dough into balls about 2" in size and place on a baking sheet 2" apart.
Bake 10 minutes, or until golden brown.
Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Spicy Pasta with Roasted Sweet Potatoes

Normally, if I told you I took my 2 year old out of the house without a coat on in December you would probably call me a bad parent. But as it just so happens, its not only been raining like crazy for the last week, but it has also been 65 degrees! I am starting to seriously doubt the possibility of us having a white Christmas this year. Especially because I still have a yard full of gorgeous green grass. But no matter what it looks like outside, we have been busy getting the house ready for Christmas - the tree is up, a few presents are wrapped, and Christmas music is on repeat. We started a fun new tradition this year - 24 wrapped books about Christmas, Winter, and Snow. Each night Ladybug gets to pick out a book and we read it by the tree. She loves it. It is adorable. 

I thought I would try my luck with another spicy sweet potato dish. Different from what we normally do, I liked the fun combination of flavors! The peanut  butter in the sauce shines through (I scaled back on the siracha for Ladybug, but both Joel and I agreed that is was better with more kick to it). Joel didn't even attempt to eat the sweet potatoes (the punk) and Ladybug decided she didn't care for it at all.  I however, really enjoyed this unusual dish. It is thick and creamy, with a great combination of flavors. So if you are in the mood for something spicy and different, this is a fun pick. And pile on as much Sriracha sauce as you can take. 

Spicy Pasta with Roasted Sweet Potatoes (slightly adapted from Better Homes and Gardens)

1 medium sweet potato, peeled and cut into 3/4" cubes
1 TBSP olive oil
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp sugar
8 ounces rigatoni pasta
1/3 cup smooth peanut butter
3 ounces cream cheese
2 tsp Sriracha Sauce
1 TBSP soy sauce
6 green onions, thinly sliced

Preheat oven to 450F.
Oil a rimmed baking sheet.
Place sweet potatoes, olive oil, sugar, chili powder, and cinnamon in a bowl and mix until combined.
Spread the sweet potatoes on the baking sheet and roast for 20 minutes.
Cook the pasta according to package directions.
Drain, reserving 1 cup of the pasta water.
In a small saucepan, combine the peanut butter, cream cheese, soy sauce, and sriracha.
Whisk until smooth, adding 3/4 of the pasta water, until heated through and smooth.
If the mixture is too thick, stir in additional water.
Stir in most of the green onions.
Top the pasta with the sweet potatoes, sauce, and remaining green onions.

SW Sweet Potato Bacon Hash

Firstly, before I say anything else, I want to apologize for these atrocious pictures! I rely heavily on natural lighting for my photography, and it seems that as soon as the sun sets and I have to take pictures in my dimly lit ceiling fanned kitchen, all my photography knowledge just disappears. So, sorry.

Ok, so it is probably very public knowledge by now that my husband is a hater of winter squash. Does not like it. Especially when it is covered with butter, brown sugar and cinnamon. And let's not even mention marshmallows, ok? I just cannot understand this, and so I have been desperate to try and find some way that he will eat them. Masking them with spicy southwestern flavors seemed like it would be a good try, especially with bacon in there, too!! And you know what, he said that maybe sweet potatoes were not so bad after all, in small quantities. Coming from him, that is a glowing review. And I loved this, by the way! :) 

Southwestern Sweet Potato Bacon Hash (Apple A Day

1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp dried chipotle chili flakes
2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2" cubes
2 TBSP olive oil
1/2 lb of bacon
1 large onion, diced
15 ounces black beans
4 eggs
2 green onions, chopped

Preheat oven to 400F.
In a small bowl, mix together the salt, pepper, chili powder, cumin, and chipotle flakes. Set aside.
In a large bowl, toss together the sweet potatoes with the olive oil and half of the seasoning mixture.
Spread on a rimmed baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes, until just beginning to soften.
Remove the sweet potatoes from the oven, set aside, and leave the oven on.
In a large oven proof skillet over medium heat, cook the bacon until crispy.
Remove the bacon, crumble, and set aside, reserving the bacon grease in the skillet.
Add the onion to the pan and sauté for about 5 minutes.
Add in the sweet potatoes and remaining spice mixture and sauté 3 minutes.
Add the black beans and 3/4 of the bacon crumbles and cook until just warmed through.
Make 4 wells into the hash and crack and egg into each one.
Place the skillet into the oven and cook until the egg whites are cooked but the yolks are still a little runny (about 5-7 minutes).
Remove the skillet from the oven and garnish with the remaining bacon and green onions. 
Serve immediately and Enjoy!

Thai Chicken Pizza

One of my favorite ways to use leftover meat is to make a homemade pizza! The possibilities are really endless - Ground beef? Make a taco pizza! Leftover ham? Ham and pineapple (my favorite!)! So when I needed to use some leftover chicken I had, I immediately thought about a thai chicken pizza! Back in KC, we used to eat at this pizza place called Minsky's. Besides your normal toppings, they were known for their unique pizzas - they had a philly cheesteak pizza that was amazing. But Joel really liked their spicy thai pizza, and so I wanted to surprise him with something as close to that as I could get. And it turned out great - not too spicy, but lots of fun thai flavor! 

Thai Chicken Pizza (slightly adapted from Closet Cooking)

1 pizza crust (may I suggest this or this one?)
1/2 cup sweet chili sauce
1 cup cooked chicken, chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
1 carrot, julienned
1 handful bean sprouts
2 green onions, chopped
1 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
1 handful roasted peanuts, chopped
1 handful basil, chopped
1 handful cilantro, chopped

Roll the dough into a 12" circle.
Spread the sweet chili sauce over it.
Sprinkle the rest of the ingredients on top.
Bake for 5-10 minutes, until the cheese is melted and golden.
Cut into slices and enjoy! 

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