Monthly Archives: December 2012
As 2012 winds to a close, I can’t help but reflect on what a whirlwind roller coaster year this has been. In February, I got a huge surprise when my blogging friends flew to Richmond to throw me a surprise baby shower and hang out for the weekend. A few weeks later, Eric and I welcomed sweet Clara into our lives. After struggling for what seemed like ages, I told all of you about Clara’s birth defect and received an outpouring of support that means more to me than I think you’ll ever know. Over the summer, we took a trip to Pennsylvania for Big Summer Potluck and had a pretty amazing time. I got to see my blogging friends again in the fall, which was one of the best weekends I’ve ever had. Right before Thanksgiving, we had a scary hospital visit with Clara, but we’re ending the year on a good note. All through the ups and downs, you guys have been here – reading and commenting and emailing – and we (yes, Eric too) appreciate it so very much.
Before we move into 2013, here are your top ten favorites from this year. It’s been a pretty delicious year (you guys love some desserts!), and I’m looking forward to what next year holds.
Stuffed Nutella French Toast – I’m not surprised at all that this is your number one favorite post from 2012. I mean, it gives you a reason to eat chocolate for breakfast, which pretty much makes it an automatic winner.
Triple Chocolate Mousse Cake – This dessert looks fancy and difficult but is easily broken down into manageable steps. It’s truly decadent and is definitely the most delicious dessert I’ve made this year.
Rainbow Layer Cake – I made this for a friend’s daughter’s first birthday, and I’m so incredibly happy with how it turned out. This cake has a lot of wow factor, especially when covered in white frosting. Cutting into it and seeing a rainbow is such a surprise.
Key Lime Pie Bars – This simple and tasty dessert was my go-to for pretty much every impromptu summer party. I may be making these again soon as I wish for warmer days.
Village Fries – Fried potatoes covered in herbs. What’s not to like about that?
Buttermilk Ranch Dressing – Salad dressings are something we’ve been DIYing for a while, and this one is especially fantastic. There’s no need for store-bought when homemade dressing is as easy and delicious as this.
Pan-Fried Crab Cakes with Homemade Tartar Sauce – These are seriously perfection on a plate. This is one of the best meals we made this year, and I cannot wait to make this one again.
Soft Frosted Sugar Cookies – Another store-bought favorite turned homemade, these cookies are cakey and sweet and even easier to eat than they are to make.
Chocolate Peanut Butter Torte – If there’s one thing I love as much as chocolate and coffee, it’s chocolate and peanut butter. This torte is out of this world, and I think I need to make it again soon.
Overnight French Toast – All the flavors of French toast with the ease of putting it together the night before. I’m definitely not surprised this one made it to the list, as it’s been one of our favorites for quite some time now.
Even though these are from years past, I couldn’t post without mentioning these two reader favorites:
Three Cheese Macaroni and Cheese – This remains one of our favorite recipes, and so many of our friends have made this countless times since I posted it. I think this will be one of the most popular posts for the foreseeable future.
Frozen Butterbeer – Even though the time for new Harry Potter movies coming out is over (sniff), we still have plenty of reasons to make this drink that I swear tastes insanely close to the one you can get at Wizarding World of Harry Potter. We’re so excited to take Clara there in the next year or so (and then again and again once she’s finished the books).
Happy holidays to all of you! I hope this time is full of magic and wonder, friends and family, and plenty of good eats and sweet treats! We’re celebrating Clara’s first Christmas, and it’s already been the most wonderful one we’ve had.
Clara has especially enjoyed the benefits of online shopping (boxes),
celebrating Christmas with friends,
and braving the cold (in our favorite pea coats) for frozen yogurt.
Many wishes for a merry and bright holiday season!
Do you ever get something in your head and then can’t find exactly what you were imagining? I’m horrible about this, especially when it comes to clothes and shoes, and it drives Eric crazy. I’ll decide what I want and get my heart set on this one perfect thing, so much so that nothing else seems like it will work. I’m guilty of this when it comes to recipes too, but at least I’m able to tweak them to get to the end result I pictured. That was the case with this cheesecake. I already imagined the final product in my head, but I needed a little help turning it into a reality.
I knew I wanted a chocolate cheesecake base, but all the peppermint cheesecake recipes I found used white chocolate. I decided to take a chocolate cheesecake and adapt it to have the peppermint flavor I wanted. Since I’ve never made a chocolate cheesecake, I asked my blogging friends for a recipe recommendation. Annie texted me and told me that she had the perfect recipe for me to try. I made a few changes to it in order to achieve the chocolate peppermint cheesecake I had in mind. Obviously, the first change was to add a bit of peppermint extract. Since I wanted this to be a peppermint mocha cheesecake, I increased the amount of espresso powder so that the flavor would really come through. Lastly, I used peppermint filled Oreos to make the crust and omitted the sugar since I knew the cream filling was plenty sweet enough. Next time I make this, I’ll press the crumbs all the way up the sides of the springform instead of just halfway because I couldn’t get the crumbs at an even height, which made the outside of the cheesecake look pretty sloppy. It still tasted phenomenal, and I’m sure I was the only one that noticed the less than perfect crust. I considered making a bark-style topping for the cheesecake but ultimately decided against it for fear it would be a pain to cut through. Pieces of double layer peppermint bark pressed into the cheesecake after chilling ended up being a fantastic alternative. Cheesecakes are intimidating to a lot of people, but I promise you they are not that hard. This one doesn’t even require a water bath (and still came out crack free). If you’re looking for a show-stopping dessert for your Christmas celebration, this is it.
Peppermint Mocha Cheesecake
For the crust:
2 cups finely ground peppermint-filled Oreos
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
For the cheesecake:
½ cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons peppermint extract
1½ tablespoons instant espresso powder or coffee granules
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
3 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, at room temperature
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
¼ teaspoon salt
1¼ cups sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
Freshly whipped cream and peppermint bark pieces for topping, optional
To make the crust, heat oven to 400º. Line the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan with a round of parchment paper. Combine the cookie crumbs and melted butter in a medium bowl and stir with a fork until all the crumbs are moistened. Transfer the crumbs to the prepared pan. Gently press the crumbs up the sides of the pan, then use a glass or other flat-bottomed object to press the crumbs into an even later on the bottom. Bake the crust for 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool. Decrease oven temperature to 300º.
To make the filling, combine the sour cream, vanilla, peppermint and espresso powder in a small bowl. Whisk to blend and set aside. Melt the chocolate, either over a double boiler or in the microwave, and set aside to cool slightly.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the cream cheese, cocoa powder and salt. Beat on medium-high speed until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the sugar and continue beating 2-3 minutes more, scraping the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the cooled chocolate and beat on medium-low speed. Add the sour cream mixture and mix until evenly blended. Beat in the eggs one at a time, mixing until just combined.
Pour the filling into the cooled crust. Bake for about 50-60 minutes, or until the center jiggles just slightly. Cool on a wire rack for 1-2 hours, then cover and refrigerate at least 8 hours or overnight.
To serve the cheesecake, carefully unmold the sides of the springform. Top with whipped cream and peppermint bark, if desired. Run a long, sharp knife under hot water to warm it, then dry with a towel. Cut into thin slices (this is a rich cheesecake, after all) and clean the knife, reheating as necessary, in between each slice. Serve chilled.
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Today’s recipe is pretty representative of this time of the year for me – hurried but delicious. It’s something I made while Eric was traveling for work, and it’s a recipe that will come in handy during the rush of the holiday season. While this year will be significantly less stressful for us, thanks to the fact that we’re celebrating Christmas at home, we’ve still got plenty going on between shopping and baking and attending various parties. Less stressful, for sure, but not quite stress free. With all the chaos (and the extra time spent sitting in traffic) it’s easy to cave in to the desire to get takeout. However, I’ve found that a well-stocked kitchen and a handful of quick recipes has almost completely eliminated that desire.
This quick dinner is inspired by the Pig in the Potato Patch at Jim’N Nick’s, a restaurant we frequented when we lived in Birmingham. It’s a baked potato topped with barbecued meat and all the fixings. I said this was quick, not healthy. ;) If you’ve got leftover chicken or pork and some barbecue sauce, all you’ve got to do for dinner is bake the potato. Recipes like this one have especially come in handy for me on nights I have a lot of baking to do. Because, you know, it’s probably not a good idea for me to have sugar cookies and peppermint cheesecake for dinner.
Barbecue Chicken Loaded Baked Potatoes
2 baking potatoes (like russets)
Butter and/or sour cream
2 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
2 scallions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese
Heat oven to 350º and adjust oven rack to the middle position. Lightly rub each potato with vegetable oil and place directly on the oven rack. Bake for 1¼ hours. Use a fork to pierce an X into each potato, then press the ends to open and allow steam to escape. Alternately, if you're in a hurry, you can microwave the potatoes in a shallow baking dish for 9-12 minutes, turning after every 3, or until a knife pierces the potato with little resistance.
Warm the chicken and toss with desired amount of barbecue sauce. Top the cooked potatoes with butter and/or sour cream, and season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper. Add a generous serving of chicken, then top with bacon, scallions and cheese.
Cook Like a Champion original
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Since Clara’s birth, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard “and that’s why I could never have kids” in response to something I said. It doesn’t really bother me because I realize not everyone wants (or is ready) to be a parent. Usually, I just smile and nod and remark how easy it is to adjust to life with a baby. People’s horrified faces when they find out Clara stopped sleeping through the night when she started teething tell me that not everyone agrees, and that’s okay. You live through it and maybe drink a little more coffee. No big deal. At least in my experience, the little challenges that have come with being a new parent are nothing compared to the intense love that I have for Clara. I feel a sense of sheer wonderment at the power of those feelings, and it sometimes makes me feel like I’m walking around with my heart outside my body.
I experienced this in the most horrible way not too long ago. You may remember that Clara had an appointment at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia last month. Let me preface this by saying that everything is fine now, but we did get news we weren’t expecting. First, we were told that Clara’s left thumb is also abnormal, though not as severely as her right. With just one thumb affected, the likelihood of it being a random genetic abnormality was high, but with both thumbs affected, it seemed that there could be an underlying cause. Because of this, the specialist we saw wanted Clara tested for a life-threatening disorder (the test came back negative). As we walked to the lab to have Clara’s blood drawn, I felt like I was suffocating. I couldn’t take a deep breath and tears were streaming down my face. My thoughts were spiraling downward quickly, and I felt a level of fear I haven’t experienced before, not even when we were told earlier this year that Clara could have a heart defect. That is the hard part about being a parent – feeling so strongly for another person, more than you could have ever thought possible. It makes you vulnerable, but it also makes you indescribably happy.
The two weeks that we had to wait on Clara’s results were a roller coaster of emotions. I went from being scared of what might happen to certain that the test would come back negative and then back again pretty much every single day. We needed comfort food, and this soup provided exactly the kind of comfort we were looking for. It’s rich, warm and covered in gooey, toasted cheese. This soup is a far cry from the onion soups I’ve had before, which basically tasted like salt and not much else. The onions in this soup are slowly caramelized, which gives them a depth and richness that can’t be achieved otherwise. If you’re looking for comfort in the form of food, I can’t think of a better recipe than this one. And even if you’re not seeking comfort and simply want something hot and delicious to warm you to your bones on a cold night, this soup is perfect for that too.
For the soup:
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1½ pounds (about 5 cups) thinly sliced yellow onions
1 teaspoon table salt, plus additional to taste
¼ teaspoon granulated sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 quarts beef or mushroom stock
½ cup dry white wine or dry white vermouth
Freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons cognac or brandy (optional)
2 to 3 teaspoons grated raw onion
1 to 2 cups (to taste) grated Swiss or Gruyere cheese
1 tablespoon butter, melted
12 to 16 1-inch thick rounds French bread, toasted until hard
Melt the butter and oil together in a large pot or Dutch oven set over low heat. Stir in the onions, cover and cook for about 15 minutes. Remove the cover, add the salt and sugar and increase heat to medium. Continue cooking, stirring frequently, for 30-40 minutes or until the onions are a deep golden brown. Once the onions are fully caramelized, sprinkle in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 3 minutes. Stir in the wine, and then gradually add the stock, stirring after each addition. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Bring the soup to a simmer and continue cooking, partially covered, for 30-40 minutes. Stir in the cognac or brandy, if using.
Heat your broiler to high (or if you have gas like us, something like 500º). Arrange 4-6 ovenproof bowls on a large baking sheet. Divide the soup evenly and stir ½ teaspoon of grated onion and 1 tablespoon of cheese into each bowl. Lightly spread the melted butter over the bread slices, then float them on top of the bowls, using as many slices as you need to cover the soup. Top with as much grated cheese as you like. Place under the broiler until the cheese is melted and lightly browned. Serve immediately.
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