Tuesday, November 29, 2016

double chocolate dutch baby

We had a wonderfully fun and FULL Thanksgiving weekend!

I loved having my Littles home for 5 days! We slept in every day, feasted on Thanksgiving brunch left-overs (Pumpkin French Toast! Brown sugar bacon! YUM!!), started decorating for Christmas, and celebrated our oldest son's engagement to his long-time girlfriend.  Although I miss my family and friends back home terribly, we had so much to celebrate and be thankful for, even from afar.

~ Thanksgiving Brunch 2016 ~

We visited our first Tree Farm over the weekend . . . and it was so beautiful!

Snickersgap Tree Farm is nestled on a hillside in the breathtaking area of Bluemont. We bundled up . . . sweatshirts, jackets, gloves, scarves and knit caps . . . and ventured up and down the hillside looking for the perfect tree. I loved watching our Littles run free!

And that view!! Northern Virginia's landscape is breath-taking! It's one of the prettiest states I've visited in our Union.

~ Pumpkin French Toast ~
with cinnamon crumble top and maple cream cheese glaze

~ Chili Brown Sugar Bacon ~

~ Sweet Potato Hash  ~
with slow-cooked caramelized onions

Ok, so our relaxing weekend had me thinking about dutch baby's. 

Have you heard of them, or better yet, have you had one? It's a cross between a tender sweet pancake and a popover. Its base is humble, which makes them the perfect receptacle for syrups, fruits, jams, and powder sugar. 

I shared a recipe for an old-fashioned dutch baby several years ago; and since then - have shared a cinnamon apple and an asparagus & fontina version. They're so simple to prepare and delicious! 

For a hard-core lover of chocolate (that's me!!), I don't know why it took me so long to make a chocolate dutch baby? Well, I couldn't let another weekend pass without figuring out how to make one. 

And Friends, it was so good! So good!

It's puffs are even prettier wearing chocolate!

If you haven't made one before, then let me share again how easy they are to prepare . . . It's as simple as putting all the ingredients in a blender and blending the mixture until it's frothy.  The sizzling hot skillet and butter wait patiently in the oven for the frothy mixture . . . and that's where the magic happens . . . 15 minutes later you have pillows of yumminess!

I recently discovered the magic of flavored maple syrups, too . . .  browned butter maple syrup and chocolate maple syrup. Both are amazing!

I'm going to share the simple recipe for chocolate maple syrup below, because it's uhhhh-mazing on top of a chocolate dutch baby! It's as simple as adding a little cocoa powder and melted butter to maple syrup. Good-NESS!!! 

Add that on top of your chocolate dutch baby, along with fresh whipped cream . . . . and you have a very special breakfast, brunch, or dessert! 

Ok friends, I hope I shared enough photos in this post to send you running into your kitchen to make one!

double chocolate dutch baby
.     .     .     .     .     .     .     .
3 Tablespoons butter
1/2 cup flour
3 eggs, room temperature
1/2 cup, 2 Tablespoons whole milk, room temperature
2 Tablespoons cocoa powder
generous pinch of salt
.     .     .     .     .     .     .     .
chocolate maple syrup
1/4 cup maple syrup
2 Tablespoons cocoa powder
1 Tablespoons unsalted butter
.     .     .     .     .     .     .     .
fresh whipped cream
1 cup chilled heave cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup confectioners sugar
.     .     .     .     .     .     .     .

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Place butter into a cold 10-inch cast iron pan or an 8x8 baking dish and place the pan with butter into the oven while the oven is preheating.

In a blender, using a hand mixer, or using a whisk by hand, whip the flour, eggs, milk, cocoa powder, salt, and sugar. Blend or beat the mixture until it is nice and frothy!

Pour the batter in the center of the hot pan. The batter should sizzle in the butter. Close the oven and watch it rise.

Bake for 15 minutes.

While the pancake is baking, mix all the ingredients for the chocolate syrup in a small sauce pan over medium low heat. Set aside.

In a chilled bowl, using a stand mixer with a whisk attachment or in a chilled bowl using a hand mixer , whip chilled heavy cream and vanilla. With the mixer running, sprinkle in confectioners sugar. Increase speed to medium-high and beat until soft peaks form.

Let the dutch baby cool slightly before topping it with the chocolate syrup and whipped cream. Sprinkle with toppings of your choice.

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Monday, November 21, 2016

celebrating Thanksgiving with a Fall brunch . . .


Last year marked my 5th year hosting Thanksgiving Dinner in our home. 

I always felt like it was my biggest culinary accomplishment of the year. I lovingly made every single dish from scratch . . . and always felt it was an honor to prepare such an extravagant meal for my family every year. 

I will be far from home, and my extended family and friends, this year. My heart is saddened that I won't be celebrating my favorite holiday with my mom, oldest son and his fiance, extended family, and our dear friends. 

So . . . to lift my spirits, I thought it would be fun to prepare a fun and festive Fall Brunch for my little crew on Thanksgiving morning . . . and then enjoy a traditional Thanksgiving Dinner at a restaurant (which I've never done before!). 

For someone like me, it's hard to imagine NOT cooking on Thanksgiving; but because my spirits don't feel up to preparing a traditional meal this year, I couldn't think of a better way to celebrate my favorite holiday than by preparing the ultimate Fall brunch for my little crew, and inviting a few new friends to join in on the late morning feast. 

Here's a peak at my Fall brunch menu . . . .

.     .     .     .     .     .     .
baked Pumpkin French Toast 
topped with cinnamon streusel and a cream cheese & maple glaze
.     .     .     .     .     .
Buttermilk Waffles 
with browned butter maple syrup & fresh whipped cream
.     .     .     .     .     .
Farm Fresh Scrambled Eggs
.     .     .     .     .     .
Chili & Brown Sugar Thick-Cut Bacon
.     .     .     .     .     .
Fennel & Sage Sausage
.     .     .     .     .     .
Sweet Potato Hash 
with Caramelized Onions
.     .     .     .     .     .     .

I hope this post finds that you're happily planning your Thanksgiving gatherings. I wish each of you a day filled with all the blessings of this beautiful holiday. 

Happy Thanksgiving! xxx

.     .     .     .     .     .     .
Thanksgiving, 2015

"The greatest wealth is health." Virgil

While preparing for Thanksgiving this year I spent much time reflecting on the last year and my blessings. It was poetically therapeutic, and seemed to ease the stress of all the work and effort that goes into hosting a Thanksgiving Dinner.

It was only 6 short months ago that I was diagnosed with high insulin resistance. My health was at its lowest. I had been struggling with headaches and extremely low energy for two years; and with each passing month - my symptoms worsened.

It was on a "hunch" that my doctor ordered a blood test to check my blood sugar and insulin. For me, it was more than a "hunch." After months and months of steadfast prayers, God's tender voice whispered in my doctor's ear . . . and she listened.

The blood tests revealed so much of what was ailing my health. Since receiving the diagnosis in July, working 1:1 with a Nutritionist, and staying 100% committed to a strict diet . . . I've felt the incredible wealth of good health.

Although I am a work in progress, I feel leaps and bounds healthier than I have in last two (plus) years . . . and I am so grateful. My journey has been humbling, to say the least. 

While reflecting on the latter part of my year, I've felt overwhelming gratitude for my amazing mom and loving husband. For without their unwavering support and loving care, this journey towards stronger health would've been more difficult. My sweet mom still calls me daily to see how I'm feeling; and together, we recognize and express gratitude for our Heavenly Father's hand in this journey, too.

I remember expressing concern to my mom several months ago that I might not feel well enough to host Thanksgiving Dinner. Just the thought of it broke my heart. You see, I LOVE hosting Thanksgiving.

It is an incredible honor to prepare such a feast and table for my family and friends. To me, it is a gift . . . an act of pure love.

I hope you remember(ed) to take the time to count your blessings, however big - or small - they might be. "For gratitude makes everything turn into a gift" Fiona Childs.

As we head into a new, beautiful, and meaningful season . . . it is not without an incredibly grateful heart that I smile at the close of a wonderful Thanksgiving spent with those who I love and hold dear.

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Thursday, November 3, 2016

creamy skillet lasagna

We have been so busy . . . in a good way!

We hosted family for 9 days . . . and filled those days with visits to local towns, browsing through thrift stores, lots of eating, hikes, and family time. I loved sharing my favorite places, and discovering new ones, like Mom's Apple Pie!

Since our weather was particularly cold and windy, I was sure to fill our evenings with cozy dinners; and, of course, desserts.

Our 'at home' dinners included clam chowder in fresh sourdough bowls, creamy chicken enchilada soup, black pepper & sage butter biscuits with sausage gravy, and left-over old fashioned beef & vegetable stew.

I LOVE serving dessert after dinner when we host family and friends. I want their stay to feel extra special, and sometimes indulging in a dessert every evening can make it really feel like you're on vacation. Over the course of the week, we enjoyed pies, chewy triple chocolate cookies, dark chocolate hot cocoa with coconut cream, and hot caramel pumpkins with whipped cream and (real) chocolate sprinkles! Phewwww :0)

It was a wonderful week!

So now that I'm all caught up after taking the week "off," I wanted to finish this long overdue post.

I've made some truly delicious recipes over the last few months, and have taken photos along the way with every intention of sharing them here. I have to tell you though - I have been very busy enjoying Virginia! My intentionally filled days keep me busy and active in the kitchen, as well as out and about. There's so much to see and explore while we're living here, and I don't want to miss any of it!  

Ok, so let's talk about this deeeeelicious (and easy) recipe!

It has become one of our family's (and MY!!) favorite dishes! 

I haven't made traditional lasagna, so I can't compare preparing this recipe to 'the real deal,' but I will tell you that this recipe for skillet lasagna is packed full of flavor . . . thank you, spicy sausage and creamy tomato sauce (courtesy of the cream cheese!). The bubbly mozzarella and nutty fontina sends this yummy goodness over the top. I know that olives aren't traditionally scattered on top of lasagna, but I like the color contrast . . . as well as the salty bite it gives the dish. 

A few more non-traditional ingredients are zucchini and yellow squash. Both give this dish added nutrition and moisture. An added bonus!

The recipe calls for marinara sauce, but I prefer using my all-time favorite Three Cheese Pomodoro Pasta Sauce from Trader Joe's.  Feel free to substitute the marinara sauce with your favorite tomato sauce too! 

I can't wait for you to try this recipe!

It's not only become a favorite recipe in our home, but I love making it when we have guests for dinner. It's beautiful presentation served alongside fresh garlic bread and an arugula & Parmesan salad makes for a wonderful meal to share with your family and friends.

I promise it will become a family favorite in your home, too!

creamy skillet lasagna
.     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 each small zucchini and summer squash, cut into 1/4-inch thick half moons
8 ounce Italian sausage, casings removed
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped
8 ounce no-cook lasagna noodles, broken into small pieces
2 cups marinara sauce
3 cups low sodium chicken broth
2 ounces cream cheese, cut into small pieces
4 ounces mozzarella, coarsely grated (about 1 cup) 
2 ounces fontina, coarsely grated (about 1/2 cup)
1 small can sliced olives, *optional for garnish
Italian flat leaf parsley, chopped *optional for garnish
.     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .

Heat the oil in a 12-inch cast iron skillet over medium-high heat.

Add the zucchini and squash, season with 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper and cook, tossing a couple of times, until lightly golden brown, 3 - 4 minutes. Transfer to plate.

Reduce heat to medium, then add the sausage, garlic and onion and cook, breaking up the sausage with the back of the spoon, for 2 minutes.

Add the marinara and pasta, then the broth, and bring to a boil. Simmer vigorously, stirring often, until the pasta is tender, 18-22 minutes.

Meanwhile, head the broiler.

Fold the cream cheese into the cooked pasta to melt, then the zucchini and squash.

Sprinkle with the mozzarella and fontina, and broil until golden brown about 2 minutes.

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Friday, October 14, 2016

orange spiced crumb cake . . . a new Fall favorite


I'm really excited to share this recipe with you!

I discovered it last Fall while watching Brunch @ Bobby's, one of my favorite shows on Food Network.   If you know me well, or if you've followed me for very long, then you know that my favorite time of day to entertain is brunch.

I'm always looking for new recipes to add to my brunch menus . . . and this recipe for orange spiced crumb cake will be a new staple for my Fall and Winter menus.

It's moist . . . flavorful . . . and has a tender crumb. And oh! the streusel topping . . . it's perfection, too! And there's a lot of it. I think the ratio might be 50% cake / 50% streusel . . . oh my!

What makes this crumb cake a perfect recipe for any Fall gathering is the addition of cardamom and orange . . . a combination made in heaven.  And because it's baked in a 9 x 13 inch baking dish, it yields enough to serve a crowd.

I noticed that it tastes even better on the second and third day. I'm sure it's even better on the fourth day, but I wouldn't know because it's always gone before that.

It's also a great recipe to bake the day before hosting a gathering, since the flavors intensify with every passing day.  You can spend the extra time you'll have the day of your gathering with your family and friends, instead of in the kitchen (smile).

My crew gobbled up the first batch within 48 hours!

It was so good that I quickly baked another batch to share with our Littles' teachers. I cut big 5 x 5-inch squares, wrapped them in cellophane sheets, and then tied them with big burnt orange-colored bows. Our youngest daughter's teacher told her that it was her favorite treat yet!

I keep oranges in our fridge these days, just so that I can make this crumb cake at a moments notice!

We have guests coming from out-of-state to stay with us soon (I'm so excited!), and I think a beautiful platter piled high with orange spiced crumb cake will surely be on our breakfast table . . . along with my favorite strata with spicy Italian sausage, Gruyere, spinach, and shallots

Fall entertaining can't get much easier than this! Enjoy, friends!

Crumb Topping 
1 1/2 cups pecans, optional 
2 sticks unsalted butter, melted 
3/4 cup light brown sugar 
1/2 cup pure cane granulated sugar 
2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour 
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom 
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon 
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt 
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg 
.     .     .     .     .     .     . 


1 stick unsalted butter, melted, plus more for greasing 
3 cups all-purpose flour 
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar 
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder 
1/2 teaspoon salt 
1 cup whole milk 
1/4 cup canola oil 
2 teaspoons finely grated orange zest 
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract 
2 large eggs 
.     .     .     .     .     . 

3/4 cup confectioners' sugar 
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted 
2 teaspoons orange juice 
1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest 
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract  
.     .     .     .     .     .     .

For the crumb topping
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. 
Spread the pecans in an even layer onto a baking sheet and toast in the oven, stirring once, until lightly golden brown and just fragrant, about 8 minutes. Transfer to a baking rack and let cool slightly before coarsely chopping.
Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over high heat until it begins to turn light golden brown. 
Whisk in both of the sugars and cook until smooth. 
Take the pot off the heat and add the flour, cardamom, cinnamon, salt and nutmeg and mix until clumps begin to form. Refrigerate the crumb mixture for 15 minutes.

For the cake

Heavily butter a 9- by 13-inch baking pan. 
Whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. 
Whisk together the melted butter, milk, canola oil, orange zest, vanilla and eggs. 
Add the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until just combined. 
Scrape the batter into the prepared baking pan, smoothing out the surface. 
Scatter the crumbs in large clumps over the cake; the crumb layer should be quite deep.
Bake until the crumbs are golden and firm and a tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out with a few moist crumbs, about 55 minutes. 

Transfer to a rack to cool.

For the glaze 

Whisk together the sugar, butter, juice, zest and vanilla.
Once the cake is cool, drizzle the glaze over it and cut into 9 pieces. 

Serve on a platter.
recipe courtesy of Bobby Flay

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Friday, September 30, 2016

Mexican pot roast tacos and fresh guacamole

Welcome, Fall!

It finally feels like Fall is here in Northern Virginia. I thought I would've settled into a blogging routine by now, but I'm having a hard time staying home. There is so much to see and explore. It is my first Fall in the country, after all! 

The Farmers Markets have transformed into stunning Fall fares. They remind me of the farms that my mom, sister, and I visit during our annual Fall trips to Solvang . . . loads of pumpkins, towering corns stalks, pots of mounding mums, bunches of colorful Indian corn, crates full of apples, squash and gourds . . . and some even sell home-made cider donuts, cookies, and pies! 

I have an insane amount of photos and recipes to share with you . . . and I'm way behind on posts.  I have so much that I actually feel a little overwhelmed. I think I need to just pick a few of my favorites, like this one, and then move on to new Fall-inspired posts and recipes, like these . . . 

the best ever orange cardamom crumb cake

simple Fall centerpieces

I hope you've been following along on Instagram! Because although I haven't posted much - I share photos of our Virginia happenings, almost daily.  It's a great way to see what I'm up to between posts. 

I shared on Instagram several weeks ago that we were going to host our first dinner since moving to Virginia. 

If you follow along, then you probably remember this photo. I couldn't wait to get home to take a quick shot of all my Farmers Market finds.  All of these beautiful vegetables were the ingredients for our dinner, and that pretty "pumpkin" was part of a table centerpiece.

I was able to pick up everything we needed for our dinner (except the meat) at the Farmers Market. 

Since we were approaching the end of Summer, I thought I would prepare a fun and delicious dinner. So I made Tyler Florence's Mexican pot roast tacos, along with his amazing recipe for guacamole. 

Seriously, the best spicy pot roast recipe ever. Ever!

And . . . the best guacamole ever. Tyler's recipe calls for olive oil. Yes, olive oil! A finishing drizzle of this tender, sweet oil gives it the most luxurious texture.  It's so good!

I made the Mexican pot roast and sauce the afternoon before our dinner party to help me save time the day of our gathering. I transferred everything to a crock pot and refrigerated it over night.  

I set the crock pot on low a few hours before our friends arrived, so that it would be the perfect temperature for dinner. 

I knew that I had a lot of chopping and prep work for the fresh guacamole and salsa the day of, so I was purposeful to do as much as I could the day before. 

Ok, so back to this amazing dish . . .

It's one of those "chop, chop, in the pot" kind of meals. It's easy to prepare and FULL of flavor, especially if you like warm, spicy dishes. 

My husband, who is incredibly particular about meat, LOVED it! After several hours in the oven, the beef was so tender that I was able to shred it with a fork. It melds into the sauce and just becomes pure deliciousness! *You know it's good when your guests ask you to email them the recipe!

I set up a 'taco bar' indoors with all of Tyler's recommendations . . .

Mexican Pot Roast Taco garnishes
.     .     .     .     .     .
finely shredded white cabbage 
 fresh cilantro leaves 
feta cheese, crumbled  
radish, sliced paper thin  
fresh guacamole
fresh salsa
warm corn tortillas
.     .     .     .     .     .

It's a great meal to serve to a small or big crowd, as everyone can pick and choose their favorites. 

I also served a huge bowl of sugar baby and orange watermelon. I wish I had remembered to take a photo, because it was quite impressive with its bright red and orange hues. After all, watermelon is a must-have with Summer meals, right!?

The weather was perfect, so we hosted dinner, dessert, and games - outdoors. 

We enjoyed a wonderful evening, and look forward to hosting many more dinners as we head into Fall.

Mexican pot roast tacos
.     .     .     .     .     . 
2 pounds beef shoulder 
Kosher salt 
Freshly ground black pepper 
Extra-virgin olive oil 
2 cloves garlic, smashed 
1 large onion, sliced 
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes, (recommended: San Marzano)  
1 Tablespoon ancho chile powder 
1 Tablespoon cayenne pepper 
1 Tablespoon ground cumin 
3 bay leaves 
fresh medium corn tortillas 
Kosher salt 
.     .     .     .     .     .  
3 cups finely shredded white cabbage 
1/4 bunch fresh cilantro leaves 
feta cheese, crumbled  
radish, sliced paper thin  
.     .     .     .     .     .


Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Sprinkle the chuck roast on all sides with a fair amount of salt. 

In a large Dutch oven or other heavy pot with a tight-fitting cover, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the roast and brown it on all sides, taking the time to get a nice crust on the outside. Remove the roast and set aside.

Add the onions and garlic cloves to the pot and cook until lightly browned, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in the ancho powder, cumin and cayenne. 

Add the crushed tomatoes and the bay leaves, and stir. Return the roast to the pot and add the cilantro. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cover with lid, place in the oven, and cook until the meat is fork tender, about 3 hours.

Carefully transfer the meat to a cutting board and shred with a fork. Pour the liquid into a blender and puree. *I use an immersion blender, as it's much quicker and cleaner.

Return the shredded meat to the pot, add the pureed liquid, and stir to combine. Add salt and pepper to taste.


assembling your Mexican pot roast taco
.     .     .     .     .     .
Lay some shredded beef on a warm corn tortilla, and top with guacamole and salsa. 
Garnish with cilantro leaves, sliced radishes and cotija (or feta) cheese.
.     .     .     .     .     .

.     .     .     .     .     .
6 ripe avocados
3 limes, juiced   
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, smashed then minced
2 serrano chiles, cut into rounds
1 big handful fresh cilantro with stems, about 1/2 cup, finely chopped
Extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
.     .     .     .     .     .
Halve and pit the avocados. 
With a tablespoon, scoop out the flesh into a mixing bowl. 
Mash the avocados using either a fork or potato masher, leaving them still a bit chunky.  
Add the remaining ingredients, and fold everything together. 
Drizzle with a little olive oil, adjust seasoning with salt and pepper and give it 1 final mix with a fork. 
Lay a piece of plastic wrap tight on the surface of the guacamole so it doesn't brown and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving.  
Yields about 4 cups  
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