I hope those of you who have read my new book are enjoying it, and each of its vivid, arousing, and complex time-capsule stories. But if you haven’t picked up or borrowed a copy of Best Women’s Erotica 2014, I hope you do and that you love it as much as I continue to, three months after publication. (I keep revisiting the stories, and am still stunned by the talent and richness imparted by the authors I got to work with).
The unbiased, independent review by Peep Scoop managed to both win my admiration as an editor by unpacking the male characters in Best Women’s Erotica 2014, but also won my attention as a new fan of their reviews with a writeup that is a compelling and clever read on its own.
What I like about collection as a whole, is how many of the women demand what they want and aren’t afraid to speak their own truths, define their own boundaries, and get what they want—while remaining vulnerable enough to easily identify with.
“Monsoon Season” tickles the part of me who is obsessed with the paperboy scene in A Streetcar Named Desire (the play, not the film). Not for narrative similarities but for the arrangement of power. An older woman and her young submissive and feelings and age and all the things that both tend to complicate our relationships and provide the tension which makes them so sexy all at the same time.
What struck me overall were the male characters in Best Women’s Erotica 2014. Where insecure, “I’m-so-broken-and-tormented-please-fix-me-but-you-can’t” male archetypes abide in mainstream romance and erotica, BWE offers male characters who are assured, curious, vulnerable, and mindful. They also manage to escape the bland generalizations that sometimes occur when authors try to create good, feminist male characters. Some are submissive, others dominant, some blending these designations, others trying new things, speaking up for what they want but feel ashamed about. These characters make for a really refreshing read. (…read more, peepscoop.com)
Sex blog Kinkly recently published a story from the collection, Nyotaimori. It seems like a perfect treat on this rainy day (it’s -finally- raining here in San Francisco, buckets). Even if it’s not raining where you are, I recommend snuggling up under the duvet today with this sublime little treat. Pretend it’s raining, pretend the rug is lava, just imagine any reason at all to lose yourself into Rose De Fer’s exquisite short story, and I promise you won’t regret it:
I am lying as I have been trained. On my back, perfectly still. My knees are bent, my legs open and rotated out to the sides by 180 degrees. My feet are pressed together, sole to sole. Red silk ropes bind my ankles and wind gracefully around my knees to where they are fastened underneath the table, keeping me open, exposed. My arms are crossed in the small of my back and bound beneath me. The position forces my back to arch, pushing my chest up and out.
I feel like a butterfly, pinned and displayed for a discriminating collector. A connoisseur. They have given us all Japanese flower names and I am secretly pleased with mine: Oniyuri. It’s the word for tiger lily, my favorite flower.
The table beneath me is warm, but the food presented on my naked skin is not. A rainbow of sashimi is fanned across my belly: salmon, tuna, mackerel and yellowtail. Across my ribs is an array of sushi. Between my breasts are cuts of eel, drizzled with rich teriyaki sauce. And carefully arranged around my nipples are clutches of salmon roe, the eggs vibrant and bursting. Soft purple orchids frame my sex, and in the diamond formed by my spread and angled legs is a painted flask of warm sake.
I breathe slowly, shallowly, so as not to disturb the presentation of food. The smell is intoxicating and I long for a bite of fish, the tingle of ginger and wasabi on my tongue. But for now I am merely a decoration, an attractive display for the artfully arranged delicacies. In other rooms, other girls are bound as I am, their bodies serving the same erotic aesthetic. From somewhere I can hear the melancholy notes of a shamisen being played by one of the hostesses.
I feel the cool touch of Ayame’s fingers as she gently lifts the flask from between my legs. My body heat has warmed the sweet wine and I close my eyes, listening to the soft splash as she fills each guest’s cup. The sleeve of her silk kimono brushes my skin as she moves past me. When she is done she replaces the flask, pressing it firmly up against my sex.
(…read the whole story, kinkly.com)
Happy Saturday, and Happy March!
As the saying goes, it appears as though March is going to come in like a lion this year. We’re supposed to get a bear of a storm tomorrow and Monday, and I won’t lie… I’m going to hunker down with my fleece blanket and enjoy what will likely be the last big snow of the year. I absolutely love the whole notion of “seasons” and love living somewhere that gets to experience all four in totality. As a result, I totally embrace each and every one of them, including the blustery cold and snow storms. Stay safe and keep cozy if you’re getting bad weather this weekend!
As always, you’ll find a recap of what was posted to the site this week as well as some bookmarked recipes from other blogs. Enjoy!
Fluffernutter Milkshake – A recreation of a fantastic milkshake that I had at a local burger and shakes joint. Peanut butter, marshmallow creme, Nutter Butters and vanilla ice cream!
Double Vanilla Ice Cream Cake – My Chief Culinary Consultant’s birthday cake, complete with a chocolate fudge frosting.
Paczki (Polish Doughnuts) – I celebrated Fat Thursday with traditional Polish paczki – jam-filled doughnuts rolled in powdered sugar.
8 Favorite Mardi Gras Recipes – A roundup of my favorite recipes on the site for celebrating Mardi Gras; Fat Tuesday is right around the corner!
Friday Things – Puppy snuggles, Buzzfeed quizzes, the Oscars, not playing with Barbies, and a few more things…
Most Viewed Post This Week: Top 10 List: Favorite Cupcake Recipes
Most Pinned Post This Week: Paczki (Polish Doughnuts)
Most Facebook Shared Post This Week: Guinness, Whiskey & Irish Cream Cupcakes
Most Emailed Post This Week: Guinness, Whiskey & Irish Cream Cupcakes
Most Tweeted Post This Week: Chocolate Chip Cookie Cake
Recipes and posts from other blogs that I thought looked especially delicious and that I thought you would like, too:
Beignets Tiramisu with Chocolate Ganache (Half Baked Harvest)
This is a show stopper of a dessert if I’ve ever seen one. Absolutely stunning presentation!
Big Soft M&M Cookies (Pinch of Yum)
I firmly believe that everyone needs at least one “big soft” cookie recipe in their arsenal; this one looks fantastic. Plus… M&Ms!
Coconut Cake (Cooking Classy)
Such a beautiful cake for springtime and a perfect Easter dessert.
Pina Colada Cheesecake (Blahnik Baker)
This cheesecake has me daydreaming about the beach
Roasted Mushroom and Gruyere Toasts (Two Peas and Their Pod)
Total comfort foods. Sometimes you just want some toast and melted cheese. (At least, sometimes I do!)
Have a delicious weekend!
I first heard of paczki last year around the beginning of Lent, and noticed them at the grocery store around the same time. I did a little digging and found that they are Polish pastries similar to a jelly doughnuts and that they are traditionally made and eaten on Fat Tuesday and Fat Thursday, which I didn’t even know existed! Apparently, Fat Thursday is a traditional Christian feast marking the last Thursday before Lent. Traditionally, it is a day dedicated to eating, when people meet with friends and family to eat large quantities of sweets, cakes and other meals forbidden during Lent. I couldn’t really find anything that spelled out a discernible difference between Fat Tuesday and Fat Thursday, except that it seems certain regions and religions tend to celebrate one or the other. The concept is definitely the same – indulge as much as possible right before Lent!
Now, back to the paczki… The difference between these and a basic doughnut is that paczki are made with a very rich, sweet yeast dough consisting of eggs, butter and milk. Sort of like a brioche doughnut, only better, if you can imagine!
I made a mental note of paczki last year and definitely wanted to make them when the time rolled around again, and here we are! Tomorrow is Fat Thursday and Fat Tuesday is just around the corner. Let’s get frying!
When I started to poke around for recipes, I called my grandma (who is 100% Polish) to see if she had a recipe for paczki. Sadly, she did not, but said that her mom used to make them. Bummed, I started Googling “paczki recipe” and then got smart and revised it to “grandma’s paczki recipe”. I wanted something really authentic and I found more than a handful of recipes originating with someone’s grandma. While all of the ingredients were the same, the quantities and methods varied from recipe to recipe, so I hacked together what I thought sounded delicious and started on my way.
The most traditional paczki recipes call for filling the doughnuts with fruit preserves or prune butter, while others said their grandma never used a filling. Some say they must be rolled in powdered sugar, while others say they had always been rolled in granulated sugar. I did a batch of each: filled/powdered, filled/granulated, unfilled/powdered, and unfilled/granulated. For the filled ones, I did half raspberry and half apricot preserves.
My Chief Culinary Consultant and I taste tested all of them and both came to the conclusion that the unfilled ones rolled in granulated sugar were the bee’s knees. Jelly doughnuts were never my thing, so I wasn’t surprised that I preferred the unfilled ones. As for the sugar coating, both tasted good, but I love the crunch of granulated sugar on the outside of a doughnut. So hard to beat it!
If you’re planning to celebrate Fat Thursday tomorrow, or Fat Tuesday next week, you neeeeeed to make paczki part of your menu!
One year ago: Sesame Chicken and Macadmia Nut, Coconut & White Chocolate Blondies
Two years ago: Beer Battered Cod and Capirotada (Mexican Bread Pudding)
Three years ago: Grilled Fish Tacos and Fig, Date and Almond Granola Bars
Paczki (Polish Doughnuts)
Yield: About 20 to 24 paczki
Prep Time: 2 hours
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 2 hours 30 minutes
Traditional Polish paczki - yeasted doughnuts filled with fruit preserves and rolled in sugar, popular on Fat Thursday and Fat Tuesday.
2 cups whole milk, warmed to 110 degrees F
4½ teaspoons active dry yeast (2 packages)
¾ cup + 1 pinch granulated sugar, divided
5 to 6 cups all-purpose flour, divided
4 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1¼ teaspoons salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
Peanut oil, canola oil or lard, for frying
Fruit preserves, for filling
Powdered and granulated sugars, for coating
1. Pour warm milk into bowl of a stand mixer. Stir in the yeast and a pinch of granulated sugar. Let stand for 5 to 10 minutes, or until it has become bubbly.
2. Add 2 cups of flour to the mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until a smooth batter forms. Cover with plastic wrap and set in a warm spot for 30 minutes. The mixture should have risen and be very bubbly.
3. In a medium bowl, whisk the egg and egg yolks until pale yellow and frothy, about 3 minutes. Add the sugar, vanilla extract and salt, and whisk until combined and smooth.
4. Attach the dough hook to the mixer, add the egg mixture to the dough and mix on medium-low speed until mostly combined. Add the melted butter and mix to combine. Gradually add 3 more cups of flour to the mixture and continue to knead until a very soft dough comes together. (It will not clean the sides of the bowl or form a ball; it will be rather slack and a bit sticky.) If necessary, add up to another 1 cup of flour, a spoonful at a time, until the dough forms.
5. Transfer the dough to a lightly greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and set in a warm spot until it has doubled in size.
6. Remove the dough from the bowl and turn out onto a floured work surface. With your fingers, push down the dough into an even layer. Sprinkle flour on the dough and roll it out to ½-inch thickness. If the dough doesn't hold its shape and springs back, cover with a damp towel and let rest for a few minutes and try again.
7. Use a 3-inch biscuit cutter to cut out rounds of dough. Transfer the dough rounds to parchment-lined baking sheets. Gather scraps of dough and again roll out and cut until you have used up all of the dough. Cover the baking sheets loosely with plastic wrap and place in a warm, draft-free spot until almost doubled in size, about 30 minutes.
8. Meanwhile, heat at least 1½ inches of oil in a heavy-bottomed pot or deep skillet (I used a 12-inch cast iron skillet) over medium heat to 350 degrees F. Carefully lower about six paczki into the oil at a time (be sure not to over-crowd the pan) and fry until the bottom is golden brown. Carefully turn them over and continue to fry until the other side is golden brown. Use a spider strainer or slotted spoon to remove them to a paper towel-lined baking sheet to drain. Allow the oil to come back to temperature, then repeat until all of the paczki have been fried.
9. Allow the paczki to cool until you are able to handle them easily. Using a filling tip, pipe fruit preserves into the sides of the paczki, then roll in sugar. The paczki are best the same day they are made, but can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days.
Anyone who grew up in the 1980′s has at some point consumed a cookie cake, am I right? They definitely weren’t the typical go-to for birthday cakes, so when they made an appearance, everyone was insanely excited. One of my aunts, in particular, had a definite thing for them, so anytime one of my cousins had a birthday, I knew we would be eating cookie cake. It’s amazing how one gigantic chocolate chip cookie can incite so much giddiness in a bunch of kids. I have a feeling it’s less about the cookie, and more about the notion of something different and out of the ordinary. That is the same reason I still love cookie cakes as an adult!
I haven’t had one in years, but within a week’s time, I had a reader email me to ask if I had a recipe for one, and one of my best friends texted me to ask me the same question. It felt like the universe was trying to tell me that it would be a good time to make a chocolate chip cookie, so I obliged.
I immediately thought of my favorite chocolate chip cookie that doesn’t require the dough to be refrigerated (thick and chewy chocolate chip cookies), but they tend to be a bit on the ooey and gooey side. While that’s absolutely perfect for cookies, it wouldn’t work as well for a “cake” that needs to be sliced and served. After slightly increasing the flour and adding playing around with baking powder and baking soda, I had a perfect combination of flavor and sturdiness.
You could serve this plain, with ice cream, or decorate the top with some buttercream icing for a party. Or you could do what I did – keep slicing off a little sliver at a time until it’s ALL.GONE. When it comes to food, I’m definitely still a kid at heart.
One year ago: DIY: Homemade Nutella
Two years ago: Salted Caramel Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars
Three years ago: White Chocolate-Coconut Brownies
Four years ago: Oven-Fried Onion Rings with Dipping Sauce
Six years ago: Chicken and Dumplings
Seven years ago: Maple-Hazelnut Oatmeal
Chocolate Chip Cookie Cake
Yield: 8 to 10 servings
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 20 to 25 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Who doesn't love a throwback chocolate chip cookie cake?!
2¼ cups all-purpose flour
¾ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled to room temperature
1 cup light brown sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
1 egg + 1 egg yolk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease a 9-inch round cake pan, then line the bottom with a round of parchment paper; set aside.
2. Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together in a medium bowl; set aside.
3. Using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the butter and sugars together until thoroughly blended. Beat in the egg, yolk, and vanilla until combined. Add the dry ingredients and beat at low speed just until combined. Using a rubber spatula, stir in the chocolate chips.
4. Turn the dough out into the prepared cake pan and use your fingers to press into an even layer. Bake until the cookie cake is light golden brown and the outer edges have started to harden, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and plan the pan on a wire rack to cool completely. Use a metal spatula to loosen the sides of the cake from pan, then turn it out and place on a serving plate or platter. Serve or decorate as desired. Leftovers should be wrapped in plastic wrap and kept at room temperature for up to 5 days.
So far this week, we’ve talked legendary meat sauce and fresh, homemade pasta. Now I’m throwing the two together, along with a béchamel sauce and lots of cheese, and turning it into a fabulous lasagna.
I have a confession. It wasn’t until a short time ago that I found out there was a difference between regular lasagna and lasagna bolognese. In my estimation, most “regular” lasagna recipes include layers of ricotta filling, along with sauce and some mozzarella cheese. By contrast, lasagna bolognese does not use ricotta, but instead layering noodles with a chunky meat sauce, a béchamel sauce and some additional cheese.
As it turns out, I spent the better part of my life eating lasagna bolognese. On the Sundays that my grandma served up lasagna, it never, ever had ricotta cheese in it; in fact, I was surprised the first time I had lasagna somewhere other than my grandma’s and I found ricotta! Her lasagna was a simple layering of whatever sauce she had simmered that particular day, noodles, and lots and lots of cheese. We all loved it and happily devoured it. While I will gladly eat a lasagna with ricotta, I have a large soft spot in my heart for lasagna made without it, especially when I found out this sans-ricotta version usually includes a creamy béchamel sauce. Be still my beating heart… This lasagna was made for me!
I was all sorts of inspired after seeing a recipe for this extra cheesy classic homemade lasagna over on Half Baked Harvest. I seriously wanted to jump through the screen and eat lasagna for days on end. I used her cheesy béchamel sauce and paired it with my father-in-law’s meat sauce, homemade pasta, and lots of cheese!
It made a perfect Friday night dinner and I gobbled up the leftovers for days. While you can certainly make this with store-bought lasagna noodles, there is such a difference in the taste and texture of fresh, homemade pasta. It just melds right into the sauces and the cheese; pasta perfection.
I wish I could have served this up to my grandma; I have no doubt she would have finished every last bite.
Don’t forget to grab a fresh loaf of crusty Italian bread to serve alongside the lasagna. I couldn’t imagine a pasta dish without a fresh piece of bread to wipe up all of the leftover sauce on the plate
One year ago: Jewish Rye Bread
Two years ago: Creole Shrimp and Grits
Three years ago: Blueberry Bagels
Four years ago: Pumpkin Scones with Spiced Glaze
Five years ago: Ham and Split Pea Soup
Six years ago: Almost Fudge Gateau
Cheesy Lasagna Bolognese
Yield: About 8 servings
Prep Time: 45 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Total Time: 2 hours 30 minutes
A wonderfully cheesy lasagna made with alternating layers of meat and béchamel sauces.
For the Béchamel Sauce:
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
¼ cup all-purpose flour
2½ cups milk
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 cup shredded provolone cheese
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper, to taste
5 cups your favorite meat sauce
1 pound lasagna noodles (fresh or store-bought)
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
1. Make the Béchamel Sauce: In a medium saucepan placed over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the flour and cook, whisking constantly, until the flour turns light brown and emits a nutty aroma. Slowly add the milk, whisking constantly. Once all of the milk has been incorporated, whisk in the nutmeg, and allow the mixture to come to a simmer. Once simmering, cook for 2 minutes, whisking constantly. Remove from the heat, and add the shredded provolone a handful at a time, stirring until it melts. Stir in the Parmesan cheese and season with salt and pepper, then set aside and let cool to warm room temperature.
2. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
3. Assemble the Lasagna: Spread 1 cup of the meat sauce on the bottom of a 9x13-inch pan. Place noodles in a single layer on top of the sauce (if you are using store-bought lasagna noodles, this should be 3 noodles; if you made fresh pasta, you'll probably use 2 sheets and can cut to fit as needed). Spread 1¼ cups of the meat sauce over the noodles. Drizzle one-quarter of the béchamel sauce over the meat sauce. Sprinkle ¼ cup Parmesan cheese and ¼ cup shredded mozzarella cheese over the béchamel sauce.
4. Place another layer of noodles on top of the cheese. Top with another 1¼ cups of meat sauce, a quarter of the béchamel sauce, ¼ cup Parmesan cheese and ¼ cup shredded mozzarella.
5. Place another layer of noodles on top of the cheese. Top with another 1¼ cups of meat sauce, half of the remaining béchamel sauce, ¼ cup Parmesan cheese and ¼ cup shredded mozzarella.
6. Place the final layer of noodles on top of the cheese. Pour the remaining béchamel sauce over the noodles and sprinkle with the remaining ¼ cup Parmesan cheese and ¼ cup shredded mozzarella.
7. Cover the lasagna with a piece of aluminum foil that has been sprayed with non-stick cooking spray. Bake, covered, for 1 hour. Remove the foil and bake for an additional 15 to 20 minutes, or until the top is golden brown. Remove from the oven and let stand for 15 minutes before serving. Leftovers can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
Note: This lasagna can be assembled, covered and refrigerated for up to 3 days before baking. It can also be frozen for up to 1 month. If the lasagna was cold, bake it covered for an additional 15 to 30 minutes, checking to ensure it is heated the whole way through.
[Recipe adapted from Half Baked Harvest]
Guess what time it is? Comfort-food-o’clock!
This is yet another “better than the box” meal. It’s like hamburger helper stroganoff, but homemade. And guess what? It’s still super fast, easy, and requires only one pot.
I used half ground beef and half mushrooms just for fun (the beef was actually less expensive per pound than the mushrooms), but you could do all mushroom or all beef if your heart so desires. If you’re doing a vegetarian version with all mushrooms, you can use mushroom or vegetable broth to replace the beef broth.
So, let’s just get straight to it because I’ve got some delicious, creamy, and savory noodles waitin’ for me in the kitchen!
(please excuse the blurry pics, it was super dark and rainy the day I made this.)
Begin by sautéing 2 cloves of minced garlic in 2 Tbsp of butter until soft (1-2 minutes). You can use a large pot or large skillet, as long as it is big enough to hold all of the pasta AND has a lid (the lid will be used later).
Next, add the ground beef and continue to sauté until it is fully browned.
While the beef is browning, slice the mushrooms. At my local grocery store they sell 8 oz. packages of whole or sliced mushrooms, both for the same price. I prefer to slice my own because the pre-sliced variety are too thick and you’ll get more mushroom pieces if you slice them thinner.
Once the beef is browned, add the mushrooms and continue to sauté until they are soft. Once the mushrooms are soft, add 2 Tbsp flour and continue to sauté for one to two minutes more. As you’re stirring and cooking, the flour will begin to coat the bottom of the pot. This is A-OK because it will dissolve off in the next step. Just make sure the heat is not so high that the flour begins to burn. That is bad.
I know I sound like a big commercial for Better Than Bouillon, but it really is the best thing ever. It stays good in the fridge for almost forever and you can mix up as much or as little broth that you need at any given time. For this recipe, I mixed up 2 cups of broth.
Add the beef broth to the pot and stir until all of the flour is dissolved off of the bottom of the pot.
Add 8 oz. of uncooked wide egg noodles. Egg noodles have a different texture than regular pasta, so if you try to substitute regular pasta, you may get slightly different results. Place a lid on the pot and allow the broth to come up to a boil. Once it reaches a boil, reduce the heat to low and let it simmer for 10 minutes (with the lid in place), or until the noodles are tender and have absorbed most of the liquid. You’ll want to stir every few minutes to keep the pasta from sticking. Make sure the broth is simmering the whole time. If it stops, turn the heat up just a tad.
And after about ten minutes, the pasta is fully cooked. If you notice in the previous picture, not all of the pasta is submerged in the broth. That’s okay because the lid traps the steam and helps cook the portions that are not submerged. Plus, stirring every few minutes makes sure that everything gets good exposure to the hot liquid.
Lastly, stir in 1/3 cup sour cream until the whole deal is nice and creamy and delicious. I used light sour cream because I barely notice the difference between regular and light, but I wouldn’t suggest using fat free.
And now it’s ready to devour! I added some chopped parsley just for the photo… brown pasta isn’t all that visually appealing, but once you taste it O.M.G!
And now this, too, which is like the last two cakes got together and made an even better version of themselves for the next generation. If you remember seeing this in the 2013 year-end roundup, it’s true, I did make it over six months ago, but nothing about summer through early winter screamed a cake that looks like a Reeses peanut butter cup to me. A blizzard on the day before Valentine’s Day? I say that since we’re inside anyway, bring it on.
I have had French silk pie on the brain for ages, but I kept hitting a roadblock on way to making it. Are you ready for this? You will absolutely, positively think I’m insane. For some reason, I had such a hard time getting past the combination of pie crust combined with chocolate. Am I nuts or what?! It seems as though I’ve compartmentalized desserts in my brain, and pie crust was reserved for things like fruit, pumpkin and pecans. Chocolate, on the other hand, was reserved for… everything other than pie crust? Seriously, I know it makes zero sense. However, the only chocolate-based pie I’ve made before (chocolate cream) had an Oreo crust. I just wasn’t sold that chocolate and traditional pie crust were a good combination.
Clearly, I was wrong. Very, very wrong.
As it turns out, buttery, flaky pie crust makes an absolutely phenomenal vessel for the velvety smooth chocolate filling. Truth be told, I could have eaten this pie filling with a spoon and just said to heck with filling the pie crust and letting it chill. I did purposefully leave a little leftover in the bowl so I could scrape it up with my finger
The other issue I had with all of the French silk pie recipes that I saw online was that most of them used raw eggs without any sort of tempering to bring them up to a safe temperature. I balked at this. I’m not one to shun from a few beater licks of raw cookie dough, but I just couldn’t get past completely raw eggs as the end product. I was thrilled when I saw this filling recipe from Cook’s Country that calls for heating the eggs to a safe 160 degrees F as part of the recipe. It helped appease my raw egg neurosis and the final product turned out so silky smooth that I can’t believe it lost anything to its raw counterpart.
I went from eyeing the pie crust/chocolate combination with a skeptical eye, and ended up trying to hoard the entire pie for myself. Lesson learned. Never second-guess anything when it involves pie crust or chocolate. I do believe that the silky texture of this pie is best enjoyed when served at room temperature, so if you have chilled the pie, I would let it sit out for 20 to 30 minutes before serving.
Please tell me I’m not the only one with crazy food combination issues!
French Silk Chocolate Pie
Yield: 10 to 12 servings
Prep Time: 3 hours 45 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 4 hours 15 minutes
A recipe for the classic French Silk Pie.
For the Pie Crust:
1¼ cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled, cut into ¼-inch slices
¼ cup solid vegetable shortening, chilled, cut into 2 pieces
2 tablespoons vodka, chilled
2 tablespoons ice water
For the Filling:
1 cup heavy cream
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
¾ cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into ½-inch pieces
1. Make the Crust: Process ¾ cups flour, salt, and sugar together in food processor until combined, about 2 one-second pulses. Add butter and shortening and process for 10 seconds (dough will resemble cottage cheese curds with some very small pieces of butter remaining, but there should be no uncoated flour). Scrape down sides and bottom of bowl with a rubber spatula and redistribute dough evenly around processor blade. Add remaining ½ cup flour and pulse until mixture is evenly distributed around bowl and mass of dough has been broken up, 4 to 6 quick pulses. Empty mixture into medium bowl.
2. Sprinkle vodka and water over mixture. With rubber spatula, use folding motion to mix, pressing down on dough until dough is slightly tacky and sticks together. Flatten dough into 4-inch disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 45 minutes (or up to 2 days).
3. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. On a floured work surface, roll the dough into a 12-inch circle. Transfer the dough to a 9-inch pie plate and gently ease the dough into the pie plate. Leave any dough that overhangs the plate in place, wrap the dough-lined pie plate loosely in plastic wrap and refrigerate until the dough is firm, about 30 minutes.
4. Trim the overhang to ½-inch beyond the lip of the pie plate. Tuck the overhang under itself (the folded edge should be flush with the edge of the pie plate). Crimp the dough around the edges. Wrap the dough-lined pie plate loosely in the plastic and refrigerate until the dough is fully chilled and firm, about 15 minutes.
5. Line the chilled pie shell with a double layer of aluminum foil, being sure to cover the edges as well, and fill with pie weights. Bake until the pie dough looks dry and is pale in color, about 15 minutes. Remove the foil and the weights and continue to bake until the crust is a deep golden brown, 8 to 12 minutes longer. Transfer the pie plate to a wire rack and let the crust cool completely, about 1 hour.
6. Make the Filling: Pour the heavy cream into a large mixing bowl and whip on medium-low speed until foamy, about 1 minute. Increase the speed to medium-high and continue to whip until stiff peaks form, 2 to 4 minutes. Transfer the whipped cream to a small bowl and refrigerate until needed.
7. Place the chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave on 50% power in 30-second increments, stirring after each, until completely melted and smooth. Set aside.
8. In a large, heatproof bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar and water. Beat the mixture on medium speed until pale yellow and thick, about 5 minutes. Set the bowl over a medium saucepan filled ½-inch of barely simmering water over low heat, and warm the mixture, stirring occasionally, until it reaches 160 degrees F on an instant-read thermometer. Remove the bowl from the heat and beat the mixture on medium speed until it is light and fluffy and cooled to room temperature, about 8 minutes.
9. Add the melted chocolate and vanilla extract to the cooled egg mixture and beat until incorporated. Beat in the butter, a few pieces at a time, until well combined. Using a rubber spatula, fold in the whipped cream until no white streaks remain. Scrape the filling into the pie shell and refrigerate until set, at least 3 hours or up to 24 hours. Serve with fresh whipped cream. Leftovers should be stored in the refrigerator, covered, for up to 3 days.
(Recipe adapted from Best-Ever Recipes)
Hooray for quick skillet dinners! This one is so fantastically easy that it kind of feels like cheating. Between the Italian sausage and marinara sauce, the dish has all of the seasoning built in, so you don’t even have to measure out any extra herbs or spices. You’re pretty much just heating it all together and then it’s ready to eat!
You can bulk this recipe out further and probably make about 6 decent sized servings by stirring in some cooked pasta (I’d use 1/2 lb. dry), or by spooning this mixture over a bed of rice. It’s a pretty filling mix of ingredients, so I just skipped both and ate it plain. Not a fan of chickpeas? White beans would probably be pretty awesome in this, too.
Want to try a vegetarian version? I think sautéed eggplant or mushrooms would be a great replacement for the sausage, but you’ll want to add a teaspoon or so of Italian seasoning blend to make up for the lost spices. You’ll also need a little olive oil to sauté them in. I really can’t wait to try it with eggplant!
This is all you need for this super quick skillet! I used only half of the sausage (the rest went in the freezer), half of the cheese, and about half of the jar of marinara. I used Lacinato kale (or dinosaur kale) because that’s what I had on hand. You can definitely use curly kale in its place with no modifications.
Squeeze half of the sausage into a large skillet and cook it over medium heat until fully browned. I didn’t add any extra oil to the skillet because sausage has quite a bit on its own. It’s okay if some of it sticks to the bottom of the skillet, it will dissolve off later.
For most kale, the stem is super tough and woody, so you’ll want to remove them (especially for curly kale). Just take a sharp knife and run it along the stem to cut it out. Then, stack the leaves and cut across into thin strips.
This particular bunch of kale had really soft stems, so I didn’t even bother removing them. Stack the leaves and cut across into strips. This will be slightly more difficult with curly kale because it’s so fluffy, but you can still do it. It’s easiest if you cut each leave into two long pieces when removing the stem. After chopping the kale, make sure to rinse it really, really well.
After the sausage has browned, stir in the kale. Continue to cook and stir until the kale has wilted. This happens pretty fast. It’s okay if the kale is still a little wet from rinsing. The water will turn into steam and help it wilt, plus it will help dissolve the browned bits of sausage off the bottom of the skillet.
Drain and rinse the chickpeas, then add them to the skillet.
Pour the marinara over top… (you can stir it in, if you want).
Lastly, sprinkle the shredded cheese over top, cover it with a lid, and let it simmer until the cheese has melted.
And now it’s ready to eat! It may not be the prettiest dish in the world, but OMG is it ever flavorful and filling!
Designing the marriage or life you want involves risks.
But the motivation for marriage design is different than the motivation for life changes.
If you’re over-weight and miserable, you may not like it but you are still stuck with that body. If you’re miserable in marriage you can discard the other “body” easier than your own. Which makes it seem like change and improvement is only a loss of (insert your spouse’s weight here) away.
Fact is, changing partners is likely not going to improve your situation for the long haul.
It’s interesting to me how often we humans will settle on things in marriage (and life) when if we we’re honest with ourselves we would realize we’re actually settling and not living fully alive.
This answer can all be summed up with the phrase “fear of the unknown.”
Designing life or a marriage involves unknown. But it may not be what you think.
It may not be quitting your job to travel the world. Or figuring out a way to work a few hours a week in order to live anywhere.
Life and marriage design also happens when one parent decides to stay home with their children, when a middle-income family moves out of the city to a small rural town in the mid-west so they can retire earlier, when a family downsizes their home in order to live below their means, or when a person finds their call working a “regular” job in order to provide for their family and fund the activities they really enjoy.
It happens every time an entrepreneur starts a business.
It’s starting a consulting company so you can work 20 hours per week and make 35k per year instead of 50 hours a week for 80k (and using the free time to sleep in and exercise).
Put simply, marriage design doesn’t necessarily mean you dream up and create some exotic lifestyle that would be the envy of all those around you.
It’s designing and then living the life you choose!
It’s a foundational belief.
You don’t like something going on in life, work to change it.
Another pitfall that comes up is when people say “they just want to be happy.”
You hear it all the time.
Ask a random co-worker or family member what they want out of life and you’re likely to hear this response.
seeking happiness is too vague and too relative.
Seeking a life filled with happiness is largely impossible. It’s chasing the wind.
First, nowhere in life are we promised happiness. The Declaration of Independence (for American readers) only allows for the pursuit of it. And another source many people around world follow, the Bible, never talks about happiness in this manner. In fact, the Bible says God is more concerned about your character than your happiness (Ecclesiastes 7).
And second, our likes and dislikes change too frequently. What you thought would make you happy, once obtained, doesn’t.
Our tastes seem to change so often because they are constructed, in part, by those around us.
We compare ourselves to others all the time. I do it too. What are they driving, wearing, watching, owning?
This is probably the number one plague on marriage and life design.
What will other people think if I do this or that? What would my spouse say if I told them I wanted to try this or that?
Instead of seeking happiness, what if you designed life and marriage to be exciting?
What excites you is a better question. Spend some time working on this question and you can uncover more of your core. And…
Living from your core is the way to radical growth and lasting passion.
Be it in marriage or in life.
To help get you started, here are two tools to use:
1. Get a more accurate view of where you are in life.
Many people have no idea where they are in life. They go through the day lost in routine and roles. You may be one of them. Did you know that humans are the only mammal that when lost, speeds up! Perhaps this accounts for the fast paced society we all live in. All other mammals in the mammalian kingdom will stop, sit down and get their bearings before they proceed.
In order to do this, a great tool is the Wheel Of Life.
This gives you a gauge as to how satisfying the areas in your life are currently and can help you uncover where to begin working first.
After you’ve discovered how smooth your wheel of life is, take the steps to begin working on the areas that need improving.
2. Sort out your core values.
The second tool is The Value Sort.
This takes about 20 minutes of your time. But at the end of the process you’ll have the top 4 or 5 values for your life. All that’s left is living life more in line with your core values.
Let me know what you discover in the comments.
If you’ve been stuck in your marriage and life, I invite you join us for Unstuck - which begins February 17th. Join before February 9th to save $50 off the price.
Passionate living to a passionate marriage is written by Corey from: Simple Marriage
A FEW THINGS WE LOVE:
But why stop there? You could pretty confidently argue that you’ve happened upon a lucky series of life choices when you get to spend half an hour on a Wednesday morning at Whole Foods debating what you’d like to put on your party bread in addition to butter and cheese. There was so much to consider! I considered rarebit-ing it, with a boiled mess of butter, beer, mustard powder, paprika, cayenne, Worcestershire and a scattering of cheddar that I might dream about tonight. I wondered if we ought to go French, with gruyere, shallots and herbes de provence or style it like an American baked potato, with chives and bacon, sour cream and cheese. And then I realized that I’ve never once covered garlic bread on this site and was suddenly filled with purpose and couldn’t wait to get home and start playing in the kitchen.
You’ve probably heard about slow cookers, and how they can save you time and money in the kitchen. Most people use them for slowly simmered soups, stews, and broths, which is great—but did you know you can make cheesecake in your slow cooker? What about barbecue ribs? Let's talk about some unexpected, delicious meals that are surprisingly slow cooker-friendly.
Over the holidays, I enjoyed a couple of weeks off, and during that time I set a few goals for myself. I wanted to start the new year off on the right foot, and getting myself organized was far overdue. My goals were: (1) Clean up my email inbox; (2) File away all of my recipe clippings from magazines; and (3) Organize my side of the office. I’m happy to report that, as of last week, I managed check everything off of my list.
As I worked on task #2, I sifted through stacks and stacks of recipes that I had ripped out of magazines over the coarse of the last year, I came across not one, not two, but multiple recipes for black forest cheesecake. I’ve apparently had chocolate, cheesecake and cherries on the brain. Suddenly, I was craving a black forest cheesecake, but as I looked through the recipes I had saved, I wasn’t particularly thrilled with any of them. I decided to concoct my own version, and I have to say… this is utterly fantastic. Hands down, one of the best cheesecakes I’ve created. (Although really, I don’t think I’ve disliked a single cheesecake that I’ve made.)
When I set out to make this recipe, I realized that I hadn’t ever made a basic chocolate cheesecake. Totally unfortunate, right?! They’re so good! I ended up adapting an Epicurious recipe for the chocolate cheesecake, and then finished it off with a homemade cherry pie filling topping. Since cherries aren’t in season here right now, I used frozen cherries, but you could certainly use fresh if you have them available to you.
To say that this cheesecake was phenomenal would be an enormous understatement. I am 100% partial to cheesecakes with an Oreo crust, pretty much no matter what the cheesecake flavor is. Add to that a very tall chocolate cheesecake, a thick border of cream cheese-spiked whipped cream frosting, and then, of course, the cherries. Everyone who had this was absolutely enamored with it.
This is rich, make no mistake, and it’s worth savoring every single bite. Grab a cup of coffee and be sure to linger over a piece of this cheesecake.
This cheesecake should be a lesson to me to keep myself organized going forward!
Black Forest Cheesecake
Yield: 12 servings
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 12 hours
Creamy chocolate cheesecake on an Oreo crust, topped with sweetened whipped cream and homemade cherry pie filling.
For the Crust:
24 Oreo cookies (whole)
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
¼ cup unsalted butter, melted
For the Cheesecake:
10 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
4 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, at room temperature
1¼ cups + 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
4 eggs, at room temperature
For the Cherry Topping:
24 ounces frozen dark sweet cherries, thawed
¼ cup granulated sugar
Pinch of salt
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon lemon juice
For the Whipped Cream:
4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
¼ cup granulated sugar
¾ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup heavy cream
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 9-inch round springform pan; set aside.
2. Make the Crust: Process the cookies and sugar in a food processor until ground into fine crumbs. Add the melted butter and pulse until the mixture is evenly moistened. (If you do not have a food processor, you can place the cookies in a zip-top bag and crush into crumbs with a rolling pin, then transfer to a bowl and stir in the sugar and melted butter.) Press the crumb mixture evenly into the bottom of the prepared pan. Bake until the crust is set, about 8 minutes. Set on a cooling rack while the filling is prepared.
3. Make the Filling: Place the chopped chocolate in a metal bowl and set over a saucepan of barely simmering water. Heat, stirring occasionally, until the chocolate is completely melted and smooth. Remove bowl from the saucepan and allow chocolate to cool to room temperature.
4. Meanwhile, using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the cream cheese, sugar and cocoa powder together until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl before adding another. Add the cooled, melted chocolate and beat until just combined. Using a rubber spatula to give it a final mix (the batter will be on the thick side) and pour the filling over the crust, smoothing the top into an even layer.
5. Bake until the center just barely wiggles when moved and the top looks dry, about 1 hour. Cool for 5 minutes, then run a thin knife between the cake and the sides of the pan to loosen. Transfer the cheesecake to the refrigerator and chill, uncovered, overnight.
6. Make the Cherry Topping: Drain off ¼ cup of juice from the thawed cherries and set aside. In a medium saucepan, combine the cherries (and any remaining juice), sugar and salt over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until it reaches a boil, about 5 to 10 minutes. In a small bowl, whisk together the reserved cherry juice and cornstarch, and add it to the cherry mixture. Stir constantly until thickened, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon juice. Allow the mixture to cool to room temperature, then transfer to an airtight container and chill until ready to use, at least 1 hour.
7. Make the Whipped Cream: On medium speed, beat the cream cheese, sugar and vanilla extract in a mixer with the whisk attachment until smooth and completely combined, about 3 minutes. Slowly add the heavy cream, scrape the sides of the bowl, then increase speed to medium-high and whip until stiff peaks form.
8. Finish the Cheesecake: When ready to serve, remove the sides of the springform pan and place the cheesecake on a serving platter. Using a pastry bag with a decorating tip, pipe a border of whipped cream around the top edge of the cheesecake. Spoon the cherry pie filling into the center. Garnish with chocolate shavings, if desired. Leftover cheesecake can be stored, tightly wrapped, in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
Yesterday, I shared my annual roundup of the 10 most popular recipes on Brown Eyed Baker that were made during 2013. While many of those on that list were my favorites, there were also a ton of recipes that I fell in love with this year that didn’t make the cut. I want to share my personal favorites with you that weren’t on the previous list, so I put together this follow-up roundup, which features 20 of my favorites from 2013 – 10 sweet and 10 savory. It was agonizing to pare this list down; there are so many more recipes I want to include! (Please note the three honorable mentions at the end, as well!) These are the recipes that I made over and over, tried to hide from others, and cried when they were gone. Enjoy browsing the list, and feel free to share any recipe requests for 2014 in the comments below!
(The recipes are listed in chronological order, January through December.)
9. Frito Pie
It was incredibly hard to narrow down these lists, so here are a few more runner-up recipes from the short list!
Do you have any recipe requests for Brown Eyed Baker in 2014? Share them below!
As 2013 winds to a close, it’s time for the annual roundup of the most popular recipes that were posted during the year. It wouldn’t be an end-of-year celebration without it! As usual, there were a variety of treats that made the list, but this was definitely the year of cake, cheesecake, DIY recipes and spicy dishes. I always look forward to putting this list together and uncovering which of the recipes were among the reader favorites for the year. So much fun! Enjoy the little trip down the foodie memory lane; perhaps you’ll even uncover a recipe you missed or forgot about it!
10. Homemade Nutella
And now, the most popular recipe posted on Brown Eyed Baker during 2013…
:: drum roll ::
Stay tuned… tomorrow I’ll be sharing a list of my favorite recipes from 2013 that didn’t make the list above!
What was your favorite recipe on Brown Eyed Baker during 2013??
The reign of sriracha is not over yet. The price for a bottle of this magic sauce remains stable at my local grocery store, so panic is averted for now.
I fell in love with chicken thighs a while back when I made the Maple Dijon Chicken Thighs. They’re super easy to cook, usually quite inexpensive, and always juicy and tender. For boneless, skinless chicken thighs all you have to do is add some sauce and pop them in the oven. A little while later you have an easy to eat and very delicious meat. That’s all I want—easy, delicious, inexpensive.
For this honey sriracha version, I’ve mixed up a marinade/sauce of the basic goodies: garlic, ginger, soy sauce, honey, and brown sugar. I used half brown sugar and half honey to cut costs, but if cost is not your concern, use all honey and no brown sugar. The end product is sweet, spicy, and full of flavor. Plus the thighs are tender and juicy as always. I’ve been eating this all week over a bed of jasmine rice with a few florets of broccoli. When I’m leaving for work in the morning I add all three to a container (the broccoli is frozen, from a bag in the freezer) and then they all reheat together in the microwave at lunch time. It’s the perfect little inexpensive and filling lunch!
I like to add a few spears of broccoli to this dish to make a complete meal!
Mince two cloves of garlic and grate one inch of fresh ginger on a small holed cheese grater. Add them to a bowl along with 2 Tbsp sriracha, 1.5 Tbsp soy sauce, 1 Tbsp rice vinegar, 2 Tbsp honey, 2 Tbsp brown sugar, 1 Tbsp vegetable oil, and 1/2 cup water. Stir to combine.
Add 2 Tbsp corn starch and stir until dissolved.
Add half of the marinade mixture to a large zip top bag (or shallow dish) along with 2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken thighs. Toss to coat and then marinate for 30 minutes in the refrigerator. Be sure to stir the marinade mixture well before pouring it into the bag because the garlic, ginger, and corn starch tend to settle to the bottom. Save the second half of the marinade for later.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Add the marinated chicken thighs to a small casserole dish, along with all of the marinade from the bag. Bake for 30 minutes and baste the chicken half way through (either spoon the juices over top of each thigh or use a baster to squirt the liquid over top).
Meanwhile, add the reserved half of the marinade (the half not used on the chicken) to a small sauce pot and bring it up to a simmer over medium heat. As soon as it reaches a simmer, the corn starch will begin to thicken the sauce until it becomes a nice glaze. Set the thickened sauce aside until the chicken is finished baking.
When they’re finished baking they look like this. Kind of naked, huh? That’s why we saved half of the sauce! :D
Sauce them thighs up! (Just use a spoon to spread some of the sauce over each thigh.)
Add a little greenery to freshen it up (cilantro or sliced green onions) and you’re ready to serve! Like I said earlier, I’ve been eating this in a bowl with jasmine rice and a little broccoli. So good—So easy.
Merry Christmas Eve!
I wanted to share one more recipe with you before the holiday because I loved this so, so much last year. Growing up, we always, always, always went to church on Christmas Eve. My parents were big advocates of relaxing, lazy Christmas mornings. We could sleep in, take our time opening presents, my mom would cook breakfast, and we could hang out in our pajamas playing with our new toys until it was time to go to my grandma’s. There was no rush to hurry up and get ready for church, and I always loved that. As a grown up, I still love having relaxing, laid back Christmas mornings, and something warm for breakfast is an absolute must. I made this overnight breakfast casserole at my mom’s last year, and after we woke up and opened our presents, my mom, sister and I dug into the Crock-Pot for a wonderful warm breakfast that had cooked itself and was waiting for us!
I had cooked the sausage, shredded the cheese, and sliced the onions early in the morning on Christmas Eve, and had just stored them in the refrigerator until later that night. Before bed, I layered everything together in the Crock-Pot, turned it on and went to bed. I woke up to such a delicious smell, and I couldn’t wait to eat. This turns out to be a massive baked omelet with layers of breakfast sausage, hash browns, cheddar cheese and green onions. The edges get a little crusty, and I would be lying if I denied standing over the Crock-Pot, picking off all of the crusty pieces and piling them on my plate. So good!
This is a great casserole, especially if you have particularly busy Christmas mornings and want a warm breakfast. It’s also great if you have lazy, relaxing Christmas mornings and just want more time to play with your toys instead of standing in the kitchen
I wish you a wonderful, warm Christmas Eve with those you love.
Slow Cooker Sausage, Hash Brown & Cheddar Breakfast Casserole
Yield: 10 to 12 servings
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 6 to 8 hours
Total Time: 8 hours 30 minutes
An easy overnight breakfast casserole that can be made in your slow cooker with layers of hash browns, cheese, and breakfast sausage.
32 ounces frozen shredded hashbrowns
16 ounces breakfast sausage, cooked and crumbled
6 green onions, finely chopped
12 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
¼ cup milk
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
Additional salt and pepper to season the hash brown layers
1. Grease the insert of a 6-quart slow cooker with non-stick cooking spray.
2. Layer ⅓ of the hashbrowns on the bottom, then season with salt and pepper. Top with ⅓ of the cooked sausage, then ⅓ each of the green onions and cheddar cheese. Repeat the layers two more times, ending with the cheese.
3. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Pour the egg mixture over the top of the hash brown, sausage and cheese layers in the slow cooker. Cook on low for 6 to 8 hours (the edges will brown). Leftovers can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
(Recipe adapted from Seeded at the Table)
I’m all about the quick skillet meals this week because, let’s face it, when you’re in the home stretch towards Thanksgiving, you don’t really want to cook anything… but you still gotta eat.
This quick skillet combines the vibrant flavors of basil pesto with tangy cream cheese to make a rich sauce that smothers the pasta, chicken, and broccoli. The pesto provides all the garlic and herbal flavor needed, so there’s no need to even dice an onion, mince garlic, or measure out herbs and spices—it’s already in the sauce! The whole dish cooks very quickly so you can have this one on the dinner table in about 30 minutes.
If you’re not into cream cheese, you can make this dish simply by substituting the chicken broth and cream cheese with a little half an half (1/2 cup or so). Just pour the half and half right into the skillet with the pesto and whisk until smooth. The sauce will be a little thinner, but it will have a distinctly creamy (and not so tangy) flavor. You may want to add an extra pinch of salt to make up for the chicken broth.
This can also easily be made vegetarian. Use a little extra broccoli, substitute vegetable broth for the chicken broth, and you’re good to go!
First, cook 8 oz. of pasta according to the package directions (boil for 7-10 minutes, or until tender).
Once the pasta is tender, add 8 oz. of frozen broccoli to the pot of boiling water and continue to cook for 60 seconds. It’s okay if the frozen broccoli cools the water so much that it stops boiling. The hot water will thaw the broccoli just enough. Drain the pasta and broccoli in a colander.
Meanwhile, slice one chicken breast (3/4 lb.) into very thin strips. I usually slice the breast across the grain and then lay each slice on their side and slice the thickness in half, too. And then if the pieces are long, I’ll cut the length in half. You want a lot of little pieces.
Cook the chicken breast in a large skillet with one tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat until it is no longer pink.
This is the pesto that I use. It is usually stocked in the pasta aisle and it is usually at least a dollar less per jar than any other brand. This is a national brand and I’ve seen it in several stores, so be sure to check to see if it’s available in your area. It’s a very good price!
Add 1/2 cup chicken broth and 1/3 cup pesto to the skillet with the chicken and then stir until they’re combined.
Let the broth/pesto mixture heat up and then add 4 oz. cream cheese in chunks (this is actually only 2 oz., I decided to add more after I took the photo). Whisk the cream cheese into the hot liquid until it forms a creamy sauce.
The cream cheese will look a little chunky as you begin to whisk it in, but keep whisking and it will eventually create a nice creamy sauce.
Finally, add the cooked and drained pasta and broccoli to the skillet and stir until it is all coated in the creamy pesto sauce.
And that’s that! So easy! If you like ranch flavored foods, I think this tangy, garlicky sauce almost tastes ranch-like. So yum!
One of my all-time favorite recipes is Oven Fajitas. It’s easy, flavorful, and healthy. So, I decided to try the same concept with different flavors. For this version, I chose Greek inspired vegetables (bell pepper, eggplant, tomato, and red onion), drenched them in a lemon-garlic marinade, then topped the whole thing with feta and fresh parsley after roasting. I added one thinly sliced chicken breast for a little belly-filling power, but this could easily be made vegetarian (add mushrooms, asparagus, or artichokes maybe?).
Although the mix needs about an hour to roast in the oven, the hands-on preparation is very quick. I’ve kept the leftover mix in the refrigerator all week and have really enjoyed eating the pitas every day for lunch. I package the filling in a separate container, heat it quickly in the microwave, and then stuff it into a pita just before eating. …and sometimes I just ate the filling with a fork, because why not? :)
I set the serving size to a half-round pita pocket. Each one of those servings came out to just $1.37, but even if I was so hungry that I ate two (which may or may not have happened…) it’s still less than $3! Win!
I know, I know… there are four tomatoes in the picture. I intended to use four, but quickly realized that would be WAY too much, so I only used two. I also used one red onion, two green bell peppers, and one eggplant.
I sliced the onion and bell pepper into strips, and the tomato and eggplant into one-inch cubes. Place them all into a large 9×13 inch casserole dish. Oh yes, start preheating the oven to 400 degrees. It needs to be HOT.
Slice the chicken breast into very thin strips. Remember, the smaller the pieces, the more pieces you’ll have, and the more chicken will be in every bite (instead of one big piece every now and then). And yes, my price for chicken is extremely good. I only buy chicken breast when they’re on sale (usually for about $2/lb) and freeze it for later.
Mince the garlic and stir it together with the olive oil, lemon juice, oregano, salt, and a bunch of freshly cracked pepper. Red wine vinegar would also be super good in this if you don’t have lemon juice.
Pour the marinade over the chicken and vegetables, then toss it all together until everything is very well coated. Transfer the whole thing into the oven and come back 20 minutes later…
Give everything a good stir after 20 minutes to redistribute the juices and help some of the moisture evaporate off, then put it back in the oven.
Give it another good stir at the 40 minute mark, then back in the oven it goes…
And then after a total of 60 minutes you’ve got some nice brown roasting action. Yummm….
Let it sit for just a minute as you roughly chop some parsley and crumble the feta cheese. Add it to the meat and vegetables and then give it quick stir.
And now it’s ready to stuff into pitas and devour!
I love baking all kinds of desserts, from cookies to cakes and a whole lot in between. But, cheesecakes are special. I can think of few things that are as simple to make yet as impressive to serve. Just the sight of a cheesecake garners much excitement and praise. Recently, Philadelphia Cream Cheese asked if I would like to make […]
I don’t know about you, but I go through vanilla extract like water. A couple of years ago, I stopped messing around with the small bottles from the grocery store and started buying the 32-ounce bottle from King Arthur Flour. SO much easier than going to the store at least once a week for an insanely overpriced small bottle! I’ve finally taken it the DIY route and made my own, which is ridiculously easy. All you need are some good vanilla beans, your favorite bottle of vodka, and a little bit of patience.
Actually making the extract could not be easier. All you need to do is slice up some vanilla beans, combine them with vodka, place in a jar, and… wait. The mixture needs to sit for at least six weeks to be infused, but is even better if you stand to wait a little longer, say a few months. The smell of fresh vanilla extract is positively intoxicating!
When you’re ready to use the extract (or want to give it as a gift), simply strain it through coffee filters or cheesecloth and fill clean bottles (I bought 4-ounce clear Boston round bottles from SpecialtyBottles.com). You could even drop a couple of vanilla bean pieces into a bottle to keep the infusion going, if you’d like.
Homemade vanilla extract is such a perfect gift, not only for the holidays, but also has a hostess gift. There are tons of free printable labels online, as well, to spruce up your bottle.
With Christmas a little less than two months away, now is the perfect time to get started on some homemade vanilla extract!
DIY: Homemade Vanilla Extract
Yield: 8 ounces
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 2 minutes
Total Time: 6 to 10 weeks
Making your own vanilla extract could not be easier! Grab some vanilla beans, your favorite bottle of vodka and get started!
8 vanilla beans
1 cup vodka
1. Slice the vanilla beans in half lengthwise. Using the tip of the paring knife or a spoon, scrape out the seeds and transfer to a small saucepan. Cut the empty bean pods into 1-inch pieces and add them to the saucepan.
2. Add the vodka, cover and cook over medium-low heat until the mixture is hot and steaming, about 2 minutes. (Do not open the lid while the pot is over the flame or the alcohol will ignite.)
3. Pour the mixture into a jar with a tight-fitting lid and let cool to room temperature. Cover with the lid and store in a dark place for at least 6 weeks (the longer, the better!), shaking the jar gently once a week.
4. Line a fine-mesh strainer with 2 coffee filters or 2 layers of cheesecloth, and place over a liquid measuring cup. Strain the vanilla through the filters, then transfer from the measuring cup to a clean jar with a tight-fitting lid. The vanilla extract will keep indefinitely at room temperature.
(Recipe from America's Test Kitchen DIY Cookbook)
When I worked at a pizzeria during high school, one of my absolute favorite things to eat on break was a chicken finger (aka chicken tender) sub with blue cheese. Of course, being a kid and running around like a banshee during work (that pizzeria was always busy!) meant there weren’t ramifications for eating such an indulgent meal now and then (read: more often than not).
Just one of the fun (haha!) aspects of growing up is the fact that you can no longer eat everything you want with reckless abandon and expect it not to take its toll.
I still like chicken fingers, but now I like them a little healthier.
How about baked instead of deep-fried, grain and gluten-free, and even better tasting than the original? Not to mention that this meal comes together in just 30 minutes, making it perfect to throw together on a busy weeknight. While the chicken is in the oven you can throw together a salad, cut up carrot and celery sticks, or get out the fixings to make homemade subs/sandwiches/heros/hoagies/whatever you want to call them. Serve them with something like Homemade Buttermilk-Herb Dressing for dipping and what more could you want?
Just a heads-up, for this recipe, freshly grated Parmesan cheese must be used instead of pre-grated. This is because when you grate the Parmesan (preferably on a microplane, which grates the cheeese so it’s very fluffy), it gives the cheese quite a bit of volume, and we need it to coat all the tenders…not to mention, the flavor of fresh-grated is so much better!
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Yield: 2 servings
Serving Suggestion: Homemade Buttermilk-Herb Dressing is perfect for dipping!
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Call me crazy – go ahead, we’ll wait – but I always seem to forget about salmon as an easy dinner option, which is unfortunate because it really is the perfect protein. Quick cooking, full of essential omega-3 fatty acids, delicious, and fresh tasting. Did I mention it’s quick cooking?
Crispy Asian Baked Salmon is the definition of elegant and mouthwatering, yet it bakes in just 10 minutes. 10 minutes! It takes me longer to assemble my morning cup of joe! Between brewing a Costco-brand Breakfast Blend K-cup (which I will be enjoying for the next year because, well, Costco,) stirring in a splash of So Delicious Coconut Milk French Vanilla Creamer (so good) and fitting in a baby smooch or 600, it’s easily 15 minutes later before I’m enjoying my first sip.
Hollar if you hear me!
Anywho, Ben and I picked up half a wild-caught salmon at the aforementioned Costco a few weeks ago, which comes pre-skinned and ready to go. So convenient. I like to cut it into individual fillets then pop them in the freezer to thaw for easy, healthy weeknight meals.
One way I really like them is simply seasoned with garlic salt and pepper then sauteed and set atop a Caesar Salad. Another preparation I’m just dying over as of late is this here Crispy Baked Asian Salmon.
An Asian-inspired sauce including almond butter, soy sauce, mirin, lime juice, and garlic is slathered on top of a fresh salmon filet, topped with a sesame seed and panko bread crumb crust, then quickly baked until golden brown and audible crunchy. This preparation of salmon honest to goodness could not be easier or more delicious.
Finish with a drizzle of fresh lime juice and serve with roasted asparagus, which cooks at the same temp and time as the salmon, and dinner is on the table in 20 minutes. You’ll look like a gourmet chef but only we’ll know how easy this was to prepare!
Start by patting 4, 5-6oz salmon fillets dry with a paper towel then lightly season both sides with salt and pepper.
Next get the Asian-inspired sauce ready. Many of these ingredients are pantry staples – the only ones you might not have on hand are chili garlic sauce (I used China Bowl Select brand,) and mirin, which is a sweet Japanese cooking wine. If you can’t find mirin next to the soy sauce at the grocery store, you could sub in sake, reisling, or 2 teaspoons sugar dissolved in 1 Tablespoon hot water.
Feeling annoyed about buying an entire bottle of mirin for just one recipe? Use the rest in:
That should do it!
Add the sauce ingredients including chili garlic sauce, soy sauce, ground ginger, fresh lime juice, garlic, almond butter (could use peanut butter,) and mirin to a bowl then stir until well combined. Let it rest for 5 minutes to thicken up.
While the sauce is thickening, make the crunchy crust that goes on top. Combine 2/3 cup panko bread crumbs with 2 Tablespoons sesame seeds, and 2 teaspoons each sesame oil and extra virgin olive oil in a bowl.
BTW, panko bread crumbs are crispy, airy bread crumbs that give foods an audible CRUNCH. So good – the’re my bread crumb of choice. : )
Ok. Slather the top of the salmon fillets with a scoop of the sauce…
Then spoon on the panko bread crumb mixture and smooth with the back of a spoon.
Bake for 8-12 minutes (depending on the thickness of your fillet) at 400 degrees, or until the bread crumbs are golden brown and salmon is cooked, then let rest for a few minutes and enjoy!
4 salmon fillets (5-6oz each)
salt and pepper
1-1/2 Tablespoons almond butter (could use peanut butter)
1 Tablespoon soy sauce
1 Tablespoon mirin
1 Tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 garlic clove, microplaned or minced
1/2 teaspoon chili garlic sauce (I used China Bowl Select brand)
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
2/3 cup panko bread crumbs
2 Tablespoons sesame seeds
2 teaspoons sesame oil
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
fresh lime wedges, for squeezing
I squeezed a fresh lime wedge over the top of my salmon, which was divine. The pop of citrus against the savory sesame-soy-almond butter sauce was incredible!
About that asparagus – just toss trimmed asparagus stalks with extra virgin olive oil, salt, and pepper then place on a foil-lined baking dish and bake alongside the salmon. Should be perfectly crisp-tender by the time the salmon is done. Enjoy!
I first discovered Wiener Schnitzel as a little girl eating "around the world" at Disney's Epcot Center, and those two words still make me giggle. Funny name aside, it's a classic dish that's easy to prepare.
It’s football season… and hockey season… and World Series time. The holidays are right around the corner, then New Year’s Eve, and before we know it… the Super Bowl. This all means that it’s a very good time to stock up on fabulous, easy appetizers. Not that there is ever a bad time. Appetizers and desserts are my favorite food groups, after all. When it comes to appetizers, dips trump all in my world. If a dip is especially cheesy, it gets bonus points. Yesterday, my father-in-law came over to watch some football with my Chief Culinary Consultant; I was bouncing around the kitchen and wanted to give them something to snack on since it would be a few hours before dinner would be ready. I didn’t want to run to the store, and I wanted something warm, easy and not time-consuming. That’s not too much to ask, right?!
I remembered coming across this recipe recently and it seemed to fit the bill perfectly. Five ingredients, all that I had in the house, and literally five minutes to throw together and get into the oven. Dip success!
A sweet onion is diced up and mixed together with cream cheese, mayonnaise, Parmesan cheese and black pepper. That’s it! The mixture is baked together until the top is nice and golden brown, and then try to hold people back. This totally unassuming dip is hopelessly addicting. You can’t quite it. I dare you. Since I didn’t want to go to the store, I served it with some tortilla chips and pretzel crisps that I already had in the pantry. This would also be great with baguette slices or crackers.
I love stashing away quick and easy appetizer recipes that can be thrown together when you have last-minute guests or need to balance a complex holiday menu with a really simple appetizer. If you’re serving a crowd, you may want to scale the recipe up, as four adults completely demolished this dip in short order!
What’s your favorite easy game-day dip?
Sweet Onion and Parmesan Dip
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 45 to 55 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour
An incredibly simple dip recipe that highlights sweet onions and fresh Parmesan cheese.
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup mayonnaise
1 cup small diced sweet onion
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
Baguette, crackers or chips, for serving
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2. In a medium bowl, stir together the cream cheese, mayonnaise, onion, Parmesan cheese and black pepper until completely combined.
3. Transfer to a small baking dish and bake until the top is deep golden brown, 45 to 55 minutes. Serve hot with baguette slices, crackers, pretzels or tortilla chips.
(Recipe from White on Rice Couple)
[Photograph: Aki Kamozawa and H. Alexander Talbot]
The recipe for lemon-roasted potatoes in Aki Kamozawa and H. Alexander Talbot's new cookbook, Maximum Flavor, is definitely one of their easiest. Yet despite its simplicity, it still delivers on their title's promise—tender, luxurious potatoes infused with the perfume of the tangy lemons and sweet onions. These potatoes would be equally at home next to a roast chicken as they would amongst a full holiday spread (if you're thinking that far in advance).
Why I picked this recipe: Roasted potatoes make for one of my favorite fall comfort foods. Finding a way to add serious lemon flavor to these buttery spuds was too intriguing to pass up.
What worked: This technique of steaming and then roasting the potatoes is simply genius. Everything about this dish was stellar.
What didn't: No problems in sight.
Suggested tweaks: You could take the idea of roasting potatoes on a bed of aromatics and run with it. Fennel would be a lovely addition or substitution for the onions (pair it with tarragon). Or try scallions and ginger for an entirely different take. Whatever you do, don't skimp on the butter.
Reprinted with permission from Maximum Flavor: Recipes That Will Change the Way You Cook by Aki Kamozawa and H. Alexander Talbot. Copyright 2013. Published by Clarkson Potter, a division of Random House. All rights reserved. Available wherever books are sold.
serves Serves 6 to 8 as a side dish, active time 30 minutes, total time 1 hour and 20 minutes
Preheat the oven to 425°F (225°C).
Set a stovetop steamer over medium heat. Add the potatoes. Adjust the heat to maintain a gentle simmer and steam the potatoes until tender when pierced with a cake tester, about 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, halve the onion through the root end so that there is a piece of core at the end of both halves holding the layers together. Cut off a small slice at one end of each lemon so that you just expose the inner fruit. Use a mandoline or sharp chef’s knife to thinly slice the onion and lemons, discarding the uncut end of the lemon, any seeds, and onion cores when you are done. Mix them together with your hands in a medium bowl and season with salt to taste.
Once the potatoes are cooked, transfer them to a large plate to cool slightly and then use a paring knife to peel off the skins and discard. Cut each potato in half.
Put the olive oil in a heavy 9 × 13-inch (23 × 33 cm) roasting pan and rub it around the inside of the pan to coat it thoroughly. Layer the onions and lemons in the bottom of the dish. Lay the potatoes cut side down on top of them. Thinly slice the butter and lay one slice over each potato and scatter any extra over the top. Bake for 25 minutes. Rotate the dish and bake until the potatoes are a deep golden brown, about 10 more minutes.
Remove the dish from the oven and scatter the rosemary over the potatoes. Let the dish rest for 5 minutes before serving so that the herb can permeate the dish. Serve from the roasting pan so the potatoes will remain crisp.
I had some split pea soup from the hospital cafeteria the other day and while it was satisfying, something about it just didn’t taste genuine. So, I thought it was time to make some of my own. Plus, it was >$2 per serving and I knew that I could do better than that! Right I was.
Smoked ham hocks are usually used to infuse split pea soup with flavor, but I didn’t feel like dealing with one of those monstrosities. So, I went with bacon instead. Bacon still gives you that salty-smokey ham flavor, but is a little easier to deal with (and sometimes easier to find). Bacon and potato are pretty much made for each other, so I decided to throw some of those in there too. Between the bacon and chicken broth, this soup already has a lot of flavor going on, so you don’t have to mess with measuring out five or six different herbs and spices. It’s as simple and delicious as it gets. It’s soup for beginners!
Start by slicing the bacon into one-inch strips. I used half of a 12 oz. package. The other half will be frozen for later use. Place the sliced bacon in a large pot and cook over medium heat until brown and crispy.
While the bacon is cooking, dice the onion and mince the garlic.
Now the bacon is nicely browned and crispy. The brown stuff stuck to the bottom of the pot will be dissolved off in the next step, so don’t worry about that. If you plan on blending your soup until it is completely smooth later (I left mine half chunky), you may want to remove the bacon at this step and add it back in the end. The bacon fat will still provide plenty of flavor as the rest of the soup cooks.
Add the onions and garlic to the pot. Continue to cook and stir. As the onions soften and release moisture, the browned bits stuck to the bottom of the pot will loosen and dissolve. Cook until the onions are soften and translucent.
Add the split peas. You can find these in near the dry beans in the grocery store.
Also add the chicken broth, bay leaf, and some freshly cracked pepper.
Allow the soup to begin heating while you peel and cube the potatoes. I used red skinned potatoes, but decided to peel them so that the soup would be a bit more smooth in the end. Cut them into one-inch cubes then add them to the soup. Place a lid on the pot, turn the heat up to high and let the pot come to a rolling boil. Once it reaches a rolling boil, turn the heat down to low and let it simmer gently for 45 minutes.
After 45 minutes check to make sure the peas are very soft. Remove the bay leaf and turn off the heat.
Allow the soup to cool a bit because blending hot liquids is super dangerous. Work in small batches, filling your blender only half way. Always drape a towel over the blender so that if some of the hot/warm liquids escape, they won’t spray all over and burn you (because no soup, no matter how delicious, is worth burning your face off for).
Pulse the mixture until it is smooth, then add it back to the pot. Repeat this process until about half of the soup has been blended smooth.
Taste the soup one last time and add more salt as needed. Potatoes tend to absorb a lot of salt, so you’ll likely need a little bit more just to give it some punch. I added about 1/2 teaspoon. Now you have a silky smooth yet chunky Split Pea, Bacon & Potato Soup.
P.S. I can not say, think, or type the phrase “silky smooth” without thinking about the Zohan.
A few years ago, I came across a chicken recipe that was so good, so notable, that I considered shoving the rest of the classic chicken dishes I love aside in favor of this poultry paragon. Was I guilty of gushing overstatement? Probably, but humor me for a moment. Four years on, I still think this is pretty much the best chicken recipe of all time.
Let's take a closer look, shall we? We'll indulge in hyperbole together. This chicken is just that good.
Last week we published an article that discussed why and how to establish family traditions. Traditions offer numerous benefits: they strengthen your family’s bonds, enrich the life you share together, contribute to your children’s well-being, and create lasting memories. For this reason, they form one of the three pillars of family culture.
Today we offer a list of over 60 specific family tradition ideas. You can incorporate some of these directly into your family, or use them as inspiration for creating your own traditions.
Before we get started, let’s cover a few things that will help ensure that your establishment of new traditions will be met with success:
The ideas below come from The Book of New Family Traditions, from mine and Kate’s respective families, from our friends’ families, and from those we’ve come up with for our own family.
Daily Connection Traditions are the small things you do every day to reinforce family identity and values. Without thought and intentionality, your family’s daily “traditions” can devolve into everyone surfing the internet on their own devices. So be sure to incorporate some rituals that bring you together face-to-face and allow you to re-connect each day.
Secret Handshake. Secret handshakes have been used by groups for millennia to distinguish members and non-members. Make one up for your own family. It can be elaborate and complex or simple but meaningful. An example of the latter comes from a family profiled in The Book of New Family Traditions. This family had the tradition of squeezing each others’ hands three times to signal the three words “I love you.” On the day the daughter got married, the father squeezed her hand three times as he walked her down the aisle. “Only she knew that this was happening, a tiny personal ritual lodged invisibly within one of the grandest and most public, and she says it was one of the most moving moments of her life.”
Family Meal. Countless studies have shown the positive influence that sharing a meal together as a family (it doesn’t have to be dinner) has on children. We’ll be dedicating an entire post to how to get the most out of family meals, but in the meantime, consider these suggestions to turn the breaking of bread into a cherished tradition:
Family Prayer. For religious families, prayer is an important ritual. Family prayer doesn’t have to be just a dinnertime thing. You can pray as a family before everyone leaves in the morning, before everyone goes to bed, or both. Our family has prayers at night. Everyone takes turns saying the prayer, including Gus.
Family Singing Time. There’s something about singing that unites humans on a primal level. What’s more, through song, you can pass on your values and cultural heritage to your children. Our family always sings a song or two when we put Gus to bed. It’s something we’ve done since he was an infant, and you can tell it makes him feel comforted, loved (we often sing songs about being a family), and relaxed. It’s been cool to watch him slowly learn the words and start singing along with us.
I really hope that Gus or Scout is interested in taking piano lessons, as I have a very fond dream of one day standing around the piano singing Christmas carols together.
The “What We Learned Today” Journal. “Buy a fancy, leather-bound journal. Each night before bed, every member of the family needs to write something they learned during the day. Parents can transcribe for little children. Entries don’t have to be long or profound. It can be as simple as, “If you touch a turtle, he puts his head back in his shell.” This is a great way to foster a love of lifelong learning in your children.
Surprise Daily Drawing/Note. There’s a guy here in Tulsa who drew little comics or wrote inspiring quotes on the napkins he put in his daughters’ school lunches. Napkin Dad was born. I want to do something like this when my kiddos start school.
Family Hugs. Kate and I try to get in one family hug a day. Afterwards, we usually put in our hands and say, “Three, two, one,” before lifting them up and shouting “McKays!” Yeah, it’s kind of cheesy, but Gus loves it, and the idea is to really drive home our family identity.
Bedtime Story. Children who have parents that read to them regularly typically do better in school and have larger vocabularies than children who don’t. Reading with your child will not only make them smarter, but it’s a great way to bond. There’s something really comforting about hearing your dad read aloud to you. For inspiration, check out this dad and daughter who read together every night for 3,128 days straight until the daughter was in college.
Evening Walks. Not only can walking help solve problems, but it can also strengthen families. Evening walks are a great time to get some fresh air and digest the day’s events along with your dinner.
Family Call-and-Response Motto. When they were growing up, brothers Jim and John Harbaugh (the coaches of the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens respectively) didn’t have much. But their father always made them feel like they had everything they needed. To reinforce this feeling, he would ask his boys, “Who’s got it better than us?” To which they would respond: “Nooo-body!” Jim now uses the same call and response to build the unity of his football team.
Family Game Night. Analog games, from cribbage to Apples to Apples, are a fun and cheap way to bond and have fun together as a family. Tamp the competition down and ramp the laughter up. I personally can’t wait to play Boggle with Gus and Scout.
Movie Night. Let the kids take turns picking a movie to watch, and do an occasional dad’s choice night as well to introduce your progeny to classics like Back to the Future and Raiders of the Lost Ark while waxing poetic about how movies were just plain better in the 80s. Have fun with the snacks too – come up with dad’s special popcorn recipe or occasionally take the kids to the drugstore and let them each pick out their own candy.
Saturday Football. There’s something incredibly relaxing and comforting about watching college football with your family on a Saturday afternoon in the fall. Pass down your alma mater pride as you cheer on your team together.
Pizza Night. Everyone loves pizza, and it’s nice to be able to look forward to having it on a certain night each week. Skip the delivery now and again and make your own – allowing the kids to decide how to top their own super simple mini pizzas.
Don’t like pizza? How about Taco Tuesday? We love Taco Tuesday around here.
Family Home Evening. Mormons are encouraged to set aside one night per week (usually Monday night) for Family Home Evening. A typical Family Home Evening includes a fun activity and a short lesson or devotional on some virtue or scripture. FHE is usually capped off with a special treat.
The goal of Family Home Evening is to teach your children the principles and values you want them to carry with them as adults, all within an informal and loving atmosphere. FHE can be adapted by families of any religious stripe or even families who aren’t religious. There’s no formula for Family Home Evening. Just corral the kids for 30 minutes one night a week for fun, discussion, and eats.
Family Vinyl Dance Party. AoM contributor Cameron Schaefer shared a fun family tradition in his post on getting started in vinyl record collecting. On Friday nights the Schaefer family gathers in their family room for a Vinyl Record Dance Party. A family member selects a soundtrack for the night, and they all dance until they collapse on the floor.
Special Saturday/Sunday Morning Breakfast. Lots of families have special Saturday/Sunday morning breakfast traditions. For some it’s pancakes or cinnamon rolls, for others it’s a giant breakfast casserole. Dads and breakfasts just go together, so work on coming up with your own specialty.
Breakfast need not be a solely in-home tradition, however. I take Gus to Braum’s every Saturday morning for breakfast. Pancakes and milk for Gus. Sausage, egg, and cheese biscuit for dad. We’ve been doing this since Gus was about 10 months old, and we’ve rarely missed a Saturday. It’s a hoot to see Gus get all excited about “Breakfast at Braum’s” on Friday night.
Dinner & Grocery Shopping. Every Monday we go as family to a grocery store that also has their own little restaurant. We eat dinner there first and then do our shopping. Doesn’t sound really exciting, but we all look forward to it.
Weekly Family Meeting. Your family is an organization. And like any successful organization, you need to plan, discuss issues, and synchronize schedules. Enter the weekly family meeting. I’ll be dedicating an entire post on how to run a successful family meeting in the future. Stay tuned.
Full Moon Walks. A full moon occurs roughly every 29 days. While you may have gotten used to seeing them, they really are a magical sight – especially for kids who haven’t lost their sense of wonder. Whenever a full moon has risen, take a walk outside at night as a family to have a look at it. Get into the woods sometimes if you can in order to experience the awe of nature at night. This is a great way to get your kids keyed in to the rhythms and cycles of our world.
Box of Goals. An important life skill for your children to develop is how to set and work towards a goal. What better way to teach this than with a family tradition? Get a cigar box or fancy wooden box and on the first day of each month, have your family members write down one goal they want to accomplish that month on a piece of paper and place it in the box. When next month rolls around, take out the pieces of paper and review the goals to see how everyone did. Then write new goals for the next month. Rinse and repeat.
Daddy Date. We have a friend who has three daughters. Ever since they were knee-high to a grasshopper, he took one of them each month on a “Daddy Daughter Date.” Rules were simple. The daughter he spent the evening with got to pick the activity they took part in. He didn’t care what they did. His goal was to give each one of his kids one-on-one time with dad.
The monthly date with dad isn’t just for daughters. You can do something similar with your sons as well.
Family Service Day. If creating a culture of service is part of your family mission statement, put that goal into action with a monthly Family Service Day. Designate one Saturday or Sunday to serving others. It could mean spending a morning at the homeless shelter or cleaning the garden of an elderly neighbor or sorting clothes at Goodwill.
Milestone traditions celebrate events that may occur only a few times, or even just once for your immediate family. But they become traditions as they are passed down from one generation to the next.
New Home Traditions
New Home Dedication. Buying a home is a momentous occasion and thus a great time for instituting a family tradition. Some religious folks hold ceremonies in which they dedicate the home (and all those who dwell in it) to God.
In the Jewish tradition, it’s customary to hold a Chanukat Habayit (home dedication) party. At this gathering, words from the Torah are spoken and family and friends use the occasion to express their blessings and wishes for a fruitful and happy stay in this new home.
New Muslim homeowners will often host a feast in their new house and those that enter are to leave their blessing.
Differing Christian denominations have their own unique new home dedication rituals, but they typically involve a dedicatory prayer and a reading from the Bible. For some ideas on which scriptures to read check out this list. I know many Christian families that will place a plaque near their home’s entryway with the famous verse from Joshua 24:15 (“As for me and my house…”) after a home dedication ceremony.
“It’s a Wonderful Life” Blessing. In the classic holiday movie, It’s a Wonderful Life, George Bailey and his wife, Mary, give a nice housewarming gift/blessing to a family that just moved into a new house:
Mary: Bread… that this house may never know hunger.
[Mary hands a loaf of bread to Mrs. Martini.]
Mary: Salt… that life may always have flavor.
[Mary hands a box of salt to Mrs. Martini.]
George Bailey: And wine… that joy and prosperity may reign forever. Enter the Martini Castle.
[George hands Mr. Martini a bottle of wine.]
You don’t need to know a thoughtful couple like the Baileys to experience this tradition. Just do it yourself when you move into your home. Make some focaccia maybe, and enjoy it with wine for mom and dad and grape juice for the kiddos.
Mortgage Burning Party. This one is for you Dave Ramsey “gazelles” out there. Once you pay off your home mortgage, throw a party with your family and ceremoniously burn your mortgage agreement. Mortgage burning parties were actually once a common tradition in America, but due to changing mores and the increasing mobility of Americans (thus making it less likely a homeowner will live long enough in a home to pay it off), Mortgage Burning Parties are pretty much unheard of today. I think it’s a tradition well-worth resurrecting.
Family Time Capsule. Bury a family time capsule when you move into what you think will be your “forever home.” Fill the capsule with some of your family’s favorites things, notes, and items that represent the time period. Then open in it up in 20 or 30 years. Make sure you exhume it if you end up moving sooner than you thought you would.
First Day of School Photos. On the first day of every school year, take your kiddos to the front of the house and snap a picture of them for posterity. You’ll enjoy looking back at how they’ve grown through the ages. I remember looking forward to this little ceremony as a kid. It was my chance to show off my cool new backpack and Air Force One high-tops.
First Day of School Chalk Pep Talk. Kids can sometimes be a little nervous on the first day of school. Give them a nice surprise by writing messages of encouragement on the driveway with chalk the night before. It will put a smile on their face when they walk out the door the next day.
Parent/Teacher Conference Note. Whenever Kate’s parents came in for parent/teacher conferences, they would leave a note for her in her desk, telling her how neat her desk was, how nice her artwork on the wall was, and a nice thing the teacher had said about her. Kate says she really looked forward to finding the note and that it was cool to think her parents had been there.
College Acceptance Celebration. One family I know would celebrate their kids’ college acceptance letters by buying everyone in the family a t-shirt or sweater with the school’s logo and then having a barbeque with the university’s fight song playing in the background. The mom would then snap a pic of the whole clan dressed in their school colors, frame it, and pack it in their kiddo’s stuff when he or she shipped off to college. Cheesy? A little bit, but I always thought it was a nice gesture.
Night-Before-Wedding Roast. We have another friend whose family always stayed together at a hotel the night before one of the kids got married. They’d hang out and do a good-natured roast of the bride or groom-to-be. They had a big enough immediate family (5 kids) to make this fun. If your family is smaller, invite close extended family to take part too.
Most families have traditions for celebrating birthdays. Cake, presents, dinner at the Cheesecake Factory. You know, the usual. Below are some birthday traditions you may not have thought about.
First Cake Cut Wish. I picked this one up from Kate’s family. In addition to getting a wish for blowing out the candles, the birthday boy or girl gets another wish for making the first cut into the birthday cake. Two wishes, one cake. Can’t beat that.
New Privilege/New Responsibility Cards. Amidst all the fun and hoopla, remind your kid that with age comes greater power and with greater power comes greater responsibility. In addition to birthday presents, present your child with two envelopes. One envelope is labeled, “New Privilege”; the other, “New Responsibility.” Provide an age appropriate privilege and responsibility each year.
8th/ 18th Birthday Time Capsule. On your child’s 8th birthday have him fill a time capsule with some of the things he likes and a note to himself. Open it a decade later on his 18th birthday.
Nose Grease. This birthday tradition comes from our friendly neighbors north of the border. In Canada (particularly the Atlantic Coast providences) it’s common for the birthday boy or girl to get ambushed by friends or family members and have their nose greased with butter for good luck. The buttered nose supposedly makes the person too slippery for bad luck to catch them. This tradition is said to come from Scotland. I think I’m going to have to adopt this one as it hails from my ancestral homeland of Nova Scotia.
The Yearly Measurement on the Door Frame. Many families have a doorframe where they keep rough pencil lines marking off the height of their kiddos as they age. Make it a tradition to take the measurement on birthdays.
Hunting Traditions. Our hunter/gatherer ancestors developed meaningful traditions to celebrate the life-giving hunt. While hunting is no longer essential for survival, many families continue to have traditions that surround their yearly hunt. A few include celebrating the first kill by having the new hunter share his harvest with those in the group, the Hunting Beard, and the after-hunt breakfast or dinner. There are many more. I’d love to hear yours in the comments.
Meteor Watching Party. Once a year or so (use this handy calendar) get everybody up in the pre-dawn hours, dress warmly, drive out to a spot where there’s less light pollution, lie down on a blanket, and pour cups of cider or cocoa from a thermos as you watch for meteors and point out different constellations to your kids.
Welcome to Fall Dinner. Usher in the first day of the indisputably best season of the year by having a harvest-y dinner: turkey, stuffing, apple crisp, and the like. It’s something my mom did in my family growing up and I really enjoyed it.
Baseball Opening Day. While football has overtaken baseball as America’s favorite sport, there’s still something about celebrating America’s pastime by attending a game on opening day that resonates with me. It’s a chance to connect with your kiddos over a sport that’s connected generations of American families.
Barbershop Visit with Dad. Every man should frequent the barbershop. So should every little boy. Instill in your strapping little lad the time-honored, manly tradition of visiting the barbershop by making his first visit a big deal. Take pictures of him getting his ears lowered and then take him out for breakfast or lunch afterwards. From then on, get your haircuts together.
Annual Camping Trip. Inspire a love of the great outdoors in your kids by taking them camping at least once a year. If you find a campsite you love, return to it again and again as you build special memories around that place.
Another fun tradition is to pick a day each year that you go backyard “camping” with your kid.
The holidays are the most tradition-rich time of the year. There are a lot of great classic traditions out there from making cookies for Christmas to doing an egg hunt on Easter. Here are some holiday traditions you may not have thought of.
Easter Basket Scavenger Hunt. Instead of setting out the Easter baskets by their bed or in the living room, have your kids do a fun hunt for them. Leave the first clue by their beds, and have them follow one clue to the next until they find their baskets.
An important note: adding a scavenger hunt to anything turns it into an awesome, memorable tradition. I’m not sure there’s anything more fun as a kid than a scavenger hunt.
Egg Wars. The fun of dyeing Easter eggs doesn’t have to end when you pour out the food coloring. On Easter Day, commence the egg wars. Two people each hold an egg and on the count of three, they hit the end of their eggs together. Whoever’s egg cracks loses; the winner goes on to another battle. You can offer a prize to whoever has the egg that lasts the longest. During the Great Depression, Kate’s grandfather’s family was so poor, that the prize was keeping the other person’s egg.
Pumpkinfest. Make the classic tradition of pumpkin carving extra special by finding a nice pumpkin patch that you return to each year, taking a hayride while there, and making a whole pumpkin-themed meal to precede the carving (pumpkin soup, pumpkin bread, pumpkin pie…).
Tombstone Rubbing and Ghost Stories. Tombstone rubbing used to be a popular pastime with folks. It’s still popular among genealogists searching for info about ancestors. Basically, you just get some butcher paper, place it over the face of the tombstone, and then rub charcoal or crayon on it so that the lettering on the tombstone is transferred to the paper.
To make this activity a bit spookier, visit an old cemetery at night and have a contest to see who can get the oldest tombstone rubbing. (Make sure to bring flashlights!) Afterwards, tell ghost stories while sitting in the cemetery. Spoooky!
Candy Swapping Wizard. This is a good one if you’re not crazy about your kids grazing on their trick-o-treat candy for the next 6 months, but want to do something about it that’s more fun than curmudgeonly. Tell your kids to select X number of pieces of candy they get to keep, and then to place the rest of their booty outside the door to their room. During the night, a wizard comes and swaps their candy for a gift.
Jack O’ Lantern Burial. After serving valiantly on Halloween Night, a carved Jack O’Lantern typically experiences an ignoble end by slowly wilting away on the front porch and eventually being tossed in the trash. One family featured in The Book of New Family Traditions didn’t think their Jack O’ Lanterns deserved such an anticlimactic demise. So they decided to give their carved pumpkins a proper burial the day after Halloween. They have a small patch in their backyard that’s designated as the “Pumpkin Graveyard.” The day after Halloween the family brings their respective Jack O’ Lanterns to the graveyard and offer a short eulogy that goes thusly:
“We are gathered here to pay homage to our dearly departed Jack O’ Lanterns. Throughout their short lives our Halloween Pumpkins have brought both us and our Trick-or-Treaters much joy. We now consign them to the earth where they first came. May they rest in peace.”
All of this is done, of course, with tongue firmly placed in cheek.
Says the mother of this family, “The Great Pumpkin would be proud.”
Thankful Box. As they hang out before dinner begins, family members are encouraged to take time to anonymously write down a few things they are grateful for on slips of paper, which are then placed in a decorated shoebox. Later on as the family eats dessert, the box is passed around the table and each person draws a slip and reads it aloud until the box is empty. The fun comes both in hearing family members offer heartfelt (and occasionally humorous) thank yous, and in guessing who wrote what.
Turkey Bowl Football Game. For families that have huge extended family gatherings at Thanksgiving, a morning of touch football is a great way to work up an appetite for turkey and pumpkin pie later that day.
Watching the Lions Lose. No Thanksgiving would be complete without the family gathered around the TV to watch the Detroit Lions lose. It would be like Thanksgiving without pumpkin pie or the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Out with the Old, In with the New. To teach your kids to live just a bit more simply, to accumulate less stuff, and not to hold onto what they have too tightly, require that for however many gifts they get for Christmas, they have to get rid of the same number of their old toys/clothes. Throw away or donate what they discard.
Glass Wax Stencils. This is a tradition from Kate’s family that we plan to carry into ours. Glass wax is a liquid window cleaner that comes out pinkish and dries with a white frost. By blotting it with a sponge over stencils, you can, as the makers of glass wax used to tout, “turn you window into a winter wonderland!” Stenciling with glass wax used to be popular decades ago, but has almost entirely disappeared, making both the stencils and the wax hard to find. Look for the stencils on ebay and the glass wax at the Vermont Country Store.
Pickle on the Christmas Tree. Legend has it that during the Civil War, Private John C. Lower was being held at a prison camp and was given a pickle on Christmas Eve by one of the guards. Starving, he believed the pickle helped save his life, and after the war he began a tradition of hiding a pickle on the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve for his family to find the next morning. Other origin stories for this 19th century American tradition are floated as well. Nowadays, a pickle ornament is hung on the tree on Christmas Eve and whoever finds the pickle first the next morning gets an extra gift or is promised a year of good fortune.
Countdown to Christmas with Books. There are a lot of fun ways to count down to Christmas with your kids, from making a paper chain to opening the doors of an advent calendar. Here’s a new one I picked up from The Book of New Family Traditions: wrap 24 books about Christmas, and open and read one each night during December. On the 24th, the book that is opened is The Night Before Christmas.
Run a Marathon Before Opening Presents. The parents of a family we know who are very ambitious, gung-ho about life, and love physical challenges would make their kids run a marathon before they got to open presents. Not individually, mind you! The 26 miles was split between the parents and their 4 kids, depending on age and ability. Quite a way to teach delayed gratification.
New Year’s Eve
Rent a Hotel Room. Staying at a hotel is terribly exciting when you’re a kid. Rent a room on New Year’s Eve, bring board games and snacks, let the kids swim, and have a family slumber party to ring in the new year.
Banging on Pots and Pans at Midnight. The tradition of noisemakers at midnight originates from the belief that it would scare away bad luck and evil spirits. Let your kids run down the streets banging on pots and pans when the clock strikes twelve.
Eating Chinese. I’m not sure why we associate New Year’s Eve with Chinese food, since the Chinese New Year is on a different date, but Kate and I have started a tradition of going out for Chinese food on December 31. Just seems lucky somehow.
If you’re feeling more ambitious, try your hand at making our own fortune cookies and creating personalized fortunes for your family.
Putting Regrets to the Fire. Have each family member write down and then share one of their regrets from the past year. Then throw the regrets into the fireplace to symbolize a fresh start.
Despite the size of this list, there are tons of other great traditions out there – we didn’t even mention all the specific religious/ethnic/cultural traditions that exist! Tradition ideas are limited only by your creativity. Please share your family’s traditions in the comments!
Illustrations by Ted Slampyak