The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap 2013 – Walnut Bars

Today is Cookie Swap reveal day!

Leave it to me, the typically Millennial internet-obsessed 20-something, to participate in a virtual/Internet-based cookie swap before ever participating in a real life one! I chose a good one, however: this year, the Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap raised over $13,000 (via entry fees, donations, and matching donations from sponsors) to be donated to Cookies for Kids Cancer. That is one seriously awesome cookie swap.

Those bloggers who participated had to bake 3 dozen cookies – each dozen going to one of 3 different food bloggers around the country. I was SERIOUSLY impressed by every batch of cookies I received! Each one was better than the last. But more on that later 🙂

My “cookies” went to Maria at Maria of the Best, Lauren at Have Fork, Will Eat, and Samantha at Haute Pepper Bites. I hope they enjoyed their goodies… take a look at my contribution to the cookie swap!

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My cookies weren’t cookies, per se, but rather bars! Walnut Bars, to be exact. These bars can be found in my family’s home every winter without fail. My parents have a walnut tree that produces pounds upon pounds of walnuts in the fall, and this recipe is one of our favorites for using them all up!

The pecan pie-like filling is a perfect complement to the buttery shortbread crust…I was happy to be sending these to Maria, Lauren & Samantha, because whenever they’re around me I end up eating them up super fast 😉 Walnut Bars for breakfast, anyone?!

Walnut Bars
makes 24-36 bars, depending on size

Shortbread Cookie Crust:
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups flour
2 sticks (1 cup) butter or margarine, softened

Walnut Filling:
4 eggs
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
3 tablespoons butter or margarine, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups Karo syrup (corn syrup)…light is OK!
2 1/2 cups roughly chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare cookie crust: Spray or grease 10x15x1in baking dish. Beat together the sugar, flour, salt and butter until mix becomes crumbly. Press into pan. Bake 20 to 30 minutes, or until starting to brown.

Meanwhile, prepare walnut filling. Beat eggs, corn syrup, sugar, butter and vanilla until blended. Stir in walnuts. Once the shortbread cookie crust is finished, evenly pour the mixture over tje hot crust. Bake an additional 25 minutes, or until the filling is firm around the edges and set in the middle.

Let cool and cut into bars/squares/whatever shapes your heart desires!

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Now, for the delicious goodies I received… I’m going to use photos from the recipes’ creators, because my iPhone pictures seriously don’t do justice to how amazing these cookies were. Be sure to click through and get the recipes on their blogs! I am DEFINITELY making all 3 this month!

Cherry Almond Thumbprint Cookies from Sarah at Strawberry Plum

These had a great almond flavor and PERFECT texture. Plus, I need to find out where to get that sour cherry jam!

Peppermint Biscotti from Lynn at Turnips 2 Tangerines

Peppermint biscotti?! GENIUS! I can never say no to the peppermint+chocolate combo!

Triple-Ginger Chocolate Chunk Cookies from Deb at Cooking on the Front Burner

I can’t decide what I liked more about these…the zingy ginger flavor, or the huge chocolate chunks?!

Thank you ladies for some delicious cookies! I can’t wait to give them to my friends and family this month over the holidays.

Have you ever participated in a cookie swap?

What is your go-to cookie to make during the holidays?

What I Ate Wednesday – Breakfast Edition

Happy Wednesday! We’re almost over the hump! Although these days the days and weeks are all starting to blend together for me, especially with last week’s holiday. Read on to find out why, and to find out how it inspired today’s What I Ate Wednesday post 🙂

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Monday Night Football Feast — Week 4

OK, bear with me here friends, I know we’re going back in time a little bit. We did just finish Week 11 of the NFL season, after all.

However, I promised more updates on our MNF Feasts, and a separate post on what I made for New Orleans week. So here we are!

Sadly, since our epic Italian/New York feast I have missed a few weeks, but I’m back at it tonight so I decided now was a better time than any to share another example of a dish I’ve brought to the table!

On the 4th week of Monday Night Football, the New Orleans Saints took on the Miami Dolphins in New Orleans… And I took on BEIGNETS!

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I felt pretty confident about making the dough for beignets, since I use yeast when I make my pizza dough, and I’ve made sweet yeasty creations before (OMGGGG I can’t wait to make Braided Lemon Bread again)… So bringing the dough together was pretty simple.

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Where it differed was in two ways: first of all, I rolled out the dough and cut it into rectangle-ish squares. There was a little bit of trial and error with this when it came to cooking them because some required more/less time in the oil…but all in all it went okay.

The other reason why I was out of my comfort zone with these guys is because beignets are deep fried! I don’t think I had ever deep fried anything before making these. I pan fry stuff occasionally…but was fairly certain that I would need a trip to the burn unit of the ER after attempting these puppies, especially with my tendency to injure myself 😉

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dusting

Well, since this was almost 2 months ago and I haven’t shared any stories of 3rd degree burns…I think you all know it went fine! It took a couple of batches of 2-3 beignets to get the timing and done-ness right (we didn’t have a thermometer for the oil), but after a few tries I finally got it down and, after a heavy handed sprinkle of powdered sugar, they were delicious!

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Along with Dave’s gumbo dishes, this made for one of my favorite Monday Night Football meals yet!

Although tonight for the New England at Carolina game, we chowed down on pulled pork and jalapeno coleslaw sandwiches, fried mac n’ cheese, and chocolate lava cake. At least I know I’ll have my winter coat this November through January in the form of an added 5 pounds 😉

Beignets
based on Anne Burrell’s recipe
yields about 2 dozen beignets

3/4 cup lukewarm water
1(.25-ounce) packet active dry yeast
1/2 cup, plus 1 teaspoon sugar
4 cups all-purpose flour
Pinch salt
2 egg yolks
1/2 cup evaporated milk
3 tablespoons melted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 to 6 cups peanut or other neutrally-flavored oil, for frying
Powdered sugar, for dusting
In a measuring cup combine the water, yeast, and 1 teaspoon sugar. Let sit until the yeast gets frothy and smells yeasty.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the flour, remaining 1/2 cup sugar, and pinch salt. In another bowl, combine the egg yolks, evaporated milk, melted butter, and vanilla. Add the yeast mixture and whisk to combine well.

Add the wet mixture to the dry ingredients and place on the stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Once the ingredients are well combined, knead 5 minutes. Remove the bowl from the mixer, cover, and place in a warm area for 2 hours, or until the dough has doubled in size.

In a wide, deep pot, heat the oil to 350 degrees F. Set up a paper towel-lined sheet tray to land the beignets when they come out of the oil.

Remove the dough from the bowl and lightly knead on a floured work surface. Cut the dough into 2-inch squares.

Working in batches so as to not crowd the oil, fry the dough squares until they are puffy and golden brown. Remove from the oil, make a pit stop on the paper towels and immediately dust with powdered sugar.

Serve hot!

Spinach & Artichoke Stuffed Chicken Breast

CHICKEN. It’s what’s for dinner! 99% of the time.

Amiright?

Chicken was always a staple of our household growing up. Pretty much most weeknight meals at our home consisted of either chicken or pasta. When I started taking an interest in cooking, I soon realized that while chicken is one of the most readily available and easy to cook ingredients out there, it’s easy to fall into a chicken rut.

Don’t take it out on the chicken, Rachael. It’s not its fault it’s boring to eat!

There’s only so many things you can add to a chicken breast before you get sick of it. So you have to start getting creative…

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A little while back, I blogged about La Terra Fina dips and how much my roomie and I LOVED THEM.

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The Chunky Artichoke & Jalapeno was definitely my favorite of the two. It has mild chilies in it that go PERFECTLY with the cream cheese-based spread. Add in artichokes and I’m in heaven.

While I decided that the Chunky Artichoke & Jalapeno was my favorite to go at with chips or veggies, the Spinach Artichoke & Parmesan screamed RECIPE to me.  It’s a bit more smooth than the Artichoke & Jalapeno, and is delicious heated up. And thus this recipe was born.

Delicious dips + boring chicken –> miracle recipe!

Though La Terra Fina’s dips are all made of natural ingredients, are gluten free, and include no trans fat, they don’t claim to be “low-fat” or “light” or any of that nonsense.

So to keep this entree on the healthier side, I used a trick I often do when cooking chicken breasts, which is: to butterfly them and split them in half. One serving of chicken breast is 4 oz (about 140 calories)…Most chicken breasts that you buy in the store come in at nearly twice that size. Unless you’re a body builder, you probably don’t need that much protein in one sitting! Butterflying your chicken breasts makes them a healthier portion size…plus, your chicken will cook faster! With the space you save on your plate, you can load up the rest of your plate with more veggies, salad, whole grains…whatever is your jam.

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PLUS, butterflying your chicken breast makes it much easier to wrap around some delicious spinach & artichoke dip 😉 How bad can that be?

INAAAAAAA. How’d you get in there?!

Spinach & Artichoke Stuffed Chicken Breast
makes 2 small servings

1 large chicken breast, butterflied & split into 2 separate pieces
2 tbsp La Terra Fina Spinach Artichoke & Parmesan Dip (or your preferred dip)
~1/4 cup breadcrumbs
salt & pepper
cooking spray

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. After cutting your chicken width-wise down the length of the side of the breast and splitting into two thinly sliced pieces, season with salt and pepper. Place about 1 tablespoon of dip on the chicken breast, closer to the base of the breast. Carefully roll the chicken over the filling, using a toothpick or skewer to keep the ends closed.

Sprinkle/cover/roll chicken breast in breadcrumbs (If you want, you can coat the chicken in egg wash first, but I found it wasn’t necessary) and place on a baking dish sprayed with cooking spray. Cook for about 15 minutes, or until done. Watch out for dip oozing out of the sides 🙂

Disclaimer: La Terra Fina provided me with dips to review/taste/develop recipes. All opinions, however, are my own!

Monday Night Football Feast – Week 7

Hey everyone! I am finally bringing you a post (potentially a series of posts) that I’ve been wanting to share for a long time now!

As many of you who follow my Instagram feed know, every week my friend Dave (HI DAVE! HAPPY BIRTHDAY!) hosts Monday Night Football at his house and cooks a meal typical of whatever city is hosting that night’s game. This tradition of his isn’t new – he’s been doing it for a few years now — I’m just new to the friend group. Actually, the moment I showed up Week 1 with Beer Mac n’ Cheese in hand was probably the moment they decided I was allowed to come back haha.

Anyway, instead of kicking in a few bucks for the food, I’ve used the MNF tradition as an excuse/inspiration to challenge myself to make creative dishes to share. Here’s a few of the themes we’ve had so far and what I’ve brought:

Week 1: at Washington. Good ol’ American hamburgers & freshly cut/deep fried French fries (Dave’s contribution) and Beer Mac n’ Cheese from yours truly (one of my Cooking Bucket List items!!)

Week 2: At Cincinnati. David made breakfast pizzas with a base of Goetta, (a sausage native to Cincinnati) topped with scrambled eggs & spinach

Week 4: At New Orleans. Dave made traditional gumbo (left) and gumbo z’herbes (right), and I made and fried BEIGNETS! Those beignets might actually get their own separate post one of these Mondays.

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Week 5: at Atlanta. I actually couldn’t make it that week, but I had already made loaded mashed potatoes to go with Dave’s fried chicken and collard greens, and Landai’s peach cobbler. These guys were loaded with bacon, chives, and cheddar cheese. YUM.

Now, for week 7

We spent all day in the kitchen yesterday (seriously my happy place) preparing an Italian feast for tonight’s game, which is hosted by the New York Giants. My game plan was to make tomato sauce from scratch and two different kinds of gnocchi, and Dave prepped stuff for Caesar salad, garlic bread, and meatballs. Tonight he’ll also be cooking up minestrone soup, and grilled lamb. Needless to say…….we’re gonna have a lot of food.

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First up was the sauce! For 2 kinds of gnocchi, I decided to make 2 kinds of sauces. The first was a tomato sauce (from scratch! See my recipe here) with onions, peppers, and mild Italian sausage.

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This was probably the most time consuming item of the day. I forgot how long it takes to peel and de-seed tomatoes! It’s totally therapeutic, though.

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This is the best picture I got of my meat sauce. Saaarrrrrrry.

Next up was the gnocchi – I got regular Russet potatoes (to pair with the tomato sauce) as well as a few sweet potatoes (with which I’m hoping to pair with a mushroom cream sauce) and went to town.

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Dave actually had a ricer, which was a total luxury. The last time I made gnocchi, I used a hand grater! Here’s the riced Russet potatoes with the cooked sweet potato.

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Next it was time for the sweet potato. I think I over-cooked them, because it was a lot harder to gather the sweet potato into a dough. We decided to forgo the typical gnocchi ridges for those ones since they were too delicate, but I thought the ridges looked awesome on the regular potato gnocchi!

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And voila! Into the freezer they went, and out they came a day later!

Here’s how they looked after cooking….they were a little mushy because they thawed a bit too much before I could get them into the boiling water. But they were still delicious!

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Here’s some of the other food:

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Ravioli with Nicole’s family recipe meat sauce

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Nicole’s meat sauce with Dave’s minestrone soup stew in the back.

What’s your favorite Football Food?

Do you have any fun cooking traditions you do with friends? MNF meals, “family” dinners, etc?

New Obsession: MixMyOwn Muesli

Did you eat breakfast daily as a kid?

My brother and I sat at the table and eat cereal every morning throughout my childhood. Usually it was something “healthy”, (are Frosted Flakes considered healthy? 😛 ), but every so often we’d get treated to Lucky Charms or Cinnamon Toast Crunch. Unfortunately, Cookie Crisp never found its way into our pantry. Thanks a LOT, Mom!

When I hit high school and started taking a 7am zero period sophomore year (which I then continued, in addition to a full course schedule, through senior year…seriously, who was I?!), breakfast took the back burner. As anyone in my family can tell you, it takes a lot to get me out of bed in the morning, and I usually prefer to set the alarm as late as humanly possible, then rush out the door. I need my maximum possible amount of sleep!

As you can imagine, the no-breakfast habit continued into college for the most part. My meal plan included 14 meals per week, which allowed for lunch and dinner every day. Sometimes I’d treat myself to breakfast at the dining commons and grab lunch at a cafe on campus, but I by no means ate breakfast regularly.

In France, my breakfasts were usually a coffee and chocolate covered gaufre (waffle) from the vending machine at the university that I snacked on during class. (Oh my god, I miss those!) When I lived in an apartment senior year, my breakfast usually consisted of some kind of chocolatey Pop Tart, or a Luna bar.

Long story short: I had a very unhealthy relationship with breakfast for a long time 😉 Suddenly, I no longer wonder how I weighed nearly 20 pounds more than I do now just 3 years ago when I graduated!

When I moved home after college, to deal with being unemployed and bored, I got myself into a little routine: I started each day with a small breakfast and a workout, followed by a bigger breakfast/lunch. I forced myself to like bananas, because they were the easiest pre-work out breakfast option.

Nearly 3 years later, I can’t remember the last time I didn’t eat breakfast. During the colder months, I eat a lot of oatmeal. During the summertime, I usually have Greek yogurt and some kind of granola bar. This summer’s obsession was toast + Laughing Cow wedges. But when I went to Blend Retreat back in May, I tried overnight oats for the first time made with muesli…and I was hooked. It was basically like cold oatmeal, but tasted soooo much better than that sounds 🙂

In the middle of my recent toast and Laughing Cow breakfast kick, I was contacted by Klara from MixMyOwn Healthy Breakfast, who offered me a free sample of their product. Fresh out of muesli (thus the reason for the toast and Laughing Cow kick!), I jumped at the opportunity. MixMyOwn has a few muesli mixes they create themselves, but the coolest thing about the site is that you can create your own cereal/granola/muesli! And what really appealed to me was that they use all natural ingredients:

By offering nearly 100 responsibly chosen ingredients, including a variety of 100%
natural, unprocessed, organic, non-GMO, preservative free and sugar-free options,
MixMyOwn provides an alternative to processed cereals and snacks.

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So I went to work and Mixed My Own personal muesli…and it was amazing!

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I had no idea where to start…just check out all these options:

“A customer can choose from 31 types of dried fruits including 13 types of freeze-dried fruits, 20 types of nuts and seeds, and other healthy ingredients to add to the bases.

MixMyOwn offers 8 premixed breakfasts, as well, including: Kids Mix, Fitness Mix, Gluten-free Mix, Antioxidant Mix, Tutty Nutty, Very Berry, Strawberry Almond Mix, and Classic Mix, and even these can be adjusted to suit the customer’s unique needs”

I knew I wanted to make my own, rather than going for a premix. So I decided to go for a tropical theme! In addition to oats and various grains, I added: flaked coconut, dried mango, dried papaya, chia seeds, macadamia nuts, and because I still had a little bit of extra $ left, I splurged on a vanilla bean.

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Oh my gawwwd. SO good. I love the variety of textures, and you could tell that all the ingredients were high quality. I’m glad I went with the coconut (even though I’m not a huge fan)… I have always disliked shredded coconut, but I’m now sold on flaked coconut!

I also love that they include the nutrition stats for your mix:

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Look how low in sugar it is! Just 2.5g! I mix about one serving/half a cup of muesli with a cup of almond milk and a few more chia seeds, store it in the fridge overnight, and VOILA! Amazing breakfast.

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I definitely recommend trying out MixMyOwn! Especially if you’re picky about your oats 🙂

PLUS from now until the end of September you can get 20% off your order with the code HEALTHYBREAKFAST. Perfect timing, since I’m about to run out of my mix!

As I mentioned, I received my MixMyOwn mix free of charge…However, all opinions are my own!

What’s your go-to breakfast?

If you eat oatmeal/overnight oats, what’s your favorite combo of ingredients?

Weekend in Photos

Happy Monday!

Hope you all have had a good day so far. A few ups and downs over here…after a full 8 hours of sleep (following 2 nights totaling 8 hours of sleep), I woke up calm and relaxed this morning and even walked to work (it somehow feels so much more relaxing to walk than hurriedly bike). However, I got to work and found out that my gym isn’t reopening for another week. It has been closed for a week and a half, so I’ve just been running outside in the meantime. But I had brought my workout clothes hoping to get back to weight training today and my hopes were shattered! Luckily there is a 24-Hour Fitness by my office, so I just printed out a one-day trial pass and jogged over there instead. Crisis averted!

Anyyyyyway….. the weekend!

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Friday evening started with a classy happy hour with 3 of my oldest girlfriends at Riverside Clubhouse (I hadn’t been there since high school- we went before Junior Prom!)…..and ended at not so classy Chita’s for 3am nachos. In between: Late night Insidious Chapter 2 viewing and a couple of drinks at a gay bar.

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Saturday morning routine time! Despite a late-night-Mexican stomachache, I still made it out to run. This week, I shook it up a little bit: dressed obnoxiously for my 4.1 mile run, and and walked around the Farmer’s Market with my friend Landai instead of…alone. Afterward, Lisa came over and I used some of my finds to make breakfast/brunch nachos for us.

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After a little bit of shopping, it was arts and crafts time. The dodgeball league was hosting a Ninjas vs. Pirates pub crawl…my friend lent me his huge black kickball shirt, so I took in the sides and made some crazy slashes and head/armbands to transform it into a ninja-worthy outfit.

The rest of the night involved our group (half of the bar) singing along to My Heart Will Go On, and lots of general shenanigans. Let’s just say lots of plastic ninja stars were thrown.

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In the morning, we recovered with breakfast at a new-to-me spot: Harry’s Cafe. They have both American and Asian-inspired breakfast food (and a full Asian menu)… I got fried rice with a couple of eggs and a BOATLOAD of sriracha, naturally. Roger got their chicken skillet, which didn’t have much chicken to be found, but was still delicious. I’m lucky this place isn’t exactly within walking distance of my apartment, or my arteries would be in trouble!!!

Harry's Cafe on Urbanspoon

All in all a great weekend, though my sleep schedule suffered greatly!

What’s your favorite theme for a party or pub crawl?

Breakfast: sweet or savory?