2014 marked the 8th anniversary of this blog. Eight years! I can hardly believe it. I know that I haven’t been posting nearly as much as I did back in my heyday, and I know it’s been more difficult to follow blogs (or is that just me?) since the sunsetting of Google Reader, but you’re still here. Maybe you’ve been reading for all eight years or maybe you just started reading last week. Whichever it is, I want to thank you so much for reading. Thanks for trying my recipes and providing feedback. Thanks for emailing recipe suggestions, comments, or just to say hello. Thanks for giving me a reason to keep on keepin’ on. You are awesome, every one of you. I hope that I’ve been able to make your 2014 more delicious, and I wish you an amazing and wonderful 2015.

This year has definitely meant a lot of change for us. We moved from the city to the suburbs, and though there are many advantages (great schools, a yard, and SPACE just to name a few), I think I’ll always be a city girl at heart. Also, I’m pretty sure our neighbors think we’re crazy because we still do stuff like walk to Trader Joe’s and the dentist—things you’re just not supposed to do in the ‘burbs.

I’ve remained at my job and Tom has started a new one, at a start-up company. Other than that, we’ve just been working really hard at spending money. It’s not really work to do that, though, when you have a new house (98% of which is still undecorated or underfurnished, by the way).

I can’t believe how much our kids are growing. Zachary is reading entire books on his own, has gotten into sports, is really independent, a huge fan of music, and continues to love food. I dare you to find a not-yet-5-year-old who knows lyrics to Spoon and St. Vincent songs and makes special requests for okra at the grocery store or purposefully bites his pita bread into the shape of South America.

Ian will be 2 in a few months, which is crazy. He’s talking a bunch and is simultaneously the most snuggly and devious little child. He loves to give you big hugs and kisses, and he also loves to laugh and laugh when you tell him not to do something. His personality is thus far vastly different from his brother’s, but they get along swimmingly (except of course when they want to play with the same thing). He eats just about everything except for eggs and yogurt. If you give him yogurt, there’s a good chance he will completely melt down before your very eyes. In fact, the first time we gave him ice cream he lost his mind because it was vanilla and, therefore, looked like yogurt.

Though our weeknights have gotten much more difficult thanks to commuting and the kids’ school being in a different city, we’ve (um, I’ve) done a pretty great job continuing to cook on a daily basis. Sometimes it requires a lot more prep in advance or simpler meals and often it doesn’t leave much time to blog meals, but I’m glad we’ve continued to make home cooking a priority.

We’ve still managed to eat pretty well, too. Like I’ve done in years past, I wanted to post my favorite recipes of 2014. And I’m also sharing your favorite recipes (based on hits), too!

And, if you ARE a new reader (hi!) be sure to check out the best ofs from prior years, too.

Your Top 14 of ’14

 

My Top 14 of ’14

Caramel Shortbread Bars
Sophisticated Twix Bars? Little bites of Heaven? Whatever you want to call these, they are good. Really, really good.

Creamy Chicken and Wild Rice Soup with Bacon
Our first soup of the year was this big bowl of comfort. A creamy, hearty soup that will turn anyone who thinks soup can’t be a meal into a convert.

S’mores Rice Krispie Treats
Take the addiction of Rice Krispie Treats to a whole new level. Fair warning: These are the confectionery equivalent of crack.

Traditional Chicken and Rice
One of those meals where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. This meal really surprised me with how utterly delicious it was. Pure comfort food that you never want to stop eating. And we’ll make it often enough this winter that might not even need to happen. We’ve made a couple other Lidia recipes since this one and they have all been ridiculously good.

Potato Kielbasa Skillet
Another meal that surprised me. I knew we’d like this meal because we like sausage, potatoes, and bacon. But this meal went above and beyond expectations, especially for something that is so incredibly easy and quick to make.

Vanilla Bean Cake with Vanilla Bean Buttercream
Zachary chose this as his birthday cake, and I could not be happier with his choice. A moist cake with tons of vanilla flavor, topped with a smooth, vanilla-y buttercream. I kind of hope he picks it again this year.

Chicken Shawarma Bowls
Considering I titled this post “My Favorite Things in One Bowl” it’s no surprise this made it onto the list. I am practically obsessed with Middle Eastern food, and these bowls let you have it all. We actually just had these yesterday and raved about them all over again.

Roasted Potato & Okra Salad
This salad turned me onto roasting okra, which I’d never done before. I don’t know why since my gut instict is to roast EVERY vegetable. The combination of the okra and potatoes with the light dressing made this salad a summer favorite.

Pizza with Prosciutto, Pesto, Goat Cheese & Roasted Tomatoes
I mean, it’s a pizza that is topped with everything I love. No explanation necessary.

Slow Cooker Italian Pot Roast
I got this recipe from my dentist, who I just visited again yesterday. I mentioned that I made this, thanks to his rec, and he said he’d also just made it again the week prior. I know why. It’s a great twist on a standard pot roast and made for amazing leftovers, too.

Tomato Soup with Pasta and  Chicken Pesto Meatballs
I feel like a broken record here, but, again, this is one of those meals that tasted way better than I thought it would. I’ve never been a huge tomato soup fan, but this recipe was perfect. The tomato soup part is actually so good I might eat it on its own (a big step for someone who likes there to be texture and…stuff in her soup) and the meatballs and ditalini turn this into a grown up version of Spaghettios. Needless to say, my kids also adored it.

Za’atar Roast Chicken with Green Tahini Sauce
The meal we had several times (and will have tonight) that I could never photograph appropriately, but still had to blog because it’s that good. Please see prior comment about being obsessed with Middle Eastern food.

Toffee/Almond Roca
More confectionery crack. Toffee has long been one of my favorite things to eat, and I’m glad I finally made my own. It’s probably not good that I realized how easy it was to make, though…

Lemon Chicken Orzo Soup
Considering this is the third soup on the list, clearly we like soup around here. This is like an elevated chicken noodle soup, full of bright flavors and healthy ingredients.

 

And there you have it!

Care to share your favorites from the blog this year?

Are there any recipes/dishes you’d like me to post in 2015?

 

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I meant to post this before the holidays because it’s a really great and easy treat to make and gift to family and friends but, well, stuff (travelingchristmassickkidsbrokenlensesshoppingwork) got in the way. But fear not! Although these were lovely little bites to make for the holidays, they would be equally lovely at your new year’s eve party, perhaps sprinkled with a little silver or gold decorating sugar. Or for your coworkers. Or for yourself, every time you pass the kitchen.

This isn’t much of a “recipe” but it’s an idea for treats that’s pretty easy and seems to be very well-liked by everyone. I mean, how can you not like chocolate dipped in chocolate? You just make a pan of brownies, chill them for a couple hours in the fridge before slicing them, and then dip in melted chocolate. After you’re done you can sprinkle them with decorating sugar or even decorate them with icing. I think these would be adorable with icing used to make bows (like little gift boxes) but I didn’t have the time or the energy.

I was originally going to make these with my favorite brownie recipe, but I ended up just using the Hershey recipe (which is good in its own right) instead. One factor was cost (not having to buy more chocolate and just using cocoa powder, which I already had) and the other was richness. The MS brownies are much fudgier and richer than the Hershey’s (a big reason they are my favorite!) but I figured since they would be dipped in chocolate, I didn’t want them too be TOO rich (a term that honestly has not entered my vocabulary but apparently some people do feel this way and since these were for giving away… :))

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Merry Christmas!

December 24, 2014 · 9 comments

in misc.

We wish you the merriest of Christmases and the greatest of new years.

Happy holidays and happy 2015!

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The other day Zachary asked me if my favorite food was soup and I couldn’t exactly say no. I’d be hard-pressed to pick a favorite food (though lahanodolmades and lamb are waaaaaay up there) but I’d have to say that soups/stews are definitely my favorite type of food. That’s probably why I have so many of them posted, I guess.

Soups are easy to make and even the more time consuming ones call for little work on your part. They can be made pretty healthily, are filling, make large amounts, and are great leftover. This one in particular takes hardly any time at all if you already have cooked chicken (and not much more if you don’t).

When I first saw the title of this recipe, I thought it was going to be avgolemon soup with orzo instead of rice, but I was happy to learn it was something different. Don’t get me wrong, I love (read: am obsessed with) avgolemono, but I was looking for something  a little different. This is basically a standard chicken noodle soup with lemon and chard. The lemon brightens the soup and makes it feel nice and light, even though the chicken, whole wheat pasta, and chard allow this to be quite filling.

When stored overnight, pasta (and rice) soups will absorb a lot of the broth, making the soup much thicker. I reduced the amount of broth by quite a bit the night I made this, and then just added some the following night when I was reheating it. Another option is to cook the pasta separately and add it to your bowl before ladeling the soup over it. In that case, I would reduce the broth down to about 6 cups and reduce the lemon juice accordingly.

 

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Toffee

December 12, 2014 · 3 comments

in desserts/sweets

Oh, toffee. What can I say about toffee, other than it is basically my crack? The amount of toffee I can eat, despite it being so rich, is both baffling and embarrassing.

Even with a toffee addiction, I’ve never made it myself. It’s partly because I don’t want to eat it all (I will eat it all) and I’ve always been a little scared of candy-making. I think I also equated toffee to caramel and that really scared me off because I have had multiple—multiple—failures with caramel-making. This toffee was surprisingly easy to make, though. And since part of it went to Tom’s work and my work and another part of it will be going to our neighbors, there’s not a whole lot left for me to gorge on.

A really  nice thing about putting toffee in holiday treat bags is that it has a pretty decent shelf life, so you don’t have to worry about making it all the night before you plan on assembling packages or anything like that. Plus, if you have a candy thermometer, it’s incredibly easy to make. Once the sugar dissolves you literally don’t have to do anything until it reaches 300 degrees. I wrote some emails and went through Instagram, and then just stood at the stove watching it the last minute or so. Trust me, if I can make it, you can make it.

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Oh, hi there. Did you think I had abandoned you? Well, I didn’t mean to. Things have been a little crazy around here lately and to top it off, my (only) lens broke. Every once in a while I can get it to work but then it will abruptly stop (like when you’re in line to get pictures of Santa—but don’t worry, the camera phone is probably appropriate enough for a picture like this). Or, sometimes you think it’s working only to find out later that literally every one of your pictures is out of focus, even though it wasn’t that way when you were looking through the lens (like this meal. Or the 600 pictures of my children I took for a potential Christmas card).

My coffee maker and food processor bowl also broke in the last few weeks, adding insult to injury. Nothing like spending a bunch of money at the end of the year when you already placed 19 Amazon orders in 30 days and went crazy on lightning deals have Christmas presents and end-of-year expenses to deal with.

But enough of that. This meal was a bright spot in an otherwise fairly lousy day. I’ve had this on my to-make list for AGES and I’m kicking myself for taking so long to make it. We all loved this, which is not at all surprising. And we totally ate more than the serving (oops). It was such a hit that I texted Courtney to tell her how much we all enjoyed it.

I did make a few changes to the recipe, like reducing the sugar and oil to make this a little healthier. Also, in my typical can’t-properly-read-a-recipe-to-save-my-life way, I forgot to mix the cornstarch with the chicken marinade, but I just ended up dredging the chicken pieces in corn starch before pan-frying them, which worked just fine. Rather than get two pans dirty, I removed the chicken after cooking it, and made the sauce in the same pan, then added the chicken back in to warm through, which worked perfectly.

Steamed broccoli is not my thing so instead we had this with sugar snap peas that I blanched and tossed with just a little toasted sesame oil, sesame seeds, and salt.

Here’s hoping your end-of-year/holiday preparations are going a little more smoothly than mine right now. I will be back (I hope…) with a list of treats I plan on making this year but I am always willing to add more, if you want to share any ideas. :)

 

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Tom’s uncle grows tomatillos in his garden and we have been gifted with a LOT of them over the past couple of months (Thanks, Ralph!). I’m certainly not complaining because as you can probably tell if you’ve been reading for a bit, I’m a big fan of tomatillos.

We do some sort of shredded meat for Mexican fare pretty often in this house. The kids go nuts for it and we love it too, of course. If it’s not beef, then we use chicken or pork and do anything from serving it burrito-bowl style on top of lime rice or quinoa with lots of garnishes, tostadas with baked corn tortillas, or soft tacos. I make the braising sauce the night before (and you can even go ahead and put the chicken with the sauce in the bowl of your crockpot and refrigerate it overnight), so there is nothing to do in the morning but turn on the slow cooker.

You could use jarred salsa, of course, but when making a braising liquid is this easy, why not give it a try? All you need to do is throw some stuff on a broiling pan, broil it, and puree it in the food processor. As my 4 year old would say, “easy peasy lemon squeezy.”

Oh! And in an effort to make this time-sensitive since everyone else is posting Thanksgiving fare (whoops!), you could totally use the sauce on top of leftover turkey, just simmer it for a short amount of time to absorb it or just mix the two together and make the tamale pie below.

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I’m about to tell you something that may make you go from being my internet friend to looking at me with some scrutiny. I dislike Christmas music. Strongly. I think all of it is pretty terrible and its only redeeming factor is listening to cute kids sing it, which ups its tolerable factor by a million (thank goodness, because Z has been practicing Christmas music since September for his school concert). Needless to say I’m not one of those people who gets into the Christmas spirit by listening to holiday music 24/7 from Halloween until Christmas.

But getting into the spirit by making holiday-related things? Bring it. I’m all about gingerbread/snaps in any way, shape, or form – cookies, lattes, cake, pancakes. So, when I was thinking about something to cook/bake with Zachary this past weekend (something I am trying to do on a weekly basis now, and I’m sure Ian will be joining us soon), gingerbread muffins were the first thing that came to my mind.

What I like about these muffins is they are actually gingery. Too often I see recipes for gingerbread something or other with half a teaspoon of ginger and that just makes no sense. These are a Cooking Light recipe, so they’re already pretty healthy, but I decided to make them entirely with white whole wheat flour and reduced the sugar (since they already have molasses) to make these even better. Zachary suggested putting raisins in these muffins, which I was totally down with. Dried cranberries would also be a welcome, festive addition.

 

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Thanksgiving is 2.5 weeks away and I don’t understand how that’s possible.  Weren’t we just talking about the fourth of July and seeing kids’ first day of school pictures on Facebook? Plus, I’m pretty sure everyone has PTSD from last winter’s awful weather. So here we sit with bated breath, unsure whether we should be happy the holidays are approaching or terrified of the winter that might come along with them.

Ready or not, they’re coming. Tis the season where you can bribe your kid to be good because Santa is watching.

We’re  headed to my inlaws’ for Thanksgiving, so I’m off the hook for cooking, but as I made these, I thought they’d make a great Thanksgiving side. I am certainly no stranger to cooking green beans with bacon (thank goodness) but this method makes for a nicer presentation and is also pretty easy to prep.

Although the original recipe calls for frying the bacon until it is “just beginning to brown around the edges but still very underdone” I really see no reason you can’t leave the bacon raw before baking. I had the bacon on the stove for such a short amount of time that I basically just warmed it, so next time I’ll probably just skip that step entirely (the benefit, though, was that we had these with roasted pork tenderloin and I was able to sear the tenderloin in the bacon fat :-D). And while I’m at skipping steps, I honestly don’t think you need to blanch the beans either. Don’t worry – if you ever need someone to condone your step-skipping or laziness, I am here for you because I am you.

 

 

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I’ve been having some issues blogging lately. You’ve probably noticed, given my struggle to post just once a week. There are many factors that have gone into this, including cooking becoming more of a chore or survival mechanism than a thing I enjoy (thanks to getting home later than ever/having very little time to make dinner after work during the week). By the time the food is cooked, the table is set, and the kids have washed their hands and been seated, taking pictures is the furthest thing from my mind. In fact, if I do it at all it’s done really quickly so I can sit down and actually start eating my own dinner before my 1.5 year old inevitably finishes his and starts pawing at me, asking for more, and leaving food-stained hand prints on my clothes.

This is all to say that I kinda sorta hate this picture, but I’m posting this recipe anyway. I wish my picture could do this meal justice, but I cannot get a good pic to save my life (yes, we’ve had this more than once, yes I’ve even made it on less-stressful weekend evenings). I feel it is my duty, however, to bring this meal to your attention because it’s so good.

My kids go nuts over roast chicken and this version is no different. The chicken is spiced with things we all love, like sumac, allspice, cinnamon, and za’atar. It’s marinated in  a brothy-spice mixture, which makes it incredibly tender. You may not be able to get the skin as crispy as usual thanks to the broth, but we didn’t really have much issue (maybe because I use a higher heat). You could probably use the broiler for a minute at the end to crisp it up, too.

And as if that tender, lightly spiced chicken weren’t enough, it’s covered in an herbacious tahini sauce, sprinkled with buttery pine nuts and served along sweet red onions.

Guys, Ian (19 months old) ate more than half a red onion himself. I do not understand my children.

We love this with a Greek salad – village or Americanized with lettuce and dressing – and pita. This takes some time to marinate and cook, but most of the time is hands-off so it makes a great weekend meal when you are busy with other things like making sure your kids do a good job raking or trying to figure out why you have 29 years on a kid but still can’t manage to win a game of Spot It against him.

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