autumn oatmeal cookie bars

Another squash recipe, but this time – a sweet version!

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I don’t know if it’s the cooler nights, seasonal flavors, or the fact that it’s no longer “swimsuit season” {LOL} but this time of year I start craving desserts. There’s something so special about sitting down at the end of the day, dinner cleaned up and dishes put away, and enjoying the perfectly sweet bite of dessert. For some people – ice cream {year round!}, others – cookies and cakes. I am not going to say no to any of those options, but boy…do I love me a good cookie.

This particular recipe was inspired by…as mentioned above…squash. I LOVE pumpkin, y’all! It’s a great ingredient to work with; packed with vitamins and minerals, full of flavor, and it serves as a great way to scale back on some of the typically not-so-good items that go into cookies. Paired with tangy Greek yogurt, the resulting cookie is perfectly moist and chewy, and loaded up with spices. A combination of rolled oats and all-purpose flour lends a hint of nutty flavor, which is beautiful with the pumpkin and brown sugar. The little nuggets of chocolate chips and raisins don’t hurt, either ; )

Once you bake up a batch of these, don’t expect them to last long. BUT! If you want to, portion of a section of the pan to freeze; your weeknight self craving something sweet, but not overly indulgent, will be glad you did.

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Autumn Oatmeal Cookie Bars {recipe adapted from Averie Cooks}

Traditional chocolate chip cookie meets pillowy pumpkin cookies. They taste every bit delicious as they look: perfectly fluffy, with crispy edges and bursting full of flavor and goodies. Ideal for any autumn get-together; I promise, they won’t last long. 

Ingredients:

1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt

3/4 cup brown sugar, packed {light or dark is fine}

1 large egg

2 tsp. vanilla extract

3/4 cup canned pumpkin puree {not pumpkin pie filling!}

1 Tbsp. molasses

3/4 tsp. cinnamon

pinch salt

3-1/4 cups all-purpose flour {I used a combination of 2 cups AP flour and 1-1/4 cups oats, just for extra texture and flavor}

1 tsp. baking soda

1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

1/2-1 cup assorted dried fruits…cherries, apricots, cranberries, raisins, etc. *nuts of your choice can also be used

*optional: for a sweeter cookie, add 1/2 cup of granulated sugar 

**optional topping: 1/3 cup granulated sugar + 3/4 tsp. ground cinnamon, mixed together

To Prepare:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

To the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine plain Greek yogurt, brown sugar {optional granulated sugar to be added here, if using}, and beat on medium-high speed for 3-4 minutes to cream ingredients together; stop and scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Add in the egg and vanilla, and beat on high speed for 3-4 minutes or until mixture is light and fluffy.

Add in the pumpkin, molasses, 3/4 tsp. cinnamon, pinch of salt, and mix until incorporated, about 1 minute.

Add in the flour {or combination of flour and oats} and baking soda, and mix until just combined. Fold in the chocolate chips {and any add-ins you might like} by hand. Cover the mixing bowl and let chill in the refrigerator for at least 90 minutes {I only chilled for about 30 minutes because of time constraint}. Dough can be chilled for up to 4 days.

Prepare your 9″ x 13″ baking dish by coating liberally with nonstick spray. Evenly distribute the batter into the dish, making sure to spread it out evenly and ensuring that all corners are filled. Top with optional cinnamon/sugar mixture, and bake for 20-25 minutes {edges will be golden and set, and the top will have just set; they will continue to firm up as they cool}. Let cool for at least 30 minutes before cutting into bars.

Cookies will keep in an airtight container, at room temperature, for up to one week, or in the freezer for up to three months.

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butternut squash & blue cheese spread

Call me basic, but this girl loves some squash.

butternut squash goat cheese dip I howsweeteats.com

In my humble opinion, squash should be celebrated year round – not just autumn, when it’s in season and oh-so-plentiful. Typically, I try to shop seasonally {helps with keeping my food local, costs down, etc.} but squash somehow always finds a way into my cart, shopping trip after shopping trip. It’s a versatile vegetable; salads, main dishes, soup and chili {yes, even in the spring and summer!}…I never find myself tiring of it. Good thing the hubs doesn’t either, otherwise we might have a bit of a problem.

But back to the recipe, lest I get further swept up in preaching my love for squash…

This is definitely a new, and fun, twist on a squash dish. As I mentioned above, none of us are strangers to using said vegetable in all sorts of dishes. But when racking my brain for an autumnal dish to bring on a trip, I thought “why not do something squash-based?” and sure enough, the internet didn’t let me down.  This dip is seriously delicious, and seriously addicting.

Roasted butternut squash meets up with its herbacious friends in a warm, creamy spread. It is bursting with tangy blue cheese, but not so heavy that it leaves you feeling like you need a nap after just a few bites. In fact, the lot of us polished this entire dish off in one sitting, and trust me – not a single one of us felt bad about it. You can scale back on the cheese if you’d like, but I highly suggest leaving it all in. I served it with toasted whole wheat naan bread, rather than chips; they were a bit sturdier, and the nutty flavor of the naan complemented the dip so nicely.

I could easily see this as a spread on sandwiches, flatbread pizzas, dolloped onto a vegetable-based soup or stew…the possibilities are endless! And it can be prepared ahead of time, too; just assemble the dish until the step before you bake it {seal tightly and store in the refrigerator until ready to heat through}. You’ll be the star of the party with this one. Truth.

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Butternut Squash & Blue Cheese Spread {recipe adapted, slightly, from How Sweet It Is}

Squash lovers, meet your new dip addiction. Blended until creamy and smooth, lusciously rich…perfect for any get-together, and sure to please even the pickiest of palettes! The flavor combinations are out of this world. 

Ingredients:

2-1/2 cups cubed butternut squash

3 Tbsp. olive oil, plus extra for drizzling

1/4 tsp. garlic powder

pinch grated nutmeg

10 ounces crumbled blue cheese {I used a reduced-fat version, but full-fat would be fine as well}

1 Tbsp. EACH of these dried herbs: oregano, basil, parsley, sage

salt and pepper, to taste

To Prepare:

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil, and coat with nonstick cooking spray.

Toss the squash cubes with olive oil, salt and pepper. Spread out on the baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes. Toss and bake for 15 minutes more, or until tender when pierced with a fork. Turn the oven down to 350 degrees.

Add the squash {and any olive oil drippings} into the bowl of a food processor along with the nutmeg, dried herbs, and half of the blue cheese crumbles. Blend until completely smooth, and transfer to an oven-proof dish.**

Cover with remaining blue cheese crumbles, and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until warmed through. Stir to incorporate melted cheese on top.

Drizzle with additional olive oil, if desired, and fresh cracked pepper. Serve immediately with your dipper of choice.

butternut squash goat cheese dip I howsweeteats.com

*images courtesy of How Sweet It Is*

chicken and mushroom gravy: crockpot edition

Time to dust off the crockpot, y’all. It’s the most wonderful time of year!

…crockpot season, that is! While this beloved appliance of mine makes celebrity appearances during the summer {for dishes such as this and this}, it truly shines during the cooler months. There’s something so special about a slow cooked meal, and walking into your home at the end of a dreary day, greeted by aromas wafting from the kitchen. It is instantly soothing, like a hug or a pat on the back with someone saying – “don’t worry, dinner is on me tonight”.

Except we prepared ahead! This dish couldn’t be easier. For awhile now, I’ve been craving a mushroom gravy. I didn’t know with what, though; I spent a few nights last week brainstorming dinner ideas, and when I stumbled upon this recipe, I knew it would be perfect. I tweaked it a bit to fit the current state of our refrigerator, and voila! A perfect chicken dinner, prepared in no time.

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I spent the day at work {and the hubs too, I’m sure!} dreaming about this dish. Like I mentioned, I love the anticipation of the end of the day, knowing that dinner is doing work on itself. And y’all, it was amazing. From the moment I walked in until we sat down for our meal, there was nothing but smiles. The chicken is perfectly tender; the gravy is rich and flavorful. And piled high on top of your favorite starch, it’s a match made in chicken heaven.

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Enjoy!

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Chicken & Mushroom Gravy: crockpot edition {recipe adapted from food.com}

Wonderfully comforting and delicious, this dish is the ideal fall meal. With minimal prep time, it can be thrown together minutes before walking out the door for work; you and your family will be rewarded with the glorious aroma of roasted chicken and gravy after a long day! 

Ingredients:

3 lbs. bone-in, skin-on chicken breast

8 ounces plain Greek yogurt

4 cups low-sodium chicken stock, divided

1 tsp. oregano

1 tsp. rosemary

1 tsp. onion powder

1 tsp. garlic powder

salt and pepper, to taste

1 large onion, thinly sliced

8 ounces sliced fresh mushrooms {I used shiitake}

2 Tbsp. cornstarch + 1/2 cup boiling water, combined {to be used at the final 15 minutes of the dish}

1 Tbsp. butter

To Prepare:

After removing the skin, generously season both sides of the chicken breasts with salt and pepper. Place into the crockpot, and top with the sliced mushrooms and onions.

In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the Greek yogurt, 2 cups of the chicken stock, and herbs. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Pour over the chicken and vegetables.

Cook on low for 6-7 hours, or until chicken is done and falling off the bone. At 15-20 minutes before serving, uncover the crockpot and shred the chicken and stirring well with the gravy mixture. Remove any bones you see! Pour in the remaining 2 cups of chicken stock, and add in the slurry {cornstarch and hot water}, making sure to combine thoroughly. Lastly, stir in the butter.

Serve over rice, egg noodles, or my favorite – – – smashed cauliflower.

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Enjoy!

cookies n’ cream cake

Oreo lovers, you’ve found your ::literal:: slice of heaven.

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We all know pretty well by now that I have a sweet tooth the size of the planet, but it’s not too often that I do a lot of baking. Don’t get me wrong, I love baking! – it’s a methodical, precise process; entirely different from the way most of my day-to-day cooking goes. But the art of baking requires concentration and focus; sometimes I need that in the kitchen. Which is why I always let the hubs choose as intricate a birthday dessert as he wants. It’s a win for the both of us – he gets an awesome dessert, and I get my focus fix {and yes, the entirety of the dessert is consumed solely by the two of us!}.

This year’s cake was a no brainer. I mentioned above that Oreo cookie lovers have found a slice of heaven. I kid you not, this cake is hands-down the embodiment of an Oreo cookie, crafted into a glorious 2-layer cake. Every inch, every crumb of this cake pays homage to the iconic cookie. We have crumbled Oreo wafers in the actual cake base. The creme filling finds its way into the frosting that is sandwiched between the two cakes. Whole Oreos have been pulverized into a fine powder, and folded into the buttercream frosting.

One  might think that such a cake will be cloyingly sweet. But I promise that it’s not! I tweaked the original recipe just a bit; eliminating a bit of the sugar, presenting alternate options for the oil and sour cream ingredients. It is a perfectly balanced dessert; sure, it’s indulgent, but worth every delicious bite.

 Have I described it well enough? Are you running to the kitchen to make this?

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Because you very well should be : )

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Oreo Cookies n’ Cream Cake {recipe adapted from Sally’s Baking Addiction

Oreo lovers will fall head over heels in love with this decadent creation. Full to bursting with both Oreo cookie crumbs and the oh-so-loved creme filling, it hits all the right notes. Finished with a fluffy buttercream frosting, this cake is sure to win a spot in your hearts – not to mention, bring back fond childhood memories of dunking Oreo cookies into a tall glass of milk! 

Ingredients: Chocolate Layer Cake

3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder {not dutch process}

1 cup granulated sugar

1-1/2 cups cake flour*

1 tsp. baking soda

1/4 tsp. salt

2 large eggs, room temperature

1/4 cup applesauce {you can also use vegetable or canola oil}

1 cup full fat sour cream or full fat Greek yogurt, room temperature

2 tsp. vanilla extract

1/2 cup hot coffee or hot water

3/4 cup  Oreo cookie crumbs**

*if you don’t have cake flour, simply remove 3 Tbsp. of the all-purpose flour, the add in 3 Tbsp. of cornstarch. Sift the all-purpose flour and the cornstarch together before using

**scrape out the filling before pulsing the cookies, and set to the side for later use

Ingredients: Oreo Cream Filling

6 Tbsp. unsalted butter, softened to room temperature

reserved Oreo creme filling {from the 3/4 cup of Oreo cookie crumbs}

2-1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar

2 Tbsp. milk or cream

2 tsp. vanilla extract

Ingredients: Vanilla Buttercream

3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened to room temperature

1 tsp. vanilla extract

4-1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar

1/4 cup milk or cream

10 additional Oreo cookies, pulsed into a fine crumb

To Prepare:

Position oven rack in the center of the oven. Preheat to 350 degrees. Generously spray two 9″ cake pans with nonstick spray, and set aside.

In a large bowl, using a handheld or standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, blend the cocoa powder, sugar, cake flour, baking soda, and salt together on low speed for 30 seconds. Add in the eggs, applesauce {or oil of choice}, sour cream {or Greek yogurt}, and vanilla. Mix on low speed for one minute.

Remove the bowl from the mixer and add the coffee and Oreo cookie crumbs; stir to combine. Some of the chocolate chips will melt as you stir. Avoid overmixing the batter!

Pour the batter into the prepared cake pans. Bake for 28-32 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cakes come out clean. Allow cakes to cool completely on a wire rack.

While the cakes cool, make the Oreo Cream Filling. 

In a large bowl, using a handheld or standing mixer fitting with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, shortening {or just all butter}, and reserved Oreo creme filling on high speed until light and fluffy. Add the confectioners’ sugar, 1 cup at a time, alternating with the milk/cream and vanilla. The filling will be thick, but you may add more milk/cream if you prefer. Set aside, tightly covered, in the refrigerator.

While the cakes cool, make the Vanilla Buttercream. 

In a large bowl, using a handheld or standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter on high speed until fluffy, about 1 minute. Beat in the vanilla on low speed, then add in the confectioners’ sugar 1 cup at a time, alternating with the milk/cream. The buttercream will be thick. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold in the Oreo cookie crumbs. Set aside, tightly covered, in the refrigerator.

Once the cake is cooled, assemble the cake.

Place one cooled layer on a cake stand or large plate. Using an offset spatula or knife, cover the top with a 1″ thick layer of the Oreo Creme Filling. Top with the second cake. Cover the tall layer cake with the Vanilla Buttercream.

Slice and serve! Leftover cake can be covered and stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

make ahead tip: the cake layers can be baked, cooled, and covered tightly at room temperature overnight. The frosting and filling can be prepared, then covered and refrigerated overnight. Assemble and frost the next day, when you are ready to serve. 

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that was the size of one slice <3

healthy ranch dressing

When preparing a salad, it deserves nothing but the best. Fresh, wholesome ingredients that a full of flavor. Toppings that complement the salad itself, but don’t weigh it down. And of course, there’s the dressing – for many, a necessary component. And more often than not, it’s what takes a salad from fresh, healthy and fabulous to a total calorie bomb. Why waste all that wonderful nutrition and flavor, just to be topped with something that essentially eradicates all the goodness you’ve prepared?

That’s where this salad dressing comes to play. In college, I did my fair share of overdressing my “healthy” salads with many a preportioned dressing – seemingly so innocent in its neat little package, but erasing all the healthfulness of my dinner with each satisfying squeeze of said packet. I do wish that I could go back and tell my previous self “NO!!” but alas, it’s a lesson learned. These days, I look for flavor in other ways – tangy mustard, olive oil and {lots!!} of fresh lemon juice, and today’s recipe…ranch dressing.

image c/o hcuforu.com

image c/o hcuforu.com

Yes! It’s true! Ranch dressing can be healthy, and delicious all at the same time! After stumbling upon this recipe, I tentatively tried it {you see, I was not a big fan of cottage cheese for some time, but that’s another store for another day} and both the hubs and I immediately fell head over heels for it. The texture is perfect, it’s bursting with flavor from the fresh ingredients and herbs, perfectly tangy from the buttermilk. A total win. And the bonus? – you get a pretty hefty dose of protein from the cottage cheese itself! Your salad won’t be complete without this on top from now on, trust me on this.

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Healthy Ranch Dressing {recipe adapted from Eating Well}

By making a sneaky {and healthy!} swap into one of the most beloved salad dressings, the classic Ranch gets a face lift! Cottage cheese, when pureed into a silky texture, makes the ideal replacement and base for a healthy salad dressing. The addition of fresh ingredients and plenty of herbs result in a salad topper sure to please anyone! 

…and why stop there!? Use this condiment for dipping baked French fries, drizzled into sandwiches and wraps – the possibilities are endless!

Ingredients:

1 small shallot, peeled

3/4 cup nonfat cottage cheese

1/4 cup reduced-fat mayonnaise {I like to use the olive oil/mayonnaise combination, available at most stores}

2 Tbsp. white wine vinegar

1/4 cup buttermilk*

1 Tbsp. fresh dill, chopped

salt and pepper, to taste

*the amount may vary, depending on how thin or thick you prefer your dressing; simply adjust as desired

To Prepare:

With the food processor running, add shallot through the feed tube and process until finely chopped. Add in the cottage cheese, mayonnaise and vinegar. Process until smooth, scraping down the sides as necessary, about 3 minutes. Pour in the buttermilk while the processor is running. Scrape down the sides again; add in the dill, salt and pepper. Process until combined.

make ahead tip: cover and refrigerate for up to one week. 

philly mac n’ cheese

From a culinary standpoint, birthday celebrations are a big deal in our house. I look forward to them every year {more so the hub’s birthday than my own} because not only are they are good reason to pull out a good bottle of wine, but because we tend to go over the top in terms of dinner.

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We celebrated the hub’s birthday not long ago, and we spent quite some time trying to figure out what kind of meal to prepare. Every year, I let him decide on exactly what it is he wants. No limits, no rules – his dinner wish {and dessert!} is my command. It’s pretty much a win-win for both of us; he gets a meal of his own creation, and I get to have fun whipping it up in the kitchen!

When he settled on the more traditional mac n’ cheese, I asked him to come up with some sort of twist on it, sort of a way to spice it up a bit. We bounced ideas back and forth…flavor combinations, dishes that he likes, we we somehow steered the conversation to sandwiches.

“What about a philly?”  I asked him. His eyes lit up, and I knew we had found the dish of the year. The end result? – a combination of a few staple dishes in my repertoire, with some funky additions that make it perfect for him. It’s an indulgent dish, and you bet that we will be bringing this out again once the cooler autumn months come around.

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Enjoy!

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Philly Mac n’ Cheese {recipe adapted from Williams-Sonoma}

Definitely one of the more creative birthday dishes we’ve dreamed up over the past few years, this mac n’ cheese hits all the notes of a classic cheese steak sandwich: perfectly loaded with cheese, traditional vegetable add-ons, and of course…oh-so indulgent. 

Ingredients:

1/2 lb. dried pasta, such as cavatappi

non-stick cooking spray

2 Tbsp. unsalted butter

3 Tbsp. cornstarch

1 cup milk of choice

1/2 cup low-sodium chicken stock

3/4 cup freshly shredded Gruyere cheese

3/4 cup freshly shredded champagne cheddar cheese {if not available, feel free to swap out with extra sharp cheddar}

1 package frozen spinach {cooked, drained, and cooled}

2 cups baby portabella mushrooms

2 cups chicken {cooked, cooled, and shredded}

1/8 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1/8 cup Panko {Japanese bread crumbs}

olive oil, for sauteeing the mushrooms

salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste

To Prepare:

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Spray an 8″ x 8″ glass baking dish with nonstick cooking spray, and set aside.

Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, until not quite al dente, about 2 minutes less than the package instructions. Drain and transfer to a large bowl, and set aside.

In a small nonstick skillet, cook the mushrooms with a splash of olive oil until lightly sauteed, about 5-7 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and set aside.

Return the saucepan to medium-high heat and melt he butter. Add the cornstarch and cook, stirring well, until the cornstarch is thoroughly incorporated, about 1 to 3 minutes. Whisk in the milk, chicken stock, and an generous pinch of salt; bring to a boil. Simmer, whisking frequently to smooth out any lumps, for 4 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat, and add a pinch of pepper and stir to incorporate. Slowly add in both the Gruyere and champagne cheddar cheese, making to sure combine thoroughly.

Pour the cheese sauce over the pasta and stir well. Next, fold in the spinach, mushrooms, and chicken. Transfer to the prepared baking dish and top with the Parmesan and Panko. Bake until the top is lightly browned and the sauce is bubbly, about 25-30 minutes. Let stand for 5 minutes before serving.

Serve with a side of roasted vegetables {we opted for asparagus!}.

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whole wheat pita bread

This is my kind of sandwich bread.

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Perfectly thin, crisp yet boasting a soft interior. Pita bread is the ideal sandwich vehicle, because let’s be real – you can stuff it with everything that you love, no mess or drips to worry about!

One of my girlfriends makes some of the best homemade pita that I’ve yet to experience, and after having them at one of our many get-togethers, I was finally inspired to try my own version at home. The process was made super simple because of my handy bread machine {y’all know how much I love this piece of kitchen equipment!}. Just a few quick ingredients, basic ones, actually, are added into the well and left to let the machine work its kneading and rising magic. The real beauty is what happens AFTER the machine has worked on it; a quick bit of handwork, rolling it out, followed by a quick secondary rise to ensure maximum puffiness while baking. The end result?…

Hands down the most gorgeous, fluffy pita I’ve ever seen! The hubs could not get over how much they ballooned while baking. I was pleasantly surprised myself : ) we’ve used this for everything – sandwiches, pita pizza, chips…the variety of uses is endless – and love them so much that they have become a freezer staple for quick meals!

I’m thinking that some dressed up variations {think: herbed pita, cheese infused, etc.} will be making an appearance sooner rather than later…I mean, how could that be a bad thing?!

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Whole Wheat Pita Bread {adapted, minimally, from The Bread Machine Cookbook}

Makes 10 pita 

Ingredients:

1-1/3 cups water

3 Tbsp. olive oil

1 Tbsp. honey

2 cups bread flour

1-1/2 cups whole wheat flour

1 tsp. salt

1 heaping Tbsp. vital wheat gluten {optional, but encouraged}

2 tsp. yeast

To Prepare:

In the order mentioned above, add all ingredients into the well of your bread machine. For the yeast, I make a small hole in the center of the flour and add it in last, covering it slightly with flour once put in. Set the program to ‘dough cycle’ and let the machine work as programmed.

Once the dough has completed the cycle, divide the dough into 10 pieces and roll into balls.

Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Lightly dust two large baking sheets with cornmeal. Set aside.

Flatten each ball into a disk, and roll into a circle of about 6″. Place onto the prepared baking sheets, and let rise for about 20 minutes, covered loosely with a kitchen towel in a warm place.

Bake for 8-10 minutes, or until the pita have puffed and the bottoms are golden brown.

Pita will keep at room temperature, tightly sealed, for 2-3 days. After that, place in the freezer and let thaw before using.

thirsty thursday: marinated cherries

Every spectacular drink deserves a spectacular garnish. There’s nothing more unfortunate than a handcrafted cocktail, only to be taken down a notch by a lackluster topper – be it a soggy piece of fruit, wilted herbs or, not tasty but just as ghastly, a paper umbrella {these are only OK if you’re sitting beach side in a festive, tropical resort…and that’s still iffy}.

So today, we’re taking the garnish game up a notch. We’re making marinated cherries, sure to enliven any cocktail you’ve ever imagined.

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After many times of unsuccessfully perusing the grocery store and specialty food stores here in our area, the hubs and I got tired of not finding anything that met our needs. Sure, you could plop a maraschino cherry into a drink that calls for it, but why settle when you can do better? Those cherries are meant for desserts; syrupy sweet and not bringing much to the drink itself. So we got to work, scouring recipes for ideas to make our own cocktail cherries at home.

And boy, did we hit the mark on this one! Never before have I had a cocktail cherry like this; we’ve been to some pretty swanky bourbon bars, and nothing tops these ones. It doesn’t hurt that cherries are in season, either! We used gorgeous, dark Rainier cherries for this recipe, but any one of your preference will do. The fruit soaks up the marinade beautifully – each cherry has sensational notes of bright orange, oaky bourbon and subtle vanilla.

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You’ll find yourself pining for the cherries to be done {darn that 3-day wait period!} as soon as you seal them up. They’re that good, I promise. From an Old Fashioned to a Manhattan, a fancy Martini, or just with neat bourbon, you’ll be happy you have these on hand.

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Bourbon Marinated Cherries {recipe adapted from Tasting Table}

Maraschino cherries have met their match; dare I say, they’ve been far surpassed! These marinated cherries are the epitome of awesome – oaky bourbon notes, sweet hints of orange and a taste that will blow your mind. Get creative when you make these, as they’re equally wonderful in a drink as they are on top of a grown-up ice cream sundae. 

Ingredients:

1 cup bourbon

1/2 cup sugar

1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice

1 {1″ strip} orange peel

1-1/2 tsp. vanilla extract {we used my homemade version for an extra bourbon kick!}

1/2 lb. cherries, pitted and stems removed*

*the hubs came up with a great trick to remove the pits! – simply use a nonflexible drinking straw to force the pit out; starting at the top of the fruit, gently push down until the pit is released through the bottom. Super easy, efficient, minimal clean up…and you didn’t have to buy a cherry pitter 

To Prepare:

Combine the bourbon, sugar, orange juice and orange peel in a small saucepan. Place over medium-high heat and bring to a simmer, whisking constantly, until the sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the vanilla extract.

Combine the bourbon mixture and the cherries in a 15-ounce jar and seal tightly. Allow the contents to cool to room temperature before transferring to the refrigerator. Chill for at least three days before using.

Cherries will keep up to one month.

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Cheers!

Fruit & Yogurt Popsicles

The hubs and I are preparing for a whirlwind of trips over the next couple weeks. Typical summer, I say. Lots of fun but…that means it’s time to clear out the fridge. We’ve been going through leftovers like you wouldn’t believe; frozen meals I prepared who knows how long ago, frozen produce {and fresh, of course – because I’m a crazy lady and buy it in droves every.single.week}, pantry items that are probably on their last leg…and then there was this yogurt. A large, unopened container of 2% Fage Greek yogurt. It had somehow ended up there, and thankfully I noticed it before it turned because if there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s wasting food! I know many of you agree with me on this : ) 

Standing there, with the door open and wasting precious energy, I began to contemplate what to do with it. I hardly ever buy the large containers, simply because we don’t go through them fast enough. Individual sizes are perfect for lunches, breakfast smoothies, or packing for a quick weekend hike. I knew I had to utilize it soon or it would meet the fate that I so hate. So when the thought of making a frozen dessert popped in my mind, I knew I had a winner. I didn’t have to worry about it going bad while we were gone, and BONUS! – fresh, delicious, healthy popsicles would be awaiting our return. Everyone wins!

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This recipe is extremely flexible to however you want it to be – I’ve simply outlined my method of preparation. Feel free to use whatever type of yogurt you prefer; the same goes for the fruit. I used a mixture of fresh and frozen, but anything will do. Let your imagination run wild! Your mouth will thank you on a particularly hot summer day, when cooling off needs to happen ASAP.

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Fruit & Yogurt Popsicles 

Perfect for those boiling hot summer nights, these frozen treats are sure to cool off even those whose temperature runs the hottest! Made with creamy Greek yogurt and exploding with fresh fruit, you won’t feel guilty about indulging in these any time. 

Ingredients:

2 cups plain Greek yogurt {I prefer 2% when making desserts/sweeter things}

1 bag {10 ounces} frozen fruit of your choice *but make sure that it’s thawed before blending*

1 additional cup of fresh fruit {I opted for blueberries}

up to 1/4 cup pure maple syrup, or to taste, for sweetening the mixture

up to 1/4 cup milk of choice, to thin out the mixture for pouring purposes

To Prepare:

Place all of the ingredients, expect for the milk and maple syrup, into the bowl of a large food processor. Pulse a few times to mix up. Taste and adjust the level of sweetness with the maple syrup.

Pulse again until the mixture is creamy and smooth. Slowly add in the milk until the texture reaches an easily pourable consistency.

Using a large Pyrex container {or any pitcher with a pouring mouth}, carefully fill up your popsicle molds until full. I have these ones and I LOVE them! Seal tightly and freeze overnight.

To serve, simply run the container until warm water for a few seconds. This will help loosen the popsicle from the container, making pulling out a breeze.

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Enjoy!

thirsty thursday: minty orange gimlet

In case you couldn’t tell, we’ve been on a bit of a fruity cocktail kick lately.

This drink is no exception…

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Does that not look like summer in a glass? There’s something so gorgeous about summertime cocktails – perhaps it’s the bright colors of citrus, or the aroma of fresh mint {from my herb garden, no less!}, that makes them seem extra special. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’ll take a good cocktail any time of year, but again, they just seem so fitting for summer. Warm, lazy evenings watching the sun set practically begs for a nightcap; albeit a light and refreshing one.

That’s where this drink comes into play. The hubs has been having fun creating syrups and flavor combinations that pay homage to summer, and this cocktail does just that. The clean flavor of vodka is the perfect backdrop for fresh citrus notes, and when topped off with the fresh mint, it really doesn’t get better.

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This has been on rotation for some time already in our household, and I guarantee you’ll be enjoying it frequently too ; ) I’m thinking it might be fun to shake up the next time or two…perhaps with grapefruit instead? Only time will tell – enjoy!

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Minty Orange Gimlet {recipe adapted from Food52}

Fresh and bright, this summer cocktail is bursting with flavor! From the sweet mint to the zesty orange, this drink only gets better as you enjoy it. Easily adaptable to make in large batches, too; perfect for summer entertaining. 

Ingredients:

1/2 to 1 ounce orange simple syrup*

1-1/2 to 2 ounces vodka

1/2 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice

1/4 navel orange, sliced

ice cubes

club soda, for finishing

mint leaves, for the drink and also for garnish

*to make the orange simple syrup: use a paring knife or vegetable peeler to remove the skin of the orange, taking care to maintain large strips. Add in the zest, 1/2 cup sugar, and 1/2 cup of water to a small saucepan; bring to a boil, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Let cool, then cover and chill for at least 2 hours. Leftovers can be stored in the fridge, tightly covered, for several weeks. 

To Prepare:

In the bottom of a glass, muddle the sliced orange and mint.

In a cocktail shaker, combine the syrup, lime juice, vodka, and ice. Shake well and pour into the glass with muddled orange and mint, and fresh ice. Top with a splash of club soda.

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Cheers!