Thursday, December 28, 2023

Best Recipes of 2023


The New Year is upon us, but before we turn the calendar, and before sharing new recipes, I want to remind us of the best recipes this past year from this blog.

For the "best recipes" feature I always choose the recipes that have made it into regular rotation in our house -- that is a sure sign that they are the "best" and not just "very good," - which is the standard by which they make the blog in the first place!

The recipes below are ones I have now made over and over again. If you haven't tried them yet, make a New Year's resolution to try a few new recipes this year! I hope they'll be as popular at your house as they are at mine.

I was on cloud 9 when I realized I didn't have to use my sourdough starter (and its discard) for bread baking every weekend. I love sourdough bread, but it is a COMMITMENT. And I don't always have the time/energy/dedication for making traditional sourdough. But there are a lot of other things you can do with discard, including this amazing banana bread. I will never go back to making regular banana bread again. The 1/2 cup of sourdough starter (you can use freshly fed or discard!) really makes a difference. This is the best banana bread you'll ever eat. If you don't have a sourdough starter, figure out how to get one - just so you can make this banana bread!

This is, hands down, my favorite recipe of the year. It comes to us from Pinch of Yum, and from the first time I tried it, was an instant and huge success at our house. I now make it about every three weeks! So it is definitely a standard. I make it for family dinners, when we have company, to take as a meal to someone with a new baby, you name it, this dish works! It's not saucy like other stir fries, but you won't miss the sauce - the flavors are so fresh and light and just so darn delicious. If you don't make any other recipe this year, make this one!

Now that I've named Ginger Peanut Chicken as my favorite recipe of the year, I don't suppose I can name another one? This one is also very good - a flavorful rub is added to the salmon, and it gets a quick bake in the oven while you make a delightful sauce from red curry and coconut milk. Heaps of spinach finish off the dish. I usually find this makes enough sauce that I can get a second meal by adding shrimp to the sauce. Two in one! Score!

I initially made this for a birthday meal at our house (that's gutsy - trying a new recipe for a birthday!) and it turned out to be a family favorite that was requested for subsequent birthdays! Phew! Italian sausage and peppers swim in a creamy sauce with bucatini to swirl it all up. This is the kind of pasta that dreams are made of.

This made an appearance at several picnics this year and would be just as good in the winter as a side dish to beef or pork. Roasted potatoes with chives, cheese, bacon, and a yummy mustard-y dressing makes any dinner (or picnic) better!

This salad is not photogenic at all, but it is life-altering delicious. It got rave reviews from my teenage nephews, who said it tasted just like Chipotle. If you know anything about teenage boys, you know that's a high compliment! Pasta, corn, bacon, avocados, queso fresco, and more -- the sum is definitely greater than the parts on this one. 

These little beauties are the perfect dessert - a little cookie, a little custard, a little fruit - and perfectly sized to enjoy after dinner. (I don't know about you but I can't fathom eating those giant restaurant-sized chocolate cake pieces after dinner!) This is just the right amount of dessert, and so fresh and light. You make the custard from scratch, but it is easy peasy. These would be especially perfect for Easter or Mother's Day. 

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Ricciarelli (Italian Almond Cookies)

I rarely make the same cookies two years in a row, but for these little delights, I made an exception. We enjoyed these so much last year that they made the list this year again. And these cookies are gluten AND dairy free, and can be made vegan by using aquafaba instead of an egg. (Aquafaba is the liquid in the chickpea can, and it "acts" like an egg!) So they're perfect if you have relatives or friends with special dietary needs. 

I know some of you read gluten and dairy free and think - oh taste free, too! NOT AT ALL. These are really good, especially if you love almonds. They have a triple whammy - almond flour, almond extract, and sliced almonds. 

I also love that these are two-bite cookies. I like smaller cookies because that means you can try more varieties at your party or gathering! HA!

Try these - I know you won't be disappointed!

Ricciarelli (Italian Almond Cookies) 

2 cups almond flour
1/2 cup sugar
2 tsp. orange zest
pinch salt
1 egg or 1/4 cup aquafaba
2 Tbsp. apricot jam (or peach jam or orange marmalade)
1 tsp. almond extract
1 1/2 cups sliced almonds

In a medium bowl, combine the almond flour, sugar, salt, and orange zest. In a separate bowl,  whisk the egg until frothy (just by hand is fine) and then add the jam and extract and stir until combined and the jam is incorporated. 

Add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir well until all the ingredients are incorporated. Place in the refrigerator for about half an hour to chill.

Once the dough is chilled, scoop out tablespoonfuls and roll each into a ball.  
Place the sliced almonds into a small bowl then roll each dough ball in them until covered. Use your hands to help press them into the dough. (The shape might become more football-ish which is totally fine.) 

Place the cookies on a silpat or parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake at 375 for 12-14 minutes or until golden. Let cool for a few minutes on the sheet then cool completely on a wire rack. Dust with powdered sugar before serving.

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Muddy Buddy Cookies


Do you know what muddy buddies are? I guess it's another name for puppy chow, that addicting  party snack made with Chex cereal coated in chocolate, peanut butter and powdered sugar. I'm glad no one is delivering that to my office in a big popcorn tin. Uff da.

So then, it's obvious why these cookies are called Muddy Buddy cookies - it's a peanut butter cookie filled with a milk chocolate center, then dusted with powdered sugar. These are SO GOOD!!!! 

What I especially like about these are that you get all the good peanut butter and chocolate flavor, but they're a little different than your standard peanut blossom. (Standard peanut blossoms are delicious - I am not throwing any shade here, I'm just saying I like unique cookies.) Also, look at me, using all the slang.

What's really fun about these cookies is that you make dough balls, bake them, and then when they come out of the oven, you make that fun indent. I used the bottom of a 1/4 cup measuring cup to make the indentation. When you do that, it makes the crinkly edges too. (Why don't I have a picture of this? Sorry! Make them yourself and you will see what I mean.)

Then you fill the cookies with the chocolate, let it harden (room temp or fridge - or garage!) and then dust with powdered sugar.

These are rich, delicious, festive and beautiful - and go great with a cup of coffee or large glass of milk. So leave some for Santa (hee hee) but enjoy plenty yourself! 

Muddy Buddies Cookies

1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 cups flour
3/4 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1 cup milk chocolate chips
1/2 tsp. vegetable or avocado oil
1/2 cup powdered sugar

Using an electric mixer, cream together the butter, peanut butter, sugar, and brown sugar until creamy, about 2 minutes. Add in the egg and beat to combine.

In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, and baking powder. Stir, then add to the wet ingredients in the mixing bowl, beating on low speed until combined.

Scoop about a tablespoon of dough and roll it into a ball. Repeat to place 12 balls on a parchment or silpat-lined baking sheet. Bake at 375 for 8 minutes. Cookies will not flatten.

Immediately after removing the baking sheet from the oven, use a small measuring cup to gently press down on each cookie to make an indent. Then let the cookies cool completely on the sheet, for about an hour.

When cookies are almost cool, place the chocolate chips and oil in a glass measuring cup and cook in the microwave until melted. I usually use 50% power and stir after every minute. This usually takes 2-3 minutes. 

Place a small amount of chocolate into the center of each cookie and spread it gently. Let the chocolate set completely then dust with powdered sugar. (The chocolate will harden in about 2 hours at room temperature, or 15 minutes in the fridge - or the cold garage!)

You can store the cookies at room temperature. 

  • 1/2 cu1/2 cup (1 stick) butter softened

Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Lace Cookies {gluten free!}

I have long admired lace cookies and how delicate and beautiful they look. What I didn't realize is how easy they are to make!

I also didn't realize how amazingly delicious they are, and that they use 6 simple ingredients that you probably have on hand right now!  (I guess I had a lot to learn about lace cookies.) 

Another great thing to love about these cookies? They are gluten free! I'm not gluten free, and you may not be either, but I always think it's great to have a few recipes up your sleeve for your friends and relatives that may need to stay away from gluten. 

The most "difficult" part of this recipe is realizing how little batter you need to put on the pan. Just a TEASPOON per cookie! You want to space them out nicely, too, because they spread a lot. I just love how they turn out in such perfect circles!

If you're an overachiever, you can also use these cookies to make sandwich cookies, by filling them with nutella or melted chocolate. I did that with a few, but to be honest, I really loved the lace cookies best on their own. 

Lace Cookies

1/2 cup butter
2/3 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup almond flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. corn syrup or milk
1 tsp. vanilla

Melt butter in a medium saucepan over low heat. Then add the brown sugar, almond flour, salt, and corn syrup (or milk). Whisk, while continuing to cook on low, until the sugar has dissolved and the ingredients are completely combined. (If the butter separates, just take the pan off the heat, and whisk vigorously until it comes back together.)

Remove from the heat and whisk in the vanilla. The mixture should look grainy and shiny. Let the cookie dough sit for 10-15 minutes to thicken.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 and line three baking sheets with parchment or silpat.

Drop teaspoonfuls of batter 3 inches apart on the lined baking sheets. (Be sure you're using a teaspoon, not a tablespoon!) Bake 6-8 minutes until golden brown around the edges.

Allow cookies to cool for 5 minutes on the baking sheet, then carefully transfer to a wire rack. Cookies will dry and crisp as they cool.

If you like you can make sandwich cookies with nutella or melted chocolate. Store cookies in the fridge or freezer.

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Red Velvet Cheesecake Thumbprints

The next few weeks here are going to all cookies, all the time. So if you're looking for a nourishing main dish, salad, soup, or appetizer - please consult the index. Ha! All the new recipes will be cookies. C is for cookie, that's good enough for me. 

I've made these delicious thumbprints for a couple years now, so decided it was high time to post them. They're different than your run of the mill thumbprint - the middle is cheesecake instead of jam! And the cookie is red velvet. They are delicious!

They are also beautiful, which you know by now is also important to me! I also love that this recipe lets you be a little creative in choosing which kind of sprinkles to roll the dough in - and it's a great way to use up some sprinkles if you have some odds and ends languishing in the cupboard!

These thumbprints are pretty typical - make the dough, then let it chill. Roll it into balls, coat with sprinkles, then use the back of a teaspoon to make an indent.

Bake for a few minutes, then fill with the cheesecake filling, and then continue baking. 

These are just as delicious cold as at room temperature. I hope you enjoy these as much as we did! (and do...)

Red Velvet Cheesecake Thumbprints
1 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/8 tsp. salt
1 egg yolk (room temperature)
1 tsp. vanilla 
2 cups all-purpose flour
4 tsp. red food coloring
2 tsp. cocoa powder
1/2 cup sugar sprinkles
4 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 egg yolk
1/4 cup sugar
1/8 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. vanilla 
Combine the salt, flour, and cocoa powder in a bowl and stir until evenly mixed. Set aside.
Beat together the butter, brown sugar, egg yolk, and vanilla until light and fluffy. Add in the dry ingredients that you set aside, and the food coloring, and mix until soft dough forms and ingredients are just combined. Place the dough in the fridge for 30 minutes (or up to 24 hours) to chill.
Scoop out the dough by heaping tablespoons and rolling them in the sugar or sprinkles before placing on a parchment or silpat-lined baking sheet (about 2 inches apart). Use the back of a round teaspoon to make a small indentation in the cookie dough.
Bake at 300 for 10 minutes, or until the edges are set.
For the filling, using an electric mixer or small food processor, beat together the cream cheese, egg yolk, sugar, salt, and vanilla until smooth.
After the first 10 minutes of baking, bring the cookies out of the oven. Use the back of a round teaspoon to deepen the indentation in the cookies, if they have flattened out. Spoon a teaspoon of the filling into each indentation. Bake for an additional 12 minutes, or until filling is set.
Let cool for a few minutes on the baking sheet, then remove and cool completely on a wire rack. Makes 2-3 dozen

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Dinner Salads with Roasted Beets and Mandarin Oranges

This side salad is a wonder: a great combination of fruits and vegetables, TONS of vitamin C, potassium, and fiber, GREAT taste, and beautiful on the plate. 

If you need a last minute addition to your Thanksgiving line up, or any dinner, this is a fantastic salad. Tangy vinaigrette, sweet berries and oranges, tart goat cheese, savory beets... this is making me want to quit describing it and go get one. (And I haven't even had breakfast yet! ha!)  This recipe makes 6 salads - just adjust the measurements up or down depending on how many you're making. (Note that the dressing makes quite a bit, so you won't need to make extra of that.)

I include a recipe here for a creamy balsamic vinaigrette, but honestly, most of the time, I use the organic balsamic from Aldi. It's so good. I should aspire in the New Year to make my own dressing more often; it's certainly not difficult! So, do whatever is easiest for you. Since we're roasting beets here, this salad needs a little more prep time than most, but you can also roast the beets earlier in the day, or the day before, and just bring them to room temperature before you assemble the salad. 

Happy Thanksgiving!

Dinner Salads with Roasted Beets and Mandarin Oranges

Balsamic Vinaigrette: (this will make a lot more than you need for this salad)

3/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp. mayonnaise
1 Tbsp. Honey
1 tsp. Dijon mustard


6-8 cups spring mix (depending on how large you want the salads)
2 small beets, peeled and chopped
1 tsp. olive oil
3 mandarin oranges, "cuties"
1 6 oz. package blackberries
2 oz. goat cheese or honey goat cheese, crumbled

Toss the chopped beets with the olive oil, then season with salt and pepper. Spread the beets on a baking sheet and roast at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes. Allow to cool completely. (You can do this earlier in the day or the day prior. Refrigerate the roasted beets and then bring them to room temperature before assembling the salads.)

Make the dressing by combining the oil, vinegar, mayo, honey and mustard in a measuring cup. Whisk well to combine the oil and vinegar. Taste, and adjust ingredients as necessary. (Some vinegars are more potent than others; you may need a bit more honey, or you may prefer a bit more mayo if you like it extra creamy.)

Place the salad greens in a large bowl and drizzle vinaigrette over, a few tablespoons at a time. (You will only use part of the dressing). Toss to coat all the leaves. 

Divide the spring mix among six plates, then top with beets in the center. Peel and section the mandarins, and arrange those and the blackberries around each salad. Top each salad with crumbled goat cheese.  Serves 6.


Tuesday, November 14, 2023

Harvest Skillet {Chicken, Sweet Potato, Apples, and Brussels Sprouts}

It is a glorious 60 degree day here, and I will take it! And I will also take delicious dinners like this that are a snap to make, are beautiful, delicious, and super fall-like, even though the temperature is not fall-like. (Not a complaint - I'm loving the warm temps this week!) 

This simple skillet dinner features some of my favorite things - brussels sprouts, sweet potato, apples - and the bacon is just a bonus. 

Chicken provides good protein, and thyme, cinnamon and craisins just add to the autumn appeal. This would also be great to make with leftover chopped turkey... file that somewhere...

The best part? One pan is dirtied, and supper is ready within 30 minutes!! Winner, winner, harvest skillet dinner!

Harvest Skillet {Chicken, Butternut Squash, Apples, and Brussels Sprouts}

1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
4 slices thick-cut bacon, chopped
3 cups Brussels sprouts, trimmed and quartered (about 3/4 pound)
1 medium sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes (about 8 ounces)
1 medium onion, chopped
2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and cut into 3/4 inch cubes
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 cup chicken broth, divided
2 Tbsp. maple syrup
1/3 cup craisins
1/4 cup pepitas

Heat the olive oil in a large, nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Add the chicken, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and black pepper. Cook until lightly browned and cooked through, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a bowl.

Reduce skillet heat to medium low. Add the chopped bacon and cook until crisp, about 8 minutes. Transfer the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate and discard all but 1 1/2 tablespoons bacon drippings from the pan.

Increase skillet heat back to medium high. Add Brussels sprouts, sweet potato, onion, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until crisp-tender and the onions are beginning to look translucent, about 10 minutes.

Stir in the apples, garlic, thyme, and cinnamon. Cook 30 seconds, then pour in 1/2 cup of the broth and the maple syrup. Bring to a boil and cook until evaporated, about 2 minutes. Add the reserved chicken and remaining 1/2 cup broth. Cook until heated through, about 2 minutes. Stir in reserved bacon, pepitas, and craisins and serve warm.

Friday, November 3, 2023

Udon noodles with Beef and Bok Choy

Noodley stir fries are always a big hit in our house, and when I recently had some bok choy to use up, I came up with this variation. I like beef and bok choy together, and the peanuts and soy/chili sauce really tie it all together. 

One of the best things about this meal is that it's made in ONE skillet. (You do have to cook the noodles in another pot, but if you find fresh or frozen udon noodles you could save that step.) 

After a quick stir fry of the beef, and then the veggies, you sauce up the noodles and then you're all set. This is very quick, very easy, and very delicious. That's my weeknight trifecta!

Udon noodles with Beef and Bok Choy

8 oz. thinly sliced beef (like sirloin steak)
4 oz. baby bella mushrooms, sliced
12 oz. udon noodles or rice noodles
10 oz. baby bok choy, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 green onions, sliced
3 Tbsp. sweet chili sauce
2 Tbsp. soy sauce
1 Tbsp. sesame oil
1 Tbsp. rice vinegar
3 Tbsp. roasted salted peanuts, chopped
1 Tbsp. olive oil, divided

Cook the noodles according to the package directions.

In a small bowl or measuring cup, combine the sweet chili sauce, soy sauce, sesame oil, rice vinegar, and 1 1/2 Tbsp. water. 

Heat 2 tsp. olive oil over medium high heat. Season the beef with salt and pepper, then stir fry until cooked through. Remove to a plate. (Leave the pan as is, don't clean it up!)

Add another teaspoon of oil to the pan, then add in the bok choy (white parts only!), white parts of the green onions, and garlic. Cook for 2-3 minutes, then add the mushrooms and cook for another minute. 

Reduce the heat to medium low. Drain the noodles, then add them to the pan, along with the sauce, and stir well to break up any pieces stuck to the bottom of the pan. Cook and stir until most of the sauce is absorbed, then add the green parts of the bok choy and the beef. 

Garnish with chopped peanuts and the green parts of the onions.  Serves 4
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