Recipe | Toffee

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I’ve been baking several batches of my favorite Christmas cookie, peanut blossoms, lately for our apartment staff, my coworkers, and our Christmas party, so when the Darden Partners’ Cookie Exchange came up on my calendar, I thought I’d go a different route.

My Aunt Diane gave my mom this recipe years ago, and now my mom often makes toffee during the holiday season. It’s one of those sweet/salty combinations that I find irresistible. I asked her to share the recipe with me so that I could make a few batches for the Cookie Exchange, and the toffee turned out great. I love how simple it is to make – you only need a few ingredients!

What You Need:
1 C (2 sticks) Blue Bonnet Margarine
1 C granulated sugar
1/2 cube milk chocolate almond bark (baker’s chocolate)
Chopped almonds (optional)

What You Do:
Get out a jar of peanut butter to use for color reference.  Line a rimmed cookie sheet with foil and set it on a heat resistant surface. Chop almonds and set aside.

In a 10” non­stick skillet on medium heat, combine margarine and sugar, stirring with a wooden spoon until the mixture becomes “just almost” the color of peanut butter. The whole process takes about 20 minutes.  The mixture will start out liquid, become foamy (it’s boiling), and then the foam will start to reduce and the mixture will start to thicken and very slowly darken from pale yellow to the peanut butter color.  This is when you must watch it very closely (stir some) and as soon as it becomes “just almost” the color of peanut butter, carefully pour it onto the lined cookie sheet.  Let it harden 5 minutes.  Then, using a finger or two on 1/2 cube of milk chocolate almond bark, carefully “skate” almond bark all over the surface until it’s completely melted.  If using almonds, sprinkle on melted chocolate.  Let cool completely.  Loosen from the foil and crack it so it breaks into smaller pieces.  You can use any hard object in your kitchen to help crack it.

 

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Recipe | Hot Carmel Apple Cider

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I’m not a coffee person and I doubt I ever will be. So when I go to Starbucks, which is actually pretty rarely, I opt for their tea or their Carmel Apple Spice (if I’m really lucky and it’s in season!). Hot apple cider is my favorite Fall drink, and one of my favorite drinks in general. Normally I just buy a container from the store, heat it up in the microwave in my favorite mug, and sip on it quite happily. However, this recipe is a little extra special and so reminiscent of the Starbucks Carmel Apple Spice. When a day just calls for a little treat, whip this up, sit back, and bask in the flavors of Fall.

What you need:
1/2 cup of water
1/3 cup of brown sugar
2 cups of apple juice or apple cider
1 tablespoon of carmel sauce
1 cinnamon stick
Optional: whipped cream

What you do:
Bring water, brown sugar, and cinnamon stick to a boil in a small pot. Stir until the sugar is completely dissolved, then set the cinnamon stick aside. Add in apple juice/cider and carmel, stirring. Pour into 2 glasses using the cinnamon stick as a stirrer or garnish. Top with whipped cream and more carmel if desired.

Best consumed while watching Hocus Pocus and/or snuggling in a cozy sweater.

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Recipe | The Meatball Shop

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When Rob and I were living in NYC, we went to The Meatball Shop a couple of times. I had read about it in my New York Magazine and heard great reviews from friends, too. However, Rob was hesitant to go with me the first time… he had a weird thing against meatballs and insisted he just didn’t like them. But I insisted we just try it. Lo and behold, he’s a believer now! The Meatball Shop offers a variety of meat options for the meatballs that you can pair with a variety of options for the sauce. If you are going to NYC, I highly recommend TMS – great food, several locations around Manhattan, and a reasonable price point. We even had a whiskey float there!

I saw The Meatball Shop on a Good Morning America clip recently and they shared their recipe for their delicious beef meatballs! I knew it would be so much fun to try with Rob at home, especially since our homemade meatballs would be much cheaper than a trip to NYC just to eat theirs ;-). Here is The Meatball Shop’s recipe, but below I’ll tell you my take on their recipe, since we modified it a little bit for two people. This was our Friday night date night!

Here’s what you need:

  • Olive oil or Pam olive oil
  • 1 pound of lean ground beef (we use 96%)
  • 1/2 cup ricotta cheese (I used “partially skim”)
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup bread crumbs (I used Panko with Italian seasoning)
  • 1/4 chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano (if you have fresh, use a little more)
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (we like a little spice!)
  • 1 jar of tomato sauce (we like Arrabiata for an extra kick… also, I think it tastes so good that I never feel like making my own tomato sauce)
  • Penne pasta
  • French baguette
  • Balsamic vinegar
Here’s what you do:
  • Preheat oven to 450. Drizzle olive oil or spray Pam olive oil into a 9×13 baking dish.
  • Combine ground beef, ricotta, egg, bread crumbs, parsley, oregano, salt, and red pepper flakes in a large mixing bowl. Knead by hand until thoroughly incorporated.
  • Roll the mixture into round golf ball-sized balls, making sure to pack each meatball firmly. Place them in the prepared baking fish, lining them up snugly in rows and touching each other. We ended up with about 20 meatballs from 1 pound of meat.
  • Bake for 20 minutes (meatballs should be cooked through at this point). While they are baking, heat tomato sauce on stove over medium heat and stir often.
  • Pour or spoon some of the tomato sauce over the meatballs, then continue cooking them for another 15 minutes. During this time, boil water for pasta and toss in the penne.
  • Serve meatballs over pasta and more sauce. Pair with baguette dipped in olive oil & balsamic vinegar and/or salad. A large glass of red wine completes the meal!

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Recipe | Spicy Chipotle Pasta

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I know, I know… another Mexican dish. But there is truly no better cuisine to get those taste buds bouncing! I originally saw this recipe on Pinterest here, and then decided to modify it a bit. For one thing, I couldn’t find pine nuts in the grocery store… what can I say? I’m still a newbie to all these fancy ingredients. For another, Rob isn’t too keen on garlic, so I toned it down a bit. Also, as much as I love Mexican food, I cannot stand beans, so I replaced that with chicken to get our protein. This dish was devoured by Rob and myself for a quick weeknight meal, and I can’t wait to make it again! Might even have to temper down the spiciness with fewer chipotle peppers, though!

Here’s what you need:

  • Bowtie pasta
  • 4-5 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce*
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan (the stuff in the can works great)
  • 1/2 clove garlic
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup Greek yogurt (I like Chobani non-fat, plain)
  • 1 (15-ounce) can whole kernel corn
  • 1 roma tomato, diced
  • 1 grilled chicken breast
  • Chopped cilantro, for garnish
  • Crumbled feta cheese (optional)
Here’s what you do:
  • In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook pasta according to package instructions; drain well.
  • Cook the chicken in a skillet with a dash of olive oil.
  • Boil the corn.
  • To make the “sauce,” combine chipotle peppers, Parmesan, and garlic in the bowl of a food processor; season with salt and pepper, to taste. Add olive oil in a slow stream and Greek yogurt until blended.
  • In a large bowl, combine pasta, chipotle sauce, corn, chicken, and tomatoes.
  • Serve immediately and add cilantro for garnish and crumbled feta cheese if desired.

*To make this dish more or less spicy, simply adjust the number of chipotle peppers you use. I used 5 small peppers this time, but would tone it down to 3 or 4 next time. Those things are hot!

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Recipe | Kebabs

My parents make the most delicious shish kebabs in the world. Often they make them for Rob and me when we visit, but they also gave us our own skewers so we can make them anytime we want. Well, until we received a wonderful counter-top grill for our wedding, we didn’t have a way to grill our kebabs. Now that we’re settled into a spacious (!) kitchen with our counter-top grill, I went for it! And they were so, so good. Check out the “recipe” below – and, of course, you can switch meat and veggies for whatever you prefer (squash, mushrooms, pineapple).

Here’s what you need:
Cubed chicken (or your favorite meat)
Chopped onion wedges
Chopped red pepper wedges
Chopped green pepper wedges
Chopped yellow pepper wedges
Zucchini slices
Baby potatoes
Trader Joe’s Soyaki sauce

Here’s what you do:
After chopping, dicing, slicing all your ingredients, marinate the chicken in the Soyaki sauce for a few hours. Store the veggies in the fridge until go-time. Boil your potatoes to get them a little bit soft.

When it’s dinner time, skewer all your ingredients, alternating between chicken, veggies, and potatoes. Place on your grill, turning periodically to make sure everything is cooked well. Once the chicken is sufficiently cooked (and even char-grilled!), you are ready to serve!

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So easy, right?!

Coke-glazed Pork Tacos

Back when Rob and I lived in Charlotte, I made this meal once and Rob claimed it was his favorite thing we’d ever cooked together. Why it’s taken me over a year to make it again… I have no idea. It’s very easy (love that crock pot!) and so delicious. Plus, it’s a little different from our usual variety of Mexican food, ground turkey/beef.

Coke-glazed Pork Tacos

What you need:
1 pound of pork butt (for 2 hungry people who love Mexican food)
1/2 can of adobo chipotle peppers
1 can of Coke
1/2 white onion
Salsa
Salt
Pepper
Veggies for a side (peppers, onions, corn)
Shredded pepperjack cheese (optional)

What you do:
Chop up half a white onion into wedges and layer the bottom of the crock-pot with the onion wedges. Then sprinkle salt and pepper to both sides of the pork butt. Place the pork butt in the crock-pot on top of the onion wedges. Scoop half the can of adobo chipotle peppers on top of the pork. Put a few dollops of salsa on top of the pork for good measure. Don’t forget the key ingredient: pour a can of Coke into the crock pot around the pork.

Set on low for 8 hours. Cook until the meat is tender and falls apart when you try to move it. I flipped the pork over about half-way through cooking, but you don’t have to. Once the meat is ready, take it out and shred it with two forks.

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Throw some peppers and onions in a skillet and sauté, then boil some corn as well. Serve alongside the shredded pork. Top the pork with some pepperjack cheese if you want to get crazy. Enjoy!

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Mexican Mac & Cheese

It was Rob’s idea to create this dish, inspired by some fantastic Mexican Mac & Cheese we tried at Mexican Radio in SoHo with Rob’s parents and Stephanie when they visited in early December. It’s a whole lotta cheese, a kick of Mexican spice, the crunch of corn, and all-together deliciousness. Below is a very loose recipe, so feel free to tweak the spices and fix-ins to your liking. It’s been a big hit at potlucks!

-Cook corn on the stove until it’s done
-Cook macaroni noodles on the stove until they’re done
-Melt cheese (quattro fromagio, pepperjack, monterrey jack, or whatever you like) with a couple splashes of milk on the stove or in the microwave, constantly stirring
-While cheese is melting, mix noodles, corn, diced jalapenos into oven-safe dish
-When cheese is melted, pour over noodle concoction and mix well
-Sprinkle red pepper flakes and chipotle powder into mixture
-Bake at 375 degrees for 10-15 minutes (just keep an eye on it)
-Enjoy!

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