Sausage and Roasted Tomato Pasta with Fresh Mozzarella

There’s an abundance of Thanksgiving-themed recipes all over the Internet now, and for good reason-it’s arguably one of the best meals of the year and there are so many new fun, new twists on classic dishes. But, what do you make for dinner on one of the days leading up to Thanksgiving? You probably don’t want to cook anything elaborate-let’s save that for Thursday. You also don’t want to grocery shop for anything else. It is probably a good idea to use up some of the food you already have, since you’ll likely have plenty of leftovers throughout the end of the week.

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This is how I came to make this “throw together” dish, using ingredients in our freezer and fridge. However, it came out so full of flavor and fresh-tasting that I had to share it here. The roasted tomatoes alone are delicious with pasta, almost creating their own sauce when they burst open.

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This is the perfect meal to have a day or two before Thanksgiving. It’s not too heavy, full of Italian-inspired flavors, and a nice change of pace before turkey/stuffing/sweet potatoes/pie time (seriously so excited for that!). It is reminiscent of a heartier version of a caprese salad, more fit for dinner.

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Sausage and Roasted Tomato Pasta with Fresh Mozzarella

Serves 2-4

  • 8 oz spaghetti
  • 1 16 oz container mini heirloom tomatoes (or grape tomatoes)
  • 2 hot Italian sausages, cut into bite-size slices
  • 2 cups spinach
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons Olive oil, divided
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Half large “ball” fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into slices (or one large ball if you aren’t the ONLY one in your household that likes cheese….sigh.)
  • Balsamic glaze, optional

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place tomatoes on baking sheet and drizzle tablespoon olive oil over them, making sure they are all coated. Sprinkle basil, salt, and pepper on them. Roast for about 20 minutes, until tomatoes begin to burst.

While tomatoes are roasting, fill large saucepan with water and bring to boil. Add 8 oz spaghetti and cook according to package directions. Drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, add sausage to large skillet on medium heat and sauté until cooked through, about 6-8 minutes.

In separate skillet, add garlic and additional tablespoon of olive oil and bring heat to medium. Once garlic begins to brown, and spinach and sauté until wilted, about 3 minutes.

To assemble, add pasta to bowl and add sausage, spinach, and tomatoes, stirring so that tomatoes create their own “sauce.” Top with fresh mozzarella and balsamic glaze, if desired. Stir together and enjoy!

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Weekend Scenes.

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New red hair. I’m still getting used to it, but at the very least it’s a fun, temporary change.

A nice quiet Saturday night in on a chilly evening called for a beer with the husband. This one was Goose Island Octoberfest, which was surprisingly very good. Wish I had discovered it earlier in the season.

Sunday afternoon at Penzey’s in downtown Overland Park. I love Penzey’s. I want to live there.

Egg Nog ice cream? Is this real life? Trader Joe’s, you get me every time. Seriously though, it’s so good. And kind of perfect because I like egg nog but have a few sips and am done with it, because it’s so thick and rich. I always end up wasting a whole carton of it after only drinking a couple sips from a small glass. However, ice cream I can handle.

Thanksgiving shopping is completed (well, for now). Some good finds at Trader Joe’s, besides essentials like the turkey, include these beautiful multi-colored carrots that I am dreaming up possibilities for, as well as rainbow pears, cranberries, and then apples for apple pecan pie (pecans not pictured).

And here we are…it is Monday yet again, but a three day work week is certainly helping!

Chocolate Cake with Salted Caramel Frosting

There are so many unique (and sometimes complicated) cake recipes out there and just as many versions of chocolate cake.  While I love experimenting and trying out new recipes, sometimes I just want to have a good slice of rich, moist (sorry to those that hate that word-there’s truly no other word to use!) cake. Especially when it’s a special person’s over a month late birthday celebration.

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This is the same cake I mentioned in my last post, that came out lopsided and a little crumbly on one side. No amount of icing could really fix that and if anything, the more I tried to fix it the worse it became. Of course, I was frustrated and hard on myself because it didn’t look “pretty enough.” But it still tasted great. More than great, actually. This is one of the best chocolate cakes that I’ve made and our friends loved it when we served it over the weekend.

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I think part of what makes this recipe better than the standard run of the mill cake recipe is buttermilk. Buttermilk always helps to make baked goods more dense and moist (again!) while deepening the flavor-every time I bake with buttermilk it reminds me that I should use it more often! In breads, in waffles, in….more cakes! The cake itself is not overly sweet and tastes more of dark chocolate, which is my favorite kind.

The salted caramel also helps to elevate this cake to a whole new level. There may be nothing that I love more than the salty/sweet combination and the salted caramel, mixed with cream cheese and then combined with a dark dense chocolate cake…..I mean, do I need to even go on? I don’t think I really need to convince you about how good salted caramel is. It is also dangerously easy to make. A blessing and a curse.

Make this cake. Make this cake your new go-to chocolate cake recipe, even.

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Chocolate Cake

Adapted from Kimberly Taylor Images

  • 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 2/3 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup buttermilk, shaken, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup sour cream, at room temperature (Greek yogurt can be substituted)
  • 2 tablespoons instant coffee (Starbucks Via packets are great for this!)
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup dark chocolate chips

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and 2 sugars on high speed until light and fluffy, approximately 5 minutes. Lower the speed to medium, add the eggs 1 at a time, then add the vanilla and mix well. In a separate bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, sour cream, and coffee. In another bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt. On low speed, add the buttermilk mixture and the flour mixture alternately in thirds to the mixer bowl, beginning with the buttermilk mixture and ending with the flour mixture. Mix only until blended. Add the chocolate chips and fold the batter with a rubber spatula to be sure it’s completely blended. Divide your batter evenly between your cake pans.  Bake for 20-25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean. Let cool for 10-15 minutes and then remove to a cooling rack to cool completely.

Salted Caramel

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 4 tablespoons water
  • 2 tablespoons brown rice syrup (or corn syrup)
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Combine the sugar, water, and the brown rice syrup in a large saucepan and stir with a wooden spoon over medium heat until sugar is dissolved.

Cover the saucepan and let it cook over medium heat for 3 minutes.

After 3 minutes, remove the lid, increase the heat to medium-high, and bring to a boil.

Do not stir from this point on, but instead swirl the liquid around the pan so that the caramel doesn’t burn.

Continue to cook until the caramel turns an even amber color then remove from the heat and let stand for about 30 seconds.

CAREFULLY pour the heavy cream into the mixture. The mixture will bubble up significantly and is very hot.

Stir the mixture, again being careful. Add the butter, lemon juice, and salt. Stir until combined.

Measure 1 cup into a Pyrex measuring cup. Stirring occasionally, allow to cool until thick like molasses and warm to the touch, about 20 minutes. Save any extra in a sealed container in the refrigerator.

Salted Caramel Frosting

  • 2 sticks butter at room temperature
  • 8 ounces of cream cheese
  • 3-4 cups sifted powdered sugar
  • 1 cup salted caramel (recipe above)

Beat butter and cream cheese at medium speed until creamy.

Add 2 cups of the powdered sugar into the butter/cream cheese mixture and beat to combine.

Add 1 cup of the salted caramel and beat to combine.

Add additional powdered sugar until the frosting is the sweetness and consistency you desire. (I did not need to add any additional sugar).

Now go…make this cake. Make this cake your new go-to chocolate cake recipe, even.  You don’t even need a special occasion. I give you permission 😉

Kitchen Mishaps and Broiled Cinnamon Pears

Lately I’ve had a “writer’s block” of sorts. I suppose it could be called that, anyway. Last week, I had a difficult time coming up with recipes that were worth sharing on this little blog of mine. And the ones I did choose to make, the ones I thought were promising and was excited about….did not come out as planned.

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Recipe mishaps happen, I know. But I am a perfectionist when it comes to baking (and cooking) and I can’t stand it when what I am making does not come out exactly as planned. Not only do I want it to taste perfect, but it also needs to look perfect. Usually when this happens, I decide to make something else out of frustration, and because by that point I’m already frustrated, impatient, and tired, the same problems continue. And then I convey my disappointment to my poor husband, who constantly reassures me that “at least it tastes okay”, or “it doesn’t look that bad”, or “well, now you know not to use that ingredient next time.” I’m happy he still deals with me. Though he does get food out of this deal so I guess it can’t be that bad.

Last week, I made a butternut squash lasagna that did taste pretty delicious, but I made it with limited time and realized that I didn’t have all of the ingredients after starting. Still tasted good, but not my best work. Then, I made some pumpkin pies on Friday for our “Friendsgiving” with my favorite pumpkin pie recipe that calls for a swirl of brandy added into the mixture at the end, right before pouring into the pie pans. Something went wrong when the brandy was added which caused the mixture to separate and create splotches on the surface as well as a strange thin layer between the surface of the pie and the filling. It actually tasted very good-but again, not my best work. It took a lot of convincing for me to even still bring it to the party. Baking is truly a science.

This brings us to Saturday, where I made a chocolate layer cake for my husband’s birthday party. When I took the layers out of the pan, the top layer crumbled a bit, resulting in a lopsided crumbly side of the cake that no amount of frosting could cover up. Why did this happen? Probably because I am impatient and cannot wait for a cake to properly cool down before assembling it.

These recent events have reminded me that I am a bit of a perfectionist, stubborn, easily frustrated, and impatient. And also that, though these mishaps are on a smaller scale, I do need to slow down a bit and pay closer attention to details in life in general. Sometimes I am too anxious for the next step, for everything to go so perfectly, that I sabotage myself by moving too fast. And also, that at the end of the day, usually it’s the less pretty food that tastes the best!

So this post is dedicated to simplicity. For writing just to write, without worrying about having the perfect dish with the (far from) perfect photos all ready to go. Today, I wanted to share a very easy, barely even a recipe that has become my new favorite snack lately.

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Pears are in season and they are quickly becoming one of my new favorite fall fruits. To be honest, I never used to be a big fan of pears. They were okay, but never really appealed to me. Until lately, when I bought a bag of pears from Trader Joe’s for $1.99 and subsequently fell in love with them.

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My new favorite way to enjoy pears is by broiling them until they are softened and lightly browned, then putting them over a bowl of Greek yogurt, with almond butter and the cinnamon pear balsamic vinegar I splurged on. Or you could eat with ice cream, pancakes, toast, whatever you fancy. Or just enjoy them plain for a cozy winter treat.

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Broiled Cinnamon Pears

  • 1-2 pears, cut lengthwise
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon (and any other spices or seasonings as desired-pumpkin pie spice, granulated sugar, etc.!)

Heat broiler to high setting. Place pears on baking sheet and sprinkle with cinnamon. Place in broiler for 5-10 minutes, keeping close eye on them as cook. Remove from oven when cooked and browned to desired level and serve immediately!

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Weekend Scenes.

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This weekend was both a special and eventful one. Not pictured is our Friday Friendsgiving/Wii tournament. A Thanksgiving dinner party with friends turned out to be a pretty awesome idea. I made some pumpkin pies that are not pictured because, while they tasted delicious, they didn’t come out as pretty as they normally do. I know I’m a perfectionist when it comes to baking and I get so frustrated and disappointed when a recipe does not come out as I had envisioned it. Probably more so than I should. Anyway. Friendsgiving was fun!

Saturday night was Jose’s belated SURPRISE 30th birthday party! Better late than never, right? This was actually a month late because he was extremely busy with schoolwork around the time of his birthday. I actually had planned a party but had to cancel because of that. This time, we went to a local pub/restaurant and then had friends at our place afterward. It was a perfect evening spent with friends. I think he knew deep down that I couldn’t let his 30th pass by that easily!

Sunday night we went to Surabhi, a celebration of an Indian holiday planned by several Indian students at the university where I work. There was a lot of traditional dancing and singing, and I loved it. I was completely blown away by their talent, precision, and hard work. Afterward, they served Indian food and all in all it was a lovely evening.

Altogether an eventful weekend! Goes by too fast as always. Hope you had a wonderful weekend as well.

Tabbouleh

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Awhile back, my mother gave me a collection of my grandmother’s recipes that she had compiled for me, the assortment of papers, stationery, and notecards with recipes written onto them into photo album slots.

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This is where I retrieved my recipe for tabbouleh, always one of my favorite dishes that my grandmother often made. Often my grandmother or my mother would make a large batch of tabbouleh which would serve as an easy lunch or dinner accompaniment for days. Surprisingly, I hadn’t made it on my own yet and decided to bring it as a side dish to a barbecue we went to at a friends’ house this past weekend.

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Tabbouleh packs a unique and strong flavor, thanks to the parsley and green onion, which are staples in my grandmother’s salad making method. This is also one of the recipes in which she writes “3 large kitchen cooking spoons of lemon juice.” She’s known for writing vague instructions like this, where I’ve often called my mother out of panic and frustration to ask her how big the “large kitchen spoons” were that my grandmother used! Just for clarification, my grandmother is still living but not in the best of health and her memory often fails her, so it is not easy to simply pick up the phone and call her for clarification.

Anyway, so when I made this recipe for tabbouleh, I grabbed a large kitchen serving spoon and followed her measurements for the lemon juice and olive oil, and it came out…perfectly. Apparently she knew exactly what she was doing, because when I measured the amount of liquid in the large cooking spoon measurement method, it comes out to 1/3 cup (2 spoons) and ½ cup (3 spoons) precisely. I did not have to add to taste at all. Which usually never happens for me, especially when working with these types of ingredients. Usually, it’s more like, add the ingredients, taste, add more salt, taste again, and it needs more lemon juice, etc. For as vague as her measurements are, she is precise.

This one’s for you, Mimi.

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Tabbouleh

  • 2 cups bulghur wheat
  • 2 bunches parsley
  • 3-4 tomatoes (I used 4 vine tomatoes), diced
  • 1 bunch green onions, diced
  • 1 cucumber, peeled and diced
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • Pepper and allspice to taste (allspice is optional but my grandmother uses it in almost all of her recipes, so I included a sprinkling)

Rinse bulghur in cold water 3-4 times, then let rest in large bowl for at least a half hour. I used a fine mesh strainer for the bulghur, then set aside in a bowl.

Chop parsley in a food processor, or chop very finely by hand, removing stems.

Add parsley, tomatoes, green onions, and cucumber to bulghur wheat. Add lemon juice, olive oil, salt, pepper, and allspice. Mix together and taste test-add more of the spices to taste. Serve!

This makes a huge bowl of tabbouleh, perfect for large group or for several meals. An added benefit is that it tastes better and better as it sits.

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Weekend Scenes.

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I didn’t take too many photos this weekend. I suppose I was too busy enjoying it.

First of all, Fall in Kansas City is one of the most beautiful seasons I have experienced. It is gradual, the colors turning dramatically different colors every day.

Friday was a girls’ night of mulled wine and lots and lots of cheese. It was pretty amazing, as you can probably imagine. Jose was gone overnight helping his friend cook brisket overnight for their barbecue the next night, so that was as good an excuse as any.

Saturday night was the barbecue. I made tabbouleh for the first time (recipe coming soon!). It was an overall great night spent with good food and friends. We’ll definitely miss this when we move (likely) this summer.

So today obviously is not the weekend, but Jose and I had a nice little date night out. That guy always makes Mondays a bit more bearable.

Soft and Chewy Pumpkin Cookies

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Back again with the pumpkin. I know that it’s the season and that there are pumpkin recipes everywhere, this little blog included, but these are a bit unique. These cookies are made with pumpkin butter instead of pumpkin puree, which in my opinion, yields a slightly sweeter cookie with hints of maple and spice.

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I brought these cookies to our office Halloween party and, not to brag or anything, but everyone loved them. I’ve actually been making this recipe for a few years now and they’ve gotten the same reaction. These cookies are perfectly soft and keep this way for 4-5 days. I happen to be picky about cookies and will not eat them once they become stale, which usually happens in 2-3 days, so this is an added benefit to making these.

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Despite the pumpkin overload this season brings, seriously, make these because they’re the best I’ve tried and they are by far our favorite. I have a tendency to be a little bit dramatic sometimes, but this time I’m for real.

Oh, pumpkin. You knew I couldn’t stay away too long.

Soft and Chewy Pumpkin Cookies

Adapted from How Sweet It Is

  • 1 1/2 sticks (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg + 1 egg yolk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin butter
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

Mix the flour, salt, cornstarch, pumpkin pie spice and baking soda in a bowl and set aside. In another bowl, mix the melted butter and sugars until they are combined. Add the egg, egg yolk, and vanilla and stir until mixed. Stir in pumpkin butter until smooth. Gradually add flour mixture and mix until a dough forms – it will look crumbly at first, but it will come together.

Refrigerate dough for 30 minutes, then roll into golfball-sized balls. Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until cookies are crisp and slightly golden on the edges, then let cool completely.

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Cranberry White Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies

I finally made a Fall recipe that doesn’t involve pumpkin. Don’t be too worried though. I’m not through with pumpkin just yet. I made these cookies for a Chili Cook Off and wanted to create a Fall inspired recipe that was not pumpkin-based, because I figured that someone would probably bring pumpkin something or other, especially with there being a plethora of pumpkin chili these days. I have to say that I’ve never been the biggest fan of oatmeal cookies in general. I’m sure many people can relate to the disappointment I feel when I pick up an oatmeal raisin cookie after mistaking it for chocolate chips. Raisins in my dessert? No, thanks. Not my thing.

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However, since I’ve gotten older (and more mature, I like to think), I’ve developed a fondness for oatmeal, especially in baked goods. I love the texture and the heartier flavor that it lends to breads, muffins, cookies, and crusts. The health benefits are a nice added benefit as well, though I am realistic enough to know that generally speaking, stuffing white chocolate, butter, sugar, and some sweetened cranberries does not necessarily yield a health food. But, it’s all relative. They are healthier. And sometimes, when you need dessert, that’s the best you can do. I get it.

Side note: I’ve seen so many recipes for these 3 or 4 ingredient “power bites” or cookies made of only, like, bananas and carrots and protein powder, or something crazy like that. That’s all well and good for a post-workout snack, but that’s not dessert. Dessert is supposed to be a treat and, to be honest, my primary purpose when making desserts is to make it taste as amazing as possible.

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If that involves using a cup of butter and sugar, I’ll do it. It’s supposed to be a treat. If it involves adding oatmeal and ingredients that are naturally sweetened, thus cutting back on added sugar, well then, that’s an added benefit.

I could go on and on (which is probably why I started a blog in the first place) but I’ll get to the point and just give you the recipe.

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Cranberry White Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies

Inspired by this recipe

  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1 cup old-fashioned oats
  • 1 teaspoon baking solda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons melted butter
  • 3 tablespoons melted coconut oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 2/3 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/3 cup white chocolate chips or chunks

In a bowl, combine the flours, oats, baking soda, and salt.

In a large bowl, combine butter, coconut oil, vanilla extract, egg, and brown sugar. Still well until combined.

Mix dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and stir without over-mixing.

Stir in cranberries and white chocolate chips.

With a spoon, scoop cookies onto cookie sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes, until slightly golden. Let cool and enjoy!

Another note: white chocolate and cranberries are seriously a perfect combination. White chocolate does not usually satisfy my chocolate cravings, but these worked perfectly.

Weekend Scenes.

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We supported our local butcher by going to the Local Pig and picking up some of their housemade sausages in fun flavors such as Thai Peanut, Lamb Curry, and Chorizo verde, for an impromptu BBQ with friends. So good. We need to do this more often.

Everyone’s contribution to the impromptu BBQ is the third photo. Mmmm cheese.

Homemade cinnamon rolls…I can’t take credit for those but I do think they inspired me to give them a try. I’ve always been a little bit intimidated by the long and seemingly time consuming process of making them but…we’ll see. That last blurry one is an action shot of Jose multitasking between working and eating cinnamon rolls. He’s talented.

Weekend overall was a nice mix of low key and activity. On Friday I went to a yoga class after work, which was a very nice transition to the weekend. After that, I came home and we stayed in because I had to work early on a Saturday. Yeah, not fun and not the greatest start to a Saturday. That evening was BBQ night with friends, which was much needed. So was the red wine consumption.

Sunday began with a morning run, followed by church and an afternoon movie date.

I think I ask myself this every Monday but why do weekends go by so quickly?