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I have friends who are obsessed with muffins. Any time, any time of day, they’re happy. Not for me. I have pretty high expectations for muffins – they have to be really something special for me to get excited. From first bite, I was excited about these muffins.

I first made these muffins for the teachers at my children’s daycare for a holiday breakfast. I received so many compliments that I made them again only a few weeks later. The muffins are moist and super flavorful – the raspberries are a burst of brightness and are complimented by the slightly more savory dark chocolate.

Raspberry Dark Chocolate Muffins

Raspberry Dark Chocolate Muffins

Adapted from Valerie’s Kitchen

Makes ~18 Muffins

Ingredients:

  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 c. granulated sugar
  • 1/2 c. vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 2 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1 c. vanilla Greek yogurt (may use plain Greek yogurt or light sour cream instead)
  • 6 oz. raspberries, rinsed and dried
  • 1/2 c. (heaping) dark chocolate chips

Raspberry Dark Chocolate Muffins

Preheat oven to 400F, and line two muffin tins with liners.

In a large bowl, lightly whisk eggs with a fork. Add sugar, and continue whisking with fork until sugar is incorporated. Whisk in oil and vanilla.

Using a wooden spoon or rubber spatula, stir in salt, baking soda, and 1 c. flour until just barely incorporated. Stir in Greek yogurt, again until just barely incorporated. Stir in remaining 1 c. flour, and finally, fold in raspberries and dark chocolate chips.

Portion batter into prepared muffin tins. Each cup should be about 3/4 full.

Bake for 10-15 minutes, until top is golden and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Allow to cool for a few minutes before moving to a wire rack to cool completely.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to a week.

Raspberry Dark Chocolate Muffins
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The Red Scarf{Book Review}

The Red Scarf

By Kate Furnivall

Men and women taken to Soviet labor camps in the early 1930s endure day after day of manual labor until they cannot physically work anymore. It was a terrible fate for many, including Sofia. But unlike so many of the women in camp with her, Sofia remained hopeful and dreamed of freedom. She had her friend and fellow prisoner, Anna to keep her positive. Anna told story after story of her childhood filled of parties and her childhood love for a revolutionary named Vasily.

When Anna’s health suffers to the point where she must escape or would die the next winter, Sofia plots her escape. Sofia is successful and makes the long, hard journey halfway across Russia to the village where she believes Vasily lives, in disguise. There, she is adopted by a gypsy family and gradually becomes integrated into the town, earning the trust of (and falling in love with) the man she believes to be Anna’s Vasily. Her ultimate goal is to convince Vasily to return to the came with her to rescue Anna. (And that’s where this summary will end, so that I don’t give anything away.)

Review/Recommendation: I picked up this book after a friend and fellow fan of Russian historical fiction recommended the author to me.  I have sort of a mixed opinion about the book. One the one hand, it was a decent story and kept me engaged. It was a very optimistic and fantastic view of communist Russia. I mean, not only do you have a malnourished girl escaping from a Soviet labor camp, but she survived a trip of hundreds of miles and becomes more or less accepted into a town fairly easily, despite being such an unknown person. I don’t want to give away the ending, but let’s just say that it was even more incredible than what I just described. Oh, yeah, and there was a bunch of magic in there too.

But this is where the realist in me comes in. I know the story is completely historical fiction, but it just seemed way too incredible, too far from the plausible for me, as a someone who studied Russian history a pretty good bit. I can appreciate a good historical fiction, but something difficult to articulate nagged at me a bit about this book.

Overall, the book was entertaining and a pretty good read. I’ve got another of Furnivall’s on my bookshelf that I’ll definitely read – it’ll be interesting to see if the same “plausibility” factor bugs me the way it did in this one.

Grade: B

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Texas Caviar

This week, Sunday Supper is celebrating the great American tradition of football. It’s a time when people gather around the television to watch their favorite teams.

At least this is what my husband tells happens. I grew up in more of a hockey-loving household than a football-loving one. Despite 6 years of marriage, his love of football (college football, to be more specific, but football in general) hasn’t rubbed off on me. While he’s watching the game, I’m feeding him and whatever friends he’s invited over, and then hiding away with a book or my knitting.

While I might not enjoy the game, I do enjoy feeding friends. The recipe I’m sharing with you this week is a version of a dish I had years ago, something someone brought to our house for a party. It’s a great, hearty alternative to chips and salsa/guac. I made mine mild, but you can easily bump up the heat if you prefer.

Texas Caviar

Adapted from The Homesick Texan

Ingredients:

  • 2 (15- to 16-ounce) cans black-eyed peas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 bunch scallions, thinly sliced, green parts only
  • 1 Tbs. fresh oregano
  • 1 Tbs. Tabasco sauce
  • 1 Tbs. Worstershire sauce
  • 1 tsp. black pepper
  • 1/4 bunch cilantro, chopped
  • 3 jalapenos, chopped (seeds removed, if you prefer it less spicy)
  • 1 can Rotel tomatoes
  • 1/2 c. olive oil
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, finely chopped
  • 3 c. fresh garlic, finely chopped

Instructions: Mix all ingredients in a large bowl. Serve immediately or store in fridge unti ready to serve.

Serve with tortilla chips.

Looking for more recipes for your next football game? Check out these great ideas from the Sunday Supper tastemakers.

Appetizers and Sides

Main Dishes

Desserts and Drinks

Sunday Supper MovementJoin the #SundaySupper conversation on twitter on Sunday! We tweet throughout the day and share recipes from all over the world. Our weekly chat starts at 7 pm ET. Follow the #SundaySupper hashtag and remember to include it in your tweets to join in the chat. To get more great Sunday Supper Recipes, visit our website or check out our Pinterest board.

Would you like to join the Sunday Supper Movement? It’s easy. You can sign up by clicking here: Sunday Supper Movement.

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Like so many people out there, I consider January a time of renewal, of new beginnings. The hustle and excitement of the holiday season is over, and I try to return to what I consider a less-stress, healthier lifestyle. For me, that means finding a little bit of quiet time each week to do something I enjoy (knitting, blogging, reading), getting organized so that my to-do list doesn’t become out of control, walking outside (when it’s nice out), and cooking more.

With a baby and a toddler, it’s difficult for me to find the time to work out as consistently as I’d like (although I had been walking every weekend until the past week’s cold weather and Snowzilla), so instead, I’ve been focusing on healthier eating. I’ve been trying to menu plan and cook more often than not, and have made sure to have lots of healthy snacks on hand to deter me from the unhealthy snacks at work. Fresh fruit and veggies to into my lunchbox while I stock protein-packed nuts and dried fruit in my desk at work. And since we host friends for board games, knit nights, and assorted other activities almost once a week, I’ve been looking for easy, more health-conscious recipes to make for easy entertaining.

Peanut Butter Toffee Dip

Some of my go-t0, easy snacks for entertaining are dips. They take just minutes to throw together and can be paired with just about anything – from super healthy fruits and veggies to more indulgent crackers, cookies, and chips. Some of our favorites are homemade salsa, guacamole and chips; Mediterranean layer dip with pitas, a savory spinach or onion dip with bread and/or veggies; or a sweet dip (like this coconut cream dip) with fresh fruit. And I’ve been eyeing some other great, easy options Nuts.com to try on on some of our next game nights – vegetarian BBQ skewers and no-bake granola bars, just to name a few.

Anyway, this week, I have made for you a peanut butter toffee dip. It’s a little bit savory and a little bit sweet. Packed with protein from the cream cheese and peanut butter, I paired it was apple slices for a healthy(ish) snack. It was thoroughly enjoyed by the adults and children alike. :-)

Peanut Butter Toffee Dip

Adapted from Oh, Sweet Basil

Ingredients:

  • 8 oz. reduced-fat cream cheese, softened
  • 1 c. light brown brown sugar
  • 1/2 c. natural, creamy peanut butter
  • 1 Tbs. vanilla extract
  • 1 c. toffee pieces

Using a hand mixer or a rubber spatula, mix cream cheese, brown sugar, peanut butter, and vanilla until thoroughly combined. Fold in most of the toffee pieces, reserving a few to sprinkle on top. Transfer to a serving dish and top with remaining toffee.

Serve with apple slices, graham crackers, or munchie of your choice.

Recipe Note: Our daycare is nut-free, but I’d love to try this with sunflower seed butter in place of the peanut butter. I bet it would be great!

Disclaimer: This post was created on behalf of Nuts.com. I was not compensated for this post, and all opinions are my own.

Peanut Butter Toffee Dip
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I meant to get this post up – my Christmas week menus – Christmas week, but as usual, life got in the way. My baby got sick, so we spent a few miserable days cuddling as he recovered in time to enjoy lots of family visiting, and, of course, Santa. Since I’m late, I’ll give you the menus, and a little bit about what I’ve been up to, and why it’s been so quiet on the blog over the past few weeks.

So as I said, at the start of Christmas week, my sweet boy came down with a nasty virus and ear infection, making him a pitiful sight. We had a couple of rough days, sleeping all day, eating very little, and trouble breathing at night. Thankfully, Nutterbutter started recovering and returning to his normal, happy baby-self just as family started to arrive.

This was the first Christmas since I’ve been with my husband (8 years) Tree!where we weren’t traveling for Christmas. We ended up with a full house – several members of my family came for the holidays, as well as some close friends, our “local family,” as we think of them.

The week was amazing. I LOVED seeing my little ones crawling over and smiling at my 85-year old grandfather, teasing my uncles, begging my brother to color… It was the first Christmas where my daughter understood that Santa was coming, and her reaction on Christmas morning was priceless. She was absolutely speechless, eventually stuttering, “so… many…presents.” We truly had the perfect Christmas.

My mom stayed until New Years Eve, to watch the munchkins while daycare was closed. I love when my mom stays, but it’s always tough – I’d rather be home and hanging out with her instead of working or being productive at home.

Once my house emptied out, I focused on returning life to normal – getting through the laundry, putting away the Christmas stuff, finding a new home for all of the toys, etc. The normal, boring stuff. But most of all, I was knitting like crazy. My sister-in-law’s baby shower was this past weekend, and I really wanted to finish the baby blanket I had started for my first (!) nephew. Knitting was pretty much all I did for the better part of a week, but it was worth it. I finished it the night before the shower, later than I would have liked. I was pretty pleased with the way it turned out, and think both my brother and sister-in-law liked the blanket.

Never one to sit for long, when my nephew’s baby blanket was finished, I turned to organizing my photos (which I slacked on for the past few months) and finishing my son’s 3-6 month photo album. (I’m creating digital scrapbooks, four for the first year of his life.) I’m really making an effort to stay on track with finishing his albums – Nutterbutter is almost 9 months old, and I’ll have another album to start on very shortly. I can’t get behind! My daughter is almost 3 and I’ve yet to do any of her albums. (#fail!) I still have a long way to go on this project, but I feel better having started getting back on track.

So life is returning to normal after all of the winter holidays. I am getting caught up on or finishing some projects, and after a short break to focus on my home and family, I’m ready to get back to blogging. I’ve got a number of posts to finish up, and several new ones I’m planning, so stay tuned for regular updates. Without further ado, I give you my Christmas week menus! (Hey, you can still bookmark them for next year! :-) )

CHRISTMAS WEEK MENUS

Sweets for the Week

With unexpected additions from some family members, I decided to skip formal desserts for the week.
Instead, we had an assortment of cookies and candies.

White Chocolate Covered Oreos
Chocolate Chip Cookies
Caramels
Spritz
Polish “Chrust”
See’s Chocolates

Wednesday, Dinner for 8

Meat Lasagna
Spinach Lasagna
Garlic Ciabatta Bread

Thursday (Christmas Eve), Dinner for 12 Adults, 2 Toddlers

Crab Cakes with Creole Sauce
Rice Pilaf
Roasted Carrots
Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Friday (Christmas), Breakfast for 10 Adults, 1 Toddler

Tomato & Asiago Frittata
Raspberry Dark Chocolate Chip Muffins
Mimosas

Afternoon Appetizers for 12 Adults, 2 Toddlers

Spanokopitas
Antipasto & Cheese Platter

Dinner for 12 Adults, 2 Toddlers

French Onion Soup*
Roasted Beef Tenderloin
Mashed Potatoes
Green Bean Salad
Roasted Brussels Sprouts

* I wasn’t super excited about the version of French Onion Soup that I made on Christmas Day, so instead I linked to my tried and true recipe.

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“but for my own part, if a book is well written, I always find it too short.”
Jane Austen

This past year, I felt like I read very few books. Unusual for me, but I guess natural with all I had going on in my life. So this year, with an almost 3-year old and a new baby arriving halfway through the year, I decided to shoot to read 30 books this year – enough to keep me in the habit of reading (and to prevent me from falling too far behind on books by my favorite authors!) but also a high enough number so that I couldn’t slack off.

I came close, but didn’t reach my goal. My reading definitely in the latter part f the year, as we traveled and entertained more. I didn’t review everything I read this year (see here for reviews from this year, the most recent first), but I did track it. If you’re interested, you can check out that list here.

So, without further ado, I give you some of my favorite books that I read this year (in the order in which I read them).

Labyrinth

Labyrinth (by Kate Mosse) – I actually just barely finished this one in 2014, but blogged it in 2015, so I’m going to count it. I enjoyed the story, the blend of two story-lines, one past, one present. There was a little history, a little mystery and suspense, and a little magic. It had something for everyone.

Snitch

Snitch (by Brooker T Mattison) – A quick suspense novel that stands out from others in the genre for it’s poetic prose and depth of characters.

The Rosie Project

The Rosie Project (by Graeme Simsion) – A light fictional novel about a socially awkward genetics professor and his search to find the perfect wife. It’s sequel, The Rosie Effect was a little disappointing (although it could have been my frame of mind), but The Rosie Project definitely ranked up there in my top books of the year.

Daughter of Smoke & Bones Trilogy

Daughter of Smoke & Bones Trilogy (by Laini Taylor) – A young adult/fantasy series, I was hooked pretty quickly. The trilogy has a little bit of everything – angels, monsters, and humans; love and war; dark and serious characters and others that are more relaxed, funny, and witty. I flew through this set of books and definitely had a hard time putting them down.

What were  your favorite books of 2015?
Is there anything you’d recommend that I check out?

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This week, Sunday Supper is hoping to help you identify some wonderful recipes for your last minute holiday entertaining.

The Frenchy

The Frenchie

Yes, that is my basil outside, as of early December. While I long for a white
Christmas, we usually don’t get much snow until at least February.

When hosting, I usually plan my menus and start prepping food well in advance. It didn’t come close to happening this year, but it’s not uncommon for me to have a good start on my holiday prep in early November. However, no matter how much I plan, I tend to forget about beverages. There’s always non-alcoholic drinks, beer, and wine, but sometimes it’s nice to have a little something extra. This recipe is easy enough to keep in your back pocket, and to make, one drink at a time.

The Frenchy

Adapted from Intoxicology

Makes 1 Drink

Ingredients:

  • 1 oz. pear vodka
  • 3 oz. pineapple juice
  • 1 oz. cranberry juice

Fill a rocks glass halfway with ice. Add vodka and pineapple juice. Stir. Top with cranberry juice.

Enjoy with your loved ones.

For more last-minute ideas for holiday entertaining, check out these
recipes compliments of the Sunday Supper tastemakers.

Beverages

Breakfast

Appetizers

Main Dishes

Side Dishes

Desserts

Quick and Easy Holiday Recipe #SundaySupper by Sunday Supper Movement

Sunday Supper MovementJoin the #SundaySupper conversation on twitter on Sunday! We tweet throughout the day and share recipes from all over the world. Our weekly chat starts at 7:00 pm ET. Follow the #SundaySupper hashtag and remember to include it in your tweets to join in the chat. To get more great Sunday Supper Recipes, visit our website or check out our Pinterest board.

Would you like to join the Sunday Supper Movement? It’s easy. You can sign up by clicking here: Sunday Supper Movement.

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What's_Baking_BadgeOver the past few years, I’ve come to really enjoy entertaining for breakfast, or brunch. I tend to make easy, no-fuss items, but my guests are always pleasantly surprised with whatever I make. (Maybe they’re expecting me to pick up bagels the morning of?)

I have several go-to choices for brunch entertaining – frittatas and oven-baked eggs, scones, fresh fruit served with yogurt and homemade granola, and biscotti. While biscotti is really a cookie, I love to serve it at breakfast (or squirrel myself a couple pieces for my afternoon pick-me-up) with a steaming cup of coffee. So I was super excited when Coleen from The Redhead Baker chose biscotti for this month’s theme for What’s Baking?.

As soon as I spotted this recipe for candied pecan biscotti in my bookmarks, I knew I had to make it. It reminded me of pecan pies and late fall. The recipe didn’t disappoint. I expected a super strong cinnamon flavor, but it was fairly faint, with the sweetness of the candied pecans shining through.

What’s your favorite type of biscotti?

Candied Pecan Biscotti

Candied Pecan Biscotti

Adapted from Joy the Baker

Makes 2 dozen biscotti

Ingredients:

  • 2 c. all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 c. granulated sugar
  • 6 Tbs. unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 egg
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 c. candied pecans, coarsely chopped
  • (optional) cinnamon-sugar for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 325F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.Candied Pecan Biscotti 5

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Lower speed and add egg, egg yolk, and vanilla, one at a time, scraping down sides of the bowl as necessary. Add flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking powder, and salt, a little at a time. Scrape down sides of the bowl, beating a little more if necessary. Dough will be stiff. Fold in candied pecans.

Divide dough into equal portions onto each baking sheet. Shape each into a long log, about 1 inch high.

Bake for 20 minutes. Rotate baking sheets and bake for another 20-25 minutes. Biscotti should be golden and firm to touch.

Remove from oven (don’t turn the oven off!) and set on baking sheets to cool slightly. When cool enough to handle, cut into 1-inch wide pieces with a serrated knife. Place biscotti cut-side down on baking sheet. Sprinkle with half of the cinnamon sugar and bake for another 10 minutes. Flip over, sprinkle with the rest of the cinnamon sugar, and bake for a final 10 minutes. Biscotti will be golden brown.

Allow to cool slightly on baking sheet before moving to a wire rack to cool completely.

Store in an airtight container for up to a week.

Enjoy with a cup of coffee.

Candied Pecan Biscotti

 

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These nuts are easy to make and crazy addictive. Try them for an easy holiday munchie.

Candied Pecans

Candied Pecans

Adapted from Joy the Baker

Makes ~3 cups of candied pecans

Ingredients:

  • 1 egg white
  • 1/2 c. granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/8 tsp. cayenne
  • 2 c. pecan halves

Preheat oven to 300F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.Candied Pecans 1

In a medium bowl, whisk egg white until bubbly and starting to foam, 2-3 minutes. Whisk in sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, and cayenne. Fold in pecans, ensuring they’re completely coated.

Spread pecans in a single layer onto prepared baking sheet. Bake 30-35 minutes until toasted and golden brown.

Remove from oven. Allow to cool on baking sheet, before breaking into pieces.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature. Nuts will keep for at least a week.

Candied Pecans
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Tree! My hubby and I decided to retire our annual holiday party, after several years of hosting. While we loved hosting, the party started after dinner and was not super convenient for families, who either had to get a babysitter or leave very early. So, we decided to morph our annual holiday party into an open house.

Our first annual Holiday Open House was held this weekend. It began much earlier in the evening and was much more kid-friendly than past events. Since it was our first year with a heavier menu (actually serving dinner instead of just an assortment of appetizers) and because we have a baby and a toddler, I kept the menu fairly simple this year.

Holiday Open House 2

2015 Holiday Open House

Event for ~25 adults and ~12 toddlers/kids

Entrees:

Manly Meaty Chili
serves with tortilla chips, cornbread,* and assorted toppings
Chick-fil-a Chicken Nuggets

Savory Munchies:

Veggie Platter
Fruit Platter
Antipasto Tray (with cashews, olives, crackers, and apricots)
Candied Pecans

Sweets:

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies*
S’mores Bars
White Chocolate Covered Oreos
Candied Pecan Biscotti
Christmas Cupcakes+
Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Dip & Graham Crackers+

Drinks:

Pomegranate Sangria
White Wine
Beer
Juice
Hot Chocolate

Holiday Open House 3

* I linked to my favorite recipes for these dishes, but I will admit that I took the easy way out this year – both of these items were made from mixes to save me a little bit of time and to free up my oven a bit.

+ Dishes brought by friends.

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