Maple butter pecan cheesecake

Butter pecan is one of those flavors that instantly transports me back to an 8 year old girl sitting with her daddy in the summertime gorging herself on a gigantic bowl of velvety ice cream. My dad's favorite flavor to this day, and for good reason. Smooth, nutty, buttery goodness - so rich and decadent. And while I wouldn't consider it my all time favorite flavor, it does remind me of home and comfort and love. It's incredible the extreme role that food plays in our lives. Reminding us of times long past. Grandma's apple pie or mom's mashed potatoes...there's something about those home cooked traditions, no matter how simple, that fill our bellies and our hearts with goodness.

This cheesecake is incredible. Rich and luxurious; bursting with flavor! The texture is velvety and smooth and would be perfectly accompanied by a buttery caramel sauce - but I didn't let myself get too out of control. This cake is a beast! And a serious splurge. Be sure to make it for company and not just yourself. I will take NO responsibility for the 8 lb weight gain should you accidentally devour it in it's entirety. It needs to set overnight for best results. I know it's nearly impossible, trust me. But it will produce the texture and consistency it deserves. So bake it, try and completely fill and occupy all of your waking moments until you slumber, and then remove it the next day for breakfast. Errrrr, I mean...you should probably wait until dessert. But there will be no judgey eyes coming from this direction should you fail :)

Maple butter pecan cheesecake

Crust:
1.5 cups (~ 1 sleeve) graham crackers, crushed
1/2 cup pecans, finely chopped
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup butter, melted

Filling:
3 (8oz) packages cream cheese, softened
1-1/3 cups sugar
1 (16oz) container sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon organic maple syrup
2 tablespoons butter 
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup finely chopped pecans

Topping:
Reserved graham cracker crumbs

Optional for serving: chopped glazed/regular pecans, caramel sauce


Crush graham crackers and finely chop pecans in whatever fashion you desire (a food processor comes in handy here - toss 'em in and pulse 'em up). In a large bowl combine the cracker crumbs, pecans, sugar and butter; set aside 1/3 cup for topping. Press remaining crumb mixture into the bottom and about 1 inch up the sides of a greased 9 inch springform pan.

Place springform pan on a double layer of heavy-duty foil. Securely wrap foil around pan ensuring there are no openings or tears.

In a large bowl, beat softened cream cheese and sugar together until smooth. Beat in the sour cream, vanilla, maple syrup and butter. Add eggs; beat on very low speed until just combined. Fold in pecans to incorporate. 

Pour filling into crust and sprinkle with reserved crumb mixture. Place springform pan in a large baking pan with high sides. Add 1 in. of hot water to larger pan to create a water bath - this will ensure even cooking and prevent cracking.

Bake at 325° for 80-90 minutes or until center is almost set. Remove springform pan from water bath and cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Once slightly cooled, carefully run a knife around edge of pan to loosen but do not remove the sides. Cool 1 hour longer and then refrigerate overnight. 

To serve, remove sides and slice :) This dessert will feed a crowd - approximately 16 servings!

Posted on April 7, 2014 .

Tasty toddler treats

Several of my mommy friends and I have been discussing the trials and tribulations of toddler meals recently. Babies go from these explorative little beings tasting and devouring every morsel set in front of them to being particular little bubs with selective tastes and wants. My birdie used to adore veggies, heck, she adored everything! But these days carrots are my one and only go to of the vegetable variety. Or her "treat" pouch of broccoli, pear and peas - the only pouch she ever really sought after which was ok by me :) Everything else is hit or miss. She may adore roasted broccoli one evening and the next use the pretty little florets as a paintbrush to complete her high chair tray masterpiece. Peas are scrumptious little pellets one lunch and cannon balls to launch the next. There's just no telling!

I thought I'd post our sort of standard brunch/lunches. Mostly finger foods that try to incorporate the good things she will willingly eat. Dinners are more (hidden) veggie inclusive and usually in the form of our family meals (pastas, soups, casseroles, bakes....things of the meat and veggie variety). We do try and keep her interested and excited with new foods, flavors and textures. She's most certainly her daddy's girl - loving those spicy indian and thai flavors her poppa adores. But that's for another post. Here are some of our simple daytime dishes and snacks that are always devoured!

Fruit is the clear front runner and go to for our little foodie. She adores berries of all kinds, apples, bananas, peaches, grapes and plums - she even chows down on most of the exotic stuff as well! Other favorite mix and match munchables include:

nut + seed combos
peanut/almond butter on almost anything
carrots
greek yogurt
steamed edamame (shelled)
whole wheat pretzels
nitrate-free lunch meats
dried fruit of all varieties
cottage cheese
homemade waffles + pancakes with fruit/nuts/pumpkin/spice - anything seasonal :)
eggs
cubed cheese
raisins and prunes
rice cakes
homemade muffins
steel cut oatmeal with all the fixin's
avocado slices

She does not get that egg loving bit from me. Fortunately she's just so darn cute that I suffer through  preparing one of my loathed foods several times per week :) So these are some of our family favorites! I've included one of our go to fruit salad recipes below - simple and oh so tasty! 

Favorite Fruit Salad:

~1 large mango, seeded and chopped
~8 strawberries, chopped
~1 carton blueberries
2-3 kiwis, peeled and chopped
(Optional: pineapple + passionfruit)
~3 tablespoons flaked coconut
~3 tablespoons slivered almonds
honey for topping

This recipe is very forgiving and oh so personal. If you adore one fruit more than another, feel free to up the quantities! Wash and chop fruit and gently stir together to incorporate. Top each serving with a sprinkling of coconut flakes + slivered almonds. Finish it off with a drizzle of honey and enjoy!

Posted on April 5, 2014 .

Prague, Czech Republic

My heart found its way to this magnificent city and I'm afraid it may never return to me. What an exquisite destination. The architecture. The views! The ambiance. It is unlike anything I have ever experienced - a true old world beauty. Such a romantic, magical city pathed with cobblestone and rich in history and culture. It is a true fairytale. 

Prague wasn't even on my radar. Ever. Upon finding that my husband had an upcoming 4 day weekend, my wandering soul immediately began making travel plans. But my destinations of choice were Dublin or London; 2 places I still very much wish to explore. Our plans were fairly last minute, however, so pricing flights (which were awkward travel times for our toddler) and accommodations was proving to be exponentially more expensive than anticipated. Not to mention the weather was looking on the bleak side in both areas. 

So my brilliant better half suggested a place within driving distance and I am ever so grateful for his geographical knowledge :) 4.5 hours later (and maybe or maybe not a guilty spur of the moment McDonald's pit stop) we were in our desired destination. I was immediately smitten!

Prague is a fairly condensed city, and though somewhat crowded, I felt much more at peace here than in other popular tourist destinations. Everything we wished to see was within walking distance, which made touring the city with toddler in tow a breeze. No wrangling strollers and supplies onto crowded trains and bus transport. We found a beautifully renovated apartment just a 5 minute stroll from the historic Charles bridge, 20 minutes from old town and 10 to the Castle and Cathedral. We really were situated in such a prime location! 

I can't directly pinpoint just what it is about Prague that made us fall head over heels, but we're obviously not the first travelers swooned by it's graces. Love locks adorned every available nook and cranny throughout the bridges and canals. Lovers leaving a small trinket of their affection; and though it's not uncommon throughout Europe, it certainly lends a feeling of romance. 

I cannot wait to return to this remarkably breathtaking city. I'm sure we'll discover many more hidden treasures amidst it's streets. Until next time!

Posted on March 24, 2014 .

Sweet potato quinoa patties

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Surprise surprise! Another sweet potato recipe from yours truly. I promise to move on from these fall favorites after this very recipe. These incredibly flavorful patties are perfect for any occasion, and healthy to boot! Can't go wrong with that winning combo. And if you happen to have leftover quinoa or baked sweet potatoes, this recipe comes together in mere minutes. But fret not, if your fridge is quinoa-less, it still takes just a small bit of prep. And I promise you, your efforts will be worth the reward. This recipe makes about a dozen or so small sized patties which you can store in the refrigerator for several days! You'll have patties on hand for leftover breakfast, lunch and dinner :) Pair them with the delightfully refreshing dressing below (also found here) for a match made in avocado sweet potato heaven. With a little cilantro thrown in for good measure, of course!

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Sweet Potato Quinoa Patties

2 cups sweet potato, baked, peeled + mashed (approximately 2 medium potatoes)
2 cups quinoa, cooked
1 small yellow onion, finely diced 
2 cloves of garlic, finely minced
1/2 small bunch of cilantro, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon cumin
sea salt + fresh cracked pepper, to taste
coconut oil (or your preferred oil)

Prepare quinoa according to package directions (1 cup uncooked yields approximately 3 cups cooked, so you'll have some leftover should you go that route).

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Coat potatoes with a bit of oil (optional) and pierce with fork. Bake for 45-60 minutes or until soft. Remove flesh, mash with a fork to remove all chunks and place in large mixing bowl.

Add onions, quinoa, cilantro, cumin, and salt + pepper to taste to the prepared sweet potatoes and stir to thoroughly combine.

Heat a nonstick skillet with oil over medium heat. Form prepared mixture into approximately golf ball sized balls and flatten into patties. Once skillet is hot, cook patties in oil until a nice browned + crisp exterior is achieved (approximately 2-4 minutes per side). Rinse and repeat :) Top with extra cilantro and dressing of your choosing. Store leftovers in the refrigerator for several days. Enjoy!

Posted on March 3, 2014 .

Creamy Avocado Cilantro dressing

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I love salad dressing. Though I do not love the calories one tiny tablespoon packs. Creamy irresistible sauce to coat pretty much any and every consumable item is right up my alley. Salads? Check! Veggies? Check! Pizza? Oh come now, don't tell me you don't like dipping your deep crusts in a vat of deliciously thick and tangy ranch dressing. You don't? You should. Yes my friends, pizza and ranch is a match made in heaven. Get on with your bad self. 

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But wait, this post isn't about ranch, rather a healthier alternative that's just as satisfying. Yep, I said it. An equal counterpart. And I'd wager it's about half the calories. If not, it's a heck of a lot healthier use of your daily count! I'd use this on salads and veggies . Heck, tacos and pizzas and sweet potato patties (which I will actually be doing with this very batch), too! 

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This can be more of a dip or more of a dressing. If you want a thicker end result, leave as is. For a more pourable version, thin with a bit of water until the desired consistency is reached.

So, if you're a mega fan of avocado and cilantro, please proceed :)

Creamy avocado cilantro dressing

1 avocado, deseeded and flesh removed
1 cup plain yogurt (I used greek)
1/2 bunch of cilantro, about 3/4 cup of leaves
2 green onions, bulbs removed
1-2 cloves garlic
1 jalapeno, deseeded for a milder spice, whole for a kick :)
Juice of 2 small limes
salt and pepper to taste

Combine all of the above ingredients in a food processor and pulse to thoroughly incorporate. Thin with water, if desired. Stores in the fridge for several days.

Posted on February 27, 2014 .

Crispy rosemary and gruyere sweet potato gratin

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Apparently I've made it my mission in life to see how many ways I can prepare sweet potatoes. Or maybe it's just my mission to convert my husband and daughter to team yam. Right now we're frenemies in that arena.  But since I adore the sweet little spuds and consume them on the regular, I keep trying to revamp the dish to suit my family's particular little taste buds. I decided to try my hand at a little gem they call domino potatoes. Though, my dominos weren't squared off and symmetrical and there were variations in thickness and width (note to self: acquire a mandolin pronto)... I guess I didn't really try my hand at domino potatoes at all. I chose the rustic road less traveled :) We'll just dub it a crispy sweet potato gratin. Either way, my guests indulged - hopefully for the flavor and not just for the cute little crispity discs.

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I'm not a fan of the traditional overly sweet accompaniments we most often associate with a sweet potato casserole. I prefer to take a more savory route; focusing on the rich, nutty flavors of the spud. Though the brown sugar does add a hint of sweetness, the cheese, shallots, and rosemary keep it at bay. Add to that a touch of salty bacon, because we all know bacon makes everything better, and you have yourself a winning combination! With crispy edges (my favorite part) and soft, smooth interiors, these little tater rings will have you at hello. 

Crispy rosemary and gruyere sweet potato gratin 

2-3 medium sweet potatoes (similar in size), scrubbed, peeled and sliced into 1/8" rounds
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
2 shallots, sliced thinly
1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary, plus additional for garnish
5-7 slices thick cut bacon, diced
2 ounces Gruyere cheese (about ½ cup), finely grated

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Scrub and peel sweet potatoes and pray that you own a mandoline :) If you don't, put it on your list of future necessary kitchen appliances and proceed. With a sharp knife, slice potatoes as thinly and evenly as possible (approximately 1/8"). Chop rosemary and slice shallots and set aside.

Arrange sliced potatoes vertically in a small casserole dish. 

Melt butter on the stovetop over low heat. Once melted, add in brown sugar and stir to combine. Brush a healthy coating of the butter and sugar mixture evenly over the dominoed potatoes, taking care to get some in the cracks and crevices as well. Top with rosemary and place shallots between sliced potatoes evenly throughout the gratin

Roast potatoes for approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until the middle of the potatoes are tender and the tops begin to brown and crisp up. They made need a bit more time depending on thickness, so be sure to test the center of a thicker disc for doneness. 

While the potatoes are roasting, pan fry your bacon crisp and chop, finely shred gruyere cheese and chop a bit more rosemary for garnish if desired.

Once potatoes are removed from oven, immediately top with bacon, additional rosemary, and gruyere. Serve warm :)

Posted on February 17, 2014 .