Most Popular Recipes of 2013

Hey, are you tired of the whole countdown of the best/worst of 2013 thing yet?

Ok, GOOD, because here's another one.

2013 was a big year for me because it was the year I started this blog! I'll have more reflecting on that and my personal recipe favorites later in the month on the blogiversary, but for now, here are the 12 most popular recipes of 2013, as established by your pins, shares, and page views.

Pasta e Fagioli with Kale
This hearty healthy soup is comfort food in a bowl.

Double Chocolate Brownies with Peanut Butter Marshmallow Swirl
Chocolate, peanut butter & marshmallow? Done and done.

Gluten-Free Quinoa Peanut Butter Granola Bars with Chocolate Drizzle 
These bars manage to feel totally decadent while being surprisingly healthy. Too bad I ate so much of the chocolate straight out of the pot…


Pomegranate Kiwi Bellinis

Hi friends. I hope you've had a lovely Christmas.

I'm still in Missouri, where I've been hanging out with the cutest grandpa in the world, eating too many cookies, snuggling with my hubby, and playing in the snow.

So. much. snow.

I love it, although I must admit I'm kind of a wuss when it comes to windchill temperatures in the negative twenties. This southern girl is just not cut out for that kind of cold.

These few days between Christmas and New Year's are sort of strange, aren't they?  There's the anticipation for the new year and the promise it brings. Some to-do lists and resolutions for things we'll do better. or differently.

(Maybe you want to add kiwis soaked in vodka to that list….and pomegranates)


Goat Cheese Thumbprint Cookies with Homemade Pear Jam

Hey, I made you some cookies!

Soft, sweet crumbly cookies with a surprise ingredient.

Well, not so surprising since you probably already read the title. GOAT CHEESE!

Yes, I put goat cheese in your cookies. But I promise they're so good.


Whipped Goat Cheese Crostini with Pancetta & Kale and Rosemary Roasted Pears

Exams. are. done.

I don't know about you, but I need a large glass of wine.

annnnd some party appetizers. Preferably something in small pieces so I can justify the large number of them that I am about to consume in post-exam induced celebratory eating.

And maybe some vegetables and fruit so I can still get my nutrients? But also bacon. And cheese. Definitely cheese.

The idea of whipped goat cheese came to me, like a vision, in a moment of studying procrastination. I don't even remember what I was supposed to be studying, but I was dreaming about an appetizer I could make to bring to a holiday party the day after my last exam. 

Once I had the idea of whipped goat cheese on my brain, I literally could not stop thinking about it. 

On the night before my second exam, I was laying awake in bed dreaming of flavor combinations, asking Adam for ideas.  

He told me go to sleep. 

I was so tired and brain-dead by my next exam, I'm lucky I didn't start writing out recipe directions. 

I have a feeling that would not have gone over well with my professor. 

I have to admit that my weird studying-crazed brain came up with some pretty good flavor combinations. In fact, I'm as obsessed with the toppings as I was with the idea of the whipped goat cheese. 

I knew I wanted a sweet and savory variation, and after my professed love of these rosemary roasted pears, I already knew what the sweet crostini would be.

I used bosc pears, which held up to roasting beautifully, thanks to their firm texture, and their sweetness paired perfectly with the creamy the goat cheese.  

The savory crostini were inspired by Adam. (He did finally give me some ideas after all. I can be devastatingly persistent.)

When asked what he would like to eat on whipped goat cheese crostini, his response was "bacon." When coaxed further, (What about a vegetable?) his response was "spinach."

I opted to use kale instead, because I thought its heartier texture would hold its own with the other ingredients. I also added in some caramelized onions and garlic and used pancetta instead of regular bacon.

These were, I think, the party favorite.  I personally love them both together, mostly because I have one of those weird palates where immediately after eating something savory, I want something sweet, and vice versa. I could go on eating these for a LONG time.

All things considered, these crostini are pretty easy to make.  The whipped goat cheese is simply room temperature goat cheese mixed with half and half, honey, and any other spices you like. While the pears were roasting, I made the pancetta/kale/onion mixture and then all of it was ready around the same time. I put everything into containers, and assembled the crostini at my friend's house for the party.

Also, I know goat cheese is an ingredient that people seem to either love or hate, so if you think these look good sans the goat cheese, try them with whipped feta instead.

Whipped Goat Cheese Crostini with Pancetta & Kale and Rosemary Roasted Pears

*For the whipped goat cheese:
8 ounces goat cheese, room temperature
6 tablespoons half and half, room temperature
1 tablespoon honey
pinch of salt & pepper

For the rosemary roasted pears:
2 Bosc bears, thinly sliced
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
1 tbsp olive oil

For the pancetta & kale:
1 tsp olive oil
1/2 tbsp garlic
pinch of red pepper flakes
1 small onion
4 ounces pancetta, cubed (I bought this kind)
4 cups kale, cut into very small pieces

1 multi-grain baguette, sliced

*This quantity makes a LOT. If you're making appetizers for less than 12 people, I would halve the the whipped goat cheese recipe.

For the rosemary roasted pears:
Preheat oven to 450.

Assemble sliced pears on a cookie sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with rosemary. Bake for about 6 minutes, then remove and flip slices over. Bake for an additional 6 minutes, or until both sides are golden.

For the pancetta & kale:
Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add onions and cook for 10-15 minutes, or until golden and translucent. Add the garlic, red pepper flakes, and pancetta, and cook until pancetta is browned and has rendered all its fat. Remove onion and pancetta mixture onto a plate lined with paper towels to remove excess fat. Return to pan and add kale. Cook for only a minute or so until kale is soft.

For the whipped goat cheese:
In a medium bowl, combine goat cheese, half and half, and honey. Add a pinch of salt and pepper and any other fresh herbs you like!

For the crostini:
If desired, brush slices of baguette with olive oil and roast in the oven at 450 for 5 minutes. Spread each slice with the whipped goat cheese and top with pears and pancetta/kale mixture.

Whipped Goat Cheese inspired by Giada De Laurentiis.

Pumpkin Pie with Gluten-Free Crust

Hey friends--I'm crawling out from the rock I've been living under the past week while studying for exams to share a guest post from my dear friend Erin. I've sung her praises once already, but I'll have to do it again. She oh so generously agreed to post for me during exams MONTHS ago, and I'm so thankful for her unwavering support. She's been gluten-free for over 4 years, and has become quite the gluten-free baking expert.   I can't wait to make this pie!

Traditions are a huge part of the holidays for me. There are certain components of seasonal foods that CANNOT may have to be change. Pumpkin pie is one of those desserts for me.  When I went gluten-free I assumed holidays would never be the same since I no longer would have my beloved traditional pumpkin pie. Over the years, I have experimented with crust-less pumpkin pies, pumpkin mouse, pumpkin pudding and other substitutes for my pie. These substitutes all left me disappointed and motivated to find an option that would keep my holidays as traditional as possible.

I have finally come up with a crust recipe that will not disappoint. My family members and friends that have tasted it are often surprised when I tell them that the crust is gluten free. Try making this pie over the holidays to taste how I changed updated my holiday traditions.

Filling mixture

Before baking

Finished Product

Pumpkin Pie with Gluten Free Crust

Crust ingredients
1 stick salted butter VERY cold (I stick it in the freezer for 20 minutes before using)
½ cup almond flour
¾ cup gluten free oat flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp granulated sugar
3 tablespoon ice-cold water (I stick a cup of water in the freezer for 10-15 minutes and use that)

Filling ingredients
1 15oz can pumpkin puree
½ cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
½  teaspoon nutmeg
½  teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon cloves
1 12oz can evaporated milk
1 large egg

Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees.

Lightly grease a pie pan. Cut cold butter into pieces. In a large bowl, combine flours and butter. Slowly add in additional crust ingredients. The water should be added one tablespoon at a time until you can form a ball of dough that is slightly moist but not “wet”.  Roll the dough ball out into the pie pan to cover the bottom and sides of the pan.

In a large bowl, mix the pumpkin, sugars and spices until well incorporated. Add the egg and the milk slowly to combine. Pour the filling mixture into the crust.

Bake for about 30 minutes or until filling is firm and top of the pie is a rust/ brown color. If you see that the rim of the crust is burning toward the last 10 minutes, cover the burnt parts only with aluminum foil to keep them from burning further.

Enjoy and Happy Holidays!

Thanks Erin!


Creamy Mexican Hot Chocolate (in the crock pot)

One of my favorite Saturdays in recent memory was back in September when Adam and I went hiking with my sister and her boyfriend at Occoneechee Mountain in Hillsborough. It wasn't a particularly long or strenuous hiking trail, but it was wooded and pretty and cool, and at the summit we stood and felt accomplished.

Afterwards, we walked through a historic neighborhood to find a local barbecue place for lunch and then meandered around downtown. We stumbled into a carefully curated book store and wandered some more until we found Matthew's Chocolates, a teeny chocolate store and cafe with unique truffles and candies, enormous homemade marshmallows, and the most delicious Mexican hot chocolate I have ever had.

The weather had just enough chill in the air to justify hot chocolate, and Adam and I decided to split one. Ordinarily, I like my spicy separate from my sweet, so I was hesitant about ordering the Mexican variety, but my sister insisted. After one sip, I regretted having to share it.  

The spice was subtle but brought out the depth of the chocolate flavor. Each sip was sweet, yet slightly exotic, and immensely comforting. It instantly became a powerful food memory for me, most likely because of the invigorating morning hike, the charm of the downtown, and the fact that I was with some of my favorite people.  

I've done my best to recreate that hot chocolate for you here. I chose to use a crock pot because I wanted the spices to have some time to meld with the milk and chocolate, although you could make this more quickly on the stove top if you like. Just be sure to keep the heat on low so as not to burn the chocolate.

I'm hoping sipping on this will bring me some comfort on long nights of studying this week.  Finals are here, and I'm sure you don't need me to tell you how stressed I am. BUT, I'm also excited because a dear friend is doing a guest post next week.

For those of you lucky enough to not be studying, this hot chocolate would be lovely to serve at a holiday party or just to sip on while decorating, wrapping, or other festive things.

Happy December, friends!

Creamy Mexican Hot Chocolate (in the crock pot) 

1 can sweetened condensed milk (I used fat free)
5 1/2 cups milk (I used skim)
scant 3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 Tbsp cocoa powder
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp chili powder
pinch of nutmeg
pinch of cayenne
pinch of salt
Optional Toppings:
fresh whipped cream
extra chocolate chips
cinnamon sticks, for garnish

Combine all ingredients in the crock pot.

Cook on low for  2 hours. (Be careful not to allow it to become TOO hot or the chocolate will become lumpy)

Taste and adjust spices as desired

Pour into mugs and enjoy!

Makes about 5-6 servings.

Extra can be stored in the fridge and reheated in the microwave.

Inspired by Better Homes & Gardens and Gimme Some Oven.


Sweet Potato Blondies with Marshmallow Topping

This recipe may anger sweet potato purists. 

You probably know one, if you're not one yourself.  It's someone who prefers their sweet potatoes simple and unadulterated--either baked plain or roasted with a few spices. Someone who scoffs at the saccharine American Thanksgiving tradition of brown sugar drenched sweet potatoes covered in marshmallows. 

Well purists, hear me out. I happen to be a plain sweet potato lover too, but I think these sweet potato blondies catapult straight over that sweet Thanksgiving side dish and straight to the dessert table. 

I put sweet potato in your brownies. Yes, butter, brown sugar, and marshmallows are involved, but it's dessert! These things are necessary. 

These are ridiculously good. Once again, Adam "doesn't like sweet potato" but I force fed him one and he loved it. He even called them addicting. 

The blondie itself reminds me of the acorn squash cupcakes I made earlier this fall---lots of warm gingerbread-esque flavors going on with the vanilla, cinnamon, and nutmeg. The texture is slightly more cake-like than a regular blondie, but the moisture of the sweet potato keeps that in check. 

I had a slight dilemma over whether to swirl in some marshmallow fluff like these brownies or top with mini marshmallows like these s'more bars.  (My life is full of hard decisions.)

I'm glad I went with the mini marshmallows. 

Lots of toasted gooey marshmallows = dessert nirvana.

Oh, and this would be an excellent way to use up extra cooked sweet potatoes you have lying around . . . after this Thursday, perhaps?

Hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving, friends!

Sweet Potato Blondies with Marshmallow Topping 

1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/3 cup butter, melted
1 cup brown sugar
1 large egg
1 Tbsp vanilla extract 
1 cup cooked mashed sweet potato*
1 cup mini marshmallows

*My favorite method is to pierce a sweet potato a few times with a fork and then bake on a cookie sheet at 400 for about an hour.

Preheat oven to 350.

Spray a 9 by 9 square baking dish liberally with cooking spray

Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a large bowl.

Combine melted butter, brown sugar, egg, vanilla extract, and mashed sweet potato in a medium bowl.

Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and mix well.

Pour into prepared pan and bake for 20-25 minutes or until edges are brown and middle is set.

Set oven to broil.

Place mini marshmallows overtop of the blondies. Put back into the oven and broil for an additional minute or so, watching VERY carefullly. Remove as soon as marshmallows begin to brown.

To ease with cutting, grease spatula/knife with cooking spray.

Adapted from Our Family Eats.

Rice Bowls with Butternut Squash, Chickpeas, Spinach & Tahini


I know what you're thinking.

This is not the most appealing food photo you have ever seen. Black, orange, and green are not automatically what comes to mind when you think of something you want to put your fork into.

BUT, hear me out, because these rice bowls are delicious, and they have all.the.healthy.things.

Black rice (antioxidants), butternut squash (vitamins), chickpeas (protein & fiber), spinach (iron), and tahini (healthy omega-3 fatty acids).

If you're still thinking this sounds healthy but is not necessarily something you're dying to eat for dinner, let me just make one last pitch and say that the tahini/lemon/garlic sauce binds everything together into one comforting, filling, yummy dish.

I needed this comforting rice bowl today because it has been one of those weeks.

One of those weeks when you feel like nothing you're doing is ever enough. When I get stressed and have a lot of work to do, I tend to eat not-so-healthy things, which sends me into a further spiral of feeling bad about myself in general, which culminates in a big angry stress ball of angst. No good.

Thus, I'm making a concerted effort during the next month to make big batches of healthy, comforting foods that will fill me up without leaving me feeling gross.  These rice bowls fit the bill perfectly.

I'm also super thankful to have the best man around to keep me grounded and happy. My angsty stress-filled moments usually happen when he's gone.

He was in Charlotte this week working and had received some pretty pitiful texts from me.  Without telling me, he left work four hours early on Thursday and picked up pad thai from our favorite Thai place to surprise me when I got home.

Then I fell asleep on his chest and left a big drool spot on his shirt.

I'm a lucky girl.

Hope you have a lovely evening, friends.

On a side note, after ranting about vegan recipes last week, I realized I do have several vegan recipes on the blog, including this one!)

Rice Bowls with Butternut Squash, Chickpeas, Spinach & Tahini

1 cup cooked rice (brown rice, black rice, or wild rice would be good!)
1 medium butternut squash, peeled and chopped into bite-sized pieces
2 garlic cloves, minced; divided
1/2 tsp allspice
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
salt & pepper
1 15 ounce can chickpeas
1 sweet onion, diced
3 cups fresh spinach

For the sauce:
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons tahini
1 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon olive oil

1/4 cup fresh parsley

Prepare rice according to package directions.  (can be made more flavorful with vegetable or chicken stock)

Preheat oven to 425.

Arrange butternut squash on a large cookie sheet. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon garlic, allspice, and salt & pepper. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons olive oil and use your hand to coat the piece evenly with oil and spices.

Roast for 20 minutes or until slightly browned and soft, stirring halfway through to prevent burning.

In a small bowl, whisk together lemon juice, tahini, water, and olive oil. Set aside

In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add diced onions and cook for 5 minutes or so until slightly translucent. Add chickpeas and cook for 5 additional minutes. Add squash and spinach, cooking just until spinach is just wilted. Pour in tahini sauce and heat until warm.

Serve over rice and top with fresh parsley.

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen's warm butternut squash and chickpea salad.

Kale Quinoa Apple Salad with Maple Almond Vinaigrette

If you had told me I would love a salad without cheese I would have told you, uh you're crazy.

Also, if you had told me I would take to stuffing my face with raw kale I would have told you, uh no way Jose.

I love cheese....(thus no vegan recipes around these parts)

I like kale cooked (see here and here) but the thought of ingesting large amounts of the raw version doesn't exactly pervade my food dreams.

Yet, of all the things I'm excited about stuffing my face with at the moment, THIS SALAD tops the list.

This salad, made of lots of ribboned raw kale, sweet apples, and protein-packed quinoa.

Okay, okay, I did toast the almonds in butter, but one's got to have a little indulgence, right?

This salad is all about texture.

Crisp apples. Crunchy almonds. Chewy quinoa. Nutritious Kale. All brought together in harmony with creamy maple almond vinaigrette. (made with almond butter, maple syrup, and apple cider vinegar)

If you need more reasons to try this salad, here are two:

1. Kale is good for your brain.

2. Kale is hearty enough to withstand the dressing without becoming wilted and soggy. Thus, you can make this salad a few hours before you're ready to eat it, and the leftovers are still good the next day.

The secret to loving all this raw kale is that it's chopped up into really small pieces and coated in yummy dressing.

I've also realized that chopped salads are my favorite. There's something immensely satisfying about having all the salad ingredients chopped up into similarly bite-sized pieces. Perhaps it's the ease and rapidity with which you can get your fork to your mouth and back again? Or the fact that each bite is likely to contain a morsel of each one of the different ingredients?

Anyway, if you're ever not stoked about eating a salad, try chopping everything into uniform pieces and then see how you feel.

Right now, I'm feeling like I need another bowl of this.

Kale Quinoa Apple Salad with Maple Almond Vinaigrette

6 cups shredded kale (Lacinato Kale, if you can find it)
1 large Honeycrisp apple, chopped into small pieces
1 cup sliced almonds
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup quinoa (I used red quinoa for color)
1 cup water
1/4 cup minced onion
2 tablespoons almond butter
2 tablespoons maple syrup
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1/2 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper

Combine quinoa, water, and onion in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low. Cook for 10-15 minutes or until all water is absorbed. Refrigerate until ready to assemble salad.
*Make a few hours, or up to a day before eating the salad.

In a small skillet, melt butter and add sliced almonds. Stirring frequently, cook for 3-4 minutes until fragrant and lightly browned.

In a large bowl, toss together kale, apples, almonds and quinoa.

In a small bowl, whisk together almond butter, maple syrup, vinegars, olive oil, and spices. Pour over salad and toss to coat.

Eat immediately or refrigerate for up to 4 hours.

*This recipe makes a ton and could be easily halved.

Adapted from Iowa Girl Eats.

Pumpkin Biscuit Cinnamon Rolls

The two most popular recipes on this blog so far have been these paleo coconut s'more bars and this healthy pumpkin bread

So naturally I thought it would be a good idea to make a recipe that sort of combined the two. Paleo Pumpkin Cinnamon rolls. The alliteration even makes them sound good, right? 

Wrong. They were a complete disaster. In fact, they were inedible. 

This lead me to the conclusion that some things are best left un-paleo, and cinnamon rolls are one of them. 

So after throwing my first batch of cinnamon rolls into the trash, I started on these. 

The goal was to create cinnamon rolls that didn't require yeast. Ones that you could whip up start to finish in an hour, maybe on a holiday morning with lots of people over and limited time to wait for things to rise. (The day before/after Thanksgiving, perhaps?)

Luckily, I found Joy's recipe for biscuit cinnamon rolls, which I adapted slightly with some pumpkin puree and extra spices. 

These are not your traditional chewy stretchy cinnamon rolls. They're more like soft flaky biscuits that happen to be pumpkin flavored, stuffed with cinnamon sugar, and covered with icing. YUM.

I made a simple maple powdered sugar icing, but you could take things up a notch and add a couple of tablespoons of cream cheese. 

There's a good chance you have all the ingredients on hand to make these today, or tomorrow, or next weekend. Do it!

By the way, if you really want to make some paleo cinnamon rolls, try your hand at these.

Pumpkin Biscuit Cinnamon Rolls

For the rolls:
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tbsp sugar
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/8 tsp cloves
1/2 cup cold unsalted butter, cubed
1/3 cup pumpkin puree
1 egg
2/3 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla extract

For the filling:
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tbsp cinnamon
pinch of salt

For the icing:
1 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons maple syrup
2 tablespoons milk
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350. Spray a 9-inch round pan with cooking spray. Prepare a clean, floured space on your counter for kneading/rolling.

In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar baking soda, salt, and spices.

In a medium bowl, combine pumpkin puree, egg, milk, and vanilla extract.

Cut butter into dry ingredients using a pastry blender or two knives. The mixture should be crumbly.

Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients and stir until just combined. Dough will be slightly sticky.

Pour onto prepared counter and knead 10-15 times, adding flour as needed. (up to an additional 1/2 cup).

Use a rolling pin* to roll dough out into rectangle of 1/2 inch thickness. (about 10 by 12 inches if you can)

Sprinkle with filling mixture. Starting from the long side of the triangle, roll toward the other side. (The underside of my dough was sticky here, so add a little extra flour if you need to)

Use a serrated knife to cut into 1-inch thick slices. Place in pan and bake for 15-20 minutes, or until dough is set and slightly browned.

To make icing, simply mix all ingredients in a small bowl. Use a spoon to drizzle over warm rolls.


*Once when I was without a rolling pin, I used an old wine bottle. Do what you have to do!

Adapted from Joy the Baker.


Healthy Pasta a la Vodka with Zucchini and Greek Yogurt

So I worried about law school for a long time.

Then it started, and all of a sudden I became immersed in the world of reading and cold-calling and research and writing and more reading.

The hours turned into days and the days turned into weeks and I didn't have time to process how different my life had become.

I had momentary glimpses of my old life, I guess. Like that first week when one of my professors intimidated me SO much and I tried to make myself feel better by imagining him facing my worst class of seventh graders last year.

"He's not as tough as me," I told myself.

Then he cold-called on me in class a week later, and I blew it.  He was not nice about it.  I came home and cried for two hours before finally pulling myself together and realizing I've dealt with worse.

Because I have, and I still must admit that my worst day of law school so far pales in comparison to my worst day in teaching.

As the days passed, I started noticing some positive changes.  I liked making my own schedule. I liked quiet mornings spent reading in the library. I liked thinking through complex issues. I liked the challenge of writing succinctly, but well.

But then things really got busy, and the days turned into weeks and the weeks turned into months, and it wasn't until fall break last week that I finally had time to come up for air and think about what I miss about my old life.

And that's when I realized how teaching has ruined me.

Because those quiet morning reading in the library? They're peaceful, but they're also sometimes lonely. Even when I'm in the library studying with friends, there's some chatting, but mostly we're focused on our own work, just keeping each other company. And it scared me to realize how many weeks had gone by of me just plugging away, doing my own thing, studying and reading and writing and talking with friends, but mostly wearing blinders focused on this one goal of success.  And everyone around me was doing the same thing. This is sort of the point of grad school, I know. And there's nothing necessarily wrong with being driven and focused on a future goal. (Especially a future goal that involves helping people.)

But, as I said before, teaching has ruined me.  Because this whole put-your-head-down-and-work-really-hard-for-your-own-future goal-thing--I could do it, for sure--but it wasn't fulfilling. It felt empty. It felt a bit, well, purposeless.

Because here's the thing about teaching--no matter how under-appreciated, overpaid, and overworked you are, not matter how demanding your kids are, or how negative your co-workers are, or how much your kids sometimes drive you out of your ever-loving mind--there's always a purpose.  On the worst days, when you have the least desire to go to work, and your kids have been behaving terribly, there's always that one kid's face who pops into your head and makes you think, "I need to go teach today for that kid." On the good days, there are many faces.

I've known since before I left teaching that I would miss the kids. (There is a hispanic family that lives near me and the kids ride their bikes around our loop. They remind me so much of my former students, and the other morning when I was turning out of the neighborhood, I saw them waiting for the bus with their backpacks on.  I tried so hard not to cry.)

However, I didn't know how much I would miss the purposefulness of it. This is partially my own fault, of course.  I intentionally (and selfishly) didn't get involved with a lot of volunteer activities this first semester because I wanted to focus on my classes and have time to spend with Adam when he was home.

Now I've realized that just "doing" school isn't enough for me anymore. It definitely was at one time, but it's not anymore. And that's how teaching has ruined me.

As much as I try to be a model law student, I have to admit that sometimes my mind wanders in class. I had a recurring daydream this week about pasta--as in every Monday, Tuesday and Thursday  around 2:45 I would dream of swirling fettucini into creamy sauce with a fork. Yep, I have a problem.

This weekend I was able to turn that dream into delicious reality.

See, the creamy sauce I was craving was vodka sauce, which is traditionally made of tomatoes and heavy cream and, you guessed it, vodka. The sauce is rich and indulgent and totally worth the occasional splurge, but I wanted to make a big batch of something healthy that I could eat throughout the week.

Thus, this healthy version was born.  I replaced the heavy cream with 2% Greek yogurt and added in a ton of veggies. I sliced the red pepper thinly and used a box grater to grate the zucchini, which made them similar in both size and texture to the noodles and infinitely more fun to eat.

I'll admit that this doesn't have quite the creaminess of the original, but I think you'll still find immense satisfaction in twirling those noodles and veggies around with your fork and taking a bite.  Adam "doesn't like Greek yogurt," but he has eaten several helpings of this without complaint. I won't tell him if you won't.  :)

Healthy Pasta a la Vodka with Zucchini and Greek Yogurt

7-8 oz whole wheat fettucini (or a little over half of a regular 12 ounce box)
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 shallots (or 1 small onion), chopped
2-3 zucchini, shredded on a box grater
1 small red pepper, thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 cans chopped tomatoes
1/8 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 cup vodka
2/3 cup plain Greek yogurt
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
salt and pepper
lots of freshly grated parmesan cheese

Cook fettucini according to package directions.

Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet. Add leeks, zucchini, red pepper, and garlic. Cook for 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally, until leeks are semi-translucent and zucchini is beginning to soften.

Add two cans of chopped tomatoes, red pepper flakes, and vodka. Cook for 15 minutes or until tomato liquid is slightly reduced.

Add Greek yogurt and basil and cook 5 minutes until heated through. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed.

Pour sauce over fettucini and top with plenty of fresh parmesan cheese and extra basil as a garnish, if desired.

Adapted from Skinnytaste.

Rosemary Roasted Potatoes & Pears

I think adding fruit to savory dishes automatically elevates them to a level one could call "fancy." 

Pork chops? Drab. 

Pork chops with apples and onions? Fancy.

Baked Salmon? Bland. 

Baked Salmon with Mango Chutney? Fancy.

 Roasted potatoes? Boring.

Roasted potatoes with pears and rosemary? Fancy. 

The thing is, adding fruit to a savory dish is not hard. It doesn't require any special culinary skill.  I think it's just different, and daring in a way that might prevent the ordinary home cook from attempting it. 

Home cooks, fear no more. I'm here to tell you that adding fruit to savory dishes is ridiculously easy and ridiculously tasty and--if you happen to be swayed by that kind of thing--likely going to be considered fancy by your dinner guests.

You can probably tell by now that I like roasting things. (See here, here, here and here) To me, roasting requires minimal effort. I can prep my veggies, toss them in the oven, and then tend to other things on the stove, rather than having to stir them or check on them incessantly.  For that reason, I think it's an optimal way to prepare food for a dinner party. There are always going to be last minute things to check or prepare before people come over, so it's nice to have something that doesn't require constant stirring.

I had some friends over for dinner this weekend, and I did something I wouldn't normally recommend: I made a recipe for the first time. Inspired by a picture in a magazine, I decided to try the roasted potato/pear combo.  I was nervous because the pair seemed a little strange, but I hoped with the addition of some rosemary from my parents' garden, it would be just strange enough to be good.

I'm happy to report it was, (by my standards anyway).  The roasted pears were amazing. I had forgotten that when you cook fruit the sugars caramelize and produce a deeper, richer fruit flavor. In fact, next time I want to ditch the potatoes and just roast some pears with butter and rosemary and eat them in a big bowl with some vanilla ice cream. I'm dreaming of it now.

Make these potatoes and pears, maybe along with some tomato and feta stuffed chicken or zucchini and  you'll impress yourself and your dinner guests.

Rosemary Roasted Potatoes & Pears

1 lb mixed small potatoes, quartered
2 Bartlett pears, chopped into 1-inch chunks
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter, melted
3 sprigs fresh Rosemary*
salt & pepper

Preheat oven to 425. Line a baking sheet (or 2 if needed) with aluminum foil.

Lay potatoes and pears in an even layer on cookie sheet.

Combine melted butter and olive oil and drizzle over potatoes and pears.

Break off the individual leaves from 2 sprigs of the rosemary and sprinkle over the pan, along with some salt and pepper.

Use your hands to mix and make sure everything is evenly coated.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, stirring a couple times through to brown all the edges.

Taste and add more salt and pepper if needed. Sprinkle with remaining leaves from the last sprig of fresh rosemary.

* I was lucky enough to get some rosemary from my parents' garden, but I have to insist that the fresh rosemary is worth the splurge for this recipe. I know I always struggle to use up fresh herbs, but here are some tips on preserving them.

Inspired by Sunny Anderson's recipe in O Magazine.

Double Chocolate Brownies with Peanut Butter Marshmallow Swirl

So I made brownies...

At first it was a bit of a sloppy mess of marshmallow fluff and peanut butter.

But then things came together, as they usually do. 

I had to restrain myself from eating all the batter with my fingers. 

Originally I thought about trying to persuade you that these are healthy brownies,

that the marshmallow fluff is relatively low in calories,

that they're made with a little bit of almond flour,

which, combined with the peanut butter, practically makes them protein bars...

But then I decided you wouldn't really believe me. (They're made with a stick of butter, after all, and plenty of chocolate. )

And, more importantly, none of that really matters. 

Because, when you need a brownie, 

you need a brownie. 

And after this week, I definitely need a brownie. 

I think you do too. 

Double Chocolate Brownies with Peanut Butter Marshmallow Swirl

1 stick butter
1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips, divided
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup almond meal/flour
1 cup marshmallow fluff
1/4 cup peanut butter

Preheat oven to 350

Grease a 9 by 9 pan with cooking spray, or line with parchment paper.

In a small saucepan, melt butter and 1 cup chocolate chips. Remove from heat, and whisk in cocoa power, sugar and salt until sugar is partially dissolved. Then whisk in vanilla extract, egg and flours.

Mix in remaining 1/2 cup chocolate chips and pour into prepared pan.

Spoon marshmallow fluff into a microwave bowl and cook for 30 seconds. Add peanut butter and stir until combined.

Use a spoon to drop peanut butter/marshmallow mixture across brownie batter, then use a knife to incorporate.

Bake at 350 for 30-35 minutes or until inserted toothpick comes out clean.

Let cool completely before cutting. They will be messy and fall apart a little, but they are totally worth it!

Adapted from Chocolate Moosey.