Most Popular Recipes of 2015

2015 has been a beautiful, challenging year. More than any other year I feel like I have grown up in 2015.  

While I did recently celebrate a birthday that is getting pretty close to 30, it was some difficult experiences that really made me feel my age this year: navigating through challenging family circumstances, watching a close friend experience a scary medical diagnosis, supporting another friend through a life-altering break-up, talking through BIG life decisions with Adam, and thinking hard about what really matters and the kind of life that I want to live. It's been, in a word, heavy. 

But there has been lightness and fun, too. There were weekend trips to Charleston and Asheville, and the grand adventure of living in D.C. for the summer.  I ran in two races, had dinner parties with friends, celebrated 10 years with my favorite person, and walked behind a waterfall in the North Carolina mountains. 

And, of course, I cooked and ate and shared lots of good food. Here are the 12 most popular recipes on the blog from 2015.

Thank you  for reading!


Gnocchi with Brussels Sprouts, Pomegranates, Pistachios and Parmesan Cream Sauce

In need of something to cook for New Year's Eve?

I've got you covered with this festive, decadent yet still healthy dish: gnocchi with brussels sprouts, pomegranates, pistachios, and parmesan cream sauce.

Almost a year ago, I saw this instagram photo of this dish from one of our favorite restaurants in Charlotte, Good Food on Montford.  I've been dying to make it ever since, although it's taken me a while to make the attempt.

While the original version has duck and a lot of cream sauce, my version is vegetarian with a higher vegetable to gnocchi ratio. However, I still use real butter, cream, and some high quality parmesan cheese for flavor and richness.

The potato pillows of loveliness and brussels sprouts are coated in a layer of creamy cheese sauce,  with pistachios for crunch and pomegranate seeds for sweetness.  It's an elegant and colorful dish that is also quite easy to make.

Because food photography requires me to be constantly chasing the sunlight, (which this rainy weather has made even more difficult!) I chopped the brussels sprouts and de-seeded the pomegranate the night before, which made this recipe even faster to make.

The ideal time for sunlight in my house is between 11:00am and 1:00pm, so we ate this gnocchi at lunch time after I snapped a few quick photos. I always know a recipe is good if I'm rushing through photos so that I can eat it...

We just returned from a week-long trip with family, so our house is full of unpacked suitcases and miscellaneous gift boxes.  We haven't vacuumed or swept the kitchen floor in weeks.

BUT, for Sunday lunch I had gnocchi with brussels sprouts, pomegranates, pistachios and parmesan cream sauce, so I'm feeling pretty put together. :)

Gnocchi with Brussels Sprouts, Pomegranates, Pistachios and Parmesan Cream Sauce

1 pound gnocchi
2 tablespoons butter
12 ounces brussel sprouts, halved
3/4 cup freshly shaved parmesan cheese
1/4 cup heavy cream
salt & pepper
pomegranate seeds

Cook gnocchi according to package directions, being sure to add salt to the water. Drain and set aside. Add 2 tablespoons butter to a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Once butter is melted, add brussels sprouts.  Add salt and pepper to taste. (I like to turn all the brussels sprouts cut side down to that the cut side browns nicely first) Cook for 2-3 minutes or until slightly browned. Add the gnocchi. Continue cooking on medium high for another 2-3 minutes, or until brussels sports are starting to soften and the gnocchi is lightly browned.

Reduce heat to medium low. Add the parmesan cheese and heavy cream. Stir until cheese is melted. (The cream may seem to "disappear" into the gnocchi. We were ok with this, but feel free to add more cream if you want more sauce!)

Serve plates of the gnocchi and brussels sprouts. Top each plate with a handful of pistachios and pomegranate seeds.

Inspired by Good Food on Montford, via Jen's Instagram.

Links on Kindness

5 days until Christmas.

12 days until 2016.

I have so many thoughts about 2015, but if one thing is certain, it's that our world could use a little more kindness, both for others and ourselves. Here are some kindness links for your week.

This poem, "In Praise of Small Kindness" makes me cry and inspires me to be kind to people who especially need it.

This graduation speech by writer George Saunders reminds me that our greatest regrets in life are often "failures of kindness."  An important reminder, especially today, not to stand by silent when people are treated with hatred or discrimination.

Finally, I've been trying to be more kind to myself lately, and have found great comfort and inspiration in this podcast and post by writer Elizabeth Gilbert.

Have a lovely Christmas! I hope you get to sleep in, wear warm socks, and eat lots of Christmas cookies. If you're wondering what to make Christmas morning, may I suggest orange blossom brioche french toast or orange cinnamon rolls with eggnog icing?


Holiday Weekend in D.C.

Hi friends.  Despite the fact that I'm done with law school for the semester (!!!) life has been complicated and busy, and I haven't had time to make anything for you in the kitchen. 

However, I just returned from a weekend trip to D.C., so I thought I'd share a few pictures of my foodie adventures with you. 

One highlight of the trip was getting to visit the Momofuku Milk Bar. I've been wanting to try this trendy New York City bakery for several years after learning about master chef Christina Tosi.  Her recipes are unique and inventive and I love supporting women in male-domainted careers. 

The D.C. Milk Bar opened late this summer a few weeks after I left the city, and I was bummed to have missed it.  

Therefore, I was super excited to get to experience Milk Bar on this trip. I bought one of each variety of cookie, some birthday cake truffles, and this cereal milk soft serve. So good!

I've also heard amazing things about Christina's crack pie recipe.

On Saturday night, my friend Tori and I went to a holiday gala at the French embassy, where I drank too much champagne and beamed when a cute french man with mustache called me "Mademoiselle."

We also sampled some elegant French pastries....(the macaroon was my favorite)

Over the course of the weekend, we saw ice sculptures, the national Christmas tree, and a random assortment of people in santa costumes for SantaCon.

Finally, we met the former Whitehouse pastry chef and saw the Whitehouse Gingerbread.

I was amazed to learn that the secret to holding all that gingerbread together is tempered chocolate that is applied like paint to the back of each piece. It works like glue and keeps the gingerbread from drying out or folding in the humidity!

I hope you have a festive, fun-filled week. 10 days until Christmas!


How to Host a Cookie Swap Party

Hi friends, today I'm bringing you some tips on how to host your own holiday cookie swap party!

I am no party planning expert, and these photos are by no means Pinterest worthy.  However, everyone at our cookie swap party had fun and went home with lots of delicious cookies to eat and share. So, here we go!

1.) Plan a fun decorating activity that guests can do at the party.  I had a smaller cookie swap party with 6 guests, so I wanted to plan a fun activity that we could do together. I thought about decorating gingerbread houses, but I quickly realized that was too much work. Instead, I baked Deb's Spicy Gingerbread Cookies  and prepared icing and sprinkles. I used the tips from this post and put the colored icing into into plastic squeeze bottles for easy decorating. My friend Steph's were the prettiest.

2.) Buy pretty packaging for the cookies. Some people took their cookies home in the tupperware they brought them in, but it was also nice to have these little gift bags ready. (I bought mine at Michael's for a couple dollars.)  Everyone made a few different bags. These can be great gifts for neighbors, teachers, the mailman.....anyone!

3.) Decide how you want to collect the recipes. Part of the idea behind a cookie swap party is that everyone can go home with some new cookie recipes. I had guests email me their recipes beforehand, and I printed them in this super simple booklet. To make it easier on yourself, you could also just ask guests to bring printed copies of their recipe for everyone.

4.) Invite awesome people. Yay friends!  Evite and Paperless Post are great options for online invitations. 

5.) Have some non-sweet snacks for people to munch on. Because too much sugar=the shakes. :)

I had our cookie swap party at lunch time, so I made a broccoli cheddar quiche and put out veggies & hummus and grapes.  Keep it simple.

6.) Keep the Christmas tunes flowing.  We even broke out the NSYNC Christmas album, which did not disappoint...

Other ideas: If you're inviting a lot of people, it might be helpful to make little name cards so that people can label their cookies. This is especially helpful if anyone has a food allergy.

That's pretty much it, friends. I hope you'll host your own holiday cookie swap party.  Enjoy a sample of the cookie recipes below!

Salted Chocolate Chunk Cookies 

Cake Batter Cookies

My Friend Nikki made up the recipe! First whisk together 2 boxes of white cake mix and 2 teaspoons baking powder.  In a separate bowl, whisk together 4 eggs, 3/4 cup vegetable oil, and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract. Combine the wet and dry ingredients and stir to combine. Add 1 cup sprinkles and 1 cup white chocolate chips. Bake tablespoon-sized dough balls at 350 for 9-10 minutes.

Peanut Butter Blossoms

And another variation on the peanut butter blossom with snowflake chocolates. One can never have too much peanut butter, in my opinion.

Snowball Cookies

Chocolate Almond Bark

White Chocolate Peppermint Pretzels 

I also made a few pretzels with dark chocolate for those who don't like peppermint.

Hot Cocoa Cookies with Marshmallows 

I want to know--have you ever been to a cookie swap party before? If so, what have I missed? Or, what holiday cookies would you bring?

Whole Wheat Pumpkin Yeast Bread

"When there is very little else left to believe in, one can still believe in an honest loaf of fragrant, home-baked bread." --Anna Thomas

Lately, I've been feeling paralyzed about making big life decisions.

As a result, I've been baking a lot. 

Within the past week, I've made this whole wheat pumpkin yeast bread (for us), cinnamon swirl bread (for my ESL student), oatmeal chocolate chip cookies (for friends that just had a baby), and cranberry orange scones (for a brunch party).

This whole wheat pumpkin loaf is the best thing I've baked all week.

You might be thinking, "why go through the trouble of making a pumpkin bread that requires yeast and 2 hours of rise time when I can just make a pumpkin quick bread so easily?"

I love quick breads, I really do. But they're dense and sweet and predictable.

This pumpkin yeast bread is airy, soft, and decidedly worth the fuss and the rise time.

When everything is confusing and uncertain, it's comforting to make something tangible with my hands, something substantial, and good.

No matter what kind of week you've had or what kind of week lies ahead, the smell of this bread baking will make you feel as if everything is right in the world, even if just for a moment.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving! I'll be making pumpkin whole wheat rolls with this recipe as well as strawberry pretzel cheesecake.

Whole Wheat Pumpkin Yeast Bread

1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon warm water
1 package instant yeast
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 cup canned pumpkin 
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 egg
1/2 cup of assorted grains and seeds. I used oats, sunflower seeds, and chia seeds

Prepare a clean surface on your counter and sprinkle with flour.  Prepare a large bowl by spraying it with non-stick spray or olive oil.

*Optional--preheat your oven to 200 and then turn it off. (This will provide a warm place for the bread to rise)

In a medium bowl, add the yeast and hot water. Stir gently for a moment and then let sit for 5 minutes.  Add the sugar, vegetable oil, and pumpkin.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flours, salt, ginger, allspice, and cinnamon.

Add the flour mixture to the west mixture. If the dough is very sticky, add another tablespoon or two of flour until the dough is soft and smooth. Turn dough onto a cleaned floured surface and knead for 5-6 minutes. Dough should be smooth and elastic.

Add dough to the prepared bowl and turn over so that all sides are covered in non-stick spray/olive oil. Cover and let rise in a warm place for 45 minutes-1 hour. (I like to let my dough rise in the oven)

Punch dough down and shape into a loaf size. Transfer to a greased 9 by 5 loaf pan. Cover the pan and return to a warm place to rise for an additional 45 minutes-1 hour. The dough should rise about 1 inch above the rim of the loaf pan.

Preheat oven to 350. Brush the top of the bread with the egg. Sprinkle with assorted seeds and nuts. Bake for 35-45 minutes. Test dough by giving the top of the loaf a thump with your finger. It should sound hollow!

Let bread cool for about 5 minutes before removing from pan to cool on a wire rack. Let bread cool completely before slicing.

Recipe adapted from King Arthur Flour.

Mac and Cheese Stuffed Butternut Squash

Thinking of everyone in Paris and in Beirut, and every other place where people are suffering the effects of terrorism.

It feels a bit strange to go on as if nothing has happened, to tell you about this mac and cheese recipe that I made.

But, I suppose all that we can do is to pray for our broken world, and to continue to love the people in our lives and to be thankful for them.   My favorite way to do that is though food.

Butternut squash was not a vegetable that I ate as a kid, but I have become increasingly enamored of it in adulthood. I love its sweetness and satisfying starch-like texture.

In mac and cheese, I love that butternut squash adds both a depth of flavor and that bright orange hue reminiscent of American and Velveta cheeses.  We get to embrace our nostalgic childhood mac and cheese while eating a better tasting mac and cheese made with vegetables (and smoked gouda and white cheddar).

To make this mac and cheese stuffed butternut squash, we'll start by cutting a butternut squash in half and roasting it.

While the squash is roasting, we'll boil the water for the pasta and start making the b├ęchamel sauce.[butter, flour, milk, cheese]

When the squash is done, we'll scoop out the inside, (reserving half for another recipe) mash it with a fork, and add it to that lovely cheese sauce.

Then, we'll add the macaroni noodles and scoop the mac and cheese into the hollowed-out butternut squash. After that, we'll sprinkle the top with buttered breadcrumbs, and bake for another 15 minutes. 

Then, we might just start eating the mac and cheese straight from the pan, because it is that good. 

Of course, you don't have to take the extra step of stuffing the butternut squash with mac and cheese--you could use a regular casserole dish. But, there's something fun and festive about presenting this mac and cheese in a hollowed out butternut squash, and I think this would be a major pleaser on Thanksgiving tables. This recipe could easily be prepared ahead of time and then just popped into the oven 15 minutes before you're ready to eat. 


Mac and Cheese Stuffed Butternut Squash 

1 medium butternut squash
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt & pepper
8 ounces macaroni noodles
2 1/2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 3/4 cup milk
1 cup smoked gouda cheese
3/4 cup white cheddar cheese
1/2 cup breadcrumbs (combined with 1/2 tablespoon melted butter--optional)

Preheat oven to 400. Using a sharp knife, carefully cut the butternut squash in half. Use a spoon to remove the seeds. Place on a cookie sheet. Pour one tablespoon of olive oil over the surface of both halves of butternut squash. Use a culinary brush or a spoon to evenly spread the olive oil over the squash surface. Sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Bake at 400 for 45-55 minutes or until squash is tender. Set aside to cool.

While the squash cooks, boil the water for pasta and cook according to package directions. (I used gluten-free quinoa pasta for this and it turned out well.) Be sure to cook the pasta only until al-dente, as it will continue cooking when you bake it. Drain pasta and set aside.

Once the squash has cooled, use a spoon to scoop out most of the squash from its skin. (You'll want to leave a little inside for the skin to hold its shape) You will only used 1/2 of the squash for this recipe. Reserve the other half for another dish! I like to keep mine in the freezer in a ziplock bag. Use a fork to smash up any large pieces of squash until smooth.

Add 2 1/2 tablespoons butter to a saucepan over medium heat. Once the butter is melted, add 2 tablespoons flour. Stir for a minute or so until no lumps remain. Gradually add the milk a little at a time, stirring after each addition until the sauce thickens. Once all the milk is added and the sauce is creamy but not too thick, add the butternut squash and cheese. Stir until all the cheese is melted and then turn off the heat.  Taste and add salt or pepper as necessary. Add the macaroni noodles to the sauce and stir to combine.

Scoop mac and cheese into the empty squash halves.  Sprinkle the tops of each stuffed squash with buttered breadcrumbs. Bake at 400 for 10-15 minutes or until breadcrumbs are slightly browned.

Dig in!