Using Up Your Halloween Candy, Part 1 [white chocolate candy bark]

Stick with me for a couple days dear readers.  I have a couple of great ways you can use up those lingering fun-size chocolate pieces you have sitting around at the bottom of your trick or treat basket.

white chocolate candy bark.

The first way is the easiest trick in the book.  Make bark.

To make enough pieces to share with friends, you will need:

  • 16 oz. white chocolate chips or pieces
  • 1 C pretzels, crushed
  • handful candy corn
  • handful M&Ms
  • (but really, use handfuls of whatever you like)

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Melt white chocolate in microwave (nuke 30 seconds, stir, and repeat, until chocolate is melted and smooth).  Spread chocolate on top of parchment paper with a knife or an offset spatula.  Sprinkle with pretzels and candy immediately.  Press candy gently into chocolate.  Place baking sheet in the freezer, and leave till set.  When candy is frozen, peel parchment layer off, and break bark into pieces.  Serve immediately, or store in the fridge until it’s time to eat.

Basic Fall Activities [pumpkin, cranberry & white chocolate cake cookies]

I haven’t been to a pumpkin patch yet, dear readers.  I tried a pumpkin spice latte, but I hated it.  I have yet to break out my Uggs, and I don’t like the way boots fit over my skinny jeans.  So I’m not the best basic bitch.

pumpkin white chocolate cranberry cookies.

But I have done something right.  AGOMYR and I managed to bring each other pumpkin cookies on the same Monday morning, without knowing we were planning to do so.  She made pumpkin snickerdoodles with cinnamon chips (that I later found were made even better with a layer of Nutella on top), and I made Joy the Baker’s pumpkin, cranberry & white chocolate cake cookies.  They’re from her second cookbook, which I bought when I had no kitchen, and with which I’ve been trying to spend more time.

To make a couple dozen, you will need:

  • 1 C pumpkin puree
  • 1/2 C unsalted butter
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp. cloves
  • 1/4 tsp. cardamom
  • 1/2 tsp. grated orange zest
  • 2 C flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 C packed light brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 C fresh cranberries, chopped (I used dried, but I wish I had fresh)
  • 1 C white chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.  Line 2 baking sheets with parchment.

In a medium saucepan set over medium heat, combine pumpkin, butter, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, cardamom, and orange zest.  Heat until the butter is melted and the mixture is warm and fragrant, about 5 minutes.  Remove the pan from heat and let cool slightly.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

Once the pumpkin mixture is about room temperature, whisk in the eggs, brown sugar, and vanilla.  Add the pumpkin mixture to the flour mixture.  Stir well, and then stir in the cranberries and white chocolate.

Spoon the cookie dough, about 2 heaping tablespoons per cookie, onto the prepared baking sheets, leaving about 2 inches in between each cookie.* Bake until the tops feel firm and cooked through, about 16 minutes.  Let cook on the baking sheets for 5 minutes before using a wide metal spatula to transfer the cookies to wire racks to cool completely.

*I found these cookies (because they are cake cookies) baked into almost exactly the shapes they were dropped as.  If it’s important to you to have a smooth, round cookie, pat the spoonfuls down, so you have a shape you like.

Regular Nights at Home [wild mushroom risotto]

I love that the words regular and wild are occupying the same title space up there.

I’m someone who always focuses her energy on the routine, the seemingly (to some) mundane, and the little habits that make up our lives.  I’ve been thinking a lot about regular nights at home lately.  Having not had any for a year of construction, I appreciate them so much now.  Rare is the night that I get to spend coming home with nothing on the agenda but cooking dinner and catching up on DVR-ed Food Network and Jeopardy with my husband.

Yes, we are so old, we now watch Jeopardy every night.  And dear readers, I love it.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.

These regular nights are everything.  They’re what I thrive on.  I have long agonized about whether I’m an introvert or an extrovert, and though I think feeding off the energy of others earns me that Meyers Briggs, “E,” I have some serious “I” tendencies.  Regular nights at home fuel them.

mushroom risotto.

While catching up on my backlog of Barefoot Contessa episodes, I saw her make wild mushroom risotto, and put my own spin on it with what we had in our pantry.*  The plan was to share it with The (Not So) New Girl, but she ended up enjoying a regular night at home with her new little boy, and I couldn’t be happier for her.

To make mushroom risotto for four, you will need:

  • 1/4 C olive oil
  • 2 T butter
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 8 oz. button or crimini mushrooms, sliced
  • 8 oz. shiitake mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 1/2 C barley (risotto is usually made with Arborio rice, but I didn’t have any)
  • 1/2 C white wine
  • 4 C chicken broth
  • 1/2 C shredded or grated Parmesan cheese

Heat the olive oil and butter in a Dutch oven, or heavy bottomed pan, on the stove till butter is melted.  Add onion and cook till soft, 5 minutes.  Add mushrooms and cook another 5-7 minutes, till mushrooms are cooked through.  Add barley and stir to coat with oil and butter.  Pour wine into pan and scrape brown bits off the bottom.  When wine has mostly evaporated, begin adding chicken broth by the ladle-full.  As broth cooks off, add ladle after ladle, until barley is fully cooked.  Dump in cheese, and stir till melted. Serve hot.

*I have a storied history with risotto.  In short, I love it more than anything.  Here are some of my previous risotto endeavors:  baked corn risotto, pesto risotto, spinach and sun dried tomato risotto, champagne risotto, tomato and sausage risotto

A 5 Minute Dinner [creamy crockpot white chicken chili]

Of the myriad of kind things AGOMYR did for me in the days leading up to CV(D)’s baby shower, one of most helpful was letting me borrow her slow cooker.  We both have (and love) the All-Clad version, so I knew exactly how hers would work, and planned on a double batch of Nutella French Toast Casserole.  We set a date for our hand-off, but then AGOMYR texted, asking if we could push it back by a couple of days.  Her weekend getaway had been foiled due to rain, and she was hoping that a homemade chili night would make up for that.  I told her that was absolutely fine, as long as she shared the recipe with me.  I was thrilled to have her send me a recipe for white chicken chili, because that’s not one I have in my arsenal quite yet.

creamy white chicken chili.

It’s not that I thought AGOMYR would lead me astray, but I didn’t anticipate how much of a hit this would be.  I was wary of white beans (not my fave, but I found a can of smaller white beans that were great here), and my husband was not convinced anything with just a dash of cayenne would satisfy his chili needs.  Hah!  We made this on a lazy Saturday, and every time I opened the lid to stir it (which was really only about 3 times), we proceeded to marvel at the smell.  When we finally got to dig in and eat it, both of us went silent, and polished off our bowls in about 5 minutes.  Gross?  Maybe, but if that doesn’t vouch for a recipe’s worth, I don’t know what does.

To make chili for 8, you will need:

  • 3-4 chicken breasts
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • dash of cayenne pepper
  • 14.5 ounce can chicken broth
  • 4.5 ounce can chopped green chiles
  • 15 ounce can white corn, drained (I seriously considered upping this to two cans, and wish I had)
  • 2 15.5 ounce cans white beans, drained (Cannellini or Great Northern are good)
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon Better Than Bullion chicken base
  • 1/4 teaspoon white pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon seasoned salt
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • your favorite chili toppings – AGOMYR and I have discussed the benefits of shredded cheddar, crushed tortilla chips, avocado, cilantro, and lime.  I’m going to add that pico de gallo might not be a bad choice either.
  1. Place chicken breasts on the bottom of a crockpot, and add chili powder, cumin, onion powder, garlic powder, cayenne pepper, chicken broth, green chiles, corn and beans. Cook on low for 6-8 hours.
  2. About an hour before serving: In a small saucepan, melt butter over medium high heat. Whisk in flour, and allow to bubble and brown a bit. After a few minutes, gradually whisk in the milk and chicken base.
  3. Allow the sauce to simmer for 4-5 minutes, whisking frequently until it is slightly thickened. Add salt and pepper.
  4. Pour sauce into crockpot and mix to combine.
  5. Add sour cream and mix.
  6. If chicken has not already shredded with stirring, take out large pieces, shred them with two forks, and return to the crockpot.
  7. Let the chicken chili cook on low 1 more hour if you can.

On Mac and Cheese, and Dash Buttons

pirate's booty mac and cheese.

I know my undying and unyielding love of macaroni and cheese is no secret on this space.  But, dear readers, do you know that it’s an equal opportunity kind of love?  There is a place for Wooden Nickels’ mac and cheese forever in my heart.  An elbow-noodle shaped place, one might say.  But I can’t constantly keep that in the refrigerator.  I can, however, have a constant supply of boxed mac and cheese on hand.*

And I’ve tried pretty much every single kind, especially now that Pirate’s Booty mac and cheese is at my grocery store.  I’ve been on the lookout for this since the summer–having already searched in a Giant, Safeway, Whole Foods, Food Lion, and Harris Teeter, to no avail.  The shipping prices on Amazon left these boxes out of my reach until lo and behold, I found them on a regular weekend trip to my local store.  I’ve tried the orange one so far, and wasn’t wowed.  I’m holding out hope for the white cheddar flavor.  After all, regular Pirate’s Booty is white cheddar.

In case you’re looking for my tried and true boxed mac faves, they are, in no particular order (it’s really a matter of what I’m in the mood for, dear readers):

Annie’s Shells and White Cheddar (such a sharp flavor; no other box compares)

Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, Extreme Cheese flavor (so hard to find; so worth it)

Kraft Macaroni and Cheese Deluxe (the actual worst for you, but oh well)

Horizon Classic Mac and Cheese, mild cheddar flavor (this has a better flavor than classic Kraft)

Near East Roasted Garlic and Olive Oil Vermicelli (not a mac and cheese, but still in the boxed noodle category)

*Perhaps, thanks to Amazon, that supply could be even easier to procure–send in the drones!  I am so intrigued by the idea of these Dash Buttons.  I am so not the person that has to have the latest technology whatever, but I am dying to be an early adopter of this.  Let’s continue to test the boundaries of my self-control, shall we?

If Snickerdoodles Were Cake [gooey butter squares]

gooey butter squares.

When we would visit for the weekend, Grandma Glass of Milk always had cookies for us in a green glass jar.  Chocolate chips were her standbys, but she would always have a second kind, and over time, I grew to like them even more than the classic Toll House recipe.  They would either be oatmeal scotchies or snickerdoodles.  I am not a huge fan of sugar cookies (they always seem so plain), but snickerdoodles are like sugar cookies with the volume turned up, if you’ll allow me to borrow a phrase from Ina.

And if that’s true, than gooey butter squares (from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook) are what happens when you turn it up to 11, for that extra push over the cliff, if you’ll allow me to borrow a phrase from Spinal Tap.  Because they have a cake base, with a gooey layer of I don’t even know what to call it amazingness (I want to say custard, except that’s not right), and a sprinkle of cinnamon sugar on top that caramelizes a bit, and gives an initial crackle when you first bite in.  I am always wary of recipes with multiple layers (read: steps or worse, dishes), but these are worth every extra minute of care you attend to them.

To make a 9×13 pan’s worth, you will need:

For the soft cookie base:

  • 8 T butter, at room temperature, plus more for the pan
  • 1 1/2 C flour
  • 1 tsp. cream of tartar
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 3/4 C sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 C milk

For the gooey layer:

  • 1/4 C light corn syrup, golden syrup, or honey
  • 1/4 C milk, half and half, or heavy cream
  • 1 T vanilla
  • 12 T butter, at room temperature
  • 1 C + 2 T sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/4 C flour

For the topping:

  • 2 T sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Line the bottom of a 9 x 13 pan with at least 2-inch sides with parchment paper and either butter the paper and sides of the pan, or coat them with a nonstick spray.  Set asaid.

For the cookie base, whisk together the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl.  In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the 8 T butter with sugar until light and fluffy.  Add the egg and milk, and beat until combined, scraping down bowl and then beating for 10 seconds more.  Beat in dry ingredients until just combined.  Dollop cookie base over the bottom of the prepared pan and spread it into an even layer with a butter knife or offset spatula.  Set pan aside.

For the gooey layer, whisk liquid sweetener, milk, and vanilla together in a small bowl and set aside.  In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter, sugar, and salt until light and fluffy.  Beat in the egg, scrape down sides of bowl, and mix for 10 seconds more.  Add 1/3 of flour and mix, then 1/2 of vanilla mixture and mix.  Repeat again, twice, until all of the flour has been mixed until just combined.  Dollop over the cookie base and spread carefully with an offset spatula or butter knife.

For the topping, mix the sugar and cinnamon in a tiny dish and sprinkle it over the entire gooey layer.  It will be thick, but will come out of the oven almost like a creme brulee lid.

Bake 25-30 minutes until the cookies have bronzed on top.* The fooey layer will rise and fall in the oven but will still be a bit liquidy under the cinnamon crust when the squares are done.  Let cool completely on a rack, then cut into 1-inch squares.

*I had a difficult time knowing whether this was “done,” and cooked it so much longer than I should have.  It made my gooey layer less gooey than it should have been.  So unless your oven is funky and off, take these out after 30 minutes.

The Story Behind the Menu – CV(D)’s Baby Shower

me and cv(d).

Who: CV(D), me, and about 20 of our friends.

What: A baby shower

When: Saturday brunch

Why: Because I love her, duh.

parfaition setup.

the spread.

The Thought Process:  I was going for a staff breakfast vibe.  CV(D)’s (former-wah!) and my place of employment is famous for hosting some indulgent morning meals for our coworkers, many of whom were with us that morning.  I knew right away I had to have Nutella French Toast casserole on the menu; that’s CV(D)’s brunch fave.  Cracker Barrel’s hash brown casserole is a crowd favorite, so that got added too.  Brunch isn’t complete unless you have an egg dish, so I made one, and a friend brought one.  Other friends rounded out the sides with fruit, bread, and of course parfait.  We had to add a donut tree, because CV(D) ate about half of the one at The (Not So) New Girl’s shower.

the house.

The Menu:

Slow Cooker Nutella French Toast Casserole

Cracker Barrel’s Hash Brown Casserole

Breakfast Casserole

Parfation (yogurt, granola, and fruit)

Pumpkin bread, banana bread, muffins, and cinnamon rolls

Donut tree (cover a styrofoam cone in tinfoil, poke toothpicks in, and fill the toothpicks with donut holes)

Mimosa station

seat of honor.

What Worked:

Who worked might be a better descriptor here, and who worked was AGOMYR.  She came early, placed a salted caramel mocha in my hand, and we ran around the kitchen together for about an hour and a half to get everything in place in time.  She didn’t even ask what needed doing, she just figured it out and did it, including, but not limited to, hanging bunting (that she hand-lettered), slicing treats, finishing the toothpick-ing of the donut tree, taking people’s coats, arranging gifts, taking most of the photos you see in this post, and staying far longer than necessary to clean.  I don’t think I’ve ever had a party she wasn’t invited to, but she locked in all future invitations with this one.

But what worked was, um, everything?  I can’t take a step back here and evaluate the success of a brunch at my house with so many of my favorite people (and foods).  I loved watching everyone reunite, and of course, celebrate one of my best friends.  It was a truly wonderful

What Didn’t:

The donut tree!  I don’t even understand.  It was a star of The (Not So) New Girl’s shower, and wasn’t such a hit at CV(D)’s.  I suspect not enough people picked at it at first, and then others didn’t want to disturb the beauty.

This is Not a Craft Blog

crafternoon pumpkins.

But La Moneda did play host to some craftivities the other night.  Two work friends came over to help decorate the house for CV(D)’s baby shower.  I made the favors.  That took absolutely no craftiness at all. These pumpkins, on the other hand, are a different story entirely.  I tried to amass the supplies one needs to make glitter pumpkins, but failed to recognize the difference between Martha Stewart glitter, and Martha Stewart glitter paint.  Oops.  Luckily, my friend Kim made lemonade out of lemons with the purple paint, and our other friend Christine had some orange glitter up her sleeve.  The results of Kim’s work are these beauties you see here.  I feel guilty that they’re all gracing my mantel, but they’re gorgeous and festive, and I’m not giving them back.

I’m also debating dabbling in decoupage in the name of confetti pumpkins for the front stoop, but I think I gave my circle punches away when we moved, and I don’t know that I’d have the patience to cut this many circles out of tissue.  Stay tuned, dear readers.

You Make It, You Own It [slow cooker nutella french toast casserole]

One of my favorite rules from the first Dinner: A Love Story cookbook, is that once someone makes a recipe in the Ward/Rosenstrach household, it becomes his forever.

“Often I would see a recipe in Gourmet and be so eager to get started on it that I couldn’t wait for him to come home from work to pitch in.  Likewise, he’d scour our growing cookbook collection and select meals that I had no interest in making with him–meals, actually, that I wouldn’t have ever selected in the first place.  A lot of keepers came out of this trial-and-error period, but more important, a dinner rule that is still in effect twelve years later took root:  When one of us discovers a new recipe, cookes it for dinner, and it’s a success, it is the cook’s responsibility to prepare that dinner from that point forward.  Forever.  Ad infinitum.”

(From this cookbook, which is an all-time fave of mine, both for the recipes, and the life advice.)

In the same vein, I don’t make French Toast.

slow cooker nutella french toast casserole.

But I did make Slow Cooker Nutella French Toast Casserole, which is really something different entirely.  CV(D) made this for our first annual brunch in the country.  Technically, that makes it her recipe to make forever, but I bent the rules here because a) she doesn’t live in my house, and b) it was for her baby shower, and I couldn’t well ask her to cook for her own event.

This is such a great recipe to keep in your back pocket the next time you have company coming for brunch.  It cooks in two hours, and nobody doesn’t like Nutella.

A couple of notes:

  • The amount of Nutella in the casserole is just enough to give the dish some flavor, so it’s all about a drizzle on top when it’s warm, so it will melt into the crevices between the chunks of bread.
  • The recipe calls for almond milk, which I rarely have.  However, I was feeding a crowd, and made one with regular milk and one with coconut milk.  The coconut milk was noticeably more flavorful, and that’s what I’ll use from here on out.

To make Slow Cooker Nutella French Toast Casserole for 8, you will need:

  • 1, 1 pound loaf brioche or challah bread
  • 6 eggs
  • 2 cups coconut milk (I used full fat)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 heaping tablespoons Nutella, plus more for topping
  • Pinch salt

Cut the bread into bite sized cubes (1-1/2 inches).  In a bowl, whisk eggs, milk, cinnamon, vanilla, Nutella, and salt.  The Nutella will be a little clumpy still, and that’s fine.  Put bread in the bowl of a slow cooker, and pour egg mixture on top.  Cook on high for 2 hours.  Serve with a healthy dollop of Nutella.

Life Lately

salted caramel mocha.

I’ve switched to the salted caramel mocha as my Starbucks beverage du jour.  This is iced, which is what I got the first time I tried it.  Now that it’s colder I get hot.  I tried a Pumpkin Spice Latte earlier this season and I literally could not even.


We looked nice, so I took a selfie.

chubby hubby.

One of my favorite 11 year olds told me this was his favorite ice cream flavor, and I was inspired.

group text.

This is the Group Text.  It’s made up of me, The (Not So) New Girl, Ali, and CV(D).  Our group text starts at approximately 5 a.m. every morning when the firsts of us wake up, and ends around 11 p.m. when the lasts of us go to sleep.  They get me through everything.


These ladies came over for a “crafternoon” last week to help me get ready for CV(D)’s shower.


Then everyone came over for CV(D)’s shower, and I’ll tell you about it soon.  Are you sick of seeing my island yet?  I’m not.

kennedy center.

My husband and I celebrated our anniversary.  Usually I do some sort of sappy post, but instead we celebrated by going to see Beautiful at the Kennedy Center.  I loved it, and now my favorite Pandora station is James Taylor and Carole King.