That Little Extra Something

When friends are over, I used to do my best to pull out all the stops. I was known to make four last minute trips to the grocery store to make justonemorething to take the table from full to bursting. And then Gooplet came around, and simply gathering friends around the table seemed like enough of a win. If my husband can grill and I can pull off a side or two, what more do we need? (Answer: nothing!) But it’s still nice to take a classic and give it a little hint of something special.


That’s exactly what this Caprese salad with hot bacon dressing is. Yep. Hot*. Bacon. Dressing.

*Except mine was room temperature bacon dressing, and I served it over a bed of arugula.

Cheese Day Saturday [tater tot breakfast skillet]

A while ago, The (Not So) New Girl introduced me (virtually) to her pseudo-cousin, someone who she said had a passion for all things cooking and cookbooks, and reminded her a lot of yours truly. Many a recipe-link/pin/email later, my foodie pen pal and I finally met up last weekend! We went to have brunch with The (Not So) New Girl, and wasn’t it a surprise when we discovered that each of us brought something with cheese.


My contribution was a riff on How Sweet Eats’ tater tot breakfast skillet, but we all know these days I can’t be bothered to follow a recipe to the letter. Here’s what I did (and did again when I made this approximately 8 days later, yes it is that good):

Preheated the oven to 375.

Sauteed chopped onions, mushrooms, and a red pepper till soft, then added 3 minced cloves of garlic for the last minute or two. Put that mixture in the bottom of a well-greased baking dish.

Cracked 8 eggs, and added 2/3 C whole milk. Poured the mixture on top of the veggies.

Sprinkled 8 oz. of grated extra sharp cheddar on top of that.

Layered a bag of frozen tots all over the top.

Baked it for 45 minutes, and then ate way more than anyone ever should.

A Different Muffin Entirely [banana muffins with olive oil and dark chocolate]

Perhaps above anything else I know how to make, I know how to make banana muffins.  I’ve been making Giada’s recipe since 2005, and if you’ve known me since then, you’ve probably eaten one or two.  There has never been a better banana muffin.

But when I saw Jessica’s, I paused.  These were a different muffin entirely.  They had olive oil and dark chocolate, and made me think of my favorite toast toppings.  They were worth a try.


If you want a classic banana muffin that reminds you of the kind of banana bread a neighbor would bring just because they made an extra, then Giada’s recipe(sans Mascarpone frosting, is the way to go.

But if you’re in the market for a sophisticated muffin (did you know such a thing existed, dear readers?) I highly recommend these.  They feel like just enough of a departure from the classic that they’re worth hanging onto.  The olive oil and chopped chocolate (chop it somewhat unevenly, please, so that there are both flecks and huge chunks of chocolate studded throughout) give the muffins a tinge of fanciness.

To make 18 muffins, you will need:

  • 2 cups whole wheat pastry or all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 3 large bananas, mashed
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • 6 ounces high-quality dark chocolate, chopped (I used 3.5 oz. dark, and 3 oz. semi sweet chocolate chips)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. In a bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt and spices. Set aside. Line a muffin tin with liners.

In a large bowl, whisk the egg and brown sugar together until smooth and no lumps remain. Add in vanilla extract, olive oil and bananas, whisking again until combined. Gradually add in dry ingredients, mixing until just incorporated. Stir in the milk and mix until just combined. Fill each muffin liner 2/3 of the way full with batter (I use a 1/4 cup measure to get the muffins to be of equal size). If you’d like, you can place a very thinly sliced banana slice on top of the muffin before baking.

Bake for 15-17 minutes, or until tops are no longer wet and become slightly golden. Remove and let cool until cool to the touch.

Executive Decisions [slow cooker short rib sauce]

In life, there are times to hem and haw, and there are times to make executive decisions.  I am an expert at both hemming and hawing, but I can appreciate the brilliance of making an executive decision.  Once you do, it’s done.  It’s decided.  There’s no point looking back when life moves in a singular direction, that direction being, of course, forward. I find that making executive decisions helps me to simplify, or to do something I know I should do, but I don’t necessarily want to admit I need to do.

These decisions can be big or small, and more often than not are somewhere in between.  Recent executive decisions I have made have included:

  • Just go ahead and buy Gooplet the cute Christmas pajamas you want him to wear come December.  No, they will not go on sale, and yes, they are too expensive, but they are cute and it’s his first Christmas and church is doing a pajama service, and he needs to look his best.
  • For goodness sake, Jennie, put the Lilly clothes in the ThredUp bag.  You haven’t worn them since high school, Ocean Allison has made you tons of pillows out of other old skirts and dresses, and you might as well get some cash for them (seals bag quickly and tightly, so it cannot be tampered with, and this executive decision cannot be undone).
  • Get the afternoon cup of coffee.  It’s just for today, it doesn’t mean you’re on the path to 8 cups every morning like every other member of your nuclear family (ummmm).

My most recent executive decision was not to sear these short ribs before putting them in the slow cooker.  My America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook contains seared meat in almost every recipe from the slow cooker section, and a quick peek through the Williams Sonoma slow cooker cookbook revealed that they suggest this too.  So it’s gotta be a valid suggestion.  But when I’m busting out the slow cooker, I want dinner to be easier than easy.  I want to throw everything in that giant vessel, and not look at it again for seven or eight hours.  So no searing.  Executive decision.  I don’t regret it at all, this sauce is amazing anyway*.


To make (executive decision) slow cooker short rib sauce for 4, you will need:

8 beef short ribs
12 ounces cremini mushrooms, chopped
1 onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 (28-ounce) can tomato sauce
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup beef stock
1 cup red wine
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
a few sprigs of fresh thyme
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/3 cup freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese, plus more for topping

1 pound pasta, cooked

Add the short ribs, mushrooms, onions, garlic, diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, paste, beef stock and red wine to the slow cooked with the ribs. Stir in the oregano and thyme. Stir as much as you can, then cook on low for 8 hours.

After 8 hours, remove the ribs with a pair of kitchen tongs (keep the sauce covered) and let them slightly cool until you can touch them. Remove the beef from the ribs and add it back to the slow cooker. Add in the brown sugar, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes and cheese. Stir well and cook for another hour on low heat. Remove the thyme sprigs.

Before serving, taste the sauce and season additionally if desired. You might need more salt and pepper. Don’t be afraid to add it! Serve over pasta and top with extra cheese.

*I find that for dishes like this, there is always leftover sauce, and I’m someone who hates throwing away food that could surely serve some other purpose.  My mother-in-law will take an immersion blender, and whir up the remaining sauce for use with another cut of meat, another night.  It’s really not a bad idea.

News to Me [slow cooker bourbon bacon baked beans]

That you could make baked beans from scratch was news to me.  I mean, I guess I knew it was possible, because it’s not like they magically appear in cans, but I had certainly never seen a recipe for them.

I didn’t much care for baked beans when I was a kid, until I arrived at someone’s house for dinner and they were on the table.  Wooden Nickels taught me that you eat what’s put in front of you with a smile on your face, so I did, and I kind of liked them.  There’s something satisfying about a hotdog with baked beans.  And when they’re homemade, dinner feels a little more intentional than it would with the ones in the can.  Like, you didn’t just resort to hot dogs because you had no time to cook, you planned them because nothing shows off the beans better.


Given my recent affinity for the slow cooker, Jessica’s recipe came my way at the exact right time.  And while I drastically reduced the amount of bourbon she called for, because it’s not my favorite booze, I loved how these beans turned out.  You cannot start making these too far in advance.  The beans need to soak overnight, and then the slow cooker runs for 10-12 hours, and then the beans just keep sitting in that magical sauce you’re making.  So my recommendation is a little different from Jessica’s:  soak the beans all day, then run the slow cooker all night.  In the morning, let the beans hang out until you need them at lunch or dinner.  The sauce will be thick and syrupy, and you’ll keep coming back for one more bite.

To make a ton of baked beans, you will need:

  • 1 pound dry navy beans
  • 10 slices thick-cut bacon, cut into pieces
  • 1 medium sweet onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 cups water
  • 3/4 cup of your favorite barbecue sauce
  • 1 cup loosely packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup ketchup
  • 2 tablespoons molasses
  • 1/3 cup bourbon
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons ground mustard
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

The night before (or not–see my recommendation above), add beans to a large pot and cover with water. Drain the next morning.

Bring beans to a boil in a large pot of water, let simmer for 30-40 minutes, then drain. While beans are cooking, heat a large skillet over medium heat and add bacon. Cook until crispy and fat is rendered, then remove bacon with a slotted spoon and let drain on a paper towel. Reduce heat to medium-low and add onion, cooking for 8-10 minutes, until caramely and soft. Add in garlic, cook for 30 seconds, then turn off heat.

Add water, bourbon, brown sugar, bbq sauce, ketchup, ground mustard, vinegar, molasses and worcestershire sauce to the crockpot and whisk well to combine. Add in beans, onions (and all of the bacon fat) and bacon to the crockpot. Cover and cook on low for 10-12 hours, stirring occasionally. After 10-12 hours, turn crockpot to “warm” setting or turn off completely and let sit anywhere from 30 minutes-2 hours, which will help the sauce for the beans thicken even more. These taste even better the next day!

Note: after 10-12 hours the liquid may still seem “liquidy.” It is imperative to let the beans sit for a while on the lower setting (or on the off setting, still covered) so they become thick and syrupy like traditional baked beans.

Everything You Could Ever Want in a Cookie [snicker chip doodles]

As you begin your holiday baking, dear readers, may I gently suggest Jessica’s snicker chip doodles.  They have everything you could ever want in a cookie, hold their shape as they bake, and are generally perfect.  As soon as I shared them, the compliments came pouring in.  I bet Santa would love them, too.

snicker chip doodles.

To make 3 dozen, you will need:

  • 1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1/3 cup chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup toffee chips
  • 1/4 cup sugar + 1 tablespoon cinnamon for dipping

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Cream butter and sugar with an electric mixer until fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add egg and vanilla, mixing well until combine, about 2 minutes. Stir in flour, baking powder, salt, and 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon. Mix until dough comes together. Add in milk. If dough is still crumbly, add milk 1 tablespoon at a time until it comes together. Fold in chocolate and toffee.. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

In a bowl combine remaining sugar and cinnamon. Remove dough from fridge and roll into  1 – 1 1/2 inch balls. Dip in cinnamon sugar mixture and place on baking sheet. Bake for 8-10 minutes.

Using Up Your Halloween Candy, Part 3 [chocolate candy cookies]

While there is absolutely nothing wrong, and in fact, everything right, with making chocolate peanut butter globs with your leftover peanut butter cups, what about those other chocolates?  The Kit Kats, for example?


I chopped up 20 of mine, and threw them into a slightly modified version of Jessica’s double dark chocolate peanut butter cup cookies.  But I sent them to work with my husband before I could snap a photo.  Please accept the above picture as a sorry substitute.

To make a couple dozen, you will need:

2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup dark cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
3/4 cup loosely packed brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup chocolate chips
2 cups chopped Kit Kat bars (or any other chocolate candy bars you have)

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

Place the cold butter in the bowl of your electric stand mixer and beat until the butter forms a ball or lumb of butter. Add in the sugars and beat until combined. Add in each egg, one at a time, beating until combined. Beat in the vanilla extract. The batter may look curdled or lumpy at this time. Slowly add in the flour with the mixer on low speed. Beat until it is just combined – even before it all gets stirred in. Stir in the chocolate chips and Kit Kats.  Refrigerate the dough for about an hour.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Spoon balls of dough onto baking sheets. Bake for 15-18 minutes, or until just slightly set. Let the cookies cool slightly before eating.

Using Up Your Halloween Candy, Part 2 [peanut butter nutella brownie candy tart]

Still have fun size candy and nothing to do except pick at it all the live-long day?  Good thing you’re here, dear readers.  Let me introduce you to this peanut butter Nutella brownie candy tart.

Go ahead and read that one more time.

Peanut butter.





peanut butter nutella brownie candy tart.

It was every bit as amazing as it looks up here.

peanut butter nutella brownie candy tart.

To make one for 10, you will need:

For the brownie:

1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup nutella
1/3 cup creamy peanut butter
3 ounces high-quality dark chocolate, chopped
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1/2 cup all-purpose flour

For the ganache:

1/3 cup heavy cream
4 ounces high-quality dark chocolate, chopped
2 tablespoons creamy peanut butter
2 tablespoons nutella

+ Assorted chopped candy for the top (I used peanut butter cups, Kit Kats, Snickers, M&Ms, and candy corn)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9-inch tart part with a removable bottom.

Heat the butter, nutella and peanut butter in a small saucepan over low heat until melted. Whisk until smooth. Add in the chocolate and let it sit for a minute, then whisk until it melts. Stir in the sugar, salt and vanilla extract. Beat in the eggs one at a time, beating until combined. Stir in the flour until JUST combined. Pour the batter in the greased tart pan, and watch it like a hawk. Bake 20-25 minutes. It won’t appear finished, but you don’t want to bake it longer! Let it cool completely.

Add the chopped chocolate, peanut butter and nutella to a bowl. Heat the cream in a saucepan over low heat just until bubbles appear around the edges and it’s warm. Pour the cream over the chocolate and let it sit for 30 seconds, then stir continuously until it’s smooth. Let it cool slightly until it thickens and is spreadable without dripping. Spread on the cooled brownie.

Spread the ganache over top of the brownie and cover in your favorite halloween candy – or leave it plain! Slice and devour.

Oatmeal, a Love Story [chocolate cheesecake oatmeal]

I have written so extensively on oatmeal that you, dear readers, have every right to want to strangle me.

cheesecake oatmeal.

I’m not done.

If you have to eat oatmeal, you might as well drown it in mascarpone and melted chocolate, no?  This recipe is absolutely, completely, and totally amazing.  I served it at a recent staff breakfast, and had one little bitty serving leftover for breakfast the next day.

To make an 8 x 8 casserole’s worth, you will need:

  • 2 C oats
  • 1/4 C packed brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/8 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 C coconut milk
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  • 4 oz. mascarpone cheese
  • 3 oz dark chocolate, chopped (but if you bought a 4 oz. bar and threw it all in, I’m not one to judge)
  • *

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees, and spray a square baking pan with cooking spray.

In a large bowl, stir together oats, brown sugar, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon.  In a smaller bowl, or measuring cup, whisk together coconut milk, egg, and vanilla.  Add wet ingredients to dry and mix till combined.  Spoon in mascarpone, mixing, but leaving the cheese in small chunks, so it gets all oozy when it bakes.  Fold in chocolate pieces.  Pour mixture into pan, and bake 23-25 minutes, until just set.  Don’t overbake this one.  Serve immediately, drizzled with extra coconut milk, if that’s how you live your life.

*I didn’t do this, but I wouldn’t be opposed to throwing some sliced bananas in here next time.  Maybe coconut too?  Am I going too crazy?

Cheese or Pepp? [pepperoni pizza pull apart muffins]

This is a question I have to ask at work twice a week.  I’ve never been a waitress, but I do take orders on Tuesdays and Fridays.  Without fail, cheese is the more popular option.  But I can always appreciate a good pepperoni, and that was never truer than on Sunday afternoon.


I was going to make a pasta skillet that capitalized on the best that summer has to offer, but 5:30 hit and we were both looking for a snack.  We had tortilla chips, we had chips and crackers, but I remembered something I had pinned.  Pepperoni pizza pull apart muffins.  They ended up taking the place of dinner altogether because they’re everything you could ever want in a meal.

pepproni muffin.

Jessica makes her dough from scratch, but I cheated and used store-bought pizza dough.  That got this from my head to my table in no time at all.

To make 15 rolls, you will need:

  • pizza dough
  • 3 T melted butter
  • 1/2 C marinara sauce, plus more for dipping
  • 12 oz. some combination of melty, yummy cheeses, like fontina, provolone, and mozzarella
  • 1/2 C ish pepperoni slices
  • 1/4 C grated Parmesan

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Press the dough out into a rectangular shape.  I used a baking sheet and stretched it that size.  Brush dough with a thin layer of melted butter.  Spread marinara on top.  Top with cheese.  Arrange pepperoni.  Cut the pizza into squares at this point using a pizza cutter or a very sharp knife.  I used the pepperoni as my grid.

Spray a muffin tin with nonstick cooking spray (you could also grease each muffin tin, but that’s a lot of work.  And you’ve already got butter in this game.  Stack 2 or 3 slices of dough together, and put them in the pan.  (Jessica used 5 or 6, but maybe her squares were smaller than mine?  I was stuffed at 2 with some of the bigger pieces.)  You want to keep in mind that you’re working with dough that will rise, and melted butter here.  Things can get messy, fast.  Which is also why I recommend putting your muffin tins on a baking sheet, that will catch any potential greasy drips.

Bake 25 minutes.  Wait about 2-3 minutes (the smell will be killing you, but we do what we must), and use a fork or knife to lift the muffins out of the tins.  Serve with extra sauce for dipping.