2011 – The Year in Review!

Happy New Year Foodie Friends!

It was barely five months ago when I thought it would be fun to start a food blog. What better way to channel my passion for food, than to write about it and share with my friends? I was always (still am!) taking and posting pictures of the things I cook, bake and eat! Going to different classes, I’ve learned new cooking skills, recipes and techniques! I love taking cooking classes!!! Thank goodness for my friend Marie! She is a Food Enabler! Anything related to local cooking classes she researches, we save our pennies and GO FOR IT! Here she is, my FFF (Favorite Foodie Friend!) with her daughter Lacee! I know she’s going to yell at me for this picture but I think it’s adorable! Guess what? It was taken at a cooking class! Go figure!
Back to the blog, I didn’t know, but I thought a few people might like to read about my cooking adventures and I wanted to share my experiences trying the things I learned in classes, at home. It wasn’t going to be perfect (hence the name of the blog), but I wanted it to be fun! I never would have imagined I’d have 20+ Word Press followers, 68+ followers on Twitter and over 300 fans on Facebook! I am humbled beyond words. Well, not beyond words because then I wouldn’t be a blogger would I? 🙂 But I am very thankful and mindful of how incredibly blessed I am to be fortunate enough to share with so many wonderful people! I’m weird, but I get excited over every new “follower” and “like!” You all make me smile every single day! It’s been fun getting to know some of the wonderful Food bloggers out there too! Now THOSE people can cook! Whew!

Looking back, here are the links to my favorite posts from the last few months!
Root Beer Float Cookies! No photos – which means, oh darn – I have to make them again, if only to show you how delicious they are! This time, I’ll make them into Ice Cream Sandwiches. I love this post because it was the first time I ordered an ingredient online. We won’t discuss how often I’ve done it since then… 😉

Focaccia Bread!!
One of the best things I learned all year! Bread in 30 minutes!! This is from a cooking class and I fell in love right away!

PBK Brownies! These were my favorite bowling snacks AND my first and only guest post on someone else’s blog. It was exciting to be on Feature Friday from Melissa Strauss’ “Kitchen Tested” Blog! I think I screamed in excitement when I got her Email!

Who could forget my bucket list and MEETING GUY FIERI!! He called me “Red!” Squeeee! Want to hear something funny about this? Back in August, we went to Guy’s restaurant “Johnny Garlic’s” and I wrote on the tablecloth that I was going to meet him someday. (It’s ok, they encourage you to write on the tablecloths there! I’m not some random person who goes around writing on tablecloths!) Who would EVER have guessed I’d actually meet him two months later?

This year I was also blessed enough to meet Chef Jyll Everman (and take a cooking class from her!)
Chef Amanda Cushman (and take a cooking class from her!)
Chef Chris Cosentino (and eat his food!)
and Chef Frank Ostini (and eat his food!)

I learned to make cheese! (Thank you Chef Jeremy!)
I got a signed cookbook from Laura Werlin on how to make Grilled Cheese Sandwiches!
My picture of “Cheese, Glorious Cheese!” has been re-pinned countless times on Pintrest! I can get pretty cheesy on this blog too… Perhaps I should call 2011 “The Year of Cheese?”

I felt the most creative with these Melted Snowman Cookies! They make me smile every time I look at them.

Finally, the post with the most views all year!! I think it was just plain luck on my part that the entire Internet was looking for these goodies with search engine terms that matched my blog post. My Santa Hat Brownie Bites have gotten 630 views so far! That’s mind-blowing! I hope you liked them too!

Since New Years is a time for Resolutions, in 2012, I resolve to create a wonderful space with more food, more recipes, more photos, more classes and best of all, more fun!! I hope you will continue to join me on this adventure! Thank you ALL for your love and support over the last five months. Together, let’s make 2012 a delicious year!

All my love,

Sara

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Merry Christmas to ME!

I must have been a very good girl this year!

My youngest bought this for me… does he know his Mother or what? 🙂

I hope everyone else had a blessed and wonderful Holiday too!

Santa Hat Brownie Bites!


Every year our family gets together to celebrate the holidays! My husband has three older sisters, so there are four families, and we each bring an appetizer and a dessert to share. When we’re all together there are 17 of us. That number has expanded as our older nephews and nieces are married and the younger ones are bringing significant others to dinner! (Side note: I’m not sure how I got to be this old! I know it was yesterday when the kids were little!) This year we’re taking Bacon Wrapped Jalapeno Poppers and Brownie Bite Santa Hats! Now together, those don’t sound like a great combination (unless you work for an antacid company!), but like any big gathering, there will be plenty of food on the table and somehow we’ll manage to eat a little of everything. My sister-in-laws are amazing cooks too, so there is no chance of not trying it all. Everything is always delicious!! Hmmm… maybe the antacid is a good idea! 🙂

This Santa Hat Brownie Bites recipe is courtesy of Daisy’s World! I’ve seen these on several blogs this year, with several variations, but I thought these looked the best, so I made them! Plus, they are easy. Yep, I said it. They are EASY!

Here is what you do:
Bake a 13 x 9 pan of your favorite brownie recipe. Let it cool and cut the brownies into small circles with a biscuit cutter. I used a 1 1/2 inch round biscuit cutter!


While the brownies are baking, rinse and cut the tops of the strawberries. Don’t they look like Santa Hats already?

After the strawberries are cleaned and your brownie rounds are cool, mix the buttercream frosting! You’re going to pipe a ring on the top of the brownies to hold the strawberry in place.

Gently press a strawberry on top of each brownie bite. You may have to trim the edges of them a bit so they fit.

Dab a bit of frosting on the tips of the strawberries to make the ball of Santa’s hat!

TA-DA! Santa Hat Brownie Bites! Told you it was easy!

Here is the recipe so you can make your own!

Santa Hat Brownie Bites

Ingredients:

Two baskets of small strawberries, cleaned with the tops cut off!
1 13×9 in pan of your favorite brownie mix, cooled and cut into small circles
Vanilla Mascarpone Buttercream Frosting (recipe below)

Mascarpone Buttercream Frosting
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature
8 oz mascarpone cheese at room temperature
2 1/2 to 3 cups powdered sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
pinch of salt

NOTE: When I did this, I had a LOT of frosting left over. Next time I will cut the recipe in half (at least) although now, I have frosting for other cookies! SWEET!

Beat butter and cheese until light and fluffy, about two minutes. Add vanilla and salt. Add sugar in half cup increments, beating each addition until smooth. Add more sugar to reach desired consistency and sweetness.

Assemble the Santa Hat Brownie Bites, by piping a ring of frosting around the top of each brownie. Press the strawberry, flat side down, onto the brownie, pressing gently to secure. Dot the tip of the strawberry with a spot of frosting to complete the hat!

My 13×9 pan produced over 30 round brownies. Be sure to have enough strawberries for each brownie bite. You may even end up with too many strawberries and too much frosting. Hey… we all need snacks while we’re baking. It’s called “quality control!”

Enjoy!

Bacon-Wrapped Jalapeno Poppers!

It’s a tradition to bring something savory and something sweet to our family Christmas party. This year our savory treat was Bacon-Wrapped Jalapeno Poppers! These spicy little darlings have quickly become one of our family favorites. We make them on New Years Eve and for our Superbowl Food Fest! We’ll probably make them for graduation this year too! We love them! This recipe is loosely based on The Pioneer Woman’s BBQ Poppers. We’ve modified them to fit our family tastes. Feel free to do the same! This recipe makes 50 poppers, so if you don’t have a large family, cut the recipe in half.

Start with some gorgeous fresh Jalapenos. You want them to be about two to three inches long. I found these at our farmers market for $0.49 lb. 25 poppers cost me less than $2.00! I love that!

Cut them in half lengthwise. Try to keep the stems intact. It makes them look prettier! Always use gloves when handling peppers and be careful!

Remember the heat of the jalapeno comes from the seeds and those white membranes. Scrape them out completely, or if you’re feeling spicy leave a few seeds in the shells.
Mix soft cream cheese, grated sharp cheddar cheese, sliced green onions and minced garlic together in a bowl.

Stuff each pepper half with cheese, then wrap with bacon. MMmmMMmm! Secure the bacon with a toothpick and throw them in the oven!

You can also make them without bacon, but why would you do that??? (Ok, if you do, they’ll look like this…)

Bake at 275 degrees for about an hour. Serve hot from the oven, or warm or at room temperature. They are delicious no matter what.

Don’t they look good? Better look fast because they will disappear quickly!

Here is the full recipe!

Bacon Wrapped Jalapeno Poppers
You’ll need:
2 – 8 oz packages cream cheese, softened to room temperature
1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
4 green onions (both green and white parts) sliced
2 tsp minced garlic
25 slices of thin bacon, cut in half crosswise (approx 2 lbs)
25 fresh jalapenos
Rubber gloves for handling the jalapenos
Toothpicks

Instructions:
Preheat the oven to 275 degrees. We’re baking low and slow!
Begin by cutting the jalapenos in half lengthwise. Use a spoon to gently scrape out the membranes and seeds. (If you like your poppers with a bit more spice, leave some of the seeds!) In a bowl you’ll combine the cheeses, onions and garlic. Beat them together with a mixer until blended. Stuff each jalapeno half with cheese mixture. Gently wrap half a piece of bacon around the jalapeno, covering as much of the cheese mix as possible. Use a toothpick to secure the bacon. Cook the poppers on a rack over a sheet pan (there will be a lot of grease from the bacon) for an hour or until the bacon is sizzling.

To make a vegetarian version – don’t use bacon! They come out perfectly without it. (Don’t tell my family I said that!!)

You can also brush them with your favorite BBQ sauce. The possibilities are endless! I hope your family loves them as much as we do! Enjoy!

Homemade Ricotta!

You’ll have to forgive me if I repeat myself a few times throughout this post. I made cheese today. How many people can say that? Little old me. I made cheese! In my kitchen with only three ingredients!

There are times I feel behind the rest of the food blogging world. So many people already make their own homemade ricotta. It’s been done before. I’m not the first to share this and I won’t be the last. It may be old news in the world of foodie blog-o-spheres, but it’s new to me! It’s exciting. I made cheese people! I made cheese!

Plus, I deserve bonus points for not to eat the entire bowl! We will never buy ricotta from the grocery again. It’s thick, creamy and I have control over what goes in it. Sure, it’s only good for a few days, but it’s fresh. I can make it to go with sweet or savory recipes. I control the ingredients and it’s MINE! I made cheese!

Researching online, I found very small variations of the same basic recipe. NONE of which were the recipe we got from “Follow That Chef” Jeremy. I briefly debated whether to follow Chef Jeremy’s recipe, or go rogue and try someone else’s. Chef Jeremy won out and here is the recipe and how to make your own ricotta at home! You’ll need plain yogurt, whole milk and heavy cream.

You’re going to toss it all in a pan. Put the yogurt in first so it coats the bottom of the pan and doesn’t burn.
As per Chef Jeremy’s instructions, I added 1/2 tsp nutmeg and a pinch of salt!

Looks delicious, right? Here is the part that was hard for me.. you let this come to a simmer and you leave it alone for five minutes. Don’t touch it. Don’t stir it. Just let those lovely curds separate from the whey. Do you know how hard it is to sit and watch a pan and NOT stir it? Now that I know the delicious results, it will be much easier next time!


When it’s done simmering, you’re going to pour it over a cheesecloth lined strainer in a large bowl.

Now, you just let it drain for an hour or so.

At this point, you could season it with a bit of grated parmesan. The longer it drains, the thicker your cheese will become. I let mine sit for about two hours. Partially because I made it when I got home from work and while it was draining I took a nap. See! I’m so good, I can make cheese in my sleep! haha!
The finished product looks like this and it made almost two cups worth.

Isn’t it gorgeous? That’s my cheese! I made cheese!

Here is the recipe! I expect to hear your excited squeals when you make cheese too!

Ricotta Cheese
Recipe courtesy of Chef Jeremy Grossman
Executive Chef, Sonoma Wine Garden

Ingredients:
1 cup plain yogurt
1 quart whole milk
2 cups heavy whipping cream
1/2 tsp nutmeg
pinch of salt
grated parmesan cheese (optional)

Pour the yogurt into a pan and let it coat the bottom. Add the whole milk and heavy cream. Season with nutmeg and salt.

Bring the contents of the pan to a simmer and let it simmer for five minutes. Don’t stir the pan or disturb it while it’s cooking.

Pour the liquid and solids through a cheesecloth into a large bowl. Allow the cheese to drain for an hour at room temperature.

Grab a spoon to taste it! It’s good, isn’t it? Now drizzle your spoon with a bit of honey and herbs and take another bite. Cheesy heaven!

Seriously, use your cheese immediately. It will stay good in your refrigerator for a few days too, but fresh is best.

Enjoy!!

Melted Snowman Cookies

I first ran across these adorable cookies on Crazy Domestic‘s blog during my weekly quest for bowling snacks.

The moment I saw them, I knew I had to make them! They are so darn cute!! Plus, they are simple and easy to make! Between work and the craziness of the holidays, I’m all about “easy-to-make!”

Let’s gather a few things from the fridge and the pantry and get started!!

You know I didn’t even notice the cookie dough packages have two different fonts on the front. Do you see how focused I was on creating these yummy cookies?!

You’ll need:

1 package of Betty Crocker’s Sugar Cookie Mix OR substitute your family favorite!
10 large marshmallows
Cookie Icing, decorating tips, and your imagination! You can use Betty Crocker Cookie Icing or make your own. You’ll need Black, Red, Green, Blue and Red! I also used mini orange M&M’s for the noses, instead of mixing a tiny bit of orange for carrot noses.

See, simple and easy! Would I lie to you?

Mix the cookie mix (does that sound weird to anyone else?) together, then take a small chunk (about the size of a golf ball) and flatten to about 1/4″-1/2″ depending on how thick you like your cookies. Remember, they are supposed to be melted snowmen so the more irregular the shapes, the better! Isn’t that just perfect for My Imperfect Kitchen? I think I love these cookies even more now! 🙂

Bake the cookies according to the package directions. Pull them out when they’re done and let them cool on a rack. When they are cool, ice the cookies with the back of a spoon and let some of the icing drip over the edge for that melting effect!

Spray a microwave safe plate with cooking spray and put the marshmallows on it. Cook on high for approx 20 seconds. Watch the marshmallows carefully though, you don’t want to let them get too fluffy! Spray your hand with the cooking spray (Great tip!) and pull the marshmallows carefully off the plate and set them on the frosted cookies.

Some of my marshmallows fell over, but I just left them that way! It gives my cookies character. HA!

Start decorating! I found it easier to do the arms and faces first, then add the rest of the details.

Aren’t they cute?

Ahhhh… I’m melting….

What? It’s going to get how hot?

Hello!

All together now!

I love these cookies! The only thing I would have changed, is my icing recipe. I didn’t have clear vanilla extract, so my cookies aren’t as bright white as they should have been. It would have made them even more adorable! When you do yours, get the clear vanilla extract or use white cookie icing!

My simple icing recipe is:

1 cup powdered sugar
4 tsp milk
1 tsp clear vanilla extract (I used my homemade vanilla and the icing was just a little off-color.)
1 TBLS Light Corn Syrup

Stir until smooth and ice your cookies!

You really should try these! They are fun to make and fun to eat too! I had a blast making them and will probably be making them again before the season is over. Make these as a family project on a cold night and you’ve got a perfectly sweet evening! Enjoy!

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