On my day off on Monday my husband suggested I try making homemade hummus — we buy it all the time and word on the street is that it’s pretty simple to make, so I gave it a whirl! I used Ina Garten’s recipe as a base (because she’s fabulous and I always trust her recipes!) and made a few modifications. First, I added a bit more garlic, an extra large clove, because adding more garlic is pretty much always my way life. Next, I reduced the tahini paste — it has a strong flavor, and I added in a little bit of the recommended 1/3 cup at a time, I probably only ended up using 1/4 cup in my version. After I blended all of the ingredients, I used a spatula to scrape it out into a serving dish and topped it with a few toasted pine nuts and a drizzle of good olive oil (for no other reason than that I’ve seen it done at restaurants, and I think it looks pretty!).  The verdict? It really is as easy it sounds — you just throw it all in a food processor and blend. Now that I know that, I’m brainstorming more flavors to try!

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I am not feeling so hot this week, I’ve come down with a pretty terrible cold and just can’t seem to bounce back! So I made it my mission last night to get on the road to recovery with a pot of homemade soup. I took a stab at a tortellini soup I saw in the most recent issue of Food Network magazine and made a few modification like adding in chopped onions and extra garlic to the recipe (and omitting the water they suggested). And it was just want the doctor ordered, a totally delicious soup can do wonders. Find the full recipe here.

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Guys, it’s hump day — and no one likes hump day — let alone the first one after the holidays, so I saved this recipe from a few weeks ago that’s completely focused on butter to make you feel better. One of the nicest presents I received for Christmas this year was from my grandparents and uncle; they got me a bunch of artisanal pasta and olive oils from a local pasta shop in my hometown. Clearly my family knows me well, carbs are my first love.

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When it came time to test out one of those pastas I wanted to make it a super special dinner, so in addition to working on a nice sauce and some homemade meatballs, I got a fresh loaf of Italian bread and decided to whip up a special herbed butter to go with it. I roasted a whole head of garlic for about an hour in a  small dish with some olive oil, salt, and pepper. Then once the garlic was cooked and soft, I used the food processor to combine the cloves with a 3 tablespoons of butter, a tablespoon of fresh grated parmesan cheese, a teaspoon of chopped rosemary, and a teaspoon of chopped thyme, plus a little more salt and pepper. The result was a sweet roasted garlic and herb-y butter spread that went perfectly with the little Italian feast I prepared!

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I got such great feedback a few weeks back about my 3-ingredient appetizer idea  that I decided to try another combination for a little blogger holiday party thrown by my friend Elizabeth this weekend. And for this little snack I chose one my all time favorite cheese, a creamy french brie… yum. I rolled out thawed puff pastry dough (store bought, from the frozen food section!) and spread a thin layer of strawberry jam across the surface, and spaced out the slices of cheese.  Then I rolled the dough over the ingredients and sealed off the edges before cutting it into pinwheel slices. I baked the pinwheels — on baking sheet with a light mist of cooking spray — for about 12 minutes at 400 degrees. Let them cool a bit before removing them from the baking sheet so all of the cheese doesn’t ooze out — you don’t want any of that going to waste! I think this is going to be a new entertaining staple, it took about 5 minutes of prep time and they flew off the plate! Brie and Jam Pinwheels 1 Brie and Jam Pinwheels 2 Brie and Jam Pinwheels 3 Brie and Jam Pinwheels 4 Brie and Jam Pinwheels 5 Brie and Jam Pinwheels 6

This is a DIY gift that I can nearly guarantee anyone would love to receive, homemade simple syrups. Sometimes I wonder, do they call it simple syrup because it’s so simple to make? I think they might!  I used this recipe, and added  apples for my own twist. Then I packaged it up in mini-mason jars and labeled the tops with brown craft paper, bakers twine, and recipe tags. Experiment with flavors and come up with your own mixture (I’ve used this recipe before too) — it’ll make your gift even more unique when you give it your own spin!

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Looking for more DIY present ideas? Check them out here.

I got a head start this weekend on holiday baking, who says pies are just for Thanksgiving day? I’m a big of fan of individual-sized desserts (as evidenced here and here), after a heavy meal and lots of snacking, I always still want dessert, but just need a little taste to tie me over. So I made the recipe for classic pumpkin pie (I use a top secret family recipe…the one printed on the Libby’s pumpkin puree can!) and used a mini-muffin tin to bake the ingredients off in bite-sized pies. Mini-pies just weren’t cute enough though, I had to up the adorable factor and  use my alphabet cookie cutters to spell out a little a seasonal message. I think I’m going to do the same thing for Thanksgiving later this week! What kind of recipes are you baking up for the holidays?

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I was brainstorming some new appetizer ideas that were easy to make in advance and came up with a simple formula for a snack that has some variety, without requiring tons of grocery shopping or dirty dishes. I purchased some frozen puff pastry dough, thawed, rolled and cut it into 2″ circles. Then I experimented with a few combinations of filling: herb goat cheese and rosemary sea salt, blue cheese crumbles and a drizzle of organic honey, and my favorite combination, slices of heirloom tomatoes sprinkled with fresh parmesan cheese. All three combinations got some fresh cracked black pepper on top as well before I rolled up the sides to resemble bite-sized -tarts.  After following the baking directions on the puff pasty box (375 degrees for 10-15 minutes), they came out of the oven golden brown. These lasted about 3 minutes from plate to table at a family party I brought them to, which I think means they were pretty good? I’d love to hear what combinations of fillings you might try!
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After a rather busy week last week, I was so happy to have a lazy Sunday on the books over the weekend. I caught up on blogs and my DVR, lounged around in my cozy new sweatshirt, and got a pot of bolognese cooking for the better part of the afternoon. Making a big pot of tomato sauce just reminds me of being at my Grandma’s house growing up — the smell of the garlic and onions filling up the whole house. I used a recipe from Williams-Sonoma as my guide, but made it my own with a few ingredient swaps.  It totally hit the spot and exceeded my expectations. It’s a recipe that I’ll be adding to my cookbook file for future reference, comfort food at its best!

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Last week I was run down and had a terrible cold, so I was determined to use the weekend to recharge. To me, there is nothing more relaxing or comforting than being in the kitchen, so that’s where I spent my time. I stayed in Friday night and baked up lots of treats, including mini mason jar apple pies, and sea salt caramel apples — both for a little Saturday project I helped style with two my good friends (more pictures coming soon!). And Sunday I let a hearty kielbasa and white bean soup simmer in the slow cooker all day — which made our apartment smell delightful. It was a delicious and successful attempt at a relaxing weekend.

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One of my best girlfriends has a birthday coming up, and we have a mutual passion for donuts — I wouldn’t be exaggerating by saying we exchange at least 2-3 emails a week about donuts. Which is why I thought it was completely acceptable to make a cake, and then add donuts on top of it for her birthday celebration this weekend.  Conveniently, I had recently purchase a mini-donut pan, and followed the recipe that came with the pan (from Williams-Sonoma). They were surprisingly simple to make and totally jazzed up my box-mix cake I made for the occasion. So remember:  the next time you’re making a three layer chocolate-chocolate cake and you ask yourself “Is this enough?” the answer is no, no it’s not enough, and then add donuts on top of that cake.

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