Sally’s Baking Addiction: February, 2018 Challenge: Cake Pops!

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I now have to include the year in the title of my baking challenge posts because I have completed one full cycle of Sally’s monthly tasks! I am kinda proud of that fact. Sally launched her Baking Challenge in February of 2017, and I have managed to complete all 12, so far! It has been tricky to stay on track over the last 12 months as we have travelled, bought a new home and have had some really busy months. But I have persevered, and managed to not gain 10 extra pounds 🙂

This month’s challenge was not too tough as Sally set cake pops as the perfect Valentine’s Day treat for us to create. My plan was to omit the stick and go with cake pop truffles. I felt this would be easier, and slightly more professional, for my hubby and his coworkers to pop into their mouths, as opposed to sitting in a client meeting eating cake on a popsicle stick!

Sally’s chocolate cake and chocolate icing were scrumptious, and so simple!

The first step was to bake the cake, which I did a day ahead. This was cooled and crumbled into a bowl of Sally’s chocolate icing.

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The mixture was rolled into balls and refrigerated overnight.

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At this point you can insert the stick, but I skipped that! I made rather small truffles and had a yield of 65 balls to be dipped into melted chocolate.

I happen to have milk chocolate, dark chocolate, white chocolate and red chocolate melting discs at my home. Yes, I have too much chocolate on hand at all times!

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I also have way too many candy decorations! So, my daughter came over to make and decorate truffles with me, and make some candy apples for her boyfriend for Valentine’s Day.

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We made quite the mess, but so worth it!

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We had a blast dipping and decorating these little guys.

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They were also delicious! I was impressed that they were not dry inside-as I have purchased cake pops from bakeries before that required a full glass of water in order to choke them down.

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Another great Sally creation! If you can’t tell, I am a fan of her recipes!

They are all simple, delicious and accessible for any level of baking skills you may possess!

I hope to keep baking with her through 2018!

 

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King Cake for Mardi Gras!

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This is my first King Cake. I don’t know why, but I had it in my head that a King Cake was complicated and took days to make. One of my good friends from culinary school, Jen, makes one every year and has a condo in Phoenix. This is my first February in Tucson, so we decided to get together and make King Cakes at her place.

The recipe is straight forward and the dough comes together quite easily. Here is the problem. Phoenix is 2 hours from Tucson, so we decided I would mix my dough, at my house, and then drive to Phoenix while the dough was rising. Jen would make her dough and then we could stagger the baking times in her oven. Makes sense, right? The dough should take an hour to rise before I needed to move to the filling stage. But the drive is 2 hours, remember?

So, I started at 8am and had the windows down until I hit the freeway. At that point I put the air conditioner on and trained the vents to directly hit the dough container. That worked well for about an hour, and my feet were frozen! At that point I turned off the air and let the dough finish doubling for the last 45 minutes of the drive.

It looked pretty good when I got there.

It had doubled and was ready to be rolled out into a 14in X 18in rectangle. The filling, which is cinnamon, butter and sugar was spread out leaving an inch border.

This is basically just a big cinnamon roll! I rolled it up, length wise into a cylinder, and sealed the edges to make the wreath.

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This is left to rise for another 30 minutes

Then into the oven and 25 minutes later, I had my first King Cake.

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Looks good from this side!

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But over here, it looks like I forgot to put it seam side down on the baking sheet!

 

A simple icing of powdered sugar, milk, vanilla and melted butter was whisked up. The important part is getting the colored sugars applied before the icing sets. So, I had to work with a little urgency.

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How cute is Jen’s spatula! She loves those little baking implements!

I tried to apply the three, traditional colors in equal amounts.

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I said I tried to have equal amounts, not that I succeeded in doing so!

While we waited for the icing to set, Jen gave me a taste of the Nutella Babka she made using Sally’s Baking Addiction Recipe.

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Seriously, is this artwork or a quick bread! It was delicious and beautiful!

Now, the time of the big reveal!

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I love the swirl!

 

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And the taste! Of course I had to have mine with a cup of coffee 🙂

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I was pretty happy with the result and the recipe was really simple. Not sure if it is a traditional King Cake, but I do recommend this recipe for a quick way to partake in the Mardi Gras season.

If you would like to see more creations from my friend, you can find Jen on Instagram.

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Eating and Drinking our way through the Tucson Botanical Gardens, Savor Tucson!

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We are still getting familiar with all the cool happenings that Tucson has to offer. One that came up on our radar was the Savor Southern Tucson Food and Wine Festival  for charity, which was held last Saturday.

We really had no idea what we were getting into, it just looked like a lot of fun, food and a beautiful setting, as it was held at the Tucson Botanical Gardens. We have been to the gardens before and knew it was spectacular.

So we called UBER and set out on a fabulous 77°F day for four hours of indulgence! When the guests first arrived, we were all given complementary wine glasses, always a good sign.

There is no way to cover all that we experienced, so I am going to highlight our favs. The categories are: Bread, Sweets, Savory and Spirits!

Our first winner was Beyond Bread which is pictured above. In addition to showcasing bread letters, which were huge by the way, they sampled their creole shrimp salad and King Cake, in honor of Mardi Gras.

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The creole shrimp salad was good, but look at that perfect baguette!

Toward the end of the day, I went back and sampled the King Cake and it was tasty too.

Moving right along, we went into Nothing Bundt Cakes. We may have made a technical error here! While we were tempted, we decided we should eat something closer to a lunch meal before indulging. Turns out we missed some rather impressive flavors, as others told us later.

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We did loop back toward the end and we each sampled a different flavor, and wow! Not only are the cakes fantastic, but that butter cream cheese frosting was to die for!! I will have to find this store soon!

True to our first mantra of “eat lunch first” we hit a couple other stands. All the while, remember we are sipping libations! Wine, Moscow mules, margaritas and sangria for me. Any beer, whiskey and red wine for the hubby!

The Omni Chef from The Omni Tucson National Resort was our next stop. The line was longer, which we took to be sign of great things to come. We were right!

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Their beef tenderloin with roasted red pepper coulis crostini. I could have had 20 of these!

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This is their layered flan, several different layers. I don’t remember all of them but there is one with mint and strawberry and topped with chocolate pearls. I had two of these 🙂

They were delicious but small bites, so we needed to keep going to get our $75 dollars worth! It does get a little murky from here, so I don’t remember all the restaurants as I have now found the sangria stand! But I can tell you that all of this was delicious.

Top left; barbecue goat with spicy red pepper slaw, top right; the best barbecue pork ever! middle right: Frederico, that is what the server called him! Bottom image: a little cannoli that was really good! I say that with surprise because I am not usually a cannoli fan. I think the fact that it was just two bites and not a ton of cream filling was a huge plus for me.

We are now about 2 hours into the event and getting full! We decided to actually look around at the Botanical displays, and chat with people at the event.

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A portion of the herb garden

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As we were taking in the sights, we stumbled (me, literally) into the Spirits section. My hubby tasted a lot whiskey! And, we both went for the Tequila experience.

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3 Amigos Tequila had three offerings complete with pairings! I have no idea which I had, but all three were awesome 🙂

We decided to take a seat and do some people watching while the glow of my tequila experience wore off! Along the way, I found another special dessert.

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This was a deconstructed lemon bar. Shortbread crumbs on the bottom, lemon curd filling and lime caviar made through a molecular gastronomy process. The chef showed me how it was done and the equipment used, which was fun for this molecular biologist.

It was gooood, and I wanted another, but he ran out well before the event ended! I am  not surprised.

We continued to look for a seat and took a few photos along the way.

Lots of people watching and fun conversations! Everyone was pretty chatty at this point.

 

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Several people we met told us that this is the best food and wine event in Tucson, I think it will be hard to beat. The food, the people and the weather were all perfect!

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We were also told it would take 3 to 4 hours to recover from this event. Um, ya, that was about right for me!

Who wants to go with us next year?! 🙂

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Sally’s Baking Addiction, January Challenge: Conquering Yeast!

Well, actually we were supposed to make bread bowls. But Sally really wants this group to expand their abilities and provide us a successful way to learn the basics of bread baking.

Many of you know that I already love to bake bread and have had a lot of practice with artisan loaves. So, I wanted to try out her recipe but also play a little bit! As a result I did not bake the bowls but used a recent episode of “The Great British Baking Show” as part of my inspiration with this challenge.

Hubby and I have been watching the most recent season on Netflix, and in one episode the bakers made Fougasse bread for one of the technical challenges. Traditionally this bread is made with olives, but I detest olives! And, I had some leftover caramelized onions and roasted peppers from a pulled pork recipe earlier in the week (maybe you saw that sandwich on my Instagram?), so that was my flavor profile for the Fougasse.

I began with Sally’s bread bowl recipe which is a straight dough for the most part. I chose one of her recommended variations and added 2T of Italian seasonings.

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The dough came together quite nicely.

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The yeast is good and active, always a positive sign!

The dough was left to prove and double in size. It was a hot day here in Tucson so this only took an hour!

The final weight was 2 lbs 12 oz or 44 oz total. As I said before, I wanted to play so I divided the dough into two equal portions, 22 oz each (or 1 lb 6oz.)

 

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Time to get out the leftovers and chop finely

I added the caramelized onions and yellow peppers to one portion of the dough. The tricky part is getting them incorporated as they do have quite a bit of moisture. I just kept at it! I was careful to not over knead the dough as I did not want it to be too tough.

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This was shaped into a rough (so very rough!) oval and the Fougasse cuts were made.

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The cuts need to be quite large so they don’t fill in during the second prove and subsequent baking.

I left this to prove for a second time and turned my attention to the second portion of dough. I kept this one a little simple and just formed it into a long baguette. I then used a pair of scissors to make the leaf sections.

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This turned out to be too long for my sheet pan! So I had to cut it into two loaves

 

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This also had to be set aside for its second proving.

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Both types of bread needed a crunchy exterior so I did not use Sally’s egg wash and put them into a 400°F oven with steam. The results were pretty darn tasty!

 

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One of my concerns was that the onions and peppers on the surface would burn, fortunately, that did not happen.

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When we got inside it was baked through and retained the moisture from the vegetables, so it was not dry!

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I was also pleased with the flavor and texture of the baguettes.

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These froze well and made some wonderful sandwiches later in the week.

Overall, we liked both versions but really found the Fougasse to be extraordinary! My husband has not stopped talking about that one!

I do hope Sally continues with the bread challenges, my hubby hopes so too 🙂

 

Yoga Retreat, One More Time

Last January I let my hubby talk me into attending a yoga retreat. He is a big yogi and his instructor told him about a retreat she was holding just north of Manzanillo. I was skeptical. I don’t love Mexican food, we had been to Mexico many times and it was always way too hot for me and I only do yoga when I can’t rock climb or run. So, how much fun could I possibly have?

The answer: So Much!!

Our goal last year was to meet fun people and do some yoga. We greatly exceeded those expectations, so much so that we signed up to go again this year. We even hosted a reunion last summer at our house. My blog posts from last time Good Morning from Manzanillo!, Exploring Bara de NavidadHappy Hour,Snorkeling and Lunch in Santiago Bay! and Our Yoga Retreat Wrap Up! are full of pictures and images that we were privy to this time around as well. So, for this year’s post, I tried to focus more on what was different.

Bill and Susan, our hosts, were once again, fabulous! They made most of our meals and they both are great cooks! Additionally, they would take us to places that no other tourists go-we had day trips to Colima and Comala and they chose restaurants that the locals frequent. They are a big reason why we chose to repeat this experience. Of course Lisa, our yoga teacher, was another big draw to the event! Once again we met wonderful people and had even more adventures. We did repeat the snorkeling trip but otherwise the experience was unique.

We began each day with meditation at the nearby beach then morning yoga, at Bill and Susan’s home. Look at these views!

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The infinity pool at the lower house

 

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View from the lower house

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Another angle from the lower house

We did all our yoga at the upper house, under the palapa. You can see the pool at the upper house as well

We had morning and evening yoga sessions. This year Lisa challenged us with partner yoga poses. She would give us a pose and then we had to interpret that pose in a creative way. For example, Dennis and I did a “moon pose” on the beach.

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And, Janet and Annie did this interpretation of the fish pose, in the pool

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So these were more creative poses than the traditional forms. It was fun to see what everyone would come up with for their assignment.

In between all the yoga were the adventures. Snorkeling, hiking, museum visits and lots of shopping.

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And the food! Oh my god, did we eat!! If Bill and Susan weren’t cooking then we were at some amazing restaurants! I have a few images, many of which were on Instagram, of some of the cuisine we were fortunate to enjoy.

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Breakfast was wonderful! Bill’s granola and yogurt, with local fruit was a fan favorite. And with this sunrise, hard to beat!

 

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Bill and Susan always served dessert-This is a Poncho Villa. Amazing!

 

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Lunch in Colima, these crepes could have been from Paris

 

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Bill and Susan selected this restaurant near Colima. So glad they did!

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Many of you know about my coffee “issues”, This Sunday brunch spot, Los Portales de Suchitlan, was a true highlight. A young girl served as our translator as this was a local place, no tourists around!

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And then this…A Swiss restaurant (?) in Comala, Mexico! Piccolo Suizo was spectacular!

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You can see why we are trying to eat lighter after coming back to Tucson! We ate constantly on this retreat, and it was worth it! So good 🙂

We had another wonderful experience this year, just like last time. One of the tasks I undertook was to organize a slide show for the final night, I was the only one who brought a computer (what a nerd, right?). I took the partner poses and some fun images of our experience to attempt to capture the feel of the week. It is short, only 2.5 minutes and our yogi buddies wanted to see it again. I thought I would post it here for anyone who wants to see a few more images.

 

So what is next for Dennis and I? We need to spend some time on the homes for now, no trips planned right now, but you never know!

Leftover Ham? No Problem!

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Our family likes, no requires, ham for our Christmas and Easter dinner celebrations. I am fine with that, a precooked ham that only needs minimal heating is a pretty easy meal prep and it allows me to focus more attention on sides and baking desserts!

The problem comes days later, when everyone is tired of having ham sandwiches to use up the leftovers. I have made several versions of this ham and lentil soup. I posted one version last year that incorporated corn, which gave the dish a nice sweet flavor. But this year I decided to tryout some thick cut bacon and dill. The result: Wow! This is a keeper 🙂

I started by baking 3 strips of thick cut bacon in a 400°F oven, on a small baking sheet.

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When the bacon was nice and crispy it was drained, chopped and set aside for later.

While the bacon cooked, I added 1 Tablespoon of olive oil and heated that in a dutch oven. I then add a medium, diced onion and one leek, also diced. Why a leek and not celery? Because I detest celery! I know, who doesn’t like celery? Me, and I am doing the cooking so….

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the onion and leek are cooked until it begins to brown

Next into the pot went the carrots, potatoes and dill

Water, salt and pepper were added. The pot was covered, and the vegetables cooked until tender.

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The rest of the liquid, lentils and cooked ham were added and cooked until the lentils were tender.

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When the lentils were ready it was just a matter of stirring in the final ingredients and heating through. The peas, bacon and yogurt went into the pot. The yogurt acts as a thickener and makes the soup creamy.

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Next a big bowl and spoon are needed. I garnished with a little bacon and dill that I had reserved, and voila!

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This version is a keeper! If you try it let me know what you think. I am always looking for a way to improve on this 🙂

 

Ham, Lentil and Dill Soup

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Difficulty: Easy
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Bacon and dill add a unique twist on this hearty soup with a complex flavor that only gets better with time.

Credit: invisible-no-more.com

Ingredients

-2-4 slices of thick cut bacon

-1 Tablespoon Olive Oil

-1 Medium yellow onion, small dice

-1 Leek, chopped

-3 Tablespoons dill, chopped

-1 pound carrots, small dice

-1 pound yukon gold potatoes, small dice

-1/2 cup water

-1 teaspoon kosher salt

-1/2 teaspoon black pepper

-4 cups low sodium chicken broth

-1 and 1/2 cups water

-1 cup dried lentils

-~10 ounces of cooked ham, small dice

-1 cup frozen peas

-3 Tablespoon plain yogurt ( I prefer Greek yogurt)

 

Directions

  1. Place the bacon strips on a sheet pan and bake in a preheated oven set at  400°F until crisp. Approximately 12-15 minutes. Drain, chop and set aside.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onion and leek; cook, stirring frequently, until the onion is golden, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add the carrots, potatoes, dill, 1/2 cup water, salt and pepper. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are just soft, 8 to 10 minutes.
  4. Add the chicken broth, 1 1/2 cups water, the lentils and ham; cover and bring to a simmer. Uncover and cook until the potatoes are tender and the lentils begin to fall apart, 12 to 15 more minutes.
  5. Stir in the peas, yogurt and diced bacon. Ladle the soup into bowls.

Sally’s Baking Addiction, December Challenge: Iced Sugar Cookies

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This month Sally challenged all of us to make sugar cookies decorated with royal icing. I am a fan of royal icing for my sugar cookies and made some last year, so I was ready to try to improve on my earlier attempts.

I began by making Sally’s recipe for the sugar cookies. This is a really straight forward dough and easy to work with, not to mention tasty. I rolled out the sheets and refrigerated them for a day, then used 9 different cutters to punch out the shapes.

The cookies were baked off, cooled and stored for another full day. Here is were I made a crucial decision. I used pre made royal icing from a baking supply store. I should have stuck with Sally’s royal icing recipe as it tastes better! The pre made icing looks great, was easy to work with but has more of a sticky, marshmallow consistency that we don’t really like.

But, I learned a valuable lesson and won’t do it again! Sorry Sally.

Once I got the premix to the right consistency, I began the outlining and flooding of the cookies.

There was some planning that has to go into this as the icing needs to dry before detail work can begin. Also, I decided to do some cookies with the wet-on-wet technique so those had to be handled quickly in order to prevent the icing from drying. I had to have a plan in place before I started!

I gathered all my decorations and mixed several colors of icing.

Then set to work! The snowflakes, snowmen, trees, bells, stockings, candy canes and lights were flooded and allowed to set to for one day so that I could add detail later.

The mittens and ornaments were flooded then other colors were added immediately. I used a straight pin to pull the colors together.

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A little colored sanding sugar and pearls finish them off.

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The verdict: I did ok. I think I did a better job with the wet-on-wet technique but I really suck at writing on the cookies! And, as I said before, I would not use this pre mix again. The consistency was a little too thick. I also will use only #1 or # 2 tips next time. The #5 was too wide and hard to control the flow of icing.

I had so much fun decorating these. I didn’t realize how many hours went into them until my hubby told me, apparently he was keeping track 🙂

I am not sure if Sally will be continuing this challenge series moving into 2018, but I hope she does as I have learned a lot and had so much fun challenging myself in the kitchen.

 

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Sally’s Baking Addiction November Challenge, Decorative Pie Crust

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This month Sally challenged us to make pretty pies. This is not my forte! This is only the second pie I have ever made, and for it to be pretty? Well, I did give it my best shot.

Sally’s challenge was to bake any pie we chose and she provided many beautiful designs to inspire us to be creative with the lattice topper.

My first pie was also a Sally challenge, from back in July, and we really liked the cherry pie recipe from her website, but cherries are no longer in season. So I chose her cranberry almond apple pie to bake for our family Thanksgiving dinner.

The first order of business was to make the crust and allow it, at least two hours, to firm up in the refrigerator. Sally’s pie crust recipe is easy to follow and does produce tender, flaky layers.

After a couple hours I rolled out the bottom dough and placed it into a 9 inch baking dish.

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The almond portion of the pie is from almond paste. Sally recommends Odense and it is rolled out and fitted into the bottom of the pie.

This went back into the refrigerator while I mixed up the filling.

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Now came the tricky part for me-how to decorate the top of the pie? I decided that I wanted to make a braided edge so I cut strips 1/4 inch thick and made three stranded braids. Not that easy it turns out, when there are small bits of butter running throughout the dough! But I eventually got it done and laid them over the circumference of the dish.

With the extra dough, I cut wider strips, and used cookie cutters to stamp out turkey and heart shapes.

The pie went into the oven until it was golden brown and the filling was bubbling.

 

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This was probably my least successful challenge to date. It was tasty, although I feel it should have baked longer, and we did enjoy it. However, I need more practice with pie dough!

What a great reason to keep practicing 🙂 Can’t wait to see what Sally has in store for us in December!

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Leftover Challenge: Chicken and Orzo Soup

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One of the my favorite things to do for dinner is to roast a whole chicken. That, with some roasted veggies and a nice roll or slice of bread, makes for a satisfying meal that is also fitness friendly! This is actually one of the most requested dinners from my hubby and our two kids.

It is just the two of here in Tucson, so I knew that this nice, big roaster would easily pull double duty the next day. I always choose the largest bird I can find, this one is just over 6 lbs. I pat it dry, stuff the cavity with a lemon, onion and whatever herbs I have that will go bad soon. I tie him up, rub olive oil over the skin and add salt and pepper. This gets popped into a 400-425°F preheated oven for about an hour and a half (until the temp reads 155-160°F). After a 10 minute rest we are ready to carve and eat.

After dinner I spend a few minutes picking the carcass clean! I am looking for about a pound of left over meat to use the next day in the soup. And that is where we start now!

This soup is low in fat so we need some serious flavor help. I find that smoked paprika and red pepper flakes are great flavor additions.

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I am not a fan of regular paprika but the smoked version really adds some depth. White wine adds some much needed acid, and you only need a cup. I detest opening a full bottle of wine for 1 cup, and I don’t want to spend a lot on wine that I am only using for cooking. I have found this wonderful 4 pack of pinot sold in most grocery stores. 1 little bottle is just about 1 cup.

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So no waste and it is not expensive. They sell red wine four packs as well and I keep both on hand for these sorts of recipes. Back to the soup!

Heat 1 tablespoon or so in a 4-6 quart pot and add 1 finely chopped onion. After the onion becomes translucent add the minced garlic, paprika and red pepper flakes, cook for 2-3 minutes longer.

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Now add the acidic ingredients, 4 chopped plum tomatoes and the white wine. A quick word about the tomatoes. I like to core and remove the seeds because they add no actual flavor and too much water to the soup.

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Add the chicken broth and bring the soup to a boil. While the pot is cooking away, prepare your chicken. Chop about 1 pound of cooked chicken into bite sized pieces.

And, rinse and drain 1 15 oz. can of navy beans.

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Now is also a good time to cook the orzo. You may be thinking “why don’t I just dump the orzo into the soup and cook it all together?” The answer is yes, absolutely you could do that! But, unless you are feeding a crowd and will eat the entire pot of soup that day, I would advise against that. The pasta will break down in the presence of the acids and become mushy. Not a texture we enjoy here! Also, if you prepare the orzo separately then people can add as much or as little as they like, depending on their carb needs 🙂

I, sadly, did not have another pot to make the pasta so had to improvise. My deep skillet did the trick! While the orzo is cooking, add the chicken and beans to the soup and continue cooking until the chicken is heated through.

Near the end, add the mushrooms and peas and cook for an additional 5 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. The final addition is the spinach, it only needs to wilt and you want to retain the bright green so add this last before plating.

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And that’s it! Time to serve it up. Add the orzo to the bowl, don’t worry if it is not hot the soup will take care of that.

If the kids don’t like soup, they might like the orzo with a little butter or marinara. You can make as much or as little orzo as your family requires.

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You can use store bought rotisserie chicken for an even faster meal prep.

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I have also made this with both pork and uncooked chicken. Just take a pound of either and cut into 1 inch cubes. Brown the cubes on all sides in the 1 tablespoon of olive oil, you don’t need to cook the meat through as it will continue to cook in the soup. Remove the meat from the pot and set aside, then proceed with the recipe (make sure to scrape up all the brown bits on the bottom of the pan when you add the wine and tomatoes, this is great for flavoring the soup!)

My favorite dinner rolls to serve with this are found here.

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Chicken and orzo soup, a great way to transform that chicken from last night!

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Chicken and Orzo Soup

  • Servings: 8-10
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print
Credit: invisible-no-more.com

Ingredients

-1 Tablespoon Olive oil

-1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped

-4 cloves garlic, finely minced

-2 teaspoons smoked paprika

-1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

-4 plum tomatoes, chopped

-1 cup white wine

-4 cups low sodium chicken broth

-1 pound cooked chicken or pork, cut into 1 inch cubes

-1 15oz. can white beans, or navy beans

-4 oz mushrooms, sliced

-6 oz. frozen peas or corn

-2-4 oz. fresh spinach

-1/2 to 1 box Orzo pasta, cooked and drained

 

Directions

  1. Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onion to the pot and cook, stirring often, until just beginning to brown, 2 to 3 minutes.
  2. Add garlic, paprika and crushed red pepper (if using) and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
  3. Add wine and tomatoes, increase heat to high and stir to scrape up any browned bits.
  4. Add broth and bring to a boil.
  5. Add the cooked chicken and beans and continue cooking until the chicken is heated through. Reduce to a simmer.
  6. Prepare the Orzo as per package instructions, drain and set aside
  7. Add mushrooms and peas (or corn, or both) and stir thoroughly. Add the spinach at the end. Serve over the orzo. 

Road Trip, First Stop: Eugene, Oregon

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We are heading back to Tucson for a month of sun and our next half marathon. This time we are driving down with a very full car. Our goal is to bring a few things, ok a lot of things, from our house in Washington and we want to have our own car while we are in Arizona.

You might be wondering why we stopped in Oregon on the first leg of the drive, since Eugene is only about 5 hours from Redmond, Washington. This is a legitimate question as we have 20 more hours to go! We stayed overnight in Eugene because my husband has a presentation at the local office this morning.

We have never been to Eugene before. We have spent a lot of time in Portland over the years. Our daughter was a competitive gymnast and son was a competitive rock climber, so they both had many meets or competitions all around Oregon. Eugene is beautiful! Perhaps it is just the fact that our hotel is along the Willamette River, or that fall leaves make every place pretty. Either way, we are impressed!

After 5 hours in the car we were eager to stretch our legs. We started out for walk along the river path.

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It was a sunny day here, which makes everything better!

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I just love this bridge with the clouds behind it

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All of Oregon is biking and walking friendly. This is just one of many pathways used by numerous pedestrians 

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Near this bridge is McMenamins Restaurant. We had never heard of this chain before, but they are all over the Oregon area, there is even near us in Bothell, Washington which we will have to visit when we get back. This chain also includes hotels, breweries, and wineries as well as the restaurants. Ours was specifically McMenamins North Bank Restaurant. We weren’t sure what to expect but what a pleasant surprise!

It was set right on the shore of the Willamette River, with an incredible view! It must be truly stunning in the summer!

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We made it in time for happy hour, of course 🙂 So, I started with a blueberry infused vodka cocktail and the hubby went with a craft beer of some sort (mine was so tasty I forgot what he had!)

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We were starving, so I went with the goat cheese, pesto and sun dried tomato torta. This came with four perfectly toasted crostini and balsamic vinegar- I loved this!

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My entree was the salmon topped with coffee-bacon jam! Unique and delicious!

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By now we were getting quite full so I chose to drink my dessert! I had this seasonal pumpkin infused cocktail. It was like a pumpkin milkshake. Just amazing!

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We ended the evening strolling back along the river to our hotel. I took one last shot of the sunset. There were quite a few clouds, but it was pretty nonetheless!

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Today we have 10 hours in the car to Fresno California-wish us luck!