Hey, friends! How was your weekend? I had a pretty busy one. On Friday I drove down to the Chicago area to visit a friend, and we went out to a couple bars for drinks. On Saturday, after donuts (maple bacon, say what?) and some much needed girl time, I headed back to Madison in the evening. A short but sweet visit. :)

On Sunday, Aaron and I went to brunch at Madison Sourdough, a local bread company. I had an egg, ham, and cheddar sandwich on a croissant. Didn’t even manage to take a picture because I was too busy chowing down! We also picked up a new puzzle (which has already taken up residence on our kitchen table) and watched the Packers playoff game, before I headed off to teach my Sunday afternoon Piloxing class. The class goes from 5-6, which is kind of an inconvenient time for getting anything ready for dinner afterwards. Instead of romping through the kitchen to find food, we decided to order a pizza (+ served with a salad on the side!).

This weekend I also perfected my recipe for these delicious date and coconut bites! They were the perfect after-workout snack while we waited for our pizza to arrive.

dates

Are you familiar with NatureBox? It’s a subscription service that sends a monthly box of tasty, healthy snacks. I’ve been receiving boxes regularly for a few months now and am signed up for the 5-snacks-per-month option. The great thing is that you can either customize your snacks or choose to have NatureBox select them for you. I typically choose my own, and when I saw these coconut date energy bites, I couldn’t wait to try them!

naturebox

Needless to say, they’re delicious. And they disappeared within days. Since I knew I couldn’t wait another month to get more, I decided to create my own homemade version.

All you’ll need to make these are pitted dates and unsweetened, shredded coconut.

ingredients

You’ll add everything to a food processor (bananas in the background not included ;) ).

foodprocessor

And blend until smooth and a dough-like consistency. As the food processor works its magic, the coconut will start to break down into a smooth liquid (the same idea behind making coconut butter), which helps bind the date mixture together. When it’s done, it should look like this:

blended

Form the “dough” into bite-sized balls, and roll in extra shredded coconut for a fancy touch.

coconut
Snacks are served! These are so crazy easy to make and taste incredible. Loaded with fiber and healthy fats, they’re great for a mid-afternoon or post-workout snack. The sweetness of the dates make them almost like candy, so I’ve even been eating them as an alternative dessert option!

Give these a try, I hope you love them as much as I do!

dates2

Makes about 8 bites.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup unsweetened, pitted dates (~4 oz)
  • 1/4 cup + 2 tbsp unsweetened, shredded coconut

Instructions

  1. Add dates and 1/4 cup coconut to food processor
  2. Process ingredients until smooth and dough-like. This will take between 4-5 minutes. Scrap down dates and coconut from the sides of the bowl as needed
  3. Form the dough into bite-sized balls and roll in extra coconut. The dough will be slightly tacky and oily, which will help the coconut stick
  4. Store bites in an air-tight container
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I am a savory food girl all the way. Now don’t get me wrong, I love sweets too. Caramels, dark chocolate, gelato; you name it, I’m there. But given the option, I’m way more likely to choose a plate of crispy duck fat fries or a few slices of bacon over a super sweet dessert.

That’s where these kale chips come in. Salty, crispy, and light, these are the perfect any-time snack.

 

kale

 

These chips truly could not be easier to make! First, preheat the oven to 350°.

 

Tear 1 bunch of kale (I used curly kale, but Lacinato also works well) into bite size pieces. They will contract a bit as they cook, so I typically make the pieces about 2-3 inches across. Remove the tough inner stems and discard.

 

Rinse and dry the kale pieces. I used a salad spinner (this was a recent investment and I love it!), but you can also blot the leaves dry with paper towels. Try to remove as much water as possible before cooking, as it will help the chips crisp up much better.

 

rinsed

 

Toss the leaves in 1 tablespoon olive oil until evenly coated. I’ve also liberally sprayed with cooking oil instead of using oil, but I definitely prefer the crispiness that comes from the oil.

 

Arrange the kale in one layer on a baking sheet, and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt (I used kosher salt).

 

prebake

 

Pop the baking sheet into the oven for 10 minutes, then rotate the pan to ensure even cooking. Cook for another 5-10 minutes, or until the kale is crispy and starting to darken around the edges. If you shake the pan, the chips should move freely and make a crunchy noise (meaning they’re not too damp or sticking to the pan).

 

Below are the kale chips after baking.

 

baked

 

Let cool for a few minutes, and remove to serve.

 

kale2

 

I love my kale chips with just a touch of salt for optimal flavor, but you could also throw on a variety of other seasonings for extra oomph (red pepper flakes are another favorite). Enjoy!

Mmm, bacon. I’m pretty much sold on anything if it’s got the word bacon in it, ya know?

pizza

This tasty topping combination was inspired by our recent visit to Cento, an Italian restaurant in downtown Madison. The pizza I ordered featured crumbled bacon, sliced potatoes, pearl onions, and mozzarella on a tomato sauce base. I loved the bacon and potato concept but wanted to try something with a different base and cheeses.

I decided to replace the tomato with olive oil, and the mozzarella with feta and cheddar cheese. The flavors of the feta and sharp cheddar (Hook’s 5 Year Cheddar for the win!) complement the potatoes and onions nicely, and the olive oil base makes the bacon all the other toppings shine. For the sake of full disclosure, I miiiight have added a generous helping of more cheese when I reheated it for leftovers later. Don’t judge, mmkay?

For the dough, you could either use a pre-made crust or one you whip together yourself. Personally I love making my own dough, and this quick and easy recipe from Mel’s Kitchen Cafe is one of my favorites (especially if I’ve decided all spur-of-the-moment-like that I must have pizza for dinner). I usually use about half and half whole wheat to white flour, but you can modify to your tastes.

Recipe

Ingredients:
olive oil
2 fingerling (or other small) potatoes
6-8 pearl onions
4 slices bacon
1/2 cup feta
1/2 cup shredded cheddar
1 pizza dough (this one from Mel’s Kitchen Cafe is great)
salt and pepper, to season

Steps:
1. Preheat the oven to 475°. If you have a pizza stone, place that in the oven now. Otherwise, you can stick a large cookie sheet in the oven for the same purpose (more on how to bake the perfect pizza here).
2. Prepare your bacon slices. I cooked mine on an electric skillet, but you can also lay the separated bacon slices out on a foil-lined baking sheet and bake in the oven for 8-10 minutes. Keep an eye on it so it doesn’t burn! After cooked, blot with a paper towel to remove some of the grease and set aside to cool. Once cool, chop into small pieces.
3. Next, thinly slice your potatoes. You could also peel them first, but I chose not to. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.
4. Peel and cut the pearl onions into halves or quarters (I did a combo of both).
5. In a large skillet over medium heat, heat 1 tsp of olive oil. Place onions and potatoes in the pan, and cook until softened and starting to become slightly transparent. Stir and move the onions and potatoes around as needed. When done, remove from heat. My potatoes cooked more quickly than the onions, so I removed them to a bowl before the onions were done.
6. On a large piece of parchment paper, roll out your pizza dough to desired thickness.
7. With a pastry brush (or clean fingers work too), spread out 1 tbsp of olive oil all over the pizza and crust. Sprinkle salt over the very outer edges of the crust.
8. Layer your other ingredients over the oil base: potato slices, onions, and bacon, then evenly sprinkle feta and shredded cheddar over the whole pie.
9. When the oven is preheated (it’s good to have the stone preheat for an hour before cooking, but sometimes I just can’t wait that long), transfer pizza on the parchment paper onto your preheated stone or baking sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until crust is lightly golden brown and cheese is melted.
10. Carefully remove from oven and allow to cool for 5 minutes before slicing.

pizza2

(Do the potatoes look like pickles to anyone else?)

Enjoy!

Ever since we got back from Italy, I’ve been dying to try making my own pasta. So I finally did it! It ended up requiring a little more effort than I expected, but it was well worth the time spent.

Look at that delicious pile of homemade pasta! I wanted to recreate the meal Lauren made for us, so the pasta was adorned with a pesto sauce and ground sausage, just like our home cooked meal in Firenze.

pasta_2

To start, you’ll mix together flour, eggs, oil, and salt, then knead until it forms a soft, elastic ball. I found that the dough was a little too dry at first, so I wet my hands with water 3 or 4 times to help moisten and bring together the dough. After the ingredients are well mixed, move the dough to a floured surface and use the palm of your hands to work the dough.

This was definitely the most rigorous part of the pasta-making, and it took longer than I expected (between 10-15 minutes). Don’t give up at this point; eventually the dough will come together into a nice ball like the photo below. I found that I needed to climb up on a step stool to get enough leverage from my body weight to knead the dough.

dough_1

At this point the dough should be elastic and springy. If you poke it, the dough should spring back into place.

Section the pasta dough into thirds, and roll each hunk out as flat as possible with a rolling pin. Mine ended up being about 1/8″ thick, but I actually wish I’d made them a little thinner (the pasta thickens a bit when it cooks). The dough also has a tendency to recoil back as you roll it out, so just be patient and keep rolling as thin as possible. Again, I found it helpful to climb up on a stool so I had better leverage with the rolling pin.

dough_2

Lightly sprinkle the dough with flour before rolling the flattened dough into a wrap:

dough_3

Then slice your pasta wrap into the desired width. I was wanting spaghetti noodles with mine, but they ended up being a little thicker than that.

dough_4

Unroll the cut pasta spirals into long, flat strands to prepare for cooking.

Here’s my finished (uncooked) pasta!

pasta

Boil water in a large pot with salt. After the water begins to boil, drop in the uncooked pasta. I ended up doing two separate batches because I had too much pasta for just one pot. Cook for 1-2 minutes, or until the pasta floats to the surface of the water.

cooking

After it’s finished cooking, drain the pasta. Move the cooked pasta to a large bowl, add pesto sauce, and mix well.

In the meantime, I also prepared some ground sausage. Remove the casings from two sausages (about 8 oz), add to a pan over medium heat, and season with salt and pepper (I also added some red pepper flakes). With a spatula, crumble the meat into small pieces as it cooks; continue to cook until the meat is browned and no longer pink.

meat

After the meat is done, add it to the bowl with the pasta, and mix well.

I served our pasta alongside a romaine salad with cherry tomatoes, olive oil, and a balsamic glaze. Perfection!

finished

I typically like to make meals that are quick and straightforward, but since this required a little more effort and time to make than my usual, I wanted to really enjoy the meal. :)

We started out dinner with an appetizer of mozzarella, tomato, olive oil, balsamic glaze (hey, TJ’s!), and salt on ciabatta bread.

app

And wine of course. This Chianti is another new-found Trader Joe’s favorite. I typically go for TJ’s wines that fall in the ~$5 range, but for this I’m willing to splurge the $12.

wine

Just because reminiscing about our trip to Italy wouldn’t be complete without a puzzle, we worked on the newest addition to our collection while we munched on our appetizer. We’ve got the outer edges complete and are slowly filling in the inside!

puzzle

 

Recipe

Total Time to Make: 1 hr, 30 min
Prep Time: 1 hr, 15 min
Cook Time: 15 min

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Water, as needed for dough
  • 2 sausages (about 8 oz.)
  • 3 oz pesto sauce
  • Salt and pepper, for seasoning

Pasta Noodles:

  1. In a medium-sized bowl, measure out flour.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk eggs, olive oil, and salt together. Add to bowl with flour and stir until combined.
  3. Place dough on a floured surface. If dough is too dry or crumbly, moisten hands with water and use to combine dough. If dough is too sticky, add additional flour as needed.
  4. Knead dough with palm of hands for 8-10 minutes, or until dough combines into a cohesive ball and is springy and elastic. (This step took me between 10-15 minutes. Make sure to use as much of your body weight as possible to help in kneading.)
  5. After forming dough into a ball, cut into thirds. One at a time, roll out the dough pieces until very flat, 1/8″ or thinner.
  6. Dust the flattened dough with flour on both sides, and roll up it up into a wrap shape.
  7. Cut the wrapped dough into slivers; you should now have pinwheels of pasta noodles.
  8. Unroll the noodles and lay flat.
  9. Boil a large pot of water with salt. After water begins boiling, add noodles and cook for 1-2 minutes or until the noodles float to the top of the pot.
  10. Remove noodles and drain.

Adapted from pasta recipe by Iowa Girl Eats.

Noodles with Pesto and Sausage:

  1. Remove sausages from casings and place in a medium-sized pan over medium heat. Season with salt and pepper to taste. As the meat cooks, use a spatula to separate into chunks. Cook until sausage is browned.
  2. Add pasta noodle to a large bowl. Pour pesto sauce over noodles and mix well, then add ground sausage.
  3. Sprinkle with shredded Parmesan cheese and serve!

How awesome does that cheesiness look?! Simple, tasty meals are the best, and I’m always on the hunt for new ones that I can make quickly after a day at work. A couple weeks ago I was craving a grilled cheese sandwich and decided that I had to make one STAT. It was a big hit with the BF, and I’ve made it again at least three times since. :-)

This sandwich is perfect with a bowl of warm tomato soup, especially as we’re getting into these cooler fall days. I paired it with a bowl of Tomato & Roasted Red Pepper soup from Trader Joe’s, which was phenomenal. Yum!

Living in Wisconsin, cheese is an important way of life (and obviously an important ingredient in grilled cheese!). I’m currently having a love affair with Hook’s 5 Year Sharp Cheddar, which is sooo good. Very flavorful, and just a little bit crumbly. I’ve also tried their 10 and 15 year cheddars, and they only get better with age! If you can’t get your hands on this cheese, I’d still recommend a good sharp cheddar in your sandwich.
grilled-cheese-2

 

The other local ingredient I’ve been loving for my grilled cheeses is a Poppy Seed Millet sourdough from Madison Sourdough Co. The bread is just the right amount of chewy and gets nice and crunchy when it’s grilled. I prefer an artisan bread when I’m making these, but you could definitely use any variety you have handy.

 

After the sandwiches are piled to perfection with cheese, spread with a thin layer of mayo (this is a very important step, it makes the cheese that much creamier), and buttered, I pop them onto a hot cast iron skillet over medium-high heat (seriously, you need a cast iron skillet if you don’t already have one. They heat really evenly and I don’t end up burning my bread the way I always seem to when using a normal frying pan).

grilled-cheese-4

Flip ’em when they’re golden on the bottom and continue heating until the cheese is melty and both pieces of bread are browned, and then carefully remove from the skillet.

 

Ingredients

– 2-3 different cheeses (I used a sharp cheddar and mix of shredded Swiss/Gruyere)
– Butter at room temperature (I soften mine up in the microwave for 10-15 seconds)
– Mayo
– Bread

Steps

1. Butter outer sides of slices of bread.
2. On one side spread mayo, and on the other place layers of cheese.
3. Place skillet over medium high heat. When pan is heated, place sandwiches in the skillet.
4. After 2-3 minutes or when bread is golden brown on the bottom, carefully flip the sandwiches over.
5. Continue heating on second side until bread is browned and cheese is melted.
6. Remove from skillet, and serve with a delicious bowl of tomato soup!