Friday, September 30, 2011

7 Quick Takes Friday: Things Are Happening!

The theme for today's quick takes is thus: I have been doing a bunch of random things lately, and I want to share them with you!  Ha!

I've started knitting!  Never one to start with an easy project (what fun would that be?), I've decided to knit a sweater as my first project!  I was nervous at first, but with the help of this beginner knitalong which I heard about from Meg, I'm feeling more and more confident!  Kristen is doing a fantastic job of explaining each baby step in great detail, and making me feel empowered to continue!  Want to knit along too?  Sarah explains all the details in this post


This is not our bedroom.  But the walls are a similar color.  Isn't it pretty?

The Coppertop Guy was traveling all this week for work, and so I decided to surprise him with a newly-decorated bedroom upon his return!  Up until... about 6:30 this morning, our room could only have been described as a disorderly and stress-inducing pile of my clothes.  A bedroom should be a haven of calm, right?  Well, now ours is.  I painted the walls grey, installed some wall-mounted shelves and put up pictures and candles.  After hours and hours of searching, I finally found some suitable navy blue curtains (at Sears!), and I unearthed a couple of lamps so that we have an alternative to the overhead light.  I'm really excited to see his reaction, and relieved to be done with my giant self-inflicted project.  I'm also excited to go home and just sit down and have a glass of wine in my lovely, calm, clean apartment after work today.  

No more crappy phone camera for me!  I finally bit the bullet and replaced the camera that took a flying leap out of my pocket while I was at Cedar Point this summer.  Get pumped, readers.  The photography is about to get better on this little blog o' mine.  Not just because of the camera!  I also got this book I've been drooling over for months: Plate to Pixel: Digital Food Photography and Styling, by Helene Dujardin of the blog Tartelette.  Can't wait to learn and get better!  


Over the past couple of weeks, I have been working to perfect my apple pie skills.  While this would be a worthy goal in itself, I have another one in mind: I have entered the Bucktown Apple Pie Contest!  What a great excuse to bake a pie or two a week!  I'll share the pie recipe that I end up with after the contest is over.  Gotta protect the trade secrets!

Thank you, new camera, for making this photo possible.
What is is about fall that makes the sky explode into constant beauty?  I mean it!  Maybe it's the changing weather patterns... something about cold and warm fronts... or maybe it's just God hitting us over the head with his love.  That's what it feels like to me.  This beauty takes my breath away.  Stop texting and look up when you're walking down the street - there is lush, expansive beauty all around.


Did I show you this before?  I feel like there is an infinite variety of apples.  Yesterday I walked through, reading the descriptions, and picked out one or two of a bunch of different kinds.  The only problem now is that I don't know which was which!  Best for eating, great for sauces, perfect dessert apple, great storage apple (will last until spring!).  I'm in heaven over here.  I don't even mind that it's raining on me!


I just really like this song and can't stop listening to it.  Have a great weekend!

Visit Jen for more quick takes!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Roasted tomato and white bean soup

I love this week.  This one week when the temperature has dropped to the 60s, the sky is crazy gorgeous all the time, you're trying to remember where you stored your sweaters (and starting to knit a new one - more about that later!), but there are still tomatoes and peaches at the market.  It's lovely.  It doesn't feel heinous to fire up the stove and boil a giant pot of water for canning, which is a blessing because I am canning like a crazy person!  This week seemed like the perfect time to think of the loftiest manifestation of that old comfort food classic: grilled cheese and tomato soup.

Have I told you about these beans yet?  I ordered them online.  You may think that's silly.  You may think, "My goodness, woman!  Just go to the grocery store and buy some dried beans there!"  You, my friend, have never tasted these.  Countless cultivars of heirloom beans from Rancho Gordo, a Napa Valley-based company.  They are delicious.  So tender and creamy and extremely flavorful.  They actually taste like beans.  You know how canned beans tend to be kind of flavorless and sad?  I found out that dried beans have a relatively short shelf life!  From harvest to table, they should optimally last about 2 years.  These beans are awesome.  I'm sure that I will be utilizing them as cold weather and busy-ness set in and I pull out my slow cooker more and more often.

Most of the ingredients for last night's dinner (which I shared with my girls from book club whoop whoop!) came from the farmers' market.  The season's last Roma tomatoes from Nichols Farms, lovely sourdough from Labriola breads, and a 7-year aged cheddar from Stamper Cheese.  It was like grilled cheese and tomato soup grew up and moved to the big city.  Or back out to the farm...

Roasted Tomato and White Bean Soup

3 pounds Roma tomatoes
olive oil
kosher salt

3 cups cooked (or two 15-ounce cans) cannellini beans, with their liquid
2-3 cups water
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
1 cup milk, optional

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with foil.  Wash and halve the tomatoes, lay them face up on the baking sheet, and sprinkle generously with olive oil and kosher salt.  Roast in the oven 45 minutes to an hour, until caramelized and soft.  Meanwhile, place the beans in a pot over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until they are warm.

Puree the tomatoes in batches in a blender, and transfer them to a soup pot.  Add half of the beans to the last batch of tomatoes, puree, and add to the pot.  Add water to thin the soup as much as desired.  Bring to a simmer, and add thyme.  Taste and add salt if necessary.  Add milk if desired, and simmer a few minutes more to meld the flavors.

To serve, place a scoop of beans in the bottom of a soup bowl and ladle soup over them.  Serve with cheddar cheese toasts to round out the comfort food experience.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Roasted Vegetable Ragu

Last Saturday night, I had a few friends over for a Slow Food $5 Challenge dinner!  Did you participate in the challenge?  It's a pretty simple idea: a movement to take back the value meal.  To teach people that good, clean, fair food does not have to break the bank.  Well, we proved it this weekend.  Here's what we had for $5 (or less) apiece:

Crostini with White Bean Dip
Spaghetti with Roasted Vegetable Ragu
Apple Pie with Maple Whipped Cream

There was enough food to feed 8, and we ate the leftovers for a couple of days.

Also, my friend brought the sweetest hostess gift with her!

Fresh herbs from her garden; thyme, basil, lemon thyme, thai basil, and mint!

Here's the price breakdown:

Olive oil, about 1 cup total, $3

1 baguette, $3
1 pound dried spaghetti, $1

White bean dip ($7.55):
1/2 pound runner cannellini beans, $2.25
carrots, celery, and onion to flavor the beans, about $1
2/3 cup toasted sliced almonds, $3
juice and zest of 1 lemon, $.30

Roasted vegetable ragu ($5):
3 pounds Roma tomatoes, $1.50
1 bunch purple heirloom carrots, $2
1 eggplant, $1
1 zucchini, $.50
1 yellow pepper, $1

Apple pie (8.25):
3 pounds Honeycrisp apples, $3.75
1 cup pastured organic butter, $2.50
Flour, sugar, spices; maybe $2

Grand Total: $27.80
Divided by 8 =  ...drumroll please...

$3.48 each!

WHAT?!  I am shocked.  Are you shocked that for (much) less than the price of a burger and fries at McDonald's, you can have a 3-course, locally-sourced, homemade, all-natural, healthy, DELICIOUS meal?!

Here, go cook it yourself.

Purple carrots!

Roasted Vegetable Ragu

I thought of this idea after I made this amazing fresh tomato sauce a couple of weeks ago.  It's a little bit heartier early autumn version of the same thing.

1 pound dried spaghetti

3 pounds Roma tomatoes
6 medium carrots, diced
1 eggplant
1 yellow bell pepper, cut into small chunks
1 small zucchini, quartered and cut into 1/2-inch pieces

1/4 cup olive oil
a handful of basil leaves
2 cloves garlic

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.  Toss carrots with olive oil and sprinkle with kosher salt and begin roasting.  Slice eggplant into 3/4-inch rounds and place onto a paper towel-lined cookie sheet.  Sprinkle generously with salt, and lay another layer of paper towels on top.  Press down on each slice, and then let them sit for at least 10 minutes to release some of their bitter juices.  Cube and add to the carrots after they have been roasting about 20 minutes, adding oil if needed to make sure that each piece is coated.  Roast eggplant and carrots another 20 minutes, and then add zucchini.  Toss, and roast another 10 minutes before adding peppers for the final 20 minutes.  After about an hour of roasting, vegetables should be golden and tender.  Meanwhile, prepare the tomatoes.

Peel the tomatoes by scoring each one on the bottom, dipping them in boiling water for about 60 seconds, and then plunging them into an ice water bath.  The skins will slip right off.  Halve each tomato and seed them over a strainer set over a bowl (to collect the juice).  Crush the tomatoes using your hands (so fun!) and add them to a wide deep saucepan over low heat.  Discard the seeds, but reserve the juice (you can add it to the sauce if it gets too dry later on).  Cook the tomatoes, continuing to crush with a potato masher as they cook.  Cook for about 15 minutes before adding all the roasted vegetables. and then simmer over low heat for 30-40 minutes.

Place the olive oil, basil, and garlic in a small saucepan over low heat just until the oil starts to sizzle, then remove from heat and allow to steep until you're ready to use it, at least 10 minutes.

Cook pasta in boiling, salted water until al dente.  Drain, reserving about a cup of starchy pasta water.  Strain solids from olive oil and stir into sauce until incorporated.  Toss pasta and sauce together, adding a little pasta water if the sauce seems too dry.  Remove from heat and add one or two tablespoons of butter, and toss until melted.  Serve with grated Parmesan cheese and sliced basil.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Good morning, Lord.

My God greets me in the morning
with a cool breeze
and a cloud-dappled blue sky
              good morning, Lord.

The city snuggles deeper
under covers of pink fog,
and the sun bursts through, melts it away
              good morning, Lord.

The sun rises over the lake.
I drink hot coffee high above the city,
I am blessed.
            good morning, Lord.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Fall flowers

When you shop at the market, do you buy yourself flowers?  I love to do it.  After I've bought all the vegetables and fruits I can carry, flowers are like the frosting on the cake.  Aren't those pink flowers a riot?  In college, my roommates and I would go to the nearby farmers' market, and when we discovered those flowers, we named them "brain flowers."  They're actually called Celosia Cristata, or Giant Cockscombs.  You learn something new every day!

I went to World Market after the Green City Market, to pick up a couple of things to decorate the dining room table for fall.  If you just get a little creative, you can decorate so cheaply!  I got two patterned napkins, a straw placemat, and a couple of tiny votives.  I spend $12 on that.  Then I went to Family Dollar and got 3 little bags of river rocks ($3 total), which I poured into quart-size Mason jars which I filled with water to hold my gorgeous flowers.  These guys are really heavy - they need the rocks so they don't fall over.  Isn't it pretty?  I'm really happy with how simple and colorful it is.  What are your tricks for low-cost seasonal decorating?  (P.S. Did you know that you can dry the brain flowers?  Just hang them upside-down!  They retain most of their vibrant color, and the flower lady at the market told me they make a beautiful Christmas tree decoration!)

Friday, September 16, 2011

Seven Quick Takes: Why Eating Local Matters

Happy Friday!  I am more than halfway through the 2-week Locavore Challenge, and having a blast!  After-work commitments and activities are starting up again in my life (happy fall!), which makes dinner a little trickier, but I'm making it work.  This weekend is going to be a big one in terms of food-related activities, including the Slow Food $5 Challenge tomorrow.  We're having a few friends over for dinner to show that great food doesn't have to break the bank.  We'll also be volunteering early tomorrow morning at the Slow Food Chicago booth at the Green City Market - stop by and say hi between 8 and 10:30!

This week, I wanted to utilize my quick takes to talk about reasons why eating local is important to me, and should be important to you.  This is not an exhaustive list, but I hope it touches on the basics: local food is more nutritious, pleasurable and ethical.  Let me explain...


Local food tends to be more nutritious than conventionally grown supermarket produce.  Most of the varieties of produce found in supermarkets have been chosen for specific genetic traits: they grow to maturity quickly, bear lots of fruit, and can withstand the sometimes global journey to the supermarket.  Farmers that plan to market to a local customer base can select varieties for reasons like superior taste and nutrition, rather than durability.  They also tend to use farming practices that maintain the micronutrient content in the soil, which translates into more nutritious produce as well.  The produce you buy at the farmers' market has usually been harvested within 24 hours before purchase, whereas supermarket produce might take a week or more to get from the farm to your grocery cart.  All of that time (and any additional processing - even slicing!) contributes to nutrient loss as well.


Another thing about travel: it doesn't just cost nutrients, it costs precious fuel!  Think of the difference in the amount of energy consumed and pollution created!  When you buy local, your carbon footprint is drastically reduced.

Image from
Like I said in #1, smaller farms tend to use better farming practices.  While commercial farms use petroleum-based fertilizers and chemical pesticides to grow giant fields of monoculture crops (and contaminate nearby water sources), smaller farms use methods that improve the soil; fertilizing with composted manure, planting cover crops, and planting a variety of different plants.  These methods also improve the nutritional profile of plants grown in this soil.
Buying locally grown food supports the local economy and provides a better income for farmers!  Farmers take home about 90 cents of every dollar spent at the local farmers' market.  Of every dollar spent at a grocery store, the farmer only sees about 21 cents.  Think about this: without farmers, where would we be?  They should be duly compensated.


Local food tastes better.  It's fresher, and it tastes better.


Cooking with local food is more fun!  If you're going to eat locally, that means you're also going to be eating seasonally.  I find this to be an infinitely exciting prospect.  Variety is so important in food; it helps you to get a full range of nutrition, and keeps you from getting bored!  And the anticipation of seasonal things like rhubarb, peas, strawberries, tomatoes, and peaches makes eating them in season so delightful.  There are also more varieties available locally - when farmers aren't concerned with supermarket demand for uniformity, they can grow unique heirloom varieties and educate us about them!

Image from Roland Bello
Eating locally brings people closer together.  In an age when people are constantly distanced from each other through various forms of social media, local food brings us together in a very basic way.  It brings us close to the very people who woke up before dawn and assumed great risk and worked hard in order to grow our food, allows us to see their faces, gives us an opportunity to talk with them, smile at them, and thank them.  It brings us together in our kitchens and at our tables as we prepare and eat food, connect with each other, and rejoice in the amazing gift that good food is.

Fact sources:

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Doing the can-can!

In August, I took my first nervous, hesitating step into the wide world of canning.  It's been a lot of fun playing with different recipes, learning about acidity and pectin, and listening to the Coppertop Guy's half-joking concerns about botulism.  The first thing I canned was several pints and half-pints of Traverse City tart cherry jam, which turned out beautifully.  It gelled.  It tastes amazing.  All the jars cooperatively sealed, with their satisfying little *pop* that could be heard from the other room.  Since then, I have canned several other batches of yummy things:

  • Peach-lavender jam
  • Peach halves in simple syrup
  • Lord Grey's Peach Preserves
  • Mixed heirloom tomatoes
  • San Marzano tomatoes
  • Un-labeled red tomatoes from the market

This weekend, I'm going to can what's left of the half-bushel of Roma tomatoes that I picked last weekend, raspberry jam, and peach butter.  Doing all this canning has made me feel like I'm taking full advantage of the almost embarrassing bounty of the market this time of year, and is a giant step toward year-round local eating.  It feels like a solution to the problem of mid-winter scarcity, rather than a sad compromise.  If I don't put up the food that's so irresistible and amazing right now, come January I'll have to decide between food that traveled half the globe to get to me (and tastes like it), or hold out until spring to eat myself silly on fresh food again.  Not this year!  This winter, I will remember the fresh tomato sauce that was so delicious that I actually licked my plate, and instead of sighing and waiting until August to taste it again, I will just pop open one of my big jars of tomatoes!

Have you canned things before?  Does canning intimidate you?  Do you think it's worth it?  I've found so many resources online that have outlined the proper way to process the jars, and helped me to feel sure that I'm being safe.  Marisa of Food in Jars has put my mind at ease many a time this summer, when I wanted to know exactly how to properly acidify and de-bubble a jar of tomatoes, or when I took a batch of canned tomatoes out of the canner and wondered why the eff they were floating in an inch or two of liquid.  As my stock of jars grows, I just feel so satisfied, like I've bottled up a little bit of summer to savor later.

Lord Grey's Peach Preserves
adapted from Bon Appetit, August 2011

A couple of notes about this recipe: the yield BA gives is 2 pints.  Maybe I just didn't boil my preserves long enough, but I boiled for the prescribed amount of time, and the recipe yielded 4 pints.  Good thing I had extra jars on hand.  They're a little runny, but I think I like that.  A little runny makes them better for stirring into yogurt, oatmeal, and batters, and spooning over ice cream for dessert.  Also, I've been having spotty results with blanching peaches.  Sometimes the skins loosen, and sometimes they just stay stubbornly attached to the peach.  If anyone knows the secret to this, please do share.  I think it just has to do with the fact that some peaches are a little riper than others.

5 pounds ripe peaches (A quart container is usually about 2 pounds)
4 cups sugar
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
5 Earl Grey tea bags, or 3 tablespoons loose Earl Grey tea

Bring a pot of water to a boil.  Cut a small x in the bottom of each peach, and drop them in the boiling water until the skins loosen, about 1 minute.  Plunge into an ice water bath, and then peel the skins off.  Halve each peach, and then slice into 1/4-inch pieces.  Combine with sugar and lemon juice in a large heavy pot, and set aside for 30 minutes.  Place 2 tablespoons of loose tea in a bouquet garni bag (or remove tags from individual tea bags) and add to the pot with the peaches.  Crumble the remaining tea slightly, and add it as well.  Bring mixture to a boil, and cook gently for 20-25 minutes. 

In the meantime, place lids in a small saucepan and heat over low heat until steaming, but not boiling.  Turn off heat and set aside for 10 minutes to allow the rubber seals to soften.  Bring a giant pot of water to a rolling boil, and boil your clean jars for 10 minutes. 

Ladle the hot preserves into the hot jars (use a funnel, it really helps with the mess), seal and process in boiling water for 10 minutes.  The processing time starts after the water is boiling, so if the water stops boiling when you add the jars, wait until it returns to a full boil before starting the timer.

Using tongs, remove jars to a cooling rack with a kitchen towel on top, and leave undisturbed until fully cool and sealed, up to 23 hours.  You may hear a little *pop* when the jars seal, but if not, just push the tops.  If they're solid, you're good to go.  If they give a little (you can press down on the lid), just put them in the refrigerator and use up within a week or two.


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Straight to the source

This weekend we attended the wedding of some good friends of ours on Notre Dame's campus in South Bend, Indiana.  Since graduation, a lot of our friends have scattered far and wide across the country and the world, and weddings have been some of the only times we've all been able to see each other.  My husband was incredibly blessed to meet the great friends he did in college, and I am constantly thankful that they all managed to select such fabulous wives.

I love going to weddings.  I love to see how people's personalities shine through in all the decisions they've made about so many tiny details.  And there was personality galore at this wedding: instead of traditional place cards, the bride and groom gave each guest a 4-ounce jar of homemade raspberry jam with their name and table number on top.  And look at these centerpieces!

Vintage tins found in Grandpa's basement, and vintage glass vases and Mason jars to hold flowers.  Wooden boxes full of apples!  I die.  It was just the right amount of whimsy.

Personalized reusable grocery bags were tied with ribbon to the back of each chair.

And the groom's sister handmade all the pies for the reception!  They were delicious.

The grocery bags came in handy right away!  On the way back to Chicago, we stopped at Garwood Orchard and U-Pick Farm in La Porte, Indiana.  We picked 23 pounds of honeycrisp apples, and a half-bushel of Roma tomatoes, and then at the farm store we got eggplants, peppers, butternut squash, and of COURSE, cider and donuts.

It was the perfect end to a lovely weekend!  Not to mention the fact that it solved all my worries about not being able to go to the market this weekend - we went straight to the source!  Waaaay better.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

A little note about football

Let me tell you a little something about me.  I studied voice performance and Italian in college.  My dad is the only boy in my immediate family (and I'm counting the dogs, too).  I like pilates and yoga and dance, and have never had any success participating in team sports.  Before I went to college, I didn't understand a single thing in football except for touchdowns.  That makes for a very boring 4 hours.

But I went to the University of Michigan.  My husband went to the University of Notre Dame.  He cared a lot A LOT about football, and so I decided that instead of spending Saturdays by myself, practicing (like some of my other music major colleagues), I would ask him to teach me what the heck was going on so that I could try to be a fan.  It worked!  Now, when he starts checking the Notre Dame fan page in anticipation - in June - I can go there along with him.  I think it's OK that I lose interest about 4 games into the season.  At least my heart is in the right place.

The point is, I'm actually very very excited about this game tonight.  I'm excited to see both teams' new uniforms.  Football has become one of the things I love about fall.

Today, though, I am on Notre Dame's campus, even more excited to celebrate the wedding of some of our dearest friends.  Congratulations to two amazing couples, D&R and M&H!  We love you and wish you the best as you begin your lives together!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Here we go!

I like to decorate with vegetables.

Like many of the best journeys, this one begins with a trip to the farmers' market.

Going to the market is the highlight of my week.  Getting outside in the sunshine and the fresh air, walking among the stalls and selecting the most beautiful-looking fruits and vegetables, talking to the farmers.  It's an experience I wouldn't miss.  Which is why I've making biweekly trips to the market all summer.  It's been lovely.  This week, at the start of the Locavore Challenge, I felt a little more pressure to be a smart shopper.  I'll be out of town all weekend at a wedding, so I won't be able to make my weekend trip.  Normally, this would not worry me.  If I forget something at the market, I'll just make a quick trip to the grocery store!  But I have pledged to eat locally, which makes the store a little bit tricky.

Not to say that you absolutely can't get local food at the grocery store - not at all!  Yesterday I found Michigan blueberries at Costco.  But last week, I saw Guatemalan blackberries at Whole Foods.  That was exactly the opposite of what I would have expected, but it just proves that you have to read labels.  And not just nutritional labels!  Just because something is in season where you live doesn't mean that your local grocery is sourcing their produce locally.

So anyway, here's what I got today, and what I plan to do with it:

2 quarts of peaches (homemade ice cream, canned peach halves in simple syrup)
1 quart of plums (breakfast and snacks)
about 6 pounds of tomatoes (canned whole tomatoes)
giant red and golden beets (salad for lunch next week)
20 red hot cherry peppers (homemade hot sauce)
gourds and mini pumpkins (to look pretty)

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Locavore Challenge!

Photo from

Yesterday, I signed up for the Green City Market's two-week Locavore Challenge, pledging to eat only local food, to the best of my ability, from September 8 (tomorrow!) until September 22.  There's no better time of year I could think of to attempt such a lofty challenge.  It's going to be so fun, and so delicious!

I'm going to use these two weeks as a "back-to-school" time for myself, learning more about local food and artisan food producers in the Chicago area.  And of course I'll share what I learn (and what I'm eating) with you!

Want to join me?  Go to the Locavore Challenge website and sign up!  Let me know in the comments if you're coming along for the ride!  I'd love to have company, and you better believe we're going to eat like kings and queens for two straight weeks!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Homemade French Fries

The delicious chill of fall is in the air, but this weekend we squeezed the last sweet drops out of summer.  We went out for Mexican food and margaritas, made a pie, went to two farmers' markets, canned tomatoes, grilled burgers outside, made mojitos using mint from the garden, and ate out on the deck.  It was stupendous.

I read once that if you only ate junk food that you made from scratch yourself, you probably wouldn't get fat.  It makes a lot of sense.  If you make your own junk food, you control what ingredients go into it, and because homemade goodies take a lot more time, you're less likely to indulge on a regular basis.  Plus, the stuff just tastes so much better.  Worth it.  Worth the trouble, worth the calories.  McDonald's?  Not so much.

Homemade French Fries

4 russet potatoes, scrubbed clean
Light oil (safflower, canola, corn) by itself, or mixed with a little olive oil for flavor
kosher salt

Preheat oven to 350.  Slice unpeeled potatoes into 1/4-inch slices, and then cut slices into fries.  Heat a deep fryer to medium, or fill two large, shallow pans with 1/2 inch of oil over medium-high heat.  When the oil is shimmering, fry potatoes in batches until golden.  Remove to a paper towel-lined baking sheet, and sprinkle immediately with salt.  Allow to drain for a minutes or two, then remove the paper towels and place the baking sheet into the preheated oven to keep warm until ready to serve.

Serves 4.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Seven Quick Takes: Meals to Spoil Your Man

As you know already, this week was the Coppertop Guy's birthday, and I just wanted to do a quick re-cap of the amazing meals we ate!  I had some pretty intense bouts of heartburn, and I feel like I need a fruit-and-vegetable cleanse for a few days, but it was a lot of fun to show my hubby how loved he is by making his favorite foods!  Thanks for coming along!  Have a safe Labor Day weekend, and head over to Jen's for more Quick Takes!

Grilled Steaks, Cheesy Mashed Potatoes and Green Beans





BBQ Pork Pizza

Spread BBQ sauce over a basic pizza crust, and top with red peppers, leftover pulled pork, cheddar and mozzarella cheese, and bacon.  Bake at 400 for 15-20 minutes until bubbly.

Chocolate Raspberry Cheesecake

I thought about making a different cake for my hubby's birthday this year.  I found a recipe for a chocolate layer cake with pink raspberry buttercream frosting and chocolate ganache that was just calling out to me.  But the suggestion that I might be making a different cake (but maintaining the chocolate and raspberry elements) was met by heartfelt disapproval by the birthday boy, so I scrapped my delicious pink plan and stuck with what I knew.

It was the right thing to do.  Why mess with perfection?

Chocolate Raspberry Cheesecake

For the crust:
1.5 cups chocolate wafer crumbs
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons melted butter

For the filling:
2.5 8-ounce packages cream cheese (Neufchatel works perfectly)
1 cup sugar
1.5 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped and reserved (or 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste)
3 tablespoons flour
3 eggs
1 cup sour cream
8 ounces melted semisweet chocolate

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Lightly grease bottom and sides of a 9-inch springform pan.  Mix cookie crumbs, 3 tablespoons sugar, and butter and press into bottom and sides of pan.  Beat cream cheese, sugar, vanilla extract and vanilla bean seeds in an electric stand mixer until light and creamy.  Add flour and mix.  Add chocolate and sour cream and beat until well blended.  Add eggs one at a time, mixing on low speed until well incorporated after each addition.  Pour into pan and bake 1 hour to 1 hour and ten minutes, until center is almost set.  Run a sharp knife around rim of pan and allow to cool on wire rack before removing rim.  Refrigerate at least 4 hours.

Don't worry if there are a couple of small cracks in the top - it will taste so good nobody will be able to see anything anyway.  And you'll put some homemade raspberry jam on top to complete the magic experience, which will fill in any possible cracks!

For the raspberry topping:
2 pints fresh raspberries, rinsed
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons corn starch

Stir all ingredients together in a small saucepan, and cook over low heat 15-20 minutes until thickened.  Transfer to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and cool completely.