Hazelnut Meringues

Hazelnut Meringues

December is baking month. It’s the month when I abandon any pretense of eating healthily and just enjoy cookies!

Which is exactly why I joined the SRC Cookie Carnival this year. Because what could be better than a blog exchange devoted to cookies during a month when that’s all I do in my kitchen anyway?

I was so happy to find a recipe for hazelnut meringues over at Chit Chat Chomp.

Here’s why: I really enjoy making cookies and treats to share during this holiday season. I have been known to host parties specifically devoted to sharing cookies I have baked. This year I packed a dozen cookies into little boxes and brought them around to my new neighbors. Hey, it’s a season of giving! But I also have a growing contingent of friends and family with food allergies, wonderful folks who just can’t eat cookies made with butter or wheat.

Meringues are a perfect solution for me! Meringues are delicious and easy. You can fill them with anything or nothing—though I must admit that I am partial to toasted hazelnuts! You can bake several batches in a day, or “forget” them overnight. Meringue cookies are just lovely!

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Chocolate Mint Butter Cookies

Chocolate Mint Butter Cookies

Here’s some big news: We are expecting our second baby this coming spring! A little girl!

Jake is very excited to become a big brother. It’s so cute to see the things that stand out to him: he is sure that “Baby Nugget” spends all her time swimming (and she may or may not also be inside his tummy, too); some of his toys have now been earmarked to share with the baby; and he is very concerned that his sister may have to sleep in the same room as the vacuum cleaner.

Here’s some more big news: We just moved to a new house!

This is a super crazy season of life. For months (and maybe you noticed by my conspicuous absence…) I was too exhausted and grossed out to cook anything, and we subsisted largely on Taco Bell (let’s blame that on the baby) and pancakes. Then, at last, I recovered some of my energy and poured it all into making a wedding cake and packing up everything I own to move to a wonderful, amazing, beautiful new house!

It’s been hectic and quite emotional, and I don’t think that’s just the hormones talking.

Now, in the middle of unpacking Christmas has reared its dear sweet head, and it’s definitely time to break out all the delicious cookie recipes and get baking.

I love chocolate and mint together during the holiday season, and these buttery, minty icebox cookies are fairly easy to make. Not only that, but they are cute and festive!

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Turtle Bars

Turtle Bars

I have to admit that the last two months have been the busiest, most stressful two months I can remember.

I really am going to tell you all about that sooner or later…but for now I want to focus on the fact that the Christmas season is a horrendously busy, often unpleasantly stressful time of year for almost everyone! Between the decorating and the gifting, the planning and the gathering, who really has time to bake 12 different batches of cookies?

Baking Christmas cookies is a huge part of my Christmas memories. It’s actually more important to me than decorating the tree (*gasp!*). My mother used to bake a dozen different kinds of cookies to give away to family and friends, and it’s a tradition I just love to carry on.

But this year I am trying to be realistic. I am slowly realizing that, like most people in the world, I do not actually have the time to make six different recipes that require chilling, rolling, shaping, frosting…. What I need is simplicity!

And that is exactly why we must make turtle bars and we must make them now.

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How to Make a Wedding Cake: Baileys Cream Cheese Frosting

Textured Frosting

Woo-hoo, it’s time to frost a wedding cake!

You guys, this step is totally daunting. I’m not going to lie to you. The frosting is the part everyone sees! Everyone is going to judge your delicious wedding cake by its cover. So we had better make sure it’s a beautiful one!

What you see on this wedding cake is purely frosting. No fondant here! (I was very pleased that the bride asked me not to use fondant, because I think buttercreams and cream cheese frostings are way tastier than fondant…but I must admit that fondant is easier to smooth than frosting, so I had to bring my A-game.)

And let me tell you, this cream cheese frosting infused with a splash of Baileys Irish cream was divine!

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How to Make a Wedding Cake: Pumpkin Spice Cake

Triple the Flavor

So…it’s been a while since I started sharing the process of making a wedding cake with you. A lot has been going on around our house, and I will tell you all about it soon, hopefully amid oodles of Christmas recipes.

But for now, let’s get back to a very important job: making a wedding cake. It’s cake baking day!

Just to refresh your memory, we are smack dab in the middle of making a wedding cake: three tiers consisting of pumpkin cake filled with cheesecake and frosted with Baileys cream cheese frosting.

Baking the actual cake is obviously a big deal. But I found this to be the easiest and least stressful step!

The cake recipe I used was originally meant for cupcakes. Often, cupcake recipes don’t translate well into larger layer cakes, because they aren’t always leavened properly to rise well in different size pans. But this recipe, kept moist by the pumpkin even under long baking times, always came out perfectly!

This cake is probably the simplest from-scratch cake I’ve ever baked. It’s not fussy at all! There is no creaming, no sifting, and no alternating of wet and dry ingredients. It’s basically a dream cake…and I think we should take this recipe and turn it into a dream wedding cake!

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Garlic Butter Roasted Mushrooms

Garlic Butter Roasted Mushrooms

I know I was right in the middle of sharing the saga of making a wedding cake…but then I remembered what time of year it is. That’s right. Thanksgiving is coming.

And during the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, I like to focus on delicious side dishes and breads and pies…because let’s face it: vegetarians often get short shrift on Thanksgiving. When the big day is all about a big bird, and half of your relatives can’t live without bacon in their stuffing, sometimes the bountiful table in front of you doesn’t quite translate into a feast.

(I should, however, offer some thanks to my own relatives, who are super gracious to me even though I am the lone veggie in their meat-loving midst.)

Because Thanksgiving is fast approaching, and I, like many of you, am scouring recipes and cookbooks for the perfect things to bring to the table, I definitely want to share some easy meatless side dishes with you! That way, on Thanksgiving, no matter what your palate prefers, you can do what my family always does: LOAD UP.

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Roasted Autumn Vegetable Pot Pies

Roasted Autumn Vegetable Pot Pie

As a vegetarian, I often miss out on foods that other people rave about. Sometimes there is an easy substitution, like a delicious veggie burger. But sometimes, as with pot pies, I more often find that vegetarian versions are disappointing or weird than satisfying and comforting.

No doubt, to turn a meaty classic into a delicious vegetarian dish can be a challenge! It usually requires about a thousand more ingredients and a lot of extra time. Building a balanced flavor that is as hearty and satisfying to a carnivore as to a vegetarian is involved!

Part of this is definitely personal prejudice on my part. I’m sorry, but a potato is a starch! And, to be honest…peas are pretty darn close to a starch. So if those are the only “vegetables” in an already creamy and crusty pie, you’ve kind of lost me. If I am going to spend hours making crust and stirring fillings and then baking a pie, I want to be eating something absolutely stuffed with a rainbow of vegetables (and therefore nutrients), as thanks for my trouble!

Cue this pot pie, full of hearty Fall vegetables: butternut squash, carrots, brussels sprouts, and cauliflower are all at their best and brightest in the cool months! Add some browned mushrooms and onions for a nice, savory base, plus the most deliciously herby and peppery crust, and I honestly think you couldn’t ask for anything more!

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How to Make a Wedding Cake: Cheesecake Filling

Three Cheesecakes

So last time, I shared the inception of this wedding cake with you. To recap: the bride and groom requested a 3-tier cake, each tier consisting of pumpkin spice cake, a thin cheesecake filling, and Baileys cream cheese frosting on the outside.

It’s a tall order! Not only is a wedding cake a nerve-wracking, complex thing to take on, but I embraced the additional step of baking cheesecakes to fill the layers, rather than filling with a simple frosting or ganache.

Have you ever make a cheesecake filled cake? It actually isn’t as hard as it sounds, but it does require extra time and a mountain of extra dishes. The cheesecakes are typically baked in advance and then frozen, which makes them firm enough to handle without crumbling or smushing during assembly.

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