Lebedushka – Creamy Ricotta and Kiwi-Strawberry Gelatin Dessert

Lebedushka -1Preparing for holidays or parties always brings an exciting note of anticipation into the home. During my childhood, I remember all the bustling and planning as I watched my Mama in a flurry of activity. She seemed to understand my longing to be part of the action, even as a little 5 year old, and would give me little jobs here and there so I could feel involved. 

Lebedushka was one of the desserts that was almost always on the menu, from the days of my childhood and even now that all of my siblings and I are married and have homes of our own. It’s a two layer gelatin dessert, with the first layer consisting of a creamy ricotta mixture, and the top layer is fruit and a flavored gelatin. Our family really loved this dessert and we always got rave reviews and recipe requests from guests. 

As I grew older and started to make this dessert myself, I realized that this is high on the list of the cook as well, because it’s so easy to make, can be made ahead of time and looks absolutely stunning. It’s very versatile as well. You can serve it in individual portions or chill it in any deep rimmed dish and cut it into different shapes. You can also use many different fruit and berry combinations as well as use any flavor of gelatin that you like. 

This year, I was really excited to try out the Blendtec blender. I was so impressed with this incredible kitchen workhorse. You can read more about my thoughts about this blender in this post. Lebedushka is one of my favorite family recipes that I created for their website. To get the recipe, check it out on the Blendtec website. 

Almond Toffee

Almond Toffee-1-25Dating is very fun and exciting. Not only does it include the romantic, “falling in love” part, which is obviously the best part, but it comes hand in hand with all the little things that you do to win your sweetheart’s affection. Since we had a long distance relationship, dating had some challenges for my husband and myself, but we made it work, and the miles apart weren’t a hindrance. My husband used to send me flowers, the classic route,  which is almost guaranteed to thrill any girl. I still remember the warm, gushy feelings I would get every time a new box of gorgeous blooms would arrive with a sweet love note attached.

Sometimes, Sergi would send me a box of treats instead of flowers. His specialty was a box of chocolate covered Almond Toffee. Of course, I shared it with all my other family members and we would all just  devour it and then rave about how good it was.  Sergi was a very smart boyfriend and this was the perfect gift to not only endear me, but the entire family to himself. He earned double points from me too, since I loved the gesture, but having my family admire him made me like him even more. 8 years of married life later and my family and I still talk about the Almond Toffee that Sergi would send.

After we got married and I found out how much that Almond Toffee cost, I was shocked that it was so expensive. For just one pound of Almond Toffee, you pay over $20. But, it really IS so delicious that it’s worth it. However, I was determined to find a recipe and learn to make it myself for a fraction of the cost. I scoured the internet and tried different recipes until I finally found the perfect one. I wish I remembered where I got the recipe, but those were the days before Pinterest, and all I have is the hand written recipe in my cookbook.
The toffee is crunchy but not sticky and the taste of salted, caramelized butter with toasted almonds and a thin layer of chocolate is just the perfect combination. You can make a large batch of it and give it as gifts to your family and friends, or just enjoy it yourself. With some really simple ingredients, non-intimidating steps and just a little effort, you’ll have 3 pounds of Almond Toffee, for under $10, instead of $20 for just a pound. Now that’s a bargain and a fun activity to do with your children, siblings or maybe even for a date night.
Even though dating was awesome, being married is a million times better:). These days, Sergi delivers the flowers himself instead of the mailman, (he still showers me with flowers on all special occasions and regular just-because days)  and it’s the most comforting feeling of all to love and be loved year and year. He also learned a valuable lesson while dating – that food related gifts are a guaranteed way to my heart:). I adore it when he brings me little treats that he knows I enjoy, like smoked gouda cheese, my favorite tea, some Salted Caramel milk chocolate or a cookbook that I’ve been eyeing for a while.  … 

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Campanelle Pasta With Roasted Garlic Sauce

Roasted Garlic Sauce Campanelle-1-19As a food blogger, I’m often tempted to give each recipe a really creative flair. This was definitely the case with this dish as well. I thought about adding some mushrooms, green beans, asparagus or peas to give it a more unique twist, more color, flavor and texture. I also thought about adding a crunchy breadcrumb topping. All of these additions would be great. However, sometimes less is more.

Pasta holds a really great charm for me. Most of the time, dinner comes together in as much time as it takes to cook the pasta. That’s a huge benefit on many counts. This recipe also makes good use of already cooked poultry. Who doesn’t have leftover chicken at one point or another or turkey this time of year? This recipe makes good use of this very common leftover and gives it a complete makeover. Saucy pasta is just the best, but not if it’s heavy and gloppy. I like when it coats the pasta with a silky texture.

The creamy but light roasted garlic sauce is absolutely delicious and complex enough on it’s own. With some poultry and fresh herbs, the meal is complete and perfect. I would even eat the pasta with the sauce and herbs alone. (To be quite honest, and since I’m already bearing my soul, I picked out most of the meat and gave it to my husband. Being a huge meat-lover, he didn’t mind a bit.) You guessed it, this pregnant lady still isn’t a big fan of meat. Or any other food most days of the week. About twice a week I’ll actually have an appetite, and believe me, I really take advantage of it and enjoy it as much as possible. … 

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Turkey, Kale and Sweet Potato Soup

Turkey, Kale and Sweet Potato Soup-1-11I hope those of you who celebrate Thanksgiving had a lovely day yesterday. We spent the day with Sergi’s family and had a wonderful time. I know many of you were cooking lots of delicious food and either hosting dinner at your house or joining other family members in their homes. What a wonderful time set aside to reflect on all the things that we have to be grateful for, make some memories with loved ones and enjoy some tasty dishes.

After a day of feasting, I’m usually ready for some simple, soothing meals. I’m sure many of you have Thanksgiving leftovers, and this is one of the recipes that makes good use of some classic ingredients. Healthy, light and packed with flavor, you’ll be very pleased with this comforting soup. Turkey is given a breath of fresh air as the star of the meal, along with some autumn veggies that you just might have lying around after cooking all the Thanksgiving side dishes. I used sweet potatoes, regular potatoes, onion, carrots, celery and kale along with pasta. You can add so many other ingredients too, depending on what’s in your pantry. Green beans, butternut squash, celery root, turnips, and mushrooms would also be great additions in this soup. Instead of pasta, you can also use rice or barley. Now that cold winter days have arrived, a warm bowl of soup is the perfect way to relax. … 

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Garlic and Herb Knots

Garlic and Herb Knots-1-26You know what makes any dinner extraordinary? Dinner rolls. Think about it. Most holiday meals or special occasions have dinner rolls on the table. When we go out to eat at a fancy restaurant, they usually have some sort of bread to munch on. Warm, fluffy and tender yeast breads give any occasion a special touch. I actually survive mostly on carbs, (yes, I realize that is a very weird diet) and these cute knots are something I make when I want to give any weeknight dinner a special flair. They are so easy to make, that it’s a shame we don’t make them more often.

These beautiful rolls take so little effort and are topped with garlic, herbs and Parmesan. You can even make the dough ahead of time, shape them and keep them refrigerated a day in advance and then you’ll magically have warm Garlic and Herb Knots on the table fresh out of the oven. They will disappear from the basket faster than you would believe. They are perfect any time of year, whether you’re serving them on a Wednesday evening with a bowl of soup of a full blown Thanksgiving dinner…. 

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Sweet Potato Pie

Sweet Potato Pie-1-16For the typical Slavic person, the idea of a sweet potato pie can seem a little bit odd. When our family first came to America, many ingredients that we saw in grocery stores were a mystery to us. We had never seen sweet potatoes in Belarus, and during the first years that we moved to the United States, we would gaze at sweet potatoes in the stores and cookbooks and have no idea how to cook with them.

One year when I was a teenager, someone happened to give us a whole bag of sweet potatoes. Here was the perfect chance to try out these interesting spuds. The frugal immigrant nature in us demanded that we make good use of any food that was set before us, so we began the search for sweet potato recipes. Of course, we quickly found many pie recipes and that’s exactly what we made. We didn’t know what to expect, but as my parents, five siblings and I all crowded around the kitchen table, we were all eager to try this orange dessert made from POTATOES. The pie was a hit with all of us and for the next few weeks, we made the rest of the sweet potatoes into pies too.

This year, as I was walking through the grocery store, the display of sweet potatoes caught my eye and quickly brought back memories of that first time that I tried sweet potatoes. When I mentioned the idea of making a sweet potato pie to my husband, he was very skeptical. Just like a typical Belarussian, who can only imagine regular potatoes that can be mashed, roasted, fried and most definitely served with meat, he wasn’t sure if he liked the idea of eating a sweet potato pie.

Well, he’s a very nice guy and has learned to humor me with my food ideas throughout the years, so we brought those orange taters home. When he came home from work one evening and saw me slicing up the pie, he was happy to give it a try. Guess who asked for a slice to take with him to work the next day and was really excited to have some more pie after dinner three nights in a row?

I played around with the recipe to make a very creamy filling that didn’t taste like a version of pumpkin pie. The light and creamy custard-like filling is so smooth. The addition of cognac, vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg really give a lot of flavor to it. I also thought it would be fun to have a streusel topping, so I made one with shredded coconut and pecans. … 

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The Easiest, Fuss-Free Roast Turkey

Easy, Fuss-Free Roast Turkey-1-8Hosting Thanksgiving dinner is a BIG DEAL. Since it’s usually when the whole family gets together for the big feast, it can be nerve wracking to be in charge of something so important. I’ve been married for 8 years, and I’ve only hosted Thanksgiving in our home twice. Most years we have Thanksgiving dinner with Sergi’s family and his Mom makes the turkey and I just bring a cake or something. It’s kind of like a rite of passage when you finally set up a big table and everyone asks YOU what they should bring.

Even though I’ve only made the traditional Thanksgiving dinner twice for family, I’ve made plenty of turkeys. Why? I’m probably a little weird:). The obsessive homemaker in me wanted to find out what all the hype was about, so most years I would be in the kitchen during the holidays trying out different turkey recipes, just for the fun of it. I would pour over all my cookbooks, study online recipes, watch multiple videos about all the Thanksgiving food techniques and then try them out. I know, it’s complicated. Don’t try to understand me. I’m so glad that my husband is such a good sport. It looked kind of silly bringing out a gigantic bird for just my husband and myself, so I’ve discovered tons of turkey leftover  recipes too. There’s only so much turkey two people can eat. Who says you can eat turkey on Thanksgiving only? It’s just a big chicken, right?

Anyway, I’ve shared some of my favorite recipes for turkey with you in the past two years, my all time favorite – Brined Turkey and the Slow Roasted Turkey. I still love those recipes and still use them to this day. However, this year I want to share the easiest roast turkey recipe ever. I know brining a turkey, cutting up a whole turkey, flipping a turkey over and other such shenanigans can seem intimidating to some people and they are just looking for a method to have a perfect turkey without any fuss and bother. This is what this recipe is all about. Even the most inexperienced cook can easily master this recipe. If you can lift that heavy bird into the roasting pan, you too can have a perfectly crisp, golden bird with juicy meat. … 

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Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars

Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars-1-17Baking with pumpkin seems to be mandatory this time of year. Try googling pumpkin recipes and you will be blown away with all the different options. Seasonal cooking has a way of making us nostalgic and sentimental and who says there’s anything wrong with that? I certainly don’t. There’s something very right and proper about bubbly, comforting casseroles in the cold winter months, asparagus and snap peas in the early spring, fresh garden tomatoes during the summer and of course, pumpkin is all the rage in the autumn. It’s the iconic Thanksgiving dessert.

Every time I find myself in possession of this orange treasure, my mind quickly turns to cheesecakes. That’s probably because cheesecake is one of my favorite desserts ever, so naturally pumpkin cheesecake would also be high on my list. I’ve realized that dessert bars are really my thing too, so this year, I’ve converted my favorite Deluxe Pumpkin Cheesecake recipe into these amazing Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars. I am now officially converted and will make these bars as long as there’s pumpkin available.  The addition of sour cream to the cheesecake batter makes them even more tender, which is exactly how I like it. … 

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Sausage and Mushroom Sourdough Dressing

Sausage and Mushroom Sourdough Dressing-1-11Dressing aka stuffing, usually plays the role of the supportive cast at Thanksgiving dinners and is never given the chance to shine like the leading characters. Frankly, I know that many of us secretly crave such things as dressing, mashed potatoes and gravy (that would totally be me) more than the turkey or roast. Yes, many of us would not be able to survive on the Atkins diet, or whichever other diet excludes carbs. Carbs are gloriously delicious and irreplaceable, at least in my humble opinion. This dressing is so tasty that it can flourish all on its own and should be made year round, not just for the holiday dinner.

If you think about it, dressing is such a clever meal. Who would think that something as mundane as bread can be the main ingredient in a flavor ensemble? If you’re anything like me, you usually have a few slices of bread that end up going stale before you’re able to eat the entire loaf. How about stashing those slices in the freezer before they get a chance to get moldy, and when you have enough bread, make dressing for dinner. Not only is this a frugal housekeeping tip, since you are saving your groceries and making a very inexpensive meal, but you can also adjust this recipe in so many different ways to make use of whatever ingredients you have on hand. I used sausage, mushrooms, fennel, onion, celery, garlic and herbs, and this combination is so satisfying. Serve this with a salad or some Braised Carrots and Parsnips and your meal is complete. … 

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Cranberry Apple Chutney

Cranberry Apple Chutney-1-8The cold months are a time for cranberries to become available once again. I really appreciate the tart, bold flavor of this berry. Of course, it’s a traditional flavor for Thanksgiving and Christmas meals, especially famous for being served with the star of the show, turkey. However, cranberries have other hidden talents, which are so often overlooked.

I really wanted to make something with cranberries that would not only taste great served during Thanksgiving dinner, but could also be enjoyed in many other ways. Cranberries, apples, orange and cinnamon all blend together in this straightforward but somewhat refined chutney. This will not take up to much time to prepare, since I’m sure you have so many other things to worry about for the big meal. Really, chop up an apple, squeeze out the juice from the orange, bring it up to a boil and you’re just about done. You can make this in advance too. Make extra, because it’s delicious on a bagel and especially as a filling in baking. … 

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