Chocolate Strawberry Pie Squares | Holiday Recipes: Desserts for Non-Bakers

Happy Sunday! It’s the week. The week where the holiday season officially kicks off with the first holiday...Thanksgiving! I celebrated Friendsgiving with my group of girlfriends from college this weekend and let’s just say I don’t want to eat for five days. Hopefully I’ll have deflated by the time Thursday comes around. We’re not doing any entertaining for Thanksgiving, our job is 100% Christmas. However, I can understand the need for quick and easy recipes this week. Lucky for you, we have our second Easy Dessert for Non-Bakers and coincidentally, it’s another that uses the amazing store-bought pie dough. These whip up pretty easy, although a little messy, and they’re super addictive. I wasn’t sure how this recipe would turn out while it was still an idea but man was it a hit…

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Apple Hand Pies | Holiday Recipes: Desserts for Non-Bakers

As an Italian, the sweet table at holidays rivals that of our dinner table. I come from a family of bakers and not just average bakers, great bakers. Pie making, pastry wielding bakers. Bakers that make me feel incompetent with a whisk and mixer. In case you haven’t caught on, I’m not a baker. Sure...I can whip out a muffin or two, brownies and easy one-bowl creations. But I hate to measure and I certainly don’t have the patience for butter to soften. Have you noticed that any recipe I’ve shared that uses butter in baking, it’s always melted? Simply put, I don’t have the patience for baking. When I need to make desserts, I want them to be easy and brainless. That’s what inspired me to come up with a few recipes for other people like me this holiday season who are not born bakers and would rather whip up a pot of Coq au Vin than measure out perfectly portioned cupcakes. Starting with these scrumptious Apple Hand Pies that take a shortcut for the hard part…

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Spiced Baked Pears with Dark Chocolate | Farmers Market Series

Good Morning from Washington, DC! It’s been a whirlwind of a week. I started out in Syracuse, New York, fled to Boston for a mini escape and now I’m in the capitol until heading home. The weather has finally begun to cooperate and it’s no longer unbearably hot which means all the cozy sweaters I packed can finally be put to use. It’s a wonderful feeling. I’m starting to write recipes for the holiday season (yes, that time is coming up) but today I have a fall recipe for you that is a little different from what I usually share. Baking isn’t really my strength so desserts are hard for me to come up with but this particular recipe is a dessert that anyone can whip up…

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Grilled Pound Cake | BBQ Recipes

I may not be known for a sweet tooth but I can appreciate a great dessert. Baking in the summertime is the last thing on anyone’s mind. Something as simple as a store-bought pound cake has hundreds of possibilities and not one of them heats up the home. Inspired by BBQ month in May, I was inspired to come up with a grilled dessert. You may be familiar with my fail at remembering to check the propane tank before embarking on my grilling crusade so I’ve been using a standard grill pan instead. The results are still delightful.

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Grilling pound cake might seem a little out of the ordinary but I urge you to give it a shot. I knew that it would be toasty on the outside and give it a nice texture but I had no clue that it would improve the flavor as well! Grilling the pound cake somehow manages to give it a toastier flavor, and even a little more sweetness. It also warms it up which is the perfect bed for ice cream as it gets all melty on the bottom. Berries add a little tartness which cuts through all the sweet from the pound cake and the ice cream. In other words, this might just be the perfect dessert.

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My three ingredients for this recipe were vanilla pound cake, chocolate ice cream, and assorted fresh berries but you can use anything you want. Lemon pound cake would be fantastic and so would chocolate with vanilla ice cream instead. Strawberry ice cream would make a nice, summery touch or what about something like Cookies n’ Cream? It would make a nice build-your-own bar for partie as well. Grill up a bunch of slices of pound cake at once and place them on a warmed platter for guests to serve themselves and build their own. One of our local grocery stores sells sliced pound cake as well as whole loaves so if you’re running short on time or feeling lazy, those would make a nice short cut.

With all the parties you’ll be attending and/or hosting this summer, it’s nice to keep things fresh for everyone, yourself included! There are only so many times we can eat regular sponge cake (gross) before we can hardly look at it. I love brownies and s’mores but those can get tired too. What will you be whipping up for a treat this summer?

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Grilled Pound Cake with Fruit & Ice Cream
4 slices Vanilla Pound Cake* (at least 1-inch thick)
2 cups Chocolate Ice Cream**
2 cups Fresh Berries

Directions - Outdoor Grill:
1 - Spray the grill grate with cooking spray. Preheat the grill over a low-medium heat.

2 - Place each slice of pound cake on the grill. Let warm 3-4 minutes on each side or until there are visible grill marks. The outside of the pound cake will become nice and toasty and the inside will be warm and fluffy.

3 - Place each slice of grilled pound cake on a small plate. Top with ½ cup-sized scoop of ice cream and top with ½ cup assorted fresh berries.

Directions - Grill Pan:
1 - Lightly butter the grill pan and set heat to low-medium. Heat the pan.

2 - Place each slice of pound cake on the grill. Let warm 4-5 minutes on the first side and 2-3 on the flip side or until you see grill marks. The grill pan will get much hotter by the time you flip the pound cake. The outside of the pound cake will become nice and toasty and the inside will be warm and fluffy.

3 - Place each slice of grilled pound cake on a small plate. Top with ½ cup-sized scoop of ice cream and top with ½ cup assorted fresh berries.

*Vanilla Pound Cake is what I used but any flavor you prefer would work just as well. Lemon would be a great option or even chocolate.

**Chocolate is the obvious pairing for vanilla and works really well with the assorted berries but just like the pound cake, you can use any flavor you’d like. Vanilla ice cream would go wonderfully with chocolate pound cake and strawberry ice cream would go well with any flavor pound cake. Maybe even get a little creative with all the fun flavors you can find in the ice cream aisle.

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My Father's Daughter | Cookbooks By Lovely Ladies

My Father’s Daughter by Gwyneth Paltrow is one of the many cookbooks I received for Christmas this past year. It’s one of the almost two dozen cookbooks currently sitting on my bookshelf. This cookbook has gotten the least amount of attention from me since Christmas but the recipes I have made are quite tasty. Today’s menu to highlight the cookbook is a simple and quick pasta with salad. I made this on a Friday night for only me but it’s a great weeknight meal when you need to get dinner on the table quick.

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I put My Father’s Daughter on my wish list with apprehension. Gwyneth Paltrow isn’t someone who you’d think would have approachable recipes. She’s always talking about these crazy ingredients that are hard to find and freakishly expensive. All the reviews I’d read and previews I saw made it see like this particular cookbook was applicable to anyone. I’m not shy to new ingredients, I did cook through A Kitchen In France which had me using things I didn’t even know existed. However, I’m not fond of spending a thousand dollars for one week’s worth of groceries. Flipping through My Father’s Daughter, I realized that not only did Gwyneth share recipes for the everyday home cook, she shared options.

The beginning of the cookbook shares essential tools Gwyneth always has in her kitchen, directions for any kind of special technique, and my favorite...a substitution chart. There’s nothing worse than finding a recipe that looks divine and realizing you need a specialty flour or sugar for it. This chart includes common substitutions for things like spelt, barley and buckwheat flour, non-dairy milks, and meat alternatives. It’s handy for someone like me that might not have a ton of experience with those ingredients and doesn’t feel confident make the switch without guidance. I’ve taken a photo of this chart on my phone and saved it so I can use it with recipes in other cookbooks! It’s such a useful tool.

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Besides the special tools, My Father’s Daughter includes a personal note from Gwyneth, recipes for soups, salads, burgers & sandwiches, pastas, main courses, side dishes, breakfast and desserts, tips on how to use the book, and more. Many of the recipes include little notes from Gwyneth sharing tips, experiences or memories. Many of them also have substitution suggestions and recommendations for cooking like prepping the sauce ahead of time. I chose a few of her simpler recipes to spotlight for this post. I hope you like them!

The Menu:
Italian Chopped Salad
Penne Puttanesca
Fudgy Chocolate Brownies

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Fun Fact: Italians do not eat their salad as a starter or appetizer like Americans do. The salad is instead more of an in between course or final dish after the heavier meat course is served. Personal Fact: My (Italian) family has always served salad as an optional add-on to whatever meal we’re having. I enjoy having it alongside the main dinner course. Case in point, today’s menu! The Italian Chopped Salad from My Father’s Daughter is a light and veggie packed recipe that is both easy to prepare and a treat to eat. Leafy greens are tossed with scallions, tomatoes, tiny balls of Mozzarella (bocconcini or pearl Mozz - whatever you can find), green beans, and a light vinaigrette. Gwyneth’s recipe also calls for preserved artichoke hearts, roasted bell peppers and anchovies but I left them out for various reasons. It took no time to pull this salad together and it was the perfect accompaniment to the Penne Puttanesca.

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Penne Puttanesca originated in Naples, not far where part of my family is from. It consists of ingredients that are strong in flavor like anchovies, capers and olives. These three ingredients in particular can have a briney, salty flavor. The sweetness of a basic tomato sauce balances that acidity and saltiness well. Gwyneth’s recipe calls for her Basic Tomato Sauce recipe which I have not tried my hand at yet. But I did buy a jar of marinara from the grocery store. I know most people who are Italian cringe at the thought but I am not above convenience. A batch of gravy takes a day to make and lots of freezer space to store. The only tweak I made to this recipe was leave out the anchovies. I don’t mind using anchovies in cooking because they do add a great depth of flavor but if I’m not going to use the entire can or jar, I won’t do it. I feel like it’s a waste to open up a package for one or two. Not to mention they start to smell if you save them.

The Penne Puttanesca was in one word, delightful. I made this entire meal for myself one night. It was late, I hadn’t eaten a real meal in days and I needed to make the recipes for this blog post. I ignored my lazy - “It’s Friday night”- mentality and got to cooking. I don’t know what I was waiting for because the salad and the pasta together took hardly any time. It was a comforting, yet still light dinner and it reminded me of home (I was living in the city at the time). Another reason this meal was so great...the leftovers lasted for days!

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Finally, Gwyneth has this recipe for Fudgy Chocolate Brownies. They're as healthy as you can possibly get them without sacrificing flavor. Let me tell you, no flavor was sacrificed in the making of these brownies. One requires a giant glass of milk alongside it and they are crazy rich. Little confession, her recipe uses spelt flour and soy milk but I used regular white flour and lactose-free milk. So hers, in hindsight, are probably a bit healthier. I did not make these to go alongside my pasta and salad dinner but I did make them for Tapas Night with the girls and they were the perfect finish.

Dining on the Riverwalk | San Antonio, TX

There are dozens of restaurants to dine along the riverwalk in San Antonio. Almost all of them have outdoor patios to take advantage of the gorgeous south Texas weather and views of the river. The riverwalk in general is colorful, it’s lively and it’s bustling. People walk through the dining patios getting to their destinations. Birds are fluttering around everywhere you look. The riverwalk is full of life and energy making it a perfect spot to take a seat and enjoy a meal. My Noni and I ate at three different restaurants, two of which I’m spotlighting today!

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Rita’s on the River is a must-visit restaurant in San Antonio according to plenty of food round-ups. They serve up Tex-Mex and Mexican food including margaritas and fajitas featuring homemade tortillas. They have gluten free and vegetarian options so even those with dietary restrictions can enjoy a local favorite. Rita’s is also fur-friendly! They welcome friendly pups in case you’re traveling with a four-legged friend or visiting friends or family with one. Overall, Rita’s on the River has a fun, welcoming environment for a great experience and the food is fantastic as well.

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My Noni order the Taco Salad: a large taco shell filled with your choice of chicken or beef, fresh lettuce, topped with diced tomatoes, cheese, guacamole and sour cream. Her eyes were way bigger than her stomach and she took half of it home but she loved it. I actually haven’t seen her eat as much as she ate while we were in San Antonio. It was hilarious. Not usually one for Mexican or Tex Mex either, she was really impressed with Rita’s. We loved being able to sit on the patio and people watch. She also tried guacamole for the first time! I was so proud of her for getting out of her comfort zone during our first dinner in Texas.

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I had the Chicken Flautas: three crispy rolled tortillas, stuffed with shredded chicken and a hint of cheese, fried to perfection and served with sour cream. They came with refried beans and fiesta rice. There’s nothing mind blowing about flautas, they’re pretty standard when it comes to Tex Mex but it doesn’t mean they weren’t delicious. It was exactly what I wanted and that Fiesta Rice was amazing! I love rice but am not the best at making it myself so it’s a treat when I have it at restaurants.

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One of the last restaurants we ate at while in San Antonio was the Hard Rock Cafe. Just a tad farther down the river than Rita’s the Hard Rock Cafe is like any you’d find anywhere else in the world. We weren’t looking for much, just a snack and dessert. We were under the impression that there would be a river parade that night which was the whole reason we chose this particular spot. Spoiler alert: there was no river parade. We still had a great time though! We had a visit from a friendly family of ducks that my Noni just loved.

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For our “snack,” we ordered the Margherita Flatbread: crispy flatbread with sliced Roma tomatoes, basil and herb sauce, roasted garlic, romano and mozzarella cheeses, fresh basil and a drizzle of garlic aioli. It was enough for the two of us and quite tasty I might say. But let’s be honest. We really came for the dessert. We split the Homemade Apple Cobbler: thick, juicy apples are mixed with the finest spices and baked until golden brown. Served warm with vanilla ice cream, topped with walnuts and Ghirardelli caramel sauce. And we also split a Molten Fudge Cake with Vanilla Ice Cream that doesn’t look to be on their menu anymore. They do have a Brownie a la Mode type of treat though which is similar. Both were AMAZING. I don’t prefer caramel sauce so I went for the cake more but it was a nice balance of fruitiness and decadent chocolate. It’s a great thing both desserts come with vanilla ice cream because it helps with the sweetness. Let’s just say, we both left with a very satisfied sweet tooth.

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With the amount of options there are to dine on the riverwalk, it can be a bit intimidating to choose where to eat. I would suggest going with your taste buds and your budget. Some restaurants are much more affordable than others like every other city in the world. Some are more casual, some are more adventurous. It just depends on your persona taste. There’s one more riverwalk restaurant I’ll be sharing and a fourth restaurant not on the riverwalk but by far my favorite from this particular visit to San Antonio. Stay tuned!

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Oh Gussie | Cookbooks By Lovely Ladies

Hey spring, where are you? This winter loving girl is ready for a warm up yet all we seem to get is rainy days and cold temps. It seems a little unfair since we’re in April now, don’t you think? Anyway, I have another cookbook written by a lovely lady to share with you today. A while back, I heard a song on the radio that I instantly fell in love with, “Boondocks” by Little Big Town. It was country through-and-through and their harmonization was on point. This band turned into one of my favorites in country music. Little Big Town just seems like a down to earth, approachable group of people. Little did I know, almost ten years later one of their members would release a cookbook!

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Kimberly Schlapman released Oh Gussie! back in 2015, 10 years after “Boondocks” hit radios. It’s a compilation of recipes divided into five sections: Family, Friends, Music, Home, & Away. The recipes in each chapter represent some kind of memory or tradition. For example, the chicken and dumpling recipe below was passed down by Kimberly’s mama and tweaked by her for a little personal twist. The apple cake is also in the family chapter and was inspired by a lady who taught her Daddy in school and was also a substitute teacher when she was a student. Finally, the fruit and cheese kabobs are in the music chapter and represent a tradition that Little Big Town has before every performance - squeezing a little honey into their mouths before going on stage. In case music and/or honey aren’t things you’re super interested in, honey is supposed to do wonders for the throat, and in effect, the vocal cords. The drizzle of honey-vanilla over the kabobs represents that tradition.

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I love a great cookbook but I love when the cookbook has some sort of story or memory attached to it. Oh Gussie! is all that and more. Each recipe has a little story or reason for why Kimberly included it. It allows you to get to know her through food, and what a treat! I always say that food is so much more than a necessity for our bodies. Food feeds our soul, it feeds our memories. It comforts us when we’re upset, it brings us joy when we’re celebrating. Food is an easy way to find common ground with another human being. So if you love Southern cooking or great food, Oh Gussie! is exactly what you’re looking for.

The Menu:
Fruit & Cheese Kabobs
Kimberly’s Chicken & Dumplings
Fresh Apple Glazed Cake

I used a whole vanilla bean for the first time to make the Fruit & Cheese Kabobs, well, I used half of one. This is a simple appetizer that can substitute a traditional fruit and cheese board if you want something a little more approachable. Fruit, cheese and mint leaves spear onto a skewer getting a drizzle of honey mixed with fresh vanilla. Next time I make these, I’ll leave the honey-vanilla mixture in a little bowl on the side for people to drizzle with a spoon if they’d like. I’m not a fan of honey by itself, and the vanilla was a very powerful flavor. The combination was almost too sweet for me. I’d eat that fruit and cheese kabob any day though. Who doesn’t love muenster cheese and nectarines?!

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With this weird transitioning weather, comforting dishes are still appropriate. Kimberly’s Chicken & Dumplings was one of those perfect comfort meals. If you’re willing to put in the work that this dish takes, the reward is incredible. Creamy chicken soup is made even more hearty with homemade dumplings. It was a dish that fed the soul as much as it fed the stomach. My whole family enjoyed this recipe and it was even better for leftovers the next day. The catch? It does take time and patience. I will not play that down. The soup needs to cook first which doesn’t take much time but afterwards, the chicken needs shredding and the dumpling dough needs kneading. Afterwards, the dumplings need to cook. Once you factor in labor, the amount of time the pot takes to boil, the time everything takes to cook through...this is a good 1.5 hour - 2 hour prep. I was not prepared for that when I originally made this recipe. We didn’t eat until 7pm and we had family coming over for a party at 7:30pm. Let’s just say, everyone enjoyed the soup but I got some nasty looks.

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Finally, the Fresh Apple Glazed Cake may be one of my favorite recipes out of Oh Gussie!. It’s a really light, moist cake (don’t try and determine the nutritional facts though...yikes!). It’s a pretty simple apple cake that bakes in a bundt pan. After it’s done baking, a bunch of holes get poked into the cake before three-quarters of the glaze gets poured all over. This allows the glaze to seep into the cake making it even more moist and decadent. After it sets for about 30 minutes, the cake flips and the remaining glaze gets drizzled all over. I don’t want to know how many calories and how much fat is in this recipe but I’d like to think it’s somewhat healthy since there are apples! Regardless, it’s a fantastic dessert any time of the year.

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Do you have Oh Gussie! by Kimberly Schlapman? How about Eat Like a Gilmore by Kristi Carlson that I featured a few weeks ago? She’s working on her second Gilmore Girls inspired cookbook! If you haven’t heard the news, get out of the rock you’ve been hiding under and check it out! I’m so excited, I can’t even tell you.

French Country Cooking | Around the World with Cookbooks

Remember French Cooking Fridays? It was my journey cooking through A Kitchen In France by Mimi Thorisson - my first true experience working with French recipes. While it had its frustrations, it also had its accomplishments. It was rewarding making it through some of those harder recipes and eye opening to whiz through the easier ones. For example, there was a chicken recipe that took hardly any time at all and was one of the best chicken recipes I’d ever made in my life. Who knew French food could be so easy? I’ll tell you, no one who is familiar with stereotypical French cuisine.

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As I continue reading Julie & Julia, I’m seeing that the majority of the recipes included, or at least the ones she writes about, are expert level recipes. Is that the truth about any cuisine though? Regardless of the country, everyone needs easy weeknight recipes every once in a while. I mean, what about a croque madame or croque monsieur? That’s hardly a major time commitment. A Kitchen In France did more than expand my cooking skills, it expanded my mind when it came to French Food. Not only does it have the traditional laborious dishes that are decadent and rich, it also has dishes that are light, simple and come together in no time. That was one of the reasons I loved sharing my experiences cooking through A Kitchen In France. I wanted to open the definition of French cuisine and show that it’s not all 8 hour cooking sessions and heavy meals. It’s versatile and seasonal like any other cuisine.

When I found out Mimi had come out with a second cookbook, I knew that I needed it for my cookbook shelf (now shelves). French Country Cooking is organized a little different than A Kitchen In France. While AKIF was organized by season, FCC is organized by course: sides, starters, main courses, staff meals, Sunday suppers, desserts, gouter (snacks), and drinks. Mimi was inspired by the pop-up restaurant her and her husband had taken over in the Medoc region of France. Main courses are dishes you’d see in the restaurant. Staff meals are less complicated, quicker options to feed workers on breaks. Sunday supper dishes are meals you’d cook for your family, something very important to Mimi and her family. The others explain themselves except gouter. A little background info...the French do not eat between meals. They hardly even drink. Because dinner is so late (no earlier than 7:30pm and as late as 10pm), to keep hunger at bay they’ll have a little gouter in the late afternoon to tide them over until dinnertime. A gouter is sweet or savory, sometimes a little of both!

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The meal I chose to showcase French food for our “Around the World” series is classically French. From onion soup to pears with chocolate, these dishes showcase the finesse of French cuisine, the decadence of French cuisine, and the simplicity. Each dish has a different level of work involved and each dish has a different number of ingredients required. I was hoping to show the versatility of the culture. You tell me if I did it justice.

Plantia’s Onion Soup
French Onion Soup is one of those dishes that are without question French. Mimi’s recipe, by coincidence, mimics the same recipe the woman who owned the restaurant before her used to serve. Her name was Plantia so Mimi named the recipe after her. The secret to both of their soups is duck fat and using comte or gruyere cheese on the toasts. I did not use duck fat but I did use gruyere cheese! Onion Soup is super simple to make. Onions cook down until soft before chicken stock, wine and a few other ingredients get thrown in the pot. Everything simmers for a bit before placing cheese toasts on top for a delightful bowl of soup. This recipe may lack ingredients but it lacks no flavor. It’s a recipes that feeds the soul.

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Poule au Pot
I recently read the part in Julie & Julia where Julie makes Pot au Feu for a group of friends. Pot au Feu and Poule au Pot are similar in that they’re both boiled dishes. Pot au Feu is several types of meat all boiled in a large pot with veggies. Poule au Pot is a stuffed whole chicken boiled in a pot with vegetables. Similar, right? Another thing they have in common is that they are not visually satisfactory. They’re actually kind of gross. I wanted to share a photo of the Poule au Pot once it finished cooking to show the stuffing and all that but it was gag worthy. I was not putting a photo of that on the blog.

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Poule au Pot is one of those traditional go-to French dishes made for comfort. It’s also one of those dishes that can be made a million different ways. The prep is a little intense for this one with the stuffing but other than that, it’s not too bad. A creamy mushroom sauce finishes the dish using some of the homemade stock from the pot. That’s the biggest pro for this recipe. The water that the chicken and veggies boil in transitions into a beautiful, rich stock that you can use later in the week. I had about 3-4 quarts of stock leftover that I used all week long. So while Poule au Pot may not be visually stunning and translated to English (boiled chicken) might not sound scrumptious, it’s actually a very tasty dish and it’s also comforting. Whip it up on the weekends when you have a little extra time on your hands.

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Baked Pears with Chocolate
What comes to mind when you think of French desserts? Macarons? Souffle? Chocolate Mousse? How about a baked fruit drizzled in dark chocolate? Because that’s exactly what this is. Four (five if you use mint) ingredients come together for an indulgent dessert that tastes more sinful than it actually is. Melted butter drizzles over halved pears followed by a hint of honey. They’re baked until tender before finished with a healthy drizzle of melted dark chocolate. It’s a dish where the fruit shines but does not taste one bit healthy. The best part is that you don’t feel guilty or gross after indulging. You feel satisfied, satiated and ready for a glass of bubbles. Might we suggest strawberries in prosecco??

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We have a one recipe and one cookbook feature to go! In case you missed the others, see our stops around the world cooking in ItalyThailandGreeceNorth Africa and Mexico.