Soft Pretzels

Soft Pretzels

The end of an era has arrived: this month marks the last Secret Recipe Club exchange, ever.

I have to admit that I have mixed feelings about this. I have been part of this group since I was pregnant with Jake (who just turned 4!) so the SRC has influenced a lot of my cooking and baking throughout the years. Forty-two recipes on this blog happened because of the SRC. When I joined, it was with the idealistic hope that I would make friends with like-minded bloggers and find some delicious, well-curated recipes to add to my repertoire. What I found was that my preferences and standards were quite different from most of the rest of the group. I’m sure I haven’t been alone in struggling to find that single recipe from an assigned blog that fits into my own tastes and cooking style.

The challenge of the SRC exchange was often truly a challenge, and honestly, not always something I felt excited or joyful about. But I have grown as a cook and baker because of it! Because of the SRC, I have learned to look for something good in unexpected places. I have cooked some dishes I might not otherwise have tried. I have grown in testing new recipes and tweaking them to work better, or to work better for me. I have also grown as a blogger in taking my posts more seriously and making sure I am proud of what I write about.

This month, the last month of the Secret Recipe Club, I am working from the blog I’m Hungry, written by Traci. Her great strength is semi-homemade foods: if you are looking for ways to get food on the table quickly and easily, she is your gal. I was originally looking for a good Thanksgiving side dish, since it is November, but I ended up settling on soft pretzels, something I’ve been planning to bake for almost as many years as I’ve been part of SRC.

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Smoky Sweet Potato, Black Bean, and Spinach Empanadas

Smoky Sweet Potato and Black Bean Empanadas

A few weeks ago, I told Sarah of Well Dined that all I wanted to do this Fall is bake, bake, bake, and I wondered whether she would mind eating nothing but cookies for lunch when we got together. She thoughtfully responded that we should make empanadas.

And after we made these, we congratulated ourselves over and over again because the filling is so delicious. I mean seriously, we were both sneaking spoonfuls of filling as we assembled the empanadas, and licking our fingers when we were done. It’s amazing.

You should make yourself a batch of empanadas right away, so you will know what I’m talking about!

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Maple Nutmeg Butter Cookies

Maple Nutmeg Butter Cookies

Now that it’s Fall, I am going to be all about the baking.

And what do we think of when we think of Fall? (No…it’s not just pumpkin.)

Leaves! Leaves turning orange and red and dripping from the trees and crunching underfoot. I think maple should feature as prominently in our Fall lineup as all the pumpkin and warm spices we normally expect at every turn.

And these cookies, sweet with sappy maple syrup and spiced with nutmeg, are the perfect bite of Fall.

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Gruyère and Asparagus Tart

Gruyere and Asparagus Tart

Gruyère cheese has a special place in my heart.

When Dave and I were on our honeymoon, we visited the town of Gruyères. We toured the cheese factory (!) and ate a very winey pot of fondue. Simple and delicious. We went to the castle and admired all of the artwork and the gardens and the ancient armor. And then we wandered down the cobbled streets and decided we needed even more fondue.

Let’s pause to acknowledge the fact that I speak German pretty fluently and French…barely at all. And Gruyères is definitely part of French-speaking Switzerland. Where no one speaks German and very few people speak English.

So. Dave and I found a place to eat, and we were so excited for our dinner! We ordered this interesting-sounding fondue called raclette. 

Haha. Guess what? Racler means “to scrape” in French. And raclette turned out to be a block of cheese under a heat lamp, which we scraped off as it melted and spread it on potatoes. (Dave wishes me to inform you that it was a whole bucket full of new potatoes. A bucketful.) After we conferred very awkwardly with our waitress (language barriers are real!), we laughed it off and ate the simplest meal in the history of our relationship together. Not exactly fondue, but definitely an amusing (and, um, expensive) story!

But my take-away? Gruyères is a simple place for real people. Makes sense that the most amazing cheese in the world is best served simply! Like in this easy and delicious Spring tart.

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Easy Cheese Danish

Easy Cheese Danish

My husband has been asking to make cheese danish for years.

You’d think I would have taken him up on that right away! I love to bake. I love to be bossy in the kitchen. I love cheese danish.

But for some reason, I felt intimidated. Do you ever feel paralyzed by the desire to do something absolutely perfectly the first time, to find the right recipe and execute it just right, and make the most delicious thing anyone has ever tasted?

I had made croissants exactly once: they were a lot of work, and in the end, they were only fine. Fine! How dare they. I knew that cheese danish was in danger of turning out the same way, so I put them on the back burner.

But this month, when I was cruising through Renee’s Kitchen Adventures for my Secret Recipe Club challenge, I spotted a cheese danish recipe…and I knew I would have to go for it. This recipe is somewhat unusual, as it uses puff pastry instead of a typical laminated, yeasted dough! This had the potential to be way simpler, and equally as delicious. Plus, I have been all about puff pastry lately.

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Nutella Breakfast Strudels

Nutella Breakfast Strudel

I know you are probably getting sick of sweets from me. And I was all geared up to share a few simple savories…but then I realized it’s going to be Valentine’s day very soon.

And I have a long tradition of covering you in chocolate for Valentine’s day. Chocolate is, after all, one of my first loves.

So here we are. And you may, if you have been tracking with me for a while, notice something special about the amazing pastries I am sharing with you today: they are full of BUTTER!

Woot! Caitlin’s pediatrician cleared me to eat dairy again. This may or may not have happened two days after I had a small psychotic break and ate a cupcake that I totally meant not to eat.

Anyway. You better believe I have been loading up on all the cheese and butter and cream I have been craving for the last few months. Because as delicious as food can be without dairy, it’s hard to achieve true decadence in the absence of butter.

So I decided this year that we would indulge in breakfast instead of saving all our chocolate for dessert. (Though, let’s be honest, these strudels make an amazing dessert if you have the patience to wait for dinner time!)

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Grandma’s Knotted Rolls

Grandma's Knotted Rolls

I really wish I had been one of those kids who stood in the kitchen with her grandmother, wearing a humongous apron and up to her elbows in flour. (Instead, I was generally quite preoccupied with the book attached to my nose.)

We love to eat, but my family wasn’t built on a long history of beloved food traditions. Except for these rolls.

These rolls are the stuff of legend. Thanksgivings and Christmases, as we piled into the car to drive to Grandma’s for dinner, we would start talking about these rolls practically before buckling our seat belts.

Because they are amazing.

Pretty much the best rolls in the universe.

And here’s the really important thing: these rolls are just made for salty butter. They are a little sweet and doughy, and most of their salt comes from the thick slab of delicious butter you smear on the top. They are a perfect complement for the thick flavors of a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, but before you take a big bite, don’t skimp on the butter. (And really, why would you?)

Thanksgiving dinner just isn’t Thanksgiving dinner without Grandma’s rolls!

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Salted Chocolate Caramel Tart

Salted Chocolate Caramel Tart

I turned 30.

I had a small midlife crisis, which resulted in a writing a long and silly bucket list—my 30 after 30. (Friends, don’t be surprised if I try to rope you into tap dancing class or hot air ballooning. Don’t be surprised if I start speaking to you in Irish—though the only phrase I have mastered is ólaim fíon!)

And, of course, I made dessert. Because what good is a birthday without dessert?

This amazing tart is exactly what you should make for every single celebration you ever attend from now on. Initially I thought of this as the 30th birthday tart, after I made it for my best friend’s 30th earlier in the year…but it’s too good not to share year round.

Not only is this tart rich and decadent and impressive, worthy of any special event you can think of, but it is actually incredibly easy to make! There are only six ingredients, and no baking or candy thermometers involved!

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