Paula Deen’s Rum Pumpkin Pie with Praline Pecans

It's that time of year again...time to overbook our schedules with cocktail parties, gift exchanges and eat way too much yummy food! You know, those foods that you love but only have at this time of year...for me Paula Deen's Rum Pumpkin Pie with Praline Pecans that I make every Thanksgiving is at the top of that list. I first tried this recipe years ago when I began hosting my own big Thanksgiving dinners for friends and I haven't gone back to plain old traditional pumpkin pie since! So what makes this pie so addictive? First, the depth of flavor that just the slight bit of added rum adds. It doesn't seem like 2 tablespoons of rum would make that big of a difference, but trust me, don't skimp here. Second the perfect layer of whipped cream covering the entire top of the pie is essential.  No more single dollop of whip cream per slice...a whole layer on top of the freshly made topping is the way to go. Lastly the praline pecans...make more than the recipe calls for and sprinkle on top liberally. This sweet, crunchy, nutty addition adds the perfect amount of textural distinction to an otherwise melt in your mouth creamy pie. If you're feeling ambitious and want to make your own pie crust, Paula's Perfect Pie Crust is a fantastic recipe...buttery and flaky. Of course, there's no shame in store-bought pie crust...just buy the frozen sheets of  rolled out dough that you put in your own pan which is much better than the kind that is frozen and already pressed into a tinfoil pan. Whatever you decide about your crust, make sure this pie is filling it...you'll be the talk of your Thanksgiving party and have everyone wishing you made two. Seriously...this is the only dessert that I've ever hid from people so I can have the leftovers all to myself!
Cookie Party 2014!
SavoryGirl's 2014 CookiesOne of my all-time favorite nights of the year...my annual Cookie Party! I've been hosting a holiday cookie party for almost 15 years now. The idea originally came from my ex-husband's mother who always hosted a Cookie Party for her neighbors but over the years I've evolved it a bit and made it my own. The funny thing is, as my website name suggests, I'm more of a Savory than Sweet girl. So while I love the cookies and the energy that my guests put into one-upping their cookies from the year before what I really look forward to is the cheese and meat. This year my guests pressured me into a formal vote for the tastiest and most creative cookies...we've never done that before so it added a new competitive element that I'm sure will drive the cookies to even greater heights next year!

Here are some photo highlights from this year's party, starting with the photo collage above. SavoryGirl's 2014 cookies!  I always make 3-4 cookies for my party but typically 2 of them are old family traditional cookies.  This year, however, I decided out with the old and in with the new and mad all new cookies! So I made Chocolate Pistachio Thumbprints with Chocolate Ganache which I thought were a delicious combination of salty sweet and while they look fancy they're actually quite easy to make.  I also made Tahini Cookies rolled in black sesame seeds and demera sugar.  I was pretty excited about the idea of these but they underwhelmed me in texture although others seemed to like them.  Lastly I made Chai Spice Cookies which were divine...and they just happened to be gluten free too. These actually won the informal "tastiest cookie" award at the party so they're definitely a keeper.  Super easy and really delicious! Jacob & Chad's Salted Choc Chip, Birdnests & Icebox Cookies
Next up, Jacob and Chad's cookies...they had to go and match the host and bring 3 cookies!  Love it.  Jacob's Salted Chocolate Chip Cookies gave my Chai Spice Cookies a run for their money in the "tastiest cookie" contest.  Don't worry...I'm working on getting the recipe! They also brought along BirdNests which you see in the middle there. These were quite yummy but really decadent so after a bite or two I was done! Their third cookie was a classic, buttery icebox cookie.
Tapas Party!

Tortilla Espanola

I'm part of a lovely rotating monthly ladies dinner party and August was my turn to host...so I decided to forego the traditional sit-down dinner and throw a Tapas Party!  This was particularly fun for me because it allowed me to go down memory lane a bit to when I studied abroad in San Sebastián, Spain and pull out some of my old favorite recipes from my time there that I haven't made in years.  It also gave me the opportunity to really cook a lot...which, yes, is a lot of work, but I truly do enjoy and haven't done in a while.  So what did I make?  Here's a quick rundown with recipe links included...

Tortilla Española...truly no tapas party is complete without this (above).  It is a signature Spanish tapa that you will find at every single tapas bar throughout the country.  While it doesn't sound particularly exciting (essentially a potato & onion omelet), trust me on this one...it's always a huge hit.  This one always feels a bit scary for people to make, review the step by step photo recipe attached in the linked recipe...it's really pretty simple and straightforward if you take it one step at a time.  And just be bold with the flip...own it and it will go perfectly! Traditionally it's served on top of a thin slice of bread but you can eat it on it's own as well (which I prefer).

Shrimp, Salmon and Egg Pintxo - this was my favorite of the entire spread!  Not surprising since it's a pintxo which is the Basque version of tapas and I studied abroad in Basque country.  So this was more reminiscent of the tapas that I ate while living abroad. Slightly more complex and often including amazing seafood.  The viniagrette that you make for this pintxo is to die for and I've been putting it on everything else since (it makes a ton though so you could 1/2 it if you want to). KILLS me that I've lost my pictures of my favorite tapa...guess that means I need to make it again ASAP so I can share the photo!

Pancetta Fig Crisps - ok, I took some liberties with the word "tapa".  This technically isn't Spanish but it is an appetizer that I've made several times and is always a huge hit so I decided to include it. Delish as always.

Pancetta Fig Crisps

Next up a a few "DIY" tapas:
SavoryGirl’s Strawberry Shortcake

Ok, full disclosure...I re-post this every year now...but it's so yummy and the strawberries at the Farmer's Market are so amazing at this time of year that I just can't help myself. I don't want any of you to miss out on this delicious, easy homemade summer dessert!  I also just made it for my quarterly team meeting this week and it got gobbled up by all 20+ of them so quickly that it reminded me of what a crowd pleaser it is...easy breezy for a picnic. Nothing says summer like strawberry shortcake! I grew up eating those little sponge cakes you buy at the store with cool whip but over the years I've developed a completely homemade strawberry shortcake recipe that I absolutely adore. It's super easy and well worth the tiny bit of extra effort over store brought. My recipe below makes enough for about 8 servings...and once you try it, you'll never go back to the store bought version again!

Berries: 3 baskets of fresh, ripe strawberries 2 tsp. sugar

Quarter strawberries into a medium sized bowl...if they're larger strawberries cut into sixths or eighths. Sprinkle with sugar, stir, cover bowl with plastic wrap and let sit in the fridge for a minimum of 30 minutes. This is called macerating...the sugar softens the berries and pulls the juices out of the berries so that you get a nice natural sauce along with your berries.  Add a bit of good balsamic vinegar and/or thinly sliced basil if you're feeling playful.
Clafouti

We just made about our 5th clafouti of the summer when I suddenly realized that I haven’t yet shared this favorite with all of you!  If you’ve never had the pleasure of eating a clafouti it’s kind of a cross between a custard and a cake and is simply delicious.

There are two reasons we love the clafouti so much in our house (besides how fun it is to say!)...the first is because it is one of the fastest and easiest desserts you can possibly make and you often have all of the ingredients in the house, meaning you can even whip it up on a weeknight or if guests surprise you!  The second reason we love it is because the mild vanilla, cinnamon and lemon flavors are so versatile that it works with almost any fruit you have on hand...especially summer fruit like berries, Italian plums, figs or cherries (the traditional fruit of choice).  Versatile, easy and beautiful to serve, what more could you ask for?  Gotta love those French bakers!
SavoryGirl’s Strawberry Shortcake

Ok, full disclosure...I am committing a major blogger faux pas here.  I'm re-posting something from last August...but it's so yummy and the strawberries at the Farmer's Market are so amazing right now that I just couldn't help myself. I don't want any of you to miss out on this delicious, easy homemade summer dessert. Nothing says summer like strawberry shortcake! I grew up eating those little sponge cakes you buy at the store with cool whip but over the years I've developed a completely homemade strawberry shortcake recipe that I absolutely adore. It's super easy and well worth the tiny bit of extra effort over store brought. My recipe below makes enough for about 8 servings...and once you try it, you'll never go back to the store bought version again!

Berries: 3 baskets of fresh, ripe strawberries 2 tsp. sugar

Quarter strawberries into a medium sized bowl...if they're larger strawberries cut into sixths or eighths. Sprinkle with sugar, stir, cover bowl with plastic wrap and let sit in the fridge for a minimum of 30 minutes. This is called macerating...the sugar softens the berries and pulls the juices out of the berries so that you get a nice natural sauce along with your berries.
S’Mores Cupcakes!

Holy Schmoly do I have a treat for you...S’Mores Cupcakes!  That’s right people, bring that campfire treat into your home year round in the intoxicating form of a cupcake. And since we're right on the cusp of camping and s'mores season I thought it was the perfect time to share this amazing twist on an old classic.

To be perfectly up front, this is a relatively labor intensive cupcake to make, but I don’t bake very often so when I do I like to give it my all and this little piece of heaven is certainly worth the effort. Here is the recipe for Society Bakery’s S’Mores Cupcakes, which appeared in a 2011 Bon Appétit, but my photos and comments are shared below for a little added motivation to make these yummy treats.
Chocolate Peppermint Bark Cookies

Over the past three years, these cookies have come to mean Christmas to me. Their soft, cake-like texture. Their not-to-sweet chocolate depth. Their perfectly peppermint-y bite. Tastes like Christmas...so much so that I've already made three batches this year!

I first discovered this recipe a few years ago when researching new cookie recipes for my annual cookie party. I'm not typically a big peppermint fan but come Christmas time I all of a sudden can't get enough peppermint bark candy or peppermint stick ice cream. So I was looking for a way to incorporate this strange seasonal craving into my cookie party and stumbled upon this recipe on a blog called 101 Cookbooks.

Since this recipe makes quite a few cookies, feel free to also freeze half of the dough (or even double the recipe and freeze a full batch) so you have it on hand for when guests stop by unexpectedly during the holiday season. Once you have the dough all lined up on the cookie sheets ready to go in the oven, simply pop the cookie sheet in the freezer instead and once the cookie dough balls are fully frozen you can then put them all in a freezer storage bag. Pop right from the freezer to the oven when you're ready to make them...they might need an extra 1-2 minutes in the oven, but no need to thaw first. Will make your house smell divine while they're cooking, which is nice when guests are visiting as well!

The recipe below is almost identical to the 101 Cookbooks original that I first made years ago, but I've adapted it slightly over the years:

SavoryGirl’s Strawberry Shortcake

Nothing says summer like strawberry shortcake for dessert!  I grew up eating those little sponge cakes you buy at the store with cool whip but over the years I've developed a completely homemade strawberry shortcake recipe that I absolutely adore. It's super easy and well worth the tiny bit of extra effort over store brought. My recipe below makes enough for about 8 servings.

Berries: 3 baskets of fresh, ripe strawberries 2 tsp. sugar

Quarter strawberries into a medium sized bowl...if they're larger strawberries cut into sixths or eighths. Sprinkle with sugar, stir, cover bowl with plastic wrap and let sit in the fridge for a minimum of 30 minutes.  This is called macerating...the sugar softens the berries and pulls the juices out of the berries so that you get a nice natural sauce along with your berries.
Keeping it Simple for the 4th…

The Fourth of July has been one of my favorite holidays for as long as I can remember...but the funny thing is that it's one of the few holidays that I love that isn't all about the food for me.  Thanksgiving?  Definitely about the food.  Christmas Season? Cookie Party,  Fondue and Roast Beast. Easter?  A delicious brunch.  New Year's Eve?  Osso Bucco. New Year's Day? Black Eyed Peas.  You see, the thing that keeps me up the night before most holidays is child-like excitement over what I'm going to be cooking and/or eating the next day.  Of course it's about family and friends (and let's be honest...presents) as well but food always plays a central character on holidays for me and it has since I was a child.

The Fourth of July, however, was always a bit different.  I grew up having a big family picnic in a local park every Fourth of July...so it was the one holiday where my mom and I weren't cooking at home and weren't responsible for the entire meal.  Sure we'd make a few nice dishes to bring along but other members of the family chipped in too so it was casual, easy and really more about being in the park and hanging out with family that we really only saw on this one day a year.  Well, it was also about my Aunt Nixa's amazing Puerto Rican rice that she made every year...but I've yet to wrangle that recipe from her!