Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Chicken & Pesto Croque Monsieur

Hello, sweet friends! Are you hungry?? If not, I think you might be after this! This recipe was inspired by a recent lunch I had with a friend at a French cafe. It was so good I wanted to re-create it at home and this is what I came up with! A classic French Croque Monsieur is basically a ham and cheese sandwich topped with a creamy bechamel sauuce, sprinkled with cheese and then broiled until all the cheese is melted and gooey and delicious. It is comfort food at its best! There are so many different variations of this classic, and I love this one. You can make it in less than thirty minutes and you probably already have all the ingredients in your pantry! And you know it's a serious sandwich when you need a fork and knife to eat it!

*Makes 2 sandwiches*

4 pieces crusty sourdough or white bread
2 - 4 tbs pesto (homemade or store-bought)
1 roasted chicken breast, diced
4 slices cheese of your choice
1/4 shredded cheese of your choice

1 tbs butter, unsalted
1 1/2 tbs all-purpose flour
1 cup milk (I used fat-free)
1/2 tsp salt
3 - 4 tbs grated Parmesan cheese

1. Preheat your oven to 400 deg F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Next, lightly toast your bread (either simply in the toaster or in the oven). Spread some pesto (my quantity directions are just approximate, use as much as you like) on each slice, add a slice of cheese on top of two of the slices of bread, then top the cheese with the diced chicken and the remaining slices of cheese, and place the other two slices of bread on top with the pesto side down. Place the sandwiches on your baking sheet and set them aside while you prepare the bechamel sauce. 

2. To make the sauce, melt the butter in a small pot. Once it has melted add in the flour and whisk with the butter for about a minute, just to cook out the flour taste. Still whisking, pour in the milk and whisk continually until there are no lumps in the sauce. Add in the grated parmesan cheese (you can use a different shredded cheese if you prefer something else) and the salt, and whisk constantly for a couple of minutes, until the sauce thickens. 

3. Once the sauce is ready, carefully spoon it over each sandwich (you will definitely have some sauce leftover from this recipe!) to cover the top, then sprinkle it with some shredded cheese. Bake at 400 deg F for 5 minutes, then turn the broil setting on for about 3 - 4 minutes, or until the cheese has browned slightly (watch it carefully so it doesn't burn!). Serve with a side of soup or salad!

I used THIS NY Times No-Knead Bread for the sandwiches, which worked perfectly!
Happy Cooking, Everyone!
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Monday, April 14, 2014

Traditional Czech Easter Bread

Hello Everyone! I wanted to share one of my favorite Easter recipes with you today! This sweet bread is a traditional Czech treat that's baked year round, but especially for Easter when it's either formed into a braid or shaped into a round loaf like this. It's soft on the inside and has a similar taste and texture to Irish soda bread. It's filled with plump raisins and sprinkled with crunchy almonds, and baked until beautifully golden brown. Everyone has their own version of this recipe, and this is my grandmother's and the one that I grew up eating. A slice of this sweet bread is the perfect afternoon treat or breakfast. And the best part of this recipe - the thick layers of butter and jam that you (need to!) spread on top!

(My grandmother's recipe)
*Makes one loaf*

500 g / 4 cups all-purpose flour
70 g / 3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 package instant dry yeast
90 g / 6 1/2 tbs unsalted butter, softened
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
250 ml / 10 fl oz lukewarm milk
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup sliced almonds
1 egg plus one egg yolk
1 tbs water

1. Start by mixing together the package of yeast with the lukewarm milk in a small bowl. Add a pinch of sugar and stir gently, then cover it with a kitchen towel and let it sit for about 5 minutes, until the mixture is frothy. In the meantime, soak your raisins to make them plump (do this by letting them soak in some boiling water or orange juice for a couple of minutes) then drain them and set them aside.

2. In your electric mixer bowl, cream together the softened butter and sugar (this loaf isn't too sweet so add in more sugar if you prefer extra sweetness). Add in the egg yolk, salt and vanilla extract and mix until you have a smooth, creamy mixture. Then, add in the yeast mixture and mix again. Sift in the flour in three portions and add in the drained raisins at the end. Mix with the dough hook attachment for about a minute, until a soft dough forms. Place the dough in a large, greased bowl, cover it and let it rise in a warm spot for at least an hour, or until it has doubled in size.

3. Once the dough has risen, take it out and shape it into a ball, smoothing out the surface. Place it on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and cover it with a kitchen towel. In the meantime, preheat your oven to 350 deg F and make your egg wash by whisking together an egg with about a tablespoon of water. Take off the kitchen towel and brush the loaf with the egg wash and sprinkle it generously with the sliced almonds. Bake for 45 - 55 minutes, until the loaf is golden brown and an inserted toothpick comes out clean. If the loaf begins to brown too much, just cover it with some foil to prevent it from burning. Let cool, then slice and spread (generously!) with butter and your favorite jam! (*Note: my grandmother's original recipe is in metric measurements which I usually try to follow, I have inserted approximate cup/oz measurements for this recipe).

For more of my family recipes, check out THESE Heart Shaped Linzer Cookies or THIS Classic Apple Strudel Recipe!
Happy Baking, Everyone!
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Saturday, April 12, 2014

2014 Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington DC

Hi Everyone! Happy Weekend! We've had the most beautiful couple of days here this weekend, and since the cherry blossoms are at their peak right now, we decided to go down for a walk along the Tidal Basin. The National Cherry Blossom Festival (read about it HERE!) happens every year here in Washington DC and if you're ever in the area at this time of year, it's definitely worth visiting. The whole area along the river and some other parts of the city suddenly turn pink and white as the cherry blossoms begin to bloom. The walk by the river under the cherry blossoms is just magical, and on a warm and sunny day like this, it was the most beautiful place to be!

Ever since we moved to the DC area two summers ago, I've been wanting to see the cherry blossoms, because I had heard how pretty they were. So last year, my husband and I went down to see them three or four times, but never made it there during the peak! It was still really pretty, but it wasn't quite the peak yet. So this year I was determined to go at the right time and I was so excited when we got down there and the cherry blossoms were at their peak!

This was the first really warm day we've had in MONTHS, it felt like the summer was here! It felt so good to see and feel the sun again, I almost forgot what it's like not to live in a perpetual winter wonderland! There were lots of people out on the river on paddle boats, artists with their canvases and easels painting the beautiful pink scenery and people sitting on the grass under the blooming trees.

I hope you enjoyed the "walk" under the cherry blossoms with me, and if you've never seen them before, I hope you get a chance to visit DC in the spring one day! I hope you all have a wonderful, sunny weekend wherever you are and whatever you do!
And don't forget you still have time to enter to win a $100 gift card to J.Jill HERE!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Easter Egg Tree

Good Morning, Everyone! I hope you're having a good week and have been enjoying this spring so far. It's hard to believe that Easter is almost here! If you're looking for a pretty Easter decoration idea, I have a great one to share with you today! You only need a couple things to create this "tree" and you can decorate it with whatever Easter or spring themed decorations you like! Here's what you'll need and how you can make it...


Branches (real or faux)
Silk flowers and leaves
Floral foam block
Easter eggs
Ribbon & Scissors
Hot glue gun

First, choose your container. I used a big white jug, but you could use a big flower pot, a vase or a bucket instead! Next, place the floral foam block on the bottom of the container, and begin arranging your branches inside, making sure you get a nice full arrangement from all sides. Once you have your arrangement, begin attaching the flowers and leaves on the branches using your hot glue gun. Use as many as you like, placing them on the branches evenly. Then, prepare the eggs. You can use whatever kind of eggs you like (just not too heavy so they don't weigh down the branches too much, and nothing fragile!), I used a combination of some natural looking plastic eggs and my Mossy Easter Eggs (find a tutorial for how to make them HERE!) on my tree. Using your hot glue gun, attach a piece of ribbon onto the top of each egg, let it dry, and you are ready to hang the eggs!

To see how to make these Mossy Easter Eggs, check out my tutorial HERE!

And before you go, don't forget to enter my J.Jill $100 Gift Card Giveaway HERE!
Happy Crafting, Everyone!
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Thursday, April 3, 2014

Spring with J.Jill

Hi Everybody! Since spring is officially finally here, you may be thinking that it's time to switch over all those thick, heavy sweaters in your wardrobe for some cute spring clothes! I always love all the fun colors and light fabrics that spring brings with it, and today I want to tell you a little bit about the new spring collection at J.Jill that features both of these things! J.Jill specializes in linen, and their products are known for their refined ease, quality, durability and their beautiful colors. This spring, J.Jill is showcasing linen in a whole new light with their new and updated linen collection. It features fresh details, blended knits and watercolor effect prints that offer a new way to experience this fabric. By adding rayon and cotton into their linen, J.Jill clothing is incredibly soft and drapes beautifully, and is the perfect choice for spring or even for hot and humid summer days because they are so light and comfortable. Thanks to the techniques used to create these special linen blend fabrics, the clothing doesn't wrinkle as much and shrinking is minimized. J.Jill linen can be machine washed, dry-cleaned or steamed, and for best results with machine washing, make sure you tumble dry the items on a low temperature and iron them while slightly damp. 

(Linen Big Shirt in Lavender)

Linen is one of the oldest fabrics that we still use today; it was first used in Egypt where it was prized for its purity and cleanliness. It comes from the stalk of the Flax plant and the fabric is two to three times as strong as cotton. The smooth and shiny texture occurs because of its natural wax content. It is a highly absorbent fabric, yet it has natural wicking and is very light, making it a great layering item, or a good choice for warm days. What I loved most about these items was the high quality and the amazing attention to detail, from all the seams to all the buttons, every detail is handled beautifully. All the materials are incredibly soft and light, and very durable. J.Jill has sizes that go from an XS to 4XL, making their clothing available to women of every size and shape, which is exactly how it should be! Feeling beautiful shouldn't be limited to a certain size or age, and neither should clothing!

(Whisper Weight Striped Scoop-neck tee in Atlantic Stripe & Sunset Stripe)

And the best part is that J.Jill is kindly giving away a $100 gift card to one of my readers! All you need to do is answer the following question in a comment below: "What's your favorite spring look?"
You can also get 30% off one regular priced item using the code BLOGHER (valid until May 21, 2014). Make sure you visit J.Jill! Happy Shopping, Everyone!

Sweepstakes Rules:
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4.     For those with no Twitter or blog, read the official rules to learn about an alternate form of entry.

This giveaway is open to US Residents age 18 or older. Winners will be selected via random draw, and will be notified by e-mail. The notification email will come directly from BlogHer via the sweeps@blogher email address. You will have 72 hours to respond; otherwise a new winner will be selected.
The Official Rules are available here.
This sweepstakes runs from 4/3/2014-5/27/2014.
Be sure to visit the J.Jill brand page on where you can read other bloggers’ posts!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Mossy Easter Eggs

Good Morning, Everyone! Happy April! It's a beautiful morning here, the sun is shining, the birds are chirping, and it almost looks like spring may have finally arrived (even though it was snowing just two days ago!) - this better not be an April fools' joke! I don't know about you, but I am so ready for spring! And since Easter is just a couple of weeks away now, I have a really simple and fun idea to share with you today. You only need a couple of craft supplies to make these Mossy Easter Eggs, and they would look great on a natural-themed Easter table or in a big Easter basket. Here's what you need and how you can make these yourself...


Eggs (real or plastic)
Crafting (artificial) moss (you can find this at any craft store)
Scissors & Hot Glue Gun

To make these mossy Easter eggs, first cut/tear the moss into small (about 1 inch) pieces. Next, apply some of the hot glue to a small area of the surface of the egg, then cover it with a piece of moss and press it down. Keep repeating this until the whole surface is covered. Then, using your scissors, even out any mossy bumps or any unevenness you may see to retain the egg shape.

Happy Crafting, Everyone!
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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Homemade Pita Bread

Hi Everyone! So what seemed like the beginnings of spring turned into more snow and cold weather... this winter just seems to linger on and on! Although I'm more than ready for it to be spring already, all these long months of cold winter have meant a lot of baking around here! I love working with yeast, because it's almost like magic... all you need is some water, flour and seasoning, and those simple ingredients can be turned into so many different kinds of soft, fluffy bread goodness! I wanted to share this pita bread recipe with you because it was so simple and so good, and not too time-consuming or complicated. Here's how to make the pita bread...

(Recipe from Williams-Sonoma)
*Makes 10*

3 1/2 - 4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tbs dry yeast
1 1/2 cups lukewarm water
A pinch of sugar
2 tbs olive oil
1 1/2 tsp salt


1. In a small bowl, combine the yeast, sugar and 1/2 cup of warm water. Cover and let sit for about 10 minutes, until the mixture is frothy. 

2. Meanwhile, in your electric mixer bowl, combine about 1 cup of flour, the olive oil, salt and the rest of the water. Mix just to get everything combined, then add in the yeast mixture and the rest of the flour (add in the flour in 2 or 3 portions, you may not need the full 4 cups, add enough for a soft dough to form, that's not sticking to the sides of the bowl). Using the dough hook attachment, knead the dough for a couple of minutes, then form it into a ball, place it in a greased bowl, cover and let it rise in a warm spot for about an hour, or until it has doubled in size.

3. Preheat your oven to 450 deg F and move an oven rack to the bottom part of your oven. Place a pizza stone on it as soon as you start preheating your oven. Take out your dough and divide it into 10 equal pieces, making each into a ball. Roll each piece into a 6 inch round (diameter). Place the rolled out pita rounds onto a floured kitchen towel, and cover then with another kitchen towel for about 10 minutes, while your oven is still preheating. Place a baking sheet on the pizza stone and let it warm up for a couple of minutes. Once the oven is preheated, brush the baking sheet with some olive oil and place your pita rounds on it to bake (you will need to bake them in several batches). Bake for 6 - 7 minutes, until they are puffed up and just beginning to brown a little bit. Place them on a plate or wooden board and cover with a kitchen towel to keep warm before serving!

For other yeasted breads, try THIS NY Times No-Knead Bread or THIS Easy Homemade Artisan Bread! 

Happy Baking, Everyone!
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