Monday, December 30, 2013

Homemade Amaretto

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Need a last minute gift idea for the host of tomorrow's festivities? Amaretto is a staple in my Italian parents' household and is always a nice gift to give. This homemade version is incredibly similar to the real thing at half the cost. I made some and gave it to my friends as a Christmas gift in cute little mason jars. Something that is both homemade and includes liquor is always a winner in my gift-giving book. 
I'm sure hosts at a New Year's Eve party would greatly appreciate this as well. It's a wonderful after-dinner drink to enjoy over ice while chatting with family and friends. Enjoy and be safe tomorrow!

Printable Recipe

  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp. pure almond extract
  • 2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 2 cups Vodka
In a heavy bottom sauce pan, add water and sugars over medium heat. Bring to a boil and cook until sugars are well dissolved. 

Remove from heat and allow to cool for approximately 15 minutes. 

Add extracts and vodka to the pan. Mix to combine.

Pour Amaretto into desired jars and cap. Store in a cool/dry location.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Braised Brisket with Potatoes and Carrots

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Having a newborn in the house is one of the greatest joys I've ever known. It's also one of the hardest things I've ever done. Suddenly my every move is based around Bradley's schedule, I have to learn to function on little sleep and I can no longer run to the store on a whim. Everything needs to be planned in advance. And that includes dinners. So when I come across a meal that doesn't take hours of preparation and doesn't require a watchful eye, I'm all about it.
Brisket cooks low and slow in the oven so it becomes tender and melt-in-your mouth delicious. It takes a small amount of prep work and the rest is just letting it work its magic in the oven. This particular meal is paired with carrots and potatoes to make it extra hearty. Serve it with a side of crusty bread to soak up all the extra juice. Enjoy!

Printable Recipe


  • 1 large (about 5 lbs) beef brisket, trimmed of all fat
  • 1 tbsp. flour
  • Ground black pepper
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 4 large yellow onions, peeled and thickly sliced
  • 1 (6 oz.) can tomato paste
  • Kosher salt
  • 4 tsp. garlic, minced
  • 2 cups fat-free beef broth
  • 2 cups baby carrots
  • 3 large Russet potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley, for garnish
  • Crusty bread, for serving

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Lightly season the brisket with salt and pepper to taste and lightly dust with flour. Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a large 7-quart Dutch oven or other heavy pot with a lid large enough to hold the brisket. Add the brisket to the pot and brown on both sides, about 10-12 minutes.

Remove meat and set aside. Add the onions, salt and pepper to the pot and cook until soft and browned, about 10-12 minutes stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, scraping up any browned bits stuck to the bottom of the pot.

Return the brisket and any accumulated juices to the pot on top of the onions. Spread the tomato paste over the brisket. Sprinkle with salt and more pepper to taste. Add the garlic, beef broth and carrots to the pot. Cover the pot, transfer to the oven, and cook the brisket for about 1 1/2 hours.

Remove the brisket from the oven and add potatoes. Sprinkle with a little more salt and pepper.

Cover the pot and return to the oven. Reduce heat to 325 degrees F and cook the brisket until it is fork-tender and the potatoes are cooked through, about 1 1/2 hours. Check once or twice during cooking to add more broth if needed.

Remove brisket from oven. Shred the brisket using two forks. Serve with crusty bread.

Source: Adapted from Skinnytaste

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas!!

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Merry Christmas from my little family to yours! We hope you have a wonderful and blessed day filled with lots of love! xoxo

Monday, December 23, 2013

Mom's Rice Pudding

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My mom makes the best rice pudding I've ever had. It beats any restaurant or store-bought version. She makes this during the holidays (typically Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas) and it's something my family and I always look forward to. The rice gets incredibly tender, but still has a soft bite to it. The texture is nothing short of creamy and decadent. It's sweet, but not overwhelmingly so. This definitely isn't low-calorie, but it's a wonderful indulgence to treat yourself to this holiday season. 
My mom has a few tips, though. Make sure you don't skimp on the whole's what makes the pudding extra creamy and anything else will make it watery. Also, don't use EXTRA long grain rice. Use regular long grain. If you use extra, the rice gets hard and is unappetizing (she knows from experience). Just stick to these guidelines and you'll be set! If you're in need of a last minute dessert idea that will be sure to "wow" your guests, this is the thing to make. Enjoy!

Printable Recipe


  • 6 cups whole milk (any low-fat milk comes out watery) 
  • 3/4 cup long grain rice 
  • 1 cup heavy or whipping cream 
  • 3/4 cup sugar 
  • 3 egg yolks beaten 
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract 
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon 
Rinse a large saucepan with cold water (don't dry). 

Pour in milk and bring to a boil. 

Stir in rice and return to boil for 1 minute. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered until rice is tender, about 55 minutes. 

In a small bowl, combine cream, sugar, egg yolks, vanilla and salt. 

When rice is tender, stir in cream mixture and heat until boiling. Pour into a large serving dish, sprinkle with cinnamon and chill at least 4 hours.

Source: My Mom

Friday, December 20, 2013

Christmas Cookie (and Dessert!) Round-Up

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Here is a list of my favorite Christmas cookies (and desserts!) of all time! Whether you're making them as gifts, for a cookie exchange, a potluck at work, or just to enjoy with your family, I promise all of these won't disappoint! Enjoy and get to baking!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Chocolate-Covered Peanut Clusters

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My mom made these recently and I was hooked. It's only four ingredients (marshmallows, chocolate chips, peanut butter and chocolate-covered peanuts), which are melted together and then set aside to harden. Does it get any easier than that? They are highly addictive, though. She brought me a small package of five or six, and they were gone by the next day. Sorry not sorry.
These would be perfect for a holiday gift or cookie exchange. You can easily make a few batches of them in no time at all, and everyone will gobble them up! I'm sure the last thing you want this holiday season is to be overwhelmed with making dozens and dozens of cookies, so this is an easy and quick option. Enjoy!

Printable Recipe

  • 2 (12 oz.) packages semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1 (16 oz.) package mini marshmallows
  • 2 1/2 cups milk chocolate-covered peanuts
  • Powdered sugar

Melt chocolate chips with peanut butter in a heavy saucepan. Stir until smooth.

Remove from heat. Stir in marshmallows and chocolate-covered peanuts.

Drop by tablespoons onto a wax paper-lined baking sheet. Chill until firm. Sprinkle with powdered sugar before serving.

Source: Gooseberry Patch Christmas All Through the House Cookbook

Monday, December 16, 2013

Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars

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This is my mom's recipe that she often makes for the holiday season. The bars are a perfect balance of cheesecake and pumpkin. Neither element overpowers the other and they compliment each other beautifully. 
These are served chilled and are best when topped with a dollop of whipped cream. The base of the crust is made with pound cake mix, so it's light and buttery. Then the filling is sweet and creamy and your teeth just sink into it. She usually omits the nuts, but I think chopped pecans or walnuts would be best. It's a great option for a cookie (or dessert!) exchange or to make for an office party. Enjoy!

Printable Recipe

  • 1 (16 oz.) package pound cake mix
  • 3 eggs, divided
  • 2 tbsp. margarine or butter, melted
  • 4 tsp. pumpkin pie spice, divided
  • 1 (8 oz.) package cream cheese, softened
  • 1 (14 oz.) can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 (16 oz.) can pumpkin puree
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 cup chopped nuts (optional)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a large bowl on low speed, combine cake mix, 1 egg, margarine/butter and 2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice until crumbly. Press onto bottom of a 15x10 jelly roll pan and set aside.

In a large bowl, beat cream cheese until fluffy. Gradually beat in condensed milk, then remaining 2 eggs, remaining 2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice, pumpkin puree and salt. Mix well. Pour over crust. Sprinkle nuts on top, if using.

Bake 30-35 minutes until set. Cool and cut into bars. Keep refrigerated.

Source: My Mom

Friday, December 13, 2013

Brie and Chocolate Panini

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Besides queso dip and sushi (and wine!), I think Brie was the biggest thing I missed having while pregnant. Since all soft and unpasteurized cheeses are a no-go for the entire nine months, I had to do without my favorite cheese. It was hard, but well worth it.
As soon as Chris and I saw Giada making this sandwich on the Food Network, he was at the store buying the ingredients. The combination of chocolate and basil sounded odd, but pairs extraordinarily well with the Brie and crusty bread. This was a great afternoon pick-me-up full of amazing flavors. Enjoy!

Printable Recipe

  • 12 slices crusty bread
  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 12 oz. Brie cheese, thinly sliced
  • 1 (12-oz.) bag semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1/3 cup thinly sliced fresh basil leaves
Preheat the panini grill.

Brush both sides of the bread with olive oil. Grill the bread slices until they begin to turn golden, about 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from the panini grill and place 2 ounces of cheese on 1 slice of bread (the bottom half), top the cheese with 1/3 cup chocolate chips, and a sprinkle of basil. Top with another slice of bread. Continue with the remaining sandwiches. Return the sandwiches to the panini grill until the chocolate begins to melt, about another 2 minutes.

Cut the sandwiches into 2-inch wide rectangles or small triangles and transfer to a serving platter.

Source: Adapted from Food Network

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Creamy Tomato Tortellini Soup

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What a perfect soup to cozy up to on these cold nights. It's creamy and decadent, and the cheese-filled tortellini just add to the mix. The soup is flavorful enough on it's own, but every once in a while you'll get a bite of perfect sundried tomatoes or tortellini bursting with cheese flavor. Serve this with a crusty slice of bread on the side, and your night will be made. Enjoy!

Printable Recipe

  • 2 tsp. garlic, minced
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 (10 3/4 oz.) cans condensed tomato soup
  • 1/2 cup jarred sundried tomatoes in herbs
  • 2 cups reduced-fat milk
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 tsp. onion powder
  • 1 tbsp. Italian seasoning
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. pepper
  • 1 (9 oz.) package fresh cheese flavored tortellini
  • 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese, for garnish
Saute garlic with the olive oil in a large stock pot over medium heat until golden brown. 

When the garlic is done, add tomato soup, tomatoes, milk, chicken stock and spices. Bring to a simmer. 

Once simmering, drop tortellini into the soup. Cook according to the package directions. After tortellini is cooked, ladle soup into bowls and top with Parmesan cheese 

Source: Adapted from Key Ingredient

Monday, December 9, 2013

Eggnog Cheesecake Bars with a Pecan Pie Topping (Plus a Zulka Cane Sugar Giveaway!)

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Zulka contacted me and asked me to create a holiday-theme dessert for their Holiday Bake-Off Contest using their Cane Sugar. I immediately knew I wanted to make a dessert that combined my favorite flavors of the Christmas season: Eggnog, Cheesecake and Pecan Pie. Nothing says Christmas like those three! And who can have eggnog without a little rum? So I threw some of that in for good measure. 'Tis the season...
I made a standard graham cracker crust and decided to top it with a cheesecake filling packed with both eggnog and rum. Pure perfection! The topping is a traditional pecan pie filling. Pecan pie is made with corn syrup, which gives it a gooey and chewy consistency. The pecans add a little crunch on top, which is well-paired with the creamy consistency of the cheesecake. These bars turned out exceptional and very festive for Christmas!
And now for the giveaway! Zulka has offered to give one lucky reader a retail-size bag of Zulka Cane Sugar! Zulka offers a more natural, non-GMO replacement for plain white sugar. I had never baked with cane sugar before, but I can't even taste a difference in baking. Considering it's a lot better for me, I'm definitely going to be using Zulka from now on.


There are two ways to enter:

Like The Savvy Kitchen on Facebook and leave a comment 


Leave a comment below telling me what you will bake using Zulka Cane Sugar.

Winner will be announced on December 11th.

You are more than welcome to enter Zulka's Holiday Bake-Off Contest yourself! Just create a holiday recipe using Zulka Cane Sugar and post it to their Facebook tab by December 22nd. Good luck!

All opinions in this post are my own. Zulka supplied me with my sugar and is also sponsoring the giveaway to one reader. Contest is open to U.S. residents only.

Printable Recipe



  • 2 cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 2 tbsp. Zulka cane sugar
Eggnog Cheesecake Layer:
  • 2 (8 oz.) packages 1/3 less-fat cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup light eggnog
  • 1 tbsp. flour
  • 1/2 cup Zulka cane sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 tsp. dark rum
  • 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
Pecan Pie Topping:
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup Zulka cane sugar
  • 1/2 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/3 cup butter, melted and cooled slightly
  • 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups pecans, coarsely chopped
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

For the crust: Combine graham cracker crumbs with butter and sugar. Mix until all crumbs are moist. Press into the bottom of a 9×13 pan. Bake for 10-12 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly.

For the eggnog layer: In a medium bowl, combine cream cheese, eggnog, flour, and sugar. Add egg and mix well. Add vanilla, rum and nutmeg and mix to incorporate. Pour eggnog mixture over slightly cooled crust. Bake for 15 minutes. 

For the pecan pie topping: In a separate medium bowl, combine the brown sugar, corn syrup and melted butter. Stir in the eggs, salt and vanilla extract. Fold in the pecans.

Remove cheesecake from oven and top with the pecan mixture. Bake for an additional 25 minutes, or until center is set and pecan pie layer is a rich brown color. 

Allow to cool then refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving. Cut into bars.

Source: SK Original