Bolognese Sauce

Bolognese

On Christmas Eve, Mike made bolognese sauce.  This recipe is originally from Mike’s dad, Jim, but has become one of Mike’s speciality recipes when he has a hankering to cook. We had this for lunch on Christmas Eve and everyone enjoyed it.  Bo has deemed it the best sauce ever.  I think it helped that Daddy made it!

If you’re looking for a special pasta sauce with lots of flavor, this one is perfect.  I served it with Pioneer Woman’s Garlic Cheese Bread Sticks.  Bo and I enjoy watching Pioneer Woman’s show on Food Network and she made these in one of the episodes we watched the day before.  They were a great accompaniment!

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Serves: 6
 
Ingredients
  • ½ lb. ground beef
  • 3 Tbsp. butter
  • 3 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 medium white onion, pureed
  • 1 stalk of celery, pureed
  • 1 large carrot, pureed
  • ⅛ tsp. minced garlic
  • ½ cup pancetta, diced
  • ¼ lb. mild Italian sausage
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • ½ cup whole milk
  • 28 oz. can Italian tomatoes
  • ¼ tsp. black pepper
  • dash of cloves
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • 8 oz tomato sauce
  • salt to taste
Instructions
  1. Saute ground beef in a heavy skillet or dutch oven until color is no longer red. Remove meat, set aside, and drain fat. Saute the onion, celery, and carrot in butter and olive oil until softened (if you prefer to have minimal chunks in your sauce like my family, then puree these ingredients -- if you don't mind chunks, finely chopped is fine). Add Italian sausage, pancetta, and garlic and cook until color of the meat is no longer red. Be sure to chop up the meat as it cooks.
  2. Return beef to the pan and add white wine. Turn up the heat to high and cook until wine is cooked off. Add whole milk and continue cooking. Add chopped tomatoes, dash of cloves, black pepper, and tomatoes sauce. Slow simmer for a minimum of 2 hours.
  3. Just before serving, add heavy cream. Add salt if needed.
  4. Serve over freshly cooked pasta.

 

Top Ten Recipes of 2013

I’m joining the Food Blogger bandwagon with a post of the 10 recipes that were most frequented here on Five Wooden Spoons in 2013.  Most of my traffic comes from Pinterest and I’d love for you to pin any of these recipes to your boards to add to your cooking list in 2014.  I have many goals for 2014 and among them is being healthier (expect more recipes like the #1 hit of 2013…) and to blog more regularly.  Thank you to all who have read this year and an even bigger thanks to those of you who have tried one of my recipes!  Enjoy and Happy New Year!

Cookie Butter Baked Oatmeal10. Cookie Butter Baked Oatmeal

Mexican Lasagna9. Mexican Lasagna

Oreo cupcakes8. OREO Cupcakes

Chicken Tortilla Soup7. Chicken Tortilla Soup {CrockPoT}

Banana Pudding 16. Banana Pudding

Eclair Cake5. Laura’s Eclair Cake

Snow Ice Cream4. Snow Day Ice Cream

Taffy Apple Salad3. Taffy Apple Salad

Cake Batter Cookies 22. Cake Batter Cookies

Banana Bread1. Vegan Banana Bread with Coconut Oil and Flax

 

Dark Chocolate Mint Fudge

Mint Fudge

I wasn’t planning to post again before Christmas but I made this dark chocolate mint fudge on Friday evening and it’s too sinful not to share.  This fudge is very simple to make and tastes decadent and indulgent.  If you’re looking for a last minute gift or just something to enjoy with your family, this is perfect.

Mike and I have been enjoying our time off with the kids.  We’ve built forts and Lego creations, cuddled on the couch while watching Polar Express, and cooked plenty of yummy food.  Today, we’re going to the movies to see Frozen.  The countdown to Santa is in full swing and we’re enjoying every minute. I hope you’re enjoying the season as well.

I love the combination of chocolate and mint — but during the holidays it seems to taste even better.

Dark Chocolate Mint Fudge
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Serves: 24
 
Ingredients
  • 3 - 10 oz. bags dark chocolate chips
  • 1 - 10 oz. bag Andes mint baking chips
  • 1 Tbsp. butter
  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk
  • ½ to 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • ¼ tsp. peppermint extract
  • ⅛ tsp. vanilla extract
  • ¼ tsp. salt
Instructions
  1. Spray a 9 x 13 inch pan with cooking spray or line with foil. In a large saucepan, heat the butter over low heat. Once the butter has melted, add the sweetened condensed milk, dark chocolate chips, and 1 cup of the Andes chips. Stir constantly until the chocolate has melted. Add the heavy cream ⅛th of a cup at a time and continue stirring until the chocolate no longer looks granulated and appears more glossy. It should look like thick, glossy, chocolate cake batter. You do not want it to be too thin. Remove from heat and add the salt and extracts. Pour the hot mixture into the prepared 9x13 pan and smooth. Top with remaining Andes chips. Refrigerate for several hours until set.

Mint Fudge 2

Pumpkin Mini-Chocolate Chip Bars

Things have been crazy here at the Five Wooden Spoons house — you’ve probably noticed that I haven’t posted a recipe in eons.  Well — this is due to a lot of factors — too much work, three kiddos with school and activities, and I’ve just felt uninspired to photograph food lately.  I’m still cooking — we have to eat — but I just never love the photos I take, so then I stop taking them.

Ultimately, no one cares (but me…) if my photos are perfect.  So I just need to get over it. Hence, another imperfect photo.

I’ve also been busy being social.  We constantly have something going on with friends these days – which is definitely a good thing!  Last Friday, I hosted a “Mom’s Night Sleepover” at my house.  I invited a big group of moms to my house in their pjs or yoga pants to eat, relax, and chat.  We had good intentions of playing a game, but that never happened. Three of us – Jamie, Jocelyn, and myself — somehow stayed awake the entire night.  I was awake and going for just over 31 hours before I convinced Bo to take a nap with me.  Crazy.

But anyway, for the sleepover, I made these pumpkin mini-chocolate chip bars and they were delicious.  Bo and I cut them into squares and ate all of the edges before the moms arrived.  These are perfect for fall and were perfect for a gathering.

Pumpkin Mini-Chocolate Chip Bars
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Serves: 12
 
Ingredients
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. pumpkin-pie spice
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • ¾ tsp. salt
  • 2 sticks butter, at room temperature
  • 1¼ cups granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 can pumpkin puree
  • 1 cup semi-sweet mini-chocolate chips
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9x13 pan with Baking Pam. Cream the butter and sugar until smooth. Add the egg, vanilla, and pumpkin. Reduce speed and add dry ingredients until just combined. Fold in the mini-chips. Spread the batter in the pan and bake for 35-40 minutes.

 

 

Cajun Connection – Utica, IL

Last night, I attended our monthly “Mom’s Night Out” and this month we tried Ron’s Cajun Connection in Utica, Illinois.  I had been to Cajun Connection once before with Mike a few years ago for a date night and having only ordered fried catfish (being from Southern Illinois I’m picky about my fried catfish!) I wasn’t super impressed and had not been back. However, my friend Jocelyn really wanted to go to Cajun Connection and kept talking about etoufee — which I’d never heard of — so we decided to give it a whirl.

The owner, Ron, drives to Louisiana each week and brings back fresh seafood from the gulf. Cajun Connection is widely acclaimed around our area and will be featured on WGN-TV’s Chicago’s Best soon!

I went into the evening deciding to order whatever Jocelyn ordered and to push myself outside of my comfort zone.  There really aren’t many foods I won’t eat (bugs, hazelnuts…) so I figured I’d be okay no matter what I tried.  I ordered the pick two combo with shrimp etoufee and blackened catfish, gumbo as my appetizer, and (not pictured) key lime pie for dessert.  It was delicious!  The gumbo was rich and flavorful, the etoufee was amazing (I have no idea what was in it, but it was delicious) and the catfish was really tasty as well.  The food surpassed my expectations.

The place itself is a bit strange — very old and eclectically decorated.  The waitstaff is subpar, at best.  We were waiting over 30 minutes to be seated as a party of 5 (and there were tables available, they just had to put them together) and they didn’t want to seat us until everyone was there.  We also waited forever to receive our drinks.

As for kid-friendly, I’m sure my kids would be intrigued and they have more typical kid-fare like chicken tenders and fries.  I wouldn’t shy away from taking them there and there were several families there when we were.

Overall, it earns 3 1/2 Wooden Spoons.  The food itself is wonderful (branch out and don’t order the fried food) — the atmosphere was strange and the service was lacking.   Thanks to Jocelyn for making me break out of my comfort zone and discover some tasty new-to-me flavors!  Of course, the highlight of the night wasn’t even the food — it was chatting and laughing with other moms! 🙂

Cotto A Legna – Geneva, IL

On Saturday, we were visiting Mike’s parents and they gave us the opportunity to escape sans children for a few hours to have dinner.  Our original destination was Bien Trucha to use a giftcard we received at Christmas 2011 (yes, that long ago!) but the wait was an hour and a half and we just weren’t willing to wait that long.  We will make it there again soon, hopefully!

We eventually decided to try Cotta A Legna — a wood fire pizza restaurant near the train station in Geneva, Illinois.  We originally walked by the location over a year ago and commented that a pizza and wine bar sounded right up our alley.  Cotta A Legna earns 3 1/2 Wooden Spoons overall.  The food was good but it isn’t one of those places that I’ll crave going back to.

Mike ordered a glass of wine and I had water.  We ordered the chevice and honey salmon brushetta as an appetizer.  We each had one piece of each.  The chevice bruschetta included roasted tomato, sweet crab, and shrimp and was dressed with lemon aioli and argula (photo above).  The honey smoked salmon bruschetta included gorgonzola, roasted apples, caramelized onions, aioli and micro greens.  Both of the bruschettas were very good and the French bread it is served on is delicious.  I could easily eat only bruschetta as my meal.

We also ordered a pizza.  We originally ordered the truffle pizza that was advertised as their special but our waitress said it was not the truffles they had intended as the shipment did not come in.  We changed our minds and went with the basic margherita.  The margherita pizza included tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, fresh basil, and olive oil.  We were able to see the wood fire grill from our table where they were cooking the pizzas which was neat and the crust of the pizza was delicious – however, the wait time for our pizza was bit long.  The pizza overall needed more sauce — or dipping sauce — to add a bit more flavor.

The restaurant has a fun vibe, but the employees don’t seem particularly happy to be there.  Our waitress was sufficient but nothing to write home about — and everyone walking by seemed to be in a hurry.  It definitely was subpar for service even though the food was quite good.

It isn’t a place I’d take my young kids — probably not until they are at least 10 — just due to the overall atmosphere.  It’s definitely a pizza place with a more grownup feel.

As far as cost, our dinner was very reasonable — but there were pricey options as well. Our bruschetta appetizer was 12.50 for 4 pieces.  The pizza (8 pieces total) was 10.00 and Mike’s wine was 8.00 bringing our total with tax to only $32.79 — which I think is completely reasonable for a nice dinner out.

Cotto A Legna is worth checking out — for their extensive wine list, yummy pizza crust, and bruschetta — but only earns 3 1/2 Wooden Spoons due to subpar service, unhappy employees, and wait time.

Strawberry Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

Anna and Clara recently celebrated their 4th birthday!  It’s impossible to me that I have 4 year olds!  It feels like they were just born yesterday (and like I’ve known them forever)!  They chose a pink and purple butterfly theme so I tried to carry that through all of their parties (you can see more about their birthday celebrations on my family blog).

Since we were going with a pink and purple theme, I thought pink strawberry cupcakes would be perfect.  These cupcakes have a great strawberry flavor and are very easy to pull together — which is a good thing!  I made 4 batches of these cupcakes two days before their birthday.  We took cupcakes to school, cupcakes for their pizza party, and then more cupcakes for their family party.  I was the cupcake queen for a few days! 🙂

I made the butterfly picks for the cupcakes.  I used this butterfly punch with pink cardstock and then glued two of the butterflies on to a toothpick using glitter glue.  I originally found the idea on Pinterest.

Strawberry Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting
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Serves: 24
 
Ingredients
  • Strawberry Cake
  • 1 box white cake mix
  • 1½ cups water
  • ⅓ cup oil
  • 3 egg whites
  • 3 Tbsp powdered sugar
  • 1 small box strawberry Jell-o
  • ½ cup strawberry preserves
  • Cream Cheese Frosting
  • 1 stick butter
  • 9 oz. cream cheese (3- 3oz packages)
  • 6 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 tsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tsp vanilla
Instructions
  1. Mix all cake ingredients in a medium bowl using a hand mixer. Distribute batter into 24 muffin cups and bake according to directions on the box.
  2. For the frosting beat the butter until creamy. Add the cream cheese. Add remaining ingredients and mix until light and fluffy!

 

 

Corner 230 — Ottawa, IL

Mike and I had the opportunity to escape for a few hours sans children on a Saturday afternoon.  I had Abby scheduled to sit so we could attend the Illinois Vintage Wine festival with friends — but our friends bailed leaving us with an afternoon to ourselves with a sitter. We debated going to the wine festival but decided we’d have more fun just going to dinner.

Our first stop was August Hill Winery in Utica where we enjoyed a glass of wine.  I highly recommend the warm spiced caramel apple wine. After enjoying our wine we stopped into the chocolate shop and popcorn shop in Utica.  Both great spots!

We headed over to Ottawa to try Corner 230.  I’d heard good things about Corner 230 from friends for several years and was excited to try the tapas restaurant.  I’m not sure what I expected, but Corner 230 is basically an upscale bar with really good food.

Mike ordered a glass of Cabernet and I had a Diet Coke to accompany our appetizer of blue cheese guacamole.  The bleu cheese guac is topped with bacon and served with pita chips.  We both agreed the guac was delicious.  Five wooden spoons for sure.  Mike and I are both ridiculous guac lovers and this one had great flavor.

We ordered two entrees — the fish tacos and scallops — to share.  The fish tacos are served with lettuce, pico, cheese, and a secret sauce — and fries.  These were good, but Mike and I have both had a lot of fish tacos, so they didn’t seem all that special.  I’d give the tacos three wooden spoons.  The scallops however, we loved.  They were in a lemon butter sauce with sautéed spinach and roasted red peppers.  The scallops were perfectly cooked — and if you’ve ever watched Top Chef, you know what a feat this is!  Five wooden spoons for the scallop dish – and definitely an entree I’d order again!

For dessert, we ordered the flan brûlée.  In case you can’t tell from the photo, we enjoyed it.  I’m a dessert perfectionist, so this one I’d give four wooden spoons.

Our total bill, including the wine, was $40.66.  Very reasonable for very good food — especially considering we had an appetizer, two entrees, and a dessert.  Our experience was very good and our waitress was friendly.  It isn’t a place I’d take our young children — I’m not sure they would eat any of it — and the bar area isn’t really kid-friendly — however, it’s definitely a spot Mike and I will be frequenting in the future.  Overall, Corner 230 earns 4 1/2 wooden spoons.

Cinnamon Crumb Cake

School is officially in full-swing and that means my schedule of weekly breakfast dates with a few of my favorite people is also revamping.  Laura and I are meeting up on Wednesday mornings for breakfast and conversation before I work and she heads to the library with her youngest, Cara, who isn’t in school yet.

After talking about it for weeks, I finally made this delicious cinnamon crumb cake this week for our breakfast.  Bo and I were both up at 6 and he helped me make it.  My first attempt I was still asleep and used powdered sugar instead of flour — needless to say by the time it was ready for the oven I realized something wasn’t quite right!  We started over and still had delicious crumb cake for the trio to eat for breakfast and then to share with Laura and Cara after school drop-off.  And yes, I finally bought labels for my pantry staples this week — nothing like a complete disaster to finally motivate that purchase!

This cinnamon crumb cake is very easy to pull together — even for a weekday morning breakfast.  It tastes amazing — and extra special!  It’s perfect with coffee.  Or Coca-Cola if you ask Laura. 😉

This recipe received rave reviews from all who tried it!  Five Wooden Spoons for this one!

Cinnamon Crumb Cake
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Serves: 12
 
Ingredients
  • Batter Base and Topping:
  • 1 cup canola oil
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • ½ cup white sugar
  • 2½ cups flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Additions to the Batter Base after removing one cup for the topping:
  • 1 cup buttermilk (or 1 cup milk plus 1 Tbsp. white vinegar)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • Additions to the topping:
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 2 Tbsp. Flour
  • 2 Tbsp. Sugar
  • Glaze:
  • ½ cup powdered sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. milk
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350. Spray a 9 x 13 inch pan with PAM baking spray. In a large bowl, combine oil, brown sugar, sugar, flour, and salt. Mix well. Remove one cup of mixture into another smaller bowl before adding buttermilk, egg, baking soda, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Pour this mixture into the prepared pan.
  2. Add cinnamon, flour, and sugar to the remaining mixture and combine until crumbly. If necessary, add more flour and sugar until it reaches the desired consistency. Sprinkle the crumbs on top of the batter.
  3. Bake for 25-30 minutes.
  4. While baking, combine powdered sugar and milk. Drizzle with glaze after the cake is removed from the oven.