M&M Chocolate Chip Cookies

m&m chocolate chip cookies

m&m chocolate chip cookies | sunsets on the side

My husband does a fair amount of traveling for work.  Most of the time it’s just local travel, but a few times each year he makes a road trip to a site a few hours away.  Usually, when he takes those trips, I make treats for him to take to everyone on the team.

A little goodwill never hurt anything.

So, to kick off this round of treat baking for an upcoming journey, I’m starting with my go-to chocolate chip cookie recipe and then I’m going to Valentine it up a little bit.

That’s a thing, right?  Valentining things up?

m&m chocolate chip cookie dough | sunsets on the side

This version of chocolate chip cookies is the one that my mom has always made, so it’s the one that I always make.  So many things in life are that way, aren’t they?

It’s an adaptation of the recipe that started it all: the Nestle Toll House chocolate chip cookie recipe.  But, this one uses shortening in place of butter and an extra (almost) quarter cup of flour to offset that change.  It gives the cookies the soft, chewy consistency that I love.

The only other addition here is that I swapped half the chocolate chips for Valentine-colored M&Ms.  I mean, if work friends are getting cookies, they might as well be holiday-appropriate!

m&m chocolate chip valentine cookies | sunsets on the side

M&M Chocolate Chip Cookies
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Makes: 4 dozen
  • 2 ¼ cups (plus a scant ¼ cup) all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 cup Crisco
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar
  • ¾ cup lightly-packed brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 cup M&Ms
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. Place the flour, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. Whisk to combine.
  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer (or with a hand mixer) on medium speed, beat the Crisco together with the granulated sugar and brown sugar. Add the vanilla and mix to combine.
  4. Add the eggs, one at a time, and mix until thoroughly incorporated.
  5. On low speed, slowly add the flour mixture and beat until just combined. Using a spatula, gently fold in the chocolate chips and the M&Ms.
  6. Using a medium (1 ¾”) cookie scoop, drop the batter onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 9-11 minutes until the cookies are just set.
  7. Cool for a couple minutes on the baking sheet and then transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.

Adapted from Nestle Toll House.

Valentine Gifts for your Favorite Gourmet

valentine gifts for the gourmet | sunsets on the side

Need some Valentine’s Day gift ideas for your favorite cooking fan?  Or, better yet, do you need some ideas for hints to drop?  I’ve got you covered with these fun finds in romance-inspired colors.  Price tags range from $4 – $80, so whether your tradition is to give big or give small, there’s something here for every gift-giver.

Share the love, friends!

valentine gifts for the gourmet | sunsets on the side| 1. Cuisinart Mini Food Processor | 2. ChicoBag Ultra-Compact Reusable Shopping Bag | 3. Crock-Pot Lunch Crock Food Warmer | 4. Melamine Measuring Cups | 5. Red Grid Apron | 6. Bamboo Cutting Board | 7. Keurig Mini Brewing System | 8. Himalayan Pink Salt Plate |

Baked Sausage & Fontina Sandwiches

baked sausage & fontina sandwiches | sunsets on the side

baked sausage & fontina sandwiches | sunsets on the side

These sandwiches.

I remember these sandwiches from when I was a kid.  They were “special occasion” sandwiches in that I knew just about every time they made an appearance, we were going to have company.  My mom made these a lot of nights when she hosted her card club, and she’d serve them on some family holidays, too.  (Random: why doesn’t our generation play more cards)?

baked sausage & fontina sandwich ingredients | sunsets on the side

I always figured she made these for company because they were deliciously awesome (which, they are), but they’re also the perfect thing for entertaining.  They freeze beautifully, so you can make these in anticipation of any event (big football game, perhaps?).  After you make the sandwiches and wrap them in foil, stick them in the freezer instead of the oven.  Then, just pull them out when you need them and throw them straight into the oven to bake.  Or, just make them and bake them.

Prerogative.  It’s yours.

Either way, though, something happens to these babies when they bake.  They go into the oven looking very much like an Italian version of a sloppy joe, but when they come out, the sauce has sort of baked into the bun, and they’ve turned into a melty, saucy, delectable mix of sausage and herbs.

I’ve adapted these just slightly with a different cheese (mom uses mozzarella) and some fresh basil.  Otherwise, these are the original.

baked sausage and fontina sandwiches | sunsets on the side

Baked Sausage & Fontina Sandwiches
Makes: 8 servings
  • 1 lb. ground Italian sausage (hot or mild)
  • 1 lb. ground chuck
  • ½ tsp. kosher salt
  • ½ tsp. freshly-ground black pepper
  • ½ tsp. garlic powder
  • 1 (15-oz.) can tomato sauce
  • ½ tsp. dried oregano
  • 3 T. finely chopped fresh basil
  • 8 French hamburger buns (or any sturdy roll)
  • 4 oz. fontina, sliced
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Place the sausage and ground chuck in a large, non-stick skillet. Add the salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Cook over medium heat, stirring often and breaking the meat up with your spatula, until it is cooked through (about 10-12 minutes).
  3. Remove from the heat and drain the grease from the pan.
  4. Place the skillet back over medium heat. Add the tomato sauce and oregano, and stir to combine. Simmer until mixture thickens, about 5 minutes.
  5. Turn off the heat, and stir in the basil.
  6. Spoon the meat mixture evenly onto the hamburger buns, top the meat with fontina slices, and then wrap each sandwich in foil.
  7. Place the sandwiches on a baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes.

Jalapeno Popper Dip Stuffed Mushrooms

jalapeno popper dip stuffed mushrooms | sunsets on the side

jalapeno popper dip stuffed mushrooms | sunsets on the side

Sometimes planning a menu for the Super Bowl can be…overwhelming?  Is that the right word?

Probably not.

More often than not, though, you want to build an entire meal out of finger foods and dips, so what’s the perfect combination?  And, you don’t want to be working in the kitchen when your friends arrive or, even worse, after the game has started, so what can you make ahead of time?

Plus, the sheer volume of recipes to choose from can be sort of mind-boggling for people like me.  (“But, I haven’t looked at ALL my recipes yet; how do I know the choices have been properly narrowed down??)”   With so many classic, football-appropriate appetizers to choose from – spinach and artichoke dip, buffalo wings, potato skins, etc. – sometimes you need to throw a few together to cover all your bases.  That’s what brought me here…

…to these stuffed mushrooms.

jalapenos for popper dip stuffed mushrooms | sunsets on the side

They’re more than just mushrooms, though.  They’re stuffed mushrooms, jalapeno poppers, and popper dip all wrapped up into one!  Win-win-win.  You can make them in advance, too, if that helps take some pressure off of your planning.  I made that batch in the photo up there the day before I baked them, and you couldn’t tell at all.

Two things about the mushrooms, and then we’ll scoot you right over to the recipe.

First, the cream cheese mixture will fill approximately 24 oz. of mushrooms, whatever size you’d like them to be.  I bought really big mushrooms, and the filling was enough for 14 of them.  You could certainly make more, smaller mushrooms if you’d prefer.  Keep an eye on them, but the baking time should be about the same regardless of size.  You want them to bake long enough that the jalapenos have a chance to soften.  Also, you can use whatever type of mushrooms you like.  I used regular (albeit HEFTY) button mushrooms, but if you want to substitute creminis or even go for the portobellos, those would both be great, too.

Ok, let’s get to it!

Jalapeno Popper Dip Stuffed Mushrooms
Makes: 14 large mushrooms
  • 24 oz. mushrooms, cleaned and stems removed
  • 1-2 T. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 (8-oz) package cream cheese, at room temperature
  • ⅓ cup mayonnaise
  • 3 jalapenos, seeds removed & minced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • ½ tsp. kosher salt
  • ¼ tsp. freshly-ground black pepper, plus more for seasoning
  • 2 T. unsalted butter, melted
  • ¾ cup seasoned panko crumbs
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a 9 x 13” baking dish with non-stick cooking spray. Set aside.
  2. Brush the outside of the mushrooms with olive oil and sprinkle lightly with black pepper. Place in the baking dish.
  3. In a medium bowl, mix together the cream cheese, mayonnaise, jalapenos, garlic, cheddar, salt, and pepper.
  4. In a separate small bowl, pour the melted butter over the panko crumbs. Stir thoroughly to coat all the crumbs in butter.
  5. Fill the mushrooms evenly with the cream cheese mixture. Top each of the mushrooms with the panko crumbs.
  6. Bake for 40-45 minutes, until the tops are a deep, golden brown. Serve hot.

Popper filling adapted slightly from Brown Eyed Baker.

Bacon & Chive Deviled Eggs

bacon chive deviled eggs | sunsets on the side

bacon chive deviled eggs | sunsets on the side

Are you guys into football?  Yeah.  Me, too.

I’m a huge NFL fan, and this year’s playoffs did not disappoint (well, except for the fact that my team wasn’t in them).  My husband and I just got back from a trip to Vegas, and it was nuts watching people who were betting on the championship games.  Seriously insane but thoroughly entertaining.  Kudos to everyone who won big last weekend, but the only thing I’ll be betting on for the Super Bowl is the fact that we’ll have a gigantic spread of food.

And, now that we’re in the lull between Championship Sunday and the Super Bowl, it’s a perfect time to plan out our recipes for the big day.  Sound good?

bacon & chive deviled eggs

Today, we’re starting with some dressed-up deviled eggs.  They really only require the additional step of cooking some bacon, but you end up with an appetizer that’s different and special.  These are great if you’re having people over because you can make them a day ahead of time.  And, bacon and eggs…just, yes.

Bacon & Chive Deviled Eggs
Makes: 18 pieces
  • 9 eggs
  • 4 strips of bacon, cut into small pieces
  • ⅓ cup mayonnaise
  • 1 tsp. ground mustard
  • 1 tsp. cider vinegar
  • ¼ tsp. kosher salt
  • ¼ tsp. freshly-ground black pepper
  • 1 T. minced chives, plus more for garnish
  • Paprika
  1. Place eggs in a pan of cold water (make sure the water completely covers the eggs). Bring it to a boil and then immediately turn off the heat. Leave the lid on the pot, and let eggs sit in the hot water for 10 minutes.
  2. Drain the eggs and run them under cold water until they’re cool enough to handle. Peel the eggs, slice them in half lengthwise, and set aside.
  3. Meanwhile, place the bacon pieces in a non-stick skillet. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until pieces are cooked through and start to get crispy. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and place on a paper towel-lined plate to drain.
  4. Place the egg yolks in a medium bowl. Add the mayonnaise, ground mustard, cider vinegar, salt, and pepper. Mix with a hand mixer until totally smooth.
  5. Fold in the chives and almost all of the bacon (save some for garnish).
  6. Fill the eggs with the yolk mixture, sprinkle with remaining chives and bacon, and sprinkle the tops with paprika, if desired.

Blood Orange Mulled Wine

blood oranges for mulled wine | sunsets on the side

blood orange mulled wine | sunsets on the side

All signs point to it being citrus season around here.  Everywhere I look, there are tangerines and clementines and pomelos (oh my?).  I love it.  There’s just something so fresh about the taste and smell of citrus.  And, the fact that so much of it is grown locally is a total bonus.  This week, my favorite produce stand was practically spilling over with grapefruit and orange displays.  It was beautiful.

blood oranges for mulled wine | sunsets on the side

One of my favorite citrus fruits is the blood orange.  Have you ever had one?

They’re absolutely gorgeous, with a dark orange-red peel and thick, red juice.  They have a more interesting flavor than a typical orange.  Blood orange juice is sort of a darker, less sweet, more tart flavor.

It, conveniently, lends itself very well to a cocktail.

Actually, I feel like I can still taste a blood orange mimosa I had on our honeymoon.  A mid-morning brunch we had when we were on Maui is one of my most vivid memories from the trip.  There was an open-air restaurant – overlooking both a golf course and the pacific ocean, smoked salmon eggs benedict, the most perfect roasted potatoes, a warm breeze, my new husband, blood orange mimosas…

blood orange for mulled wine | sunsets on the side

Sorry, I’m sidetracked.  Where was I?

Right.  Blood oranges.

Today, since I’m celebrating citrus, and because it’s winter, let’s make a nice, warm mulled wine, what do you say?  And, while we’re at it, let’s fortify it with our mysterious and delicious blood oranges, some Grand Marnier to punch up the orange flavor, and some cinnamon sticks to spice everything ever so slightly.  This drink will warm you inside and out.

Oh, if I could offer one tip before I go?  Wear an apron.  Blood orange juice is only gorgeous when it’s in your mulled wine.  It is definitely not gorgeous when it’s on your favorite shirt.


Blood Orange Mulled Wine
Makes: 6 servings
  • 6 blood oranges
  • 1 (750 ml) bottle dry red wine
  • ¼ cup Grand Marnier
  • 1 T. honey (more if you like it sweeter)
  • 3 cinnamon sticks
  1. Remove the peel from three of the oranges. Set the peel aside and juice all six of the oranges (you should end up with about 1 ½ cups of juice).
  2. Pour the wine into a large pot. Add the blood orange juice, orange peels, Grand Marnier, honey, and cinnamon sticks. Stir to combine.
  3. Bring the wine to a boil, reduce the heat to medium low, and simmer for 15 minutes.
  4. Strain into a pitcher. Serve warm.

Lemon Pepper Tilapia

lemon pepper tilapia | sunsets on the side

lemon pepper tilapia | sunsets on the side

I ended up with my first box of lemon pepper panko crumbs sort of by mistake.  I was looking for regular, seasoned panko, but there weren’t any containers on the shelf at my store.  They were wiped out from the week’s sale, and the only option left was a lemon pepper flavor.  They turned out to be super flavorful and crunchy, and I almost always have them on hand now.  They make for quick and easy meals because they’re so highly seasoned that you hardly need to do anything except sprinkle these on top of a protein, bake it, and eat.

I’m just going to go ahead and call this a “dinner idea” because I’m not sure it even qualifies a recipe.  The measurements are based on the amount of fish that I had, so feel free to adjust accordingly.  Just spread a thin coating of mustard on each piece of fish and make sure you have enough panko to completely cover the mustard.

This is fast, easy, and totally adaptable to whatever you have around.  Tilapia was on sale this week, so that’s what I went with.  This would work just as well with pretty much any fish: salmon, cod, flounder…fresh or frozen…whatever.  Or, for non-fish fans, this would also work deliciously with chicken tenders.


Lemon Pepper Tilapia
Makes: 4 servings
  • 1 lb. tilapia filets
  • 1 T. + 1 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • ⅓ cup lemon pepper panko crumbs
  • 2 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a baking dish with non-stick cooking spray.
  2. Pat the tilapia filets with paper towels to dry, and place them in the baking dish.
  3. Spread about 1 tsp. Dijon mustard onto each of the filets. Sprinkle each with ¼ tsp. kosher salt to season.
  4. Mix the panko crumbs and olive oil together in a small bowl. Spread the crumbs evenly over each of the tilapia pieces, and push down gently so they stick to the mustard.
  5. Bake for approximately 35 minutes until fish is cooked through and golden brown on top.

Loosely based on Ina’s panko-crusted salmon.

Penne with Creamy Ground Turkey Tomato Sauce

penne with creamy ground turkey tomato sauce | sunsets on the side

penne with creamy ground turkey tomato sauce | sunsets on the side

I tend to write about a lot of rich food in this little corner of the web.  Those types of dishes are my favorite things to eat and, truthfully, cook.  But, I don’t cook like that every day. Otherwise, I’d need to invest in a new wardrobe.

My weeknights are typically all about being good so that I don’t feel badly about eating what I want on the weekends.  Monday through Thursday (or, on a really good week, Friday), I’m always looking for meals to make that are tasty but light.  This dish falls into that category.  It’s simple and fast to put together, and you’ll still feel good about yourself when you’re done eating.

penne with a creamy ground turkey tomato sauce | sunsets on the side

Goat cheese is my secret weapon when I’m making pasta dishes that are lower in fat.  When you stir it into a sauce, it looks and tastes a lot like a cream sauce, but there is, comparatively, fairly little fat in a serving of goat cheese.  (Bonus: my grocery store has a store brand goat cheese that’s delicious and almost half the price of regular goat cheese.  Be on the lookout; maybe yours does, too).

So, if you’re searching for more ideas for your light weeknight meals, don’t automatically rule out the pasta dishes.  They don’t always have to be heavy.  With some turkey, veges, and goat cheese, you can still have a hearty pasta dinner without needing a nap afterwards.

But, if you want the nap anyway, that’s what winter is for.  You just go ahead and take it.

penne & creamy ground turkey tomato sauce | sunsets on the side

Penne with Creamy Ground Turkey Tomato Sauce
Makes: 4 servings
  • 12 oz. penne (or any short pasta)
  • 2 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 2 medium cubanelle peppers, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 lb. ground turkey
  • 1 tsp. minced fresh rosemary
  • 2 tsp. minced fresh sage
  • ¾ tsp. kosher salt
  • ½ tsp. freshly-ground black pepper
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes
  • ½ cup dry red wine
  • 1 (14.5-oz) can petite diced tomatoes with juice
  • 1 (8-oz) can tomato sauce
  • 3 oz goat cheese
  • ¼ cup shredded parmesan cheese, plus more for garnish
  1. Bring a large pot of water with a handful of kosher salt to a boil, and cook the pasta according to the package directions.
  2. Meanwhile, in a large (12”) nonstick skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and peppers and cook for about 5 minutes until they start to soften.
  3. Add the garlic, ground turkey, rosemary, sage, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes. Stir together, break up the ground turkey, and cook for 4-5 minutes until the turkey is no longer pink. Pour in the wine to deglaze the pan, and cook for 2 minutes to reduce the wine slightly.
  4. Stir in the tomatoes and the tomato sauce, bring the sauce to a boil, reduce the heat to medium low, and simmer – partially covered – for 15 minutes. Add the goat cheese, and stir until it’s blended into the sauce.
  5. Add the cooked pasta to the skillet, stir to combine it with the sauce, and let cook for 1-2 minutes. Turn off the heat, sprinkle in the parmesan cheese, and serve hot with extra parmesan, if desired.

Reuben Soup

reuben soup | sunsets on the side

reuben soup | sunsets on the side

I try never to complain about the weather.

I’m not always successful at this, especially during September’s hotter-than-the-inside-of-an-oven temperatures, but to me, those hot, humid (sometimes seemingly endless) days are so worth it for the cool, dry winters and the year-round flowers.

We’re sitting right between two cold snaps right now.  Relatively speaking, compared to what the rest of the country is going through, but our forecast calls for temperatures going down into the 20s & 30s for the next two nights.  Truth be told, I love it when it gets cold here in January.  Really cold days are so infrequent that I get pretty excited to take advantage of wearing fleece jackets, breaking out an extra blanket, and lighting a candle or two.

Time to crank up the stove for some soup!

reuben soup ingredients | sunsets on the side

Ever since I saw Food and Wine‘s version of a Reuben Chowder in their October issue, I couldn’t stop thinking about it.  A Reuben deconstructed and turned into soup?  Sign me up.

I wanted to make some changes, though, to create a flavor that’s a little more traditional and true to the sandwich.  I added some Swiss cheese and swapped in the corned beef for the meats that were originally used.  This is comfort food all the way, and it’s just perfect for the cold weather that’s happening everywhere right now…even here in the sunshine state.

Looks like we’re all (sort of) in this together for the next couple days!

Reuben Soup
Makes: 6 servings
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 4 cups cubed pumpernickel bread
  • 2 T. unsalted butter
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 ¼ lb corned beef, cut into ½” chunks
  • 2 T. all-purpose flour
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 2 cups sauerkraut, drained
  • ½ tsp. freshly-ground back pepper
  • ⅓ cup crème fraiche
  • 2 scallions, chopped
  • 4 oz. swiss cheese, grated
  1. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the bread cubes, stir to coat with the olive oil, and season lightly with salt and pepper. Stirring often, cook until cubes are crisp on the outside and slightly chewy on the inside, about 5-7 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
  2. Melt the butter in a soup pot set over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until softened, 5-6 minutes. Add the corned beef, and cook until heated through, 4-5 minutes.
  3. Sprinkle the flour into the pot, stir until it’s totally dissolved, and cook for 1 minute. Slowly add the chicken stock, and stir to combine.
  4. Add the sauerkraut and black pepper. Bring the mixture to a boil then turn the heat down to medium low and simmer for 20 minutes.
  5. Add the crème fraiche and scallions.
  6. Serve hot, topping each bowl with some grated swiss cheese and pumpernickel croutons.

Adapted from Food & Wine.

Chicken & Caramelized Onion Calzones

chicken & caramelized onion calzones | sunsets on the side

chicken & caramelized onion calzones | sunsets on the side

So, I bought a pair of skinny jeans the other day…

I truly believed this would be a trend I never caved on, but much like my declaration that I’d “never” wear capris or 3/4-length sleeves, my stand against skinny jeans ended abruptly, courtesy of an after-Christmas clearance sale.

2014 is the year of trying new things, apparently.

I’m choosing to celebrate with cheese-stuffed bread.  That’s probably not rational, but I can justify it three ways: (1) it’s winter, (2) it’s playoff season, and (3) the baggy shirts you can wear with skinny jeans cry out for eating more comfort food, right?  Regardless, I’ll place a calzone above a pair of skinny jeans any day of the week.


chicken and caramelized onion calzones | sunsets on the side

If you’re intimidated by making calzones, don’t be.  These bad boys are so easy to put together.

You can make your own pizza dough (that, too, is simpler than you think) or, just buy some.  There’s no shame in that.  There are really good frozen pizza doughs, and my grocery store even has a little refrigerator beside the bread display in the bakery that has little bags of pizza dough that are ready for you to take home.  Go either way with this.

If you’re buying your dough, just make sure to read the package for thawing / rising directions.  You can also go the long or short route with the dipping sauce.  I just used a good jarred sauce for dipping, but go ahead and make your own if you prefer.

New jeans and new calzone recipes.  I really like the way this year is starting off.

Chicken & Caramelized Onion Calzones
Makes: 2 large calzones, 4 servings
  • 1 lb. pizza dough
  • 1 T. unsalted butter
  • 2 large Spanish onions, thinly sliced
  • Up to ¼ cup dry white wine
  • 1 ½ cups whole milk ricotta
  • ⅓ cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 6 oz. fontina cheese, grated
  • 2 cups cooked chicken, cubed
  • 1 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
  • ½ tsp. kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
  • ¼ tsp. freshly-ground black pepper, plus more for seasoning
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  1. Prepare pizza dough (if making) and let rise (if making or buying).
  2. In a large, non-stick skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add sliced onions, season with salt and pepper, and stir to coat with butter. Cook onions over medium heat for about five minutes then turn heat down to low. Cook slowly over low heat, stirring occasionally, until onions are deeply golden brown, about 50-60 minutes. (If onions begin to stick to the bottom of the pan, pour a little bit of wine into the pan, as needed, to deglaze). Set aside to cool slightly.
  3. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, stir together the ricotta, parmesan, fontina, chicken, thyme, salt, and pepper. Give the mixture a quick taste to check for seasoning, as cheeses can vary in saltiness. Add more salt if needed.
  4. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  5. Divide the pizza dough in half. On a floured surface, roll one half of the dough out into a rectangular shape, approximately 12” x 14”. Brush around the outside border with the egg wash.
  6. Spread half of the cheese mixture down the center of the long side of the rectangle. Top the filling with half of the caramelized onions. Fold the sides of the dough up over the filling, and pinch the top and sides of the dough together to seal. Brush the calzone with egg wash, and place it on the baking sheet. Sprinkle the top lightly with salt and pepper.
  7. Repeat with the other half of the dough, cheese mixture, and onions.
  8. Bake calzones for 16-18 minutes until golden brown. Serve with tomato sauce on the side.


Happy New Year!

pennsylvania sunset | sunsets on the side

I hope that 2014 is a year that brings you closer to your family, closer to your friends, and closer to achieving your goals.  I’m not really one for resolutions, but I’m planning to approach 2014 with a strong sense of positivity.  Positive thinking, positive attitude.  You get what you give, as the song goes.

Happy New Year!

pennsylvania sunset | sunsets on the side{A Pennsylvania winter sunset, photo courtesy of my brother-in-law, Jim Amato}


Honey Dijon Prosciutto-Wrapped Shrimp

honey dijon prosciutto wrapped shrimp | sunsets on the side

honey dijon prosciutto wrapped shrimp | sunsets on the side

Happy New Year’s Eve, friends!  Are you ready for the ball to drop, counting down to 2014?

I thought I’d drop (sorry) one more appetizer on you guys in case your night tonight calls for such a thing.  These prosciutto-wrapped shrimp are simple, delicious, and pretty enough for a fancy cocktail party.  The honey-Dijon sauce is both sweet and smoky, thanks to the smoked paprika, and the salty prosciutto takes it over the top.

Whatever your New Year’s plans, I hope you have a safe and memorable night!

Honey Dijon Prosciutto-Wrapped Shrimp
Makes: 6-8 appetizer servings
  • 3 T. Dijon mustard
  • 1 T. honey
  • 1½ tsp. smoked paprika
  • 4 oz. package thinly-sliced prosciutto
  • 1 lb. large shrimp (21/25 count), peeled and deveined
  • Salt & pepper for seasoning
  • 2 T. sliced green onions for garnish
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
  2. In a small bowl, mix together the mustard, honey, and smoked paprika. Cut the prosciutto slices into thirds, lengthwise. (This doesn’t need to be exact; just make sure you have enough pieces to wrap each shrimp).
  3. Pat the shrimp dry with a paper towel, place on the baking sheet, and season lightly with salt and pepper. Brush shrimp with a thick coat of the honey-mustard mixture.
  4. Wrap each shrimp with one of the prosciutto pieces. Brush prosciutto again with honey-mustard mixture, and place on the baking sheet.
  5. Roast for 9-10 minutes until shrimp are firm to the touch and the prosciutto is slightly crispy around the edges. Garnish with sliced green onions, if desired.


Smoked Salmon & Spinach Puffs

smoked salmon & spinach puffs | sunsets on the side

smoked salmon & spinach puffs | sunsets on the side

How was everyone’s holiday?  I hope it was magical and relaxing.  In fact, I hope the relaxation portion is still going strong and continuing through your weekend.

But, I guess the biggest question of the day is whether we’ve recovered enough to be ready for New Year’s appetizer ideas?

New Year’s Eve is such a funny holiday.  There tends to be a lot of hype and some clutching on to holiday season remnants.  Buy, hey.  Any celebration based around champagne cocktails and fancy appetizers is one I’m happy to support.  We usually keep our New Year’s activities very low-key: drinks and apps at our good friends’ house, which is conveniently within walking distance.  That’s, um…come in handy a time or two before.

This year, though, we have a New Year’s Eve wedding, complete with a grand venue and built-in fireworks.  I’m excited to have such a valid reason to get all jazzed up and go out on the town.  Did that make me sound…old?

smoked salmon and spinach puffs | sunsets on the side

Anyway, since we’re heading out for New Year’s, I thought we’d get our fix of homemade, fun-sized food this weekend.  These little puff pastry nibbles would be perfect if you’re hosting this year.  They’re tasty and light, and they’re easy to make ahead.  You could put these together the morning of the party, leave them in the fridge all day, and then just bake them right before your guests arrive.

Or, you could bake some for lunch, eat them yourself, and then bake the rest right before your guests arrive.  No one here is judging.

Just a couple things to note for this recipe.  First, get as much of the liquid out of the spinach as you can.  Water in the spinach makes for a watery filling, so I let the spinach thaw totally and then squeeze the water out with my hands.  It’s a cold job, but it’s the best way to get dry spinach.  Also, you want the puff pastry to be as cold as possible, so I stick it in the refrigerator the day before I want to use it and let it defrost there overnight.  Then, I keep one sheet in the fridge while I’m working with the second sheet.  The cold butter in the pastry is what causes it to puff in the oven, so softened butter leads to improper puffing.

Say that five times fast.

Smoked Salmon & Spinach Puffs
Makes: 28 puffs
  • 1 T. olive oil
  • 1 shallot, diced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 (10-oz) package frozen chopped spinach, defrosted & water squeezed out
  • ½ tsp. kosher salt
  • ¼ tsp. freshly-ground black pepper
  • ¼ cup dry white wine
  • 3 T. mascarpone cheese
  • 2 oz. smoked salmon, minced
  • ½ cup shredded Monterey jack cheese
  • 2 sheets frozen puff pastry, defrosted
  • 1 egg
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Set aside.
  2. Heat olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add shallot and cook until softened, about 3-4 minutes. Add garlic and cook 1 minute longer.
  3. Add the spinach (it may spit at you a bit, depending on how dry you got the spinach, so be careful when you put it in the pan), salt, and pepper and cook just enough to warm and separate the spinach, about 2-3 minutes.
  4. Add the wine, scraping any brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Cook until the wine has been almost completely absorbed by the spinach. Remove from heat and add the mascarpone. Stir until completely combined. Let the mixture cool slightly and then stir in the smoked salmon and Monterey jack.
  5. Unfold one sheet of puff pastry out onto a well-floured surface (keep the other sheet in the refrigerator so it stays cold while you work). Roll it out with a rolling pin until the sheet measures 10” by 12”. Using a 1 ¾” square cookie cutter (or whatever size/shape you like), cut the puff pastry into 28 small squares.
  6. In a small bowl, beat the egg and a splash of water with a fork until combined.
  7. To make the puffs, take 2 of the pastry squares, and brush the outside edges with egg wash. Place about ½ tsp. of the spinach filling into the middle of one of the squares (don’t overfill or you won’t be able to seal them). Place the other pastry square on top and, using a fork, crimp all the edges to seal.
  8. Repeat with the remaining squares and then with the second sheet of puff pastry. Brush the top of each puff with the egg wash, and sprinkle the tops very lightly with salt and pepper.
  9. Bake for 16-18 minutes until puffed and golden brown. Serve warm.


Merry Christmas!

christmas cookie packaging | sunsets on the side

christmas cookie packaging | sunsets on the side

I hope your day today is filled with family and friends, peaceful relaxation, meaningful hugs, heartfelt laughter, and chocolate-coated everything.  I’m incredibly lucky in many ways, and days like these certainly magnify that feeling.  I hope the same is true for you.

I’m so grateful that you stop in to spend some time here with me.

Merry Christmas!

merry christmas from sunsets on the side

Homemade Cream of Mushroom Soup

homemade cream of mushroom soup | sunsets on the side

homemade cream of mushroom soup | sunsets on the side

Soup is such a comfort food, but to me, it’s also comfort cooking.  There’s just something about standing over a hot, bubbling, (usually) garlic-scented pot, adding and stirring, until something delicious is ready to serve.  It makes the whole house smell incredible, and it’s like a giant bear hug for anyone who eats it.  What better soup to bear hug them with than homemade cream of mushroom?

This is a simple soup to put together, but somehow it seems impressive.  The delicate wine and thyme flavors bring a little bit of elegance to a very familiar soup.  This would make a great first course for a holiday meal.  You could even make it the day before your big meal and reheat it slowly on the stove just before you’d like to serve it.  Or, serve it in larger portions with some crusty garlic bread for a main course on any cold winter’s night you like.

Homemade Cream of Mushroom Soup
Makes: 6 servings
  • 4 T. unsalted butter
  • 3 T. olive oil
  • 2 leeks (white and light green parts only), chopped
  • 8 oz. cremini mushrooms, chopped
  • 8 oz. button mushrooms, chopped
  • ½ tsp. dried thyme
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 cup beef stock
  • 3 ½ cups chicken stock
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • ¾ tsp. freshly-ground black pepper
  • 2 cups half and half
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 T. chopped fresh chives
  1. Heat the butter and olive oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the leeks and cook until softened and starting to brown, about 10 minutes.
  2. Add the mushrooms and thyme to the pot, stir well, and cook until the mushrooms’ liquid has cooked off and they are tender and brown, 8-10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute longer.
  3. Sprinkle in the flour, stir until it’s totally dissolved, and cook for about a minute. Pour in the wine, stir well, and scrape any brown bits from the bottom of the pot. Cook for 1-2 minutes until the wine is slightly reduced.
  4. Pour in the beef stock and chicken stock, and stir in the salt and pepper. Bring the soup to a boil then reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
  5. Using an immersion blender, blend until the mushrooms are chopped but not totally pureed.
  6. Add the half and half and cook (without boiling) just until heated through. Add the parsley and chives, and serve hot.

Adapted from Ina Garten.