Soup Swap Party

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On Saturday, I hosted one of the most fun get-togethers I’ve had in a while – a soup swap party. It was like a cookie swap, but more appropriate for January weather. Everyone brought 4 1-quart containers of soup for swapping and then some extra to sample.

As everyone arrived, I noted their soup on a chalkboard right outside the kitchen for everyone to see.

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To go along with the soup, I set up a DIY grilled cheese bar for lunch. It was super easy and super fun.

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Since things were super causal, I just laid out ingredients on a disposable table cloth and made quick notes to explain the flow of things and label ingredient choices.

1) Grab some bread – I had out wheat and white.

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2) Add some cheese – there was a choice of American, Jalapeno Cheddar and Swiss.

3) Top it off – personalize your sandwich with regular mayonnaise, garlic mayonnaise, sriracha mayonnaise, ketchup, tomato slices, roasted red peppers, pickles, caramelized onions, pear slices, bacon and ham.

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4) Heat it up – I had out two panini grills for toasting the creations.

And 5) Grab some soup. We heated up some of everyone’s soup and divided them into shot glasses. Add mini spoons and they were perfect for sampling!

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After we’d eaten, we voted on soup awards and the winners took home mini bags of chocolates as recognition.

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For favors, I found microwavable soup mugs at my favorite dollar store. I added mini loaves of homemade bread too, since they seemed like the perfect soup accompaniment.

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For the kids that came, I filled their soup mugs with baby Goldfish crackers and picked out some fun coloring books.

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At the end, we divided up the soup so everyone left with 4 quarts of soup.

It was such a fun way to spend a snowy afternoon – I’m already looking forward to next year’s soup swap!


My Favorite Recipes of 2014

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Yesterday, I shared the recipes that were most popular with readers in 2014. Today I’m highlighting some of my favorites. I would highly recommend all of these recipes! They’re some of the best things to come out of my kitchen this year.

Garlic Herb Cheddar Fondue

I love a good fondue. We really love this Golden Pizza Fondue, so I don’t do much experimenting with other cheeses, but this one was a huge hit.

Eggplant Parm Burgers

These were my favorite meatless meal of the year and officially became my go-to meatless burger.

Peanut Butter Fudge Pie

This was on my to-make list for so long it’s shameful. I’m always a sucker for chocolate/peanut butter desserts, but this one is particularly awesome.

Chipotle Chicken Kabobs with Avocado Cream Sauce

These quick, easy kabobs were a go-to all summer. And I made the avocado cream sauce every time I could, even if it wasn’t for these. Such a fantastic combo!

Flank Steak Pinwheels

I was thrilled to track down this recipe and make these after a few year lapse. These are going to be a regular in our summer rotation. And looking at that picture is making me miss grilling weather!

Taco Stuffed Shells

This is another dish I’ve made several times and finally got around to blogging. I’m glad I finally shared these, because I really do love them and they make a great freezer meal.

Grilled Sriracha Broccoli

Oh, summer, how I miss you! These were part of my ongoing quest to switch up our side dishes and they were so, so good.

Baked Green Bean Fries

Another new side dish – this one first appeared when we had an abundance of green beans in the garden, but I keep making them because they’re so addictive.

Honey Chipotle Chicken Tenders

Chicken tenders are a comfort food for me and this sweet-and-spicy version was absolutely awesome.

Brownies

These were amazing, and quite possibly my favorite dessert of the year. I’m thrilled to have a go-to recipe!

Now, that we’ve looked back, some looking forward: What will Kate’s Recipe Box look like in 2015? Mostly the same, I think.

In 2014, I ended up focusing a lot on meals that were quick, could be made in the slow cooker or were freezer-friendly. Now that we’ve sort of settled into life with a baby, these are dominating our meal plans. Of course, special meals and treats will always find their way in, too!

I’m also going to work on a mini cooking bucket list for the year. I know trying to make homemade bagels will be on it – I’m still debating what other new things I want to tackle.

Do you have any cooking goals or resolutions for 2015?


2014 Top 10 Reader Favorites

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I’ve been looking forward to this recap for a few weeks now. This year has felt both so long and so short. I spent the first half pregnant, and the second half adjusting to motherhood. In my head, I haven’t done much cooking so it’s been nice to look back on the blog and see that wasn’t really the case. Here’s a rundown of the most popular recipes I blogged this year.

10 – Dill Pickle Dip

I’m thrilled this one made the list – if it hadn’t been here, it would have been on my list of favorites. We polished it off embarrassingly fast. If you like pickles, you’ll love this.

9 – Ranch Veggie Dip

This is another great dip that I’m glad made the list. Once you try this, you’ll never buy a pre-packaged version again.

8 - Bang Bang Cauliflower

I had forgotten about this dish, which is one of the reasons I love these look-back posts. With a string of solo dinner nights coming up in the next few months, I’ll definitely be making this again.

7 - Hawaiian Hula Pork Tacos with Pineapple Slaw

This was one of the meals I stocked the freezer with before Jacob was born and it was probably my favorite of all the meals we pre-prepped. That pineapple slaw is really something special.

6 – Cherry Sour Cream Pie

This was an adaption of my favorite Strawberry Sour Cream Pie, made when we had an abundance of cherries. It was fantastic, and I’m glad this made the list.

5 – Honey BBQ Chicken Wraps with Broccoli Slaw

This was another dish I’d forgotten about that I need to make again soon. Thanks, readers, for reminding me of this one!

4 – Strawberry Snow Ice Cream

I was a bit surprised this one made the list. While I like playing around with snow ice cream flavors, I generally prefer the classic version. I’m glad to see that my readers enjoy the variations!

3 - Irish Cream Double Chocolate Cookies

These were a delicious part of our St. Patrick’s Day menu – and will probably turn into a yearly tradition.

2 – M&M Brownie Batter Dip

The third dip to make the list – I guess you guys like your dips, huh? It’s cool, because I do too. This one was super decadent and a fun treat while watching football. It’d be a lot of fun to track down M&Ms in applicable team colors for the Super Bowl.

1 – Pepperoni Pizza Sliders

I feel like these are a really fitting dish for the most popular of the year. My biggest pregnancy craving was pizza, so it’s nice to see one of my indulgences top the list.

Did your favorite recipe of the year make the list? Check in tomorrow to see my favorites of the year.



Last Minute Gift Ideas

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If you weren’t aware, today is Free Shipping Day – lots of online retailers are offering free shipping with no minimum purchase and guaranteed delivery by Christmas Eve. In a nutshell, if you’re going to do any more online shopping for Christmas, you want to do it today.

The website is a little overwhelming, with nearly 1200 online merchants offering discounts, so I just wanted to highlight a few that might be of interest to you. None of this is sponsored – I just spent a bunch of time sifting through for some last-minute shopping and wanted to pass it along!

Shari’s Berries is offering free standard shipping on all orders today – which will get it there in time for Christmas Eve. I’m not generally a huge fan of mail-order food, but they sent me a box of strawberries when Jacob was born and they were marvelous. This is a great option if you’re still looking for something to send to out-of-town friends and family.

Pfaltzgraff is offering free shipping on any order with code “FREESHIPPINGDAY”. I’m a huge fan of their Winterberry dishes and think they’d be a great gift for anyone who likes to entertain this year. Whether you’re picking up a few pieces to add to an existing set or one special serving dish, there are a lot of great choices.

Brookstone is offering free ground shipping on all orders with code “SHIPDAY14″. They have a lot of fun novelty food and kitchen items for hard-to-buy for people, like this special shaped glass and round ice maker (perfect for whisky drinkers) and these never-soggy cereal bowls.

Shop PBS is offering free shipping with no minimum order. They’re home to DVDs of Cook’s Country and America’s Test Kitchen, as well as some of their cookbooks. Both awesome gifts for cooks and food fans.

William Sonoma is offering free shipping with code “FREESHIP”. They have everything from gorgeous holiday linens and dishes and specialty snacks to everything you could possibly want for your kitchen. My Christmas list could be: “Anything/Everything from this store”.

Hope these spur some ideas for you last-minute shoppers!


October Unprocessed 2014

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October Unprocessed 2014

For the last several years, Eating Rules has hosted October Unprocessed- a challenge to forgo processed food for the month. This year, I’m joining in.

We do a fairly good job of eating like this on a normal basis, but there are always things that find their way into the kitchen that could be better. Going completely unprocessed has been a goal of mine for a while and this seems as good of an excuse as any to bite the bullet and actually try it.

What is considered “unprocessed”? We’re using Eating Rules’s kitchen test – if a person with reasonable kitchen skills could make it in a home kitchen with whole food ingredients, it’s unprocessed. What does that mean in layman’s terms? It means things like canned tomatoes, peanut butter and humus I don’t necessarily have to make myself – I just plan on buying versions that I could make, if I really wanted to.

We will have two exceptions for the month – we’re going to two weddings and will be partaking in the festive food, whatever that may be, but any of our own cooking and eating out will be as unprocessed as possible.

So, for the month of October, I’m going to be sharing recipes that fit the bill for the challenge. It’ll be a little different than usual, but it should be interesting!


Stocking the Freezer Pre-Baby

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Even before I was pregnant, I knew I wanted to stock the freezer to give us some help during the first weeks of having a baby. I had visions of all these new, exciting recipes covering all different kinds of meals. What I ended up doing didn’t match that at all.

What changed things? Well, I essentially got a test run. I mentioned back in November that I had stocked up in preparation for NaNoWriMo. I, more or less, did what I thought I’d do for a baby – lots of freezer-to-crockpot meals, casseroles, and the like. We found out in early November that I was pregnant and while my NaNoWriMo writing fell by the wayside, those meals I’d made ahead ended up being a huge help in getting us through the first trimester. The thing was, we weren’t super thrilled with a lot of the meals, we ended up getting sick of leftovers, and I wasn’t a huge fan of figuring out a new recipe while not feeling my best.

So, for this go-round, I tackled things differently. Instead of making meals just for the freezer, I cooked up regular meals and portioned out a section for freezing. I stuck with things we’d made – and liked – before or things that came highly recommended from friends. And, I only froze portions for one or two meals so we wouldn’t be drowning in leftovers.

Here is what we had in the freezer when Jacob was born:

Things I made up:

Hawaiian Hula Pulled Pork – enough of the pork for 4 good sized sandwiches
Creamy Taco Mac – 2-3 servings
Garlic Beef Enchiladas – two servings
Baked Chicken Chimichangas – four servings (prepped, wrapped in foil and individually frozen)
Pork Potstickers – about 1 1/2 dozen (frozen on a baking sheet for about 2 hours, then transferred to a large freezer bag)
Baked ziti with sausage and peppers – four servings (no real recipe – just made with leftovers we had on hand)
Taco stuffed shells – 2-3 servings
Brownies – half a batch

Things we bought to have on hand for easy meals:

Frozen, microwavable rice
Chicken that I pre-cut into bite-sized pieces for stir-fry (and some bottled stir-fry sauces in the pantry)
Stir-fry veggies
Pizza dough and shredded mozzarella (and pizza sauce in the pantry)
Our favorite ravioli
Pierogies and Kielbasa
Assorted sides: Fries, Garlic bread and veggies
Girl Scout Cookies (a necessity!)

Altogether, we had about two weeks of dinners in the freezer when he was born. We ended up not touching our stash until Mark went back to work because generous friends and family brought us food or we were able to tag-team cook dinner those first two weeks. Since he’s been back to work, I’ve been mixing in a freezer dinner or two to the weekly menu for nights I know will be busy. Even though we’ve mostly found our groove with this whole baby thing, being able to just pull something out and heat it up has been really, really great some nights and I think having a few meals ready to go in the freezer is something I want to continue going forward.

This worked out so much better than my first attempt that it’s definitely how I’ll work on freezer-stocking going forward!


Introducing Chef Jacob

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We have a new chef in our kitchen – Jacob William was born July 25th!

We’re so loving our new little guy. So far, Jake is an amazingly good baby. He’s making the transition to a family of three relatively easy on us, but we’re still working on getting our new routines down so new posts here may be sporadic.

We are eating, though! Mark has been on paternity leave with us for the last two weeks so we’ve been able to tag-team cook dinner every night. Soon, I’ll be sharing how we stocked our freezer and fed ourselves in the early weeks – and I’m sure there will be a new focus on easy weeknight meals and crockpot dinners going forward. You know, life with a baby and all.

I’d also love to hear your tips for getting dinner on the table with a newborn. What worked for you?

Hope you’ll all be around for our next chapter of cooking adventures!

PS – Thanks to Kristen for the adorable picture of our little chef! It’s fitting, don’t you think?


State of the Kitchen Update

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The kitchen redo is marching on!

Over Memorial Day weekend, our parents came down and helped us start re-staining the cabinets (or, helped Mark – I’m not very useful at this point in the pregnancy!). The cabinets themselves are done now – the doors need a little more work before they can go back up. This past weekend, Mark painted the room – we’re loving the blue so much more than the mauve that was there! Last night, Mark and a few neighbors moved the refrigerator and stove into the dining room. The plummer is currently here unhooking the dishwasher so that can be moved too.

At this point, the dining room is the dumping ground for everything – and it’s looking lovely. When you look at the mess in there, it’s easy to forget how much progress we’re making!

Tomorrow, installers are coming to begin lay the new tile floor in the kitchen. By the end of the week, floors should be done and appliances should be reinstalled – which will make everything more useable! By next weekend, we should be rehanging the cabinet doors and refilling the cabinets. (I’ll get my dining room back!)

We currently have a new countertop and a new over-the-oven microwave on order. Both should come in and get installed sometime this month. After that the only big to-do is to pick out and install a backsplash – but we may table that until after baby boy is born so we don’t end up dropping it mid-project if he decides to come a little early.

That said, not much cooking has been going on. I’m itching to get back to my normal routine! (And, start stocking the freezer for the little guy’s arrival!)


What’s New in the Kitchen

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When we moved into this house four years ago, we knew we’d redo the kitchen at some point. We also knew it wasn’t a project we’d tackle immediately – the existing kitchen is totally function-able and we wanted to make sure we saved up enough to do it right.

We’ve been working on things – slowly. I picked out (and bought) a dark stain for the cabinets about a year ago. A few months ago, our stove died so we had picked out new appliances – but it magically came back to life without intervention a few days later so we pushed off the purchase. We picked out a paint color to replace the dark mauve (it’s the second blue down on the paint chip in the picture below).

And then, last Friday, our fridge died. It was definitely not worth fixing (the motherboard died) so we took it as a sign we finally needed to get going on this kitchen renovation thing and went and ordered all new appliances. We spent about five days without a fridge and then another two days without a stove as we waited for the plumber to come run a gas line for it (the old stove was electric).

But, now I’ve got this beauty in my kitchen:

I’m really excited about it. I love that we’ve converted to gas (although, I imagine there will be a learning curve with it!) and I’m over the moon that we splurged for the double ovens. We definitely wouldn’t have been able to fit two ovens in our kitchen otherwise, so this seems like such a great option. We also got a new fridge and dishwasher – and both are set up differently than what we had so it’s taking some getting used to.

Right now, they all look pretty out-of-place in the kitchen. They should look right at home when we get things done, though. We’ll likely have new flooring in place in a few weeks and then we’ll be tackling paint and re-staining cabinets. New countertops will top everything off. And then, hopefully, some decorating (the butterfly curtains need to go!)

All of this means that, depending on how things move along, I may not have as many new recipes to share as I’d like. I will be sharing progress, though! And hopefully, things will be back to (a new) normal quickly!