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!


Funfetti Cupcakes for Two

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Pickle dip. Ice cream bread. I bet you know what’s coming next, right? I won’t be cooking for two much longer – we’re expecting our first child this summer! We’re over-the-moon excited.

We found out last week that the baby is a boy, so it seemed appropriate to whip up something special to celebrate. I had blue and white sprinkles on hand already so funfetti was the obvious choice. There was lots of kicking going on after eating mine, so I’m sure baby boy liked them too.

I’m planning to continue blogging, although posts may be a little less frequent as we make the transition to a family of three. I’m also planning to share how we’ll stock the freezer pre-baby, keep ourselves fed post-baby and (eventually) how we’ll make our own baby food. I’m excited to continue sharing our cooking journey and hope you’ll be along for the ride!

Funfetti Cupcakes for Two
(from Chocolate and Carrots)
Makes 2 cupcakes

1 Tbsp. canola oil
1 Tbsp. milk
1 egg white
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 Tbsp. sugar
4 Tbsp. unbleached all purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 Tbsp. sprinkles

Preheat the oven to 350F degrees.

Beat the canola oil, egg, milk, vanilla extract and sugar together. Add in the flour and baking powder. Fold in the sprinkles, being careful not to over mix. Pour into two prepared muffin liners in a muffin pan.

Bake for about 15 minutes, or until a knife inserted comes out clean. Let cool and then ice as desired.


16 More Meatless Dinner Ideas for Lent

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Last year, I kicked off Lent by sharing a roundup of meatless meal ideas. Part of Lenten obligation for us is abstaining from meat on Fridays, and over the past few years I’ve made it a project to shake us from our usual menus of cheese pizza and pasta with tomato sauce. I’ll be sharing new, meatless dishes on Fridays during Lent again this year – but I’m kicking off again with a roundup of our favorite meatless meals of the year to give you some inspiration.

Whether you’re observing Lenten Fridays or just looking for some new meatless dishes to work into your rotation, these are all great options. And you can check out the roundup I shared last year of 16 Meatless Dinner Ideas for Lent here.

Pizza Cobbler

Apple and Cheddar Panini

Roasted Sweet Potato Salad with Citrus Curry Dressing

Easy Roasted Eggplant

Buffalo Cauliflower “Wings”

Zucchini, Chile and Red Onion Fritatta

Roasted Vegetable and Hummus Tart

One Pot Tomato Basil Pasta

Berry Kiwi Salad with Sweet Balsamic Dressing

Layered Vegetarian Tostadas

Crispy Eggplant Sandwiches with Roasted Garlic Ricotta Spread

Roasted Vegetable and Black Bean Burritos

Potato Enchiladas

Barbecue Quinoa Salad

Bubble-Up Pizza

Korean Vegetable Pancakes with Spicy Soy Dipping Sauce


My Favorite Recipes of 2013

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This is always one of the hardest posts of the year! I only blog the recipes we make that are hits, so trying to narrow them down at the end of the year is a bit of a chore. Here are, in no particular order, ten recipes I really loved this year.

1 – Roast Beef and Parmesan Pita

These are so easy and since I first made them they’ve been heavy in the lunch rotation. If you’re looking to switch up your lunch in the new year, give this a shot!

2 – Spicy Sausage Pasta

This one-pot dish totally won me over. I adore that the pasta cooks in the sauce, not separately. This is going on our weekly menu again soon!

3 – Cake Batter Popsicles

These were my favorite of the summer. I’m really not sure how you could not like a cake batter pudding popsicle – it’s like the definition of summer!

 4 – Classic Hummus

Hummus wasn’t something I thought I could make successfully at home, so I was thrilled that this came out beautifully. This is now my favorite hummus.

5 – Teriyaki Chicken Burgers with Sesame Grilled Pineapple

Another favorite from the summer – these juicy burgers got made several times because they were such a hit. (Come on warm weather! I want to start grilling again!)

6 – Chicken Diablo

This was a dish that came to me via a recipe swap and we adored it. I end up drooling every time I look at the picture.

7 – Easter Bread

Easter Bread is a tradition in Mark’s family – and one I happily adopted when we got married. It’s one of the few times a year that I make yeast bread, but it’s always worth the effort.

8 – Kielbasa, Potato and Cabbage Skillet

This is a favorite dinner of ours – I can’t believe I blogged it for the first time this year. It’s simple, but so, so yummy.

9 – Buckeye Brownies

I made these dressed-up box mix brownies earlier this year and they’ve been frequently requested since. For minimal effort, these pack a huge flavor punch.

10 – No Bake Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Granola Bars

I made these as a grab-and-go snack and they totally hit the spot. They’re packed with “good stuff” like chia seeds and pumpkin seeds, but all you really taste is peanut butter and chocolate!

What were your favorite dishes of the year? What are you looking forward to making in 2014?


Most Popular Recipes of 2013

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I can’t believe it’s time for this already! I’ve, admittedly, been in denial of how fast the year is going. But, here we are, ready to look back on the year. Today, I’m sharing the recipes from 2013 that you made the most popular!

1 – Buffalo Cauliflower Wings

It’s really no surprise these are topping the list – they were super popular on Pinterest.  I’d had these on my to-make list for a while before finally getting to them, and was really surprised how awesome they came out. If you’re looking for something to snack on during New Year’s bowl games, these would be great!

2 – Green Beans with Bacon and Brown Sugar

I didn’t realize how popular these were! They were my lazy adaption of green bean bundles, and are the perfect accompaniment to a nice meal. I’ve made them for quite a few holidays since blogging them.

3 – Bourbon Chicken

  This is such a easy, delicious dinner that I’m not surprised it made the list. This has been in our dinner rotation for years and I can’t believe it took me until this year to share it!

4 – Ranch Pretzels

This is probably the dish that I’ve blogged that I make most often, so I’m thrilled to see them on the list. They’re easy and always a hit!

 5 – Spinach Prosciutto & Mozzarella Stuffed Pork Tenderloin

I made this when I was on a Sunday dinners kick. It was a winner in our house for being easy (my favorite) and being stuffed meat (my husband’s meal of choice).

6- Taco Seasoning

Make it Yourself Monday was a series I started in 2013. I didn’t quite get as many posts as I wanted up, but they were all pretty popular. This was the top of the list. I’ll be sharing more of my pantry favorites in 2014.

 7 – Buffalo Chicken Tater Tot Casserole

I was pretty late to the buffalo game, but I guess you all aren’t over buffalo since two dishes made the list! This was an easy, throw-together dinner that packed a lot of flavor.

8 – Loaded Baked Potato Salad

I made this for a summer BBQ and it was a huge hit. I’m sure it’ll make repeat appearances in the warm-weather months.

 

9 – Italian Rainbow Cookie Cake

Gosh, I love this cake. I’m pretty thrilled you guys do too. Also, the fact that the first dessert has landed at number nine on the list is pretty representative of how things went on the blog this year – lots of dinners, fewer sweets. I’ll remedy that in the new year!

10 – Chocolate Chip Cookie Cake

And another cake to round out the top ten. This was another I was thrilled with. I’d tried a few cookie cake recipes in the past but they never quite turned out how I wanted – this was perfect.

Be sure to come back tomorrow – I’ll be sharing my top ten favorites for the year!