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Welcome to November!

welcome to november

Photo by Alex Geerts on Unsplash

Welcome to November!

As we race ahead to the holiday season, I’m excited to bring you some fun posts this month! In addition to some Thanksgiving-themed posts, I’m also challenging myself to a #NoSpendNovember. Look for posts every Monday that will (hopefully) motivate us all to spend a little less, ideas for fun and free things to do, and budget DIYs to spruce up your life without spending anything…or at least not so much! December always ends up being such a budget blowout for many of us. Taking a month off of spending on frivolous stuff will help us clear our minds, closets, and maybe even beef up our bank accounts!

This month, I’ll also be working with a few brands to help promote products I’ve been loving lately that also won’t break the bank (when you get back to spending up a storm in December). Black Friday and Cyber Monday are also coming up this month, and I’ll be sharing my favorite online deals that you can take advantage of – don’t worry…I’ll probably break my “no spending” rule that day too. Gotta get those gifts early and super on sale, right?

Today is also #WorldVeganDay! While eating all that discounted Halloween candy, here are a few of my favorite vegan recipes to whip up for dinner tonight!

Acorn Squash and Black Bean Empanandas (from Veganomicon)

Superfood Vegan Mac ‘n’ Cheese (from Goop)

Homemade Falafel + Cucumber Dressing (from A Beautiful Mess
*The dressing isn’t vegan, but you could easily substitute vegan sour cream!

The Best Vegan Apple Crisp (from Minimalist Baker)

My Favorite Pumpkin-Spiced Recipes

Photo by sydney zentz on Unsplash

Fall is for more than just the PSL – it’s the perfect time of year to break out your favorite pumpkin and squash recipes! I have a few recipes that I’ve grown to love over the years. They go beyond the typical pumpkin pie, and make for great options to take to your next fall dinner or Thanksgiving.

Here are a few of my favorite recipes that use pumpkins or squash to their full flavor potential – and my personal recipe for the perfect PSL you can make at home!

Acorn Squash and Black Bean Empanadas

I recently started cooking my way through Veganomicon: The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook, and this is one of my favorite recipes so far! It’s savory, sweet, and a little spicy. The cornmeal empanada dough is a little sweet and crispy. You can make a bunch of these to freeze and reheat later, or just bake off today! They’re super filling, too!

King Arthur Flour’s Easy Pumpkin Bread

If you’re looking to add even more pumpkin flavor to your breakfast, bake a loaf of this pumpkin bread! It’s super easy to make, and in about an hour you’ll have a moist, decadent compliment to your PSL!

Butternut Squash Stuffing

I made this last year for Thanksgiving, and it was a huge hit! It has some bold flavors, thanks to sourdough bread, butternut squash, bacon, and plenty of sage. If you’re looking for a fun alternative to traditional stuffing, try this one out!

Pumpkin Bars

For those who aren’t a fan of pumpkin pie, you can’t really go wrong with pumpkin bars. It’s a classic Martha Stewart recipe for moist, flavorful pumpkin cake and a sweet and tangy cream cheese frosting. This would be great to make for a party, or for breakfast (if you’re not looking to keep things even remotely healthy).

Butternut Squash Mash

I’m sure you could figure out how to do this on your own – simmer up some squash, mash it up, add some salt and pepper, and you’re done! This is a great side dish for all the fall roasts I do once it starts cooling off outside. I sometimes do half squash, half yukon gold potatoes – it’s a great way to tone down the sweetness if you’re not a huge fan of squash.

Now, for my all-time favorite homemade pumpkin-spiced recipe: my homemade PSL! There is no pumpkin in it, but it sure tastes like it!

My Homemade Pumpkin-Spiced Latte

Ingredients:
2-3 Tbsp ground coffee
8-12 oz. boiling water
1/4 tsp pumpkin spice (my favorite is from Trader Joe’s)
1/2 tsp. raw sugar
Almond milk

Directions:
1. Put ground coffee and pumpkin spice into French press. Pour boiling water into press and let sit for 3-5 minutes (however long you like to steep your coffee).

2. Strain coffee, then pour into your favorite fall-themed mug.

3. Stir in sugar, and pour in almond milk to taste. If you want to make it extra decadent, froth your milk before pouring in!

4. Enjoy your tasty PSL for a fraction of the price you’d pay at Starbucks!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving Cooking, Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving!

The big day is finally here, and I hope you’re all having a very happy Thanksgiving so far! In case you’re curious about what I am taking for Thanksgiving this year, I decided on trying two versions of stuffing – Butternut Squash Stuffing and Vegetable Herb Stuffing. I also baked an Alton Brown Shoo-Fly Pie for dessert, and really hope someone else brings another dessert because in all honesty, I don’t like shoo-fly pie.

I hope everyone is having a great day with family, eating tons of great food, and maybe sneaking in a solid nap this afternoon!

I’ll be back tomorrow to share some of my favorites for the week, if I’m not still in a food coma!

(*If you’re in Washington, don’t forget that Mount Rainier and Olympic National Parks will be free to the public tomorrow in an effort to support the #GreenFriday and #OptOutside initiatives! It’ll be a great way to avoid all the Black Friday insanity, and maybe walk off some of that pie we’re all going to eat today!)

What to Take for Thanksgiving

As someone who has never hosted her own Thanksgiving, I’ve gotten very good over the years at figuring out what to bring instead. Some years, I go all out and bake something magnificent, like a lattice-topped apple pie. Some years, especially if I’m eyeballs deep in papers to grade, I’ll pick up something easy that I know everyone will love – like some good wine.

No matter where you are or who you’re celebrating with, if you’re stuck for what to take, here are some great easy (and not so easy) ideas that will taste great, and take a load off your insanely busy hosts!

What to Take for Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving_Drink_Snack_Collage

A Signature Cocktail + Coordinating Snack

Your host/hostess isn’t likely to have time at the beginning of their party to serve drinks, let alone cocktails – so offer to handle it for them! While they are putting the finishing touches on dinner, consider bringing a “signature cocktail” to serve to guests as they arrive, and offer up a coordinating snack to tide them over until the everything’s ready.

I suggest keeping it simple with a Cape Cod (cranberry juice, vodka, and a lime wedge) and some trail mix of toasted almonds, dark chocolate chips, and dried cranberries. It’s a nice nod to the traditional cranberry sauce you’ll likely be eating later, and the snack has a little bit of something for everyone.

You can either mix this in a large batch ahead of time, or keep things separate if you think the kiddos will want some juice…without the extra kick.

Thanksgiving_Dessert_Collage

A No-Fuss Dessert

If you’re asked to bring dessert, I suggest bringing something easy and that doesn’t require the use of the host’s oven. There is nothing more annoying than a guest demanding use of the oven while your poor host is trying to cook/eat/relax. Same goes for the freezer, in my opinion.

And please – make it yourself. There are times when store bought desserts are fine, but Thanksgiving isn’t one of those times. If your host spent weeks planning, and days cooking, you can suck it up and spend a couple hours in the kitchen.

If you’re not baking-inclined, give cookies or box-mix cupcakes a try. I enjoy bringing sugar cookies with festive frosting or sprinkles (or both), chocolate chip cookies, or carrot cake cupcakes with cream cheese frosting. These are especially good ideas for small children, who may not like pumpkin pie (trust me, they exist).

If you have more baking skills, pies are always a big hit. I’ve never made a Pumpkin Pie, mostly because my mom or some other family member always makes them. I have, however, gotten very good at baking Apple Streusel Pie and Alton Brown’s Shoo Fly Pie, which my husband’s family and friends often fight over. This year, I’m tempted to try making Pumpkin Cheesecake – because I like Pumpkin Pie, but I love cheesecake.

Thanksgiving_Breakfast_Collage

Black Friday Breakfast

Odds are, with all the planning, cooking, entertaining, and cleaning your hosts will be doing on Thanksgiving, breakfast the next morning isn’t even on their radar. If you’re still stumped for what to bring, consider Friday’s breakfast!

As with all things, keep it simple – don’t make them cook another meal the next morning! I suggest Alton Brown’s Granola Bars, Apple Strudel Muffins, Pumpkin Bread, or a nice box of doughnuts or bagels from the local bakery – all of which can easily feed a couple hosts, and however many guests they have staying over if that’s the case. That way, all they have to do is brew some coffee and they’re all set – unless you’re staying with them, then maybe offer to handle that too.

*****

So there you have it – a bunch of easy (and not so easy) ideas for what to take for Thanksgiving! This year, I’ve been asked to bring homemade stuffing, and my husband asked me to bring the Alton Brown’s Shoo Fly Pie for him (since I don’t think he’s a big Pumpkin Pie fan). I’ve never done my own stuffing before, so that will be a fun experiment!

What are you planning to take this year?

 

Friday Favorites: The Holidays are Coming…and I’m Hungry!

Friday Favorites: the Holidays are Coming...and I'm Hungry!

I want all of them, but I want the rose gold one most of all. Damn you, Michaels, for killing it in the holiday department this year!

Happy Friday, everyone!

I hope you are adjusting to Daylight Savings well, and getting over the Halloween candy hangovers. I managed to behave myself and only eat a little candy that my nephews gave me, and stayed away from the clearance Halloween candy at the store. Let’s hope I can keep that up!

Here are a few food-related things I enjoyed online this week, and I hope you do too:

Well, now I’m hungry! Hope you have a great weekend, and I’ll be back on Monday!

Best Websites for Recipes

Last week, I shared some of my recent favorites when it comes to cookbooks. Since I know not everyone has the budget to buy cookbooks, or a nearby library to borrow from, I thought I’d also share some of my favorite websites that I use to find great recipes! Some of these are pretty obvious, and some aren’t – but they’re all great for their own reasons, and hopefully will inspire you to try something new this week!

Favorite Websites for Recipes

1. A Beautiful Mess

Best Websites for RecipesWhile I’m not an avid reader of A Beautiful Mess, I go to them for recipes because they offer a lot of things that are outside my usual cooking routine. Their Homemade Falafel & Cucumber Dressing recipe is one I’ve made dozens of times, and my husband brags to everyone who will listen about how great my falafel are. They also have great recipe ideas for parties, like their Candy Corn Jello Shots and Baked Jalapeño Poppers done 3 ways!

2. No. 2 Pencil

Best Websites for Recipes

This is another blog that I turn to for a very specific reason – their Single Serving Size Chocolate Chip Cookies. It makes enough for two giant (bigger than my hand, and my hands are huge) or four normal-sized cookies, which is perfect when you’re craving something sweet, but don’t want to bake a crap ton of cookies. Melissa also has other single-serving desserts, like Microwave Rice Krispies Treats for One and Bake Just Two Peanut Butter Cookies. She also has several one-pot dinners and other easy recipes for busy people who hate doing too many dishes!

3. Food Network

Best Websites for RecipesI watch way too much Food Network, both alone and with my husband. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it), their website includes most of the recipes you’ll see on television! My husband is a huge fan of Good Eats, and I often end up on the Food Network site looking up recipes from the show that my husband wants me to try. So far, he’s gotten me to make Alton Brown’s Granola Bars and Shoo-Fly Pie – both of which he loves. I’ve also gotten several recipes from Ina Garten, Giada De Laurentiis, and Bobby Flay from there!

4. Martha Stewart

Best Websites for Recipes

It’s no surprise that I’m a big fan of Martha Stewart’s recipes or website – I’m on there constantly. I only recently started making my own pizza dough on a regular basis, mostly thanks to Martha Stewart’s Quick Basic Pizza Dough Recipe, which really is as easy as the video makes it sound! Her website is also the ultimate reference guide for basic cooking skills I can’t commit to memory yet, like how to make hardboiled eggs or baked potatoes. We also both come from Polish backgrounds, so it’s cool to check out her website every year for great Polish recipes!

5. The Kitchn

Best Websites for Recipes

I’ve been reading The Kitchn for years, and while I don’t get many recipes from them directly, I’ve learned a lot of great tips and tricks from them, like how to make a better iced coffee. If you’ve ever wondered what random kitchen gadgets are for (or if they’re worth buying at all), found yourself lusting after kitchen designs on Pinterest, or want to know how to make your own dill pickles, this is a great place to start!

5 Cookbooks for Summer

Confession time:

I hate buying cookbooks.

It just seems like a huge waste for me to spend $20+ on a cookbook, knowing that I’m only going to use a few recipes out of it. When I moved last year, I whittled my collection down to only a few that I really do use from cover to cover. So, to combat the cost of buying new cookbooks, and keep needless clutter at bay, I got myself a library card and started checking out cookbooks. My library system is amazing, and every time I go, there are always new cookbooks for me to read through. We also have a decent online book program, so I get digital cookbooks for free too! Sure, it means I don’t get to keep them, but I print out or write down the recipes I want to try out, and return the books for someone else to enjoy.

I’ve spent the summer tearing through several cookbooks, and these are just a few I’ve enjoyed lately!

5 Cookbooks for Summer

Everyday Food: Light: The Quickest and Easiest Recipes
from The Kitchens of Martha Stewart Living

Of the few cookbooks I still own, I have two Everyday Food books (Great Food Fast and Fresh Flavor Fast), so I was excited to take this one home. I’ve never had a Martha Stewart recipe go wrong on me, and if they’re healthy too, then sign me up! I have yet to try any of the recipes I saved, but I’ll make sure to share the ones that turn out well!

5 Cookbooks for Summer

Everyday Pasta by Giada De Laurentiis

Giada’s cookbooks are another set that I wish I owned, since I’m a huge fan of her book Giada’s Kitchen, which I’ve had for years. She has a lot of great advice on making easy sauces, cooking healthy pasta dishes, and stocking your kitchen to make any dish on the fly. It’s a great, practical book for beginner cooks.

5 Cookbooks for Summer

Barefoot Contessa Foolproof: Recipes You Can Trust by Ina Garten

I’m pretty sure I’ve read every single Barefoot Contessa cookbook at this point! I love her show, and while I’m not a huge fan of her love of fennel (sorry, I hate anything licorice or anise flavored), many of her recipes in this book look tasty and super easy to make. While I don’t throw dinner parties, it’s nice to read about those who do, and fantasize about a day when I get to have get togethers of my own! In addition to the great recipes, she also gives amazing advice to those who want to have a nice, stress-free night with friends or family.

5 Cookbooks for Summer

 My Drunk Kitchen: A Guide to Eating, Drinking, and Going with Your Gut by Hannah Hart

I just started reading this book, and I have mixed feelings about it so far. Sure, I know going in that it’s not “really” a cookbook in the traditional sense. It’s recipes mixed in with a self-help book, and a fun little history of how Hannah Hart has made a name for herself via YouTube. My problem with it mainly has to do with me not liking her writing style – it’s a bit confusing to read and inconsistent in places. Girl, if you need an editor for your next book, CALL ME!

I think this would be a great gift for a recent college graduate who is setting off into the adult world for the first time. The recipes are easy enough to handle, sober or not, and she is honest with her readers about the struggles of coming into adulthood – and even offers some great advice to make things easier.

5 Cookbooks for Summer

IT’S ALL GOOD: Delicious, Easy Recipes That Will Make You Look Good and Feel Great
by Gwyneth Paltrow

Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle site, GOOP, has become a strongly divisive topic in recent years. I know many people who can’t stand her or this site, with her “conscious uncoupling” to her lavish and unattainable holiday gift guides (she did put a $4,700 gold juicer on her list last year). Personally, I find her blogs about health and mindfulness to be very helpful. Her blog tackles issues I find women don’t talk about openly – like why we so often criticize each other, fear professional self-promotion, hold onto bad relationships, and can’t seem to find time to unwind. I can’t really blame her for wanting to show women that they deserve happy lives – and I certainly need to hear it from time to time.

I have wanted to read this cookbook for a while now, but never wanted to buy it because I kept hearing it was another example of her overtly posh, impractical lifestyle. What I found was a book full of simple, easy recipes that anyone can afford to make. Even if a recipe does include a more “high-end” ingredient, most of them are things you can easily swap out with something more affordable or practical. They’re also incredibly healthy, of course, and for anyone who is looking to “dabble” in vegetarian or vegan food, this can be a great place to start!

 

There you go! If you’ve hit the dreaded summer cooking slump like me, grab your library card (or go get one…it’s super easy) and bring home a pile of kitchen inspiration!

Homemade Granola Bars

Homemade Granola BarsMy husband, D., is a huge fan of Alton Brown’s show, Good Eats. In addition to learning about the chemistry and history of food, he likes finding new recipes for me to try. I’ve made a few of Brown’s recipes in the past, most notably his Shoo Fly Pie. I can’t stand molasses, so I never eat it, but everyone else I’ve made it for loved it!

When our grocery store discontinued D.’s favorite protein bars, he asked me to make these as a work snack. He saw the recipe on the show, and said it looked healthier and probably cheaper than buying granola bars at the store.

It took me a few batches to get the hang of them, and I’ve adapted things as I go, so I added notes below to help. While I don’t eat them (I’m not a huge peanut fan), I’m sure I could add some things to this basic recipe that I would enjoy, like shredded coconut, white chocolate, and apricots. In fact, I might try that next weekend!

If you want the original recipe, you can find it here on the Food Network website. Enjoy!

Homemade Granola BarsHomemade Granola Bars

(adapted from Alton Brown’s recipe)

To begin, I gathered up the dry ingredients:

8 ounces old fashioned rolled oats (about 4 cups)
1 1/2 ounces raw, shelled sunflower seeds (about 1/2 cup)
3 ounces sliced almonds (I subbed in peanuts – about 1 cup)
1 1/2 ounces wheat germ (about 1/2 cup)

I highly recommend doing this by weight, rather than volume. The bars turn out more consistent this way. You can get pretty decent kitchen scales like this one from Amazon, many of which are under $20!

Homemade Granola BarsOnce you get your dry ingredients measured, place them on a dry baking sheet and bake them at 350 degrees for 15 minutes. About half way through, give it a stir to make sure everything browns evenly. The wheat germ is prone to burning, so keep an eye on it for the last 5 minutes or so. My oven isn’t consistent, so sometimes I have to take it out a couple minutes early.

Homemade Granola Bars

Homemade Granola BarsWhile the dry ingredients are baking, gather up your wet ingredients:

6 ounces honey (about 1/2 cup)
1 3/4 ounces dark brown sugar (about 1/4 cup packed)
1 ounce unsalted butter, plus more to grease pan (1 tablespoon)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Throw all of the wet ingredients in a small saucepan, and cook over medium heat until the brown sugar is dissolved. I usually start this when the dry ingredients have about 5 minutes left, and they’re both done at the same time. You want this mixture nice and hot when you add it to the rest of the granola so it coats evenly.

Homemade Granola BarsAlso, while you’re waiting, get your dried fruit together. You’ll need 6 1/2 ounces of whatever fruit you want – apricots, raisins, cranberries, prunes, cherries, blueberries, etc. Today I’m using cranberries because they were cheap and easy to find.

Homemade Granola BarsTake your dry mix out of the oven, and put it in a large bowl. Reduce the oven temperature to 300 degrees.

Add in the wet ingredients and toss to coat, then fold in the dried fruit. It’s really hot at this point, so be careful handling it (and don’t try to eat it straight out of the bowl, unless you like a burnt tongue!).

Homemade Granola BarsThe Alton Brown recipe says to butter a 9×9 inch glass baking dish. I tried that once, and it didn’t work at all – it took forever to get it out, and I was left with a few bars and the rest in crumbles. I suggest either heavily coating it with cooking spray, or even better, line the pan with parchment paper that has been lightly sprayed with cooking spray. Less cleanup later, and less frustration! Press the granola into the pan really well to ensure even bars.

Bake the granola at 300 degrees for 25 minutes, then leave on a wire rack to cool completely. Once cooled, you can easily slice them into 16 bars, and store in an airtight container for a week (ours easily survive 2 weeks just fine).

Homemade Granola BarsIf you’re looking for a cheaper alternative to grocery store granola bars, or just want to try out something fun, I highly recommend using this recipe. It’s a great base for adding whatever you want for flavor, and once you get the hang of making them, you can easily knock out a recipe while watching your favorite Food Network shows!

Cookbook Review: Everyday Food: Great Food Fast

Cookbook Review: Everyday Food 1Something I never shared on my old blog is the cookbooks I use on a regular basis. Over the years, I have bought several cookbooks, and used maybe one or two recipes out of each one. During our move last year, I went though all of my cookbooks to narrow them down as much as I could. I only saved the ones I use a lot, and contain several recipes I’ve made in the past. The ones that I only used for a recipe or two were given to friends or donated (after copying down the recipe or two I actually used).

This is one of the few that made the cut. Everyday Food: Great Food Fast is a Martha Stewart Living book, containing recipes that originally appeared in their Everyday Food magazine. I have been a huge fan of Martha Stewart’s cookbooks for years, and this one I grab whenever I’m looking for something easy and flavorful for dinner!

Cookbook Review: Great Food Fast

Cookbook Review: Everyday Food 2Fun Facts:

– This book is organized by season (Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter). If you are the kind of person who likes to cook foods that are in season, this is a great resource. Each season is broken down into soups, salads, meat dishes, meatless dishes, sides, and desserts. Cooking in season is great for the environment, and great for cooking on a budget!

– However, if you are used to a more traditional organization of cookbooks, organizing the food by season can be a downside. Initially, I found it hard to refer back to recipes because I couldn’t remember what season they appeared in. After having this book for a long time, though, I got used to it.

– Because these recipes originally appeared in a magazine, they each come with beautiful photos. None of those poorly lit Martha Stewart Instagram food photos! Many books I have only show photos for a few recipes (or none at all), so it’s nice to have a book with pictures of every recipe, so I can see it in action. Don’t ask me why, but having images makes it easier for me to plan meals.

– As you can see below, the cookbook emphasizes the idea of fast cooking. Most recipes can be prepared in less than 30 minutes – many of which take significantly less time. This can be great if you don’t have all day to whip up something for your family, or for an impromptu party!

– Be forewarned, though – prep time does not mean total cooking time. Some recipes take 15 minutes to prepare, but once you add in cooking time, they can take closer to an hour! Make sure to check both the preparation time and the total cooking time before committing to a recipe. Use your common sense – a salad can easily be whipped up in 10 minutes, but baking brownies likely cannot.

– The portions are huge, which is pretty common for Martha Stewart recipes. I find that, even if I halve most of these recipes, they easily serve two people and leave a lunch for the next day! If you are cooking for a family or party, then definitely do the whole recipe – but if it’s just one or two of you, the recipes can be easily halved to make them more manageable.

Cookbook Review: Everyday Food 3Favorite Recipes:

– Spinach with Orzo and Feta
– Favorite Turkey Burger
– Rye-Crusted Pork Medallions
– Creamy Broccoli Soup
– Rustic Apple Tart

Overall Impression:

I think this is a great book, especially if you are newer to cooking. The recipes are easy to follow, simple, and quick to make. Every recipe I’ve made in here came out great, and they continue to be staples in our house. My only gripe is how it’s organized, but it’s something you can easily fix by using sticky labels.

Everyday Food: Great Food Fast is also only $18 on Amazon, which is cheaper than most of Stewart’s cookbooks, which is always a plus!