24 October 2014

Five on Friday

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1. An unfortunate kitchen incident yesterday AM resulted in the untimely death of my beloved slow cooker. As I slooooooowly move through the stages of grief, I need to replace this baby ASAP since we are entering prime soup/stew weather. I need recommendations! I know I can just buy another one of these, but since we have to buy a new one anyways, I'd like to upgrade to a programmable one. I am leaning towards either this oneor this one. I'm leaning towards the Hamilton Beach, because that's what I had and I know the quality will be good. I am not interested in the Rolls-Royce of crock pots (I'm looking at you, All-Clad) and ones with too many bells and whistles kind of terrify me. If you have a stripped down programmable one you love, do share!
2. I have finally come to accept the fact that I am just not a Halloween person. I love fall and all that it entails, but Halloween is just kind of snooze city for me. I have zero interest in decorating for Halloween outside of a glittery raven I bought at Michael's a few years ago (and with a Baltimore-born husband, the raven typically hangs around until the end of football season). I don't have much of a sweet tooth, so other than the excuse to buy harvest-color wrapper mini Reese cups, the candy doesn't excite me. I love the idea of dressing up in costume in theory, but the actual execution just seems exhausting. Honestly, I think the only part of Halloween that I'm into is the nonstop loop of Hocus Pocus and It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown on TV.
3. We haven't seen a movie in an actual movie theatre in over a year. We have not set foot in a single movie theatre since we moved to Vermont. I could not tell you the last movie that either of us wanted to see badly enough to actually go to a theatre. My 16-year old self is shaking her head in disappointment right now. I used to LOVE to go to the movies, but now there are just so many other ways I would like to spend a date night. That said, we will ABSOLUTELY be seeing Unbroken in theatres. I cried when Louis Zamperini died this summer. It is one of my all-time favorite books. If you haven't read it yet, start now and give yourself time to finish it before the movie comes out.
4. Any day now (but hopefully not for another week or two), I will be an auntie! My sister-in-law is due with twins, one boy and one girl. Obviously Aunt Sarah has already made sure the D and M both have a Sophie...can't have my niece and nephew go without THE baby toy. I want to get them something when they're born and I am kind of dying over these little Baltimore onesies. So perfect! Mom readers, what gifts did you really appreciate for your newborn (or what gifts did you wish you could take back)?  
1 // 2 // 3
5. A recent examination of my wardrobe alerted me to the fact that I am down to one pair of sweatpants. I have owned said sweatpants since the 8th grade. I'm not really sure how I let the situation get to this point...what on earth was I wearing around the house all of last winter? I'm working on adding all 3 of the above pairs to my closet ASAP. The first two would be strictly around the house wear, but I feel like the Nike pair have the potential for cute weekend errand wear.
That's all for this week. I have a very glamorous weekend of house cleaning and closet switching planned. Thrilling. Hope your weekend plans are more exciting!

23 October 2014

Weekend Sweets

Per last week's Five on Friday, I bought the pumpkin loaf pan at Williams-Sonoma and got to work on a batch of my favorite pumpkin bread recipe*. (Actually, I made a double recipe and baked 3 ADORABLE mini loaves that we delivered to our neighbors.) I had grand plans of actually buttering and flouring the loaf pan, but I like to live dangerously (read: I'm lazy) and just sprayed the heck out of it with Trader Joe's coconut oil spray. It came out perfectly!  This stuff never lasts long at our house, so I will be giving the new pan a workout for several weekends to come.

*I use pumpkin puree in place of pumpkin pie filling. Would be way too sweet with the pie filling methinks.
This is all that remained after hosting 3 of M's players for dinner last night.
 So this is probably M's favorite dessert that I make. It is a frequent birthday request and it has also become the pie I make for Meal Train occasions (baby, illness, etc.) The last time I made it for new parent friends, I got in big trouble for not making a second one for us. So when we delivered dinner to some new parent friends on Sunday, I made a double recipe and a very happy husband. The recipe comes from my mom's friend V and it is dangerous. Make at your own risk.
Peanut Butter Pie
1 9" chocolate crust
8 oz cream cheese, room temperature
3/4 cup creamy peanut butter
1 cup powdered sugar
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
3/4 cup chopped Mr. Goodbar
1 cup semisweet chips*
Beat cream cheese, peanut butter, and powdered sugar until blended.  Beat in 1/4 cup cream.  In a medium bowl with clean beaters, beat 3/4 cup cream until stiff.  Stir 1/4 of the whipped cream into peanut butter mixture.  Gently fold in remaining whipped cream.  Pour half of filling into pie shell and spread evenly.  Sprinkle on 1/2 cup candy bar.  Pour on remaining filling, spreading evenly.  Freeze until firm , about 3 hours.
*In a small saucepan, heat remaining 1/2 cup cream over medium-low heat until hot.  Add chocolate chips and remove from heat.  Whisk until melted and smooth.  Set glaze aside to cool. 
Before serving, spread chocolate glaze over pie.  Sprinkle with remaining candy bar.  Refrigerate 30 min or until glaze sets and pie softens slightly. 

*I don't ever add the chocolate glaze. I think it takes away from all of the glorious peanut butter-ness of the pie.  

20 October 2014

Menu Monday

I had some ricotta in the fridge I needed to use up and I pretty much always have a loaf of Trader Joe's whole-wheat Tuscan pane on hand, so this ended up being pretty inexpensive, in addition to being easy, quick, and tasty. Meatless Monday winner.
 I've had Kate's recipe for chicken with mustard cream sauce bookmarked for ages and I've never made acorn squash before. No time like the present! The sauce was unreal. So, so good. For what looks like a relatively fancy meal for a weeknight, this was pretty quick and easy to put together, once you manage to slice the acorn squash without losing a few fingers. 
 One of my all-time favorite fall meals. I normally make this with ground Italian pork sausage, but in the interest of calorie-saving, I used sliced Trader Joe's Italian chicken sausage instead. I also used a mix of whole-wheat and regular penne, and I used half-and-half instead of heavy cream. I actually first made this recipe out of the Rachael Ray 365 cookbook (same cookbook as my zucchini pizza), and that recipe includes wild mushrooms and slightly different liquid measurements. I've found both version to be equally delicious.
Mushroom, Green Pepper, and Onion Pizza
Most Friday nights are pizza nights around here. Sometime we get fancy, other times it's pretty basic, but it's always on Smitten Kitchen's lazy pizza dough (I usually do half whole-wheat flour, half regular all-purpose). This is our favorite pizza topping combo when we order take-out, although I would prefer to add olives (which M doesn't like) and M would prefer to add sausage (which my pants zippers don't like). So our compromise is just to stick with the toppings we agree on.
Not pictured is Skinnytaste's Crockpot Turkey White Bean Pumpkin Chili. Another fall favorite. I only use 1 lb of turkey; I think 2 lbs makes it way too thick.
I spent pretty much all weekend in the kitchen whipping up some sweet treats which I will be posting about later this week. Happy Monday!

17 October 2014

Five on Friday

1. OMG YES. The morning after our wedding we invited people to join us for brunch at one of my favorite restaurants in my hometown, Thelma's Chicken and Waffles. Last year when we spent a weekend in Montreal, we noticed that Southern food was kind of trendy there (weird, right?) and went to a little hipster dive for brunch that served us cheese grits, beignets, and, you guessed it, chicken and waffles. A former colleague and I have bonded over a shared love of chicken and waffles and spent a not-insignificant amount of time debating the merits of the Lay's Chicken and Waffles-flavored potato chip.

All of this is to say, I freaking LOVE chicken and waffles and will be making this cake at some point. Would it be weird to bake my own 30th birthday cake? Because this is the perfect birthday cake. Can you imagine it using Chick-fil-a chicken nuggets?!? Oh. Em. Gee. Next level deliciousness.

2. It's the time of year to start thinking about Christmas cards! Or at least it is for me anyways. And of course my annual goal of having somebody take a picture of us and the dogs to use for the card remains unaccomplished. I know there's still time, but we're going on 3 years of marriage and this has yet to be done. I'm doubtful. Anyhoo the past few years I have used LivingSocial or Groupon to purchase our cards. Or more accurately, I've purchased deals through them to get our cards. While I do love all the pretty paper happening over at Minted, I do not love all the $$$ they require for something that, at best, will be on someone's fridge for 3 weeks. The first year we did this, I got a Shutterfly deal, so it was a company I was familiar with and I had no hesitations about the quality or customer service. Last year I bought a Groupon to a company I had never heard of and I was a bit nervous, but our cards turned out great! The company was super nice and easy to work with.
This week, LivingSocial is running another deal. It's another company I haven't heard of or worked with, but a.) using the EXTRA10 promo code got my purchase of 70 cards down to about 37 cents a card and b.) the company has some seriously cute card offerings. I'm willing to take the risk. If you're willing to take the gamble as well, would you pretty please use my link so I can maybe get my cards for free? And then share the love with your peeps and get some free cards for yourself!

3. Pure Barre is coming to Burlington! I realize we're about 5 years late to this party, but I'm so excited to start classes when it opens in November. Any Pure Barre fans out there? Tell me how it has magically transformed you into a Victoria's Secret model so I can justify the price + early AM wake-up calls.
4. The most perfect scene from a walk with the dogs this week. Vermont fall is awesome. Sometimes it is very surreal to me that we actually live here. (Remind me of this feeling of awe and gratitude in 3 months when it's below zero out.)

5. Has anyone ever bought/used one of these molded loaf pans? I'm normally not a fan of kitchen things that can only be used to make one thing specific to a season or holiday, as storage space is at a premium in our teeny tiny kitchen. But pumpkin bread is one of my favorite fall treats to make and I've wanted one of these pans for years. A friend gave me a Williams-Sonoma gift certificate for my birthday and I'm thinking about pulling the trigger, but if they are a total pain in the ass to use (i.e. no amount of greasing and flouring gets the bread to come out looking like it's supposed to), I could still be talked out of it...

14 October 2014

Army Coats

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So I have what you might call a coat fetish. For some women it's shoes, for others it's handbags...for me it's coats. I LOVE coats. When I told my parents we were moving to Vermont, I think both of them immediately responded with something along the lines of, "Oh good, now you can justify all your coat purchases." It's a problem.

Anyhoo, lately I've been obsessed with finding an army coat...or military parka...whatever you want to call them. I saw one on a woman last year and she just looked so cute and cool and I've been on the hunt for one ever since. By the time I started looking last year, all of the cute affordable ones at Zara, ASOS, etc. were long sold out, so the only models left were either only available in like XXS or XXXL or were designer-level $$$. 

This year, I have found 3 very cute, very affordable versions. I realize none of these is going to take the place of my everyday, heavy-duty Vermont winter coat, but I can see this coat being great on some of the "warmer" days here (ha!) and during the weird transitional fall-to-winter weather and winter-spring A.K.A. mud season weather.
First up is this guy from J.Crew Factory. It appears to be selling out quickly online, but I have found that both J.Crew and J.Crew Factory will go to great lengths to find it in a store for you if it's sold out online.
Next up is this guy from Gap. This one is my favorite (it's the only one with water-resistant fabric) and a little bird told me that I may be receiving it as a gift (thanks, Mom!) because it is on sale right now, which also makes it the cheapest of the bunch.
Then we have this version from Zara. Probably the most fashion-y of the bunch, not surprising given the source.

Any other coat fanatics out there?

13 October 2014

Menu Monday

Pasta Ponza (Giada At Home)
For all my talk of how much I dislike Giada, I seem to be making a lot of her recipes lately. I have found her pasta recipes involving breadcrumbs to be a bit disappointing, so I was nervous about making this, but it was lovely. I used some of the last local cherry tomatoes I could find, so it kind of felt like a summer's last hurrah meal. I used Grana Padana in place of Pecorino Romano, although I bet the Pecorino would be better. The only change I would make is to use more capers. I loooooove capers and they were only noticeable every couple of bites. Otherwise, this was a great, quick, and easy Meatless Monday.

Taco Salad (family recipe)
Or as I like to call it, White Trash Taco Salad. This was a childhood favorite of mine and last week I just had the urge to make it, so I asked my mom for the recipe. Here is the recipe straight from her:

1 1b browned beef or turkey
1 packet of taco seasoning
 1 can kidney bean (drained and rinsed)
1 sm onion, chopped
4 diced tomatoes
1 cup shredded cheese
1 head lettuce (original recipe calls for iceberg which I think works best)
1 bag doritos, crushed

toss with catalina dressing
My changes: I use ground turkey. Instead of raw onion, sauté the onion with the ground turkey, along with the taco seasoning. (I always use Budget Bytes' recipe for taco seasoning instead of buying packets; this time I left out the cornstarch and added a 1/2 tsp. each of garlic powder and onion powder.) We used Nacho Cheese Doritos (hence the white trash name). I made Kitchen Simplicity's homemade catalina dressing. And I only put dressing on what I knew we would eat that night. This makes a ton and if you toss it all with dressing, the leftovers are soggy and gross.
And shout out to M, because he actually made this while I was at a volunteer meeting.

Apple Cider Pork Tenderloin with Cheddar Grits (Jenny Steffens Hobick)
I should start by saying this tasted a lot better than it looked. I followed Jenny's advice to only use one pork tenderloin for our little family. Also I used my own recipe for grits; I will not use a Midwesterner's recipe for a Southern food. This was really, really yummy but I would make a few changes the next time around. I found that the pork was a bit overcooked in the cooking time allotted, but that apple/onion mixture actually needed more time. Not exactly sure how I would go about remedying this...maybe start the apple/onion mixture on the stove separately from the pork, add it to the pork, and then reduce the cooking time in the oven by about 10 minutes? It's worth playing around with. This would be a great meal for company if you made the full amount of tenderloin.
Meatloaf, Mashed Potatoes, and Brussels Sprouts Lardon (Barefoot in Paris)
I forgot to take a picture at dinner time, so here is what remained the next day.
We had a few of M's players over for dinner on Thursday, so I made a lot of food. In the interest of full disclosure, the mashed potatoes were made by the Bob Evans refrigerated section of our grocery store. Those things are friggin' delicious. The only change I made to the meatloaf was to use half ground chuck and half ground sirloin. Judging from the amount of fat that was on the pan after baking and the fact that the meatloaf was still moist, that was a fine substitution.
Also, MEATLOAF SANDWICHES. So, so good.  
Last week's meals were on the heavy side, so hoping to get back to more figure-friendly dining this week :)

10 October 2014

Five on Friday

1. I had big plans last Sunday for doing some fall decorating at our place, but ended up spending the day watching a 7 hour marathon of 'The Killing' and nursing a painful hangover. That little project has been moved to this weekend and I'm kind of leaning towards a white vibe. White mums (although I am majorly digging the dahlias here) in the window box planter and white pumpkins flanking the door. I will probably chicken out at the last minute and stick with the more traditional autumnal palette. Martha makes this look tres chic, but I'm afraid it will just look tres boring and uninspired.

2.  We are just few hours away from Quebec City and I am DYING to stay at the Hôtel de Glace. There's something very James Bond-meets-Dr. Zhivago chic about ice hotels. They just seem so cool (har dee har har).

3.  I once read an interview with Ina Garten where she mentioned her favorite cookbooks and immediately added them to my never-ending Amazon wishlist. I am a bit of a cookbook collector (my husband would probably use the term 'hoarder') so I'm always curious to see what is on other people's shelves. My sister-in-law gave me this particular tome for my birthday this year and it is delightful. As the weather has started to get cooler here, I've been cozying up with it on the couch the past few evenings. I have yet to cook anything from it, but Sarah Chase's tone is kind of hilarious. She's endearing and quirky, but also a bit of a snob. Somehow it just works, like she's one of those friends who is a bit ridiculous and you roll your eyes at, but love anyways because they're just so genuine and darn likeable. Also, I can see why Ina is a fan. Girlfriend is not afraid of butter and cream.

4. I bought all of the materials necessary to try my hand (again with the puns) at galaxy nails this weekend. I am thinking this is going to be a disaster of epic proportions.

5. Totally reasonable to spend $800 on this guy, right? I mean, he is just so charming and fun, I'm sure Sallie Mae won't mind if we skip a month of payments to buy an impractical, yet adorable home accessory.