Monday, October 28, 2013

Festive Weekend

Happy Monday, everybody! First things first: If you haven't entered the Diamond Candle giveaway yet, head over there and sign up. You could win a delicious smelling candle worth $25. One week left to enter!

We had one fall-filled weekend here, and it was awesome. All last week Matt and I were feeling pretty under the weather and went to bed around 8:30 each night as soon as Riker went to sleep, which is why we've had a bit of a blog drought for the last few days. It's been all saltine crackers, soup and early bedtimes. And chocolate chip cookies.

All those nights of getting 9 hours of sleep finally did the trick, though, and we both woke up on Saturday feeling refreshed and much better. Thank goodness! We started the day with breakfast and housework at home, then headed to the park for a little playground action for Riker and family nature walk.

We're having such beautiful fall weather - crisp, leave-crunching, boot weather. I adore it. Early afternoon we left the park to attend a very special party: the gender reveal of my good friend Lindsay's new baby! She and her husband Ryan had all the family and close friends over for lunch, a bidding war over boy vs. girl, and the big surprise. So much fun! I love this new tradition. And in case you want to know...

It's a boy! We have a lot of little girls in the circle of friends, so I'm excited for another boy in the bunch. And how cute are Ryan and Lindsay? They're so excited and are going to make great parents.

I really didn't feel like cooking after being out all day, so for dinner we used up a coupon we had for a family dinner at Via Napoli. I didn't snap a picture, but I had a salad and a splurge dinner of penna vodka with shrimp. It was deeelicious.


Yesterday Matt had a biathlon in North Jersey, which I was originally planning to attend to cheer him on, but we felt like it'd be a long day for Riker between the drive and waiting around for the race to finish. So we split up, Matt and his friend Chris heading up to race, and Riker and I tagging along with Heather, Kevin and their two girls to Storybook Land. Much better option for my little munchkin.

Heather and I joke that we're sister wives when Matt's not around. ;) Storybook Land was all decked out for fall, and the kids had such a fun time going through the hay maze, going on rides and trick or treating in their costumes.

I just love them. Too cute!

It was a long day but a really fun one. I really felt like just collapsing when I got back home around 5:30, but I pushed through to make some dinner for the fam. Two spinach lasagnas were on the meals list - one for dinner, and one for the freezer. I see a scary pattern starting...cold weather, pasta dinners. So much for my low carb commitment! Oh well, sometimes you just need some carbs in your life.

Riker and Matt are now currently carving up pumpkins in kitchen and then it's time for this bunch to relax. (Oy, don't mind the cloth diapers drying in the background - probably TMI for your poor eyes, but it's life.)

Hope you had a great weekend!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

From-Scratch Strawberry Shortcakes

I've been meaning to share this recipe with you for a while now. I actually made it a few weeks ago when we had a little Breaking Bad finale party at our house. I had an extreme itch to bake that day, which was part of my ulterior motive for inviting people over to watch the show together (I mean, late night Sunday nights are not usually party time for me).

Thankfully we had a little group converge on our living room for the screening, so I could make something warm and delicious and guilt-free since there would be no leftovers.

There's just something about strawberry shortcake. I haven't made it in ages and it brings me right back to my childhood, with my mom cutting warm, flakey scratch-made biscuits and whipping up fresh cream until it's fluffy and light. Ooooh my goodness.

A lot of people make strawberry shortcake these days with angel food cake, homemade or store bough, and (gasp) Cool Whip, which I've grudgingly eaten my fair share of times. I know angel food cake is much lighter and all, but fresh biscuits - especially warm ones - just really make this dessert. And it takes all of 3 minutes to make homemade whipped cream, so why not ditch the chemical-laden freezer variety and make a batch of the good stuff yourself? It's so worth it.

These shortcakes are: crispy and warm on the bottom, and get soaked up with sweet strawberry juice; filled with juicy strawberries and cold vanilla bean ice cream in the middle, topped with a flakey, fluffy biscuit top, and doused with light and airy slightly sweet whipped cream.

It just does not get any better.

Strawberry Shortcakes

Serves 8

Ingredients - Biscuits
1 cup flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. sugar
2-3 Tbsp. chilled butter
1/3 cup milk

Ingredients - Filling
1 quart strawberries, gently washed and sliced
1 Tbsp. agave nectar (may substitute 1/4 cup sugar)
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. sugar (optional; may add more if you like sweeter whipped cream)
3 cups vanilla bean ice cream

Preheat oven to 450.

Combine sliced strawberries with agave nectar in a bowl; set aside and let macerate while biscuits are baking.

To make the biscuits, sift together flour, baking powder, salt and sugar; using a pastry blender or 2 knives, cut in the chilled butter until the size of small peas. Make a well in the center and add the milk. Stir just until the dough comes away from the sides of the bowl (if too wet, add more flour; if too dry, add a bit more milk). Turn the dough onto a lightly floured board. Knead about 8-10 times. Roll out with a rolling pin to about 3/4 inch thick. Cut with biscuit or cookie cutter (any shape you like) and place on greased baking sheet. Brush tops with milk and bake 12 to 15 minutes, until slightly browned.

While biscuits are baking, add heavy cream, vanilla and sugar (optional) to a cold bowl and beat on medium-high speed until soft peaks form. Set aside.

While biscuits are still warm, split each biscuit in half, and place the bottom in a bowl; top with strawberries, a scoop of vanilla ice cream and a spoonful of whipped cream. Add the top biscuit, then another dollop of whipped cream. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Crockpot Applesauce (Recipe ReDux)

I'm one day late for this month's Recipe ReDux, but better late than never, right? I loved this month's theme because it's all about using a kitchen tool I use tons this time of year: the good ole crockpot. It sits a little lonely in my kitchen island all summer long, but as soon as the cool weather hits that thing gets dusted off and used almost weekly. Matt usually plugs it in every Sunday to cook up a batch of chili, soup or pulled chicken to eat for lunches for the week, and I usually make some kind of dinner with it every other week or so.

This month, though, the Recipe ReDux challenge was to use our crockpots in new ways other than for the typical slow cooker casseroles. Now I definitely am a fan of traditional crockpot fare, like spinach lasagna and tomato bean soup, but I also like to use the crockpot for desserts, cornbread and other fun things. I even have a mini crockpot I use to make dips or to simmer cinnamon sticks to perfume the house at the holidays.

But I also love to use it to make the easiest applesauce ever.

Making homemade applesauce is pretty easy no matter which way you do it, but in the crockpot it's really no muss, no fuss - like all crockpot dishes. I don't have to worry about keeping an eye on the boiling fruit or stirring it often; I can just throw everything in and let it do its thing while I run errands or whatever, then puree it up and store it in Mason jars in the fridge.

I also love making the sauce homemade because then I know what's really in it. Most of the commercial applesauces contain tons of (unnecessary) sugar and preservatives, and it's usually really hard for me to find the one brand I don't mind buying for Riker - Vermont Village Organic. The brand is hit or miss at my ShopRite so I can't rely on being able to find it, which presents a challenge having a kid at home who loves eating applesauce. So, I make it myself. I can use organic apples, agave nectar (or no sugar, depending on the sweetness of the apples), lots of cinnamon and nutmeg, and even additional fruits if I feel like jazzing up the flavor. You can also puree it super smooth or leave it a little chunky if that's your preference. It's so easy and so versatile!

Crockpot Applesauce

Makes about 6 cups

8 apples (I use organic Macintosh or Yellow Delicious)
2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. allspice
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. agave nectar or honey
1/2 cup water or unsweetened apple juice
1 tsp. lemon juice

Wash, core and cut apples into large chunks (I leave the skins on half for added fiber). Add them to the crockpot along with all other ingredients. Cook on high for 2-3 hours, until apples are soft. Turn off heat and puree with an immersion blender, or in a food processor. Store in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Giveaway: Diamond Candles

I've got a really fun giveaway on the blog today. It's not food, but it is all natural and will make your house smell homey and delicious for weeks. It's a Diamond Candle! If you already know about Diamond Candles, feel free to skip to the end and enter the giveaway. If you're a newbie to these candles though, read on for some details.

Diamond Candles makes earth friendly, all natural, highly fragrant premium quality soy candles. But their candles come with a unique twist - every candle comes with a "ring reveal experience", meaning the candles each have a ring inside worth $10, $100, $1,000 or even $5,000.

When Diamond Candles contacted me a few weeks ago about trying one of their candles, I was definitely game. I'm a huge candle lover but don't like the sickly sweet or fake scent that many mainstream candles have, so was interested to see how their candles would stack up. I ordered the Cinnamon Roll scent since it seemed fall-ish, and couldn't wait to get it burning when it arrived in the mail.

There are a few things I love about these candles:

1. They smell really great. The Cinnamon Roll scent is sweet and warm without smelling sugary, and it's fragrant enough that you can smell it throughout the whole downstairs vs. just in the kitchen where I burn it.

2. It's super long-lasting. I've been burning it almost every day for a few weeks, and it's only about 2/3 of the way down.

It's also fun waiting for the ring to appear.

See the gold foil peaking out there? Once I got about halfway down I was able to pull the foil packet out with some tweezers and get to the unveiling.




I don't think I scored one of the $5,000 rings, but I didn't expect to. ;) The ring I got had a heart shaped ruby and isn't really my style, but the experience was fun nonetheless.

They have tons of other styles - check out their Instagram feed or photo album for other ring reveals - so maybe yours will be just your taste!

How to Enter

Ok enough talk, time for the good stuff. To enter and win a Diamond Candle for yourself (any scent you like), click the link below and enter your info. You can win extra entries by Liking the Diamond Candles Facebook or Pinterest pages.

Enter HERE: a Rafflecopter giveaway

Earn extra entries here: Like the Facebook page, Follow them on Pinterest / pin a picture on Pinterest

The contest will be open for two weeks and will conclude on Sunday, Nov. 3. Leave me a comment letting me know you entered so I can cheer you on, and good luck!

**This giveaway is sponsored by Diamond Candles. As always, all opinions are my own.**

Monday, October 14, 2013

Foliage Pilgrim

Happy Columbus Day, everybody! Normally on this day I’d be making the drive back from my annual fall trip to Vermont, but I’m currently sitting at the airport waiting for my connecting flight to Indianapolis. I’ll be speaking at a PR conference there tomorrow and wanted to get in early today to enjoy some of the other sessions taking place this afternoon. That didn’t stop me from making the annual Columbus Day trip home, I just shifted things and went home Thurs-Sun instead. I just can’t pass up the chance to see the turning of the leaves each year.

Granted we were about a week late so the trees were past their prime, but they were still beautiful. Matt wasn’t able to come since he had soccer and school duties to attend to, so my sister Amanda and her boyfriend Justyn drove up with Riker and me. We had a blast, as always. We got a chance to see my dad, brother, SIL and nephew on Thursday night for dinner. How cute are these two little guys?

Cousin love. <3

The rest of the weekend was spent with my mom, stepdad Bruce, and grandma. Friday started with breakfast smoothies at home, lunch at our favorite spot, Positive Pie, and an afternoon hike up Owl’s Head mountain. We also took a drive out to a farm where my mom gets her fresh produce, and Riker adored seeing all the animals. He can say all their names now, and mimic their sounds. Cracks me up. You could pretty much call it the perfect Vermont day.

My mom made us a big turkey dinner for Friday evening which was waiting for us at home, so we ended the day with full plates of food and some fierce game playing – a family tradition at our house.

I tried to eat healthy most of the time while I was away, ordering salads for my entrees when eating out in VT and while on the road, and skipping the homemade pancakes and toast served up at breakfast.

…But I definitely indulged in some treats - craft beers, homemade apple and chocolate cream pies courtesy of Bruce the baker, and lunch appetizers of fried Brussels sprouts, panko pimento cheese balls and beer pretzels.

Particularly on Saturday, when my mom and Bruce took Riker out for a kids day and left me, Amanda and Justyn to ourselves for an adults day. Justyn had never been home with us before and had thus never done the Food Tour of Waterbury, so of course that was on the agenda. But we started things off with a down-to-the-wire hunt for the infamous Heady Topper beer to bring home for friends (and FOUND it! The last six 4-packs in the whole state) and a trip to Stowe Mountain to ride the Alpine Slide down the ski slopes.

Amanda and I haven’t ridden the slide since we were kids and it was really fun - and beautiful during the fall.

Afternoon activities included visiting Cold Hollow CiderMill, Cabot Cheese (new flavor alert - Everything Bagel!), Lake Champlain Chocolates and Ben & Jerry’s, sampling goodies and purchasing treats to take home along the way. We stopped for lunch at my other favorite pub, Prohibition Pig, followed by a little happy hour at Arvad’s down the street.

It was a great, great day. And as much as I love spending time with my little guy, it really is nice to have a grownup day once in a while too.  I enjoyed getting to hang out with Amanda and Justyn without having a toddler pulling on my leg yelling “MOM!” every 10 seconds. ;)

We were up early and headed home yesterday so we could be back at a reasonable hour, and after watching the (amazing) Patriots game I got to unpacking and re-packing and getting ready for my achingly early 4 am alarm clock. Needless to say, I’m hurting for caffeine right now. Better go grab a cup before boarding my next flight.

See you after Indianapolis! (P.S. For more weekend trips, check out my Instagram feed.)

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Parmesan Cauliflower Soup with Kale Chips

Our ridiculous little heat wave of 80 degree weather is finally over. It's time for fall, time for boots, time for SOUP!

When I was little, my mom used to make this creamy cauliflower soup that I just adored. When I mention it these days she says she doesn't remember making it, and doesn't really like cauliflower soup, so thinks I'm making things up. Um, no. I remember. I remember it being creamy, cheesy and delicious and always asking for it.

So now that fall is here and I'm starting to make soups again, cauliflower soup was one of the first that popped into my head. I picked up a head of cauliflower at the grocery store last week along with a bunch of kale to eat on the side, but didn't really have a plan for how to recreate the soup from my childhood.

Thankfully, after just throwing some things together in a pot after work last night and tweaking a bit as I went along, it came out perfectly. It was silky smooth, full of flavor and actually quite hearty. Matt and Riker both loved it and we devoured almost the whole pot. It's also low in carbs, made without cream and can be made in about 30 minutes - bonus!

So you might be wondering about the addition of kale chips on top. Well, with such a smooth and creamy soup I like to have something crunchy. But since we try to eat low carb during the week (meaning no crackers to crush on top or bread to dunk) and I felt we needed a green veggie (you know my feelings on kale), crispy kale chips sounded like a great idea. And they were. They were salty, super crunchy and were great crumbled on top (where they simultaneously stayed crunchy and got chewy as they seeped into the soup), as well as eaten on the side.

These things are majorly addicting.

Parmesan Cauliflower Soup with Kale Chips

Serves 3-4

Ingredients - Soup
1 head cauliflower, cut in large chunks
3 cups water
2 cubes vegetable bouillon
1 tsp. sea salt
2 tsp. pepper
1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup extra sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
1/2 cup parmesan cheese

Ingredients - Kale Chips
6-7 large kale leaves, washed and torn into big pieces
Olive oil
Sea salt

Directions - Soup
Put the chopped cauliflower and 1/2 cup water in a stock pot; cover and bring to a boil, and cook over medium heat until cauliflower is fork tender, about 10-15 minutes.

Add bouillon, salt, pepper and remaining water. Stir to combine, then puree with an immersion blender (alternatively, puree in a blender). Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about 5 minutes.

Add milk, cheddar and parmesan, and simmer on low another 10 minutes until cheese is melted and flavors are combined. Top with kale chips and serve.

Kale Chips
Preheat oven to 415 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with tin foil, and lay the kale on top. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Massage gently until kale is completely covered with oil.

Bake for 10 minutes. Then flip and cook for 1-2 minutes more. Remove and serve immediately.