Hot Fudge Cream Puffs!

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Two things come to mind when I hear the words cream puff.  First, is the amazing dessert I had during the holidays growing up.  Second, was my wedding dress.  Being 5’1 and wearing a HUGE tulle ballgown dress that literally swallowed me up…well I just always say I looked like a cream puff!

Anyways, ahhhh the beloved cream puff.  Growing up in my native Michigan…I feel like there were TONS of restaurants that offered a Sanders Hot Fudge Cream Puff on their menu.  In Nashville, I have yet to find one.  But that’s ok! Because I just learned how to make them myself and they are just as good, if not BETTER then a restaurant.  Sanders Hot Fudge is locally made in Detroit and is by far the best fudge you will ever have in your life.  I have to have it on a cream puff!   It’s amazing.  I have a jar on hand at all times.

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I could eat it with a spoon straight out of the jar.  Get some goooooood fudge.  Don’t buy Smuckers or Hershey’s or anything you can get on the self at Kroger.  It’s wrong.  Just don’t.  This is what separates something from being good to being great!!  There’s a time and a place for cheapie fudge, and it’s NOT on a cream puff!

This past Easter weekend I had the pleasure of hosting some of my family in town from Detroit. My two Aunts Norina and Maria (as well as my dad) were all born in Alcamo, Sicily and moved to the states many years ago.  I grew up traveling there in the summer.  It’s an amazing place.  What’s even more amazing is the food.  You haven’t lived until you gone to Sicily and had pizza.  There is no comparison.  It’s been quite a while since I’ve been back and I’m afraid too to be honest because I think I would gain 25 pounds.  Not to mention the thought of putting my 2 and 4 year old boys on a plane for a 24 hour travel day sounds like a total NIGHTMARE.  I do plan to go back soon though!

My aunts are like machines.  THEY DON’T STOP!  I was up for 5 minutes on Friday morning and my aunt said to me, “Get up let’s maka tha creama puffa!” I’m like, you’ve got to be kidding me.  In one day they cleaned out my whole fridge and freezer, stocked it with sicilian cookies-banana bread (just what I need), sundried tomatoes straight from sicily.  Folded all my laundry.  Took all of my produce that I had in bags, washed it all and put it in ziplock bags.  I mean they really DON’T STOP.  I so appreciate having them around.

They’ve always made amazing cream puffs.  They don’t put hot fudge on them…BUT I DO!  We decided to make them for Easter and of course I documented every second.  They always seemed so intimidating to me and I was shocked by how easy they actually are to make!  After a little googling, I discovered that this is actually a pretty common cream puff recipe.  I thought that they had something really special on their hands here here. Haha!  Nope.  Found pretty much the same thing on Martha Stewart’s website.  I’m attaching her video demonstration because it’s really helpful.  And because I’m not into the whole videotaping myself thing….yet at least.  That would require me to look presentable when I cook and right now, that ain’t gonna happen!  So you can watch Martha.  Or whoever this dude is in the video!  Cream Puff Video Demo

Ok here we go!

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Put 1 stick of salted butter in a medium sauce pan with 1 cup of water.  Bring it to a boil.  Once the butter is melted and everything is boiling, add 1 cup of all purpose flour and start to stir very fast.
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Stir, stir, stir! A ball of dough will soon begin to form.
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The dough is starting to take shape.  Almost done!
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Now you are ready to remove it.  There will be a film on the bottom of the pan!
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Spread the dough on a bottom of a bowl to cool off.  Wait about 5 or 6 minutes and then add eggs.
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Add the eggs one at a time with a hand mixer over low speed.  Mix until combined and fluffy.
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Ready!!!
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Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Using a spoon (or a pastry bag) drop about 1 1/2 Tablespoons of mixture onto sheet.
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Just like so!
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Makes around 31 or so!  Bake at 350 for 45-60 minutes.  My oven took an hour.  Watch them, you want them nice and golden on top.
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This is what they will look like when finished.
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Mmmmm light and airy balls of goodness!

 

CREAM PUFF SHELLS

1 CUP WATER

1 STICK SALTED BUTTER

1 CUP ALL PURPOSE FLOUR

4 EGGS

1 TSP. SUGAR (OPTIONAL)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, combine butter, sugar and 1 cup water. Bring to a boil and quickly stir in the flour with a wooden spoon. Continue to stir until a film forms on the bottom of the pan.
Remove from heat and transfer contents to a bowl to cool slightly, about 5  minutes. Add 4 eggs, one at a time with an electric mixer to incorporate egg after each addition.

Grab a spoon a drop out about 1 1/2 TBS. of dough onto the paper.  OR you can use a pastry bag like Martha and transfer the dough to a large pastry bag fitted with a 5/8-inch plain tip. Pipe 1-1/2-inch rounds onto each prepared pan. Gently smooth the pointed peaks with a moistened finger, rounding tops to ensure even rising. Bake until puffs rise and are golden brown, about 45-50 minutes. (My oven took 1 hour) Let cool on sheets on wire racks. Puffs can be stored at room temperature for up to 1 day.  Do not cover them…THEY WILL GET SOGGY!


Now, let’s get to the filling! 

This is a basic lemon cream.  Almost like a custard.  You don’t have to add the lemon if you don’t want to!  I love it.  Or, you don’t have to make the cream at all.  Just do a little scoop of vanilla ice cream and a drizzle of hot fudge.  Mmmmm.  Whatever floats your boat.  This is super easy.

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In a medium saucepan combine 2/3 cup of corn starch and 1 cup of sugar.  Stir to combine.  Then SLOWLY add 3 1/2 cups of whole milk, a 1/2 cup at a time while stirring continuously to remove any clumps.  
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Once everything is nice and smooth, add 1 tsp of vanilla and the zest of one lemon.  Stir to combine.  
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Take the remaining 1/2 cup of milk and add 3 egg YOLKS to it.  Whisk well to combine and then pour it into the the pan.  Whisk, whisk!
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Cook over medium heat and stir CONSTANTLY.  Within 10 minutes it will thicken up.  
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Almost done!
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When it’s ready it will look like this!
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Pour cream filling into a glass bowl and cover with plastic wrap.  Make sure to touch the plastic to the cream and press down.  Otherwise a film will form over the cream and it will harden.  Refrigerate overnight or at least 4 hours until chilled. 
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When it’s cooled, break it up with a knife. 
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Then use an electric mixer and mix on low until smooth and fluffy.  
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Mmmm it’s ready!!!  Time to start filling.  
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Slice the puffs in half and spoon some cream inside!
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#heaveninyourmouth
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Done and done!  
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Drizzle on some hot fudge and enjoy!

 

LEMON CREAM FILLING

RECIPE:

4 CUPS OF WHOLE MILK (divided)

2/3 CUP OF CORN STARCH

1 CUP SUGAR

1 TSP VANILLA

1 LEMON ZESTED

3 EGG YOLKS

Combine corn starch and sugar in a medium saucepan.  Stir to combine.  Then slowly whisk in 3 1/2 cups of milk, 1/2 cup at a time until all of the lumps are gone.  When smooth, add the zest of one lemon to the pan along with 1 tsp of vanilla, set aside.

Whisk together 3 egg yolks and combine with the remaining 1/2 cup of milk.  Stir into the pain with other ingredients.  Place pan on the stove and cook over medium heat while stirring constantly.  Cream will start to thicken up in about 10 minutes.

Cover with plastic wrap.  Make sure to push the plastic down onto the cream so no air gets in.  Refrigerate overnight or at least 4-6 hours.

When cooled, break up with a knife. Then use an electric mixer and mix on low until soft and fluffy.

 

6 Easy Ways to Majorly Step Up your Toast Game!

Toast.  The possibilities are endless.  I don’t know about you but I need substance in the morning.  I simply cannot do just a yogurt and fruit or anything along those lines.  And since I’m not a cereal girl and can’t eat pancakes or eggs n’bacon everyday, I’m sharing some of my all time FAVORITE toast recipes.  Super quick, easy and healthy.  Toast can be pretty boring sometimes.  However, with a few “staple” ingredients that most keep on hand, you can make any of these in 5 minutes or less!  Stop the toast and butter madness now!!  Well, actually.  Now that I think about it…my favorite way to eat toast is to get a piece of crusty sourdough or ciabatta and toast it till it’s really crusty.  Then just slather on some buttttaaaah.   Tear.  Why can’t that shizzz be nutritious?  It’s just not fair.  Anyways.  Step out of the box a little bit and try some of these babies.  Yum, yum and yum.  No photo demonstrations here.  You can’t really mess up toast!  These are DELICIOUS and so satisfying.  Now go make you some!

1.  Sunny Side Up Egg on Avocado Toast

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I mean, come on.  This is amazing.  One of my favorite, favorite quick breakfast toasts!  Whole wheat (or whichever your fav is) with avocado spread on top, fried egg which takes 3 minutes, salt and peppaaa  oh AND, AND what I always, always drizzle just a little sriracha sauce on top.  

 

2.  Strawberry & Almond Butter

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Honestly, this and the avocado egg toast might be tied.  This is equally amazing.  Just depends what I’m in the mood for.  Get some toast and spread some almond butter on it.  I’m obsessed with the Justin’s brand.  Get Justin’s.  It’s just really, really good.  Spread it on!  Slice up some strawberries and bananas.  Then top with Purely Elizabeth Original Granola and a good drizzle of honey.  I promise you this is a party in your mouth.  It is AMAZING.  

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This granola is incredible.  It’s a superfood really!  No refined sugar.  It’s sooooo good for you.  Gluten Free, Vegan, Organic, Non-GMO.  You get the idea.  But it seriously tastes amazing and it’s filled with goodness.

3. Chocolate Hazelnut Spread with Raspberries 

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Mmmmmm if you are craving something sweet with your morning cup of coffee (which I do quite often), TRY THIS.  I used the Justin’s brand again.  They make a great chocolate hazelnut spread.  It has a lot less sugar than Nutella.  Spread some on toast, top with raspberries and a sprinkle of powdered sugar.  (High Five.)

 

4.  Ricotta Cheese with Strawberries

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So I get it.  This is a little bit different.  Not everyone keeps ricotta cheese as a “staple” item in their home.  I do.  I eat it plain with a spoon.  I spread it on a sandwich with some spicy salami or prosciutto.  I add it to my chicken soup.  I like to put it on a piece of plain crusty bread.  ***Sigh*** I’m a cheese freak!  (Except for blue & goat which I hate, hate.)  Anyways, if you’re feeling adventurous…try this.  Spread ricotta on toast, top with strawberries and drizzle with honey and cinnamon.  

 

5.  Bacon, Egg and Avocado!

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Mmmm it’s kinda like a BLT.  Sort of it.  Hard boiled Egg, Turkey Bacon, Avocado spread on toast.  Nom nom nom.  Oh and a little sriracha of course.  Boil eggs a head of time so they are ready and store in fridge!  This is delicious.  
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And get yourself one of these fancy egg things.  I don’t know what they are called.  Wait for it….
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Wait for it…..
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Ah!  Look at that.  Perfectly sliced eggs.  I know you’re excited.  

 

6.  Kiwi Cream Cheese

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Spread some cream cheese, lay some kiwi’s and pomegranate seeds on top!  That’s it.  That’s all I got.  It’s good and simple.  I didn’t save the best for last.  This is probably my least favorite.  Ha!  But it’s good.  

Now go make you some toast!

Easter Brunch”Mock” Bellini’s.

Looking for something delicious and quick to serve with your Easter brunch?  Sick of mimosa’s?  Try THESE!  I was at a party a few years ago and I saw someone do this and I thought…”hmmm…that’s genius.  Why didn’t I think of that?”

Anyone who know’s me knows that I LOVE a good glass champagne (or 2, or 3).  It’s one of my most favorite adult beverages on the planet.  It must be dry.  It must be ice cold.  And it must be fresh!  Don’t try to give me a glass with a few bubbles.  I want to be sneezing when I hold it up to my face! Anything that has champagne added to it is delicious!  Especially Bellini’s.  Mmm mmm mm.  If you don’t feel like meddling your own fruit or are pressed for time… well then, I have the answer! It’s a Mock Bellini!  Who will know?  No one!  Will it taste just as good?  Hell yes it will!  When I finished taking these photos I drank two of them.  Delicious.

Wanna know a little secret?  I use cheaper champagne for Mimosa’s and Bellini’s.  I just used the Veuve Clicquot because it looked better in the photo!  Use a cheaper champagne when you are mixing something!  Its not worth using the good stuff for something like this.  Classic Domaine Chandon Brut is one of my favorite ones for mixing.  Korbel Brut is great too.  I’m not a sweet champagne girl.

So what’s the secret you ask?  Sorbet.  That’s it.  Your Bellini will taste like a Bellini.  Not Champagne with Sorbet in it.  Go on ahead, give it a try.  Spread the champagne love this Easter.  You’ll thank me later.

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I used Raspberry Sorbet for this.  It’s perfect.  Go get you some.  Then scoop a little into a champagne glass.  
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Pour on the bubbly!  Then give it a good stir with a  spoon.  
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Add some fresh raspberries on top!  
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Enjoy!  You have the 60 second Bellini.  

The Mac & Cheese that will CHANGE YOUR LIFE!

Mac and Cheese.  Ahhhh, (sigh.)  A good sigh of course.  I mean, come on.  Is there anyone that doesn’t love it?  If you know someone that doesn’t…you should de-friend them immediately.  I’m serious.  You don’t need that weird person in your life.  Or that negativity.  Ok I’m kidding.  (No I’m not.)  I kinda feel the same way about people that put cottage cheese in their lasagna.  It’s wrong.  Just don’t do it.

This is by far the most amazing, insanely delicious, better than ANY RESTAURANT you will ever go to Mac & Cheese.  I promise.  You’ll never look back.  It’s the holy grail of Mac & Cheese’s.  There will never be another like this.  It’s fancy, it’s creamy, it’s flavorful, it’s…it’s…(sigh again) so many things.  It’s everything.

In all honesty, I’ve eaten at some pretty incredible restaurants and every time I order Mac & Cheese as a side dish my husband and I always say the same thing to each other…”mine tastes better.”  EVERY.  TIME.  I keep waiting.  Waiting for that life changing Mac & Cheese from a restaurant.  It hasn’t happened yet.  Ever since I started making this years ago, my hopes have gone down.  Like waayyy down.  I’m yelling timber for real.  But that’s ok!  Cuz I make it myself yo’.  And it is damn good!  If you want to wow your guests, make this!  If you want to impress your new flame, make this!  He or she will take you home to meet mother immediately.

Now I could never come up with something like this by myself.  I wish I was that good.  Ina Garten (last sigh) is the queen of yumminess.  That woman knows her stuff when it comes to food.  I adapted this recipe from her.  I have tweaked it a bit to make it BETTER.  (She puts tomatoes on hers….ewwwww.) That’s wrong too.  Don’t do that either.  Ina failed me here.  I love tomatoes.  But NOT on my Mac & Cheese. I like to keep it classic with a fancy twist!

EVERY time I make this it comes out perfect.  It’s great too because you can make it ahead of time. This is NOT a “whip it up” when you come home from work type of dish.  It’s time consuming.  But OMG is it worth it.  I’ve never met someone who didn’t go totally crazy when they tried this.

WARNING:  This is not a cheap dish.  The cheese alone will cost you around $15-20 depending on if you have to buy a chunk already wrapped or cheaper if you can get cut to exact weight behind deli counter.  However it makes enough to feed a family and stays good for days in the fridge.  If you want to splurge one day….it’s SO WORTH IT.  

Alright here it goes…let’s start with the breadcrumb topping.

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Start with 5 pieces of plain ole’ white sandwich bread.  Wonder, Kroger brand, whatever.  Remove the crusts and place in a food processor.  Pulse until crumbs form.  (Don’t try to save calories and use whole wheat or whole grain bread.  Just don’t.  There is nothing healthy about this dish anyways so don’t fret.)
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This is what it will look like.  Genius I know.  Dump it into a bowl and set it aside for later.
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Bring a large SALTED pot of water to a boil. Cavatappi are the best noodles to use for this dish.  They have ridges and hold the sauce really well.  If you can’t find Cavatappi try penne or another larger noodle that has ridges to it.  ***Only cook to al-dente the noodles will cook more in the oven!***
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Grate 12oz. of Gruyere Cheese and 8oz. Extra Sharp White Cheddar.  I buy Boars Head Gruyere.  It’s like a mild swiss.  I don’t really like swiss…but when these two cheese’s come together, it’s MAGIC.  Sometimes the ESWC is called something else if you are in a fancy cheese department.  Like mine was called “Flagship Cheddar” and was aged for a year.  Or another time I bought it and it was called “Old English Cheddar.”  VERY IMPORTANT that it is extra sharp.  Tilamook makes a great one but the stores by me do not carry it anymore.  If you are not sure ask someone and ASK for a sample.  ***If you mess up the cheese you mess up the whole dish***
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Heat the milk…1 Quart (4 Cups) of Whole Milk, but don’t let it boil.

 

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Melt 6 Tablespoons of UNSALTED Butter over low heat.  Add the flour and continue to cook over low heat for 2 minutes while stirring with a whisk.
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While whisking, gradually add the hot milk until it is all combined.  Whisk it really good, you don’t want there to be any flour clumps.
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It only takes a couple minutes until all of the milk is combined.  Make sure to keep whisking.  Ina says to cook it for a minute or 2 more until thickened and smooth.  This is where I have found her to be wrong again…lol.  You know because I’m the expert chef and all.  I have made this dish in several different kitchens and stoves.  It has NEVER taken 1 to 2 minutes to thicken.  I promise you it takes at least 7-10 minutes over a medium low heat.  Let it sit for a minute, then whisk again. See how it looks.  It should be smooth but definitely thicker than before.  Almost like if you were making a Béchamel Sauce.  *** If’s it’s still super runny, keep it on longer and keep whisking.***    
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It’s hard to tell but this was the best I could do.  It should resemble this when finished.
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Now you are ready to add the cheese and spices!  Turn off the heat.  Add the Gruyere and Extra Sharp White Cheddar.  Give it a good stir until combined.  
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NUTMEG!  This right here is one of the most important components in the whole dish.  It gives you that feeling like, “hmmmm what is that?”  Use a whole fresh nutmeg.  Don’t use already ground.  You can buy them down the spice aisle.  Ina says to use a pinch.  No, no.  Grate almost 3/4 of a whole nutmeg.  It’s not overpowering whatsoever.  A cheese grater will work for this as well if you don’t have a Microplane Zester like I do.  But you should totally get one because I’ve had this thing for 7 years and use at least 5 times a week.  They are awesome!  
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Add 1 Tablespoon of salt and 1/2 Teaspoon black pepper.  Stir.  
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Strain your noodles and add to the cheese mixture.  
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Pour it all into a 9×13 baking dish or individual ramekins.  I usually like to use ramekins or au gratin dishes so everyone has there own and they all get some of the yummy crust.   
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Now take those breadcrumbs you pulsed earlier and combine them with 2 Tablespoons of melted butter.  (Healthy right?) Stir and kind of mash it to combine.  
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Sprinkle all of the breadcrumbs over the top!  Bake at 375 degrees for 35 minutes or so until bubbly and golden on top.  
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Brace yourselves.  (I made some in a ramekin as well.)  
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Heaven in your mouth.
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My hot hubby loves it.  

Enjoy!!!!

Time Saving Tip: Grate the cheese in advance and store in a ziplock bag!!  Also, the breadcrumbs! Just store in an airtight container.

RECIPE: 

Ingredients

Kosher salt
1 pound cavatappi
1 quart whole milk milk
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, divided
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
12 ounces Gruyere, grated (4 cups)
8 ounces extra-sharp White Cheddar, grated (2 cups)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 1/2 cups fresh white bread crumbs (5 slices, crusts removed)

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the macaroni and cook according to the directions on the package, 6 to 8 minutes.  Cook to al dente.  Drain well.

Meanwhile, heat the milk in a small saucepan, but don’t boil it. Melt 6 tablespoons of butter in a large (4-quart) pot and add the flour. Cook over low heat for 2 minutes, stirring with a whisk. Raise heat to medium low and while whisking, add the hot milk and cook 7-10 until thickened and smooth. Off the heat, add the Gruyere, Cheddar, 1 tablespoon salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Add the cooked macaroni and stir well. Pour into a 3-quart baking dish.

Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, combine them with the fresh bread crumbs, and sprinkle on the top. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbly and the macaroni is browned on the top.

(This recipe has been adapted from Ina Garten)

Easter Dessert & Wine Bar

“A party with out cake is just a meeting!” Wise words from Ms. Julia Child.  Easter is officially less than a week away guys! Do you know what one of my favorite things about the holiday is?  The CANDY and dessert!  It taunts me every time I go into Kroger’s or a drugstore.  Specifically those Cadbury eggs.  The devil.  I seriously raid the boys Easter baskets when they are not looking.  Not to mention I put candy in there I purposely like.  Ohhhh and carrot cake.  J. Alexanders has by far the best carrot cake everrrrrrrr.  If you haven’t tried it…do it!

Any hoo, I always have a dessert table when I host.  I’m a dessert lover by nature.  It’s in my blood.  My family has been shoving cannoli’s down my throat since I was able to chew.  I wish they had to force me now.  Unfortunately I have no problem doing it myself.

So, the dessert table…I like to make things as easy as possible.  Having everything out and ready really saves you time!  Making things self accessible helps to make things stress-free the day of!  Have wine out and chilled with glasses for your guests to grab.  And always, always have desserts already made (or bought.)  Don’t be whipping out the fire torch and doing a creme brûlée at the last minute.  I mean, if you don’t mind having your guests wait a little bit than by all means, fire away!  However I always go the ready-made route.

All of the items below were bought at Target, Hobby Lobby or Homegoods.  (Except for the wicker bunny and candle-Pier 1)  Beautiful doesn’t have to be expensive!!  I have the most aaaaahmazing Homegoods by me and I get TONS of stuff from there.  Sure, we’d all love to decorate a whole table from Pottery Barn but sometimes it’s not realistic.  Find some staple pieces that you can use all the time and mix and match with other things.

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Floral is so important.  It adds something beautiful to even the most dull.  I love playing around with different arrangements.  If you don’t care about keeping an arrangement around for a long time then just go the cheapie route- buy the ones on sale!  That won’t last as long but for a 1 or 2 day thing they will do the trick.  ALWAYS add cold water and flower food.

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Bright colors will really make your table pop!

 

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Add accents such as candles, figurines etc, to dress it up a bit.  I like to have candies, flowers, wine.  Whatever it takes to make it look festive!  And yummy desserts of course.
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….and cracked Macaroons courtesy of my son.  Eeeeeeek.

 

 

Shop the Look:

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Glass Wine Bucket:  Target $14.99
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Shiny Pink Cake Stand:  Homegoods $6.99

 

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Egg Shaped Bowl:  Target $7.99
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Bunny Cake Stand:  Hobby Lobby $9.99

Leprechaun Mojito! St. Patty’s Day Cocktails for Everyone!

Looking for a fun drink to make tonight?  Everyone will love these! For adults, add Vodka to them.  I personally think they would taste much better!  Play around with the amount of pineapple and juice.  You want it really sweet.  The Sprite will tone it down.  I majorly slipped with the food coloring.  So be careful!  You need one drop!  This is more like 5.  Whoops!  The kids loved them! Enjoy 🙂

What you will need:

Makes 2 drinks

  • SPRITE
  • Green Food Coloring
  • Sprinkles
  • 1 Lime
  • 1 Kiwi
  • 1/2 Cup Canned Pineapple
  • Pineapple Juice
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Pulse the pineapple and kiwi in a food processor until smooth.  
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Add enough pineapple to get a smooth consistency.  
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Pulse Pulse! Then taste.  Needs to be really sweet.  If not sweet enough, add more juice!
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Cut a lime and rub it all along the rim of a glass.  Then dip in sprinkles! Add Kiwi/Pineapple Puree, Ice and top with Sprite.  Add a drop of food coloring and your done!  FOR THE ADULTS:  ADD VODKA!  I personally think it would taste much better with it 🙂 

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My Favorite “Light” pasta! Pasta Aglio E Olio!

All you have to do is say the words Garlic and Olive Oil and I immediately get all hot and bothered.  One thing that is for sure is that I am totally PASTA CRAZY.  It’s my favorite thing to eat ever!  Which really sucks because you know, carbs/white pasta/white flour=straight to the ass.  I truly wish I could look at a piece of grilled fish with a side of veggies and fall in love.  It ain’t ever gonna happen! Once in a while it’s ok of course, but I would eat it everyday if I could. I’m not talking whole wheat noodles or even multigrain.  And definitely not gluten free.  I’m talking the real deal. Eggs, water, white flour…you know the drill.  If it’s fresh it’s even better.  But like I’ve said before….

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I buy fresh pasta all the time.  I love heavy pastas and lighter ones too.  They all have a special place in my food loving heart.  There are a few certain ones that I always crave.  However one of them is my all time favorite “lighter” pasta.  And I say lighter because it’s not loaded with cream, butter or cheese.  It’s not super healthy by any means (again, white pasta) but not horribly bad for you.  Just spaghetti, garlic, olive oil, parsley and parmesan cheese. What am I speaking of you ask?  Pasta Aglio E Olio!!  It’s delicious.  It’s easy.  There are not enough words for me to describe my genuine love for this dish.  After spending 8 days in Mexico, I was having pasta separation anxiety.  Cabo doesn’t do much pasta.  So I whipped this up last night for din din and ate a ginormous bowl.  I was happy the rest of the night and you will be too!

If you hate garlic:  you won’t like this pasta.  If you don’t want to have raunchy breath all night:  don’t eat this pasta.  If you are going to have a hot and heavy make session with a new lover:  consider yourself warned.  Garlic will seep from your pores.  Ok I’m kidding.  But for REAL.  Your breath will be stankin’! But I don’t care, it’s worth it!

My favorite place to eat Pasta Aglio E Olio used to be in Acapulco, Mexico at a place called Dino’s.  They used to make it table side and it was to die for.  Unfortunately for Dino’s and myself, I haven’t been back to Acapulco since 2002 when I got the worst case of food poising known to man!  (Not from Dino’s, but from another hotel.) If you ever want to go to Acapulco…gimme a call beforehand so I can talk you out of it.

Anyways, my favorite Chef Ina Garten makes the BEST version of this pasta.  I have made a couple modifications because I found her original recipe to be too salty.

Let’s start with some GAAHHHHHLIC Baby.

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8 LARGE, LARGE cloves of garlic.  If they are not large then use 16 small.
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Peel the garlic cloves and then slice them as thin as you possibly can.
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Fresh Flat Leaf Italian Parsley.  Mmmmm.  Remove from stems as best you can and chop it up.  I usually do 1/4 cup.
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Put 1/3 cup of Olive Oil in a large saute pan.  I use Extra Virgin.
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Over medium low heat sauce garlic until soft and lightly golden.  Ina says 2 minutes over medium.  I say 5-6 minutes over medium low!  You have to be careful not to burn and garlic cooks very quick.
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Let it sizzle just a little!
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1/2 teaspoon of crushed red pepper, add to oil! If you like it spicier add more.
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1/2 teaspoon of salt next.  Ina calls for 1 teaspoon and I have found it to be way too salty. So add 1/2 teaspoon.  You can always add more but you can’t take away!!
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Large pot of water with 2 Tablespoons of salt.  Very important to salt the water because it will flavor the sauce.  Once noodles are almost done, dip a glass measuring cup or coffee mug into the water and remove 1 1/2 cups.   Bring to a boil then let it simmer for 5 minutes or so.
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Once it’s thickened up, it will look like this!  Now you are ready to add the spaghetti.
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Mmmm get ready.
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Turn off the heat and toss it good to combine.  Then LEAVE IT ALONE!  I know it’s hard.  The noodles will soak up all of the sauce.  Let it sit for about 5 minutes.  Then toss again. Put some in a bowl, top with LOTS of freshly grated parmesan cheese and parsley.  
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Behold!  Pasta Aglio E Olio.  Aka….stank breath best pasta eveerrrrrr. 

Here is the Recipe:

Pasta E Aglio Olio

Kosher salt
1 pound dried spaghetti
1/3 cup olive oil
8 large garlic cloves, cut into thin slivers
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Directions

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add 2 tablespoons of salt and the pasta and cook according to the directions on the package. Set aside 1 1/2 cups of the pasta cooking water before you drain the pasta.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil over medium low heat in a pot large enough to hold the pasta, such as a 12-inch saute pan or a large, shallow pot. Add the garlic and cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until it just begins to turn golden on the edges-don’t overcook it! Add the red pepper flakes and cook for 30 seconds more. Carefully add the reserved pasta-cooking water to the garlic and oil and bring to a boil. Lower the heat, add 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and simmer for about 5 minutes, until the liquid is reduced by about a third.

Add the drained pasta to the garlic sauce and toss. Off the heat, add the parsley and toss well. Allow the pasta to rest off the heat for 5 minutes for the sauce to be absorbed. Taste for seasoning and serve warm with lots of parmesan cheese.

 

 

 

Easy & Elegant Easter Tablescape

Spring has (almost) sprung here in Nashville!  Hallelujah!  I don’t know about you but I am so ready for some warm weather and sunshine.  January and February are just awful to me. I’m depressed because the holidays are over, it’s bitter cold (apparently I didn’t move far enough South) and it’s just dreary.  March is finally here and things are looking up!  The Easter Bunny is coming early this year…March 27th is Easter Sunday.  I have family coming in town for a long weekend and wanted to get a head start on a beautiful tablescape to share with all of you since I will be hosting a small get together at my home!

I LOVE, LOVE setting a beautiful table.  It’s my thing.  I put a lot of time and thought into how I want it to look and where I want to go with it.  I have an amazing square dining room table that seats 12.  Well, I have a love/hate relationship with it actually.  It’s awesome in the sense that everyone can see each other and converse easily.  That was my goal when we picked it.  However it’s extremely difficult to decorate for some reason.  The square aspect makes it tough because the table is SO big you have to put something huge in the middle to fill it up which can be challening.  It’s also IMPOSSIBLE to find a tablecloth.

Anyways…I really enjoy tablescapes.  You don’t have to go crazy to make it beautiful.  I have found that just adding flowers, candles and some pretty cloth napkins  with a ring really does the trick.  Everything below was found at Pier 1 and is all 20% off right now (I have included the links at the bottom of the page).  I hope you feel inspired to make a beautiful Easter table 🙂

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How beautiful is this? I went the more traditional route this year which is very unlike me.  (I just really need to get some gold flatware because I don’t have any.) 

Charger plates really make your table. You can find them anywhere.  Even super cheap ones at Hobby Lobby or Michaels.  I have some silver ones from Michaels that I use all the time…I think they were around $1.95 each.  These ones were a little pricier but I made the investment because I know I will use them quite often.  Unfortunately Pier 1 doesn’t have them on their website, but they do in stores!

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I found these beautiful wicker charger plates that I just had to have.  Then decided on a spring floral pattern!  I mean…how cute is that little birds nest in the bowl?  Haha. Dying! (My mother is rolling her eyes right now.) 

I like to have place cards when I have guests over for dinner.  It takes the confusion and uncomfortableness out of the equation.  You know when everyone is standing around looking at each other like “um…should we go here? Or there? Okay you go here, I’ll go there.” Yeah no.  Not having it.  One time I went to a dinner party where I knew NO ONE except my husband. We went to sit down for dinner and I noticed I was not sitting next to Chase.  The host purposely placed the cards for people to sit next to someone they didn’t know so they could get to know them better.  I WAS PISSSSSSSSSED.  And the worst part was not the fact that I had to sit next to some random person.  It was that I was 6 months pregnant and couldn’t even have a drink because of the matter.  Pfff.  Alright I’m going off now.  But anyways, don’t try to be cool.  Just seat your people next to their people!  It’s the right thing to do!

Obviously calligraphy is not my forte here.  All I did was grab a brown paper bag out of my pantry, cut it into a small rectangle and wrote the names down with a black sharpie. Ta-da!  If you want to be fancy schmancy and print them out, go ahead.  I’m totally crazy like that too just didn’t feel like it.

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Bringing out a little pop of color will add something fun to your table.  Notice how I matched the teal egg with the goblet?  Yeah, I’m good like that.  (High five.) So here we have a dinner plate, salad plate and soup bowl.  You can still make the arrangement beautiful with out a bowl.  I probably won’t even use it.  I just had to have it to put this little birds nest in.  Like I said before…I’m crazy like that.  
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The lace detail is beautiful so I wanted to makes sure it was visible.  

There are many different ways you can fold a napkin.  Usually I go the easy route and stick it through a napkin ring and put it on top of the dinner or salad plate.  However because of the soup bowl I couldn’t lay it on top this time.

Here is another great way to do it if you are not able to put it on top of your plates:

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Fold the napkin like so! 
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Lay it flat on the dinner plate and fold underneath.  Then add the salad plate on top!
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Love this look as well…just cannot see the beautiful lace.  For this table I decided just to place the napkin ring on the side.  
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Round tray centerpiece with Easter accents and a colorful floral arrangement.  

Centerpieces don’t have to be complicated.  As I mentioned above, a simple floral display and some pretty candles usually do the trick.  If you are crafty naturally you have an upper hand here! I unfortunately am not.  So I typically buy flowers instead of trying to go the homemade route.  You can’t go wrong with floral.  Candles just add a warm element to your table.  I ALWAYS have candles.

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Speaking of candles, how AMAZING are these bunny candlestick holders??? 
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Another great candle option are these adorable little birds nest tea light holders!  

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Get all of these looks below!

Napkin Rings

Napkins

Diamond Cut Glassware

Botanical Garden Dinnerware

Speckled Egg Tealight Set

Bunny w/Carrot Salt & Pepper Shakers

Bunny Candlestick Holders

Speckled Egg Nest

 

Deliciously Lightened Up Classic Mac & Cheese!

For as long as I can remember, macaroni & cheese has been one of my FAVORITE dishes.  I mean, who doesn’t love it? Oddly enough, my mother the health freak never made me a homemade version growing up.  Kraft was it.  I believe it’s because in the 80’s people weren’t as food conscious as they are now a days.  You know, the whole “gluten free, vegan, organic, soy free, dairy free, nut free” blah blah blah blah blah wasn’t a big concern back then.  But now….it’s enough to give you a damn headache isn’t it?  I’m just finally starting to not be confused going to whole foods.  It took a while though.

So, now that I have my own cherubs…I only want to give them the best.  Carter lives on Macaroni and Cheese.  It’s his favorite thing to eat by far and the only thing I don’t have to beg him or bribe him to eat.  I have always given him the “Annie’s” brand which seemed like a better choice compared to most.  Then I started thinking, “how hard could it be to make a basic mac and cheese that’s super easy?”  I would rather give him something I make myself then something that is processed and out of a box.  So my hunt began.  I found quite a few recipes, however it was one from Cooking Light Magazine that I found to be the BEST with a few modifications of my own of course!  Much to my surprise, not only did Carter LOVE it…but Chase and I were standing over the stove eating it right out of the pan.  It was yummy! Seriously took me 15 minutes to make it. Add some veggies to it!  Or sometimes I will throw some ground flaxseed in there, the kids won’t know the difference.

I have an amazing fancy Mac & Cheese that tops ANY RESTAURANT I’ve ever been too which I will share soon.  It’s labor intensive though but sooooo worth it (Ina….of course).  However this is just a simple, easy peasy and semi-healthy version that I can whip up on a moments notice.  I now keep blocks of cheese in my house at all times.  They come in handy!  This is delicious by itself but for us adults sometimes I like to serve it as a side dish with some grilled chicken or something lighter.

Here is what you need:

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Milk, small noodles (usually I use whole grain but was out!) american cheese or extra sharp cheddar, flour, butter (forgot to put it in the pic) salt and pepper.  YOU MUST GRATE THE CHEESE YOURSELF.  So so sooooo much more flavor.  Also, use 1% or 2% milk it works better.  For the boys I use 2.  NOTE:  I prefer American Cheese for this recipe.  I’m sure extra sharp cheddar or even a combination of both would be excellent too.  Just haven’t tried it yet.  It can be hard to find a block of American.  Go to the deli counter and ask them to cut you a 6oz. block of it.  I use Boars Head.  
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Boil your noodles!  In another saucepan, combine milk and flour.  Whisk!  
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Cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes.  Keep whisking until it thickens.  
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Here it is thickened.  Hard to tell I know but looks much creamier.  
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When milk and flour is thickened add 1 1/4 cup of shredded cheese, 1 TBS of butter, 1/2 TSP salt and 1/4 TSP of black pepper.  
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Stir to combine. 
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Ta-da!  This is what it will look like.  
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Strain your noodles and return back to pan.  Add the cheese mixture and stir.  
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Voila!  Easy and yummy!!  The kids (and adults) will gobble it up.  

 

RECIPE

Ingredients

1 1/4 cups uncooked elbow macaroni (about 6 ounces)
1 cup 1% low-fat milk
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups (5 ounces) shredded american cheese
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon butter
Preparation

Cook pasta according to package directions.  While pasta is cooking, combine milk and flour in a medium saucepan, stirring with a whisk. Cook over medium heat 5 minutes or until thick, stirring constantly with a whisk. Add cheese, salt, and pepper, stirring with a whisk until smooth. Add pasta; toss to coat. Let stand 4 minutes.

 

A food snob and a crock pot. The BEST split pea soup evvvvaaaa!

I have a love hate relationship with crockpots.  Mostly hate I would say.  I never even knew what a crockpot was until I was registering for my wedding shower 8 years ago.  I didn’t put one on my registry, but I did end up buying one a few years ago to see what it was all about.  It just wasn’t the kind of food I was used to eating.  I grew up in a very Italian family.  Nothing was ever super quick and easy it seemed like.  Most of the women stayed at home and were able to make homemade meals every night.  Dinner always consisted of a pasta dish to start, meat, potato or rice, vegetable, salad and of course BREAD.  I’ll never forget this one time I went to a girlfriends house for dinner.  I was probably around 6 or 7.  Her mom gave us sloppy joe’s.  I asked her, “Um, where is the salad?  the pasta?”  I had no idea that other families didn’t eat like we did.  I didn’t know what sloppy joe’s were!  I took one bite and was DONE.  She probably thought…”what a little bitch!” And I’ve never had a sloppy joe since. Ha.

My family turned me into a food snob from the beginning.  My parents loved to go to nice restaurants and I had an appreciation for that sort of thing.  I loved getting dressed up and going out with them.  My mom would let me put on her huge 80’s clip on earrings too.  Don’t get me wrong, growing up I loved fast food and junk food too. Even family diner type places.  I didn’t eat much fast food (until my freshman year of college when my ass blew up like the Goodyear Blimp..but that’s a different story.)

The older I get, the more I turn into an even bigger food snob.  When you love to cook and do it often…you come to realize the shit that’s in our grocery stores and restaurants. I’m seriously on a mission to to provide my family with the best that I possibly can.  Everyday it’s baby steps to better our refrigerator and pantry.  And I’m certain our government is trying to kill us with chemicals.  I’ve watched the Food Network for as long as I can remember.  One of my favorite favorite chefs is Ina Garten.  Yes, she’s a major food snob from the Hamptons.  But I love her because of the food she uses.  Only good quality ingredients and sometimes things that are hard to find.  Let me tell you, it makes all the difference in the world.  I don’t think I’ve ever made anything of hers that I didn’t love.  You won’t find her buying pre-shredded cheese or store-bought breadcrumbs.  Or even store bought salad dressings for that matter.  Her meals are a lot of work (most of them.)  But they are damn good and worth it if you have the time.

So, where was I? Ah the crockpot!  Well, until this soup I have never made anything in a crockpot that I was in love with.  Was it ok? Yeah.  Was it mushy?  Most definitely.  I feel like most crockpot recipes are for “mushy food.” I don’t love mushy food.  Unless it’s mashed potatoes. I’m sure there are lots of good recipes out there I just am not familiar with them.   Soups and stews I could totally do!  It wasn’t until I made this soup that my dismay for the crockpot slowly started disappearing.  I’m totally in love with this pea soup recipe from Whole Foods.  I’ve changed it just a bit to make it more to my liking.  Actually now that I think about it, I used to make Ina Garten’s version but found that this one is better!  It’s not a super thick pea soup.  It has so much flavor it’s amazing.  Serve it with some oyster crackers and your done!  Not to mention my son will not eat french fries but loves this soup.  Something I will never understand but whatever.  Wish I could say the same!  It’s soon cold right now in Nashville, this soup hit the spot.

Here is what you need:

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Split Peas, Chicken Broth, Garlic, Carrots, Celery, Hamhocks or a Ham Bone, Salt and Pepper.
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Rinse the peas and throw in a crockpot.  Put the ham hock/shank on top.  (These will be in the pork section of the grocery store.  Or sometimes they are by the packaged ham/hotdogs and refrigerated pickles.) Using a ham bone or shank is MUCH better than using diced ham.  
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Add 1 cup of finely chopped carrots and onions.
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Then add celery and minced garlic.
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Add the parsley and 6 cups of low sodium chicken broth!  
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Cover and cook on High 4-5 hours or Low 8-10 hours.  
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Mmmm season with salt and pepper, green onion and croutons or oyster crackers!  Relish!

Ingredients:
1 (16-ounce) package dried green split peas, rinsed
1 meaty ham bone or 2 ham hocks
1 cup sliced baby carrots
1 cup chopped yellow onion
2 ribs celery plus leaves, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
Salt and pepper to taste
6 cups low-sodium chicken broth

Method:
Layer ingredients in slow cooker in the order given, adding the broth last. Do not stir ingredients. Cover and cook on high 4—5 hours or on low 8—10 hours until peas are very soft and ham falls off the bone.

NOTE:  MAKE SURE YOU SEASON WITH SALT AND PEPPER ABOUT 30 MINUTES BEFORE DONE.  IT WILL BE BLAND UNTIL YOU DO THIS.  

If you are worried about salt, check out this great article.  I use Himalayan Pink Crystal Salt quite often!

Himalayan Pink Crystal Salt