Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Trick or treat: Pumpkin recipes for everyone

**Today is the last day to enter to win 3 dozen cookies!**

Hi and a happy Halloween to you!  Now you can rest easy, knowing what I carved into my pumpkin this year.  Artistic I am most certainly not.  The response from one of them while we were carving them at last weekend's pumpkin party: "Aw, that's very Katy."  I'll take it :)

While my carving skills may not be anything to write home about, I'd say my pumpkin adventures in the kitchen are much more exciting and delicious.  Just because today is Halloween doesn't mean that it's the end of the road for pumpkin dishes.  As far as I'm concerned, pumpkin flavors are even more in season in November and around Thanksgiving.

Here is a collection of all of the pumpkin recipes I've posted over the years. Enjoy!

Are there any pumpkin recipes you'd like me to make and feature in upcoming posts?  Sound off below!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Cheesy spinach soup

***Only two days left to enter for your chance to win three dozen cookies of your choice!***

Raise your hand if you've heard of Homestar Runner.  If you're not familiar, check it out for yourself.  Be warned that this was a freshman year of college discovery and isn't exactly high brow (read: it's utter nonsense, but really really funny).

So, now that we're all on the same immature page, let me tell you that it was this particular bit that I was thinking of, particularly the 3:20 mark.

Since the time friends and I first watched that or any of the other cartoons, we have regularly quoted Homestar and company.  "Thanks for breaking my cow lamp," and "I brought back your fondue pot," are particular favorites.  But the phrase "witches' brew" also ranks very high.  Oh, and you've gotta say it the right way, pronounced brew like bwew.  Classy, I know.

From this admittedly childish cartoon comes my instant attraction to this soup, so aptly named witches' brew.  Or, as more mature folks might want to refer to it, cheesy spinach soup.

Just because we're 28 (no lie, I first typed 27...) and no longer accepted on neighborhood doorsteps requesting candy as innocent trick-or-treaters doesn't mean we can't enjoy an incredibly festive and sweet Halloween.

This soup was the perfect first course for my spooky dinner.  Creamy and cozy and a bright ghastly shade of green.  I could make a joke about the secret ingredient being frog's breath, but that would reveal how many times I've watched The Nightmare Before Christmas in the past week.  Cough two and a half cough.

Oh, and just in case you were worried this was some thin and bland soup, let me be the first to correct you.  This is one thick and creamy dreamy soup!  The garlic and onion, savory saviors they are, and the vegetable broth give such depth and flavor... the kind of smells that draws you into the kitchen wherever you may be in the house.  Plus, the blended potato and spinach really make this soup so satisfying.

And the cheese?  Gruyere.  That's serious cheese.  Not your average cheddar or mozzarella.  Gruyere might be my most favorite cheese because it's got such great nutty flavor but also melts like buttah.  And it's just as rich.

You better believe seconds were served.

The only thing that could've made this soup more festive were the bat and pumpkin-shaped toasts created with the help of cookie cutters and everyday bread.  Because if you can't play with your food on Halloween, when can you?

Any damn time you want to.  Because, as adults, who will stop you?

P.S. For those of you who are curious, the complete menu looked like this:
  • Witches' brew (cheesy spinach soup)
  • Vampire repellent (garlic and herb pork tenderloin)
  • Witches' fingers (roasted green beans)
  • Boo cups (individual ghost in the graveyard desserts)

One year ago: Chili lime chicken with black bean corn salad
Two years ago: Red velvet cake
Three years ago: Pumpkin bisque

Cheesy Spinach Soup a.k.a. Witches' Brew
(adapted from Annie's Eats)
-yields 4-6 servings as a side, closer to 4 as a main course

A few notes: Regarding the blending, I highly recommend using an immersion blender a.k.a. the little wand that could.  Read all about it here.  If you don't have one, a regular stand blender will do the job, too, just be sure to remove the top and let steam escape periodically and make sure to do it while the blender is OFF!  Just saying.

2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium russet potato, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
3 cups vegetable broth
Ground black pepper
8-10 ounces baby spinach leaves
4 ounces gruyere cheese, grated

Melt butter in a large stock pot over medium heat.  Add onions and saute until tender, about 3 to 4 minutes.  Add garlic and potato, stirring until fragrant, about 1 minute.  Add vegetable broth and bring to a boil.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook about 15 minutes until potatoes are tender when pierced with a fork.

Stir in spinach leaves and cover for 1 to 2 minutes until leaves are completely wilted.  Use an immersion blender, blender, or food processor to blend the soup (in batches, if necessary) until smooth.  Stir in the grated cheese until completely melted.  Enjoy with a slice of crusty (and haunted!) bread.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Blogging birthday + a sweet giveaway for you!

Hello there!  No, your eyes aren't deceiving you.  This is rare Saturday post to mark a very special occasion -- my blog's birthday!  

Exactly three years ago today, I published the very first post under the title Baking, domesticity, and all things mini.  I'll admit that I wasn't quite sure what I'd do or say with a website of my very own, which is why I chose the title I did.  I wanted this to be a place where I could share recipes and pretty much anything that amused me that I thought would, in turn, amuse family, friends, and soon-to-be-friends and allow me to connect to people in new ways.

Three years later, this has become so much more than I ever thought it could be.  I've challenged myself to play with new and, occasionally, interesting foods.  (Somewhere, my dad is still calling me a tree-loving hippie and mispronouncing "quinoa" even though I've corrected him a hundred times.)  I've opened myself up to strangers who happen to come along, sharing some of the biggest milestones in my life, and making new friends along the way.  I've (slightly) improved upon my food photography skills and realized I'm finally ready for a grown-up camera beyond my compact point and shoot.  I've even had a few extended lapses in inspiration, kitchen activity, and thus posts.

But, you've not only stuck with but also motivated and energized me and made this downright fun.  Again, I can't say it enough, but I'll surely try -- thank you!  Thank you, thank you, a-thank-you from the bottom of my heart, wherever you are.  :)

Enough talking, right?  To the good stuff -- a sweet giveaway for you!

To celebrate this occasion, I want you to know how important you are to the success of this blog.  Without fantastic, brilliant, witty, and hungry readers like you, I'd have closed up shop many moons ago.  So, I'm hosting the very first contest with a real live (not technically) buttery prize!

Three dozen cookies, of any one recipe ever posted on this blog, of your choice!

How to enter: Leave a comment telling me what your favorite recipe ever seen on this blog is.  It can be for cookies, or it can be a soup, side dish, or something entirely different.  Use the quick label links on the right to browse through the plethora of cookie recipes and pick one that entices you the most!

Rules:  One entry per person.  The deadline for contest entries is 11:59 PM EST on October 31st, 2012.  A winner will be chosen at random using  I'll even ship the cookies to anywhere in the continental United States.  I'll contact the winner November 1st for recipe confirmation and shipping details.

Good luck and happy baking!

One year ago: Delectable twos
Two years ago: Happy first birthday to me! 
Three years ago: Well, hello there!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Apple cider quinoa salad with sweet potatoes, black beans & onions

"We eat first with our eyes."  If that saying is true, then it would appear that I had three servings of dinner last night.  Three!  Gulp.  But, I'm getting ahead of myself.  Let me begin from the top.

What started out as a plan to create a super seasonal quinoa dish turned into a glamour shots session for one of the most photogenic and autumnal dishes I've ever made!  Sweet potato quinoa with apple cider dressing for the win!

For days, I wrote and rewrote the recipe for a fall quinoa salad.  My primary goal was to create the most flamboyant color scheme dinner has ever seen.  No room for subtly here.

Besides, since when have I ever been subtle?  I barely know the meaning of the word.  It's pronounced sub-tull, right? :)

All (bad) jokes aside, you've gotta try building a recipe around the colors of the rainbow sometime.  Turns out it's fun!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

How to: Potato prep

If you're like me and try to prep ingredients (namely chopping vegetables) at the beginning of the week, you're going to want to pay attention to this nifty tip I've got for you.

Once upon a time, potatoes were the only produce item for which I had to wait until the last minute to prep.  Washing, peeling, and chopping takes a surprising amount of time, especially when you're already ravenous.

You know that feeling.  When a few additional unexpected minutes stand between hungry self and satisfied self, the likelihood of diving head-first into that Costco-sized container of cheese puffs increases ten-fold.  It's okay because we've all been there.  This is a judgement-free zone, friends.

And a learning zone, too.  I'm going to make sure I can do whatever possible to shave a few more minutes off of your prep time so dinner can be on the table even quicker!

Tip: Peel, cut, and chop potatoes up to the night before using (18 hours or less).  Immediately place in resealable container or bowl that can be covered with plastic wrap and fill with water until potatoes are completely covered.  Refrigerate, covered, until using.

It's the little things that really do make a big difference!  Use this tip when making any one of these ultra comforting recipes:

Monday, October 22, 2012

Mini Oreo cheesecakes

I don't know how else to start other than by saying that I was so excited to make this recipe that I could hardly stand it! 

That's what journalists would call the hook, right?

I saw it about two weeks ago and immediately put it on my list of things to make soon.  Not the normal list, where things can linger and be lost for weeks or even months, but the "make this right now" short list.  It's the super exclusive velvet-roped VIP section of recipes.  Basically, this recipe made it straight to the champagne room with just a single nod to the bouncer and was led back by the owner himself.

(This is how I assume VIP sections and champagne rooms work, anyway.  My only experience with said places comes from movies like Night at the Roxbury.  Fantastic movie, by the way.)

Friday, October 19, 2012

Fast Friday: Kale chips

As fate would have it, I'm late to the kale chips party.  Not 5 or 10 minutes,"Oh, I neeeeeever show up at an event on time.  I'm going fashionably late," late.

More like, "Crap, all of the cocktail shrimp and mini cupcakes are gone and half of the guests are a little tipsy," late.  In other words, almost too late. 

But, not so late that I missed all the fun.   And that's what counts.

Better late than never, right?

I'd heard of, read about, and been downright bombarded with the concept of kale chips for months.  They certainly intrigued me but never jumped out at me as something I needed right this minute.  Until after I'd tried them for myself, that is.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Harvest chicken quinoa stew

You might have noticed that I'm on a few food kicks lately (i.e. pumpkin). Well, you can rest easy that this isn't another pumpkin recipe.  It's a kale recipe!

Things between kale and I have gotten really serious these past few weeks.  Spinach used to be my main squeeze, but kale is really coming on strong.  And I love it.

If I were in 6th grade (pre-cell phone era), I'd be stealthily passing kale folded pieces of notebook paper.  On it would be scribbled notes like, "Do you want to be my boyfriend?  Circle one of these: Yes  No  Maybe   Pass back before recess."

If we were in high school, I'd be lingering by kale's locker, batting my eyelashes as he returned from gym class.  (That kale, he's such a fitness nut.)

And, if we were working adults, I'd be in full swoon mode when a lovely bouquet of kale showed up at my office unannounced.  All of the other ladies would be jealous.  Flowers are so last season, boyfriends and husbands of the world.  Kale is in.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Pumpkin & bean enchiladas

Have you ever caught -- and stopped -- yourself in the midst of doing something only to realize that you've actually been doing the same thing, unnoticed, for hours or days at a time?

My favorite example of this occurs when I'm shopping.  I'll be browsing around a store and begin picking up items when, after a few shirts, scarves, or sweaters are draped over my arm, I'll notice that every item is some shade of orange.  I'll picture my closet and think, "Hm, maybe I could use a pop of bright color and some more orange in my wardrobe," and head into a dressing room.

It's there, in the dressing room, when I'll catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror and put two and two together:

I'm wearing an orange sweater with an orange scarf.

I'll then realize that I've been in an orange kind of mood and worn something in that color every single day that week.  Now it all makes sense!  I wasn't trying to fill some pumpkin-hued void in my closet.  I was continually satisfying a craving to dress like a traffic cone.

Armed with this knowledge, I'll once again examine the items in my dressing room... and I'll try on all of 'em anyway.  There's no stopping me.  When a lady wants orange clothing, she's going to get orange clothing :)

Friday, October 12, 2012

Friday five - tailgating edition

Oh, Friday!  How I long for you, week after week, but this week seemed like our longest separation yet.  In a cruel twist of fate, Tuesday felt like Wednesday, while Wednesday felt like Tuesday.  And Thursday?  Clearly, it felt like Friday.  Regardless of what day it feels like to you, it IS Friday -- hooray!

Here are my five must-haves for a day of tailgating to celebrate Friday and the weekend.  It's Pitt's homecoming and Louisville visits the 'burgh tomorrow!  Can you tell how pumped I am for friends and food and fun in the parking lot?  And hey, did you know there is a football game, too?

1. Pocket packs of facial tissue... or a few nicely folded squares of toilet paper.  If you've ever been to a public event, be it a game or concert or even community festival, you already know what I'm talking about.  There is never, ever enough toilet paper in the bathrooms/port-a-potties on the premises.  My friend (and bride-to-be!) Julie is always prepared and has saved many of our butts (...) multiple times.  Plain white is just fine, but feel free to jazz up things a bit with these adorable tissues; just don't leave home without 'em.

2. Comfortable shoes.  Bonus points for team colors.  When it's warmer, boat shoes are my go-to footwear; when it's much, much colder, toasty warm Uggs are the only things I'll don.  But, when it's crisp, just chilly enough perfect fall weather, I won't leave home without my blue and orange New Balance classics.  Though still kickin' (pun intended), they're certainly on the way out.  I'm already on the hunt for a new pair, and this blue and gold pair certainly appeals to the Pitt alum in me.

3. Fun size candy bars.  My friend's mom, who happens to be the tailgate planner extraordinaire, has always had a bowl of mini 3 Muskateers, Milky Ways, and Snickers for everyone to enjoy.  For almost 3 years now, I can't remember a single game without them, be it a late night kick-off or a bacon, eggs, and mimosas tailgate feast.  Heck, she's even brought ice packs to sit under the bowl of chocolate in the hot early season games.  While we greatly appreciate the candy before and after the games, I think the most enjoyment comes from stuffing one's pockets with fun size treats and sneaking them into the game :)

4. Layers of clothing.  I've learned that temperatures can range from 35 degrees in the early morning and warm to the mid-60s when the sun is out in the middle of the day and then back down when the sun sets.  Puffy vests, scarves, hoodies, and cardigans are all essential parts of a person's comfort (and subsequent happiness) on a long day out in the "elements."  As of this moment, my gameplan for tomorrow includes a T-shirt under a hoodie, all topped with a puffy vest with hand warmers in the pockets, just in case.  Regular jeans will suffice -- no need for long underwear just yet.

5. Comfort food that will warm your insides and satisfy your appetite for hours.  Since kickoff is at the unfamiliar hour of 11:00AM, I dove into my breakfast archives for something autumnal.  Can't wait to bake this granola apple crisp again... it's been too long!  Filling the apartment (and subsequent parking lot in which we'll be "dining") with the smell of apples and cinnamon... yes, please!

What are your tailgate must-haves?  Be sure to stock up.  And, even if you're not attending any sort of game, who says you can't have a tailgating party in your driveway or living room?  Wishing you happy festivities, whatever they may be! :)

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Turning an epic fail into epic cookies!

"I have not failed.  I've just found 10,000 ways that don't work." -Thomas Edison 

Last week, I set out to make a birthday treat for one of Matt's friends.  This is the friend with whom I discussed his epic Butterfinger pie at length.  The crust was the one component he couldn't seem to get right and, turns out, neither could I.  Despite months (true story) of research and what I thought was a fool-proof recipe, I ended up with a pie plate full of a Butterfinger and pretzel mixture that was molten hot but hard as a rock.

Note to self: Theoretical research is only good when you can back it up with practical application.  [insert sound of firmly smacking one's own forehead here]

I was a bit panicked since I waited until the night before the birthday celebration to get to cookin'.  Mistake #1, right?

Anyway, when I took the pie plate out of the oven, I realized that there was no way that I'd serve this to neither people I liked nor people who preferred to not eat dessert with a chisel.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Homemade taco seasoning & shells

Lately, I've noticed that I prefer to make my own [insert easily store-bought item here].  I'm not turning up my nose at the packaged stuff because it's both incredibly convenient and, let's be honest, pretty darn tasty.

Instead, I like to think of this new-found preference as a personal culinary challenge.  "Can I make such and such as good as the pros?"  And, maybe do it with a little more control over what goes into my food.  Because, hey, my name is Katy and I'm a control freak.  I know, I know, you're so shocked.

I've conquered some of the best pre-packaged foods out there with great success and made homemade versions that rival and even surpass the originals.  Brownies.  Marshmallows.  Even beloved Oreos.  If I could make myself dessert, I could surely tackle the main meal, too.

(I bet I almost fooled you into thinking I've never eaten just brownies for dinner.  Totally have and totally will again.  Many times.)

A week ago, out of the blue, Matt said, "We should make tacos."  That was all it took for me to jump on the taco train.  In part because he never, ever requests particular meals, but mostly because I looooooove tacos.  So, so very much.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Friday five - back again!

Maybe it's because I had the Monday off from work or the changing of the season and month, but I cannot seem to get a handle on what day it is.   For example, I totally thought Modern Family was on last night because, you know, it was supposed to be Wednesday.  But, I was happily surprised to find out it was actually Thursday and my favorite NBC shows were all new.  30 Rock returned for it's final season... single tear!

At any rate, I think I've caught up just in time to cheer with you -- TGIF!  Turns out it's been a while since the last installment of the Friday five, so allow me to share with you things I'm totally loving right now.

1. Get ready for my most ridiculous fashion craving yet: I want a leather skirt.  And I want one that fits properly (I'm looking at you, Kim Kardashian.)  Yes, I realize it's highly impractical, but a girl can dream.

2. Love this dress for fall.  All I need are some gorgeous brown leather boots to go with it, which would be a much more sensible purchase than a one and done skirt. Since the dress is already on sale, I'll be saving some money on the first purchase, right?  #lovecolumbusdaysales

3. I've been busy checking things off my fall essentials list.  On tap for this weekend?  Getting my hands on a salted caramel hot chocolate from Starbucks.  Yes, please, and thank you.

4. Movie time!  After checking out the weather forecast, it looks like it's going to be a cool and damp weekend 'round these parts.  Since football will be Sunday's entertainment, Matt and I talked about catching a flick on Saturday.  If we go out, the options are The Perks of Being a Wallflower or Argo.  If we stay in, we'll probably rent The Hunger Games.  Have you seen any of those three?  Recommendations are appreciated :)

5. Soups.  All the soups!  Thank goodness cool weather will be around for months and months (seriously, I love wintertime!) so I can try a new soup recipe every week.  Most recently added to the list, and given some high priority, is this cheesy spinach soup a.k.a. witches' brew created by Annie's Eats.  Cannot wait to try this with some crusty bread!

Find some fun this weekend and enjoy fall, wherever you are! :)  Catch you on Monday...

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Sneaky easy baked ravioli

Semi-homemade!  Totally unscripted!  Or, as I like to call it, Wednesday's surprisingly really, really awesome dinner.

(Public Service Announcement: I might get a little italic and bold happy with this recipe.  It was just so unbelievably good and, you know, since you couldn't be here to taste it, I've got to convey that to you somehow.  My apologies if anything other than normal font offends you.)

Okay, so it wasn't that much of a surprise that Matt and I both loved the heck out of this dish because we also loved every single ingredient that went into it!  As Joey would say: "Tomatoes - good.  Beef - good.  Ravioli - good.  Cheese - good."

Don't worry -- there were no lady fingers or jam in sight.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Leafy monogram letter autumn door decoration jump at the chance to employ ridiculous seasonal puns :)  But seriously, just wait until you see this super easy craft project.  It'll have you falling for autumn, too.

It seems like I always get the crafting itch around this time of year.  After three straight months of using all my brainpower to decide between ice cream and frozen yogurt, I'm ready for a new Sunday afternoon ritual.  Sipping a mug of hot chocolate.  Planting myself on the living room floor in front of me while watching Sunday football.  A large pot of soup simmering away on the stovetop.  All while working on a creative project.  Fall perfection, I'm telling you!


Those oversized bins of brightly-colored faux gourds and straw garlands in front of the local Michael's and JoAnn Fabrics stores seem like they're calling my name.  Since I still have the pumpkin wreath I made two years ago, I bypassed those bins and went straight for the fake leaves.  I spotted an easy monogram project on (where else?) Pinterest a few weeks ago and have been itching to get to work.

Here's what you'll need (and all for under $10 if you already have the glue gun):
  • large wooden or paper mache letter
  • silk leaves of various colors
  • hot glue gun & glue sticks
  • twine or ribbon, for hanging

Monday, October 1, 2012

Monkey bread

I've typed, deleted, and typed some more.  But, I deleted that, too.  I think it's finally happened.  I think a recipe has rendered me speechless.

I mean, not completely speechless.  Just speechless enough that when I think about it, my brain gets all jumbled and synapses fire in wonky ways and make it damn near impossible to describe food.

Think city-wide blackout.  The power is out in Katyville, folks.  (Yes, if I were a city or town, I think I'd be a -ville.)

It all started so simply.  Bake a treat for a tailgate.

And make it sweet and totally indulgent.  Because a hearty and healthy breakfast strata was already on tap, and there's nothing worse than too many healthy things at a tailgate.  Mm hmm.  I went ahead and said what all of you were thinking.

Monkey bread seemed to fit the bill perfectly.  I'd heard tails tales about the poppable breakfast pastry but never tried it myself.  And it wasn't the kind of thing one makes without a crowd to feed and/or a truckload of willpower.