Monday, September 30, 2013

Pumpkin butter oat bars

A week and a half ago, I saddled up and made pumpkin butter from scratch.  It was so easy and was/is so gosh darn, knee-slappingly delicious that I'd say it's one of the top ten best decisions I've made in 2013.

If you haven't figured it out by now, food kind of runs my life.  And I run so that food can run my life.  It's a circle of life kind of thing.

Is Circle Of Life stuck in your head now, too?  Sorry about that.

Gosh, it's been a while since I watched The Lion King.  To be honest, it was never one of my favorite Disney movies.  I enjoy certain parts, but parts of it are just so dark.  That Scar is one rat b-... bad dude.

Mildly terrifying moments aside, one part that everyone seems to enjoy is when baby Simba is held up for the entire kingdom to see.  Rafiki, the crazy monkey, is all, "Look!  This guy here!  Gonna be a big deal."

That's basically how I feel about my first batch of pumpkin butter.  I'm all, "Look!  This stuff is the bomb dot com!  And I made it myself."

Friday, September 27, 2013

Friday five: Meals that pay dividends

Looks like I've yet another reason to get excited for Fridays: the first fantasy football points of the week have been awarded!  It's my first year "playing" and I'm quickly understanding how people get so involved.  Matt's friend's wife (hi, Tam!) had the brilliant idea to form a league consisting of five husband and wife duos.  The plan is to see whose teams will come out on top -- the guys who do excessive amounts of research or the ladies who pick almost randomly.  Going into week 4, the women have a slight edge.  Peyton Manning is my guy!

Faux athletic ventures aside, I've been looking forward to Friday all week even more than usual.  There's just so much fun on tap for this weekend: Pitt's homecoming festivities are happening, complete with fireworks, football, and -- yep -- tailgating.  Plus, I'm running the Great Race with a few friends on Sunday morning and then hosting a brunch to celebrate.  It's my first race back since the busted butt and IT band injuries of the spring and summer, so I'm really itching to get out there!  In running-related news, I need this shirt:

With nonstop weekend plans sometimes including travel, chores like laundry, cleaning, and grocery shopping have found a new home on weeknights.  For the time being, this means meals with less prep and more servings are getting major play in our kitchen.  If you're in the same boat, especially if you've got kids in every activity under the sun, this week's Friday five is right up your alley.

Here are some of my favorite meals that will make the most out of the effort you put into making them and yield plenty of servings for a few dinners and pack easily for lunches.  Anything to save a few minutes here and there, right?  Happy multi-tasking and happy weekend!

1. Burgers - All kinds!  I make these year-round thanks to the Griddler.  I usually form 4 burgers per 1 pound of ground meat, working with 2 or 3 pounds at a time.  Cook 'em all at once and enjoy for a few days.  They travel easily (with a bun in a separate Ziploc bag) and reheat well in a microwave at home or work.  Let me tell you, burgers are so much more satisfying in the middle of the day than a basic PB & J sandwich!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Homemade pumpkin butter

If I had to sum up how autumn affects the food community, I'd use this picture:

People, myself included, go cah-razy for pumpkin.  Sweet recipes, savory recipes, no-bake recipes, epic recipes. 

Before the baking and cooking frenzy begins in my kitchen, there's one thing I absolutely must have to whet my appetite: pumpkin butter.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Italian meatball soup

We're barely a few days into fall, and I've already embraced one of my favorite cool weather traditions: soup Sundays.

(Actually, I brought it back over 3 weeks ago with a batch of my favorite chili because I couldn't wait any longer.  Try to act surprised.)

I love lazy Sunday afternoons.  Open windows inviting a crisp breeze into the apartment.  TV alternating between football and the movie du jour on Comedy Central while folding laundry.  Oh, and did I mention the sweatpants?  Lurve the sweatpants.

It's all enough to make you want to push the "Pause" button and linger in those moments for the next week.  Especially when everything is perfumed by the most fantastic aromas coming from something simmering over the kitchen stove.  Cozy, thy definition is quite simply "autumn."

Monday, September 23, 2013

Apple ring "pancakes"

Somewhere in all of the pumpkin madness, I carved out (zing!) some time for another quintessential fall fruit -- apples!

I tend to forget that apples' time to shine is autumn because they're readily available all year round.  Other than the much-celebrated but blink-and-you'll-miss-them Honeycrisps, nearly every other variety is carried by most grocers.  Maybe we take them for granted.  Heck, I eat at least 5 apples a week.  Love me some apples.

But apples don't seem to garner quite the pomp and circumstance that pumpkins do.  My Pinterest homepage isn't flooded with creative dessert ideas or "Click here for 20 savory pumpkin recipes!"

Friday, September 20, 2013

Fast Friday: Candy corn & peanut snack mix

Everyone have a nice week?  Sure hope so!   I've embraced the cooler weather with open cable-knit-clad-sweater arms and comfort foods.  Lasagna has been on my mind forever, so I finally made a pan of my favorite recipe, along with a new Italian soup that I can't wait to share with you next week.

As soon as the clock strikes "weekend!" we're hitting the road for a wedding in Reading (rhyme it, yo!).  Since we won't arrive at Matt's parents' place until late, I've packed essentials snacks for the car trip.  Hand-friendly food like fruit, sandwiches, and the most addictive snack mix in the universe.

A few years ago, I went on a bus trip with my mom and sister.  The woman who organized the event thought of absolutely everything, from reservations and behind-the-scenes tours to secret discount agreements with a few of the shop owners.  As if that weren't enough, she also picked the best road trip movies for a bus full of women -- Notting Hill and Love Actually -- and provided snacks.  Muffins and fruit in the morning, and what she called "candy corn crack mix" for the evening.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

S'mores brownies

I think I did it.  I think I improved upon perfection with these s'mores brownies.

Some people might insist you not mess with perfection.  That it's impossible to improve upon it, hence the very definition of perfection.


Others might swear that true s'mores are only made over a campfire and anything else that uses the "s'mores" moniker is just a fraud.

More lies.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Sloppy Joes

If you've ever hosted friends or family for dinner, you've most likely put some time and effort into planning the menu.

Early in my cooking life (which is later in my real life, relatively speaking) I thought the way to my guests' hearts and stomachs was with fancy food: marbled steaks, roast chickens, and any dish whose name contained foreign words.  "Au gratin" this and thing-I-had-to-Google-in-order-to-pronounce that.  The name of the game was to impress.

Turns out that same game had other names like "uncertain new recipe" and "expensive and difficult to find ingredients" and "sweating bullets when guests arrive." 

Fortunately, there were never any true meltdowns or burned dinners that required a call to Domino's.  The food was good, conversation enjoyable, and the evenings pleasant.  What more could you ask for?

Monday, September 16, 2013

"Everything in moderation... including moderation."

Truer words have never been spoken!

I recently read this short article about enjoying fabulous food and wanted to share it with you guys and gals.  Definitely check it out.  It's a memorable one!

Reading those quotes has encouraged me to finally start reading Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child

So far, it's a very pleasant read and endears you to the food icon right from the start.  I previously read both My Life in France and Julie & Julia; I enjoyed the former more than the latter, but it only details her years in France and ends with the release of her first cookbook.  This biography, Dearie, is much more all-encompassing of Julia's life, which is what I was really interested in. 

Though I doubt Julia read Psychology Today frequently (or at all), this seems like the very thing she wanted to teach others about enjoying food!

Friday, September 13, 2013

Friday Five: Fall impulse buys

TGIC - thank goodness it's cooler!  You'd never know that the end of summer is only a week away if you'd walked outside a few days ago.  Mother Nature waited until this week to serve up the hottest days of the entire season: temperatures near 90 and heat indexes near 100 -- blech!  Thankfully, things have cooled down almost 30 degrees after some much-needed rain, and we're looking at a weekend in the 60s.  Almost ideal college football tailgating weather, if you ask me :)

Lower temps mean it's high time I can start indulging my appetite for all things autumn.  Matt and I did just that last weekend while celebrating some good news.  I wanted to wait until things were official before announcing that Matt is a chemistry teacher!  He's been hired as a long-term substitute at a local high school for this school year and is so thankful for the opportunity to truly teach and build lasting relationships with the students.  Plus, the value of knowing where he's going days, and even weeks, ahead of time cannot be understated.  We certainly won't miss the 5:00AM phone calls!

We had a fun weekend, complete with a matinee movie (Despicable Me 2, finally -- so cute!), dinner at one of our favorite restaurants in the city, Piper's Pub, and lots of window-shopping with some actual purchasing sprinkled in.  For once, we relaxed our budget-conscious minds and gave into our whims... and it felt good!  Here is this week's Friday Five, chock full of the items we just couldn't live without and you shouldn't either:

1. Salted caramel hot chocolate - Despite it being in the upper 70s last Saturday, I was Hell-bent on getting a cozy drink from Starbucks while we strolled around and shopped.  I like the pumpkin spice lattes, but the SCHC is my absolute favorite; I'd waited nearly 9 months for it and couldn't resist any longer.  Just as delicious as I remember.  If you haven't yet tried one, I suggest you do so ASAP!

2. Autumn decorations - Though the calendar hasn't officially declared it fall, you'd never know it from the store displays and advertisements.  Autumnal decor is e'erywhere, and the colors are just beautiful!  We visited a Michael's craft store and picked up a few leafy garlands, gourds, and the cutest cornucopia I've ever seen.  Full disclosure: I couldn't have decided what to ultimately purchase without Matt's help.  I always feel so overwhelmed in big stores like that and have trouble putting things together.  Matt, on the other hand, has such an artistic eye and is really talented at picking through the bulk to create something.  Teamwork!

3. Candy corn - Just.Had.To.  I buy one bag each year and got it early this time.  I need to pick up a little something extra this weekend before I can share with you my favorite Halloween candy treat.  So addictive!

4. Glass cafe mug - I fell hard for this the moment I saw it in Crate & Barrel and had to have it.  There's something so unconventional about a glass mug, right?  Also, um, it totally reminds me of  Harry Potter when the gang orders butterbeer at a pub.  I get such a kick out of drinking tea or hot chocolate out of this each and every time; drinks just taste better when you can appreciate the gorgeous golden and brown hues!

5. Nook HD+ tablet - Okay, so this wasn't one of my purchases, but I decided to include it because I'm bound to enjoy it from time to time.  Matt has wanted a tablet for ages and, after some major nudging on my part, finally took a leap and bought one.  We spent some time comparing various models at Best Buy and B&N and reading many online reviews (thanks, CNET!), but in the end Matt decided the Nook HD+ was exactly what he was looking for.  He totally treated himself and boy was it well-deserved!  So far he (we) are totally impressed by it and love the new toy.

Indulge your impulses and whims this weekend.  If anyone asks why, say I told you to :)  TGIF!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Banana bread

I did something this weekend that I haven't done for months: kept the oven on for almost an hour and a half!

I also stayed up past 11 o'clock, even going out for ice cream at 10 o'clock, but those aren't nearly as momentous.  I mean, for me they are; for normal adults, not so much.

Like many folks, I try to limit my use of the oven in the summer months.  I still bake and roast everything but the kitchen sink, but those dishes don't require more than 30 minutes, 40 if you include preheating time.  I stick to stove-top and Griddler-friendly meals.

However, once the cooler air of fall moves in and the unwelcome humidity packs up its bags for good, I dust off the stack of recipes I've been collecting with this very season in mind.  Some are newbies, and some are favorites that I crave so badly I can taste 'em.  Like homemade breads.  Especially banana bread.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Deconstructed reuben salad (round 2 recipe)

Fellas, pay attention.  I've got a salad that's right up your alley.  It's got beef and cheese!

(Ladies, you'll love this, too, but your attention span is much longer and the word "salad" won't scare you off.)

Yesterday, I shared with you my first experience with roasted cabbage.  It was cheap, sweet and garlic-y, and utterly delicious!

But there were leftovers.  As much as I wanted to polish off the rest of the wedges, cabbage is fill-ing, with a capital F.  I'm already at a slight disadvantage being petite and having the stomach capacity to match, and there was no way I could eat 1/2 of a green cabbage.

Half of a cake or a quart of ice cream?  Absolutely.  Cake is really half air, and there's always room for ice cream.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Garlic roasted cabbage (round 1 recipe)

Mom always said, "Eat your greens!"

To that, I add, "Only when they're drizzled with olive oil, seasoned with salt, pepper, and garlic, and roasted."

I could make up some lengthy anecdote about the inspiration for this recipe, but the truth is far simpler.  The truth is that green cabbage was 49 cents per pound at the grocery store a week ago, so I bought a head of it because how could I not buy it?! 

I even get suckered into the bargain mentality at the grocery store, folks.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Fast Friday: Zucchini pizza bites

Names can be really deceiving sometimes.  I can't tell you how many times I've expected one thing and gotten something entirely different.

Take skinny jeans, for example.

Turns out that half of the so-called skinny "jeans" contain zero denim whatsoever and are, in fact, stretchy cotton leggings with denim coloring and shading.

To be clear, I'm not judging because I love stretchy cotton leggings.  I mean, who wouldn't?  Paired with an oversized sweater or sweatshirt, I wear them frequently in the cooler months.  Leggings are like a constant warm hug for your lower body.  They are gloriously comfortable, but they are not denim/jeans.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

It's baaaaaaaack!

And celebrating its 10th anniversary.  The beloved Starbucks pumpkin spice latte!  (Today's lunchtime stroll now has a purpose and destination.)

It happens every year.  There are a few more weeks of summer, but the onset of this fall flavor makes me crave sweaters and piles of tri-colored leaves.  I'm not even going to fight it.  Bring on the pumpkin!  (And the salted caramel hot chocolate.  Yum!)

If you really want to show the world how much you love PSLs, toting around this bedazzled tumbler could be the perfect way.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Breakfast "hot dogs"

I don't know if you've heard, but I have a thing for planning.  And making lists. "Spontaneous" is a word that hasn't even met the rest of my vocabulary.

The last time I used "spontaneous" was when making the itinerary for my recent trip to Las Vegas.  And it went something like this: "1:30-4:00pm - Plan to be spontaneous!"  True story.

For the record, we did use that time to totally indulge our whims.  Our lunch ran late -- gasp! -- and we traipsed around with reckless abandon, stopping at a mega mall and for two desserts, none of which were on the itinerary -- rebels on the run!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

August, in pictures

Where...did...August...go?  June and July were just as jam-packed as August but seemed to stick around, whereas August practically slipped through my fingers... in the best way possible.  So much fun and so many new adventures!  A few of my favorite pictures:

First tomato harvest from Matt's rooftop garden.  Sweet as CANDY, folks!

Purple sky + rainbow = Most beautiful sky of the summer

Headed out for annual "Matt & Katy Day!" of the summer.

First stop was the Toonseum.  I've been in Pittsburgh for 11 years and finally made it there.  Locals, get there now!

...the Hulk demands it.