Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Top 10 recipes of 2014 - My picks!

On Monday, I recapped the top 10 recipes of 2014 as determined by you, the readers.  Today, I'm sharing my top 10 favorite recipes of the calendar year.  From snacks and desserts (because, of course!) to classy dinners, burgers, and even pizza, there's something for every appetite.   You might be surprised by what tops the list, although, you might not at all if you've got a good memory.

As always, thank you for making this year so delicious and fun!  Wishing everyone a safe and Happy New Year! :)

10. Crispy peanut butter chip blondies - One glance at this plate, and I immediately think of Pitt football season.  Despite the, um, less than stellar overall performance by the Panthers, our group had a blast thanks to all of the delicious tailgating spreads, starting and ending with these blondies.  Salty, sweet, and guaranteed to only be around for a limited time because people can't keep their paws off of them.

9. Maple dijon roasted apples, potatoes, sprouts & sausage - This dish falls under the heading "I'm not quite sure how many people this will feed."  Why?  Because, although only two females sat down at the dinner table to enjoy this, the serving plate was clean as a whistle by meal's end.  Couldn't stop, so we didn't stop.  Spoiler alert: This isn't the last time you'll see chicken sausage on this list.

8. No-bake peanut butter chocolate chip oat bites - Speaking of my lack of willpower, ask me how many of these I devoured the first time I made them, and every time thereafter.  Chocolate and peanut butter with a mega crunch?  That's a winning snack combination.  Bonus points for not requiring any baking!

7. Smashed white bean & kale quesadillas - Though the food world's obsession with kale seemed to wane a little after the explosion of 2013, my fire for this particular green still burns.  You might even say it's grown and matured, and I've learned to use kale in the most unlikely and adventurous ways.  Take this quesadilla -- beans, greens, and cheese -- how can that be bad?  Hint: it's not; it's delicious!

6. Panko peanut salmon - Even more than kale, my love of salmon knows no bounds.  Not a week goes by without at least one salmon dinner served in our home.  This Thai-inspired preparation uses soy sauce and peanut butter to create a salty glaze that's topped with toasted panko.  One delicious crunchy bite after another, you'll want to take tiny bites to make this last as long as possible.

5. Chicken sausage & broccoli pizza - If last year was the year of kale, this year has been that of chicken sausage.  I've had it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, not to mention pre-meal samples.  Who knew a pizza without marinara sauce, or any sauce at all, would turn out to be my favorite homemade version?  Incredible!

4. Harvest apple chicken burgers with cranberry Stilton - They say that necessity is the mother of invention.  I say that a 22-pound "harvest" of apples is the initial reason I created these burgers.  However, the 3 (!) times I've made them since can only be attributed to the fact that they are out of this world.  Diced apples keep the burgers super juicy, and the cranberry Stilton totally ties everything together and makes it pop.  Make sure to buy a little more cheese than you need, you know, for a quality check ;)

3. Jalapeno cheddar corn muffins - If my culinary adventures of this year were a book title, it would read: "2014: Year of Chicken Sausage; Also, Katy's taste buds grew a set."  A pinch of red pepper flakes here, a dash of cayenne pepper there, and an entire (seeded) jalapeno sliced and roasted in sweet and cheesy cornbread.  These were the surprise success story of the year!

2. Banana chocolate chip cookies - Just when I thought there was no way to improve upon perfection, despite my many attempts and scores of chocolate chip cookie recipes posted on this site, I made these cookies.  Dare I say the unthinkable, the unimaginable, the previously-thought-to-be-impossible?  These have surpassed the traditional Toll House cookies as the go-to chocolate chip cookie recipe in our home and among many friends who've sampled them.  Chewy, sweet, and always chocolatey!

And, my #1 favorite new recipe of 2014 is...

Monday, December 29, 2014

Top 10 recipes of 2014 - Readers' picks!

As 2014 comes to a close, recaps and "best of" lists are popping up everywhere.  You know how I love a good list, and I couldn't resist getting in on the fun.

From burgers and bacon to cookies and chorizo (all the meats!), here are recipes you lovely folks deemed the most popular by clicking, emailing, posting, and Pinning.  Check back later this week for my top 10 recipes of the year!

10. Blueberry banana protein smoothies - Can't stop and won't stop these smoothies.  Call me a creature of habit or a boring breakfast-er (I prefer the former, in case you're wondering), but these are still a staple of my morning meal two or three days out of the week.  Fast, filling, and tastes like dessert, especially when I toss in a tablespoon of unsweetened cocoa powder.  Yes, please!

9. Cheese-stuffed cocktail meatballs - Cheese + meat + dipping sauce = perfection.  Need I say more?  No... but I will.  The holidays may be coming to a close, but football gatherings and Super Bowl parties are just around the corner.  What are you waiting for?  Make these ASAP!

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas

Wishing you and your family love, peace, delicious eats, and many blessings this holiday season.  Merry Christmas from our home to yours! :)

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Easy 5-ingredient chocolate graham cracker toffee

Christmas is in two days.  Christmasisintwodays!


I was all set to write a real, borderline-wordy (aka typical) blog about this toffee.  Toffee that I planned to make two weeks ago.  Had I done that and posted it shortly thereafter, you could've made it and included it in your tins of Christmas cookies to family and friends.

However, not surprisingly, I did not make said toffee two weeks ago.  Or even two days ago.  I made it last night.


But it was so easy and so delicious that I couldn't forgive myself if I didn't at least steer you in the right direction to get the (very easy) recipe for yourself so you could wait until the last minute to make toffee, too.

Last minute homemade toffee is better than no toffee at all, right?

Simple, sweet, and sinfully addictive!  Package it in pretty decorative bags, and it also makes a great gift.  Head over to Gimme Some Oven (one of my favorite new-to-me blog discoveries of 2014!) for Ali's recipe.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Meal plan: Week of 12/14-12/20

Weekly Meals: December 14th - 20th

Sunday: Crab-stuffed salmon with roasted Brussels sprouts
Monday: One-pot cheesy turkey taco chili mac (substituted ground chicken)
Tuesday: Orange brown sugar chicken with peas and baked potatoes
Wednesday: Chicken sausage with green peppers & onions
Thursday: (Out to Mezzo)
Friday: Brussels sprouts, cranberry & quinoa salad
Saturday: Leftovers

Monday, December 15, 2014

Meal plan: Week of 12/7-12/13

Weekly Meals: December 7th - 13th

Sunday: Hummus-crusted chicken with roasted Brussels sprouts & potatoes
Monday: Wild rice & bean casserole with guacamole
Tuesday: Pasta with chicken meatballs, artichokes & homemade marinara
Wednesday: (Out to Piper's Pub)
Thursday: Crab cakes, baked potato, steamed broccoli & cauliflower
Friday: 5-ingredient Crock Pot ham & navy bean soup
Saturday: Spiral-cut ham, green bean casserole, corn pudding

Friday, December 12, 2014

Friday Five: Food with friends

Friday Friday, there you are!  Sort of snuck up on me this week, actually.  How about you?  Has it been a busy week or a quiet one?  Regardless, I hope it's been good -- full of holiday preparations and time to be thankful for all of the blessings in our lives.

Speaking of holidays and being thankful, I want to say thank you for sticking with me this week while things have been a little quiet on the blogging front.  The reason I've been so unplugged is because my sister and her fiance are in town for a week.  Who has two thumbs and is soooooo excited?  This gal!

Three months ago, Jenny and Zach moved to Sacramento, CA, because he got an incredible job offer.  While our family is so proud of them (and loving the pictures of their weekend trips to national parks!), we've missed them terribly.

Rather than make two very short visits (with lots of travel time) for back-to-back holidays, they made the smart decision to return home for a full week between the two.  We hopped around the city earlier this week and have been relaxing at our parents' house since Thursday.  Cozying up in front of the fireplace, playing Scattegories, and enjoying the fruits cookies of my mom's holiday baking = the best.  There really is no place like home!

Family, friends, and food -- isn't that what the holidays are all about?  Bypass the crowded malls, give the postman an Amazon break, and save your fingers from becoming wrapping paper casualties.  (My Band-Aid count is up to 2.  Please tell me I'm not the only one who sustains such "injuries".)  Rather than stress about what to buy, why not channel your energies to dreaming up what indulgent dishes to make?  You know, the ones you've bookmarked, Pinned, or dreamt up and saved for a special occasion?  Here are five of my favorite food-centric ways to get together with the ones you love.

Happy weekend and, for us, happy early Christmas! :)

1. Progressive dinner - Coordinate with folks who live relatively close to one another and each offer to serve up a different course in succession.  Wine and appetizers at the first stop, salad and/or bread at the next, then the entree, and dessert.  This is a great way to give everyone a chance to host and show off their holiday decorations.  Fun fact: according to Wikipedia, the UK is home to the idea of a safari dinner during which "the destination of the next course is generally unknown by the participants, and they have to decipher a clue before moving on."  Fun!

Monday, December 8, 2014

Meal plan: Week of 11/30-12/6

Weekly Meals: November 30th - December 6th

Sunday: Asian broccoli salad with peanut sauce
Monday: Parmesan-crusted pork chops with balsamic roasted cauliflower
Tuesday: Thai pork burgers with Sriracha aioli
Wednesday: Chicken, sweet potato & pecan salad
Thursday: (Out to Il Pizzaolo with girls)
Friday: Crock Pot shredded beef enchiladas (from the freezer)
Saturday: (Out to Caliente Pizza)

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

68 Christmas & holiday cookie recipes

As of Saturday, the fall/Halloween/Thanksgiving decorations are packed away until next year.  By last night, the Christmas decorations were up and the tree was trimmed.  And tonight?  Tonight, Official Holiday Baking Season begins!

Last week, while helping my mom bake pies for Thanksgiving, we started talking about cookies.  We fantasized about all of the cookies we plan to bake this year: both old favorites and new recipes that have caught our eye throughout the year.  And then how we'd enjoy them: eating, mailing, sharing, exchanging, you name it.  Is there anything more fun than cookies to make?  No, sir!

Food is love, and what better way to spread love than to gift cookies and treats to those near and dear to you!  Whether you're planning to bake cookies for everyone on your nice list or simply make enough to take to a holiday party, there's something for variety of sweet tooth here. 

Happy baking!

Drop cookies
Giant kitchen sink cookies (with all the mix-ins!)
Cutout, iced, filled, rolled, or stuffed cookies

Bar cookies

Candy & other sweets

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

DIY: Homemade turkey stock in the slow cooker

Whatever you're doing right now -- reviewing tomorrow's cooking schedule, giving the pillows one more fluff, or showering off the pre-company sweat that's earned from the last-minute cleaning of the house -- I beg of you to stop.


Stop and make both a mental and literal note to do one more thing tomorrow on Thanksgiving: SAVE THE TURKEY CARCASS!

I'm sorry for yelling.  Forgive me.  It's because you're my friends, and I love you.  And friends don't let friends throw away perfectly useful turkey carcasses.

I'm saying carcass a lot.  Forgive me for that, too.

You're going to want the scraps because I'm about to tell you how to make the quickest and easiest homemade turkey stock ever.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Meal plan: Week of 11/16-11/22

Weekly Meals: November 16th - 22nd

Sunday: Salmon burgers with roasted green beans
Monday: (Out to Butterjoint)
Tuesday: Grilled chicken with baked sweet potato & steamed broccoli
Wednesday: (Out to Mad Mex)
Thursday: Pasta with chicken, artichokes, sun-dried tomatoes & spinach
Friday: Slow cooker beef stew with biscuits
Saturday: (Tailgating)

Friday, November 21, 2014

Friday Five: 20 Thanksgiving recipes!

TGIF!  How was your week?  It was a 5-day-er, but next week is a shorty.  Hooray for that!  It's been a busy one around here since I've been cooking and baking up a (delicious) storm, as well as getting things together for a jam-packed weekend and travel-filled holiday week.  The last home Pitt football game of the season is tomorrow, a baby shower and Friendsgiving party on Sunday, and we're hosting friends for a laidback board game night this evening.  If dinner goes as planned, I'll have another slow cooker recipe coming your way the week after Thanksgiving.  What!

Speaking of Thanksgiving (who isn't at this point?), I realize it's been a while since I posted on a Friday, so I wanted to make things up to you with an extra special themed Friday Five post.  Like recipes over the past week, this one covers everything but the turkey.  In case you missed it, I made cranberry & lime salsa, rosemary & garlic roasted mushrooms, and pumpkin cupcakes with gingersnap cookie crusts and marshmallow frosting.  All incredible, BTW!

For those of you still looking to complete the turkey day menu, here are my favorite recipes to consider serving family and friends for breakfast, appetizers, sides, and dessert.  Friday 5 x 5 x 5 x 5, if you will.  Enjoy! :)

Breakfasts (all can be made or assembled the night before!)
1. Crock Pot breakfast casserole (gluten-free)
2. Banana muffins
3. Quiche: mushroom cheddar spinach or broccoli cheddar
4. Peanut butter granola - serve with fruit and yogurt for a DIY breakfast
5. Breakfast apple granola crisp

1. Bacon, cheddar & spinach pinwheels
2. Matt's ranch pretzels
3. Bacon-wrapped water chestnuts
4. White bean dip (gluten-free & vegan)
5. Three-layer salsa, guacamole & bean dip (gluten-free & vegan)

1. Sweet potato biscuits
2. Green bean casserole (from scratch!)
3. Farro salad with butternut squash, cranberries & spinach
4. Peas with pancetta & shallots
5. Easy homemade cranberry sauce

1. Sweet potato pie
2. Pumpkin gooey butter bars
3. Apple crumb pie
4. Mini pumpkin whoopie pies
5. Chocolate chip pecan pie

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Pumpkin cupcakes with gingersnap crusts & marshmallow frosting

One week from tomorrow, Matt and I will pile into my parents' Jeep and drive to Maryland for Thanksgiving.  I'm so excited! see family, you guys.  Not for food.

(Okay, a little bit excited for the food.)

The number of family members expected at my aunt's house has taken a hit -- make that a big thwack! -- this year, thanks to mid- and cross-country moves and military assignments. While we'll be missing those that can't make the trip (you know who you are!), it will still be fantastic to spend the day laughing, eating, drinking, and playing Catchphrase.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Rosemary garlic roasted mushrooms

T minus 9 days until T(urkey) Day!

Is it just me or does it feel like time's passing at warp speed?  Why can't it do the same on a Monday or Tuesday, or even those Thursdays that I wake up thinking it's actually Friday?  One of the greatest mysteries of the universe, if you ask me.

Speaking of mysteries, how's your Thanksgiving menu looking right now?  If you're like most folks, I'm guessing you've got a pretty clear picture of what Thursday's table will look like: the "good" dishes, real cloth napkins (!), and maybe a gravy boat that's been in the family for generations, all surrounded by platters of your family's favorite foods.

However, if your crowd is anything like my family, there's always a last minute question that sounds something like this: "I feel like we need one more thing.  What's missing?"

Even if you don't think that will happen to you, why risk it?  Add just one more thing to the grocery list so you're totally prepared.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Meal plan: Week of 11/9-11/15

Weekly Meals: November 2nd - 8th

Sunday: Chicken parmesan baked penne
Monday: Tuscan white bean & garlic soup
Tuesday: Garlic rosemary pork chops with leftover soup
Wednesday: Slow cooker pulled pork sandwiches with peas
Thursday: Grilled sea bass with rosemary garlic roasted mushrooms
Friday: English muffin pizzas and roasted broccoli
Saturday: (Out to Taj Mahal)

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Cranberry & lime salsa

Thanksgiving is exactly 2 weeks from today.  Two weeks!  Are you ready for this? (Did anyone else immediately think of Jock Jams?)

I think it's high time to share some turkey day recipes.  The bird is the easy and obvious part of the menu; strangely enough, it seems like the sides are the most anticipated and debated pieces of the puzzle.

Last year, I kicked off a new series of posts called Everything But the Turkey, which featured 3 new delicious side dishes that would be welcome at any Thanksgiving table.  (If you missed it, be sure to check out these links for sweet potato biscuits, warm farro salad with butternut squash, cranberries, spinach & hazelnuts, and sweet potato pie.  Warning: I loved each one so much that, even a year later, I truly can't pick a favorite.  I want them all!

Since I had so much fun playing with that theme last year, I decided to bring it back for Round 2 this Thanksgiving.  This is the first of three new recipes.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Chocolate chip, pistachio & sea salt cookies

If there's one thing I've learned over the past year or so, it's this: the food cravings of a pregnant woman should be taken very seriously.

At current count, four (four!) of my closest friends are pregnant with their first child.  Moreover, three more of them have a 1-year old, so pregnancy wasn't that long ago.  A few years ago, it seemed like e'erybody and their brother was getting married (I should've taken a picture of our save-the-date collection on the fridge); now it's babies.  On my calendar, there are four due dates in less than four months.  Whew!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Meal plan: Week of 11/2-11/8

Weekly Meals: November 2nd - 8th

Sunday: Five spice chicken with bacon-wrapped potato wedges
Monday: (Out to The Road Toad)
Tuesday: Black bean burgers with roasted cauliflower
Wednesday: Asian farro medley with salmon (subbed quinoa for farro)
Thursday: Pumpkin blueberry pancakes and bacon
Friday: Shredded beef enchiladas (from the freezer!)
Saturday: Crab cakes with roasted broccoli

Friday, November 7, 2014

Fast Friday: Prosciutto-wrapped chicken stuffed with pears & Brie

Hey, would you look at that?  It's Friday!  For once, the "I have no idea what day it is" confusion has surprised me in a good way.  I spent most of yesterday feeling like it was only Wednesday.  That being said, I will never, ever not welcome Friday with open arms.

I think much of the reason my days were mixed up is because Monday felt like an extension of the weekend.  Matt and I left work early and headed to the Hyundai dealership to close out the lease on our car.

In the end, buying the vehicle was a no brainer since we love our Accent dearly.  Also a no brainer?  The minimal amount of paperwork involved; it took less than 5 minutes to complete, much to our surprise.  Three cheers for being official car owners!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Crispy peanut butter chip blondies

Hey, peanut butter lovers of the world!  I've got a doozy of a recipe for you.  Are you ready?  Can you handle it?

The correct answers are Yes and Yes.

There has been ample time to recover from the candy bender of Halloween; it was a whopping five days ago, for Pete's sake!  And, for peanut butter's sake, you'd be mad to deny yourself a cookie so perfect, so heavenly, and so impossibly easy.

For how much I love peanut butter, it's surprising how infrequently I bake with it.  To be honest, it's usually because I can't bear the thought of using half of a jar of our beloved Jif on a dessert that we'll have, at most, two servings each and share the rest.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

13 Leftover Halloween candy recipes

Looking for some creative ways to use up any lingering Halloween candy?  You know, if you haven't already gotten rid of the surplus in the form of the office common area dump like my coworkers have.  Not that we need it -- our regular candy dishes are still quite full.  Candy for days and days.  Somebody's gotta finish it, right? :)

At any rate, here are 13 of my favorite recipes for repurposing all the candy into a new treat.  Enjoy!

  • Mini chocolate chip cookie sundaes - take some of that ice cream you made and top it with this for a doubly indulgent treat!  Don't limit yourself to just chocolate chips -- any chopped up chocolate candy bars would be delish.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Meal plan: Week of 10/26-11/1

Hello and here we go, friends!  Ready for another week?

We had a pretty great weekend around these parts.  The cold/rainy/windy weather on Friday night put a damper on the guys' plan to turn the garage into a quarantine unit, but we still had a blast hanging out on the front porch and handing out candy to trick-or-treaters.  When we could no longer feel our fingers and toes, we headed inside for Crock Pot French dip sandwiches and a Catchphrase tournament (don't ask about the winner...).  After an overtime Pitt football loss on Saturday, Matt and I headed out for dinner and a movie; he liked Birdman, while I didn't care for it one bit.  Sunday turned into Funday, thanks to a little shopping and lunch date after church.  We ended the weekend in my favorite way: homecooked dinner followed by couch time and some TV.

November is upon us, which means Thanksgiving is less than a month away and Christmas is just around the corner.  I'll be ramping up my baking and sharing a few recipes for inventive side dishes in the coming weeks.  If there's anything in particular you want to see, please speak up!  'Tis the season to be thankful and giving, so I want to give ya what you want.

See ya tomorrow! :)

Weekly Meals: October 26th - November 1st

Sunday: (Pizza from Gianilli's II)
Monday: Garlic salmon with garlic roasted broccoli & brown rice
Tuesday: Chicken stew with butternut squash & quinoa
Wednesday: Balsamic burgers with steamed cauliflower
Thursday: Proscuitto-wrapped pear & brie stuffed chicken breasts with roasted Brussels sprouts
Friday: (Halloween party at friends' house)
Saturday: (Out to Kaleidoscope Cafe)

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Maple dijon roasted apples, potatoes, sprouts & sausage

Raise your hand if the fact that Halloween is tomorrow frightens you.  How is October nearly over?

Time is running out up for me to come up with a creative Halloween costume.  Our office party was earlier this week, and I really phoned it in with my getup.  I wore a black top and pants with an orange scarf, and declared myself "festive."  Thankfully, my office neighbor did the same thing.

As for the actual holiday tomorrow, we're spending the evening at our friends' house.  The men will be dishing out candy and attempting to spook the neighbors with their garage-turned-Ebola-quarantine-unit.  From the current e-mail chain, I get a sense they are going all in.  Requested items include white painting jumpsuits, face masks, goggles, biohazard stickers, and even cooked spaghetti and sausage to act as human internal organs.  Two quick thoughts: Gross, and what a waste of good food!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Oreo cream cheese frosting & red velvet cupcakes

Goodness gracious, why didn't I do this sooner?

These cupcakes.  With this frosting!  It tastes like Oreo cheesecake.  How would you like a mini Oreo cheesecake atop a cupcake?

Ruminate on that for a moment while I digress.

(I tend to do that from time to time.  One of these days I'll cut to the chase, I swear.  Unfortunately for you, today is not that day.)

Halloween is just a few days away, which means Baking Season has begun... and I couldn't be happier.  Swimsuits have been stashed until next summer, and cozy wardrobe staples have taken center stage in my closet.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Meal plan + 5th blogging birthday!

You guys.  You guys!  Do you know what today is?

It's Monday.

Which is the first work day after the weekend.
And Matt's new night off from coaching .

It's also one of two nights out of the week that we eat at the dining room table (gulp).

It's Gotham night on TV.

And formerly Gossip Girl night (still love Blair Waldorf after all this time)

It can't possibly be the beginning of the last week of October... but it is.

Oh, and how could I forget?  It's my little blog's 5th birthday! :)  (You should make this cake to celebrate.)

Five years ago today, I stumbled around the interwebs, looking for an easy program to start what the kids were calling a "blog."  Five years ago today, I had zero followers, minimal skill, a hunger (both literal and figurative) to become a better baker and cook.  Five years ago today, I (a bit nervously) started sharing my adventures, successes, and mishaps.  Five years ago, I met you!

You wonderful people who have become my friends, cheerleaders, testers, critics, and supporters.  Thank you for reading, eating, and laughing along with me.  You've made this more fun than I ever could've imagined.

From the bottom of my heart (and stomach), thank you! :)

Here's last week's dinner menu.  Be sure to check back tomorrow for one more sweet Halloween treat!

Weekly Meals: October 19th - 25th

Sunday: Garlic, parsley & panko-crusted cod with corn & carrots
Monday: Burgers with sweet potato fries
Tuesday: Tomato basil chicken with pasta and roasted broccoli
Wednesday: Maple dijon roasted potatoes, apples & chicken sausage (recipe coming this week!)
Thursday: Garlic & rosemary pork chops with brown rice & green beans
Friday: Leftovers
Saturday: (Tailgating - hot dogs & toppings bar, baked beans)

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

20 Devilishly delicious Halloween treats

I'd planned on having a super cozy and soul-warming soup recipe for you today.  Spoiler alert: There is no soup recipe here.

Over the past week, I've been trying to recreate one of my favorite soups from a local restaurant.  Twice I've attempted, and twice my version of lemon chicken and rice soup has missed the mark.  It was better than okay but not good enough.  I'm not giving up on it, simply taking a break.  Soup for lunch five days in a row, anyone?

Instead of soup, let's talk about dessert!  Halloween is just 10 days out, and I'm making final adjustments to my sweet treats to various parties.  Since I suspect you're doing the same, I decided to crawl through the archives, spiderwebs and all, and pull out some of my favorite dessert recipes for this time of year.  Friends, beware!  These are so tasty it's frightening ;)

P.S. Check back next week for one more pint-sized spooky Halloween treat 
  • Black magic brownies - the newest recipe of the bunch that has dethroned my old favorite and become my go-to brownie 
  • Black bottom (cheesecake) cupcakes - Creamy and chocolatey together in one bite.  Need I say more?  No, but I will -- a little orange or even green food coloring would make these look so darn cool.
  • Chocolate chip cookie cake - This would be great to make for a kids' party.  Have various colors of frosting, sprinkles, and other candies and let them decorate before eating.  The idea may be mine, but I wash my hands clean of any mess that ensues.
  • Chocolate peanut butter pie - I don't mean to sound like a broken record but, again, orange food coloring would be a great addition, as would a a spiderweb made from drizzled rings of chocolate syrup (click here for the idea).
  • Glazed chocolate cake - Sprinkles on chocolate on chocolate.  This cake will tame even the angriest mob.
  • M&M frosted chocolate cupcakes -Some might say this is great to use up leftover candy after the holiday, but I know there are never any such leftovers in our kitchen.  So, plan to buy an extra bag and make these, pronto!
  • Mini Oreo cheesecakes - My girl (and world traveler!), Angela, is totally to thank for this recipe.  Mini, Oreo, and cheesecake.  All the things!  I've made them multiple times, but the Halloween version is still my favorite.
  • Pumpkin chocolate chip cake - It may be cake, but this oh-so-fluffy item is for breakfast, too.  Not that any of the other items on this list also wouldn't be fantastic when eaten in the morning, this is just a little more acceptable/justifiable.
  • Pumpkin gooey butter cakes - I tend to think of these closer to Thanksgiving because of their pie-like nature, but I think I'm going to buck that trend and make 'em next week.
  • Pumpkin spice cheesecake brownies - These brownies hold a special place in my heart (and stomach) because they are the first dessert recipe I shared with you almost five years ago.  Equally gorgeous and delicious.
  • Red velvet cake pops - Can't even handle how cute these are.  A little time-consuming but so worth it... unless you eat them in multiples of 3 like someone I know.  Ahem.
  • Triple chocolate mousse cake - Last but certainly not least, this showstopping cake would be perfect for an adult-only soiree since it's intensely chocolate and less sweet than regular chocolate cakes.  Can you say dec-a-dent?

Monday, October 20, 2014

Meal plan: Week of 10/12-10/18

Weekly Meals: October 5th - 11th

Sunday: Pumpkin & bean enchiladas
Monday: Slow cooker creamy pork chops with roasted Brussels sprouts
Tuesday: Sausage-stuffed acorn squash
Wednesday: Lemon chicken wild rice soup
Thursday: Slow cooker shredded beef sandwiches & the world's best macaroni and cheese
Friday: Pizza spaghetti squash
Saturday: Garlic-crusted salmon with tomato-basil relish and roasted broccoli

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Zingerman's black magic brownies

Until last night, these brownies were my favorite kind of homemade brownie.  Chewy, chocolatey, and oh-so-good.

They taste exactly like brownies made from a boxed mix, without all the funky ingredients and with the added bonus of being homemade.  It seems that the familiar taste and texture of semi-homemade brownies are what the masses desire and love.  You've gotta try them!

And then you've gotta make these black magic brownies.  Because they're my new favorite.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Meal plan: Week of 10/5-10/11

Weekly Meals: October 5th - 11th

Sunday: Sun-dried tomato parmesan salmon with steamed broccoli
Monday: Harvest apple chicken burgers with cranberry Stilton cheese & roasted green beans
Tuesday: Spaghetti, green beans & corn, cheesy garlic bread
Wednesday: Shredded beef & bean enchiladas
Thursday: Pasta with shrimp, peas & pesto
Friday: (Out to Butterjoint)
Saturday: Three bean & beef chili with cornbread

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Harvest apple chicken burgers with cranberry Stilton

Remember that time I bought 22 pounds of apples?  Yes, really.

I swear it didn't seem like that much at first.  Matt and I each filled a bag to our hearts' content.  He loaded up on softer apples like Cortlands, Empires, and McIntoshes.  I, however, went straight to the super firm and sweet Honeycrisps, Jonagolds, and Braeburns.  We checked out and lugged our haul up to the car before returning for pumpkins.

It was a storybook fall afternoon.  The air was cool but not cold, a light breeze scattered just-turning leaves all about, and everyone around us seemed to be in a cheerful mood.   We sipped on apple cider, feasted on barbecue and mac & cheese, sampled all sorts of apples, and wandered around (in our matching puffy vests) without a worry in the world.  Oh, and I got to sport my first heavy scarf of the season!  Can you think of a more perfect way to spend an afternoon?

We totally permitted ourselves to get swept up in the moment... and it was fantastic.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Meal plan: Week of 9/28-10/4

Welcome!  Hope you had a terrific weekend.  Mine was full of all sorts of fun adventures that seemed connected thanks to a numerical theme.  Here's what I've been up to, by the numbers:

  • 2 episodes into Gotham and I can say I'm hooked.  For those watching, how awesome is Jada Smith?!
  • 949 steps over 2.6 miles covered on this year's StepTrek.  Did you know that Pittsburgh has the most steps of any city in the United States?
  • 1 hail storm during aforementioned StepTrek.  It may have halted us for a few minutes, but we marched on.  HAIL, you guys!
  • 4 different kinds of meatballs sampled in 1 hour.  We celebrated a friend's 30th birthday on Saturday night at a local meatball-themed restaurant.  Thankfully, it's a great place for sharing plates.  My favorite meatball + sauce combo was (surprisingly) the vegetarian (made up of cauliflower, mushrooms, and white beans) with spinach-almond pesto.  TDF!
  • 750 cents, which bought two warm falll-themed drinks from Starbucks, for a fun afternoon getting to know my new church friend.  I was invited to be a mentor to a young member of this year's confirmation class.  After just one meeting, I can already tell that I"m going to love spending time with her.  She's sweet, dynamic, and a pretty talented photographer -- I'm hoping I can learn a thing or two from her.
  • 22 pounds of apples and 2 pumpkins purchased at a local orchard yesterday.  Get ready for loooots of new apple recipes.  I've got some great ideas up my sleeve.
  • 4 sticks of butter used and 4 pie crusts made yesterday in under 30 minutes.  The first apple recipe is a no-brainer.

Whatever your weekend tally, I hope it added up (see what I did there?) to a good time.  Have a great Monday!

Weekly Meals: September 28th - October 4th

Sunday: (Out to OTB Cafe)
Monday: Superfood salad with salmon
Tuesday: Slow cooker chicken enchilada soup
Wednesday: (Out to Butcher & the Rye)
Thursday: Garlic brown sugar chicken with parmesan kale & broccoli
Friday: Roasted tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches
Saturday: (Out to Sienna Mercato)

Friday, October 3, 2014

Friday Five: Chocolate chip cookies

Hey, look at that -- today is the first Friday of October!  Yet, somehow, I'm wearing a skirt sans tights/leggings and my neck is naked (a.k.a. scarf-less).  How is this possible?  Because Mother Nature seems to have missed the fall memo thus far.

However, the local weathermen and GMA's Ginger Zee (love the new low-lights, girl) have promised me cooler more seasonal temperatures for this weekend, and I plan to hold them to it!  I feel like I said a proper goodbye to summer last weekend and am more than ready for autumn.  Changing leaves, a chill in the air, and scarves for miles.

We're headed to a local orchard for its annual apple festival, which means this girl's going to go off the deep end and buy 20 pounds of apples (half Honeycrisps for her, half McIntoshes for him).  Yes, 20 pounds, really.  Homemade apple pie, here we come!

Thankfully, I've been giving our oven a good workout for the past week baking dozens of cookies.  I made chewy banana chocolate chip cookies (have you made them yet?!) and smells-like-Heaven-and-tastes-even-better orange chocolate chip cookies.  Chocolate chip cookies are the ultimate crowd-pleasing dessert, but sometimes it's fun to shake things up.  For today's Friday Five, here are some of my favorite variations of the classic.  I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.  Happy baking and happy weekending!

1. Chocolate chip, pretzel & potato chip cookies - Once upon a time, I was all, "What's the deal with putting salt on desserts?"  Now, I can't don't want to remember that time.  These cookies will make even the most ardent skeptic a card-carrying member of the salty-sweet club. 

2. Mint chocolate chip cookies - One awesome things about posts like this is that I get a chance to look through the archives and rediscover recipes I may have forgotten but love so, so dearly.  These cookies!  I  need them in my life ASAP.  Mint and chocolate are one of my favorite flavor combinations.  With ice cream season over in my brain, I can satisfy my mint chocolate chip craving with these.

3. Thin crispy chocolate chip cookies with sea salt - Another treat made for a tailgate as something new and experimental that turned out to be a huge hit.  Enjoy them at home with a tall glass of milk (or hot chocolate!) because these are totally made for dunking.

4. Chocolate chip meringues - Light as air and perfectly sweet!  Cooler fall temperatures (and lower humidity) are ideal for making these little gems.  Oh, and fair warning -- it's impossible to just have one.

5. Chocolate chip cookie cake - This cake is basically one giant delicious cookie.  It's up to you to decide how many it serves, whether 1 or 10; you'll find no judgement here!  I love how the surprise addition of almond extract makes it extra special.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Orange chocolate chip cookies

I love today for so many reasons.

First and foremost, it's my baby sister's birthday!  Jenny turns a not-so-baby 28 (what?!).   It seems like just yesterday that I asked told my parents to bring home a girl from the hospital.  Okay, so maybe I simply created that memory from my parents' frequent retelling of the story.  Regardless of its origins, 28 years later, I'm happy to say I made the right call :)

Today is also my youngest cousin's birthday!  Seventeen years ago, sweet Lauren came into the world and set the bar ridiculously high for Jenny's birthday presents.  I can hardly believe the youngest of my cousins is heading to college next year.  They grow up so fast!

Last, but not least, I've got another chocolate chip cookie recipe to share.  And this one's a doozy - orange chocolate chip cookies!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Banana chocolate chip cookies

I love me some epic desserts, both the baking and the eating.  Mile-high cakes, near 8-pound pies, and ice cream creations the size of Richard Branson's private island sing to me like luxurious leather Frye boots sing to other women. 

Okay, those boots -- specifically, these boots -- happen to sing to me, too.  Such.Beautiful.Boots.  Swoon.

But, as my husband will be the first to point out, sometimes simple is better.  Sometimes, he says, life just calls for chocolate chip cookies.  (Don't you just love that guy?)

Oatmeal raisin cookies may be his new favorite, but he's never met a chocolate chip cookie he didn't love.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Meal plan: Week of 9/21-9/27

How are ya, sunshine?  What a fantastic summer weekend we had around here!  What's that?  It's fall?  Could've fooled me.

The sun was out and the temps hovered near 80 most of the time, and we took full advantage of it.  A Pitt football game Tailgating (let's not talk about it), batting cages, dinner & drinks lakeside at OTB, brunch with visiting cousins, the Great Race, and even more ice cream (can't stop, won't stop) kept us busy until the customary Sunday evening couch crash.

I'm looking forward to a week peppered with exciting and overdue, if I may say, celebrations.  Birthdays, babies, and new jobs -- there's so much to be thankful for.  Oh, and here's something for you to look forward to around the blog: it's chocolate chip week!  Two new recipes coming your way, plus a collection of my favorites at week's end.  Hope your Monday is as least Monday as possible :)

Weekly Meals: September 21st-27th

Sunday: 5-ingredient Pesto chicken & bean soup
Monday: Slow cooker orange balsamic beef roast & potatoes
Tuesday: Five spice salmon with green beans
Wednesday: Leftovers
Thursday: Parmesan pepper chicken with roasted Brussels sprouts & sweet potatoes
Friday: Pasta with shrimp, mushrooms & garlic
Saturday: (Tailgating)

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

5-ingredient Pesto chicken and bean soup

Raise your hand if you're in need of one really good dinner recipe.

Now throw your hands in the air

Raise your hand if you want said recipe to also be healthy, easy, fast, cozy, filling, and delicious.

Wave 'em around like you just don't care

Normally, I'd save a recipe like this for an installment of Fast Friday but, you know what?  Forget that.  I have a feeling you might need this sooner -- need and want, to be clear. 

Say it with me: Now through your hands in the air / Wave 'em around like you just don't care

Monday, September 22, 2014

Meal plan: Week of 9/14-9/20

Whirlwind wedding weekend!  (Say that three times fast.)  So much love, family, fun, and dancing... but very little time for pictures.  At least I managed to get two great shots: one of Matt and his brother, Chris, heading to the wedding in style; and the other of the beautiful bride and handsome groom cutting their oh-so-delicious cake.  Congratulations, Chris and Jess! :)

Weekly Meals: September 14th-20th

Sunday: Parmesan-crusted pork chops with roasted onions & Brussels sprouts
Monday: Taco chicken with green beans & peas
Tuesday: Chocolate chip peanut butter pancakes with
Wednesday: Chicken, broccoli, corn & avocado skillet
Thursday: Shrimp fried rice
Friday: (Traveling - rehearsal dinner)
Saturday: (Traveling - wedding)

Friday, September 19, 2014

Friday Five: So long, summer

TGIF!  Have you been enjoying the last week of summer?  Depending where you are in the country, you could be getting rain, heat, or even (gasp) snow.  We're (thankfully) in the sunshine category and spending the weekend in Reading with Matt's family; keep reading for the reason why we're there.

Have an enjoyable few days, live it up, and maybe even treat yourself to a few of today's Friday Five: some of my favorite summer-only things that I'll miss dearly until next year.  I'll just have to drown my sorrows in all the pumpkin things, amiright?!  See you next summer... eee!  Enjoy!

1. Watermelon - I loathed this summer fruit as a kid, grew to like it two or three years ago, and became downright addicted to it these past few months.  Matt won't touch it, so it's been up to me to consume whatever we buy, averaging 3/4 (!!!) of a full-size watermelon per week.  I cube it and keep it in a giant bowl in the fridge so it's ready to eat whenever: as I cook in the morning and evening, after a workout, for dessert, and even as a late-night snack.  I think this week's fruit will be the last -- it's not the sweetest but it'll do, by golly.  RIP, juicy watermelons!

2. Daylight - I know the hours of daylight have been waning since late June, but I've really noticed how dark it gets in the evenings over the past two weeks.  On one hand, it makes me want to get cozy in sweats, curl up with a blanket and sip on hot chocolate, and bake hearty casseroles, all of which I love love loooove.  On the other hand, photographing food with only the aid of indoor lighting is a royal pain.  First world problems, right?

3. Seasonal ice cream shops - Speaking of first world problems, get ready for this one: two of my three favorite ice cream shops (Antney's and Page Dairy Mart, for the Pittsburgh locals) are closing soon until next spring.  My sadness is real and totally justified.  Don't even try to console me by saying there are other places; there is only one place and it's nearly 25 miles away.  Until Antney's and Page close in early October, I'm going on an all-out ice cream bender, which means I've started running a lot more.

4. Really, really long walks - I've always loved long walks around the city and through the parks.  After our trip to LA, much of which was spent exploring by foot, Matt fell in love with long walks, too.  We've gotten in the habit of turning evening strolls into 2-hour adventures.  Sadly, with limited daylight and busy weeknights and weekends, we'll have to settle for quick jaunts around the block... and quality time on the couch as our favorite TV shows return.  OMG, Mindy Project!

5. Weddings - Aside from our winter nuptials, weddings seem to be a thing of spring and summer, and the last one on this year's calendar is happening this weekend.  Matt's brother, Chris, and his fiancee, Jess, are getting hitched tomorrow!  I'm so excited to see everyone and know the festivities will be an absolute blast.  Pictures to come next week.  If the incredibly unique Nintendo cartridge-shaped invitation  is any indication, this may be the most impressive theme wedding I'll ever attend.  An early congratulations to the couple -- we love you both! :)

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

French apple cake

In case you didn't know it by now, I'm a big fan of celebrations.

Tell me it's your birthday, and I'll bake you whatever you want.  Just got engaged?  Let's raise a glass of bubbly!  Or, would you look at that, the calendar says that it's the third Tuesday of the month; we should definitely treat ourselves to mini chocolate chip cookie sundaes.

In other words, life is full of victories, big and small, that are all worthy of pep and commemoration and -- if we're being totally honest -- a little sugar.

Today, I'm happy to share the wonderful news that Matt has a new teaching job!!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Meal plan: Week of 9/7-9/13

Weekly Meals: September 7th-13th

Sunday: Zucchini "spaghetti" with shrimp & homemade marinara sauce
Monday: Slow cooker black bean soup with jalapeno cheddar corn bread
Tuesday: Chili & cocoa-dusted pork chops with green beans
Wednesday: Pumpkin pancakes & chicken sausages
Thursday: Feta & sun-dried tomato turkey meatloaf with peas
Friday: Five spice salmon with steamed broccoli & brown rice
Saturday: Leftovers (soup & meatloaf)

Friday, September 12, 2014

Fast Friday: Smashed white bean & kale quesadillas

Happy Friday to you, yours, and everyone else's!  How was the week?

Ours was nice and chill.  After a busy weekend, largely spent away from the apartment, we laid low in the evenings and entertained ourselves at home.  We even hosted friends dinner twice.  Not surprisingly, those two dinners were the only two that went off exactly as I'd planned; the rest were delicious but waaaaaaaay off the beaten path original meal plan.

Recently, a friend was teasing me for planning all of our meals for the coming week.  I gave my spiel about how much easier it makes grocery shopping and ensures that I don't have to make return trips to the store later in the week.  (You know, except for those emergency baking errands.)

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Baked cheesy mushroom tomato chicken

I know it's been quite a while since I shared a casserole recipe with you guys, but I promise this one is worth the wait.  Here's hoping you're more patient than me, though I won't judge harshly if you're not :)

If there's one surefire way to tell that fall is just around the corner, just take a look at food blogs and Pinterest.  Everything pumpkin and casseroles for miles.  And, you know what?  It couldn't have happened a moment sooner.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Meal plan: Week of 8/31-9/6

Week of August 31st - September 6th

Sunday: Cookout at parents' house
Monday: Baked cheesy tomato & mushroom chicken
Tuesday: Black bean, corn, zucchini skillet with avocado
Wednesday: Out to Monterey Bay
Thursday: Lemon feta chicken drumsticks with roasted broccoli
Friday: Five-spice salmon with steamed broccoli & brown rice
Saturday: Out to Piper's Pub (beef shepherd's pie for her)

Friday, September 5, 2014

Friday Five: Back to school shopping

TGIF!  This shorter-than-usual but felt-longer-than-normal week is in the books, and I'm ready for the weekend.  Going back to school is exhausting, isn't it?

...says the person who hasn't set foot in a classroom for nearly eight years.  Gulp.

But, I've got a husband who resumed the teacher's life this week, so I've spent the week getting back into our school year routine: packing lunches, preparing dinners that are microwave-friendly (when swimming practice goes late), and doing my best to conquer a never-ending reserve of clothing in need of ironing.  If it weren't for Friends reruns and The Office DVDs, our clothes would never be wrinkle-free.  #howdidourgrandmothersdoit

Even if I've got neither lessons to prepare nor homework to finish, I've got back to school fever, which really means back to school shopping fever.  Better than number 2 pencils and 3-ring binders, here are my new favorite things to get me in the spirit for fall, college football, and all things pumpkin.  Friday Five for the win!  Whatever you do and wherever you go, treat yourself to a little something good :)

1. Sweatpants -  Specifically, these sweatpants from Target.  Tossed in my basket on a whim during a recent dash through Target and waited until I got home to try them on.  (I wasn't even there for clothes!  But that's how it always goes, right?)  Softest.sweatpants.ever!!!  I love that they are slightly fitted, which means they won't ride up when pulling sheets or a blanket over yourself.  I've told every girlfriend of mine about these and even bought a second pair in a different color.  Do yourself a favor and check these out ASAP!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Healthier lemon & wild blueberry muffins

Because it's officially college football season.

Because I've loved Pitt for as long as I can remember.

Because my heart (and half of my wardrobe) is blue and gold.

I made these scrumptious muffins for the first tailgate of the year!  And oh me, oh my, were they good.  But, as usual, I'll get to them in a hot minute.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Meal plan: Week of 8/24-30

Happy Labor Day!  So, um, whathappenedtoAugust?!  Everyone I've talked to about summer's timeline seems to agree that June and July were paced just perfectly; August, however, was on something else entirely because it flew by.

We've spent this final weekend of August enjoying a mix of summer and fall activities: picnic dinner, tailgating and college football (Pitt dominated with a 62-0 victory!), family cookout, and even some browsing for new winter jackets.  The latter mission was unsuccessful, but I feel confident that I've got enough time before Old Man Winter hits western PA.  Although, snow in October isn't unheard of...

I'm a little ready for fall, can you tell?  Before I get too ahead of myself -- I blame you, Starbucks -- let's back up a bit and check out what I made for dinner last week.  A few new-to-us items, like pasta carbonara (OMG) and a twist on classic Mexican quesadillas, thanks to a few fabulous blogs around the web.  Enjoy!

Week of August 24th-30th
Sunday: Chicken meatballs with marinara & zucchini "pasta"
Monday: Roasted green beans with bacon & mushrooms
Tuesday: Garlic brown sugar chicken with grilled corn on the cob
Wednesday: Smashed white bean & kale quesadillas
Thursday: Pasta carbonara with peas
Friday: (Out - sushi for her, Chinese for him)
Saturday: Dill & garlic salmon with steamed broccoli

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Chicken sausage & broccoli pizza

Somewhere in the middle of all of this summer fun and travel, we totally lost sight of one of our favorite weekly traditions -- Friday night pizza.

Well, maybe not completely; we did devour two tasty pies on Friday but they weren't homemade; I'll get to those bad boys in a second.

Continuing the recent trend of pack, unpack, do laundry, repeat, we ventured out of the city this weekend to Deep Creek, Maryland.  Our goal was simple: have a good time with good friends.  Mission: accomplished, despite mostly foggy and rainy weather.  The skies parted and the sun peeked out for a few hours on Saturday, which was perfect for an afternoon of hiking and scoping out a few spectacular waterfalls.