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Homemade Valentine’s Cookie Bouquet

February 8, 2019

This post is sponsored by Soapbox Influence in partnership with Vanilla Gift Cards.  As always, all opinions are my own. I carefully select which sponsored posts to take on with YOU, my awesome readers in mind! I hope this party helps inspire you this holiday season. #VanillaValentine #VanillaGiftCards

This is the first year that Ainsley has been in any type of formal school (she is in 3-year-old preschool this year) and as my kids have gotten into more and more activities I’ve realized how my mindset around holidays has shifted as well.

While Valentine’s Day in my 20’s was all about romantic love, boyfriends, eventually my husband and things we did as a couple, the last couple years there has been a definite shift toward class parties, Valentine’s Day card exchanges, teacher gifts and more. Don’t get me wrong, I still make plenty of time to show Joe that he matters most to me, but the focus on what I’m getting out of Valentine’s Day has become less and less important.

Since I’m never really the “do things in advance” type mom (and I’ve come to accept this about myself and my life stage) I’m usually doing a craft with Ainsley at the last minute to get ready for “Love Day” as Ainsley likes to call it.

Decorating cookies is a favorite activity in our house, no matter the time of year, so I decided to take Ainsley’s favorite thing to do and put a fun Valentine’s Day spin on decorated sugar cookies! We made a DYI cookie bouquet with heart-shaped cookies, put the cookies in a decorative vase, and paired it with a Vanilla Gift Card from Walmart for a little extra something special. This would be a perfect gift for kid’s teachers, family members, Sunday school teachers and more. I mean, who doesn’t love cookies and gift cards?

If left to my own devices, I would have probably done fancier decorated cookies, but since this was a mommy + me craft, I let Ainsley have full creative control with the cookie toppings of sprinkles and decorative pink frosting. 😉

DETAILS //
I bought a wire vase pre-wrapped with burlap at our local craft store and put a florist’s block (the green foam) inside. Then I stuck each cookie into the foam and taped the gift card onto one of the craft sticks and inserted it into the foam as well. It was SO easy!

CUT-OUT COOKIE RECIPE //
(from a really old “Christmas Cookies” book by Southern Living)
1/2 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg
3/4 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
Desired vanilla frosting of choice and toppings, such as sprinkles and colored frosting

Directions
Cream butter in a large mixing bowl; add sugar, beating until light and fluffy. Add egg and vanilla, mixing well.

Combine flour, soda, and salt; add to creamed mixture, blending well (dough will be very stiff)

Divide dough into thirds; roll each portion to 1/4-inch thick on lightly floured surface. Cut with heart-shaped cutters and place 2-inches apart on baking sheet. Firmly press a paper craft stick into each cookie. Bake at 350°F for 8 to 10 minutes or until golden brown around the edges. Cool on baking sheets 10 minutes. Cool completely on wire racks.

Frost as desired.

Roasted Tomato Soup

February 5, 2019

I’m super thankful that although I’ve felt horrible this pregnancy (worse than the girls!) I haven’t really had any food aversions like I did with both Ainsley and Collins. Food doesn’t really sound good or satisfy, but it’s pretty universal across all food groups. So, with that said, I’ve still been eating plenty of vegetables and relatively healthy options.

About a month ago Joe said tomato soup and grilled cheese sounded good, and I have to agree that it’s sounded appealing this entire pregnancy so far. So I made a batch of homemade tomato soup, and then I tweaked it a bit and made it again and again. And now, I’ve got the method down and think I might make tomato soup every week until warmer temps are here.

Joe LOVES this recipe, as do I, and I love that it’s made with really clean ingredients and no cream, yet it still tastes remarkably hearty and satisfying on a chilly day. It also works great as leftovers throughout the week and is fantastic served with toasted sourdough.

Full disclosure: The girls do not care for tomato soup, but I torture then with it anyway and can usually at least get them to agree to the grilled cheese it’s often served with.

Roasted Tomato Soup
Ingredients
3-4 lbs. Roma tomatoes, halved (I estimate this – enough to fill a 13×9-inch sheet pan)
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and ground black pepper
1 cup salted chicken stock
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Caramelized Onions
1 large yellow onion, peeled and thinly sliced
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and ground black pepper

Additional grated Parmesan cheese for serving, if desired

Directions
Heat oven to 425°F. Line a 13×9-inch baking sheet with foil. Place halved tomatoes on baking sheet and drizzle with the olive oil. Place the minced garlic on top of the tomatoes. Sprinkle tomatoes generously with salt and ground black pepper.

Roast 35 to 45 minutes or until tomatoes are very tender and slightly shriveled around the edges.

Meanwhile, make the onions. In a nonstick or cast iron skillet over medium heat, combine the onions and olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and ground black pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, until onions are tender and caramelized, about 15 to 20 minutes.

Place onions and 1 cup chicken stock in a high speed blender along with the grated Parmesan and blend on high 30 seconds to 1 minute or until mixture is smooth and creamy. Transfer mixture to stock pot.

When tomatoes are done, working in two batches, place tomatoes in the blender and blend on HIGH for 30 seconds to 1 minute or until mixture is nearly smooth and no large chunks remain. Place pureed tomatoes in blender with the onion mixture.

Simmer 10 to 15 minutes, adding additional salt and pepper if needed, until flavors are combined and mixture is hot. Serve with additional grated Parmesan cheese, if desired.

Easy Roasted Brat & Potato Sheet Pan Meal

January 28, 2019

I’m enjoying a few days of sunshine and work meetings in California and so excited to be here, but I always have THE hardest time leaving my sweet crew. Even if it’s just for a couple days – and they usually go by quickly – I still just miss the heck out of them and love being with them.

When I leave, I do try to do at least a little meal prep to make the days go by smoothly and dinnertime easier while I’m away. I prepped a batch of our family’s favorite homemade tomato soup (recipe to come!), a baked pasta dish for Joe’s lunches, and this roasted sheet pan meal with brats, broccoli and potatoes.

It’s nothing special – and oftentimes I hesitate to share these “not special” meals on the blog – but really, this is the type of food and the way I like to cook on weeknights and when time is crunched. Which, let’s be honest, is more often than not.

Easy Brat & Potato Sheet Pan Meal
Ingredients
4 uncooked brats, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 medium Russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 head broccoli, cut into bite-sized florets
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Directions
Heat oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil; brush foil with olive oil.

Place brats, potatoes, and broccoli on baking sheet. Drizzle with the olive oil and sprinkle with the salt and ground black pepper. Spread in an even layer on the baking sheet.

Roast 30-40 minutes or until potatoes are tender, brats are cooked through and the broccoli is caramelized, turning just once during baking.

Creamy, Healthy Baked Mac and Cheese

January 18, 2019

Happy Friday! We are waiting for a snow storm that’s supposed to hit our neck of the woods sometime today, long-overdue since we’ve hardly had any snow and very mild weather all winter thus far, and I’m over here baking pasta dishes and prepping for a weekend spent indoors watching football.

I’ve been planning/dreaming of making this dish for over a month now – ever since I made a similar dish with butternut squash from Food & Wine for a Christmas party in early December. While I enjoyed the process of peeling and cubing and cooking the butternut squash before actually making the sauce, for a weekday meal it was hardly an approachable method. It seemed obvious that I could swap out the squash for canned pumpkin and get a similar result with less fuss – and while the flavor profile was slightly different I was shoveling hot bites of this in my mouth the second it came out of the oven. So I think it’s safe to say it was GOOD.

One thing to note: This dish (similar to the original I made in December) is best served hot. It’s fine re-heated, but for maximum creaminess and best texture, making it straight through is best. Additionally, I wouldn’t suggest prepping this in advance and baking it later. I did that for the Christmas party I hosted, and I felt that the pasta had absorbed too much liquid while it sat in the fridge, so once again, making it straight through being optimal. It doesn’t take long to assemble and with the help of a high-powered blender (Yay Vitamix!) the sauce becomes incredibly creamy. Enjoy!

Healthy Baked Mac and Cheese
Makes one 13×9-inch pan (6 to 8 servings)

Ingredients
1 box (16 oz.) penne pasta (I used Barilla Plus high protein penne)
20 oz. pumpkin puree
3 cups chicken stock (not unsalted)
1 cup cashews, soaked in water for at least 1 hour up to 4 hours, drained
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
Crushed red pepper flakes, if desired

Directions
Heat oven to 350°F.

Cook pasta according to package directions, removing from water when the pasta is very al-dente and has some bite to it. The pasta will continue to cook in the sauce and you don’t want it to be mushy. Drain; set aside.

While pasta is cooking, in a large high-powered blender combine the pumpkin puree, chicken stock, cashews, garlic, salt and 1/2 cup of the Parmesan cheese. Blend until very smooth and no lumps or texture remains. Note: You may have to work in batches depending on how big your blender is.

Combine the pasta and sauce, stirring until pasta is evenly coated. Transfer pasta mixture into a 13×9-inch greased baking dish. Spread evenly in dish. Top with the remaining 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese. Cover dish with aluminum foil.

Bake pasta, covered, 20 minutes. Remove foil and bake 20 to 25 minutes more or until bubbly around the edges and the top is golden. Remove from oven and top with crushed red pepper flakes, if desired. Serve immediately.

Variations:
I think the flavor profile of this dish lends itself to adding in some type of protein, specifically some ground sausage or chopped chicken, which could be added to the dish before baking.

Alternately, you could add a drizzle of basil pesto to the top of the dish before serving or top with some toasted walnuts after baking for a little crunch.

Healthy Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins

January 7, 2019

Chances are some of you out there made some type of resolution related to health, am I right? And while I’m certainly NOT one to make resolutions related to weight loss these days, I think health goals like having more energy, eating less sugar, eating more veggies, and moving your body more are all worthwhile and noble goals to have for the year to come.

With that in mind, I also know that I love to bake, my girls love to bake and we love easy, grab-and-go type breakfasts. So while I certainly DO want to help my kiddos enjoy fewer sugary treats, I am not about to give up baking and baked goods.

Our family’s solution? These Healthy Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins! They’re made with almond and oat flours, no refined sugar except for a few chocolate chips, and just a little bit of good-for-you olive oil in place of the butter or vegetable oil found in most muffins and baked goods.

My girls loved these from the start, and so did the rest of the family! Bonus: They can easily be stored in the freezer and re-heated for a breakfast on the go that’s quick and tasty!

Healthy Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins
Makes 12 muffins

Ingredients
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup maple syrup
2 tablespoons honey
2 large ripe bananas, mashed
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 3/4 cup oat flour*
1/2 cup almond meal
1/3 cup old fashioned oats
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chocolate chips

Directions
Heat oven to 350°F. Line 12 muffin cups with paper baking liners; set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the olive oil, maple syrup and honey. Stir until well-combined. Add in the banana, eggs, cinnamon and vanilla and stir until combined.

In a second bowl, combine the oat flour, almond meal, old fashioned oats, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Stir until combined. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and stir until just combined. Stir in the chocolate chips.

Spoon batter into prepared muffin liners. Bake 22 to 25 minutes or until muffins bounce back when lightly pressed on in the center. Cool 10 minutes in baking pan. Transfer to cooling rack and cool completely.

*To make your own oat flour, simply process old fashioned oats in a high-powdered blender (like a Vitamix) until mixture forms a flour and is evenly processed.