Mini Shepherd’s Pies

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I saw an article encouraging using holiday leftovers to make shepherd’s pie and I was immediately sold. This recipe was so simple, yet super delicious. Unfortunately, despite the taste, it looked awful. So I deconstructed the leftovers and put them into these mini croquettes I got for my boyfriend a few Christmases ago. Obsessed!

For the Shepherd’s Pie: Onion, Mushroom, Olive Oil, Chopped Meat, Frozen Vegetables, Gravy Packets, Potatoes

Saute the onions and mushrooms in olive oil until soft, remove from pan, add the meat and cook through. Put the onions and mushrooms back in the pan, add the frozen veggies, then the water, and gravy. Put in pan, put the potatoes on top and pop in the oven until potatoes begin to brown.

white bean and sausage soup

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So I’ve been pretty bad at posting the last few weeks and I’ll try to be better about it, especially since this is such a great season for all kinds of holiday themed blogging. This week is unseasonably warm, but regardless of the high numbers on the thermometer, I want to make the cold weather soups.

For the soup: olive oil, sweet Italian sausage, onions, carrots, potatoes, garlic, bay leaves, white beans, kale, chicken stock, salt and pepper

I found this recipe on Pinterest and it was really simple and had good flavor. I probably would have liked it more with hot Italian sausage, but my boyfriend absolutely LOVED the recipe, so it’s likely to make another appearance at some point. The toast with Asiago cheese was the perfect addition.

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A few weeks ago when my dad asked me to make lasagna for Thanksgiving, I wasn’t interested and instead offered to make a baked Mac and Cheese dish. My boyfriend thought I should reconsider lasagna and somehow we decided to make a lasagna that week for practice. I’d only made it once before – and that one time was a vegetable lasagna, which just wouldn’t cut it with my family. So I started searching lasagna recipes and was really intrigued by the idea of using sausage out of the casings . Funny enough, we enjoyed this so much, I ended up making it two more times in the next two weeks, tweaking it with each new try. The pictures represent the first try, but the recipe listed has been slightly modified based on those tweaks.

For the sauce: olive oil, onions, carrots, yellow & orange peppers, mushrooms, garlic, hot Italian sausage (casings removed), chicken broth, homemade tomato sauce

For the lasagna: sauce, ricotta cheese, eggs, lasagna noodles (I prefer the standard, but oven-ready works too), mozzarella cheese, parmesan cheese

Put down a layer of sauce, then noodles, then ricotta mixture, and then sprinkle some mozzarella and parmesan cheese. Repeat these steps. For the final layer add noodles, then sauce, then mozzarella and parmesan.

Enjoy!

i scream, you scream

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I absolutely LOVE ice cream cake. What could possibly be better than ice cream, chocolate crunchy cookies, and decorative whipped cream to top it off? Plus, you can’t go wrong with it. Sometimes with a regular cake, the consistency or the flavors are just not right. But unless you’re churning your own ice cream, this is pretty much fail-safe. So with some time on my hands and a craving for ice cream, I decided to create my own version of the Carvel ice cream cake.

I’m not sure why I opted to put parchment paper in the springform pan, but I definitely would not do it again. It made all these nooks and crannies in the shape and it was harder to cover with whipped cream.

For the cake: layer of chocolate ice cream (then freeze), crumbled Oreos (then freeze), layer of vanilla ice cream (then freeze)

For the whipped cream: heavy cream, granulated sugar, vanilla extract

Frost the cake as you like and then put it back into the freezer until you’re ready to enjoy!

guilt free (ish) eggplant parm

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If we’re being honest, very few things I cook are actually guilt free (minus quinoa, but I barely like quinoa). What makes this eggplant dish *slightly* healthier is that i cooked the eggplant first in the oven, rather than breading and frying it. There are two main components to properly cooking eggplant. The first is to slice it thin. The second (and most important) is to salt the eggplant before you cook with it. Eggplant naturally has a lot of bitter juices and salting it brings out those juices. I place the eggplant in a colander, salt the slices, and then let it sit for AT LEAST 30 minutes before rinsing it. Trust me, if you don’t want eggplant with a horrible after taste, you have to do this step.

Once that step was done, I put the eggplant on a baking sheet and in the oven for about 15 minutes. Then I just made the layers, plopped it in the oven, and enjoyed the dish with some fresh basil. Perfection!

For the dish: layer of homemade sauce, layer of eggplant, layer of ricotta cheese, and repeat. Top it off with parmesan cheese and then bake it for around 20 minutes at 400 degrees.

fall crafts

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After taking my sisters pumpkin picking a few weeks ago, I promised my little brothers that I’d do something fun with them too. Unfortunately, the cost of our little pumpkin farm trip with the girls was such that it was deemed “not worth it” for a return trip with the boys. Instead, I decided to set aside some time with pumpkins and paints to let them have fun. Naturally, my baby sister found a way to be included in this little trip too.

I had originally planned to paint a pumpkin, but the only option on hand was water based paints. They work well for little kid crafts, but certainly not a medium I’m comfortable with, so I took pictures while they did their thing. It was a bit messy, which made me cringe, but in the end everyone had fun and they all got to put their masterpiece pumpkins on display on our front steps. With this weather, they’ll be outside for a long time!

Apple Pie

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Pie has always seemed like a huge undertaking, which is probably why I avoid making it. It’s mainly the crust that is daunting, so to avoid it I would get a store bought crust and put a crumble on top of my homemade filling. Buuut, it was my boyfriend’s birthday the other day, and after a month of him being away and working long hours every day, I figured I’d make his favorite apple pie as a birthday surprise. Shockingly, it wasn’t difficult at all to make the dough for the crust. I can’t pretend I did well rolling out the crust though, but I guess practice makes perfect. As usual, I got this amazing recipe from Bon Appetit.

For the crust: 2 & 1/2 cups flour, 1/2 tsp salt, 10 tbsp chilled unsalted butter, 1/2 cup chilled vegetable shortening, 4 tbsp ice water

Mix together ingredients by hand, roll in a ball, divide in two, flatten into disks, and refrigerate. When ready, roll out chilled dough and place bottom in pie dish.

For the filling: 3 & 1/2 lbs sweet and tart apples, 3/4 cup sugar, 1 tsp fresh lemon juice, 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp vanilla extract, 1 tbsp flour, 3 tbsp unsalted butter

Peel, core, and thinly slice apples. Toss with sugar, lemon juice, cinnamon, vanilla extract, and flour. Then, pour apples into pie dish, add butter, and place second rolled out dough on top. Trim the edges, and fold over. Bake at 375 for about 2 hours.

I added the cinnamon sugar on top as the BA recipe called for, but my cinnamon sugar mixture burned a bit, so will need to tweak that. Also, I put in around 7 large apples and I definitely could have done more!

it’s the great pumpkin!

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I was home this weekend to visit my sister and her new baby and whenever I go home, I make sure I hang with as much of my family as possible. Saturday, my boyfriend and I took my 3 little sisters pumpkin picking at a little farm a few miles away from my mother’s house.

They had a hayride, a corn maze, pumpkin picking, and a few other activities designed for children around my youngest sister’s age. After weeks of warm October weather, we finally had a day that really felt like autumn. The air was crisp, and we were comfortable in our sweaters and boots. The sun was in and out all day, but it would appear just enough for moments of beautiful natural light within the corn maze. It was a perfect afternoon and I especially enjoyed watching my sister attempting to pick up pumpkins that were heavier than her! We all left with pumpkins, chilled hands, and bellies full of apple cider donuts.

Also, my baby sister was having fun, despite looking sad in the pictures!

tomato sauce

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Though I inherited my pale skin and blonde hair from my mother’s family, I inherited my love of Italian food from my father’s. We didn’t spend as much time with my paternal grandmother growing up, but whenever we were with her, it was a treat because she was an unbelievable cook. She didn’t use recipe cards – she just knew how to make incredible Italian food. I used to help her make Sunday dinners, but no matter how many times I try to recreate meatballs and braciole now, there’s always something missing. Part of the reason is the sauce – I was using sauce from a jar, and she obviously made her own. So I’m on a mission to make my own tomato sauce going forward. It doesn’t taste as good as my grandmother’s, but I imagine it’ll improve every time.

For the sauce: olive oil, 5 large cans plum tomatoes (peeled and seeded), 3 yellow onions, 6 garlic cloves, half jar tomato paste, Italian herbs, salt & pepper, pinch of sugar

I so wanted to make this recipe with real tomatoes, but the selection at ShopRite was less than appealing. Thank goodness for cans! Separately chop the tomatoes, onions, and garlic. Heat oil in a large pot and add the onions, cooking until soft. Add the garlic and stir for about 1 minute and then add the tomato paste, coating the onions and garlic. Pour the tomatoes in the pot with the dried Italian herbs, bring to a boil, then lower the heat and let simmer for about 2 hours. The sauce will thicken as the liquid reduces. Add a pinch of sugar to cut the acidity of the tomatoes and then salt and pepper to taste. I also add crushed red pepper flakes because I LOVE spicy food.

This recipe freezes really well, so you can be sure to always have some on hand. Trust me, it really makes a difference in the overall taste of a meal.

watching leaves

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In 1st grade, we had an ongoing fall assignment to “watch the leaves.” The day we were given this assignment, I brought my grandmother with me onto her back porch to literally watch the leaves on the trees. Looking back, I always laugh because I took the casual assignment so seriously and because my grandmother humored me and let me log in those watching hours. Fast forward 20 years and I’m still watching the leaves. Our apartment has a perfect view of the trees lined up across the street and I’ve been watching them go from all green, to green with a few yellow leaves, to a tie-dye of greens, yellows, oranges, and reds.

For as long as I can remember, Autumn has been my favorite season. Between the football games, the crisp air, my favorite holiday – HALLOWEEN, and the beautiful burst of colors on the trees, Autumn is far ahead of the competition. On my walk today, there were so many colorful leaves on the ground I just had to take them home. I wish you could pause this exact moment in time – when the leaves are still on the trees, but they’re so colorful. I can’t believe it’s already mid October, but luckily the weather’s been so beautiful I can go outside and enjoy this amazing fall every day.