French toast

French toast is a fairly simple brunch option - soak some bread in egg and then fry it up in a pan. Even though it's simple we don't make it a whole lot but a few weekends ago Patrick requested some French toast for weekend brunch. Usually when we make French toast we've got some leftover bread from a dinner or something but that was not the case on this weekend morning. I picked up a small ciabatta loaf that was just perfect for French toast. Patrick also requested we put some pumpkin pie spice in the egg mixture! So many requests! Read below to see how we prepped it and added these few twists to the simple base prep...

Pumpkin pie spice ciabatta French toast dusted with powdered sugar and served with a pear
Ciabatta French toast with pumpkin pie spice

Ingredients - ciabatta loaf, 2 eggs, cream, vanilla, pumpkin pie spice, butter

Directions - Slice ciabatta.
Make egg mixture for dipping: 2 eggs, dash of pumpkin pie spice, splash of vanilla, ~1/4 cup cream
Cook: melt one tablespoon butter in nonstick pan. Place ciabatta slices into egg dip and coat both sides. Then place into pan and flip once golden.

Half way through flipping
The pumpkin pie spice blends adds a great flavor and is perfect for the holidays. If you've got guests this would be a wonderful thing to throw together one morning and use up any bread you may have from your holiday feast!

Zuppa Toscano inspired soup

The holidays are filled with Christmas parties, platters of cookies, family events with ham and turkey, and other scrumptious sweet and savory options. Another thing I associate with the holidays are soups. They're a great way to reuse your leftovers and to have a lighter offering between your holiday calendar events. Typically soups come together fairly easily so that's another plus.

For all these reasons and more we're sharing a soup recipe today! I found it on a blog that I read and they posted it as a copy cat recipe for Olive Garden's Zuppa Toscano soup. I can't lay any claim to whether or not this is that because I'm not sure I knew Olive Garden had a Zuppa Toscano soup! However after reading through the ingredients I knew this would be something that Patrick and I would enjoy. My instincts were right and we loved the soup!

We adjusted a few things from their recipe so I've made those changes below. We served it with homemade sourdough rolls.

Zuppa Toscana Soup 
   Chris Loves Julia's Olive Garden Copy Cat Recipe | Servings 4-6

1/2 cup chopped bacon, fat trimmed
4 uncooked links of sweet Italian sausage, casing removed
1 yellow onion, chopped
2 carrots, small dice
2 stalks celery, small dice
1 bay leaf
2 medium garlic cloves, minced
4 cups chicken stock
2 cups water
4 medium Yukon gold, washed and diced about 1/4" thick 
dash of red pepper flake
1 cup low fat milk
4 kale leaves, thick rib parts removed, leaves washed thoroughly and cut into 1 inch pieces
salt and pepper to taste

   Preheat a large stock pot on medium-high heat. Add the bacon to the heated pan and cook until beginning to crisp.
   Add the sausage and break it up using a wooden spoon. Cook thoroughly. Use a paper towel to soak up some grease (or remove sausage / bacon from the pan to drain). Add the chopped onion, carrots, and celery and sauté until onion begins to become translucent. Add the minced garlic and sauté until aromatic. Add the chicken stock, water, and bay leaf then bring to a boil. Once boiling add the potatoes and red pepper flake. Cover, reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes or until potatoes are tender.
   Finally add the cream and stir, then add the kale. Cover the pot and simmer for another 5 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Do you have a favorite copy cat recipe of anything?

Meal Plan Monday Post

Christmas is upon us! Or was rather ... it has come and gone; 2015 is right around the corner!

We kicked off the holiday with a visit to Chicago the weekend before Christmas to celebrate with Patrick's family. Then after two days at home we started our final travels on Christmas Day. We thought it was important this year to wake up in our home on Christmas Day and start some Christmas Eve traditions.

Meal Plan for Monday December 22 - Sunday December 28

   Monday - Coming home from Chicago (landed at midnight)
   Tuesday - Broccoli cheese soup
   Wednesday - Christmas Eve
   Thursday - Christmas Day
      Brunch with my dad's family; Dinner at Granny's
   Friday through Saturday - in Murfreesboro
   Sunday - breakfast Baked oatmeal
      lunch all the leftovers we were sent back with!
      dinner Snapper, rice, and asparagus

Santa visited!

Our House - Christmas 2014


Dropping in today to wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas and to share decor snapshots of our very first home decked out for the Christmas holidays.

2014 Holiday House Tour

Front Door Wreath


Living Room

Dining Room

Kitchen - China cabinet with Spode Christmas Tree serving pieces

2014 Christmas card - All is Meowy & Bright

And for your enjoyment some Christmas past posts:

Roasted Acorn Squash and Pumpkin Lasagna

Have some winter squash laying around and want to mix it up a bit? That's exactly what happened to us! This is a great way to detour from roasted winter squash or soup. We both enjoyed this lasagna and served with a side salad, it makes for a wonderful lighter entree during the holidays.

Martha Stewart's Roasted Acorn Squash Lasagna
   Prep 15 minutes | Total time 1 hour 25 minutes | Serves 4

olive oil, for baking dish
4 cups acorn squash puree, or 2 packages (12 ounces each) frozen winter squash puree, thawed
      I used a mixture of acorn squash and pumpkin but any winter squash should be fine
1/2 teaspoon dried rubbed sage
coarse salt and ground pepper
1 container (15 ounces) part-skim ricotta cheese
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
8 no-boil lasagna noodles, half of an 8-ounce package

   Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Brush an 8-inch square baking dish with oil; set aside. In a medium bowl, mix squash puree with sage, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. In another bowl, mix ricotta with 1/2 cup Parmesan, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Set aside.
   Lay 2 lasagna noodles in the bottom of prepared dish; spread with half the squash mixture. Layer with 2 more noodles, and spread with half the ricotta mixture. Repeat layering with remaining noodles and mixtures. Sprinkle top (ricotta mixture) with remaining 1/2 cup Parmesan.
   Cover baking dish with foil; place on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake until lasagna is heated through, about 45 minutes; remove foil, and continue baking until golden on top, 20 to 25 minutes more.

Nacho isn't quite sure what to think of Santa!

Meal Plan Monday Post

This past week was all about sharing holiday merriment with friends! We hosted dinners on three different nights and had so much fun with everyone. My parents visited on Tuesday as well. We were certainly busy and hope to have some relaxing holiday time.

Meal Plan for Monday December 15 - Sunday December 21

   Monday - Host friends: Crockpot chili
   Tuesday - Host friends: Spaghetti with bolognese sauce
   Wednesday - Host friends: Pork tenderloin with roasted butternut, arugula, and quinoa side
   Thursday - Clean out the fridge meal: arugula salad with caramelized onions, pear, and bacon balsamic jam, antipasta sides - olives and summer sausage

In Chicago for the weekend to celebrate Christmas!

Meowy Christmas!

Pasta with Shrimp & Butternut Sauce

This was one of those somewhat odd-looking recipes that Whitney picked out and had me pretty suspicious about whether it could be good. Shrimp, butternut squash, bacon, mushrooms, and garlic? This recipe is all over the place. It's a good thing she's so adventurous, as this actually turned out to be pretty good! We used pre-cooked shrimp, which saved us enough time for us to make fresh fettucine for this dish. Strange combinations are a gamble but are great when they work!

Shrimp Pasta with Butternut Squash Sauce from
   Serves 4-6

2 cups prepped and cubed butternut squash (we used one butternut squash)
3/4 cup chicken stock
1 pound of fresh pasta
4 slices bacon, chopped into small pieces
1 pound of shrimp
8 oz mushrooms, sliced
1 onion, diced
2 big or 4 small garlic cloves
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 pinches nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste

   To make butternut squash puree, roast butternut squash in a 400F until tender (around 30 minutes depending on size of cube). Puree in a food processor with chicken stock until smooth.
   Meanwhile, cook pasta according to package. Drain and set aside (reserve pasta water).
   Cook bacon in a medium high skillet. Remove and set aside. Pat shrimp dry with paper towel. Cook shrimp in bacon grease on medium heat until brown, about 2 minutes per side. Set aside. Saute onion until translucent and then mushrooms. Once they have released their liquid, add garlic to skillet over low heat and cook for about a minute, until fragrant and brown. Add in butternut squash puree, Parmesan, nutmeg, and salt and pepper. Stir to combine.
   Add pasta and toss to coat. Add reserved pasta water to loosen sauce if needed.

Sweets on a Saturday

To cap off our fun-filled Homecoming weekend (we even won the football game!) I planned a casual sweets affair on Saturday night. The football game was at noon so after we got back from that we prepared some fajitas then relaxed before chatting around some fondue!

We've made this chocolate fondue in the past but we wanted to try something new this time. And Patrick was in charge! Here's what he did (inspiration from this Williams-Sonoma Chocolate Fondue)

Chocolate Fondue
Place 8 oz semisweet chocolate chips into a microwave safe measuring with 1/2 cup heavy cream and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract; microwave (mixing intermittently and making sure not to burn). Before placing the chocolate fondue into ceramic bowl and in the fondue pot microwave the water to put into the base. All set for fondue. We used a fuel burner but it heated the chocolate fondue too much so with the heated water you wouldn't need the fuel burner.

We served the chocolate fondue with pretzel sticks, strawberries, and cubed angel food cake. And red wine.

This was a special Homecoming for us because the 09ers were honored as the fifth year reunion class! Wow ... how the time flies! What wonderful memories I have of my time at Carolina and even better friends that are still some of my best friends.

Five years ago

And now!

And for fun - here's the recap of UNC Homecoming 2013. Hope 2019 and the tenth year reunion doesn't come quite as quickly as this one did.

Breakfast to go - Apple Muffins and Sausage Balls

Friends come to visit. Make breakfast ahead of time.
   This is one of my life mottos. In October my college friends came down for Homecoming. I prepped us some sausage balls and apple muffins to have for Saturday morning. Even if we have brunch plans I always like to have something in the kitchen that folks know they can grab if they're hungry when they wake up. And if there are no brunch plans all the more reason to have some easily accessible breakfast! On this particular morning we had a quick breakfast here at the house before making our way to campus for a noon football game.

One other thing I've been doing recently is putting recipes into Google drive so I can save them in a recipe folder. When I'm making a meal with multiple recipes or more than one thing I usually put them in the same document and that's what I did with these. I made the document available to you - so here's a handy dandy printable.

Martha Stewart's Sausage Cheddar Balls
   Makes approximately 45 balls
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp coarse salt
1/4 tsp ground pepper
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
2 cups grated cheddar (1/2 pound)
1 lb bulk breakfast sausage
1/2 large yellow onion, grated on large holes of a box grater
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

   Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, and baking powder. Add cheddar and toss to coat. Add sausage, onion, and butter. With your hands, mix until well combined and roll mixture into 1-inch balls. Place balls, 1/2 inch apart, on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake until balls are golden and cooked through, 25 minutes. Serve warm.

Eating Well's Apple Cider Muffins
   Prep time 30 minutes | Total time 1 hour | Makes 1 dozen muffins
   For the streusel
2 tbsp packed light brown sugar
4 tsp whole-wheat flour
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tbsp butter, cut into small pieces
2 tbsp finely chopped walnuts, (optional)
   For the muffins
1 c whole-wheat flour
1 c all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 large egg
1/3 c packed light brown sugar
1/2 c apple butter, such as Smucker's - substituted in 1 medium apple, shredded
1/3 c maple syrup
1/3 c apple cider
1/3 c low-fat plain yogurt
1/4 c canola oil

   Preheat oven to 400°F. Coat 12 muffin cups with cooking spray.
   To prepare streusel: Mix brown sugar, whole-wheat flour and cinnamon in a small bowl. Cut in butter with a pastry blender or your fingers until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in walnuts, if using.
   To prepare muffins: Whisk whole-wheat flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg in a large bowl.
   Whisk egg and brown sugar in a medium bowl until smooth. Whisk in apple butter, syrup, cider, yogurt and oil. Make a well in the dry ingredients; add the wet ingredients and stir with a rubber spatula until just combined. Scoop the batter into the prepared muffin cups (they’ll be quite full). Sprinkle with the streusel.
   Bake the muffins until the tops are golden brown and spring back when touched lightly, 15 to 25 minutes. Let cool in the pan for 5 minutes. Loosen edges and turn muffins out onto a wire rack to cool slightly before serving.

House Guests! & Bedrooms

When Patrick and I were house shopping we had "3-4 bedrooms" on our wish list. Ideally we wanted three designated bedrooms and then either a fourth bedroom or some open / transitional space that could function as an office for Patrick. Even though there are only two of us now we wanted to make sure our first house would have plenty of space for us to call home and fulfill our needs for at least a decade hopefully.

This house checked that box on the wish list. It has a master bedroom, two bedrooms, and a "bonus" room. This bonus room has angled ceilings because it is over the garage. It is not an official bedroom because it does not have a closet. Since we haven't posted pictures of the house on the blog yet I'll include bedroom pictures here.

Bonus Room
Current setup - "guest" bedroom

Current setup - "guest" bedroom 

Current setup - office

Master bedroom

We've had a few guests since we've moved - some family and some friends! Both guest rooms are complete and all setup with guest amenities. When my friends came for Homecoming in November I finally had enough time to get together cutesie baskets and bedside frames that included wifi information.

Here's the setup for each room for when guests arrive:

[Bonus Room]

[Guest Bedroom]

In the baskets are two sets of towels, water bottles, and an extra blanket. On each bedside table I placed a few magazines and a book with local attractions (this day trips from RDU book and this food lovers guide to Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill). Also on the table is some helpful information framed for our guests... like this below 

Hope you visit soon!

Meal Plan Monday Post

At the grocery store this week I made sure to pick up a variety of fruit! Consuming Christmas cookies is just around the corner so I want us to get a head start on offsetting all that sugar.
bananas, navel oranges, honeycrisp apples, and an anjou pear
grapes [not pictured in the fridge]
Meal Plan for Monday December 8 - Sunday December 14

   Monday - Snazzy ramen We only had about 30 minutes to eat after getting home from work before leaving for the concert so to the ramen we added fresh spinach that wilted, spring onions, and an egg.
      Patrick's orchestra concert

Is that Santa or my handsome violinist?!
   Tuesday - Orzo with caramelized fall veggies
   Wednesday - Tilapia, quinoa rice blend, spinach salad

   Thursday - Pork chops, roasted acorn squash, couscous
   Friday - Risotto with butternut squash
   Saturday - Lunch at Fishmonger's in downtown Durham
      Annie matinee @ DPAC

   Sunday - Holiday progressive with our neighbors! Appetizers, dinner, and dessert all at different houses. We hosted dessert and made eggnog ice cream with rum cake and a chocolate pie.

Stay tuned - posts this week are from mid-November and Homecoming!

Creamy pasta with spinach and artichokes

Even though there's usually always a meal plan, sometimes the days are very flexible or maybe the meal plan just gets overridden. If the prior week's meal plan got jumbled then something may carry over. Other times I may just leave a day blank with an idea of what we'd do and then wing it that night. That's kind of what happened here. The meal plan actually had us making the pork chops with chard but on this particularly day I opened the fridge and next to the chard was fresh spinach from our CSA. I made a last minute decision that we should use the spinach before the chard.

So I gathered up everything that I thought would be a good addition for some creamy pasta with spinach and artichokes. In addition to the fresh spinach and canned artichokes (on standby in the pantry), I grabbed some whole wheat spaghetti, an onion, sun-dried tomatoes, cream, goat cheese, parmesan, garlic, and other spices / seasonings. It turned out really well and Patrick said he was impressed... apparently not all of my throw together pasta dinners impress him (the truth came out this evening). Everything in the recipe below is approximate!

Here's what I did
   Boil water and cook whole wheat spaghetti according to package directions.
   Meanwhile, place 1 tbsp butter and 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add in 1 diced onion and saute until softened then add in 3 cloves of minced garlic, dash of red pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Once the garlic is fragrant add in 2 cups fresh spinach and stir until partially wilted. Next add in quartered artichoke hearts (drained from a 14 oz can and chopped), 1/3 cup sun-dried tomatoes, 1/4 cup cream, 1/4 cup goat cheese, and 1/3 cup parmesan cheese. Stir together and allow everything to heat throw over medium-low heat.
   Finally add the spaghetti into the skillet with the the creamy artichoke spinach sauce.

Slow Cooker Pork with Honey Cinnamon Apples

I came across this recipe on Pinterest and it was a winner. It's great to add to your assortment of crockpot recipes. Grab a pork tenderloin, throw it in the crockpot with apples, flavor with honey and cinnamon, then at the end of the day deliciousness will be waiting for you. I served this with couscous and roasted sweet potato medallions.

Crockpot Honey Pork and Apples from and Stephanie Ertel
   Prep time 10 mins | Cook time 8 hours | Serves 6

1 (3-4 lb) pork tenderloin
2 large granny smith apples, sliced
½ cup honey
2 tbsp cinnamon

   Slice slits in pork tenderloin. Place 1-2 apple slices per slit. Place ¾ of remaining apple slices in bottom of crockpot. Drizzle ½ of the honey over apple slices. Place pork on top of apple slices. Sprinkle cinnamon over everything. Place remaining apple slices on top and drizzle the remaining honey over everything.
   Place lid on and cook on low for 8 hours. Remove from slow cooker, slice and serve with apples on top.

Next time we make this I will forego the slits in the tenderloin. I think this dried it out a little bit and I prefer the apples on the bottom anyway. Plus that would save you an extra few minutes of prep time. I would also check the pork after 6 hours depending on the size. Ours was on the small side and probably didn't need 8 hours.

This was our first meal with the dining table set up for Christmas.

Cats are still figuring out Christmas...

Orecchiette with Roma Beans

Our CSA is coming to an end for the winter so very soon. We'll still be sharing some of the recipes we've made the past few weeks / months with the produce. This pasta dish was very simple and I was amazed at all the flavor it developed. No surprise here - it's from The Chew.

The recipe features roma beans which is why I decided to make it. Roma beans are offered through our CSA and I seldom select them because Patrick prefers green beans. We were getting into a bit of a green bean rut and I thought roma beans and this recipe were the perfect way to change it up!

Mario Batali's Orecchiette with Roma Beans
   ^ Follow through the hyperlinked recipe title for the video of Mario preparing the dish
For the Orecchiette *
2 cups semolina flour *
2 cups all-purpose flour *
1-1 1/4 cups tepid water *
For the sauce
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 pound romano beans (topped and cut into 1/2-inch pieces)
1/2 stalk celery, thinly sliced
2 serrano chilies, thinly sliced - we used one
1 onion, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 cup freshly grated caciocavallo cheese, plus more to garnish - we used Parmesan

   For the Orecchiette: Mound the flour in the center of a large wooden cutting board. Make a well in the center of the flour and add water a little at a time, stirring with your hands until a dough is formed. As you incorporate the water, keep pushing the flour up to retain the well shape (do not worry if it looks messy). The dough will come together in a shaggy mass when about half of the flour is incorporated. You may need more or less water, depending on the humidity in your kitchen.
Start kneading the dough with both hands, primarily using the palms of your hands. Once the dough is a cohesive mass, remove the dough from the board and scrape up any left over dry bits. Lightly flour the board and continue kneading for 3 more minutes. The dough should be elastic and a little sticky. Continue to knead for another 3 minutes, remembering to dust your board with flour when necessary. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and set aside for 10 minutes at room temperature. Roll and form as desired. *
   Roll dough into long dowels about 3 to 4 inches thick. Cut into flat disks about 1/4-inch to 1/2-inch thick. Press center of each disk with thumb to form saucer-shaped pasta and set aside until ready to cook.
   Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil and season very generously with salt until it tastes like the sea. Cook the fresh orechiette for 2 to 3 minutes or until al dente. Drain.
   For the Sauce: In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium high heat, add the beans, celery and peppers to the pan and do not disturb. [Don’t move the Romano beans around in the pan. This way the beans char on one side and become ten times more flavorful. If you cannot find Romano beans, you can substitute either green beans or wax beans.] Cook for 30 seconds then lay the onions on top and do not disturb the pan. After 2 minutes toss the ingredients in the pan and season with salt and red pepper flakes. Saute for 2 to 3 more minutes before loosening with a ladle or two of pasta water. Then add the pasta, loosening with a bit of the pasta cooking water if necessary. Add fresh caciocavallo cheese and serve.

*We substituted our pasta recipe to prepare the orechiette - which is 1 egg per 100 g of flour.
I must have been having an off day when I made this because I accidentally used 1 cup of flour per egg instead of 100 grams. I didn't realize this until I was just about to roll it out (I had to incorporate water to get the dough to form). I still made the orechiette and it was edible. I'm sure if the pasta had been spot on this dish would've easily gotten an A+!

 Patrick received this in a picture text with my question "Pasta isn't coming together :-( what should I do?" He didn't respond in a timely manner and I proceeded without his advice.

Any recent kitchen disasters for you? I've learned you just keep moving along!