Celebrating Valentine’s Day as a Family

Valentine’s Day is a week away, and today I’m sharing how we choose to celebrate the day! My husband and I don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day as a couple (I feel like it’s a bit cheesy) but I do admit I kind of enjoy embracing the kitsch and celebrating it as a family. I tend to go a bit overboard on celebrating most holidays, but I like to keep Valentines to a minimum with a fun homemade dinner for the family & a simple gift for each of the kids.

I typically get the kids each a little basket and fill it with some inexpensive toys and a few treats. Matchbox cars, small packages of legos, mini boxes of chocolates & candies, glow sticks, playing cards, bath bombs, small books, & miniature stuffies are all a few ideas for simple, budget friendly basket fillers. I will often grab the kids each a Valentine’s Day balloon to tie to their basket to complete it! (The dollar store is a great place to grab balloons)

Heart basket, Mini chocolate box, Book, Heart box, Puppy with purse, Bath bombs, Legos, Hot wheels, Glow stick, Silly book, Cupid farts candy, Best son ever sketchbook (best daughter ever book), Playing cards

Heart shaped pizza is a classic Valentines Day dinner that is so simple to make with refrigerated dough! (I buy it from Trader Joe’s) The hubs and I love a good bbq chicken pizza, and for the kids you can amp up the valentines theme with some heart shaped pepperoni! Heart shaped pasta noodles, or even pink-dyed noodles would be cute as well. For dessert, I love making a chocolate fondue (pot and recipe) with lots of different dipping items like berries (especially strawberries!), marshmallows, and mini-brownies and/or cookies.

How do you celebrate Valentine’s Day?!

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My Closet Reveal

My Closet Reveal

A bit of a backstory; after 3 years at our last home, we decided to seriously consider a move early last year. While we really liked our last home, we never loved the location as it was several miles out of town & a bit of a drive for everything we wanted to do. It was also not zoned for the greatest elementary school so we had Cole enrolled in private school – which really had become a nightmare situation for so many reasons. We started looking around and had found a community we really loved that was up in the foothills outside of Boise…but we just couldn’t pull the trigger because we were worried about being in the same situation with feeling a bit too isolated. Then we came across a brand new community in a location that couldn’t be more perfect for us. Minutes from downtown, right next to the Boise river, hiking in the foothills right down the street, and in a 10/10 ranked K-12 public school district. Although we were very familiar with the builder, the house wasn’t even built & the finishes were all pre-selected so we would not be able to make any changes. We also had to try to decipher blueprints and try to determine if we even liked the floor plan! However with how hot the housing market was (and still is!) in Boise, we knew we had to make a quick decision. We submitted our offer in June, the house went up and was completed by mid August, and we moved in a week before Cole started his new school. I can’t even tell you how stressful it was, but now that we are here, I’m so thankful we took the leap and absolutely love our new home, neighborhood and school! Evan even started preschool at a little school that is in our neighborhood and he absolutely loves it. There’s shops and restaurants we can walk to, a new huge park being built across the street, and we are in biking distance of downtown. It really couldn’t be more perfect for us!

It was such a whirlwind moving in, and I’m finally starting to catch my breath and want to start working on finishing decorating all the rooms in the house this year. But one of the things I want to focus on first this year is getting my storage spaces in order. First up was getting my closet completed! The closet in this house is actually quite a bit smaller than the closet I had in my last house, and also not nearly as functional for me with very limited shelving. And while I was spoiled in my last closet with floor to ceiling shoe shelving, my new closet had absolutely no designated shoe shelving. I knew I was going to have to maximize every inch of space, and the only place to go was up. I ordered multiple floating shelves from Ikea and had them installed in the empty space above my clothing. While it’s certainly not the typical place to store shoes, it is actually working out very well for me! I keep a step stool tucked in a corner so I can access my shoes easily. I also desperately needed additional shelving space for a place to store accessories, so I added this DIY island. I had looked around one for awhile, but the most affordable option I found was this $900 option, so on the hunt for something more affordable I found this Ikea hack! I modified the design to fit my smaller space, and I placed 2 Kallax units back to back with drawers placed in 2 cubbies. I left the rest of the cubbies open to place folded scarves, jewelry trays, hats and some of my pretty designer shoe boxes which also double as additional storage space! I’m still hoping to find a scrap piece of quartz or granite that is the correct size so I can put a table top on the island to make it look like a custom piece! What you need to build the island:

All of my display pieces are several years old. The necklace bust display, bracelet holder, and mirror were all purchased at Target. The ceramic tray was from J Crew, the small silver ring cup was from Target, and the silver tray was from Home Goods. Since they are all long sold out, here are some similar options!

Stacked jewelry trays for costume jewelry (similar here and here)I used 6 Ikea Lack Shelves to create the shoe shelving in my closet. This brand also has multiple sizes available and is very affordable and I think this would be such a neat option for a more industrial looking space!I utilized built in cubbies to store purses, folded jeans, and folded sweaters. I use fabric bins to store seasonal stuff like my ski gear, winter accessories like hats and gloves, and swimsuits.Everything is hanging on slim velvet hangars to maximize space and I also organized everything by color and type of item.In the drawers, I keep accessories like sunglasses, scarves, belts, and additional jewelry

Replacing the light fixture to a fun chandelier is definitely on my to-do list this year as well. But overall I’m really pleased with how the space has turned out and it has been very functional for me. If you are looking to give your closet a refresh, or maximize a smaller space, I hope this was helpful! Thanks so much for stopping by!

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Easy Weeknight Vegetable Beef Soup

Easy Weeknight Vegetable Beef Soup

I’ve been meaning to post this recipe for awhile as I’ve been making this soup several times a month all fall and winter! This week seemed a fitting time to share as it was the perfect meal for our first night back to school and our busy routine yesterday. I had found a few vegetable beef soup recipes online a few months back that just didn’t quite suit my tastes or turn out quite correctly, so I spent some time perfecting this soup and it has become a family favorite! It is so simple to make and is also ready in minutes, which is perfect for busy weeknights.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 lbs ground beef
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 3 carrots, peeled and sliced (or I often use approximately 20 baby carrots since I usually have them on hand)
  • 2 large potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, diced
  • 1 can stewed tomatoes
  • 3 tbsp tomato paste
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne
  • 1/8 tsp crushed red pepper
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 1 tbsp olive oil

Directions

  • Turn Instant Pot to Sauté; add oil and heat until hot. Add onion and sauté for approximately 3-4 minutes until translucent. Add garlic and sauté for 1-2 minutes more. Add ground beef and sauté until beef is browned through. Drain and turn instant pot off.
  • Add can of stewed tomatoes with liquid and break into small pieces. Add tomato paste, oregano, cayenne, crushed red pepper, salt, and pepper. Stir all ingredients together.
  • Add carrots and potatoes, then add broth. Stir to combine all ingredients.
  • Place lid on instant pot and close vent (seal). Press the manual button and set the timer for 4 minutes. Once the timer beeps, do a manual release of pressure by turning the seal to vent. Once the pressure is released, remove the lid and enjoy!

*Note: This could also be made in a crockpot or stovetop if you don’t have an Instant Pot – although I use mine a ton and think they are absolutely worth the investment!

This soup does have a little heat, so if you don’t care for that you can reduce the amount of cayenne or crushed red pepper (or exclude!). What is so great about this soup is you can really customize it to suit your tastes. You could use ground turkey or chicken, add other vegetables you like (such as corn or celery), and use your broth of choice should you prefer beef or vegetable. This soup also manages to be low in calories, and still very filling!

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Countdown to Christmas

It’s officially one more week to Christmas!!! It has really crept up on me this year and I’m not feeling completely ready. There is still so much to be done, and I am also feeling that we haven’t gotten to have enough Christmas fun yet! I’m hoping we can fit a lot in over the next seven days. This past weekend was a busy one and a good kick off to our final week! First up was Cole’s school Christmas program on Friday afternoon. Evan wasn’t too thrilled about snapping a pic after we got home, but we were all so proud of our Cole bug!Processed with VSCO with a6 presetProcessed with VSCO with a6 presetSweater: Topshop (old – similar here, here, here, here) // Jeans: Mother // Booties: Sam Edelman // Bag: Chanel // Sunglasses: Celine

On Saturday we headed up the mountain for our first ski day of the season! I gotta admit, our first run of the day was a little rocky with the kids feeling a bit rusty, but by the end of the day it was all smiles and Evan finally figured out how to wedge!45F71031-191E-47E5-A224-0749B279C956B6D5FDB8-7604-47BE-A678-6C740D267E26

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Sunday was a lazy day of Gingerbread house making and movie watching! We finally gave in to the hype and watched The Christmas Chronicles on Netflix. It is really cute!51E129D1-AEA7-4894-9D0B-A60C1C672062

Last night was Evan’s turn for his preschool Christmas program! It was an extra special evening for our family since it was his first ever school program. We made a huge deal of it, and we all got dressed up along with him to go cheer for our little guy! It was so cute – as we were waiting for him to come out, Cole told me that he felt more nervous for Evan than he had at his own school performance…and it just melted my heart. Those two really do have a special bond. The program was adorable beyond words and we were just so proud of our little Evan!Processed with VSCO with a6 presetSweater: Amazon (Cashmere and under $50! This is an incredible buy and I will be ordering more colors) // Skirt: Chicwish // Belt: Gucci // Pumps: Christian Louboutin // Bag: Celine9778941C-2747-4DCE-B203-369FF0B7D4D2Cole’s Sweater: Gap // Corduroys: H&M // Shoes: Gap  —  Evan’s Top & Vest: H&M // Bow: Amazon // Pants: Target // Shoes: GapD7B8A541-46E8-4904-8E0F-748FEFFA40EA5BE9A2D1-DC1F-4A94-990F-53D54C46CAB75AC08A8A-2CF5-47B2-AFEC-CB75C83D6DF9

Evan’s little preschool is located in a neighborhood near our home, and the school reserved the community clubhouse for the school program which was such a lovely venue! Everyone was asked to bring an appetizer or dessert, and after the performance we got a chance to visit with other families and have some delicious food. I brought these brie cranberry bites, which are so incredibly simple and perfect for a holiday gathering.070C3653-0AE5-4CF1-8EF4-695786933897

BRIE CRANBERRY BITES

1 sheet of puff pastry (thawed)

3/4 cup cranberry sauce

8 oz brie cheese

1-2 sprigs fresh rosemary

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees

Using a knife or a pizza cutter cut the dough into 12 equal pieces. Place each piece in the cup of a 12-cup muffin baking pan. You want each the 4 sides to slightly poke over the top of the cup.

Cut the brie into 1-inch pieces. Place a piece into each cup.

Evenly distribute the cranberry sauce in the cups over the brie. You will use about 1 – 1 1/2 tsp per cup.

Pull the rosemary apart and place a small sprig on top of each cup.

Bake for 15 minutes. The puff pastry should be golden brown. remove from oven and allow the cups to sit for a few minutes to slightly cool. Use a small butter knife to carefully release the bites from the baking pan.

 

I’m hoping to get lots of wrapping done today while the kids are at school, and order the last few gifts on my list – nothing like Amazon Prime to enable procrastination!

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My Favorite Thanksgiving Recipes

Can you believe Thanksgiving is next week?! The holidays have come so quickly this year and I can’t believe they are here. I’m sitting down today to review my Thanksgiving recipes and make my shopping list, and I thought I would share my favorite recipes that I make for my family each year!

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Martha Stewart’s Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls

I feel like on Thanksgiving you should celebrate with a full day feast, and I love starting the day with a special treat! Our family loves homemade cinnamon rolls, but it is such a long process to make them, that I only make them for holidays. Yes, it takes awhile to make these pumpkin cinnamon rolls…but trust me. Make them. I make them the evening before so they are ready to go in the morning and don’t add to my workload on Thanksgiving.

INGREDIENTS:

1/2 cup whole milk

2 1/4 tsp rapid-rise yeast (from 1 envelope yeast)

2/3 cup granulated sugar

2/3 cup pure pumpkin puree

3/4 cup packed light-brown sugar

4 oz cream cheese, room temperature

2-3 tbsp whole milk

1 stick (1/2 cup) plus 3 tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for brushing

3 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 large egg, room temperature

Kosher salt

2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar

DIRECTIONS:

Lightly brush a large bowl with butter, set aside. Heat milk and 3 tbsp butter in a small saucepan over medium heat until butter is melted & mixture is warm to the touch, about 120 degrees. Transfer to the bowl of a stand mixture fitted with the dough hook attachment, Immediately sprinkle with yeast. Let stand until a bit foamy, about 5 minutes. Add flour, granulated sugar, egg, pumpkin, and 1 tsp salt. Mix on medium-low speed, scraping sides and bottom of bowl once, until dough is smooth and elastic, about 7 minutes. Transfer to bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1-2 hours.

Brush a 9-by-13 baking dish with butter; set aside. In a medium bowl stir together remaining stick butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, and a large pinch of salt until smooth & fluffy. Set aside.

Transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface. Roll out to a 15-by-12- inch rectangle. Spread butter mixture over dough, leaving 1/4 inch border. Starting at a long edge, roll up dough like a jelly roll, then cut crosswise into 15 pieces. Place pieces in pan cut-side up, spaced evenly. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until buns are almost doubled in size, about 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake buns until golden brown and topping is bubbling around sides of pan, about 17 to 20 minutes. Let cool in pan on a wire rack 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat cream cheese on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 2 minutes, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Add confectioners’ sugar, a pinch of salt, and 2 tbsp milk and beat until combined, about 1 minute. If glaze is too thick to drizzle, add more milk, 1 tsp at a time. Spread half the glaze over slightly cooled rolls. Serve warm or room temperature with additional glaze if desired.

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Martha Stewart’s Chestnut Stuffing

Martha Stewart again with another amazing recipe! I love the sage in this stuffing, and I also season my turkey with Sage to carry the flavor through the meal. I typically look for pre cooked chestnuts to make the recipe a little quicker and easier and am almost always able to find them at Whole Foods or you can order them online. Also this recipe makes an enormous batch of stuffing, so if you are feeding a smaller crowd you may want to halve this recipe. I do stuff our bird, and halving this recipe gives me plenty to stuff and still make an 8×8 side dish as well for those who don’t want the stuffing from the turkey. I typically dry my bread cubes out a few days before Thanksgiving by putting them on a cookie sheet in the oven on warm for several hours, and then transfer to large ziplock bags. And because there is so much chopping, I chop all the ingredients the day before Thanksgiving and store in the fridge, which makes prepping the stuffing much quicker on the actual day!

INGREDIENTS:

2 loaves good-quality white bread, cut into 3/4 inch cubes (about 20 cups)

3/4 cup unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks)

1 bunch celery, cut into 1/4-inch dice (about 4 cups)

5 cups homemade or store-bought low-sodium chicken stock

3 cups coarsely chopped flat-leafs parsley

1 1/2 pounds fresh chestnuts (4 cups), scored with an X (or sub with pre-roasted Chestnuts)

4 small onions, peeled and cut into 1/4 inch dice (about 3 cups)

3 tbsp finely chopped fresh sage

1 tbsp kosher salt

Freshly ground pepper

DIRECTIONS:

Spread bread cubes in single layers on baking sheets. Let dry at room temperature, uncovered, overnight.

Bring a medium saucepan or water to a boil. Add chestnuts; cook until soft, about 20 minutes. Drain; let cool slightly. Peel and quarter chestnuts; set aside. Peeled chestnuts can be refrigerated in an airtight container 2-3 days. (Or skip this step and sub with pre-cooked chestnuts)

Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onions and celery; cook, stirring, until onions are translucent, about 10 minutes. Add sage; cook 3 minutes. Stir in 1/2 cup stock/ cook until reduced by half, about 5 minutes.

Transfer onion mixture to a large bowl. Add remaining 4 1/2 cup stocks, the chestnuts, bread, salt, and parsley; season with pepper. Toss to combine. If not stuffing turkey, transfer to a buttered 17-by-12-inch baking dish. Cover; bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes. Uncover, bake until hot and golden brown, 30 minutes more.

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Ina Garten’s Accidental Turkey

For years I didn’t brine our turkey because I really dislike a wet brine. One year I decided to try a dry brine, and I’ll never look back! It really gives that moisture needed to have a juicy bird. This brine is so simple, but makes all the difference. I stuff my bird with stuffing, but you could certainly follow Ina’s recipe and stuff with lemon, onion and seasonings. I also rub my turkey with a butter/sage combo rather than follow Ina’s recipe exactly.

INGREDIENTS

Kosher salt

1 tbsp minced fresh rosemary leaves

Grated zest of 1 lemon

1 (12-to 14-pound) fresh turkey

1 large yellow onion, unpeeled and cut in eighths

1 lemon, quartered

8 sprigs fresh thyme

4 tbsp (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted

Freshly ground black pepper

DIRECTIONS

Two or three days before you plan to roast the turkey, combine 3 tbsp salt, the rosemary and lemon zest. Wash the turkey inside and out, drain it well and pat it dry with paper towels. Sprinkle 1 tbsp of the salt mixture in the cavity of the turkey and rub the rest on the skin, including under the wings and legs. Place the turkey in a shallow dish to catch any drips and wrap the whole dish tightly with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for one or two days. The day before you plan to roast the turkey, remove the plastic wrap and leave it in the fridge. The skin will dry out and turn a little translucent.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Be sure your oven is very clean!

Place the onion, lemon, and thyme in the cavity. Tie the legs together with kitchen string and tie the wings close to the body. Brush the turkey with the butter and sprinkle it with salt and pepper.

Roast the turkey for 45 minutes, placing it in the oven legs first. Lower the temperature to 325 degrees F and roast it for about an hour, until 165 degrees F for the breast and 180 degrees F in the thigh on an instant-read thermometer. Remove from the oven, cover the turkey tightly with aluminum foil and allow it to rest for 20 to 30 minutes. Carve and serve with the pan juices.

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Sweet Potato Soufflé

I’ve been making this recipe for many years and it was originally given to me by a family member. I roast my sweet potatoes the day before, and also mix all of the soufflé ingredients right after the turkey goes in the oven, and then just pop it in the fridge until I’m ready to add the topping and bake! This one is so simple I can get the kids involved in helping and is always a huge hit!

INGREDIENTS:

1/2 cup butter (1 stick), at room temperature, plus more to grease pan

5 medium sweet potatoes

2 large eggs

1 cup granulated sugar

1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 cup milk

pinch salt

1 cup finely chopped pecans

1 cup brown sugar, packed

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 cup butter (1/2 stick) softened

DIRECTIONS

Four the shuffle: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 2 1/2 quart baking dish with butter

Poke the sweet potatoes with a fork and bake on a foil-covered baking sheet until they are soft, about 1 hour. When cool enough to handle, peel the potatoes, place the flesh in a large mixing bowl, and mash until very smooth. Add the eggs, sugar, butter, vanilla, milk and salt. Combine well with an electric mixer or hand mixer. Turn the mixture into the baking dish.

For the topping: in a medium bowl stir together the pecans, brown sugar, flour, and butter until thoroughly combined. Spoon the mixture over the sweet potatoes, making an even layer. Let the casserole sit for 5 minutes before serving.

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Creamed Corn

So I know this isn’t a traditional Thanksgiving dish, but my kids are all about the side dishes and they absolutely love corn. I know Mac & Cheese is a popular Thanksgiving side, and I wanted to start adding something creamy like that to our menu, but something vegetable based with more of a “harvest” feel to be more cohesive with the menu. This is a huge hit at our house, and when we hosted friends last year, they absolutely raved about it! It’s another super simple dish that is easy to whip up while the turkey is cooking!

INGREDIENTS

2 (10 oz) packages frozen corn kernels, thawed

1 cup heavy cream

1 tsp salt

2 tbsp granulated sugar

1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper

2 tbsp butter

1 cup whole milk

2 tbsp all-purpose flour

1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

DIRECTIONS

In a skillet over medium heat, combine the corn, cream, salt, sugar, pepper and butter. Whisk together the milk and flour, and stir into the corn mixture. Cook stirring over medium heat until the mixture is thickened, and corn is cooked through. Remove from heat, and stir into the Parmesan cheese until melted. Serve hot.

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German Chocolate Pecan Pie

Confession…I’m not much of a pie person. I love everything pumpkin but loathe pumpkin pie. My kids do love pumpkin pie, and so we will be sure to have on on our Thanksgiving table for them! As for other types of pie, I’ll occasionally eat a fruit pie, but it’s still far from being my favorite dessert. But this pie is incredible. It is super rich, but making room for a small slice for dessert is a must!

INGREDIENTS

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 tbsp granulated sugar

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 cup cold salted butter, cubed

1/4 cup cold shortening, cubed

4 to 5 tbsp ice water

1 (4-oz) German’s sweet chocolate baking bar, coarsely chopped

1/2 cup (4 oz) salted butter

3/4 cup granulated sugar

3 tbsp all-purpose flour

1/8 tsp salt

2 large eggs, at room temperature

1 (5 oz) can evaporated milk

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 cup packed light brown sugar

1/2 cup dark corn syrup

1/4 cup salted butter, melted

2 large eggs

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 cups pecan halves and pieces, lightly toasted

2/3 cup sweetened flaked coconut

3/4 cup milk chocolate chips

35 toasted pecan halves

DIRECTIONS

Prepare the Crust: Stir together 1 1/2 cups flour, 1/2 tablespoon granulated sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a large bowl. Using a pastry blender, cut butter and shortening cubes into flour mixture until mixture resembles small peas. Using a fork, gradually stir in 4 tablespoons ice water, stirring until dry ingredients are moistened and dough begins to form a ball and pulls away from sides of bowl, adding up to 1 more tablespoon of water, if necessary. Turn dough out onto a work surface; shape and flatten into a disk. Wrap in plastic wrap, and chill 1 to 24 hours.

Preheat oven to 425°F. Unwrap chilled dough disk, and place on a lightly floured surface. Let dough stand at room temperature until slightly softened, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle dough with flour, and roll into a 13-inch circle. Fit dough into a 9-inch glass pie plate. Trim dough, leaving 1/2-inch overhang; fold edges under, and crimp. Prick bottom and sides 8 to 10 times with a fork. Freeze 20 minutes. Line piecrust with parchment paper, and fill with pie weights or dried beans. Bake in preheated oven 14 minutes. Remove weights and parchment paper, and bake until crust has lost its raw dough sheen, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack, and cool completely, about 30 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350°F.

Prepare the Chocolate Filling: Microwave German’s sweet chocolate and 1/2 cup butter in a microwave-safe bowl on HIGH until melted and smooth, 1 to 1 1/2 minutes, stirring at 30-second intervals. Whisk in 3/4 cup granulated sugar, 3 tablespoons flour, and 1/8 teaspoon salt. Add 2 eggs, 1 at a time, whisking just until blended after each addition. Whisk in evaporated milk and 1 teaspoon vanilla until blended. Pour chocolate filling into prepared piecrust. Shield edges with aluminum foil to prevent excessive browning, and place on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake at 350°F for 30 minutes. (Pie will be partially baked.)

Prepare the Coconut-Pecan Filling: Whisk together brown sugar, corn syrup, 1/4 cup melted butter, 2 eggs, and 1 teaspoon vanilla until blended. Stir in pecans and coconut. Beginning at the outer edges of the partially baked chocolate filling, carefully spoon coconut-pecan filling over chocolate filling, and immediately return pie to oven. Bake until crust is golden and center is set, 35 to 40 minutes, shielding edges with aluminum foil to prevent excessive browning, if necessary. Cool pie completely on a wire rack, about 3 hours.

Prepare the Chocolate-Covered Pecans: Microwave chocolate chips in a small microwave-safe bowl on HIGH until melted, 30 to 45 seconds, stirring until smooth. Dip the lower half of each pecan into the melted chocolate, allowing excess chocolate to drip back into bowl, and place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Chill until chocolate is firm, about 30 minutes. Arrange Chocolate-Covered Pecans decoratively around outer edge of pie. (You may have some left over.)

And there you have it! A few of my favorite recipes for Thanksgiving! Of course the hardest part of preparing a huge meal like Thanksgiving, is timing things correctly so the dishes all finish at the same time. My biggest tips that I’ve learned over the years is to make everything that you possibly can ahead of time, and prep everything else in the day or two prior. Cranberry sauce keeps in the fridge for several days, so that is always made 1-2 days prior. I also roast sweet potatoes & chop everything that needs to be chopped the day before. Casseroles can be assembled ahead of time as well, and left in the fridge until it is time to bake. I also like to get the mashed potatoes done while the turkey is still cooking, so I make them & then just pop them in the crockpot to stay warm! The turkey should also rest for about 30 minutes before carving, so that is the perfect time to pop all of the assembled casseroles into the oven as most of them need about 30 minutes to cook.  I hope this list helps give you a little inspiration for your Thanksgiving table this year!

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My Weekly Food Diary

My Weekly Food Diary

As I blogged about last week, I’ve been on the Ketogenic or “Keto” diet for 5 months now. When I first began the diet, I had no idea what to eat every day and I remember constantly asking my friend who had told me about the diet what she ate everyday. I probably drove her nuts – but I really did feel a lot of confusion in the beginning about what to eat! Now that I’ve been doing the diet awhile my feeling is that while Keto is strict, it’s not restrictive. By that I mean, this is not a deprivation diet like so many diets are. The focus is not restricting calories and you should eat to satisfaction, so not only will you will feel full after and between meals, but there are so many delicious foods on the table it sometimes feels crazy to call this a diet! I wanted to track a week of everything I ate to give you an idea what this diet looks like. Each week varies because I do like to experiment with making new dinners and mixing things up, but I do have some favorite go-to’s for breakfast, lunch, and snacks. Here’s what last week looked like:

Sunday:

Breakfast – Coffee with heavy cream, sausage patty with egg & cheese

Lunch – None

Dinner – Greek Salad with salmon

Monday:

Breakfast – Coffee with heavy cream, 2 scrambled eggs cooked in 1 tbsp butter

Lunch – Cheese, salami, and olives

Dinner – Noodle-less lasagna (this can be served over noodles for the kids!)

Tuesday:

Breakfast – Coffee with heavy cream, 2 fried eggs cooked in 1 tbsp butter

Lunch – Leftover lasagna

Dinner – Taco salad (lettuce, ground beef, cheese, tomato, onion, olives, avocado) – you can add beans and/or tortillas for kids!

Wednesday:

Breakfast – Coffee with heavy cream

Lunch – Leftover lasagna

Snack – Cashews

Dinner – Keto Chili (which is a simple bean-less chili and you can add beans for kids!) – top with cheese, onion, and sour cream

Thursday:

Breakfast – Coffee with heavy cream, 2 eggs fried in 1 tbsp butter

Lunch – Leftover taco salad

Dinner – Leftover Keto Chili

Friday:

Breakfast – Coffee with heavy cream, 2 eggs scrambled in 1 tbsp butter

Lunch – Tuna salad over lettuce, iced coffee with heavy cream

Dinner – Bun-less double cheeseburger (no ketchup, add mayo)

Saturday:

Breakfast – Coffee with heavy cream

Lunch – Cheese & pepperoni toppings from 3 small slices of pizza (we were at a party so I had to make do with what I could!)

Snack – Shared to-go taco salad with hubby after party, iced coffee with heavy cream

Dinner – Tuna salad over lettuce

As you can see, I occasionally skip meals. Since starting this diet, I really don’t believe in eating when I’m not hungry & don’t force myself to eat at regular times. Rather, I listen to my body and typically only eat when I’m actually hungry. Sometimes if I skip a meal, I find I’m hungrier later in the day and will have a snack. I also love leftovers! There is a lot of cooking on this diet, so anytime I can make a large portion of something that still tastes great on the 2nd day I will! Chili, lasagna, spaghetti sauce (you can have this over zucchini noodles) are great options and it’s so helpful having leftovers for busy weekend nights. I also use my instant pot whenever possible and there are so many amazing recipes on Pinterest! Also, it’s very easy to adapt so many non-keto meals to make them keto friendly. You can eat any sandwich lettuce wrapped without the bun, sub “zoodles” for noodles, sub mashed cauliflower for potatoes, or riced cauliflower for rice. It’s also very simple to make small adjustments to add carbs back in for the little ones! If you are considering the Keto diet, I hope you find this information helpful!


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The Lifestyle Change to Make in the New Year

The Lifestyle Change to Make in the New Year

One of the most common New Year’s resolutions made by people is to lose weight and/or be healthier. I do believe the key in succeeding in this resolution is making lifestyle changes rather than looking for “quick fixes”, and today I want to share a little bit about the change I made five months ago that has been completely life changing for me!

Over the summer I got together with a friend of mine who had seriously undergone an amazing transformation. After putting on some weight, she was introduced to the Ketogenic diet and successfully lost 40 lbs over a 5 month period. If you haven’t heard of it, the Ketogenic diet or “Keto” is a low carbohydrate, moderate portion, high fat diet. Not only did she look incredible, but she was telling me all about how good she felt and never wanted to go back to her old way of eating. I was super intrigued and had a million questions about it. At first when she was telling me the things you can & can’t have I immediately was thinking “oh my goodness there is NO way.” No sugar, very limited fruit, no milk – therefore no lattes?! It sounded overwhelming but seeing her outward success combined with how she described feeling made me decide to look into it more, and I ultimately decided to give it a shot. Now that I have been doing it for 5 months myself I want to share a little bit about what I have learned about the diet:

You will experience the flu, the Keto Flu. Sugar is super addictive – some studies show it is just as addictive to the body as cocaine. And the body’s natural state is to utilize blood glucose (sugar) as fuel. When you stop providing your body with carbohydrates and sugar, your body switches to burning fat for fuel. However during this transition you can feel absolutely miserable. Headaches, fatigue, lethargy, irritability…it really can resemble flu-like symptoms. The length of time varies from person to person and how sugar addicted you are. For me the worst of the symptoms were about 2-3 days, but for my husband who started the diet with me (and who had a much bigger sweet tooth than me!), he struggled for several weeks & also had intense sugar cravings.

Keto is strict. Everyone’s carb threshold to attain and stay in ketosis is different, but for most people it is under 20 net carbs a day (this is carbohydrates minus fiber). This is approximately the amount of carbs in a small apple. When you start the diet I highly recommend tracking your daily macronutrients because it is surprising how much sugar/carbohydrates are in everything! Processed foods must be completely eliminated from your diet, and vegetables should essentially be your only source of carbohydrates. There are lots of lists available online which show you approved foods for the ketogenic diet and this is very helpful in getting started.

Fat is your friend and should make up about 70% of your daily calorie intake. (So bring on all the butter!) Being a child of the 90’s I was raised believing that fat is the enemy. New studies have totally debunked all of that information, and have shown how truly toxic sugar is. Now all of the most recent studies show that fat does not make you fat and the old adage that a calorie is a calorie whether it comes from candy or a vegetable – just isn’t accurate. Sugar affects the insulin response which has a direct correlation with weight gain and obesity, whereas fat does not have this effect. Also sugar is sugar whether it comes from fruit or candy – your body cannot tell the difference and metabolizes it the same way. This was a very difficult concept for me to wrap my mind around and I spent the first several weeks on keto terrified I was going to put on 20 lbs eating all these “forbidden” foods and so much fat. It was shocking to see the scale quickly start going in the direction to say the least! I do try to keep my sources of fat as healthy as possible and things like grass fed beef, avocado, olive oil, and fatty seafood are great sources. Another key part of what makes the diet so effective is that fat has a satiating quality and it is very difficult to overeat fat, whereas carbohydrates will not make you feel full (and why it’s easy to eat excessive portions of chips or sweets!). Your calorie intake will go down, simply because you will find you are full much more quickly and won’t experience hunger between meals.

Keto is a lifestyle, not a diet. It’s not really something you can dabble with & have regular cheats or it will throw your body out of ketosis. Once you get out of ketosis it can take days (or longer!) to get your body back into an efficient state of fat burning. Everyone’s carbohydrate threshold is different, and just slightly going over your daily carb allowance can throw you out of ketosis. Also, calories still count and if you are eating lots of fat, and still sneaking in carbohydrates you can absolutely gain weight on Keto. While I do have cheats here and there for special occasions, I do not have regularly planned cheats or days off, and I also didn’t have my first cheat for about 2 months after starting keto. That said, I know some people find it easier to stay on keto long term if they have a weekly cheat, while for others who truly struggle with sugar addiction, going off for one meal can put them in to a days long binge.

You will feel great! After the initial keto flu and the difficult first month or so of really figuring out what you can and can’t eat, I started to experience all the perks of this diet. In addition to losing about 10 lbs, the insomnia I had been struggling with went away, I didn’t get sick once, I had more energy, and my skin became extremely clear. I also found that it became easy because I truly like the food I can eat, and when I do have cheats I actually feel very sick after (bloating, indigestion, headaches, fatigue) which makes me actually want to stay on track! It’s also amazing how your tastes will change, and sweet things will start to taste too sickeningly sweet after a time. I did take three days off Keto over the Thanksgiving holiday, and a week for Christmas because we were doing some traveling and I also wanted to enjoy all of the foods we traditionally have during these celebrations. During this time I came down with the first cold I’ve had since starting keto, my skin broke out, and I was feeling incredibly lethargic. I’m actually super excited to be back on track and starting to feel my energy return!

Keto is such a big part of my life now, and I want to continue to routinely post about my experiences, tips I’ve learned along the way, and favorite recipes! Even if you don’t think Keto is for you, simply taking steps to reduce sugar intake is a lifestyle change that is guaranteed to make you healthier and feel better! Most people do eat too much sugar, and once I started Keto and truly looking at the amount of sugar in foods, it was pretty shocking to say the least. I was also surprised to discover that Keto has been around for a long time and used therapeutically to treat cancer, certain types of epilepsy, and Alzheimers. If you are interested in learning more about Keto, I highly recommend reading some of the excellent beginners guides available online to help you get started!

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Disclaimer: I am not a physician and this post is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician with any questions or before undergoing any diet changes.