Sausage & Apple Stuffed Squash

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This dish just screams fall to me! The squash, the apples, the herbs. Made me want to curl up on the couch with a blanket and a glass of wine, which is exactly what I did right after eating this 🙂 For the presentation that you get with a stuffed squash, the prep and hands-on time is relatively easy. This makes a great dish on it’s own for dinner, or as a side dish for a dinner party. You could even use a roasted acorn squash to serve your Thanksgiving stuffing, if you really want to get crazy! The other great thing about this recipe, you can easily change up the ingredients that you put inside to tailor it to your own diet or tastes. Add some grains, like cooked rice or quinoa, remove the dairy, change the meat to chicken sausage or add beans for protein instead. The possibilities are endless. So get creative and let me know if you try any substitutions. I’d love to hear about it!!

Sausage & Apple Stuffed Squash
3 Acorn squash
2 Tbsp olive oil
Salt & pepper to taste
1 lb ground pork sausage
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled & diced
2 celery stalks, diced
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1 Tbsp rosemary, chopped
1 Tbsp thyme, chopped
1/2 cup + 3 Tbsp shredded sharp white cheddar cheese

1.  Preheat oven to 400°F. Prepare squash by cutting 1 1/2″ off top and use a spoon to scrape out seeds. (If you want to keep the squash tops for decorative purposes, set them aside until step 5, otherwise, discard them.) Once the inside is clean, cut approximately 1/2″ off the bottom to create a flat surface, trying not to puncture through the bottom of squash into center opening, if possible. (If you do puncture, it will still work, you’ll just need to use a non-slotted spatula when moving the squash from baking sheet to plate to avoid losing the filling.)
2. Use a brush to coat inside of squash in olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Place squash on baking sheet and roast in oven for 1 hour.
3. While squash is roasting, prepare the filling. In a skillet or deep frying pan, brown the sausage over medium heat until no pink remains, approximately 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Once browned, remove sausage to a plate using a slotted spoon, leaving grease in frying pan.
4. Add onion and celery to frying pan and cook until they begin to soften, approximately 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add apple, cook an additional 3 minutes. Add cooked sausage, herbs, 1/2 cup cheese and salt & pepper to taste, stir to combine and remove from heat.
5. When squash is finished roasting, remove baking sheet from oven. Spoon the filling equally into the squash and sprinkle with remaining cheese. (If you are serving with squash tops, place tops on baking sheet at this point.) Place baking sheet back in oven and roast for an additional 15 minutes. When finished, remove from oven and serve.

Enjoy!

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Kale Summer Salad

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I have a confession…I love having friends and family over, hosting dinner parties & BBQs and cooking for lots of people. Problem…I’m not actually very good at it! I mean, the food is great and I’d like to think we create a fun environment but every single time, I spend a lot of the time in the kitchen preparing food and not mingling and hanging with our loved ones. It actually makes me really anxious too, something about people watching me cook, having a messy kitchen and not being able to just enjoy myself. The worst part is that I KNOW the steps to having a successful dinner party and I DON’T FOLLOW them!! Typically I go to the grocery store the day of and do no prep ahead of time. I also don’t pay too much attention to the steps that go into making a dish (i.e. cook time and or something with a lot of hands on time).

So, I’m turning over a new leaf 🙂 I really want to enjoy our dinner parties more so I am determined to plan ahead. Here you go, steps to a successful dinner party that the cook can enjoy as well…
1. Make recipes you are familiar with. Your best bet is to stick to recipes you have made before. This way you are familiar with the ingredients and the steps, plus, you know how it is going to taste. No wondering if your guests are secretly spitting their food into their napkins 😉
2.Choose recipes with as little hands-on time as possible or can be mostly prepped ahead of time. Whether it is meat you can marinate the day before and can just throw on the grill, a dish that can be prepped and tossed in the oven to cook or fruits and veggies cut up the day before. Anything you can do to lessen your time in the kitchen, the better. Ideally, during the party, you should shoot to only be tossing something in the oven, on the grill or on a dish.
3. Stick to your timeline. Grocery shopping 2 days before, recipe prep 1 day before, on the morning of pull together any cold dishes, dishes that will go in the oven later. Get your serving table ready and decide what dishes and utensils you will be using for each dish.
4. Accept offers of help! I am terrible at this. People ALWAYS ask, can I do anything to help? And I ALWAYS tell them NO! Why do I do this?!?! Probably because I want to seem all cool, calm and collected 🙂 Haha! Let them help! Not only will they feel good about helping you, if you are stuck in the kitchen for a bit it will give you a chance to still chat while getting things ready.

This salad is my attempt at better dinner parties. We are planning to have people over for 4th of July so I am trying out some new recipes ahead of time so I can plan the menu. This salad is ABSOLUTELY making the cut! Seriously delicious, a bunch of kale, gorgeous summer fruits, nuts and a tangy dressing to top it off.

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Kale Summer Salad
1 bunch of Kale
1 cup strawberries, sliced
1 cup blackberries
1 peach, pitted and diced
1/2 cup blueberries
1/2 cup raspberries
1/2 cup diced mango
3 Tbsp dried cranberries
1/4 cup sliced almonds
1/4 cup walnuts
For the dressing:
3 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
2 Tbsp honey
3 Tbsp olive oil
salt & pepper to taste

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1. In a small bowl, whisk together apple cider vinegar, mustard, honey, salt and pepper until combined. Slowly stream in olive oil while whisking until emulsified.
2. In a large bowl, combine the kale and dressing. Massage the dressing into the kale until coated and place in the fridge to marinate for a few minutes. (Don’t do this too far ahead of time or the kale will get soggy, no more than 30 minutes before serving)
3. Before serving, add the diced fruit, dried cranberries and nuts to the kale and toss until evenly combined.

*Original recipe from The Balanced Berry

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4th of July Menu

Happy 4th of July weekend!! With a 3 day weekend this year, I’m sure a lot of you are celebrating with friends and family and indulging in food and fun filled BBQs so I thought I’d compile a few of my favorite past recipes that we continue to go back to again and again, especially on the grill or when we have friends over! Have a safe and happy weekend and I hope I helped you find something to add to your holiday menu!!

Mini Caprese Salads
(Makes 25 salad appetizers)


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8 ozs Mozzarella pearls packed in water
25 basil leaves
1 pint cherry tomatoes, cut in half
25 toothpicks
2 cups balsamic vinegar

1. In a saucepan, over medium heat, simmer 2 cups of balsamic vinegar until it is reduced by half and begins to thicken, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool before step 3.
2. Slide on a toothpick, 1 Mozzarella pearl, a basil leaf (cut smaller or folded), and cherry tomato cut crosswise.
3. Plate the “salads”, sprinkle with salt and pepper, drizzle with vinegar and serve.

Bacon-Wrapped Dates
(Makes 24 dates)

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24 large pitted dates
12 slices of bacon, halved crosswise
1/2 cup blue cheese

1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Place 24 toothpicks in a small bowl of water and let soak for 15 minutes. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and fit with a wire rack, set aside.
2. Slice dates lengthwise, be careful not to cut all the way through, to make a small pocket for the cheese. Place a small amount of cheese in the center of each date. Wrap a piece of bacon around each date. Secure bacon with a toothpick.
3. Place dates on prepared baking sheet. Bake until bacon is cooked through, about 20-25 minutes.

Moscow Mules
(Makes 1 drink)

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Ice
1/4 cup chilled vodka
1 Tbsp lime juice
6 ozs ginger beer
1/4 of a lime, cut into a wedge
1 sprig of mint leaves

Fill copper mug with ice. Pour vodka, lime juice and ginger beer over ice, stir. Squeeze lime wedge into drink, drop squeezed wedge in, stir and garnish with mint leaves.

Slow Cooked BBQ Ribs
(Makes 12-13 ribs, depending on size of rack)

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1 rack pork spare ribs
1/2 cup pork rub
1 cup BBQ sauce

1. Rub entire rack of ribs with pork rub, front and back. Double wrap in foil and refrigerate for 5 hours to allow the flavors to blend.
2. Prep a grill and set heat to low. Place foil covered ribs on grill and allow them to slow-cook for 1 hour and 15 minutes, turning once at the 40 minute mark.
3. Open foil, slather ribs with 2/3 cup BBQ sauce, close foil and continue to cook for an additional 15 minutes.
4. Remove ribs from the grill, place on a large cutting board and cut ribs apart between the bones.
5. Drizzle with remaining BBQ sauce and serve immediately.

Rib-Eye with Mustard Butter
(Makes 2 rib-eyes)

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Rib-eye
2 rib-eye steaks
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp chipotle chili powder
1 tsp finely chopped cilantro
Mustard Butter
2 Tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 tsp dry mustard or mustard powder
1 heaping tsp Dijon mustard

1. Pat the steaks dry and rub them with the salt, chili powder, and cilantro. Refrigerate the steaks, uncovered for at least 1 hour, or up to 8 hours. (I think I did for 5 hours)
2. To make the mustard butter, in a small bowl, mash together the butter with the dry mustard and the Dijon. Form it into two mounds and chill on a plastic wrap-lined plate.
3. Heat a grill to medium heat and grill to desired temperature. For medium cooked steaks, mine were about 1″ thick and I cooked them for 8 minutes per side.
4. Remove the steaks from the grill and put on plates. Top each steak with half the mustard butter, allow it to melt a bit, and serve with a big pile of herb fries (recipe below).

Mexican Corn-on-the-cob
(Makes 4 ears of corn)

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1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup sour cream
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp chili powder
1 clove garlic minced (approx 1 tsp)
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
4 ears of corn, shucked
1 lime, cut into wedges

1. Light a grill and allow to preheat for 5 minutes, clean and oil grate before grilling corn
2. While grill preheats, combine mayonnaise, sour cream, cheese, chili powder, garlic and cilantro in a large bowl.
3. When grill is hot, place corn directly over heat to cook, turning occasionally, until cooked through and charred in spots on all side, about 10 minutes.
4. Once corn is cooked, transfer to a plate, coat each ear of corn evenly on all sides with cheese mixture. Sprinkle each ear with extra cheese and chili powder, drizzle with lime juice and serve.

Sweet Potato Fries w/Lime Mayo
(Makes 4 servings)

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2 large sweet potatoes cut into 1/2″ strips
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1/4 tsp finely grated lime zest
2 tsp fresh lime juice
chopped fresh cilantro

1. Preheat oven to 450°F. Toss sweet potatoes and oil on a foil-lined large baking sheet; season with salt and pepper.
2. Roast, turning once, until golden brown and crisp, 25-30 minutes
3. While potatoes cook, whisk mayonnaise, lime zest and juice in a small bowl. Refrigerate until fries are ready to serve.
4. Season fries with salt, top with cilantro, and serve with lime mayo for dipping.

Red, White & Blueberry Popsicles
(Makes 6 popsicles)

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1 cup blueberries
1 1/2 cup raspberries
1 cup vanilla Greek yogurt

1. Use a food processor to puree the blueberries. If they come out a bit more purple than blue (like mine did) just add a spoonful or two of the Greek Yogurt and a few drops of blue food coloring until you get the desired shade of blue. When you achieve the right color, you want to make sure the fruit is pourable, if it is too thick, try adding a tablespoon of water. You can also puree your raspberries ahead of time, adding 1-2 tablespoons of water. Place pureed raspberries in a separate bowl and keep refrigerated until use.
2. Spoon 2 tablespoons of the  blueberry mixture into the bottom of each popsicle mold. After each pour you’ll need to do a little clean up, you don’t want too much extra on the sides of the mold as this will cause your stripes to look a little mangled. Don’t get too fussy because you want it to look a little rustic.
3. Put the mold in the freezer and freeze for 1 hour.
4. Remove molds from freezer and add a small stipe (about 1 tablespoon) of vanilla yogurt to each mold. After you’ve added the first layer of yogurt, insert your popsicle sticks, trying to push them into the layer of blueberry a bit. Hold the sticks in place by placing a piece of tin foil over each mold. Place back in the freezer for another hour.
5. Remove molds from freezer, remove foil and add a small stripe (about 1 tablespoon) of raspberry puree. The sticks should stand on their own at this point so you won’t need the foil any longer.
6. Continue alternating white and red stripes, freezing for 1 hour after each, until you have filled the mold (I had 1 large layer of blueberries, 2 layers of raspberries & 3 layers of yogurt).
7. When you are ready to serve, hold the mold under hot running water to loosen (be careful not to let water splash near the opening), after about 30 seconds you should be able to easily remove the popsicle from the mold.

Spring Frittata w/ Asparagus, Leeks and Dill

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I was actually about to blog something different but saw photos of this frittata and realized I never shared it! Crisis averted 🙂 I made this as part of Easter dinner and it was delicious. Makes a great side dish or appetizer for a spring dinner party.

On another note, my friend, J Soltman Photography, and I went downtown Portland to the Pearl District and she shot our first session of bump shots. I am so incredibly lucky to have such a talented photographer friend who lives so close to me who is just as excited about documenting my pregnancy as I am!

Here are a few of my favorite shots but stay tuned for more posts later this week when I’ll share some outfit details…

Spring Frittata w/ Asparagus, Leeks & Dill
5 tsp olive oil
2 large leeks (white and light green parts, well rinsed) thinly sliced
1 tsp sea salt, plus more to taste
1/2 lb asparagus, tough ends cut off, cut on the bias into 2 1/2″ pieces
10 large eggs
freshly ground black pepper to taste
pinch of smoked paprika
1/4 cup chopped fresh dill
2 Tbsp chopped fresh chives
2 ozs chevre, crumbled

1. Place an oven rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat the oven to 375°F.
2. In a 9- or 10-inch nonstick skillet, heat 1 Tbsp (3 tsp) of the olive oil over medium heat. Add the leeks, 1 Tbsp water, and 1 tsp of the salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the leeks are wilted and tender, about 3 minutes. Add the asparagus and cook for 1 minute. Remove the vegetables to a plate. Wipe out the pan and let it cool until tepid.
3. Break the eggs into a bowl and whisk them together with salt and pepper to taste, the paprika, dill, chives, and leeks and asparagus mixture.
4. Heat the remaining 2 tsp oil in the pan over medium heat. Pour in the egg mixture and add the chevre. Cook until the eggs begin to set on the bottom. Using a heat-resistant spatula, lift the edges of the cooked egg and let liquid eggs run under to the pan below. Cook for another minute and repeat. When the bottom half of the eggs are cooked, place the pan in the oven and cook for 5 minutes, until the eggs are no longer wobbly at the center. Turn on the broiler and broil the frittata until lightly browned on the top, about 30 seconds.
5. Remove the frittata from the oven and let set at least 5 minutes in the pan, then slice and serve.

Original recipe from The Food Lover’s Cleanse

Crispy Coconut Kale, Roasted Salmon & Coconut Rice

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The dogs have been awake since 4:30am…(insert annoyed tone of voice here)…bad news, this will be an extra long Monday…good news, I have time to blog! Side note, I really need to look into a doggy daycare close to home so I can wear these pups out a couple days a week.

I follow Kate Hudson on Snapchat and a few nights ago she snapped some coconut rice, sweet potato, kale, salmon concoction that looked so healthy and delicious, I had to search out the recipe. One quick google search and I had found the recipe on Food 52. Let me tell you, I don’t use coconut too often in dinner dishes but the combination of the light flavors of coconut, kale, salmon and sweet potato mixed with paprika and sriracha were an amazing combination!

Crispy Coconut Kale, Roasted Salmon & Coconut Rice
1 cup uncooked white jasmine rice
1 cup coconut milk
1/3 cup coconut oil, melted plus 1 Tbsp for sweet potatoes
1 tsp toasted sesame oil
1 Tbsp Sriracha
1 tsp paprika
2 Tbsp coconut aminos or tamari
4 salmon filets
1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
1 bunch kale, cut into strips
2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2″ cubes

1. With an hour until dinner, bring 1 cup of rice to a boil in a medium saucepan with 1 cup coconut milk and 1 cup water. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 15 minutes.
2. While the rice is cooking, preheat your oven to 400°F. Combine 1/3 cup melted coconut oil, 1 Tbsp Sriracha, 1 tsp sesame oil, and 2 Tbsp coconut aminos in a jar (with a lid) and shake to emulsify.
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3. Place to cubed sweet potatoes on a baking sheet, drizzle with 1 Tbsp melted coconut oil and 1 tsp paprika, and toss to combine. Put potatoes in the oven and roast for 30 minutes.
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4. When the rice is done, remove it from the heat and keep covered. As the potatoes are roasting, place the kale and 1 cup coconut flakes on a separate baking sheet and drizzle with about two-thirds of the dressing. Add salmon filets topped with 1 to 2 Tbsp of dressing and place in oven with the potatoes for the last 15 minutes. Watch the kale to make sure it doesn’t burn.
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5. At the end of the half hour, remove both sheets from the oven. Divide rice among 4 plates, top with sweet potatoes, kale and salmon, and drizzle with remaining dressing.
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Original recipe from Food 52

Paprika Chicken Thighs

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I decided last week to start tackling our breakfast nook in the kitchen, it was becoming my least favorite spot in the house and a catch-all for bags, mail, boxes, whatever we walked into the kitchen with. So here is what the area looked like when we bought the house…

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Real estate pictures tend to make rooms look so much better than they are in real life, don’t they? The walls in person we’re pretty bright, and all the materials used (floor, counters, backsplash, blinds) just weren’t my taste. For now, I’m just working on the corner near the windows.

I started by painting the walls with my staple taupe, Valspar Lyndhurst Timber. Last week I went shopping for a new light fixture and fell in love with this honeycomb chandelier from World Market. Then I updated the window blinds to the same blinds I’ve been using all throughout the house, Home Decorators Collection Faux Wood Blinds in White from Home Depot. Here’s where I’m at so far…

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Now time to decide what type of table!

Anyway, back to the recipe! This was an easy, weeknight meal that cooks in one pan for easy clean-up.

Paprika Chicken Thighs with Brussel Sprouts
1 lb Brussel sprouts, trimmed and halved
4 small shallots, quartered
1 lemon, sliced
3 Tbsp olive oil, divided
3/4 tsp salt, divided
1/2 tsp ground pepper, divided
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp smoked paprika
1 tsp dried thyme
4 bone-in chicken thighs

1. Position rack in lower third of oven, preheat to 450°F.
2. Combine Brussel sprouts, shallots and lemon with 2 Tbsp oil and 1/4 tsp each salt and pepper on a large rimmed baking sheet.
3.Combine garlic, remaining 1/2 tsp salt, paprika, thyme, remaining 1 Tbsp oil and a 1/4 tsp pepper in a small bowl. Rub the paste all over the chicken. Nestle the chicken into the brussle sprouts.
4. Roast on the lower rack until the Brussel sprouts are tender and a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the chicken without touching the bone registers 165°F, 20-25 minutes.

Original recipe from Eating Well

Party Perfect Appetizers

This last weekend we celebrated my mother-in-law’s birthday by throwing her a surprise party. It was so much fun to get all the family together for an evening of food, drinks and fun! I’ve never managed to actually pull off a surprise, to keep it a secret and all, but I’d say this was successful. People came in from Washington and California to help celebrate this beautiful, caring mother/daughter/sister/aunt/friend who always tries to take care of everyone else.

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We hosted about 20 people and I decided to go with appetizer sized foods rather than serving dinner when not everyone would be able to sit down to eat. I also have to admit, I didn’t make any of this from scratch…ain’t nobody got time for that when you’re having 20 people over!

Butternut Squash soup shooters with Rosemary garnish
The shooter glasses are 2 ounce shot glasses that I got at Bed, Bath & Beyond. These are great for so many cocktail party treats, I used them in another way at this party…scroll down to see 🙂
I bought pre-made Butternut Squash soup (I used Pacific brand organic soup), heat it up in a saucepan and top with a single sprig of rosemary.

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Crostini with Camembert and Fig Sauce
This one will look familiar, I posted this on the blog a few months ago and it was a big hit.
Slice a French Baguette into approximately 25 slices, top with a small slice of Camembert or Brie cheese. Put in the oven at 400° for about 8 minutes, until cheese is melted. Remove from oven and top each slice with a tablespoon of your favorite fig jam or spread.

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Mini Caprese Salads
Slide on a toothpick, 1 Mozzarella pearl, a basil leaf (cut smaller or folded), and cherry tomato cut crosswise. Once you have made all of your “salads”, sprinkle with salt and pepper.
In a saucepan, over medium heat, simmer 2 cups of balsamic vinegar until it is reduced by half and begins to thicken, about 15 minutes.
Allow balsamic vinegar to cool, plate the “salads”, drizzle with vinegar and serve.

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Meatball Sliders
Super easy! I bought frozen Italian style meatballs, pasta sauce, provolone cheese and brioche slider buns.
In a sauce pan, over medium-high heat, heat the meatballs and pasta sauce. To construct, place bottom of slider bun, half a slice of provolone, tablespoon of pasta sauce, 1 meatball cut in half, half a slice of provolone, top of slider bun.

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French Fries with Ketchup
Cook French fries to package directions, put 1 tablespoon of ketchup in the bottom of a 2 ounce, tall shot glass. Add 5-7 fries, plunged in the ketchup.

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Walnut, Mint & Feta Brown Rice

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I feel like, as a blogger, I’m supposed to be fairly tech savvy. This is 1000% NOT the case right now. I got a new laptop last week, and I’ve been battling with it non-stop. I guess I’m battling more with figuring out how to use Windows 6 than the computer itself. Either way, its irritating and I keep pulling out the old laptop while the new one just sits on my desk looking pretty. Right now, though, I’m forcing myself to use the new one. It’s working, although, it’s taking me about 3 times as long to edit photos and create a blog post.

I made this side dish a week or so ago when I forgot to buy a veggie for dinner and decided to throw some things together that I had leftover in the fridge and pantry. It turned out so incredibly tasty, it’s now one of my quick and easy side dishes!

Walnut, Mint & Feta Brown Rice
makes 6 servings
1 cup brown rice, cooked to package directions
1/3 cup crumbled feta
1/3 cup chopped walnuts
2 Tbsp chopped mint leaves

1. Mix all ingredients in a bowl and serve. How easy is that?!?!

Bacon Roasted Brussels Sprouts

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By now you know that I don’t love veggies, but, they are very necessary for a healthy diet. When you only eat a handful of different vegetables, eating them can get old real fast. I needed to try some new side dishes to keep simple weeknight dinners interesting. Cue the bacon! I know, I know, it takes away a bit of the healthy edge. Let’s be honest though, getting my husband to eat brussels sprouts…I had to bring out the big guns.

By sautéing the brussels sprouts in the bacon drippings, you get amazing flavor and don’t forget to add in the leaves that fall off the brussel sprouts when you slice them in half. These leaves roast up to a nice crispy brown, my favorite part of this side dish!

Bacon Roasted Brussels Sprouts
1 lb fresh brussels sprouts, stems removed and halved
8 slices thick cut bacon, sliced crosswise into 1/2″ pieces
kosher salt & fresh ground pepper

1. Preheat oven to 400° F. Cook bacon in a large frying pan over medium-high heat until mostly cooked but not browned, about 7-8 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to remove bacon from frying pan and set bacon aside.
2. Add brussels sprouts to frying pan and bacon drippings. Sprinkle with desired amount of salt and pepper and sauté until lightly browned, about 12 minutes.
3. Transfer brussels sprouts and cooked bacon to a 11×8 baking dish, mix to combine and roast until tender, about 15 minutes.

Mashed Potatoes, Gravy and a Turkey Rub

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This is a little all-in-one, your spiced turkey rub plus a homemade broth that sits in the bottom of your roasting pan for basting, your broth will turn into a gravy and we top it off with the MOST incredible mashed potatoes I’ve ever tasted. EVER!

The great thing about this combo is you can make all 3, or you can pick and choose. If you are picking and choosing which to make, let me reiterate…BEST mashed potatoes ever 🙂 You wanna know the secret…

Cream Cheese!!! What?!?! I’ve never put cream cheese in my mashed potatoes before, but let me tell you, from now on, that is my key ingredient!

Let’s start at the beginning:

Spiced Turkey Rub
2 tsp fresh ground black pepper
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground star anise
coarse sea salt
2 Tbsp finely grated peeled ginger
2 Tbsp minced garlic
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 14-lb turkey at room temperature 1 hour, reserving neck and giblets (discard liver)

1. Place black pepper, coriander, cloves, anise and 4 tsp salt in a spice grinder to combine and form a powder. Reserve 1 tsp spice mixture and combine remaining spice mixture with grated ginger, garlic and butter.
2. Rinse turkey inside and out; pat dry. Starting at cavity end, gently side your fingers between skin and flesh. Slide spice paste under, pushing butte out with a finger on outside of skin. Tie legs together, tuck wings under.
3. You can cook turkey to package directions at this point. No need to baste as the spice paste with baste from the inside out for a crispy golden skin. If you are following the below gravy recipe, don’t put the turkey in the oven just yet…time to make the broth!

Spiced Turkey Gravy
Neck and giblets from turkey
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
6 1/4″ thick slices fresh peeled ginger
1 bunch green onions, coarsely chopped
2 carrots, coarsely chopped
2 celery stalks, coarsely chopped
1 cup Chinese rice vinegar
4 cups chicken broth
1 Tbsp soy sauce
3 Tbsp cornstarch

1. Preheat oven to 450°F. Pat neck and giblets dry; cut into 1″ pieces. Heat oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Sauté neck pieces and giblets, about 5 minutes. Add green onions, carrots, celery and sliced ginger and sauté, stirring, 8 minutes.
2. Add rice vinegar and boil, scraping up brown bits, 1 minute. Stir in chicken broth, soy sauce, and reserved spice mixture; bring to a boil. Pour mixture into roasting pan; set rack in pan, arranging neck pieces, giblets, and vegetables around it.
3. Roast turkey on rack, rotating pan halfway through, until a thermometer inserted into fleshy part of thigh registers 170°, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
4. Carefully tilt turkey so juices run into pan; transfer turkey to a platter. Let stand 30 minutes.
5. Make gravy while turkey stands. Strain pan juices through a fine-mesh sieve, pressing hard on and then discarding solids; skim fat off tope and discard. You should have 4 cups of stock. Transfer all but 1/2 cup stock to a saucepan; bring to a boil.
6. Whisk together cornstarch and reserved stock; whisk into boiling stock and boil; whisking 2 minutes until thickened. If necessary, add more cornstarch 1 tsp at a time and waiting another 2 minutes while whisking. Serve turkey with gravy.

And now for the BEST part!!! Those incredible mashed potatoes!!

Perfect Mashed Potatoes
3 lbs Yukon Gold potatoes
2 tsp salt, divided
1/3 cup butter
1/3 cup half & half
4 ozs cream cheese, softened
3/4 tsp fresh ground black pepper

1. Peel potatoes and cut into 1-inch pieces. Place potatoes, 1 tsp salt and cold water in a stock pot, cover, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Once boiling, reduce heat to medium-low and cook 15 minutes, or until fork tender. Drain.
2. Place potatoes in a mixing bowl, add butter, half & half, cream cheese, remaining salt and black pepper. Beat at medium speed with a hand mixer for 30-60 seconds for desired smoothness. Serve with gravy and enjoy!!!