giving thanks.

giving thanks.

…as we all sit down at the table, surrounded by those friends and family we love so much, let’s not only take the time to be thankful for them, but also for the opportunity to be sharing this day with them. for there are those who are not always as fortunate as everyone else. let’s remember those this day, and include them in our table.

to celebrate this day, in the spirit of giving thanks, i want to share with all of you a few things i am thankful for.

*my wonderful husband; my life partner; my very best friend.

*my family, both by blood and by marriage; i could not be more blessed to share this lifetime with them.

*my friends; old and new, near and far.

*the experiences with everyone this past year {tahoe, sonoma, hubs/wife trip, & all of the other amazing weekends we were able to spend with friends and family}

*a wonderful, warm home that i share with my husband

*my sweet Lane puppy

*good health & spirit

*my faith

…and you, my dears! you’ve made it an incredible journey thus far. it’s been wonderful to share “memories”, recipes, and ideas with each and every one of you.

so today i raise a glass to all of the above, a toast of thanks and love for all my life has been blessed with.

xoxo.

last minute turkey day tips!

T-minus two days until the holiday season has officially arrived! I don’t know about y’all, but I’m in the spirit already! We just cut down our Christmas tree and got it decorated, the house is beginning to look festive, and I’m agonizing over the thought of sending out cards.

BUT! Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. Most of us, myself included, are still in work mode for one of the biggest food preparation {and consumption} days of the year. So let’s sit back for a few minutes, take a couple deep breaths, and plunge into some articles that have great tips and tricks I’ve come to love and live by over the past few years.

..and of course, a few simple ones that I’ve picked up from personal experience.

  • Put your fork down between every bite. It helps to to slowly savor your food, not to mention you’ll realize much easier when you start to fill up.
  • Drink plenty of water! I find that it helps keep me feeling refreshed throughout the day.
  • If you can, try to squeeze in a morning workout before the indulgences begin! You’ll be feeling energized and bright all day long.
  • …wear comfortable pants….enough said.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! 

harvest pumpkin muffins

I’m sure y’all have noticed from this earlier recipe, but I am a total sucker for all things pumpkin.

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But we’re not talking sugary-sweet, over-the-top pumpkin creations here today. We’re keeping it short, simple and to the point. Because for me, it’s not about tasting pumpkin PIE. I just want to taste PUMPKIN.

And that is why I love this recipe. It is absolutely loaded with pumpkin. Minimal sugar does nothing to overwhelm its delicate flavor; rather, it helps to enhance it. A dash of cinnamon and nutmeg warms you up with each bite. The Greek yogurt provides the perfect body and balance, creating a moist and fluffy muffin.  Brimming with cranberries, these not only taste delicious, but look beautiful while doing so.

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These are easy enough to whip up at a moment’s notice,  and freeze beautifully if you’re feeling inclined as to prepare a double batch. Simply cool completely, wrap individually and store in plastic bags. You’ll be the perfect hostess when company drops by for coffee on a chilly morning!

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Harvest Pumpkin Muffins {recipe adapted from Spontaneous Tomato}

Perfect to whip up at a moment’s notice, and easily adaptable to whatever add-ins you have in your pantry, these muffins are a crowd pleaser! We’re keeping them healthy by using white-whole-wheat flour and minimal sugar, so they’ll be sure to fill you up and keep you powering on all morning long. 

Ingredients:

2-1/2 cups white-whole-wheat flour

1 cup sugar

2 tsp. baking soda

1 heaping tsp. ground cinnamon

dash nutmeg

2 eggs

2 cups pumpkin puree

6 ounces plain, non-fat Greek yogurt

3/4 cup dried cranberries

optional: cinnamon-sugar mixture, to sprinkle on top 

To Prepare:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and grease and line a muffin tin {I used a 12-spot tin, but feel free to adjust according to your culinary tools!}.

Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add in the eggs, pumpkin puree, and Greek yogurt.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Stir until the  dry ingredients have just been incorporated, sprinkling in the dried cranberries and you stir. Be careful not to overmix!

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Evenly distribute the batter between your muffin tins. Sprinkle the tops of each with a bit of the cinnamon-sugar mixture.

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Bake muffins for about 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from tins, and allow to cool completely before serving. Muffins will keep, tightly covered, on the counter top for up to 3 days.

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thirsty thursday: dirty martinis

Perfection, pure and simple.

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A martini is the quintessential host drink. So easy to prepare, minimalist as far as ingredients are considered, and a snap to assemble, it really doesn’t get better than this. Sure, you can dress it up with different flavored liquors, garnish it to death but…why mess with something so pure?

I’ll be the first gal to admit that it took me quite some time before I was able to appreciate this cocktail. Especially considering this is a VODKA-based martini {insert gasp here}. I am a gin lover, through and through – it’s my liquor of choice when it comes to drink but, for any martini, it’s the vodka that I desire. The clean backdrop of flavor that the vodka provides really lets the drink shine. You can drink it straight up or, if you’re like the hubs and myself, you prefer to stir the pot with some flavor, albeit oh-so-slightly.

It’s nothing mind-blowing or a brand new discovery by any means, but in my eyes, the perfect way to drink a martini is shaken vigorously with a bit of vermouth, olive brine, and garnished with a few blue cheese stuffed olives. Here’s the recipe that the hubs makes when our fancy for a martini strikes; I guarantee you’ll be a convert after your first sip. Enjoy!

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Dirty Martinis

No explanation needed. A classic drink that can’t be made any better, the flavor balance of the vodka and brine is what elevates this simple combination from ordinary to extraordinary. 

Ingredients:

2 ounces vodka, whatever your personal preference

1 ounce dry vermouth

olive brine, to taste {I love using Dirty Sue; it can be found on Amazon!}

optional {I think necessary!} garnish: blue cheese stuffed olives 

To Prepare:

Fill a martini glass with ice so that it will be nicely chilled. Set aside.

In a cocktail shaker, combine the vodka and dry vermouth. Add in the olive brine, to your personal taste. Top off with ice and shake vigorously until chilled, at least 30 seconds.

Pour the ice out of the martini glass, and strain the martini into it. Garnish with desired amount of blue cheese stuffed olives that have been skewered onto a toothpick.

butternut squash enchilada casserole

This is a rainbow of colors, flavors, and deliciousness…all layered up into one glorious casserole.

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For me, it’s simply impossible to not get excited about a dish when it has so many colors, flavors and textures. I happened upon a large stash of butternut squash not too long ago, and rather than going my usual course of roasting {for a side dish} or pureeing {soup style}, I knew I had to try something different. In the past, I’ve had great success incorporating it into mac-&-cheese recipes, but it just didn’t feel right. With unseasonably warm weather, I was craving something hearty but not heavy, light but full of flavor.

I set about searching for the perfect casserole, and when I stumbled upon the recipe for what I’m sharing today, I knew I had found a winner. This casserole is the perfect one to start for your season of autumnal flavors – you’re still using fresh produce {corn, tomatoes, peppers, and onions} but starting to introduce the flavors of fall; creamy beans, luscious squash and bolder spices.

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This dish is more or less a one-pot wonder; very little preparation is required, too! I like to roast the squash ahead of time {say, the night before I plan on making it} so that it is ready and waiting for me and not the other way around. Simply prep, assemble, bake and voila! – dinner is served.

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Butternut Squash Enchilada Casserole {recipe adapted from Making Thyme for Health}

An unusual but delicious option to use up an overabundance of butternut squash, this casserole is a dream for any lover of Mexican-style cuisine! Not to mention, it’s a great way to pack in a vegetable punch.

Ingredients:

1 medium sized butternut squash, peeled and diced

1 onion, sliced

1/2 a large red pepper, diced

1 clove garlic, minced

1 small can of diced green chilis

1 {15-ounce} can of black beans, drained and rinsed

2 cups of corn

2 cups salsa

6 large tortillas, quartered

1-1/2 cups shredded cheese {optional}

2 Tbsp. olive oil

1 tsp. cumin powder

1 tsp. chili powder

1 tsp. dried oregano

salt and pepper, to taste

To Prepare:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Place the diced butternut squash on a baking sheet and toss with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and cumin until evenly distributed. Roast for about 40 to 45 minutes, or until squash is tender. Remove from oven and lower temperature to 350 degrees.

In a large non-stick skillet, drizzle in olive oil. Add in onions and garlic and cook over medium heat until onions are translucent. Add in the corn and red pepper and cook for another 5 minutes, or until slightly tender. Season with salt, pepper, chili powder and oregano. Transfer to bowl and set aside, allowing to cool slightly.

Into the same bowl as your sauteed vegetables, add in the diced green chilis, drained black beans, and one cup of the salsa. Toss gently to combine.

Spray a glass baking dish, and begin to assemble the casserole. Spread 1/3 cup of the remaining salsa along the bottom, then cover with a layer of tortillas. Tops with 1/3 of the roasted vegetables and then 1/2 cup of cheese.

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Layer two more tortillas on top of the vegetables, then top with 1/3 cup of salsa, then another 1/3 of the roasted vegetables, then 1/2 cup of the shredded cheese.

Lastly, layer two more tortillas, the last 1/3 cup of salsa and the last 1/3 of the vegetables on top. Sprinkle with remaining cheese and place in the oven for 20-25 minutes.

Allow to cool for 5 minutes, then cut into squares and serve. Top with sliced avocado, plain Greek yogurt, or sour cream. Enjoy!

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**don’t feel limited to the ingredients listed out here – use what you have on hand! It doesn’t get much easier than that. I also think that, should it fancy you, a bit of seasoned taco meat {be it chicken, beef, bison, etc.} would make a wonderful addition**

cinnamon-spiced apple chips

Not long ago, I was gifted from some friends a rather large bag of apples from a local orchard. They are in the process of planning their wedding, and are holding the reception at said location. They were in town visiting and working on wedding preparation and, in exchange for us hosting them, they returned from the reception site with armfuls of apple-y goodness for us. Needless to say, I was giddy with excitement.

But what is one to do with such a large amount of fresh apples? Honestly, my first thought was to make a pie or tart of sorts, but with the holidays right around the corner, I knew that my apple pie would be on constant rotation {I’ll be sharing it with you soon, I promise!}. So I pondered over it for a few days, hoping that inspiration would strike. And sure enough, it did!

A friend recently loaned me their food dehydrator to do some food preparations, and I knew that this would be the perfect vehicle. I ah-dore dried fruit, especially in the cooler months. The possibilities with dried fruits are endless! – stirred into oatmeal, baked into cookies, or tossed with greens for an easy and simple salad, it really doesn’t get much better. So I did a little research about the method and preparation, as this was a first time for me, and boy oh boy…is the end result amazing!

c/o improvisedlife.com

Here are the steps that I followed, with notes for both dehydrating and classic oven baking. Use whichever is easiest for you; it’s impossible to go wrong with these!

I had the thought to mix in a little bit of savory spices {chili powder, rosemary, etc.} on a few of the different layers, and it was a surefire success! 

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Cinnamon-Spiced Apple Chips {recipe adapted from Tasty Yummies}

An ideal way to use up an overload of apples – can we say apple-picking, anyone?? – apple chips are a great way to ensure your produce lasts long enough for you to enjoy! 

Ingredients:

4-5 {minimum} ripe apples, whatever variety you like best*

1-2 tbsp. ground cinnamon

1 tbsp. granulated sugar, optional

*I find that firmer-fleshed apples work really well 

To Prepare:

Slice off the top {stem side} of the apple, and the slice the apples into thin rounds, maintaining a thickness of 1/8″ to 1/4″ thick. If you have a mandolin, this is a great way to utilize it! It will ensure even chips.

Remove the seeds and the entire core. The peel can be left on {this is what I like!} or removed, depending on your preference.

Toss the apples with the cinnamon and optional sugar, and arrange in a single layer in your dehydrator. Once arranged, set the temperature at 135 degrees. Allow the apples to go for 6-8 hours, or until they are dried out and as crispy as you prefer.

Don’t have a dehydrator? Use the oven! – simply preheat the oven to 200 degrees, and lay the apple slices on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for 1 hr., flip them over, and allow them to bake until desired level of crispness is reached and they are no longer moist. You may need to flip several times during this last section of time.

To preserve the quality of your apple chips, store in an airtight container.

Slice off the top, stem side, of the apple and then slice the apple into thin rounds, somewhere between 1/8″ to 1/4″ thick. A mandoline slicer works best so they are all the same thickness. Remove the seeds or the whole core. Peel can be left on or taken off.

Toss the sliced apples with cinnamon and sugar (optional) and arrange in a single layer in your dehydrator or onto a parchment paper-lined baking pan.

Dehydrator: Turn the dehydrator to 135ºF. Allow the apples to dehydrate for 6 to 8 hours or until they are dried and as crisp as you want them to be.

Oven: Preheat the oven to 200ºF. Bake the apples slices for 1 hour, then flip them and allow to bake for another 1 to 2 hours until the chips are no longer moist. Flipping occasionally.

Store your apple chips in an airtight container to maintain crispness.

lately: the bourbon trail!

This past weekend, the hubs and I enjoyed one last drink-related event…we toured part of the Bourbon Trail! Located in Kentucky, the Bourbon Trail boasts an insanely awesome line-up of fantastic distilleries. We met up with a good friend, and spend the weekend roaming around! Here’s a glimpse into how we spent our weekend…enjoy!

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