Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Best (Pumpkin) Macaroni and Cheese in the World!

I've heard anticipation makes things even better. In this case, I'm not sure it can get any better, it's just that good. But I made you wait for it anyway - just in case. This was the highlight of my 6-recipe Labor Day weekend. I've never really been into savory pumpkin dishes before, but all of a sudden this year I was curious about this more mature side of pumpkin. Pumpkin penne, pumpkin macaroni and cheese, etc. I already had a few recipes already pinned to my Fall pinterest board, but when I saw this particular recipe, I knew I had to make it ASAP. I literally could not get it out of my mind.

The recipe for this Pumpkin Macaroni and Cheese with Bacon comes from Lauren's Latest. You should know that before I pin any recipe, I read through the ingredients, instructions, and comments. Of couse I drool over the pictures too! I check all these things out to see if it's really worth me making/pinning. I look at a lot of recipes and a good amount don't make the cut during this rigorous review process. A few things about this recipe stood out to me as awesome when I was doing my initial read-through. It's a 1 pot meal which means fewer dishes! It had a good ratio of pumpkin to cheese. Um, it has bacon; need I say more? It's topped with potato chips and I'm a sucker for good texture. It looked easy and quick to make. And Lauren's pictures made it look SOOO super cheesy. Speaking of pictures, please do check out Lauren's page, as she has some amazing pictures of this recipe that can only be described as "food porn." My Iphone pictures leave something to be desired, but I can assure that the recipe itself does not.

I made a few changes to Lauren's recipe, which are reflected in my version below. This was some of the best macaroni and cheese I have ever made or had the please to eat anywhere. It has a nice subtle pumpkin flavor. It's incredibly rich and creamy, but the flavor profile is relatively simple so it's not overwhelming. And that's good because you'll want to eat tons of it. This is comfort food at its best and would be great on a cool Fall evening. Even my husband loved it, which is saying a lot since he declared before I made it that he wouldn't even try it. It's super cheesy, which to me is obviously a good thing. I will warn any of you who, like my Dad, prefer a "dry" macaroni and cheese that this may not be for you. I'll definitely make this again for Fall, but I'll also keep it in the lineup all year long. It's that good! I've unofficially declared it the best macaroni and cheese in the world!

Pumpkin Macaroni and Cheese with Bacon
Recipe adapted from Lauren’s Latest
Makes 6 servings
1 lb. Cellantani (sometimes referred to as Cavatappi) pasta
8 slices bacon
1 cup chopped onion
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 cup pumpkin
1/4 teaspoon thyme
pinch nutmeg
salt & pepper, to taste
1- 15 oz. jar Classico Light Creamy Alfredo Sauce
3/4 cup 2% milk
6 oz (1 1/2 cups) shredded mozzarella cheese
8 oz (2 cups) shredded sharp cheddar cheese
Lays Kettle Cooked Sea Salt and Cracked Pepper potato chips, for garnish
Bring large pot of water to boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente. Drain and set aside. Place the pot back on heat and cook bacon until crispy. When cooked, remove bacon and set on paper towels to drain. In the bacon grease, sauté onions and garlic until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in pumpkin, spices and alfredo sauce. Pour milk into dirty alfredo sauce jar, replace lid, shake and pour into pot. Stir until combined. Sprinkle in cheeses and stir slowly to melt. Stir in cooked pasta. Crumble the cooled and drained bacon. Add to pasta and cheese mixture and stir to distribute evenly. Immediately before serving, top each portion with a generous amount of crushed potato chips.
 A few don'ts:
  • Don't use turkey bacon. You need the grease (and the flavor) from the regular bacon.
  • Don't insult this amazing dish by using regular potato chips. Kettle cooked chips work well because of the hearty cruch, and the cracked pepper really compliments the the other flavors. I've tried other brands, and Lays really does have the best for this particular type of chip.
  • Seriously, use the cellantani/cavatappi pasta. I am a big believer that the shape/type of pasta you use absolutely needs to match the overall vibe of the recipe. Certain shapes of pasta just go with certain types of recipes. This recipe was calling out for cellantani pasta. If you can't find the cellantani/cavatappi, I'd reccomend using gemelli as a good replacement.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

60 Second Fall Recipe Reviews

I think I may have officially lost my mind. Last weekend I decided to try SIX new recipes. To be fair, it was a long Labor Day weekend, so I had extra time. I should also point out that I didn't come to this decision lightly - I very rationally recognized that given the number of Fall weekends left in 2013 there was NO way I could get to all the recipes I want to make, even if I doubled up. On top of that, I considered the fact that I would be out of town some weekends, which left me with fewer weekends, and I'm adding new recipes to my "Fall to-try" list every day, and OMG! Okay, so I got nervous, panicked, and made a whole bunch of food. But there are worse crimes. If you're in need of Fall inspiration (recipes or otherwise) check out my Fall Pinterest board.

Anyway, here's what I made: Caesar pasta salad, mini maple glazed doughnut-hole muffins, chocolate-coconut pumpkin bundt cake, pumpkin fluff dip, baked apple chips, and pumpkin mac & cheese with bacon. Since we're focusing on Fall, forget about the Caesar pasta salad for now. Here's a super-speed recipe review of the Fall-themed items I tried this weekend:
  • mini maple glazed doughnut-hole muffins (from: Circle B Kitchen) - this made 20 mini muffins which looked just like the picture. Cute and golden brown with shiny drizzles of glaze running down the sides. So far so good. These are definitely all muffin; don't let the name fool you. They were just slightly too dry on their own to eat without the glaze, but the glaze was not nearly mapley enough (even when I added a lot more) and was overly powdered sugary for our liking. Having said all that, we still ate all 20 in about half an hour, so they weren't bad. They just weren't anything special.
    • Verdict: skip it
  • chocolate-coconut pumpkin bundt cake (from Ambitious Kitchen) - yummy and moist cake with an easy-to-follow recipe. I used a mixture of milk and semi-sweet chocolate in place of the dark chocolate. Even so, the pumpkin flavor was definitely overshadowed by the chocolate. Got rave reviews from my coworkers and my father, who didn't mind that it was only subtly pumpkiny. The glaze didn't set up for me and turned to a slightly dense, spongy texture. Drizzling was not an option, so I pressed it onto the top of the cake so the tosated coconut would stick. Still pretty. I'm on the fence about whether I'll make it again. If I do, it won't be when I want something that tastes like Fall.
    • Verdict: skip it if you're looking for full-on Fall flavors
  • pumpkin fluff dip (from allrecipes) - It's ridiculously easy, very self explanatory, and absolutely delish! Mix ingredients and enjoy. I used fat free Cool Whip. I also added a good bit more pumpkin pie spice than the recipe calls for and added cinnamon and vanilla extract to taste. Unless you are making this for a group of more than 6, I highly recommend that you halve the recipe. I see myself making this frequently all Fall long. It's great with graham crackers (or with a spoon!). Very kid friendly and somewhat low-calorie.
    • Verdict: MAKE IT!
  • baked apple chips (from Sally's Baking Addiction) - Be sure to check out all of Sally's blog - it's one of my favorites! These are a great healthy snack. I did core the apples before starting. I followed Sally's recipe for cooking times, but didn't add any sugar on my apples - just cinnamon. (Did you see the other stuff I made this weekend? I didn't need the extra sugar.) I don't have a mandoline slicer, so I just made them as thin as possible using a knife. However, I plan to invest in one now that I know how tasty these are. We ate these as a healthy appetizer before digging into a decidedly less-healthy Labor Day barbeque. Husband and parent approved!
    • Verdict: MAKE THEM!
  • pumpkin macaroni and cheese with bacon - this deserves, and will get, a whole post. Check back soon for the review and the full recipe. This stuff is life changing...

Wednesday, August 28, 2013


You may not want to hear this, but it's officially Fall in our household. Yes - I know it's technically still August and we haven't even gotten to Labor Day. But autumn is my favorite time of year, and really now that kids are back in school, I think I'm completely justified in celebrating the season. Now if you want to talk about RUSHING the seasons along, go visit your local Hobby Lobby store, where they are fully-stocked for Christmas already. Craziness! But that's a whole 'nother conversation.

While Labor Day is the unofficial end of summer for most people, my own personal marker this year (other than back-to-school traffic) was a bachelorette party that I planned in Chicago for one of my best friends, E. With the excitement (and stress) of planning-an-entire-fabulous-weekend-for-a-group-of-18-people-in a far-away-city-I'm-not-familiar-with behind me, I'm focusing all of my obsessive energy on Fall. In case you're curious, the weekend was a complete success. Check out E.'s blog, Voyage On, to see what she thought.

The first weekend after the bachelorette party I decided to ease into Fall with a few small crafty autumn projects (decor pictures to come soon) and a pumpkin recipe that wasn't too pumpkiny. Just to be clear - for me there's no such thing as too pumpkiny (yes, I think "pumpkiny" is a word). However, my lovely husband is not as pumpkin-obsessed as I.  To compromise I picked a recipe that I'd been eyeing since last year - Pumpkin Oreo Donuts from Jocelyn over at Inside BruCrew Life. As if I needed another reason to try them, these donuts can even be considered semi-healthy since they're baked and use applesauce and Greek yogurt in place of oil and eggs.

The original recipe was for mini-donuts, but since I only have a standard sized donut pan, that's what I made. It yielded 8 regular donuts, and boy were they good! I can't even describe how moist these donuts are, and the white chocolate and Oreo flavors go ridiculously well with pumpkin! My somwhat pumpkin-averse husband loved them too and said the recipe was definitely a keeper. My parents came into town on Sunday and we had planned to save a donut for each of them to try. These were so good that we could only bring ourselves to save one for my parents to split. Fall is the season of thanksgiving, though, so really they should be thankful they got one at all. :)

If you're anything like us, you'll breeze through the 8 donuts pretty quickly, so you might want to go ahead and make 2 batches right off the bat (especially since they're "healthy"). I followed Jocelyn's directions exactly except for adding extra pumpkin and extra Oreo crumbs to the batter. My changes are reflected in the recipe below. Thanks again to Jocelyn for the awesome idea!

Pumpkin Oreo Donuts

Recipe adapted from Inside BruCrewLife
Yields 8 regular-sized donuts


For the Donuts
1/4 c. salted butter, softened
1/3 c. brown sugar
2 Tbsp. applesauce
1 c. canned pumpkin
1/3 c. Greek vanilla yogurt
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. cinnamon
3/4 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1 c. flour
1/2 c. chocolate cookie crumbs

For the Topping
4 oz. white chocolate candy coating (CandiQuik)
1 tsp. shortening
1/2 c. chocolate cookie crumbs


1.      Cream the butter and sugar. Add the applesauce, pumpkin, vanilla, and yogurt and mix until creamy. In a bowl, sift together the baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, salt, flour, and cookie crumbs. Stir into the creamed mixture gently.

2.      Place the donut batter in a Ziplock bag and cut the tip off. Spray the mini donut pan with non-stick spray and fill each cavity at least 3/4 full. Bake at 325º for 10+ minutes until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Place a wire cooling rack flush over the donut pan and turn upside town to flip the donuts out.

3.      In a microwave safe bowl, heat the white chocolate coating with the shortening for 30 seconds and stir. Repeat again for 20 seconds and stir. One at a time, dip the tops of the donuts into the melted chocolate and sprinkle with cookie crumbs.


Tuesday, July 9, 2013

You Ought to Know...

I've totally been holding out on you. First off, you should know that I've now lost a total of 40lbs! It's been a really incredible experience and I've never felt healthier or happier about the way I look. When I hit the 30lb mark, the weight stopped coming off. It seemed like I had hit a plateau and I decided to be at peace with that. Although I felt that I was still just shy of my "ideal" body, I wasn't going to force additional weight loss if my body was putting up resistance. I wasn't willing to amp up my workout schedule and I certainly was wiling to possibly compromise my health by cutting calories from my diet. So I decided that 30lbs was enough. I didn't just say it, but I also believed it and let myself mentally relax about it.

I kept up my exercise and my healthy eating plan. This is a big difference from other times I've "dieted" in the past, when I've gone back to my old eating habits once I've reached my goal. This ultimately has only led to me gaining back weight and starting the whole dieting cycle over and over again. However, since I acknowledged from the start that this was a lifestyle change, not a temporary diet, I knew that I wasn't going to ditch the healthy habits I'd worked so hard to develop. And then something really cool happened. I stayed at that weight for a few weeks and then, without any calorie cutting or additional working out (I actually relaxed my workouts a bit), the numbers on the scale started to drop again.

And that's where I am now. 40lbs lighter and infinitely happier and healthier than I was at the start of this journey in February. Beyond the change in my appearance, I naturally wake up earlier and less tired, I have more energy during the day, I don't have the stomachaches I used to get from gorging myself on lots of unhealthy food, and I've noticed I have significantly less anxiety. I also really enjoy the healthy foods I eat and don't feel deprived, which is a key to long-term success.

Now the only challenge will be adjusting my eating to make sure I stay at this weight. Although it's always tempting, especially in our society, to lose "just a little more," I really want to maintain my current weight. I don't want to look bony or scary skinny and I don't want to get to be unhealthy, since this whole journey is just as much about health as it is about weight. That being said, I'll be experimenting with what new healthy foods and snacks I can add in for some additional calories. I have some yummy healthy recipes that I'm looking forward to trying when I get back from vacation and I'm excited to be able to share those cooking adventures with you!

Which brings me to the other thing I've been keeping from you. It's pretty much THE best invention ever. And while I can't guarantee it's going to change the world, I can tell you it's totally changed MY world. It's....Bell Plantation's PB2 Powdered Peanut Butter. (To be clear, the opinions expressed are completely my own and I'm not being sponsored in any way by Bell Plantation.)

Before changing to a healthier lifestyle, I was a self-confessed peanut butter addict. I didn't just use it in lots of yummy unhealthy baked goods, even though I did that. I didn't just put it on pretty much everything I ate, although I did that too. I was the kind of addicted where I was regularly eating large quantities straight in the jar anytime it was in the house. So when I started trying to lose weight and be healthy, I knew I had to keep peanut butter of the house. Sure, it's got lots of healthy fats, but it has a LOT of those healthy fats, a LOT of calories, and that's just in a "single serving" and I was certainly eating multiple servings at a time.

I stoically soldiered on, missing my peanut butter immensely but also realizing that it's like a gateway drug for me and that given the opportunity, I would totally dive head-first into a jar and not resurface until every last bit was consumed. And then I found PB2. It's a powder that's made from real peanuts that have been pressed to remove a significant amount of the oil they naturally contain. To make it into a peanut butter consistency, you just add water. The magical part is that it has 85% less fat calories than traditional peanut butter. To break that down for you: a regular 2 tablespoon serving of traditional peanut butter has 190 calories (130 of which are from fat) and 3 grams of saturated fat. Meanwhile, a 2 tablespoon serving of PB2 contains only 45 calories (13 of which are from fat) and 0 grams of saturated fat.

And it tastes AWESOME! It's great eaten plain right off the spoon. I use it daily in my morning oatmeal (with some protein powder and cinnamon) and I add it to plain non-fat Greek yogurt (with a touch of vanilla extract and honey) for my dessert most nights. It can be substituted into recipes to make them lower in both fat and calories. It's a great addition to smoothies. Basically, anywhere that peanut butter would be good (which is pretty much everywhere), PB2 works wonders. You can order it right from the Bell Plantation website, on Amazon, or possibly even purchase it at your grocery store. Believe it or not, my local Walmart carries it.

So there you go - you now know about the coolest thing on the planet. Go buy some PB2 and use it to help with your own weight loss or weight maintenance goals.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The good, the bad, and Kate Spade...

Hey there! I wanted to share some exciting news - I've lost 24.5 lbs so far!! Now, I know you may be thinking that I should have just waited until it was a nice round number (like 25). But if I don't post about it now, it might not happen. While I'm thrilled with my progress, there have been some downsides that I didn't really think through when I started. Okay, really just one downside - I no longer fit into my pants and shorts, the majority of my skirts fit poorly, and even some of my tops and dresses are rather roomy. For someone who adores clothes and spends a considerable amount of time picking out, trying on, and falling in love with each item in my closet, this has been a bummer, to say the least. It's kind of like I'm in a relationship with all of my clothes.

I'm in the process of altering the things I want to keep and buying new bottoms to fill in my wardrobe. But it can be hard to breakup with someone you've loved (or shorts - don't judge). It's also hard to know when to start the alterations/buying new clothes process - if you start too early and then loose more weight, those items will be back to being baggy. Ultimately, I waited as long as possible (basically, until I was pantless) and then decided to bring clothes to get altered in shifts. I'm picking up my first batch from the tailor today - a pair of pants, a pair of white capris, and a (hopefullly now) high waisted skirt (that was previously sliding off my hips). If I loose a bit more weight, I'll have the things I alter later (I'm saving my favorites) that will fit better.

I'm also realizing that this whole weight loss thing comes at a price - literally. The cost of all the alterations and new clothes, on top of my monthly gym membership and Pure Barre classes, has not been easy to swallow. Of course, not every purchase has been absolutely necessary - I may have indulged in some new shirts and sweaters, even though I'm supposed to be focusing on bottoms. I was already a bit of a shopping addict, and now everything looks better on me. Can you blame me?

When I hit the 20 lb mark, I also treated myself to a congratulatory gift - a Kate Spade Grove Court Strip Maise (currently on sale for only $149 - previously $298). The bag is gorgeous for summer with it's nautical stripes and it's the perfect size. I highly reccomend it! And at that price, how can you say no?
What about you? Are you in a "relationship" with your clothes? Treated yourself to a congratulatory purse lately? Let me know!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Challenges, Changes, and Chickpeas

So, I was about to call this whole blogging thing quits after all of one post. But I decided I should be honest with my readers (do I have any?). Like so many things in life, I was super excited to start something (in this case: a fashion and baking blog) but lost interest as challenges came up. Case in point, who is going to take pictures of me in my cute outfits? My husband is usually asleep when I leave for work. Another problem came up when I was taking pictures of my version of these yummy cookie dough rice krispie treats. My point-and-shoot camera takes awful pictures of food. Even though these treats tasted great; they looked like unapetizing oatmeal-colored blobs in my photos.

And to top off my frustration about how to proceed with the blog, I decided to go on a diet about 2 weeks ago. Not a great thing for someone who just started a blog about baking. But beyond the challenge a diet creates for my blog, going on a diet is crazy-hard for someone like me who considers baking a passion and a hobby. I truly look forward to researching, choosing, buying the ingredients for, baking, and tasting the perfect treat each and every weekend.

That said, the good news is that I've lost 9lbs in just over 2 weeks. I've had to completely change my typical high-school-boy diet. But I haven't stopped looking at recipes on Pinterest. Now I just try to look at healthy ones. I came across a recipe for honey and cinnamon roasted chickpeas, got excited, and made them that night. While they weren't awful, it's not something I'll be making again. The silver lining here is that I started thinking about other things I could do with chickpeas. I found various recipes for these guys online, but ultimately came up with my own very simple and tasty version of Crunchy Buffalo Roasted Chickpeas.

These were such a huge help in terms of curbing cravings and making me feel full, but most importantly they were YUMMY. Although the can says that it contains 3.5 servings, I would say that this recipe makes 2 servings. Sunday I ran out and bought 3 more cans of chickpeas to get me through the week. I have a new batch in the oven right now!

Crunchy Buffalo Roasted Chickpeas

1 16oz can of reduced sodium chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
2+ tablespoons of your favorite pre-made buffalo sauce (not hot sauce), separated

Pre-heat oven to 370. Rinse and drain chickpeas and allow them to dry. In a small bowl, coat the chickpeas with approximately 1 tablespoon of buffalo sauce (just enough that they are completely covered and not much is left in the bowl). Spread chickpeas onto a cookie sheet and bake for about 20 minutes (or longer until chickpeas are dry). Carefully pour them back into the bowl and re-coat them in the remaining 1 tablespoon of buffalo sauce (or more, to taste). Pour the chickpeas back onto the cookie sheet and put them back in the oven. Cook for another 20+ minutes, rolling them around every so often so they cook evenly, until they reach your desired crunchiness.

Enjoy your guilt-free snack!

Sunday, January 27, 2013


Can I be honest? I'm totally freaking out right now. It's not because this is the first post of my new (and first ever) blog, but because I've run out of of these amazing brownie batter chocolate fudge cupcakes with outrageously rich chocolate frosting by Kevin and Amanda. I'd show you a picture of my cupcakes, but they were so good that I ate them all in a delirious state of chocolate euphoria before I realized I hadn't taken a picture. Try them and you'll understand what I mean. Don't be afraid of the 5 sticks of butter in the frosting. Just pretend you're Paula Deen. I followed the recipe exactly as it is on Kevin and Amanda's website, with the exception of these few changes:
  • Use salted butter for the brownie batter.
  • Make the brownie balls round (like cakepops). Before putting them into the cupcake batter, flatten them out a bit using the back of your hand.
  • Use 3 sticks of salted butter, 2 sticks of unsalted butter for the frosting.
Now drop whatever you're doing and go make these cupcakes.