June Wrap Up

Can you believe it is time for July? Whattt?! June was fun and relaxing. It didn’t feel as crazy busy as March, April, or May. Which I love. I had some relaxing weekends, got some things done around the house, I had a few dinners out with friends, hosted brunch and enjoyed the spring. I did not once curse the rain since I had bright sunny days for my outdoor event when I needed ‘em. We got furniture for the deck (I owe you pics) and we got a Costco membership. Super exciting!

The challenges this month were replacing our ancient boiler & water heater. It then resulted in a crazy explosion that scared the beejesus out of us. Everyone and everything is a-OK (read more here). We had an emotional weekend honoring Mr. J’s dad.

We went to Bermuda which was definitely relaxing. How amazing is this view? #nofilter
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Father’s Day and Mr. J’s bday was a joint celebration. On his actual bday, I made some special burgers. For the family gathering, we did a ‘Best of the Bermuda trip’ buffet. It was so fun. We made some of their favorite items from the trip.

I made veggie burgers in June. They were so great. Frozen butternut squash, black beans, oatmeal, sunflower seeds. They were rich and crunchy and filling and delicious. Try ‘em.
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I also tweaked my go-to 1-dish pasta to be a BBQ chicken pasta
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I made a really different breakfast than I usually make. Well, I haven’t really made bfast in awhile, but I made waffles with blueberry sauce and brie.
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I got philosophical trying to get you thinking about being strategic in the kitchen. Hmm. What else happened. Well, I got hopelessly addicted to candy crush. Each time I think I’m stuck forever on a level I’ll win and then think the same about the following level. I’m no gamer, but I feel like this is going to be an on going thing. Google Reader is going away, tear. I had it on my list to switch but kept putting it off. I’m now on Feedly and all is well.

The plan for July is to knock off a few things that’ve been on my to-make list. The list is suuuper long right now. I also want to do some creative salad ideas. Any inspirations to get me going? I’m also thinking I haven’t posted sangria or a cocktail in awhile…

Fig and Prosciutto Pizza

This bad boy snuck out for email subscribers so my apologies for the duplicate. Let’s just say it is good enough to take a peek at twice? I’m always trying to come up with a pizza topping I haven’t done before. I regularly pass the fig spread in the grocery store but hadn’t grabbed it until now. Until this pizza. Ta-da!

Fig jam isn’t with other jellies or spreads…at least at my grocery store. It is usually somewhere near produce on the way further into the store.

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Ingredients:

pizza dough
1 cup marinara sauce
8 oz shredded mozzarella
3 oz brie
1/2 cup fig jam
3 slices of prosciutto

Directions:

Preheat oven & pizza stone (if using one) to 400-degrees.
Spread pizza dough onto the pan/stone and poke a few holes into it with a fork or knife.
Bake for 10-15 minutes until it starts getting golden and crisp. It needs to be crisp to hold the toppings.
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Top with marinara, then shredded mozzarella. Dot with brie and fig jam.
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Return to the oven, and bake for 10 more minutes.
Remove from the oven and let sit for 5 minutes. Top with slices of prosciutto.
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I love the sweet jam with salty prosciutto. This was a great combination of really different flavors. Between the brie, the mozzarella, and the jam, it was a gooey/drippy pizza.

I wanted marinara on there for some acidity but that could be optional. I also think this would be interesting enough without the prosciutto, if you were serving a vegetarian. I always worry that their food isn’t interesting enough. I like the prosciutto uncooked so it is still soft and bite-able.

I make a lot of pizzas. Any future topping ideas for me?

Are You Strategic in the Kitchen?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot. I realized sometimes I have a few things cooking or prepping at once so I tried to write my posts in that way. Sometimes recipes or meals can seem really daunting and if I’m not ready for the next step that’s when problems occur. Sauce gets too thick or veggies get overcooked etc. I’ve tried to clarify what can be happening while something else is going on. Does it help? I hope so!

Heres’ the million dollar question of the day: Do you think you’re strategic in the kitchen?

 

I really thought about it while tackling Pastitsio. That one had a meat/tomato sauce, pasta, a bechamel sauce, and then the whole thing was baked. It was amazing. I loved the flavors. I recommend making this on a weekend…and knowing just how many messy dishes and pots there would be.
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Baking is also a time I try to be strategic. I don’t bake often and when I do, I always follow the recipe. That being said, I try to remember to read through the directions first. I don’t want to be thrown off when the next ingredient comes in, and I need to know beforehand if something is supposed to be softened/room temperature/pre-mixed or whatever. Samoa Girl Scout Cookie Bars was one recipe that let me make & bake the base and get the topping going while that first part was cooking. I also picked it because it felt do-able for me.
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Buyer beware: I’m no connoisseur. I still have meals that have me scrambling all over the kitchen or feeling like something needed a minute less while something else ended up cold after I snapped enough photos. Take my tips with a grain of salt. I don’t cook overly complicated meals. I also try to whip up something easy to go along with something more challenging. I now don’t have to think twice about risotto but if that is going to be all encompassing go easy on whatever else you’re serving. Know that I don’t blog every meal I make. I like to space new or blog-worthy meals throughout the week with cheaper/easier/no-thought-required other meals during the week.

Have you seen Rachael Ray pile her ingredients from the fridge & pantry in one trip? It is kind of ridiculous, but there’s a point there. Tip 1: pull out everything you’re going to need. I think it can stress you out if you get knee deep into a recipe to discover you’re out of eggs or tomatoes or breadcrumbs, or something that will really alter the dish. I vary recipes all the time, but if changing your plan or altering the recipe will stress you out, then you’ll want to know the ingredients are ready.

Speaking of getting ingredients ready…Tip 2: take the ingredients one step further and chop/defrost/melt/wash and do any prep the ingredients are going to need later. I think it allows you to feel really ready. Then when your recipe says to add it you’re on it. I don’t do this very much. I moreso prep the next thing while the previous step is happening. I like to keep an eye on the pan while I’m chopping the next addition or whatever.

Tip 3: use what you have and use the right tools. I substitute things all the time. This contradicts #1, but think about what you have and throw it in or leave something you don’t like out. Food is supposed to be how you want it. Reduce the recipe if you don’t want leftovers or throw in that ingredient that’ll go bad in your fridge otherwise. Also by knowing the tools you have you can make better choices. Is your skillet kind of small? Think about what is supposed to go in that. Will you have room? Can you add in that ingredient that’s hanging around? Should you half the recipe to fit the only pan you have? This Smoky Sausage Pasta cooks everything in 1 pan but if you can’t fit it, you should be ready early to half the recipe for the pan you have.
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In terms of tools, my super specialized ones end up sitting in the drawer. I don’t think there’s a ton of those that are overly useful. Some might be, but a knife you’re comfortable with, different sized bowls, and a favorite rubber spatula will probably do it for the most part. I think a HUGELY powerful $3 investment is a meat thermometer. If you think you don’t like pork is probably because it is always overcooked. This simple thermometer will take the guess work out and tell you that meat is cooked enough. It also keeps cooking a bit when you take it off the heat. I have a really basic themometer with a dial and Mr. J and I sing it praises all the time!

Tip 4: learn timing for your foods or beware of your timing. I think it is definitely helpful to plan each dish according to the time needed. Set a timer. Set several timers to take out the guess-work. It gets stressful to keep things hot or keep something from getting bad if too many tasks are left until the the last minute. I like anything that can be done & ready (serving dish & utensil and all). Salad might hang out in the fridge while everything that takes much more thought/coordination on the stove or in the oven gets final touches. I start getting things to the table and out of the kitchen then I know I’m done.

For this dinner, I was searing scallops, making a mustard sauce, roasting broccoli, and frying polenta cakes. This is more involved than most of my dinners. I knew the broccoli would just do it’s thing in the oven. The polenta cakes went first an then hung out in the oven just to keep warm. The mustard sauce and scallops were going on at the same time after the polenta and broccoli were out of the way but kept warm.
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Last but not least, Tip 5: clean as you go. It is a much better way to wrap up dinner if you then aren’t returning to a battle zone. I like to start throwing stuff into the dishwasher when I have a free second or at least rinsing pots. I start stacking ingredients I’m done with next to the fridge to get them put away and out of my way. I repackage unused or leftover stuff and get-it-gone while the main thing is in the oven.

While this eggplant parmesan pizza is baking for 20 minutes I’m closing up the ricotta, getting rid of cheese and dough packaging, freezing remaining eggplant, finding my pizza cutter, etc.
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Phew. That’s a lot. Do you feel strategic? Do you feel one step behind while following a recipe? What helps you?

What I Ate: Vermont Burger

For Mr. J’s birthday I started a tradition a few years ago of a special burger for his birthday dinner. This year’s burger was a hit!

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In 2011 I made stuffed burgers: blue cheese & bacon stuffed burgers

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In 2012 I made bacon wrapped burgers
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This year I was out of techniques to try so I was all about the toppings. I did a Vermont burger: cheddar, bacon, spinach, and maple mayo.
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I loved these! The salty bacon pairs perfectly with the sweet mayo and sharp cheese. Ahhh! Bliss!

I need another one of these. Right. about. now. Life has just been crazy. We just replaced our boiler and water heater. By we, I mean Mr. J and I got about 4 estimates from troupes of plumbers, researched the state energy credits, went back and forth about the best method/pricing/sources etc. Bahh. It’s pretty boring except that I want to have heat, and I don’t want to pay a million dollars. This has been an ongoing discussion with a surprising number of options and it is FINALLY done.

When they finally finished a year three full work days later, we didn’t have power on the main floor. The basement? yup. The upstairs? yup. It was during the crazy monsoon storm and it seemed like power came back, we flipped a switch, and BAM! There was an explosion somewhere. Alarms were going off, the doggies were FA-REAKING out, and we worried about gas lines, the electrical panel, a fire, or whatever else. A call to 9-1-1 later, we had 3 fire trucks, the electrician, the town wiring inspector, and the fire chief at our house. It turns out something happened with the connection to the house. NStar came about 5.5 hours later, replaced it, and we didn’t have to pay for anything. Phew!

I was so worried the basement was on fire, or that there was carbon monoxide, or a gas leak, or something else awful. It was such a relief that everything was fine, minus the smoking/sparking street connection. Our new electrician is our new BFF and hung out while it was all happening. Once we knew everything was OK and were just waiting on Nstar, Mr. J just wanted to see the Bruins and I just wanted the food in the fridge to be ok (win & win for both of us).

If that experience doesn’t deserve a burger, I don’t know what does…this also all happened on the day I had to go to the dentist. What a day!

Hosting Brunch Tips & Breakfast Pizza

I LOVE to host. I think that’s why I like working events. I love feeling like I’ve thought of the details because that’s what makes an event feel special. Hosting at my house also means that I won’t have people complaining to me about a tee shirt. Seriously, this is my life.

I hosted a few of my fav couples for brunch. I tried not to go crazy with the menu but I was psyched to put a few new serving pieces into action. I did as much prep the night before as I could and it made for a pretty easy morning. There were 6 of us and 4 puppies and 1 toddler. It was a beautiful day and I was so thankful some of this group together for brunch before everyone had to head in different directions.

Menu:

breakfast pizza
ebilskiver pancake balls: dark chocolate mint, banana butterscotch, and sausage
fruit salad
yogurt parfait bar
tator tots
mini bagels
mimosas
hot & iced coffee

I’ve made a few breakfasts pizzas in the past. I made one bfast pizza with hashbrown crust which was better in theory than in execution. I’ve also have done one bfast pizza with egg cracked on top.  This time I went more scrambled but still don’t think I hit 100%. I topped a crust with cheese, bacon, and tomato. I baked it a bit more and then topped it with scrambled eggs, more bacon, and fresh chives. The crust needed a bit more time to get crisp. The timing was the challenge here. I had a few other items in the oven, I was getting stuff together, and I was scrambling the eggs. It was good, but not amazing. It has such potential though. The crust needed more time to get crisp and the eggs should have gone on only for a minute or two, then it should be served right away.
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I cold brewed coffee for ice coffee. I also froze some coffee into cubes (but forgot to serve them!). Cold brewing is interesting. It definitely makes better iced coffee. We had some leftover and I’ve been enjoying it to no end. Mr. J said we need an iced coffee drip in the fridge!

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I love brunch and think the choices need to vary sweet and savory. I was thinking about a smoothie station but thought maybe it was too much work for people to do themselves. Then I had it! Yogurt Parfait Bar. Yes! Top-your-own is the best. Everyone can customize! I served vanilla Greek yogurt with granola, cinnamon chips, walnuts, brown sugar, toasted coconut, dried cranberries, and chocolate crunchies. I put out some disposable wine cups for serving and we were good-to-go. It was an easy/low prep dish. Annnd maybe I also wanted to use this 6-dish server.
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I got cool silverware holders for my birthday from my sis. These are so great!
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Finally, I think food labeling is one of the easiest things a host can do. The holders were a fun antique gift. They’re supposed to be placecard holders but I don’t do sit-downs and Momma R thought they’d be perfect for my dish labels. I like people to know what it is without having to either ask, or skip it not knowing what it is.
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Bermuda Recap

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I’m nicely tan and back from Bermuda. We went on a family vacay that was long over due. It had been wayyy too long since the R fam all went away together. It was just so great to get away, spend time together, hit the beach, and relax. I had a ton of fun and was so happy to travel not for a work event.

How cute is Hamilton, Bermuda? Is it crazy to think Bermuda is just off of South Carolina? It feels like a world away and it seems like the Caribbean.
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We ate a lot of great food but I had a few favorites to share. I had this app that was listed as lime dressed shrimp over potatoes. It was citrusy shrimp over a creamy potato salad. I loved it. Dad had it too and we were totally surprised. It wasn’t quite what we expected but we liked every bite. I wasn’t thinking it would be a cold salad at all and that was a great surprise!
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Another favorite dish I had was a chickpea and rice cakes. These were served over a chickpea, tomato, and onion salad. There was a light creamy dill sauce over the top. I really liked this entree. The cakes were warm and crisp with a cool salad and a creamy sauce. It was delicious.
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On our last night, I spotted a dessert special I HAD to have. I normally lean towards desserts that are chocolate or coconut. This mango soufflé had me at soufflé.
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Mr. J proposed with a surprise soufflé in NYC. I spotted this one and it was as good as it looked. It was perfectly light with a fresh sweet mango sauce.
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This trip was really great. I definitely appreciated a week of down time after such a busy time of year at work. This year was so stressful and anxiety ridden in the office so sun, sand, and 3-course meals with the family was just what I needed.

Father’s Day Recipe Ideas

Since Sunday is Father’s Day, I wanted to share around a few ideas if you’re having a big shebang or a small family dinner. I was thinking about what my Dad likes best. It varies, for sure. He’s always up for a themed family dinner and he loves to know the plan.

He likes a sweet treat to go along with coffee in the morning. These cheese danish squares are amazingly easy. They are a great brunch addition or coffee break treat.
The Three Bite Rule - Cheese Danish Squares
Sometimes a fun theme is to bring back memories of a recent trip. My ‘rents went to Chicago and followed my recommendation for Lou Malnatti’s pizza. Making deepdish is actually easier for some folks by using a cake pan instead of messing with dough on a pizza stone.

A pizza party is a fun idea if you’re feeding a crowd. Here’s one of my favorite deepdish pizza recipes or making a few kinds of pizzas is always fun. Maybe the non-cook in the family can bring the salad?
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Top-your-own-burgers would be fun. I like to put guests/family/friends to work. I make Mr. J a different special burger for his birthday each year. Here are some of our favorite burgers if you want filling/topping ideas.
The Three Bite Rule - Nacho Burger
‘Build-your-own’ bars make a party social and allow everyone to reach all the food served. Most importantly, then everyone can customize their food. I think it gives a fun casual setting and it helps those who are picky or really hungry be able to do their plate their own way. It works well for taco bars, salad barsoatmeal bars, top-your-own chili, etc!
Label your food for a) more fun b) a better executed theme and c) for clarity.
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I’m not sure what’s in store for the weather, but a cheeseburger calzone is a great option if you’re indoors or grill-less!
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Oooo! Brilliant! Have a pot-luck with foods that remind you of your dad and then Dad has to guess who made what! Man, I just love food event themes!

Another theme I think any dad would like is a restaurant recreation of their favorite meal or a Throw-back meal to something he cooked with you or ate with you. Even just naming your menu can help with your theme. My ‘Welcome to Boston’ themed calzones are a prime example of that. I can admit myself that tt wasn’t really a theme without the names.

Dad C would have loved a Father’s Day lasagna (his favorite!)
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or he liked my BBQ Chicken Pizza (with his fav Sticky Finger’s BBQ Sauce)
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Happy pre-Father’s Day to all the Dads out there.

Black Bean and Squash Veggie Burgers

My event is over, I’m back from vacation, work isn’t stressful anymore, and there are no more excuses. Time to eat real food and better food. Time to cut the crap…so to speak. Last night Mr. J was wanting dessert. I was glad he didn’t end up suggesting a trip to our fav local ice cream place. I might not have had the will power to say go without me. I need to get back on track.

What a perfect segway to veggie burgers! I love them and don’t make them nearly enough. Homemade ones are sooo much better than store bought ones.
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I get it that folks dismiss them. I’m not vegetarian, but I can’t eat beef so I kind of have to like them. People who are lucky enough to eat beef without a problem don’t really understand and can mock them all they want. I love all the flavors, condiments, and options for burgers. I usually make chicken burgers and some restaurants offer turkey burgers and they are pretty good substitutes. It is just such a quintessential summer food I miss out on.

These are so simple, filling, hot-of-the-grill, and hearty. Veggie burgers are filling but not stuffed-can’t-think-about-food-again kind of burgers. I’ve made them with eggplant which I like but the nuttiness of the oatmeal and the crunch from the sunflower seeds is so great. My friend Flying on Jessfuel made Sweet Potato & Pecan burgers a million years ago before we had blogs. The butternut squash in these brought me back to that million-degree apartment in Boston way back when.

Black Bean & Squash Burgers

Ingredients:

1 can black beans
1 cup butternut squash cooked (I used frozen, mostly defrosted)
1/4 cup chopped onion
2 tsp garlic, chopped
1 cup oatmeal
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
2 tbs olive oil or 1 egg
1/4 cup cheddar cheese, shredded/chopped/grated
1 tsp onion powder
salt & pepper

Directions:

Rinse and drain black beans.
Add black beans, butternut squash (mine was still a touch frozen/frosty), onion, and garlic to a food processor.
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Pulse for a few seconds until mixed leaving some black bean chunks.
Mix black bean mixture with oatmeal, sunflower seeds, egg, cheese, onion powder, and some salt & pepper.
Form into patties

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Grill until crisp on the outside. Flip once, gently.
Serve on a bun with all the traditional burger ‘fixings or on salad or in a pita or bunless.
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I topped mine with avocado, ketchup, and some whole grain mustard we’re obsessed with on the bottom. It was so good. I froze the other 3 burgers separated by parchment. They’re ready and waiting for the next burger night!

Mr. J saw me whipping these together (he formed his own beef burger) and saw something orange go in from the freezer. Mango? Hahaha, nope! That frozen butternut squash wasn’t our fav and it hung around so long he didn’t even think of it. He magically grilled this bad boy to perfection while I feared it would fall apart. He’s the grill-master for sure.

(p.s. wish him a happy birthday tomorrow!)

Blueberry and Brie Stuffed Waffle

Happy Monday! I’m back from a week-long vacation to Bermuda so even Monday is happy. It was such a great family trip and I will have some photos to share. Today we’re talking about brunch. I hosted brunch yesterday but my camera is still the residence to vacay & brunch photos, my luggage isn’t 100% unpacked, and I’m just happy to have a post for you.

I’m still on vacation mode in the sense that I went to find this recipe’s inspiration on Pinterest. Then I discovered a pin for a fun party theme which lead me to a blog, which later lead me to my reader with lots of unread blog posts which distracted me from this post. Short & sweet it will now be!

Blueberry & Brie Stuffed Waffles

adapted from Damn Delicious

Ingredients:

2 waffles (fresh or frozen)
1 cup blueberries
1/4 cup blackberries (or raspberries)
1 tsp sugar
1/2 cup blueberry pancake topping (or 1/2 cup blueberries macerated, 1/2 tsp lemon juice, 2 tbs water, 1/2 tsp cornstarch)
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 tbs heavy cream
4 oz brie, sliced

Directions:

In a medium sauce pan, add blueberries, blackberries, sugar, blueberry sauce, cinnamon, vanilla, and heavy cream over medium-low heat. Stir well and keep an eye on it for when it gently boils.
Prepare waffles to your liking
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Turn the blueberry sauce to low once it has boils so it can thicken.
Assemble waffles with 1/2 waffle on the bottom, topped with sliced brie, then topped with blueberry sauce. Finish it with the other 1/2 of waffle on top, or serve open faced.
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I loved this. I like brie and I don’t usually seek out sweet breakfasts. I think this was a good sweet/savory balance. I  prefer it cooked/melted. It is creamy and mild but has such a distinct flavor. It gets gooey which is balanced by the crispy waffle and the sweet blueberries popped. It was perfect! I usually eat/serve the rind on the brie, but that’s personal preference.

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I kind of cheated with the blueberry sauce. I had some from Stonewall Kitchen and really wanted to use it up. I added more blueberries and just a few other ingredients to liven it all up. The blueberries and blackberries were frozen and often appear in my smoothies. Frozen fruit is best suited to be cooked or made into a sauce after being frozen. I was using up stuff all over the place!

I hadn’t cooked a special breakfast in months. It was so great to have this treat one Sunday after my event, before vacation.

Need an idea for your leftover brie? Try a cranberry, brie and turkey panini or my very favorite calzone with prosciutto, apple, and brie.

What I Ate: Baked Falafel

Falafel is one of those sneaky take out items that seems so healthy but…

they’re fried. Womp. Womp.

I make it at home somewhat regularly and bake them. It is so much easier, less messy, and healthier.
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I’ve made them from scratch and honestly don’t really think it is worth it. I use a mix, bake them on a cookie sheet for 10 minutes at 375 degree and flip once. Leave the frying to your fav Falafel King/Palace/House-Of…you won’t even miss the fried crunchy outside.

The mixes taste good and are simple. Simple as in just-add-water. In the time it takes to get these buggers toasty and cooked through your salad can be ready and waiting. Toss feta, cukes, tomatoes, and greens with some Italian/Caesar/Oil & Vinegar.
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I love this as a perfect meatless dinner or I’ve served it as an app with little pita pockets. It is an easy meal to bring somewhere since you’ll just need refrigeration and maybe the falafel can get nuked or popped in the toaster oven. This time I served it on wheat naan but tortilla wraps, pita pockets are great too.
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Try it and I won’t even have to say told-ya-so.