November 22, 2017

2017 Holiday Gift Guide: My Favorite Things

Here's another holiday gift guide of some of my favorite finds this year. I hope you'll be able to find something for all the different kinds of people in your life, including yourself!

FOR THE FOODIE
1. Silicone Muffin Liners: I have mentioned these several times on my blog because I love them so much! They are not only reusable, but they leave your muffin pan clean and your cupcakes or muffins nice and fluffy. I swear everything bakes better in these silicone molds. Also my main tip for cleaning them is to soak them with some water right after you remove your muffins. Scrub, rinse and done!
2. True Lime Shaker: I've already raved about this product on Instagram, but I can't get enough. True Lime is real crystallized lime that is amazing sprinkled on practically anything and can be substituted for real lime juice. They also have lemon, orange and drink mixes. You can usually find this on Amazon as well, but the prices seem to fluctuate more.
3. Priority Chef Knife Sharpener: I can't believe I've never owned a knife sharpener until now. I guess they've always seemed intimidating for some reason, but when I saw this style, I knew I could handle it. This sharpener works for straight and serrated knives and it's so easy to use! And for $18 it's the best deal around.
4. Flexible Plastic Cutting Boards: There's nothing worse than storing bulky, heavy cutting boards, am I right? These boards are so thin, fit great in the dishwasher and bend so you can dump your food into whatever bowl/pan you need to. I love the bright colors and also the price. You can't beat $6!

FOR THE BOOKWORM
1. Kindle Paperwhite: While I've mentioned it on the blog before, I can't recommend the Kindle Paperwhite enough. I went from reading maybe 1 or 2 books a year to 24 just this year alone. That's craziness. The fact that it's portable and you can carry thousands of books in one small device is amazing to me. The best part is it actually looks like the page of a book and it won't hurt your eyes in the dark. Oh and the no-glare screen is incredible, too. Just buy it already! ;)
*Also the best places to get free or inexpensive eBooks are through your local library, Book Bub, Goodreads Deals and Kindle First
2. Bookshelf Tees: This is a newer company and I love everything they create. I own the Library Card tee, which is such a clever design. If you or someone you know is a book lover, they will love these book-inspired tees.
3. Barnes and Noble Collectible Editions: I'm a little late to the game with these books, but aren't they amazing?! They still have so many available online and I want them all. They're all leather bound and the artwork is incredible. 
4. Pancakes! An Interactive Recipe Book: The foodie and book nerd in me are obsessed with this book. Not only is the design amazing, but the content is as well. You basically "make" pancakes by adding flour, whisking in the eggs, pouring batter and flipping the pancakes. They also have a Pizza and Tacos one that I'm excited to get for my boys for Christmas. My 3-year-old asks to read it every day. It's so fun!

FOR THE ORGANIZER
1. Brit + Co. Planner: I've always loved paper planners and Target has the cutest lineup. This one is undated so you can start using it whenever you like. It's so pretty inside and out!
2. Anker Lipstick-sized Portable Charger: We all know that phones tend to die in the worst possible places, but with this tiny portable charger, you can recharge your phone anywhere! It's so compact and they run from $15-$20. You can't argue with that price!
3. Multi-size Zipper File Bags: These may seem like organizer overkill, but I bought these recently and they've completely changed the inside of my purse. I now have one for diapers and wipes, hygiene items, my charger/Kindle and beauty items. There are so many options online, but I love the top zipper on these for easy access and that they're mesh so what's inside is a little more discreet.
4. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: While my family isn't overly messy for the most part, this book had some great tips. I didn't agree with everything the author mentioned, but I love how she goes into how to easily discard items in your home and how to only keep things you love. Her biggest piece of advice is to find a place for everything in your home. *Hence #3 

FOR THE BEAUTY GURU
1. Butter Bronzer: This bronzer has the prettiest shimmer and goes on so smoothly. And the very best part? It literally smells like coconut. You'll wanna smell your face all day long.
2. Neutrogena MoistureSmooth Color Stick: I actually received this as part of a beauty box and I fell in love with it. It really does moisturize your lips like crazy and has the prettiest tint. I own Almond Nude, which has a great color and smells/tastes amazing.
3. Maybelline SuperStay Matte Ink: While there are a million different lip inks out there, this one is a great price and it really does stay on. It has a pretty matte finish, but you can easily add some clear lip gloss for some shine, too.
4. Wet n Wild 1 Step Wonder Gel: I'm all about gel nail polish and this is a new one I've tried this year. It stays on so much longer than regular nail polish, especially on your toenails and I love this pink color.

MY WISH LIST
1. Gold Sunburst Mirror: This is something I really want in my living room or bedroom. I really like this one from Wayfair, but there are also so many others to choose from so it might be a tough decision.
2. Coleman Beach Shade: These beach shades are all the rave right now and I really want one for my family. It would be great for soccer games, on the beach or anytime to get out of the hot sun.
3. Vivere Double Hammock with Stand: This hammock has such amazing reviews online and it's only $113. I realize I wouldn't be able to use it for months, but I think the wait would be worth it. Think of all the books I could read in that thing. ;)
4. Modern Watercolor: This book was just released by one of my favorite artists and I'm so excited to get it! I bought a watercolor paint set a few years ago and I really need some kind of book to guide me. Can't wait to bust out my paints!

Well that's it! I hope this guide helps you on all of your holiday shopping adventures. :)

For more holiday gift ideas check out these past guides:

*This is not a sponsored post. All opinions are my own.

November 20, 2017

Homemade Italian Sodas

I'll be honest, I'm not much of a pop drinker. It just doesn't do anything for me and usually makes me sick. But the other day, I ordered an Italian soda from a local soda shop and I've been craving one ever since. They aren't as sugary and in my opinion, have the perfect amount of fizz.

There is something so simple and delicious about Italian sodas and the flavor options are endless! I've only used Torani syrup, but you could easily make your own simple syrup at home. These would be so fun to have at a party, too!
And if you'd like to make an Italian cream soda, simply add in some half-and-half and enjoy!

Homemade Italian Sodas
Adapted from Genius Kitchen
Makes: 1 serving
3 Tbsp. flavored Torani syrup (we’ve loved coconut and raspberry so far)
8 oz. sparkling water or club soda
crushed ice
whipped cream, optional
2 Tbsp. half-and-half, optional

1. Fill a 16 oz. glass half full with crushed ice. Add the Torani syrup and pour the sparkling water or club soda over the ice. Stir until combined. Top with whipped cream if desired.

To make it an Italian cream soda, pour half-and-half over mixed drink. Stir in just prior to drinking. Top with whipped cream if desired.

November 17, 2017

Grasshopper Poke Cake

If you're not familiar with the term "grasshopper" when it comes to desserts, it basically means the combination of mint and chocolate. Who knows why and how that term came to be, but it is one of the best combinations. It's also my husband's favorite kind of dessert so I decided to go all out and make him a decadent poke cake for his birthday this week.
This poke cake does not mess around! Not only is there the standard sweetened condensed milk poured over it to fill in the cake holes, but hot fudge sauce is added as well. Oh and might as well top it off with mint flavored whipped cream and Grasshopper cookies. I mean, why not?
This cake is so fluffy, dense and surprisingly lighter than you would imagine. For all of you chocolate/mint lovers out there, this is the cake for you!
Mmmmm.

Grasshopper Poke Cake
Adapted from Something Swanky
1 Devil’s Food cake mix + water, oil, eggs as listed on the box
1 (14.5 oz) can sweetened condensed milk
1 (11-12) oz jar hot fudge sauce
20 Keebler Grasshopper cookies (or Thin Mints), divided
1 (16 oz.) container whipped topping (I prefer Lite)
1 tsp. pure mint extract
4-5 drops green food coloring, if desired

1. According to box directions, prepare and bake the cake in a 9x13-inch baking dish. Allow to cool completely.
2. Use the bottom of a large wooden spoon to poke holes evenly across the entire cake (about 36 holes).
3. Pour the can of sweetened condensed milk evenly over the cake, trying to fill each hole.
4. If needed, heat the hot fudge sauce in a small bowl in the microwave for 30-40 seconds to soften it up.
5. Pour and spread hot fudge sauce over condensed milk. Crumble or crush half of the grasshopper cookies in a ziplock bag and sprinkle over the cake.
6. In a large bowl, whisk together whipped topping, mint extract and food coloring. Spread the whipped topping over the fudge layer with a spatula.
7. Crumble or crush the remaining grasshopper cookies and sprinkle over the whipped topping.
8. Lightly place plastic wrap over cake and refrigerate to chill for at least 4 hours (overnight is best). Cut and serve once chilled.

November 15, 2017

Slow Cooker Beef Stew

I don't know about you, but when I think of beef stew I think of pure comfort food. My mom used to make it all the time when I was younger and I LOVED it. The fall apart tender roast beef, carrots and potatoes were unreal you guys.
While I swear I'll never be able to recreate my mom's stew, this one is pretty amazing. It's so easy to throw the ingredients in your slow cooker, set it and forget it. The best part is the addition of the flour at the end that makes the broth nice and thick. It's SO GOOD you guys.
If you're looking for the perfect stew to warm you up as the days get colder then this is it! I promise you'll love it.

Slow Cooker Beef Stew
Adapted from The Recipe Critic
1 1/2-2 lbs. boneless beef, cross-rib roast, cut to 1 inch cubes
1 Tbsp. olive oil
5 medium carrots, sliced
1 lb. yukon potatoes, cut into eighths
1 small white onion, diced
3 tsp. garlic, minced
3 cups beef broth
1/2 cup tomato sauce
1 Tbsp. Worcestershire Sauce
1 Tbsp. Italian Seasoning
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup flour

1. Heat olive oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Salt and pepper beef and add to the skillet, searing on each side for 2-3 minutes. Transfer beef to the slow cooker. Add carrots, potatoes, onion and garlic.
2. Add beef broth, tomato sauce, Worcestershire, Italian seasoning and salt and pepper. Cook on low for 8-10 hours and high for 6-8 until beef and veggies are tender. (If you’re slow cooker has hot spots like mine, cook on low and knock off a couple of hours of cooking time.)
3. An hour before serving, take out 1 cup of the beef broth and whisk with 1/4 cup flour. Stir into the stew until combined.
4. Let the stew thicken and then serve hot.

November 10, 2017

Pumpkin Spice Chocolate Chip Muffins

Now why some of you may be sick of seeing pumpkin, I think you'll still want to make just one more pumpkin recipe this year. These Pumpkin Spice Chocolate Chip Muffins are so fluffy and have the perfect amount of spice.
I'm not sure I've ever seen a pumpkin recipe that used as many spices as this one, but that's the reason it's so good!
These muffins are the perfect way to use up an extra cup of pumpkin puree and the best part is your kids will love them, too! I mean what's not to love about all those chocolate chips in every bite??
I mean come on...how can you resist these? They're so good and I'm sure you'll love them, too.

Pumpkin Spice Chocolate Chip Muffins
Adapted from Rebekah Nixon
Makes 16 muffins
3 eggs
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract 
1 cup pumpkin puree
1/3 cup canola oil
1 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. each of nutmeg, allspice and pumpkin pie spice
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place 16 silicone or paper muffin liners in 2 muffin pans. Set aside.
2. With a hand-held or in a stand mixer, beat together eggs, sugars and vanilla until well combined .
3. Add in the pumpkin puree and oil. Beat until combined.
4. Next add the flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, allspice, pumpkin pie spice and salt. Stir until combined. Pour in chocolate chips and gently mix in.
5. Using a muffin scoop, spoon batter into muffin liners so they are 2/3 full.
6. Bake 25 minutes or until inserted toothpick comes out clean.
7. Remove from oven and let cool 5 minutes before placing on cooling rack.

November 8, 2017

Shredded Chicken Enfrijoladas

Before I saw this recipe online, I had never even heard of enfrijoladas. Had you? They are basically enchiladas smothered in a yummy black bean sauce. And let me tell you, the black bean sauce is everything. It's a simple mix of black beans, chipotle, broth and other spices, which creates all the flavor in this dish.
You can easily stuff these bad boys with any filling you desire, but I just love the chicken and cheese combo rolled inside of tortillas. I mean what can be better than that??
Just like with enchiladas, this dish comes together in no time and you can top it with whatever you like. So far we've tried cilantro and queso fresco on top and it's proven to be just right. I think a squirt of two of fresh lime juice would be perfect as well. Enjoy!

Shredded Chicken Enfrijoladas
Adapted from Gimme Some Oven
1 batch Chipotle Black Bean Sauce (see below)
6-8 flour tortillas
2 medium chicken breasts, cooked and shredded
2 cups shredded Mexican cheese, divided
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
Toppings: queso fresco, avocado, red onion, lime, juice, sour cream, etc.

Chipotle Black Bean Sauce
1 (15 oz.) can black beans, rinsed and drained
2 tsp. garlic, minced
1 chipotle in adobo sauce, or more if you want it spicier
1 cup chicken or vegetable stock
1/4 cup diced white onion
3/4 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 tsp. oregano
1/4 tsp. salt

1. Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor and puree until smooth. Taste and season with extra salt if needed.

TO PREPARE THE ENFRIJOLADAS
1. Heat oven to 350°F.
2. Spread 1/2 cup of the prepared black bean sauce evenly over the bottom of a 9x13-inch greased baking dish. Set aside.
3. Lay one tortilla at a time on a plate and fill with 2 Tbsp. or so of shredded chicken. Top with 1-2 Tbsp. of cheese, roll it up and place seam-side-down in the baking dish. Repeat with the remaining tortillas, chicken and cheese.
4. Pour the rest of the black bean sauce evenly over rolled tortillas and spread with pastry brush if needed. Sprinkle 1 cup of cheese over top.
5. Bake uncovered for 15 minutes.
6. Serve immediately with cilantro and your favorite toppings. 

November 6, 2017

Braided Pumpkin Bread

I posted about my Pumpkin Dinner Rolls three years ago and that was the first time I had ever had a savory pumpkin bread. It honestly changed the way I thought about pumpkin. With this braided pumpkin bread, the pumpkin is so subtle and it makes it SO fluffy. And check out that beautiful color! Isn't it pretty?
This bread is perfectly soft with an amazing taste and is so easy to make! It requires a bit of rising time, but of course that part is all hands free. It goes perfectly with soups, stews and some honey and butter slathered on. If you have a cup of leftover pumpkin puree sitting in your fridge, be sure to make this recipe right away!

Braided Pumpkin Bread
Slightly Adapted from The Stay at Home Chef
Makes 1 loaf
2½ tsp. instant yeast
2 Tbsp. warm water
1 cup pumpkin puree
1/3 cup warm milk
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 large egg
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
3 1/2-4 cups all-purpose flour (3 1/2 worked perfectly for me)
1 egg, lightly beaten

1. Dissolve the yeast into the water in a large mixing bowl or bowl of a stand mixer.
2. Add in the pumpkin, milk, butter, egg, brown sugar and salt. Mix until well combined.
Add 1/2 cup flour at a time until a nice, soft dough forms.
3. Knead the dough for 5 minutes or so until is smooth and elastic. Place in a lightly greased bowl, cover and let rise about 1 hour.
4. Divide the risen dough into thirds. Roll out each third into a long snake or rope (about 18 inches long). Lay the 3 ropes next to each other on a lightly greased baking sheet. On one end of the rope, pinch the 3 strands together and begin to braid. When you've braided the entire loaf, pinch the remaining ends together.
5. Cover and let rise another 30 minutes. Brush the braided dough with the lightly beaten egg.
6. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes until golden brown.