2 years

wow, where does the time go?! 2 years ago i started sharing recipes with you. 2 years of butter, chocolate, pumpkin, yum, and balance - you have to throw in some healthy too, right?!! 2 years of me squatting on my tiny balcony trying to get the perfect photo to show off the goodness coming from my kitchen for you.

photo by my amazing friend heather talbert

a lot has happened in 2 years. i moved to chicago, i got a new job, i got an amazing little kitten and named her after one of my favorite restaurants in chicago - sable, i got engaged, i got another new job, i was featured on the huffington post food blog and lots of other amazing food websites, and i've shared 84 recipes and stories with you guys. 

thanks for 2 years of comments, likes, and for just stopping by. thanks for 2 years of you sharing this adventure with me. i'm so excited to share next year with you too. hopefully lots of years after that too. 


i like you a latke!

I grew up in a mixed faith household. Which makes this time of year extra amazing, especially where food is concerned. Two years ago I made it a mission of mine to learn how to make a good traditional latke. 

I turned to my future mother in law first to get all of her tips, tricks, and secrets. It turns out her method is much easier than I anticipated. Abbey's secret to a good latke is vegsal (a salt like spice that includes dried herbs) and seltzer (to make them fluffy). 

After my lesson with Abbey, I stumbled upon a second lesson from my amazing Aunt Aynnie. I don't know why it never occurred to me to ask my Dad's sister to share their Jewish cooking tips and tricks. Her method was a little different from Abbeys and were equally delicious.

My recipe involves a combination of things from both women with some of my own tricks sprinkled in. I find potatoes to be pretty bland. I think it's really important to add as much flavor as possible into the mixture before cooking. Vegsal is nice but I prefer good ole sea salt, garlic powder and onion powder. No need to buy obscure seasoning. Just use the staples! 

I also learned that you don't need a vat of oil to fry these babies up. ½ -1 inch in the bottom of a pan is all that's necessary. I think they're best hot off the fryer but if you want to eat them together, a 250º F oven is your best friend. Finish with a dollop of roasted applesauce and sour cream (greek yogurt if you're being healthy like my Aunt Aynnie) and you've got yourself the perfect traditional latke. If you're a shiksha like me, you might even dare to use ketchup with your latkes. A sin I know, but really they're glorified hashbrown patties and ketchup was made for fried potatoes. Too far? 

I hope you have an amazing holiday, whatever you celebrate. 

yields about 12 latkes

4 russet potatoes
1 large onion
1 egg
½ TBSP salt
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp garlic powder
¼ c. matzoh meal
¼ c. seltzer
1 - 2 cups of canola oil

Preheat oven to 250º F. Peel potatoes and cut in half hot dog style (vertically). Peel and cut the onion into quarters. With the small shred attachment on your food processor, alternate shredding 7 of the potato halves with the 4 onion chunks (about 5 cups). Pull out any of the large potato or onion chunks and put to the side. Dump the shredded mixture into a large bowl. Place the last half of the potato and any of the larger chunks into the food processor fitted with the standard blade this time. Pulse it a few times until you get small coarse chunks. Dump into the bowl and add in the egg, salt, onion + garlic powder. Give it a good mix, breaking the yolk of the egg and incorporating everything. Then add in your matzoh meal and seltzer water. Top the mixture with saran wrap directly on the mixture. Let it sit in the refrigerator for 30 - 40 minutes. It's ok if the potatoes turn a little brown. The plastic will help prevent it from oxidizing too much and you're going to be frying it anyway so it's not noticable. Letting the mixture rest lets some of the juices pull out of the potato and you can skip the annoying towel wringing process.

In a large skillet (use a non-stick pan if you don't have a high quality stainless steel pan or  cast iron skillet), put enough oil to make about a half inch in the bottom of the pan. Heat over medium heat until the oil is hot and ready. You can test the oil by putting a little pinch of salt into the oil. When it sizzles, it's ready for latke making! In a slotted spoon, place about a ¼ c. of the potato mixture, let as much of the liquid drain away and gently plop it into the oil and then lightly pat the top to flatten it out. Cook 4 latkes at a time, you want to make sure you don't over crowd the pan. If you do, it will drop the temperature of the oil too low and they'll stick and not cook through or brown properly. Flip when the bottoms are golden brown about 5 minutes each side. I find using a pair of tongs with the spatula helps prevent splattering when you flip them. 

You may need to adjust the temperature if the latkes are browning too fast or too slow. You want them to cook long enough that the potato in the middle cooks through and the outside doesn't overcook. When the latkes are done, place them on a few layers of paper towels (about 2-3) and give them a tiny dusting of salt. You can keep them in a warm oven while the rest of the latkes cook. 

Serve with sour cream, roasted applesauce and a small sprinkling of chives or chopped parsley for a pop of color. 

improv style:
there are so many amazing variation ideas for these. you can chop up fresh herbs and add it to your batter. green onions or rosemary would be fantastic. i think russet potatoes make the best latkes because of their starch content but really you could use any potato. sweet potatoes would be such a fun twist with a pinch of cinnamon or star anise instead of garlic and onion powder!

if you don't have matzoh meal, you could use bread crumbs or even a sprinkle of flour instead. this just helps bind them together a little better and come on, what's more jewish than matzoh?! 

if you don't have a food processor, just use a regular cheese grater. everyone has a different preference on how they like their latkes. i like the small grate but if you like larger or smaller potato chunks, adjust accordingly. it will still turn out the same.

if you're feeling really sinful, consider frying them in a combo of bacon fat and canola oil. i know it's not kosher and i know it's technically a sin but if you're less traditional, this would add a TON of amazing flavor. if i haven't lost you yet but you're still appalled by my bacon suggestion, schmaltz (chicken fat) would be another great way to add flavor to your frying oil. 


t-day leftover idea

Thanksgiving is two days away and I can almost, ALMOST taste it! While I know most of you are probably thinking/stressing about, well hopefully not stressing too much over cooking on the big day, I wanted to share an idea with you for what to do with all those leftovers!

Have some leftover turkey and can't stand the thought of ANOTHER sandwich? Because lets be real, sometimes you can only go 3 days eating the same thing over and over again. Have a little leftover red wine? Veggies? Mashed potatoes? Seriously, I came up with a solution to transform the leftovers into the perfect comfort food dish with a twist!

Red wine turkey pot pies are so easy, completely improv-able, and depending on if you have leftover mashed potatoes, might just become red wine turkey shepard's pie! See where I'm getting at here? I made this recipe with what I had on hand. You should do the same and transform your thanksgiving leftovers into a comforting dish perfect for winter!

red wine turkey pot pie
yields 4 individual pot pies

4 TBSP. butter
1 onion, diced
2 carrots, peeled + cut into rounds
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
4 TBSP flour
1 ½ c. red wine (I used cabernet)
½ c. chicken stock
1 TBSP fresh thyme leaves
salt + pepper
2 c. turkey, cubed or shredded into bite sized pieces
1 c. frozen peas
1 sheet puff pastry
1 egg

Preheat oven to 400º F. In a medium pot over medium high heat, melt butter. Add in onions and carrots and cook until slightly softened. Add in your garlic and cook for an additional minute. Dump in your flour and give it a good stir until it becomes a paste attached to your veggies. You're looking for the flour to absorb the butter and not be white anymore. Cook for about a minute and add in your red wine. Whisk until the wine and veggie mixture has no lumps from the roux (your flour + fat mixture). Add in your chicken stock, thyme, and salt + pepper to taste. Stir frequently until it gets nice and thick. Add in your turkey, frozen peas and let sit for a few minutes with the heat off while you prepare your puff pastry. 

Ladle the pot pie filling into your ramekin's. Cut circles (or whatever shape you prefer) out of your puff pastry and press against the edge to create a seal. Cut a few slits into the top of the pastry to let the air vent (like you would with pies) and brush the tops of the puff pastry with your egg (just scramble it up). Top with some flaky sea salt and pepper and pop it into the oven for 15 minutes or so. The top will be golden brown and the inside will be bubbly. Let rest for about 10 minutes before serving.

improv style:
use whatever wine you have/like to drink. i prefer bold red's so that's what i used. if you don't like red wine, you could substitute it for milk or white wine. actually, if you don't like red wine, i would do  1 ½ c. milk and then ½ c. white wine. use all milk if you're not down with the hootch.

i used peas, onions and carrots because i like them and had them on hand. if you have leftover green beans, shallots, pearl onions, etc… use them up! i like thyme but rosemary would be a great substitution. puff pastry is good but any biscuit dough would do. you could even top with leftover mashed potatoes. spruce them up with some shredded gruyere cheese or parmesan. 

this is such an easy dish to improv and a great way to use up those holiday leftovers!


pumpkin bourbon cheesecake

Yikes! It's already Friday and I had full intentions of sharing this with you earlier. I guess, as usual, the week got away from me. Good news is only 3 more work days until I get to stuff myself silly and celebrate gluttony with the Weiner's!

This recipe is the second tradition I've brought to my family. It's a Pumpkin Bourbon, wait for it…  Cheesecake with Pecan Crust. It's light and airy, rich and nutty all at the same time. A subtle kick from Bourbon that's barley detected combined with creamy pumpkin makes for the perfect twist to a thanksgiving classic, pumpkin pie. We usually make both but I'm telling you, if you're looking for something different or you want to try something new, you won't be disappointed! 

I stumbled upon the recipe about 9 years ago from America's Test Kitchen. I've tweaked one thing (substituting gram crackers for panko) but other than that, I've followed it to a T. The pumpkin requires a little more work than your typical cheesecake because you have to drain if of the extra moisture. Trust me, it's still really easy to make and totally worth it! The cheesecake can be made up to 3 days in advance which is a huge bonus for Thanksgiving prep work!

I hope you all have an amazing Turkey Day shared with loved ones. A little tip I've learned over the years… a dress or skirt, preferably a stretchy one, allows for maximum turkey intake. For all the dudes, I hope you own elastic waist pants. That or just put on a dress too. Why not?! Happy t-day eating!!

pumpkin bourbon cheesecake + pecan crust
slightly adapted from America's Test Kitchen
yields 1 - 9" cheesecake (about 12 - 16 servings)

for the crust:
1¼ c. pecans
½ c. panko bread crumbs
¼ c. sugar
2 TBSP. flour
½ t. ground cinnamon
¼ t. ground cloves
¼ t. ground ginger
¼ t. salt
5 T. melted butter

for the filling:
1 c. sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
½ tsp. ground ginger
¼ tsp. ground cloves
¼ tsp. fresh ground nutmeg
¼ tsp. ground all spice
½ tsp. salt
1 - 15 oz can of pumpkin
24 oz ( 3 - 8 oz packages - or - 1.5 lbs) cream cheese, room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla extract
5 eggs, room temperature
1 c. heavy cream
¼ c. bourbon

For the crust:
Preheat oven to 375º F. Lightly toast your nuts in a pan on the stovetop or in an oven. Be careful not to burn your nuts! Set them aside and let them cool. Once cooled, place in a food processor and pulse until they're a semi-fine powder - only technical terms here :). Add panko, sugar, flour, spices, and salt - give it a few pulses until combined. Pour the melted butter over the mixture and dump in a 9" springform pan, lined with parchment paper on the bottom. Press the mixture into an even layer that comes half way up the side of the dish.  Bake for 10 minutes. Note the crust won't be fully cooked, that's ok. It will finish cooking once you place the filling in. Turn your oven down to 325º F this is the temperature your cheesecake will bake at. 

For the filling:
Combine sugar, spices and salt in a small bowl and set it aside. To dry the pumpkin, line a baking sheet with 3 layers of paper towels. Spread the pumpkin in an even layer. Cover the pumpkin with another 3 layers of paper towels and press down on the paper towel to absorb as much of the moisture as possible. Peel back the paper towels, grab the bottom layer of paper towel and fold it over the pumpkin (basically you're folding the pumpkin over itself to pile it up easier). Peel back the paper towel, repeat and then place pumpkin onto the tray. Throw away the paper towels. 

In a large pot, bring 4 quarts of water to a simmer. Let the water heat up while you make the mixture. This will be for a water bath to ensure even cooking/cooling.

In a large bowl (or stand mixer if you have one), beat cream cheese at medium speed until creamy and smooth. Scrape sides of bowl and add the sugar in at a time. This will let the sugar to dissolve a bit and makes for a smoother batter. Add pumpkin and vanilla extract and beat at medium speed until combined. Add 3 eggs and mix until incorporated. Add the last 2 eggs and beat again until incorporated. Be careful not to over mix as this can create cracks on top of your cheesecake! Finally, add in your heavy cream and bourbon and beat until combined (about a minute). 

Wrap your springform pan with semi-cooked crust in 3 layers of aluminum foil. This will prevent the water bath from getting into your cheesecake. Place springform pan in a large roasting pan. Pour filling into the pan and smooth the surface. Place in the oven and carefully pour the warm water into the roasting pan. Bake until the center of the cake is slightly wobbly when the pan is shaken about 90 minutes (the center of the cake will register to 145º F). 

When cake is done, set roasting pan on a cookie sheet and let it cool until the water is warm to the touch. Remove cheesecake from roasting pan, discard foil and continue to cool it on a cookie rack until it reaches room temperature (about 3 hours). This is another important step in preventing cracks! Once cooled, cover with saran wrap and place in the refrigerator at least 3 hours, ideally overnight. 

Serve with fresh whipped cream or even bourbon spiked whipped cream! You know, in the holiday spirit…

improv style:
you can use your favorite type of crust here. i'm not a fan of gram cracker which is why i did panko but you could do vanilla wafers, your favorite nut, chocolate cookies, gram crackers… you get the idea.

pumpkin and bourbon were made for each other but you can totally leave the booze out. just add more heavy cream. if you don't have one or two of the spices listed below, you can leave them out. do not substitute fresh ginger for the ground… different flavors. 

you'll notice that my cheesecake had a crack in the top. i don't have a roasting pan or any pan large enough to do a water bath. i omitted this step and just baked it in the oven. yes i got a few cracks but i just covered it up with whipped cream. crisis averted! you'll also notice i missed some of the crust pulling that first slice out. hey, it happens! just scoop it up and put it underneath, no one will notice! all of the other slices are much easier once you get that first one out!

some really fun garnishes for this would be candied or fried sage, a little leaf shaped cookie, or even some pecan brittle. omg, how gorgeous would that be stuck in a wedge of whipped cream?! i might have to do that next year instead of just a little pecan!!



In my family, food is our religion. Needless to say, Thanksgiving is a big deal for us. My mom usually makes 3 types of stuffing, 4 types of cranberry sauce, 2 - 3 turkeys (depending on how many people come that year), endless side dishes and multiple pies - at least 3 varieties and usually more than one of each. Cocktails and wine are plentiful and it's always a great time. I grew up in the kitchen. Holiday meals like Thanksgiving dinner were like going to the fair… excitement, energy, tons of chaos and lots of good, sinful food. It's quite the production in the Aibinder household. 

It's been 3 years since I've been home for Thanksgiving and sadly, it looks like it will be another 2-3 years before I can do it again. Luckily, I've got great family here in Chicago to celebrate with and they do a great spread too. This year I'm going to NY to celebrate Turkey Day with my boyfriend's family. I'm really excited to share their traditions with them and see how they do Thanksgiving. They're a loud, crazy bunch (in the best possible way) and I'm sure it will be nothing short of a good time. 

Over the years, I've added two "must make" dishes to our family's Thanksgiving spread - Spinach, Artichoke + Brie stuffing and a Pumpkin Bourbon Cheesecake with Pecan Crust. Both of which I'll be sharing with you. Lets start with the stuffing. It's like spinach & artichoke dip meets bread pudding dolloped with little chunks of melty brie. Yes I realize that it should be technically called dressing since it's not baked in the bird but i like stuffing - it sounds more classic. This dish is the perfect "stuffing" for your vegetarian guests (make sure you sub the chix stock for veggie stock) and it's just plain delicious. 

I don't know why but I've never been a stuffing fan. When I saw Emeril Lagasse make this dish on the Food Network, I knew I had to try it. Over the years I've tweaked the recipe slightly (mostly just quantity changes of certain ingredients). This dish is pretty easy to improv too! I usually do all of my prep work a night or two before I need to bake it to make assembly of this dish quick and painless. Anything you can do to spare you time on the big day comes in handy. See my improv suggestions below on what to do/make ahead of time. This recipe makes a good amount of bread pudding. If your family is like mine and takes a little of everything, it will easily feed a crowd of 12 - 14. Double it up if you want to serve more people. 

What's on your absolute "must make" list for Thanksgiving? 

spinach, artichoke + brie stuffing
adapted from emeril lagasse
yields 6 generous servings

8 c. cubed (1-inch) day old bread - I used an italian loaf 
1 TBSP butter
1 lb fresh spinach, washed (1 ½ c. cooked, drained and roughly chopped)
¼ cup olive oil
1 large onion chopped
1 TBSP chopped garlic
1 TBSP Italian seasoning
2  tsp salt
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 - 9 oz bags frozen artichoke hearts (defrosted and drained)

1 egg
¾ c. heavy cream
1 c. chicken stock
¼ c. white wine
1 TBSP lemon juice
½ c. freshly grated Parmesan
¼ c. fresh parsley, finely chopped
1 pound Brie, rind removed and cut into ½ - inch cubes

(it all starts here... the size loaf I used)

The day/night before making, cut bread into cubes and let sit out so that it becomes stale. If your bread is already a few days old, you can skip this step and just cut bread into 1" cubes. If your bread is fresh and you need to make it today, cut the cubes and put it in a 200º F oven for 10 - 15 minutes to dry out the bread a little bit.

Preheat oven to 350º F. Grease a 9x9 baking dish with butter (olive oil or non-stick spray works too). Bring a large pot of water to a gentle boil and cook spinach until wilts. About 30 sec - 1 min. Drain and rinse with cold water. Once cool, squeeze all of the water out of the spinach and give it a rough chop. Note this step can be done 1 - 3 days in advance to help prep for a big meal.

Heat 1 TBSP of olive oil in a large saute pan over medium high heat. Add the onions and cook until translucent and golden brown. Add in the garlic, italian seasoning, salt + pepper and cook for 2 minutes. Then add in your spinach and artichoke hearts and continue cooking a few more minutes until ingredients are combined. Remove the pan from the heat and let it sit and cool.

In a large bowl, combine the eggs, cream, chicken stock, wine, lemon juice, ¼ c. of the parmesan cheese and parsley. This can be done the day/night before you want to make the stuffing (another small, but good time saver. plus it free's up the dishes). Add in your cooled veggie mixture and stir until it's combined. Add the bread cubes to your bowl and gently mix until all of the cubes are coated in the liquid. Toss in your brie chunks, pour into your baking dish and let the mixture sit for 20 - 30 minutes, and up to a few hours before you bake it. This way all of the liquid will be absorbed into the bread before you bake it. Pop it into the oven for about 60 minutes until it's golden brown on top and the egg mixture has fully cooked. 

improv style:
thanksgiving is a chaotic time. make it easier on yourself by prepping your spinach a few days before you make the stuffing. if you're not going to make it ahead of time, save a dish and cook the spinach in the sauté pan once the onions are translucent. basically you need to get them wilted so whatever way is easiest for you. don't have fresh spinach or enough fresh spinach? that's ok. you can use frozen, just make sure you drain all of the liquid once it's defrosted. one year i bought only half the amount of fresh spinach i needed. i did half frozen half fresh and it still turned out great.

can't find frozen artichoke hearts? just use 2 cans instead. i find the frozen to be a little better in flavor and texture but really it doesn't make or break the dish. use what you can find! not a fan of brie? you can use mozzarella or leave the cheese out!

to save more time, the wet ingredients can be assembled the day before to save you time and dishes. if you make the entire veggie mixture before, you can combine the liquid with the spinach + artichoke mixture but it will turn your liquid a greenish color. however you prefer to do it, will work!

cooking temperature. 350º F is ideal but you can get away with a range of 325º - 400º.  you have to adjust your cooking time accordingly but the bread pudding is more forgiving with a different temperature than your turkey is. if you're cooking at a higher temp, cover it with foil the first half of the baking time and reduce the time by 15 - 20 minutes. if you're cooking at a lower temp, make sure you increase the cooking time (most likely 15 - 20 minutes more). 

on to improv'ing the dish… mushrooms would be a fantastic addition to the mix. if you're not a fan of spinach or artichokes you can leave one of them out. you can use any kind of bread you like… white, wheat, french, italian, brioche, you get the point. if you want to leave the wine out, just use chicken stock or veggie stock (if making it for true vegetarians). adding in a little truffle oil would be nice. don't have lemon? leave it out, it will still taste good. 


pumpkin cheese ball

I'm obsessed with fall and halloween. Have I made that clear yet?! Here's an easy and quick appetizer idea for your halloween spread! I was inspired by this blog post I found via pintrest. Such a fun idea! She's got a ton of great ideas, BTW. The only problem was in my mind, the cheese to cracker ratio was way out of proportion. 

There's not really a recipe here. I used my favorite sharp cheddar cheese spread and rolled it into a ball. With the back of a butter knife, I made the lines down the pumpkin. I inserted a giant pretzel rod and some cilantro (that's what I had on hand) and served it with pretzel crisps (again, that's what I had on hand). Make sure you insert the stem right before you want to serve it. Otherwise, it will get soggy. You can make the mold a few days before your party. I love things that can be done beforehand!

improv style:
use your favorite cheese spread…. smoked, with bacon bits and chives, pimento cheese, even a brie round, goat cheese  or white cheddar spread to mock a white pumpkin would be super chic. you can even add your own fresh herbs and fixins (think salami chunks or bacon, hello) to spice it up. 

for the stem and leaves you can use pretzels, celery sticks, a bell pepper stem, or green onion. For leaves you can use anything leafy… think spinach, herbs (cilantro, flat leaf parsley), celery leaves, kale, the list goes on…

if you want to get extra halloween-y, you could put cut veggies to make it look like a jack-o-lantern. about a month after i saw the food bloggers post, i saw this idea on food network magazine. they took it up a level and served it with blue (looked black) tortilla chips and rolled the cheese ball in nacho doritos. hello! such a great idea and it was orange and black! very festive!

i would serve with your favorite crackers, bread slices, pretzels, or even chips! anything you like cheese on! serving it on a chalkboard platter would be great way to show the halloween theme too! you can roll the bottom of the cheese in chopped or slivered nuts. 

what are you going to be for halloween this year? and more importantly, what are you going to make to nosh on for the big day?! 


carved peppers for halloween

Remember that Halloween idea I mentioned in yesterday's post?! In the spirit of Halloween, my favorite holiday, I carved some orange bell peppers to look like pumpkins! 

This is such a fun idea and a great way to get kids excited about eating healthy food! You could really stuff them with anything (sloppy joe meat, spaghetti, sausage stuffing, etc...)  but I did an improv version of yesterday's post with corn, black beans and chicken. 

I saw this carved bell pepper idea last year on spa bettie and had to share the idea with you guys. She did it with a carrot ginger quinoa dish. 

Step 1: cut the top off like you would a pumpkin

Step 2: scrape out the seeds and membrane

Step 3: carve your face *carefully* with a kinfe. even better if you have mini serrated pumpkin carving knives

Step 4: stuff with desired filling

You can bake these peppers depending on the filling but they won't hold their shape quite as well. I liked the crunch of the fresh veggie in contrast to the softer quinoa filling. If I were going to make them again, I'd use red or black quinoa to get more of a halloween feel. White was what I had on hand so I just went with it!

Happy Halloween! 


far from boring health food

I'm all about trying to make healthy choices when it comes to eating. Yes, you have to live and eat well but you also have to treat your body good. It's the only one you get. It's all about balance for me. One of my favorite lunch time restaurants is called protein bar. They have an amazing selection of wraps, salads and my personal favorite, quinoa bowls. Their prices are pretty steep so I've started making my own versions to bring into work. 

This is health in a bowl that tastes nothing like "health". Seriously, I'm very particular about what types of healthy food I'll eat. I have to trick my butter loving, fatty taste buds into the good for me foods. This quinoa bowl is super filling, flavorful and taste bud approved. 

Tomorrow I'll even show you how to turn this into a fun halloween themed lunch or side dish! Kids will go crazy for it. Or, if you're a halloween loving adult like me. Seriously, it's my favorite holiday! That or Thanksgiving. Pretty much anything involving food, orange, fall and dressing up!

mexican black bean quinoa bowl
inspired by protein bar

2 c. cooked red quinoa
1 - 15oz can of black beans drained & rinsed
4 oz can diced green chiles
½ c. salsa verde
1 TSP ground cumin
½ c. chopped tomatoes
2 TBSP shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1 avocado diced
salt + pepper to taste
lime wedges to garnish

In a medium sauce pan, cook beans, green chiles, salsa and cumin over medium heat until warmed, about 5 minutes. Add in cooked quinoa and heat through. At the last minute, add in tomatoes and diced avocado. Stir, plate and top with shredded cheese and a lime wedge. 

improv style:
there are a MILLION ways you can improvise this dish! lets talk types of quinoa… there's white which is most common, red and black. I like the contrast that the red quinoa gives to the dish color wise. taste and texture are almost the same. white quinoa is a little more mushy but barley. any type you choose will be great! 

lets talk veggies. corn, jalapenos, diced peppers, peas, carrots, green onions, raw onion (preferably red or white), cilantro, and many many other ingredients would make great additions or substitutions to the dish. 

i love salsa verde but you could use any salsa here. additionally, chipotle would be fantastic if you're into smokey subtle heat. tabasco or your favorite mexican hot sauce would be delish too! also, no salsa? not to worry. you can use your favorite taco, fajita, or mexican seasoning mix and add a teeny bit of water to get it coated (try 1 TBSP of liquid at a time). 

i've made this with meat in the past too. chicken, steak, even marinated shrimp would work well. just make sure you season your meat!  it makes a great side but when you add in meat, it's a super hearty dinner or lunch in a bowl!

you can leave the cheese or avocado out but i think they make the dish. not into cheddar? chihuahua cheese or queso fresco would be delish. also, if you're feeling like a dollop of sour cream or greek yogurt, that would be fantastic too! this dish is pretty hard to mess up!

** note these images are missing avocado. mine went bad before i could shoot the recipe but i still prefer the dish with which is why i included it as an ingredient in the recipe!


bahn meatloaf sliders

So remember that post from a few days back where I told you about not being a fan of meatloaf… well, turns out, leftovers of that amazing bahn meatloaf make for REALLY good slider sandwiches. Remember that sauce you saved for later? Yep, slather some of that on a sweet hawaiian roll, a slice or two of your leftover loaf and top with your extra veggies. Hot or cold, these things are killer! 

bahn meatloaf sliders
adapted from bon appetit

leftover bahn meatloaf slices
hawaiian sweet rolls
leftover hoisin glaze
leftover matchstick veggies (carrots, cucumber, radish, cilantro)

you know how to make a slider. assemble and be happy!

improv style:

you can add all sorts of fun things to the sandwiches. how about some onion strings if you ate up all your fresh veggies? your favorite asian sauce would be great if you didn't have leftover glaze (think siracha, hoisin, maybe even a bit of dark soy mixed with ketchup).

no sweet hawaiin rolls? brioche, challah, plain white bread, whole wheat buns, pretty much your favorite chewy bread will do. trying to be healthy? make the meatloaf with ground chicken or turkey breast and do an open face sandwich on whole grain bread. your options are endless!


comfort with a twist

My man likes meatloaf. I hate meatloaf. I don't know why, I'm just not that into it. Even a "good" meatloaf is still just meh to me. I've made it my mission to find a recipe that gives Matt what he loves without making me curl my nose. Selfish, right?! I have to say, this recipe has me reconsidering this whole meatloaf thing!  With a little help from Bon Appetit, I've made a meatloaf we both enjoy!

No, it's not your traditional meatloaf, but it is technically a loaf made of meat so I'm going to call it a win. Matt LOVES bahn mi sandwiches and when I saw the hoisin-glazed mealoaf sandwhiches in their March issue, I knew I had to try it. Just enough Asian infusion to take a regular hunk of meat and make it dreamy. It's bursting with flavor and the fresh, crunchy veggies on top combined with the sweet and tangy glaze make this recipe memorable. While meatloaf (even bahn meatloaf) isn't ever going to be a meal that I could eat every day of the week, I'll consider this dish a win! 

bahn meatloaf
adapted from bon appetit

for the loaf:
1 lb ground pork
1 lb ground beef
2 c. bread cubes (I used white bread finely diced)
½ c. milk
1 tsp. ground star anise (was about 3 whole, ground up)
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. onion powder
1 TBSP olive oil
2 carrots finely shredded
1 celery stalks finely diced
1 bunch of green onions diced, including dark green parts
7 garlic cloves finely chopped
¼" of ginger minced
2 eggs
2 TBSP. hoisin sauce
salt + pepper to taste

for the glaze:
¼ c. hoisin sauce
2 TBSP ketchup
1 TBSP brown sugar
1 TBSP siracha
1 TBSP rice wine vinegar
1 TBSP soy sauce

for the salad:
1 c. matchstick sliced carrots
1 c. matchstick sliced radishes
1 c. matchstick sliced cucumber
½ c. chopped cilantro

Preheat oven to 375º F. Line a medium baking sheet with parchment paper or tin foil and set aside.

In a skillet, drizzle with olive oil and cook carrots and celery until they start to soften. Add in green onions and garlic and cook 2-3 minutes more until softened and fragrant. Let cool in pan. In a small bowl, combine bread cubes and milk and let the bread absorb the liquid. In a large bowl, combine spices and eggs and stir until combined. Add cooled vegetable mixture and bread slices in with the egg mixture and stir. Add in your beef and pork and work together with your hands until well combined. Dump mixture onto baking sheet and form into a loaf shape. In this case, I made 6 mini loaves - do what you prefer.

In a small bowl, combine glaze ingredients and top a few spoonfuls over your loaf. Put remaining sauce in the refrigerator (you'll want it for leftovers or if your man insists on over saucing his slices). Bake for 40- 45 minutes if doing mini loaves or 1 hr 20 minutes for 1 loaf. It should read 165º F internally when inserted in the center of the meatloaf. All ovens and loaf sizes will cook slightly differently. Temperature never lies! Let the meatloaf rest for 10 minutes before slicing and serving. Top with fresh veggie salad. I like to serve it with a side of cilantro rice as well. 

note: this recipe can be made 1 - 2 days in advance and kept in a sealed container in the refrigerator before baking. it also freezes really well. 

improv style:

beef, pork, turkey or chicken. pick your  meat or your combo of meat. just make sure you have 2lbs. 

sweet challah, brioche or hawaiian bread would be a great substitution for white bread cubes. you can also use whole wheat if you like but i find it's a bit drier. use whatever kind of milk or cream you have on hand. i used non-fat. 

star anise?! it's a common asian spice that has anise like qualities. i hate licorice but this spice adds something special to the mix. if you don't have it and don't want to buy it you can substitute for chinese five spice. a hint of cinnamon might be nice here if you're into that sort of thing. lots and lots of fresh garlic makes this delish. i recommend you stick to it. if you don't have fresh ginger, you can substitue for 2 tsp. of ground ginger. i like to think fresh makes a difference though. 

i use carrots and celery because i like the added veggies. if you don't have one or the other on hand, leave it out. you can also add in your favorite veggies like bell peppers and maybe even broccoli chunks. 

for the glaze you can choose your own adventure. keep it sweet or make it spicy. this recipe is right in the middle. matt's not a big fan of spicy so i keep it on the milder side for him. you can adjust the measurements here very easily. this one isn't science, just yummy sauciness. 


apple cake

My favorite time of year is upon us! Fall arrived in Chicago over night last week. It's been amazing. Crisp, cool air with a kiss of sunshine. I love breaking out my sweaters, boots + scarves! I can't believe how fast the Summer flew by. 

September came and went too. Seriously, where did the month go?! I've been crazy busy at work and haven't had a chance to post, sorry!  I feel like I've been saying that to you a lot lately and I'm sorry for that, too!

Will you forgive me if I share a super simple, awesome apple cake? Imagine sticky toffee pudding but with apples and pecans. Top that with a butter sauce (yes, only my mother would come up with something as awesome as a butter sauce) and you've got yourself an amazing fall dessert. And it has apples in it. Fruit makes it a health food, right?! I kid, I kid. 

This cake comes together really quickly once you've peeled and cut your apples. It's a super funky batter in the sense that it's mostly apples with very little cake. Don't panic, it will all be fine! It turns a deep molasses color when it bakes and it smells like fall. It doesn't get better than this for a crisp night. Well, unless it's pumpkin something. Seriously pumpkin may be the best part of fall. Not to worry, there will be lots of pumpkin posts soon. But this apple cake is pretty fantastic. Have I made that clear? 

mamma's apple cake + butter sauce

for the cake:
2 C. flour
2 C. sugar (more or less depending on taste and your apples)
2 t. baking soda
½ t. salt
½ t. nutmeg
½ t. cinnamon
4 C. cubed granny smith apples (5 medium sized apples for me)
½ c. melted butter
2 eggs, beaten
½ C chopped pecans (optional)

for the butter sauce:
¼ C. butter
½ T flour
2/3 C. sugar
½ C. cream
1 tsp vanilla extract

to make the cake:
Preheat oven to 375º.  Peel and chop your apples into bite sized chunks. Really this just depends on your preference but I like between a ¼ inch and ½ inch cube. In a medium sized bowl, combine apple cubes, melted butter, eggs, & pecans. In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, nutmeg + cinnamon. Stir with a whisk until combined. Add in your wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until combined. Pour into an un-greased 9x12 baking dish and spread evenly (I used parchment paper so I could pull the cake out and make perfect squares - it's really not necessary unless perfect presentation is important to you). Bake at 375º for about 45 minutes until a deep molasses color. 

this is what the batter will look like:

and this is what it will look like when it's done:

to make the butter sauce:
Melt butter, add flour then other ingredients and heat until thick. Add in 1 tsp vanilla and pour over the top of each piece just before serving. This sauce re-heats well. 

improv style:
you can use your favorite baking apple in this recipe - honeycrisp would be fantastic! just avoid the super mealy apples like red & golden delicious.

add in some chopped dates in addition to the nuts. don't like nuts? leave them out! not a fan of pecans? use your favorite! walnuts or almond slivers would be delicious here. 

butter sauce make you cringe? weird. but that's cool. a bourbon caramel sauce would be fantastical! or a brown sugar glaze would work too. really the butter sauce is like a caramel that hasn't been caramelized fully yet. it's pretty amazing.