Macaron Class {recap and supply list}

Y'all, the first cooking class of 2018 hosted by CounterspaceBR was a SUCCESS! I opened up my mostly renovated kitchen to five classmates and our instructor, Ruby Bloch of Salt & Light Pastry Co. We walked through Ruby's preferred method and perfected recipe for macaron... She instructed us step by step in the process and everyone had the chance to ask questions and take notes along the way!

Ruby Piping

A highlight for me was Ruby's detail in textures to look for, consistency clues, and the stories and tips of figuring out different recipes while on her culinary journey!

We will definitely plan to host Ruby again SOON! In the meanwhile, here are some of the tools we used for the class along with some tips on WHY they are important!

First: a scale! This is the one we used in class. It is a digital scale with the ability to go back and forth between measuring units and a very reliable tare feature! Precise measurement is key in preparing this delicate dessert!

Candy Thermometer is next. This is something that I use for a bunch of different treats, including marshmallows! I use this polder version. But Ruby likes the Taylor brand with a digital read! I might be adding that one to my collection!! A candy thermometer is important so that you have the right temperature of heated sugar to make a proper meringue. 

Meringue

Another important factor in the baking, is a sturdy flat sheet pan. I have 6 of the Nordic Ware half sheet pans and could probably add another half dozen to my collection for good measure :) Having a flat surface ensures the macaron will cook evenly and not end up "tilted."

Ruby

In that vein... it's also important to have super flat parchment paper. I accidentally bought full sheet pan size, but those are easy enough to cut in half OR you can purchase half sheet pan size here! It comes with 200 sheets, so maybe a good investment to split with another baking buddy!

Piping bags are also on the list. We used 18" disposable bags. I use these for much much more than just piping macaron, and these are easy to find at local craft supply stores (Michael's or Hobby Lobby). 

spatula

And for the piping bag... a piping tip! We used the Ateco 806 tip.  Wilton has a comparable tip as well! This tip is 1/2" in diameter and allows for proper control in piping and size to get uniform macaron.

The best part about all of the equipment we discussed is that NONE of the items are macaron specific, and most all of them will be very useful if you are looking to learn and explore baking a bit more! For me, purchasing the scale and thermometer opened up a pandora's box of possibility!!

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Oh Hey! Remember Me?!

Y'all, it's been a minute. And by minute, I mean a really long time... ya know, the way the kids use "minute" these days. 

I'll tell you about some things that have happened since I've last opened up this here blog:

We have been to Disney World THREE times.

I have renovated my kitchen.

We have potty trained AND regressed.

I've earned A-List status on Southwest again (technically I earn it upon completion of my work trip this week).

I have attended some weddings and some funerals.

I've been to Boston, Houston, DC, San Francisco, Orlando, LA

There has been a massive flood... again.

I low-key started a side business selling cookies and teaching cooking classes.

AND I've use my instant pot successfully a whole bunch of times. 

So, how have Y'ALL been? I'm really excited about getting back on this blogging train. Specifically, I'm excited to merge what I'm doing here with the business I'm starting... look out for the "merger" soon. I'm also excited to do some mini gift guides for the super last minute shoppers. Basically, it's gonna be me telling you about all my favorite things AND my favorite cookbooks.

Oh, and speaking of the merger, you have probably noticed (all two of you), that I don't use my @ontheimaginaryblog insta handle any longer... if you've been missing food pics and photos of my crazy life, check out @counterspaceBR. That's gonna be the new home for all things food, hosting, and imaginary!

Just in case you want a taste of my favorite things right now, here are the 5 cookbooks you should gift this holiday season (in no particular order)

1. Over Easy by Joy Wilson

2. One Pot by Martha Stewart

3.  Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat

4. Cherry Bomb: The Cookbook by a whole bunch of awesome ladies

5. Sweet (and actually buy this for me cause I don't have it and I want it really bad...) by Yotam Ottolinghi

6. BONUS CAUSE I LIED: Smitten Kitchen Every Day by Deb Perelman

I'll tell ya this, I have cooked out of Deb Perelman's new book countless times already including a really awesome delicata squash and brussel sprouts salad that I brought to Thanksgiving dinner. It was a delight!

I can't begin to stress how awesome cookbooks are for gifts. ESPECIALLY for someone who loves food. You really don't have to love to cook to enjoy most of these books... The photography alone makes them stand out additions to a coffee table or bookshelf!

Ok, I'll end here for now. But I'm telling myself I will be writing a lot this December and into the new year. Get. Excited. 

Homemade Funfetti Cake {and other reasons to purchase "Molly on the Range"}

Let me lay it out for you in simple terms: if you like to cook or bake you should purchase "Molly on the Range" by Molly Yeh (pronounced Yay!). If not for her name alone... seriously. 

This cookbook really hosts a massive array of culinary opportunities! From challah to cookies to homemade crackers to amazing hot dish recipes to soups to... the piece de resistance... HOMEMADE FUNFETTI CAKE!

This cake graces the cover of the book and is probably 97% of why I wanted it so badly. That, and every recipe from her blog that I have made has been utterly amazing. In fact, Molly's tahini buttercream oreos are a staple of my cookie repertoire. I digress, back to the cake.

This cake would be described by Mary Poppins as practically perfect in every way. And, I was so nervous to bake it. Like, I've had this cookbook since Christmas and haven't even read the recipe all the way through nervous. Then a few weeks ago, I was stressed and on edge and had absolutely no required baking on my agenda and I went for it. I had no reason whatsoever to bake it, but who needs an excuse for cake?!

Here are a few notes: it's amazing. You will want to eat it all. It calls for corn starch which gives it unreal texture. You only use egg whites, no yolks... which is kinda weird for cake. AND of most importance, you MUST you jimmies (long skinny sprinkles) NOT round tiny ones or flat ones or any other kind.

Then, if you follow her directions closely, you will produce this:

 

It took a heck of a lotta constraint to not eat all of it myself. At every turn that I could find an excuse to give some away, I did. It'll be fun to add it into the mix of cakes I can cater out for birthday parties PLUS you can convert it to cupcakes! And, I'm not gonna lie, it was a great opportunity for me to practice icing. I could really REALLY use some work on decorating cakes... but am excited for the challenge that brings!

 

So, y'all, if I have shared anything of value with you ever... it is this book. Buy it. Love it. Cook from it. Share it with others!

 

Coffee, Y'all!

I HAD AN ENTIRE POST WRITTEN AND DID SOMETHING STUPID AND IT WENT AWAY! So, here is me trying to be clever late at night and re-create it.

Basically, I was telling y'all that the month of March is always FULL. I hate using the word busy, cause let's be real... everyone is busy. My month actually involves travel and going places and Saturday's with stuff going on. FULL. I have a big ol' conference for work next week followed by a a wedding in California + a VERY mini vacay. Before that I have another Maker's Market!!!

So, I started this month with a coffee making class... cause that's the only way I would be able to get through. My friend Wallis Watkins came over and taught me and some friends how to brew the perfect pour over! I'm gonna walk y'all through some of the equipment you need for the best cup of pour over at home! The best part, many of these items serve many uses in the kitchen!

First, a scale! I love my digital kitchen scale. You will want it to have a tare feature... and this is a fixture for baking as well!

Grinder!! A burr grinder is really the only way to go. I love bodum products, but you can always shop your local Home Goods or kitchen shop for a great option!

Once you have measured the beans and they are the correct size, you will want to heat the water. This is the kettle I have and it's GREAT! And again, it's a super functional kitchen item. Do yourself a favor and burn through $23 for a good kettle.

Now as far as the actual pour over cone, you can go fancy or not! And I put mine right over the coffee mug... no crazy extra equipment needed. 

Finally, a goose neck kettle. This is KEY because you want thin, even water distribution for the best brew. 

Some of these things you might already have, some might be new to you. Either way, you can spend as much or as little as you would like AND in most cases a full set up will cost less than a quality coffee pot!

Google to find the right proportions and note timing and water temperature do make a difference... but the perfect pour over can happen at home. And it should. Now, I'm gonna go brew another myself and tackle my growing March to do list.

How I Spent my Mardi Gras Break

For those of you NOT in Louisiana, Mardi Gras break is real. It's a thing. Schools close for anywhere from two days to a full week. Half of Louisiana goes to DisneyWorld or skiing while the other half stays put and enjoys the parades. I chose the latter.

In between parades and revelry, I KILLED the lunch game. Like totally killed it. I did some experimenting with pimento cheese, made a killer turkey/mexi bowl, and practiced buttercream... so that's not exactly lunch material BUT I did manage to eat some FOR lunch on a cake. So, yeah, it was lunch... don't judge.

But back to the pimento cheese. A few years ago I had the yummiest pimento cheese at a lovely little bar in DC called Southern Efficiency.  This pimento cheese had all kinds of flavors and textures. Definitely far more exciting than the plain stuff I would either make at home or the over processed stuff you buy at the Winn Dixie or other southern grocery store chain. THEN instagram told me that Trader Joe's started carrying sweet and hot pickled jalapenos. UERKEA! I promptly went out and bought some... then waited almost a whole week to attempt recreation. Let's be honest, I was too busy and my kitchen was too messy to really give it a good go. Mardi Gras break to the rescue!

I made it a few days ago and it blew my mind. Today, I re-created it and actually measured the ingredients so I could guide you along the road of pimento cheese amazing-ness. And, I'm gonna tell you now... this recipe is HEAVY on products that are easily found at Trader Joe's, so if you don't have one nearby I'm sorry.

3/4c shredded mild cheddar cheese (fine shred preferred for texture reasons)

3/4c swiss/gruyere shredded blend (available at Trader Joe's... it's a bigger shred, which sounds weird to say out loud. again preferred for texture reasons)

3T Mayo

3T Plain Greek Yogurt

1/4c chopped roasted red bell peppers (aka pimento)

1/4c chopped up sweet and hot pickled jalapenos (available at Trader Joe's)

1/4c chopped/roasted pecans (super inexpensive at Trader Joe's and already chopped for you)

1/2t salt

1/2t garlic powder

1/4t paprika

Y'all, just dump this all in a bowl and mix it up REALLY good. If it feels a little wet, sprinkle some more cheese in. THEN DEVOUR THIS ON EVERYTHING. I have had some by the spoonful, some on bread, some on toast, and this weekend... I'm gonna put it on BISCUITS. 

Mardi Gras break was good to me, y'all; and hope, by way of this recipe, it was good to you too!

To Bake or To Blog {that is the question}

Most days I have to ask myself if I will take time to blog OR if I will watch TV/go to bed early/clean the kitchen... you know fun distracting stuff. But last week I had a different bug keeping me from blogging: COOKIES!

I jumped on the opportunity to participate in a local Maker's Market which involved prepping and baking about 150 cookies last week. Now, I think we all know I have a real job, so this meant 2-3 hours of extra work every night AFTER putting my squirt to bed. In case you were wondering what it looks like to prep for a market of this variety here it goes:

1. Frantically email your designer so you have a logo ready to print stickers.

2. Find someone to PRINT stickers! 

3. Order cellophane baggies for the cookies.

4. COMMENCE the baking!

Last Monday night I prepped a double batch of the "New York Times BEST Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe." Then Tuesday I prepped a quadruple batch of Joy the Baker's "Vanilla Bean Confetti Cookie." Both types of dough need extended refrigeration so it worked out! Wednesday night I didn't do any baking or prep work. Thursday I began baking. I got through the chocolate chip cookies with ease. Then realized I should probably bake more (good idea cause they were the second to sell out after the donuts... yeah, there were donuts), so I prepped a THIRD recipe of cookies to bake. Friday was when the real fun started. I began bagging and sealing the cookies + baked ALL OF THE CONFETTI COOKIES. I basically spent the day putting a tray of cookies in the oven, taking a tray out, putting another tray in, sealing one cooled tray's worth of cookies and so on... times 5 trays of cookies!

LATE Friday night the process became a party! I had neighbors come over and shell a costco package of pistachio's while I baked a double batch of tahini butter cream oreos. I fear I would have thrown in the towel if it weren't for dear friends sitting and chatting with me while I worked... oh and they brought wine. :)

Saturday morning was the final countdown to the big show! I planned on baking fresh pistachio donuts for the market that morning (just about the only goodie that wouldn't hold well past a day or so). And that was when my brain stopped working. I not only curdled the eggs with hot butter THREE times, I LEFT OUT THE SUGAR. It was one hurdle after another, that I blame wholeheartedly on lack of sleep. But gosh darn it, I finished them! 34 donuts in the end! BOOM!

I packed up the goods and went to set up, both nervous AND excited. I have NEVER in my life EVER sold something to strangers at a market. Sure I've done retail sales in college and baked for friends... but to SELL my baked goods was a whole new ball game. BUT I DID IT.

The first items to go were the donuts... followed quickly by the chocolate chip cookies, and finally the tahini buttercream oreos. After 4 hours, I left having made almost $300 and only 10 cookies left! What a RUSH. And not a sugar rush, cause I didn't let myself eat any of the goods throughout the week or the morning of. 

What's even more exciting, is this is gonna be a thing. I'm gonna start selling my cookies! On the regular! How cool is THAT?! Have you ever taken the plunge into the creative economy? It's terrifying and AWESOME all at once. So, look out for me next month at the Mid City Maker's Market in Baton Rouge; and if you can't wait till then, shoot me a message about ordering some of my treats!!

Refrigerator Surprise!

My dear friend Melynn introduced me to this term, "refrigerator surprise!" Its key word for, I don't have anything to make ONE WHOLE meal but I do have a lot of food in the fridge that needs to be consumed. We have all been there... read a blog or thumbed through a cook book then when to the grocery store while STARVING and bought all of the food you could fit in one, narrow Trader Joe's shopping cart.

You come home. You make one REALLY good dinner... then the rest of the food sits in the fridge. It doesn't all work together really, although one time I had limes and ripe avocados and made the most delicious popsicles ever (seriously, that happened), so don't limit yourself! Then, BAMN, a work trip sneaks up on you; and suddenly you need to cook mushrooms + eat avocados + cook ground turkey + drink that LAST little bit of rose' + finish of the leftovers. NOT to fear! SJ is here!

Here are some things you can do on refrigerator surprise night:

Sandwich. This might seem obvious, but you can make ANYTHING into a sandwich. Before my most recent work trip I was able to use up the end of some braised chickpeas and a ripe avocado to make the most glorious open faced "health" sandwich!!

Pizza. You can pizza almost ANYTHING (last night I made mushroom, shallot, and prosciutto pizza... last week I made roasted sweet potato pizza). Root veggies, roasted chicken, leftover greens. Make it fun! Between great pre-made dough options at the grocery store and all of the easy at home dough recipes, it's a no brainer!

Soup. This is especially effective if you have some sort of ground meat to use up. Sautee some onions and garlic... add ground turkey or Italian sausage out of the casing... brown the meat then add in 4-8 cups of a broth/water combo then throw in chopped up veggies or even greens or noodles. BaBAM soup!

Pasta. Similar to pizza, you can pasta almost anything. Veggies/meat/can of tomatoes or heavy cream + noodles. Perfection!

Breakfast. You can turn almost any combo of veggies and meat into the best breakfast for dinner you've ever had. This is especially effective if one of the things you need to use up is eggs. Frittata some sausage and onions and root veggies + cheese and yumminess galore! Or, shred up carrots and potatoes to make a hash. Insert fruit into pancake batter. Combinations + options are endless!

Y'all. I'm now hungry and a little sad that I didn't go the breakfast route last night when enjoying some refrigerator surprise!

So, next time you open your fridge without a good meal plan and don't know WHAT to do, make some magic. Pick the type of thing you want to eat and consider what ingredients you have... then go wild! This is also a great exercise in helping to firm up your pantry. For example: "I always wish I had coconut milk handy and rarely do" OR "I really like refrigerator surprise soup, so I should keep a few cartons of stock handy" OR "I always have pasta handy, maybe I should have canned tomatoes for pasta refrigerator surprise at the ready as well." Really this is a good opportunity to expand your horizons, get creative in the kitchen, and test some new flavor combinations! 

What's your favorite "Refrigerator surprise" combo? What are your pantry staples that can make something out of nothing in a jiffy? Tell me more!

I'm Bad at Pinterest

Y'all, I love to hate pinterest. As a mom, an event planner, and a blogger I really should just love to LOVE pinterest. But here is the deal, I'm really bad at it. Case in point: I found an amazing red lentil, spinach curry recipe on pinterest. I've even made it a few times. Then last week when I went to make it again I realized I NEVER PINNED IT. I have just been using the search function to find the same recipe over and over again. Well, it used to ALWAYS be one of the top hits when you search for "spinach coconut milk lentils." Apparently some people having been working their SEO and my recipe is now nowhere to be found. 

Lucky for y'all, it was pretty simple and I have a decent enough memory. I was able to recreate it MOSTLY accurately this past week. The thing that I really love about this dish is that it consists of almost ALL pantry/fridge staples even though it sounds complex! Win win! Delicious AND doesn't require an extra trip to the store!

Here are the ingredients best I can recall (I will put an asterisk next to the items I always have on hand).

Olive Oil to coat the pan*

1 yellow onion*

3 cloves of garlic*

1" piece of fresh ginger pealed*

2 tsps curry powder*

1 tsp cumin*

1 tsp salt*

1 cup red lentils*

1 15 oz can coconut milk*

1 cup chicken or veggie broth*

two heaping handfuls of spinach (this is the ONLY item I would need to add to my grocery list to make this dish)

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1. Chop up the onion, garlic, and ginger.

2. Heat your pan over a medium heat (I use my Staub dutch oven for this. Really anything that is bigger than 4 quarts will do.) Add the olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan once it is heated then add in the chopped onions, garlic, and ginger. Cook these down till they are soft (4ish minutes)

3. Add all of the spices to the onion mixture and coat everything with the blend!!

4. Add in the lentils + coconut milk + broth and heat to a simmer.

5. Cover the pot and let the lentils simmer for about 20 minutes. I typically stir the pot a handful of times so the lentils don't stick to the bottom.

6. Add the spinach to the pot and stir the leafy greens in until they are wilted and fully incorporated into the lentils. 

7. ENJOY! 

Y'all, never in your life would you believe a curry dish could come together this quickly and with such simple ingredients!! Once you've made this, I'm pretty sure you will be hard pressed to avoid making it again almost immediately. One of the bigger perks of this dish is that it freezes REALLY well. Plus you can always mess with the flavor profile and add more curry to heat things up or add some greek yogurt when serving to cool it down. 

And because this was so yummy, I hope that I can become a better pinterester cause I would hate to lose another fantastic recipe due to my lack of pinning savvy. How do you use pinterest? Is it more project related? Or do you like to casually stroll the depths of decoration themes/craft ideas/inspirational posters (is it just me or are there a LOT of inspirational posters/memes on pinterest these days!?)? Or maybe you just DON'T use it!? Talk to me. 

NOLA {the self defined New Year's Resolution}

I live all of 75ish miles from New Orleans. New Orleans is home to my go to airport, which puts me here at least once a month BUT I never actually make it into the city. Ever. My how THAT has changed in the past few months. It started with the Joy the Baker class... have I mentioned that I took a pie making class with Joy Wilson? No? Yes? Ok, I'll stop.

ANYWAY. Since that class I've come to NOLA 4x NOT including an airport trip. That's four times in ONE month. I'm LOVING me some NOLA these days. The initial driver in these excursions was an annual pass to the Audubon Zoo and Aquarium which makes for a fun daylong distraction with my toddler. Along the way, though, I have discovered some really great food and coffee in this fair town. (yes, I'm in NOLA as we speak) So, I am going to go ahead and declare a retro-fitted New Year's Resolution to go to New Orleans more often and to try one new thing each trip! Look at me keeping my resolutions so well!!

But on to the important part. Coffee. We all know that New Orleans is a foodie place to be, but because my trips used to be so infrequent I always ended up back at the same "usual" spots. In the past few trips that has changed, and it's been AWESOME. So, if you are looking for some places to explore around the city here is my short-ish first installment of things to enjoy in NOLA focusing on: Coffee!!!

Cherry Espresso. This place gets top billing for a few reasons, mostly cause I'm sitting here RIGHT NOW AS WE SPEAK (type). This place is a great work spot/neighborhood coffee shop/they have bagels. It's slightly larger than the other coffee shops I'll mention which means there is almost ALWAYS a spot to sit and enjoy your coffee. Bonus: they have outside space AND there is playground across the street. I'm honestly sad it took me so long to discover this place. Location: Uptown

 

Mammoth Espresso. This place is a fav for many reasons, one of which is that it draws a direct connection back to DC. One of the managers at Mammoth used to work at The Coffee Bar in DC and is friends with a lot of my old friends... so it's a cappuccino by association! This space is a bit smaller and far more of a "stop in on the way somewhere" coffee shop. Location: CBD

 

Spitfire Coffee. This place has one of the best cortados I have ever had. And I can be SUPER picky about my cortados. This place is TINY (and barely stroller friendly). It's the perfect cure for all of the chicory coffee that is rampant around the area. BTW, it's so small that I feel weird stopping to take a picture of my coffee. So you will just have to use your imagination and guess what the coffee looks like. Location: French Quarter

Solo. Ok, I'll be honest. The first time I went here I walked in and ordered my capp, and it was AMAZING; BUT I definitely felt NOT cool enough to be in there. Like felt SUPER out of place. It was like accidentally showing up to the senior class party as a freshman... Like cool stylish older kids with edgy hair all hanging out together and I walk in wearing a sweater vest (not ironically) with a French braid sort of not cool. BUT THE COFFEE WAS SO GOOD. Go, try it. You're probably cooler than me so it'll be just fine. Location: Bywater

 

Do you like to travel? Do you use coffee as your guide in new cities? Do you live in or near a city worth exploring more? Or maybe you've found a good, retro-fitting New Year's Resolution to continue to pursue? Tell me how you explore and what you're up to in 2017!

Banana Bread {aka browned butter can even make rotting fruit delicious}

A long long time ago (really just a decade ago), I worked for a campus ministry; and I was broke. Some of my best friends were also working for campus ministries and also broke.  During this time we honed many skills, most them involved cooking SUPER cheap meals and watching cable at other people’s houses.

We each had our go to for entertaining college students over coffee or dinner. Mine was baked ziti (and if I never make that dish again, I’ll be OK). My friend Allison pretty much owned banana bread. Think about it, cheap fruit + pantry staples = a delicious loaf of otherwise rotten fruit… and we were in no place to be throwing away food.

Over the years, her recipe has been my go to… but just recently I started to play with it, and well… browned butter later, here we are.

I almost always make two loaves at a time. Once I see bananas starting to turn south faster than I can eat them, I either freeze them or put them in the fridge if bread making is nigh! So here is a nice blend of Allison’s classic recipe with a few fancy twists and turns.

Chocolate Chip, Brown Butter Banana Bread (two loaves and very easy to half)

6-8 bananas (for me 7 is the magic number)

1 ½ cups butter

2 cups sugar (you can skimp a little on sugar if you want… but who would want to?!)

2 eggs

2 tsp vanilla extract

2 tsp baking soda

pinch of salt

3 cups all purpose flour

1-2 cups chocolate chips (however many float your boat)

1.     Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees and grease two 9x4 loaf pans (butter, pam, coconut oil spray, whatevs... we just don't want it to stick!!).

2.     Put the butter in a sauce pan on the stove to melt down and brown. This removes a lot of the water from the butter so there is crackling and popping and it takes a minute to get it browning then BAM watch out or it’ll burn before you know it (kind of like a roux). Then pour the browned butter into a separate bowl to cool off while you mash up the peeled bananas. I almost left out the detail of PEELING the bananas then I realized some people might need that note, so it’s there. I’m not assuming anyone here is an idiot… just attempting to be thorough!

3.    Mix in the sugar with the bananas then add the brown butter. Stir thoroughly (but don't OVER stir). Add the eggs and vanilla and fully incorporate.

4.     Then mix in the baking soda and salt.

5.     Fold in all the flour till it’s fully incorporated and there are no pockets of flour hanging out.

6.     Mix in the chocolate chips!

7.     Bake at 350 for 55ish minutes. I say that because every oven is a little different. I have an electric oven and this recipe takes about 5 minutes less than Allison originally noted… Basically at the 55 minute mark I use my cake testing stick to see if the stick can go in and come out dry. If it’s still not done, bake it in 5 minute increments till it is ready!

I typically cool the banana bread IN the pans for a good long while… maybe 30 minutes or so? THEN flip them onto a baking rack to cool the rest of the way. I’m not gonna lie, the smell alone makes waiting hard. Be warned.

I store it wrapped in aluminum foil and have never had to wonder how long it will last… cause we can finish a loaf within about 2-3 days. Don’t judge my life.

So, when you have the urge to bake and you don’t want to waste those almost gross bananas… there is a way out! What is your cheap and easy entertaining staple? Is banana bread a go to for you? Tell me! I always enjoying discovering new things, and what better way than asking an internet full of imaginary friends!

Meal Planning. It's a Thing.

If you have ever been on pinterest or owned a slow cooker, you have probably considered meal planning. Well, I have both been on pinterest AND own a slow cooker… so I have embarked down the meal planning rabbit hole.

Here are a few things I’ve noticed about that hole:

1.     It CAN be cheaper, but isn’t always.

2.     It CAN be healthy, but it isn’t always.

3.     It CAN be a time saver, but it isn’t always.

Y’all, I don’t meal plan cause I’m on a strict diet or because I have a $4 budget per meal. I meal plan because I like to be prepared, I’m a solo parent, I work full time, and I LOVE TO COOK. So, here is how I do it. I start with a formula. This is what works for me, adjust accordingly depending on your family’s schedule and commitments (I use a note pad similar to this one and keep it on my fridge for the week):

Monday: Cook

Tuesday: Slow Cooker Meal (I LOVE my slow cooker! It even has a browning function!)

Wednesday: Leftovers

Thursday: Quick Easy/Eat out on the Cheap

Friday: Something NEW!

Saturday: Leftovers

Sunday: Refrigerator Delight! (basically clean out the fridge and start fresh)

My first and biggest tip: plan on eating leftovers some nights (although, I have ONE friend ::cough cough amy cough cough:: who doesn’t LIKE leftovers… whatever, that’s just more cooking. But I love you, Amy! I promise!), and I plan on eating out one night. I realize you might not eat out, no biggie. I will say this, there is nothing MORE annoying than grocery shopping for the week then ending out one night you didn’t plan for then having extra groceries to figure out… ok, there is a lot more annoying such as political posts on facebook or people who can’t properly navigate four way stop signs. But you get my point.

I really do love incorporating as much new food as possible. I also am typically cooking for myself and a toddler, which means cooking for myself + macaroni and cheese. Whatevs.

What’s on the docket this week, you might be asking?

Monday: Red lentil curry with spinach (I would link to the recipe from pinterest but I can’t find it… will do my best to transcribe and post soon!)

Tuesday: Roasted veggies + hummus

Wednesday: ALL of the leftovers

Thursday: This will most likely NOT be an eat out night because my babysitter just had brain surgery… so it will probably be a “what veggies are going bad? Hurry slice them and put them on pizza crust” night

Friday: Turkey biscuit bake! This isn’t a NEW recipe, but I haven’t made it in ages… so it counts.

Saturday: Leftovers

Sunday nights are spent reviewing cookbooks for ideas, typically…. Or in this instance blogging and telling you what I do while not doing it, then grocery shopping Monday afternoon before school pick up (or after if I’m feeling brave).

I realize that I have a flexible job and the luxury of taking a quick grocery trip during the day; you probably don’t have that. BUT YOU MIGHT either have a spouse to watch the kids while you grocery shop OR no kids at all! In the end, we all make it work amirite!?!?!?!?

If I’m feeling super bold, I’ll remember to take a photo of my shopping cart to share with you and do a recap of what ACTUALLY went down in the kitchen. In the meanwhile, do you meal prep? Why? Why NOT?! Do you even like to cook? What’s your go to week night meal?!

Breakfast Casseroles: an Art not a Science

Let's talk breakfast casseroles for a moment... typically I just say throw together some eggs, breakfast meat, bread, cheese, maybe veggies? And BOOM! Delicious... then you find an actual breakfast casserole RECIPE (wha!?) and it changes your life.

Two disclaimers:

1. Don't attempt if you don't have access to GOOD bagels. I was spoiled my last three years in DC and lived a few blocks away from TWO quality bagel spots. Needless to say, I haven't recreated this recipe since leaving cause grocery store freezer bagels just won't cut it. 

2. This does require an overnight soaking. Trust me. I've tried to be "quick about it" and nah... no good. SHOULD you make this casserole you will understand.

This is the beauty of this beast, it is crunchy and toasted bagely on top and yummy eggy baked goodness on the bottom.

Before the baked deliciousness entered the oven! So much color and flavor for a breakfast casserole! 

Before the baked deliciousness entered the oven! So much color and flavor for a breakfast casserole! 

This recipe is from the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman. She is a blogger turned cookbook author, and you should cook everything she tells you to. 

Ingredients:

8 cups of bagels cut into 1-inch cubes (I use 6-7 bagels)

8 ounces of cream cheese COLD and cut into small bits (aka one block of cream cheese... and you can go lighter by using neufchatel cheese)

1/4 medium red onion, halved lengthwise, and SUPER thinly sliced into quarter moons

1 1/2 cups small tomatoes, preferably grape or cherry tomatoes, cut in half OR quartered if they are on the larger size

8 eggs

2 1/3 cups milk OR half-and-half (I typically do a mix of the two)

1 tsp table salt

freshly ground pepper

Prepare the casserole!!

Spread a third of the bagel cubes into a 9x13 baking dish. Dot the bagels with a third of the cream cheese bits and 1/3 of the red onions + tomatoes. Repeat in two more alternating layers. Whisk the eggs with milk, salt, and freshly ground black pepper. Pour the egg mixture over the bagel and cheese mixture... this is when you can turn the bagels to face up certain ways so they are pretty for a nice picture! Cover tightly with plastic wrap and REFRIGERATE OVERNIGHT!!!

The next morning, remove the casserole from the fridge then set your oven to 350 degrees. Once the oven is ready, pop it in and bake UNCOVERED in the middle rack. This will take about 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes to cook through. The top should be golden brown, the casserole should have puffed up a little bit, and you should be able to insert a knife without any liquid (like when you make sure your cakes are cooked through). 

You can serve this as is, or with lox and sprinkle of capers. 

Y'all, this will be the hit of brunch parties or baby showers or you will just love yourself a little more for having prepared it. DELISH.

GO! Make haste! Find good bagels and let this bad boy rest overnight and have a yummy Christmas week/New Year's breakfast treat!

How We Redeemed 2016 {all it took was pie}

2016. Dumpster. Fire. Amirite? Hell, leave the election out of the picture and it was still a pretty bleak year... the massive flooding, kidney stones 3x over, getting stuck in a hurricane while on Disney vacation... it's been a bit of letdown.

But today might have undone all of the sad/weird/unfun bits of 2016 in a short 5 hour baking class. Today I had the pure delight of taking a class from one of my favorite cookbook authors/bloggers: Joy the Baker. Joy moved to New Orleans a couple of years ago to continue to expand her work as a novice baker turned fo' real baker (btw, I would love details on that transition so I have something to work towards). Today she opened her home, for the first time ever, to teach some of her skills to me and five others. When the opportunity to take the class appeared, I didn't doubt anything for one second. I signed up immediately, paid for a ticket, and THEN considered what I would do with my toddler for five hours....

Boy was it worth it! Not only was Joy lovely and one of the best hostesses I have ever encountered, my classmates were equally delightful! There was even another event planner in the mix!! The class started with quick intros then we dove right in! Joy taught by example then we would follow suit with each step, and it was hugely helpful! Like having an interactive cookbook... and lemme tell ya, I took every chance I could to ask questions of Joy and her helpers! 

She communicated details of crust and butter and pie liquid with such ease and grace (and humility!!), and I swear to you I produced the best pie crust I ever have in MAH LIFE. No cracks AND it was a large enough circle for the pie plate NOR did it rip when pouring in the filling. ALL kinds of victories today!

While the pies baked, we had the chance to interrogate her more, er, I mean, sit with her and eat lunch and have casual conversation... We covered a host of topics from how to raise good little humans, the joy of receiving cards in the mail, and all of the undergrad majors that had little to nothing to do with our current career. FYI, Joy studied broadcast journalism, so there could be hope for me to make a leap into fo' real baking with my communications degree!

Lunch ended with a most lovely surprise of hot chocolate in espresso cups and topped with homemade curry marshmallows that she featured in a facebook live tutorial yesterday! What. A. Treat. She then lead us through some tips on staging so we could get some profesh looking shots of our handy work before we all left to finish out our days. 

This class was not only educational, but it reminded me of so many things that I love outside of baking! It was an opportunity to be with a small group of people who have one shared interest, but otherwise diverse backgrounds and opinions and life stories. Friendships were made today, and a little bit of my faith in our ability as a community to be neighborly and uplifting was restored! Y'all, we really can get along. And one bad year doesn't have to define anything. Let pie define things. Ya heard?! Pie, y'all!

And now I want to thank, not only Joy for providing the opportunity and opening her home, but to all of the kind folks who enabled this! First, my dear friend who entertained my child so I could take the class; King Arthur Flour and Bellegarde Bakery for providing amazingly WONDERFUL ingredients; Jon and Britt who managed to make me feel like I was on the set of a real live cooking show by making things appear and disappear without ever being in the way; and to my classmates who encouraged me to pursue my creative side a little extra!

2016, you had some rough moments that I easily let define the whole year, but I'm excited to point to this fun day before throwing ALL 365 days out the window as a loss!