Christmas · Holidays · Recipes · Tips and Tricks

Let’s Get Ready for Thanksgiving!

Attention holiday shoppers — it’s almost Christmas! We just have to get through that binge-eating traffic nightmare and then it’s on to unmitigated holiday cheer!

Well, that’s how I feel about Thanksgiving anyway.

I’m basically on Christmas countdown as soon as Halloween night is over every year, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like my share of Turkey Day food and festivities. Each year, my claim to fame is this Ginger-Orange Cranberry Sauce, which is so easy to make and really pushes your side dish game to another level. You can scale the “kick” up or down depending on your family’s taste, and it doubles (or halves) very well too.  cranberry sauce

What’s even better than having this Thanksgiving Day? The fact that you can make a really satisfying warm dip out of the leftovers for lounging and snacking all weekend! The dip doubles as a sandwich spread, too, so make sure you pick up some cream cheese and red pepper jelly to make it while you’re doing your other grocery shopping!

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I spend the day after Thanksgiving in pajamas, designing and ordering our Christmas card on Minted and photo gifts for the family on Shutterfly and Mixbook, noshing on leftovers and filling my virtual shopping bags with deals for Cyber Monday. This year, I’ve got some major purchasing to do at the Apple Store, American Girl  website and Ikea kids section, and I assume there will be a few irresistible items for myself at Nordstrom, Lands’ End and Old Navy, too.

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Here’s a sneak peek of our holiday card photos, courtesy of TDM Photography, our go-to photographer for family photos. I’m so thrilled with how they turned out, and I can’t wait to get my hands dirty designing the perfect card for friends and family this week! I love Minted for their unique designs, their support of independent artists, and the fact that they let you keep an online address book of all your contacts, and will address your holiday cards for FREE, in a style that matches your card design. How easy is that, working mamas??

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Mixbook has become my preferred design site for creating beautiful, high-quality photo books. Their pages and bindings are top notch, the photo resolution is consistently high and the colors true, and the materials stand up to lots of handling without warping or fading. This Cyber Monday, enjoy 55% off!

Christmas · Holidays · kid-friendly · Recipes

Pumpkin Stuffed Shells

Happy Cyber Monday! I’m pretty much done with my holiday shopping already, so today is more like Treat YoSelf Monday in my book — I’ve got my eye on a Beauty Blender and a new work bag that is way not in the budget this year (especially since we just had to buy a new car last month). Hard to resist when the sales are this good. I hope you all had a restful, relaxing Thanksgiving. We sure did! Eating out, while not something I’d want to do every year, was extremely stress-free, and I loved not having to wash a million dishes at the end of the night. The place we went was excellent, and it was so nice getting to talk, sip a cocktail, then enjoy a movie back at home while lounging on the couch together. I did a little Black Friday shopping from the comfort of my bed before I even got up the next morning, and then spent the weekend getting our Christmas decorations out! I’ll be sharing a 2016 gift guide later this week, but for now please enjoy this easy-peasy version of vegetarian stuffed shells that is comforting, savory, and just the right thing to throw together in those frazzled weeks between Thanksgiving and Hanukkah/Christmas when your brain just doesn’t have the capacity to cook anything complicated. Adding a salad to this — even a pre-made, store-bought salad — or some simple roasted veggies would complete the meal nutritionally and make your taste buds happy.

Pumpkin Stuffed Shells

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 package pasta shells (the jumbo kind with 24 shells per container)
  • 2 TBSP olive oil
  • 2 cups ricotta
  • 1 15-oz. can pumpkin puree
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 TBSP chopped fresh sage
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • salt and pepper to taste

For the garlic cream sauce

  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup flour (I used whole wheat)
  • 1 1/2 cups milk (I used almond milk
  • 1/2 cup light cream (or half n’ half)
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan or pecorino cheese
  • salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS

Preheat the oven to 35o and spray (or butter) a 9×13 glass baking dish.

Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling water until al dente, not mushy or overdone. Drain well and transfer to a paper towel laid out on the counter to cool.

In a large bowl, combine the pumpkin, ricotta, parmesan, egg, sage and nutmeg. Season with salt and pepper.

To make the cream sauce, melt butter in a skillet over medium and add the garlic, then cook, stirring, until fragrant (1-2 minutes). Whisk in the flour gradually until lightly browned, about a minute. Gradually whisk in the milk and cook, stirring continuously, until well mixed. Stir in the light cream and cheese until thickened, another couple of minutes. If the mixture is too thick, add more milk. Season with salt and pepper.

Spread some of the cream sauce into the bottom of the buttered baking dish, enough to coat the bottom. Stuff the cooled shells with the pumpkin-ricotta mixture and nestle into the baking dish, then drizzle the remaining cream sauce over the top. Garnish with some sage if desired.

Bake 25 or until lightly browned and bubbling. Serve warm.

Adapted from Damn Delicious.

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Ready to start shopping and don’t want to miss the best sales today?

Check out my previous guides: Gifts for Toddlers (especially awesome for two and three year olds), Gifts for Babies (great for infants through 18 months), Gifts for the Guys, and eco-friendly gift ideas for that brand new baby in your life (like my special little niece!) Last but not least, in honor of #MakersMonday (which is today), here’s a post featuring Locally-Made Gifts.  

If you’re in Boston, don’t forget to swing by the grand opening of Eataly tomorrow. I’ll be there, ready to stock up on Lavazza, Fig Burrata, imported Olive Oil and Brunello. I might actually explode from excitement while shopping! Ping me if you want to meet up or plan to be there yourself. Doors open at 4 p.m. in the Prudential, off Boylston.

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another sneak peak from our holiday photos. Have a great week 🙂

Holidays · Recipes

Chicken Chili

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One of the only redeeming things about winter settling in — and darkness falling before I even leave work — is the option to cook chili again. (Well, that and the idea of taking a nice, hot bath every night with my New Yorker, kitty, and a glass of wine…but back to the chili.)

This has been a rough couple weeks, right? After Election Night, I had a hard time putting two words together or getting dressed for work on time, never mind meal-plan, set up the slow cooker in the morning, or pack myself a healthy lunch, if I’m being honest. Luckily, I had some leftovers of this at the ready, thanks to the big batch I made at my freezer meal workshop last March…which I know I keep mentioning, but has honestly helped me entertain more times than I can really count this past year. If I hadn’t inherited a freezer full of food in August from a friend moving to Seattle, I’d be planning to do another workshop as we speak.

This can be frozen ahead, but it can also be made all at once. If you do freeze ahead, be sure to double bag and give it at LEAST 36 hours to defrost in the fridge before cooking. Mine was frozen solid and took two full days to thaw safely in the refrigerator.

Chicken Chili

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 lbs lean ground chicken
  • 3 TBSP dry buffalo seasoning*
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 1 medium-large onion, chopped
  • 3 ribs celery, finely chopped
  • 15 oz. can tomato sauce
  • 15 oz. can crushed or diced tomatoes
  • 14 oz. can white or black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 14 oz. can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 TBSP olive oil**
  • 2 TBSP minced garlic
  • 2 cups chicken broth (veggie works fine too)

To serve as toppings, or on the side: a bag of corn or tortilla chips, blue cheese or ranch dressing, hot sauce, sour cream, shredded cheese, corn bread.

* I used Wildtree Blazin’ Buffalo seasoning. Other options include Frank’s Red Hot, McCormick, or something from a specialty store like Williams-Sonoma.

** I used Wildtree Garlic Grapeseed Oil. Any other oil that tolerates heat well is fine; you can pick one with flavor infusions you like.

DIRECTIONS

(If you are freezing ahead, then you’ll need three bags: one smaller bag for the chicken, buffalo seasoning, salt and pepper; and another for the rest of the ingredients. Then double bag in a larger bag for storage, and thaw before cooking).

In a large pot on the stove top over medium-high heat, pour in the chicken, buffalo seasoning and salt and pepper. Use a large spoon to break up the chicken while it’s cooking.

Once the chicken is cooked through, about 8 minutes, add  everything else except the chicken stock and cook for five minutes.

Add the two cups of chicken stock and bring to a slow boil. Simmer for about 10 minutes.

To serve, place in bowls with condiments of your choosing. We had corn muffins, sour cream, cheddar cheese, hot sauce and tortilla chips. Blue cheese, ranch, corn chips and green onions would also be great toppings!

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Have a great weekend everyone! We are going to eat out for Thanksgiving this year after losing such a beloved member of our family in August, and then try again next year for building a new tradition. Here’s where we are eating. If you’re looking for good T-Day recipes, check here for cranberry sauce, buttery mashed potatoes, two ways of doing Brussels sprouts, and these balsamic roasted green beans, which I adore despite the horrendous photos. I’ll leave you with this sneak peak from our holiday card photo shoot last weekend, thanks to our friend Thais at TDM Photography.

Looking for a great deal on your own holiday cards? Check out TinyPrints, which is offering up to 40% off foil and glitter cards this weekend only — until 11/20! — and 30% off anything else. Click here and use code GIVESHINE!

Tiny Prints - Birth Announcements and More

Christmas · Holidays · minted · shutterfly

My most popular Fall posts

With Thanksgiving behind us and Christmas and Hanukkah coming right around the corner, I thought I’d do a quick post highlighting both my go-to holiday recipes, as well as a roundup of my most popular Fall recipes. Some of them might surprise you! Before I dive in, though, here are a few photos from our Thanksgiving in New Bedford. It was a lovely day with grandparents and cousins, and we were so fortunate to have warm weather, too. Because it was so nice out, Georgia and I went to visit Zoo Lights in Stoneham the next day. I highly recommend it if you’re Boston local!

And here are my top winter holiday recipes.

This year, we are actually making turkey again for Christmas, because my brother gets one free from his company! So, while we’ve done ham in the past, this time around we are trying a new menu. I’m also planning to make swedish meatballs with lingonberry sauce, and my mom, my brother, and his girlfriend are going to bring lots of sides. They are always such a huge help!

I finally got my holiday cards ordered from Minted this week, and I can’t wait to start sending them off to friends and family! It’s one of my favorite parts of the Christmas season. If you’ve been waiting to make yours, today is the day — their Cyber Monday 20% off deal ends at Noon Pacific Time! Shutterfly and TinyPrints also have great deals (up top 50% off!) going on right now.

Here is a low-res sneak peak of our card:

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photographs // TDM Photography

My most popular Fall recipes

So I always knew that my Brown Sugar Kielbasa recipe for the slow cooker was a hit on Superbowl Sunday, but apparently you all like making it every game day, because it’s been my most popular post — by a margin of at least 500 views — every single DAY this year! I guess you really can’t go wrong with this one, and I make it all the time myself. So I’m right there with you all!

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Next up: My step by step guide to making pumpkin bread from scratch, using fresh pumpkin puree. Talk about an oldie but goodie! I don’t really have time anymore for a labor of love like that one, from cutting, roasting and scooping fresh pumpkin, to toasting the seeds and making pumpkin bread on TOP of it all, much less in one afternoon. But it sure did turn out amazing.

This next one is tried and true: Shepherd’s Pie with Corn. It looks like the “corn” is the critical ingredient everyone’s interested in, if Google Analytics are to be believed. That combo of fresh and creamed corn really does make the dish in my opinion! Check it out for yourself. I made two of these last weekend because we had so many potatoes left over from Thanksgiving!

Here’s another one that surprises me with its popularity because it’s nothing ground-breaking, and yet I understand its appeal. This doesn’t require any time-consuming cheese grating (or, for that matter, purchasing of any unusual cheese varieties) and it turns out a family-friendly, filling, warm dinner that’s guaranteed to leave you with lots of leftovers. It’s from a book designed for novice cooks, and that’s because it is very foolproof. If you haven’t yet, give these Baked Egg Noodles with Cheese a try.

Another popular post, I assume because it’s great for both watching the game and having a party (as well as for appetizers on Thanksgiving or Christmas!) is this Vegan Spinach-Artichoke Dip. The dairy in the full-fat version is just too rich for me, so I’ve relied on this healthier and more climate-friendly version for a while now. I realize that sounded preachy! But I think small swaps matter when trying to decrease your carbon footprint and eat better, and eliminating some meat and dairy is one of the most impactful things you can do.

There are a couple other trends that I get a kick out of every fall. The first: there’s always an uptick in the number of visits to my smoothie recipes, as well as this Kale Salad with Avocado and Lemon, right after Thanksgiving. People are also clicking through and buying my most-recommended smoothie container from Amazon, and I think these all point to people wanting to eat a little bit healthier right after an indulgent holiday! I’ve had a lot of salad this week myself.

Another trend I’ve noticed is a big jump in the number of people reading my posts on Beating Morning Sickness and tips for Prenatal Workouts. And no wonder! I found out I was pregnant with Georgia this time three years ago, and the morning sickness kicked in not long after. Everyone else who’s having a Summer 2016 baby is in that boat right now, so I guess it’s no surprise those posts do so well this time every year. If you are one of these people, don’t miss my post on buying maternity clothing and equipping your life for newborn gear without wasting money. (I’d hold off on jumping to the “tips on pumping” post until later, though, because I don’t want to be the one to drop the knowledge on you that breastfeeding can be super hard. Get through labor first).

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I’ll have more info soon about how to roast a turkey (based on my one and only experience doing so) as well as how I made a delicious gravy from the pan drippings. Looking for ideas for using up extra turkey, stuffing, cranberry and more? Check out this leftover turkey casserole and keep it handy for next year. I made it this year and it was really yummy!

Happy shopping and cooking everyone 🙂

XOXOXO

Holidays · Recipes

Do you STILL have leftovers to use up?

I know I do! I made a double-sized batch of my homemade cranberry sauce, and I still have some left over, even after two dinners with both sides of the family (with 12 people at each!) So this year, instead of my standby smoothie or salad dressing, I am instead going to make this awesome-looking cranberry upside-down cake from Simply Recipes:

Even though it calls for fresh cranberries, I am hoping that using leftover cooked sauce will turn out similar to this cherry upside down cake I made last year. I may even throw in a couple of fresh berries since I always have some hanging around for Miss G, who LOVES all fruit but especially cranberry sauce, even though it’s so tart!

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I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse than the exhaustion of having a newborn around a major holiday, along comes the non-stop action of a toddler to make me rethink my position. We had a whirlwind four days “off.” First, that storm hit during the commute home Wednesday, so I didn’t get cooking for Thanksgiving #1 until like 8:30 p.m. On Thanksgiving Day, we all got up to watch the parade and have muffins and coffee:

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Then we went to my dad’s for dinner, which was lovely. The next day, I got up and started cooking all over again, fielded some media calls for work, then went to the Christmas lights display at the zoo down the street from our house with Georgia and two of her cousins:

The next day, we drove an hour south to do Thanksgiving #2 with Mark’s family including all the cousins, the littlest of whom is just five months younger than Georgia. We had a nice time, though she got really upset on the way home because we just didn’t time it very well in relation to her bedtime, and got caught behind a huge accident on 93 coming through Boston.

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Georgia is still battling a really pesky, loud cough, so our sleep just hasn’t been great all weekend. Last night, she woke up at 2 a.m. all upset and covered in boogies, so I was up for at least an hour comforting her, cleaning her up, and generally dreading having to be functional at work today. Which I’m not.

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The good news is, my Christmas shopping is coming along nicely. I have all the kids done and I handed off their wrapped presents to my brother- and sister-in-law this weekend, I’ve got Mark all finished, and now I just need to design and order our Christmas Cards online (Shutterfly? Minted? TinyPrints? I’m paralyzed!) before finishing up everyone else.

If you are still looking for gift ideas, check out my list of Eco-Friendly Baby Gifts and my Gift Guide for New Moms. I’m working on another one for toddlers as we speak! As well as a post about coping with sick babies with as natural an approach as possible. Hopefully you are more well-rested than our family, and nobody has caught this nasty chest cold that our baby just can’t seem to kick. Happy Christmas Season, and have a great week everyone!

Baby & Toddler · Recipes

Our Thanksgiving Traditions

This is going to be Georgia’s first Thanksgiving (and everything else!) and we are super excited to have her around for the holiday.

This time last year, we were just keeping our fingers crossed that she’d be coming into our lives soon, and a few weeks after Thanksgiving we found out that our wish had come true and she was officially on the way! I haven’t decided what she’s going to wear yet (well, other than this bib, since she drools like crazy) but I have decided what we are making. My father-in-law does the turkey, gravy, and stuffing, and our relatives split all the sides and desserts.

We bring:

  • Pumpkin, lemon meringue and apple pie. I order them from this bakery near where we live. They deliver for $1, and donate 20% to the Bread of Life, a local food pantry which hosts a huge Thanksgiving dinner every year for hundreds of people north of Boston, all for free.
  • Mashed potatoes. I have a great make-ahead method!
  • Cranberry Sauce from scratch. My specialty.

Click the photos below for my easy recipes for those buttery mashed potatoes and special cranberry sauce, which has little kick thanks to some ground ginger and orange peel.

Boil and mash these with half-and-half and cream cheese the day before, then bake topped with butter the hour before Thanksgiving dinner.
Sweet and tart.

Need more inspiration?

Don’t miss the New York Times Vegetarian Thanksgiving Guide, which includes Gluten-free options and plenty of ideas for leftovers this year.

I’m also dying to try this recipe for Sweet Potato Tart Tatin topped with Mascarpone (!) from The Chew, and this recipe for Mashed Sweet Potatoes topped with caramelized onions. Mark said next year he’s going to try his hand at cooking for Thanksgiving by whipping up these sauteed cipolline onions by Mario Batalli. My grandmother always made creamed pearl onions for Thanksgiving; it might be a Scandinavian thing. I really miss them so I can’t wait for Mark to try these!

I’m headed back to work the Monday after the holiday, so wish me (and Georgia and Daddy) good luck. Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Recipes

Make-Ahead Mashed Potatoes

What’s the best thing about mashed potatoes? How fluffy, buttery and delicious they are, right? But there’s a dark side — all that peeling, chopping, boiling and mashing by hand the morning of a big meal, which almost makes you dread having them. Well, not anymore.

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As I mentioned in my Christmas Dinner post, I used a new recipe (new to me, anyway) from the Pioneer Woman, which calls for baking the potatoes the day before (I KNOW) and then popping them in the oven just half an hour before you eat. I had to try it. I love, love, LOVE buttery mashed potatoes, and yet they are such a pain when you’re trying to time the rest of a big meal to be ready all at once. Well, this make-ahead tip 100% worked for me, so I am posting it here in the hopes it’ll save you some time down the line. Enjoy!

Make-Ahead Mashed Potatoes

Ingredients

  • 5-lb. bag of Russet or Yukon Gold Potatoes
  • 2 sticks butter
  • 8-oz. container of plain cream cheese
  • 1 cup half-and-half or heavy cream
  • Salt & pepper to taste

Directions

Peel and cut the potatoes evenly into halves or quarters. Set a large pot of water on to boil, and when the water is simmering rapidly, add the potatoes. Cook for at least 30 minutes.

Once the potatoes are fork-tender, drain them in a large colander. When they are done draining, place them back into the dry cooking pot on the stove over low heat. Mash by hand with a potato masher over low heat, allowing all the steam to escape.

Turn off the stove and add the softened butter, starting with one stick and adding more to your taste. Then add the cream cheese and half a cup of the half-and-half or heavy cream, again adding more to your taste. Mash until there are no more lumps.

Taste and season with salt and pepper, taking care not to under-salt.

Stir well and add to a medium sized baking dish. Top with a few pats of butter and put it in the fridge, covered, until you’re ready to bake it.

If you’re eating it right away, just bake at 350 until the butter on top is melted and the potatoes are warmed through. If you’re making ahead of time, take it out of the fridge an hour or two before your meal and heat for 25 to 30 minutes at the same temperature.

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Chopping the potatoes into smaller pieces hastens the cooking time. Half or at the most quartered should do it, otherwise they’ll fall apart in the water.

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Using a hand-held potato masher is the only way to go. An electric mixer sometimes makes the potatoes glue-y.

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Make sure you’ve set the butter out to soften for a bit before mixing it into the potatoes. I also like to leave the half-and-half and cream cheese out for a few minutes to come closer to room temperature before using.

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Make sure you taste before putting the potatoes into your baking dish to make sure they’ve been salted enough!

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Yum.