Boston Love For Washington, IL

Many of you know Jen, who blogs over at Beantown Baker. For those who don't, Jen used to live in Boston and we would often have baking dates together. She's a great friend and someone who's always thinking of others. Just over a week ago, Jen's mom's house in Washington, Illinois, was leveled by a tornado. The pictures of devastation that she has posted are just heartbreaking. Jen's brother was even in the house when the tornado came through, but luckily he is OK. Jen and her family spent days picking through the rubble, but they still have a long way to go toward rebuilding, as do others in the area who were affected.

To learn about how you can help Jen's family and others, please visit Jen's blog, where she has provided details on how to show your support. As we head into Thanksgiving and all start focusing on the things we are thankful for, I hope you will keep Jen and her family in your thoughts.


Things I'm Lovin'

Hi guys. I just thought I'd share some stuff with you that I am really loving these days -- from wine to snacks to helpful kitchen gadgets to a great way to support your favorite charity!

This pumpkin granola with Greek yogurt (always Fage) and a drizzle of honey. My friend recently had a baby shower and wanted to send guests home with pumpkin granola in Mason jars. I found this recipe for her and we whipped up a few batches together. After going through my Mason jar of it, I had to make another whole batch just for me.

And speaking of pumpkin, even though I'm not a huge fan of pumpkin spice lattes (I'm already in peppermint mocha mode), I am loving the Pumpkin Spice Coffee Mate in my morning coffee. It's not overly spiced and it doesn't have any weird bits in it (which is what put me off of coffee shop versions). I typically use Silk French Vanilla Creamer, and it's nice to go back and forth between the two.

When the weather gets cold, I seek out full-bodied red wines. The latest one I've tried and loved: Apothic Dark. Like Apothic Red, Dark has chocolaty aromas and lots of berry flavor. It also has roast coffee notes. It's a perfect winter red, and I foresee many evenings with a glass in front of the fire. (Although I do miss Apothic Rose and warm evenings outside by the grill.)

I am also a huge fan of Don Miguel Gascon Malbec and Colosal Red Blend, which I've found at Whole Foods and Blanchard's. Both wines are full bodied and suit my tastes with bold berry flavors. The bottles also have really pretty purple and silver labels.

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough LUNA Protein bars. Obsessed. One of my friends introduced me to these protein bars, and now I am hooked. I know they have calcium and vitamin D and all that good stuff, but they definitely remind me of candy bars. The chocolate chip cookie dough ones satisfy my sweet tooth for a mid-afternoon snack.

And have you tried the new KIND Healthy Grains Bars? I found them at Wegman's randomly and bought three different boxes. They're made with grains like millet, amaranth, and quinoa. Maple Pumpkin Seeds with Sea Salt is my current favorite flavor. Peanut Butter Dark Chocolate is pretty awesome too. These have a completely different texture from the regular KIND bars, which I also love.

My other new favorite snack: Way Better Snacks' Oh, My Sweet Punkin' Cranberry Tortilla Chips, especially when paired with Alouette Cheesecake Spreadable Cheese. These chips have sprouted seeds, grains, and beans; Vitamin A; fiber; and antioxidants and they're non-GMO. The ingredient list is short and the ingredients are recognizable. They're crunchy, salty, and sweet. So they're tasty and good for me… maybe not when I'm dipping them in cheesecake dip, but you know.

I recently got some fun new kitchen tools to play around with: the ThermoWorks ChefAlarm and Thermapen. I'm definitely planning to devote a longer post to these once I've used them a lot more, but so far I've relied on the ChefAlarm, a probe-style cooking alarm, to help me regulate the temperature of frying oil. It has high- and low-temperature alarms, and I can set them so I know when my oil falls out of the desired temperature range and I can adjust the heat accordingly. I've also used it to test the water temperature when I'm adding warm water to yeast to make bread. And the Thermapen came in very handy last weekend when I made a practice turkey for Thanksgiving. It's an instant-read thermometer, so it makes checking the temperature of roasting meat super-easy and fast.

Eat Your Books. I've been using Eat Your Books for about two years now, and if you have a ton of cookbooks, I highly recommend checking it out. I can search for, say, butternut squash, and it will tell me all the recipes using butternut squash that exist in all my cookbooks and food magazines. It's really encouraged me to seek out new recipes in books I already own and to flip back through old magazines that I've got piled up around the house.

Do you know that Williams-Sonoma has a blog? It's called Taste, and it's amazing. It's full of delicious-looking recipes, helpful cooking and entertaining advice, and informative interviews and features (most recently they highlighted Blackberry Farm, where we hope to stop when we visit our friends in Tennessee next spring).

This is a non-food-related one, but I happened upon Rewined Candles at West Elm and immediately loved them. I've yet to buy one for myself, but we've bought them for friends -- they make great housewarming gifts. It's probably my love of wine that helped them catch my eye. The candles are made from recycled wine bottles! And they come in scents like Merlot, Pinot Noir, Riesling, and Champagne.

And last but not least, my sister told me about a program created by Amazon called AmazonSmile. When you shop through AmazonSmile, you can pick a charity to support and that charity will receive a percentage of all your purchases. How awesome is that? You can support your favorite charity just by making your usual purchases -- or doing your Christmas shopping if you're that on the ball. (Once you register, you'll want to shop from smile.amazon.com, but nothing else about the way you interact with Amazon will change.)

My sister recently joined a volunteer search and rescue group called Bay Area Mountain Rescue Unit (BAMRU). The team, which is based in the San Francisco bay area, is ready to search for a lost or injured person at any time, in any weather conditions, in any terrain. BAMRU is a Mountain Rescue Association team, which means they train extensively to be able to search effectively in the backcountry, handle snow and ice conditions, and perform technical rescue in steep terrain (meaning using ropes to lower/raise people when cliffs are involved). The group is funded by membership dues and donations. You can learn more about BAMRU at bamru.org. I hope you'll consider using AmazonSmile to support the awesome volunteer work my sister is doing!

Bay Area Mountain Rescue Unit

What are you lovin'?

Way Better Snacks sent me a sampler of their chips to try, Apothic sent me a couple of bottles of Apothic Dark to sample, ThermoWorks sent me a ChefAlarm and Thermapen to play around with in the kitchen, and I have a free subscription to Eat Your Books. As always, all opinions are my own. Please note there are Amazon Affiliate links in this post. If you click through the links and make purchases, I'll earn a few cents and so will my sister's organization.


Pumpkin-Cranberry-Pecan Twists

Pumpkin-cranberry-pecan twists

I am obsessed with Iggy's cranberry-pecan rolls. I'm sure I've admitted this in the past. I usually have to buy one whenever I see one. Something about the toasty pecans and chewy tart-sweet cranberries just hits the spot. When I saw Stephanie's pumpkin-cranberry twists, I wasn't at all thinking about my beloved cranberry-pecan rolls. I just thought they'd be a perfect addition to Thanksgiving dinner. So I made the rolls.


Thanksgiving Traditions And Butterball Turkey Check Giveaway

Butterball turkey

Did you know that this is the first year that Butterball, which started its Turkey Talk-Line back in 1981, will have a male Turkey Talk-Line spokesperson? I never realized that there weren't men manning the talk-line before now. My dad has always made the turkey for our Thanksgiving dinner, so it just didn't occur to me that all the turkey guidance was coming from women. I call my dad whenever I have meat-related cooking questions. (Maybe I'm in a unique situation because my dad went to CIA and worked as a chef for years…) On Thanksgiving, he makes the turkey and the best turkey gravy in the world to go with it. (Seriously, I can eat the gravy like it's soup.) No one makes mashed potatoes like my mom. And I try to take over the desserts and some of the sides with help from my siblings.


Soup Sundays: Tortelloni En Brodo

Tortelloni en brodo

One of the best things Jeff and I ate on our honeymoon in Italy was a simple soup called tortellini en brodo. We had this soup while dining outdoors at a small restaurant in Bologna, the city where tortellini is said to have been invented. I ordered the soup as my appetizer and ended up having to share the whole bowl with Jeff. I still think about that soup to this day, and just over a year later, I finally re-created it in my own kitchen. I won't say my version was as intensely flavorful as the one we had, but it definitely satisfied that year-long craving.


Toasted Harvest Grains Bread

Toasted harvest grains bread

The next bread I made after the vegetable demi-baguettes was a toasted harvest grains bread based on a recipe from Stephanie over at Girl Versus Dough. As soon as I saw her bread and how easy it sounded and how delicious it looked, I started craving it. During a visit to Vermont with a stop at King Arthur Flour on the way home, I picked up a bag of Harvest Grains Blend. I thought the mixture of sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, poppy seeds, flax seeds, whole oat berries, millet, rye flakes, and wheat flakes would be perfect in the bread. (And I actually made the bread the same day I got back with that bag of harvest grains!)


Soup Sundays: Pasta And Pancetta Soup

Pasta and pancetta soup

So I cheated a little with this pasta and pancetta soup: I used store-bought chicken stock. I've been having fun making my own stock but it is pretty time-consuming, and with skipping the homemade stock, this soup sounded easy enough to make on a weeknight. So I cheated a little more on my weekend soup-making goal and went ahead and made this on a weeknight.


Vegetable Demi-Baguettes

Vegetable demi-baguettes

I told you my soup-making and bread-baking goals and I shared some soups with you. Now it's time to share the first bread I made with you. It's a little embarrassing. My bread baking skills clearly need some work. Or maybe I need rocks and chains in my oven. No, seriously. That's what this recipe called for. I had this brief thought of running out to the yard and gathering rocks, but then there'd be the trip to Home Depot for chains, and I didn't have time for all that. (Not to mention that I'd also need a Super Soaker -- can't forget that!) I attempted a workaround instead, but based on the results, I think maybe I need those rocks and chains next time. Or maybe I just need some practice... or to not start with a Thomas Keller recipe. Glutton for punishment, that's me.


Soup Sundays: Chicken Tortilla Soup

Chicken tortilla soup

I'm doing pretty well with my soup-making goal so far. I haven't made a soup every weekend, but I am slowly and steadily crossing soups off my list. This chicken tortilla soup is based on the Silky Tortilla Soup in the May 2013 issue of Food & Wine. Unlike most chicken tortilla soups, which have vibrant tomato broths, this one looked a little subdued, and after reading through the recipe, I realized it's because the soup is pureed with butter. It sounded decadent for a soup, and I had to make it.