Movie

Movie
Movie Inspired Recipes

Television

Television
Television Inspired Recipes

Book

Book
Book Inspired Recipes

Vassilopitta (New Year Wish Cake)

Vassilopitta (New Year Wish Cake)
I love hearing people's new year traditions. Whether a tradition between a small family unit, or something native to a region or country, it's so fascinating to get that glimpse into what makes people tick. Growing up, we didn't really have many traditions revolving around welcoming a new year. Unless you count watching Dick Clark, counting down with the ball, and yelling "Happy New Year" as the hour changed, hugs and kisses all around. Okay, I guess that is a tradition in itself. But I'm thinking something beyond that.

A few years ago, I started with the twelve grapes at the twelve strokes of midnight thing. I always prepare five cups of twelve grapes and we try to gobble quickly as the year changes. It's a pretty fun tradition, but I don't like that it takes away from the kissing and hugging. I mean, giggles and gagging are always a good time, but I miss kisses and hugs with loved ones on the hour.

One tradition that I started myself when the kids were young is drinking mimosas all day on New Year's day. I used to pop the cork at midnight—and then I had kids. I just couldn't keep my eyes open long enough to enjoy a whole bottle of champagne before passing out (from exhaustion). So, I'd wait and the hubs and I would pop the cork as soon as we woke up...full bottles of orange juice (and maybe some other fun juices and additions) ready in the fridge. Don't worry (I know you were), I buy sparkling juices for the kids.

"Oh Fuuuuudge" Pops + 8 other dishes inspired by A Christmas Story | #FoodnFlix

"Oh Fuuuuudge Pops" inspired by A Christmas Story for #FoodnFlix
I know Christmas is over, but I'm guessing I'm not the only one with a tree still twinkling in the corner. And since I had a hard time getting in the spirit this year, it's only been up for about a week now. We'll probably take it down on New Year's eve. In the same spirit, I'm bringing you a bit of an afterthought (though not really, because it was planned) today—what's four days in the grand scheme?

Now, I say it was planned. It's true. You may remember me mentioning earlier this month that I was hosting the current round of Food 'n Flix with my pick, A Christmas Story. I didn't actually make the entries due until yesterday, so I knew I'd be posting food with a bit of holiday inspiration behind it after the fact. And can I just say, I had so much fun coming up with something inspired by the movie!

I actually had a hard time narrowing it down. This is one of those movies that I watch at least once (usually more) every December; the whole family does. And I've been doing it for 30 years. I'll go ahead and call it a tradition. Though it's not a typical "foodie" flick, there is plenty of inspiration throughout. From the most basic inspiration, the holiday itself, to actual movie scenes. I'm not going to lie, the meatloaf and mashed potatoes that make regular appearances at the Parker's dinner table left me hungry for some good comfort food. Even the pot of red cabbage boiling on the stove got me thinking (you'll see a salad featuring red cabbage soon that I almost used for this post).

Spiced Pear-Pumpkin Whisky Fizz + Ideas for Hosting a Gift Wrapping Party

Spiced Pear-Pumpkin Whisky Fizz + Ideas for Hosting a Gift Wrapping Party
Soon the floor will be littered with brightly colored paper, torn hastily from boxes. Trash and recycling bins will be stuffed to the brim. Sounds of new gadgets and devices will be filling every room in the house. As you walk the room, offering a trash bag to anybody who will add to it, you'll remember the care you took putting on all that pretty paper, those shredded bows. Hours to wrap, minutes to destroy. But that's half the fun, don't you think?

Today I'm here to offer some last minute ideas for holding a gift wrapping party! If you can carve out an afternoon or evening with some of your friends the week before Christmas, one of these parties can be a much-needed break from the madness. These are just a few ideas to get your creative juices flowing.

Ideas for Hosting a Gift Wrapping Party

PICK A THEME: You can go as basic or specific as you like. Change it up each year!
Some ideas are snowflakes, Santa Claus, Natural (think raffia and jute, pine cones and sprigs, holly and pointsettias, etc), Snowmen, Christmas Trees, Birds, Jingle Bells, Musical, Nativity, ugly sweater, cartoon. The possibilities are endless!

PICK A COLOR SCHEME: Something that matches the theme. I've included a few ideas to get the juices flowing.
  • Snowflakes = blue, silver, and white
  • Santa Claus = red, green, and white
  • Natural = browns, pine greens, other colors found outdoors
  • Birds = golds, reds, yellows
Again, endless possibilities. I'd stick with about 3 colors at the most for most themes.

Spicy Mushrooms

Spicy Mushrooms
Guess what? I'm not going to talk your ear off today. You're busy. I'm busy. I can count the days until Christmas on one hand (with leftover fingers). I can just picture some of you raising your hands in praise. In lieu of waxing poetic, I'm going to share an easy side dish with you. It would be a welcome accompaniment at any holiday table.

The reason I love these spicy mushrooms so much is that they go great with so many things. Sure, you can scoop them straight into your mouth, but I love spooning big helpings over green beans, roast beef or steak, chicken, or turkey. They're even good atop a tall mound of mashed potatoes.

So, if you're looking for a vegan side dish with a little oomph to add to your table, look no further than these tender mushrooms combined with roasted tomatoes, garlic, and chiles!

Ginger and Rye Truffles

This is a sponsored post written by me on half of Templeton Rye and Simply Organic on behalf of The Baddish Group. All opinions are my own.
Ginger and Rye Boozy Truffles
My grandparents have a turntable cabinet in their kitchen, and I was fascinated by it when I was little. It's where they kept boxes of cereal, snacks...and liquor bottles. I didn't really think anything of it, but it gives me a good giggle now. I suppose we use our space the best we know how.

The liquor bottles always stayed in the same spot (that I knew of) until the holidays rolled around, then they were pulled out and set on the counter with a big bottle of gingerale. I know now that those were bottles of whiskey.

On the other side of the counter were plates and extra tins full of chocolates, candies, and cookies that my grandma had made all week long. The family would gather at my grandparent's house, chocolate and whiskey-ginger cocktails in the appropriate hands as the day wore on.

The cast of The Wanderer's Children talks FOOD, plus a recipe for Chocolate Soufflés!

Heads-up—this is a lengthy feature, but it includes a review, an interview, a sinfully delicious chocolate soufflé recipe, a 50% book discount code, and a ridiculously cool giveaway. If you could carve 10-15 minutes out of your day for a little escape, I'd love it if you'd take that escape with me here today.
Chocolate Soufflés
I love finding a good book series.  Sometimes I "discover" them late in the game and come home from the library with a stack of them—because I have to start from the beginning (I'm the same way with tv series). Other times I'm lucky and discover them from book one. That's what happened with The Angelorum Twelve Chronicles by L.G. O'Connor. Now, at first I wasn't so sure. That hesitation had nothing to do with the fantasy or paranormal aspect of the books—angels, demons, and looking beyond are a draw in my book. It was the romance part of the equation I wasn't so sure about.

Before I read Trinity Stones, I'd never read a romance novel in my (at the time) 38 years. I just never had any interest in them. My experience with them only goes as far as standing in front of the small bookshelf at the supermarket when I was in elementary school. I'd study the men with muscles defined under their flowing shirts, long hair whipped back in an unseen wind. I was fascinated, yet I can't remember ever picking one up and flipping through it. I'd reach for a Stephen King novel instead. But apparently, I don't mind a little paranormal romance. Though I do still feel like I need to read it when the kids are in bed or at school (or look over my shoulder the whole time...because everybody knows kids magically appear there at the most inopportune times).

Nine months ago I stumbled into the world of the Angelorum not knowing what to expect. And like so many times before, I've been mentally willing the author to write faster! I love to savor a new book in a series, but have a hard time not just devouring it after the wait. Book two did not disappoint. O'Connor introduces us to a few new members of "the twelve" in this book. There are actually a sizeable number of characters (aka cast members)—but the story calls for it. In book one, we were introduced to Cara and Simon. I'd consider them the main characters. Michael, Sienna, Kai, and a several others were also introduced, but seemed to be more supporting characters. In this book, Michael and Sienna come to the forefront and we get to know more about what makes them tick. Kai, Brett, Angel, Paco...all of their stories are simmering on the backburner, as well...waiting to have their turn in future books.

Pickled Cranberries and a Dirty Cranberry Gibson

Pickled Cranberries and a Dirty Cranberry Gibson
The cranberry-madness still has a hold on me. I seriously can't enough. Anytime time I make something, I stop to wonder if cranberries would go well in it. Over the years, I've always had at least two or three bags of cranberries in my freezer at any given time. Right now I have zero, and it's making me a little uneasy. I'm worried that next time I go to the market, they'll be all gone—that I'll have missed my chance for the season.

Since that hasn't happened yet, I'm just gonna go with the flow. So,  you know how Food Network Magazine has those awesome little inserts every month? They have titles like "50 Pies", "50 Potato Salads", "50 Super Bowl Snacks", "50 Smoothies", "50 Things to Make with Bacon"... those may be my favorite part of the whole magazine. I have a ton of them (okay, not a ton—but at least 27) stacked on my working bookshelf. They full of great ideas and inspiration. You probably know where I'm going with this.

Yes, there was one on cranberries. It was in the November '14 issue, and titled (surprisingly) "50 Things to Make with Cranberries".  I'm thinking of trying all 50. Maybe that will make my little obsession disappear. Today, I'm checking two off the list—pickled cranberries, and the cocktail that they tumble perfectly into.

Pomegranate Salad

Pomegranate Salad
Are you knee-deep in holiday sweets yet? Since it's already two weeks into December, that scenario is almost impossible to avoid. It can be easy to forget that life is not all about the butter...the sugar...the chocolate...the glacé fruit (okay, maybe nobody ever thinks it's about the glacé fruit). That is why I'm sharing this salad with you today. Okay, that and the fact that I'm today's stop for the Sharing Morocco blog tour!

The thing is, looking at this salad, you don't necessarily think healthy. You think beautiful—or at least I do. The deep, rich reds and greens that come straight from the earth rather than a tube. Busting out this salad in the middle of the holiday madness is like bringing home somebody to meet your family for the first time. Everybody's nervous and wondering if they'll fit in. But instead of being awkward, it's like they were supposed to have been there all along. They just fit.

Aside from the colors that just scream winter, I think it has a lot to do with the addition of lightly candied nuts and nature's own little sugar bursts, dates. This salad is just one of the many vibrant dishes lining the pages of the new (released in October) cookbook by Ruth Barnes, otherwise known as The Petite Gourmande.

Beyond the Cranberry Sauce: Over 100 Cranberry Recipe Ideas!

Beyond the Cranberry Sauce: Over 100 Cranberry Recipe Ideas!
I'm currently enamored of cranberries. Is that an odd thing to say? It's just that before now, I liked them, I looked forward to making cranberry sauce for the Thanksgiving table. I usually have a container of dried ones in the pantry, and an extra package or two of fresh in the freezer. Every once in a while, I drink a vodka and cranberry. But for the most part, I didn't think much about them.

I'm like that, though. Something that I overlooked (and probably took for granted) will suddenly captivate my attention. Like now, it's all cranberries, all day. I'll be looking for other recipes, imagining other meals, and before I know it, I'm pinning cranberry recipe ideas like a madwoman. It's a constant battle within. I've just learned to go with it.

I have a few cranberry recipes on the horizon, and I'll be sharing those soon, but today I'm bringing you a definitive (for now) round-up of some amazing recipes featuring this little bush-dwelling, mouth-puckering red orb. I recently asked some of my fellow food bloggers if they'd share some of their own cranberry recipes with me. For the most part, the recipes you find below are all delicious ways to use fresh cranberries that go BEYOND THE CRANBERRY SAUCE—but I'm also including a few sauce recipes (because I do love it), and some of the recipes make use of the dried berries.

Roasted Grapes with Thyme

Roasted Grapes with Thyme
I went back and forth for a few days trying to decide whether or not to share this recipe today. I mean, it's roasted grapes—that's it. Simple to make, no big frills, no huge backstory. Just roasted grapes. For all I know, I was the last person on the face of the earth to actually make (or try) them. I've seen them floating around in one form or another for a number of years now. I've been meaning to make a batch. I finally did. They're everything I thought they would be. I didn't roast them alongside a chicken or a pork roast. I didn't press them into any focaccia dough. I didn't toss them with some perfectly cooked tender grains. They're just grapes, but they're totally worth sharing. Because maybe I wasn't the last person in the world to try them.

It's usually the simple pleasures that delight me the most. I'm constantly amazed by the product of time and temperature. Slowly simmering fruit and a bit of spice can yield a jar of rich, silky fruit butter (like this Cardamom Pear Butter). Roasting broccoli and cauliflower takes both of those humble veggies to a whole different level. Pureed fruit and a low, slow heat produces chewy and sweet fruit leather. Duck legs wiling the day away in a bath produce meat so meltingly tender it just falls into your fingers at the lightest touch (like these Asian-inspired Braised Duck Legs). Nothing more than time, steady heat, and its own rendered fat can turn pork into the most flavorful Carnitas you'll ever taste.  It's kind of amazing.

Winter Waltz cocktail + The North American Whiskey Guide

Winter Waltz Cocktail (whiskey)
What's your favorite kind of whiskey? Do you know the difference between a Bourbon Whiskey and a Tennessee Whiskey? Would you be able to pinpoint if a whiskey was made with corn, rye, wheat, barley, or a combination? Not sure which whiskey pairs well with that Arturo Fuento Lost City cigar?

I don't  know many people who have definitive answers to all of those questions. Well, perhaps other than the first one—but I'm willing to bet even that one would be open for debate were hundreds of bottles lining the shelves before you. There are hundreds of North American varieties of whiskey alone. I'm partial to Scottish whisky. I have some Irish recommendations, as well. But you can also find whiskey being made in Australia, Sweden, and even Japan (I have a few on my to-try list right now). So really, I think the quest to find the next greatest whisk(e)y is always on the forefront.

I recently received a copy of The North American Whiskey Guide from Behind the Bar, the newly released book by Chad Berkey and Jeremy LeBlanc (who between the two have over 40 combined years behind). They chose over 250 different varieties of North American Whiskey (the ones most frequently ordered by their patrons) to feature in the book. They asked 4 professional bartenders to join them in blind tastings of each whiskey, and combined their feedback with their own tastings and reviews, and feedback from the patrons in the bar, to offer honest and thoughtful insight on each type in the book.

Roasted Buttercup Squash & Tahini-Yogurt Dip

Roasted Buttercup Squash & Tahini-Yogurt Dip
Somehow, we've already reached the halfway mark of the Twelve Weeks of Winter Squash. Today kicks off week numero six! My personal goal is to use a different squash each week than I've featured so far this year. That means no more pumpkin or butternut squash recipes. Sadly it also means no more spaghetti squash. I can't guarantee inspiration won't take control and wind up requiring one of these varieties, but I'm going to try my best.

As of today, I can officially check buttercup squash off of my list, too. I like working with buttercups because they're fairly manageable—smallish (for a winter squash), thinner skinned, seeds scoop out easily. Once cooked, their flesh is creamy and sweet (though not as sweet as a butternut); it also tends to have less moisture than a lot of other varieties.

Yesterday I was looking for something to munch on while doing all of my Sunday-things—laundry, dishes, housework, prep for the upcoming week...last minute oh-I-just-remembered homework. I found a recipe from Food & Wine for a dip made with butternut squash and decided to switch it out for the buttercup I had hanging out on the counter. With a few other minor adjustments, I had my munching food.

Slow-Cooker Beef and Bacon Stew

Slow-Cooker Beef and Bacon Stew
Raise your hand if you love baby showers! I really do; they're always so much fun with the games and the adorable little eensy-weensy clothes and the nibbles. But the truth is—I haven't been to one in years. I don't even remember the last one I went to. Apparently most of the people I know (local or family) have already had their babies.

So I will turn to my friends who live a bit farther, like the beautiful lady that we're celebrating today—Alyssa from Everyday Maven! Now, I feel like I've known Alyssa for a long time. In reality, it's probably been about three or four years. I don't remember exactly how we met, but it was through the world of food blogging. About two and a half years ago, I was a guest blogger at her site, and I shared a simple, delicious side dish of Arugula and Lemon Couscous. This was before Alyssa began her Paleo journey, and now I feel a bit guilty about the pasta, but she is gracious enough to leave it on her site.

Alyssa herself has actually been a guest blogger right here on All Roads Lead to the Kitchen a couple of times, as well. Two years ago she stopped by during the Twelve Weeks of Winter Squash to...well...talk winter squash! The next summer she helped me cool off during The Summer of the Popsicle with these Triple Berry Ice Pops. I love her style, and both she and her food are very approachable. One visit to her world and you'll feel the love for her family and for feeding them healthy food.

Cardamom Pear Butter + Castello Aged Havarti Cheese Pairing

This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Castello® in conjunction with Honest Cooking. All opinions are my own.
Aged Havarti Cheese Pairing + Cardamom Pear Butter #cheese #CastelloArt
I've often waxed poetic on the subject of cheese, otherwise known as  my ultimate weakness. I could live on cheese plates alone. You know, because they're always accompanied by other good things like bread or crackers, fruits and nuts, slices of charcuterie, perfect little condiments, and of course, alcohol. Nibbles and tastes, turn into swoons and flutters, turn into claiming a cheese tray as my dinner plate. Really, what more does a person need?

I could blabber on and on about the virtues of a well thought out cheese plate, the kind that includes several cheeses and an array of complementary food and drink. Today I'm partnering with Castello® as part of their #CastelloArt campaign, so I'm going to do something a little different and feature a single cheese—Castello® Aged Havarti.

"Castello® Aged Havarti is based on the authentic Danish recipe for Havarti dating back to 1952. Made from traditional cheese methods with the addition of a special culture, the Castello® Aged Havarti is then matured for 12 months.

Bacon Fat Spice Loaf (variation on a Lardy Cake)

Bacon Fat Spice Loaf (a variation on Lardy Cake) #twelveloaves #bread #holidaybaking
This bread has been four years in the making. I swear, I feel like that's always something I'm saying. I collect recipes and ideas the way some people collect stamps. Tucked away in every imaginable place, filed away, sticking out of every nook and cranny, in books or folders—you name it and there's probably at least one recipe idea sticking out of it. Fortunately, I know I'm not the only one with this affliction.

Four years ago, I bought The River Cottage Bread Handbook. It's a great book—portable, inspiring, useable. It helped me start my very first sourdough starter. The first half of the books is an introduction, of sorts. It talks about why to bake bread yourself, and then moves into ingredients and step-by-step guides for every part of the process. The second half is all about the recipes, and putting the techniques you learned in the first half to use. There's even a tutorial on how to build your own clay oven tucked into the back of the book. I haven't used it yet, but oh, how I'd love to one day!

There are several pages that have had bookmarks marking their spot since day one. I've worked my way through a good amount of them, but one has been hanging out, patiently waiting its turn ever since. It's the recipe for Lardy Cake. Which is actually bread, not cake. You know how that goes sometimes.

Buttermilk Pumpkin Pie

Buttermilk Pumpkin Pie #12WeeksofWinterSquash #pie
I can't make it through Thanksgiving without eating at least one slice of pumpkin pie. Does anybody else feel that way? I'm sure it's a tradition-slash-nostalgia type of deal. But the crazy thing is, if we're not having Thanksgiving dinner with the extended family (my grandparents, parents, siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, etc.), I am the only one who will eat it. Not a single one of my kids likes it. My hubby doesn't like it. And yet, I can't do without it. Therefore, I wind up either trying to eat a whole pie by myself or throwing the majority of a pie away. Both scenarios make me sad.

I need to buy one of those split-decision pie pans. I would feel much better about finding something a way to consume or save half of a pie. But then the problem lies in what to make on the other half of the pan. Pretty much all of the other pies are devoured in their entirety. I suppose that could be my "experimental pie" side. Sounds like a plan. Or there's always an individual tart...

But this year was still a full pie. And we stayed home, so you can probably guess what happened to the majority of it. I always try to switch things up a bit, try a variation on the Libby's recipe I grew up with (not that there's anything wrong with that one, it's just in my nature). This year's pumpkin pie used buttermilk in the filling, which added a nice little tang that worked to temper the sweetness and complement the spice.

Event Announcement: A Christmas Story for #FoodnFlix

I am hosting this month's edition of Food 'n Flix, and seeing how it's already a snowy December outside of my Indiana window, I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to get lost in 90 minutes of Red Ryder bb guns, triple-dog-dares, and the soft glow of electric sex gleaming in the window via A Christmas Story!

A Christmas Story is a classic (I think) holiday movie that conjures up memories of tongues stuck to frozen metal poles, huge red bars of soap to wash out a "dirty" mouth, and snowsuits so puffy you can barely move, but does it make you think food?

I know I can think of a few obvious scenes—mommy's little piggy, a turkey being carried off by the dogs, and the Chop Suey Palace are what immediately come to mind. But there's all sorts of inspiration to be offered up, such as the setting and the season. And for the more adventurous and inventive, some of the "key" movie scenes are just ripe for the taking.
A Christmas Story is the December '14 pick for Food 'n Flix - join us or drop by to see what we're cookin'!

Slow-Cooker Cranberry Turkey Breast with Gravy

Slow-Cooker Cranberry Turkey Breast with Gravy
I'm sneaking in one more recipe for you to consider adding to your Thanksgiving table this year. I know it's T-minus 24 hours or so, but this dish is totally worth it. Now, I've mentioned before that I always make at least one extra turkey breast alongside our turkey—I hate not having Thanksgiving leftovers. This is probably the recipe I will use from now until the end of time for at least of those extra turkey breasts. It's that good.

Okay, so let's talk crispy skin. It's one of the best parts of the turkey, right? But it gets eaten right away. I mean, it has a short window. You rip it off gingerly to avoid burning your fingertips, and you savor the crispy, flavorful crackle. Crispy skin does not make it to the leftover containers for that reason, and because it would no longer be crispy when reheated. So, roast your turkey in the oven (might I suggest this Crispy Skin Roast Turkey with Citrus Herb Brine), and cook this one out of the way in your crockpot.

This extra breast won't yield you any extra crisp skin, it will however give you extra ridiculously juicy and flavor-packed meat AND about two and half cups of gravy. Extra gravy is never a bad thing. Like, ever.

Waldorf Salad inspired by Pieces of April | #FoodnFlix

Waldorf Salad #Thanksgiving #sidedish #apples
I find it hard to take a person seriously when they don't admit to some dysfunction somewhere in their family. Rainbows and lollipops do not always abound when the family comes together, not even on Thanksgiving. This month's Food 'n Flix pick Pieces of April, as chosen by our host Deb from Kahakai Kitchen, brings some of that dysfunction to the screen.

Far from a poster-child for exemplary behavior in the past, April is now a young adult coming into her own. She invites her mostly estranged suburban-dwelling family to her Lower East Side apartment for Thanksgiving dinner, with a nervous hope that their cold demeanor will start to warm up a bit.

It turns out that April's mother Joy is in the final stages of cancer, and this may be her final Thanksgiving. With mood swings that range from sweet and blissful to downright nasty, Joy is not a very lovable character. I found myself thinking "what a bitch" in my head so many times throughout the movie, which I found disconcerting, since she is dying...and it's sad and understandable. Sort of. I don't understand not being able to remember even one happy memory of your own daughter. As much as I enjoyed Katie Holmes as April in this film, it was Patricia Clarkson as her mom that stole the show. Of course, because Clarkson is flipping brilliant (for lack of a more eloquent term).

Butternut Squash and Apple Bisque

Butternut Squash and Apple Bisque #12WeeksofWinterSquash #soup
The Food Truck sensation is sweeping the nation, and photographers Phil Shen and Kim Pham have a backstage pass. They stumbled sort of accidentally into the place they were meant to be after moving to Portland, Oregon in 2009. Between sporadic photo jobs, they began exploring the food pods around town (my PDX friend Bea tells me about these all the time), and were smitten.

They'd spend their weekends exploring and tasting, and in the midst of it all, took notice of the chefs, owners, and people who ran these tiny little kitchens. They wanted to know their stories. Thus, the idea of their food blog was born; a combination of their love for food and photography. They teamed up with Terri Phillips, a writer, and began to delve deeper into the food pods, food carts, and food trucks vying for a spot on the busy streets. Behind the Food Carts is their (very successful) vehicle for sharing these people's stories through words and photographs. Their passion led to being named Saveur magazine's Best Culinary Travel Blog in 2013, and now this inspiring and delicious cookbook.

"Each chapter kicks off with an introduction by Phil and a full food truck story by Terri, and each recipe features a personal tidbit or anecdote from the contributor. These recipes are not "inspired by" or "based on" the menus of the food trucks featured; they're direct from the chefs themselves. You may not be able to travel to Love Balls Bus in Austin, Texas for Garlic Yaki Onigiri, but you can sear some up in your home kitchen and taste Chef Gabe Rothschild's drive and dedication for yourself."

Herbed Turkey over Cornbread Waffles w/ Cranberry Sauce

Herbed Turkey over Cornbread Waffles with Cranberry Sauce #ThanksgivingLeftovers
I like Thanksgiving leftovers almost as much as I like the meal itself. It actually makes me a leeeetle bit frustrated if there's nothing left for later that night AND the next day. That is exactly why I make extra. Of everything. For example, even if I'm roasting a whole turkey, I put an extra breast in the crockpot. I always make a double batch of cranberry sauce. And one pie? Oh no, I make at least three pies or other dessert offerings—but mostly pie.

I know this sounds boring, but my absolute favorite way to eat leftover turkey is simply piled on white bread and sprinkled with salt for a sandwich that sticks both to the roof of my mouth and to the insides of my throat and chest as it goes down. I swear, but that's exactly the way I like it. Hanger ensues if I don't eat at least one of those sandwiches yearly.

But I also like more creatively re-purposed leftovers. For example, a Turkey Manhattan (an open-faced sandwich with turkey, mashed potatoes, and gravy) is probably second on the must-have Thanksgiving leftovers scale. I also always throw a couple of extra sweet potatoes in the oven alongside whatever is roasting for the sole purpose of eating these Cranberry-Barbecue Turkey Stuffed Sweet Potatoes later on. Turkey Tetrazzini and Cranberry Sauce Crumb Bars are a couple more of my family's favorite uses for leftovers.

Persimmon Pudding

Persimmon Pudding #Thanksgiving #dessert
Okay, so I'm about to put this out there—until recently, I thought persimmons were a tropical fruit. I think it's because I didn't eat a single persimmon until a few years ago. Whenever I saw them, they were at the market, in the produce section next to the coconuts, star fruit, pineapple, papaya, mango...you get the point. Of course, that seems to be where the section they display the pomegranates in, too. A person can get the wrong idea.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not blaming it on the supermarkets. My ignorance is my own fault (if fault is really a thing here). Recently I was paging through books and magazines to help me plan out my Thanksgiving menu when I stumbled across an article about and recipe for persimmon pudding. I was dumbfounded when I read the title "Indiana Persimmon Pudding". What? Indiana? I live in Indiana. Little did I know, persimmons grow wild across much of Southern Indiana and Illinois. Well, I live as north as you can get in Indiana without being in Michigan. So that explains it.

Apparently persimmon pudding is a tradition and a staple in the Midwest (where I've spent almost my entire life) and the South. And yet, to me it was a brand new discovery. Trying to remember how many times I've actually eaten persimmons in my life, I can remember approximately three times before now. THREE. I just never really knew what to do with them (and apparently didn't bother doing even minimal research). But this little tidbit of knowledge reeled me in.

Asian-inspired Braised Duck Legs

This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Fiji Water, for the Perfection Takes Time campaign. All opinions are my own.
Asian-inspired Braised Duck Legs #perfectiontakestime #duck
Recently I realized something, and it made me a bit wistful. I realized that I don't take my time in the kitchen anymore. I mean, YES—I'm always in the kitchen. Always testing recipes. Always making dinner. Always moving a stack of cookbooks from the table to the floor. Always fretting over lack of counter space...lack of daylight...lack of clean dishes. Hurry, hurry, hurry. Spending my time instead of taking it.

Sixteen years ago, when I moved into my first real apartment...not a dorm room, not a house or apartment shared with college roommates...just me, I took my time in the kitchen. I was just coming into my own. I was learning cooking processes and techniques. I used to make lists, explore ingredients, and prepare meals that took time. Golden-skinned chicken that was roasted in the new stoneware dish I was so proud of. Chuck roasts so tender and beckoning that burning my fingertips just to get an early taste didn't hurt a bit. Pink hams wrapped in a shiny glaze. Pork loins propped up by a bed of sturdy vegetables. You know, the type of food that envelops the entire house in a sense of calm.

And I did it just because I enjoyed it.

Duck and Lentil Ragù with Spaghetti Squash

Duck and Lentil Ragù with Spaghetti Squash #12WeeksofWinterSquash #duck #lentils
The word ragù instantly conjures up visions of warm kitchens, family meals, and comfort food. Slow cooking...long braises...tomato based (traditionally) meat sauces, usually containing some sort of wine...what's not comforting about that? But sometimes I cheat and go for something equally as hearty and flavorful, yet cooked in far less time. Let's call them rapid ragùs.

This one in particular still features tender, slow-cooked meat—it's just that I didn't simmer it in the sauce itself. I love slow roasted duck and duck confit (duck legs that have been cooked slowly in their own fat), and while I don't mind taking the time to cook either, Maple Leaf Farms offers some awesome pre-cooked options. That means that I can have slow roasted meat at my fingertips, whenever.

I made this ragù at the end of last week (you may remember me telling you that there was a thick blanket of snow outside my window). It all started with a couple of little ovalular spaghetti squash sitting on my counter. Spaghetti squash just so happen to be my favorite type of winter squash...well, any squash really. More often than not, I'll just roast and scrape one and eat it with some Italian sausage and kale; that's one of my favorite meals. But since I've shared that recipe before, I knew I had to come up with something else. I mean, that is the point of 12 Weeks of Winter Squash. Stepping outside and trying new things, new combinations...coming up with new favorite uses for these sturdy squash varieties.

Cardamom-laced Pumpkin Steel-Cut Oatmeal

This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Silk. All opinions are 100% mine.
Cardamom-laced Pumpkin Steel-Cut Oatmeal + Silk® Cashewmilk #pumpkin #glutenfree #vegan
I've always been a milk-drinker. Growing up it was always dairy, and I don't think I even knew there was an alternative. I've even been a shareholder of a grass-fed organic dairy herd. I like dairy milk and I don't have any sensitivities to it. That being said, now that I'm "all grown up", I also keep alternative varieties on milk on hand at all times. One—because you never know when an intolerant person might drop by, and two—because I like using different types of milks for different applications.

I almost always have a can of coconut milk in my pantry. It's good for me to keep rice milk around because my mom can't have dairy, nuts, or soy. I use almond milk on a fairly regular basis, and soy milk from time to time. Often you hear about making nut milks at home, and while it's something I'll probably try making (because I like to try making everything myself—at least once), I know I wouldn't make it on a regular basis. I know a lot of vegans (and non-vegans) who use cashew cream, and it's always intrigued me, so when I saw that Silk® now makes cashew milk, I knew I wanted to try it.

I went for the unsweetened, because I like to control the end result (I knew I'd be using most of it as an ingredient). But of course, I had to drink some to give it the old college try before I went any further. The carton says "irresistibly creamy"...and it's right. The Silk Cashewmilk is creamy with an entirely natural and pleasant mouthfeel. Sorry, I know some people hate the word "mouthfeel", but it fits here. When you tilt your head back to take a gulp, the cashewmilk does not feel cloying or unnaturally thick. It has a mild, pleasant taste. And it BEGS to be used in oatmeal. Really, I heard it.

Tuscan White Bean Soup

I received samples from Swanson® for review purposes. The opinions stated in this post are my own.
Tuscan White Bean Soup + Swanson® Soup Prize Pack #Giveaway #soup #kale via @roadstokitchen w/ @swansonbroth
My attention is being steadily averted by the window to my left. It's mid-November, therefore the fact that fat, lazy snowflakes are falling steadily from a pale sky should not be surprising. Yet here I sit, shaking my head in disbelief at the six inches lining the shoveled path in front of the house. I wasn't ready for it. Honestly, it seems like last year's snow just finished melting.

My initial reaction aside, it's kind of comforting. I mean, as a child of the Midwest, a good snowfall does conjure up images of crackling fires, piles of cozy blankets, steaming mugs of hot chocolate, and big pots of soup to warm your bones after a day of sledding, fort building, and snowball fights.

So, when the folks at Swanson contacted me to see if I'd be interested in trying an assortment of their products, I was more than happy to put the broths and stocks to use warming up my kitchen. Swanson is a name that already appears on containers and cans in my pantry, so I was already a fan of their products. I use a lot of stock and broth, and while I do make my own, I don't make enough to keep up with what I go through. I especially like their seafood stock, since that's something I rarely make myself.

Roast Crispy-Skin Turkey (w/ Citrus Herb Brine)

Roast Crispy-Skin Turkey w/ Citrus Herb Brine #Thanksgiving #turkey
Fourteen years ago, I was in charge of the Thanksgiving turkey for the first time. I was 25 and finally ready to join the ranks of my grandmas, mom, and aunts; I was finally going to be hosting the meal that I look forward to for an entire year. I'd been training for that day my whole life by helping choose how we were going to flavor the bird when my mom hosted...by researching the pros and cons of brining...by reading up on wild vs frozen. I was a master baster. Go ahead, snicker. I was ready.

So, I set about my normal routine of figuring out how I could make the best turkey my family had ever eaten. Visions of breast meat so juicy that it garnered involuntary whimpers from the hungry mouths of my guests. Skin so burnished and crispy that I'd have to fend off sneaky fingers with the tines of my carving fork. Turkey that elicited a satisfied smile when looked back on throughout the year.

You know, a turkey that was no less than amazing—an A++++++++.....

Forbidden Rice w/ Butternut Squash & Edamame

Forbidden Rice w/ Butternut Squash & Edamame #12WeeksofWinterSquash #sidedish
Welcome to week number two of the 12 Weeks of Winter Squash! With Thanksgiving this month, I've been toying with some new side dishes to add to the this year's table. Mind you, I can't take away any of the "normal" sides lest I want mutiny to break out, but nobody ever objects to more food.

Browsing my pantry shelves led me to a container of Forbidden rice ("it's forbiiiidden!"...name that movie). It's been there for months. I've been waiting for inspiration, as I didn't just want to have a bowl of plain rice—even if it was prettier than most. Forbidden rice is a beautiful deep shade of inky purple once cooked. Or is it black with deep purple highlights? Either way, it feels like it was meant to be combined with some vibrant orange winter squash and shared during an autumn meal.

The addition of edamame to this rice came about last minute. The squash was already done roasting. The rice was almost ready to be fluffed. I pulled some scallions from the crisper—they were my original plan for  green flecks amongst the black and orange—only to find them limp and faded. Hmmmm, that was not going to work. So I started rummaging through the crisper and freezer for another way to add some color.

Spice-Swirled Cranberry Sweet Potato Bread | #ThreeLoaves Movement

Spice-Swirled Cranberry Sweet Potato Bread #ThreeLoaves Project #bread #sweetpotatoes
ONE LOAF FOR YOU.
ONE LOAF FOR A FRIEND.
ONE FOR SOMEONE IN NEED.

That is the premise of the Three Loaves Movement, the brainchild of Jerry from Cooking Stoned. Inspired by his 2010 participation in the Yahoo!'s Ripple of Kindness project, Jerry kicked off this movement in which food is a form of activism. The challenge, for all who are willing to accept it, is to bake three loaves of bread a month (aka one for you, one for a friend, and one for someone in need) that feature sustainable and seasonal ingredients.  Since baking and sharing bread is something that I do on a monthly basis anyway, I loved the thought of taking part in this movement. I say it all the time—not much compares to a freshly baked loaf of bread—comfort, happiness, nourishment.

So, it's November. Obviously pumpkin and winter squash come to mind when I think seasonal produce here in the Midwest. My mind also goes directly to Thanksgiving. A table heavy with seasonal foods for which to share and give thanks. I toyed with the idea of going the savory route and combining brussels sprouts, garlic, onions, and potatoes. And though I didn't go that direction, I may still push them into some soft focaccia dough in the next couple of weeks.

Instead I decided that sweet potatoes were the way to go. I pictures my family's favorite rustic potato loaves, and thought that maybe swapping out sweet potatoes would yield the same great results, but with a beautiful orange hue to reflect the season. But then visions of cranberries and spice started swirling in my head, which transferred themselves to the inside of my sweet potato loaves. Instead of sharing savory loaves, I wound up sharing enriched loaves that were studded with cranberries and punctuated by a sweet and spicy swirl.

Giant Pumpkin Spice Cinnamon Rolls

Giant Pumpkin Spice Cinnamon Rolls #twelveloaves #pumpkin #pumpkinspice #cinnamonrolls
It was almost exactly 5 years ago to the day that I made my first from scratch, fully homemade batch of cinnamon rolls. I was so darn proud of myself, because I had just started to become friends with yeast. We're a family of cinnamon roll eaters through the generations, so that was a pretty significant moment in my life. Coincidentally, they also had a pumpkin base. But oh, how far I've come since then. Where once I avoided baking yeast breads like they were the plague, I now long for the comfort of their company in the kitchen. What a difference 5 years can make.

So, when our #TwelveLoaves host for the month, the lovely Renee from Kudos Kitchen by Renee, announced that our theme for November was pumpkin, I automatically knew that I was making cinnamon rolls. No, that's a lie—but wouldn't it have been poetic? I was actually leaning towards savory. Visions of a sage-laced pumpkin cornbread danced in my head. And then I entertained a rustic loaf that still included sage, but also bacon. I even had all of the ingredients ready to go for that one. But instead, the craving for cinnamon rolls full-on telenovela-slapped me across the face. Cinnamon rolls it was.

I've mentioned (many times) before that I'm a bit of a connoisseur. I love a good straightforward cinnamon bun without any bells and whistles, but I can't help but veer off the path, picking up random bells and whistles and sticking them in my bag for later. Today is a bells and whistles day. Did I just say bells and whistles far too many times in one paragraph? 

Sesame and Chile Roasted Butternut Squash

Sesame and Chile Roasted Butternut Squash #12WeeksOfWinterSquash | allroadsleadtothe.kitchen
Well, November just sort of snuck up on me. Today is already the 3rd, and the 3rd just so happens to be my birthday. I've reached that "forever age"—39. Okay, I'm not so sure if ladies still say that. You know, every year when their birthday rolls around, they're 39 again? I don't think I'll do that. I mean, even though 40 is just around the corner, these days, it doesn't seem so old anymore.

Anyhoo, besides celebrating the start of my final year in my 30's, today also kicks off another edition of the 12 Weeks of Winter Squash! If you're not familiar with it, well...it's exactly what it sounds like. For the next 12 weeks, I'll be featuring at least one winter squash recipe every week. This will be my third year joining my friend Joanne of Eats Well With Others in celebrating the versatile winter squash (though she's been doing it for even longer than that).

So, every Monday for the forseeable future, you can pretty much count on a recipe featuring some sort of winter squash. I'm starting today with what I like to call a gateway variety of winter squash—Butternut. I mean, a Butternut squash isn't too scary, right? I mean, you can even eat the peel (though I only recommend it if it's roasted). It's fairly simple to cut when compared to some other varieties—pumpkin, I'm talking to you!

Alphabet Veggie Soup with Mini Chicken Meatballs

This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of The Frozen Food Foundation. All opinions are 100% mine.
Alphabet Veggie Soup with Mini Chicken Meatballs
I have a confession to make. Sometimes I waste fruits and vegetables. I buy them with the best of intentions. Beautiful little potato orbs just begging to be made into some warm German potato salad wind up looking like a science experiment. Spindly hairs shoot from what were recently bold orange carrots clamoring to be roasted and pureed into some creamy hummus. Crunchy celery stalks once destined to become the log to some peanut butter and raisins now lie soft an limp and neglected at the bottom of my crisper. Cartons of berries that formerly held the promise of summer sunshine, only to wind up cloaked in a fuzzy blanket. Name-calling and insults fly; head-smacking ensues. It's not pretty.

If only nature had a pause button. Oh wait - it does! Freezing fruits and vegetables is a simple way to reduce spoilage and waste. It also saves money, because while I love a rich compost pile, I wouldn't intentionally buy a fresh load of fruits and veggies from the market or farm stand and deposit them directly into it. I wouldn't shred my dollar bills and throw them in. Yet, I sometimes feel like that's exactly what I'm doing.

So, while I'm guilty of these infractions sometimes, I'm not all the time. Because I actually do keep several bags of frozen fruit and veggies in my freezer at all times. Not only are they a convenient option, they're a healthy one since our bodies need the essential nutrients fruits and veggies add to our diet. Did you know that eating a diet rich in a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables is more important than ever (eat the rainbow) given the increase in chronic disease rates among age groups!? Sadly, that's because nearly 80 percent of American fail to actually consume the daily recommended amounts of fruit, that percentage rises to 90 when we're talking vegetables. Crazy!

Coney Dogs inspired by The Lost Tribe of Coney Island

Coney Dogs with Homemade Coney Sauce
In the modern world reality tv, overt voyeurism, and little left to the imagination...where everything is on display...it's easy to long for the past. A time when things were simpler, people were friendlier, and humanity was more evident. But was it really?

I tend to lean towards the answer yes—but only slightly. Human slavery, evil dictators, shady businessmen, human traffickers, and plain-old bad people have always existed. With the population explosion and the invention of the internet, it's just more prominently displayed now. I could argue back and forth (with myself, mind you) on both sides of this coin—and often do.

What's my point? Reading a well-researched, well-documented account of American history, such as The Lost Tribe of Coney Island tends to sway me towards the side that says the darkside was always present. A lying, cheating, heartless swindler coerces an unsuspecting tribe of Igorrote from their home in the Phillipines with empty promises. He them displays them alongside "other freaks and curiosities" in a display that somewhat bends the confines of reality. And people pay to see it happen. I admit to being equally fascinated and revolted by this tale.

There's so much more to it, a recollection that spans several years, starting in February of 1905. This is a great book for a history buff or non-fiction reader, that is even written in a manner that will hold the attention of someone who prefers to read fiction (like myself). As Prentice says... "Ultimately, this is a story of a hero turned villain that makes us question who is civilized and who is savage."

Whole Wheat Peanut Crackers inspired by The Terminal

Whole Wheat Peanut Crackers inspired by The Terminal for Food 'n Flix
I first (and last) watched The Terminal all the way back in 2004, when it was just released. I remembered liking it, but I hadn't really thought much about it since. Then Evelyne came along as this month's Food 'n Flix host, and challenged (invited) us to watch it, draw inspiration, and head into the kitchen. But as things always seem to go, when I went to check it out from the library, they didn't have it. Like—at all; system-wide! It wasn't on Netflix, either. Of course this only happens to me when I proscrastinate. And procrastinator just so happens to be in my unwritten job description. So, I ordered it from Amazon.

It's the story of Viktor Navorski (played by Tom Hanks), a man without a country—temporarily, at least. As his plane lands at JFK, he is pulled aside by security and informed that a war has broken out in his homeland (invented for this movie), Krakozhia. The United States no longer recognizes it as a country, therefore, they cannot accept his passport (and subsequently confiscate it). And without a passport, they can't allow him onto US soil. So, they give him some food vouchers and a phone card, and encourage him to wait it out in the International terminal.

Well, there's a language barrier, and Viktor is a bit dazed and confused by the turn of events. Let's just say that he winds up staying in the airport terminal for longer than anybody expected. He makes it his temporary home. He works. He makes friends. He goes on a date. He enters the heart of people living normal lives around him. People root for him; well, all but one...Frank Dixon (played by the amazing Stanley Tucci, who I believe has been in about 7 of our food 'n flix movie picks!). But you'll have to watch to find out why!

Steak Bomb Sandwich

Steak Bomb Sandwich + an Adventures in Comfort Food cookbook tour and giveaway
I'm happy to be today's blog tour stop for the newly released Adventures in Comfort Food cookbook by Kerry Altiero, the Chef/Owner of Cafe Miranda in Rockland, Maine and Katharine Gaudet. Cafe Miranda opened 20 years ago in this small town of 7,000 residents, and is centered around its wood-fire oven. This was a feat in itself, as all of the other restaurants in the area were known for their deep-frying prowess.

Food "opened up the world" for Altiero at a young age, so he opened Cafe Miranda with that in mind-he wanted everybody, regardless of background and station in life, to be able to experience the same thing. Like the food he serves at the restaurant, the food in this cookbook is "gutsy, but it isn't strange for the sake of being strange".

"I admit to having some punkish tendencies. I like to do things my own way; I like speed; I like gears and metal. I'm addicted to the pace of restaurant cooking. But there are other, better reasons for seeking out adventures in food. Food can make the world bigger. It can change lives." ~Kerry Altiero

My outlook on food and life falls into much the same category, and with each page that I turned in this book, I got hungrier and hungrier. It was hard to narrow down the choices and decide which recipe that I wanted to share with you today. But in the end, this sandwich won out.

Fruit and Family on the Ridge: Youngquist Farms | #MichiganApples

Fruit and Family on the Ridge: Youngquist Farms #MichiganApples
Last week I had the opportunity to participate in a Michigan Apple Blogger tour, hosted by the Michigan Apple Committee. It took place in Grand Rapids and the surrounding area, on what could not have been a more perfect representation of an autumn day in Michigan.

Let me back it up a few steps to tell you why I was (still am) extra excited about this opportunity. First and foremost, though I live in Indiana now (but literally just a stone's throw—or should I say apple's throw—over the border), I will always be a Michigan-girl at heart. I grew up in Michigan (coincidentally in the same area that the tour took place). I attended (the best) college in Michigan. And yes, I still hold up my hand to reference where I live, even though I have to point to the top of my wrist nowadays.

Plus, my family probably eats double our weight in apples every year—so yeah, there's that. Since we aim to eat local produce as much as possible (unless we're craving tropical or citrus), my youngest son is forever asking me if it's apple season. Fortunately, with the development of Controlled Atmosphere Storage, that makes apple season (sort of) last eleven months of the year. But that's something we'll talk about in my next installment of the #MichiganApples series. Today, it's all about where the apples begin...the orchard! So yes, Michigan apples are available basically year-round, but there's something special about that roughly 7-week harvest window.

Havarti Ham Apple Braid

Havarti Ham Apple Braid #bread | allroadsleadtothe.kitchen
I'm am such a sucker for a soft, pillowy pile of risen dough. It makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Ninety-nine percent of of the time (maybe more), it produces the type of bread that disappears in the blink of an eye in my house, as well. A soft white bread with a tender, sometimes chewy (depends on how it is formed and baked) interior, enclosed neatly inside a golden crust. That is exactly the category that this loaf falls into.

This braided loaf is my interpretation of this month's Bread Baking Babes challenge, as chosen by our hosting BBBabe kitchen of the month, Katie at Thyme for Cooking. Now, Katie's choice was actually a braid stuffed with caramelized onions, herbs, and cheese. I basically ignored that filling idea, instead going in an entirely different direction. It's not that I don't love caramelized onions (I totally do), my brain just wouldn't latch on to the concept this month. Apparently, I wanted meat.

So, the day before I made this loaf, I'd stopped at the deli and ordered a pound of shaved tavern ham (my favorite type of ham). While the slicer was doing its thang, the lady behind the counter got busy, and I got lost in thought. That resulted in what we'll call an enthusiastic pile of shaved hame. Apparently they don't want to stick any shaved ham in the deli case alongside the thicker slices (or she was just in a good mood), because after weighing out the pound and giving me that price, she threw the extra ham into the bag. Score!

Smoked Salmon Chowder inspired by Pike Place Chowder in Seattle

Smoked Salmon Chowder inspired by Pike Place Chowder in Seattle
Smoked Salmon Chowder inspired by Pike Place Chowder in Seattle
So, people often refer to two types of trip-takers: the "planner" and the "explorative" traveler. I can firmly say that I fit directly in the center of the two types—I'm equal parts obsessive and spontaneous.

I have to go in with a plan. Nothing rigid, but definitely an outline. I do a little research on the area. I grab a map, because I am totally obsessed with maps—always have been. I make a list of attractions, areas, and destinations for my trip that I must visit (especially if it'll be my first time there). I don't make a timeline, or even a certain day that each thing has to be done, but I do try to map things out and get an idea of what would make sense. That's what I consider my "planner" side.

Once I arrive, I take it all in. I ask locals for recommendations. I walk around and look for interesting places. I try to get a feel of the area. I go back and look at my outline, and plug-in the new additions. THEN, I map out a loose plan, give myself plenty of time, and just go. That's what I consider my spontaneous side.

Vegan Pumpkin Bread inspired by How to Bake a Man

Vegan Pumpkin Bread #vegan #quickbread #pumpkin
Let me start off by saying that this book is pure fun. I took along with me to read on my flight to Seattle a few weeks ago, and finished it shortly into my return flight. I was disappointed after I turned the final page, not because of the book, but because I didn't want to stop reading.

How to Bake a Man is a fast, light-hearted jaunt into the world of 27-year old Becca who hasn't quite figured out yet what she wants to do with her life—other than bake (because that's what she's truly good at). Just as she's about to go back to school for her MBA, she decides that she'd rather push a food cart filled with baked goods through an office building. She's a feeder, and anybody who loves to cook or bake knows that her choice is inevitable (oh she who speaks from experience...).

With a cast of characters that includes (but is in no way limited to) a long-distance best friend, a handsome and confident snakeskin boot-wearin' neighbor, an evil doppelganger,  the perfect man, and a menu full of tempting food—I found it hard not to lose myself in the world of Becca's Best.

Veggie Lovers Lasagna

This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Dreamfields. All opinions are 100% my own.
Veggie Lovers Lasagna #IHeartDreamfields #meatless
Today I'm partnerting with Dreamfields Pasta to celebrate National Pasta Month. I can think of no better way to celebrate than with a pan stacked with wavy lasagna noodles that are layered with tons of veggies, and accented by a light cream sauce that has been flavored with sundried tomatoes. I'm pretty sure that even the carnivores in your life will be sated after eating a slice of this meatless lasagna.

So, I know lasagna sort of seems like a weekend dish. A dish that you need some time to prepare. But really, once you have all of your components ready (noodles cooked, sauce stirred, veggies chopped)—it's just a matter of layering things into the pan. Hands-on time is only about 20 minutes. Once that part is complete, the oven does all of the work while you finish up some homework, throw in a load of laundry, or set the table and wrangle everybody to the table. I'd say it's very possible to make lasagna a weekday meal.

Since this week of National Pasta Month with Dreamfields is all about vegetarian meals, I left out the meat sauce and loaded up on the veggies. I wanted to use a white sauce, but drenching it in Alfredo didn't seem quite right, so I chose a light Alfredo (if you're making it at home, use skim milk) and then fortified it by swirling in a little sundried tomato pesto; basically a creamy flavor-bomb.

Mission Organize Pantry: a #POPtober Challenge

OXO POP Containers - commence Mission Organize Pantry for POPtober
I organize. I am an organizer. I feel better when things are organized. Order feels better than chaos. My inner hippie-chick is frowning. She wants to be carefree, to go where the wind carries her. Fortunately (I guess), outer responsible-adult usually quashes those notions of yesteryear.

However, just because being organized makes the world seem a saner place, it doesn't mean that I actually am organized. There are not enough hours in my day, nor room in my "cozy" house to make it so. I do my best, but...well...you know how life usually has its own ideas. So, when OXO and The Container Store issued me a challenge to (re-)organize an area in my kitchen, I took it as a sign. Challenge accepted.

Oh crap. That meant facing something very scary, something insanely out of control, something overrun by a few too many months of neglect {duh duh duhhhhh!!!!!} — my pantry. I'm embarrassed to show you this, and you may want to brace yourself. Are you ready for it? Okay, here goes....

Steel Cut Oat Sausage Crumbles, plus an OATrageous Oatmeals blog tour

Steel-Cut Oat Sausage Crumbles #vegan #glutenfree #oats
I'm not a vegetarian or a vegan. I don't claim the title gluten-free, or paleo, or dairy-free. But, that doesn't mean that I don't work those ways of eating into my family's everyday life. Many of our meals do fall into these categories, but we are also bacon assassins and slayers of juicy steaks. Ask my youngest child what his favorite meal is, and he'll say chicken. Just chicken. You know I couldn't do without my fresh fish and seafood. But, since we're fortunate enough not to be "forced" into a category, I prefer the term varietarian.

Until, of course, I looked up my brilliant new term and realized that somebody had already claimed the term - and they didn't include pork or beef in the definition. How you can exclude things purposefully and still claim to be a varietarian is beyond me. I'm still claiming varietarian as a diet based on variety.

But, I digress—as usual. My whole point in talking about special diets was to highlight the fact that today I'm sharing a recipe that is vegan, soy-free, and gluten-free as part of the OATrageous Oatmeals blog tour! This is the newest cookbook by the very talented (and all around awesome lady) Kathy Hester.

Triple Apple Bread

Triple Apple Bread #apples #bread #twelveloaves
We've officially broken out the boots and the sweaters. Piles of blankets that were stashed in closets are now draped over sofas, chairs, and beds...and if I'm being honest, strewn across floors. I'm no longer sad that my air conditioner is broken. I just so happen to love it when there's a chill in the air, leaves changing colors, and apples and winter squash all-the-things!

So, it's only fitting that our #twelveloaves theme for this month fits the bill perfectly—it's APPLES! I toyed with making some cinnamon rolls stuffed with bits of tender, spiced apples. Then I thought maybe I'd heat up the cauldron and fry up some apple fritters. Or perhaps I'd go with some apple-filled pretzel bites drizzled in caramel sauce. Apparently my mood took a 180.

Instead of something sweet, I wound up making an unassuming, rustic loaf perfumed ever-so-faintly with the essence of an apple itself. Apple cider, fresh apples picked from a nearby tree, and the rest of the dried apple slices that I brought home with me from my recent trip to Seattle, mingle inside a thick, chewy crust.

Homemade Ginger Beer inspired by Rachel's Ginger Beer in Seattle

Rachel's Ginger Beer, Seattle
Name that beverage: spicy, nasal-clearing, and able to cleanse your palate in a single sip. Yes, that would be Ginger Beer. On my recent trip to Seattle to attend IFBC, I was making a note of Pike Place Market locations that I wanted to visit. I asked my friend Alyssa from Everyday Maven, who I finally got to meet in real life (and is local to the area), told me a few of her favorite places. One of those places being Rachel's Ginger Beer.

Now, before visiting Pike Place Market, I didn't realize that it was not simply a market, but an actual historic district covering nine acres just east of the Seattle waterfront. From 1st Avenue to Western Avenue, and from Pike Street to Virginia Street, it offers not only a varied shopping and eating experience, but also views of the Olympic Mountains and the Puget Sound! I'm not going to lie—I found myself daydreaming of living in the area...taking lazy day walks with the family that would find us home hours later, bags and trolleys bursting with freshly caught seafood, handmade pasta in all sorts of intriguing flavors, locally picked produce, some artisan-crafted soaps and lotions, and a bright bouquet of flowers.

We would have stopped for bowls of sustaining chowder, browsed the jewelery beaded painstakingly by hand, and picked up a few Milagros for our Day of the Dead altar. Surely we'd have carried around plastic cups, each filled with a different flavor of that ginger beer that Alyssa told me about. Because I'd be happy drinking a cup of Rachel's Ginger Beer every day.

Cinnamon Raisin Soft Pretzels

Cinnamon Raisin Soft Pretzels
It's hard to believe that today is already the first day of October! The mornings and the evenings are now chilly, bordering on cold. Pumpkins and gourds have taken up residence on porches. The leaves are lighting the streets on fire with their brilliant colors, a few even finding their way underfoot as we walk to the bus stop wrapped in a cloak of darkness. Lamp posts that haven't been transformed into scarecrow poles are shrouded in brittle corn stalks. Pretzels of all shapes, sizes, and orientations are held in the highest of regard.

Wait, what? Pretzels? You better believe it. October is National Pretzel Month, and flanked by my small army of pretzel-lovers, we'll be celebrating it in style all month long in our house—starting now.

You know my affinity for celebrating food holidays, right? If it's your first time here, it's true. I grab hold and celebrate one whenever possible. It's just fun stuff. Well, it should come as no surprise that I'm joining a group of like-minded bloggers today, and we're inviting you to a party featuring all pretzels, all day long.

Cardamom Ice Cream Root Beer Floats

Cardamom Ice Cream Root Beer Floats
A little over a week ago, I visited Seattle for the first time. I was there to attend IFBC (International Food Bloggers Conference), but also to see this city that's been on my list of "must visit" places since I fell for a little band named Pearl Jam so many years ago. I packed a lot of good stuff into two and a half days. There's so much I want to share, but it takes me time to process and sort. I'll be dividing my experience up into bits and pieces and sharing them with you over the next few weeks (or so), starting today with an unassuming little root beer float.

It was actually the burger that I was after. That morning, Bea and I had visited the Space Needle. Being the good friend that I am, I forced her to go to the top. She insisted that she'd rather just sit underneath, sipping from a bottle of something wrapped in a paper bag. She informed me that she did not like heights. So I informed her right back that I didn't either, but there was not a chance in hell that I was going to leave Seattle without viewing it from above—tourist trap or not (for the record, it's so much more than that). Let's just say she thanked me for being so...persistent.

But I digress. The Space Needle is a story for another day. My point being that while we bought a ticket for it, we decided to take advantage of the discount you receive when buying a ticket to the Chihuley Garden and Glass at the same time. The plan was to come back once it started to get dark, though. So we hopped back on the Monorail after walking around the Pike Place Market district for a while on Saturday evening. Our plan was to check out the museum (not technically a museum, but that's what I'm calling it) and hightail it back to the hotel in plenty of time to spend time at the Taste of Seattle and Gourmet Fair that closed out that night of the conference.