See You in 2018!!!

xmas msg

Wishing everyone a very Merry Christmas and the Happiest of New Years!! 

I will be taking the next week off from my blog and to enjoy Christmas, spend time with my family, and just relax throughout the remainder of this holiday season. I’ll be back on January 1st with all new recipes, tips, and more!!

Also, thank you all from the bottom of my heart for supporting my blog this last year. It’s meant SO much to have so many followers and to hear so many kind words from everyone about how much they’ve enjoyed my recipes and tips. I hope that you will continue to stick with me in 2018!!

Merry Christmas 🎄🎄and Happy New Year 🎉🎉

Handling the Holiday Stress Without Turning Into the Grinch


Let’s be honest for a minute. Holiday stress can easily turn visions of sugar plums dancing in your head to nightmares over how it’s all going to get done. Between the shopping, the wrapping, the cooking, the baking, the family gatherings, and that damn Elf on a Shelf® it’s very easy to feel overwhelmed. Fear not because I have a very simple “recipe” to help you overcome the stress of the holidays and have a “very merry” instead of a “bah-humbug” holiday season!


I’m someone who doesn’t function in chaos and disorder. Because of that, I organize literally everything in my life. EVERYTHING. I have a slight obsession with storage totes and other organizational supplies and I most definitely have a very tight relationship with my label maker! I also keep binders, lists and notebooks for everything from coupons to recipes and I’m not ashamed to say that I even have a dedicated Christmas notebook. Yep. You read right, a Christmas notebook. I plan out my holiday meals, Christmas baking, gift giving, North Pole Breakfast, table setting ideas, and anything else that might get me through the holiday season. I love having everything I need at my fingertips and it’s so much easier to keep track of what needs to get done. I’m never scrambling around the house looking for a list, recipe, or idea because it’s all in one convenient place. Truly, you can never be too organized or plan too much. Words to live by……… least in my book! When it comes to the holidays and getting it all done, the more organized you can get yourself the better!

Below, I’ve compiled some of my best tips to keep you organized and as stress free as possible this holiday season. I hope you find some of them helpful and please feel free to add your own holiday tips in the comments section!

  1. Keep a Holiday Notebook/Binder – Organize it by labeling each page with a specific heading such as: Christmas Day Dinner, Gift Giving List, To-Do, Elf on a Shelf® Ideas, Christmas Cookie Baking, Thanksgiving Dinner, Christmas Card List, Gift Ideas, etc. Use as many (or as few) headings as you need to get yourself organized. Use this notebook to write down all of your ideas, lists, and to-do’s and everything will always be in one handy, convenient place.
  2. Invest in a Label Maker – I have a Brother P-Touch®, they are fairly inexpensive but worth its weight in gold. I use it to label EVERYTHING in my house from snack bins in the pantry to my holiday boxes in the garage. It’s so much easier to read a label on the outside of a box then having to actually go through box after box looking for what you need, especially when it comes to holiday decorations that you only see once a year.
  3. Invest in Storage Bins – I use storage bins to organize everything. I have a bin for my Christmas linens, wrapping supplies, North Pole Breakfast/Elf on a Shelf® accessories, plastic serving platters and containers, etc. I like to buy a whole set of the same bin so that stacking and storing them is easier. I place a label on the outside of the box indicating its contents so that finding what I need is a cinch.
  4. Store Like Bins Together – Keep all of your holiday bins stacked together in one place according to holiday. (fall decorations, Halloween decorations, Christmas decorations, etc) It’s easy to forget what you have if you have bins scattered all throughout your house. Find an area where they can all be neatly stacked together so that you’ll be able to find and access everything more quickly and efficiently.
  5. Keep an Assortment of Food Storage Containers – Whether they are decorative and holiday themed or just basic plastic throwaways, keep an assortment of food storage containers handy. You will need them to neatly package all of your holiday baked goods AND they are great to have on hand for your guests to take home treats and leftovers. Grab a plastic storage bin, put them all inside, and label it “Holiday Food Storage” and everything will be in one convenient place when you need it.
  6. Set Up a “Wrapping Station” – Whether it’s a corner of your basement, a table in your den, or just a bin in the garage it’s so much easier to get all of the gifts wrapped if you have everything you need close at hand. I don’t have a place where I can keep everything out all of the time so instead I store everything in rolling drawer carts in the my garage. I also label each drawer so I can find everything more easily. When it’s time to wrap I just roll them into my den, sit in front of the tree, and get wrapping. To store my wrapping paper, I use tall plastic bins or long under-the-bed boxes. When I am done wrapping I just roll everything back into the garage.
  7. Keep All of the Gifts in One Place – You will surely forget to give that perfect gift that you spent months picking out if everything you purchased is scattered all around the house. Find a spot in your home such as a closet, garage, or attic and keep all of your purchased gifts in that one area so that nothing is forgotten.
  8. Print Out a Blank Calendar – Print out a blank calendar sheet and use it to plan out when you need to accomplish specific tasks for the holiday. For example, mark a day for baking holiday cookies, or cooking the side dishes for Thanksgiving, or for putting up the tree. Having a plan laid out alleviates the stress of wondering how you’ll get it all done and it makes things run much more smoothly. Tape it to the inside of a kitchen cabinet for easy access.
  9. Organize Your Favorite Holiday Recipes – We all have a set of family favorites at the holidays, recipes we make year after year. To make things easier, keep those treasured favorites together in one binder or recipe box labeled, “Holiday Favorites“. When it’s time to plan your menus and cook, you’ll appreciate having all of your holiday recipes in one spot.
  10. Plan Out Holiday Baking (and get your supplies early!!) – Look over your recipes, paying close attention to how long the baked goods will keep, and make a plan for when you should do your holiday baking. As you jot down ideas for what to bake, simultaneously write the ingredients you will need on a separate piece of paper. Doing these two things concurrently saves you the aggravation of having to go back into your cookbooks later to make a shopping list. Also, shop early. EVERYONE bakes at the holidays and you don’t want to be running around at the last minute from store to store trying to find almond paste or sugar when you’re ready to get busy in the kitchen. Having all of you ingredients ready to go will make your baking day run much more smoothly.
  11. Make a Holiday Baking Bin/Drawer – I like to keep all of my holiday baking goodies together in one spot. When it comes time to start my holiday baking I just have to pull out the drawer and all of my cupcake liners, cookie cutters, sprinkles, treat bags, doilies, etc. are there and ready to go!
  12. Host a Cookie Swap – For those that feel overwhelmed by all of the holiday baking host a cookie swap instead of trying to do it all yourself. You’ll only have to bake one or two favorites but you’ll end up with a full tray of varied holiday treats!
  13. Prepare Cookie Trays Ahead of Time – A day or two before the holiday assemble your cookie trays and platters and cover tightly with plastic wrap. When it’s time to serve dessert you won’t be scrambling around pulling out a million cookie tins trying to get everything together. Just remove the plastic wrap and serve.
  14. Label Your Serving Dishes – The last thing you want to do when you’re cooking is to have to hunt around looking for the perfect serving dish. Instead, plan your serving platters, bowls, dishes, etc. ahead of time and label each one with a sticky note indicating what food it will hold. As you’re getting ready to serve everything it’ll be as simple as “grab and go”, you won’t have to stress if you have enough serving pieces because everything will be planned ahead of time.
  15. Set Your Table Ahead of Time – If you have a separate dining area that you use for the holidays, set the table(s) a few days ahead of the holiday. It’ll be one less thing you’re rushing to do in the morning before your guests arrive.
  16. Make Dishes Ahead Of Time – If a dish can be made ahead of time, take advantage. You will feel much less harried on the actual holiday this way. To that end, also do as much food prep work as well. Dice up your onions, carrots, cheese, bread cubes, etc. a few days before the holiday and store them in either Ziploc® bags or airtight plastic containers. They’ll be all ready to go when you are!
  17. Make Ahead Holiday Breakfast – When you have young children Christmas morning is certainly filled with craziness and excitement. I would rather be in the middle of all that excitement then in the kitchen slaving away so I always like to prep our Christmas morning breakfast ahead of time. Some great options are quiche, frittatas, frozen homemade cinnamon rolls, or french toast casseroles. Breakfast will be as simple as warming something up in the oven.
  18. Plan Your Time – When hosting, it’s so important to plan your time on the big day as it ensures that everything runs smoothly. Jot down a “to-do” list and as you complete each task check it off so you don’t forget anything. Also be sure to calculate all of your cooking times beforehand so that the main dish and sides are finished at the same time.
  19. Holiday Menu Checklist – Make a checklist of all the dishes you’re serving and tape it to the inside of your cabinet door. As you put each dish out, cross it off the list. This ensures that you don’t accidentally forget to serve something. There is nothing worse than working hard to cook up delicious food and then forgetting it in the fridge on the big day!
  20. Streamline Your Holiday Cards – Enlist help from other family members to get your holiday cards stuffed, sealed, and stamped. Assign everyone a task and get busy. Also, prepare ahead of time by printing out address labels. It’s so much easier to slap a label on an envelope than it is to write everything out by hand.
  21. Clean and Purge – Prior to the holidays it’s a good idea to go through closets and toy chests and donate or trash toys that are no longer played with or that are old and broken. It can be overwhelming to try to a find a home for all of the new things when you’re dealing with so much old clutter.
  22. Don’t Leave Wrapping Until the Last Minute – It’s so much easier to tackle just a few gifts as opposed to an endless pile. As things get purchased or delivered, wrap them right away and then tuck them away. Also, save yourself time and take advantage of gift bags, they make “wrapping” gifts so much easier.
  23. Boxes, Bags, Bows, and Tags – Save as many of these things as you can as you open gifts throughout the season. Tuck them all away in your wrapping station so that the following year you’ll have plenty of extra wrapping materials on hand.
  24. Clean! Clean! Clean! – The last thing you want to do is add in a ton of holiday decorations to a home that is filled with dust and clutter. It will make everything feel messy and you’ll drive yourself crazy. Prior to bringing out the holiday decorations, clean your home top to bottom. Clean the floors, dust, and put away any clutter. It is far easier to decorate a clean and straightened up home then it is to work around a mess.
  25. Decorate in Stages – Pulling out a hundred bins full of decorations all at once can be overwhelming. So instead, decorate your home in stages. Start with your outside lights and decorations and pull out only those bins. Then pull out the bins for the inside decorations and get that all done before moving to the tree. It’s so much easier to break up the holiday decorating into manageable steps rather than face a towering pile of bins in the middle of your living room.
  26. Keep a Gift Stash – Buy a few, inexpensive gifts to have on hand in case you need a hostess gift or someone unexpected shows up on the holiday. Some great ideas are candles, ornaments, a bottle of wine, a pretty holiday dish, a box of candy, etc. You can even wrap them ahead of time and tag them with a sticky note so you know what is inside. When it’s time to gift something, just remove the sticky note, add a personalized tag and you’re all set!
  27. Keep Plenty of Trash Bags Handy – As my kids or guests open their gifts I always have a few garbage bags scattered around the room so that everyone can dispose of their wrapping paper as they open gifts. It prevents a huge pile of garbage from building up and more importantly, things don’t get lost. It’s easy to lose a small toy part, piece of jewelry, or gift card if everything is a mess.
  28. Elf on a Shelf® – Let’s face it, nothing stresses out a parent more than the fear of forgetting to move the elf! To avoid this catastrophe set a daily alarm reminder on your cell phone. You’ll never have to worry about forgetting to move your little friend again!
  29. Wish Lists – Some people scoff at them but I happen to LOVE them! I have a big family and with both sides of the family buying for my kids a Wish List is really a godsend. It gives everyone a few gift ideas, it prevents my kids from receiving age inappropriate toys, and we never get duplicates. I’ve been using the Amazon Wish List for my kids since they were born and it makes things so much easier for both me and my family. I highly recommend utilizing one, it’s so much easier than fielding a millions calls, emails, and texts from family asking what the kids want for Christmas.
  30. Just Breathe – Set aside some time every day to just breathe. Sit, relax, take in the merriment of the season and let yourself just “be”. It’s so easy to go a mile a minute at the holidays and it’s even easier to forget yourself this time of year. So make sure to take a few minutes every day to just refocus and relax. Make a mug of cocoa, put on some holiday tunes, and cozy up. You’ll be a lot more effective and get a lot more done if you take some time to recharge.




Sometimes Life Throws You A Curve Ball


Life has a funny of way of going off course when you least expect it. One minute everything is humming along and the next minute you find yourself in a tailspin. That was my life just a couple of weeks ago.

Back when I was pregnant with my children I was diagnosed both times with gestational diabetes. I was very strict with my diet and did everything I could to make sure that my children were born healthy and without issues. Both times after delivery my GD went away and I was back to my old self however, I knew that down the road I was at a higher risk of developing pre-diabetes or worse, Type 2. As with many things in life, even though you KNOW the risks you sometimes put those aside and carry on in the hopes that you’ll be fine and not have to worry about them. But then, life throws you a curve ball.

I hadn’t been feeling great for a week or two and I was noticing some unusual things with myself such as an increased thirst, frequent urination, feeling more tired than normal, and slightly blurry vision when reading small print. Independently I wouldn’t have thought much of either one of these but the fact that they were occurring together started to raise a red flag. I knew what to look for when it came to high blood sugar so on a whim, I decided to test my sugars to see if something was going on. Up until that point my sugars had been in the normal range and all seemed fine with my health but then I saw 328 flash on my glucose monitor HOURS after having eaten and I almost fell on the floor! Just as reference, a normal person should be under 140 two hours after eating. Here I was probably 8 hours after eating and I was in the 300’s. Not good. Not good AT ALL.

My first reaction was panic. My second reaction was panic. And well, my third reaction was panic. I felt like I couldn’t catch my breath. I was so nervous that my sugars would go even higher and if they did, I knew I ran the risk of feeling worse. I felt completely out of control, like I was in a tailspin with no way out. At first, I didn’t say anything to anyone, not even my husband who I share EVERYTHING with because I was afraid I would panic him. I also felt like if I said it out loud it would make it real and I really wanted to be wrong about this. I really wanted to live in denial for just a bit longer. By the next night after tossing and turning, crying in private, and panicking all day I finally told him. In hindsight, I wish I did it right away because being able to talk with him about it and cry on his shoulder was the only thing that started to finally calm me down. I am so thankful to have him to lean on, he’s my rock, and he got me through the panic so that I could take the steps needed to fix this.

I was faced with two choices, fight or flight. I wasn’t going to take this lying down or put my head in the sand about what was happening so I made the decision to immediately overhaul my diet, it was the best (and only) thing I could do to make a quick change. I cut out white flour and sugar, all junk food, and anything processed. I ate lean proteins, plenty of veggies and fruit, and I drank nothing but ice water. I started to feel better almost right away. I also saw my endocrinologist who put me back on Metformin to help to bring my sugars down and control them. Surprisingly, within just 4-5 days I had dropped five pounds and my sugars were coming down little by little. It was such a relief and it felt great to start to feel in control again. Making the immediate changes that were necessary to protect my health was the smartest thing I could’ve done and now just a few weeks later, I’m feeling better and still doing everything I can to get myself healthy for myself, my husband, and my children.

I consider this my wake-up call. I am 42, not getting any younger, and I can’t afford to neglect my health. So as part of these lifestyle changes I’ve also decided to join a gym because regular exercise is a great way to keep your sugars in check. I’m also overhauling how I cook because I can do better in the kitchen. That doesn’t mean that all sweets and goodies are forever off-limits, it just means that they need to be more of an occasional treat instead of an everyday thing. I want to set a good example for my kids and keep them and my husband healthy too! We’re in this as a family so together we’re trying new foods, new recipes, and new mindsets about the food we eat. I know it won’t be easy but it will be worth it.

Going forward my blog will still include lots of yummy indulgences and goodies but it will also feature lighter, healthier treats and meals too! Whether you have a health issue or not, everyone can benefit from making better food choices. I feel like I was lucky in that I recognized the signs and was able to catch this early so now I have a second chance to do better and that’s exactly what I plan to do! This curve ball was what I needed to realize that it’s time I take care of me because I don’t want this ride to end. I want to be around for every minute and every moment with my kids and I want to be 100 years old sitting on a rocking chair with my amazing husband and looking back on the awesome life we had together. So with that said, here’s to trying new things, doing better, and making a change!!


Meal Planning Made Easy


For most, meal planning is the trickiest part of cooking and understandably so. It’s hard to think about what your want for lunch tomorrow let alone for dinner a week from now. Even I have found myself staring into the abyss of my fridge and freezer wondering what I can pull together at the last minute for dinner. But then I discovered meal planning and my life got a whole lot easier real fast! If you take the time to meal plan you eliminate that 5:00 panic where you’re scrambling to find something to get on the table for your family. I love knowing that I have a diner plan every day and more importantly, that I have all of the ingredients that I need on hand as well. Whether you’re a stay-at-home mom like me or a working mama having a meal plan will absolutely make your life so much easier.

It might take a little work to get your meal planning going but once you build up a base of “go-to” recipes it’ll be easy peasy going forward. Go through your cookbooks, Pinterest pins, bookmarked online recipes, and magazine clippings and pull together a handful of recipes that you love or want to try. They can be quick and easy meals or even fancy schmancy dishes, whatever works for you. Next, put those recipes into a simple binder so they are all in one place and easily accessible. Then take a handful of index cards and on the front write down the name of one dish and on the back list the ingredients needed to prepare it. Do this for at least 15-20 recipes in order to get you started. Once you have a nice little handful of cards place them into an index box and now you have a collection of recipes you can access quickly when planning your meals for the week. If you’re feeling ambitious, throw a few index dividers in there too and make sections – chicken/poultry, beef, fish/seafood, pasta, side dishes, quick meals, Crock-Pot, etc.

I like to do my meal planning on the weekend but choose whatever day works best for you. Before I decide what to make for the week I like to look ahead and see what my schedule looks like and I make notations on my menu to indicate if we’ll be eating out on a certain day or if we have activities scheduled where I might need a quick meal on the table or nothing at all for that matter. I just grab a small sheet of paper, label Sunday through Saturday, fill in my meals for the week and then I hang my menu on the inside of my cabinet so I know exactly where to look to see what’s for dinner. My menu usually looks like this:

Menu List

To get your menu planned for the week simply pull a few cards from your recipe box, put the cards in order of when you plan on cooking them and then flip them over to write a quick shopping list based on the ingredients needed for each recipe. A good tip is to base your menu around what ingredients you already have in the house OR plan around what is on sale in the supermarket. Once you have your menu planned out and your shopping list in hand the rest of the week will be smooth sailing. Every week try to add at least one new recipe to your collection in order to build it up so that you have more choices from week to week. Rotate your recipes and menus as often as you like.

A few other great tips for meal planning are:

  • Stretch your ingredients – Try to choose meals where you will need to use the same ingredient more than once in a week, this cuts down on waste and trims your grocery budget too.
  • Incorporate Crock-Pot meals into your menu – They are quick and easy to pull together and when it’s time to eat dinner your meal is hot and ready to go. These types of meals are especially good on days where you’re running around all day, working late, or just pressed for time when it come to dinner prep. Crock-Pots are great for making sauces, stews, soups, roasts, and more!
  • Use up your stash – Check what you have on hand and use what you have before buying more. If you have a lot of chicken in your freezer, make a few chicken meals one week. Heavy on beef? Focus more on beef dishes.
  • Cook once, eat twice! – Try and make a few meals where you’ll have leftovers that can be used to create a whole new dish for another night. For example: A pork shoulder will make a ton of shredded pork, use some for sandwiches one night and use the leftovers on another night for shredded pork tacos.
  • Make big batches of dinner staples – Soups and sauces are great to make in big batches as they freeze well for later use. When you want pasta once night it’ll be as easy as defrosting some homemade sauce and boiling the pasta. For soups, just defrost and heat up. It doesn’t get more simple than that.
  • Designate an all day prepping/cooking day – Spend an afternoon prepping meals that you can freeze for later use and/or prep the ingredients needed in your recipes ahead of time. For example, you can measure out spices, dice veggies, shred cheese, cut up fruit, etc. A vacuum sealer is a great thing to have in your kitchen because your fresh and frozen foods will last so much longer and the frozen foods will be free of freezer burn. Check out my blog post, Kitchen Must Have – Vacuum Sealer , for more information on vacuum sealers.
  • Theme Nights –  This keeps meal planning fun and allows you to narrow down and focus your cooking. Try things like Meatball Monday, Taco Tuesday, or Breakfast for Dinner Wednesday.
  • Make the first meal of your week the easiest – Everyone is tired on a Monday, you don’t want to be standing in the kitchen stressing over a complicated meal. Make a quick pasta dish or a Crock-Pot meal and keep your Monday a little less hectic.
  • Prep basic ingredients the day you food shop – Portion out meats and prep veggies and fruits so that when you go to cook throughout the week everything will already be chopped, diced, portioned, and ready to go!
  • Keep a well stocked pantry – Having a few staples always on hand makes cooking and baking a breeze. Check out my blog post about Pantry and Fridge Essentials to help you stock your house.
  • Shop the sales – Plan your meals around what is on sale that week to save money. Also, take advantage of great sales to stock up on pantry and fridge staples.
  • Getting dinner on the table isn’t about starting from “zero” every night  – Use any time that you might have throughout the day to get things ready for dinner later. For example – Prep and shape your meatloaf in the morning so at dinner it’s just a matter of putting it in the oven, peel and cut up potatoes in the afternoon and leave them in a pot covered with water so at dinner you just have to turn on the stove.
  • Not every dinner has to be a from scratch meal – Take advantage of shortcuts and store-bought items to help make things easier. There are some really great ready-made foods available that will cut down on your time in the kitchen but still allow you to serve a delicious dinner for your family. Some things to try are frozen veggies and fruits, ready-made pie crust and pizza dough, and pre-cut veggies in the produce section.
  • Get to know your grill……………year round! – A BBQ grill is a great way to cook because it’s quick and there is no cleanup. No pots and pans and no mess in the kitchen. You can make everything from burgers to quick pizzas on your grill and have a hot meal on the table in minutes.
  • Stuck on what to make? – Try out the Allrecipes “Dinner Spinner” app! Just plug in the ingredients that you have on hand, what type of meal you’re looking to make, and how much time you have to cook and it’ll shoot back a few meals ideas for you. It’s a fabulous app to make use of because aside from the Dinner Spinner you can also access hundreds of recipes, tag your favorites, and even create a custom shopping list!

There are so many benefits to thinking about your meals and planning ahead of time and once you get in the habit of meal planning it will be come second nature to you. You’ll have less stress at meal time, you won’t overspend on groceries you might not use, you’ll eat healthier, you’ll reduce food waste, and you will save yourself valuable time in the kitchen. All good things! Once you get the hang of meal planning you can even try to plan other weekly meals such as lunch. If you work, planning out what to bring from home for lunch every day is a great way to eat better and save a ton of money in the process. Use these tips and tricks to help guide your meal planning but feel free to implement a system that works best for you and your family.

25 Common Mistakes in the Kitchen That You Might Not Realize You’re Making

oops-1432954_1920.pngMistakes happen to the best of us but when it comes to cooking certain mistakes can quickly make or break your dish. Overwork your potatoes and instead of creamy mashed potatoes you will have wallpaper paste. Boil instead of simmer and you can end up with food that is dry and tough or mushy and flavorless. It is crucial that you follow a few important tips and guidelines when cooking or baking so that you obtain consistent, delicious results in the kitchen every time. There is nothing worse that spending money on ingredients and valuable time in the kitchen only to end up with a meal that falls flat. Follow these few simple rules and you’ll be a kitchen pro in no time!

  1. Not seasoning your pasta water – Generously salting the water will allow the pasta to be seasoned internally. As it cooks and swells it will absorb the salt flavor which makes for a better tasting dish.
  2. Not reading a recipe through before beginning to cook – It is imperative that you read through a recipe before doing anything else. Familiarize yourself with the steps and ingredients and make sure you have “everything in its place” (mise en place) before getting to work. You don’t want to dive into your cooking only to realize when you’re halfway through that you’re missing an ingredient or that you missed a crucial step.
  3. Not using a meat thermometer – Miscalculating if meat is cooked through is the difference between a great meal and getting sick. An instant read thermometer is a great, inexpensive tool to have in your arsenal so that you have perfectly cooked meat every time.
  4. Mishandling egg whites – Egg whites are an extremely delicate and finicky ingredient. Take care to whip, mix, or fold them as directed in your recipe. Do not overwork them, ensure that no yolk gets into your white because fat is the enemy of whipped whites and always use room temperature eggs so that you achieve the proper aeration and height.
  5. Using butter that is too soft – When baking, make sure your butter is softened only enough to where it gives just a little when pressed. It should not be a super soft mushy mess, overly soft butter will result in improperly baked treats and it will also cause your cookies to spread in the oven.
  6. Boiling when you’re suppose to simmer – When a recipe calls for something to be gently simmered do not try to rush the process by boiling it. Rapidly boiling delicate food that is supposed to be cooked low and slow will cause it to be unevenly cooked, too mushy, or even tasteless. Alternatively, your food could also come out dry, tough, and overcooked. Simmering may be a longer cooking process but it will result in a better finished product.
  7. Overcrowding the pan – Overcrowding will cause the temperature of your pan to decrease and food will not sear or brown properly. Also, too much food in the pan means more moisture will be released and instead of browning your meat or vegetables, now you’re boiling them. For food to cook evenly it needs to have good contact with the hot pan so make sure to leave a little room and cook your food in batches if you need to.
  8. Overmixing dough and batters – Overmixing flour releases gluten which can give baked goods a firm, elastic structure which you do not want in delicate pastries and cakes. Go slow and use the low setting on your mixer to avoid overmixing.
  9. Cooking with a cold pan – If you add food to a cold pan it will adhere to the pan like glue however, if you have a nice hot pan your food will release much more easily and brown nicely.
  10. Adding garlic too early – Garlic browns in about a minute, add it to your pan too early and you’ll end up with scorched, burnt, bitter garlic.
  11. Not letting your meat rest – That beautiful steak you just grilled will be a lot more juicy and flavorful if you let it rest for about 10-15 minutes after cooking. Resting your meat gives the juices a chance to redistribute, cutting into it too soon will cause those delicious, flavorful juices to just pour right out of the meat. What a waste!
  12. Not tasting your food as you go along – Taste, taste, taste and then taste some more. Check your seasonings and adjust as needed. There is nothing worse than serving an overly seasoned or under seasoned dish. Always taste your food!
  13. Overworking your mashed potatoes – Mashed potatoes can go from fluffy, creamy and delicious to glue in seconds. The more you work your potatoes the more starch they will release, this starch will cause your potatoes to become very gummy and glue like. Gently mash your potatoes and then mix them just enough to incorporate your seasonings and achieve the right texture.
  14. Turning meat too often or too soon – When your meat is properly browned it will release itself from the pan or grill. Trying to turn it too soon will cause your meat to tear. Gently nudge the edge of your meat, if it releases it’s time to turn, if you’re tugging and the meat isn’t giving, let it go a few minutes longer. Also, resist the urge to constantly flip your meat. Just leave it alone and let it do its thing, you can’t rush the process by constantly moving it around.
  15. Measuring dry ingredients in a liquid measuring cup – Liquid measuring cups, as their name suggests, is for liquids only. You will not be able to measure with any accuracy if you use the wrong tools for the job.
  16. Using the wrong knife – The right tools make your job much easier and won’t damage the food you’re trying to cut. A chefs knife is a great all-purpose knife that’s perfect for dicing and slicing firm ingredients, a paring knife is good for peeling and removing seeds and pits, and a serrated knife is used to slice delicate pastries, breads, and soft skinned fruits and veggies like tomatoes and plums.
  17. Boiling your pasta in a pot that’s too small – Crowding your pasta pot will result in mushy, sticky, clumped pasta because there is not enough room for it to move around while cooking. Also, when the pot it overfilled the water temperature will drop substantially and your pasta will not cook properly.
  18. Storing tomatoes in the fridge – Temperatures that are too extreme (cold or hot) will damage the delicate cell walls of the tomato leaving you with mealy, inedible tomatoes.
  19. Using very lean ground beef – There is nothing worse than a dry meatloaf or burger, don’t be afraid to use meat with a little fat to it, most of it will cook off anyway. The fat acts as a basting agent during the cooking process which means you’ll end up with a juicy, flavorful, and rich piece of meat.
  20. Using a tiny cutting board – You won’t be able to properly maneuver your knife or corral your diced ingredients if your prep area is too small. Use a proper sized cutting board and give yourself some space.
  21. Your breading doesn’t stick to your food – Make sure you follow these simple steps: First dredge in flour, then dip in your liquid (egg, buttermilk, etc), and lastly coat with breadcrumbs.
  22. You remove the Crock-Pot lid – Every time you remove the lid you’re letting valuable heat escape and in turn, increasing your overall cooking time.
  23. Making random substitutions in your baking – While cooking affords you a little more leeway when it comes to substituting ingredients baking is a very precise science. Increasing, decreasing, or substituting ingredients at random can (and will) affect the final product. Unless you have a through understanding of how baking ingredients play together it’s best to stick to the recipe.
  24. You overheat your chocolate – You should always melt chocolate slowly and on low heat. Rushing the melting process or cooking over higher heat can scorch the chocolate or give it a grainy texture. When using a double boiler, make sure your water is simmering, not boiling. If using a microwave, be sure to check on the chocolate every 20-30 seconds, giving it a stir each time.
  25. You don’t know your oven – If you cook even a little bit you need to become intimately familiar with your oven because they all have their own quirks that you need to account for when using. To ensure your food cooks properly you may need to adjust your cooking time, temperature, and/or the placement of your racks. If you think your oven might not be holding the right temperature, get yourself an inexpensive oven thermometer to see if it’s running too hot or too cold.

Why You Should Get Your Kids in the Kitchen

“By starting small, you can build the foundation that eventually leads to confidence in the kitchen”.
– Author Unknown

Children should learn how to cook. Period. At some point our cute little humans will grow up to be adults who will need to have a basic set of life skills in order to function and take care of themselves. Cooking is without a doubt one of those basic life skills. I would like to think that when my kids are grown and out of the house they will be able to do better for themselves than a bowl of cereal or an icky frozen meal. I want them to have enough knowledge and experience in the kitchen to be able to pull together a few simple dishes on their own without having to rely on prepackaged foods from the supermarket. I also want them to one day be able to prepare great meals for their own families and for that to happen, it begins with me.

I’ve been cooking and baking with my kids since they were toddlers, which I know sounds young, but they used to love being up on the counter helping to stir and mix ingredients. Helping me cook really made them feel useful and good about themselves. It is simple tasks like these that become the foundation from which you build up their skills and confidence in the kitchen as they get older. Every small task they accomplish is another step towards gaining independence in the kitchen. My daughter is almost 9 now and when she sees a dish in a restaurant or watches a cooking show her response is usually, “I think I can make that Mommy! Can we try to make that?” and it’s because she’s gained enough confidence in herself and in her skills in the kitchen to want to try. That confidence and belief in herself will carry her even further than just being able to cook, it’ll help her in life.

Got picky eaters? Involving kids in the meal planning and cooking process is a great way to get them to try new things and broaden their palettes. As a mom of two picky eaters myself I completely understand the challenge other parents face in finding foods that kids will actually eat. My daughter, who inspects every fleck of food on her dish, can be impossible to deal with at meal time. Recently, she took a cooking class where she made something called “Veggie Yakisoba” which in a million years I would never think she’d eat. Aside from the veggies it was made with soba noodles, an ingredient she’s never had before, so I was sure she’d resist that dish at every turn. To my surprise, she dove right in and ended up loving it! I know for certain, had I made that same dish and served it to her she’d turn up her nose but because she was involved in the process of cooking it she was intrigued to try it. It’s nice being able to add another food to the short list of things she will eat. So instead of fighting with your kids about eating and stressing yourself out, involve them in the process so that you’re working together to make mealtime a more pleasurable experience.

Cooking and baking with your kids is also the perfect opportunity to teach them a little math. Allowing them to measure ingredients is a great way to reinforce concepts such as adding, subtracting, and even fractions. Mathematical concepts when used in “real life” tend to stick with kids much better than when just seen on a page. You can also show them how recipes can be converted from the U.S. standard of measurement to the metric system and vice versa. Teaching them how to halve or double a recipe is another great way for them to stretch their math skills. Cooking, while fun, is also an excellent learning experience for children. Don’t miss these teachable moments in the kitchen!

Healthy matters! As you cook together, talk to your children about healthy eating habits and healthy foods. Show them how you can make their favorite treats even better by using fresh, wholesome ingredients instead of all of the junk that is in prepackaged foods.  Who needs to eat gross things like guar gum, carrageenan, and 40 different types of dyes? You will find that your kids palettes can change quickly and before you know it, they will prefer the healthier made foods more than the store-bought ones they were once used to. Show them how you can easily make your own cookie dough, granola bars, snack mixes, and more which I promise will taste better than anything from a store. Got a green thumb? Try growing a small garden together so they will have a bounty of fresh ingredients at their disposal to turn into delicious meals. There is nothing better than a summer warmed cucumber from your own garden! Start them on the right foot early so that later they don’t have to struggle with food issues.

Lastly, cooking brings families together. Being in kitchen with your kids is a great way to slow down, connect and make memories. The cell phones are away, the TV is off and you’re all focused on a common goal which is to make a great meal to share. This time together is the perfect opportunity to talk to your kids about their day, about their dreams, about anything under the sun. Relax, smile, laugh, and make beautiful memories together. The times you spend with your kids in the kitchen will be the times they remember when they look back on their childhood. Learning to prepare treasured family recipes and cooking alongside elders will undoubtedly become some of your children’s most treasured memories.

There really are no drawbacks to having your kids in the kitchen. Sure it might take a little longer to pull a dish together but in the end it will get done and your kids will have learned another skill, gotten another boost of confidence, and taken another step towards becoming an independent, functioning adult. Bonus for you? Maybe one day when you’re older and your kids are grown you’ll be able to sit at THEIR kitchen table and have them cook you a delicious, homemade meal. Then you can smile and give yourself a little pat on the back for a job well done because you paved the way for them to be confident in the kitchen.

Emme Cooking 2.jpg









Get in the Kitchen and Get Your Cook On


“This is my advice to people: Learn how to cook, try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless, and above all have fun”

– Julia Child

Not only do I adore this quote, I live it. Every. Single. Day. Here’s the thing, you don’t have to be a chef to cook well. You don’t have to attend culinary school to cook well. Heck, you don’t even have to have grown up in the kitchen alongside your great grandma Agnes to cook well. The ONLY thing you need to do to become proficient in the kitchen and cook well is summed up perfectly in Julia’s quote. You need to be open to learning, you need to take risks and try, you need to learn from your mistakes (and their WILL be mistakes) and you must have fun. It really is that simple. If you’re afraid to fail and you dread being in the kitchen than you’ll never get any better. But if you keep yourself open to new challenges and you learn to enjoy the process of cooking instead of just the destination, you will soar.

I wasn’t born with a burning love and desire for being in the kitchen however, my experiences growing up in a big Italian family definitely helped to foster a love of cooking and baking. I loved the way food brought our family together whether it was to celebrate a holiday or a milestone. No matter the event, somehow everything centered around food in some capacity. My paternal grandmother had this way of always making people feel welcome around her table. She didn’t have a big gourmet kitchen, she had just the basics, but whether two people or twenty showed up at her house she would be in that kitchen whipping up a pot of sauce or some other simple Italian dish for everyone to enjoy. All were welcome at her table morning, noon, or night. She would feed you and love you and make you feel like family.

My grandparents were of the “kids should be seen but not heard” generation so I distinctly remember being at their house with all of the adults gathered around the table drinking, laughing, and talking while all of the kids were off playing together. The adults were able to enjoy their “grown-up” time and we were free to just be kids, carefree and happy. But when dinner was served, we all squished into every available space in their small dining room and kitchen and we ate together. Meals would be eaten slowly and with care, nobody was on a phone or in a rush to get up from the table and it was the food that brought us together. It slowed us down, made us relaxed, and in the process we made memories. Really great memories. I loved those meals. I loved the sounds of constant chatter at the table and everyone enjoying themselves. It was safe and cozy. It was happiness. In looking back at my childhood I realized that so many of my fondest family memories included a good meal where we were all gathered together around the table.

When I was younger, it was also an important tradition to prepare food with my immediate and extended family. On my mom’s side we would always descend upon my grandparents house a few weeks before Christmas to prepare the holiday treats and bake our traditional holiday cookies. We made fudge, homemade chocolates, butter cookies, cake balls, struffoli, and my absolute favorite of all time, Italian pizzelle cookies. Everyone, kids and adults, would be gathered in my grandparents small kitchen and dining room and we would spend the whole weekend baking, laughing, and listening to Christmas music. It was such a wonderful, fun, festive weekend and again, we were gathered around food.

Just as the kitchen is the heart of the home, food is the heart of the family. So many of our memories are somehow tied to a good meal, a special food tradition, or cooking alongside our elders. As I got older it became important to me to carry on my family traditions and to learn how to become a really good home cook. I wanted to be able to prepare special meals for my family and put a good dinner on the table for my husband and future children. So after college, when my husband and I moved out on our own, I threw myself into the kitchen and attacked every recipe I tried with gusto. I asked my grandparents, aunts, and my mom for all of the traditional family recipes so I could learn how to make everything from Easter bread to Christmas fudge. I was determined to learn and get better and I’ll be honest, not everything was a success. I failed. I made mistakes. Just take a look at my blog post, Kitchen Disasters – We’ve ALL Been There, and you’ll see that sometimes I created an absolute disaster. But from the disasters I learned and the more I learned, the better I got. Over time I started to realize that being in the kitchen wasn’t just about the cooking or the baking, instead it became my sanity, my outlet, my passion and some of my best memories too!

When I am in the kitchen I feel so relaxed and calm, I feel at home. I have learned to stop focusing on the finished product and instead, enjoy the process as well. I love the delicate task of sifting flour, or watching the paddle of the mixer cream the butter and sugar together, or melting chocolate into a shiny, smooth ganache. I love watching each step of a recipe come together, piece by piece, until there is a beautiful plate of food in front of me. I love feeding people and seeing the joy on their faces as they taste a delectable bite of food that was made in my kitchen with my own two hands. But most of all, I love the memories that are associated with so much of what I make. There was the time my teeny tiny toddler daughter sat up on the counter mixing brownies for her Daddy’s birthday, or the time my kids, my husband, and my parents gathered around the table to decorate gingerbread houses, or the first time I let my daughter cook us a pasta dinner on the stovetop. All great memories, all centered around food.

The kitchen doesn’t just have to be the place to get a quick meal on the table, it can become a place where memories are made, where you can calm your frayed nerves, and where great meals and treats come together. I know that old meatloaf recipe is easy and you’ve made it countless times with ease but why not break out one of your cookbooks, blow off the dust, and dive into something completely new? Be fearless, remember? Learn a new cooking technique, try out a new herb, get your hands dirty, make a mess and above all, have fun! Embrace the challenge, learn from the mistakes, and recognize that with every new thing you try you’re taking another step towards becoming a better home cook.

Developing yourself into a success in the kitchen is such a wonderful journey. I love looking back on how I use to cook back in the day and then looking at myself now and being able to appreciate just how far I’ve come in the last 20 years. Although I’ve learned so much and gotten so much better I’m also still a constant work in progress. I love to devour every word in my cookbooks and cooking magazines, I read tons of other blogs and websites, and I am always challenging myself to grow on a daily basis. Cooking, baking, and this blog have become my absolute passion in life. Both are at the core of who I am and I love to share my passion with others. If I can help even one person cook better or gain more confidence in the kitchen than I feel like I am a success.

So, the moral of this story is this: JUST GET IN THE KITCHEN AND GET YOUR COOK ON! Don’t look at it as a chore. Don’t dread it like you do going to the dentist. Make it a challenge. Make it interesting. Make it fun. Keep pushing yourself and in time, you will become a pro in your own kitchen. Bon Appétit!







My Little Chef/Baker-In-Training


My eight year old daughter has loved to cook and bake since she was itty-bitty. When she wasn’t in the kitchen with me trying to help she was spread out all over the den in her make-believe kitchen whipping up everything from milkshakes to croquembouche. She was, and still is, very passionate about her cooking and she has a constant thirst to learn more. For the first time last year she attended a Sur La Table cooking camp for kids and she had the most amazing experience. So when it was time to sign her up this year for summer activities at the top of her list was more cooking classes. She just completed a three-day baking series and was so proud of herself that I promised her a spot on the blog!

In this three-day camp she learned:

  • Day 1 – Pies and Tarts (Perfect Pie Dough, Cherry Hand Pies, Vanilla Short Crust Dough, Vanilla Pastry Cream, and Summer Berry Tartlets)
  • Day 2 – Bakeshop (Morning Glory Muffins, Ham and Cheese Scones, and Monkey Bread)
  • Day 3 – French Pâtisserie (Pâte à choux, Vanilla Pastry Cream, Chocolate Eclairs, and Gougères)

I couldn’t believe how much she learned and how great her treats turned out. Pictured above is the Summer Berry Tartlet and Cherry Hand Pie. Not only did they look good, they tasted great too! On top of learning the above recipes she was also taught the proper way to hold and use a knife, the importance of preparing your work space and ingredients, kitchen safety and hygiene, and proper measuring techniques. I was very impressed with how much she developed in the kitchen in those three short days. She also gained so much more confidence in herself and her abilities and she couldn’t wait to put her newly acquired skills to work.

In a few weeks she will be taking a full week cooking class. She was so torn on which class to take for a week but ultimately she decided that she wanted to spend more time learning to cook since, in her words, “I am already so good at baking“. In the cooking camp she will learn essential kitchen skills while mastering more cooking techniques and recipes.

In this five-day camp she will learn:

  • Day 1 – Knife Skills (Rainbow Salad with Toasted Sesame Vinaigrette, Grilled Ginger Chicken Skewers, Veggie Yakisoba, and Pineapple Lime Sorbet with Fresh Mint)
  • Day 2 – Measuring and Baking (Perfect Pizza Dough, Pizza Margherita with Fresh Mozzarella and Basil, and Calzones)
  • Day 3 – Sauté and Sauces (Sautéed Sugar Snap Peas with Buttermilk Ranch Dip, Grilled Chicken with Honey BBQ Sauce, and Vanilla Frozen Yogurt with Strawberry Sauce and Sprinkles)
  • Day 4 – Pasta (Fresh Pasta Dough, Spaghetti with Marinara Sauce with Homemade Meatballs and Cannoli Dip with Orange Zest and Mini Chocolate Chips)
  • Day 5 – Sur La Table Restaurant Skills (House Smoked Mozzarella and Tomato Crostini, Corn Soup with Basil Foam, Ham and Cheese Soufflé, and Summer Berry Parfait)

I highly recommend the Sur La Table cooking classes because they really go above and beyond the typical scrambled egg or frosting a cupcake that other classes might teach kids at this age. I love that she is learning advanced cooking and baking techniques like making a Pâte à choux, which is something even an adult might be afraid to attempt. As an added bonus, she made a lot of nice friends and learned to work cooperatively in the kitchen. It’s been a wonderful experience for her all around.

Even if a cooking class isn’t your child’s thing at the very least, encourage them from time to time to cook and bake alongside you. Not only will you be creating lots of fun memories with them but by starting them in the kitchen at an early age you’ll also be giving them a leg up as they get older. They will develop confidence in the kitchen and learn skills that will be essential once they are out on their own in the world. Plan meals together, let them cook a favorite recipe with you, and simply make them part of the process in the kitchen and you’ll be surprised at just how capable and eager they are.

My little sous chef is still saying after all these years that she’d love to go to pastry school and open her own bakery one day. Although she’s young and might change her mind a 1000 times from now until she’s an adult, if she did end up in pastry school I think it would be pretty awesome to watch her become exactly what she wanted to be from the time she was three years old. Time will tell and in the meantime, I’m just going to encourage her to keep on doing her thing in the kitchen.


Keepin’ It Real in the Kitchen


I know that everyone expects a food blog to be filled with beautiful pictures of perfectly cooked or baked foods but sometimes, you just gotta keep it real. Sometimes, a recipe (or the baker!!) goes totally wrong. Really, really wrong. Like today when I attempted to make a batch of chocolate chip cookies. If you haven’t noticed yet from the picture, these my friends were an EPIC FAIL!!! But you know what? That’s completely okay with me because not every recipe will turn out right and not everything will always be delicious. The good news is, it’s in the mistakes that we become better cooks. If you have ever read my Kitchen Disasters – We’ve ALL Been There post then you’re already keenly aware that I’ve had my fair share of disasters in the kitchen. Today was just one of those days. I was off my game and I messed up.

I am someone who thrives in organization and struggles to maintain my focus and keep my cool in chaos. Truthfully, I picked the wrong time to attempt a new baking recipe because at that current moment things in the house were utter chaos. The kids were running around being kids which basically means loud, giggly, and wild. To add to that I had my dog stalking me in the kitchen hounding me to feed her. Music was blaring, the phone kept ringing, and so on and so forth. I’m sure all of you parents out there can vividly picture this scenario. Most of you would have had the common sense to just step out of the kitchen. I, on the other hand, decided to bake cookies. Brilliant idea, right? SO wrong! So, so wrong!

I’m not even sure where it started to go off the rails but I suspect it was somewhere around when I added the butter. I think, although I am not 100% on this, that I added too much butter AND it was too soft. Obviously, at that point I was doomed to fail. But alas, it continued to only get worse. You would think after chilling the dough for an hour I would notice or even care that it still felt mushy. Nope. I just pressed on determined to make these damn cookies. While yelling at someone, I can’t even remember who at this point, I grabbed the wrong size cookie scoop and subsequently rolled out balls of dough that were literally the size of my toddler son’s head. Sure they looked wrong but, whatever! I didn’t have time to sweat those details as I was pulling my kids off of the walls and losing my mind. Then, oh yes…………..this story gets better!!…………….the recipe said to “flatten the cookies into disks“. Sure, no problem. SQUASH!! My gooey, pancake sized cookies were ready to hit the oven. I was killing it with these cookies!!!! ((insert eye roll here))

I am sure that you can assume what happened next in this cautionary tale. When you mix GIANT, mushy, over buttered, pancake sized cookies with heat, you know what you get, right?? Can you say……………SPREADING??!! I kid you not, when I checked on my lovely batch of cookies they were no longer round and cookie like, instead I had three pans each filled with one, huge rectangular blob of cookie. It was such a disaster. I should have pulled them out at the point and given up but again, I just kept pressing on. I let my cookie blob continue to cook, in fact I even let them OVERcook (for good measure) so that when I finally removed them from the oven they were black on bottom, raw on top, and pretty much glued to my Silpat.

After letting these horrid things cool, I tried in earnest to transfer them from the pan to the wire racks however, they weren’t budging. I was literally attacking them with my spatula the way one would use their shovel to hack away at a four foot frozen block of snow at the end of their driveway. It was hopeless. So, I began to just shovel my cookie mess into a pile on the pan so that I could chuck them into the garbage where they belong. As I am doing this I also had to pry my kids fingers from the cookie slop because it didn’t matter to them that they were a hot mess, if it’s sugar and it’s sweet they just want it in their bellies. They thought the cookies tasted great! My sweet babies, I appreciated their confidence in me but for real, these things were awful. So, with the kids finally out of the kitchen away the cookies went into the pail and out to the trash can. Good riddance!

Here’s the thing though, I fully recognize where I went wrong in this whole process but in the end, aside from wasting some ingredients, it was really no big deal to have a kitchen mishap. It happens to the best of us. I would bet good money that Bobby Flay has had a few doozies in his day too but like I said, it’s the mistakes that make us better. Just look at Bobby now!! I chalked up today to bad timing, crazy kids, and lots of distraction. That’s life, it happens! So tomorrow I’ll just get back up on my mixer and try, try again. That’s all I can do! With any luck I’ll be posting a pretty cookie picture and recipe soon!

Feel free to share your kitchen mishaps in the comments section. You know you have them too!! LOL Happy baking home cooking friends!!