Some people choose to ring in the New Year with fancy diets and exercise plans. And I respect that. But I prefer to welcome it in with warm chocolate breakfast pastries.
There is nothing quite so enticing as the aroma of crushed peppermint at Christmastime. That is, unless, it is combined with dark chocolate and then baked into cookie perfection. As I write this, the strong, deep notes of "Christmastime is Here" are dancing from the kitchen and I am basking in the glow of the Christmas tree, waiting for my husband and a couple of good friends to come spend the evening. I'm feeling sentimental; perhaps it's the fact that I spent the week with a bunch of fourth and fifth graders who are pained with the anticipation of Santa, or because the living room is filled with a slight evergreen smell mixed with freshly baked, gooey cookies that reminds me of a time when I was that age myself.
It's raining outside, which isn't quite right, but now that it's dark I can almost make myself imagine there's a winter wonderland on the other side of the window.
Some things in life just make you close your eyes with a sigh and say, "This is freaking amazing." Foot massages, for example. Or a comfortable sweater with leggings. Creamy goat cheese spread on a crostini. Or, in this case, hearty white chicken chili on a drizzly November evening when you want to literally eat comfort.
November has arrived. October flew by in a whirlwind of foliage, pumpkin spice, and chocolate eaten sneakily under my desk so as not to tip off the kids. And now is the month for gray skies, thankful hearts, and preparation for one of the most wonderful reasons to eat thinly disguised sticks of butter with your family and friends - Thanksgiving.
Today, I share with you a beloved recipe that was handed down to me by my mother-in-law, Anne, after Ethan and I had been dating for a couple of years. This recipe is a friend's of hers - Kathy Swanson - and the zesty carrots made an appearance at nearly every important family meal - Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter. After eating them a couple of times and savoring each bite, I realized that it would be unfair, selfish, not to bring these carrots to my own family dinners, and so asked Anne for the recipe. It has now become a staple at all major holidays for my side of the family, as well, and these carrots are my go-to when we are asked to bring a side dish anywhere because they are absolutely sure to please.
I have grappled with writing this post longer than I care to admit. In case you were wondering - no, I haven't fallen off the face of the Earth. I've just started teaching fourth and fifth grade and the beginning of the school year has been one big overwhelming and exhilarating blur. There have been some nights when I have found moments of rest and normalcy in chopping vegetables, whisking batter, or kneading pasta, but most evenings just slip through my fingers and we end up eating whatever is leftover in the fridge. There have been many Taco Tuesdays and Pizza Fridays... and Mondays, and Thursdays, too.
But this weekend, I finally found myself with a nearly unscheduled Saturday. I spent the morning outside watching some of my students playing one of their final soccer games, and when I got home I was chilly and craving something warm and cheesy. Better yet, Ethan got home from work early, which meant we could actually have lunch together. So, instead of reaching for the leftover chicken fingers and butternut squash from Thursday, I decided to whip up a batch of one of my all-time favorite soups - Creamy Tomato Parmesan Bisque. It's like a grown-up version of the Campbell's classic.
Making homemade pasta sauce is an experience. I will not lie to you - it takes time. If all you want is a quick sauce to cover your weeknight noodles, go with Prego. It will undeniably save you hours. But if you want to spend an afternoon dancing around in a tomato-splattered apron, sipping red wine, and singing "Hey mambo, mambo Italianoooo," go the authentic route. Not only will you feel like an absolute boss magically turning tomatoes from your garden into creamy sauce, you will have the unique pleasure of tasting a simmering spoonful right from the pot and getting goosebumps because it tastes so good.
If you have shopped at a grocery store or scrolled through any form of social media this summer, you have likely seen the Not Your Father's Root Beer prominently displayed, whether it be at the front of Hannaford's beer aisle or in the selfied hand of a friend who has jumped on the bandwagon. Now I'm not a jump-on-the-bandwagon kind of girl, but an ale that tastes so much like real root beer that people can't tell the difference? It sounded like the perfect concoction to pour over ice cream. For my sister Rachel's bachelorette party a couple of weekends ago, we decided making ice cream floats out of it was a must.
The verdict? The floats were delicious (what's not to love?). But did the NYFRB taste exactly like a refreshing bottle of IBC? Sadly, it did not. And after one float, we were so full we didn't need to eat dinner.
The remaining bottles have been sitting in my fridge ever since.
What does one do with leftover beer once the thrill of ice cream floats is gone? Pour it all over meat and throw it in the CrockPot, of course.
The scent that wafts from the oven when these muffins are baking is what I imagine heaven will smell like. Every batch fills our small apartment with memories of sleepovers past at my grandparents' house and Sunday mornings growing up in our log cabin. My mom always made them before church, and I remember the smell being the thing that would wake me up and drag me out of bed. The recipe was originally my grandmother's, and then my mom adopted it and made it her own. Now that Ethan and I are all grown up (kinda) and in our own place, we have reinstated the Sunday morning blueberry muffin ritual. And it is not below us to eat the entire pan.
I'm going to keep this post short and simple, just like this guacamole recipe. The absolute breeziness of making guac is just one of the many reasons why I love it; I also appreciate that it's chock-full of green goodness and that Ethan will devour a bowl all by himself, without any regard to the fact that he "doesn't like avocados." Tricking people you love into eating healthy is fun.
Lasagna is unassuming. It knows it is the finest of comfort foods, and does not need precise lines or fancy garnishes to make it great. It simply is. Its combination of cheese and meat and vegetables and grains makes it a meal in itself. When I was living in Spain and eating the cooking of my Spanish host mama, my longing for lasagna was rivaled only by my desire for a warm chocolate chip cookie.