Hosting A Girls' Night In - Pizza Night!

Who doesn’t love pizza? According to an article from the Food Network it’s America’s #1 favorite comfort food! It’s no surprise considering pizza night is something you hear quite often. Keeping with our girls’ night theme this month, I thought it would be fun to put together a few easy pizza recipes to knock out before the girls come over this weekend. These are so simple you could even put them to work if you’d like. Give someone the job of applying the toppings and someone else the job of pouring the wine and you’ll be having a good time before you know it.

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I could share a homemade pizza dough recipe with you, tell you how to spend an entire day whipping up your own pizza sauce. Let’s be honest though. I’m a busy girl and I know lots of you are busy as well. I love to cook and I spend a lot of time doing just that. I also like to have quick-prep meals when company is coming that won’t have me ready for a nap right after. There are so many store-bought options available to us that can make things like pizza night super easy to put together within minutes. In fact, I prepped all three pizzas below plus the bistro salad in just one hour. Sounds pretty good doesn't it? And everything is basically home cooked. So you don’t knead the dough with your own hands? Who’s judging? Certainly not me because I have kneaded that dough before and while it’s therapeutic, relaxing it is not. Grab a glass of your favorite wine, prep your ingredients and get to assembling. Pizza night is minutes away and you don’t wand to miss it!

About that vino I keep talking about... I shared a margarita recipe to go with taco night so it only seemed appropriate to include wine pairings for pizza night. When it comes to wine, I started out as a white wine loving gal. Studying wine while studying abroad in France and then following it up with a few more classes in the US exponentially expanded my palette. For starters, my choice of white is no longer Moscato but instead Sancerre which is unfortunate since it comes from a very small region in France therefore is terribly expensive stateside. Second of all, I went from never touching red wine to preferring it. I love a good tempranillo, malbec, and spicy Spanish reds. Knowing not everyone has the same taste in wine, I did a little research while also relying on my own personal tastes to put together a few suggestions for each pizza recipe we have to share. Take a look and let me know what you think in the comments below!

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What You Need:
Store-Bought (or homemade pizza dough)
Pizza Sauce (I used 24 oz. over three pizzas)
1 tbsp dried Oregano per pizza

1 - Preheat the oven to 425 degrees (or follow the directions on the pizza dough package if different).

2 - Sprinkle a tablespoon of cornmeal on the baking sheet and/or pizza pan. Roll out, or unroll, the pizza dough. It doesn’t have to be perfect but stretch it out as much as you can without any tears. Spread a few ladles of pizza sauce onto the dough.

3 - Top with your choice of toppings (directions for each below). 

4 - Finish with a sprinkle of oregano. Pop into the oven and bake 12-15 minutes or as long as the package directions say. Let cool 5 minutes or so before slicing. This will help keep the cheese in place. Enjoy!

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Veggie Lovers’
1 tbsp. Olive Oil
2 Bell Peppers, cut into small chunks
8 oz. Mushrooms, sliced
1 cup Cherry Tomatoes, halved
1 cup Black Olives, sliced
2 cups shredded Mozzarella Cheese
1 tsp. Red Pepper Flakes

1 - Follow steps one and two from above.

2 - Heat olive oil in a large skillet. Add the bell peppers, mushrooms and cherry tomatoes. Cook 8-10 minutes until softened. Spread over the pizza sauce followed by the olives and top with mozzarella cheese. Sprinkle the red pepper flakes evenly all over the cheese.

3- Continue with step four to finish.

Wine Pairing Suggestion: Barbera, Sancerre or Rose

 I did half sausage and half sausage and green pepper. If you decide to do a half and half like this, just use one bell pepper instead of two.

I did half sausage and half sausage and green pepper. If you decide to do a half and half like this, just use one bell pepper instead of two.

Sausage & Pepper
1 lb. Hot Italian Sausage, browned
2 Bell Peppers, cut into small chunks
2 cups shredded Mozzarella Cheese
1 tsp. Red Pepper Flakes

1 - Follow steps one and two from above.

2 - In a large skillet over medium-high heat, brown the sausage. Remove to a plate lined with paper towels to drain excess grease. In the same skillet, add the bell peppers. Cook 8-10 minutes until softened. Add the sausage back into the skillet to mix with the peppers. Spread over the pizza sauce and top with mozzarella cheese. Sprinkle the red pepper flakes evenly all over the cheese.

3- Continue with step four to finish.

Wine Pairing Suggestion: Cabernet Sauvignon or Shiraz

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Classic Cheese
3 cups shredded Mozzarella Cheese
1 cup grated Parmesan Cheese

1 - Follow steps one and two from above.

2 - Evenly sprinkle the mozzarella cheese over the pizza sauce. On top of the mozzarella, sprinkle the parmesan cheese.

3- Continue with step four to finish.

Wine Pairing Suggestion: Syrah or Zinfandel

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Bistro Salad
1 head Green Lettuce, chopped
1 cup Cherry Tomatoes, halved
1 cup Cucumbers, halved and sliced
Your Favorite Vinaigrette

1 - Mix together the lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers. Let guests serve themselves and dress with their favorite vinaigrette or dressing. I used Buttermilk Ranch.

**EXTRA CONTENT! If you’re going a little more fancy on the pizza toppings, Wine Enthusiast has a great article sharing even more pizza and wine pairings that veer off the basic combos. Check it out here.

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Eat Like A Gilmore | Cookbooks By Lovely Ladies

Happy Saturday! I hope you’re all enjoying your day as much as I am. While you all know that I am not a morning person in the slightest, I have been up since 5:30am. I’ve staffed a work thing, had breakfast at one of my favorite places (Le Pain Quotidien), and now I’m sitting in a coffee shop working on the computer to pass time until someone meets me for coffee. Normally my Saturdays consist of dozing till 9am, catching up on the Food Network until Noon and casually going through the rest of my day. Not a bad life but I have to admit that I’m enjoying the early start I got to today. Strolling through Chicago in the early hours on the weekend is an experience I don’t enjoy often but savor when I do. It’s a brief period of time when the city is at its most peaceful and everything feels so fresh. Now, as I sit here ready to introduce you to a new cookbook series for this month listening to the Beatles on vinyl, I can’t help but be grateful for being able to live in this gorgeous city. But enough about my morning...let’s get to the good stuff.

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Gilmore Girls was one of those coming of age shows that I grew up with. I saw Rory through high school, college and the beginning of her career. I watched her go through heartbreak in three serious relationships and I couldn’t help but notice each one was with a completely different type of guy. There are hardly any similarities between Dean, Jess, and Logan except for the fact that every single one is H.O.T. Am I right or what? When I heard about Eat Like A Gilmore, I knew without any certainty that I had to have that cookbook. Kristi Carlson brought a little piece of Stars Hollow to all of us by sharing recipes that are attached to a memory from the show. I’ve been working my way through this cookbook (along with the million others I have), and I haven’t found a recipe that I’ve been disappointed with yet! That’s why I wanted to premier this cookbook series for March with Carlson’s book. Last month, I shared cookbooks that featured recipes from different cultures around the world. This month, to celebrate some kick ass women, I’m sharing my experience cooking through books by ladies-only. So let’s get started.

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Meal #1: The Classic Cheeseburger from Luke’s Diner and Rocky Road Cookies
If you don’t know about Luke’s Cheeseburger, get out from whatever rock you’re living under. The cheeseburger from Luke’s Diner is basically a food group when it comes to Gilmore Girls. That and his pancakes...blueberries or chocolate chips optional. Gilmore Girls has successfully made a diner burger look so fantastic that any burger I have at real life diners doesn’t add up and I don’t even have anything to compare it to! Do you know what the trick is?? Absolutely nothing. The recipe for Luke’s Cheeseburger is a giant meat patty seasoned with salt and pepper then either grilled or cooked over the stove. That’s all. There are no secret ingredients, no hacks. It’s just ground beef and a stove. And let me tell you, it’s a damn good burger. Add a slice of cheddar cheese on top, whatever fixings you like and that’s all she wrote! There’s also an option to caramelize some onions to include on top. I did that the first time I made these burgers and it was fantastic. The second time, I kept it simple and it was just as good. My biggest tip, don’t skimp on the meat. This recipe calls for ½ lb. burgers. Use a ½ lb, of beef per patty or you will have sliders, not burgers.

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The Rocky Road Cookies might not ring a bell for you as much as the burger. I know they didn’t for me. When Rory and Dean started going out, she had Sookie make him his favorite cookies and she took a container to wait for him at the bus. It was a sweet moment for Rory and Dean and one of annoyance for Lane. And really, I feel like I relate to Lane on so many levels...sometimes more so than Rory. These Rocky Road Cookies are GOLD. Normally, I don’t like marshmallows at all. They work really well with these cookies though. They were a hit with my family too. I made them for Christmas and then my cousin’s birthday and they went quick. You might notice that my cookies look a lot darker than the ones in the photo. There’s a perfectly good reason for this. I didn’t realize that the cocoa powder we had was dark cocoa instead of the typical semi-sweet. So we ended up with extra dark chocolate rocky road cookies. Still tasty, I might add. I also omit the pecans because of our nut allergy so they can be nut-free.

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Meal #2: Warm Potato & Chorizo Salad with Cornbread
Nothing is better than cornbread. It’s the perfect combination of sweet and savory all in the form of bread. It’s even better when made from scratch and paired with something that complements it well. Kind of like the Warm Potato & Chorizo Salad which sounds healthy because it’s a salad but doesn’t taste healthy. Is it healthy? We’ll never know! It sure is tasty though. It’s also really simple. Chorizo is browned and tossed with blanched asparagus, boiled potatoes and spinach before dressed with this Creamy Avocado dressing. It’s hearty enough to serve as a main course with a side of the cornbread. If I haven’t sold you on the cornbread yet, will you believe me that it’s amazing if I told you it’s made with cheese? Yes, you read that right! A little cheese gets mixed into the batter before baking and it is divine.

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If you haven’t picked up Eat Like a Gilmore yet, do so. Even if you’re not a Gilmore Girls fanatic like me, it has a ton of great recipes from muffins to wedding cakes. There’s even a recipe for deep fried turkey...the whole thing! I don’t have the confidence, or equipment, to try that one out but I’ll eventually work my way through quite a few of the recipes. I’ve even featured the pancakes from Luke’s Diner in a recent #FoodieFriday post!

Hosting A Girls' Night In - Taco Fiesta!

It’s Women’s History Month and just like last year, we’re celebrating ladies throughout March. From travel advice to cookbook features, women are at the heart of much of the content coming up these next few weeks and I couldn’t be more excited. One of my favorite ways to spend time with girlfriends is hosting them for a girls’ night in. Normally I cook a nice dinner or prep several little things for a casual night. It’s a great time to relax, catch up and spend time with one another. When I’m hosting the more casual nights’ in, I like to center the food around a theme. I know themes aren’t for everyone but when it comes to cooking, it makes things much less expensive and much easier to prepare. Take, for example, a taco fiesta!

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Tacos are one of the easiest things to make whether you’re serving two or twenty. Prep all the toppings, whip up the filling and let everyone serve themselves. Every single recipe in this post (except for the cocktail) is easy to prep ahead so that by the time everyone arrives, there’s little for you to do. And who doesn't love tacos? As long as there are a few different kinds to choose from, everyone will be pleased at the end of the night. There’s nothing better than full bellies, laughter and memories.

So...where to start. We’ve got you covered. From the taco preparation to the margarita, all the recipes you need to host your own taco fiesta are below. You should have leftover taco seasoning unless you double up any of the taco recipes. It wouldn’t be a taco fiesta without salsa and guacamole! We’ve got recipes for each of those below as well. And finally, scroll all the way to the bottom for a taco fiesta playlist that will have everyone’s booty shaking as they bite into their tacos.

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Most taco seasonings have the same ingredients. This recipe was tested and perfected before used on any tacos but if you feel it needs more/less heat or you want to put a personal spin on it, please do!

3 tbsp. Chili Powder
1 tbsp. Paprika
1 tbsp. Garlic Powder
1 tsp. Cayenne Pepper
1 tsp. Ground Cumin
1 tsp. Oregano
½ tsp. Salt
½ tsp. Pepper

Mix all the spices together. Store in an airtight baggie or container.

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It’s easy to make one taco filling and call it a day but it’s much more fun to have a little bit of a few fillings. One pound of steak or fajita-cut beef goes a long way. Two chicken breasts slice up easily and it’s always nice to think of a vegetarian option. TIP: the chicken and veggie filling mixes together for great leftovers later!

Beef Tacos
1 lb. Skirt Steak, sliced into 1-inch pieces, or 1 lb. Fajita Beef (pre-cut steak)
2 tbsp. Taco Seasoning
1 tbsp. Canola Oil

1 - Toss the sliced steak with the taco seasoning until completely coated.

2 - Preheat a skillet over medium-high heat. Cook 8-10 minutes until the meat is cooked through.

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Chicken Tacos
2-3 Chicken Breasts
Juice of one Lime
2 tbsp. Taco Seasoning

1 - Place the chicken in a plastic bag or bowl with the lime juice and taco seasoning. Toss around to coat evenly. Place in the fridge to marinate at least 2 hours and up to overnight.

2 - Preheat a skillet over medium-high heat. Slice the chicken into 1-inch pieces, toss into the skillet and cook until the chicken is no longer pink.

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Veggie Tacos
1 Red Bell Pepper, sliced
1 Green Bell Pepper, sliced
½ large Red Onion, halved and sliced
1 tbsp. Taco Seasoning
1 tbsp. Canola Oil

1 - Toss the veggies with the taco seasoning and oil. Preheat a skillet to medium-high. Cook the veggies until softened but so that they still have a bite to them. The onions will soften up pretty well and almost caramelize but the peppers should still be a touch firm.

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Place each of the taco filling in a bowl or leave in the skillet. Warm up your choice of tortillas (we used white corn street-style) as guests need them so they don’t break. Serve with your preference of cheese, chopped cilantro or parsley, chopped onion or chives, salsa, guacamole, etc. The sky is the limit!

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4 Avocados, peeled, pit removed, and mashed
Juice of 1 Lime
½ large Red Onion, finely chopped
2 Jalapenos, seeded and finely chopped*
Salt & Pepper, to taste

1 - Mash the avocado with a fork. Squeeze the lime juice and mix well. Add the onion and jalapeno and mix well. Add salt and pepper to taste**.

* If you like a little spice, leave some of the ribs and seeds on one of the two jalapenos. That will give the guacamole more heat.

** If it tastes like something is missing, add more salt. I don’t know the exact measurement we used but we added salt twice more before getting the flavor right. You have to just go by your taste buds and you’ll figure it out.

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This is a twist on my original Pineapple Salsa recipe. Mangos are added for even more flavor and if you get addicted, we refuse to be held accountable :-P

2 cups Pineapple, diced
2 cups Mango, diced
1 Garlic Clove, finely chopped
1 Jalapeno, finely chopped
½ Red Onion, diced
Juice of one Lime

1 - Chop the ingredients and place in a medium-sized bowl. Add the lime juice, mix again well. Cover until ready to serve or just dig in right then and there!

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You can’t have a girls’ night without a drink! We made this recipe a while back and it’s still a favorite of ours and yours. Ingredients below. Visit the original post for full directions...HERE.

What you Need:
Mint Leaves
Agave Nectar
Lime Juice + Lime Slices
Silver Tequila
Ice Cubes

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Nothing gets me dancing like Latin music. I’ve put together a playlist of my favorite Latin songs or songs by Latin artists. From Shakira to Ricky Martin to Daddy Yankee, get ready for a Taco Fiesta Dance Party!

Irving Restaurant Round-Up | 5 Spots To Grab A Bite

On my first trip to the DFW area to visit family almost 8 years ago, I would have never labeled Irving a foodie’s destination. Almost a decade later (with more money to spend), I’ve changed my mind. Irving is for sure a foodie’s dream. From Tex Mex staples to old school diners, Irving is sporting restaurants featuring cuisine from Texas to India. It’s a smorgasbord of deliciousness you can’t help but return to. I mentioned in the recent Five Things To Do post that I had the opportunity to join an Irving press trip during my most recent visit to Texas. A few of the destinations I’m about to share with you were included in that press trip and boy am I glad they were. Lori, the amazing woman who organized this press trip pulled out every single stop and made sure there was no question that we enjoyed our weekend discovering Irving. So check out the five joints below and tell me in the comments what you look forward to when visiting Texas when it comes to food. I’m all ears!

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Big State Fountain Grill
Big State Fountain Grill is one of those places you’d expect to see on Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives. It’s an old school, corner restaurant with a little shop when you walk in and classic diner seating in the restaurant part. The menu consists of anything you can think of but one of the things they’re known for is ice cream. Get a scoop as big as your head and just try and eat that on cone. The Floats and Ice Cream Sodas are for sure a favorite and I was the poor soul who ended up trying both (what dairy intolerance?). Being someone who has always detested the taste of Root Beer, I got all Dr. Pepper and my taste buds were tantalized. Big State uses Bluebell Ice Cream, a brand that is apparently HUGE in the South. Please excuse my northern ignorance. We’re all about that Oberweis.

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Big State is more than ice cream though. The chili cheese fries, for one, are a local favorite and let’s not forget their “Dang Good Burgers.” I’ll tell you what, on my next visit I will for sure be ordering the Big State Cheeseburger with a side of Stroker’s Fries...or maybe onion rings (what the heck, how about both). While the food is dang delicious, the service is even better. Big State is a family-owned business (my favorite) and everyone is crazy friendly. It’s owned by Rick Fairless who owns a few other businesses in the area but his daughter is the one who really handles Big State and she’s one of the sweetest, coolest people I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. She’s also the one who insisted that I get the Float on top of the Ice Cream Soda (because you can’t leave Big State never having tasted a Float in your entire life). I swear there are good things about being a northerner...we have the best pasta and pizza and we have four seasons!

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Empa Mundo Empanadas
If there is an empanada joint in a city I’m visiting, you bet I will find it. Empanadas are my weakness. Sweet, savory, spicy, a combo of both...I love them all! And since they’re so small, you can try several without feeling guilty (or several halves). It’s a food lover’s dream come true. There’s nothing worse than being committed to only one dish! Empa Mundo was a spot that came recommended through the Visit DFW website and as soon as I found out about it, I needed to try it out. My cousin Catherine and I ventured over on a rainy day for a late lunch treat. Let’s start with the lady who owns it. Her and her husband are both from Argentina and they’ve brought their Argentinian roots to Irving. She’s super friendly, talkative and will walk you through the empanadas if you like. While we were chatting, she told us how how people come to her with suggestions and they figure out a way to add them to the menu. That’s actually how the Pulled Pork empanadas came to be. Someone suggested them, her husband spent a day perfecting a recipe and voila! Now you can order pulled pork empanadas.

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I ordered four empanadas during our visit and we took them to go with this AMAZING red sauce that I have no idea what it is but I want to go back to order a giant jug of it. Anyway, I chose three savory: Chorizo, Spinach and Ricotta, and Cheesesteak, and one sweet: Banana and Nutella. They were all fantastic. The chorizo is made with potatoes and peppers. It wasn’t too spicy and even had a sweet note to it. The spinach and ricotta also had parmesan and eggs. When the description said “eggs,” I thought it meant the egg was worked in like any other ricotta pasta filling. No. It’s actually cut up hard-boiled eggs so be prepared. I still enjoyed it but I definitely wasn’t expecting it. The cheesesteak has onions and peppers and was mind blowing. I wasn’t expecting to love this one so much but I think it was my favorite. Finally the banana and nutella is exactly as it sounds but with marshmallows. Everything is all melty when you bite into it and it’s a nutella dream. This is a great quick-stop if you don’t have lots of time.

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La Margarita
La Margarita was another one of the restaurants we stopped at on our Irving press trip. It’s a classic Mexican/Tex-Mex restaurant. We sampled a lot of different dishes so I’ll be doing a full restaurant review in the future but I still wanted to touch on it a bit for the round-up. La Margarita serves up a combo of traditional Mexican dishes and classic Tex-Mex. For example, they make tableside guacamole with all the fixings...including bacon which my Mexican best friend says is a big no-no. Munch on tacos, nachos, quesadillas, fajitas, bocadillos...anything you can think of. The food is incredible. This is another spot where I have zero complaints.

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The Ranch
Another stop from our tour of Irving, The Ranch is located in Las Colinas, a community of residential buildings, hotels and lots of entertainment. It’s kind of like its own town inside of the city of Irving if that makes sense. The Ranch is a Texas Steakhouse serving up all the meats, classic sides, and dishes with innovation and creativity you wouldn’t find at any random steakhouse. They’re farm-to-table cuisine which means they source local for their meat and produce, something I am a HUGE fan of. The Ranch has locations all over Texas (mostly south and east) so if you can’t get to the Irving location, check out one of their others for a bite.

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We had a ton to eat here including a tour of their dessert menu (again, dairy overload) so I’ll be sharing a full restaurant review in the future but for now, I’ll highlight my personal dinner and one of the starters we enjoyed. The Chef’s “Favorite 4” (pictured above) is a platter of queso blanco, onion rings, mini elk tacos and fried green tomatoes. Holy fried food is all I have to say. But is anything really as good as when it’s fried? I mean come on, those onion rings were massive and to die for. I ordered the Smoked Fried Chicken after one too many recommendations. It was great and I loved the sides (especially the cornbread and mac n’ cheese) but after the amount of food I ate that day, I still wish I went with a flatbread I had my eye on. This girl has one too many food intolerances and when they’re all put to the test at the same time, death is an outcome I’d like to have the option to choose. Let’s just say the next three days were spent sipping ice cold coke and eating saltines. I love the job of food blogger and I love working with food in my day job as well but man, does my body hate it when I overindulge. I blame bad genes…thanks ancestors.

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The Final Spot I’m Too Embarrassed to Give A Title
So, the final “restaurant” I want to share is a little unconventional compared to what I typically lean towards when it comes to food. You know those places that everyone raves about, the ones that have a large hype around them and you feel like you’re missing out if you haven’t tried them? Let me forward by saying I am not a fast food diner...ever. I have my “quick” places when I need a bite to eat but on the traditional fast food scale, it’s not my thing. It makes me feel sick, I always regret my decision and it often feels like a waste of money. Whataburger would be my one exception. I’ll have a cheeseburger on occasion while visiting family in Texas. This last time, I felt like I needed to try In-N-Out for the first time. I blame Selena Gomez. I’ve seen so many Instagram posts from her eating In-N-Out and raving about it. It seemed like I couldn’t go anywhere online without seeing how life changing In-N-Out burgers were. So I put the hype to the test and ordered my very first In-N-Out burger (disclaimer: I’m not sure if it was actually in Irving but we’ll include it regardless).

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The’s a burger. It was good, don’t get me wrong, but I am still flummoxed on all the hype. It was just a burger. They have this special sauce on it that is pretty good but I wasn’t blown away by any means. I know a lot of you are probably reading this thinking, “how has she never had In-N-Out before?” I grew up in the south Chicago suburbs and have lived in the Chicago area my whole life. Until the last couple of years, we’ve only had the larger chains (McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, etc.). Whataburger, In-N-Out, Sonic, Wing Stop...all those don't exist. We only got a Chick-Fil-A like five years ago. I didn’t see a Wing Stop until after I graduated college. And don’t even talk to me about Sonic because those commercials look damn good and you can’t find one within a 100-mile radius.

So tell me, have you dined in Irving? Have you had an In-N-Out Burger? Chat away in the comments below!

Ottolenghi | Around the World with Cookbooks

Happy Monday! It’s a beautiful, sunny, 50 degree day here in Chicago. While I love winter and the cooler months, there’s something about these first few warm days between winter and spring that make me happy. Feeling the warmth of the sun on your skin is almost therapeutic. Kind of like your body is soaking in vital nutrients it’s been missing for so long. As we’re about to turn the corner into March, I can’t help but think of how quick the month has flown by. Didn’t January feel like it lasted for a year and February was a mere minute? If it weren’t for all the snow we had, I’d almost feel like we completely missed out on winter! While today and tomorrow are going to be warmed up, nights and days on average are still pretty cold which makes this final cookbook feature in our Around the World series perfect.

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Ottolenghi was lent to me by a friend specifically for this series. I have more than a dozen cookbooks but the only cuisines I was able to pull out of them were Thai, Italian and French. I couldn’t believe that I had all these cookbooks and only three cultures to show for it. If you saw how many French and Italian cookbooks I had, you’d understand though. It appears I have a life mission to master French cooking through as many cookbooks as possible. So to add one more culture to the cookbook part of the series, a friend lent me Ottolenghi by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi featuring recipes inspired by the Mediterranean.

Both Ottolenghi and Tamimi were born and raised in Jerusalem which is where their culinary roots are heavily based. They’ve since transformed their traditional dishes to include influence from California, Italy, North Africa and other destinations but at the heart, the recipes are true to their origins. Like any new culture or language, decoding the recipes to imagine what they would turn out to be was a bit difficult at first but a challenge I accepted with enthusiasm. Unfortunately, Ottlenghi uses a lot of ingredients that are hard to find or expensive in my Midwestern suburban town so narrowing down which recipes I was going to feature turned out to be pretty easy. The end result ended up being a flavorful chicken dinner with a rice pilaf type side. It was a meal that everyone enjoyed (surprisingly considering the new spices I introduced my picky eaters too).

Kosheri is a lentil and rice dish traditionally from Egypt served both hot or cold. It’s not difficult to prepare but there are several parts and steps that need attention at the same time. It takes more concentration than anything. Since it can be served both hot or cold, you don’t have to feel bad about serving it room temperature! It takes a bit of the pressure off. There are a lot of variations to this recipe both in its home country of Egypt but also as a similar dish in other cultures such as Indian and even English. This particular recipe uses a spicy tomato sauce that adds another layer of depth to an already well-rounded dish.

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Kosheri is a mixture of lentils, basmati rice, and vermicelli noodles all cooked separate before brought together for the end product. The rice is seasoned with nutmeg and cinnamon giving it a warm flavor that contrasts beautifully with the tangy and spicy tomato sauce. I prepared the Kosheri in about 40 minutes or so. It was enough time to clean up after the chicken dish and get the kosheri prepared before the chicken finished cooking. Because of the combination of spices, I won a few over with dish and lost a few. Turns out tang and warm spices are not an ideal combination for some people.

Roast Chicken with Sumac, Za’atar and Lemon
For the main course to serve along the Kosheri, I chose an easy roasted chicken recipe. It calls for one whole chicken cut up. To save money but also because I didn’t want to butcher my own chicken and the store was out of whole cut up options, I used only chicken quarters. Everyone prefers dark meat anyway, right? This recipe is a basic roast chicken recipe with an intense marinade and lots of spices. I love it because it’s hands off too. The chicken marinades all day or at least for a few hours in a plastic bag with a myriad of spices, lemon and a few other ingredients. Once it’s time to roast, dump the bag onto a baking sheet or into a roasting pan and pop it in the oven. While the chicken roasts, prep the Kosheri and if you’d like, a side salad for a touch of freshness. The chicken becomes super tender and flavorful thanks to the long marinade and it pairs perfect with the Kosheri.

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I’m sad to see this series come to and end but we’ve got a ton of great stuff coming to you in March! If you missed any other posts in the Around the World series, check them out. If you’re interested in a specific culture or cuisine, besides Jerusalem we covered FranceGreeceItalyMexicoNorth AfricaPoland and Thailand. Happy eating!

Potato Pancakes | Around the World with Recipes

I talk a lot about my Italian roots but rarely about my Polish. My grandfather on my Mom’s side (my Papa) is 100% Polish and there were a few things he's handed down to us. Polish Sausage for one, something that I unfortunately never really developed a taste for but loved making as a kid. A few Polish words that I won’t attempt to spell out, several cookie recipes and a few other things. One that I learned a little later in life was a recipe for Potato Pancakes. My great aunt taught me how to make them a few years ago and while this is not her exact recipe, it has the same flavor profile.

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Potatoes are something I have zero self-control over. I can eat them in chip form, mashed, roasted, fried, you name it! Put a little salt on a raw potato and I’d probably eat it. Potato pancakes are kind of like glorified hash browns but much more dense, flavorful and filling. They take a bit of arm muscle and some work to prepare but the first bite will make all the work worth it. Potato Pancakes are often called latkes but in Polish culture, they are placki ziemniaczane and traditionally served with a variety of different toppings. Applesauce is a popular one, a sour cream mixture, fruit, and even goulash (any basic meat and vegetable stew). In my family, we eat them as a side dish like you would mashed potatoes. For the purpose of this post though, I decided to serve them with a beef stew. They complemented beautifully and I don’t know that I’ll go back to potato pancakes any other way!

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The process to making potato pancakes is a bit laborious but not very time consuming and ultimately rewarding. It starts by grating the potatoes and the onions. I use a traditional box grater with the medium sized grate but you can use the grating blade on a food processor as well. The holes on the box grater are like the size of a pencil eraser. This ensures the pancakes have a bit more texture and don’t get super cakey. You want to have a decent potato to onion ratio. I used two large potatoes to one large onion. In the end, you want the grated mixture to be about 1:3 (onion:potato). Squeeze as much liquid as possible out of the potatoes and onions. This is the most difficult part and there are no shortcuts. If the potato mixture is watery, the pancakes will not turn out right and you might even get a lot of oil splashing back at you which is painful. Once the potato mix is squeezed, add in the egg, flour and season generously with salt and pepper. You can use up to four tablespoons of flour but, again, I don’t like a cakey potato pancake. I like the potatoes to shine so I only use enough flour to bind the ingredients. Finally, fry them up in some vegetable oil and you’re all set! I scoop the mixture with a spoon and use the spoon and my hand to form the pancake slightly before dropping into the skillet.

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I hope you’ve enjoyed the series this month taking us around the world with recipes and cookbooks! We have one more cookbook to feature on Monday which is taking us to the Middle East. If you missed any, make sure to check out our features in France, GreeceItalyMexicoNorth Africa, and Thailand.

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Potato Pancakes
2-3 large Potatoes, grated (peeled first, optional)
1 large Onion, grated
1 Egg
2 tbsp. Flour
¼ cup Vegetable Oil
Salt & Pepper

1 - Grate the potatoes and onion into a large bowl. Squeeze as much excess water out as possible using your hands and a cheesecloth, towel, or paper towel. Whatever you have accessible will work*.

2 - Mix one egg in a large bowl. Add the onion and potato and mix together until well-incorporated. Add the flour, salt & pepper and continue to mix well.

3 - Heat the oil in a deep skillet. Using a spoon, scoop about ¼ cup of the potato mixture and place in the hot oil. Using a spatula, squash flat. Let cook on either side about 4-5 minutes until golden and crisp. Remove to a paper towel lined plate to soak any excess grease. Repeat until all of the potato mixture is gone.

* To squeeze out the liquid, I started by placing all of the grated potatoes and onions in a strainer. I used my hands to push out any liquid that I could. Afterwards, I took small handfuls and squeezed the remaining liquid out using paper towels. You’ll be surprised at how much liquid will come out. Don’t cut corners with squeezing the liquid out because the pancakes will turn out mushy and the oil might squirt back at you big time when frying them.

5 Items You Should Always Pack

Everyone loves to travel but no one likes to pack. If you’re anything like me, you might even put it off until the last second. When that happens, things are usually forgotten. A good friend of mine shared a master packing list with me that includes everything you could possibly take with you. While it’s made my packing nightmare much more bearable, there are always certain items I never forget to bring with me. These aren’t your typical things to pack like clothes, shoes and medicine. They’re a handful of essentials that are important for their own reasons. Take a look at tell me what you think in the comments below:

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1 - Travel Documentation
This may seem like an obvious one but it wasn’t always something I thought about. Travel documentation can vary depending on the destination you visit and what country (and even state) you live in. For example, there are a few states that no longer have TSA compliant driver’s licenses and can’t fly domestically without one. While this isn’t supposed to effect fliers before 2020, it might be safer to take a passport along. And before you argue that a passport is too much money, it’s $110 for adults over the age of 16 and only needs to be renewed every 10 years. That’s $11 per year, not a huge mark on the wallet by any means. Travel documentation also includes any flight or train information. It includes travel insurance, copies of your identification, and copies of your health insurance. All this documentation should be kept on your person, not in checked bags. At the hotel when you reach your destination, make sure to put a copy (or the real thing if you prefer) in the safe.

 A few items you should take with you instead of leaving home. Limit specialty toiletries that you can't live without to no more than three. 

A few items you should take with you instead of leaving home. Limit specialty toiletries that you can't live without to no more than three. 

2 - First-Aid/Emergency Travel Kit
I have mini kits for everything. It’s better to be prepared than to face an emergency and not be able to help yourself or someone else! I’ll actually be sharing what’s in this emergency kit soon so you can see exactly what I’m talking about. As someone who also likes to pack light, we’re not talking anything crazy here. An emergency travel kit should have enough items to get you through an emergency situation. A few things to include are: band-aids, alcohol pads, Benadryl/Antihistamine medication, ibuprofen, an energy/candy bar, and a few others things. It should be able to fit easily in your regular bag or purse. We don’t need full bottles of rubbing alcohol here or a 12-pack of bottled water to make it through apocalyptic events. Just enough odds and ends to help with injuries, allergic reactions, upset stomach and other things.

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3 - Multi-Purpose Bag
I don’t own purses. I have one clutch that my friends gave me for a birthday and I can count the number of times I use it in a year on one hand. I own messenger bags, overnight bags and backpacks. Why? Because I’m usually carrying my portable office or a small version of it and I like the bag to live a good life. There are two bags that always come with me when I travel: a giant textbook-sized messenger bag and a backpack. The backpack is good when I need to lug the computer around and the messenger bag is good when I’m just lugging the camera around. I know people who pack several purses and clutches to match all the possible outfits they’re taking on vacation. That’s such a waste of space though! Bring something that can easily collapse and that will serve a better purpose than a fashion statement.

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4 - Hand Wipes
I always have a travel-size package of hand sanitizer wipes when I travel. Let’s start with trains and planes. They’re FULL of germs and bacteria. I wipe down the trays when I sit down on the plane to make sure it’s as clean as I can get it with the resources that I have. They also come in handy if any public bathroom you need to use is out of soap. We’ve all been there before! Hand wipes also come into handy if you’re a mom or traveling with kids. Anyone who’s done that before understands me on a real deep level. The best part about hand wipes? You don’t have to worry about it being another liquid in a bottle when going through security. If you can’t find hand wipes on your way out or you have tons of sanitizer on hand, just bring a bottle of that. It works as good.

5 - A Large Scarf
I got this super cute, soft scarf from one of my past Stitch Fix boxes that is enormous. I wear it more often as a wrap than a scarf because it’s so huge. Traveling will come with its share of surprises and one of them is that you’ll find yourself cold even if you’re on the way to a tropical getaway. Planes, trains, buses and cars can often be cooler than we prefer. Hotels can also get chilly. A large scarf is versatile and travels easy. It also lets you enjoy that small seat on the plane without having to share it with your over-sized puffy coat. It will even come in handy if one of the days has an uncharacteristic drop in temperature.

 A few things you should leave at home instead of taking with you. Most are available from hotels and if not, grab a few travel size bottles at the nearest drugstore. 

A few things you should leave at home instead of taking with you. Most are available from hotels and if not, grab a few travel size bottles at the nearest drugstore. 

Before you go...I want to talk toiletries for a minute. Bottles of things can take up a lot of space in your suitcase and carry-on. See below for my list of Do’s and Don’ts on what to pack and what to buy. For the things not on the list, bring what might be hard to find if you need it and leave what you can do without or find in a pinch. A few other toiletries I never travel without are my hair gel for curly days (I have a very specific one that I use), face moisturizer because my skin can be annoying and a travel size bottle of dry shampoo. If I'm going somewhere I know will be very humid or warm, I'll also take Urban Decay's Makeup Setting Spray to keep my face in place. 

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5 Things To Do Along Magnolia Avenue | Fort Worth, TX

I’ve never considered myself a hipster. I don’t have the confident, carefree attitude they seem to emit and I love The Gap way too much. Don’t get me wrong…I’m not ashamed by any means. Not everyone can be hipster otherwise by definition, no one would be. I’m perfectly content in my gap tees and LC by Lauren Conrad jeans sipping Starbucks coffees more often than not. I embrace basic life. However, I am all about those hipster neighborhoods. They seem to have the best boutiques, the best coffee and the best brunch. I would have never guessed it but the South Side or as I like to call it, Magnolia neighborhood, in Fort Worth is a hipster haven.

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Magnolia Avenue is a street in the Southside neighborhood in Fort Worth lined with restaurants, boutiques, nightlife and more. It’s near the Fort Worth Medical District and “behind it” is the “Fairmont” neighborhood which is full of old homes (more on those further down). It’s a casual avenue that you could explore for days. The restaurants alone will keep you occupied for weeks not to mention the ones that host live music and entertainment. From wine tastings to homemade ice cream and specialty shops to cafes, there is so much to do and as if that’s not enough, the entire area is charming on top of it all. It almost reminds me of those small towns you see in Hallmark movies (don’t judge, we’ve all seen one or two). This isn’t the first time Magnolia has appeared on the site and it won’t be the last. Until next time, here are five of my top recommendations on what to do along Magnolia.

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Brunch at Brewed
Brewed is my one of my favorite spots in Fort Worth. The eclectic inside has tons of seating from traditional tables and chairs to comfy sofas. The patio in back has a gorgeous layout with even more seating. It doesn’t end there though. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, Brewed has a crazy good brunch menu featuring everything from pancakes to chicken and biscuits. And if you worried about the coffee falling short, don’t. Their coffee is always on point and I have had a few cappuccinos and lattes to prove it. Coffee not your thing? I’m sure you’ll find a wine, beer or cocktail to your satisfaction instead!

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Lunch at Heim
A local favorite for good reason, Heim recently made Texas Monthly’s list of top 25 barbecue joints. Heim was recommended to me by a DFW local. It’s still on my list, meaning I haven’t actually made it here yet, but believe me when I say it’s at the top. The trick about Heim is that you need to go with a little patience. Heim is so popular that it’s known for a lunch line. Yes, you read that right! A line at lunch! Who has time, right? Well, from what I’ve been told and everything that I’ve read, the line moves quick. I’ve also been told that the bacon burnt ends are to die for. I don’t see them on the menu so I don’t know exactly how you get your hands on these but if you have a chance, do not turn them down!

Grab a Pastry at Great Harvest Bread Co...or a Sandwich
New to the block, Great Harvest Bread Co. is serving up breakfast, lunch, and plenty of sweets including pooch-friendly options. The service is friendly and the space a bit small but cozy. Bread and baked goods are made in house every morning. Great Harvest features a seasonal menu on top of regular baked goods including treats to take home to your furbaby. During my visit, I had the Sophisticated Grilled Cheese Sandwich with sharp cheddar, provolone, sliced apples, bacon, and pepper jelly. It was DIVINE! I also went home with a cinnamon roll and let me tell you, Great Harvest has become one of my new favorite Fort Worth spots.

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Get Your Dairy Fix at Melt Ice Cream
For the best vegan ice cream in the south, Melt is the spot. For those who love the classic ingredients, there’s plenty of that as well. Classic flavors always available include “Beans” - Vanilla, Chocolate Chocolate, “Salt Lick” - Salted Caramel, “Cup of Texas” - coffee, and Velvet Vegan. They also serve seasonal flavors throughout the year including Black Forest, dark chocolate cake and almond meringue swirled into cherry ice cream, and Sunbrittle, vegan sunbutter ice cream sprinkled with pieces of vegan peanut and pretzel brittle. They also do seasonal cone pairings and “Taco Tuesdays” featuring two ice cream scoops topped with vanilla whipped cream, homemade salted caramel sauce and chocolate sauce. As if Melt wasn’t good enough already, they also partner with fellow local businesses for some of their ingredients. The owners of Melt saw that Fort Worth was missing an ice cream spot and boy did they make a name for themselves.

Walk/Drive around the Fairmont District
Just south of Magnolia Avenue is the Fairmont District. Once you step off of Magnolia, you’re in the district. It’s full of historical and old homes, many of which were built or used to be owned by rather famous people at least by Texan standards. Some of the homes are a bit broken down and need some love, others are just as beautiful as they must have been the day they were built. The homes are in the bungalow style which means they’re simple, smaller in size and functional - typically meant as single family homes. Even if you’re not on the market for a new home, it’s great to walk or drive down the streets and look at the houses. The contrast of some of the more broken down ones versus the ones in tip-top shape is eerily beautiful. They’re also very colorful - many are painted different colors, even vibrant hues! If nothing else, it’s a great opportunity to grab some photos

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