Classic Beef Roast | Sunday Night Suppers

Another week, another Monday. Tell me if I’m wrong but I feel like Mondays are not the worst day of the week, Tuesdays are. Mondays you can expect to dread. It’s the first day back at work after the weekend but at the same time, you’re coming off a super relaxing Sunday (hopefully). The real worst day of the week is Tuesday. Yesterday was probably an exhausting, soul sucking Monday with little to no recovery time and you still have four full days (three if it’s later in the day) till the weekend. Monday mornings I feel refreshed and motivated to get a jumpstart on the week. Tuesdays I want to dig a hole and not come out until 3PM on Friday. What do you think? Are you a Monday hater or a Tuesday hater?

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Regardless which day of the week you think is the worst, one thing that everyone loves (or should love) about Sundays is a delicious, comforting Sunday Night Supper. In true Monday fashion for September, we have yet another recipe for you. We started with an American favorite, last week we got a taste of my Italian roots, and this week we’re going full classic. I’m not sure where the concept of a Sunday roast began but I know it’s a thing in the United Kingdom, England to be more specific, and here in America. If you know of any other countries around the world that love a good roast for Sunday suppers, tell me in the comments below.

Roasts are pretty full-proof. It’s not entirely impossible to mess them up though. My Noni managed to burn a roast so bad one time when I was a kid that it was like a rock. To this day, we still don’t understand how she destroyed a perfectly good piece of meat. In case you’re wondering, we ordered pizza that night. The experience left a mark though...I always put timers on when it comes to roasting meat. This recipe is pretty basic and easy enough for beginners in the kitchen. Start by searing your roast. It develops a rich flavor that only gets better while in the oven. You want to season both sides generously and let it cook over a high heat on the stove for at least 8-10 minutes per side. Once done, transfer to a plate and cook the onions. The onions give a lot of flavor to the juice. You’ll see a lot of roasts made with pearl onions or quartered onions. I feel that when an onion is diced up, you get to pull out all the flavors. Pour the beef broth into the pot, scrape the bottom to release all those beautiful browned bits, add the vegetables and top with the roast. Voila! You have yourself a Sunday Night Supper. Easy right?

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What I love about roasts is that because they cook slow, you have time between prep and dinner to get things done. For example, writing a few blog posts or planning out content for the remainder of 2018. Once the roast is finished cooking, it’s important to let it sit. This allows the meat to settle and the juices to disperse within the meat so that when you cut into it, they don’t come pouring out. While it rests, whip up those mashed potatoes. I love a good, creamy mash. It’s comforting in the best possible way. Our recipe is simple with three ingredients and salt. All you need for a decent mashed potato is: potatoes, butter, cream. Not milk. Cream keeps the mash thick and rich. Milk waters it down. Salt the mash to taste and go at it with a potato masher. If you like an extra smooth mash, take an immersion blender and get rid of any clumps. It’s easy and 100% worth the effort. Once finished, the mash acts as the perfect bed for the roast. Spoon a little bit of that juice over everything for extra richness and flavor. Bon appetit!

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Classic Beef Roast with Creamy Mashed Potatoes
Ingredients:
2-3 lb. Beef Roast (Chuck, Brisket, or Round)
1 tbsp. Oregano
1 tbsp. Basil
1 tbsp. Olive Oil
1 large Onion, diced
6 Garlic Cloves, peeled
8 large Carrots, peeled and sliced thick on a bias
6 Celery Stalks, cut into 2-inch pieces
4 cups Beef Stock
Rosemary Sprigs
Salt & Pepper

2 lbs. Yukon Gold Potatoes, peeled and diced
½ cup Cream
4 tbsp. Butter
Salt, to taste

Directions:
1 - Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Season the beef generously on all sides with the oregano, basil, salt and pepper. Heat a large skillet or oven-proof Dutch Oven over high heat. Add the olive oil. Once hot, sear the roast on both sides. Remove to a plate.

2 - Add the onion to the pot. Stir and cook until translucent. Add the beef stock, scraping the bottom to get all the browned bits loose. Add the garlic, carrots, and celery to the pot. Place the roast back on top and place the rosemary on either side of the roast. Cover and move to the oven. Roast for 1.5 hours to 2 hours until the meat reaches an internal temperature of 160 degrees. Remove from the oven and let rest at least 20 minutes, lid on. Shred with two forks or use a knife to slice the roast after resting.

3 - While the roast is resting, prepare the mashed potatoes. Put the potatoes in a pot and add enough cold water to cover them. Place over high heat and bring to a roaring boil. Turn the heat down to a simmer and let the potatoes boil for 15-20 minutes until fork tender. Drain the potatoes. Add the cream and butter to the pot with the potatoes and begin to mash them. For an extra smooth potato, use an immersion blender to cream the potatoes and remove any clumps. Taste the mashed potatoes and salt to taste.

4 - Serve by creating a bed of mashed potatoes and spooning the roast and veggies on top with your preference of juice.

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September Spotlight

September! The first unofficial days of fall. That time of year when pumpkin spice takes over even though the weather is still a roller coaster of 60 to 80 degree days. Sweaters are taken everywhere even when they’re unnecessary during the heat of the day. It’s getting really close to my favorite month of the year, October. The line-up for the now “31 Days of Halloween” on Freeform have been announced. Hocus Pocus references are EVERYWHERE and you’ll find me along with many other people in a giddy mood. It’s cool enough to work on the patio again without your laptop erupting in flames and the bugs start to disappear. It’s just a wonderful time of year because it’s the start of all the best holidays: Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years. I mean, how can you not be loving the change in seasons?

**This post may include affiliate links. Read our full disclosure here.**

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FROM AROUND THE WEB
Finished two books over the last week which has me motivated to start adding more to my reading list…

I recently start cutting a lot of gluten and dairy out of my diet and have been scouring the internet for ideas and tips. Love these pantry staple suggestions…

All about a cozy fall wardrobe and Lauren Conrad’s new weekend line is killing it…

We got our few fall-like consecutive days which called for whipping out the pumpkin. Get cooking for the season with these recipes

Planning a trip to the northeast during fall is no picnic but photos of what the leaves look like throughout the season are giving me plenty of motivation…

Drooling over this English Country Kitchen design

For dog moms that are into essential oils, these are great tips for how to use them. I use them to help my pup with his anxiety often...

TOP RECIPES
[from top left]
Beef Roast with Fall Veggies & Mashed Potatoes
Chili Stuffed Acorn Squash
Hosting a Girls’ Night In - Tapas Night
Weeknight Chicken Burrito Bowls

TOP TRAVEL POSTS
[from top left]
8 US Destinations for Solo Travel
9 Spots to Grab Brunch Around Chicago
A Guide to 3 Days in Boston
Hotel Indigo San Antonio Riverwalk - Checking In

WHAT I’M UP TO
Ok, I have quite a bit to share with you guys so I’ll try and keep it as brief as possible. Let’s start with A Simple Favor. I was invited to an advance screening of the movie this week and HOLY CRAP! Blake Lively and Anna Kendrick are on fire. This was one of the best movies I’ve seen in a really long time. The script was genius, the chemistry of the cast was undeniable, and it was straight up entertaining. From the previews, it’s hard to tell if the film is more of a comedy or a thriller. It’s definitely more along the lines of dark comedy with a bit of a film noir twist. Whatever you’re thinking about A Simple Favor, prepare yourself to be surprised because there is one twist after another. It almost reminded me of a Gillian Flynn novel but with a lot more humor. Blake Lively is giving off a ton of Serena Van der Woodsen vibes with her wardrobe and Anna Kendrick is as awkward as ever. I’m afraid to share any real details because I don’t want to ruin anything and it would be easy to do so. Bottom line, Dean Richards even said A Simple Favor is the movie of the weekend on WGN Radio this morning so GO SEE IT! Before the movie, a friend and I had dinner at Pinstripes in River North which is a block away from the theater. Their patio is along the river and absolutely gorgeous. We shared the Hummus and Avocado plate and both got gluten-free pepperoni pizza. AMAZING!

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Next up, I finally finished Paris Ever After by K.S.R. Burns. I will have a full review of this book coming soon but I wanted to pop a few notes in here. This book gave me a lot of feelings: anger, frustration, disbelief, nostalgia. As awful as it sounds, it's not bad though, nowhere close. It started a bit slow because she recapped a lot of what happened in this novel’s prequel which I did not read so I appreciated it. However, all that time that was spent recapping previous events caused the climax and ending to feel rushed. I loved all the descriptions of Paris though. Amy, the main character, details the feelings and smells walking down the streets in Paris vividly. The descriptions of the setting are on point and it transported me back to my favorite place in the world. It was a welcome escape whenever I picked it up to read.

Finally, I am greatly struggling with planning a fall trip to the northeast. It’s going to happen but booking accommodations has been the hardest task. I have never had such a hard time booking travel before, even last minute. So this is going to be very interesting to see how this trip turns out. I’ll keep you posted, mostly on Instagram so make sure you’re following me. If you guys are fans of country music, I’m currently listening to Carrie Underwood’s new album, “Cry Pretty,” and I’m obsessed. I’ve been a fan of hers since American Idol and it’s always fun to see what she comes out with. She’s on my concert wishlist so hopefully I can grab tickets and see her next year!

WISH LIST
100% ready for fall weather which means I’m looking for a strong sweater game. Loving this cardigan from Banana Republic and this one from Anthropologie as well as this cute off-the-shoulder from LC by Lauren Conrad…

Speaking of fall, it’s just about time for blanket season! So excited to start whipping out all the coziness but this one might make a new addition to my collection.

This year has been a bit difficult and I’ve needed inspiration and motivation wherever I can get it. These brand new tote bags bring a huge smile to my face...

5 Reasons to Visit Amboise, France

Have you ever been somewhere that makes you feel like you’re walking in a real life fairytale? That’s exactly how I felt as we pulled into Amboise, France, a small medieval town in the Loire Valley. The final home of Leonardo da Vinci and home to  Château Royal d’Amboise, it’s as if you’re walking in the real life version of Beauty & the Beast. The people are friendly, the food is outstanding and if the walls could talk...it would be a hard to top history lesson. About 140 miles outside of Paris, Amboise is one of many stops to make throughout the Loire Valley and believe me when I say - there are many. Known for the highest concentration of chateaus in the world, the Loire Valley is one of France’s largest wine producing regions, especially white wine and sparkling wine (not to be confused with Champagne which can only be made in the region of the same name). While Amboise is not the only town I suggest for a visit in the Loire Valley, it is one of my favorites. If I haven’t convinced you yet, here are five reasons why you should visit Amboise....

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1 - The History. Amboise has seen much of history from being the home of kings and hosting notable historical figures to being the epicenter of religious turmoil. It’s been used as a place of celebration and a place of incarceration. It’s amazing to realize how much this town has been through over centuries - like I said, if the walls could talk I could only imagine what they’d say. Amboise also served as a fortress during its long life. Because of this, there are underground passageways which offer a unique look back into history. Lucky for us, these tunnels as well as the towers within the fortress are accessible through special tours. The town and château  especially was nearly destroyed during the French Revolution. After being returned to the heirs of Louis Philippe in the late 19th century, the  château went under a complete restoration only to be damaged once again during World War II during the German invasion. Restorations took place for the final time after the war and are now kept by a local organization. Today, Amboise still maintains its Renaissance charm which is what gives it such a fairy tale-like character that seems at times, unreal.

 🎶 “Little town…it’s a quiet village…” 🎶

🎶 “Little town…it’s a quiet village…” 🎶

2 - Château Royal d’Amboise is breathtaking inside and out. The château is smaller in size compared to many others but the quaint size is what makes it so charming. Amboise has seen its fair share of neglect but it’s always been rebuilt and today, it shares a window to the past so that we might understand what life was like throughout the centuries that came before us. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, there is much to see at Château Royal d’Amboise. For starters, Leonardo da Vinci is buried in Saint-Hubert’s Chapel which sits atop the castle gardens. For anyone who adores Renaissance art and the great minds from that generation, this is an absolute must. The rooms inside the chateau have been returned to their former glory when royalty made it their home. The gardens that sit on top of the château overlook the town and the valley for some of the best views you’ll find in the Loire.

 View from the gardens atop Château Royal d’Amboise

View from the gardens atop Château Royal d’Amboise

3 - Château du Clos Lucé was the final home of Leonardo da Vinci. He lived here for the final three years of his life with a select few students and it is now a museum dedicated to his life and work. Located just outside the town’s borders, Clos Lucé holds many of Leonardo's unfinished work as well as finished pieces and drawings of ideas and inventions he had not yet gotten to. Clos Lucé was originally built by the Amboise family who the town was named after in the 15th Century. It later became a summer home of the Kings of France which is how it came to be da Vinci’s final home. King Francis I admired da Vinci and asked him to be the “Premier Painter and Engineer and Architect of the King” which obviously, he accepted. Clos Lucé pays tribute to more than just the famed artist. There are rooms dedicated to other periods of time and figures who also took up residence on the property, for example, Queen Anne of Brittany.

 Saint Hubert’s Chapel where Leonardo da Vinci was laid to rest atop Château Royal d’Amboise

Saint Hubert’s Chapel where Leonardo da Vinci was laid to rest atop Château Royal d’Amboise

4 - The Amboise Sunday Market is a favorite among visitors and locals within the entire Loire Valley. The market features vendors selling everything from food to clothing to furniture. Many people make a day of it and finish with a picnic by the river or tour one of the aforementioned châteaux. Because of the market’s popularity, it’s important to get there early to beat crowds. Grab all the produce you need for the week with freshly grown vegetables and fruits, purchase fresh meat butchered that very morning, and enjoy pre-made cuisine that proves French street food is as good as anywhere else. The market takes place in the Place du Marchée beside the Loire River. It’s quite large and busy but 100% worth experiencing at least once.

 Overlooking the Loire from the Château Royal d’Amboise gardens

Overlooking the Loire from the Château Royal d’Amboise gardens

5 - The town of Amboise is as charming as its château of the same name. Because Amboise has higher tourist traffic than similar small towns within the Loire Valley, it has novelties and conveniences that others might not. There are many restaurants, bakeries, cafes, shops and fun things to do and see. The gardens of the château provide unbeatable panoramic views of the Loire Valley. The streets of Amboise take you to a different place and time. The people are friendly and welcoming. The food is simply fantastic. It’s hard to hate Amboise from its charming personality to welcoming nature to historical significance. The town and the château have had a rough life but that alone speaks to the people’s tenacity and strength. In fact, I fell in love with Amboise so much that it’s my #1 choice to settle down for a time when I manage to get back to Europee indefinitely. When a place leaves a mark on you that strong, you know it’s meant to be.

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Chicken Parmesan | Sunday Night Suppers

Nothing is more comforting than a bowl of pasta with homemade gravy. It instantly takes me back to my childhood. One of my favorite Sunday Night Suppers from when I was a kid is Chicken Parmesan. This dish doesn’t necessarily take a long time to pull together but there are a lot of steps and moving parts. It’s a great meal to make with someone too. Normally, I prefer to cook alone but there are some dishes that are nice to have a companion in the kitchen for. Everyone is familiar with Chicken Parmesan. It’s one of those classic Italian dishes that you can find anywhere. It’s been transformed into a sandwich, salads, and I’ve even seen pizzas and recipes for soup! Nothing beats the classic, pan fried and oven finished meal.

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This recipe has two parts, the pasta and the chicken. Chicken Parmesan is traditionally served without pasta. Italians don’t mix meat entrees with pasta. You have the meat course, the pasta course and the salad course all separate. My family never had a problem with the American tradition of mixing meat and pasta though. Spaghetti and Meatballs? Bring it on. If it saves us from an extra set of dishes, we’re in. With that said, I went all in with this recipe by creating a homemade gravy (or red sauce) to use in the pasta and the Chicken Parmesan. I’m not above store-bought but to do a Sunday Supper properly, pour the ingredients into the pot and get the real thing going. It’s hardly any effort at all. The only hassle is stirring the gravy regularly to ensure the bottom doesn’t burn. Tasting it each time is also important. It’ll tell you whether you need to adjust the seasoning.

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When it comes to the Chicken Parmesan, the end result that you want is a nice, crispy breading with a gooey outer layer from the mozzarella, finished with a delightful crisp Parmesan crust. This recipe, I’m proud to say, yields that result. Believe me when I say I surprised myself with how delicious this meal turned out. My Noni would have been proud had she been with us that night. Let’s start at the beginning. The chicken receives a classic breading technique. Flour followed by egg finished with breadcrumbs. Don’t be afraid to get messy. Get the chicken nice and soaked by the egg so that the breadcrumbs can hold on tight. Make sure to be really generous with the breadcrumb coating too because you want a nice, crisp breading. The oil should be screaming hot before placing the chicken into it otherwise you risk the chicken being soggy. It will only take a few minutes per side to fry the chicken. You’ll know because when you go to flip the chicken, the cooked side will be nice and stiff. This is what you want.

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Once the chicken is fried, it’s not completely cooked so it needs to finish in the oven. This is also where the cheesy magic happens. The mozzarella will get all gooey around the chicken and the parmesan will become golden and bubbly on top while creating a crisp later. This is pure heaven and while it might seem like you’ve overcooked your chicken, you haven’t. The result should be a moist center. Serve on top of a bed of spaghetti and you’re good to go. See? Not too bad! There are a few moving parts but in the end, the result is completely 100% worth it.

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Homemade Red Gravy
Ingredients:
2 - 28 oz. cans Crushed Tomatoes (low-sodium or no salt added preferred)
8 oz. Tomato Paste (low-sodium or no salt added preferred)
½ cup Fresh Basil (or ¼ cup dried)
6 Garlic Cloves, minced
2 tbsp. Oregano
2 tbsp. Parsley
1 Bay Leaf
½ tsp. Red Pepper Flakes
Salt & Pepper, to taste

Directions:
1 - Place all the ingredients in a medium-sized pot over medium heat. Bring to a simmer, reduce heat to low, and let cook for 2-3 hours stirring every 15-30 minutes. Keep the temperature as low as you can to avoid the bottom from burning. Taste the gravy each time you stir to make sure the seasoning is good. Adjust as necessary.

Chicken Parmesan
Ingredients:
½ cup Flour
1 tsp. Garlic Powder
2 Eggs
¾ cup Breadcrumbs
½ cup Parmesan, grated
1 tbsp. dried Parsley
1 tbsp. dried Basil
1 tsp. Oregano
⅓ cup Vegetable Oil
4 boneless, skinless Chicken Breasts
1 recipe of Homemade Red Gravy (above)
1 lb. Spaghetti
Salt & Pepper

Directions:
1 - Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Prep three bowls. In one add the flour, garlic powder and salt and pepper. In a 2nd add the eggs and whisk. In the 3rd, mix together the breadcrumbs, parmesan, basil, parsley, and oregano.

2 - Add 1-inch of vegetable oil (about ⅓ cup) to a cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. While the oil gets hot, start breading the chicken. Coat first with flour followed by dredging in the egg and then coating generously with the breadcrumbs mixture.

3 - Add the chicken to the hot oil and cook 4-5 minutes until golden brown on each side. Take off the heat, add half of the gravy and top the chicken with th mozzarella cheese, parmesan, and basil. Bake 15-20 minutes until the cheese is melted and the chicken temperature reads 165 degrees internally.

4 - While the chicken bakes, bring a pot of water to a boil. Salt the water generously and add the pasta. Cook until al dente and drain. Toss with the remaining gravy. Serve the Chicken Parmesan by making a bed of spaghetti for the chicken and placing the chicken on top.

IF YOU DON’T HAVE A CAST-IRON SKILLET OR OVEN-SAFE SKILLET
Grease a baking dish and spread a half cup of gravy along the bottom. Place the chicken in the dish after shallow frying in the skillet. Continue the recipe as is.

4 Large Chicken Breasts Makes 8 Servings

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Open-Face Chicken Caprese Sandwiches | Farmers Market Series

We’re coming towards the end of tomato season which is so sad! Tomatoes are in the height of their harvest from August to about mid-September, maybe through the month if the weather keeps warm. I went to the farmers market this morning and it was obvious the end is near. Heirlooms are bountiful right now but all the other tomato varieties are starting to phase out. It’s the only time of the year you’ll see me bite into a tomato the same way you would an apple. A little salt and that’s all it needs, if anything. From colorful, rustic heirlooms to the delightful mini cherry tomatoes, there are a million things you can do with tomatoes. Cook a fresh pot of tomato sauce, make a cold gazpacho on a hot late summer day, puree a bowl of steaming classic tomato soup to pair with a crispy, gooey grilled cheese sandwiches on fall-like September days...the options are endless! This particular recipe is a hearty version of summertime flavor combination that is one of my personal favorites: Caprese.

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Caprese is an Italian salad consisting of tomatoes, mozzarella cheese and fresh basil. It’s also served as a pizza, sandwich and more. It’s fresh and delicious. Something about the combination of these three ingredients is dynamite. I wanted to do something similar for this time of year because the tomatoes are perfect but I wanted it to be a little more substantial for dinner. So I thought...add chicken! To really bump up the flavor of the basil, I also threw together a quick and easy pesto to schmear the bread with. The end result had great flavors and left everyone completely satisfied.

The chicken should not be enormous. Unless I’m planning to cut the chicken into strips or cubes myself, I always go to the butcher to order my chicken breasts. It gives me a little more control over the size of the meat. This particular recipe only needs thin-cut chicken breasts which are easier to eyeball in the packaged meat section. You can also buy two regular sized chicken breasts and slice them in half yourself. It’s much easier than it might seem. The trick is to have a really sharp, thin knife. It gives you the control you need to make a nice cut easily. There will be plenty of flavor from the pesto and the tomatoes so the chicken only needs to be seasoned simply with salt and pepper. Thin-cut breasts will cook rapidly over a higher heat which is what you want. No dry chicken in this kitchen! Sear it on both sides for a few minutes and let it rest while preparing the sandwiches.

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Roasting tomatoes, especially cherry tomatoes, brings out all their natural sweetness. It’s my favorite way to cook them and it couldn’t be easier. Because you just want to melt the cheese after assembling the sandwiches, all the ingredients should be ready to go before assembly. In other words, the tomatoes need to be roasted. Drizzle a little olive oil, season with salt and pepper and slide into the oven while you cook the chicken. Once everything is ready, schmear the bread with some pesto, top with the chicken, add a little more pesto, top with the roasted tomatoes and cheese. I don’t feel like this needs anything to go alongside it but a simple salad or roasted potatoes would pair nicely.

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Open-Face Chicken Caprese Sandwiches
Ingredients:
2 cups fresh Basil + ½ cup torn
1 cup Parmesan Cheese, grated
2 Garlic Cloves
¼ cup Olive Oil, divided
1 pint Multi-Color Cherry Tomatoes, halved
4 thin-cut boneless, skinless chicken breasts
4 thick-cut slices Country or Italian Bread
4 slices Mozzarella Cheese
Salt & Pepper

Directions:
1 - In a food processor, combine the basil, parmesan, garlic, salt and pepper until chopped. Slowly stream in 2 tablespoons of the olive oil until a paste forms.

2 - Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with tin foil. Place the tomatoes on the sheet. Drizzle with the remaining olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast 20-30 minutes until skins are blistered and tomatoes have softened.

3 - Meanwhile, heat a grill pan or skillet over medium-high heat. Season the chicken generously with salt and pepper. Cook 3-4 minutes per side until cooked through and no longer pink.

4 - Assemble the sandwiches. Brush 1 tablespoon of pesto on each bread slice. Lay the chicken on top and spoon a little more pesto. Top with the tomatoes and mozzarella slice. Place back in the oven for 5 minutes until cheese melts.

5 - Top with torn basil for garnish and serve.

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8 Destinations For Solo Travel Around the World

Some of the best adventures are had while we’re pushed outside of our comfort zones. Traveling alone is one of the most rewarding and enriching experiences anyone can have, especially a woman. I cannot say this enough. If you feel nervous, start slow. Plan a long weekend away in the US or your home country. Once you’ve built up the confidence many people feel they need to travel alone, take a longer trip abroad. Regardless of where your first trip may take you, these 8 non-European and US cities are musts for your solo travel bucket list. I call this…8 Destinations For Solo Travel Around the World. It should be a longer list, just like the US and European lists should have been longer, but we’d be getting into novel length territory. As much as I’d love to write the next great American novel, none of us here currently have time for that. So from the temples of Cambodia to the festivals of Quebec, here are 8 destinations for solo travelers around the world.

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Bangkok, Thailand
Now is the ideal time to plan a trip to Bangkok. I’ll be honest, Thailand wasn’t the first place that came to mind when I thought about solo travel. A friend of mine traveled to Bangkok with family and had an exceptional experience. While I was polling friends and family to find out what countries and cities they felt would be great for women looking to travel alone for the first time, she insisted I consider Bangkok. After a little research, I couldn’t agree more. November to February will see the coolest temperatures in Thailand. December and January see the highest number of tourists so if you prefer a less crowded experience, November and February will offer less crowds without the sweltering temperatures or downpouring rain.

Bangkok is known for their street food which is almost everywhere. It might not be the traditional Thai food you’re familiar with from the local takeout place but it will no doubt blow your mind. Communication might not be smooth sailing as the people largely use their own native language (rightfully so), but you will find plenty of kindness. Thailand thrives from tourism and the people know this so they’ve become incredibly welcoming to visitors. With that said, don’t let vendors take advantage of you! Haggling is a common practice in Thailand and while it might seem intimidating, have a little fun with it. It’s more of a game than an anxious confrontation.

 Photo c/o @ yesrenteria

Photo c/o @yesrenteria

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Budapest, Hungary
Hungary is a country that should be on any travel bucket list for the history alone. Many different groups of people left a mark on Hungary but you’ll see the strongest influence from the Romans and the Turkish empire. You can still enjoy thermal baths which are as popular with the locals as they are with tourists. Something I did not know about Budapest, it is literally split into Buda and Pest! The two parts of the city are separated by the Danube River and have very different vibes. Buda is home to more of the historical monuments and architecture of the city. Here you will find lots of old cobblestone roads, the Castle District and quiet nights. Adversely, Pest is where you go for a fun nightlife scene. Pest is the home of the Jewish Quarter where there are an endless amount of unique cafes and ruin bars to visit. Even though Buda is where most of the historic buildings are, you can still find things like the House of Terror and St. Stephen’s Basilica in Pest. If you’re worried about traveling solo in Budapest, don’t. It’s very friendly towards travelers, even women who are on their own.

Hanoi, Vietnam
The capital city of Vietnam, Hanoi is a busy, bustling experience surrounded by beaches, mountains, ruins, and more. Whatever you can think of to want in a travel experience, Hanoi has to offer. While it might be overwhelming at first, Hanoi deserves a chance if you’re willing to be a little adventurous in your solo travels. A great place to stay in Hanoi is the Old Quarter. For starters, many of the popular hotels are located here which is convenient in itself. Second, many of the sights that will be on your list are also located here such as Hoan Kiem Lake. It’s also a hub for shopping, dining, and more. A few things that you’ll want to make sure are on your list: Vietnamese coffee (trust me), street food (one of the things Hanoi is known for), and the Hanoi Night Market. The Night Market is a reprieve from the general rule of staying in at night as a solo traveler. If you feel comfortable, venture out. The market will still be crowded enough to feel safe but not as congested as the daytime markets feel. There’s less haggling as well since the vendors and shopkeepers are much more casual and relaxed.

Sites to consider visiting include Van Mieu, Hao Lo Prison, and the Vietnam Army Museum. Van Mieu, otherwise known as the Temple of Literature, is supposedly the most beautiful to visit. Hao Lo Prison, also known as Hanoi Hilton, can be a little controversial. The information the museum shares isn’t exactly historically accurate according to accounts from those who experienced the prison during the Vietnam War. If you keep an open mind, it’s an interesting exhibit sharing insight into what the Vietnamese went through while trying to gain independence from France. The WanderBlogger has a great guide to Hanoi featuring 8 things you should do.

Mexico City, Mexico
When you think of Mexican travel spots, Cancun and Playa del Carmen might be the first cities that come to mind. Mexico City, although not a beachside city, should be at the top of your Central American bucket list. Bursting with cultural experiences, Mexico City is filled with Mexican history and culture from the food to the art scene. This destination is ideal for the foodie, the history buff, the art lover, the frugal traveler, and most definitely...the solo traveler. The bustling city has the second largest collection of museums (who knew?!), thousands of restaurants including high-end dining experiences, and an unlimited amount of things to do.

Let’s start with history. Mexico City is surrounded by some of the more notable Mayan, Aztec, and Mesoamerican ruins. For art lovers, on top of the many art museums and ancient sculptures littered throughout the city, you’ll also find many to Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. There’s a museum solely dedicated to Kahlo located in her old family home as well as to both Kahlo and Rivera in their old studio. While Asian countries are said to have the best street food in the world, natives of Mexico City might disagree. From tacos to tamales, the capital city has a lively food scene that rivals those of Thailand and Vietnam (also mentioned in this post). That doesn’t mean you can’t find a gourmet meal though! Oh no, Mexico City has many restaurants that provide unique, high-end dining experiences including tasting menus. The difference between Mexico City and say...Chicago? It’ll cost you a lot less. Ultimately, Mexico City should be a bucket list item for the solo traveler or at the very least, the frugal traveler.

 Photo c/o @ yesrenteria

Photo c/o @yesrenteria

Quebec, Canada
Hopefully my next solo excursion this fall, Quebec is the closest US natives can get to Europe without flying across the Atlantic. Similar to France, Quebec has a strong, proud culture and history. There’s an episode of No Reservations with Anthony Bourdain in the first season that really dives into the culture of the region. It’s actually one of the reasons I was inspired to include Quebec rather than any other Canadian city or province in this post. Expect to speak the Quebecois dialect of French with signs throughout the cities only in French. It doesn’t take a linguist to translate the meaning of said signs but it’s something to prepare for. When traveling to the Quebec province in Canada, there are two big city options: Quebec City and Montreal. Both are worth adding to your itinerary but they each have their own individual experiences.

Montreal is the more cosmopolitan of the two cities and Quebec City is much more historical. Not to say that Montreal doesn’t have its fair share of history and Old World feel. Quebec City just has more doors to the past. For example, Quebec City is home to Old Quebec where you can find the original walled fortifications of the city now designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Quebec City is also where you’ll find the Citadelle of Quebec which is Canada’s oldest military building and the Notre-Dame de Quebec Basilica that dates back to the 17th century. Let’s not knock Montreal though. This city has plenty to offer all it’s own. While Quebec City might have a more Old World feel to it, Montreal has embraced the 21st century while still remembering where it came from. Montreal has a vibrant food scene with classic patisseries, English pubs, food markets, delis and more. It’s a city that loves festivals with more than 90 in a calendar year especially their famous Jazz Festival. The art scene is established and always growing. Regardless of which city you choose, there are plenty of things to occupy your time, more than enough restaurants to keep your belly full, and enough culture to make you leave feeling enriched and ready to return at a moment’s notice.

Queenstown, New Zealand
There are a lot of reasons why New Zealand deserves to be on this list. The people are incredibly friendly, it’s one of the safest countries in the world, and there’s a range of adventures from city exploration to remote hiking trails. One day you can be exploring a Hobbit Town, the next you can be on a vineyard tour sipping delightful wines, and the next you can be staring up at a crystal clear sky in the mountains. The versatility of the country is unique. Queenstown in particular is more of the adventurous region of New Zealand. Home to a vast number of nature activities from hiking to skiing, there is plenty of land to explore and things to do. A visit to Queenstown is great for the scenery alone. The landscape and backdrops that surround you all over are breathtaking.

Santiago, Chile
It may be surprising (it was to me) but Santiago Chile is one of the safest cities to visit in South America. With low crime rates and trustworthy police, Santiago has become one of the more popular Latin American travel destinations and rightfully so. Santiago has everything going for it from a rich urban culture to gorgeous mountains and vibrant vineyards and wineries. Let’s talk about those for a minute. The best travel times for Santiago are from March to May and August to November. However my vote is March to May because that’s fall in Santiago which means harvest season. Wineries in Chile, just like any other place in the world celebrate the harvest with festivals and it’s a wonderful time to enjoy the world-class wine from the region. The weather is also mild making it a comfortable time to travel without the crowds that summer brings. Santiago is a great city for frugal travelers as the conversion rate is in the American’s favor plus everything is less expensive. There are also a large number of things to see and do for free. For foodie travelers, dive into classic sopaipillas, explore Peruvian cuisine, and enjoy fresh fish caught that morning. If you ask me, I’m in for the sopaipillas alone!

Siem Reap, Cambodia
Known as the home of Angkor Wat, Siem Reap is a city rich in history, culture, and welcoming locals making it a great destination for traveling alone. Depending on where you’re traveling from, Siem Reap might not be particular cheap to get to but it’s rather inexpensive to visit. Walk ancient ruins in Angkor Wat (translated to “City of Temples”), the largest religious monument in the world. This is a high traffic area for tourists so if you’re one who tends to avoid crowds, do a little research to see which of the temples are not as popular or head over early. The early bird always misses the crowd. Because Siem Reap is a smaller town there isn’t much nightlife which works in the favor of solo travel. However, if you’d like to grab a post-Indiana Jones adventure cocktail, Pub Street is the place to be! Cambodia as a whole is known for their cuisine and lifestyle rooted in strong wellness practices. From yoga retreats to spa days, there is no shortage of opportunities to rejuvenate before the long flight home.

San Antonio Dining: Supper at Emma

San Antonio has plenty of spots to grab a bite. My favorite part of traveling is all the research and preparation before a trip. There were an endless number of restaurants that I wanted to visit while in the Southwestern city but there’s only so much a stomach can handle. Once the list has narrowed a bit, it’s easier to decide which restaurants fit best into your plans. Supper at Emma in the Pearl District just so happened to be the perfect spot for breakfast the day of my cousin’s wedding. Towards the end of the riverwalk where the river taxi turns back around is the Pearl District, one of my favorite parts of San Antonio. This is where the gorgeous and unparalleled Hotel Emma is located and likewise, Supper.

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Supper at Emma is an “American Eatery” by Chef John Brand featuring a “straightforward and creative approach guided by flavor, what’s in season and what feels good in the center of a table shared by friends.” The restaurant offers an experience that is part farm-to-table, part bistro. The flavors of south Texas are at the forefront of the menu as well as local, seasonal ingredients. Quite honestly, it was one of my favorite San Antonio dining experiences and very unexpected as well. Supper is an American Eatery but the food is so unique and original, it doesn’t deserve to be in a classic American category. I would fly back to San Antonio for the chance to have breakfast at Supper one more time.

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Breakfast was the meal of choice for us at Supper and what a great one it came to be! With an affordable menu and versatile options, it was difficult making a decision on what to eat. My Noni decided to go with the Ricotta Pancakes with Lemon and Blueberries (now listed with raspberries on their website). I decided to go outside of my usual comfort zone and ordered the Green Chorizo Scotch Egg with Cornbread, Creme Fraiche, and Salad. To finish, we split the famous Beignets that called to me while doing restaurant research. While neither of us had a traditional breakfast compared to our usual standards, we were both blown away by the experience.

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The Ricotta Pancakes are made with chickpea flour making them much lighter than the typical heavy pancake. It was the first time I ever saw my Noni clean her plate for breakfast. The Scotch Egg was something I’ve never had before and an interesting, complex dish. For starters, I’d love to know how Scotch Eggs are made because they seem like witchcraft to me. The green chorizo was inside the scotch egg, acting sort of like a barrier between the actual egg and the crisp breading. It was so flavorful and satisfying. The combination of textures from the smooth egg and crunchy breading worked in sync with the spiciness of the chorizo, creaminess of the egg and savory notes from the crust. The cornbread could win an award too. Moist and sweet yet still savory...I can’t say one bad thing about this dish. Finally, the beignets were exactly as you’d want them. Crisp on the outside and melt-in-your-mouth fluffy on the inside. Dusted with powdered sugar and served with preserves, nothing will complete your morning better.

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Supper is located within Hotel Emma in the Pearl District of San Antonio. The restaurant features both indoor seating and an outdoor patio. Reservations are available and encouraged. After dining at Supper, walk around the property for gorgeous views of the riverwalk. I also encourage you to take a personal tour through Hotel Emma. It’s like walking back in time. The decor is rustic and sophisticated and makes for fantastic photos. Most notably, the hotel has a 3,700-volume library any bookworm would drool over. Visit their gift shop, grocery store or club room for a cocktail and enjoy all the intricate details that make this hotel something truly special.

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Lazy Girl's Chicken Pot Pie | Sunday Night Suppers

Sunday Night Supper is a weekly tradition that holds memories for a lot of people. If there’s one thing every culture and every person can relate to, its the comfort that food brings when it reminds them of home. Whether that’s a giant pot of Noni’s red gravy or the first crisp bite of Grandma’s fried chicken, we can taste and smell the memory as if it happened yesterday. Sunday Night Supper each week is a time where everyone comes together to be with one another and catch up on each other’s lives while enjoying a great meal. As fun as summer is, this weekly tradition tends to take a back seat to the barbecues, graduation parties, birthday parties and vacations. Now that school is back in session and things have started to settle down, it’s time to start bringing the family around the table again for Sunday Night Suppers.

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One of the best things about Sunday Night Supper is the comfort food. It’s the dishes that take too much time to prepare on a regular weeknight. Instead, they take a little extra prep than you probably want to handle and sometimes cook for hours. It’s bolognese instead of marinara, rump roast instead of steaks on the grill. Or in the case of today’s recipe, Chicken Pot Pie instead of pan-seared chicken breasts. Chicken Pot Pie is a classic American comfort food but its history actually goes back to Roman empire times. Bottom line, it’s a meat pie. Meat and veggies cooked in a creamy sauce and served pie-style with pastry dough. There are a lot of moving parts though. So instead of creating a recipe that scares you away from these memorable dinners, I morphed Chicken Pot Pie into a more approachable recipe. Let’s be honest though, I hate dealing with pie dough and the thought of having one part of this dish already finished sounded pretty darn good.

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Chicken Pot Pie made in its classic form includes cooking the chicken and the vegetables, preparing the sauce (or roux) for the chicken and vegetables to bathe in, and prepping a seamless pie crust. This recipe cuts a few steps. For starters, instead of cooking the chicken we’re using a store-bought Rotisserie Chicken. Any leftover chicken shredded or diced would work though. Second, we’re cutting the whole pie dough step and using store-bought biscuits instead. It’s a trick that not only is equally as tasty but so simple and seamless. I kind of like it better because biscuits make it easier to scoop up the delicious sauce. If you have a cast-iron skillet or another type of very large oven-safe skillet, this recipe only gets better because that makes it one-dish! If not, no worries.

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When making chicken pot pie, it’s important that you cook all the ingredients through before putting the final product in the oven. This recipe has a little more leniency since there isn’t a traditional pie crust. If you were to put undercooked ingredients in the pie crust to finish in the oven, it risks being a liquidy pie. Since we’re placing biscuits on top, it’s not vital to have the ingredients cooked through before baking but you want the end result to be creamy and chunkier. Almost like a very hearty stew. So I'd suggest to cook everything through. One more important note before you get cooking, store-bought biscuits or your own favorite biscuit recipe will work. The point of the pot pie going into the oven is to cook the dough. So regardless of what recipe or store-bought option you use, follow those directions. I used Pillsbury Homestyle Southern-Style Biscuits which is what you see pictured.

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Lazy Girl’s Chicken Pot Pie
Ingredients:
2 tbsp. Butter + 4 tbsp. For the roux
1 Onion, diced
3 Garlic Cloves, minced
3 large Carrots, diced
3 Celery Stalks, sliced
¼ cup Flour
2 cups Chicken Stock
1 Rotisserie Chicken, shredded (about 3-4 cups)
3 Ears of Corn, kernels removed
2 cups frozen Peas
1 tsp. Thyme
Salt & Pepper
1 package store-bought Biscuits

Directions:
1 - Preheat the oven to 325 degrees*. Prepare the filling.

2 - Melt 2 tbsp of the butter in a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion, garlic, carrots and celery. Cook 15-20 minutes until the carrots have softened. Remove from the skillet and set aside.

3 - Back in the skillet, melt 4 tbsp of the butter over medium heat. Once melted, add the flour. Whisk constantly until the roux turns a golden brown color. Slowly whisk in the chicken stock, continuing to whisk to remove any clumps. Let simmer 3-5 minutes until thickened.

4 - Add the vegetables back to the skillet with the shredded rotisserie chicken, peas and corn. Stir to coat all the ingredients with the sauce. Bring back to a simmer, season with thyme, salt and pepper.

5 - Top the pot pie mixture in the skillet with the biscuits. Move to the oven and bake 20-25 minutes* until the biscuits are cooked through and the filling is bubbly**. Let sit about 10 minutes before serving.

NOTES:
If you do not have a cast-iron skillet, prepare the filling in a large skillet and move to a buttered baking dish to finish the recipe in the oven.

*Oven temperature and baking time depend on the store-bought biscuits that you purchase. Adjust if necessary according to the package directions
**If the biscuits are browning too quickly on top but the rest still needs time, cover the dish with tin foil and remove 2-3 minutes before taking it out of the oven