Italian-Style Pigs in a Blanket | Holiday Recipes: Make Ahead

Holy November! You guys, this month went out with a serious attitude. We had Winter Storm Brian come through Sunday night and around 5am Monday morning the power went out. During this power outage, there is a small chance my laptop got fried but it’s oddly the only thing in the house effected and it was on a surge protector. So chances are it just decided to die on me for no reason. So when the power finally came back on in the late morning, which also happens to be the time I found out about my dead computer, I had to dive into new laptop research…

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What to Bring to Holiday Gatherings

Happy almost Thanksgiving! The laziness kicked in big time this week which is why this post is a few days late. Monday was productive but it all started to go downhill yesterday when I realized that the week was halfway over. I’m ready for overindulgence (again), Gilmore Girls marathons and the Broadway performances in the Macy’s parade tomorrow. Anyone else? On another note, do you ever notice that many of the people that host holidays are often the hardest to shop for? Unless your family goes potluck style with their holidays, it can be tricky to figure out what to bring to contribute or at least to thank the host…

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Chocolate Strawberry Pie Squares | Holiday Recipes: Desserts for Non-Bakers

Happy Sunday! It’s the week. The week where the holiday season officially kicks off with the first holiday...Thanksgiving! I celebrated Friendsgiving with my group of girlfriends from college this weekend and let’s just say I don’t want to eat for five days. Hopefully I’ll have deflated by the time Thursday comes around. We’re not doing any entertaining for Thanksgiving, our job is 100% Christmas. However, I can understand the need for quick and easy recipes this week. Lucky for you, we have our second Easy Dessert for Non-Bakers and coincidentally, it’s another that uses the amazing store-bought pie dough. These whip up pretty easy, although a little messy, and they’re super addictive. I wasn’t sure how this recipe would turn out while it was still an idea but man was it a hit…

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Herby Apple Stuffing | Holiday Recipes: Make Ahead

Happy Friday! Thanksgiving is less than one week away which means that Christmas is 5 weeks away. It’s the countdown of the year and I seem to get a little bit more excited every day. We already have one Christmas tree up and the kitchen is decorated all festive. I have my schedule pretty much in place for the rest of the year unless, of course, something comes up which isn’t uncommon. Many people who are entertaining for Thanksgiving have already been preparing for next week. Any groceries that can be bought are sitting on their own shelf in the pantry and freezer. Decorations are bought and ready for display…

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Tips to Be a Gracious Host & Guest During the Holidays

The holidays are some of the busiest travel times of the year. It’s rare that families end up in the same area where everyone can go back to their own beds each night. With that said, it’s not uncommon for people to stay with friends or family members during the season. I have yet to host a guest that I didn’t want back but I have heard horror stories from other people. It inspired today’s post sharing tips to be a gracious guest AND host. Why host, you ask? I am sure most of us have experienced at least one home we’ve stayed in that was super uncomfortable. Not everyone is a great guest and not everyone is a great host. We could all use reminders on how to be better at both, especially during a time of year that’s more stressful than usual. Don’t worry, though. I’m not here to lecture on what not to do. I’m here mostly to encourage positive interactions and experiences so that everyone has a wonderful holiday…

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Turkey Sliders with Blueberry Compote | Lighter Recipes For Summer

Who doesn’t love to entertain in the summertime? Each season has its own unique perks to inviting people over and hosting them for dinner or brunch. Winter is all about comforting, hearty dishes that are sometimes indulgent but always delightful. Fall has that wonderful crisp air, the smells are intoxicating (who can resist pumpkin and all those spiced baked goods), and the seasonal produce is arguably the best all year. Spring is a light in the dark after a long, cold winter. The days get longer and warmer, there’s sunshine, everything becomes green again and all the seasonal produce is fresh and light. Summer is bountiful with an overabundance of produce from summer squash to tomatoes to berries to greens. There’s an excess of everything and the sun is shining late into the evening. The one downside (and all seasons have one), is that summer can get hot which is not ideal for heating up a kitchen. That’s why I love these Turkey Sliders.

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Since we’re lazy and haven’t restocked the propane tank for our grill, I’ve been forced to do all the “grilling” inside. Normally, I like to use my grill pan as it’s become my favorite stovetop tool but for this recipe I used my cast iron skillet instead. Cast iron skillets are useful for many reasons. You can use them on the stove, in the oven and even on the grill, and they distribute heat the best out of any cooking tool. The trick is to heat them up before getting started. By preheating the skillet, it ensures an even cooking temperature for all your sliders so that they cook perfect every time. The grill is the ideal cooking method for summertime though. So if you’re taking these outside to cook up, use the same instructions but apply them to your grill instead! It’s so easy and you’ll have less clean up than I did.

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Now for the sliders, I actually filmed the cooking process on Instagram stories a few weeks back if you want to check it out! The videos are saved to my highlights in the “Cooking at Home” category. First, get the blueberry compote started. A compote is like a syrupy jam. Fruit cooks over a low heat with sugar until you get a gooey, syrupy consistency. It’s looser than jam but chunky so not a full-fledged syrup. It’s a great way to use up fruit that might be on its last life instead of throwing it out. Once the compote is finished, move on to the turkey burgers. Mix the meat and create golf ball-sized meatballs before squashing them into patties. Cook these over a medium-high heat. You want to cook turkey hot and fast so that it doesn’t get dried out. Because these are little baby burgers and not full-sized, they’ll cook through quick over the high heat. Once the burgers are done, I like to toast the buns. It adds an extra depth of flavor and shows your guests that you’re willing to go the extra mile. Plus, it tastes fantastic.

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These sliders are perfect for summer entertaining because you can prepare them fast, you can prepare them in advance, they’re light but still super flavorful, they can be cooked outside to avoid heating the house, and they cook up in numbers! Double or triple the batch if you need to feed a crowd and serve them as a heavy appetizers along other summery bites like watermelon, pasta salad, Mexican corn and more! Another perk...sliders are finger food so no forks required. Perfect for that upcoming late summer graduation party you’re hosting soon.

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Turkey Sliders with Blueberry Compote
For the Compote:
1 cup Blueberries
1 tbsp. Sugar
Juice of ½ Lemon

For the Burgers:
1 lb. Ground Turkey
2 Scallions, chopped
1 large Garlic Clove, minced
1 cup Panko Breadcrumbs
¼ cup Parsley, chopped
½ tsp. Lemon Zest
4 Slices Gouda Cheese (each cut into four squares)
4 tbsp. Butter
Slider Buns

1 - Prepare the compote. In a small saucepan, mix together the berries, sugar and lemon juice. Bring to a light simmer over medium-low heat and cook until it becomes a gooey, jam-like mixture, about 8-10 minutes. If necessary, use a potato masher to break down the berries a little more if it’s too chunky. Take off the heat and let cool.

2 - Mix the burger meat. In a large bowl, mix together the turkey, scallions, garlic, panko bread crumbs, parsley and lemon zest until well incorporated. Form into golf ball sized meatballs and smash flat to form a patty.

3 - Preheat a grill pan or skillet over medium-high heat. Place the patties on the grill (you might need to work in batches) and cook 3-4 minutes per side until cooked through. About halfway through the cook time on the second side, add two gouda slices so the cheese melts over the patty. Once the turkey burgers are all cooked, spread butter onto the inside of each slider bun and toast on the same grill pan or skillet over low heat for a minute or so.

4 - Build the sliders. Place the slider on top of the bottom half of the bun. Spoon a tablespoon or so of the compote on top of the of the slider and place the top half of the bun over it. Serve!

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Hosting A Girls' Night In - Tapas Night

For the nights you’re hosting friends that you’d like to impress, nothing is easier to prep than tapas. By definition, tapas are small plates generally served at a bar. They’re traditionally Spanish and can range from hot dishes to cold, hearty to light, vegetarian to meat lovers. They’re not appetizers but they’re not main courses either - they’re somewhere in between. By serving enough of them, guests will have plenty to eat as if they received a full meal but casually so that there isn’t any formal seating arrangement. It’s a great opportunity to allow guests to munch on the foods they prefer and naturally come together in the living room or kitchen.

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Hosting a tapas night is perfect for the girlfriends you’ve known your entire life as well as the hopeful girlfriends you’re having over from a new job to get to know them better. They’re comforting, casual and unpretentious while still impressive. Preparing several different small plates doesn’t seem like an easy task. Whether you end up spending the entire day preparing for company or just an hour or so, it will be obvious that a lot of thought and consideration was put into hosting this get together and it will hopefully make everyone want to come back again another time!

Tapas restaurants are some of my favorites because it gives you the opportunity to taste all kinds of different things rather than being stuck to one meal. One of my favorite restaurants here in Chicago serves this delicious baked goat cheese with a tomato sauce. You dip toasty bread in it and that’s all. Super simple yet incredibly delicious. My point is, hosting a tapas night gives you the opportunity to provide guests with a versatile menu without being complicated. The three recipes I have for you today are far from pretentious and took me two hours to prepare in total. Two hours for three hearty tapas isn’t bad and I could have fit two more dishes within that time span if I wanted. Tapas provide options and in today’s world of picky eaters, food sensitivities and allergies, options are sometimes what parties need.

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Beef Empanadas
I am obsessed with empanadas. I always look for them at Latin American and Spanish restaurants and they get bonus points if there are a variety of options available. Empanadas seem like a lot of work but with the help of store-bought dough, they’re pretty simple. They also heat up well for leftovers the next few days. The trick with empanadas is to give them a filling that is packed with flavor and to get a nice golden crust. The golden part is traditionally achieved through deep frying but if you don’t have access to that kind of equipment (like me), brushing them with a little egg wash before popping them in the oven will have a similar effect but without the grease!

1 Package Store-Bought Pie Crust*
1lb. Ground Beef
1 Carrot, diced
½ small Onion, diced
½ Green Pepper, diced
1 Garlic Clove, minced
1 tsp. Cayenne Powder
½ tsp. Coriander
Pinch of Cinnamon <-- this gives the empanadas a little je ne sais quoi, that "what is that" flavor to intrigue guests
1 Egg, beaten

1 - Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

2 - Place a saute pan over medium-high heat and brown the meat, breaking into small pieces as you go. Drain the beef by placing on a paper towel lined plate. Add the carrot, onion, green pepper, garlic and spices to the same pan. Cook until the veggies soften. Add the meat back and cook a minute or two so all the flavors can come together.

3 - Roll out (or unroll) the pie dough. Cut 4-inch circles using a cup or cookie cutter. Place 1-2 tbsp of the meat mixture in the center. Fold the dough over to create a mini “hand pie” and pinch the edges, or use a fork, to seal the dough. Repeat until you run out of dough or filling (whichever comes first).

4 - Brush the empanadas with egg wash (a beaten egg). Poke a hole at the top to allow ventilation. Place on a baking sheet and bake for about 20 minutes until the dough is golden and crisp. Serve.

*NOTE: some stores serve pre-cut empanada dough in the freezer or refrigerated aisles. If you can find these, feel free to use them as well. I used basic store-bought pie dough that comes rolled up.

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Roasted Veggie Bocadillos
There are two different types of “sandwiches” in Spain: sandwiches American-style and bocadillos. What we call sandwiches are more like snacks but bocadillos are a little heartier yet still not necessarily meals. Bocadillos come without condiments or toppings. They’re meat or vegetables and bread, that's all. For a vegetarian option, I created miniature Roasted Veggie Bocadillos. A variety of veggies roast in the oven before spread onto sliced artisan rolls. The rolls provide a baguette-like texture and flavor which is how you’d traditionally find a bocadillo served.

1 Red Onion, halved and sliced
1 Red Bell Pepper, cut into strips
1 Green Bell Pepper, cut into strips
1 Zucchini, halved and cut into matchsticks
2 tbsp. Olive Oil
1 tsp. Paprika
Salt & Pepper
6 Sandwich Rolls or 2 Baguettes cut into three sections and sliced down the middle

1 - Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with tin foil.

2 - Toss the veggies with olive oil, paprika, salt and pepper. Spread onto a baking sheet and bake 15-20 minutes until the veggies are softened.

3 - Place the veggies on the sandwich rolls or sliced baguette. Serve warm.

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Patatas Bravas
Finally, the one dish I couldn’t leave out for a tapas night - patatas bravas. This potato lover makes sure to always order patatas bravas while eating at tapas restaurants so it made sense to include them in my own menu. The trick to crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside patatas bravas...boil the potatoes first. Frying should come in the final minutes of cooking. By boiling the potatoes, you’ve already softened them up most of the way. Frying them will give the potato a nice crispy crust to finish them off. Season the potatoes right after placing them in the oil and if you feel like they need a touch more salt, season again right after removing them from the oil. Patatas Bravas are traditionally served with a spicy tomato sauce. You can use your favorite hot sauce or whip up a quick recipe from the internet.

2-3 large Potatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 tsp. Paprika
Salt & Pepper
Vegetable Oil

1 - Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil. Drop the potatoes and cook 10-12 minutes until soft but not yet cooked all the way.

2 - Drain the potatoes, pat dry with a towel. Fill a deep skillet with about 1-inch of vegetable oil. Add the potatoes in an even layer and immediately season with paprika, salt and pepper.

3 - Let cook about 6-8 minutes before stirring and flipping the potatoes to let cook on the other side. Once golden brown all around, remove the potatoes to a paper-towel lined plate to drain any excess grease. Remove to a bowl for serving.

Want more tapas? The Spruce shared their top 9 Spanish tapas from Patatas Bravas to stuffed mussels. Brit + Co also has a great list of easy tapas to prepare including Churros with Chocolate and Croquettes. Looking for more girl’s night ideas? Check out our recipes for Taco Night and Pizza Night!

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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!