Falling in Love with Fall

pumpkins

I have long said, “If it could be 80 degrees and sunny year round, I would be a happy camper.”  Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve loved the summer months and detested the cold, bitter winter.  However, now that I’m older, I’m finally starting to appreciate Fall.  I used to sulk for the first day in September or October where I’d have to grab a jacket before heading outside.  But when the temperature dropped a few weeks ago, quite a bit earlier than it has the past couple years in Atlanta, I was ready.  There are far too many great things that come with the changing of the season…

Leaves changing colors.  Pumpkin everything.  The red cups at Starbucks are back!  Warm cardigans and cable-knit sweaters.  Halloween.  Apple cider.  Thanksgiving.  Deep fried turkey.  The sound leaves make crunching under my shoes during my early morning runs.  Hot chocolate with mini marshmallows.  Carving pumpkins.  Early Christmas shopping.  Holiday office parties.  Fall baking.  Holiday displays in all the stores.  Decorating our home for Fall.  Fuzzy slippers.  Curling up by the fireplace with a good book.  The list goes on.

fallrunning

Fall is my favorite season for running. All the changing leaves are so beautiful!

This past week was Halloween, and I was so excited to finally be able to hand out candy to trick-or-treaters.  It was just something we just didn’t get to do living in an apartment complex.  Also, you know you’re becoming a real adult when you balk at the price of candy.  I literally stood in the aisle at Kroger for a good ten minutes, wondering how in the world I was spending over $20 on two bags of candy that little fairies, ghosts and goblins would gobble up in seconds.  Thankfully we didn’t run out, and I would stand to argue that I actually had more fun than the trick-or-treaters, “oohing” and “aahing” at all the cute costumes and waving at all the families from our front porch rocking chairs.  It’s definitely a tradition I’m excited to continue for years to come.

pumpkin cookies

Iced pumpkin sugar cookies, just one of our many traditions this time of year.

Not a surprise that another one of my favorite things about Fall is baking.  There’s just something incredibly comforting about the flavors of Fall–pumpkin, cranberry, and spices like nutmeg and ginger.  I also have a lot of childhood memories of days spent in the kitchen with my Mom and grandmothers, wearing aprons too big for me and getting more flour in my hair and clothes than in the mixing bowl.  Today, whenever I make something that reminds me of a family recipe, I’ll take a picture and text it to my Mom and it feels like we’re back in the same kitchen, baking and laughing together.

My Mom’s harvest pumpkin loaf is one of my favorite things she bakes.  I always look forward to it this time of year.  Since I won’t be able to have any until we visit over Thanksgiving, I decided to try making my own version.  It’s a bit different than hers–I added cranberries and left out the nuts and glaze topping–but it smells and looks just as good!

bread

Pumpkin Cranberry Chocolate Chip Quick Bread
Makes one 9×5 loaf

Ingredients:
3/4 cup white flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp each cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, ground gloves
1 container vanilla or pumpkin-flavored yogurt
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
1/2 cup honey
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease a 9×5 baking pan.  In a large bowl, beat together pumpkin, yogurt, honey, egg and vanilla extract.  Slowly beat in flours, baking soda, baking powder, salt and spices.  Once even combined, stir in cranberries then chocolate chips.  Spoon batter into pan and bake for 45-55 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.

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A Last Hurrah of Summer

So this is a much delayed post…but as you’ll soon learn, it’s been a busy past few weeks for us!  Now how’s that for a cliffhanger?  Unless you’re know us well, then you obviously know what I’m hinting at 🙂

boat2

A few weekends ago we spent an afternoon boating on Lake Lanier.  One of our friends found an awesome deal on Groupon for a large group to spend several hours on the water, wake-boarding and just soaking up the last few precious rays of the summer sun.  I do no such thing as wake-board, but I definitely enjoyed the latter.   The weather was perfect with barely a cloud in the sky.  Even though it’ll stay relatively warm in Atlanta for another few weeks, it really was one of our final “hurrah’s” of the summer season.

boat1

The following afternoon we spent strolling the streets–literally–around Midtown.  Last May, the city put on an event called Atlanta Streets Alive, closing down Peachtree Street to traffic and letting people walk freely while checking out storefronts and pop-up events.  Drew and I had so much fun last time (climbing a rock wall was involved) that we were excited to find out they were bringing it back again so soon.  The weather was perfect and we spent over 2 hours walking several miles, exploring stores, running into friends and soaking up the sun.  We never doubted how wonderful it is to live in Midtown, right in the heart of everything, but it’s events like this that make me love Atlanta even more.

midtownlove

After spending several hours outside, where the temperature neared 90, we were quite grateful to be back in the AC.  The temperature has been slowly dropping since, and I can’t help but be lulled into the Fall season when my Pinterest feed is being overrun by Halloween decor and the return of Starbucks’ pumpkin spice latte.  So, true to form, I made a breakfast cake that has Fall written all over it.  I want to eat this while sitting on the back of a hay ride, snuggled in a sweater and watching the leaves change colors.  Also, the accompanying frosting is not optional. 

applecake

Apple Spice Breakfast Cake with Caramel Frosting
Makes 1 bundt cake or 2 medium-size loaves

Ingredients
For the cake:
1 container vanilla or plain yogurt
3/4 cup apple butter or applesauce
1 large egg
1 Tbs vanilla extract
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 large overripe banana, smashed
1 3/4 cup apples, chopped
1 tsp each of the following spices: cinnamon, allspice, ground ginger, cloves, nutmeg
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda

For the frosting:
1/2 stick butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 Tbs milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease bundt or loaf pans. In a large bowl, stir together yogurt, apple butter or applesauce, egg, vanilla and sugars until combined. Add in banana, apples and spices. Slowly mix in flours and baking soda and stir until just combined, but be careful not to overmix. Pour into pan(s) and bake 40 min. or until inserted knife comes out clean. Allow to cool completely before frosting.

To make the frosting, melt butter in a small saucepan over medium high heat. Allow to boil for one minute, add in brown sugar, and allow to boil for another 2 minutes while stirring continuously. Remove from heat, stir in milk and vanilla. Sift in powdered sugar, whisking until frosting becomes thick. Allow to thicken about 5-10 minutes before pouring over cooled cake.

Farmer’s Market Saturdays

For the past few weekends, Drew and I have spent our Saturday mornings exploring the farmers’ market at Piedmont Park.  It’s about a mile walk from our apartment, and the weather has been perfect for picking up breakfast, strolling along all the vendor booths and people-watching.  I’ve discovered I have an iced almond coffee obsession and we found a new-to-us food truck that makes a killer breakfast panini.  The last time we went together, we bought a bag of Georgia peaches.  Fresh peaches always remind me of my mom making homemade jam or throwing together a peach and blueberry cobbler.

peaches

Since I already had all the ingredients on hand, I decided to make a peach crisp rather than a cobbler.  It’s the perfect no-fuss dessert for the hot summer months, especially when paired with vanilla ice cream.  In addition to the crisp, I also made a cheese and spinach quiche for a dinner several nights ago.  Not able to forget the amazing quiche we had at the bed & breakfast we stayed at during our recent trip to Savannah, I decided to make my own.  I also whipped up a zucchini banana bread for our breakfasts during the work week.  Baking with fresh fruits and vegetables has got to be one of my favorite things about this time of year.

cobbler2

Peach Crisp, makes 6 servings
Ingredients:
6 peaches, peeled and sliced
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 cup old-fashioned oats
1/2 cup flour
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cloves
1 tsp nutmeg
1/2 stick butter, cut into small pieces.

Preheat oven to 350. Grease a 9×9 baking dish.  Layer peaches into bottom of dish.  In a bowl, mix together all the ingredients, cutting in the butter with a fork. Sprinkle topping over peaches until evenly covered.  Bake for 25-30 minutes or until topping is golden brown and bubbling.

quiche

Cheese & Spinach Quiche, makes 6-8 servings
Ingredients:
1 prepared pie crust
1 Tbs olive oil or butter
3 cups fresh baby spinach (or you could use frozen spinach)
1 cup cottage cheese
1-1/2 cups cheddar cheese
4 eggs,  beaten
1 tsp pepper
1 tsp nutmeg (optional)

Preheat oven to 350. In a skillet, heat oil or butter over medium heat and saute fresh spinach (if using) until tender. Remove from skillet and let cool. Line 9-inch pie plate with crust and prick bottom with a fork. Sprinkle half the cheddar cheese onto crust, then layer in the spinach.  In a bowl stir together the cottage cheese, eggs, pepper and nutmeg.  Pour over the spinach layer, then add the remaining cheddar cheese on top.  Bake for 45-55 minutes or until quiche has set.

photo-1

Zucchini Banana Bread, makes 4 mini loaves or 2 larger loaves
Ingredients:
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 Tbs cinnamon
2 eggs
1 container banana flavored Greek yogurt (I used Chobani)
2-3 large over-ripe bananas
1 large zucchini, finely shredded
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (optional)

Preheat oven to 375F and grease the loaf pans. In a medium bowl, mix together flours, sugars, baking soda, baking powder and cinnamon. In a large bowl, beat together the eggs, yogurt, bananas and vanilla. In small batches, mix in the dry ingredients with the wet ingredients. Fold in the zucchini and chocolate chips if using. Bake for 30-35 minutes for small loaves, 45-50 minutes for larger loaves, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.

We have several weekends of travel coming up–including a wedding and a much needed trip to the beach–but I’m sure whenever we are in town on a Saturday, we will be heading to the farmers’ market.  Hopefully we’ll slowly be able to ween Theo off the jumping-on-people stage that he is currently in and we’ll be able to bring him along.  And the iced coffee.  Must always get the iced coffee.

theo

Thai Curry Butternut Squash Soup

Several weeks ago, I took a trip to Cost Plus World Market, which has quickly become one of my favorite stores to frequent when I’m feeling daring enough to make the journey up to Buckhead, and have some extra money burning a hole in my pocket.  For those of you who have never been, I’d describe it as a combination of Trader Joes and Pier 1.  There is so much to look at; I could easily spend the majority of an afternoon shopping up and down the aisles.  Drew and I did a bit of our Christmas shopping there and I don’t think I’ve ever had to pull him out of a store like that.  I’m able to find spices, sauces and baking ingredients that I can’t pick up at our local Kroger.  They also have a great selection of unique pillows, throws and home décor that I can definitely see us buying once we move into a house.  On my most recent trip I bought coconut milk and yellow curry sauce.  I’d never cooked with them before, but I love Thai food and was determined to try making my own at home.  And after all, I’m supposed to be broadening my culinary horizons, remember?

After finding a recipe online for a butternut squash soup, I adapted it a bit to fit what I had in the pantry and my personal taste preferences.  The soup was cooking in the crockpot all yesterday afternoon and by the time dinner rolled around, I was ready to attack that pot with a giant spoon.  I’d intended to make a big batch and eat it for my lunches at work all this week, but I couldn’t resist sneaking a spoonful before packing it away.  It was absolutely delicious.  I’m pretty proud of this one.  Granted, it’s pretty hard to screw up when you just throw a bunch of ingredients together and let it cook all day, but I’m glad I stepped out of the box and made something completely new to me.  Not sure if Drew would be a fan of this one, even if he is a fan of Thai food; I can just hear him asking, “But where’s the meat?”

It's not the prettiest soup, but I promise it's delicious!

It’s not the prettiest soup, but I promise it’s delicious!

In addition to the soup, I also made another batch of the banana oatmeal raisin “cookies” that I blogged about in this post. This time, however, I just poured the batter into a baking dish and baked it all together like a casserole.  Even though the smells from the soup and casserole weren’t exactly complimentary, the apartment felt warm and cozy, which was very welcoming after a cold morning run with snow flurries.   Now that it’s March, I’m eager for this winter weather to go away and Spring to arrive.  My flip-flops are reading and waiting.

photo 2

Thai Curry Butternut Squash Soup
Makes 1 large batch

Ingredients:1 large butternut squash, peeled and cubed

1 can coconut milk
1/3 cup yellow curry sauce/paste
4 cups water
1 Tbs. brown sugar
1 tsp sriracha sauce
1 Tbs. curry powder
1 Tbs. ground ginger

Directions:
Add all ingredients in a large crockpot and stir to combine. Cook on high for 2-3 hours or low for 4-5 hours. You can use and immersion blender if you want a smoother, creamier soup but I liked it a bit thicker. Garnish with crushed peanuts and cilantro, or serve over basmati rice, naan or pita bread.

Cooking My Way Through Pinterest

If you follow me on Pinterest, you know that I have several pinboards dedicated to food and recipes.  If you don’t, you can click the button over to the right to see what I’m talking about.  Since I joined the site almost a year and a half ago, I’ve pinned close to a thousand recipes for everything from fish tacos to homemade Reese’s cups.  In reality, I’ve only actually made a fraction of those recipes.  Like maybe 10 or 12.  Of course it’s easy to go on an online pinning spree and find countless recipes in one sitting.  Going to the store, buying the ingredients and carving out the time to make them all?  Now that’s a different story.

pinterest meme

Drew and I have a list of 5-10 meals that make up our typical dinner rotation.  They’re all tasty, easy to prepare and relatively inexpensive.  We never seem to get tired of them but I’ve been wanting to expand my culinary horizons for a while now.  I don’t need to prepare 5-course, Zagat-rated dinners; our dinners are way too informal for that: using paper napkins and feeding Theo the occasional frequent table scrap while we watch Big Bang Theory re-runs.  Still, it would be fun to consistently be trying new things and throwing in a new dinner or two to change up the same ol’ same ol’.

So, I plan to start trying at least one new recipe, either from Pinterest or one of the countless cookbooks sadly collecting dust on our kitchen shelf, each week.  It shouldn’t be too hard, and it’ll be nice to finally revisit the recipes I pinned or bookmarked way back when–and most likely forgot about.

With that being said, I have two new recipes to share.  One is from Pinterest, the other is a concoction I just kind of came up with in my head.  I say “concoction” because, well, it doesn’t exactly look all that appealing.  But trust me, it is delicious.  I made these banana oatmeal raisin cookies, and although they’re lot chewier than the typical cookie, I wouldn’t really call them a muffin or a biscuit either.  They instantly reminded me of the oatmeal on-the-go cups that my Mom has been making for her and Dad’s breakfasts.  They were quite tasty.  So good in fact that Drew didn’t even get to try a single one.  He may have no even realized, until reading this post, that I’d even made them.

oatmeal breakfast cookies

Lucky for him, he actually got to try the second recipe.  I made these for our dinner this past Sunday night and they’ll definitely be making a repeat appearance at our dinner table.

BBQ Chicken-Stuffed Sweet Potatoes
Serves 2

Ingredients:
2 chicken breasts, cooked and shredded
2 large sweet potatoes
BBQ sauce (I used a hickory flavored one)
Shredded sharp cheddar cheese

Directions:
Microwave sweet potatoes for 5-8 minutes or until soft. In a large bowl, mix together the shredded chicken and BBQ sauce until it’s completely coated. Cut a slit in the middle of each sweet potato and fill with the chicken mixture. Top with shredded cheese and bake in the oven at 350F for 10-12 minutes or until cheese has melted.

See?  I said they aren't exactly pretty...

See? I said they aren’t exactly pretty…