Breakfast Cookies

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I’ve never been particularly good with change. I was that delightful child who cried at the beginning and the end of every school year. My poor parents. I have always been someone who has thrived on a set routine, so any major life change typically throws me for a loop. When most of my peers looked forward to high school and college with excited anticipation, I was busy mourning the loss of the  current state of life that I’d just gotten used. And though I looked forward to the new chapters in my life, I still dreaded the changes that those looming graduation days brought. I hated the thought of saying good bye to precious parts of my life that encapsulated the current season of life- be it a hobby, a job, or a friendship, I was always scared of what would happen if that goodbye turned out to be permanent. Even when unhappy phases of life came to a close, I still feared what would happen next. When I left my first full time job, a job that was marked by stress and anxiety, I still left with a slight sense of regret. Because I didn’t know what would happen next. Yet here I am, only a a week away from the biggest life change I’ve ever experienced, and there isn’t a trace of sadness or dread in my temperament. I can’t wait to begin my married life with Eric. I can’t wait to experience the ups and downs and the changing tides of our life together. I’m excited to make plans for the future, but change them as we go. Because we’ll be partners in it all, and that is pretty fantastic.

But luckily, the best parts of my current phase of life, get to come with me in my next chapter as a “Mrs.”One of which is going over to my Mom’s house and spending the afternoon chatting and baking. We made these breakfast cookies last weekend as a nice little break from wedding planning, and I realized that baking with my mom has been something I’ve carried with me through each phase of life. From the time I was a 1st grader standing on a stool to help her make cookies, to the times I came home for weekends in college to cook dinner, time in the kitchen with my mom is ever present. And though I’m excited for changes to come, this is one thing I am so happy will never change.

These “cookies” are so healthy you could easily eat them for breakfast, but they are definitely sweet enough for dessert. They include entirely wholesome ingredients and are incredibly addicting.

Ingredients: Recipe from Sally’s Baking Addiction, Makes 24 cookies

  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 cup peanut butter
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1/4 fig butter (The original recipe calls for apple butter, but since we couldn’t find any apple butter, we substituted with fig butter found at Trader Joe’s and it was delicious)
  • 1 large banana, mashed
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 cup dried raisins

Preparation:

  1. Place all ingredients in a large bowl and mix until just combined
  2. Place tablespoons of batter onto a greased cookie sheet and bake at 325 for 15 minutes

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Homemade Hummus

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A few days ago I stopped by the grocery store to pick up a few items to make this hummus, and as I was placing my items on the conveyer belt, I saw a little girl dressed in an all too familiar black and white plaid jumper. It was the same plaid uniform that I wore during my years attending St. Paul Catholic School. So I smiled thinking about which teachers this little girl might have and which classroom she spent her days in. And I thought about the little friends she might be making in the same hallways that I met my best friends. I wondered if the friends she was making now would be the same friends that would stay by her side for the rest of her life. Because that’s how it was for me at St. Paul. I spent my school days at St. Paul with LT and Annie, and these two wonderful girls are still my very best friends today. We were attached at the hip through those 8 years of Catholic School, and the bond we formed there is probably why I look back at my time in grade school so fondly. And though we all had different groups of friends in high school and college, and our friendship went through many different phases, these two have always been my anchors. Because whether we were in a period of talking every day or whether a few weeks passed between our long winded interactions, I never doubted that they were my best friends. There is something special about having friends who have known you through every phase of your life. Those type of friendships seem to be especially strong, as they effortlessly ride the storm of “growing up.” There were times I got caught up in some short lived friendships in high school and college, but when it came down to it, I always turned to Annie and LT in the end. This reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from a play by Edward Albee. “Sometimes it is necessary to go a long distance out of your way in order to come back a short distance correctly.” Because no matter how many twists and turns our lives take, we always have each other to come back to. And that, my friends, were my long winded thoughts while standing in line at the grocery store.

This easy hummus recipe doesn’t contain tahini, but is still just as delicious as the store bought varieties. I added garlic to the mix, but you could easily customize it with roasted red peppers, chili powder, or whatever other flavoring you like.

Ingredients: Makes 1 1/2 cups

  • 1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 whole clove of garlic, peeled
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • salt & pepper to taste

Preparation:

  1. Place all ingredients in a food processor and blend until mixture is smooth
  2. Serve with veggies, pita bread, ect.

Healthier Mac n’ Cheese

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Another Sunday morning, and yet again our world has been dusted with fresh powdery snow. I always anticipate the first snow fall come December and love the way it sparkles on a chilly, cozy Christmas night. But once February hits, I am so over it. And here we are in March, the month that is supposed to bring some springtime weather, and we have been pummeled again with another snow storm. I’ve always loved Michigan for the four distinct seasons we get to experience, but this year it feels like we skipped over my beloved fall and catapulted right into this freezing cold eternal winter. And since the weather men are not predicting a big thaw anytime soon, I figured I would make the best of the cold by cooking up some warm comfort food. But rather than whip up a butter filled, heavy side dish, I went in search for a lighter alternative. And after some recipe perusing, a came up with this lightened up mac n’ cheese recipe. The dish is incredibly rich and creamy, but contains no butter or oil and is lightened up with the use of lowfat milk. It served as the perfect side dish to my BBQ pulled chicken, and though it looks and tastes decadent, it will not weigh you down.

Ingredients: Makes 4 servings

  • 1 1/2 cups cavatappi pasta (or noodle of your choice)
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 1 cup 1% low fat milk
  • 1 1/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
  • 1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt

Preparation:

  1. Cook pasta until cooked through, set aside
  2. In a large skillet, heat milk over medium high heat
  3. Stir flour into milk and stir continuously until mixture thickens
  4. Stir in cheddar cheese until mixture is smooth and creamy
  5. Stir in spices
  6. Add pasta to cheese mixture and toss until well combined

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Greek Yogurt Muffins

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Before I landed my current position in Hotel Sales, I worked as a wedding & event planner. I worked at a private club and later a hotel, planning and coordinating weddings. I worked with a number of brides and mothers-of-the-bride from the beginning phases of booking their wedding to the actual wedding day itself. This included small intimate affairs and lavish 300 person weddings, but for some reason all of the brides had one thing in common. They were all at some point, completely stressed out. And I just didn’t get it. Maybe it was the hundreds of chair covers I tied or the thousands of escort cards that I painstakingly alphabetized, but I sort of became immune to the details that stressed so many brides out. I always had the idea that when it came to my own wedding, I wouldn’t care about the details.

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My philosophy has always been if I end up married to my best friend at the end of the day, the wedding will be a success. Sure, I’ve had fun planning cute little details for our big day,(I’m not letting those years in the industry go to waste!) but when it comes down to it, the only thing I really care about is the actual getting married part of the wedding day. So because of this, I always thought I would be the exception to the “stressed out bride” norm. And for the most part I have been. Even though so many brides-to-be go on some sort of crazy crash diet to look their very best on the big day, that just isn’t my style. Because it’s a wedding, not a beauty pageant. And even though I kind of hated the way they did my hair for my “bridal hair trial” I’m not too worried, as I’d much rather just do my own hair anyway.

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But the type of stress I didn’t expect to take on was the guilt. The guilt of having family members and friends spending so much time to throw not one but four bridal showers for me. And the guilt of asking my best friends to fly into town and wear a dress I picked out so they can stand by my side at the alter. And the guilt of running into people I went to high school with that might possibly expect an invitation despite the fact that we lost touch years ago. So even though I promised myself I would be cool as a cucumber when my big day rolled around, certain types of stress are inevitable. And for me, this has resulted in terrible stomach aches that my doctor attributed to “wedding stress.” As a former wedding planner, I’m a little embarrassed. But I guess that’s life. So to combat my “stress induced stomach pains” I was told to relax and avoid a few food groups to see if it helped at all. And one of these forbidden food groups was dairy. And since I had just purchased some Chobani Greek Yogurt, I decided I needed to use it in a different way. And that is how this muffin recipe came to be. The muffins have a slightly tangy flavor from the key lime flavored yogurt which I think pairs really nicely with the sweet blueberries. Just make sure you add the blueberries in while they are still frozen or else they will bleed and result in some ugly blue muffins.

Ingredients: Makes 12 muffins

  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup applesauce
  • 1 6oz container Key Lime Greek Yogurt (or the flavor of your choice)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 3/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup frozen blueberries

Preparation:

  1. In a large bowl, beat milk, applesauce, yogurt and egg until well blended
  2. Stir in next 4 ingredients (flour through salt) until just combined
  3. Gently fold in frozen bluberries
  4. Divide batter between 12 muffin liners
  5. Bake at 400 for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted in the middle

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A Bridal Shower Weekend

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What a fun weekend! My Saturday was filled to the brim with pre wedding festivities. I started the day off at a bridal shower given by my Grandma and Auntie Karol.

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My Aunt and Grandma

We had lunch at the Ardmore Cafe with 20 or so of my family and friends and it was such a great afternoon. We ate lunch, chatted and then I was given so many thoughtful gifts. My cousin Jenny and Aunt Norma even put together a box of decorations for each holiday of the year. And they even included Eric’s favorite holiday…football season

IMG_1611It was such a great shower and it was so wonderful to spend with members of both Eric and my families. A big thank you to my Aunt and Grandma for all of the planning that went into the day!

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All the girls in the family

Later on, my best friend Annie and her mom hosted a lingerie shower at their house. The night started off with a few cocktails. Namely an incredibly delicious Champagne Punch.

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It was great to spend the night with friends from grade school, high school, college and of course my favorite cousins.

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My cousins and I

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My best friend Annie

We laughed until my stomach hurt and danced the night away. And I was given some pretty things for when I’m a Mrs.

 

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But the best part was just hanging out with so many of the girls in my life. I feel so blessed to have such amazing family and friends and was so happy to be able to spend so much time with them all this weekend. And before we know it, April 26th will be upon us. And we’ll all be together again to celebrate what is sure to be one of the best days ever. 2 months to go!

 

Fluffy Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies

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Happy Valentine’s Day! I hope you are spending the day with someone you love, whether that is a significant other, family member, or close friend. I will be spending it passing out candy grams at work (yes, Valentine’s Day does occur in some especially festive offices, including mine) and later Eric and I will be celebrating our 5th Valentine’s Day together with a dinner out. I remember the very first Valentine’s Day we spent together. We had only been dating a month but he managed to make it pretty special.The kid even made me cupcakes, so I knew he was a winner.

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Back in 2010

So this year I thought I would make a little Valentine’s Day treat for him. We happen to share a lot of interests, but one very important interest that we share is our devotion to Reese’s peanut butter cups. I don’t know what it is about that magical combination of chocolate and peanut butter, but anytime you combine the two, you are sure to have a pretty dynamite dessert. So I stuck with these two classic ingredients when whipping up a batch of cookies that we have been enjoying all week. The base is a classic peanut butter cookie, made extra light and fluffy with the addition of cornstarch into the mix. And with a sprinkle of chocolate and peanut butter chips, you have yourself one delicious cookie

Ingredients: Makes 24 cookies

  • 5 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 3/4 cup crunchy peanut butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 1 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup semi sweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter chips
  • Preparation:
    1. In a large bowl, beat butter and sugars until light and fluffy
    2. Beat in egg until just combined
    3. Beat in peanut butter and vanilla
    4. Add baking soda, cornstarch & flour and mix until just combined
    5. Place dough in the fridge for 30 minutes to chill
    6. Remove dough from fridge and stir in chocolate chips and peanut butter chips
    7. Place tablespoons of dough onto a greased cookie sheet and bake at 350 for 12-15 minutes

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Hasselback Potatoes

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At the end of December my mom’s very best friends threw me a beautiful bridal shower. My “aunts”, as I call them, put so much thought and detail into the special day. From the green and white “Michigan State” color scheme to the perfectly festive Christmas centerpieces, everything about it was perfect. They even gave every guest a jar filled with cookie ingredients with an attached recipe.

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Our festive table

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My beautiful bridesmaids and best friends

But one of my favorite details had to be the Recipe Box that they gave me, filled with recipes from all the guests who were able to attend. It was such a sweet and thoughtful gift and will serve as a wonderful memory of such a great day. So now, well after the holiday season has calmed down, I am finally getting around to sampling the recipes that were carefully stuffed into my recipe box. The first recipe I tried was a recipe for Hasselback Potatoes from my Aunt Renee. You slice russet potatoes and sprinkle with herbs and cheese for a delicious and decadent side dish. Make sure you fan the slices out well, or the potato will not bake through all the way. I served these potatoes with a simple pork loin and it was an incredibly delicious dinner.

Ingredients: Makes 4 servings

  • 4 medium russet potatoes
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter
  • 2-3 tablespoons fresh herbs ( I used a combination of chopped thyme & sage)
  • 4 tablespoons grated cheddar cheese
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese

Preparation:

  1. Scrub and rinse potatoes
  2. Cut potatoes into thin slices but not all the way through
  3. Put potatoes in a baking dish, fan them slightly
  4. Sprinkle with salt and drizzle with melted butter. sprinkle with dried herbs
  5. Bake potatoes at 425 for 50 minutes
  6. Remove from oven and sprinkle with cheeses
  7. Bake potatoes for another 10-15 minutes until lightly browned, cheeses are melted and potatoes are soft inside

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Blueberry Bread

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One of my high school friends recently pointed out to me that it has been 10 years since we entered our first year of high school. It just seemed so odd to me that 10 years have already passed since we were those gawky 15 year olds stumbling our way through 9th grade. And this got me thinking…if 15 year old me could see where I am now, would she be happy with where I ended up? My immediate answer was yes. I have a very happy, full life, so of course the 15 year old version of myself would be happy to see that. But I also think she would be pretty surprised and perhaps a bit confused when learning about the career I chose. When I was fifteen I flip flopped back and forth about “what I wanted to be when I grew up.” Some days I wanted to be a chef and other days I wanted to go into musical theatre. But no matter how many times my “dream job” changed it always involved either food or music. If you’ve read this blog for a while, I’m sure it comes as no surprise that food always had a part in my future ambitions. But perhaps the music part is a bit of a surprise. Yet once upon a time, music was a huge part of my life. I started singing when I was 5 years old, and couldn’t really get enough of it.

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My high school days were spent in choir practice and voice lessons and there weren’t many things I loved more than singing in front of a big crowd. A pretty odd hobby for someone as shy as I always was, but somehow it just worked. Eventually I retired from my short lived singing career, but my love of music never went away. So I’m sure the fifteen year old me would be surprised that I ended up not as a singer or a chef…but a hotel sales manager. But even though I always scoffed at the idea of working in a hotel and even worse, working in sales, I truly love where I ended up. Because as strange as it may sound, my job actually allows me to be surrounded by both food and theatre. I get to spend half of my time planning catered events and creating menus for my clients. And because my hotel is located in the heart of Detroit’s theatre district, the other half of my time is spent working with the company managers of all of the Broadway musicals and plays that come into town. I even get to attend many of the new shows that visit the city. So I’m hoping fifteen year old Colleen wouldn’t be too disappointed with her 25 year old counterpart.

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And even though the “food” part of my job doesn’t exactly involve cooking, I think I make up for that on the weekends. Last weekend I whipped up this sweet blueberry bread, with a few simple ingredients I already had in my kitchen. The bread is cake-like and would be delicious drizzled with a simple lemon glaze. I kept mine simple, but feel free to add a glaze or frosting to sweeten things up a bit.

Ingredients: Makes 1 loaf, Adapted slightly from AllRecipes

  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup skim milk
  • 3 tablespoons canola oil
  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 cup frozen blueberries, thawed and drained

Preparation:

  1. In a large bowl, beat eggs and sugar together until smooth
  2. Beat in milk and oil until well incorporated
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk flour, salt and baking powder together
  4. Gradually add flour mixture to egg mixture until well combined
  5. Fold in blueberries
  6. Pour batter into a greased loaf pan and bake at 350 for 50-65 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted into the center of the loaf

Life Lately

As the snow continues to fall and the temperatures refuse to rise above 15 degrees here in Michigan, I’ve been having a hard time enjoying this time of year. And though it’s been my first instinct to stay inside and be a semi hermit in these colder months, Eric has encouraged me to venture around Downtown Detroit every now and then. This way our days have been a good mix of cozy nights in and fun adventures out. So here are a few snapshots from life lately.

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Venturing out in the Arctic Tundra of Chicago

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Homemade Deep Dish Cast Iron Skillet Pizza

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Rosemary & Sea Salt Bagel with Smoked Salmon Cream Cheese at the Detroit Institute of Bagels

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Pretty Latte at Great Lakes Coffee Roasting Company

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Homemade Blueberry Bread (recipe soon!)

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Cute Cookie Dough Jars from my Bridal Shower

 

Chicago Weekend

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This past weekend, Eric and I took a quick little trip to Chicago to celebrate our 4 year anniversary. The nice thing about having Eric as a travel companion, is that our vacation philosophies are very similar. We both like to get up early and fit in as many activities as we can. And I’ll be completely honest.. about 90% of these “activities” typically revolve around food. No wonder we get along so well. We scouted out quite a few places beforehand, and were able to hit each and every spot in the short time we were there. The first stop was of course a quick trip to the well known “bean.” Because you can’t really visit Chicago without a few obligatory “bean shots.” Next up was a trip to Sprinkles Cupcakes.

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As a huge fan of the show Cupcake Wars, I was pumped to taste the cupcakes from one of Cupcake Wars’ judges. And these cupcakes did not disappoint. I had a Peanut Butter Cupcake with Chocolate Buttercream Frosting. It was perfectly sweet and delicious. Eric had the classic Black and White Cupcake and was also a huge fan. Nothing starts off your day better than a cupcake.

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Later on we stopped by Eataly, which is a gourmet Italian marketplace owned by Mario Batali. There was delicious, high end food in every corner, and a huge selection of Italian wines. There are even areas for shoppers to stop and enjoy a glass of wine or a charcuterie platter during their shopping trip. We didn’t end up eating anything, as we were still on a Sprinkles induced sugar high, but I would love to go back and roam around again.

Our next stop was a trip to a bar we had seen on Bar Rescue. If you’ve never seen the show, it is definitely worth a try. A “bar expert” remakes failing bars throughout the U.S., and though the host is incredibly obnoxious, the show is one of Eric and my favorites. The bar we visited is called Blue Frog’s Local 22 and it was remade to be a burger and beer bar. We just went for a beer, and it was nice little reprieve from walking around the streets of a very snowy Chicago.

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For dinner, we went to RPM Italian, which is owned by Guiliana and Bill Rancic. A few years back, when I worked at a country club, I had a crazy work schedule and was only able to see Eric for a few hours on Monday nights. And since I was too exhausted to ever do anything, we spent a lot of our Monday night date nights watching TV together. The only problem was that there is absolutely nothing to watch on Monday nights in the summer. So somewhere along the road we started watching Guiliana & Bill’s reality show. When we used to watch the show, they talked a lot about opening up an italian restaurant, and eventually RPM Italian came to be. We thought it would be a fun little anniversary date to visit the restaurant we had heard so much about. We started with an appetizer of grilled baguette served with fresh ricotta and marinara sauce.

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It was so delicious, and we both said we easily could have eaten 3 pieces each, but we had to save our appetites for the main course. I chose Mama DePandi’s bucatini and it was definitely one of the best pasta dishes I’ve had in a while.

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Eric had the spaghetti and meatballs and loved his as well. It was an all around successful anniversary.

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To end our night we did our own little Irish bar crawl with my cousin Kristin, who lives in Chicago. She was a fantastic tour guide and it was so great to catch up. And with that our little weekend trip was over. It was a nice little break from the norm and a fun way to celebrate our last “dating anniversary.” Because in a little less than 3 months we’ll be Mr. and Mrs. Jones…Crazy!