The Best Bits of Winter

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Hello everyone!  Since it’s been so long since I’ve made a substantial post – seriously, since before Thanksgiving… whoops – I figured it’d be best to start off the new season by writing a post on the things that make winter the greatest season of all. Obviously not my opinion, but a true fact that winter is the best. Really though, who doesn’t love winter? It’s cozy, sparkly, and there are fairy lights everywhere. I’m not sure why I love it so much and to be perfectly honest it’s like I have a full on personality change when winter hits. Any other time of year if I were to find a single bit of glitter in my apartment I would have an aneurysm, but during winter I’m just like, “Oh that’s so cute, how pretty!” I don’t know, I really don’t. Freakish tendencies aside, let’s go ahead and talk about the parts of winter that make it the king of seasons.

Fairy Lights

I will confess I’m not one of those people who actually has a set time when I think fairy lights are appropriate. I love them all year round, but I especially love when they’re out in force – which is typically around Christmas. After the hellacious five hours that were my CSet exam (really hoping I won’t have to retake that) I finally exited the building into Levi’s Plaza after the sun had gone down when all the trees were lit up and twinkling. I was so sad all I had on me was my phone because it was so beautiful and magical looking, I really need to go back and take some pictures with my real camera.

Silver & Gold

I have a feeling that this one is going to be the most disagreed with out of all my favorites, but I love the combination of metallics during the winter season. To be honest most other times of year I am a bit less inclined toward using silver and gold together, but I think the offset of white on these colors in particular is absolutely gorgeous. Plus even if you don’t have any white decorations around your home there are always the grays and whites of the weather coming in from outside your windows to compliment the warm glow inside your home.

Rustic Decor

Yet another home design element that I really love throughout the year, but find it a lot easier to find pieces for during winter versus any other season. I’ve gotten a bit overly obsessed with deer, plaid, and natural touches this year. Those things aside though, the most exciting decoration we got this year is easily our (first) Christmas tree. Which is fake so it technically only looks like a natural decoration piece. Speaking of which, if you don’t have a fireplace Netflix’s “Fireplace For Your Home” is a really lovely program to help recreate that cozy cabin ambiance in your living room.

Dismal Weather

Okay, so on face value this is probably not peoples first choice for a seasonal favorite (or really a favorite at all for that matter.) However, how lovely is it to be sitting inside cozied up under a blanket with a fire going watching the snow (or rain) fall outside. There’s just something about the terrible weather that winter often brings that amplifies the wonderfulness of creature comforts tenfold. Besides sometimes the worst storms leave the most beautiful icy scenes behind.

Lounge Wear

As much as I love dressing myself up and going out, you can bet your ass that I’m the first one to volunteer to stay home in my PJ’s, burrow under the excessive number of blankets I’ve accumulated, and chill like a puffed up squirrel. This of course means I’ve gathered quite an impressive collection of lounge wear ranging from things I could reasonably run to the grocery in (think exercise type clothes) to onesies that are dedicated to lazy days inside. Perhaps it’s the chill in the air or I just give up on being pristinely presentable as the year ends, but I find myself opting for loungier clothes much more often come wintertime.

Sweets 

Does it seem to anyone else as if every place you turn is filled with deliciousness this time of year? Maybe it’s just me, but I swear the hallmark sweets of Christmas are caramel, chocolate, and peppermint – sometimes alone, sometimes in combination. If Halloween’s candies are characterized by pure sugar flavor than Christmas’ are by smooth creaminess. Not that I’m complaining, it’s just something that I seem to have overlooked until this year after I bought a candy tray and have since had to keep it stocked.

Super Sumptuous Food

Whether it’s just Eric and me at home or the whole family at holiday parties the food we eat during the cold winter months is always warm, delicious, and super rich. The biggest staples I find myself making during the winter are stews, savory pies, and baked Italian dishes. So yes perhaps my winter diet isn’t exactly the healthiest, but hey – everything in moderation and I’ll be making it just fine to Spring.

So there you have it, the absolute best bits of winter in my opinion! Let me know what your favorite parts of winter are in the comments and have a wonderful day!

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Gluten Free Review: Cook Simple Ancient Grain Salad

Hello everyone! Another gluten free review today – hopefully no one’s getting bored with these! I was pretty excited when I found this at my local Lucky in the pasta salad mix aisle. Is that the proper term for that isle? Maybe it’s just the pasta aisle? Hmm, not really sure on that one. At any rate it’s the aisle with tons and tons of boxed pastas!

So yeah I bought this and a zesty ranch pasta salad mix (by the same company) because it seemed like a potentially awesome side dish!

Cook Simple Gluten Free Ancient Grain Salad

Ancient Grains Salad Plated


Ingredients:

Dressing Packet from Box
1/4 Cup Mayonnaise
1/4 Cup Greek Yogurt
2 1/2 Cups Water
Grain & Bean Packet from Box

Ancient Grains Box & Ingredient Spread

Ancient Grains Directions


Directions:

1.Add the dressing packet, mayonnaise, and yogurt to a medium mixing bowl and whisk to combine. Once the dressing is a nice smooth consistency set it aside.

Ancient Grain Dressing Unmixed Ancient Grain Dressing

2. Bring your water to a boil over high heat in a medium saucepan and break open your grain packet.

Ancient Grains Grain & Bean Packet

3. Once the water has come to a boil add in the grain and bean packet. Turn the heat to medium and allow the mix to simmer for around 40 minutes or until all the moisture has been absorbed. The time will vary depending on your stove top, mine finished around 36 minutes.

Boiling Water With Grains Cooked Grains

4. Now all you need to do is take your grains off the heat and spoon them into the mixing bowl with your dressing. Fold together the grains and dressing until well combined and pop this into the refrigerator until it’s well chilled throughout.

Ancient Grains Unmixed Ancient Grains Salad
Okay so my thoughts on Cook Simple’s Ancient Grain Salad are rather mixed – in the end I’ve got positive feelings, but I’m definitely going to be doing some recipe adjusting the next time I cook this.

First things first, the quinoa smells incredible whilst cooking. Seriously, this stuff just smells mouth wateringly good. So even though I really really really wanted to dig in before finishing the recipe I held myself back. The struggle haha. Anyway this brings me to my next point which is… I didn’t really like the dressing very much. At all actually. The flavor was very heavy on dill and garlic. However, I’m nearly positive the main reason I didn’t like it was because of some weird texture thing I have going on with this particular type of food.

Let me explain.

I’m really not keen on deli salads. So this isn’t really a leafy salad issue, but much more a pasta or chicken or potato or tuna salad type problem. I just do not go for those types of salads when they are overly saturated in dressing. Now, knowing that there was mayonnaise in the recipe for this you would think I would have made some sort of compensation effort. Usually yes, but this time I was trying to follow the recipe exactly so I could give an honest review and honestly I will be changing the way I make that dressing the next time around. I think I might substitute the mayonnaise (not my favorite ingredient to be honest) with a bit of olive oil and make a small addition of lemon juice. I think olive oil might do the trick in lightening up the dressing and I wanted to add the lemon to help brighten up the flavor of garlic.

I think if I were to give this a rating it’d have to be three out of five. It’s definitely got promise, but the dressing really needs some tweaking to make it a staple product in my pantry. If you get a chance to try this for yourself leave me a comment and let me know what you think!

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Gluten Free Review: Immaculate Gluten Free Peanut Butter Cookies

Hello everyone! This post is going to be a bit short because I didn’t actually have to do any sort of prep work for this recipe. I mean I suppose I did have to physically place the dough rounds onto my baking sheet, but that doesn’t really count does it?

Alright so a bit of story behind these because I was so so excited when I found them. My Safeway has their dairy and deli meats sections combined. So whilst I was wandering around looking at all the cheeses and bacons for breakfast I ended up wandering over to the premade dough section – which is not really an area I find myself in often because rarely can you find premade gluten free recipes. Yet I somehow ended up over there, whether to lament the crescent rolls or stare longingly at the cinnamon buns no one knows, but what matters is I was there and they were there and the rest is history! I’ve never heard of this brand and I hadn’t had peanut cookies in ages so I decided to try them out (there were also chocolate chip cookies which I’m going to give a try later.)

So yeah, very exciting and super simple to make so let’s get started!

Immaculate Gluten Free Peanut Butter Cookies

Immaculate Gluten Free Peanut Butter Cookies Baked


Ingredients:

Immaculate pre-made gluten free peanut butter cookie dough (12 rounds)Immaculate Gluten Free Peanut Butter Cookies


Directions:

1. Preheat your oven to 325 degrees.

Immaculate Gluten Free Peanut Butter Cookie Instructions

2. Place the cookie dough rounds on an ungreased baking sheet, about two inches apart. I used a ruler to be precise – this is probably not necessary.

Immaculate Gluten Free Peanut Butter Cookie Rounds

3. Bake 16 – 18 minutes (I went with 17) so the cookies are a gold brown color on top. These are very soft (similar to my Let’s Cook: Pumpkin Sugar Cookies) straight out of the oven so make sure you wait long enough that they won’t deform when you touch them before moving your cookies onto a cooling rack. I waited about 5 minutes.
Immaculate Gluten Free Peanut Butter Cookies Baked Top

My immediate thought on these cookies is that they’re quite tasty! The cookies aren’t overly sweet and although you can taste the peanut flavor it’s not overwhelming. I actually really love the way these taste because I hate when I bite into a peanut flavored desert and it feels as if I’ve taken a glob of peanut butter into my mouth. Not appetizing. So yes, the subtle flavor is nice and the chunks of peanuts throughout add a nice dimension to the cookie.

I do have to grumble about the consistency of the dough a bit – although whether this is the cookies fault or my lack of baking skills is up for debate. The cookies had that unbound quality most gluten free pastries have (obviously because of their lack of gluten), but the top of the cookie was almost disintegrating. Despite the inside of the cookie not being well bound together it was very soft and fluffy, but I think because the top wasn’t able to hold moisture as easily during the baking process it dried out and became slightly sandy. However, I’ve found a bit of a hack to fix this! Once you’ve baked your cookies and allowed them to cool place them in a plastic bag for about 15 to 30 minutes. The trapped moisture in the bag will re-hydrate the top of the cookies, making them super soft and delicious.

These cookies are definitely worth a try if you want something easy to bake and are fond of peanut desserts. Well I suppose that’s that and have a lovely weekend!

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Creamy Zucchini Soup

Hello everyone! Today’s post is one of my most beloved favorites from childhood. I was kind of a strange one in that even as a kid I really liked eating veggies, however, I hated zucchini. Couldn’t tell you why, but I deeply identified with Kapp’n the kappa from Animal Crossing and his bawdy ballad about zucchini spooks. Ah what a wonderfully eccentric turtle, any other Animal Crossing fans out there? At any rate, I was not a fan of zucchini and I’m pretty sure my mom used this recipe to con me into eating the stuff. Which obviously worked because this soup is so delicious I couldn’t resist! The trick is the soft Swiss cheese that gives a wonderful rich, creamy flavor. The texture is super smooth and garnishing with nuts brings a great earthy bite to the dish. So give this soup a try sometime when the weather is cold and you need something scrumptious to warm you up!


Ingredients:

6 Medium Zucchini
2 Cups Water
2 Cups Chicken Stock
3 Packages Goya Chicken Bouillon
1 Box Original Laughing Cow Swiss Cheese
Pepper to taste

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Directions:

1. Start by preparing your zucchini, slicing it into 1 inch rounds.

Sliced zucchini

2. In a large dutch oven or soup pot, add your zucchini, water, and chicken stock. Cover your soup base and bring it to a boil over high heat – this took me around 10 minutes.

Zucchini soup base

3. Once boiling uncover your base and turn the heat down to medium high. Add in the chicken bouillon and continue to simmer until the zucchini skin is easily pierced with a fork – this took around 15 minutes for me. Once the zucchini has softened, take the pot off the heat and allow it to cool slightly.

Zucchini soup base with bouillon

4. Add your cheese wedges to and pour your soup base into a large glass blender (if using a plastic blender allow the soup to cool fully before taking this step.) Pulse your blender until the soup is well blended and smooth. There may still be bits of zucchini skin, but don’t worry because of how soft they are it won’t effect the texture of the soup.

Zucchini soup base in blender

5. Serve immediately or put the soup back in your pot, keeping it on low heat until ready to serve.Zucchini soup in pot

If you’d like it’s super tasty and quite pretty to garnish the soup with toasted pine nuts when you serve it. Enjoy!

Toasted pine nuts Garnished and served zucchini soup

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Gluten Free Review: Krusteaz Gluten Free Honey Cornbread Mix

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Hello everyone! So, as you may know from my last post I have quite the amount of craziness going on right now. In fact I entirely lost track of time yesterday applying for jobs, updating my CV, and writing my personal history/statement that I forgot to work on a recipe I’d been meaning to post today. Luckily, I’d written this idea down in my planner at the beginning of the month, but hadn’t known if anyone would be particularly interested in it other than myself. I thought it might be fun to write reviews on some of the gluten free products I find whilst out and about wandering the isles of my neighbor grocery stores. There’s a huge range of products I’m always interested in buying (box mixes, baked goods, pastas, frozen meals), but rarely do because I don’t know if I’ll like them and can never seem to find any reviews for them online. So I figure why not help myself (and hopefully others) by trying these products out and blogging how I feel about them. So what better time than when I’m in a pinch to give this idea a go!

Gluten Free Honey Cornbread Mix from Krusteaz


Ingredients:

1 Cup Milk
1/3 Cup Vegetable Oil
1 Egg
1 Package Krusteaz Honey Cornbread Mix

Krusteaz Gluten Free Cornbread Ingredients


Directions:

1. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

2. The package directions state to mix both your wet and cornbread mix until moistened. However, I’ve found most recipes specify to premix your wet ingredients before adding them to your dry ingredients. So I gave my milk, oil, and eggs a good whisk before adding in the cornbread mix and folding it all together.

Krusteaz Gluten Free Cornbread Wet Ingredients Krusteaz Gluten Free Cornbread Wet Ingredients Whisked Krusteaz Gluten Free Cornbread Wet & Dry Ingredients Mixed

3. Next you’ll need to spoon your mix into your baking pan – the box suggests an 8x8x2 inch metal pan, a 12 standard muffin pan, and a 24 mini muffin tin. I went with my standard muffin tin and filled the muffin cups until they were 2/3 of the way full. As you can see I had quite a bit of mix left over so I added about half a scoop to each muffin until I had used up the mix.

Krusteaz Gluten Free Cornbread Extra Muffin Batter Krusteaz Gluten Free Cornbread Batter in Muffin Tin

4. Next pop your muffins into the oven for the specified bake time, which was 16-18 minutes for my standard muffin pan.

Krusteaz Gluten Free Cornbreas Muffins Baked

5. Once your muffins have finished baking take them out of the oven and place them on a metal rack to cool. Once cooled you can enjoy them as they are or add a bit of honey for some extra sweetness!

To be completely honest, I actually prefer these muffins without any toppings. They’ve got just the slightest hint of sweetness that combined with their fluffy texture makes them super light. I was actually surprised when I first tried one because usually boxed corn bread comes with an overpowering amount of corn flavor, but these were the complete opposite. Now that I think about it, that may actually be why they aren’t too sweet. However, if you really love sweet cornbread you could always add a bit of creamed corn in with the wet ingredients to amp up the flavor. After trying Krusteaz Gluten Free Cornbread mix out I think I can honestly recommend it to friends and family – so yes, 5 out of 5 stars on this gluten free product. Besides I’ll definitely be making these muffins again, probably at Thanksgiving when I know everyone will want some cornbread with their meal!

Krusteaz Gluten Free Cornbread Muffin with Honey

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