Monday, November 30, 2015

BLT Panzanella Salad

Thanksgiving 2015 was a memorable and relaxing one... and turkey day is now over. Or is it?! We have plenty of leftovers on purpose because there are some great ways to use up that turkey. Do you have any favorite ways? Because we had our share of eating a full Thanksgiving spread over the past week, we're feeling like it's time to cleanse a bit. That means eating more roughage. Salads. And lots of it! But with all the leftover turkey, I wanted to incorporate it some how. To do so, we made a BLT Panzanella Salad that consist of bacon, lettuce and turkey! Fresh greens are tossed with crisp smoked bacon, turkey, tomatoes and cheese for a healthier twist on the traditional sandwich...

A panzanella is a classic Italian salad made with day old bread, tomatoes, onions and a simple vinegar and olive oil dressing. Taking the base recipe, I added bacon and turkey to make it a heartier salad perfect for a meal in of itself.

BLT Panzanella Salad
recipe adapted from Cooking Light

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
3 ounces Italian bread, crusts trimmed, torn into 1/4-inch pieces
1 cup small grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
1 cup baby arugula and spinach mix
1/4 cup thinly sliced red onion
1 cup chopped roast turkey
applewood-smoked bacon slices, cooked and crumbled
1/8 teaspoon plus dash of kosher salt, divided
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, melt butter and add bread to toast. Sauté 5 minutes or until lightly browned, stirring occasionally. Transfer bread to a large bowl.

Add the tomatoes, greens, onions, turkey and bacon to the bowl.

Combine the salt, pepper, vinegar and oil in a small bowl and whisk. Drizzle over salad in bowl and toss to coat.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Gigi's Cupcakes Hits Chicagoland!

If you're all about sweets, you'll love this post! Two weeks ago, the popular cupcake shop, Gigi's Cupcakes, opened up their first store in Illinois, just north of Chicago in the suburb of Wilmette. I had the opportunity to visit before their grand opening to not only have my fill of cupcakes, but to meet Gigi herself!

Gigi's Cupcakes was all started by a wonderful woman,Gina Butler. Her story is a remarkable one and so inspirational! You can read it here. I also loved watching her on the tv show, Undercover Boss, where she disguised herself and worked a few jobs within her company along side employees. Through that experience, she learned not only about the technical work but the people behind her brand. Now, to see her in person and spend some time at her new store was such a treat!

The Wilmette/Chicago store is owned by the Yaccino family and it was great to spend time with Christine Yaccino who decided to open up a franchise here in the Midwest. Her reason? To have others feel the warmth and happiness she felt when she stepped foot into Gigi's Cupcakes for the first time while in Tampa, FL.

To kick off the sweet evening, we started with a tasting of cupcakes. The first one was this Strawberry Shortcake - white cake baked with fresh strawberries, topped with a strawberry buttercream frosting and red sugar crystals.

Next is Scarlett's Red Velvet. A deep red velvet cake with a vanilla filling is topped with a cream cheese frosting and decorated with red sugar crystals and a white chocolate heart. 

It's fall so why not incorporate some apples! This Apple Pie Cupcake was fantastic with its moist apple cake filled with Gigi’s apple pie filling, cinnamon cream cheese frosting, rimmed with pie crust and topped with apple pie filling.

The most popular cupcake is next - the Wedding Cake.This is a white cake topped with a vanilla buttercream frosting and sprinkled with white nonpareils.

Another great thing about Gigi's Cupcakes is that they offer gluten free cupcakes too! This Triple Chocolate Torte is popular with everyone and is gluten free. It's a rich, dark chocolate cake with a brownie texture, baked without flour, topped with a chocolate ganache rose and powdered sugar.

Available both in regular and gluten free versions, this Pumpkin Spice Latte cupcake was adorable! A pumpkin cake is topped with their famous vanilla bean cream cheese frosting and delicately sprinkled with a creamy caramel drizzle.

After our tasting, we then went back into the bakery to learn how to create the signature Gigi's Cupcakes frosting 'swirl'... which was much harder than you think!

And after we thought we were done eating, Gina brought out a platter of her cheesecake cupcakes! They were heavenly and so good...

So if you're in the Chicagoland area and need an amazing sugar fix, definitely pop into Gigi's Cupcakes! For those elsewhere, you can hit up any of the 95 stores within 23 states!

Friday, November 27, 2015

Recipe Ideas: Thanksgiving Pie Leftovers


After a wonderfully delicious Thanksgiving, you may or may not have leftovers. And if you've got a family like mine, we indulge in appetizers and the main feast that it's no surprise we have some desserts leftover. If you have leftover pie, no worries! I've got some great ideas to incorporate them into something new, thanks to my friends at Bakers Square. Who knows... you just might like the pie leftover ideas beyond the slice!

Leftover Pumpkin Pie - What to make? Pumpkin and chocolate go really well together, so why not take those pumpkin pie leftovers and make them into Chocolate Pumpkin Truffles! Place the leftover pumpkin pie (crust and all) with a bit of cream cheese and some graham cracker crumbs to bind it all together. Roll the mixture into balls and coat them in cocoa powder. Place in mini muffin liners and voila - a no bake treat!

Leftover Apple Pie - It's never too cold for ice cream! You can either make homemade vanilla ice cream with swirls of apple pie mixed in, but if you want to go an even easier route, use store bought vanilla ice cream. Mash up that leftover apple pie (crust and all) and stir it into some softened vanilla ice cream. Transfer mixture to freezer container and freeze until firm. Scoop it up and enjoy an effortless version of Apple Pie Ice Cream.

Leftover Cheesecake - Breakfast is sometimes the last thing on your mind after a big dinner. But in the event you have some leftover cheesecake, you can use it as a fancy filling for Cheesecake Stuffed French Toast. Prepare your favorite french toast recipe. Sandwich two pieces of bread together with a bit of mashed cheesecake in between the slices. If you want, add some fruit sauce - I used Bakers Square's Triple Berry Sauce. Continue cooking your french toast on the skillet. When served, the creamy filling will be a sweet surprise!

Leftover Caramel Silk Supreme - This has got to be my favorite Bakers Square pie and it was hard to come up with any other way to serve this pie. But I managed to come up with something.... where I can drink my pie! Blending up a slice of pie with some ice cream and a touch of milk resulted in this Caramel Silk Supreme Pie Shake. You can certainly do this with any slice of pie and adjusting the amount of ice cream and milk to your desired consistency.

So the next time you have pie leftovers, there are some great ways to still enjoy them beyond the pie slice! What's your favorite way to enjoy those leftover pies?

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Event Recap: Friendsgiving 2015

Of all days to have the first snow storm of the season, it had to fall on the day we scheduled our Friendsgiving dinner! We had a total of 17 inches of heavy snow but even still, our friends dug themselves out of the snow and came over to enjoy an evening full of fun and food with us. This goes to show how wonderful our friends are and we are so very thankful for them in our lives!

Our original 18+ guest list was reduced to 10 adults and 4 children, which worked out well for seating. I had a simple table with a festive tablecloth, burlap runner, gold chargers and accented with a few gourds and leave.

For our buffet set up, I wanted to ensure all the food was kept warm and this was done with the CrockPot Hook Up entertaining system! I received these as wedding presents and was thrilled to finally put them to use. I love my pieces and plan on getting more so I can put out bigger spreads for our future buffet parties. Not only do they keep food warm, I'm able to slow cook food in them and have the food presented nicely in a streamlined set up on our kitchen counter.

I also utilized my triple crockpot unit, which was perfect for holding more side dishes...

And I set up an area for baked goods and cranberry sauces. Notice - the homemade citrus kissed cranberry sauce to the left and my husband's favorite ridged version on the right lol!

We also had a drinks station set up by the sink, where I served up this Apple Pie Punch in a beverage dispenser...

Our friends and family had a wonderful time and I'm so thankful for each of them. They've definitely made life more fun and it was great to catch up since the last time we saw some of them - at our wedding in August!

And as with with every gathering, we have the kiddie table...

These kids striking a pose lol....

And baby Lucas giving me that look.... because he just wants to eat already lol...

So here's the spread we served up! We had the obligatory salad, this one with blue cheese crumbles, tomatoes, cucumbers, candied cashews, pecans and cinnamon apples with a Fuji Apple dressing...

I failed to take a picture of our turkey but it sure was good! To accompany it, turkey gravy with fresh herbs...

Green Bean Casserole with Bacon...

Sour Cream & Chive Mashed Potatoes with a touch of cream cheese...

Sweet Corn Soufflé...

Sausage & Apple Dressing...

Sweet Potatoes topped with a Maple & Pecan Crisp Topping...

Pumpkin Shaped Dinner Rolls...

Caramel Apple Cupcakes, brought in by my friend Katie & Shane...

Honey Maple Pecan Bars, brought in by my friend Suzanne & Josh...

Overall, it was an delicious dinner with some wonderful friends! We hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving with loved ones and enjoy this holiday season...

Monday, November 23, 2015

Pie Dessert Bar with Bakers Square

We're down to the wire and Thanksgiving is a mere 4 days away! Have you planned, shopped and geared up for this year's feast? In our family, Thanksgiving is spent with my in laws and Patrick's aunt and uncle are our gracious hosts. Whether you are hosting Thanksgiving dinner or attending as a guest, why not serve/bring a pie to share? Besides, what's Thanksgiving with a pie?! In fact, my friends at Bakers Square and I partnered up to share how your Thanksgiving dessert table can be a quite the hit with their popular pies.

We love their pies and Thanksgiving is the perfect time to showcase a variety of pies as a sweet ending to the big meal. Picking up some pies at your local Bakers Square not only assures an awesome dessert to share but such a convenience to save you time and effort! Why not pick up a few pies and set up a Pie Dessert Bar for your guests this year. With nearly 30 pies to choose from, you'll find something to please every palate. Some of our favorites from Baker's Square include:

Caramel Silk Supreme

Built layer upon layer starting with caramel and pecan, then a supreme filing, a layer of delicious French Silk and topped with whipped cream, chocolate sauce, caramel, and pecans.

Country Apple

Sweet, crisp apples seasoned to perfection with delicate cinnamon
make this award-winner an unforgettable treat.

Harvest Pumpkin

There's a secret to making a pie this tasty. It's the filling. We make ours from the finest
ingredients and spice it just right. The result: a seasonal favorite that's loved year-round.

Vanilla Cheesecake

Built from the bottom up with a tasty crust of crushed graham crackers
and made complete with our rich, baked vanilla cheesecake filling.

Once you have your pies, present them on cake stands of varying heights to create depth and visual appeal. Staggering the pies on the table makes it more interesting too, as opposed to lining them in a straight line.

Now that you have your chosen pies displayed, think about some additional ways to elevate them. Offering a variety of toppings, sauces, or even flavored whipped cream makes this a fun dessert table. The different options allows your guests to customize their slice of pie to their tastes and gives them the opportunity to be interactive too. I have fresh whipped cream flavored with maple syrup, caramel sauce, buttery toffee bits, mini chocolate chips and Bakers Square's Triple Berry sauce on my dessert bar. Some combinations to jazz up the pies could be...
  • Caramel Apple Pie = Apple Pie + Caramel Drizzle
  • Double Caramel Silk Supreme = Caramel Silk Supreme + Caramel Drizzle
  • Maple Toffee Crunch Pumpkin Pie = Pumpkin Pie + Maple Whipped Cream+ Toffee Bits
  • Triple Berry Chocolate Chip Cheesecake = Cheesecake + Mini Chocolate Chips + Triple Berry

So have fun with dessert this year and let Bakers Square help make it easier by picking up some of their amazing pies for your own Pie Dessert Bar! Like this idea? Pin the image below!

Friday, November 20, 2015

Recipe Round Up: Thanksgiving Desserts


We're coming down to the final days of preparation before the biggest food holiday of the year! Thanksgiving menus are probably being finalized; grocery lists are probably getting double checked one last time; and then before you know it, it's go time! For me, the ultimate moment is when I finally get a chance to sit down on Thanksgiving and enjoy some dessert with coffee. It's at that moment, I will take a look around me at the full and happy friends and family, smile and feel like all the prep work, time and effort is all worth it. I can't wait until then! But of course, decisions still need to be made... as in what dessert will I enjoy this year?! Here's a few of my favorites over the past several years and hopefully you'll enjoy Thanksgiving this year by having your cake and eating too after all is said and done!...

Praline Pecan Pumpkin Cheesecake

Triple Coconut Cream Pie

Caramel Apple Crostada

Orange Cranberry Layer Cake

French Apple Pie with Butterflake Crust

Cranberry Swirl Cheesecake

Sweet Potato Tartlettes

Caramel Apple Bread Pudding

Drunken Apple Cheesecake

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