This week's menu plan is full of favorites and a perfect introduction to a few of fall's best ingredients. There's a chance I'll be traveling to Connecticut to celebrate the arrival of my sister Kylie's new baby (!!), so my game plan is to do some advance meal prep just in case Nora and I need to hop on a plane last minute. I'll be sharing tips and tricks for these recipes and a few secrets for prepping in advance on my instagram stories this week.
Here we go! I’m excited to begin posting our weekly dinner plans and sharing easy weeknight recipes with you all. Family meal time has been a big focus for our family this year for many reasons, but mostly in an effort to promote togetherness. As we’ve weathered our own personal storms over the past few years, I’ve been shocked at just how much healing can happen at the dinner table while breaking bread with the people that you love most. It's one of the most important things we do each day! Good food is consistently at the center of our greatest memories and experiences. Looking forward to sharing more tips, tricks, and recipes that help our family find success in the kitchen and around our dinner table!
Download our first week of recipes HERE!
When Ollie turned 4 years old, all he asked for was a backyard for his birthday. It broke my heart and made my smile at the same time. We were living in a concrete jungle surrounded by some of the most incredible parks in the world – which we took full advantage of, but there's just something about being able to swing open the back door and let the kids burn off energy. The fact that we actually do have our very own backyard is nothing short of magical.
I can't believe we've been residents of the PNW for nearly nine months now! Summer has exceeded my wildest dreams and to say that we are loving this sweet suburban life would be an understatement. Backyards and bigger closets are right at the top of suburban luxuries that we can't seem to get enough of.
After living through a record breaking rainy winter here in Oregon, we were committed to making the most of summer. That included a few yard projects that would promote as much time spent outside as possible. Once our yard (two thumbs up for artificial grass!) was put in, we were after a few finishing details that would make for some epic dinner parties and play time outside for the kiddos.
I used the Wayfair app to pull our space together using the "View in Room" tool and it was perfect. One of the most important priorities for me was to find an outdoor dining situation that was completely weatherproof. I didn't want to have to worry about bringing any furniture inside for the rainy months, so I was specifically searching for pieces that met this need. I also wanted a table with bench seating. Our patio space isn't huge, so I needed something that would be efficient. I also think bench seating is ideal for little ones. Since we plan to use this outdoor space for more than just eating (like midday lego building), I wanted it to be extremely kid friendly. Once I narrowed down my options, I created a "Patio Project Board" and began inserting each contender in the app where I could view how each piece would look in the actual space. Not only was this helpful, it was a ton of fun as well! It's extremely user friendly and addictive. Here are a few screenshots of what different tables looked like on the patio.
Ultimately the material of the table was just as important to me as the design. I loved how Option #3 reminded me of a modern version of a picnic table. The scale was perfect for our space and the reviews were great as well. When the table arrived I was thrilled to see that the planks on the top of the table were really similar in color to our decking. It was a perfect fit for our outdoor space for so many reasons. After deciding on the table I saved the image and began inserting other products like a rug, planters, outdoor bean bag (!!), and accessories. This helped me to feel like I was pulling a cohesive look together.
We are thrilled with how things turned out and have been using the space daily. I can't recommend the Wayfair app enough and especially the "View in Room" feature. I plan to use it for any unfinished projects on the inside of our house (there are plenty!).
A big thank you to Wayfair for providing these fantastic products for our outdoor space and giving me the tools to pull it together with their app. Wayfair has generously passed along a 10% off promo code for anyone that downloads and signs up for their awesome app. They're having a great summer sale right now, so it's perfect timing to do some browsing and play around with placing products in your space with the "View in Room" feature. Happy decorating!
As the months got closer to welcoming our Nora, I started to think quite a bit about what and how we’d feed her. I seriously explored inducing lactation (yes, you can do that!), but after discussing it with my OB, we decided that for a variety of reasons it wasn’t a great choice for me. I didn’t expect her to discourage me from doing it – and I was sincerely looking forward to making some sort of physical sacrifice for my baby in hopes that we’d bond through breastfeeding. I nursed Ollie and had a wonderful experience and would have loved nothing more than to replicate that with Nora. But it wasn’t in the cards this time around, and per the advice of my doctor, we were going to embrace formula and bottle feeding (without any guilt) and focus on the positives that it provided our family.
We never used formula with Ollie so I felt like I was walking in unfamiliar territory. I have never felt opposed to formula, I just always had so much extra pumped breast milk for Ollie that there was never a need for it. Since I was feeling a bit disappointed that we wouldn’t be pursuing breastfeeding after all, I knew that I wanted to put some effort into making a formula choice that I was excited about and that would feel like our best alternative to breastfeeding.
I first came across the Babynes machine in a baby store on display in NYC (available in store only at Babies "R" Us). Because bottles were on my mind, I was drawn to it and wanted to know more. I loved the sleek design and innovation and was ready to embrace anything that made preparing bottles easier. The different formula stages indicated that a lot of research had gone into developing formula that was specific to a baby’s nutritional needs as they grow and develop. I also loved how I could track bottles and order more formula through their app on my phone. If I was looking for something to get me jazzed about bottles and formula - there was no doubt that I had just found it! I also liked that you didn’t have to use a specific bottle with the machine. I know that it can be tricky to find the right bottle for your baby, so I liked the flexibility this system offered in that regard. We ended up using Comotomo bottles and have loved them!
I was excited to receive our Babynes machine just before Nora was born. Our formula capsules arrived and setting up the machine was seamless along with syncing it to my phone. One of the features I loved most was that there’s always a registered dietitian on call to answer questions. This particularly came in handy once we discovered that Nora had reflux and needed to switch her formula to the Gerber Soothe option. I was so happy that they offered it in the capsules, because I wasn’t ready to give up my Babynes!
It could easily be classified as a baby luxury rather than a necessity, but boy does it make bottle feeding more enjoyable. In addition to warming each bottle that’s made in less than a minute, it’s also an incredibly hygienic way to prepare formula for your baby. The machine is a little loud when making a bottle, but Nora now associates the sound with feeding time. It’s so cute to see her eyes get big and wide!
As fabulous as our Babynes is – it is a bit more expensive to purchase formula this way and you may want to consider the cost. For us, the stage specific formula, app function, and ease of preparing bottles makes it worth it. High five to Gerber for making an innovative baby product that really does make newborn life more manageable. The formula can only be purchased online, but these days there’s very little that I don’t purchase online, so this hasn’t been an issue for us. We’ve sincerely loved having our Babynes and plan to use it until Nora moves on from her formula feeding days.
Babynes has kindly offered to host a giveaway. Enter by liking my Babynes Instagram post, leaving a comment, and tagging a friend who might love Babynes as well. I hope you all enter!
Many thanks to BabyNes for sponsoring this post.
Our family was slow to set resolutions this year (I blame newborn sleep deprivation and moving all at once) but once we finally did, we decided that 2017 would be the year that we would cook better to feel better in our home. I have been committed to cooking with more purpose and passion this year. Mindful cooking and a recommitment to sitting down and breaking bread as a family each day has been my mantra. I know food plays a pivotal role in how we feel and I'm anxious and excited to see how our family will benefit from a few simple changes that I know will make a big difference.
For the month of February we decided to tackle a family breakfast project. We set a goal to sit down and have breakfast as a family each morning. We had become very lazy when it came to a breakfast routine – ok, let’s be honest, there was no routine. So we decided to kick off the family breakfast project and It shouldn’t be surprising that this had a huge impact on our family! Some mornings we were more successful than others, but we sincerely made an effort. Most mornings didn’t include elaborate displays of smoothie bowls or challah french toast, but the goal was simply to break bread together as a family before we all went our separate directions. Things like scrambled eggs with toast and fruit were a lot more common, and yes, cold cereal even made an appearance here and there. But what this exercise taught me was that what we were eating was actually far less important that what we were doing.
In March, I wanted to focus on trying to give our meals a nutritional boost. Being thoughtful about ingredients and mixing up our recipe routine a bit. It’s easy to fall into a routine – especially when you’re trying to feed picky toddlers. Tofu is one of those ingredients that I consider a versatile, yet better-for-you product that can really act as a blank canvas for flavor. Ollie isn’t a bit fan of meat, so I’m constantly looking for ways to sneak more protein in his diet. Tofu seemed like a good choice because it plays well with marinades and sauces taking on the flavor of whatever you pair it with and it was easy to incorporate into a lot of our existing favorite recipes – even things like mac & cheese and pizza! Inspired by one of New York's most iconic foods that we love (and miss!) I made a roasted garlic creamy tofu sauce for a white pizza that we’re still talking about. I was able to play around with tofu in both sweet and savory dishes easily incorporating it into a fruity breakfast smoothies or even strawberry ice cream that Ollie and I made together. I actually had more fun incorporating tofu into unsuspecting dishes than the expected varieties like stir fry and curry. (which are also great ways to use this ingredient) I shared some of my favorite tofu recipes (inspired by 10 different states) with @housefoodsamerica – all of the recipes can be found on their Facebook page. Thanks to the versatility of tofu, I was able to easily incorporate this ingredient into classic dishes from around the country. Definitely check them out!
We’re excited to keep up our breakfast routine and continue the effort to put good things in our bodies. I was sincerely shocked at how easily I was able to significantly increase the amount of protein in our family diet (for Ollie in particular) by focusing on an easy-to-find versatile ingredient that has felt a bit intimidating to work with in the past. This next month I’m planning to be a bit more open to having Ollie join me on my grocery shopping jaunts. I’m usually a late night grocery shopper after he’s in bed so I don’t have to fight the battle, but I like the idea of giving him some control and letting him pick out a few new fruits or vegetables in the produce section to bring home and try. You know, make him think that it’s HIS idea! Can’t wait to see what we come home with!
* I was thrilled to be able to work with House Foods America on this post. In honor of National Soyfoods Month they recently launched a campaign celebrating tofu with one recipe inspired from each of the 50 states. You can see the 10 recipes I developed here.
Our family has some exciting news to share – we’re expecting a baby! Ollie will be getting a baby sister for Christmas this year, and we’re so thrilled. While filled with joy, we are also cautiously optimistic as we’ve been through a lot to get our babies here, and this time is no different.
My first pregnancy with Oliver was complicated by HELLP syndrome resulting in an emergency c-section at 28 weeks, followed by 66 long days in the NICU before he was able to come home. The day he came home was undoubtedly one of the happiest days of our lives. After Ollie’s traumatic entrance, we spent a lot of time thinking about another baby. We waited for months to meet with a specialist to consult about whether or not it was responsible to get pregnant again. We were told that if we wanted more children, it was fine for us to plan for that. So we cautiously planned to get pregnant again hoping that the next time around would be a bit more “normal.”
I was pregnant soon after we began trying and filled with all sorts of anxiety. Despite the nervousness, my pregnancy was fairly textbook until about 23 weeks, when we learned that our baby was measuring small and that there were blood clots in the umbilical cord. Within a week we were indefinitely situated in a room at the hospital where we would be until the baby was born – the goal being to keep the baby in as long as possible. The doctors had us on close watch around the clock with many scares during those days and nights, and eventually our sweet Leo was born via c-section at 25 weeks weighing just shy of one pound. He was perfect. But oh so teeny tiny. He was a spitting image of his big brother and had such a special presence. Brave little Leo put up a courageous fight for 30 days, but his tiny, underdeveloped body couldn’t keep up. He passed away in our arms in the middle of the night due to complications from prematurity. This event broke us in so many ways. We were devastated.
Shortly after the tragic loss of our Leo last March, we were strongly advised to not pursue future pregnancies by my doctors. While they can’t pinpoint exactly why, my body seems to have an autoimmune response to pregnancy that prevents me from carrying to term (or anywhere close to it). Ollie came about three months early, and Leo almost four months. My doctors believe that if I were to become pregnant again, our outcome would likely be the same, if not worse. Not only does pregnancy pose serious risk to future babies, but it also poses a significant risk to my health. So after a second (and third) opinion, we decided that we would not pursue any future pregnancies. In many ways I felt that I have not only had to grieve the loss of Leo, but the loss of any future children as well. It’s been devastating. (I recently opened up about this topic of loss on the Extraordinary Mom’s Podcast if you’re interested in hearing more detail).
We felt strongly that we still wanted another child, a sibling for Ollie. There are essentially two options for growing our family: adoption or surrogacy. My doctor had actually mentioned gestational surrogacy at my 6 week postpartum follow up appointment when we had the “no more pregnancies” discussion. Because of my age, she felt that I was a great candidate for growing our family this way – something we had never even thought about. The quality of my eggs was great and the issues we’d had with pregnancy weren’t related to our genetics. Shortly thereafter, we were approached by a family member offering to carry for us. The original offer came almost in jest, when my sister-in-law (Robby’s sister) joked with my husband that she would totally carry a baby for us. She had carried six healthy babies to term and never had any complications. We immediately felt that this was a unique and wonderful opportunity that we couldn’t pass up. We officially started down the path of gestational surrogacy with my sister-in-law, Betsy, in May of 2015. It was very soon after losing Leo, but this was a gift in so many ways. More than anything it gave us purpose during such a difficult time and an opportunity to work towards growing our family.
The next few months were a blur filled with fertility treatments, shots, medications, tests, etc.. We were working with two separate fertility clinics as I was being treated in New York City and Betsy in Boise, ID. I did two separate rounds of IVF and egg retrievals in order to create viable embryos that could be shipped to Idaho and transferred to Betsy. The embryos are 100% genetically ours – my egg, Robby’s sperm. The process was exhaustive both emotionally and physically. We had so many disappointments including a failed IVF transfer, a few cancelled cycles, and months of poor response and frustration. We had nearly given up when finally we had success on our last and final attempt – the day of our successful transfer was incredibly on the one year anniversary of the day our Leo passed away. The coincidence still gives me goosebumps.
Since receiving the wonderful news that we are expecting, we have nervously made it through each week feeling more and more grateful that this is really happening. Betsy is 20 weeks along and doing great. She is beyond amazing – positive, kind, and so totally dedicated. I’m not sure that I’ll ever have the words to adequately express just how much we love her for giving us the opportunity to become parents again. Not only has she sacrificed, but her family has been there for every step of the way. We admire them in so many ways and will forever be grateful for their selflessness.
Our baby girl is due mid-December and we are so anxious for her safe arrival. The next few months will be challenging but we are so thrilled to be able to provide such a positive, hopeful family update after things have seemed so dark for the past 18 months.
We would be remiss to not mention the outpouring of love and support we’ve felt this past year. This support has carried us through many difficult moments. Thanks to so many of you for cheering us on as we’ve weathered this storm.
My heart aches for those who are desperately trying to start a family or grow their family. I have gained so much respect for those who literally fight to get their families here in many different ways. My hope is that by sharing our story, we can offer a glimmer of hope that the outcome can be a happy one (fingers crossed).
This year one of the most exciting things my family did was move to a new apartment. Since moving in and setting up shop on the Upper West Side, I've been wanting to start having people over more often. Some formal get togethers and mostly informal get togethers - but I wanted to be able to take advantage of our dining nook to accommodate friends and family at a moments notice. For many years we didn't even have enough space to own a dining table! So the fact that we even have a dining nook feels luxurious and I'm grateful for every single square foot of space. Even though we're lucky to dwell in an apartment with space for a table - it's still a small space by most people's standards. Entertaining in small spaces definitely has it's challenges, but when your home is filled with people that you adore and you break bread together, you just can't beat it. So I've come up with a few tips to make the most of entertaining in small spaces. These tips were lifesavers for me when we hosted our first "Friendsgiving" this year and fit 22 people in our apartment!
Invest in multi-purpose pieces
Investing in an expandable table can be a great way to grow your space efficiently. We were thrilled to find this beautiful table on Wayfair.com with a built in leaf. These armchairs anchor the table perfectly with our existing dining chairs. It's impeccably made, storage friendly, and so easy to transition from as little as 4 seats to 10. I can't say enough amazing things about this table. It's a well built piece that we'll have forever. Just thinking about all of the family meals and parties that we'll enjoy together at this table makes me feel all tingly inside. I can't think of a better furniture investment than a dining table that hosts a growing group of family and friends.
I've collected serving dishes and platters slowly over the years. While lots of color and pattern may be tempting (trust me I LOVE color), investing in classic white plates and serving pieces is always a safe bet. I'm crazy about this brand. Your table will look put together and food always looks best showcased on white. Unless a piece really calls my name – I don't buy it if it's not predominantly white or cream. This is a great way to streamline your dishes over the years.
Work with what you have
While it can be tempting to pick up new linens, dishes, or decor when hosting, always take a good inventory of what you have on hand before making any decisions about where to spend extra dollars for an event. For me, I've gotten great use out of a simple and versatile burlap runner (similar here), mercury glass votives (similar here), and anytime I buy fresh flowers or greenery I think about what will last the longest. I picked up this fresh magnolia leaf garland for our Thanksgiving dinner and it's dried beautifully. Don't forget to look to your kitchen for a few finishing decor elements. Things like fresh citrus, pomegranates, or fresh herbs can look beautiful and bring just enough color to make things feel special. I have a rubber stamp place card that I use over and over which make the table look really finished and inviting. You could also invest in reusable place cards and the same benefit. Other things like complimentary linens, silverware, and dishes can easily be mismatched. In fact, I like a table with a little bit of personality and love a not-so-perfect look. Striking a good balance between casual and put together is ideal. This tip also applies to the space that you have to work with. Before your guests arrive, think about the best ways to grow your space. Rearranging your furniture so your guests have more room to mingle can make a huge difference.
Map it out
Having a proper plan in place will make things run smoothly. This is true for all entertaining, but especially in small spaces. Potluck can be a great way to pull off a menu when working with a tight kitchen and dining space. When you've only got one oven and limited counter space, having a few guests bring a dish or two is not only helpful, but almost necessary. I like to label the dishes that I'm contributing and set the table the night or day before. That way if everyone shows up and you're running behind – at least the table is ready to go and things appear to be in control. I also like to think about where all of the food and drinks will live. Using extra space on ledges or furniture can be a smart place to set up dessert, drinks, or even a small buffet. This will also maximize the space on your actual dining table. Finally a tip that I preach time and time again is to physically write out a game plan. It is so helpful when you get down to the wire and you're thinking to yourself "I know I'm supposed to be doing something – I'm just not sure what it is!" It's also a great reference to have if you end up with an eager guest who asks how they can be helpful when they arrive.
Living in NYC for the past 5+ years has taught me that you can make small spaces work. It takes a bit more planning and forethought, but the more the merrier! What's most important is that you're making memories in your home with people who mean a lot to you. How about you? Do you have any great tips when it comes to entertaining in small spaces? I have many friends in the city who have seemed to master the art of a good get together.
I had the incredible opportunity to work with Dig Brooklyn earlier this summer to create a culinary inspired balcony that made the most of our outdoor space. Moving to an apartment in the city with ANY outdoor space is a huge bonus. I wanted to take full advantage of having this space with a beautiful view and create an area that would be a perfect spot to de-stress on summer nights. I've admired Dig Brooklyn's work for a long time and couldn't help myself from reaching out to collaborate with them on this balcony project. They are true professionals and helped me to create a space that was manageable and serene with a culinary twist. We planted traditional herbs, cherry tomatoes, and a few crazier varieties like pineapple mint and stevia. It was such a treat to be able to turn to my balcony for some of my cooking needs this summer. They were a dream to work with and there hasn't been a day that's gone by since moving here that I haven't looked out onto my balcony and had my heart flutter a little bit. My sister Kylie made this fantastic video of the install process and there are a few photos below to give you a closer look.
AFTER: With Chuck the Dig Brooklyn master!
One of my favorite recipes that really got a boost from my balcony the past couple of months was my Peach Salad with Tomatoes, Feta and Basil Vinaigrette. I already miss summer peaches! Beautiful letterpress herb markers via Half Pint Ink Studio.
Do you grow your own herbs or garden? Do you find that it enhances your experience as a home cook?
Like so many, we love to go apple picking every fall and always come home with more apples than we can get through. It's a good problem to have! But I always have a twinge of guilt when I start to see the apples head south. I've partnered with the lovely Naomi Davis from LoveTaza to come up with a few out of the box apple recipes that can be used for any meal - breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert. These ideas go beyond the expected apple pie or crisp and are a blast to make, especially if you have kids or toddlers who are particularly excited about using up the family's apple bounty. Head on over to her site to get the recipes and get a sneak peek of the delicious lineup below.
I'm finding myself hanging on to the very last bit of summer! Last week actually still felt like summer in NYC, but this week I feel like fall has officially arrived. If you're like me and not quite ready to move on to fall in the kitchen cooking with ingredients like butternut squash and pumpkin, indulge in these easy S'mores options that will remind you of summer and best of all can be made at home. They're also a great dessert option for watching the big game with friends on the weekend!
As Ollie's gotten a little older and officially entered into the toddler years, I've absolutely LOVED letting him help me out in the kitchen. A few weeks ago, we decided to tackle a homemade version on one of his favorite snacks. You can check out the process and grab the recipe for DIY Fruit Snacks right here!
I also put together a "Back to School" inspired family dinner that will get any kid excited about school! Check out my ideas here and make sure you snag the recipe for those simple flashcard cookie sandwiches. Thanks for having me LON!
Ever since becoming a mom myself, I crave information and tips from other moms who are seeking some sort of daily balance. (aren't we all?!) Whether you're a full-time stay at home mom, you work outside the home, or work from home – every scenario seems to have benefits and challenges. It may be surprising to a lot of people that I'm primarily a work from home mom. I spend about 75% of my time working from home, while the other 25% is spent filming on set, attending meetings and events, or spent traveling for book signings or press appearances. This was what I had always hoped for! I think that I was a bit naive in assuming that this was the most manageable way to approach working motherhood. While I'm immensely grateful to spend a lot of time at home, I quickly realized after having my son that juggling both roles day in and day out from my small apartment in NYC was going to be trickier than I had thought. After spending 2 years trying to figure out what works best for us, I think I'm finally starting to get into a groove. Below are 5 tips that have been the most beneficial for me personally when it comes to working from home. This little video is a small peek into our daily routine around here. Some days it works better than others! We're constantly adjusting things around here to make sure everyone's needs are met.
1. Maximize nap time. I refer to these precious hours as the "golden hours!" I work with intense focus and efficiency to accomplish as much as possible. Anything you can do to encourage your little one to get as much sleep as they need is both good for your kiddo and great for getting a lot done. A good quality room darkening and child safe window treatment in the nursery was a must for me as a new parent. It's resulted in more sleep for me and baby – not only do I not have to worry about cords being a safety hazard, the blackout effect allows everyone around here to get as much sleep as possible. When I'm well rested, I'm insanely more productive during the day. Investing in a good blackout shade for the nursery is one of the first tips I rattle off to friends that are expecting. The first time we installed a blackout option it went very badly. I was essentially using a spring rod with blackout panels and they would fall down at least twice a day – sometimes during nap time waking up Ollie and robbing myself of precious nap hours. I literally taped black garbage bags to my windows at one point. After making those mistakes, I made the conscious decision to invest in really good quality blackout shades and I've never looked back.
2. Establish a weekly routine. I've found that it's crucial for my home to feel like it's in some sort of "order" before I can be productive. By having one or two housekeeping tasks that I tackle each day of the week, things are easily kept up. In a moment of mom desperation I attended a small seminar hosted by Power of Moms a few months ago. It was a fantastic way to hear what works for other moms and to gain some knowledge and skills about how to better handle being a mom – especially while trying to find some sort of balance with my work. One of the most valuable lessons learned was that I need to have set weekly routines and responsibilities. Simple things like having a set day where I run the vacuum over my rugs, water my planters boxes, and wipe down all of the mirrors and windows in the apartment made such a difference in me feeling like I had some sort of control in my life. By doing a few small things each day, the upkeep began to feel more manageable and my apartment was never getting unbearably messy. Living and working in an organized space is HUGE for me.
3. Finish tasks before moving on to others. There's nothing worse that feeling like you didn't accomplish anything at the end of the day – especially when you're emotionally and physically exhausted after hours of juggling work and trying being a present parent. I've found the best way to combat this feeling, is to start and finish a task before moving on to something else on my list. It may take me all day to accomplish it, but at least I get to check one thing off the list at the end of the day. This has been a great way for me to prioritize deadlines as well.
4. Map out your week. A proper plan will work wonders for keeping a busy working schedule at home in check. I reserve Sunday evenings to create a roadmap for the week and share it with my husband so that we can tackle the coming week as a team. I feel like this tip sounds somewhat obvious, but I can't tell you what a difference it makes to have a bird eye view of what's ahead. It helps me to set expectations and coordinate additional help if needed. It's also great for Robby to know if it's going to be a particularly busy week for me – it's been a really beneficial experience to work as a team. A great example of this has been switching off mornings with Ollie. Ollie is an EARLY riser – if one of us gets up with him consistently we start to look like a walking zombie. Once we realized that it was taking a toll, we decided to alternate mornings with him. This plan has been a great way for us to know that we've each got a couple mornings throughout the week where we can sleep in or get up and get work done. This idea of mapping out your upcoming week is not only good for work and family obligations, it's also great for meals. A weekly meal plan will make your life spent in your kitchen feel more under control just like a weekly road map will make your home life feel more in control. (Are you picking up on the fact that I crave an organized home life yet?!)
5. Build a good support team. Whether it's a nanny, babysitter, playgroup or daycare, realize that no one can do it ALL on their own. In the beginning, I thought that I could manage most of it on my own if I just planned to get my work done during nap time and in the evenings. After 3 months of doing this I realized that this was a recipe for disaster. For me, I can't work every night after putting Ollie down. I need my nights to de-stress, spend time with Robby, and let my mind rest a little bit. We are incredibly blessed to have my sister Kylie as part of our team. In addition to her helping out with my little guy (and being the world's greatest aunt), Kylie also helps me with work projects. She takes all of the beautiful photos on this blog, makes videos just like this one, and helps to manage my social media. I'd be lost without her! What's particularly great about her and the way she helps our family is that she can ping pong between giving Ollie needed attention and helping me with something work related. We hit the jackpot with her – and there's not a day that goes by that I'm not immensely grateful for her place in our family/work life.
Sending a big high five to all moms out there. This is a tough job whether you "work" or not and I'm sure I'll spend my lifetime trying to obtain the perfect "balance." In the meantime, I'm going to focus on keeping all of the balls in the air. There will be days when I'm a better mom than employee and vice versa. I think what's most important is to remember that we should all be kind to ourselves and expect for things to get a little unbalanced every now and then – then we'll adjust and start the process all over again. Motherhood is the greatest and most challenging part of my life – I wouldn't have it any other way and have profound respect for anyone out there just trying their best to manage it all. Keep on keepin' on mamas!
A few sources from the video:
Video: Kylie Whiting
Motorized Blackout Roller Shades: Decorview
Planter boxes: Dig Brooklyn
Letterpressed Herb Markers: etsy - half pink ink studio
Weekly planner: Paper Source
We've talked about the Chocolate Chip Cookie Layer Cake (directions here!) in depth, now I thought that I'd share just a few of the details that made this little party so much fun. I mentioned in my last post, that for Ollie's first birthday, we had ordered a few things from Shop Sweet LuLu. I was so impressed with how well curated the site was and the quality of the party decor that we received, that we just decided to reuse almost everything that had survived last year. We went with the same blue/green color theme and got a few more milk and cookies details and called it a day. Below you'll find a source list for everything we used to pull off this sweet theme. I particularly loved the cookie straws and those mini milk jugs! Happy Birthday Ollie! I'm so happy you're ours. xo
A few posts that I found while taking a trip down memory lane!
Milk Containers (we filled them with Cookie Crisp cereal and sent them with our guests as a favor!) Mini Milk Jugs Straws Number Balloon and Tassel Cake Stand 'Ollie is 2' banner Ombre Tassel Garland Cookie Cake Tutorial Table in a Bag (perfect for parties in the park!)
photos: Kylie Whiting
My sweet Ollie boy turns TWO this week! We wanted to celebrate with a small party incorporating some of his favorite things right now. In addition to being a huge fan of milk & cookies, he also loves Sesame Street and will ask for both Cookie Monster and Elmo on a regular basis. (it's so cute!) I knew that it was going to be a bit of an intense week for work, so I decided to really only focus on a cake and not worry too much about food for the party. Last year I made a bunch of food, essentially catering the party, and in a way I regretted it. I ended up being in the kitchen the whole time stressed about taco assembly! It was so much nicer to just focus on a fun cake rather than an entire menu spread. I really wanted to make a chocolate chip cookie layer cake of some sort and ended up winging it in a sense. Below you'll find all of the steps I took to make the recipe and how it turned out.
First, I had to think about the cookie. I knew that I wanted it to be thick and fairly soft. If the cookie was thin and crispy it would have been tough to pull off layers of frosting in between without it feeling like there was too much frosting. Also, I was hoping to make a cake that would be easy to cut. I fear that a thin, crispy cookie wouldn't have held up. So I took my existing chocolate chip cookie recipe and made a few changes - similar to what I would have done if I were writing a recipe for a bar cookie. The dry ingredients were standard and basic - flour, baking soda, and salt. I increased the salt a bit more than I usually would to try and obtain that sweet and salty bite. (next time I might eliminate the salt all together and just use salted butter) I know that it's the popular opinion to work only with unsalted butter so that you can better control the flavor, but I'm starting to think that I might actually like working with salted butter in baking more often. So daring, I know.
I chose to work with melted butter rather than softened butter because I wanted the cookie to be more dense, rather than "puffy." To the melted butter I added both brown and granulated sugar in addition to large eggs plus extra yolks to achieve the consistency I was after. I upped the vanilla and was happy with the decision - I think nine times out of ten, vanilla should be "upped."
I used larger chocolate chunks instead of traditional chocolate chips because I wanted them to be more visible in the larger cookie. I found them right next to the chocolate chips in the baking aisle.
I was really careful to not over-mix the dough - no mixer necessary at all. I divided the completed dough into quarters and pressed the first quarter into a greased 9-inch springform pan. If you have multiple springform pans (or 9-inch cake pans) you could do this at the same time and pop them in the oven together. I had to do this twice and it was no big deal. While the first batch of two was baking, I kept my dough in the refrigerator to keep it cool.
After one quarter of the dough was pressed into the greased pan, I took another 1/4 cup of chocolate chunks and pressed them into the top and sides of the dough. This was really only because I wanted it to look like a perfect chocolate chip cookie. Not necessary, but I'm a big believer in your food looking as good as it tastes. Plus, who's going to complain about more chocolate?!
I was really happy with how the cookies looked coming out of the springform pan. It was super easy to remove them and they were all perfectly the same size. After baking and cooling my big cookie layers, I made a classic cream cheese frosting. I used the frosting recipe from these bars and it was really nice. I'm sure you could use buttercream as well.
To prevent the layer cake from sliding around during transport, I plopped on a dollop of cream cheese frosting to secure everything.
I visually divided the frosting into 3 parts in my mixing bowl and used about 1/3 of the frosting in between each layer. I was so nervous that the weight of the cookies would make the frosting layers impossible, but it was actually alright. I did focus on adding a bit more frosting to the edges of the cookies so that the frost would be visible. I didn't want it to look perfect (because that would be impossible), so I didn't worry too much about it being super even on all sides. I love using an offset spatula any time any sort of frosting is involved. It's one of those silly tools that I think everyone should have who plans to ever decorate a cupcake or a cake. I like them so much I have a few in different sizes.
Once the cake was assembled, I found myself very nervous about how to store it. The party wasn't for another 24 hours, so I had to make a call as to whether or not to leave it on the countertop or in the refrigerator. My worry about the countertop was the cream cheese frosting loosening up and shifting my layers. My concern about placing it in the refrigerator was the cold drying out the cookies. I went with the refrigerator after a tip from an expert friend on instagram and I'm so glad I did. I loosely covered it with plastic wrap and kept it chilled. By the time we got to the park and cut the cake, it was totally soft and the layers looked awesome. I was so nervous about this! I was actually surprised at how easily a serrated knife cut through it. I think the frosting softened the layers just enough to make it a good clean slice.
I was so happy with how the cake turned out for Ollie's Milk & Cookies party! The beautiful cake stand from Shop Sweet Lulu was the perfect shade of Cookie Monster blue and finished off the presentation of the cake beautifully. I can't wait to use it again! We used Shop Sweet Lulu last year for a lot of the decorations and details for Ollie's first birthday party. They have amazing stuff! It's so well curated and I was so pleased that I was able to reuse a lot of the decorations that we had used the year before. I will most likely reuse them again for his 3rd birthday party next year!
Thanks for hanging with me on a super long post. The final recipe is listed below. Feel free to comment with any questions! I'll post the photos from the actual party later this week!
Chocolate Chip Cookie Layer Cake
Yield: 1 9-inch layer cake (12 generous servings)
4 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
3 sticks unsalted butter (1 1/2 cups), melted
2 cups light brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
4 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 cups chocolate chips or chunks
Cream Cheese Frosting, recipe follows Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Grease 4 (9-inch) cake pans or spring form pans. *note: I made this recipe in two batches using 2 pans because I didn't have 4 cake pans that were all the same size.
In an extra large mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, and salt; set aside. In a separate mixing bowl, whisk together the melted butter and sugars until fully combined. Whisk in the eggs and yolks one at a time followed by the vanilla. Using a large rubber spatula, fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients avoiding over-mixing. Once the dough has just come together, stir in the chocolate chunks until they are evenly distributed. Divide the dough into 4 equal parts. Press 1/4 of the dough into each prepared pan. If desired, press additional chocolate chunks on the top and sides of the dough.
Bake until the tops of the cookie layers are golden brown, about 24-28 minutes. Avoid over baking the cookies as you want the centers to still be soft. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack until each layer has reached room temperature.
Starting with one cookie layer on a cake plate, add 1/3 of the prepared cream cheese frosting to the center of the cookie, and using an offset spatula smooth it out evenly over the cookie, emphasizing the sides so that the cream cheese layer is visible when the next cookie is placed on top. Repeat this process two more times, ending with an unfrosted cookie on top.
Store completed cookie cake (covered) in the refrigerator until ready to serve. Before serving, allow cake to come to room temperature.
Cooking can be such a creative outlet – whether it's pulling together a simple weeknight dinner for your family, making a special occasion meal, or even just dreaming up a menu, the creative aspect of cooking is one of the things I love most about the craft. In fact, I worked as a recipe developer for a local restaurant right after I completed Food Network Star and to this day it was one of my favorite jobs. I learned so much!
I recently had the unique opportunity to collaborate with an incredible local Utah chef on a menu for a special event in Utah. We were celebrating 10 years of the ever so charming Daybreak Community. The dinner was held on the Cross Water Bridge located in one of their newest developments and was picturesque as it gets. The menu came together so nicely and the execution was fantastic. I worked with Chef Adam Kreisel and his team at Chaia Cucina to create a menu that celebrated the best ingredients Utah has to offer from local farms like Drake Family Farm and Clifford Family Farm. It was a homey approach that made the meal feel not too fancy – yet still very impressive! I particularly loved elements like the savory chickpea flour waffle with the main course and the grilled peach and blueberry compote dessert that was a variation of my Skillet Blueberry and Peach Cobbler from Kitchen Confidence. We added gingersnap cookie crumbles, homemade creme fraiche, and grey sea salt for a refined finish.
Thanks so much for having me Daybreak! Everything I love about my home state of Utah was captured during this dinner – great people, beautiful surroundings, and delicious food.
Special thanks to David Newkirk for these gorgeous images!
It's here! Summer is finally here!! That means I intend to use my oven as little as possible and utilize as much fresh produce for quick and easy meals as I can get my hands on. Salads are a great place start. Whether you're trying to decide what to make for an upcoming bbq or potluck, Kitchen Confidence is filled with fantastic salad recipes. Right now I'm planning to make my Summer Bean, Pea, and Radish Salad for a baby shower, my Charred Corn Salad with Basil Vinaigrette for a BBQ, and my Potato Salad for the Fourth of July. They're all bright and beautiful when it comes to both look and flavor.
All 3 of these delicious summer salad recipes can be found in my book, Kitchen Confidence. Have any of you tried these recipes already? I would love to know what you think!
*An insider tip for those interested in making the Summer Bean, Pea, and Radish Salad...you can buy almost all of the ingredients for this dish at Trader Joe's in their prepared produce aisle. It makes throwing this salad together so incredibly easy! I plan to make it all summer long.
Photography by Sara Remington
Have you grilled at all this summer?!? One of my favorite things to do during the summer is have a cookout and grill up classics like hot dogs and corn on the cob. While the extent of our grilling this weekend will be indoor grilling, I couldn't help but think back on our experience grilling at Brooklyn Bridge Park last summer. Talk about a city moment! I can't think of a more stunning backdrop for grilling. It was such a fun family memory and I'm so glad we snapped photos and some video to capture how great it was.
It was around this time that I fell in love with Halloumi Cheese. (or Grilling Cheese) It's the one thing you're probably not planning on grilling that you SHOULD! This ingredient is so fun to work with and fairly fool proof. The texture is similar to feta cheese and the taste reminds me of queso fresco. It can be grilled or fried and is really mild. I like threading it onto my Marinated Veggie Skewers before throwing them onto the grill. Admittedly I eat all of the pieces of cheese first! It's addictive!! I found this exact brand at my Whole Foods today for only $4.99, which is worth every cent. Definitely pick some up for your grilling festivities this weekend!
The warm weather has me thinking about pie. I know what you're thinking... pie is all about the colder months and holiday season. Not for this girl! Cherry, apple, and peach pie are some of my absolute favorite pie selections and are best enjoyed in the summer months. If I had to choose a favorite, I would undoubtedly go with apple pie. This is well-evidenced in the fact that I included my All-American Apple Pie recipe in my book, Kitchen Confidence (recipe below).
When we were planning the photography shoot for my cookbook, I was really excited about creating a gorgeous image to showcase my apple pie recipe. I immediately thought of my friend Stephanie of Stephmodo, as she has impeccable taste and makes the most darling pie boxes that fit an individual piece of pie. How darling would it be to show up for a summer picnic with boxed slices of pie for your friends? I think they would also make for a great party favor. Lucky for you, Stephanie sells these boxes in her Etsy shop, A La Modo. You can check out her selection of boxes and other French goodies here.
Here's the image we came up with. I'm so pleased with the result!
Photo by Sara Remington
Below are a few more images showcasing Stephanie's fabulous boxes.
images courtesy of Stephanie Brubaker
Now for the recipe... it's everything apple pie should be! The all-butter crust is the perfect canvas for my well-balanced spiced apple filling. Try it out this summer and let me know how it goes!
4 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and quartered 4 McIntosh apples, peeled, cored and quartered 1 tablespoon lemon juice 2 tablespoons unsalted butter 1/2 cup granulated sugar 1/4 cup packed light brown sugar 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon 1 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice 5 tablespoons all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting Perfect Pie Dough, recipe follows One 7-ounce tube marzipan almond paste 1 egg, beaten, for egg wash
PERFECT PIE DOUGH: 3 cups flour, plus more for dusting 1 teaspoon salt 1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces, chilled or frozen
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Cut the quartered apples into 1/2-inch slices and mix with the lemon juice in a large bowl. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the apples, toss to coat and cook, 5 to 7 minutes. Sprinkle the sugars, cinnamon, salt, nutmeg and allspice over the apples and toss to coat evenly. Sprinkle the flour over the mixture to thicken, and then let cool completely.
Roll out one of the Perfect Pie Dough discs on a floured surface. Fit into a 9-inch pie plate, giving yourself a 1/2-inch overhang. Roll the marzipan between 2 pieces of parchment paper into a 9-by-1/8-inch-thick circle. Place the marzipan over the bottom crust. Dock the bottom crust, using a fork, and fill the pie with the apple mixture.
Roll out the second pie dough disc to fit on top of the apples. Place on top of the pie and trim the edges to about 1/2-inch overhang. Pinch the top crust to the bottom, fluting the edge or pressing to seal with the tines of a fork. Vent the pie by cutting 4 slits in the top, and brush with the egg wash.
Transfer the pie to a sheet tray and bake until the crust is golden brown and the filling is bubbly, 45 to 50 minutes. Let cool 20 minutes before serving. Mix the flour and salt together in a food processer. Add the butter into the flour mixture and pulse until you have large pea-size chunks scattered throughout.
Add 8 to 10 tablespoons ice water slowly, while stirring with a fork, just until combined. Transfer to a floured surface, divide in half, shape into 2 discs and wrap separately in plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes.
I love the essentials – but what I love even more, is mixing ingredients up while keeping the essentials in place. My episode airing on Food Network today is all about steak, and more specifically cooking it at home. The different methods and techniques that can be used along with a couple of great sides for steak. This recipe came together so nicely and it was all because of the inventive use of grapes. Who would have thought grapes and steak go together?! Well, I'm here to tell you that the pairing is divine when served alongside this salad with blue cheese and a tangy sherry vinaigrette.
This recipe is a perfect example of a dish that's super simple to prepare, but will most likely be something you've never had before! This keeps cooking exciting and hopefully gives you the confidence to experiment on your own with recipes. Enjoy! We will definitely be making this for dinner this week.
STEAK: 1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce 2 tablespoons brown sugar 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper 4 cloves garlic, grated 1 medium shallot, grated 1/4 cup vegetable oil, plus 1 tablespoon, divided 2 pounds flank steak
VINAIGRETTE: 1/4 cup sherry vinegar 2 tablespoons minced shallots 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard 1 clove garlic, grated 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper
SALAD: 2 small bunches champagne grapes, broken into clusters, about 1 pound 1/2 pound bitter greens mix (radicchio, arugula, romaine, watercress, endive) 3/4 cups crumbled blue cheese 1/4 cup toasted pecans, chopped
For the steak: In a small bowl, mix together the Worcestershire sauce, brown sugar, mustard, 2 teaspoons salt, 1 teaspoon pepper, garlic and shallots. Gradually whisk in 1/4 cup vegetable oil until emulsified. Place the steak in a plastic zip-top bag. Pour the marinade over the steak and seal the bag. Marinate for at least 1 hour at room temperature or refrigerate overnight. Allow the steak to come to room temperature before cooking.
When ready to cook, preheat the broiler and set the oven rack at the highest point, as close to the flame as it can get and still fit the steak below. Fit a wire rack onto a baking sheet.
Place the marinated steak on the prepared baking sheet (or a broiler pan), sprinkle with salt and pepper and place it under the broiler. Cook for 3 minutes on the first side. Flip and cook for another 3 minutes for medium-rare. Remove from the oven and allow to rest 10 minutes. Slice thin strips of steak against the grain.
For the vinaigrette: While the steak is resting, in a small mixing bowl, make the vinaigrette. Combine the vinegar, shallots, mustard and garlic and whisk in the oil. Season with salt and pepper
For the salad: Preheat a cast-iron grill pan over medium-high heat. Place the grape bunches on the grill to char, just until blistered, 3 to 4 minutes.
In a large bowl, add the greens and lightly dress the salad with the vinaigrette. Toss to combine.
For serving, pile the salad onto a plate and top with crumbled blue cheese and toasted pecans. Surround the salad with the sliced steak and grilled grapes
To print this recipe and read reviews, click here.
I made this recipe on a recent episode of Kelsey's Essentials and have gotten a great response. I'm glad to hear that people love this recipe, because I love it too! I created it after having one of the best slices of my life at a spot in Brooklyn. I thought it was strange to see lettuce on top of a pizza, but it totally worked. This recipe utilizes classic flavors that everybody likes and is delivered in a unique way, which always makes eating more fun. It works great as a main dish, but you could also cut it up and serve it as an appetizer at a party.
I loved reading through some of the reviews on Cooking Channel's website. It's always wonderful to see how people use my recipes and add their own elements.
"Absolutely delicious. I made one just as the recipe describes for my family and a vegan one for myself. I added chopped carrots, cucumbers, and spinach to the salad and corn meal under the dough. Huge hit with everyone. My mother immediately asked for me to email the recipe to her."
"Totally awesome. Watched her make it on tv and it looked good yet simple to make. It proved to be both. The crust surprised me as to how good it was. Thumbs up from guests and some ate seconds!"
Yield: 4-6 servings
1/2 recipe Simple Pizza Dough, recipe follows Olive oil, for brushing crust 8 ounces mozzarella, sliced 1/2 cup grated Parmesan, plus small chunk for shavingw 1 chicken breast, grilled and sliced thinly 2 romaine hearts, washed and dried, cut into 1/2-inch pieces 1/2 cup Caesar Salad Dressing, recipe follows Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper
CAESAR SALAD DRESSING: 1/2 cup grated Parmesan 1/3 cup mayonnaise 1/4 cup lemon juice 2 tablespoons olive oil 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce 1 teaspoon kosher salt 1/2 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper 2 cloves garlic, minced or grated 1 anchovy fillet, rinsed and dried
SIMPLE PIZZA DOUGH: 1 3/4 cups warm water (105 to 110 degrees F) 1 envelope active dry yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons) 2 teaspoons sugar 3 tablespoons olive oil 4 cups bread flour, plus more for dusting 2 teaspoons salt Nonstick spray
Prepare the Simple Pizza Dough according to recipe.
Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F.
On a baking sheet brushed liberally with olive oil, stretch the dough to desired shape and thickness. Brush the crust with olive oil and top with the mozzarella slices. Bake the pizza until the dough crisps up and cheese is melted, about 15 minutes.
Remove the pizza from oven. Top the melted mozzarella with the grated Parmesan and sliced chicken. Toss the romaine hearts with the Caesar Salad Dressing and season with salt and pepper. Top the pizza with the Caesar salad and shave over some Parmesan. Serve and enjoy!
Cook's Note: If you don't have a pizza stone at home, no worries, use a well-oiled sheet tray and a hot oven to achieve a crisp bottom on your pizza! Also place the dough on the very bottom rack of your oven. It will help to create that crispy crust.
In a blender or food processor, process the Parmesan, mayonnaise, lemon juice, olive oil, mustard, Worcestershire, salt, pepper, garlic and anchovy until emulsified and smooth. Refrigerate until ready to use. In a liquid measuring cup, combine the warm water, yeast and sugar. Allow the yeast to dissolve and bloom, about 5 minutes. Once bloomed, add the olive oil.
Meanwhile, in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the flour and salt. Stream in the water/yeast mixture and as the dough begins to come together, switch to a dough hook attachment. Allow the dough to knead, adding a bit more flour if needed, so that the dough releases from the sides of the bowl, 1 to 3 minutes. You should be able to touch the dough and not have the dough stick to your fingers. Once the dough has kneaded and has pulled away from the sides of the bowl, remove the dough from bowl to a floured work surface and, with floured hands, continue to knead it by hand for 1 to 2 minutes. Then form the dough into a round ball and place it into a large bowl sprayed with nonstick spray. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a clean dish towel and let the dough rise in a warm area of your kitchen until it doubles in size, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. After the dough has risen it is ready to be cooked however you'd like!
Cook's Notes: This dough is wet dough, keep bench flour at the ready and make sure to flour your hands when working with the dough. Trust your gut as a chef, if the dough is to wet, add more flour, if it is too stiff, add a little water.
Sugar is used to feed the yeast which will help the dough to grow. Bread flour will give you a chewier texture because the flour has more gluten. You don't need to use a thermometer to get the water temperature, it should just feel warm to the touch.
To print this recipe and read reviews, click here.
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