thursday things

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Happy Thursday! Tomorrow is not only Friday, but VALENTINE’S DAY! We already know how I feel about Valentine’s Day (and I even have The Oatmeal to back me up!). So I am personally pumped for Valentine’s Day. I’m even making treats for my co-workers. Because, VALENTINES!  I’ll include a quick round-up of recipes for you towards the end of the post in case you want to make something for your valentine, too. ;)

This year FH and I are kicking things up a notch around here and will be eating our Valentine’s dinner off of paper plates, because we’re classy… and also because he came home from the store with these the other day…

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So our Valentine’s Day will most likely be spent picnicking in the living room with paper owl plates and the new season of House of Cards. Sounds like a pretty solid Valentine’s date to me.

Maybe I’ll even light a couple candles, ya know, for romance.

In other news, Canadians were jerks (and also geniuses) at the Olympics by making a vending machine that would only dispense goodies to people with Canadian passports. They later redeemed themselves by being super nice to Russia. Let’s face it, in these Olympics, Russia can use a little nice right now. 

Doritos is trying to kill us all by essentially making their version of a mozzarella stick. Which is queso encased in Dorito crumbs and fried. I think they have finally crossed a line…

Papa John’s attempts to recycle their dough went horribly awry…

McDonald’s opened an oversized restaurant in Peru to let adults feel like kids again (and I guess kids would feel like… ants? I’m not sure).

This man reinvented the door (who knew it needed reinventing?). I could never have that because I would spend all day opening and closing the door. Open. Close. All day.

Open.

     Close.

Open.

     Close. 

While he was making doors, some other people (for some unknown reason) were making werecats (ie: werewolf + cat), and others were giving cars to fish. Because that’s necessary.

While part of me can’t help but feel like this money should be spent researching a cure for cancer or something, the other part of me now feels the need to buy a fish, buy a car for said fish, and let him terrorize my cats.

It seems like a good investment to me.

I also think I need this stackable condiment holder.

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Not only does it save space, but it reminds me of the little ring game that babies play. Now it’s an acceptable game to play as an adult. I think I would end up also playing another game called “How many times does Natalie put the salt shaker on upside-down and spill salt everywhere,” though.

Now, to the REAL NEWS: I managed to get my hands on not one, but BOTH new Oreos flavors.

And I did in-depth testing of BOTH of them… for you guys. That’s how much I love you.

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And…?

Cookie Dough Oreos were good, but did not taste like cookie dough. My initial reaction upon eating them (while standing in the store parking lot) was that the Oreo cookie overpowered the taste of the filling. I reassessed the flavor when I reached home and tried them again as a whole, dissected, and then dipped in milk (which is my personal favorite way to consume an Oreo).

I thought the “cookie dough” filling was more reminiscent of a syrup perhaps, maple? No, maybe caramel. FH caught a hint of “coffee or mocha” flavor – so I think we settled on “Caramel Latte.” Not a bad flavor, overall, just not cookie dough. Oreo just needs to stick a “Caramel Latte” sticker over the “Cookie Dough” label and all will be well. Except one issue: graininess (totally a word). I wish I’d taken a zoomed-in picture of the filling, but you’ll just have to take my word for it – the filling is SUPER grainy in these cookies. Which is only semi-off-putting as it was only really an issue in my filling-only version of the taste test.

My verdict? Save your money, and make these instead.

Now, the Marshmallow Crispy Oreos are a totally different story. Since they use the vanilla cookie in this one, there’s no chance for the flavor of the filling to be overpowered. And while some people think these are “too sweet” I would have to ask them when the last time they had a rice krispy treat was… because THOSE ARE VERY SWEET. I liked these cookies and they are a clear winner over the other limited edition flavor. My favorite part about these cookies was the real rice krispies (sorry, “crisp rice”) in the filling – I even had a little “snap, crackle, pop” action while eating them.

Verdict? If you like rice krispy treats – these are worth checking out.

Speaking of cookies, here is a video of Loki from Thor teaching me Cookie Monster about delayed gratification. (Side note, did you know that Loki is actually super nice and not a super evil jerk? What other lies have movies told me!?)

As promised, a round-up for those of you who want to do something sweet for your Valentine (or friend, or coworkers). Here are a few super easy ideas – which means you can throw them together tonight in time to dispense them tomorrow!

Milk & Cookies Snack Mix from Cookies & Cups


 

Valentine Rice Krispie Hearts from FoodieCrush

 

Valentine Trail Mix from A Spicy Perspective

 

Strawberry Chocolate Chip Cookies from Sally’s Baking Addiction 

 

Valentine Popcorn from She Wears Many Hats

Chocolate-Strawberry Cupcakes from Wee Eats

 

Valentine Chex Mix from Betty Crocker

 

 

Lastly, check out this cat and his mad ups.

Unless you’d rather look at pictures of the cutest kitten in the whole world. Or both.

natalie’s thanksgiving survival kit

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You have just over a week to prep, and you may have your menu planned, you’ve probably counted your dishes and re-counted your silverware… but do you have all the tools you need?

Here’s my list of Thanksgiving necessities… and tips on how to use them all year round (AKA:  How to justify buying them for yourself right before the holidays). :)

1. A roasting pan.

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You don’t need an expensive roasting pan, but I’ve seen my fair share of heartache with people attempting to maneuver those flimsy aluminum pans around.  I love this All Clad roaster – it comes with a roasting rack and turkey lifters and is only about $150 on Amazon.  You can save money by skimping on the brand name, Cuisinart has one around $75, but I love my All Clad so much that I cried the first time I got it dirty.

  • Justification:  You can use this all year long for roasting, braising, casseroles, or lasagna.  You can even use it as a water bath the day before Thanksgiving and make a beautiful cheesecake

2. The right temperature.

 Of course, you’ll want to make sure that your oven is cooking at the proper temperature first.  Just throw an oven thermometer in and check it while you bake throughout the next couple weeks.

  • Justification: This will help you calibrate your oven (did you know you could do that) to improve ALL of your baking. ALL OF IT. ALL THE TIME. 

3.  A reliable thermometer.

I love my Thermapen, but we all know how you can lose valuable oven heat every time you open that darn door.  So, you could get a roasting thermometer instead. Cooking to the proper temperature is the difference between that tender turkey everyone loves or that dry stuff that gets covered in gravy.

  • Justification: Goodbye overdone steaks and dry birds – from now on everything is cooked to the perfect temperature all the time.  (Did you know that you can use it for bread and cakes too? Did you!?)

4.  Since we’re talking about gravy….

A fat separator always comes in handy.  I have a big one and I use it for stocks and sauces too – pretty much anything I make that might have a bit too much fat in it.  Just dump it in here and let it separate some of that gunk out!

  • Justification: No more oil slicks on your soups or fatty stocks.  Use this thing all year round.  Oh, you can also just use it to measure.  That works too… 

5.  Carving the bird (Different than ‘Flipping the Bird’)

You really don’t need an electric carver, I promise.  With this tutorial on how to carve a turkey and an affordable carving set, you’ll be good to go when your time comes.  Just watch a few YouTube videos to get the hang of it and impress your family with a perfectly-carved bird!  I’m almost convinced that I’m hallucinating the $20 price tag on this set, so hurry and pick one up before I wake up and find out it was actually a dream.

  • Justification: It’s a carving set.  And it’s $20.  And it’s full tang J.A. Henkel… CARVE ALL THE THINGS! 

6.  Side dishes 

These make and take casserole dishes from Pyrex are perfect for taking your signature side dish to the family gathering, or just to store your leftovers in. UPDATE:  Oh my gosh and looky this – Shannon‘s suggested Corningware comes with glass AND PLASTIC covers!  For transport!

  • Justification: Work potlucks, family dinners… How many times have you wished you had more between yourself and mess than a tiny sheet of tin foil? These lids SNAP. ON. Portable. Storable. Love. 

7.  Dessert

A fancy dish is a nice touch to class up any dessert, but I’ve personally never been the type to splurge on those fancy things.  I think that a clear Pyrex pie dish is the perfect balance of affordable and practical… that being said, not everyone agrees with me on stuff like this.  If you insist on a pretty pie plate, this one is just as good and way more affordable than some other options

  • Justification: I don’t justify fancy pie plates.  You don’t need one, but you probably do need a regular pie plate, because the disposable ones are too small for regular-yield pie recipes.

8.  Serving dessert

Every year I forget about the pie/cake server.  Don’t be me.  DON’T FORGET ABOUT THE PIE/CAKE SERVER!

  • Justification: Mangled pies and cakes make my heart hurt.  Don’t hurt hearts.  Plus birthdays and stuff… you can use a server, I promise.

Now it’s your turn!  What are your Thanksgiving tips and/or your favorite Thanksgiving tools?

Labor Day Recipe Roundup

I can’t believe that summer is almost gone already and Labor Day is only a week away.  If you haven’t planned your menu yet, here are a few ideas…

My personal favorite for every get-together, the infinitely adaptable antipasti platter.  May I mention that you can buy great cheese and cured meats at Trader Joe’s for SUPER CHEAP??  True story.  I spotted this beauty over on Aida Mollenkamp’s blog.

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Make sure to include some prosciutto, fig jam, and mascarpone and you can have your guests build their own prosciutto and fig bruschettas.

Or this amazing goat cheese platter from the lovely girls over at A Beautiful Mess.

If you want something with a bit more heft, give these nacho loaded potato skins from What’s Gaby Cooking a shot:

No cookout is complete without coleslaw, and A Farmgirl’s Dabbles has the most perfect-looking coleslaw I’ve ever seen.

I’ve always been a bit obsessed with cucumbers, and have been eyeing Food Taste Good’s herbaceous cucumber salad.

And throw that boring potato salad out, because Elephant Eats has a great recipe for pesto potato salad that will wow your guests and help you use up that big bunch of basil you’ve been fretting over.

Or keep it vegetarian with these hearty, summery avocado caprese wraps from FoodieCrush, which would be equally delicious (and probably even more cute) in slider form.

You could even turn these teriyaki chicken sandwiches into bite-size teriyaki chicken sliders instead!

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Cool off with a refreshing sparkling blueberry lemonade, you can even serve it out of a gorgeous pitcher like the ladies over at Spoon Fork Bacon do.

Or, if you need something with a little more kick, Movita’s dark and stormy cocktail should do the trick.

Or this refreshing (alcohol-free) cucumber cooler from Chez Us, I won’t judge you if a splash of vodka or gin falls in, though.  Let’s stick to ginger ale for the kids, though. ;)

Biscoff chocolate chip gelato for dessert, anyone?  You could even sandwich it between two grahams or cookies to make it a little more portable.

You could even serve it alongside some blackberry-peach pie from Hummingbird High.

Or skip the pie and opt for some very portable, very delicious black plum mini-streudels from A Periodic Table.

Or keep cool and get your s’more on with this fabulous s’mores icebox cake.  Seriously, it’s SO GOOD.

If you guys have any favorite Labor Day recipes, feel free to share them in a comment below! :) <3

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4TH OF JULY ROUNDUP

Independence Day is rapidly approaching, and if you’re still trying to think of what to make for your annual BBQ, I’ve got a recipe round-up just for you!

Appetizers & Sides

Fig & Prosciutto Bruschetta or Flatbread

Cucumber Guacamole from A Periodic Table

Artichoke & Roasted Garlic Dip with Flatbread Sticks from Spoon Fork Bacon

Loaded Baked Potato Salad from FoodieCrush

Chopped Antipasto Salad from The Right Recipe

 

Caesar Wedge Salads from Some Kitchen Stories

Buffalo Chicken Mac & Cheese from Elephant Eats

Mains

Homemade Brioche Burger Buns  – have some fun and make them mini for sliders, or stretch them out for hot dogs! 

If burgers are on your menu, you may want to check out Saveur’s guide to the perfect burger

Cheddar Bacon Onion Sliders from The Little Kitchen

 

BBQ Chicken Sandwiches from TheKitchn

Tenderloin & Red Onion Kebabs from Tasting Table

Desserts

No-Bake S’mores Bars

4th of July Cookie Bars from A Farmgirl’s Dabbles

Melanie's Monster Cookie Bars {for July 4th!}

 

Tie Dye Cake from Sally’s Baking Addiction

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Lemon Sorbet from Movita Beaucoup

Drinks

Strawberry Lemon Spritzer (Alcohol-Free) from Dine & Dish

 

Watermelon Limeade (Alcohol-Free) from Serious Eats

Strawberry Pimm’s Cup Cocktail from Brown Eyed Baker

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Blood Orange & Thyme Paloma Cocktail from Aida Mollenkamp

Summery Mojitos from A Beautiful Mess

hot chocolate on a stick

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We recently had a cold snap here, which I hear is in store for the rest of the country as well.  (I don’t know what that means, because I’m pretty sure it’s actually “winter” for the rest of you, but that’s what the weather man said.)  I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of a better way to warm up than a nice cup of hot chocolate.

Not just any hot chocolate, but THE BEST HOT CHOCOLATE IN ALL THE LAND!

I know this because I was told so by my co-worker when she had some.  And also from those who received it in their Christmas baskets.

Oh, and it’s way more fun than regular hot chocolate, because it’s on a stick!  How fun is that?  Just stir it into hot milk (note: really hot milk, unless you want to eat the fudgey leftovers like I some people do).

It’s so good it’ll warm you right up.  It will warm your tummy and your heart.  Especially when served in an adorable, heart-warming penguin cup.  (BF took this pic with his iPad)


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This is nice to enjoy while warming your toes with your loved one, or as quietly as possible standing in front of the fridge.  I store mine in the fridge because I think it stands to reason they should last longer that way.  In the event that they hang around long enough that their shelf-life becomes a concern.

Did I mention that it’s also delicious on its own as a fudge-pop?  Like a lollipop made of fudge.  Fudge on a lollipop stick.  Whatever.  Or, ya know, as a cube of not-hot chocolate.

You should always taste for quality-control.  You wouldn’t want to gift a sub-par product, would you?

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Hot Chocolate on a Stick

[ Printable Recipe ]

  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk (1 1/4 cups)
  • 3 cups semisweet chocolate (chopped chocolate bars or chips)
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened baking chocolate, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (or extract of your choice)
  • Marshmallows
  • Lollipop sticks

1. Line an 8″ x 8″ pan with parchment paper or aluminum foil.

2. Heat the cream and condensed milk over low heat until steaming.  Remove from the heat and stir in the chocolate.  Set aside for 10 minutes while the chocolate melts.

3. After your 10 minutes have passed, return the pan to the burner and whisk over low heat until the chocolate has completely melted.  Whisk vigorously until the mixture is thick and shiny.  This is where you can add extract, if you wish.   I added a teaspoon of vanilla extract, you could make peppermint hot chocolate with peppermint extract, or hazelnut with hazelnut extract… you get the picture.

4. Pour the chocolate mixture into the pan and shake the pan to level.  Set aside overnight (I stored mine in the microwave… with the microwave off, of course).

5. Remove your chocolate from the pan by pulling your foil handles (if you covered the pan in foil), or you can turn it upside down if you like.  If you didn’t line your pan (aka – didn’t follow step #1), gently go around the edges of the pan with a butter knife to loosen the chocolate, then remove it from the pan.

6.  Slice into 1″ to 1-1/2″ cubes (I actually tried to size mine to the diameter of my marshmallows).  Heat a knife in hot water and wipe dry before each cut, for smoothest cuts.  Stick a lollipop stick into the center of the marshmallow, then the center of each chocolate block.  I wrapped mine in cellophane bags that were made for “cake pops” (the bags and sticks actually came together as a cake pop kit, but the sticks were a little shorter than I’d have liked.)

7. When you are ready to consume your hot chocolate, just stir it into 8 ounces of hot milk -plus or minus a couple ounces, depending on how chocolatey you want your hot chocolate.