Whip Smart Kitchen

Recipes, methods & musings for the whip-smart home cook

Make-ahead

Marinated Cucumber Tomato Salad

Salad, Sides, Summer, Vegetarian, Recipe, Make-aheadLeannda Cavalier1 Comment

This light and refreshing salad packs a tangy punch, but has just enough sweetness to balance out the pucker factor. Crunchy cucumbers and onions mingle with juicy tomatoes and summery herbs to make a colorful side for family dinner, or the perfect easy pot luck dish.

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Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. That means I get a small commission if you buy products I recommend at no additional cost to you. I only recommend products I believe in from companies I believe in—either I use them myself or I've at least done thorough research and vetting. Please reach out if you have any questions or want more info!

Just here for the cukes, thanks. Jump to the recipe, please!

Holy pho, life has been moving lightning fast lately for our family.

In the past three weeks my catering, teaching and sideline reporting jobs have all started back up, featuring two road games 7-10 hours away and lots of muggy, 90º days. I’ve shot a ton of recipes (more than I’ve posted) so this blog doesn’t fall off the face of the earth this Fall. We’re also scrambling to get ready for our baby—who is due in 8 weeks (what?!)—by taking childbirth education classes and hiring a doula, along with the now bi-weekly midwife appointments (all of which are 40 minutes away).

I love all the things I do, or I wouldn’t do them, and indulging my nesting instincts has been fantastic. That said my feet hurt, my intentions to read all the baby literature are quickly going out the window, and I’m in need of a little simplicity.

Enter Marinated Cucumber Tomato Salad. Simplicity and nostalgia soaked in a delicious blend of vinegar and herbs.

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I’ve always said I’m not a huge fan of most the kind of “salads” you find at picnics. Heavily mayo-ed potato and pasta salads, just about any “salad” compared of meats. Fruit salad can be good if it’s not all canned fruit. But this is one I can get behind unquestionably.

One of my favorite snacks is actually just sliced cucumber drizzled with a little vinegar, salt and pepper. My Pop-Pop used to keep a section of the garden just for me with cucumbers and watermelon because I ate them all (also growing the watermelon was my idea, so it was only fair, really).

I can’t even explain how excited I this summer when my morning sickness FINALLY let up enough to let me have my first cucumber snack. It was such a relief to stop living on granola bars and getting all my veggies from fruit squeeze pouches.

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I grew up with my Ya-ya’s version of cucumber salad, which I can’t get enough of when I visit home. Hers is just thinly sliced cucumbers and white onions in white vinegar with salt and pepper. Full stop.

It’s so simple, but so incredibly good, and it goes SO well with the sweltering summer sun and/or a lack of air conditioning in the summer, let me tell you from experience. My house only had a window unit in one room, and my Ya-ya’s house (where I spent at least half my childhood), to this day only has air conditioning in the bedrooms.

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I think everybody’s grandma has a version of cucumber salad where I grew up, as the majority of families are Italian, Polish or Balkan. I don’t think I’ve had a bad one yet.

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Why add the tomatoes? Why NOT add tomatoes? I’ve had variations with and without, but at this time of year when there’s an abundance, I see no reason to hold back.

Shallots fit nicely in this recipe too, rather than the standard red or white onions. Their flavor is a little softer and they bring a nice color to the party. They’re a little thinner, so they don’t take up a lot of real estate, plus they absorb the marinade nicely so you don’t get such a shockingly pungent bite if you’re not watching your onion-to-everything-else ratio closely.

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You can certainly use fresh herbs, as I do sometimes, but lately I’ve been loving partially dried basil. The grocery store closest to my house is hit or miss with fresh herbs, especially basil—sometimes it’s all going bad on the shelf and they often don’t have it at all. Partially dried basil has much better flavor than dried (which I rarely use), and it can stay in your refrigerator much longer than fresh leaves.

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Since moving to the South I’ve encountered something pretty new to me… super SWEET tomato and cucumber salad in a marinade so think it’s almost like a vinaigrette. It’s delicious, but it’s also a lot. To me, marinated cucumber and tomato salad is ideally about simplicity.

Besides, I still like the stuff from home, so I compromise: I add a little sugar (or sometimes honey), but not enough to make it syrupy or sweet to the point where it loses its kick or stops being cooling. Let the vinegar have it’s moment in the sun, please. 

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I also like to hold back on the olive oil a little bit, I don’t want this dish feeling greasy, or it defeats the purpose for me. I’m all about this remaining a light delight. 

The reason I cover Marinated Cucumber Tomato Salad tightly with plastic wrap is because it lets the liquid cover the veggies without wasting vinegar just to make sure everything is completely covered. Yes, eventually the vegetables would soak up the liquid even if they aren’t entirely covered, but that takes time and I’m not about that for this dish.

You’ll want to makes sure you squeeze as much of the air out as possible, or it defeats the purpose. The goal is to get all that liquid to travel up around the veggies so it can really soak in.

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And the reveal. Gorgeous.

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Today I’m forcing myself to rest, but I don’t see things slowing down for us anytime soon, and if history is to be trusted, it’s going to continue to feel like summer here until well into the actual fall. I see a lot of this simple Marinated Cucumber and Tomato Salad in my future.

I’m not mad about it.

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If you make this, snap a pic and show me! I’d love to know how it went. Just tag me and hashtag #whipsmartkitchen.

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Let's get marinating!

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Sheet Pan Sweet Spiced Chicken Thighs and Vegetables

Dinner, Make-ahead, Recipe, Sheet Pan, Meal PrepLeannda Cavalier3 Comments

A simple sheet pan meal with tender chicken thighs and crunchy vegetables coated in sweet spice and umami flavors. Perfect for a big family meal, or meal planning for the week. 

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Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links at no additional cost to you. I only recommend products I believe in from companies I believe in—either I use them myself or I've at least done thorough research and vetting. Please reach out if you have any questions!

Cool blog post, but I'm hungry. Skip to the recipe, please!

Do you ever come home at the end of a long day and feel like you'd rather walk into a lion's den than cook (at least you'd get in one blissful pet)?

HA. Hilarous question right?

I'm pretty sure EVERYONE has this feeling sometimes. I do more than I'd like to admit, especially during busy periods. I even feel it sometimes when I'm on a roll with food blogging work, which is a little bit of a head-scratcher. I really don't think anyone is immune. 

And you know what? Sometimes it's okay to give in to that feeling. Maybe you go out or pick up some general tso's. Maybe you decide grazing is enough. Maybe you've already prepared for this and have some pre-made meals in the refrigerator or freezer—

Hold up, you prepared? That's great! Then this recipe for sheet pan sweet spiced chicken thighs and vegetables is PERFECT FOR YOU. But wait. There's something else.  

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The thing about not feeling like cooking (and yes, I know some people don't want or need to cook) is that if you give in too much, it becomes a habit. I give in my fair share, but I know when I don't I usually end up enjoying cooking by the time I start chopping and slicing.

Every task I complete is another box checked, another obstacle I've overcome. Sounds dramatic, but sometimes it's the little things. It is a lot for me, anyway.

One of the ways I push through is to pick something that doesn't require a lot of cleanup, and something that I can do without spending a ton of time prepping things. Bonus points if it makes more than one meal so I can skip tomorrow without ordering out again.

This. Is. That. Recipe.

And again, just for the record. Takeout is great! But doesn't it feel more special when it's a once-in-a-while thing? Doesn't that make your wallet happy? And doesn't it feel good to know you're eating healthy things you made yourself? You don't have to care about those things, but in my heart...

Five spice, so nice

The main flavoring in sheet pan sweet spiced chicken thighs and vegetables is Chinese five spice powder, which I have been on a real kick with lately. I don't use a lot of spice mixes unless I make them myself, but this is a notable exception along with garam masala, shwarma spices, za'atar and ras el hanout. Here convenience wins out most days, and it adds such a punch of flavor that I don't regret it.

Five spice powders are not all created equal, as they can include any variation of cinnamon, star anise, cloves, sichaun pepper, fennel, ginger, orange peel, licorice, turmeric and the list goes on. If you're a flavor savant, you might get the flavor profile going here regardless of which mix goes in the jar... sweet and spicy (like my current favorite tea!). 

Sweet and spicy goes really well with fattier meats like ribs, duck and yup, chicken thighs.

The mix I have right now isn't particularly spicy as it uses cinnamon, anise, fennel, ginger, clove, and licorice root. HEY, THAT'S SIX. Oh well, still nums. Anyway, that's why I added paprika to the recipe. You can add some chili paste or red pepper flakes too if you're really feeling spicy, you firecracker, you. 

Point is, you may want to look at the mix before you go out and buy a jar. Check to see if you might need more spicy or sweet to your taste, and if you're like me you probably want to avoid any extra ingredients like salt or MSG since you'll already be using salt and soy sauce in the recipe. 

It's all up to you, my friend. 

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Trimming the fat

When you're prepping the chicken, you may choose to trim excess fat off of the thighs. Don't stress about this too much, because it's easy and you might not even need to with good quality chicken. The fat is one of the draws of chicken thighs, and contrary to popular belief, eating fat doesn't make you fat.

So how do you trim the fat? All you need to do is pick up the chicken by the fat so the chicken is just touching the counter, and gently scrape it off of the pink flesh with a sharp knife. Alternatively, if it's a neat little seam on the edge, you can lay the chicken against the cutting board and slice it off just like sandwich crusts. Just try not to cut through too much of the meat itself. 

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One way you can cut way down or even eliminate the need to trim fat is to buy organic or even better, free range chicken. The better treatment chickens get, the better the quality of meat.

Sorry if that sounds preachy, but it's true. Eating better, having the space to walk around, and being raised without hormones and antibiotics all naturally reduce the amount of fat and filler in your chicken.

Seriously, just compare a package of organic free range chicken to one of the bigger brands next time you're at the store to see for yourself. 

Plus, if you're like me it might give you a little piece of mind to support businesses (often local or at least regional) that treat their animals well, often against the odds. I've bought meat a lot more mindfully ever since I moved to a farming area where I see a lot of chicken transport trucks. Don't look that up before eating or going to bed, because it's nightmarish. 

Okay, off my soapbox. 

Just don't let the idea of trimming off the fat scare you, okay? First, you don't have to do it—some people like fat, and a little of it isn't the end of the world. Worst case scenario? If you "mess up" and hack a thigh to pieces, you can still eat it. Still nums.

Messing up is called practice, and it's no biggie. Especially if you still get a meal out of it.

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Choose your own vegetables to customize or save a trip to the store

This is one of those recipes I love because it's so adaptable. You can go through your fridge and use vegetables left over from other meals, or ones you bought on sale with good intentions, but a week later you have to use them or lose them.

One thing I will say is that I would use bigger vegetables you can chop up and that cook fairly quickly such as broccoli florets, peppers, thin strips of carrot, onions, and soft squash like zucchini. Something hard, dry and starchy like potatoes wouldn’t cook through in five minutes.

I like to use a chopped red bell pepper, a yellow onion cut into wedges and an Eat Smart bagged stir fry mix with broccoli, carrots, red cabbage and snow peas. Simple, quick and nutrish-on-trish-on-trish.

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My rule of thumb? Stick to veggies you’re used to seeing in stir fry. If you’re really nervous, go ahead and stick to the recipe to get comfortable. Once you feel good with that, maybe you can branch out and experiment. That's what cooking's all about, friend-o. 

Choose your own base

Brown Rice: I really like to use short-grain brown rice in this recipe. It's a little fluffier than long-grain and I think it's a little more tender without losing all of it's al dente bite. Plus the big benefit: it's a complex carb and thus better for you than white rice.

White Rice: Always a good bet flavor-wise if that's what you have on hand, and it's not the end of your waistline if you eat it once in a while. Sticky short-grain Chinese-style rice is a good choice, but there's nothing wrong with some jasmine or basmati rice!

Noodles: You can always go a little outside the box and serve this over some noodles. I would probably go with thicker styles like ramen or soba noodles. You may want to toss them with pan drippings or a little oil and soy sauce to keep them slick and flavorful, especially if you use udon noodles, which don't have a lot of flavor on their own.

Zoodles: If you try to keep refined carbs to a minimum, avoid gluten or you just want something light and fresh, you could always serve over some zucchini or other spiralized noodles. I'm sure cauliflower rice would work just as well. Both of these options add a little extra work though, so you have to really want it. 

In the nude: Feeling a minimalist vibe? Just eat the chicken and veggies. Let me know if the world ends or anything like that. 

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Why cook the chicken on a rack?

You could probably cook the chicken right on the vegetables instead of the rack if you don't have one, but I tend to like them that way so they don't get so mushy on the bottom, and so they don't cook with vegetable imprints at the end. If the difference between you cooking this and getting pizza for the third time this week is not wanting to clean a rack, SKIP IT PLEASE. Not a big deal at all.

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A bit of truth about sheet pan recipes

They're technically one-pan, but most of them actually aren't. I know, ugh. As with this recipe, you may have to marinate or coat things in different seasoning. But hey, that's not so bad!

There are still some big advantages, like the fact that everything cooks at once. That's great for beginners because you don't have to worry about juggling a bunch of cook times. It's still pretty great for me because everything cooks at once. Know what that means? Once it's out of the oven, I can eat everything at once.

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Also, I'm lucky enough to have a dishwasher, so I can throw everything but the sheet pan and the rack in when I'm done, unlike if I was using a bunch of pots and pans. 

I only mention this because I don't want to be misleading. Sheet pan meals definitely have advantages, I just think they're a little over-promising sometimes. You'll have some dishes, but the mess is pretty well contained, so if you have a dishwasher you're made in the shade. If you don't, you still cut down on scrubbing you might have to do heating a bunch of food in a bunch of pans. 

 Here's the pan pre-broiler. Technically done, but I'll do you one better.

Here's the pan pre-broiler. Technically done, but I'll do you one better.

 BOOM! Two minutes under the broiler gives you those nice, crispy edges. 

BOOM! Two minutes under the broiler gives you those nice, crispy edges. 

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If you like this recipe, you may want to sign up for my email list for more. Everyone who signs up gets a freebie guide to getting organized in the kitchen, which is one of the biggest obstacles people tell me keeps them out of the kitchen on the regular! Just click below to sign up and download.

Got a cooking quandary? Pantry pandemonium? A cupboard-stocking conundrum? Let me know! Submit any questions here and I'll do my best to help :)

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So let's get roasting!

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Did you make this? Take a picture and let me know! You can always tag me and hashtag #whipsmartkitchen on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook (links below), or use the tried it feature on Pinterest.

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Fluffy Peanut Butter Pie Dip

Dessert, Make-ahead, Party, RecipeLeannda CavalierComment

Light and fluffy peanut butter pie deconstructed into a dip with plenty of texture from chocolate cookie crumbs and peanut butter cups. Perfect for parties and no wait time (or slicing) necessary.

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Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. That means I get a small commission if you buy products I recommend at no additional cost to you. I only recommend products I believe in from companies I believe in—either I use them myself or I've at least done thorough research and vetting. Please reach out if you have any questions!

Listen, I've got people coming over in 30. Just skip to the recipe, please and thank you!

Today I've got a super simple but incredible dessert recipe for you. FLUFFY PEANUT BUTTER PIE DIP. You're welcome.

This peanut butter pie dip comes together super quickly, and unlike actual pie, you don't have to wait for it to chill, or bake or even slice it because everyone says they're afraid to mess it up.

Another perk of this recipe? It feeds a crowd, for real. It would be a game-changing Super Bowl party addition this weekend, and it comes together quickly enough to keep you from spending all day in the kitchen.

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I definitely wouldn't call it nutritious, but I think it's perfectly healthy to indulge from time to time. That being said, another perk of the dip variation is that your guests can have as little or as much as they want, and if you put out apples or strawberries with it they can at least get some vitamins.

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This recipe was inspired by my Great Aunt Sue-Sue's recipe for peanut butter pie. When I was little she made the desserts at my favorite restaurant in the Outer Banks, RV's (now closed, in its place is Sugar Creek Soundfront Seafood Restaurant).

People would ask for her recipes so much that she wrote a cookbook, which was—and still is—the COOLEST THING in the world to me. "How to Put the Caramel in the Middle of the Cake: Ten Requested Dessert Recipes from the Turtle Lady" by Sue Wilcox.

 For the record, this is easier with a flat coated beater, but mine was in the washer. It was fine.

For the record, this is easier with a flat coated beater, but mine was in the washer. It was fine.

Oh, and that turtle lady part? A reference to her most famous dessert: caramel turtle fudge cake. She and my Ya-ya have dueling turtle cake recipes with different interpretations of where the caramel should go. My Aunt's stance is pretty clear from the book title, I think. 

During the fall, I cater the press box of the same DII football team I sideline report for. I was trying to figure out a new dessert to make one week, and flipped through her book for inspiration. Then I saw it: her peanut butter pie recipe. I really wanted to make it, but I had about 50 people to serve and I transport everything myself... so pie was a no. 

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But pie dip? Peanut butter pie dip could work. I mean, I do make a lot of dips. Chocolate chip cookie dough dip, s'mores dip, cannoli dip—and those are just some of the sweet ones. 

I decided the best way to keep this pie-ish was to crumble up the pie crust and put it right in the dip, and that was a great decision if I do say so myself. It adds a nice texture along with the peanut butter cups. It also keeps the dip from being overwhelmingly and/or monotonously sweet.

One tip: don't completely pulverize the pie crust. You want different sized pieces in there so it's not all sandy. Besides, it will break down more when you stir it in. 

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This recipe went over so well that for Christmas we made several batches and gave out jars of it to my husband's department at work. According to reports, most of these jars did not make it home. Sorry if I'm outing anyone to their family for not sharing!

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A few things worth noting here:

  1. I used my KitchenAid standing mixer for the creamed cheese, peanut butter and powdered sugar, but you could easily use a hand mixer. It's also doable with just a bowl and spoon. It's slower, but it's a good workout!
  2. This makes more fluffy peanut butter pie dip than pictured in this purple container. 
  3. I mentioned using this recipe for catering. I had to double the recipe to serve all those people. It's mostly gone by halftime, but know that this does go a long way with other snacks.
  4. You can easily store this in the refrigerator ahead. I haven't tried freezing it (it's never lasted that long), but I would imagine you could as it's similar to a cream-based pie. Maybe test it before freezing it for guests.
  5. OH and if you're a newbie...
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What does folding in mean in a recipe? Can't I just stir?

If you're really new to this, you might not know why or how to fold in the cream. For the record, it's super easy! Folding is the process of mixing in an ingredient without flattening it by squashing the air out.

Think about making shaving cream art in kindergarten (or now. No judgement here). If you played with it for too long it disappeared, leaving only residue on the paper. If you do that to this recipe, you'll be left with the creamed cheese/peanut butter mixture from before, but like... watery and weird. 

Opinion: Flat peanut butter pie dip does not sound as appetizing as fluffy peanut butter pie dip. Luckily, folding is literally just what it says—and it's more fun than folding clothes, thank God.

How to fold in ingredients 

  1. Lightly drag your spatula through the mixture, lifting some as you go (this is called cutting).
  2. Gently turn over (fold) your spatula to drop what you lifted on top of the rest of the mixture.
  3. Repeat until the mixture is all the same color. 

See! Easy, peasy. 

 You're probably an expert scooper, so I'll stop there.

You're probably an expert scooper, so I'll stop there.

Like I said above, it's Super Bowl weekend! Will you be watching? I refuse to believe everyone who reads recipe blogs is anti-sports (I'm clearly not), so let me know if you're with me!

I want to know, who do you want to win? I'm generally not all that invested in any team if my Steelers aren't in, but this year I'm rooting the Eagles because of Vinny Curry. We went to Marshall at the same time and I used to sideline report football for WMUL-FM when I was in school, so go Vinny! 

If you like this recipe, you may want to sign up for my email list for more. Everyone who signs up gets a freebie guide to getting organized in the kitchen, which is one of the biggest commonalities I see when people say they're not good at cooking—and one of the easiest things to fix! Just click on the graphic below to sign up and download. 

P.S. If you ever need help with a recipe or have a question, please reach out. I'd love to help!

Let's get mixing!

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  Did you make this recipe? Take a picture and let me know! You can always tag me and hashtag #whipsmartkitchen on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook (links below), or use the tried it feature on Pinterest!

Did you make this recipe? Take a picture and let me know! You can always tag me and hashtag #whipsmartkitchen on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook (links below), or use the tried it feature on Pinterest!

Pumpkin Spice Steel-Cut Oatmeal

Breakfast, Fall, Make-ahead, Recipe, Slow Food, Winter, Vegetarian, Comfort FoodLeannda CavalierComment

Hearty steel-cut oats toasted in browned butter get the full pumpkin spice treatment with real pumpkin puree, serious spice and less sugar than your average PS treat. A batch can feed a brunch bunch, or be stored in the refrigerator for a week of healthy breakfasts.

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Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. That means I get a small commission if you buy products I recommend at no additional cost to you. I only recommend products I believe in from companies I believe in—either I use them myself or I've at least done thorough research and vetting. Please reach out if you have any questions!

Too early to read the whole post: gimme that breakfast recipe already.

Two vital seasonal truths in my world right now: 1. Though we have left fall behind, I'm not yet finished with the pumpkin. 2. Though it's a new year and blah blah blah, it's TOO COLD for smoothie bowls. I need my breakfast to warm me up right now, thanks. 

One of my absolute favorite things to make for breakfast is steel-cut oats, and there are so many options out there. In fact, here's another recipe for apple-cinnamon steel-cut oats in case this one doesn't tickle your fancy.

Never made them? Nervous? Let me break it down for you:

How to cook steel-cut oats:

  1. Toast the oats in some butter or coconut oil over medium heat for a few minutes.
  2. Add about 3 cups boiling water for every 1 cup oats. 
  3. Cook on low for about half an hour.
  4. Add any flavorings and toppings you want.
  5. That's IT. 

The rest is playing with flavors, which is my spe-ci-al-i-ty.

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Steel-cut oats have a lot of advantages over your typical rolled oats, some of them health-related. They retain more of their nutrients through being less processed. They take longer for you to digest, keeping you full longer. You know what else? They're chewier, roastier and nuttier--all things I'll take over "faster" 99 percent of the time.

Besides, you can just make these ahead and reheat them. I'd much rather make one big batch of hearty, flavorful steel-cut oatmeal at the beginning of the week than spend 5 minutes making decent quick oats every morning anyway.

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P.S. I actually do like rolled oats... meal planning my breakfasts with blueberry rolled oats I could microwave every morning kept me sane at my last full-time job, plus they're great for pancakes and cookies. But steel-cut oats? Pumpkin ones? Those are the approachable but aspirational mornings I'm generally going for.

They also keep me full for more than 15 minutes without seconds, which is honestly pretty impressive.

As for the pumpkin, surprise! Pumpkins are still in season for the winter! 

We tend to attach pumpkins to fall, which is when they come into season, but the favorite among squashes really shouldn’t disappear the moment you take your jack-o-lantern off your doorstep. (You did remember to do that, right? It’s okay, this is a safe space.)

I wavered a little on whether to call this recipe “pumpkin steel-cut oats” or “pumpkin spice steel-cut oats”. Isn’t that stupid? Well in terms of search engine optimization it’s not, but I’m not even talking about that. I’m talking about all the crap women (and men brave enough to admit it) get for loving pumpkin spice.

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My thoughts? Pumpkin spice is delicious and a little over-hyped. Yes, both can be true. 

I shamelessly love a good pumpkin spice latte, especially homemade or one from Starbucks (gasp!). Pumpkin pie? Definitely. Pumpkin spice bread? Yeah! Pumpkin spice bagel? Double yeah. Pumpkin spice muffin? Why not? 

I don’t tend to like PSLs from many other places because the syrup often tastes nothing like pumpkin, but ultra-sugary fireballs (the candy, not the drink). Specifically fireballs that have already had most of the coating worn off.

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Other DOA pumpkin spice items for me include: gum, store-bought coffee creamers (actually those get a big no from me in general) and yogurt. No thank you, please. 

Anyway, maybe it's the seasonality, but pumpkin just feels like a special treat for me. There are plenty of reasons to use real pumpkin in your breakfast well past November. First, it’s delicious with said pumpkin spices. Second, you can easily store cans of it in your freezer. Third, lots of recipes call for a cup of pumpkin, and most cans come with 2.5 cups.

And hey, pumpkin is a great source of vitamin A, beta-carotene, and vitamin C. 

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This pumpkin spice steel-cut oats recipe is a great way to use leftover pumpkin puree if you’re anything like me and put it in the fridge with the best of intentions, but no solid plan. Wasted pumpkin is a sad sight (and a bad smell).

These steel-cut oats are so easy to put together, and most of the cook time only requires stirring every so often so the bottom doesn’t burn. Also know it’s okay if some oats do stick—I typically get a thin layer of them on the bottom of my dutch oven. 

I can usually get any stuck oats off pretty easily with a plastic scraper, but you can also put the empty pan back on the stove with some water and bring it to a boil to soften it up. The dutch oven pictured above is a 5.5 qt enameled cast-iron dutch oven from the Food Network. You don't have to use a dutch oven, but I like them for things that cook slowly like this. I also use mine almost daily anyway, so...

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Usually I prefer my oatmeal a little lumpy with milk poured over, of course I know lots of people like creamier oats. If that's you, no problema! Just add more water or milk. You can add another cup in the beginning, or you could stir it in at the end if you decide it's too thick for you.

Sometimes if I'm reaaaaally hungry I'll make creamier just so the water the oats absorb will make me feel full faster—and sometimes I just do it because I'm in a creamy oatmeal mood. It's a thing, just go with it.  

You can top these with whatever you want, but I really love a pat of butter, pepitas (extra protein, extra crunch), maple syrup and a splash of milk. I put some suggestions down in the recipe itself. 

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Let's get simmering!

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Apple cinnamon porridge

Breakfast, Make-ahead, Fall, Recipe, VegetarianLeannda CavalierComment

I'm worthless if I don't eat breakfast. You laugh, but I mean it. Without a quality, nutritious breakfast, I'm tired, unfocused, grumpy, unmotivated and a little dazed. Not fun for me, not fun for anybody else. 

 Actual video of me around 10 a.m. sans-breakfast. 

Actual video of me around 10 a.m. sans-breakfast. 

So each morning priority #1 is breakfast.

My schedule is all over the place, so I have time to make breakfast most mornings, but that wasn't always the case. For busier times, I love make-ahead or pre-prepped breakfasts I can just it heat up and enjoy with my coffee. Apple cinnamon porridge is one of my latest favorites.

When you look at this recipe, you might think, "whoa, this recipe makes WAY too much! Why would I make this for one or two people?"

Hold up. Hear me out. If you are regularly struggling to eat breakfast, one of the biggest tips I can give you is to plan ahead. You can make this Sunday, portion it out into containers and have breakfast for days. You can even freeze it for breakfast emergencies. You don't have to eat it every day, but it's nice to have options.

Why steel-cut oats?

Steel-cut oats are minimally processed, so they fill you up and keep you full. Complex carbohydrates are best for lasting energy and fullness, and that's where steel-cut oats deliver. Your body can't digest the sugars as quickly, so you don't burn through it all at once and get that gross sugar crash. 

Rolled oats (probably the most common form of oatmeal you see) are actually steel cut oats steamed and then rolled thin and flat. They cook quickly... but they also don't take much time or energy to digest. That sounds great, but what it really means is that the sugars break down faster and you get hungry faster.

Instant oatmeal is even more processed. It's rolled oats shredded up and steamed again, then dried–broken so the carbs are so simple they're basically sugar by the time you chew them.

Beyond that, I just love the texture of steel cut oats—soft but a bit chewy. They take a little longer to cook, but it's worth it. 

Uh, porridge? Okay, fancy-pants. 

Mind blowing statement ahead: technically, oatmeal is porridge. But that's not why I call it that.

I call this particular recipe porridge because I like to use a mix of two grains. One of those is amaranth. I first had amaranth in Mexico, but it's becoming more popular around the world. You might see it marketed as an "ancient grain" or "superfood." I take those buzzwords with a grain of salt, but it is true that amaranth is a good source of protein, lysine and more. 

Amaranth is usually considered a cereal grain, but technically it's a seed. It's a little bit like a finer version of quinoa, but with a nuttier flavor. When you cook them up they give a nice little pop-crunch that I really enjoy to breakup the texture of  

Warm and cozy

I use two forms of cinnamon at different stages in this recipe because they have different purposes. Cinnamon sticks have a higher concentration of oil than ground. They slowly release their flavor during the cooking process, infusing the liquid and oats with a warm aroma. The ground form packs the classic punch we expect cinnamon to bring to the party.

Another perk of using cinnamon sticks is eating the oats stuck on them. The sticks keep a great flavor throughout the cooking process, and the little bits of oats that get trapped in the center are truly a delight. 

Recipe after the jump!

How to roast garlic

Method, Make-ahead, Fundamentals, RecipeLeannda CavalierComment
how_to_roast_garlic_pinnable

Sautéing garlic is one of the best ways to build a savory foundation for a dish, but I would argue the best trick up garlic's sleeve takes a little more coaxing.

That's right—roasted garlic is where it's at.  

True story: when I was little, I thought all garlic was like roasted garlic by default. My Ya-ya (grandmother) kept a little repurposed pimento jar full of roasted garlic cloves in the fridge at all times. Fast forward to today, I have a tiny pimento jar of roasted garlic in my fridge too. 

Roasted garlic is more like a bear hug than a punch. Though roasting softens the sharper qualities of garlic, it somehow intensifies the flavor. It's heavy and insistent, but not jarring. 

Roasting brings out its sweetness in garlic by breaking down long chains of fructose, garlic's choice of energy storage. As the garlic browns, those sugars provide a caramel flavor. meanwhile, you're softening the sulfurous zing garlic is known for. 

What you're left with is a pod packed with soft, rich, nutty, caramelly, slightly meaty flavor that leaves a totally different impression than the minced, sautéed iteration. 

Another perk of roasted garlic is the texture itself. First—and not to be minimized—roasted garlic is sooo easy to peel. Second, the cloves can be easily smashed into a paste that lends sauces and other mixtures a savory-sweet kick, without compromising texture. You can even use whole cloves as a garnish, as they are soft, smooth and much less offensive then their raw counterparts. 

Okay, now hear me out. Garlic is SO easy to roast. Read this through and I think you'll realize that. This post is a little long, but only because I want everything to be clear as possible. 

So what can you use this magical ingredient for? Here are some of my faves:

  • Use it to add extra layers of flavor to chili.
  • Rub meats with it before (or after!) cooking.
  • Mix with softened butter to make the best garlic bread of your life.
  • Use roasted garlic paste in sauces.
  • Toss pasta with garlic paste and cream.
  • Spread some on toast (it's different!)
  • Work a little roasted garlic paste into your hamburger or meatball mix.
  • Use it as a condiment on a sandwich. 

There are a million and one ways to use this, I'm positive. I'm finding new ones all the time. What will you do with your roasted garlic? Let me know in the comments!

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