Whip Smart Kitchen

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

Cheesy Fusilli with Tomatoes and Sausage

Dinner, Comfort Food, Italian, Pasta, RecipeLeannda CavalierComment

Pasta in a creamy parmesan sauce, topped with roasted tomatoes, spicy sausage and nutty arugula. Simple enough to throw together tonight, flavorful enough to make again for company this weekend.

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My mouth is watering. Jump to the recipe, please!

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!

I've had a whole lot to celebrate lately. Between the little girl we're expecting in November and all the excitement that comes with planning, visits with loved ones, and a slew of weddings—including three of my bridesmaids: my bonus sister Marie and two of my best friends since childhood, Kaitlynn (of The Keto Show) and Hannah—it's been an incredible whirlwind season of life!

Everyone should have a go-to special occasion recipe. Cheesy fusilli with tomatoes and sausage is one of our favorites of all time. Don't get me wrong, we switch things up all the time and I love to try out new dishes, but this is the one I know I can make from memory—grocery store to plate.

This is the one I make for my husband's birthday. This is the one I make when we're celebrating small victories. This is the one I make when we need a little extra homey comfort. 

It's evolved a lot over the years. I started making a version it in college because the most of the ingredients were affordable, and I learned at an early age that keeping parmesan in the fridge was a priority. The technique is a little more sound now, but the roots are the same. 

Cheesy fusilli with tomatoes and sausage is perfect for summer when you've got fresh grape tomatoes all over the place, but guess what? Grape tomatoes are also some of the best to go for year round. They keep well and smaller tomatoes don't need as many resources as larger varieties to be packed with juicy flavor.

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I made cheesy fusilli with tomatoes and sausage a few weeks ago because pregnancy cravings pretty much demanded it. Whenever I make it, I like to do this thing where I just happen to not mention what I'm making to Adam until he figures it out on his own—usually around the time he smells the sausage and sees me piling on the arugula with a mound of fresh grated cheese on the cutting board.

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You'd think it would get old after 8-ish years, but nope! The reaction is always so worth it. Huge smile, high-pitched questions ("Good smells— wait, is this what I think it is?!"), fist pump and the only kind of hovering from another grown adult I can tolerate. It's like I brought home a winning lottery ticket. It's the best

After we finished eating, Adam asked if I would post this recipe for his birthday this year. That's in October. I thought about it and realized this is a pretty great summer recipe with all the cherry tomatoes bursting onto the scene right about now. I asked if he'd mind if I made it again that week to post this month.

He didn't take long to answer yes, but there was one condition. He wanted me to tell you it has a good mouthfeel (too much Food Network?), and... I mean, he's not wrong! Between the creamy cheese sauce, al dente pasta, acidic tomatoes, fatty sausage and the arugula to lighten it all up? Yeah. 

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So there you go. Good mouthfeel.

Another major perk of this recipe is just how EASY it is to make. It looks like it takes a lot of work, but really it comes together in about 25 minutes if you just prep the ingredients ahead. It might take you a little longer if you're a beginner and cutting still takes a while, but hey, all the more reason to in some practice with your knife!

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Nervous about making a cheese sauce? Don't be. 

Like a lot of my favorite recipes, you can learn how to make other dishes without realizing it too. Sneaky education is my favorite kind. If you can make one cheese sauce, you can make lots of cheese sauces. Just try out different cheeses, liquids and seasonings and you can make hundreds of totally different pastas or toppings, all your own. 

This one doesn't use a roux, which I think is great for two reasons: 

  1. It shows there are lots of ways to make a tasty cheese sauce.
  2. It gives you some low-stakes practice in moving quickly with heat and cheese, because if you want to cook at home often and easily, you probably should learn to make a roux at some point. It's really not as complicated as it seems as long as you have everything ready. Make this first to get your cooking confidence meter nice and high.
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Why use Fusilli in this recipe?

You could definitely use other types of pasta for this recipe, and if already you have most of the ingredients I wouldn't send you to the store just for this, but I do think fusilli is the best choice here.

Fusilli (foo-silly) is a corkscrew shaped pasta, and all those nooks and crannies do a great job of holding onto the cheese without making it pool like shell-shaped pasta might, for instance. But here we're trying to get it to hold onto two different textures: the smooth sauce and the chunky tomato and sausage topping. The spiral shape of the noodles does a nice job of keeping both in check on the plate and, more importantly, on your fork. 

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If you can get your hands on it, I really recommend trying cheesy fusilli with tomatoes and sausage with fusilli bucati noodles. It's basically the same thing, except the noodles are hollow, which adds a fun new texture into the mix. They're a little harder to find (which is why I didn't use them here), but I see them in my regular grocery store on occasion.

You could even use fusilli bucati lunghi if you're trying to check all your pasta shape boxes. They're just super long fusilli bucati noodles you can sometimes find in stores with specialty Italian products. Warning: they will break apart as you cook and eat—so not a lot of twirling action—but they're still fun!

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Funny story, I took the photos for this post before our vacation home to West Virginia in late June/early July so I wouldn't fall too far behind, and I've already made it once since then. My bonus parents came to us with some projects around the house to get ready for baby, and hey, we needed to eat! And celebrate!

It's too late for us hopeless pasta addicts. Don't send help. Join the cheesy side

So what's your go-to dish when you've got something to celebrate? Let me know in the comments! If you don't have one yet, I'm happy to share this one ;)

And hey, if you make this, show it off! Let me know by sharing a photo with the hashtag #whipsmartkitchen and tagging me on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter! You can also use the "tried it" feature on Pinterest to encourage other pinners to give it a go.

So let's get fusilli!

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Summer Party Panzanella

Dinner, Italian, Party, Recipe, Salad, Slow Food, Summer, VegetarianLeannda CavalierComment

This Italian bread salad boasts the best summer garden bounties and toasted bread cubes, all tossed in a tangy white wine vinaigrette. It’s big enough to bring to your block party—and keeps well enough to keep all to yourself. 

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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!

Ready to party but less ready to read? Click here to jump straight to the recipe. 

Is there any better feeling than walking out to the garden on a sunny day, picking a juicy cucumber, rinsing it off, and eating it right then and there like an apple? Adding a sprinkle of salt and a splash of vinegar might enhance things a bit, but otherwise, probably not.

Growing up in Wellsburg, West Virginia it seemed like every other house had a garden, or at least a vegetable patch. Tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and more abound. Though my Pop-Pop’s garden was huge and we had some tomatoes and peppers sprouting at my house most years, neighbors would still bring over grocery bags full of their extra bounty all summer.

This is what July tastes like. 

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I could walk outside, grab a cucumber, rinse it off and eat it like an apple—and never run out as long as it was warm! I thought I fully appreciated it then, but now that I have a shady yard hundreds of miles away, I’m really missing the abondanza.

Whether you have a plentiful garden, a bustling farmers' market, or even a decent grocery store, sometimes you just end up staring at all those beautiful veggies thinking, "okay, but what am I actually going to do with all of this?!"

Enter panzanella.

What is panzanella?

Um, just the manifestation of summertime joy and happiness. With bread.

What is it really? A bread salad filled with all your favorite summer produce. I think everyone makes it a little differently, but I like a good mix of tomatoes, bell peppers, cucumbers, red onion and basil. 

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Add a deliciously tangy white wine vinaigrette for good measure and you're golden. Well, golden and all the other colors that taste good. 

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This summer party panzanella lives up to its name. Panzanella in general is great for cookouts because it can safely sit out at room temperature, plus it's best after sitting for a while. Primo vegetarian option, but no one is skipping this dish just because it's not barbecue. 

This specific panzanella recipe has another advantage: the bread is toasted in the oven rather than pan-fried. I do realize both stovetops and ovens are hot (especially in the middle of summer), but the oven method is so much faster, less messy and less greasy-feeling. It’s also a little easier to evenly cook the bread this way.

Hold up, is the bread cooked in authentic panzanella?

Classic panzanella, as it's made in Italy, features stale bread soaked in vinaigrette and tomato juice in yet another example of what I love about Tuscan cooking—finding a way to use what's around and still managing to make it irresistible.

Somehow over the years, especially in American versions, it's evolved a bit to the point where we're grilling, frying or toasting the bread to dry it out enough to really soak up the vinaigrette. I'm gonna be honest. I REALLY like it that way. The texture. The flavor of the slightly browned bread. The crisp from the hot olive oil. Everything about it. 

How do you toast bread for panzanella? Simple. Just toss it in a little olive oil and salt...

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Toast it in the oven until it's just turning golden-brown, turn the oven off, and leave it for a few minutes to dry off.

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That's. It. 

Another difference from panzanella purist recipes? The OG dish is typically made with bread, tomatoes, onions, vinaigrette, maybe basil, and that's it. Sounds delicious, but I have all this amazing produce laying around and it all tastes SO good together. 

I've said it before and I'll say it again. There's a time and a place for making food perfectly authentic, and I'm all about knowing the rules, but you're missing out on some incredible food if you're not willing to be a rule-breaker sometimes. 

HOWEVER, there is one unbreakable rule here. 

This recipe is great for bread that's a day or two old and starting to get a little stale, but for just about everything else it's all about freshness. That goes for all the vegetables down to using garlic you cut yourself—not the jarred stuff. This is a true peak of summer recipe. If you’re not eating all your ingredients as fresh (and ripe) as possible, don’t make this.

You’ll thank me when you take a bite.

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I like to make this with red and orange bell peppers (orange are my favorite to eat raw), but yellow is great too. Green peppers are a little too grassy for me in this particular recipe, but hey, try it out if you have some on hand you want to use up. Let me know how it goes!

I’ve made summer party panzanella for a bridal shower, for dinner parties, for hungry football players who helped us move, and plenty of times on regular old weeknights. My husband and I have been known to destroy one of these in 24 hours—yeah, that’s an entire loaf of bread for two. Yikes. Such a good yikes. 

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As it sits, the vinaigrette and the juices from all those veggies meld and soak into the bread for such explosive flavor that you don't even need fireworks, okay? Leave the pyrotechnics to the professionals, because you can blow minds all on your own with this. 

Some people will beg you for this recipe. Everyone else will just ask you to make more. 

Luckily for me, we do travel to the land of veggie-sharing (aka West Virginia) pretty often during the summer. I'm actually surrounded by fresh tomatoes and basil at this very moment, some of which I just ate in a frittata. We also live fairly close to some great farmers markets and the famous Grainger County tomatoes in Tennessee, so I’m not completely missing out.

Still, if you live in a community like the one I grew up in, know I’m jealous. Go out and pick the biggest, most misshapen, sun-ripened tomato you can find and slice it up with some salt for me!

So what's the produce situation in your area, and what's your fave summer vegetable or fruit? A super-ripe peach or plum might be runners-up to tomatoes and cucumbers for me. Basil and mint are great too though... Oh God, I almost forgot watermelon! For the record, that was an actual, unedited stream of consciousness.

Anyway, freshen up the comments below with your picks!

If you try out this summer party panzanella, let me know by sharing a photo with the hashtag #whipsmartkitchen and tagging me on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter. You can also use the "tried it" feature on Pinterest to help others find it too!

Let's get toasting!

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Blackberry Blood Orange Breakfast Cake

Baking, Breakfast, Dessert, Italian, Recipe, SummerLeannda CavalierComment

This Blackberry Blood Orange Breakfast Cake is a summery twist on an Italian classic. Juicy blackberries and hints of tangy blood orange give this lightly sweet yogurt cake plenty of personality to accompany your morning coffee.

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Feeling the cake, but not feeling the chat? Click here to jump to the recipe.

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!

I'm so excited about this recipe for so many reasons.

In 2016, I traveled with my husband, bonus parents and bonus sister to Italy. It was incredible, and I'm pretty sure I belong there. Yes, I know it's one of the most overly-romanticized places on Earth. Yes, I know there are problems there too—I watch Last Week Tonight. But really, I've spent so much time since trying to replicate the feeling of being there at home.

This cake feels like Tuscany. The flavor and texture. The ingredients. The simplicity. Everything.

It was inspired by a traditional yogurt and olive oil cake made in the medieval hill town of San Gimignano in the Siena, Tuscany region of Italy. Torta allo yogurt is a classic. Don't be afraid of the olive oil. You won't taste it in this recipe any more than you would taste the flavor of canola oil, and it's incredibly common in Italian baking, which is all about what's available locally.

Part of the reason this dessert caught my eye is that the first variation of this recipe I saw in A Family Farm In Tuscany: Recipes and Stories from Fattoria Poggio Alloro by Sarah Fioroni (about a farm near where we took an agrotourism excursion) is so simple that it uses a yogurt cup as a form of measurement for the flour, oil and sugar. I just love that.

I chose not to do that here because packaging can be so different here in the U.S. and I personally buy it in bulk, but the sentiment is pretty beautiful. It honors the idea that baking is about ratios, but it's also rustic. It's the kind of thing my Ya-ya would teach me to do.

Making it seasonal

Yogurt and olive oil cake is also practical because it uses ingredients most people who cook regularly will already have on hand, and you can add any seasonal touches you may have. In winter you could totally make it a cranberry or rosemary orange cake. Spring? Hello, lavender and honey. Fall? Cinnamon spice sounds good!

My version, blackberry blood orange breakfast cake, plays up some of my favorite fresh flavors of summer. I've been very into blood oranges lately. Partially because they have folate in them which is good for pregnancy, and partially because they are DELICIOUS. They're a little more tart than regular oranges, and I personally think they're more flavorful in general.

It doesn't hurt that they're gorgeous, either.  

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As for the blackberries, I have never not been into those juicy little summer candies. They're wild and beautiful, tart then sweet. A little seedy, but in a good way. Blackberry is one of my go-to flavors, whether for preserves, compote, flavored water or sweets—but honestly none of that can compare to a gooey, just overripe blackberry baked into this cake. 

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Perfection.

Blackberries are also rich in polyphenol antioxidants, which give them their dark, jammy color. The science on just how beneficial those phytochemicals are is a little shaky, but loading up can't hurt right? They're also a good source of dietary fiber, vitamin C, vitamin K, and too many blackberries is probably better than other foods that tout polyphenols like olive oil and red wine, right? 

This cake isn't super fluffy like your typical dessert cake. It's on the firmer side and light, like so many great Italian treats. Think about crunchy biscotti soaking up your cappuccino, or chewy ciabatta drenched in olive oil and dried herbs. It's incredible with coffee or tea in the morning, but don’t rule it out for dessert. 

Plus, it's beautiful. I didn't even work all that hard to arrange the fruit on top and look at it. I know this is almost the same as the main shot above, but seriously. STRIKE A POSE, CAKE. 

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Just like that. STRIKE IT. 

Baking the cake

Making it is simple too. Totally beginner-level. If you are a true beginner, there's one place I really want you to pay attention, and that's when you're beating the eggs and sugar. If you just do it quickly like with a lot of typical cake recipes, you're not going to get the volume you need. You really do want to let it go about five minutes or until it doubles in and looks creamy-yellow and foamy, like the photo below.

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Sweetening the deal

I love serving this cake with whipped cream. Even better? Blood orange whipped cream! It only takes a few minutes and one extra ingredient to whip up, and you're already zesting oranges, so it's honestly crazy not to. Besides, if you've never made whipped cream, learning how allows you to level-up approximately 1,000 desserts. 

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Just do it, okay?

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Seriously, I hope you make this and I hope you love it as much as we do over here! If you do, let me know by sharing a photo with the hashtag #whipsmartkitchen and tagging me on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter. You can also use the "tried it" feature on Pinterest to help out others looking for a tasty seasonal cake!

Let's get baking!

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Blood Orange Blackberry Breakfast Cake Nutrition Info

Blood Orange Whipped Cream Nutrition Info

Break Over & Big Changes

LifeLeannda Cavalier2 Comments
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Happy (almost) summer! 

You may have noticed I haven't updated WhipSmart Kitchen in a while. If that bums you out, first of all I really am sorry and it has not been out of disinterest. Second, thank you for your support and I'm glad you enjoy what I do here. 

Now to do some 'splainin.

Why I've been away

Now, the reason I've been away is because we've got some big things poppin' around here. The most notable of which is my belly!

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That's right, been eating a little too much pasta. 

Kidding. There's a kid in there!

We found out in early March that I'm pregnant, and I cannot tell you how excited we are. This is something I've been looking forward to for a long time, and I'm enjoying every moment of it as much as possible. 

Just to be clear, enjoying every moment isn't why I haven't been around here. In fact, the weekend I found out the first things I did were shoot highlights at the NCAA DII basketball tournament, then shoot photos of a black bean taco recipe that was next on the schedule for my blog. Literally, all within 48 hours of getting the positive. 

Then I got sick. REAL sick.

Not morning sick. All-day-every-minute sick. For almost two months. My midwives and the OB who did our first sonogram said nausea is a good sign because you're producing enough hormones, but like... that didn't help when I almost threw up in the hospital elevator. 

I will honestly probably write an entire post on this just to help out other expecting moms who can't eat anything, because as a person who gets so much joy from food, it was so incredibly hard to deal with. 

I couldn't eat vegetables—usually the primary thing I eat—unless they were snuck into fruit puree or (when I could stomach it) subtly hidden on pizza. For about a month, at any given time there were only one or two things in the world I could handle at a time, and the primary focus of my day was figuring out how I was going to get it, and then I usually didn't want it ever again after one serving.

My husband, Adam, was an angel who did whatever he could to make sure we found something I could eat. He also didn't complain about our food budget, which suddenly ballooned despite the fact that eating was a miserable experience. Fun, right?

I barely cooked. Maybe once or twice, when I usually do almost every day. We spent so much more on restaurants than we ever have, and I ate more processed food than I ever have or ever want to.

I couldn't tell if I was losing weight because eating was so miserable, or gaining because everything I ate was white/brown/fried/starchy/processed/sugary.

The kicker? I was still in my first trimester, so we were hiding this from everybody. Ugh. 

I still haven't finished editing those taco photos. Food aversions in pregnancy can be powerful. The fact that they were the last thing I had before it started means I'm honestly still grossed out by them, even though I've been eating mostly normally for a few weeks now.

When I'll be back

Mmmm, pretty much now!

I'm feeling much better, and I've been hard at work since I started cooking again. I'll have a new recipe for you in the next couple of days, and I'm super excited about it—make sure you read to the end of this post if you are too!

I also may write a post on what I've been up to, because life has been moving fast, but it's been super fun lately. Lots of travel, lots of celebrating loved ones' milestones, and recently, lots of good food. 

Right now we're at week 18, eating ALL the veggies and generally loving life. We've told our family and friends who are so excited and, holy cow, so generous! From an ultrasound frame ornament, to ginger chews, to a bump box, to books, to personal tokens and guidance... we're so grateful for everything.

According to my various apps, the baby is the size of an artichoke or a sweet potato. We don't know if it's a boy or a girl, and we'll be thrilled with either. I'm living proof that girls can prefer blue over pink and like sports, so we don't feel torn in either direction. 

What all this means for WhipSmart Kitchen 

Not much, honestly!

I'm sure I'll mention baby in some of my posts, but my recipes posts won't suddenly be devoted to what my kid will or won't eat, and this won't turn into a blog with exclusively so-called kid-friendly recipes. I know we're in for some big changes at home, but I don't anticipate my general aesthetic changing all that much.

I can't promise there won't be subtle changes, but I can promise you I'm not going to be slinging manufactured cheese-product anytime soon—not to put down anyone who does. There's a time and a place for that stuff, but that's never what I wanted this blog to be. 

I probably will blog about some pregnancy/baby/parenting/lifestyle topics from time to time, but they'll be separate from my usual posts, and this will not become a mommy blog. If you want to avoid those posts, I totally understand. That would not have been my jam when I first started cooking. 

Big takeaway: the recipe posts will keep coming! 

BUT there are some other changes coming for WhipSmart Kitchen

  1. First I'm in the process of switching from Squarespace to Wordpress. Hopefully the change in your experience will be minimal. You'll see a new version of this website (aesthetically at least) sometime mid-summer, but things should function pretty similarly. The big difference is I'll be able to use recipe cards which will mostly be a benefit to me, making it so that I don't have to code them all and design printable PDFS and buttons for each recipe, but I imagine they will be a little more clear and streamlined from your end as well. I'll also be able to customize things through code a little more easily, which again, should mean a better experience for you.
  2. In keeping with the new EU GDPR regulations, you'll begin to see some notifications around the site soon explaining how WhipSmart Kitchen keeps cookies and other information, and asking you to opt-in in. And yes, you'll get one of those privacy policy update emails if you're on my email list (which, um, you should be if you're reading this!). I know it's annoying and a little overwhelming (for you and for me), but it's good progress. This way you have more information about your own privacy and decide what to do with it to a greater extent. You likely are starting to see things like this on most websites you visit, and that's a good thing. It's a little bit of a challenge keeping up with the regulations for small bloggers like me, but I'm happy transparency is becoming more of a priority across the internet.

These two changes are actually the biggest reason I haven't been posting in the last month or so. It's taken a lot of work to get up to speed and get things rolling. It's not an easy feat with all the travel we've had to do lately along with figuring out baby stuff—no, we haven't started a nursery or a registry, and we're not going to until I've done ample research. 

Listen, I can barely keep up with watching WestWorld once a week. I'm doing what I can without driving myself completely insane. These violent delights have violent ends, after all.

That being said, I'm making progress in both areas and will do my best to keep posts regular in the meantime. If there's something you'd like to see, let me know! I want to keep making content that helps people. There's really no better motivator than knowing people are looking for my posts and using my recipes.

Otherwise I'm just rambling, which I can do without even having to make sense in my notes app like I did before people started telling me to put it in a blog. 

Now I'm off to work on my next post. Here's a sneak peek: 

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Okay, hopefully that covers everything. Now tell me what I've missed! What's exciting in your life right now? Let me know in the comments! 

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Sweet Onion Tomato Sauce with Gnocchi

Dinner, Comfort Food, Italian, Recipe, Sauces, Winter, Pasta, VegetarianLeannda Cavalier4 Comments

A rich, creamy pasta sauce with sweet onions, savory tomatoes, peppery seasonings and sharp parmesan. This sauce is versatile and easy to throw together with things you probably already have. 

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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!

My belly is growling. Jump to the recipe, please!

Have you ever noticed how much colder it feels when it's already been warm and the temperature dips back down? I've been walking around for weeks without needing a coat, and it's SNOWING today! My body is reacting like it's sub-zero in my nearly 70º house. I'm dealing. 

So on a shivery, grey day what better to warm up with than a hearty plate of gnocchi?

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I got the idea for this recipe while shopping at one of my favorite health food stores after a long day out in Knoxville. I was so tired, but I really wanted to eat well that night. Knowing I had a good hour-long drive home, I was looking for convenience food, but like, good convenience food. Something I would feel good about eating and re-eating for lunch the next day.

I settled on a few different kinds of frozen ravioli you can buy in bulk—red pepper eggplant, spinach ricotta, one with sausage, I think—and some vegetables. So I just needed a sauce.

I wandered over to the refrigerated section where they have fresh sauces I always want to try, and saw this incredible-looking vidalia onion sauce that REALLY pulled me in. I could smell it. I could taste it. I was ready to drink it. But it was too expensive for me to justify at that moment.

Listen, I’m not above spending nearly $8 on a little jar of sauce I want to try, but I was already almost over my grocery budget and the ravioli was reasonable, but not exactly cheap. Plus, I knew I could make it at home. I mentally noted the color and texture of the sauce, glanced at the description on the jar and made a plan. 

The best part? I already had all the ingredients. In fact I always have these ingredients, and if you cook often, you likely do too. 

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This sauce goes great with gnocchi texturally because while it’s thick, it’s pretty smooth. It wraps around the ravioli like the edible manifestation of a bear hug. Beyond that soft, pillowy gnocchi makes a tasty canvas for the sweet and savory flavor of this Roasted Sweet Onion Tomato Sauce.

This Sweet Onion Tomato Sauce is super easy to make, and it comes together pretty quickly. It's going to be really great for you if you aren't a fan of doing a lot of chopping, or if you're just too tired to do a bunch of that tonight—which I totally get. It's the reason I thought about buying the sauce in the first place!

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The plan I made in the store was pretty simple, and I was pretty sure I could knock it out in about half an hour. I just needed to roast some sweet onions until they were a little caramelly, and incorporate them into a simple tomato sauce. 

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Like I said, I was pretty worn out, and besides, roasting the onions whole seemed like the way to go. So what to do? Bring out the blender. It honestly made things go so quickly. I just simmered the tomatoes while the onions were in the oven, added everything to the blender, and voila! 

Beautiful sauce that tasted like a lot more work went into it.

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Now for some salt, fat, acid and heat action. A little honey, red pepper flakes, white wine vinegar, basil parmesan cheese and cream go in to build a sauce that tastes like it came from a restaurant (or an $8 jar at a health food store). 

Whirrrrrrr it up.

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I’ve also tried the sauce with pork loin (amazing) and I’m sure it would go with chicken or steak. Probably even with some seafoods like mussels or scallops. It would work well with long noodles such as spaghetti or linguine, with ravioli or other stuffed pastas—really with just about any pasta.

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I have mixed feelings on the “rules” of pasta. I get the point. Pesto goes will with pastas it can stick to rather than pool in. Pastas with hollow shapes are going to go well with sauces they can scoop up like tasty little spoons. The thing is, some people have hard and fast rules just for authenticity’s sake.

I think authenticity has a time and a place, and I can appreciate it. On the other hand, if I want bolognese sauce and only have angel hair on hand, I’m not going to the store just for authenticity’s sake. Besides, why shut down creativity or experimentation? 

Personally, I think it’s worth knowing the rules—if only so you can break them mindfully. 

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There's something so satisfying about knowing you made it yourself, right? 

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Oh, hey, and it's Lenten Friday friendly! I swear I didn't intend to post a chicken recipe on a Friday last time. 

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If you like this recipe, you may want to sign up for my email list for more. If you sign up, you get a free guide to overcoming one of the biggest commonalities of people who 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!

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.

Until then I'll be here trying to warm up, and hoping all our flowers still bloom and plums and grapes still come in, unlike last year after a 75º February and a bunch of cold snaps. Give me something to look forward to here. 

Let's get roasting!

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Nutrition Facts for Sweet Onion Tomato Sauce (without Gnocchi and Kale)

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Nutrition Facts for Gnocchi with Sweet Onion Tomato Sauce and Kale

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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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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 simmering!

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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.