Pumpkin Whoopie Pies + Home Renovation

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Y’all, it’s pumpkin whoopie pie season and I’m not even mad about it. 

About these cookies: 

Actually, pumpkin whoopie pie season started two months ago but I was in Croatia eating truffles so…I know, my life. However, now that I’m home for the entire month of November, I’m catching up on all the things i’ve missed – like pumpkin desserts. And cream cheese frosting. And cookies. And cake. And pie. Good thing I chose TODAY to go Paleo, right?

WRONG. All I want to do is eat these cookies, thankfully I made them weeks ago and there’s not even a morsel left to remember. Because I’m weak and I’d probably eat 4 in a row and then force myself to go to Orange Theory again tonight out of shamerage. It’s a thing, google it. My mom, the ultimate cookie baker, said these are one of the best things i’ve made all year, and after taking a big bite (for photo purposes, obvi), I had to agree. They’re most definitely one of the fluffiest, sweetest and most decadent cookies I’ve made to date.

The thing with whoopies is they’re almost always left off the desert table because they’re not the most attractive. Unlike thumprints or pinwheels, which are radiant and beautiful, whoopies aren’t the most festive. However, that’s no reason not to indulge in these cakey little bites this holiday season. Add some styling, like I did. Serve them with some fresh star of anise or roll them in crushed walnuts or even edible glitter to give them a pop of color. I’m all about the accessorizing, even in food. Do yourself a favor, make these for Thanksgiving. Whether you style them or not, they’ll be the biggest hit on your pie table. You might have to seperate them from the apple because nobody is going to touch that pie after trying these. And we all know how jealous apple gets.

About life: 

Beyond whoopies, I’m basically just sitting on pins and needles because we’re still patiently (cough not really) waiting for the offer to get accepted on the most beautiful two-bedroom condo in all of Chicago. But, I’ve been pinning all of the rain showers and claw-foot tubs, subway tiles and vintage sinks in the world to get ready for it. See, the place is actually in AMAZING condition, but the main bathroom needs to be gutted. Completely. So, we’re going to install a rain shower (insert heart eye emoji here), subway tile, a vintage sink and some cute industrial lighting fixtures to bring it all together. I’ve never had a place that needed a reno like this, so I’m beyond excited for the potential possiblity.

[Pin inspiration]

If we get it, of course. So please, cross all of your appendages. It’s in such a fantastic part of the city and is within walking distance to great cafes, an OrangeTheory, Whole Foods and everything in between. And, you know, it would help me get out of my parents house. Because at nearly 32, it just isn’t cute anymore.

Pumpkin Whoopie Pies 

Yields about 10 medium – large sandwiches.
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 14 – 16 minutes

Ingredients:

For the cookies:

  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
  • Dash of salt
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 15 ounce can pumpkin puree (not pie filling)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract

For the filling:

  • 6 ounces light cream cheese
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • Dash of cinnamon

Directions: 

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and spray with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. In a mixing bowl, whisk the whole wheat flour, all purpose flour, baking powder, baking soda, pumpkin pie spice and salt together. In another bowl, mix the brown sugar, canola oil, applesauce, pumpkin puree, egg and vanilla. Once mixed, add in the flour mixture a cup at a time and stir until fully combined.
  3. Using a spoon, scoop the dough onto the sheet. The cookies will spread a little, so place them about 1 1/2 – 2 inches apart. If you want the tops to be smooth, use a piping bag or smooth them out with your hand. I left them as is and kind of dig the almost oatmeal like texture.
  4. Bake for about 12 – 16 minutes, or until they spring back at the touch. Place on a wire cooling rack and let cool.
  5. Meanwhile, beat the cream cheese, butter, powdered sugar and cinnamon together until thick and creamy.
  6. Once the cookies have cooled, add a large dollop of frosting on the top of half of them and place another cookie on top to make a sandwich. Dust with powdered sugar and enjoy!

Nutritional information per cookie sandwich: 

Calories: 350
Fat: 16 grams
Carbohydrates: 34.3 grams
Fiber: 1.23 grams
Protein: 5 grams

Creamy Squash & Carrot Soup

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This creamy squash soup is perfect for fall evenings in! Plus, it makes a great Thanksgiving side dish!

A story about the soup: 

If you want to hear a little bit about my life, scroll down. If you’re just here for soup, stay here. I found this recipe in a copy of Food Network Magazine and knew almost instantly I had to make it. For one, who doesn’t love creamy squash soup? Two, look at those garnishes! The roasted broccoli, the crunchy croutons, the salty pumpkin seeds? Not only are they beautiful, they add the perfect textural contrast to the velvety texture of the base. Soup has this incredible ability to warm you up, both figuratively and literally. It has this almost therapeutic power to it. Even on my worst days, a bowl of soup has the ability to take me back to a world and a life that wasn’t as scary, complicated or lonely. This soup is no different. I made it during a time of true uncertainty and I remember feeling a little better every time the spoon hit my lips. It may sound silly, and it probably is, but this soup helped me out of a pretty serious funk.

And a little bit about me:

It’s hard to believe Thanksgiving is two weeks away. I mean, in all honesty, it’s hard to believe the end of the year is just a month and a half away. While the rest of my friends are all “CHRISTMAS! SNOW! COOKIES!” I’m just trying desperately to keep my head afloat as I look for a job, wait for an offer to get accepted on a house and sort through where the next year of my life is going to take me.

I do know one thing, it’s going to involve a heck of a lot less traveling. Travel is my life and it fuels every single part of who I am. And as exciting as it was to pack up and leave for a new country and a new city every other week, it made a few other parts of my life nearly impossible to manage. From the outside, my life looked perfect. I was always somewhere different, experiencing an exotic place so many people only dream of going to. But peel back that wrapper and you’d see that my life was so far beyond perfection. It was a crumbling mess.

Without divulging too many personal details in a post about soup, I will say the decision to stay put in Chicago for the foreseeable future wasn’t an easy one. Even though I felt the world falling to pieces around me, I still loved travel. Partly because it was an escape. If my life at home was a mess, I knew in a day or two I’d be in Australia, China, Spain or Norway and wouldn’t have to face those issues for a few weeks. In a way, I was running away. I also truly love to travel. There’s nothing I love more than stepping off a plane and immersing myself almost immediately in a world so different than my own.

As life does, though, it all caught up and I found even the escape to be nearly overwhelming. I was focusing on everything I left at home when I was abroad, making it impossible to even enjoy the times I had wandering around a new country with new people. That’s why I’ve decided to tuck away my passport and plant my feet firmly on the ground. At least for the next few weeks. What next year will bring nobody knows, but I know one thing – Chicago has my heart and I’m enjoying every second exploring this incredibly vibrant and beautiful city of mine.

Creamy Squash & Carrot Soup

CLICK HERE FOR THE PRINTABLE VERSON OF THIS RECIPE!

Serves 4 – 6. Recipe adapted from Food Network.
Prep time: 15 minutes.
Cook time: 30 minutes
Total time: 45 minutes

Ingredients: 

  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 butternut squash, chopped
  • 1/2 acorn squash, chopped
  • 3 cups broccoli florets
  • 2 shallots, chopped
  • 1 scallion, minced
  • 2 tablespoons fresh ginger
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon crushed red pepper**
  • 5 carrots, shredded and chopped
  • 15 ounce can chick peas, drained
  • 1 can (14 ounce) low-fat coconut milk
  • 2 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
  • 1 cup water
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/4 cup pumpkin seeds (or other nuts)
  • French bread, cooked and cut into bite-size pieces

**optional. I added it for heat, but you can omit.

Directions: 

  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Line two large cookie sheets with foil. Place the squash and broccoli on the sheet (evenly distributed). Toss with 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil.  Roast for about 20 – 25 minutes, stopping to toss the vegetables after 10 minutes. You want the vegetables to be fork tender.
  2. Meanwhile, heat the remaining olive oil in a large dutch oven over medium heat. Add the shallots and scallions and cook for about a minute. Mix in the ginger, garlic and crushed red pepper, heat for about another minute. Add in the carrots and cook until just softened, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.  Add in the chick peas, coconut milk, vegetable broth and water. Bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook for about 10 minutes.
  3. Mix in the 3/4 of the squash, saving about a one cup for the garnish. Cook for another 5 – 10 minutes, or until warm. Remove from heat. With either a tabletop blender or immersion blender, blend the soup until creamy. Serve with a handful of broccoli florets, remaining squash, pumpkin seeds and crispy bread.

Nutritional information per serving: 

Calories: 485
Fat: 16 grams
Carbohydrates: 48.45 grams
Fiber: 13.4 grams
Protein: 10.5 grams

Peanut Butter & Banana Overnight Oats

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These peanut butter and banana overnight oats are an easy breakfast for busy weeknights!

Remember that time I wrote an entire post about how much I loved peanut butter and then the whole thing disappeared into the deep dark abyss that is the Chinese wifi system? Oh, WELL if it seems like news to you, it’s because it just happened last week. Before we get into a brief rant about Chinese internet, I do want to discuss the day I had the moment I got back. In case you were feeling a little off about yours, let me regale you with the total complete s&$%storm that was mine.

For one, I spent 20 hours in airports and on airplanes. Two, when I landed in Chicago, the airline kind of just “misplaced” my bag for an hour. It had made it to O’hare, it was just missing for a little bit. Decided to step out for a PSL or something. Back to the flight for a second, it was BRUTAL. I couldn’t sleep or get comfortable and the person next to me found it fun to squeeze on top of me. Literally. So, after I got my runaway bag, I hopped on the train for the 45 minute commute to my airbnb.

The train in Chicago is great. It’s almost always on time, super cheap and really easy to navigate. So, I checked my phone (in a massively sleep deprived state) for the closest stop to where I was staying and it told me Clark/Lake. Now, I thought to myself “Clark/Lake is downtown, not River North. But, my phone wouldn’t lie!” Fun fact. It did. The stop was, in fact, 40 minutes away from where I was staying. And Chicago decided to go from 245,345 degrees to 10 in the span of 4 days so I was massively underdressed.

The fun doesn’t stop there, though! When I landed in China on Tuesday, my phone had decided it hated having battery and told me instead that it needs a new one. Basically, my phone now goes from 100% charged to 43% in less than 10 minutes. So, after schelping on the train, I find a Starbucks to charge my phone for a minute so I can Uber my exhausted face to this airbnb. I order a PSL (BASIC.COM) and just as I was about to pay, the phone shuts down and I have to plead with the barista to hold while I charged it to pay.

Then, for some reason unbeknownst to me, that Starbucks decided to close at 4:30pm on a Saturday, so I’m rushing out to catch an Uber and I drop my phone on the ground, something I’ve done about a million and one times. Except this time? The screen shattered. Like, giant crack across the screen and about a million hairline cracks at the top and bottom of both corners.

I finally got to the airbnb and promptly fell asleep, sitting upright, for 3 hours before my boyfriend came over with a bottle of wine (he’s literally the best person on the planet, more on that soon). So yeah, that was my day in a nutshell. Thankfully, after a hug, a few tears and a few more glasses of wine, all was fixed. So, those are the days you’d want these overnight oats in your fridge. Because those are the days you’d eat cereal and wine for dinner.

Peanut Butter & Banana Overnight Oats

CLICK HERE FOR THE PRINTABLE VERSION OF THIS RECIPE!

Serves about 4.
Prep time: >10 minutes
Chill time: 5+ hours

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup low-fat milk (can use soy, almond or coconut)
  • 1 cup nonfat Greek yogurt
  • 2 cups Quaker rolled oats
  • 3 tablespoons chia seeds
  • 2 tablespoons ground flax seed
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1 large bananas, smashed
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Directions:

  1. In a large bowl, whisk the milk and yogurt together. Add in the oats, chia seeds, flax seed, honey, peanut butter, smashed banana, chopped walnuts and vanilla extract. Stir to combine.
  2. Pour the mixture into a large mason jar and seal. Chill in the fridge overnight, or for at least 5 hours. Serve chilled or warm with chopped walnuts and bananas as garnish.

Nutritional information per serving (about 1/2 cup):

Calories: 356
Fat: 15.5 grams
Carbohydrates: 35.25 grams
Fiber: 8.2 grams
Protein: 16.75 grams

Almond Butter Thumbprints

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It’s always a good time for cookies, and these almond butter thumbprints are the ultimate snack (that’s paleo to boot!)

It’s Friday. It’s 98 degrees in Chicago. I have 2 articles due, a three hour train ride back to my parents and have to squeeze in a workout. I think I deserve a cookie.

As you know, I just got back from a 16-day expedition cruise through the icebergs of Greenland and the fjords of Norway. I’m still trying to wrap my brain around the fact that I’m no longer on that ship, with those strangers who quickly became family, staring at what is easily one of the world’s most beautiful natural landscapes. I’ve had some incredibly life-changing trips and travel experiences that I’ve been beyond blessed to experience and write about, and I can never answer the question “what’s the best place you’ve been?” Because in all honesty, they’re all the best places I’ve been. The world is such a uniquely wonderful place, and I can’t possibly pick a favorite.

I can say now, though, that Norway and Greenland are two that have left a massive impact on me, for a myriad of reasons. Many of which I still can’t find the words for. So, until then, just check out the photos (that don’t do it justice) on my instagram and know that I’ll tell the story of these places as soon as I can sit down to type without massive tears welling up in my eyes.

CAN WE TALK ABOUT COOKIES NOW? My emotions are so incredibly raw and vulnerable lately (read this to understand why), and I haven’t had a solid nights sleep in probably 11 months. I’m on my THIRD venti coffee (and second PSL – don’t judge) and it’s just 11am. So, I’m jittery, crazed and will most likely crash into a pool of my own basic drool on the train ride in about an hour.

So cookies. These thumbprints are probably one of my favorite things in the world. I know it *might* be a little early to start talking cookies, but these babies are too good NOT to share immediately. Not only are they made with almond butter (that I whipped up from scratch), they’re made with almond and coconut flour, which means they’re….drumroll please…PALEO. I’m not paleo in my own diet and don’t have many plans to adapt it, but I do have plans to eat as grain-free as possible since I’m completely stalled on my weight loss.

So, when I have cookies, they’re going to be protein-packed and flour-free, and are probably going to have heaps of natural nut butters in them because that’s all I can seem to stomach lately. So, join me in the celebration of the weekend and let’s eat some mother &^*(ing cookies, alright?

Almond Butter Thumbprints

CLICK HERE FOR THE PRINTABLE VERSION OF THIS RECIPE!

Yields about 18 – 20 cookies. Slightly adapted from Bakerita. 
Prep time: >10 minutes
Cook time: About 12 minutes

Ingredients: 

For the almond butter:

  • 3 cups almonds
  • Dash of salt

For the cookies:

  • 3/4 cup homemade almond butter
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup honey or maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup almond meal (I used Bob’s Red Mill)
  • 1/2 cup organic coconut flour (I used Bob’s Red Mill)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • Dash of salt
  • 1 cup naturally sweetened jam or unsweetened chocolate chips

Directions: 

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a mini muffin tin with nonstick cooking spray. **
  2. To make the almonds, spread evenly over a large baking dish. Sprinkle with salt (lava or kosher is best). Bake for about 15 minutes (stopping to stir halfway 8 minutes in), or until fragrant. Let cool slightly and then pour into the canister of a food processor. Pulse on low for 20 – 25 minutes or until cream. The almond butter will look thick and clumpy for the first 20 minutes, that’s normal! It doesn’t start to cream until minute 21 – 23.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, beat the almond butter, egg, honey, applesauce and vanilla together until creamed.
  4. In another bowl, whisk the flours, baking soda and salt together. Gradually add the flour mixture to the almond butter mixture and stir until fully combined.
  5. Place the dough into the prepared muffin tin (I used a spoon to scoop it in). Using the back of your thump, gently push down the middle of the dough to make cups.
  6. Bake for about about 10 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool on a wire cooling rack.
  7. Once cooled, use a small spoon to scoop the jam into the center of the cookie cups. If you’re going to use chocolate chips, simply melt them in a microwavable glass dish with 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil and heat until smooth and cream.

**You can also place these on a regular baking sheet and bake them as you normally would.

Nutritional information per cookie:

Calories: 122
Fat: 8.3 grams
Carbohydrates: 9 grams
Fiber: >1 gram
Protein: 4 grams

Spicy Chicken, Vegetable & Noodle Soup

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Welcome Autumn with a big batch of this warm and cozy spicy chicken, vegetable and noodle soup!

As I’m writing this, the ship I’m on is plunging to and fro in waves that roar over 3 meters above the surface of the freezing Atlantic Ocean. Although the movement is sporadic and ravenous, it’s also a little contrived. As soon as we rise above after hitting one, we plunder back into the icy waters. The rhythmic motions haven’t left me seasick, but instead feeling incredibly at peace. The solitude the ocean brings, even when you’re amongst 125 other people, is like therapy to a writer.

Don’t get me wrong, at first, the movements are jarring. You find yourself being thrown around and completely off-kilter. Something happens to you when you lose your balance. In a way, you lose your mind. However, when you let it kind of consume you, you fall into the movements of the waves and it all starts to feel normal, natural even.

There’s truly no place I’d rather be than on the water. Maybe it’s because I grew up with a lake as my playground. I’d spend every waking second I could at my cottages on Lake Erie. I’d swim, sail, boat, jet-ski – if it was on the water, you can believe I was there. I think that’s why I feel so at peace when I can see the glisten of the sun against a body of water.

However, that being said, the charms of rocking back and forth for 40+ hours are starting to fade. As my new British friend on board would say, it quickly sends you into a spiral of madness. As much as I love the water, not having my feet firmly planted on dry land for the better part of 3 days is a bit jarring, and I’m actually craving solid ground in a way I didn’t think I would. I always prided myself on having strong sea legs, but there’s even a limit to my love of water and I *might* just be reaching it. Thankfully land is on the horizon and a hike is calling my name this afternoon.

Sailing, boats and Fjords aside, let’s briefly talk about this bowl of cozy heaven in front of you. Chicken soup is an institution in my house, and even though I’m a vegetarian now, I’ll always remember the feelings of comfort it brought me whenever I was feeling sick, sad, down, blue or cold. Everyone has a version of this soup, and I’ve got quite a few (one with green tea, a classic and a kicked up Mexican version). This one, though, is a little different. It’s a blend of standard chicken noodle with hearty vegetable.

This is a real “stick to your guts” kind of soup without add any extra weight at all. The noodles, which are homemade, add energy boosting carbs, while the chicken and mushrooms give you a healthy dose of protein. The broth, which is kicked up with a bit of jalapeno, is made with heaps of herbs to help fight away seasonal colds. It’s a jack of all trades, much like myself.

The best part? It’s easy as sin, keeping with the theme of this week. The only laborious part, of course, are the noodles, but you can easily make those (with this rustic recipe or recipe with spinach) or buy them at the store. Whatever fits your schedule do it. Just know that after one spoonful of this healthy, delicious soup and you’ll too be transported to your happy place. Whether that’s on the water like me. on a beach, in front of a roaring fire or next to a mountain.

Spicy Chicken, Vegetable & Noodle Soup

CLICK HERE FOR THE PRINTABLE VERSION OF THIS WEBSITE!

Serves about 8. Pasta recipe from The Little Kitchen.
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 60+ minutes
Total time: About 80 minutes

Ingredients: 

For the soup: 

  • 2 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 12 ounces baby bell mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, chopped & seeded
  • 1 large zucchini, sliced and then quartered
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 3 cans (about 14 1/2 ounces each) low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 28 ounce can diced tomatoes (not drained)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1 whole roasted chicken, cooked and shredded (can sub in rotisserie chicken if you’d like)
  • Few sprigs of fresh thyme
  • Few sprigs of fresh rosemary
  • Few springs of fresh sage
  • Fresh parsley, chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Bean sprouts for garnish
  • Cilantro for garnish

For the noodles: 

  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 – 4 tablespoons water

Directions: 

  1. To make the pasta, place the flours, salt, eggs and water into the bowl of a standing mixer. Turn on medium and start mixing until fully combined. Note, if the dough is too dry, add additional water, but in teaspoon increments. After about 2 – 3 minutes of mixing, attach the dough hook. Mix for about 2 minutes. Then remove the dough from the bowl and place on a very floured surface. Using your hands, knead until soft and elastic. Cover with a damp cloth and let rest for about 5 – 10 minutes.
  2. Once rested, cut the dough into chunks. Fit your KitchenAid with a pasta making roller attachment. Using a rolling pin, roll out one chunk of dough at a time (careful to keep the other dough covered so it doesn’t dry out between use). Carefully push the rolled out dough through the roller. I did this about 3 times to get a very smooth and thin sheet of pasta. Once you’re happy with the thickness, attach the spaghetti and fettuccine attachment. Carefully push the rolled out pasta through that until you get strands.
  3. Using a pasta drying rack, dry the pasta noodles until ready to use.
  4. To make the soup, heat the olive oil over medium high head. Add the onions and cook for about 2 minutes. Add in the garlic and cook for about one minute. Add the butter and stir in the mushrooms, zucchini, carrots, celery, jalapeno and bell pepper. Cook on medium heat for about 3 minutes, or until the vegetables start to tenderize.
  5. Gradually add in the broth, diced tomatoes and lime juice, stirring well. Mix in the fresh herbs and salt and pepper. Reduce heat to low and simmer for about 8 – 12 minutes, or until the vegetables are soft. Add in the chicken and simmer another 2 – 4 minutes.
  6. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta in batches and cook until al-dente. Rinse in cold water and add to the large bowl of soup or serve separately. Add some bean sprouts & cilantro for garnish and enjoy!

Nutritional information per serving (about 1 cup of soup):

Calories: 215
Fat: 3.8 grams
Carbohydrates: 12 grams
Fiber: .5 grams
Protein: 3.5 grams

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