Just Like Panera’s Mac & Cheese


I could actually write an entire post on the reasons why I love Panera Bread.  No, I am not being compensated to write this post, just a really big fan!  It is easily my favorite on-the-go stop for a quick meal and while there are many reasons for that, their creamy Mac & Cheese is definitely toward the top of the list.  Mac & Cheese is one of the ultimate comfort foods in my book and I have yet to find one I like better, so you can imagine how long it took me to try it out when I found the recipe from another blogger (Annies-Eats.com, via Panera Bread and Smells-Like-Home.com).  The slightly modified recipe below doesn’t take long to make and is so flavorful.

Yield: 4-8 servings (4 servings as a meal, 8 servings as a side)

You will need:
1 lb. shaped pasta (I use Barilla’s Medium Shells)
8 oz. shredded white cheddar cheese (I use a sharp white cheddar)
4 oz. white American cheese chopped into small pieces
2 3/4 cups milk or half-n-half
5 Tbsp butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp hot sauce
dash of ground pepper


1.Bring a large stockpot of water to a boil.  Cook the pasta until al dente (about 8-12 minutes).  Drain the pasta, return pasta to the pot and keep off the heat.
2. In a medium sauce pan, melt the butter over medium heat.  Whisk in the flour until completely blended and golden brown in color.
3. Slowly add in the milk or half-n-half and continue to whisk together until creamy and free of any lumps.
4. Add the salt, pepper, mustard, hot sauce and continue to stir until fully blended.  Reduce the heat to low and continue to stir until the sauce is thickened (about 4-6 minutes).
5. Once the sauce is thickened, add in half of the American cheese, stir with the whisk until fully melted and then repeat with the second half.  After all of the American cheese is blended in, add half of the cheddar cheese, stir with the whisk until fully melted and then repeat with the second half.
6. When all of the cheese is fully melted and the sauce is creamy, turn the heat off and pour over the cooked pasta.  Stir until all of the pasta is evenly coated with the sauce and serve.


Toasted Pumpkin Seeds


This is a re-post of a fall classic I posted back in 2013, toasted pumpkin seeds!  On Saturday I carved my first pumpkin of the 2016 season, which of course means there were plenty of pumpkin seeds to either toss or toast.  I decided to toast them.  If you’re willing to do the work to clean the pumpkin seeds from a freshly cut or carved pumpkin, they can make a great snack on the go.

To prepare your pumpkin seeds:

As you pull the seeds and pulp/guts from your pumpkin, throw them in a bowl full of cold water.

As you separate the seeds from the pulp of the pumpkin, place them in another bowl of cold water.  The second bowl should have nothing but water & seeds when you’re done.

Strain the clean seeds.

Place the seeds evenly over the baking sheet and cover with a couple paper towels or clean dry dish towel.

Let the seeds dry out for a day or two.  It may be tempting to try and toast them right away, but they will come out much better if you let them sit at least overnight to draw out some of the moisture.  Cooking them too early may cause them to be chewy instead of crispy.

When you are ready to toast the seeds:
Preheat oven to 275 degrees F.

Once the seeds are completely dry, put them in a plastic storage bag.  Coat with a little bit of olive oil or melted butter.  Since the qty. of pumpkins you will get vary from pumpkin to pumpkin there really isn’t an exact science or recipe.  I recommend coating them just so that there is enough for any seasoning to stick to each of the seeds.

Add in your seasoning and toss them in the bag until evenly coated.  You can use any seasoning you like.  Salt is a classic, but you can also use sugars, cinnamon, dip mixes, etc.  I like to use a mild grilling seasoned salt.  A little goes a long way, maybe 1-2 tsp per bag depending on qty. of seeds and desired taste.

Place the seeds back on the baking sheet and evenly spread them out.

Place in middle oven rack and turn every 10-15 minutes.

Seeds will be toasted in 45-50 minutes.  When they start to turn a golden brown color, they are done.  If you like them darker/crispier, leave in oven for another 5-10 minutes.  Remove from oven and let cool.

Once cooled, store in an air tight container.


Sparkling Cinnamon Plum Sangria


Sangria season doesn’t stop at the end of the summer around here!  This sparkling cinnamon plum sangria puts a fall twist on the classic summer beverage.  Plums are typically still in season through early-mid October and this past weekend I put them to good use with this adult beverage treat.

Yield: 4 servings/glasses

You will need:
3-4 ripe plums
1 bottle white wine (I used Sauvignon Blanc)
1 12 oz. can plain seltzer water
4-6 cinnamon sticks

1. Slice plums and put in large glass pitcher.
2. Add full bottle of white wine.
3. Cover and refrigerate for at least 3-4 hours or overnight to absorb the flavor of the fruit.
4. Before serving, add the 12 oz. can of seltzer water and cinnamon sticks.  I like to add one cinnamon stick to each glass when serving.



Italian Sausage & Veggie Soup


Soup season has officially arrived!  This Italian Sausage & Veggie Soup was inspired by a recipe my sister-in-law made from Real Simple last year.  As soon as I tried it I had to have the recipe and since then I’ve made some changes & additions to make it my own.  The blended flavors come together well and this makes for such a quick and easy meal!

Yield: 6 servings

You will need:
6 links (or 1 lb) Italian sausage (I buy the links & remove the casings)
32 oz. chicken broth (add more if you like a heavier broth base)
6 cups raw kale leaves (minus the stems, just the leaves)
1 15 oz. can cannellini beans rinsed
1 14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 15 oz. can whole corn kernels
1 cup matchstix carrots
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 1/2 tsp minced garlic
salt & pepper to taste

To make:

1. In a soup/stock pot heat 1 tablespoon olive oil on medium heat.  Add the Italian sausage, switch heat to high and crumble while cooking until cooked through (about 8-10 minutes).  When fully cooked through drain the fat from the sausage over a plate lined with paper towel and return the cooked meat to the pot.

2. Add the 32 oz. chicken broth to the sausage.

3. Add in the garlic, beans, corn, carrots and diced tomatoes.  Stir well and bring to a boil.  As soon as the soup starts to boil, pull heat back to medium and add the kale leaves.  Add a little ground salt & pepper to taste.  Stir and let simmer for about 15-20 minutes.

Note: If you like to add pasta to your soups, I recommend a smaller cut pasta like Orzo for this recipe and increasing the broth to 64 oz. as the pasta will absorb some of the broth.

This soup is delicious topped with a little parmesan cheese and a big loaf of fresh bread with a little butter.


Pumpkin Bites


These little pumpkin bites are so easy to make and store easily for a quick bite or two on the go, or just a little nibble of something when your sweet tooth comes calling.

Yield: 22-24 pcs.

You will need:
2 1/2 cups plain oats
1 cup pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling)
1/2 cup honey
1 1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1/4 cup pepitas
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup coconut flakes
1/4 cup chocolate chips

To make:
1. Line a medium cookie sheet with wax or parchment paper.
2. Put all of the ingredients in a mixing bowl and stir thoroughly until blended well.
3. Mix into 1″ balls (or another size if you prefer).  I use a medium cookie dough scoop to make each of the balls even.
4. Place the pumpkin balls on to the lined cookie sheet and store in the freezer for one hour, or refrigerator for two hours.
5. Remove the cookie sheet from the freezer or refrigerator and put the bites in an air tight container or freezer bag and return to freezer or refrigerator until ready to serve.

Eat chilled (frozen or refrigerated, whichever you prefer).  These will start to lose their shape if sitting at room temperature too long so I do recommend serving & eating these cold.


Pumpkin Butter

Fruit and Pumpkin Butter

This is the time of year when we start to see all the pumpkin spice flavored food products come out in the stores.  As much as I do love and buy some of these products, there is still nothing quite like homemade when it comes to certain things.  For me, pumpkin butter is one of those things.  This homemade pumpkin butter is so easy to make, takes less than 15 minutes to put together and is so much better than any store bought brand I’ve tried.

Prep Time: 15 min
Yield: Three 1-pint jars

You will need:
2 15 oz. cans solid pack pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)
1 cup white granulated sugar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
3 Tbsp unsalted butter (cut into smaller pieces)
1 tsp lemon juice
1 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
3/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/8 tsp ground cloves

To make:
1. Set your slow cooker on low.
2. Spoon pumpkin from cans into the slow cooker.
3. Add sugars, spices, salt, lemon juice and stir together.
4. Add the butter to the mixture, cook on low and when butter starts to melt, stir all items together until butter is fully melted & blended.
5. Once you have a well blended mixture, continue to cook on low for 3 hours.  I like to stir it every half hour to avoid it browning/scorching on the bottom & sides of the slow cooker.
6. If toward the end of the 3 hours the pumpkin butter is not as thick as you’d like it, you can continue to cook for more time without the slow cooker lid to thicken it up further.  It will also thicken more once refrigerated.

When butter is ready store in an air tight covered container.  I like to use three small 1-pint glass jars, put some ribbon on it and give as a gift.  It can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 2-3 weeks.

Note: If you are tempted to make a large batch and can the pumpkin butter, please note that the USDA & National Center for Home Food Preservation does not recommend canning pumpkin butter.


Fall Fruit “Nacho” Plate



This fall “nacho” plate takes just minutes to make and makes a great healthy after school snack or after dinner treat for both kids & adults.

You will need:
1 red apple
1 green pear
2 tsp peanut or almond butter
2 tsp chocolate sauce
1 oz. trail mix or nuts (I used a cranberry, almond & cashew mix)

To make:
1. Slice the apple & pear and arrange as desired on a plate.
2. In a small pinch bowl, melt the peanut or almond butter on low in the microwave for 10-15 seconds and drizzle over the apples & pears.
3. Drizzle the chocolate sauce over the apples & pears.
4. Chop the trail mix into small pieces and sprinkle over the apples & pears.

Serve & enjoy!

Pumpkin Pie Spice

Pumpkin Pie Spice

If you’re like me, there’s been a time or two where you’ve gone to make a recipe that called for pumpkin pie spice and you either didn’t have any or there just wasn’t enough in that tiny container they sell in the stores.  Making your own pumpkin pie spice at home is super easy and takes just a few minutes using spices you likely already have in your pantry.

You will need:
3 Tbsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground nutmeg
2 tsp ground ginger
1 1/4 tsp ground allspice
1 1/4 tsp ground cloves

To make:
1. Put each of the five ground spices in a small bowl.
2.Using a small whisk or fork, mix all of the spices together until well mixed.

That’s it.  I told you it was super easy!  Store in a small glass container (clean baby food or small jam jar works great) or plastic bag and use as needed.

Butternut Squash “Fries”

Pumpkin Fries

If you like sweet potato fries, these baked butternut squash “fries” are a great alternative with fewer carbs and filled with healthy nutrients.  This recipe could just as easily be applied to sweet potatoes as well.

To make you will need:
1 whole butternut squash
2 tsp olive or avocado oil
salt & pepper

1. Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees
2. Peel butternut squash, cut in half length-wise and remove seeds.
3. Cut in half a second time width-wise and then cut into sticks or “fries”, about 1/4″ thick.
4. Place on foil lined baking sheet (you don’t have to use the foil, but I find it makes clean up easier).
5. Spread butternut squash sticks/fries evenly out on pan.
6. Drizzle oil over the squash and use a basting brush to coat sticks/fries evenly.
7. Sprinkle with salt & pepper to taste (or you may use cinnamon if you prefer a sweeter taste).
8. Bake at 400 degrees for 30-40 minutes depending on desired texture.

These are great out of the oven on their own, but if you like a dipping sauce I recommend something a bit sweeter like honey.

Blues & Greens Salad

Blueberry Salad

This simple salad is amazing with a burst of fresh summer blueberry in every bite!  As I’ve noted before in previous posts I tend not to be overly concerned with exact measurements in any kind of salad with greens as the base, but I always like to provide a general guide of what goes into my salads so you can adjust to your own liking & preference based on what you have on hand. The flavor combination of this salad is both sweet & nutty and will not disappoint.

Yield: 4 servings

You will need:
5.5 oz field greens mix
1 cup fresh blueberries
1 cup chopped bartlett pear
1/2 cup walnuts
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup crumbled goat cheese

I like to leave a little of each ingredient off to the side before tossing the salad. Toss (and add dressing if desired), then top with remaining toppings for presentation on the table. I serve this salad with a sweet poppy seed dressing, but it’s also great tossed with a little olive oil and balsamic vinegar or another dressing that’s a little bit on the sweeter side like a raspberry vinaigrette.