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I just got back from a week trip to Iowa to visit friends and family, and most importantly, throw my sister’s baby shower!

It was fun to make all the food for her shower (including Pioneer Woman’s chicken salad), but I still had more cooking to do when I got back to Virginia!

If you’ve had the opportunity to be around any new mamas at all lately, I hope that those in your community have taken the chance to bless their growing families with some prepared meals.  It’s such a relief (at least I hear and I anticipate!) to know that out of the million new challenges you’re facing, dinner isn’t going to be one of them!

For the last several years, the expecting mom usually designated a person as her point person and all others were responsible for contacting her.  For the last year or so, technology has saved the day!

The website is called Take Them a Meal and it’s FABULOUS.  You still need a point person, but the website allows you to include any information about the family’s food preferences/allergies, when they’d like the meal delivered, and the best part…

…SIGN UP!  You don’t have to create an account.  You just pick the day of the week that works well for you.  Check the other types of meals that have been listed (so no worries about repeats) and then put down your information!  It also makes it easy in the event that your plans change.  The expecting family can check online to see what will be coming, who will be coming, and can also contact them directly if plans change.

I just love when technology actually helps us to serve our neighbors more!

So, all that said, just to get to today’s recipe.  I brought a meal to a family yesterday that just had their second child two weeks ago.  An adorable little girl named Gloria :)  I went with one of the few casseroles we eat in this household: Mexican Tator Tot Casserole.

For years, I completely missed out on tator tot casserole (or hot dish–depending on your region, haha).

Green beans: eww.

Cream of mushroom soup: eh, but with green beans, eww.

Ketchup: yes.  I’ve seen people put ketchup IN and ON it.  Wouldn’t touch that with a ten foot pole.

But dang it, who doesn’t like tator tots themselves?!  Something simply had to be done.

So I asked myself, what foods DO I like that might be able to work?

Here’s the answer!

Lean ground beef.

Yep, I like that.

Especially if it’s seasoned with onions, garlic powder, and cumin.

Black beans, mexicorn, and fiesta cheese soup?

Sounds good to me!

(Keep in mind this was all doubled).

So when it comes to canned black beans and the stuff that accompanies them in the can, I’m a bit vain.

I don’t like the funny color it changes my dish, so I rinse them.

But it’s completely up to you!

Lastly, add a can of milk (just fill a soup can) and mix all your ingredients together.  Then when you blog the next day, take the time to wonder why your pictures were so fuzzy!

Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures of the final product (rushing out the door to deliver!).  I recommend just baking until your tots are done.  It’s also delicious if you melt a little colby jack cheese on top :)  This recipe (doubling the meat and canned goods) yielded 2 9X9 casserole dishes plus an oblong casserole dish I had from IKEA.

To wrap things up (let’s face it, I’m using this blog as an excuse to not do my T-Tapp workout), here’s a few pointers on bringing people meals:

1. Bring it in a container you don’t need returned.  If you want to bless them with a nice, new casserole dish, go for it!  Otherwise, disposable or semi-disposable (something they might be able to use for future storage) works great!

2. If you happen to know that there’s a working partner in the household, include a portion that they can bring to work the next day (just a nice bonus!).

3. Include dessert!

4. There’s nothing wrong with take-out.  If you’d like to bless someone but know your cooking would be well, er, less than a blessing, bring them take out!  Chances are that they haven’t gotten out of the house in some time and may just be craving that Jimmy John’s sub!

5. Lastly, be sensitive about time.  You may be SOOO excited to finally meet the baby and want to hear all about the birth story, but dinner time may be survival time in their new house.  Be sure to let mama know how thrilled you are to meet the new one and spend time with her, but be sensitive and willing to take a rain check!

What are your favorite “take them a meal” meals?

On a much anticipated four day weekend, we decided to head north to Washington, D.C.  Now, anyone who knows us knows that even if there are other awesome amusements in store, our favorite part of traveling is trying out new eats!  With the walking in store for us in D.C., we were going to earn our indulgences!

We arrived in the afternoon on our first day.  After dropping our things off at the hotel (which we scored for 58% off on Priceline!), we scrambled to the Capitol’s visitor center for our scheduled tour.  What an amazing place!  The beauty of the dome itself is worth it!

See what I mean?!

Next, because they are connected by a tunnel, and what book fiend (who–me?!) wouldn’t want to, we visited the Library of Congress.  Do you know how much OWL stuff they have in their gift shop?!  But I managed to get out with just photos and my memories for souvenirs.

Another gorgeous ceiling!

If I didn’t expect the floors to be massively uncomfortable, I really would be convinced our forefathers spent the better of their time in office, laying around, staring up at these masterpieces.

After a bit more wandering around the Capitol area and taking more photos, we went back to our hotel for a brief nap and reprieve before heading out for dinner!  The mister’s feet were hurting already (had a tough PT session before we left that morning) so we decided to brave public transportation!  I was pretty proud of us!  My days in Chicago have made me fairly okay in the public transportation department, but I also didn’t want to be responsible for sending us on a wild goose chase (especially with a hungry husband–disaster!).

Before coming to D.C., I had spent most of my research time looking at restaurants.  I read dozens of reviews on Open Table (love that website), browsed some other foodie sites, tried to read a few Washington Post articles (I take this stuff seriously!), and finally settled on this little Caribbean place called the Banana Cafe.

I already confessed–if there are tostones within fifty miles, we can’t resist!

So, much to my delight, this turned out to be a Tex-Mex/Caribbean place. WHAT?!  How often does a girl’s culinary dreams come true?!

Dinner was started with some pretty darn good chips and salsa.  It was no El Azteca, but pretty darn close!

Next, we decided to try an appetizer.  The mister tore into it before I got a picture, but it was a yuca fritter stuffed with pork (I think), served with a side of a house cream sauce.

For our entrees, we decided to try the Saturday special: mofongo.  Oh goodness, we BOTH love mofongo!!  Mofongo is a mixture of fried green plantains that are then mashed with garlic and butter, and shaped into a bowl that is then filled with meat.  Don’t worry–drooling is a completely natural reaction at this point :)

 Our only mistake: we ordered two of these things!

What were we thinking?!

Happy hubster with the leftovers.

17 lbs of mofongo.

Okay, not quite.  But close!

Our hotel room did have a fridge so we were able to store the leftovers, but unfortunately, we left them in the fridge when we checked out.  Doh!

We spent the morning of our second day exploring the monuments, checking out the White House (sort of anticlimatic), and getting a few gifts.  We had planned on only visiting two Smithsonian museums in the afternoon (this turned out to be one too many but I thought I was being conservative with our time): the Museum of Natural History and the Air and Space Museum.  We knew we’d need to good fuel to keep us going but I hadn’t really planned this meal.  Thankfully, we stumbled upon a little place called Chef Geoff’s that was still serving brunch.  In we went!

I loved that this place serves fresh fruit and mini-breads with all brunch meals so you’ve got some snacks while trying to decide.

So, the mister doesn’t really have any dilemmas when it comes to breakfast food.  He’s savory all the way.  But me…  well, I really want the best of both worlds!  The sweet stuff always sounds good to me, but I am always disappointed if there’s not something of substance.  Chef Geoff had a dish that satisfied my criteria and left me feeling satisfied!

Belgian waffle with a side of bacon.

Normally, I’m not a bacon fan, but this was G-O-O-D.

And that little, unassuming dish of raspberry sauce?

The BOMB.

I told you–hubby isn’t a sweet fan–but he threatened to steal it!

Hubster’s entree: poached eggs over a chorizo, pepper, and potato hash.

Amazing!

After many hours of museum touring, we headed to the ‘burbs to visit the hubby’s long-time friend from Puerto Rico.  He had fixed a gigantic Puerto Rican feast (do they come in any other size?!) in honor of our baby news.  I wish I had adequate pictures but the lighting was pretty dim :(  I will tell you that it included these little biscuits made from yucca flour and cheese.  They were delicioso!

Ooof, all this recalling culinary adventures has made me hungry!  Time for a snack :)

What’s a huntress to do in modern society?  Sure, she can hunt down a good bargain, a new recipe for family dinners, but what about when she wants a real challenge?

A few weeks ago, my cupcake compadre, Leslie, and I, decided it was time to truly take on Richmond.  Yes, we had already stumbled upon Careytown Cupcakes and Baby Cakes, but it was time to get serious.

Armed with healthy snacks (we were taking the cakes home to share with the boys), a full tank of gas, and our prerequisite beverages (her: small coffee, me: small Diet Coke), we headed out!

In the interest of full disclosure, we struck out THREE times before we actually found our first bakery.  The other places either no longer existed, were closed, or were actually order-only.  But as with all things in life, perseverance paid off when we were rewarded with Pearl’s!

What an adorable storefront!

Overall, Pearl’s gets an A rating!

Selection: awesome!  Including tasty vegan and gluten-free options.

Service: very friendly and accommodating of photo ops!

My selection: A chocolate cake with PB frosting (delish!) and a chocolate cake with coconut frosting (no complaints here!)

Leslie’s selection: a vegan s’more cupcake (which she delighted in!) and a tiramisu cupcake (also a hit with this coffee lover!)

Next, we were headed back to our standby: Baby Cakes.  We just can’t get enough of this place!  Specifically, I can’t get enough of their TART lemon and lime frostings!

These little ladies may look simply, but they pack MAJOR taste!

And like all good cupcake places, they provide containers for easy cupcake transportation!

Don’t want the ladies to get squished!

Famished–remember, we spent the better part of the morning with trying to find these places and we had to be strong and not polish off our cakes–we split a gyro at what is quickly becoming our favorite nameless (I doubt either of us could tell you the name!) Greek restaurant in Careytown.  Honestly, it could have the crappiest tasting gyro in the world, but everything about the place reminds me of this little joint in Chicago’s Greektown (called Mr. Greek’s) where I have many, many wonderful memories.

Our final stop of the day was to a little place called Delish!

Sorry I don’t have a better picture of this little gem.  She really was delish, but just couldn’t hold a candle to Baby Cakes.

So, like all good huntresses, we returned to our dens and our man-friends, tired but overjoyed at the day’s finds.  And believe it or not, these treats actually lasted more than one day!

Happy hunting!

A few years ago, there was a pumpkin shortage.  You couldn’t find canned pumpkin at any grocery store.  Since then, my sister and I have felt a need to always have a supply on canned pumpkin on hand.  However, when moving across country (and already feeling overwhelmed at the amount of stuff you have decided you NEED to bring with), canned pumpkin seems like the kind of item you don’t need to bring with you.

Well, it only took about a month for me to miss this special ingredient in my life!

Last year, I was introduced to this super easy, fairly healthy recipe by my friend Abby.  She’s an awesome cook, interior decorator, and rivals any man friend in her mad power tool skills!

Fair warning: this muffin has no oil or other added fats or sugars so it will taste like a “diet muffin” (it will still have a moist texture).  So if you’re looking for a good-for-you, slightly sweet treat, this is for you!

And now, for the line-up:

Yep!  Just three ingredients: apples, pumpkins, and spice cake mix.

Next, add your can of pumpkin to your dry cake mix.

I repeat: do NOT prepare the cake mix according to the box directions.  You just want the dry mix.

Start stirring.

Keep stirring.

Question me in your head.

But keep stirring.

And be grateful for the unexpected upper body workout!

If you need a break from stirring, you can take the opportunity to chop your apples.

Personally, I didn’t peel mine but if the skins will bother you or your family, go for it!

The type of apple (I used gala because it’s what I had) and amount (I used about two) is also up to you.

Incorporate the apples.

This won’t take much stirring–I promise!

Okay–it’s finally time to load your pan!

These are going to look very rustic when you finish so don’t fuss too much.

While they are baking, you might decide to take a picture of your favorite dish towel.

Especially if it was given to you by a super sweet friend who indulges you in your love of all things owl.

And there you have it!

While you’re waiting for them to cool, you might decide to take pictures of the sweet new shoes you scored at bargain prices!  I love shoe shopping.  No matter how you feel about yourself or whether you ate a healthy muffin or the full-fledged thing, they will always fit!

Aren’t they cute?!

Yesterday, I got caught in a freak, thirty-minute snow storm with these and they are still holding up!

Well, it’s time to check on my cakes (for cake decorating class) and finish watching the Neverending Story with the hubby!  Happy Sunday!

Apple Pumpkin Muffins

1 spice cake mix

1-15 oz can of pumpkin

1-2 apples

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line muffin tin with paper liners or spray with cooking spray.

2. Mix dry cake mix and canned pumpkin.

3. Chop apples into small, fairly uniform pieces.  Incorporate into pumpkin/cake mixture.

4. Spoon into muffin tin.  Bake for 20-25 minutes.

Shop Til You Snack

A year ago, an all day shopping marathon with my sister or friends would have been no biggie.  Encouraged by the recent return of energy that the second trimester is so famed for, I thought, I can handle a few hours of shopping!

Seven hours and fourteen stores later, this girl needed a snack and a nap!

This journey took place in a Richmond neighborhood called Short Pump.  The original purpose of the trip was a journey to World Market.  It didn’t take too long to realize this upscale shopping destination had lots of awesome shops!

This shopping policy, found outside Tom Leonard’s Farmers Market, was definitely a good sign!  Inside we found samples galore (fresh squeezed orange juice, pineapple, strawberries, hummus, muffins, etc, etc!), some amazing produce deals, and a great clean atmosphere.

Next, we hit up World Market where I picked up a totally unnecessary indulgence.  But have you had these?!  They are so good!

After World Market, we scored some sweet deals at Kohl’s and Target.  I get such a thrill out of those 80% and 90% off signs!  My favorite finds were a black maternity dress for $8.98 and a tank for $2.40!

All that shopping can leave a girl hungry!  After driving for awhile to make sure we weren’t settling, we decided on Red Robin.  We were richly rewarded.  Did you know–if not, I’m so glad to be the one to tell you–that Red Robin now has bottomless SWEET POTATO FRIES?!  Score!

Stuffed, but not in a food coma (my husband is notorious for those!), we decided we needed some time to walk it off.  We found this great pseudo-pedestrian mall called the Short Pump Town Centre.  There, we ooh’ed and ahh’ed over adorable dishes in Crate and Barrel, checked out a sweets shop (on the hunt for cupcakes), went into H & M for the first time (got a cute beret!), had to stop at NY & C (my favorite!), and then got back to our grocery schedule.

Our next destination was Whole Foods.  I had never been to one before but we’ll be back!  So much good stuff!  I scored some awesome granola, a few green power drinks to try, and more importantly, this beauty:

This strawberry creme cupcake was DIVINE.  The frosting to cake ratio was beautiful and the frosting had so many strawberries in it!  Even my chocolate-preferring husband couldn’t resist!

From here, we tried another sweets store (no cupcakes), stopped at the vitamin store, and then, after much searching, found Frostings!  Frosting was a cupcake shop featured on the Food Network’s Cupcake Wars.

I gotta say, I didn’t love this salted caramel chocolate cake as much.  I’m not sure what it was as I usually love the salty-sweet combo, but not a cake I’ll get again.

Finally, as if this day could get better, we made it to Trader Joe’s!  I picked up some of our favorites (including some ingredients I’ll feature in my next post) including $0.99 honey crisp apples!  By this point, I was desperately in need of a snack.  I snagged some TJ’s granola bars.  It’s been one of the funny things about pregnancy for me.  I can almost instantaneously feel when I’ve gone too long without food and I can also almost instantaneously feel RELIEF when I get something in my belly!

It was a long day, but a good one.  Armed with all these new ingredients, dinner was a breeze and I even got to watch a movie with the hubby!

Hope your week is going well!

Mad Skills

Oh yeah.  You read that right.  My Fort Lee friend and I are picking up some mad CAKE DECORATING skills care of Wilton’s Cake Decorating Basics Class at our local Michael’s craft store.

Now, as many of you know, my sister already has mad cake decorating skills. Imagine, as our forces unite… we will be unstoppable at our soon-to-be kiddos birthday parties!

For the first class, you mostly sit through a lot of instruction. And learn to not be grossed out when you find out your frosting will call for two cups of lard. Buttercream will never be the same.

Eventually, you get to start practicing on your nifty new practice board!

Finally, you get to show off your first projects to your friends!

Next week, we get to learn about piping transfers and more icings.  Rumor has it cupcakes will soon be on the scene.  Can’t wait!

Last weekend, families and friends from all over the country got together to enjoy some of the finer things in life: good company, sweatpants, and of course, copious amounts of chips and dip.  Come to think of it, there might have been a football game going on too.

We were invited to participate in these festivities with several of the hubster’s classmates.  The overall food situation was OUT OF CONTROL (the apartment resembled a convenience store mixed with a bar and grill) and I admit, we contributed to the madness.  In addition to another batch of those delightful chocolate chip cookies and some buffalo chicken dip, I tried a couple of new recipes: Jalapeno Popper Dip and Chorizo Black Bean Dip with Pastry Chips.

First, the Jalapeno Popper Dip.

Like with most party dips, it involves a generous amount of cream cheese but I think the real winner in the dish is the bacon.

Note: I loathe, despise, and abominate frying bacon.  This was truly a work of love and sacrifice.

The finished product involves a topping of cheese, panko bread crumbs, and butter.

If the bacon didn’t get you, this will!

Next up, Chorizo Black Bean Dip.  Now, Chorizo Black Bean Empanadas are one of my most favorite appetizers.  However, they are a bit time intensive and I just didn’t think this crowd was fully going to appreciate the effort level.  So I decided to attempt a sort of deconstructed version.  I’d make the filling into a dip (just a bit more mashing of the black beans) and I’d see if I could turn the pie crust into chips.

Fair warning: this has a bit of kick!

A stroke of genius!

These would probably be delightful sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar and served with a sweet dip.

Here’s hoping you had a wonderful Super Bowl Sunday as well!

Jalapeno Popper Dip

(original recipe found here)

16 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup mayonnaise
8 pieces of bacon, cooked and chopped up
6 jalapeños, minced (if you can’t get fresh, substitute a 4-ounce can diced jalapeño peppers, drained)
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ teaspoon cumin
1½ cups shredded cheddar cheese

Topping:
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

2. Combine the cream cheese, mayonnaise, bacon, jalapenos, garlic, cumin and cheddar cheese in a mixing bowl. Pour the mixture into a casserole dish or 9×13 baking dish.

3. Combine the panko breadcrumbs, Parmesan cheese and melted butter in a small bowl, tossing with a fork until the mixture is evenly moistened. Sprinkle evenly over the cream cheese mixture.

4. Bake in the preheated oven for 25 to 30 minutes, until the top is golden brown and the dip is bubbling. Let rest for 5 minutes before serving. Serve with your favorite tortilla chips, crackers, vegetables, etc.

Chorizo Black Bean Dip & Pastry Chips

1 lb chorizo sausage

1 can black beans

8 oz pepper jack cheese

2 pie crusts

Cooking Spray

1. In a skillet, brown the chorizo.  Drain any excessive grease.

2. While the chorizo is browning, rinse off your black beans.

3. Once chorizo is cooked, add black beans to pan.  Use a potato masher or the back of a fork to begin mashing the beans.  You may find that you’ll want to add a little liquid (add a tablespoon at a time) if you’re mixture isn’t sticking together.  You’ll want about 80% of the beans completely mashed.

4. Let the mixture start to come together over low heat.

5. While that is going, grate your pepperjack cheese.

6. Add half the cheese into the chorizo/black bean mixture and stir until completely melted.

7. Pour mixture into a 9 X 9 baking dish.  Top with remaining grated cheese.  Bake at 350 degrees until warmed through and cheese is melted.

Pastry Chips

1. Simply take your pie crust, roll it out on a lightly floured surface, and use a pizza cutter to slice into square chip-sized portions.

2. Place on a cookie sheet and lightly spray the tops with cooking spray.

3. Put in the same 350 degree oven as your dip and cook for approximately ten minutes.

Enjoy!

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