Spinach and Ricotta (Vegetarian!) Stuffed Shells

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Are ya ready? This recipe is a family favorite (even with spinach!). It happens to be vegetarian but I often serve them along side meatballs (nothing fancy- frozen meatballs in a pot of jarred sauce). It makes about three dozen shells  (10-12 servings) and I often freeze half or pass it on to friends since it is easily assembles and heated.

Here’s what you’ll need:

1 box jumbo pasta shells

4 cups (2lbs) Ricotta cheese (I use part skim)

2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

3 eggs

1 package frozen chopped spinach

1 TBSP fresh chopped parsley

3/4 teaspoon dried oregano

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

3-4 cups marinara sauce (a 28 oz. jar does the trick)

 

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Bring a large pot of water to a boil. While I wait for the water to boil I set up a sort of assembly line. I hadn’t thought to photograph that.. oops, blogging fail. Basically I have the water boiling on the stove. Directly next to the stove I lay out parchment paper to lay the cooked shells on. Next to that I have my bowl (we’ll fill that in a minute) of ricotta mixture and then another parchment for the filled shells. Then I have several freezer bags (if I intend to freeze a batch) or my greased pans with marinara and Parmesan ready nearby.

Cook shells in batches of 5-8 (depending on size of your pot) according to the timing on the box. Slightly under-cooked shells are okay and actually easier to fill because they keep their shape and don’t tear as easily. An overcooked shell will work fine but will require more care when removing from the water and filling. Also, I recommend a splash of olive oil in the water to keep the shells from sticking together.

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Defrost the frozen spinach and drain well. For good measure I also use a large chef’s knife to chop the spinach again. I know, I know… The package says its already chopped. But I’ve found that chopping more makes the spinach less stringy and and more “bite size”. This is particularly helpful for the kids, as we want them to virtually forget about the spinach anyway, right?!

For the fill mixture: Beat 3 eggs. Add ricotta and mozzarella cheeses and season with parsley, oregano, salt and pepper. Stir in spinach.

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As the batches of shells are ready, pull them from the water with a slotted spoon. Lay them on parchment paper and allow to cool. Carefully spoon filling into each shell so as not to tear the shells. Set aside to cool on parchment.

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pour thin layer of sauce in pan and arrange shells upright and tightly in baking dish. Spoon Marinara sauce over each shell and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Bake at 350F for 35 minutes or until sauce is bubbly.  If you’re freezing some or all of your shells be sure to let them cool completely ad then place in freezer bags with as little air as possible and being careful to keep them facing upright until frozen. Once you’re ready to use the frozen shells, remove from freezer and assemble shells in baking dish as instructed above. Allow to “thaw” on refrigerator overnight to 24 hours before baking.

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Enjoy, as always, with a glass champagne!

xo,

Hilda

Squared

  You may remember that I helped a friend hang a grid of mirrors last month. I had also been meaning to try it in my own house but I was struggling on where I’d want to hang a grid of mirrors. I bought 10 of the same mirrors we used at Erika’s house and they sat in a pile on the buffet in the kitchen. For some reason I couldn’t commit to a grid of mirrors. Then I realized that the square mirror frames would make the perfect frame for Instagram photos. I started by thing to pry the mirrors out of the frames. Let me tell you- those things are cemented in and I almost lost a few fingers. So trust me when I day that I recommend Modge Podge. You like having fingers, don’t you? Thought so.

What I used:

Ikea MALMA mirrors ($1.99 each!)

-Printed Instagram photos (I use the Walgreens app. They stay in 4″x4″ format, are super affordable and they are usually ready in an hour!)

-Modge Podge

-Paint brush, ruler, sharpie, scissors

-Hammer, nails, level

 First, I laid out all of the photos I had printed. I had chosen to print photos I had Instagrammed of food. I thought it would be a fun addition to the kitchen. I recommend that gallery walls have some so of theme, whether it is a color theme or subject matter. It should make sense to any guest that enters your home. I had about 20 to choose from and had to narrow them to 10. I asked Hubby to help me weed through them. It was easy to toss out photos that were lower quality or had bad lighting. In the end he convinced me that 8 was a better number and wouldn’t clutter the wall we had chosen. He even used one of my favorite design principles on me, “Less is sometimes more.” Sold! Eight it was. We opted for 2 rows of 4. Also considered: 3 rows of 3 to make a square gallery of nine images. These are the 8 we landed on. Hubby pointed out another theme: circles. All of the photos had circular subjects and it wasn’t even on purpose.    Next I measured the mirror space to see if I needed to cut down the pictures. The mirror was just under 3 and 3/4″ so I marked my ruler and got to trimming. I noticed that the photos I had used the instagram filter frame/borders on fit perfectly after removing the borders. Had I known this I would have printed all of my images with borders to save a little effort. After trimming, I was ready to glue the photos directly on the mirrors. I applied a thin layer of Modge Podge to mirror and pressed my photos in place. Some of the photos were snug and needed convincing to fit the corners in but I was patient and gentle. Trimming and gluing took less than 15 minutes! I let it all dry overnight (mostly because of my schedule… you could definitely move directly on to hanging from the point).  Next I gridded out my gallery all on paper with my wall measurements in hand. I moved the buffet and climbed up on a chair. I’m always surprised at how much I enjoy putting nail holes all over my walls… especially since I’ve painted each room in my house at least once since we’ve moved in. Just pounding holes into my hard work but I think you will agree that it was so worth it. Take a peek:

                  All in all I’m really happy with the way it looks and glad I chose to go with photos over mirrors. I even like how it looks as I enter from the family room.

I don’t hate the price tag either! 8 frames x $1.99 each = 15.92! I already had the other supplies. Can you believe this is a $16 gallery wall?!?!

PSST… you can follow me on Instagram by clicking on the Instagram link to the right (in the sidebar) or by finding @hildagotrocks on Instagram. I’m also on Bloglovin’ + Facebook + Twitter which are linked in the side bar as well.

Party Paper

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I know it’s been a month since NYE but I wanted to share a fun party trick I used for our little get together. Don’t worry- you don’t have to wait until next NYE, you can use it for any party! I bought a roll of Kraft paper a while back and I’ve been having fun using it for entertaining. So far I’ve used it for book club, casual post-thanksgiving gathering and game night. I love this idea for so many reasons… First you can buy rolls of Kraft paper at many grocery stores and even Walmart on the cheap. Second, it’s disposable. Third, it’s a festive way to add some unique decor and a functional and fun way to label dishes. There is so much you can do with it!

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I simply rolled out my paper (cut to a 12″ runner size in this case) where I was going to have our “bar” area. I used a sharpie to outline the glasses, label wines, and even outlined the corkscrew. I tried to vary the size of the letters and different vibes for each word. I had fun and made a whimsical illustration of Champagne and used the marker to label cranberry juice that I had put in a small carafe.

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As most of our guests are tired young parents like ourselves, I knew midnight was passed most of our bedtimes. I made sure the Keurig was ready (thanks, Santa!) and set out some coffee mugs with a K-cup in each one. Then I wrote simple direction for the Keurig. *** Side note: I just got a reusable K-cup so I can have any local coffee I want and be more “green” …BTW- have you seen this video?!?! Worth a quick watch.

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I also used the paper on our kitchen’s peninsula for some of the food. I left the marker and open spaces for party guests who were bringing dishes to share. I added washi tape to keep everything in place and to keep the end from rolling up.

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Whenever I use this I get tons of comments on how clever it is. It is literally a blank slate for your party. Cut the edges with scrap-booking scissors, use washi tape, different markers, use movie quotes or fun facts that pertain to your theme. Anything is possible! I doesn’t need to be perfect. Have fun with it!

Nannypalooza 2014: Philadelphia

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I recently had the pleasure of attending the Nannypalooza conference in Philadelphia. I was lucky enough to share the experience with several other CincyNanny members including my sister and business partner Susie as well as Greta of Project Momma, My dear friends Molly (who you probably recognize from all of her amazing help on Hilda projects), Trisha and Judy. All of these ladies are incredible assets to our nanny community and I had so much fun learning from them and more than 150 other nannies over the weekend. Nannypalooza is an annual professional nanny conference designed for nanny networking, education, community and fun. I have attended a few and I can’t say enough great things about the experience, education and community that I take away from it each time. After each conference I return home with renewed inspiration, new ideas and knowledge to apply to my job and family. O benefits too! I come home with tons of new play and learning ideas. And I have even more boundary and discipline tactics. Conferences are surprisingly affordable (especially if you can share a hotel room or split transportation with others) and can be written off as business expenses. You are enriching your abilities that you employ everyday at work! I also have som much fin seeing some of the same faces from other professional conferences and I’ve made so many friends from attending things like this. I’m so grateful for all of these women who support me professionally and as friends. We also are so luck to have great sponsors who believe in the Nanny community. Thanks to all of the companies and nanny groups that support Nannypalooza! I wish I had taken more pictures! Next year’s Nannypalooza is in Orlando! Don’t miss it.

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Above: Susie, Molly, Myself, Judy, Greta and Trisha.

Below: a “funny face” picture… I missed the memo.

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We spent our days building into each other, sharing nanny tactics and secrets, attending sessions on all kinds of topics. There were tons to choose from and our group often split up to go to sessions on different topics. I chose sessions on Speech Language Development, Montessori in the Home, Communicating with Parents and more all about kids, nannies and professionalism. I also was fortunate enough to be a part of the Nanny Mom Panel where I got to speak about my experiences of bringing O to work with me, maintaining 2 households and finding balance.

 

Don’t worry… it wasn’t all business. We also had sometime to explore Philly. And all of Philly’s food. Who knew it was a foodie gem? We stopped at Green Eggs Cafe for a decadant breakfast feast. We so needed that after a late night of traveling… I think we go to bed around 3am after our late flight, long wait for a rental car and a drive to the hotel. We were starving. Here I am posing with Tiramisu french toast that I paired with a Nutella latte.

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Susie enjoyed sampling Philadephia’s brews. Her favorite was Yards Pale Ale. We have cousins with Yards as their last name and so we sent this picture to them to show how much Susie was enjoying their beer. Obviously, she was really excited about it.

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We had a lovely girls’ night out in Philly too. Pizza, dessert, drinks and dancing. A great bonding experience and breath of fresh air. I haven’t laughed so hard in ages!

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Susie and I made sure to get some fun shades in Chinatown.

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And of course I marveled at all the gorgeous architecture in such an old city.

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And I found a touch of home! This water fountain caught my eye because it looked exactly like the ones all over Cincinnati parks and in Hyde Park Square. And I looked down to see the petal… Made in Cincinnati!IMG_0931

 

Greta spotted the Jonathan Adler store from across the street and we ran through the traffic to take this ridiculous picture. We are Jonathan Adler groupies!

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We only had a few minutes to wander through the store but I just want to pick up the entire showroom and place it in my house. Spectacular design.

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On another adventure we set out for a walk through town and found something completely unexpected. Rosa’s Fresh Pizza caught our attention because from the street we could see that the walls were plastered in post-it notes. Greta peeked in to see what the post-its were all about and came back with a cool story. These guys started this by-the-slice pizza place and noticed that many hungry, homeless people would buy their slices because it was a dollar and they could afford to eat that day. The owner mentioned that they feed many of Philadelphia’s homeless when he was interviewed in a newspaper article. Suddenly people started giving an extra dollar to “pay-it-forward” for pizza slices for the hungry. Each dollar donation is represented by a post-it note and the donor can write a message on each post-it that they “buy” for someone else. We each bought one and wrote messages. Neat idea! Read more about how Rosa’s Fresh Pizza feeds Philadelphia’s homeless here or like Rosa’s on Facebook.IMG_0806

 

Below is my note surrounded by many others… including thank you note from a homeless patron.

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On our last outing we were directed by some local friends to eat at the Continental. The fries were highly recommended. Good thing there were 4 of us at lunch because the plate of fries was huge. IMG_0893

…and we ate them all.

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When it was time to head home we were tired…

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Not only was I tired from travel, but when I returned home I was greeted by a sick kid. Hubby had it under control… but when I got home at 10pm, he was packed for his own 8am flight. Whirlwind! O’s all better now but that should explain why it took me almost a month to post about all the Philly fun.

Grown up Mac-n-Cheese

Everybody loves a good macaroni and cheese recipe, myself included. I have a favorite classic recipe that I usually bring as a vegetarian friendly contribution to Thanksgiving so I think I’ll be sharing it later in the fall. But I also happen to have a more summer inspired hot pasta recipe that I like to call “Grown Up Mac-n-Cheese” and its always a hit. It’s based on a recipe my aunt gave me but I doctored it up a bit so it has a little bit of *zing* to it. It also is super easy and fast since it does not require making a roux like a traditional macaroni recipe.

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What you will need:

16oz of Sour Sream – I used reduced fat

16oz of Cottage Cheese – small curd is best

1 lb of Penne pasta

2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese

2 – 2.5 tsp (I’ve even been known to do 3 tsp) Worcestershire sauce

1 bunch green onion (diced)

1 1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp pepper

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Preheat oven to 350F

Cook penne noodles according to box and drain.

Mix sour cream, cottage cheese, and Worcestershire sauce in large bowl. Use hand mixer to break up clumps and blend gently. Add green onion, salt and pepper in large bowl. I usually just toss them all in the stand mixer in one step.

In a large bowl, mix pasta with the sour cream mixture together. Pour into greased 9″x 13″ pan, cover with foil. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and remove foil. Sprinkle shredded cheese on top and bake uncovered for another 10 minutes or until bubbling. Allow to stand 10 minutes before serving.

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Enjoy! It’s a favorite around here!

PSSSSSST My Etsy Shop is celebrating the end of summer! Use coupon code SUMMER30 for 30% off your jewelry or photography purchase over $10 now through September 30th!

Bag Lady

Well, we all know I’m a bag lady. But I’m not talking about purses or reusable totes here. Let’s talk Ziplock, shall we? And no, I have no affliation with the makers of Ziplock and the like. I do, however, like to make life a little easier whenever possible. And so I present to you: smoothie bags.

On the weekends I often spend a little of my down time to prepare for the week. Sometimes that means packing bags for our evening activities (swim lessons for O, American Cancer Society meetings for me and Futsal for Hubby) or prepping ingredients and meals ahead of time like this Sunday night meal that makes for great leftovers during the week. One thing that proves to be a lifesaver is smoothies. I can easily pack a ton of healthy stuff into a cool treat. And O thinks they are like dessert: Mommy tricks for the win! Oh, and if you have never heard of Futsal, join the club… my husband suddenly started coaching it… and I had to Google it.

Anyway, to save time and trouble I usually have a few “smoothie bags” ready in the freezer. This helps if we are in a hurry or low on fresh ingredients. Sometimes the bags are made at the end of the week when I have a small collection of fruits and veggies that are “on their way out” or just too many to eat before it all goes bad. It also makes the process easy for anyone to do when I’m not here. I even have been known to pack a smoothie bag and take it to work… and all that needs to be done is toss it in the blender. I wouldn’t say I have “recipes” but I definitely have a system.

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My secret is to take bottled Naked or Odwalla brand smoothies and make them into ice cubes in the days before. That is what you see in the center top of the photo above. This way you can get things that are either hard to blend (like carrots and citruses) or fruits and veggies that are out of season into your smoothie. It also eliminates the need to toss in ice cubes when it’s time to flip the switch. If you’re a juicer you can make cubes out of anything you juice as well. Then I lay out my loot. This is almost always spinach, strawberries (frozen and fresh), an almost-too-ripe banana or two, pears (I can’t seem to keep them long), and blueberries. Lots of other things can work too: pineapples, raspberries, melon, kale, and so on. Some of your choices may need to be softened by steaming or peeling them first. You can also toss in flax seed, wheat grass, supplements and protein powders. I usually don’t because I almost always share these with O but it’s a great way to down things that are just plain unpleasant when you do them alone.

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Next, I cut everything into easy to blend cubes and sort out what I’d like in each bag. Somethings can be put with any flavor… spinach, kale and banana are easy to mix with because they aren’t overpowering flavors and are easy sweetened up with other ingredients. Same goes for many of the juices I used to make the ice cubes. All berries go well together, at least I think. Basically, just mix ingredients into the bags that you would like together. If you would like to have a strawberry smoothie then put in 3 or 4 with a banana, spinach and a cube… in the end you’ll mostly taste the strawberry. I make mine “single serving” sized and they only take up 1/4 to 1/3 of the bag but if you want larger portions then you can fill your bags more.

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Last, I label (with your name or what is in them) all of the baggies and freeze them. When I’m ready to make one I just grab one and toss it in the blender with a liquid in order to thin it out. Consider using soy, almond, or cow’s milk. Sometimes I use yogurt, fruit juice or applesauce too. Why not enjoy a smoothie on your way out the door in the morning, or as a snack before or after a workout? We even treat them like dessert in the summer. The possibilities are endless!

Easy Brie Cups

I love a good appetizer. And its hard for me to resist one with cheese, let alone Brie. MMMmmm… Brie! My friend Erika makes this amazing appetizer she calls “Brie Cups”. I was asked to bring an appetizer to a family bridal shower this weekend and I called her up for the recipe. I was shocked at how effortless it is!

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What you’ll need:

Red Pepper Jelly

Brie Cheese wheel

Mini Fillo Shells (ready made/already baked shells can be found in the freezer section at the grocery)

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Start by cutting open the Brie wheel. I tried to avoid the rind because I thought it may not melt as well as the rest of the cheese but the rind is edible if you want to include it.  Then I made small tablespoon-ish sized balls of Brie. I just rolled them in the palms of my hands to help them fit into the shells without overflowing out of the shell. That also help me make uniform sized portions for each shell. I followed up by dropping small spoonfuls of pepper jelly onto each ball of cheese. For the assembly process I found it easier to leave the shells in the tray that came in the box, as you can see in the picture above.

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Place the filled shells on cookie sheet and bake for about 4 minutes at 375 degrees (F). You only need to bake long enough for the cheese to melt since the dough is already baked. Serve warm… although they still taste very good once they’ve cooled. I found that the Brie wheel filled 30 fillo shells (2 frozen packages) and I used about a third of the jar of jelly. I was sort of disappointed with how far the Brie went and I might try to make it go further next time by using the rind as well.

The shower was a blast and I got to see my awesome family and celebrate with a beautiful bride! The Brie cups were a huge hit at the shower! And my cousin made similar fillo cups with Brie! Great minds think alike. Instead of pepper jelly, she used blueberry preserves on some and sprinkled Thyme on others. Delicious! I’ll have to remember those combinations for next time I make these.

PSSSST! You may also like my recipe for Apple Goat Cheese Bruschetta.

Apple Goat Cheese Bruschetta

We were invited to my parents’ house last night for a cookout in honor of some family friends that are in town visiting. Steak, macaroni and cheese, corn on the cob and grilled veggies were on the menu. When I asked what I could bring my mom asked me to bring a “light appetizer” since the rest of the menu was fairly rich and we were having birthday cake from the amazing BonBonerie Bakery afterward. I immediately thought of this fantastic apple bruschetta my friend used to make. She sent me a link to the recipe but I changed up some of the measurements.

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Ingredients:

1 Fuji apple (really any sweet apple will do) peeled and cubed

1/3 cup goat cheese

3/4 tsp thyme

1/2 tsp oregano

1/4 ground black pepper

1 baguette sliced thin

Lay the slices of bread out flat onto a cookie sheet. Turn on your broiler and toast the slices for just a minute … maybe two. Just to get them warm and a little crusty. Mix goat cheese, thyme, oregano and pepper then toss in apple cubes. Spoon mixture onto bread. Place in oven for a minute until cheese is melted well.

This was so delicious that the finished product didn’t even stick around long enough for me to snap a picture! It was a great fall appetizer because of the apple. But it is a really unique mix of spices, savory goat cheese and sweet apples. I was tempted to add a drop of honey but I wasn’t sure if it would be too sweet. Of course my favorite part was how easy it was and the fact that it took practically no time to mix together. My kind of recipe.

 

*Baking related side note: I made those amazing homemade pop tarts yesterday…but I switched out the filling for my Mother-in-law’s homemade strawberry preserves. She even picks the strawberries herself! Hubby ate half of them for dessert and I’m guessing the rest of the batch won’t last through the day.

Indigo Date Night

When it comes to date nights Hubby and I are the first too admit they are far too sparce for us. We need more of them. Not that we don’t go out. We do… but O is a pretty easy baby to take along most anywhere. Babyless date nights are hard to come by. When we decided on a date night this weekend it was what I would call “flexible” … as in, we scheduled a sitter and didn’t get any further than that in the planning.

We had errands to run so we started the date at 4pm with a shopping spree for Hubby at Banana Republic, Gap and Target. No lie- the dog keeps eating the armpits of his shirts. Just the armpits. Leaving clothes on the bathroom floor or forgetting to close the laundry room door are getting to be expensive mistakes. Its driving me bonkers and his wardrobe is dwindling. Poor dude was down to just a few work appropriate shirts and hoodies.

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After shopping we were looking for a casual dinner. For us “casual” means jean-friendly, reasonably priced, no reservations needed and chill atmosphere. Boom: Indigo in Hyde Park Square (Cincinnati) was our answer. Its a favorite of ours in the summer because of its inviting brick patio and I love the neon sign and cozy vibe. The menu is creative but familiar. No bar food here. Also, we are always pleasantly surprised to find a restaurant that is vegetarian friendly but doesn’t force Hubby to sacrifice his favorites since I am a veteran vegetarian and he is on the complete opposite end of the food spectrum. What can I say? Opposites attract.

We split the amazing Stuffed Focaccia as an appetizer. Its a little messy to handle and eat but so worth it. The pesto is to die for and I just can’t get over the balsamic reduction that is drizzled over top!  I’m no expert but it was perfect pairing with my white wine if you ask me. And it went quick. Guess we were hungry?

We enjoyed each other’s uninterrupted company over the soft jazz music and cozy dim lighting. The service was good: timely but not rushing, friendly and confident. There were families dining along side empty nesters and twenty-something first dates. Anyone could be comfortable here. For dinner Hubby got the Blackened Chicken Wrap. He loved the flavor and nearly couldn’t finish it. I had the Spinach Bake which was a fantastic penne, spinach and cream tomato sauce bake topped with Cajun seasoning. Oh emmmm gee. YUM. We were both so stuffed we decided it would just be too much on our happy little tummies if we had dessert.

A few pretty moments I caught:

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Copper table tops with rustic glass rings.

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Hubby looking over the menu.

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Candle light.

Rainbow Cupcakes (for dummies)

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I was babysitting one day and I had a pair of 7 year old twins to entertain along with Baby O. I had a rough agenda of dress ups, mani/pedis (which they always LOVE) and baking cupcakes. They were supposed to bring dessert to a family dinner that night and mom said we could bake them if they wanted.

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We got to work on laying out the cupcake liners and choosing icings and ingredients. At the very last second I remembered my friend telling me she makes her daughter a rainbow birthday cake every year. I was immediately impressed but she made it sound so easy. She had told me that she simply evenly divided the batter and heavily food colored each
color of the rainbow.

Boom. I presented my idea to the twins and they thought I was a magician!

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I divided the batter into six bowls which ended up being about a half cup per bowl.

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Then I colored each bowl with food coloring. Some colors took more coloring drops than others but I knew I wanted vibrant colors so I just made them as bright as possible.

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After I got the colors to where I liked them I started layering them into each cup by the spoonful. I chose to start with red on the bottom and worked up: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple (for those of you who can’t remember the rainbow order).

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Then we baked the cupcakes according to the directions in the box and voila!

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Icing is a piece of cake (har har). To make the tub of icing go further I whipped it in Kitchen Aid. Then I cut the corner off of a ziplock bag and loaded the icing in. Then I simply swirled the icing onto the cupcakes. No mess and way easier if you ask me. Add some food color and sprinkles if desired.

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Tada! And here is one cut open so you can see the rainbow effect. And they were quite tasty too.

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