A Beautiful Charcuterie Board on a Budget


Whether I’m hosting a party for 20 or a party for 2 (hello date night!) wine and appetizers are a key element to any successful get together. There is a reason friends and family gather round the kitchen, and it isn’t just for our warming personalities 😉

Lately, I have become obsessed with charcuterie boards. It covers my need to have food on the table but also creates a stunning centerpiece that can be created on a dime and in a moment’s notice.

First, you will need a cutting board as the foundation for your charcuterie platter. I found a 18×24″ pine cutting board at HomeGoods for less than $25–a steal for a board of that size!

Next, you need the pièce de résistance–the food. Traditionally, charcuterie boards consist of meats, cheeses, breads and fruits. Some of my personal favorites, again trying to stay on a dime:

Dry Salami

Chèvre (goat cheese)
Burrata/Fresh Mozzarella
Pepper Jack

Seedless Grapes (a combination of both white and red grapes will make for a more colorful board)
Orange Slices
Stuffed Olives (I use either garlic or blue cheese)

Sliced Baguette

Tip: Trader Joe’s has some of the cheapest above items around. You can put together a full board for under $20. Make sure to keep some handy in the fridge for impromptu gatherings!
Charcuterie Boards for inspiration:



Greek inspired antipasto platter by Half Baked Harvest


Winter cheese board with blood orange marmalade by Feasting at Home

Winter cheese board with blood orange marmalade by Feasting at Home



Vegan cheese platter by The Healthy Hour

Morning Routine – Drinking Warm Water with Lemon

Lemon Water

As I’m sure we’re all too aware, it’s wedding season, and whether you’re the bride-to-be, the maid-of-honor or a guest trying to look dynamite in that cute little floral number you purchased last month, we’re all thinking and trying to accomplish the same thing—Must. Fit. In. One-Size-Too-Small. Dress. ARG!

I truly try my hardest not to crash diet. I eat fairly healthy on a regular basis but I’m in no way a tyrant when it comes to my eating habits. Did somebody say donut?

I believe in true foods without preservatives, sticking to the outside aisles of the grocery store and cooking at home as often as I can.

One new addition I’ve added to my morning routine and daily intake is a cup of warm water with lemon. I’ve heard rumblings of it being good for you but when I watched Victoria Hodgkins of She’s a Competitor sip her lemony concoction before her morning routine (she’s got a great routine!) I knew there was something to be said there.

I started looking into it and it wasn’t long before I too was replacing my morning cup of Joe with this simplistic home remedy. Warm water with sliced lemon is recognized for all types of health benefits.

Warm water with lemon…

Detoxifies your body
Jump-starts your immune system
Helps digestion
Works wonders for your skin
Freshens your breath
Promotes Healing
Boosts Energy
Aids in weight loss (ding, ding, ding!)

If you’re wondering why warm water opposed to ice water. It’s simple. Warm water is easier to break down than cold water.

I’m not much for hopping on the bandwagon for health tips or remedies but I will say that I really do like this one and have stuck with it. If you’re wanting to try a subtle change to your daily routine to jump-start your healthy habits, this is a very easy one to start with—and a good one!

Let me know how it goes and if you too feel it working!



Easter Breakfast Bunny Butts

easter_bunny_buttsIf you want a really simple and adorable Easter breakfast recipe, may I recommend bunny butts. No matter what the age, I promise you’ll get a smile or two. And how easy?! We’re talking your basic pancake, some fruits and viola! Bunny butts!

What you’ll need for bunny butts:

6 pancakes (2 circles for head and bum, 4 for ears and feet)
Banana slices, or strawberries, for heel prints
blueberries for toes
Whipped cream for fluffy tail

One recommendation for the perfect bunny butt, make sure to create your whipped bunny tail last, right before serving. The hot pancakes will melt your cute little tail off so make sure your plate is ready to be served!

Hoppy Easter from my table to yours!


The Simple Girl’s Pho

Simple to make pho

The first time I was told we were going out for pho (pronounced fuh) I cringed. The idea of going out on the town and actually paying someone for soup is not exactly my idea of a date night. Flash-forward two hours into the date later… I’m officially obsessed with pho.

It’s wonderful, and wonderful for you. It’s warm, flavorful, tangy and I love the whole idea of adding whatever-the-heck you want to it. Want some bean sprouts? Sure! Need some jalapeños? Toss em in. Totally hooked on pho.

Naturally, what Amanda likes, Amanda likes to re-create. I perused my local Vietnamese market and purchased everything I needed to start my own at-home pho. Well… I purchased everything with a picture on it that looked like something I would need for pho.

One word of note before we begin. This is easy girl’s pho. I quickly learned, after I had purchased my ingredients (minus the oxtail bone) that the pho broth alone can take days to create. This recipe will not take you days, it will take you a crock-pot and a few hours—you can read a good book and tip a few wine glasses back while the slow cooker does the work for you!


5-6 Beef Bones (I seriously used sirloin bones from the night before—the more meat hunks hanging off them the better
1 Large Onion (chopped)
1 Hunk Fresh Ginger (peeled and chopped)
4 Cups Beef Broth
2 Cups Water
1 Tablespoon Fish Sauce
1 Stick of Cinnamon
1 tsp Pepper
3 Star of Anise (the little star looking things that come in popery…but don’t use popery)

Raw Beef – shaved very thin
1-2 lb Rice Noodles/Rice Sticks

Optional (but recommended!) Toppings
Bean Sprouts
Mint Leaves


Combine broth, water, fish sauce, bones and all spices into your crockpot.

On a non-stick baking sheet, oven-broil your diced onions and ginger for about 5 minutes. You’ll want the onions and ginger to be slightly charred but not crispy burnt. Transfer onions and ginger to your crockpot.

Cook on low crock-pot setting for 4-6 hours. Longer if you have the time!

When your broth is ready, you will want to strain it of all solid bits before it comes time to serve. You can use or strainer or a slotted spoon to discard the pieces. If a strainer is used, just make sure to transfer your broth back to the crock-pot when complete—you want to keep your broth hot!

Cook your rice noodles until al dente. Drain and divide among your serving bowls.

To prepare your pho bowls, place your thin slices of beef and cooked noodles into your individual bowls. Ladle the hot broth over top over your beef slices and noodles. The hot broth should cook your meat within moments, turning the meat an grayish opaque color. If some pieces stay slightly pink, do not be alarmed, those are just medium rare-medium pieces but completely safe to consume.

Serve your pho bowls to your guests and let them have fun with all of the toppings you’ve arranged for them on the table.

Makes 4 servings


Note: When slicing your beef thin, if you have trouble doing so, try flash freezing it for a few moments before you cut it. This will help keep it stiff and easier to cut into thin strips!

Country Style Rhubarb Crumble Crisp – Like Mother Used to Make

Rhubarb Crisp

Like a fresh picked olive or tri-tip cut in Iowa, finding rhubarb in a grocery store in California calls for a celebratory happy dance.

When I told my fellow Californians how excited I was to have found and purchased rhubarb, they starred at the red and green finds blankly. GASP—they have no idea what rhubarb is!

Well, I’ll tell you what rhubarb is. Rhubarb is this amazing sour meets sweet fruit (at least, I think it’s a fruit…I’m totally calling it a fruit) that, when combined with a little sugar and a melt-in-your-mouth crumb topping, becomes one of the absolute best Midwest desserts that will ever meet your taste buds. So if you’re looking to try something new, or if you’re like me and looking for a little piece of back home, it’s time to pick up some rhubarb.

Country Style Rhubarb Crumble Crisp


5 Cups sliced rhubarb (about 8 stalks)
½ Cup sugar
3 Tbsp. Corn Starch
1 tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. nutmeg

Crumb Topping
½ Cup Butter, melted
1 Cup Oatmeal/Old Fashioned Oats
1/3 Cup Brown Sugar
1/3 Cup Flour

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, mix together sliced rhubarb, sugar and corn starch. Toss to coat. Pour mixture into a 9×11 greased pan. Set aside.

To make your crumb topping, melt your butter in a bowl and add the rest of your ingredients. Mix ingredients evenly until you have a crumble consistency. Top your rhubarb evenly with your crumb topping. Bake at 350 degrees for 45-50 minutes until bubbly. Serve with vanilla ice-cream and enjoy!

Good Ol’ Fashioned Pot Roast

Pot Roast

I’m a career girl. I work A LOT. But that doesn’t stop me from cooking up a storm… most days anyway. Yes, I have my off days (mac and cheese, anyone?) but when I can anticipate an extra-long day at the office, those 12 hour-ers that have you crawling home, I try to plan my meals in advance. For those days, I break out what I call my handy-dandy “Freezer Packs.”

A freezer pack is simply fresh veggies, typically potatoes, onions, carrots and celery that I cut up, toss in a zip-lock and throw in the freezer. These little packs are life savers. Ready and willing my little freezer packs sit until they’re needed to save the day. The only other items you need are a crock-pot and a protein of your choosing.

Enter the pot roast—best friend of the freezer pack. I always like to have one of these bad boys in the freezer as well, just waiting for me to pull out when a long day at the office is in the forecast. Together, my freezer pack and slab of pork will make the perfect pair, and the best part, it takes me no time at all!

Make Ahead Freezer Pack

4 Russet Potatoes, peeled and cut into cubes (I used whole red potatoes which works equally well)
4 Celery stalks
1 Onion, sliced
4 Carrots, chopped into pieces

Clean and chop into pieces, all of your vegetables. Place veggies in a zip-lock bag. Close bag and date bag with marker. Place bag in freezer and utilize when needed. Note—you can add (or leave out) any vegetables of your choosing.

Slow-Cooker Pot Roast

2-3lb pork chuck roast
1 Cup beef broth (any broth works, really)
1 Packet onion soup mix
Salt and pepper to taste
1 Freezer pack of vegetables (or you can always use fresh veggies)

Spray crock-pot with cooking spray and turn setting to low. Place pot roast into slow-cooker. Sprinkle half of onion soup mix over pot roast. Top the roast with your vegetables. Pour beef broth over top of vegetables and sprinkle with the remainder of your onion soup mix. Cover and let cook on low setting for 8 hours…or whenever you make it home from the office (wink!) Serves nicely with soda bread or similar. Enjoy!

Coconut Curry with Chickpeas and Swiss Chard

Curry Dish

Do you ever feel that sometimes you fall into a kitchen rut? You’ll look back on last week’s menu and realize that every dish you made was some form of a spaghetti—telling yourself that bowties and Romano taste nothing like rigatoni and parmesan. If you use macaroni instead of linguine, viola, goulash. If you throw cheese a top your pasta leftovers and toss it into the oven for ten minutes, presto, you have a bake.

Yep. I had hit kitchen-lack-luster rock-bottom. I needed to get out of my pasta-solves-everything trench.

I consider myself a well-rounded cook, but I believe every girl has at least one genre they’re scared of. Maybe scared is a poor word, more like, intimidated by. Mine is Asian and Middle Eastern Cuisine. I LOVE the stuff, but truth be told, it’s where I lack the most experience. So to get myself out of my ragu rut, I decided to pull a kitchen 180. Something with spice. Something with sweet. Something with curry.

Coconut Curry with Chickpeas and Swiss Chard
Adapted from The Crepes of Wrath

1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 small yellow onion (or half a large yellow onion) chopped
3 Tbsp. green curry paste
2 Tbsp. chili paste (more if you like heat!)
1 can coconut milk
1 tsp. kosher salt
½ tsp. ground ginger
2 cups water
1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 bunch Swiss chard, cleaned, trimmed and thinly sliced


Heat olive oil in large saucepan. Add in your chopped onion and cook until the onions are softened and translucent, about 5-6 minutes. Add in the chili paste, curry paste, ginger, salt, ginger, coconut milk, and one cup of the water. Stir to combine and bring to a gentle boil. Add in your chickpeas and the additional cup of water. Reduce your pan to a simmer for about 20 minutes.

After your dish is done simmering for 20 minutes, add in the trimmed and sliced Swiss chard. (If you’ve never trimmed swiss chard, please see my tips below.) Simmer for an additional 15 minutes.

Serves 4-6. Great with pita bread!

Note: This recipe works great with all types of meat (beef, chicken, pork, seafood) if you wish to add a protein element as well. I used up leftover chicken thighs and added it to my dish to make it a bit more hearty!

Prep Tips!
Trimming your swiss chard: Since the stalks and the thick/white rib portions of the chard are generally too tough to eat, you’ll want to remove those sections from your dish. Here is a quick, down and dirty demonstration on how to properly trim your swiss chard.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cream Bacon Layer Pie – Oh My!

Chocolate Peanut Butter Bacon Layer Pie

Normally, I am the most organized individual when it comes to any type of hosting function, especially holidays where there is an array of food involved. This Thanksgiving is not that case. Lack of detail on where we’re physically going to be this turkey day has thrown a metaphorical wrench into my usually, quite perfect if I do say so myself, day.

So if you’re like me (this one-time-only) and haven’t the slightest clue what you’re going to make aside from the turkey, might I recommend one of the greatest desserts you’ll ever stuff into your mouth. It’s not pumpkin. It’s not pecan. But Lordy, it’s delicious and will surprise the heck out of your guests!

Bacon Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie
Modified from the Milwaukee State Fair winning recipe by Lora Pelzak

½ package of bacon (fried and chopped into bits)
1-2 Bananas – sliced
1 Pie crust (scratch or box!)

Chocolate Sauce
1 can (12 oz) evaporated milk
1 Bag semi-sweet chocolate chips
½ cup sugar
1 Tbsp butter (softened)
1 tsp vanilla

Peanut Butter Filling
1 Package (8 oz) cream cheese (softened)
1 Cup creamy peanut butter
½ Cup sugar
1 Container of Cool-Whip

Pre-heat your oven to 450 degrees. Press your pie crust firmly against your pie pan, using a knife to frill your pie crust edges. Bake pie crust for 10-12 minutes until golden brown. Set aside to cool while you make your pie filling.

In a small saucepan, heat evaporated milk, chocolate chips and ½ cup of sugar to a boil, stirring constantly. Remove from stove top and stir in your butter and vanilla.

In a separate bowl, use an electric mixer and mix together softened cream cheese, your remaining sugar and creamy peanut butter. Stir in Cool-whip until completely combined.

Pour all but a few Tablespoons of your chocolate sauce on the bottom of your baked pie crust. Slice bananas and place them evenly over the chocolate sauce. Cover with your peanut butter filling. Drizzle the remaining chocolate sauce on top of the peanut butter filling, creating a fun design. Refrigerate until ready to serve and when ready, sprinkle bacon bits a top of your pie. Serve with MUCH milk. You’re going to need it!
Note: The original recipe calls for two layers of bacon—one on the bottom and one on the top. I personally believe your bacon becomes chewy and blah when left between the sauces like that, and since I like my bacon hot and crispy, I reserved the whole lot for the very top!

Sinful Alert! – The Ultimate Colossal Twice Baked Potato

Twice Baked Potato

OK, so this isn’t the healthiest thing I’ve ever made, but lordy, it sure hit the spot… for everyone!

This is going to sound anti-Iowan, heck, anti-American, but Kevin and I just don’t make/eat potatoes like we used to. Generally, we eat fairly healthy, and in today’s society, consuming anything potato related has unfortunately become condemned. But being the meat and potatoes kinda folks that we are, every once in a while, you just want a damn potato! So sorry gluten-free, dairy-adverse, paleo consuming cross-fit nuts—this recipe just isn’t for you. But, if you’re a classic American that is ready to put on their elastic-band stretchy pants and devour a ton of dairy and carbs, even if it’s just for the night, please read on!

The Ultimate Colossal Twice Baked Potato 

4 Colossal sized Russet potatoes
2 Boneless skinless chicken breasts (cooked and chopped)
1 Cup sour cream
4 Tbsp. butter (half a stick, slightly melted)
1 Package of bacon (fried and chopped)
2 Tbsp. Chives (chopped)
1 Cup shredded cheddar cheese
Salt and pepper to taste

Word of note before beginning. There are two ways to cook your potato. Mircrowave and conventional oven. Since I personally prefer the oven (One, because it tastes better and Two, because I’m not much of a microwave fan to begin with) that is the route I am taking. But, if you’re pressed for time (because these big bad boys will take time in the oven) feel free to zap them if you prefer.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Scrub your potatoes clean, free of dirt, and use a knife to poke various holes in them. Wrap each with tin foil and  place them on a baking sheet. Place your wrapped potatoes in your preheated oven and bake for a good two hours, turning them over every half hour or so. If you are using smaller potatoes, make sure to decrease your baking time.

After your time has passed, pull your potatoes out, and with oven mits on (because they will be hot!) lightly squish your potato to check for doneness. Your potato should give a bit and should feel soft. If your potato is done, unwrap them from the tinfoil and using your knife, cut a slit the length of the potato (but do not cut it in half!) Scoop out the majority of the white fluffy insides of the potato, adding it to a mixing bowl. Keep your potato shell (the skin) intact as you will be using it later. Once all of the white potato insides have been transferred to the bowl, lightly mash in your butter, sour cream and salt and pepper. Whip until you have a nice consistency. Gently spoon the contents back into the potato skin shells and place the potatoes back into the oven for ten more minutes.

After your potato has been twice baked, remove it and add atop all of your fixins! You can really use whatever you want but we were simply craving the classics! Serve hot and with stretchy pants on. Don’t feel guilty about this wonderful meal—everyone, even health nuts, deserve a splurge every once and awhile!

Royally, The Cutest Halloween Cookies Ever

Halloween Sugar Cookies

My entire life I’ve been in love with the way Royal icing makes a cookie look. A Royal Iced cookie looks like something straight out of a Martha Stewart Living or BHG magazine. I’ve yearned to perfect this look, telling myself that one day, someday, I’ll be of the Royal Iced caliber. Most bakers in the making settle for the basic cream cheese and buttercream recipes—the kind your mom teaches you to make right before you lick the spoon. Sorry mom, but as wonderful as your buttercream recipes are, I was meant for more. I was meant to be Royal!

I’ll be honest, Royal Icing isn’t the easiest method of icing cookies. In fact, it’s a Royal pain in the butt. But even though my mother raised me on buttercream and spoon licks, she also raised me not to be a quitter. I will perfect my icing recipe. I will pipe the perfect pipe. I will flood the perfect flood. So help me God, I will create the perfect cookie!

To achieve the ghost and candy-corn cookies you see in the above photos, you will need five things:

A Candy-Corn Cookie Cutter
A Tulip Cookie Cutter (you heard me right!)
Black Gel for Ghost Face
Red and Yellow food coloring (for the candy-corn’s yellow and orange stripes)
A Sugar Cookie Recipe and its ingredients (Here is one I recommend if you do not have your own)
A Royal Icing Recipe and its ingredients  (Here is one I recommend if you do not have your own)

Follow the suggested recipes as instructed and viola—the cutest (and happiest) Halloween cookies you’ve ever made!