Thanksgiving is next week! Who wants meatballs?
Yeah, I realize that makes no sense. The thing is, I’m not any more ready for Thanksgiving than you are. (You’re not ready, right? Just tell me you’re not to make me feel better. Thanks.)
All this feast planning is working up an appetite though, and for this Italian girl, meatballs hit the spot. There are so many things I love about this recipe:
1. It’s hands-off. You spend a few minutes making the meatballs in the beginning, then toss them in the slow cooker and forget about them till dinner time.
2. It feeds a crowd and it’s a crowd pleaser. With this recipe, you can cook a homemade meal for all of your family members and friends without chaining yourself to your kitchen. Plus, even picky toddlers love meatballs!
3. I don’t love the texture of large meatballs (and meatloaf), but cooking mini meatballs low and slow gives them a super tender texture and rich flavor that I can’t get enough of.
4. Hellooooo comfort food.
So whether you’re busy planning your Thanksgiving day feast, or shuttling the kids all around town, or just want a homemade meal that allows you to spend time with friends and family, these meatballs are just what you need!
Slow Cooker Mini Meatballs
Serves 4-6 (makes 30-35 mini meatballs)
Don’t have time to finely dice an onion? Grate it on the big holes of a box grater. I’ve made this recipe with a variety of ground meats, including ground bison and ground turkey, and they all seem to work equally well. It’s easy enough to double the recipe to feed a crowd, and in that case you can use more than one kind of ground meat – for example, combine 1 pound of ground beef and 1 pound of ground turkey.
1 cup finely diced onion
1 pound ground beef, bison, or turkey
1/4 cup Italian-seasoned bread crumbs
1 whole egg, lightly beaten
1/4 cup grated parmesan
1 tablespoon worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 tablespoon italian seasoning
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
24 ounces of your favorite pasta sauce (I use Bertolli Marinara)
Preheat oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with foil and spray with non-stick spray.
In a large bowl, add all ingredients except pasta sauce. Mix together with your hands or a sturdy spoon until thoroughly combined. Shape 1 tablespoon sized meatballs and place them on the prepared baking sheet. (To keep them all a uniform size, use a measuring spoon or cookie scoop.)
Add sauce to slow cooker and set to low. Bake meatballs at 400°F for 5 minutes, then set oven to broil and cook for another 5 minutes. Remove meatballs from oven and add to slow cooker. (If sauce isn’t enough to cover meatballs at least 3/4 of the way, add a little water or chicken stock until it does.)
Cook on low for 4-6 hours. Serve on buns with provolone cheese for meatball sammies, or the tradition way over your favorite kind of pasta.
Whoa, this week has been flying by like a runaway train. This time of year is always such a chaotic rush to cram in all of the fun Fall things I love and enjoy every last bit of gorgeous weather before it turns cold, dark, and gray for the winter. I keep catching myself thinking it’s still mid-September when in fact October is almost done and over.
In between trying to cram in all of my favorite outdoor Fall activities, I keep trying to cram in all of my favorite Fall foods too. I couldn’t very well let October pass without sharing a pumpkin recipe, no matter how fast time is flying by. In the past I’ve shared recipes for pumpkin cookies (a few times), baked pumpkin donut holes, pumpkin oatmeal, pumpkin cheesecake and even pumpkin pie pudding.
This year we’re going savory with Cheesy Pumpkin Risotto.
Now if you’re like me and used to eating your pumpkin in desserts, your first thought might be that cheese and pumpkin seems a little strange. I assure you, it doesn’t taste strange at all. This risotto is a closer relative to mac and cheese than it is the classic pumpkin pie. It’s creamy and cheesy, with al dente bites of arborio rice for texture and lots of pumpkin flavor. The wine and slight heat from the cayenne give it that little bit of something extra that tastes it from good to great.
It’s completely, totally, fantastically addictive.
It seems like I’m always making confessions, but here I go with another one: I had never made risotto before my coworker gave me this recipe last year. (Yes, I’ve been keeping this recipe from you for a whole year. I’m sorry.) I’ve been hooked ever since. I do not know how I grew up in an Italian family and never managed to make risotto, but it’s true. So this recipe is a reflection of how I like to make and eat my risotto. I take a few short cuts in the process and it may not be 100% authentic, but I’m OK with that.
I think once you taste this Cheesy Pumpkin Risotto, you’ll be OK with it too!
Cheesy Pumpkin Risotto
Adapted from All Recipes
Serves 6 as a side
Make sure you use plain pumpkin puree, not pumpkin pie filling. I normally use only 3 cups of broth, but you may need 4 depending on your rice. I cheat and speed up the cooking process by microwaving the broth until it’s hot before adding it to the rice. I like to serve it with roasted chicken, though it can also make a fantastic meal on it’s own!
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 medium onion, diced
3/4 cup arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
3 to 4 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup canned pumpkin puree
1/4 cup parmesan, grated
1/2 cup gruyere cheese, grated
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper (optional)
fresh herbs for garnish
Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and saute until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add arborio rice and stir. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add wine to rice. Cook, stirring frequently, until wine has been absorbed. Meanwhile, pour 2 cups of chicken broth in a glass measuring cup and microwave on High for about 2 minutes, or until hot. Raise heat to medium-high. Add 1 cup of heated broth to rice and continue cooking, stirring frequently, until broth is absorbed. Repeat, adding 1 cup of heated broth and cooking until absorbed, with the remaining 2-3 cups of broth or until rice is al dente and creamy. Remove from heat. Stir in pumpkin, Parmesan and Gruyere. Add cayenne and salt to taste.
Best served immediately.
I love New York style crumb cake. What’s not to love?
That fluffy, moist, buttery yellow cake. Those boulders of crunchy, cinnamon laced crumbles scattered over the top. The way it goes oh-so-perfectly with a hot cup of freshly brewed coffee and your PJs on a Saturday morning.
When I was a kid, we always had Entenmann’s crumb cake in the house. It was a weekend breakfast staple that I remember begging my parents for – sometimes before they were even awake.
(Sorry Mom and Dad.)
I remember I could barely resist the urge to pick all the crumbs off the cake and eat them. Everyone knows they’re the best part! I love that this version has massive piles of crumbs. It makes my inner child happy.
You know what else goes perfectly with crumb cake? Apples.
I mean, New York is called the Big Apple, right? I figured if regular crumb cake is awesome, adding a layer of slightly softened cinnamon apples would make it amazing. I was pretty much right. You have to kind of squint to see it in the photos, but trust me – there’s a thin layer of apples nestled right under that huge pile of crumb topping. I took it easy on the apples because I was afraid they would sink under the weight of the boulder-like crumbs. The apple flavor still comes through though!
I baked this Apple Cinnamon NY Crumb Cake for a casual breakfast with some friends. It got rave reviews all around, even from the toddler! And I found I couldn’t stop sneaking pieces well after breakfast had passed.
This crumb cake is exactly what you need for a crisp fall morning with a cup of coffee and your favorite people.
In your PJs.
Make it happen.
Apple Cinnamon NY Crumb Cake
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated
Serves 8 – 10
It might seem like an easy swap, but don’t be tempted to use all-purpose flour in place of cake flour. The cake flour is crucial for getting that perfectly tender, moist crumb in the cake.
Crumb Topping Ingredients
1/3 cup granulated sugar (2 2/3 ounces)
1/3 cup dark brown sugar (2 2/3 ounces)
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon table salt
8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick), melted and still warm
1 3/4 cups cake flour (7 ounces)
1 1/4 cups cake flour (5 ounces)
1/2 cup granulated sugar (3 1/2 ounces)
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon table salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter (3/4 stick), cut into 6 pieces, softened but still cool
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup buttermilk
Apple Layer Ingredients
1 tablespoon butter
2 honey crisp apples, peeled, cored and sliced thin
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
Confectioners’ sugar for dusting
Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add apples, brown sugar and cinnamon, stirring to combine. Cook just until apples soften, 5-10 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
Prepare the crumb topping: In a medium bowl, whisk together sugars, cinnamon, salt and melted butter. Stir in flour with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon until a thick dough comes together. Set aside to cool while you mix the cake batter.
Preheat oven to 325°F. Line an 8 x 8-inch baking pan with a double layer of aluminum foil, leaving some excess to overhang the edges. Spray with baking spray.
In the bowl of a mixer, add flour, sugar, baking soda and salt. Mix on low speed with the paddle attachment until just combined. While still on low speed, add butter pieces one at a time. Keep mixing until batter resembles moist crumbs (1-2 minutes). Add egg, egg yolk, vanilla and buttermilk. Beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy (1-2 minutes), scraping down sides if necessary.
Pour batter into prepared pan, using a spatula to smooth the top. Gently place an even layer of cooked apple slices on top. Using both hands, break topping dough into crumbs about the size of large peas. Starting at the edges and working toward the center, sprinkle crumbs in an even layer on top.
Bake at 325°F for 35-40 minutes, or until top is golden and a toothpick comes out clean. Cool in pan on a wire wrack for at least 30 minutes. Lift cake out of pan by foil edges. Dust with confectioners sugar just before serving.
Can be stored at room temperature covered tightly in plastic wrap for a few days. If it lasts that long…
I’m going to overdose on orange squash this year.
Butternut, carnival, pumpkin. I’m eating it all with reckless abandon.
Around this time last year, my husband and I escaped to the Finger Lakes region of New York. While there we happened to dine at a famous restaurant called Moosewood. Moosewood showcases creative vegetarian food by cooking with what’s local, fresh, and in season. Neither of us are vegetarians but we were both blown away by our meal at Moosewood.
Who knew a vegetarian meal could be so amazingly memorable?
The first thing I did when I got home was make my own batch of Moosewood Ginger Orange Tea. The second thing I did was email the restaurant and request the recipe for the baked stuffed squash entree. I needed to eat it again. Sadly, a recipe was not available. (It was a one-day special so they didn’t have one written down.)
Ever since I’ve been tweaking my own version of stuffed baked squash. It starts with a sweet squash – like a carnival or dumpling squash – basted with a little maple syrup and roasted to bring out all of its flavors. Next comes a quick sautee of the filling, composed of all my favorite savory Fall flavors: mushrooms, greens, cranberries, onions, and pecans. Then you stuff that squash, top it with some sharp cheddar and bake until it’s warm and melty. And there you have it – a warm, comforting vegetarian meal that tastes like Fall.
Because the squash is baked separately it can be made ahead of time and rewarmed in the oven once stuffed, making this a good option for quick weeknight meals. And because the filling is pre-cooked, the possibilities for fillings are only limited by your palette. I’ve used dried cherries instead of cranberries in the past, and I think some salty spicy sausage would be a nice addition. If you ask me, the cute, pumpkin-like presentation makes it even suitable for serving to guests.
I think you can see now why I’ve been obsessing over this dish for a whole year!
Sweet Squash Stuffed with Mushrooms, Greens and Cranberries
You can use dried cranberries or dried cherries in this recipe, as well as swiss chard (ribs removed) or spinach. I used a mix of both. Keep in mind that spinach will likely wilt faster than swiss chard so you’ll want to cook it a little less. The bread crumbs are optional, but I find they add flavor by absorbing the cooking liquids and they help hold the filling together. Make sure you use real maple syrup, not pancake syrup! Squash can be baked up to 2 days ahead to save prep time (see directions below).
1 Sweet Dumpling, Celebration or Carnival squash
2 teaspoons real maple syrup
1 Tablespoon salted butter
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1/4 cup pecans, chopped
1/2 medium onion, diced
8 ounces baby portabella mushrooms, roughly chopped
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup dried cranberries or dried cherries
2 cups spinach or swiss chard (ribs removed), chopped
2 to 3 Tablespoons Panko bread crumbs (optional)
2 to 3 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated
kosher salt, to taste
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Using a sturdy knife, cut squash in half from stem to bottom. Scoop out seeds and pulp with a spoon and discard. Pierce inside of each squash half a few times with a fork. Baste the inside of each squash half with a teaspoon of real maple syrup. Place squash cut-side-up in a bake dish. Add a little bit of water to the bottom of the dish, cover with foil and bake at 350°F for about 1 hour, or until softened.
(To make ahead: at this point you can cool squash to room temperature, wrap in plastic wrap or foil and store in the fridge for up to 2 days. Let squash sit out at room temperature while you prepare the filling, then stuff and bake until warmed through.)
To make the filling, adjust oven to 375°F. Melt butter in a large skillet or saute pan over medium heat. Toast chopped pecans in butter until fragrant, 3-5 minutes. Remove from pan and set aside.
Add olive oil to the same saute pan. Add onion and cook until softened. Add mushrooms and cook until browned, about 4-6 minutes. Add white wine and continue cooking until reduced by half. Add in dried cranberries or cherries and greens. Cook just until greens are wilted. Stir in breadcrumbs (if needed) 1 tablespoon at a time until cooking liquid is absorbed. Season with salt to taste (start with a big pinch, add more if desired). Remove from heat. Fold in chopped pecans and half of the grated cheese. Stuff each half of prepared squash with filling. Sprinkle remaining cheese on top. Place squash halves on a baking sheet and bake uncovered at 375°F for 10-15 minutes, or until squash is heated through.
Asheville, NC has been one of our favorite getaway destinations for years. The surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains are breathtakingly beautiful, the town is just quirky and arty enough to be interesting, and the locals just might be the nicest people we’ve ever met anywhere. (No, really. During one of our visits, a couple who had just met us give us a personal tour of Lake Lure on their pontoon boat!)
In recent years, it seems the food scene has really exploded in Asheville. There is a huge array of fantastic restaurants in Asheville to choose from, covering just about every style of cuisine. After spending a week eating my way around town, I’ve decided to highlight a few of my personal favorites in case you ever find yourself in Asheville. Don’t forget to pack your appetite!
Disclaimer: What follows is not a paid endorsement or advertisement of any kind. I wrote this without the knowledge or consent of any of the mentioned business and restaurants. I just really love Asheville!
Also, I apologize in advance for the poor photos. I took most of them with my phone.
It was no accident that we started and ended our trip with visits to Tupelo Honey. Tupelo Honey specializes in Southern food with a twist. We discovered them and their amazing biscuits a couple of years ago. It was love at first bite and I don’t really even like Southern food. Once you have the biscuits, you’ll understand. Instead of pre-dinner rolls or bread, Tupelo Honey brings diners warm, flaky, impossibly buttery (but not greasy!) biscuits, with a side of their housemade jam. I’ve declared them the best in all of Asheville. Not to go on and on about the biscuits (although I could). The rest of the food is just as good! On our first visit we both had the special, a garlic and brown sugar chicken with mac & cheese and sauteed greens. I nearly fainted it was so good. I ate until I felt sick. Literally. On our second visit, I tried the scallops. They were perfectly tender and the salty chorizo was a great pairing. You will not leave hungry!
If you can’t get to Asheville, no worries. Pick up a copy of the Tupelo Honey Cookbook instead!
If I wasn’t so lost for words, I would write a love letter to the French Broad Chocolate Lounge. This place is my idea of heaven. Or it would be, if everyone else hadn’t figured out how great they are and made the place so crowded! Pro tip: If you visit after 5pm Friday through Sunday (and maybe even weeknights), be prepared to wait in line. Possibly a long while. On our last of three (yes, three in a week) visits, the line was out the door (again) and we got a kick out of watching passers by do a double take, followed by the inevitable question, “What’s in there?!” The answer, of course, is chocolate. Amazing, incredible, the best ever chocolate in just about every form you can imagine. Handmade truffles? They’ve got those. Drinking chocolate? Sure, what flavor? Cakes, cookies, creme brulee, brownies, bars, ice cream and more. They even have a few non-chocolate things, like the decadent bourbon apple parfait I tried on our first visit. The Chocolate Lounge is set up like a little cafe, so you can order your treats with a glass of wine or cup of coffee, kick back in a comfortable chair and listen to some live jazz music.
As if the Chocolate Lounge wasn’t amazing enough, they very recently opened their own bean-to-bar chocolate factory! Sadly, I missed out on the tour & tasting, but you should go on my behalf.
Can’t get to Asheville? Don’t worry, you can order from the French Broad Chocolate Lounge online! They ship their goods well-packed on ice, so you can indulge your chocolate cravings all year long. I should also mention that they do chocolate subscriptions. I was lucky enough to be gifted a 6-month subscription for my birthday and let me just tell you – BEST GIFT EVER for any chocoholic. So far I’ve been surprised with a box of truffles and a huge box of brownies!
White Duck was a new-to-us restaurant. After hearing high praise from several sources, we decided we had to check it out. I’m happy to report they live up to the hype! White Duck Taco Shop is located in the River Arts District, surrounded by warehouses converted into working artist studios. Take some time to walk around and explore the incredible range of art on display in Asheville, and maybe chat up some artists. Once you’ve worked up an appetite, get yourself to White Duck to scarf some tacos. They offer an amazingly creative array of tacos, from Spicy Buffalo Chicken to Mushroom Potato with Romesco. I tried the Mole Duck with an apple cranberry salsa and the Fish taco. Both were superb. If after your tacos you still have some room, please try the Coconut Macaroon Pie with Salted Caramel for me.
Sunny Point Cafe was another new place for us. I fell head over heels in love with this place on our first visit and demanded we go back for a second visit later in the week. I found Sunny Point Cafe via, of all things, Google. The whole Internet seemed to agree that they have the best breakfast in Asheville and I do love a good breakfast. Sunny Point is set up like a ecclectic diner, serving breakfast all day along with locally roasted coffee. Their regular menu covers all the breakfast basics, from eggs to waffles, with lots of vegan/vegetarian options. On our first visit I got the Veggie Omlette with potatoes and a biscuit. The omlette was huge and perfectly cooked, packed with fresh veggies and herbs and super creamy goat cheese. I also really liked the crunchy sugar topping on their biscuits! Make sure you keep an eye out for the daily specials too. On our second visit I got the special Nutella French Toast, made with housemade nutella and bread. It was to. die. for. I’m pretty sure I moaned inappropriately the entire time I was eating it. If you happen to be there on a day they make donuts, I highly recommend those too!
PS. Don’t miss the huge garden out back!
The Corner Kitchen is an old Asheville favorite of ours. My husband and I first visited during our honeymoon 6 years ago! We had an amazing dinner one night and returned for lunch later that week. We raved about how great it was to everyone we knew. Unfortunately, when we made a return visit a couple of years ago our meal didn’t wow us. We left disappointed and a little sad, thinking one of our favorite restaurants was changed for the worse. However, we decided to give Corner Kitchen a second chance. I’m so glad we did. This time our meal was on par with our first visit and we both left full and happy. I had roasted duck with butternut squash and a cider reduction. I practically licked the plate clean! For dessert, I chose the chocolate mouse cake which was both rich and light at the same time. Corner Kitchen is definitely a favorite again!
Cùrate (pronounced coo-rah-tey) is a Spanish tapas restaurant. I’m familiar with tapas but have never eaten at a tapas restaurant before. Fortunately the staff was very helpful in explaining things to us and recommending dishes. The great thing about tapas is that they’re small plates meant to share, so you get to try a lot of different foods in one meal. We tried everything from a pizza-type appetizer to chorizo. Our favorite was the fried eggplant drizzled with local honey and rosemary. Not a flavor combo I would have thought of, but it was delicious!
This was another Asheville hot spot that was recommended several times, so we felt compelled to check it out. Like White Duck Taco Shop, 12 Bones Smokehouse is located in the River Arts District. The location was a little out of the way, and the only hint of the deliciousness inside was the smattering of picnic tables outside and the aroma of smokey sweet barbecue wafting from the building. Oh yeah, and the packed parking lot. We knew we were in the right place when we saw the long lunch line! Fortunately it moved quickly because my mouth was watering. The menu is pretty traditional, with an array of meats smoked low and slow plus all the expected sides, including corn bread. They shake things up a bit with their sauces though. If I remember right, they had 5 to choose from when we visited. I was in the mood for something lighter and the Wedge Salad caught my eye: a chunk of iceberg lettuce with sugar bacon, tomato, fried onions, cucumbers, and spicy ranch dressing – with ribs, of course. I opted for the blueberry chipotle sauce. The ribs were perfectly tender and I loved the blueberry chipotle sauce so much I bought some to take home with us! As a huge salty-sweet fan, my favorite part of the salad was the sugared bacon. My husband had their traditional pulled pork sandwich and said it was among the best he’s ever had. If you’re a barbecue fan, be sure to stop by!
The Chocolate Fetish was our first chocolate shop discovery in Asheville years ago and we’ve been big fans ever since. Their handmade truffles are amazing, and I say that as a total truffle-snob. Each truffle is generously sized and expertly crafted. Their knowledgeable employees will describe each truffle to you in painstaking detail if you’d like (they study them – I asked!) and then serve them up to you on (no joke) a silver platter. This time around I tried the Pumpkin Spice truffle and Peanut truffle. Swoon. An old favorite is the uniquely flavored Mid-Summer Dream truffle, featuring lavender, lemon zest and honey.
The Chocolate Fetish also offers an assortment of other hand-painted chocolates and chocolate goodies. We’re big fans of their chocolate covered pretzels!
If you can’t get to Asheville, you can also order from The Chocolate Fetish online! Lucky you.
Asheville is making a name for itself as Chocolate City and I think you can see why. Chocolate Gems is the third handmade chocolate shop we visited in Asheville! In addition to the handmade truffles and chocolate sculptures in their shop, Chocolate Gems also specializes in gelato. After seeing daily gelato flavors like Lemon Meringue and Mascarpone Caramelized Pear on their Facebook Page, I had to check the place out. On the day we visited none of the gelato flavors really jumped out at me, but the affogato caught my eye. Affogato is vanilla bean gelato, hot espresso, chocolate syrup, and whipped cream in a mug. The gelato and espresso melt together and mix with the chocolate syrup to form a delicious “sauce”. It was a perfect not-too-sweet mid-afternoon treat.
So there you have it! My personal food tour of Asheville, NC. There were at least a dozen other restaurants I had hoped to try while we were there, but we found out the hard way that there’s only so much food you can eat in one day, even if it is amazingly great food. If you ever get a chance to visit, don’t miss the nearby Biltmore, Chimney Rock, North Carolina Arboretum and Blue Ridge Parkway. I recommend bringing a pair of hiking boots and hitting the trails to work up an appetite, then stuffing yourself silly with Asheville’s finest culinary delights.