Fire up the Grill!

Fire up the grill!

Who doesn’t love to grill…especially on a warm sunny day, am I right?  At my house I typically do the cooking but my husband is always in charge of the grilling.  It isn’t that I don’t know how to grill, it is just that he likes it and it is an easy task for me to delegate to him.  In the city, we have a grill as part of our Wolf Range which isn’t quite as romantic as grilling outside (but better than not grilling at all).  When we go on vacation, we always rent a house with a grill.  On those instances I am pretty sure my husband loves being outside by the grill, sipping glass of wine and enjoying the weather. 

With Memorial Day Weekend starting, summer has un-officially begun and that marks the start of grilling season for most.  When I grill a protein I typically don’t follow  recipe.  The meat or fish is seasoned with one or more spice blends from La Boîte and some kosher salt.  For side dishes I tend to be more of a recipe follower.  Here is one of my favorite grilled side dishes. I first started making this when I lived in London and we had a charcoal grill on our roof top.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Happy Friday,

Julie

Grilled Romaine Salad

Makes 4 servings

Ingredients

2 heads Romaine Lettuce

1 red onion

2 ripe avocados

1 pint grape tomatoes

Olive oil

Salt and Pepper to taste

Method

-Pre-heat grill to medium high heat. While the grill is heating prepare the vegetables.  Slice the heads of Romaine in half from the stem to the tip.  Peel and slice the onion into ¼ inch slices.  Season lettuce and onion with olive oil, salt and pepper.

-Place onion slices on the grill away from the direct heat.  Allow to grill for about 20 minutes or until no crunch remains.

-Place lettuce on grill and allow to cook for 3-4 minutes per side.

-Slice grilled lettuce into 1-inch ribbons and put into salad bowl.  Chop grilled onion and add to the bowl.

-Slice the grape tomatoes in halve and add to the bowl.  Dice the avocado and add it to the bowl as well.

-Drizzle with a little more olive oil and salt and pepper if desired.  Toss to coat and enjoy.

 

It’s National Pretzel Day

To celebrate National Pretzel Day today I have to share this recipe from Julie’s Eats and Treats for Chocolate Dipped Peanut Butter Pretzels. I found it on Pinterest a few weeks ago and am just looking for an excuse to try it out.  I’ll be using Cacao Prieto Almond and Salt Bark for the chocolate bark!  If you try the recipe let me know how it goes!

Happy Friday,

Julie

Chocolate Dipped Peanut Butter Pretzels

Makes 6-8 servings

Ingredients:

1 cup creamy peanut butter

2 tablespoons butter, softened

½ cup powdered sugar

¾ cup brown sugar

Mini Pretzels

1 bar Cacao Prieto Almond and Salt Bark

Method:

-Line a baking sheet with wax paper and set aside.

-Mix peanut butter and butter together with a mixer until combined. Add the sugars and beat until combined.  You should be able to roll the mixture into balls without it sticking to your hands.  If it is still sticky, add more powdered sugar to reach the desired consistency.

-Roll the mixture into balls. Sandwich the balls between two mini pretzels.  Place in the freezer for about 30 minutes.

-Chop the chocolate into small pieces.  Melt in a double boiler, stirring occasionally until smooth. 

-Dip each pretzel sandwich into the mixture and place onto the prepared baking sheet.  Let set  at room temperature and store in an air tight container.

Spring Feasting is upon Us

I know I’ve been saying it a lot, but I am so excited that SPRING IS HERE!   My son and I walk down the street pointing out green buds on trees, blooming tulips and daffodils and the many other signs that spring has sprung.  My favorite place to welcome spring is at the farmers market.  The stands are filled with green asparagus, peas, fiddle head ferns and all the beautiful flowers that come with spring.  I’ve been writing a lot of recipes for Easter lately and what really excites me are the vegetables!

Here is a menu I’ve been dreaming about with spring’s bounty:

Mint Pea & Goat Cheese Dip with baguette crostini

Roasted Beet and Carrot Salad with Yogurt Dressing

Leek and Potato Galette

Lemon Blueberry Poke Cake

The menu is fresh, innovative and really highlights spring.  I have been having a sweet tooth lately too so immediately went to test and modify the cake. Here is my version of the recipe for the Lemon Blueberry Poke Cake made with Gus and Grey Spellbound, Blueberry Lavender Jam.

Happy Friday,

Julie

P.S. Get your Easter orders in by midnight tonight for standard shipping and delivery before Easter.

Lemon Blueberry Poke Cake

Makes 1 9-inch Loaf

Ingredients:

1 ½ cups all purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

¾ teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons lemon zest

1 ¾ cups sugar

2 eggs

1/3 cup vegetable oil

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

¾ cup plain yogurt

5 tablespoons lemon juice

1 cup Gus & Grey Spellbound Jam

Lemon Glaze:

¾ cup powdered sugar

1 tablespoon lemon juice

2 tablespoons fresh blueberries

1 teaspoon lemon zest

Method:

-Preheat oven to 350°F.  Line the loaf pan with parchment paper leaving a little extra hanging over the side. Spray the loaf pan with cooking spray.

-Whisk together flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl.  Whisk lemon zest into sugar into a separate bowl until fragrant, about 1 minute.  Add eggs, oil and vanilla and whisk until light in color, about 3 minutes. Whisk in half of the dry ingredients, then add the yogurt.  Whisk in the remaining dry ingredients. Add lemon juice and whisk to combine. Pour batter into prepared pan.

-Bake cake until golden brown, 55-60 minutes. Cool for 2 hours or more.

-Once cake is cool, remove from pan and transfer to a baking sheet. Starting at one end, use a 1/8” dowel(or end of a wooden spoon) to make rows of holes in the cake about ¾” apart. 

-Transfer Gus & Grey Spellbound Jam into a squeeze bottle.  Carefully squeeze the jam into the prepared holes, filling them.

-To prepare the glaze whisk together the powdered sugar, lemon zest and 1 tablespoon water in a medium bowl.  Transfer the cake to a wire rack inside a rimmed baking sheet.  Spread the glaze over the top of the cake with a spatula, filling in the holes.  Toss the blueberries in the bowl to coat.  Sprinkle over the top of the cake along with the lemon zest.  Chill until the filling and glaze are set, about 1 hour.

-Enjoy

On top of Spaghetti…

all covered with cheese, I lost my poor meatball when somebody sneezed!

In honor of National Meatball Day tomorrow, I did some research on the origin of the meatball.  As with most culinary successes the origin is a bit unclear.  While meatballs can often be found in spaghetti and meatballs in the United States, when served in true Italian style they are smaller and typically come without pasta or sauce.  Many believe the true origin of the meatball is from Kofta,  a dish of ground meat mixed with lentils or rice.  Kofta is said to have started as a Persian dish and then was passed along to the Arabs.  The popularity of the meatball perhaps spread north through Europe along with the spice trade.

While the origin of the meatball can be debated, one thing is certain, meatballs are popular in cuisines across the globe.  From Spanish Albondigas to Swedish Meatballs, Kofte from India to Morocco and Polpette in Italy; meatballs are everywhere.  Perhaps this is because of the ease of making a meatball. It is a great way to use of up leftover meat and vegetables and meatballs are easily flavored with a blend of spices.  Not only are they easy to make they are easy to make in large quantities and serve to a crowd… probably why most of us think they are an Italian dish.  Whether you prefer beef in your meatballs or take a more vegetarian approach, I hope you’ll enjoy these recipes and have fun celebrating National Meatball Day!

Happy Friday,

Julie

Traditional Meatballs

Makes 6 servings

Ingredients:

2 lbs. Ground Beef

1 small zucchini

3 medium sized carrots, peeled

1 small onion, peeled

3 tablespoons olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

2 cups Due Cellucci Tradtional Tomato Sauce

Method:

-Grate Zucchini, Carrots and Onion

-Over medium heat, heat olive oil in large saute pan.  Add the grated vegetables and cook for about 5 minutes(until vegetables are soft) stirring occasionally.  Allow to cool.

-Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

-In the 9×13 inch baking pan, mix together the ground beef, vegetables, salt and pepper.  Form into ping-ping size balls and line up in the pan.  Once all of the mixture has been formed into the meatballs top with Tomato Sauce.  Cover entire pan with aluminum foil.

-Baked in preheated oven for 30 minutes.  The sauce will be bubbling and the meatballs cooked through.

-Serve immediately or see my tip above and chill for the next day.

-To reheat simply place in 350 degree F oven for 15-20 minutes.

-Enjoy with more sauce over pasta or choose spaghetti squash if you are into the low-carb thing!

Lentil ‘Meatballs’

Makes 4 servings

Ingredients:

¾ cup green lentils, uncooked

¼ cup red quinoa, uncooked

1 tbsp ground flaxseed

3 tbsp water

¼ cup sunflower seeds, ground to a fine powder

½ cup minced yellow onion

½ cup old fashioned rolled oats

½ tsp garlic powder

2 tsp Italian seasoning

¼ cup fresh basil, finely chopped

¼ cup fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped

1 tsp kosher salt

Pepper to taste

Method:

-Cook lentils and quinoa, separately, according to package instructions, then let cool

-Combine ground flaxseed with water

-Preheat oven to 375 degrees and line baking sheet with parchment paper

-Add cooked lentils, cooked quinoa, oats, ground sunflower seeds, onion, basil, parsley, Italian seasoning, and salt and pepper into the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine. Add in flaxseed and water mixture and pulse to incorporate

-Using a 2 tablespoon scoop, scoop mixture and roll between palms into uniform balls. Place on baking sheet  

-Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, flipping halfway through, or until golden brown

-Enjoy with Semolina Artisanal Strozzapreti Pasta and Due Cellucci Spicy Arrabbiata Sauce

The Perfect Chocolate Pairings for You and Your Valentine

Valentine’s Day is fast approaching, and what better way to show your person that you love him or her than gifting chocolate; food of the Gods, a tried and true symbol of romance. Luckily, we and Rococo Chocolates have got you covered, because nothing quite says ‘I love you’ like artisan chocolate paired perfectly with wine, spirits, and food. This year, in addition to a lovely home cooked dinner, a meal at a nice restaurant, a dozen roses, a bottle of wine, or a combination of the previous, make sure to add a bar or two of high quality artisan chocolate to elevate the occasion to the next level and show your special person the true depth of your love. We’ll supply the chocolate, you supply the love.

Rococo Chocolates was founded in 1983 by Chantal Coady who strived to change the way fine chocolate was perceived, and is now known as a luxury British chocolate company. Crafted using only the finest ingredients, Rococo Chocolates Artisan Bars boast an exquisite taste, indulging consumers in a rich tapestry of flavors and balance. Not only is each bar meticulously crafted to ensure pristine quality and flavor, the wrapping  for each bar is also artfully designed to highlight the bars majesty. Luckily for you and your Valentine, our showroom selves are overflowing with Rococo Chocolates Artisan Bars, and using the pairings guide below, you’ll have the tools necessary to create a magical experience this Valentine’s Day.

When pairing chocolate, it’s important to play in harmony, pairing the flavor notes of the bar with complimentary flavor notes of the wine, spirit, or food with which you are pairing; flavors that enhance one another rather than overpower. Going beyond simply taste and rather turning to molecular structure, the best pairings happen when the dominant aromatic molecules of the chocolate are the same dominant aromatic molecules of the paired wine, spirit, or food. For example, when pairing chocolate with herbal teas, one should pair fruity teas with fruity bars, spiced teas with spiced bars, minty teas with mint flavored bars, so on and so forth. Along similar lines, if pairing with beer or wine, it’s lovely to pair sweet with sweet and tart with tart, as long as the beverage is sweeter than the chocolate. When pairing with wine, opt for similar style and weight, matching more elegant, lighter flavored chocolate with lighter-bodied wine, and stronger, more pronounced chocolate with a full-bodied wine, pairings that can be further honed based on the flavor notes of each.

Below, we’ve complied a list of complimentary pairings with Rococo Chocolates Artisan Bars. We hope this list proves helpful in creating a magical experience for you and your Valentine.

Shop the collection today to receive your Rococo Chocolate in time for Valentine’s Day.

Rococo Chocolates

Cheers to chocolate!

Happy Friday,

Payton

White Chocolate  Cardamom: Tokaji Dessert Wine

White Chocolate Cardamom Crackle: Terra Botanical Gin

Milk Chocolate Sea Salt: Caña Brava Reserva Añeja or similar aged rum

Milk Chocolate  Honeycomb Crunch : Aged Tawny Port

Milk Chocolate Christmas Pudding: IPA or Stout

Dark Chocolate  Sea Salt: Smokey Whiskey

Dark Chocolate  Chili Pepper: Crisp, Sweet Reisling

Dark Chocolate  Basil & Persian Lime: Pinot Noir

Dark Chocolate Gold Frankincense and Myrrh: Blue Moon Beer

Dark Chocolate  Earl Grey: Black Tea like Earl Grey

Dark Chocolate  Violet: Chamomile Tea

Dark Chocolate  Mint: Bobby Burns Whiskey Cocktail

Milk Chocolate  Rose : Pinot Grigio

Milk Chocolate Almond, Rosemary and Sea Salt: Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey

Dark Chocolate  Rose: White Tea

Milk Chocolate  Gingerbread: Egg nog, of course

Milk Chocolate Orange Blossom Neroli: Light and smokey Mezcal like Los Amantes Mezcal Joven

Calling all Football(Food) Fans!

We’re just two weeks shy of Super Bowl Sunday and I’m already thinking about game day.  I’m not particular if the Patriots, Saints, Chiefs or Rams make it to the big game, but I am particular about what is on the menu!  There are lots of statistics about how much guacamole is served up on Super Bowl Sunday and I’m sure there are quite a few chicken wings and hot dogs gobbled up during the game as well.  Here is a super easy menu for your Super Bowl Gathering. As you know when I entertain, my goal is always to make one or two  really good homemade dishes and fill in the rest with some quality purchased items.  The cake in the picture is from Super Bowl XLVIII when the Seattle Seahawks played the Denver Broncos. The game was on Ground Hog’s Day which is also my husband’s birthday, so we celebrated all 3 events with one cake! If you’re not hosting just put together one of these dishes to take to your friend’s place or bring some of this amazing Champagne bottle sized Miller High Life!

SUPER BOWL SUNDAY MENU

French Onion Dip with Potato Chips – Mix a packet of Onion Soup Mix with and 8 oz Tub of Sour Cream and serve with your favorite chips

Baby Carrots, Sliced Cucumber & Grape Tomatoes with Hummus

Popcorn – I use Tiny But Mighty Butter Flavor Microwave Popcorn and it is ready in 2 minutes

Pigs in a Blanket – Buy the pre-made frozen ones, simply reheat and serve with fancy mustard

Chicken Wings with La Boite Ayala Spiced Aioli – Recipe HERE

Cupcakes with Frosting coordinating to the teams playing

Chocolate Chip Cookies – Find the recipe HERE

Miller High Life

Wine – Selected by my husband

Whether you watch The Super Bowl for the football, the commercials or to see Maroon 5 at Half Time this menu will come together quickly and keep your crew smiling.

Happy Friday,

Julie

Gifts and DIY, Oh My!

Gift giving can be something of a chore but when you find the perfect gift it can be magical. Nothing beats watching someone open your present and seeing their eyes light up and a big grin come across their face.  That is when you know you made a good choice. This can happen for kids of all ages, meaning kids and grown-ups alike, have the same reaction to the perfect gift.  We’re coming down the home stretch of holiday gift giving but there is still time to get that perfect gift and also to have it arrive in time with out paying an arm and a leg for shipping😊You can check out our Experience Gift Guide here to find out how to give the whole experience and not just something in a box.

If you are more of the crafty type, here are some DIY ideas that you could make mostly with things around your house.

Chocolate Chip Cookie Mix in a Jar – Of course we would substitute chunks of our favorite Rococo Chocolates Bar in place of the chocolate chips but this recipe from Very Best Baking by Nestle hits all of the right notes.

T-shirt Chew Toy for Dogs – I actually made this one and my sister’s dog can’t put it down. We all have old t-shirts laying around, right?

Kid’s Dishtowel Apron – If your kids love to cook as much as mine do, this is the perfect use of one of those extra dish towels spilling out of your kitchen drawer.

With gift giving it is often more about adding a personal touch than it is about how much you spent. As long as the gift is from the heart it will be loved by the recipient.

Happy Friday,

Julie

P.S. Our Showroom will be open today and tomorrow from noon to 5pm for your holiday shopping needs. Stop by for a visit if you are in NYC, we’re at 210 W 80th Street New York, NY 10024.

Our Salad Game Just Got A Whole Lot Better

We all know that salads become a little harder to eat, let alone crave, once the weather begins to get colder. The nourishment that a salad provides, however vast, becomes slightly unappealing with the decline of exterior temperatures. Luckily, we’ve recently stocked our shelves with a delicious and versatile new line of salad dressings from Farmhouse Labs to improve your salad game, moreover food game in general, as these dressings are a delicious addition to more than just salads. These sustainably sourced creations from Farmhouse Lab will have you craving salad even in the dead of winter, which is a win for your body and for preventing winter weight gain, as well as a win for bringing a little summery brightness to your next meal.

I usually begin my day with a large black coffee and then fast for the next few hours — I feel like this allows my body time to flush everything out of my system before restarting digestion for the day. My favorite thing to eat for breakfast after having fasted for hours, as odd as it may sound, is a large mixed green salad loaded with fruit, veggies, nuts and grains — so I’m very excited about the addition of Farmhouse Lab Dressings to our marketplace. I especially love a baby kale and baby spinach salad with quinoa, avocado, carrots, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, bell peppers, blueberries and strawberries all dressed in a simple lemon Tahini vinaigrette. I feel like this salad will also pair perfectly with Sunny Avocado, which boasts a delicious fruity sweetness and acidic tang.

I love salads for their versatility, as you can add nearly anything you desire to a salad, from meats and cheese, to vegetables and legumes, to chips and crackers, to fruit, nuts, and seeds — really anything goes! That’s the beauty of it. You can pack so many nutrients into a salad and set your day off right! When it’s colder, try serving something hot or warmed over a bed of heartier greens like kale or rainbow chard. A simple chicken salad with chickpeas, roasted root vegetables, and toasted walnuts may be the way to go, as you can add chicken directly from the stove or oven to your salad and enjoy warm. Try marinating chicken breasts with herbs, citrus, and Farmhouse Lab Red Sunflower dressing for an added spicy kick for at least 12 hours. Then roast in a 450 degree oven for 15 minutes, or until the internal temperature of the breast reads 165 degrees on an instant read thermometer. Also, while we’re experimenting, maybe add some cooked brown rice that has been tossed with cilantro, lime zest, lime juice, olive oil, salt, pepper, and raisins to the base of your salad before adding the marinated chicken and roasted vegetables. Of course, drizzle with more Farmhouse Lab Red Sunflower dressing to serve.

This Thanksgiving, why not impress your friends and family with a modern take on a traditional Caprese salad recipe. First, cook one package of Semolina Artisanal Strozzapreti Pasta according to package instructions. While the pasta is cooking, quarter 3 quarts of cherry tomatoes — try to find an heirloom organic variety at your grocery store — and add to a large bowl. Meanwhile, add 1 pound of cubed fresh mozzarella to the bowl of tomatoes, as well as 2 cups of basil leaves that you have gently torn. For added interest, roughly dice 3 peaches, peeled, and add to the bowl as well. Once the pasta has finished cooking — al dente… now is not the time to over cook your pasta — allow to cool for roughly 10 minutes and then add it into the bowl with tomatoes, cheese, peaches and basil. Finally, add a generous pour of Farmhouse Lab Berry Olive dressing, a nice amount of freshly cracked black pepper and sea salt to taste. Serve this modern take on a Caprese salad over a bed baby arugula and enjoy. I’m sure this with be a crowd pleaser!

As snow is in the forecast for the coming days, be sure to not allow it to stop you from consuming your greens. Farmhouse Lab dressings will rescue your salad from its winter blues, as well as help transform many other foods into delicious culinary works of art. We hope you enjoy them as much as we do!

Happy Friday.
Payton

 

Our Shared Table, the Countdown to Thanksgiving

The warm hug of radiating love. The gentle melody of dancing laughter. The glimmer of magic manifested from being surround by those whom you love. These are just a few of the reasons why I love Thanksgiving, moreover the holiday season as a collective. Coming from a large family, the holiday season has always been a magical time for me, as there is something so special about gathering with your family and friends. From the smell of burning wood, cinnamon, and baked apples, to the outward pouring of love and joy, and not to mention the immense spread of food, it’s hard to articulate the exact feeling that the holiday season induces, other than bliss. My wish, now more than ever, is that every being on the planet is able to experience the joy, love, and light of their respective holiday.

My family always seems to go all out when it comes to holiday feasts, as the bounty is truly never ending. Thanksgiving is the one holiday that all of my relatives on my father’s side spend together — roughly 100 of us give or take — all sharing a meal together. From Turkey, ham, meatballs, candied carrots, stuffing and mashed potatoes, to lefsa, rommegrot, krumkake, pumpkin pie, pecan pie and scotcheroos, our thanksgiving table is one of indulgence to say the least, a beautiful holiday spread that everyone not only shares in eating, but also shares in creating. Despite the cold temperatures outside, my family’s Thanksgiving is one of the warmest places you could be, the physical embodiment of love, laughter and joy. Housed at the local legion due to the staggering number of us, our Thanksgiving is a time of reconnection and shared joy, a warmth that I wish everyone had the privilege of experiencing.

In years past, after celebrating with my dad’s side of the family, my immediate family and I always went to my mom’s parent’s farm to spend the afternoon and evening, and of course we’d indulge in more food, only after taking naps by the fire, however. Already stuffed from dinner, we’d all make a cozy bed on either the sofa, recliner, or floor, and rest by the glow of a warm fire for hours, only to awaken and eat more food, usually, but not limited to, pumpkin pie, turkey, snicker bar salad and my grandma’s incredible home made bread, which no one could ever get enough of. I am so thankful for these memories and I will treasure them always.

This year, try spicing up your holiday spread with some incredible products from our marketplace. Take your pumpkin pie to the next level by making the crust with Paul & Pippa Cocoa Biscuits or Lady Carrot Cake Biscuits, either of which would lend a modern twist to the classic favorite. As mentioned in posts past, honey is an amazing addition and compliment to both sweet and savory dishes, so this Thanksgiving, make sure to find a place for Bee Local Honey on your holiday table by using it in a glaze for your holiday ham, a sweetener for your cranberry sauce, a candy coating for your pecans, or as an infusion for your butter to then be used to spread on warm bread and dinner rolls — all of which will definitely pack a delicious holiday punch. If looking for even more invention, try adding some Gus and Grey Pearfection Jam to your your stuffing recipe, as sweet always compliments savory and vice versa, and the flavor of pear and cinnamon are the perfect addition to your holiday feast. Semolina Artisanal Pasta could be a fun addition if you’re looking for something a little less traditional, in which case you could mix cooked pasta with roasted vegetables, cheese, and herbs and toss with a simple lemon and Bee Local Hot Honey vinaigrette for an easy yet sophisticated pasta salad.

The options for holiday food is truly endless, so please check out our recipe box for season inspired recipes and ideas, as well as our Pinterest board. Find the link for both pages below.

We would also love to spread joy and compassion this holiday season, as we are well aware that not everyone is as fortunate as we are, so we’ll be donating a portion of our holiday sales to a New York City based food charity this holiday season. Whether you have a little or a lot to give, please find someway to help those around you this holiday season by either donating food to your local food bank, or volunteering to make meals for those less fortunate, as together, we can help try to make the holiday season a magical time for everyone.

Happy Friday.
-Payton

Recipe box: https://www.juliesbeet.com/pages/recipe-box

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/juliesbeet/thanksgiving-inspiration/

Meal Prep for the Win!

The 2018-2019 school year is freshly underway, and although I’m not a parent, I know the chaos that a new school year brings. Growing up in rural Minnesota in a town, moreover village, with a population of 1,300 people, a lot falls on the eldest sibling  — which is me — when it comes to helping out with the younger siblings. Having two working career parents who often traveled for work didn’t help lessen the workload, either. From the age of 12 or 13, I was responsible for not only getting myself up and ready for school in the morning, but I was also responsible for getting my younger brother and sister up and ready, too. It wasn’t always easy either, as I liked to be to school by 8am so that I had time to socialize with my friends before class, but my brother and sister prefered sleep much more, so I rarely hit my 8am target. I was an alarm clock, wardrobe stylist, hair stylist, personal chef, and chaperone on the walk to school — which granted was no more than a block away from our home — so believe me when I tell you that even though I’m not a parent, I know the chaos that a fresh school year brings.

On duty before school, as well as after school, I was responsible for finding my brother and sister after school and getting them to their numerous evening programs and sport practices, usually with the addition of my younger cousins, too; only to be amplified once I got my drivers license. This may sound like a lot of work, especially for a young kid who was also juggling school work, but I would be lying if I said that I didn’t miss those days, as I really do miss them. Although I haven’t had these responsibilities in a number of years, this new school year is hitting me harder than most, as my youngest sibling just started her senior year, and being the sappy, sentimental, and overly emotional person that I am, I can’t help but feel sad when thinking back on the younger days. But alas, change is inevitable, and the excitement and awe of witnessing my sister blossom into a beautiful young woman far outweighs the sadness brought about by change.

While on duty as an older brother made live-in nanny, I learned the invaluable lesson of being organized and overly prepared. I’ve always enjoyed cooking, and being the overachiever and natural nurturer that I’ve always been, I found much joy in batch cooking and meal prep, which alleviated a lot of unnecessary stress when trying to feed my siblings before and after school, or when trying to pack them a lunch on days when they didn’t like the lunch option. If you’re struggling with a lack of time when trying to get your kids up, ready, and fed before school in the morning, meal and snack prep could really help you keep your mornings and days on track and running smoothly. Start with basics like vegetable packets — maybe carrots, celery, and blanched broccoli — and your favorite veggie dip, fresh fruit packets — including berries, melon, and grapes — and trail mix packets. If possible, please try to use reusable bags or BPA free tupperware containers. For breakfast, which was rarely eaten at home but rather while running out the door  — I would prepare large batches of baked breakfast sandwiches, which usually included eggs, cheese, and breakfast meats, sandwiched in between two english muffin halves — that is until I discovered how to create syrup infused pancake muffins — that I would wrap in parchment paper, label, then place in a sealable container and freeze. Because I’m a sugar junkie, I would also prepare large batches of pancakes, french toast, and waffles that I would freeze and then place in the toaster oven for quick reheating making for a simple yet delicious breakfast in a pinch. Having a few snack and breakfast options on hand really does make a world of difference.

My mom always kept our refrigerator and pantry stocked to the brim, so on days when my brother or sister requested a packed lunch, throwing together a simple and filling lunch was quite easy. If I were to pack them a lunch today, however, I think I would forgo the deli-meat sandwich with a side of chips and instead send them with a hummus and veggie wrap with the addition of roasted chicken and a side of fresh fruit, or something slightly more healthy and nutrient dense than a sandwich. You could also batch cook a few different types of burritos, wrap them in parchment and then again in foil, and freeze — that is if a microwave is provided at the school for reheating purposes. A simple veggie lasagna with whole wheat pasta noodles would be lovely as well, and requires very little time to prepare ahead of time and it also freezes nicely.

The favorite of my creations, hands down, had to be my homemade chocolate chip cookies. I would make triple batches of these cookies once per month — they were a favorite of everyone in my family and the most coveted snack, more like treat, to bring with you to school. The secret, which I’m sure I picked up while watching the Food Network, was a mixture of white chocolate chips, semi sweet chocolate chips, and milk chocolate chips, as well as a heaping scoop of peanut butter, and last, but most definitely not least, a packet of white chocolate pudding mix — I know, quite odd, but let me tell you, these cookies are magical! The white chocolate pudding was the star of the show, not only adding another level of chocolate flavor, but it also created the best chewy texture. I will write and share the recipe for these cookies on the Recipe Box page of our website in the coming days.

Conclusion. The school-year does not have to be chaotic, and can actually be quite fun and enjoyable if well prepared. Try planning a weekly or monthly menu with your family, and after you have a menu set, give batch cooking and meal prepping a go to give yourself more time during the week. Simple, make ahead meal and snack options will save you so much time in the long run. Cheers to reducing chaos this school year!

Happy Friday!

Payton