RECIPE: Warm Mushroom, Zucchini and Bacon Salad

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One Saturday morning we were meandering around the kitchen, taking our time waking up, and wondering what to make for dinner that night over coffee. Ah, I love those mornings. We turned on Lydia Bastianich on PBS, and she was cooking up a lot of mushrooms for a show. One was a warm mushroom salad, and we got inspired to make our own that night. I love salads, but I like inspired salads for dinner -salads that have unique toppings and crunchy bits and seasoned proteins are what get me excited. This was the recipe we made and documented for you. Aren't you lucky?

You can serve this with a soup or a vegetarian entree for a light dinner, or pair it with a roasted meat dish for something heartier. The left overs made a second salad for lunch the next day. 

Warm Mushroom, Zucchini and Bacon Salad

2 Tbsp. olive oil
20 oz. mixed mushrooms (Crimini, Shitake, Button)
7 oz. pancetta or Boar’s Head thick cut bacon, diced
1 medium zucchini, sliced thin
3 lg. cloves garlic, diced
1 tsp. thyme, diced
¼ cup chardonnay wine
4 green onion, think sliced

10 escarole leaves, sliced 1 “ thick
4-5 oz. baby arugula and baby spinach, mixed


1 Tbsp. honey
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
¼ cup white balsamic vinegar
½ cup olive oil
sea salt and pepper to taste

Whisk together until emulsified. Set aside until ready to assemble salad. Dressing can keep in the refrigerator for one week.


Toss your greens together in a large salad bowl and set aside. In a large pan, heat oil over medium heat. Add pancetta or bacon and cook for 6 minutes. Add the garlic, mushrooms and zucchini to the pan and sauté until beginning to soften. Add thyme and cook for another 5 minutes. Next add the wine, and reduce 3-4 minutes. Add green onions and cook 3 minutes, then take off the heat. Add mushroom mixture to the bowl of escarole, baby spinach and arugula mixture. Drizzle dressing and toss. Serve with extra salt, pepper and extra dressing on the side for guests.

RECIPE: Savory, Easy Beef Brisket in the Slow Cooker

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Tender, off the bone brisket has been the holy grail at our house, particularly when we smoke it. We haven't quite figured out how to crack that code. But when we get it from a few choice BBQ joints we love in the area (Smalls Barbecue Shack, if you ever are on the NW side of Chicago) the brisket is life changing.

I can't say this recipe is "life changing" when it comes to brisket. However, if you are looking for a no-nonsense, easy recipe where at the end of a 9 hour day you get flaky beef brisket with lots of juice to ladle and to eat with some potatoes, this is for you. Perfect for a busy day, and a tight budget. beef brisket is one of your cheaper cuts of meat, and you will have left overs for the next night to maybe throw into some tacos or a casserole.

Savory, Easy Beef Brisket in the Slow Cooker


1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 1/2 lbs. yellow and red onions, sliced
3 1/2 lbs beef brisket, flat cut
salt and pepper
8 cloves of garlic, minced
3 Tbsp. tomato paste
1 cup beef broth
2 Tbsp. Worcestershire
1 Tbsp. soy sauce


Salt and pepper both sides of the brisket. In a deep pan, heat olive oil over medium high heat. Sear all side of the brisket until browned on all sides, Place brisket, fat side up, in the slow cooker.

In same pan with the drippings, add the onions, and cook on medium low heat for about 20 minutes, caramelizing the onions. The last 5 minutes, add the garlic to soften. Add to the slow cooker, and return the pan to heat.

Deglaze the pan with the beef broth, Worcestershire and soy sauce. Once things begin to simmer, add the tomato paste. Scrape the bottom of the pan and simmer until everything is hot and well combined, and all the brown bits of beef yummy have been saved into the liquid. Add all this to the slow cooker.

Cook on low for 8-9 hours. (high for 5-7)

  When ready, turn the slow cooker on warm, and carefully transfer the beef brisket to a platter. If the beef is too tender, it will probably begin to fall apart. We just grabbed large chunks off to serve. If you want to cut into your brisket, you may want to cook it an hour or two less. But we like it fall-apart tender.

You can either ladle the sauce right out of the slow cooker, or you can strain it, defat it, and boil it down to about 2/3rd, adding a little corn starch to thicken it up. Serve with the juices ladled over the meat, and some roasted potatoes on the side. That is a stick to your ribs dinner!

CRAFTS: Cheaply Make Pillow Bench Seating

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We got a small fixer-upper lake house, and I have been slowly making it our own-on a very very tight budget. I mean, getting it took all our extra money and our first born (kidding..sort of). So we need to live with some things for a while, like the 1970's wood paneling everywhere!

One of the cool things we inherited is a gigantic wrap around bench around a farm table. But it needed cushions to make the bench seating comfortable. My head (and wallet) hurt from how many pillows I would need. How to fill the area with cozy pillows cheaply, and in a way that allowed me to clean them easily in case food, crumbs and liquids got on them?

First stop, thrift stores. I found pillow forms or even simple pillows that could be recovered. I threw what I could in the wash before recovering. 

Second stop was digging around my house, finding old toss pillows that were in closets, detritus from redecorating various rooms through the years.

Then I bought fabric on sale, much foraged for in the remnant bins of the fabric store. I also picked up grommets in various sizes, and Velcro. You could also grab zippers, but I was trying to be cheap AND easy with my pillow covers. Zippers were too high maintenance for me this go around. I also bought a couple yards of rope edging as well as ribbon and some large buttons.

Here were the ideas I had.

Pillow idea 1, the open side of the pillow, press the grommets into three holes on each side of the fabric sides. Then cut some ribbon, thread through the grommets and tie closed. 
Don't know how to grommet? Here is a link: 

Pillow idea 2, make an napkin envelope pillow. Here is a great tutorial using a napkin, but you can cut a fabric to size to make the "napkin" be whatever size you need.

Stitch a loop on the end of the flap and sew a button on the bottom to close the pillow. 

Pillow idea 3 is very simple. Instead of sewing closed the open side, sew two-three small pieces of Velcro to cinch the side closed. I prefer sewing Velcro versus using the adhesive backed ones just to make sure the Velcro will stay. I have not had good luck with adhesive Velcro in my past. Sew those bad boys right on and you know they will do their job for a long time.

Pillow idea 4 is a version of the first, but using much larger grommets. Then weave a rope, twine or large ribbon through like a giant shoe lace, and make a cool bow or boat knot at the end.

I am pretty happy with the result. Cozy, tumbley pillows all over the long benches. Makes you want to roll on in for my hubby's pancakes!

RECIPE: Spicy Broccoli Turkey Bacon Egg Muffins

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Sick of carbs for breakfast? It seems the only way you can get a quick breakfast on the go is to grab a muffin, bagel or toast. I like to have handy proteins to bring to work too, to keep things healthy and low carb. Egg muffins are easy to make on a Sunday and freeze, and have them on hand to heat up throughout the week. I usually nuke them for about 30 seconds once at the office, then toast them in the convection oven at work until golden on top. Egg substitute or egg whites keep things really healthy-and a serving using that is about 3 muffins. You can use whole eggs too. In that case one or two would be a max serving. Play with different fillings, but this is a great combo we love!

Spicy Broccoli Turkey Bacon Egg Muffins

3-4 slices turkey bacon, finely chopped
1 Tbsp. olive oil
10-12 oz. egg substitute (or about 1 egg per "cup", lightly beaten)
1 medium zucchini, finely chopped
1 cup chopped fresh spinach
1-2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and finely chopped
1/4 cup red onion, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups finely chopped broccoli florets, blanched and cooled
1/4 tsp. salt and fresh ground pepper
1 tsp. dried basil
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/3 cup shredded vegan cheese or low fast cheddar
non-stick cooking spray


Preheat oven to 350˚. Heat the olive oil over medium high heat, then cook up the chopped bacon.

Next, sauté the onions and pepper, and cook until softened. Then add the zucchini and cook until it also begins to soften. 

Then add the seasonings and mix well. Then add the broccoli and mix until heated through.

Spray 1-2 muffin pans with non-stick cooking spray, then divide up the vegetable mixture evenly among the muffin cups. Sprinkle the cheese on top of each cup, then pour the egg substitute or beaten eggs into each cup until about 2/3rds full.

Bake for about 20 min. until lightly golden and puffy. Let sit for 10 minutes in the tins, then run a knife around the sides and bottom and transfer the muffins to a cooling rack to cool completely. You can freeze individually-or eat warm out of the oven!

RECIPE VIDEO: Poor Mans Uber Easy Beef Wellington that Pairs Well with Merlot

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Unroll that refrigerated croissant dough or puff pastry, chop up those mushrooms, open a bottle of Duckhorn Merlot and bask in deliciousness. 45 minutes and you have a meal that can wow anybody. Nothing goes better with Merlot than a rich, tender cut of beef. Beef brings out the rich complex flavors of this wine, and the layers of minced mushrooms and mustard adds a lot of flavor to the filet mignon. You will love this easier, less fussy version of the classic Beef Wellington.

CRAFTS: Easy DIY Library Scrabble Organizer Signs

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Fall has set in, and for whatever reason so has my urge to nest, clean and purge the homestead. Maybe it's because holidays are rolling around, and we will have a houseful of guests throughout the next few months? Or it may be that my daughter is starting a whole new phase in our parenting journey-high school- and she is "too cool" for a lot of stuff we have stashed and saved everywhere. I mean, who needs 3 boxes of 92 count crayons and a sticker book of Pokemon?

I am trying to tackle a room a weekend. My library room was the first on the list. My husband had been using it for a catch all of whatever he couldn't find a place for. I also had books precariously stacked everywhere. I also needed to dust the books-badly.

I purged, I donated, I lent, and I threw out. It felt great! My library became the cozy cove it started as. I was so pleased. I also organized the books. I felt like I was in the book High Fidelity, organizing and reorganizing for therapy.

After my beautiful organization, I decided I needed to call out areas of the shelves. I know, you are probably asking why? It's an in home library. But I thought it would give my shelves a finished look, and also help my family members put things in the right place instead of throwing things everywhere-what led me to the cleaning and purging predicament in the first place.

As I looked at the book shelves an idea came to me. I had seen old scrabble board games at the thrift store, and with a hot glue gun I could use the letter holders as signs and spell out literary genres.

It was so easy!

First I scored a Scrabble game for around 3 bucks. One game gives you 4 "ledges" or "holders". SO depending on how many genres you need, you may need more than one board game. I am on the lookout for one more.

I spelled and spaced out my pieces in place.

Heated up my hot glue gun, started on one end and began glueing the pieces to the holder.

After they cool, take off any stringy glue, and voila! They make a perfect gift for your ocd bibliophile!

VIDEO: Apple Cinnamon Roll Cake for Fall Baking

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Refrigerated cinnamon roll dough plays a starring roll in this easy apple cake I made up one day. And I filmed it too, with some catchy music to get you in the kitchen baking. Aren't you lucky?

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