Quick Weeknight Dinner Hack

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While I tend to cook almost every weeknight, it's a stretch to say that I LOVE cooking. I don't usually mind it, but on weeknights I prefer quick and simple meal. 

One of my favorite "hacks" is to pick up fish, usually salmon, at the Kroger butcher counter. For no additional price, the butcher will season the fish and add butter, lemons, and/or fresh herbs before sealing it in an over bag.

I'll frequently stop at the grocery on my way home from work to pick this up instead of purchasing this on my weekly grocery hauls because I don't like fish to sit too long in my fridge. I'm sure other grocery stores have this service, but Kroger is what is most convenient for me.

When I get home, I will chop up some veggies to roast and put everything in the oven. By having the butcher put everything in the oven bag, it makes both the prep work and clean up a breeze.

 
Real life dinner prep with my sous chef. 

Real life dinner prep with my sous chef. 

 

I love meals that are easy and on the table in about 30 minutes. What are some of your weeknight dinner hacks?

 
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What do you do with rebate cards?

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Every couple of months, I clean out the expired coupons and random receipts that I've tossed in my wallet or purse. I'm the worst about carrying around random coupons that I almost never use. Does anyone else feel the need to keep coupons *just in case* you might need them?

In my most recent purge, I found four Visa rebate cards that expire this month. I ended up with these after ordering things like a year supply of heartworm medicine for the dog or a six month supply of contact lenses, and I'm sure we all get these for various purchases. I typically make a purchase with the card and have a remaining balance of something like $3.78. I usually shove it back into my wallet and forget about it, and it expires before I can use it. 

I spent about 5 minutes looking up the balances of the rebate cards online and found that together they totaled almost $60. I planned to order some Christmas gifts,  but you can't use  rebate cards on most websites unless the card balance exceeds your purchase total. What I did to work around this was I purchased several electronic gift cards in the specific balance amounts to the store, and they were in my inbox in a matter of minutes. Most stores will allow you to apply as many of their gift cards as you'd like toward your purchase. 

The entire process of looking up the card balances, ordering the store gift cards, and waiting for them to show up in my inbox took about 15 minutes. It was definitely worth the few extra minutes to whittle my $67 purchase down to less than $10.

Do you have any tips and tricks for not letting these cards go to waste?

 
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Where did the fall go?

With several weekend hikes, football games, and short getaways, October and November just flew by. Here's a snippet of what we were up to in iPhone pics...

My mom, sister, and I went to Jackson's Orchard to load up on fall goodies. No trip to Jackson's is complete without an apple cider slushie!

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Jay and I headed to Chicago for a whirlwind weekend to celebrate our third anniversary in October. We saw Hamilton, ate too much cheese, and rented bikes to ride along the lakefront and through Lincoln Park. 

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We took an afternoon off to visit Keeneland. We're almost always windblown and never photogenic at Keeneland.

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Annabelle was pooped after barking at every single trick-or-treater. 

We headed to Cumberland Falls to check out the fall foliage and made a pit stop at the Harland Sander's Cafe in Corbin (the original KFC). Annabelle's favorite part of the trip was sleeping in the bed at the lodge.

As soon as Thanksgiving is over, I'm ready to switch gears and get into the holiday spirit, but I'll be soaking up the last bit of fall this week.

 
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Hosting Thanksgiving Dinner

Thanksgiving is such a special holiday. I love that it is a final autumnal celebration before the Christmas season hits in force. Don't get me wrong, I love Christmas, but Thanksgiving embodies what I believe all holidays should - quality time with loved ones, warmth and comfort, traditions, and of course, delicious food.  

While we've hosted plenty of meals and celebrations, this will be our first time hosting family for Thanksgiving. While I'm slightly nervous about making sure we get the turkey just right, I'm excited to welcome loved ones into our home for the holiday. While I tend to be Type-A about making sure every detail is perfectly executed, I'm finally at the point in my hosting journey that I tend to be composed and cheerful while entertaining guests. For me, the key to enjoying the day is to plan copiously and do the prep-work early, so I'm not rushing around right before or during the time we have company. 

While it is inevitable that we'll have a snafu somewhere along the way, here are the steps I'm taking to make sure the day at least appears effortless.

1. Determine the vibe and plan accordingly 

Most of our family will be driving a couple of hours that morning, so I want everyone to be comfortable while traveling and once they arrive. I hate dressing up, driving a few hours in the car, and then feeling wrinkled and constricted in my outfit all day, so the vibe I'm going for is "festive casual." Is that a thing? I'm planning to wear this burgundy sweater with cream cords and these leopard flats.

Accordingly, I don't want the tablescape and decor to be too formal. Channeling Ina Garden's understated elegance, I'm planning to use a simple table runner with white tealights, white flowers, greenery, and if I can find them, white pumpkins. I'm adding these round water hyacinth placemats and muted blue and greige ikat napkins with my everyday white dishes to finish out the table. 

2. Create a detailed menu a couple weeks in advance and make a master grocery list

Making a menu for Thanksgiving isn't too challenging because it tends to consist of the classic dishes. However, I circulated my menu to a few family members to make sure I wasn't leaving off someone's favorite dish or missing anything. I then spent about an hour earlier this week pulling out family recipes and cookbooks to create a huge grocery list. Even though I normally keep plenty of staples like flour, spices, and chicken broth on hand, preparing a large meal can easily clean you out of those. I can think of nothing worse than making mashed potatoes 15 minutes before the meal and running out of butter and salt, so I took stock of my pantry and added a lot of basic items to the list. 

3. Grocery shop early

While I'm planning to make a run to the store next week to purchase perishable items, I like to make a big trip to the grocery about a week in advance. Lots of grocery shopping will happen over the weekend before Thanksgiving, so I want to make sure I have the turkey and non-perishable items before the shelves are depleted. If the grocery is already out of something or doesn't have great options, I still have plenty of time to find what I'm looking for.

4. If people offer to bring a dish, let them!

I used to frequently respond that I had it covered when people offered to bring items because I didn't want to burden them. Now, I happily oblige! I always ask what they'd like to bring instead of telling them something because they may have a recipe that is meaningful to them or want to make sure what they bring travels well. Either way, we either have an additional dish at the table, or I can cross something off of my list.

5. Think of all of the tiny details and create a timeline

After planning the menu, tablescape, and knowing what others are bringing, it is time to make a timeline. I generally plan a week out, and have specific tasks listed for the weekend, Tuesday night, and Wednesday night. My timeline for Thursday is very detailed, and I have tasks listed for every half hour until the meal. Not only do I list chores like food preparation and when to put various items in the oven, but I plan when I'll run the vacuum a final time, walk the dog before guests arrive, and take a shower that morning. 

What are your Thanksgiving plans this year? Do you have any hosting tips?

 
 

Delicious Fall Tailgate Recipe

 
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Football season in the Bluegrass means a sea of UK blue, bourbon-fueled tailgates, and lousy football. That's okay with me because my favorite parts of football games are hanging out with friends and watching the band perform at halftime, ha! Does anyone else go just for the atmosphere?

One of my favorite things to take to morning football or Keeneland tailgates in the fall is pumpkin bread. It still tastes very fresh the second day, so you can make it ahead of time and just slice and go that morning. The recipe I use most for pumpkin break came from Cooking Light, and I've adapted it slightly over the years. I like it because it is a little bit lighter and just sweet enough. The recipe also makes two loaves, so you can take one loaf to a tailgate and keep the other one for yourself. ;) I've also frozen the extra loaf, and it saves well for a couple of months.

Pumpkin Bread

  • 3 1/3 cups flour (white or whole wheat works well)
  • 1 T baking soda
  • 1 t salt
  • 1 t cinnamon
  • 1 t nutmeg
  • 1 t allspice
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk 
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 1 15 oz can pumpkin

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 350.
  • Combine flour and next 6 ingredients in a bowl.
  • Place sugar, eggs, oil, and buttermilk in a large bowl. Beat with a mixer at high speed until well blended. Add 2/3 cup water and pumpkin, beating at low speed until well blended. Add flour mixture slowly, beating at low speed until just combined. 
  • Spoon batter into two 9x5 loaf pans coated with cooking spray. 
  • Bake at 350 for one hour. 
  • Cool 10 minutes in pans on wire rack. Remove from pans and cool completely on wire rack. 

Enjoy, and GO CATS!

 
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