Nutty Vanilla Bean Baked Oatmeal Cups

Nutty Vanilla Bean Baked Oatmeal Cups

This is my first recipe featuring vanilla bean paste, and I have to say, it’s something I’ve been dying to cook with.  I didn’t even bother looking in stores for it because, when it comes to specialty foods, Amazon always has the products I’m looking for.  This is the kind I bought.  Vanilla bean paste is a blend of vanilla beans, vanilla extract, water, and sugar.  Vanilla bean is one of my top 3 favorite dessert flavors (along with lemon and chocolate). 

I like this paste for several reasons.  First, it’s cheaper than buying vanilla bean pods.  Vanilla bean pods are about $6 a piece.  You get about 50 times that many pods’ worth in one 4 ounce jar, and a whole jar is only $15.  Vanilla bean paste has a longer shelf life than vanilla bean pods.  Plus having it in a jar, as opposed to in beans, makes it way easier to use, so I have a reason to put that intense vanilla flavor into everything. 

From here out, expect many recipes using vanilla bean paste!  I just got my first Bundt pan, and I’m planning a vanilla bean and something (to be determined) flavored Bundt cake with vanilla bean glaze.  Doesn’t that sound good? 

For these oatmeal cups, you can substitute out any or all of the coconut flavors if you like, but I love coconut.  The recipe I adapted this from uses canola oil, regular milk, regular sugar, etc.  So you can do that in equal proportions if you like. 

I made these using reusable silicone muffin cups.  I like these because I think they’re cute, they’re reusable, and they won’t ever rip and leave paper in the muffin or cupcake.  Whether you use these or paper liners, muffin liners are a must for this recipe.

You can keep these in the fridge for about a week, and just heat them up for 30 seconds to 1 minute before eating.  If you like, add a little extra milk when serving to thin it out (I always like to do this). 


Total Time:  1 hour and 15 minutesgood

Yield:  18 Muffins

Difficulty Level:  Easy



2 eggs

¼ cup coconut oil, melted and cooled slightly

½ cup brown sugar

½ cup unrefined coconut sugar

½ cup unsweetened applesauce

2 cups coconut milk

2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste 

½ teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

1 tablespoon ground flax seed

3 cups old fashioned oats

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ sweetened flaked coconut

½ cup slivered almonds, plus more for topping



  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Line your muffin tin with 18 muffin liners.
  3. Crack the eggs into a large mixing bowl. Use a wire whisk to break the yolks apart.
  4. Add the coconut oil, brown sugar, and coconut sugar. Whisk together until the sugar has broken apart and dissolved.
  5. Add the applesauce, coconut milk, vanilla bean paste, salt, cinnamon, and ground flax. Whisk until combined.
  6. Add the oats, baking powder, flaked coconut, and slivered almond. Use a rubber spatula to thoroughly combine.
  7. Add ¼ cup of the oatmeal mixture to each muffin cup.
  8. Bake for 35 minutes.
  9. Let cool for 10 minutes before serving.
  10. Store in an airtight container.

(adapted from The Wholesome Dish)




Lavender + Fleur de Sel Cookies, 2 Ways

Lavender + Fleur de Sel Cookies, 2 Ways

I have been really waiting to a good reason to feature fleur de sel.  I bought it back in November,  but I wanted to save it for something where I could really let it shine.  The crystals are huge compared to regular salt, and they’re almost soft in texture.  It’s not the kind of salt you use for flavoring while you’re cooking.  I would only use it to finish a dish –and when you want it to be really special.

This recipe requires ground dried lavender.  You can buy it here, and grind it with this.  My inspiration for combing salt and lavender came from a bottle of hand soap I got from Marshall’s.  I always get soap there because the scents are unusual.  When I smelled the Sea Salt and Lavender soap, I immediately knew I was going to do Lavender + Fleur de Sel Cookies.

I decided originally to make Lavender Caramel Fleur de Sel Cookies first.  I got The Flavor Bible for Christmas, and according to the panel of experts, caramel is not noted as a flavor pairing for lavender.  But both caramel and lavender pair with fleur de sel, so I figured it was worth a try. 

I thought it would be a fun challenge to break the dough in half and do a second flavor:  Lavender White Chocolate Fleur de Sel Cookies.  This is a safer pairing.  According to The Flavor Bible, all three flavors pair with each other. 

I like having the book as a guide, but I don’t think I can grow in my cooking if I don’t push the boundaries a little.


Total Time:  2 hours 11

Makes: 24-28 cookies (12-14 of each)

Difficulty Level:  Easy



3.5 ounces Werther’s soft caramels (about 16 candies)

3.5 ounces premium white chocolate baking bar (about 7 squares)

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

1 ½ tablespoon ground dried lavender

2/3 cup melted unsalted butter, slightly cooled

1 ¼ cup white sugar

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 tablespoon Fleur de sel



  1. Unwrap and chop the soft caramels into thirds. Keep in the freezer until ready to use.
  2. Chop up the white chocolate into sizes about the same as the caramel. Keep chilled until ready to use.
  3. Sift together flour, baking soda, and salt. Add the ground dried lavender, and set aside.
  4. In a large bowl, add the cooled melted butter. Add the sugar.  Use an electric hand mixer on medium speed to mix the ingredients until fully incorporated.
  5. Add the egg and vanilla extract to the butter and sugar mixture. Mix together with the hand mixture.
  6. Add one third of the flour mixture at a time to the wet ingredients, mixing in between each addition until fully incorporated. Scrape down the sides with a rubber spatula.
  7. Divide the dough in half and put in 2 separate bowls.
  8. Add the caramels to one half of the dough. Use the rubber spatula and/or your hands to work quickly folding the caramels into the dough.
  9. Add the white chocolate to the other half of the dough. Use the rubber spatula and/or your hand to work quickly folding the white chocolate into the dough.
  10. Cover each dough, and chill for at least one hour.
  11. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  12. Line a half sheet with a silicone baking sheet. Form the cookies into balls and put on the baking sheet.
  13. Spray the bottom of a drinking glass with non-stick spray, and use it to slightly flatten the cookies.
  14. Sprinkle the cookies with fleur de sel. Gently pat the fleur de sel crystals into the cookies.
  15. Bake the cookies for 10 minutes.
  16. Remove from the oven, and let cool for 10 minutes on the baking sheet before using a spatula to let them finish cooling on a metal rack.
  17. Let the cookies cool completely before serving.

(adapted from Lavender, Honey, and Lemon Cookies)


Thai Eggplant + Basil Chicken Curry

Thai Eggplant + Basil Chicken Curry

Last January, I decided to go outside my comfort zone of cooking.  I had never cooked anything African, Asian, or Middle Eastern.  The recipe I found is one I’ve now cooked many times:  African Peanut Soup.  I never realized how simple it was.  In college, I took a few cooking classes, and I remember making a hand-ground Moroccan spice blend.  Maybe I just associated those flavors with being very specialized, expensive to accumulate, and labor intensive.  But really, you can get lots of exciting spice blends for these kinds of cooking just like you can get Italian seasoning or taco seasoning.  I’ve incorporated these new flavors into my pantry, so I can make a curry or an authentic African stew at a moment’s notice. (I realize this is not important to everyone.)

For this curry, I used Red Curry with Chicken and Chickpeas as a guideline.  When you use coconut milk for curries, don’t use the kind in a carton (aka the kind you use as a milk substitute).  Use canned coconut milk.  I like to sauté the onion and garlic, but not the bell peppers or eggplant.  The reason is that I don’t want the peppers or eggplant to get overly soft, so I add them just right before the coconut milk and curry paste.  This is the brand of coconut milk I use, and this is the curry paste.

This recipe goes over Perfectly Cooked Brown Rice, but you could also serve it over Perfectly Cooked Quinoa.  I also did an adaptation of Basic Baked Chicken for this recipe.  The adaptation is for bone-in, skin-on breasts, and you can find it here.

Total Time:  90 minutesimg_5803

Serves: 8

Difficulty Level:  Easy


Vegetable oil

½ onion, diced small

2 cloves of fresh garlic, minced

1 yellow bell pepper, diced small

1 green bell pepper, diced small

½ medium eggplant, diced small (about 2 cups)

Small Diced Basic Baked Chicken, 3 bone-in breasts (use recipe adaption)

1 4-ounce jar of green curry paste

3 cans light coconut milk

2 recipes of Perfectly Cooked Brown Rice

Lime wedges

Torn basil


  1. Add a few tablespoons of vegetable oil to a large pot over medium heat.
  2. As the oil heats up, add the onion, and sauté until translucent, about 6 minutes.
  3. Add the garlic, and saute for another 1-2 minutes.
  4. Take the pot off the heat. Add the yellow and green bell peppers, eggplant, diced chicken, curry paste, and coconut milk.
  5. Return to heat. Bring the curry up to a rapid simmer (medium high heat).
  6. Let the curry cook for about 30 minutes. (**see note)
  7. Serve the curry hot over Perfectly Cooked Brown Rice. Squeeze fresh lime juice over, and sprinkle with freshly torn basil.

**Note:  You can either serve it now over rice.  Or you can turn it down to low, cover, and keep warm until ready to serve.

Bucatini Aglio e Olio + Salt Cured Egg Yolks

Bucatini Aglio e Olio + Salt Cured Egg Yolks

This recipe is all about showcasing individual flavors and really simple ingredients.  In the question of which came first, the bucatini or the egg?  The egg came first.  I found a recipe (or science project?) for salt cured egg yolks and was fascinated.  It takes a long time to make the egg yolks, but it’s almost all hands-off.  These kind of cooking experiments make me feel like a mad scientist.

When you want to showcase a new flavor like the egg yolks, I think it’s best to serve it over something really simple.  Bucatini is my favorite pasta shape, and since I always have a stockpile of boxes, it was a good excuse to cook it.

Aglio e Olio just means “garlic and olive oil.”  You can taste each individual flavor of this dish.  It feels very earthy and very authentic– good ingredients, good flavors.

Making the eggs was a pretty cool experiment.  The salt slowly draws out all the moisture, so when you remove the yolks on the 4th day, the salt has taken on a strange new consistency.  You need to try this.


Bucatini Aglio e Olio


Total Time:  under 30 minutes

Serves:  4

Difficulty Level:  Easy



½ pound of bucatini

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

3 large cloves of garlic (or 4 small), thinly sliced

2/3 cup freshly grated Asiago cheese

½ cup freshly chopped parsley

Freshly cracked pepper

Freshly grated salt cured egg yolks (technique follows)



  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a rapid boil.
  2. Add the bucatini, and cook until al dente, about 9-10 minutes.
  3. Drain the pasta, and set aside.
  4. Put the empty pot back on the stove, and add the olive oil.
  5. When you can smell the olive oil, add the sliced garlic. Cook on medium heat for 1-2 minutes.  Watch closely so it doesn’t burn.
  6. Remove from heat, and add the pasta, asiago cheese, parsley, and cracked pepper.
  7. Use tongs to toss the pasta together.
  8. Top with freshly grated cured egg yolks.



Cured Egg Yolks

(method found at Bon Appetit)


Total Time: 4 days plus 3 hours

Makes:  8 egg yolks

Difficulty Level:  Easy (patience level must be high)



3 ½ cups kosher salt

2 ½ cups white sugar

8 extra large egg yolks

Nonstick cooking spray



  1. In a large mixing bowl, toss together the kosher salt and white sugar until thoroughly combined.
  2. Pour the mixture evenly into a 9×13 casserole dish (I used a large clear Pyrex).
  3. Create 8 yolk-sized divots in the salt/sugar mixture.
  4. Separate the eggs (you could save the whites for this or this).
  5. Very carefully place each yolk into its own divot.
  6. Cover tightly with plastic wrap, and keep refrigerated for 4 days.
  7. Preheat your oven to the lowest temperature possible (mine is 170 degrees Fahrenheit).
  8. Place a baking rack on a half sheet pan.
  9. Spray the baking rack thoroughly with nonstick spray.
  10. As you remove the egg yolks from the salt/sugar, gently dust as much off as you can.
  11. Place each yolk on the rack.
  12. Cook the cured egg yolks on the lowest temperature for 1 ½ to 2 hours.
  13. Remove from the oven, and let them come to room temperature.
  14. Store in the refrigerator for up to one month.



Buffalo Chicken Pasta Rustica

Buffalo Chicken Pasta Rustica

I love buffalo chicken anything, and even as a little kid, I loved buffalo wings and even cayenne flavored potato chips.  The idea for this pasta came to me in a moment of sheer brilliance—total comfort food with all the flavors of spicy wings. 

Last week I bought all the stuff to make this, and then I got sick!  I definitely did not want to try cooking this with an upset stomach for fear that it would ruin my taste for buffalo chicken in the future.  So I waited a few days to make it. 

I used whole wheat gemelli pasta for this, but you can use any short pasta you have on hand:  penne, rotini, even elbows.  I started using whole wheat pasta about 10 years ago, and I don’t even consider buying white pasta at this point.  The exception to this is bucatini, which I can’t find in a whole wheat version except for this kind, but at over $10 a pound, I have to say no. 

You can make and assemble this ahead of time.  After topping the casserole with breadcrumbs and blue cheese, cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days until ready to cook.  Just remember if you’re putting it directly into the oven from the refrigerator, you will need to add about 10-12 minutes to the cooking time.

This recipe uses my favorite Basic Baked Chicken, just like so many of my other recipes!  I considered blanching the bell peppers before adding them to the casserole, but I wanted them to have a little crunch and not risk them being overcooked or mushy.  Putting them into fresh gives the whole dish a better texture.

One more thing:  for all of my casseroles and baked pasta dishes, I make and write the recipe so that it will fill up one full sized casserole dish (like a 9×13” Pyrex) plus one small casserole dish.  I do this because we have a big family and always finish leftovers, especially casserole.  If you are making this for 3 people or less, you could definitely cut the recipe in half and still have some left over.


Total Time:  2 hours

Serves:  6-8

Difficulty Level:  Easy



1 recipe Basic Baked Chicken (4 breasts)3-1

1 pound short whole wheat pasta (such as gemelli), cooked according to package instructions

1 orange bell pepper, medium diced

1 red bell pepper, medium diced

1 yellow bell pepper, medium diced

8-10 scallions, roughly chopped (use both green and white parts)

8 ounces freshly grated white cheddar

1 cup light mayonnaise

1 cup sour cream

1 cup Frank’s Red Hot Sauce

1 ranch seasoning packet

½ to 1 cup milk

1 cup panko breadcrumbs

1 1/2 – 2 cups crumbled blue cheese



  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Dice the Basic Baked Chicken into bite-sized pieces, and add them to a very large mixing bowl.
  3. Drain the pasta, and add it to the mixing bowl.
  4. Add all the bell peppers, scallions, cheddar, mayonnaise, sour cream, Frank’s Red Hot Sauce, and ranch seasoning packet to the bowl.
  5. Toss the mixture together gently, but mix well until combined.
  6. Add milk a little at a time as needed, until the mixture looks creamy. (It needs to look creamier than a pasta salad.  Adding extra liquid keeps the pasta from drying out in the oven.)
  7. Once the casserole has a creamier consistency, add it to your casserole dishes (or dish, if you are halving the recipe).
  8. Sprinkle the panko breadcrumbs evenly over the pasta mixture.
  9. Sprinkle the blue cheese crumbles evenly on top of the breadcrumbs.
  10. Cover tightly, and bake at 350 for 35-40 minutes.
  11. Turn the oven up to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Uncover the pasta, and bake for an additional 10-15 minutes until the top has begun to turn golden brown.
  12. Remove from the oven, loosely cover, and let it rest for at least 10 minutes before serving.
























Greek Spaghetti Pie

Greek Spaghetti Pie

Katie Lee posted a video of a spaghetti pie on Instagram during the holidays, and I thought I’m going to make that.  In fact, as soon as I saw the video, I sent it to Jon and told him I was going to make it.  I changed it up and used bucatini, and it was really good.  Then the holidays happened, and now it’s January.  Now I don’t want bucatini, and I don’t want extra cheese, and I don’t want anything more than to feel as good as I do in the warmer months, when I live on watermelon and chopped salads and white wine. 

So I changed it up again, both with the flavors and the base.  I want it to feel indulgent, but not cost you a day’s worth of calories.  If you follow my recipe exactly and cut the pie into 10 slices, one slice has about 467 calories.  For this pie, I measured everything very carefully, plugged it into My Fitness Pal recipes, and divided it up. 

I love love love cinnamon in spaghetti.  It’s a Greek thing (I’m not Greek), and if you’ve never had it, you have to try it just once!  I started putting cinnamon in spaghetti and chili last year, and now I always do it.  It sounds weird, but it tastes delicious.


Total Time:  90 minutes


one of my favorite pictures so far!

Serves:  10

Difficulty Level:  Easy



1 box whole wheat spaghetti (about 1 pound)

Olive oil

½ large yellow onion

1 pound lean ground chicken

1 tablespoon dried oregano

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

36 ounces marinara sauce, plus more for serving

1 15-ounce container part skim ricotta

5 ounces freshly grated parmesan, divided in half

2 eggs, lightly beaten and at room temperature

8 ounces freshly grated part skim mozzarella

Dried parsley

Fresh basil



  1. Cook the spaghetti according to package instructions. Drain, and set aside.
  2. Add a few tablespoons of olive to a saute pan over medium heat. When the oil heats up, add the onion, and saute until translucent, about 6-8 minutes.
  3. Add the ground chicken, oregano, and cinnamon. Cook the ground chicken over medium heat until it’s no long pink.
  4. Take the meat mixture off the heat, add the 36 ounces of marinara sauce, and stir to combine.
  5. Add the spaghetti to a large mixing bowl. Add the ricotta and 2-3 ounces of the parmesan on top, and the cover it with the sauce.  Let it sit at room temperature for about 15 minutes to cool down. (**see note)
  6. Preheat your oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
  7. Toss the eggs, pasta, sauce, and cheese together with tongs until thoroughly mixed together.
  8. Spray a 9-inch spring form pan with nonstick spray, make sure it’s latched, and put it on a baking sheet. (***see note)
  9. Add the pasta mixture to the spring form pan and spread it out evenly.
  10. Add the mozzarella and parmesan cheeses, and spread them out evenly. Make sure it’s around the sides so you get a crunchy crust.
  11. Top with some dried parsley for color.
  12. Bake for 40-45 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbly.
  13. Remove from the oven, and let it rest for at least 15 minutes before serving.
  14. Serve with extra marinara, fresh basil, and crushed red pepper flakes.


**Note:  Using room temperature ingredients and eggs ensures that the eggs won’t scramble when you add them to the pasta mixture.

***Note:  I always put casseroles, lasagnas, pies, and most other baked dishes on a sheet pan just to make it easier to get in and out of the oven, and to make sure nothing bubbles over and spills in the oven.

2017 Food Goals

2017 Food Goals

One of my favorite things about this blog is that it challenges me creatively.  I think everyone has a creative side, and we have to find out where we can express ourselves and get that satisfaction.  Crafts don’t do it for me, but they do it for some people, but it can be anything.  My “thing” is definitely food and being in the kitchen.  Blogging about my adventures in the kitchen keeps me motivated because I can see my progress, and I can constantly find new ways to cook with old ingredients and everyday uses for uncommon ingredients.  I did a few posts on resolutions already, but those were more generic:  budgets and diets.  My specific resolutions for this year are going to be exploring and mastering -ok maybe not mastering- but getting familiar and more confident with new types of food or ingredients.  I don’t know how I landed on 8 as a good number, but it works for my Pretty Things posts, so I’ll stick with 8 for the food goals.

1.   Marshmallows:  Until I saw Ina Garten do it a 5 or 10 years ago, I never realized that marshmallows could be homemade.  It was pretty naive of me, because of course every packaged item is derived from something homemade, right?  I’ve seen so many beautiful iterations of marshmallows out there on the internet that I’m determined to make a few this year.  Probably not as fancy as Baker’s Royale, but I already have a some ideas for summer s’mores and hot cocoa later this year (so stay tuned!).



image found on Local Milk


2.  Cheesecake:  Cheesecake has always seemed daunting, and I’ve had a couple of springform pans collecting dust in a cabinet for years now.  I used one to make a baked pasta pie (post for that is still in the works), but I feel like I should use it to make a really good cheesecake.  I’m thinking lemon, ricotta, or vanilla bean…


image found on Baking a Moment


3.  Aioli:  I put this on a pretty things list already, but I have to mention it again.  It’s such a simple, but flavorful dipping sauce, and I can’t wait to dip some buttery artichokes into it.


image found on Epicurious


4.  Waffles:  I used our new waffle iron for the first time today!  It was a snow day, so we had a long morning.  I’m working my way towards making a real Liege waffle once I get my hands on some pearl sugar.  We hosted an exchange student from Belgium a few years back, and Jon still talks about the waffles her parents sent us.


image found on Food and Wine


5.  Bread in a Le Creuset French Oven: This is so cool!  I actually bought my first Le Creuset as a factory second at Marshall’s for about 40% of the retail price, and there is a teeny knick that’s hardly visible.  I started looking around for interesting ways to use it, and who would have thought you could make bread in it?  I’m so in.


image found on Le Creuset


6.  Turmeric Latte:  I’ve been wanting to do this for a couple years now, and I finally bought a big canister of turmeric.  Jon wants to use it to whiten his teeth, I want it for face masks and turmeric lattes.  I’m excited to share what I come up with (and if the teeth whitening thing works, I’ll let you know).


image found on Elle UK

7.  Bee Pollen:  Bee pollen as a spur of the moment purchase, yes.  I saw it in Goop Clean Beauty and decided to try it out.  I’m thinking smoothie bowls, oatmeal topping, possibly in some granola.  Again, I’ll be sharing any successes here.


image found on Sed Bona


8.  The Spiralizer:  This was my first New Year Food Resolution.  Everyone’s been so spiralizing for years, and I finally broke down because it just looks fun.  I bought the one most recommended, and I want to spiralize everything from cucumbers to apples to sweet potatoes.  Again, tons of ideas!


image found on Haute and Healthy Living