A (Very Dumb) Dilemma

So, I have a dilemma. Remember how I’ve mentioned I’m obsessed with Rao’s Arrabbiata sauce (which, by the way, I need to google the spelling of every time I write it)? Well…it’s SO GOOD that I can’t NOT use it! Which sounds like…well, not a dilemma, but…I LOVE making tomato sauce! I’m definitely not above a shortcut, but I genuinely love long, drawn-out cooking processes, and no sauce that I’ve ever made is as good (and I’ve made some pretty delicious sauces).

I could use the excuse that it’s expensive (which it is), but while it’s almost $10/jar at most grocery stores in my area (which is, dare I say, ridonkulous), Target sells it for around $6, which makes it really not that expensive. So I use it basically any time a recipe requires any kind of red sauce…you guys, it’s JUST SO FREAKING DELICIOUS. Jeff loves it, too. Sigh.

Okay, this week’s edition of “Problems that are ridiculous even as far as the first world is concerned” is over. Thanks for tuning in.

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Easy solo dinner

Two recipes in one week – whaaaat?! You’d think I was some kind of food blogger or something. To be fair, this is more of a “non-recipe” than a recipe, and requires basically zero effort.

I eat dinner solo typically twice a week – on Tuesday nights, Jeff goes to Quizzo, which is near our office (we work in the same building), so he usually doesn’t come home before heading to the bar. And then on Wednesday nights, Jeff has a standing dinner date with his mom – I join them on occasion, but they typically eat before I even leave work, so I generally let them have some quality mother/son time alone.

I’m a huge fan of eating “non-dinner” when I’m by myself as discussed here (I love nothing more than a cheese plate, and I’ve been known to eat a full bag of frozen veggies and, like, some popcorn for dinner), but since it became a twice-weekly situation, I needed to figure out something a bit more nutritious and substantial. I went through a brief stint where I was working evenings on Tuesday nights and I’d usually stop by Honeygrow before heading home to finish work, but I’m back to working all days and I figure it’s a little wasteful to get takeout every week when we already eat out or order takeout at least once a week together, and I can just as easily whip something up.

Enter Trader Joe’s Cowboy Quinoa Burger. I originally grabbed a box of these as an impulse buy and didn’t expect much from them, but they’ve become my new favorite convenience meal. I rotate between these guys and turkey burgers (also from Trader Joe’s), but the cowboy quinoa burgers really hit the spot and are actually easier/quicker to throw together. Here’s what I do:

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Take a cowboy quinoa burger out of the freezer and pop it in the microwave for 1 minute. While it’s in the microwave, heat a little olive oil or cooking spray on med-high in a skillet (I like to use my cast iron for this). Separate a sandwich thin (Trader Joe’s makes decent ones, but I usually get the Arnold’s multigrain thins – I find the Trader Joe’s ones are harder to separate and tend to tear on me) and place it cut-side down in the hot skillet. After the minute is up, remove the burger from the microwave and place it in the skillet alongside the burger; season with salt and pepper. Remove sandwich thin to a plate (or paper towel, you do you) once toasted; flip burger after about a minute and top with a slice of cheese (my favorite for this is pepperjack, but I switch it up and use provolone or muenster every so often). Place 4 pickle slices on toasted bun; top with cheesed burger and avocado slices. Add a few dashes of hot sauce if desired. Devour.

I like to eat this with (defrosted) frozen edamame in the shells with sea salt, or sometimes I’ll nuke a bag of broccoli and eat that with it. It’s SO delish, it takes 5 minutes to throw together with practically no cleanup, and it’s relatively healthy. Win!

Leftover Love

If you’re like me, you’re probably getting a liiiiiiittle sick of Thanksgiving leftovers by now. I could probably eat pie for the rest of my life, but I’m starting to feel a little weighed down by all the butter I’ve been consuming, and one can only eat turkey and green bean casserole for so long before turning the color of said beans.

Quick side note: not to toot my own horn or anything, but I make the best leftover turkey sandwiches on EARTH. My secret? Mashed potatoes. COLD mashed potatoes. Also, I keep things simple. I grab a leftover dinner roll (I never have sandwich bread in my house, and dinner rolls work just as well, if not better), split it, spread COLD mashed potatoes on that sucker, and top with cold turkey and a sprinkle of kosher salt. That’s it. I ditch the stuffing (I don’t like it…plus, why put bread on bread? I love me some bread, but that’s weird, right?) and I’ll occasionally add some cranberry sauce, but it’s perfection with just the turkey and taters. Yummmm.

Anyway…I hate to waste food, but Thanksgiving leftovers in their original form have a hard stop after about 3 days for me. After that, I need to get a little creative. My favorite way to use up leftover turkey? Turkey Tikka Masala. The warm, creamy, spicy sauce works just as well with turkey as with chicken, and I serve it over – you guessed it – mashed potatoes in place of rice. It’s delicious, it uses up a good chunk of all that turkey, and it tastes COMPLETELY DIFFERENT than Thanksgiving dinner! Not the lightest dish in the whole world, but I figure it’s better than loading my plate with scoops of mac & cheese and marshmallow covered, butter loaded sweet potato casserole night after night.

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Turkey Tikka Masala

Ingredients

3 Cups leftover turkey (I like to use white meat, but I’m sure dark meat would work just as well or better if you like it)

3 Tbsp butter

1/2 yellow onion, chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 Tbsp fresh ginger, grated (I love Trader Joe’s ready to use ginger paste – it comes in a tube)

1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes

1 Tbsp sugar

2 tsp garam masala

1 tsp turmeric

1 tsp paprika

1 tsp cumin

1 tsp coriander

Salt & black pepper, to taste

1 cup whole-fat coconut milk (you can also use heavy cream)

Leftover mashed potatoes, or cooked basmati rice

Cilantro, chopped – to garnish

Instructions

Melt the butter in a large skillet over med-high heat. Add onion and cook until softened; 5-7 minutes. Add ginger and garlic and continue cooking until fragrant; 1-2 minutes. Add sugar, spices, 1 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper, tomatoes, and 1/2 cup water. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes; add coconut milk and turkey and simmer until warmed through. Serve over mashed potatoes (or rice, but mashed potatoes are SO GOOD and you probably still have some sitting around, yes?) and garnish with cilantro.

 

 

 

Official Thanksgiving 2017 Menu

Happy Monday, friends! I may be a bit on the absent side this week – lots of shopping, cleaning, pie baking, and cooking to be done around here. I figured I’d at least pop in to share my finalized Thanksgiving menu, though (with links to recipes, when applicable) – and then if I get a few free minutes, I may just drop in with a few other little things. So, without further ado, here it is: our 2017 Thanksgiving Menu.

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Simple Roast Turkey (NY Times – I’ve used this dry-brine recipe every year I’ve hosted, and it’s by far the best turkey I’ve ever had)

Mashed Potatoes (I’ve never previously used a recipe, but I’m going to try this method from The Kitchn this year)

Turkey Gravy (No recipe here – I just work from what my mom taught me)

French Onion Zoodle Bake (Climbing Grier Mountain)

Macaroni & Cheese (No recipe here, either – I tend to combine about 5 different recipes to taste.)

Green Bean Casserole (I’ve used Smitten Kitchen’s recipe every year until now, but I saw Ree Drummond make her recipe on this kitchen this year, and, well…she uses bacon. And cheese.)

Sweet Potato Casserole with Marshmallows and Pecan Streusal (I’ve tried fancier sweet potato/squash dishes, but everyone prefers the good old sweet stuff – who am I to argue with tradition? I’ll be putting in a couple little spins to elevate things a bit, though – orange zest and fresh ginger, to start.)

Cranberry Sauce (No recipe – I just throw in whatever sounds good at the moment.)

Traditional Thanksgiving Stuffing (Stuffing’s difficult for me, because I don’t like it -*GASP* – and Jeff’s mom makes him his favorite stuffing each year. I always feel like I should make stuffing for everyone else though, because Jeff’s is a pretty specific recipe and it’s not for everyone…I’ve tried a few different recipes, but I figure I’ll just stick with this basic recipe from Averie Cooks this year. Can I say recipe again? Recipe.)

Rolls (Keeping it real – I usually use frozen parker house rolls and brush them with butter, herbs, and sea salt before serving. I’ve thought about making them from scratch, but…just, why?)

Brussels Sprouts with Chorizo and Sherry Vinegar (Serious Eats)

Silky Smooth Pumpkin Pie (Smitten Kitchen – this recipe is a bit more laborious than other pumpkin pie recipes, but it’s so good that it’s the only recipe I ever use.)

Chocolate Pudding Pie (Dinner a Love Story – I may or may not spread a layer of peanut butter over the crust before adding the pudding. Shhhh!)

And that’s it! Well, minus one additional pie that’s yet-to-be-determined-but-needs-to-be-decided-on-within-the-hour-because-that’s-when-I’m-leaving-to-do-my-grocery-haul. I’m thinking some kind of apple crisp/pie/cheesecake combo. Also, I feel I should mention that this menu is to feed FOUR PEOPLE. I repeat, this menu featuring a 16 pound turkey, 10 side dishes, and 3 pies will be feeding FOUR PEOPLE as of right now – my parents may make a hail-Mary drop in, but even then it’ll only bring the count to six. God help us.

Off to buy all the groceries – if we don’t speak, have a happy, cozy, and delicious Thanksgiving!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lentil Pasta (plus a recipe!)

Have you guys tried red lentil pasta? I was a bit skeptical at first, but after hearing several rave reviews, I snagged a box of this from Amazon (I was having a hell of a time finding anything other than chickpea pasta at the store – which I also snagged and have yet to try – but it turns out Trader Joe’s sells red lentil pasta for something like 2 bucks a bag, so Amazon proved to be unnecessary). Red lentil pasta is just that – pasta made from 100% red lentils. Nothing else. The calories are relatively similar to traditional pasta (about 200 calories per 2 oz serving), but the noodles are packed with protein and are gluten-free. I’m by no means a gluten hater, but let’s be real – traditional pasta isn’t exactly health food.

The texture of these noodles is pretty close, if not totally spot-on – they’re a tiny bit denser than your typical pasta, but if I didn’t know they were different prior to eating them, I’m not 100% sure I’d be able to tell. I also haven’t noticed any “off” flavors or aftertaste at all – it just tastes like pasta to me. If you’re a picky eater and you’re worried about flavor, I’d recommend using them in a more flavorful sauce or dish – since they’re pretty neutral, they don’t add much additional flavor to your recipe.

Speaking of flavorful recipes, I figured I’d use this opportunity to share one of my favorite, crazy simple weeknight dinners. It’s delicious, takes under half an hour to throw together, and it can be customized in infinite ways, depending on what you like/have in your fridge. Plus, it’s healthy to boot! Win-win-win (win).

Veggie-Packed Pasta Bake

I used the lentil pasta here, but you can also use traditional pasta (I love penne for this), spaghetti squash, or veggie noodles – you do you. I’m also not above using jarred sauce as a shortcut – as I’ve mentioned before, I’m obsessed with Rao’s (especially the arrabiata sauce), but your favorite sauce (or homemade, if you’re feeling ambitious) will work just as well. For veggies, I used onion, mushrooms, spinach and roasted broccoli this time, but whatever you have in your fridge is fine. If you can dream it, you can eat it.
Ingredients

8 oz pasta (of your choice – if using spiralized noodles, I’d say 3 or so medium sized zucchinis or equivalent would do, or 1 spaghetti squash, roasted and scraped)

1 jar pasta sauce

1 medium yellow onion, chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

8 oz button or cremini mushrooms, sliced

1 head broccoli, chopped

1 bag baby spinach

Shredded mozzarella cheese

Grated parmesan cheese

Instructions

Pre-heat oven to 425F. Place broccoli on a baking sheet lined with parchment or foil. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt & pepper; toss to coat. Roast in pre-heated oven for around 20 minutes, or until charred.

In the meantime, cook pasta including to package instructions. Heat a drizzle of olive oil in a large skillet on medium-high until hot, add onions and garlic and cook for about 3 minutes or until soft. Add mushrooms and season with salt & pepper; cook about 5 minutes or until mushrooms have started to release their moisture. Add spinach to pan and stir until wilted; add sauce and stir until heated through. Add broccoli and pasta; stir until combined.

If your pan is oven-safe, sprinkle pasta/sauce/veggie mixture with shredded mozzarella and grated parm (if your pan isn’t oven safe, transfer to an oven-safe dish before adding cheese). Bake for about 15 minutes, or until cheese is bubbly and has started to brown.

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Two Easy Autumn Breakfasts

When the weather turns crisp, I start craving warm spices and hearty meals. Although breakfast is pretty much my favorite meal of the day, I rarely have any desire to cook in the morning – I’m lucky in that my office has a full hot breakfast bar, but when left to my own devices, I’ll choose convenience almost 100% of the time.

For this reason, I tend to lean on oatmeal and yogurt all year round for breakfast (with the occasional egg thrown in here and there), but I like to mix things up when seasons change. While I love to add berries to my breakfast of choice during the warmer months, once the leaves start to turn I’m all about apple and cinnamon. Here are a couple easy, delicious options to get you going in the morning:

Apple Pie Oatmeal

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Ingredients

1/2 Cup apple cider

1 medium apple, cored and roughly chopped

2 tsp brown sugar

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1/4 tsp ground cinnamon

1 Cup rolled oats

1 1/2 Cups milk (I typically use 2%, but non-dairy will work just as well)

Pinch of salt

Handful of chopped glazed pecans (I like to use maple pecans, but walnuts would also be delish here)

Splash half & half, cream, or milk (optional)

Instructions

Combine the apple, cider, vanilla, cinnamon, brown sugar, and salt in a small pot over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until the cider reduces by about half and apples are tender (about 5 minutes). Add the remaining ingredients (leaving half the nuts for garnish) and turn heat back up to medium-high. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer for about 5 minutes or until desired thickness has been reached. I like to serve this with a splash of half & half and remaining nuts…if you wanna get really wild, I highly doubt a splash of maple syrup would ruin things here.

Apple-Cinnamon Yogurt Parfait

Ingredients

1/2 Cup vanilla yogurt (I love Noosa for this, but any vanilla yogurt will work – use your favorite)

1 Medium apple, cored and chopped

1/4 Cup granola (I like Nature Valley here – it’s cinnamon-y and extra crunchy)

1 Tbsp Craisins or dried cherries

1 Tbsp walnuts

Dash cinnamon

This one’s really simple, guys – spoon yogurt into a dish and top with remaining ingredients. If you want to get fancy you can layer it (hence the “parfait”), but who are you trying to impress here?

Sunday Soup: Slow Cooker Beef with Beans & Barley

Ahh, I love a good alliteration food. As we all know, fall = SOUP WEATHER! Although I’m certainly not going to commit to making soup every Sunday (mayyyybe if you consider various pastas “soup”), I do love making large, easily re-heatable dishes to kick off the week – that way, I have leftovers for lunch for at least part of the work week. Bonus points if they’re delicious AND healthy.

This week, I riffed on Katie Lee’s recipe for bean & barley stew – except I swapped chicken stock for beef stock, and added in some chunks of beef (slow-cooked beef = YUM). Oh, and I couldn’t find this elusive “bean mix” she keeps referring to, so I just bought a bag each of kidney, navy, and pinto beans and used about 1/3 of each bag. I rounded out the meal with a quick garlic baguette, and the result was super tasty and VERY filling (I just ate leftovers for lunch, and I may or may not be ready to crawl under my desk and take a nap).

This recipe was stupid easy to make, RIDICULOUSLY easy on the wallet (especially if you omit the beef as in the original recipe), and made the house smell like heaven all day long – a winner in my book!

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Ingredients

1 lb assorted dry beans (I used kidney, navy, and pinto)

8 cups beef stock + 2 cups water

8 oz dried pearl barley

1 lb stew beef, cut into 1 inch pieces (any beef you’d use to roast will work here)

3 carrots, peeled and chopped

1 yellow onion, chopped

3 stalks celery, chopped

1 bay leaf

1 sprig fresh thyme

2 tsp kosher salt

1/2 tsp black pepper

3 cloves garlic; minced

1 bag fresh baby spinach (or 8 oz – my bag was 6 oz, and I feel like it was fine)

Instructions

Heat a drizzle of olive oil in a skillet until hot. Season beef with salt & pepper and add to pan in one layer; let sit for 2 minutes without moving. Stir; continue to cook for another minute or two until brown (not cooked through). Dump dry beans (no need to soak), broth, water, garlic, carrots, celery, onion, browned beef, thyme, and bay leaf into slow cooker; cook on low setting for 7 hours. When one hour is left, add barley, salt (if you add the salt in the first step, it may take your beans longer to soften, so I play it safe and wait to season until this point) and pepper and continue to cook an additional hour (8 hours total). Just before serving, add baby spinach and stir to wilt. Season with more salt and pepper to taste if needed, and fish bay leaf out. Serve with crusty bread or garlic baguette (recipe below), and/or a grating of parmesan  (this is what I did, and it was fantastic).

Garlic Baguette Instructions

Pre-heat oven to 450F. Grate 3 cloves of garlic into a small bowl using a microplane or zester (if you don’t have one, you can mash it into a paste with the side of a large knife). Drizzle in 1 TBSP of olive oil and add salt and pepper to taste. Cut a baguette in half length-wise; brush garlic mixture over cut sides of bread and bake until golden brown (about 10 minutes, but keep an eye on it). Dunk, dip, & crunch.

Happy Halloween!

Halloween has finally arrived! Since we got most of our celebrating in over the past couple of weekends, tonight will be spent on the couch, handing out candy (assuming any kids show up – our track record has been pretty hit or miss, despite my efforts of supplying full-sized candy bars each year).

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Speaking of candy, what’s your favorite Halloween treat? I always liked a solid mix of fruity candy and chocolate (although when push comes to shove, chocolate reigns supreme 100% of the time in my book). My all-time favorite is the humble Milky Way bar, which people talk a lot of smack on (“it’s like a Snicker’s, only worse.” “Booo-ring!”), but I think there’s something to be said about its smooth, creamy simplicity – take your gross peanuts and kick rocks, Snickers! Also, your nougat is inferior. Yeah, I said it.

Ahem, anyway…I think if I was to choose a top 5, it would go as follows:

  1. Milky Way
  2. Twix
  3. Sour Patch Kids (although the Halloween size is admittedly pathetic)
  4. Skittles
  5. Reese’s pumpkin (I’ll also take a full size cup in a pinch)

As a small disclaimer, I’d like to clarify that if Reese’s Fastbreak wasn’t impossible to find (and possibly discontinued?!!) it would take number one EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. Best candy bar ever to exist. The nougat is PERFECT, the texture is exquisite, and the salty, slightly grainy peanut butter complements the whole thing like a dream. It’s frankly tragic that this miracle of a treat isn’t more celebrated.

Welp…that was a lot of candy bar talk from someone who claims to not really even like candy bars (I eat MAYBE 2 full candy bars a year, but don’t worry – the amount of random candy and chocolate I eat in other forms more than makes up for my lack of bar consumption). I hope you all have a safe and happy Halloween, and gorge yourselves appropriately!

I’m bad at making coffee.

You guys, I have a confession: I can’t brew a pot of coffee to save my life. Or rather, I can’t brew a DRINKABLE pot. Whenever I try to brew coffee using your basic drip machine, it either comes out way too dark/thick, flavorless and watery, burnt tasting, or full of grounds. I’ve tried using exactly the amount of grounds suggested (our machine even came with a fool-proof scoop with EXACT directions depending on the amount of coffee you’re brewing), more (which is what most people recommend doing), or less (after a pot that came out particularly tar-like). I’ve tried the ‘classic brew’ setting; I’ve tried the ‘rich brew’ setting. There’s no adjusting the water level – it’s not the type of machine where you pour the water in depending on how much you want to make; it’s pre-measured in a reservoir.

This is probably why I like the Nespresso so much: it’s literally idiot-proof. You CAN’T screw it up. I also talk a lot about how much I love our Ninja Coffee Bar, but if I’m being completely honest, I miss our Keurig…I’m just embarrassed to admit it (I mean, the coffee wasn’t great…but it was fine, and you can’t screw it up! Plus, all the waste…ugh.) But it’s not the Coffee Bar’s fault! It’s mine!! I’m completely incompetent when it comes to freaking brewing a pot of coffee!! I KNOW it’s my fault, because Jeff’s brewed coffee in the same machine with flawless results.

I’ve thought about potentially investing in a fancier, more manual coffee situation (pour-over? French press?) to see if it produces better results, but I’m skeptical…if I can’t freaking brew DRIP coffee, what’s the likelihood that I’ll be successful doing something much more complicated? I need help. Are there classes you can take on how to brew drip coffee? PLEASE share your tips for brewing a delicious pot of coffee…I’m serious, ANY tips you have, drop them in the comments! I’ll be hiding in the corner over there…

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My Trader Joe’s Snack Picks

It’s my weekend to work (I work from home when I work the weekend, so it’s no biggie), it’s a S-L-O-W day, the weather is gloomy, and I’m sipping a latte and enjoying a Trader Joe’s pumpkin vanilla candle. Speaking of TJ’s, I figured what better time to share some of my favorite products – that’s something that’s never been done by anyone on the Internet before, right? (Ha!) It’s actually become somewhat of a game between me and my co-workers – whenever we’re bored, we just start listing our most recent TJ’s picks. This list could go on for 10 pages, so today I’ll focus on the fun stuff: snacks/junkfood. Here goes:

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Popcorn in a pickle: My one true love. I could eat three bags of this stuff in one sitting.

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Cornbread Crisps: I was skeptical of these until a co-worker all but shoved one in my mouth (I’m not huge on cornbread), and HOLY MOLY are they good. So crispy and the perfect sweet/salty combo…they’re good alone, but PERFECT dipped in chili.

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Chunky Artichoke & Jalapeno Dip: SO good, especially with…

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Pita Bite Crackers: Addictive as all get out, and they go with literally anything.

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Sea Salt & Turbinado Sugar Dark Chocolate Almonds: Everyone loves a good salted dark chocolate almond, but that turbinado sugar gives these that perfect addictive crunch.

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Unexpected Cheddar: So yummy and salty, with a little parmesan bite.

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Jalapeno and Honey Chevre: Creamy, with a surprising amount of kick.

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Brownie Crisp Coffee Ice Cream Sandwiches: These things are my new obsession – you guys, they are FREAKING DELICIOUS. The brownie is perfectly chewy, the ice cream is rich and creamy with the perfect coffee kick, and they’re the perfect little size…to eat the whole box. These are dangerous little suckers.

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Triple Ginger Snaps: Heavenly dipped in coffee…or milk…or nothing. The crystallized ginger is key in these. Once you try these guys, you’ll never buy regular ginger snaps again.

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Almond Croissants: These require a little forethought as they need to rise overnight, but it’s WELL worth it. You’ll think you fell asleep and woke up in a quaint patisserie in Paris.

Of course, there’s plenty more that could go on this list…but these are more or less the items I’ve grabbed time and time again. I’ll do a more extensive “essentials” list another time!

 

All photos courtesy of  Trader Joe’s