An Uncomplicated Life Blog: November 2017

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Holiday Haystacks Party Appetizer

This easy to make appetizer is affordable for large parties, and festive for the holiday season

This post is sponsored by Barilla and Galbani, but all opinions are my own.

One of the best parts of the holidays are all the holiday parties to go to. "Friendsgiving", Secret Santa brunches, or the good old fashioned cocktail party, this time of year is so fun to get together and celebrate the season. However, I've been a host of such fun parties, and man, is it a ton of work! From cleaning the house to getting the decorations, preparing the menu and doing all the shopping - hosting a party is no small commitment! In the spirit of keeping things easy and simple this holiday party season, I've partnered with Barilla pasta and Galbani cheese to bring you a SIMPLE, easy and tasty party appetizer - what I'm calling Holiday Haystacks.

There's a few things that are so great about this recipe. First, there's a whopping 10 ingredients in it. Only 10! So it's super simple to throw together. Second, from start to finish you're looking at a half hour of time. So it's simple and quick to boot! Third, I've used mini-muffin tin cups to bake the pasta, so not only are we talking about a handheld app (no need for the extra dishes or utensils!) but it's also portion controlled, making it easier to keep consumption levels in check.

Shopping was also insanely easy forthis recipe. All the ingredients are available at Walmart, from the Galbani ricotta to the Barilla pasta and traditional sauce. Plus when you buy all three products, you can get $2 off from Ibotta!  A quick visit to the spice aisle (if you don't keep a well stocked one already) and you've got this appetizer made for under $10. The holidays are always so focused on large roasts of meat, we often forget that pasta is a great way to get together and enjoy the season too! 

Holiday Haystacks Party Appetizer
- 1 box Barilla Mostacciolli pasta
- 3/4 cup Barilla traditional pasta sauce
- 1 15oz container Galbani ricotta cheese
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic poweder
- 1/2 teaspoon dried onion flakes
- 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- salt and pepper to taste
- halved grape tomatoes and julienned fresh basil to garnish

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Boil water for pasta and cook the pasta to al dente instructions. Do not overcook the pasta because it will continue to bake in the oven - make sure to drain it while it still have a bite to it!

While the pasta cooks, mix together the ricotta, eggs, and seasonings. Salt and pepper the mixture. Add the mixture to the drained pasta and stir together. Spray a mini-muffin tin pan with a nonstick spray, or brush with olive oil. Fill the tin with pasta, arranging the pasta within the tins somewhat vertically (to look like little haystacks - and also, to ensure each pasta is touching some of the sauce, which will congeal in the oven and make it a hand-held appetizer).

Bake the pasta for about seven minutes. Cut the grape tomatoes in half, and julienne the fresh basil (cut it into long strips). Add one half tomato to each muffin cup and sprinkle with fresh basil. Bake for another three minutes or so, until the pasta is starting to get golden brown, but isn't crispy or crunchy.

This easy to make holiday appetizer is affordable and easy to serve to large or small parties

Let the pasta rest in the muffin tin pan until mostly cooled. Transfer to a party platter and enjoy! This holiday haystacks party appetizer is packed with flavor, easy to make, affordable, and festive for the holiday party season.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Tart Cherry Pistachio & Dark Chocolate Biscotti

No matter what time of year, this biscotti goes perfectly with a cup of coffee or tea, and is pretty enough to impress house guests

Every now and again, when I'm whipping up recipes in my kitchen like a mad hatter, I really impress myself. Something turns out better than I had anticipated. This, my friends, is one of those times! And I say that with the caveat of me not being a sweets person. Gimme all the chips and salsa and queso but put cookies, cake or ice cream in front of me and I won't even touch it. So for me to actually like a sweets recipe? Oh you know this tart cherry, pistachio and dark chocolate biscotti has to be good!

I think I only bake about two to three times a year, and that includes birthday cakes. I don't enjoy it. It's a science, so there's very little you can do to "play" with the recipe, as all the ingredients have to play together so that scientific responses happen, things rise, bind together, etc etc and you have a delicious final product. Bah humbug, playing by the rules of a recipe is bunk! I like to play and change things I don't like and add things I think will work better. Which is kinda funny, because I *accidentally* did that with this recipe. I kinda messed up how much baking powder went in, but I really like how it turned out!

I'm not big into making Christmas cookies (everyone gifts sweets and if you bake them too, your house is just FULL of sugar and that grosses me out over the holidays). But my husband and kids enjoy a good cookie, so I try to make one batch a year (last year was these super easy Spritz cookies, and the year before was my MIL's monster cookie recipe that I turned into a Christmas cookie). This year I'm hosting both Thanksgiving and Christmas with different sets of families, and I wanted the ability to put something out in the morning that was easy. I'm NOT a morning person, so I'm not getting up early to cook anyone breakfast! But lay out some biscotti and coffee? Ok, that I can manage.

Tart Cherry Pistachio & Dark Chocolate Biscotti
- 1 and 1/2 cups dried tart cherries
- 3/4 cup chopped pistachios
- 2 medium or 1 large egg
- 1/2 cup melted butter (from one stick of butter)
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 2 and 1/2 cups flour
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 3oz dark chocolate bar (NOT chocolate chips - they don't melt well and contain wax)
- 1/2 cup cranberry cocktail juice

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. In a small bowl, pour the cranberry juice over the dried cherries to reconstitute them. Set aside, and let soak for about 20 minutes. If you're an idiot like me, or can't find de-shelled pistachios, spend the next thirty minutes of your life getting each nut out of the shell. You'll never get those thirty minutes back. Be prepared for anger. Lightly chop the pistachios so that the nuts aren't too big to bit into.

Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Melt the butter and let cool slightly, then add to the dry ingredients. Add the egg(s). Drain the cherries, but reserve about 4-5 tablespoons of the juice and add to the mixture. Fold in the cherries and the pistachios. 

The mixture will be on the dry side, but if you grab some, it will stick together. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and form the mixture into two loaves. Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes, or until they're just starting to turn a golden brown. Let cool on the baking sheet for 10 minutes, then transfer to a cooing rack to let cool completely. Once cooled, cut into one to one and a half inch thick slices. Return to the baking sheet and bake for another 25 minutes, or until each piece is golden brown.

Once the biscotti pieces have cooled completely, melt dark chocolate in the microwave, stirring ever 15 seconds so that it doesn't burn. In my convection microwave, it took less than a minute to melt the whole bar, so be mindful! Use a fork to drizzle the chocolate over the cooled biscotti. I placed a piece of parchment paper under the cooling rack holding the biscotti for easy clean up! Wax paper would work, too.

This is a great holiday treat to have on hand, or any time of the year when you have house guests and want a homemade treat around

Like it? Pin it!

Allow the chocolate to harden completely. Store in an air-tight container; freeze in a ziplock container; or place in a gift tin to give away. Best enjoyed dipped in a cup of hot coffee, tea or hot chocolate. Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Giving Back This Holiday Season

With so many families in need, support other parents by purchasing Huggies diapers at Kroger stores and they'll donate to the National Diaper Bank Network


There is absolutely no doubt about it: Babies are expensive. From all the baby gear to the daycare, then all the way through sports fees, outgrown-too-quickly-clothes and even on to college tuition, kids are no small expense! It's completely overwhelming at times. Especially during the holidays when you want to create something special for your children, but the reality is you're struggling to make ends meet every week. But there's a super easy way for you to help families in need: From November 8 through December 5, when you buy one big pack or two jumbo packs of Huggies diapers at Kroger, you'll get a FREE pack of wipes. Better yet, they'll donate a whole day's worth of diapers to the National Diaper Bank Network, a valuable resource for parents struggling to meet their baby's diaper needs. Give backthis holiday season!

After Henry was born, I didn't notice the cost of diapers because I was too busy gawking at the expense of formula. I think my poor new mom brain was so maxed out, it could only focus on one shocking expense at a time! I'm sure my husband would answer differently, as the finance manager of the house. After Otto was born, and I had two kids under two and two in diapers, I remember being FLOORED whenever I went on a diaper run. Diapers and wipes for two babiesis no joke! There was more than a few times I wondered how single parents do it.

Huge selection of Huggies at Kroger!

And it's not just me. Here's the reality: In a recent study completed by Huggies and the National Diaper Bank Network, more than one in three - 36 PERCENT - of US families struggle with diaper need, which is the ability to provide enough diapers to keep their babies and toddlers clean and healthy. Thirty-Six. Percent. To meet this drastic need, Huggies has partnered with Kroger to donate up to a million diapers to the National Diaper Bank Network, a national nonprofit dedicated to meeting the basic needs of babies and their families.

By purchasing Huggies diapers at Kroger stores, you can help families in need. Just pick up a big pack or two jumbo packs of Huggies® diapers, score your free wipes, and know that you've gifted a family an entire day of diapers for theirbaby or toddler.

Now that I only have one kid in full time diapers, the struggle has become easier. Otto even helps me carry them in from the car while Henry gets my Kroger shopping bags (I'm not kidding. These kids LOVE to help!) They also love to play... After a diaper change, Otto doesn't sit still enough to put his pants back on! Then Henry gets jealous and wants to go pantsless. Ahhhhhhh, toddlers.

Join me in giving back this holiday season. If you're one of the lucky ones who doesn't struggle to meet your baby's diaper needs, head over to Kroger and pick up some Huggies®. You'll be helping ONE THIRD of US families who can't meet their child's needs. The world is a better place when we can all pitch in and help each other.

Monday, November 6, 2017

The Best Way To Store Essential Oils

Essential oils come in breakable glass bottles and need to be kept in dark, cool spaces. Aroma Outfitters has amazing products to store your essential oils!

This post is sponsored by Aroma Outfitters. All opinions are my own.

It was the first year I was really getting into essential oils that it happened. I had my oil starter kit that I initially stored my oil bottles in, but had just started to purchase other oils and they no longer fit into the box. I grabbed a plastic container and put them all in there, and put them on top of the bookshelf in my office/the playroom so that they were out of kids' reach. Then the bookshelf got bumped into. And they fell off. Which probably would have been fine, because the playroom is carpeted, but a bottle of orange and a bottle of German chamomile hit a wooden toddler chair. And instantly broke. Now, orange essential oil is just that in color - orange. But German chamomile? Think almost squid ink like, a dark dark blue. And the carpet is beige. Not to mention the broken glass everywhere. I took me a week of daily Rug Doctor cleanings to get those stains out! After that, the oils got moved and I vowed I'd find the best way to store my essential oils.

But I didn't. I moved them to the top of the fridge - again, in attempts at keeping them away from both little hands and light. But what I didn't realize is that the top of the fridge is quite warm, and it gets all the heat coming from the back part that faces the wall while the fridge runs. So then I found spare space in my china cabinet, which worked for a while. But as my oil collection grew, I needed an even bigger container for all the oils, and the china cabinet quickly became too small, too.

My former method of storing essential oils. Eye roll.
Aroma Outfitters reached out and said, hey, we like your style and see that you're oily! Have you ever heard of us before? I hadn't, because they're a newly launched small business, specializing in essential oil storage. I'm pretty sure my face turned into the heart eyes emoji as I checked out their site, and instantly began begging for a partnership with them.

Aroma Outfitters makes wooden boxes that are the best way to store your essential oils. They're the perfect height of most essential oil bottles, regardless of your preferred brand. I got the 87 bottle box, which has slanted slots for my roller bottles. They also have an inert you can switch out so that this box holds 100 bottles of oil! Just getting new to essential oils? They've got you covered with smaller boxes and different carrying cases.

For all my oily newbies, here are their best tips on proper essential oil storage so you don't make the same mistakes I did:

1. You want them accessible and not hidden so they are readily available for your family to use. If the oils are out of sight, they are out of mind. We wrote an article on why we keep our oils in the Kitchen
2. Keep them out of damaging sunlight (and clear plastic tubs if possible….Just sayin’ :). Exposure to sunlight and extreme heat over time can change the evaporation rate, chemical composition, and efficacy of essential oils. You will want to avoid keeping your oils in the car, near windows, or next to any heat source for extended periods of time. When hitting the pool during the summer months with my oils, I put them in the cooler with our snacks. 
3. Keep your oils labeled (and we even alphabetize them in our box) so at a glance you can find the oil you are looking for. 
4. Travel with your essential oils. This is why we designed the roller bottle cases, canvas cases and even carry bag for the essential oil boxes so you could easily take them with you so they are readily available when you need them.  
5. Keep your oils organized and in 1 place as much as possible. 

Interested in getting yours or gifting a box? Find them here! And for more great storage tips, oil usage and other ideas, check out their social channels: 

The holidays are upon us, and if you have a friend or family member who is either an essential oil guru or a newbie, this is the perfect gift for them! Not only do the boxes come in various sixes to fit your collection, but they come with stickers for the tops of your oils so that you can easily spot them. I cannot tell you how much easier it is to pull out this box and already know where the oil I'm looking for is over a massive, cluttered, de-organized container.