Thursday, October 23, 2014

Eau Spa | Manalapan, Florida + Turkey Meatball Flatbread Sandwich

If you follow me on Instagram or Facebook, you may have seen some pics of a few spa days I've given myself as a reward for making it this far in my pregnancy without having a complete meltdown. {I kid. Honestly, it really hasn't been that bad.}

My obsession with luxury spas started a while back when I treated myself to a spa day at The Breakers around the time of my 29th birthday. What can I say -- go big or go home. My birthday spa day became a tradition and for the past few years I've continued to visit The Spa at the Breakers for a pedicure and a day of relaxation. It's lovely.

This year I switched things up and decided to check out another spot - Eau Spa - with a group of my girlfriends to help me celebrate the last birthday I'll have without a little one running around.

Eau Spa is located at Eau Palm Beach in Manalapan {south Palm Beach}, a beautiful property that was given a multi-million dollar makeover in the past few years. Though they manage to maintain the hallmark luxurious vibe of other Palm Beach hotels and spas, Eau Hotel does so with a cheeky, modern twist that sets them apart.

Upon arriving at Eau Spa, we were checked in and brought back to a stunning rotunda with high, domed ceiling and a "wishing well" marking the center of the space. We were offered drinks {champagne for the girls and spa water for me, of course. Rats.} and each given a small votive candle to release into the wishing well and set our hopes adrift. How charming.

Our appointments started early to accommodate our large group {6 gals}, so no time was wasted. We were whisked back to the salon where we each had our nail services done while chatting, sipping {and nibbling on some pumpkin chocolate chip muffins I happened to bring with me... early morning pregnancy insomnia has its perks}. Once we were scrubbed, polished and moisturized, we were lead to the best part of Eau Spa -- a spa wonderland, of sorts.

After slipping into cozy robes and comfy flip flops, we each found a spot to soak in some of the serenity offered within the 42,000 square foot sanctuary.

My zen was found in the "Self-Centered Garden", where whimsy and tranquility unite in the lavish outdoor space. Soft, plush loungers punctuate the beautifully landscaped oasis; water walls create soothing background noise that could easily put you in your happy place. Hanging chairs suspended over a shallow pool of water are pure perfection for toe-dipping reflection time.  A Wonderland-esque chessboard not only makes a pretty visual element, but also serves as yet another distraction for an indulgent playtime.

Inside, the options for relaxation are endless as well. Tons of places to perch speckle the cool, airy surroundings filled with gauzy drapes and deluxe d├ęcor. Their "Scrub & Polish Bar" features an array of aromatic ingredients where you can create a custom blend of exfoliating body scrub. Get steamy in the sauna or luxuriate in the stunning whirlpool, complete with rain shower and oversized rubber duckies to accompany you as you "Pause, Play & Perfect" {the spa's mantra}. I loved their warm tiled loungers and could have napped there for hours, but food beckoned from another part of the spa.

Because what's a day of ultimate spoiling without cupcakes?? I mean, these people really know how to make a girl happy. Every single inch of Eau Spa seems to be utilized for maximum pampering. Even the lighting -- a custom chandelier made of crystal wine glasses -- is all about opulence and extravagance.

Though it was difficult to pull ourselves away from the enchanting environment, we gathered our things and headed over to Temple Orange, their onsite restaurant, for lunch. I'd had the privilege of sampling some Temple Orange fare a while back when I was a judge for the Flavor Palm Beach kickoff event, so I knew I was in for a treat.

We were all so relaxed that we opted for a casual, laid back lunch on the patio {which was great until it started to pour!}. Several of us ordered what the restaurant calls a "Baco", which is basically a flatbread that you can order with turkey meatballs or pulled pork. I can't tell you where they came up with "Baco", but I decided that it must mean "Bread Taco" because that's sort of what it made think of!

I can't even put into words what an amazing time I had at Eau Spa... it was the perfect place for a post-birthday, pre-baby shower day of pampering and I hope to visit again {and again, and again...}. If you ever find yourself in the area, do yourself the favor of stopping in and treat yourself to a day of sheer bliss!


Ok, so maybe I can't head down to Eau Spa every day {though I SO wish I could!}, but there's no reason not to recreate Temple Orange's tasty lunch whenever the mood strikes.

I "copycatted" their dish right down to the flatbread, which only took TWO ingredients and a hot griddle. Totally worth making.

The rest of the dish is simple enough -- turkey meatballs, a little cumin-scented yogurt sauce, some veggies and voila! You've got yourself a spa lunch right in the comfort of your own home. 

Turkey Meatball Flatbread Sandwich

For meatballs:
1 lb. ground turkey meat
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon dried mint

1. Preaheat oven to 400 degrees. Prepare a baking pan by lining with foil and spraying or drizzling with a bit of olive oil.

2. Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl and stir to distribute spices. Using an ice cream scoop, create even-sized meatballs and place on oiled baking pan.

3. Bake for about 16-18 minutes or until meat is no longer pink in the middle and cooked the way through.

Keep warm until ready to serve.

For flatbread:
Adapted from The Little Things

2/3 cup self-rising flour
2.5 ounces Greek yogurt
Pinch of salt

1. Heat a heavy skillet or a grill pan to medium-high heat. In a medium bowl {or in the bowl of a food processor while pulsing} combine all ingredients with a silicone spatula.

2. When the dough looks shaggy, knead it together until a ball forms. Divide dough into 4 equal pieces.

3. On a floured surface, roll out each piece of dough into a circular flatbread. Spray heated pan or skillet with a bit of olive oil or non-stick cooking spray and cook flatbreads until slightly puffed and starting to char in places, about 3-4 minutes on each side.

Keep warm until ready to serve.

For yogurt sauce:
2 ounces Greek yogurt
2 teaspoons mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon cumin
Squeeze of fresh lemon juice
Pinch of salt

In a small bowl, stir together all ingredients until well combined. Set aside until ready to use.

To assemble: 
1 piece of flatbread
1 tablespoon yogurt sauce 
Tomato, diced
Cucumber {or zucchini}, grated

Spread about a tablespoon of yogurt sauce on each flatbread. Sprinkle with spinach, tomato, and grated cucumber or zucchini. Place 2 meatballs on top of each flatbread and fold over into a "baco". You may need a toothpick to secure unless you plan on diving right in!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Copycat "Pumpkin Paws": Pumpkin Caramel, Pecan & Milk Chocolate Clusters

Let's talk for a minute about the {brief} bout of guilt that I felt when I made these Copycat "Pumpkin Paws." They are in no way, shape or form healthy. Like, not even debatable. And then it dawned on me that I am far too pregnant to care about such things at this moment, and I went right on with my self-indulgence. And I'm happy I did.

I know it's been "all preggo, all the time" around here as far as talk goes, so I'm trying to appease those of you who might be getting all eye-rolly on me with treats that will make you forget that I can't talk about anything else at this moment because it has taken over my life.

I've reached the highly uncomfortable portion of the show at 37 weeks. The other day, I texted one of my friends, "If you ever decide to have a baby, I highly suggest planning nothing for the final 3-4 weeks of your pregnancy. And I do mean nothing. Like, hire someone to come wave palm fronds and feed you grapes kinda nothing."

Except, I can't seem to follow my own advice. Trying to continue normal life with a 6 pound weight in your gut and ever-widening girth isn't as easy as one would think it is. I mean, aside from feeling completely off balance and like I might actually bust open at the seams, all is well. So I keep on attending events and engagements like nothing is particularly off. My RSVPs, however, have become very conditional as I have to temper my enthusiastic, "I'll be there!" with a tentative,"... If I'm not in labor." Minor annoyance.

My clothes don't fit over the belly. {See, I knew there might be a little problem down the road when I was all, "I'm barely buying maternity clothes. It's just silly.} It's even more frustrating because they fit everywhere else. It's just that midriff baring isn't as adorable with a Buddha belly. So, I basically have 3 outfits left to wear until this child enters the world. Cute.

I have also been reduced to sleeping on the couch surrounded by a nest of pillows because it is the only place I can get anywhere near comfortable. The only issue is that Farley isn't fond of mom & dad's separate sleeping arrangements; he spends half the night scaring the crap out of me checking on me or sleeping on my feet, which doesn't lend itself to much rest.

Because I don't understand the word "rest", I sent myself into a Braxton-Hicks tailspin over the weekend and had crazy contractions that lasted for 2 days straight. In a panic that this kid was going to make an early appearance, I cranked preparations into high gear and am now pretty much as ready as I'm gonna get for him to join us, so that's a plus.

It was after this incident that I decided that a little bit of candy is not going to kill me. It might actually prevent me from killing anyone else.

Since Halloween is around the corner, I thought some homemade candy might actually be fitting. But honestly, I would have justified such a thing even if it were just Groundhog's Day... because chocolate.

While lustfully browsing Williams-Sonoma's fall products a few weeks ago, I saw something that stood out to me: Pumpkin Paws. "Clusters of spiced pumpkin caramel and crunchy almonds covered in Guittard milk chocolate." I liked the sound of it.

In my own version, I swapped out the almonds for pecans, which I think taste more Fall-like. I didn't even use fancy milk chocolate. Just melted Publix chocolate chips. And guess what? They turned out pretty darn amazing.

A word of warning -- the recipe for the pumpkin caramel makes a lot. Like, enough that unless you are accustomed to eating straight up chunks of caramel on the daily {which honestly doesn't sound like a horrible thing, if we're being real}, it's going to take you a while to go through. So... I used half the leftovers to turn into homemade chewy caramels and the other half for something that you will have to see to believe. If you thought this treat was naughty, then you may want to avert your eyes. Stay tuned...

Copycat "Pumpkin Paws"
Inspired by Williams-Sonoma

Pecan halves
1/2 cup pumpkin caramel {see recipe below}
Milk chocolate, melted

On a silicone baking mat or a sheet of parchment paper on a cookie sheet, lay out pecan halves in the shape of a paw -- I used 4 pecans going vertically and one going horizontally underneath.

When caramel sauce has cooled slightly {you don't want it to be too runny or you'll have a mess}, spoon about 1/2 a tablespoon over each pile of pecans. Allow to set completely. {This goes faster if refrigerated or put in the freezer for a little while.}

Once the caramel has set, spoon about a tablespoon of melted milk chocolate over the top of the caramel and pecans. Some people like to cover them completely, but I like to see the pecans poking out -- it's up to you how you do it.

Allow chocolate to set {again, in the fridge if you'd like to speed it up} and carefully remove from mat.

Store in refrigerator until ready to serve.

Pumpkin Caramel
Barely adapted from Challenge Dairy

1/2 cup butter {1 stick, 8 tablespoons}
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1 cup light corn syrup
1 14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk {not evaporated milk}
1/2 cup pumpkin puree

1. In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, melt butter. Mix in sugar and pumpkin pie spice until well combined.

2. Stir in corn syrup, sweetened condensed milk and pumpkin puree, making sure everything is well incorporated. Lower heat to medium to prevent scorching. {You'll get little dark bits throughout your caramel if this happens. Still tastes just as good, but isn't as pretty.}

3. Allow to boil until the mixture reaches 248 degrees. {As much as I hate using a candy thermometer, it's necessary in order to make sure this reaches the correct consistency. Trust me.}

The mixture will be super-duper hot. You don't want to mess with molten caramel. Don't be tempted to stick your finger in or lick a spoon -- you'll be sorry.

If using for Pumpkin Paws, allow the caramel to cool slightly {it'll start to thicken and get less liquidy} and spoon over pecans. This would also be the time to pour the caramel into a buttered or parchment-lined pan if you plan on making homemade caramels.

One the caramel cools completely, it'll hold its shape but retain a soft and chewy texture. Remove from the pan and cut into small squares; wrap individually in waxed or parchment paper.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Baby Prep: Gifts for Parents That Say, "Life Isn't Over" + Apple Cider Caramel Sauce

You know what's funny about being pregnant? People can't wait to congratulate you and swoon over the bump, but then -- in the next breath -- they will remind you that your life will soon cease to exist as you know it. They'll usually smile when they tell you this {like it's suppose to soften the blow} but they'll also make sure to follow up with further admonition just to be clear.

"No, really, though. You'll never sleep again. Get used to it."

Card from 9SpotMonk

Oh ok... um, thanks?

Whether or not you are "ready" to become a parent, there are still so many things to learn that no method of preparation will truly ever suffice. You realize this when you start opening baby gifts and -- though you proudly display your achievements and degrees in expensive frames on the wall -- you find that you have no stinkin' idea how some of those things work. A scary moment, for sure. {And for goodness sake, how many tubes and pieces are part of a breast pump??}

I was so very lucky to have not one, but TWO baby showers hosted in Cole's honor. And I can say pretty confidently that we have been stocked with most of the essentials we'll need for the first few months of his life, which is a wonderful blessing!

While many of the gifts we received were items we carefully chose and placed on our registry {car seat, stroller, baby swing, etc.}, there were also a few surprises here and there that seemed to say, "Hey, I know you're about to be a mama... but I also know you're still YOU!"

So, if you're looking for fun things to gift to parents-to-be that will help remind them that life is changing but it isn't over, here's a list of some of my favorites:

This necklace is from MangoJewels on Etsy.
Baubles. When one of my friends recently had her baby shower, I decided to get a little something just for her. At a local shop, they had an artisan creating custom jewelry right in the store, so I bought her a hand-stamped pendant sporting her new little one's initials on one of the charms {hers had a silver starfish & an aqua crystal}. There are also very pretty "teething necklaces" for moms that serve both as a statement piece AND a soothing teether for baby.

From Total Wine & More
Wine. I thought it was so cute and fitting that several of my friends gave me wine as a part of my gift! The sentiments attached ranged from "For when you need to stay zen." to "Let's plan a wine date together soon!" A creative twist on this was a friend who also attached a Starbucks gift card to the bottle with a note saying, "For the mornings... and for the evenings!"

From Toys'R'Us
Breast Milk Testing Strips. Wait... what? Well, if mom's going to indulge in a glass of wine or two, she's also going to want to make sure that her breast milk isn't giving baby a taste of Pinot too early in life. These handy little strips tell you whether or not the milk expressed is safe for baby, giving mama some peace of mind if she decides to pour herself a glass.

Gift cards for date nights.  Remember that guy that you liked a whole lot before your days were consumed by diapers and feedings? It would be nice to see him again, and not just when you're passing the baby back and forth! Gift cards for date nights to the movies, restaurants or events provide a reminder and a reason to hang up the "Mom & Dad" name tags for a few hours and try on that "Mr. & Mrs." title on for size again.

Original website not available, image found on Oh So Beautiful Paper.
"Me time." Many mamas forget to take some time to decompress, mostly because it can be hard to find that time. Gift certificates for manicures, massages, salon time or even just an "I'll watch the baby and you go grocery shopping... alone" pass could mean the difference between a calm, relaxed mom and a mother on the edge! She'll be grateful and you'll be a hero.

From Project Nursery
Comfy nursing wear. Let's be real: A new mom's wardrobe is most likely going to consist of spit up-covered tops and yoga pants that fit over her {hopefully} shrinking belly. Finding comfy, convenient pieces for her to wear post-baby will make her feel like she's slipping into Balanciaga. These modal camis and nighties from Gap Body are heavenly. {I can't yet speak for the "nursing" part, but I have a few comfy sleepwear pieces that I love.}

From ClosetCat on Etsy
Friendship, Support & Humor. I know that my "girls nights" will soon be very limited, but it makes me sad when friends act like they won't see me for the next 18 years. It's nice to know that, though you may be trading in gym time for Gymboree and fancy handbags for a well-stocked diaper bag, your girls will still be there when you need something more than baby talk. So, make sure to let your friends who are parents-to-be know that you're still on for coffee dates and wine nights whenever time allows.

Food. Never underestimate the power of food. Food can also be a great gift to give to new parents who will have little time to prepare meals for themselves once they're preoccupied with another mouth to feed. A few days ago I saw this cool idea from Once a Month Meals for a "Stock the Freezer" baby shower! How cool and useful is that?

If you haven't seen Meal Train before, it's another popular way to get friends and family to sign up for bringing over prepared meals to new parents over the first few weeks of adjusting to their new family unit. Food Tidings and Take Them A Meal are two other sites that have a similar setup for organizing food gifts.

One of the sweetest things someone can do is reassure you that you're going to be just fine and remind you that this little one on the way is opening a new, exciting chapter of your life... that is indeed a gift!

It's so important for parents to remember to eat properly and fuel themselves during those long days and nights. But you know what else is important? A treat every now and then.

And this Apple Cider Caramel Sauce is just the sweet treat you'll want to give to new parents, friends, family and yourself during this fall season. It is so, so good.

With just 4 ingredients {and a watchful eye}, you can make this sweet, decadent sauce that tastes like a perfect autumn day. FOUR INGREDIENTS. There are just no excuses.

What can you use it for? To drizzle over pie or cake. Dip apple slices in. Stir into beverages. Package up & give as a gift. Eat off a spoon. It's pretty ridiculous. I have a really, really good way to use it coming to you later this week, too...

But for now, let's just focus on not eating it all so we have options. It's easier said than done.

It's not terrible with a sprinkle of sea salt, either. ;)
Apple Cider Caramel Sauce

4 cups apple cider* {I think what really made this taste amazing was the kind I used -- Trader Joe's Spiced Cider.}
1 vanilla bean, split & scraped
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup butter, cubed

1. In a saucepan over medium-high heat, bring apple cider to a boil. Add vanilla bean seeds scraped from pod and drop in the pod itself. {You'll pull this out later.} Continue to boil until reduced by about half, about 12-15 minutes.

2. Add brown sugar and butter and stir until melted in and well incorporated. Reduce heat to medium.

3. Allow the mixture to continue to boil until the bubbling starts to slow down as the liquid becomes more thick and syrupy, about 7-10 more minutes. {You'll have to keep an eye on it to make sure it doesn't burn.} I didn't use a candy thermometer for this, but you'll want the mixture to be pourable but thickened -- it will thicken some more after it cools.

4. Carefully pour hot sauce into a heatproof container or jar and allow to cool before sealing and decorating.

Pour over everything. :)

Friday, October 10, 2014

Roasted Butternut Squash & Sage Risotto

You know you are caught between two worlds when, while doing a Google search, you keep inadvertently swapping the word "pumpkin" for "pumping" and vice versa.

The days of simplicity and one track thinking {though, really, have I ever not multitasked?} are coming to an end soon, my friends. The evidence is clear in my big ol' bulging belly and the fact that a complete stranger yelled "Paint it orange for Halloween!" out his car window while I was crossing the street. Classy.

Belly evidence.
These are the gals that helped throw me the most perfect baby shower ever!
This week marked the end of our HypnoBirthing classes {which I've officially written a very long -  but informative! - post about and will be sharing next week}, meaning that we're one step closer to getting this show on the road. For our last class, a couple who had practiced HypnoBirthing brought in their 4 week old baby boy and shared their birthing story with us. They also gave us some tips for surviving the first few weeks of being new parents, which were greatly appreciated.

They made one thing very clear: You will have time for almost nothing. Not sleep. Not bathroom breaks. Not cooking or eating. {Whimper.} But you will become very efficient at using any spare moments that may be gifted to you for important things like naps, quick bites of sustenance and gazing at your newborn with awe.

Can't wait.

Our instructor mentioned a baby-wearing group that meets monthly in the same office where the classes were held, and how she noticed that they have become alarmingly skilled at doing things with one arm. I imagine this is one of those special adaptations that parents develop as a survival skill, along with bionic hearing and a variety of other special talents.

Naturally, that got me to thinking about recipes that could easily be made with one hand {or with very short moments of needing both}. Would you ever think about risotto being one of those things? Probably not.

Risotto is often thought of as quite fussy and labor-intensive. So, out of curiosity, I decided to make this version and see how it would turn out with very little "babysitting".

And wouldn't you know it... it worked. Quite well, in fact!

Now, there are some ways to make this even easier by taking shortcuts like buying pre-chopped onions & butternut squash, and grated cheese . {Side note: Butternut squash is one of the only convenience items I think of as a worthwhile purchase. I've nearly lost fingers too many times to count while dismantling a whole butternut squash.} But if you happen to have two hands available, it isn't even necessary because the tasks are pretty quick and simple.

Just roast some diced butternut squash, saute some onion, add rice and liquid and let it simmer. Adding the liquid in 3 separate additions helps to make the rice tender and creamy, but you really don't need to do all the stirring that is often associated with risotto. So that's good news.

The other good news is that it tastes really good. And it looks like you actually worked hard to put it together, so even new parents who only have one arm available can psych people out and make them think they've really got things under control.

Maybe my next project -- you know, after having a baby and everything -- will be to write an entire collection of recipes that can be cooked with one arm. Because I'm sure I'll have time for that.

Roasted Butternut Squash & Sage Risotto
Adapted from Real Simple 

1 1/2 cups chopped butternut squash
Olive oil

2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1 cup arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine {or chicken/vegetable broth}
3 1/2 cups chicken broth, heated through in a microwave safe container with spout
1 teaspoon fresh sage, finely minced
1/2 cup grated Parmesan or aged Havarti cheese

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place a sheet of foil on a baking pan and drizzle with a bit of olive oil. Plop butternut squash onto pan & toss with oil. Sprinkle with salt. Roast for about 20 minutes or until tender and lightly browned in spots.

Remove from oven and set aside.

2. In a deep skillet, heat butter and olive oil over medium heat. Add diced onion and saute until softened and translucent, about 4-6 minutes.

3. Add rice to onions and stir. Cook for about 2 minutes, then add wine {or broth} and allow to simmer until the liquid is absorbed. {This should take about 5-7 minutes.}

4. Pour in about 1/3 of the chicken broth that's been warmed. Give it a quick stir {yes, you can do this with one arm}, bring the heat down a smidge {you want a simmer, not a boil} and allow to simmer until the liquid is absorbed once again, about 7-9 minutes or so. Repeat with another 1/3 of the broth. When you add in the last 1/3, toss in your roasted butternut squash and minced sage. Stir and allow to absorb the last of the liquid. {You don't even have to watch it, which means you might even be able to sneak in a bathroom break.}

5. Before serving, add in cheese, salt & pepper to taste and stir {for the last time!}

Serve hot... and try to eat it while it's still at that temp. You deserve it! :)

Thursday, October 2, 2014

A {Gluten-Free!} Pumpkin Carving Party Menu | Sponsored by McCormick

The weather is cooling down{ish}, the leaves are turning colors... it's almost time to bust out the pumpkin-carving knives and get in the fall spirit!

October is the perfect excuse for gatherings centered around autumn's fun activities like football watching and eating pumpkin everything. So, why not host a little Pumpkin Carving Party complete with a pumpkin-filled menu to get into that festive state of mind?

I got the chance to try out McCormick Gluten-Free Recipe Mix packets that make seasoning your fall favorites an easy task and couldn't help but run with the pumpkin-loving theme. First and foremost, creating a menu was in order for a fabulous fall event:

Pumpkin Carving Party Menu

Your favorite fall Soup or Stew

Taco-Spiced Cornbread Pumpkins (see below for recipe)

Cheesy Turkey-Pumpkin Chili Dip (see below for recipe)
served with tortilla chips and dippers
Sweet Potato-Pumpkin Mash DIY Bar
featuring McCormick Turkey Gravy & all the fixin's!

Various Pumpkin & Autumn Desserts

These Taco-Spiced Cornbread Pumpkins are not only cute, but also a flavorful accompaniment for your soups, stews and chilis during the chilly months ahead! Because the recipe uses McCormick Gluten-Free Recipe Mix and no flour, it's perfect for family and friends who avoid wheat products.

Cheesy Turkey-Pumpkin Chili Dip will really knock everyone's socks off, especially when you serve it up in a gorgeous little gourd. So on-theme! It's meaty and creamy with a spicy kick and makes an excellent snack while you carve out Jack!

Finally, extend the DIY beyond the pumpkin carving with an interactive Sweet Potato-Pumpkin Mash DIY Bar! Guests will love customizing a scoop of this creamy twist on mashed potatoes. Set out toppers like shredded cheese, sour cream, fresh chopped herbs and crumbled bacon... and don't forget the McCormick Gluten-Free Turkey Gravy!

Once the stage is set with all sorts of pumpkin delights, you can easily put together a simple party for all to enjoy!

1. B.Y.O.P. Ask guests to bring their own pumpkin, or provide gourds of all kinds for friends and family to choose from once they arrive. Get creative with pumpkins of all shapes & sizes!

2. Smart set up for easy clean up. Set your table {if you have an outdoor space, even better!} with newspaper, kraft paper, or something that you can easily crumple up and throw away once the carving and gutting is done. Pumpkin carving is a messy business! Make sure to set out several bowls or buckets for the gooey middles. And don't forget to save the seeds for roasted snacks you can make later!

3. Provide inspiration. Stencils, paints, stickers and even cookie cutters can be used to give fall flair to your creations. Create a buffet of fun embellishments and details {along with carving tools, of course!} that will help your guests get inspired.

4. Dig in and have fun! Keep food and drinks nearby for noshing and mingling during the party. Between using the pumpkins as a creative medium and snacking on the delightful goodies you've made, your guests will be talking about your Pumpkin Party for seasons to come!

Featured Recipes:

Taco-Spiced Cornbread Pumpkins
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 tablespoons McCormick Gluten-Free Taco Seasoning Mix
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 egg
2 tablespoons melted butter, plus extra for greasing tin
1 tablespoon honey
3/4 cups plain Greek yogurt

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Liberally butter or spray your muffin tin or pumpkin-shaped mold. Set aside.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together first 5 ingredients.

3. In a small bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients until smooth.

4. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix until just incorporated. (The batter will be pretty thick.)

5. Scoop the batter evenly into greased tin or mold. Bake until just starting to brown on top, about 9-11 minutes.*

6. Remove from oven and let cool for about 5 minutes so they are easier to handle. Carefully flip from tins or molds. If they stick, run a paring knife around the outer edge to loosen.

Serve warm with soup, stew or chili.

*Cooking time will depend on the type of tin or mold you use. It's best to check on them frequently to make sure they do not overbake. Yield will also depend on the size and shape of the baking tin.

Cheesy Turkey-Pumpkin Chili Dip

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 an onion, chopped
1/2 pound turkey meat
1/2 a packet of McCormick Gluten-Free Chili Mix
1 (14.5 oz.) can petite diced tomatoes
1/2 cup canned pureed pumpkin
4 ounces cream cheese
4 ounces shredded sharp cheddar cheese, plus extra for garnish

1. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat olive oil. Add chopped onion and sautee until softened, about 4-5 minutes.

2. Add turkey meat to onion and break up with a wooden spoon (my favorite tool for this job is a potato masher!). Cook until no longer pink.

3. Sprinkle McCormick Gluten-Free Chili Seasoning over top and stir to coat all of mixture. Add diced tomatoes to meat and stir, scraping up any browned bits on the bottom of the skillet.

4. Stir in pumpkin puree. Add cream cheese and shredded cheddar and stir until the cheeses have melted into the mixture.

Serve in a hollowed out pumpkin with tortilla chips or your favorite dippers.

Sweet Potato-Pumpkin Mash

1 large sweet potato*, baked or boiled and mashed
1/3 cup pumpkin puree
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon sea salt (or to taste)
1. Beat all ingredients together with a hand mixer until smooth. Set out mash in a covered bowl to keep warm or in a slow cooker set to low.
2. Encourage guests to "embellish" their Sweet Potato-Pumpkin Mash with various toppings and gravy.

*This can easily be doubled or tripled for a larger crowd as well.

For Turkey Gravy:

1 (8.8 oz) Package McCormick Gluten-Free Turkey Gravy mix
1 cup water

1. Stir water gradually into Gravy Mix with whisk in small saucepan.

2. Stirring frequently, cook on medium heat until gravy comes to boil. Reduce heat and simmer 3 to 4 minutes. (Gravy will thicken upon standing).

For DIY Bar:

- McCormick Turkey Gravy
- Various shredded cheeses
- Sour cream
- Finely Chopped Herbs
- Crumbled Bacon

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Monday, September 29, 2014

Pumpkin Butter Thumbprint Cookies

You guys. My life has been changed forever.

They {finally} built a Trader Joe's within a decent distance of where I live. It opened 2 days before my birthday. I'm fairly certain they planned that out that as a gift to me. Thank you to all those who came together to make it happen.

As the sun rose last Sunday and I opened my eyes on the first day of my 33rd year on this planet, my sweet husband wished me a happy birthday. I cleared my throat and responded, "Can we get to Trader Joe's before it get's packed?"

Signs you're getting old.

Because Steve is so good to me and wouldn't dream of shattering my birthday plans, we were up, dressed and wandering the aisles of TJ's by 8:15 a.m. It was magical.

I may be over-exaggerating a tiny bit. {But not by much.} I mean, it's a grocery store, not one of the wonders of the world. {Though I warn you, do not argue this point with anyone who is a huge fan. You will lose.}

However, I can tell you that as we stood there with our mouths agape staring at a wall of reasonably priced, {organic!!!} packaged greens of every possible combination you can think of, we knew we had stumbled onto something special. I even heard Steve mumble, "Is this for real?"

It is real, my dear, and it is glorious.

Now, navigating TJ's as a "first-timer" can be a tricky feat. Because you'll want to buy all the things. I'm talking stuff you have no need for and hardly ever eat. "But it's only $1.99!", you'll rationalize.

PUT DOWN THE CHILI-LIME ROASTED ALMONDS AND WALK AWAY. No, do not stop to look at the multitude of nut butters {or cookie butter, for that matter. There is no nutritional value in cookie butter even if it's housed right next to the chia and flax peanut butter.} that are suddenly available to you. You came for almond butter, now put the almond butter in your basket and back away slowly.

Ok, so I may not have left completely unscathed. It was my first visit, and my birthday for heaven's sake, cut me some slack. I splurged on a small jar of Pumpkin Butter because it was there and fall was officially beginning that week. So, clearly it was a necessity.

{Pumpkin Butter, incidentally, has very little to do with pumpkins or butter. It's more like a very sweet jam infused with pumpkin spice-type flavors that you can spread on muffins, drizzle over ice cream or use as a pastry filling. Like apple butter, except pumpkiny.}

Then, as penance, I came home and decided to use the Pumpkin Butter in a recipe to share with you. Because I'm considerate that way and because otherwise I may have simply eaten it by the spoonful.

Is there anything that brings greater feelings of nostalgia than a thumbprint cookie?

For the cookie part of these, I used a cream cheese dough that I adapted from Allie's recipe {Baking a Moment} to make them a bit sturdier, and rolled them in toasted pecan bits for some crunch. Then, I filled the centers with TJ's autumnal Pumpkin Butter. You will not be sorry that you sacrificed some of your beloved Pumpkin Butter for these babies.

So, tell me, do you have a Trader Joe's near you? Have you found yourself doing the dance of the conflicted grocery shopper in their kitschy aisles? Go ahead, divulge what your TJ's splurges are... make me feel better! ;)

Pumpkin Butter Thumbprint Cookies
Cookie dough adapted from Baking a Moment 
Makes about 2 dozen cookies depending on size

1 stick {8 tablespoons} butter, softened
3 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch of sea salt
1 cup + 2-3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 egg + about 1 tablespoon water, beaten
1/2 cup toasted pecan bits
Pumpkin Butter for filling

1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together butter, cream cheese, sugar, vanilla extract and salt until smooth. Slowly add in the flour and mix until just incorporated.

2. Scoop dough onto a sheet of plastic wrap and form a log shape. {This isn't absolutely necessary but it helps later on when the dough is solid to get even pieces more easily. I also divided it in 2 to make it easier.} Refrigerate for about an hour or two until the dough is mo easier to handle.

3.Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Prepare a baking pan by lining with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper. Beat egg and water in a small bowl. In another bowl, place pecan bits for rolling. Set aside.

4. When ready to continue, take dough by the tablespoonful and roll into a ball. Dredge each ball in the egg & water mixture, then drop into the pecans and roll around to coat. Place onto the prepared pan. Continue until all the dough is used up.

5. Spray the rounded side of a teaspoon measure with non-stick cooking spray {I just use my Misto filled with olive oil} and, using even pressure, push down on the top of each dough ball to create an indentation. You can do this with your thumb, too, {hence "thumbprint cookie}, but I find that using a teaspoon creates a more even well.

6. Fill each well with a heaping 1/2 teaspoon of Pumpkin Butter {or however much you can fit!}.

7. Bake for about 12-14 minutes or until the edges are just starting to brown and the cookies are set. Remove from oven and allow to cool before moving the cookies to a cooling rack -- they will be soft and hard to move when they're warm.

Note: I found that I achieved the best results by refrigerating the dough balls for a while after rolling them so they weren't too soft going into the oven. My cookies held their shape better when I used this technique. It isn't necessary but it makes for prettier cookies.

I also made a version of these without nuts and they were very tasty, too! They do spread a little further, so take that into account when placing onto the baking pan.