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My visit to Philadelphia Magazine's Design Home 2014 with XFinity and Real Mom Media

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.  I was a guest of Real Mom Media for this event and was given a lovely parting gift of a Samsung tablet from XFinity before I left to go home.

Design Home PHL

Today I got to visit Philadelphia Magazine's absolutely stunning Design Home 2014.  It was AMAZING.  The house itself was gorgeous, but then they went ahead and added about a million cool techy things through XFinity/Comcast that just threw its cool factor completely over the edge for me.

The thing that floored me the most about the house was that although it had all the latest technology within, it didn't look high tech.  It looked comfortable.  Like people could actually live there within this century.  All the colors were perfect.  The floor plan flowed so smoothly, and yet there were about a million nooks and crannies all over to explore.

One of my favorite parts of the house was the lowest level which included a living room area, bar, gym, laundry room and the nanny's quarters including a bedroom and bathroom.  We were brought in to learn about XFinity's X1 system which allows you to customize your TV viewing experience throughout your home.  It seems like a pretty cool system with lots of features like:

  • the ability to record up to 12 shows at once
  • flip through the guide and watch shows that may not be on at the moment
  • make playlists of your favorite shows to play on a continuous loop

Lower Level Design Home PHLWe then took the stairs (although there WAS an elevator available, it was that immense...) all the way up to the top floor which was designed as a kids' playroom.  If I know my kids at all, this would definitely be their favorite room in the house.  Up there, we learned about XFinity wifi services and all its capabilities using hte XFinity wifi app.  Just wait, soon it will be available for use even when you are overseas!

We made our way downstairs to the kitchen... I feel like kitchen is too small a word for the place we were in.  It was more like what I have dreamed heaven might be like.  There was a ginormous marble island in the middle of the room, cabinets everywhere, a butler's pantry in the corner, a TV on the wall, and just so much more.  The dining area was across the room and had not one but two - TWO wine cabinets.  It was my favorite room in the house. Kitchen Design Home PHL

The XFinity guys were there to tell us even more about the XFinity Home at that point.  We learned that it is possible to basically set up your entire home on your tablet so you can view, adjust, fix, or turn on or off anything at all.  It can be used as a security system, a thermostat, a baby/pet monitor, a lighting adjuster, and much more!

At this point, my head was exploding with knowledge and I took a little wander off by myself to check out the rest of the house.  Let me tell you, I almost got lost in the master suite's bathroom.  But don't worry, I found my way out and was able to find all the other gems throughout the house like the upstairs laundry room, the three additional bedrooms, huge walk in closets, and did I mention there was an ELEVATOR?

I was very impressed with everything I saw today.  I wanted to get it all out right now before I went to bed or I would probably not sleep thinking about it!  

Oh, and to top it off, XFinity gave us all beautiful Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 (7-Inch) as a parting gift! I couldn't have asked for a better day.

Thanks to Real Mom Media, Comcast/XFinity, and Philadelphia Magazine for a wonderful time!

If you are interested in learning more about the Design Home 2014, XFinity, Philadelphia Magazine, or Real Mom Media, please visit their webpages by clicking on the names here in this post! 

And you can view my entire album of pictures on my Whatever Works Facebook page.  

If you need me, I'll be off somewhere dreaming about laying next to the pool on a hot day...  Pool


best. morning. ever.

I should be working, but I just had the best morning and wanted to get this out before the scent of playground metal leaves my hands.


Some days even the most tedious of activities can turn into the most fun.  This week I started working again.  I mean, I'm a mom, so I'm really always working. But I started writing for pay again on Monday which means I have to be on an actual schedule or I will pretty much fall victim to my own lack of self discipline and immediately regret my work before I even start each day.  

So I put myself on a strict write-five-articles-each-day-before-the-sun-comes-up regimen and have been sticking with it.  Although last night I looked at the calendar and realized that this morning I would have to change it up a bit because circled in red were the words Allergy Shots right there staring back at me.

Every second of every minute for the rest of last night I sat calculating and recalculating how I would get the rest of my work done this morning considering I had to stop midstream and go to the far reaches of the next town to get stuck with magic allergy needles.  I couldn't concentrate on anything else.  I basically burned the toast for our dinner BLTs.  I still don't really know if the kids took showers or even brushed their teeth before bed.  I couldn't sleep when I went to bed.  I was kept awake by the fear that I would lose my entire week of being disciplined simply because I had a slight change in my schedule.  I felt like a smoker who quit years ago but was on the brink of having just one more and then watching the rest of my life go down the tubes...

But when I woke up this morning, guess what I did.  

I just said f**k it.  

I sat in front of the laptop aimlessly trying to figure out how I could work the day and instead of giving it any more thought I closed the lid, got up and went into the living room where my son was sitting.  I asked him to go wake up his sister and we were off.

Instead of worrying any more, I just stopped.  We got my allergy shots and then went to breakfast at the diner.  I let my 10 year-old daughter order a short stack of chunky monkey pancakes from the adult menu while my son ordered the "Boots" from the kids menu (which was a short stack of chunky monkey pancakes).  My son got some hot chocolate with whipped cream.  We talked and laughed while I sipped my coffee and the two ate their identical yet completely different breakfasts. 

"What should we do next?" I asked.

We decided on the park at their school because it is always exciting to play at school without all the rules.  Instead of sitting on a bench and watching, I joined them in their quest to be as quiet as possible while climbing across everything.  We were ninjas.  We walked up the slides.  We scaled the tops of the handrails with our feet.  We jumped from the rock wall to the next obstacle with ease.  

We ruled.

We rested in the climbing tube all tangled up with each other's limbs.  I could see my daughter's hair was stuck to her face.  I'm sure mine was, too.  My son's cheek was right next to my lips so I kissed it.  It felt surreal; like it couldn't possibly be real life.  But just as that moment felt like it was about to flit away like a dandelion seed, it rushed back into my heart and stayed there.  

We all decided that this has been the best morning of the summer.  Hands down.  No contest.  

And all that work I was worried about last night?  I still have to do it.  But I know it will flow off my fingertips now.  All because I stopped worrying.

Bacon and cheddar stuffed mushrooms

You mention mushrooms and my ears perk up.  I love them.  I could eat them really any which way you prepare them.  I could eat them in a boat.  I could eat them with a goat.  But my favorite way to eat them is stuffed with all kinds of goodness.  

I recently got my very first food processor and love throwing stuff in there to see what tastes good together.  I came up with this combo one day and now it's my absolute favorite stuffed mushroom recipe.  Hope you like it!


Bacon and Cheddar Stuffed Mushrooms

      • 20 large button mushrooms w/stems 
      • 1 sleeve Saltines
      • 3-4 oz sharp white Cheddar cheese
      • 3 slices bacon cooked until crispy then crumbled
      • 15 roasted almonds
      • 1 clove garlic
      • 1 tsp dried parsley
      • 1 tsp flax seeds (optional)

Clean mushrooms and pop out the stems.  Put stems and rest of ingredients into a food processor and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse bread crumbs.  Any extra topping can be saved in the freezer for your next batch!

Top each mushroom with a heaping teaspoon of the mixture.  Place on a cookie sheet and bake in a 400° oven for about 15 minutes or until the topping looks golden brown.

 These are best when eaten right away.  I can only guess that won't be a problem.  Enjoy!

NYE Steak Bites

We used to make these elaborate dinners at my house on New Year's Eve.  But then we came to the conclusion that as good as those dinners were, they didn't leave much room for the REAL delights: the snacks.  So now instead of a big dinner, we just make a bunch of different appetizers throughout the night.  It's much more fun and everyone gets something they like!

My favorite New Year's Eve treats are little delicious bites of steak dipped in horseradish sauce.  I admit it, I purposely get a little extra steak so that I can sample it as I cook.  Here's the recipe:


New Year's Eve Steak Bites

      • 1 lb beef tenderloin or sirloin cut into 1 1/2 inch cubes
      • 1/3 cup soy sauce
      • 2 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
      • 2 cloves of garlic minced
      • juice from 1/2 lemon
      • 1/8 tsp ground ginger

                            For sauce- mix together:

      • 1/4-1/2 cup prepared horseradish
      • 3/4 cup mayonnaise


Combine soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, garlic, lemon, and ginger in a bowl.  Add the steak pieces and toss to coat.  Let the steak marinate in the fridge for about 3-4 hours.  Take the bowl out of the fridge about 1/2 hour before you plan to cook so the meat can come to room temp.

Heat up a heavy frying pan on high.  In batches of 5-6 pieces (do not crowd the pan) cook the steak pieces turning when each side has a nice brown coating.  They cook quickly, so stay close by.  For rare, it should only take about 1-2 minutes on each side.  Medium, 2-3 minutes.  Remove the pieces from the pan an keep them warm until the rest are done.

Serve the pieces with horseradish sauce and just watch them disappear.  

I hope you enjoy this recipe and ALL the other recipes in this New Year's Eve blog swap put together by my friend Carrie at Chockababy.  Check out all the links below!

  NYE Party Menu

We've got your whole plan set for you! Here's the complete list of recipes and ideas to make your party amazing:

Amazing Appetizers:

NYE Steak Bites: Cindy from Whatever Works

Baked Brie: Erica from No Sleep Til College

Antipasta Bars: Lindsay from Naughty Mommy

Sausage and Cheese Crescents: Lauryn from A Vintage Mom

Brown Sugar Sausages: Carrie from Chockababy

The Perfect Sweet:

Pumpkin White Chocolate Tarts: Heather from Real: The Kitchen and Beyond

Memorable Activity for Kids:

New Year's Eve Ideas for Kids: Barb from A Life in Balance

Check out the whole party plan and let us know what you've got planned for the New Year!

Butternut squash done two ways: Cabot's Winter Squash Gratin and Squash Soup

After receiving a beautiful box of cheese from Cabot Creamery compliments of the American Dairy Association and Dairy Council (ADADC), I scoped out their website for a recipe to try.  I landed on their Winter Squash Gratin and decided it would be perfect for us.  The full recipe is on their website, but here is how I made it:

photo credit to

Cabot's Winter Squash Gratin

      • 6 ounces Cabot Sharp Cheddar grated (about 1 1/2 cups)
      • 1 1/2 cups fresh bread crumbs (I made crumbs from a full sleeve of Saltine crackers)
      • 2 tablespoons butter
      • 2 cups chopped onions
      • 1 teaspoon sugar
      • 1/8 teaspoon salt
      • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves, crumbled
      • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
      • 2 pounds dry-fleshed butternut squash peeled and seeded*
      • 3/4-1 cup chicken broth
Preheat oven to 375°F. Combine cheese and bread crumbs in bowl and set aside.
In large skillet over medium heat, melt butter. Add onions and sugar. Stir often until onions are golden, about 10 minutes. Stir in salt, thyme and pepper, then transfer mixture to 1 1/2-quart baking dish.
Cut squash into smaller chunks and cut these chunks into 1/8-inch-thick slices. Add to onions and stir together well.
Pour 3/4 cup of chicken broth evenly over squash. Cover dish tightly with lid or foil and bake for about 70 minutes, or until squash is tender and broth is nearly all absorbed. If squash appears dry, add remaining 1/4 cup broth. 
Sprinkle squash with reserved bread crumb mixture. Bake until topping is golden, about 20 minutes longer.
*Don't throw away those seeds!  Roasted butternut squash seeds are even more delicious than roasted pumpkin seeds in my opinion.  Just clean the seeds and let them sit overnight to dry.  Then toss them with a tsp of olive oil and a pinch of salt.  Roast them on a single layer in a 275° oven for about an hour or until they are golden brown stirring occasionally.
The gratin was delicious, but let me tell you- it made a lot!  We had about half a tray left over after eating our fill with dinner.  
The next day, I felt like making soup.  Squash soup sounded good, so I put the leftover gratin into a pot with about 2 cups of chicken broth and whirled it up with my hand blender.  I placed the pot on medium heat stirring it once in a while until it was warm.  It was a bit salty, so I added a half cup of water and heated it through.  When it was done, I topped it with the butternut squash seeds I had saved and roasted previously.  
My daughter thought the soup tasted like goldfish crackers.  When I tasted it, I had to agree.  It was delicious!  It was smooth and very filling with the mixed green salad we had on the side for lunch that day.
Photo 2
Squash Soup
Hope you will try both recipes!  Let me know what you think. 
Oh, and yes, all you foodies out there.  The picture above shows pumpkin seeds on the soup, not butternut squash seeds.  I tried to get a shot of the butternut seeds, but they were too good.  I ate them all. 

Grilled cod with almonds recipe

The other night I was trying to figure out a good way to use up some frozen cod we had in the freezer.  The weather was nice, so grilling was on the forefront of my brain.  I wanted something that had a grilled flavor, but still sort of resembled a basic fish fry.  I checked the cabinets for some crunchy stuff I could smash up to make a nice coating on the fish.  I found almonds, saltines and flax seeds.  Perfect!

Here is what I came up with:


Grilled Cod with Almonds

  • 4 Tbsp & 1 tsp melted butter
  • 4 cod fillets fresh or thawed
  • 10 saltines
  • 1/2 cup roasted salted almonds
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 tsp flax seeds
  • 1/2 tsp dried parsley

Coat the cod with 4 Tbsp melted butter on both sides and place on one sheet of aluminum foil.  Place on indirect heat on a low grill for about 10 minutes.   IMG_2763While it is cooking, whirl up the saltines, almonds, garlic, flax seeds and parsley in your food processor until the mixture looks like coarse bread crumbs.    


Take the fish off the grill (leave on aluminum foil) and place the whole thing on a large plate.  Divide the almond mixture in four and top each piece of cod with it.  Drizzle the tsp of melted butter over the fish and put the whole thing back on the grill for about 10 more minutes or until the fish is flaky and the topping is slightly browned.  

My husband loved it.  My daughter liked it with a little lemon on it.  I absolutely loved it and really sort of made an ass out of myself declaring my love for it at the dinner table.  My family now thinks I'm insane.  ...Hope you like it! 

Spicy roasted almonds and walnuts recipe

On my quest to make some wholesome snacks for my family, I often go through the pantry to see what I can use.  For some reason, we have about a million pounds of almonds and walnuts in there right now.  

We will have no problem throwing some of them in our salads, smoothies and breakfast cereals.  And I am planning on using some of the almonds to make almond butter per my friend Stephanie's recipe at Confessions of a Stay at Home Mom.  

...But I came up with this savory little ditty, too.  And it is GOOD.


Spicy Roasted Almonds and Walnuts

    • 2 cups unsalted whole almonds
    • 2 cups shelled walnut halves
    • 1 tsp olive oil
    • 1 tsp paprika
    • 1/8 tsp (or more if you are daring) cayenne pepper
    • 1 tsp oregano
    • 1 tsp garlic powder
    • 1/2 tsp black pepper
    • 1/8 tsp salt

Put nuts in a large bowl and toss with olive oil.  Mix all the spices together in a separate bowl and then toss with the nuts to coat.  Spread the mixture in a single layer on a cookie sheet and bake at 300° for 30-40 min stirring occasionally.  Let them cool and save them in an airtight container.  You can eat them warm, but I prefer them at room temp when they have a chance to regain their crunch.

This recipe is adapted from one I read in the cookbook Men's Health Muscle Chow.  I liked their idea, so I went with it to form my own recipe.  I hope you like it!

On the fly chicken tortilla soup recipe

I love chicken tortilla soup.  I like to think of it as chili lite.  However, I had never made it myself.  No reason, I just always relied on others to fulfill my tortilla soup cravings.  But tonight...?  Tonight I was feeling quite ambitious.  I went into my tortilla memory banks and pulled out all the tastes I could remember.  Then when I thought I had all the right ingredients on my kitchen counter, I referenced a couple recipes online to see if I was right.  Then I got to work.

What do ya know?  It turned out so good that I almost immediately wanted to make another batch.  Here's how I did it.  Hope you try it and love it as much as I did!


On the Fly Chicken Tortilla Soup

  • 2 cooked chicken breasts - shredded
  • 2 cloves of garlic minced
  • 1 tsp canola oil
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 medium yellow onion chopped
  • 1 cup frozen corn kernels
  • 4 cups water
  • 4 chicken bouillon cubes
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 3/4 cup salsa
  • 1/2 tsp lemon juice
  • About 1 cup of crushed Tostitos
  • Garnishes: Greek yogurt, salsa, chives, shredded cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese, chopped avocado
  • Place the shredded chicken, oil, garlic and cumin in a soup pot and toss to coat.  Turn on the heat to medium and add the onion.  Cook until the onion becomes transparent about 2-3 minutes. Add the corn, water, bouillon, chili powder, salsa and lemon juice.  Turn the heat down to med-low and let the soup simmer about 30 minutes stirring occasionally.  Add the crushed Tostitos and turn off the heat.  

    BAM!  You're done.  Now all you need to do is add your favorite garnishes and eat up.  My first bowl had a dollop of Greek yogurt, some Monterey Jack and a couple chives.  Second bowl I had straight up.  Third bowl... OK, I didn't have a third bowl.  But only because after my family had their share it was all gone!  Enjoy.

    One lunch, Two restaurants: Noodles & Company and Smashburger

    I love noodles.  Every kind.  If I had to pick a favorite type of noodle, it would be a toss up between Chinese style lo mein noodles, egg noodles and Japanese style udon noodles.  The good news is I found a restaurant that has them all!  Noodles & Company in East Brunswick, NJ offers the biggest variety of noodles I have ever seen.  Each dish on their menu looks better than the next.  

    Last month, I was given the opportunity to try out a few of Noodles & Company's bowls with my family.  Here is what we tried:


    Our order consisted of the Wisconsin Mac & Cheese, the Japanese Pan Noodles, the Spinach & Fresh Fruit Salad, and the Garden Pesto Saute (which is only offered for a limited time).  

    IMG_2373 IMG_2372

    There were only 3 of us eating and two of the people were kids, so I knew from the beginning that this was WAY too much food.  But to be totally honest, I could have become a member of the Clean Plate Club quite easily if I was only eating one bowl.  They were all delicious.  My favorite was the Pesto saute while my kids really enjoyed the Japanese Pan Noodles.


    We were so full and worried that all the delicious leftovers would go to waste.  Fortunately, Noodles & Company had very convenient leftover containers right there at the condiment stand.  We were able to bring everything home with us for a second meal!


    Once we packed up our delicious noodles in the leftover containers, we headed out to get some dessert milkshakes down the road at Smashburger.  We had been to Smashburger before, but had not tried their shakes.  We figured with the addition of their new PB&J shake to the menu, it was the perfect opportunity to slurp some down this time.


    This hand-spun shake combines premium Häagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream blended with strawberry syrup and crushed Nutter Butter Cookies to create an authentic peanut butter and jelly blend with every savory sip.  The Peanut Butter & Jelly shake is available from July 1 through September 30, 2013.

    My kids LOVED it.  I didn't think they could fit any more in their little bodies, but somehow they managed.  All in all, we had a delicious lunch and left East Brunswick with our bellies full and smiles on our faces.   If you have the chance to visit Noodles & Company and/or Smashburger in your travels, I highly recommend them both.  Both restaurants have friendly helpful staff, delicious good-for-you food and are extremely clean - bathrooms included! 

    About Smashburger:

    Smashburger is America’s fastest growing, fast casual “better burger” restaurant with more than 208 corporate and franchise restaurants operating in 29 states and in four international countries.  Smashburger has 13 locations currently open throughout Northern New Jersey including Clifton, East Hanover, Florham Park, Hackensack, Montclair/Glen Ridge, Morris Plains, Newark Liberty International Airport (Terminal C), New Providence, Paramus, Parsippany, Ramsey, East Brunswick and recently opened North Brunswick.  By offering fresh, premium “smashed to order” burgers, chicken sandwiches, salads, signature side items and hand-spun Häagen-Dazs shakes, Smashburger has modernized the way people think about burgers.  To learn more, visit  And look for their newest location opening soon at 1060 Cedarbridge Ave in Brick, NJ!


    About Noodles & Company:

     Noodles & Company, a premium fast-casual restaurant chain, brings the world's most popular, classic noodle and pasta dishes together under one roof to create Your World Kitchen.  Unlike any other, it is a restaurant where Japanese Pan Noodles rest comfortably next to Penne Rosa and Wisconsin Mac & Cheese, but where global flavors don’t end with the noodle.  Inspired by some of the most celebrated flavor combinations in the world, the menu offers appetizers, soups, salads and sandwiches, too.  Everything is cooked to order, just as you like it, using quality ingredients.  Dishes are delivered to your table allowing guests time to sit and relax or grab a quick bite – all without the need to tip.  With more than 330 locations, from California to Connecticut, guests can find a location nearest them and take a tour of the global menu by visiting  For those craving more, please follow the company on Facebook, YouTube, Flickr or on our Noodles & Company blog affectionately called ‘& Company.’  

    The location we visited is owned and operated by Hillside-based Mascott Corporation and is located at 683 Rt. 18 South, East Brunswick.   


    Disclosure: I was given all the above foods mentioned free of charge.  No other compensation was given to me.  All opinions in this post are my own.  All italicized paragraphs  in this post were taken from both Noodles & Company's and Smashburger's press releases.

    I've got the moves like Martha: Summertime remix


    College Dorm Room Chic is the new Shabby Chic

     Last winter I attempted to clean out my freezer and pantry by skipping the grocery shopping for a bit.  I was convinced that our family of four could live off what was in there for at least that long without buying anything else besides the essentials.  It worked out so great, I thought I would do it again this summer.  Here are some things I got out of the experience:

    -Three things that are not good substitutes for milk in your hot beverage when it's gone: butter, ricotta cheese, yogurt.

    -Two things that are good substitutes: Hershey syrup and vodka.

    -Putting all that mint that took over your backyard in a bowl won't go over well with the fam if you try to pull it off as a salad.

    -Some spices make a nice tea when you pour hot water over them.  Ginger is a great example.  On a similar note, you know what bears a striking resemblance to maggots? Wet fennel seeds.

    -After digging deep into the furthest recesses of the pantry I found the powdered milk I bought before Hurricane Sandy. Good news! It tastes exactly the same whether it is expired or not!  According to my son, it made his tea taste like Chinese food, so I'm thinking of serving it with rice for an exotic dinner tonight.

    -We STILL have a bottle of Jaegermeister in the freezer.

    -Expiration dates on frozen vegetables are just a myth. How did I prove it? Because I found some spinach in there with an expiration date somewhere in '07 (we moved here in '08) and it still tasted good despite the strange color.

    -If you light an apple pie scented candle while eating saltines dipped in applesauce, it's almost like you've got the real thing. 

    -Sneaking kale into a smoothie is cool.  Making a smoothie out of only kale is disgusting.

    Now that we are finished with this summertime project, I have well-proven my point that a family of four can live off of what is in our house for at least a week at any given time.  

    ...I did not say they will live happily, but that's what the Jaeger is for.  Cheers!