Mac & Cheese + Tater Tots = Amazing!

mac and cheese tot casserole

I know. I know.

It’s getting a bit warmer (at least where I live), and I’m absolutely soaking up all of the sun. Right now, I’ve got my porch chair pushed out to where my face it out of the sun, but my legs are in the midst of its heat. I know- smart, right?!

Even though it’s a bit unlike February, I have totally been enjoying the warmer temps. I just got my garden seeds in the mail, and we just tilled our new garden spot in the backyard.

But but but…I want you to know that there’s still time to enjoy some amazing casseroles. No matter where you live or what the weather is like, you still have a chance to try out this comforting, simple masterpiece of a Mac & Cheese Tot Casserole!

mac and cheese tot casserole

Read more

How to Save Money: Eating Out

How to Save Money is a  monthly think fruitful series with helpful hints and tips for taking control of your finances. Get your free monthly budget template and 4 tips for eating out on a budget!

I’m glad to be back with this month’s How to Save Money post, and it’s going to be a really relevant one, I think.

Eating out!

I remember as a kid, we did not eat out much. My parents were good budgeters, and they were smart not to try to entertain us three girls in a public restaurant. We stuck with the occasional, local Mexican joint after church on Sunday, or Taco Bell or Burger King when my mom was traveling and Dad was in charge. Man, I loved those treats.

1. It should be a treat

These memories bring me to my first tip for saving money while eating out: make it an occasional treat. If you want to save money, then eating out can’t be the norm. Although you can find some good deals eating out (I’ll show you in a minute), eating in is always cheaper. But, it’s also not always as fun.

That’s why you should include eating out expenses in your monthly budget and stick to them.

Budget per week, so you can make sure you have a meal or two out each week. If your budget is tighter, then go out to eat once or twice a month.

2. Dine local

When you choose local restaurants that utilize locally-sourced ingredients, you can save yourself money (fewer ingredients have to be shipped in). And everything will likely taste better that way, too! Instead of getting a so-so salad at Chili’s for $15, you can have a tasty soup and salad for $12.

We’ve been enjoying eating out at a local dive near us, Simple Twist in Garner, where the prices are affordable since they have a farm-to-fork mentality.

If you’re looking for cheap lunch ideas in Raleigh, check out this post!

3. Pick Your Apps, Zerts & Drinks Wisely

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with going out and celebrating a bit, and your budget will let you do that within reason. During the meal, I like to pick and choose whether I’ll get a drink with my meal and an appetizer. Or maybe I’ll sacrifice a drink for dessert. Being flexible when you’re eating out will help you pick what you really want to eat and save money in the long run. You can also just go out for drinks and desserts if you feel like you can afford the whole shebang.

Wait for super special occasions like your birthday or anniversary to go for the app, entree, dessert and drinks.

Keep your eye out for local specials like restaurant week, or embrace the small plates craze to try a lot of things for a lower price. Remember like I’ve said before that vegetables are cheaper than meat, so the more veggies than meat you eat, the cheaper it will be.

4. Consider To-Go

While you might have your certain places to go on your special date night out, you should also have a few budget-friendly meal options for when you don’t want to cook. You’ll save money by not having to pay (with your tip) to sit in the restaurant, and you can have a glass of wine or beer at home for much cheaper. That said, always give at least a 20% tip when dining in!

In Raleigh, we love Mami Nora’s ($16 for a whole chicken with beans and rice), Whole Foods takeout pizzas ($10 for a large one night a week), Cook Out for a tasty burger and fries, Beansprout Chinese for takeout, and Oak City Meatball Shoppe for spaghetti and meatballs.

How do you save money eating out?

Enjoy treating yo’self!

Clumpy Granola At Last!

quinoa granola

I have been making homemade granola for over 5 years now.

Does that give me any street cred? I can only hope so.

I have given you quite a few granola recipes on the blog, and, before I made this Quinoa Granola, I thought this was the best. Don’t get me wrong- I’ll still stand by it.

But, this Quinoa Granola recipe from the fabulous Dude Diet Cookbook taught me how to make clumpy granola!

quinoa granola

I’m talking about crunchy, cinnamon-ey clumps of granola that are perfect with yogurt, milk, fruit or just as is. And hey, if you’re going to throw some healthy quinoa in there, I’m not opposed.

If you’re in the same “clumpy granola” camp, then you HAVE GOT to try this stuff!

Read more

Ingredient of the Month: Smoked Paprika

We’re delving into the world of a very unique and versatile spice today as our Ingredient of the Month for February.

It’s OK to be honest with ourselves that there just aren’t many new ingredients of types of produce that are coming on the scene in February. We’re still munching on our sweet potatoes, broccoli and greens, but what if there was something that you could put on those to jazz them up a bit. I’m talking about something with some smoke and spice that keeps your winter meals exciting!

I’m talking about something with some smoke and spice that keeps your winter meals exciting!

Smoked paprika to the rescue!

You might know it as Spanish paprika or paprika’s more dangerous and smoky cousin. Let’s learn a bit more about it and how best to use it!

Tell me more:

Smoked paprika is from Spain and differs from sweet Hungarian paprika (we’re talking about the red spice on your deviled eggs here). This variety is made from pimiento peppers that are dried and smoked over an oak fire. Smoke paprika is a fine powder with a rusty (red-orange) hue.

Where do you buy smoked paprika:

You can buy smoked paprika in most grocery or food stores in the spice aisle. I got my fancy container from my mom (which I think she brought back from Spain). It will be labeled as some variety of smoked paprika, Spanish paprika and/or pimenton.

How do you store smoked paprika:

You should store your smoked paprika with the rest of your spices in a cool, dry place. I keep mine in the front of my pantry (making it easy to grab and use).

How can you use smoked paprika:

It may sound crazy, but it’s hard to think of a savory dish that smoked paprika wouldn’t be good in! It kind of tastes like bacon, so you really can’t go wrong. It really brings out the flavor when you saute it in oil for a recipe, as well.

Read more

What are You Doing for Valentine’s Dinner?

It’s a valid question, right?

What are you planning for Valentine’s (or Galentine’s). Food is a somewhat important part of this holiday, and, honestly, who doesn’t want to show their love through food or dessert?

I really want this Valentine’s Day to be simple and comforting.

Last year, my husband made us a killer Valentine’s dinner with roasted carrot risotto, baked Brie with herbs to start, and I think I made chocolate lava cakes to finish. It was relaxing and outstanding. Then, the next day (it was a Monday), we planned a late dinner at one of our Raleigh favorites (Stanbury) for the Valentine’s night…and we accidentally locked ourselves out of the house and had to wait 2 hours (and pay $200) for a locksmith. We still made it to dinner, but we were both stressed from the night’s turn of events.

So, understandably so, we’re just sticking with a simple dinner at home this year. We’re doing ours on the weekend so we can have more time to cook.

My husband is going to make the main dish, and I will do dessert. He’s planning to make this pork ragu with pappardelle and maybe a salad before we splurge on this red wine chocolate cake with raspberry buttercream. Yottam Ottolenghi (one of my favorite cooks) has some good ideas for a V-day dinner in, too.

There’s nothing so comforting as cooking together (potentially in sweatpants or pajamas), eating when you want, and saving a little money instead of going out.

So, that’s our plan for Valentine’s dinner. What’s yours?

A Lovely Buttermilk Scone

chocolate chip buttermilk scones

However you make it, whether by buying it or making it, buttermilk is such a great tool for a baker.

P.S. If you’re wondering how to make buttermilk, here’s a tip. Add a tsp. or two of lemon juice or white vinegar to your milk and let it sit for a few minutes. You’ll notice that it will start gaining lumps and resembling buttermilk.

From pancakes to bundt cake to these fabulous Chocolate Chip Buttermilk Scones, this ingredient is sure to keep your baked goods moist and tasty.

chocolate chip buttermilk scones

Read more

Super Snack Week (Chocolate Desserts)

So, what’s on the menu for your dessert for the Super Bowl festivities this weekend?

Dessert is really crucial.

It can’t weigh you down, but it’s got to be sweet and satisfying. It also should be portable and great for a crowd (nothing too stuffy or experimental here).

Chocolate, you need something chocolate IMHO.

So, here are three dessert recipes that meet those few requirements and would be welcome at any party!

First off, beer + brownies is always a good mix. Grab your favorite stout and throw it in these moist, shareable brownies.

Get the recipe for Stout Brownies!

Next up, we’ve got an indulgent, Southern-inspired bar that is salty and sweet (my favorite)! Oh, and there’s bourbon involved.

derby pie bars

Get the recipe for Kentucky Derby Bars!

Last but not least, if you’re going to be near a fridge and can keep these cooled, try some Healthy Peanut Butter Fudge Cups. They’re super low on ingredients and quite tasty!

Get the recipe for Healthy PB Fudge Cups!

Happy snacking!

Super Snack Week (Spinach Artichoke Dip & Pimento Cheese)

Who’s ready for some more snacking excitement?!

Today, I’ve got a double header of some really amazing dips and spreads. These two recipes would be fabulous at your Super Bowl gathering. (As well as this Blue Cheese Ball from Monday!)

First off, my favorite, make it just about every holiday weekend, Spinach Artichoke Dip. It’s in a skillet, cheesy, very spinachy and totally delicious!


Get the recipe for Skillet Spinach Artichoke Dip!

Next, pimento cheese is not only a defining dip in the South, but it’s super simple to make. Whip it up, then serve with crackers, pretzels, celery or anything else dippable.


Get the recipe for Easy Pimento Cheese!

Enjoy and see you on Friday for more super snacks!

Super Snack Week: Blue Cheese Ball

I never need an excuse to eat snacks.

But I do need an excuse or something to eat when watching sports.

I’m all for watching the Super Bowl with friends and family, as long as there’s something to munch on. And I know that at least half of you out there are in the same camp.

So, it’s as good a week as any to step up your snack game.

That’s why I’m sharing easy, tasty snack ideas throughout this week to help you get ready for this weekend!

Today, we’re starting with an old classic that is coming back and I’m oh so glad: the cheese ball!

Read more

Cooking from Cookbooks for a Month


You might remember that I mentioned cooking from “paper” (magazine clippings, cookbooks) more in my 2017 food resolutions. Well, I got off to a great start during the month of January.

For the past month, I have outlawed using online recipes for any new recipes my husband or I have made. I must admit that I cheated once using an online reicpe for a farro salad, but, other than that, we’ve stuck to our paper recipes.

This has given us a great excuse to actually use our growing library of cookbooks.

Are you like me and have shelves of beautiful cookbooks that you often forget to use?


If so, there are many ways that you can utilize these wonderful resource books for cooking and exploring new recipes!

  • Pick a month and only cook from paper like we did
  • Pick a week or month and only cook from 1 certain cookbook
  • Make your weekly meal plan from only magazine clippings (I love Real Simple & Bon Appetit for these)

This month of cookbook cooking gave us such a good chance to use what we already had, instead of relying on the instant gratification of online recipes. Obviously, I still love the convenience of online recipes, and I’ve got several that I’ve been waiting until February to try, but it’s nice to switch things up and have a fun challenge.


Read more