Giveaway: Nucucina Bento Lunchbox Set

This is a really exciting giveaway for me to host! I got together with Nucucina to give one lucky follower a bento lunchbox set. I recently posted on my facebook page about this lunchbox, and I have used it so many times since. As someone who always cooks enough for leftovers, as a new mom with rushed mornings, and as a fan of taking lunch to work with me to save some bucks, this bento lunchbox is perfect. Find my review below & enter the giveaway! Good luck!

Some of my favorite features include:
Portion control - Check!
Microwave/Dishwasher safe - Check!
Sleek design for storage space - Check!
Insulted zipper case to keep food hot or cold - Check!
BPA free- Check! (yay)
and much more LOVES about this lunchbox!

Generally, I have no control over how much I eat (sigh). This is a problem for many, so the fact that the Nucucina box enforces portion control is a huge plus for me. If I am planning on having leftovers for lunch the next day, I always be sure to make our bento boxes before putting dinner out on the table which also helps us not to over stuff!
Another great feature is the slim and sleek design of this lunchbox, which fits perfectly in my office's small refrigerator, and in our cabinet for storing. The fact that the actual box doesn't get hot in the microwave (just the food does), makes it for easy handling as well!
Separating food helps with certain flavors not mixing (who would want tortellini in their salad, am I right? lol), and prevents certain foods from becoming soggy.

What are the down sides, you may be wondering. One of my concerns when I first got the bento box after making a taco dinner, was where am I going to put the sour cream and other wet condiments, and things I didn't want to be heated? An easy solution was using rubber or paper cupcake liners. It makes for items to be easily removed (sour cream, jalapenos, shredded cheese in cupcake liners below).

My husband, Kevin, and I are big fans of this product and highly recommend it! As a new mom, I know this would even be a great product for kids, with separating their food & snacks! It's a great system to use on the beach, at the park, at the office, or anywhere else! Below is a rafflecopter entry form, and a random winner will be chosen on 7/28/17. Winner will be notified via email and shipping will be set up with Nucucina. Good luck to all!

Can't wait? Nucucina was sold out but just got more in! Buy your bento lunchbox set here on Amazon (only sold on Amazon):

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Bacon Buffalo Chicken Dip

This appetizer is always a big hit at our family parties! It does have a bit of a kick, but not too over powering for your average spicy loving person. Feel free to tweak the amount of hot sauce to your personal liking! I serve this dip with tostitos scoops, and celery sticks. You can also serve/bake this dip into wonton cups, or a crescent roll ring!

Prep time: 15 minutes
Bake time: 20 minutes

2 1/2 cups of shredded white meat, no skin. I use a class flavor rotisserie chicken!
2/3 cups Franks red hot sauce
1 8oz package of cream cheese, room temp
1/2 cup shredded colby jack cheese (I recommend shredding from a block)
1/2 cup Marzetti ranch dressing
6 slices of bacon, cooked crispy & chopped
Salt & Pepper, to taste
1/4 cup scallions, chopped (separated into 2 tbs & 2 tbs for garnish)
~2 tbs red onion, small chop (put aside for garnish)
*Optional: Blue cheese crumbles, for garnish
*Serve with celery sticks and/or tortilla chips/scoops

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Leaving aside 2 tbs scallions and red onion, mix the remaining ingredients into a large bowl until well blended.

3. Using a 12" cast iron pan, or casserole dish, spread mixture into dish and bake for 20 minutes.

4. Remove from oven, and garnish center of dip with the remaining ingredients.


Cookbook Collection | Thursday Trials - Roasted Arctic Char & Asparagus with Pistachio Gremolata

Look at this beauty! I have mentioned a few times that my husband hates salmon... well, luckily for me, he was at a golf outing tonight! I love salmon but I don't get to cook it much. My mother in law and sister in law also love salmon, so they got the invite to join me tonight. Before I share details, I'd like you to know that we all gave it a 10 out of 10. I made very few changes and it came out really great, and how can I not mention how stunningly gorgeous this dinner is!

Tonight's cookbook choice:
Molly Gilbert
Page 89
Roasted Arctic Char & Asparagus with Pistachio Gremolata

So for starters, I replaced arctic char with (wild) king salmon. King salmon was readily available at my fish market, but arctic char is just as delicious. Another tweak was replacing pistachios with toffee cashews. Have you ever tried toffee cashews? If you are saying no, PLEASE go find them!! They were the biggest hit at a recent wine & cheese party, and would make a great little app (or dessert) to bring as a dinner guest. They disappear within minutes!

I also couldn't find cherry tomatoes at the market, so organic grape tomatoes had to do. Overall, the changes were minimal, and the dish was still so quick and easy (10 min prep, 20 min to bake). I'm really excited to have a "go-to" salmon dish (when my husband isn't around at least)! We highly recommend this one!!


Blind Wine Tasting Party 2017

My favorite party of the year! If you haven't been to a blind wine tasting party, I encourage you to host (or beg a friend to host). I am hoping my guide to a fab tasting party below will help! As a host, it is not a bad gig. There is minimal to no cooking, and your guests supply the drinks! Not having to cook alleviates the stress, and you can actually enjoy every moment with your guests!

Here is how it worked:
Each guest brought one bottle of wine of their choice (white, red, rosé), and placed the bottle into a labeled brown bag so that other guests could not see what kind it was. We started with whites, as I suggested that our guests bring any white wine at a cool temperature. Using score cards that I recreated (see below), we judged aroma, taste, body, finish and appearance. The bottle that accumulated the most points was given 1st prize.
Other prizes included the Wine Loser (lowest awarded points), and winner for the "guess how many corks" game, in which I filled a container up with store bought corks. The prizes offered were a small cheese platter slate (with chalk to label), a glass wine shaped cheese platter with a decorative grape knife, and a small gift bag of 4 infused olive oils.

What was on our platter spread:
*Infused Olive Oils and Balsamic - I highly suggest these! They are always the biggest hit at all of our wine and cheese parties. We buy a few baguettes and cut them up into dipping sized pieces. The olive oils we serve with a dipping tray in front of that flavor, so our guests know which one they are trying. The oils we served this year included: Black Truffle, White Truffle, Chipotle (ooph, spicy), Cilantro & Roasted Onion, Tuscan Herb, and Raspberry balsamic. They were all so different, some sweet, some hot, some rich.
*Bread - We ran thru the bread really quickly and I will have to buy at least 6 loaves next year! We used french baguettes for this party, but any crispy firm bread will do. Cut the bread into dipping sized servings. Small enough to pop into your mouth in one bite!
*Grapes - purple and green
*Dried apricots
*Golden raspberries (which taste just like red raspberries, they just look cooler)
*Nuts - Toffee cashews (to die for), pistachios, mixed nuts
*Olives - purple and green
*Meats - pepperoni, salami
*Dark chocolate covered raisins
*Cheeses - There is lots of advice online when it comes to cheeses. Costco is an awesome place to start, and of course, specialty cheese shoppes. We included the following cheeses on our platter and it was a good variety: Fresh mozzarella, Port wine, Port Salut, Smoked Gouda, Manchego, Asiago, Garlic & Herb Cheddar, Jalapeño Pepper Jack, and Goat Cheese.
*Honey and Spicy Honey mustard spread
*Crackers - A variety of crackers

Decorations & Prizes:
Besides socializing, drinking and eating, you want to spark some fun into the party. Making your table look presentable & appetizing, and creating some competition for your guests to bring good bottles are two fun components of the party. I started with the bags & tissue paper at Michaels. I also purchased the flag labels for the cheese and decorative grapes and green stems for the bags & platter there. Next, I stopped by TJ Maxx for prizes. I only spent 5-8$ per prize and I usually make them cheese or wine related. You can do things like wine glass charms, wine stoppers, cheese boards, etc. Altogether, decorations & prizes ran me about $40. 
I had leftover corks from another year, and I fill them in a wine shaped container. The guests always love trying to guess how many corks are in there. We gave a prize away to the winner (the answer was 53 and the closest guest was 51)! Doing the guessing game towards the end of the party always makes it better! People are a little more socialized and comfortable at that point, and the guesses become more fun.
I also had two cast iron mice to help bring some cute detail to the spread.

I recreated a scoring guide, and score cards on Excel. If you'd like the files sent to you, you can email me at kissmyapron@aol.com and I will be happy to send them to you for your own use!

The following wines were top 3 at our party this year!

1st Place                                                                           2nd Place

3rd Place 

My husband and I are very grateful that we have the opportunity to get our friends together in our home, despite having our new 4 month old baby girl. It's always nice to get a break, and  every parent  deserves a night off once in a while! I wanted to especially thank our friends for their help with pouring and cleaning. I mean, a party isn't a party until the cops are called (gosh, our neighbors are just party poopers)! We had so much fun and cannot wait for 2018 to come along!


Cookbook Collection | Thursday Trials - Chimichurri Shrimp

Happy Thursday! Time to dig out a book from the cookbook collection and make a new recipe. This week I chose a Ree Drummond recipe.  I will admit, she is not my favorite person to watch on Food Network... but her books are so amazing! Every book is set up so perfectly, with step by step pictures that really show you what to do. Her recipes give you confidence, and I love them! Although this specific recipe was from her holiday book (cinco de mayo), we served the chimichurri shrimp with Zatarains yellow rice and tostones.

The Pioneer Woman / Ree Drummond
Page 146
Chimichurri Shrimp

The chimichurri sauce was so fresh and the lime really came through which was a perfect match for the shrimp. The tangy citrus was complimented with ground cumin, giving it perfect balance. Since shrimp can overcook quickly, I always be sure to only cook them for a few minutes. I think it is also important to really wash your herbs and remove the stems, to guarantee a clean, smooth chimichurri sauce.

My husband and I agree, and we'd love to make this sauce again,  especially to top on a piece of steak!


Mexican Mac and Cheese

Mac and cheese & seasoned taco beef.. taking the best of both worlds and combining them into a casserole of delicious goodness! My taco beef is a mix of chopped meat, taco seasoning, chipotle corn salsa, a Mexican four cheese blend, a bit of water, sriracha, salt and pepper. It is always a tremendous hit with my guests, whether served in a shell, in a ring or now, in mac and cheese! You can adjust the heat, by adding jalapenos, or not using sriracha. My hubby and I are spicy people, so bring it on! I really look forward to sharing this recipe with you all!

Using my Gram's homemade Mac and Cheese recipe (below)

For the Mac and Cheese:
1 box cavatappi noodles (or elbow, medium shells)
1 stick of salted butter
1/2 cup flour
5 cups of milk
1 cups heavy cream
1/8 tsp ground mustard (powder)
1/8 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp salt
16 oz. white cheddar cheese, shredded (mix it up, use yellow cheeses, or white cheese, or smelly cheeses lol) 
1/8 cup seasoned breadcrumbs

For the taco beef:
1 lb ground chopped meat
1/4 cup chipotle corn salsa (we recommend any Mrs Renfro's brand))
1/4 cup shredded Mexican four cheese
1-2 tbs taco seasoning (or one packet)
1-2 tbs sriracha
2 tbs water
Salt & pepper, to taste
*Optional: jalapenos, chopped

Let's Cook!

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Using the beef ingredients: Heat a large saute pan on medium-high heat. Brown beef, about 4-5 minutes, then drain the fat and grease. Place beef back into pan, lower heat.

2. Add salsa, Mexican cheese, taco seasoning, sriracha, water, salt and pepper (and chopped jalapenos if you'd like). Bring to a low simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

3. Using the mac and cheese ingredients: Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook pasta (I used Elbows) per box directions.

4. Heat a separate large pot on medium heat, melt the butter, then add the flour and stir until blended. This will create a rue which is a tan, creamy paste.

5. Slowly add milk, about 1/2 cup at a time, and stir constantly. (this step will take about 15-20 minutes, try not to rush it - keep the mixture on the thicker side). Add heavy cream and continue to stir.

6. Once all of the milk and heavy cream are added, lower heat. Add ground mustard, salt, paprika, and stir. Stir in cheese. Remove from heat and stir until cheese is completely melted, creating a creamy cheese sauce.

7. Add noodles, and taco meat into a large casserole dish. Mix around the beef until it is evenly spread. Add cheese sauce to casserole dish and gently mix. Sprinkle the top with breadcrumbs.

8. Bake for 30 minutes, until bubbling.


Cookbook Collection | Thursday Trials - Sweet & Sour Chicken with Pineapple

Sweet & Sour Chicken with Pineapple and Red Onion

Back in 2014, about ten days after getting my tonsils removed, Kevin proposed to me during Chinese food at home. It was the first time I could actually swallow anything, and he proposed via a fortune cookie BEFORE we ate. Who even opens fortune cookies before eating? I had to call everyone to tell them the big news, and never got the chance to enjoy dinner. Even still, Chinese food has always been quite romantic to us after that.

When I saw this particular recipe, it reminded me of our engagement, but also included our favorite fruit. Except, this recipe is a healthier take on Chinese style sweet and sour chicken. It has less fat, and less salt (because there is actually no salt called for in the recipe). I served this meal over white rice. Not having the biggest sweet tooth, I am going to admit that this recipe just wasn't for me. It was very sweet, but missing the "sour" in my opinion - or even some heat! My husband enjoyed it, because it was "healthy and fresh tasting." We chose to add broccoli, zucchini and red peppers, as the recipe only calls for snow peas ad of course, my husband isn't a fan of peas.
If you like sweet & sugary dishes, I think you will enjoy this one. It makes enough for 2-4 servings. Book info below:

America's Test Kitchen
Page 119
Sweet & Sour Chicken with Pineapple and Red Onion (no link available)


Cookbook Collection | Thursday Trials - Seared Pork Chops

Seared Pork Chops with Peas, Scallions and Pancetta

Welcome to week 2 of my new series! Every Thursday night, I will be choosing random recipes from the overwhelming collection of cookbooks I have. It goes without saying that Thursday is my new favorite day of the week (after Friday, of course)!

On Tuesday night, my husband and I visited the hospital to meet our new niece, Jenna. Eight pounds and twenty inches of beauty! Once we arrived back home, we hit the cookbooks to find a recipe for tonight. We have similar tastes when it comes to food, but not when it comes to salmon. He won't eat it whatsoever, sigh... (don't worry, I will still be making salmon eventually).

I opened my newest cookbook (above) and started with the contents page, which was extremely well organized. We decided on a meat entrée this week, which led us to a pork chop dish.

Melissa Clark
Page 81
Seared Pork Chops with Peas, Scallions and Pancetta (link directs to Melissa Clark Recipes)

I replaced the sweet peas with asparagus tips, at hubby's request. If I had to make this recipe over, I would use a different skillet, as the enameled cast iron skillet didn't brown the pancetta or chops as much as I hoped. The flavor of the chicken broth (with the leftover grease from the chops and pancetta) was so delicious - sweet and delicate! We really loved the scallions cooked this way, as both of us never cooked with them in a bulky chop. The pancetta gave the meal a perfect amount of saltiness. Both Kevin and I enjoyed this dish, but my chops and pancetta definitely needed a better sear! We recommend this one and will be making it again!