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Product Review: The Keepsake Kitchen Diary DIY Cookbook

Disclosure: I received a sample of this product for review purposes.  The opinions are completely my own based on my experience.  I was not financially compensated for this post.

Holidays to me are synonymous with both family and food.  Every year I look forward to the chance to have Granddaddy's clam dip, Aunt Alicia's cornbread dressing, Dad's Puerto Rican feast, and a warm batch of GG's pumpkin bread.  Not only are these cherished recipes that I have been collecting over the years to pass down to my sons, but the cooking and eating of these dishes contain so much history.  As my Lily & Val Keepsake Kitchen Diary itself says, "the fondest memories are made when gathered around the table."

This holiday season was the perfect opportunity for me to sit with family members and capture not only the recipes themselves, but also the memories (and special "secret" notes) surrounding them.  And the Keepsake Kitchen Diary was the perfect way to capture both. 

The Keepsake Kitchen Diary by Lily & Val is a pretty, DIY cookbook where you become the cookbook author.  Not only can you record recipes, but you can also write down memories and the occasions the dish was served. 
In addition to the page dedicated to the recipe, the next page is for writing down the story behind the recipe or when it is usually served.  There are also helpful cooking/baking measurements and conversions and other tools and tricks artfully illustrated inside the spiral-bound cookbook. 

The first step was for me to round up the recipes.  Family members sent me some in advance, or brought me recipe cards that I could attach right inside the cookbook.  As I said above, the holidays provided an ideal opportunity to get some of the cooking tips and memories directly from other family members.  Even though my boys may not have had the chance to meet their great-great-grandmother, they will have information on how to make her pumpkin bread just right!

As you can see, the pages allow room and blank fields for hand-writing in recipes and including notes.  You can also attach recipe cards in them (I recommend using acid-free adhesive and pens for archival quality).

I also decided to include some photos of the dishes, or of the family with them when I had the opportunity.

The book includes some pockets to store extra memories as well.

Another fun addition is the tear-out recipe cards in the back.  What a handy way to share copies of some of the favorite recipes with other family members who request them!

Click here to get your own copy... either for yourself, or as a special birthday, Valentine's, or Mother's Day gift!  I know I am already cherishing the opportunity to create this special cookbook to pass down as an heirloom. 


Air Frying vs. Deep Frying

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, which means I receive commission if you make a purchase using the link.

I love to cook, and I try to be health-conscious in my cooking as much as possible without sacrificing the taste.  I recently heard about air fryers (oil-less fryers that "fry" food with circulating hot air instead of oil), and decided to give it a try.  I found this Rosewill Oil-Less Air Fryer on Amazon at a great deal (in fact, it's still on sale).  I almost couldn't believe the claims that air fryers could cook crispy, delicious food without oil, so I set off on a test over the last few weeks. 

The air fryer itself has a few timing suggestions built-in for different types of meats and items, but in doing some research I learned that those setting shouldn't limit you.  You can choose the cooking temperature and time, and can cook many different types of things in an oven like this.

Through Pinterest and Google searching, I found these recipes for a different brand of air fryer, which helped me with some of the inspiration for the food I tried. 

Frozen Fries

This was the simplest thing I tried with the air fryer.  I tried a few different kinds of fries (shoestring and thick, wedge-style), and both cooked thoroughly and were nice and crisp based on the built-in timing suggestion.  The thicker fries required a few extra minutes, which I expected.

Fresh-Cut French Fries

After trying the frozen fries (which basically used the air fryer instead of the oven), I was eager to see how fresh-cut French fries would compare.  To get a nice crispness, it is recommended you toss them in a small amount of oil (I used about a teaspoon) before putting them into the fryer.  I chose truffle oil for this batch of fries, and finished it off with some truffle salt and parmesan cheese after it was done.  The texture and taste were perfect, but with so much less guilt!

Spring Rolls

On Pinterest I came across this recipe for air-fried spring rolls.  It was my first test to see if an eggroll wrapper could possibly crisp-up like a deep fryer.  Like with the fries, I brushed these lightly with oil (I chose sesame oil - yum!) before cooking.  Again, it worked like a charm. They were surprisingly crisp for not having been fried!  Since I used pre-cooked chicken, I didn't have to worry about the meat cooking through, so I was just able to cook them until desired crispness. 

Fried Wontons
With the success of the spring rolls, I was encouraged to try my own fried wonton recipe in the air fryer.  These start with raw meat (you can use ground beef, ground pork, or ground turkey) seasoned with minced onion, garlic powder, and pepper.  I wrapped them in a pre-made wonton wrapper then sealed them shut with some water.  Like the spring rolls, I brushed the outside with a little sesame oil, and cooked them.  Not only did they crisp-up nicely, but the raw meat cooked through without a problem.  The ground meat did add some additional oil to the dish (as you can see in the photo above), but it didn't feel nearly as greasy as when I deep fry them.  The air fryer has a basket that allows excess oil to drain off, so the items didn't sit in their grease while cooking.

Bacon-Wrapped Shrimp
I found this recipe in this air fryer cookbook here, but really, no recipe is needed.  I simply wrapped the shrimp in the bacon, and let the air fryer do its thing.  It took a few batches (since the space in the air fryer is limited), but it was totally worth it.  Easy and delicious, and the basket let the bacon grease drain off the food while it cooked.  The meat cooked through thoroughly without issue.

Fried Chicken

The real test of my air fryer was fried chicken.  I recently reviewed Todd Wilbur's Top Secret Recipes cookbook (see my review here), which included a recipe for KFC's Original Recipe Chicken.  For this test of the air fryer, I tried some drumsticks in the deep fryer (on the left in the photo above), and one in the air fryer (on the right).  Unfortunately the air fryer did not work as well for the fried drumstick.  As you can see in the photo above, the outside does get a nice crispness and color. However, it didn't cook all the way through as thoroughly as with the other items I attempted. 

Overall, I am really impressed about how my Rosewill fryer works and would recommend it.  It has already replaced traditional, deep frying in my house for fries and some of the items I tested above.  Why would I go back to unhealthy frying when I can have the same taste with a fraction of the oil?  Additionally, one thing I didn't consider was the potential cost savings.  If you use a deep fryer, then you know how much oil it takes to use each time (and oil is not cheap).  That is a non-issue with the air fryer. 

Have you ever used an air fryer?  Do you have any recipes or suggestions?  If so, comment below!


Cookbook Review: Todd Wilbur's Top Secret Recipes Step-by-Step Cookbook

Disclosure: I received a sample of this cookbook for review purposes. The opinions are completely my own based on my experience using the book.  I was not financially compensated for this post.
One of the things I love about being an independent blogger is having the ability to try new things and share my experience of them with others.  Some of my favorite things to review are new cookbooks and recipes!  If you follow @fabeverydayblog on social media, you know that I cook dinner for my family just about every night.  Thus I am always looking for new recipes.  If you are like me and looking for new recipes to try for your family, Todd Wilbur's new Top Secret Recipes cookbook is the best $13 you can spend.  Your family will thank you, as mine sure did as I tested these recipes over the last few weeks!
Todd is a famous "food hacker," acclaimed for his deadly accurate copycat recipes.  The book boasts having cracked the code for recipes like KFC's Original Recipe Chicken, IKEA's Swedish Meatballs, and McDonald's Big Mac.  Those three alone made the cookbook worth a try, but as I looked through the 125 recipe options in the book, there were tons that I could not wait to test.  I ended up testing 13 recipes total, and loved every single one.
I have detailed reviews, including photos, of each recipe I tried below.  Overall I can say that almost every one I tried was spot-on with the flavor of the original restaurant version.  Several of them were actually better than the restaurant version - the flavor was right on, but the fact that they were homemade with fresh ingredients somehow made them seem even better than the original! 
Legal Sea Foods New England Clam Chowder
My first every homemade clam chowder was surprisingly easy thanks to the author's detailed instructions and step-by-step photos.  This was creamy and savory, just like the original.  I didn't serve them with oyster crackers or some crusty bread to dip, but I would recommend trying it that way if you make this.

McDonald's Big Mac

I was so excited to try this Big Mac!  The recipe included everything you need to make the imitation, from how to make the special sauce and how to cut the bun!  This is one that was shockingly accurate in flavor, but actually better than the original in my opinion.  It had the flavors and essence of a Big Mac from McDonald's, but with a fresher, more "real" flavor, being that it was completely homemade with fresh -- not previously frozen or mystery -- ingredients.  With this recipe you can also see the author's attention to getting it just right - he even had recommendations on how to cut the patties into the exact size, and how to make the bread softer (like it had been packed in a box steaming itself before serving).

The Capital Grille Lobster Mac 'N' Cheese
I've actually never had this recipe at the restaurant, so I can't compare the copycat to the original.  However, I can say that this was a delicious, creamy mac 'n' cheese recipe that was relatively easy to make.  I also appreciate that the author included tips on getting the presentation just right.  I also had enough leftover cheese and dry pasta to make this twice.  The second time I substituted the lobster for bacon.  Great idea, if I don't say so myself (because, when is bacon ever a bad idea?).

IKEA Swedish Meatballs
This girl is a big fan of IKEA, and I frequently visit their café to get their Swedish Meatballs.  The recipe in the cookbook included the meatballs and the creamy gravy.  Once again, this was amazingly accurate in flavor and texture.  This is definitely one I will be doing again.

Chipotle Mexican Grill Cilantro-Lime Brown Rice
Arguably my favorite thing about Chipotle is the cilantro rice.  Therefore, I had to try this one.  Again, spot-on.  There were no leftovers of this one!
KFC Original Recipe Fried Chicken
Along with the Big Mac, the Original Recipe Chicken was my most anticipated recipe from the book.  I think part of the key is the brining, but the author also seems to have unlocked the 11 secret ingredients (or at least 11 that taste exactly like it when combined)!  The seasoning blend tasted dead on.  I do feel that mine turned out a bit saltier than the original, and perhaps this is from the brining process.  I like salt, so this was fine, but it did seem saltier than the KFC version.

Marie Callender's Cornbread
Fun Fab Everyday fact: I worked at Marie Callender's for six years in high school and college.  In fact, I met my husband and my lifelong best friends working at the flagship Callender's restaurant on Wilshire in LA.  So, obviously, I had to try this recipe for Marie Callender's cornbread and honey butter.  Unfortunately, this wasn't exactly right. This was an amazing cornbread recipe that I will definitely make again, but something about the texture wasn't quite the same as Marie's. 

Jack in the Box Beef Taco
Anyone else eat a lot of these at Jack in the Box in the college days?  Two tacos for a buck... can't beat it!  These took a bit more prep than some of the other recipes, but it was worth it.  They tasted exactly like the Jack in the Box version.  Yum!!  Greasy, but yum!

Outback Steakhouse Bloomin' Onion
Pardon the ugly presentation, but I kind of rushed through this one, and didn't take as much time and detail to make it look pretty.  That being said, both the Bloomin' Onion and the recipe for its dipping sauce was pretty dang accurate.  My oldest son even went to town on it, scraping the plate for crunchy crumbs afterwards.  I appreciate how the author describes the process the restaurant has for cutting the onions, but then gives us his hack to do it at home.

Chick-Fil-A Chicken Sandwich
My husband has always said that he felt the key to Chick-Fil-A chicken is that it's fried in peanut oil.  He is right... it sure is!  I think the other key is the brining process for making the chicken filet. Super good, and definitely gave us our Chick-Fil-A fix. 

McDonald's Baked Apple Pie
I don't feel like mine looked exactly like the restaurant's version, but the taste was exactly right.  It also felt good that they were baked and not fried. 

Raising Cane's Chicken Fingers and Cane's Sauce
We absolutely LOVE both the chicken fingers and the Cane's Sauce at Raising Cane's. I was doubtful that this recipe could be matched, but both my husband and I agree that the recipes for both the chicken strips and the Cane's Sauce were spot on.  The tenderness and juiciness of the chicken tenders, the consistency and texture of the breading, and even the "secret" Cane's Sauce made this meal 100% accurate.  Seriously, it was like eating fresh takeout from Raising Cane's.  Mind was blown.
IHOP Original Buttermilk Pancakes
This was a fun one, since my older son's favorite restaurant is IHOP, and since the Original Buttermilk Pancakes is all he orders when we go there.  My husband and I felt that the recipe was perfect.  My discerning-IHOP-fan son loved them, but said they still tasted homemade as opposed to restaurant-made.  I think it was because of the texture and thickness of how I made them versus the restaurant that made him feel this way.  The flavor, however, seemed just right to me.
If you like restaurant food, but would rather save the money and have more control over your ingredients, this cookbook is for you.  Not only are the hacks incredibly accurate as-is, but also, making them at home gives you the option to substitute healthier ingredients if the high amount of calories in restaurant food disturbs you.  I will repeat several of these, and will enjoy experimenting with some substitutions (can't eat Big Macs every week, after all!).  Click here to purchase your own copy of the Top Secret Recipes cookbook on Amazon.  What are your favorite restaurant meal hacks?  Comment below or hit me up on social media to let me know!


Travel Tuesday: Eating My Way Through Chicago

A few weeks ago I went to Chicago for the first time.  I know, it's crazy that with all the travel I do, and with how much I love big cities, that I had never been to the windy city.  For years people told me I would love Chicago.  Now that I have been, I can say that they were all right!
There was something about that city.  It felt like a big city (like LA, that feeling that everything you need is at your fingertips), but the vibe was friendly and a bit more relaxed than fast-paced LA or NYC.  I felt almost immediately that this trip was the beginning of a love affair I would have getting to know Chicago over many more future trips.
One of the reasons I fell so readily in love was the FOOD!  I only had a few days there, but ate some amazing food in that time.  Today's post will highlight how I ate my way through the windy city.  I am sure there are many more restaurants to try, and I look forward to the opportunity in the future.
First Evening: Wrigleyville
We were so lucky that we got to see a home Cubs game on our first trip to Chicago!  Seeing a game at Wrigley was on my family travel bucket list, and it was amazing.  Dinner was a hot dog (one must have a hot dog - no ketchup - while in Chicago) at the game, but more snacking came after the game in a bar called Deuce's and the Diamond Club in Wrigleyville.  When I saw "Glass of Bacon" as an option on the appetizers menu, I was sold. 


Second Evening: The Purple Pig

Several restaurants were recommended to us, like Girl and the Goat, RPM Italian, Rosebud, and Del Frisco's.  With only one more night for dinner, we opted for The Purple Pig, which was recommended highly. We will just have to come back soon to try those others!

The Purple Pig was totally our speed: a tapas-style restaurant that was heavy on the pork, with a Mediterranean influence.  We started with the Housemade Morcilla Sausage, Poached Lobster Tail, Grilled Asparagus with Rhubarb & Spring Pea.  I thought it was funny that the server said "you know morcilla is blood sausage, right?" as a disclaimer.  Oh, we know.  And yes, we definitely still want it.  It was amazing.

The server recommended we try the Pork Belly Rillons, Honey Mead Glaze, which we did, and really enjoyed.  We also tried one of their "smears." 

For dessert we were told that the house favorite was the way to go.  We got the Sicilian Iris (Ricotta & Chocolate Chip Filled Fried Brioche), along with some ouzo (reminding us of our time on Mediterranean Delights Fitness Voyage this summer).  This was definitely the way to go!

After dinner we caught a great improv comedy performance at The Second City.  The kids were so talented!  A very fun night, and at only $5 per person, worth every penny.   To pass the time before the show and after dinner, we did a little shopping on State Street, then found this fabulous champagne bar called Pops for Champagne.  We sampled an amazing cuvee and a blanc de noir, along with a few more appetizers.  I can never resist a good tuna tartare, and was so happy I ordered it.  Pops had one of the better tuna tartares that I have had in a long time.  Made with ahi tuna and black tobikko caviar, it was bound to be good. The hubs got the Tempura Wisconsin Cheese Curds, which were decadent and delicious.

Last Day: Lou Malnati's

Another thing you must eat when in Chicago is Chicago-style deep-dish pizza.  After receiving various recommendations, we opted for Lou Malnati's.  Now, admittedly, we are more of a New York-style pizza couple.  We love the thinner crust.  That being said, the pizza at Lou Malnati's blew us away.  You can't really compare it to NY-style pizza, as it is a different gastronomic experience altogether.  We thoroughly enjoyed this cheesy, saucy pie.  Note that your pizza takes a good amount of time to bake, so plan to go when you have some time. 

I am sure we barely scratched the surface of dining in Chicago, which seems to be a foodie's delight of a city.  Where should we go next time?  Let me know in the comments!


Super Easy DIY Lego Movie Halloween Costumes for the Whole Family

Our kids are really into the Lego Movie.  This is actually fine with the hubs and me since it is a really clever movie that even we enjoy as adults.  Their love for Lego Movie resulted not only in our group family Halloween costume, but also in the theme for G's birthday party this year.  More on that in December!

Pulling these costumes together was ridiculously easy and budget-friendly.  Here is how we did each one (Emmet, Batman, Wyldstyle, and Benny). 

Disclosure: This post contains some affiliate links, which means that if you click on one of the product links and make a purchase, I may receive a commission.  This does not cost you anything additional, and helps me to keep the rest of my content free, so thank you!


Travel Tuesday: Two Days in Nashville

I took my first trip to Nashville recently for a business trip.  It was a quick trip, but I got some great eating in while I was there.  Here are my reviews and recommendations for what to try and do in a quick, two-day trip to Music City. 

DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Nashville Downtown (315 4th Ave N, Nashville, TN 37219).  I love to stay at Hilton family hotels when not staying at a boutique hotel.  The DoubleTree Nashville Downtown was a great hotel, ideally located to the downtown attractions.  I could walk almost anywhere I needed to go (Honky Tonk Row, the Ryman, great restaurants), or take a $4-$6 Uber ride if my shoes required.  The rooms were nice, and there was even a Starbucks in the lobby (always a bonus). 

Since I had limited time, I am sure I only scratched the surface of Nashville cuisine.  That being said, I was really impressed with what I did have.
  • Dunn Brothers Coffee (401 Church St #100, Nashville, TN 37219).  A great cup of coffee and great breakfast pastries. 
  • Jack's Bar-B-Que (416 Broadway, Nashville, TN 37203).  A delicious BBQ selection in a great location on Broadway in Honky Tonk Row.
  • Etch (303 Demonbreun St, Nashville, TN 37201).  If you plan to visit here, get a reservation in advance.  The place is very popular, and for a reason: the menu is very creative, and everything is delicious (especially if you are an adventurous eater, like me).  I loved the Venison Carpaccio, the Shrimp and Octopus Bruschetta, and the Pork Tenderloin.
Some great BBQ with lots of history in downtown Nashville
Image Source: Jack's Bar-B-Que

Octopus and Shrimp Bruschetta at Etch.  Delicious!

Seasonal fish selection at Etch (red snapper), beautifully presented

To Do
Again, I was on limited time, so couldn't venture far.  If you have only two days like I did, I would try and focus on the following attractions:
  • Honky Tonk Row (Lower Broadway), AKA Honky Tonk Highway.  A lot like Austin's 6th Street, you can walk down Broadway and hear live music from every bar and club (or, honky tonk).  We had a great time just hopping from place to place when the music called to us.  The music was great, and the experience was a lot of fun.  I especially recommend stopping at Acme Feed and Seed (101 Broadway, Nashville, TN 37201) for a great vibe and fantastic view.
  • Ryman Auditorium (116 5th Ave N, Nashville, TN 37219).  A Nashville (and music) legend, home to the Grand Ole Opry.
  • Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum (222 5th Ave S, Nashville, TN 37203).  Considered to be a "must visit" for music fans visiting Nashville.
One of the many options for live music, dancing, and drinks on Honky Tonk Row
Image Source: Visit Music City

The legendary Ryman Auditorium
Image Source:

I am sure I missed some key places to see or eat.  What would you recommend I try and do or see next time I make it to Music City?  Comment below!


Fall Fashion Mix-and-Match: Turn a Few Fall 2015 Statement Pieces into Several Looks

It finally feels like fall is here in Central Texas!  The best thing about that?  No, not football.  Not even pumpkin spice lattes (though, it's close).  It's fall fashion! 
I picked up some statement pieces for my fall wardrobe early at Austin's semi-annual Le Garage Sale boutique sample sale, and am excited to finally get to wear them, along with some of my fabulous new JustFab booties.  If you're not a member of JustFab yet, click here to join (disclosure: this is an affiliate link, which means I receive commission from JustFab if you sign-up using the link).  In today's post I am sharing some inspiration for how to style a few key fall pieces several different ways in order to stretch your fall 2015 wardrobe.   
Tweed skirt (Strut), black turtleneck and tights (Express), and Robienne booties (JustFab) make for a polished punk look

The same skirt and tights with an oversized London tunic sweater (Express) and Zakra booties (JustFab) now have a cozier, more feminine look

I love how the Zakra booties can transition from casual to nicer due to the suede look.

Charcoal gray sleeveless cardigan (Strut) with a One Eleven tank and Editor slacks (Express), patent pumps (BCBGirls), and patent-detail belt for a pulled-together casual look

The same sleeveless cardigan ("vestigan") with a black t-shirt and scuba leggings (Express) take this look to the concert/festival-level.  Dolce and Gabbana sunglasses (Ditto) and Robienne booties (JustFab) are the icing on the cake.

The vestigan again with a One Eleven London t-shirt and white jean leggings (Express) and coordinating gray booties (Target)
These white jean leggings (Express) can go long after Labor Day when paired with a perfect fall burgundy poncho (Forever 21) and Mercenne fringe booties (JustFab)

 White jean leggings (Express) and Mercenne fringe booties (JustFab) again, but this time with an oversized green shirt dress (The Embellished Cottage) cinched with a thin belt. The sleeveless dress make this a great transition piece for early fall.
Oversized green shirt dress (The Embellished Cottage) with scuba leggings (Express) and Robienne booties (JustFab)

This silver metallic pleated midi skirt (Strut) is surprisingly versatile.  Here I pair it with a One Eleven London t-shirt (Express) for a casual work look

The same silver metallic pleated midi skirt with a black cami (Express) provides a dressier look for a holiday evening (Thanksgiving dinner, perhaps)

Silver pleated skirt (Strut) with a black t-shirt (Express) and simple pumps (Forever 21) can pass for work or a nice restaurant outing

 The same silver pleated midi skirt with a black turtleneck (Express) and strappy sandals (Forever 21) are great for a holiday party
One more look that incorporates fleece tights (Express) and the Robienne booties (JustFab) layers a blue trapeze dress (Express) with a crocheted fringe tunic (The Embellished Cottage)
I feel like I have fall fashion for days with just a few pieces and accessories that can mix and match in various ways.  Don't forget to pin these looks to inspire your fall wardrobe choices!