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the dinner solution that has changed my life (for real)

We came home from our summer-long road trip and do you know what was the greatest joy of all?

Having dinner delivered to us again.

I mean, I did fine with cooking on the road – mainly because it was only a few nights per week and we made the same three meals over and over again.

Hamburgers. Burrito Bowls. Grilled Chicken + Salad. Repeat.

But at home, I’m terrible at dinner. Terrible.

Especially once fall is in full swing and there are football practices and ballet lessons and homework and extra work projects added into our daily life. All of the sudden it is 4 o’clock and I have no idea what I’m making for dinner.

I wrote the following post last summer after having used a meal delivery service for six months.

Here we are over a year later and I can still wholeheartedly say that it is the best decision ever. I tell my real life friends about it all the time and can’t help but share with you as well.

So here you go … to my friends who maybe don’t mind the cooking part but can not stand the thinking, planning and shopping for all the right ingredients part … the dinner solution that changed my life.


(Originally published July 2016)

I’ve tried it all.

Planning dinner for the week.

Planning dinner for the whole month.

Eating the same meal on the same day each week. 

A regular rotation of eating out at one of the three restaurants in our town. 

Resorting to quesadillas because that’s the best I could do.

Dinner is just not my thing.

It’s not the cooking that’s the issue (I actually enjoy being in the kitchen – usually for baking, but cooking is fine, too) and I certainly don’t mind the eating part, but it’s the planning that gets me every time.  I just can’t seem to find a rhythm.

In January of this year, Ryan decided it was time to come up with a better solution and offered to take on dinners around here.

After one week of a few botched recipes and realizing just how frustrating it can be to get to 4:00 and have no idea what’s for dinner, he did something crazy: he signed us up for a meal delivery service.

delivery

You’ve probably seen posts about companies like Hello Fresh and maybe you’ve rolled your eyes and thought, ‘nah, not for me.’

But hang on. Because I was in the same boat and now I’m fully, completely, 100% a believer.

So here’s how it works: Once per week a box is delivered to your door. Inside are all the ingredients for three meals (we buy the 4 person box and it feeds our family of 6 perfectly, usually with leftovers). Included is a recipe card with the meals and instructions for preparing.

box-packaged

There is a bag of produce/canned items separated for each meal that goes right into the fridge and the proteins packaged separately.

bags

Each night, I just decide which meal to make and pull out the bags + protein needed.

cooking-with-audrey

All of the recipes are easy to make and take about 45 minutes to cook.

We were leery at the beginning, I’ll be honest.  What if we didn’t like what they sent? What if the produce and meat was not good quality? What if we got bored of the same meals?

After six months of using Hello Fresh, here’s what we’ve found:

1. Dinnertime is one hundred times less stressful.

I don’t have to think about what’s for dinner. I just open the fridge, pull out a bag and start cooking. All of the ingredients are included except for olive oil, salt + pepper.

2. Three meals per week is perfect.

The other four nights we either eat out, are with friends or family or just make a favorite go-to meal (like burrito bowls).

3. With the exception of about two recipes, we’ve enjoyed every dish.

You can select three out of five options per week, but we usually miss the cutoff and just go with the chef’s choice.  They’ve nearly all been great.

4. In six months, we’ve never had a duplicate recipe.

The meals are similar (protein+carb/starch+vegetable), but the flavors and techniques vary and we’ve tried recipes beyond our regular go-to meals. Many are gluten free and they also have a vegetarian menu.

5. Only once in 24 deliveries have we had a bag with produce that was not perfectly fresh.

And it was only because the balsamic vinegar spilled and mushed the spinach.

6. We are probably saving money. 

The cost per meal is more than we would spend if shopping ourselves, but because I’m barely ever at the store (I just do a Costco trip once/twice per month and a few random add-ons while running through Target), I am buying less, we’re wasting less, and eating out much less. We haven’t calculated the exact savings but even if it’s costing us a little bit extra, the time and stress it saves totally makes up for it.


I sound like a crazy lady, but seriously, this dinner service has changed my life.

We subscribed because we needed a solution and have stuck with it for 6 months. We thought we’d cancel this summer since we seem to be out and about a lot, but have kept with it and just cancel the weeks we know we’ll be out of town.

If dinnertime is a struggle for you, stop the madness and give yourself a break. Ryan was so smart to do this for our family and I wholeheartedly recommend giving Hello Fresh a try.

You can see all the details on pricing, menu options and if delivery is available in your area RIGHT HERE.

hellofresh

When we joined we were given a referral code (8P7ZPV), so when you sign up and use that code you’ll get $40 off and we get a credit towards our meals. You’ll get a code, too, so if you love the service and tell your friends about it, you can get a credit towards your boxes.

TRY HELLO FRESH TODAY

Seriously.

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the best blueberry muffin recipe (and a free recipe art print!)

Homemade Blueberry Muffins / jones design company If I have to choose between cooking and baking, I choose baking every time. I come from a long line of bakers and we have a handful of very delicious favorite family recipes. These blueberry muffins are one of them.

The recipe is from my aunt, who is known for her desserts and baked goods. The original recipe is called French Muffins and can be made without the blueberries. You can also skip the muffin liners and coat the muffins completely with cinnamon and sugar, which is a pleasant variation, but a bit messier. I love the blueberries for a varied texture and the muffin wrappers make washing the muffin tins one million times easier, so I tend to favor the easy way.

blueberrymuffinsclose Earlier this week we watched our friends’ kids while they took off on a little getaway and I made these muffins for a quick breakfast. Because waking, clothing, feeding and getting nine kids off to school by 8:10? Um, let’s just say I wanted to be as prepared ahead of time as possible.

SIDENOTE: couples getaways are so good. We are now in the stage of parenting where I’m no longer constantly either nursing or pregnant and the kids are self-sufficient enough where we feel comfortable leaving them with family or friends. This was not always the case and while those earlier years of parenting were so, so sweet, it feels great to be able to take a break every once in a while and spend time away as a married couple.

Our friends have 5 kids and this is the first time they have been on a mini vacation with just the two of them since their honeymoon. Their cutie 7 year old daughter was missing her mom and dad as I was putting the kids to bed and I just kept reminding her that this is so good for her parents. Someday she’ll get it. And I love that they are setting the example to their kids that even though it is a whole lot of work figuring out who is going to watch their many children and it costs a bit to hop on an airplane and stay in a hotel, the benefits are completely worthwhile.

Anyway, back to the muffins. They are delicious. And they were a big hit with the kids.

They would make a lovely addition to your Easter brunch, perhaps? Or for a weekend treat. Or anytime, really, because they are easy to make and taste amazing.

blueberrymuffinig Would you like the recipe?

blueberry-muffin-recipecard

BLUEBERRY MUFFINS

3 1/4 cups flour
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp nutmeg
2 eggs
2/3 cup melted butter
1 cup milk
fresh blueberries

FOR THE TOPPING:
2 tbsp cinnamon
2/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup melted butter

Preheat oven to 350. Butter one 12-cup muffin tin and one 6-cup muffin tin (or use muffin liners).
In mixing bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and nutmeg. Set aside.
In stand-up mixer, whisk eggs, melted butter and milk.
Gradually add dry ingredients and stir until well combined.
Fold in blueberries.
Transfer batter to buttered tins and bake for 18 minutes, or until puffed and golden brown.
While baking, combine cinnamon and sugar and have melted butter ready as soon as the muffins are baked. Brush tops with melted butter and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. Makes 18 muffins.

blueberrymuffinrecipecardclose

Because the chocolate chip cookie and chocolate chip pumpkin bread recipe prints were so fun to create (and share!), I illustrated the ingredients of the blueberry muffins as well.

recipecarddownload

You can download your copy from THE ARCHIVE, our library of all the best free prints, templates, fonts and more. There are two 5×7 cards per sheet, so print them out, trim around the dotted lines and share with a friend (maybe with a batch of freshly baked muffins?!).

ONE MORE SIDENOTE: I recorded my screen while creating this recipe card so I could show you what the process looks like. I use Adobe Illustrator and love creating these fun illustrations, and I wanted to show you how wonderfully simple it is to design using the program (just in case you’re still on the fence about joining the Simplified Graphic Design class!). So I recorded the process (which took me about an hour and a half) and was going to finish up editing and speeding up the video later that night.

WELL, we’ve had some weird weather around here and while I was off taking Audrey to ballet, there was wind and hail and lots of rain and our power went out. Which meant the computer shut off. And I never saved the video. BOOOOO. I have a support request in with the video people and hopefully they can help me retrieve the video. If so, I’ll do the edits and post it later this week. If not, well, that’s sad.

In the meantime, I do show how to create illustrations like this in the Simplified Graphic Design Projects + Techniques class and I’d love for you to join me.

Registration is open so hurry my friend and grab your spot!

register-yellow

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yummy chocolate chip pumpkin bread

yummy chocolate chip pumpkin bread / jones design company

It’s fall, y’all. And that means I’m all about baking things like chocolate chip pumpkin bread.

pumpkin-chocolate-chip-bread

This version is so moist and muffin-like and the big chocolate chips sweetens it up just the right amount. My family gobbled these two loaves up in no time.

pumpkin chocolate chip bread ingredients / jones design company

CHOCOLATE CHIP PUMPKIN BREAD

makes two loaves

3 cups flour
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
4 eggs
2 cups sugar
2 cups canned pumpkin
1 1/2 cups canola oil

1 bag chocolate chips (I use milk chocolate)

Preheat oven to 350.
In stand-up mixer, beat eggs, sugar, pumpkin and oil. Gradually add in dry ingredients until just combined.  Pour in chocolate chips.
Pour evenly into two greased loaf pans (4×8). Bake for 60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool on wire racks.
Slice and serve.

Yum. You’ll love this bread.

double-line-tiny

I turned the ingredient illustration into a free print for you!

free pumpkin bread ingredient print / jones design company

There are two 5×7 prints on each sheet. Just download + print on your favorite cardstock. These would be super cute to give along with freshly baked bread to a neighbor or friend or teacher!

Download the file HERE

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a naked birthday cake

deliciously-naked-carrot-cake

Sounds like a bit of a risque title, yes?!

No, none of that here. Just a gorgeously rustic, very delicious carrot cake.

carrot-cake

Have you seen this trend of naked cakes (basically a cake that is not covered in frosting)? I find them to be so pretty and wanted to give it a try for my birthday cake.

naked-cake-top

It was so easy and looks so fancy (but it’s not!).

cake-vines

I used Ina Garten’s carrot cake recipe (found here) because everything she makes is golden.  She uses fresh pineapple in hers; I substituted crushed pineapple and it works great.  The cake is so moist and chunky and delicious (did I mention delicious?).

naked-cake-hydrangea

I baked the cake in two cake pans, then cut each one in half to make a thin layer (and just used three of them rather than four). The cream cheese frosting in between layers is rich and buttery and my favorite of all.

decorating-cake

And for fun, I added my last hydrangea bloom, a few lingering petunias and wire vine from my summer planters.

cake
Mmmm.

naked carrot cake / jones design company
We thoroughly enjoyed the cake last night and will be snacking on it for breakfast for the next few days. Because carrot cake with it’s vegetables and fruit is practically healthy (or at least that’s what I tell myself).

*NOTE: turns out hydrangeas are a toxic flower (oopsies). Don’t put it on your cake. Or at least wrap the stem in plastic before putting on your cake. 

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how to make the most delicious holiday drink at home

homemade-eggnog-latte

Eggnog.

You either love it or you hate it.

I happen to fall in the love it category. Like, really, really love it. Served cold, as punch, in french toast – I’ll take it any way because eggnog tastes like Christmas.

And my favorite way to drink eggnog is as a homemade latte.

homemade-eggnog-latte-finished

It’s easy as can be and tastes delicious. I actually don’t drink coffee in the morning, but most days I enjoy an afternoon decaf latte. Here’s what you need to make them at home:

homemade-eggnog-latte-ingredients

1. tassimo single serve coffee maker
2. gevalia decaf espresso disc
3. darigold eggnog (or your favorite brand)
4. whole milk
5. beville milk frother (best kitchen gadget ever!)
6. microplane grater
7. whole nutmeg
8. favorite monogram mug

how-to-make-an-eggnog-latte

Really, it’s quite easy. Just brew a cup of espresso, and add half eggnog, half milk to the frother and push the start button.

brew-espresso-froth-milk

When the coffee is brewed and milk hot, pour the eggnog over the espresso, then grate a little bit (or a lot) of nutmeg on top.

pour-and-nutmet Mmmmm.

eggnog-latte

I heard that some starbucks around the country are not serving eggnog lattes this holiday season (what?!!). But don’t worry … now you can make you own at home. Enjoy!

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my new (easy!) approach to meal planning

5-meals

You know what time is not typically the high-point of my day?

4 o’clock.

The kids are home from school, my work day is over (at least until bedtime), and the next big thing on my task list is dinner. Ugh.

It’s not the actual cooking that is problematic and not the eating or even the clean up. It’s the part where I have to figure out what to make that gets me every time.

Except when I’ve taken the time to meal plan. Continue Reading →

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perfect for your easter brunch: cranberry orange scones

In case you are looking for a last minute addition to your Easter brunch this weekend (or any time, for that matter), these scones are perfect.

cranberry-orange-scones

Some scones are dry and break into tiny crumbs when you bite into them and these are not like that at all. They are soft and flaky with a hint of orange and sweet cranberries. The recipe is from Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa at Home cookbook. Her cookbooks are amazing. Every recipe I’ve made of hers is an instant favorite (like her apple crisp and chicken noodle soup and coconut cupcakes). And the pictures are really pretty.

Okay, back to the scones. They are fairly easy to make. Just dump all the dry ingredients in the mixer, add the zest of one orange and cut in cold butter (just try not to think about how much butter you’re using).

ingredients-for-scones

Then you add heavy cream and eggs until just combined to form a sticky dough. Before adding cranberries (craisins, actually) she has you toss them in a little bit of flour. Genius idea, this flour-covered-craisin-thing, as they mix in to the dough rather than sinking to the bottom.

Gently roll out the dough on a floured board and cut with a pastry cutter. Or a cup if you don’t have one. #makeitwork

use-cup-to-cut

Bake for 20 minutes, drizzle on a light glaze and you have the most delicious homemade scones ever.

cranberry-orange-scones-brunch

I made these for my college girlfriends when they came into town last month and again yesterday afternoon just because. I may even make them again on Sunday. Enjoy!

Cranberry Orange Scones

recipe from Ina Garten, Barefoot Contessa at Home

i n g r e d i e n t s

4 cups plus 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar, plus additional for sprinkling
2 tablespoons baking powder
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon grated orange zest
3/4 pound cold unsalted butter, diced
4 extra-large eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup cold heavy cream
1 cup dried cranberries
1 egg beaten with 2 tablespoons water or milk, for egg wash
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar, plus 2 tablespoons
4 teaspoons freshly squeezed orange juice

d i r e c t i o n s

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, mix 4 cups of flour, 1/4 cup sugar, the baking powder, salt and orange zest. Add the cold butter and mix at the lowest speed until the butter is the size of peas. Combine the eggs and heavy cream and, with the mixer on low speed, slowly pour into the flour and butter mixture. Mix until just blended. The dough will look lumpy! Combine the dried cranberries and 1/4 cup of flour, add to the dough, and mix on low speed until blended.

Dump the dough onto a well-floured surface and knead it into a ball. Flour your hands and a rolling pin and roll the dough 3/4-inch thick. You should see small bits of butter in the dough. Keep moving the dough on the floured board so it doesn’t stick. Flour a 3-inch round plain or fluted cutter and cut circles of dough. Place the scones on a baking pan lined with parchment paper. Collect the scraps neatly, roll them out, and cut more circles.

Brush the tops of the scones with egg wash, sprinkle with sugar, and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the tops are browned and the insides are fully baked. The scones will be firm to the touch. Allow the scones to cool for 15 minutes and then whisk together the confectioners’ sugar and orange juice, and drizzle over the scones.

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