Friday, December 31, 2010

Easy peanut butter fudge

I love a good story.  And, especially around the holidays, it seems there is no shortage of them.  For example, I have a great one about how Matt and I became engaged to be married this Christmas!... but I'll save that for later.  For now, this is the story of how the best recipe for peanut butter fudge came into my life.  Oh, and yes, I am well aware that teasing you like that is just awful :)

Year after year, at my favorite family Christmas party, the caterer plates up the most delectable fudge I've ever had.  It's the stuff of legend.  The only item on the buffet, aside from the shrimp, that needs to be replenished constantly.  And anyone who is familiar with the holiday party circuit knows that the cocktail shrimp disappear fast.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Cocktails, please!

Great cocktail ideas for the upcoming New Year's Eve celebration!

Me?  I'll be at the Winter Classic, praying that it doesn't rain.  What are your New Year's plans and traditions? :)

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A vacation on the interwebs

Check out my stint as a guest blogger over at a local favorite of mine EatPgh.  I was asked to write about those sinfully decadent double chocolate cookies I made this past spring.  Here is the link!  Thanks again to the fabulous rock star foodies at EatPgh for the opportunity! :)

Speaking of sinful, check back tomorrow for an out of this world treat!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Out of town!

How was everyone's Christmas?  I hope it was magnificent!  Mine's been busy and I don't see any end to that in the near future :)  I'm going to be traveling and with limited to no computer access until late Tuesday night, so you should probably use that time to step away from the computer, enjoy your loved ones, and bake up some goodies for them:

Just to name a few.  On the right side of the blog, there is a collection of recipes, so knock yourself out!  Not literally, of course.  Catch you soon!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Tracking Santa!

It's Christmas Eve, folks!  The halls are decked, cookies baked, cards sent... what's left to do?  Find out where the jolly guy is, of course.

When I was much younger, my scientifically-oriented mind (thanks to an engineer for a father) constantly had me questioning the logistics of Santa's mission.  What fueled the sleigh?  Did he have to stop somewhere to refuel and feed the reindeer?  What if a reindeer fell ill?  Did Santa visit houses without chimneys?  Because Australia is a day ahead of us, does that means Santa delivers for more than one night? ... I resent any hint that I was an obnoxious or precocious child. :)  My parents and any other adult who were my audience probably disagree.

Today, kids have an awesome resource to satisfy their curiosity.  NORAD (which stands for North American Aerospace Defense Command) has created a Santa tracker.  They explain how it works -- fighter jets, how cool!

And, with that, I'm off for the weekend with my family.  I wish all of you a safe, healthy, and happy holiday.  Remember the true meaning of the occasion and have a very blessed and Merry Christmas!  :)

Thursday, December 23, 2010

These are a few of my favorite things!

Happy last day of work before vacation to me and, hopefully, many of you!  My morning walk was replaced by a commute from my parents' place.  What would've normally taken at least an hour only took 45 minutes AND I scored a parking spot... right in front of my office... at a jammed meter = no quarters necessary!

It's my favorite little things like this that put a big jump in my step and start the day off just right :)  Though I'm no Oprah and can't give away boat loads of goodies (appliances, cars, croissants from Williams & Sonoma... mmm), I can share some of my favorite things at this very moment!  Especially since I've always followed my mother's rule of not shopping for myself around the holidays... but there are so many good sales!  Pshhhh...

1. Holiday cake pops by Bakerella.  By now, most of the civilized world has heard of her talents when it comes to making bite-sized cake pops in all shapes and sizes.  And there is something so charming about an individual dessert, meant just for you.  These reindeer and Santa hat numbers are too cute for words.  I'd be hesitant to eat one!

2. Christmas place settings for a formal affair of sorts.  Whether super rustic just-made-by-your-friendly-lumberjack table or classy and simple, I'm a sucker for any holiday decorations.

3. This cardigan by Kate Spade.  It just oozes fun and sparkle, perfect for this time of year!

4. Grilled cheese.  Totally random but there is something so comforting and decadent about this quick sandwich.  My tip for the best cheese combination?  Sharp cheddar and Gruyere.  To die for!

5. These ankle-tie ballet flats from J. Crew.  The traditional nude pink color is beautiful, but I like the more subtle olive green.  Come to think of it, the pink would be a sweet wedding reception shoe... comfortable for dancing all night!  But, for everyday use, even if the ribbons would be hidden under jeans, I'd know they were still there and love them even more.

One Year Ago: How to: Creaming butter and sugar

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Applesauce cake with cinnamon cream cheese frosting

(Forgive me.  Technical difficulties prevented me from posting what I had typed up earlier.  An abbreviated version follows.)  

When the sign-up sheet first appeared for the office holiday party, I requested first crack at it.  Every year I wait much too long to pick something and by the time I've settled on an idea ("chocolate bundt cake!  shrimp salad cups!  the best macaroni and cheese in the world!"), would you believe that someone else has already signed up for a similar dish?  The nerve of some people!  Can't they read my mind?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The universal gift + early gifts!

Who out there is still stumped about what to get a certain person on your list?  Don't worry, you've still got some time... 4 days to be exact.  The trickiest people on my list are Matt's parents.  I love them dearly, but their interests don't exactly translate well into things I can present to them at Christmas.  They are both die-hard Phillies and Jimmy Buffett fans, and tickets for a game or concert won't go on sale for months.  What to do, what to do...

Since I can't be with them Christmas morning, I really wanted to give something the entire family can enjoy, Matt, his brother and sister included.  That's 5 people to please with one gift.  Talk about a tall order!  Matt has said that Christmas day is always hectic for his family, waking around 8, opening gifts, and driving to and from multiple relatives' houses until late at night.  Attention Matt's family -- stop reading now, please :)

Monday, December 20, 2010

Chicken cacciatore

Happy Monday!  And another December weekend is in the books... can you believe there is only one left?  Thankfully, this one was full of holiday cheer -- a post-final exam celebration of the movie kind for Matt (and what kind of girlfriend would I be if I made him celebrate alone?), long overdue lunches with friends, a sweet Nativity play at church, and a Christmas party to make all the others jealous.  A word about that movie -- The Fighter -- it's fantastic, passionate, and unintentionally funny at times.  If Christian Bale doesn't score an Oscar for his performance in this, I'll be shocked.  You must see it!

On the drive back to the city, me and my satisfied stomach got to thinking about the variety of appetizers we sampled.  Most of what I had (save the strawberries and peanut butter fudge) was enveloped in a warm tasty sauce, an extension of the sweet and tangy meatballs or bacon-wrapped water chestnuts.  Even the baked brie with apples and honey had an ooey gooey flow to it.

There's something to be said for saucy dishes this time of year.  It's like I take pity upon my food and want it to have a cozy blanket to stay warm, too.  It's really a selfish wish, though.  You see, a warm ladle of sauce keeps my dinner piping hot so each bite can warm me from the inside out.  And I'm not just talking about some heavy cream-based sauce here (though, that has its place in my heart, too).  I'm talking about a steaming brothy tomato-based sauce flavored with onions and peppers and mushrooms... oh my!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Cinnamon love knots!

You voted and here it is!  I'm so glad that I took a chance and asked what recipe you wanted me to make and write about next.  You guys totally delivered -- thank you!  Not that I didn't want to make all three choices (because clearly I went ahead and made one anyway), but because cinnamon love knots have been on my radar forever and you motivated me to get on the ball.  F-o-r-e-v-e-r!  I first had these a few years ago at a friend's house and the conversation went a little something like this:

me: [between bites] These are amazing.  What are they?
Laura: Cinnamon love knots.  My sister made them.
me: You have to send me the recipe.
Laura: I'll get it from her and send it to you.

Fast forward at least two (probably three) years and many feeble ultimatum-like attempts later.  No joke, I may or may not have threatened to end our now 17 year friendship if that recipe didn't come into my possession quickly.  It basically became a running joke that almost every time I saw Laura that I'd ask for the recipe.  One day, out of the blue, I spotted an email in my inbox one day that mentioned "recipe" in the subject.  Could it be true!?  Like a kid on Christmas morning, I opened clicked it as quickly as I could...

Thursday, December 16, 2010

I think they serve these in Heaven...

Every year around the holidays, certain treats appear in grocery stores and on dessert tables that spend the other 11 months out of the year in hibernation.  Where, exactly, I don't know, but I'd be willing to pay a lot of money to acquire such information.  Is there something, sweet or savory, that you look forward to every year?    For me, it's the magical white fudge-covered Oreo.  Sweet decadent sinful cookie.  Just look at it!

These babies are 100 calories each!  I regret looking at the nutritional information on the back of the box, and I'm sure you don't appreciate me sharing it with you.  But, still, even with that knowledge, I push it to the far corners of my memory and indulge anyway.  They are so good.  So good!  Because, if you can't enjoy and spoil yourself at the holidays, when can you?

So, because one Oreo confection isn't enough, another for you to try at home...

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Stocking-sized kitchenware

It's already Wednesday, nice!  And, today is going to be an abbreviated work day since our office holiday party is this afternoon -- it's a potluck lunch at the boss's house.  To some, the word "potluck" conjures up bad memories of tasteless cookies and mystery casseroles.  To the talented foodies in my office, it's a chance to show off your kitchen skills and try some new recipes!  We munch, chat, and marvel at the gorgeous decorations in the house, too.  Always so put together and cozy -- roaring fires in the fireplaces, oversized ornaments hanging from the banister, and trees trimmed to the nines.

Speaking of trees, is your Christmas tree still looking a little naked?  Or are you in need of a stocking stuff for a food enthusiast?  Check out these adorable ornaments that I spotted over the weekend.

While I'm generally against giving Christmas items as gifts for said holiday, these can totally be used year round to hang around the kitchen.  Also a great decoration for gift wrap, tied with some twine or ribbon.  And they're miniature, by golly...!

Do you stuff stockings?  If so, what goes in them?  When do you open them?

We always open stocking gifts first -- usually items like specialty candy, a new ornament, book, or stickers and art supplies when we were little young.

One Year Ago: Baking and cooking FAQ

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

White chocolate peppermint bark

Snow snow snooooooow!  A few inches here in Pittsburgh and it's still coming, along with brutal winds!  I'm talking minus 2 windchill on my walk to work.  Thanks to my trusty red umbrella, I was able to shield myself from the worst of the blasts :)  A quick Google search revealed that I'm not the only umbrella-toting winter-loving red accessory-carrying person out there.

So, while it snows outside, I bake up a storm inside!  Though this hardly constitutes baking, more like melting and stirring.  Peppermint bark is a favorite around the holidays.  You'll see tins of the stuff everywhere and in all shapes and flavors.  What's the one thing they all have in common?  They are all seriously overpriced!  $18 for a small one pound tin of peppermint bark?  Get real!  Once you see how easy it is to make a batch of your own, you'll never buy the pre-made stuff again.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Breakfast pizza with eggs, bacon & spinach

What a weekend!  I'm actually surprised that today is only Monday -- it was that packed!  Sometimes I like my weekends to be totally void of any activity and full of sitting, but this was no such weekend.  My sister and I were mesmerized like children at The Nutcracker yesterday.  And Matt and I tackled 90% of our Christmas shopping on Saturday (hooray!).  But, I kicked off the weekend on Friday with an old-fashioned girls only sleepover.  There was a movie, an entire package of Oreos, chatting into the wee hours of the morning, and, who could forget, a game of MASH!  Do you remember that game?!  I think my fate had me married to Jake Gyllenhaal, living in a house with our 18 children, and driving a BMW... whew!  Not so terrible, I suppose :)

The only quintessential things missing from our sleepover were sleeping bags and pizza!  (And parents picking me up in the morning, ha!)  In fact, Laura offered to buy a pizza for us but... woops!  I had just eaten pizza before I got to her place.  Not just any pizza, but a homemade breakfast pizza -- for dinner, natch:

Friday, December 10, 2010

Chicken roulades with ham & Swiss cheese

TGIF!  It's Friday and that means a few things to me this week.  I think it's time for a list, wouldn't you agree?

1. Pizza day!  An end of the week fun to make reward meal for moi.  I bought the makings for a serious breakfast pizza to make tonight after the gym.  I've talked about pizza here before but never posted a recipe for the crust.  I'll be sharing it with you next week -- stay tuned.

2. Get psyched for Christmas shopping!  I'm making my list and checking it twice before heading to Ross Park Mall to finish buying gifts for everyone on my list.  And, gulp, Christmas cards.  Confession: I really had every intention of making cards this year, but the absence of any free time (seriously, how is it December 10th already?) made me realize I had to bite the bullet and mail store-bought cards this year.  As crushing to my soul as it is, a few friends have explained that it's not the end of the world and it's the thought that counts.  Thanks, pals :)

3. The Nutcracker!  My sister and I are getting together for a nice lunch and heading downtown to see classic Christmas ballet.  I haven't seen it since college so I'm really looking forward to it.

4. Though it's no secret, the results of Monday's poll are in and they are indisputable -- cinnamon love knots!  Man, you guys sure love your sweets... and that's why I love you so :)  Look for that recipe next week sometime as well.

5.  Devour leftovers for lunch.  Not something most people would normally be excited about, but then again, most people aren't eating chicken roulades with ham and Swiss cheese.  They are just as delicious and much easier to make than you might think...

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Roasted cumin & chick pea salad

I have a confession -- I talk a big game about working out.  I do love it and feel great during and after it.  But, sometimes I'm a little... distracted.  Sure, I go through the motions of exercising and probably reap similar aerobic benefits, but I'm just not 100% into it.  Ironically, these are the workouts that go by the quickest!  Yesterday, a very sweaty hour of cardio on two machines went by in a flash, when most days anything over 15 minutes on one machine has my exercise ADD spinning out of control.

So, how did I make it through this time?  I will say it wasn't the sports radio and talk about my beloved Penguins being the hottest team in the league right now.  And it certainly wasn't the top 40 hits, though Rihanna might as well be the soundtrack to my gym life.  (Love it, can't stop dancing to it even in my office!)  Anyway, it was because I was thinking about dinner.  Leftovers, to boot!  Shocking?  Not if this were what you were picturing -- roasted cumin and chickpea salad.  YUM!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Nutella kiss cookies

This past Sunday, I experienced one of Pittsburgh's greatest wonders -- the annual Joy of Cookies tour.  Oh yes, dear readers, it's exactly what you think it is!  For a few days, businesses in the neighborhood of Lawrenceville each feature a different cookie, handing out samples and the accompanying recipe to holiday shoppers.  This little walking tour encompasses one of my favorite hobbies: snacking while shopping.  I think I can speak for my friends when I say that we had so much fun!  Strolling, nibbling on cookies, and catching up with the newly-engaged (!) and just-back-from-the-honeymoon (!) as a few flurries fell from the sky -- hello, a perfect December afternoon!

But, such a confectionary adventure reacquainted me with one of my cardinal dessert rules: Just because it's pretty, doesn't mean it tastes good.  A prime example of this is the smooth fondant that covers many cakes now.  If you haven't tasted it, let me do you a favor and tell you that it tastes like Play-Doh smells -- awful.  The cakes are gorgeous, sure, but even the bakers of them instruct eaters to discard the smooth stuff.  Give me a rustically iced cake any day over a seamless tower of cake layers.  But this theory of mine isn't limited to cakes...

Monday, December 6, 2010

You pick what I make next!

In the spirit giving this holiday season, I want to provide recipes that YOU want to make!   So, I've narrowed it down to three things I'd like to make next, perfect for holiday (or anytime) treat:

1. Peppermint bark -- white & dark chocolate swirled with crushed candy canes and peppermint flavor... makes for sweet snacking and gifts when wrapped in a glassine bag with a festive ribbon.  Warning: disappears quickly!

2. Meringue cookies -- light as air cookies... think the baked version of a soft meringue pie topping.  Can be fancied with dye, flavorings, or add-ins (nuts, chocolate chips, etc.).  These melt in your mouth, making it hard to stop at just one.

3. Cinnamon love knots -- sweet yeasted rolls perfect for breakfast, dessert, or a snack.  They're topped with melted butter and dipped in cinnamon sugar... absolutely to die for!

You can only pick one.  All you've got to do is leave a comment with your vote by Tuesday (tomorrow), December 7th at 11:59PM (Eastern standard time, sorry West coast folks!).  Thanks, friends! :)  Have a delightful Monday!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Homemade chicken noodle soup

'Tis the season... to look like a homeless person or bulky bag lady walking to work!  Gone are the days when I can wear flip flops and skirts without a jacket, or even expect to get by wearing my normal dress pants and a pea coat.  My layers go something like this: normal top and cardigan, puffy vest, ski jacket with scarf and hood up on top; dress pants, fleece sweatpants, and occasionally boots on the bottom.  Hardly respectable but thank goodness I can sneak into my office early, close my door, and make myself presentable.  Fetching, no?  All this talk about bundling up makes me think of the movie A Christmas Story.

So, as the temperatures drop and my legs move faster walking home at night, I find myself bursting in the door, huffing, puffing and numb from top to bottom... and craving, "must have"-ing soup.  It all makes sense now -- this is exactly what the Campbell's soup commercial has been proclaiming all of these years!  A big bowl of warmth and nutrition is just what I need to chase away the cold and warm my fingers and toes. 

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Don't fall off the (exercise) wagon!

For how packed the gym was last night, you would think swimsuits and spring break are just around the corner! Maybe they should look outside... or let me tag along on whatever tropical holiday getaway they have planned?  Pretty please? :)

Anyway, I can easily recognize the regulars at my gym, so the sporadic fitness center patrons stick out like a sore thumb.  It's safe to assume those folks are the ones that cause huge waits for cardio machines the first week of the semester, especially after January 1 (resolution gym goers).  You know, looking for a quick fix and then a few days or weeks into a routine, lose interest or think they can stop once they've reached their goal.

I want to grab each newbie by the shoulders and say, "Don't lose heart!  It's way more fun that you think!  Just remember a few easy tips and you'll never get bored."  Especially during this season of making merry and eating and dining your way from party to party, here is how you can stay on the wagon and fit into that snazzy cocktail dress (or, for the gentleman, that classy vest) through the new year.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Molasses crinkle cookies

This morning I woke up to not just one, but both tell-tale signs to me that the holiday season is here: snow and freshly baked cookies!

Add in that a calendar page has been flipped and we're into December (whoh!) and my apartment is now fully decorated for Christmas... talk about the best day ever!  Waking up to all of this has put an extra jump in my step, though I think have to tone it down around the commuters in the office, who had it a little rougher today  :)  Usually we don't get snow this early, but this is already the second of the season.  The 24 hours and counting of rain has turned to light snow here in western PA.  [jumps up and down]  Yes!

Snow, check!  Cookies... yes, let's talk about cookies.  While I was baking last night and thinking about what to write, I considered beginning with a tangent about holiday baking: how it's this particular time of year that home cooks (myself included) dust off the cookie sheets and stock up on butter and sugar for a solid month of cookie baking.  But, seriously, who am I trying to fool?  Not even the heat of summer can deter me from whipping up a batch of cookies, or two.  So, I'll just say that I bake more often come December and share this recipe so that you can get in the habit of it, too.