Monday, December 31, 2012

Top 10 recipes of 2012

Happy 2012, friends!

(Gotta squeeze in one last dodecahedral greeting before midnight, right?)

After almost two merry weeks of visiting, hugging, unwrapping, dining, and driving, we're finally back in snowy Pittsburgh.  Can you guess how big my smile was when we were blessed with nearly 6 inches of the white stuff this past weekend?  This should give you an idea:

Basically, somewhere between extreme elation and utter delirium.  My happiness was confirmed by the many messages I received from groaning friends, asking if I were, indeed, happy at "this white stuff."  Yes, yes I am, thank you :)

For most of that time, I was totally unplugged and savoring every last moment with family and friends, reliving much of the past year's events.  I realized that there has been so very much to be thankful for, and it's hard to believe everything that's happened in 2012.  I couldn't help but recall a few times when I thought (or said), "Man, I wish I could just stop time for a few days and not go anywhere or do anything."  Thankfully, that never happened.  Life is what's happening, and I certainly don't want to miss a single second of it.  Whoever first said, "I can sleep when I'm dead!" was right on the money!

Speaking of the last year, it's been a monumental year for this blog.  Three years strong and counting, readership is through the roof, and I even hosted the very first giveaway.  All of it is thanks to you for visiting, following, pinning, reading, laughing, encouraging, inspiring, cooking, and, of course, eating.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart (and stomach)!

To show you how much you mean to me, I wanted to feature the top 10 recipes from 2012, according to you, the most loyal readers!

Friday, December 28, 2012

Fast Friday: Puppy chow

Have you suddenly run out of cookies and need to whip up something sweet in a flash?  You know it's going to happen to all of us at least once over the holiday season.

A good friend will call and say, "Hey, we're in the neighborhood and thought we'd visit!  Is that okay?"  You look down at yourself, clad in the same sweats you wore yesterday and planted on the couch, and enthusiastically chirp, "Ohmygosh, of course!  We'd love to see you!"  "Great, we'll see you in about 15 minutes!"

15 minutes.  15 minutes!

You jump up, panicked, and look around the house, thinking, "Thank goodness I already cleaned the place."  That's one major headache carefully avoided. All that's left are munchies for company and your less than presentable self.

If you can manage to get yourself into some, ahem, real clothes in 10 minutes, I can help you get dessert made in the remaining 5 minutes.  Yes, 5 minutes.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Fish en papillote

This is a bit belated, but I'll blame my still ailing computer for the that.

Ailing computer, wrapping presents, holiday travels, and cookie parties.  Especially cookie parties.  Because cookies totally take priority over real food.  At least before the holidays.

But after, whew, don't we all need a break?  Maybe just a little one?

Whenever you reach the space between "All I want for dinner is leftovers and cookies" and "I can't look at another container of leftovers or tray of cookies", I've got a light and elegant dinner that will make you feel alive, rejuvenated, and downright fancy.

This was what I made for Matt for dinner on our wedding anniversary!  That was December 10th.  Two weeks ago.  Like I said, belated.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas!

Last year at this time, Matt and I were on our honeymoon... on a cruise ship... in the middle of the Caribbean ocean.  I can't believe it's been a whole year.  While we had such an incredible and unforgettable trip, I've gotta tell you how much I'm looking forward to our first Christmas together in our home.  Send all of your snow our way, please!

From our home to yours, wishing you a very merry Christmas, full of love, warmth, happiness, and delicious dishes! :)

Friday, December 21, 2012

Friday five: Holiday breakfast

TGITWBC - Thank goodness it's the weekend before Christmas!

Okay, I'll admit that doesn't have quite the same ring as "TGIF", but I couldn't help myself. Weeks of watching Christmas movies have me adding a little holiday cheer to anything and everything. Even yesterday's eggy breakfast looked positively dashing with green spinach and red peppers.

While we woke up in western PA, we went to sleep in eastern PA.  Matt and I made the drive to Reading last night to spend a long weekend visiting with his family.  We'll be making merry and spreading joy there through Monday before making the (hopefully snowy!) drive back to Pittsburgh on Christmas Eve, clad in our flannel pajamas and singing along to Matt's Christmas tunes mix.  I cannot tell you how genuinely excited I am for the sleigh car ride!!  I've even promised to stay awake for the entire thing and be a good passenger/wife.  Any bets on how that goes?

I know that Matt's parents, like so many others, are really looking forward to a house full of people and have already planned so many fun activities for all of us.  I thought it'd be a perfect time to share with five of my favorite breakfasts to please a crowd and give them all the energy they'll need for days full of house calls, shopping, skiing, and, well, feasting!

It's my Friday five: holiday breakfast edition!

1. Breakfast apple granola crisp -- Because the smell of apples and cinnamon make the whole house smell so cozy and welcoming, right?!  Curl up with a bowl of this and top with some vanilla yogurt first thing in the morning (or, ahem, ice cream for an afternoon snack).

2. Sausage kale breakfast strata -- If it was satisfying enough for a pack of hungry football fans tailgating on a cold fall morning, it will surely please a house full of eager kids and adults, ready to tear into a pile of presents!  All of the prep can be done up to a full day before cooking, and any leftovers you might have will reheat wonderfully.

3. Sour cherry coffee cake -- Sour cherries hold such a special place in my heart because of family tradition, and I think your family will love this, too!  A light fruit coffee cake that will go so well with a cup of tea or coffee.  Bonus: It's just as delicious for breakfast, lunch, a snack, or dessert with a scoop or ice cream.

4. The Pioneer Woman's cinnamon rolls aka the best cinnamon rolls ever -- I have been looking forward to making these for weeks once Matt and I sorted out our Christmas day plans.  I'm dreaming of a white Christmas... with a cup of hot chocolate and a plate of my favorite cinnamon rolls! :)  BEST. EVER.

5. Quiche -- my all-time favorite breakfast for guests.  You can personalize it any way you like, with peppers or mushrooms, broccoli or spinach, cheddar or Swiss... if you can think it, you can do it.  Friends and guests have never met a quiche of mine that they didn't love, and they think I went to such effort to do it.  Little do they know it's so incredibly easy!

Bonus: For a festive and non-alcoholic drink to start your morning, try my beloved famosa!  Orange juice and diet ginger ale make such a fizzy and fun special occasion.  Or, you know, champagne is always delicious, too, if you don't have to be family-friendly.

Happy entertaining and save travels if you are driving, flying, or going by sleigh :)

Two years ago: Chicken cacciatore, Applesauce cake

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Natalie's white chocolate and apricot chunk cookies

Sugar and spice and cookies so nice!

It's the third day of recipes from the holiday cookie party we hosted this past weekend.  This recipe is brought to you by Natalie and Nick.  Weren't they such a gorgeous bride and groom?!  Looking at those pictures again reminded me what a blast their wedding was.

Especially the cookie table.

Oh yes, the cookie table.  Have you heard of this?  It's apparently a western Pennsylvania tradition.  Even Wikipedia says so!  So, you would be correct in assuming that they were totally on board with the concept of a holiday cookie party.  One of the many reasons why we are friends :)

When I asked Natalie what they were bringing, she said she was deciding between two recipes.  One she'd made before and a new one.  Anyone who has cooked or baked under pressure knows that new recipes can be risky.  We discussed that briefly before I said that, if all else failed, she could head to the store for a package of Oreos.  Or...

Natalie:  I'll bring Chips Aholy
Natalie:  I mean Hoy ha
me:  is that the Christmas version?

HA!  Every time I read that it gets funnier and funnier, and I just had to share it with you.

Anyway, the cookies.  Come Saturday night when we were both baking in our kitchens (and our husbands were out of our hair at a basketball game), she went with the new one.  

White chocolate and apricot chunk cookies for the win!

Light and chewy and chock full of good stuff.  I mean, really good stuff.  This was no ordinary chocolate chip cookie.  Natalie used good quality white chocolate and studded the dough with bright dried apricots.  Yum!

How about dried apricots as a nominee for most underused baking ingredient of the year?  Come to think of it, whenever I buy trail mix, I always pick out the dried apricots first because they are my ultimate favorite.  So chewy and sweet and fresh!

Oh, and can we please, please discuss the utterly adorable  tray for the cookies?  All of the guests couldn't help but ooh and aww and hover around this tray, inspired by (what else) Pinterest.  Simply arrange star mints on a parchment lined baking sheet, pop into a warm oven for a few minutes, cool, and you've got a very sweet and seasonal serving tray.  For step by step instructions, check out this link.

Happy baking!

One year ago: Chewy chocolate chip cookies

Natalie's White Chocolate and Apricot Chunk Cookies

-makes 4 to 5 dozen cookies

A few notes: Per Natalie, "For a variation, try se 7oz orange candy slices (again chopped into small pieces) and semisweet chocolate chips

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs 
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 12-ounce bag (about 2 cups) white chocolate chips
7 ounces dried apricots, cut into small pieces

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, salt, and baking powder and set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer on medium speed, beat butter and both sugars until light and fluffy, about 3 to 4 minutes.  Beat in eggs and vanilla.  Slowly add flour mixture to wet ingredients, mixing until just combined.  Stir in chocolate chips and apricots.

Drop rounded tablespoons onto lined cookie sheet.  Bake until beginning to turn golden at edges and centers are set, about 15 minutes.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Val's chocolate chip cookie cake

Today's recipe comes from Val, my sugar-coated candy soulmate!  This girl.

The girl who had a cookie and candy buffet at her wedding.  The girl who has introduced me to so many confectionery joys over the years, like Sarris chocolates, Hershey's Drops, Oreo truffles, pretzel M&Ms just to name a few.

The girl who is the other half of a daily exchange of candy reports.  Never will one of us feel (too) guilty about eating an entire box of Whoppers for lunch because we know the other has most likely done something very similar.  That and we are avid runners.  Girls have to keep their figure somehow, right?

As soon as the idea for a cookie party was concocted, Val was the first person to know because I knew it was a fete right up her alley.  To say that I was eagerly anticipating her cookies would be an understatement.  And girl certainly did not disappoint.

She brought homemade chocolate chip cookie cake!  All together now: eeeeeeeeeee!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Red velvet cookies with cream cheese icing

'Tis the season to be jolly!
Fa la la la la, la la la la!
Invite your friends to make some cookies!
Fa la la la la, la la la la!
Get together -- share the lo-ove.
Fa la la, la la la, la la la!

(Just be thankful that you are only reading my singing rather than listening to it.)

With familiar Christmas tunes playing in the background, Matt and I threw an old fashioned cookie party yesterday!  Rather than fussing over a table full of all kinds of foods, we decided to K.I.S.S. -- keep it simple, stupid!  Cookies -- lots and lots of cookies -- and cold milk.

We asked guests to bring two dozen of of their favorite cookies for sharing.  In return, we hosted, decorated, and did a little baking of our own, too!

Every day this week, I'm going to share recipes for the cookies that were a part of our sugary cookie buffet.

First up is my recipe.  I contributed to the buffet with something old and something new.  The former being a fresh batch of pumpkin oatmeal cookies.  And the new?  Red velvet cookies with white chocolate glaze!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

40 cookie recipes perfect for the holidays!

Did you know that, according to culinary historians, the first historic record of cookies was their use as test cakes? A small amount of cake batter was baked to test the oven temperature.

(Thanks to my dad and his subscription to the What's Cooking America e-newsletters for that little factoid!)

Talk about the perfect intro for a post entirely dedicated to cookies!  Just in time to meet all of your baking needs and wants, here is a complete list of every cookie recipe I've ever posted.

Whether you're planning to bake cookies for everyone on your nice list or simply make enough to take to a holiday party, there's something for variety of sweet tooth on this list.  I've organized the recipes into three basic categories for easy browsing.

Happy baking!

Drop cookies
Chewy chocolate chip cookies 
Coconut macadamia nut cookies
Crispy Butterfinger cookies
Double chocolate cookies
Giant chewy sugar cookies 
Meringue (cloud) cookies 
Mint chocolate chip cookies
Monster cookies 
Oatmeal raisin cookies
Pumpkin oatmeal cookies 
Thin & crisp chocolate chip cookies with sea salt
Walnut shortbread wedges

Cutout, iced, filled, rolled, or stuffed cookies
Black and white cookies
Caramel stuffed apple cider cookies
Chocolate crinkle cookies
Chocolate gingersnap cookies 
Chocolate sandwich cookies (homemade Oreos)
Chocolate shortbread fingers
Coconut shortbread (minus the ice cream)
Cranberry & pistachio biscotti
Cutout sugar cookies
Molasses crinkle cookies
Nutella Kiss cookies
Orange creamsicle cookies
Pumpkin gingersnaps 
Pumpkin whoopie pies
Very peanut butter cookies 
White chocolate covered Ritz Bitz peanut butter sandwiches 

Bar cookies
Butterfinger caramel bars
Chocolate pudding dump cake bars
From scratch "box" brownies
Maple walnut blondies 
Peanut butter & jelly bars
Peanut butter cup crunch brownies 
Peanut butter cup fluffernutter blondies 
Platinum blondies
Pretzel bottom Snickers blondies
Salted brown butter Rice Krispie treats
Trail mix Rice Krispie treats

Monday, December 10, 2012

Anniversary + Matt's favorite recipes

Exactly one year ago today I married my best friend!

[photo by Joanna Fassinger]

I can't believe it's already been a year.  And, I can't believe it's only been a year.  Simply put, I can't imagine my life without Matt.  He brings so much laughter and joy into my life, day in and day out.  How can one person be so blessed?

While I always try my best to provide all of the love and support for Matt that's possible, I also like to spoil him with more tangible things, too.  You know where this is going, don't you?  Tangible things = edible things. 

I absolutely love cooking and baking for people I love, especially Matt.  Even if it's something as simple as a batch of pancakes, I get such joy seeing the look on his face as he drizzles syrup on a short stack and digs in on a lazy Saturday morning.  Food is love, people!

(Just to be clear, I'm no saint.  I'm most likely sitting next to him enjoying my very own syruped short stack, too.)

[photo by Joanna Fassinger

Today is about us, but, for me, it's about Matt.  So I thought it'd be fun to share with you Matt's favorite recipes of mine that I've passed onto you over the past few years.  He was consulted as I made this list, so it's the whole truth, folks.

One small note, however, is that he had a little trouble understanding the idea of a top 10 list and kept insisting that I include more recipes.  I suppose there could be worse problems to have, right? :)

Without further ado, here are Matt's top 10 12 favorite recipes:

Friday, December 7, 2012

Friday five: Fridge edition

Hey, I've got a serious question for you: what day is today?  Seriously.  If you have a firm grasp on reality, would you please be kind enough to inform me?  I think my calendar is trying to trick me.

All week I've been suffering from a serious case of "what day is today?" and no end is in sight.  I'm placing 100% of the blame on the unreasonable weather patterns around these parts.  68 degrees and sunny one day, while the next is 38 and damp and gray.  I've got one thing to say about fluctuating weather in December: Bah humbug.

I want snow, darn it!

I also want to go to the grocery store for a big-time stocking up the pantry, fridge and freezer trip.  It's slim pickins' at our place right now, aside from ingredients to make an amaaaaaazing new pizza recipe tonight (to be shared with you next week!).  We're down to the essentials. 

I've always enjoyed reading interviews with people, from food personalities and chefs to celebrities and regular folks like ourselves, that include the question, "What are five items almost always found in your fridge?"  In other word, the essentials.  So, today I'm sharing with you my list:

1. Baby spinach - Without a doubt, one of my favorite goes-with-anything ingredients.  I'll add it to smoothies, eggs, pasta, soups, sandwiches, and of course salads.  Popeye was spot on!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Herbed chicken in puff pastry

Okay, so this is a few days belated, but the sentiment is still the same: happy December to you!  Can you believe it's here?  The month of decking the halls, wrapping presents, baking cookies, and, hey, even getting married is upon us.  All of those require a certain level of excitement and just a smidge of crazy, right?  :)

I've been working on a secret anniversary gift for Matt the past few weeks and still can't believe it's been almost a year since we said "I do."  I've been thinking about everything to do with our wedding, our first blissful year of marriage, and every single milestone along the way... even those that seem like a decade ago.

Like our first conversation.  It was at work, and I baked oatmeal cookies for my coworkers.  Matt passed me in the hall and asked if I was the baker.  "Yep!"  "Well, thank you!  These are really good."  The interaction was short and sweet (pun intended) and just enough to catch each other's eye.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Fast Friday: Farfalle with bacon, beans, and kale

Have you ever been so focused on one food that it's all you can think about?  That you start trying to add it other dishes that are traditionally mixed with aforementioned ingredient?

When I tell you this ingredient, you're not going to be shocked.  Or overwhelmed. Not even whelmed.  (Brownie points to the first person to correctly identify that pop culture reference!)

Drumroll please... it's bacon!

Are you yawning?  Are you thinking things like "Tell me something I didn't already know, Katy,"?  Have your socks have become more secured on your feet?

I guess it's no secret that I love bacon.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Sweet potato hash browns

I remember the first time I realized that my family sometimes has odd names for things.

I was 10 or 11 years old and out at a diner with my parents and sister after church, and we were placing our brunch orders.  I requested French toast, which came with two eggs and a choice of bacon or sausage.  The waitress asked, "How do you like your eggs?" to which I responded, "Dippy."  She looked at me like I was speaking in tongues.

"Dippy?" she confirmed.  I immediately looked to my parents for help, whispering, "What's wrong with dippy?  Is that not allowed?" 

My parents smiled at me and, before they could rescue me, the waitress explained the many ways that the cooks could prepare my eggs.  "Sunny side up, over easy, over medium, over well, poached, soft boiled, hard boiled, or scrambled," she rattled from memory.

I didn't hear "dippy" anywhere in that long list of egg preparations.  And dippy was what I wanted, by golly.  I wanted dippy!!!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Black bean confetti soup

Leftovers are so great, right?!  Already cooked, so only a few minutes in the microwave stand between you and a satisfying meal that's big on flavor but not on prep time.

No, I'm not talking about turkey or any other Thanksgiving leftovers.  Since we were guests at Matt's parents' house for the meal, we missed out on my favorite part of the feast -- a fridge full of containers with excess turkey, green bean casserole (my favorite!), stuffing, and cranberry sauce.  Womp womp.

(By the way, if you happen to be one of the lucky ones with leftovers, say turkey and cranberry sauce, make yourself a delish Thanksgiving panini for lunch today or dinner tonight.  It's a meal in a sandwich, people, and you won't be disappointed.)

Since we're sans turkey around these parts, I had to visit the grocery store ASAP and fill our very empty post-vacation refrigerator and pantry.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Black Friday five

Raise your hand if you ate a delicious meal yesterday!  :)  Hopefully all of you had a fantastic holiday with those nearest and dearest to you.  Matt and I are in Reading with his family (first holiday with them!).  The weather is supposed to be fantastic at the end of this week, so I'm hoping for lots of walks outside to stave off the sleepy post-meal feelings.

Only in America do we follow the biggest eating day of the year with the busiest (and earliest!) shopping day of the year: Black Friday!  As of typing this on Wednesday morning, we have no plans to visit the malls or any stores, but that may change.  I've actually never gone out for the early morning Black Friday deals because there's never been a hot ticket item like a toy or electronic device that I simply had to have.

Black Friday newbie I may be, but shopping novice I am most certainly not!  Over the years, I've perfected my shopping strategies to create a stress-free and fun day browsing and boosting the economy.  Here are my must-have shopping essentials for this week's Friday five:

1. Mini bottle of water - hydration during shopping is key, and especially after a very filling and slightly salty day of feasting and grazing.  I've learned that large bottles of water weight me down and use up precious energy (and space!) that could be used for carrying bags of goodies, so I stick with a mini bottle that I refill at water fountains.  Hydrated shopper = happy shopper!

2. Crossbody purse - When it comes to serious shopping, I try to make my hands and arms as free as possible.  That means that my beloved Kate Spade tote stays home because I can't stand constantly flipping a bag over my shoulders as I lean down to pick up a potential purchase.  I have an older Fossil crossbody purse that I adore, but it's leather and becomes a little heavy after a few hours.  I think it's high time for an update, don't you?  This nylon Marc Jacobs number tooooootally fits the bill: lightweight, simple, and cute, to boot! 

3a. Hand lotion - There's nothing worse than dry hands as you rifle through racks of clothing.  My skin tends to dry out in the winter months, so shopping takes them a step further.  After years of experimenting with various hand lotions -- too greasy, too thin, too smelly! -- I finally found what works for me.  Eucerin's intensive repair hand creme is rich without being greasy and fragrance-free.  Plus, it comes in a convenient little bottle that will easily fit into any handbag.  3b. Hand sanitizer, 'nuff said.

4. Granola (or other portable snacks) - Something small to keep your energy up as you flit from store to store.  Make a batch of cherry almond cinnamon granola and surprise your shopping companions with baggies of goodies!  I like the staying power of nuts, dried fruit, and toasted oats.  Satisfying without being heavy.  And, light enough to make room for my two food court guilty pleasures: Chick-fil-A nuggets and a mini Dairy Queen Blizzard :)

5. Comfortable slip-on shoes - In the summer, it's sandals; in the winter, it's my trusty boat shoes.  Easy to slip on and off in the dressing room and comfortable for lots and lots of walking.  I'll never understand how some women sport high heels as they traipse around the mall.  More power to 'em, I suppose! 

If you're braving the crowds, good luck!  And, if you're staying home to begin decorating for Christmas, I'm with you in spirit :)

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Last minute bites to feed a crowd

It's the day before Thanksgiving.  I really can't believe it!  If you're hosting the special feast tomorrow, I hope all of your plans go off without a hitch and there are no epic turkey day mishaps -- save those for another house and another family to be shared with rest of the country on the evening news, right? :)

With the focus on the main meal, it seems like dinner the night before and "warm-ups" on Thanksgiving day become a total afterthought.  I don't know how some folks basically fast for 12 hours -- I've gotta eat!  Nibbling on light meals will keep your stomach from shrinking and, inevitably filling up prematurely.  Plus, you know, hungry people tend to become cranky people.  Just say no to the angry mob!

If you're expecting company before the big turkey dinner and looking to feed them without stuffing them (or making a frantic call to the local pizzeria), here are some great recipes.  All of these can be made in a flash without lots of extra work and can be enjoyed while roaming and mingling about the house!

  • Coconut chicken - try smaller strips or even nugget-size pieces with dipping sauces!

Though pies a plenty are tough to resist, make it easier on you and your guests by having some relatively guilt-free sweets handy to cap off the evening.  Bonus: all three can be made ahead and don't require an oven!


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Caramelized onion and mushroom galette

Have you ever been out at a restaurant and watched other people eat?  I mean, really watched them to see if they are totally enjoying whatever it is they ordered.  It's basically People Watching: Food Edition.  This is not to be confused with staring because that's just plain creepy.  People watching is for refined folks like ourselves.

I love to watch how others react to both something delicious and something dreadful.  Kids tend to be more overt about their feelings toward their food, which makes watching them dig in and get food all over their faces much more fun (especially when you think of the parents who must bathe said children later).

Adults, however, are more complicated thanks to two very powerful words: social etiquette.  Sometimes, they're forced to mute their feelings in order to be a gracious guest and not offend the host cook.  Or one partner will force his way through a dish not to look like a picky eater to a woman on their first date.

But, the worst fate, as far as I'm concerned, is when a person must share her attention between present company and an extraordinary dish.  You know that feeling -- we've all had it -- when your plate is clean and you realize you didn't really savor the food at all, and you want a do-over.  How tragic!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Hostess no more!

All together now: Nooooooooooooooooooooooooo!

In case you've been living under a rock or without any access to technology or news, the Hostess Brands company will be closing soon.  That means no more Twinkies, fruit pies, Ho Hos, etc.!  I'm speechless.

What's your favorite Hostess treat?  Mine is, without question, the Ho Ho.  Hard chocolate shell that can be peeled off, only to reveal a moist chocolate cake filled with vanilla cream.  Unroll and eat, it's the only way a Ho Ho should be enjoyed.

Today, after the gym, I'll continue my mission to find and enjoy one last treat.  Gotta get while you can, right?  After stopping at two Target stores, two Giant Eagles, two gas stations, and one CVS, I'm noticing the choices are slim.  Only mini muffins and mini donuts in sight.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Fast Friday: Homemade hot cocoa mix

It's here!  It's finally here!  Light up night in downtown Pittsburgh!  I'll be doing my happy holiday shuffle (and using superfluous exclamation points) all day long.

As much as I try to contain my excitement and enforce self-imposed rules that forbid Christmas music or decorations until after Thanksgiving, it becomes a serious uphill battle once this annual city tradition takes place.

It's just the celebration you'd expect, filled with lights, Santa(s), caroling, gingerbread house displays, Macy's windows, fake snow, and fireworks...!  The downtown streets are void of traffic and, instead, overflowing with Pittsburghers ready to begin the holiday season.  It's just so darn delightful and merry!

I look forward to light up night every year and imagine myself among the bustling crowds, enjoying fried Oreos and sipping on hot chocolate.  I can practically taste it when we arrive in Market Square, which is when reality promptly smacks me across the face.

Great sea of humanity!  There is no way I'm waiting 30 minutes in line for hot chocolate from Dunkin' Donuts or Starbucks.  And I'm certainly not going to pay $5 for a tiny styrofoam cup filled with watery hot chocolate made from a cheap packet.  If being a hot chocolate snob is wrong, then I don't want to be right!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012


...recently in the local Nordstrom's:

Thank you, Nordstrom's, thank you!

I do love Thanksgiving and feel like it never gets enough respect.  That being said, I think I'm going to need to avoid Macy's, Target, and pretty much the rest of the civilized world until November 23rd because Christmas is everywhere already this year!  I saw decorations out at the beginning of October, for goodness sake.  But I'm really going to try to avoid going into full-on Christmas mode.

But, come to think of it, light-up night in Pittsburgh is this Friday... I'm doomed!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Black bean burgers

A few weeks ago, my parents drove into the city for a nice Sunday visit.  I was officially joining a church (only the second ever in my lifetime -- crazy, right?), and they joined Matt to watch me take my vows in front of the congregation. After the lovely service, our stomachs were growling and the usual spread of cookies in the parish hall wasn't going to do it for any of us.  Wanting to stay within walking distance, I knew of just the place.

I'd been to Up Modern Kitchen twice for dinner but never for brunch or lunch.  My parents ordered brunch, while Matt and I made a bee line for the burger section of the menu.  Beef burger for him, of course.  And for her?  A house-made veggie burger.

'scuse me?

Yes, a veggie burger.  I honestly can't tell you what I was thinking at that moment, since it was weeks ago, but something stirring deep within me wanted a non-meat burger.  I suppose stranger things have happened.

Like Justin Timberlake being a married man.  Seriously, can we talk about this?!  Yes, the fact that a former teen pop idol is now hitched certainly falls under "stranger things."  You and I both know you don't come here for hard-hitting news.

But, the veggie burger!  I asked the waitress for more details, basically to confirm that it wasn't some pre-packaged thing.  She gave what was probably a very coherent description of the burger, but I zoned out and picked up on only a few choice words.  Mushrooms.  Black beans.  Roasted red pepper.

"Yes, I'll have that please."  Thinking back, I'm pretty sure I interrupted her.  Sorry, miss waitress.  I'm sure you are a very well-mannered human being.  I apologize for not being one.  I blame my stomach.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Fast Friday: Corn bread change-up

TGIFF - thank goodness it's finally Friday!  I swear that upcoming weekends filled with fun things always make the preceding week move along at a glacial pace.  Slow as molasses, I tell you!  But we made it, didn't we?

I am so looking forward to a very important date with a friend tomorrow.  Once a month, a nearby theater pairs with a local bakery for the glorious invention they've deemed Cinebrunch.  Doesn't that just sound like the best idea ever?!  A buffet of all sorts of breakfast foods and pastries is set out at 10, which moviegoers enjoy at their leisure.  At 11, everyone heads into the theater to enjoy that month's classic film of choice, which happens to be The Wizard of Oz.  I don't know how I ever lived without Cinebrunch in my life :)

Speaking of things I can't live without, at the top of my shortcut foods list you'll always find Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix.  A friend and I were recently talking about corn bread.  She and her husband hosted a pumpkin party recently, and she planned to make a big batch of chili and cornbread.  When I asked if she had a good recipe for the latter, she confessed that she almost always uses the little blue Jiffy box.  "Me, too!" I exclaimed.

I've tried a few recipes for homemade cornbread, and the results have been okay, but not great enough to warrant making again.  And certainly not worth the effort when a more delicious alternative takes all of 3 minutes to prepare.  Honestly, the blue box has it down!

Not long ago, I was preparing to make corn muffins to go with a batch of my favorite chili when I realized that I was out of eggs.  D'oh!  The blue box requires only 2 outside ingredients -- egg and milk -- and I was only batting .500.  Not a good sign.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Pumpkin oatmeal cookies

Sit down and pay attention.  Please.  Pretty please.  Because this is important.

I think I have a new favorite cookie.

I know, I know.  I spend so much time championing this recipe and that, saying things like, "This one!  You must make this one now!"  And I truly mean it every time.  I love food.  And I only tell you about food that I really, really love.

But, sometimes, I fear that you might see me as the boy who cried wolf, or, um, the girl who cried delicious.  "How can she say everything is so totally awesome?  Does she even realize how often she uses the words super and totally and amaaaaaaaazing with way too many "a"s?  Pfffffft.  I don't know if I believe her."

Well, believe this, sister (and brother): These are the best cookies I've eaten this year.  Certainly the best I've made this year.