Friday, March 29, 2013

Friday five: Easter Sunday treats

I consider almost every Friday to be good, but today it's the real deal as it is officially Good Friday.  Matt and I are heading to my parents' place for the holiday weekend.  We're really looking forward to spending time with everyone including my grandma, admiring my dad's newly finished basement, and, for me, getting a long overdue haircut.

So many good things on the horizon meant this week dragged juuuuuust a little, and I've had a slow start to a few mornings.  Since I've sworn off candy until Easter, dried cranberries and green tea have been my go-to items.  Luckily, Easter is just around the corner, so my fantasies about the contents of my fluorescent basket will become a reality shortly.

One of the many things I love about my mom is that she gets so into holidays and goes totally overboard decorating and preparing for all of 'em.  Overboard in the best kind of way!  It makes all of us feel so special to get a present from the bunny, even at the ripe ol' age of 28. 

The shelves at drug stores and grocery stores have been lined with treats in pink and yellow packages for over a month, so I've had plenty of time to plan my sugar attack for Easter Sunday.  Without further ado, here is this week's Friday five: my favorite Easter morning treats!

1. Easter "grass" littered with candy -- Paper, plastic, shiny or matte.  I love all kinds!  For as far back as I can remember, there have always been M&Ms in our Easter baskets.  But, rather than an unopened bag of them, my mom sprinkles handfuls of pastel plain and peanut chocolate candies among the faux grass.  Every year we complain about this -- "they're too hard to find!" -- but secretly enjoy the hunt, especially when we have otherwise emptied the baskets and find a few stragglers at the bottom :)

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Vegas day 3: Playing favorites & final thoughts!

(If you missed them, here are recaps from our first and second days in Las Vegas.)

When we woke up on Sunday morning, we were feelin' pretty green... because it was St. Patrick's Day!  Coincidentally, we both ended up donning outfits with green in them, too.  Sadly, Rachel was feeling a bit green in the other sense of the word due to an oncoming cold (just to clarify that we weren't sick for other reasons).  Thankfully, we had a low-key day planned before we hit the road to return to LA.

After checking out of our room using the TV (whaaaaaat?!), we headed down to the lobby of the Paris Hotel to explore breakfast options.  In minutes, we were seated at a table for two at Le Cafe.  We considered eating there the day before but there was a long line, so we headed to Sugar Factory.

I'd told Rachel the day before that I was really in the mood for a comforting and carb-y breakfast the last morning of our trip, and my order totally reflected that: vanilla bean brioche French toast.  Despite the fuzzy picture, my feelings about this dish were crystal clear -- best French toast of my life!  I've heard that once you've tried French toast made with thick slices of sweet and eggy brioche (think a little heavier than Jewish challah bread), you'll never be able to look at standard bread French toast again.  True story, folks. I'm currently looking for a brioche recipe to make at home.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Cajun shrimp frittata

Fun fact: I'm a bit of a wimp when it comes to spicy foods.  I can tackle my own weight in sugar without any problem, but a smidge of cayenne pepper can render me useless in a matter of seconds.

On the contrary, Matt puts hot sauce in/on practically anything.  Eggs, burritos, Chinese food, soups, hash browns, hot dogs, burgers, even pizza.  I've learned that I should operate on the assumption that he'll add either a dash of Frank's Red Hot Sauce or Cholula (his favorite) to his food, so I put the bottles on his end of the dining room table.

It's easy enough for Matt to spice up his food at home without having any effect on my meal or tender taste buds.  The problem arises when we're out at a restaurant, and he wants me to try a bite of his dish.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Vegas day 2: Around the world and back(bends)

(For a recap of our first night in Vegas, click here.)

We woke up on Saturday morning without an alarm but with a feeling of total refreshment and relaxation... in Sin City, no less!  Our plan for the day was to have no plans at all; simply explore and indulge our attraction to shiny objects.

But, explorers need fuel, so we headed to breakfast at Sugar Factory, where I opted for a simple spinach and avocado omelette (I skipped the potatoes since they were pre-made and tasted like cardboard).  It was delicious and light, just what I needed/wanted.  Rachel ordered a fruit and yogurt plate with banana bread and a croissant.  Aside from the banana bread tasting a little like "fake bananas", our experience was good and we'd recommend the place.

After breakfast, we set off for the north end of The Strip, first stop: The Venetian.  With all of my dad's hyping, he didn't hype this enough.  We felt like like we'd flown across the Atlantic and landed in Italy... and Rachel's been to the real deal!  The architecture was impressive, the candy store within amusing...

And the canals under the pale blue "skies", complete with gondolas, were unbelievable!  Are you kidding me?!  We spent quite some time walking around and oogling little Italy, including St. Mark's Square, before stumbling upon the famed Bouchon Bakery.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Vegas day 1: Food coma!

I'm back, I'm refreshed, and I'm bursting at the seams with excitement to share pictures from my Vegas trip with you.  What is one to do in Vegas when one doesn't drink or gamble?  Turns out, lots!

Like I said last week, I flew from Pittsburgh to LA on Thursday night to meet up with my former college roommate, Rachel.  It had been exactly 1 year and 3 days since we saw each other last -- at her wedding, no less.  Time has flown!

On Friday afternoon, we embarked on a road trip for our very first visit to Las Vegas!

Mandatory (and squinty, ew!) self-portrait.  Our car full of snacks went unpictured but included sweet potato Pop Chips (first time I've tried -- irresistable!), trail mix, Fiber One bars, and apples.  Our last attempt at balance for the weekend. 

If you've ever wondered what the 4 1/2 hour drive from LA to Vegas looks like, let me save you some sleepless nights: it's desert (initially typed "dessert").  Lots and lots of desert and rocks.

Then, almost out of nowhere, numerous billboards, high rise hotels that look like castles, and rollercoasters appear on the landscape.  Welcome to Sin City!  (We missed the trademark welcome sign.  Womp womp.)

Specifically, welcome to the Paris Hotel!  What a delight, let me tell you.  We weren't there but 20 minutes in order to freshen up and change before heading out to the most anticipated dinner of the weekend: Max Brenner's!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Taco turkey casserole

"I want to live inside that!"  That being this:

That's exactly what Laura and Matt said as they took bite after bite after bite of this at dinner recently.  If there's a more satisfying comment about one's own cooking, I'd like to hear it because that one had me grinning wildly and patting myself on the back.  Thanks, you two :)

Having bookmarked the recipe a few weeks ago, I'd pegged it as a Mexican version of classic Italian lasagna.  I was looking forward to making it, assumed it would taste good, put the necessary items on the grocery list, and didn't give it much more thought until I got into the kitchen to cook.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Banana muffin redo

This recipe isn't exactly new, but it is such a favorite of mine and such a staple in our home that I felt it warranted re-sharing: my mom's famous banana muffins!

I made a big batch last weekend and decided to mix things up a bit.  Into half of the batter, I stirred a heaping 1/2 cup of shredded coconut.  Into the other half, I stirred a generous 1/2 cup of mini semi-sweet chocolate chips.

Coconut = chewy sweet goodness!  Chocolate = ooooooobviously rich and decadent and amazing!

But don't limit yourself to chocolate and coconut.  Try some chopped walnuts or pistachios, maybe slivered almonds.  How about some drained and diced pineapple or apple?  Or you could throw caution to the wind and kick nutrition to the curb and add chopped Reese's cups?  I just.  Eee!  Chopped Reese's cups are so happening next time I make banana muffins.  TDF, for sure!

Click here for the recipe to make some for yourself.  I promise they'll cure any case of the Mondays you're dealing with :)

Friday, March 15, 2013

Friday Five: Lucky lady

News flash -- I've skipped town.  I'm headed to Vegas, baby!

Last night I flew from Pittsburgh to LA to meet up with my old college roommate, and we've got quite the weekend planned.  We're driving to Vegas this afternoon and spending 48 hours... well, eating, drinking, and being merry!

To be honest, we aren't big drinkers or gamblers, but we have pleeeeeeeeeeenty of fun things on the agenda to keep us entertained.  And I use the word "agenda" loosely.  I'm attempting to kick back and let this weekend be a real vacation without rules, obligations, or guilt.  That being said, here is this week's edition of Friday Five with a few of the ways we plan to indulge ourselves silly in Las Vegas :)

1. The Fountains at the Bellagio Hotel - If that image looks familiar, it's because it's a screen shot of the scene at the end of the movie Ocean's 11.  Since the first time I saw that movie, I've wanted to visit the fountains in front of the Bellagio.  Our hotel is close to it, so we're hoping to sit back and "ooh" and "ahh" at a show our very first night in town. I have a feeling we may return for an encore (or five).

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Mac & cheese bites

If there's one challenge that will always excite me, it's that involved with planning a party.  My friends know that I will truly look for any excuse to entertain.  New digs, birthdays, holidays, the Academy Awards, and sporting events just to name a few.  I also have a mental list of get-togethers I'd like to throw in the future including, but not limited to, a pie party, an ice cream sundae party, a throwback foods and games from our childhood party, and even a girls only Disney princess party.

Wha?  There's no limit on the age of a Disney princess :)

Thankfully, I needed no creative brainstorming to come up with an idea for this party.  Someone is getting married and obviously wanted a bachelorette party!  I hosted the first part at our apartment before we headed out for a night on the town. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Blue cheese and onion meatballs

I recently finished reading The Happiness Project and absolutely loved it and have talked it up to anyone who would listen.  I've described it as Eat, Pray, Love within the context of a normal life and without a lump sum of money to ditch everyday responsibilities and run off to exotic places.

Gretchen's book was engaging and insightful without being preachy or soapbox-y.  And I basically loved the author and her type-A self and want to have dinner with her ASAP.  I found myself laughing out loud while dog-earing pages at the same time.

I eventually flattened out those dog-ears and, instead, made photocopies of those pages I wanted to keep for one reason or another. Some copies were of two page ideas while others were to highlight a simple phrase.  This is possibly my favorite bit of happiness advice from the entire book:

"What do you think about when you're sitting on the toilet?  Because that's what you WANT to think about."

Or, modified slightly, what do you think about when you're in the shower?  Because that's what you WANT to think about. 

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Oreo cream pie

Remember that time I told you there'd be a recipe for a Oreo cream pie on the blog last week?  Oops.

Let's say this Oreo cream pie and I are fashionably late.  With our oversized sunglasses, just blown-out tresses, and Louis Vuitton handbags dangling haphazardly from our arms.  Typical Hollywood behavior, y'all.

Which is totally fitting since this was the star of our Oscars party.

And, just like a celebrity to a party, it was late to arrive and the first one to leave.  Us gals in our finest sweatpants and sweatshirts totally devoured this dessert!

Friday, March 8, 2013

Fast Friday: Peanut butter hot chocolate

Friday already!  This week has zipped by so quickly.  I hope it's been stress- and pain-free for all of you!  Say goodbye to the office and head into a weekend filled with fun and magical things, like movies.  I am so pumped to see Oz The Great and Powerful, and think I might easily be able to convince Matt to join me.

I've got good news to report!  It's been almost 2 weeks since I took a tumble and landed on my rump, and I'm feeling a little better every day.  Hooray!  Life is almost back to normal.

Thankfully, most of the intense discomfort subsided after the first five days.  I've since returned to the gym, and light workouts (even some jogging) are going well without any consequences.  At this moment, my list of limitations is rather short: no sitting down quickly onto hard surfaces, exercises that target the glutes, and sneezing.  Have you ever realized how powerful a sneeze could be?  Yikes!

But(t), last week at this time, I was so bored.  With post-work exercising curbed, I was looking for ways to occupy my time.  I scrapbooked, crafted, caught up on TV, used my shiny new vacuum cleaner a little too much, ironed clothes, and stared at the wall.  Still, I wondered what else I could do.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Homemade funfetti cupcakes

Birthdays have always been a very big deal in our family.  Some years there were parties with friends, but most years were spent just the four of us having a ball at home.

From a young age, I remember days beginning with breakfast in bed and cards on the tray, flowers from Mom and Dad, favorite foods for lunch and dinner, and being spoiled rotten with presents.  And there was cake. Of course, there was cake!  With ice cream or, as my dad still calls it "commode" (in reference to the phrase a la mode, if you will).  My mom always made our birthday cakes.  I can picture the 9-by-11-inch glass dish now.

The days leading up to our birthdays were filled with anticipation and almost as much fun as the day itself.  She'd ask whether the birthday celebrant wanted yellow or chocolate a few days before the occasion.  On the day of, we'd hear the familiar buzz of the electric mixer and knew that meant we were mere hours away from sugary bliss.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Sizzlin' slow cooker month recap

March has certainly come in like a lion around these parts!  It's only the 4th of the month, and it's already been a roaring good time.  Oh yes, she went there. :)

In a little under 36 hours, there was an absolutely beautiful bridal shower for one of my best friends, Julie:

A very fun bachelorette party (recipe for delicious mac and cheese bites I made coming soon!).  

And an early birthday celebration dinner at Rock Bottom for Matt.  Great food, great beers (so I'm told), and great friends!

So far, so good, March!  But, with exciting beginnings also come inevitable ends.  We said farewell to February and sizzlin' slow cooker month.  I seriously can't believe how quickly it passed.  Talking with a friend about it last night, I realized that with a little bit of planning and minimal prep, I realized that my Crock Pot Louie really spoiled me for a few weeks.  I learned a few things, too...

Friday, March 1, 2013

Friday five: Oscar party food

Hey, hi, how ya doin', March?  I feel like I've lived an entire year just this week, and it's only Friday.  There's still so much fun on tap for this weekend, next week, and weekend.  I can sleep when I'm dead, right? :)

I guess it's fitting that the last week of the shortest month should be extra busy: booked a trip to Vegas (squee! more on that soon...), kicked butt at work, ran a bazillion errands, visited the ER, tended to a feverish husband, hosted a dinner, planned two parties, and threw the first on Sunday -- the Oscars soiree!

Yesterday, I shared with you one of the movie-inspired dishes made for our 5th Annual Academy Awards Party -- slow cooker chicken sausage and shrimp gumbo.  But, if you remember our past parties, you know that we go all out!  One dish simply won't cut it for our celebration, so we challenge ourselves to come up with snacks inspired by each film nominated in the Best Picture category.  (Don't even get me started on the increase in the number of films allowed in said category.)

We got really lucky this year because many of the nominated films were set in similar locations, allowing us to double up on some dishes.  I love a good party, but there is no sense in wearing oneself out before the fun even begins.

Without further ado, it's time to reveal the winners of this week's Friday five: Oscar movie-inspired dishes!