Thursday, December 30, 2010

Christmas Recap

Christmas Day was spent at my parents' house with them, my husband, and my sister. Mom put up just a small tree, but it was festive and cute with the addition of the bears displayed next to them in the chest. The pile of presents was small, but it was clearly evident that a lot of thought was put into what was selected- and that's what matters most. Gone are the days where we overspend to show how we care about each other during the holidays. What's important is the time we spend together.

Besides, we make up for spending every other time of the year...

To start, mom made a feast of appetizers suitable for an army. No joke.
Savory Side...with homemade potato chips!
Dessert Side
Meatballs, Teriyaki Chicken Kebabs, & Filet Mignon Kebabs
Savory Palmiers & Steak Bruschetta

Not my ashtray...gross!
Seriously, there were only 5 of us! To start, I grabbed a bit of (almost) everything. My favorites were the eggroll, savory palmier, and the meatballs. Actually, everything was really good except for the stuffed grape leaves. Not enough flavor for me- I like them sour/tart and these were bland. Sorry mom!

Then there was this cocktail creation of hers that had blood orange in it, simple syrup, some sort of fruit juice, and some tequila. I mentioned it was too sweet, so dad added more tequila...which turned out to not be a good idea because I didn't feel well later on and passed out when I got home, LOL. Between multiple drinks and all the coffee I consumed, I wasted valuable stomach space for all the delicious food!

As for desserts, there were all those cookies I made, plus mom had carrot cake (yum!), mini pumpkin pie tarts (two of which are in my freezer now), and some Kahlua cheesecake. Normally I am not a fan of cheesecake, but there's something about the ones my mom makes that I actually like! I wish there'd been a photo opportunity of the original cake; she makes them bundt-style with a crunchy chocolate outer coating and a creamy sweet inside.

Now for the gifts! Like I mentioned before, I went pretty low-key this year and made an effort to buy locally made items.
I think all my gifts were a hit. They're practical and will be used and enjoyed. As for what J and I received, let's just say we were impressed, thrilled, and extremely grateful for all of it. J's gift was the best, hands-down, because of the thought that went into it. It's a framed photo of the grave site of one of his ancestors that served in WWI, died in the war, and was buried in France. The smaller inset photo is the grave marker and the larger image is of the cemetery. My husband enjoys genealogy research (spending LOADS of time doing meticulous work), so this was the perfect gift for him. And totally unexpected. My dad I think tracked this down for him and made it happen. J said this is the best gift they've ever given him.

As for me, I got some cool kitchen stuff, like this Darth Vader spatula. Yes, I shall use the Dark Side of the Force to flip my egg whites. Mwahahaha...

And then, the pièce de résistance:

Holy crap! I've been wanting a Le Creuset pot FOREVER. Who doesn't want one of these? Before mom left her previous employer, I kinda hinted I wanted one of these while she still had her discount, but I wasn't ready to shell out the money myself because it was still pretty pricey. I never suspected I would get it as a gift! And it's ORANGE. It matches the tea kettle I already own, my only other Le Creuset piece because the price was reasonable.

Overall it was a great holiday. Low-key and no drama. And the week of vacation since has been great so far. Doing NOTHING has been pretty awesome, but I have to keep reminding myself not to stress out about the fact that I haven't made some of the new things I want to try or that I haven't cracked open the HTML book.

I hope all of you had a fantastic holiday. Did anyone get anything cool/unexpected as a gift?

100 Mile Challenge

In an effort to kickstart my fitness plan and get my butt to the gym more often than not, I've decided to try this 100 Mile Challenge set forth at the blog Chasing Davies that I first read about on Gigi's Gone Parental.

For the month of January, I pledge to walk/run/crawl 100 miles. Now, that could be roughly 3 miles EVERY DAY, or I can double up on other days if I can't make it to the gym for one reason or another. This will prolly be great for those times I want to go to a 6PM spin class where you need to sign up by 5:15 in order to get a bike. It will give me something to do to kill time.

I'm definitely looking forward to having a specific, short-term goal. Have you set any goals for the new year?

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Get me to the Greek

Yogurt, that is! I love Greek yogurt- it's thick, tangy, low in sugar, and high in protein. I prefer it plain, adding my own fruit, granola, or nuts to it. Amongst all the different brands I've tried (and there are a lot out there now), Trader Joe's is my favorite. Too bad they don't sell it in a 32oz tub like Fage does. Ugh, and $2.99 for a 16oz container? It makes me want to cry because if I put my mind to it, I can go through a lot of it.

During the great holiday cookie bake session
So tonight I was perusing the recipes on Snowville Creamery, noting the one for yogurt in particular. Wouldn't it be fantastic to have yogurt made with local ingredients? Now, it looks like I could make it without the use of a yogurt machine, but that seems pretty complicated. But do I seriously need another kitchen gadget? Where would it live? Counter space is at a premium (note: residue photographed on cabinets has been cleaned- gross!) and there's very limited cabinet space, some of which is unusable.

Oh, and I'm planning on adding some big glass canisters to the counter for bulk ingredients like oats, sugar, and bread flour that are getting a lot of action in the kitchen lately. Even less space now.

Automatic Yogurt Maker
But the pursuit of eating more locally, what's better than making yogurt with locally sourced milk? Ooh...and topping it with some frozen black raspberries from the summer market?

For right now, I'm seriously toying with the idea of purchasing this yogurt maker from Williams Sonoma. The reviews for this particular machine on both the store site and Amazon have been very favorable, but I wish I could taste test the finished product to be sure. I've read a few other bits of info that for real Greek yogurt, I need a Greek yogurt starter because it works better than starting a batch with an existing Greek yogurt. I think I'd give that a try before shelling out for the starter, or even try the basic starter that comes with the machine.

The only thing to do now is wait. I cashed in some rewards points for a WS gift card- the first time in years it's actually going to me instead of someone else as a Christmas gift. So once I have that card in my hot little hands (in addition to another card I received as a gift), I may be making the purchase. Hopefully before the end of the week so that I have time to experiment before heading back to work.

Have you ever made yogurt? How did it turn out for you?

Sweet Deal

It's pretty sad when you are 6pts ($12) away from a $25 rewards card at Talbots, and you aren't inspired by anything in the sale section to make a purchase. I have the very basic rewards card, so I only earn a half point for each dollar I spend- and I think I earned a lot of my points the hard way instead of cashing in during the double points times!

Due to frugality I've missed out on quite a few cool pieces, plus with working at home, it's hard to justifying purchasing a beautiful pencil skirt or jacket when you're not wearing it anywhere.

On a recent trip to Clothes Mentor (a women's resale shop), I scored this awesome Talbots cardigan NEW WITH TAGS (orig $179, now $97.49) for only $17.50. Well, that was before the 20% off coupon and the $9 worth of stuff I traded in towards it. $179 cardigan for $5? Yes, please! While I don't normally wear a lot of pink, I figured I could style it with one of my graphic tees or just wear it around the house...where no one can see how washed out it makes me look.
Cashmere striped boyfriend cardigan
I always seem to find a great piece for a great deal when I hit the resale shops, which is A LOT! Sometimes I buy things I think I really love, only to never wear it and end up reselling it back to them. I'm LOADS better at talking myself out of buying stuff than I used to be, but I still have my splurging at Eddie Bauer this weekend on a pair of jeans, cords ($19.99!), and two cozy cardigans. I've already worn half of the stuff, so I'd say it was an excellent idea! :) 

Do you hit up resale shops often? Do you go thrifting? What kinds of treasures have you found?

2011 Resolutions

2009 Cap City Half-Marathon
This week is where we all take time to prepare for the upcoming new year, making plans and resolutions for what we hope to accomplish and how we want to better live our lives. While mine are always the typical "lose weight" or "stop spending so much money," this time I thought I'd put it into writing and throw it out there into the blogosphere.

I really miss running, even though I wasn't all that great at it. I want to get back into it and get better than I was before my back injury. I want another photo like the one to the right- me after my very first half marathon. I survived! Unfortunately there are no good photos of the race, and I have yet to shell out the cash for a finish photo. Those things are expensive!

So I've been compiling a list this afternoon while my house fills with the aroma of baking bread. Here they are in no particular order:

  • Climb back on the Weight Watchers wagon- the new plan is fantastic. I need to focus on following the guidelines and tracking my food, even if it means I'm eating 5pt homemade bread or granola
  • Eat more vegetarian meals and be more mindful of where my food (dairy, meat, eggs, etc) comes from; aim to eat with the seasons and locally; also somehow encourage J to eat this way, too...
  • Workout at the gym consistently, expanding beyond spin class and the cardio equipment. That means more cardio dance classes, Zumba, and the new kickboxing class at the gym
  • Strength train 2-3 days each week, either at the gym or at home
  • Prepare for a spring race- either a 5K or quarter marathon in May- with plans to run the entire distance
  • Providing the spring race goes well (no pain!), prepare for a half marathon in the fall

  • Learn HTML so I can jazz up the blog
  • Blog consistently
  • Develop a clearer vision for which direction I want to go with the blog- my fitness/nutrition journey, food, local stuff, fashion, or all of the above?
  • Learn some photography skills, working with the less than desirable camera options I have
  • Get organized- there's got to be a way to make the process more efficient
  • Create a header/logo that's uniquely mine
  • Tackle the list of items I set forth under Kitchen Krusade (and possibly a better title for this endeavor...)
  • Keep pantry, dishes, freezer, and fridge organized so that I make the best possible use of all available ingredients plus use those serving dishes and specialty items that are rarely used
  • Prepare dinner more than once a week
  • Utilize the (few) cookbooks I have collected, trying out new recipes and finding out what works best for us
  • Serve more meals at the table instead of in front of the television

  • Paint the rest of the interior of the house
  • Finish any neglected house projects like installing trim or towel racks...that have waiting for years
  • Plant a respectable flower garden and corresponding vegetable garden - and maintain them
  • Use the deck and new patio...because they weren't used this past year!
  • Light more candles; otherwise they sit around collecting dust, which isn't their purpose
Misc Stuff:
  • Visit a farm (or two)
  • Learn to use a sewing machine
  • Volunteer with Local Matters - already signed up for January/February @ The Greener Grocer!
  • Take a vacation to Washington DC
  • Spend more time with friends, not just a once monthly meet-up
  • Find new ways to spend my free time that don't involve wandering around the mall
I'm sure I'll think of more things I'd like to do along the way, but for now, I think that's a pretty good start!

The title of my blog "I have trouble with forward motion" started out as a bit of a joke between my sister and I because I liked running but was extremely slow. Looking over the parts of my life such as exercise, nutrition, organization...there's a pattern of making plans and not following through to become successful. An inability to move forward. I really want to break that pattern this year. I want to be healthy, fit, and stress less about mundane things that need to be done. I want to truly enjoy life and experience new things. Plus I want all these good habits to be in place and part of my lifestyle before my husband and I begin the next phase of our lives together: buying a real house and starting a family (don't worry, that's still a year or two off!).

Oh, and I found not one, but THREE white hairs on my head. Old age is settling in, LOL.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Happy Holidays!

I hope everyone is enjoying their holiday! 

This breakfast is brought to you by..

Jeni's, of course! In all reality I was looking for something to act as a carrier for the delicious whipped cream left over from dinner, so I went with another fruit pie with a tiny scoop of ice cream. It's basically what dessert looked like last night sans the orange. Orange is healthy, no?

As I write this, the cats are still rolling around in the kitchen courtesy of the catnip they got in their stocking. Sorry for a blurry picture, but it's hard to capture two flailing furry bodies in action. While I have to vacuum the kitchen floor again, it's all worth it for the entertainment they provide. They also got a new cat toy that has an octopus dangling from a his drug-induced state, Ben was afraid of it! LOL.

Happy Holidays everyone!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Eve Dinner

For the first time EVER, the hubs and I are on our own for Christmas Eve. We've always been at some family member's house, usually my parents'. For some reason, this year my parents have opted to host us on Christmas Day. I think mom just wasn't up to making a big meal when she knew she would be working at the store. So instead of being mopey about being by ourselves, I set out to make my first ever Christmas Eve dinner.

The Menu:
  • Roasted Gerber Chicken with herb butter, stuffed with lemon, garlic, more herb butter, and the green part of a leek
  • Organic golden potatoes, carrots, and leeks roasted with garlic, rosemary and Greek olive oil from The Olive Orchard
  • Individual fruit pies made with puff pastry and Winesap apples served with a scoop of Jeni's Honey Vanilla Bean ice cream and a generous dollop of Snowville Creamery whipped cream
  • Römerhof Riesling

I'm fairly certain I've roasted a chicken before, but this felt like square one for me. Instead of carving the poor thing, I feel like I butchered it when it came time to serve. While the breast meat was tender and juicy, it didn't have near as much flavor as the dark meat. The vegetables were roasted in the same pan with the chicken, so they took on all that chicken-y goodness. My husband raved about how great they were and even went for seconds! I wish I'd thought to take a photo of everything still in the pan, but we were both eager to eat.

Green beans had originally been planned, but due to my inability to cook frozen veggies, I had to toss them. I even googled how to cook them, but I had trouble executing- they went totally limp. There are a TON of frozen green/wax beans in the freezer from this past summer's farmer's market. I had hoped to be able to saute them, but appears they will be relegated to soups and stews. :(

The biggest disappointment to all of you would be the lack of a photo of our delectable dessert. The ice cream was getting melty and I wanted to plate everything and eat it before it got worse. You can see the apple pies here. Maybe they'll make a reappearance in the morning at breakfast? Ooh, and then the lighting will be better! And would you believe I've never made whipped cream? My mom does it all the time because she has one of those dispensers, but I used the whip attachment on my trusty Kitchen Aid mixer. It was SO good. There's still a bunch left even though I only whipped a cup of cream...I want to just eat is straight from the bowl!

The table was set fairly simply because I don't own any actual table linens...I haven't found anything that suits my tastes and actually looks right on our table. Instead of fancy china, my dinnerware is the basic Great White from Pottery Barn that I got ages ago when I used to work there. Actually, now that I think about it, 98% of what's on the table is from there, LOL. The silverware is the old Atlas pattern (not sure if they still carry that), PB Basic white wine glasses, orange & white napkins from the outlet, and the orange bubble dofs (PB) are a wedding gift from an old friend.
The centerpiece is actually a mirrored picture frame (PB) decorated with candles (PB), pinecones, and thrifted apothecary jars filled with mini pinecones (yes, PB!), tiny mercury bulb ornaments (PB), and real cranberries. 

You know what? I can't remember the last time we actually both sat at the table for dinner. I loved it! The trouble is getting him on board with doing it more often.

Right after dinner I let J open his presents; I got him a pair of leather gloves and a Bodum stainless steel travel mug. Keeping it low-key this year because it's not about presents. Besides, I love practical gifts. I'll have to remember to take photos tomorrow of what I got my family.

I can't believe how late it is already! I still have to melt some chocolate to dip the macaroons in so they can sit in the fridge to firm up...but I don't want to wash a bowl to make a double boiler...I think I'll save it for the morning and watch J play Final Fantasy XIII. Neither of us have played in ages, so I figure if I watch his gameplay, I'll remember the story and where I left off so that I don't have to start over.

The List

Last night I prepared a list of ALL the things I wanted to make today and this weekend. I've managed to cross off quite a few things...and one that needs to be repeated because it was a fail, but more on that later.

After preheating the oven first thing this morning, I successfully made the following:
  • Salted Double Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies
  • Pfeffernussen
  • Lemon Rosemary Thumbprint Cookies w/ Strawberry Preserves
  • Coconut Macaroons (yet to be dipped in dark chocolate)
  • Sweet & Spicy Rosemary Nuts
I then tried these Coconut Date Walnut Truffles that I thought my mom would like since she loves those coconut covered dates from Trader Joe's, plus I had some dates that needed used because I think they're icky even though I know they're good for you.

The results were less than stellar for me, but I think that's more due to a failure on my execution than the recipe. If I were to ever make this again, I'd leave out the marshmallows, which seem like an odd addition to begin with. The mixture was so sticky that I gave up and put the rest of it in a pan, hoping that I can cut it into bars or something.

I can only imagine how long this really takes because I halved the recipe and there was still a ton of it. I rolled some in ground walnuts and the rest in unsweetened coconut.

My next project turned out pretty well considering it's something I've never tried before. I made some mini fruit pies with puff pastry and apples. With one sheet of pastry I managed to make four nice sized treats that I set aside for our dinner.

They were super simple: just mix together diced apple with brown sugar (and cook it a bit to soften, a step I totally left out but they were fine), spoon the apple mixture onto a piece of dough, wet down the edges, fold over and pinch the edges a bit, seal the edges with a fork, pierce the top a few times, and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar.

They puffed up beautifully and smelled terrific. I forgot to take a photo of them at dinner where they were served warm with a scoop of Jeni's Honey Vanilla Bean ice cream and fresh whipped cream made with Snowville Creamery cream. Mmm...

My next project is one I've tried (twice) before without much luck. No, not the caramel, but granola. I used this recipe, following everything but using dried cranberries for my fruit add in. I think this time I had a winner. I'm always worried about it burning or smelling like it's burnt, but this time I lucked out! I filled two large mason jars- I might bring one to my mom tomorrow. Hopefully they'll like it!

Right now I'm torn between having this for breakfast tomorrow or another one of those apple pies with more whipped cream. Hmm...decisions...

My last experiment of the day before I shut the oven off until dinner was Chex Mix. My husband loves the stuff, but I hate buying that garbage. I've tried it one other time, using a recipe from the actual Chex site, but I burned it a bit and there wasn't enough flavoring to truly cover all the cereal. This time I tried a Martha Stewart recipe for Chesapeake Bay Snack Mix. I left out the pretzels and used Goldfish crackers. North Market Spices even had a Chesapeake Bay spice mixture. I guess it's supposed to be the same as the Old Bay seasoning, but I've never used that before. I also used half the amount of Tabasco sauce, but it still was
WAY too much. The end result is super spicy and he won't eat it. And since I'm not a fan of the stuff to begin with, I really don't want to eat it either. I might try to pawn it off on my family tomorrow, but they're not big on spicy. I hate wasting food! Especially when you consider I used that entire box of cereal.

I'll try again on Sunday or sometime early next week once I can get my hands on some cereal- I wasn't in the mood to leave the house today even though I was starting to run out of things. I'm going back to the Chex website for their recipe, using only the half recipe amount of  cereal (which is all he really wants) and either doubling or tripling the regular amount of butter/seasoning. And being vigilant to not burn it!

Countdown to Dinner

I am now officially out of almonds, peanuts, and parchment paper. All (6!) of my mixing bowls are dirty, too.

I guess this year instead of shopping (for myself), I'm tinkering around in the kitchen. It's a fantastic start to a 10 day vacation. I think the oven has been on since 8AM. The kitchen is nice and toasty but not overly warm thanks to the low setting we have programmed in for weekdays...which I haven't figured out to change except to manually increase the temperature each morning once I notice it's too cold in the house.

I've made a million things this morning while a Star Trek Next Generation marathon plays in the other room and squirrels (and blue jays) scamper about the deck eating the peanuts I left for them. Eventually I'll go check the mail and see if Basement Cat needs fed/watered. And I might leave the house to pick up the things I'm out of because I don't know how I'll survive without parchment paper.

Finally stuck something savory (Chex Mix) in the oven- gotta go stir it! I'll have pictures and recaps later.

Happy Holiday Eve!

Good morning everyone! Anyone else have the day off? Even though I do, I still couldn't sleep in! I was up sometime after 7AM, and since I didn't feel like going to the gym yet (dangerous since the longer it gets put off, the less likely it will happen) AND my back is sore from all that cardio dance this week, I opted to begin my holiday baking.

Tomorrow the hubs and I are heading over to my parents' house to eat, relax, and open a few gifts. Mom is planning on making a bunch of appetizers in lieu of a traditional meal. It's a good opportunity for her to try her hand at making new things, and for us to sample the results. I'm eager for her to try my Pfeffernussen (the white cookies at the bottom) and the new batch of Rum Balls I made with the extra rum. I figure dad will like the Salted Double Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies (at the top). I know he likes Diana's Lemon Rosemary Thumprint Cookies because I made some at Thanksgiving and he ate just about all of them. LOL.

Also already made this morning are the Sweet & Spice Rosemary Nuts featured in the latest issue of Edible Columbus. The only change I made was to cut the amount of cayenne in half so that it won't overpower my family. I'm so glad I have this massive 14" Calphalon pan mom bought me a couple of years ago for my birthday because the one pound of nuts the recipe calls for is A LOT and wouldn't have fit properly in my trusty 10" pan.

Sweet & Spicy Rosemary Nuts
Recipe from Edible Columbus:
  • 1 pound of nuts (I used half almond and half pecan)
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 3 Tbsp maple syrup
  • 2 Tbsp chopped fresh rosemary (I used 1 Tbsp of dried because I love rosemary!)
  • 1 tsp cayenne (I cut this down to 1/2 tsp)
  • 3 Tbsp brown sugar
  • Kosher salt
Melt the butter in a skillet. Add in the nuts and toss to coat, roasting over medium heat until they start to brown- make sure they don't burn! Add the maple syrup and toss to coat. Add in the rosemary and cayenne. Cook a few more minutes, then turn off the heat and add in the brown sugar. Pour the nut mixture onto a cookie sheet in a single layer to cool. While still hot, liberally sprinkle the salt over the nuts.

Now, the recipe didn't say anything about stirring, but I stirred the thing constantly because I was concerned it would burn, stick, etc. Mine aren't fully cooled yet, but a quick taste tells me they're FANTASTIC. Sweet & salty with that nice rosemary flavor followed by the heat of the cayenne. I just hope my family likes it, too! I'll definitely have to try this out with a different combo of spices. I was kinda hoping to try these today, but I'm low on almonds. Ugh, I don't want to go to the store today!

 So what are you up to today?

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Jeni's Hats Off Hot Chocolate

This is the way that hot chocolate was meant to be enjoyed. It was rich and chocolatey and smooth- I'd hate to think what type of milk was used, but I highly doubt it was skim!

I had been seeing postings on Facebook about this new hot chocolate that Jeni's was serving at only their Powell and Clintonville locations. They're calling it Hats Off Hot Chocolate and it's made with milk from Snowville Creamery plus a single-origin cocoa powder from Askinosie Chocolate. And of course hot chocolate is best served with whipped cream (also from Snowville Creamery) and chocolate shavings.

Look! I managed to take a photo AND pour without making a mess.
OMG, I totally have to order this cocoa powder. I don't think anyone carries it locally. :(  And as for that whipped cream, I'm definitely making some with the SC cream I just picked up...also to be used in another [hopefully successful] attempt at making caramels. It was all I could do to not lick the little container clean!

The Powell Jeni's is really nice. I've only been to the Grandview and North Market locations, so the size of this new store is a welcome change. It's HUGE compared to those two. It's light and airy and it just had a cool vibe...especially when you're relaxing and indulging in some hot cocoa! I can't wait to return here.

Before leaving, I tried the Cocoa Zin flavor, which was okay but not really for me. Right now I have a pint of Bangkok Peanut in the freezer. I'm slowly working my way through tasting all the flavors. I think I covered most of the seasonal flavors, but I need to taste all the regular ones, too. I ended up purchasing a pint of the Honey Vanilla Bean...which I've never tried. I figure it's the most basic flavor and will pair well with the apple hand pies I plan to make tomorrow. Or maybe I can top it with a bit of the new Middle West Spirits Honey Vanilla Bean vodka. I hunted a bottle of that down last weekend, but I'm saving it to share with the family this Saturday.

Lots of baking expected for tomorrow, plus I'm making dinner for the hubs and myself...we've never been by ourselves of Christmas Eve! Roast chicken and potatoes- can't go wrong with that!

Oh, and I promise I'll post the photos of last week's cookies that I made for the holiday party. Actually, they'll look exactly the same as what I'm making tomorrow since I'm just baking up the leftover dough I froze.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Starbucks VIA

Anyone every try one of these? I've only used them so far for baking projects in lieu of espresso powder, but I had requested a sample of the flavored kind to see how they tasted.

I received 4 flavors: Mocha, Caramel, Vanilla, and Cinnamon Spice. Right now I'm sipping the Caramel flavor because it's cold in the kitchen and I need some caffeine to get through the rest of the day. I'm going to try my first ever Zumba class tonight, and after that I need to run to the store to pick up a few things. And then after that I'm getting my BAKE on for tomorrow's holiday party at the office.

Here's the run-down of what I'm planning to serve:
  • Rum Balls (some rolled in sanding sugar, others in chocolate sprinkles- these are the ones with EXTRA rum)
  • Lemon Rosemary Thumbprints with Strawberry Preserves
  • Salted Double Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies
  • Pfeffernussen
  • Coconut Macaroons (some plain, some dipped in chocolate- may even try CARROT ones...)
  • Cherry Rocky Road Fudge
 The fudge may be in or out depending on time. Rum Balls are done, but I need to bake the remaining cookies that I prepped over the weekend. Macaroons totally need to be mixed together, but they're relatively easy. Anyhow, I was really just posting about the coffee.

Smells nice.


Yeah, that's all I really have on it. Maybe the other flavors will be better, but there's just something a little off for me. I think it's the added sugar, which you really couldn't be without when adding in the caramel flavor. I'm a plain cream in my coffee kind of gal, so the sweetness is really overpowering to me. Oh well, glad I got to try it instead of shelling out the cash for something I ultimately wouldn't like.

Anyone else try the flavored VIA? What are your thoughts?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Kitchen Krusade

Inspired by Brown Eyed Baker's bucket list of recipes to master, I've compiled my own list of recipes/techniques I'd like to learn. I expect the list to grow as I find more kitchen projects to tackle.

In no particular order:

Everything in my Martha Stewart's Cookies book
Candied/Spiced Nuts
Peanut Butter
Whipped Cream
Pastry Cream
Homemade Butter
Homemade Cheese
Homemade Yogurt
Sandwich Bread
Focaccia Bread
Hamburger/Hotdog Buns
Dinner Rolls
Pizza Dough
English Muffins
Sprouted Bread
Puff Pastry
Bread Pudding
Pasta Noodles
Cake/Cupcake Decorating
Cookie Decorating
French Macarons
Fruit Pie
Cream Pie 
Broccoli Cheese Soup
Potato Latkes 
Ice Cream
Gingerbread House
Onion Rings
Vegan Brownies
Corn Syrup
Twinkies (for the husband!)
Citrus Brownies/Blondies
Petit Fours (I had originally left these off because they seem like a hassle, but last night I had the most amazing ones, so they're now on the list)

Bread WIN!

Finally, a successful bread baking experiment! After a long hiatus from checking out the site, I stopped by Brown Eyed Baker last night to get some inspiration for all the holiday cookies I'm making. Like my Martha Stewart Cookie book or her various holiday cookie magazines aren't enough!

While there, I found this recipe for sandwich bread that seemed fairly easy for my novice self to try. It only took a few hours from start to finish as opposed to an entire day waiting for the dough to rise. So not only was it easier and quicker, it turned out FABULOUS! Husband even liked it! We didn't wait long before carving into it.

Now, it's not perfect- you can tell by the air holes, but it's a start. Unfortunately it's a white bread, but I'm hoping it can be made whole wheat pretty simply. I subbed in skim milk (whole milk in this house?) and used bread flour for part of the flour it called for.

I got up early this morning (stupid cat) and proceeded to get my bake on while snow fell outside. On Thursday we have a holiday potluck at the office, and I have to bring a dessert. I've opted for a cookie assortment so that I can try out a few things. So far I've made dough for Salted Double Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies, Diana's thumbprint cookies I made at Thanksgiving, and the rum balls I also made at Thanksgiving...although this time I really upped the amount of rum. Hopefully this translates to a stronger rum smell/flavor. I also bought chocolate sprinkles to roll them in as opposed to the sanding sugar the recipe calls for that I used last time. They looked like doughnut holes!

I've also got Allie's Eggnog Caramels chilling in the fridge. After my disappointing attempt before, I wanted to try making caramel again. This recipe was perfect because I had a carton of eggnog wasting away waiting in the fridge. In place of the corn syrup from my last recipe, this called for molasses and honey. I'm not sure if I'm a fan of molasses. At least this time my caramel is dark! Hopefully when I go to cut it, it holds its shape. Not looking forward to cutting out a bunch of tiny parchment squares to wrap them in. I hope they'll stay fresh for Thursday!

I'll make sure to get pictures posted this week of the finished products. Instead of my iPhone, I'm trying out my ancient digital camera to see if those turn out better.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Step, step, step-flail-change

LOL, tonight I survived (or at least I think I did- ask me tomorrow...or in an hour) my first cardio dance class. Titled simply "Dance!Dance!," I wasn't quite sure what type of dancing I was in for. My best guess was it wasn't ballroom style, which I actually can do.

Despite all those years of band (concert, jazz, and marching) and my love of music, I have REALLY bad coordination. Or maybe it's more of a spatial awareness problem because I suck at first-person shooter video games, yet I can rock out on the drums in Rock Band. Anyhow, there was a lot of confusion on my part as I tried to follow along, but the important part is that I didn't feel totally stupid doing it. WIN! I suppose with time I'll get better.

Actually, I was feeling pretty good about myself, so when I got home, I told the hubs that he needs to go with me sometime. There were guys in the class...who were actually good. Still mostly women and very crowded, but I managed. I had planned (brought my mat!) to go to yoga afterwards, but it was a 15 minute wait for class to start. I can always hit a class or two up this weekend or even pop in one of my many yoga dvds.

This evening I'm going to rest, drink my water, and try to decide what type of bread to bake this weekend. My goal tomorrow is to get back to the gym for a spin class...although, I can't wait to see how I feel! I feel like I got beat up!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Doing my part

For awhile now I've been wanting to get involved with Local Matters, a non-profit here in Central Ohio whose mission is "To make local, healthy, sustainably grown food accessible to everyone." They have various volunteer activities ranging from educating schoolchildren, admin work, and working community events. I'm trying to incorporate more locally sourced items into my purchases, but sometimes it's hard to pass up berries when they're dirt cheap at the store...even though it's December and frosty here in the Midwest.

Today I received an email from the folks at Local Matters asking for volunteers to work an event next week that I had been secretly pining to go to but couldn't knowing that no one would want to go (or be able to) with me. A Splendid Holiday is an event that brings together a bunch of local businesses in support of Local Matters. Not only will there be delicious treats from Jeni's (Baked Alaska!), but treats from Clever Crow Pizza, libations from Middle West Spirits, and other fun things.

So next Tuesday I will be on drink, cleaning, and food detail- whatever help they need. While getting into the event for free is a nice perk, it's really a great opportunity for me to get involved and (hopefully!) meet some new friends.

I've also signed up for another volunteer shift for The Greener Grocer at the North Market. I'll be helping to pack up their weekly market bags. This is a pretty busy time of year for them, so they need extra hands to get everything done. Can't wait!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

It's the Most Fattening Time of the Year

I found this today while skimming the WW message boards and thought it would make you guys chuckle:

"It's the most fattening time of the year
With that pumpkin pie filling
and everyone swilling down eggnog and beer
It's the most fattening time of the year

It's the lip smackingest season of all
while your shopping you're cheating
impulsively eating that junk at the mall

It's the heav-heaviest season of all

There'll be turkeys for basting
and stuffing for tasting
and giblets and gravy will flow
there'll be cookies that mom baked
and leftover fruit cake from a christmas a long time ago

it's the scale flattening time of the year
while your diet you're blowing
there's calories going straight down to your rear
it's the scale flattening time of the year

There'll be after meal dosing
and arteries closing
cholesterol levels will grow
it's too cold to go jogging
too brisk for tobogganing
so pass me a hot buttered roll

It's the most fattening time of the year

All those gingerbread shingles and
chocolate Chris Kringle's will tremble in fear

It's the most fattening time,
it's the belt loosening time,
it's the most fattening time of the year"

I'm actually not overly worried this year about all the sweets...which is funny considering how fun (and delicious!) baking is. I know what treats to enjoy and which ones to pass on. I usually find with baking that as long as there's a place it can go away to (the office), I won't be driven to stuff as much of it into me as I can. I'll have my taste to make sure they're suitable for others to eat and move on. The only way to get over the sugar craze is to become a pastry snob, selecting only the best.

So no more store-bought baked goods! Unless...they're from Pistacia Vera where I have a Groupon. Handcrafted and home baked goodies only! And even then, I'll have to choose what's really necessary to enjoy.

Yes, necessary. LOL. Because sometimes it just is.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Sunday Blues

Ugh. Sunday evenings are so depressing. You know you didn't get done all you needed to do over the weekend, plus the work week is looming. I'm so unmotivated at this point, all I want to do is curl up with a book until it's time for Boardwalk Empire and zombies.

My baking plans for today were put on hold so that I could visit with my best friend her new baby. She lives in California, so I rarely get to see her. Unfortunately it wasn't the best visit as there were a ton of family and family friends that were also visiting with her, a lot of time was spent feeding the baby. and my husband couldn't make it because he's been sick all week and didn't feel up to going, nor did he want to risk getting the baby or my friend sick. The last time they visited (maybe this time last year?), we met at a little kosher bakery near German Village and talked for hours. Her, her husband, and my husband are all great conversationalists. That's what was really missing from this visit, but there just wasn't time. We'd love to go visit them in CA, but we're not sure when that will be. We've got the vacation time, but it's all about the money.

At least I have bread baking to look forward to tomorrow!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010


Sprinkled in my eggs or on top of hummus...mmm...Za'atar. I'm not sure what comprises this particular blend that I purchased, but it's weirdly yummy. It's a Middle Eastern spice mix that I picked up a couple of weeks ago at the North Market from North Market Spices. The seller said it was good on hummus or chicken, so of course I thought it would be perfect for eggs. Usually I sprinkle on some oregano or chili powder (when I'm not dipping them in ketchup).

Speaking of eggs whites, I think I've had 9 of them since the new WW plan started. Thankfully the points for 3 whites hasn't increased! The husband is sick and only wants (canned) soup, so my go-to meal is always egg whites with some sort of vegetable. Tonight it was green beans and mushrooms; the last two have been kale. Mmm...kale. Fresh, maybe drizzled with some Olivier balsamic vinegar...heaven. I need to try making those kale chips that are all the rage in some of the blogs I read. I haven't tried cooking kale at all.

I'm really digging this new plan. I'm not stressing about spending points on dairy, plus I've been able to enjoy the homemade bread (with jam!) I made yesterday without going over my daily points allotment. The online tools are pretty cool so far- I love stuff like that! I used to track all manner of nutritional info on Sparkpeople, so this really isn't any different from that. The only downside is entering in recipes or foods that aren't listed (I entered a TON of stuff in Sparkpeople), but in a way it's kinda good because then I'll know for sure how many points something is...especially when baking. I'll be able to indulge responsibly instead of estimating the cost of deliciousness.

As for my adventure with bread baking, I think it turned out pretty great for a first time! The dough was wetter than I think it was supposed to be and didn't rise as much as I would have thought. In any case, it's pretty delish- even the sick man has had some (with jam!), and he's pretty picky. I was hoping for a lighter/taller bread that he would be okay with for sandwiches. I'll just have to try again! It's been really hard to not sit and eat all of it; I'm so proud there's still some of the first loaf left! Then there's the second one to contend with. How long will this stuff even last before it goes bad?

Sneak peak of what I hope to make this weekend: Pumpkin Focaccia andPumpkin, Fig, & Pomegranate Upside-Down Cake. The last time I was at the North Market, Omega (?) was sampling some pumpkin focaccia that was SO good. I thought about purchasing some, but it was some ridiculous price- I think it was by the pound? And the cake just recently popped up on The Front Burner as Emily's entry into the latest round of Project Food Blog. She's had a lot of great recipes since I started following her blog- I even tried TOFU! Which, turned out to be a major fail on my part.

Ugh, I can't wait for the weekend. So many things I want to do and delicious things to bake!


I'm totally obsessing right now about wanting to attend A Splendid Holiday in December. It's an event to benefit Local Matters, which is a organization that promotes local, healthy, sustainable, and accessible food. I'm totally on board with all that.

This is the list of companies they have on the invite- I wonder if there are samples from all of them? OMG, drool!

Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, Small Business Beanstalk, 3 Babes and a Baker, Sugardaddy’s Sumptuous Sweeties, Pistacia Vera, Pattycake Bakery, Sassafras Bakery, Middle West Spirits, Rockmill Brewery, Brothers Drake Meadery, and Barley’s Brewing Company

I love Jeni's. When I travel to the North Market, I make it a point to have a scoop (or three) for my breakfast...followed directly by a steaming cup of hot coffee. Pattycake Bakery is also yummalicious. Oh, and don't forget Pistacia Vera's macarons. Basically this party sounds like a sugar coma waiting to happen!

Speaking of breakfast ice cream, I should be indulging my sweet tooth this Saturday at the North Market Holiday Open House & Craft Extravaganza. Looks like there will be a lot of vendors selling their wares just in time for holiday gift giving. I'm hoping to pick up some local wine for my dad and some other fun local foodie items for my mom. And I'm sure I can find plenty for me!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

...and cream cheese icing for dinner

Since I made extra icing this morning, it's sitting in the fridge, calling my name. I miss those days where I didn't like cream cheese frosting. I'd always scrape it off of my carrot cake. It was never (and still isn't) as good as real sugary birthday cake frosting. You know, the kinda that makes you sick when you eat it, but you keep on eating it because it's so good?

I brought along the cookie assortment that I put together...and managed to leave ALL those cookies with mom! WIN! Well, I ate one of the thumbprint cookies because I spied a cat hair stuck to the jam. She liked the rum balls, remarking first about their resemblance to doughnut holes- must be the sanding sugar. She even ate a few of the other cookies, which was a surprise since she "only" eats once a day or something like that.

As usual, the brunch spread was delicious: ham & green onion quiche (in place of leeks), corn chowder, fruit salad (sweetened with cranberry relish), and regular salad. Both the quiche and chowder were rich and yummy. I also had WAY too much fruit juice mixed with vodka. I had a food/drink baby!

While our food digested, J peppered my mom with genealogy questions. Needless to say, we stayed past the point where I'd be able to make it to a WW meeting like I'd planned. Oh well, hanging with my family on the last day of a long weekend was much more pleasant! In any case, I went ahead and signed up to be an online member. I've never used eTools, but I've heard it's pretty easy. Can't wait for the update tomorrow with details on their new plan!

Cream cheese icing for breakfast

Why not? I'm currently enjoying a piece of the Cranberry Bliss Bars I baked last night along with a cup of coffee with Bailey's. Mmm...

The cake part seems a little dry even though I had it fully covered overnight. Even still, it tastes (and smells) delicious. I took a shortcut by not piping the white chocolate drizzle, so there are some tasty white chocolate clumps.

Today we're heading over to my parents for brunch since we didn't get to spend time with them on Thanksgiving. Since I made the Rum Balls in part for mom, I put together a little cookie plate to take with. After spending the night in the fridge, the balls look really nice, but unfortunately they don't taste rumalicious. Maybe dark rum would have made a difference? Or the coffee powder I added was too strong? They taste like dark chocolate coffee balls with a (very) slight hint of rum. With the brand we normally buy smelling/tasting extremely strong, I'd have to think next time I'll just have to add even MORE rum.

I wonder how these would be with Bailey's...

Depending on how long we're at the parents, I might be heading off to rejoin Weight Watchers this evening. I've been stuffing whatever in my face and not exercising, which is never a good combination. They have a brand new program that's launching, so I'm excited to try it out. My first run with WW was successful (years ago), but any other times haven't been so great, but that's due solely to me not following the rules.

If I can't get there today, I'll have to check out a lunchtime meeting tomorrow. Can't wait to get started!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Using the Force to make cookies

I have two aprons that each serve their own unique function in the kitchen. My orange one is used strictly for cooking, and for baking...I channel my inner Jedi with my nifty Star Wars apron. This is actually the kid's apron because initially they didn't offer the adult size. Williams Sonoma has a bunch of Star Wars items available, some of which are new additions just in time for the holiday gift-giving season. I have the pancake molds and cookie cutters that feature the faces of some famous SW characters already, but I'm hoping the present fairy brings me the new cookie cutters for the vehicles (I already know the present fairy is getting me the super cool Darth Vader spatula).

I've been meaning to get in the kitchen to try out some recipes and figured the long weekend would be the perfect time, especially since I wasn't going to be out shopping nonstop. First up are the Lemon Rosemary Thumbprint Cookies with Strawberry Preserves that I found at The Chic Life (a pretty cool blog I've been following for awhile now). At first these sound a little strange- rosemary in a cookie?- but with the lemon it's a nice  (and not overly sweet) background for the awesome strawberry preserves that I used. I used the Bonne Maman brand that Diana suggested, which just happened to be on sale this week at Whole Foods. Best. Jam. Ever.

Funny (in my mind) side story: while the dough was chilling, we went to go see the new Harry Potter movie. After purchasing our overpriced snacks, I followed the husband into the theater, which was already dark as expected, but the movie had started even though it was only two minutes past the start time. Where were the previews? Also peculiar was that lack of rustling/chewing that goes on at the start of movies as people are eating. Then it dawned on me- were we in the WRONG theater? I went out to check, and sure enough, WRONG theater! LOL. That's never happened before!

Anyhow, since the oven was already on (and butter was softened), I decided to see what else I could easily whip up. Flipping through my Martha Stewart Cookie book, I spotted a recipe for Rum Balls. Mom had just recently lamented not being able to locate rum balls at her nearby World Market, so I thought, why not give these a try? Plus it gave me the opportunity to use the two tiny bottles of rum we had left over from a friend's wedding gift bag.

 First you bake a batch of brownies. I used part semisweet chocolate chips and a 70% dark chocolate Green & Black's bar. I also used a lighter spice rum instead of the dark rum the recipe called for...hopefully that won't make too much of a difference. And since it was brownies, I added some Starbucks Via to the mix to bring out the chocolate. Might have been too much, but oh well!
After the brownies cool, you smoosh them up with the rum and roll them into balls. Then you roll the balls in some sanding sugar. I wish I'd had chocolate sprinkles to roll them in like the rum balls I'm used to. These ones are also twice the size of the ones I've had in the past. What a long process to hand roll each cookie, plus it's weird to serve people food that you've essentially manhandled. But hey, my hands were clean!

Oh, and any errant cat hairs I was able to find- removed! 

While the brownies cooled, I mixed up the batter for a recipe I collected sometime LAST year and never got around to making. I don't remember where I found it, but it did reference They're the homemade version of Starbucks' Cranberry Bliss Bars. So far all I have is a picture of the cooling cake; I'll try to remember to take a crappy photo of the finished product once it's frosted. I'm not going to mess with that until the morning. I was tired of cleaning the bowl for my stand mixer! 

I didn't realize how much ginger goes into the cake itself. Not only is there ground ginger, you also add in candied/crystallized ginger.

Can't wait to try the Bliss Bars and Rum Balls! I had hoped to make some no-knead bread this weekend, but I'm not sure if that will happen tomorrow. I also need to to make caramels again while my $9 locally made cream is still good. The last batch was too light and too soft for my liking and tasted a bit too buttery. This time I'll try the recipe in the latest Barefoot Contessa cookbook that I picked up from the library yesterday. Lots of great stuff in here, so I might actually cave and buy this one. I think I only own 8 cookbooks, which I know is WAY less than most people- prolly even less than people who don't cook!


If I eat a cupcake and no one is around, did I really eat a cupcake?

This morning I was craving an iced sugar cookie from Pattycake Bakery, so I stopped in at the location closest to me that I knew carried their goods. Unfortunately, Raisin Rack was all out of the iced cookies, but they DID have carrot cake cupcakes. I also almost picked up a spelt brownie, but somehow talked myself out of it. Pattycake's baked goods are all vegan and EXTREMELY delicious. You'd never guess they're vegan.

My goals for the day are to watch the new Harry Potter movie, try out some cookie recipes (and eat far too many), play Rock Band 3, and hopefully score some cheesy popcorn. Still not in the shopping mood although I did run to the thrift store and a resale shop this morning. Didn't find anything good. :(

In the meantime, you should check out one of the local blogs I recently found. She's also doing some giveaways of fun local products just in time for the holidays. More details can be found at Persephone's Kitchen.