Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Christmas Bargain

I love our wreath. It is full, festive, colorful and best of all inexpensive. I was planning to purchase a plain $9.99 wreath and then I found this gem. Costco: $14.99 & fully loaded, at least loaded enough for us. Go buy one for yourself. Instant festivity.

{Edited 1/11/10 to add: We put away all of our Christmas decorations on 1/6, except for this wreath. It is still as lovely as the first day we brought it home. If it keeps looking this good, it might still be up in July!}

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Decorations are up

The decorations have been up since last Wednesday. Yes, the day before Thanksgiving. And I love them; can't believe we went this long without decorating. I definitely have missed this.

Christmas gifts: I have a few purchased and am working on a few handmade gifts as well. It's already crunch-time; Rich's family is celebrating Christmas early, so I have an abbreviated timeline. Better get crafting.*
*speaking of crafts, I made one in November. But because I will be gifting crafts this year I am going to hold off before publishing to maintain the element of surprise for the recipient

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Can't wait!!

It's been 4 years since we've had a Christmas tree. We are getting one this year. I want to buy one today. The tree stands are open... or at least getting set up, which is close enough.
{photo courtesy of Martha Stewart}
Last week a local radio station started playing Christmas music. I'd been on the hunt for it and I'm so glad it's started already. I listened on my way in to work today.

Monday, November 23, 2009

What I've been up to {briefly}

I've been MIA in November. Sorry. So far it's been a fairly busy + fun time. Tonight was the first time I've downloaded photos in well over a month. Whoops! Hopefully I'll be back at it very soon.
{stocking up on supplies}
{Gopher Football + short-sleeves in November!}
{getting in the spirit}

{my favorite song}

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Marbled Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars

Throughout the month of October we have had a lot to celebrate. My brother got engaged, a couple of friends had babies and simply the fact that it's Fall. To properly enjoy this season we needed a treat with pumpkin... some cheesecake wouldn't hurt either. Let me just say: these bars are creamy, pumpkin goodness!! We served them at three separate dining engagements and each time they received glowing reviews.

Marbled Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars with a Gingersnap Crust
(Source: Recipezaar)
SERVES 12, 12 -15 squares [I think I cut closer to 20 squares]

2 cups finely crushed gingersnaps
1/4 cup finely chopped pecans
1/4 cup butter, melted
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 cup canned pumpkin [I used 1 c.]
1 tablespoon flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

3 (8 ounce) packages light cream cheese, softened
[I used 1.5 packages]
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
3 eggs
Preheat oven to 325°.

Line bottom and sides of a 9"x13" baking pan with parchment paper or aluminum foil, leaving an overhang on all sides. Set aside.
CRUST: Blend cookies, sugar, and cinnamon in a food processor until finely ground; add pecans and butter and combine. Transfer crumb mixture to prepared pan, and press gently into bottom. Bake until fragrant and slightly firm, 12 to 15 minutes. PUMPKIN BATTER: In a medium bowl stir together pumpkin, flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves until combined; set aside.

CREAM CHEESE BATTER: In a large mixing bowl beat cream cheese until smooth. Add sugar and vanilla, beating until combined. Add eggs, one at a time, beating at low speed after each addition just until combined.
Stir 1/3 of the cream cheese batter (about 1 1/2 cups) into the pumpkin batter until smooth. Pour remaining cream cheese batter over crust. [I followed the 1.5 c. suggestion and ended up with way more pumpkin batter than cream cheese mixture; probably because I upped the pumpkin and decreased the cream cheese. Unfortunately I didn't realize this right away.] Place large spoonfuls of pumpkin batter randomly over cream cheese batter. Using the tip of a table knife or a thin metal spatula, gently swirl the two batters together. This should have a marbled look. [By the time I realized my pumpkin batter situation, I already dumped the cream cheese mixture on top of the ginger snap crust and topped that with the pumpkin batter. However, I still wanted a marbled bar. My only choice was to scrape the cream cheese batter remnants from it's bowl. Thus my marbling is minimal. Next time I would put the pumpkin layer as the base and add spoonfuls of the cream cheese batter for more substantial marbling.] Bake for 25 to 30 or until center is just set.

Cool completely in pan on a wire rack. Cover and chill for 4 to 24 hours before lifting out of pan and cutting into squares or bars. Store any remaining bars in the refrigerator. [I slightly over-cooked the bars, which lead to a crack. On the bright side, once cut... no one knew but me... and now you.]


Bake at 350
With this post, I'm also joining in on Flavor-of-the-Month, hosted by Bridget of Bake at 350.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Great way to start the day

{sunrise this morning}

Monday, October 26, 2009

Craft #10: Bake + Decorate a cake

I've mentioned my brother is getting married. Early last week my mom, Dominika and I were out to lunch talking wedding and they suggested I bake the wedding cake. Having never baked a 9" two-layer cake, let alone decorated one, I was excited to accept the challenge. {By the way, when my brother found out he was a little disappointed; he had was really looking forward to the fun (and boy is it ever!) of cake tastings. Good thing I don't like to see my little-bro upset.}

Eric and Dominika had invited us to dinner on Friday; the perfect opportunity for cake tasting #1. I asked what flavor they would like to try and my sister-in-law candidate suggested raspberry. I googled raspberry and almond layer cakes (Who doesn't like almond right?!) and started perusing. It took some time, but I finally landed on a recipe that worked for me [i.e. - didn't require 12 egg whites or 2 lbs of butter].

Classic White Layer Cake with Butter Frosting and Raspberry Almond Filling
{Source: Cook's Illustrated via this link}

Classic White Cake:
Nonstick cooking spray
2 1/4 cups cake flour (9 ounces), plus more for dusting the pans
1 cup whole milk, at room temperature
6 large egg whites (3/4 cup), at room temperature
2 teaspoons almond extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar (12 1/4 ounces)
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon table salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), softened but still cool

Butter Frosting:
16 tablespoons unsalted butter (2 sticks), softened but still cool
4 cups confectioners' sugar (1 pound)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon whole milk
Pinch table salt

Raspberry-Almond Filling:
1/2 cup blanched slivered almonds (2 1/2 ounces), toasted and chopped coarse
1/3 cup raspberry jam (seedless)

For the Cake: Set oven rack in middle position. (If oven is too small to cook both layers on a single rack, set racks in upper-middle and lower-middle positions.) Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Spray two 9-inch round cake pans with nonstick cooking spray; line the bottoms with parchment or waxed paper rounds. Spray the paper rounds, dust the pans with flour, and invert pans and rap sharply to remove excess flour.

Pour milk, egg whites, and extracts into 2-cup glass measure, and mix with fork until blended.

Mix cake flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in bowl of electric mixer at slow speed. Add butter; continue beating at slow speed until mixture resembles moist crumbs, with no powdery streaks remaining.

Add all but 1/2 cup of milk mixture to crumbs and beat at medium speed (or high speed if using handheld mixer) for 1 1/2 minutes. Add remaining 1/2 cup of milk mixture and beat 30 seconds more. Stop mixer and scrape sides of bowl. Return mixer to medium (or high) speed and beat 20 seconds longer. Divide batter evenly between two prepared cake pans; using rubber spatula, spread batter to pan walls and smooth tops. Arrange pans at least 3 inches from the oven walls and 3 inches apart. (If oven is small, place pans on separate racks in staggered fashion to allow for air circulation.) Bake until thin skewer or toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 23 to 25 minutes.

Let cakes rest in pans for 3 minutes. Loosen from sides of pans with a knife, if necessary, and invert onto wire racks. Reinvert onto additional wire racks. Let cool completely, about 1 1/2 hours.

For the Frosting: Beat butter, confectioners’ sugar, vanilla, milk, and salt in bowl of electric mixer at slow speed until sugar is moistened. Increase speed to medium-high (high if using handheld mixer); beat, stopping twice to scrape down bowl, until creamy and fluffy, about 1 1/2 minutes. Avoid over beating, or frosting will be too soft to pipe.

For the Filling: Before assembling cake, set aside 3/4 cup of the frosting for decoration. Spread small dab of frosting in center of cake plate to anchor cake, and set down one cake layer. Combine 1/2 cup of remaining frosting with almonds in small bowl and spread over first layer. Carefully spread jam on top, then cover with second cake layer. Spread frosting over top and sides of assembled cake. Pipe reserved frosting around perimeter of cake at the base and the top. Cut the cake into slices and serve.

{almond layer topped with seedless raspberry jam}{topped with second cake layer}{crumb coat + second frosting... should have thinned the icing some}{decorative piping on top of cake + raspberries}{the last piece of cake}

For my very first attempt, I was pretty impressed with myself. The cake itself? I liked it. I thought it was moist and flavorful. My mom and Rich, however, both thought it was a bit dry. So I'll try to remedy that next time. I would probably omit the almond layer next time; paired with the raspberry jam it tasted a too much like PB&J. {Oh! And I learned Dominka does not care for almond... so I would omit it for that reason too.} The flavor for their second tasting has already been selected: lemon + poppy seed. Yum!!

About dinner: My brother and Dominika are such wonderful hosts!! We were greeted with drinks and didn't mind (and if they did, they sure didn't let on) that I had invited our parents over for the cake tasting. Once a drink was empty the offered more of the same (+ other fun options like Polish Wodka or tea in addition to beer, wine or water)! Once our parents left they worked together in the kitchen putting the final touches on dinner. Eric chopped the veggies and dressed the salad while Dominika topped the pork with a sour cream sauce and plated the rice. Eric even added a sprinkle of his favorite Polish salt on top of each rice pilaf before we sat down together. In a word: YUM!! Dinner was spectacular! I am not a big fan of pork roasts, chops, etc... but I think I just don't know how to prepare them, because this was outstanding! Thanks you two for such a terrific dinner and lovely time; I can't wait for a repeat performance!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Winners + Possible Craft #10

Yay! Thanks for visiting my blog and participating!! I was really impressed with your enthusiasm to pay it forward!

So, without further adieu, here are the randomly selected winners:
holly-lynn, SassyCassie, Denise, Drina & JRF

Congratulations ladies!! I will send you an email for your mailing address.
{Drina, I don't have your email... can you please leave that for me?}
I hope to get your packages shipped in the next few weeks!!

Here's a quick preview of what I worked on last night. Wait until you see the finished product... ...and yeah, you really do need to wait. The good news is you won't have to wait long - the recipients will see it tonight! I'm thinking this will make a really good craft #10.

Have a great weekend!!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

More work than I thought.

It continued to rain the remainder of the afternoon, so any chances of getting Malin outside to play were foiled. So we had fun on our own. We played fetch for a bit (man we should have played that more when he was younger!!) and then his favorite, tug on the rings. Must've been enough activity, because he's nice and tuckered now. :)

I did have an afternoon snack: the other half of the trail mix. I didn't take a photo of it because it's already featured in today's meals. Sorry if that breaks the rules...
Around 6p I started making dinner. I decided to try my hand at butternut squash soup. After all, I certainly had lots of leftover squash. I started by chopping up half an onion and an apple and threw them in to a pot over medium heat.
Once the apple and onion softened (~4 minutes), I added the precooked butternut squash and some chicken broth. After the mixture was heated through, I used the immersion blender and blended until smooth. I needed to add quite a bit more liquid (both water and chicken broth) in order to end up with a soup vs. a stew.
I'm so glad I added the extra liquid because the consistency was spot on!! Along with the butternut squash, I heated up the remaining brussel sprouts and topped the soup with croutons.
It was good enough to eat!! However after finishing dinner, I felt like I was lacking some serious protein. So I made a quick and easy addition to my meal.

Eggs in a basket. This is simply a slice of bread, with the center ripped out (I ate that too). Heat a pan over medium heat, once hot spray with cooking spray place bread in pan, crack egg and put in center of the hole. Flip once egg appears set. Cook to desired egg doneness.I topped my "Eggs in a Basket" with a smattering of Cholula. Great addition! This was a delicious second course. So glad I made this!I ended my dinner with two Pepperidge Farms cookies from their "Golden Orchard" collection. These made for a yummy end for both the day and my little test.

Observations & Feedback Post-Food Blog Trial:

  1. This is not how I eat every day. Not any where close. With this experiment not only was I blogging about my every eat, but I also tried to eat like the food bloggers I was emulating. Of course there were differences to what they eat vs. what I ate. For example, they probably would have had beans included in the lunch salad and they most likely would have topped their oatmeal with a scoop of nut butter in addition to the trail mix or granola (for some reason I just wasn't feeling nut butter this morning).
  2. This is a lot of work. Taking photos of everything eaten doesn't sound like a big deal, but then you need to download your pictures each and every time you post. It ends up taking quite a bit of time.
  3. In fact, I couldn't keep up with the posting schedule. I actually ate all of this stuff on Wednesday and wrote my posts Wednesday night. Because in all honesty, I just don't have the time to write posts and add pictures like this during the work day.
  4. I found myself not eating more than was included in these posts for two reasons. One: I had to put a lot of thought toward my food choices. Two: I didn't want to take another picture.
  5. The items photographed truly show all the food I ate today. However, it's now 11:52p and I'm hungry. So I am going to have a protein bar. Just thought I'd let you know... because I'm not taking a photo of it but will be eating it. Now that I think about it, I might technically eat it after midnight so it doesn't count...

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery

Around noon I started getting hungry again so I started working on my lunch. I knew these two ingredients would play a starring role. So I got started. I preheated the oven to 400* F and prepped the butternut squash. I trimmed both the top and bottom off, split the "bulb" portion from the "non-bulb" portion of the squash and proceeded to peel the two portions. To peel the squash I used both a vegetable peeler and a knife. Both worked well. Once peeled, I split the bulb in half and scraped out the seeds.
At that point, I cut the peeled squash into 1" cubes and placed them on a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper.
During this process I got inspired and decided to cut a few apples to roast with the butternut squash.
And then I prepped the brussel sprouts by trimming the bottoms and halving as necessary, so they were all similar size. I also placed these on a parchment lined baking pan.
I coated both pans with ~1 T. olive oil (each) + salt & pepper and tossed each tray to coat. In to the oven the both trays went... for 45 minutes.
In the meantime I snacked on a piece of garlic ciabatta bread. Which led to inspiration... croutons!! So I cut two more slices, and cut those into 1" pieces. I threw them into the oven with 15 minutes bake time remaining.
As my veggies + croutons roasted, I tried to figure out what else I would have for lunch. Brussel sprouts + squash + croutons do not make a satisfying lunch for me. After some brainstorming, I decided to incorporate my now three key ingredients into a salad. I grabbed some sun dried tomatoes (five or so), chopped those up and added them to a base of 3+ c. spring lettuce mix.
After 45 minutes the brussel sprouts, squash, apples and croutons were golden brown. Perfect!! I tried an apple slice. Delicious!! So delicious that I didn't eat them off a plate or snap a single photo. They were gone in no time. Super good.I tossed a bunch of the brussel sprouts, squash and croutons on top of my salad and dove in. 45 minutes of roast time equated to a hungry hungry girl. I'm not even sure it took me more than 5 minutes to eat this salad. And... it was a BIG salad.

With lunch over, I am back to work. For Malin this means... back to nap time.

A Day in the Life...

I read a handful of health food blogs. Blogs where the bloggers write and photograph everything they eat throughout the course of a day. Every single thing. This lends to about three posts per day. Today, I am going to emulate those "food bloggers." Why? Because it's something to do... :)
Okay... so here goes. Today is a cold, soggy October day. Sooo glad I'm working from home! Bright side of the day: the view from our bedroom shows we are in the midst of Fall, even if we did get snow last week. Through the rain you can still see the beautiful colors of the trees. Lovely.
Another positive spin about working from home: this guy. Just look at him. I get to spend the whole day with our little Malin. Doesn't he look happy about that? Okay... rhetorical question. With me home, that means he has full reign of the house. He doesn't really take advantage of that though, since he usually just follows me around and as I work, he sleeps next to me.
To start of my morning I was thinking about breakfast. Something warm sounded like a good choice so I went with the logical option: oatmeal!!! I made the same creamy version as before, the differences being I used multi-grain cereal and instead of 1 c. skim milk I used 1/2 c. skim milk + 1/2 c. water. Oh and I omitted the PB in lieu of trail mix from Trader Joe's.
I scooped my oatmeal in to a bowl and topped it with about half of the trail mix package. Creamy oatmeal + crunch from the nuts + sweetness from the dried cranberries was definitely a yummy start to the day. This should keep me full for a while. Next stop, lunch!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Spaghetti Squash Experiment

My friend Jen has talked about spaghetti squash on several occasions, but I hadn't gotten around to trying it myself. In fact, I was at the grocery store two weeks ago, picked up a spaghetti squash, ground turkey and marinara sauce and even had Rich convinced it would be a good idea for dinner. Too bad when I googled spaghetti squash to find out how to cook it I realized I had a butternut squash. Whoops!!

This weekend I rectified my error and picked up an actual spaghetti squash. Plus, I had a dinner planned with just me and my "sister-in-law candidate." Perfect opportunity!

So I am going to be honest here. I was not so sure about this dinner. When I was younger I was not a squash fan. And I like pasta. Real pasta. So, just in case it was terrible we had a backup plan: eat at our local hang out.

With our backup plan established, we started cooking. I preheated the oven to 400* F, halved the spaghetti squash (this takes some muscle... and a large knife) and placed the halves cut-side down a baking dish. Once the oven was preheated, I put the baking dish in the oven for 30 minutes.

During that time, we chatted, sipped wine and Dominika played with our pup.
{He was grateful for such a fun playmate!}
Soon enough it was time to start the marinara sauce. To a hot pan we added olive oil, followed by half a diced onion and two cloves of minced garlic. Once the garlic was fragrant and onions softened, we added 20 oz. ground turkey. We (okay, Dominika did this part) broke the turkey into small pieces and allowed it to brown over medium heat.
{Dominika working on the marinara}
{Me posing like I'm working on the marinara}
After the turkey was fully cooked we added a jar of prepared marinara sauce and stirred the mixture. We also added fresh sage, dried basil, thyme, red pepper flakes and rosemary + more garlic. Oh, and we added chicken stock too... because I wanted a saucier-sauce.

When the timer went off, I removed the spaghetti squash from the oven. I ran a fork along the squash and sure enough... it separated into strands similar to spaghetti.
We also made garlic bread and a salad to go with our meal. Voila, time to start plating.
{See?! Looks like spaghetti}
{Dominika readied her plate}
{Our lovely meal... oh, and Malin under the table looking for scratches}
All in all, it was good. Eaten my itself, the spaghetti squash tastes like squash. But with the marinara? It definitely had spaghetti tendencies; the texture was similar to el dente spaghetti noodles. With lots of sauce it was not bad, not bad at all.

Thanks for participating in my experiment, Dominika! It turned out well... guess we didn't need that backup plan after all.