08 December 2014

Menu Monday

I'm recycling this photo from my original blog post on this soup. We're still loving this one. Healthy, quick, cheap.
Wild Rice Burgers (The Kitchn)
 We love these burger so much. Served with a side of sweet potato fries, they are the perfect Meatless Monday meal.
 Burrito Bowls (own recipe)
I'm not sure this really counts as a recipe. I topped the leftover black bean soup + cilantro-lime rice from Sunday with homemade pico de gallo (chopped grape tomatoes, diced red onion, chopped cilantro, minced garlic, salt & pepper, miced cilantro, and 1/2 lime) and grilled flank steak, which I marinated for about an hour in a combo of the remainders of two containers of chipotle in adobo from the freezer, two cloves of garlic, a squeeze of lime juice, salt, pepper, and some olive oil all blitzed in the food processor. I added some diced avocado and what was left in the fridge of Trader Joe's corn and chile salsa and a big dollop of sour cream. Burrito bowls are one of my favorite clean out the fridge/freezer/pantry meals and it's rare that I make it the same way twice. This was a particularly good meal because a lot of the stuff we had that needed to be used up lent itself well to burritos :)
 Moroccan Fish with Mango Couscous (100 Days of Real Food)
This is a fabulous weeknight meal. It came together SO quickly and was so light and healthy and flavorful. My mom gave me a jar of ras el hanout last year and I'm always looking for recipes where I can use it. Since it's a Moroccan spice blend, I just used 2 teaspoons of it here in place of the spice combo called for in the recipe. So yummy. I also detest pearl couscous (the texture is too slimy for me), so I used regular whole-wheat couscous instead.

 Holy crap, this was delicious. The mushrooms gave it a smoky flavor so that it almost tasted like there was bacon hiding in there somewhere. We fought over the leftovers, which is always the sign of a winner in our house.

 Dal Nirvana with Homemade Naan (both recipes from Budget Bytes)
I will never get tired of this meal. We are seriously lacking in the Indian food options up here, so I make it pretty regularly (with the trade-off that our house smells like curry for days after). This is probably my favorite of my handful of Indian go-tos. I normally just buy Trader Joe's frozen garlic naan, but we had this on Saturday so I made homemade. I promise you it's really quite simple; it just requires a bit of hands-on time. I think it's worth it though. The homemade is so much better...it tastes like naan you'd get at an actual restaurant.

05 December 2014

Christmas Cookies

Today is all about Christmas cookies! Last year I devoted one Saturday in December to a marathon cookie baking session while we had Christmas movies playing in the background. It was glorious. Our previously mentioned December travels mean that this weekend is my one shot at cookie baking, and I plan to take advantage of it. Last year I got a little carried away and became a bit of a cookie pusher, trying to force cookies on unsuspecting family, friends, and coworkers. So I'm going to try to cut back this year, and halve recipes where I can.  The three cookie recipes that I will DEFINITELY be making this weekend:

Peanut Butter Cup Cookies (Iowa Girl Eats)
I stick with the classic peanut butter instead of her suggested use of cookie butter. These are M's favorite cookies and I will definitely NOT halve this recipe. These little guys are so, so good.

Christmas Cherries (Pioneer Woman)
 Ummm...yeah, I might double this recipe. These are my faaaaaavorite Christmas cookies. They are addictive. The citrus flavor is so refreshing, it almost makes you forget about the amount of butter involved. Also those little candied cherries remind me of the garnish my mom used to put on her homemade cream cheese braids, so there's a good deal of childhood nostalgia going for these.

Fruitcake Cookies (Ina Garten)
There are two types of people in the world: people who like fruitcake and people who don't. I fall into the former category. But I think even fruitcake detractors could be swayed by these cookies. A few of these cookies with a cup of vanilla-cinnamon tea after dinner and I am in heaven. This recipe makes a ton of cookies, but it's an easy recipe to halve. You could also make the full recipe and just freeze one of the logs instead of baking it, which is what I did last year.

Those are our three traditional Christmas cookies (or as traditional as something can be after only 4 years of being a household). I like to try new recipes every year to audition new members of our exclusive cookie club. Last year I made pepparkakor and honestly? The dough was better than the cookies. The cookies were actually delicious, but they were kind of overshadowed by all of the other offerings. I also made Dinner: A Love Story's Mexican chocolate cookies (the recipe is in her first cookbook). I overbaked them but they were still awesome, especially with a cup of hot chocolate. That said, not sure they really felt like Christmas cookies to me. So here are the newbies I want to try this year:

Christmas Sugar Cookies (Jenny Steffens Hobick)
Like many people, I grew up making cut-out cookies with my mom and sister for Christmas. We had so much fun decorating them and picking out the prettiest ones to leave for Santa. I am terrified to make them as an adult, mainly because I'm a perfectionist and I'm pretty certain that since my cookie decorating skills haven't advanced much since the 3rd grade, I'm going to be wildly disappointed in the outcome.
Pignoli Cookies (Anne Burrell)
I am a sucker for anything with pine nuts and since M is half-Italian, this seems like a fun nod to his heritage.

Buckeyes (Southern Living)
We made these every year growing up and I've just never made them as an adult. No hang-ups about them the way I do with cookies...I've just never done it. I don't know why; they're actually REALLY easy to  make. Maybe this will be the year!

Bourbon Balls (Garden and Gun)
I mean...chocolate + cookies + bourbon. I usually make hot cocoa mix and/or cheese straws to give as gifts to friends and coworkers and I feel like I can make room in the line-up for these babies. YUM.

04 December 2014

Christmas in NYC

Now that I've rolled out the waaaahmbulance, let's chat about one thing I am feeling decidedly un-Grinchy about: our upcoming trip to NYC.  I used to travel to NY for work a lot and M went to school in Connecticut for 6 years, so he's no stranger to the city either. But it has been a loooooong time since either of us was in the city for fun, let alone there together. The first time we went together, we were still dating, stayed out way too late, and had to car service it back to our hotel waaaaay out on Long Island because I had a 5am flight to catch to a work conference. The second time we went, we were both there for work, I got a nasty case of food poisoning, and M had to buy a last minute exorbitantly-priced train ticket to accompany me home so I didn't throw up on anyone. So yeah...we are in need of a New York do-over.  
Full disclosure: I have never been to New York at Christmas and I am so. freaking. excited. I am usually that obnoxious person who doesn't want to appear to be a tourist (which is so stupid, but there you have it), but I am going to be in full-on tourist mode and I do not even care. Your cynical NYC hearts can judge away; I am going to go full blown Elf/Home Alone 2 on the Rockefeller tree. I think we've managed to string together an itinerary that includes things we both want to do, although I know some of the cutesier things on the list we're only doing because M knows how excited I am about it all. He's a good egg.  So here's what's in store...

'Book of Mormon'. Seeing a show on Broadway was on both of our lists. I've only ever seen Phantom on Broadway and that was almost 15 years ago. I think the last time M went was on a college date to see 'Rent', which was...not his cup of tea. 'Book of Mormon' was a no-brainer because 'South Park', duh. We are following this up with a trip to...

Shake Shack. Neither of us has been. I'm curious to see if it lives up to the hype and how it compares to In and Out Burger. Also, I am really excited at the prospect of cheese fries.

I spent a decent chunk of my childhood convinced that my career path would lead me straight to the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes. It turns out that you have to be a good bit taller than 5'2" and the dance training is just slightly more rigorous than my twice-weekly classes at Floyd Ward School of Dance, so that didn't really work out for me. But I have never lost my fascination with the Rockettes. Seeing the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular has been on my bucket list for ages, so this is probably the one thing I am most excited about. This is probably what M is least looking forward to, but if the worst thing I make him do is spend a few hours watching gorgeous women in leotards kick their legs in the air, I think I'm good.
1 and 2 / 3 / 45 
Christmas decorations. I'm looking forward to seeing all of the window displays and the giant ornaments and of course the Rockefeller Tree in Midtown.  M really wants to go down to Little Italy and I've heard that they go all out on the Christmas lights, so that will be fun. Plus cannoli. We're also planning to check out the Gingerbread Extravaganza at Le Parker Meridien; it looks so fun! Local pastry chefs and bakeries construct gingerbread displays based on the assigned theme "Made in New York" and they're all displayed in the lobby. It's free to look, but you can vote for your favorites for $1/vote and the money goes to City Harvest. Each vote also enters you a chance to win a 5-night stay at the Parker Palm Springs. The one above is the Occupy North Pole display from 2011 by Tribeca Sweets. It is absolutely hysterical, with elves holding signs such as "I want to be a dentist" and "Visions of Sugarplums Won't Feed my Elfin Kids". Love it.

We're capping off the trip with a dinner at Babbo :) Their Instagram account has posted some gorgeous pictures of their holiday d├ęcor and I can't think of a better way to end our trip than eating Mario Batali's food in front of a Christmas tree.

In between all of that, we're planning to meet up with friends, have some great meals and cocktails (definite stops at Milk Bar for sweets and at Ippudo for ramen), and just have fun wandering the city at Christmastime. I have a list of restaurants and bars to potentially check out, but it's mainly culled from random articles online. I'd love to hear your suggestions of places to go!

03 December 2014

My Grinch-y Heart

grinch heart photo: Grinch Heart Grow grinch_growing_heart.gif
Right now I'm here...

I'm in kind of a funk about the month of December. I don't know if it's because Thanksgiving was so late this year, but I just feel like Christmas is going to be here and gone before I've had time to properly enjoy it! I think some of this stems from how I feel about Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. There's the food, of course, but it's really one of the only holidays we have that I feel like has very few cultural pressures. It's not religious, there are no gifts involved, it doesn't revolve around showing appropriate amounts of patriotism...it's just meant to be a time to gather and eat and just be. But anymore it feels like Thanksgiving is just supposed to be a prelude to Christmas. It's like the Christmas season starts the day after Halloween now and that just makes me grumpy. I see all of these people on social media who have put up their trees and Christmas lights by the end of the first week of November, quickly followed by a mid-November onslaught of bloggers posting gift guides. I start to feel stressed that now I'm somehow "behind" on Christmas, as though it's some sort of race.

On top of all of this is the fact that we will be travelling 2 out of the 3 weekends in December before Christmas. One of those weekends is to celebrate Christmas with M's family and another one of the weekends is going to NYC (more on that later). So it's not as though we're going to be out of town not doing fun, Christmas-y things. It's just that I realized when we got home from Thanksgiving that this weekend is pretty much my one shot at decorating the house and doing another marathon cookie baking session like I did last year.

M and I typically just exchange stockings, but our trip to NYC is our gift to each other this year. We celebrated Christmas with my family the night before Thanksgiving (complete with Christmas tree and falling snow!) and most of the gifts we're giving M's family are quite small in size, so there won't be any pretty wrapped gifts under the tree.

I'm also feeling a bit gloomy about the fact our holiday time with my family has already come and passed. We absolutely LOVE living in Vermont, but man, it's hard to be so far away from our families. We have our trip to Baltimore to look forward to seeing more of M's family (can't wait to get my hands on my little niece and nephew again!), but I don't know when I'll see my parents and sister again, which makes me incredibly sad, especially at this time of year.

Also we do not have a cute picture for our Christmas cards, which means I haven't ordered our cards yet, which is causing me an embarrassing amount of stress.

So yeah...feeling kind of blah in general. I'm hoping a weekend of cookie baking and wreath making and tree decorating will bring me to this:

24 November 2014

Menu Monday

Are you tired of me posting Budget Bytes recipes yet? These were really tasty and surprisingly filling. I only had one for dinner but thought I could handle 2 for lunch the next day and couldn't hack it. So this definitely makes more on the side of 6-8 servings and since they were equally as tasty as leftovers, that counts as a winner in my book.

Tuesday night was Wine Club, which meant M was on his own for dinner. The ladies put together an incredible spread for our theme of Spanish Reds and tapas; my contribution was a bag of marcona almonds with rosemary and a container of tapenade, both courtesy of Trader Joe's.
M went and got all chef-y on me by whipping up a creation of his own and after he posted the picture on Instagram, there was a request for an M guest appearance on Menu Monday. Ask and ye shall receive. M's direct quote "Pasta, chicken, marinara, Italian seasoning, garlic, mozzarella...Add lovfe as an ingredient." I will translate for you: Cook 1 package of pasta (your choice) to the package instructions. Mix cooked pasta with a jar of marinara sauce (your choice), 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning, and 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder. Pour into a lightly greased casserole dish and top with grated Mozzarella cheese. Bake at 350 for 20 minutes; top with Parmesan cheese when it comes out of the oven.
On Wednesday night we had our last round of M's players over for dinner. I served Damn Delicious's One-Pot Chili Mac and Cheese, but since it was more like Damn boring and not particularly Delicious, I'm giving you a picture of M vacuuming before the kids showed up (so adorable) and the freaking amazing cookies I made for them. I used my favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe but used a half a package of chocolate chips and an entire tub of Trader Joe's mini peanut butter cups instead. Insert heart eyes emoji here.  
I thought this was pretty good and M ate it. No exactly a huge success, but not a failure. I have to say, for a set of recipes that are supposed to be weeknight friendly, there were a lot of steps (and clean-up) involved. Nothing challenging, but I'm not sure this would be what I consider a weeknight meal. It probably will not make a repeat appearance (although the yogurt sauce was hitting).
Last post this week since it's Thanksgiving! Enjoy your time celebrating with family and friends :)

21 November 2014

Five on Friday: Thanksgiving

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Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday and I am so looking forward to celebrating with my family next week and getting to meet our new niece and nephew. I haven't been home since March and I know this is going to be an extra emotional visit for us because it will be the last holiday we celebrate in the house I grew up in. (I got kind of weepy just typing that out.) And since we won't be spending Christmas with my family, we're having a little family Christmas celebration the night before Thanksgiving. My mom even bought a fake tree so that we can help decorate :)
1. Isn't this the most stunning Thanksgiving centerpiece you've ever seen? I would be tempted to add in a few pheasant feathers, but wow. I can't stop looking at it. And it looks like it would be pretty easy to assemble, which is a bonus because I do not have a gift for floral arrangements.
2. When we do Thanksgiving with my family, the libations menu typically consists of beer, wine, and maybe a batch of our wedding cocktails (which, admittedly are the perfect festive fall beverage). The Kitchn posted this recipe for a pitcher of Amber Rush cocktails last week and it just looks so fun! I love the way the star anise looks floating in the pitcher and the combination of rye, citrus, and spiced honey syrup (with the suggested addition of a little ginger beer) sounds pretty spot on.
3. As a rule, I don't think the Thanksgiving menu should be messed with. This meal is not the time to trot out newfangled recipes. It is all about the humble classics. With that said, I am making something a little bit different for dessert this year. There will still be pumpkin and apple pies (duh) and I got my pecan pie fix at our Worksgiving celebration yesterday (pictured above), but I'm trying out a recipe for Buche de Thanksgiving. I typically make a Buche de Noel log for Christmas every year and when I saw this recipe in my 'Cold Weather Cooking' cookbook, I knew I had to try it. Pumpkin cake + cream cheese and toffee filling? Hello, yes please! I'll be sure to snap some pictures and if it's any good, I'll share the recipe. (I've looked everywhere online for it with no luck.)
4. I am in love with the idea of hosting Thanksgiving one day. It's one of those things that I dreamed of as a little girl (is that weird?) and I feel like I still won't really be a grown-up until I've hosted a Thanksgiving of my very own. While our current situation doesn't make that likely to happen anytime soon, I can still dream. Right now those dreams pretty much take the form of setting the table (again, probably weird). I have a thing for china and serveware and my current dream table setting includes this pheasant gravy boat, the turkey platter that goes with my beloved Spode Woodland china, and these rustic glam servers.
5. Stuffing or dressing? This is a hot debate in our house. I come from a family of people who are decidedly dressing only. My grandmama makes the most amazing dressing from old biscuits, rolls, and Saltine crackers. I cannot wait to dig in next week! M's family is dedicated to stuffing. (M does make an exception for oyster dressing.) I'm normally not very squirmish when it comes to food, but I am completely scared of and grossed out by stuffing and absolutely will not touch it. So what side of the aisle do you fall on?

17 November 2014

Menu Monday

This week's post will be short and sweet. Between M's travelling for work and our big Junior League fundraiser last Thursday evening, there have been more than a few nights of take-out/sandwiches/leftovers for dinner!

Chipotle Chicken Taco Salad (Nutmeg Notebook)
 This recipe is an old stand-by when I'm feeling like a big, fresh salad for dinner. It's easy to throw together, makes a ton, and unlike many salads, doesn't get so gross and soggy that you can't enjoy the leftovers. Plus, look how pretty it is! It's like a little party on your plate.

 Gina wins again. This was delicious and quite filling. I served it (like I do almost all of our Tex-Mex Tuesday meals) with a side of sliced mango and kiwi. Bonus points for minimal dirty dishes.

 Meh. M seemed to enjoy this a lot more than I did. I just felt like the sauce was way too overpowering; I could barely taste any of the other flavors. M had 2 servings at dinner and polished off the leftovers, so obviously it didn't bother him. But I doubt I'll make this one again.

 Butternut Squash Soup (Freckled Citizen)
My FAVORITE butternut squash soup recipe! As in, I pretty much don't make any others except for this one. Something about the Greek yogurt in the soup and then the almost-smoky mushrooms on top...yum, yum, yum.

Happy eating!