December 30, 2011

Bonus!

My husband moonlights as a tutor for a few middle school students who attend a private school in the area. One of the boys and his family have been exceptionally generous to us this year. Their gifts never fail to surprise and delight us.

For our honeymoon trip to Florida we were fortunate enough to get to stay in their lovely home in Seaside, Florida for ten days. It was amazing in many ways, but what we fell in love with most was the kitchen and, in specific, the two Le Creuset pans on the shelves. We adored them and cooked in the braiser nearly every single night. So, when I got a text message from my husband a few weeks ago it is nearly an understatement to say that he was elated to show me a picture of his Christmas bonus - our very own braiser!!


This Christmas day was low-key for us. We lingered over a large french press of coffee in the morning and then mozied over to my parent's house to share a late brunch with both them and Justin's parents. It was delightful. We found ourselves at home and relaxing on the sofa with nothing to do by early afternoon. It wasn't until our stomachs reminded us that it was dinnertime that I realized I'd been so intent on planning a great week leading up to the Christmas celebrations that I'd completely left anything for Christmas dinner off my shopping list. Oops.

But, never fear, imagination is your friend, especially if you are lucky enough to have a Le Creuset and a decently stocked pantry at your disposal. Serve up a warm bowl of fresh risotto and pour a glass of wine. Life is good.


Off the Cuff Spinach Risotto

2 T lemon e.v.o.o. (regular works great, too)*
1 T butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small onion, chopped fine
2 c arborio rice
1 cup dry white wine (or whatever you have)
4 c (1 carton) chicken broth
1 c Romano cheese (Parmesan or any other hard cheese would work just fine)
5 oz (1/2 bag) fresh spinach
Goat cheese for garnish (and deliciousness)

Heat lemon oil and butter over medium heat in a Le Creuset braiser. Add in onion and garlic and cook until onions are tender and starting to brown. Lower the heat to medium-low and add rice to the pan and toast for about 2 minutes, stirring constantly so it doesn't burn. Add in the white wine and stir gently until nearly all of the moisture is absorbed by the rice. Add in one cup of the chicken broth and do the same, repeating until all of the broth is absorbed and the rice is tender. Mix in the cheese and spinach. Serve right away with goat cheese crumbled and an extra drizzle of lemon olive oil for garnish. Bon App├ętit!

* Big thanks to my fabulous brother and sister-in-law who gifted us the sweet lemon olive oil - So yummy!

December 21, 2011

Christmas Date

Open a bottle of wine....good wine.

Put on the Carpenter's Christmas album....loud.

Wrap presents. Perfect evening.


December 16, 2011

Deck the Walls

Let me tell you a story about my friend, Beth. She is the best. We were roommates (along with three other girls) during my senior year at college. She was in her final semester and only had one class! (one class!) But that's ok. It worked out well for the rest of us. She would bake us cookies and talk to us when we came home from school. She was the momma of the house and we loved he


Momma Beth is still one of my favorite people on the planet and, even though she lives far, far away, I've gotten the chance to visit her a couple times over the last year. Last time I was in Tulsa she introduced me to my favorite coffee of all time (Topeca Coffee). This time, we met up again at Topeca, husbands in tow, to share a giant french press of perfectly roasted coffee and catch up.


She also surprised us with a really fabulous wedding gift. She found an old St. Louis penant in an antique store and had it framed. It's just perfect! We just hung it up over our sofa in the living room (along with some still-empty frames). I love the way it turned out! Thank you so much, Beth and Ben!

December 14, 2011

Angel Food Cake with Hot Fudge Sauce

For our wedding we received the most awesome cook book ever - America's Test Kitchen. We love to cook. I love to bake. We aren't novices in the kitchen and even though this cook book is mostly basics, it's already become a favorite. There are techniques for everything from frying an egg to flipping a crepe. There are reviews on hundreds of products. So, if you're looking for the perfect gift for someone who loves to cook or is new to the kitchen - this is it!

This weekend was a big in the kitchen weekend for us. We were having both of our parents over for a fancy dinner and the pressure was on! I had decided to make an Angel Food cake because it's Justin's dad's favorite. I found several recipes online that looked pretty darn good and was all set to make this one from Joy the Baker when the America's cookbook arrived. I scrapped my previous plan and went with their instructions for both the cake and the fudge sauce. (If you can't get the cookbook though, give Joy's recipe a try. It's very similar to the one I followed and her recipes have never let me down).


Next, mix together 3/4 c sugar, 1 tsp cream of tarter, and 1/4 tsp salt. Turn your mixer speed up a couple notches and beat this in 1 tbsp at a time until the eggs form shiny, soft peaks.

While my cake was cooling I whipped up my fudge sauce which took no time at all and I don't think I will ever purchase it again.
Bring 1 c heavy cream, 1 stick butter, and 1/3 c light karo syrup to a boil in a small sauce pan. Remove from heat and stir in chopped chocolate. Cover and set aside for 5 minutes to allow the chocolate to melt.





December 12, 2011

Peanut Butter Balls

My friend Kim has a tradition of making Peanut Butter balls for Christmas every year. We work together and for the past two years she's invited some of the office ladies over to her house for an afternoon of Christmas cheer, martinis, and, inevitably, inappropriate ball jokes. It's always a good time and there's nothing better than going home with a bag of peanut butter balls for the holidays!

PS. You should also know that this was the day I discovered instagram....


I wish I could tell you the Peanut Butter Balls recipe, but I was too busy mixing martinis to pay attention.

December 9, 2011

Blueberry Crumb Bars

I love blueberries and I'm always sad when their season is over. Luckily, they sell bags of frozen blueberries at Aldi for a pretty reasonable price. I had to make a dish for a potluck brunch after church recently and had a hankering for something blueberry-y and lemon-y.


As per usual, I checked out my sister-in-law's blog - The Sweets Life - for inspiration and found her post on Blueberry Crumb Bars adapted from The Smitten Kitchen and I was sold. This was quick and easy to throw together and stick in the oven while I was getting ready for church. It travelled well and, if the empty dish we brought home was any indicator, a big hit.

Recipe Notes: I made a double batch from Natalie's instructions (single batch according to the Smitten Kitchen). I subbed two small bags of Aldi frozen blueberries for the fresh ones and was generous with the cornstarch since the frozen berries are a little waterier than fresh.

December 5, 2011

Christmas Wreaths


This weekend my friend, Kara, had a wreath-making party! It was a great idea and I hope it becomes a holiday tradition. A group of ladies gathered in her dining room over mimosas and coffee, armed with glue guns, burlap, and felt and got crafty.

We started with blank wreath forms. Some people covered theirs with fabric, flowers, you name it - we used it. I covered mine with strips of green and red felt and then attached a few holiday bells. Simple and, hopefully, classy.








I love they way my wreath turned out. It brings a bright spot of Christmas cheer to our front door.

December 3, 2011

On the Menu: This Week

Every weekend I sit down with my calendar and do my best to plan out our menu for the week. It helps us to eat better, more balanced meals at home. It also helps us to cut down our spending - less eating out and fewer trips to the grocery store.

I have a great notepad that hangs on our fridge in that is just perfect for meal-planning. I got mine as a prize at my cousin's wedding shower, but I'm sure you could find one at Target or make one up yourself pretty easily. I love that it's always on hand for easy reference.

Here's what's on the menu this week:


December 1, 2011

Old Lady Hands

Good news: St. Louis Police Officers are really nice.

Bad news: We got robbed.

Having someone break into your home really sucks. I don't like thinking that some punk has been walking around my house. Standing on my floors. Touching my stuff. Ew. Jerks.

Good news: The police came really quickly once we realized that we'd had unwanted visitors. They listened to our story and took note of the missing TV and cameras. The commiserated with us over the dumped out drawers and tangled jewelry box.

Bad news: Even though they dusted for prints, they didn't find any. The little jerks must have worn gloves. Sneaky punks.

While officer Katie was working away trying to find finger prints that didn't exist, her partner, our pal, Officer Doug, offered to take our finger prints in case, God forbid, something bad happen to either of us and we need to be identified. Well, we had nothing better to do while the Crime Lab was touring our house so why not?

Ten finger tips inked and two palms rolled. Officer Doug looks at my prints and then back at me.

Officer Doug: Can I ask you a personal question?

Me: Sure.

Officer Doug: How old are you?

Me: Thirty.

Officer Doug: Hmm...

{Pause}

He continues: Well, it's just that we don't usually see age crinkles like this in women until they are at least 50 or 60 years old.

Officer Doug (trying to recover): I mean, you look great for your age.

What?? I look great for my age? What age is that? Did you really think I could have possibly been in my fifties? Thanks mister.

November 29, 2011

Christmas-time is here!

I love decorating for Christmas. I love the tradition - unpacking my favorite ornaments from my childhood and re-telling the same stories about the time that Aunt Annie gave me a certain ornament or my friend Betsy made me another. This year, we're going a bit non-traditional in our house which is normally not my style, but with a tight budget and two dogs (one of whom is a bit rambunctious), neither a real tree nor an artificial one were in the cards for us.


We were thinking of picking up a rosemary plant/tree from WholeFoods to decorate/cook with during the holiday season, but since we already have rosemary planted in the garden it seemed like it might be a bit of a waste. They smell lovely but are only about 12" high and wouldn't hold many decorations in the end. I was a bit discouraged and thinking we'd have to be tree-less when I came across this brilliant idea on (you guessed it!) pinterest.com: Make your own Christmas tree out of a tomato cage!


So, $4 and a trip to Home Depot later, we have our own DIY Christmas Tree! We ran our lights vertically on the cage and that seemed to make it more tree shaped. All in all, a super simple project that helped make our living room full of Christmas cheer.



November 27, 2011

Pumpkin Stacks (A.K.A. Whoopie Pies)


The whoopie pie trend has been sweeping the blogosphere for a while now. About a year ago was the first time I'd heard of them when my friend Kara tweeted a picture of a red velvet and cream cheese variation. I was immediately intrigued. I'm game for anything red velvet and it looked delicious. A couple weeks ago my husband suggested that I give making some of them a shot - although, for the record, originally he insisted that we call them sandwich cookies as he doesn't like their given name. I will admit that he and a friend have come up with a few other, less-wholesome, names for this sweet treat. None of which are appropriate to list here (even though, as much as I'd like to say they aren't, they are pretty funny). From here on out we will call them Pumpkin Stacks.

For the record, I thought these were going to be terribly hard to make and quite time consuming and, although, they weren't the easiest thing I've ever made, they sure weren't hard and they were pretty fun to bring to a party. People loved them.

I followed the Brown Eyed Baker's recipe for Pumpkin Whoopie Pie with Maple-Cream Cheese filling to a tee. Her instructions were great and super easy to follow. I will say that I completely forgot to chill my pumpkin filling, but that didn't seem to matter. The icing made much more than I needed for my whoopie pies, so if I make these again I'll be sure to have something else on hand that I can use it with (it would be really delish with some chocolate cupcakes).


Even though I don't know that I'll make this particular recipe again (it was pretty sweet), I'd really like to try something chocolate or pistachio flavored. Anyone have a good recipe to share?

November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

Is your belly full? Mine is. Full and happy. Last year was the first year I came to Oklahoma with my then-boyfriend-now-husband's family. It was great, but I made the mistake of thinking I should look all put-together all weekend long.

This year, with the ring securely on my finger, I am wearing sweat pants. The cutest ones I own, which isn't saying much, but sweat pants none-the-less. I only brought jeans for when we are tempted to leave the house to go to Topeca Coffee, Taco Bueno, or Jamba Juice.

I love Thanksgiving. I hope yours is wonderful!

November 23, 2011

Pumpkin Quick Bread


While I have recently been enamored with sourdough bread, there is still a very warm place in my heart for quick breads. Banana. Pumpkin. You name it. I love it. Mostly I love bread. Any kind. A while back I went to dinner at my friend Lauren's house and she served the most wonderful Pumpkin bread for dessert and ever since I've been thinking about making some not-from-a-box mix pumpkin bread. Then, last week, I stumbled across this recipe and decided it was time to put thought into action.

Pumpkin Quick Bread
slightly adapted from NoBiggie

3 c sugar
1 c applesauce
4 eggs
15 oz can pumpkin
2/3 c water
3 1/2 c unbleached all-purpose flour
2 t baking soda
2 t salt
1 t baking powder
1 t nutmeg
1 t allspice
1 t cinnamon
1 small dash ginger

Preheat oven to 350* and cream together sugar and applesauce. Add in eggs, pumpkin, and water.

Mix dry ingredients, including spices, together in a smaller bowl and then slowly add the dry ingredients into the wet until incorporated.

Pour batter into 2 loaf pans that have been sprayed with olive oil. Bake for about 1 hour or until the top of the loaf has set and a toothpick comes out mostly clean.

November 21, 2011

Menu Monday


Monday night is Community Group and this week, in honor of Thanksgiving, we're having an entire meal of side dishes. They are the best part of this fall holiday in my opinion. We're bringing the stuffing. It will not be home made. It will be from a box. From Aldi's. That's the best stuffing in the world. Why go through all the trouble of making our own when they've already reached perfection?

Tuesday night I'm going with the husband to a work dinner. I'm a little nervous. I don't know these folks very well and so I was looking for an appetizer that was impressive, yummy, and could be made in a hurry after work. I think The Pioneer Woman's Stuffed Mushrooms will be just the thing.

On Wednesday we're going to a Thanksgiving celebration with some friends before we leave town. I'm going to attempt to make a Pumpkin-Pecan Pie heavily inspired by Making Life Delicious. I'll let you know how it goes!

Friday, Saturday, and Sunday will be filled with Taco Bueno (because it is bueno), Jamba Juice, and Topeca coffee. And, of course, leftovers, lots of leftovers. All of the delicious things that Tulsa has to offer. Yum.

Happy Thanksgiving, friends!

November 17, 2011

Sourdough French Bread

The wait is finally over. Sourdough bread reigns supreme in our kitchen. It turns out, the starter is the hardest part. After that, if you have a bit of patience, some flour, water, and salt the rest is easy-peasy.

Sourdough French Bread:

Mix one cup sourdough starter, 3/4 cup luke warm water, 2 teaspoons kosher salt, and 1 teaspoon baking soda in the bowl of a stand mixer. Use the dough hook to knead the ingredients until they begin to come together into a ball. Untangle the dough ball from the hook and let it rest in the mixer for about 10-15 minutes.

Remove the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead well for about 5+ minutes. Shape the dough into a loose loaf. Coat the inside of the mixing bowl with a light layer of olive oil and return the loaf/ball the the bowl. Now, it's time for the longest wait. Cover with a damp towel and plastic wrap and set aside to rise for 4-8 hours. I've found that about 6 hours is the minimum for me. The dough should double in size and not spring back when touched.


Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead briefly. Form into a loaf and set on a cookie sheet. I set mine on a silicon baking mat - those things are the best! You could also sprinkle the cookie sheet with a light layer of cornmeal to keep the bread from sticking when it bakes. Cover the dough with plastic wrap for the second rise - this time on 1-3 hours.


When the dough has doubled in size, remove plastic wrap, slash dough 2-4 times with a sharp knife and brush with water. I use my husbands silicon grill brush and it works great! Bake the bread for about 25 minutes in an oven preheated to 400° or until the outside is a nice light brown and the inside reads 200-210° on an instant-read thermometer. Set bread on a cutting board to cool for about 20 minutes before slicing.


Then all that's left to do is keep yourself from eating the entire loaf in one sitting!

November 15, 2011

The Starter that Lived

I have a long and sordid history with sourdough starters. I adore sourdough bread and have been trying, for what seems like for-ev-er to get my own starter growing in the kitchen. The first one died a sad, smelly, pink, bacteria-filled death. The second was literally eaten by the dog (ew). The third and fourth attempts, even with the additional watchful eye and helpful hand from a handsome gentleman failed miserably. I thought we were destined to live a life without that wonderful tangy goodness in our lives.

And then the clouds parted, the angels sang, the heavens aligned and Justin was seated next to a generous sourdough-loving, starter-possessing couple at a church function not too long ago. He told them our sad sorry tale and a few weeks later they brought us our very own jar of deliciousness to church.


Now we have an overflowing jar of sourdough starter in our refrigerator, sourdough pancakes in our bellies, and our third loaf of bread just came out of the oven. Life is good.

Parting thought: Last fall I found a pretty good bread recipe from the book Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day so if, like me, you are having trouble with your starter and no good starter-sharing samaritans cross your path, this is a great go-to resource for the starter-challenged.

November 13, 2011

Cupcakes from a box, Icing made with love

Do you ever eat chocolate cake batter by the spoonful and tell yourself that it's basically the same as instant chocolate pudding? Yea ... me neither.

My friend Laura is having a baby! Her baby girl is due to arrive just after the holidays and today we are having a shower in her honor. We're feasting on all things pink and white and celebrating the fabulous mom-to-be!


Some of you may know Laura better as the voice behind FoodSnobSTL.com. She a pretty creative food blogger so I'm ashamed to admit that all of the tasty cupcakes that I made for her shower came straight out of the box. I wish I could say I doctored the mix a little to give it a certain je ne sais quoi, but nope, they are regular old cupcakes. Don't tell! I did take the time to whip up my own icing though. Nothing fancy. Just some good old fashioned buttercream.


Buttercream Icing

1/2 c shortening
1/2 c softened butter
1 t vanilla extract
4 c powdered sugar
2 T milk

Cream together the shortening, butter, and vanilla. Carefully add in the sugar one cup at a time (watch out that stuff gets everywhere) while mixing on medium speed. Add milk until the icing is light and fluffy.


Free tip just for you: I use small cheap plastic baggies as icing bags. Simply cut off a tiny corner of the bag and viola! icing bag. Ready to make cute letters or design fun swirls. The best part is there's nothing to wash at the end :)


November 10, 2011

A lesson in disappearing wine

Gift cards are awesome. At one of my bridal showers a friend gave us a gift card to Trader Joe's. Brilliant. It was immediately set aside for wine. TJ's is my hands down favorite place to buy wine. I love it because I can always find something better than drinkable and within my budget. The people are friendly and helpful and our favorite wine lady, Lynn, has never steered us wrong.

Last summer Lynn introduced us to our favorite white wine - Green Fin White Table Wine. We loved it. Then, one day, it was gone. Saddest. Day. Ever. That's the thing about Trader Joe's wines, they come and go as they please, but, luckily, our gal Lynn was there to introduce us to the Chariot Gypsy. It's a fabulous everyday red wine and we loved it. We bought up several bottles right away, but still, it's time came and it disappeared from the shelves. Sad.

This past Sunday I was meandering the TJ aisles with my friend Kara who was picking up some wine for a dinner party and I turned the corner and there she was. The Gypsy. Gasp! The aforementioned gift card immediately started to burn a hole in my pocket. Now, I'm new to the wife thing and I didn't know the rules about spending the wedding gift cards. I knew I had enough gift money to get 3 bottles, but in a fit of uncertainty I called the husband from the check out line to make sure he was cool with my purchase.

Me: Hey, I'm at Trader Joe's with Kara and guess what?
Him: What?
Me: The Gypsy is back! You know that gift card we have? It's enough to buy 3 bottles. Sound good?
Him: No...
(this is where my heart stopped for a second and was ready to be very, very sad)
...buy six!

So, back to the shelves I went to get 3 more bottles happy to know that the Gypsy would be gracing our wine rack once again this winter.