Thursday, December 30, 2010

2011 Cookbook Challenge

Anyone interested in joining me for this challenge?

I don't know about you, but I have a couple shelves full of cookbooks. I love looking at them and browsing through recipes but seem to so rarely actually use them. More often than not I find something on a blog or website, or go online and do a search rather than planning and cooking something from those cookbooks.

So, I am going to challenge myself to cook 1 recipe each week from one of my cookbooks. Surely that's a doable challenge. I'll even share here what I cook!

I have several Moosewood cookbooks (primarily vegetarian), books from Rachael Ray, Pioneer Woman, Steamy Kitchen, Martha Stewart, Cooking Light and more. A good variety to choose from certainly. While I am cooking healthy, I'm sure there's something in those not so healthy cookbooks that will work too, even if it's a side or salad or a special Sunday meal.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Busy Busy!

The past couple weeks have been a whirlwind with the holidays and our trip to Florida. Here's a quick summary to catch you up!

I was a cookie making fool for a couple weeks this month and had a freezer full of treats to divvy up as gifts before we hit the road. This is my first attempt at decorated/iced cutout cookies. I had so much fun with these. The snowmen were my favorite.



So as usual, worked til the last minute, wrapped presents, threw clothes in a bag or two (including gym stuff!) and hit the road.

On our drive down we stopped outside Atlanta to see our friend Jenn and meet her family. They are so incredibly nice! Great kids and an adorable dog that reminded me of a mini-Izzie!


We had such a nice visit with my brother and his family and very much enjoyed the 75 degree sunny weather too! The first morning there I went for a walk/run at the community park that is near my brother's house. Then the next day I sought out Jazzercise and went to a class. Thad went and did a few classes of yoga too!

Speaking of  yoga - Thad taught Avery a bit of yoga, and I think it would be so great for her, she loved it. Christmas eve day she had me out there showing her poses and running back and forth to the laptop where I'd pulled up diagrams of kids yoga poses. Here she is with Thad doing a modified dancer's pose:

I also fit in a little shopping and lunch with Avery and my sister in law's sister Lisa, her daughter Emily and her friend; some quick last minute shopping with Debbie; and a girls night out of dinner and drinks at Chili's with Debbie, Lisa and a couple of their friends.

Christmas Eve we went to mass and then went to my sister in law's sister's house for dinner/celebration. I played photographer and took pics of all the kids, etc. This one is my favorite of Brandon and Avery:


And here's a photo of my family on Christmas. This is Debbie, my sister in law, my brother Brian, my Dad, me and Thad, my aunt Margie, my nephew Brandon, my Mom, and my niece Avery (who was not being cooperative).

And as always, our trip came to an end too soon. Thad had to be back in Michigan for work Tuesday 8am, so we left Sunday morning to head back. On our way we stopped in Orlando and saw my old college roommate Michelle and her family (and learned she's expecting another baby!), and visited another friend, Dianna and her husband for a little bit as well. We ended up stopping for the night north of Atlanta since we were so tired, but made it home Monday night by 10pm.  It's such a long drive, but half the country ran into flight delays and cancellations so we can't really complain as our trip was fairly headache free!

This week I've been catching up on laundry, cleaning and preparing for our annual New Year's Eve party. I'm really looking forward to a relaxing and fun evening at home with friends!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Christmas Cakes

While in Florida for Christmas I got to observe my sister-in-law Debbie creating a couple cakes for a Christmas special order. She's a culinary school trained pastry chef, so it was a real treat to watch her in action and learn a few tips! And of course she had a couple helpers on stand by (my nephew Brandon and niece Avery).










Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Girlfriend Shopping Therapy

It was even unplanned! I was going to get together with my friend Maddie for lunch at Panera, but instead ended up meeting at Michael's (I was looking for cookie glitter) and then going on to the mall. What a fun day! Maddie and I go way back as shopping buddies, famous for enabling one another in college. Though, today we did more window shopping than anything else, had lunch at California Pizza Kitchen and enjoyed getting to catch up at the same time. We looked at pretty jewelry, dresses we have nowhere to wear, cute boots, smelly candles, kitchen and china 'stuff' at Macy's, toys and some fun t-shirts. These are the kinds of days that I missed for so many years and was so thrilled to get to appreciate today. I found something fun for my mother-in-law; she got hers something sparkly. Oh! And I also brought home with me two pretty sparkly birds that needed a new home on my mantle. :)

Monday, December 13, 2010

An evening at home with friends

This post should contain photos taken at dinner or playing games, but no, I didn't get the camera out til after they'd already left, so instead you get to see the wine we enjoyed!


Our guests were our neighbor Jobi, her daughter Savannah and her boyfriend Dave. I made a new recipe of turkey meatballs, a fattoush salad (minus the pita), garlic pasta and olive caper sauce (both by Al Dente Pasta, our favorite!). After dinner we played Apples to Apples and sampled some of the Christmas cookies I've been making. A very enjoyable evening!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

First snow!

Today was our first real snowfall and it's been coming down all day steadily. I haven't left the house. One of my favorite things is seeing Izzie playing in the snow. Well this year she also has her new friend Dory to play with too. I saw Dory running circles outside so opened the door and let Izzie go chase after her. They are just too cute!! Thad went out with some treats too.

Thad with Dory and Izzie

video

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Night Out!

Well last Saturday may have been a bust, but tonight was a go! We went out to our friend Mark's 40th surprise birthday party at Doc's bar in Livonia. Sarah successfully surprised him and threw a great party with friends and family. It was fun to get dressed up, have a few yummy drinks and socialize.

Thad and I, all ready to go out!


Thad & I
Our friend Vern with her fabulous new 'do
After we left the party we stopped in Lake Street Tavern in South Lyon for a bite to eat (okay, and I also couldn't resist an appletini with cinnamon on the glass rim - yum!! These asian noodle shrimp called my name too, they sounded so interesting. (unfortunately they were fried, does it count that it was shrimp?) Anyway, I enjoyed them very much and will just have to eat super healthy tomorrow. :)


Thad and I tried to end the evening with some dancing, but The South Lyon Hotel was dead. :( We went upstairs and no one was on the dance floor (although who could blame them, the music playing was terrible). Anyway, we left and came home, making it an early night. Thad was disappointed, but I reminded him we did have a really nice evening out otherwise. We'll just have to make plans to go out dancing somewhere soon!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Healthi(er) Cookies: Take Two!

I tried yet another 'light' recipe for cookies. Cooking Light hasn't steered me wrong yet so I gave their Snickerdoodles a chance. And I am SO glad I did. They are delicious!! Now I'm only mad I didn't double the recipe.


They are light, flavorful, chewy, a little crisp, all in one cookie. perfect! Here's the recipe!

Looking at Lights

One of my favorite things to do at Christmas time is to drive around and look at lights. One of the neighborhoods near us always seems to have a great display - many homes participate and have elaborate lights. One night last week Thad and I drove through there, and tonight I took my friend Vern on a drive through there as well. Here's our favorite display, I grabbed my camera tonight!


These trees are amazing! I love the candy canes and ornament lights, such a variety all on one tree!


Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Cranberry White Chocolate Shortbread Cookies

Buttery shortbread, decadent white chocolate and a burst of cranberry flavor has made this cookie an annual favorite! (Several years ago I found this recipe from ShannonM on the LM message board.) I'm not sure where the recipe originally came from, but I want to share it with you here! I did make some minor adjustments. They're so easy!



Ingredients:

2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
3 cups all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat white flour
1 pkg (8oz) Premium White Baking Chocolate, chopped (I use Ghiradelli)
1 1/2 cups dried cranberries

Directions:
  1. Preheat oven to 350
  2. Beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add flour, mix well.
  3. Stir in chopped chocolate and cranberries.
  4. Use small Pampered Chef cookie scoop to drop dough, 2 inches apart, on an ungreased cookie sheet. Flatten each slightly.
  5. Bake 11 min or until lightly browned. Note that the bottom will show the light browning, the top will stay white. 
  6. Cool 5 minutes on baking sheets. Remove to wire racks to cool completely.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Mistletoe!

Do you hang mistletoe? I never have but always wanted to! This year I saw this pretty crystal with mistletoe at Hallmark. Thad hung it from the chandelier in our foyer - the perfect place to pause for a kiss :)



I was interested in learning more about the story behind mistletoe - I mean after all, how many of us know what it is beyond it being good luck to kiss under the mistletoe? It actually has a very long history dating back to the days of the Druids (pre-Christian) and was considered to bestow life and fertility. The Greeks thought it had mystical powers and it became associated with many folklore customs. In the Middle Ages, branches were hung to ward off evil spirits. In Europe they were placed over doorways to stop witches from entering. Kissing under the mistletoe was first associated with a Greek winter solstice festival and primitive marriage rites. In Scandinavia it was considered a sign of peace - enemies could declare a truce under it, or couples 'make up' under it. In the 18th Century in England it became associated with what we know it as today - a kissing ball - a woman standing under mistletoe could not refuse a kiss - meaning romance or lasting friendship.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

First attempt at a healthier Christmas cookie!

Well first, let me say, I really want to make some healthier treats! However, I'm not sure these qualify as yummy enough to be worth the calories they do contain. A little disappointing, but I still will try out another 'healthier' recipe.

These are Princess Tea Cakes. The recipe is from Eating Well.  They use canola oil instead of butter, less powdered sugar in the cookies and a mix of whole wheat white and white flours. I think that butter really makes the flavor of these kind of cookies so yummy - and canola oil is just flavorless. I do think though that I will continue to substitute half the flour in most cookie recipes with whole wheat white, I don't see it making any difference in anything I've done this with yet and it makes them a little healthier! But I'm going to stick with real butter!

Bronner's Christmas Wonderland

The Christmas season wouldn't be complete in Michigan without a trip up to Bronner's, the world's largest Christmas store!
Thad and I

My Parents  



There were SO many people there! The place was jam packed and loud, but we walked the entire store and picked out a few ornaments. They had only one yoga ornament and that's something Thad really wanted, so we got it (even if it is a bit cheesy looking).
I loved this pretty sparkly red bird ornament and it's now hanging on our tree!

I was REALLY excited when I ran across this Santa Key! I had been talking with my sister-in-law Debbie last week about what to do about the fact that their new house doesn't have a chimney and Brandon is asking how Santa is going to get into the house. This is THE perfect solution :)


All Dressed Up . . .


. . . with nowhere to go! Actually, we had plans to attend our neighbors' annual Holiday Wine Party last night. I scheduled my hair appointment for yesterday (always better to have great plans on the day you get your hair cut!) and even got a complimentary express manicure at the salon. Got dressed, did my makeup, took this photo . . .and we ended up not being able to go because Thad got sick (he's feeling better this morning). I was disappointed, but it was okay and I certainly understood. Half of the fun of going out is the primping and dressing up and I did get to do that :) And in the process I learned that I now own not one pair of pants that fit. (don't worry, I'm not walking around pant-less, I have 1 pair of jeans that fit, 1 that is just a little big, and a couple dressier knit/yoga pants). I know, not something to get too upset over, right? Except I had this pair of black Banana Republic pants that I had gotten at the outlet store right before we went to New Orleans in October that I just loved. I ended up not wearing them on our trip and haven't had occasion to wear them since - and now they are too big. I could get by wearing them except that being looser on me means they got longer and they even touch the ground with heels on. Not worth getting hemmed when they're really too big anyway. Unfortunately I'd taken the tags off already, but I may try to sell on ebay.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Pecan Sandies

Last week my Mom brought me the 2010 Martha Stewart Holiday Cookies special issue (do you think this was a hint?). I have an issue of this from about 10 years ago and have made probably 1/3 of the recipes and all were excellent, so I was thrilled to get the latest issue. Martha has never steered me wrong when it comes to cookies!

I want to have a variety, so I am trying to start with recipes I know will freeze well -- tonight I made Pecan Sandies. They were buttery and yummy and really one (or two!) will do. I doubled the recipe. I did change up the all purpose flour for half whole wheat white to make it a smidgen healthier and used the small scoop instead of a big one to help with portion size. And baked 14 minutes to perfection. I now have 4 or 5 dozen of them wrapped up in my freezer. I even got smart and labeled the bag!

Feeling the Auntie Love :)

My niece and nephew live in Florida so we only get to see them a couple times a year. I try to find little ways to be a part of their lives and send them things throughout the year (usually books). This was the 2nd year that I did a 25 days countdown/advent calendar for them. I made each of them a decorated blank calendar with 25 spaces and put together 25 little packages for each of them with a daily tag to put on their calendars. Each package is an activity - some are simply coloring book type activities, some are little games or crafts I got at the dollar store or Michael's, and others are things for them to do - popcorn with instructions to pop in their favorite Christmas movie, printed carols for them to go caroling at a friends/family house, and an activity to anonymously do something for someone on the Feast of St. Nicholas. My sister-in-law texted me about how excited they were to put up their calendars in their rooms and Brandon was asking first thing this morning if he could open today's activity. It just puts such a smile on my face to hear how excited they were - a way for me to be a part of their daily lives even though we're so far away.

Then this evening I got a phone call from Brandon! That little boy sure can talk! About 20 minutes later I had to get him off the phone so I could take care of the Christmas cookies I was baking (well and he started talking to me about the Jets and the Patriots, and I don't follow pro football!). My favorite story was that Avery lost her first tooth today (she's 4 1/2!), and it bled, but she fell asleep and the tooth is under her pillow. Then he goes on to tell me that he's gone upstairs twice now to check and see if it's still there or if the tooth fairy had come. I told him she only comes when everyone in the house is asleep because she doesn't want anyone to see her. He is just too funny! I enjoyed chatting with him and can't wait to see them for Christmas!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Candy Cane Kiss Cookies

And so the baking begins!

Yes, I know I said I was going to seek out healthier treats to bake this year. And I will. But not all the time. :)

I saw these featured in Fine Cooking's email the other day and when I saw the Candy Cane Hershey's Kisses on sale at CVS today and thought of these cookies, I knew it was meant to be.

My friend Vern also needed some treats to take to her church's Advent Tea tomorrow night and so I told her I'd bake her up some of these to wow the ladies with.

Now first of all, I'd never tried these kisses before. Yum! Combined with a chocolate cookie that is both crispy and chewy at the same time and I'm in love. I confess, I've had 2 of them tonight. Actually, I guess I should be proud of myself that it was ONLY 2! (okay, I also had 3 kisses by themselves while I was baking). I ran across a blog tonight where she talked about eating treats and still fitting into her skinny jeans in December - basically skimping on calories at meals to allow more 'treat' calories. Good in theory, but I don't think it's something I could do often.

Anyway, back to these delicious cookies. They were from a blog called Our Best Bites. I did not use shortening though, I used only regular unsalted butter. I didn't have dark chocolate chips but had semi-sweet so used those, and I only had about 1/2 tsp of mint extract left but I threw it in anyway since it was an optional ingredient. I think the full 1 1/2 would really gift the chocolate a minty taste, mine just have a hint. I used my Pampered Chef small cookie scoop to measure them out, and in my oven they were perfect at 8 1/2 minutes.

Christmas Decor 2010

My project today was to get the Christmas tree up and decorated - mission accomplished! There is something so peaceful and beautiful about sitting in the living room at night with just the lights from the tree on - makes me wish the tree could be up year 'round! (although I suppose we find things more special when their time is limited). We don't have a very large tree, but I do like how well it showcasing the ornaments, and really it's perfect for the spot we have it in. Every year as I'm putting ornaments on (and I usually add a few each year), I start to think there's just not going to be enough room for everything - yet somehow there is and the more that is added, the prettier it gets!

 

Here's the lovely fresh wreath I got from Costco the other day, hung above the fireplace. I love having a bit of real greenery in the house, you just can't beat that smell at Christmas! 



Another favorite item of mine is our Waterford Crystal Nativity Set. Several years ago the set was released over a few years and I believe it's now discontinued. It was a gift from my parents.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Christmas Cards - DONE!

This definitely is record early timing for me and I can't tell you how exciting that is for the ultra-organized girl I am at heart :) Waiting on a few addresses but otherwise I am done hand addressing all of our cards and already mailed most of them this morning. We even received our first Christmas card today too!

A couple friends have posted on their blogs about doing a December daily album this year. I don't think I'll be doing a physical album, but I'd like to post something on my blog every day this month. We have a fun few holiday activities planned this month and I'm excited to really enjoy the Christmas season this year.