Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Things I'm Loving Lately - Christmas Present Edition

I received so many awesome presents for Christmas this year from friends and family!  Here are just a few of my faves:

1. Cuisinart Coffee Maker Plus Hot Water System
This coffee maker is just like our old one, but it has an additional instant hot water feature.  Jay and I drink a lot of tea, so we are really loving this product!  The hot water is ready in seconds to use for tea, hot cocoa, oatmeal, or whatever your heart desires.  This model is just a few dollars more than the regular Cuisinart Brew Central, and in my opinion it is worth every penny!

2. Freaker Koozies
Jay and I found these koozies in our stockings, and, as a koozie expert, I can honestly say that these are these are the best of the best.  I love the fun colors and patterns, but the greatest thing is that they will fit over any bottle, can, or jar known to man.  Anything from a regular beer bottle to a bottle of wine to a 2 liter of soda!  It is truly amazing!

3. TOMS Nepal Boots
I think I have worn these boots every single day since my mom gave them to me on Christmas Day.  The super soft fleece lining is so warm and comfortable - I feel like I am wearing slippers all day long.  And I love that TOMS donates a pair of shoes to a child in need with every purchase.

4. Bath and Body Works Snow Day Candle
Bath and Body Works makes the BEST candles!  Somehow the fragrances radiate throughout the house without being overbearing or air-freshener-y.  Since snow days are my most favorite things ever, this candle is perfect for me!  I can't wait to enjoy it on chilly days off from work yet to come.  Thanks, Zenie!

5. Oklahoma Bamboo Cutting Board
My cousin and his wife gave us this beautiful bamboo cutting board in the shape of our home state.  I love that it can be used as a cutting board, serving tray, or just a piece of art.  We currently have it hanging up in our dining room, and it looks great on the wall!  If I ever want to use it for serving, I can just pull it down.  And it can be ordered on Amazon in the shape of any state.  What a great gift!

6. Self-Watering Wine Bottle Flower Pot
My cousin Elise wins the award for most creative gift.  She made these self-watering flower pots out of old wine bottles!  It looks so pretty on our bar, and hopefully it will be really hard to kill the adorable flower she planted.  The above link takes you to a tutorial on Pinterest if you want to attempt the project yourself.

Best wishes for a happy New Year!  See you in 2014!!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Weekend Update and a Chipotle Chili Recipe

I hope you all are enjoying your weekend!  For us, this whole week has been one big ongoing holiday.  My cousin and his wife flew in from D.C. late on Christmas Eve, and Jay's brother came in late on Thursday from California.  So, despite enjoying a relatively low-key (but very nice) Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, the family activities have continued full-force.
With my step-sister and her husband on Christmas Day. 
On Friday, we enjoyed a nice breakfast out with my family.  My cousin, Trace, and I have always been close, and it was great to catch up with him and his wife, Agata.
Later that evening, we had Jay's brother, dad, and dad's girlfriend over for a casual chili dinner.  I had originally planned to make a roasted red-pepper chili recipe I found online, but the grocery store I stopped at didn't have the key ingredient, so it turned into a chipotle chili instead.  I sort of winged it with the recipe, but I'm glad I wrote down what I used because it turned out great!  The chipotle peppers in adobo sauce were definitely the star.  You can find these in a can near the Mexican foods, and a little goes a long way.  I never use the whole can at once, so I just freeze the extra in a little Pyrex or zip-lock bag for future use.
Hearty Chipotle Chili

1 lb grass fed beef
1 onion, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
1 tablespoon chili powder
1/2 tablespoon cumin
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1-2 tablespoons chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, chopped
2 cans black beans, drained
1 can kidney beans, drained
1 (10 ounce) can diced tomatoes with green chiles (undrained)
1 (14.5 ounce) can of regular diced tomatoes (undrained)
2 (8 ounce) cans tomato sauce
Salt (to taste)
Optional toppings: shredded cheese, green onions, cilantro, diced jalapeno, greek yogurt, avocado, etc. 

In large pan, cook beef, onion and green pepper until meat is browned. Add remaining ingredients; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 30 minutes (or longer).  Add toppings and enjoy!

The festivities continued yesterday, starting with a breakfast with one of my dear friends from college.  We went almost directly from there to a lunch at Jay's grandpa's, and then had more family and friends (and Madison the pug) over in the afternoon for drinks and board games.  The party continued well into the night, and somehow along the line it morphed into a karaoke fest.  We had a blast!
Today began with a pancake breakfast at Jay's grandma's followed by naps all around. While all of these gatherings have been so much fun, I definitely have not been eating (or drinking) in my usual healthy way.  I will be glad when things calm down a little bit and I can go back to cooking my own meals!  But for now I am just going to enjoy what's left of the holiday break.  Cheers!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas Plus a Chocolate Peanut Butter Recipe!

Merry Christmas eve!  Hope you are all enjoying the holidays and staying warm!  We are STILL dealing with this crazy icy weather and have spent lots of time lounging around the house. 
The dogs have been going a little stir crazy without their usual walks, so the last couple nights we have taken them out to look at Christmas lights.  They could probably care less, but the car rides at least give them some excitement.  And Jay and I have really enjoyed some beautiful displays!  I love bundling up with some hot chocolate and driving around to see what we can find.  
The last couple days I have felt more and more like my usual self.  This morning I finally spent some time back in the kitchen making some delicious (and healthy-ish) chocolate peanut butter balls.  I followed this recipe from Oh She Glows with just a few modifications. 

I know it's a little late in the game to be sharing holiday recipes, but these were just too good not to post.  And it's not like you couldn't make them at other times throughout the year. 
Chocolate Peanut Butter Balls


1 cup natural peanut butter
3.5 tablespoons pure maple syrup
2 tablespoons flax meal
2 tablespoons whole wheat flour (this is what I had on hand - Oh She Glows used coconut flour)
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup crushed rice cereal (like Rice Chex)
1 cup dark chocolate chips
1 tablespoon coconut oil


1. In a large bowl, mix together the peanut butter and maple syrup vigorously, for 30-60 seconds, until it thickens up.
2. Stir in the flax meal and flour.  You want to end up with a dough-like texture.  You can always sprinkle in more flour as needed.  
3. Add salt to taste and stir in the cereal.  (At this point, I just had to knead everything together with my hands.)
4. Shape into small balls. (I made between 25 and 30.)
5. In a small pot, add the chocolate chips and coconut oil and heat over low heat, stirring frequently. Once half the chips have melted, remove from heat and stir until completely smooth.
6. With a fork, dip the balls into the melted chocolate. Tap off excess chocolate on the side of the pot and place the ball on a plate or cutting board lined with parchment. Repeat for the rest. Save any leftover melted chocolate to drizzle on top at the end.
7. Freeze the balls for 10-15 minutes, until the chocolate is completely set.
Note: Once you dip the balls in the chocolate, make sure they do not touch each other!  Some of mine rolled together, and when I pulled them apart the chocolate ripped off.  They aren't the prettiest, but they still taste great!
Merry Christmas from our family to yours!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Checking In

Hello everyone!  All went well with my surgery, and I was able to come home from the hospital yesterday afternoon.  Compared with past surgeries, this one wasn't too terribly bad.  I had some fantastic nurses and doctors, plus lots of family around to keep me company.
As you can see, I had a nice set-up with plenty of entertainment.  A highlight of my stay was a visit from these sweet therapy dogs, Bailey and Nicholas.
Nicholas. the poodle, even got to hop in bed with me and cuddle for a while.  : )

Of course, I have had some pain, but for the most part it has been manageable.  My appetite is slowly coming back, as well.  I'm getting around pretty well, and I think with a few more days of rest I will be good as new!

I don't have big plans for the next couple of days.  My dad is in town until tomorrow afternoon, so I will be spending time relaxing and hanging out with him.  I also hope to get my Christmas presents wrapped and maaaybe do a little cooking or baking if I feel up to it.  Hope you are all staying warm with all of this crazy weather!  I woke up to a bunch of ice all over the place!  Good thing I have absolutely nowhere to go today.  Talk you soon!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Crispy Eggplant Parmesan

Well, I finally had to face reality and go back to work on Wednesday after a five day weekend.  I love my job, but I have to say those snow days were amazing!

I am having a small-ish surgery on Monday and probably won't be up and about too much over Christmas break, so it was nice to have that time off to get some things done.  This surgery isn't anything bad - just a follow-up to one of the surgeries I had last summer.  I knew I would have to do it at some point, and next week seemed like the best time to schedule it since I am off the following two weeks for break.  Hopefully I will feel better than ever once it's behind me!

I haven't done much cooking over the last couple days because Jay has been working a lot of late nights.  Now that volleyball season is over, he takes on the roll of head athletic trainer for his school.  That means he has to be at every single game and practice for all sports, which is quite the time commitment. 

Tuesday night, I did manage to put together one of my favorite easy meals: Eggplant Parmesan.  For a long time, I did not know how to cook eggplant at all.  In fact, I remember making an Eggplant Parmesan dish for Jay when we were right out of college, and it was SO bad we had to throw it away and order a pizza.  Neither of us are picky eaters at all, and it is the only time in my life I can remember something I made being truly inedible. 

I finally figured out that the key is to salt the eggplant and let it sweat before cooking, and also to make sure you cook it long enough.  Eggplant that's not cooked all the way through is just not good, period.  This meal does take some time to prepare, but very little of it is hands-on.  Now that I finally know how to cook with eggplant, I make it all the time!  It is a delicious and healthy meat substitute. 
Crispy Eggplant Parmesan
Serves 3-4

1 eggplant, roughly peeled (I usually leave some skin on - it won't hurt you)
1 cup Italian flavored Panko bread crumbs (or add some Italian seasonings to the regular kind)
1/2 cup parmesan or Italian blend cheese
1 egg
Salt and pepper
Red pepper flakes
Pasta and marinara sauce of your choice

1. Slice the eggplant into 1/2 to 3/4 inch rounds. 
2. Sprinkle salt on both sides of the slices and allow them to sit for approximately 30 minutes.  (I put mine in a colander and let them sweat over the sink.)
3. After 30 minutes, rinse off the slices and pat dry.  Go ahead and preheat the oven to 425. 
4. In a bowl, scramble the egg and season with salt and pepper.
5.  Mix bread crumbs and cheese together and place on a plate.
6.  Dip each eggplant slice in the egg, then the breadcrumb mixture. Place slices on a greased cookie sheet. (I line mine with foil to avoid a mess.)  If you have a large eggplant, you may need to add another egg or more breadcrumbs.
7. Sprinkle slices with red pepper flakes (if you want).
8.  Bake eggplant for 35-40 minutes at 425, flipping once, until brown and crispy on the outside and soft and fluffy on the inside. 
9. Serve over the pasta of your choice, and top with your favorite marinara sauce.  You can also top it all with additional Parmesan, fresh herbs, etc. 
10. Enjoy!
You may not hear from me for a few days, but I hope to be feeling great and back to blogging ASAP!  Have a great weekend!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Homemade Peanut Butter Cookies for your Pups

There are always so many delicious human treats being shared around the holidays, but our furry friends love a special treat from time to time, too!  Since I was lucky enough to have a second snow day today, I decided to devote a bit of my afternoon to making some tasty treats for Wendy and Oliver.  After all, unlike us teachers, the poor pups are getting really sick and tired of all the snow.  I figured there'd be nothing better to cheer them up than some fresh, warm peanut butter cookies!

The great thing about these cookies for the humans making them is that they are all-natural, super easy to prepare, and CHEAP!  I get sticker shock every time I look at the price of the homemade "gourmet" treats at Petsmart or our local pet bakery, but these cookies cost just pennies.  And Wendy and Oliver (who live for peanut butter) absolutely adore them.

Peanut Butter Dog Cookies
(Recipe makes around 30 bite-sized cookies)

1/2 cup natural peanut butter
1/2 cup milk (I used almond milk)
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking powder

  • Preheat oven to 375.
  • Mix the milk and peanut butter together.  (I microwaved the mixture in a glass bowl for one minute to make it easier to stir.)  
  • Combine the flour and baking powder, and then add the wet ingredients in to the dry.  Stir well.  
  • Roll dough into 1-inch balls and place on greased baking sheet.  Press each ball down with a fork to flatten. Bake for 15 minutes, or until cookies are slightly browned. 
  • Transfer to plate or cooling rack.  Cool before serving.  
I think Wendy and Oliver sensed that I was making something for them, because they were on extra high alert the entire time I was in the kitchen.  
They can smell peanut butter a mile away!
The dogs both agreed that the end result was worth the wait!  They give the recipe two paws up!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Sushi and Sweaters

Last night we kicked off the holiday party season with an ugly sweater sushi party at our house.  Our good friends Greg and Vanessa have hosted several sushi parties in the past, and they are always a ton of fun.  The two of them helped us gather and prepare lots of delicious sushi ingredients, and then everyone took turns creating their own unique rolls.

Our fillers included fresh ahi tuna, shrimp, smoked salmon, cream cheese, avocado, carrots, asparagus, cucumber, sweet potato (my personal fave), and roasted jalapenos.  Plus lots of Sriracha, Sambal Oelek, wasabi, and pickled ginger. 
It took a few tries to get the sushi-rolling technique down, but even the ugliest rolls tasted amazing!
 Greg was the sushi-making expert, and he created some beautiful works of art.  
The night also included lots of fun drinks.  Did you know that the Hanson brothers are now in the beer making business?  As long-time Hanson superfans, my friends and I could not wait to get our hands on a case of Mmmhops.  (Yes, that name is for real.)
Even the guys had to admit that it was pretty phenomenal.  Probably the best beer ever created. 

After everyone was full of sushi, we played a hilarious party game called Cards Against Humanity.  It is basically a twisted, grown-up version of Apples to Apples.  So funny, but not recommended for those easily offended!  
The star of the party had to be Brody, our friend Matt's new baby lab puppy.  He was seriously one of the most adorable puppies I have ever seen in my life.  He looks like he was plucked right out of a Purina ad! I am obsessed.
Such a fun night! 
To top off a great weekend, I just got word that we have ANOTHER snow day tomorrow!  I can hardly believe it! 

Have a great week everyone! 

Friday, December 6, 2013

Let It Snow

In my opinion, there is nothing in the whole wide world better than a snow day.  An unexpected day off with no plans and nowhere to be?!  Yes, please!
The snow started coming down hard yesterday afternoon, and, with the temperatures only in the 20s, the roads were quickly covered. It was quite a treacherous drive home! Jay and I both received word yesterday afternoon that our schools were canceled for today before the second round of weather even came through. We immediately turned off our alarms, poured some wine, and put in a movie. It was the best feeling!

This morning I've had no trouble entertaining myself around the house.  I'm pretty sure I could be snowed in for a month and not get bored.  

I started the day off by completing some Christmas shopping online and making one of my favorite breakfasts: baked banana oatmeal.  I base my recipe off of one from KathEats that can be found here.  It only takes about five minutes to throw the ingredients together, and it is warm and comforting on a cold winter morning!
Baked Banana Oatmeal
(serves 3-4, although Jay and I managed to eat the whole thing ourselves)

2 cups rolled oats
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon (plus more to sprinkle on top)
1/4 tsp kosher salt
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 egg, beaten
2 bananas (mash 1.5, save the rest for topping)
1.25 cups almond milk
1 tsp vanilla

1. Preheat oven to 375.

2. Combine oats, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon.

3. Combine mashed banana, egg, milk, and vanilla.

4. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry. Mix well.

5. Line an 8″ pan (square or round) with parchment paper or spray with cooking spray.  Pour batter into pan. Slice up remaining bananas and layer on top. 

6. Bake for approximately 25 minutes. 

7. After 25 minutes, increase heat to broil, sprinkle with 2 tbsp brown sugar, and broil for 3-4 minutes.  (Careful not to burn!)

8. Top with additional cinnamon, serve, and eat!

I also got around to some other tasks that I have been meaning to do for FOREVER, like cleaning my make-up brushes.  They say you are supposed to do this about once a month...I'm pretty sure I do it more like once a year. 
I just used 1 cup of warm water, 1 tbsp of vinegar, and 1 tbsp dish soap.  Swirl brushes around in solution, then rinse, reshape, and let dry.  Mine were so dirty I had to do it twice!  At least they are clean now! Until next year...

I also took the time complete another long overdue task - cleaning out the coffee maker.  To do this, just pour equal parts vinegar and water into the water chamber and begin to brew.  Halfway through, turn off the coffeemaker and let it sit for about an hour. Turn it on again to complete the cycle, then run several cycles with clean water.
It's so easy, I have no idea why I don't do it more often!

I'm off to go enjoy the rest of my snow day.  The afternoon is wide-open!