Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Awesome pumpkin cookies

So, I've already made these 3 times now. They are awesome and Mike loves them. Most recently, he entered us into his work's Christmas cookie bake-off and he wanted me to make these. I found the recipe on Picky Palate's blog. The first time I made them, I followed her recipe exactly but it made a ton of cookies so this time I basically halved the recipe. Here is what I did.

Pumpkin Cookies
Source: Picky Palate

1 box spice cake mix
1 15oz can pumpkin
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla (I added)

Preheat oven to 350. Place cake mix, pumpkin, nutmeg, cinnamon and vanilla in a mixer and mix until well combined. With a cookie scoop, scoop onto a parchment or silpat lined cookie sheet. Bake @ 350 degrees F. for 11-13 minutes or until cooked through (9-11 mins works best for me). Let cool completely.

For the frosting, here is what I did:
1 jar of vanilla frosting
4 oz softened cream cheese (light)
1/8 teaspoon of cinnamon

Mix all together and spread on cookies. Yum!

My first pecan pie!

Since we were hosting Thanksgiving, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to try my hand at pecan pie. I had thought about using a Cooking Light recipe or some other 'light' recipe, but then I said what the heck and chose to just go all out. Afterall, I didn't want to ruin my first pecan pie...so I turned to someone who I knew would be spot on....the Pioneer Woman. Are you wondering how mine turned out? Ridiculously good!!! I got so many compliments on it...Mike's mom and grandma were really wowed that I made it from scratch. Go me! Do yourself a favor...make a real pecan pie one day. So. Worth. It.

Pioneer Woman's Pecan Pie
Source: Pioneer Woman Cooks
1 unbaked pie crust
1 cup white sugar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup corn syrup
1/3 cup melted butter (regular, salted)
3 eggs, beaten
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
1 heaping cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350. Mix sugar, brown sugar, salt, corn syrup, butter, eggs, and vanilla together in a bowl. Pour chopped pecans in the bottom of the pie shell. Pour syrup mixture over the top. Bake pie at 350 degrees for 50 minutes, being careful not to burn pecans and crust.
Allow to cool for several hours or overnight.

My new favorite dip!

This dip is just too easy...and so delicious. Lani made it for a halloween party and made me try it, even though I was hesitant simply because of the word 'artichoke'. Well, silly me, because it was so good. I decided to make it for a Thanksgiving appetizer and I served it with crostini. So, let's just get right to it...shall we?

Lani's Artichoke Dip
1 can of artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
8 oz of cream cheese (light)
1/2 cup of mayo (light)
1/4 cup of parmesan cheese
1 tsp garlic powder

Preheat oven to 350 or 375. Mix all ingredients. Spread into 8x8 dish and bake for 20-25 minutes until heated through and bubbling on top. Serve with crostini or crackers. Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Meet our Pumpkin!

We are not cat people...never have been and were sure we would never be. Things change, I guess. Last week, we happened upon a stray little kitty late one night on the road that runs behind our house. We brought her home and kept her through the night (we called her Pumpkin because she was white, orange and black). The next morning we called the local animal services about bringing her there since they have an adoption center on site. We knew that she had a cold (or Upper Respiratory Infection as they told us)... because of that they said she would be euthanized because they can't risk getting the rest of their population sick. Also, she had scratched us when playing and because she was a stray there was the risk of rabies. I was heartbroken and we didn't know what to do. We left her there thinking we were doing what was best for her and for us. By Sunday, 2 days later, we missed her and wished we would have made the decision to at least take her to a vet, get her well, and then give her up. We drove to animal services that night at 9 p.m. and left 2 notes on the various office doors saying that if they still had her, by chance, we would love to have her back and give her a good home. They called me Monday morning and apologized saying it was too late. Again, crushed! We thought long and hard and decided we would look into adopting a kitty.

So, here's how Pumpkin (v.2) came along. That same day, Monday, I started looking at adoption website and decided to look at Craigslist. I came across a tiny little orange and white kitten that someone else found as a stray and were giving away for free. I emailed and they wrote me back saying he was still available. So, last night, we went to see him and we left with our little Pumpkin. He's a doll...the sweetest little guy. However, he was infested with fleas...which we noticed when we got home. We had asked the lady and she said she hadn't seen any. Anyways, we spent 2-3 hours cleaning him and picking 80-100 fleas off the poor little guy. I took him to the vet first thing this morning and they said we did a great job as they didn't seen any fleas at all. They gave him a vaccination, a little amount of flea treatment just in case, a checkup, etc....we have a healthy little kitty...weighing in at a whopping 1 lb 4 oz!! We picked his birthday to be September 20th so he's 7 weeks old!

We can't wait to get home and play with him since we're pretty sure he thinks we were torturing him last night...he was drenched, freezing, being picked and pulled at... but it was all worth it and he loves us today!

**next to my foot (size 7) to show you how small he is!

Monday, November 3, 2008

1 Year of Wedded Bliss

We recently returned from a 1 week roadtrip to celebrate our 1 year anniversary. What a great trip. On Friday, Oct 10th, we drove from Tampa to Atlanta where we would spend our first two nights at the downtown Atlanta Marriot Marquis in a room with a great view.

The first night we had an amazing dinner at Chin Chin - a chinese restaurant that I had found online and saw that it had good reviews. Well, it was absolutely delish. The location we went to was deceiving from the outside, but was a charming little modern place on the inside. And the food was to die for. Here's what we had: appetizer - crab angels (rangoon); dinner - Mike had Hunan Chicken - a light dish that was very hot but so good; I had the combo Tangerine shrimp/chicken which was served over roasted peppers and orange peels - unbelievable how good it was.

On Saturday, we drove to Stone Mountain Park and did a morning hike to the top. Great workout to start the day then walked around the little village. Cute place!

Saturday night was dinner at Legal Sea Foods. Another fabulous meal. Appetizer - Hot Crab Dip; dinner - Mike had the Grilled Swordfish with seaweed salad and broccoli with cheese; I had the Tortilla, Apple & Goat Cheese Salad with orange chipotle dressing (topped with grilled scallops). Dessert - personal pecan pie with vanilla bean ice cream, whipped cream and caramel bourbon sauce. Oh my...what a meal!

On Sunday morning, we got up and hit the Georgia Aquarium where we spent about 2 hours. Then, it was back in the car and on the road...next up, Charleston!

Anniversary Trip continued...

Enjoying a really cute little Coke Zero bottle on the road...

Second stop - Charleston. We arrived on Sunday afternoon and spent 3 nights at the Mills House Hotel - charming, historic hotel that we enjoyed very much. Great location too! We did a little walking around just to loosen up our stiff legs. For dinner, we wanted something simple and easy so we went to Charleston Crab House. Appetizer - she crab soup - thick, creamy and very good. Mike had a crab cake sandwich - the crab cake was dwarfed by the bun so he just ate the crab cake. I had the bbq shrimp & grits because I had to try it. Not my favorite dish - good, but not something I can eat a whole bowl of.

The next day, we went on a carriage tour of the city and then had lunch at Sticky Fingers BBQ. Mike had the Ribs & Wings Combo and I had the Smoked Chicken Potato Skins with BBQ. Very good meal! Here's a great action shot of Mike enjoying his.

We may have taken a nap after this meal (I'm guessing we did) to get ready for the next meal, which was going to be our biggest anniversary dinner compliments of Mike's company, Deloitte...which was a pleasant surprise. We did our research to come up with the best place to dine at so we were very much looking forward to it.

We chose Oak Steakhouse, which is located in an old bank. We were given a very private table and immediately were given 2 glasses of pink champagne. Very nice, unexpected touch. We started out by ordering a bottle of Franciscan Magnificat, one that Mike has had before and said I really needed to try. I'm not a red wine drinker at all, but gave it a shot. Oh boy, now I'm a fan. That is a delicious wine!

Here is what we had: appetizer - Beef Tartare served with crunchy shoestring potatoes for Mike and a Roasted Beet & Boston Bibb salad for me. Yum! For dinner - 7 oz filet with gorgonzola cream sauce for me and a 16 oz new york strip for Mike. We ordered the Lobster & Shrimp mac & cheese to share as our side, and it seriously rocked our world! For dessert, Mike ordered 2 dessert wines for us to try and I ordered the Apple Torta with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream (that had been mixed with honey). A meal we will not soon forget!

The next day it was off for some more sightseeing...this time, by bike. We rented two bikes and set out for an adventure....first we headed to this beautiful bridge, which kicked my butt and I could barely breathe by the time we got across it. Then on a water taxi back to downtown Charleston so we could explore the historical streets. Gotta love our helmets.

After a couple hours, we headed back to the hotel to re-group. I had the idea of grabbing our books/magazines, getting on the bikes and heading down to the Battery to hang in the park for awhile. That was nice, peaceful and relaxing and we're glad we did it.

Our last meal was at Jestine's Kitchen. We knew we needed to have some real southern comfort food and Mike had been wanting fried chicken. This place has a great reputation for simple southern food. We started with the cornbread which was served with butter that had been drizzled with honey. Yum! I prefer sweet cornbread and since it wasn't sweet, the butter with honey did the trick. Mike had the fried chicken basket with collard greens and fries. I had the pecan crusted fried chicken breast with mac & cheese. This chicken was awesome. Then for dessert, the coca cola cake with vanilla bean ice cream...very rich but so good!

The last morning, we spent a couple hours by the pool before packing up the car and heading out again...this time to Savannah, for our final stop. Isn't he handsome?

Last Stop...Savannah!

Our third and final vacation spot was Savannah. I was most excited about where we would be staying...I talked Mike into trying a B&B for the first time...I couldn't wait. I did some research and settled on the Green Palm Inn. We arrived in Savannah on Wednesday afternoon, just in time for some snacks and wine that was provided by the inn. Diane is the innkeeper and Tammy is her assistant. They were awesome. The place is absolutely adorable, a touch of modern mixed in with traditional furnishings. There are only 4 guest rooms and ours was the Sago Palm Suite. It was perfect!

My favorite part of the house was the front porch. It was so beautiful with so many flowers and tons of greenery. I wish the front of my house looked like that.

On our first night, we went for a walk down to check out River St. and then to City Market. We stopped in a pub for dinner, the Moon River Brewing Company. An appetizer caught my eye so we just had to try it....Sweet Potato Crinkles. Let me just tell you....they were so yummy. They are basically crinkle french fries (but made with sweet potatoes, obviously) and they were served with 3 dipping sauces (raspberry vinaigrette, chipotle ranch and a cinnamon sugar glaze). I preferred the ranch but every now and then would dip into the cinnamon sugar glaze...it was more of a dessert that way. Mike ordered a Grilled Chicken Salad and I had the Chicken, Bacon and Swiss sandwich. Both were great. Oh, we also ordered a sampler of their beers that are brewed in-house...we got 7 of them which was very cool. A couple of them were very good and a couple were not so good. But here is Mike getting excited about trying them. After dinner it was off to City Market where I found Savannah's Candy Kitchen and had some delicious butter pecan ice cream.

I was very excited about our first breakfast at the Green Palm Inn. We awakened to an absolutely glorious smell coming from downstairs. When we sat down at the table, Diane served us each a plate filled with blueberry bread pudding, brown sugar baked bacon, and a side of pineapple, strawberries and papaya. Oh my goodness, what a good way to start the day. Then, we decided on a roadtrip out to Tybee Island where we would check out the beach and the lighthouse.

The view from the top...

It was such a beautiful day but there is not a lot to do on Tybee Island so we headed back in to do some shopping. Then, Diane made reservations for us at the Olde Pink House, where Lani said we must go while we are there. What a beautiful place. Lani had mentioned to me that she remembered the scallops being great so that's what I decided to have. They were served with mashed potatoes and a mix of green peas/beans (sugar snap peas, green beans and edamame). Mike had the special that was offered which was Red Fish over black eyed peas and red cabbage. Mike's dinner was very good but mine was fantastic. I savored every bite of those big, succulent scallops...my oh my. I did order the chocolate pecan pie with ice cream for dessert. It was good but the texture was almost all nuts. Good but different.

From there we headed to Molly MacPherson's pub for some drinks (Mike wanted to try a scotch or two since they supposedly have the largest selection in the east or something like that) and to watch the Rays playoff game. Cute little pub...good atmosphere!

On the second morning, we were once again greeted by a phenomenal breakfast. Diane had made scrambled eggs, chicken spinach asiago sausage, biscuits, hash browns and fruit salad. Delicious! For our last day, we decided to visit the actual mall as we were worn out from walking around outside. We did visit Bonaventure Cemetery though which is beautiful and full of history. I really enjoyed seeing that...Mike, not so much. Ha! That afternoon, we returned to the inn for snacks and wine. We opened a bottle that Mike had bought especially for our trip and had a glass. Then our pedicab arrived to take us to our final vacation dinner.

We had settled on a place called Noble Fare, a fairly new place but when we asked, Diane said we were doing ourselves a favor by going there. Mike had his heart set on trying veal sweetbreads (a young animal's pancreas or thymus gland or something crazy like that). In a google search, I came across this place and we decided to give it a shot. We carried our bottle of wine with us since they knew it was our anniversary and we just crossed our fingers that they would let us drink it. They did and didn't even charge a corkage fee. Awesome! We were given the special table by the first window...the only table in the place with red chairs. Nice touch for our anniversary! The place is small with only 10-12 tables but it has black walls with fuschia/red accents and damask accents as well.... very chic!

Mike, of course, ordered the Crispy Sweetbreads with a balsamic reduction for an appetizer. For dinner, he ordered the Elk Tenderloin served with carrot puree and potate pave and pinotage reduction spinach. I had the House Rules Salad which was bibb lettuce, goat cheese, dried cranberries, candied pecans and raspberry viniagrette. Another absolutely fabulous meal! Mike saw that they had an absinthe martini on the menu so he had to try it even though he has had absinthe several times and each time it's worse than the last...well, that doesn't stop him. And sure enough, it was not easy on the palate.

One last breakfast in Savannah and then it was back in the car and heading home to Tampa. For our last morning, Diane served a banana french toast casserole, chicken sausage and fruit. That french toast was amazing. The Green Palm Inn is amazing. Our vacation and anniversary was....yep, you got it, amazing!!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Creamsicle Cupcakes

Recently my friend, Leah, invited me to share a 'booth' with her at a local arts & crafts fair. She would be making a lot of crafty items, which she is so great at and she asked if I would like to make some baked goods to sell. I was pretty excited about having my first bake sale, but was nervous as well. I decided to do a mix of made from scratch items and some box mixes since I was treading on new ground. One of the first items I made (and then froze) were these cupcakes that were started with a box mix. Well, I don't care at all at they were made from a box because these were the best cupcakes ever...maybe my new favorite...really, I'm not kidding. They are worth making...so go get a box of orange cake mix and a vanilla pudding mix and get to work. Enjoy!

Creamsicle Cupcakes
Source: 52 Cupcakes

1 box of Duncan Hines Orange Supreme Cake Mix
1 small box of vanilla pudding (not instant)

Follow directions on the box, adding in the vanilla pudding mix. Bake as directed on box.

I chose to use a pre-made frosting...I believe it was Betty Crocker Whipped Cream which was so perfect on these. When I did my taste-test (yes, of course, I had to), I just put a dollop of cool whip on top....and that was perfect also. I'm not sure you can go wrong. If you check out the blog 52 Cupcakes where I found this recipe, she has a recipe for a frosting using marshmallow fluff...I definitely want to try that out sometime too.

**here is my taste-tester cupcake, just in case you couldn't tell.

More to come: pumpkin cookies and pumpkin muffins. Also, tales from our 1 year anniversary trip to Atlanta, Charleston and Savannah. Did I mention I'm currently doing these updates from the car as we drive home to Tampa from Savannah? Our vacation is almost over...sad, sad!

Long Overdue...

I have been a terrible slacker when it comes to this post...I'm going to try and say that I've been terribly busy but that probably doesn't cut it. Anyways, this was a dish I came across in the Kraft magazine. It was so incredibly easy to throw together and it turned out to be a great comfort food dish. The cheese, strangely, wasn't my favorite part. And I would like to try making it again leaving the cheese out...but instead making it more like chicken pot pie. I really think it would be a great alternative to making chicken pot pie...and very easy! The next post is also long overdue...but after that I'll be caught up. Try not to hold it against me, please.

Chicken & Biscuits
Source: Kraft

1 can (10-3/4 oz.) condensed cream of chicken soup
3/4 cup BREAKSTONE'S or KNUDSEN Sour Cream, divided
2 cups chopped cooked chicken
1 pkg. (16 oz.) frozen mixed vegetables, thawed
1 cup KRAFT Shredded Mild Cheddar Cheese
3 Tbsp. milk (I used fat free)
1 cup all-purpose baking mix (I used bisquick)

Heat oven to 375ºF. Mix soup and 1/2 cup sour cream in 8-inch square baking dish. Stir in chicken, vegetables and cheese.

Stir milk and remaining sour cream into baking mix. Drop by heaping tablespoonfuls into 6 mounds on top of chicken mixture.

Bake 35 min. or until biscuit topping is golden brown and chicken mixture is hot and bubbly.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Greetings from the road...

It's been a year (well, this coming Monday...the 20th) since Mike and I were married. So, to celebrate, we decided on a weeklong roadtrip to explore a few cities of the southeast. I'm a southern girl so I was really looking forward to it... I really love the South. This past Friday morning, we set off for Atlanta where we would spend 2 nights in downtown. On Sunday afternoon, we headed to Charleston where I now sit by our hotel pool after an awesome day of bike riding around the city. Tomorrow we leave for Savannah where we will be for 3 nights before heading back home to Tampa. I love the South....did I mention that already?

I just wanted to let you all know that I'll be posting when we return with full details of where we have stayed, what we have done, and most importantly, what we have eaten. Yes, we have spoiled ourselves and I dread heading back to the kitchen. Tonight we are going for a truly southern meal at Jestine's Kitchen. I'll let you know how it is. Before I go, would you like a little sample of what we've had so far....

Pecan Pie, Lobster & Shrimp Mac & Cheese, Shrimp & Grits, She Crab Soup, Pumpkin Ice Cream.....and the list goes on.

Back to exploring the South...

Monday, September 22, 2008

An Award for Me?

Whoa, this is very cool. When I got on here tonight to do a few updates, I saw a comment from Melissa over at Delicious Meliscious saying that she had given me an Excellent Blog award. Me...are you serious? Gosh, I really don't think I deserve it. My blog doesn't hold a candle to the many, including Melissa's that I drool over daily. With that said, I'm so grateful that people actually check out my blog and I'm so honored to think that Melissa thinks my blog is "excellent". That truly makes my day. Thank you so much, Melissa. And now, I do believe I am supposed to pass this award on to those blogs that I think are excellent.
A little FYI to the deserving recipients: this award comes with a few rules attached to it. Please find at least 10 more blogs, of any kind, which you deem to be excellent; you don't have to find 10 exactly. Quality over quantity folks! Post about the blogs you picked, linking back to me and to them. Once you’ve posted, return here to let me know your post is up, and of course let your 10 award winners know too.
Edit: When checking out a few other blogs, I realized that Kelly from Kelly Cooks...and Other Amazing Feats also passed this award on to me. Awesome! Thanks, Kelly. I really appreciate it.

Everyting Jamaican Mon!

Terrible title for the post, I know. What really matters is the recipe so please try to ignore that title, ok? I had this meat dish recently at my friend Brooke's house. It was so different and I was excited to try it out. This was the last dinner I made for our guests and it really went over well...I love how the different flavors come together. I served it with crashed hot potatoes and broccoli with cheese. Delish!

Jamaican Steak
2 lbs beef flank steak
1/4 c packed brown sugar
3 tbsp orange juice
3 tbsp lime juice
1 piece (1 1/2" x 1") fresh ginger, minced (I used 1 tsp of ground ginger)
2 tsp grated orange peel (I omitted)
2 tsp grated lime peel (I omitted)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground cloves

Combine sugar, juices, garlic, ginger, peels, salt/pepper, cinnamon and cloves in baking dish. Add beef, turn to coat. Cover and refrigerate to marinate.

2 options for cooking (I chose to grill):
Grill for 6 mins on each side or
Bake on 375 for 40 mins then let sit for 10 mins

Crashed Hot Potatoes

small, round potatoes with skin left on (red potatoes or small Yukons work well)
olive oil

Preheat oven to 450. Add the potatoes to a large pan of salted water. Bring to the boil. Simmer briskly for 15 minutes or until potatoes are almost cooked. Remove potatoes from the pan and place on a baking tray. Using a masher or the back of a big spoon, gently squish each potato until they are half intact, half broken up. Brush with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast in a very hot (450) oven for 20 minutes. I added some shredded cheddar cheese about five minutes before they were done, and served with sour cream.