Thursday, October 28, 2010

Charlie Brown, Coffee Cream Debacle & A Friendly Football Rivalry

One of my favorite TV Specials is on tonight and I could not be more excited! I thought for a moment that I had missed it but alas, at 8pm, I will join Charlie Brown and his pals celebrate "The Great Pumpkin" on ABC. A family favorite that I am so excited to snuggle up and watch tonight! And Shrek is back with a new seasonal special as well. Looks like our DVR will be filled with spooky specials tonight!

{Image via here}

October is almost behind us and I cannot believe that November is just around the corner! What blows my mind even more is that after pumpkin waffles, pumpkin chocolate chip cookies, pumpkin oatmeal cranberry white chocolate cookies and pumpkin muffins, I feel as though I have not used the pumpkin to it's full potential in my kitchen thus far in 2010. Thank goodness in my world, pumpkin season goes through November. On my list to make: Pumpkin Biscotti, Pumpkin Roll, Pumpkin Risotto and introducing Mark to the Italian culinary delight, the gnocchi, pumpkin style. I also have enjoyed adding a little pumpkin spice to my morning coffee cup by way of Coffee Mate. The only catch is that my local grocery store has seemed to skip over fall and go straight to Santa's favorite flavors! As most of you know, I am a self proclaimed Yuletide Freak but let's slow the season down and enjoy it a little, eh? Alas, Target came to my rescue and I was able to scoop up my seasonal coffee creamer. The extra trip is worth it and my first sip of coffee each morning is exquisite and festive. Let's just hope the rest of this town doesn't figure out my secret stash location!

We are headed South this weekend to see dear friends and celebrate a baby baptism! I cannot wait to see the sweet little ones, spend time with friends and have some Halloween fun. Another perk- a little dose of the South! God bless the Midwest but I am in need of a change of scenery and I think this is just what my heart needs.

In other news, the BIG game is this weekend. In the land of college football these teams may be the "little guys" but may I remind you of the "little" school, Appalachian State that beat Michigan in 2007!? Yes, that's my alma mater! Black Saturday is upon us and how I wish I could be in Boone. App State vs. Furman has always been one of the Southern Conference's biggest football rivalries. Being married to a former Furman running back takes this to a whole new level. I have kept the comments clean this week and have tried my hardest to play nice, but yesterday I discovered that my car had been de-faced with a Furman plate! Thank goodness no one in Illinois knows much about the Southern Conference. If I was driving around in Charlotte, my car may have gotten egged. I love you, Mark, but my blood is black and gold and the only place that purple and I get along is when I see it in my closet, not on the football field. Yes, Furman holds the all time record (21-14), but that doesn't mean anything to me. Maybe because when I was in school, we were winning National Championships. If the Mountaineers lose this weekend, I am in HUGE trouble. But I'm a glass half full kind of gal and I have high hopes for the outcome of Saturday's game. Now let's just hope that MM doesn't get upset when he finds out I'm packing my jersey and bringing it to Atlanta!

And here's a quick reminder to VOTE! Just click on that friendly little Nina button on your right. I am on pins and needles and cannot make it to the top 20 without all of YOU. I need all the love I can get. Please make your loving votes every day and share the link with everyone you know! Post it to Facebook, e-mail your co-workers and spread the Peace & Love!


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

You've Gotta Try This!

We just finished our dinner and I could not help but share this simple marinade to use when cooking salmon or in our case this evening, Steelhead Trout. I'm confident this would be delightful on any piece of fresh fish! I sampled this recipe a few weekends ago from a family friend and it was so tasty! I wrote it down and I must say, another success in our kitchen. I love complicated dinners and spending time in the kitchen, but often times an easy meal that takes less than 30 minutes in the kitchen can taste just as good as a five star dining experience. We enjoyed our fresh fish with Moroccan cous cous tossed with sauteed red peppers, red onions and zucchini, olive oil and then seasoned with cumin and sea salt. Another fast fix and with a little Moroccan flair, and I'm sure Aladdin & Jasmine would approve.

Speedy Salmon Fillet

3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 cloves minced garlic
2 tablespoons fresh snipped basil
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon reduced sodium soy sauce
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Brush 1/3 marinade over the fish. Cook for 5 minutes, remove from oven and brush more marinade on the fish, leaving enough for one more brushing. Remove after 10 minutes and brush with the rest of the marinade. Cook for 5 more minutes.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Thursday, October 21, 2010

I Cooked a Cow- and I Liked It!

I apologize in advance if the title of this post has offended any non meat eaters or lovers of Cows but I just conquered a HUGE kitchen fear and am quite proud of the results. I have always been petrified of cooking red meat. There is not particular reason for this crazy fear of mine but an animal that once moo-ed seems far more complicated to cook than the ones that cluck or the ones that swim the seas with Ariel. Now that I life with a boy, red meat is almost a must, especially if I expect him to make a meal out of something meatless like pumpkin risotto or butternut squash soup from time to time. It only seems fair. Since we're always looking for ways to expand our palates into the realms of flavors other than the given favorite, Italian, I found an Asian inspired marinade from Cooking Light. Flank Steak was my first victim and I must say, it was a huge success! Not only was it bursting with great flavor, but the broiler cooked it to perfection- WIN! Broiler cooking is another worry of mine but this meat turned out beautifully. The meat was cut across the grain which improved the tenderness and enhanced the flavors. Another thing to note, this cut of meat was extremely lean and I didn't have to cut off one snippet of fat. We even had enough left over to enjoy fajitas two nights later- another WIN! Best of all, MM got his protein and loved every bite. Asian noodle salad and soy sauteed zucchini was the perfect pairing to our sweet piece of meat. Both recipes were a great way to sneak some sesame oil, rice vinegar and Sriracha sauce into our kitchen. They all add so much flavor and are great to have on hand!

Maple & Soy Glazed Flank Steak
Recipe from Cooking Light

1 lb. flank steak
1/2 cup low sodium soy sauce
3 tablespoons maple syrup
2 tablespoons sake or dry sherry
2 teaspoons dark sesame oil
1 teaspoon Sriracha (Asian hot chili sauce)
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Combine the six marinade ingredients together and whisk together. Pierce the steak generously on both sides and place in a shallow dish. Pour the marinade over the meat and let sit for at least 20 minutes, making sure each side gets to mingle with the marinade.

Remove steak from the marinade, reserving the marinade. Place steak on a broiler pan. The recipe suggests spraying it with cooking spray- I covered a broiler pan and coated that with the cooking spray which made for an easier cleanup. Pour the marinade into a small skillet and bring to a boil. Cook on medium-high heat until it becomes thick. Once you have a syrupy sauce, brush the steak with half of the glaze. Once broiler is heated, broil on the first side for 5-7 minutes, depending on how "done" you want it. Turn the steak over and brush with the rest of the marinade and finish cooking.

Place the steak on a cutting board and let it sit for five minutes. This will allow the juices to work their magic. Cut steak diagonally across the grain in thin slices.

Scallion Noodles
Recipe from Cooking Light

8 ounces wide rice noodles, cooked according to package, drain and rinse with cold water
1/2 cup shaved carrots
1/4 cup green onion strips
2 tablespoons seasoned rice vinegar
1 tablespoon dark sesame oil
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt

Whisk together rice vinegar, sesame oil, red pepper and salt. Once the noodles are cooked and cooled, toss in the carrots and onions. Pour in the dressing and lightly toss around. This can be served room temperature and is excellent if served chilled.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Good Mood Gig!

Vote for Me Badge
Ok, sweet friends, family and readers of my little spot on the inter-webs. You may have noticed a new "button" to your right with my picture on it (identical to the image pictured above). Well, I wanted to fill you all in on a little contest I have entered and I need your help and your votes! Nature Made is sponsoring a contest to find their next "Good Mood Blogger". What in the world is this I know you are all wondering!? If I become the next GMB, I will be responsible for posting on Nature Made's Good Mood Blog 5 times a week. Not only will I be generously compensated for my work, but I will be getting paid to blog about living a happy life! Isn't that what I already do now!? This is such a unique opportunity and I am very excited about the possibilities. With that being said, please pass this link onto your friends, so that they can share with their friends...and well, hopefully with the power of social networking and the amazing blog world, I will gain enough votes to make it to the final Top 20! Best of all, you can vote once a day, so please keep the love coming. Phase One of this contest ends on November 18th.

Click on the button to your right to vote. You are allowed one vote per IP address per day!
You can also see my entry via

In the meantime, I promise to keep sharing delightful recipes, seasonal goodness and maybe even some wedding recaps now that we have our breathtaking images back. Lots of love to everyone of you. Thanks in advance for your support!


Sunday, October 17, 2010

For the Love of Risotto

Risotto is one of my favorite things to make. It makes a wonderful side dish paired with any good piece of meat and in special circumstances, the risotto can be found a dish all its own. Although it is not the fastest dish to whip up in the kitchen, the love you put into it is worth every bite when you sit down to devour your creation. After all, as my family always says, the risotto needs to be loved into existence. I have fallen in love with every bite of risotto that has ever made its way into my mouth but after all is said and done, lemon risotto is the one that makes me smile the most. It's a favorite in my family kitchen and I am happy to say that my first attempt at making it for the Mr. was a success! The recipe is posted below as best as I can remember. I have been watching my dad make this for years but much like most of my favorite family recipes, there is no recipe to follow. Just a pinch of this, a dash of that and a whole lot of love. That's how we do it.

Lemon Risotto

1 cup Arborio rice
3 medium shallots, minced
Olive oil- 1.5 swirls of the pan
4 cups low sodium chicken broth
Juice of 1-2 lemons, depending on how much of a citrus flavor you want
Lemon zest, about two tablespoons

Mince the shallots and saute them in a shallow sauce pan until they are tender. Add the rice, stirring constantly, for about 1-2 minutes or until the rice starts to brown. This is when the babysitting starts. Add the first cup of warm chicken broth. The rice absorbs the broth and this is how it cooks. The slower the broth is added, the slower the starches of the rice are released resulting in a creamier risotto which is always best. As the broth absorbs, continue to add until the rice is fully cooked and the creaminess is everything your risotto loving heart has dreamed of. At the end, stir in the lemon juice and zest.

And to top it all off, since we had enough for our entire neighborhood, I found a creative way to use the leftovers! As much as I love risotto, the leftovers are never as good as the first night it is cooked. We had too much left over to waste, so I racked my brain for a good kitchen idea. One of my favorite restaurants in Charlotte serves Risotto cakes on their menu as an appetizer and this was the inspiration for our two day old dish. When the risotto is chilled, the creaminess disappears and what is left is a sticky rice mixture that holds its shape very well. I scooped up the risotto in a heaping spoon and formed patties about the size of my palm. In a lightly oiled non-stick pan, I cooked up the little cakes until each side was nice and crispy. They were the perfect accompaniment to our seared tuna medallions!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Creamy Dreamy Goodness

Three years later, I still finding myself drooling over all of the meals I ate while in Italy during the summer of 2007. The desserts in Italy are unique in that they are not super sugary and all have just the smallest kiss of sweetness. In Italian desserts, a little goes a long way. One of my very favorite desserts was an Italian custard-like dessert known as Panna Cotta. It was love at first bite. Berries and balsamic topped this amazing dish and oh my, my mouth had never been so happy! Fast forward to a few weeks ago while MM and I were on our honeymoon in Turks & Caicos. Our first night at our resort, I spotted the dessert dream come true on the menu! The resort's version of Panna Cotta had a touch of the islands and had a layer of some sort of liquor on top...I do recall lots of little angels dancing on my tongue when we met for the first time! This dessert made its way into our dessert craving tummies a few times throughout the week and our love affair with the Panna Cotta became sort of a joke.

It's amazing what a new kitchen and kitchen tools can do to a foodie like me. Maybe I subconsciously think that they give me culinary superpowers or something. Bibbity, bobbity, what!? The no desserts rule flew out the window real fast last week when MM pushed the repeat button and would not stop talking about Panna Cotta! This might have been my biggest kitchen feat yet and it was surprisingly simple and the result was dangerously delicious! This recipe made enough for us to give into our sweet teeth three nights in a row. I have little tingles on my spine just thinking about how wonderful every single bite was. I really was blown away by how easy this recipe was. I highly recommend this dessert for anyone looking for a good dessert while entertaining a large group, a small dinner party, or just to treat yourself. Now that I know how easy it is, I can't wait to experiment with different toppings and infusing the cream with different flavors. I love any food that can be personalized!

Perfect Panna Cotta
Recipe from David Lebovitz

4 cups heavy cream (you can also substitute with half and half, I used 2 cups cream, 2 cups of half and half)
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons of vanilla extract or 1 whole vanilla bean, split in half
2 packets powdered gelatin
6 tablespoons cold water

On medium heat, heat the heavy cream and sugar in a sauce pan. Once the sugar is completely dissolved, remove from heat and stir in the vanilla extract.

Lightly oil 8 custard cups with a neutral tasting oil. For a creative presentation, I opted to put two servings in stemless wine glasses- adorable!

Sprinkle the gelatin over the 6 tablespoons of water and let stand for 5-10 minutes. Pour the very warm Panna Cotta over the gelatin and stir until the gelatin is completely dissolved. Divide the mixture into the custard cups or wine glasses and chill until firm. This usually takes around two hours but the longer they sit, the better. When ready to serve, the Panna Cotta can be topped with anything imaginable. Our 3 nights of Panna Cotta perfection are below.

Sunday- Panna Cotta topped with Strawberries in a sweet red wine reduction. Simple and sweet. One cup of sweet red wine (like Chianti), and two tablespoons of sugar. Simmer on medium until the mixture reduces by half, add strawberries and pour on top of the Panna Cotta.

Monday- Panna Cotta topped with Peaches in a sweet white wine reduction. Mmm this was good. Same as above, but with white wine (I used Pinot Grigio) and peaches.

Tuesday- Panna Cotta topped with Pumpkin Spiced Brown Sugared Walnuts. Ok, this one was Mark's idea and I have to admit, it was the best one of all! #1 Stunner by a mile! Melt two tablespoons of butter in a small skillet. Once melted, add a generous amount of walnuts and a few tablespoons of brown sugar. I added some pumpkin pie spice and cinnamon for seasonal delight, since it was only appropriate. I would like to eat this every night.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Wonder Twins, Activate

Almost two years ago, Mark and I exchanged glances across our treadmills and never looked back. As someone who takes pride in a healthy lifestyle, I always said the most perfect spot for me to meet "prince charming" would be at the gym. Voila! My dreams came true. With that being said, it should not be surprising that one month into our marriage, we are already on a workout kick and best of all, we can do it together! Although our diet is balanced and our dinners are always made of fresh ingredients, dessert is good for the soul and who can argue with that? We do limit our sweet indulgences but when you live an active lifestyle and work hard, a rare treat for the sweet tooth will not kill you. There is no such thing as a diet- it's a lifestyle. Remember: Everything in moderation.

I started running and really working out in college, and stepped up the pace even more during my junior year, shortly after my dad found himself in the hospital having bypass surgery. It's amazing what a wake up call something like that can do but my lifestyle and workout regimen drastically changed after that. I started to really carefully look at what I was putting in my body, learned how to make smarter eating choices and even signed up for some local 3ks and 5ks to keep me motivated. The results were astounding and without a doubt, changed my life. Not only did I look healthier on the outside, but my self confidence improved and the satisfaction knowing that I made healthy changes for me and did this on my own was the most rewarding of all. With a little self discipline I have been able to remain consistent 8 years later and I have never felt better.

Several weeks before our wedding, Mark found a hidden gem here in Illinois that really isn't hidden anymore. Part of it was a little pre-wedding get fit challenge we had going along with his Best Man but Mark has been working out his entire life so this has always been important to him. He is, after all, and as he often reminds me, an NCAA Athlete! I had heard about this popular form of working out almost a year ago from my cousin and was intrigued immediately. I think I became curious when she told me they workout in a warehouse. What!? I started to keep up with her Crossfit group in Charlotte on Facebook and kept thinking how intense it looked. I knew Rita was dedicated but WOW! I had no idea. With workouts like CrossFit and P90X gaining more popularity, the fit people of America are all looking for new, creative and rewarding ways of working out. I love running and the fact that it can be done anywhere, but I have been ready for a little change in my workout routines. Thank you, CrossFit!

I am going to be honest, these workouts scared me to death and I was worried that my little body would never be able to throw around the weights with the big boys but it's been almost a month now and I am LOVING it! 4-5 days a week, Mark and I scoot over to Fit Bodies to get in our "WOD", workout of the day. Tom & Janelle are amazing coaches and have taught me so much already in such a short time. The workouts change every day and are always a surprise. Some days, we find ourselves wanting to walk right back out the door but once the workouts are complete, it's incredible how strong I feel and a great sense of accomplishment. I have never challenged my body as much as I have since I started doing Crossfit and even more than that, have never felt such a sense of accomplishment after a workout. The atmosphere in Tom & Janelle's gym is full of positive energy and everyone pushing one another to do their very best. I think Mark and I are known as the little newlyweds competing with each other but like I tell Mark every day, I'm just trying to finish strong! I think I beat him for time twice but let's also keep in mind that he is lifting insane amounts of I won't give myself too much credit but I will still remind him when necessary. The best part is that we can do this together, push each other and stay healthy & fit! It's just plain fun that way.

(so that we can come home and eat something healthy and delicious of course)

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Chicken Parmesan Burgers

I love swapping recipes with friends and last week, MOD shared a recipe with me that was TO. DIE. FOR. She said that S2H loves it so much and she knew that MM would love it, too! Two peas in a pod those boys are. Good thing, because they really have no choice!

Chicken parmesan is a staple comfort food and so are hamburgers but what an amazing idea to combine the two. This recipe is not only super easy, but bursting with amazing flavor. Who doesn't love cheese and herb-y goodness mixed together in a burger? The marinara sauce and melted cheese on top really completes the well as the sauteed mushrooms! Dinner was ready in under an hour- always a plus. We are trying to go as long as possible without repeating dinners but as soon as our plates were clean, MM asked what my rule was for repeating. Looks like we might be breaking the rules for this one.

Chicken Parmesan Burgers
adapted from Annie's Eats

1 lb. ground chicken
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/4 cup break crumbs
2 tsp. Italian Seasoning
2 tsp. Flat Leaf Parsley (always flat leaf)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 shallot, finely diced
Salt & Pepper
Marinara Sauce
4 slices Provolone or Mozzarella Cheese
Sauteed Mushrooms

In a large bowl, mix together chicken, parmesan, bread crumbs, Italian seasoning, parsley and shallot. Add salt & pepper and mix and mash together. Refrigerate for about 30 minutes so that the flavors marinate and mingle. Divide the meat mixture into four parts and form into hamburgers. These can be cooked under the broiler for 4-6 minutes on each side, but I am currently having a serious love affair with my Le Creuset grill pan and kicked the broiler idea to the curb. These would also be fabulous on an outdoor grill. Once the burgers are cooked through, remove and top with marinara and a slice of cheese. Place under the broiler for about a minute or until the cheese is nice and bubbly. Serve with sauteed mushrooms on top and if you so desire, a delightful bun!