Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Always in Need of a Sweet Ending

I once heard that "dessert is the point of every meal", and well, it kind of stuck with me. Ending on something sweet is a weakness of mine and MM is quickly becoming more attached to dessert than I am! It's a good thing that 2011 is only a few weeks away and we can make some healthy adjustments to our after dinner sweet fix. Until then, we will embrace the magical flavors of the Christmas and enjoy all it has to offer...and then some! After all, it only comes around once a year. And we don't have any patience for Scrooges, right!? Very good.

While flipping through my December issue of Martha Stewart Living, I spotted a little treat that my taste buds could not resist. I whipped up these little miracles last Sunday night and my taste buds are still dancing. Rarely do I ever have all of the ingredients needed to mix up a spontaneous dessert but this was an exception. I blame it on fate. We just HAD to have them. I have a lifetime love affair with chocolate and never had I experimented pairing it with cinnamon. The flavors worked so well together, giving it that extra kiss of Christmas and holiday cheer. The single tablespoon of Cabernet required for this recipe seem minor but trust me and do not leave this ingredient out. I served our Spiced Molten Cakes with a scoop of chocolate ice cream and a chocolate drizzle.

Molten Spiced Chocolate Cabernet Cakes
Recipe from McCormick Gourmet Collection

4 oz. semi-sweet baking chocolate
1/2 cup butter
1 tablespoon Cabernet Sauvignon or other red wine
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 cup confectioners sugar
2 eggs
1 egg yolk
6 tablespoons flour
1/4 tsp. Saigon Cinnamon or Roasted Saigon Cinnamon (McCormick Gourment Collection)
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
1/8 tsp. cloves

Melt chocolate and butter in a double boiler. Stir with a wire whisk until chocolate and butter are both entirely melted. Stir in wine, vanilla and sugar until well blended. Stir in eggs and yolk. Stir in flour and spices. Pour batter evenly into 4 (6 oz.) buttered custard cups or souffle dishes. Place on baking sheet. Bake in a preheated oven at 425 degrees for 13-15 minutes or until sides are firm but centers are soft. Let stand one minute. Carefully loosen edges with a knife and invert onto serving plates. Sprinkle with powdered sugar. Serve immediately.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Trotting, Giving Thanks & A Little Unexpected Treat

The 2010 Christmas spirit has officially taken over. I woke up this morning with "We Need a Little Christmas" stuck in my head and I couldn't help but sing it out loud. I don't even love that song and never choose to listen to it purposefully but being that it's track # 1 on the Christmas album that has pumped up my runs over the past week, I am just going to go with it. As much of a Yuletide freak as I am, Thanksgiving Day is actually my favorite day of the year. I love the joy leading up to Christmas day and the season as a whole. Thanksgiving day is just the beginning, and I love it! With Thanksgiving day and the breath taking eats that seem to always find themselves at the Nido house for the holidays, comes a house full of loved ones, belly laughs and toasting to the holidays with bottomless cocktails. And just so that we don't feel so guilty for eating an absurd amount of food, we all get up and run the South Park Turkey Trot 8k which in my opinion, is our official family kickoff to the Christmas season! The buzzer goes off, we cross the starting line, Christmas music is blaring and we trot our little hearts out. I cannot wait until MM and I fly South to celebrate! We have so much to be thankful for this year.

In the spirit of being thankful and joyful, I have ended my Oprah boycott and am looking forward to starting a Gratitude journal. Oprah introduced this idea a few years ago and I think it is a wonderful idea. I have now heard three people in the past few weeks reference this project and I am feeling compelled to start one of my own. I have always been a fan of journaling but it always comes and goes in spurts. This is the perfect way to get back into it and anyone reading, I encourage you to keep a Gratitude journal not only during the Christmas season, but in all seasons. Our lives today move so fast and it's easy to look past the small things in our days that may make us smile or those moments we want to share with others. It only takes 5 minutes a day and if we get into the habit of highlighting those moments in our days or the people that light up our faces, we may find there are more things to be thankful for than we ever thought. If we focus on the happy, it becomes harder and harder to find a reason to stop smiling. Try it.

And before I end this post, I leave you with another little gem to try...
I am a regular gum chewer but I never get overly excited about finding the "perfect chew". The thought of going without dessert is made a little bit easier with these amazing treats! I was introduced to Dessert Delights last week and it was love at first chew! I have tried all three flavors and the Key Lime Pie has the key to my heart. The flavor has so much dimension that you can even taste all elements of a real piece of Key Lime Pie...even the crust! Call me crazy, but grab a pack of this the next time you are at the grocery store.

Happy Thanksgiving week!!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Best Way to Spread Christmas Cheer is SINGING LOUD For All to Hear

I have a weakness for Christmas music. If I could, I would make an excuse to listen to it year-round but that little voice in my head always tells me to save these sacred tunes for their appropriate time of play. This doesn't mean I sneak in some of my favorites in July, but I save up my childlike excitement so I can blast it all season long. I. LOVE. IT. ALL.

Without a doubt, my favorite Christmas album of ALL TIME. It was the first Christmas CD I ever owned and "All I Want For Christmas is You" just might be my favorite song in the history of songs. Yes, it's overplayed, but I love now just as much, if not more than I did in 1994.

These 5 heartthrobs will always make my heart skip a beat. A little bit of Christmas pop from my favorite boy band always makes me smile. I will never stop being a teenybopper. EVER.

I grew up listening to Harry and could sing every song by heart. Because of him, I love the standards and the Classic American Songbook. I love the originals on this album, the big band versions of holiday favorites and of course, some calming tunes for quiet Christmas evenings.

My Christmas music collection is exponentially growing and today, I added a little more sparkle to my Christmas jams. Now, not only have the voices behind Glee changed my TV viewing life, but they have provided me with sweet holiday sounds shuffle in with the rest of my favorites. The entire album is as fantastic as I expected! A great mix of classic songs, pop twists on old favorites, and even a mash-up! Tuesday nights have not been the same since Glee premiered and I think the show is brilliant. Every re-make the cast records is better than the one before. It takes all self control for me to actually stay sitting while I have my weekly TV date. I don't think I have ever loved a show so much, besides Full House. But now that Uncle Jesse (John Stamos) has a recurring role this season...BE. STILL. Getting back to the music that has made me smile all day, I do believe this piece of Christmas bliss now ranks up there with my top favorite Christmas albums of all time.

Monday, November 15, 2010

How to Stuff a Mushroom

Mushrooms. You either love them or hate them. We just so happen to be on the loving end of this spectrum. With that being said, I'm always looking for creative ways to enjoy the mushroom. We love them roasted onto a homemade pizza, folded into a well loved risotto or sauteed into our morning eggs. Last week, I decided it was time to make a star out of our fungi friend. My favorite stuffed mushrooms that typically come from the Nido family kitchen were the inspiration behind this dinner side-dish delight. I must say, for re-creating this masterpiece on my own, after a pinch of this and a dash of that, I think we have a new favorite at our house! I served them alongside Turkey Basil Burgers and a Greek Country Salad.

Stuffed Mushrooms

1 pint large baby bella mushrooms, button mushrooms or white mushrooms (Whole)
2 shallots, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup fresh chopped parsley
2 tablespoons bread crumbs
Sprinkles of shredded parmesan cheese
Quick pour of red wine
Salt & Pepper
Olive oil, to drizzle

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Wash mushrooms and pat dry. Gently snap off the ends and scoop out excess stem in the mushroom cap, leaving a nice sized well where the stuffing will go. Save the stems and chop up into small pieces. Heat a medium sized skillet on medium heat and drizzle olive oil with two swirls of the skillet. Add garlic, shallots and mushroom stems and sprinkle with salt and pepper. After this has sizzled and become fragrant, add a quick pour of red wine. (This was a last minute addition and I do believe this created another dimension to the mushrooms. So much richness in the filling and it really highlighted the flavor of the cooked mushroom) Cook for another 3-5 minutes. Set aside and let cool for a few minutes. Meanwhile, chop fresh flat leaf parsley and place in a medium bowl with some bread crumbs and a few sprinkling pinches of parmesean cheese. Add the sauteed stems, shallots and garlic and mix all together. Carefully spoon the stuffing into the mushroom caps, rounding the filling at the top. Place stuffed mushrooms in a baking dish and drizzle with olive oil. Cook at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes or until the mushrooms begin to look "shriveled" and the stuffing is sizzling.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

"The Beauty of a Frittata..."

When you're a foodie, you are always ready to be inspired for your next kitchen creation. I find that I am always thinking ahead to the next meal and really gearing up those taste buds! As a little girl, my parents would tuck me into bed and instead of reading a bedtime story, I wanted to talk about what I was going to eat for breakfast the next day. Some things never change.

image via {here}

Switching gears for a second, last night, Mark and I went to see "Morning Glory" and enjoyed every second of it. The film was fantastic and Rachel McAdams, as always was just so stinkin' adorable. Diane Keaton is the most gorgeous 60-something and her humor is always on point. Harrison Ford was the icing on the cupcake for this one. I found myself laughing at him the most! I highly recommend this movie...even Mark enjoyed it just as much as I did! And after seeing it, I am still convinced that I need to fulfill my childhood dreams of becoming Katie Couric and work at a news station someday. This will not give any part of the movie away, but a few references to Frittata were made and our mouths were watering. 45 minutes into the movie and we knew what we were having for our Sunday morning breakfast.

When I introduced Mark to this egg delight, he could barely pronounce it, often confusing it with music artist Nelly Furtado. WHAT!? I know, I had the same reaction. A few weekends ago, I made mini frittatas that my sweet friend Allison posted on her blog last month. These were absolutely delicious and after my first attempt at a frittata, I realized, as was also pointed out in the movie last night, that the beauty of them is that they can be made with whatever you had. Thus, the inspiration for our lovely breakfast this morning!

Turkey Bacon, Tomato and Basil Frittata

5 eggs
3 egg whites
2 tablespoons water
1/2 cup chopped grape tomatoes
4 strips turkey bacon, diced
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
1 cup shredded mozzarella
salt & pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Whisk eggs and egg whites with the water. the harder you whisk, the more air will be incorporated and the fluffier your frittata will be. Season eggs with a sprinkle of coarse salt and fresh ground pepper. Incorporate tomatoes, bacon, basil and mozzarella, leaving about 1/2 of the cheese to set aside. Pour the egg mixture into a 9 inch greased pie dish and bake for 20-25 minutes. Remove from the oven and sprinkle remaining cheese on top of the frittata. Bake for another 4-6 minutes, until the cheese is melted. Cut like a pie, and serve.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

I Heart Pasta

Like every true Italian, I consider pasta as an essential food group. I love new twists on classic pasta recipes and always keep my eyes peeled for creative recipes. Giada DeLaurentiis is usually my go- to for Italian recipes, both classic and trendy. (might I also add that I love her kitchen, her hair and her entire wardrobe!) She uses fresh ingredients and the flavors are phenomenal. Thanks to my Food Network app on my new favorite toy (my iPhone), I have a plethora of Giada's recipes at my fingertips and best of all, video clips! This Lamb Ragut with Mint was a tasty Sunday meal that left our stomachs smiling. The lamb has a unique flavor and gives a traditional meat sauce an extra sparkle. Cooking the lamb with red wine adds a rich element and when the ricotta is added to the sauce, the ever so slight creaminess smooths it out. The addition of mint tossed in with the rigatoni is a wonderful surprise for the taste buds!

Lamb Ragut with Mint
Recipe from Giada DeLaurentiis

1 lb. rigatoni pasta
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 shallots, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 1/2 pounds ground lamb
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 cup red wine
4 cups marinara sauce
1/2 cup fresh mint leaves, torn
1/2 cup ricotta cheese

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook 8-10 minutes until cooked al dente. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat olive oil over high heat. Add garlic and shallots and cook until tender. Add the ground lamb, salt and pepper to flavor and cook until the lamb has cooked entirely. Add wine to the skillet and scrape up any brown bits with a wooden spoon. Simmer until the wine has reduced by half. Add marinara sauce and cook until the flavors have blended, about 10 minutes. Add ricotta and stir until mixed. Toss the pasta with the sauce and finish with the mint.

This recipe is 100% food for the soul and thank goodness I married someone who is just as much of a pasta freak as I am. Looks like I'm turning him into an Italian after all.

In other news, I am still pouring over home design blogs and obsessing over do-it-yourself design projects. Anthropologie meets Pottery Barn...I think this is the look I love the most. I can't wait to execute some fun creative projects to share. Happy weekend to you all! I am on my third cup of coffee and cannot seem to get enough of Coffee Mate's peppermint mocha creamer, a.k.a. liquid Christmas. 'Tis the Season!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

It's Twinkle Time!

Thanksgiving is only two weeks away and my holiday heart is glowing! I love the beginning of fall, warm apple cider, pumpkin spice lattes and carving pumpkins. September and October are fresh and inspiring as the leaves change and our days start to chill off. But once November 1st is upon us, my mindset is lit with millions of twinkle lights the aforementioned delights are what make the countdown to Christmas worth it.

It should not be of surprise that I have already brainstormed and found the necessary inspiration to turn our house into a Christmas wonderland in a few weeks. I may or may not have been doing it mentally for several months now! My mailbox was overflowing with Holiday catalogs before October this year. I look forward to these every year as I always draw inspiration and ideas as I snuggle up and flip through the pages. Pottery Barn is a catalog I could LIVE in. I love the classic simplicity of their design. Their rooms have so much character and the details are impeccable. I have dissected the Pottery Barn Christmas 2010 catalog, dog-eared pages and made inspiration boards. My mom and I even had a phone chat and flipped through the catalog together...naturally we loved the same things! It's so much fun to feed off of one another and share ideas. My parent's house is my happy place. I love everything about it and the small loving touches are what make it home. My mom has always had a gift for putting things together and that is, without a doubt, where love for "making nice" comes from. I am so excited I have an entire HOUSE to decorate this year. I may have to start early and naturally, I am not complaining. With a peppermint mocha in my hand and Christmas music in my ears, I'm sure to buzz around like a little holiday elf in no time. Here are a few of my (and my mom's!) favorite Christmas inspiration snippets from Pottery Barn.

This picture says it all. I gasped when I saw this and told Mark that this is my inspiration for our outside decors. I adore houses with wreaths on every window. I have full intentions of giving all of our windows a little bit of wreath love. I love the cluster of ornaments hanging in front of the door and the garland around the columns. I cannot wait to re-create this Christmas dreamland outside of our home!

I love porches. There is something about them I have always loved. The details my mom always gives to her front porch is remarkable and I love to watch it change with the seasons. We love these lanterns to the left of the door and the mercury globes!

When I make my Pottery Barn inspired wreaths, this wreath hanger for the front door is going to be a necessary purchase.

All of the Mercury adds so much sparkle! These vases are uniquely shaped.

With the holiday season, you cannot get enough of all things that twinkle. These Mercury pillars would look great on a mantle with fresh greens, twinkle lights and sprigs of holly berries.

Someday, I would love to have a guest room that I can change with the seasons. Although this bedding is not really "holiday" bedding, the red lends itself to Christmas. I would probably leave this on year round but how charming would this room become with a 7ft Christmas tree in the corner with white twinkle lights and old fashioned ornaments? LOVE.

All images from Pottery Barn

Monday, November 8, 2010

Twice Baked

Pumpkin season is in full force and we just can't seem to get enough at our house. Last week I roasted a pumpkin as a wonderful side dish and yesterday morning we treated ourselves to the delicious pumpkin waffles I made in September. Before the season officially started, I made myself a mental list of everything I wanted to kiss with pumpkin this year and so far the list is well on it's way! I recently made some pumpkin biscotti to send in a few care packages and I could not be happier with how they turned out! Biscotti always seemed so difficult to me but my first attempt was more than a success and most importantly, my special recipients were raving about the little packages that showed up at their doorsteps! These would be great with morning coffee or a nighttime cappuccino after dinner. I added dried cranberries to half of this batch and I wished I had some white chocolate chunks on hand as well. Nuts, dark chocolate and even dried cherries would be great additions to this seasonal treat.

Pumpkin Biscotti
Recipe from Simply Recipes, Garrett McCord of Vanilla Garlic

2 1/2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
Pinch of ginger
Pinch of cloves
Pinch of salt
2 eggs
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. sift together flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and all of the spices into a large mixing bowl. In another bowl, whisk together the eggs, pumpkin puree and vanilla. Pour the pumpkin mixture into the flour mixture and stir together to incorporate everything together. The dough will be crumbly when completely formed.

Flour hands and a clean kitchen surface and knead the dough. Grease a baking sheet or line with parchment paper. Form the dough into a large log, roughly 15-20 inches by 6-7 inches. the loaves should be relatively flat, no higher than 1/2 inch high. Bake for 22-3o minutes until the center is firm to the touch.

Let the biscotti cool for 15 minutes. With a serrated knife, cut 1 inch wide pieces. Turn the oven down to 300 degrees and bake for an additional 15-20 minutes. Let the biscotti cool completely when done baking. For additional crunch, let sit overnight uncovered. Dunk and enjoy with your morning cup of cheer or bedtime sleepy sips!

Happy Monday, Friends! 47 days until Christmas!!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Red Cups!

It's that time of year again. As I say every year, and I will say again, I was born to celebrate this season! The first signs are upon us, in the form on Starbucks beloved RED CUPS! Let's just face it, our seasonal beverages taste better in these. Happy November and more importantly, happy start of the official countdown to Christmas!!