Tuesday, January 31, 2012

It's a Marshmallow World in the Winter

I am a lover of marshmallows. I have been known to eat an entire package of Peeps in one sitting and while that may seem absurd and disgusting, I really have no shame. They are my sugary weakness and I'm proud to shout it from the rooftops. I have even kindly suggested to Mark if he wanted to purchase me a wonderful foodie gift, he could make me a member of the Marshmallow of the Month Club.

Homemade marshmallows have been on my radar for awhile. Every time I see them dancing across the pages of blogs, I find myself wanting to lick the screen. With a lot of patience and a lot more love, the end result is a pile of jet puffed beauties to enjoy in hot cocoa, dipped in hot chocolate, or in the most lovely way- by themselves. Whether you're looking for a snow day sweet treat or something to add to your Valentine's Day care packages, these fluffy pillows of homemade marshmallowy goodness are melt in your mouth amazing.

Homemade Marshmallows
recipe from Alton Brown

3 packages unflavored gelatin
1 cup ice cold water, divided
1 cup light corn syrup
12 ounces granulated sugar, approximately 1.5 cups
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
nonstick spray

Place the gelatin in the bowl of a stand mixer along with 1/2 cup of the water.

In a small saucepan, combine the remaining 1/2 cup water, granulated sugar, corn syrup, and salt. Place over medium high heat, cover, and allow to cook for 3 to 4 minutes. Uncover, clip a candy thermometer onto the sode of the pan and continue to cook until the mixture reaches 240 degrees F, approximately 7 to 8 minutes. Once the mixture reaches this temperature, immediately remove from heat.

Using the whisk attachment, turn the mixer on low speed and, while running, slowly pour the sugar syrup down the side of the bowl into the gelatin mixture. Once you have added all of the syrup, increase the mixer speed to high. Continue to whip the mixture until it becomes lukewarm and very thick, approximately 12 to 15 minutes. Add the vanilla during the last minute of whipping. While the mixture is whipping, prepare the pans as follows.

Combine the powdered sugar sugar and cornstarch in a small bowl. Lightly spray a 13 by 9-inch metal baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. Add the sugar and cornstarch mixture and move around to completely coat the bottom and sides of the pan. Return the remaining mixture to a bowl for later use.

When ready, pour the marshmallow mixture into the prepared pan, using a lightly oiled spatula for spreading evenly. Dust the top with enough of the remaining sugar and cornstarch mixture to lightly cover. Reserve the rest for later. Allow the marshmallows to sit uncovered for at least 4 hours, and up to overnight.

Turn the marshmallows out onto a cutting board. For square marshmallows, use a pizza wheel dusted in powdered sugar and cut into 1-inch squares. For fun shapes, pull out your cookie cutters and dust those in powdered sugar before cutting. Store marshmallows in an air tight container for up to three weeks.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Five Nights of My Favorite Dinners

In case you missed it, I featured a Five Night menu plan yesterday on La Vite e Bella. In addition to sharing five of my weeknight favorites, I also provided some creative ways to use the leftovers for lunches. Cooking for two almost always ensures leftovers, so I like to make things that are still tasty the next day and can be remixed in creative ways. You can check out my post here.

All of the recipes I featured can be found right here on my blog, or you can download the meal plan (including all of the recipes) HERE.

Wishing everyone a delightful and delicious weekend!

{pretty pink roses from my love. yesterday marked three years since that fateful day at the gym! xo}

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Bacon Wrapped Asparagus Bundles

Roasted asparagus just got a makeover. Don't get me wrong, I love simple asparagus spears alongside a grilled steak or oven roasted salmon but sometimes you just have to mix it up. And bacon really does make almost anything better.

Bacon Wrapped Asparagus Bundles
recipe adapted from Rachel Ray

1 lb. asparagus spears, trimmed
Extra virgin olive oil
Fresh cracked black pepper
Herbs de Provence
4 slices center cut bacon

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Toss asparagus in a quick drizzle of olive oil and season with black pepper and Herbs de Provence. Divide the spears into four. Wrap each bundle with a slice of bacon and place on a broiler pan. Bake for 12-15 minutes.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Winesday, Volume 1

(I cannot take credit for this blog post title. Thank you to The Today Show's ten o' clock hour, a.k.a. Hoda & Kathie Lee)

I'm enjoying some girl time tonight and this bottle of Pinot is too amazing not to share.

I first picked up this bottle from the Fresh Market because the three monkeys on the label were too appropriate! And at a $5.99 price point I couldn't turn it down. Pinot Evil is now one of my favorite weeknight wines.

"...Pinot Evil dances with a lovely ripe cherry nose that cascades into a smooth, velvet finish. Enjoy it with roasted duck, rosemary-garlic pork or with friends when you just monkey around".

Speaking of weeknight wines, Sophie (my blonde sister) and I have been working on a list of our favorite weeknight wines, all $10.00 and under. Some of the very best wines are also very budget friendly. Check back next Wednesday for our list of favorites.

Another thought for this Wednesday evening- I would like access to Jennifer Lopez's lipstick collection.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Color of the Week: Essie Plumberry

Bright, happy nails are not just for summer. A pop of color on my hands is imperative in the dreary cold Winter. Ashley recently introduced me to this color and I have fallen in love! It's a perfect deep berry and looks so pretty on fingers AND toes.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Italian Comfort Food

Happy Monday, everyone! I don't have anything new for today, but I do have a little post featured today on Molly's blog, Duchess of Fork! This was one of the very first recipes I posted when Peace, Love & Good Food was just a baby and when Molly asked me to share a favorite recipe, I knew exactly what I wanted to post.

Head on over to check out one of my MOST FAVORITE RECIPES EVER. (as if you had to ask)

My dad's Penne a la Vodka. Duh.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Mediterranean Chopped Salad with Lemon Basil Dressing

Chopped salads are one of my favorite additions to a meal. They are fresh, colorful and all that's required is a little bit of chopping. The best part about these types of salads is that you can throw in anything that you have in your pantry or your fridge. If your refrigerator looks anything like mine, it has a half of a bell pepper here and a quarter of an English cucumber there. A chopped salad is a great way to use up any fresh veggies you have so that nothing goes to waste. I always start with Cannellini or Garbanzo beans and chopped artichoke hearts, then add in anything fresh that I have on hand. The more color, the more crunch! More color also equals added vitamins and nutrients. Double win.

Fresh basil and lemon juice really brighten this salad up. The bell peppers and cucumbers add the vibrant color and crunch, and the beans and artichokes add a variety of texture (and fiber!). Serve this alongside grilled chicken, steak or fish or double the recipe, pick up a Rotisserie chicken from your grocery store to shred and add in, and eat it all week for lunch.

Mediterranean Chopped Salad with Lemon Basil Dressing

1 can Garbanzo beans
1 can artichoke hearts, chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
1/2 yellow bell pepper, chopped
1/2 English cucumber, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup olive oil
Juice from half of a lemon
1/4 tsp. dijon mustard
5-8 basil leaves, chopped
Salt & pepper to taste

Place all vegetables in a medium bowl. In a smaller bowl, mix together garlic, lemon juice, mustard and basil. Slowly whisk in the olive oil. Add salt and pepper to taste. Pour over vegetables and mix. Let sit 30 minutes before serving.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

DIY: Snowflake Door Bling

I'm linking up with my friend and fellow North Carolinian, Adrienne at La Vita e Bella for Pinnable Friday! Instead of posting some of the lovelies I have pinned this week, I'm sharing a project that I found via Pinterest and just finished up! I've challenged myself to complete at least one thing per week that I have found on Pinterest and so far, I am on track. Whether it's a recipe, a new makeup trick, or re-styling my bookcases or coffee table, I am really trying to do something productive with these beautiful images that I'm digitally hoarding.

I love seasonal door decor and when I found this snowflake, I stuck a post-it in my planner so that I could be sure to remember this idea when January rolled around. Christmas is over, and I'm not quite ready for the pink and red pop of Valentine's day, so this wintry snowflake is now happily hanging on the front door of our house.

Supplies Needed:

Wooden popsicle (craft) sticks
Wooden craft circles
White paint
Hot glue gun
Wreath hanger

Using a paintbrush, I painted the sticks and circles front and back, but I'm sure that spray painting would work just as well. After the popsicle sticks and circles dried, I arranged them into my desired snowflake pattern and used my trusty hot glue gun to stick it all together. I had leftover gold glittered tulle from New Year's Eve so I used that for the bow.

Thanks for hosting Pinnable Friday, Adrienne! Be sure to visit La Vita e Bella if you want to link up with your Pinterest finds from the week!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Perfect Roast Chicken

Roasting a chicken used to intimidate me. Handling a whole bird and cleaning it properly royally freaked me out. It wasn't until recently that I put my big girl panties on and conquered this feat. Roasted chicken is now a staple on our dinner menu almost every week! It's easy, full of flavor and makes great leftovers for weekday lunches. I have even roasted a chicken on Sundays just for the purpose of eating lunches throughout the week. With a little help from Ina Garten and pulling out years of watching my mom in the kitchen from my elephantish memory, I have developed a great go-to method for roasting a fresh, young bird! The end result is juicy, tender chicken with the flavors of rosemary and lemon. (plus a week's worth of lunches!)

Perfect Roast Chicken
recipe adapted from Ina Garten

One 3-5 lb. roasting chicken
2 lemons, one cut in half, the other cut into wedges
1 clove garlic, cut crosswise
1 large bunch fresh rosemary
2 Tbsp. melted butter
Salt & pepper
Olive oil

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Remove chicken giblets and thoroughly rinse chicken inside and out. Pat dry. Salt and pepper the inside of the chicken. Place chicken in a French Oven or roasting pan. Stuff the bird with half the bunch of rosemary, two lemon halves and the head of garlic. Stuff the remaining bunch of rosemary underneath the chicken skin. Brush the outside of the chicken with the melted butter and sprinkle with more salt and pepper. Place the onions and lemon wedges in the roasting pan and drizzle quickly with olive oil.

Roast for 1.5 hours, or until the juices run clear. Remove the chicken from the roasting pan and let sit for 15-20 minutes.

lunching with leftovers:

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

My Comfy Winter Staples

It just keeps getting colder (and colder and colder and colder) in these parts! I lived in Charlotte for over half of my life and even though I consider myself a Southerner, I am no stranger to cold weather. I spent the first twelve years of my life in Michigan and went to college in the snowy mountains of North Carolina so you would think that winter would be easy peasy for me. Not so much.

Winter in Illinois is a whole different ballgame. I will spare you the chilly details but you know, when the land is so flat and there is nowhere for the wind to go but straight in your face, leaving the house is often a challenge.

I have an abundance of clothes in my closet but during the winter, I like to stick to my cozy staples. Since I work from home, my daily uniform is some form of what you see above. Layering is key and my North Face puffer jacket is a must when I venture out of the house. I discovered the Mossimo Ponte Seam Leggings from Target back in the fall and I'm in deep love. They are thicker than a normal legging and look a bit more polished. I have three pairs of these pants because I love them that much! I like to pair these pants with basic, blousy tees and long cardigans. You can never have enough of either of these items in your closet! And since it's the sloppy, slushy time of year, I never leave my house without my Hunter Boots. I live in them all winter long. They are practical, cute and I may have even seen a photo of Duchess Kate sporting the same pair. I like to finish it off with a printed scarf for a pop of color and I'm good to go!

Stay warm, friends!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Afternoon Latte Break

When 3pm rolls around, my eyes start to get heavy and I need a pick me up. Usually, I enjoy a mug of green tea but there are some days I need something a little more punch and a cup of coffee identical to the one that I drank in my pajamas when I woke up just won't cut it. Last week, DD tweeted this easy, at home coffee treat and I was immediately sold. I enjoyed one yesterday afternoon and again today during the mid afternoon slump. Using my French Press, almond milk and a mason jar, I can have my own giant latte in about five minutes.

Who wants to come over tomorrow afternoon?

Low-Fat Afternoon Latte
recipe from Martha Stewart

3/4 cup low-fat milk
1/4 cup brewed espresso

Place milk in a 2-cup microwave safe glass jar with a lid. Cover and shake vigorously. Remove lid and transfer jar to microwave. Microwave on high for 45 seconds.

Pour espresso into a cup; pour milk over espresso. Spoon remaining foam on top and enjoy.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Bloody Mary Tomato Salad

As I have mentioned before, I like taking well known flavors out of their usual form, to make it into something else. I realize that Bloody Mary's are of the love/hate category for most but hear me out when I say that my not-so-much-of-a-bloody-mary-fan husband bonded so well with these flavors, that he went back for seconds. I put a whole new twist on something he thought he wasn't crazy about and I just may have made him a believer.

Bloody Mary's aren't just for for curing a hangover from a fun night out. They also aren't just for sipping leisurely each morning on a Pawley's Island bachelorette beach weekend. On New Year's Eve, I turned them into soup shots (recipe coming next week) and this past week, I turned the beloved savory cocktail into a salad.

Fresh, tiny tomatoes mixed with salty olives, crunchy celery and pickled onions all swimming in a dressing made with horseradish, champagne vinegar and Worcestershire sauce. Don't leave out the celery seed. I believe it's the finishing touch that rounds out all of the flavors. This Bloody Mary Tomato salad was the star of the night on a plate with grilled steak and roasted asparagus bundles.

Bloody Mary Tomato Salad
recipe adapted from Epicurious

1 cup finely chopped red onion
3 Tbsp. champagne vinegar, divided
1 lb. cherry tomatoes, halved
1 lb. grape tomatoes, halved
1 cup chopped celery hearts
1/2 cup chopped green olives
2 Tbsp. olive brine/juice
2 Tbsp. prepared horseradish
1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. hot pepper sauce
1/2 tsp. celery seeds
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt & freshly cracked black pepper

Mix 1 Tbsp. of champagne vinegar and the chopped onion. Set aside for 10 minutes, tossing often.

Add tomato, celery and olives.

Whisk remaining 2 Tbsp. vinegar, olive juice, Worcestershire sauce, hot pepper sauce and horseradish in a medium bowl. Slowly whisk in olive oil. Add dressing to bowl with tomato mixture and add salt and pepper to season. Cover and chill for at least one hour prior to serving.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Oh the Weather Outside is...Weather

As I look out the window, it looks like a beautiful, giant snow globe! The snow has not stopped since is started early this morning and I kind of love it. A cozy day at home is one of my favorites found in the life category of "little things". There's also something about days like these that make me crave all of the music that I play nonstop from the time Halloween leaves us all the way through the 12th day, and then some, for good measure. Because I do try to save Christmas music for that special time of year (even though it pains me), I like to make Winter playlists to enjoy on snowy day. What is winter music? "Transitional" tunes that linger a bit longer than the rest and help ween me off of my holiday high but still give me that ridiculously warm feeling inside. You know. All those songs that are happy and joyful and festive but really don't really scream Christmas.

If this playlist comes as a surprise for you, you don't really know me at all.

The Perfect Winter Playlist
2. Winter Wonderland- Jason Mraz
3. Winter- Joshua Radin
4. Linus & Lucy- Vince Guaraldi
5. Baby It's Cold Outside- Zoey Deschanel & Leon Redbone
6. I Love the Winter Weather- Tony Bennett
7. Winter- Antonio Vivaldi
8. The Peppermint Twist- Joey Dee & The Starliters
9. Jingle Bells- Diana Krall
10. Sleigh Ride- Ella Fitzgerald
11. Let it Snow!- Michael Buble
12. Winter Song- Sara Bareilles & Ingrid Michaelson
13. Nutcracker Suite- Brian Setzer Orchestra
14. Frosty the Snowman- Harry Connick Jr.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Snack Time

My palate is that of a foodie adult but my eating schedule is pretty childish. I like to think it will keep me young. Ha! Three meals are a must and I even though I don't have much of an appetite in the morning, I rarely skip breakfast. If you are like me, a snack is an essential pick me up between lunch and dinner. Here are some of my favorite ways to spend snack time:

  • Small cup of plain Greek yogurt with pomegranate seeds, a few crushed pistachios and a drizzle of honey
  • Sliced apple/celery with 2 tablespoons peanut or almond butter
  • Cucumber slices dipped in mashed avocado with lime juice and sea salt
  • White bean hummus with vegetable dippers (cucumber, bell pepper, celery)
  • Kale chips
  • 2 hard boiled eggs
  • Grapefruit (it's especially delicious this time of year when it's in season)
  • Frozen grapes- these are so delicious and have the consistency of mini, bite sized sorbets!

Do you have any other healthy snacks that you love? Send them my way and I'll add them to this list. I'll link this post in the snacks section of my recipe tab.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Eating Seasonably!

I found this neat little chart via Pinterest and I didn't think it would be very nice to keep it to myself. If you are trying to eat fresh foods, use this as a guide as you plan your meals to focus on what's in season.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Curing the Holiday Hangover

With the holidays behind us, so is all of the reckless eating. Cookies constantly within an arm's reach and an eggnog latte or peppermint mocha coffee break just to enjoy and savor the beloved red cup. And there always an excuse for an extra cocktail. Or five. I don't eat everything in site but I also don't spend my holidays worrying about every morsel I put in my mouth because honestly, I just enjoy it and know that we'll return to our regularly scheduled eating habits once the season comes to an end. What's fun about indulging if you have to rationalize everything you eat? This also goes for every extra dollar that has cause the grocery budget to just be completely ignored.

The cookies are gone, the red cups are no longer available at Starbucks (sigh) and it's time to focus on cleaning up a bit and getting back into our usual routine and stocking our refrigerator with healthy fuel. I have said this before, but I don't like the word diet. You can't stick to a diet. You CAN stick to a lifestyle. And that's how we do it around here.

I meal plan every week. Ashley and I did it while living in our apartment and I have never gone back. At the beginning of the week, I sit down with my laptop, cookbooks and recipe binder and plan our dinners for the entire week. I find that one trip to the grocery store a week not only saves me time, but saves me money! Shopping with a well thought out list is key. I do most of my grocery shopping around the perimeter of the grocery store and besides a select few items, I try to stay out of the aisles since that is where most of the trouble is.

If you are in need of some healthy recipes to jump start your new year, keep reading! Below is a week worth of clean and healthy dinners, plus one for good measure. With the exception of the soup, all can be made in under an hour, making them ideal for your weeknight menus. I added many of these to our dinner menu for last week. Some are new, some are from my daily web browsing and some are my own blog recipes that I cleaned up with a few simple swaps.

Salmon roasted with fresh lemon & garlic
{salmon fillet, 2 cloves garlic minced, 6 lemon slices, salt,
pepper, brush of olive oil, 20 minutes on 350*. Easy!}
Simple baby greens salad with balsamic vinaigrette

The Culinary Couple's Tortellini Soup- one of my favorite all time recipes
(Double the sausage, skip the tortellini)

Grilled Chicken Breast with Olive Tapenade
Baby spinach salad with champagne vinaigrette

(Use ground sirloin and swap Hoisin sauce for 2 tbsp. natural peanut butter)

(I use olive oil instead of butter)
Tomato, cucumber and red onion salad with red wine vinaigrette

Grilled chicken breast over romaine & baby greens
cucumbers, grape tomatoes, green onions and avocados

Cheers clearing out the bad, shopping smart and to a fresh start in the kitchen in 2012!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Movie Night Popcorn

I'm known to fall asleep while watching movies at home. It happens, and I don't even try to fight it. Unless it's The Holiday. I always seem to stay awake for that.

Popcorn, however, is a game changer. Give me a little treat and my battery is instantly recharged. I'm totally a kid. We were feeling nostalgic last weekend while Meghan and Scott were here visiting, and we kicked off the weekend with popcorn made the old fashioned way- on the stove. I don't know that I will ever make popcorn any other way. If you follow these instructions to a "T", your movie nights will be forever changed.

Movie Night Popcorn

3 Tbsp. Canola oil
3/4 cup popcorn kernels
Melted butter & sea salt (we also like Morton's Nature's Seasons)

Heat oil in a large, heavy bottom pot on medium-high heat, about 5 minutes. To make sure the oil is heated, place 3-4 kernels in the pot and cover. When the kernels pop, add in the rest of the popcorn in an even layer. Cover and remove from heat. Count to 30. Return to heat and shake back and forth. Once the popcorn starts to pop, create a slight opening in the lid to let the steam out. When there are more than 3-4 seconds between each kernel pop, remove from heat. Cover and let stand for one minute.

Pour into a large bowl. Top with melted butter and sea salt or other delicious seasoning of your choice.

And don't fall asleep while you watch the movie.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

All That Twinkled

The Christmas season seems to come and go too quickly. Or maybe I am just getting old. In my usual style, I enjoyed every morsel of Christmas cheer to the fullest! And then some. I don't like to rush through the holiday, and I savor all of my favorite things. In fact, our tree is still up and the lights are still twinkling. Growing up, our family tree stayed up through the 12th day of Christmas and I'm continuing the tradition in our home. Our holiday season was filled with lots of love, wonderful visits with our families and new memories together as we celebrated our second Christmas together as Mr. and Mrs.!

In a surprise inspired by my favorite Folger's commercial from yesteryear, I appeared in Charlotte a few days earlier than my family expected. Special thanks to my sweet husband for suggesting I spend a little extra time in Charlotte, and to my little sister Natalie, my blonde Sister Sophie and my little Elfin nephew, Jack for conducting a top secret airport pick-up. "Operation Peter" was a success. (I have to find a way to get the video that Nat recorded on my blog. Oh yes! We have video documentation to give Folger's a run for their money).

I surprised everyone (except Nat who kept her lips sealed) and enjoyed a few extra days of uninterrupted time with my sisters and parents all under one roof! There is nothing quite like it. And no explanation for these pictures. Extra dirty martinis and steamers anyone?

Have I ever mentioned we all plan our time according to what we want to eat? Peppermint chocolate chip milkshakes from Chick-Fil-A were a non negotiable treat. I only wish I could have gotten the ordering process on video. God bless the sweet 15 year old working in the drive thru.

Mark and I enjoyed Christmas eve with his sister, brother-in-law and 4 of our sweet nieces and nephews in Columbia. We even got to go outside the kids' windows with bells and play Santa!

Before going tucking in for the night, we drank peppermint hot chocolate and left out cookies for Santa.

Santa came!

Christmas day at the Nido house was magical, as usual.

How bromantic!


Annual sister photo shoot in front of the tree!

Santa Bears! 1985, 1987 and 1992 editions, respectively.

The food. Oh, the food. (plenty of cocktails, too!)

Homemade pasta is a post-Christmas meal must! Thanks, Andi!

The perfect way to top off the magic? Ringing in the New Year with our dear friends who came to visit, Meghan and Scott! (just wait until I post our New Year's Eve 2011 menu! TO. DIE. FOR.)

Wishing everyone much peace, love and joy in 2012!