Blog Archives

Bring on the cookie exchange!

Cookies for Santa!

I just searched through the blog because I was certain I wrote about baking Christmas cookies every year and didn’t want to bore you all with another one… but there wasn’t one for a long time! So, here I am, about to bake lots and lots of goodies for the season.

I have very fond memories of baking Christmas cookies as a child, so as I’ve gotten older, I always have the craving to do a bakeoff of my own. But every year, I get about 1/3 of the way into my baking and wonder WHY did I do this to myself?

It’s about that time I realize that my dad probably did most of the actual work when I was a kid, and also, I think we used pre-made dough (obviously, smart).

But I never truly learn, because then each year, I made a ridiculously long list of cookie and treat ideas, and half of them are intricate (peppermint snowflake cookies are never happening AGAIN) and just piss me off.

I was baking a pie last month for Friendsgiving when I came across the vast collection of Christmas cookie cutters I had in my cabinet – most of which were purchased last year. “What the hell was i thinking?!” I literally asked myself out loud.

Last year, I remember baking quite a bit, although I mailed most of the treats to other states. My friend Matt, along with his wife, were baking up some goodies last year when we decided to mail each other holiday treats.

They completely spoiled me and I was eating ALL of it during the season. It was fantastic. So, when Matt asked me if I wanted to participate again this year, I jumped at it.

I’m also having guests for a little party next weekend, so I’ll need cookies for that, right? And probably just some… to have… or to share at work? See? This is how this gets started…

However, I’ve vowed to myself to make nothing too complicated. No cookie cutter cookies!

I went through my Instagram and Pinterest accounts to see what recipes I might want to try this year, and I’ve come up with a tentative list. I won’t know which ones I’m making until I really get in there and see how difficult it might be, and even then I am guessing I’ll have some issues… but here are my ideas so far:

And while we’re on the topic of baking, I have been eyeing these recipes for Christmas Day:

And one MORE thing before I go! As you may know (if you’re following me on Instagram @OrangeJulius7), I’ve been using Blue Apron meal delivery (in addition to Green Chef) and I have SIX boxes of freeeeee food to give away!

If you want to try it, there’s no obligation to keep it – simply get the free box and try three recipes (two meals each) and see what you think. The holidays are a perfect time to try it since you’ll be able to skip the grocery store! If you’d like to get one of my free boxes, simply shoot me your email and the first six people will get a message from Blue Apron!

Just want some of the goodies I listed above? Hey, fill out the form, too and let’s see what we can do – I’m all about spreading some Christmas cheer this year!

Want to see how I do with the baking this weekend? Keep your eyes on my Instagram stories – I’ll likely start shopping on Friday and the bakeoff goes DOWN on Sunday! Wish me luck 🙂

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My grownup Christmas list.

Naturally pretty.

Naturally pretty.

This isn’t about the Christmas song entitled “Grownup Christmas List”, where the singer (it’s been covered by many different ones over the years) wishes for world peace, healed hearts, togetherness, love, and friendship. Of course, I want ALL of those things + some.

But, today I’m talking about my material Christmas list – what I sent to Santa. I didn’t think much about what was on the list until one of my friends told me she laughed at what she told her parents to get her – “grownup things”. Hmmm, I looked over my list. It sure looks different from the lists I wrote as a kid, but I’m okay with it, and I’d venture to say I’m just as excited about these items as I was then. So, here’s what I asked for this year:

Lighted Mirror – For daily use, I’m good with my standard bathroom mirror. However, when I need to pluck my eyebrows or stare at my pores, I need more lighting! I also want something I can use pre-performance; I’ve learned by now that the lighting backstage is subpar. Here’s a portable light up mirror from Conair.

“Cravings” by Chrissi Teigen – If you’ve been following Ms. Teigen on Instagram over the years, you KNOW she is always whipping up something so delicious, it makes you wonder just how she keeps that model body. Amirite? According to the book’s description, her first cookbook has got recipes from fried chicken and Thai classics to breakfast and salads. Grab your copy here!

Birchbox Subscription – I’ve had a subscription to Birchbox for a few years now, and I can’t imagine my life without it! Each month, I get a small box that contains at least five luxury samples, based on my custom profile. This way, I can try beauty and lifestyle products before I decide to buy them. Over the years my Birchbox has sent me candles, perfume, hair care products, makeup, and nail polish, among other items. It’s a fun thing to get in the mail each month! Subscribe, or gift a subscription to your favorite guy or gal, here!

Glass Food Containers – I don’t know about you, but I’m freaking SICK of plastic tupperware containers. I pack my lunch five days a week, and I don’t think my little containers ever get as clean as they could be, and who knows what sort of chemicals go into my food when I pop the plastic sucker into the microwave. I’m ready to upgrade to glass, even if it means a heavier lunchbox. Here’s a set of various glass containers and lids from Glasslock.

“Hatching Twitter” by Nick Bilton – I’m teaching a course on Twitter Tips in March and I’m trying to learn as much as possible about the platform before then. I stumbled across this book by listening to a podcast, and cannot wait to read it! Supposedly, there was a lot of greed and betrayal in creating Twitter, and this is the first book to spill the beans. Get your copy here.

Donut Baking Pan – I always see the cutest donuts when I’m scrolling through Instagram, and while most of them are from bakeries, why not make them at home (and make them a tad healthier)? With my very own donut pan, I can turn all sorts of flavors into delicious donuts! Here’s a pan that fits one dozen of the yummy suckers.

Various Facial Masks – If you follow me on SnapChat (@OrangeJulius7), you know I love to test any kind of face mask – sometimes multiple in a single night! I really like to live on the edge 😉 I am always looking to expand my collection of face masks to keep my skin looking fresh. Here’s a pack of 11 sheet masks I found for just $10!

Over-Ear Headphones – You probably know that I’m OBSESSED with podcasts (and recently downloaded the Sirius XM app), and I listen to them all day long at work. Well, earbuds are starting to really hurt my ears, so I need a solid pair of earphones that block outside noise. Check out these cool white ones.

Various Makeup Sponges – I know the Beauty Blender is ALL the rave, but I like to try different things when it comes to makeup. And life. For awhile I was going with the brush sets to apply makeup and now I want to see if there’s a good sponge that will work better. Here’s a pack of various-shaped sponges, for just $5!

Rechargeable/Battery-operated Vacuum – I’ve lived in an apartment for 9 years, and one of the biggest downfalls is not being able to plug in your regular vacuum and use the attachments to clean out your car. Amirite? Because it’s like $10 to use the vacuums at the car wash. So, I need a portable vacuum. Here’s one that plugs into the cigarette lighter – smart!

…And there you have it, my Christmas list! I’d love to know what you all are wishing for this year, too!

Get your {Holiday} bake on!

Let's get this delicious party started!

Let’s get this delicious party started!

When I was a kid, my dad and I baked quite a bit when the holidays rolled around. Ok let’s be honest, he probably did most of the baking while I did the subpar decorating and taste-testing. Nonetheless, it was a tradition that I remember fondly.

We made red and green m&m cookies – at that time they were sold in the cookie dough rolls. And we made a slew of sugar cookies, which we used cookie cutters with, and then decorated them with icing, sprinkles, and red hots. We had a giant ceramic Santa cookie jar to store them. One year we made a gingerbread house with snowmen made from popcorn balls.

Since then, I have always looked forward to spending many hours in my kitchen, baking up something tasty for the holiday season. But, I’ll be honest, there are many times I set myself up to bake all sorts of different treats, and then realize I’m in way over my head, and I get frustrated.

Which is why this year, I’m starting early, and I’m freezing my treats along the way, so at the end of the road, I’ll have batches of different goodies to ship off, share, and of course, eat!

Two weeks ago, I made shortbread cookies dipped in milk chocolate, and mailed them to Indiana. And then I decided to make a list of all the things I wanted to bake this year. Here’s what I’ll be whipping up:

Dipped Gingerbread Cookies

Sooo pretty!

Sooo pretty!

I actually got this idea from reading the Big Lots’ Blog! I love a bargain, and Big Lots is always offering tips on DIY projects. I saw these cute cookies and they looked fairly easy to create at home.

For these cookies, you’ll need 1 box of gingerbread cookie mix (I got this one), 3 cups of white chocolate chips, 3tb of shortening, and colored frosting (if you want to decorate them) – sprinkles would be a good choice, too!

Follow the directions on the cookie mix, and let the cookies cool completely.

In a bowl, add the white chocolate chips and the shortening, and microwave in 10 second intervals, stirring along the way. Do this until the chocolate is slightly runny.

Dip each cookie into the white chocolate mix, and lay on parchment paper to set. Let set and decorate with frosting. If you’re using sprinkles instead, sprinkle before the white chocolate sets completely so they will stick. Ta-da!

Snickerdoodle Blondies 

I would have never put a Snickerdoodle on my list for holiday baking, until I watched one of the “What’s Gaby Cooking” snapisodes last week. These looked sooo yummy, and easy, to top it off – are you sensing a trend yet?

What's Gaby Cooking is keeping it DELISH!

What’s Gaby Cooking is keeping it DELISH!

For the Snickerdoodle Blondies, you will need 1 cup melted butter, 2 cup light brown sugar, 4 teaspoons Vanilla Extract, 2 large eggs, 2 cups all purpose flour, 1 teaspoon baking powder, ½ teaspoons Ground Cinnamon, and ¼ teaspoon of baking soda. For the topping, you will need 1/4 cup of white sugar, and 1 1/2 teaspoons of ground cinnamon.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl or stand mixer, combine the melted butter and brown sugar and mix with a wooden spoon or paddle attachment for 1 minute until combined. Add the vanilla and eggs, making sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl, and mix until fully incorporated.

Add the dry ingredients into the bowl/stand mixer, flour, baking powder, cinnamon and baking soda and slowly mix until just combined. The batter will be a bit stiff, but that’s normal.

Spray a 9×9 baking pan with baking spray and line it with parchment paper. Spoon the batter into the prepared baking sheet and sprinkle the cinnamon sugar on top and transfer it into the oven. Bake for 30-35 minutes. Once the blondie brownies have baked, remove them from the oven and let cool for at least 2 hours before cutting and serving.

I made these last weekend, and I’ll be honest, mine kind of turned out more like coffee cake, but hey, who doesn’t love coffee cake?

Chocolate-covered Spoons

Festive & yummy!

Festive & yummy!

I have always wanted to make these, primarily for hot chocolate, but honestly, I think they’d be good in a cup of coffee, or warmed milk (or Almond milk, of course!).

To make these spoons, you need heavy-duty plastic spoons, or even wooden spoons. Then, get semi-sweet chocolate chips, and/or white chocolate chips. You can melt them on your own, or mix them with heavy cream or shortening if you want.

The only other thing you’ll need is toppings (optional)! I got red and green sprinkles, crushed peppermint candy, and red and green icing. I also have some leftover cinnamon chips, and I think I may attempt to add a little peanut butter to a few spoons.

You could really put anything on top – marshmellows, crushed toffee, cookie bits, or anything that would taste great melted in coffee or hot chocolate (or eat while drinking a glass of wine, let’s face it). To make the spoons, you simply dip the spoon in the melted chocolate, then add the toppings before it cools completely. Let these cool on wax paper, and you can package them using festive clear bags and ribbon. I’m really excited to make these!

What are your baking traditions around the holiday, if any? Planning on making anything new this year? I’d love to hear what’s happening in your kitchen this holiday season. P.S. We’re expecting snow flurries in Austin today! Perfect reason to hole up inside if you’ve got the option 😉

My Thanksgiving menu.

A perfect Thanksgiving spread from Saveur.

A perfect Thanksgiving spread from Saveur.

Thanksgiving is one week away! I know everyone is saying it – but it’s come up so fast, and before you know it, Christmas will be here! But, let’s not skip Thanksgiving, as it’s pretty much the most important meal of the year, and it’s truly a holiday to be savored.

I really do love Thanksgiving. Think about it, it’s a meal that embraces the flavors of fall, and we get two days off of work to celebrate it! Then there’s the Macy’s parade (complete with terrible lip syncing), the drinking… really, nothing beats it. 1014001_hm_holiday_hosting_associate_300x250

Today at work, we’re having our potluck Thanksgiving lunch. I’m not a fan of potlucks, but it is the company tradition that the CEO provides the turkey, so you can at least count on that. Last year, for my first Thanksgiving in Texas, I discovered that even on Turkey Day, Texans eat BBQ-style – the turkey was sliced and served with thick, white toast, BBQ sauce, and crinkle-cut pickles. Because why not?

I am hosting a low-key Thanksgiving meal this year, and wanted to share my menu with you, in hopes that you’ll find some new ideas for your table, even if it’s not for this meal in particular. Out of all the great recipes I’ve got in my stash for Turkey Day, it was really hard to choose a few for my menu, but here’s what I’m cooking up:

Starters: New Orleans Baked Brie

Baked Brie from The Mediterranean Dish.

Baked Brie from The Mediterranean Dish.

On Thanksgiving Day, I’m a really huge fan of having the large meal later in the afternoon, and serving up yummy, filling snacks and appetizers until then.

I am obsessive over homemade meat and cheese trays, serving various textures and ages of cheese with meats, mustard, olives, fruit, jam, and chocolate. It’s a perfect excuse to sip on wine while watching the parade and checking on the turkey.

If you want step-by-step help with building the perfect cheese tray, hop on over to What’s Gaby Cooking – she is always whipping up complex snack platters.

One thing I wanted to make this year was baked brie – it’s easy, delicious, and it’s really impressive.

I’m making a “New Orleans” baked brie, named because of my topping choice of pecans and Worcestershire sauce for a lil kick. Should be delicious.

For the baked brie, you’ll need a wheel of brie (any size will do), 1/4 cup of brown sugar, 1 teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce, 1/2 teaspoon of mustard, and 1 cup of chopped pecans. If you want to wrap your brie in pastry, you will need to add a frozen sheet of puff pastry to your list, along with one egg, and a little bit of all-purpose flour.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, wrap brie in foil, top with the mixed toppings, and bake for about 10 minutes, or until the cheese gets soft (you don’t want it to melt).

If you’re baking it inside the pastry, you need to thaw the pastry, then wrap the brie with it, sealing the edges with the single beaten egg and brushing the top for browning. Bake in a 425 degree oven until golden brown.

Serve warm with sliced pears and apples, along with crackers, and pepper jelly if you really want to stick to that Southern theme.

Entree: Turkey & Cranberry Sandwich

Can't be a Thanksgiving sammy.

Can’t be a Thanksgiving sammy.

I found the recipe for this sandwich in the latest issue of Better Homes & Garden, which listed it as a way to spruce up your Thanksgiving Day leftovers. However, it seemed like the perfect entree for my low-key Turkey Day, as I was trying to find something that wouldn’t require me to bake a huge turkey and a ton of side dishes.

This sandwich captures nearly all the flavors of Thanksgiving – stuffing, cranberry, and turkey, all in one bite. I say, serve it up with some sweet potato fries and you’re good to go!

For the sandwich, you’ll need 1 cup of halved and sliced red onion, 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil, 1 cup of cranberry sauce, 1/4 cup BBQ sauce, 2 tablespoons of finely chopped chipotle chile pepper in adobo sauce, 3 cups shredded cooked turkey, pretzel buns or other sturdy bread, bibb lettuce, sliced mozzarella cheese, and sliced jalapenos, if desired (YES),

Cook and stir the onion in the oil over medium-high heat for about 4 minutes, or until tender. Stir in the cranberry sauce, bbq sauce, and the chipotle. Add turkey, toss to coat, and heat throughout.

Add lettuce to the bottom half of the buns, and top with the turkey-cranberry mixture along with the sliced cheese. Add bun tops and serve with additional cranberry sauce and jalapenos. Yum!

Sides: Chopped Green Bean Salad

Green bean salad.

Green bean salad.

I love a green bean casserole, and this “salad” from Better Homes & Garden is a great twist on a classic that I’m really excited to try.

For this green bean salad, you will need 1 1/4 pounds of green beans cut into 1-inch pieces, 1/3 cup red wine vinegar, 1/3 cup minced shallots, pinch of salt and pepper, 4 ounces of shredded manchego or parmesan, 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, 2 cups of cooked farro, 3/4 cups toasted almonds, 3/4 cup golden raisins, and 2 ounces of chopped manchego or parmesan.

Cook the beans in a large pot of boiling salted water for 4 minutes before transferring to ice water. In a blender, combine the vinegar, shallots, salt and pepper, along with the 4 ounces of cheese and olive oil. Blend until smooth and then add to the beans (after you’ve taken them out of the ice bath).

Finally, add the farro, almonds, golden raisins, and 2 ounces of cheese. Finished!

Dessert: Sweet Potato Pie

Sweet Potato Pie from the New York Times.

Sweet Potato Pie from the New York Times.

I am a sucker for pumpkin pie. Seriously, I love the stuff. But, I heard that a sweet potato pie is actually sweeter and more flavorful than pumpkin, so I want to give it a try. It better be good, or else I’l be running to the nearest open store Thanksgiving night to get my fix of pie!

Remember last year when everyone lost their shit over Patti LaBelle’s sweet potato pie at Wal-Mart? Truthfully, no one cared much about the desserts until a YouTube-r made a video of himself tasting the orange pie and broke out into song because it was so delish. See the video here – it’s worth it.

The video got more than 5 million views and Wal-Mart was selling out of Patti’s pies left and right, and Ms. LaBelle even expanded her dessert business to include other options, including apple cobbler and pecan cake.

So, I’m making my own sweet ‘tater pie and I hope it’s as good as Patti’s (even though I’ve never tried hers, or anyone’s). For this pie, you will need a piecrust, 1 1/4 pound of sweet potatoes, 1 cup of whipping cream, 3/4 cup of packed brown sugar, 1/2 cup of whole milk, 2 eggs, and 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon.

Prepare the piecrust as directed (I will probably get a frozen one) – although don’t let it get brown. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and prick the sweet potatoes all over with a fork. Wrap each tinfoil, and roast for about 70 minutes or until tender. Reduce oven heat to 375.

Let sweet potatoes cool before peeling and placing in a bowl and mashing with a potato masher. Combine the mashed potatoes with the cream, brown sugar, milk, eggs, cinnamon, and a pinch of salt. You can use a food processor or a blender if necessary.

Pour the filling into the pie crust. Cover the crust edges with foil, and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 30-40 minutes until evenly puffed. Let cool before serving.

And there’s my menu (aside from the wine, wine, and wine). What are you guys cooking for the big day?

The skinny: What I’m eating.

Real Simple

Deep-dish pizza with turkey sausage and brussels sprouts.

Last week, I announced that I’m getting back on track with my life. I’m getting sleep (when possible), exercising six times a week via dance classes (and shopping, of course), and I’m eating right. So, this weekend, I pretty much took everything Trader Joe’s had and spent a lot of time in my kitchen prepping meals for the week.

If you’re anything like me, each new week presents a challenge of what to eat. Why? Because if I’m going to keep eating healthy (which I’m planning on it), then it’s got to be exciting – no eating chicken and veggies for every meal, because I’ve definitely done that, and although I looked great, I hated it.

So, I’ve found that eating something for lunch and then something different for dinner helps keep things fresh. I usually pick something easy to pack for my lunches, and then something perhaps a little more complicated for dinner, since I usually eat at home during the week. Here’s what I’m eating this week:

Breakfast: Pumpkin Waffles

No, I’m definitely not up making these suckers from scratch – I bought frozen pumpkin waffles from Trader Joe’s (they have pumpkin EVERYTHING out now). Pop two in the toaster, slice up a banana, drizzle with a little raw honey, and bam, breakfast is served!

Lunch: Salmon & Apple Salad Wrap

Salmon and apple salad wrap.

Salmon and apple salad wrap.

If you’re looking for easy, yummy, healthy recipes, sign up to get the email newsletter from Self magazine. I have found so many awesome recipes there, and this is my latest try.

INGREDIENTS

1 can (5 oz) skinless, boneless wild salmon

1/4 cup chopped apple

1/4 cup chopped celery

2 tablespoons chopped red onion

2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

1 teaspoon olive oil

1 teaspoon honey

Black pepper

1/2 cup chopped lettuce

1 8-inch whole-wheat wrap

1/2 cup broccoli

3 tablespoons hummus

DIRECTIONS

In a bowl, mix salmon, apple, celery and red onion. In another bowl, combine vinegar, olive oil and honey; season with pepper; toss with salmon salad. Spread salad on whole-wheat wrap; top with chopped lettuce; roll up. Serve with broccoli dipped in hummus.

Please note that the recipe above is only for one wrap. To make a week’s worth, which I did, I completely eyeballed the ingredient-measurements and just tasted along the way. And yes, I even got hummus and veggies to eat with it! Yum!

Dinner: Deep-Dish Pizza with Turkey Sausage & Brussels Sprouts 

You might be thinking – okay, this isn’t really that “healthy”, but truthfully, it’s not so bad. I got this recipe from an old issue of “Real Simple”, and catered it to what I could find. I used whole wheat pizza dough and chicken sausge (because I already had some in my freezer), so it’s really a pretty wholesome meal. Plus, I love brussels sprouts!

INGREDIENTS:

  • tablespoons olive oil
  • 1½ pounds store-bought pizza dough, at room temperature
  • ⅓ cup prepared pesto
  • 1½ cups shredded provolone (6 ounces)
  • ½ pound uncooked turkey sausage, crumbled
  • ½ pound Brussels sprouts, thinly sliced

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Heat oven to 425° F with a rack in the lowest position. Coat a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with 1 tablespoon of the oil.
  2. Press the dough into the pan, covering the bottom and sides. Top the dough with the pesto, cheese, sausage, and Brussels sprouts. Drizzle with the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil.
  3. Bake until the crust is golden brown and the sausage is cooked through, 30 to 35 minutes. Let the pizza rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Snacks & Extras

I’ve been going to dance after work for two hours at least three times each week. So, I definitely need a good snack in the late afternoon to keep me moving until 8pm when I can get home to that pizza. This week, I stocked my kitchen with the following:

  • Apple sauce with cinnamon
  • Celery (leftover from the salmon salad) and peanut butter
  • Organic nut & dried fruit mixes

Usually a combination of two of these, plus a cold can of La Croix, and I’m good to go.

Yaaaassss!!

Yaaaassss!!

I also did some baking over the weekend, as one of my coworkers found a new job. I wanted to get her a little goodbye gift, so I bought her a coffee mug and baked some decadent cookies to pack inside of it. And yes, I saved a few back for myself – remember to treat yourself! Plus, these things looked so good, I couldn’t resist. I made Double Chocolate Chip and Caramel cookies using a recipe from What’s Gaby Cooking:

INGREDIENTS

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup cocoa powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup butter, softened

1 cup packed brown sugar

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 large eggs

1 ½ cup dark chocolate chocolate chips

½ cup caramel bites

1/2 cup Oven Roasted Sea Salt Blue Diamond Almonds, chopped

Maldon salt for dusting

DIRECTIONS

  1. Preheat oven to 375° F.
  2. Combine flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt in a small bowl. Beat butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar and vanilla extract in a large mixing bowl until creamy. Beat in eggs for about 2 minutes or until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in flour mixture. Stir in chocolate chips, caramel bites and chopped almonds. Drop by rounded tablespoon onto parchment lined baking sheets and dust with Maldon salt.
  3. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until cookies are puffed. Cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely.
  4. Enjoy immediately, or store in an airtight container in the freezer for up to 3 weeks.

What are you cooking up this week?

Single Girl Recipe: (Paleo) Lemon chia seed muffins.

Mine didn't quite look this cute...

Mine didn’t quite look this cute…

Over the weekend, I was in search of simple – and cheap, if not free – joys. I’m sure I’ll talk more about this at some point, but I’m currently in a personal budgeting crisis. At the same time I lost two of my good freelance gigs, I owe a massive tax bill,  like now.

Money stresses  me out more than anything, and every extra penny I’ve got must go to paying off this bill. So, I needed to have a weekend full of free stuff (I see a lot of weekends like these in my near future).

On Friday night,  I hit up the laundromat, which didn’t cost me anything since I had money loaded up on my Washatopia card. Score! I did go to the grocery store afterward, as I needed eggs and something to drink at the pool on Saturday. I found this organic cucumber-lime and chile Italian soda that I figured would go perfect with some tequila I had in my freezer. I escaped the store in $7.

On Saturday, I spent a little time looking for freelance work, and then I hit the pool. I packed a small cooler with some snacks – chips, hummus, cheese, and grapes – and enough tequila and Italian soda for three large drinks.

For two hours, I was the only one there. I sat, and I read – finishing one book and starting another. I stayed out there for almost five hours. Cost: $0 and I even improved my tan.

I came home and tended to my plants, replanting some grass for Blanche, watering all the other plants, and sweeping the patio. I also made dinner instead of going out – I made brats and fries – and had a few beers that were already stashed away in my fridge. I watched a few episodes of “Dexter” before I was sufficiently freaked out (I only have a few more episodes before I’ve watched the entire series twice) and had to switch to “The Vanilla Ice Project”.

On Sunday, I slept in, enjoyed some coffee, searched for more writing jobs, and then I went to a library that’s pretty close to my house. I’d been there once before to tutor someone, and it’s really nice. I decided to get a library card and spend a few hours hunting for more good reads for Blanche’s Book Club.

The library is really nice, but I will say they checked my address twice to make sure I actually lived within the district. I had no clue libraries were so exclusive. After about an hour of searching, I got “The Friday Night Knitting Club” by Kate Jacobs and “The Widow’s Guide to Sex and Dating” by Carole Radziwill.

I spent the remainder of Sunday reading, looking for writing gigs, cooking, and I baked these paleo lemon chia seed muffins to eat for breakfast during the week. I found the recipe on The Iron You, and I’ll say that even though he calls them Coconut Lemon Chia Seed muffins, there is no coconut flavor in them.

They were pretty easy to make, and for paleo muffins, they turned out delicious – better than anything I tried to bake when I was actually on the paleo diet. The only other thing I’ll say is that my batch didn’t rise that much, so they look like “half muffins”. I will probably make another batch, and I think I’ll use the mini muffin tin to make them look more muffin-y.

The good news? One muffin is 92 calories, with only 3g carbs and 3g of protein! Yes!

INGREDIENTS

  • 1/2 cup of coconut flour
  • 2 tablespoons of chia seeds
  • 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda
  • Pinch of fine grain sea salt
  • Zest of two lemons
  • 1/4 teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons of lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup of milk of your choice (I used coconut)
  • 1/2 cup of honey
  • 4 eggs
  • 4 tablespoons of coconut oil, melted

DIRECTIONS

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and place the rack in the middle. Line a muffin tin with paper liners.

In a large bowl, combine coconut flour, chia seeds, baking soda, salt, and lemon zest. In another large bowl, whisk together the eggs, vanilla extract, milk, honey, coconut oil, lemon juice, and apple cider vinegar.

Pour wet ingredients into dry and mix very well until fully incorporated, the mixture has thickened, and there are no clumps of coconut flour left. Pour the batter into the lined muffin tins, 3/4 the way to the top.

Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown. Carefully remove from muffin tin and let cool on a wire rack. Makes 12 muffins.

Let me know if you make these muffins, or have any other great healthy recipes!

Boyfriend Recipe: Baked dog treats.

Homemade dog treats are the surefire way to win your man over.

Homemade dog treats are the surefire way to win your man over.

If you’re lucky enough to have today off, I’m jealous. But, maybe it’ll give you a chance to whip up a treat for the man in your life, and his best friend – his dog!

Even though I’m currently bitter on the guy situation, I’m NOT suggesting men are dogs and we should bake them dog treats… or am I?

No, really, I got Haylie Duff’s cookbook, “The Real Girl’s Kitchen” for Christmas, and one of the first recipes I noticed was the one for baked dog treats! I know so many people with dogs, and I was about to go visit several friends, so I thought it would be the perfect little gift.

They are super easy to make, and you can either cut them into squares or use a cookie cutter (I used a small heart-shaped one). I am certain the man in your life would appreciate you showing some love for his four-legged best friend!

INGREDIENTS

  • 2.5 cups of whole wheat flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup of canned pumpkin
  • 2 tablespoons of peanut butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon of flax seed

DIRECTIONS

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Stir together the flour, eggs, pumpkin, peanut butter, cinnamon, and flax seeds in a bowl.
  3. Add water as needed to help make the dough workable (it should be dry and firm).
  4. Roll the dough into a 1/2-inch thick slab. Cut into 1/2-inch pieces (or use a cookie cutter).
  5. Bake in preheated oven until hard, about 40 minutes.

The recipe says it makes 25 treats, but when I made it, it was more like 45-50. Not really sure why, and I was happy to have plenty for my doggie friends, but just an FYI.

Once the treats cooled completed, I divided them up and put them in decorative, Valentine’s-themed treat bags. I delivered them, and as far as I could tell, they were doggie-approved!

And, before I go, I know it’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and I always do a poor job of blog planning for this day, because he’s a leader very inspirational to me. So, I wanted to leave you with a quote of his, because it empowers me, and that’s something I could use every day, and even today.

mlk

The Real Girl’s Kitchen.

My newest cookbook!

My newest cookbook!

Given that I did about ZERO reading in 2015, I only asked for one book for Christmas, and it wasn’t even a novel. Instead, I asked for a cookbook, particularly Haylie Duff’s “The Real Girl’s Kitchen,” which serves as a companion to her TV series on the Cooking Channel.

Upon getting with the times and treating myself to DVR in September, I know I mentioned my slight obsession with her show. I kept seeing plugs for it on Hilary Duff’s Instagram, and wanted to check it out.

To be honest, I’m not 100% sure what “Real Girl” kitchen she’s referring to, because I don’t usually find myself in the situations that Haylie does: cooking up late night eats for hot Los Angeles bar owners or throwing impromptu Texas Barbeque parties in my Hollywood backyard, but I’ve got a big imagination and I’ll take any excuse to dream. Maybe one day, Haylie, maybe one day.

But seriously, the 30-minute show usually features some sort of adventure where viewers get to see inside the kitchen of a restaurant, see how a dish is made, and then Haylie replicates it in her kitchen, and/or puts her own spin on it. Plus, she’s got lots of little kitchen hacks that are pretty cool.

The cookbook features several meals and appetizers she’s made on the show, but of course, there’s a slew of other recipes in there. Upon first glance, I was really impressed with the beautiful photos for the book, as well as the amount of actual writing – there’s lots of stories in there behind the recipes and the cooking in her family. Very cool.

On Christmas Day, I’d already planned to make a recipe I saw on the show, “Short rib stew” and it was very, VERY delicious! It was hearty, warm,  and full of flavor. The recipe called to cook it in a Dutch oven, but I don’t have one, so I just slow-cooked it in my crockpot for around six hours. It was fantastic!

I also whipped up a batch of organic dog treats that I saw in the very back of her cookbook. I’ll write more on these another day (they’re super easy) and delivered them to all of my puppy loves when I went to visit my friends in Indiana over the weekend (and yes, they are now puppy-approved).

I’m so excited to explore the cookbook some more and see what other simple, yet fabulous and delicious meals I can whip up a la Haylie Duff!

Sign up for AT&T U-Verse to watch the Cooking Channel, plus hundreds of others, and get a Visa gift card when you use my code

Single Girl Recipe: Pumpkin Coffee Cake.

Nearly guilt-free and oh-so-delish.

Nearly guilt-free and oh-so-delish.

Y’ALL. Where has this week gone? It completely flew by, and I’m pretty sure it’s because I kicked things off by making this pumpkin coffee cake for my coworkers.

Originally, this recipe called for sweet potato puree instead of pumpkin, but I wanted to jump on the pumpkin craze, plus, it’s way easier to buy a can of pumpkin puree. But, feel free to alter it to your liking.

INGREDIENTS:

1 box Gluten-Free White Cake Mix (14 oz.) box makes one 8 or 9-inch cake
1/2 cup pureed pumpkin (or sweet potato)
4 tablespoons light olive oil or coconut oil
1 tablespoon Ener-G Egg Replacer (made with 1/4 cup warm water) (or 2 eggs beaten)
1/2 cup vanilla hemp milk– or non-dairy milk or orange juice
1 teaspoon mild vinegar or lemon juice
2 teaspoons bourbon vanilla
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger, or 2 teaspoons fresh grated, if you prefer

For the topping:

2 tablespoons Organic Spectrum Shortening or coconut oil
1/2 cup organic brown sugar
1 tablespoon gluten-free flour
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon

DIRECTIONS:

Mix the topping ingredients together in a small bowl; rub and crumble it between palms to create a sandy texture.

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Grease a 9-inch cake pan with shortening and dust lightly with gluten-free flour.
Pour the cake mix into a mixing bowl. Add the remaining ingredients — pumpkin/sweet potato through ginger. Beat until a smooth batter forms; beat an additional minute.
Pour into the prepared cake pan; shake a bit to distribute the batter evenly. Crumble the topping all over the cake batter.
Bake in the center of a preheated oven until firm and tender- about 30 minutes or so. I bake at high altitude, so your mileage may vary.
Cool on a wire rack.

Place a large plate on the cake pan; quickly turn over and release the cake; repeat onto a clean cake plate.

Makes 8 to 10 slices.

…Now, since tomorrow is “Fiction Friday,” I need to go ahead and say this now. Tomorrow, the love of my LIFE is turning 37. My love, John Mayer, I’m sending you a happy, happy birthday!

The kitchen tour.

Happy Monday, y’all! After the weekend I had, I feel like I need another few days just to rest, what about you?

I did a ton of cooking and baking (look for a new recipe right here on Thursday) over the last few weeks, and as promised, I told you I’d invite you into my home once I got things settled.

Click to view the Flipagram of my kitchen!

Click to view the Flipagram of my kitchen!

With all the traveling I’ve done lately, I won’t say things are “settled,” but they are getting there. My kitchen is probably the best it’s going to get for awhile, so I’m inviting you into my kitchen today!

As you know, I moved into a smaller apartment (although it doesn’t seem that much smaller), so I’m getting creative with how I store things — my kitchen is especially one of those places.

The video will give you the full tour, but I’ll provide a few things to note.

  • While my kitchen may not appear as organized as many other blogger-kitchens out there, I cleaned out a ton of my kitchen stuff in attempts to get things as neat as possible (including my fridge).
  • I haven’t had a pantry in 4 years! At my old apartment, I turned the coat closet into a makeshift pantry by hanging a shoe rack in it! Now I have a full pantry to house my dry goods, cookbooks and cocktails guides, and hide my trashcan.
  • There is no room for all of my cooking utensils in this kitchen, so I utilized an old vase to house a majority of my wooden spoons and spatulas right on the counter near my stove — it’s turned out to be quite handy.
  • A hanging wine glass rack leaves more shelving space for other glassware — plus it looks really cool. I got mine from Amazon.
  • I have never been one to go for “traditional” kitchen decor. Sure, I love lemons, but my kitchen has always been part of an open floor plan, so it leads into other areas of my home. For that reason (plus the fact that I’m the only one who sees it), I go for creative pieces that inspire me — even if it means a shirtless picture of the Biebs, right above my cabinets.

I’m slowly getting back into the swing of things — grocery shopping, cooking, baking, and meal planning. I’m well-aware it sounds so weird to say that, but my world was completely flipped for almost a year, and nothing was on any type of schedule. It feels so great to be getting back to the way I’m used to things being; and being in my kitchen creating yummy food is a big part of that!

Hope you enjoyed the tour — even the”organic” production!

Pic of the Week.

Pretty sure they weren't supposed to be THIS ugly.

Pretty sure they weren’t supposed to be THIS ugly.

Late last week, I decided to bake some holiday cookies from a kit I bought a few months ago — an Ugly Sweater Cookie Kit. It was just too cute to pass up.

The kit had nearly everything I needed: dry ingredients for the cookie dough, a sweater cookie cutter, food coloring for red and green icing, piping bags, and various bags of festive sprinkles. All I had to add were the eggs, butter, milk, and powdered sugar.

If you’re one of my long-time readers, you’ll know that I always try to cut calories when I can, even when it comes to Christmas cookies. So, when I stopped at my local market that morning, I quickly snatched up sticks of coconut oil.

It said on the package that it could be subbed for butter, one-for-one. Sweet! But once I got home and started mixing all of my ingredients, I don’t think the coconut oil was my brightest idea.

It made the dough very sticky, so I kept having to add flour to it in order for it to even roll onto my counter. It took me nearly an hour to cut a mere seven sweater cookies and get them onto a baking sheet. Once they got into the oven I started mixing my icing — coconut oil, milk, food coloring, and powdered sugar.

Please note that I didn’t even have butter in my fridge or else I wouldn’t have continued using the coconut oil. Naturally, the coconut oil made the icing a tad runny, and when I put it into the piping bags, it was separating under the warmth of my hands. Drats!

Runny icing resulted in sweater cookies: the Dexter edition, because it looked like they were smeared with blood. By the time I got icing on all of the cookies, I barely felt like messing with the sprinkles, and basically tossed random candies on all of the cookies.

Well, they ARE supposed to be ugly/tacky sweaters, I thought, and it felt justified for a few minutes. The ones on the box looked way cuter.

I’ve mentioned before that baking cookies with my dad is one of my fondest childhood memories when it comes to Christmas. But of course, he made the dough, and all I did was add icing and red hots. And I’m sure it was about the company we had, not about the activity.

Each year, I try to recreate those memories by vowing to bake dozens and dozens of cookies that I ice and decorate. And every year, I get really excited as I unpack all of my ingredients from the store… but I quickly get frustrated once the dough isn’t right or the cookie cutter sucks.

Then I wonder, WHY did I decide to do this, again?

But nevertheless, it felt really nice to be doing something festive — I’ve been so busy with work and job hunting that it’s been difficult getting into the Christmas season.

Later that night, I took my festive little sweater cookies over to a friend’s house. Like true friends, they were excited, saying how intricate and cute my hideous creations were. After we feasted on fried turkey (okay, so I’m not always tight on calories), we all sampled the cookies, and to my absolute delight, they were some of the best sugar cookies I’ve had.

They tasted like my childhood Christmas cookies — and I’ll never forget it.

Boyfriend Recipe: White Choc Cookies.

The bigger the cookie...

The bigger the cookie…

I know everyone is probably still full of turkey and pie, but I couldn’t help but post one of my favorite recipes just in time for the Christmas holiday season — White Chocolate and Pecan Cookies.

I made them many years ago, the ONLY time I’ve spent Christmas with a boyfriend (read about the details here), and I felt it necessary to bring a huge box of cookies to his family’s home. At his request, I made his favorite: white chocolate and macadamia nut cookies.

I used a recipe from the Hummingbird Bakery in London, and just replaced the pecans for macadamias (and simultaneously discovered how expensive they are).

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3 1/2 oz. white chocolate, chopped
  • 2/3 cup shelled pecans (OR macadamias, or almonds), chopped

Put the butter and sugars in a freestanding electric mixer with a paddle attachment (or use a handheld electric whisk) and cream until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well and scraping any unmixed ingredients from the side of the bowl with a rubber spatula after each addition. Turn the mixture dow to slow speed and beat in the vanilla.

Add the flour, salt, and backing powder and mix well with until a smooth dough is formed. Stir in the chocolate and nuts until evenly dispersed.

Divide the dough in half and shape each half into a roll about 4 inches long and 1 1/4 inches wide. Wrap the rolls in plastic wrap and put them in the freezer to set completely for a couple of hours.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Remove the plastic wrap and cut the dough into disks about 1-inch thick. Arrange the cookies on the prepared baking sheets. Make sure that the cookies are spaced apart to allow for spreading while baking.

Bake in the preheated oven for 10-15 minutes, or until golden brown around the edges and quite flat. Let the cookies cool sightly on the sheets before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

…And try not to eat the entire batch yourself!

Single Girl Recipe: “Prownies”

Guilt-free, yummy, brownies? I'm on it!

Guilt-free, yummy, brownies? I’m on it!

I’ve spent the last few months trying to make different protein bars from scratch, so I could avoid buying the expensive ones from the store. I used bags of coconut flour, coconut oil, unsweetened coconut, protein powder, flaxseed, paleo-friendly chocolate chips… and while, some of the recipes I tried were okay, they weren’t really what I had in mind.

So, I looked for some options that were partially-homemade, and I finally found what I was looking for. Here’s my method, and you can switch it up any way you please:

INGREDIENTS

DIRECTIONS

Put the brownie mix and the protein powder into a mixing bowl. Drain the can of black beans (rinse, if desired), and puree them until smooth. Add the peanut butter to the food processor, too, and blend until everything is completely mixed.

Add the beans/peanut butter mix into the dry ingredients, and mix until smooth.

Now, here’s where you can mix things up, if you want. You don’t HAVE to use the Pilsbury brownie mix, I just love it’s consistency. You’re using the black beans and the peanut butter instead of oil, water, and eggs, so if you start mixing and things aren’t quite coming together, feel free to add one egg or a few tablespoons of water. The consistency should be thick, but you want to make sure all of the powder is mixed in.

If you want, you can omit the protein powder, and still have fantastic, pretty healthy brownies. Feel free to add nuts, for extra protein and flavor, too.

Use the instructions on the brownie package for pan size, oven temperature, and baking time.

FACTS

Using the above recipe, the entire batch of “Prownies” has 101 grams of protein in it. If you cut it into 12 prownies, that’s a little more than 8 grams of protein per piece, plus fiber from the beans and peanut butter. It’s really not bad for a delicious treat!

Boyfriend Recipe: Mocha Chip Cookies.

I need.

I need.

Many years ago, when I was a different person, I was seriously in love with a man I loved to cook and bake for. I felt like if I did things that a perfect girlfriend would do, then he’d see that I could be a perfect wife, too.

But my plan failed miserably. However, I’m still left with a recipe for these delicious, drool-worthy Mocha Chip Cookies!

My then-boyfriend had an affinity for Taylor Swift, so when I read an article that said Taylor Swift made Mocha Chip Cookies, I found a recipe, and whipped them up, immediately.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 1/4 cups of flour
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 teaspoon of baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon of fresh ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon of cinnamon
  • 1/2 pound of margarine
  • 1 cup of light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup of granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons of chocolate syrup
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons of vanilla
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons of espresso, coffee, or cappuccino powder mix with 2 tablespoons of hot water
  • 18 ounces of chocolate chips
  • 1 1/2 cups of chopped walnuts (or hazelnuts are good, too)

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Mix the flour, salt, baking soda, nutmeg, and cinnamon, and set aside.
  3. In a mixer, beat the margarine, sugars, chocolate syrup, and vanilla until smooth. Add eggs one at a time, beat until smooth (about 5 minutes). Add in the dry ingredients, coffee mixture, chocolate chips, and nuts. Mix by hand with a wooden spoon until mixed.
  4. Drop on a baking sheet by rounded teaspoons, about 2-inches apart, and bake for 12-14 minutes.
  5. Let cool — if possible — and eat!

Pic of the Week.

One of simplest, yet favorite baking pieces

While simple, this is one of my favorite baking pieces

When I got my first apartment (by myself) after college, my mom gave me an extra crock-pot she had, as all I had was a bed, a dresser, and a slew of clothes.

It took me years to get enough furniture to make for a decent home, and lots gifts to fill my kitchen with all of the things I needed to be the little chef (Ratatouille!) I wanted to be. Today, kitchen gadgets are nearly popping out of my cabinets, but that’s not my story.

I kept the hand-me-down crock-pot for years and used it often. In fact, I didn’t get a new, modern one (with a timer and a thermometer) until two Christmases ago, from my mom. However, I still kept the old crock-pot for one reason: it was a perfect fit for my Bread ‘n Cake Bake pan—also given to me by my mom.

It came with a little recipe book, so old the pages don’t hold together anymore. Although there are several delicious recipes, I’ve only made the Pumpkin Tea Bread, but it’s so deliciously dense, I wouldn’t bake it any other way.

Over the weekend, I pulled out my old crock pot, along with my Bread ‘n Bake pan, and whipped up a batch of the bread, only this time, making it a little healthier:

  • 1/2 cup oil (unsweetened apple sauce)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar (organic coconut palm sugar)
  • 2 beaten eggs
  • 1 cup solid-pack pumpkin
  • 1 1/2 cups sifted flour (coconut flour)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1/2 cup chopped dates (unsweetened dried cranberries)

Blend oil and two sugars. Stir in beaten eggs and pumpkin. Sift together dry ingredients. Add dry ingredients and mix well. Stir in nuts and dates. Pour batter into greased and floured Bread ‘n Cake Bake and cover. Bake in covered crock pot on high for 3-4 hours or until done.

If you don’t have a Bread ‘n Cake Bake, just follow this recipe, and follow a similar bread recipe for baking in an oven, as far as temperature and time goes.

When I finished baking, I let it cool completely before slicing it in half, wrapping it up, and giving away half of it to my awesome personal trainer, a boxer who won his fight two weekends ago.

Because everyone deserves a little treat.