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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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These chefs are on fire!

When is it not an okay time to think (and write) about hot chefs? I can’t quite recall what spurred the need for this post – perhaps that one of my favorite chefs was on this season of Top Chef, and was sadly one of the first to go (there’s always “Last Chance Kitchen”, though, no spoilers!).

I used to have this crush (okay, if I saw him today it would still be real, let’s be honest) on a chef that worked near where I lived in Baton Rouge. He made delicious, impressive, modern food that I loved, and he had fantastic, distinguishing tattoos – a mark of the culinary world I secretly love.

Chefs – they cook, they eat, sometimes have tattoos, and are sometimes sexy. Let’s go!

Chef Roble Ali

Known to many as simply “Chef Roble”, I first became aware of him on his Bravo TV series, “Chef Roble & Co”, which debuted in 2011. The show was mainly about his catering company, which often catered huge events surrounding celebrities.

The show also touched on the fact that Roble is super attractive, and during the show’s taping, he had a long-distance girlfriend, but could basically have anyone he wanted.

In the culinary world, he’s known for his Brooklyn street food, and for being young, talented, and charismatic. He lives, and apparently skateboards, in Brooklyn.

Chef Michael Voltaggio.

Chef Michael Voltaggio.

Michael Voltaggio 

You may recognize this chef as the winner from season 6 of “Top Chef”, where he beat his brother, Brian. While they were very competitive on the show, the pair wrote a pretty serious cookbook together called “VOLT Ink“.

Although he never went to culinary school (!), he’s earned himself a Michelin star, after years of learning the ropes by working alongside top chefs for years.

He owns two restaurants in Los Angeles: ink. and ink.sack – where ink. is New American, ink.sack. is known for its well-priced sandwiches.

Sam Talbot

Sam is the chef that I was SO excited to see on this season on “Top Chef”, after he’d been on two previous seasons. He’s tall, dark, handsome, and lives in Brooklyn. Hells yes.

Although Sam is known for his cooking, he’s also known for the fact that he has diabetes, and he works to help others who have it, too. He started a non-profit called Beyond Type 1, which helps to raise awareness around diabetes and help erases the stigma.

He also has a cookbook, “The Sweet Life: Diabetes Without Boundaries“.

He has served as executive chef at many impressive restaurants in New York City, but owns Pig + Poet in Camden, ME, along with The Surf Lodge in Montauk (which he supposedly left), and has a new restaurant, Pretty Southern, in Brooklyn.

Michael Chernow

I’ll be honest here, at first glance, I wasn’t sold on Mr. Chernow. But… he’s known for his fantastic meatballs. No, seriously. He owns The Meatball Shop, which started in New York City, but now has six locations spread across New York.

I’ve never eaten one of Chernow’s meatballs, but I do know him from the show “Food Porn” on the Cooking Channel. The show goes inside restaurants that are popular on social media to see what the hype is about, and gets the scoop on their most popular recipes and dishes. It’s how I found out about Hopdoddy and Frank’s, right here in Austin!

If you can’t get to New York any time soon, you can make your own delish meatballs with Chernow’s cookbook from The Meatball Shop.

…There you have it, my roundup of hot chefs. Got any you’re admiring? Or maybe doctors are your thing? Police officers?

The only downfall about a chef is… technically they work in the service industry, and it’s really difficult to date someone in that industry without also working in it. The hours, the stress, the workload… it’s a lot. But, a girl can dream!

Drool-worthy: ‘Cravings’.

Photo Credit: The Daily Meal

Photo Credit: The Daily Meal

I got lots of great gifts for Christmas this year – and I love when you actually get the change to start using the gifts you got, and see just how great they are! One thing I was really excited to get was Chrissy Teigen’s cookbook, “Cravings: Recipes for all the food you want to eat“.

Like her husband John Legend, most of us fell in love with Chrissy on Twitter – she’s the saucy, smart-mouthed chick we all wish we could be. And hey, it wouldn’t hurt if we could also have a body like hers and be a supermodel, jet-setting to the coolest places on earth. But, who’s jealous? Not me. Just kidding, so jealous!

If you follow Chrissy on Instagram, there’s a large possibility you’ve been hit with a pic of one of her amazing homemade concoctions, whether its the pan-roasted bacon, crispy baklava, or creamy tomator soup – it all looks delicious.

I sure thought it was cool that Ms. Teigen not only cooked, but was whipping up some impressive stuff! But the truth is, I didn’t really take her seriously until last Christmas, when John Legend bought her a massive cheese wheel so she could serve pasta, tableside.

If you’ve never been to Italy, perhaps you haven’t seen a cheese wheel in action – I haven’t been to Italy, either, but it is a method of serving pasta. The center is cut from a large cheese wheel, where warm pasta is placed. As the pasta is stirred, the fresh cheese melts into the pasta and then is served. Yum!

Chrissy’s excitement over the cheese wheel was perfection – I knew she was a real foodie. And in her cookbook, she talks a lot about her food experiences as a child; how she helped her mom in the kitchen from a very young age. She also was lucky enough to experience all sorts of foods from her Thai mom and American father.

“Cravings” reflects that, even featuring a Thai chapter with some of her mom’s recipes. And there’s tons of other unique things, such as a tuna casserole topped with jalapeno chips, and how to make a Frito pie bar. Yes!

…So, there’s way more than five recipes in the book that I’ll be cooking, but I didn’t want to give too much away. And probably a majority of these picks are clearly reflective of the fact that I’m still in my “Winter Body” phase and am in no hurry to get skinny. Oh well!

Did you get any cookbooks over the holidays? Or perhaps you’ve dusted off your old ones in attemps to tackle a New Year’s Resolution? I’d love to hear what recipes you’re working on this week (or year)!

Happy Election Day!

Happy Election Day! Don’t worry, I’m not going to talk about the candidates or who you should vote for today. I know all of us have heard enough of that already, and many of us are just ready for it to be over. But no matter how annoying the campaign trail can be, nothing beats election day and the news coverage that follows it.

I know I love watching TV at pretty much any given moment, but I REALLY cannot wait to get home tonight and plop myself in front of the tube with a cocktail. I love seeing the prediction maps and calculating the “what if” electoral votes.

So, I’ve got a few things on my agenda for this 2016 Election Day. Of course, the top priority is to VOTE. I cannot say it enough: please do not let today pass without making your voice heard. Sure, it’s a bit of a pain in the ass, but it’s our priviledge to be able to vote – take it!

I voted early this year, for the first time ever! This was also my first time voting in Texas. I’ve voted previously in Louisiana, and have always voted on Election Day – I love the excitement of it. But it was still exciting this year, and I didn’t have to wait in line.

So, onto the other fun stuff! I’ve been catching up on “House of Cards” this past week, and finally watched seasons three and four. Below are my recaps.

‘House of Cards’ Seasons 3 Recap, Review

I got “House of Cards” season three for Christmas last year and started watching it right away. I got about halfway through it and realized, I was bored. It just wasn’t as riveting as the previous seasons.  So, I stopped watching it. But, a few months ago, I discovered the library had season four, so I put my name on the list to reserve it, and got to watching season three again (I started from the beginning, just in case).

FU 2016!

FU 2016!

Luckily, season three was a little better once I restarted it – I don’t think I was fully invested when I started it the last time, and if you’ve watched this show, you know you’ve got to pay attention to every little detail. Here’s the scoop from the DVD case:

In Season 3 of “House of Cards”, President Underwood fights to secure his legacy. Claire wants more than being the first lady. The biggest threat they face is contending with each other. This Emmy®-winning original thriller series stars Golden Globe® winner Kevin Spacey as ruthless and cunning Francis Underwood, who will stop at nothing to conquer the halls of power in Washington D.C. His secret weapon: his gorgeous, ambitious and equally conniving wife Claire (Golden Globe® winner Robin Wright).

Fair warning, there are spoliers ahead. I won’t be offended if you skip along – but you should watch this show!

At the start of the season Frank Underwood has secured his spot as President of the United States, and he’s already doing what he can to keep up appearances.

Poor Doug is in recovery, and Remy (hottness) is filling in as Chief of Staff in Doug’s absence. Claire has set her goal to be the Ambassador to the UN. Meanwhile, Doug enlists help to find Rachel’s whereabouts, and also breaks his sobriety.

Frank is set on his “America Works” program, which takes a huge amount of funding from FEMA and puts it into the job market, to create opportunities to employ more people. Naturally, this does not go over well at first, and takes several tactics to get it to pass.

While Claire does not get the nomination for Ambassador, she plans to override it. When U.S. gay activist is captured in Moscow. Claire and Frank fly to negotiate and see if they can help him get released. They agree on a statement the activist can say, which includes an apology, and he will be released. He refuses to say it, and Claire stays with him in his cell overnight, and he hangs himself while she sleeps.

This is probably one of the more important moments in the season, because Claire starts to detatch herself from Frank and his campaign. When she returns to the US, she speaks openly about her frustration with the Russian government, and blames them for the activist’s death.

Meanwhile, Doug has recovered and feels a bit left out from Frank and the team. He does some dirty work and provides Frank’s opposing candidate some dirt to throw on the Underwoods. When it works, he goes back to the White House and takes his job back. He also succeeds in finding Rachel, and sadly, he kills her.

As the campaign for Frank’s reelection contines, Claire joins Frank on the campaign trail… until she doesn’t. It’s clear she’s unhappy in their marriage, and a writer for Frank brings the point home when he writes that the only reason these two ended up together is because they wanted to succeed politically.

At the end of the season, Claire tells Frank she wants to separate.

On to season four! Here’s the scoop from the DVD case: They’ve always been a great team. But now in Season Four of “House of Cards”, Frank (Golden Globe TM Kevin Spacey) and Claire (Golden Globe TM winner Robin Wright) become even greater adversaries as their marriage stumbles and their ambitions are at odds.

I was on a list at the library for at least a month before I was able to check out season four, which was just last week. At this point, I’m halfway through and plan on finishing it this weekend. So far, it’s taken some veeerryy interesting twists and I’m certain it will end on a cliffhanger.

Nate Silver & FiveThirtyEight Election Forecast

Working as an SEO Analyst for the last year and change, my job is pretty much data, numbers, and statistics. So, yes, I know about Nate Silver – a statistician and a writer who currently serves as the Editor-in-Chief of ESPN’s “FiveThirtyEight”.

Silver is known for his ability to predict the performance and careers of Major League Baseball Players, can foresee the outcomes of many a sport competition, and has predicted several of the last presidential elections based on state-by-state analysis.

Cool, huh? Silver has authored several books, his most well-known being “The Signal and the Noise“. He is also a part of three podcasts, “What’s the Point” covering the data age, “Hot Takedown” on sports numbers, and “Elections” covering the 2016 election.

In the 2012 presidential election, Silver predicted the winner of all 50 states. So, let’s see what he’s thinking will happen today (as of 10:26 am CST on Monday) – you can get live updates here. At the time of this writing, Silver is predicting that while the popular vote is quite even, Clinton will gain the electoral vote, giving her the presidency.

Nate Silver's predicted election map.

Nate Silver’s predicted election map.

All of the states I’ve lived in – Texas, Louisiana, and Indiana – are clearly Trump states, whereas Silver has predicted Clinton will win states on the west coast and in the northeast. Florida, Nevada, and North Carolina are a toss-up (however, Silver is predicting Trump takes Florida).

On Monday morning, Silver told “Good Morning America” that Clinton is favored 2-1 to win the presidency, despite Trump being the likely winner of Florida and North Carolina. We will just have to see, won’t we?

Festive Cocktails & Snacks

Yum!

Yum!

If you’re anything like me, you’re going to need a satisying snack to make it through hours of election coverage tonight.

I will never be the person who waits to get the result on Wednesday morning – I need to know ASAP, and I need to see the road to getting there, state by state.

So, I saw this recipe from Tablespoon for a festive red, white, and blue snack mix, and think it’s the perfect balance of sweet and salty – kind of like this entire election!

For this recipe, you will need 3 tablespoons of butter or margarine, 1 tablespoon of worcestershire sauce, 3/4 a teaspoon of seasoned salt, 1/4 a teaspoon of garlic powder, 1/4 a teaspoon of onion powder, 4 1/2 cups of Corn Chex™ cereal, 2 cups of pretzels, 2 cups of mini marshmallows, 1 cup of red and blue chocolate candies, 1 pound of white almond bark, and red and blue gel food coloring.

In large microwavable bowl, microwave butter uncovered on High about 30 seconds or until melted. Stir in seasonings. Gradually stir in cereal and pretzels until coated. Microwave uncovered on High 4 to 5 minutes, thoroughly stirring every 2 minutes. Spread on paper towels to cool, about 15 minutes. Stir in mini marshmallows and chocolate candies, and toss to combine.

USA Sangria!

USA Sangria!

Divide the prepared Chex Mix™ into three even portions, and spread each portion in an even layer on a foil-lined plate or baking tray. Heat the almond bark in the microwave or in a double boiler until melted. Divide the almond bark into three equal servings. Color one serving with red gel food coloring. Color the second serving with blue gel food coloring. Then leave the third serving plain (white).

Drizzle each portion of Chex Mix™ with one color of chocolate. Then let cool for at least 15 minutes, or until the chocolate returns to room temperature. When it’s ready, toss together the three colors of Chex Mix™ until combined, and serve. Pretty easy! 

For my patriotic cocktail, I’m giving you my own recipe for white sangria! Simply mix a bottle of your favorite white wine with a cup of sugar, along with a can of lime seltzer water.

Pile in the fresh cut fruit – strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and blackberries will give this a red and blue twist. Feel free to add in your favorite berry vodka – I’m not a fan, so I prefer to skip that step. Serve chilled or over ice. Cheers!

Dealing with the Outcome

I know it might sounds silly, but it can be really upsetting when your candidate loses. I’ve had my candidate win, and I’ve had one lose. It’s emotional, as we are essentially pulling for the things we are passionate about, and we spend time choosing the one that’s going to make the country the one we want to live in.

Yesterday, USA Today released a 12-step plan to overcoming this type of loss. Step 1 is, of course, to scream. By step 2 though, it’s time to accept the outcome (not necessarily to like it). Step 3 is probably my favorite: take action. Just because your candidate lost, doesn’t mean you can’t help make a difference that you want to – look for opportunities to spread the word or to volunteer for the passion you’ve got.

Steps 4, 5, and 6, involve seeing the signs to know when you’re getting worked up over a specific conversation, creating an exit plan to get yourself out of the conversation, and to limit your exposure to possible conflicts in this arena, such as Facebook.

Step 7 – try to broaden your horizons and see the other side. Step 8 – build a support system of people who let you vent but refill you with positivity. Step 9: meditate. Step 10 – be thankful, even if it’s just for nice weather.

By step 11 you should get some perspective. Watch a movie or a TV show that lifts your spirits and helps you to understand that life will go on, and thins will be okay. And step 12: be a model of good behavior. No one wants to be the sore loser, right? Show others how to handle loss in a manner of grace.

…So, there you have it! I’m sure I’ll be Tweeting up a storm tonight, so feel free to join me @OrangeJulius7! Happy Election Day, everyone!

Pic of the Week.

A few weeks ago, I signed up for Green Chef, an organic food supplier that delivers fresh, ORGANIC ingredients right to your doorstep, along with instructions on how to make delicious meals.

Well, I got my first delivery Friday, and it has proven itself to be a 15-pound box of organic goodness! I have been thinking about signing up for a service like this because the grocery stores in Austin are insanely busy. Busy as in, you can’t reach the broccoli because there’s a line to get to it. It gives me anxiety, and I’m not really down for it.

So, after researching several services, I chose Green Chef because it was all organic (non-GMO, fools!) and the price was on-point. You can choose what type of meals you want: vegetarian, omnivore, pescatarian, or paleo. And you can change your meal preferences at any time.

I chose omnivore, and asked for enough ingredients to make 6 meals each week, meaning 6 portions, 3 different recipes. It’s $80/week, which is pretty good considering I just took a trip to the grocery for almond milk, soda water, and wine, and it was $60.

So, my box arrived and it was completely insulated and packed with ice packs to keep everything fresh. And ALL of the ingredients were separated into ziplock bags and clearly labeled. It also came with colorful menu guides for when I cook my meals.

My box contained all of the ingredients to make pumpkin-stuffed shells (served with orange-chard salad), chicken couscous soup (served with carrot ribbon salad), and steak & beet panzanella (with steak fries).

The other cool thing about Green Chef? Obviously the opportunity to make foods I’ve never cooked before. But, there’s really NOT much cooking to be done. All of the sauces are pre-made, and stored in cute little containers, so the prep and cooking times are all around 30 minutes or less. Works for me!

So, Saturday night, I decided to have a date night with myself (because, that’s just how cool I am), complete with John Green movies, wine, and my homemade steak & beet panzanella, with steak fries.

The meal calls for grass-fed sirloin steak, organic balsamic vinaigrette, horseradish crème fraiche, organic golden beet, organic lacinato kale, organic potato, marble rye bread, organic onion, organic chives, and rosemary tomato aioli.

Then, there’s a colorful, picture-guide, explaining the 8 steps to complete the meal. Overall, it was easy to make because most of the prep-work is done for you. And in the end,  the meal was delicious!

I’m looking forward to trying all of the other meals delivered right to my door! If you’d like to try Green Chef, I’ve got a code that will give you 4 meals for free! I’d love to see what you think of it! Cheers!

Single Girl Recipe: Eggs.

Cute colored eggs!

Cute colored eggs!

I know everyone’s got different opinions about eggs; and the health benefits of them are always in question. Is it the good cholesterol or not? What about the fat content?

Well, I’m of the school of thought that eggs are a great source of protein (did you know one egg has 12g of protein and just 1 carb?!) and they are inexpensive. Sounds like a perfect combo to me!

YUM.

YUM.

I go on kicks where I love eggs in various forms, and sometimes I’m just not feeling them. But lately, I’ve been seeing these beautiful pictures of soft boiled eggs on Instagram (I’m talking to you, Crunchy Radish, and BarbellsNBeauties) and they look delicious!

So, I had to figure out how to make the perfect soft boiled egg. Enter: Google. I found several different sets of instructions, and really, it all depends on how “soft” you actually want your egg. I wanted a hard egg white, and a soft yolk.

Usually, when I hard boil an egg, I put it in the pot, cover with cold water, and turn the burner on high. I let the water reach a boil, then turn off the heat and let the egg sit in the water until it reaches room temperature.

For my soft boiled eggs, I put a pot of water on the stove and let it reach a simmer (small bubbles). Then, I put my eggs in, and left them in for 6-ish minutes. I got them out of the water, and let them cool so I could peel them.

It was my first try, but they were nearly perfect! It was a little softer than I wanted, but I peeled them, and put them in my dish (red quinoa and mushrooms) and popped it all in the microwave for 30 seconds and that did the trick!

While a soft boiled egg is a great addition to a salad, you can devour it with just about anything. Below are some recipes that include this new favorite of mine:

What are some of your favorite ways to eat eggs?