Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A message from Gina

On Deceomber 7th I received this facebook message from my sister:

Hey Francesca!
I wanted to send this to you in a message so you could try making this for your blog. I made it yesterday and packaged them in cute containers to give out for Christmas. EVERYONE LOVED THEM...They told me they would pay me to make more. Its sooooo easy and fun to make. I attached the girls blog with the recipe. If you have time and want to make something please try this:) Love you.


Gina then asked me every other day if I had made the popcorn yet. No, I hadn't...much to her disapproval. So on Christmas Eve Gina walked me through the 10 steps of making this Caramel, Pecan, White Chocolate Popcorn. Um, Yum.


Caramel Corn with Pecans and White Chocolate
From Our Best Bites (They have a video you can watch too)

12 Cup popped popcorn (about 1/2 C kernels), you can use air popped or natural microwave popcorn.
1 Cup roughly chopped pecans
1 Cup brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 Cup honey
1/2 Cup stick butter
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 Cups white chocolate, melted

Step 1: Place popcorn and chopped pecans in a very large bowl and set aside. And, preheat your oven to 250.

Step 2: Combine brown sugar and cinnamon in a big, microwave-safe bowl. Like a 2-quart bowl or Pyrex measuring bowl. Chop butter into chunks and place on top of sugar mixture. Pour honey over the top of everything. Microwave on High for 30 seconds.

Step 3: Remove bowl from microwave and stir to combine. Place bowl back in the microwave and heat for 2 minutes. 
Step 4: After 2 minutes in the microwave your caramel (because that's what you are making) should be really bubbly.

Step 5: Add vanilla and baking soda. 

Step 6: Pour the mixture over the popcorn and pecans. Stir well. Really really well. For a long time you need to stir well. 

Step 7: Line a baking pan with foil and spread the popcorn on it. 

Step 8: Bake for 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes. This is how your popcorn gets crunchy, so check the consistency by tasting. 

Step 9: Once done, remove popcorn from oven and drizzle white chocolate all over it. As much as you want. Yummm. 

Step 10: Once it is completely cool break into pieces and you can package it in cute containers like my sister and give it as a gift...or you can can keep it. Enjoy!


Monday, December 27, 2010

Buon Natale!

That's Italian for Merry Christmas. Yes, I totally typed it in freetranslation.com. Four semesters of Italian in college, an Italian father, a thorough viewing of the Godfather trilogy, and great-grandparents "off the boat" and I have to look up "Merry Christmas" from a free translation site. Nevertheless, we had a wonderful Natale Italiano with my family.

 Some delicious appetizers (yes, mostly olives, we are an olive eating family, which is usually weird for people outside the family). This was followed by baked ziti, meatballs and sausage. Yum!

No Italian meal is complete without some Biscotti.

Biscotti, are those hard cookies that are perfect to be dunked in coffee, hot chocolate or milk! There is always a bunch sitting at the register at Starbucks. But, these are better, if I do say so myself.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas! It is currently 74 degrees and sunny. All the windows in the house are open and our Christmas Palm Tree is swaying in the breeze. Nonetheless, I love hot drinks, they are so holiday-ish and cozy. This Spiced Apple Cider is no exception. 

Spiced Apple Cider

-1 Gal. Apple Cider
-1 cup brown sugar, packed
-6 oz. frozen orange juice
-2 cinnamon sticks
-3 whole cloves
-3 whole allspice

Combine all ingredients in a large pot heat on medium until just beginning to boil and than simmer for 15 minutes. Or, serving at a party? Use a large crockpot on low. 

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree...Again

Continuing with the party details...


Our amazingly huge Christmas tree!

Ok...maybe not. But it's cute!

Decorating our book shelves.

Bradley picked up some greenery from Home Depot...did you know they just throw that stuff away! You can get it for free! That made my holiday a little brighter!

Guests were greeted by my homemade wreath.

Festive snacks.

Holiday flowers. I love having live flowers in the house (That comes from my mom).

Even your water should be pretty!
But my favorite detail was the favors!


 Personalized. 

And packaged!
Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree...

Well we hosted our first and only Christmas party of the year. It is a lot of work, especially when you have a "vision." Unfortunately, I don't have many pictures because I was down to the wire getting everything done...I sent Bradley out an hour before people came to buy a punch bowl...but it was a lot of fun and I accomplished my "vision."


One of my favorite details was a Cupcake Christmas Tree.


Can you tell what this is? I think it looked better in real life...


More to come! 

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Walking in a Winter Yogurtland

I love date night. Also, you should know, I have mad ice skating skills.

Here, I was posing for the camera and I wanted to balance on one foot...you know to look cool.... because holding on to the wall and balancing on foot is super cool, in case you were wondering. This was the result. And Bradley just happened to catch it on camera.
"I have a feeling you are going to be really bad at this and I am going to be Aaa-mazing!" -Bradley as we are walking in to the ice skating rink. 
After ice skating we went to....

Wait for it....

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Have yourself a merry little cupcake...

Now that school is coming to a close for the holiday seasons there are a lot of things I want to do. First on my list is painting my nails red. My manis and pedis need some tender loving care and are crying to be a part of the holiday festivities. Second, I need to buy a holiday scented candle (As you can see this is a very pressing list). Third, I need to replenish my candy cane stash as I used all mine to create my Christmas Cupcakes decorations.
I love peppermint. I even have Limited Edition Peppermint Scented body wash. Too much information? I love my "limited editions" too. I can't resist a Limited Edition. 
Oh the chocolaty decadence! The cupcake is this recipe and the frosting is this recipe



Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

I think I'll move to France...

I think I will drop out of school, sell everything I have and move to France, where I will carry a French baguette in my purse, eat chocolate like it's my job, and pitch a tent at the top of the Eiffel Tower. I will wear totally awesome boots every day of my life and to fit in I won't shave. Definitely beats studying 13 hours a day...can you tell I've reached my limit?
Thankfully, I have a study buddy!

And this cutie (who is also a study buddy, but way better at staying concentrated for long periods of time. Like right now, he is studying away, I'm writing this post...) who takes me to get the Limited Edition Peppermint Chocolate Chip Milkshake from Chik-fil-a (love love love makes me super happy). Definitely a highlight of the Christmas Season!

Also, it is freezing here! What happened to Christmas in shorts?

But, thankfully, I have this fur ball to keep my feet warm...and those lovely slipper socks. (By the way, I am wearing jeggings....can I please tell you that I LOVE them. The comfort of leggings the style of skinny jeans. The end.)

So because I have no life/time right now, and because it's, "31 degrees at the most famous beach in the world" (said the country music radio station this morning), I made Tomato Basil soup.  Even though I don't usually like tomato soup I have fond memories of it. It's like the winter wonderland food of choice. It just makes me think of winter and snow and grilled cheese and panera. I really liked this recipe. You should try it.

Tomato Basil Soup
Slightly adapted All Recipes 

  • 2 (28 ounce) cans crushed tomatoes
  • 1 (14.5 ounce) can chicken broth
  • 18 fresh basil leaves, minced--  plus a couple dashes of dried basil, to taste
  • 1 heaping teaspoon sugar
  • 1 cup whipping cream (I used 1/2 cream and 1/2 skim milk)
  • 4 T butter
 In a large saucepan, bring the tomatoes and broth to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Add basil and sugar. Reduce heat to low; stir in cream and butter. Cook until butter is melted.



I'm going to bed. Oops, I mean I'm going to study...

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Random picture of my pup and some soup

To say this week has been overwhelming is an understatement...but the good news is finals and papers and school will be finished by FRIDAY!!  So just five loooong days of studying and writing and pulling information out of my bu....books. I cannot believe how fast this semester has gone by! I want to reminisce like every 4 hours but...I'll save it for the day (Friday! remember?) I'm actually finished with classes and can begin the holiday festivities in full free spirit! Maybe I'll be able to read those books I bought right before I started school...which was not a smart move.


I'm sorry...he's the most adorable thing!

Anyway, because it's been soo crazy around here I've been on the hunt for fast, easy, easy recipes. And I'm here to tell you I've found the ultimate one! Well, actually a friend gave it to me, her and her husband have eaten it for 6 meals this week (by choice)! Wow, if that doesn't sell you on it there is nothing that will. That sold me.


Broccoli Cheddar Soup

-2 (14.5 oz) cans of Chicken Broth
-2 cups milk
-4 tablespoons corn starch
-1 big bag of frozen broccoli (16 oz)
-8 oz of cheddar cheese, cubed

1. Bring broth to boil.
2. Add frozen broccoli and bring back to boil. Reduce to low, cover and simmer for 5 minutes.
3. In a separate bowl (or large measuring cup) add milk (I used 11/2 cup skim milk and 1/2 cup cream) and corn starch, mix until corn starch is dissolved.
4. Add milk to broth, stir and bring to a boil for one minute.
5. Add cheese, stir until melted and combined
6. Serve and be amazed!
7. Discuss how you will never eat at Panera again even though they have those awesome new perk cards (not sure what to call them) and you keep getting free food!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

My puppy is fat.

My puppy is fat. Calvin has gained 2 lbs seemingly overnight! He has a rolly polly belly (which is kinda cute and makes him get stuck on his back). I'm not sure what to do because he is at the 5 lb mark and he is only suppose to be 6 lbs full grown...I think he must be above average (said in a slightly positive but questioning tone). I think putting a puppy on a diet is inhumane (do you think?) ...And, no, I'm not feeding him cupcakes. Chocolate, I've heard, is like crack for puppies. Chocolate is also like crack for me too( but that's besides the point).

You may think this picture is sweet...but Calvin is running AWAY from me. He was not a fan of the beach. Look at that little pout! But at least he's active. That's one way to beat the bulge.

Speaking of bulge...It's time to start baking Christmastime treats! Mmmm!

I tried a new type of cookie...and it was good!

Chocolate Chile Cookies.

Sounds crazy I know. But I'm crazy. And you're not normal. Just Sayin'. Who gets to come up with normal? Not you. It's more fun to be crazy. Not crazy like lock me up crazy...just crazy enough not to be dull. Following? Good.

Okay.

Chocolate Chile Cookies 
From Martha Stewart

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

2 teaspoons cream of tartar

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon coarse salt

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature

1 1/2 cups sugar

2 large eggs




Sugar-spice mixture
2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon chile powder, (or cayenne pepper, which I want to try next time)

1/4 cup sugar



Preheat oven to 400 degrees, with racks in upper and lower thirds. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat butter and 1 1/2 cups sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Scrape down side of bowl. Add eggs and beat to combine. In a medium bowl, sift together flour, cocoa powder, cream of tartar, baking soda, and salt. With mixer on low, gradually add flour mixture and beat until combined.

In a small bowl, combine remaining 1/4 cup sugar, cinnamon, and chile powder (I used mexican hot chili powder). Using heaping tablespoons, form balls of dough and roll in cinnamon-sugar mixture. Place, about 3 inches apart, on greased baking sheets. Bake until cookies are set in center and begin to crack, about 10 minutes. Let cookies cool on sheets on wire racks 5 minutes, then transfer cookies to racks to cool completely. (Store in an airtight container, up to 1 week.)

*disclaimer: the chile isn't strong, you actually can't taste it.  It just gives it a warm spiced taste.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Good news or bad news?

Do you want the good news first or the bad news first?

Don't you hate that question? It just makes me mad! Tell me both at the same time for goodness sake!

But since you can't choose which you want to hear first, I'll tell you in the order I want.

The bad news...This weekend was awful. I went to the ER, Calvin was scary sick, Muscle relaxers knocked me out for all of Sunday, and my computer crashed...with a paper due on Tuesday on it....and a group assignment.

The good news? The trip to the ER was probably unnecessary I just freaked myself (and Bradley...and my parents) out, Calvin is still alive and has more energy than ever, I'm not on muscle relaxers right now, and we have a friend that works for Apple...and he is a miracle worker. Oh, and we set up our Christmas tree.

More good news...we are still wearing shorts down here!


Merry Christmas from Florida!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The A-Z's of Gratitude

Happy Thanksgiving! What are you thankful for? My mom gave everyone a worksheet from The Gratitude Challenge to write down what you are thankful for A-Z. Take sometime and do this!

Apple Products (mac computers, ipod, etc)
Bradley
Calvin
Desserts
Exercise
Family and Friends
Grace
Home
Internet
Job
Kindness
Learning
Music
New Adventures
Oriental Food-especially the Great Wall of Chocolate from PF Changs
Preferred Care at Home
Quiet Times
Reading
School-the opportunity to go
Time together with my family
Universe-the beach, mountains, nature, stars, sky
Volvo (my car)
Writing
Xtra-I have so much, I'm so blessed
Yummy Food
Zillions more... :)

Perhaps the last one was cheating a little...

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Apple Spice Cake

There is not much going on in my life right now besides taking care of a little 3 pound furball. But, I did manage to make a Apple Spice Cake. I love baking with all these fall flavors!


It was great! Not too sweet so you could eat it for breakfast too. Next time I make it I'm going to make it as a sheet cake or layer cake and top it with cream cheese frosting. yum.yum.yum. Do it.

Apple Spice Cake

2 tablespoons butter, salted or unsalted
4 tart, firm medium-size baking apples, peeled, cored and cut into 3/4-inch cubes
2 tablespoons sugar

12 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 3/4 cups sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup buttermilk or plain yogurt (I used buttermilk)

1. Melt the 2 tablespoons of butter in a large skillet and sauté the apples over medium-high heat until the turn golden brown, stirring them as little as possible as they cook.

2. Once cooked through, add the 2 tablespoons of sugar and cook until the apples cubes are nicely glazed and no liquid remains. Transfer apples to a plate and cool to room temperature.

3. Preheat the oven to 350F and butter and flour a 12-cup bundt pan, tapping out any excess flour.

4. Beat the 12 tablespoons of butter with the sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, then the vanilla, scrape the batter down on the sides, as necessary.

5. In a medium bowl, sift together the remaining flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves.

6. Stir half of the dry ingredients into the creamed butter mixture, then mix in the buttermilk or yogurt. Then stir in the remaining dry ingredients until just almost mixed in completely, but do not overmix.

8. Fold in the cooked apples. Scrape the batter into the prepare bundt pan and bake for 45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.

9. Let the cake cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn the cake out onto a cooling rack. Once cool, drizzle with sugar glaze (1 1/2 powdered sugar with a few teaspoons of water mixed well).

Monday, November 22, 2010

Sleepy


Calvin likes to sleep.
He is zonked out here riding in the car. 
Passed out on the floor. 

but...he seems to get a little energy when it's time for bed. 


So Bradley "sound proofed" the breakfast nook (he can breath don't worry, the pillows aren't touching the crate). We slept 7 hours.
Someone's hungry! 


Look at that wittle face!