It’s Almost Christmas!!!

To start this post today, I’d like to say a very Happy Birthday to my cousin Sam!

Sam's 21st Birthday... 22 will be much calmer.

I can’t believe how fast this year flew by.  It’s crazy to me that Christmas is a mere 2 days away.  Am I ready?  YES YES YES!

Our Christmas Tree... It takes up the better half of the living room.

First, I want to give a special shout-out and thank you to to for featuring my Cranberry & Walnut Biscotti recipe the other day.  Because of you, I reached a record number of page views for one day at Chocolate & Wine!  What a great early Christmas present for my little corner of the Internet.

You should really make these for Christmas..

Lots of people ask me what I cook this time of year for Christmas and the various holiday parties I go to.  To be honest, the list is endless.  I try not to bring the same thing to the same place so it’s always a never-ending search for new recipes to try.

This year, I narrowed it down to a few winners.

For my best friend’s ugly sweater party, I made kale chips.  The recipe could not be simpler.  Take a bunch of fresh kale and wash thoroughly (they can be gritty so really let ’em soak).  Then rip the leaves away from the stems and place on a baking sheet coated with non-stick spray.  Top with more cooking spray (instead of oil to save some cals!), a little salt and a little black pepper and pop into a 400 degree oven for 10 minutes.  They become crisp and golden and melt in your mouth.  A really great snack or appetizer for hungry girls watching their waistlines!

Check out those sweaters. We don't play around.

For a Christmas Eve appetizer, I pinterest-ed a recipe (did I mention I’m on Pinterest now?  And obsessed with Pinterest?  Well, I am.) And I found mini toothpick caprese salads.  So easy, so healthy, so beautiful!  I’m even going to make a balsamic glaze to drizzle over the top.

Christmas Day is my favorite.  Because I come from a large Italian family, we do things in a traditional way.  And by tradition, I mean we eat and drink for approximately 6-8 hours and pass out in food comas at the end of the night.

Food Coma 101... Christmas 2007!

Christmas is a time for family and the Torto family’s ancient recipe for homemade raviolis.  These are no joke, my friends.  We already made them (in November) and they are sitting in plastic baggies in my aunt’s basement freezer waiting for their bath in from-scratch, simmered-for-hours tomato sauce.

Christmas day is served in multiple courses.  Antipasti, then escarole soup, then the ravs with meatballs, sausages and pork, then salad, then dessert.  Not to mention the finger foods we munch on before sitting down to the table or the bottles and bottles of Asti Spumonti and 2-Buck-Chuck red wine we go through.

This is Asti and it will be gone.

And that’s only with my family.  I mentioned that Stephen is Italian too, didn’t I?  That’s a whole ‘nother story (and food coma..)

I hope your holiday is filled with family, friends, and great food.  And maybe a surprise or two!

Beautiful pillows of ravioli perfection. Photo courtesy of Miss Ali Reed.


It’s officially the middle of November.. when the hell did that happen?

I only have 3 full weeks left in my first semester of grad school.  That is an amazing sentence.  I could do a cartwheel with that sentence.

The beginning of November included lots of filming, lots of editing, some friend-filled parties, more editing, a trip up the the Tonry Tree Farm in New Hampshire, applying for the London Summer program at BU, dancing, running, and some freaking out.  There is always a little bit of freaking out.  Here’s the first half of my month picture-style:

My best friends from undergrad and I have pulled Secret Santa names and determined a theme (let’s just say it centers around sports).  This is going to be an interesting gift swap!  I already bought my gift and it’s AWESOME.

Best Friends at Toby Keith's I Love This Bar & Grille

This is RD Sahl.  You may know him.  He was an anchor on NECN forever.  He’s now one of my teachers. 

We're his favorites.

This is what we call a Live Shot.  It took a few tries but we got there.

I want to be on TV when I grow up.

And when my DanceWorks friends get together, well, wine and dancing are always the most populat combination.

Is that white wine in my glass? All the red must've been gone.

And we learn dances sometimes.

Check out that pose.

And this is Fred.

He’s a great snuggle buddy.

That’s been my month up til now.  Running has been more of a priority this month and dance has been the top priority in my workout world.  The DanceWorks Boston show is less than a month away (only 2 rehearsals left!) and I’m so excited. 

So what’s coming up?

This weekend:

I’ll be driving up to Hampton Falls, NH again this weekend but this time, it’s to film for my final project for my Visual Media class.  The Tonry Tree Farm (where we get our tree) has agreed to let me capture their beautiful farm and their history on camera.  I think it’s going to be the perfect Christmas ending to my semester.

Family dinner to follow that night… my parents, Stephen’s parents.  They’re best friends, it’s all very cute.  I’ll be going to bed on the early side because I have my fourth 5K race, the Lynnfield Turkey Trot, on Sunday morning.  I’m gunning for that PR and my goal is to run it around 32:00 but anything under 32:30 works for me!

Next week is a 3 day week school/work week!  2 days of class + 1 day of work + 1 amazing holiday + Black Friday = Happy Marie.

Next Thursday is obviously Thanksgiving and I will be creating some healthier versions of my favorite holiday foods.  Example: Hungry Girl’s stuffing with apples and cranberries.  I’ll also be sticking to lots of veggies and some white meat turkey.  And probably a small slice of Boyfriend’s apple pie because it’s just that good.

Black Friday is not a typical shopping day for my family.  I don’t enjoy the 5am rush to the mall.  I don’t enjoy being pushed and shoved for “on sale” items that are still over-priced.  I do enjoy listening to Christmas music and driving an hour to New Hampshire.  We spend the day shopping for something very special: our Christmas Tree!  Together, Stephen’s family and my family go up to the Tonry Tree Farm, find our (very large) trees, make Stephen cut them down, strap them to the hoods of our cars, make a pitstop at Market Basket for some tax-free beverages and then head home to put the trees up  and decorate all. night. long.

Well, I’m certainly not going to do that…

Next Saturday means homemade raviolis and my 5-year high school reunion.  Strange.  5 years.. seriously?  I’m kind of excited though.  I get to see people I haven’t seen in a really long time and I think it’ll be fun.  And Sunday is my friend Sandy’s 24th birthday which we will be celebrating the following Tuesday night.  The rest of the month leaves a couple of paper deadlines, lots of filming and editing and getting ready for the end of the semester/my dance show/Christmas!!

I wanna know… what are you looking forward to most this month?  What is your favorite thing to eat on Thanksgiving?  Is it too early for you to listen to Christmas music?  (I don’t think it is….)

Happy Things

It’s Friday… the best day of the week!  Many happy things going on lately.

Grad school starts in 3 weeks.  I’m excited and nervous.  I won’t be all alone; one of the guys who went to my high school also got into my program, so at least I’ll have one friend.  Nevertheless, the nerves are definitely there.

DanceWorks Boston is back in action.  I’m in 5 routines and could not be happier that I get to dance 3 nights a week.  It keeps me sane, the show is going to be out of this world and I’ve met some great friends through it.  And my piece is going to be unreal, just saying.

I ran 3.1 miles yesterday at a 9:50 pace.   My first 5K pace was around 10:50 min/mile, so I was thrilled to get through the same distance today, 3 months later, a whole minute per mile faster.  I felt great doing it and I was super sweaty at the end.  Win.

I have 2 more 5Ks and my first 10K coming up.  Chelmsford, Salem and finally, the Tufts Women 10K in Boston.  Obviously I still have more training to do for the 10K, but I think I’ll be able to pull it off.  P.S. If you’d like to be my running buddy for any of these, please let me know!

I plan on running a half marathon before next spring.  Yes, you heard me correctly – a half marathon.  13.1 miles.  I considered the Cape Cod Half at the end of October but at the moment, it’s not in the cards.  I have some awesome training plans and lots of support thanks to my runner friends.  A half is definitely happening within the next year.  I currently have my eye on the 2012 Great Bay Half Marathon in Newmarket, NH.  We’ll see.

I made a kickass dinner last night.  Chicken breasts stuffed with a spinach, low fat ricotta cheese and pancetta mixture, spiced corn-on-the-cob and broccoli.  Anything with spinach and cheese just calls my name.

Colorful = Healthy

I’ve lost 10 pounds.  Thanks Weight Watchers, you really work!

I want to know… what’s happy in your life?

Pizza and Fries: Guilty Pleasures Re-Made

As a kid, I always loved pizza and french fries.  That’s probably explanation why I was a chubba growing up.  French fries were side dish staple to any kid’s meal, my favorite being McDonald’s.  As for pizza, well, let’s just say that even my 14-year old self could put away a couple of decent sized slices.

Nowadays, I no longer eat fast food and pizza is a fleeting indulgence, eaten sparingly and in small amounts.  So how do I satisfy even the worst junk food cravings?   I make my own.

I spend a lot of my time scouring the Hungry Girl website and cookbooks for healthy ways to make over my favorite foods.  She has a zillion pizza recipes and a few takes on fries as well, all without the guilt (and tighter pants) that come from the originals.  Last week, when boyfriend and I wanted pizza and fries but I didn’t want take out, I pulled out HG’s book and went to work.

Butternut squash fries are by far one of my most favorite recipes ever.  It’s not really a recipe, even, just a few simple ingredients and your oven set at a high temp.  Butternut squash has a similar starchy quality to potatoes without being loaded with calories.  I like to buy b-nut squash halves that are already peeled and de-seeded because it’s easier, but if you want to have a knife fight with a whole one, I wish you the best of luck.

Now, onto the pizza… Portobello mushrooms have always been high on my list of favorite foods but is something I don’t eat all that often.  I have no explanation for this.  Nevertheless, they are the “crust”, if you will, to my pizza and along with a few other things, I think the meaty texture and taste of the ‘shroom makes it even better than its traditional counterparts.  Try it if you don’t believe me.  Oh, and these babies are so low in fat and calories, that Stephen and I ate 2 each.  You can’t beat that.

Butternut Squash Fries
From Hungry Girl

1/2 large butternut squash, peeled and de-seeded

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.  Carefully cut your squash into fry shapes (you could also use a crinkle cutter like this one…) and sprinkle with salt. 

Lay slice on a paper towel and let some of the moisture release out of it, about 5 minutes.  Then, blot the fry shapes with dry paper towel to make sure all of the extra moisture is out (this will help them crisp in the oven.)

Lay on a baking sheet sprayed with non-stick spray.  Bake in preheated oven for 40 minutes, flipping halfway through until squash is cooked through.  Sometimes, to get them extra crispy, I turn the broil onto high and let them roast an extra 4-5 minutes (Watch them carefully so they don’t burn!)

Serve with ketchup or any other favorite condiment!

Portobello Mushroom Pizzas
Adapted from Hungry Girl

4 large portobello mushrooms caps
1/2 cup crushed tomatoes (with basil if you can find it)
1/2 tsp chopped garlic
1/4 tsp onion powder
4 light string cheese
Turkey pepperoni (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Remove mushroom stems, chop and set aside. Place mushroom caps on baking sheet sprayed with nonstick spray, round side down. Bake 8 minutes or until softened.

Meanwhile, tear each string cheese into shreds and roughly chop. Set aside.

Remove sheet from oven but leave the oven on. Blot excess liquid (there will be quite a bit) from caps and set aside.

In a small bowl, mix crushed tomatoes, garlic and onion powder. Equally distribute between mushroom caps and spread until smooth & even. Sprinkle shredded cheese over the sauce layer followed by mushroom cap pieces and turkey peps if desired.

Bake for 10-12 minutes until cheese is melted.

Risotto & Red Velvet

This past Sunday was the football playoffs between the Packers & the Bears and the Steelers vs. the Jets.  I love football, despite the fact that my team, the Patriots, made a poor showing against the Jets last week.  I’m still getting over it.  Nevertheless, I decided that in honor of these games (and the Steelers KILLING the Jets) I would make 2 new things.  The first, risotto; the second, Hungry Girl Red Velvet Cupcakes with my own buttercream frosting.

I found the risotto recipe from Food Network courtesy of Giada but I, of course tweaked it alittle bit.  Instead of regular butter, I used my favorite substitute Brummel & Brown which is a type of margarine made with all-natural yogurt.  I swear, it tastes just like the real thing and has a mere 50 calories and 5 grams of fat per serving.  A whole lot less than regular butter.

It took longer than I expected.  I browned a shallot in the butter, coated and toasted the rice, simmered in some wine and then slowly added the 2.5 cups of stock/water the recipe called for.  I think I ended up using an extra 2 cups of hot water because after the 2.5 original cups were gone, the risotto had thickened but the grains were still uncooked.  No problems though; just add more water and keep stirring like its your job and eventually, creamy risotto will be your result.

Stage one: Simmer in white wine (I used chardonnay, but feel free to use whatever white wine you have on hand.) This will take between 5-6 minutes.

Stage 2: Continue to add broth/water to rice (about 1/2 cup at a time), stirring constantly until each addition has completely evaporated.  It should continue to thicken and the rice will puff and become tender but still firm.  Depending on how much rice you are cooking will determine the time it takes for the liquid to completely evaporate.  Taste testing is always the best way to tell.  When I ran out of my original chicken stock/water mixture, I simply added water 1/2 cup at a time and continuted to stir until the rice was done.  I found it to be quite soothing.

Stage 3: Remove from heat and stir in a couple tablespoons of mascarpone cheese, a little extra butter (1 pad should be plenty) and some parmesan cheese. Pile into a bowl and eat!

It really was fabulous.  My family ate all of it in one sitting – even my mother who insisted that she DOES NOT LIKE risotto.  Well, I showed her what’s what.  She had 2 helpings and has already asked me to make it again.

Lemon Risotto

2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 tablespoons butter, plus 1 tablespoon
1 large shallot, diced
1 cup Arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan, plus 2 tablespoons
2 tablespoons mascarpone cheese
1/2 a lemon, zested amd juiced
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

In a medium saucepan bring the broth and 1/2 cup water to a simmer. Cover the broth and keep hot over low heat.

In a medium, heavy saucepan, melt tablespoons of the butter over medium heat. Add the shallot and saute until tender but not brown, about 3 minutes.

Add the rice and stir to coat with the butter. Add the wine and simmer until the wine has almost completely evaporated, about 3 minutes.

Add 1/2 cup of the simmering broth and stir until almost completely absorbed, about 2 minutes. Continue cooking the rice, adding the broth 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly and allowing each addition of the broth to absorb before adding the next, until the rice is tender but still firm to the bite and the mixture is creamy, about 20 minutes.

Remove from the heat. Stir in the remaining tablespoon of butter, 2 tablespoons of Parmesan, mascarpone cheese, the lemon zest and juice, and the salt and pepper.

For dessert – red velvet cupcakes and buttercream frosting.  My cousin Ali gave me this amazing mechanical piping set for Christmas.  You pick whichever tip you want to use (there are 10!) and spin on the part that holds the tip to the barrel.  You then fill the barrel with frosting, put the cap on and push the cap for the icing to come out. It’s from William Sonoma and I LOVE it. 

I made Hungry Girl cupcakes because I figured I’d go with a lighter cake for a rich frosting.  Using reduced-sugar cake mixes, fat free hot cocoa, a few mini chocolate chips and some egg beaters, you’d be surprised how moist, fluffy and decadent these cupcakes are, even though they are better for you.

Enter: The Buttercream.  However, I again used Brummel and Brown to significantly reduce the fat and calories from the frosting.  Of course, I used real powdered sugar and a touch of vanilla extract but I always go a little easy on the sugar – I hate when frosting, especially buttercream, is too sweet.  My method is to cream the butter (leave it out beforehand to soften), then gradually add powdered sugar until it tastes right to you.  Right before you add what you think will be the last of your powdered sugar, add a teaspoon of vanilla and blend it in.  You can’t go wrong with that.

Once the cupcakes were cooled, I was free to try out my piping technique.  If I do say so myself, not too shabby – but I’ll keep working on it!

Hungry Girl Red Velvet Insanity Cupcakes

1 cup reduced-sugar chocolate cake mix
1 cup reduced-sugar vanilla cake mix
2 fat-free hot cocoa mix packets
1/2 cup fat-free egg substitute (I like Egg Beaters)
1/4 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips
Red food coloring
1 tsp Splenda (or your favorite no-calorie sweetener)
1/8 tsp salt

Place 2 TB of chocolate chips and contents from both hot cocoa packets in a tall glass.  Add 12 ounces of boiling water and stir until chips and cocoa have dissolved completely.  Place glass in freezer until cold (about 30 minutes.) 

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Once the cocoa mixture has chilled, give it a stir and pour into a large bowl.  Add cake mixes, Splenda, salt, egg substitute, remaining chocolate chips and red food coloring (until desired color is reached.)  Whisk until smooth and blended.  (Batter will be thin – this is okay.  The cupcakes will puff up while baking.) 

Line a 12-cup muffin tin with cupcake liners and spray with non-stick cooking spray.  Evenly distribute batter amoung cups and bake 15-20 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.  The cupcakes will look shiny.  Let cool before frosting.

Slow start, good food

After a few reluctant days, I have dedicated myself to my Weight Watchers program and some of it’s recipes.  Last night, I tried two: mashed sweet potatoes and mini chocolate cheesecakes to go with my Hungry Girl “Tried & True” Inside-Out Cheeseburgers.

The verdict? Delish (for the most part).  The sweet potatoes used fat-free plain Greek yogurt to make them thick and protein-enriched.  The best part was that you couldn’t taste the somewhat-bitter tang of the yogurt; it was more of a thickener than anything else.  Both of my parents liked them too and my dad even guessed the secret ingredient.

The mini chocolate cheesecakes, though not as successful, were still pretty good.  Since it called for two packets of unflavored gelatin, the promised “cheesecakes” came out more like jiggly pudding molds.  Nevertheless, with the addition of a chocolate wafer, one (about the size of a muffin cup) definitely satisfied my sweet tooth for the night, which I was more than pleased about.

Tonight, I will be trying WW focaccia bread!  At 2 points a serving for bread, it just can’t be beat – especially in my book.  I could eat bread all day, everyday if it wouldn’t make me look like a loaf.  The recipe surprisingly uses no oil, a common key ingredient in focaccia, so I suppose we’ll see how this little experiment goes. 

Oh, and I have not abandoned my appetizer project; it’s just on hold for the moment.  I have to spread out my culinary genius after all.

Until dinner…!