What I’m Loving

It’s that time of year when my mom starts asking me what I want for Christmas. Is it really the middle of November already? Can we slow down for a minute here?

I’ve been living in Christmas-land at work for almost a month now, planning activities for my company’s social networks, trying not to lose my mind while I look ahead to Valentine’s Day and Easter.

Yes, I am fully aware that it’s November.

With Thanksgiving rapidly approaching and Christmas on it’s heels, here are some things that I’m loving right now. These are either going on my Christmas list this year or I’m purchasing it or making it for someone else. Either way, there’s lots of giving all around!

Google Chromecast. Have you all heard of these things? You plug it into your TV (at least I think that’s how it works) and you can control your Netflix and Hulu from your phone, turning your smartphone into a remote! Too cool. Definitely consider this as a gift for the tech-savvy nerd in your life.

This North Face. This jacket is on my sister’s Christmas list and every time I look at it, I consider putting it on my own. I’m really loving the Miami Orange.

These chalkboard printables. Little Baby Garvin is just a super cute blog all around. I’m not a mommy, nor will I be for a very long time, but her decorating ideas and entertainment tips are very much me. I have her Halloween “Make Believe” image framed right now and I can’t wait to get home and switch it out for the “Eat, Drink, and Be Thankful” print tonight.

Groupon. Everything and anything. Massages? Boot camp classes? Weekend getaways? Just sign me up for everything.

This crock pot chicken soup recipe. I could eat this everyday. There may or may not be some leftovers in my fridge right now. The fact that I the nutritional stats are so low makes it that much better. Insert happy, non-bloated cartwheels.

iPad mini. This thing is just awesome. Its portable and super light-weight. Easy to type on. It’s not the most inexpensive gift, but great for a splurge or a personal wish list even if people tell you to “keep dreaming.”

The following pumpkin pie recipe. Passed along to me by a family friend (thanks Marie!), this is the best homemade pie I’ve ever eaten/made. It’s super creamy and practically melts in your mouth. I changed it ever so slightly from the original recipe based on spices I had on hand. (Warning: Not low fat. Not even close.)

My New Go-To Pumpkin Pie
Makes (2) 9-inch pies.

2 unbaked 9-inch pie shells (I used this brand with amazing results.)
1.5 cups packed brown sugar
2 TB. Flour
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
2 scant tsp. ground cinnamon
2 cups pumpkin puree
3 cups half & half
4 eggs, well beaten

Combine brown sugar, flour, salt and spices in a mixing bowl. Mix in pumpkin, half and half and eggs. Pour into pie shells. Bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes, then lower oven to 325 and bake until the middles of the pies are no longer jiggly (anywhere between 35 minutes to an hour.) Let cool completely before serving.

Thanksgiving is coming up. Make this pie. Everyone will love you.

And finally… This little girl.

<3 <3 <3

Meet our new cat, Sophie! She’s a 3-year old tiger-striped tabby and we adopted her from the MSPCA in Methuen. She is cuddly and wonderful and my heart melts when she meows.  I don’t necessarily recommend giving a cat to someone for Christmas, but she’s too cute not to include in my love post.

What’s on your pre-holiday wish list this year? 

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 Boston.com 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.

Weekend Recap & My First Race Week!

As you can see from my previous post, I have lots of RUNNING related things going on this week.  But I don’t want to miss out on recapping my wonderful weekend because it was jam-packed and full of fun.  Makes me wish every day was the weekend.

On Friday night, my friend/co-worker/Work Mama, Tracie, invited me to a wine tasting at a friend’s house.  We drank copious amounts of wine, ate lots of crudites, hummus and oreo truffles (made by me, which everyone loved!) and I met lots of wonderful people.  I took an extensive amount of notes during the tasting, per the English major in me, and learned quite a bit.

The party host, Dawn, from The Traveling Vineyard brought 5 wines for each of us to sample: 2 whites, 2 reds and 1 dessert.  She encouraged us to grab different finger foods to try with each.  The wines included Sauvignion Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignion.  Dawn told us that the proper way to try a wine is to use four categories: color, aroma, taste and legs.  Yes, legs.  The more “legs” a glass of wine has, the more alcoholic it is.  For example, if you swirl a glass of Sauvignion Blanc, the drip lines down the glass will be few, if any, and very thin.  But if you swirl a Cabernet and glance at the legs, they will run thick and numerous.  This is because the alcohol content is much higher in red wines than whites.  It was a great educational experience as well as an excuse to drink lots of wine.  Win-win.  Thanks Tracie!

Saturday was my dad’s 59th birthday.  (Happy Birthday Daddy!)  He took the day off from work to…work.  Around the house.  He likes that sort of thing.  Boyfriend and I went out for a walk along my 5K route in Marblehead around 1 but after a mere mile, it started pouring.  HARD.  We quickly abandoned the walk and headed to the mall to buy gifts for Mother’s Day where we waited in the obnoxious Pandora line for an hour.  Good thing he’s funny.  I would’ve been so bored alone.

On the way home, we picked up additional Mother’s Day gifts (a bottle of Midori for his mom from me and a bottle of red wine to my mom from him), a new bottle of Merlot for us, bought dinner ingredients at Hannaford’s and by the time we got back to his house, we had gotten it into our heads to make homemade wheat bread (a 3-hour process), turkey chili and profiteroles for dessert.  Perfect for a Saturday night at home.

Let me just say – the worst part about breadmaking is the WAIT.  We used this awesome recipe from a blog I found called Hot Mess Cooking.  It is a lengthy process so I’ll let you jump over there for it’s entirety.  The yeast expanded, the dough rose, we punched it, it rose again but it just takes patience…which we all know I don’t have so I proceeded to throw flour around the kitchen and boss Stephen around to pass the time.  He always loves when I do that.

Here’s what the bread looked like. It was so good.

The chili recipe, adapted from Weight Watchers, is easy and requires 1 (maybe 2) pots/pans for the entire cooking time.  We like to throw in a few extra things (mushrooms, turkey kielbasa, a jalapeno, red pepper flakes and hot sauce) but a little heat never hurts.  Just make sure to chaperone the pot if your significant other is heavy-handed with the Sriracha sauce.  That stuff hurts.

Dessert was a classic from 17th century France: profiteroles.  Simply put, these are hollow pastry puffs, light and airy that are split apart making the perfect canvas for ice cream, whipped cream, pastry cream, etc.  We made ours from a basic combination of flour, nutmeg, eggs, butter and water,placed a small scoop of vanilla bean ice cream in the middle and then doused the tops in semi-sweet chocolate.  It was hard not to eat all of them.  Warm and dainty, but so light you don’t feel (as) guilty about that extra scoop of ice cream on the side or eating the chocolate sauce out of the bowl.  All-in-all, a good Saturday.

Sunday = Mother’s Day and I got to spend it with the fam at my sister’s college.  After a mid-day dinner at Bertucci’s (I got the special salad: arugala, orange, roasted red peppers, grilled chix with a lemon dressing and balsamic glaze) and a Mocha Light Frappuccino from Starbucks (happy hour, dur), we headed home.

I sat around for 10 minutes and decided to head to the gym.  I figured I’d do a short run (20 minutes or so) and get some strength training in.  I settled myself onto the treadmill with a new playlist and told myself I would run to the end of it.  At the end of it, I replayed a 5:22 song Kanye’s “The New Workout Plan” and decided to finish that.  At that point, I took my sweater down from the tread to see my time and I was at 3.01.  Since I started the run at .33 after a 5-minute walk, I decided to push the end of the 3 miles.  I clocked it at about 32:20 and marked the completion of my Couch to 5K training.  I was so happy, I thought I was going to cry.  I walked to cool down, did some strength and some abs, drained 2 water bottles and left feeling accomplished (and very very sweaty.)

Looking ahead to this week…

So it’s my first race week ever, but since this is no 26.6 mile race, I don’t feel that “tapering” really applies to me yet.  Here’s what I’ve got planned for the week workout-wise…

Monday: Cross trainer, arms, Dance 7-8
Today: Run the 5K route, abs, sides, arms
Wednesday: Cross trainer, thighs, sides, abs, Dance 7-9
Thursday: Run the 5K route, abs, sides, arms, Dance 7-8
Friday: REST!
Saturday: Well.. duh.

My Not-So-Lazy Weekend

This past weekend, I decided to forgo sleeping in until 2pm and managed to pull myself out of bed early enough to have a productive two days.

On Saturday morning, after an quick and easy breakfast of a banana and my favorite yogurt (Light & Fit 80-calorie Vanilla!), I watched the tube for a bit before completing a Jillian Michael’s workout DVD and taking a quick jog around the neighorhood.  Sweaty and pumped up, I showered and decided to grab a coffee and visit my Grammy.

During my visit, my Aunt Deb reminded me of the KitchenAid Stand Mixer (the one that was my Grammy’s that she was giving to me) and I noticed it sitting on the kitchen table.  I had completely forgotten about it (seriously, how could I?)  I dragged it home (it’s a heavy sucker) and immediately began figuring out ways to use it right then and there when an opportunity presented itself.. more about that in a bit.

My boyfriend, Stephen, and I had made plans for Saturday night to cook dinner together at his house and spend the night drinking wine and watching movies.  When our parents caught wind of this, they decided to join in the fun (and gave me an excuse to make chocolate cupcakes with buttercream frosting in my new mixing toy.)  Let me preface – my parents and Stephen’s parents get along well, really really well.  Like they’re best friends.  I don’t hate it.

When Stephen mentioned to me that his mom had a Weight Watcher’s recipe for Turkey Chili, I knew it was going to be a good dinner.  Unfortunately, he and I planned on (and executed) a double batch of the stuff before realizing that our parents ordered pizza instead.  Minor blunder.  The chili, which we added extra veggies to on top of what the recipe called for, was hearty, warming and simply delicious.  I made Hungry Girl Cornbread Muffins to go with it.

Oh and the cupcakes?  Hungry Girl’s recipe (I know, I’m on an HG kick.  I love her, what can I say?) for simple chocolate-y cupcakes and my own simple buttercream.  I dusted some green sugar sprinkles over the top.  For some reason, maybe the use of the mixer or maybe I just didn’t add enough powdered sugar this time, but my frosting was, well… very thin, this time around.  Still delicious and very shiny but not the thick buttercream I am used to.  Oh well, they got eaten anyway.

I spent the rest of the night drinking a new red wine, Black Opal Cabernet (circa Australia 2009), which was deep and full with cherry flavor.  It defintiely wasn’t my favorite of all time but for approximately $7.99 and a night with the fam, I would drink it again.  It paired nicely with the chili anyway.

Waking up Sunday morning posed a bit more of a dilemma.  I pulled myself out of bed around 8:30, called Stephen to make sure he was awake, made him promise me that he would be ready for the gym when I picked him up in an hour and sleepily made my way downstairs. 

Since I don’t like to eat heavy before the gym, I grabbed an apple and plopped on the couch to watch Hairspray.  Before I knew it, I was changing into my gym clothes and getting my iPod ready, all the while the Couch to 5K Week 5, Day 3 lured – no, haunted – every thought in my mind.

At the gym, we met up with our two friends and I immediately hit the tread.  My friend Kimmy is using the Couch to 5K training plan too but the lucky bi-otch is in the early stages where you run 90 seconds and walk 2 minutes.  Man, I miss those days.  I began with my 5 minute walk that ended all too quickly.  With my music set and my sweatshirt covering the timer, I kicked my run into a higher gear (approximately 10:54/mile) and just ran.

20 minutes later (my quota for the day), I was sweaty, out of breath and feeling GREAT.  I even got high-fives from Kim during the last 2 minutes because I thought my lungs were going to explode.  But overall, I felt accomplished and was elated telling Stephen and Kim’s boyfriend, Matt, about my epic run.  Yes, epic.  Whatever – it was epic to me.

After parting from the other couple, I dropped Stephen off at his house and went home to shower.  I spent the rest of the afternoon in the Boston University Barnes & Noble in Boston with Kim… aka wandering around the BU section trying to decide what to buy.  I finally decided on a red t-shirt, a red sweatshirt, 3 car stickers and a shot glass.  Grand total: $80.. well played BU, well played.

At least my car looks cool.

That night, I went back to Stephen’s (I kinda like the kid…) and we watched Little Fockers with his parents and sister, Nina.  It was hysterical; go rent it.

Overall, it was quite a successful and productive weekend.  Hopefully next weekend will be too!

Oh – by the way, today is my friend/co-worker, Tracie’s 40th birthday.

Happy Birthday Work Mama!

Turkey/Veggie Chili (HUGE AMOUNT. Great for leftovers and parties)
Adapted from Weight Watchers

2 pound lean ground turkey (94% fat free works great)
2 (14.9 ounce) can black beans (not drained.. you’ll need the liquid)
3 (14.9 ounce) cans stewed tomatoes
3 (14.9 ounce) cans fat-free, low sodium beef broth
8 ounces whole button mushrooms, quartered
1 small onion, chopped
2 red bell peppers, chopped
1 jalepeno, seeds and veins removed, finely chopped
2 zucchinis, cut into bite-sized pieces
2 yellow summer squash, cut into bite-sized pieces

Brown turkey in large pot sprayed with non-stick cooking spray.

Add all vegetables and canned items and stir to combine. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. 

Lower the heat and let simmer at least 1 hour. 

Serve hot with cornbread muffins.  If desired, sprinkle parm cheese over individual servings.

Cornbread Mega-Muffins
From Hungry Girl’s 300 Under 300

1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup yellow cornmeal
1/4 cup Splenda
1/4 cup granulated sugar (optional.. I accidentally left it out and they still tasted good)
1 TB baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 small can (8 ounces) cream-style corn
3/4 cup egg substitute
3/4 fat-free plain Greek yogurt (I used Chobani)

Preheat oven to 375.

Combine flour, cornmeal, Splenda, sugar (if using), baking powder, and salt in a large bowl.  Mix well and set aside.  In a seperate medium bowl, mix corn, egg substitute, and yogurt.  Whisk thoroughly.  Add contents of medium bowl to the large one and mix until completely combined.

Generously spray 9 cups of a 12-cup muffin pan with non-stick cooking spray.  Evenly distribute batter among the cups (they will be FULL.. that’s okay!)

Bake in oven for 15-20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  Allow to cool and enjoy.

5K Update and Tasty Tomato Soup

As of today, I have officially completed 5 weeks and 1 day of the Couch to 5K program.  This afternoon, it will be 5 weeks, 2 days completed.  I have to say that even though I am totally a non-runner, I genuinely enjoy it this far.

Because of a total time fail on Wednesday I wasn’t able to get day 2 of week 5 done but I managed to get about half of it completed.  That equaled 5 minutes of walking and 8 minutes of straight running.  Now, bear with me, I don’t think I’ve ever run 8 straight minutes in my entire life.  No joke.  Laugh if you will but seriously, when have I ever been required too? (No, the 1-mile run in high school gym class does not count… I walked most of that nonsense.) 

Anyway, the 8 minutes did not kill me I am happy to announce and after another 5 minute walk I could have easily done another 8… which I will prove to myself tonight.  The kicker with this program is, I don’t understand how I am expected to run 20 minutes nonstop by the end of this week when I haven’t even done a full 10.  I trust it so I’ll do it, but no guarentees it’ll be pretty.  I’ve also decided that after my completion of week 3, I will hit the pavement and start alternating running outside with the treadmill.  I don’t want to be sucking wind during my race like I was last Sunday when I first attempted a beach jog.

So when is the big race day?  I’ve made it official.  I will be running the Marblehead Beach to Beach 5K on Saturday, May 14th at 10 am.  I’m definitely going to need a new outfit.  Suggestions?  How about a running buddy?  I’m slow so if you’re experienced, it’ll be a breeze for you…. If you’re interested, please let me know!  PS – isn’t that picture pretty?  It’s the Marblehead Causeway (part of my route) captured at dusk.

I’ve also been cutting calories in an attempt to lose some weight before my first race.  I dance and workout regularly anyway but I find that sometimes my love towards food makes me hate my waistline.  Lisa Lillien’s new cookbook that I mentioned previously is helping me tremendously.  This soup has a mere 189 calories and 2 grams of fat per serving and was delicious.  Don’t let the soy crumbles scare you – they give this dish a meaty quality. 

Zazzled-Up Zuppa
From Hungry Girl’s 300 Under 300

1 (15 ounce) can Amy’s Organic Low Sodium Chunky Tomato Bisque
1/3 cup Cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup frozen ground beef-style soy crumbles (like Morningstar Farms Breakfast Starters)
Pepper, to taste
2 tsps. reduced-fat parm-style cheese topping

1. Heat all ingredients except for the cheese topping in a non-stick saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until the soy crumbles have completely thawed.  Continue to cook until soup is hot.

2. Sprinkle cheese over the top and serve.

Quick Update

I have definitely not done enough (or any!) blogging in the past week and I hate when I do that.  I fall into a slump and even though I think about it, I just don’t do it.  I find it happens in multiple areas of my life and it’s a personal flaw I’m working on.

So some updates:

Over the weekend, I went back to New York and surprised the Shen Dance Team by being at their end-of-the-year banquet.  I even did a solo for them; they really loved it and it was a wonderful night.  The team even gave me another set of their black and silver performance poms which I’ll keep with the green and silver ones I already have.  Hopefully I’ll be heading back there to run their camp in August.

I haven’t done much cooking since I was away but last night, my mom requested my Bouef Bourginion.  It was delicious, even though I couldn’t eat the potatoes because of Lent (although I may have slipped a few by accident!)  I also made a crustless banana cream pie, which only my boyfriend had a piece of because we kinda forgot about it.  Oh well, there’s always tonight.

Couch to 5K-wise: I completed Week 4, Day 1 yesterday.  I thought I was going to die; no seriously, just crash right there on the treadmill.  For you runners out there, I’m know running 5 full minutes is absolutely nothing.  Well, I’m not quite a runner yet and those 2 5-minute intervals were pretty tough.  But I did them.  I had to reduce my speed for the second one because, in reality, I’m training for distance, not speed at this point.  The important thing is that I’m doing it and when May 14th rolls around, I hope to be at the starting line of Marblehead’s Beach to Beach 5K donning a sports fanny pack and my very own number.

In regards to grad school, I already mentioned that I was accepted into BU’s Broadcasting program.  I found out a week later that Emerson also accepted me.  Dilemma…because, honestly, I wasn’t really banking on getting into either school (my GRE scores were a little less than adequate in my opinion), now I have 2 of the best journalism programs in the country to choose from.  Well, it didn’t take long for me to make my decision.  BU was always in the back of my mind; call it a gut feeling.  My dad and grandmother both went there, its a big name school (aka BIG MONEY) and I dream of the day I have a beautiful Master’s Degree with the BU emblem on it… :sigh:

Finally, I will be doing some spring cleaning around the blog to give Chocolate & Wine a facelift.  Bear with me.. it could get ugly.

Happy Wednesday!

Oh.. and just in case you wanted that pie recipe…

Crustless Banana Cream Pie
Recipe from Hungry Girl

1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup Splenda
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
2 cups cold light vanilla soymilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1.5 tablespoons Brummel & Brown margarine spread
2.5 medium bananas, sliced into thin disks
Cool Whip Free

Combine sugar, cornstarch, Splenda and salt in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat.  Whisking constantly, slowy add the milk and bring mixture to a boil.  Continue cooking for 3-4 minutes or until the mixture thickens and resembles a custard.  Remove from heat and stir in the margarine and vanilla.  Let cool for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, slice bananas and lay about half of the banana slices in a single layer to cover the bottom of a 9-inch pie pan.  Pour half of the custard over the bananas in an even layer.  Repeat layering the rest of the bananas on top of the custard and spread the remaining custard on top.  Let sit out for 10 minutes and then place in refrigerator for at least 2 hours.

When ready to serve, spread Cool Whip Free over the top of the pie.  Garnish with extra banana slices and cocoa powder if desired.

Everybody’s Irish on St. Patrick’s Day!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day everyone!  Although I’m not Irish, I usually take part in the traditions anyway.  I mean, how can you not get into the spirit when you’re a college student and there’s green beer to be had?

Well, I’m not an undergrad anymore and to be honest, I don’t like green beer at all.  But there are things about St. Patrick’s Day that I do love.  The color green is one of them, boiled cabbage is another.  But it seems that St. Patrick’s Day isn’t just an excuse for a free-for-all drinking binge (which, I will not be taking part in but if you head to South Boston, you definitely won’t be alone) but its the perfect time to try out some great Irish-inspired recipes.  I have selected a few of my favorites from some fellow cooking blogs.  I hope you enjoy them!

Oh – and yes, I made St. Paddy’s Day treats for my dance rehearsal tonight.  Check back for my next post to see how pretty they turned out!

Hungry Girl’s Shamrock & Roll Shake

Corned Beef & Cabbage

Double Fudge Irish Cream Cookies

Traditional Irish Car Bomb 

Plaid St. Patrick’s Day Cupcakes (Video Tutorial)

And speaking of cupcakes…. Well, you’ll just have to wait and see!

My First Guest Post!!

Today is an exciting day.  Why?  Well, not only am I going to create a wonderful dinner for me and my mom tonight but it is also the day that my first GUEST POST has been published!!

Karly from Buns In My Oven is currently in the Bahamas (lucky girl; I’ll be there in just a few months!) and needed bloggers to write posts while she has been away.  Her blog, popular and sophisticated, was one of the first I stumbled upon when I became obsessed with food blogs.  I follow her daily.  When she answered my e-mail, I immediately began working on my post: Spinach Brownies & French Onion Soup. 

I must say, my post looks pretty awesome up there on her blog.  Visit Buns In My Oven today to read it!  And thanks Karly!!!

It’s snowing, I’m cold.. time for chili.

So I’ve been a horrible blogger.  No new posts since December.  Not that I haven’t been busy working 2 jobs, applying to grad school and trying to keep myself from drowning in debt… I have.  Nevertheless, I’ve been neglecting it.  But not anymore!  Oh, and good news… while I don’t have a fancy-shmancy camera that most other bloggers have, I can upload my not-so-creatively-taken iPhone pictures to my blog now! So, if you feel so inclined, flip back through some of my old posts because hopefully now, I will have some pictures to edit in!

I cooked a lot for Christmas.  I made everything from spinach appetizers to family raviolis to cupcakes and an ice cream cake for my cousins birthday..seriously.  Look at it:

 Not bad right? Yay for pictures!

And then, for about a week or so after New Years, I will a little cooked out, I won’t lie.  But I’m back in the swing of it and, proud to say, that I’ve been on a healthy eating kick for a while now (New Year’s Resolution…duh).  And whoever says healthy food is boring is WRONG.

It’s snowing here in Boston – again.  Third time in three weeks.  It’s actually getting a little ridiculous.  THERE’S NO WHERE TO PUT IT ALL!!!  And, if you didn’t know this about me before I’ll tell you now… I HATE SNOW.  This is why:

Yep, that’s my car….Nevertheless, cold weather and snow call for a few things.  First, hot cocoa with frothy milk (which I can now make thanks to my new milk foamer!)  Second, a warm, cozy fire and a fleece blanket.  Third, comfort food.  Normally, I’d be all about the mashed potatoes but since I’m being good, I’ll go for the amazing veggie chili I mentioned in a previous post.  And once I have perfected my recipe, I will post it… with a picture.  Gotta love iPhones.

Cookies & Cream Ice Cream Cake

2 quarts Cookies & Cream ice cream (or your favorite)
Homemade or tub whipped cream

Leave ice cream out on counter until soft but not melted.  Spread 1 container at a time evenly into a 9″ spring form cake pan.  Place in the freezer to firm completely (best if done for several hours or overnight.)

Remove cake from freezer to thaw slightly before serving.  Cover in a layer of whip cream (a relatively thin layer) and garnish with oreo cookies. 

To serve: Run a sharp knife under hot water between each slice.

Not your average beef stew..

Boeuf Bourguignon … one of the fanciest sounding dishes in the culinary world.  But what REALLY is boeuf bourguignon?  Let’s explore, shall we?

I had to make a special shopping trip for this one, but then again, when don’t I?  I thought finding the stewing beef was going to be difficult but the moment my eyes began scanning the refrigerated beef section, there it was: LEAN STEWING BEEF.  Perfectly labeled and already cut into 2-inch cubes.  I hardly had to do anything to it at all besides dry it off a little and season it before cooking it.  The bacon was easy enough to find and the veggies were standard enough.  Throw a few can of fat-free, low sodium beef broth into my basket and I was in and out of the grocery store in 15 minutes.  (Obviously I already had the red wine at home!)

So when I got home, I decided to start on the stew right away since the longer it cooks, the better it is – oh how true that statement is.  First, I chopped and cooked the bacon in the large pot I usually boil pasta in.  When it was nice and crispy, I removed it and browned the meat on all sides in the bacon fat.  Now, usually, I HATE TO DO THIS AND THINK ITS GROSS.  Nevertheless, I stuck to the recipe and did as I was instructed.

Next, I let the onions and the garlic sweat together before simmering almost an entire bottle of red wine for 10 minutes to reduce the alcohol.  Add two and a half cans of beef broth, cubed potatoes, 6 oz of tomato paste, a bit of Italian seasoning, a bay leaf and 8 ounces of quartered button mushrooms, bring to a boil and then simmer for about 2 hours.  I then threw in some chopped celery and diced carrots and let them get nice and soft for another 30 minutes.

The true test was what my dad thought of it.  I got two of the greatest compliments I think he could give cooking-wise.
The first: “Marie, this is restaurant quality.”  Score.
The second: “Marie, I have to say, this is the favorite thing that has ever been cooked in this house that was not mine.” DOUBLE SCORE.

Overall, I will definitely be making this stew again.  It was rich and hearty and perfect for the freezing weather us Bostonians have been experiencing.  Definitely not your average beef stew and definitely a recipe I will put in my cookbook.  Oh I haven’t mentioned my cookbook yet?  Stay tuned!

Boeuf Bourguignon
Adapted from No Empty Chairs

1/2 pkg (8 oz) bacon, chopped (I use center-cut; less fat makes me feel better)
3 lb beef roast, cubed
1 pkg (8 oz) whole mushrooms, quartered
2.5 cups red wine (Use the GOOD STUFF! I love Cabernet)
2 cups beef broth
1 tsp Italian seasoning
1 (6 oz) can tomato paste
1 Tbs Dijon mustard
1 Tbs Worcestershire sauce
2-3 cloves garlic, pressed
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbs cornstarch mixed with 1/4 cup water
1 onion, diced
2 potatoes, peeled & diced
2 carrots, peeled & diced
2 stalks celery, chopped

Cook bacon in a large sauce pot. Remove from pan when fully cooked and crispy. Brown the beef cubes in the bacon fat. Add mushrooms (quartered if they are large) and chopped onion. Cook for about 5 minutes, or until onions and mushrooms just begin to brown.

Add the wine and let it reduce for 10-15 minutes, or until almost completely evaporated. Add bacon, beef broth, potatoes, Italian seasoning, tomato paste, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, garlic, pepper, and cornstarch mixture. Bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat and simmer 1- 1 ½ hours. (The longer, the better!)

Stir in carrots and celery. Cook until vegetables are tender.  Serve hot with grated Peccorino-Romano or Parmesan cheese.