Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Cleaning out the Cabinets: Amaretto Edition

So in the spirit of keeping my apartment more organized (see my resolutions), I think it's important sometimes to clean out the cabinets. Food is something that I hate to waste but it happens to everyone, your cabinets, fridge and freezer get full and things get pushed back and end up expiring before you use them. Sometimes you just have to go through and plan meals to use up things that you've had for a while. The same can go for liquor. While liquor doesn't really expire, or if it does it can last for years, it's still important to clean out the "cabinet" every once in a while. If you like to try unique kinds or different drink recipes and have a boyfriend who works at a liquor store like I do, you can find yourself with a lot of bottles taking up space. I decided I wanted to start getting rid of some bottles to keep my "bar" looking neater and not so cluttered. It made the most sense to start with some bottles that are close to being finished.

I have this one bottle of amaretto that I bought to try in a drink recipe for my birthday years ago. Amaretto is one of those things that I don't think goes with a lot so I always have trouble finding ways to use it. I decided to look up some drink recipes the other day that include amaretto. I found a site that had a million options. I made a note of a few that I had all the ingredients for and decided to give one a try. What I landed on was a Blue Cloud Drink.

1 oz Amaretto
1/2 oz Blue Curacao
2 oz Vanilla Ice Cream

Top with whipped cream and a cherry (I didn't have cherries so I used jimmies!)

I thought this seemed like a yummy dessert drink, perfect for after dinner. All you do is mix all of the ingredients (minus the toppings) in a blender. Pour in a glass and top with whipped cream and a cherry and or jimmies. This is a fun looking drink and tastes pretty good. I thought the amaretto was a little strong, I might adjust the measurements if I made it again. I think with the whipped cream and sprinkles it would be fun to serve at a birthday party!

I only had one drink so I still had some amaretto left. After a failed experiment trying to make a chocolate cherry shot, I ended up just making an amaretto and Diet Pepsi with a lime twist. It was delicious and I wish I had thought of this before.

Cooking Through the Months with Betty Crocker: January

Last year I received a free calendar that Betty Crocker offers to it's members with a fun new recipe for each month. I was hoping to try each recipe each month but I missed January, then February, then I ended up just not doing any of it. I saved the recipes though so I'll eventually try last years. I did however get the same calendar this year and decided to be more motivated with keeping up with each recipe each month. For January, the recipe was Black Bean Chili with Cilantro. I may have waited until the second to last day of January, but I got it done!

1/4 cup dry sherry or Progresso chicken broth (from 32-oz carton) - I used Cooking Sherry
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 large onions, chopped (2 cups) - I don't like onions so I replaced them with mushrooms
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup chopped carrot
1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper
3 cans (15 oz each) Progresso black beans, drained, rinsed - I used Goyo brand because they were cheaper but same thing!
2 cups Progresso chicken broth (from 32 oz carton) - I used veggie broth because I don't eat chicken and also I bought a different brand but again, same thing
1 large tomato, chopped (1 cup) - I had small tomatoes so I used two 
2 tablespoons finely chopped garlic- I used garlic powder
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons tomato paste
4 teaspoons chili powder or to taste- I just sprinkled some in the pot
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano leaves - I just sprinkled some in
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro - I love the smell of fresh cilantro, I also bought these herb scissors which make it really easy to chop up things like cilantro
Salt and pepper to taste

Garnishes, if desired: Additional chopped onion (I did not include this since I didn't include onion in the first place), shredded Monterey Jack cheese, plain yogurt or sour cream - I used the cheese and sour cream.

Step 1: In 4-to-5 quart Dutch oven, heat sherry and olive oil over meadium heat. Add onions; cook until softened. I didn't have onions so I just started with the next step which is to add celery, carrot and bell pepper; cook 5 minutes, stirring frequently. I also added the mushrooms in at this time.

Step 2: Stir in remaining ingredients except garnishes. Heat to boiling; reduce heat to low. Cover; simmer 45-60 minutes or until chili is desired thickness.

Step 3: Garnish individual servings with onion, cheese and a dollop of sour cream or yogurt.

I thought this chili was fantastic. Definitely something I'd consider making again. The cool thing about chili is you can really mix it up with what veggies and spices you add to it. You can also experiment with amounts. We added some extra olive oil, sherry and veggie broth.

Porkslap Beer Bread

A while ago I purchased this beer bread mix from a Partylite party that my cousin hosted. I thought it's be fun to try it with a unique beer. While Porkslap definitely has a unique name and logo, it's not the most unique tasting beer but it had to do. I wanted some bread to go with my black bean chili with cilantro and Porkslap was the beer I had in my fridge.

I was pleasantly surprised at how easy this was to make. All you do is pour the beer in the bread mix (any 12 oz beer works) and stir it up until it's mixed evenly. Next you spray a loaf pan with cooking spray and pour the mixture in. It's optional but you can also melt 3 tablespoons of butter and pour it on top of the mixture which I opted to do.

Next you pop it in the oven that you preheat to 375 and bake for about 45 minutes. Finally you take it out of the pan and cool on a wire rack.

Even though Porkslap wasn't my first choice for a beer to mix in the bread, it made a quite tasty bread. Because this is so easy, I'd love to buy more of the mix and experiment with more beers. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Homemade Egg McMuffins

I found this idea on Pinterest and immediately decided that I must give it a try. I'm always searching for new dinner ideas but sometimes I forget to spice up my breakfast and lunch options as well. The original appeal of these was that you make a bunch and then freeze them so you have a quick breakfast for on the go which is perfect for me. After actually making them though, the freezer plan may not be the best. Allow me to explain after I go through the recipe and steps with you.

Ingredients Needed:
Cooking spray
6 or 12 eggs
6 or 12 whole wheat english muffins (you can use regular ones as well)
6 or 12 pieces of canadian bacon/ham/sausage
6 or 12 small pieces of your favorite cheese (I used cracker slices of pepper jack, if you use sandwich slices, use 1/2 a slice)

I haven't really experimented with cooking eggs much beyond scrambled but it would have never occurred to me how to go about cooking an egg to go on a sandwich. For these, all you need to do is a muffin tin. Depending on the size of your muffin tin, you can make 6 or 12.

Step 1: Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees
Step 2: Then start by lightly greasing your muffin tin.
Step 3: Crack an egg into each compartment in your tin.
Step 4: Next place the tin in the oven for 15-20 minutes.
Step 5: While your eggs are cooking, break apart your english muffins and place them in a single layer on a large cookie sheet. Place them in the oven on the top rack for about 10 minutes so they are lightly toasted.
Step 6: Once your eggs are done, assemble your "McMuffins" using the english muffin, egg, a slice of cheese and a slice of your choice of meat.
Step 7: If you're going to eat these right away, stick the assembled ones back in the oven for about 10 minutes, just enough for the cheese to melt and the meat to get warm. Enjoy!
Step 8: If you're going to freeze them, place a cookie sheet with the assembled sandwiches in the freezer for about an hour. If you wrap them up right away, they will lock in too much moisture in the freezer. After an hour take out the cookie sheet and stick the individual sandwiches in zip lock baggies.  If you only made 6, you can also just stick them in the fridge, just make sure you eat them within a week.

Tips for reheating:
  • You can reheat in the microwave for a quick meal, just know your bread might get a little soggy. I'd guess 1:45, about the time of a hot pocket.
  • If you reheat the frozen ones in the oven, preheat your oven to 350 again and cook for 25 minutes.
  • If you reheat refrigerated ones, I'd estimate 10 minutes in a 350 oven.
I had two for "breakfast for dinner" when I first made these. They were delicious! The pepper jack cheese was a nice touch of flavor to the egg and canadian bacon. I also have tried one reheated in the oven. I originally thought that 25 minutes in 350 sounded too long so I tried a shorter amount of time in 250 and the middle was still frozen so I then cranked the oven up to 350. I think next time I'll just stick to the original plan. They were good reheated in the oven but it definitely wasn't quick. I'll probably try one in the microwave just to see how it goes. I made 12. That involved buying 2 packs of english muffins and 2 packs of the canadian bacon. I have since purchased a 6 tin muffin tin, I'll probably do that next time and not freeze them.

I forgot to take pictures so this post is picture-less. I'll definitely make these again though and take pictures next time. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Homegating Ideas for Super Bowl Sunday

If you're not lucky enough to be tailgating in Indianapolis at the actual Super Bowl this year, you're most likely doing one of two things: tablegating at your favorite sports bar or restaurant to watch the game or homegating which is either attending a Super Bowl party at someone's home or hosting one yourself. There are endless ideas for throwing a football themed bash, here are a few I tested out during this past season, whether it was football Sunday or college football Saturday, I had fun making football themed treats to help root on my favorite teams.

You can find all sorts of football goodies to help spruce up your table at your local grocery and party stores during the season. I have a few Virginia Tech and Redskins items that I already owned and then I added a few random football themed items including the chocolate football, the green centerpiece with little footballs on it, football cups and a football shaped food tray. If your team is playing in the Super Bowl, go all out with decorations that represent your team and it's colors. If your team is not playing and your just hosting a generic Super Bowl party, focus more on football themes and you can include the colors of both teams playing if you don't hate the teams. More important than decorations though is the food! You can get creative and make pretty much any food item football themed by adding some lacing if it's close to a football shape. My technique is pretty bad on all of these but hopefully you can take the ideas and make them better yourself.

Everyone loves a good sandwich. You can make any sandwich into a football sandwich by adding lacing on top of a sub roll using your favorite condiment. For these I made tuna melts and the lacing is in ranch dressing.

Next I made a 7-layer dip but instead of having the cheese on top, I made guacamole the top layer so it looked like a football field. I then added lines in sour cream to look like the goal lines.  

I didn't make football shaped cookies but I added footballs to these peanut butter cookies using chocolate icing. I then made the lacing in different colored icing to represent different teams.

I saw a cute idea to make cheese, crackers and salami with lacing on them to look like footballs. I couldn't get the lacing thing enough so mine don't look like footballs but they still were tasty and looked cute on the football tray.

A beer cocktail is a fun twist on a signature cocktail to have at your football party. Beer might be too boring and mixed drinks might be too girly, but a beer mixed drink is the perfect compromise. Click here for the recipe.    

Finally, pizza goes with football like tea goes with tea parties. Make your plain cheese pizza themed by making a football in the shape of pepperonis in the middle of your pie. You can also make the lacing with some extra pieces of cheese. Just add it to the pizza for the last couple minutes. My lacing got a little too melted but you get the idea.  

Looking for a simple sweet treat to make for your spread? Football cupcakes are the perfect fit. All you need to do is whip up a batch of your favorite cupcakes. I decided to go with yellow cake and chocolate frosting. If you don't want to use chocolate frosting, just use a simple sugar frosting recipe with brown food coloring. Then add the laces with white icing. I used green cupcake liners to add to the look.

Don't forget to have something to safely abuse when you're mad about a call or a play! I recommend this punching bag ref. He represents who you're usually most mad at and it's fun to smack him around with no damage to your remote, tv or other breakables in your home.

Resolutions Smesolutions

This is my first update on my 2012 New Years Resolutions. I think so far my progress would be considered a resolution fail. Even so, my goals are mostly just "trying" harder so there is still plenty of time to get my act together. Let's review.

1) Healthier Lifestyle: Physical fitness and eating healthier in general
2) Keeping up with cleaning/housework/organization
3) Continuing to blog more often
4) Keep trying new crafts and recipes!

My first resolution was to live a healthier lifestyle in general. Yes I know it's cliche but I really do want to have some sort of physical fitness in my life. I don't have any high expectations of losing all kinds of weight or anything like that, but I need to start somewhere and that's actually making an effort on a weekly basis. While I haven't started this yet, I hope to soon. The other half of this is trying to eat healthier in general. I'm not sure exactly what that entails, because I do refuse to diet, but I think I have been doing better so far with grocery shopping and trying to get better things for dinner options.

My second resolution was to keep up with cleaning, housework and organization. I will always need improvement on this but I did get my Christmas decorations put away last week which was a big step. I also got some Valentines Day decorations out. The living room and kitchen are in decent shape. I really just need to be better about putting my clothes away and my big project I have to do is organizing my makeup and samples on my vanity.

My next resolution was to continue to blog more often. Well until today I hadn't blogged since I made the resolutions. Well today I started my Birchbox January box blog as well as this blog, so hopefully I'm getting back on track with that.

My final resolution is to keep trying new crafts and recipes. This one ties into the blog goal because I of course love to blog about those types of things. There are tons of crafts and recipes that I'm dying to try on Pinterest along with some organization tips, hairstyles and much much more. Next up for me will be similar to my 25 Days of Christmas. I am planning to do a 14 Days to Valentines Day type challenge leading up to the big day of love! Stay tuned...

Sampleicious: Birchbox Edition: January Box

After the success I had with sampling products in my November and December boxes, I was excited to finally receive my January box in the mail. Along with the samples listed below, they even included a cute Birchbox logo magnet.

Samples Inside:
Juicy Couture - Viva La Juicy - 3.4 oz
stila Smudge Stick Waterproof Eye Liner
BORGHESE CuraForte Moisture Intensifier
Jouer Body Butter

I have received the Juicy Couture Viva La Juicy as a free sample from Sephora before. I really like the scent, it's very light and girly. Juicy is also just a fun brand who's products always come in very girly, chic packaging. If you buy the full size bottle it has pretty ribbon and charms on it. It is a pricey perfume but most name brand ones are.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that the stila smudge stick waterproof eye liner sample was a tealish color. I was just expecting black. Even if it had been black, I always like to try out new eyeliners, I haven't found one I truly love or even really like aside from Estee Lauder.  But colored eyeliner is also really fun to try out new shades. The sample actually seems like a full size sample. I don't know for sure, it may have less in it or something but from what I can tell it's a full stick. I really like the color and it went on smoothly and stayed throughout the night. I see that all the colors are temporarily sold out on Birchbox.com so it must have been a popular product with everyone. The full size one is $20 which is about normal for a good quality eyeliner. I would definitely consider buying this brand when they get it back in stock that is!

I have not tried the moisture intensifier or the body butter yet. Stay tuned for my reviews.

While it may not be the most appetizing looking snack, Larabars are actually quite tasty. I was familiar with the brand because I know my dad likes them but I had never actually tasted one before. My dad also buys the full size bars, I had never come across mini ones before. I believe the "full-size" option is a variety pack of the minis. The sample I got was Peanut Butter Cookie and it was the perfect snack to tide over my hunger at the time that I tried it. Birchbox describes these as "Each bar has nine ingredients max, and you’ll love the wholesome blends of dried fruits, nuts, and spices. There are no icky additives like high fructose corn syrup, and they’re vegan-friendly too." Other flavors include Blueberry Muffin, Carrot Cake and Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough. I'd definitely be interested in trying the others in a variety pack for $14.95.

If you like what you see, join Birchbox today!

Monday, January 2, 2012

2012 New Years Resolutions

I'm not generally one to come up with New Years resolutions but I think I need to this year. The past couple months, I've definitely felt more productive in my personal life than I have in a long time. Of course work keeps me busy, but outside of that, I feel like I often just would go home and watch tv for the rest of the night and be utterly and completely lazy. Maybe that's why I've gained 10 lbs this past year instead of getting in shape.

As I've improved these past couple months, I didn't really want to focus on my weight because I know with the holidays comes lots of eating so it seemed a little backwards to start then. But as cliche as it is, there's something about a new year that just calls for a fresh start. So I'd like to start with my most cliche resolution, getting into shape. I'm not going to jump from doing nothing to working out every day and come up with some crazy weight loss goals, I want to be realistic here. I just want to get into a routine of doing some form of physical fitness on a weekly basis. Once I can get that down, then maybe I'll look into things like actually going to the gym!

One of the things I did recently to help me become more productive was actually finish moving into my new apartment. In case you were wondering, I did move back in May but I didn't officially unpack everything until like October or November. Crazy right? But I finally got pictures hung on the walls, boxes unpacked, etc. I also was able to get out all my Christmas decorations at the beginning of December so I could actually enjoy them for a month. Now I just need to get them put away in a similar timely fashion. This leads into my next resolution, keeping the apartment cleaned and organized. I've accepted that I'm always going to be a clutter and nick knack kind of person. I'm never going to have the kind of living space that looks perfect. I do however like to walk around and not step on things or see wrinkled piles of clean clothes all over the bedroom. I want to make a resolution to keep up with a daily cleaning chart, clean one room a day, just basic things like dusting and picking up, so that my apartment never gets horrendous again.

While it wasn't an official New Years resolution, I had a goal a couple years ago to blog more. I had 7 blog posts in 2009, 21 in 2010, and 96 in 2011. I'd say I'm definitely improving. Since I've already reached this "goal," my next resolution is to maintain blogging by continuing to try new crafts, recipes, samples, etc.

Speaking of crafts and recipes, my next resolution is to continue to try new ones. I had so much fun doing my  25 Days of Christmas challenge, I hope to keep up with random recipes and crafts throughout the year as well as more holiday themed ones for each season! The recipe resolution can also tie into my healthier life style one. I'd like to experiment more with cooking and hopefully tie in some more healthier habits along the way.

I could go on and on with more goals and resolutions I have for myself but I don't want to come up with some crazy un-ubtainable list. So here's my official 2012 New Years Resolutions:

1) Healthier Lifestyle: Physical fitness and eating healthier in general
2) Keeping up with cleaning/housework/organization
3) Continuing to blog more often
4) Keep trying new crafts and recipes!

I think it's a nice little list. I'll keep everyone posted on my progress! I think I'll start with number 2 by putting away Christmas decorations and organizing all my Christmas gifts that are just laying around everywhere. Happy 2012!

25 Days of Christmas Summary

I had a lot of fun doing my 25 Days of Christmas challenge during the month of December. I'm proud to say I was able to keep up with it and posted something new for all 25 days without missing a day! I even have a bonus post! I have tons of ideas that I didn't even get to think about doing so stay tuned next December! Check out all of my posts below and I look forward to sharing more creative ideas next year!

25 Days of Christmas
Day 1: Advent Calendar
Day 2: Christmas Card Holder
Day 3: Hurricane Centerpiece
Day 4: Wine Glass Centerpiece
Day 5: Snowman Ornament
Day 6: "We Whisk You a Merry Kissmas"
Day 7: Graham Cracker "Gingerbread" House
Day 8: Holiday Manicure
Day 9: Winter Wonderland Martini
Day 10: Chocolate Dipped Graham Crackers with Peppermint
Day 11: Reindeer Beer
Day 12: Marshmallow Mugs
Day 13: Peanut Snowmen
Day  14: Candy Cane Vodka
Day 15: Reindeer Washcloth Gift
Day 16: Christmas Treats
Day 17: Mistletoe Jello Shots
Day 18: Holiday Cookies: Reindeer and Melted Snowmen
Day 19: Eggnog Cupcakes
Day 20: Holiday Sangria
Day 21: Holiday Photo Booth
Day 22: Snowman Gift
Day 23: Holiday Cocktail
Day 24: Snowy Votives
Day 25: Fruit Christmas Tree
Christmas Bonus : Santa Hat Brownies

30 Day Photography Challenge: Day 27

Day 27: From a distance