Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013: A Year in Review and a Fabulous New Year's Cocktail

2013 was one amazing year.  I can't believe all that has happened.  I completed student teaching, graduated from college, ran my first half marathon, got my first teaching job, moved into an apartment with Bri, and became a mom!

For all you readers who just became shocked about that last detail, I have to clarify.  I became a mommy to the cutest cat in the world!  I can't believer I haven't talked about Benny already!  Bri's sister found a kitten on the streets and Bri and I decided to take him in!  His full name is Benedict Ted Cumberbatch.  The Benedict Cumberbatch part comes from Bri's sister who decided it was a great name.  Plus, he is an awesome actor and stars as Sherlock in the BBC version of Sherlock Holmes (great show!).  The Ted part comes from Bri's and my favorite show, How I Met Your Mother.  Bri and I are Marshall and Lilly (he's a lawyer and I'm a teacher) and then we just needed a Ted to complete our apartment!  He's an awesome little kitty and I love him so much! Also, I apologize in advance for any typos in this post...Benny is currently laying on one of my arms while I type and is just being too darn cute for me to move him.

The other most exciting accomplishment for me this year has been my work as a new teacher!  I absolutely love my job, love my colleagues, and love my students.  I am have a great year and, although it is exhausting and often difficult, it is so rewarding and I know that I have chosen the right path based on how happy I am.

In other news, I have continued to cook and run as much as I can.  These are clearly important passions of mine and I am grateful to have kept up with them as I have become more busy with my job.  Although I am very happy, I have made up my mind on a few new years resolutions.  The biggest one is that I want to blog more.  I have continued to cook, but I have seriously cut back on blogging.  I want to change this in the new year and make sure to keep up with my blog.  I also want to work on becoming a better teacher by taking classes to further my education and make sure that I am the best I can be for my students.  In addition, I have set my sights on running my first marathon and I can't wait to start documenting that experience.  This new year is sure to be great and I can't wait to continue to share all my experiences here.

Finally, on a fun note, I am making a fabulous cocktail for tonights festivities.  Some friends are coming over for a potluck and I have decided to contribute stuffed shells (coming to you soon) and a Sparkling Pomegranate Cocktail!

Sparkling Pomegranate Cocktail
(adapted from Food & Wine)

1 quart pomegranate juice
2 cups orange juice
2 cups limeade
750 ml Prosecco
1 fresh orange, sliced
1 fresh lime, sliced

1.  Pour all wet ingredients into a large pitcher and stir to combine.  Stir in slices of the orange and lime.  Chill.
2.  Serve with ice and additional slices of orange and lime.

Enjoy :)

Friday, December 27, 2013

Roasted Tomato Quinoa Risotto with Homemade Pesto

I have a big day ahead of me and I decided that a great way to start my big day would be with a nice blog post about an amazing dinner.  But first, let me tell you about my big day!  I have a lunch at Due's (the famous pizza place) downtown and then Bri and I are gonna enjoy a day of walking around Chicago.  FOr dinner, I am making reservations for us at Hutch, which sounds like an amazing place to have dinner.  After all that, we are getting ready for a big birthday bash out on the town for our friend, Justin.  I am very excited about all these plans and I can't wait to spend a great day with Bri!

I love being able to spend the morning writing this post, eating some breakfast, and going for a short run.  I have been doing a lot of catching up on sleep and working out since it is my winter break.  It has been wonderful!

I have also been catching up with my cooking (and blogging!).  This recipe was a great find.  Bri chose some potential dinner ideas, and this was a huge hit.  I love cooking risotto and this is just risotto with quinoa instead of arborio rice.  It is gluten free, healthy, and absolutely delicious.  Plus, you make a homemade pesto to go with it.  What can be better than that?  Sorry, I am a huge fan of homemade dips and spreads :)

Roasted Tomato Quinoa Risotto with Homemade Pesto
(adapted from Delicieux)

1 1/2 cups whole cherry tomatoes
3 cloves garlic, paper on
1 tbsp olive oil
4 cups vegetable stock
1 tbsp butter
1/2 sweet onion, diced
1 1/2 cups quinoa
1/3 cup white wine
salt and pepper
Basil Pesto:
1/2 cup basil leaves, packed
2 tbsp cashews
2 tbsp parmesan cheese
2 garlic cloves
olive oil
salt and pepper

1. Heat oven to 350, place the tomatoes and whole garlic on a baking tray and toss in olive oil.  Roast for 20 minutes.
2. While tomatoes are roasting, place basil, cashews, parmesan cheese and garlic cloves for pesto in a food processor.  Process until well crushed.  Slowly pour in some olive oil until pesto comes together.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.
3. In a pot, heat vegetable stock until simmering.
4. In another pot, melt butter over medium heat.  Add the onion and cook until translucent, about five minutes.  Take the garlic from the roasted tomatoes and squeeze the cloves from the paper.  Add them to the pot and crush them with a spoon.  Add the quinoa and cook for about 5 minutes.
5.  Add the white wine and cook until it is absorbed.  Add in 1/4 cup of vegetable stock at a time and cook until absorbed.  Continue this until quinoa is cooked all the way.  Add in the tomatoes and crush them so that juices are absorbed.  Serve topped with some pesto.

Enjoy :)

Thursday, December 26, 2013

PB Crave: Oatmeal Peanut Butter Cookie Cups

I have found the new perfect peanut butter.  Seriously, this stuff is amazing!  I was lucky to sample 4 different flavors of PB Crave and all of them were delicious!  Of course, being the chocoholic that I am, my favorites were their Cookie Nookie flavor and Choco Choco.

This peanut butter makes any recipe better! I made oatmeal peanut butter cookie cups, but I used Choco Choco flavor and it was amazing!  That hint of cocoa in the peanut butter cookie sent it way over the top.  The cookies were a hit and I fell in love with this peanut butter!  With the holidays ending, and the new year approaching, these cookies are a great way to celebrate or send some love to your friends and family!  When you are done with the cookies, you can then snack on that Cookie Nookie flavor with some pretzels, or my favorite, apple slices!  Head on over to PB Crave to check our all the amazing flavors and products!

Oatmeal Peanut Butter Cookie Cups

2 1/2 cups old fashioned oats
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup all purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cornstarch
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup creamy, Choco Choco PB Crave
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla

1. Preheat oven to 350.
2. In a large bowl, whisk flours, baking soda, salt, and cornstarch.
3. In another large bowl, beat butter, peanut butter, and sugars until light and fluffy.  Beat in the eggs and vanilla until well combined.  Slowly, beat in the flour until just combined.
4.  Scoop cookie dough into a mini muffin pan so that each well is filled about 3/4 of the way up.  Place in oven and bake for 10-12 minutes or until cookies have risen and just start to brown.

Enjoy :)

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas

I'm wishing everyone a very Merry Christmas!  May you have a wonderful day filled with love from family and friends! As for me, I am very excited about a typical Jewish Deli-style brunch, Christmas dinner, and then a movie with my parents!  My family is half Jewish and Christian so why not make the day full of every tradition :)

Paper Snowflakes :)

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Black Forest Cake

Bri's birthday weekend was a lot of fun.  We spent Friday night together for dinner at Mary's Hamburgers and then rented Despicable Me 2 to watch afterwards.  It was a fun date-night!  On Saturday, we had dinner with his family at Caro Mio which was absolutely delicious and then had a fun night with friends.  And finally, the bday festivities continued on Sunday with dinner at Giordano's and then Black Forest Cake for dessert!

Bri loves the cherry-chocolate combination (not my favorite) and so it was the perfect dessert for his birthday.  Here's the thing though, although this is not my favorite, it was really good and so that is saying something.  It was a perfect cake and even looked pretty! Making desserts look attractive has never been my strong suit and I was really excited about how gorgeous this cake turned out.  This has been a great birthday celebration!

Black Forest Cake
(adapted from All Recipes)

For the Cake:
2 1/8 cups flour
2 cups sugar
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
3 eggs
1 cup skim milk
1/2 cup canola oil
1 tbsp vanilla
For the Cherry Filling:
30 oz pitted sour cherries
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 and 1/8 cup cornstarch
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
For the Frosting:
3 cups heavy whipping cream
1/3 cup powdered sugar

1. Preheat oven to 350 and grease 2 9 inch cake pans
2. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  Beat in the eggs, milk, oil, and vanilla.  Divide batter equally into the two pans and bake for 35 minutes.  Let cool completely.
3. To make the cherry filling, drain cherries and reserve 3/4 cup of cherry juice.  In a small saucepan, combine the cherry juice, cherries, cornstarch, and sugar.  Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens.  Stir in vanilla.  Let cool.
4. To make the frosting, beat the cream and sugar until stiff peaks form.
5. Assemble the cake: using floss or a long knife, cut each cake down the middle to form four skinny cakes.  Three layers are for the cake, one is for the crumb topping.  Place bottom layer on a plate and top with a layer of whipped cream.  Spoon about half the cherry mixture over the whipped cream.  Place second cake layer on top and then repeat with the whipped cream and the rest of the cherry mixture.  Leave out a few cherries for decorating and place final cake layer on top.  Cover the rest of the cake with the whipped cream frosting.  Use crumbs from the last cake layer to cover the sides of the cake.  Pipe frosting along the top and bottom.  Finally, decorate the top with more crumbs and remaining cherries.

Enjoy :)

Monday, December 23, 2013

Happy Birthday Brian! Homemade Walker Brothers Apple Pancake

Okay, I think I am going to return to blogging now that I made this recipe.  Bri's birthday was this past weekend and I went all out with his favorite breakfast and one of his favorite desserts.  Today is going to be all about the breakfast.

Walker Brothers Pancake House is a staple here in the Chicago-land area.  Growing up, this is where I met my girlfriends for breakfast on every late start of high school, is is where I drove to for the first time after getting my license when I turned 16 and it also happens to be where Bri likes to have brunch on his birthday!  Now that we live in the city, it is more difficult to make it all the way out for brunch, so I decided to bring brunch to us!  I got out my 12 inch cast iron skillet and made a GIANT apple pancake, Walker Brother's style.

I found the recipe online and then adapted it a bit to fit my skillet and my taste.  It turned out perfect!  Happy Birthday Bri :)

Homemade Walker Brothers Apple Pancake
(adapted from Tastebook)

4 granny smith apples, peeled and sliced
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
4 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
pinch of cloves
8 eggs
2 cups skim milk
2 cups flour
2 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup butter

Happy Birthday!
1. Preheat oven to 425.
2. In a large bowl, toss the apple slices with the sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves.
3. In another large bowl, whisk the milk with the eggs.  Whisk in the flour until no more lumps remain and whisk in the vanilla.
4. In your skillet, melt the butter.  Add in the apple mixture and then pour the batter over the apples.  Place in oven and bake for 35-40 minutes.  Place a pan on a shelf below your skillet to prevent anything from dripping onto the bottom of your oven.

Enjoy :)