Lackluster Cooking

The week between Christmas and New Years is always packed with as many outings and visits with friends as possible; dinners and drinks here, shopping trips there, and just time spent with those you care about. This oftentimes requires you to either cook for the masses, or spend little to no time in the kitchen. For me, it was the latter.

This year, our company observed the Christmas holiday the following Monday, giving us off when most of our business partners were hard at work. It worked out perfectly, though, since there was a huge snow storm that Sunday, leaving everyone trapped in their homes anyway. Leaving my fiancé at home to use up the last bit of his 2010 vacation days, I trudged to work on Tuesday and Wednesday, less than enthusiastic. The end of the year can be a crazy time in time and attendance and payroll, so that coupled with the holidays causes a serious time crunch. On Thursday, however, I took the day off to go wedding dress shopping! My mom, sister, and I headed to Priscilla of Boston in Short Hills to check things out. You can check out my pre-shopping trip video here. The dresses were pretty, but I wasn’t overly impressed with anything. It was a fun trip, but I didn’t say yes to the dress.

Friday (New Year’s Eve) was a day of relaxation and baking – I whipped up some pink champagne mini cupcakes, inspired by both Boozy Baker and Booze Cakes (two awesome books I got for Christmas!) to bring to our friend’s NYE party. After anxiously watching my fiancé light off fireworks from across the street and devouring lots of yummy appetizers, it was 2011! The new year started off with a 9 mile run, followed by a trip to Sonic to refuel (they have veggie burgers now!).

My mom, sister, and I reconvened on Sunday for another dress trip – this time to David’s Bridal. I had high hopes, hearing stories from many girls who found their dream dresses at David’s after searching high and low. While I didn’t have an overwhelmingly emotional experience (I’m not that kind of girl), I did find my dress! And while I can’t show you the dress I purchased, I can show you the dress I didn’t pick. And believe me when I tell you, my dress choices were all over the place. You name the style, I probably tried it on.

One of the favorite dresses I didn't choose...

My last day off ended today, Monday, as my company again observed New Year’s Day the following Monday (win!). While it’s sad to see the holiday season come to an end, I’m heading in to work tomorrow for only one day. Why? Because I’m heading to Disney World bright and early Wednesday morning for a week of fun, and to run the Walt Disney World Half Marathon! I’m really excited to be heading back just under a year from the last time I was there, where I got engaged! I’ve been going to Disney World since I was 5, almost yearly, and get giddy like a child every time. Even though I’m a little injured (though getting better), the race is just going to be about the experience – I can wait until April to knock out a PR.

So, needless to say my cooking has been almost non-existant this week, aside from making Belgian waffles with chocolate chips and coconut flakes one morning, breakfast burritos a few other mornings, and a super simple stir fry for dinner one night. Tonight’s menu is a giant salad and some fish sticks – classy, I know. But somewhat fitting – a child-like meal before heading to the most wonderful (and childish) place on earth!

Holiday Cookies

The end of the year is always crazy, and this year is no exception. Between holiday parties, shopping, and decorating, throw in a job in an industry that has a lot to get done at the end of the year, plus end of semester school-work, and you’ve got one busy lady. But enough about me, this post is about cookies!

This past Sunday I had the pleasure of attending the second annual cookie exchange party hosted by my co-worker’s sister. Last year, I made yummy choco-hazelnut cookies that were a huge hit. This year, I decided to make something a little more simple, but still different. I’ve had RecipeGirl’s Pumpkin Snickerdoodle Cookies recipe hanging around in my recipe folder for over a year. Since I still had a can of pumpkin left, and am not yet ready to say goodbye to pumpkin season, I figured these cookies would be a perfect last hurrah. Not to mention, until only a few weeks ago I had never had a snickerdoodle cookie (I don’t like sugar cookies – they’re boring). So, the idea of adding pumpkin flavors to a cinnamon and sugar cookie seemed perfect. Maybe next year I’ll get creative and make my very own cookies. But I knew I was in good hands with RecipeGirl, as she’s yet to let me down!

We had the cabinets and flooring in our kitchen completely gutted and re-done on Saturday, so the day was spent laying in bed, running, and doing homework. Since I was banished from the kitchen all day, this meant I needed to wake up early on Sunday to prep my cookies for the 1pm party. My fiancé came downstairs to the smell of cookies baking in the oven – what a perfect way to wake up! Aside from having to let the dough chill in the refrigerator for an hour, the recipe was pretty straight forward. I’m still counting down the days until I have a KitchenAid stand mixer though; my hand mixer just isn’t cutting it!

I tried my best to make the cookies as cylindrical as possible by using a pint class to flatten the balls of sugary dough, but I definitely had a few that were misshapen. The cookies were only partly about presentation, though, because we all know everyone is at a cookie party to eat! And now that I have a solid 10 cookie recipes to add to my ever growing arsenal, eating is just what I’ll be doing over the next few weeks when I try to recreate these! But before that, I have to cook and bake for our Festivus Party this coming Saturday. I’m sure there will be epic stories about that to come.

But in the meantime, if you have some canned pumpkin laying around and are in need of a sweet treat, take a stab at these Pumpkin Snickerdoodle Cookies!

Pumpkin Snickerdoodles
– From the delicious

Cookie Ingredients:
2 sticks butter (1 cup), at room temperature
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup pure pumpkin puree
1 large egg
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

Rolling Sugar Ingredients:
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp allspice

1. In a large bowl, cream butter with an electric mixer until fluffy. Add sugar and pumpkin puree and beat well. Mix in egg and vanilla, scraping down sides of the bowl to incorporate all of the ingredients.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt and ground cinnamon. Beat flour mixture into liquid mixture a little at a time until incorporated.
3. Cover dough with plastic and chill at least an hour, or until dough becomes slightly firm.
4. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350°F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper (or spray with nonstick spray). Mix rolling sugar in a small bowl.
5. Remove cookie dough from refrigerator. Use a medium cookie scoop (1 1/2 Tbsp.) or a large spoon to scoop out dough and roll into balls. Use your hands to roll the balls in the cinnamon sugar and make sure they’re coated really well. Place 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets. Use a glass with a nice, flat bottom to dip in sugar and flatten the balls.
6. Bake at 350°F. for 10 to 14 minutes, or until they are slightly firm to the touch. Let cool on baking sheets for 5 minutes or so, then remove them to a wire rack to cool completely.

Yield: About 3 dozen

Christmas Gift Review 3: Mr. Beer

I had almost forgotten about my last Christmas gift review, because it took about a month for my fiancé and I to prepare it. Technically this was a gift for him from me, but I assisted him and am reaping the benefits by getting to drink the beer!

This particular gift was something I knew he’d love. As a guy, he of course enjoys a good beer. A bunch of our friends brew their own beer, and he mentioned a few times how he’d like to try it, but was afraid of how involved it might be.

So, I set out to find him a reasonably priced and first timer friendly kit. I wound up getting him the Mr. Beer Deluxe Kit, which included two batches, and everything you would need to brew them.

Cleaning the equipment and actually making the mixture to pour in the jug was pretty easy. We decided to go with their American Lager first. It took us only about an hour to prepare and put the soon to be beer in it’s jug. The hardest part came next; waiting.

In terms of waiting, the kit recommends 2 weeks. A few friends suggested a lot longer, more like 4. So despite being anxious, we took their advice.

Once those two weeks were up, we had to bottle the brew and add sugar, then wait another 2 weeks. We did, and then per the recommendation of the kit’s fine print, we refrigerated it for a week as well.

When we finally got to crack one open, it had more if a cider rather than beer taste. However, the great thing about brewing your own beer is that the flavor is ever changing. So the next time we had some, it definitely tasted more like beer, and was pretty good for our first attempt!

It was definitely a lot easier than we both thought. Granted, this kit was pretty straight forward; open, mix, pour, repeat. Mr. Beer does sell everything separately, so you can defintely be as involved as you’d like. There are also tons of other sites that offer kits, that seem pretty promising.

We have one more mix from this particular kit, and after we make that, I think we’re going to branch out and try some different brands. The Brooklyn Brew Shop has some interesting flavors available, so I think that might be our next adventure.

If you’ve ever even had a thought about brewing your own beer, go for it! You just need about an hour or two to prepare it, and then have enough patience to wait for it to ferment and be drinkable. The Mr. Beer site offers a few different kit options, depending on how involved and how many brews you want to make.

Christmas Gift Review 1: Contigo Travel Mug

Since this past Christmas was quite the foodie Christmas, I’ve decided to review most of my presents that would be of any use to anyone on this site. So, first up is my Contigo Travel Mug! I have to say I was a bit wary of it’s claims at first, but so far so good.

I’m an avid coffee drinker; I bring it to work every day in an effort to save money, but also because the coffee at my office is less than stellar. I was finding that by the time I arrived at work, my coffee was cold and needed to be reheated in the microwave. Now, this wasn’t usually a problem, unless I happened to bring a non-microwavable mug. Then I had to go through the process of pouring it into a regular cup, heating it up, then pouring it back in hopes of it retaining it’s heat for a little.

I’m also unable to prevent coffee from spilling on myself. I’m by no means a klutz, but for whatever reason coffee always seems to leak out or spill on me. So, I really needed a mug that I could rely on to close all the way.

With all of the aforementioned issues taken into consideration, my boyfriend decided on a red Contigo mug for me. Not only does it keep warm beverages warm for up to 4 hours (and cold up to 12), but it also is leak and spill proof! That is by far the best part. I have turned the mug upside down from side to side on multiple occasions to demonstrate, and not a single drop has appeared any time.

I am seriously impressed by this mug. It seems to have everything; I can fit 16 oz. in it, and it stays drinkably warm for quite a few hours. And, if I happen to be wearing a white blazer and reach over my mug, I don’t have to worry about it spilling all over myself and needing to use two Tide-to-go pens to try and get it out (yes, this has happened). It has also come in handy for my weekend morning trips to the movies with bagels and coffee; my usual plastic bag and hope for the best method can be laid to rest.

So, if you drink coffee, tea, hot chocolate, or even super cold drinks close to as much as I do, I can’t recommend this enough! I know they have them on Amazon, and you can also get them directly from their site. Next time you’re in the market for a new travel mug, check this bad boy out!