December 2013 archive

2013: Year In Review

I feel like we say this every year…”Where did the time go?…Can you believe we’re coming into a new year already?” 2013 has come and gone just as quickly as years past. A lot happens over the course of twelve months however I wanted to take a moment to reflect on those events that I found most important. 
Watching Quattro grow throughout this past year has been amazing. When we first picked him up in Buffalo, NY just over a year ago, he was a mere 8 pounds. Today, he weighs in at over 80 pounds! We watched him grow as a puppy involving many sleepless nights of potty training. He attended Puppy Training and graduated. He grew through his “awkward teenage stage” with his giant ears and small head. Today, he is a handsome and strong young dog. Though he still has some growing up to do, both physically and mentally, he has become a part of our family. I feel that the first year of his life was the most important and involved the most change. That is why this stands out as one of the top events of our past year. 

July 2013 marked one year of owning our house and we finally were able to move in. After months of renovations we were able to call the house our home. It is a wonderful feeling to be able to enjoy a place that we put so much work into. Though there is a lot more to do, as with any house, the transition we’ve made is incredible. 

One of my dear friends, Cara, was married this past October. Over the course of 2013 we celebrated with two bridal showers, a bachelorette party, and a wedding. I was very honored to be a part of this very important moment in Cara and Chris’ life. We were able to celebrate their marriage throughout the year with all of the different events which made it that much more special. 

In late October, after Cara and Chris’ wedding, I met up with Nick and company down in Florida for a little vacation. It was really our only extended vacation this year since we had so much going on with the house. It was a great week of sunshine, relaxation, and good friends. 

The twins graduated in May. Michele completed her four years at The College of Holy Cross with a degree in English and Women’s Studies. Melissa completed her four years at Villanova University with a degree in Chemistry. I could not be more proud of my younger sisters. The stayed focused on their school work but also made sure to enjoy themselves. They both made lifelong friends and memories along the way as well.

Here’s to many more memories to come in 2014!

It’s The Holiday Season!

This past week and a half has been a whirlwind of holiday activities. From shopping and wrapping to Christmas parties, it has been non stop.  I have been so busy, I have not even had time to sit down and write about all of the activities. So here it goes…

Wednesday the Girls Night crew had our Holiday Dinner. We have made it a tradition to go to this little Italian restaurant in the area. The food is always delicious, the atmosphere is cozy and festive, and the service is always great. We also partake in a little Secret Santa. Just as last year, I gave to the same person who was giving to me. Too funny! I also gave the girls a little hot cocoa kit to enjoy during the cold winter nights. (Thank you Pinterest!)

Friday I hung out with my little girlfriend Maeve. We continued our holiday tradition of creating a gingerbread house. We have been showing off our design skills since 2009. I do have to say though, this year is by far the best yet. We really have expanded our creativity…well Maeve has expanded her creativity and taken over as lead designer. The rest of the night we played checkers and watched the classic Christmas movies: Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer and Santa Claus Is Coming To Town. It was a perfect evening!

Sunday I hosted a Cookie Exchange Party at the house. It’s really just an excuse to get together for the holidays and eat a bunch of sweets. We had a wide variety of cookies to share…red velvet truffles, lemon ricotta cookies, peppermint white chocolate covered Oreos, sittin’ pretties, Nutella biscotti, and peppermint patty cookies. All very, very delicious! We enjoyed a pomegranate-lime white wine spritzer along with a few other snack foods as well. It was a lovely evening to share with some of my closest girlfriends.

Cara is in town to see her mom for the holiday. So last night, Cara, her husband, Liz, myself, and their mothers enjoyed a lovely dinner, gift exchange, and an intense game of Scrabble. Liz made one of our favorite holiday desserts, Italian Rainbow Cookies. I ate quite a few of those. It’s always nice just hanging out with your oldest friend, catching up, and eating good food.

The festivities continue on tonight with a party at Nick’s parents, immediately followed by a party at my aunts.

I hope you all have a happy holiday, wherever they take you!


Cookies! Cookies! Cookies!

There is no better way to spend a snowy Sunday in December than to bake up a bunch of cookies for the Holidays. We spent the morning digging out the driveway after the storm that brought us about 12 inches of snow. After throwing on a cozy sweater, I decided I would spend the rest of the afternoon baking up some delicious treats. This past week I have already made the HERSHEY’S Candy Cane Blossoms that I previously posted, as well as, a small batch of cut out sugar cookies. I might as well add a few more to the list. 

Here is today’s line up:
1. Peanut Butter Cookies
2. Chocolate Chip Cookies
3. Cream Cheese Thumbprint Cookies

Peanut Butter cookies are very easy to be made from scratch. However, I always keep a package of Betty Crocker cookie mix for when I’m in a pinch and need to whip up a dessert fairly quickly. I had a package of Peanut Butter cookie mix in the pantry so I decided to use that up. I must say though, they come out better than most homemade PB cookies I’ve had in the past. The mix is super easy; just follow the instructions and you’ll be good to go. The package makes just under 2 dozen cookies. However, I’m sure you could squeeze in a few more if you make your cookies a bit smaller. These can also can be made into Peanut Butter blossoms with a little HERSHEY’S kiss. 

There are a few variations for Chocolate Chip Cookies. My tried and true method is the good ole’ Nestle Toll House recipe. The cookies come out perfect every time. Once in awhile I like to use milk chocolate chips for a touch of sweetness. And of course, I leave a few cookies on the side without chocolate chips for Nick. You may find the recipe attached to the link above. 

The last set of cookies I made today were Cream Cheese Thumbprint cookies. There are many variations of thumbprint cookies. I had some leftover cream cheese to get rid of so I decided to use them in this particular batch. This recipe came from a variation of Kraft’s Thumbprint Cookies. 

1 package (8oz) cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 tsp vanilla 
2 1/4 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
Fruit preserve of choice

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. 
Beat together the cream cheese, butter, sugar, and vanilla until well blended. Add in flour and baking soda.
Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Shape the dough into 1 inch balls. Place on baking sheet and indent centers. 
Bake for 10 minutes. Take the cookies out of the oven and place the preserve into the center of each cookie. Bake for an additional 8-10 minutes. 

My Week of Dinners

Another busy week has come and gone. I swear, this happens to me at least once a month. I am jam packed with activities and outings. I can’t complain though. Makes for great time with friends and family…and of course an an excuse for a blog post! So here is how my past week went. 

We had been overloaded with leftovers from Thanksgiving. Instead of eating more turkey and stuffing, I decided to make some homemade mac and cheese. You really can not go wrong with the ooey, gooey deliciousness of baked macaroni and cheese. I like to use crushed up oyster crackers and bread crumbs to make for a crunchy topping. 

This week was my week to host girls night. I prepared one of my “leftover concoctions” of turkey bolognes and paired it with caesar salad and italian bread. It was a great way to use up the last of the turkey in a non traditional leftover kind of way. We then proceeded to eat an entire bowl of Christmas M&M’s. I’m telling ya, there is just something about the red and green M&M’s during this time of year that really warms you up inside. 

This week I had my monthly date with Joyce, Sabrina, and Jamie. This month we decided to try Greek. We went to a delicious restaurant in the area. So we could try a little bit of everything, we decided to share a bunch of appetizers. We had everything from octopus, spanikopita, to various dips with pita bread. For dessert we had my favorite…baklava. We also enjoyed a delectable treat of what essentially was fried dough with a hershey kiss in the middle. Every last bit of the meal was amazing. 

The night of Friendsgiving the group of us decided we wanted to attend the Trans-Siberian Orchestra concert together. So we purchased 11 tickets to have a night of Christmas fun. Before the show we all met at a local restaurant for dinner. Unfortunately, I was busy chatting so I forgot to take a picture of my meal. But I had a delicious Mediterranean style veggie wrap with onion rings. Nick enjoyed a Bacon Cheddar Chipotle Burger. He admitted that it was one of the best burgers he has ever had. 

Nick and I were tired from the weeks events. We ran some errands and just stopped at Subway for a quick meal. I stuck with my old stand by of a 6 inch turkey sub with provolone cheese, lettuce, tomato, cucumbers…and for a little kick, banana peppers. I topped it off with honey mustard dressing. Always a good, lighter meal. 

Please note the photo bomber. 🙂

Every so often I spend the evening with my little girlfriend Maeve. This time we went to see Frozen, Disney’s latest movie. It was actually very cute. I am partial to Disney movies though. The Little Mermaid, Beauty & the Beast, The Lion King…all classics. Maeve had eaten before we went to the movie…plus we of course had snacks. So for dinner I just made myself some pasta with peas and parmesan cheese. Light and delicious. 

It seems that for all of the major holidays I have given my mom tickets to a show of some sort for the two of us to enjoy together. For her birthday I let her pick a Christmas show. She chose the Symphony’s Miracle of Christmas concert. It was great. It really got me in the holiday spirit. Afterwards we went to the restaurant I used to work at which is right down the road from the theatre. On Sundays they offer a prefixed three course meal. To start I had corn and crab fritters. As my main course, I enjoyed the Chicken Paroma. This used to be on the menu way back when I first started working there but had since been removed. It is a spicy chicken parmesan dish with angel hair pasta. Delicious! I ordered pumpkin pie to go for Nick to enjoy. 

Leftovers Galore!

Image found off Google.

I figured I might as well round out the Thanksgiving Series with what some people say is the best part of Thanksgiving…leftovers! As I have previously mentioned, I hosted the meal this year. My mom decided that she wanted to make a smaller turkey at home so that they could have their own leftover turkey sandwiches. This in turn left myself and Nick with a good amount of food in the fridge. I was determined to use all of it though in one form or another. Neither of us like waste and I also did not want to have to eat a Thanksgiving dinner every day. So, with the help of the internet and my somewhat creative mind, I created a few other concoctions with all of the remaining dishes. 

Potato Pancakes
This is probably a fairly common dish made with leftover mashed potatoes. They are simple and delicious and take very little time to prepare. I had just about 3 1/2 cups of potatoes left over which was just enough for 8 pancakes. I combined the mashed potatoes with about 1/2 cup of cheddar cheese (leftover from the cheese platter), 1 beaten egg, 3 tablespoons of flour, and a handful of chopped green onion. After forming the pancakes, I coated each side with flour and fried each side until golden brown. The fry pan had just enough oil to coat the bottom. Top with a dollop of sour cream and you have yourself a delicious snack or side dish. 

Fried Green Beans
I had a decent amount of green beans that I never cooked. I found a recipe for Beer Batter Fried Green Beans. For a dipping sauce, Nick’s brother combined horseradish sauce, ketchup, and hot sauce. 

Cream of Turkey & Vegetable Soup
This is a good way to use up a lot of your leftovers. You can throw just about anything into soup. 
I used the remainder of the turkey stock I had prepared, turkey of course, and basically all of the vegetables that were left over. 

Turkey “Bolognese”
This week was my turn to host Girls Night. I still had a decent amount of turkey left and figured this was a good opportunity to use a lot of it up. I perused the internet for different ideas. I then came across a turkey bolognese recipe by Giada DeLaurentiis. Though I did not make it exactly how she described, her recipe still gave me the idea. I pulled out some of my frozen pasta sauce I had made a few weeks ago. I added in shredded pieces of the turkey breast and poured it over spaghetti. I made a caesar salad and cut up fresh Italian bread and we enjoyed a very hearty meal. 

Turkey Salad
After I had prepared all of the above dishes, I STILL had about half of a breast left. I was running out of ideas of what to make. I noticed an apple (leftover from the stuffing) sitting on the counter and thought to myself, I could do a spin off of a chicken salad. So I cut up the turkey breast into bite sized pieces and combined with the chopped up apple and slivered almonds. I then mixed in my desired amount of mayonnaise (some like a lot, some like a little)…add a little salt and pepper. Voila! Turkey Salad! It actually was pretty tasty. I liked having the apple in there for a touch of tartness. For a little more jazz add in some leftover cranberry sauce to the mix as well. 

Apple, Sausage, and Pomegranate Stuffing

I wanted to try and make a fun stuffing recipe this year. My family typically enjoys your traditional home style stuffing. However, I wanted to reach outside the box. There are just so many options. Whether it’s the type of bread, the add on ingredients, or even the texture. I decided to do a spin off of the well known apple and sausage stuffing by adding in dried pomegranates for a little tartness. 
Loaf of Italian bread made into croutons
1 lb Sweet Turkey Sausage
4 Tbsp butter
1/2 onion, chopped
3 celery stalks, chopped
6 springs fresh thyme
5 oz package dried pomegranate
Salt and Pepper
Turkey stock 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter casserole dish.

Melt the butter in large skillet and sauté the onions, celery, and sausage breaking up as you cook. Add in salt and pepper. Once the onions are cooked through, add in the thyme, apples, and pomegranate.  Cook until the apples are soft and the sausage is thoroughly cooked. 

Combine the sausage mixture with croutons in a large bowl. Slowly add turkey stock until everything is combined and well moistened. 

Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and cook for an additional 20 minutes or until the top is crunchy and golden brown. 

Servings: 6-8

Happy Thanksgiving!

It’s hard to believe that Thanksgiving has come and gone already. A month of preparation, changing the menu at least four times, coming up with the perfect tablescape…lots of work went into the day but it was all worth it. My work began Wednesday night. My sister came over and we cut up the vegetables and cheese for a little appetizer platter. I made the cranberry sauce, along with the croutons for the stuffing. Plus, I had made the Pumpkin Pie Lasagna  Tuesday night to give me a head start as well. Doing all of this prep work ahead of time saved me the headache on Thanksgiving day. This also allowed me to have a dinner out with the family and meet up with some friends who were in town for the holiday. 

I started my day out early to get a walk in with the dog before all the cooking started. The turkey went into the oven just at 11:00am allowing me to enjoy some brunch with the twins. From here we just continued cooking throughout the afternoon. I had a cheese and crudite platter along with shrimp cocktail ready for when the rest of the family arrived. With a little help from the twins and my mom, I was able to get the rest of the meal cooked and on the buffet just after 5:00pm. Everyone seemed to enjoy the meal.
Of course we were all stuffed to the brim. We wanted to wait for Nick to get home from work before we had dessert, so this enabled us all to digest our dinner to make room for our delectable desserts. Overall, it was a nice day. I really enjoyed cooking this meal for my family. It was a lot of work but fun to cook up a bunch of different recipes. Next year I’ll be sure to try some new ideas along with keeping some of the old. I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving as well. And perhaps a few of you were able to get some great deals on Black Friday as well! 

Oven Roasted Turkey (Ina Garten’s recipe)
Mashed Potatoes
Apple, sausage, and pomegranate stuffing
Homestyle stuffing
Roasted root vegetables
Sauteed green beans with slivered almonds
Cranberry-orange sauce
Crescent Rolls
Pumpkin Pie 
Caramel Apple Pie
Pumpkin Pie Lasagna