Tuesday, November 30, 2010

It's that time of year...

Christmas-time is here! 


My Business Man and I had a wonderful family-filled Thanksgiving break. We traveled back to Illinois, and got to visit lots of family and friends. We squeezed in a lot of eating, some shopping, and even a 4-mile road race! 'Twas a great time of rejuvenation and cheer. 


Before we left the Bean Town, we went ahead and put up our Christmas tree, so it would be all ready for the Christmas festivities when we returned. While we were home, we picked up all our ornaments and decorations that had still been living with our parents so we could decorate!


Last night was the perfect cozy night for some tree trimming. We started off with a comforting casserole for dinner, Company Casserole. My mom used to make this for me growing up, and it's the perfect winter meal. The recipe actually came from her aunt, I believe. I changed it a little by adding the spinach. (Gotta get those veggies in somewhere!)


I think it is virtually impossible to take an attractive picture of a casserole. Just sayin'.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________


Company Casserole

Ingredients


  • 1 ½ lbs. ground beef
  • 8-oz. cans tomato sauce
  • tsp. garlic salt
  • dash pepper
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 cup cottage cheese
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 10-oz. package frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
  • 1 cup grated cheddar cheese
  • 8-oz. package egg noodles, cooked and drained

Method

Preheat oven to 350*F. Brown ground beef; drain off fat. Stir in garlic salt, pepper, and tomato sauce. Simmer 5 minutes. Mix with onion, cottage cheese, sour cream, and spinach. In large dish, mix noodles and cooked mixture. Cover with grated cheese. Bake 35-40 minutes in preheated oven.

After filling our hungry bellies, we got to work putting on the ornaments. It was so nice that the tree was already up, and lit, so we just got to do the fun part!


My Business Man is very particular about how ornaments should be hung. I got many a discerning look from him as I placed the ornaments on the tree. I also would not be surprised if some got re-placed while my back was turned... or while I was guzzling Diet Mountain Dew. (My recent beverage of choice. And yes, I can drink DMD at 8pm and still sleep like a baby all night long.)


What are we waiting for? Here's the tree!


All finished! Check out our neat-o new tree skirt from T.J. Maxx. Love that place! Now it's just waiting for presents underneath it!

Here's a few of our favorite ornaments...


This teal ball is simple, but has always been one of my favorites. It's huuuge! (Think bigger than a softball!) And it's just so glittery and swirly and so nice to look at.





This Chinese-themed ornament is special because my Business Man's two younger sisters are both adopted from China. They were both in our wedding. Sarah Beth was a bridesmaid and Emma was our flower girl.

[Side note: While home over T-break, Emma was totally chillin' around in her flower girl dress. So precious and fun! I'm thinking I might need to do that with my wedding dress. Might as well get some more use out of it! ha!]


Obviously, this ornament represents our love for java. (aka coffee!) Lately I have been all about the pumpkin spice creamer in my morning cuppa jo. Speaking of Christmas and coffee, I have yet to get my Starbucks' Christmas cup! Every year when the Starbucks' red Christmas cups come out, I can't wait to get my first Gingerbread Latte or Peppermint Mocha in that special red cup that brings such joy. Hasn't happened yet! (Goal for this weekend perhaps.)


If you know me at all, then you know that I am absolutely the cupcake queen. This is only one of several ornaments dedicated to cupcakes. There's not quite as many cupcakes on this tower as there were at our wedding!




And finally, an ornament with a painting of Wilson's... the place where my Business Man and I got engaged a year and a half ago! It's an old-fashioned ice cream parlor in Door County, Wisconsin. It's so cute and fun and holds such great memories.

That's just a glimpse of our tree and its beautiful ornaments! I will be posting more pics of the rest of our Christmas decorations as the season progresses.


And....... on a completely different note, for the month of December, I am doing a BLOG CHALLENGE!


"What type of challenge?" you may be asking yourselves.... Well of course, it is baking-related.


"25 Days of Christmas Cookies"


This means, that every day from December 1st to December 25th, I will blog about a different cookie recipe. In total, I will be baking 25 types of Christmas cookies over the month of December. Good thing I have co-workers who love baked goods! And there might be some lucky recipients of Christmas care packages as well. ;-)


I am also putting a shout-out to anyone who might want to guest-post and share their own Christmas cookie recipe here on the blog. You don't have to have a blog to do so, and I would love the extra participation and new recipes! Just leave a comment or send me a facebook message.


Now I'm off to research some new and exciting recipes! Can't wait!




Monday, November 22, 2010

Thanksgiving, a few days early...

So, as you all know, last week I was privileged to attend a Taste of Home Fall Cooking Show. (See the recap here. By the way... whenever you see "TOH" that means Taste of Home. Just so ya know.)

Ever since, I have been inspired to kick my game up a notch in the kitchen. Lately, I have begun to rely on the same quick easy meals. (Grilled cheese & tomato soup, BBQ Chicken Sandwiches, Tacos...)

Also, my Business Man and I had a rare weekend in the Bean Town with not much planned. So why not devote my whole Sunday afternoon to cooking a scrumptious meal?

We decided that we'd have our own mini-Thanksgiving. Minus the turkey. (Neither of us is the biggest fan of turkey. It always seems to be dry or tough.)

On the Menu:
     Spinach Salad with Cranberries & Feta
     Pear-Stuffed Pork Tenderloin (from the TOH cooking show)
     Green Bean Casserole with a Twist (a TOH recipe)
     Cranberry Sauce
     Golden Honey Pan Rolls (another TOH recipe)

And for dessert, you will have to wait until the end of the post... sneaky sneaky!

The table all set! We used our beautiful handmade placemats that we received as a wedding gift. (Thanks Renee!)

We started with a spinach salad. Just some baby spinach, mixed with a little red onion, dried cranberries, and feta cheese. With a drizzle of balsamic vinaigrette. Nothing too fancy here.

Fresh and green, a refreshing start to a heavy meal.

Next up, the star of the show. Well, the intended star of the show. The Pear-Stuffed Pork Loin. (I think the rolls ended up stealing the limelight in the end.)



This recipe was a little complicated, but oh so delicious. Imagine soft pears and dried apricots, mixed with a honey-garlic glaze, all stuffed into a pork tenderloin and rolled up and sliced cinnamon-roll style. There was not even a need for gravy or anything of the sort!

We realized we did not have a meat thermometer, just as the pork was supposed to come out of the oven. After quickly trying to improvise, we also realized a candy thermometer does not work well for finding the internal temperature of meat. Oh well, neither of us has gotten sick yet! (Recipe at end of post.)

And a side dish: Green Bean Casserole, miniature-sized. I figured that we would have enough leftovers with all the other stuff, so might as well create fewer leftovers with this one. And, this recipe adds cream cheese, sour cream, and shredded cheese to the traditional favorite. Why wouldn't it be good? And it was. Especially since I about tripled the amount of fried onions on top. And then proceeded to scrape most of them off into my serving. 

Ever so cutely displayed in our cute little mini-casserole dish. Love this!

And the star of the show........................ Golden Honey Pan Rolls!

These were soooooo sooooooo good. The picture does not do it justice. The recipe called for the use of a bread machine, which I do not have. After a couple minutes of googling, I figured out a way to make it work without. And they turned out so well! Almost like Texas Roadhouse Rolls. My only regret is 'glazing' only half the batch. I had never glazed rolls pre-bake, so I was a little unsure.

Also, the recipe said it made 24 rolls, and I definitely only got 15. But, no big deal here. We just like bigger rolls?
These were definitely the #1 selection of the menu, considering it has only been 24 hours since the meal and there are only two rolls left.
And here is the final presentation on the plate. And yes, that is canned jellied cranberry sauce. My mom would get it about once a year growing up, and we would have it about a week before Thanksgiving. It brings me back to my childhood years. I believe I saw my Business Man poking it with fork, watching and jiggle, and asking "What is that??"



And then, after our food babies digested for a bit, we had DESSERT! The Pioneer Woman's Pecan Pie

[Side note: I adore the Pioneer Woman. I got hooked on her website a few years ago, and she has since published a cookbook. Go buy it. Every recipe that I have ever tried of hers is delicious.] 

I had never made a pecan pie before, and I can't even really remember eating one. This was superb. With a little scoop of vanilla bean ice cream, it totally hit the spot.

Good thing my Business Man took the rest to work! (After he informed me that he had a slice for breakfast. Men...)
And that's that! Our first Mini-Thanksgiving! And, the beginning of many posts dedicated to holiday cooking and baking. Mua ha ha...






Pear-Stuffed Pork Loin

 Ingredients
  • 1 boneless whole pork loin roast, 3-4 lbs.
  • ½ cup chopped peeled ripe pears
  • ½ cup chopped dried apricots
  • ½ cup chopped pecans
  • tbsp. parsley
  • 3 tbsp. honey
  • 1 tbsp. minced garlic
  • ¼ tsp. cayenne pepper
  • Glaze
    • 1 cup finely chopped peeled ripe pear
    • ½ cup finely chopped onion
    • ¼ cup honey
    • 2 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
    • 2 tbsp. chili sauce
    •  tsp. cayenne pepper


 Method
Cut a lengthwise slit down the center of the roast to within 1/2-inch of bottom. Open roast so it lies flat, and cover with plastic wrap. Flatten to 3/4-inch thickness.

Remove plastic wrap. In a small bowl, combine ripe pears, dried apricots, pecans, parsley, honey, garlic, and cayenne pepper; spread over roast to within 1 inch of edges. Roll up from a long side; tie with kitchen string at 2-inch intervals. Place in a shallow roasting pan lined with heavy-duty foil.

Combine the glaze ingredients; spoon over roast. Bake, uncovered, at 350*F for 1 hr 15 min to 1 hr 30 min or until a meat thermometer reads 160*F. Baste occasionally with pan drippings. Let stand for 10-15 minutes before slicing.










Friday, November 19, 2010

What's Cookin'?

Yesterday turned out to be a pretty awesome day. 


First things first, it started with a fog-delay. Woo hoo for starting the school day at 10:18am and still finishing at the usual 3:04pm!


It was so nice to have a leisurely morning at home. I got my run in early, and got to watch Saved by the Bell instead of the usual Family Matters. When I came home from the gym, I didn't have to rush-rush-rush to get out the door. I actually ate my oatmeal at home, instead of in my classroom. And, I got to sip my coffee while watching the Today Show! What a wonderful morning.

The fun didn't stop with the fog-delay.

Later that night, the Lima Civic Center had a very special show.



Taste of Home Cooking School!!! Right up my alley. 

My Business Man was so nice to get tickets, and even to accompany me to the show. Just one of the many reasons I married that man...

Not only did he take me to the show, but even out to eat before-hand. We hit up one of our favs, Panera Bread. Nothing better than some hot soup and warm crusty bread when it's chilly outside. (Fortunately, they had bread this time. Last time we went, they were all out of every single type of bread. We were served bagels with our soup. Which was not necessarily a bad thing.)

The cooking show was super-fun. The theme was 'Fall Favorites,' and included a demonstration of 8 different fall-ish recipes. 

One was a Baked Apple French Toast, which will definitely be making an appearance on the blog at some point this winter. Another was a Pear-Stuffed Pork Loin, which I am hoping to make very very soon. Oh, and a Chocolate Cranberry Fudge Cake. I am starting to salivate as we speak.

So, at a TOH Cooking Show, not only do you get to watch a demonstration of yummy-licious recipes, but your name gets entered into a bazillion raffles. Like more than 100 prizes. Including the dishes that were prepared, displayed on beautiful serving platters. Unfortunately, neither of us were big winners last night. 

BUT!! The fun's not over yet. You get to go through the expo, and get a bunch of freebies! We showed up kinda at the last minute, and some of the booths were just giving away loads and loads of stuff. Check out the loot!

Yes, there are 5 boxes of mac & cheese. Not sure why they hand out the boxed stuff to people who love to cook. That might be going to the food pantry, along with the Ramen.

AND!! You get a couple sweet cooking magazines filled with recipes and color pictures. And, coupons. And, other advertisements. 
So happy to have some new recipes! Love love love Christmas time!

All in all, it was a great midweek date night. For me, at least. I'm not quite sure how much fun my Business Man had.  However, I did keep reminding him how many good new recipes I would be preparing soon: Parmesan fondue, Crab-mushroom melts, Pecan pie. The list goes on. Hopefully these goodies will make up for the couple hours of boredom for him. And the feelings of being the only man in a room full of women. (Not the only man, but one of the few.) And listening to corny jokes about cooking & baking. Have I said how much I love this man?

Thanks hon! :-)

Time to go get my cooking game face on!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Book Club

As I have gotten more accustomed to the demands of my first year of teaching, I have had a little more free time than I did at the beginning of the school year. It also helps that cross country is over, so that's an extra hour and a half back to my day.

I 'joined' a book club of teachers at my school. It's a group of 10-12 women, and each month they read a book--then, get together and talk about it! Sounds like fun to me.

For November, the book chosen was "The Secret Life of CeeCee Wilkes" by Diane Chamberlain. I had already read another novel by Chamberlain over the summer (post-wedding, pre-teaching job), "The Lies We Told". I enjoyed it very much, so I looked forward to reading this one.



Synopsis: 


Twenty-eight years ago, a North Carolina governor's young, pregnant wife was kidnapped. Now, her remains have been found and a man charged with her murder. Only one person-CeeCee Wilkes-can refute the charges against him. But CeeCee disappeared years ago. . . 

Eve Elliot is a successful therapist to troubled students, a loving wife, a mother deeply invested in her family. But her happiness is built on a lie. When she was a lonely, vulnerable young woman, a single decision made in innocence led to a dark night of unimaginable consequences. Now, forced to confront her past, she faces another terrible choice: reveal to her family that she is not who she seems, or allow a man to take the blame for a crime she knows he did not commit. If the choice affected only her life, Eve is certain she would do what is right. But though inaction means condemning an innocent man, it also means protecting her family from the mistakes of her past. 

Corinne Elliot has always known she was different: the only redhead in a family of brunettes, the paralyzing shyness that contrasts with her sister's vivaciousness, the many fears-of highways, of bridges, of public spaces-that constrict her daily life. Still, with a new job possibility and a baby on the way, she's found some measure of happiness-until the day she turns on the television and finds her mother's image on screen. 


Now, as the past explodes into the present, Corinne must confront the secrets she has always intuited, and find answers from the one person who knows the truth of what happened over two decades ago--CeeCee Wilkes. 

The first half of the book had me glued; I couldn't stop reading. It was very suspenseful and I just had to know what would happen next. I was glad I started reading the day before my Business Man left town for a conference, because then I didn't feel guilty at all sitting on the couch for hours reading.


The second half of the book (when Eve is a grown woman) was not quite as intriguing to me. I don't know if I couldn't relate as well because I don't have children, or if it was because the plot-line slowed down quite a bit. In fact, I just barely finished the book this afternoon during my study hall. (Before our meeting at 4:15pm. Ha!)


All in all, I would recommend the read. It gets you thinking about family relationships/dynamics, and the consequences of unintentional actions. It is easy to relate to the two main characters in the story. 


I plan on recapping all the books I read for book club! Just a little something to spice up the life of this blog.


Off to research some Thanksgiving recipes!



Sunday, November 14, 2010

Indianapolis Monumental Half-Marathon Race Recap

So... last weekend I ran a half-marathon. 13.1 miles of fun running and happiness! 


My Business Man and I traveled to Indy, where the race was held, on Friday afternoon. His BFF and wife live right downtown, so we had plans to stay with them and visit the whole weekend.


We arrived around 6pm, and checked out the race expo. This race supposedly had over 9000 people, between the marathon, half-marathon, and 5km. I have never run in a super-big race before, so I didn't know what to expect! Lots of people were there, and lots of booths, offering various products. We managed to escape without purchasing anything.


Once we arrived at Adam & Sarah's (the BFF's), they had a super-delish meal waiting for us. We had mentioned that I would need some carbs to prepare for the race, and they provided the carbs for sure! 


Lasagna, salad, and breadsticks... topped off with dark chocolate and peanut butter gelato for dessert!


We played a few rounds of Balderdash and then hit the hay pretty early since the race started bright and early at 8am. Fortunately, we were only about 4 miles from the race start, so we didn't have to travel super-far in the morning.


My Business Man and Adam were both up super-early to accompany me to the race, which was so wonderful! Did I mention it was about 29* outside? Yes, it was chilly.


They dropped me off near the start, and went to park the car. Who knew if I would see them again until the end?


Once on my own, I made good use of the porta potty, then proceeded to do a small warm-up. I was unsure of what a proper warm-up should be for a half-marathon, so I just did a 7-min jog and some leg swings. I felt pretty good.


Then, it was time to wait. Fortunately, my Business Man and Adam hightailed it back to the start, and were able to chat with me for a bit before the start.

Me and my Business Man before the race! Still dark out!


One of the local high school bands played the national anthem before the race start. It was..... interesting to say the least. If I hadn't known it was the national anthem, I don't think I could have figured it out. Ha.


After that, I lined up in my corral. (I made it into a corral!! #3, the last seeded corral, but a corral nonetheless!)


I wasn't quite sure what to expect going into this race. I secretly wanted to pace 7:30-miles, but was unsure if that would be possible. I had only decided about a month previously to run this race, so I sorta just crammed a few long runs into my training schedule and said that would have to be good enough.


Before we knew it, the race had begun! I wanted to start out conservatively, because who knew how I would feel 10+ miles into the race. 


My first mile was a 7:38, which was right where I wanted to be. Sadly, I don't have any of my other mile splits. No fancy Garmin for me, just my cheap-o watch from Wal-mart! It works for me.


My Business Man was able to catch me around the 2.5-mile mark. All smiles at this point!


I do remember being around a 7:30 average for the first four miles, and then all of a sudden each mile was around 7:15. Yikes! I kept trying to relax, but passing people was much more fun!


I am super-glad that I decided not to run with my iPod. The race wove through some beautiful neighborhoods, and by several nice-to-look-at monuments. It was great to soak up every moment of the race, without being distracted by my music.


A little after mile 10, I started to feel the pain. I think my 10-mile split was something like 1:23:xx, so I was averaging around 7:20-pace. Faster than I had ever imagined! Now, the trick would be to finish strong. 


[Side note: I held a 'contest' in each of my classes at school. All the students had to guess my finish time in the half, and the closest would receive 5 bonus points on their next test. Of course, some of them really had no concept of running and pace, so their guesses were pretty out there. The guesses ranged from a 1:09 to a 2:45! 


However, I did share my goal time of 1:38 with my students, so I felt responsible to finish in that time! I didn't want them to think I was all-talk!]


So, with less than a 5km to go, I just kept telling myself that it was probably going to hurt no matter how slow or fast I was running, so I might as well try to maintain the pace!


I knew the finish was right in front of the Capitol building, so when I saw that we were running right toward it, I began to get super-excited! Yes, almost done!


Until... we kept running... past the Capitol... around the block... and then finally back to the Capitol. That last half-mile was LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOONG!


But, finally, it was in sight and I sprinted in as fast as my little legs would carry me.
Looking down to stop my watch. I didn't cross the line til about 25 seconds after the official gun, so my watch was different than the official time on the clock.
Official finish time: 1:35:55!! 


Official place: 31st/2349 women

Way faster than expected! I was so happy! 

I even received a special TOP 100 hat for finishing in the Top 100 females. Oh, and the finisher's medal, too. Needless to say, I was on a running high the rest of the day.
Nice pose in front of the deceiving finish line monument...

They had a lot of food and yummies after the race, including Panera bagels! 


No cool-down for me, though my legs would hate me for that later.



My Business Man and his BFF got some cool pics during the race. While they waited for me to run miles 3-13, they went up to the roof of Adam's office and watched the race from above. 
There I am!! Can't you see me?
We high-tailed it back to Adam & Sarah's apartment, because I was COOOOLD! No problems being cold during the race, but I was soon as I was done running, I was freezing!


My nice hot shower was the best reward for a good race. 


The rest of the day was spent out to brunch, to Brown County for some Christmas shopping and the best pumpkin spice latte of my life, and the Cinema Grille for some dinner and The Social Network.


Another blog post for another day!

 
Simply Yours Designs: Cute Blog Designs