Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thanksgiving greetings everyone! 

This morning, I find myself typing from a kitchen and a computer covered in a light or not so light in places dusting of flour. I've been busy making homemade dinner rolls and pumpkin pie to take along to our Thanksgiving celebrations today. In case you're wondering, the rolls I'm currently attempting are the very same delicious Quick Homemade Dinner Rolls I made last Thanksgiving. I decided to double the recipe, so I've got fingers crossed they won't be a flop! So far, they look and smell pretty good from what I can spy inside my oven.

I won't even begin to make a list of things that T & I have to count as blessings this Thanksgiving holiday, but one in particular I'm enjoying currently is that he is still asleep. LET ME EXPLAIN: This gives me the entire morning to indulge in one of my favorite Thanksgiving Day traditions: watching the Macy's Day Thanksgiving Parade with my morning cup of joe! L.O.V.E.

A few pics from our Thanksgiving family photo shoot to share!

The whole clan is back together again. Watch out!

Pretty good looking crew!

Me and the brothers. Thanksgiving 2013.

So I couldn't decide which photo I liked better. This one...

...Or this one.

Probably the best picture of T & I from the year. Too bad I already have my Christmas cards!

Do you have any favorite Thanksgiving Day traditions?

Dear Santa...T's also been nice this year...

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Since T will likely be too focused on his obsession with ipad games and Call of Duty to read my blog this week, I thought I'd share a few items that might be on his list this year for Christmas...

Like myself, T has a number one item (#2 below) that he has been wanting for quite some time now. Explanation: he finally did buy himself a straight blade razor over the summer, and he now wants to upgrade his starter shaving brush to match the cocobolo wood on his razor. Very particular I know. The other items on the list are in no particular order, and he isn't aware that I'm sharing, so will be pleasantly surprised by any of these gems if they were to show up under the Christmas tree this year.

Men's Christmas List 2013

1 - Squire Shoppe dress pants (size 34) - flat front, NO pleats. T could use dark gray and a new pair of black pants. Maybe a gift card so he could try them on first and get them hemmed?
2 - Thater Silvertip Badger Shaving Brush with Cocobolo Wood Handle & stand - #1 on T's list this year
3 - New Workout Clothes - t-shirts & shorts. T is seriously lacking in this department and relies on white undershirts and hideous light blue & gold basketball shorts that weigh about 20lbs, have pockets, and are likely at least 8 years old. These UnderArmour brand workout clothes might be just the thing to get him up-to-date.
4 - Gap black belt - (size 36)
5 - Holiday socks - As long as they have that ski-lodge feel, he'd probably like these from anywhere
6 - Pottery Barn Saddle Leather Lidded Ice Bucket & Tongs with 'W' monogram in double-stroke square - style 397. T's mancave wetbar does not have an ice maker, so this would be a nice addition.
7 - Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker 22.5in Smoker - a new hobby T has been interested in after tasting some delicious home-smoked meats over the summer and tailgating season.
8 - JCrew fleece-lined lodge moccasins in navy (size 12)
9 - Pottery Barn Saddle Leather Toiletry Case with 'TWJ' monogram in traditional block - style 11. T doesn't have anything to keep all of his bathroom gear together when we travel. This case is so nice he would likely deem it worthy of his many prized items currently stored all over the counter.
10 - Leather gloves - black (the pictured gloves are Calvin Klein brand from Younkers - no particular style)
11 - (1) The Balvenie or (2) Dalwhinnie Single Malt Scotch Aged 15 Years - T's favorites available at most liquor stores
12 - Iowa Hawkeye Robe - T spotted this super soft Hawkeye robe over the weekend and is practically begging me to get it for him.

T has been so wonderful this year, that I would love to surprise him with all of these items. Unfortunately, my bank account doesn't agree, so I'll be choosing maybe just a couple of these items on his list. Anyone worried about doubling up, call/text/email me. I've already done some Christmas shopping for T (things I did not list here), so can be flexible if there is something here that you would just love to surprise him with. We're only a month away now! Crazy how fast the holiday season can sneak up on us!

Do you have any good ideas for manly Christmas gifts this year?

Pumpkin-Cranberry Muffins

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

NOM. Nom. nom. That's what I have to say about the magnificent muffins I whipped up in the kitchen today. With Fall in full swing, and Thanksgiving just around the corner, pumpkin and cranberries were on my mind when looking for a new recipe to test out for breakfast. Boy am I sure glad I did! These muffins were soft as a cloud and came together in a perfect medley of fall flavors.

These muffins are best served warm with a dollop of butter and a steaming cup of joe. I'm thinking they will be the perfect thing to have on hand for Thanksgiving morning next week. One can never have too much pumpkin right?

Step One: Gather the ingredients. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Step Two: In a large bowl, mix together the dry ingredients using a whisk.

Step Three: In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the sugar, buttermilk, pumpkin, egg, brown sugar, and olive oil. Mix on medium speed for 3 minutes using a paddle attachment.

Step Five: On low mixing speed, gradually add in the flour mixture to the wet ingredients until just combined. Fold in the dried cranberries.

Step Six: Prepare the muffin tin with cup liners, and spoon the muffin batter into each liner. 
You should have exactly the right amount.

Step Seven: Bake at 375 degrees for 25 minutes. Immediately remove muffins to a wire cooling rack.

Remember that dollop of butter I mentioned? Now is the time friends! NOTE: This recipe can be easily doubled if you have company coming.

Recipe from Cooking Light

PUMPKIN-CRANBERRY MUFFINS | Yield: 12 muffins | Total Time: 40 min.


1 1/2 C flour
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp cloves
1 C sugar
1 C canned pumpkin
1/2 C low-fat buttermilk
1/4 C packed light brown sugar
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 large egg
2/3 C dried cranberries (such as Craisins)


Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine flour, baking soda, ginger, baking powder, cinnamon, salt, and cloves in a large bowl. Stir together with a whisk.

In the bowl of a stand mixer (or a separate bowl), combine sugar, pumpkin, buttermilk, brown sugar, olive oil, and egg. Beat at medium speed for 3 minutes until well blended. Gradually add flour mixture to the wet ingredients beating at low speed until just combined. Fold in the cranberries.

Prepare a muffin tin with muffin liners. Spoon batter into prepared cups. Bake at 375 degrees for 25 minutes. Remove muffins from the pan immediately, and cool on a wire rack.

What will you be making for Thanksgiving morning?

Dear Santa...I've been nice this year...

Monday, November 18, 2013

Happy Monday all! How was your weekend? I kept busy sorting out and setting up some Christmas decorations (shhhh!) and working on several home projects. A big shout out to my youngest bro T for helping me hang a ton of things I needed help with, my own T for putting together the rest of our storage shelves that have been sitting on the floor for the last month and a half, my lovely mom for bringing us some puppy chow and coffee cake to snack on, and my dad, for sitting on the couch to watch football with the boys, and taking us all out to dinner. With all the glitter and sparkles in my house and this talk about Christmas, I got to thinking about what's on my list for this year's holiday season. Drum Roll Please...

2013 Christmas Wishes

1 - Casio PX850 Privia 88-Key Digital Piano, white and Reader's Digest Merry Christmas Songboook
2 - Wusthoff Classic 6-Inch Granton Edge Cook's Knife
3 - Pottery Barn Gift Card
4 - Mark & Graham Polished Brass Coasters with 'W' monogram - Didot Regular Style 549
5 - Frye Company Melissa Button Boot in Cognac size 9
6 - Calphalon Contemporary Stainless Steel 8-Qt Multi-Pot
7 - White Gold Hoops (4cm size & must latch), and Diamond Stud earrings (my current ones are too tiny to see)
8 - Canon PowerShot SX260 HS 12.1-Megapixel Digital Camera
9 - Stir Crazy Popcorn Maker
10 - Pottery Barn Maxine Cake Serving Set
11 - Mariposa Luncheon Size Napkin Holder and Mariposa Chip & Dip Server
12 - Shark Cordless Handheld Vacuum

The long awaited list is finally here! While the digital piano is definitely number one on my santa list, the rest of the list is in no specific order. I'll agree some are more exciting than others (yes, I have a handheld vacuum on my list), but all are things I would be super excited to open for the holidays.

My suggestion to those of you who are concerned about doubling up on something...Pottery Barn gift cards or money are more than welcome, and equally appreciated. There are several items on my list that I would kill for (ahem ... notice that beautiful digital piano or diamond earrings), and others that didn't make the cut due to various other reasons (like all that furniture we need, but haven't picked out yet), so know that I would be supremely happy with any contribution to put towards any of the numerous items on my pictured or non-pictured list in the new year. If for some reason I were to be lucky enough to get two of the same thing, most of these items can be easily exchanged during my pre-planned post-holiday shopping trip, so never fear!

What is on your Christmas list this year?

DIY: Spruce Tip Porch Pot

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Greetings from an ice cold version of a November day. There is once again snow on the ground in my little neck of the woods, and 'the LG' is completely frozen over and dusted with snow behind my house. Ugh. On a brighter note, my weekend was filled with many other wonderful things. My mom and I made a shopping trip to get some Christmas items checked off the list (After spending a solid 3.5 hours at Hobby Lobby, I can't wait to decorate!), I found the perfect indoor tree for our main living area upstairs at the new house, and I attended a class at a local greenhouse with my mother-in-law and mom about spruce tip porch pot decorating. Such a fabulous weekend!

Things you will need:
- 1 medium or large outdoor pot
- potting soil
- 5-6 spruce tips
- gardening gloves
- gardening shears
- birch logs
- curly willow or other tall branches
- decorative picks
- pinecones
- bow or gazing ball (this will be the focal point)

The first five of these items are essentials, while the remaining items are guidelines and can be adjusted based on what you want your pot to look like.

Put on those gardening gloves. We're about to get our hands dirty! Begin by prepping the pot. Since T & I recently moved, I did not have a large outdoor pot, or any outdoor pot for that matter. I found one at a greatly discounted price in Menards outdoor section and purchased some new potting soil to get this project going. If you have a pot already, great! You can use the same potting soil, root systems and all, from your summertime flowers. Keep in mind that you will be adding water to this project at the end, so if you are using a fabulous piece of pottery, make sure to use a less expensive plastic insert so that when the water freezes it won't crack your pot.

Next, clip the bottom branches off the spruce tips. Spruce tip decorating has become popular in the last five years or so, and you will likely be able to pick up a bundle at your local greenhouse. I have not seen them available at any of the big box stores at this point.* The bundle I used had about 8-9 spruce tips, but you'll only need about 5-6 for one medium sized pot. After clipping the lower branches (make sure to keep them for later), find the tallest one, and firmly press it into the potting soil. I made a one-sided pot and started by putting the tallest tip in the middle, then focused on filling out the front and sides with shorter tips (or by pressing them further into the soil to create the effect of a small Christmas tree shape). All those branches you clipped off? Lay them on top of the remaining potting soil to hide the dirt.

*NOTE* If you aren't into a full DIY project, Menards is selling pre-made spruce tip pots in their outdoor section that range from $20-$40. You could always start there and switch up the decorative picks to your preferences.

Great, we're halfway there! Once you have the spruce tips in place, the real fun begins. Decorating time! This is where you can get creative and adjust the materials to your tastes and color preferences. I decided to keep my pot relatively neutral since I plan to keep it out all winter instead of strictly Christmas. Start by finding a spot near the middle for the 'thriller', the unexpected visual element that will add extra height (mine was curly willow). Other good options to consider; dogwood, pussy willow, tall birch logs, holiday palm fronds, or anything that would have more height than your tallest spruce tip.

Now, it's time for the more personalized decorative picks. As I mentioned before, I kept my palate relatively neutral. Other ideas to consider are choosing picks that compliment your house color, your pot color, or go all out Christmas and do a red-green, or gold-silver combo. You could even do a fall pot to decorate for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday (use leaves, wheat shoots, berries, etc). The world is your oyster. I used 6 separate decorative elements for my pot; short birch logs (5), stars (3), gourd cups (3), dried artichokes (3), berries (2) and pinecones (2). If you plan to use birch logs, start with those first as they have a bigger base and will take up more room. I purchased the decorative picks at my local greenhouse, but you could also find them at most craft stores.

The best tip for arranging the picks is to cluster in groups of three. Try to arrange the picks in a triangle shape with 3 heights for the same pick. This will give your pot more visual interest and look more cohesive. Example - three stars together on one side, 3 gourds together on the other. I used berries and pinecones as extra filler. Don't forget to create a focus point! This could be a bow at the front of the pot, or a gazing ball or ornament that stands out.

When you are happy with your design, don't forget to water in the spruce tips to keep them looking great all winter (and to add extra weight to the pot). You'll only need to water once, so don't be shy. If you have an outlet nearby, you could also add some Christmas lights at this point. I just love how my porch pot turned out.

Bring on the holiday visitors! These porch pots are sure to impress!

Carnitas Caldo (Carnitas Soup)

Friday, November 8, 2013

TGIF...or IWIWOV (I wish I was on vacation). For those of you that don't live in my town, I'll have you know that the lake had a sheet of ice over it this morning behind my house. Waaaay too early for that! Thankfully, the temps are on the upswing, the snow from earlier this week is starting to melt, and the lake was only temporarily covered in a thin layer of ice. Whew!

With this brisk weather, there is nothing better than a warm bowl of soup, or caldo if you will. As my household only consist of T & I, those delicious crispy slow-cooker carnitas from Wednesday left me with many leftovers. Luckily, I had plenty left over for this spicy little Mexican caldo.

Step One: Gather the ingredients.

Step Two: Roast those serranos (or jalapenos).

Step Three: Saute onion and chayote for 5 min over medium-high heat. Add garlic for  a couple minutes, then the remaining carnitas, broth, serranos/jalapenos. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 30 minutes.

Step Four: Make the potato-masa dumplings. Set aside, or refrigerate until ready to use.

Recipe adapted from Gimme Some Oven

CARNITAS CALDO ( CARNITAS SOUP) | Yield: 6-8 Servings | Total Time: 1 hour 30 min + carnitas cook time


1 Tbsp olive oil
1 large white onion, diced
1 chayote, skin and core removed, then sliced into matchsticks*
8 cloves garlic, minced
8 C chicken broth
5-6 C cooked pork carnitas*
1-3 roasted serrano peppers (or substitute jalapeno), chopped, to taste*
salt and pepper, to taste
2 C potato-masa dumplings
2 avocados, cubed
1 C fresh cilantro, chopped
6-8 C baby arugula
lime wedges for garnish

*NOTE* I found chayote (a type of squash) in my local Walmart produce section. If you aren't having any luck, try substituting jicama, pepper, or carrots. Chayote is about the size of a pear, and the taste is somewhere between summer squash, jicama, and green apple, with a texture similar to broccoli stalks. Use leftover carnitas for the soup. If substituting jalapeno, be very careful of how much you add to the soup, as it is a larger pepper, and tends to be more hot than serrano.

Potato-Masa Dumplings Ingredients:
1 C mashed potatoes (1 large russet)
1/2 C masa harina*
1 egg
1/4 tsp. salt

*NOTE* If you have trouble finding masa harina (as I did), substitute hardshell corn tortillas. You'll need about 6. Put them in a food processor or blender, and grind into a fine powder. You could substitute corn meal, but then you will need to add a little lime juice to get the correct flavor profile. Another substitute idea: add a can of corn and some diced potatoes for a similar, but easier option.


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut the serranos or jalapenos in half and lay cut side down on a small foil-covered baking sheet. Rub the skin side with a small amount of olive oil, then roast in oven for about 20 minutes, or until skin begins to appear dried out at the edges. Remove from oven and allow to cool.

Meanwhile, heat oil in a large stockpot over medium-high heat. Add onion and chayote, saute for 5 minutes until the onion is transluscent. Add minced garlic and cook an additional 1-2 minutes. Add carnitas, broth, serrano peppers (adding one at a time to keep a control on the heat). I chose to thin out my soup a little and added 3 C water at this point. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low. Cover and simmer at least 30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste, if desired. I found that I didn't need any extra seasoning.

Skin and cube potato. Boil potato for about 20 minutes, or until cubes are tender. Drain potatoes. In a small bowl, combine potato cubes, masa harina, egg and salt. Mash together. Take about 1/4 C and roll into a tube about 1/2 inch in width. Slice into 1 inch sections, roll into balls, and drop into boiling water to flash cook. As soon as the dumplings float to the top, they are ready. Watch very closely, or the dumplings will disintegrate. Remove to paper-towel lined plate. Refrigerate until ready for use.

Ladle enough soup into a bowl to fill about halfway. Add potato-masa dumplings, chopped cilantro, arugula, avocado, and lime to garnish. Don't forget to squeeze some of that delicious lime juice into your soup before taking the first bite.

Do you have any favorite Mexican inspired soup recipes?

Crispy Slow Cooker Carnitas

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

SO...listen up. This is important. Last night, I cooked what may be the best Mexican home cooked meal yet. Seriously. T agrees. Carnitas, meaning 'little meats', are a type of braised or roasted pork in Mexican cuisine. Carnitas can be eaten just by itself with a little salsa, guac, or refried beans, or as part of a bigger meal with tacos, quesadillas, burritos, etc.

A big shout out to the food blog Gimme Some Oven for coming up with this amazing recipe. Not only is it easy, it makes enough for a crowd and is one of those set-and-forget dinner options which is great for all the upcoming busy days (insert Christmas shopping season!! Stay tuned for a look at what's on my list this year...)

Step One: Gather the ingredients.

Step Two: Trim pork of excess fat and cut into 3-inch sized pieces. Heat oil in a large skillet over high heat and sear pork for 2 minutes on each side.

Step Three: Combine all ingredients in a slow cooker, and set to low. Sit back and relax - or go Christmas shopping - while the roast cooks for 6-8 hours.

Step Four: When the meat is completely tender, use a fork to shred it into bite-sized pieces.

Step Five: Preheat your oven broiler. Prepare a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Use a slotted spoon, transfer half of the meat mixture to the baking sheet and spread evenly. Broil for five minutes, remove and gently toss meat, spoon 1/3 C reserved broth over meat, and broil an additional five minutes. Spoon an additional 1/3 C broth over meat, remove to a serving dish and repeat with remaining meat.

Recipe very slightly adapted from Gimme Some Oven

CRISPY SLOW COOKER CARNITAS | Yield: 6-8 Servings | Total Time: 7-8 hours


1 Tbsp canola or vegetable oil
1 (4-5 lb.) lean boneless pork roast, excess fat trimmed, cut into 3-inch chunks*
10 oz. beer*
1 large white onion, diced
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp chipotle powder (or 1 chipotle in adobo sauce)
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp chili powder
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp black pepper

*NOTE* I used a Hormel 4.5 lb. pork butt roast on recommendation from the meat counter guys for being less fatty than the roasts in the counter. Any beer will do, I chose Dos Equis to keep with the Mexican theme. I think an amber beer would be fun to try too.


Greek yogurt OR sour cream* 
Tortillas, small
Avocado, cubed
Salsa, homemade or store bought (my recipe below)
- 1 pint grape tomatoes, quartered
- 1/3 C red onion
- 1 jalapeno, diced
- 1/4 C cilantro, chopped
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 Tbsp lime juice
- sprinkle of kosher salt

*NOTE* I used Greek yogurt as a healthy alternative to sour cream with little noticeable taste/texture difference. Whatever you have on hand is fine.


Remove any excess fat from the pork roast and cut into rough 3-inch chunks. Heat oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add the pork and sear on each side until browned (about 2 minutes per side). Meanwhile, dice up that onion and mince the garlic. Transfer pork to the slow cooker after searing.

Add the remaining ingredients, and give the mixture a stir to combine. Cook on low for 6-8 hours until the pork shreds easily with a fork. It should be falling apart to the touch. If it isn't, let it bask a little longer. Meanwhile, mix together a homemade salsa. Try not to eat it all before dinner!

Once the pork is cooked, preheat your oven broiler and cover a large baking sheet with aluminum foil. Use a fork to shred the meat, then using a slotted spoon, transfer 1/2 of the mixture to the prepared baking sheet. Spread out evenly in a single layer. Reserve the remaining broth in the slow cooker.

Place the sheet under the broiler for about 5 minutes, or until the edges of the pork begin crisping up. Remove the sheet, gently toss, and spoon 1/3 C broth over the meat. Return to oven for another 5 minutes to get the meat more crispy. Remove from the oven and spoon another 1/3 C broth over the meat. Transfer to a serving dish and repeat with remaining meat.

Serve immediately in tacos, quesadillas, burritos, salads, the world is your oyster! Don't forget to get out those toppings! Refrigerate or freeze any leftovers for use another time. Stay tuned for what I'm doing with my leftovers...

What is your favorite slow cooker recipe?

Cranberry Almond Biscotti

Monday, November 4, 2013

Happy Monday all! I hope everyone had a fabulous weekend and you were able to get outside and enjoy this 50 degree weather while it lasts!

Step One: Gather the ingredients.

 Step Two: Mix together the wet and dry ingredients, and form two 12x2 logs. 
Use wet hands to handle the dough more easily.

Recipe adapted from All Recipes
Step Three: Bake at 300 degrees for 35 minutes or until golden. Remove from oven and 
allow to cool for 10 min. Set oven to 275 degrees. Cut logs diagonally into 3/4 inch strips. 
Turn cookies on the side and bake an additional 10 minutes. 

CRANBERRY ALMOND BISCOTTI | Yield: 20 cookies | Total Time: 1 hr. 20 min.


1/4 C light olive oil
3/4 C white sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond extract
2 eggs
1 3/4 C flour
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 C dried cranberries
1 1/2 C slivered almonds


Preheat oven to 300 degrees. In a large bowl, mix together oil and sugar. Add vanilla and almond extracts, then beat in eggs. Combine flour, salt, and baking powder; gradually stir into egg mixture. Mix in cranberries and almonds by hand.

Divide dough in half. Form two logs (12x2 inches) on a parchment lined cookie sheet. TIP: wet hands with cool water to handle dough more easily.

Bake for 35 minutes, or until logs are golden. Remove from the oven and cool 10 minutes. Reduce oven heat to 275 degrees.

Cut logs on the diagonal into 3/4 inch thick slices. Lay on sides on parchment covered cookie sheet. Bake approximatley 10 minutes, or until dry. Allow to cool before operation devour ensues.

Go Hawks!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

T and I have been very busy these last couple of weeks spending only about half of our time at home, and the rest in one of our favorite cities...any guesses where? Iowa City of course. Last weekend we kicked off the celebrations with T turning 30 (and thinking his life is over), an Iowa Hawkeye victory against Northwestern at Kinnick Stadium, and enjoying some of our favorite haunts...aaaaaah Three Samurai...what I wouldn't give to transport you to our sushi-less corner of the state.

 T and I at the tailgate this weekend.

Love my family.

This past weekend we found ourselves back in IC for some more tailgating, another Hawkeye football game, and celebrating T's brother's birthday. While we had a wonderful time, so much road tripping lately has left us wishing for some new music on the radio, a home-cooked meal, and a weekend without travel. I think these cranberry almond biscotti may just help us ease back into the routine!

H, myself and S (college roomies) tailgating together at Iowa's homecoming this fall.

Look who made it down for a game!!

Tailgating with my brother.

Gramps and the boys at the game this weekend.

Until next time...GO HAWKS!
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