What I Wore Today: Gift Hunting

Even though the holidays are almost over, January is a busy birthday month for Husband and I. The gifting isn't over yet! Husband was off work yesterday, so we took a trip to Wildcard. We were on a mission to find a happy belated birthday card, and other regular birthday cards.

Even though most of yinz* don't love my outfit posts, I'm going to continue them anyway! 
I'm snarky like that.

On Butler Street

Special thanks to Husband for taking these photos!

 Gift Hunting Outfit | Scarf: Gift | Coat: Espirit | Sweater: LOFT
Jeans: Banana Republic | Boots: Savers | Purse: Burberry
Tonight Michael and I are staying in to celebrate the coming of the new year, and cooking for ourselves. We're in the midst of making a somewhat healthy version of Nigella's Cornbread-topped Chili Con Carne. For dessert, I'm making a surprise! Stay tuned to see what it is!

*Note: "Yinz" is Pittsburgh slang (Pittsburghese) for 'you guys.' I don't think it will ever replace y'all!


Goodbye 2011 - You've Been Good to Me!

It's now time to do one of the obligatory "Goodbye 2011" posts, and say au revoir to the past year.

If summarizing my post titles, each month would look like this:
{January} "First of 2011 Update"
{February} "Bicycles"
{March} "Owl Art"
{April} "Rainboots and Making Lists"
{May} "Simple Gift"
{June} "Nose to the Grindstone - In Other Words, Happy June!"
{July} "Whoa, July?"
{August} "Change."
{September} "New Season, New Decoration"
{October} "Chicago! Part 1, 2, 3 & 4"
{November} "The Secret is Out!"
{December} "New in Town"

But what does that really say about my year?
It certainly gives small vignettes of my life, but what's really important is the accomplishments.
What I have accomplished this year is very tangible. First, Michael and I overcame a hurdle in our relationship, and have since made strides to become closer as a couple. We've also taken the big leap and moved away from Texas, to a new state and new home. We're setting out on our own adventure, and becoming a more in-tune pair.
One of my personal achievements this year comes in the form of health. I've found an interest of mine lies in being healthy. This might seem simple to some people, but it's a great feeling when you find something you enjoy. In my journey to learn, I've begun making better decisions for my own life. I've started to be more consistent with my exercise, trying to be athletic in my daily life, and living by a new philosophy, "Calories in, calories out!" Since I've been doing all of these things, I've become healthier, more comfortable in my own skin, and have lost weight!
I weighed around 200 in August 2007, when Husband proposed.
Later, I weighed 205 at an Alpha Phi Omega banquet.
Since then, I lost about 20 pounds, mainly because of my wedding in September 2008.
I weighed around 180 for my wedding.
 Then, in the following 2.5 years, I gained back about 12 of those lost pounds. It's hard to maintain weight loss through losing a job, supporting a new marriage, and moving to a new place. 
But, there's light at the end of the tunnel!

This year alone, I've lost 27 pounds! 
Since 2007 at my heaviest, I've lost 40 pounds!
Me at 165 in December 2011.
It's such an achievement for me, and I am recognizing it! I still have more weight to lose (and more muscle to build) before I'm at my healthy weight. This journey isn't done, but it's more than halfway over!

Happy New Year!


Baking: Fresh Herb Bread

My second treat I baked earlier this week came in the form of a bread. (On a slight side note, I have a weird love for bread. I even have a pin board dedicated to it's deliciousness.) But, don't be scared at all of yeast breads. Yeast bread is actually easy to make, and really the hardest part is waiting on it to rise. I will caution you, however, to make sure the place where you're letting it rise is at a regular 'room temperature.' Yeast dough will not rise properly in a cold room.

This bread can be made with a variety of herbs, but I usually use rosemary. The pine-y scent really lends itself to this bread. For these particular loaves, I used leftover thyme from our holiday cooking.

{Fresh Herb Bread}

1 tbsp. yeast
1 tbsp. granulated white sugar
1 c. warm water
2 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1 tbsp. fresh herbs (such as rosemary or thyme), finely chopped
2 tbsp. butter

Place yeast, sugar and water into a food processor, and allow to sit and become bubbly. This should take a few minutes. Mix in one tablespoon of butter, salt and 2 cups of flour. Add in one tablespoon of the chopped herbs, and knead in the food processor for 3-4 minutes.

It should be well mixed, with no floury edges. Then add in the last half cup of flour and knead for 1 minute in the processor. The dough should come into a ball at this point. If not, press it together by hand. Place the dough into a bowl lightly greased with some regular olive oil, and cover it with a kitchen towel. Let it rise in a 68-80 degree room for one hour.   Punch down the dough and divide it in half with a knife. Let it rest for another 5 minutes, then shape the dough pieces into loaves, and place them on a baking sheet that's been foiled and greased with cooking spray. Sprinkle the tops of the loaves with the remaining tablespoon of chopped herbs, pressing them into the dough. Cover with the kitchen towel and let them rise for 45 minutes. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and bake the loaves for 15-20 minutes.

If you choose, brush with remaining tablespoon of butter as they come out of the oven. 

This bread is great to serve with leftover Fillet of Beef Bourguinon

Or, you can slice it and serve it with a nice, steamy cup of coffee for breakfast. 


Baking: Banana Surprise Muffins

Finally, I think the snow is starting to stick to the ground. It's been a long time coming, I tell ya. Wait. I retract that statement. I just glanced out the window, and the snow is all but melted! Ugh!

On another note...Earlier this week I decided to use up a few odds and ends in the kitchen and made two of my favorite baking creations. In an effort to be healthy, I first made these particular banana surprise muffins. They have bananas, Splenda brown sugar, and other somewhat healthy ingredients. However, the surprise brings us back to the holiday gluttony we all know and enjoy. It's still the holidays until January 3rd, in my book!

{Banana Surprise Muffins}

2 cups all-purpose flour or whole wheat flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 c. butter, room temperature
1/2 c. Splenda brown sugar
2 eggs, beaten
2 1/3 c. bananas, overripe and mushy
12 Hershey Kisses, de-foiled

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 12-cup muffin pan with cooking spray. In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking soda and salt with a whisk. In a separate large bowl, cream together butter and Splenda brown sugar with a hand mixer. (We need good incorporation, here!) Stir in eggs and mashed bananas until well blended. Then, make a small well in the middle of the flour mixture, and pour the banana mixture in slowly, stirring with a wooden spoon.

Don't over mix! 
Place a heaping tablespoon of the batter into the muffin cups, then lightly press a Hershey kiss into the center. 

Cover with another heaping tablespoon of batter, twisting the mixture clockwise to seal the kiss in. (SWAK, anyone!?)

 Bake for 18-20 minutes, until the muffins are light golden brown and are pulling away from the sides of the muffin cup.

I offered Husband one fresh out of the oven when he got home from work. He was surprised!

P.S. - As you reheat them later for breakfast or dessert, the kiss melts even more!


Post Type Poll

Check it out, {A Dash of Spectacular} Readers!

I've made a poll for you to express what types of blog posts you'd like to see more of. It's located on the left-hand side of my blog page, towards the top.

I'd love to know what you like, can't get enough of, and yearn to read! Yes, that was slightly snarky. However, the point of this poll is to make sure I keep happy readers!

Enjoy your day, and please vote!


Feasting Part 2: Christmas Day & Post-Day

Christmas Day had arrived, and we were still recovering from the night before. What a meal! Today's menu consisted of a brunch of egg nog pancakes, followed (many hours later) by a dinner of Ina Garten's fillet of beef bourguinon. 

Husband surprised me that morning with a full stocking!

My stocking.
Again, we hadn't planned on giving any gifts or stockings this year because of the move

My stocking spoils. 
Luckily, Husband had the foresight to fill his stocking, too. I usually play by the rules, see?

Husband's Stocking
After stockings, I went upstairs to take a shower and get dressed for the day while Husband made the breakfast. He did a great job, making his own egg nog (rather than buttermilk) pancakes, turkey sausage, and sliced honey crisp apples. Yum!

We then spent some time Skyping with our families. Skype is such a great invention, and I'm so glad my Dad encouraged me to download it. 

We headed northeast to visit some of Husband's family that afternoon. Again, it was so nice to see family and get to know new people. We were able to download the Skype app onto Husband's iPhone (I left my Android at home), and let his mom Skype with some of her family members she hadn't seen in more than 40 years! What a cute and awkward moment. Sorry, Martie!

The next day we set up as Chef and Sous Chef to make fillet of beef bourguinon, since we had eaten dinner with Husband's family the night before. Flexibility -  it's great! Husband expertly sliced through the beef tenderloin fillet, careful not to cut through muscle, and only along seams. (Thanks, Anne Burrell!) 

He then followed the directions to brown the fillets, brown lardons, and scrape up that lovely crud on the bottom of my prized Le Creuset

He added in vegetables, stock and other delish ingredients. 

To make THIS.

Again, with the Cabernet.

Also featured again in our meal were treats from La Gourmandine
We had a loaf of wheat bread and two desserts. 

Their signature lemon tart, obviously for Husband.

And, a Buche de Noel for me.

What a fantastically cute dessert!

Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas!


Feasting Part 1: Christmas Eve

It's time to reveal the results from our holiday feasting. 
Get ready for a picture-laden few posts.

We began the cooking with a glass of wassel, followed by a glass of egg nog. Husband received these fancy whisky glasses as a Christmas present from his company. Yay, fancy glasses! 

Egg nog with a dusting of nutmeg.
 Then, we set in on making the squid (Feast of the THREE Fishes fish #1). We bought a half pound of bodies and tentacles at our local Giant Eagle Market District. (We also picked up the baccala there, too.) 

Sliced squid bits.
We fried them, to Anne Burrell's specifications, to a lovely golden brown. They were in a light batter of flour and a little cornstarch.

The plate of delicious fried-up squid bits, with lemon.
This recipe was spot-on. It was fresh, simple and delicious.

How can you not love something deep-friend in peanut oil?

We made a spicy dipping sauce to go with it from adding crushed red pepper flake, garlic, olive oil, and a squeeze of lemon juice to store-bought marinara sauce. 

Next, we moved on to the pasta bolognese. Shortly after reading through the recipe for the second time, and might I add more carefully, we realized the sauce needed to simmer for three and a half hours

We trudged on, our stomachs full of fried squid bits. 
And what a scrumptious end result! It was a super-long process, but I'm glad we did it. This dish didn't feature any "fish," but it did feature tons of salty parmigiano reggiano cheese.

Eat your pasta heart out. 

While the bolognese sauce was simmering, I went on to the baccala. So, since we all had a history/culinary lesson in my previous post, you know all about baccala. We went through the 48 hours of soaking, changing the water at least two times a day. What a trek!

The result was...not to our taste. It was a little too salty, and a little too fishy. The dish featured baccala and anchovies, fish #2 and #3 of our feast. Sheepishly, I'll admit, I made polenta to accompany it, and that was the hit of the dish. 

We sat down to our meal with a glass of Cabernet. 

For dessert, we indulged further in a treat from the French Patisserie down the street, La Gourmandine. An iced cream puff filled with vanilla pastry cream ON TOP of an iced cream puff filled with vanilla pastry cream? Heck yes! 

 What a perfect way to end a Christmas Eve meal.