Friday, December 31, 2010

2011 Goals

As 2010 fades into a memory everyone starts to think ahead to 2011 ... what they want to accomplish, the good things hopefully in store, putting this year in the past.... I haven't really made New Year's resolutions in a long time since I don't normally keep them. (Honestly, does anyone ever really keep them? If so I want to know their secret!) This year, however, I want to make a list of goals I hope to accomplish throughout 2011. And by posting it here on my blog, I will have all my readers (do I have any??) to help me stay on track to reach my goals!

Goal 1: Take a Cooking Class
I've always wanted to take one and now that we live in an area where these actually exist rather than in the middle of nowhere it's my goal to find a class that sounds interesting and actually do it! I want to keep exploring new menu items in the kitchen to spice up our weekly menus and a cooking class would be a great place to learn.

Goal 2: Explore Photography
This past year I splurged on a digital SLR camera and I love it, but I'm sure I don't utilize properly and I definitely don't understand all that I can do with it. I want to learn though. I figure there's a community ed class or somewhere online that can teach me. Otherwise I'll never know exactly what to do with it!

Goal 3: Host a Party or Get-together
My husband and I always talk about having people over, but we never actually go through with any plans. This year, party time at our house!! At least a fun dinner party where I could make what I learn in my cooking class I'm going to take!

Goal 4: Save Money
Boring goal I know!! But a necessary one. There are so many things that come up that I wish I had money for so this year is time to open up a savings account again and put money in it every month for emergencies or even a rainy day.

Goal 5: Take a Vacation
Funny that goal 4 is save money followed by taking a vacation that will require money. Good thing I'm going to start saving! We haven't been on a vacation since our honeymoon back in 2006; I think it's time we deserved to take one. It doesn't even need to require expensive airline tickets, just get out somewhere new for a week and have some fun!

Goal 6: Have Date Nights
I think my husband and I would also benefit from a date night. A night to get at least a little bit gussied up (at least get out of the sweats for a few hours!) and go out on the town - dinner, a movie, a play, a baseball game, etc. - just away from the dogs for a few hours and reconnect.

Goal 7: Be Healthier
This is not a "lose weight" or "diet" resolution. This is just an overall be healthy goal - eat the recommended five fruits and veggies a day, eat whole grains more, take up pilates or yoga again, continue taking the dogs for a walk, incorporate fitness into my every day life somehow. I don't want to diet; I love food and baking, and being able to explore recipes without restrictions (other than no onions!) so no diets. If I lose weight by eating healthier and getting in some exercise, that would just be a great benefit. I just want to feel healthier.

Goal 8: Keep Finding What Makes Me Happy
This past year has brought many struggles, but also lots of happiness in my life. One thing that has made me super happy is finding a place to live that didn't suffocate me as I was feeling just a year ago. For 2011 I want to keep finding out what makes me happy ... in my career, in my home life, in my hobbies, in my family ... and living this happier life. You only live once, and I want to make the best of my life by being happy and fulfilled. I'll continue on this quest this year, and many years to come!

There they are ... my eight goals for 2011. I think it's enough, and I think I have some things in there that will challenge me. I will of course keep posting some of baking creations here on my blog and writing since those things make me happy!

Thanks to 2010 for being a year that brought positive changes to my life even through all the struggles and tears. Here's hoping that 2011 will be even better!!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas Goodies: Peppermint Bark

Christmas is just a few short days away, and I'm sure everyone is baking up a frenzy making holiday goodies, decorating the tree (I love our tree this year and the fact that we have a bay window to display it!), finishing up shopping and wrapping presents. Luckily I'm all done with my Christmas decorating and shopping. I was thinking about picking up one more thing for my parents, but not sure if I want to brave the crazed crowds. Instead, I'm spending my time indoors and trying out some new recipes.

Being that there's only two of us in our family, I have to restrain myself from making too many goodies. (Well, technically there's four of us, but my two dogs cannot have my baked goods!) I've found so many recipes I want to make this year, and I just want to keep using my new KitchenAid mixer on a daily basis, but I don't want to bake too much and feel obligated to eat everything I make. I don't want to have to buy new pants this Ch
ristmas! So I've been trying to find the most interesting and most holiday-ish recipes to try now, and to save the other recipes for later when the Christmas goodies have run out and we're craving some baked goods. But it's definitely taking restraint!!

This time around I decided to make peppermint bark. I love peppermint bark. The stuff from Williams-Sonoma is hands down the best. However, the price is a little too steep for me meager budget so I decided to make my own this year. I had a recipe saved from years ago cut out from some magazine of my mom's and used that for this first round of bark. It called for heavy cream in the bottom layer with the semi-sweet chocolate so it's more like a chocolate ganache than a hard bark. Not sure if I like that quality. I think I would like a hard bark more a
nd it also needs some more peppermint flavor. Overall, it's not bad, just not Williams-Sonoma quality!! Probably not even the quality of the stuff I could by at Target. No worries, I'll still eat it. It still tastes like peppermint bark, just not the best it could taste!

I would love to make another batch and try something different to improve, but I realized my husband hasn't even tried any. I wish he would have told me he didn't like peppermint bark! At least I only made half a batch!

Peppermint Bark
12 oz. high quality semi-sweet chocolate, finely chopped (I used Bakers, it was the best I could find)
1/2 cup heavy or whipping cream
1 tsp. peppermint extract (I think this is where Williams Sonoma gets the best bark; they use peppermint oil!)
12 oz. high quality white chocolate (also used Bakers)
Crushed candy canes or peppermint candies

How To:
Line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil smoothing out the wrinkles
In a microwave safe bowl carefully melt the semi-sweet chocolate and heavy cream making sure to not burn the mixture (I used 50% power). When fully melted stir in the peppermint extract.
Pour melted chocolate mixture on aluminum foil using a rubber spatula to spread into an even layer. Place chocolate in freezer for about 10 to 25 minutes to harden.
Melt the white chocolate in the microwave carefully. Pour the white chocolate over the hardened semi-sweet chocolate. Spread carefully with spatula to not swirl the chocolates.
Press the peppermint candies in the white chocolate.
Refrigerate until very firm, about 2 hours, then break into chunks.
Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to two weeks.

If you know of a better recipe let me know. I'll try it next year! I'm determined to make a delicious batch of peppermint bark!!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Christmas Cookies: Rolo Stuffed Chocolate Cookies

What do you do when over 12 inches of snow fall on your doorstep that's followed by below zero temperatures? Of course you'd be happy for a snow day (even though it's Saturday) and be glad that you (somewhat) have all necessary ingredients and do some holiday baking!

So far I've only made holiday cupcake pops (in my new favorite flavor - peppermint vanilla!) for a cookie exchange. Not too much holiday baking yet for me! I started to go through my usual holiday recipes, and none of them sounded like much fun. Primarily because most of them didn't allow me to use my brand spankin' new KitchenAid mixer I got for my birthday!! It's red, and beautiful, and was begging to be used on the snowy weekend. I decided to check out s
ome of my favorite blogs for new Christmas cookie recipes and found several I wanted to try. I printed out all the recipes, and picked the one that I had all the ingredients on hand for to bake. However, my husband decided to weigh in with an opinion on the recipe assortment and pick the one he wanted me to make first.

Let me just clarify that we just had a major snowstorm that dumped a foot or more of snow. The roads were just being cleared out, and the wind chills were well below zero. I planned on picking something that I had all the necessary ingredients, however, when you let you husband pick out a recipe, he'll undoubtedly pick out the one recipe that you don't have everything for!

No way was I going out in the cold! So I turned to him and gave him my sweetest smile and said "I would love to make you some cookies because I love you! Can you please go out in the snow and cold to pick up some Rolos and brown sugar? Pretty please?!" He of course couldn't say no; I was making the cookies he wanted! So he bundled up and headed out. Then 20 minutes later it was time to get my KitchenAid mixer whirling and bake some cookies!

My husband picked out a recipe for Rolo Stuffed Chocolate Cookies that Jamie from My Baking Addiction posted on her site. They looked so good with caramel oozing out of the centers! I was not disappointed. These cookies were easy to make, and smelled so good as they were baking. To make mine more Christmas themed, I topped the cookies with red and green sugar sprinkles. Very festive I thought! The best part is that they tasted exactly as good
as I imagined! The perfect combination of chocolate with a caramel center. The perfect addition to my holiday baking list! I hear we're getting more snow in the next couple of days so it will be a good excuse to do some more holiday baking and finish up wrapping my presents!

Here's the link if you're looking for a delicious cookie to add to your holiday baking:

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Chocolate M&M Cookies

In Honor of Cookie Week
Ree Drummond, a.k.a The Pioneer Woman and my cooking idol, has deemed this "Cookie Week" on Twitter. I figured since I was baking cookies anyway, I would just write up a quick post to link with all of the other yummy cookie recipes coming through! I know I've seen many new recipes I want to try out soon! However, this time I stuck with one of my favorites since I had everything I needed in my cupboards.

This recipe never fails me - Chocolate Pudding Cookies - and the cookies always taste oh-so-good. I've made these cookies numerous times since I stumbled upon the recipe in the Tasty Kitchen site. I've made them mostly with chocolate pudding and also have used vanilla pudding mix to use them as a basic chocolate chip cookie recipe. I always love them, and they always get eaten up quick in my house!

This time around I had some M&Ms open from a previous baking project that I wanted to use up along with some white chocolate chips leftover from Oreo brownies. I threw them in instead of plain chocolate chips and was surprised with how Christmas-y they look! I didn't have Christmas M&Ms; I just happened to have fall colored ones that were mixed with a green bag so they turned out holiday-ish. Turned out great since I'm in the holiday mood with Christmas only 23 days a way!

Speaking of Christmas creeping up ... did you know some people are DONE with their Christmas shopping? And many of those same people already have their presents wrapped? Jeepers! I haven't even started. But at least I have a list going ... even if it's only in my head! And if you're still looking for the perfect holiday gift for me, I need a new mixer. At the top of my list this year is a KitchenAid Stand Mixer. Since my hand mixer pretty much died the day before Thanksgiving this is now become more of a necessity!

If you're interested in trying out a great chocolate cookie head over to the Tasty Kitchen site and check out the recipe. I highly recommend it for yummy tasting cookies! Feel free to mix and match whatever kind of chocolate chips/ candies you want! Enjoy!