Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Goals for 2010

I don't like goals, aspirations, quests or pretty much anything where failure is one of the outcomes. I also don't like failure. Even when I set goals, they are rarely ever written down. If they don't work out, the failure is now etched in stone in my planner/mirror post-it/soul for me to always remember. I prefer the amorphous goals that are just floating around in my head. Then when they work out, it's like, "Oh yeah. I guess I was working on that. Bravo to me and my mad achievements."

I know that I am able to accomplish written goals. I do it every time I go to the grocery store. So this year, I have decided to publicly list (some) of my goals for 2010. I know some of them may seem obvious but I feel mighty proud when I can check something off a list.

Go on a one-year anniversary trip
Take a class in something
Buy a house Find a house to let the bank buy for us
Attend my 10-year high school reunion
Put laundry away
Get a new laptop
Play more basketball
Play more soccer
Be confident
Get a passport
Visit Vegas
Visit Utah
Visit Morocco (more of a "hope")

Do Not
Eat french fries. Ever.
Get on Facebook while at work
Laugh at the cheerleaders that have gotten fat since high school
Hit snooze
Be angry
Eat out as often
Be anti-social
Avoid my dentist bill (even though I HATE them)
Hate people
Be afraid

I will keep the blog posted on my progress on these goals. Maybe. How about I let you know when they go well. But if you ask me about such-and-such goal and I haven't done it yet, then I'll probably cry. And then next year's list will have to include "Suck it up and stop crying."

Monday, December 14, 2009

Christmas Goodness

Every year I face a dilemma of Christmas at work. I work with x-number of people. I socialize with some more than others. Who do I get gifts for? Who is giving me a gift this year? Do I get everyone the same thing? Is someone going to feel obligated to get me a gift just because I gave them one? Wha! Eh! Meh?! Mrgh. More Christmas stress! Last year at Christmas I was newbie at work. I didn't know the Christmas exchange procedure so I was by default excused from any Christmas present blunder. But this year, I don't have the excuse of being "new". Through careful consideration and input from coworkers, I found a solution. I am making baked goods. I will load up the break room table with Christmas goodies, send out a super-personal email wishing everyone a "Merry Christmas", and satisfy the work gift exchange requirement. After extensive research, I settled on the following recipes. (I'm sorry for another food post. My social life lacks in substance right now). And if you're wondering why I have papers hanging from the cabinets in my kitchen, it is my alternative to a cook book holder. I am typically  printing off recipes from the internet plus I have limited counter space. This seemed like an easy way to display my recipe as I'm cooking without it getting in the way and not accidentally laying it on a pile of cooking residue (which is most often the case). Tada!

The recipes were fun to make. If you don't like egg nog, you probably won't like the fudge. But it's a pretty small amount of egg nog and not too overpowering. It's actually very addicting. I've never made fudge before so I was happy with how this turned out. It was MUCH easier than I was anticipating! Highly recommend it, especially if you like egg nog.

The biscotti was more of a project but still relatively easy. The only thing I changed was I dipped in regular chocolate instead of white chocolate since I already had the white chocolate based fudge. The next time I will probably make the pieces wider. This is a very pretty dessert and it gives off an impression of something much fancier than it actually is.

The brownies. Meh. They're okay. They are very minty and chocolatey, which I love. But they are a little more cakey and dry than I expected. I like the idea of using the Andes mints but next time, I'll either bake less time or use a different brownie base.

Eggnog Fudge

2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup butter
3/4 cup dairy eggnog
10.5 ounces white chocolate bars, chopped into small pieces
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg, plus a little more for the top of the fudge
One 7 ounce jar marshmallow creme
1 tsp rum extract

1. Line an 8 or 9-inch square pan with foil and let it hang over the sides. Butter the foil.

2. In a heavy, 3-quart saucepan combine sugar, butter and eggnog. Bring to a rolling boil, stirring constantly. Continue boiling 8 to 10 minutes over medium heat or until a candy thermometer reaches 234°F, stirring constantly to prevent scorching. Remove from heat.
3. Using a wooden spoon, work quickly to stir in chopped white chocolate and nutmeg until chocolate is melted and smooth. Stir in marshmallow creme and rum extract. Beat until well blended and then pour into prepared pan. Sprinkle a little freshly ground nutmeg on top. Let stand at room temperature until cooled. Refrigerate if you’d like to speed up the process.
4. When completely cool, cut into squares. Store in a covered container.
Yield: 30 to 40 pieces

Candy Cane Biscotti 

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs
2/3 cup finely crushed peppermint candy canes
14 ounces fine quality white chocolate, melted
extra crushed candy canes to sprinkle on top

1. Preheat oven to 350˚.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt.
3. In a large mixing bowl, beat together butter and sugar. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each. Add dry ingredients and mix until combined - stir in crushed candy.
4. Evenly divide dough into 4 pieces on a lightly floured surface. Shape each piece into 9" x 1 1/2" round log. Place logs 3 inches apart onto parchment-lined baking sheet.
5. Bake until tops are cracked and ends just start to turn light brown, about 18 to 20 minutes. Remove from oven and reduce temperature to 325. Cool logs 10 minutes on cookie sheet.
6. Cut each log diagonally into 1/2" slices with sharp serrated knife. (Discard ends, if you want.) Arrange pieces standing up back onto the baking sheet.
7. Bake until cookies are light golden brown and crisp on both sides, about 12 to 15 minutes. The centers may still be a little soft, but will firm up as they cool. Place onto cool rack and cool completely.
8. Dip half of each biscotti into melted chocolate - shake off excess. Immediately sprinkle with additional crushed candy canes and set on a parchment or wax paper lined baking sheet until the chocolate has set.
Make about 4 dozen.

Andes Brownies

1 cup butter
2 cups sugar (white)
4 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup all purpose flour
½ cup cocoa
½ teaspoon salt
about 1/4 cup (or however much you please, really) of chopped Andes mints

An additional package of whole Andes mints. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease 9 x 13 pan. Melt butter in saucepan over low heat. Once melted remove from heat and add sugar, vanilla, and eggs. Blend together. In separate bowl, mix together flour, cocoa, and salt. Add dry mixture to the wet and mix well. Add chopped Andes mints. Pour into greased pan and bake for 35-40 minutes.

RIGHT when the brownies come out of the oven, layer the top with the whole package of Andes mints (or however many it takes to cover the surface). Let them stand for a minute or two, until they are smooth enough to spread. Using a frosting spatula or a flat knife, spread the melted Andes mints evenly over the brownie to cover. Cool, cut and enjoy.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Chili Time

Growing up, my mom made chili every winter. Or fall. Not really sure if it had any kind of significance to the time-frame but nonetheless, she made chili pretty regularly. And it was great fun. When I went off to school in Idaho, I decided my tradition would be to make chili on the first day it snowed. Being back in NC, I can't keep with this tradition since it doesn't snow much. This weekend, one that was particularly rainy and cold, Jericho and I had my parents over for lunch and I decided to make chili! I was crunched on time so instead of making the recipe that I usually use, I went for a variation that was a bit quicker. After much research I settled on this recipe that apparently is served at this restaurant. I changed it a little since it's chili and pretty hard to mess up and you can do whatever you want with it. I absolutely loved how it turned out. Just enough spice. Just enough meat. Just enough beans. After our second meal of the chili, Jericho told me that I had changed his affection for chili. Unknown to me, Jericho had a bad association with chili for a number of years (due to being sick at the same time as eating chili, not because of the chili) and therefore lost his taste for it. Yet another testimony why this chili is fantastic!

Here is my changed recipe:

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 package of pork sausage
2 medium onions, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 little can of tomato paste
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 tablespoons sweet paprika
3 tablespoons Southwest Grilling Seasoning
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons brown sugar
Two 28-ounce cans diced tomatoes
1 16-ounce cans red kidney beans, drained
1 16-ounce can black beans, drained
1 16-ounce can yellow corn
2 cups water

In a large pot, heat the oil. Add the sausage and cook over high heat, breaking it up, until browned, about 15 minutes. Add the onions, bell pepper and garlic; cook over moderately high heat, stirring, until the onion is translucent, 8 minutes. Add the tomato paste and cook for 3 minutes. Add the chili powder, paprika, cumin and oregano and cook for 1 minute.

Add the tomatoes, beans, corn and water and cook over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 1 hour. Season with salt and pepper. Serve the chili with cheddar cheese and sour cream.

Some notes on my changes:
-  I don't have an "enameled cast-iron casserole." I'm not even sure what that is. I used a large saute pan for the first step, then dumped everything into the big pot when it was time to add the beans and other liquids.

-  If you get the sausage in links, remove the casings. I got the ground kind, like how you usually get ground beef. Much more convenient that way. I don't like a lot of meat in my chili but it would be perfectly fine to use more than 1 package. Don't go too crazy. This isn't spaghetti sauce.

-  I got a green pepper mainly because the grocery store didn't have any red. Didn't seem to make a difference. Green creates more color contrast though.

-  Tomato paste- I don't remember the ounce size, but it's the smallest can you can buy. I put the whole can in instead of just the 2 tablespoons because I had no use for half a can of tomato paste.

-  The Southwest seasoning thing is one of those premixed seasoning concoctions that appeared in my cabinet, I think from a former roommate. I like these because I can be lazy when I'm cooking something like chicken or potatoes and I get tired of "Italian seasoning" on everything. I didn't have any cumin but this mix did, as well as a bunch of other fun spices that seemed like they'd be good in chili, so I dumped a bunch in.

-  I couldn't believe there was a chili recipe that didn't call for any kind of red pepper seasoning. I put in about 2 dashes, which I'm guessing was about 1/2 tsp. It was the perfect amount of kick for me. I like spicy but just the little-bit-of-linger kind, not the breathing-fire kind.

-  I added the first two cups of water and thought it looked like enough so I stopped. And it was. I'm not sure why this recipe would need 4 cups of water. Use your judgment.

-  I split up the beans into two kinds because I thought it would add some variety and it made it look prettier. Also the reason why I added a whole can of corn instead of just a cup. It did indeed make a very pretty chili.

Also as part of my tradition, I make corn bread with my chili. I got this recipe from a former roommate in college. We call it "Corn Cake" because it pretty much is. I've never served it to anyone that has felt the need to put butter on it, even my father.  You know how most corn bread crumbles like a sand castle at the slightest touch? Yeah, not this bread. It's that incredibly moist and sweet.

Corn Bread

1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 cup milk
1 1/2 cup flour
1 cup corn meal
2 teaspoon baking powder
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt

Cream butter, sugar, and eggs. Mix in dry ingredients. Add milk last (YES! you will use all of the milk). Pour into greased 8x8 pan. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes. (I often cook for about 15 minutes longer than this, but it could just be my oven.)

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Planes and Turkeys

Jericho and I spent Thanksgiving in Ohio with Jericho's brother's family. We had never been to up to visit the Ohio Belchers so this was a great opportunity to visit out of state relatives. Plus, our new niece Katie Belle was born October 29 and we got to see her for the first time! She is such a doll and a great baby! Thanksgiving dinner was fantastic and I made sure to get some recipes from the SIL before we left (kind of at Jericho's request).

Jericho's brother is in the Air Force and stationed at Wright-Patterson. Also at Wright-Patterson is the National Air Force Museum. You totally just jumped out of your seat didn't you? Yes, it was exciting. Jericho and I spent an afternoon touring the museum. We were there for 5 hours and still didn't see everything. I never thought I could spend 5 hours looking at planes. I did bring my camera so that slowed us down quite a bit. In hindsight I probably shouldn't have taken so many pictures. Also because it drained my battery and have no other pictures from Thanksgiving. So... all you get is a bunch of pictures of REALLY COOL MILITARY AIRPLANES!!! Dud dud daaaa!!!!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Worst Christmas Songs, Part II

Last year I listed my top least favorite Christmas songs. This year I've decided to post something along those lines but a little different.

We all love Christmas music. It reminds us of eggnog and fire places and cinnamon and hugs and little children singing. We love the Eartha Kitt and Frank Sinatra classics. Even some of the bubbly pop Christmas songs. But everyone who has ever recorded music, and some that should never have in the first place, feels it is their duty to bring us a Christmas album. E-v-e-r-y-o-n-e. To demonstrate my point, I give you:

15 Completely Unnecessary/Shocking Christmas Albums

If you ever wondered what a Christmas album would sound like from the pack-a-day cashier at the local truck stop, this is the album for you.

Most country artists have Christmas albums. That's no shocker. But Toby Keith? Christmas with whiskey and cigars ya'll!! American Christmas kicks %@*! Red and green forever!!

I personally don't like either Kenny Rogers or Dolly Parton's music. Plus, I'm completely creeped out by this album cover.

As the song states: "Instead of turkey we’ll have mahi mahi grillin’, And pina colodas in the blender chillin’". I'm pretty sure Kenny's 365-day beachy tan is either from a bottle or the tanning salon. We're over the beach phase. Pick a new genre.

"This lavish holiday set has been called the greatest rock and roll Christmas album of all time." It's true. Nobody says Merry Christmas like a convicted murderer.

Their O Come all ye Faithful is set to the melody of "We're not gonna take it". In case we all forgot what song made them famous.

There's nothing blatantly weird about this album. Just that it's probably the most useful thing she's ever done with her talent. It's the only album she's produced that can be listened to by people with any amount of moral fiber and not feel tainted.

Amazon Review: "A good antidote to Mariah or Christina, but if you're here, you probably know that anyway."

It sounds like "Christmas with the Karate Kid ". I'm not lying. Go listen to the clips.

The only reason a Christmas CD should ever have a parental advisory warning label is if there's a song called "Santa Claus isn't real!!". 16 of the 16 songs have [explicit] lyrics. You will have a very special place in hell if this gets you in the holiday spirit.

Amazon Review: "If you try to stay still while listening to this collection you'll hurt yourself!" I think I'd hurt myself regardless.

John Tesh has not 1 but 8 Christmas albums. Why buy the Best Of when you could have 8 different ways to make you want to stick needles in your eyes?

The other album in this series is called "It's a Denny's Thanksgiving."

Did Billy Idol even play the piano? "The best excuse for the existence of this album we could come up with was that he owed a bookie money."

Amazon review: "David Hasselhoff + Christmas = magic... It's a magic that only exists between Hasselhoff, his fans, and his Trans Am. Give this CD to a non-christian friend and watch them forsake their religion, their family, and their country." Either for Christianity or Hasselhoff worship, not really sure which one this guy is talking about.

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