White Chocolate Peppermint Mousse Pie + GIVEAWAY!

Disclosure: I received a copy of “Southern Living Christmas All Through the South” at no cost to me, for a fair and honest review. Southern Living/YC Media is providing the giveaway item. All opinions are 100% my own.

White Chocolate Peppermint Mousse Pie

I’ve had a really rough past week. Two deaths in my family (one being my grandmother and the other being the family dog) happened, and I just don’t know how to stop randomly crying when I start thinking about a world without either of them. I know that humans > dog, and my grandmother and family dog don’t compare. They don’t. Just two large pieces of bad news, and I’m terrible at grieving. I do know that they are both no longer suffering ,and that gives me a bit of solace. It’s just really hard with the holidays around the corner.

I’m an early holiday celebrator. I just love the holidays, as I’m sure this is no secret to y’all. However, when my husband offered to take down the decorations this week (the same husband who is firmly in the post-Thanksgiving decorating camp), I said no. I’m just not feeling the holiday spirit right now. The idea of taking everything down and making the house Christmas-y is suddenly making me a bit overwhelmed. Honestly, I’m starting to wonder if I would be perfectly content just taking down the gift wrap and not decorating at all this year. This is so not like me. I’ve tried watching “Christmas Vacation”, listening to Christmas Pandora, and I’m just meh about it all. I know this has a lot to do with our family’s losses, so I’m hoping my mini holiday funk will pass.

In another attempt to get the holiday spirit back, I decided to make something with holiday flavors. I was sent a review copy of Southern Living Christmas All Through the South, and I picked out the most seasonal sounding recipe to me at the time to whip up: White Chocolate-Peppermint Mousse Pie. Peppermint Bark is one of my favorites around the holidays, and I thought with the chocolate cookie crust and white chocolate peppermint mousse, I couldn’t go wrong with this recipe. Something about whipping egg whites and heavy cream into fluffy goodness is oddly therapeutic. Just watching the components come together distracted me enough to forget about the bad news for a while. It was really pleasant…

Hopefully, I’ll shake out of this mini funk soon. I’m just going to take this weekend to relax a bit, since I feel like this has been the longest week ever. I need Monday.

[Read more…]

My Ultimate Gift Guide + GIVEAWAY!

Disclosure: I was sent an Aerogarden 3SL at no cost to me, for a fair and honest review, by Miracle Gro (through KitchenPLAY). They also supplied me with the giveaway item. All opinions are 100% my own.

Gift guide

I’ve been asking my husband almost every day if I can convince him to go in the attic and bring down all of our Christmas decorations. The answer never changes…”Wait until Thanksgiving.” Well, next week is Thanksgiving!!

Also…next week is Thanksgiving? Dang!

It’s getting to be that point of the year where family/friends are asking me what I want for Christmas. While I can’t really figure things out (besides new plates/bowls in our kitchen…how boring!), I figured I’d share my favorite things that I’ve been using this year. Maybe this will inspire your wish lists? Who knows…but I figured I would share some of my favorite things with you guys, and also offer a pretty awesome giveaway (at the bottom of this post, if you make it that far…) :-).

[Read more…]

Hosting your First Thanksgiving & Giveaway!

Disclosure: Butterball provided me with a turkey gift check, as well as two other turkey gift checks to giveaway, in exchange for a post. All opinions are 100% my own.

ThanksgivingMeal

I’ve always been a fan of having big family gatherings for holiday meals. I used to watch my mom, aunts and my grandma flawlessly host Thanksgiving year after year, so when I got married, I thought I would give it a try. I mean, how hard could it be?

I’ll never forget that first year. I ran out of counter space, I ran out of oven space, I ran out of time…I mean, there was a meal at the end, but I was a stressed-out mess. I learned quite a few things, and ever since, while there’s always SOMETHING that doesn’t quite go as planned, our holiday meals have been a whole lot better.

[Read more…]

Creamy Tomato Basil Soup + A Giveaway

Disclosure: I received samples from Swanson® for review purposes, as well as soup dinnerware/serveware for this post. All opinions are completely my own, based on my experience. Swanson also provided the prize for this giveaway.

Creamy Tomato Basil Soup

Just a couple of days ago, my husband and I started looking into redoing some aspects of our kitchen. Well, it’s been on the backburner for quite some time, but we seriously looked for the first time this past week.

While I love our current house, I’ve always drooled over gorgeous granite countertops in other homes. I highly doubt we’ll have granite in our kitchen before the holiday season, but hey, it will be soon enough!

Speaking of the holiday season, our radio station started playing Christmas music 24/7. Holy moly….I’m so ready to fork out the decorations and wrap presents! I know I’m in the minority, my husband included..he immediately dismissed me asking him to pull down Christmas stuff when we were putting up Halloween decorations last week. :-P

With the holiday season growing near, we’re finally feeling weather in the 40s (and sometimes, even 30s) here in south Louisiana. Since then, I’ve been craving a lot more soup than usual. After I had some dental work done last month, all that really sounded good was tomato soup (I’m pretty sure I had it 3 times that week), and I wanted to make a big pot of it ever since! I just can’t shake the craving!

The folks at Swanson reached out to me, and asked me if I’d like to try out their new products. I’m a big fan of Swanson broths, so of course, I couldn’t say no! For the new products, I was sent their new cream starters, as well as the Louisiana Cajun and Tuscan Chicken flavor infused broths.

[Read more…]

Pumpkin Cheesecake Cake with Spiced Cream Cheese Frosting

Pumpkin Cheesecake Cake with Spiced Cream Cheese Frosting

Just the other day, I realized that Thanksgiving is a few short weeks away. I feel like I was forking out the pumpkin cans way too early last week, and burning fall candles in the 100 degree weather fairly recently. How am I already planning out things to cook for Thanksgiving?

I’m also Christmas shopping like crazy, just so I can avoid the mall once Black Friday hits. I used to thrive on Black Friday shopping, but I think I prefer the rush of online shopping more anyway. :-) Cyber Monday rocks (even though I’m sure the UPS guy doesn’t agree with me on this one…).

We’re totally in holiday season, and I love it. Halloween…Thanksgiving….Christmas….New Years! It’s a great time of the year!

For Halloween, my work had a pot-luck type of party, and they held a pumpkin baking contest. Of course I had to try…even my coworkers were asking me from day 1 what I was bringing. I guess they know that I keep Libby’s (pumpkin) in business this time of the year with the treats that I bring to the office. :-)

I decided to finally try my hand at a cheesecake cake. I saw this idea on Erin’s blog a few years ago, and always thought that I should make it happen. I just never did, because I was intimidated. Two desserts in one? (Yeesh!) However, it’s totally manageable to do. While it seemed daunting, I broke it up into two days (which is explained in the directions). Basically, day one = cheesecake making/freezing and day two = cake making/assembling. I followed Erin’s tips, and it came out perfectly!

Pumpkin Cheesecake Cake with Spiced Cream Cheese Buttercream

So, y’all. If you have a couple of days to make this, oh man….it doesn’t even have to be pumpkin. Just make a cheesecake cake. It’s amazing!

Oh, and if you’re wondering how the contest went, I won! However, it was definitely a close contest! The judges were split between all of the delicious desserts…my coworkers are SO talented in the kitchen. :-)

Pumpkin Cheesecake Cake

Recipes:

Directions:

  1. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray bottom and sides of 9-inch springform pan evenly with nonstick cooking spray, and line the bottom of the springform pan with a 9-inch piece of parchment paper.
  2. Pour filling into the springform pan, smoothing top, then put springform pan in a shallow baking pan (in case springform leaks). Bake until center is just set and measures 140 to 150 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, 50 to 60 minutes.
  3. Cool cheesecake completely in pan on rack, about 3 hours. Chill, covered, until cold, at least 4 hours. Remove the ring of the springform pan (not the bottom yet), and wrap it in two layers of plastic wrap. Then wrap the plastic-wrapped cheesecake in heavy duty foil. Freeze the cheesecake overnight.
  4. The next evening, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line two round cake pans with parchment paper, and split the cupcake/cake batter amongst the two pans. Bake the cakes for 30-35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cakes comes out clean. Allow the cakes to cool completely.
  5. To assemble the cheesecake cake, take the cheesecake out of the freezer to thaw for about 10 minutes. Remove the bottom of the springform pan from the cheesecake (the parchment paper in the bottom of the pan should help with this step). Level the pumpkin cake layers, and if necessary, level the cheesecake as well. Assemble the cake with one layer of cake, the cheesecake layer on top of the cake and then the remaining layer of cake on top of the cheesecake layer. You won’t need frosting between the layers. If you only had 8-inch round cake pans (like me) and a 9-inch springform pan (like me), you’ll need to carefully shave the cheesecake edges to the edge of the 8-inch cake layers.
  6. Ice the cheesecake cake with the spiced cream cheese frosting, and if you’d like, add sprinkles! Enjoy!

Weight Loss Wednesdays: Rewards

Week one has been….well, a struggle. I went to the dentist last week, and found out that three cavities ended up needing root canals (I have the worst excuse for tooth enamel ever…). After 8 hours of sitting in a dentist chair, I barely could chew. I probably could have made healthier choices, but there was a good bit of ice cream and cream-based soups involved in the healing process. I also didn’t work out…at all. :( I’m finally getting to a point where I can chew, but my jaw is still sore if I have a meal that involves some serious chewing. :(

Anyway, this week will be better. I won’t have an excuse, and with the weather as gorgeous as it is right now, I think I’m going to try to run again this week! I know Friday (food-wise) will be a challenge, between an office party and of course, the temptations of the Trick-or-Treat candy bowl, but this will be my first big test of the holiday season. With Thanksgiving and Christmas just around the corner, I’m going to have to get my willpower going. :-)

As you guys probably remember, I’m a big fan of weight loss rewards (that have nothing to do with food).

Weight Loss Rewards

I broke it up into 5% rewards this time, and to explain the first two rewards, I made a couple of purchases earlier this month. One of my favorite times of the year to purchase make-up is during the holiday season, so I purchased this blush set and this eyeshadow palette. Yeah, I’m a sucker for make-up…haha! They are both sitting pretty in their boxes on my bathroom counter right now, and I’ll open one of them for my 5% reward and the other for my 10% reward. :-)

There’s not many clothing rewards on here, because when I was on a roll with weight loss, I had plenty of smaller sized clothes (between family and friends) that are sitting pretty in my closet. :-)

Do y’all reward yourself when it comes to weight loss?

 

Apple Cinnamon Margaritas

Disclosure: I received a sample of Casa Noble Crystal Tequila, as well as a gift card for ingredients used in this recipe, in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are 100% my own.

Please drink responsibly.

Apple Cinnamon Margarita

I seriously cannot get enough of this weather, y’all. We sat outside this past weekend at a neighbor’s house to watch the game, and I was actually CHILLY outside. I was tempted to walk home and grab my blanket for REAL. I love me some chilly weather, but I have a feeling I’m going to be itching for warm Caribbean weather VERY soon (The vacation countdown has begun!).

When we went on our first cruise, we visited Cozumel, Mexico. I made it my mission to look around at all of the gift shops for the perfect Christmas ornament (it’s my little tradition for our vacation spots), and while I was shopping, I started to notice a lot of (what I now know as) sugar skulls. I found them to be beautiful, with all sorts of different color combinations, and confession time: I honestly had no idea what they were for. When I got home, I googled and found out all about The Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos).

Dia de los Muertos is a family-focused holiday from November 1-2, where family and friends gather together to pray for and remember those who passed away. In Mexico, families build private altars and include candy skulls, marigolds (which are known as flowers of the dead), chocolate coffins, as well as favorite food/drinks of the deceased family members to entice them to return.

To celebrate Dia de los Muertos, I am sharing this recipe for Apple Cinnamon Margaritas, using Casa Noble Crystal Tequila. Margaritas are one of my favorite cocktails, but my go-to is usually a strawberry, mango or lime margarita. For this tequila though, I wanted to make a fall version of this tasty beverage, and that’s how this apple cinnamon margarita happened. I kept some of the classic citrus flavors in there, but with the addition of an apple cider base, this drink is delicious! The Crystal Tequila is also very smooth and worked perfectly in this drink! This margarita would be perfect to enjoy on a cool, fall evening! This recipe makes one large or two small margaritas.

Apple Cinnamon Margarita
Source: an original

Ingredients:

  • 2 oz. Casa Noble Crystal Tequila
  • 1 oz. Triple Sec (or other orange liquor)
  • Juice of ½ of a large orange
  • Juice of ½ of a lime, reserving the other half of the lime for rimming
  • 4 oz. apple cider
  • 1/8 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • crushed ice
  • Optional: festive colored sugar, additional 1/4 tsp. cinnamon & apple slices for garnish

Directions:

  1. Place the first 6 ingredients in a shaker with the crushed ice, and shake the mixture thoroughly until all ingredients are blended.
  2. Optional: Place some colored sugar & 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon on a flat plate and mix together. Using a slice from the remaining half of the lime, run the inside of the lime along the rim of your serving glass(es), and then dip the rim in the sugar/cinnamon mixture.
  3. Pour the margarita into your serving glass(es), being mindful not to pour any on the rim. Garnish with an apple slice and enjoy!

Pumpkin Spice & Chocolate Swirl Fudge

Pumpkin Spice & Chocolate Swirl Fudge

I absolutely adore fudge for the holiday season. My mom’s fudge, especially. It’s a little bit of work, since it involves cooking the sugar to the soft ball stage, but it’s SO worth it! It’s really the only fudge I knew for a long time, but one year at a Christmas potluck, I tried microwave fudge. It’s not the same texture as regular fudge, but it’s still delicious!

This fudge only takes a few minutes to cook in the microwave, and then you just have to pour it out in a pan and let it chill in the fridge for a couple of hours before serving. The original recipe just calls for semi-sweet chocolate, but since I adore Hershey’s Pumpkin Spice kisses (I’ve seen them at Target and Walgreens out here.), I just had to swirl these two together.

Because of the pumpkin spice kisses (which are usually softer than regular chocolate at room temperature), I recommend serving these just out of the fridge. As the fudge sits out, it doesn’t melt, but it does get fairly sticky.

Pumpkin Spice & Chocolate Swirl Fudge
Source: adapted from Nestle

Ingredients:

  • 8 oz. pumpkin spice kisses, unwrapped (in weight)
  • 4 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips (in weight)
  • 14 oz. can condensed milk, divided
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract, divided

Directions:

  1. Line an 8×8 or 9×9 inch baking pan with parchment paper. Lightly spray the parchment paper with cooking spray and set aside.
  2. Place the pumpkin spice kisses and 9 oz. of the condensed milk in a medium bowl. Microwave the mixture on 50% power in 30 second increments, stirring well after each microwave cycle, until melted. Stir in 2/3 tsp. of the vanilla extract and set aside. In another bowl, add the semi-sweet chocolate chips and the remaining 5 oz. of the condensed milk. Microwave the mixture on 50% power in 30 second increments, stirring well after each microwave cycle, until melted. Stir in the remaining 1/3 tsp. of the vanilla extract and set aside.
  3. Spread the pumpkin spice kisses fudge into the bottom of the lined baking pan, and then drizzle the semi-sweet chocolate fudge over the pumpkin spice fudge. Swirl the two together with a fork or butter knife.
  4. Refrigerate the fudge for 2 hours or until the fudge is firm. Lift the parchment paper from the pan, and cut the fudge into 48 equal pieces.

Weight Loss Wednesday: Honesty is the Best Policy

I’ve done this before. 

I’m sure a few of you had suspicions since I wasn’t sharing as much on here/Twitter/Instagram about weight loss. And well, at my current weight, things are a bit out of control.

Before: 298.5
This Week: 284.1
————-
Total Loss: 14.4 lbs.

Yup.

October 2014

I have no excuses. None. I haven’t gone for a run in well over 7 months, and the gym? Heh…obviously not.

I have to look back on what went wrong. I stopped working out, I ate whatever I wanted in whatever portions I wanted, and most of all, I started to hate myself again.

I’ve always had self-image issues, and when I was losing weight, I was slowly becoming capable of being comfortable in my own skin.

70 lbs. down

Then, the weight gain started. My 16W jeans were tighter and tighter, and then I was like…well 18W isn’t bad. It’ll be temporary. Then, those got tight. I then purchased 20W jeans, and even those are a little snug right now. It’s just bad….for both me and my wallet (I donated most of my too big clothes because I swore I’d never be this size again…)

We have a cruise coming up in a couple of months, so I joined a Dietbet to sort of get things in control before I binge eat on the cruise ship. I also need to lose a bit of weight, so I don’t have to purchase a new swimsuit for this cruise. Yes, I’m larger than my largest swimsuit right now…

I guess the biggest take-away from this is that weight loss isn’t easy. Maintenance isn’t easy. It was so easy to go back to my old ways, and I miss my motivated self. I miss that sore post-gym feeling. I miss being in complete control of the foods I eat, no matter what I craved. I’m human, and well…I guess the only positive thing out of this is that I didn’t gain ALL of it back (almost did…) and that I’m back!

So, I’m here to hold myself accountable again. I’m going to start writing about my weight loss journey, and every Wednesday, you’ll get some sort of update from me. I’ll start posting my gym work-outs again (or video work-outs). I don’t want to say I’ll be back to 5x/week work-outs, but I will ease myself back into things. I’m also on MyFitnessPal (username niftyfoodie) to get back into calorie counting. :-)

Classic Caramel Apples

Classic Caramel Apples

Do you guys ever watch QVC? I usually only watch around the holidays when the kitchen show is on, and OMG…half of the time, I’m so jealous of the guy who hosts the program. The other day, they were advertising for these really fancy caramel apples, and the craving hit me. I had to have caramel apples. HAD to.

So, I grabbed a sack of small Granny Smith apples and got to work. I always get a bit anxious when it comes to candy-making, but we recently purchased this thermometer (it was on clearance at Target), and it worked like a charm! I usually have to use the bowl of ice water trick, because my thermometer is always a bit off, but these came out perfectly. I think the hardest parts were waiting for the caramel to cool down for dipping, and then cool completely for enjoying!

This recipe is a little different than the usual caramel that I’m used to…there’s a hint of molasses and maple flavor to it, which just makes you want to wear a pair of fuzzy socks, make my house smell like fall spices and take a nap. Perfect fall afternoon, right?

Classic Caramel Apples
Source: Epicurious

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. box dark brown sugar
  • 16 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened and at room temperature
  • 14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
  • 2/3 cup dark corn syrup
  • 1/3 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp. dark molasses
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 12 popsicle sticks, chopsticks or long cookie sticks
  • Heavy whipping cream, just in case the caramel thickens too much during dipping
  • Optional: decorations (I used crushed candy corn M&Ms and a mixture of graham cracker crumbs with sprinkles) and/or melted dark, milk or white chocolate

Directions:

  1. Place the first 8 ingredients in a deep (at least 3 inches), heavy saucepan or dutch oven. Stir the mixture with a wooden or silicone spatula over medium-low heat, until the sugar dissolves (about 15 minutes). Have a wet pastry brush handy for brushing down the sides of the pan/pot.
  2. Add a clip-on candy thermometer to the side of the pan/pot. Then, increase the burner to medium-high heat, cooking the caramel to a rolling boil, stirring constantly (yet slowly) until the candy thermometer reaches 236 degrees F. If needed, use the wet pastry brush to brush down the sides of the pan/pot.
  3. Carefully pour the caramel into a metal bowl, making sure not to scrape the pan/pot. Place the candy thermometer in the bowl, and allow the caramel to cool, without stirring, to 200 degrees F. This step will take 20-30 minutes.
  4. While the caramel is cooling, prep the apples by washing them in warm water, and wiping the excess water off of the apples once they are cleaned. Carefully stick in a popsicle stick/chopstick/cookie stick a couple of inches into the stem side of the apple. Place the apples on buttered foil or a silicone baking sheet.
  5. Once the caramel cools, dip one apple into the caramel, submerging all of the apple, except for the very top of the apple. Take the apple out of the caramel, and allow the excess caramel to drip back into the caramel bowl. Once that’s done, turn the caramel apple upside down, and hold the apple like that for several seconds, in order for the caramel to sort of set around the apple. Place the apple on the foil or silicone sheet. Repeat with the remaining apples, being sure to space the apples apart on the buttered foil/silicone sheet. Just in case the caramel thickens too much, add 1-2 tbsp. of heavy whipping cream to the caramel, and briefly whisk the caramel in the bowl over low heat to thin it out.
  6. If you are using decorations or chocolate, prepare them at this time for the apples.
  7. Place the apples on baking sheets in the fridge for about 15 minutes, or until the caramel is partially set and cool to the touch. Remove the baking sheets from the fridge. Lift one apple from the foil/silicone sheet, and using your hand, press the pooled caramel from the bottom of the apple, back onto the apple. Place the apple back on the foil/silicone sheet. Repeat with the rest of the apples.
  8. At this time, firmly press the decorations into the caramel, and then return the apple to the foil/silicone sheet. You can also dip the caramel apples into melted chocolate (allowing the excess to drip off for a few seconds), and then roll the chocolate coated caramel apple into your decorations. Another option for decorating the caramel apples is to drizzle melted chocolate over the apples and press on decorations that way too.
  9. Place the apples on the baking sheets back in the fridge for about an hour to allow everything to set. Cover or place in food-safe cellophane bags, and chill the apples for up to a week. Enjoy!