Chocolate Glazed Tart with Strawberries

Disclosure: I received a gift card and coupons for ingredients used in this recipe, in exchange for this sponsored post. All opinions are 100% my own.

Chocolate Tart with Strawberries

With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, it’s hard not to think of the classic chocolate covered strawberries. It’s just the perfect, simple treat to enjoy for the holiday. You simply clean/dry the berries, melt chocolate over a double boiler, dip, allow to dry (if you can wait) and enjoy! If you’d like to make things more festive and decorative, Driscoll’s has a few ideas here.

I wanted to make this treat even more indulgent, by placing chocolate covered strawberries on top of an indulgent, chocolate tart. While this may look intimidating, the recipe is fairly simple. With a chocolate sandwich cookie crust, truffle-like filling and a chocolate glaze, this heavenly dessert would be perfect for a Valentine’s Day dessert! Topping this dessert with chocolate covered berries and white chocolate drizzle is just the cherry on top of the sundae. :-)

Chocolate Tart with Strawberries

As much as I love chocolate, I have to confess something to y’all. My husband does not like chocolate. I know…I KNOW. I like to joke that while it’s a bummer, I absolutely know for a fact that no one else in our house is touching my chocolate stash haha!

Chocolate Glazed Tart with Strawberries
Source: slightly adapted from Epicurious

Ingredients:

For the crust:

  • 25 chocolate sandwich cookies, finely ground in a food processor
  • 3 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted

For the filling:

  • 1 1/4 cups heavy cream
  • 9 oz. bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp. salt

For the glaze:

  • 2 tbsp. heavy cream
  • 1 3/4 oz. bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp. light corn syrup
  • 1 tbsp. warm water

For the topping:

  • 4 oz. bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped
  • 1/4 tsp. + 1/8 tsp. canola oil, divided
  • 12 medium to large sized Driscoll’s strawberries, cleaned and dried
  • 2 oz. white chocolate, roughly chopped
  • sprinkles (optional)

Directions:

  1. To make the crust, adjust an oven rack to the middle rack, and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Stir together the ground chocolate sandwich cookies and butter. Then press the mixture evenly into the bottom and 3/4″ up the side of a 9″ fluted tart pan. Bake the crust for about 10 minutes, or until firm. Allow the crust to cool on a rack for 15-20 minutes.
  3. To make the filling, bring the heavy cream to a boil, and pour the hot cream over the bittersweet chocolate in a heat-proof bowl, allowing the mixture to stand for 5 minutes. Gently stir the mixture until smooth. Whisk the eggs, vanilla and salt together in another bowl. Add 1 tbsp. of the chocolate mixture to the egg mixture, mixing well (this is to prevent the eggs from scrambling once the egg/chocolate mixtures come together), then add the egg mixture to the chocolate mixture.
  4. Pour the filling into the cooled crust. Place the tart pan in a baking sheet (just in case there’s leaks). Place the tart pan in the oven, baking for 20-25 minutes, until the filling is set about 3 inches from the edge, but the center is still jiggly. Allow the tart to cool completely in the tart pan on the cooling rack, about 1 hour.
  5. To make the glaze, bring the heavy cream to a boil and remove the cream from heat. Stir in the chocolate, until the mixture is smooth. Then, stir in the corn syrup and warm water.
  6. Pour the glaze on top of the tart, and then gently tilt and rotate the tart to allow the glaze to coat the top evenly. Allow the glaze to stand until the glaze is set, about 1 hour.
  7. To make the berries, while the glaze is setting, place the bittersweet chocolate and 1/4 tsp. of the canola oil in a double boiler, stirring often until melted. Set a parchment paper or wax paper lined baking pan on the side. Dip each berry in the chocolate, up to about 1/4 from the top of the strawberry. Place the dipped berries on the parchment/wax paper lined baking sheet, about an inch from each other. If you’d like, you can add sprinkles on top of the chocolate. Allow the strawberries to set for about 10 minutes (they will still be slightly wet).
  8. Arrange the berries on top of the tart. If you’d like to stack the berries, they will still be slightly wet to allow them to stick to each other. Melt the white chocolate and 1/8 tsp. of canola oil in a double boiler, and then drizzle the white chocolate over the tart and berries. Enjoy!

Rock ‘n’ Roll New Orleans 10K

Disclosure: I was selected as a Rock ‘n’ Blog ambassador for the Run Rock ‘n’ Roll race series. My race entry was comped, in exchange for social media & blogging. Please consult with a doctor before you start any type of workout program. I’m not a doctor…just some random blogger.  All opinions are 100% my own.

It’s been a while since I participated in a race. The last time was the Mardi Gras Mambo 10K, and I was still sort of recovering a bit from the half marathon a month before.

I found out around Christmas that I was accepted to be a blogger for the Rock ‘n’ Roll race series, and I told myself that even though I’m not trained for it, I just had to get the ball rolling again and do the Rock ‘n’ Roll New Orleans 10K. I registered and told myself, as long as I finish the race, I would consider that to be a huge accomplishment. My sister also decided to do the race with me, so I wouldn’t be doing this alone. :-)

I was pretty darn excited to get back in the swing of things. I was worried that I’d have to buy some new running clothes, due to the weight gain, but thankfully, I kept one pair of larger sized compression capris.

RnR NOLA

The day before the race, my sister and I headed to the expo. We didn’t have much time to spend there, since I had plans right after to visit family, but it was nice to be in that environment again. We passed by The Louisiana Marathon booth and noticed there was a long line for a game they had. For $1, you spin the wheel for a chance to win discounts or race swag. I thought, why not…I loved that race and worse comes to worst, I’m out a $1.

Imagine my surprise when I spun 50% off race registration! They told me that I was the first person to spin that for the day, AND in addition to the 50% off, they were giving away free “In Training” shirts to anyone who registered that weekend. So, after talking to myself and out loud a bit much, I signed up for the 2016 HALF MARATHON. Yep. I’m doing a half next year! (The same half I did in 2014…) Also, the icing on the cake was that my sister spun the same thing, too! So, we’re doing the half together!

RnR NOLA

The next day, I woke up at 4am, and drove down to meet my sister at my parents’ house, and we carpooled to the finish line parking. I purchased a premium parking pass, because I absolutely hate stressing about finding parking on race day. $20 well spent. Parking was a breeze! We also purchased shuttle passes that brought us straight to the starting line. That was very efficient as well. We probably waited 5 minutes (at the most) to board a bus!

With all the intensity of race day, I felt like the shuttle bus driver wanted to make everyone laugh a bit. “John Tucker Must Die” was on the bus TVs, and it was on the part where John Tucker climbed outside of the hotel to sneak in a girl’s room (but it ended up being the teacher’s room). I needed that laugh…

RnR NOLA

Once we got off the bus and I saw the starting line, I got those race day jitters. What if my legs couldn’t do it? What if I injured myself? All of these doubts…after a few minutes, I told myself that I did a half marathon a year ago. I can handle a 10K.

RnR NOLA

Before we knew it, the 10K started. The weather couldn’t have been more perfect..it was in the mid 40s, perfectly sunny and it was in New Orleans for crying out loud. I love New Orleans! I started by walking a good bit, just to warm my legs up and see how things felt. Just after mile one, however, my left heel started rubbing in my shoes. Surprisingly, jogging felt better than running on my feet, so I started slowly jogging around mile 2.

Around mile 4, I really started feeling pain in my right ankle and calf. I realized with my left heel issues, I was running more on the outside of my feet than usual (to avoid the blister pain), and I was probably putting more pressure on my right leg than my left, because of the pain in my left foot. While I always run in support shoes, with the way I was jogging, there was no way those shoes were going to help me out.

I told my sister to go ahead of me, because while we made pretty decent time in the first 3 miles, I didn’t want to hold her back. Also, in case I was reaching the point of being swept, I wanted her to finish, because she was still feeling great. I pretty much limp jogged/walked the last two miles. All I wanted to do was finish. I could see the cop car behind me a few blocks away, but thankfully, I didn’t get swept. I finished the race with 5 minutes to spare (on the course time limit).

RnR NOLA

Sadly, by the time I finished the race, they ran out of 10K medals, so I was given a half marathon medal and a Rock ‘n’ Roll medal. Last week, however, I got an email from Rock ‘n’ Roll that my medal will be mailed to be soon. YAY!

RnR NOLA

While I didn’t have a good race, I have to admit that the Rock ‘n’ Roll New Orleans 10K was a nice race. The course is nice and flat (watch out for potholes, though…it’s New Orleans, after all), and the spectators and volunteers were the best! They had some really funny signs, which helped me smile during those last couple of miles (which I really needed). Also, the bands along the way were awesome. I did the race without headphones and didn’t once miss them. :-) The finish line festival was really awesome as well. City Park is a great place to just chill out and rest after a race.

Next year, I’m hoping to do the half marathon, since I’ll be trained for one the month before anyway. I’d love to get the Louisiana Double Down medal, if they offer it next year! I have some big goals and dreams for 2016, but I know I can do it!

I can’t wait!

Very Berry Smoothie

Disclosure: I received a gift card and coupons for ingredients used in this recipe, in exchange for this sponsored post. All opinions are 100% my own.

Very Berry Smoothie

A few weeks ago, I started my first DietBet (since the weight gain), and I haven’t felt more empowered in a while. For the first time in a long time, I feel like I’m in control of things again. While I still enjoy a piece of dark chocolate every day after lunch, I’m happy to say that it’s an improvement over what used to be. I used to eat lunch wherever I wanted (burgers, tex mex, you name it)…and the pounds packed on FAST. Now, I have to think consciously about meal choices. If I know I’m going out to eat that night, lunch and breakfast will be light to compensate for it.

I figured out that I’m a big fan of fruit when it comes to trying to find snacks to enjoy that are healthy but also low in calories. Fresh fruit, fruit leather and of course, fruit smoothies. Now, while it’s not exactly berry season out here in Louisiana, I love knowing that Driscoll’s has tasty, fresh berries that are available year-round!

As far as fruit smoothies go, I’m a big fan of a simple berry smoothie. Strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, blueberries..you name it.  They add sweetness to a smoothie without added sugar, which is of course, awesome. My favorite smoothie lately is this one, which I’m sharing with y’all today. It has blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, satsuma (or tangerine) and banana. You can throw it together quickly in a blender, and before you know it, you have a delicious, nutritious smoothie that is packed with berry flavor (without adding in any extra sugar)!

Very Berry Smoothie

Very Berry Smoothie
Source: an original

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup Driscoll’s blackberries, rinsed/washed
  • 1/2 cup Driscoll’s raspberries, rinsed/washed
  • 1/2 cup Driscoll’s strawberries, rinsed/washed
  • 1 medium tangerine/satsuma, peeled
  • 1 medium ripe banana
  • 1 1/2 cups ice

Directions:

  1. Place all ingredients in a blender, and blend thoroughly until smooth. Enjoy!

How the Gain Has Made Me Stronger

Back in 2013, I was so proud of myself. I was dropping weight like crazy, and I was 25 measly pounds away from 199 for the first time in years (like seriously…we’re talking middle school).

The gain

This past holiday season, I saw my before weight on the scale (plus a few). The 300s. I wanted to cry. In fact, for a good two hours, I looked at my weight loss milestones with so much regret. How did I let myself go this far? I thought about where I would be if I just kept going, and after staring at pictures and my motivation swimsuit that I bought a couple of years ago (I won some credit to the website and figured…why not?), I told myself to stop sulking, and it’s time to do something about it.

The gain
Left side: March 2013, Right side: December 2014

I can absolutely think back to the series of events that led to my current weight. At my lowest in April of 2013, I was in the 220s. I went from the 220s to the 230s and stayed there for a while. Then, half marathon training happened in the fall, and I started justifying foods for the amount of exercise I was doing. The longer runs were the hardest days, because I felt like my stomach was a bottomless pit, and whatever was easiest to grab, I’d buy it. I figured if I was burning 1000+ calories, I could eat whatever I wanted. Wrong. I easily gained 10 lbs. from half marathon training. Yep…GAINED.

After the half marathon, I still had those horrible eating habits, even though I wasn’t running nearly as much. I was pretty beat up after my half, so I completely lost motivation to go to the gym, to eat better, etc. In the meantime, my 16 jeans went to 16W, then 18W, and now, a snug 20W. I kept telling myself that I would get back in the swing of things soon…the diet would always start on a Monday. Then, Monday would happen, and of course, I’d eat something terrible and say, “Next week…”.

I had to wait until I was ready to get back in the swing of things. I knew the moment would hit me at some point, like it did the time before. Stereotypically, enough was enough right after Christmas. I’m not going to say that I’m starting all over again, because everything contributed to my journey thus far. The 70 lb. loss, the gain…it’s all a part of the journey. I may not be the quintessential before/after weight loss story, but to me, my journey is everything. I’ve learned some valuable lessons along the way and cannot wait to see the numbers on the scale go down again. While I could keep beating myself up over the weight gain, I’m just going to view this as a moment in my life where I’m going to be stronger from this and appreciate my weight loss that much more.

I’m currently doing a DietBet, and the weight is steadily going down. I’m fairly sure I’ll just do DietBets like last time, until 4% is no longer feasible for me. Also, I’ll be writing monthly updates on here, and sharing weekly weigh-ins on Twitter/Instagram/Facebook. :-) I’m also on MyFitnessPal (niftyfoodie).

Gorton’s/SparkPeople Realistic Resolutions & A Giveaway

Disclosure: I was provided with Gorton’s products, as well as the same items in the prize package, in exchange for a fair and honest review. Gorton’s is also providing the giveaway item. All opinions are 100% my own.

After the holidays, I finally faced the music and realized that I totally need to get back to basics. I started calorie counting again, and while the first few days were a bit of an adjustment, it’s good to finally see the number on the scale going down.

Realistic Resolutions

I’ve been looking for healthier meal options for my husband and I, since we are both calorie counting again, and Gorton’s Simply Bake and Grilled products are a great idea. These products are ridiculously simple to cook, and they already come seasoned for you, which is perfect for week night meals. Just throw them in the oven, make a quick side item or two, and dinner is figured out for you! It’s so great to have something like this in the freezer, because while I love to cook, sometimes a busy work day leaves me too drained to even want to cook a meal. Also, if you want to get creative with their products, Gorton’s has quite a few recipe ideas. Right now, there’s a printable coupon available from Gorton’s to try their products out.

In addition to eating better, I find that it’s great motivation to join challenges. The support of others who are going through the same thing as you is super motivating to keep going, at least for me. One of the challenges I’m doing this month is SparkPeople (in conjunction with Gorton’s) Realistic Resolutions. Joining the challenge gets you daily tips to make the average New Year’s resolution seem a lot more approachable for a healthy lifestyle.

[Read more…]

Our Carnival Dream Adventure – Part 3

Disclosure: Carnival Cruise Lines sent us (my husband and I) on a 7 day cruise aboard the Carnival Dream at no cost to us. (We did pay for all of the excursions on our own.) All opinions in this post are 100% my own.

Towel Animals

After talking about the food, the only logical thing left is to talk about all of the fun we had on our trip! What I love most about Carnival is that you don’t have to stress about your vacation planning once you’re on the cruise ship.

Every night, your room steward will leave a newsletter on your bed, which shows every single activity that’s available for you to participate in on the boat. There’s several types of activities on the ship. My favorites are the comedy shows, karaoke (watching it…no one should be subjected to my vocal “talents”), the evening shows (which were different themes every night) and mini golf. To name some of the amenities, on our ship there were also a few pools, hot tubs, an adult only deck, water slides, a full-on spa, gym, a casino, a few shops and art gallery.

In addition to ship activities, there are also excursions you can book for when you’re in port (You can do this either online or once you’re on the ship…just keep in mind that some excursions can fill up and they’re first come, first serve.). Our big excursion this year was the dolphin swim/snorkel in Roatan, Honduras. A bit of a background…I have ALWAYS wanted to do this. Always. I love dolphins. So, this year, I think I annoyed my husband with enough “pretty please”s, because he was totally game for it this cruise. Our particular excursion included a dolphin encounter, where you watch them do tricks, you get to pet them, and of course, you get the famous dolphin kiss.

Dolphin Swim
(Images taken by a staff member at St. Anthony’s Key Resort…we purchased the rights to use and print these photos.)

For our excursion, we were put in small groups with a trainer, and the trainer had a dolphin with him. This dolphin’s name is Bailey, and she was the sweetest. Here’s a picture of when she would slowly swim past the group for us to pet her. :-)

Dolphin Swim

After we all took our pictures with the dolphins, the trainers treated us to a few tricks involving multiple dolphins. I’m so in awe of how beautiful these animals are when they’re jumping, skipping, etc.

Dolphin Swim

After the encounter, we were allowed to go into deeper waters and snorkel with them. It was so neat to hear them communicate under water…I absolutely loved it! The trainers showed us a trick with waving sea grass…it would attract the calves to play with the grass! So adorable…their mannerisms reminded me so much of puppies.

Another excursion we did was the Behind the Fun tour. This is an excursion that is on the ship, where you learn about the inner workings of a cruise ship. It’s held on the last sea day of the cruise, and my husband read about this on the cruising forums. You can’t book this online before your cruise, but once you get on the ship, you can go to the shore excursions desk and book it then.

While I have no pictures to share of the tour (they aren’t allowed), I will say that the tour was worth it to us. It lasted a good 3 hours, and just to make you aware, it does require quite a bit of walking and stair climbing. We toured everything from the kitchen, to the storage areas for food, laundry areas and a few crew only areas, to name a few places. I was never bored, and our tour guide made it fun for us. The time really flew by, and when we got back to our room, this nice surprise was waiting for us! :-)

Behind the Fun

I have to say, this was probably the best cruise we’ve been on. Between the excursions, the ship, the crew and of course, this being the first cruise we’ve been on with family, we had a wonderful time. I feel that this is one of the few vacations where you truly feel like you are relaxed afterwards and had a good mental vacation. I know some people aren’t really into cruises (we thought we were those people, by the way), but I’m so glad that we tried a cruise for the first time three years ago, because we are just hooked.

Thank you again, Carnival Cruise Lines for the amazing trip. We had such a wonderful, relaxing time, and we’re already starting to plan our next one!

Caribbean Sunset

(I’ll just leave this little sunset picture here….)

Our Carnival Dream Adventure – Part 2

Disclosure: Carnival Cruise Lines sent us (my husband and I) on a 7 day cruise aboard the Carnival Dream at no cost to us. They also comped our steakhouse visit. (We did pay for the excursions on our own.) All opinions in this post are 100% my own. 

When my husband and I went on our very first cruise, we had no idea what to expect. We knew that the food was included in the cost of the cruise, so our hopes weren’t very high (because where else do you get the food included with your vacation?!). However, we were blown away with the food and the service that was included. Because of that, we never really considered booking any of the premium meal offerings, until this year.

While our steakhouse dinner was generously comped by Carnival, we actually made a reservation with the steakhouse before we found that out. We had heard so many wonderful things on cruising forums, so we figured on our third cruise…why not give it a try? We very rarely go out to eat at fancy restaurants, so we considered this to be an extra special treat.

We were beyond blown away. My husband and I agree that the steakhouse is a MUST for every cruise from now on. :-)

Our waiter first brought out an amuse bouche for us to enjoy after we placed our order. My husband got the most adorable little slider I’ve ever seen, and I had a small tomato soup.

CarnivalSteakhouseStarter

At the steakhouse, you get your choice of a starter, salad, entree and dessert. My husband isn’t much of a salad person, so they mentioned that he could have two starters instead.

Both my husband and I had their baked onion soup. I’m a sucker for onion soup, and this one was seriously the BEST onion soup I’ve ever had. It was rich, full of flavor, cheesy…all of the things an onion soup needs to be. My husband agreed…we loved it so much! I wish I knew how to make this soup at home. For my salad, I had a classic caesar salad, and my husband opted for the crab cake starter instead of the salad.  Both were also delicious!

CarnivalSteakhouseAppetizers

The entrees…whoa. These steaks were fantastic! I ordered the broiled filet mignon and my husband ordered the spice-rubbed prime ribeye steak. I tried a piece of my husband’s, and both steaks were perfectly cooked and delicious. My filet was so tender…I barely needed my knife to cut through it! For the sides, we both got wasabi horseradish potatoes and I had the sautéed mushrooms as well. They also offer sauces for the steaks, and we got a sampler of all three. We both said the wild mushroom was our favorite, although the bearnaise offered a wonderful richness and the three peppercorn was a nice, flavorful sauce as well.

CarnivalSteakhouseEntrees

Neither of us really had room for dessert, but um….who are we to refuse dessert? My husband ordered the cheesecake, and I ordered the chocolate sampler. When our waitress brought out the desserts, I had no idea how we were going to finish them. The cheesecake was insanely tall…I have no idea if they even use normal sized springform pans to make theirs…haha! I wish I held something in the picture next to the cheesecake to give you an idea of scale. Let’s just say it was a really tall cheesecake! The chocolate sampler that I had was just perfection. It’s a sampler of four desserts, each topped with ice cream or sorbet. One of the desserts was a banana pannacotta, which was perfect to have a bite of when dessert got to be a little too rich.

CarnivalDesserts

I can’t even begin to explain how wonderful this dinner was. It was probably the best dinner of my life, and I was thankful our room was on the same side of the boat as the restaurant, because we seriously went straight to our room and fell asleep. We were so blissfully full, and then swore we would never eat that much for a meal again on the rest of the cruise. (That ended up being a straight-up lie.)

We are absolutely making the steakhouse dinner a tradition for every cruise we go on from now on. We were completely blown away by the food and the impeccable service. Completely.

We actually went on the cruise with some of my husband’s family, and we decided to pay for his parents to dine in the steakhouse a few nights later as a gift to them. That’s how much we loved it…we just had to share the experience with someone, and they were equally impressed!

After the first night, we ended up eating dinner at the main dining room for the rest of the cruise. Since we were with some of his family, we liked using dinnertime as a time to catch-up and talk about how the cruise was going. We had the most unbelievable wait staff in the main dining room (A huge shout-out to our head server Zubin and his staff…they were probably the best main dining room staff we’ve ever had between all of the cruises we’ve been on!). And of course, the food was delicious. I pictured some of my favorites from the cruise below.

CarnivalFoodFaves

Left: Formal night lobster. Oh man…not only do you get lobster, but they also include jumbo tiger shrimp. It’s such a good, classic entree.

Top right: On the second day of the cruise, the steakhouse offered a cooking demonstration where they cooked and gave us recipes to make a few of the steakhouse favorites. We also got to sample whatever they cooked. Pictured is the mushroom cappuccino, which is what they serve on the first formal night of the cruise. We asked if it was served the night we went to the steakhouse (we remembered it from the last cruise’s cooking demonstration…it’s THAT good), but our server said it’s only on formal nights. So good!

Center right: Champagne sorbet. It’s not the easiest to photograph, but this is another steakhouse favorite offered on formal nights. Our maitre d’ mentioned it to us one night, and since we missed out on that too for our steakhouse dinner, she surprised us with some on the second formal night at our table! I loved it so much…I need to make this myself. :-) Wouldn’t that be fun for a celebration?

Bottom right: Warm Melting Chocolate Cake. Another classic…it’s the most popular dessert in the main dining room and for good reason. You just can’t beat the warm melting chocolate cake. I have a copycat recipe on the blog, which is crazy easy to make!

The wonderful staff on the cruise ship surprised us with a few treats during the cruise! We ended up meeting Allan, the Chef de Cuisine of the entire ship. I was shocked that he took a few minutes to talk to me and my husband’s family at dinner one night. He was such a friendly man (I would be so stressed in his shoes, but he seemed so calm and collected!), and we saw him once again on the Behind the Fun tour (which I’ll talk about in the next post).  Throughout the cruise, he generously sent some treats to our room, which we shared with my husband’s family. :-) We enjoyed so much food on this cruise!

Dessert Collage

Also, if that’s not enough, we did take advantage of the included room service a few times. I loved enjoying coffee and some fruit (you know, to balance things out haha) while sitting out on our balcony. It was the perfect way to start the day. :-)

All in all, the food on the Carnival Dream was just amazing. I won’t mention how much weight we gained after the cruise (even though we walked a ton), but it was SO worth it. Stay tuned for the next post, where I share some of the excursions and other fun we had on our Carnival cruise.

Our Carnival Dream Adventure – Part 1

Disclosure: Carnival Cruise Lines sent us (my husband and I) on a 7 day cruise aboard the Carnival Dream at no cost to us. (We did pay for the excursions on our own.) All opinions in this post are 100% my own. 

Carnival Dream

My husband and I started cruising a couple of years ago. Since New Orleans is a popular port city for cruise lines and is only a short drive away for us, we’ve started to make a Carnival cruise a yearly get-away for us.

We’ve cruised with Carnival twice before (on our own dime), and we’ve always been impressed with them. I find that a cruise is one of the rare vacations where you feel like you really take a good, long break away from everything. Once I’m on the boat, most of my stress melts away. I can turn off my phone for a week, not have to worry about cleaning anything, nap whenever I want (yes, I sleep a LOT on vacation…ask my husband), take in all of the beautiful views of the Caribbean Sea, enjoy some excursions in port, and of course, try all sorts of delicious food without having to step foot in a grocery store!

To me, that’s a vacation!

One of the best views of the trip, in my opinion, is the great sunset view of New Orleans. The city just looks so calm and serene. It’s the perfect backdrop for the start of our vacation.

Carnival Farewell New Orleans

Since we’ve cruised twice before, we decided to make this trip full of firsts. I can’t wait to share those with y’all, but here’s one of our biggest firsts: swimming with dolphins. What an experience!

Dolphin Swim
(Images taken by a staff member at St. Anthony’s Key Resort…we purchased the rights to use and print these photos.)

::sigh:: These Caribbean sunsets never get old. One of my favorite things is to just sit on the balcony with a cup of coffee and just stare at this. I also really, really enjoy taking pictures of the sunsets. The pictures never do them justice, though.

Carnival Sunset

I also love the little touches that Carnival provides to every cruiser. Every single night, they’d place chocolates and a towel animal on our bed. We had a new animal every night, which was so fun! Since I love them so much, I would carefully move them to our sofa in the room so they could stay intact throughout the cruise. After a couple of nights of doing this, our room steward took notice and left them for us to enjoy. We had a nice little collection at the end of the cruise!

Towel Animals

Don’t judge me… :-P

And of course, there was plenty of delicious food. Plenty….here’s a sneak peek of some of the desserts we got to enjoy! I can’t wait to share with y’all some of the amazing food that we got to enjoy on this cruise! Stay tuned!

Dessert Collage

Top 10 Posts of 2014

Happy New Year’s Eve! I hope everyone has had a happy holiday season so far. 2014 has been a different year for me. While weight loss didn’t really happen this year, one of my biggest priorities was getting comfortable with my day job. I can’t believe I’ve been at my new job for almost a year now. This year has really flown!

While this blog hasn’t been updated as often as I would like to, I’m so thankful for those of you who still visit and comment/email. Here’s the top 10 recipes that you all have loved this year. They aren’t necessarily from 2014, but they are favorites on here.

Reese's Peanut Butter Cup Cookies

10. Peanut Butter Cup Cookies – These cookies are just perfection. Reese’s cups baked in a huge peanut butter. Seriously awesome.

Banana Nutella "Ice Cream"

9. Banana Nutella “Ice Cream” – This is a great option if you’re craving ice cream, but don’t want the calories. You just throw frozen banana slices in a food processor or blender, and process until it’s the consistency of soft serve. I swirled in nutella for an extra treat.

Pulled Pork Tacos

8. Slow Cooker Pulled Pork Tacos – These are so simple to make and tasty. Pretty darn tasty, actually.

Corn Grits

7. Grilled Corn Grits – This is a copycat of Zea’s famous grilled corn grits. It called for cream, butter and more butter. These aren’t diet friendly in the least, but they are fantastic!

bakingbook2

6. Holiday Spritz Cookies – This recipe makes a bunch of cookies, and they’re so fun to make. I made these without a cookie press (before I had one). They taste better with lots of fun sprinkles…not really, but they certainly are more fun!

Taco Cupcakes

5. Taco “Cupcakes” – This is such a great recipe to make ahead and freeze. It makes quite a few of them, but you could pop a few in the oven for an easy lunch or dinner anytime. I love these!

Whipped Pudding Frosting

4. Whipped Chocolate Pudding Frosting – This recipe is for the butter lovers. It’s the consistency of the whipped frosting you find in the grocery store bakeries, but it does tend to lean towards a more buttery flavor than classic buttercream. It reminds me a little of swiss meringue buttercream…delicious!

Homemade Strawberry Lemonade

3. Homemade Strawberry Lemonade – I plan on making a large pitcher of this once strawberry season happens in a few months. I love this drink, and um…a little bit of booze never hurt this drink either.

20 Minute Beef Stew

2. 20 Minute Pressure Cooker Beef Stew – With only 20 minutes of cooking time (not including time to reach pressure or time to release pressure), this dinner is quick, but it tastes like it’s been in the oven all day.

Spinach Strawberry Salad with Feta

1. Spinach, Strawberry, Pecan and Feta Salad with Strawberry Vinaigrette – This is y’all’s favorite (and mine). It’s inspired by a local restaurant, and the combination is just perfection. I wish strawberries were in season during the holidays, because it’s sort of festive, too.

Thanks so much for a fabulous year, y’all! I hope y’all enjoy the New Year with your family and friends! Here’s to 2015!

Pairing Desserts with Coffee (+ GIVEAWAY)

Disclosure: I was sent a sampler of Community Coffee single serve cups, in exchange for a post that included their products. Community Coffee is also providing the giveaway item. All opinions are 100% my own.

Happy Christmas Eve, y’all! I’m so excited that Christmas is tomorrow. :-)

One of the biggest things about tomorrow (besides seeing family, of course) is the meal. While I know that the biggest tradition for Christmas is usually a beef roast, our family sticks to making turkey and ham. In fact this year (for the first time ever), I’m responsible for the ham. ::fingers crossed it doesn’t end up overcooked::

Along with dinner of course, are the desserts. My family is known for making desserts. Everything from pralines to ooey gooey bars to cheesecake to cobbler to macarons…it’s just a whole ‘nother feast. We have some amazing dessert makers in the family. :-) One thing that I hardly ever think about is pairing dessert with the perfect cup of coffee. Now, coffee is a MUST with desserts for me, but I usually just go with a darker roast coffee.

The folks at Community Coffee came out with a dessert pairing guide that will help you figure out what type of coffee goes best with the dessert you’re having.

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