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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Favorite Gifts for the Host (+ GIVEAWAY)

Disclosure: I was sent a sampler of Orchard Choice fig spread, in exchange for a post that included their products, by Valley Fig Growers (made possible by KitchenPLAY). Valley Fig Growers is also providing the giveaway item. All opinions are 100% my own.

Randoms

With Christmas in a couple of short days, I’m sure that quite a few of y’all (myself included) are hosting or going to holiday meals with loved ones. One of the few things I often forget to do is to thank the host/hostess with a small gift. Quite a few people like to bring a bottle of wine or a bouquet of flowers, but I much prefer bringing something food related. It can be anything from a homemade food gift to a fun food product that I think is worth sharing with others.

Here’s some of my favorites:

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Meyer Lemon Cranberry Biscotti

Meyer Lemon Cranberry Biscotti Wreath

Last year’s winter was one of the harshest winters we’ve had in years. I was so used to having hardy plants that could survive the winter, but sadly, we had to redo most of our garden. We also lost our meyer lemon tree, which was just starting to produce more than 5 lemons/year. :-(

So, last spring, we replaced our plants and lemon tree, and we even added a satsuma tree to the collection. This year, we were surprised to get about 10 lemons! I guess it’s a happy tree. :-) I’m slowly but surely learning how to NOT kill anything that we plant. :-)

So, of course with all of these lemons, I had to bake something with them for the holidays. While lemon flavor isn’t typical of holiday baked goodies, I mixed in dried cranberries and arranged them in a wreath type of display to make things more festive.

This biscotti isn’t overwhelming as far as lemon flavor goes. Since it’s not too heavy of a lemon flavor, it goes really well with the dried cranberries, and the extra drizzle of white chocolate doesn’t hurt either. This really isn’t that difficult to make either. While biscotti looks a bit intimidating, it’s simply cookies that are baked twice, until dry in the oven.

Meyer Lemon Cranberry Biscotti
Source: a Nifty Foodie original

Ingredients:

  • 1.5 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 tbsp. light olive oil
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 tbsp. meyer lemon juice
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 tbsp. meyer lemon zest
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 8 oz. white chocolate chips
  • 1/4 tsp. canola oil
  • Sprinkles and pearl dust (food safe) spray, for decoration

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F (150 degrees C).
  2. In a large bowl, mix together the oil, butter and sugar until well-blended. Mix in the lemon juice and vanilla extract, and then beat in the eggs. Combine flour, salt, zest and baking powder in another medium sized bowl; gradually stir the flour mixture into the egg mixture. Mix in cranberries by hand, until a dough forms.
  3. Divide dough in half. Form two logs (12×2 inches) on a cookie sheet that has been lined with parchment paper or a silicone baking sheet. If the dough seems sticky, wet your hands with warm water to work with the dough more easily.
  4. Bake for 35 minutes in the preheated oven, or until logs are light brown. Remove from oven, and set aside to cool for 10 minutes. Reduce oven heat to 275 degrees F (135 degrees C).
  5. Cut logs on diagonal into 3/4 inch thick slices. Lay on sides on parchment covered cookie sheet. Bake approximately 8 to 10 minutes, or until dry; cool.
  6. Form into a wreath or tree on a cake plate, using melted white chocolate as a sort of glue to hold the biscotti in place. When done, drizzle the remaining white chocolate on top of the wreath. For a finishing touch, add large sprinkles and pearl dust.

Peppermint Bark Brown Sugar Lip Scrub (+ GIVEAWAY)

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post on behalf of Dixie Crystals. I received products in exchange for this post. They also supplied the items for the giveaway. All opinions are my own.

Peppermint Bark Brown Sugar Lip Scrub

This past week, I started wrapping Christmas gifts to place under the tree. The day after Thanksgiving, my husband took down the gift wrapping boxes from the attic, and I just had a wrapping spree. Gift wrapping takes me a while, because I try to make the packaging as pretty as possible, just because I enjoy the heck out of it. Wire ribbons, festive paper, gift tags…so fun! When I was younger, I remember watching my mom meticulously wrap presents for others. She would make these gorgeous bows, to where they were almost too pretty to unwrap. She is so skilled at it…she can wrap nearly anything. I’m pretty sure that she would put mall gift wrappers to shame. :-P

When I wrap gifts, I like to add a fun little gift on the outside, whether it’s a candy cane, lip gloss or a mini ornament. It just adds a little something to the gift, and it’s easy to tie or tape on. This year, these brown sugar lip scrubs are going to be part of our gifts. The chocolate and mint are just a perfect combination for the holidays, and with brown sugar, along with coconut oil, they not only exfoliate, they also moisturize like crazy!

Dixie Crystals has so many great homemade sugar scrub recipes, and since I gifted peppermint sugar scrub as a gift last year, I wanted to go with a lip scrub this year. With the winter as crazy cold as it’s been so far (it reached the 20s a couple of weeks ago), this lip scrub is definitely needed.

Peppermint Bark Brown Sugar Lip Scrub

I placed the lip scrub in these mini (food-safe) glass jars that I found at a craft store. I then placed them in these large, ornament shaped plastic balls that you can pop open, and on the inside, I added thin, red tinsel and this leafy looking pipe cleaner with the lip scrub jar. Festive, right?

This brown sugar lip scrub couldn’t be easier to make. You just throw the ingredients in a bowl, mix and add to clean, food-safe jars of your choice.

Peppermint Bark Brown Sugar Lip Scrub
Source: slightly adapted from Dixie Crystals

Ingredients:

  • 3 tbsp. cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 cups Dixie Crystals packed light brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp. mint extract
  • 1/3 cup coconut oil, melted and cooled

Directions:

  1. Mix all ingredients in a medium-sized bowl, until everything is combined well.
  2. Place in containers, and gift! They keep for 2 months, when kept in a cool, dry place.
  3. To use, place a small amount on the lips and gently swirl around in a circular motion for at least a minute. When done, rinse the scrub off in cool water or if you want a sugar-y treat, you can lick this off, too.

The generous folks at Dixie Crystals are offering a lucky reader of The Nifty Foodie the ultimate sugar prize package! :-) As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a big fan of Dixie Crystals’ products, so this is perfect if you enjoy baking!

The prize includes:

  • Five 4-lb. bags of Dixie Crystals granulated sugar
  • Six 2-lb. bags of Dixie Crystals light brown sugar
  • Six 2-lb. bags of Dixie Crystals dark brown sugar
  • Six 2-lb. bags of Dixie Crystals powdered sugar

To enter, use the Rafflecopter widget below:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Note: This giveaway is supplied by Dixie Crystals and is open to readers in the continental US only. Entries will be accepted until December 11th, 2014 at 11:59am (central standard time). Winner will be emailed (make sure you leave an email address in the form), and will have 48 hours to respond or another winner will be chosen.

 

Raspberry, Pistachio & Dark Chocolate Rugelach

Disclosure: I received a copy of “Baking Chez Moi”, as well as a gift card and coupons for ingredients used in this recipe, in exchange for this sponsored post. All opinions are 100% my own.

Raspberry, Pistachio & Dark Chocolate Rugelach

So, this past long weekend threw me way off. Our house is decorated for Christmas, and it’s officially the holiday season. Maybe it’s because I’m getting older, but it really doesn’t feel like December. Sure, the UPS guy probably knows us on a first name basis by now, and my dog is randomly bringing me ribbon scraps, but it just doesn’t FEEL like the holiday season. I’m sure the 70 degree weather outside isn’t helping right now, either. Where did the year go?!

I’m actually fairly behind on things. By now, I would normally have my homemade holiday gifts planned out, but I haven’t even made the cookie dough yet to place in the freezer..heck, I haven’t even chosen the recipes to make! Yikes. I still need to do that…haha.

In the meantime, I’m still baking on the weekends (and my/my husband’s coworkers are loving it). I was recently sent a copy of Dorie Greenspan‘s latest book, “Baking Chez Moi“. I just adore Dorie Greenspan, so when I was approached about this post idea, I couldn’t reply soon enough! Her tall and creamy cheesecake is my favorite recipe of hers, which I make at least 5 times in November and December (between Thanksgiving and Christmas). One of the things that makes Dorie so wonderful is that she makes intimidating recipes completely approachable to the home baker. She writes out everything in perfect detail to where you feel like she’s right there in the kitchen with you. This book is no different. The instructions are perfectly detailed, and her recipes are mouth-watering. Her book contains recipes, like limoncello cupcakes, gingerbread buche de noel, cocoa linzer cookies, caramelized rice krispies…just to name a few. I have so many recipes bookmarked already!

For this post, I was asked to incorporate Driscoll’s berries into her famous rugelach recipe. While I’ve had rugelach before, I’ve never made it. After a bit of brainstorming, I thought that raspberry, pistachio and dark chocolate would go together perfectly in this bite-sized dessert. I’ve used the cranberry/pistachio/white chocolate combination before in biscotti, so I had a feeling this combination would work. Also, after making it, if you look at the picture, don’t they look like peppermint swirls? So festive for the holiday season!

As for the recipe, it tasted great! I reduced a pint of Driscoll’s fresh raspberries (along with sugar, lemon juice and zest) to a spread-like consistency (to avoid watering down the cookies), and sprinkled finely chopped chocolate and pistachios on top of the raspberry spread to make the filling for the rugelach. This combination works so well…sweet raspberries, melted chocolate with a hint of crunch from the pistachios? Oh man, I love it! My coworkers also went crazy over these the next day…they were perfect with a morning coffee. :-)

Raspberry, Pistachio & Dark Chocolate Rugelach
Source: Baking Chez Moi by Dorie Greenspan (filling adapted)

Ingredients:

For the dough:

  • 4 oz. cold cream cheese
  • 1 stick (8 tbsp.) cold, unsalted butter
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp. fine sea salt

For the filling:

  • 1 pint fresh Driscoll raspberries, washed
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. lemon juice
  • 1/4 tsp. lemon zest
  • 1/2 cup shelled pistachios
  • 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 2 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 3 tbsp. granulated sugar, mixed with 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1 large egg (for glazing dough)
  • sanding or granulated sugar, for dusting

Directions:

  1. Remove the cream cheese and butter from the refrigerator 10 minutes before you’re ready to make the dough and cut each into 4 equal pieces. This will allow them to slightly soften, but still be cold.
  2. After the 10 minutes, place the flour and salt in the bowl of a food processor, and scatter the pieces of butter and cream cheese over the flour/salt. Pulse the mixture 6-10 times, until flour coats the cream cheese and butter. Then, process the mixture, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl ever so often, until large curds form in the dough (before it processes into a ball of dough).
  3. Place the dough onto a lightly floured surface, mold it into a ball, and divide the dough in half. Then, shape each dough half into a square and wrap the squares in plastic film or wax paper. Place in the refrigerator to chill for at least 2 hours (or up to a day).
  4. To make the filling, cook the raspberries, 1/4 cup granulated sugar, lemon juice and lemon zest in a small pot over medium heat. Cook the mixture, stirring ever so often, until it reaches a boil. Reduce the heat to low, and simmer until the mixture thickens (about 10 minutes) to a spread. Set the raspberry filling aside to cool.
  5. Place the pistachios and chocolate chips in the food processor and pulse the mixture until the mixture looks finely chopped, but not crumbs. Set aside.
  6. Working on a lightly floured surface, sprinkle flour on top of one piece of dough, and using a rolling pin, roll the dough until it’s about a 12″ square, making sure to turn the dough frequently while rolling (and flouring lightly, if necessary). It doesn’t need to be precisely a square. The dough will be rather thin when finished.
  7. Cut the rolled out square of dough in half, to where you will have two pieces of dough that are approximately 12″x 6″. Brush the tops of each half of dough with the melted butter, and then sprinkle the tops with the cinnamon sugar mixture. Thinly spread 1/4 of the raspberry filling on top of the butter/cinnamon sugar mixture. Then, add 1/4 of the pistachio/dark chocolate mixture, gently pressing it into the dough.
  8. Starting from the long (ragged) side of the dough, carefully roll the sheet snugly (like you would when making cinnamon rolls), ending with the neat, cut edge at the bottom of the roll.
  9. Wrap the roll in plastic wrap or wax paper, and place it in the freezer. Fill and roll the other rectangle the same way as above. Then, repeat the whole dough rolling/filling process with the other square of dough.
  10. Ideally, you want the dough to rest for an hour in the freezer, to allow for easier slicing, but you can take them out of the freezer and (carefully) slice them after about 15-20 minutes. You can also freeze these rolls for up to two months, if you don’t want to bake all of the cookies at once.
  11. To bake the cookies, place the oven racks to where it divides the oven into even thirds. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F, and line two baking sheets with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Set aside.
  12. In a small bowl, beat the large egg lightly with a splash of cold water.
  13. Working with one roll at a time, remove the rolls from the freezer, and brush the top of each roll with egg wash. Then, generously sprinkle the tops of the rolls with sugar. Using a sharp knife and a gentle sawing motion, divide each roll into 12 slices, and place the cookies seam down on the baking sheet, with a little space between each cookie (each baking sheet held 24 cookies for me).
  14. Bake the cookies for 15-17 minutes, making sure to rotate the cookie sheets in the oven from top to bottom rack, and then flipping them front to back, being sure not to under-bake these. Transfer the cookies to a cooling rack and allow them to completely cool to room temperature. Enjoy!

White Chocolate Peppermint Mousse Pie

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.

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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…) :-).

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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.

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