Wednesday, November 30, 2011

12 Days of Christmas [Cookies]

Last year, about this time, I embarked on my first ever blog challenge. I challenged myself to bake twenty-five different types of Christmas cookies, and blog about them. I called it the "25 Days of Christmas Cookies." I almost completed the challenge, but slacked off a bit on Days 24 & 25. (aka Christmas Eve & Christmas. I might have been a bit pre-occupied with other things...)

This year, I thought about doing the same challenge, but as my students would say, "That's doin' too much." Heh.

Honestly, it was a lot of work, a lot of time, a lot of ingredients, and a lot of cookies! So this year I've decided to do just "12 Days of Christmas Cookies". Still lots of fun but not as overwhelming.

I'll be starting tomorrow, so make sure to check back each day from December 1st through 12th for a fun new holiday treat!

If you're interested in seeing what I made last year, here it is! They include some of my family favorites, along with some newer (to me) recipes. (Click on the name to view the recipe.)

Cherry-Oatmeal-Chocolate Chip Cookies

Toffee Squares

Red Velvet Cookies

Orange-Glazed Pecans <-- so good & so easy!

Peanut Blossoms

Lemon Squares


Brownie-Covered Oreos

Peanut Butter-White Chocolate Popcorn

Mini-Chip Peppermint Snowballs <-- one of my absolute favs

Cookie Dough Truffles


Cranberry Bliss Bars <-- like Starbuck's!

Chocolate-Covered Pretzels

Oreo Cheesecake Cookies

Butterscotch Haystacks

Puppy Chow Cookies

Chocolate Coffee Toffee Crunch

Grandma's Butter Cookies

Cherry Bon-Bon Cookies

Good Ole' Fashioned Chocolate Chip Cookies

Cranberry-Orange Biscotti

Creme de Menthe Cake <-- not a cookie, but I included it in the challenge. It's our favorite Christmas dessert!

Happy baking! I can't wait to get in the kitchen and try my new recipes for this year. :)

Monday, November 28, 2011

FOLEPI River Trail Classic 2011

This past Saturday, I ran the FOLEPI River Trail Classic. It's a 4-mile point-to-point race and all downhill. Well, not quite all, but if you average out the whole course it's definitely downhill.

So, a chance to go really fast. This was my sixth year running this race, and it's become quite the Thanksgiving tradition. My mom walks the 2-mile walk, I run the race, and my Business Man comes to watch. My aunt even joined in the fun this year and walked with my mom!

I thought it'd be fun to look up my past results before I raced this year, to see what type of goal I should come up with for myself. Keep in mind, during my college years (2006-2009), this was typically my first run back after a 2-week break. So I didn't take it too seriously.
  • 2006 - 29:20
  • 2007 - 29:24
  • 2008 - 30:49
  • 2009 - 26:12
  • 2010 - 26:21
After looking at these times, I determined that I wanted to run sub-26:00. I've had a great fall of PR's, and knew that it was possible.

On Saturday, I woke up to rain and 40* temps. Not quite my favorite for running. The temperature, yes, but accompanied by rain, not-so-much. My least favorite running weather is a cold rain. (Bring on the snow instead!)

But, we made it to the race, and I was on one of the first busses up to the start. (It's a point-to-point, so they bus you the four miles up to the start.)

I warmed up, did a few leg swings & striders, and was ready to go promptly at 9:00am. Too bad some of the runners did not make it on the early busses, so we had to wait an extra 10-15 minutes before they could start the race. I don't mind waiting if the weather's cooperative, but it was cold! Eventually the race director came and blew the horn without so much as a 'get ready'. So it was a mad dash to start the race, everyone trying to get their footing!

My mom got some pics toward the finish.
We started the race, and I settled into a pace that felt very fast, but comfortable. As comfortable as you can be when running a 4-mile race. I never got that exhausted, OMG-so-tired, must-stop-running-now feeling. But, I was definitely ready to be finished during the last mile. 

So fast the camera couldn't even keep me in focus, haha. ;-)
Here's my mile splits:
  • Mile 1 - 6:18
  • Mile 2 - 6:19
  • Mile 3 - 6:23
  • Mile 4 - 6:16
  • Total - 25:16 (6:19 avg)
I was first female, and obviously very happy about my race! I achieved my sub-6:30 pace goal by quite a bit. I also think I have finally learned how to race pretty evenly. So, all in all, a very good day.

Soaking wet, but happy.
And the best thing about this race? (Besides the Avanti's pizza & gondolas afterward...)

Posing so pretty... (or so I tell myself...)
Hoodies! No lame-o cotton t-shirt that you only will wear to sleep. A cozy hoodie to keep you warm all winter. Love it.

I thought this was going to be my last race of 2011, but I found out about a Jingle Bell 5km in a few weeks, so I'm pretty sure I'll be racing that as well. I might even try to go sub-19:00! Although that scares me quite a bit.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Thanksgiving Weekend... and it's Christmas-time!

What a great weekend filled with family & friends!

My Business Man and I were able to enjoy quality time spent with both of our extended families... some of which we hadn't seen since June! I even got to meet my cousin's little baby boy for the first time. 

I didn't contribute much to the food side of Thanksgiving... (kinda hard to do when you're traveling 6+ hours), but I did manage to pull together a pumpkin trifle last minute. With some help from my mama. 

We did not celebrate Black Friday... unless you count creating some masterpieces at Created Just By Me - a paint-your-own pottery & glass fusing studio. 

On Saturday, I ran the Folepi River Trail Classic, a four-mile race that I've run every year for the past six years. (More on that tomorrow.)

After the race, my BFF Talen came over to my parents' house from her parents', and we got to spend some QT, complete with another run. 

And of course, we got to work in the kitchen! (I used to always make Talen 'bake' with me in college... aka she had to sit in the kitchen and talk to me while I baked, haha. She's not so culinarily inclined.) We helped my mom get a start on her Christmas baking list.

Talen's boyfriend joined us for dinner at Monical's (the best pizza ever) and we played a few rounds of rummy before they had to take off.

And before we knew it, the weekend was over. How can a 5-day weekend speed by so quickly? Thanksgiving break is always such a teaser. 

Once my Business Man & I got back to the Bean Town today, we got right to work, Christmas-afying our house. We had fun decorating the tree while watching Hallmark Christmas movies... and you better believe that we will be watching either Hallmark or Lifetime every night from now until Christmas.

Here's to a quick 18 days of school until Christmas break! 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The best thing about leftover turkey... Thanksgiving sandwiches. Yes, it might seem weird that I'm talking about using up leftover turkey when the real Thanksgiving hasn't even happened yet. 

However, typically I never have any leftover turkey. One of the downfalls of traveling for the holiday. So this is a first! We've got loads of turkey. (I'm definitely going to be freezing some so I can make some easy dinners during the month of December.)

Have you ever seen the episode of Friends - The One with Ross's Sandwich? Ross took a turkey sandwich to work... and someone ate it. But it wasn't just any turkey sandwich. It was a Thanksgiving leftover turkey sandwich. Specially made by Monica. With a moist-maker -a gravy-soaked slice of bread in the middle. 

If you haven't seen this episode, you must ASAP. Here's a link to a clip of Ross's hysteria: . In fact, it might be a good idea to go and watch all the Thanksgiving episodes from each season of Friends. (Not that I've ever done that right before Thanksgiving.)

Anyways, my version of a Thanksgiving sandwich does not have a moist-maker, but it's pretty darn good. Layers of ciabatta bread, cranberry sauce, roast turkey, caramelized onions, and lots of gouda cheese. Toasted to perfection. So yum.

Can you follow the arrows?
And yes, we still have the red-neck panini maker going on here. It works quite well!

If it ain't broke, don't fix it. ;-)
In other news, I am off school for a 5-day weekend! And so excited for it. Tomorrow afternoon we are trekking across a few states to visit my Business Man's fam up in northern IL and then we'll head south to spend Thanksgiving with mine on Thursday. I'm so excited to spend time with our loved ones. And perhaps do some Christmas shopping with mi madre.

I can't wait! Hope you all have a great Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Friends-giving (and Maple-Cider Brined Turkey with Bourbon-Cider Gravy)

Yesterday, we got together with some friends of ours here in the Bean Town held a 'Friends-giving' Celebration. Basically an excuse to have a preview of the real Thanksgiving coming on Thursday. And thank goodness for Thanksgiving. (Can I get an amen for a 5-day weekend?)

I volunteered to take bird duty, and we hosted it at our house. I'm no stranger to cooking turkeys... back in college, we held an annual 'Thanksgiving Extravaganza' for our cross country team. I always made the bird (sometimes even two!), and everybody else (25+ people) supplied all the sides and desserts. It was always a great time.

Thanksgiving Extravaganza circa 2009
Things always got a little crazy.
Back in college, I didn't really focus on preparing a delicious, beautiful-looking turkey. I just wanted it to be edible and not make anybody sick. (And when you're cooking for college boys, they don't really know the difference between succulent, moist turkey and plain ole' turkey covered in gravy.)

But this time, I wanted to do it right. One of my friends, Sarah, tackled her first Thanksgiving turkey this past week, and she outlined it step-by-step on her blog. (Check it out here!) She used a brine, and had great results, so I thought I'd try the same thing.

A brine is basically a salty, herb-packed liquid that a turkey (or any meat) is soaked in for 18-24 hours in order to help maintain moisture and flavor while cooking. 

We prepped the brine (apple cider, maple syrup, salt, cloves, pepper, orange rind, rosemary, and bay leaves) and had to figure out where to store a 21-lb. turkey so it could soak in the brine and also stay in the refrigerator.

Solution? Trash bags! (Thanks to Sarah for the tip.) I know they make brining bags... but why spend money on that when you already have something perfectly suitable? We doubled up two kitchen trash bags, placed the turkey in, and poured the brine all around.

We had some issues with the trash bag flopping around everywhere, and the brine not coating the turkey, so we found an easy solution. We plopped the trash bag into a cardboard box, and into the fridge it went!

After brining for about 20 hours, we got the turkey ready for cookin'. The recipe called for an herb butter to be spread all between the turkey skin and meat. And this is where I called on my Business Man for some assistance. (Actually, he volunteered... I guess massaging a turkey breast with butter-covered hands sounds like fun?)

So, he spread the herb butter all between the skin and meat, and after stuffing the cavity with some apple slices, orange wedges, garlic cloves, and fresh herbs, it went into the oven!

4.5 hours later, we had turkey! After letting it rest about 30 minutes, I carved it up and we were ready to eat.

Check out the spread! It was all soooo delicious, as was the time spent with friends. Always good to catch up over a good meal. Unfortunately I forgot to get out my camera so I have no more pictures... :(

So, if you're still looking for a turkey recipe for this Thursday, I highly recommend this one from Cooking Light. Yes, it has bourbon in the gravy... and yes, you will probably run into someone you know from church while purchasing it at the store. (That actually didn't happen to us, but we got a few comments like, "What are you you two going to do tonight?" from some random Wal-mart goers...)

Maple-Cider Brined Turkey with Bourbon-Cider Gravy

  • For the brine
    • 2 quarts apple cider
    • ½ cup kosher salt
    • ½ cup real maple syrup
    • ¾ teaspoon whole black peppercorns
    • ½ teaspoon whole cloves
    • ½ orange rind, cut into slices
    • 2 rosemary sprigs
    • 2 bay leaves
    • 1 gallon cold water
  • For the turkey
    • 1 12-lb. turkey, fresh or frozen & thawed
    • 3 tablespoons softened butter
    • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
    • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh sage
    • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
    • 1 apple , cut into wedges
    • 6 garlic cloves
    • 1 rosemary sprig
    • 1 sage sprig
    • ½ orange , cut into wedges
    • ½ onion, cut into wedges
  • For the gravy
    • 1 tablespoon butter
    • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
    • ¼ cup finely chopped onion
    • ½ cup apple cider
    • ¼ cup bourbon
    • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour


To prepare brine, combine apple cider through bay leaves in a large stockpot over high heat; cook 6 minutes or until salt dissolves, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat; add 1 gallon cold water. Cool to room temperature.

To prepare turkey, remove giblets and neck from turkey. Trim excess fat; add turkey to brine. Refrigerate 18 to 24 hours, turning occasionally.

Preheat oven to 375*F.

Remove turkey from brine; discard brine. Pat turkey dry. Starting at neck cavity, loosen skin from breast and drumsticks by inserting fingers, gently pushing between skin and meat. Combine 3 tablespoons butter and next 3 ingredients in a small bowl; rub butter mixture under loosened skin and over breast and drumsticks. Lift wing tips up and over back; tuck under turkey. Place apple and next 5 ingredients (through onion) in the body cavity. Secure legs with kitchen twine. Place turkey on the rack of a roasting pan coated with nonstick cooking spray. Place rack with turkey in roasting pan. Bake at 375*F for 1 hour and fifteen minutes. Cover turkey loosely with foil; bake an additional 45 minutes or until a thermometer inserted into thickest part of thigh registers 165*F. (This is just for a 16-lb. turkey; different size turkeys will take different amounts of time.) Remove from oven; place turkey on a cutting board. Let stand, covered, for 20-30 minutes.

To prepare gravy, reserve drippings & broth from turkey. Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add rosemary and onion; saute 2 minutes. Add 1/2 cup cider and bourbon; boil 3 minutes or until liquid is reduced by half. Combine 1/4 cup turkey broth and flour, stirring with a whisk. Add flour mixture, one more cup of turkey broth with some drippings to pan; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 4 minutes or until thickened. Serve with turkey.

Source: Cooking Light

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Pumpkin French Toast Casserole for a special friend

I never posted a pumpkin recipe this past Thursday. The reason? I was waiting until Saturday to prepare it! I've been wanting to try a pumpkin-themed french toast casserole for awhile, but it's not all too practical for a weekday meal. An hour in the oven? No thank you.

However, we had some special visitors arrive late last night, so I knew that a french toast casserole would be the perfect lazy morning breakfast treat. 

Who came to visit? One of my best friends from college, Michelle! She and her fiance were traveling up to Michigan for their Thanksgiving break and I forced lovingly convinced them to make a pitstop in the Bean Town. 

We spent the morning doing what we do best--going for a run and catching up on each other's lives. Running is the best way to catch up with old friends... we might have not seen each other for 3 months, but the instant we start running, it's just like old times. I guess that happens when you spent 4 years of your life running 5 days a week together!

Sporting our GC orange & black!
I put my Business Man in charge of baking the casserole while we were out, so that it would be ready when we got back. He even went all out and cooked up some sausage links to go with it! Delicious.

About this casserole... it's delicious! Sweet and cinnamon-y french toast with a subtle pumpkin spice flavor. It's a great breakfast when company's visiting, because you prep it the night before and all you have to do is bake it in the morning. Super simple! 

Pumpkin French Toast Casserole

  • 1 loaf French bread, cut into 1-inch chunks
  • ½ cup pecan halves or walnuts
  • 8 eggs
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree
  • 2 cups half-and-half
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • real maple syrup, for serving


Scatter bread pieces and nuts into 13x9-inch baking dish. In a large bowl, combine eggs, pumpkin puree, half-and-half, milk, brown sugar, vanilla extract, cinnamon, ginger, and salt. Pour egg mixture over bread, making sure all cubes are evenly covered. Cover with foil and refrigerate overnight. (At least 8 hours.)

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350*F. Bake, covered with foil, for 40 minutes. Remove foil and bake an additional 20 minutes, or until the center is set and the top is puffed and golden brown. Serve warm with maple syrup.

Source: Inspired Taste

Other pumpkin recipes:

Thursday, November 17, 2011

How to run on the treadmill without dying of boredom

This week, I've had good intentions. Intentions of running in the mornings before school. Because having the afternoons free is amazing! 

But every morning, I wake up somewhere in the 4 o'clock hour and think how impossible it is to get up when the alarm goes off at 5:10am. So I move it back to 6:30am, which leaves no time for running before school. (Although I did get up and run hills with my running group on Tuesday. When I have to meet people, I can wake up.)

So, this week I've been running on the treadmill after school. Because it's starting to get cold. And because I like to watch TV. And because there's 2 hours of Friends on TBS from 4pm-6pm. (Need I say more?)

Yesterday, I got myself all situated on the treadmill, and plugged my headphones (with only one working earphone) into the TV. And there was no sound! I guess after 12+ months of sweaty treadmill running, and sweaty summer running, they decided they'd had enough. I'm actually surprised they lasted as long as they did.

Hopefully not what I look like...
So what's a girl to do when faced with a treadmill run with no distractions? (Besides invent the plot lines of the TV shows. However since I was watching Friends, I pretty much knew the gist of the episodes anyway... haha.)

I decided it was time for SPEEDWORK! I've got one more race on my calendar for 2011--the Folepi 4-mile River Trail Classic. It's a 4-mile point-to-point (all downhill!) race the Saturday after Thanksgiving near my hometown. I've run it for the past several years, and it's always a good time. (Literally... because it's all downhill.)

One of my favorite work-outs in college was 400m repeats. We would often do 12-15 400m repeats at 5km race pace with 60 seconds standing rest in between. The purpose was to help our legs to 'feel the pace', so that when race day came, we could lock into that specific pace right away.

So, I decided to do a race pace 400m work-out to gear myself up for the Folepi 4-mile. And since standing rest is weird on a treadmill (who just jumps off the treadmill and stands there?), I ran 0.25 mi intervals at race pace, with a 0.25 mi recovery jog. I knew I wouldn't be able to do 15 repeats with the jogging recovery (too many miles!), but I thought I'd do at least 6.

Well, I ended up getting in 10! I alternated 0.25 miles at 9.5mph (6:18-pace) with 0.25 miles at 7.3-7.5mph (recovery pace). It wasn't quite as fun as 400m repeats on the track, but I'll take it. It sure beat the slow painful death of boredom from running the same pace on the treadmill.

So, the next time you're in a treadmill funk, switch it up! Run some intervals, jack up the incline, make yourself work. You won't be bored for long!

I chose a pretty green instead of pink this time. How exciting.

Oh, and I did buy some new headphones today. I thought about waiting until Christmas, but the treadmill will become my new best friend now that the temps are dipping down into the 20s-30s. (I can run in the cold with people, no problem, but by myself I am a wimp!) And for just $9... if they last me another year, that's definitely worth it.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Butternut, Bacon, Gouda... on a pizza

Squash. I'm sure you've seen this a lot lately.

Horrible lighting, delicious pizza.
As a matter of fact, I've had one sitting on my counter since the end of September. Have I used it yet? Umm.... have you ever tried to cut into and peel a butternut squash? Not so much fun.

Not the squash we ate. This guy's still out in the kitchen.

However, at Sam's Club last Saturday, I found peeled & cubed butternut squash, all nice and neat in a little package. For just $3.98. So much easier.

It looked like this. But didn't have a date from 2009 on it.

So the squash still sits on my counter. But I did actually cook the squash from Sam's.

First, I roasted it with some garlic, salt, and pepper. It was delicious just like that.

But then I made it even better - topped pizza dough with it. Along with bacon. And gouda. And caramelized red onion. Oh my. 

Between my Business Man and I, there was one measly little piece left at the end of the night. Heh.

I intended to make this recipe again next weekend (when I could get some good daylight photos), but decided I couldn't wait that long to share. It's that good. But trust me, I will be making it again. For the pictures, yeah.

Butternut, Bacon, & Gouda Pizza

  • 1 batch pizza dough, your choice
  • 2 cups peeled & cubed butternut squash
  • 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • salt & pepper
  • 4 slices thick-cut bacon, diced
  • 1 red onion, sliced
  • 1 ½ cups Gouda cheese, shredded
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan


Preheat oven to 450*F. Place squash in baking pan, and drizzle with olive oil. Top with minced garlic, salt, and pepper; stir until evenly coated. Roast for 45 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, saute bacon pieces in skillet until crisp. Remove bacon to paper towels to cool. Drain all but 1 tablespoon bacon fat. Over low heat, saute sliced red onion until caramelized, stirring every few minutes.

When squash is ready, prep pizza dough. (Whichever type you are using.) Drizzle pizza dough with olive oil, and top with about 1/2 cup Gouda cheese. Top with squash, bacon, and caramelized onion. Top with the rest of the Gouda cheese and Parmesan. Bake according to pizza dough directions until crust is golden and cheese is melted.

**I use this tutorial from Annie's Eats for pizza dough. It is FABULOUS!!**

Source: Inspired by How Sweet Eats

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Maple-Oatmeal Scones

It's no secret that scones are my favorite breakfast treat. Give me a big fluffy scone from Great Harvest any day of the week, and I'm a happy girl. (Never mind the sugar crash that comes 2 hours later...)

I'm always on the look-out for new flavors to try, and when I saw this maple-oatmeal scone recipe, I just had to make it. I even splurged on real maple syrup! (Not the fake pancake syrup... sorry Mrs. Butterworth, you don't quite cut it for genuine maple flavor.) 

These are crisp on the outside and light and flaky on the inside, with a subtle maple flavor. The oats give them a bit of heartiness, and the pecans a nice buttery crunch. Walnuts would be just as good, I'm sure.

These delicious scones are perfect for fall, so hurry up and make them before the dreaded S-word comes! (Although I'm really looking forward to some snow... I'm in desperate need of a snow day. And there's something quite magical about running through freshly fallen snow. Remind me that when it's still snowing in March.)

Maple-Oatmeal Scones

  • For scones
    •  cups all-purpose flour
    • ¾ cups oatmeal
    • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
    •  teaspoons baking powder
    • ¼ teaspoon salt
    •  cup cold butter, diced
    • ½ cup chopped pecans or walnuts
    • ¼ cup pure maple syrup
    • ½ cup buttermilk or half & half
    • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
    • ½ teaspoon maple extract
  • For maple glaze
    • 1 cup powdered sugar
    • 2-3 tablespoons milk
    • ½ teaspoon maple extract


Preheat oven to 400*F. Grease a baking sheet.

In a large bowl, combine flour, oats, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Cut in butter using two knives (or your fingers) until crumbly. Stir in chopped nuts.

In a small mixing bowl, whisk together maple syrup, buttermilk, and extracts. Pour into flour mixture and stir until dough just comes together.

Flip dough out onto floured surface and pat into a 1-inch thick circle. Slice into 6 wedges and place on prepared baking sheet.

Bake for 16-20 minutes, until scones are golden brown.

While scones cool, prepare glaze. Combine powdered sugar, milk, and maple extract until smooth. Add more powdered sugar or more milk to get the desired consistency. Drizzle over cooled scones.

Source: Baking Bites

Other delicious scone recipes:


Besides eating scones yesterday, I tackled a kitchen project that I've been putting off for awhile - cleaning out the refrigerator and cabinets!

Ever since we moved into our house (oh... 6 months ago) my kitchen cabinets have been a mess. Stuff was just stashed wherever it would fit, and didn't really have any organization to it at all. 


My Business Man says that my new organization still doesn't make any sense, but at least it does to me! Haha.

My happy cabinet! Sprinkles, oatmeal, cereal... all the best things in life.

Apparently I thought there might be a Jell-O shortage, the way I have stocked up. And we don't even eat Jell-O. What the junk?!

The basics... this is a high shelf, so things I don't need everyday.

Another favorite... definitely in this cabinet everyday.
We finished off the night with Buffalo Chicken Nachoes and a rental movie on the couch. No better way to spend a Saturday night.

These weren't exactly what I was shooting for... so no recipe. I will try again though, because I think they have the potential to be awesome!

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