New Year’s Greens

While most bloggers take this week to reflect back on the best of 2012 or share their new year’s resolutions, I’m trying my best to only look forward. I could list what I was thankful for this past year — new friends, babies, milestone celebrations and vacations — but in all honesty, the best part of my year also took a dramatic turn to be the worst. I also failed at 2012’s resolutions — surprise, surprise — so not much to reflect on there either. However, here’s a few reasons why I’m hopeful 2013 will be my year.

1. Maybe it wasn’t the most congenial in-person conversation of all time, but I was able to seek closure after Christmas that I hope will help me find some level of peace with a bad situation in the coming months.

2. New Year’s Eve was spent on my sofa in sweatpants with curbside carryout from P.F. Chang’s, a bottle of champagne and a movie marathon. Might sound lonely, but it was exactly what I needed and here’s the hopeful part — I received not one, but two great fortunes in my cookies that ironically went hand-in-hand (yes, I’m guilty for asking for two cookies in case the first fortune was no fun).

3. I’ve thrown resolutions out the window! I recently read an article on a new favorite blog, The Everygirl, that said, “When you approach your life changes from an intentional point of view, you can see how far you’ve come from where you started and celebrate that as a success.” The point is to stop making quantitative goals that wane. So instead of new year’s resolutions, a few of my new year’s intentions are: trying something new at the gym (I’m leaning toward pilates), eat healthy more than half of the week, write more, start back with Shirlington Running Club, work at letting go and forgiving more, volunteer with an extra Make-a-Wish family, unplug from the Internet and phone simultaneously, and have no-shop months (a.k.a. no presents for myself). Is it bad I already picked out what I’m buying in February?

4. I have plans to look forward to including travel with family and friends on the books to Las Vegas and Riviera Maya, Mexico, and fingers-crossed, Los Angeles will be added, too.

5. In case you haven’t heard, the Pantone Color Institute has named emerald the color of 2013 — the color of growth, renewal and prosperity. And being a May baby, emerald is my birth color.

Okay, so maybe that last one is a stretch and I might sound crazy, but I need all the positive signs I can get. So how was my first day of the new year spent? Cooking for nearly 20 friends, of course! The saying is the way you celebrate New Year’s determines how you spend the rest of the year. So when I decided to have a low-key New Year’s Eve, I decided it would be good luck to share my family’s tradition of dinner on New Year’s Day with my closest friends away from home and as a way to say thank you. Now here’s a rundown of the menu.

Cocktail drink: Pear Rum Blush.

Appetizers: Vegetable tray; herb-marinated mozzarella, tomatoes, pepperoni and salami; bourbon hot dogs; and crostini with feta cheese, caramelized pears and honey.

Dinner: Zucchini and spinach goat cheese lasagna with homemade pomodoro sauce; baked shrimp scampi; balsamic roast beef; potato salad; garlic green bean salad; and sauteed brussel sprouts with bacon and raisins.

Dessert: Chocolate rum cake.

My favorite new dish was the sauteed brussel sprouts with bacon and raisins. I first tried them during a get-together at Christmas and then stumbled upon a recipe in an old issues of Bon Appetit during a recent cooking magazine purge. If you didn’t like brussel sprouts as a kid, you will surely like these grown-up brussel sprouts. Everything is better with bacon. And here’s to hoping 13 is finally a lucky number!

Brussel Sprouts with Bacon and Raisins

Brussel Sprouts with Bacon and Raisins

Adapted from Bon Appetit

2 slices thick bacon1 lb. brussel sprouts, trimmed and halved
Salt and pepper
1/4 cup golden raisins
1 medium shallot, finely chopped
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

Heat a large heavy skillet over medium heat. Add bacon and cook turning occasionally until crisp. Using tongs, transfer bacon to paper towels to drain and cool. Coarsely crumble and reserve.

Add brussel sprouts to bacon drippings in skillet and season with salt and pepper. Saute, stirring often, until well browned and softened, about 5 – 7 minutes.

Sauteed Brussel Sprouts

Reduce heat to low and add raisins, shallot and butter. Cook, stirring often, until shallot is soft. Add chicken broth and increase heat bringing to a boil, scraping up browned bits from the bottom of the skillet. Reduce heat again to medium-low and simmer until broth has almost completely evaporated. Stir in vinegar and crumbled bacon.

Sparkles

I wholeheartedly believe in retail therapy. But the bad part about retail therapy during the holidays is all of the sales – it makes it even more challenging to exert any sort of self-control. Then add the current retail obsession with all-things-glitter for holiday parties. It’s turned into a “one for you, two for me” kind of month.

My most recent purchases – as in the last two weeks – include six pairs of glitter encrusted earrings, three different glitter-colored nail polishes, glitter embellished high heels, eye shimmer (what am I, 13?) and a sans-glitter cookbook. I suppose it could be worse?

Essie Winter Leading Lady

Photo by Beautezine.

I’ve spent a lot of late nights recently painting my nails from day-to-day. First up was Essie’s Leading Lady. A deep crimson red with glitter. Definitely will be wearing this again on Christmas Eve.

Disco Dolls

My go-to work color has been Nicole by OPI Disco Dolls. Now I know this is part of the Kardashian Kolor nail polish line (ugh, they spell color with a K!), but who’s judging? Gold glitter matches my favorite gold glitter ballet flats.

Essie Mochacino

Essie’s Mochacino will be my January color. It’s a bright gray with a light glitter shimmer and reminds me of winter snow days.

Nine West Flax Pewter

I am still eagerly awaiting the arrival of these Nine West Flax Pewter Glitter classic pointy toe heels. Not that I have plans to go anywhere at the moment where I will be wearing these, but I just. Needed. Them. Even if I wear them for myself on New Year’s Eve in my apartment for my champagne and movie-watching marathon.

I’ll be taking a break from posting for the next week or so while I drive the few miles home to Baltimore for Christmas, and spend personal time back in D.C. finding closure to 2012 before everyone returns to the city from their travels. All of the emotions from the last several weeks and questions that will hopefully get answered in the next ten days need to come to a head so I can decide where 2013 is going to take me. In the meantime, enjoy sipping on a few of these sparkling champagne cocktails, all on my to-try list this week – Cranberry Clementine Prosecco, Pear Rum Blush and Pomegranate-Champagne Punch.

Bourbon Old-Fashioned Cookies

After making between five and six dozen Grand Marnier Chocolate Covered Cherries, I wasn’t sure I had much energy left in me to bake for work gifts and a cookie exchange beyond Pillsbury. But as photos of red and green food-colored sugar cookies in the shapes of stars and Christmas trees started popping up on my Facebook and Twitter feeds, it reminded me that they aren’t up to par in my recipe book. Now I know I might be coming across as sassy as my former roommate would say, but even if I’ve lost my Christmas spirit this year, I’m not going to be known as the person who baked sugar cookies. I have a reputation to uphold!

I recently saw a recipe on Annie’s Eats for Pecan Pie Thumbprint Cookies. I loved the idea, but, eh, not so much a pecan pie fan. Bourbon caramel apple pecan pie – yes. Traditional pecan pie – no. Then I remembered a Cherry-Bourbon Pie recipe I found in Bon Appetit that I had planned to bake to accompany red wine braised short ribs for a welcome home dinner in October that never happened. Better late to try than never, right?

I made a few substitutions, including replacing the pecans in the dough with almonds to reflect the original pie topping. These might be hands-down one of the best cookies I have ever made. The verdict is still out – final judgement day won’t happen until the cookie exchange tonight. But at the very least, my boss immediately thanked me for baking “something other than a sugar cookie cutout.”

Add nine dozen cookies to the list I said I wasn’t going to be cooking or baking back on Thanksgiving Eve.

Bourbon Old-Fashioned Cookies

Bourbon Old-Fashioned Cookies

Adapted from Annie’s Eats and Bon Appetit

Makes approximately 3 dozen cookies

For the filling:
1 24.7-oz. jar pitted sour cherries in syrup, drained well (I used Trader Joe’s Dark Morello Cherries)
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons bourbon
1 tablespoon fresh squeezed orange juice
1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest

For the dough:
1 cup (8 oz.) unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup almonds, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

For the crumble topping:
1/4 cup quick oats
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

Combine the cherry filling ingredients in a bowl. Cover and refrigerate for 2-3 hours or longer before baking.

To make the dough, combine the butter and cream cheese in a large bowl with an electric mixer. Add the sugars and beat until light and fluffy, and then mix in the vanilla extract. With the mixer on low speed, add the almonds, salt and flour. Kneed the dough and cover the bowl. Refrigerate for 30-60 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. To make the crumble topping, microwave the butter for 15 seconds to soften. Add quick oats and brown sugar and stir with a fork to incorporate.

Spray baking sheets with Pam or line with parchment paper. Scooping about one tablespoon of dough at a time, roll the dough into balls. Place the dough balls on the baking sheets, and using your thumb (or I used a wine cork as suggested!), make an indentation in the center of each dough ball. Fill each indentation with about two cherries and their juices from the filling. Add crumble topping to each cookie.

Bake for approximately 16-18 minutes. I recommend removing cookies immediately from baking sheets and cooling on parchment paper or cookie racks. The baked juices from the cherries tend to make them a bit sticky until they’re cooled.

Comfort Food

Have you ever looked up the definition of comfort food in the dictionary?

n. Food that is simply prepared and associated with a sense of home or contentment.

My first thought of comfort food is a heaping bowl of pasta with my Big Nona’s tomato sauce and meatballs, loaded with Parmesan cheese (freshly grated from the Italian store no less!) on top. However, I also think about those meals as a kid that often found their way to the dinner table week after week, but not because of their five-star quality.

The first was a casserole of beef flavored Rice-a-Roni layered with thinly sliced sirloin, basted with teriyaki sauce, baked in the oven and served with peas – my favorite vegetable! Not kidding, I was the kid who asked for a side salad at restaurants to go with my children’s menu. My parents remember this as one of the cheap dinners they ate during the first five years of their marriage to save money to build a house. The second probably made the top three list of every kid in the 1990s – chicken nuggets and Kraft macaroni and cheese. It had to be the blue box and the powdered cheese – we were not a Velveeta cheese family. While I still enjoy my Rice-a-Roni and Kraft from time to time, I have graduated to more, um, should we say sophisticated tastes? But sometimes we still need our comfort foods when life gets tough.

I lost six pounds in three weeks back in November. That’s a lot quickly for short me. Conveniently for him, the breakup coincided with a second trip back 7,926 miles away. The upset and stress of all of the questions surrounding our relationship and girl #2, his return before Thanksgiving and the inevitable fact we’re linked by the same social circle has taken its toll on my appetite. However, I have Whole Foods’ hot bar macaroni and cheese to thank for being there as my comfort food this time around and making sure that even if I only eat one meal a day, it’s definitely not short on calories. It’s the best homemade macaroni and cheese that comes close to beating out Kraft in my book! After spending way too many days hanging out at the hot bar, I overheard the secret ingredient is an Alfredo sauce base instead of your traditional milk and butter rue. Don’t let them fool you into thinking all that food is healthy!

I got the dreaded email in my inbox today at work reminding me of the holiday lunch potluck. With zero appetite, the last thing I could think about was cooking and a creative idea. So why not comfort food? Maybe I could knock out two birds with one stone – potluck and dinner? I stopped at the Harris Teeter on my way home from work and picked up ingredients. It took me all of 30 minutes to prepare this dish before baking in the oven. See that? Simply prepared. Unfortunately, even tonight macaroni and cheese couldn’t bring my appetite back. Lucky co-workers – more for them!

Alfredo Macaroni and Cheese

Alfredo Macaroni and Cheese

1 lb. elbow macaroni
1 jar Bertoli Alfredo sauce
1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
2 cups shredded Colby Jack cheese
2 cups shredded extra sharp cheddar cheese
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
2 teaspoons Tabasco sauce

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Bring a medium pot of water to a rapid boil and cook elbow macaroni until al dente. Drain and set aside.

In a medium saucepan, heat Alfredo sauce. Slowly stir in Parmesan, Colby Jack and one cup extra sharp cheddar cheese until melted and smooth. Remove from heat and toss with macaroni.

Place macaroni and cheese sauce in a 9 x 13 baking dish. Sprinkle the mozzarella and remaining cheddar cheese on top. Bake for approximately 20 minutes until cheese is melted and bubbly. Don’t forget to serve with chicken nuggets!

Grand Marnier Chocolate Covered Cherries

I haven’t been sleeping lately. I’ve always been a solid 8- to 9-hour sleeper. I chalk it up to too many thoughts and anxiety around one situation. So I’ve been asked what am I doing at the wee hour of 3 a.m.? Well, here’s what I’ve been up to.

1. Zoning out on Pinterest.
2. Writing One Line a Day.
3. Staring at the pile of Christmas presents that need to be wrapped, wishing them to wrap themselves.
4. Drinking wine, pretending my wine rack is an Advent calendar.
5. Praying, praying and more praying.
6. Midnight cleaning sprees, including the stove, microwave and refrigerator.
7. Painting my nails in glitter.
8. Watching mindless reality shows.
9. Midnight grocery shopping trips – no one is there!
10. Speed reading through every book in my Kindle queue.
11. Laying in bed, staring at the dark, counting down until the alarm will ring.
12. Making these chocolate covered cherries.

Grand Marnier Chocolate Covered Cherries

Grand Marnier Chocolate Covered Cherries

2 jars maraschino cherries, drained (about 4 1/2 dozen)
1/2 cup Grand Marnier
2-3 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup margarine
1/4 sweetened condensed milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
Pinch of salt
2 bags milk chocolate chips
1 bag dark or white chocolate chips

Start by draining the cherries and placing in a shallow dish. Pour Grand Marnier over cherries to marinate overnight or longer – depends on how boozy you want your cherries!

Remove cherries from Grand Marnier and place on a baking pan lined with foil. Freeze for at least an hour.

Start by mixing 2 cups powdered sugar, margarine, sweetened condensed milk, vanilla and salt. Knead into a dough-like mixture. If sticky, gradually add remaining 1 cup of powdered sugar. Cover and refrigerate until firm for at least an hour.

Begin by taking approximately 1 teaspoon of the sugar mixture, rolling into a ball and flattening it in the palm of your hand to the size of a silver dollar. Wrap the sugar mixture around your cherry to form a ball. Place back on the cold baking pan you removed from the freezer. Once all cherries are wrapped, refreeze for at least 30 minutes.

In a double boiler, gradually melt milk chocolate chips. When melted, dip frozen cherries in chocolate to coat and return to baking pan. Refrigerate until cooled and solid.

In a double boiler, melt dark or white chocolate chips and drizzle over chocolate covered cherries. Refrigerate (one last time!) until cooled and solid. Store in an air tight container in a cool place up to one month. Cherries are best served after two weeks once the juices have had time to set.

Chili of Boyfriends Past

These last few weeks I haven’t just been reliving the most recent breakup in my thoughts, but every one before it. The long and short, past and recent, have ended in similar fashion – boy leaves girl #1 after lying to be with girl #2 because, at least for the short-term, girl #2 appears skinnier/funnier/prettier/wealthier/taller or just all-around the better choice.

The latter have all had an epiphany that makes them question or regret their decision. Every. Single. Time. How do I know this? Because they ultimately sought out girl #1 to say so. Maybe their guilty conscience makes it hard to sleep at night?

I really should have written a book. I could at least be independently wealthy by now.

Back when this blog was known as its previous self, I shared a recipe for chicken chili from boyfriends past. I haven’t cooked that chili again in more than two years. My thoughts wandered back to that chili when I was perusing my pins to decide what was going to be on this week’s menu. As I’ve mentioned, I haven’t felt like myself. Cooking was my therapy five years ago – the tangible when I didn’t quite know how to cope with the unfortunate situation I found myself in as a 22-year-old – and for now I don’t want much to do with it. So I just needed a pot of food that could cook itself with a few ingredients and I could reheat and eat for days. But I can’t bring myself to cook that chicken chili.

That’s how Spicy Roasted Red Pepper Chili was born. Unfortunately, I don’t think my nutritionist will be too impressed at my next appointment about the sausage.

Disclaimer: I’m not kidding when I say this chili is spicy! If you’re weak, I’d go the pre-packaged chili spices route to start instead of my spice measurements. But it’s the roasted red pepper and hot Italian sausage that make it different.

Spicy Roasted Red Pepper Chili

Spicy Roasted Red Pepper Chili

3/4-1 lb. lean ground beef
1/4-1/2 lb. hot Italian turkey sausage, casing removed
2 red bell peppers
1 large onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 Serrano chili, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1-28 ounce can diced tomatoes and juices
4 ounces sliced Jalapeno peppers
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon Tabasco sauce
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1-15 ounce can low-sodium kidney beans, drained and rinsed
Salt and pepper to taste

In a large skillet or saute pan, brown the ground beef and sausage until meat is no longer pink and drain.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Slice red bell peppers in half and lay flat side down on a baking sheet. Roast in oven for approximately 10-15 minutes until soft and blackened on edges. Cool until cool enough to handle and peel away skin. Chop coarsely and reserve.

In a large Dutch oven or heavy pot, cook the onions, green pepper and Serrano pepper over medium heat, stirring occasionally until soft. Add the garlic and cook, stirring often, for about 2 minutes.

Add the ground beef, sausage, diced tomatoes, Jalapeno peppers, chili powder, Tabasco, oregano, paprika and cumin. Bring to a boil, then add kidney beans and reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer, with cover slightly ajar, for about 1 1/2 hours.

Christmas Cards

As a kid, mom and dad would spend a December Saturday with a box or two of store-bought Christmas cards at the kitchen table with the address book. Each card got a new year’s greeting and a signature, sealed inside an envelope, addressed, and stamped. Simple.

Fast forward a few years. Christmas cards started to include long, typed mass produced letters with a synopsis of the last year – who was playing what sport or had broken that bone or got accepted to this college – along with a few photos from summer vacation added digitally through this newfangled thing called a scanner.

Last year, the Christmas cards that arrived in my mailbox began to cross a threshold; the digital photo postcards created by online companies like Snapfish and the like with engagement and wedding and birth and family photos outnumbered those old-fashioned store-bought boxed cards with a handwritten note.

I still buy the store-bought boxed cards. I don’t have an engagement or a wedding or children to put on display on the front of my cards – unless of course I used a photo of myself, in which case my friends would probably submit me to some “Awkward Family Photos” website for singles. I also still write a customized handwritten note for each recipient, longer than the generic two-sentence holiday greeting. It’s one holiday tradition that I think is important to preserve and your one chance before the end of the year to make that personal connection with a friend you haven’t kept in touch with or make a wrong a right.

It took me writing several cards per night for two weeks straight to check off every person on my list. Some nights exhaustion or the carpel tunnel in my hand stopped me. But many more nights I was an emotional stress ball – any watermarks are just proof of authenticity.

I saved the hardest Christmas card for last. The one I’ve agonized for days over whether to send or not. And it couldn’t just be a boxed card. I perused the greeting card aisles for half an evening and then considered stashing it away in the desk drawer with the leftover boxed ones that inevitably get passed on to someone else the following year.

And then, what do I write?

The truth won out, like it always does for me. No elusive words or pretend niceties. At least for today, I’m now out of words.