Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Zappos Gingerbread Man

When Zappos asked me if I would like to welcome the Zappos Gingerbread Man to Austin with a gingerbread cookie recipe I said yes! I've always wanted to make gingerbread and I've never had a good reason!

Before I tell you about my first attempt at the cookies, let me tell you a little about what is happening with the #ZapposGingerbreadMan here in Austin today Saturday December 14 and Sunday, December 15 to spread a little holiday cheer!


"The Zappos Gingerbread Man, rumored to be running all over the city, will be bringing fun and a little weirdness to Austin. He was last seen leaving Las Vegas with gifts so he’ll most likely be leaving a trail of surprise and delight in his wake.  Keep your eyes open all over town and if you see him, snap a pic and post your photos of the Gingerbread Man running amuck to Twitter, tagging Zappos and using #ZapposGingerbreadMan, and you just might be rewarded-aka free stuff! :) 

Follow Zappos on Twitter for updates and clues on his whereabouts. It’s up to the folks of Austin to find him. There just might be goodies from Zappos.com for the good people of Austin who help capture this cookie culprit."
----
First of all, I had no idea what actually made "gingerbread" gingerbread. Turns out the main ingredients that differ from traditional cookies are: ginger, molasses and dark brown sugar. 

My husband and I made these together (a rarity) and we had a blast. He ended up doing most of the rolling and cutting after I showed him how :) Then I took to decorating! 




 My little cookie decorating station! It was harder than it looked to decorate dozens of these! 



  
 


Gingerbread Cookies
recipe slightly adapted from Food.com

Makes around 3-4 dozen depending on gingerbread cookie cutter size 

Ingredients 
3 cups all purpose flour
1.5 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon Salt (omit if using salted butter)
1 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 tablespoon ground ginger

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened (very important!)
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 egg
1/2 cup Molasses
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
 

Directions

Whisk together dry ingredients in medium bowl. Set aside.

In a stand mixer, beat together dark brown sugar with butter and egg until smooth. Add vanilla and molasses and beat until smooth. 

Slowly add in dry mixture until dough forms. (eventually I had to finish stirring with a wooden spoon as it gets thick and my mixer was angry!) 

Cook's note: Original recipe says to let dough now stand at room temperature for 2-8 hours to make easier for rolling. My note is that if your butter was truly softened and room temperature it should be the perfect temperature for rolling and cutting as you don't want it too soft or it's impossible to get to the cookie sheet. If your dough is too cold, let come to room temperature at your discretion. Since you will only roll small amounts out at a time, I found the rest of the dough to be the perfect temperature whenever I rolled it out.

Roll dough out onto a floured surface until 1/4 inch thick. Cut shapes using cookie cutters before placing on parchment paper or a Silpat. 

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and then bake smaller cookies around 6-7 minutes and larger ones around 8-9 minutes (don't overbake or they will be too crunchy and break easily).

Let cool at least 10 minutes on cookie sheet before removing to wire rack and cooling another 10 minutes before frosting and decorating as desired.

Enjoy and Merry Christmas! 

Disclaimer: Zappos asked me to participate and sent me some some goodies to help me bake but I mainly wanted to make gingerbread and all opinions are my own!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Holiday Gift Giving Guide for Foodies

Have I ever expressed my distrust of the word foodie? I use it casually to describe myself or others to simply mean we love food. Although I know many people use it to describe those that proclaim themselves as food experts or snobs. I consider myself neither. I just really love food. And cooking. And baking. And eating. 

So if you know someone who falls in one of those categories, consider getting them one of these gifts for Christmas! It took me forever to only pick 20 of my favorites! Enjoy!

I divided them by a few of my favorite stores (although many of these items are available at many places):

 


World Market 
I love how many cute gadgets and serving dishes they have, and so affordable! 
1. Mini Measuring Spoons- only $8.00 for 3 sets- you can buy just one set for $2.99 in store. These are great because they are small and snap together so you don't loose any. 
2. Mini Whisk- $.99, I use these tiny whisks for glasses of hot chocolate, or to mix up single serving dressings or toppings. It's especially cute to tie onto a larger gift.
3. Reversible Cookie Cutters- $2.99, Such a misleading name since you can use these for cookies, treats, biscuits, plating food, etc. I wish I had this set since it has the cute scalloped option AND the regular straight option.
4. Adorable Hand Towels. $9.99, Can't explain my obsession for cute hand towels but if you have to have one out, it should be cute! I look for cute ones at Ross, Marshall's, Target etc.

5. Beverage Dispenser, $19.99. My mom bought me one of these (similar) from Costco and I use it for literally every gathering at my house. If a friend has a matching one, we will do 2 drinks-water and a lemonade. Worth every penny for the entertainer. 


Pier 1

One of my favorite places to look for inspiration but I mainly shop sales since it's more expensive.

6. Buffet or Placecard Holders, $23.16, these are awesome and I don't actually have them! My stepmom does and I love them! Perfect for labeling food and easier to work with than chalkboard ones. 
7. Scalloped Cake Plate, $9.99, no woman can ever have enough cake plates in my opinion. They add height to tables for entertaining and I rarely use them for cake! I stack cookies, cupcakes, any thing I can think of.
8. Scoop Cutting Board, $9.99, I wish I didn't favor my scoop cutting board as you can certainly "scoop" with any cutting board. But I do like the handle for shoveling vegetables into a skillet or fruit into a bowl. It's handy, what can I say?


Target
What's not to love? I also have a RedCard so I can get free shipping and 5% off which never hurts! 
 
9. Stainless Steel Scoops- $38.99, I've yet to ever find a bargain on these but everyone should own all 3 sizes. I use these for cookies, but also filling muffin tins. You can use them for scooping chicken salad onto sandwiches, or scooping soft ice cream (don't use them for hard ice cream or they will likely break). I guess since I'm lazy, I find uses for these all the time since they are so handy and portioned controlled.
10. Quirky Measuring Spoon, $7.99, this is new to me but looks so fun! you can actually measure liquid ingredients directly into the spoon's handle or dry ones in the spoon part. I think I need this for Christmas-hint hint Santa.
11. Cake Pop Pan, $14.99, this is my favorite way to make cake pops. I'm far too lazy to roll them and what not. I use the lighter recipe from Skinny Taste and bake them directly in these containers. My only caveat to this is that I would get 2-3 pans (I buy mine in a holiday color after the holiday when they go on sale) since they need to cool before taking them out each time if you want to make bigger batches. I've been impressed overall with the pan though!



Sur La Table
One of my favorite splurge stores! They do have high quality products and I love to search for bargains too! 
 
12. Microplane Zester- $14.95, If you don't have 1 or even 2 of these by now, you must! I use them to zest citrus, chocolate shavings, you can even use it for garlic or Parmesan! Strongly recommend and they even have cute colors. 
13. iPad Disposable Sleeves- $9.95, I think my husband would thank me for buying these as he is always worried about my floured hands touching my iPad in the kitchen. If you only used them for those super messy days they would last quite awhile.
14. Cutest Christmas Ornaments- $2.99-$29.99, Sur la Table has the best food ornaments of any place I have ever seen. This one is the PB& J ornament but they tuna cans, artchioke hearts, seriously all kinds of foods and kitchen things. They make me smile every time I see them on my tree. One day I'd like to have a small tree in teh kitchen with just kitchen themed ornaments. 

Anthropologie
I mainly shop for inspiration here but they have quite a few fun things for entertaining! 

15. Arrondi Pitcher- $28.00, This pitcher is perfect since it has a little detail and is sturdy so it won't break easily during serving. 
16. Farmer's Market Basket- $20.00, These are so cute for photos or just for serving fruit or treats in. Totally unnecessary? Of course! Doesn't stop them from being adorable. 
17. Green Glass Milk Bottles- $22.00,  These would be so cute on a table during a luncheon or brunch with milk in one and orange juice in the other. Or any other cute variation. Such a simple way to dress up a table in a rustic way. 


Bed Bath and Beyond
I tend to shop in person here with my 20% off coupons. They aren't bing on sales and never seem to have free shipping!
18.  Ice Cream Scoop with Antifreeze- $4.99, I hope this is the real copycat of the one I always wanted from Pampered Chef and they have since discontinued. If it is, the antifreeze inside quickly lets you scoop through ice cream. Don't put it in the dishwasher though or you will ruin it! 
19.  Colorful Mixing Bowls- $19.99, Just another thing I feel strongly about needing tons of. On those days when you can't wash every mixing bowl-it just means you should own a couple of sets. I have several sets and I use all of them and love all of them. These are so colorful and fun you can use them for serving too. Win Win.

20. Slate Serving Platter- $14.99, I have a rectangular version of this that I love but I like the handle on this one that makes it more portable during parties. Serve with cheeses or small desserts it could be used year round, no matter the occasion.

Hope these help you find some good gifts for the foodies in your lives! I know I hope Santa brings me the final items on my list! 

Monday, November 25, 2013

Homeless Care Kits

Hey everyone!

I know this may seem like an out of the ordinary post for me but it's something I've been wanting to share for awhile. The cold weather has given me the push to finally share it with you!

Near where I work, there are lots of overpasses and intersections and the homeless tend to gather and panhandle at each light. Whenever I see the homeless my heart goes out to them, I wonder, how did they end up here? Illness? Bankruptcy? Bad luck? I do my best not to judge and rather to think that I'm it's a difficult way of life and that I'd like to help in some small way no matter the reason they are there. I want to help but don't feel comfortable giving cash. However, I hate not doing anything when I feel so blessed in my own life. A few months ago, I heard from someone at church that in their family they put together "kits" to keep in their car for the homeless. They mentioned including toothbrushes, food, and other nonperishable items. I thought this was a great idea and that I wanted to do it! 

The next time I went to Costco, I looked for nonperishable food items that would fit in a gallon size Ziploc bag. I found tuna packets and granola bars and then gathered other items from the grocery store.

Here is my first attempt at these bags! I put together a set of 5, each costing about $5 each. I think you could easily spend less if you are a savvier shopper than me!

My reasons for these items:

  • Non-perishable: Some weeks I don't ever stop at a light where there is a homeless person that I can give the bag to. Whether summer or winter, I don't want the food to spoil. (Usually they only last a max of a few weeks though before I'm able to give them all out)
  • Individually packaged, I would hate for anyone to think I did something horrible to the food (I guess I've been scarred by those stories of trick or treaters?) so I bought all prepackaged foods, even though they are more expensive.  I also figured, the person receiving them could throw them in a backpack and save them until they needed them. With fresh food, they might have received food that day and don't need more that particular day. I often see Meals on Wheels bringing dinner to these homeless by me. 
  • Practical-I provided some hygiene products as well as food to try and provide for a few different areas of their needs. 
  • Somewhat nutritional- I included tuna fish (protein), fiber one bars (fiber and calories), and some fruit (assuming this is a rarity for them). They may be looking for straight calories. Yes, there are healthier things and perhaps they could care less about health but this is what I thought was useful and it's all food I like too. :)
  • Small-I wanted to have 1 easy size gallon size to hand through my window and that I could keep under my seat until I hand it out. 

Here's my first batch in photos:

I always ask the recipient if they would like it before I give it to them and so far no one has ever said NO! Several times I have been brought nearly to tears at the genuine gratitude for these kits- I think not only for the items inside but for someone paying attention to them and caring for them, even for just a moment. It has been so wonderful to give these out as they make me feel like I'm doing some small part to help others. (My intention is not to toot my own horn but to show that this has worked for me!) 


Here are other awesome ideas I found from the Portland Rescue Mission of items to include:
  • Water bottle
  • Socks
  • Tuna and crackers
  • Granola Bar or cereal bar
  • Fruit snack or applesauce cup
  • Crackers with peanut butter or cheese
  • Gift certificate to fast food
  • Hand wipes
  • Pack of Kleenex
  • Maxi pads
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste
  • Nail clippers
  • Band Aids
  • Chapstick
  • Comb or small brush
  • Mints, cough drops or gum
  • Rescue Mission/ Soup kitchen meal voucher
  • Community resources for shelters, food, employment etc. 
  • Gloves, scarf, etc.
  • Sunscreen
  • Note of encouragement
  • Mini shampoo, body wash etc. (hotel ones would be perfect sized!)
Some helpful notes for the packs:
  • When shopping think about the essentials: hunger, hygiene and warmth
  • Fragranced items such as soap, hand lotion or deodorant can negatively affect the taste of food items if placed in the same bag. Pack these separately if you choose to give them.
  • Feel free to use what you have at home. If you buy fruit snacks in bulk for your kids, throw some packs in. (I had a bunch of chocolate, and thought that it might be a nice treat for someone!)
  • Google homeless care kits and see countless other great ideas and packaging
Anyways, these are just some ideas to get you started! I hope these help at least some people like me that wanted to help but didn't know where to start. 

This would be an awesome project for your family to work on this holiday season! Grab some boxes of granola bars, chips, etc. at Costco and start packaging them up. I know my husband and I are going to make our next batch when we get back from our Thanksgiving trip!

Have you ever made these before? What works for you? Other cool things to include?

Note: Please note this information is just my opinions and my intentions are good. Please leave only positive and uplifting comments. I know people have lots of opinions on the homeless. I'd love to hear other great ideas to include in the kits. I do donate directly to programs for the homeless also but wanted something tangible I could do on a daily basis. 

Monday, October 28, 2013

A Halloween Birthday Party!


My birthday is October 20 so I love that if I want  to I can have a Halloween themed party. I was loving the idea of caramel apples and costumes this year so I went for it!

It was also the perfect excuse to invite lots of friends over to see our new house! We had a blast and it was a great birthday! We played a Halloween trivia game I created and did Halloween charades and both were hilarious. 

On to the fun stuff!

The decor:

 I made the banner out of sparkly scrapbook paper.

 Caramel apple fondue bar! It was delicious! Find the recipe here.


 My first holiday tablescape and it makes me so happy!

 Veggies with dill yogurt dip
 Caramel apple muffins!

 White chocolate popcorn with Reese's Pieces. My favorite!
 Pumpkin chocolate chip bread! Mmmm
Finally fulfilled my lifelong costume dream of being a flapper! So fun!


Check out my awesome friends who all dressed up! 
Such good sports. And creative too might I add!

Do you dress up for Halloween? Have big plans? 
 We are passing out candy since we have already partied! 
 

Friday, October 11, 2013

La Terra Fina Dips and a Giveaway!

I have to say, one of my favorite things about being a food blogger is getting to work with cool brands and trying new foods, places, and fun things. 

When La Terra Fina asked me if I want to sample their dips, I of course said what any sane person would.... a resounding yes! Little did they know I would be the worst blogger for them ever. Let me tell you the story.

I had been expecting the package in the mail for a few days but had forgotten when my parents came to town since we were busy running around and showing them our new house! We came home from errands one day and found the package on our doorstep! (Side note-coming home to packages is the best!) Anyways, we were starving and hadn't eaten lunch but decided to just have a "snack" with the dips before we made lunch. We were just so excited we dove right in! I snapped one lopsided photo of the dips....thinking I would get better photos later (obviously that's what a good food blogger would do). 


Anyways, ten minutes later we had eaten all  of BOTH dips, despite our best intentions at self control (okay that's a lie, I didn't even try to stop it was too good!). And so.... all I have are these iPhone photos because I'm a lame food blogger. 

Anyways, they sent the dips with carrots and kettle chips and I loved both. We had some Ruffles though and they were divine with both dips. I was partial to the spinach one though!

 









 I'll stop babbling now but if you are smart you will enter the giveaway below! O and look for these delicious small containers of dips at your local grocery store or this awesome party size container from Costco that I saw the other day!

Enter the giveaway below to have a delicious 10-ounce package of the Spinach Artichoke & Parmesan and a 10-ounce package of the Artichoke & Jalapeno show up on your doorstep. You will thank me. I promise. 

Giveaway open to US Residents only. Good luck!
 

Disclosure: La Terra Fina sent me yummy dips to try and to give to y'all but all opinions are my own. 
Mmmm dip! 

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Cake Batter Rice Krispies



 You know when you pin recipes and then never use them? I'm definitely that person. The hoarding pin person.

Let me explain.

I hoard my pins until I want to make something specific. I don't often just peruse my pins for inspiration. I specifically visit boards to find something-usually one recipe. Then I look through some of the pins. Then I get overwhelmed and feel like a horrible cook/bake/decorator/wife or whatever board I'm currently perusing.

Does anyone else feel this way?

This isn't me bashing Pinterest but rather that sometimes there are so many amazing recipes and ideas out there that I get intimidated!

So it's saying something when I pick a recipe I have pinned from Pinterest! It means it looked good enough AND easy enough to not make me make boxed brownies instead (although who doesn't love boxed brownies?).

These rice krispies are more fun and sweeter than regular rice krispies and have the perfect amount of cake flavor. Feel free to add more dry cake batter or sprinkles if you want to be even more festive!


 
Cake Batter Rice Krispies

recipe courtesy gimme some oven
Makes 24 servings

Ingredients

4 tablespoons butter
1 (10 oz) bag of mini-marshmallows
1/2 cup yellow cake mix (the dry cake mix, not prepared cake batter)
5 cups Rice Krispies
1 (1.75 oz) container of multicolored nonpareil sprinkles

Directions

Melt butter in a saucepan over low heat. Add marshmallows and stir until they begin to melt. Remove from heat and stir until smooth. Whisk in dry cake mix until smooth. Add rice krispies and stir gently until coated, once coated, add about half of the sprinkles and stir gently (so the colors don't bleed). Spread/press rice krispies in 9 by 13 pan and then sprinkle with remaining sprinkles.

Let cool before cutting into squares.

Enjoy!

Are you a Pinterest hoarder? Do you ever get intimidated by all the inspiration out there?


Friday, September 20, 2013

Meet Austin: Smashburger Opening

I was lucky enough a few weeks ago to be invited to a media tasting at Smashburger! They just opened a new restaurant located in Cedar Park near Lakeline Mall.

Smashburger was just opening in Utah as we moved away and I was so curious to try it! I'm so glad we finally got to go here in Austin and eat so much delicious food.

We were presented with a tasting menu which let us try every burger on the menu! Thankfully they came out cut in fourths so that we didn't have to eat 7 full burgers!

A few fun facts about Smashburger I picked up:
  • Smashburger started in Denver but has since spread across the US and now even to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia! Apparently the Middle East loves their burgers!
  • All the burgers on the menu can be made with the "smashed" chicken or the traditional "smashed" beef.
  • All the buns are artisan: classic egg, spicy chipotle, multi-grain, or it can be made with lettuce-gluten free!
  • Each region gets it's own special burger: Texas has the Texas burger with mustard instead of mayo and Colorado has a burger with green chiles on top, etc. 
Now on to the delicious food photos.....


My first little tasting plate. I'm drooling even thinking about this again. 

The mushroom swiss-my husband's favorite.
Haystack onions-my favorite side anywhere anytime!
The sweet potato fries were also winners-crisp and sweet. For a little twist, ask for the "smash fries" on the sweet potato or regular fries-they will toss them with rosemary, olive oil and garlic. They also have flash fried green beans and carrots which were a fun change along with fried pickles (LOVE!) and fried jalapenos. 
You can also get any of these on top of your burger (a little secret!).

Although it's rare that I ever order chicken at a burger restaurant (I'm a purist-what can I say?) this definitely made me think twice about that. The avocado club: Fresh avocado, applewood-smok ed bacon, lettuce, tomato, ranch dressing and mayo on a multi-grain bun. Yum. 

The story behind the name!

Some of our tasting burgers to see! Seriously drooling. Check out the full menu here.

I was loving each bite and they even had mini milkshakes for us!

Left to right: BBQ Bacon Cheddar burger, classic chicken, and the spicy veggie black bean burger (my first veggie burger and I was impressed!)

After our tasting, they let us "smash" our own burgers in the kitchen! I let my husband do the "smashing" while I had fun. I think he enjoyed it if you can't tell! 

Such a cute place!

Not only did they have great burgers and sides but milkshakes. Haagen Daaz milkshakes. Although I'm usually too full after a good burger and fry. 
We tried the Oreo milkshake and again, yum.


Smashburger now has 2 Austin locations:
  •  Lakeline- Highway 183 and Lakeline Blvd- 14028 N Hwy 183
  • Southpark Meadows-located at Slaughter Ln & I-35. 9900 S IH 35, Austin TX
And of course, locations all over Texas, Utah, Idaho, Colorado, California and then a bunch of other states too! Find one near you!

Okay, it's 9 in the morning and I can't talk about burgers any more! Is it lunch time yet?

Disclosure: Smashburger invited me for lunch but that's it. All photos and opinions are my own! 
 

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