Is Christmas Really Over?

Hey friends! I hope you all had a WONDERFUL Christmas week! Although Christmas has again come and gone, I am really enjoying celebrating the season in any way that I can. In addition to celebrating with my family all week, my celebrations  included a Christmas get-together with several high school friends of mine. I may or may not have mentioned this before, but I attended an all-girl high school, and it was one of the best experiences of all my life. I’m still very close with almost all of my high school friends (several are in my wedding party!)  and a  couple of weeks ago, we all realized we would all be in town and available on the same night (a rare occasion). Obviously, we decided to have a little Christmas party and gift exchange! We all brought appetizers and drinks, gifts for a gift exchange, and hungry stomachs! photo 2 (16)

For the party, I prepared a couple of appetizers: one was a no-cook appetizer, featuring gorgonzola cheese and a fig jam Derek picked up for me at a farmer’s stand in Alabama a couple of weeks back. The easy no-cook appetizer came together like this:

Ingredients

24 pieces of crostini (I bought mine from Publix Bakery)

1/2 cup of fig jam

6 oz.  gorgonzola cheese

Directions

Spread fig jam on each crostino. Next, spread gorgonzola (or just top with gorgonzola if using crumbled cheese) on top of fig jam. Serve at room temperature.

Easy enough, right?

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Because the get-together was being held at Derek’s house, I wanted to make use of the oven and prepare something a little heartier than crackers and cheese for all of my friends. I found the following recipe on Food Network and prepared my flatbread with  the homemade dough we use for pizza, instead of store purchased.

Directions
On a floured surface, roll out 1 pound refrigerated pizza dough into a 10-by-15-inch rectangle; press into an oiled rimmed baking sheet. Mix 1/4 cup olive oil, 2 tablespoons chopped rosemary and/or oregano, 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes and a big pinch of sea salt. Brush half of the herb oil over the dough, then set aside until puffy, about 1 hour. Make dimples in the dough with your fingers and top with thin onion slices and shaved parmesan. Bake at 400 until golden, about 20 minutes. Brush with the remaining herb oil.

Read more at: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/food-network-kitchens/onion-herb-focaccia-recipe/index.html?oc=linkback

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I couldn’t get enough of any of the dishes that the girls brought, including my fair share of cheese and jam, artichoke dip, stuffed mushrooms, and a delicious rosemary + fruit Sangria!
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After we ate at the house and exchanged gifts, the only appropriate thing to do next was go get the best dessert in town. We ended our night with chocolate and drinks at Harry Waugh Dessert Room at Bern’s Steakhouse. If you are ever in Tampa, you have to check this place out. The Dessert Room is on the 2nd floor of the steakhouse, and guests are seated at tables in massive redwood wine barrels. It sounds weird, but it’s perfect. photo 3 (16)

This holiday break has also given me plenty of time to attend some group fitness classes (ahem, Bodypump) go on long runs with Derek, and just veg around the house. Some of my favorite things to do!

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And I really hope to be able to spend some more time in the kitchen while life is a little more slow-paced than usual!

Spotlight on: Junior League of Tampa + Bunco Jumble Recipe

Hi everyone, I hope you all are doing well! My oh my I am getting so excited for Christmas next week and all the festivities that go along with the joyous holiday. I love all the gatherings of friends and family that occur during the holiday season, and I’m looking forward to several get-togethers with friends, both after work this week and this coming weekend!

As you may have read on the blog before, I’m a provisional member of the Tampa chapter of The Junior League. Joining The Junior League this year has given me so many opportunities to volunteer in the community in ways that I didn’t know were available to me, as well as meet some wonderful young women. The Junior League of Tampa’s mission is to “promote volunteerism, develop the potential of women, and improve communities through effective action and leadership of trained volunteers”.

One way in which the Junior League mission is funded is through sales of our award-winning cookbooks. In addition to the classics, The Gasparilla Cookbook and Tampa Treasures, JLT released a Culinary Collection featuring 4 unique volumes. I found the following recipe in Volume 1 – Life of the Party, and absolutely LOVED this mostly sweet, and a little bit salty, party treat! I prepared it for a Junior League holiday party that took place last week, and plan to make it again this holiday season.

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Ingredients

1 box of mini Ritz peanut butter sandwiches

1 cup dry roasted peanuts

1 bag mini pretzel sticks (12 oz.)

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup butter (1 stick)

1/2 cup light corn syrup

2 tsp vanilla extract

1 tsp baking soda

1 bag mini or regular M&M’s

Mix the sandwich crackers, peanuts and pretzels in a large roasting pan. heat the sugar, butter and corn syrup in a pan over medium high heat. Bring to a boil and cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in vanilla and baking soda. Pour over cracker mixture, stirring to coat well. Bake at 250 for 45 minutes, stirring mixture every 15 minutes. Remove to waxed paper to let cool completely. Add the chocolate candies. Break up the mixture into small pieces as needed.

Makes handfuls of fun”

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Nutty Pimiento Cheese Balls because I’m a Nut!

G’day fellow cheese lovers! Remember how I told you how excited I was to attend a “Friendsgiving”  the other weekend? Well, obviously there was no way I was showing up empty handed to the party, and when the hostess with the mostess asked me to bring an appetizer, I had NO idea what I wanted to bring!

A couple of google searches led me to the following Nutty Pimiento Cheese Balls appetizer from Eating Well. This featured recipe on Eating Well is actually a recipe from Jamie and Bobby Deen, and it came together like this:

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Ingredients

  • 2 ounces reduced-fat cream cheese (Neufchâtel), softened (generous 1/4 cup)
  • 8 ounces shredded sharp Cheddar cheese (about 2 cups)
  • 8 ounces shredded Monterey Jack cheese (about 2 cups)
  • 3 tablespoons low-fat mayonnaise
  • 3 tablespoons drained chopped pimientos
  • 1 teaspoon grated onion
  • 1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
  • Pinch of salt
  • Pinch of freshly ground pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups finely chopped toasted pecans

Directions

Process cream cheese in a food processor until smooth. Add Cheddar, Monterey Jack, mayonnaise, pimientos, onion, garlic powder, salt and pepper and pulse to combine. Scrape into a bowl, cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes or up to 2 days.

Toast pecans at 350 in oven about 7 minutes, or until fragrant, stirring once during the baking period.

Place pecans in a medium bowl. Roll the cheese mixture into 1-inch balls and coat each ball evenly with pecans.

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Serve the cheese balls at room temperature or chilled!

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I’m glad to say that there were hardly any pimiento cheese balls left when the party was over! Thanks Jamie and Bobby ; )

P.S. – How cute are the Ritz snowflake crackers I served with the cheese? I am obsessed.

Happy Hump Day!

Seven Ways To Make September Sensational

I LOVE a new month! The beginning of a new month feels like a fresh start, and a great opportunity to set new goals and try out new activities. The following seven things/activities/ideas represent how I plan to make September Sensational!

1. Cook with seasonal produce! September is great because summer vegetables are still around and fall produce is starting to come into season. In the beginning of the month, try cooking with avocado, mango, tomatoes and summer squash. Pretty soon, these tasty veggies are going to be set aside, as sweet potatoes, figs, pumpkin and butternut squash take center stage.
2. Set a new fitness or health goal – mine is to train for my first half marathon. I began training late last week, and I’m following this training plan. Derek and I plan to run our first half-marathon in Orlando this December. Maybe you want to try out a new fitness class, or start incorporating more produce into your meals – now is the time to start!

3. Savor the last bit of summer by throwing a pool party or summer BBQ.
4. Take a step into fall in the latter part of the month by hosting a football tailgate for friends, or attend a game of your favorite team.
5. Start reading a new book. I’ve spent this summer reading auto-biographies, comical books, dramas, and self-help books. While I do love the instant download on my iPad or Kindle, I’ve been ordering books off of Amazon lately, saving up to 75% and enjoying the “old-school” hard copy.
6. Find a halloween outfit – I’m not sure if I’ll be dressing up, but I plan to have fun finding a costume for Louie. I’m thinking he’d be an adorable Minion from Despicable Me.

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7. This may sound crazy, but I start brainstorming Christmas gifts right around this time. By the time the holidays roll around, I’ve already found the perfect personal gifts for family and friends, and don’t feel like I’ve gone broke spending all my money at once!

What do you plan to do this month to make it a special one? Please share!

Photo Share 8/26

Hi, friends! Happy Monday! I hope you all had a lovely weekend – ours was one of celebration, as we spent Saturday evening with family and friends at our Engagement party! It was a great feeling knowing that our loved ones are as excited as we are for our wedding, and I felt like this beautiful party really got the ball rolling!

image-328Happy Hour @ Copper Fish in Tampa

photo-148Saturday morning spicy breakfast scramble

image-329Lunch @ Oxford Exchange on Saturday to remember a wonderful friend who passed away last year

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Arrangements at our Engagement Party

935951_10200406918511295_1721662354_nWe loved being the guests of honor!

image-2College Roomie pic in my flower girl’s bedroom

1235466_10200406917431268_712621625_nMusic Man at the party

image-324Sunday night homemade pizza

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image-327Roasted red pepper and BBQ – My flava of choice

I’m anxious to spend some time in the kitchen this week, but haven’t yet decided what I plan to whip up. Anyone have fun plans this week? Make it a great one!