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!

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!

Time Flies – Take Me Back To Europa

I truly can’t believe how fast time seems to be flying by these days. It’s been 2 years since I returned from studying abroad in Florence, Italy and 1 year since I crossed the pond to intern for my company in Lisbon, Portugal. Both summers were experiences of a lifetime, and I feel so very lucky to have been given each of the opportunities.

As a food fanatic, I was impressed by both Florence and Lisbon’s culinary identity. I’m sure you can guess the kind of food I was eating in Firenze: pasta, panini, vino, cappuccino, gelato, pizza, vino, risotto, pasta, bread, pasta (good thing I’m not gluten free). Every single meal in Italy, even a quick panino between classes, was truly a delightful dining experience. The ingredients in all of the dishes are fresh and flavorful, and it makes all the difference in the world. Spending my summer abroad opened my eyes to the way others live, and I love the Italian life style – Dolce Far Niente, “The Sweetness of Doing Nothing”. I spent many of my days doing just that , while also trying to perfect my Italian (I’ve since gotten very very rusty).

One of my favorite experiences in Firenze was centered around a course I took while I was there: The Food and Wine of Italy. While we did spend our fair share of time doing some hands on (or should I say mouth-on) learning, we were also challenged to learn about the history of Italian cooking and eating – dating all the way back to the first centuries. Of course, we studied this material over a bottle of Chianti 🙂

246902_1823480822540_1721886_nTypical meal in Firenze

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Learning to make gelato in our Food and Wine course254109_1817090022774_3493130_nWith friends in the Chianti region of Tuscany (about 30-40 minute drive from Florence)

SAM_0210Beautiful Chianti regionSAM_0189Siena, ItalySAM_0059My Florentine room-dogsSAM_0143Waterside view of the Uffizi (famous works by Michelangelo, Raphael, Giotto, Botticelli, and many others are housed here)

photo-65Gelato on the Arnoimage-112Aperitivo in Oltrarno (beyond the Arno)

SAM_0451Ponte Vecchio (bridge that crosses the Arno River)

264205_1847781550043_6180007_nDelicious fish in Cinque Terre

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My experience in Lisboa (working) was different than Firenze (playing studying abroad), but just as enriching.  I can’t explain how lucky I feel to have been selected for a global internship with my firm – I can only be thankful for such a wonderful experience! One of my favorite aspects about Portugal is the fact that it is far underrated, thus not inundated with tourists. Lisboa was much quieter than Firenze, and although I had trouble picking up the Portuguese language, I almost felt more comfortable there than I did in Italy. In my experience, the Portuguese people were the kindest of any country in Europe, and they make me want to go back!

I would be remiss if I didn’t share with you all the delicious cuisine I encountered during my time in Lisboa. Much to my delight, Portuguese cuisine incorporates A LOT of fish. And Lisbon’s location on the water ensures that this fish is fresh. Some of my favorite traditional dishes included:

  • Bacalhau – The Portuguese National Dish – Cod
  • Pasteis de Belem – Deliciously hot mouth watering pastries in the Belém neighborhood
  • Sardines -Better than you think they are
  • Esparregado – Creamy Spinach

These are just examples of the traditional foods one will encounter in Lisbon – the list of fresh seafood you can find there is so long it would probably not fit on my blog. Plus, a picture is worth 1000 words so I’m sure you’re ready for me to stop talking.

IMG_1898Festival of St. Anthony in nearby Sintra, Portugal

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Festival of St. Anthony in nearby Sintra, Portugal

IMG_1857Breakfast with a view

IMG_174425 de Abril Bridge in Lisboa

IMG_1894Picturesque village of Sintra

IMG_1711The colors of Lisboa

IMG_1872Palacio Pena in Sintra, Portugal

IMG_1956Date night at a trendy Lisbon restaurant when Derek came to visit

IMG_1854Ritz Carlton in Sintra, Portugal

IMG_1970Drinks with a view when Mom & Dad came IMG_1919I love them

IMG_1772Being touristy

If you ever have the opportunity to visit one of these lovely destinations, I must insist that you do. And take me with you, Please!

Home-Made Pizza

Hello there! I’ll share with you guys a quick re-cap of yesterday’s events before moving into one of my favorite recipes. Painting started at about 8 a.m. yesterday – we got a lot done and it’s amazing what a coat of paint can do to a room. Derek and I headed to the gym in the afternoon. After 3 miles on the treadmill, I hopped over to the fitness class room to complete a circuit workout. I had no workout planned and my workout ended up going like this:

workout may 18

After completing this circuit twice, Derek demanded that I hold a fitness step steady for him so he could see how high he could jump – I definitely should not have agreed to participate, but I did… Luckily we left with no broken bones.

derek box

After our workouts and a couple hours by the pool, we got together with friends for dinner at Ciccio’s – this seems to be our go-to place when no one can pinpoint what they are in the mood for. I never complain, as Ciccio’s is my favorite, and also my former place of employment.

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NOW ON TO WHAT I PROMISED YOU ALL!

It is a truth universally acknowledged that the members of Derek’s family are masters of the home-made pizza craft. Part of my fantastic vacation week included home-made pizza night last Wednesday.

My favorite family introduced me to their masterpiece several years ago on Christmas Eve. Their tradition is to make their pies on Christmas Eve when they get home from church (the pizza is a big factor in me agreeing to marry Derek… Kidding!). Luckily, they are kind enough to extend this tradition to any time of year, and I was able to partake this week.

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Davis creating the masterpiece

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Finished Product – Bon apetite!

Here is the recipe that I was granted permission to share with you all.. Consider yourself lucky!

Pizza Dough:

1 package active dry yeast

1 cup warm water (105 to 115°)

1 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 1/2 cup all-purpose or whole wheat flour

Directions

Dissolve yeast in warm water. Stir in remaining ingredients; beat vigorously 20 strokes. The dough should be thick, and not too sticky that you can’t work with it. Let rest about 5 minutes. (If using self-rising flour, omit salt).

Divide dough in halves. Pat each half into 11-inch rounds on lightly greased cookie sheet or pizza stone with floured fingers. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until light brown. Remove rounds from oven and spread pizza sauce over the surface of the pizzas. Sprinkle with your favorite toppings**. Cook in oven at 425° until cheese is light brown, 5 to 10 minutes.

**The 2 family recipes call for the following toppings: 1)Parmesan cheese, hamburger, onion, green pepper, and mozzarella cheese. 2)Red peppers, grilled chicken, green pepper, onion, barbeque sauce. My favorite adaptation goes a little something like this:

carmelized onions

1/3 cup grated fontina cheese

3/4 cup ricotta cheese

1 grilled red pepper

1/2 cup fresh basil leaves

extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons oregano

Salt and Pepper, to taste

Form the pizza dough in the same way as the above recipe. Divide dough in halves. Pat each half into 11-inch rounds on lightly greased cookie sheet or pizza stone with floured fingers. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until light brown. Divide the fontina cheese and spread over the 2 pizza rounds. Next, divide the onions, basil, and pepper between the 2 rounds. Return the pizza to the oven and bake 5-10 minutes.

In a separate bowl, mix together ricotta cheese, extra virgin olive oil, oregano, salt and pepper. Dollop the ricotta mixture onto the pizza after removing it from the oven. Let cool for 5 minutes, slice, and devour.

If you try out this delectable recipe, or put your own spin on it, let me know how it goes!