Any Excuse to Party

My family loves a party.

To say the least.

Last Saturday would have been my dad’s 59th birthday.  I froze him in my head at 52… it’s weird to think he would have been almost 60 this year.  It may seem weird to some people, but we decided to have a little party in his honor with some close good family friends.

My dad loved people.  He also loved good food and good wine.  We made sure all were present!  We laid out snacks while prepping the grilled goods.  Cheese, crackers, soppressata, grapes, and figs:

Cheese plate… 

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Sunshine and Pumpkin Pan-lettes

It’s a sunshine-y day!!!

 

Hey, we’re supposed to start the week on a positive.  #cheese

This weekend was beautiful and sunny in Atlanta.  I spent Saturday morning working out, then did some shopping. I purchased fresh eggs from the farmers market before heading to Fresh Market for some goodies:

Fresh Market finds

I really love the wraps and the lentil hummus!  Hatch chilies aren’t new to me, but I was thrilled that they were grilling them fresh outside the store to sell.  Score!  They went really well with the shrimp I bought (pre-cooked and tails removed – I can’t stomach doing those myself just yet).

 

Then I got dressed to watch two of my favorite people get married.

Admittedly, I was a little anxious about the reception.  Open bar, lots of tasty reception food… and cake.  I mustered all my motivation and commitment.

Don't get sidetracked

 

I knew I wouldn’t last without my own treats, so I came prepared.

Bring your own food to a wedding?!  Why not?  I made a quick turkey salad with my hatch chilies, parsley, and tomato.  That was tossed in a sauce of nutritional yeast, apple cider vinegar, cumin, and smoked paprika.  I also brought some green bean chips, a chocolate calcium disk, and kombucha.  The kombucha was awesome to have so I felt like I had a “drink.”

Confession: I took a teeny cake sample.  It was worth it.  So there.

Bring your own wedding food

Isn’t the bride gorgeous?!

 

Sunday there was more marvelous with a great workout followed by a trip to Whole Paycheck Foods.  On bike.

It was supposed to help with self-control… but really it translated to weighted cardio on the ride home.  It’s 6.5 miles round trip!  The need for kabocha is not to be denied!

Whole Foods finds

See that beer in the middle?  It’s a pumpkin beer.  I’m afraid it will all be gone by the time I can drink it after my competition, so I asked the beer man (Max) to recommend the very best.

I purchased a single and it will remain in my fridge until mid-November.  Wish me luck.

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I’ve been tagged by a few people for the Sunshine Award.  Thank you!!!

The last one I saw was from Janetha… based on the first question alone, I knew I had to answer. :)

sunshine

 

1. Do you believe in aliens?  Why or why not.

I don’t know… I’ll say yes.  Because who are we to think we’re all that’s out there?!

 

2. If you could do ANYTHING in the world and have that be your career and your skills, paycheck, or anything else was not an object… what would you do?

I’d travel.  That my one day get boring, but being able to explore and experience the world without the chains of time or monetary needs is my idea of heaven.

Like that time I ended up in Chile by accident and found myself on board a US Navy ship… 

 

3. What is your earliest childhood memory?

That’s tough… I don’t remember?  Maybe dancing around the living room to old records at Christmas time with my dad.

little me

 

4. What’s for dinner tonight?

How about last night?  That’s what I have a picture of.  ;)  It was one of my new wraps spread with salsa and topped with shrimp, broccoli slaw, and a little local #yolkporn.

Yolk porn pizza

 

5. What was the most fabulous vacation you have ever been on in your entire life?

Italy.  2 weeks traveling to small towns on a self-guided food and wine extravaganza.  I almost didn’t come home.

Often I wonder why I did.

Alba Italy truffle festival

At the tartufo festival in Alba, Italy

 

6. If you HAD to give up one of your senses (touch, taste, sight, hearing, or smell) which would it be?

NOT taste or smell!  Maybe hearing?  It seems like that’s the easiest one to accommodate for, especially if you’re able to hear prior.  I’d rather not hear half the shit that comes out of people’s mouths anyway… ;)

 

7. Would you rather always be super freezing cold or ridiculously overheating hot? (and no, you can’t have a warm blanket or AC to combat the issue!)

Bring on the heat!  I hate being cold.  I have Raynaud’s Disease and it’s uncomfortable and creepy when my fingers go white-purple.

 

8. Why did you start blogging?

My mom told me to.  Seriously.  I was reading a lot of blog and getting inspired to make all of this #strangebutgood stuff and my mom said “you should start a blog!”  So I did!

This is not at all strange for us.

This is not at all strange for us.

 

9. What was the last compliment you received and what was the last one you paid to someone?

Yesterday I Instagrammed a sneaky selfie from the gym and my girl Meg sent me the sweetest text that made my night:

“Wow girl you’re looking phenomenal.  Be proud of yourself.”

That Pumpkin Pie Smoothie recipe is on the Instagram post. ;)

*Please don’t be offended, Zumba people.  I just thought it was funny.  I tried it at Blend and it was HARD for this white girl.* 

I’m struggling through this prep and someone noticing progress that’s hard for me to see in myself feels really, really good.

I paid it forward by telling a girl in the elevator that the homemade (paleo!) fudge she was bringing up looked amazing.  Then I tried to steal one.

 

10. What is your most favorite thing to eat?

I hate this question (sorry Janetha!).  I love different foods for different reasons, and it depends on the mood!

Right now I’m digging the Pumpkin Pan-lette (remember when I did it with sweet potato?) I made Saturday morning.  There’s no flour in it – the base is just pumpkin and egg whites.  Like a pumpkin omelette, but cooked like a pancake.  Pan-lette. Get it?

Whatever you call it, it is a fluffy cake of fall deliciousness.  I topped with a peanut flour sauce, which we all know I’m addicted to.

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Pumpkin Pan-lette

Pumpkin Pan-lette

  • 1/2 C pumpkin puree
  • 1/2 C egg whites
  • 1/2 tsp butter extract (or vanilla)
  • 1/2 tsp pumpkin spice
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • Pinch of cloves
  • 4-5 drops vanilla liquid stevia (optional)

 

For the sauce:

  • 1 T peanut flour
  • 1 T Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2-3 drops vanilla liquid stevia
  • Almond milk or water, to thin

 

Combine all pancake ingredients into a medium bowl and stir until smooth.  Pour into a prepared (I used PAM) skillet and cook as you would a pancakes (~2-3 mins on each side).

Note: I made this as one huge pancake, but I’d advise you to turn it into 2.  It required some serious acrobatics and two spatulas to flip.

Meanwhile, stir together sauce ingredients in a small bowl.

Plate your pie-cakes, top with peanut butter syrup, and enjoy!

***

 Don’t forget to check out all the other marvelous in the world over at Katie’s link up!

The Sunshine rules say you have to come up with 10 questions and tag 10 people.  Everyone and their brother has already done this… so I tag YOU!!!  Choose one of the questions above and answer it below.  Sharing is caring.

Would/have you ever brought your own food to a wedding?

 

Indecisive Love

It’s a travel week at work

 

That means a quiz post is on order.  I always do these when I’m short on time, thinking it will be a quick post.

The joke’s on me.  These almost take me longer than a regular post because I debate so much over the choices.  Indecisiveness prevails.

 

 

WHAT DO YOU LOVE MORE?(Copied from a bazillion other bloggers.)

1. Strength training or cardio?

Strength training all th way.  Which is convenient since I’m going to do a figure competition. ;)

I do hate this machine though:

My Nemesis: Hack Squats

 

 

2. Breakfast, lunch, or dinner?

Brinner!  (That’s breakfast for dinner.)  I’d eat breakfast for any meal.  PB & Jeggs, anyone?

 

3. Dress up or workout clothes?

Workout clothes.  Getting me to wear “real” clothes is like pulling teeth.  If you really think about it, it’s pretty stupid that we have to dress uncomfortably to go sit behind a desk all day.

 

4. Wine or beer?

Hi, have we met?  I love wine.  I traveled to Italy to drink it.  If I could, I’d live on a vineyard.  Or in a wine glass.

 

5. Peanut butter or almond butter?

I love all nut butters.  Especially these Nutty Butters.  If forces to choose… I’d have to go with my childhood classic: peanut butter.  Preferably in the form of a simple, grilled PB & J.

 

6. Heels or flats?

I’ll get even more specific than that.  Flip flops.

Please ignore the ugly feet, but these are a must-have. (Click for source.)

 

More terrifying than wearing a bikini on stage for my competition is the though of having to walk across that stage in stripper heels.

 

7. The actual cake or the frosting?

20 years ago (wow… that make me feel old), I would have said icing.  Now I’m all about the cake.  Unless it’s cream cheese-pecan icing on carrot cake.  That required equal parts of both. :)

 

8.  Spring, summer, fall, or winter?

Either spring or fall.  Maybe a little more fall because I love trips to the mountains to get apples and see the leaves change.  But spring is so fresh and full of possibility.

Ohhhh… just remembered that fall also means college football season.  FALL.  Go Jackets!

 

9.   Real animal or stuffed animal?

Stuffed.

I love the idea of a real animal.  I’m a huge cat lover.  However, I am terribly selfish busy.  My boss and I were actually just talking about this an she said I’m centered around self right now.  Not self-centered, but focused on accomplishing some goals.  So much so that it’s all I can do to keep my house plant alive.  Is that a terrible thing to admit?  

 

10.  Bright or light?

Errrrr… black?  If you look in my closet, it’s all black.  To me, it’s comfy like workout clothes.  Black workout clothes, that is. :)

Black with accents of gray.

 

 

***

I’m in Texas selling (I hope) some work today.  I forgot my cowboy hat, but the dude on the plane next to me let me borrow his.  (Not really, but he was wearing one.)

Don’t forget: click here to enter my giveaway for a loaf of high protein bread from P28 High Protein Bread – ends tonight at 11:59p!

Are you/have you ever been centered around self?

How about you?  Pick a couple and tell me your loves!

 

Pick-Me-Up, a Tiramisu Protein Parfait

Breakfast is the only reason I get up in the morning.

 

Not really.  I get up because I have to go to work.

Breakfast is the only reason I get up without too much grumbling.  Unless you count the grumbling in my stomach, which has been intense ever since I started training.

That’s a whole other topic.  I eat my last meal around midnight.  In theory that would hold me over.  Notsomuch.  I wake up so hungry you’d think I hadn’t eaten in days.

 

 

What’s really fun is waking up starving and remembering you have something really delicious prepped for breakfast.  Remember Meal 1 from yesterday’s WIAW post?  This is it – a Tiramisu Parfait.

The oats are cooked and soaked in coffee and cocoa overnight to produce a light, spongy pudding.  In the morning, I mixed up some Greek yogurt with vanilla protein powder to create the decadent, creamy layers in this Tiramisu Parfait.

 

 

Did you know that Tiramisu means “pick me up” in Italian?  Rightly so.  This breakfast rendition was so good it had this night owl up early and eating breakfast with a smile.

The Italian dessert certainly couldn’t be passed off a breakfast (not that it hasn’t happened in a moment of weakness…).  This is a much healthier version is perfectly acceptable in the morning, and you won’t be missing a thing with these flavors.  Espresso-soaked ladyfingers are easily replaced with coffee-cocoa overnight oats.  The sweet, tangy Greek yogurt mixture is the perfect sub for the marscarpone and heavy cream that layers a traditional Tiramisu.

If you’re feeling frisky, you could shake it up and top the breakfast treat with melted cherries.

 

 

A traditional Tiramisu can run upwards of 500 calories, 30g of fat, and 30g of sugar.  Never fear.  Depending on your protein powder, this Tiramisu Parfait is around 200 calories, 2g fat, 4g sugar… and 20g of protein!

 

I never wanted it to end.

 

 

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Tiramisu-parfait

Tiramisu Protein Parfait

Inspired by this recipe.

For the Oats:

  • 1/3 C rolled oats (use gluten-free to make GF)
  • 2 tsp cocoa powder
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 C water
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp rum extract (almond would also work here)
  • 1/4 cup strong brewed, cooled coffee
  • 8 drops liquid stevia (adjust to desired sweetness)
For the Cream:
  • 3 oz plain Greek yogurt (use soy or almond yogurt to make dairy-free/vegan)
  • 1/2 scoop vanilla protein powder
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp nutmeg
  • 2-3 drops orange stevia (optional, you could also use orange zest or extract of you want the hint of citrus)

 

Combine the oats, cocoa powder, cinnamon, extracts, and water in a bowl and microwave for 2-3 minutes, or until the liquid is (mostly) absorbed.  Add coffee and stevia.  Stir to combine, then cover and place in the fridge overnight (or at least 2 hours).

In a small bowl, combine yogurt, orange stevia (or zest,/extract), protein powder, 1/4 tsp cinnamon, and nutmeg. Stir until well combined.  This can be done the night before, or at time of serving.  

To assemble, place a spoonful of the oats in a cup, followed by a spoonful of the yogurt mixture.  Repeat until you’re out of each.  

Optional: Top with fruit of your choosing.  I chose melted cherries (cherries microwaved with a few drops of lemon Stevia for ~20 secs). Whipped cream would always be amazing.

Makes 1 serving.

***

This first time I made this, I couldn’t wait til morning and ate it as Meal 7 (dessert).

Would you eat this parfait for breakfast or dessert?

Are you a morning person or a night owl?

 

Pop Quiz

My inner high schooler is showing.

 

I used to LOVE taking quizzes.  The ones people would pass around in school or MySpace or email… I took them all.  To the point where it probably annoyed people.  

When I was tagged for this quiz on Claire’s blog, I got unnaturally excited.  Thanks Claire!

 

The rules:

  1. You must post these rules
  2. Each person must post 11 things about themselves on their blog
  3. Answer the questions the tagger set for you in their post and create 11 new questions for the people you tag to answer

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11 Things About Me

1. I sit on a Swiss ball at work.  The desk chair hurts my hips!


2. My co-workers think I’m weird – for the Swiss ball and for the random foods I bring for lunch.  Sorry, no Big Macs for me.

3. I haven’t had more than a few bites of meat in 2012.  I’m not a vegetarian because I love to try new things and don’t want to feel restricted… but I do have a plant-based diet.

4. 2 years ago I ate about 3-4 burgers and 1 steak a week.  Since the end of 2010 I haven’t had more than half of a burger or a bite of steak (with the exception of my 2 weeks in Italy… when in Rome Florence!).

 

5. I have the a terrible memory when it come to names or events, but I can rattle off recipes and statistics like nobody’s business.

6. In high school I went through a phase where I only work men’s XL shirts and Birkenstocks.  Those pictures have been burned.

7. I’ve been going to the same hair stylist since I was 15… despite the fact that I now have to drive an hour to see her.  Karen and Lava Hair Studio are the best!

 

8. If I could have any job, I would develop recipes/new concepts for restaurants.

9. Yes, I really do 100 push-ups nearly every day.  No, I don’t do them at once – sets of 3!

10. Red wine is my weakness kryptonite.   Specifically, Italian reds.  I would even choose it over cookies.

Which leads me to #11…

11. Just like Claire, if I had no other ties or commitments and unlimited funds I would move to Italy and never look back.  I might do it anyway.

 

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Claire’s 11 questions were in list form: “Tell me about your 11 favorite foods (restaurant, grocery store, or homemade).”

 

This is actually really hard for me – it’s like choosing a favorite child!  In no particular order, here’s what comes to mind…

  1. These Chocolate Sea Salt Cookies
  2. Sweet potatoes protein shakes like this one
  3. The hummus from Top Flr.  It’s the best I’ve ever had.
  4. My mom’s Carrot Cake (made from my grandmother’s recipe)
  5. Flourless chocolate cake with sea salt and olive oil from La Tavola (with a glass of Amarone)
  6. This Zucchini Bread Oatmeal
  7. Sriracha (a.k.a. Rooster Sauce)
  8. Guacamole – extra jalapenos
  9. Indian food – I don’t care what it is, just pass it this way with extra spice on the side
  10. Gnocchi with shaved black truffles from one of Italy’s first Slow Food restaurants – Osteria dell’ Arco in Alba
  11. Pizza – specifically authentic Italian pizza from places like Antico Pizza

 

Now I get to tag!  It doesn’t say how many people, so I’ll choose 5 because I like prime numbers.

 

For my 11 questions, I would love to know:

  • What are your 5 favorite foods?
  • What are the 3 best things you cook/bake/concoct in the kitchen?
  • What 3 things you would do first if you were President of the United States?

***

This weekend I’m going to the Atlanta Underground Market again.  The theme is Bruch… which I think should always be the theme. :)

What are you getting into this weekend?

What are some of your favorite foods?  Do we share any of the same?

 

Chef Cindi Avila Lives the Lightlife

A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to be contacted by Lightlife for an interview opportunity with Chef Cindi Avila.

 

Photos courtesy of Lightlife

 

Cindi’s focus is on vegan and vegetarian cooking.  Recently she has been in the kitchen with Lightlife  creating new, seasonal recipes using Lightlife’s line of meat alternatives

 

From her bio:

…Avila graduated from the Chef’s Training Program at the prestigious Natural Gourmet Institute in New York City… where she learned about cooking meat-free food and took classes on nutrition. She has starred in the Food Network series “Chopped,” been filmed cooking for “The Real Housewives of NYC,” and won TLC’s cooking competition reality show “Dinner Takes All.” She has also taped several episodes of her self-produced show, “Green Goddess” and her recipes have been featured in The New Greengrocer Cookbook. 

 

Source: Food Network

 

Here is my Q&A with Cindi:

1. How did you come to adopt a vegetarian diet?

“When I was 15 I had to pick a charity for a class project. I picked PETA.  Once I saw pictures of how animals were treated on factory farms I gave up eating all beef.  After that I slowly gave up all meat and seafood.”

2. What drove you to culinary?

“I was anchoring and reporting news for years.  Then one day I saw a listing for a dinner competition on TLC.  I loved cooking vegetarian food and had lots of TV experience, so I figured I’d give it a shot.  I ended up winning the show against four carnivores.  After that I decided to go to culinary school and combine cooking with my TV profession.”

3. What are your thoughts on the recent “trend” toward vegetarian and veganism?

“I am thrilled more and more people are trying out a vegetarian or vegan diet, even if it’s just one day a week. The Meatless Mondays trend has helped a lot of people try out a meat-free diet once a week and realize that it’s so great and easy to incorporate every day of the week!”

4. Many people with plant-based diets don’t like to eat meat alternatives.  What would you say to them?

“Try it, you’ll like it.  Meat alternatives make eating meat-free so easy because the possibilities are endless when you incorporate them into your diet. They don’t have to be the center of attention on your plate either if you are just trying them out for the first time. For example, you could add a slice of Smart Bacon® to your grilled cheese or tempeh on top of your tomato soup to add protein to both dishes.”

Smart Bacon Grilled Cheese, photo courtesy of Lightlife

 

5. Have the judges on reality shows been surprised at how delicious vegetarian meals can be?

“In one word, YES.  Even well respected Chefs misjudge vegetarian food as a bunch of flavorless vegetables.  People are always blown away when they realize how tasty my food is, and they tell me they don’t miss the meat at all. That’s always a great compliment!”

6. I think people are often hesitant to try new products because they simply don’t know how to prepare them.  What Lightlife product is a good starting point, and how would you suggest serving it?

“I love using the Smart Bacon®, it’s so easy to cook and extremely versatile.  All you have to do is take any recipe where you’d use traditional bacon and instead use Lightlife’s Smart Bacon®. I make a great carbonara where you can’t even tell the difference.”

7. As you think about recipe development and new ways to use Lightlife products, what is your process?  Do you spend time brainstorming or jump in the kitchen and create?

“I just jump in the kitchen and start creating!  I usually try to take a dish that I’ve seen using meat and I make it meat-free using Lightlife.  I encourage everyone to do the same thing.  Just take your favorite meat dish, find out what Lightlife product works best with it, and then cook away! Take my breakfast sandwich for example – an everyday staple that everyone loves can be easily redone with a vegan twist.  I just use Lightlife’s Gimme Lean® Sausage and Smart Deli® Ham with vegan cheese and no eggs.”

8. How many times do you test a recipe before you settle on a “winning” version?

“I honestly usually just test a dish once.  I have a knack for thinking up a recipe on the fly.  It works 99% of the time.”

9. What is your favorite Lightlife product to work with?

“I love so many.  The Smart Dogs are great for parties because I can whip up a quick Smart Dog in a blanket.”  The Smart Sausage is so easy to throw in so many different pastas, etc.  It’s just hard to choose one.”

10. Do you think you could win a competition like “Chopped” using a meat alternative while everyone else is using the “real” thing?

“I would love for a reality competition to give me a shot using a meat alternative.  It would level the playing field and let my food rise to the top.”

11. If you were to prepare a meal for a “die-hard” meat eater using Lightlife products, what would it be and why?

“I usually prepare my lemon caper cutlets for die-hard meat eaters who haven’t eaten Lightlife before.  Everyone loves chicken piccata and you really can’t tell the difference when you use the Smart Cutlets®.”

12. Do you have any advice for people aspiring to develop their own recipes?

“My advice is always to just try to duplicate your favorite dishes.  You’d be surprised at how easy it actually is to cook when you just use ingredients you love.  People are usually scared to try, but once you get started in the kitchen you’ll find out it’s actually not that intimidating.”

 

Thanks, Chef Cindi!

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Cindi inspired me to develop a recipe of my own using Lightlife’s Smart Strips Chick’n.

 

Winter has me craving Italian dishes.  Like risotto.  I’m not a big rice fan, but I do always have grains in my pantry.  This “risotto” creation uses barley – which worked surprisingly well!

 

 

My recent trip to Italy (and the copious amounts of wine-based risottos) inspired the use of wine in this dish.  I was gifted a half-empty (half-full?) bottle of Chilean Chardonnay that I’ll never drink… perfect for use in cooking!

Roasted veggies added a great crunch which contrasted fantastically with the creaminess of the Pecorino-laced barley.  The chicken took on the wine flavor quite well, and added a punch of protein.  You know I love that!

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Barley Risotto with Winter Veggies and Chick’n

  • 2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp white wine vinegar
  • 2 C brussel sprouts, halved
  • 2 large carrots
  • 1/2 C diced onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 C cooked barley
  • 1 package Lightlife Smart Strips Chick’n
  • 1/3 C dry white wine (I used Chardonnay)
  • 1 C vegetable stock (I used low sodium)
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 C shredded Pecorino cheese*
  • S & P, to taste
  • Garnish with cilantro (optional)

 

To pre-cook barley, bring 1 C raw barely to a boil in 3/4 C water and 1/4 C white wine (not included in above recipe).  Reduce to simmer, cover, and allow to simmer for 12-15 mins.  “Fluff” with a fork and set aside.  This can be done a day or so in advance and stored in the refrigerator.

 

Pre-heat oven to 350.

Coat brussels and whole carrots in 1 tsp olive oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper.  Cook in oven for 40 mins, tossing half way through.

Meanwhile, saute onions in large pot with remaining 1 tsp of olive oil until almost translucent (~5-6 mins).  Add minced garlic and cook, stirring until fragrant (~1-2 mins).  

Add barley and stir to combine.  Add the wine and stock, followed by the chick’n and veggies.  Cook, stirring often, until the grains coasted and the sauce is reduced.  

Stir in seasonings, then taste and adjust salt and pepper.  Add the cheese, stirring until mixture is creamy (like risotto).

Makes 5 servings (1 C each).

*Note: substitute vegan mozzarella cheese for the Pecorino to make this dish vegan.

***

Maybe Lightlife will hire me now! :)

Do you use Lightlife or other meat substitute products?

If you are vegetarian/vegan, what traditional meat dish would you most like to see re-created?  Or what have you re-created well?

 

Friday at 5

I mean… 5 for Friday.

Someone is ready for the weekend!

 

Here are five things that make me happy this week:

1. Special Delivery From Italy

 

 

The wine I had shipped back from my trip arrived today!  It was all I could do not to stay home and sample them all.

 

 

2. Oatmeal on Chilly Mornings

The weather here has been so weird, but I think the crisp air is here to stay this time.

 

 

In my bowl:

  • Oats
  • Almond milk
  • Cinnamon
  • Cottage cheese
  • Peanut Flour
  • Blueberries

 

3. Holiday Baking

 

 

Sparkling Cake Balls were the winners this week.  Next week, a post on what was in that mystery picture I posted Monday.

Annnnd…. another balla cake ball flavor coming soon…

 

4. Blogger Meet Ups

 

Left to right: Alayna, Me, Kristy, StacyBrookeCarolTraciLeeTinaHeather, and Heather (and Tracy, not pictured)

 

ATL blogger get togethers are the best… Imma be tired in the morning though!  Special thanks to Tuk Tuk for hosting and Kristy for getting us the hook up.

The food was good, the service was above and beyond!

 

 

…and thanks to the guys at the bar who bought us all shots. :)

 

5. Lunchtime Core Class, Followed by Body Pump

 

 

Killa way to jump start the afternoon.  I work SO much more efficiently if I can workout midday.

***

I’m going to Atlanta’s largest museum for a jazz and cocktail event tonight.  Which is exciting, but making this day ever so long.

What has made you happy this week?

Do you work better if you can take a little mid-afternoon break?

 

Sparkling Cake Balls

Any excuse to put balls in a blog post!

 

In the event that you don’t know me… I like grape juice.  The fermented variety.  For proof of this, check out the Italy wine tour posts:

 

Traditionally I am a red wine girl (that dessert is coming, don’t you worry), but I felt that cake balls required a little something to class them up.  Prosecco.  Keeping it Italian.

It was rare to get an actual champagne glass in Italia

 

Cake balls have been all the rage for the past year.  They didn’t impress me much until I saw a recipe for champagne cake balls of my brilliant blog-friend Jenny’s site – check her balls out over at Vintage Sugarcube.

 

The premise is easy: 1 box of cake mix + 1 cup of bubbly.   All you have to do is mix, bake, cool, and crumble.

Here’s where I got carried away inspired.  The next step is typically mixing 1/2 cup of store-bought frosting with the cake crumbles.

 

That’s not enough bubbly!

So I made frosting.  With more Prosecco.  Inspired by this red wine frosting I learned about from a new friend (and talented baker) at the Foodbuzz Festival, Maissa @ Butter and a Pinch of Salt.

 

These beautiful bubbly balls (don’t you love alliteration?) are like eating dough.  The icing makes them impossibly moist and the white chocolate coating adds the right amount of sweetness – not too sweet, not to blah… juuuuust right al la Goldilocks!

And I don’t even like white chocolate.

 

My co-workers seemed to enjoy them  I took this plate to work today for our office’s Thanksgiving Potluck.  I came home empty-handed, but +1 holiday baking order.  My first commissioned dessert!!!

Added bonus: being able to text my mom to tell her my balls were a big hit at work.

This holiday season I will specialize in Sparking Balls.

 

To end on a clean note, check out the cranberry sauce my coworker’s husband made:

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Sparkling Cake Balls

  • 1 box white cake mix
  • 1 C Prosecco (or other sparkling beverage)
  • 1/2 C Prosecco frosting (see below for recipe)
  • 1 C melted white chocolate

 

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

In a large bowl, mix together the cake mix and Prosecco.  Bake according to box instructions.  Allow to cool completely.

Meanwhile, prepare the frosting.

 

Sparkling Frosting

  • 1 C + 2T Prosecco
  • 3 C confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 C (2 sticks) salted butter, softened

 

Pour 1 cup of the sparkling wine in a small pot over med-high heat and reduce to 1/4 cup.  Remove fro heat and allow to cool completely.

In a large bowl use a hand mixer with the whisk attachment (you can use a stand mixer if you have one… I’m not fancy like that), blend the butter and sugar until fluffy.  Start out on low and then move to high speed to prevent a huge mess.

Slowly pour in the cooled reduction, scraping down sides as necessary.  Add the remaining 2T of Prosecco and beat until thoroughly mixed.

 

To Make the Balls:

Crumble the cooled cake into a large bowl.  Add 1/2 cup of frosting and stir to combine (feel free to use your hands).

Roll into balls approximately 1T in size.  Place on wax paper-lined cookie sheet and allow to chill in the fridge.  Once chilled, melt 8 oz white chocolate (I used Baker’s) and dip cake balls until covered.  Dust/roll in sprinkles, if desired, before chocolate hardens.  Return to refrigerator on wax paper lined cookie sheet to harden.

Makes ~ 30 balls.

***

Sometimes I title images in posts to make myself laugh… does anyone ever hover over them?

Have you ever made cake balls?

Do your office potluck turn out well or full of store bought stuff?

 

Hijacking a Brunello Wine Tour

Caution: this post involves drinking, gluttony, and theft.

In other words, my favorite things. ;)

We left Siena from Montalcino on a tour bus with 4 strangers and a tour guide, Mattea.  It was to be a relaxing wine tasting, followed by lunch, another tasting, and then a ride back to the hotel.  Little did Mattea know, this was no ordinary tour group.

First fateful stop: Il Cocco

 

It was here that we met our new BFF – Christal.  A New Mexican woman living at the winery with Giacomo, her wine-maker boyfriend (yes, we were all jealous of this modern-day Cinderella story).

Giacomo and juice

Christal labeling bottle at lightening speed

Wayward Wandering Wino Tour Group

 

At Il Cocco we tasted a fabulous Rosso di Montalcino and a Brunello di Montalcino.

 

Montalcino is a small hill town about 30 miles outside of Siena in the Tuscan region.  It is believed to have been founded in the early 9th century.  The town is famous for its Brunello - and rightfully so.

Brunello is the first wine to be awarded DOCG status.  It is made from the sangiovese grosso grape and must be aged 5 years before it is ready to be sold.  The Riserva must be aged 6 years, and is only produced only during the best vintages.  Brunello is a smooth, fruit-forward wine, often with notes of blackberry, black cherry, and chocolate.  I like the leather taste more commonly noted in the Riserva.

Rosso di Montalcino (aged just one year) is made from the same grape and is often called “Baby Brunello.”  It is good, but much lighter (and less expensive) than Brunello.  It’s all much cheaper in Italia.

Check out the price tag on the bottle below.  I paid $80 USD or the same bottle at a restaurant in Atlanta.

 

Back to our crime novella.

We needed to leave Il Cocco to get to our lunch reservation… but how could we leave our new BFF behind?!  Into the van went Christal the winemaker’s girlfriend!  Bwhahahaha!

After a lunch (and a limoncello digestif) we were off to…

Second fateful stop: Le Potazzine.  A Potazzine is a small bird found in the hillside, but it is also and endearing term used by adults to refer to children.  The two birds on this winemaker’s label represent his two daughters.  How cute is that?!

I particularly enjoyed their Brunello

 

Here’s where the hijacking begins.  We were supposed to be dropped back in Siena after this stop.  Tour over.  What had happened was…

There was a bottle of their absolutely fabulous 2004 Riserva.  And there were several of us that thought it would be a good idea to buy this bottle – it was one of the last bottles left!  Did I mention this was a magnum bottle?  Wine is better in magnum bottles.  How could we NOT buy it and solidify our friendship by sharing with the backdrop of a Tuscan sunset?

Corinne and me with our bounty

 

It only took a little convincing, but eventually Matteo caved to the pressure and agreed to take us all back to Il Cocco to drink the bottle.

Matteo, Corinne, and a thirsty kitten

 

I wish we had more time to open the bottle and let it breathe (often these wines will be opened the day before drinking to allow it to open up), but we did hold off for an hour.  It was fabulous.

Check out those legs!

 

We took our glasses and walked down to Giacomo’s vineyards, where we cheered to our perfect, unpredictable day and took in the most beautiful sunset I have ever seen.

Bright green vines, the smell of fresh grapes, a Tuscan sunset, and a special bottle of wine with friends.  La dolce vita.

I’m going back to Il Cocco next year to help with the harvest.  Not kidding.  

Get ready, Christal!!!

***

Check out my “dream vacation” guest post on Corey’s blog – Learning Patience!

What is your dream vacation?

If money, family, other obligations, etc. were no object, where would you live?

Eating Through Siena

Today the Italian adventures continue in Siena.

 

I took a little recap break to post some of the dishes I’ve made.  Some – like this and this – were inspired by my travels… only I made them like your vegan-ish Italian grandmother would. :)

 

The Tuscan region was home to some of the best food on the trip.  Certainly the best gelato!

In order to get to Siena, we braved the overnight trains (not recommended without a seat reservation… using the restroom on the train also not recommended) and arrived in Siena sometime around 6am.  Thank god our room was ready early and we were able to take a nap before exploring the city.

Despite the train-lag, we got moving in time for lunch.  The view from our room had me bouncing out of bed!

 

For lunch we followed a Rick Steve’s recommendation that promised vegetarian fare (we were deprived of veggies after all that travel).  He was spot on – this Osteria was awesome!

The servers were very nice (and patient).  One was even wearing a Fenway Park shirt.  The veggies were just what we needed to begin the day:

 

We wandered through town before resting at the main piazza to enjoy a coffee while people-watching.  Followed by gelato (banana and nutella for me).

 

Next on the agenda was the Duomo (the tallest point you can see in the pic of our view from the hotel room).  They sell a pass for the whole artistic complex of “Opera della Metropolitana di Siena” for 10 Euro!  Sold.

In the opera museum we were able to view some incredible paintings, sheet music from operas, and sculptures.  It still blows my mind to think the history behind it all.  From the museum there is a long, winding staircase to the top of a tower offering a view that will take your breath (so will all those stairs!).

 

The 10 Euro tour then took us inside the Cattedrale, followed by the Cripta below.  I was most excited about the crypt, but they must have been renovating because much of it was blocked off or not labeled (unmarked mounds containing bodies = not as exciting).

The cathedral was stunning.  I was back to my over-used phrase: This doesn’t even look real!

 

At this point my camera died… which didn’t stop me from making everyone pose for a pic in the Battistero (a smaller church housing works from many of the greatest Renaissance sculptors).

 

Dead cameras don’t end the day – we hauled it back to out hotel to re-charge batteries – electronic and our own.  We had met a friend along the way earlier in the day who promised us a delicious dinner.

He was the chef at a restaurant we had also found via Rick Steve: Antica Osteria da Divo.  If you are ever in Siena, I highly recommend this place.  It’s a gorgeous dining room and the food is top-notch.

Beautiful setting

2007 Castello di Ama Chianti Classico

Rolled zucchini filled with pecorino cheese from Pienza and kale served over caramelized red onions

Scallops browned with citrus-bread crumbs, served over pumpkin cream and watercress

Risotto with fresh Porcini mushrooms and Saffron served table-side in a form of demi-seasoned pecorino cheese

I almost asked for seconds

Hand-rolled Senese pasta with Selvatic meat (Wildboar-Venison-Deer) sauce, “Taggiasche” olives, juniper berries and rosemary-scented crispy bread

Rolled pork stuffed with spinach and fresh pecorino cheese, truffle sauce and caramelized scallions

Rolled pan biscuit ,vanilla cream, and pear cooked in Chianti Classico with a caramel net

 

A picture cannot begin to do that dessert justice.  It was a work of art.

 

Feeling fat and happy, we took a walk back to our hotel.  The chef and waiter invited us for drinks,  but we were still tired from the train and needed to wake up early.  The next day would bring a trip to Montalcino to learn about Brunello wine.*

*This is the part of the trip where we hijacked a tour bus.  No joke.  Check back for the rest of that story. :)

***

Pretty please vote for my Biscoff Cookie Dough Balls by clicking here and “liking” (via Facebook) my entry in Delta’s Biscoff Bake-Off.  You can vote 1x per day!!!  Thanks for all of your votes so far!

Do you enjoy going to museums when you travel or are you more of an unorganized explorer?

What are you going to be for Halloween?