Friday, December 17, 2010

Food For Friday: Bacon & Brie Mac 'N Cheese

Colder weather always puts me in the mood for soups and warm comfort foods.  Brie is one of my favorite cheeses, and I recently got a slice of brie on clearance from the grocery store.  We were in the mood for mac 'n cheese, so I created a rich and flavorful brie, bacon & rosemary mac 'n cheese.  My husband declared it a winner and said it's definitely a dish we should have again! 

2 tbsp. butter
2 tbsp. whole wheat flour
1 cup milk (I used 1%)
1/4 cup heavy cream or half & half
8 oz. whole wheat elbow pasta (I used Barilla Plus)
4 slices bacon
6 oz. brie cut into pieces, rind removed (I use a vegetable peeler to shave off the rind)
1 sprig fresh rosemary, chopped finely
10 crackers (I used Toll House)
Salt & Fresh ground pepper to taste

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil.  Add the elbows and boil until tender, according the package directions.  Drain.

Chop 4 slices of bacon and saute over medium heat until crispy & browned.  Drain on a paper towel and set aside.

In a medium saucepan, melt 2 tbsp. butter.  Mix in the 2 tbsp. of whole wheat flour until well blended to create a roux.  Slowly add the milk, whisking to combine and removing any lumps.  Stir in the cream or half & half.  Bring the mixture to a boil.  Turn heat down to a simmer and add the rosemary and brie, stirring until the cheese melts and the sauce is smooth. 

Mix in the cooked & drained elbows, then stir in the bacon. 

Preheat the broiler to low.  Spray a casserole dish with olive oil or cooking spray.  Spread the mac & cheese mixture into the dish.  Crush the crackers and sprinkle on the top.  Broil on low until golden brown and crispy on top.

It would be a perfect dinner served with a spinach salad and rosemary sea salt rolls.

Now, if this chillier weather would just bring our first big snow!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Unexpected Getaway

Last week, we were blessed with a very unexpected and last minute getaway to Breckenridge for 3 days.  The parents of a student who was involved in the ministry that we work with have a condo timeshare that they were unable to use last week, so they offered us to stay there for a few nights. We were so excited to head up to the mountains for a few days...for free!
We had a wonderful time and it was a much needed and refreshing break for us.  We relaxed, read, spent time with the Lord, ate, and enjoyed the hot tub under the stars each night.  It is a ski-in ski-out condo, and Truman was able to get a lot of snowboarding in.  I took this photo from the balcony of the condo.  It was fun watching him snowboard right up to the building and I even headed down to the lodge one day to catch him at the end of some runs.  I've never gotten to watch him board before so I enjoyed getting to see him do something he loves.
Breckenridge is a very charming town and it was beautiful all lit-up for Christmas.  When we headed to Main Street in the evenings, I loved how festive it felt. 
We still haven't had a big snowfall in Denver yet, so it was also fun to be surrounded by snow for a few days.  We were so thankful to the Lord for this surprise time away!  There is something special and refreshing for the soul about being in the mountains, in the midst of His magnificent creation.  3 days of fun memories!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

A Date with Shrek

This past Sunday, we took advantage of our credit card rewards to treat ourselves to a fun date night in downtown Denver!

We started the evening with dessert at The Cheesecake Factory.  We shared the Reeses Peanut Butter Chocolate Cake Cheesecake and it was delicious!  And rich!  It is one of my new favorites.  I never have room for dessert if I eat a meal there, so I love going just for dessert.

After dessert, we saw Shrek The Musical at the Buell Theater.  We really enjoyed it!  It was humorous and light-hearted and just an all-round fun show. 

We are both fans of musicals, so it's a fun thing for us to do together.  And I love any reason for my handsome hubby to get a little dressed up!  It had been a hard week for us, so a funny musical, laughing together, and eating dessert was a perfect & much needed evening out.
When we came out of the show, snow was falling, and as we walked back to our car, it began coming down even harder.  We were pretty covered in snowflakes by the time we got to the car. 

It was beautiful, and a fun surprise to come out to snow falling, but sadly, it didn't even look like it had snowed at all 10 minutes away at our house!  We are still waiting to wake up to that first big snow of the year.  I am thankful to have made fun memories & enjoy a night out with my best friend.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Copycat Starbucks Peppermint Mocha

It's officially my favorite time of the year....the Christmas season!  We decorated the day after Thanksgiving and I'm enjoying the festive white lights every evening.  My perfect winter drink is a Starbuck's Peppermint Mocha.  But, when I'm cozy at home and it's cold outside, I don't always want to bundle up and head out for coffee.  I was excited when I came across a copycat recipe I could make at home, and I was even more excited when I tried it!  It's so close the real thing (and a lot less expensive, too!) 

You will need to purchase Starbuck's Peppermint Syrup.  You can buy a very large bottle of peppermint syrup at Starbucks for $7.99.  Just ask at the drive-thru or counter and as long as they have enough bottles in stock, they will sell you one.

3 tablespoons powdered rich hot cocoa (I use Ghirardelli hot chocolate)
3 tablespoons hot water
1 1/2 tablespoons peppermint syrup (Do not try to substitute mint extract.)
1 serving of espresso (I use our small stovetop Bialetti to prepare the espresso)
1 small mug of warm 1% milk (I just heat it up in the microwave)
whipped cream
red sugar crystals

Warm the milk in the microwave in a small mug or on the stovetop.
Place hot cocoa powder in the bottom of a large mug.  Add the hot water and stir to combine well, dissolve the hot cocoa powder, and make a thick chocolate syrup.  Stir in the espresso.  Add the warm milk & peppermint syrup and stir together.
If you want to make your drink more festive, add whipped cream & sprinkle with red sugar crystals. 

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Food For Friday: Baked Chicken Cordon Bleu

This recipe for Baked Chicken Cordon Bleu is a lighter, homemade version of a popular dish.  It's a perfect warm comfort food for the cooler days of fall and the cold days of winter.

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
shredded Swiss cheese (could also substitute Gruyere)
8-12 thin slices of deli ham
2 tsp. thyme
1/4 cup flour
1 cup bread crumbs (I used homemade bread crumbs that I chopped in the food processor)
1 tsp. olive oil
2 eggs
1/2 cup half & half

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place the chicken breasts between two layers of plastic wrap and place on top of a cutting board.  Using the flat side of a meat mallet, gently flatten the chicken to 1/4 inch thickness.  Be careful not too pound too hard and create tears or holes in the chicken breasts.  Remove the top piece of plastic wrap.

Pile a small handful of the shredded Swiss cheese in the middle of each flattened chicken breast.  Top with 2-3 slices of deli ham.  Leave a 1/2 inch margin on all sides to help seal the roll.
Tuck in the sides of the breast and roll it up from one end to the other,tight like a jelly roll.  Squeeze the roll gently to seal.  Don't worry if a little bit of the filling peaks out after you roll up the chicken breast.
Prepare the ingredients for the breading.  Season the flour with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper and spread out on a plate or in a flat dish.  Place the half & half and the eggs in a bowl and beat them together with a fork.  (I was out of eggs, so I improvised and used just the half & half.  It worked just fine!)  In another bowl, mix the breadcrumbs, thyme, kosher salt, freshly ground pepper, and olive oil.  Line up the ingredients in the order of flour, half & half mixture and breadcrumb mixture.
Roll the chicken in the flour to coat, dip both sides in the egg mixture to coat well, and then roll in the breadcrumb mixture until coated.  Place in a glass baking dish coated with nonstick spray.  Repeat with the remaining 3 rolled chicken breasts.
Bake for 20-30 minutes until the breading is slightly browned and the chicken is cooked through.  (Juices should run clear.)
We served our Baked Chicken Cordon Bleu with roasted organic fingerling potatoes.  Spray a rimmed baking sheet with olive oil and place potatoes on it.  Spray potatoes with olive oil and sprinkle with kosher salt, freshly ground pepper, and chopped fresh rosemary and/or thyme.  (Dried rosemary and thyme work fine as well.)  Bake for 30 minutes or until lightly browned and fork tender. 
I adapted the Baked Chicken Cordon Bleu from a recipe posted on My Sweet Savannah.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Weekend to Remember

Earlier this month, we got away for a weekend in Vail to attend the Weekend to Remember marriage retreat.  It is a weekend conference to be encouraged in your marriage, spend some time focusing on your relationship, and relax and connect as a couple.  We got engaged in Vail, so we thought it would be the perfect location to return to for a Weekend to Remember getaway. 
The conference gets an amazing deal on the Vail Marriott Resort and they have some of the comfiest hotel beds I've ever slept in.  I can rarely sleep in hotel beds, but I slept wonderfully in this one!
Vail is beautiful any time of the year, but we got lucky and fall lingered a little longer than usual in the mountains this October.  The leaves were brilliant and we enjoyed perfect, warm, sunny afternoons that we took advantage of to wander around Vail Village during our breaks.
On Saturday night, the conference schedules a date night and you have the entire evening off for a fun night together.  We decided to return to Kelly Liken, the restaurant we ate at after we got engaged, for a special dinner.
If you happen to be Top Chef fans like we are, you might recognize Kelly Liken from this past season of Top Chef, Washington DC.  We asked her husband Rick to send a message back to her in the kitchen and let her know that we had rooted for her on Top Chef.  She was sweet enough to come out just before we left to say hi and congratulate us on 3 1/2 years of marriage (even though it was a full house and she was busy in the kitchen.)  She even snapped a photo with us.
At the end of our weekend, we returned to the bench where we got engaged almost 4 years ago!  It's the first time we've been back since the day we got engaged.  Our spot looks different when it isn't covered with snow and ice. 
We shared some sweet time reading each other letters reflecting on the last 4 years and the blessings we've experienced in each other and in our marriage.  We had a wonderful weekend!

When was the last time you took some intentional time away with your husband or wife?  Your marriage is worth the investment!  I think it's so important to take time to focus on your marriage and on your spouse, to remember all of the reasons that you love and appreciate each other, and to talk about the ways that you desire to continue to grow in loving each other well through changing seasons of life.  The Weekend to Remember marriage getaways are a perfect opportunity to do just that.  They offer hundreds of retreats all across the US.  If you ever want to getaway with your spouse at a Weekend to Remember, message me and I can even share a discount code with you!  The retreats are put on by Family Life, a ministry of the organization that we work for.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Food For Friday: Bruschetta Chicken

I'm back!  With Food for Friday...on Monday.  When I plugged in my hard drive last Monday to back up all my photos, I had no idea that it would take an entire week to back-up! 

This week's recipe is easy, doesn't require a lot of prep time, and is fresh & delicious!  My favorite combination.  I have a confession to make.  I never ate tomatoes before our vacation in Italy this summer.  I would eat tomato sauces, or tiny diced tomatoes if they were cooked in something, but I've never been a fan of raw tomatoes or large pieces of tomato.  Maybe it was all the fresh-off-the-vine tomatoes bursting with flavor that we were served in Italy, but I've acquired a taste for tomatoes.  You still won't find me eating a salted tomato slice or taking a bite out of one like an apple, but I've expanded my appreciation for tomatoes.  I decided to use some of our favorite flavors from Italy to create this dish.

4 boneless, skinless, chicken breasts (I use organic)
1 ripe medium-sized tomato
bunch of fresh basil
ball of fresh mozzarella cheese
garlic powder
kosher or sea salt
fresh ground black pepper
olive oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray a glass cooking dish with olive oil or nonstick spray.  Sprinkle both sides of each chicken breast with salt, pepper, and garlic powder and lay in the dish.  Bake for 45 min to 1 hour, until the middles are no longer pink and the juice runs clear. 

While the chicken is baking, wash and dice the tomato.  Wash and dry the basil leaves, then cut them into thin ribbons.  The easiest way to do this is to stack several basil leaves together, roll them up, then slice down the roll, each cut about half a centimeter apart.  Slice the mozzarella into 8 slices.  You may not need your entire ball of mozzarella. 

When the chicken is baked through, remove it from the oven and top with the diced tomato, the basil, and 2 slices of fresh mozzarella on top.  Return to the oven until the mozzarella is melted. 

I served our Bruschetta Chicken with Garlic and Herb Quinoa Pilaf topped with a little grated fresh parmesan cheese.  You can find the quinoa recipe here at Aggie's Kitchen.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Sew Easy Ruffled Camera Strap Tutorial

I've been eyeing all the super cute camera straps that I've been seeing, so I decided to sew one.  I searched online for some tutorials for inspiration, then adapted them to work for my camera strap and the style I had in mind.  I photographed the process to share a tutorial with you.  I am so happy with how my new strap turned out!  I love the extra padding that the interfacing provides.  It's extra comfortable on my neck now, and has so much more personality than the plain black standard strap.
Remove the strap from your camera and measure the length & width of your strap.  Measure the length from the spot where you want your strap cover to end on each side.  I wanted my strap to end in the middle of the leather piece on my strap, so I measured the length from the middle of the leather piece on one side to the middle of the leather piece on the other side.

*Strip of fabric the length of your camera strap +1 inch x double the width of your camera strap +1.5 inches (ex. my strap was 21.5 inches long & 1 inch wide, so my strip of fabric was 22.5 in x 3.5 in)*Piece of interfacing (fusible preferable, but optional) the length of your strap x double the width of your camera strap +1/2 in (ex. my interfacing was 21.5 in x 2.5 in)
*Strip of fabric for the ruffle that is as wide as your interfacing strip x double the length of your strap (ex. my ruffle strip was 2.5 in x 43 in)
*Thread to match or coordinate with your fabric

1.  Cut your fabric strips to the lengths specified above.  You should have one strip for the actual strap, your interfacing, and one strip for the decorative ruffle.  I used a rotary cutter on a self-healing mat and a yardstick to make my long straight cuts on my fabric. 
2.  Center your interfacing on your strap fabric strip.  If you have fusible interfacing, place the fusible side against the wrong side of your fabric and iron to fuse.

3.  Fold the 1/2 in flap of fabric over the edge of the interfacing (see above) and press.

4.  Stitch a hem along the folded edge about 1/4 inch in.

5.  Fold the interfacing in half lengthwise and press to create a crease down the middle.  Fold the extra fabric over the edge of the interfacing lengthwise and press.  (see below)  Put the strap strip to the side.
6.  Take your ruffle strip of fabric and fold both long edges of your ruffle strip in approximately 1/4” and press.  I use a piece of cardstock, folding the fabric over the edge, to help me press a straight crease.
After you've pressed both edges, it should look like this.
 7.  Hem both long edges that you just pressed. (see below)
8.  Change your stitch length to 5 (a basting stitch) and stitch down the center of the ruffle strip.  Do not backstitch at the beginning or end!  Leave a couple of inches of thread when you cut off at the end.

9.  Lay the ruffle strip with the hemmed edges on the bottom on a flat surface.  Grab hold of the bottom thread coming out the end of your basting stitch and pull.  Holding that bottom thread taught, bunch and slide the fabric back to create the ruffle.  As the ruffle bunches, gently move the fabric back, spreading out the bunches to create the ruffle.  (see below)  Work from both edges toward the center until the entire strip is bunched/ruffled and is the same length as your strap fabric plus an extra 1/4 in on each end.

10.  Fold over the unfinished edge of the ruffle on each end 1/4 in, pin, and hem.  Be sure you change your stitch length back to normal!
11.  You are going to pin your ruffle onto one side of your strap, not down the center!  Using the crease you pressed down the middle as a guide, center the ruffle down one half of the strap, lining up the end of the strap and the end of the ruffle on each end, and pin it on.  (see below)
12.  Sew one line of stitches down the center of the ruffle, attaching the ruffle to the strap.
13.  Following the crease you pressed down the center of the strap, fold the strap in half.  Tucking in the raw edges you pressed over the interfacing, pin along the edge.  (see below)
14.  Edge stitch down the long edge where you pinned, making sure the ruffle stays folded back from the stitching, so it doesn't get caught into the stitches.

You're finished!
Slide the fabric strap cover over your camera strap.  Depending on how skinny & firm your strap is (mine is thinner than a DSLR strap), it can be a little bit tricky to feed the strap through the opening.  I tied a piece of twine onto the end of my black camera strap, and knotted the other end of the twine tight around a wooden skewer, then fed the skewer through the strap cover, using the twine to pull the black strap through the fabric strap cover. 
The tutorials I found for inspiration:
Cluck Cluck Sew
Moda Bake Shop by Megan of Brassy Apple
Crap I've Made