December 2010

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What a year, huh?

The words that come to mind when I think of 2010: faith, growth, change, renewal, fulfillment, and strength. This year brought on it’s own set of scary challenges and unexpected curve balls but despite said bumps-in-the-road, it managed to be one of my happiest years in recent memory. Tears were shed, laughs were had, wine was drank, hands were held, roadtrips were taken, and stories were shared.

This year I intend to bake more cookies, learn how to cook a proper Pad Thai, play more tennis, and master the elusive art of keeping my closet organized. The latter may be a bit far-fetched but I’ll certainly give it a shot.

May 2011 be a year of triumph, joy, and sparkles.

{all images via we heart it}

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[coffee break]

{ slam dunk }

Sometimes all it takes is a little cup of jo and a homemade pizzelle [made by your talented mama] to kickstart your morning routine. I like my coffee sweetened with some good old-fashioned sugar and milk. Over Christmas the girls in my family made a couple batches of my mom’s lightly-sweet and satisfying vanilla pizzelles. Behold, a recipe that’s been in our family for generations and guarantees a deliciously delicate cookie every time.

Pizzelles

  • 6 eggs
  • 3 1/2 cups of flour (approx)
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup melted butter
  • 4 tsps baking powder
  • 1/8 tsp anise or 2 tblsp vanilla

Beat eggs adding sugar gradually. Beat until smooth. Add cooled melted butter and vanilla or anise [some people don't care for the black licorice flavor of anise]. Sift flour and baking powder and add to egg mixture. Dough will be sticky enough to be dropped by spoon in pizzelle maker. Cook in pizzelle maker and then store in airtight container.

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[this fur coat is really coming in handy]

[maybe if i stop waking mom and dad up in the middle of the night, santa will bring me cheese this year]

[welp, for now i'll just stick to the fluffy white stuff]

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My family typically does a big [and I mean big] Italian feast for both Thanksgiving and Christmas. We’re talking eggplant parmesan, lasagna, stuffed artichokes, hot peppers, and meatballs all loaded with my mom’s homemade sauce. Of course we never leave out the traditional American staples of turkey [one deep fried and one oven roasted], cranberry sauce [jarred and homemade, because some people prefer one or the other], stuffing, mashed potatoes, crusty bread, green bean casserole, and on and on and on. What can I say, we’re Italian and eating good food is in our DNA.

With that being said, my family is doing Christmas very different this year. From the venue to the menu, we’re shaking things up. Instead of dinner, we’re opting to do brunch. Everyone seems to be curiously excited about how this will pan out. The ever present pot of simmering sauce will be noticeably absent from the stove, but I trust there will be new tantalizing treats on the table that will have us wondering how we ever did without.

This year I’m making these deeelicious cinnamon buns using a recipe that claims they taste identical to Cinnabons [and they actually do]. Just look at these things [I'm sure that photo above got your tongue wagging]. This was my first stab at making bread [which was the base of the bun], but it was easy enough and besides, I dare you to mess up a recipe that is essentially butter, cinnamon, vanilla, and sugar. They were velvety and sweet and the frosting oozed with decadent gooeyness. I also loved how the kitchen smelled like cinnamon ‘n sugar for the rest of the night.

[fresh from the oven]

Homemade Cinnamon Buns

for dough:

  • 1 cup warm milk
  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • 1/3 cup butter, melted
  • 4 1/2 cups bread flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1 packet of dry yeast

for filling:

  • 1 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/3 cup butter, softened

for frosting:

  • 1 (3 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
  • 1/4 cup butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  1. Dissolve the yeast in warm milk. Let it stand for 10 minutes, until yeast is foamy. Heat oven to 200F, then turn it off. Mix in the sugar, butter, salt, and eggs. Add flour and mix well. Knead the dough into a large ball, using your hands dusted lightly with flour. Put in a bowl, cover and let rise in warm oven for 1 hour, or until doubled in size.
  2. In a small bowl, combine brown sugar, cinnamon, and butter.
  3. Roll dough into a 16 x 21 inch rectangle. Spread dough with butter and sugar/cinnamon mixture. Roll up dough and cut into 12 rolls. Place rolls in a lightly greased 9×13 inch baking pan. Cover and let rise until nearly doubled, about 30 minutes. Meanwhile preheat oven to 400F.
  4. Bake rolls on a lower rack in preheated oven until golden brown, about 12 minutes. While rolls are baking, beat together cream cheese, 1/4 cup butter, powdered sugar, vanilla extract and salt [note: I actually doubled the frosting recipe and suggest you do the same]. After taking it out of the oven invert the pan so that the drippings re-coat the buns. Spread frosting on warm rolls before serving. Yields 12 rolls.

[into the oven you go]

[sure beats a scented candle]

[ready for their close-up]

*i can’t take all the credit. adapted from this recipe.

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As much as I love living in the heart of a bustling metropolis like Chicago, the winter certainly takes it’s toll. Like most of my urban compadres, I walk or take public trans pretty much everywhere – to the gym, the grocery store, bars, restaurants, you name it. This lifestyle, although frugal and incidentally eco-friendly, is an absolute pain in the kaboose come wintertime.

A born-and-bred Midwesterner, I’ve long since learned to embrace the subzero temperatures and face the frost head on. Here are some of my favorite picks for the winter goddess in all of us.

1. Anthropologie Cassonade Coat [$198]

2. Fred Flare Puffy Convertible Jacket [$86]

3. Patagonia Mabel Hat [$39]

4. Coach Rabbit Mittens [$298]

5. Betsey Johnson Snow Angel Earrings [$31]

6. Topshop Knitted Zigzag Sequin Jumper in Cream [$110]

7. Burberry Earmuffs [$175]

8. AG Stevie Cords [$158]

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I want to come back in my next life as Giada DeLaurentiis. If you’re not familiar with Giada, you should be. She is the gorgeous, sugary sweet, incredibly talented Le Cordon Bleu trained face of Food Network. Oh and did I mention she was born in Rome? *sigh*. I DVR all of her shows and watch them religiously, my favorite being Giada at Home. It’s so touching to see how tight-knit she is with her husband Todd. They’re both in their forties [you would n.e.v.e.r. know it. She serves as further inspiration to maintain my skincare regimen as seen here] and have been a couple for 12 years. It’s also no secret how much she adores her daughter Jade, a.k.a. “Jadey”.

Giada’s meals are tasty, yet she always keeps an eye on things like sodium and fat content, which makes life easier. It also explains how she is a professional chef and yet is the size of a toothpick. Aside from her cooking talents, Giada has a flair for design, which she may have picked up from her hubby who happens to be a fashion designer for Anthropologie. Coolest. Couple. Ever.

Earlier this year, my two worlds collided [in a good way] when I found out that Giada was teaming up with the other love of my life, Target, to debut an exclusive collection of kitchenware designed by Giada. You can see the collection here.

Anyways, I was watching an episode of Giada at Home where she was cooking up these adorable little Cornish game hens and I thought I had to give them a try. After picking some up at the grocery store I came home and realized I didn’t have nearly enough ingredients for Giada’s roasted citrus-herb recipe, so I settled for my own variation. The birds came out juicy and succulent with crispy, sweet skin. Turns out my hens might just give Miss Giada’s a run for their money.

Rosemary-Clementine Cornish Game Hens

  • 2 Cornish game hens
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 clementines
  • zest of 2 clementines
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • olive oil
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 2 tablespoons white wine
  • 2 tablespoons chicken broth
  • 1 medium white onion

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Rub hens with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Place a clementine, an onion slice, a garlic clove, and a sprig of rosemary into the cavity each bird. Stuff garlic cloves under the skins. Place rest of onion around the birds. Arrange in a large, heavy, roasting pan. Drizzle more olive oil on top of hens. Roast in preheated oven for 25 minutes.

Reduce temperature to 350 degrees. In a bowl, whisk together wine, clementine zest, chicken broth, and a drizzle of olive oil; pour over hens. Continue roasting about 25 minutes more, or until hens are golden brown and juices run clear.

By the way, as you can see by the photos I attempted to ‘truss’ my birds with kitchen twine. I think I fudged up the wings. This video explains how to do it.

I served my birds with a baked potato and poured the sauce from the dish over the baked potato – muy delicioso.

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[an elegant pewter cake stand I picked up at the White Elephant with cinnamon-scented pine cones]

I absolutely love living in Chicago this time of year. Storefronts are festively garnished with red and green, garland and ribbon wrap daintily around street poles, and welcoming wreathes hang from doorways. And let’s not forget the snow – the first snowfall is always the most beautiful. The powder delicately dusts the city and makes it look as picturesque and pretty as a postcard.

This Christmas, I enjoyed the challenge of decorating my apartment in a playful yet classic style that didn’t overwhelm my small space [read: more Pottery Barn, less Clark Griswold].

[fun candycane inspired candles and miniature red glass ornaments greet guests in the entryway]

[it's just not christmas without a tree! my small spruce brightens up the kitchen in a big way]

[even the oven gets into the christmas spirit]

[pine cones arranged on a vintage platter make for a pretty centerpiece. as for the candles, i dressed them up with some ribbon and tape. ta-da!]

[ornaments and lights nestled together all snug in their beds]

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[red pepper flakes and curry powder are the stars of this show]

There’s nothing better than a quiet night in after a long, exhausting, cold winter day. Yesterday was one of those days where I was too tired to fix dinner so I resorted to a no-muss no-fuss meal, and last night my din du jour happened to be popcorn. Yes, I ate popcorn for dinner … sorry Mom, I know that’s disappointing. However, I doctored up my popcorn [per usual] with some unexpected ingredients that kicked this typically ho-hum snack into a full-flavored force to be reckoned with.

In the words of Rachel Zoe, I die for curry. I even have a sweet little spice pot from Anthropologie that’s sole purpose is to house curry. I’ve been using curry as the secret spice in my popcorn for awhile now and this is one secret I don’t mind sharing.

[wearing Forever 21 nail polish in silver as seen here. how festive am i?]

Throw some curry powder and red pepper flakes [about one teaspoon each, as you see fit] onto your next batch of microwave popcorn [oh the shame] and I’m telling you, you’ll never look back. It’s spicy, it’s flavorful, it’s easy – what’s not to love?

[do you like my miniature tree in the background? more to come on that jazz]


[curry popcorn + national lampoon's christmas vacation, done and done.]

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This season *glamorous glitter + shimmering sequins* have been popping up everywhere! From the runway of the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show to nail polish to cocktail dresses, glitz is here for the holidays. It’s a festive, fun, and whimsical way to add flair to your wardrobe this season, and I for one am a big big fan.

1. Forever 21 Silver nail polish [$2.50 - a steal!]

2. Charlotte Russe Matte Sequin Mini [$32.50]

3. J.Crew Gem-laden Clutch [$98]

4. Literature Noir Sequin Romper [$286]

5. Akira 1/2 Sleeve Sequin Dress [$109.90]

6. Sperry Topsider Bahama Holiday [$75.50]

7. Topshop Gunmetal Sequin Shorts [$90]

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