Tuesday, November 24, 2009

No Pudge!

Sometimes I'm in the mood for easy baking. I heard about this brownie mix from a friend. It's FAT FREE! I like fat free foods but they usually taste like crap....not this one!

This mix can't get any easier to make. You don't even have to add eggs! All you have to do is mix in some fat free vanilla yogurt and bake. If you are not a whiz in the kitchen then these are perfect for you. They are fool-proof! And they surprised me. They taste really good. You can find retail locations here.

Guilt-free yumminess!

They were so yummy I ate them all before I remembered to take a picture. Maybe next time.

Monday, November 23, 2009


I love wine. The past few months I've been going through a phase of drinking inexpensive wine. The only reason I was getting it was because I thought well, wine is wine. But It's not. I'm not really knowledgeable when it comes to wine but I have realized I can never drink cheap wine again. Ever.

Rob and I have started exploring new wines. White is Rob's favorite and until recently, mine. I've been exploring red wines. I got a bottle of 2007 Syrah from Spain:

This bull's got balls

This wine is delicious! And not really all that expensive. I'd like to take a wine class so I can learn more about the flavors and accents. This bottle, for example, says it has hints of roasted coffee, baked berry and sweet herb aromas. I didn't quite pick up on that exactly. But it was good! So I guess I'll just keep drinking wine until I become more knowledgeble. Or take a class. :)

Friday, November 20, 2009

Illuminations Part 1

I first came to Chicago in 2001. I was downtown on the hunt for a job and I had some free time so I decided to go into Water Tower Place to do a little shopping. I was looking for a gift for my mother. I came across a candle store called Illuminations. I went in and looked around and actually spent a good amount of time smelling candles. The store was like no other store I'd ever been in. There were candle lit literally everywhere. In sconces on the wall, on tables and shelves. The candles almost lit the entire store. And the smells were amazing. I am in love with their candles, but I'll get into that in another post.

As I was sniff-sniff-sniffing away one of the employees came over to talk to me. We chatted for quite a while then out of the blue she asked if I wanted to apply for a job. It was an awesome store, so I thought "why not?" I filled out an application and handed it to the sales associate. She told me to wait and that she was going to get the store manager.

The store manager came out and wanted to do an interview on the spot. We hit it off great and the interview lasted over an hour. If I can remember correctly, I started just a few days later. I remember liking candles a lot when I first started but it didn't take long for me to fall in love with them. Specifically the Illuminations brand. Their candles are like none other. The smells are unique and strong and fabulous...truly fabulous!

I didn't work there very long-maybe a few months-but I made some good friends and found a new addiction for Illuminations candles. Here are some photos of when I worked there. I have protected the identity of my co-workers. The people featured in the photos I am no longer in contact with and can't get permission to post their photo. So they've been replaced with smiley faces. :)

Nice apron David!

Look at all those candles 

The person in the picture directly above had a chronic case of hiccups. It sounded painful when she would hiccup. The customers always looked at her funny when she would do it. It was seriously LOUD. She was a lot of fun. We would always find ways of stirring up trouble. One time we accidentally set the front display window on fire (true story). No one was hurt don't worry! We put it out by ripping the display down and stomping on it. The fire department came because we set off some alarms. Yikes.

Hiccup girl posing amongst the pretty plastic flowers

I have many great memories working at Illuminations. It was my absolute favorite job I've ever had even though I didn't make a lot of money. Looking back the memories make up for that. And I'll always have them. Unfortunately the company went out of business this past April due to the economy. It was a sad day for me. I've been a loyal customer since the day I left that job. Their candles make me happy.

I often wonder where hiccup girl is. I miss her.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Cookie Cutters

I pulled out all of my cookies cutters today. I plan on making my mom's sugar cookie recipe soon. She makes the best sugar cookies! These are all the shapes I have:

The pig and the snowflake are my favorite

I found this on the bottom of the box:

Maple leaf cookie cutter

It would have been great to use it for these. But I think I liked the pig better anyway.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Breadmaker Betrayal

My sister gave me a breadmaker years ago. It hasn't gotten much use aside from Rob making bread a couple of years back. I had a taste for fresh bread and I found a recipe that seemed basic and good. One of the ingredients in this particular recipe was Grade A maple syrup and I had some left over from these.

I enjoy making bread by hand. There's something satisfying about kneading the dough and the time and effort the whole process takes. But then again there are times I wish I could snap my fingers and have whatever I want. This was easy as three snaps, maybe four...okay five snaps. I found a recipe specifically for a breadmaker. It was suspiciously easy. All you have to do is put the ingredients in the breadmaker in a particular order per the breadmaker directions. Then press start...


2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups water
4 tablespoons Grade A maple syrup
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast

I closely followed the directions of the breadmaker instruction manual. Specifically this important diagram:

I did this exactly the way it's shown...exactly

I thought my perfect execution of the diagram paid off. The bread was rising beautifully. It was fluffy and big. But right as it started to bake the bread, it sunk in the middle. I have no idea why. I felt like a bread making failure.

Sunken loaf

I came to my senses once I realized it wasn't my fault. I did everything right. I put the ingredients in correctly. I followed the diagram. I closed the lid tightly. I even talked to the bread as it was rising. Encouraging it to get big and fluffy. But my efforts failed. It was out of my control. Bad breadmaker, BAD! So once it was finished baking, I sliced a piece of bread and toasted it. I buttered it with tears rolling down my eyes. At that moment I made a promise to myself to only ever make bread by hand.

If you look closely you can see my tears
The end.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Maple Sugar Cookies & I Love You Martha

Martha Stewart is fabulous. I used to watch her show a lot in the days when I worked retail. I was usually off at least one day during the week and I worked a lot of afternoon/night shifts so I was able to catch her show. I loved to snuggle up on the couch with a cup of coffee and see what lovely and fabulous things were in store. I almost never watch her show now since I work during the day. So upsetting! I need TiVo! But I still have a love for her that will never be broken.

I receive personal emails from Martha everyday. Okay that's a lie. But a while back I subscribed to her 'Cookie of the Day' emails.  I got one last week for Maple Leaf Cookies. I was in the mood to make something maple flavored so it was muy perfecto. But I'm calling them Maple Sugar Cookies because I don't have a maple leaf cookie cutter. But I do have a pig:

Much more appropriate in my opinion


3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup light-brown sugar
1 large egg yolk
3/4 cup maple syrup (the real stuff!)
Vegetable oil cooking spray
1/3 cup sanding sugar


Mix flour and salt in a medium sized bowl. Beat butter, granulated sugar and brown sugar in a mixer until creamy.  Reduce mixer speed to medium-low and add the egg yolk and maple syrup.  Add flour mixture and mix until all ingredients are combined.

Mix Master action shot

Once mixed separate the dough into two equal sized disks, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours or overnight. Once refrigerated, roll the first disc onto a lightly floured surface to about 1/4 inch thickness. Cut with whatever cookie cutters you like. I used acorns, pigs and pumpkins.

 Acorns, pigs and pumpkins oh my!

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Spray a cookie sheet with cooking oil spray. Lay a single sheet of parchment paper on the tray. BTW...I love parchment paper! I'm going to do a whole blog post about parchment paper I swear.

Evenly space cookies about a half an inch apart on the tray and bake for 12-14 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from the oven by simply lifting up the parchment paper and placing on a cooling rack. Allow to cool for about 5 minutes then brush the cookies with maple syrup and immediately sprinkle sanding sugar on them.


I think these cookies are much better the second day. They were a bit hard at first but on day 2 they were nice and soft and the maple flavor was stronger. They're perfect if you're in the mood for a maple treat!

Saturday, November 14, 2009


I love maple flavored things. I grew up in Ohio and when I was younger my parents would always take me and my siblings to the Geauga County Maple Festival. I would get sick from all the maple candy I would eat. My dad and I would always get these things called maple stirs. It was maybe about 2 ounces of hot maple syrup in a little styrofoam bowl with a flat wooden spoon. You would stir the hot maple syrup until it started to cool. After what seemed like hours of stirring it would harden into maple candy. My dad is a scientist. He would always explain to me the boiling point and solid and liquid and how it related to the stirring and cooling and all these things I didn't listen to. I was only wanting to frantically stir to get the maple syrup to harden. I was so impatient. To this day he will explain things to me in scientific terms. The difference is that now, I listen to him.

Thanks Dad.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Cinnamon Rolls

I'm not going to cinnamon sugar coat this. I got annoyed when making this recipe for a few reasons. It was Monday night and I didn't really feeling like baking but I did it anyway. The dough was a hot sticky mess and I was trying to rush. These things lead to my frustration. But when all the hard work was said and done and the steaming cinnamon rolls came out of the oven all was well. Once they cooled and I poured the glaze on them and took a bite....I was in heaven and they were worth it. On any other day I would have been fine but I think the fact that I wasn't in the mood to bake played a big part. And as far as the dough being a mess, once I added more flour it was workable and tolerable. I'm making this sound really great, right? Actually it is. Just make sure you're in the mood to bake.


3/4 cup milk
1/4 cup butter softened
3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 package instant yeast
1/4 cup white sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup water
1 egg

1 cup brown sugar packed
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 cup butter softened


Heat up the milk in a small saucepan on low until it begins to bubble then remove from heat. Mix in 1/4 c butter and continue stirring until it's melted. Set aside and let cool until lukewarm.

In a large bowl mix together 2 1/4 cup flour, yeast, sugar and salt. Add water, egg and the lukewarm milk mixture and beat well. Add the remaining flour 1/2 cup at a time while continuing to stir.

Adding the reamining flour while stirring

You may need to add more flour than what the recipe calls for. I needed to add about 3/4 cup more just to get the dough to a point where I could knead it. I was not expecting it to be so sticky. It was a bit messy at first so I kept adding flour until it wasn't sticky. Once you get the dough to a good point knead it for about 5 minutes.

Dough stuck to my hands...bleh

After kneading, put the dough in a large bowl. Cover with a damp cloth and allow to rise for about a half hour. While you're waiting you can mix the filling.

In a small bowl mix together the brown sugar, cinnamon and softened butter.

When the dough has risen, roll it out into a 9 x 12 inch rectangle. Evenly spread the cinnamon butter filling over the dough making sure to cover the whole thing. This wasn't the easiest task. It took a few minutes to get it spread evenly.

This was before it was spread evenly...obviously :)
Once you have spread it evenly roll it tightly until you have a 12 inch cinnamon roll log. Slice into 10 even pieces.


Coat muffin tins with cooking spray and place rolls cut side up in the tins. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise for 45 minutes.

Just before the rolls are finished rising, preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Bake rolls for 20 minutes or until brown. Remove from oven and let them cool slightly.

Now it's time to make the glaze!


4 tbs butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups powdered sugar
3 to 6 tsp hot water

Melt the 4 tbs of butter in the microwave or on the stove top. Do not overheat. Add vanilla and stir. Add the powdered sugar and water as needed. If the glaze is not thick enough as it was in my case, add a little more powdered sugar while stirring until you get the desired consistency.

Now slather it on the cinnamon rolls and eat 'em up!

After all my hard work was done I realized it was all worth it. They were deeeeelish!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Midwinter Graces

Tori's new album comes out today. Happy Tori Day! I deem this a special day. A Tori filled day. Maybe I'll bake some Tori themed cookies based on song titles. Space Dog? Happy Phantom? Raspberry Swirl? Father Lucifer? Okay maybe not that last one. Or maybe not at all. It's is a holiday themed album but not a typical Christmas album. This (unfortunately) is not the album cover. I wish it was. It can be interpreted in many different ways and that's why I like it.

Love this

This next picture is the actual cover and I'm not so sure I love it.  It's robotic and unnatural looking. But I think (hope) that's the look she's going for. It kind of looks like she's being choked by a big gaudy necklace and praying for air. I'm on the fence. Sometimes I really like it and sometimes I don't. No offense to the die-hard Tori fans....

 Album cover

Regardless, I truly love Tori and her music. I have been a fan since 1995. Her music has helped me through the hardest of hard times and lifted me even higher in my happiest. I can't imagine my life without her music. There is no other artist like her and there never will be. She is under appreciated by most. But I'm grateful for her.

Thank you Tori. 

Friday, November 6, 2009

Pumpkin Chiffon Pie

I've had so many people ask me for this recipe. This used to be my absolute favorite pie ever. Then I concocted my apple pie recipe which has passed the pumpkin chiffon in the popularity race. Well, as far as I'm concerned anyway. But this...this is my second favorite pie ever. If I were stranded on a deserted island I would want this pie. It's delicious. Light and fluffy. Melt-in-your-mouth yummy. The vanilla and pumpkin and cinnamon dance in your mouth with every sweet bite.

The light and fluffy pumpkin mixture...
dancing on the spoon  

Can't you almost taste it? I used fresh nutmeg that I bought at the The Spice House. I've blogged about the Spice House before. Right here. Back to nutmeg....Mmmmm fresh nutmeg. It's strong so I didn't use as much as the recipe called for.

Since we're on the subject of pumpkins, this is my most favorite ceramic pumpkin I own. Okay, it's the only one I own. But still....

From Pier One's fall 2008 collection...I think 

Okay here it is, the melt-in-your-mouth pumpkin chiffon pie:

Double, triple, quadruple YUM!

The recipe? Oh sorry, it's a family secret.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Rob's Old World Tomato Mushroom Meatloaf

My birthday was a couple of weeks ago and every year Rob asks me what I want for my birthday dinner. I always pick meatloaf-his meatloaf. He makes the best meatloaf. His recipe is secret but here are before and after pictures. It's delicious!

Before cooking


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Happy Birthday Mom

Today is my mom's birthday. HAPPY BIRTHDAY MOM! I miss her but I'm glad I'll see her and my dad over Thanksgiving break. We send each other funny birthday cards each year. And by funny I mean that there's always something pertaining to farting or a dog pooping. This was her birthday card to me this year:

Happy birthday mom.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Pumpkin Pancakes

There was a big sale on canned pumpkin at the store this past week so I stocked up. In the past few weeks I've made many pumpkin related things, some of which I have already blogged about. Like Pumpkin Apple Muffins with Streusel Topping. That recipe is great if you're looking for a healthier type muffin. I've made pumpkin pancakes as well and I have a great recipe that I thought I'd share. It makes a lot of pancakes so unless you're cooking for a family go ahead and cut the recipe in half.


2 cups all purpose flour
3 tbs brown sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt

1 1/2 cups milk
1 cup canned pumpkin
1 egg lightly beaten
2 tbs vegetable oil
2 tbs apple cider vinegar


In a medium sized bowl combine all purpose flour, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ground ginger, nutmeg and salt. Mix well. In a separate bowl combine milk, canned pumpkin, egg, vegetable oil and apple cider vinegar. Mix well and combine with dry ingredients. Keep some extra milk on hand to thin out the batter if needed.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat and coat with 1-2 tbs of vegetable oil. For a healthier version coat the pan with non-fat cooking spray. Pour 1/4 cupfuls of the batter onto the skillet and cook until you see bubbles.

Flip pancakes with a spatula and cook until browned on the other side. Now pour some hot maple syrup on them and eat 'em up.