Tuesday, December 20, 2011

T minus 4 days, 4 hours, 19 minutes...are you ready?!

That's right--just FOUR MORE DAYS.

If you are still scrambling for some last minute ideas in these final days leading up to Christmas (or for the next several days of Hanukkah), and don't want to fight the last minute shoppers at the mall or even for a parking space for that matter, consider some of these ideas.

  • The Entertainment or Enjoy Book. I know the Entertainment Book is nationwide, and even available in some areas of Canada. These are great gifts for anyone, my parents get me one every year! Full of coupons for local restaurants--usually the equivalent of buy one get one, everything from breakfast, lunch and dinner--as well as local businesses (car washes, dry cleaners), sports events, theaters, museums and activities (movies, bowling, miniature golf, etc). Usually ranging between $25-35, they are available at several stores locally, including the grocery store and Rite Aid.

  • Get your GROUPON! If you don't already subscribe to the daily email deals from Groupon and Living Social (and the much newer Google Offers), sign up now! Daily deals offer a deal for typically half off of the usual price of the deal--be it dinner, a wine flight, bowling, tickets for shows & events, memberships to local attractions (zoo, museum etc), mani-pedis, massages, anything is possible! Not only have J & I been prompted to try new places by getting some of these deals, we have also been able to take advantage of things like the South Side Slopes Step Trek. Last year, when putting together a gift basket for my supervisor at work from the team, we were able to purchase a pedicure special for a great price. (It even included a glass of wine in the experience!) Knowing she would be unlikely to treat herself to something like that, we jumped on the offer. Most deals are only available for a day, so you do have to check your email daily. Typically when you click on the deal, it will tell you how long you have to purchase, be it hours or days. Once purchased, you can print the coupon from your computer to slip into someone's stocking! Living Social & Groupon also have getaway deals, so don't hesitate to look at those as well. J & I were lucky enough to snag a 2 nights for the price of 1 deal from Groupon for the Bedford Springs Resort where we celebrated our First Anniversary. That enabled us to use the gift card we had planned to use to pay for the room for dinners and a visit to the spa!

  • Lottery tickets & gift cards--Let's face it, everyone loves scratch-off tickets and gift cards, right? Even those of us who love to cook like to go out to eat, whether it's pizza or Outback, Eat n Park (for Pittsburghers!), Olive Garden or Bob Evans. Many of the grocery store gift card racks now have packs of gift cards--3 $10 Pizza Hut cards, 3 $15 Applebees or Chili's gift cards, etc. that make gifts to the mail carrier or paper carrier easy. Also the variety of scratch off tickets in various price ranges make a fun and easy way of gift-giving. I recently bought several (as in $60 worth!) for various folks like the letter carrier, paper carrier, the girls at the Pretzel Shop and *maybe* for a special someone's stocking. I bought several $1 tickets that I have kept in my purse and handed out to various folks in my travels. The cashiers who waited on me when I shopped for last minute gifts, the bus driver, the cute elderly lady who was also on the bus, the receptionists at my doctor's office, and the Starbucks barista. So many have just been "tickled pink" by a $1 ticket, I think I will make it a point to do this every year!

  • If you are short on cash, do not underestimate the gift of a good deed. If you have long hair and want to go for the gusto, donate 10 inches to Locks of Love, who will use it to make hairpieces for financially disadvantaged children suffering from medical hair loss. Have tea with an elderly neighbor or family member, walk your neighbor's dog or shovel their walk when they are under the weather, make some treats for a neighbor or friend who lives alone. I recently made a batch of my mom's tuna noodle casserole for a co-worker who was having surgery and going to be off for a few weeks to recover. Instead of making a pan, though, I sprayed a regular size muffin tin tray with cooking spray, and dropped spoonfuls of the casserole in each tin cup. I baked as directed, and when finished, the casserole "muffins" popped right out. I wrapped each individually with plastic wrap, this way she could grab 2-4 at a time to thaw out and heat in the microwave depending on how she felt and her appetite. Try it with your favorite casserole, it's a great way to spread the joy over several weeks to someone!
May you all have a wonderful holiday season, spread the joy and love in any way you can!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Holidays Are Upon Us

Are you ready yet?!

I am *just about there*. I'm lucky I was able to get an early start, and that it is pretty easy to buy for everyone I have to. But if you are still stuck on the perfect gift for Christmas or Hanukkah, let me see if I can help.

One of the best gifts I can always tailor to anyone I know is food. Food or beverages. Especially adult beverages. Think about it. Someone is probably a coffee drinker, another a tea drinker, beer drinker, wine drinker. One may love Mexican food, another barbecue. Someone may love sweets, others meats and cheeses.

While there are many pre-made gift sets out there at the grocery stores or malls (I have to confess, I am always drawn to the Hickory Farms stand at the mall!), you can have a lot of fun making your own gift basket. Several styles and sizes of baskets are available at your local craft store, and stores like Michael's or JoAnn Fabrics almost always has coupons in the Sunday newspaper. Once you have a basket (or gift bag in a pinch!), the rest is easy!

I try to support local, independent stores as much as possible, so I try to find as much as I can at non-chain stores. In Pittsburgh we are lucky enough to have a great area of town known as The Strip District. Fresh produce and fresh-baked breads and rolls, cookies, biscotti and popcorn abound. Additionally, there are several ethnic grocery stores in the Strip. Have an International food lover? How about some hot sauces and fresh made tortillas from the Mexican grocery, rice and sauces from the Asian Market, and homemade pasta noodles and olive oil from the Italian grocery?

Coffee and teas can easily be paired with biscotti and several types of teacakes and cookies from any bakery or grocery store. Have a chocolatier or homemade candy store in your neighborhood? Add a couple small bags of treats--nonpareils or salted chocolate caramels (my new favorite!). Don't get intimidated by the per-pound price. Ask for a quarter pound or a half dozen of an item. Look for seasonal items that you can only get this time of year, it really makes it a special treat for your recipient.

Speaking of teas, if you are in need of gifts for a tea lover, check out www.victorianteagarden.com. An array of gifts for the tea lover, from teacups to jewelry to hats (a must-have for a true tea party!), and of course--TEA--these ladies have carefully selected several great items to choose from. My recommendations? Joan's book of tea recipes--chock full of recipes for delicious tea sandwiches, scones and treats--and one of my favorite teas, Harney & Sons Paris tea.

My supervisor at work is a wine lover, so my team and I pitched in to create a great gift bag for her. I purchased one of the new wine totes available at the Pennsylvania Wine & Spirits store (holds 6 bottles), and selected four wines from their Chairman's Selections. I took a worthwhile trip to Crate & Barrel and chose two wine glasses, a wine coaster, and bottle stopper to add to the bag. See how easy it is?!

If you make a basket but feel it's a little "chunky" and need some small items to fill in, check your local craft stores or dollar stores. You can almost always find great things to suit almost any interest, from candles to playing cards to stationery/notecards, recipe cards, the works--usually all available for a dollar!

For the chef in your life, consider gadgets or serving items that aren't necessities (read: items they probably would really like, but hesitate to buy for themselves). Everyone has or needs a potato peeler, but how about something different like a julienne peeler, zester or microplane grater? (Trust me, if they don't have these, they will LOVE them!) Pampered Chef is a great place to find a lot of these great gadgets at a reasonable price, as well as being great quality and long lasting. (At some point, there will be a post just about my Pampered Chef products and what I do or don't like. I recently added many products to my collection and can't say enough good things so far!)

Have a party hostess in your family or friend list? Consider things like cake stands, cupcake stands, and various servers. These are among those items I mentioned that people may hesitate to buy for themselves but secretly pine for. We asked for several types of these servers for our wedding and they are wonderful when we entertain. We have several B. Smith items, all available at Bed Bath & Beyond. My favorites are the 3-tier serving bowls and the 3-tier swivel step server:

Consider pairing any serveware with a cookbook to fit the theme. A cupcake book with a cupcake stand, a book of salsas & dips with the serving bowls, appetizers book with the serving trays. Check your local craft stores, bookstores and discount stores like Five & Below or Tuesday Morning for great deals to help stay within your budget.

Happy shopping and may your days be merry and bright!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Stuff Yourself

It's stunning that Thanksgiving is only a couple weeks away, but it's true, and I would like to share with you the stuffing recipes that are the mainstays of Thanksgiving dinners on my side of the family. The rice stuffing recipe comes from my paternal grandmother, the bread stuffing from my maternal grandmother, and the cornbread/wild rice stuffing from my dad. While these may not be what you usually make or have ever had, I hope you consider adding one of these new recipes to your Thanksgiving table this year, in an effort to try something new as well as continue to share the joy these recipes have brought to many in my family over the years. Times may not always have been easy, but gathering at the table at Thanksgiving was always a very important piece of family life for both sides of my family. Enjoy!

Grandma W's Rice Stuffing

Cook one cup of regular rice per package instructions.
Allow to cool and stir in one beaten egg or two egg whites.

Saute chopped onion and celery to taste in 1/8 cup butter or margarine. Add rice along with salt, pepper, and sage to taste. (If you don't like celery in stuffing, substitute celery flakes and/or parsley flakes.)

Stuff in chicken or turkey as you would bread stuffing (but never stuff the bird or add egg the night before). New health information suggests baking the stuffing outside the bird.

If you aren't going to stuff in the bird, cook the rice in chicken broth and bake in a greased, covered dish on top rack at 325 F for an hour or so, stirring half-way. (Or leave out the egg, heat on the stove or microwave, and eat right away!)

Grandma H's Bread Stuffing

Leave thick slices of French or Italian bread out to dry for 12 hours. Cut bread into 1-inch cubes.

Fry or broil some bacon. Break into 1-inch pieces.
Saute chopped onion and celery to taste in 1/8 cup of butter or margarine.
Stir in one beaten egg or two egg whites (or Egg Beaters).
Add mixture to bread cubes along with bacon, salt, pepper, and sage to taste.
If stuffing is too dry, add another beaten egg or a little bit of water or chicken broth. (If you don't like celery in the stuffing, substitute celery flakes and/or parsley flakes.)

Stuff in chicken or turkey (but never stuff the bird or add the egg the night before). New health information suggests baking the stuffing outside the bird.

If you aren't going to stuff the bird , bake in a greased, covered dish on top rack at 325 F for an hour or so, stirring twice. (Or leave out the egg, heat on the stove or microwave, and eat right away!)

Papa W's Favorite Vegetarian Cornbread and Wild Rice Stuffing

Bake one pan of cornbread per package or corn meal instructions.

Cook 1/2 cup of wild rice or mixed rice per package instructions. (Cook in vegetable broth instead of water)

Crumble in cornbread in a large bowl and stir in the cooked rice.

Saute chopped onion in a bit of butter or spread.
Add to rice along with celery and parsley flakes, salt, pepper and sage to taste. (*If you use a prepared/boxed wild rice mix with seasonings, eliminate these ingredients.)

If mixture is too dry, add a bit of vegetable broth.

Bake in a greased, covered dish on top rack at 325 F for a half hour or so, stirring once. (Or heat on the stove or microwave, and eat right away!)

Variation: Cook rice in chicken broth and add some chopped bacon to the mixed stuffing.

I hope some of you try one (or more!) of these awesome recipes, they have brought a lot of joy to our tables over the years!

Monday, October 31, 2011

One of the Most Amazing Cookies EVER


I have some awesome cookie recipes. I mean, for REAL. One of my all-time favorites was an oatmeal raising cinnamon chip cookie I stumbled on. You know how sometimes you are flipping through the Sunday paper coupon sections, and there, next to a coupon for something or other, sits the most delicious looking recipe that makes you reach for the scissors to clip that coupon because "OMG I HAVE TO MAKE THAT!"?  That's what happened to me with Hershey's Cinnamon Chips, and the cookie recipe below. I mean, I love oatmeal raisin cookies anyway. And I love cinnamon. So combine the two and I am in heaven. I do have to say that one year the Hershey's chips were not available in grocery stores, so I had to get some mini (and not quite the same) chips from a baking supply store. In the past year or two, they seem to only have them around the holidays, so it's not a bad idea to buy an extra package or two if they are up your alley.

Oatmeal Cinnamon Chip Cookies

1 c (2 sticks) butter or margarine, softened
1 c packed light brown sugar
1/3 c granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 c all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
2 1/2 c quick-cook oats
1 2/3 c cinnamon chips
3/4 c raisins

Heat oven to 350 F. Beat butter, eggs, brown sugar and granulated sugar in bowl until creamy. Combine flour and baking soda; add to butter mixture, beating well. Stir in oats, cinnamon chips and raisins (batter will be stiff). Drop by heaping teaspoons onto ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 10-12 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool 1 minute, remove from cookie sheet to wire rack. Makes about 4 dozen.

I may have mentioned before that I have begun using the Splenda for Baking blend, and I cannot taste a difference. Just be sure you follow the directions, as you need half the Splenda for Baking as you do granulated sugar. Also, Sun Maid has baking raisins, I try to get these when I can. They are extra moist, and great for recipes like this.

Believe you me, this recipe will amp up your average oatmeal raisin cookie. And I thought I had the best cookie recipe ever until I stumbled on this recipe on allrecipes.com:


Notice a trend here with me and cookies that involve chips of some sort. These are so easy and so delicious! These are requested frequently--I most recently made them for a fall work party. Know that most times, when I bake, I usually give it all away. I love spreading the joy of baking (no pun intended...OK, maybe a little), and I also kind of feel "better on their lips than on my hips". However, when it comes to either of these cookies, I ALWAYS save a few for J & I, as they are such a treat.

Spice up your Fall with either of these great cookies, you will quickly find they are among everyone's top favorites!

Happy Baking!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

This Time of Year Is Perfect...

...for soups and baking!

While neither J or I are a fan at all of cold weather and winter, we do like fall (when we have one). Look, I'm a baseball fan. You know why? Well, part of it is because my Grandma W was a huge baseball fan, took Papa W to many games, making him a fan, and Papa & Mama W took us to several games as kids and, while I know I was not always interested (once asking during warm ups at Three Rivers Stadium if it was "over yet"), somewhere along the line I latched onto it as "my" sport. Papa W have spent several years as somewhat season ticket holders at PNC Park, our 10-game package only most recently becoming an "official" season ticket package, official card and all.

The other part of it is, that aside from the early and later season games, which can be on the shaky side of Pittsburgh weather, baseball is a season of warmth, fireworks, and cold beers that taste oh, so good, at 12:30pm on a day when you would usually be at work. Football season, however, screams to us "OMG IT'S COLD AND YOU DO NOT WANT TO SIT OUT HERE!" So J & I typically opt for Steeler games at home (thank you, digital converter box which allows us to get wayyy more channels without cable--particularly football games we can see clearly), with home-cooked treats throughout the day.

J likes to make wings, we like to bake, and we love soup. And we started a trend of "Soup Sundays", where we try to make a different soup recipe each week. Don't get me wrong, we have a couple standbys, but we really are trying to be better about trying different recipes from cookbooks and magazines.

A couple weeks ago, we opted for a mushroom soup and homemade herb biscuits. The soup recipe comes from Timeless Treasures, the cookbook I bought on our anniversary trip at Bedford Springs Resort. (I don't see it available on the website, but I'm sure if you call the hotel direct, and ask for the gift shop, they can ship you a copy.) The recipe was provided by Lester Wallack, an employee at the Bedford Springs Resort.  I found it to be a very easy and delicious recipe.

12oz fresh mushrooms, sliced
2 c chopped onions
4 tbsp butter
3 tbsp flour
1c milk
1-2 tsp dill
1 tbsp paprika
1 tbsp tamale
1 tsp salt
2c water
2 tsp lemon juice
1/4c parsley
1/2c sour cream

*So I will give you the actual instructions then tell you what I did*

Saute onions in 2 tbsp butter. Add mushrooms, 1 tsp dill, 1/2c water, tamale* & paprika. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Melt remaining butter in large saucepan. Whisk in flour, and cook, whisking a few minutes. Add milk. Cook 10 minutes over low heat, stirring frequently, until thick. Stir in mushroom mixture and remaining water. Cover and simmer 10-15 minutes. Just before serving, add salt, lemon juice, sour cream and dill. Serve garnished with parsley.

*I know what tamales are in relation to Mexican food, but have never seen it as an ingredient. I tried to Google what to substitute for tamale in a recipe, and came up with nothing. If anything, I might add a dash of cayenne pepper for a little kick, otherwise, the soup is great as is!

OK so here's how it went in the Diva's Test Kitchen...

I did substitute Fage 0% Greek yogurt for the sour cream, which is a staple in my house. Also, it didn't specify mushroom type, so I opted for 8oz sliced white mushrooms, and 4oz mixed mushrooms--portabello, oyster and shitake. This is where the reading the recipe beforehand comes in. And my whole visual thing with eating as well. Like "if it doesn't look good, can't eat it". Not that it's anything major, but I'd (incorrectly) assumed that some of the mushroom mix was pureed. And because some of those shitake and oyster mushrooms can look a little funny, I couldn't possibly leave them just floating around. So I blended much of the mushroom mix, but left some sliced mushrooms whole.

I will say, though, that the mushroom mix sauteed beautifully, making a deep, rich broth. And even though I didn't follow the exact recipe, the soup was absolutely delicious! I have to learn to school myself to read the entire recipe beforehand, try the recipe AS IS first, THEN try it again with my own twists and turns if I am not 100% satisfied. I think next time I will try the original recipe, and use basic sliced white button mushrooms so as not to throw off the mojo.

The biscuit recipe is courtesy of Real Simple magazine. Pretty basic and OMG, so delicious!!!

We cut this recipe in half since it was the two of us, and it still made about a dozen biscuits. I am so happy I still had fresh herbs in the garden, I used fresh basil, rosemary and sage. DELICIOUS!


I enjoyed leftovers for lunch a couple days, and both the soup and biscuits were just as good. And even though I pureed some of the mushroom mix when I wasn't supposed to, I think the amazing flavor of the original recipe really came through. Just wonderful and I am excited to try more from the Bedford Springs cookbook. All of the recipes were provided by resort staff, seem to be very easy, and look absolutely delicious.

As opposed to ordering the cookbook from the resort if you are local to Pittsburgh, I still 100% recommend taking the 2 hour drive to Bedford to walk through the resort, visit the gift shop (buy the cookbook) and have dinner at the Crystal Room. An amazing fixed price dinner, well worth the $42 per person, will leave you full but wanting more! Reservations are highly recommended, and the restaurant is closed on Sundays.

Happy Eating, and Happy Fall!

Friday, October 7, 2011

How Time Flies!

I honestly couldn't believe when I logged on and saw that my last post was in AUGUST! I thought, my goodness, that CAN'T be right! Indeed it was though!

I promise to be more attentive and active, and with fall and (gasp!) winter coming, I have to say the one thing I love about those seasons is baking and making soups and casseroles. So I hope to share more of my favorite fall recipes in the upcoming weeks, as well as anything new we may try!

One recipe I stumbled on a while back and have adjusted to my own liking was an egg & spinach bake. J & I tend to have eggs for breakfast on the weekends, and once we started the low-carb kick, I was looking for something to make occasionally for something different and bread-free. What is so great about this recipe is that once you have the basic mix, you can add anything you want to it, and make it different every time.

Egg Spinach Bake

12 eggs (or 3 cups Egg Beaters)
1/2 cup 0% Fage Greek Yogurt
1 1/2cups (6oz) shredded cheese, plus extra to sprinkle on top
8-10oz frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained, then squeezed dry

Mix the eggs and yogurt together, beat well.

Mix in the cheese and spinach, mix until blended.

The amount of spinach depends on what kind you buy. I used to get the 10oz Birds Eye or Giant Eagle packages, but lately I have been buying 16oz bags from Whole Foods & Trader Joe's and using about half the bag. I have to say, I think Whole Foods chopped spinach is the best--seems to hold the least amount of water that needs to be squeezed out. You can also use 16oz of fresh, sauteed spinach if you like. And if you don't like spinach, you can omit it and add other ingredients. I have also used a variety of shredded cheeses--Mexican blend, Cheddar, Parmesan. (The original recipe even called for grated Parmesan sprinkled on top.)

Once this base recipe is mixed, you can really get creative. Bacon crumbles, sausage, or ham. Chopped tomatoes, mushrooms, sun dried tomatoes, jalapenos. The possibilities are endless. I have added ground black pepper, cayenne pepper, herbs, as well as different cheeses--crumbled goat, feta, or Gouda.

Pour the mixture into a greased 15x10x1 inch baking pan, and sprinkle with shredded or grated cheese.

Bake at 350 F for 25-35 minutes, or until a knife or cake tester inserted near the center comes out clean. Cut into squares. Makes 12-15 servings.

Since it's just the two of us, we usually make 12 squares, then we each have a couple days' worth of leftovers. I have made this for both breakfast and dinner. I like it because it is also an easy mix-ahead meal. Often the night before, I will mix in a large Pyrex bowl and bake the next morning or evening.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I do, and please let me know if you come up with your own winning combination to add to the basic mix!

Be happy & well!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Ahhhh, Vacation!!

This week, J & I have been on vacation and have just had an absolutely wonderful week! We started off our week with a bus tour to three Western Pennsylvania wineries! It was hosted through my college alumni association, and we had a great time!  We visited http://www.greendancewinery.com/ , http://www.cwklaywinery.com/ , and http://www.facebook.com/thistlethwaite.vineyards#!/thistlethwaite.vineyards?sk=wall.  We bought several bottles to enjoy at home! Our tour included lunch at http://www.nemacolin.com/. Lunch was delicious--grilled chicken breasts, mashed potatoes (which J & I hadn't had any potatoes for at least a month due to our low-carb diet) and veggies.

Sunday (our actual anniversary), we headed out to Bedford, PA for our anniversary getaway! We took the more scenic route of Route 31 through Mt. Pleasant, PA and Somerset, where we stopped off at (of course) another winery. My cousin had had his wedding reception at http://gladespikewinery.com/ several years ago, so we stopped off there to do a tasting and left with two bottles!

As we got closer to Bedford, we drove into a bad storm:

We arrived in downtown Bedford and sat it out a few minutes in the car til we got a little break, then made a dash for the pizza shop nearby for a couple of pizza slices for lunch. Spent some time in one of the antique shops then headed to our final destination, the Bedford Springs Resort & Spa. (http://www.omnihotels.com/FindAHotel/BedfordSprings.aspx)  Here is the resort view when you come around the bend:

Front view:

We lucked out with one of the rooms to the right, that had the porch and rocking chairs. The hotel has been beautifully restored, and our experience here was nothing short of amazing and wonderful! The rooms are beautiful, the staff is first class, and the food--phenomenal! 

I took advantage of the daily afternoon tea in the lobby while Jody relaxed in the room. While I was out, this was delivered to our room:

What a lovely surprise! We decided to save it for dessert after returning from our anniversary dinner, which we planned at the Jean Bonnet Tavern (http://www.jeanbonnettavern.com/). We had a slight glitch when we went to go to dinner, as a valet had left our headlights on and they were having trouble getting it started. While we were waiting, Jody took this photo of me in the lobby of the resort:

After a short wait, the valet were still unable to get our car started. But Joy, who headed up the valet team that night, was just wonderful. She is VERY good at her job and runs a tight ship, which I admire! She had one of the staff drive us to the Jean Bonnet for our dinner and she herself picked us up when we were finished. We had a delightful dinner, and before heading back to the resort, had our server take this photo of us:

Upon our return to the resort, we enjoyed our anniversary dessert with a bottle of wine and watched a movie before retiring for the night, as we had a full day planned for Monday.

Monday, we started off with the breakfast buffet at the Crystal Room, one of 3 restaurants in the resort. It was DELICIOUS! We took off shortly thereafter for a hike on one of the resort trails. We opted for the longest and most challenging, a 4.5 mile hike. We are certain it had to more because we felt like we were hiking FOREVER! While this will sound like one of your grandfather's "I walked 8 miles to school with no shoes and it was uphill--BOTH WAYS!" stories, this rugged-terrained trail literally was mostly uphill...even when we descended and thought we were at the beginning of the end, we were then redirected uphill for the rest of the trail! By the time we got towards the end, my poor old dancer knees were screaming with pain. So much that, when the torrential downpour from the previous day opted to return at the end of our hike, we just walked slowly and got drenched.

After a hot shower and a quick nap, we headed to the spa for our appointments. J was scheduled for a manicure, and I was set for the zensational pedicure. First, we split up and took advantage of the Bedford Bath Ritual, which you can read about on page 3 of the spa brochure: http://www.omnihotels.com/FindAHotel/BedfordSprings/~/media/Images/hotels/pitbsr/pdf/EternalSpringsSpaBrochure.ashx

We relaxed in the lounge for a bit, then enjoyed the pampering our services provided, and finished off our spa experience with a glass of wine in the relaxation lounge.

We then got ready for dinner in the Crystal Room, which we were really excited for. This is an absolute must if you are in the area, even if you don't stay at the resort (but we absolutely recommend you do!). For a fixed price of $42 per person, you cannot beat this dinner! All we had to choose was our entrees, (http://www.omnihotels.com/FindAHotel/BedfordSprings/Dining/~/media/Images/hotels/pitbsr/pdf/CrystalRoomDinnerMenu_June2011.ashx)
J opted for the filet mignon, I chose the spinach ricotta ravioli.

We headed to the front of the restaurant to get our appetizers and salads. We were floored by the options, and honestly could have made a meal just from salads and appetizers. Breads & (delicious) local cheeses, 3 lettuce mixes to choose from as well as various salad toppings and dressings, crab cakes, asparagus wrapped in prosciutto, pork, beef tenderloin, shrimp cocktail, the choices were more than bountiful! As you can see, we did not hesitate to try everything:

Then came our dinners:

Of COURSE we saved room for dessert! Jody chose NY cheesecake and chocolate torte:

And I chose bread pudding and strawberry chocolate mousse:

As if that all wasn't fabulous enough, our server, Liz, poured us each a glass of complimentary champagne, which we took back to our rooms to enjoy on the porch.

Tuesday morning, we got up early to take advantage of the pool before having to check out at noon. This is the hallway by the pool:

and this is the gorgeous pool, which we were fortunate enough to have all to ourselves since it was early in the morning:

We enjoyed breakfast again in the Crystal Room, then relaxed in the room and on the porch, savoring the last hour of our stay.

Quickly going back to our lunch at Nemacolin on our wine tour, the lunch was delicious, and while Nemacolin is an impressive resort in size, things to do, and some of the decor, we left there with absolutely no inclination to stay there at all. To us, the charm factor is zero, where the Bedford Springs Resort & Spa is an 11 on a scale of 1-10!

While the Bedford Springs Resort & Spa is not inexpensive, the history of the resort, the beauty of the resort itself (we referred to it as the Titanic on land), in addition to the exceptional service and overall experience makes it an absolute on our list of  "repeat performances." We will definitely stay here again, and cannot stop raving to anyone who will listen about how extraordinary our experience was. We will absolutely consider making the 2-hour drive to Bedford to make a day trip just to do some shopping and have dinner at the Crystal Room.  Even if it is something you have to scrimp and save for to experience a 2-night stay like we did, it is absolutely worth it.

Many kudos to the staff of the Bedford Springs Resort for making our first anniversary celebration almost as memorable as our wedding day!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Our July Weekend Getaway

Wow, this summer is flying! It is hard to believe we are already halfway through July. And a month from today, J & I will be married for one year! It is hard to believe it has gone so fast!

Every year, in lieu of some Christmas gifts, my parents, brother (C) & sister-in-law (S), J & I agree to plan a getaway weekend sometime after Christmas to spend some Quality Time together. My parents cover the rooms (usually a B&B), and my brother & I each take a turn paying for dinner one night as well as leaving a tip in the room for the housekeeping staff. This getaway can happen anywhere between February and ??? depending on when we can coordinate our schedules, which can be hard! This year, the 4th of July weekend was our chosen weekend.

This time we opted for a little more time around Pittsburgh, as C, S and their two kids live in Virginia. Our Friday destination was the Penn Brewery here in Pittsburgh. Great place, great beer, we have patronized the brewery for years. http://www.pennbrew.com/

We started out with some beer cheese and crackers. J & I opting for the chile beer cheese--Penn Brewery's house beer cheese with roasted red peppers and Poblano chiles. Mom & S had had a late lunch out, so they stuck to beer cheese, while the rest of us were HUNGRY and ordered various dishes. I opted for a no-meat option, the Kasespaetzle with a side of applesauce:

My brother had the steak sandwich, and Dad & J split a steak sandwich and a schnitzel sandwich.



Jody's plate of half each:

My niece opted for the kids' grilled cheese, which looked delicious!

And of course, we DID indulge in some of the brewery's awesome beer!

Early the next morning, we loaded up in two cars and headed to Akron, Ohio for our "getaway" portion of the weekend. Our main point of the trip to Akron was to visit and tour the Stan Hywet Hall and Gardens, which is currently featuring a Civil War collection we wanted to see. The house was built by the founder of Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company, F.A. Seiberling. http://www.stanhywet.org/article/article.aspx)

This mansion is amazing! What a great tour and an amazing glimpse into living the life! On top of a gorgeous house, the gardens are amazing! I could have spent hours walking through!

Our dinner that night was at a great local place, Pub Bricco. (http://www.pubbricco.com/home) The whole menu is appealing and it was hard to decide what to get. We started with some fried white cheddar cheese wedges with wholegrain mustard horseradish sauce, then ordered an array of burgers and salads for dinner. A few ordered the field greens salad with goat cheese, berries and candied walnuts. What I really liked (despite not ordering a salad) was that Pub Bricco offers their salads as a full or half, which I wish more restaurants did. Jody & I ordered the same burger, though mine was a veggie burger, but topped with Havarti cheese, horseradish & mustard, and onion straws.

And shared an order of fresh made chips:

Our stay in Akron was topped off by a wonderful experience at the O'Neil House Bed & Breakfast.  (http://www.oneilhouse.com/innerIndex.htm)  It is beautiful and has it own lovely gardens to speak of.

The house has 3 resident cats and 1 awesome dog, Grace. Gayle, the owner, does a wonderful job of maintaining the house and gardens, as well as providing a wonderful breakfast with the help of a couple talented staff members. Since we had my niece and nephew with us, Gayle and Debbie made us a lovely main breakfast course of fresh waffles topped with a little whipped cream and fresh berries, and a side of bacon. My parents have stayed there previously and had other wonderful breakfast treats such as an asparagus omelet.  Our true breakfast treat, however, was the "appetizer"--homemade orange sorbet served in a hollowed out orange half. This was truly heaven!

We topped off our weekend with a family outing to the Pirates game where we saw a great win, then J & I hosted a cookout at our place. We cooked some variations of chicken tenders on the grill as well as serving a pasta & vegetable salad with Italian dressing, and a broccoli slaw salad with dried cranberries, crumbled blue cheese and walnuts. We finished the evening by watching Despicable Me with the kids and enjoying the banana cream pie we made:
As you can see, we packed A LOT into a few days, and enjoyed every minute. Enjoy every minute you have with friends & family, and remember to share the love.


Saturday, June 11, 2011

Farmer's Market Goodness

It is one of my favorite times of year--Farmer's Market time!  Our neighborhood market is every Tuesday, and starts in May, ending in November, just before Thanksgiving.

Early in the season, it is mostly plants and some other basics like breads, cheeses, salsa etc. Which is great, because I love to grow various herbs in the summer. Since we moved to a new place where neither of us shared space with other tenants, we were able to make the glorious patio all "ours". I had several herbs growing last year, and it really was wonderful to be able to just walk on the patio, grab a handful of fresh herbs to chop and add to my recipe.

Here is my herb "garden" so far this year:

 I've collected one or two each week since it has started.  Top left is my newest addition, sage. Top right is Genovese Basil. Bottom left is Pineapple Basil, which interestingly does have a pineapple scent and taste. Middle is a sweet Thai Basil and on the bottom right, rosemary. I also have a dill plant that is in a part sun/part shade area.

We recently used some chopped pineapple basil for some grilled organic chicken. I simply chopped the basil and pressed it into the chicken tenders. Then we soaked it in some white wine. It turned out very well! That same day we also did some baked potatoes on the grill. I just wrapped them in foil with some olive oil and fresh ground sea salt & black pepper. Wow, how good that was!

I use the herbs most with pasta dishes.  We try to stay away from heavy sauces in general, but it is much easier to do that when we are getting fresh herbs and vegetables from the Farmer's Market! You can vary your ingredients and make a different dish each time when you have several things to choose from. I usually start with a pasta like bowties, penne or gemilli. More often than not, I simply use olive oil, and add a handful of chopped herbs. Depending on what else may be available at the market, we may add chopped tomatoes, summer squash, zucchini or other vegetables.

The possibilties are endless, really! You can add chopped tomatoes, basil, feta cheese and some black olives for a Greek-style pasta. One of my other favorites is to make a light "sauce" by adding some white wine and crumbled goat cheese. The cheese softens nicely and compliments the wine nicely. It's really a wonderful way to add some flavor without adding a lot of fat or heaviness to the dish. With the crumbled cheeses, and even some shredded cheese (I always have shredded parmesan onhand--it's a great addition to a tomato-based pasta dish), a little really can go a long way. I always add a minimal amount first, then taste as I go and add a little if needed.

I try to visit the market every week. Many of the same vendors are there week after week, year after year. It's a great way to support local farmers, grocers and merchants, as well as getting truly fresh and home grown food.  Veggies are starting to appear now, and every week I usually buy a dozen eggs from an Amish farmer and homemade salsa from our friend, Arturo. These eggs cannot be beat, they are large and cook up perfectly. Towards the end of the season, farmers start to run major deals on veggies to try to sell what they can. Last year I bought tons of broccoli at a steal and blanched and froze for soup, side dishes and stir-fry.

Right now is the too-short strawberry season. Unfortunately, here it only lasts a few weeks to a month at best, but I am in heaven for that time! I will have some for breakfast or lunch but one of my favorite treats, especially in summer, is a smoothie. And these fresh strawberries really give it a boost. In a blender or food processor, simply mix 4oz orange juice, 4oz milk (I use skim), a heaping spoonful (or 2) of non-fat Greek yogurt,1 sliced banana and a handful of chopped strawberries. Blend for minute and serve. I've also added wheat germ or flaxseed for an extra health boost!  You can easily substitute or add additional fruits depending on what you can find good and fresh. Adding blueberries, raspberries or blackberries can give it a new twist! 

If you have a Farmer's Market nearby, I hope you begin to patronize it if you don't already. Even if it is a little out of your way, I can guarantee that the trip is absolutely worth it! I often take a walk around to see who has what, which prices are better, or what looks best. I have gotten to know several of the vendors over the years, and last year even passed on a low-fat broccoli cheese soup recipe I had found and made with all that broccoli I was buying. The farmer explained he'd been diagnosed with high blood pressure, so he and his wife were really working to change their diet as far as salt & fat were concerned. I haven't seen him yet this year to be able to ask him if he tried it, but look forward to chatting with him soon. And maybe passing on more recipes.

Happy Eating! Buy fresh, buy local!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Weekend Dinner Parties--Meatballs, Grilling & Roman Gnocchi

Wow, hard to believe that almost a month has gone by! Sorry I am so behind and that I have not cooked much the past few weekends, apparently!  Things have been very busy, we have been out and about, and this weekend was the first weekend I really spent a lot of time in the kitchen again. Last weekend, J & I went to the Pittsburgh Folk Festival with fellow blogger Red-Headed Traveler and her husband, D. They also introduced to the Latin American Festival at Pitt a month or two ago, and we immediately made plans to venture out to the Folk Festival together. We all had A LOT of great food!  Too many choices! I had amazing stuffed grape leaves from the Turkey booth, falafel from the Lebanon booth, a wonderful cold soup from the Iran/Persia booth (yogurt, cucumber, and mint), and for dessert, rose tea from the Slovakian booth and pastries from the Scotland booth. We even took some cheddar dill scones home from the Scotland booth for breakfast the next morning! We all had great time and easily could have continued to eat our way through this festival!

On Sunday we had J's friends, J & A, over for dinner. We did a more simple menu of easy foods: I made the mushroom and rice stuffed portobellos from a previous post, pepperoni bread, J made cheese stuffed meatballs, and on the grill did small (toothpick) skewers of organic ham steak and fresh pineapple. For dessert, I used mini phyllo cups, goat cheese and cherry pie filling to make mini cheesecakes. We had a great night, and were blessed to have a beautiful, rain-free night to sit on our patio the entire time.

Sunday, our friends B & K came over for dinner. Since we had a little more time to play with, we did a more advanced dinner menu than the casual menu of the night before. B is on a no-carb diet (God  bless her, I could NOT survive that!), so I purchased some organic steak and chicken from Whole Foods. We did both on the grill, J added crumbled blue cheese to our steaks, and the chicken we had let marinate in a mix white wine, rosemary and black pepper. I made a salad out of my new favorite--broccoli slaw! I simply added some dried cranberries and crumbled blue for those who wanted it, and we all had it with red wine vinaigrette dressing. I also used one of my staples--crescent dough--to make some herbed goat cheese puffs. But the hit of the night with K--who is inadvertently on a low-carb diet since B is--was the Roman Gnocchi. B was admiring it, and I promised her I would make it for her when she is able to have carbs again because it is indeed amazingly delicious. (I also made this for The RHT & D after the Latin American Festival!)

Months ago, I took a gnocchi-making class with my friend T, taught by her friend, M. M teaches the classes in her home, so they are small and private. My friend T & I took the class with an older couple we are friends with and had a blast! We learned how to make potato gnocchi, pumpkin gnocchi (a delicious variation of potato gnocchi) and this Roman Gnocchi. This was my staple for pot-luck for our Christmas gatherings this past year. The hardest part is mixing it--as opposed to a potato base, it is actually made with seminola flour and milk. It reminds me some of a polenta-type dish. After the mix is cooked and pressed into a cookie sheet, it is refrigerated for a couple of hours until firm. Then I use a biscuit cutter to make small rounds. Once those are laid in the baking pan, the gnocchi is finished off by brushing some melted butter over them and sprinkling grated Parmesan over them. (I get almost all our cheese at Trader Joe's, their prices are the best for cheese. I get packed full tubs of fresh grated Parmesan and Parmesan-Reggiano cheese for less than $4 a container.) The reason I love this dish for pot-luck is once the hard part is done, the dish travels very well and only needs to bake for about 15 minutes. Topped with just a little marinara sauce and some Parmesan, wow, I could eat a whole batch myself! 

Usually with a whole batch, I have some leftovers for lunch. Not this time! K loved it and the sauce--he had three servings and J &I each had two! Not a single gnocchi was left! This is what it looks like out of the oven:

And from a previous meal, with a side of garlic Parmesan bread:

Delicious! The red sauce I use is none other than M's own marinara sauce. She was wonderful enough to share her recipe with us in the class and has given me permission to share it here. It is easy and delicious. There is always a bowl with some of this marinara in my fridge now!

M's Marinara

1 28oz can of whole peeled tomatoes, pureed in food processor or blender
1tbsp EVOO
Hot sauce to taste (couple of drops)
1 tbsp dried basil leaves
1 tbsp butter
1/4 cup Parmesan
salt & pepper to taste

1) Heat oil in a large saucepan.

2) Add pureed tomatoes, hot sauce, dried basil, salt & pepper. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook for 30-60 minutes.

3) Add butter and Parmesan in the last 15 minutes of cooking to finish sauce.


It is the perfect companion to any pasta!  If you are local (Pittsburgh) and have any interest in M's gnocchi class (she does other cooking classes as well), send me a private message here and I will get you in touch with her. Class is only $25 and really the only way to learn how to make gnocchi is to make it first-hand with someone who knows. Contact me if you are interested, M is a wonderful lady and an amazing cook!

Til next time, Happy Eating!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Macaroni-and-Cheese Quiche

As promised, and by request from a follower, the recipe for Mac&Cheese Quiche. A friend hooked me up with this recipe from Woman's World magazine. A great little magazine, I've gotten several recipes and craft ideas from it, check it out!

OK here we go:

1 lb penne pasta (or macaroni, cavatappi or corkscrews--I used traditional macaroni)
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup finely minced shallots, about 1 large shallot
1/4 cup flour
2 1/2 cups milk
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1 8oz package shredded Italian five-cheese with cream cheese blend, such as Kraft
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 tsp grated lemon zest
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
4 cups spinach leaves

*Some notes about the ingredients: at first I had a hard time finding shallots at the store. I was looking for them around the onions, they were in a separate little shelf in the produce section. While I usually buy skim milk, I did use 2% milk for this. If I'd been able to find 1% at the corner store, I would have used that. I was not able to find the five-cheese blend with the Philadelphia cream cheese at my local stores. They did have some of the other cheeses with cream cheese, so I just bought the regular Italian blend. For the eggs I used Egg Beaters. And I did not add the salt, since I try to watch the sodium due to my high blood pressure. I'd say the salt could be optional.*

Preheat oven to 350F. Coat 8" springform pan with cooking spray. Cook and drain pasta according to package directions.

1. In pot, melt butter over medium heat. Add shallots; cook until just tender, 1-2 minutes. Gradually whisk in flour until smooth; cook, stirring, 1 minute.

2. Gradually whisk in milk. Over medium-high heat, bring to a boil; cook until thickened and coats back of spoon, 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat, let cool 10 minutes.

3. Whisk in eggs, 1 1/2 cups shredded cheese, Parmesan, zest, salt and pepper until blended and smooth. Stir in spinach and pasta. Transfer to pan. Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup shredded cheese. Cover with foil. Bake 45 minutes. Uncover; bake until golden, 10-15 minutes. Run sharp knife around edge of pan to loosen pasta. Let stand 20 minutes. Remove from pan and serve.

Here are some pics. And for the record, this was AMAZING. The only person who didn't eat it was my picky nephew, but even the 4 year old niece ate some!

Let me know if you try it and how it turns out! And I'd love to try it with other veggies too! I'm thinking broccoli next!

Happy eating!