Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Here Comes 2014! Let's Look Back, Shall We?

Ah, 2013! I have to say, for the first time ever, I'm really glad this year is coming to a close. This was one of the hardest years of my life, full of growing pains, limitations, confusion, fear, and pain. I definitely had my quarter life crisis! As I sat down to write this, however, I started looking through my photos from the last year and I realized something: this year hasn't been all that bad! A lot of pretty incredible things happened in 2013. If you focus on the bad, that is all you will see. Hard times make us stronger, so I am grateful for a challenging year. I know that I will go into 2014 better for it.

So let's focus on the fun stuff! Let's remember 2013 as the year that my style became outrageously preppy:

The year that my husband matched to the UTHSC Internal Medicine Program:

The year that I cooked and ate the spiciest thing I've ever eaten and loved it:

The year that I tried to grill (it didn't go all that well):

The year that we tried to garden (also, not very successful):

The year the Grizzlies had an INCREDIBLE season!:

The year that my husband became a pretty good cook (here he is rolling sushi):

The year that I really pushed myself in the kitchen (check out my beautiful Choco Tacos):

And consequently made some flubs (orange and chocolate rustic bread? very gross):

All in all, it's been a good year. I hope everyone has a fun night. Be safe! Don't do anything stupid!

I love you all. Thanks for stopping by and keeping me going. You all encourage me so much. Happy New Year!

Monday, December 30, 2013

Blue In J.Crew

Santa was very nice to me this Christmas; I must have been really good this year. I got so many things that I've wanted forever, including this coat and this bracelet (both from J.Crew Factory). I don't think I've taken either of them off since Christmas. Other amazing Christmas gifts? A brand new soup pot, a BEAUTIFUL cake stand, some funky houseplant pots, a straightening iron, a blender/juicer, and the Hobbit on BluRay to name a few.

I hope everyone is having a great holiday. What was your best gift? Any interesting New Year's Eve plans?

Coat: J.Crew Factory, Scarf: Souvenir from London, Shirt: DIY (click here for details), Jeans: Zara, Boots: Old, Earrings: Fab, Bracelet: J.Crew Factory

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Very Merry

Here is a little Christmas outfit for you! I wore it last night to Christmas Adam, which is my group of friends' annual day-before-Christmas party. The dress is so cute, but the sheer back makes it a little more naughty than nice, so I decided not to wear it to any family events! But perfect for a night of Dirty Santa and spiced wine drinking with some of my favorite people in the world.

This dress was my Christmas gift to myself. I always say I'm not going to buy myself anything, but I always do anyway. I got this dress for TEN DOLLARS at Urban Outfitters, so I don't feel too bad about it.

Have a Merry Christmas! I hope everyone is with loved ones and stuffed full of Christmas goodies.

Dress: Urban Outfitters, Tights: George via Wal-Mart (a Christmas gift last year from my awesome mom), Boots: Zara, Lipstick: Covergirl LipPerfection in Flame, Assorted Jewelry. And a Santa hat of course.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Chocolate Dipped Bourbon Caramels With Hazelnuts And Sea Salt

Why do I do this to myself?


A little back story. When I first started cooking, I was very health conscious. My grocery carts were full of vegetables and whole grains, I never ever bought butter, and I barely salted anything. I never ate white bread, and I didn't have much of a sweet tooth at all. I ate oatmeal every morning, sweetened with only a little raw honey. In short, I was awesome.

And somehow we have been brought to this. These candies. They are sitting in the fridge, tempting me, taunting me. I don't want to admit how many I've eaten today, and yesterday was even worse. I'll only say this: yesterday I ate so many of these candies that I gave myself a stomach ache. Like a 6 year-old on Halloween. 

How did we get to this point? The road is dark and twisted, but there have been a few red flags along the way that should have told me that I was on the way to self-destruction. 

The first is very obvious: I started baking. Now, to be fair to myself, I'm not what I like to (colorfully) call a "sugar slut." If I'm going to eat something sweet, it better be damn good. Sweets that Americans can't seem to get enough of (cookies that have that fake-y, lardy taste, cupcakes with way too much icing, and the whole fro-yo thing) have absolutely no effect on me, and I can easily pass them by. So, when I first started baking about two years ago, I would happily eat a single serving of my cookies/cake/whatever and let my husband devour the rest, like Garfield with a lasagna. But, as my baking skills have steadily increased, my ability to abstain is just as steadily decreasing. 

First red flag.

Then there was the day that I bought corn syrup for the first time. I remember thinking to myself, "this is a bad idea Meredith, you are making a mistake." Did I reconsider my actions? Did I place the corn syrup back on the shelf? Of course not. Second red flag.

Then, last week, I realized that the last 5 or 6 times I have been to the grocery store, I have purchased a pound of butter. The last time this occurred, I didn't even need the butter, I just bought it purely by instinct. Like milk, or eggs, or bread. 

Strike three! Intervention time! And now the worst thing ever has happened: these candies.

I don't really think it is good to be able to whip up a batch of whatever you love most in the world. You should have to go to a store, shell out the money and buy it in front of everybody. It's like being able to make crack. Not that I have ever made crack. But I can make these candies, and they are my crack.

I LOVE little chocolate candies with a weird and intense passion. Normally, by the time Valentine's Day has come, I have already purchased 3 or 4 Russel Stover's hearts. Then I buy one or two more when they go on sale the next day. This is a yearly indulgence that I allow myself and take no shame in it. My husband also knows that every year on my birthday I expect a $20 package of Dinstuhl's chocolates (a Memphis chocolatier that is a bit pricey, but totally worth it). If I did not receive these chocolates, I would probably go into some sort of tirade typical of Bridezillas or those little snotty girls on My Super Sweet 16. Now I can make these perfect little candies. All hell has broken loose in my kitchen.

Ok, enough of the melodrama.  I am in control. Really. I am. I'm not thinking about the tiny morsels of heaven sitting in my fridge, with their chewy, crunchy centers, chocolate-y shells and salty toppings. Really. I'm not. I'm thinking about something totally different. 

So here is how you do it. Maybe you shouldn't make them. But it is the holidays, which means we've thrown all sense of self-control and abstinence when it comes to food out the window. So what the hell? Let's make candy.

Chocolate Dipped Bourbon Caramels with Hazelnuts and Sea Salt

Now, it is nice to have a few tools for this recipe. A candy thermometer is an almost necessity. I have made caramel without a thermometer before (see here), but it is very inconsistent. So, I would just go ahead and get one.

Also, if you would like your candies to be prettier than mine, you can get a candy mold. I don't have a candy mold, but you can bet that I will be purchasing one soon. Your candies will still taste amazing, so if this is your first time making candy, I wouldn't run out and buy one. 

For my caramel, I used the Bourbon Sea Salt Caramels recipe from Bon Appetit, but with a welcome addition: hazelnuts.

First step: make caramel. I let my caramel set up in a pan lined with wax paper. Don't do this. It sounds like a great idea, but the caramel does not want to pull away from the wax paper.  Lightly spray a glass or ceramic dish and place your caramel in this. Top with a generous layer of chopped hazelnuts and throw in the fridge. Your caramel needs to set up in the fridge for at least an hour.
When you are ready to assemble your candies, get yourself a double boiler going. For those of you who don't know, a double boiler is just a pot of boiling water that you place a bowl on top of. Throw your chocolate in this bowl. This allows you to melt your chocolate without scorching it. A quick tip: don't move the bowl around a lot. Water and chocolate don't mix and if you move your bowl around, steam will escape and get into the chocolate. Then your chocolate will turn kind of crumbly and matte looking. You want it to be smooth and glossy. I used Ghiradelli semi-sweet chocolate chips and I was very satisfied with the results. I'm also a big fan of Hershey's dark chocolate chips, but I can't ever seem to find them.

Once you chocolate is melted, turn the heat down on your double boiler to medium-low. Grab two spoons. With one spoon, scoop some caramel out into a quarter-size piece. You can roll it into a ball shape, if you want, but your hands are going to get very sticky. Just a heads up. Drop this piece of caramel into the chocolate. With your other spoon, turn the caramel in the chocolate until it is completely coated. Place onto a cutting board covered in wax paper. Repeat this process until all of your caramel is covered in chocolate. The candies will spread out a bit, and may not have enough chocolate on the top. Just spread a little extra chocolate on the candies. Sprinkle with sea salt and place in the fridge. Don't skip the sea salt! It totally makes these candies.
You will need to let your candies set up in the fridge for about an hour. Now, prepare for a serious sugar rush! I cannot stop eating these things! I know this is a long winded post, but don't let that fool you; these candies are very easy to make and well worth your effort.

I think I'm in full on candy mode now, so get ready for tons of fun candy combinations! 

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Cozy and Monochromatic

This is what I wore yesterday for some Christmas shopping.  I always put Christmas shopping off until the last minute (this is actually early for me), but I find I get some really good deals that way.  Though it has warmed up a bit here in Memphis, I'm still dressing as if it's 20 degrees.  Possibly because my house refuses to get warm, no matter how high I turn my heat up.  I'm dreading getting the bill.

Sorry for my recent lack of posts, I've been a bit lazy these past two weeks and have spent most of my time reading, which is not very post worthy (I've finished North and South, the Hobbit, and have just started the Forsyte Saga).  But the sun is out, so I spent the morning painting and now I'm about to have a candy-making experiment.  I'll let y'all know how it goes.

I hope everyone is having a very merry holiday season.  I know I am.

Cardigan: Forever 21, Scarf: Souvenir from a trip to London, Dress: Primark, Leggings: Wal-Mart, Boots: Zara, Sunglasses: Urban Outfitters, Assorted Jewels

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Pumpkin Pie Spiced Snickerdoodles

These past few days have been incredibly dreary here in Memphis. We've had a great deal of sleet, ice, and overall gloom, and I've found it very hard to motivate myself to do much of anything besides read, watch tv, and listen to The Smiths (a perfect accompaniment to this weather). But "the devil will find work for idle hands to do" (wow, I have to stop listening to The Smiths) and the one thing I did find time to do was make an excessive amount of Snickerdoodle cookies.

I had a moment of brilliance that inspired me to make these cookies: why not roll the cookie dough in pumpkin pie spice as well as cinnamon and sugar? Simple. Elegant. Brilliant. I was a bit nervous about it (messing with a classic can be risky business), but I found it a very welcome addition to what has to be my all-time favorite cookie. They still taste like snickerdoodles, but they are just the best snickerdoodles that you've ever had and you can't seem to put your finger on what makes them so good. This is the perfect time of year to give this recipe a try, but be sure not to tell your friends and family what makes these cookies so good. Everyone will just think that you make the perfect snickerdoodle cookies. Tell them that love is the secret ingredient. You'll be a Christmas hero.

I use the Joy of Cooking Snickerdoodle recipe. It's a great one, and it doesn't require shortening(read trans fat, the demon to doctors, nutritionists and mothers all over the world). Shortening is a necessary evil for things like pie crusts (as I recently learned to my dismay), but we can make a perfectly wonderful snickerdoodle cookie without it.

Feel free to top these cookies with a little cream cheese icing. It's the holidays. It's time to pull out all the stops.

Pumpkin Pie Spiced Snickerdoodles (by the Joy of Cooking, only the spices have been altered by me)
For dough:
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 sticks unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 large eggs

Spice mixture:
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
a dash of ginger

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a cookie sheet with baking spray.

Combine flour, tartar, baking soda and salt in a bowl and whisk together.

Beat butter and sugar in a stand mixer for at least five minutes on high.  You want this mixture to be light and fluffy. If you're unsure, beat for up to ten minutes.

Add your eggs to the butter and sugar mixture and beat until blended.

Add the flour mixture to the eggs, butter, and sugar and beat on low speed until just combined.

Shape dough into 1 1/4 inch balls (I like to use an ice cream scoop to shape my cookies. That way, they are all the same size and cook at the same speed). Roll dough in spice mixture. Place cookie dough balls on your cookie sheet (at least 2 inches apart) and bake for 12-15 minutes. The edges should be just slightly browned.

Enjoy a perfect cookie! You can keep the cookie dough in the fridge and bake whenever your sweet tooth strikes. The dough should keep for about two weeks, but it probably last that long!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Western Warmth

Can we talk about panchos?  Yay or nay?  I think they can be really cute and stylish, or they can be super cheesy and lame.  I've had this one since the 6th grade.  What I like about it is its got SouthWestern flair, as opposed to looking like some kind of Chico's nightmare.  I rarely get to wear it because its super warm.  As I mentioned the other day, it's been very cold here lately, so I'm getting a chance to wear a lot of winter clothes that oftentimes don't even make it out of storage.  Which is really fun; I don't think I've worn this pancho since high school.  We're supposed to have some serious winter weather this weekend, so it might just make another appearance.

Any cold-weather-pros out there?  How do you guys stay warm in the winter, while still looking stylish?

Pancho: American Eagle (very old), Sweater: Gap, Jeans: BDG, Shoes: Urban Outfitters, Assorted Jewels

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Charro Beans

This may look like a humble bowl of beans, but let me tell you, this is probably one of my best recipes ever. If you are a Memphian, you have probably been to Las Delicias. This recipe was inspired by the Charro Beans on their menu. And, if I do say so myself, they are pretty damn good.

This may be a weird thing to say, but I am a huge bean fan. Beans are the best. They are so cheap, easy, and good for you. Now, I know most people buy beans in a can, but you really should try your hand at dried beans. They are more of a hassle than canned beans, but they are also much cheaper and healthier, since they have no added salt. They also hold up better over time, which means you can cook them longer to achieve a deeper flavor. You do need to plan on about three hours for the entire process: one hour to quick soak and usually about 2 to cook. You can soak them over night, but you need to cook them first thing the next morning or else they will sour. Trust me, this has happened to me, and it is super gross. So, I prefer to quick soak. But making a dish like this is no big deal for a Saturday or Sunday afternoon.

This dish gets its flavor from multiple layers of cooking. It is a bit involved, but worth it. I make my own stock (of course). While I cook my beans, I braise chicken in salsa and beer. Then I cook my chorizo and onions in the beer-y, salsa-y, chicken-y goodness that is left behind and add all that to the beans. I don't add the chicken to the beans (although you certainly could), but it really makes the flavor even better. And I find I can always use a little cooked chicken. Use it to make some quesadillas to go with the charro beans.

You will need some dried peppers for this recipe. You can cut corners with the beans, or with cooking the chicken in the salsa and beer, but don't cut corners on the dried peppers. You can find them in most grocery stores in the Mexican section, and they are usually very cheap. Or, head to a local Mexican grocery. You'll find lots of goodies there. And if you are like me, you probably eat Mexican food pretty much every day, so it will be worth the trip. (I recently read that salsa had replaced ketchup as the #1 condiment used in America. I don't remember the last time I put ketchup on something, but I use salsa all the time).

Charro Beans
1 bag dried pinto beans
1 bag dried red kidney beans
2-4 cups chicken stock (more stock equals more flavor)
2-4 dried peppers (I used Guajillo and Chili de Arbol)
1 jalepeno
Raw chicken
1 jar salsa (I always buy hot salsa, but feel free to buy mild)
1 beer (a Mexican beer would be best, but use whatever's in the fridge. Which in my case, was a Natural Light. Yeah, I'm classy like that)
1 pound raw pork chorizo
1 onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
Chili Powder
Salt and pepper

Quick soak beans according to the package.  Rinse beans and place in a large pot with about 8 cups of liquid.  I used about half water and half stock.  Cut your jalepeno in half and throw in the pot.  Add your dried peppers.  Cook on low heat for 2 to 3 hours until beans are soft.
Once your beans are simmering away, you can start your chicken. I used two legs and thighs, but you can use whatever you prefer or happen to have around.  This is just for flavor.  Sear both sides of your chicken on high heat for about three minutes per side.  Lower heat and add one beer and a jar of salsa.  The liquid needs to cover chicken about 3/4 of the way, so adjust accordingly.  Let this simmer for 45 minutes to an hour.  You can cover the pan to speed up the cooking time.  
Once the chicken is cooked through, remove and save for another use. Add chorizo, onion, and garlic to the salsa, beer, chicken goo left in the pan and cook until the chorizo is cooked through, about ten minutes.
Add this mixture to your beans.  Now, you will notice I don't drain the chorizo.  Hmmmm......how can I put this?  Fat=flavor.  If you want to cook the chorizo in a separate pan and drain the fat, then by all means, go for it. I am definitely pro healthy eating. But I think the best part about chorizo is how fatty it is. I've drained chorizo before, and I find you lose a lot of the spice when you do that. It's not something you eat often, and I don't eat much meat at all, so I don't worry about a little fat.  Totally up to you.

If the beans seem dry, add a bit more water or stock.  Add salt, pepper, cumin, and chili pepper to taste.  Now this is a lot of beans, so don't skimp on the salt. I used close to 3 tablespoons. Continue to cook your beans until they are soft.
This all comes together to create on incredible bowl of comforting, bean-y, warm goodness.  Fry up some cheese quesadillas and you're good to go.  Or top with some tortilla chips.  Or add a scoop of rice.  Or serve over eggs.  Or over a baked potato.  Or....  Ok, you get the idea.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Let's Get Our Yule On!

Is everyone as excited about Christmas as I am?  I mean......probably not cuz I am super pumped.  This is my first Pinterest Christmas (and by that I mean, I wasn't on Pinterest last year) so it is on.  There are so many great ideas for Christmas decorating, cooking, drinking, and gifting.  So let's get inspired!

Here are a few of the things that I'm thinking about replicating.  

 I love this photo wreath.  This would be a cute thing to make every Christmas with photos from the past year.  Uh oh.....I think I just started a new tradition!

 I love this.  What a simple DIY.  And the rustic feel means I don't have to be super exact with my cuts!  Cuz let's be honest, Meredith + Chop Say = Disaster.  Maybe I'll let Olie do this one.
Dipping pinecones in white paint.  Apparently when they dry, they look just like porcelain flowers.  I gotta try this one.

This is a pretty alternative to a Santa Hat.  These would be fun to make if you have any little girls in the family.

For more inspiration: check out my CHRISTMAS! Pinterest page.  All images from Pinterest.