Cheers to New Adventures

December 16, 2016

Are y'all getting tired of seeing all the photos of my pups all over Instagram? I can't help going overboard with the posting...Blue is loving his new little sister Rosebud and I'm loving this new adventure of being a dog mom to two. I've been through the puppy stage before with Blue but there's a whole different learning curve doing it the second time around.

There are three big issues I'm currently facing: 1) maintaining my work schedule while chasing after a very busy pup (re: playing with her all day), 2) fighting to stay awake and energized now that I'm getting less than the optimal hours of sleep and being frequently woken up for potty visits outside, and 3) making sure that Blue is still feeling super loved and adored now that my attention is split between two fur babies.

I'm trying to embrace the adventure and remind myself that this puppy phase goes by so quickly. The mantra "but first, coffee" has never been more real and I've been expanding my taste buds as I enjoy my daily cups (note the plural) of caffeine. Indulging in Dunkin’ Donuts® at Home Bakery Series® coffee has been the little reward and push I've needed to keep up with my work and "do it all." As for making Blue feel loved - he still gets to sleep with me in bed and I've been making homemade treats with some of his favorite stuff to show him just how spesh he still is.

Does making homemade dog treats in my own kitchen officially make me a crazy dog lady? If making healthy and cost effective treats for my puppy boy makes me wrong, then I just don’t want to be right! Rosebud will most likely get the same treats when she’s bigger but for now, her puppy tummy only gets food. I probably shouldn’t even call them treats…there’s only three ingredients and no meat. God bless the good buyers of Amazon for leaving recipes when I was looking up silicone dog bone molds. Here’s the recipe I found and the instructions on how to make:

  • 1 15oz can of organic pure pumpkin puree (NOT pie filling)
  • 1/2 cup of organic coconut oil (softened/at room temperature but not melted)
  • 1/3 cup Brewer’s Yeast
  • Combine all three ingredients (I used my standing mixture but mixing by hand or with a blender would also work) and blend until smooth
  • Make small dollops on the mixture on a cookie sheet with wax paper or use a silicone mold tray (I got this cute one from Amazon!)
  • Freeze “treats” for about three hours or till they are firm
  • Store in a Ziplock bag or container in the freezer

Blue LOVES coconut oil. I used to give him a spoonful each morning and he would basically do flips for it – but I realized I had been slacking on my duties since Rosebud’s arrival. He also LOVES sweet potato. A lot of owners give sweet potato puree to pups when they’re having upset stomachs and Blue is no exception, but he also gets the stuff in the form of “Sam’s Yams” dehydrated sweet potato chews. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a true lab and will literally try to eat anything and everything, but I try to keep his weight at a healthy level and have found these simple “treats” to be good alternatives to products with meat. The last ingredient, Brewer’s Yeast, is a new one for us. I’d read that the supplement is a great antioxidant for dogs and improves their coats (less shedding!), boosts their immune systems, helps with anxiety, and more – so when I saw it in the recipe I figured I would give it a try.

I mentioned that Blue will eat anything and I wasn’t kidding (he drools whether I’m eating scrambled eggs or string cheese) but he is really crazy about these homemade little bones. It makes me so happy giving him this little treat and I hope he gets that it’s an extra way I’m trying to make him feel special and loved.

Speaking of treats. Let’s talk about how I’ve been treating myself! Something you might not know about me unless you really know me, is I adore baked goods. Donuts, cinnamon rolls, croissants, cookies, cake, cupcakes, brownies – I really don’t discriminate. My biggest vice when in an airport is a coffee and something sweet. But despite my cravings, I don’t eat donuts and cake each and every day…I just do the next best thing and drink a cup of  Dunkin’ Donuts® at Home Bakery Series coffee. Finally, someone figured out how to combine rich, delicious Dunkin’ Donuts® coffee and bakery-fresh taste. It’s the best of both worlds! There are six flavors in the Bakery Series Coffee but I’ve been loving the Cinnamon Coffee Roll.  I love the hint of cinnamon – it’s full of flavor but not too sweet or overpowering. Brewing it in my French Press makes for a nice morning ritual to start my day and it also makes for a super delicious afternoon pick-me-up so I can continue to keep up with my pups.

Happy fur babies and a happy dog mama makes the three of us ready for any and all exciting adventures to come!

What adventures are you currently living right now? I want to know!

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Sparkling Wine + Holiday Sweets

December 6, 2016

Sally and I are big (big, big) fans of Christmas. Mostly because our family is notorious for doing it up for the holiday. We don't have many traditions but the ones we do have surround food and family. Each year our mom welcomes us home with an impressive amount of home-made holiday cookies. There are usually multiple batches of around five different cookie recipes and my siblings and I work our way through the collection through the course of our stay at home. You'd think we'd be over this sugary display (being the mature adults that we are) but the sweets are a hallmark of our holiday.

I used to get in on some of the baking with my mom back when I had a longer holiday break in college but she now has it down to a solo science. And really, I'm much better at eating cookies than I am at baking them. I'm also great at playing bar tender and making sure that everyone has a full glass of something festive to go along with the delicious dinners and mouthwatering cookies our mother is famous for. This year I've pre-planned the best bubbly to accompany the aforementioned food situations while at home and it's Cupcake Vineyards Sparkling Red. From the holiday-red hue to the bright flavors (which are perfect for the holiday season), it is the perfect sparkling wine to pop, pour, and cheers with right now!

 

Fun fact: sparkling wine is different than prosecco, is different than champagne. Champagne is a sparkling wine made in the Champagne region France. Prosecco is a sparkling wine made in the Veneto region of Italy. There are some production and taste differences but they’re all generally delicious and bubbly. The Cupcake Sparkling Red is  made with Brachetto and Moscato grapes grown in the hills of the Piedmonte in Northern Italy. Its aroma (the scent) of black cherry, florals and nutmeg and its flavor (what happens when taste and aroma converge) starts with jammy fruit flavors of dark berries and finish with a hint of vanilla and spice – makes it especially wonderful when paired with sweet treats.

The first time I tried Cupcake Sparkling Red I was in love with it. I personally think that sparkling wine (and this one in particular) is appropriate to indulge in year round but it always feels most appropriate around the Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years holidays. Maybe because you’re among family and friends and warm fuzzy feelings are just amplified with a little bubbly? Whatever the case, I think it’s delish and I can’t wait to sip it with family in the coming weeks!

Of course, I had to give the Sparking Red a proper test drive with some holiday sweets to be 100% sure it was as perfect a pairing as I imagined. The verdict: it is. The chocolate and vanilla Petit Fours and frosted sugar cookies I picked up from Society Bakery in Dallas served as place holders for my mom’s confections…they were all super yum but nothing comes close to what my mom will have waiting for me when I come home!

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Cooking with La Vaquita Queso

November 18, 2016

I'm not Texas-born - and I've only lived in the state for a little over six years - but I'd like to think that I've developed several tendencies of a native. Especially in regards to food. For example: I could eat Mexican food all day everyday, I believe in the healing powers of a great margarita, I definitely think eggs taste best in a breakfast taco, and I think that Texas has some of the most authentically delicious food, chefs, and restaurants. I'll admit that I'm a little bit biased. But it's hard not to be when surrounded but such authentic flavors and ingredients!

While pizza is admittedly my food husband, I'd like to think of cheese as my food boyfriend. He's a good boyfriend because he's so versatile - a quality that really became apparent to me when I arrived in Texas. And while I don't discriminate between varieties, I definitely have a thing for Mexican and Tex-Mex cheeses. From creamy queso (cheese dip) and salty cojita to crumbled queso fresco, no Mexican dish feels complete without some cheese. When I shop for these Hispanic cheeses to use in my own recipes, I like to use La Vaquita. Not only is it made in Texas (pride) but each variety is always fresh, flavorful, and easily elevates my humble homemade dishes. And although the cheeses are based on Mexican techniques and go wonderfully with Hispanic cuisine, they also pair really well with other recipes. I'm sharing two of my fave La Vaquita recipes so show just how easily the brand's Queso Fresco can be included in non-Mexican food!

 

Before I get into the yummy recipes, I just have to tip my hat to food bloggers. Food prep, styling, and shooting is NOT easy! I had shot the ingredients for each recipe before having Sally take photos of me doing the assembly portion…and then I accidentally deleted all of those prep/ingredient shots. So. Frustrating. But the recipes turned out deliciously and that’s what really matters, right?

So! Each of these recipes are super yummy and I used La Vaquita Queso Fresco in both. Queso Fresco (which means “fresh cheese”) is a made from pasteurized milk and is great cheese to add to dishes because it crumbles really well, doesn’t melt easily (which makes for great mixing), and has a smooth creamy texture. Unlike a lot of other crumbling cheeses (like feta, blue cheese, etc.) Queso Fresco has a mild flavor that’s bright and fresh but not overpowering – making it especially great for a variety of dishes, both Hispanic and not. Case and point with the two recipes below!

.Hummus Fresco: Hummus is one of my favorite appetizers. It’s easy, most everyone likes eating it, and there are so many ways to dress it up. I took the original La Vaquita recipe and altered it a little bit (by not making my own pico de gallo) to make things even easier on myself. Though it’s “semi-homemade” I love how colorful the final result is and think that the hand-crumbed Queso Fresco adds a great texture element.

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups hummus
  • 1/2 cup Pico de Gallo
  • fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • black pepper
  • 1/2 cup La Vaquita Queso Fresco

Directions:

  • On a large plate, spread hummus evenly about 1 inch.
  • Sprinkle pico de gallo around the edge of the plate.
  • Drizzle hummus with olive oil
  • Crack fresh pepper on top
  • Sprinkle chopped cilantro on top of pico de gallo and/or atop hummus
  • Heap center with crumbled La Laquita Queso Fresco
  • Serve with pita or tortilla chips

.Zesty Roasted Brussel Sprouts: Brussel sprouts make for the perfect crowd-pleasing side dish and they go so well with almost any protein. I’m crazy about eating them and love cooking them, too. This recipe caught my attention because of the orange zest + honey + cayenne pepper…I’m so glad I tried making it because the combination is delicious! There’s a definitely spice factor due to the cayenne pepper and the Queso Fresco really helps the spicy from taking over.

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 pounds brussels sprouts
  • 1/4 cup of olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup of honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons of orange zest
  • 1/4 cup of La Vaquita Queso Fresco

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  • Cut brussels sprouts in half. In a large baking sheet, toss brussels in olive oil and season with salt. Roast for 25-30 minutes until deeply browned.
  • Heat honey, cayenne and orange zest together in a small sauce pan on low and pour over brussels sprouts once they are out of the oven.
  • Before serving, sprinkle in La Vaquita Queso Fresco.

The next time I make the Zesty Brussel Sprounts I want to try using half Queso Fresco and half La Vaquita Cojita cheese. Cojita is an aged cheese that has more of a salty flavor and I think it would be so yummy with the fresh Cojita and roasted brussels…

Feeling hungry? Try these dishes for yourself and visit the La Vaquita site for more yum recipes!

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The Art of La Soirée

October 20, 2016

If there was ever a dream duo for entertaining, it would be Cointreau and lifestyle & entertaining expert Camille Styles. The other week I attended a seasonal soirée hosted by the two and was blown away by how they transformed the space at Oak in Dallas into a inspired setting that told the story of changing cool-weather seasons from fall, through winter, and into the new year. Each of the three seasons was represented by its own festive tablescape and included handmade décor, seasonal cuisine and cocktail recipes, and chic mementos...

You'd think that walking into a space with such amazing decor would be intimidating but I was immediately inspired. Nothing about the soirée said "home-made" but there was an approachable, almost effortless aspect to the elevated event that made me want to try hosting my own festive gathering. I've been telling everyone I know that the Cointreau Rickey is my new drink of choice and serving them up for some of my friends seemed like the perfect excuse to get in the entertaining spirit and apply a little of what I saw at the soirée in my own space. Because if there's one thing I learned from attending the event, it's that with Cointreau it's never just a party, it's always a soirée.

 

So what is a soirée? I know…it sounds fancy. And it can be! But my take away from the night with Cointreau and Camille was that a soirée can be fancy, but it’s mostly about creating a welcoming, festive, and comfortable atmosphere for guests. It doesn’t have to take a lot of time (or money) to design an inspired gathering. Just a little creativity, and an artful twist on environment, good friends, cuisine and fine cocktails.

To bring the spirit of La Soirée to my own home I invited friends over for cocktails and appetizers before a night out and took a nod from the “fall” tablescape and scent at the event. Some wood serving pieces, copper accents, colorful autumn-hued florals, and some pumpkins conveyed the look and warmth of the season without taking things over the top. I’m all about the “elevated casual” when it comes to dressing (think silk top and ripped jeans) and entertaining (fine china and guests sitting on the sofa) so I wanted the overall feel to be pretty but feel effortless and relaxed. I always want guests to feel appreciative but not guilty over the time I spend pulling things together!

Since I was hosting people for light bites and cocktails, I wanted the main focus to be about, well, the drinks! Normally I would be intimidated about playing mixologist but the Cointreau Rickey (the brand’s signature cocktail and my new favorite) is really easy to make & customize, and I have yet to serve it to someone who didn’t also love it. To take it one step further and play up the fall theme, I wanted to serve the Cointreau Apple Rosemary Rickey – same great taste as the original with some added seasonal flavors. I set up my bar cart to just hold the tools and ingredients I needed for the drink recipe.

If you’re not familiar with Cointreau, it’s the original orange liquor known that’s a key spirit in some of the most popular cocktails in the U.S. (including the Margarita, the Cosmopolitan and the Sidecar). At 80 proof, Cointreau is extremely versatile in that can be mixed with various spirits or stand on its own in a cocktail. Basically, it’s delicious and has a refreshing taste that’s free of any bite.

Here’s how to make the delish Cointreau Apple Rosemary Rickey:

.The Recipe:

  • 2 oz Cointreau
  • 1 oz fresh lime juice (the juice of one lime)
  • 3-4 oz club soda
  • 3 slices of tart apple
  • 7 leaves of fresh rosemary

.How to Create:

  1. Muddle fresh ingredients (apple slices and rosemary)
  2. Pour 2 oz Cointreau
  3. Squeeze 1 oz fresh lime juice
  4. Add ice and club soda and stir (I like to use crushed ice though be advised that it does melt faster than cubes)
  5. Garnish rosemary sprig and slice of apple

I also found this handy YouTube video for the Cointreau Apple Rosemary Rickey recipe (I wanted to make sure I was muddling correctly!) and it just proves how easy the cocktail is to make. Best part? No mess with a shaker!

To go along with the drink I served up what I feel to be the best crowd pleaser: a cheese board. Apples slices compliment the cocktail recipe and go great with creamy brie, dried cranberries tie into the seasonal mood (Thanksgiving ’tis coming, after all!), and toasted baguette slices with soft

Feeling inspired to host your own soirée? I hope so! You can find lots more inspiration – including decor ideas, party themes, and drink recipes for every season – from Cointreau and their “The Art of La Soirée” events right here.

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Caramel-Inspired for Fall

September 27, 2016

One of my favorite parts of having a big family - aside from the constant humor "never boring" aspect that comes when we are all together - is seeing the ways that my siblings and I are alike and different. Some of us have similar features (one of my sister's has strawberry blonde hair like mine), most of us all have spirited attitudes, there's a definite split between extroverts and introverts, a few are super athletic...And while we each have specific preferences when it comes to food, we all have a definite sweet tooth and share a love for the sugary, sweet and delicious. Even my brother who is 14 months younger than me who doesn't like cake still loves a fresh chocolate chip cookie and my mom's brownies.

Some of my earliest memories are of getting suckers from the doctor's office with Sally or reaching into bowls of caramels at the bank with my brother when we'd go there with our mom. The Werther's Original caramels we used to eat as little kids are still a favorite none of us can resist. But the classic Caramel Hard Candies we'd grab by the fistful are now one of several caramel candies offered by Werther's. There's something for everyone and Werther's newest survey helps you find which delicious caramel variety best fits your personality. After taking the Werther's Original Fall Quiz and shamelessly sampling five flavors myself, I can't help but wonder which caramel personality each of my eight siblings would have.

Full disclosure, I tried the five Werther‘s flavors before I took the Fall Quiz. Being no stranger to the original caramel hard candies but a true caramel lover, I wanted to see how the Werther‘s recipe translated to their other candies. Here’s what I taste tested: the creamy filled caramels, the creamy apple filled caramels, the soft caramels, the chewy caramels, and the sugar-free caramel hard candies. I hard already determined which was my personal favorite before I took the personality survey and I was a little shocked when the quiz result told me that the caramel I’d identity with was already the one I liked best: the soft caramels. Kind of amazing!

All the caramel eating and start of the new season had me pulling out some of my caramel-inspired fall favorites. I’ve been dying to wear these new brown and black striped flats  and it finally feels appropriate to do so. Slipping on some of my other go-to fall shoes (hello leopard clogs and Golden Goose sneakers, I’ve missed you!) and mixing some of my brown and tan sweaters with white jeans is an easy way to ease into sweater weather while it’s still on the warmer side in Dallas.

Indulging in Werther’s Original caramel is as familiar as slipping on a favorite cozy sweater. And though I feel like I’ve known the flavor since I’ve been little, it’s fun to see how the candy company that established its roots in 1909 (candy-maker Gustav Nebel introduced his delicious, iconic caramel recipe in the small European village of Werther, Germany) can continue to introduce new flavors while staying true to quality ingredients many of us can identify back to our childhoods. I plan on sharing my caramel stash with Sally and a few of our friends so I can have then pick a favorite and take the fall caramel personality quiz…I’m so curious to see how many other people are able to align their tastes with the survey questions and results.

However, I’m pretty positive that any fellow caramel lover will love any of Werther’s offerings. The Soft Apple caramels are a limited edition that’s especially appropriate for the fall season (raise your hand if you ever got a caramel covered apple when trick-or-treating!) and very delicious. The caramel popcorn is another new Werther’s creation I am now dying to try. There’s even a caramel popcorn with sea salt and pretzels (um, yum) and I’m thinking it might be the perfect salty/sweet treat to indulge in!

All varieties of Werther’s Original creations are available in grocery stores and retailers nationwide. Take the Fall Quiz to discover your caramel personality before you decide which to try or just do what I did and get a few varieties that looks good then take the survey and see if it aligns with a taste-tested favorite…either way, be sure to share your results on Facebook and Twitter to show friends your true caramel identity and why you #FallForWerthers this season!

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