Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Recipe Review | Trader Joe's Italian Sausage and Spinach Soup

With a couple inches of snow dusting the world outside my window, I thought today would be a great day to share one of my family's very favorite (and super easy!) recipes for soup. I found this recipe years ago in a Trader Joe's Fearless Flyer mailer. We've been enjoying it ever since. While I no longer need it (because it's that easy to remember), I still have the clipping in my recipe box all these years later. 
Here it is:
 I have modified it over the years. 
  • We definitely prefer brown rice (holds up better in the leftovers and adds a nice nuttiness). Know that brown rice can easily take 45-60 minutes to fully cook on a low simmer.
  • When I can't find the TJ's sweet italian sausage, this one is perfect. Even if you can't find it ground, removing the casings from the links is very easy. Just slice open one side (the length of the sausage) and "peel" it off. The links will hold their shape in the pot, so be sure to break it apart during the browning process.
  • I no longer add the fresh spinach to the pot. Rather, I put a small handful of spinach in the bowl and then ladle the hot soup over it (below). The soup immediately wilts the spinach without stripping it of color and flavor. Another bonus of this amendment is that if you live with any little people (or grownups) who do not like "green stuff," you can easily avoid serving them any. Also, if you add the spinach to the whole pot, the leftover pieces of spinach can get a little slimy upon reheating (never good--even if you are a fan of "green stuff").

What are some of your favorite soup recipes?
Stay warm, my friends.

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Thursday, January 23, 2014

Things I Love Thursday // 1.23.14

  • Hopping a plane (like, right NOW) to sunny California to celebrate one of my absolute favorite people
  • Fancy fingernails ~ Feeling the fingernail playfulness these days… now if I could only touch it up and/or take it off when it starts chipping… 
  • My fantastic birthday gift of Darby Smart (post of our first project coming soon) ~ Seriously, such a fun surprise to receive (monthly!) 
  • Second graders ~ Seriously. G just had a friend over for a play date last week and the girls spent their time "researching" endangered animals. Then they selected one in particular to focus on for their "Non-Fiction, Informative" poster. They took their finished report to school the next day and were allowed to present their "findings" in class. :) 
  • The latest issue of Family Circle magazine ~ I think I must be in my fourth decade now that FC has become one of my favorite publications. I don't even remember subscribing. The terrarium DIY, all the decorating strategies and favorite finds between pages 15-28, the fun nail art idea on page 31 (trying that one this weekend in navy and gold), plus a month of healthy weeknight dinners on page 92! So many great finds.
  • Make-Your-Own-Pizza Play Dates ~ We had the pleasure of hosting one of P's friends this week for an afternoon of fun, scootering, sunshine, and homemade pizzas! 
  • That miracle moment when ALL the laundry is clean, folded, and put away {bliss}
  • The new initial necklace that surprised me in the mail this week ~ You can find yours here
  • Clean makeup brushes ~ I found a new recipe for home cleaning. Equal parts water and hydrogen peroxide with a few squeezes of baby shampoo. Wow. They are so soft, clean, and they smell so great! 
  • My new point-and-shoot camera ~ Taking it on my trip! We've gone without one for so long because iPhones are so great and we have a really nice SLR. This one I found at Costco with a $60 instant rebate. Such a steal!
  • Costco Rotisserie Chicken ~ Sometimes I can't even get the car fully unloaded before I have to dig in! 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Recipe Review | Voltaggio Brothers' Caramelized Brussels Sprouts with Sherry-Dijon Vinaigrette

I know, I know… you hate brussles sprouts. But wait! You haven't tried these ones yet. Yo, that's BACON and tart apples up in there (smokey, crunchy, sweet). Yum. 

If you watched Bravo's Top Chef Las Vegas (season 6), then you're already familiar with these two. They are Michael and Bryan Voltaggio and both found themselves in the top 3 finale. Ultimately, Michael won the competition and his brother took second place. Good stuff!
Here's their recipe for a delicious and satisfying veggie dish (+ bacon). 

Caramelized Brussels Sprouts with Sherry-Dijon Vinaigrette 
What you need for the Vinaigrette:
8.5 ounces of canola oil
6 ounces of olive oil
3.5 ounces of sherry vinegar
2 tablespoons dijon mustard
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

What you need for the Sprouts:
2 pounds brussels sprouts, halved
8 ounces double-smoked bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 medium yellow onion, julienned
2 tablespoons butter
2 green apples, peeled and sliced (I cubed mine to ensure more crunch with the final result.)
3 fresh sprigs of thyme
freshly ground black pepper
What to do:
1. Mix all of the Vinaigrette ingredients in a blender until fully incorporated, set aside.
2. Fill a large saucepan with water and bring to a boil; salt generously (until it tastes like sea water). Separately, create an ice bath by filling a large bowl with half ice and half water. (You will "shock" or stop the cooking process with the ice bath.)
3. Add the brussels sprouts to the boiling water and cook until tender (only 2-3 minutes!); remove the sprouts and place them directly into the ice bath. Leave them in the ice bath until they are cool, then remove them from the water and set aside.
4. In a large saute pan over medium-high heat, cook the bacon until crispy (about 7 minutes).
5. Add the onions and cook until softened (another 5 minutes).
6. Melt the butter in the pan and then add the apples and thyme. Toss to coat. Cook another 2 minutes.
7. Add the brussels sprouts, salt and pepper. Cook until the sprouts are golden brown (about 10 minutes), stirring occasionally.
8. Remove the thyme sprigs and discard.
9. Drizzle half the Vinaigrette and toss. Serve the remaining Vinaigrette on the side. (I encourage you to serve a hefty glass of chilled Chardonnay on the side as well!)
***To stretch the leftovers, I tossed them with cooked fettuccini noodles and then used the leftover Vinaigrette as a light sauce for a hearty pasta dish.
Cheers and enjoy!
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Monday, January 20, 2014

Harry Potter Birthday Party | Part I

This little sugar wanted the same themed birthday party her sister had at 7 years old. Which was great because I'd done all the planning beforehand and even saved a lot of the "stuff." 
It was a Harry Potter-Faux Slumber-Movie Party!
"4:30pm - 8:00pm
Wear your jammies and bring a special blanket, stuffie, or pillow to cuddle while we watch the movie."
Hedwig balloons greeted the guests and were scattered all over the house. And each guest got to leave with one too.
Homemade quills, paper plates, and play-doh were all we needed for a couple quick games
Pizza came next.
I'd also planned to serve "Butter Beer Floats;" however, these 12 were already so wound up I decided against it. Seriously.
A little singing to the birthday girl… 
… and then Quidditch CUPCAKES!
After dinner and dessert, we headed upstairs to the "theater" to snuggle-in for our birthday showing of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.
We had a movie-time treat bar (which had to be removed about 20 minutes into the movie, as it become clear that some guests were going to eat themselves sick if given the opportunity).
Our partiers left with broomstick treat bags. 
Each bag had a wand, a pair of Harry's glasses, a couple Chocolate Frogs and some of Bertie Bott's Every-Flavour Beans. (Very Wizard-y.)
I put the hubby to work at the last minute when I remembered that the "Thank you for helping me celebrate..." tags hadn't been fastened to the treat bags yet.
Daddy to the rescue!
Hoping everyone had a wizardriffic time. I know my little Potter-ista did and that's what counts the most.
***I have a second post with more party/craft details HERE.***
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Thursday, January 16, 2014

Things I Love Thursday // 1.16.14

  • My birthday-gifted Anthropologie Calligrapher Canapé Plates {swoon} ~ I thoughtfully received: T, G, J, and P. I cannot wait to fill in for our middle names, favorite letters, states we've lived in… Whatever excuse I can find! LOVE these. 
  • Reaching for my sunglasses instead of an umbrella when I leave the house ~ Listen, Charlotte can get real cold and the fluctuation between the daytime high and the middle-of-the-night low is more extreme than anything I'm used to; however, even when it's 27 degrees at 9am, the sun is regularly out on display--bright and shiny in a crystal blue sky. It's breathtaking and I am trying to be present and appreciative. 
  • Trader Joe's Green Goddess salad dressing ~ This is a rediscovery of an old favorite. I'm not sure what it is… Maybe the tahini? In any event, there is something special that I just love about this tasty condiment. 
  • Becoming a Mall Walker this week ~ It certainly didn't take me long to embrace my fourth decade. Haha! We had some not-so-sunny mornings this week and my girlfriend Carmen and I had been getting into our groove of enjoying a long walk. When she suggested heading to Southpark for a few laps, I was ALL ABOUT IT. The idea of walking around the mall in the early morning hours has always been comically delightful to me. Let me tell you: The experience completely lived up to the expectation. We were by far the youngest walkers in the bunch and this being The South, we really took pains to "pass" our slower-paced comrades with tact and grace. I even demonstrated Prancercising for Carmen, who inexplicably had never heard of it. Good times!
  • Parking lot dental care ~ Oh. My. Goodness. Haven't laughed like this in ages. When you're out to lunch with your ("retired") dental hygienist friend and you happen to mention a bit of calculus that's been bugging the $hit out of you, watch out! She might suggest hopping across the street to the drugstore to pick up a little $5 dental tool kit. Scoured hands + dental kit + reclined minivan chair + bright sunshine + parking lot = the perfect impromptu dental experience. I cannot tell you what a relief it is to have that tiny nuisance out of my mouth. 
  • Krusteaz Pancake Mix ~ We've really tried them all and this one is hands-down "The Winner." Not only are the pancakes fluffy and tasty, but the only ingredient needed is water. That means that even when you're out of milk, or cereal, or eggs, or bread (which happens often on occasion around these parts) you can still make a GREAT breakfast (or dinner!).  
  • Anticipating the Oscars ~ Boy, do I have a lot of catching up to do this year! Anyone game for an afternoon matinee? 
    {image via The Hollywood Reporter}
  • This Fox Pillow that I came across in a magazine recently. I love it. And how fun would it be to actually make it myself? I'm not sure where I'll find the time… but imagine how much more I'll appreciate it if it comes from my own labor. I'm seriously considering pulling the trigger on this purchase. 
  • Jillian Rodgers' Costco tips from SlightlyViral's website ~ Amazing. How did I not know this?
  • Rediscovering my Wet and Wild gold nail polish in "Fergie-Gold Album" ~ You really can't beat this fun neutral for $3.50!
  • Anything Hudson Bay ~ I am SO drawn to this look right now. I have a serious case of the "I Wants" whenever I see anything Hudson Bayish… especially these Jack Purcells! (So sad; they're completely sold out of my size!) But this is great. This is fabulous. I'd take this in a heartbeat… I could go on and on. 
  • Geneva's adorable new coat from Old Navy ~ This one is even cuter in-person. The faux fur is soft and not too over-the-top, the material is super-soft, and the price was terrific! 
  • When the monkeygirls sort, fold, and put away their own laundry ~ It's not every time… but when it happens and they perform the task with smiles on their faces and trot around like it's a game… that's good stuff, indeed!
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Thursday, January 9, 2014

Things I Love Thursday // 1.9.14

  • Spending a sunny weekend in southern california with three of my favorite people and receiving the best gift I could have in the days leading up to my 40th birthday ~ One girlfriend's husband snuck a sweet card and a photo of the four of us girls into her suitcase. The picture was taken almost exactly 10 years ago. It is stunning proof that the last decade has been more than kind to all of us, compelling me to happily welcome what the next decade has in store… 
  • Plus all the other delights I enjoyed on our trip! 
  • Coming home from a four-day trip across the country to my sweet and goofy family
  • Sharing my birthday with my youngest monkeygirl and celebrating the sweetly fierce, thoughtful, and creative person she is ~ 
  • And surprising her with the one gift she so desperately fell in love with (when she saw it during a Christmas shopping trip) for her special day 
  • The new navy raincoat and insanely plush robe I received from my sweethearts
  • Celebrating my 40th at the spa with a couple girlfriends 
  • Receiving new research and/or instruction manuals from my friends ~ I've had my eye on this one for some time now (Yay!) and this one just popped onto my radar last week and I can't wait to get into it too! 
  • I have to say it: All the cards, texts, gifts, and attention I've absolutely enjoyed basking in over the last 7 days (the sum of which, I consider "my birthday") ~ Feels so good! 
  • Discovering Melissa shoes while in Los Angeles ~ Thank you Jill for urging me into this pair (gonna be SO cute with my new navy coat)! I've still got my eye on these, these, and these… Crazy-comfortable! 
  • Planning P's 7th birthday party (tomorrow!) ~ In sweet form, she's requested the same birthday party her sister had at age 7! Thankfully, I'm a bit of a hoarder and the box of party decorations and supplies was fairly accessible. 
  • Speaking of parties, I loved reusing our NYE party prep and set-up the very next day for the New Years Day play date that the monkeygirls hosted for our neighborhood friends. Especially fun, was the fact that all the parents were available to pop over too (the very ones that had to miss out on the previous nights festivities because of travel and sickness). I was so grateful for the help in polishing off the last bottles of vino we had opened and for helping to finish (almost) the obscene generous amount of CHEESE we had left over. (I might go a little nuts in the cheese section--especially when I have the fabulous excuse of entertaining.)
  • The fact that two of my husband's closest friends (and equally enthusiastic 49er fans) are flying in from California tomorrow to stay the weekend and go to the playoff game with him ~ Funny thing: These fellas happen to be the hubbies of the ladies I just spent last weekend with in California. :)
  • Ohmygosh… getting this close to van Gogh's Irises 
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