Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Fall Playlist + Thanksgiving recap!


Hey lovelies! Hope y’all had a nice Thanksgiving with lots to be thankful for! I am now sick with the flu (thanks to my sister for passing around the holiday cheer), but I did have a lovely holiday with my family.

My mom & I did all the cooking & baking ourselves the day before while singing along to lots of Christmas music on Pandora (it’s kinda merging the holidays, I know, but we like it that way). We must’ve been in the kitchen pretty much all day on Wednesday but it was worth it; everything turned out so delish! And cooking & baking for the holidays is such a highlight for me. We had a low key & quiet holiday; starting the morning out with the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade as usual (to me it just wouldn’t be thanksgiving without it), stuffed our faces with way too much turkey & dressing ect., a small of game of Taboo, then watched Charlie Brown on tv in the evening. Though I still feel like I’m recovering from the food hangover; it was nice to spend the holiday with the people I love.

Above is a photo of our table all set and ready for the feast … or the turkey coma … same difference. ;)


This was one of the desserts we made; Cinnamon Toffee Cheesecake. At our house it’s just not the holidays without at least one cheesecake. This is a recipe that my sister came up with last year & we all loved it. But this year I had to make it since she was sick & I think I did it justice … if I do say so myself. It has a gingersnap crust, creamy cinnamon cheesecake filling, toffee bits in the center, a topping of sour cream & cinnamon sugar, & finished off with a chocolate drizzle & toffee bits. Yes, it is as decadent & evil as it sounds. And it has all of the flavors of the holidays. :)


We also made this beauty; a Tiramisu Trifle! I think I’ve mentioned before that Tiramisu is one of my very favorite desserts and this trifle was such a great version of it. It has layers of a espresso & cream cheese filling, fresh whipped cream, chocolate cookie crumbs, & topped off with a light dusting of cocoa powder and chocolate shavings. I plan to post this recipe soon; it turned out so delish! It made a very pretty addition to our Thanksgiving table!

This year has been a hard one for me but even in the midst of that, God has been so faithful and loving to me. I have so much to be thankful for and I never want to lose sight of that.

Fall Playlist 

Well I know now that Thanksgiving is over, and fall is coming to an end (can’t believe tomorrow will be December already), everyone is ready to begin decking the halls (actually we began last week). But seeing as how fall is my very favorite season, I thought I’d share my fall playlist with you guys! These are songs that I’ve been loving through out the season as well as songs that feel like fall to me! So I hope you guys enjoy & that you had the loveliest of fall seasons! :)

Fall Mix by Krystal Rodriguez on Grooveshark


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Pumpkin Chocolate Cheesecake Bars

It's that time of year again; where we all come together around a table and a turkey and give thanks. I've always loved thanksgiving; family, food, not to mention the Macy's Thanksgiving day parade! It's a time to reflect on all the many wonderful things we have to be thankful for. And I would just like to take this moment to express my thanks for three amazing blessings that I just do not feel worthy of: pumpkin, chocolate, and cheesecake...for without which I would've never been able to bake these lovely Pumpkin Chocolate Cheesecake Bars! :) And seeing as how fall tends to revolve around the almighty pumpkin, if you're tired of the usual pumpkin pie, these bars are a delish alternative! Happy Thanksgiving! :)

Pumpkin Chocolate Cheesecake Bars -
(Recipe found & photo found @

pumpkin cheesecakebars 


(This is a photo of mine. It come out pretty close to the one above. I wanted to take a picture of an individual slice but didn’t get the chance… they were gone so fast. But I guess that’s a good sign!)

It's just not fall without a lovely pumpkiny dessert! And it's just not a special occasion without a cheesecake (or at least that's my philosophy anyway). But you put the two together along with my favorite ingredient, chocolate, and it creates an amazing seasonal combo! I made these Pumpkin Chocolate Cheesecake Bars for a family get together on Saturday and let's just say by Saturday night, they were pretty much gone. I was a little nervous seeing as how it's a new recipe but they turned out so delish! A crumbly and buttery graham cracker crust, a thick layer of chocolate cheesecake, rich and creamy pumpkin cheesecake filling, and a velvety sour cream topping. Add a sprinkling of pumpkin pie spice and chocolate shavings on top, and you have a perfect fall dessert! If you're not yet tired of pumpkin everything, give these bars a shot!

1-1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup butter

2 8-ounce pkg. cream cheese softened
1-3/4 cups sugar
3 eggs
1 cup canned pumpkin
1/2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp. salt

6 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, cut up, or 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate pieces
2 tbsp.

1-1.4 cups sour cream
1/4 cup sugar

Garnish : pinch of pumpkin pie spice & chocolate curls or chocolate shavings

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Lightly grease a 13x9x2-inch baking pan; set aside. In a medium bowl, combine graham cracker crumbs and 1/4 cup sugar. Stir in the 1/3 cup melted butter. Press mixture evenly into bottom of the prepared baking pan; set aside.

In a large bowl, combine cream cheese and the 1-3/4 cups sugar. Beat with electric mixer on medium speed until smooth. Add eggs, one at a time, beating on low speed after each addition just until combined. Beat in pumpkin, pumpkin pie spice, vanilla, and salt on low speed just until combined. Remove 1-1/4 cups of the mixture.

In a heavy saucepan, combine the 6 ounces chocolate and the tbsp. butter. Cook and stir over low heat until melted. Whisk chocolate mixture into the 1-1/4 cups of pumpkin mixture. Pour over crust, spreading evenly. Bake for 15 minutes.

Carefully pour the remaining pumpkin mixture over baked chocolate layer, spreading evenly. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes more or until filling and center is set. Cool on wire rack for 30 minutes.

In a small bowl, combine sour cream and 1/4 cup sugar. Gently spread over bars. Cool completely. Cover and chill for at least 3 hours. Cut into bars.  Before serving, sprinkle with pumpkin pie spice or nutmeg and/or chocolate curls. Makes 24 to 36 bars.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Album Review of “For King & Country - The EP” by For King & Country


I’ve been a long time fan of this duo of Australian born brothers, Joel and Luke Smallbone, and any fan will tell you, this new EP has been a long time coming. For those of you who aren’t familiar with these guys, they are the brothers of Christian music veteran, Rebecca St. James, whose music was a staple for me growing up. Both Joel and Luke sang back up for Rebecca for years until they decided to start making music of their own. They released their first EP, “A Tale of Two Towns” back in 2008 under their own names, Joel and Luke. But after much deliberation… not to mention having to constantly explain that their own names were their band name; they decided on a new moniker. Enter, For King & Country… but I must admit, I’ve known them as J&L for far too long and cannot seem to get used to the new name lol. For King & Country just released their 5 song self-titled EP in September on Word Records to much fan anticipation.

The EP is full of what the guys like to call their “'International-Pop-Rock sound”; which actually describes it perfectly! The song "Light It Up” starts things off with a soft piano-based pop sound that leads into a soaring chorus, "Light it up and let it go. Don't you see that you are not alone. Light it up and watch it fly, cause you can go anywhere you want tonight."  Next up, is the first single from the EP, “Busted Heart (Hold On To Me)”, which is currently receiving quite a bit of airplay on Christian radio. With a piano-pop/rock sound and a chorus that sounds dynamic even though the lyric may be simplistic, “Hold on to me. Don’t let me lose my way. Hold on to me.” A prayerful song for the broken hearted who are “desperate for grace”. My personal favorite off the EP, “Fine Fine Life” instantly caught my attention. The song opens with an almost Native American sounding flute and flows into an airy pop song that you cannot help but move along to. This is a catchy tune that sticks in your head; really hoping this will be a future single. The post breakup ballad “People Change” finds the guys crooning about changing and making things right in a broken relationship; “Will you be there if I call? Will you leave me in the rain? If I say it’s all my fault will you still walk away? I understand if you’re afraid but people change.”

Speaking of breakup songs, the guys close the EP with a real heartbreaker. My sister won’t even let me listen to this song when she’s around because it makes her cry lol (sorry sis, had to add that :p). “Love’s To Blame”, which was first featured on their EP “A Tale of Two Towns”, is a ballad about lost love. The song starts with dramatic strings and flows into soft piano and Joel’s beautiful vocals. I love how it starts soft and builds with power in all the right places. You can hear the vulnerability and emotion in Joel’s voice as he sings the lyrics, "I'm still missing you but it has to be this way cause I'm not right for you. And that's why love's to blame. And I can't see you right now cause I just can't fake it. Can't be near you right now cause I know you're no longer mine." This tune has garnered a lot of attention for the guys as it was featured on an episode of “Vampire Diaries”. It’s definitely a stand out track and perfect way to close the EP.

For King & Country have crafted an EP full of piano-based pop/rock and beautiful ballads with dynamic choruses. The guys, who share lead vocal duties, have strong and soaring vocals with just a touch of their Australian accents peaking through. The only question this EP leaves you asking is, when are we getting a full length?? ;)

You can currently catch the guys opening for The Winter Jam tour and soon on the “The Purity and Worship Tour" with their sister, Rebecca. Joel and Luke share in Rebecca’s outspoken stance on purity and have been known to share this message, along with the way women should be treated, from the stage. It’s such a rare thing to see that I just can’t help but mention it; it kinda makes me respect the heck out of them :). So be sure to catch these guys on tour and check out this EP!

To purchase this EP, click here

For more info on For King & Country, click here & here

Below is a live performance of their current single, “Busted Heart (Hold On To Me)” -

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Pumpkin Spice Iced Coffee

At this time of year no coffee drink is more popular than Starbucks' seasonal orange hued, cool kid on the block, Pumpkin Spice Latte! While I have also joined the madness and become a fan, I live in TX ... where cool, crisp fall weather tends to be a far off fantasy, and I refuse to drink hot drinks till the temperature is at least 70. ;) So this homemade Pumpkin Spice Iced Coffee was the perfect way to get my Pumpkin Spice fix. Who needs to go to Starbucks and pay 4 bucks for this drink when you can make a super delish version right in your very own kitchen? Someone pass me a biscotti! :)

Pumpkin Spice Iced Coffee -
(Recipe & photo found @

Pumpkin Spice Iced Coffee

I was a bit skeptical when making this iced coffee, thinking it wouldn't be half as good as Starbucks... but I was so wrong. This Pumpkin Spice Iced Coffee is just as good if not better and it's pretty crazy addicting... proceed with caution, my fine caffeinated friends. This recipe starts with making the Pumpkin Spice Syrup...the main ingredient & super star of this coffee. With its blend of sugar, pumpkin purée, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, ect. it fills your kitchen with the warm smells of fall. Next you make the coffee... and okay, I cheated on this one, I admit it! Instead of brewing coffee like it calls for, I took the short cut & bought Starbucks Via Ready Brew in the Iced Coffee Blend... you just add water and ice (love it!). Mixing this all together is so easy peasy; you add in your Pumpkin Spice Syrup, half and half, & sweetened condensed milk, and viola! You have a delish, super creamy, Pumpkin Spice Iced Coffee!

Just a few things to note; the syrup says to boil for 10 minutes, personally it seemed a bit too long to me and made it thicker than I liked it. So I would boil it for maybe half that time. Also, once it sits in the fridge for a while it gets a little clumpy, so before I used it again I warmed it up on the stove and then let it cool to room temp. & it was perfect! And don't be afraid to stray off the measurements for the syrup, half & half, & milk, add to your own personal preference! :)

6 ounces freshly brewed coffee, chilled (Starbucks Iced Coffee Blend is recommended!)
1 ounce pumpkin spice syrup (recipe below)
4 ounces half & half (you can use whole milk, soy milk, any milk you like)
1 ounce sweetened condensed milk

Fill a tall glass with ice. Pour the chilled coffee, pumpkin spice syrup, half & half and sweetened condensed milk into the glass, and stir well to combine.

Pumpkin Spice Syrup -
Yield: 8 ounces

3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup water
3 whole cinnamon sticks
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
7 whole cloves
7 whole allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
2 tablespoons pumpkin puree
1 teaspoon vanilla, or 1 whole vanilla bean, split lengthwise

Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan and place over medium heat. Stirring occasionally, allow the mixture to come to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and allow the syrup to cool to room temperature. When the syrup is cool, strain into a clean jar through a fine mesh sieve. Store in the fridge, where it will keep for up to 2 months.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

10 Things I'm Loving!

1. Japanese Cherry Blossom Bath Gel from Bath & Body Works -


I bought a small bottle of this bath gel a couple weeks ago and it's just about gone. It smells so lovely! And what I love best about it is how that lovely scent stays on your skin hours after you shower.

2. The Civil Wars’ Album, "Barton Hollow”-


I've been listening to & loving The Civil Wars since I first fell head over heels in love with their song, "Poison & Wine" a couple years ago. And even though this album released in February of this year... I just barely bought it. Though I still have managed to enjoy and know almost all their songs thanks to their free live album and YouTube videos! But I'm so glad to finally have this album; it hasn't left my cd player since I got it in the mail on Monday. It's truly beautiful, magical, and exquisite.... every track! The Civil Wars make music that demands your attention; you have to stop whatever you're doing just so you can savor every note (& sing along...which I do). This album has my heart! :)

3. Oreos dipped in melted chocolate chips mixed with a couple tbsp. of peanut butter, & chilled for just a little bit in the fridge = my new favorite snack. :)

4. Revisiting old TV favorites like The Wonder Years & Family Ties - We've been getting a free preview on our satellite of a channel called the HUB; and every night they give a couple episodes of both The Wonder Years & Family Ties. I used to love these shows when I was a kid and it's so fun to go back and get to see them all over again! I mean who didn't love the penny pinching, republican, Alex Keaton? And who can forget Kevin Arnold & Winnie Cooper? C'mon, classics, right? ;)

5. Making our Thanksgiving Day menu & grocery list; and buying what's on the list! Can’t wait to get cooking.. and eating! I love Thanksgiving!

6. Getting orders for my Pumpkin Rolls!



Every year I make these delish pumpkin cake rolls for family, it's a yearly tradition that I absolutely love! It wouldn't feel like Thanksgiving if I didn't get to bake a couple (or 5) Pumpkin Rolls!

7. Finally seeing the leaves fall & change colors! Fall always seems to arrive late here in TX. But I’m starting to see my yard covered with orange and red leaves, and that makes me very happy!

8. Buffalo Chicken Dip -



This is my favorite dip ever! Shredded chicken, mixed in creamy ranch dressing, blue cheese dressing, & cream cheese, hot sauce to make it spicy... but not too spicy, topped with cheddar cheese and baked till melty and bubbly! By the way, don't just limit yourself to eating it with chips. It's so versatile; try it on a piece of French bread, grilled like a grilled cheese ... trust me, it's heaven on earth!

8 oz. cream cheese
3/4 cup blue cheese dressing
3/4 cup ranch dressing
2 boneless chicken breasts, cooked and shredded
1/2 cup Frank’s® RedHot® Buffalo Wings Sauce or Original Cayenne Pepper Sauce
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
Tortilla chips
Baking pan

Preheat oven to 350°F. Mix cream cheese, blue cheese dressing and ranch dressing in Nonstick 3 1/2-Qt. Saucepan. Heat and stir until smooth and creamy. Stir in chicken and hot sauce. Spoon mixture into a square baking pan and sprinkle with cheese. Bake until golden and bubbly, about 30 minutes. Serve with tortilla chips. Serves 8.

9. Listening to Christmas music on Pandora & Sirius XM - Yes, I have begun the Christmas music already (actually I started in Oct. but who's keeping track?) and I'm loving it! I've been feeling holly jolly, merry & bright, and I am ready to deck the halls! :D

10. This song & very creative (& messy) video by Lisa Hannigan -

Seriously, how can you not smile when watching this? I’ve been loving Lisa’s music so much lately!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Things That Made Smile … Birthday Recap!

On the 5th of this month I celebrated my 27th birthday (wow, that sounds old)! I’ve always been the type to love birthdays... I mean a whole day dedicated to you, what’s not to love, right? :p This year felt like a very special birthday…simplistic but special. So in trying to keep up my “Things that made me smile list”; I thought I’d do a little recap of the festivities! :)


Yes, this is how my birthday started; my sweet sister and mom made me breakfast in bed! They made me Tiramisu French Toast! Not a bad way to wake up, my friend. ;) Tiramisu is one of my very favorite desserts so this delish french toast was right up my ally. Let me tell you, it’s amazing! Thick french bread with creamy mascarpone cheese, a light coffee flavor, dusted with cocoa powder, and drizzled with honey. So decadent! This most definitely put an instant smile on my face … especially since they delivered it singing me Happy Birthday! :D I found out later that my sister had actually been planning this for a while; how sweet! :)

(Photo & recipe for these lovelies found here)  


Later that day, my family and I went out to eat at one of my favorite restaurants called, The Local. I love this place; a cute & cozy cafe kind of atmosphere with an adorable gift shop inside. And the food…they serve a very eclectic menu, everything from burgers, soups & sandwiches, to chicken pot pie and enchiladas. They also have delish desserts (like Pumpkin Whoopie Pies) and coffee. Every time I eat here I always say I’m going to order something different but I kind of have a slight addiction to their Goldrush burger; it has bbq sauce and bacon…and tastes like hamburger heaven ;). If you’re ever in the Lake Jackson, TX area, be sure to stop by The Local! :)

(Photo of The Local found here)

After we ate, we headed over to the mall and did a little shopping at another one of my favorite places, Bath & Body Works! Man, can I spend time… and money in there lol! And of course, I could not and did not walk out empty handed, I bought the Twilight Woods Body Butter & Shimmer Mist, and Japanese Cherry Blossom Bath Gel.

And last but certainly not least, we came home and closed the birthday festivities with this beauty…

chocolate chip cookie dough cheesecake

For my birthday cake this year I made one of my very favorite desserts, Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Cheesecake!

chocolate chip cookie dough cheesecake.jpg3

This is my favorite cheesecake and I only make it once or twice a year so I was really looking forward to it! A chocolate chip cookie crust, creamy cheesecake filling with bits of chocolate chip cookie dough through out, drizzled with chocolate and sprinkled with cookie crumbs… yes, it tastes as amazing and evil as it sounds! :) My family insisted on singing happy birthday and me blowing out a candle (even though I said that poking a candle in the pretty cheesecake just seemed wrong ;)) Here’s hoping my birthday wish will come true! :p

All in all, I had a very nice 27th! It was just special spending it with my family. Especially my sister who I’ve always been real close to but haven’t seen much lately. She’s moving to GA in a few months so to have this time was extra special. I really felt quite spoiled, I must admit! :) I also feel like after all this fattening food it might be time for a post birthday diet lol. ;) But here’s hoping the 28th will be just as special. I feel excited and yet slightly scared of all that God has for me in this 27th year; I know if I let him he will make it a beautiful year in my life.