Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Favorite Albums & Music Discoveries of 2013

Happy New Years Eve, friends! We’ve come to the last hours of 2013 and out of all of the many lovely things there are to reflect on from this year… I’m of course choosing to reflect on the music! I honestly didn’t buy a lot of albums this year but I thought I’d share reviews of a few favorites. I also did discover some awesome bands that I wanted to share with you as well!

This is the second year I’ve done these lists, check out last years here! Also, I would love to know what your picks are for 2013!

Favorite Albums of 2013 -


The Civil Wars by The Civil Wars

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Ah, the band that hasn’t officially been a band for a over a year now but I still love like crazy anyway. I’m nothing if not loyal. This album deserves the #1 spot because it is truly amazing from start to finish and because I honestly have listened to it almost everyday since its August release lol. Therefore I know every song by heart… well except for “Sacred Heart” which is sung all in French (though I do admit to mumbling along anyway as if I know what I’m saying.)

This is the second (& presumably final) album from the duo known as The Civil Wars (Joy Williams & John Paul White). You can’t help but get the sense that whatever tension they were going through personally spilled over into this album as it’s definitely a little darker and more intense than their debut “Barton Hollow”. Even opener, “The One That Got Away” starts with a confession of sorts, “I never meant to get us in this deep. I never meant for this to mean a thing. I wish you were the one, I wish you were the one that got away.”  The term “southern gothic” definitely comes to mind while listening to these songs, especially on a track like “Devil’s Backbone”.

It’s also a departure from their usual sparse instrumentation. Throughout the songs we hear drums and electric guitars, though different for them, it works. Previously unrecorded tracks that had been long time live concert fan favorites such as “From This Valley” (my favorite & also Grammy nominated), “Oh Henry”, and Smashing Pumpkins cover “Disarm” also found a place on this recording. My only problem (& it’s a minor one) with this album is that I feel that John Paul’s vocals aren’t quite as prominent as they were on “Barton Hollow”. And I found myself missing his voice.

Whatever happened that broke up this beautiful musical union is a mystery but I cannot help but remain hopeful for reconciliation and more music from these two in the future.

My favorite tracks are: “I Had Me a Girl”, “Eavesdrop”, “Devil’s Backbone”, “From This Valley”, and “Sacred Heart”. To purchase album click here.

Currents by Eisley

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One of the main reasons I’ve been a longtime fan of the TX based family band known as Eisley is because their music has a way of transporting you to a different place and taking you on a magical journey. Each album like another chapter to some sort of fairytale. Their 4th album “Currents”, which released in May, is no exception.

Opener and title track “Currents” instantly captures you with haunting music and Stacy’s ethereal vocals. The growth and maturity of the band is apparent in every track. The instrumentation richer and the lyrics poetic. You also notice right away that there is a water theme to these songs, even the beautiful cover, which was designed by Sherri hints to it. And this time around not only do Stacy and Sherri share lead vocal duties but we finally get to hear Chauntelle’s beautiful voice on “Millstone”, which is without a doubt one of the loveliest moments on the album.

My favorite tracks are: “Currents, “Drink The Water”, “Millstone”, and “Blue Fish”. If you need a little whimsical in your life (& who doesn’t?) pick up this album here.


Kids Raising Kids by Kopecky Family Band

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I suppose this band could also go into the “music discoveries” list as I just found out about them this past summer. After hearing their song “Heartbeat” and falling head over heels in love with it, I immediately bought the album. “Kids Raising Kids”, which has an indie rock vibe, became my go to cd through out the summer. For me it was one of those rare albums where I didn’t skip a track. Some of the songs having a sort of throwback back 60’s or 70’s sound to me.

Yes, their name implies they are family… but not in the biological sense. Kelsey Kopecky, Gabe Simon, Steven Holmes, David Krohn, Markus Midkiff, and Corey Oxendine are friends who came together in Nashville, TN to form this band. After singing together a few times they felt like they had been doing it all their lives, as if they had been a family band. So they tacked on Kelsey’s last name because they liked the way it sounded and the rest is history.

My favorite tracks are: “Are You Listening”, “Heartbeats”, “Wandering Eyes”, “Hope”, and “Angry Eyes”. Buy the album here.


Favorite Music Discoveries of 2013 -


Audrey Assad

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Even though she’s already been around for while and I’ve actually been following her on Twitter for some time, I just recently really sat down and soaked in the beautiful music of Audrey Assad. I honestly don’t think I’ve been this moved by a Christian artist’s music in a long time.  Her lyrics are so honest, heartfelt, and worshipful with lovely piano based music. She kind of reminds me of Nichole Nordeman in the way that her music requires something more from you, it isn’t background music… it makes you think, feel, and beckons you closer to Jesus. Check out one of my favorite songs by Audrey: “Breaking You”.


Haim

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Sisters Este, Danielle, and Alana make up the LA based band, Haim (not pronounced like Corey Haim like I originally thought but it actually rhymes with “time”). Their music has a definite 80’s and 90’s sound. I mean, they would have fit in perfectly in that era. It’s pop music mixed with some r&b influences. I’ve been obsessed with this song lately: “Falling”.

Lindsey Stiriling

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I don’t normally listen to much instrumental music but I was completely mesmerized by the beautiful sounds of violinist, Lindsey Stirling! Dubbed the “dancing violinist” this girl rocks the violin! Yes, rocks! This is not tame classical music. It’s so fun to watch her dance and totally rock out in her videos, which are often very theatrical. Violin and Dubstep  are two things I would never think would work together but somehow, Lindsey makes it work in what is my favorite track, “Crystallize”.

First Aid Kit

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Another sister band! Johanna and Klara S√∂derberg make up the Swedish folk/country duo, First Aid Kit. Their songs are full of beautiful harmonies as well as pretty and often haunting melodies. The song that made me a fan is the sweet sounds of “Emmylou”. Can’t help but sing along when this track is on.

“Now so much I know that things just don’t grow if you don’t bless them with your patience.”

Lucius

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This 5 piece band from Brooklyn have a definite retro vibe to not only their sound but also their personal style. The two lead singers, Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig even wear matching vintage outfits and jewelry. I know, I so want to be a part of this band! Right away I loved their vocal harmonies and catchy songs that made me want to sing along. To me it’s indie rock with kind of a throwback twist. My favorite track: “Turn It Around”.

Lorde

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I’m sure just about everyone by now has heard of New Zealand artist, Lorde. Whose real name is actually Ella Maria Lani Yelich-O'Connor. My cousin recently introduced me to her music. After hearing “Royals” I instantly became a fan. I know everyone keeps saying the same thing but it’s true, I can’t believe she’s only 16! Talent beyond her years and I think she’s winning people over by doing something different. Something that sounds unique. And that now a days is an impressive feat. My favorite track: “Bravado”.


Album I'm looking forward to in 2014 -


"Fading West" by Switchfoot

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Been waiting for this album from my favorite band in the world for a while now. But luckily I won’t have to wait too much longer… “Fading West”, Switchfoot’s 9th studio album, releases on January 14th!!! Woot! From what I’ve heard so far, it’s going to rock!

Thanks to anyone who has visited my little corner of the world here through out 2013. It was fun! Here’s a toast to a hopefully beautiful 2014! Happy New Years, folks!

2014

2014 by Krystal Rodriguez on Grooveshark

Monday, December 30, 2013

Peppermint Bark Brownies

Hey lovelies! Hope you all had a wonderful Christmas! And I hope you’re not sick of Christmas desserts just yet because I have one more I want to share with you. I know, I know… it’s almost New Years but I don’t stop celebrating Christmas till January 1st. And even then I’m still holding on to every last bit that I can. So bear with me.

Now that we’ve covered Peppermint Bark… how about some Peppermint Bark Brownies, shall we? Don’t know what it is with me & peppermint lately, think I’m on some kind of kick. Pretty sure it all started with the peppermint mocha I had early this month. Now I’m obsessed.

Even though I have my staple brownie recipe I’m always on the lookout for a new one to try. This recipe combines one of my favorite desserts with one of my new favorite Christmas treats. And it really does look like peppermint bark, doesn’t it? This is the perfect holiday brownie recipe!

Peppermint Bark Brownies -

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(Recipe adapted from here)

A rich and fudgy brownie infused with peppermint extract, topped with a layer of white chocolate and crushed peppermint candies.

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These brownies are really easy to make and look so festive! Peppermint and chocolate are such a great combo and the white chocolate gives it an extra layer of flavor.

Really the brownie itself is just so good! It has to be one of the fudgiest brownies I’ve ever tasted. I would love to actually try it on its own without the peppermint extract at some point.

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You could cut them into triangles, which I think resembles actual peppermint bark, or squares which also look lovely!

I found this delish Christmassy recipe from one of my favorite foodie blogs & cookie swap hosts, Love & Olive Oil. When it comes to decedent desserts, they never disappoint! I made these brownies for the first time last year and knew this had to be a new Christmas staple. Hope you give them a try before the season is over… or you know, you could just be a rebel and make them in January ;).

Ingredients:
2/3 cup flour
2 tablespoons dark or Dutch processed cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 ounces semisweet baking chocolate, chopped
4 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into cubes
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature, lightly beaten
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon peppermint extract

For Topping:
6 ounces good quality white chocolate, chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable shortening
3 to 4 candy canes, coarsely chopped or crushed (about 1/2 cup) (I used Andes Peppermint Crunch Baking Chips)

Directions:

Start by pre-heating your oven to 350 degrees and lining your baking pan (a 8-by-8-inch) with parchment paper, letting some hang over the sides.

In a small bowl sift together your flour, cocoa, and salt.

Next melt your chocolate and butter in a double broiler. You can do this by setting a mixing bowl over a simmering pot of water. Stir till smooth and then remove from heat. Add the sugar and whisk until it has dissolved and the mixture is slightly cool.

Then whisk in the eggs, vanilla, and peppermint extract until just combined, making sure not to over mix. Add the flour on top of the mixture and fold it in with a rubber spatula just until incorporated. Pour mixture into the prepared baking pan and bake for 25 to 30 minutes. When brownies are done, allow them to cool completely.

Now time to melt the white chocolate! Which it seems like I've been talking about a lot lately. The way I do it is to melt a little bit at a time with a small amount of vegetable oil in the microwave, at 10 to 15 second increments. This method has changed my baking life, let me tell ya!

When brownies have cooled completely, pour your white chocolate over your brownies and smooth it out with an off set spatula. Next sprinkle your peppermint candies on top. Refrigerate for about 30 minutes or over night (for some reason they really are at their best the next day).

After chilled, using the sides of the parchment paper, lift brownies from the pan. Cut them into squares and then diagonally in half into triangles. Brownies will keep in the refrigerator (covered) for up to 5 days.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas Playlist 2 (True Meaning Songs)

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In the hustle and bustle of Christmas it’s easy to lose sight of what we’re really doing all of this for. To lose sight of what or rather who we’re really celebrating. Tonight, on this Christmas Eve, I want to pause just for a moment – from all the cooking, baking, and gift wrapping – to refocus on the only real reason to celebrate this beautiful holiday, the birth of my Savior, Jesus Christ. It’s way more than just the tree, lights, gifts, and songs… it’s about a way being made for us when there was no way. It’s about salvation.

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So many Christmas songs are actually very worshipful. The words to “Oh Holy Night” for instance (one of my favorites) is a powerful song that speaks God’s love and deliverance.

"Truly He taught us to love one another,
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains he shall break, for the slave is our brother.
And in his name all oppression shall cease."

This is really the only time of year that people, no matter their beliefs, sing worship songs to God simply by singing Christmas carols.

As much as I love all the fun Christmas songs the ones that mean the most to me are what I’m calling “true meaning songs”. The songs on this playlist help me refocus on Jesus and why He came. They make me reflect on who I’m really celebrating and why.

So I hope that tonight you’ll stop for just a moment and worship & reflect with me. :)

True Meaning Songs (Christmas 2013) by Krystal Rodriguez on Grooveshark

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A song I couldn’t find on Grooveshark but had to share:

Merry Christmas! Hope you have very happy holiday!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Homemade Cranberry Sauce

In my humble opinion, no turkey dinner is complete without cranberry sauce. It’s just a holiday must! That sweet & tart taste gives the food layers of flavor.

My family and I used to use the traditional canned cranberry sauce. We would stock up on at least two cans on Thanksgiving and Christmas. Well last year I started seeing recipes for the homemade version all over the place and was surprised by how easy it sounded. After tasting this lovely homemade cranberry sauce it’s safe to say my family and I will never go back to the store bought kind again! Now the canned cranberry just tastes fake to me. I’m converted.

Real cranberry sauce made from just 4 ingredients and doesn’t come out in the shape of a can? Who knew?! ;)

Homemade Cranberry Sauce -

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This cranberry sauce could not be simpler! You basically add all 4 ingredients in a saucepan and let the magic happen. It also makes your kitchen smell amazing, might I add.

It has the perfect jelly like consistency with some whole cranberries mixed in.

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It would make a delicious and impressive addition to your holiday spread! Hope you give it a try!

Ingredients:
1 bag of fresh cranberries
1 cup sugar
1 cup of orange juice (can use fresh, but juice from concentrate works just fine0
1 tsp. orange zest

Directions:
Put all ingredients into a saucepan and mix well. Cook over medium heat and bring to a boil.

Boil for about 10 minutes until the cranberries pop. There may be a few light colored ones that don't pop, but don't worry, they soften as the sauce cools.

You can serve the cranberry sauce at room temp or slightly warm.

The sauce can be made up to 2 days before and kept in the fridge.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Peppermint Bark

In addition to all my favorite traditional holiday treats, such fudge, divinity, & truffles, I wanted to try something new this year. While peppermint bark is certainly a classic treat to most this was the first year I ever made it. And it definitely won’t be the last. This bark is just the taste of the season! Normally I‘m not even a huge fan of peppermint but when it’s paired with chocolate (cause my philosophy is that everything is better with chocolate) I make an exception. Plus, how pretty and festive does it look?!

I also made this for my churches Christmas dinner and the tin was empty before I knew it! Definitely a new Christmas staple!

Peppermint Bark –

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(Recipe adapted from Honeysuckle Catering)

Layers of chocolate and white chocolate infused with peppermint extract, topped off with pieces of peppermint candy.

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This bark couldn’t be simpler to make and takes very few ingredients. The refreshing taste of the peppermint pairs perfectly with the chocolate layers.

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The only problem I had with this bark, which I hear is pretty common, is that the first time I made it the chocolate and white chocolate layers separated as I broke it apart. But the second time I made it, I let the bark sit out on the counter and soften for like 15 minutes before I broke it apart. I don’t know if that’s what made the difference but it stayed together that time. If you are a peppermint bark pro would love to hear your tips on this!

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If you’re looking for a last minute gift or a simple and delish treat to take to Christmas dinner I can’t think of anything better than a tin full of this Christmassy peppermint bark!

Ingredients:
10 ounces of dark, semi-sweet chocolate chips
10 ounces of white chocolate chips
1 1/2 teaspoons of peppermint extract
3 candy canes (I used Andes Peppermint Crunch Baking Chips)

Directions:
Start by spraying the back side of a baking pan with cooking spray and then covering it with a piece of parchment paper.

Next melt your chocolate. You could do this by using a double boiler; just place a heat proof bowl over a pot of simmering water, add your chocolate, stir till smooth, then remove from heat. Or you could melt it in the microwave for 10 second increments.

Once your chocolate is melted, pour it on to the parchment paper, using an off set spatula to spread it into a smooth and even layer. Place it in the fridge and let it harden for 10 minuets.

Take another bowl and melt your white chocolate. Now as I talked about in my last blog, melting white chocolate is a tricky thing. The way that I did this was by first measuring out my white chocolate and adding the peppermint extract before I melted it. I found if you add it after it's melted it will cause the white chocolate to seize. Next I took a small amount of the white chocolate along with a little bit of vegetable oil in a small bowl and melted it in the microwave for 10 second increments, stirring until smooth. Do this till all your white chocolate is melted.

Once the white chocolate is melted, pour it on top of your chocolate layer and spread it with your off set spatula. Sprinkle your candy cane pieces on top. Set it back in the fridge to set for another 10 to 20 minutes.

Finally take your baking sheet out of the fridge, lift up your parchment paper, and break up your peppermint bark into pieces.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Espresso Walnut Toffee

Christmas baking is in full swing in my kitchen! I don’t know about you but holiday baking is kind of my favorite so it’s easy for me to get a little out of hand. Tell me I’m not the only one out there that has a list of treats I have to make before the season is over. It’s admittedly a little crazy. But it hasn’t all just been for me… so that makes me feel a little bit better. I’ve been baking up a storm for my church, to give as gifts to family, and to fill orders I’ve gotten. And with Christmas just days away it’s about to get a little crazier (& I love it).

This Espresso Walnut Toffee…ah, where do I start? I swear to you this is hands down the very best toffee you will ever eat in your life. No, I’m not being over dramatic… it really is that good! This is one thing I’ve been making a lot of this season. I had been searching for years for a really good toffee recipe. For some reason every recipe I had tried came out “chip your tooth” hard and barely edible.

But last year for Christmas I was given blogger/author,  Molly Wizenberg’s book “A Homemade Life”.  For starters, if you love to cook & bake, if you’re a foodie… you will fall in love with this book! It will make you want to race in the kitchen and cook and bake your heart out. It’s really part memoir part recipe book. “Food literature”, if you will. Molly shares beautiful stories of her life and how cooking and baking became such a huge part of it. And at the end of each chapter she shares a recipe or two.

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This toffee is a recipe that her mom made every Christmas when she was growing up. She said that her mom would give out tins full of goodies every Christmas and how this toffee was always raved about. After making it, it’s easy to see why. I made it for the first time on New Years Eve last year and was amazed at how delicious and beautiful it turned out.

I also made it for my churches Christmas dinner last week and got rave reviews on it. Thank you Molly for sharing this recipe with us! It has become a Christmas staple in my home and something I will be making for years to come.

Espresso Walnut Toffee -

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(Recipe from A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg)

Toasted walnuts fill this toffee that is infused with the warm flavors of espresso, cinnamon, and notes of caramel. It’s topped with decadent swirls of bittersweet chocolate and white chocolate and finished off with finely chopped toasted walnuts.

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Candy making can be very intimidating (I hate anything I have to use a candy thermometer for), but really I found this recipe to be pretty easy. But you could always use this method to tell when it’s at soft crack stage if you don’t want to use (or don’t have) a candy thermometer.

I have to say though that the worst part of this whole process was melting the freakin’ white chocolate. Which became the bane of my existence. The recipe says to layer rows of chocolate and white chocolate on the still hot toffee and let it melt for a minute before swirling. Well the chocolate melted but the white chocolate never did. So I decided to melt it, drizzle it on, and then swirl it.

Well I tried the double boiler method, I tried the microwave…nope. All I was left with was a scorched lumpy mess. Has white chocolate (which is really just a fraud seeing as how it isn’t even chocolate at all) always been this hard to melt?! Though after doing a little research I finally figured how to do it. The way that worked best for me was melting a little bit at a time with a small amount of vegetable oil in the microwave for 10 second increments. Yes, it takes a while but it’s worth it. Click here for more on melting white chocolate.

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I was pleasantly surprised to find that this toffee has the most perfect texture! A nice crunch, especially with the walnuts, but is not going to chip your tooth lol. Because you know, it’s always good to have all your teeth still intact after eating candy.

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I could really eat this all year round but it’s definitely even more special during the holidays. Whether you’re going to give it as a gift or keep it for yourself, I hope you give this lovely toffee a try this holiday season! :)

Ingredients:
2 cups walnuts
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
2 tsp. instant espresso powder
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. salt
1/3 cup water
1 tbsp. unsulfured molasses
4 1/2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, very finely chopped
4 1/2 ounces white chocolate, very finely chopped
2 1/2 sticks (10 ounces) unsalted butter

Directions:
Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees.

Put the walnuts on a baking sheet, arranging them in a single layer, and bake until they are fragrant, 5 to 10 minutes. Do not allow them to burn. Set them aside to cool, about 10 minutes, then coarsely chop them. Transfer 1 1/2 cups to a small bowl. Then finely chop the remaining 1/2 cup, and put it in a separate bowl.

Prepare your ingredients and equipment. In a medium bowl, whisk together the sugars, espresso powder, cinnamon, and salt. In a small bowl or measuring cup, whisk together the water and molasses. Put the chopped chocolate into their own separate bowls. Grease a rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray or butter.

In a heavy, 2 to 3 quart saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Add sugars, espresso powder, cinnamon, salt, water, and molasses and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Attach a candy thermometer to the side of the pan. Raise the heat to medium and cook until the mixture registers 290 F (and no less), stirring frequently at first, and then slowly and constantly scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon or spatula, about 20 minutes.

When the mixture is up to temperature, remove the pan from the heat. Immediately stir in 1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped walnuts. Quickly pour the mixture onto the prepared baking sheet; do not scrape the saucepan. Tilt and gently shake the baking sheet so that the toffee spreads to a 1/4-inch thickness. Sprinkle the chocolates by the generous tablespoonful's onto the hot toffee, alternating rows of bittersweet and white. Allow them to melt for 1 minute. Using the back of the spoon, spread the melted chocolates, taking care not to mix them. Then drag the tip of a small knife or the tines if a fork across the chocolates, swirling them to create a marbled look. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts.

Slide the pan into the refrigerator, and chill until the toffee is firm, about 1 hour. Break it into pieces of whatever size your like.

NOTE: Stored in an airtight container in the fridge, toffee will keep for up to 2 weeks. Serve it cold or at room temp. Yields about 2 pounds.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Christmas Playlists!

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I can’t believe Christmas is already less than a week away! Crazy! How did it get here so fast? I just want at least one more week, ya know? But I have been soaking up every bit that I can. Decorating, doing a crazy amount of baking (but to be fair some of it has been going to family), Christmas movie watching, and non stop Christmas music.

The music has to be one of my favorite things about this holiday. So many beautiful and fun songs that set the mood for the season and become the soundtrack to our special memories. While making my playlist I realized I have way too many favorites… ahem, case in point, it was a list of 33 but I finally got it down to 26 (& kinda can’t bear to take off anymore).

I also have a very special guest sharing their favorite Christmas tunes with us today as well! My best friend, my concert buddy, my musical partner in crime (not exactly sure what that means but…), my sister, Cecily! Who, I might add, used to get so super annoyed with me when we were younger for supposedly “torturing” her with too much Christmas music. I still say there is no such thing. We were never the type of sisters to fight very often but this became our yearly holiday argument. Ah, memories ;).

She lives in the peach state now and sadly won't be able to make it home for Christmas this year :(. We miss her like crazy! Living states away really sucks, especially at this time of year. But finding small ways (like this) to still celebrate the season together, even miles apart, makes it a little bit easier. Plus, listening to music and sharing music is always more fun with her.

Hope these songs get you in the spirit!

Cecily’s Christmas Playlist -

 Christmas Cheer 2013 by Cecily Priscilla on Grooveshark

Krystal’s Christmas Playlist -

Christmas 2013 by Krystal Rodriguez on Grooveshark

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Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Salted Caramel & Nutella Stuffed Chocolate Chip Cookies (The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap 2013!)

Today is the day!! The day that I get to reveal the recipe of the cookies I made for the 3rd annual Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap! This was my first time participating and it definitely won’t be my last, it was so much fun!! Just what is this cookie swap exactly, you ask?

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Hosted by Lindsay over at Love & Olive Oil and Julie at The Little Kitchen, the Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap pairs up fellow food bloggers from all over the world to participate in a secret Santa sort of swap. You sign up and receive the name & addresses of three bloggers, you bake & ship them each a dozen cookies, and in turn you receive three dozen back from different bloggers.

By participating (& paying $4.00 at sign up) you also help out a great cause, Cookies for Kids’ Cancer. This year we participates, along with sponsors (OXO, Dixie Crystals, Gold Medal Flour, and Grandma's Molasses) raised over $13,000 for the cause! How awesome is that?!

I had such a great time with this swap! First step was deciding what cookies to bake! I had at least 5 different recipes I was considering but this one was calling my name. A rich brownie like cookie filled with Nutella & caramel, topped sea salt? Yes, please! And I mean you just cannot go wrong with caramel and Nutella, can you? Two sure fire ingredients in my book.

And next was the tricky part, figuring out a safe yet cute way to pack and ship them. Admittedly the first batch of cookies I sent out weren’t quite as cute (but hopefully still safe) because I was still figuring it all out. But for the other two I used Martha Stewart’s treat bags with trays and they looked so cute and seemed really safe! Always go with Martha, she knows her stuff!

I also received some really delicious cookies from some lovely bloggers (which you can see at the end of this post)! It was like Christmas getting cookies in the mail like every other day! I love surprises… especially in cookie form!

If you would like to be informed of when to sign up for the next swap (and you totally should!) click here! And I hope you try this recipe, trust me, they are little pieces of caramel & Nutella heaven!

Salted Caramel & Nutella Stuffed Chocolate Chip Cookies -

(Recipe adapted from http://www.topwithcinnamon.com/)

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This has become my all time favorite cookie recipe! Seriously, my family and I couldn't stop raving about them! We admittedly ate way too many of the extra cookies left over. And I'm sure it's easy to see why. If you love caramel and Nutella, these are for you!

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It starts out with a rich and chocolaty cookie dough filled with chocolate chips (cause what this cookie really needs is more chocolate, right? ;)).

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You make indentations in the center and fill them each with a small dollop of Nutella and warm & gooey caramel.

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Top it with more dough, sprinkle with sea salt, and into the oven they go!

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I love that you can see the caramel peeking through!

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The texture of these cookies is reminiscent of a brownie to me, soft and gooey!

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So I know it may be hard but don’t jump the gun and eat one of these cookies without first breaking it open. When you break open a cookie all the luscious Nutella and caramel just comes flooding out. It’s a beautiful thing & you should experience it..

The sea salt on the top adds that perfect sweet & salty touch. Just a warning though, these are pretty rich so you may want to have a glass of milk on hand!

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The cute Martha Stewart packaging!

This is definitely one for all you chocoholics out there! You must give these babies a try! I think you’ll have a new favorite on your hands!

Ingredients:
1/2 cup butter
1 1/2 cups light brown sugar
1/2 cup cocoa powder
2 eggs
1/4 tsp. salt
3/4 tsp. baking powder
2 cups all-purpose flour
3.5 oz. milk or dark chocolate chips
sea salt, for sprinkling
approx. 1/2 cup (8 tbsp.) Nutella
15-16 caramel-filled chocolates
heavy cream (if you're using the caramels)

Directions:
Line a baking tray with parchment paper. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.


In a medium saucepan, melt the butter. Take off the heat and stir in the brown sugar and eggs. Then add the cocoa, salt and baking powder and stir until well combined. Add the flour and stir until no floury patches are left. Lastly stir in the chocolate chips.

Melt caramels with a little bit of heavy cream in the microwave. Stir till smooth.

Take 1 heaped tbsp. of dough, use your finger make a large indentation the center of the dough; fill the indentation with a small blob of Nutella (like 1/2 tsp. ish), and top it up with the still-warm caramel, or a caramel-filled chocolate. Top with a flattened tablespoon of dough, and seal the edges.

Sprinkle with sea salt and bake for 8-10 minutes.

Cookies I received  -

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Championship Cookies from Nika @ http://www.myrthastewart.com/. As soon as I saw these cookies were filled with Snickers and oats, I knew they were a winner! They were so delish! Glad she included the recipe because I will definitely be making them!

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Peppermint Brownies from Melissa @ http://www.beingabear.com/. Oh my goodness, these were heavenly!!! Just look at the swirls on the top! They were gone so fast! Can’t wait to bake some of these babies!

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Double Chocolate Cookies from Chainey (box didn’t include any blog or contact info). These cookies were so good! A rich and chocolaty cookie with bits of peppermint bark in the center! Amazing!!

Thank you to all three bloggers for these lovely and yummy treats! They were very much enjoyed!

Gifts from the lovely sponsors -

A cute cookie tin and awesome spatulas (that I’ve been using almost every time I cook and bake). Thank you Dixie Crystals and OXO!

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As you can see, I had a wonderful first cookie swap experience and I’m already really looking forward to next years! :)

Sunday, December 1, 2013

November Foodie Penpals Reveal

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So I’m a couple days late in posting this but better late than never, right? I’ve missed Foodie Penpals!! I haven’t participated since June so I thought it was high time I jumped back in for November!

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I received this lovely box from Nicole in NY! Everything she sent me was so different than what I’m used to that it made it even more fun to sample.

Pocky Chocolate – Staying true to form, I of course, went for the chocolate first. These things are so cool! Thin little chocolate sticks! They taste great and would make the perfect on the go snack or even a great movie snack!

Snow Pear drink – This drink has a very light pear taste and was very refreshing after chilling in the fridge for a while.

Chin Chin – Honestly, I didn’t think these had much flavor. They remind me of cereal though.

Lychee Candy – I’m usually not a fan of hard candy but these have a pretty good sweet slightly sour flavor.

Snapea Crisps – Was a little nervous about these lol, but they’re not bad! They have kind of a tangy flavor. Nicole recommended crushing them up in a salad which I think would taste great!

Shrimp Crackers – Okay, so here’s the thing… one of the reasons I love Foodie Penpals is because you get to try a lot of new foods/snacks that you’ve never tried before. It can be culinary adventure! And I always make sure I give everything a try once. But I have to admit with these shrimp crackers … I just couldn’t bring myself to do it lol. You see, I’m a staunch seafood hater, I’m not proud of this fact, but it’s just the truth. So this was the one thing I just couldn’t try. :/

Other than the shrimp crackers this box was a winner! Thank you Nicole for such a thoughtful box! And also thank you to Lindsay over at the Lean Green Bean for organizing all this foodie fun! :)

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Foodie Penpals is taking a break for the month of December, but you’re welcome to CLICK HERE to sign up for January. If you were planning to participate in December, I encourage you to donate the money you would have spent on a box to your favorite charity this holiday season.