My Favorite Gifts! 2015

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Christmas is less than two weeks away!! Have you already checked-off everyone on your gift list? If so, maybe you’ll see something below you want to watch for post-Christmas sales for yourself :) If you still have a few people on your list to find gifts for, here are some ideas…

Spiralizer: This has been my favorite kitchen gadget of 2015!! I have had so much fun making all different kinds of zucchini noodle meals…two of my favorites are Kung Pao Chicken Zoodles and Zucchini Noodles with Chicken and Feta. It feels so good to fill up on a plate of vegetables instead of pasta! Something about the texture and shape just makes vegetables so much more delicious and crave-able! I love reading the Inspiralized blog and her cookbook for recipe inspiration.SpiralizerGap Modal Pajama Pants: I don’t think a softer pair of pajama pants exists! I’ve owned several pairs of Gap pajama pants (and shorts) made out of their modal material – best fabric ever! I’ve particularly enjoyed this pair with the cuffs at the ankles because when you stick your legs under the covers, the pants don’t ride up your legs!Gap Pajama Bottoms

UGG Ansley Moccasins: My mom surprised me with these moccasins the last time I went home and I have worn them every day since! They are the first thing I put on when I get home from work and I wear them all day on the weekends. The wool lining and rubber sole are very thick, so they provide warmth and the support you need to be on your feet on hard floors all day. I couldn’t love these more! I wish I could wear them to the office!UGG SlippersCrate&Barrel Cutting Board: I use this cutting board every single day. It’s beautiful enough to keep out on the counter all the time. You don’t realize how nice it is to chop up vegetables on a sturdy cutting board until you have one. It works great for serving meat and cheese too!Cutting BoardCable Knit Blanket: You might not anticipate how excited you can get about a blanket until you have one as cozy as this! One side of the blanket is a cable knit and the other is the softest faux sheepskin. I love snuggling up under this blanket. IMG_471728951Snow Boots: These were my favorite Christmas present last year – thanks Mom!! I love the furry top! They are very warm and functional, but also super cute! For any men on your gift list, try these boots.Sorel 'Joan of Arc' BootsThese are some of my favorite gifts that I’ve received over the last year – I basically love things that are comfy or tasty :) Hope you found some inspiration!

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Stocking Stuffer Gifts 2015

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Even at 28 years old, I still get to come downstairs on Christmas morning to an over-flowing stocking! My mom has kept the tradition going all these years and it’s still exciting! Here are some stocking stuffer ideas that just might excite the grown-ups in your life:

Mini Measuring Cup: For those who like trying out cocktail recipes, this is a fun little measuring cup to have! It is marked in ounces, so that you can get just the right ratio of triple sec to tequila when making a blood orange margarita! I use this ALL the time…Ounce Measuring Cup

That’s It!: My mom put this game in my stocking last year and we have had a blast playing it with family and friends. One player reads a category, such as “something you tie to the top of your car” and everyone else shouts out answers until they say the one that’s on the card, such as “a christmas tree”. The box is less than 4 inches wide, so you can fit it in a stocking AND in your purse to take to a party!That's It! Game

Soap Brush: This was the best $6 I could’ve spent! Andrew said it’s all we needed to get him to start doing dishes – he loves it! If only I’d known a few years earlier…You press the top to release soap into the dirty pan and then scrub with the bristles. It’s very sturdy for hard scrubbing.Soap Brush

Sweet & Spicy Tea: I LOVE this tea! My mom and sister, who order it on amazon by the case load, introduced me to it. This tea has a bold flavor of cinnamon that is both sweet and spicy. It is so warming and delicious – I can’t get enough of it!Sweet & Spicy TeaTravel Books: When I’m visiting a new city or country, I think it’s fun and interesting to get to read about the place ahead of time. Fodor’s travel books are my favorite because they have great information on both the culture and history of the city, as well as recommendations on what to do. If you know someone is going on a trip next year, you could get them a book about their destination.Travel BooksCandle in a Jar: Voluspa makes the prettiest candles in little tins and glass jars. I love the Bella Sucre scent, which I have in this little glass jar, and the Goji Tarocco Orange scent, which I have in this larger glass jar. You could give one of these candles with some decorative matches.Voluspa CandleVoluspa CandleCrabtree & Evelyn Hand Therapy: This is the best hand cream ever! It is so rich and creamy without any greasy feeling after using. I always keep a small tube of it in my purse or at my desk to have on hand when my skin dries out. The scent is light and herbal, not overpowering the way some floral scents can be.  Crabtree & Evelyn Hand Therapy

I hope these ideas gave you some gifting inspiration! For more ideas, here are links to my stocking stuffers from 2012, 2013, and 2014.

Christmas Cocktail Competition

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Two years ago, when I announced I would be making my Cranberry Margaritas while home for the holidays, my brother decided to also make a cocktail that same night to compete. He claimed he would make a cucumber gimlet that would beat my margarita! With that, a tradition was started. Last year, we held a rematch and everyone wanted to join in! 5 cocktails were officially entered:Christmas Cocktail CompetitionContestants had to make enough of their drink so that everyone could taste it. With this many cocktails, the judging got a bit difficult! To kickoff the competition, each person introduced their cocktail, shared the name of it, how it was made, and any creative backstory that goes along with it.Christmas Cocktail CompetitionMy Dad’s “Mac Attack” had serious wow factor, named after it’s potential to cause a heart attack! This entry was a cocktail and meal in one! We all knew we were in trouble when we saw him over by the stove frying up bacon cheeseburgers to top off his already famous and highly requested Bloody Mary.IMG_469409614 (1)My Mom created a “Twig and Berries” champagne cocktail inspired by the Wisconsin Northwoods. She looked to the great outdoors for a twig of pine to complement the “crushed elderberries and whisper of crushed ice” floating in the champagne.IMG_469409613 (1)The “Kentucky Maid” was whiskey-based, muddled with lime juice, mint, cucumber, and simple syrup. This cocktail brought us back to summer and we all agreed it would be a perfect drink to sip on the dock.IMG_469409609 (1)No. 25” was the strongest drink by far – whiskey based with a hint of absinth. It was a tribute to William McKinley’s favorite cocktail (our 25th president of the United States). McKinley fought in the civil war, commandeered Hawaii, and most importantly, was a BUCKEYE (like Andrew)!IMG_469409611 (1)My “Mistletoe Mule” is a holiday version of my favorite Moscow Mule cocktail. I used my original recipe, but for flavoring and color, I also added 1 Tablespoon of cranberry juice and 5 dashes bitters. Plus, I stuck fresh cranberries on a stir stick for presentation points!Mistletoe MuleBelieve it or not, the “Mac Attack” did not win! We all agree that our voting system didn’t work out too well because how could a Bloody Mary topped with a bacon cheeseburger, shrimp, cherry tomato, lemon wedge, sausage, cheese, asparagus, pickle, mushroom, brussels spout, and celery not take first place?? Also, “No. 25” did not win, even though it was the most requested drink post competition. The “Kentucky Maid” and “Mistletoe Mule” tied for first and then the “Kentucky Maid” won out in a championship round the next night. For the record, I still contest this – it’s a Christmas cocktail competition, after all!!

Are you thinking that your family or group of friends would have fun with this? Maybe it’s time to host your own cocktail competition! How should the winning cocktail be picked? Here is how we plan to vote this year:

  1. Each person votes using their own scorecard and ranks each drink 1-6 (if 6 drinks are entered). 6 is for the drink you like the most, 5 is for second place, etc.
  2. All points are summed up and the cocktail with the most points wins!

The trash talking for our 3rd annual Christmas cocktail competition already started several months ago and will certainly be a topic of conversation this Thanksgiving! We are all keeping our cocktails secret, so the suspense continues for another month.

To my competitors: May the best cocktail win!

**Update: My friend Kelsey hosted her own Christmas Cocktail Competition party and it was a total hit!Christmas Cocktail CompetitionShe had 20 people over, so the “mixologists” that entered the competition were asked to make one drink for presentation in a normal glass and then samples in little Dixie cups for everyone to try. People voted on the chalkboard for their favorite cocktail. For the top three winners, Kelsey had cocktail related prizes such as a little bartender kit and ice molds. How cute is that?!

“Chopped” Dinner Party

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Have you seen the TV show “Chopped” on the Food Network?? It’s absolutely one of my favorite shows to watch! The premise is four chefs compete against each other to create the best appetizer, entrée, and dessert using a basket of mystery ingredients before time runs out. At the start of each round, each chef receives 4 random ingredients that they must use, but they can also supplement with items from the pantry or refrigerator. It’s hysterical and exciting because the ingredients can be completely wild, like creating an appetizer from jumbo shrimp, chunky peanut butter, jalapeños, and sticky rice or a dessert using corn muffins, whiskey, macadamia nuts, and gummy bears – and time is very limited!

Last weekend, we created our very own “Chopped” competition at home. It was a total success! And so much fun! We convinced our two friends, Steve and Howard, to compete as chefs for an entrée round. My friend Abi and I dreamed up the mystery basket ingredients: pork loin, cauliflower, figs, and tortilla chips. We hoped the chips would be a wild card!Mystery Basket Ingredients

We also stocked up the pantry with staples that we thought the chefs might want to use. Here are some suggestions:

  • Grains/starches: rice, pasta, tortillas, quinoa
  • Fruits/Vegetables: carrots, salad greens, celery, lemons/limes, peppers
  • Canned items: diced tomatoes, beans, corn, broth
  • Aromatics/Herbs: onions, garlic, parsley, green onions, cilantro
  • We put the mystery ingredients into brown paper bags to present to the chefs at the same time. It was a suspenseful moment! Given my propensity for the dramatic, I loved making the official introductions and declaring the rules of the game :)

    Chopped Competition

    The chefs had 45 minutes to complete their entrée and plate their meal. It was fun to interview the chefs while cooking, just like Ted Allen does on the show, asking “Chef Steve, how do you feel about the tortilla chips in the basket?” or “Chef Howard, What are you going to do if you win the $10k?” Watching how they handled themselves in the kitchen was so entertaining – at times calm, at times completely focused and sweating!

    The entrees were unbelievable! We were all blown away by how delicious they tasted. Chef Steve (left) prepared “Roasted Pork Loin with a Fig Demi-Glaze and Roasted Cauliflower over a Tortilla Chip Coulis” and Chef Howard (right) prepared “Roasted Pork Loin over a Tortilla Chip, Cauliflower, and Potato Puree with Fig Relish”.

    The judges chose a Chopped Champion by rating each entrée on a scale of 1 to 5 in three categories: presentation, taste, and creativity. Then, we added up the points from all three categories to get a total score. In hindsight, for how beautiful their dishes turned out, I can’t believe I gave them paper plates for plating the photographed meal! LOLChopped CompetitionWant to try this out for yourself at home? The format could be so easily adaptable to fit your own Chopped party.

    • You could do a double date night where each couple brings a bag of mystery entree ingredients for the other couple to cook with.
    • Or, if you have multiple people wanting to compete, you could have two chefs compete in the appetizer round, two chefs compete in an entrée round, and two new chefs compete in the dessert round (being mindful that this scenario will create a LOT of dishes!).
    • This link lists all of the basket combinations seen on the TV show to give you ingredient ideas.
    • Depending on what kitchen equipment you have, you may ask guests to bring extra knives, pans, or whatever you need a second set of.
    • For our party, Abi and I provided the mystery ingredients and pantry items and then asked our guests to bring wine, appetizers, sides, and desserts…and champagne – because Abi and Chef Steve had just gotten engaged in Malibu the weekend before!!!

Engagement Hike

If you’re looking for more ideas, here’s another version of a Chopped party at home.

Let me know if you throw your own Chopped challenge!

The Lead-Up To Our Wedding

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6 MONTHS (and 2 days) ago, Andrew and I had the best weekend of our lives…We knew that 1 day of wedding celebration wasn’t going to be enough, so we planned 4 days of activities – which all ended up being as much fun as the actual wedding itself! Since Andrew’s family drove in from Ohio and a majority of our friends flew in from California, we wanted to show them a good time…especially since I’m always boasting that Milwaukee is the greatest city ever :)

We kicked off Thursday night before the wedding with a Wisconsin/Ohio State tailgate at my parents’ house with our wedding party and families. I am a Badger and Andrew is a very proud Buckeye, so my mom and dad made us this football to represent the joining of teams:Wedding Football

We aimed to give everyone a taste of Wisconsin with grilled brats, cheese curds, Spotted Cow beer and Sprecher root beer floats with Kopp’s custard. It was such an exciting night to welcome all of our best friends to town and kick-off the wedding celebration!Wedding Tailgate

I absolutely loved sitting around the campfire after dinner with our wedding party, talking late into the night. My mom started a “game” where she passed a candle around the circle and when the candle came to you, the floor was yours to say anything you wanted. It turned into a bit of a roast session, with people telling some hysterical stories about Andrew and I…At this point, I keep thinking “I can’t believe our wedding weekend has arrived!”

Wedding TailgateFriday morning, after getting our nails done, the girls headed off to a gorgeous bridal luncheon with my best girlfriends and all of the “moms” I grew up with. It was so beautiful! The lunch was such a special time for me to get to thank all of the women who have been so important to me over the years with stories about them and gifts wrapped in gold sparkles!

Then, we were off to join the boys and everyone else who was already in town for the wedding at Sprecher Brewery, to sample their great beers and amazing homemade sodas. They gave us a private tour, which ended in the sampling room.Sprecher Brewery Tour

And before we knew it, we were in the church for the rehearsal! This moment on the alter certainly made it all feel very real.Wedding Rehearsal

After we all learned where to stand for the ceremony, we headed downtown for our rehearsal dinner at Trocadero in their private garden room. It was so beautiful and open in the 70 degree weather we had that weekend!Rehearsal DinnerDuring dinner, Andrew and I got up to share a funny story about each person in our wedding party and give them a silly gift to go with the story. Andrew had us all cracking up, talking about the night he played my brother in flip cup for my hand in marriage. He gave Mike a reusable Solo cup to remember that game.Rehearsal Dinner

Afterwards, we all went upstairs to the Red Star bar to join the rest of our wedding guests who were in town. It was an unbelievable sensation to have the entire bar full of people that I love! I kept bouncing from group to group overwhelmed by who to talk to next!IMG_6044

When our 11pm curfew arrived, Andrew and I kissed goodnight and the bar erupted in cheers. It was such a cool and exciting moment. I was instantly full of tears from all of the emotions! I had just had the best night of my entire life. And I knew that somehow Saturday was going to  be even better! Our last picture together before meeting at the alter…IMG_442634540

**Thank you Bill Krugler, our close family friend and reader in our ceremony, for taking all of the great pictures in this post. I’m grateful that you captured all of these moments!

To see more of our wedding details, you can find more posts I’ve written here!

We’re Moving to Toronto!

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It’s official – Andrew and I are moving to Toronto! After 6 months of waiting, we finally got our work visas. Considering that we have only been in the same city a total of 8 weeks since getting married in September (Andrew living and working in Toronto, me living in New Orleans, working in Los Angeles, and visiting Toronto), this is exciting for a lot of reasons! Mainly, we are finally going to be able to answer the question “what’s married life like?”!!Canadian Visa

We spent an entire weekend searching for apartments, trying to find the right fit for us. We want to give this whole big city lifestyle a try, although I started to hyperventilate a bit when I saw how small these kitchens are…But we found this place downtown, that makes me feel so urban and cool! So okay, maybe I can slim down my kitchen equipment, part with my popcorn maker, Panini press , toaster…in exchange for floor to ceiling windows and living in the middle of the action!Toronto Apartment

This past month, New Orleans was absolutely electric in anticipation of Mardi Gras!! You could feel the excitement in the air. I was like a little kid cheering and catching candy from the 4th of July floats, only this time I had a margarita in one hand while trying to catch beads with the other :)Mardi Gras on Bourbon Street

I LOVED the marching bands and the illuminated floats in the night parades.

Mardi Gras Parade Float

Needless to say, February has been an action-packed month!! We are busy getting ready for the move across the border and trying to soak in as much of New Orleans as possible these last few days!

Favorite meal cooked in February: Turkey Chili – an old recipe that hit the spot in Toronto’s frigid temps (and it’s SO easy and SO healthy)

Favorite cocktail in February: I can’t get enough of these Blood Orange Margaritas!Blood Orange Margaritas

Laughed the hardest in February: playing Fishbowl with friends, but this time with a twist! We added two new rounds that had me on the ground dying laughing. See the original rules here, to which we added a 4th round, where the person has to act out a word under a bed sheet, and a 5th round, where the person can only use sound effects to get their team to guess the word.Fishbowl Game

Blood Orange Margaritas

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Blood oranges are currently in season so I’ve been doing a little experimenting…and I have found my new favorite cocktail!! I can’t believe it, but I love these even more than my favorite basic fresh margarita!  Blood oranges are so sweet and delicious right now – and so pretty.Blood Oranges

You’ll want to make sure you have a good juicer, like this one, to juice your oranges (and limes). Andrew and I are crazy about this industrial juicer a friend gave us for our wedding – we take our cocktail making seriously :) I’m also enjoying this little mini measuring cup to measure ounces.Blood Orange Margaritas

I can’t tell you how delicious these are!! You just have to try one. I made these for my Valentine on Saturday – they are the perfect pink color.Blood Orange MargaritasBlood Orange Margarita

Serves 1

Ingredients:

  • 2 ounces tequila
  • 1 ounce Triple Sec (or other orange liqueur such as Cointreau)
  • 1 ounce lime juice
  • 2 ounces blood orange juice
  • ice (I think crushed ice is best)
  • Kosher salt for rim of glass

Directions:

Salt the rim of your glass using the pictured instructions in this post. Make sure to do this before adding ice to the glass, otherwise the water from the ice will cause the salt to clump.

In a cocktail shaker, combine tequila, Triple Sec, lime juice, and blood orange juice. Add a large handful of ice and shake for a good 30 seconds to make sure it’s chilled and refreshing!

Pour into the glass, add more ice if needed, and garnish with a thin slice of blood orange if you want to be fancy. Serve immediately. (If you want to make these ahead of time, store in the fridge without any ice. Add ice when serving.)

**If you are using a shot glass or want to scale this recipe, just make sure you use 2 parts tequila, 1 part Triple Sec, 1 part lime juice, and 2 parts blood orange juice.