Archive | November, 2011

Beauty Tips: Coconut Milk

29 Nov

Let’s face it, around the holidays we all can have a tendency to neglect ourselves. We are so busy with baking, cooking, shopping, decorating, and attending parties that we sometimes let our beauty routines fall by the wayside.

Me? I’m very low maintenance when it comes to beauty. I’m not one of those girls that needs 2hrs to get ready to go to the mall. If I have to wash my hair, shower and shave, I’m at about 45 minutes tops. And that’s with drying and flat ironing my hair (which with fine poker straight hair, I only do to smooth the ends or any kinks out).

Speaking of hair, I’ve got very long fine hair. It’s beautiful – I love my hair, I get compliments on it all the time. But around the winter, it seems like the ends start splitting so much faster than the summer months when the air is humid. And I’m lazy when it comes to getting regular hair cuts – my hair guy is lucky if he sees me about every 3 months. So since my appointments are so few and far between, I tend to get more than the standard 1/4 in trim and lean towards 1-2 inches off the length and 2-3 inches on the layers. I use lots of conditioner to keep my hair moist, but the winter usually wins causing the ends to split more and more and giving me those lovely fly aways. I was looking for something to try to help give my hair an intense conditioning without weighing it down and making it greasy. Lead to pinterest stalking. If you haven’t discovered pinterest yet, I don’t know what you have been waiting for! Just go check it out – it’s a virtual pinboard for ideas, recipes, crafts – you name it.

Back to the hair – on pinterest I kept seeing these photos of milky coated hair. I kept bypassing them focusing instead on sarcastic photos and of course, recipes. Then I read what the photo was for, and had an AHA! moment. Essentially, you take and coat your hair in coconut milk – MILK, not cream. Let it sit for an hour, and then wash/condition/style your hair as usual. Supposedly it will speed hair growth while adding moisture to your dry locks. I decided to give it a try since I was scheduled for a hair cut in the next couple days, and I had time to kill seeing as how it was  my cookie baking bonanza for Christmas.

To make the application process less messy, I poured the coconut milk into a hair color applicator bottle – it let me get it right to the roots and not cover my bathroom in coconut milk. I put it right on my in need of being washed hair, massaged it in, and then twisted it up on the top of my head and let it sit for one hour. I used coconut milk that they sold in the store…nothing special is required.

I then washed and conditioned my hair like I usually do, and since I didn’t have anywhere to go I just twisted up my hair and let it air dry.

This is my hair the following morning, after air drying and sleeping on it – not even brushed! I don’t usually get a lot of bed head but this is pretty smooth looking all things considered.

I have to say it’s a nice way to give your hair a moisturizing treatment, especially during this time of year. I can’t attest to it speeding up the growth process since I just did it, but it def conditioned my hair without weighing it down. Give it a try!

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Sunday Suppers: Pesto Chicken and Dumpling Soup

17 Nov

Over the summer, I was swimming in basil. My plants just went crazy. Now, I love basil but there was  only so much I could do with it before it would start looking wilty, brown and sad. So I made a ton of basil almond pesto and froze it. It was time to break some out. It was time to cook some in soup. It turned out to be damn delicious.

If this is the first soup recipe of mine you looked at, just a warning – it makes alot. I generally make a ginormous pot of soup every time I make soup so that we can eat it for days. Because it makes my life easier by be able to plan a few less meals. And it’s nice to know that i’m a few minutes away from a hot, filling, homemade meal. This soup is pretty minimalistic when it comes to ingredients. If you can’t find the frozen dumpling noodles that I used, just use a very wide egg noodle and cook in the hot broth according to package directions. In the mood for some biscuit dumplings? Follow the directions on a box of Jiffy/Bisquick biscuit mix and drop them into the hot broth until done. Pressed for time? Buy a rotisserie chicken and shred that instead of cooking up some chicken!

Pesto Chicken and Dumpling Soup

4 chicken breasts, cooked and shredded

1 large onion, chopped

8 cloves garlic, minced

4 32oz cartons chicken broth

1 8oz jar pesto (i used homemade, you can use storebought)

1 package frozen dumplings (mine are the noodle dumplings – 16 servings worth)

In a large soup pot, add the chopped onion and garlic and cook over medium heat until onion is almost translucent. Add the chicken broth and all of the pesto, stirring to combine. Bring to a boil and add the frozen dumplings (or your wide egg noodles or drop dumplings), cooking according to package directions. Once dumplings are cooked, add in the chicken and stir to incorporate. Serve & enjoy!

Easy peasy.

North Pole Cupcakes

17 Nov

Yep, you read that right – North Pole Cupcakes. You don’t even need to be at the North Pole to make them! I made these last Christmas and they were a total hit! And while they look like they may be a little involved, they really are very simple!

Bake up your favorite cupcake recipe – whatever type you like. For mine I made a devils food – from a box mix of course – and then I whipped up some vanilla buttercream – you can use any icing you like that falls into the white icing family. Decorate the cupcakes with the icing, roughly to resemble ‘snow’, and sprinkle with large white sugar crystals to make the ‘snow’ glisten.

Break the hook off of enough candy canes – one for each cupcake – and push into the center of the cupcake, broken end down.

Pick out some red sixlets – again, enough for all of your cupcakes. Make up a glue out of meringue powder and water and place a red sixlet on the top of the candy canes with a little spot of the meringue glue. Let the meringue dry, and tape a little North Pole sign on the front and serve!

What you will need:

cupcakes – use a box mix and follow directions

1 icing recipe – in the white icing family

white decorator sugar crystals

enough candy canes to have one per cupcake

red sixlets for the tops of the poles

meringue powder + water for the ‘glue’

a small North Pole sign for each candy cane pole

people to share them with

North Pole Cupcakes

Sunday Suppers: Zuppa Toscana

15 Nov

We first had this soup at Olive Garden – it’s hearty, wholesome, and I knew I could make something like it without much effort and in under an hour!

It’s a creamy broth, and on the day I made it, I didn’t have any milk in the house! None in the fridge, no condensed milk on the shelves. So I worked with what I had! This is my take on the classic italian recipes out there. I loved it – it was warm and filling with a flavor filled broth that was great sopped up with some Pennsylvania Cheddar Bread!

Zuppa Toscana

4lbs potatoes, peeled and cubed

1 12oz bag frozen spinach

1lb mild italian sausage

3 cloves garlic, chopped

3 32oz cartons chicken broth

1 cup light sour cream

1 cup powdered milk

In a large soup pot brown the sausage until cooked through – do not drain. Add in the 3 cartons of chicken broth, garlic and the potatoes. Cook on medium-high heat until the potatoes are cooked through, about 10-15 minutes depending on how large you cubed them. Turn off the heat and add in the powdered milk and the sour cream, stirring until they have both dissolved into the broth. Add in the frozen spinach and stir until no frozen lumps of spinach remain. Serve and enjoy!

Note: The reason for not draining the sausage is because the fats that cook out help to flavor the broth. I did not have a lot of fat in my pan after cooking the sausage so there were no worries. If you have a fattier sausage and your meat looks like it’s a grease stew, drain out some of the fat but not all, leaving enough for flavor. If you want a spicier soup, use hot sausage.

Pennsylvania Cheddar Bread

7 Nov

I love – I mean LOVE all things carbohydrate. I will tear up some pasta. I will gorge myself on a bread basket with butter, dipping oil, or just bread by itself. If there were meetings for people addicted to carbs, and I was a quitter, I would need the 12 step program to get off the carbs. But i’m not a quitter so even if there was a program for folks like me, I’d not be in line to sign up.

Seeing as how I love bread, it made sense for me to purchase “artisan bread in 5 minutes a day” – the title had me. Bread, in 5 minutes a day? No knead/rest/knead/rest/bake??? No complicated ‘sponge’ to make a nice, bakery shop worthy loaf of bread? Sign me up!

This particular recipe will yield four 1lb loaves of bread. You can either let this dough sit in the fridge in a large container (not airtight) and pull out a chunk when you want to bake it, or do as I did and bake all at once – I’m glad I made all 4 loaves at once since we consumed 1 1/2 loaves ourselves the day I baked them! They do freeze great as well, just double wrap in plastic wrap once they are completely cooled. Use or freeze all of the bread within 7 days. I have no idea why it’s called “Vermont Cheddar Bread” unless they use actual cheese from Vermont, or they are baking it in Vermont. I made mine in Pennsylvania so that’s what it’s called! And if you get a chance, purchase this book. It’s full of great advice and tips, and you will look like a baking pro!

Pennsylvania Cheddar Bread  – Adapted from “Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day.”

3 cups lukewarm (not hot) water 
1 1/2 tablespoons instant yeast
1 1/2 tablespoons salt
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
6 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 cups grated cheddar cheese
Cornmeal (for dusting)
Flour (for sprinkling)
1 cup hot water (for the oven)

1. In a large bowl or food container, mix the water, yeast, salt, and sugar together. Stir in the flour and grated cheese until just combined; you may have to use your hands to incorporate the last bit of flour. Alternately, use a food processor with a dough attachment or a standing mixer with a dough hook to combine ingredients. Do not knead the dough. 2. Cover the container loosely with a towel or plastic wrap. Let the dough rest at room temperature (65 to 75 degrees) for 2 hours or until the dough rises and collapses.

3. The dough is now ready for baking, but it’s easier to handle after refrigeration. Refrigerate in a loosely covered container for up to 7 days.

4. When ready to bake, have ready a pizza peel or baking sheet dusted liberally with cornmeal. Sprinkle the dough generously with flour and cut off a 1 pound piece (about the size of a grapefruit) for each loaf. Sprinkle the piece with more flour and quickly shape it into a ball by stretching the surface of the dough around to the bottom as you rotate the ball in your hands. Place the ball of dough on the pizza peel or baking sheet. Let rise at room temperature for 1 hour (40 minutes if you’re using fresh, unrefrigerated dough).

5. Set the oven at 450 degrees. Place a baking stone or baking sheet on the lowest rack and an empty broiler tray on any other shelf that won’t interfere with the rising bread.

6. Sprinkle the loaf generously with flour. Using a serrated bread knife, quickly slash a cross or tic-tac-toe pattern across the top of the bread.

7. Slide the loaf of bread off the peel or baking sheet onto the hot pizza stone or baking sheet. Pour 1 cup hot water into the hot broiler tray. Quickly close the oven door.

8. Bake the bread for 25 minutes, or until it looks deeply golden and firm. Smaller or larger loaves will require more or less baking time. Cool on a wire rack before slicing.