Friday, December 20, 2013

Lentil and Sausage Soup

It has been a fairly cold winter here in Atlanta, but I have been traveling a lot to warmer areas, so after not traveling for a couple weeks, I thought it would be great to try out a new soup recipe.  After making so many baked goods for coworkers and friends, we tried to make sure we were eating healthy.  Here is a soup recipe that was absolutely amazing and we will definitely be making it again.  It is simple to add any veggies you would like (i.e. peas, kale, etc) and switching up sausage flavors.  We went to the Dekalb Farmers Market this weekend and if you haven't been there, they have the largest meat area ever.  There they have all different sorts of sausage, so we actually bought Spinach, Feta, and Sun Dried Tomato Turkey sausage for the soup and it was absolutely amazing.  We cannot wait to try other variations of the soup, but here is the recipe I used this time.

Lentil and Sausage Soup
Serves 8 - 10
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 pound of carrots, sliced
1 large onion, diced
4 large cloves garlic, minced
14 oz (8 sausage) or any type of Turkey Sausage/kielbasi
2 1/2 cups brown lentils
32 ounce box of  chicken broth (I use low sodium)
32 ounce box of  vegetable broth (I use low sodium)
2 - 14 1/2 ounce cans of diced tomatoes
pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a large saucepan (5 quart or larger) over medium heat.  Add the carrots, onion, and garlic.  Cook, stirring frequently, until softened, about 8 minutes.
Add the kielbasa, lentils, and broth; bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat and simmer until the lentils* and carrots are tender, about 45 minutes.
Stir in the tomatoes, salt and ground pepper.  Simmer until heated through, about 10 minutes longer.  I personally like to let the soup simmer for a longer period, so all the flavors have time to meld together nicely, but this is not necessary.

Recipe adapted from Here

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Spreading the Christmas Spirit...

This week was my last full week of work for the year and also a week from home.  It was great to be back home, but unfortunately, Joe was traveling up north to Minnesota so I was on my own.  Thursdays, I delivered some Christmas cookies to my colleagues at WIKA  who deal with my never ending questions, demands, and requests.  I couldn't do my job without them and they make my life on the road much easier, so I wanted to make sure that they knew how much I appreciated them.  Last year I made a wide variety of treats to deliver, but this year I wanted to limit it a bit more to cookies.  So, with that, below you will find some incredibly tasty holiday cookie recipes that I hope my colleagues enjoyed.

Hot Cocoa Cookies

2 and 1/2 sticks room temperature butter
1 cup sugar
2/3 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 1/4 cups flour
4 packages Hot Chocolate Mix
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup chocolate chips
1 cup Marshmallow Bits (make sure that they are bits, smallest marshmallows possible...otherwise your cookies can turn out incredibly flat because the marshmallows spread out too much)


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.Cream together your butter and both sugars until light and fluffy. And in eggs and vanilla and blend well. In a separate bowl, mix together your dry ingredients, including your hot chocolate packets.

Add the dry ingredients a little at a time to your wet ingredients. After mixed well, mix in chocolate chips and marshmallow bites.  Dough should be very think so you can hand mix if necessary.
Drop on to your cookie sheets.  Again, the dough was dry, but the end result was fabulous.

Bake in an oven preheated to 350 degrees for 8-11 minutes. Allow to cool for approximately five minutes then remove from cookie sheet. Enjoy!!!

Carmel Apple Cider 

1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 (7.4 oz) box Alpine Spiced Apple Cider Instant Original Drink Mix (10 packets)
2 eggs
1 full tsp vanilla extract
3 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 full tsp cinnamon
1 bag of chewy caramels

Preheat oven to 350° Line cookie sheets with parchment or silpat mats. In a small bowl whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder and cinnamon.  With an electric mixer, cream together butter, sugar, salt and all 10 packages of apple cider drink mix powder, until light and fluffy.  Beat in eggs, one at a time. Add vanilla and mix well.  Gradually add flour mixture to butter/egg mixture. Mix until just combined.
Scoop out cookie dough ball about the size of a walnut (about 2 tablespoons). Flatten the ball of dough slightly in the palm of your hand. Press the unwrapped caramel into the center of your dough and seal the dough around it, covering it completely. Shape the dough into a ball, and place on parchment covered cookie sheets about 3 inches apart. Bake 12-14 minutes, or until very lightly browned around the edges. They may not look quite done in the center but that is OK. Once the cookies are done, carefully slide the parchment off of the baking sheet right out onto the counter. Allow cookies to partially cool on the parchment. When cookies are cool enough to be firm but still slightly warm, carefully twist off of parchment and allow to finish cooling upside down on the parchment or on a rack.  

M&M Cookies


2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon cornstarch
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla paste or 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
one 12-ounce package of mini M&Ms (I use Christmas ones this time around)

In a bowl, mix together flour, cornstarch, salt and baking soda. Set aside.   In the bowl of a stand mixer (or using a hand mixer), cream together butter and both sugars on medium speed until light and fluffy . With the mixer on low, add in egg and vanilla. Return mixer to medium and mix until incorporated but be careful to not over mix. Scrape sides if needed.   With the mixer back on low, add dry ingredient mixture gradually until dough forms. Stir in M&Ms by hand. Refrigerate dough for at least 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and line baking sheets with parchment paper or Silpat and set aside.

Form balls from approximately 1-2 tablespoon of dough. Bake for 9-11 minutes or until edges are just barely golden. Remove from oven and let cool for a couple of minutes on baking sheet before removing and placing on wire rack to finish cool. Store in airtight container.

The last cookies were made are cookies I have made before and not "Christmas" themed but who doesn't love peanut butter and chocolate.

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 cup (2stick) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1 cup light brown sugar (or dark brown)
1/2 cup sugar
2 large egg
1 1/2cup creamy peanut butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup dark chocolate chips (or semi-sweet or milk chocolate)
1 cup Peanut Butter Reese's Chips

Cream the butter and sugars together with a hand or stand mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy. Scrape down the sides and bottom as needed. Mix in the peanut butter, egg, and vanilla (in that order). Scrape down the sides as needed. Slowly mix in the baking soda and flour. Do not overmix. Fold in the chocolate chips and peanut butter chips.

Chill both doughs for at least 1-2 hours. 2 hours is preferred.  Preheat oven to 350F degrees. Line cookie sheet with silicone baking mat or parchment paper. Measure 2 Tablespoons of peanut butter cookie dough. Roll into a ball and place on silpat about 2 " apart.  Bake for 11-12 minutes

I hope you enjoy all of these cookies!  The weekend was quite a relaxing weekend for Joe and I and we didn't have too many things planned.  Friday evening Joe's company had their Christmas party so we attended that and had a wonderful dinner and evening.  Saturday we relaxed the majority of the day but enjoyed dinner at Flip with Reza and Kellie Ann and then an evening out at 5 Paces with our favorite bartender :)

And now....of to make some Shark Skewers for dinner!

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 (7.4 oz) box Alpine Spiced Apple Cider Instant Original Drink Mix (10 packets - found next to hot chocolate mix)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 (14 ounce) bag of Kraft chewy caramels

  •

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 (7.4 oz) box Alpine Spiced Apple Cider Instant Original Drink Mix (10 packets - found next to hot chocolate mix)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 (14 ounce) bag of Kraft chewy caramels

  •

    Sunday, December 8, 2013

    Birthday Week!

    So this week was an exciting week filled with travel, friends, and family.  This Monday I celebrated my birthday by hopping on a plane and heading to LA!  Joe and I had celebrated my birthday on Saturday night with a dinner at Atlanta Fish Market and he bought me a beautiful Michael Kors Watch and slippers to wear around the house since it is getting cold here and the hard woods make it even colder. He had wonderful intentions to take me to breakfast early Monday morning before I headed to the airport, but as the alarm went off and we heard it raining out, we decided to postpone the event.  The day started with the TSA guy checking IDs singing happy birthday to me (the whole song as everyone stood in the crazy long line since it was the Monday after Thanksgiving and the highest time for business travel) and then I got upgraded to First Class just because it was my special day :)

    Landing in LAX it was a pleasant surprise to find I did not need my winter coat for the week!  After a day of calls, my good friend Kristen from GT who lives out in Anaheim drove over an hour to come and have birthday dinner with me!  We were going to go to a seafood place only to find out it was closed, but ended finding an amazing sushi place just down the street (Tokoro Sushi)!  After dinner we wondered into the coolest desert place ever!  So this is an ice cream cookie desert place and you get to choose from about 20 different cookie flavors (and yes they have samples of all of them) and then about 20 different ice cream flavors and make a custom ice cream sandwich!  The man at the store was so helpful and patient with us and explained all of the exotic fruits and spices going into some of the cookies and ice creams.  After desert I headed back to the hotel since I always stay on east coast time and go to bed super early!
    Sushi Dinner with Kristen :)
    Ice Cream Sandwiches!!!
    Tuesday was another busy day but at the end of the day I met up with Johnnie who was also a swimmer at GT living near where my hotel was.  We headed to a Japanese BBQ place and it was also such a cool experience!  Gyu Kaku was the restaurant, and you have your own personal grill that you get to grill all sorts of meats and veggies on.  We ordered quite an assortment and loved catching up!  Wednesday I was down in Anaheim for the night (right next to Disney) so I met up with Kristen again and we finally got some seafood at McCormick and Schmicks.  It was amazing and then we headed to Rocky Mountain Chocolate for desert.  It was so good seeing friends on my travels this past week, especially since it was my birthday week.

    It was finally time to decorate our Christmas tree with what ornaments we had so that it would start looking more Christmasy in our house.  We put up the ornaments we had bought the weekend before and the lights, but realized we still needed a star/angel/bow to put on top.  We figure that could get bought at a later date, but we had fun decorating our first tree together!
    Our Tree and Houses :)

    Friday morning, Joe and I finally went on our breakfast date at White House in Buckhead, which was amazing.  He got biscuits and gravy with fried chicken and I got the gyro omelet.   Both were absolutely amazing and it was fun to get to celebrate my birthday with him a little late.  Before we knew it, it was the weekend and time to relax.  After Joe got home from work we went shopping for some Christmas stuff before heading to bed fairly early since it had been a long week for me.  We were up and at it early in the morning on Saturday and headed to the Dekalb Farmers Market to explore because it is such a fascinating place.  There are so many fish, spices, meats, fruits, veggies, etc. that we had never heard of so we had a lot of fun shopping.  We finished up grocery shopping at the international market on pleasant hill before heading home to relax a bit.  After getting a workout in, my parents arrived from Greenville so we caught up with them for a bit, talked about the wedding and planned what new projects we had wanted to do at our house. After a while, my mom had brought my birthday "cake" that she had baked that morning for us to enjoy, so that I did not have to go without that cake that I had had every birthday since I can remember.  It actually isn't a cake, it is a sweet bread similar to challah bread, but I wasn't a huge fan of cake growing up so my mom always made the bread in a circle shape and put candles in it for my birthday!  It is such a fun tradition and I always enjoy the "cake". Before we knew it, it was time to get ready for the Slovenian Christmas Party.
    This was the second annual party, but my company Christmas party was the same time as this one was last year.  My parents had gone the year before, so Joe and I decided we might as well join to meet more of the Slovenian people in Atlanta.  We had so much fun doing a white elephant exchange, meeting so many new people from Atlanta, and catching up with others that we had met before. My parents also got to catch up with many friends they had known while we lived in Douglasville when we were younger.
    My parents :)

    Sunday morning we ate breakfast with my parents then headed up to Roswell to go to church with my parents and Joe's parents at St. Ann's.  After the mass we got to talk to the musician that will be doing our wedding who is absolutely amazing!  It was nice to get him confirmed and booked so that we had one more thing done on our wedding to do list.  After church we headed to Joe's parents house and we enjoyed tea/coffee/water before my parents headed home to Greenville.  After my parents left, Matt and Kim came over to Joe's parent's house so that we could all decorate the tree together before eating an early dinner. This week and weekend flew by but it was such a great time celebrating my birthday with friends and family.  Now, a week from home is just what I need, even if I will be on my own!

    Wednesday, December 4, 2013

    Vacation Week and Thanksgiving!

    This past week was a wonderful week spent with family and friends!  I had a lot of vacation left before the end of the year hit so I decided it was time for me to use some of it and take the week of Thanksgiving of.  After a weekend filled with Engaged Encounter, I hit the road early Monday morning to head up to Grenville for a couple of days.  I got there in no time and didn't hit much traffic which was wonderful. After I got home I took a long walk with my brother so that we could catch up before heading downtown to meet up with Amanda.  Amanda and I headed to the path that takes you through the park downtown and had so much fun walking, catching up, and staying warm (It was quite cold out!)  After finishing up our 6 mile walk, I headed hope to spend some time with my parents since they had gotten off of work.  Courtney came over for family dinner, as always, and we enjoyed some wine and good company.
    Greenville is so pretty!!!
    Tuesday was a relaxing day in the morning before heading to meet Sarah for lunch.  We had planned to go to Tupelo Honey but it was very rainy out and parking was terrible so we ended up changing plans and going to Genghis Grill.  Of course the food is great there but the company was even better!  After spending 2 hours at lunch catching up I came home and got a workout in before heading to Courtney's apartment to cook dinner and enjoy great company.  Courtney made the best cheesy chicken recipe and I cannot wait to try it!  After dinner I headed home to spend some more time with my family since they had been working all day.

    Wednesday was nice because my mom was off of school, so we headed out and did some shopping and took a walk before preparing dinner for lunch time.  My dad came home from work early so that we could eat as a family before I hit the road and headed back to Atlanta.  I knew traffic would be bad but it only took me an extra 45 minutes or so to get home, which could be worse!  After getting home, Joe and I cooked dinner before friends came over.  Since everyone was off the next day for Thanksgiving, we were excited to spend some time with friends that we hadn't seen in a while.  We headed over to 5 Paces to visit our favorite bar tender Jessie (I friend from GT that also swam with me) and dance the night away.
    super excited about the popcorn!
    Thursday morning came quick and after relaxing and sleeping in, we headed up to Joe's parents house to spend Thanksgiving with them.  Of course the food was great, and we enjoyed two turkeys, one fried and one baked, as well as plenty of sides and deserts to eat!  All of the food was amazing and we really are lucky to have family so close to us.  When we got home Joe dragged out the Christmas stuff we had since we had not been able to put it out in quite some time!  He did a great job putting up all of our houses that we had bought years ago right after Christmas for a great price, but had never gotten to put up since he was normally moving Christmas time.  Slowly, things in the house were starting to look like Christmas, but we still have a ways to go!
    Thanksgiving in the making!
    Putting up the Christmas Village...time to add snow :)
    Christmas Decorating in his hat :)
    Friday morning I headed to the gym to work off some of the food from the previous day, and even hopped in the pool and swam two miles (3300 yds!)  I was so proud of myself and it only took me an hour :)  After a great workout, I took Rox for a walk before Joe got home from Golf.  We went to dinner at the Atlanta Fish Market where we enjoyed amazing sea food and celebrated my birthday a bit early.  After getting home, Joe's friends came over for another evening of fun.  Since it was cold out, we headed to Ivy just down the street where we danced and had a great time.  After Ivy we hit up waffle house before heading home.
    Family Photo!
    Saturday morning came way too quick and before we knew it we were heading to Georgia Tech for the GT vs. UGA football game.  Joe's parents had given us tickets so we were excited to tailgate and spend some time with friends before watching the game.  There were so many GT Alum in town so it was great seeing everyone, catching up, and we finally got to see Kevin and Baby Liam!  It was so cute seeing Joe hold him, and Liam is the cutest baby ever!  After tailgating we headed to the game with Duncan, Kayla, and Megan who was in town for a couple days.  Although we may have froze, and lost a considerable lead that made Tech go into overtime and lose, it was such a good time seeing everyone!  We headed home from the game and warmed up in bed and watched the Clemson/Carolina game from the warmth and comfort of our house before going to bed.
    Sunset at the Game!
    All Bundled Up!

    Game Time!
    So much fun with these two!
    Love :)
    Time for Kick Off!
    Sunday was Christmas decorating day, so we started by getting some ornaments, tree skirt, and so much more since we really didn't have anything!  We want to keep this year minimally decorated and by everything after Christmas on sale, but we still wanted to have a tree up and decorated.  After buying a tree, we set it up and are letting it fall so that we can decorate it later in the week.  The gifts are already wrapped and under the tree so all that is left is putting up the lights and ornaments!  This was the first time I ever picked out a tree so it was quite an experience but we had a good time.  Once that was done it was time to make spaghetti sauce for the freezer since we were all out and then make meatloaf for the first time!  This is Joe's favorite food, and I will have to put up the recipe soon because it really did turn out well!  Before we knew it, it was time for me to pack for the week of travels and head to bed after an amazing week filled with food, friends, and family.
    Our Tree!

    New Stockings :)  Roxy has the best one :)
    More than ever, I realized how much I have to be Thankful for.  I have such an amazing support system from my family and friends, a fiance that loves me more than anything else, and a life that I wouldn't give up for the world.  As I fell asleep the last night as a 24 year old, I realized that it had been a great year, highlighted with getting engaged, but 25 is going to be even better!  Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!