Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Christmas in Santa Barbara

I had a WONDERFUL Christmas this year!
One of the best Christmas I've had in a long time actually.
I hope you all a great Christmas too!!

My parents flew in a few days before and we drove up to Santa Barbara on Christmas Eve.
We had a delicious dinner and then attended 9PM Christmas Eve Mass.

Some pictures with the tree outside the church.

After that, it was time to get ready for bed so Santa could come!

And don't think I forgot to set out cookies and milk...
I was hoping for something good in my stocking and under the tree!!

After just a few hours of sleep, it was up bright and early.
It was time to open presents, drink lattes and eat warm homemade cinnamon rolls!!

My aunt and uncle's beautiful 13 foot tree!!

Presents time!!!
I was a good girl and Santa brought me a Sock Monkey Onesie! 

After presents and breakfast, I got myself ready and then went to town prepping and cooking!
After all...I was making the Christmas FEAST for 13 people!!!

So what was on the menu you ask?

Let me tell you...
(Because sadly not everything got photographed. I was BUSY...)

Roasted Pork Crown Roast with Apple, Bacon Cranberry Stuffing.
Roasted Potatoes with Rosemary and Onion.
Sauteed Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Garlic.
Roasted Cauliflower with Garlic and Lemon.
Garlic Herb Monkey Bread Muffins
and an Arugula, Cranberry and Parmesan Salad.

Oh yeah, and Homemade Applesauce too.
But sadly I was so busy that I COMPLETELY forgot to serve that.

Pictured Top Row: Arugula Salad, Cinnamon Rolls, Pork with Stuffing.
Pictured Bottom Row: Finished Crown Roast with Homemade "Hats", ALL the produce, Roasted Cauliflower

I was proud!
Can you tell???

I had some GREAT helpers that made the day quite tasty!!!

And these folks had a great time relaxing in the beautiful California weather!
Most of us were in short sleeves!!!

The Christmas Feast is served! 

Like I said before, I had a wonderful Christmas and LOVED cooking the whole meal. 
I think it was a success and look forward to making many more holiday meals in the future.

2013 Homemade Holiday Cards

Last year, I posted about my homemade Holiday Cards and I quickly decided I'd do it again this year because I love being able to look back at cards I've made in years past.

Now that Christmas is past, I think it's safe to share these with you all!

Take a look below at the cards I made for 2013!

 I made this group of four first to send in the package to Kansas City.

Then I went card making crazy one night and made TEN cards!!!

 The first group of five.
I have to admit...
I stole the presents idea from a friend!

And the last five!
Can you tell I liked the nativity stickers this year???
I just wish I had more for years to come!

That's it!!
Check back next December for the Holiday cards of 2014!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

2013 Christmas Decorations

If you haven't figured it out yet - I really like to decorate for the holidays!

I think Christmas is my favorite holiday and this year I've gone ALL OUT! 
My parents will be here for almost a week and I couldn't help but make my place pretty festive. 
I'll have to say - I'm pretty happy with the outcome and I am quite certain that I this year's decorations are my favorite yet!!! 

Take a look below at all the fun things I have around my place.

I got my FIRST real Christmas Tree as an adult! 
This beauty is a little over five and a half feet tall and smells quite delightful.
After having a real tree, it's going to be quite difficult to go back to an artificial one...

The front door is pretty decorated! 

I, of course, have the my homemade yarn wreath hanging on the outside.
Along with some other cute touches - lights, cinnamon pinecones and a Santa decoration!

Inside I have my Dear Santa list on the chalkboard wall.
The Christmas bible verse is framed and placed on the table my dad made me!
(I got this and other fun FREE printables online, but now I can't find the links for the life of me. I'm sorry!!!)

This view is one of my favorite view this season. 
The top left picture is what you see while standing in my kitchen - and I do that quite often!

I made the "Believe" banner and it was 100% all me!
No online inspiration for this fun DIY decoration. :)

Some more fun Christmas touches around the living and dining areas!
I bought the Santa printable from here, but the "Hark the Herald" one is another FREE printable that I can't find. 
Again - SORRY!

I painted the smallest nutcracker years ago and decided this year that I need more nutcracker decorations.

I could use some more snowmen and Santa decor as well!

(Hint, Hint!)

Another favorite view right now is my TV stand. 
I love the pinecones, I love the red holly berries and I especially love my nativity!!!
My grandma painted the nativity just for me and I am SO happy to have it.

This tree is about three years old and I bought it when it was less than a foot tall! 
I can't believe it's still living and it's SO big!

The garland at the top is new this year and right over the den's french doors.
I think it looks great and can't believe I haven't done this the last two years!

The rest are garlands/banners that I either made this year or last year. 
I have a thing for these kind of decorations, can ya tell?

Bathroom, bedroom and kitchen decorations!
I am SO happy I finally switched to flannel sheets. My bed has been extra toasty!!

I adore the wine bottle that lights up, but I cannot take credit for it.
I received this as a gift a few years from one of my oldest friends. 

That's it! 
Well, that's it for now at least.

I really think I'm done decorating, but you never know...
I added a red poinsettia to the front door display today and that's not pictured,
so who knows if I'll do anything else.

I'd love to see your decorations.
I need some inspiration to create for next year! 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Thumbprint Reindeer Ornaments

As I mentioned in this post, I've become a HUGE fan of DIY decorations. 
And because it's the holidays, what better time to give some DIY decorations to my friends and family?

When looking at fun Christmas DIY ideas online, I saw multiple examples of "thumbprint reindeer ornaments",  and I thought they would make great gifts!

I decided to just do my own thing while sticking with the original thumbprint idea. 

These were SUPER easy to make and I'm really happy with the outcome. 
I'm even tempted to make more to either give out more as gifts this year OR keep them for 2014!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

White Yarn Wrapped Wreath

I've been on a homemade decorations kick since Halloween and I have to say that I'm really starting to love DIY decor! There are so many fun homemade things out there and it's so easy to customize everything so it looks exactly how I want!

One of the fun things I found was a White Yarn Wrapped Wreath. I knew I wanted a wreath for my front door and after looking around for a bit, I couldn't stop thinking about this one

It didn't look too hard to make, so I got the supplies last weekend and went to town wrapping and wrapping and wrapping. Yes, it took forever to wrap. Hours in fact! Yes, folks, that's dedication! Even though it took so long to get the straw wreath wrapped, I was SO happy with the outcome. 

The only thing left to do was make the felt flowers and add everything to the wreath.
That was a cinch compared to the wrapping!

Check out the wreath making fun below.

I LOVE LOVE LOVEEEEE my wreath and am thinking I want more yarn wrapped wreaths for other seasons.
We will see... 

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Robyn Recreates Olive Garden Favorites

Yup, you read that right!!
I have recreated not one, but TWO Olive Garden dishes that are favorites to many!

While I haven't had Olive Garden in years, I still remember what their signature salad tastes like. I used to go there just because of their amazing salad and breadsticks.

The salad was all about the dressing and I think I got pretty darn close to the real thing. I was reassured when a girlfriend I had over that night agreed that it was pretty spot on! 

Sadly, their breadsticks wasn't something I made - I haven't taken that on yet!
(Who knows, maybe soon?)

The second Olive Garden knock off I made is something I made twice in one week and just couldn't get enough. I made Zuppa Toscana Monday night and again on Friday, which was perfect for the cold evenings we've been having.

And the finished product...

So, so, SO good!!!

Since I didn't make breadsticks, I did the next best thing and made savory monkey bread muffins. They were amazing and not a single one was leftover!!!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Flower Bouquets in Mini Pumpkins!

I know this post is a little late for you to do this yourself this year, but keep the idea in the back of your head and make use of it in aboooooooooout 11 months! :)

I love having fresh flowers around, and I love decorating for the holidays so having fresh flowers IN a mini pumpkin vase totally works for me. If fact, thinking about it now, I wish I had made one for my Thanksgiving with Girlfriends!  I figured the idea would make a great hostess gift for Thanksgiving so I went to town creating one...

or maybe two...

okay I made THREE!

This wasn't super easy to do, but wasn't hard by any means either. It just took time to cut and clean out the pumpkins, cut the floral foam and place the flowers so the bouquet looks full! Check out the process below. 

Now try to remember to make these beauties next year. 

I sure hope I remember myself... HAHA!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Sunday Night Dinner: Take 35

I'm back with a real quick Sunday Night Dinner post! 

It's been awhile since I've done one of these posts, 
but I'm here now to tell you about this dinner that includes an amazing recipe reminding me of my childhood!

Growing up, I remember having meatloaf on a pretty regular occasion. 
I loved it. I ate it without complaining! That is until I gave up eating beef! 

I don't think I've eaten a bite of meatloaf since then...until today!!!

I made mini turkey meatloaves with a slice of bacon on top. 
I wasn't originally planning on adding the bacon, but I'm real glad I did! 
The meatloaves were super moist and delicious. Very similar to how I remember mom's tasting!

With the meatloaf, I made some carmalized sweet potato rounds. 
They were SO GOOD and I will be blogging about them very soon.

Finally, I finished the meal with a green vegetable - frozen peas. 
Yes folks, I said frozen peas! I actually really like them and think they went with the meal quite well.

All in all, I think tonight's meal was a great Sunday Night Dinner!!!

Thanksgiving 2013

As I mentioned in this post, I wasn't going to be hosting again this year - but instead would be spending the day with some of my family a few hours South of Los Angeles. Even though I wasn't making the whole dinner, I offered to make a thing or two and was assigned an appetizer and a dessert.

And because I'm me, I made one additional little goodie too! 

I knew almost immediately what appetizer I wanted to make, but deciding on a dessert took a little more thought. My amazing brother is the one that gave me the great idea, but I put my own twist on it! 

So what all did I make?!?!

Curious aren't ya?

Okay...I'll tell you!!

I made...

Bacon Wrapped Bleu Cheese Stuffed Dates!
YUMMMM! These are SO good and I can never get enough. These little suckers even converted a couple people who weren't fans of bleu cheese or dates!!! They are so easy to make, super tasty and I'd absolutely consider them a success at Thanksgiving this year.

And my brother - he suggested a Pumpkin Cheesecake, which sounded great!

But I like mini/individual treats, so I made...

MINI Pumpkin Cheesecakes!
They had an amazing gingersnap crust and weren't too pumpkin-y. Just right in my opinion.

Now what about that other little treat?

Oh right...

These cute little things...

Peanut Butter Ritz Sandwich and Hersey Kiss Acorns!
A friend showed me a link with them around Halloween and I couldn't resist!! I made a batch for work earlier in the week and they were devoured. I knew then that I had to make some more to take for Thanksgiving!

After I finished getting everything prepped or made, I decided I should take a lil gift for the person hosting this year's Thanksgiving. I kept if festive and made the gift instead of purchased it!

Wondering again what I made???

I made...

Flower Bouquets in Mini Pumpkins!
(Look for a post about these real soon!!!)

How cute are these???

I was originally only going to make one for the host, but I had enough flowers so I made one for my grandma and a close friend too! I think they turned out great and I can totally see myself making these again!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Ebates! Ebates! Ebates!

Ebates folks! I WISH I'd started using this amazing site sooner. Don't waste time like me. Sign up NOW! 

If you do any shopping online, changes are good that you could be earning some cash back. I did some early Christmas shopping and got 90% of my list through Ebates! And because I did that - I got money back!!! Granted, it's not a lot. Not a lot at all. But it's basically FREE MONEY! If I was going to buy a book from Amazon.com anyway, why not get a percentage of the money I'm spending back? 

So if you're not using Ebates yet, start using it now! Signing up is SO easy. Just follow this link: http://www.ebates.com/rf.do?referrerid=VnXRkH%2BNDRhoc8v%2B%2FlituA%3D%3D and don't purchase another thing online before checking if you can get money back. 

And to prove to you it works - here is my very first "Big Fat Check" as they call it! 

$6.54 isn't a Big Fat Check in my opinion, but like I said before it's basically FREE.  
And isn't an extra $6.54 in your pocket better than nothing! 

Note - this is not a sponsored post, all the opinions in this post are mine and I'm not being compensated in anyway.

Thanksgiving with Girlfriends 2013

I usually spend Turkey Day at a family member or close friend's home, but last year I hosted my very first Thanksgiving! I did almost all of the cooking myself and was exhausted by the end of the day, but I wouldn't have changed a thing! I had so much fun hosting that I looked forward to doing it again before the day was even over! 

I'll be honest - when people started talking about their Thanksgiving plans this year, I was a little sad that I wasn't going to be hosting again!  That is, until I decided I was going to host a very small Pre-Thanksgiving get together with a few of my close girlfriends.

After very little thought, I decided I'd make a few things, but have everyone else pitch in so it wasn't as much pressure on me. This year, I was in charge of the turkey, stuffing, gravy and cranberry sauce. My girlfriends were responsible for everything else. Take a look below at my fun Thanksgiving with Girlfriends!

A little decor.

The table all set for dinner.

Carving the turkey. 


The whole spread and a plate of deliciousness!

Everything came together so well and all the food tasted AMAZING! While I do like sweet potatoes, I've never been a huge fan of  the mashed sweet potatoes with toasted marshmallows on top. After this weekend though, I think I've officially been converted to liking them and couldn't get enough!

Chicken Soft Tacos

If you haven't figured it out yet - I LOVE to cook. 

I love it even more when I can cook for a group of people like my amazing family or my close friends.

 I love searching cookbooks and online for recipes (heck - I do this for fun all the time!), I love going to the market (sometimes more than one!) to buy all the ingredients, I love the whole cooking process (yes, even all the prep work too!) and I love seeing the happiness and full bellies once the meal is all over.

 Without boring you even more about how much I love to cook, let me tell you about an amazing and SUPER EASY meal I made for myself and two of my girlfriends a few weeks ago!

I was randomly browsing recipes online one night (surprise surprise, right?) and I round a recipe for chicken tacos. I've made chicken tacos countless times, but this recipe sounded so simple and looked amazing! I called for a crock pot, a few ingredients and not much else.

I used this recipe as a starting point, but made a few modifications. I didn't use green chiles because I didn't have any. Instead of using a jar of salsa, I made my own, which is so easy too! Lastly, I used chicken thighs AND chicken tenders because...I wanted to and I did! The only thing I'd do different next time would be to use "fajita" sized instead of "soft taco" sized tortillas. Sounds odd, I know, but the "soft taco" ones are quite large.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Homemade Spaghetti and Turkey Bolognese!

I hadn't made homemade pasta in awhile, so a few weeks ago I busted out my trusty pasta maker and went to town! I made half a recipe of a simple egg dough, letting it rest for a few hours before rolling it out and cutting it into spaghetti.

 I usually serve my homemade pasta with a simple marinara or an olive oil based sauce, but this time I wanted to change things up and give turkey bolognese a try! I'd never made a bolognese  but I thought I could handle it! After looking at a few recipes, I decided on this yummy sounding one from Giada de Laurentiis.

Take a look below at the process of making both the pasta dough and the sauce.

The Pasta Goods:
A lil Salt 

Put flour in a big bowl and make a well. Crack the eggs and mix them in with a fork until dough is starting to come together. Continue to mix it a little longer by hand.

Then dump it onto a floured surface and go to town kneading. 
I kneaded the dough for about 5 minutes, give or take. 

The top shows what it should look like when you're done kneading.
Wrap it in plastic warp and let it rest for a few hours, or even a few days in the fridge!

Once you're ready to use the dough, cut into 4 pieces. Flour the top and form each piece into a flattened disk. Run the dough through the pasta machine and then cut into spaghetti.  

Now that the pasta is done, let me tell you all about the sauce!

The Bolognese Goods:
Ground Turkey
Crushed Tomatoes
Flat Leaf Parsley
Parmesan Cheese
Olive Oil

Prep all your goods!

Heat a little olive oil, sauté your onions and garlic. Once onions are translucent, add the carrots and celery and cook a few minutes. Then add the ground turkey and cook completely. Finally, add the crushed tomatoes and fresh herbs. Stir everything to combine and simmer for about 30 minutes. 

Since I made fresh pasta, it only needs to cook for a few minutes. While that was cooking, I added fresh parmesan to the sauce. Toss the sauce with the pasta and save a little sauce to add on top. I served mine with homemade garlic bread and some oven roasted corn on the cob. 

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Elina and Robyn Make...Chinese Food!

I love cooking with Elina and since this is the third post of the section, I thought it'd be fun to have Elina as a guest blogger! We had so much fun making this meal (as usual) and I would love to eat it all again. Keep reading and Elina will tell you all about this cooking adventure!

Every once in a while Robyn and I get a crazy idea, and that's exactly what happened recently! We decided to make something really special and outside of the box...at least for us! We decided to give Chinese food a try! 

There are about a gazillion delicious Chinese food options out there, but we decided on just three: Chinese BBQ Pork, a take on P.F. Chang's Chang's Spicy Chicken and Chicken Lettuce Wraps...also a take on the popular dish from P.F. Chang's. And of course some steamed white rice, because what is Chinese food without rice!? As usual, we used all the recipes above as a guide, but changed a few things along the way to our liking.

We don't have much experience in Chinese food, so I must admit we were a little nervous going in. We frequented our local Asian market and picked up some of the not so standard ingredients that we needed and got to work.

Chinese BBQ Pork Goods

Making the BBQ Pork

Chicken Lettuce Wrap Goods

The Lettuce Wrap Sauce

Cooking the Chicken Lettuce Wrap filling

Chang's Spicy Chicken Goods

 Making Chang's Spicy Chicken

 And FINALLY the yummy rice!

The finished product!!!

In the end, I am happy to report that everything came out delicious and even authentic!