Monday, December 31, 2012

Bring it on, 2013.

I can hardly believe how quickly 2012 passed by...I feel like it was just yesterday that I was trying to remember to date everything with '12 instead of '11 - something I struggle with every year!

This year was pretty fabulous. I ran my first half marathon and completed it under my goal. It was a summer full of incredible weddings - including my own! I have the world's most amazing husband to share my life with now. I got to travel to magical Hawaii for my honeymoon. I gained a wonderful new family - seriously, my in-laws are fantastic. My friends have continued to be a bright light of happiness in my life, and I feel incredibly blessed to have them. I conquered my dislike for mushrooms and brussel sprouts - a total win in my book. Oh, and I hate winter a LITTLE less now that I finally got to make use of my snowshoes.

I've really tried to focus on all the positives that came out of this year, but there's still one particular negative experience that creeps up to the front of my mind and puts a damper on my 2012: the loss of Max. The holidays were more difficult this year than I anticipated, and it's amazing how much I still miss him every day. I feel now more than ever that I am completely ready to hit the refresh button and see what 2013 has in store.

I don't really do New Year's Resolutions, so instead:
I will continue working on being the best version of myself that I can be. I will be open to learning and growing in my career. I will try my hardest to be the amazing wife Brent deserves and the best caretaker to Casey. I will continue living a healthy lifestyle and running as many miles as I can.

I feel a big change coming this new year. The older I get, the more I fear not taking chances. I would really like to take all these "what if's" that have been floating around me the past couple years and make them reality.

So bring it on, 2013. 

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Christmas Recap '12

I'm finally reemerging from the Christmas haze, which unfortunately means being back at work. We got hit with a big Nor'easter overnight in New England, but the Boston area got mostly rain, so no snow day for me. Lucky for us, places up north got a good amount of fresh powder; one of my Christmas gifts to Brent this year was a weekend getaway to Brunswick, Maine for the first weekend in January, so we will FINALLY get to test out our snowshoes! So exciting!

Christmas Recap

Christmas Eve, we had a potluck dinner and exchanged gifts with my stepdad's family. Keeping with tradition, I later played bartender while we all cozied up on the couch and watched Scrooge fell asleep before 11:00pm.

Traditional Christmas Eve Tini's: Hendrick's Gin, St. Germain, Raspberry Puree, topped with Prosecco

Casey eyeing Brent's cocktail

Christmas morning, my mom made her famous monkey bread, and we opened gifts while toasting with mimosas. Typical.

My new Garmin Forerunner, thanks to Brent! Can it be spring now, please??

Casey enjoying her rawhide bone...for the moment. Girlfriend got a little too excited with it, demolished it, and got sick off it later. Tisk, tisk.

My aunt's fabulous creation: grape syrup, dash of bitters, and Champagne

We spent Christmas day at my uncle's, equipped with TONS of delicious food, wonderful company, and a kick-ass game of Trivial Pursuit. It's so sad when Christmas comes to a close, but I'm so ready for 2013 to begin. And with it, the warmer weather of Spring/Summer. I'm not sure how many more winter seasons I can handle up here in Mass!

Merry Christmas from our family to yours!! 

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Recipe of the Week: Berry + White Chocolate Chip Cottage Cheese Pancakes

Most recipes I come up with are a product of having random things leftover that need to be used. I kind of like creating order out of chaos, what can I say?

Today, I bring to you a delicious breakfast food.

Berry + White Chocolate Chip Cottage Cheese Pancakes
[makes 6 pancakes]
>>PRINT this recipe!<<

2 eggs
1/4 C flour
1/2 C low fat cottage cheese
3 Tbsp butter, melted
1 Tbsp white chocolate chips
1/4 C berries, chopped (I used raspberries and blackberries, but blueberries or strawberries would work great as well)

  • Mix eggs, cottage cheese, flour, and butter together in a medium bowl.
  • Gently fold in berries and chocolate chips.
  • Spray a frying pan or griddle with cooking spray and heat to medium. Using a 1/4 C measuring cup, scoop pancake mix into pan, and cook 1-2 minutes per side. Serve warm with maple syrup.

119 calories per pancake

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas, all!

Merry Christmas Eve, everyone!

I'm stuck having to work this morning, but as soon as noon rolls around, my (mini) two-and-a-half day vaca will begin. Brent, Casey, and I are all heading out to central Mass to spend Christmas with my family...and I absolutely cannot wait!

I'm still kind of recovering from being sick all last week, so this weekend, we really didn't do too much. On Saturday night, we did manage to get out for a holiday date night. We had dinner at Olives in Charlestown - one of Todd English's fab restaurants - and it was delicious!

Brent's cheesy grin | seared scallops with sugar pumpkin risotto and pepitas
roasted brussel sprouts | my handsome hubby
Sunday was spent in the kitchen. For our multi-day X-mas extravaganza, I made a whole slew of goods to bring along: nutella-stuffed brown butter and sea salt chocolate chip cookies [Ambitious Kitchen], cheesy polenta [Giada De Laurentis], quinoa burgers with a trio of dipping sauces; and this morning, Brent is making soppressata and cheese in puff pastry [Barefoot Contessa].

Nutella-Stuffed Brown Butter & Sea Salt Chocolate Chip Cookies
And then the weekend was capped off with a whole lot of this:

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Recipe of the Week: Mexican Roasted Chickpea & Quinoa Salad

I get into weird food kicks sometimes, and lately, it's been with quinoa. It's like a temporary addiction. A few weeks ago, it was cookies, so I'm kind of glad THAT one has passed.

After eating quinoa burgers all last week for dinner, I decided I wanted to branch out with some new quinoa recipes this week. The best part about cooking with quinoa is you can make a huge pot of it on Sunday night, store it in the refrigerator, and eat it throughout the week as you please, which is exactly what I did. I cooked up a pot-full of quinoa and used half of it to make this Mexican Roasted Chickpea Salad. The other half will be used for these wraps later in the week.

It was amazing and so easy to prepare. Tangy, spicy, and just a tad sweet from the roasted corn and touch of Agave. Plus, if you haven't tried roasting chickpeas before, you need to experience it. I paired this salad next to my roasted kale for a healthy meal packed with delicious veggies and protein. Brent even went back for seconds!

Mexican Roasted Chickpea and Quinoa Salad
Makes 4 servings
>>PRINT this recipe!<<

1 (15.5 oz) can of cooked chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 1/2 C frozen corn, thawed
1 red bell pepper, diced
2 Tbsp taco seasoning
2 Tbsp lime juice
2 Tbsp soy sauce
1 1/2 C cooked quinoa
1 tomato, seeded and diced
1 jalapeno, seeded and diced
2 Tbsp cilantro, chopped fine
2 Tbsp lime juice
1 tsp agave nectar, honey, or maple syrup
1/2 tsp Chipotle Tabasco sauce

  • Preheat oven to 400°F. Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray. In a medium bowl, combine chickpeas, corn, red pepper, taco seasoning, lime juice, and soy sauce. Toss until well combined. Add chickpea mixture to baking sheet and roast for 35-45 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes to prevent from burning.
  • Combine lime juice, agave, and Tobasco sauce in a small bowl and whisk together. In a large bowl, combine cooked quinoa, tomatoes, jalapeno, cilantro, and chickpea mixture. Toss with lime juice, agave, and Tobasco dressing. Serve warm or at room temperature.
{Per serving} Calories: 243 | Fat: 2.8g | Carbs: 46.9g | Protein: 10.4g | Fiber: 4.3g | Sugars 10.2g

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Dreaming of paradise

Well, it was bound to happen at some point once it started to get cold and dry outside. Asthma is really starting to cramp my style.

I'm stuck home today with a fever and icky bronchitis. I have a feeling it's from having spent the majority of the chilly morning on Saturday strolling around Boston. Asthma and cold, dry air do not mix well. I developed a dry cough pretty much right away, and now it's turned into full fledged YUCK. I get it every winter now since I've been diagnosed with asthma - at least this year, it didn't fall on the same week as Christmas. Thank goodness for Mucinex and Albuterol.

These annual infections are making me seriously consider moving to a warm place where I would never have to worry about cold, dry air ever again...

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Chipotle Cream Sauce

Some weeks, I love to live over the stove and explore new recipes for Brent and I - but then there are weeks where I just don't want to have to lift a finger in the kitchen - this week, for example. Brent will usually take over when I get lazy, but he's been pretty busy at work, so he's been getting home a bit later than usual. And I'm definitely one of those people who has to eat by 6pm or else I start gnawing my arm off.

I anticipated laziness this week, so Monday night, I made a huge batch of Quinoa Burgers for dinner to have throughout the week so that I don't have to cook at all. BEST DECISION EVER. I made a nice veggie side dish of stir fried snap peas, seasoned with smoked paprika, red pepper flakes, and garlic salt to go alongside my quinoa burgers. I've had this meal every night this week, it's that good.

Oh, and that sauce on the burgers? Well, Brent and I picked up some Tabasco Chipotle Pepper Sauce a few weeks ago and finally put it to use.

Chipotle Cream Sauce
Serving size: 2 Tbsp || Calories: 30 

1/4 C light sour cream, 1/2-1 tsp Tabasco Chipotle Pepper Sauce, and pinch of salt to taste. 

Feel free to add more Tabasco for an extra kick. This Chipotle flavor is nice because it has a little kick, but it's not over-powering. It adds such a great smoky flavor!

This sauce goes perfectly with the quinoa burgers, as a dip for vegetables, and probably a great cracker spread.

I've also been racking my brain for ideas of what snacks to bring to my Uncle's for Christmas, and it finally dawned on me last night. I'm going to plan to make slider sized quinoa burgers for an appetizer with a trio of dipping sauces. Genius, right?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Recipe of the Week: Roasted Butternut Squash & Apple Soup

As the fall season quickly comes to a close, so does the fall menu selection: pumpkin beers, cider, apple crisp, butternut squash, pumpkin's quite sad actually.

Some of you might be left with a residual butternut squash or two that need to be used because they've been sitting on your counter for a month waiting to be roasted. Or you're like lazy ol' me and do not enjoy de-seeding, peeling, and cubing squash, so you purchased a giant bag of cubed squash from the grocery store...

Well, thank goodness I happened to stumble across this recipe last week on Ambitious Kitchen for an incredible butternut squash soup! It combines some amazing fall ingredients, such as roasted butternut squash, apple, maple syrup, and cinnamon. With just a dab of light cream, this soup is HEALTHY, thick, and quite filling. Serve it alongside some roasted brussel sprouts, arugula salad, or delicious crusty bread for the perfect late fall meal!

Roasted Butternut Squash and Apple Soup 

2 medium butternut squash with seeds removed, OR 4-5 C cubed squash
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 large granny smith apple, peeled and chopped
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 C carrot, chopped
2 Tbsp maple syrup
1 tsp ground cinnamon, plus more to taste
3 C chicken broth
1/4 C light cream
1/2 tsp salt, plus more to taste
Pepper, to taste

  • Preheat oven to 425°F. Drizzle 1 Tbsp olive oil over squash*. Sprinkle with some cinnamon, salt, and pepper. 
*If cooking squash whole, place the squash face down on a baking sheet. Roast for 50-60 minutes, or until squash is fork tender. Remove and cool for 10 minutes.
**If cooking pre-cubed squash,sprinkle the oil, cinnamon, salt, and pepper over cubes and mix well to coat. Roast for 30-40 minutes, or until squash is fork tender. Remove and cool for 10 minutes.
  • Heat remaining 1 Tbsp olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add apples, carrots, and onions, and saute for 10 minutes, until onions are translucent. Add 1 tsp cinnamon and stir well to mix. 
  • Scoop out the roasted squash or roasted cubes and add to the saucepan. Add the chicken broth and bring to a boil. Cover pan, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 20 minutes. 
  • Remove pan from heat and stir in the light cream, maple syrup, and salt to taste.
  • Using a hand blender, blend mixture until smooth. If you don't have a hand blender (go out and buy one because it's the best purchase you'll ever make!), then use a blender or food processor, transferring 1/2 at a time so to not over-fill your mixer. 

I like my soup thick, but if you find yours is too thick, just return it to the stove after blending and add either chicken broth or water to thin it to your desired consistency. Enjoy!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Breaking routine for a day

I'm a morning person. Always have been, always will be. My job has very flexible hours, and I use it to my advantage. I'm here by choice at 7am every morning and leave around 3pm. So usually, my mornings consist of waking up while it's still dark out and rushing to get ready so that I can be out the door by 6:45am. I always feel like I'm rushing, even when I don't need to be. But it's my routine.

So this morning, I opted to relax. I stayed in bed until 7am and awoke to light. I leisurely got ready. Hell, I even had a cup of coffee while sitting at my kitchen table, chatting with Brent. Guys, you have no idea how big this is for me. I have never EVER sat and had a cup of coffee before going to work, never mind carrying out a full conversation while sitting down at my kitchen table RELAXING. Even now sitting here thinking about it, the thought seems crazy to me. Who am I today?

Somehow, it was exactly what I needed. Brent is clearly like my favorite person in the entire world, and I love getting lost in the most ridiculous conversations with him. A lot of our topics of conversation lately focus on house buying, so it was nice this morning to explore other things - like how terrible I was as a kid with group sports because I lacked an attention span; and how when Max was in obedience school as a puppy, he was the model student until the final obstacle course, where he was supposed to hop over a pile of children on the ground, and instead he was distracted and massacred them with slobbery kisses until he forgot what the purpose of the exercise was; and how Brent is going to plan a date night tonight and surprise me; and about how fun next weekend is going to be. We have his company holiday party on Friday night at the Four Seasons in Boston and an ugly sweater pub crawl on Saturday. SO excited!

Speaking of holiday party, on a whim, I bought this dress yesterday - talk about last minute, I know - but I absolutely love the cap sleeve, sweetheart neckline, open back, and lace overlay. It's supposed to come on Monday, and I'm crossing my fingers it works because it totally screams holiday party dress.

On a completely unrelated note - if any of you readers are planning a wedding or know anyone planning a wedding and looking for the perfect summer/beachy/Cape Cod wedding venue, definitely check out White Cliff Country Club's Bridal Open House. They just set the date for Sunday, March 10, 2013. They do a fantastic job at their open house and know how to throw one hell of a party!

Butlered champagne at our wedding.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

One year

One year ago today, I received a phone call that would change my life forever.

My family and I had just enjoyed a wonderful Thanksgiving with my grandfather merely a week before. Though this was the first holiday season without my grandmother here, we all remained optimistic. There was so much to look forward to in the pending year. I couldn't help thinking how lucky I was that my grandfather - my only living grandparent - would be able to see me walk down the aisle the next summer. I sat at the Thanksgiving table with him that day, eagerly listening to his stories of my grandmother and him in their early years...stories of his childhood, my dad's childhood, my childhood. Three generations of Mangini's. God, he really was a great storyteller.

And listener. And mathematician. And cook. And husband. And father. And grandfather. And great-grandfather. Hell, this man trained Olympians in the shooting events back in his day. He was remarkable.

However, the loss of his lifetime love and the anticipation of an impending major surgery brought my grandfather to a difficult crossroads, and he made an irreversible decision.

One year ago today, my grandfather took his own life.

It's something I don't dare speak of beyond family and closest friends. When I say it, it makes it real. Hearing the words come from my mouth still makes my voice quiver.

The loss of anyone - anything - is difficult enough as it is. But when it is at the hands of anything but God, it's near unbearable.

I'm not sure I'll ever truly understand it. I try. I tried every day for a long time to grasp it. I searched deep in my memory for signs. How did we not see this coming? The word itself still makes me shudder. No matter what, it will always be there. It was an irreversible decision with permanent consequences. But in the end, it was his decision, and we all have learned to accept it is what he wanted.

That call changed my life forever. It brought my family closer. Strength existed somewhere deep inside of me I never knew was there. And above all, it taught me to never take anything in life for granted. Those few hours I got to spend with my grandfather on Thanksgiving, I will cherish forever, as they were some of my favorite memories with him ever. And I know my family cherishes those moments as well.

I love you, Grampy. And I miss you every single day.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Recipe: Toast with champagne cupcakes!

One of my coworkers is getting married next week, so I decided to surprise her and make some cupcakes that would scream "Congrats on your Wedding!" After just having gone through the wedding planning process, I know how stressful it can be. Well, this gal managed to plan her wedding in under 6 months - so she deserves a cupcake. Or ten.

Also, at about 230 calories each, they have 25% less calories than the average store-bought cupcake.

Readers, meet the perfect celebratory cupcake:

Champagne cake. Raspberry filling. Champagne buttercream frosting. Pink, of course, for the bride-to-be. 

These cupcakes are perfect for engagement parties, bridal showers, ringing in the New Year, baby showers, girl's night out, or a midnight sweet tooth. The champagne really transforms a traditional white cake into a light, fluffy treat. 
I also love taking a bite into a cupcake to find a surprise filling. The slightly sweet, yet tangy raspberry filling really compliments the light texture of the cupcake. The traditional buttercream frosting is enhanced with a touch of champagne and given a color pop with a few drops of red food coloring. The result is a perfect cupcake for toasting special moments! 

Raspberry Filled Champagne Cupcakes with Pink Champagne Buttercream Frosting
Makes 24 cupcakes

Champagne Cupcakes [adapted]
1 box Betty Crocker Super Moist white cake mix
1 1/4 C champagne **I use Barefoot Sparkling Moscato, which is sweeter than typical sparkling wines
1/3 C vegetable oil
3 egg whites
1 drop red food color
  • Heat oven to 350°F. Place cupcake tins into muffin pan. 
  • In a large bowl, mix dry cake mix and champagne with a spatula. Add oil, egg whites, and food coloring. Beat with an electric mixer on medium speed for two minutes. The batter will thicken. 
  • Pour batter into cupcake tins 1/2 to 3/4 full. Bake for 17 minutes or until toothpick inserted into cupcake center comes out clean. Remove from tins and completely cool on wire rack, about 30 minutes. While they're cooling, you can make the frosting and filling....
Pink Champagne Buttercream Frosting
1 1/2 sticks of butter, softened
3-3 1/2 C powdered sugar
1/4 C champagne
1 tsp vanilla
2 drops red food coloring
  • In a medium bowl, mix beat butter and powdered sugar together until smooth, scraping down side of bowl.
  • Add champagne, vanilla, and food coloring. Beat until uniform pink color is reached. 
Raspberry Filling [adapted] (makes enough for 3+ dozen cupcakes, so you will have leftovers)
1 bag frozen whole raspberries
1/2 C sugar
4 Tbsp butter
1 tsp vanilla
2 Tbsp cornstarch
  • In a large pan on the stove, melt the butter. Add the raspberries, sugar, and vanilla. Cook for about 5 minutes on medium high heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Raspberries will break down and become pureed.
  • Once raspberries begin to bubble, transfer 4-5 Tbsp of raspberry mix into a bowl and add the cornstarch. Mix together with a fork and transfer back into remaining raspberry mixture on stove. Stir until well combined.
  • Bring mixture to a gentle boil then remove from heat. Stir every few minutes until it is completely cooled.

Cupcake Assembly

[1] Cut out a small cone into the cupcakes from the top. 

[2] Spoon ~1 Tbsp raspberry mixture into the cupcake.

[3] Replace cupcake cone.

[4] Frost cupcakes using piping bag or smooth with a spatula.

---And then marvel. Or devour. I think I did both.

The best part about this recipe? You have half an opened bottle of champagne left over....and we all know champagne doesn't keep well. 

Cheers, Pallavi!! 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The perfect backdrop for a run

Having asthma makes it difficult for me to get outdoors and hit the pavement during the late fall/winter. I've got a great treadmill at home that allows me to continue running year-round, but anyone who has ever worked out on a treadmill knows how boring it can be. Time seems to slow to a crawl, and I catch myself constantly staring at the mileage and clock, not allowing myself to really get mentally lost in the run.

Yesterday was almost 60° here in Boston, so I took advantage and embarked on a nice 4.5 mile run, loaded with some tough hill intervals. I didn't bother timing myself because I really wanted to tune out my thoughts and get lost in the run. It was amazing. I got to watch as the sun set and snapped this shot during the last 1/2 mile:

Unfortunately, the picture really doesn't do it justice - I blame my iPhone 3GS for that - but trust me, if it looks this good on a 3GS, you can only imagine what it looked like in person. Talk about the perfect backdrop for a run!

On a totally random note, has anyone ever heard of Paloma Faith? She's a singer from the UK, and I just listened to her today for the first time on Spotify. Her album, Fall To Grace, just got released in the U.S. today, and I can't stop listening to it. Seriously, she is so good! She's a little eccentric looking, but girl has an incredible voice. Highly recommended.