Love is in the air and in our house so is the smell of Lobster Macoroni & Cheese. Scott is one lucky man this year! Lately I've been indulging my love of snacking and my other love of NOT cooking! Poor Scott has been living on frozen pizza for awhile. I try and keep some sort of food in the house or at the very least have breakfast for him on the days he is working. Fortunately, he was blessed with those "SKINNY" genes. Scott could eat all day long and not gain a pound. Oh how I envy him. I just think about any type of carb and my pants suddenly feel tighter.

I thought I would spoil him this year. I had seen a recipe earlier this week for lobster macoroni and cheese. Out of everything I cook Scott's favorite meal is hands down my Mac & Cheese with Gruyere cheese & nutmeg. He spent all year begging me to make it for him to take to work this Thanksgiving. Needless to say Thanksgiving came and off to work Scott went with a tray of mac and cheese. On a more serious note the thought of cooking lobster completely terrified me...shells...poop tracks...oh my, oh my, let me count the ways I could mess this up. On my way home from teaching last night I swung by the grocery store for a much needed pep talk from the women behind the meat counter. She looked me in the eyes and assured me if I could boil water I could boil a lobster tail. Between her help and a helpful YouTube video I finally decided to give lobster a whirl. What's the worse that could happen? Scott could have a slight heart attack when he learned I spent $30 on lobster tails that ended up exploding all over the kitchen...hehe!

I'm proud to report I came out on top and with ALL my fingers!!! It was so much fun cooking something new. It actually was beyond easy, even getting the lobster meat out was easy. The butteryness of the lobster and the smokey Gruyere cheese made a perfect pair, just like Scott and I. I'm crazy and he is calm, cool, and collected. My current problem is deciding how I will ever eat Macoroni & Cheese again without lobster?!?! Thank you Ina Garten for your delicious lobster macaroni & cheese recipe...I am forever changed.

HAPPY VALENTINE'S DAY! Enjoy the ones you love!


Lobster Mac & Cheese
Ina Garten - Food Network


Ingredients

Kosher salt
Vegetable oil
1 pound cavatappi or elbow macaroni
1 quart milk
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, divided
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
12 ounces Gruyere cheese, grated (4 cups)
8 ounces extra-sharp Cheddar, grated (2 cups)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 1/2 pounds cooked lobster meat
1 1/2 cups fresh white bread crumbs (5 slices, crusts removed)

Directions
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Drizzle oil into a large pot of boiling salted water. Add the pasta and cook according to the directions on the package, 6 to 8 minutes. Drain well.

Meanwhile, heat the milk in a small saucepan, but don't boil it. In a large pot, melt 6 tablespoons of butter and add the flour. Cook over low heat for 2 minutes, stirring with a whisk. Still whisking, add the hot milk and cook for a minute or two more, until thickened and smooth. Off the heat, add the Gruyere, Cheddar, 1 tablespoon salt, the pepper, and nutmeg. Add the cooked macaroni and lobster and stir well. Place the mixture in 6 to 8 individual gratin dishes.

Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, combine them with the fresh bread crumbs, and sprinkle on the top. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbly and the macaroni is browned on the top.
 
Last night I walked into the kitchen feeling like a baking god and walked out feeling like an ass. Two words...mini marshmallows. I found a really creative, fun and simple recipe for Valentine's Day, Red Velvet Rice Krispie Treats. I'm a red velvet fanatic in addition to being a lover of Rice Krispie treats.  So in my eyes this was a match made in heaven.  

After a long day of teaching, a quick stop by the office, and then some more dancing I came home to whip up a couple batches of these that I planned to drop off at Scott's work later that night. I was really excited to make them and it was a good excuse to see Scott since I had only seen him in passing that day. The recipe is pretty basic and doesn't require much. When I added the chocolate chips I found that they started to get messy fairly quickly. This resulted in some ugly pieces I tried my best to cut out of the Rice Krispie treats.

For my next batch I added mini marshmallows because I'm obsessed with the Starbucks Rice Krispie treats. There have been many weeks that I survived on Rick Krispie treats and coffee alone. Here I am thinking what a great idea this was and how cute the white marshmallows will look with the red velvet. As I'm stirring I was becoming more and more confident and thinking how much better the marshmallows will be than those messy chocolate chips. I was absolutely 100% wrong. The chocolate chips had nothing on those marshmallows. They stuck to everything, I could barely get the top of the Rice Krispies flat because they stuck to everything. Not even the worlds biggest tub of butter could have saved this mess.  Then came time to cut them. Well if I thought they were messy before I was wrong. Trying to get them out of the pan and to look pretty on a plate was not happening.  With some patience and by losing many pieces to the trash I was finally able to get them on the plate.  My guess is that they stuck together whenever you tried to pick one up.  Maybe I should have waited longer before cutting them.  

Needless to say I dropped them off and Scotts work and 9 hours later...the plate was back in my sink empty. The chocolate chip was by far the favorite. What I love most was the taste of red velvet and not just regular old Rice Krispie treats with red food coloring.  I tried a few different recipes and I found this one worked the best.


Red Velvet Rice Krispie Treats
Runs with Spatulas

Ingredients 
3 tablespoons butter
1 (10.5 ounce) bag mini marshmallows
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup red velvet cake mix
6 cups Rice Krispies cereal
1 tablespoon sprinkles
4 ounces white chocolate chips, melted

Directions
Line a 9x13-inch pan with wax paper; coat well with cooking spray. Set aside.

In a large saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Add marshmallows, stirring frequently, until melted. Stir in vanilla and cake mix until fully combined and no lumps remain. Stir in cereal, making sure it is well-coated with marshmallow mixture. Transfer Rice Krispie mixture to the prepared pan, pressing down until the top is level. Top with sprinkles and drizzle with melted white chocolate.
 
After Scott started working for the PD there were a few things that I had to get used to. Not celebrating holidays on the actual day was one of them. Needless to say we will not be enjoying a turkey tomorrow but instead on Sunday and then again the Sunday after that. At first this was a weird concept for me but actually I appreciate the time I spend with him even more so now. It makes every year interesting and every year there are new traditions started. This year instead of a turkey on thanksgiving we will be decorating our Christmas tree and I will be making food for the PD.

I was looking for some easy appetizers to make at the first official Thanksgiving in our new house. As soon as I saw this one months ago I was sold, baked Brie with Cranberry Sauce and Walnuts from Simple Bites. One of my favorite appetizers is the one my cousin, Candi, introduced me to years ago, Baked Brie with Apricot Preserves, Almonds, and Rosemary, click here for the recipe. It has turned into a staple every time we get together. I tested it out the other day while we were painting and listening to Christmas music. It was a hit, Scott even liked it and he's not a fan of "soft cheese". I absolutely loved tasting the hint of orange zest. The recipe was quick, simple, and prett mess free...right up my alley.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Baked Brie with Cranberry Sauce and Walnuts
By: Simple Bites

Prep time: 5 mins
Cook time: 15 mins
Total time: 20 mins
Serves: 1 round of Brie

Ingredients
  • ¾ cup cranberry sauce
  • 1 16-ounce brie round
  • Zest of one orange
  • ⅔ cup walnut pieces
  • Crackers for serving

Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Remove the top of the rind from the cheese using a serrated knife, and discard the rind. Place the cheese, cut side up on an oven safe plate or bowl. Just make sure to use a larger plate or a bowl so your cheese doesn't start oozing off the plate like mine is in the above photo. Bake at 350 degrees F for 10 minutes.
  3. Remove from the oven and top with the cranberry sauce. Bake for an additional 5 minutes, or until the cheese is soft and warm. Sprinkle the top with orange zest and walnuts.
  4. Serve immediately with crackers.

Notes
For a simple cranberry sauce combine 4 ounces cranberries , ⅓ cup orange juice, and ¼ cup sugar. Bring to a boil, then reduce to medium and simmer till thickened and cranberries have popped. For extra flavor add ⅛ teaspoon nutmeg and cinnamon.   
 
UPDATE 12/31/12 click here.

Christmas is coming and I've already started shopping!  Christmas has always been a big holiday in our family.  Every year the Rustowicz children made a gift to give all of our aunt's and uncle's.  One of my absolute favorites has to be when we glued colored ornaments to an ice cream cone.  Add a little glue and some sprinkles and we had ice cream cone ornaments.  I love the tradition of homemade gifts and it's one I try to carry on.  

Another vivid memory I have is my dad making homemade vanilla extract.  I can remember the huge bottle of brandy sitting under our sink and my dad shaking it every so often.  For the last couple years I've thought of making vanilla extract and finally I am doing just that.  Last year Marissa and I made 40 pairs of snowman earrings...super cute.  Spoiler alert....sorry to my family that's reading...this year's handmade holiday gift will be homemade vanilla extract.

I found a great deal online at Beanilla, 25 Madagascar Vanilla Beans for $25 + free shipping.  They also have a variety of other beans.  I really wanted to make some vanilla using their Mexican Vanilla Beans, however they were out of stock.  These are suppose to have an additional hint of spice to them.  Bonus...you can be cheap with your vodka.  Using bottom shelf vodka is most common because it will not add any additional flavors to your vanilla. Finished pictures to come!

Here's a link to some great priced bottles by Mountain Rose Herbs.  Also some really cute vanilla labels by Live Laugh Rowe.

Homemade Vanilla Extract
1 cup vodka
5 vanilla beans


Measure out 1 cup of vodka, or more depending if you are doubling the recipe or not.   I tripled my recipe and put the left over vodka in another jar.  
Using 5 vanilla beans per one cup of vodka, slice your beans lengthwise starting 1/4" from the end of the bean.  There should be a 1/4" on both ends of the bean that is left uncut.
Place your beans in a bottle and cover with your vodka.  Place in a cool dark location and shake 1-2 times a week.
Vanilla will be ready to use in 8 weeks.
 
Is there anything better than sleeping in on a Saturday morning, waking up with a house full of family, your beautiful niece, and sitting around the table eating breakfast together?  Not much!  We've got family in town visiting and it's been so nice to finally have a house of our own for them to stay.  I of course saw an opportunity to try out a new recipe I've been dying to make, pumpkin cream cheese by Pinch My Salt.  For breakfast this morning it was pumpkin bagels, pumpkin cream cheese, turkey bacon, fruit, and of course coffee.  The cream cheese was a hit and was very simple to make.  I managed to pull it together by 8am after a long work week and before my first cup of coffee...success!!!  if your looking for some fun food ideas check out their blog, click here.

Pumpkin Spice Cream Cheese Spread by Pinch My Salt

4 oz. cream cheese, softened
3 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
1/4 cup canned pumpkin
1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. In a small bowl, beat softened cream cheese, sugar, and syrup til creamy.
2. Add pumpkin, spices and vanilla and beat til smooth.
3. Refrigerate for at least an hour.
4. Enjoy!




 
Finally it started cooling off in California and the boxes that have filled our home since we moved in are slowly being unpacked and put away.  This was the first week I was able to actually go in the kitchen and cook.  I was feeling inspired by fall so I decided on macaroni, bonus it's one of Scott's favorite meals!  Lately I've been trying to find ways to incorporate more fruits and vegetables into our meals.  The idea of taking an old classic and putting a healthy twist on it really makes me happy. 

When I fell across this recipe for Butternut Squash Macaroni with Apple & Caramelized Onions from Pinch of Yum, I was a bit skeptical.  However I am now a changed women, it's to die for!!!  I'm not sure I can ever look at regular mac & cheese the same.  There was so much flavor from the squash to the caramelized onions and the apple added great texture.  The lack of cheese in the whole dish also got me excited since I've been trying to stay away from dairy.

Click here for the recipe and directions!

Notes from Katie:
I had a hard time finding canned butternut squash puree, instead I used froze squash from the freezer section.  Bacon....skipped it completely!  Not a huge fan of pork so we typically eat turkey bacon, and I just didn't feel like it needed it.  

Enjoy!
 
What is brown butter you ask, to put it simply it's butter on crack.  Brown butter adds a nutty flavor and heavenly aroma to your dish.  By using brown butter you will enhance the flavor of any dish from pasta and vegetables to delicious baked goodies.  I had my first experience using brown butter this weekend, making a batch of brown butter sea salt rice krispie treats for the PD.  I was hooked as soon as I could smell that nutty aroma.  Find more directions, recipes, and pictures below.  Enjoy!

Directions:
Simply melt butter in a saucepan on medium heat.  It's best to use a light colored pan so you can see the color change.  Swirling the pan occasionally the butter will start to foam and the color will begin to darken.  Once you see the yellowish color turn to a nutty brown remove the pan from the heat.  When using the butter try to leave as much of the sediment in the bottom of the pan as possible.  However some people may enjoy the slightly burnt taste this will give the butter.

Brown Butter Sea Salt Rice Krispies by Bran Appetit.

Ingredients:

  • 4 Tbsp butter
  • 12 oz. marshmallows
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 6 cups crisp rice cereal

Directions:

  1.  Melt butter over low-medium heat, letting it cook until the butter is completely melted and is starting to brown,   about 4-5 minutes.
  2. Stir in the marshmallows and sea salt and cook, stirring constantly, for about 5 minutes until the marshmallows are totally melted and the mixture is smooth.
  3. Pour in the cereal and stir, quickly, until all the cereal is coated with the marshmallow.
  4. Dump the mixture into a greased 9×13 baking dish, top with a sheet of parchment paper, and press on top of the parchment with your hands to get the bars into an even layer in the dish.
  5. Remove the parchment paper and let the bars sit for at least 30 minutes before cutting.
More Recipes:

Brown Butter, Brown Sugar Cookies by The Novice Chef.

Pasta with Brown Butter and Fried Sage by The Kitchn.

Brown Butter Glazed Cinnamon Donuts by Buns in my Oven.

Pumpkin Gnocchi in Brown Butter and Sage Sauce by Closet Cooking.

Brown Butter Pound Cake by Sweet Sensations.

 
I hope everyone is enjoying a relaxing Labor Day weekekend. Here are a couple of fun breakfast ideas that are pretty simple, enjoy!
Flag Toast inspired by Emily Henson.  The receipe can be found here by Taste and Tell.
Star shaped french toast by Sweet Paul.
Colored milk ice cubes by A Subtle Revelry.
Note* Try in Red & Blue, also you could use colored sugar to dip glass rim in!
Fruit kabob flag by The Kitchn.
Red, White, & Blue pancakes by I am Baker.
Firecracker bundt cake by Cooking with Sugar.
Ok so maybe not technically breakfast but it's a holiday, right!
Yogurt berry parfait by Jeanette's Healthy Living.
 
My favorite girl in the entire world is turning two, my niece Maddie James.  She is spending her second birthday being spoiled by grandma in Michigan.  If you couldn't tell, Kitty (my chosen auntie name) is less than thrilled to be missing out on the fun.  Aunt Jamie made her the cutest cake that I just had to share with you, a Rainbow Swirl Cake.  The recipe and instructions can be found here, from In Katrina's Kitchen.  

What I love most about this cake is how simple it is.  No complex flavors, no crazy baking techniques, just add a little food coloring and you have an instant birthday party hit! Jamie topped her cake with white frosting and multi-color nonpareil sprinkles.   I can't wait to try one of my own, maybe a Halloween color scheme.

Tips from Aunt Jamie: Less is more, use neon food coloring for pink/orange/purple/green, and regular food colors for blue and yellow.  
 
I've got to give credit where credit is due, thank you mom for finding this on pinterest and thank you to Taste and Tell for the red velvet weight I put on during my trip to Michigan!  Prepare yourself, your lives are about to be changed, for the better.  My mom found this on pinterest and when she told me what she was making of course I gave her the usual "you're absolutely the battiest women I know are you sure I wasn't switched at birth" look.  Which 27 years later still ruffles her feathers, my goal in life.  Anyway against my disgust she made it.  

Not only was it beautiful sitting out on the table it was delicious.  I instantly went on pinterest and pinned it to my baking board.  It's like a red velvet cupcake and cream cheese frosting all mixed into one, to top it off it's served with vanilla wafer cookies.  It was very simple and quick to make, bonus!

We took it to 3 parties in one week, and never once was I sick of it.  It's such a fun way to serve dessert and something most people haven't seen yet.  How amazing would it be to sit down with a group of girlfriends, some good wine, and this red velvet yumminess. 

Here is the recipe from Taste and Tell:

Red Velvet Cheese Ball
Prep Time: 15 minutes

Total Time: 2 hours, 15 minutes
Yield: 16 servings

The ultimate dip for red velvet lovers!! This sweet version of a cheeseball will have you going back for more!

Ingredients

8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups red velvet cake mix, dry
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips
assorted cookies and crackers (my favorite was Vanilla Wafers)
Instructions

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the cream cheese and butter until smooth. Add in the red velvet cake mix, the brown sugar and the powdered sugar. Beat until smooth and combined.  Turn the mixture out onto a piece of plastic wrap. Wrap up into a ball and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.  Put the chocolate chips on a plate or in a shallow dish. Remove the cheese ball from the refrigerator and unwrap. Roll in the chocolate chips. (This might get messy!) Place on a serving plate and serve with cookies or graham crackers.
Maddie James caught red handed...literally!  Turned our back for one minute and BAM cheese ball destroyed.  At least she is attempting to use a utensil!