Friday, December 30, 2011

Peppermint Cookies and Cream Ice Cream

It's been busy around here the past two weeks with family members coming and going as we celebrated the holidays.  I am lucky enough to have two weeks off of work this time of year so there was time to make and eat a lot of food.  But we got our exercise in too.  In fact, we tried two new activities.  

Recently I discovered a nature trail that offers a four different length trails through the flora and fauna of Central Florida.  I talked my three kids into checking it out and promised we would only do the 3.1 mile trail.  
Cate and me
After studying  the map at the entrance to find the trail we wanted we learned it was marked with green markers.  We got started and it was no problem, the markers were easy to spot.
About one mile in one of us had to go to the bathroom. Although it did involve some grumbling and talk of turning back we were the only ones out there, so that was easily solved.  I'll admit, I lied a little and told them we were about half way through so we might as well keep going because it would be the same distance either way.  Although they were skeptical, I was able to get away with this because  I was the only one wearing a Garmin. I felt a little sneaky, but it wouldn't kill them to walk the whole thing.
All smiles before we realized we took a wrong turn.
The trail was very nice once we got through the sugar sand section which filled our shoes with mini sand dunes.  We passed a beautiful lake and saw lots of animal tracks.  But when 3.1 miles came there was no end in sight.   We were sure we had stayed on the green trail so we just kept walking. 

By mile four we were worried we had taken a wrong turn. (Hoping it wouldn't turn out like the movie, but making survival plans just in case ) Caroline had an injured hamstring and could only walk a short distance before she began limping and walking more slowly. 

To scare us, Patrick told us that the tracks we had been seeing were from wild hogs (that did make me a little nervous) and right after that there was a snake laying in the middle of the path. Moral was beginning to fade. 

I knew we would eventually find our way out, but I was concerned that it was so much longer than we expected and I had never been on these trails before either.  It was the end of a long day and the sun was starting to go down.  We did have a cell phone with us, so if we were still out  when it got dark, we could get some help.

Two hours and five minutes after starting we finally made it back to the parking lot.  We ended up walking 5.4 miles. We were thrilled and relieved to get to the car and have a drink of water. I'm thinking I will not be able to talk them into doing this again.

Our other adventure also took place in the wilderness, but this time we were on the tree tops.  We went canopy cycling!

You ride through the trees on a canopy cycle hanging from a cable wire.  It is a hour long trek through a gorgeous conservation area including a section that takes you over a lagoon with a large alligator. It was a fun experience!

To cool us off from all these outdoor actives we made some homemade ice cream.  Cookies and cream is always  good, but thanks to Cate we had some Trader Joe's Candy Cane Joe-Joe's in the house, so we used them to create some peppermint cookies and cream.  These cookies are wonderful by themselves but really shine in the cool, creamy vanilla ice cream.  

Peppermint Cookies and Cream Ice Cream

1-  1.5 quart vanilla ice cream (we use Edy's Light), softened
2- sleeves Candy Cane Joe-Joe's (about 24 cookies), crushed 
Whipped Cream*

In a large bowl mix softened ice cream and crushed cookies.  Fold in whipped cream and freeze until firm.

To make whipped cream :
1 cup heavy whipping cream
3 tablespoons confectioner's sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

In a large bowl whip heavy cream with mixer until stiff peaks are about to form.  Add sugar and vanilla and beat until stiff peaks are formed.  Do not over beat or it will become butter like. 

*8 oz Cool Whip can be substituted for whipped cream.

Hope you made some good memories over the holidays.  Happy New Year!!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Chocolate Cherry Oatmeal Cookies

Chewy dried cherries are a favorite of mine.  I eat them so much I keep a canister of them on my kitchen counter. I can always count on them to be sweet and in season. (I like the ones from Whole Foods the best.) They are my go to snack on the mornings I run. I eat a handful before I head out the door.

I love cherries, my husband loves oatmeal and who doesn't like chocolate, so go figure, this cookie was made for us.  Depending on the dried fruit you like best you could substitute another kind for the cherries, maybe raisins, cranberries or chopped dried apricots. You could also swap out the semi-sweet chocolate for white or dark.  Many possibilities to mix and match. This is a BIG cookie and is both crisp and chewy. 

This recipe was adapted from Big Fat Cookies.

Chocolate Cherry Oatmeal Cookies
Makes about 24 cookies

1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1/4  cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 cup packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/2 cups oatmeal (not quick cooking)
1 cup dried cherries (about 5 ounces)
2  cups semi sweet chocolate chips (11 1/2 ounces)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Combine flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon in a medium bowl and set aside.  In a large bowl beat butter, granulated sugar and brown sugar with electric mixer on medium speed until smooth, about 1 minute.
Add eggs and vanilla, mix for 1 more minute. 
On low speed add flour mixture and oatmeal until flour in incorporated and dough looks smooth again.
Stir in dried cherries and chocolate.

Using an 1/4" measuring cup or ice cream scoop, place mounds of dough on cookie sheets line with parchment paper.  Place cookies 2 1/2 inches apart.

Bake for 22 minutes until the tops feel firm and look dull rather than shiny.  

Cookies can be stored in a tightly covered container at room temperature for up to 4 days. 

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Reindeer Run 2011

The Reindeer Run, our local holiday race, is held at Sea World, Orlando.  

This is one of those races they call a "fun run" which means don't attempt to run this seriously or you will be frustrated.  I've learned this the hard way so we decided to enjoy the race by not being competitive and by appreciating the beauty of the park all decked out for Christmas.  

I am so glad we did, there were tons of people and the paths were narrow with lots of bottlenecks. It was much less stressful to run at an easy pace and take in all the scenery.

 I had never seen Sea World at Christmas, so this was a treat.

 The sun was just rising as the race started so all the lit trees were still sparkling.

 We ran around the lagoon and then across it on this wooden bridge.

Snow really was falling in this section!(not real snow of course)

Various bands played and sang Christmas carols.

 We didn't pass up any photo ops.

There were many creative costumes including this one.

We ran by a pond that held these guys all huddled together. 

Santa and the Polar Express!  It can't get much better than that! Polar Express is one of my favorite Christmas books, especially when William Hurt reads it.  It is a book and cassette we have had for years.  Does the bell still ring for you?

The race did give me a touch of the Christmas spirit and our race plan to not race was perfect.  

It was an un-timed event, so I don't even know what my time was and it was great to run without the pressure of time and pace. It was great to do this just for the fun of the run! 

Sunday, December 4, 2011

My Favorite Things 2011

Happy December! It's time again for the second annual list of my favorite things. (Here's last year's list) These are all things that make my life easier, sweeter, warmer, more fun and just plain nicer.  Maybe some of these are your favorites too. 

1. Glass Water Bottle  $18.00
I prefer drinking out of glass containers. This 22 oz bottle, covered with a silicone sleeve to prevent it from breaking, has a screw on top with an opening large enough to drop in ice cubes. I like to take something to drink with me in the car or to the office and this does the trick. 

2. Smart Wool $20 - $130
Smart wool just makes sense!  Made from Merino wool it manages moisture, improves breath ability, regulates temperature and, even controls odor.  A far cry from that itchy, heavy and when wet, stinky wool I wore as a kid.  Smart wool is soft and light and is made into socks, sweaters, base layers, hats and more. I bought some socks a few years ago and love them because they're cute and comfy. I've recently bought a sweater and leggings are next on my list.

3. Dark Chocolate Covered Peppermint Joe Joe's  Trader Joes $3.99
Oh my oh my...these cookies are SO good!  I went to Trader Joes while in Chicago last month and saw these.  I am a fan of Joe Joe's and scooped these right up.  I brought them home with me and pretty much ate the whole box.  I didn't even share them with anyone, so when I was in South Carolina over Thanksgiving I bought four more boxes! What's great is the real cream filling with pieces of real peppermint inside the chocolate cookie and then drenched in dark chocolate.  If you do not have access to a Trader Joes, I feel your pain.

4. Sugar lip gloss Sephora $22.50
This lip balm has SPF 15 and comes is a few different 
tints. It is just the right thickness when it goes on, not too gloppy and not too light.  They say it plumps your lips up too, but I already have full lips, so I can't really tell.  Another plus is this balm does not have any petroleum, lanolin or mineral oil in it and had a nice light citrus scent. 

5. iPad App Escape Rosecliff Island HD  iTunes $3.99
This find the hidden object game is addictive. It is similar to I Spy, but the objects disappear as you tap them. The fun is that it's challenging without being frustrating.  The objects you need to find are sometimes given to you as a clue you need to solve and other puzzles are interspersed at the end of each level. I tell myself when I am playing that I am doing my brain exercises and then I don't feel so guilty. 

6. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand $13.99
This was my favorite book this year. It is inspiring and heartbreaking all at the same time. It is the true story of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic runner and World War II soldier and his ability to overcome unbelievable adversity. I listened to this as I ran and it kept me wanting to run longer just to hear more.  If you read only one book this year, make it this one. 

Chocolate milk is a great recovery drink after a workout and I think this kind is especially creamy. So much that you wouldn't know it was low fat if it wasn't on the label. I buy organic milk for the health of my family and the cows that make it. This kind even comes in smaller 8oz drink boxes that are great for throwing in your gym bag or purse for a drink on the go.
8. Baked: New Frontiers in Baking by Matt Lewis $20
This cookbook does not contain recipes for your traditional baked goods instead the recipes are edgy with different taste combinations for familiar favorites.   I even got a chance to visit their satellite bakery in Charleston, SC, (which unfortunately is now closed) to taste some of their creations. They are masters of the salted caramel brownie. The original bakery is in New York City.  I have not been disappointed with any of the recipes I have made so far. The one I want to make next is the Milk Chocolate Malt Ball Cake.  Doesn't that sound good?

I must be on a peppermint kick because I can't seem to get enough of this flavor. Peppermint Stick is one of their seasonal flavors and will only be around for a limited time. It has just enough peppermint to remind you of candy canes, but it is not too overpowering. 1% of the net sales go to Winter Wildlands Alliance, an organization dedicated to promoting and preserving winter wildlands. So not only does the bar taste excellent, you are supporting a good cause too.  

These are just a few of my favorite things from this year.  
What is one of your favorite things?

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Brookster by Baked Product Review

Brownie or Cookie?  
No need to choose when you can make a Brookster, sometimes known as a brookie:  A chocolate chip cookie baked inside a rich fudge brownie.  
Baked, a Brooklyn bakery and author of two cookbooks is now selling mixes for some of their most popular items. 

I saw this mix in Williams-Sonoma and being a fan of Baked, I had to give it a try.
Each box contains 2 cookie mix packets, 2 brownie mix packets and 2 chocolate chip packets.  All you need to add is butter and eggs.  One set of packets makes 9 brooksters, so each box will make 18. 

The directions are easy to follow and no cooking experience is required to prepare them.  They are baked in a muffin pan.  You line the pan with the brownie dough and then add the cookie on top. The only thing you need to know, is both the cookie and brownie doughs need to be refrigerated for a least an hour before they can be cooked.  So this is not something you can whip up and eat in a short amount of time.  Prep time is about 75 minutes including chilling time.

Despite the extra time it takes to make, these brooksters were delicious right out of the oven.  I topped mine with vanilla ice cream.  The brownie was chewy and the cookie crisp - Perfect!   These have equal amounts of brownie and cookie. I kept them in an airtight container on the counter for a few days and ate one the next day, although good, I preferred the fresh out of the oven one best. 

The mix sells for $16 and would make a great hostess gift. I am a fan of Baked and love their recipes.  If you cannot make a treat from scratch, they are a good alternative.

 I don't want you to read this and be frustrated that you can't make eat one right now because you don't have this mix.  So I will share the recipe I found to make a similar  homemade version of these cookie/brownies using a recipe from Bakerella HERE.  She calls them pillow cookies.   

This recipe has more cookie than brownie as the brownies are baked into the cookies. 
They were very good and very large! 

Which do you prefer, brownies or cookies?

(I bought this product with my own money and received no compensation for this review.  These opinions are mine alone.)

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Turkey Day Run Recap

I was fortunate to spend Thanksgiving in Charleston, SC with my brother, sister and their families in a beach house on the Isle of Palms. There were twelve of us all together and we had a grand time!  

Oh how times have changed...growing up our Thanksgiving day included watching TV and eating, lots and lots of eating.  There were some years that I remember literally lying on the floor with my brother or sister moaning because we were so uncomfortable from all the food we ate.  We ate like it was our last meal ever.

As we have grown older and wiser we now include a holiday run/walk to our Thanksgiving day and it is becoming a new tradition for our family.  This year we participated in the Turkey Day Run in historic downtown Charleston. 

It is a scenic course that takes you through the city, down Meeting St. to the Battery (waterfront) and then back up King St. to Marion Square.  It is a large race with over 6,000 runners and a big after race party including a beer garden with free beer, kids races and a band.

In addition to all that, we got some good stuff in our race packet too.  I love the long sleeved T-shirt and its design.  The Eat. Think. Smile. bar was new to me and I got a mixed berry flavor.  It is a chewy granola bar with a chocolate base.  It was okay, but not a favorite.

Not only was it Thanksgiving it was also my niece Emily's eleventh birthday. Here we are before the race. We didn't plan to wear matching outfits. Great minds think alike! 

I started the race with my 19 and 15 year old nieces thinking we would run together.  That didn't last long.  These girls took off and started weaving through the crowds with ease.  I did not.  They are both great athletes and left me in their dust.  I finished with a time of 26:43.
My brother and I in the beer garden

The after party was fun. We ate some Krispy Kreme doughnuts and I couldn't pass up the free beer even if it was only 10:15 in the morning.  It's not every race you get this perk. 

Our day was off to a great start and just got better as we headed back to the beach for a day of food and fun together. 

Hope you all had a relaxing and enjoyable day with your families too!