Saturday, December 31, 2011

Best of 2011

In the nearly four years since I started The Parsley Thief I have yet to do a year end "Best of..." post.  This year feels like the right time to start the tradition.  The past two years have been difficult for our family for many reasons.  There has been loss and change.  The kind of change that's been hard to adjust to.
Yet, in 2011, I feel like I have grown as a person more than I can ever remember growing in one year's time.  Maybe it's all the change that's taken place, or a tragedy bringing a perspective into my daily life that's real and tangible...or maybe it's a combination of things and the fact that I'm getting older {and hopefully, wiser}.
I'm looking forward to 2012 as there's lots on the horizon in my life and here on my blog - hopefully changes you'll like!  I'm really excited to share it with you when it happens.  I also wanted to say thank you to everyone out there who reads The Parsley Thief - you make it all worthwhile for me.  So, as the year comes to a close, I share with you the Top 10 most popular recipes of 2011...
10 | mango sorbet 9 | spinach & strawberry salad with poppy seed dressing 8 | short rib ragù 7 | brown butter brownies 6 | breakfast quinoa with berries & bananas 5 | pomodoro fresco pasta salad 4 | thai chicken & noodles 3 | cheddar guinness dip 2 | vanilla bean cupcakes with salted caramel frosting 1 | peanut butter pie {a pie for mikey}
Excuse the super cheeseball twinkles, but I couldn't resist it on NYE!  Happy New Year to All! xoxo - Katie

Thursday, December 29, 2011

A Lovely Christmas

This week off has been heavenly so far.  We have pretty much assembled everything that needed to be assembled, opened every toy that could be opened, played every game there was to play and only got out of our pajamas when we really needed the day we ran out of milk.  Normally the period after the holidays can be a bit gloomy for me.  I usually get so excited about Christmas, put all this energy and effort into the big day and then when it's over I'm left with the post-holiday blues.  I'm sure it's coming - maybe it will arrive once New Year's has come and gone - or maybe I'm wrong and it won't come at all this year?
I'm not sure what's different about this holiday season, but one thing that comes to mind is that I was so desperately in need of some down time.  For many reasons, things this year were even busier than they normally are.  My to-do lists were a mile long with no realistic hope of possibly tackling it all.  To be perfectly frank, there were a few days when I feared I might be on the verge of a nervous breakdown - for reals.  So getting this time with no pressing deadlines to meet {well - there are but they'll have to wait}, no social obligations to attend, nothing that absolutely had to get done this very second, has been a godsend.  Because honestly - what is this season really about?
For me, it's about family.  It's about spending quality time with my kids, with the electronic balls and chains I have around me most of the time turned off and playing Hangman, or putting together a new scooter.
So - as you can probably imagine, I have no food posts for you at the moment.  I have done some cooking - because cooking does bring me joy too and there's nothing much better than puttering around the house in my new fleece housecoat robe and making something yummy to eat.
However, in a possible act of unforeseen grace - I dropped my camera battery a few days prior to Christmas.  I used the camera again a few times after I dropped it so I didn't think much of it at the time.  But sadly, when I went to grab it first thing Christmas morning - it didn't work.  A major bummer to say the least, because is there really any better photo op than opening presents on Christmas morning?  Thankfully, I had my trusty iPhone camera at the ready.  Not the best pictures in the world when lined up next to photos from my Nikon - but better than nothing at all. 
Along with some photos I took on Christmas day, I thought I'd also share with you some of the favorite gifts we gave or received this year.  It's interesting to me that the things I think will be the number one hit of the day sometimes aren't - while the sleeper gifts, the ones you think might go unnoticed are the ones the kids play with all day long.  Case in point - how many times have your kids had hours of fun with an big empty appliance or electronics box?
Santa brought heating pad stuffed animals this year.  He must have known that my boys have a "secret" soft spot for all things cuddly.  Both my guys, but especially my little one, also love using my microwavable flaxseed pillow whenever they're sick or get hurt so I guess it's not all that surprising.  I don't mind one bit that they still appreciate babyish things as they're growing up way too fast.
A fun gift that sounded absolutely disgusting to me in every way, yet was actually pretty authentic and not bad tasting at all {in small doses} were gigantic gummi bears {in clear, pineapple flavor of course}.  A set of stilts for kids were nerve wracking for me but have been getting quite a bit of mileage.  
My favorite gifts to receive are the handmade variety.  Sometimes just doing something for someone or making them something is all that's really needed to show you care.  This year, I received lots of little tchotchkes from my little one - all adorned with different "I love my Mommy" sentiments.  My older boy gave me a hand woven bowl made from yarn, beads and straw.  He made it in art class at school and I'm seriously impressed.  Hubbie put up a glass plant shelf with pretty brackets in a sunny dining room window.  I've been wanting it up for a really long time and I love it. 
Another gift I love, which isn't pictured here, was a 2012 Kate Spade desk calendar.  The paper is super nice {I'm a paper snob} and the images inside are very cool.  While on the subject of super nice paper, I bought the hubbie a monogrammed magnetic notepad from Pinhole Press. I was very impressed with the quality and I love that the magnet covers the entire back of the pad.
This was our first Christmas with our new kitty {more on her soon} and she really loved all the wrapping paper, along with attacking my beloved ornaments and drinking the Christmas tree water.  And - that "robe" I mentioned earlier?
I'm wearing it {along with a new starry scarf!} in the photo above...during a cuddly moment with my kitty while we watched the kids open their presents.  I'm embarrassed to admit I'm at the age where I'd even consider wearing such a thing.  I hope I don't offend anyone by saying this, but it's similar to something I remember my grandmother wearing.  She used to call it her "housecoat".
It was a gift I bought myself and I love it!  Not the most flattering item of clothing I own, but boy is it comfortable.  I love that it zips up versus the tie waist real robes have - which makes staying in it all day long real easy to do.  A little too easy I must say. 
The all day pajama days are coming to an end and it's back to the grind soon.  I will have had my fill of relaxing and having the boys home with me very soon too.  Along with the lovely moments, there's been the fair share of driving me crazy as well.  There's only so much, "Mom, he's touching me", "Mom, he's not giving me a turn" - Mom, Mom, Mom... that I can handle. 
It's almost time to take the tree and decorations down and pack them away for the year.  I'm not sure if I'll take them down this weekend or wait until Epiphany.  Once the tree is gone it's time to find homes for everything underneath it, which is why I'm not rushing to the task.  January is organization month.  Next on deck is getting a new camera battery so I can shoot again as soon as possible.  I can't wait to share some of the recipes I used this holiday...Christmas dinner came out so good!
So - Did you all have a nice Christmas?  What was your favorite gift to give or receive this year?  Do you let Christmas linger around your house until New Years or are you quick to get it all packed away?

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas!

Things are just winding down for the day.  The kids stayed up late to play with their new toys from Santa, the dishes are done and the house is about as close to back together as it's going to get tonight.  Which is not very far. 
The holidays are a lot of work for me...and for most, I presume.  The days leading up to the big one can be frantic and very long.  But at the heart of everything - the reason I want to do it all - is the joy on the faces of my boys on Christmas morning.  Along with the family traditions that are making lifelong memories for them.  I'm looking forward to the upcoming week of school vacation - no homework, no alarm clock, no sports.  Just having time to enjoy all the new fun stuff we have to play with. 
I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas!
{photo:  this was our holiday card this year which I'm sending to you all virtually.  xoxo -Katie}

Friday, December 23, 2011

Tree Chopping 2011

I am so behind the eight ball this year - it's not even funny.  There's something about getting older that makes the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas seem shorter and shorter.  When I was a kid, waiting for Christmas to come seemed like an eternity and a day.  But now? It's ridiculous how fast time flies. 
All the cookie posts I intended to post this week just aren't happening.  But I do have this post of our annual tree chopping adventures.  We do it every year, but typically I host a gathering back at my house afterwards.  This year I needed to simplify - so we tailgated at the tree farm.  It was the best and I think it may become our new tradition.  Everyone is always so busy this time of year and it just makes sense.  Everyone who came brought something.  I made a pot of chili, some biscuits and some vermontucky lemonade {maple lemonade with bourbon} - a friend brought hot cider and sugar cookies - and my brother-in-law went all Martha on us and brought a folding table with a tablecloth, a pot of hotdogs, hot cocoa and a basket full of condiments.  We all stuffed ourselves silly, then rode the hayride up to the trees and picked the perfect one.  Here are some pictures from the day...featuring friends and their kids, along with my nephews {one of whom really loves to ham it up for the camera - I love it!}
Do any of you cut your tree fresh?  I love how long they last and how amazing they smell!
{past year's tree chopping here + here}
Note: one or two of these photos could have possibly been snapped by the Dh. He makes a stink when I don't give him there you go :)
Another note: For those folks out there who happen to like photography and use a Dslr camera with a lens hood...I always sort of wondered how much I really needed to bother using mine, yet always did...until it broke recently.  You can see sun glare in many of these photos - so now I know that I actually did need it! 

Monday, December 19, 2011

Last Minute Gift Inspiration...

for the cook or food lover | {1.} to-go meals in style, weck jar lunch set {2.} super pretty & fun whisks {3.} know what's in season all year long, perpetual produce calendar {4.} retro serving set {5.} cozy ceramic mug [via here].
for the kids or kid at heart | {1.} instant film camera for instant gratification, intax mini {2.} cute transportation sheet set {3.} typewriter font stamp set {4.} customized wooden utensils {5.} all-natural crayon rocks {6.} so both kids can watch a movie on the ipad, robot headphone splitters {7.} terra cotta piggy bank
for your bestie or for you | {1.} tie dye scarf {2.button magnets {3.} super cool stick lighters [via here] {4.} the coffee table book of 2011, design*sponge at home {5.} scrabble refrigerator magnet set {6.} my favorite polish, boom boom pow {7.} this color really does look good on everyone, heat wave by nars [via here] {8.} handmade travel tissue holders [via here]

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Some Things I Just Love...a Guest Post!

I've asked my friend Susanna if she would be kind enough to pick out a handful of "things that she loves" - to contribute to one of my style posts.  I met Susanna through a mutual friend a few years ago.  Before that - I knew of her through the amazing children's art studio she ran, called Paper Scissors Oranges.  She's since closed the studio to take the time to raise her adorable children.  But before she did we were lucky enough to host a birthday party older son's 3rd birthday to be exact [which was more years ago than I'd care to think about].  It was the most magical and memorable party we've ever had for either child.
Since then we've bonded over a love of design, good food and blogging.  She has a wonderful style/family blog called Paper Oranges - I check it out daily.  I love her taste and frequently get inspired by the things I find there.  Her fabulous style goes beyond the computer screen - her home has been featured on the popular design website, Design*Sponge.  She really has the best style!  I'm obsessed.  So - without further ado - Susanna's "Some Things I Just Love" Picks...

{1.} Clare Vivier makes bags....and clutches I adore...this bag is super the silver.  {2.} My friend Jill has it going on.  She turned me on to Erica Tanov....a designer based in California with a shop in NYC.  This perfect color navy cami so so versatile and drapey...Great with jeans, a big chunky sweater and boots. {3.} The coveted mama ring....simple skinny rose gold band with the littlest mama engraving and the teeniest diamond....SWOON! {4.} The Jess Brown doll, handmade, simple, each doll is one of a kind and oh so lovely. {5.} A new book for children that is so gorgeously photographed....about a little girl and her favorite doll in Paris. The doll happens to be a jess brown doll.... {6.} This balm is my new go to moisturizer especially with cold weather.  I use it on my face, hands and even a bit on my unruly hair.  Smells great too.  Originally found on the blog Simple Lovely. {7.} Oh this pillow makes my heart sing every time I see daughter, Piper, is getting one for's print is the hottest of hot pink on the loveliest shade of oatmeal linen.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Couscous with Roasted Fennel & Toasted Almonds

I was recently offered a review copy of the newly released cookbook from the website Food52.  To say I was excited about this would be an understatement.  I've been a follower of the website for years and every single thing I've ever made from it has been amazing.  I had a feeling their cookbook would be no different.
If you're unfamiliar with the site - in a nutshell it showcases recipes from home cooks, every day people like you and me who happen to have a few great recipes or specialties up their sleeves.  It's a recipe sharing community, but it's also more than that.  The 52 in the site's name comes from the 52 weeks in a year, and each week the editors of the site hold a contest for the best recipe in one of many categories....the Best Holiday Breakfast, the Best Raspberry Recipe, the Best Paella are just a few examples.  The contest entries are vetted by not only the sites creators but also by the community itself.  The winning recipe for each contest gets a prize - but even better gets their recipe published in The Food52 Cookbook!
The cookbook I'm speaking of today is the first one - a year's worth of contest winning recipes {the second book is in the works now}.  Knowing that each winning recipe has been tested and voted upon by a community of food loving people makes me feel confident that I will most likely enjoy them as well...which is why more often than not I use the site as a regular "what should I cook for dinner tonight?" resource.  Personally, I've never entered any of the contests {but - one of my recipes did win a Wild Card slot for the 2nd cookbook!}.  Not because I don't want to, but because the way my life is I'm lucky if I know what day of the week it is, let alone keep track of recipe contests.  I do, however, appreciate everyone who does because I love reaping the benefits.
I do use the recipe sharing part of the site though - if I ever come up with an original recipe that I want to share I upload it there.  It's a great spot to store your personal recipe box.
It was tough trying to decide which recipe I would feature here for this review.  So many of them called out to be made and I know for sure that this cookbook will not sit on a shelf collecting dust - it will get used many times and I hope to one day try all the recipes.
In the end, I decided on this Couscous with Roasted Fennel & Toasted Almonds.  I found it in the Winter section of the book {I love that it's divided by seasons!} and it just felt so perfect for this time of year.  Even the colors in this dish feel like winter to me.
For the exact recipe, I will be sending you to the Food52 website - as I wish to support their cause by having you get it directly from the source.  But - I will share some slight changes I made and specific ingredients I used with you here.
First - the recipe calls for using black raisins which are then soaked in orange juice.  Which for folks who like raisins is probably a great way to plump them up while adding some orange flavor to the final dish - but, I am not a raisin person.  I don't mind them so much on their own, but once they get added to food forget about it.

So, instead I used dried cranberries - and instead of soaking them in orange juice I added a bit of orange juice to the dressing, to keep some of the orange flavor in the finished dish.  I cut back on the vinegar to make up for the added citrus juice {2 tbsp. olive oil, 1/2 tbsp. sherry vinegar & 1/2 tbsp. freshly squeezed orange juice}.  It ended up being perfect for my tastes because I love vinaigrette's made with a combination of juice and vinegar.
I also left out the garnish of fennel fronds as the fennel I used was trimmed previously.  As far as adaptions that's pretty much it - everything else I followed to a tee.
As for ingredients, I used a hand-rolled Tunisian couscous, called M'hamsa.  Since it's an imported specialty item it's pricey {for something that's primarily semolina flour and water}.  But - I bought it months ago on a whim, intrigued by the idea of trying a handmade couscous and ever since I've been hooked.  The grain is not as large as an Israeli {pearl} couscous, but it's larger than commercially made varieties.  As far as flavor, it's much more intense than factory made couscous - the nutty flavor is much more pronounced.  I also love that the larger grains don't stick together in a big glutenous mess like the small ones sometimes do.  This salad is a perfect winter side dish and the leftovers taste great the next day.
I know you'll really enjoy this recipe and many others from The Food52 Cookbook. make sure that one of you does, I'm offering up a free copy to one lucky commenter!
The Giveaway winner will receive a copy of "The Food52 Cookbook: 140 Winning Recipes from Exceptional Home Cooks" by Amanda Hesser & Merrill Stubbs.
To enter, simply leave a comment here on this post.
You may enter multiple times by sharing this giveaway with your friends or followers on Facebook and/or Twitter {one extra entry for each, totaling 3 maximum entries}.  In order to be eligible to win you must comment here under this post.  Please leave your contact information so I can contact you if you win!  The winner will be chosen at random on the morning of Monday, December 19th.  Good Luck!
UPDATE: The winner of this giveaway {chosen using a random number generator} is - Comment #9 Lauren H.  Congrats Lauren!!  {It's your second giveaway win!  You sure are a lucky lady!}

Friday, December 9, 2011

Happy Weekend //

Even though I'm nowhere near ready to begin my holiday baking, I am in the planning stages.  Trying to decide which old stand-by classics will make the cut or what new treats I'll attempt this year.  One thing the Internet is far from lacking is plentiful inspiration in this department.  Everywhere I look it's edible gifts galore.  And I'm not complaining because not only do I really enjoy baking but I really cherish any kind of homemade gift {even the non-edible varieties}.  In my opinion there's not much that shows you love someone more than taking the time to make them something.
The photo above is a box of my homemade cookies, wrapped up and ready to deliver from a few years back.  A recipe for every single cookie in that box is available here on The Parsley Thief...there's a link to all of them in the side column to the right {scroll down the page to find the "Holiday Cookies & Treats" section}.  You can also go to the "Cookies & Bars" section of the Recipe Index, or check out this "Holiday Baking Round Up" I did last year.
Now for some wonderful looking sweet treats from around the Web that just might make the box this year...

Pignoli cookies are probably my most favorite cookie ever - but I've never tried making them myself.  If you've yet to try one of these chewy, almond-pine nut delights you most definitely should.  This recipe from Shockingly Delicious is a top priority for me this season.

Growing up in an Italian family, Panettone was an ever present holiday staple.  Yet I have to say - as a kid I was terrified to try it.  It wasn't until I was an adult that I finally developed a taste for it.  This recipe for Guava Marmalade Panettone from Lulu's Sweet Secrets sounds amazing.

I try to have a few kid-friendly and some "kid-made" treats in the cookie box every year...not every cookie can be super sophisticated, right?  I know my boys would have a blast making gingerbread people and these super cute ones from The Little Epicurean are very inspiring.

I love cookies that also double as decorations...either as ornaments, or a pretty touch added to a wrapped gift.  Such is the case with these Lemon & Almond Cookie Wreaths from Cook Republic.  The food styling in the post is gorgeous as well!

I'm immediately drawn to anything with the word brown butter in the title.  Especially these Brown Butter Brown Sugar Cookies...because that second ingredient makes it doubly delicious sounding - from The Novice Chef.

This next link isn't exactly a cookie but a cracker...that's sweet enough to be pretty darn close.  These Cinnamon & Sugar Crackers from A Cozy Kitchen are as cute as can be.  I've always wanted to try making my own crackers and I think my guys would love being little helpers in the process.

How unbelievable does this Chocolate Bark look??  I love that it has assorted flavors and textures in the toppings - so if you give it as a gift the recipient can have a little bit of everything.  As usual, You Are My Fave also has great DIY packaging!

Many months ago, a friend of mine made these macaroons and was kind enough to bring a couple to our kid's hockey practice to share with me.  They were so delicious and I've been dreaming of them ever since.  I'm hoping these French Macaroons with Raspberry-Rose Buttercream from Bon Appétit will be making an appearance here soon!

What are some of your favorite Holiday Edible Gifts?

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Glazed Buttermilk Meatloaf

This past summer I was engrossed in a reality cooking competition on the Food Network called The Next Food Network Star.  I haven't seen every season of the show, but typically once I begin watching I get sucked in up until a winner is declared.  For those not familiar with the show, it's a cooking/talent competition where the winner gets their own show on the Food Network.  Some of the past winners have went on to become big stars - such as Guy Fieri.
Anyway - a few weeks before this past season began, a friend of mine from high school - who knows I have a food blog and that I would most likely be interested in this sort of thing - contacted me to let me know a fellow graduate from our school would be competing in the upcoming season.  Her name is Mary Beth Albright, and while I do not know her personally, I did remember who she was.  After hearing the news I was very excited to watch the show and see how things turned out for her!
Of course I wanted her to win - not just because we share the same hometown, but because after watching the season I was easily convinced she would indeed make a great food television show host.  Unfortunately, she did not win.  But from what I've learned of her I have no doubt she'll go on to do exciting things.
While the show was airing, Mary Beth would simultaneously post her personal take on the developments of each week's episode on her blog - occasionally also posting one of her recipes from the competition.  The recipe of Mary Beth's that sparked my interest most was for this meatloaf. She made the meatloaf for a panel of the usual judges, along with a guest judge.  That particular week's guest was Paula Deen, who tasted her meatloaf and said it was so good it would replace her own recipe!  I figured if Paula Deen - the queen of comfort food cooking - said it was good then it had to be pretty darn good. 
The recipe also has quite a few comments - all of which give the recipe rave reviews.  I think what sets this recipe apart from the rest is the use of panko breadcrumbs and buttermilk {full fat, if you can find it!}.  The panko gives the meatloaf a lighter's not as dense as when using regular breadcrumbs and the buttermilk gives it a slight tang.  Mary Beth recommends, as I always do, that you use the best ingredients possible.  Buy your favorite bottle of BBQ sauce, or make you own.  Use Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, if available.  As you know, I love using fresh herbs and in instances such as this it really makes a difference in the final product.
This recipe has been sitting on the back burner of my "to make soon" list because does one really want to make meatloaf in August?  No, not me.  This is winter food - and even better it's the kind of meal that's perfect for December when everyone is pressed for time because it can be made ahead.
In my version here, I used all ground beef versus a combination of beef and pork - mainly because that's what I had on hand, but also because I like using all beef when making meatloaf...use whichever you prefer.  The recipe also didn't specify what kind of brown sugar to use, so I used 1/2 light and 1/2 dark.  I later read in the comment section that she recommends dark brown sugar, but really either works here. 
So, tell me - did you happen to watch this past season of The Next Food Network Star?  Were you routing for Mary Beth too?  
If you like this recipe you might also like: Sloppy Joe's | Meatloaf with Chili Sauce | Italian Style Mini Meatloaves | Turkey Meatloaf | Turkey Meatballs

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

I'm Back...

We arrived home from our long weekend trip to Lake Placid, NY very, very late on Saturday night.  I didn't want to sound too pessimistic going into the tournament - but I did have a fairly strong feeling my son's hockey team wouldn't do so well this year.  There were more teams vying for the medals in his bracket and the skill level of our opponents was more advanced this time around.  In the end, they lost all their games - 3 out of the 4 total games by only one goal each! - and were eliminated early from the tournament.  It was a bummer to be so close yet lose by so little but the trip was well worth it for both my boys.  We stayed at the lovely Crowne Plaza in Lake Placid and during the free hours between games the boys played in the hallways with their friends, had yummy meals at some of the fantastic restaurants in the area and really enjoyed the team dinner...which took place at a sports bar/restaurant complete with a pool table, dance floor, DJ, fog machine and strobe lights!  It was probably the most fun my boys have ever had in their lives. 
Once home, I enjoyed spending time with my sister from Oregon, who was in town to see a performance of the Nutcracker - in which our younger sister was the lead role!  It was a special day and my sister was breathtaking as Clara.  Her performance was perfect in every way and I shed many a prideful tear while watching her.  Great job Olivia!
All in all life has been very busy the last week!  But - I'm back in the saddle here and hope to get some blog updates up soon [like taking down the Thanksgiving side dish links that are still featured in the side column!].
{Photo: my little guy wearing my sunglasses to protect his eyes after getting caught in a very windy snow shower on our way to a game...he's too cool, right?}