New Year’s Eve

Dan and I spent the last day of 2010 cheering the Los Angeles Lakers to victory at the Staples Center. It was an amazing experience. Our seats were just five rows back from the court so we had a great view of a very exciting game. I haven’t uploaded all of the photos from the game yet, but I wanted to include this picture of Dan and me from tonight as my last post of the year. I’ll write more about this tomorrow, but I am extremely glad to see 2010 go. This has most definitely been the worst year of my life and I’m looking forward to a fresh start. So I bid a hearty farewell to 2010 with high hopes for a brighter 2011.

Five years ago

Five years ago Dan asked me to marry him. It was actually December 29, 2005, five years and one day ago, but I didn’t remember in time to post this yesterday. That day we drove up to Big Bear for a few days of snowboarding, but when we arrived in town Dan insisted that we stop at a park on the lake to get a picture of the quickly-fading sunset. Little did I know that he had something else in mind as well! The photo above was taken just before Dan proposed. It was a moment that I’ll never forget. These past five years have been quite the whirlwind, but we’ve made it through together so far. I love you, Dan, and I hope the years just get better and better.

A successful recipe

Dan and I have been pretty much stuck at home for the past week because I got sick before Christmas and then he got sick after Christmas. Not a fun holiday so far, but I am definitely on the road to recovery now. (He’s not, unfortunately.) And now that I’m feeling better I decided to make the most of my time at home and try some new recipes today. Much to my distress, neither of them turned out too well but I’ll write about that in another post (I took plenty of pictures for food blogging purposes). So after a disappointing dinner and dessert, I took solace in a recipe that has never let me down – the hot chocolate recipe on the side of the Hershey’s cocoa powder. Simple and delicious!

2 Tbsp sugar
2 Tbsp Hershey’s cocoa powder
1 c milk
1/4 tsp vanilla extract

Mix sugar and cocoa at the bottom of a large mug. Microwave the milk on HIGH for 90 seconds. Pour hot milk on top of the cocoa mixture and stir until well blended. Stir in vanilla extract and enjoy!

Photos from our Hawaiian vacation

I’m in the process of typing a post about the holidays, but until I finish that, here is a list of the photo albums from our trip to the Big Island of Hawaii last month:

1) Waikoloa 11/12-11/14/10 – Kekaha Kai State Park, Anchialine Ponds, Hilton Waikoloa Village, Fair Wind snorkel cruise, and Hapuna Beach
2) North Kohala 11/14-11/16/10 – Kapaʻau, Pu’ukohola Heiau, Pololu Valley, Waimea, and Waipio Valley
3) On the way to Hilo 11/16/10 – Laupahoehoe Harbor, World Botanical Gardens, and Akaka Falls
4) Hilo 11/16-11/18/10 – Lili’uokalani Gardens, Coconut Island Park, Banyan Drive, Blue Hawaiian helicoper tour, Inn at Kulaniapia Falls, Mauna Loa macadamia nut factory, and Dan DeLuz Woods
5) Hawaiian Lava Hike 11/17/10 – Hiking tour from Kalapana to see the active lava flow
6) Volcano 11/18-11/19/10 – Volcanoes National Park, Kilauea volcano caldera, Steam Vents, Sulphur Banks, Thurston Lava Tube, Hale Ohia Cottages, Kilauea Iki Crater, Devastation Trail, Chain of Craters Road, Pu’u Loa Petroglyphs, and the Sea Arch
7) South Point 11/19/10 – Southernmost point in the US and hike to the Papakolea green sand beach
8) Kona 11/20-11/21/10 – Puuhonua O Honaunau Park, sea turtles, Big Island Grill, Kona Tiki Hotel, and roadside lava tube
9) Mauna Kea Summit 11/20/10 – Tour to the summit of the Mauna Kea volcano
10) Hawaii videos – Since Flickr wasn’t cooperating, I uploaded the videos from our vacation to YouTube instead

Favorite recipes #17 – Potluck chili

Last December Dan and I were invitied to a holiday party at one of his co-worker’s houses where several different kinds of chili were served. All of the varieties were delicious so I asked the hostess her secret. She laughed and told me it was Carroll Shelby’s Original Texas Chili Kit. I was always apprehensive about using a recipe to make chili because I wasn’t sure how it would turn out, but getting a tried and true seasoning mix at the grocery store sounded like a great idea. So in February when Dan and I went to a Super Bowl party at Mike and Lisa’s house we decided to bring chili. We deviated from the directions on the back of the chili kit box (mostly because I don’t believe in using water in a tomato-based dish when you can use a tomato product instead), and Dan being the amazing chef that he is added some unexpected ingredients. The chili – both spicy and mild varieties – turned out delicious. I documented the recipe below as I was making a batch for a holiday potluck at work. I received a lot of compliments at that potluck and this whole story came full circle when I divulged the secret of my chili – Carroll Shelby’s Original Texas Chili Kit.

1 lb lean ground beef (I use 8% fat)
1 lb lean ground turkey (I use 7% fat)
1/2 large sweet onion, diced (about 1 heaping cup)
1 large red bell pepper, diced (about 1 heaping cup)
1 package Carroll Shelby’s Original Texas Chili Kit, spice packets separated
2 cans tomato sauce (8 oz each – I use the variety with basil, garlic, and oregano)
1 can diced tomatoes (14.5 oz – I use the variety with roasted garlic)
2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 c lime juice
1/2 to 1 habanero pepper, minced (depending on how spicy you want your chili – wear gloves when cutting!)
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (or more if you prefer)

In a large stockpot (mine is 8 qt), cook ground beef and ground turkey along with the diced onion and diced bell pepper. When the meat is cooked, add the Carroll Shelby’s chili seasoning packet (the biggest one in the kit) and salt packet, tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, garlic powder, and lime juice. Stir well. This is your basic mild chili, so if that was your goal simply let the mixture simmer for 15 minutes and you’re done! But since Dan likes his chili spicy, at this point I transfer half of the chili base into another pan (a large sauce pan works), add the contents of the cayenne pepper packet from the chili kit, minced habanero pepper, and extra 1/2 tsp (or more) cayenne pepper. Simmer both pots of chili for about 15 minutes, turn off the heat, and let them cool for as long as possible before refrigerating to let the spices mingle. Refrigerating overnight before serving will help the flavor too, making this the perfect weeknight leftover meal. Enjoy!

Based on the recipe on the back of the Carroll Shelby’s Original Texas Chili Kit box.

Christmas Eve accomplishments

My accomplishments on Christmas Eve 2010:
1) Wrapped Dan’s Christmas presents. Because our main gifts to each other this year are the dining room table and chairs that we purchased last weekend, my goal was for all of his other presents to fit into his stocking. That didn’t quite work out because some were either too large or too heavy, but I really hope he likes them.
2) Took out the trash. And thank goodness because that pile of garbage bags by the front door waiting for fair weather so I could take them out was getting rather large.
3) Uploaded the rest of our Hawaiian vacation photos and a few of the videos. My Flickr account now contains all of the photos except the ones on Dan’s iPhone which I still need to retrieve. Flickr wasn’t cooperating when I tried to post the videos, though, so I’m in the process of uploading them to my YouTube account instead.
4) Didn’t upload any pictures of our Christmas tree yet. Christmas Day should prove more accommodating for that.
5) Did Laundry. When Dan had to dig through his gym bag to find clean socks I knew it was time.
6) Went out to Chili’s for Christmas Eve dinner. We originally planned to go to a restaurant in downtown Los Angeles, but I wasn’t feeling up to it. Chili’s, however, is close by so we ended up eating burgers for dinner.
7) Still have no idea what we’ll have for Christmas Day dinner. Last year I made my famous lasagna, but I might not be well enough to cook tomorrow.
8) Made no progress on the potluck chili recipes. My apologies to all you foodies out there.
9) Also made no progress on a post of any substance. My apologies to friends and family who might have stopped by only to be disappointed. Like I said yesterday, I’m evil, but I’m trying to correct that.
10) Watched “Christmas in Connecticut” that I rented from iTunes almost a month ago. It’s a really good Christmas movie, but not one of my favorites. I planned to watch “White Christmas” as well, but Christmas Eve only has so many hours! Dan and I watched “Toy Story 3” and “The Spy Who Loved Me” when we got back from Chili’s so our evening was ultimately entertaining, if not entirely Christmasy.

Christmas Eve goals

My goals for Christmas Eve 2010:
1) Wrap Dan’s Christmas presents. This can absolutely, positively NOT be put off until tomorrow.
2) Take out the trash. This will be much easier than earlier in the week when we had six straight days of rain.
3) Upload the rest of our Hawaiian vacation photos and videos. This will probably take a while.
4) Upload pictures of our Christmas tree. This is a secondary goal, assuming I finish the Hawaii photos.
5) Laundry. I am so far behind on this particular chore and I really don’t want to have to do it tomorrow.
6) Figure out Christmas Eve dinner. I cancelled tonight’s dinner reservation because I’m sick so now we need an alternative.
7) Figure out Christmas Day dinner. I have no plans for dinner tomorrow yet and I’ll bet the grocery store is a madhouse.
8) Type up the chili recipes that were a hit with my coworkers at our holiday potluck last Friday. This will appease the folks who visit my webpage just for the food.
9) Post something substantial to my webpage for folks looking for something other than recipes. Because let’s face it, I’m evil and this lack of regular posting must stop.
10) Watch at least one Christmas movie!

Favorite recipes #16 – Pumpkin dip

When October rolled around I had big plans to post a few of my favorite pumpkin recipes over Halloween weekend, but the month flew by in the blink of an eye and I never got around to it. I did, however, make time to whip up a batch of pumpkin dip for our Hallowen party on November 6th. Pumpkin dip sounds healthy, right? Unfortunately, it’s pretty much just cream cheese frosting with pumpkin mixed in, but it’s absolutely delicious. Plus, it’s the perfect addition to a table of party food when paired with fruit or cookies. There’s probably a can of pumpkin in your cupboard so go make some right now!

8 oz cream cheese, softened
2 c powdered sugar
1 can (15 oz) canned pumpkin
3 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1-2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp ground ginger
Apple slices, pear slices, cinnamon and sugar pita chips, or cookies for dipping

In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese and powdered sugar until creamy. (Add the vanilla extract during this step if it makes mixing the two together easier.) Gradually add the pumpkin, pumpkin pie spice, vanilla (if not added earlier), and ginger, and beat until smooth. Serve with fruit, pita chips, and/or cookies.

Based on Taste of Home’s Harvest Pumpkin Dip.