Belated Foodie Friday – Crockpot hot chocolate (take 2)

Also written on my flights from Long Beach to Orlando on Wednesday.

My last day of work in 2014 was the day of the annual holiday potluck. My favorite day of the year! This meant that I wasn’t very productive closing out the year, but at least I was well fed. It was awesome. Due to the craziness that was December I didn’t commit to making anything complicated for the potluck. In fact I was so unimaginative with my offerings that I simply repeated my menu from 2013 – hot chocolate for breakfast and mulled apple cider for lunch. Simple, tasty, and very little effort required on my part. Not too long ago I shared my first attempt at Crockpot hot chocolate, but I wasn’t fully satisfied with the results. My co-workers really liked it, but the chocolate chips didn’t melt properly so I knew there was a better option out there. And this year I found it! Look no further, this is the world’s best hot chocolate. It was so popular at the potluck that my co-workers drank every drop and several asked for the recipe. I didn’t even follow the exact directions in the original recipe because I was lazy and didn’t think it made a difference. Luckily I was right. I just dumped all of the ingredients in my slow cooker at 6 AM, heated the hot chocolate about 2.5 hours, and stirred it every 30 minutes or so. And it was perfect! Rich, creamy, and chocolately. I am definitely going to make this again soon!

1/2 gallon whole milk
1 pint heavy cream (I used whipping cream)
1 can (14 oz) sweetened condensed milk
1/2 c cocoa powder (I used half regular, half Hershey’s Special Dark)
1/2 c sugar
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
Dash of salt

Add this to the list of easiest recipes of all time. Simply combine all of the ingredients in your slow cooker and whisk to combine. The cocoa powder won’t mix too well with the cold milk and cream, but that will change as it heats up. Cook on low for 2-3 hours, whisking/stirring occasionally. Serve with marshmallows. Enjoy!

Based on No. 2 Pencil’s Slow Cooker Hot Cocoa.

Christmas 2014

The first portion of this post was written while I was on my way back to California after Christmas (12/29), but never got around to finishing it. Typical! Better late than never, I guess!

Sorry for the unplanned blogging hiatus, I was so busy on my trip to Tallahassee for Christmas that I barely touched my laptop! I know that’s a pretty flimsy excuse for not updating my webpage, but I wanted to give a reason for my seemingly lazy behavior anyway. At the moment I’m sitting in the Dallas airport for my flight to LAX in about an hour. It was a whirlwind trip even though it was six days long. There’s always so much to do surrounding Christmas with shopping, cooking, and family traditions. But I had a wonderful time and a lovely Christmas with my parents despite the strong thunderstorms that accompanied my arrival (although my flight landed pretty easily in such horrible weather) and power outage when we got home from the airport. It’s a good thing my dad always has lots of flashlights! We went to sleep without power on the night of the 23rd. Luckily it was back on by the time we got up on Christmas Eve.

The remaining portion of this post was written today.

The rain wasn’t over yet, though. My parents and I waited out another line of thunderstorms that morning before heading to the mall to do some last minute Christmas shopping. That’s when I got my beloved red Toms which I’ve worn just about every day since then. Later than evening the weather had cleared up so we were able to go for our annual Christmas light viewing walk in the neighborhood. The rain had put a damper on some of the festivities, but it was still nice to admire the light displays. When we got home I hunkered down in front of the TV to watch “A Christmas Story” and wrap presents. You can’t wait any later than Christmas Eve for that! The next morning we made a delicious Christmas breakfast of buttermilk pancakes (thanks to this recipe from Martha Stewart), scrambled eggs, bacon, and fruit. Yum! We exchanged presents after breakfast and then all three of us got some exercise. It was a little chilly, but I ran 5 miles around the neighborhood, my dad ran a different route, and my mom took a walk. We all ended up getting home at about the same time. Our next job was putting together Christmas dinner. We had smoked turkey, cranberry sauce (using my own recipe), sweet potato casserole, and skillet green beans (a recipe I need to post soon). It was the most traditional meal we’d made in years (I usually make lasagna for Christmas dinner) and it was scrumptious. After dinner we went to see “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies.” As far as I’m concerned, the jury is still out on this one. I definitely didn’t love it, but I think I’ll have to go see it again before making up my mind. As soon as we got home from the movie we had dessert – my mom’s famous chocolate cake and pecan pie. It was the perfect way to end Christmas Day.

Foodie Friday – Homemade cranberry sauce

I’m working on a couple of posts about Christmas and New Year’s, but I’ve been busy this week so they aren’t ready for publishing yet. I’ll finish them this weekend. For now you’ll have to be content with this recipe for delicious homemade cranberry sauce!

On Christmas Eve I cobbled together a batch of cranberry sauce from a couple of basic recipes I found on Pinterest – one from Cooking Light and one from McCormick’s. I used elements of each one, but pretty much just threw a little bit of this and a little bit of that (including some ingredients that nether recipe called for) into the pot and hoped for the best. Fortunately it turned out great! It was the perfect complement to the smoked turkey we had for Christmas dinner, and the leftovers refrigerated really well for leftovers a couple of days later. I liked it so much that I made another batch of cranberry sauce on New Year’s Eve after I got back to California. Hey, the holidays aren’t over until I have to go back to work! (Which was actually today, but that’s another story.) I’m going to enjoy this cranberry sauce over some baked chicken this weekend. So if you have a hankering for cranberry sauce even though Christmas 2014 is over, try this recipe! Otherwise, save it until Thanksgiving 2015 and try it then!

12 oz fresh cranberries
1/2 apple, diced (or more, if desired)
1/2 pear, diced (or more, if desired)
1 c orange juice
3/4 c brown sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp allspice

In a small or medium saucepan, combine all ingredients and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the cranberries pop and the mixture starts to thicken. Remove from heat and cool completely. The sauce will thicken more as it stands. Serve over turkey or chicken, or as a stand alone side dish. Enjoy!

Based on Cooking Light’s Basic Cranberry Sauce and McCormick’s Homemade Cranberry Sauce.

My favorite Christmas present

I’m on my flight from Dallas to Los Angeles now and making the best possible use of the inflight wifi. I’m working on a post about my trip to Tallahassee, but it’s not going to be ready to post tonight (my current flight is barely two hours long), so here’s another little something instead. On Christmas morning I took a picture of my favorite present – a red pair of Toms shoes! I’ve noticed several of my friends wearing them over the last year and I’ve been coveting their effortless style. I’ve been fiercely loyal to my All Stars for many years (classic and surprisingly still popular these days), but with my wardrobe of skinny jeans sometimes the Converse can be a bit clunky. Plus, my mom got some Toms recently, and she’d been singing their praises ever since. It’s rare that something so trendy fits our narrow feet so I was eager to try a pair myself. On Christmas Eve, after waiting out a thunderstorm that rolled through Tallahassee that morning, my parents and I headed to the mall to do some last-minute Christmas shopping. Almost immediately after arrival my mom steered me to Journeys to find a pair of Toms. It took a couple of tries to get the right size, but when I slipped on the red size 7s I was in heaven. They weren’t too wide for my skinny feet and even without socks they fit perfectly in every other way as well. It was amazing! My mom and dad purchased them for me as an early Christmas present and I couldn’t have been happier. I didn’t think it was possible that I was getting the exact pair of shoes I’d been wanting for so long. They were the perfect gift and I wore them just about every day I was in Tallahassee. In fact, I’m wearing them right now as my flight makes its way to LAX. I have a feeling I’ll be wearing my red Toms a lot!

Let the holiday fun begin

As of 3:30 PM on Friday I was done with work for the year! That was a good feeling. I had originally planned to work on Monday the 22nd, but I had put in enough extra hours the week before to cover it so my vacation started a few days early! It was lovely knowing that I didn’t have to go back to work until January 2nd. However, my holiday break started with a little bit of a hassle. I had to drive up to Valencia on Friday night in preparation for the Magic Mountain Holiday 10K the next morning. I knew it would take about an hour and a half to get there and there was no way I was going to face that drive early the next morning. Luckily I had a hotel reservation very close to Six Flags California where the race was being held. The traffic was definitely heavy on the Friday before Christmas, especially through the Sepulveda Pass, but I still got to Valencia is a fairly reasonable amount of time. The next morning it was 43 deg when I got to Six Flags. Brr! I wore another disposable sweatshirt before the race started and I was very glad I had picked one with a hood because my ears were freezing! The Magic Mountain Holiday 5K/10K wasn’t as well organized as it could have been, but it was still a fun race. I hadn’t been to Six Flags since 2012 and I enjoyed seeing the park as we ran through it. Unfortunately the course wasn’t very well marked or supervised so I made one wrong turn that added mileage to my route. Oops. And the steep hills didn’t help. I was anticipating them, and I walked up them to avoid exhausting myself, but they were still challenging! I did enjoy the downhill portions, though. And there were plenty of them, thankfully! My time still wasn’t anything to be proud of, but I crossed the finish line and that’s all that matters. Next year someone remind me not to sign up for so many races in December. The Magic Mountain 10K was my fourth and I was tired afterwards! Granted, it’s the best time of year for running, but I think I overextended myself a little bit this year.

After going back to my hotel for a shower and a little rest, I headed back to Six Flags to spend the afternoon. I can’t say I really enjoyed it, though. After spending so much time at Disneyland in the last couple of years, Six Flags suffered by comparison. I did have a good lunch, though – a turkey hotdog with stuffing and cranberry sauce. It was surprisingly delicious! I really should have tried the fried Oreos too. Unfortunately, besides he food, the rest of my afternoon was surprisingly dull. Magic Mountain is know for it’s crazy roller coasters, but the newest one was broken down while I was there. And since winter is not a popular time at Six Flags, some of the rides were simply not running at all. Phooey. Then I realized that that they don’t allow any loose articles on any of the coasters, so I’d have to put my phone in a locker if I wanted to ride any of them (like X2 and Tatsu which are awesome). It didn’t seem worth the trouble. So I spent a few hours walking around, stretching my legs after running 6.2 miles that morning, and looking at everything Six Flags had to offer. It’s not much, really. Most of the merchandise was really tacky, but I ended up buying a couple of funny holiday shirts. I intended to stay until after dark to see the holiday decorations, especially since this is the first year they’ve ever decorated for Christmas, but by 4 PM I was tired and ready to go back to my hotel. Overall, my visit to Six Flags Magic Mountain was underwhelming. I think I’ll have to go back sometime and leave my phone in the car so I can actually ride the roller coasters!

Weekend away from home (part 2)

I figured I’d better finish writing about last weekend before THIS weekend ends!

I spent all of last Sunday afternoon after the Holiday Half Marathon relaxing in my hotel room. It was lovely! This time of year is always so busy that I don’t have enough time to enjoy myself. Spending a whole day without needing to accomplish anything substantial felt really great. I only left my hotel that day to get lunch (a sandwich at Jimmy John’s) and dinner (a salad at Panera). I couldn’t believe how tired I was. It didn’t help that I had trouble sleeping the night before the half marathon. I went to bed plenty early, but I woke up about five times between 3 AM and 6 AM, anxious about the race. At that point I realized it wasn’t worth tossing and turning any longer, so I got up and started getting ready. Staying so close to the Pomona Fairplex was great because I got there that morning by 6:45 AM, even after only waking up at 6 AM. Totally worth it. It was another cold morning (45 deg), so I was glad for the old sweatshirt I’d brought with me. My plan was to wear it until the start of the race or shortly after, and then discard it. Actually, this was all my mom’s idea. She knew that I have several sweatshirts that I was planning to give to Goodwill anyway, so wearing them for warmth before races during the winter works out perfectly. The race instructions said that discarded clothing would go to charity anyway so everyone’s a winner! Even though I was cold before the race started, it turned out to be perfect weather for running. Too bad the course wasn’t as perfect. There were SO MANY HILLS. I walked the entirety of mile 8 because it was all uphill. Ugh. It actually turned out to be a lovely course (check out the above photo for proof), but I can’t say that I really enjoyed it. My finishing time turned out to be about the same as my Disneyland Half Marathon time, which means slow, but I’m OK with that. I crossed the finish line and that’s all that really matters to me. Afterwards I picked up my Golden Snowflake Challenge medal for completing the 5K and half marathon that weekend! That was pretty cool. I don’t think the promise of an extra medal will tempt me to return next year, though. That half marathon course was killer and I’d honestly rather not repeat it. It made me realize how much I appreciate the flat Disney race courses!