Friday, February 21, 2014

Monster Cookie Dough Dip



Monster Cookie Dough Dip

Monster Cookie Dough Dip
Ingredients
  • 1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
  • ½ cup butter, slightly softened
  • 1 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 3 Tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 cups rolled oats, old fashioned or quick (see Note)
  • 2/3 cup plain M&Ms (give or take, I used mini)
  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Instructions
  1. With a hand mixer or stand mixer, beat the cream cheese, butter, and peanut butter until smooth.
  2. Add in the powdered sugar, brown sugar, flour, and vanilla.
  3. Using the paddle attachment on your stand mixer or just a wooden spoon, mix in the oats. You may want to use more or less here. I really like the oats in it and a thicker dip so I added a lot. Remember that the dip will also firm up a bit in the fridge.
  4. Add the M&Ms and chocolate chips.
  5. Store in the refrigerator until serving. Serve with pretzels, graham crackers, or apple slices. You can dip or spread this depending on how thick you made your dip.
  6. Note: You can use more or less oats to adjust the thickness of your dip. Start with about 1 1/2 cups oats and keep adding until you reach your desired thickness. If you use quick oats you might use less since it's finer and will make the dough thicker.

Adapted from here

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Venice, Italy Day 1

Venice, Italy Day 1
5/30/2012, Wednesday
Calm seas on the Adriatic Sea


Celebrity Solstice: I woke up before the rest of my family and headed to the gym on the cruise ship. We were still sailing calm seas en route to Venice. I have got to say, even though half the buttons didn’t work, I will take the treadmill on the Solstice, cruising along the serene Mediterranean over any gym any other day! I did learn which pieces of cardio equipment worked better than others (the buttons seem to stick and are really difficult to press). The gym had a handful of people. On my way back I stopped at the little breakfast bar in the adult only area, Solarium, and grabbed a couple "healthy" snacks. Back in the cabin I did some P90X while Tyler went to the buffet to eat breakfast. I really am trying not to gain weight, I swear.



Upon Tyler's return from the buffet, we wanted to go catch some of the Corning Museum Hot Glass Show, now that we are officially groupies it only seemed appropriate. The glass girls did another fabulous job and they educated us on the glass we will find in Venice and Murano. They too seemed excited to get off the ship; we were secretly hoping we would have a Hot Glass Show girl sighting off the ship! They also spoke very highly of the sail-in to Venice, just like I read on the cruise critic message boards. Therefore they ended the show in time for us all to head back to our cabins, freshen up, and prepare for the sail in.

VIDEO- Hot Glass Show in action:

Pictured below: 2 of the hot Glass Show girls. The one on the left, Helen Tegeler, was our favorite, you will soon found out why! The girl on the right is Leana Quade. We also had Diane on board who was new (I think this was her first cruise ever!).



Pictured below: Almost to Venice!


Sail-in: At 12:30 we all headed to the front of the ship to watch us sail in. NO KIDDING! What I read in my research was right! WOW WOW WOW! This was truly something special. I have been to Venice before, but you have NEVER seen Venice like this until you see it from the high decks of the Solstice! Everyone needs to sail in to Venice on a cruise ship once!

Celebrity pumps in some famous songs to set the mood, such as Andre Bocelli, and has ladies dressed up in masquerade costumes. Have I mentioned I love Celebrity yet? Andrea Bocelli is now part of our new tradition: Europe Night (I will get to that at the end of my journal). Becuase of this special moment, our first dance for our wedding was by Mr. Bocelli.

What a moment; let me try and set the scene:

Andrea Bocelli…
gently sailing in…
towering over the city…
waves from small boats passing by…
watching the wake roll through the canals…
gondolas strolling up and down canals...
sunny skies, temps in the mid 70’s…
Breeze from high above…
Being with your loved ones...
It goes on and on and on…

Thanks to Celebrity, Tyler now has to find a way to save enough money for us to go see Andrea Bocelli live, good luck! Thanks Celebrity!

Pictured below: I see gondolas!



You really have a spectacular viewing spot from up top! Also look for the leaning towers, the Hot Glass Show girls informed us how all of the towers are leaning in Venice. I think I have some better pictures of this somewhere.





Here is a some-what long video of us sailing in. It is just so special it was hard to shorten the video! In the video you can see another Celebrity ship in the distance for size comparison. You will also see a tug-boat or some kind of boat, pull us along, we figured this was because it is so narrow?


After coming down from that high, we headed to the buffet for lunch. Well apparently everyone else does that too before getting off in Venice! This might have been a good time to go to Bistro on 5 but for some reason we did not think of that. So we ate lunch pool side and enjoyed the view form the ship.

Venice: I will have another post dedicated to navigating Venice; I will just touch on what we did here.

We used the people mover to get to the main part and rode the Vaporetto, the water taxi system in Venice. Even though I read extensively ahead about navigating Venice, I was still confused once we got off the ship. I actually enjoyed that feeling of not knowing what to do and being in a foreign country having to rely on your brain and common sense skills to figure it out. I may be a little crazy.

Pictured below: Waiting for the Vaporetto (map in hand like a true tourist), this is what the stations look like





We got off at Rialto station. We did some window shopping/exploring before crossing the Rialto Bridge to make our way to St. Marks Square. We ended up coming back to this side to shop since things were 25-50% cheaper over here!

Pictured below: One of my favorite pictures from the trip. Just a quaint canal we passed crossing one of the many bridges





There was one item I HAD to get before leaving Italy, and that is the “Ciao Bella” shirt that is in the Coke design. Of course this is not the most fashion-forward shirt. I had to, yes HAD, to get it because I got one in 2004 that shrunk! Remember I am a sentimental junkie. And I wore my 2004 shirt on the plane ride home so I was determined to get a new one and wear it on the plane ride home in 2012. I made sure to get it bigger than I needed to prepare for shrinking. Update from home: Bad news, it still shrunk a lot! What the heck! Guess I have to go back!


Pictured below: Crossing the famous Rialto Bridge




Note!! The shops/stands are cheaper on the side we got off than the St. marks side when you cross the famous Rialto Bridge. So do your shopping before crossing the bridge. The same exact items are a lot more expensive the closer you get to St. Marks.

We enjoyed walking around St. Marks. Looking at all the amazing glass shops. People watching the people feed/interact with the pigeons, this was the closest I was getting to the pigeons:




Beware of the SCAM “Rose Guys” they are tricky! They walked up to Tyler and I and literally force the rose in my hand and tried to force Tyler to pay for it. Even though I felt like a jerk I had to forcefully throw the rose back to the guy. You have to be very stern with these guys! "No, thank you" in a little American voice will get you NO WHERE with these guys.

Additionally, the nice people-watching tables and chairs all around St. Marks charge a huge fee just to sit and enjoy. And the drinks were outrageous, I can’t remember the price but it would be something like 80 Euros for our family to just sit there and not even order anything.

We got some gelato and as Sabrina from Florence told us, not all gelato is made equal! And she was right! Yuck, we actually had bad gelato. Of course I would take bad gelato in Venice over ice-cream any day, ha!

Now I know most people will not agree with me on this, sorry in advance, but I am given honest thoughts on this trip. I actually find Venice to be dirty and stinky, perhaps because of the canals and pigeons. However, I still find Venice to be romantic, unique and charming and love going back there! I just do not think I could spend a week here. We are all water babies in my family so we enjoy the boats and canals. We decided to head back to the ship and get ready for dinner. We are eating dinner on ship.



**This is the first port we had to show our passport to get back on ship. If you had just a copy of your passport you needed a real photo ID in addition, such as your license.

Back on the Celebrity Solstice: We relaxed around the ship. This is a nice time to enjoy a quiet Solstice with most still in port. Dad got to relax in an empty hot tub and I sported my new shirt!








After dinner we were party poopers and went to bed. We wanted to get up early for Venice day 2. I did record that tonight’s dinner was my favorite, filet kabobs. I wrote the “filet melted in my mouth.” I also wrote to myself “p.s. I need to law off the sweets, ha!” Yeah right, like that is going to happen ;-)

Ciao Bella!

Ashley

 Other stops on our trip:
Barcelona Day 1 (exploring on foot)
Barcelona Day 2 (hop on/hop off bus)
Cote d'Azur and Monte Carlo, Monaco
Florence, Tuscany, & Pisa
Rome
Naples, Pompeii, Amalfi Coast, Sorrento, Positano
1st Sea Day
Kotor, Montenegro
Venice, Italy Day 1
Venice, Italy Day 2
Dubrovnik, Croatia

 

Friday, February 14, 2014

Mexican Stuffed Shells

Mexican Stuffed Shells

 

Ingredients:
1 lb. ground beef
1 package low-sodium taco seasoning
4 oz. cream cheese
14-16 jumbo pasta shells
1.5 cup salsa
1 cup taco sauce (This is a smooth, tomato based sauce found in the Mexican section)
1 cup cheddar cheese
1 cup monterey jack cheese
1 onion
3 green onions (optional, for topping )
Sour cream (optional, for topping)

Directions:
1.) Preheat oven to 350°.
2.) In a frying pan cook ground beef; add taco seasoning and prepare according to package directions (if using onion, chop and add here).  Add cream cheese, cover and simmer until cream cheese is melted. Blend well. Set aside and cool completely.
3.) While ground beef is cooking, cook the pasta shells according to directions; drain. Set shells out individually on cutting board/baking sheet so that they don’t stick together.
4.) Pour salsa on bottom of 9×13 baking dish.  Stuff each shell with the meat mixture. Place shells in 9×13 pan open side up. Cover shells with taco sauce.  Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes.
5.) After 30 minutes, add shredded cheese and bake for 10-15 more minutes, with the foil removed.

Top with any condiments you’d like (green onions, black olives, etc.) Serve with sour cream and/or more salsa.

(found/adapted the recipe here)



 

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Chicken and Biscuits Pot Pie

Chicken and Biscuits Pot Pie 

I don't know about you, but around here when the temperature drops I am dying to make a creamy and rich pot pie! I searched for a newer verision of the loved classic and found this easy, Chicken and Biscuits Pot Pie. This modified pot pie hit the spot while everyone in Atlanta was covered in ice this week :)


I adapted (made easier) the recipe from here

Ingredients
  • 1 can of biscuits, such as Grands
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped fine
  • 1 package of frozen mixed veggies (mine had corn, carrots, green beans etc.) OR 3 medium carrots, peeled and cut crosswise 1/4-inch thick, 2 small ribs celery, cut crosswise 1/4-inch thick
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 2 to 2 3/4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 3 to 4 cups (about 1 1/4 lbs) shredded chicken
  • 3 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves, or your seasonings of choice
Instructions
  1.  Easy way to shred the chicken: boil chicken breast for 20-30 minutes (depending on size). Place them in a stand mixer, shred for 2-3 minutes and you have perfectly shredded chicken!
  2. To make the filling: Preheat the oven to 400° F. Heat a large pot or Dutch over medium-high heat and add the oil. Once the oil is hot, sauté your veggies until tender, about 5-7 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Transfer cooked vegetables to a bowl with the chicken; set aside.
  3. Reduce the heat to medium and add the butter to the same pot. When melted, stir in the flour and cook, stirring constantly for 1 minute. Whisk in the milk, chicken broth, and thyme. Allow the sauce to come to a simmer and let it simmer for 1 minute to thicken. Season with salt and pepper and stir in the sherry (if using). Turn off the heat and transfer the vegetables and chicken to the pot, stirring until the filling is well-combined. Mix in the peas and parsley. If the filling is too thick (you'll know), stir in the extra chicken broth, about 1/4 cup at a time up to 3/4 cup until the filling loosens up a little.
  4. Pour the filling into a 13x9-inch baking dish and bake for 18 minutes. Remove the dish from the oven (keeping the oven on and door closed) and top the filling with the biscuits. Return the baking dish to the oven and bake for an additional 10-12 minutes, until the biscuits are golden brown and the filling is bubbly. Cool for 5 minutes before serving.
Chicken Pot Pie and Biscuits