December 31, 2011

DIY Vanilla Bean Liquor {for New Year's Eve Vanilla Bean Champagne Cocktails}

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It's New Year's Eve!!!

I can't believe it. This year feels like it's come and gone so fast and yet here we are. 

Christmas vacation has been amazing. A whole week {plus} off of work, which was more needed than I had expected and instead I got to spend all my time with my guy, visiting friends for holiday parties and vacation happy hours {that start at like 1pm} and being with my family. It's been so wonderful. The other blissful part of vacation was that I was able to cook, bake and blend everything my little heart desired.
I can sometimes get overwhelmed with all the magazines and recipe that I get in the mail because I so badly want to make so many things so this vacation was my opportunity to take the reins and really dig into to delicious treats to share during the holidays. I made gingerbread men, oreo truffles, sugar cookies shaped like stars and snowmen, bourbon whiskey balls, spiced holiday punch and cranberry-port crumble. Everything was outstanding.
Something I had planned about a month back was to make my own liquor. I knew that around the holidays, and especially for New Years, that I wanted to have this vanilla liquor that I saw in a magazine my mother found from 2007 and it would be fabulous with champagne as well as just an all around delicious liquor for the holidays. So I got work, and 1 minute later I was done. It was the simplest thing I have ever done, the hardest part was waiting...One Whole Month!
Well lucky for you I had my planning set just right and shook this up right after Thanksgiving so it would be just right by the time Christmas and New Years came around. I absolutely intend to pour myself a glass of champagne in about 1 hour and kick off this New Years right.

The comfort of my own home with simple snacks, the Christmas tree still lit and the company of my favorite guy... it's shaping up to be a perfect New Years!

Bring it on 2012!!!
{DIY} Vanilla Bean Liqueur
Photos by A Healthy Jalapeño 

Recipe by Better Home and Garden


2 cups vodka
1 cup sugar
3 vanilla beans, split in half crosswise and lengthwise
Vanilla beans (optional garnish for gifts)

In a 1-quart screw-top jar, combine vodka, sugar, and the split vanilla beans. Cover tightly and shake until sugar dissolves.
Store mixture in a cool, dark place for 1 month. Remove vanilla beans.

Transfer to decorative bottles. If desired, add fresh vanilla beans for garnish. Seal; store at room temperature. 
Stands for 1 month

Vanilla Bean Champagne Cocktail
Recipe by A Healthy Jalapeño 

  • 2 oz Vanilla Bean Liqueur
    Dry sparkling champagne
  • Add the vanilla bean liquor to a champagne flute. Top with sparkling wine and serve. Enjoy!

2011: A Year In Review

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So I just read a good foodie friends 'A Year in Review" and it got me thinking about this being my first year in blogging.  Everything started for me last January where I had only 3 posts including the plans for my little blogging adventure and look where I have come. I now on the 31st of December have 191 posts, 89 followers on my blog, 1,161 fans on Facebook, 172 followers on Twitter, 119 repins on Pinterest and a 97 buzz rating on Foodbuzz... all in all, I would say that I have had an EXCELLENT year. I have learned so much and can't even begin to start on all the dishes and recipes that were my 'first ever' attempts because there are just too many to even count. Everything has been such a learning experience and such surprise as to what it has actually become.

Take a bad cook with little direction and a lot of aspirations, a man she loves with a hungry appetite, add a little spice and spills and you have me 1 year later, and I am still loving this adventure.

I would love to see what topped the charts, what was may favorite, and what was a culinary eye open over this past years journey.
So... here I go with my top 10:
Top viewed post {with 372 page view's and counting}:

Most Unique:

The simple, beautiful and delicious:

The revelation in only 4 ingredients:

The Quick and Saucy:

Layer after Layer of Vegetarian goodness:

First major {SRC} entry:

The first recipe I ever posted:

My first time canning {fruit puree}:

Fresh Strawberry Fruit Puree

The "I never could have imagined I could make this" dish:

It has been such a great year and looking through all the recipes I have tried and made only lets me know that there is so always something to learn and somewhere to grow.

Here's to 2012, may you be just as fun and even more delicious...
Happy New Years!

December 30, 2011

Culinary Resolutions for the New Year

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So, I have never really been one for New Years resolutions... something about them just isn't enough of an encourager for anything major unless it's something small like plan a special date night. I think if you want to make a change, today is the day to do it... not waiting till the New Years and putting a time stamp down because that is when I feel un-successful stories stem from. I want to always be healthy and eating healthy, not just start when the New Year comes and stop because I pushed to hard and failed... that's not success. But that's not here nor there.

However, with not making resolutions, I saw featured on a massively popular blog that people actually set culinary resolutions and I thought this was a fabulous idea. Being that I started my blog a year ago (just coincidentally after the New Year) and seeing where I am today with it, I think that culinary resolutions would help me to set some good goals, and then check in on them over the year. Similar to Julia and Julia as she works her way through Julia 
Child's french cookbook making it a goal of her's to cook each and every dish in her the book. Either way, goals are goals and they are good to have.

So here are a few things I would really like to focus on over the next year to better my blog, and better myself.
Earth Healthy Goals:
 foods with five or fewer ingredients. 
This is a rule I try to follow closely when grocery shopping because the simpler the ingredients, the better the food. I dont want to be eating chemicals or red dye #9 and I have been trying to stay away from foods with high-fructose corn syrup as well. I have been working on this slowly over the past year but I really would like to better focus and stick to simple good foods.
Buy from my local farmers markets. There is a farmers market that I pass on my way to work everyday and sometimes I just think the grocery store would be easier. But then I always think back to when I made homemade pizza and the farmer literally walked out to the veggie patch and ripped from the ground a huge bunch of spinach. Now Thats Real Food! It was delicious, fresh, and local... the trifecta. I would like this to be more of a frequent experience and have most of my god-to ingredients be fresh and local.
Don't let food go to waste. Paul and I all too often end up throwing away food that we had let spoil in our refrigerator and it's something I want to make a conscious effort to not do. This is a double goal because in trying to not waste food, I need to plan meals ahead of time. I know that if we can plan our meals for the week, then I will know what food to buy, whats in the pantry and therefore, hopefully waste less. 
User fewer paper towels. We make jokes in our house that there is a little monster that steals our paper towels because for some reason we go through rolls far too often then should even be possible. I don't know how it happens but I really want to cut back on how much paper we use and toss. If I can use an actual towel, especially when it's drying dishes and washing my hands, then I think we can seriously cut back on all the wasted paper.
Eat at least one vegetarian meal per week. Now I know what you are thinking? and NO I am not going vegetarian. A few of my girlfriends are and I commend them greatly for it, but my reasons are strictly health caused and environmentally conscious. I am a huge obsessor of all natural, clean and healthy food and share a lot of the same food rules as Michael Pollen, a brilliant author. I think the more veggies and greens you eat the healthier you will be. Meat is excellent, but only in small portions. I want to stick to more greens and at least one veggie dinner a week to consciously focus on real food and healthy meals.

Hopefully this will also help in the greater fight for animals, to be treated and cared for in a humane and natural way.

Read more about healthy and organic eating. Piggy backing off of my one vegetarian meal a week is to learn more about clean and healthy eating. I say I am a healthy person but in the same breath I am more than likely having a beer or snacking on corn chips and guacamole so I really want a full range better knowledge of what I am eating, how it affects my body, and what I can do to change and transform into a true healthy eater, for myself and Paul. Books are healthy, nourish the mind while learning about the soul.

Culinary Goals:
Learn a little something about wine. For a huge fan of vino, I really don't know the first thing about wine, except that our aerator that was given to us last year for Christmas has proven to be our best kitchen tool to date. My wine selection normally follows two pathetic rules of thumb: Does it come in the 'double-wide' bottle to get more for your money or does it have a cool label or name that would be fun to show off. Clearly neither of my two selection processes have anything to do with the actual wine inside the bottle and that is what I would like to change. I'd just like to get a little smarter about wine so when I am cooking up a fresh lemon sole I know what wine would pair nicely with dinner.

Cook Indian food. With Paul and I being huge fan's of spices, it's only natural to think we would like Indian food. We eat Mexican all the time, and although I know they are completely different, I have to think they have some similarities... like spice. I think Food Network's Aarti Party will be helping me out with this one.

Write more recipes. I featured very few recipes that are my own. Some of which I make up in the making, but either way, I really want to take a look at the ingredients I enjoy for certain dishes and take the time to think up a few of my own recipes. Hey, a girl can dream right??

Experiment more with cocktails.
And not just cocktails, but cocktail desserts and popsicles. I went bonkers this summer when I discovered granita's and how delicious and easy they were. To make treats, as well as signature cocktails that really add an ambiance to a gathering would be a nice touch to my ongoing entertaining style.

Make more spreads, syrups and canned goods. I got to dabble a little this year with spreads, syrups and infused oils/liquors and it was great. Space is always a concern but when I can pump out some fabulous ingredients and actually preserve and save them, that will be excellent. Canning 101 in full effect.

Learn to make fresh pasta. I have seen pasta being made on plenty of cooking shows and of course everything they do just looks so simple. I am sure this is not a huge feat but at the same time, with little space and even fewer time, I still would like to once make my own pasta. A ravioli dish is only as good as the sauce and pasta that goes into it... I want all bases to this dish to be homemade. This will also bridge the gap I have with Italian cooking, to find a deeper appreciation for homemade food and cooking.

Personal Goals:
Learn a lot more food styling and photography. I would like to me better versed in how to not only use my camera and all the options and tools it has but to better my knowledge and skill in food styling when I am arranging what I have cooked, as well as figure out the largest frustration in my whole process... lighting. It's a tricky thing that lighting. lol

Change my eating habits to a much smarter and healthier lifestyle. I believe I am a pretty healthier eater, because I still think that first and for most that everything starts with portions. However, I know I could be much healthier and much nicer to my body with what I eat and the exercise that I endure. Something I have been specifically taking a close look at are my processed starches (i.e. pasta, breads, potatoes) as well as my sugar. Both are hugely responsible for a lot of the excess fat we carry around and I feel the more I focus and think about what I am eating and how it will affect my body, the healthier and happier I will be.

Grow and expand my blog. Of course, isn't this everyones goal? Well I really would like to expand my reader base and I know a lot of that starts with me, not only what I post but the networking and participation that I show in other areas. Even though I am fairly young, all this new technology is almost too much to handle and I really want to take each networking venue, learn the processes and tricks to using them so that I can better broaden my reader base and my exposure.

Take a culinary trip. Florence, Dublin, Napa Valley, all will do. haha. No but seriously, I would like to attend some type of culinary or food event this year even if it's as simple as visiting a famous chef's restaurant in the city or as large as attending the Food & Wine Festival that is held every year. To be in the presents of other foodies, chefs and culinary experts would be an epic adventure that I would truly love. {Definitely a bucket list item}.
Happy New Years!!

Festive Cheese Tortellini and Basil-Walnut Pesto Dippers

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Entertaining... it's one of my favorite things to do, especially around the holidays. You get to create the mood and ambiance of an evening with friends and family all with decorations, set-ups and the menu to which everyone will be indulging in. Luckily I am not of 'the age' yet where I am given the privilege to host Christmas at my house (rightfully so) as this is reserved for Grandma or the parents house... eldest wins. I don't know if I could handle that kind of menu yet, plus it would be hysterical trying to fit 35+ people in our two bedroom condo. haha.

So instead, I have the pleasure of entertaining one of my best friends growing up, her husband and their 7 mos old pit bull Haze this New Years Eve

So exciting!
One fear I always have when I am entertaining, which I am sure a lot of you have too, is when is all the food going to come out and will it keep warm till it's supposed to be served. If you are talking about larger crowds of people, timing is key and having appetizers not on the table till right before dinner is supposed to come out or a dessert not finished cooking and it's been hours past dinner, you might be stuck right in the middle of my entertaining nightmare.

Well, I will share with you one of the best tip's I ever heard from Ina Garten on Barefoot Contessa, make one or two specialty dishes and then leave one or two dishes to be a pick-up from the grocery store or something you can make a day ahead to free yourself enough time to prepare and serve everything in a timely fashion. For example, if I was making a homemade dip and a baked finger food treat, I would also plan to maybe have a cheese platter that only required opening the cheese wrap or something I had made the day before that would just need to be popped in the oven for a few minutes. Genius. I can sometimes be a little overzealous when I am trying to plan the perfect menus but I have also found that when you are stuck in the kitchen the whole time, you miss out on a lot of the fun and laughs and that is really what it's all about so planning helps to regulate your fun time.
So with that being said I had seen this recipe idea when I was channel surfing one weekend and the idea just stuck with me. One of my minor pet peeves when going to a party {hungry} is that sometimes the appetizers, although delicious, don't really satisfy my hunger to hold me over until dinner, which normally turns into too much "snacking" which results in a stomach ache... and I still haven't even sat down to dinner yet. Well, if you are going to follow the good planning advice, then this dish hits both points in one.  

Pesto sauce can be made up to days in advance, pasta takes less than 10 minutes to cook up and together, it's a fabulous appetizer that can really stick to your stomach and hold you over until that amazing roast comes out of the oven for dinner.
This is an appetizer I knew would be a big hit because the colors of the plate are bold and vibrant and the dish itself is a household favorite. Whether you put the cheese tortellini's on skewers or just leave toothpicks next to the dish for grabbing, I can promise these will go. I brought this appetizer on Christmas eve to my fathers house. The pesto was made and I managed to squeeze in 10 minutes of the stove top and bam... a beautiful appetizer was made.

I am a big pesto lover and pairing with cheese tortellini just sounded like a perfect match. So whether you are home or traveling to friends this New Years, if you are asked to bring a dish to the pot luck party and are short on time or creativity, this is the dish for you. It's quick, beautiful and tastes just right.
Grab a cocktail and enjoy yourself.
Festive Cheese Tortellini and Basil-Walnut Pesto Dippers
Recipe and photos by A Healthy Jalapeño 

1 pkg. frozen cheese filled tortellini
1 tbsp butter
Basil Walnut Pesto (recipe to follow)

Pre-make basil pesto an hour or more ahead of time, put in the refrigerator and let chill until ready to serve. 
Boil a pot of water and cook tortellini according to package instructions. Once cooked, strain the pasta to remove all left over water. Place pasta in a large bowl and mix together with the butter. This will keep the pasta soft and moist.

Finally skewer the pasta onto wooden kebob sticks or simply place the pasta around the basil pesto and put toothpicks along side for easy picking.

Serve immediately. 

Basil-Walnut Pesto {for Cheese Tortellini Dippers}
Recipe adopted by

2 cups packed basil leaves (approx. 2 oz)
1/3 cup olive oil
1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts
2 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
2 tbsp softened butter (optional)
1/2 tsp salt (optional)

Place basil, olive oil, walnuts, garlic and salt (if using) in food processor. Blend until thoroughly combined.
Add Parmesan and butter (if using) and blend 5-10 seconds more. Just before serving, add 2 Tbsp of hot pasta water from cooked pasta.

Serve as center dipping sauce for cheese tortellinis.


December 28, 2011

Spicy Sausage, Escarole & White Bean Stew

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It was probably a little over one year ago that I met Paul's Aunt's and Uncle's from his mother's side of the family for the first time. We went over their house for pizza and laughs with the whole family. Now, this is also the extremely Italian side of the family... so by whole family I mean that there were close to 20 of us there for Friday pizza night. 

The pizza was home made and there was this boiling pot of water with greens in it. Hmmmm.

That looked interesting.

Once it was pulled from the pot, it was mixed up with some beans and garlic and served up just like a pot of wilted spinach. I was it awe as to what this fabulous concoction was and being that I knew it wasn't spinach just from the taste alone, it would plague me for about a year that I didn't ask what it was.
Finally at the end of this summer we got together again with the whole family for a Labor Day picnic. Paul and I had just gotten back from a double wedding weekend and we ended up meeting at his Uncle's house for the party.

Well wouldn't you have guessed that I wasn't two minutes in the door and I must have pounced on his Aunt as to what the pot of green bliss was that we had that one night over a year ago with pizza.

Escarole and Beans!!! 
Well, we had quite a few laughs, being that I waited so long to ask, but I was so excited that I now knew the secret to this fabulous green dish.

This week is all about healthy eating, greens and getting back into the normal food routine so I thought a nice kick off easing back to health was with a beautiful pot of this escarole and bean stew, with of course some lean spicy sausage. 

Paul explained my stew as "Aunt Vicki's escarole and beans but with meat... so now it's a meal". I actually added a little more of the beans than it called for because I love cannellini beans, plus beans are great for you. The flavor is light but the protein in the beans and sausage warms you up and keeps you full and the hearty greens give this dish the perfect color and taste.

Stay warm and full this year. 

Spicy Sausage, Escarole & White Bean Stew 
Photos by A Healthy Jalapeño 
Recipe adopted by Fine CookingClick here to find out more!


1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
3/4 lb lean hot Italian sausage, casings removed
2 medium cloves garlic, minced
2 (19-oz) cans cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1 small head escarole, chopped into 1- to 2-inch pieces, washed, and lightly dried
1 cup low-salt canned chicken broth
1 1/2 tsp red wine vinegar; more to taste
Kosher salt
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano 

1 bag organic brown rice (optional)

Heat the oil in a heavy 5- to 6-qt. Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, 5 to 6 minutes. Add the sausage, raise the heat to medium high, and cook, stirring and breaking up the sausage with a wooden spoon or spatula until lightly browned and broken into small (1-inch) pieces, 5 to 6 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute, then stir in the beans. Add the escarole to the pot in batches; using tongs, toss with the sausage mixture to wilt the escarole and make room for more.

When all the escarole is in, add the chicken broth, cover the pot, and cook until the beans are heated through and the escarole is tender, about 8 minutes. Season to taste with the vinegar and salt. Transfer to bowls and sprinkle each portion with some of the Parmigiano.
Serve on it's own or over brown rice.

December 27, 2011

Detox: Green Smoothie

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The holidays have been great!

Christmas Eve Paul and I were at my father and his fiancé house where we had the full 7 fish dinner. There was stuffed lobster tails, calamari, clam and mussel with linguini, Seafood and cheese stuffed manicotti and so much more. Plus a triple layer red velvet cake, spinach balls and a massive assortment of cheeses with crackers. All of this was washed down with bottle afar bottle of wine and towards the end of the night somehow the Jack Daniels Honey was broken out and this delicious bottle of Spicebox Whiskey. yikes.

Christmas morning was at Paul's fathers house for breakfast eggs and waffles with morning mimosas {of course}, followed by my grandmothers for shrimp cocktail, a full ham, chicken parmesan, garlicky green beans, some serious spiced eggnog {little pop pop's recipe}, a little more wine and my Cranberry and Port Crumble
Christmas evening we headed to Paul's uncles house for dessert and cocktails. We all took a nice cheers with my homemade Irish Cream, followed with a table covered in homemade cheesecake, all the holiday cookies you could ever imagine, apple pie, and everything was capped off with an espresso with a shot of zambuca. 

Needless to say, it's been an unhealthy/stuffing your face kind of holiday {not that I am complaining... I mean, did you not just read what I got to eat?? YUM}.

Sooooo delicious.

But there comes that time, the following day once you've already had TWO leftover parties in one day, that you know you have to get back on track to healthy habits and eating so I wanted a nice fresh start this morning with a good vitamin and mineral boosting smoothie that would just put my body right again.
I am a huge sucker for smoothies because they are quick, easy and delicious; Plus, you can pack some of those really hearty greens and vegetables in a smoothie and with one fruit added, you have all the sugar and taste you need to cover up the taste of drinking salad.

This smoothie is refreshing and packed full of all your daily vitamins. The spinach and kale gives a nice kick early in the morning to get your matabolism running as well as keep you full longer to last you till lunch time.

There are always going to be times to indulge, and you can, but remember they are special occasions... which doesn't mean every weekend. Have your fun and then get back on track to keeping a healthy lifestyle.

Live healthy, eat healthy!
Detox: Green Smoothie
Photos by A Healthy Jalapeño 
Recipe adopted by The Glitter Guide

1 cup baby spinach
1 cup kale
1 pear
1 1/2 cup fresh orange juice
1 frozen banana

Add all ingredients to a blender and mix.


December 26, 2011

Holiday Bourbon Whiskey Balls {SRC}

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Merry Christmas!!! 

I just can't stop saying it. I hope everyone had a wonderful and fabulous holiday and spent the whole weekend with friends and family, good food and good wine and a whole lot of laughs.

Paul and I had an amazing Christmas. Christmas eve we went to my father's house and spent the night with all the fish you could imagine {including stuffed lobster...umm DeLicIous} but I might have had a little too much vino. It's the holidays, stressful lead up with the Army Holiday party I was planning and now that Christmas was here, I let loose and had a blast.
So apparently this holiday has been all about the booze. I've made the Cranberry and Lime Rum, the Spiced Holiday Punch, defiantly made a little Homemade Irish Cream and to top it all off... I was given the privilege of having Chocolates & Dreams blog this month for The Secret Recipe Club and found the most amazing recipe for Whiskey Balls

Just stop it!!!

What's there not to like? Chocolate, yes! Pecans, yes! Whisky, YES!

I just had to make these. Not only was the recipe going to be amazing, but she actually tweaked the original recipe to be healthier with less sugar {saving all of our arteries and spiked insulin levels} and replaced it with more nuts and raisins. Hello yummy goodness. 
Chocolates & Dreams had some excellent pointers that not only could these be made with rum, amaretto, brandy (blackberry brandy! that’s what I want to use next time I make them!), etc, they could also be made with orange juice (I love the combination of orange and chocolate!) or anything else that tickles your fancy. 

{Don't you just love her}

So what it comes down to is that these delicious little bites were wonderful and the first thing everyone grabbed for on my Christmas cookie platter. The words Whiskey Balls came out and everyone rushed, they were excellent. I think they might have just become a holiday tradition.

I hope you all had the best Christmas and enjoyed every moment you had. Next time just add these little babies to your plate and you won't go wrong!

Merry Christmas!

Bourbon Whiskey Balls
Photos by A Healthy Jalapeño
Adapted from Chocolates & Dreams


¼ cup butter, softened 
½ tsp salt
½ can condensed milk 
1 cup chopped pecans
½ cup chopped walnuts
½ cup golden raisins
¼ cup whiskey (I used Jack Daniels)
½ tbsp vanilla
2 cups powdered sugar
1 1/2 cups dark chocolate for coating
Butter 2 tbsp

Beat the butter and salt till light and fluffy. Then add in the condensed milk and beat well. Add in all the nuts, raisins and whiskey and stir to mix. Start adding in the sugar and add till it has the consistency to shape into balls. Chill in the refrigerator for ½ -1 hour.

Take out and shape into small balls.

On a double boiler or in the microwave heat the chocolate till melted. Add in the 2 tbsp of butter. When melting the chocolate in the microwave melt at intervals of 30 seconds. The chocolate should be melted in 1 minute.

Now dip the balls of sweet goodness into the warm chocolate and let set on a parchment paper. Refrigerate to let it set.

Keep in air tight container and refrigerate. They keep for at least 3-4 months when refrigerated and the taste improves when allowed to age.
Makes : Around 30-35 balls 

They’re really good and have no calories, in case you were wondering!
P.S. Store covered at room temperature or in the refrigerator. (Tip: These are a great make-ahead gift when you can because they taste even better when allowed to “age” for two weeks.)