February 20, 2012

Tour De Knoxville

By now you guys have probably figured out that I love traveling and exploring new places. Recently, I’ve had the opportunity to spend some time in Knoxville, TN. Why Knoxville? Well since you asked…let me officially introduce you to Justin, aka “The Boy,” a new character who will be frequenting my blog posts...hopefully for a long time :) The Boy is currently living in Knoxville which allows me the perfect opportunity to get out of Indiana for a while and go explore a new city.

There are some really cool places in Knoxville, and the city has some neat history. Knoxville in January & February can be a little cold (no worries, The Boy is great at scraping car windows…smile!).
The afternoon weather was perfect to get out and explore the city both weekends I was there. If you’re ever in Knoxville, you should go visit these places:

1.       The Sunsphere @ the World’s Fair Park: The Sunsphere is a giant glass ball in downtown Knoxville that was built for the World’s fair in 1982. You can ride up to the top and see the entire city. Plus it’s located in a really cool park that would be perfect for picnics in the spring time (**hint hint**).
2.       Neyland Stadium: Tailgating is one of my favorite fall activities. Outside of that, I could really care less about college football (yea. I said it.). I was super pumped however, to visit Peyton Manning’s old stomping grounds…I wonder if I can somehow get this off the side of the stadium and hang it in my living room?
3.       Old City: Old city is a historic district with tons of unique shops, boutiques, and restaurants. The Boy and I went to a great gastropub called The Crown & Goose where we tried out a European Cheese Board. With the help of our amazing server, we tried out some crazy cheese & wine combinations (Would you ever think to pair cheese with peach preserves & walnuts? Me either, but it was awesome!).
4.       Market Square: It’s exactly like it sounds. Lots of unique restaurants and cafes - great places for a date night. Speaking of…we tried out this great place called Oodles Uncorked. The food was incredible (and the wine was good too :) ) Definitely a place to check out if you visit Knoxville. I also recommend Blue Coast Burrito…you can never go wrong with Mexican food!
5.      The Greenway: Knoxville is very runner friendly, which I love. There are over 50 miles of paved greenway in Knoxville for runners & bikers to utilize. I’ve only explored a few miles and have stayed pretty close to home, but I think I’ll add another running goal to the list: Run all of the Greenways in Knoxville. The greenways run along the river, through parks, and past historical sites so the runs are very scenic which I enjoy.

Side note --> The Boy happened to be in Louisville the night of the Bachelor premier and I (of course) forced him to watch it. He was a good sport and only made fun of the show every other minute as opposed to every minute :) He even remembered that I was rooting for Kacie B, and while we were walking downtown, he pointed out the Tennessee sign that they showed in her introduction video. I think he’s a keeper!

February 17, 2012

Do You Know Stephanie Plum?

One of my New Year’s Resolutions was to read at least one book per month. I promise that I really did start & finish this book a book in January (I just got super lazy about blogging). January’s book? Explosive Eighteen by Janet Evanovich.  Janet Evanovich is one of my authors and her Stephanie Plum series is my favorite book series. The first book came out in 1994 (I was 6 years old haha), but I didn’t get hooked until high school. I spent my entire summer break laying by the pool reading the first 10 books. I started looking forward the Tuesday in June when the next book came out like I look forward to Christmas every year! Then, in 2011, Stephanie Plum fans got a treat– TWO BOOKS!! 

If you haven’t read a Stephanie Plum book, it’s probably because you live under a rock. If you’re one of the few living under the rock, let me introduce you to the world of Stephanie Plum. This series has it all: interesting characters and a great plot full of mystery, romance, and laugh out loud humor.

When we first meet Stephanie in One for the Money, she’s single, unemployed, and living with a hamster. She blackmails her cousin Vinnie into giving her a job as a bail bondsman…aka…bounty hunter. Stephanie is 0% qualified for the job, and that is what makes the story so hilarious. She manages to get herself into all kinds or ridiculous situations and has to figure out how to get out of them. Throughout the 18 books, one way or another, Stephanie Plum always gets her man! Usually, it’s with the help of friends, family members, and the two smokin’ hot men in her life!

One of the reasons I love these stories so much is because Stephanie Plum is so relatable. Outside of her ridiculous career choice, Stephanie Plum and I have a few things in common. There is usually a day of the week where her cabinets are bare and she mooches dinner from her parents, she hangs out with her grandma to catch up on the latest town gossip, and when she’s stressed out…the bakery is her happy place J

I guarantee that if you pick up a Stephanie Plum book, you won’t be able to put it down. From exploding cars to planning weddings…from creepy stalkers to the Ranger/Morelli love triangle…these books have something for everyone. Check out the author's website for more info on all 18 books. It'll be the best decision you make today.

The movie version, One for the Money, came out in January. It’s on my list of movies to see. Fingers crossed that it is as awesome as the books!

February 14, 2012

Happy Valentine's Day

I love all holidays…including Valentine's Day. I’m a believer of telling your friends and family that you love them every day, but I see no reason why there can’t be a day of the year designated for over the top gestures of love and friendship…plus…everything is pink. I have my box of Hello Kitty valentines filled out and ready to distribute at work today (I’m such a grown up) and a delicious pasta dinner for one planned for this evening to be followed by the GLEE Valentine’s Day episode & a tall glass of chocolate milk. Exciting plans, I know J

I actually celebrated Valentine’s Day early this year since the 14th is on a Tuesday. The Boy and I decided to make gifts for each other. Since I’ve been in a super crafty mood lately, I had tons of fun with this plan. I also got to use this as an excuse to find another cupcake recipe to test out. The Boy loves coconut & his favorite candy bar is an Almond Joy…challenge accepted…

Almond Joy Cupcakes:
Here’s What You Need:
For the Cupcakes…
1 box Devil’s Food cake mix
¼ cup of Canola Oil
¼ cup of Apple Sauce
3 egg whites
1 1/3 cup Lite Coconut Milk
¼ tsp Coconut Extract

For the topping...
1 can Whipped Vanilla frosting
¼ tsp Almond Extract
Sweetened shredded coconut
Chopped almonds

Here’s How to Bake Them:
Preheat the oven to 350
Line two cupcake pans with cupcake liners
In a large bowl, add cake mix, oil, applesauce, egg whites, coconut milk, & coconut extract
Mix until smooth
Evenly divide batter into each cupcake cup
Bake in oven for 22-25 minutes (test with toothpick. When it comes out clean, cupcakes are ready)
When cupcakes are cool enough to touch, move onto baking rack and allow to cool completely

Scoop your frosting into a bowl and add almond extract
Mix until creamy
Pipe frosting onto cupcakes starting around the edges and working towards the center
Top cupcakes with coconut/almond mixture

Tip: Next time, I think I’ll use a bit more coconut extract in the cake batter. If I presented these on Cupcake Wars, Florian would be the first to point out that the flavor wasn’t strong enough J

I used a combination of recipes to make my Almond Joy cupcakes. Some day I’m going to be a good enough baker to break free of the boxed mixes and create my own recipes. Until then, I’ll continue reading as many baking blogs as I have time to and using other recipes as my starting point. I’ve found tons of great baking blogs. I usually START HERE and explore until I find what I’m looking for.

By the way…The Boy rocked the homemade Valentine’s Day present.
He wrote The Story of Justin & Kim…Mad Libs style. How awesome is that? There are 5 stories in Volume 1. I’m already looking forward to Volume 2 J  

February 6, 2012

Adventures in the Kitchen - Super Bowl Style

Indianapolis is my second home, so I loved seeing all of the pictures from the Super Bowl activities. I’m glad I go to experience the NCAA tournament while living there, but man, it would have been awesome to be there for Super Bowl. Everyone is saying it, and I’ll add my two cents…when Indy hosts an event, the city does it big and they do it right.
I’m not a big football fan (unless the Colts are playing), but I do love a close game, great commercials, and awesome food. Super Bowl weekend provides all three! This year, instead of taking a store bought dessert, I actually made something to take to the viewing party I went to. I know…ME...cooking again!
I decided to make Buffalo Chicken Dip. It’s easy & tastes delicious…perfect tailgating food.
Here’s What You Need: 
 8oz. package of cream cheese, softened
½ cup ranch salad dressing
½ cup Franks Redhot Original Cayenne Pepper Sauce
½ cup shredded mozzarella cheese
2 cups of shredded cooked chicken

Here’s How To Cook It:
Heat oven to 350.
Place cream cheese into deep baking dish and stir until smooth.
Mix in salad dressing, hot sauce, and mozzarella cheese
Stir in chicken
Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes or until mixture is heated through; stir
Serve with tortilla chips, pretzels, celery, etc.

Tip: You can also make this in a Crock Pot (an item still on my wish list). Combine the ingredients are directed. Cover pot and heat on high setting for 1 ½ hours or until hot & bubbly.

I was 100% pulling for the Giants last night...mostly because I'm in love with the entire Manning family :) So glad they won!

Favorite commercial of the night? I'll start by saying I was disappointed with the Bud Light commercials...although Weego was cute. I liked the Dorito one (with the cat & the dog), but the M&M commercial gets my vote for favorite...enjoy!