Archives for November 2012

Naked Wine

** This is a personal blog. Although I am employed by Target Corporation, the views and opinions expressed on this site are my own and are not made on behalf of my employer.**

Happy Friday! Do you have any big plans this weekend?

Have you ever had a day when you NEEDED two bottles a glass of wine after a long day at work? This has been me for the last week and will most likely be me every single night until Christmas. You see, I work in retail and this time of year is insane. I’m in merchandising at Target. Yep, you can now feel free to blame me for those quick, $10 Target runs that turn into hour-long, buy-everything-in-the-store, $150 trips : )

Thankfully, I have a desk job at headquarters – My greatest sympathy goes out to those working in the stores this holiday season! Can you imagine dealing with the crazy holiday shoppers??! No thanks.

The lone bright spot in all of this absurd holiday work business is that I get to drink a lot of wine. Lots and lots of wine… like at least 23, I mean 10 (AHEM!), bottles between now and Christmas. Good thing I have Kyle and friends that are willing to sacrifice their time to help me drink all of this wine. Wine makes me smile and gives me hope that I will survive yet another Q4 in retail : )

A few months ago, I received a package from Shoes.com with an invitation and coupon to try Naked Wines. I’m not one to pass up a great wine deal and, to be honest, their name intrigued me (NAKED wine??!) so I headed over to the Naked Wines website to see what they were all about.

Naked Wines is a wine retailer that sells exclusive wines at wholesale (read: low) prices. They do this by investing in independent, start-up and/or under-the-radar winemakers that sell their wine solely through Naked Wines. The winemakers benefit from the marketing, Naked Wines benefits from selling exclusive wines and WE benefit from super low prices on great wines. Sounds like a win-win-win situation to me!

Naked Wines also has an “Angel” program that allows you to invest in their great winemakers but spend your entire investment on wine for yourself. What a great investment! Basically (go here for full details), you put $40 into your Angel account each month and can spend it on whatever Naked Wines you like. Your monthly contribution never goes away and you can get a full refund at any time. PLUS (yes, there IS more!), you get to purchase wine at an even lower price! I’m not an Angel yet, although, I am thinking it would make for a great Christmas or Hanukkah present (hint, hint…) ; )

I am a huge advocate of small businesses AND if I can support the small guys and benefit from inexpensive wine at the same time, sign me up!

Anyways, a few months ago, I ended up ordering a case of wine from Naked Wines. With my coupon, it cost me a whopping $76.99, including shipping! That’s a little over $6 per bottle. Seriously, $6/bottle for amazing wine (even Kyle, a self-made wine snob loves it!) that is delivered directly to your door. God must love me : )

Last night after CrossFit I enjoyed a glass of the 2011 Arabella Cabernet Sauvignon from the Western Cape of South Africa. To be honest, I was somewhat nervous about opening a 2011 vintage so soon. I was pleasantly surprised, however, by the smoothness of this wine! It had a sort of cherry aroma with the delicious Cab flavor I have grown to love. If the photos below tell you anything it should be that I will definately be buying this bottle from Naked Wines again!

Another fun aspect of this company is that they mark all of their bottles with a QR code that, when scanned, brings up information about the winemaker and the variety of wine you are drinking. An important aspect if you are attending a wine tasting event and want to impress the host with your vast knowledge of wines… or at least the bottle of wine you brought from Naked Wines ; )

What are your tactics for coping with stressful days (or months) at work? Do you have a favorite bottle of wine you like to enjoy on the weekends? 

P.S. The Target-Neiman Marcus partnership debuts in stores and online TOMORROW!! I will be setting my alarm super early tomorrow morning to get my hands on some Marc Jacobs and Tory Burch goodies : )

Healthy Beef and Broccoli with a Garlic Zing

I have been craving some serious Chinese food recently. You see, when the cold weather hits I frequent the Minneapolis Skyways to stay warm on my walking commute to work. In the skyways, I walk by multiple (like 17), Asian-themed restaurants on my way to work and again each afternoon on my way home. The smell (or, most likely the MSGs) is intoxicating and I can only resist so much temptation!

However, I never actually splurge on Chinese food for lunch for a few reasons. 1) Health – The stuff is awful for you… It is fried, full of MSGs and loaded with fat and excess calories. 2) I’m cheap (at least in the buying lunch department!) and almost always bring leftovers. 3) Have you ever indulged in greasy, heavy meals (read: Chinese) over lunch? Hellllllllllooo food coma!

SO, even though Sweet and Sour Chicken, Deep-Fried Wontons, Crab Rangoons, Fried Rice, and General Tsao’s Chicken all sound amazing, they won’t be satisfying my cravings anytime soon!

In addition to frequenting the skyways in the winter months, I also regularly use my crockpot. Seriously, who has motivation to cook after work when it has already been dark for 2 hours? Not me!

So, I thought, why not combine my love for Chinese food with my love for my crockpot? The result was Healthy Beef and Broccoli with a Garlic Zing! Brilliance, I tell ya ;)

The beef in this is so tender is falls apart in your mouth and the savory yet sweet sauce compliments the dish perfectly. Enjoy!

Healthy Beef and Broccoli with a Garlic Zing

Serves 6

2 pounds round steak, cut into thin, bite-sized strips

4 cups broth (I used vegetable but beef or chicken would work well too!)

2/3 cup brown sugar

1 cup reduced-sodium soy sauce

2 TBSP olive oil

2 TBSP balsamic vinegar

7 garlic cloves, minced

¼ cup cornstarch

6 cups broccoli, chopped

Combine steak, broth, sugar, soy sauce, olive oil, balsamic and garlic in crockpot. (I prepped the ingredients in the evening and let the steak marinate overnight in the fridge.) On low setting, cook for 6-8 hours. Mix cornstarch with ½ cup of the cooked broth from the crockpot and then mix back into the crockpot. This makes the sauce nice and thick! Stir in the broccoli and cook an additional 30 minutes, until the broccoli is tender. Enjoy over cooked rice.

This would also be delicious over mashed potatoes or mashed cauliflower. Heck, just grab the closest fork and eat it right out of the crockpot! Yes, it IS that good. Even better is that it comes in at just under 330 calories per serving. Quick, easy and healthy – The perfect way to satisfy a Chinese craving!

Make this and impress your husband. (Or boyfriend. Or significant other.)  More importantly, make this and let them think you spent the entire day in the kitchen when you really spent the entire day shopping :)

How do you stay motivated to create healthy meals during the winter months?

O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree!

Hi! Happy Wednesday!

This week marks my last week of being a newbie in the beginner’s CrossFit class at CrossFit Minneapolis! Woohoo! After 4 weeks of learning the Olympic lifts and a few of the WOD techniques I am ready (although somewhat nervous!) to jump right into the real classes. I met another CrossFitter in my beginner’s classes, Ariel, and we are going to attend our first few weeks of “real” classes together to make it slightly less intimidating!

Last night, we reviewed the basics of the snatch and then went right into our WOD. It was a 20 burpee “warm-up” followed by a 21-15-9 sequence of air squats, push-ups and sit-ups followed by a 20 burpee “cool-down.” The sequence consisted of 21 air squats, 21 push-ups and 21 sit-ups, then 15 squats/push-ups/sit-ups and so on. I finished in 7:59! The newbie workouts have gotten SO much easier for me over the past month, although I am still ridiculously sore after each class!

Although most of my decorations were up before Thanksgiving (YES, I am that person!), I finally completed the finishing touches last night. I could stare at my Christmas tree for hours. I JUST LOVE CHRISTMAS SO MUCH!!! Haha!

In addition to my love of Christmas, I also love all things organized and coordinated so I typically have a color scheme for our tree each season. The past few years our tree has been Cardinal and Gold (GO Iowa State!). I haven’t changed them up recently (or ever…) since Kyle and I live in a tiny box small, one-bedroom condo and I have no storage for additional Christmas ornaments. Besides our tree, I have stockings hung, including one for Mitchell, a candy bowl (with no candy… I should fix that!), and a Menorah.

In my opinion, simple decorations are the most elegant.

Each year, Kyle and I pick out one or two new ornaments for our tree. Kyle is, of course, always restricted by my color scheme, but seems to manage just fine :) This year, we found a hot pepper ornament in Oak Park on Small Business Saturday. I think that it adds a nice touch to our tree.

I am going to be busy addressing our Christmas cards tonight! Below is a sneak preview :)

How do you decorate for the holidays? Do you have any special traditions in your house?

Salted Peanut Butter and Fudge Brownies

Hi Friends! How are you?

Today is my friend Jen’s birthday so last night I decided to bake her a birthday treat!

Mitchell REALLY wanted to help…

Jen and I love all things food AND all things shopping. We also share a cube at work which can lead to daily treat runs (frozen yogurt anyone?) and expensive lunch hours at Target or Saks : )

Thankfully we have a large team at work so my baked goods and treats are not only enjoyed by us – Although, we would definitely have an excuse to shop if that were the case… unfortunately, it would be for larger pants! ; )

Anyways! This recipe represents our love of chocolate and our love of peanut butter… heck, it represents our love of them mixed together!

Forget what I said about eating healthy during the holidays. These Salted Peanut Butter and Fudge Brownies are worth the splurge, especially for a birthday. The soft, chocolatey brownies are perfectly accented with crunchy peanuts and smothered in a creamy peanut butter frosting. Chocolate ganache melts over the top to create a triple-layered, peanut butter and chocolate heaven.

If you love peanut butter as much as I do, make a second batch of the frosting and eat it with a spoon. SERIOUSLY. It is THAT good. Luckily (for my pants and for my cholesterol), I had just enough peanut butter on hand for this recipe!

Salted Peanut Butter and Fudge Brownies

Makes 24 servings

Slightly Adapted from Epicurious and Bon Appetit

For the Brownies
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
7 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 TBSP vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt
4 large eggs
1 cup flour
1 cup roasted salted peanuts, chopped

For the Frosting and Ganache
1 cup creamy peanut butter (do not use natural or old-fashioned)
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, divided, room temperature
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1/8 tsp salt
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
2 tsp vanilla extract
7 ounces semisweet chocolate chips

For the Brownies: Preheat oven to 325°F and butter a 13x9x2-inch baking pan. Place 3/4 cup butter in saucepan over low heat and add 7 ounces of the chocolate chips and the unsweetened chocolate. Stir over low heat until smooth. Remove from heat and mix in sugar, vanilla and salt, then whisk in the eggs, one at a time. Fold in flour, then the peanuts. Spread the batter in your prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with moist crumbs attached, about 25-30 minutes. Place pan on rack until cool.

For the Frosting: Using a stand mixer, beat peanut butter and 1/4 cup butter until blended. Beat in powdered sugar, salt, and nutmeg, then add in the vanilla. Spread the peanut butter frosting over brownies.

For the Ganache: Melt 7 ounces of the chocolate chips and 1/4 cup butter over low heat until smooth. Pour ganache over frosting and spread to cover. Chill until set, about 1 1/2 hours. IF (a BIG if here!) you have leftovers, store covered in the refrigerator. Enjoy!

In other news, Mitchell has made a full recovery! He was a happy boy last night, wagging his tail and enjoying the remaining peanut butter in my empty Jif container : )

What do you bake for your friends’ birthdays? Do you tend to go for the traditional cake recipe or do you go for something non-traditional like brownies?

My Christmas & Hanukkah Wishlist!

Hi there! Happy Monday!

While enjoying the company of family and friends this weekend, I came to the shock and horror realization that I had not yet made my wish list for the season! Kyle’s mom and grandparents were curious to what I wanted for Christmas and Kyle’s dad and Joy (his step-mom) were asking what I wanted for Hanukkah. Sadly I had no answers…

So, my mission on our 6-hour drive back to Minneapolis yesterday was to create my wish list. I must say that I was successful, maybe a little TOO successful. I am also super proud that I resisted buying anything for myself! That rarely happens for me (just ask Kyle or my bank account)… it must have been a Christmas miracle!

I hope you enjoy my Top 10 Christmas and Hanukkah picks for 2012 as much as I enjoyed creating the list!

My Christmas & Hanukkah Wish List

1. I have been searching for a polka dot sweater this entire season! This microdot cardigan from Madewell is super cute – LOVE IT!

Microdot Cardigan

Microdot Cardigan
 
2. In college I had a super soft, strapless bathrobe that made sprinting from the showers to my dorm room on my co-ed floor slightly less awkward. It also made my beauty routine a breeze. Applying makeup and drying your hair is SO much easier without sleeves – who know! Unfortunately, during my initial post-college move I somehow lost this terrycloth gem and have not been able to find a similar style since… Until NOW! During my Cyber Monday shopping, I found this perfect robe at Bed, Bath and Beyond. Yay!

3. I love everything plaid this year. I haven’t shopped at Abercrombie & Fitch in years but I can’t get over this scarf. WANT.

4. I am also loving faux fur scarves this year PLUS this one from Madewell has a plaid liner. Score!

Faux-Fur Circle Scarf

5. Yet again, my obsession with clothes and polka dots is defying my monetary sense. I would LOVE to open this sweater from J. Crew on Christmas morning but it comes in quite above my gift budget. We can all wish, right?

Collection cashmere polka-dot sweater

6. Does anyone else hate the time it takes to dry your hair in the morning?? It is seriously such a waste of time! Although it isn’t super attractive, this little hair dryer from Birchbox reduces your drying time by 50% AND it has a 9 foot cord. Yes, please!

6000i

7. How cute is this Le Creuset mini-cocotte set from Williams-Sonoma? I see SO many recipes that can be made in these individual serving dishes but don’t have a set of my own.

8. When Kyle and I visited Rodeo Drive earlier this year, I begged and pleaded for convinced Kyle to buy me a Louis Vuitton bag. What would be a better gift from him than its matching wallet??!? He doesn’t seem to agree… ;)

9. As a runner and a CrossFitter, I love athetic gear. Especially when it is from Lululemon. I am loving their new high rise wunder under pants. I prefer to keep my tummy and behind covered during workouts and these look like they’d do the job plus cover any unsightly bumps or lumps after the holiday season!

Wunder Under Pant*High Rise

10. How cool would a bunch of these vintage suitcases  from Wayfair look if they were stacked as a side table? I love vintage goods and these have the added bonus of extra storage for my condo!

What is on your holiday wish list this year?

Weekly Health Goals – Week of November 25th, 2012

Happy Sunday! I hope you all had fantastic Thanksgiving weekends and are ready to take on the holiday season!

Last week my health goal focused on savoring my food and eating slowly. I knew I would be eating LOTS of delicious, albeit unhealthy, foods over the weekend and I was right. As you probably saw from the photos in my post yesterday, I definitely enjoyed some great meals this weekend! I tried to focus on my goal but it got somewhat lost in the plates of turkey and glasses of mimosas so I am going to try, try again this week :)

Weekly Health Goal

Focus on savoring each bite of food. Eating slowly will allow me to realize when I am full and lead to less overindulging.

Kyle will be in Puerto Rico on a business trip for the next two weeks – Rough life, right?? I don’t like to prepare full meals when he is traveling because I end up having to eat leftovers for 10 consecutive meals – BLECH! I am typically really good at eating leftovers (I HATE HATE HATE wasting food!) but I draw the line at the same meal for lunch and dinner all week :) Anyways, what I am getting to is that my meal plan might seem a little off the next two weeks because I’ll just be cooking for myself!

Weekly Meal Plan

  • Sunday: Wing it (After driving home from Chicago, who knows what we’ll grab for dinner!)
  • Monday: Paleo Pad Thai
  • Tuesday: Protein Punch Smoothie (I don’t get home from CrossFit on Tuesday/Thursday/Fridays until 8pm and don’t like to eat large meals so close to bedtime. Plus, this is a perfect post-workout option!)
  • Wednesday: Paleo Pad Thai
  • Thursday: Protein Punch Smoothie
  • Friday: Protein Punch Smoothie
  • Saturday: Out to eat with friends

Weekly Fitness Plan

  • Sunday: Run
  • Monday: Run
  • Tuesday: CrossFit
  • Wednesday: Run
  • Thursday: CrossFit
  • Friday: CrossFit
  • Saturday: Run

 What health goals are going to help you bounce back from the Thanksgiving food?

Black Friday Happenings

Hi! Has your weekend gone as quickly as mine? We were super busy (in a good way) and I can’t believe it is already Saturday afternoon!

I had planned to join the crazy crowds super early Friday morning but, unfortunately, we had a dog emergency :( Similar to the Black Friday shoppers, I too pulled an all-nighter but it was because poor Mitchell was howling and crying all night. I knew something was wrong so I found a vet in Chicago and took Mitchell as soon as their doors opened Friday morning.  The veterinarian at Oak Park Animal Hospital was amazing, especially with a dog that was in pain and his frantic owner!

On a side note, I have realized that I am not allowed to have human children – I can’t keep myself from crying when my dog is sick, I can’t imagine having to deal with taking babies to a doctor, AHH!

The vet thinks that while Mitchell was rough-housing with the herd of dogs during our Thanksgiving gathering, he was unintentionally bit… on his bottom! Long story short, he is now on pain meds and antibiotics and is super spoiled enjoying being allowed on the furniture :) He still can’t lift his tail (which makes him MUCH less dangerous around glasses of wine, BTW…) but his happy, wagging tail should be back in action within a day or two.

After Mitchell was comfortable, Kyle and I headed down to Michigan Avenue. Even at 10am, the crowds were massive! We hit up a bunch of stores, although my favorite shops didn’t have any great deals – go figure! I got two cute tops at Zara, a sweater for an ugly Christmas sweater party and a dress at Macy’s, and some wunder under pants and running jacket at lululemon. I succeded in shopping only for myself yesterday, typical ;)

After our stressful night and morning of taking care of a sick dog and navigating through chaotic crowds, Kyle and I needed to refresh with wine and food… mainly wine. Since we were on Michigan Avenue, we decided to go to one of our favorite Chicago restaurants, The Purple Pig! If you are ever in Chicago, go to this place. Seriously… SERIOUSLY!!! It has a unique and very non-chain restaurant atmosphere which is an awesome find in such a touristy location. Plus their slogan is so catchy: “Cheese, Swine & Wine” – who can resist an eatery with those three words??!

The menu features plates meant to share and most menu items incorporate their house-made cheeses and house-cured meats. Kyle and I started out with a delicious roasted butternut squash salad that was tossed with pumpkins seeds, sage, and ricotta cheese. Squash is my absolute favorite fall food so this dish was my pick from the menu and it did not disappoint – YUM!

Our next course was a ham, Scamorza cheese, Portobello, and sundried tomato panini. The panini had the perfect amount of crunch and the bite of the sundried tomatoes mixed with the creaminess of the cheese was divine.

To finish out our meal, we ordered chicken thigh kebabs with fried, smashed potatoes and tzatziki sauce. Ever since we vacationed in Greece, we have been drawn to menu items with tzatziki. This yogurt and cucumber sauce was a great addition to the grilled chicken and smashed potatoes.

Since Thursday night was chaotic and stressful and lacking sleep, we stayed in with the fam for a Friday game, wine, and sushi night. It was full of wine and Balderdash and Apples to Apples. FUN!

Tonight, after a day full of manicures and pedicures at Spa O and shopping in Oak Park for Small Business Saturday, we are headed to House Red Vinoteca, a boutique wine bar near Kyle’s dad’s house, for live music and hors d’oeuvres. It should make for a great Saturday night!

How was your Saturday? Did you support any small businesses in your area?

(Mostly) Wordless Thanksgiving Day Recap

Hello! I thought I’d share a quick, and mostly wordless, recap of our Thanksgiving Day with Kyle’s mom and grandparents! It was a great day, filled with family and laughter, and as you you will soon be able to tell from the photos… DOGS! We love dogs in this family :)

My most memorable highlights from the day was Kyle’s 75-year old grandfather asking, as each boy band performed in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, if they were Justin Bieber. SO CUTE, gotta love grandparents mixed with pop culture!

  

 

 What was the most memorable part of your Thanksgiving Day?

 

Becky’s Banana Bread

Happy Black Friday! Did you work off all of that turkey shopping last night? I saw a lot of great doorbuster deals advertised yesterday – how many deals did you find last night and this morning? I didn’t go out last night but I definitely hit up a few sales earlier today. I’ll share my finds tomorrow :)

I am actually somewhat sad that I’ll be missing out on one of my favorite Minneapolis wine shop’s Black Friday giveaways this morning (Is it wrong that I have more than one favorite wine shop?). Who can pass up free mimosas??! Wish I could have been there, Surdyk’s!

I have a wonderful recipe to share with you today. It is fail-proof and my recipe of choice when I need to bring breakfast or treats to a party or work function or a family gathering. My in-laws love it, my coworkers love it, Kyle’s coworkers love it and Mitchell thinks he loves it ;)

The extra bananas keep it super moist and the addition of chocolate chips turns this typical breakfast bread into a decadent dessert. And, who can pass up dessert for breakfast?

Becky’s Banana Bread

Makes 2 Large Loaves or 4 Mini Loaves

Ingredients

  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp ground nutmeg
  • 2 large eggs
  • 6 large, VERY ripe bananas, mashed
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ½ cup (1 stick) butter, melted
  • 1 cup chocolate chips (I use mini-chips)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease 2 -9×5 inch pans or 4- 7 ½ x 3 ½ inch pans. Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and nutmeg in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, mix together eggs, bananas, sugar and butter. Pour banana mixture into flour mixture and stir just until moistened. The batter will be somewhat lumpy. Stir in chocolate chips and then split batter evenly between bread pans.

Bake for 55-60 minutes for larger pans or 35-40 minutes for smaller plans, until the tops are golden and a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean (minus the chocolate : )). Let sit for 5 minutes then remove bread loaves to wire rack to cool completely. Once cooled, wrap each loaf in plastic wrap and store in refrigerator overnight before serving. Enjoy!

Secret Tip! If you don’t have any ripe bananas on hand, grab some slightly green ones and throw them in the freezer overnight. Let them thaw and magic, you have ripe bananas!

BTW, isn’t my mini-loaf pan awesome? Kyle got this for me a few years ago from Target – what a thoughtful (or, more likely, hungry) husband!

This banana bread is sure to impress and makes a great hostess gift as well, just wrap a mini loaf in colored saran wrap or a tea towel with a bow – lovely and thoughtfully homemade :)

What is your fail-proof party recipe or hostess gift?

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving my little Olives! I hope you all have a blessed day full of many things to be thankful for. Make sure to enjoy some olives and wine with dinner!

What are you thankful for this Thanksgiving?

I am thankful for all of the opportunties I have had to travel our beautiful world, including my honeymoon to Santorini, Greece where I enjoyed this lovely view with olives and wine… and Kyle :)

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