Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Tasty Tuesdays: the 28th edition

Okay, so it's not technically Tuesday, but better late than never, right? I hope you all had a very Merry Christmas and are looking forward to bringing the new year in with a bang. I have hundreds of pictures from all the Christmas festivities including looking at Christmas lights, Christmas Eve dinner, Christmas morning, Christmas at Grandma's, Christmas dinner and two post-Christmas baby showers in Austin. Hopefully, I will be able to get those posts up within the next couple weeks...I make no promises.

Since New Years Eve is just a day away and you will most likely be attending or hosting some sort of celebratory gathering where you will need sustenance, this week's edition features one of my favorite (and most well-received) appetizer recipes: hot spinach and artichoke dip. I can pretty much guarantee you will be the hit of the party if you bring a batch (or double-batch) of this addictive dip.

Per usual, the original recipe comes from Cooking Light, but I've tweaked it just a bit. The recipe is really easy to follow and takes just minutes to prep. Once you mix the ingredients, you can throw it in the fridge and bake it right before your guests arrive.

Hot Spinach-Artichoke Dip

1 1/4 cups (8 ounces) shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese, divided
1 cup fat-free sour cream
1/4 cup (1 ounce) grated fresh Parmesan cheese, divided
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
3 garlic cloves, crushed (I use approx. 1 Tbsp. minced garlic in the jar)
1 (14-ounce) can quartered artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
1/2 (8-ounce) block 1/3-less-fat cream cheese, softened
1 (10-ounce) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed, drained, and squeezed dry

1. Preheat oven to 350°.

2. Combine 1 cup mozzarella, sour cream, 2 tablespoons Parmesan, pepper, garlic, artichokes, spinach and cream cheese in a bowl and stir until well blended.

3. Transfer the mixture into a 1 1/2-quart baking dish lightly coated with cooking spray.

4. Sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup mozzarella and remaining 2 tablespoons Parmesan.

5. Bake for about 30 minutes or until bubbly and golden brown. Serve immediately.

I like to serve mine with whole wheat pita chips, broccoli, cucumber and small slices of French bread.

I hope you try out this recipe for your New Year's party and I hope you have a Happy New Year. Cheers to 2010!!!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

have yourself a merry little christmas.

Merry Christmas Eve to all you out there in blog world! I cannot believe Christmas day is tomorrow, can you? Do you have all your shopping done and presents wrapped? Are your menus planned and is the eggnog chilling in the fridge?

More importantly, have you taken some time to be still and quiet and meditate on the miracle of Christ's birth? It is SO easy to get caught up in the trappings of the season and completely forget what an amazing moment in history we are celebrating. It is my desperate prayer that, if you do not know the love of Jesus Christ and are not overwhelmed by what this holiday really means, that you will allow your heart to be open for God to reveal Himself to you. There is nothing else in this life that matters.

I will be taking a bit of a blog hiatus for a few days (as I'm sure you understand), but I had to wish you a very MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Tasty Tuesdays: #27 & Guest post

Well friends, today is monumental in the history of "Abundant Life." I'm doing something unprecedented and featuring a guest post. That's right, I'm officially taking the day off and handing over the blogging reins to a very worthy author. I've spent more time in the kitchen with her than anyone else and we are constantly talking recipes and cuisine. Not only does she trump me intellectually in the literary department, but she also has cooked a bird which is a feat I cannot say I've undertaken. And to top it all off, she looks ravishing in an apron. So, without further ado, I give you Tasty Tuesdays a la Christina (AKA China), my fousin extraordinaire.

Hello readers! I do apologize to all of you who were waiting with bated breath for this week's installment of Tasty Tuesdays (everyone's favorite day of the week thanks to my dear fousin), but I can be a bit forgetful and it totally slipped my mind that it was my task to provide you with your recipe(s)-o-the-week on this fine December 22. I hope that you will forgive me, and think you will once you sample the culinary treats below :) I want to thank my dear fousin Rachel for being a culinary inspiration to me as well as a soul sister and beautiful reminder of God's love. I love you, fuzz! Ok, cheese-fest complete. On to the food.

My first recipe, a delectable sweet potato souffle, is not a Christina Original by any means, but I have made some adjustments here and there in order to truly call the recipe my own. This is without a doubt my favorite way to prepare sweet potatoes, and in my humble opinion, completely blows the competition out of the water. Once you try it, you won't go back!

• 3 large sweet potatoes cooked and whipped
• 1/2 cup sugar
• 2 eggs beaten
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 1 stick butter
• 1/4 cup evaporated milk
• 2 teaspoons vanilla
• 1 bag marshmallows (optional--I never use them)
• 1/2 cup chopped pecans (also optional)


Poke holes in potatoes with a fork and wrap in foil. Back for at least an hour and a half (or until completely tender) at 450 degrees. Peel potatoes and whip. Add sugar, eggs, salt, butter, milk and vanilla. Mix well and put in a greased 1 1/2 quart casserole. Top with crumble and bake in a preheated 325 degree oven for 25 minutes. Place marshmallows and pecans on top and return to oven for about 5 minutes or until brown on top.

(Editors note: You can also make a brown sugar topping by combining a couple tablespoons of butter, brown sugar and flour. Use your hands to combine them into a crumble and sprinkle over the top of the potatoes before baking.)

Recipe #2 for herb-roasted turkey is another rip off, but has some personal touches as well.

• 1 whole bone-in turkey breast, 6 1/2 to 7 pounds
• 1 tablespoon minced garlic (3 cloves)
• 2 teaspoons dry mustard
• 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary leaves
• 1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage leaves
• 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
• 2 teaspoons salt
• 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
• 2 tablespoons good olive oil
• 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (be sure to keep the lemon when you're done squeezing!)
• 1 cup dry white wine (a cheap Chardonnay works well)


Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Place the turkey breast, skin side up, on a rack in a roasting pan.

In a small bowl, combine the garlic, mustard, herbs, salt, pepper, olive oil, and lemon juice to make a paste. Loosen the skin from the meat gently with your fingers and smear half of the paste directly on the meat. Spread the remaining paste evenly on the skin. Stick the lemons into the main cavity of the turkey (this really makes a difference!). Pour the wine into the bottom of the roasting pan. Word to the wise: cover the bottom of the roasting pan with foil before pouring the wine and sticking it in the oven.

Roast the turkey for 1 3/4 to 2 hours, until the skin is golden brown and an instant-read thermometer registers 165 degrees F when inserted into the thickest and meatiest areas of the breast. If the skin is over-browning, cover the breast loosely with aluminum foil. When the turkey is done, cover with foil and allow it to rest at room temperature for 15 minutes. Slice and serve with the pan juices spooned over the turkey.

This recipe produced what was by far the juciest, most delicious turkey breast I have *ever* tasted. Seriously. It was moist, flavorful, and went wonderfully with Rachel's stuffing (featured in a previous Tasty Tuesday). It would be absolutely perfect for Christmas dinner. Buon appetito!

Happy cooking, friends! I hope you have a blessed Christmas and an abundant new year. What a gift it is to know that our God became flesh, walked the earth, died, rose again and continues to dwell among us, fulfilling our humanity. I can't think of a better reason to celebrate!

Monday, December 21, 2009

what do we got goin' on here in santa's workshop?

Along with watching all my favorite Christmas movies, looking at Christmas lights and attending festive Christmas parties, I also must bake up several batches of Christmas cookies with my sis (and now, my niece) to properly get myself into the Christmas spirit.

This past weekend, we donned our appropriate headgear (i.e. reindeer antlers) and set to work on our sugar cookie cutouts.

Haylee was very eager to help out, but this mostly consisted of her licking the powdered sugar off of the surface that we were rolling out the cookie dough on...nice. Can't say I blame her though.

Unfortunately, Dora (AKA Meredith) was unable to help out with the cookies, but her cuteness more than made up for her lack of assistance.

As for the cookies...well, they certainly weren't going to win any awards for appearance. Haylee was quite insistent on decordating all of them herself and let's just say she was a bit heavy-handed with the green sprinkles.

Despite their less than stellar looks, Haylee had no qualms in devouring one of our sugary gems. Please observe the sequence of events below.

Even though we didn't get very creative or artistic with our Christmas cookies, I had a great time with my little Pearl. Forget pretty cookies! It's SO much more fun having a niece. I love you Haylee and can't wait to spend Christmas with you!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

groove is in the shark.

So I thought I was the last person on earth to discover this website, but apparently (after speaking with several people), Grooveshark remains to be known by many people. Therefore, I determined it was my responsibility to inform you of this delicious treat of a website so you could enjoy the tune-age of your choice whenever your little heart desires.

Grooveshark allows you to search its musical library and create countless playlists all for free. Yes, you can pay three bucks a month to get rid of the ads displayed on the right side of your screen, but who is so OCD that they need to do that? I'm not looking at the computer screen while I'm listening to music, are you?

At your earliest convenience, make your way over to Grooveshark: It would behoove you to do this in a most expedient manner, especially given the nature of the Christmas holidays. I'm sure you would love to create your very own holly jolly playlist whilst you trim the tree, wrap your gifts, enjoy a cup of hot cocoa or bake up a scrumptious batch of Christmas goodies.

I cannot tell you how much I am loving Grooveshark. There is no downloading. There's no wait time. There's no fee. It's positively brilliant. I can search for obscure music to my heart's content. I currently have a Christmas playlist ranging from Nsync to Frank Sinatra to Mariah Carey to Dean Martin. Does it get any better than that?

So consider this my Christmas gift to you. You're welcome!!!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Tasty Tuesdays: #26

It is officially t minus 10 days until Christmas. Wowzers! I swear to you we were just bringing in the year 2009. That's not to say a ton hasn't happened this year, but it just seems like it really flew by.

Be that as it may, have you planned the menu for your Christmas dinner? If not, what are you waiting for? More recipes from Tasty Tuesdays? If that's the case, you're in luck today. I'm bringing you another recipe for your holiday feast.

This recipe is for a green bean side dish, but no, it does not come off the can of fried onions. It also doesn't involve cream of mushroom soup or canned green beans. I know many shudder at the thought of breaking tradition (i.e. you always serve the green bean casserole with the fried onions on top), but some rules were meant to be broken. Why not whip up a new tradition with bold flavors and fresh ingredients? Now that's a tradition worth keeping!

The original recipe comes from Better Homes and Gardens, but I tweaked the ingredients just a smidge and altered some of the directions.

Green bean bake revisited

1 large sweet onion (I use yellow), cut into 1-inch wedges
2-3 T of olive oil
3 T packed brown sugar
2 lb. fresh or frozen whole green beans, trimmed
1 package of baby portobello mushrooms, sliced
1 T soy sauce
2 t balsamic vinegar
6 oz. goat cheese, softened
2 T milk

1. Heat olive oil in a large skillet. Add onions and cook covered over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes. Add brown sugar and cook over medium-high heat for 3 to 5 minutes or until onions are golden and caramelized. Set aside.

2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Steam the green beans in the microwave or in a small amount of boiling water for 3 minutes. Drain.

3. Place the green beans and mushrooms in a baking dish. Combine soy sauce and balsamic vinegar and pour over vegetables, tossing to coat. Roast for 20 minutes, stirring once, until crisp tender.

4. Meanwhile, in a medium mixing bowl beat together cheese and milk. Spoon cheese mixture over the green beans and top with caramelized onions.

5. Return to oven and bake 8-10 minutes or until cheese and onions are heated through.

Here's a look at the finished product. It's on the right side (in case you're unable to identify green beans).

I bet adding some fresh figs would really put this over the top. Hmmm...I might just do that when I make this for our Christmas dinner.

So, what do you think? Will you break tradition and bring something new to the table? Or are you scared of goat cheese and/or the snarky looks you may receive from family members who just want the good 'ole recipes they've eaten for 20 years? I challenge you to be bold and bring at least one new dish to the table this year.

Reader question: What is your family's tradition for Christmas dinner? Is it the standard turkey/ham meal or do you have something unique to your own family?

P.S. Tune in next week for a special guest post on Tasty Tuesdays!!!

Monday, December 14, 2009

you're here to have a good time & you're not gonna apologize for it.

I'm a touch behind on my posts, but in my defense, I was feeling a tad under the weather towards the end of last week. I had intended to get this post up in a more timely fashion, but it didn't happen. Sue me. (actually, please don't. funds are tight.)

The title of the post comes from Fred Claus (if you haven't seen it, go rent it today) which I watched probably three times over Thanksgiving. Needless to say, after repeating this line more than a dozen times with the fousins, it was absolutely necessary to use it in a post detailing Christina's birthday celebration.

The day started in a most festive way as I met my little China doll at the Galleria where we partook in a little shopping action and viewed the ice skating "spectacular" complete with a back-flipping Santa who donned skates equipped with sparklers. Impressive.

Of course, twas necessary to snap a few photos with the resplendent tree in the background.

Once we had received our fill of Christmas merriment (gotta love that Galleria parking garage in December), it was off to Elisa's humble abode for a very fousin birthday dinner. Naturally, it would be of utmost importance for us to get lost several times and run into a major detour snafu, but as I always say, all's well that ends well.

The lovely Michelle was able to join us for the evening's festivities (after having her own fun with the detour).

Elisa and I whipped up China's birthday dinner in the flashiest of flashes. On the night's menu was a spring salad with pear, cranberries and feta, baked shrimp with feta, tomatoes and artichokes and warm, buttery beer bread. We also enjoyed a lovely pour of wine with our meal.

Once we stuffed our bellies full of the delicious goodness, it was time for a little wine sampling. The birthday girl and I did our own informal wine tasting, but we did manage to share with some of the other guests. Gosh, we're generous. We had a Smoking Loon cab, a Rex Goliath merlot and a pinot grigio (?)...eesh, I don't remember.

And what's a fousin celebration without a little bubbly? I think we might single-handedly be supporting the Andre brand. We are just that classy.

Next on the agenda was blowing out the candles on her red velvet birthday cake with cream cheese frosting (a la moi) and a little shot of some dangerous liquor. For the life of me, I cannot recall what it was but I think it came in a green bottle? The smell alone knocked me off my feet, so I did not partake.

The night ensued with a sampling of chocolates, lively conversation and overall good times. It was a perfect night in my book and I hope the birthday girl had an equally delightful time.

I'm so glad I was able to celebrate Christina's life for the 2nd year in a row and I look forward to toasting many more birthday celebrations with her!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

cookie monster & BRRRRRR!!!

Number 1: It feels like NYC outside today. I am wearing tights, knee high socks, pants, boots, a long-sleeved shirt, turtleneck sweater, long coat and gloves. I do NOT approve.

Number 2: I had to post this picture of my little cookie monster. Here she is enjoying one of the Christmas cookies I brought her. Can't wait to make some Christmas cookies with you this year Haylee!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Tasty Tuesdays: halfway to 50!

Happy Tuesday blogland and welcome to the 25th edition of Tasty Tuesdays! I feel as though I should have some sort of celebration to commemorate this momentous occasion, but perhaps that might be a bit superfluous.

I must admit that through the years of eating dozens of Thanksgiving/Christmas dinners, I have never been a huge stuffing/dressing fan (stuffing=in the bird, dressing=cooked apart from the bird). It's not that I was opposed to eating bread drenched in butter, but in all honesty, it just never was all that appealing to me. It tended to be too dry or too soggy. I think the problem was in the recipe because I have tasted stuffing success with this recipe and I'm here to share it with you if you happen to doubt the merits of stuffing.

Now, don't write off today's recipe just because you think stuffing can only be served alongside your Thanksgiving turkey. You would be sadly remiss to do this. Even if you're not planning on serving a turkey at your Christmas dinner, this dish could easily compliment a myriad of other main dishes and was a hit at our throwdown (scroll down for the skinny on that epic event). The recipe is based off of a Good Housekeeping recipe, but I made some significant modifications, per usual.

Savory Bread Dressing with Pears and Cranberries

1 large loaf of sourdough bread, cut into cubes (day old)
2 T olive oil
3 stalks of celery, diced
1 large onion, chopped
1 T minced garlic
2 pears, chopped
1 C dried cranberries (I used Craisins)
3 C lower sodium chicken broth
1 T sage
1 T rosemary
1 T tarragon
2 T parsley (the recipe actually calls for 1/2 C packed fresh parsley, but we didn't have any so I used a significantly reduced amount of the dried herb)
salt and pepper to taste

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. Spread the bread cubes out on a sheet pan sprayed with cooking spray and bake 15-20 minutes or until golden, set aside to cool. Reset oven control to 350 degrees.

3. In a deep dish skillet, heat oil on medium-high until hot. Add celery, onion, and garlic. Cook about 7 minutes or until vegetables are golden and tender.

4. Add pears and cranberries and cook 4 minutes or until softened, stirring frequently.

5. Add broth and heat to boiling; reduce heat to medium-low and simmer 5 minutes.

6. In large bowl, combine bread and broth mixture. Stir in parsley, sage, rosemary, salt and pepper.

7. In shallow 3-quart glass or ceramic baking dish, spread mixture in an even layer. Cover with foil and bake 25 minutes. Uncover and bake 15 minutes longer or until top of stuffing is golden brown.

This recipe is super simple and really turned out quite tasty. The flavors worked well together and I loved the sourdough bread in the recipe. I highly recommend you add this to your Christmas dinner menu!

Monday, December 7, 2009

happy birthday china.

This is most definitely a day late, but I absolutely had to wish my dearest fousin Christina a very HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!

Yes, I was blessed to be able to celebrate her life in person this weekend, but that post is not ready.

It should be known I was not always so close to Christina. Back in the day, I was too cool for school for my younger cousin. My how the times have changed! I cannot imagine my life without her friendship.

The memories I have made with her over the past twelve years are by far some of my most cherished times. From singing karaoke at Lianna's 16th birthday, eating multiple dinners at the Marble Falls Chilis, playing countless games of Scattergories (in addition to Catch Phrase, Scrabble, Trivial Pursuit, etc.), watching dozens (and quoting) of movies in the media room together, whipping up culinary delights in many a kitchen, sharing stories of loves gone wrong (ha) and the list goes on and on.

More than anything, she knows me intimately and still loves me...quite the rarity in life! She is a woman of great faith, character and intellect. I am consistently encouraged by her devout relationship with Christ and her desire to be a Godly woman possessing a character above reproach. Her qualities are endless, but I shall be succint in my praise.

So here's to you China! I hope you had the happ, happ, happiest of birthdays and that this would be a blessed year in your life.

P.S. Yes, I am completely and utterly aware I went picture crazy on this post. I couldn't help myself.