Thursday, October 30, 2014

A Scary Story of Halloween Woes - Candy Corn Treats

Here's a scary story, titled Why You Should Always Shop Local Because Big Halloween Retailers Suck And Here Are Some Pictures of My Recipe That Is At the Bottom of the Post. If you know me at ALL, you know Halloween is my favorite holiday. Every year I spend way too much money on not only my costume, but decking out my apartment in cool decorations, and buying a ton of food for a Halloween party with friends to show off our costumes. I always do MULTIPLE events and wear my costume numerous times, so I don't mind spending a bit more than usual for it.

So, my grand plan for Halloween was this: dress up like a character from my favorite show (Adventure Time!) and fiancé would also dress up like a character, and it'd be awesome. Due to not having time or resources to put the costume together myself, I ordered from massive Halloween retailer Spirit Halloween, which seemed to be the only place that had the costume with all components. Huge banners advertising 3 DAY SHIPPING! Great! I would get my costume with enough time to wear it multiple times and be worth the steep $50 price tag!

Big. Friggin. Mistake.

My order should have come in on the 23rd, with plenty of time to wear the costume at least three times, if not more. However, the 23rd came and went, and no costume. I emailed customer support, and they told me it'd be there by the 25th--the day of my Halloween party. Halloween party came and went, no costume. I asked if, at this point, I could buy a new one in-store and return the one that came in the mail... nope, their return policy does not allow this. Also turns out my order was "lost in transit" even though in a previous email the customer service rep said she "saw the costume on the dock waiting for pickup." Customer service refunded my shipping and upgraded to overnight, but the next day, still no costume.

I wrote a heated complaint on the Facebook wall, which got deleted, and then I re-posted and they told me to message them privately, and they just told me to email support, which I'd already been doing.

At this point, I tried to cancel my order. I got an email about a refund, and I assumed this was the costume. I went out, bought an entirely NEW costume, wore it to Event #2 that I needed a costume for, and then I get a notice that my order has shipped. There is nothing I can do, I cannot cancel, and now I'm out $50 because I can't return this damn thing.

New Costume.

Not to mention, fiancé's costume now makes no sense since we're no longer a couple's costume. The best Spirit Halloween can do is offer me a $25 rebate (only half the price of the costume and they still keep half my money, assholes) and 20% off a future purchase. Nope, I am NEVER shopping there AGAIN so that's pointless. I can also send the order back for a full refund, but with how messed up their shipping system clearly is, I am not going to risk it.

I guess he's going as a Hipster? every day?

Awful, awful. I don't use my blog to bitch about bad reviews often, but in this case it was so warranted. Don't shop at Spirit Halloween. They don't give a crap about their customers, and their promise of 3 day shipping is an utter lie.

Shout out to Saver's and Costume World of Austin for saving my Halloween with the items to make my backup costume.

In other news, these are basically just Crispy Rice Treats but with a Halloweeny flare. Check them out, they're a great way to use up all that extra candy corn!

Candy Corn Treats

  • 2/3 bag candy corn flavored marshmallows (or regular mini marshmallows with a drop of orange food coloring, if you prefer)
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 5 cups rice cereal
  • 1/2 cup candy corn

-Line a 9x13 baking sheet with tin foil and spray lightly with nonstick cooking spray.

-In a large, microwave-safe bowl, melt the butter by heating in 30 second increments.

-Pour marshmallows into the bowl and toss with the butter. Microwave in 1 minute increments, stirring in between, until smooth.

-Add rice cereal and mix well. Press into baking sheet with oiled fingers. Sprinkle candy corn on top and press lightly. Let set for 30 minutes before slicing and eating.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Halloweeny Spirits - Caramel Apple Martini

Once upon a time,  years ago, when I may or may not have been underage at a party, an older friend handed me the most amazing drink. I was barely in college and so far my alcohol experiences had been "whatever is sweet and doesn't taste like booze." Needless to say, I always had quite the hangover, but that's besides the point. 

The drink handed to me tasted EXACTLY like a caramel apple--my favorite circus treat. At the next party I requested this drink again, but it didn't come out quite the same (though he did create a cotton-candy drink that tasted DIVINE so that helped). For years, I've been searching for the perfect caramel apple martini recipe. And I think I finally found it.

The secret ingredient? Apple cider. It helps tone down the apple pucker and bump up the real apple taste. With the vanilla and butterscotch flavors, it gives the unmistakable flavor of biting into a caramel apple. One that may get you drunk if you continue to indulge.

While this cocktail is perfect for Halloween, it's equally great all autumn long.

Caramel Apple Martini

  • 2 oz Sour Apple Pucker
  • 2 oz Buttershots
  • 2 oz vanilla vodka
  • splash of apple cider
  • caramel sauce, for the rim

-Dip a chilled martini glass in caramel sauce, set aside.

-In a shaker filled with ice, shake together the rest of the ingredients.

-Serve cold.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Eerie Alien Eggs - Halloween Deviled Eggs

Guys. It's the Sunday before Halloween and my costume STILL has not come in the mail. I am freaking out. I've even been to one costume party so far WITHOUT A COSTUME... alright, I threw together a "vampire/girl-going-through-a-Hot-Topic-stage" ensemble, but it's just not the same. When you're a Halloween fanatic like I am, this is a BIG DEAL.

Note to self: Spirit Halloween's online ordering is a bit off when they say "two day shipping"--it's really "week-and-a-half" shipping. Grr.

Anyway, I'm finding myself in the Halloweeny spirit regardless of the mail goblins eating all my mail lately (MY CAMERA STILL HAS NOT ARRIVED). I thought I'd re-do these awesome Alien Eggs I made last year. Remember them?

Yeah, my photography skills have improved just a wee bit.

These are basically just deviled eggs, with a twist. The twist is that they're slightly pickled with beet juice, making for a super-tasty and funky looking egg. A bit of food coloring in the yolk, and you've got a Halloween hors d'ovre that everyone will love to look at... AND eat!

Eerie Alien Eggs

  • 12 hard-boiled eggs
  • 1 can beet liquid
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp Sriacha sauce
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • fresh ground black pepper
  • smoked paprika
  • 3 drops green food coloring

-Arrange whole eggs in a single layer in a shallow baking dish. Cover with beet juice, water, and vinegar, making sure they are completely covered. Let soak in the fridge overnight or for a few hours until eggs are purple.

-Carefully slice eggs in half and scoop yolks out into a small bowl. Mix with remaining ingredients, being careful not to over-mix. Add food coloring until egg yolks are desired color. Pipe or spoon mixture into eggs and chill until ready to serve.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Roast Lamb with Veggies for Lamb Virgins - #Sponsored by The American Lamb Board

Note: I received a free lamb shoulder from the American Lamb Board for review. Opinions are my own, and I was under no obligation to blog. Also, I am still missing my camera, so please excuse the iphone 4 photos...

Lamb had always been on my short-list of meats I'd like to avoid. Visions of adorable fluffballs and Easter scenes filled my mind and the tiny bit of College Vegetarian Ashley that remained somewhere inside of me rejected it. I should point out that this was before I'd ever even tasted lamb, and it was a decision based on nothing more than "this animal is cute and I don't want it."

Then, two things happened: I traveled to Iceland, where lamb is the equivalent to their beef--not sure if it's because lambs are more suited to the climate or if beef just wasn't in favor for cultural reasons--and I sampled lamb in the form of hot dogs, hamburgers, and a steak-like situation. I decided that it was tasty, and I wasn't opposed to it on occasion. It's a farm animal like all others that I consume, and it's a major way of life for many cultures. 

Then at the Byte of Texas, I met a rep from the American Lamb Board and sat in on a seminar about lamb, and I was even more intrigued. Apparently, Dorper lamb is a specific breed that doesn't produce lanolin, which gives lamb a somewhat "gamey" taste sometimes.

Everyone in the class was sent a lamb shoulder to cook. I'd never in my life cooked lamb before, but after scouring the pamphlets included in my delivery and some thorough googling, I took on the task.
Overall, it was easy and the results were delicious. I was told by the leader of the seminar to just cook it "low and slow with a bit of wine" but being the overachiever I am, I added a few more things. I loved how my kitchen smelled (strangely) of goat cheese while it was roasting, and how tender and flavorful the meat came out. Plus the sauce is absolute amaze-balls. I was taking spoonfuls to "taste" even after my plate was empty.

If you're hesitant to try lamb, I suggest you take the plunge. Wait for it to go on sale if need be, and adapt your favorite beef recipe for lamb and I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.

Roast Lamb with Veggies and Gravy
(Loosely based on this recipe from Jamie Oliver)
  • 1 lamb shoulder
  • 3 tbs olive oil + 2 tbs olive oil
  • 3 tbs herbs de provance + 1 tbs herbs de provance
  • 2 long sprigs rosemary
  • 1 head garlic, separated into cloves (no need to peel!)
  • 1/2 cup red wine + 1/4 cup red wine
  • 2 tbs sherry vinegar
  • 3 cups assorted root veggies, chopped
  • 2 tbs flour of choice
  • 1 cup stock (I used chicken, beef or lamb will also work)
  • 1 tbs chopped fresh basil
  • 1 tbs butter

-Pre-heat oven to 450 degrees F. Line garlic and rosemary in the bottom of a dutch oven or covered baking dish. Pour 1/2 cup of the wine over the top.

-Rinse the lamb shoulder and make long, shallow cuts in the fatty side in a criss-cross pattern. Rub all over with 3 tbs of the olive oil and 3 tbs of the herbs de provance. Place on top of the garlic and place in oven.

-Immediately turn the heat down to 350 degrees F. Bake for 4 hours, until tender.

-With about 1 hour to go, prepare the veggies: toss with remaining olive oil and herbs, and line in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake for 45 minutes or until root veggies begin to blister, turning every 15 minutes.

-After lamb has finished cooking, remove from pan and cover with aluminum foil. Pour off fat into a bowl and set aside.

-Use remaining wine to deglaze the pan over low heat (pour in wine, use spatula to scrape up all the burnt meat bits) raise heat to medium and add the fat. Whisk vigorously and slowly add the flour.

-Add stock and continue to whisk. Add vinegar and basil, and more flour if needed. Immediately before serving, add butter and whisk until smooth.

-Serve lamb in slices with veggies and gravy.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Pumpkin Spice Kiss Cookies - Falling Into Fall with Lackluster photos

So, the picture quality is awfully yellowy and definitely not the best. This is due to me not having my own camera, as it's still looping around Austin with the wrong address (my fault, oops). Hopefully I have it soon.

However, it's been too long without a recipe, so I figured crappy pictures would suffice for now. I will swallow my pride and accept that while they're not my best, they surely aren't my worst either.

Anyway, I can't think of a more perfect fall cookie than these little chai pumpkin spice thumbprints. Since Austin weather is still "early summer/late spring" temperatures to me (~70 degrees!) I've had a hard time getting into the season. However, my kitchen's been doing a great job at allowing me to experience fall flavors despite it all.

Apple picking during a quick jaunt back to Massachusetts

Also, I am a Pumpkin Spice lover and I AM NOT ASHAMED. Seriously, what next, criticizing me for my leggings with Ugg boots and a Northface jacket while I loiter outside Urban Outfitters taking selfies? C'mon.

You can't deny that pumpkin = fall. And pumpkin without its accompanying spices is just squash. So shuttup.

I adapted this recipe because I haven't been able to track down the chai concentrate that every recipe requires. HOWEVER, I discovered recently that Trader Joe's is the freaking MECCA of Pumpkin Spice, so I made some substitutions.

This recipe requires very specific items: namely Trader Joe's Pumpkin Spice Chai Latte powder and Hershey's Kisses. If you do not have access to these items, namely the powder, please see the original recipe for the chai-from-concentrate option. But it's mid-October... you'll find them.

Happy Fall, everyone!

Pumpkin Spice Chai Kisses
(adapted from Pass the Sushi)

  • 1 stick butter, room temp
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tbs strongly brewed chai tea
  • 1 tbsp pumpkin puree
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup (~1 scoop) Trader Joe's Pumpkin Spice Chai Tea
  • 1 and 1/4 cup flour (I used Bob's Red Mill gluten free 1-for-1)
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
  • ~25 Pumpkin Spice Hershey Kiss 

In a large bowl, combine chai tea powder, flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Stir well.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together butter and sugar until fluffy. Add the egg, pumpkin puree, vanilla, and tea.

Slowly add the dry to the wet, using a spatula to scrape down the sides of the mixer often. Cover and chill for at least 1 hour.

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees F, and unwrap all the kisses while it preheats. Place cookies by the rounded tablespoonfull onto a parchment paper or silpat lined cookie sheet. If desired, sprinkle cookies with extra pumpkin spice mix mixed with sugar.

Bake for 15 minutes. Immediately upon removing from the oven, push kisses into center of each cookie. Do not touch or the chocolate will drip. Let cool completely.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Influenster Review: #VSSportBra #Sponsored

I received promotional items from Influenster and Victoria's Secret to facilitate this review and blog post. All opinions are my own.

Not a food post! But related to my constant struggle to become healthy again and drop some extra pounds I've been carrying around...

If you've been around here for any sort of length of time, you may have realized something: the gym is my mortal enemy. I hate it. I went from being effortlessly skinny as a 0 to 25 year old, to now gaining about 10 lbs a year if I do nothing about it. That's... kind of scary to me.

This is my Going to the Gym Face.

So, recently I've put at least a little bit of effort into going to the gym. Though in the past month I've been down 5 lbs and then up again to my usual (bigger) weight, then back down 5 again, at least it feels good to know I'm doing SOMETHING about it, and that hopefully soon I'll see real results.

One of the things I'd been putting off was getting new workout clothes. I always feel a little bit better if I have a specific gym outfit that keeps all the jiggly bits in, while looking decently cute in the process.

Can I just say that I am LOVING my Victoria's Secret Sport Bra? It's adorable and pink, but also keeps everything supported while I toil away at the elliptical. And the slight cup is great so I don't feel totally smooshed.

This is my Going to the Gym at the Ass Crack of Dawn Face

The provided leggings are also a dream--so comfortable! I think these will find their way into my regular fall outfits as leggings under dresses and such. Not only do they keep the jiggle under control, they're soft and stretchy and I've actually spent the entire day lounging about in them.

I'm never going to be one of those girls who LOOOOVES running, or yoga, or hangs out at the gym on the regular. But here's hoping I can at least find the gym tolerable enough to reach my goals and maintain them. And cute gym clothes always help ;)

I received these products complimentary from Influenster for testing purposes.