Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year Soup!


While 2011 has been a successful and fulfilling year full of love and laughter, adventures and surprises, and lots of delicious food shared with friends and family, it's always exciting to look forward to what a new year will bring.

Tomorrow, MD and I will be celebrating the first day of the New Year over a hearty black-eyed pea soup and warm, buttery cornbread. It’s a great meal for a fun tradition, even if it is a little superstitious.

It’s not too late for you to grab up some black-eyed peas and ring in 2012 with a traditional meal. 

(But I do encourage you trot over to your nearest grocer ASAP and pick up some peas before they are gone!)

This spicy soup is sure to warm your belly as you look forward to a new year ahead.


Happy New Year! 

Cheers,
Christi 


Happy New Year Soup 

Ingredients: 
16 ounces dried black-eyed peas 

1 1/2 cups chopped celery 

1 1/2 cups chopped onion 

1 1/2 cups chopped carrots

2 cups chopped cabbage

5 cloves garlic, minced


2 bay leaves (remove before serving) 

2 teaspoons salt, more to taste

1/2 teaspoon black pepper 

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, more to taste 

6 cups vegetable broth 


Directions:
Soak peas in plenty of water overnight. 

Before cooking, drain and rinse. 

Place the beans and chopped carrots in a large pot to boil for 1 1/2 hours, or until tender. Drain water. 

Pour the cooked beans and carrots back into the large pot and add remaining ingredients. Boil on medium-high for 1 hour.



OR-- You can toss everything in a slow cooker on medium and let it do its magic for 6-8 hours. Check on it about half way through, give it a stir and turn up the heat to high.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Wishing You and Yours a Very Merry Christmas!

This holiday season, we wish you icy cold snowflakes, steaming hot chocolate, endless belly laughs and plenty of warm hugs as you celebrate the year ahead.






Warmest thoughts and best wishes,
Christi, MD and Benjamin

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Holiday Gift Idea: myAgenda

I am quite obsessed with living my life through a checklist in my agenda. The moment something is planned, it’s quickly noted in my handy agenda. I refer to it on a constant basis. It helps me keep up with everyone's birthdays, anniversaries, dinner dates, and sweet or exciting things that might have happened during the day. 

Everything y’all. Everything.

Since I am so attached to my agenda, it needs to be one that I can easily tote with me throughout the day.

Fortunately, MD found the perfect agenda that he gifted to me on my birthday three years ago. An agenda that includes everything a list maker and checker could possibly dream of.

The myAgenda. She’s the Queen when it comes to agendas. 

Here are some of mine from years past. I save each one of them. They are almost like journals to me. 

The 'Caribbean sea' agenda pictured below is from the year we were planning our wedding. It holds every special detail of our wedding plans and appointments in there.


MD has now made it a tradition to have a new myAgenda wrapped up in birthday paper for me each October.


There is even an option to have it embossed with your name!


Super rad!

Here’s the 2011-2012 collection.


A peek inside.



They come in two styles, momAgenda and myAgenda. And, they come in two difference sizes; a 7" x 9" desktop, or a mini, which is perfectly sized at 5” x 7”.

I love the 5” x 7”. It fits perfectly in my purse, but still has plenty of room for your lengthy lists.

If you aren’t convinced yet, let me tell you some great news.

They are ON SALE right now. Grab one for your Mom, your Aunt, best friend and YOU.

Go visit and go soon!

Happy shopping,

Christi


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Pumpkin Stuffed with Everything Good

Last Sunday MD and I hosted two of our dear friends over for a cozy dinner at MD’s Grandmother’s. It’s a little late in the pumpkin season, but there is a unique pumpkin recipe that I was dying to make. I was able to find a pumpkin at our local Co-Op, so I suppose it’s not too late for you to give this a try. If you can’t locate a pumpkin, flag this recipe for next November. It’s a keeper and a sure crowd-pleaser.

Before our friends arrived we prepared the main course, a delectable stuffed pumpkin. I came across this recipe while listening to NPR last November. It’s rather simple and extremely delicious. 

You begin by cutting out a cap at the top of the pumpkin. Then, stuff it with cheese, herbs, bread and a little cream and pop into the oven to bake for about two hours.

But before we began dinner, we started with a small plate of appetizers. We nibbled on a spicy bean dip with pita chips and brie cheese with Melba toast. It was the perfect starter to our hearty meal.


After nearly an hour of chatting by the fire, we moved on to dinner.



Isn't she a beauty?


Warm, cheesy, amazing.


It may seem odd to eat a pumpkin this way, but it’s totally not. Think of it like squash. It has the same texture and it perfectly healthy for you. Just don’t think about all the bread, cheese and half and half you stuffed it with earlier.

Bon app├ętit, my friends!

Christi



Makes 4 generous servings.

Ingredients:
1 pumpkin, about 3 pounds
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 pound stale bread, thinly sliced and cut into 1/2-inch chunks
1/4 pound cheese, such as Gruyere, Emmenthal, cheddar, or a combination, cut into 1/2-inch chunks
2–4 garlic cloves (to taste), split, germ removed, and coarsely chopped
4 strips bacon, cooked until crisp, drained, and chopped
About 1/4 cup snipped fresh chives or sliced scallions
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme
About 1/3 cup heavy cream
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

Directions:
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or parchment, or find a Dutch oven with a diameter that's just a tiny bit larger than your pumpkin. If you bake the pumpkin in a casserole, it will keep its shape, but it might stick to the casserole, so you'll have to serve it from the pot — which is an appealingly homey way to serve it. If you bake it on a baking sheet, you can present it freestanding, but maneuvering a heavy stuffed pumpkin with a softened shell isn't so easy.

Using a very sturdy knife — and caution — cut a cap out of the top of the pumpkin (think Halloween jack-o'-lantern). It's easiest to work your knife around the top of the pumpkin at a 45-degree angle. You want to cut off enough of the top to make it easy for you to work inside the pumpkin. Clear away the seeds and strings from the cap and from inside the pumpkin. Season the inside of the pumpkin generously with salt and pepper, and put it on the baking sheet or in the pot. Toss the bread, cheese, garlic, bacon, and herbs together in a bowl. Season with pepper — you probably have enough salt from the bacon and cheese, but taste to be sure — and pack the mix into the pumpkin. The pumpkin should be well filled — you might have a little too much filling, or you might need to add to it. Stir the cream with the nutmeg and some salt and pepper and pour it into the pumpkin. Again, you might have too much or too little — you don't want the ingredients to swim in cream, but you do want them nicely moistened. (But it's hard to go wrong here.)

Put the cap in place and bake the pumpkin for about 2 hours — check after 90 minutes — or until everything inside the pumpkin is bubbling and the flesh of the pumpkin is tender enough to be pierced easily with the tip of a knife. Because the pumpkin will have exuded liquid, I like to remove the cap during the last 20 minutes or so, so that the liquid can bake away and the top of the stuffing can brown a little.

When the pumpkin is ready, carefully, very carefully — it's heavy, hot, and wobbly — bring it to the table or transfer it to a platter that you'll bring to the table.
Serving

You have choices: you can cut wedges of the pumpkin and filling; you can spoon out portions of the filling, making sure to get a generous amount of pumpkin into the spoonful; or you can dig into the pumpkin with a big spoon, pull the pumpkin meat into the filling, and then mix everything up. I'm a fan of the pull-and-mix option. Served in hearty portions followed by a salad, the pumpkin is a perfect cold-weather main course; served in generous spoonfuls or wedges, it's just right alongside the Thanksgiving turkey.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Pimento Cheese

Hello, my dears! I hope everyone had an amazing Thanksgiving holiday. Hopefully, during your days of feasting you were able to relax a bit too.

MD and I spent the holiday with his family. We all gathered at his Grandmother’s and enjoyed a beautiful day! My sister was here visiting, which made the long weekend all the more special. We began the festivities early with many appetizers, a few games and lots of visiting.

By now, maybe you’ve polished off the remaining leftovers and are ready for a scrumptious snack, and do I have a perfect snack for you!

 To add to the appetizer table, I brought a homemade pimento cheese spread. I haven’t always loved pimento cheese, and still don’t fall in love with it when I try the packaged kind from the store. This homemade recipe on the other hand is amazing. Amazing. Perfect addition. This is a cheese lover’s delight! And a cheese lover I am.


The recipe is so quick and easy and definitely something I’ll keep in my fridge often to snack on anytime. I added one fresh jalapeno which added another pretty color and a nice kick to the flavor. After mixing together a simple list of ingredients, you’re ready to spread this heavenly cheese on Ritz crackers and devour.

Cheers,
Christi

Ingredients:
2 cups shredded extra-sharp Cheddar cheese
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon garlic salt
1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper (optional)
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced (optional, but I insist you do it!)
1 (4 ounce) jar diced pimento, drained

Directions:

Mix the Cheddar cheese, cream cheese, mayonnaise, garlic powder, cayenne pepper, minced jalapeno, and pimento into the large bowl with a mixer. Beat at medium speed, until thoroughly combined.

Spread over Ritz crackers and enjoy!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Igniting Northwest Arkansas


In keeping with the theme of giving this week, I wanted to share a very special assignment my co-workers and I have been given the past two years.

Our amazing leaders at Mitchell Communications Group divided us into teams, gave us an envelope of cash and challenged us to Ignite our community. Here’s a little more about it.


After a quick brainstorm, we reached out to LifeSource International, a local non-profit organization, to help guide us in the direction of a family especially in need this holiday season.


We briefly spoke with the family and let them know a little bit about what we were doing. We asked them if they would be free to meet us later that afternoon. They accepted, so we were off to shop!

First, we set off to fill a shopping cart with basic essentials and items they would enjoy over the holidays.


We also picked up a few gas cards and gift cards.


After our shopping cart was fully loaded, we were ready to check out!


We excitedly unloaded the groceries and were thrilled with our purchases.


While we were shopping, we had also been coordinating with a local restaurant,The Front Porch Family Diner, to have their Thanksgiving meal catered. I am so thrilled because I get to deliver their dinner to their home Wednesday evening.


It was finally time to meet the family. We introduced ourselves and hugged a lot. We handed over the gas cards and gift cards. Then we loaded her entire trunk up with groceries.


It was so neat to see her trunk full. In fact, we had to put a few things in the back seat of her car that didn't fit in the trunk.


After that, we surprised her by telling her she didn’t have to worry about preparing a Thanksgiving meal. We told her we had it all taken care of and would be delivering it Wednesday evening. Tears filled her eyes as she kept thanking us.

I know we were able to make a huge impact on her life that day. But I took away so much, too. I know my entire team did. It was such an incredible and emotional day. It meant so much to me to be able to do something as powerful as this. I am incredibly thankful for this experience. It reminds me that whether it’s big or small, giving back to others and to your community is so important and provides so much for both the receiver and the giver.

Luke 12:48:

From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!
Christi

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Operation Christmas Child

For the past several years I have participated in ‘Operation Christmas Child’, an organization developed through the Samaritan’s Purse more than 40 years ago. Samaritan's Purse is a non-denominational Christian organization that works to assist needy people all across the globe through missionary work. 

During the third week in November the organization begins taking donations for ‘Operation Christmas Child’. OCC is a global gift-exchange project where you can choose a gender and an age range of a child and fill up a shoe box with a variety of gifts they will open on Christmas and enjoy throughout the year. It is such a small yet impactful way to bring happiness to a child on Christmas.

This past week, a few team members and I journeyed out with our OCC boxes in hand on a mission to fill them up with fun gifts.



It was a great joy to run around the store picking out neat items that we hope will bring much to someone this holiday season.



As we waited in line to check out, we all began to tell about the gifts we selected.



Every box was very thoughtful and unique.



After our shopping trip was over, I reflected on the many blessings in my life. I was reminded of the truly important things and how easy it can be to make a big difference in someone's life.


Monday, November 21 is the last day boxes are being collected. I encourage you to get involved and spend a little time this weekend filling up a shoebox for a special child.
Find out more about 'Operation Christmas Child' here! 

Cheers,
Christi

Friday, November 18, 2011

Tailgate Recipe #10: Pumpkin Bread in a Fan Pan!

Pumpkin bread is an essential during the month of November. I love pumpkin bread for breakfast, a sweet treat after lunch and then again in the evening. Nothing is wrong with that, right?

I have yet to come across a time that pumpkin bread doesn’t make sense in the month of November.

My sweet sisters-in-law recently gifted me this really neat silicon Razorback Fan Pan.



It was so easy to use and the Razorback came out really great!

I forgot to take a photo, but I filled the pan up about two inches from the top to give it a little space to bake.

Here it is right out of the oven:


Take it out and flip it over.




This particular mold didn't require the entire amount of batter I made. You can use the remaining batter in a traditional bread pan, or make mini loaves to share with friends and family!


Guess what? You can get your own Fan Pan here!

They have a pan for any of your favorite teams! Go get yourself one!


Pumpkin Bread Recipe:

I don’t need a frilly recipe for pumpkin bread. I like to stick to a classic recipe.

Here’s the recipe I use:


Ingredients:

1 (15 ounce) can pumpkin puree
4 eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
2/3 cup water
3 cups white sugar
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour three 7x3 inch loaf pans.

In a large bowl, mix together pumpkin puree, eggs, oil, water and sugar until well blended. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and ginger. Stir the dry ingredients into the pumpkin mixture until just blended. Pour into the prepared pans.

Bake for about 50 minutes in the preheated oven. Loaves are done when toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Brussels Sprouts with Balsamic Vinegar Reduction

With only eight days until Thanksgiving, my menu planning, game searching and Black Friday shopping list are in full swing! I love the holiday season! 


We typically spend Thanksgiving with MD’s family. Although MD’s precious Grandmother prepares more than enough gourmet cuisine, I always arrive with dozens of goodies to add to the buffet for us to enjoy over the holiday weekend.

I’ve been spending this week testing out new recipes to add to my list. Last night was a success with roasted Brussels sprouts with goat cheese and candied pecans and a balsamic vinegar reduction.

This was a super easy dish that can easily be whipped together while enjoying time with family.

Begin with Brussels sprouts, pecan pieces, goat cheese, olive oil, salt and pepper.


After you’ve washed the Brussels, cut the ends off and then slice in half.


Toss in a bowl, pour in the olive oil and sprinkle the salt and pepper.


(I was already beginning to taste test at this point.)

After they are fully coated, Place on a baking sheet cut side down.


After 10 minutes, remove from oven and flip. Add pecans.


Bake for 10 more minutes, then remove from oven and set aside.

Balsamic Vinegar Reduction

You only need two ingredients for this; brown sugar and a nice balsamic vinegar.


Bring the balsamic vinegar to a boil over medium high heat and add brown sugar. Stir until dissolved.

Let this boil for about 20 minutes, or until it has reduced and becomes syrupy.

Toss the Brussels and pecans in a bowl, add the crumbled goat cheese. Drizzle about a ¼ cup of the balsamic vinegar reduction on top and serve.


This is a new favorite of ours and may be a new guest to our Thanksgiving meal this year.



Let me know what’s going to be on your plate this Thanksgiving!

Cheers!
Christi



Brussels Sprouts:

1 lb. fresh Brussels Sprouts

¼ Olive Oil
Salt and pepper
½ cup candied (or roasted) pecans
½ cup goat cheese crumbles

1. Preheat oven to 375°F.

2. Trim the end, then cut Brussels sprouts in half.
3. Toss in a bowl with olive oil to coat evenly and salt and pepper to taste.
4. Lightly oil a sheet pan, then spread out Brussels sprouts, cut side down. Roast in oven for 10 min., flip the sprouts to cut side up, add pecans and roast for about 10 minutes more or until gently browned.
5. Pour in a serving dish and toss in goat cheese crumbles.

Balsamic Vinegar Reduction:

2 cups balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup brown sugar

1. Over medium high heat bring vinegar to a boil.
2. Stir until sugar is dissolved and continue to cook until reduced and syrupy.

Monday, November 7, 2011

'Tis the Season: Bella Flora Florist

As I’ve mentioned in my ‘Meet Christi’ bio, and as most of you may already know, I have an incredibly talented younger sister who owns her own florist shop in Little Rock, Ark.


After attending the American Flora Art Design School in Chicago in January 2008, she journeyed back to Arkansas and began working at Sherwood Florist. During her employment there, she gained valuable experience from her talented boss and quickly realized her own talent and the work she was capable of producing. While back in Arkansas, she continued school and graduated from the Arkansas Master Florist program.

After much thought, careful consideration and an extremely supportive family backing her, she opened her very own shop, Bella Flora Florist, LLC.

Kayla Mustacci, Owner and Arkansas Master Florist

Nearly two years since opening the doors to Bella Flora, her business is doing great! She very much enjoys delivering stunning arrangements hoping to put a smile on someone’s face.


There are a few times each year where she finds herself particularly busier than others; Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, summer months celebrating brides and of course November and December when people begin to excitedly prepare for Christmas.

I am beyond proud of all that my sister has accomplished and constantly impressed by the thoughtful, unique and stunning work that comes out of her doors. I wanted to give her a (surprise) shout out here on Christi’s Chirps to show off what has already begun in her own Christmas workshop.

Each November and December Kayla fills her books with home decorating appointments and orders to help clients fill their homes and offices with Christmas Cheer.

Custom orders are available!

Fill your holidays with beautiful decor. Order your wreath today or take advantage of other floral and holiday ideas and services offered by Bella Flora!


Wreaths are a very popular item and also serve as excellent gifts.






The front of her shop is already decked out with a beautiful window display.



Here are a few wreath orders that have already been placed:

















I can confidently guarantee that you will be beyond pleased if you choose to place an order with Bella Flora, regardless of the occasion. Her prices are very competitive and are sure to fit any budget.

Swing by her shop if you’re in the area or give her a call! Deliveries are always available in the Little Rock and Maumelle areas and in Northwest Arkansas during the months of November and December. 


Mail orders are also available!

I hope you’ll consider her for your next floral need!



Shop: 501.868.1103
Location: 14710 Cantrell Drive, Little Rock, AR 72223

You never know. These two might show up on your doorstep with your delivery.




Happy Holidays!

Cheers,
Christi