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Friday, February 12, 2016

5 Last-Minute Valentine's Gift Ideas

Your face when someone gives you drug-store chocolates
or a stuffed-animal for Valentine's Day
There are few things more challenging than gift giving, especially for Valentine's Day. (I'm still recovering from the emotional scars of an ant-farm gift several years ago.)

What do you get for the person who has everything?

Drug store chocolates? (Definitely a relationship-ender.)
Flowers? (They'll be compost in a few short days.)
Stuffed animal? (It smells like Febreeze and divorce!)

To help, I've compiled a list of really great last minute hand-made Valentine's gift ideas you can pick up all within a stone's throw of each other right here in Orlando, Florida from local artisans at Artegon Marketplace at 5250 International Drive.
  1. Sugar Daddy Bakery Gift Box

    Sugar Daddy Bakery specializes in locally roasted coffee and artisan hand-made delicious baked goods. You haven't been there yet? You should find out what you're missing! Their brownies are huge, chewy delicious double-chocolate things and all their cupcakes are filled and amazing. What they're really known for is their amazing salted chewy chocolate chip cookies loaded with ghirardelli chocolate chips. And their huge, chewy cinnamon rolls. (If Cinnabon made good cinnamon rolls, they'd taste just like these. :) This isn't your average bakery.

    They're currently offering a beautiful gift box and a handmade card from SOS Art Gallery when you purchase $15 or more of their baked goods. Who wouldn't want a giant chewy cinnamon roll, a chewy raspberry-cream cheese double chocolate brownie and a couple of filled gourmet cupcakes? (And be sure to pick up a fresh-roasted gourmet coffee to carry with you while you check out the next shops on the list.)

  2. Handmade cards from SOS Art Gallery

    Instead of buying some tacky drug-store greeting card that'll be thrown in the recycle bin before the weekend is over, try one of these beautiful handmade cards from SOS Art Gallery. There are a lot to choose from, but each one is so beautiful that any choice is a sure win. The best part is, they're beautiful enough to frame and commemorate the day instead of tossing in the trash later. So a card and art? Win-win!

  3. Unique trinkets from Via Francesca

    This store is filled with adorable Valentine ideas. It's basically a treasure trove of really cute, customizable things for home and life. Everything from painted glasses to rings, stamped spoons, and even custom stamped bottle openers and key chains. It's the perfect place to buy a unique last minute Valentine's gift. Each item is hand made and most can be customized on the spot.

    You can find her beautiful things on Etsy too at

    Aren't these plant-markers the cutest
    things you've ever seen??
  4. Beautiful jewelry from Jewelry Noveau

    If you're looking to up your game in the jewelry department but don't want to spend a lot of money, these ladies have the whole range of jewelry from folk-art beads to high end precious gems. If you bring in a picture or two of your significant other, they're happy to help you find a piece in your budget that your Valentine is sure to love. (You can also sign yourselves up for a jewelry class if you want to score some major brownie points for a date night!)
  5. Florida Soap Company

    This place is quite possibly one of my favorite stores in Orlando. Their full line of bath products smell AMAZING and I must admit I'm slowly developing an addiction to their bath-bombs. They're huge and scented strong enough to turn my giant bathtub and master bathroom into the daily spa oasis I always dreamed it would one day be. Not only is the best aromatherapy in central Florida, they're all made of really high quality ingredients that don't irritate my sensitive skin. They carry all kinds of scrubs, soaps and lotions, but I have to admit, it's their bath bombs I'm having a secret affair with.

    These great stores are all inside the Artegon Marketplace between the main entrance and the movie theater.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Tender meatballs

"Miracles are like meatballs, because nobody can exactly agree on what they are made of, where they come from, or how often they should appear.” -- Lemony Snicket

It took a long time to find the right ratios of meat to bread to egg to get a meatball recipe that would hold together yet still be perfectly tender. What I really love about this ratio is that they're even better the next day or the day after and they freeze really well. Usually, I double the recipe, freeze half of them, then use the leftovers to make a meatball sub with melted provolone cheese.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Salted-Caramel Sauce

In 20 minutes, you could be swimming in this!
Salted-caramel sauce is the essence of life. It's good on anything from cakes, pies, ice creams and just plain fruit. It's so easy to make and lasts for over a month in the refrigerator. I usually keep it in a piping bag.

Here's a video of how to make it, and the recipe is listed below:

  • 1 3/4 sticks unsalted butter
  • 1 1/3 cup white sugar
  • 3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt (if making salted-caramel)
  1. Add sugar to small pan, being careful not to get any sugar on the sides
  2. Carefully pour the water in to the pan without splashing the sides.
  3. Cook over medium-low heat until the sugar melts and turns the desired color (somewhere between iced-tea for light caramel and Coca-cola for dark caramel).
  4. Heat the cream in the microwave for about 45 seconds.
  5. Add the cream a little bit at a time as it will bubble up.
  6. Once all the cream is added and stirred in, stir in the butter a few tablespoons at a time.
  7. Pour the caramel onto a heat-safe plate.
  8. If making the salted caramel, sprinkle 1/2 tsp course salt over the surface of the caramel.
  9. Let cool and use as needed.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Maple Oatmeal Banana Bread

Maple oatmeal banana hearty goodness!

This recipe has three things I love: maple syrup, oatmeal and bananas. And the best part? It uses a blender. It couldn't get any easier!

Of all the quick-breads I've come up with, this one is by far my favorite. Since it has oatmeal and banana, I've decided it belongs in the "vegetables and fruit" group of my food pyramid. Seems legit!

If you want to see a video of me making two loaves of this recipe, I put one up on Youtube at:

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Miso Chicken-noodle Soup

A steaming bowl of Japanese deliciousness!
During a recent pilgrimage to Costco, I found Miso broth. In case you're not sure what it is, it's the broth from that really thin soup you get at a Japanese restaurant as a first course. It's also become extremely popular as a main ingredient in Asian salad dressings. I've always loved the flavor of miso soup, but I'm a meat-and-taters kinda guy and I feel like soups that're all juice are just a delay tactic to getting real food in my belly.

In typical Costco fashion, the bulk impulse-purchase was hogging up room that was desperately needed for more important acquisitions... like the 40 pound sack of flour and the 55 gallon drum of olive oil. I decided to make chicken noodle soup with it. It was fast, easy and I could reclaim the pantry space. I wanted the well-seasoned miso flavor but with actual solid food to back it up.

This recipe involves no cutting, peeling or chopping (though you do have to use two forks to shred a single chicken breast).

What I did not foresee is how freaking amazing the soup was going to taste. Rich, savory, and all around Ermagerd!

Monday, February 2, 2015