Monday, December 31, 2012

Two Thousand Twelve

Happy New Year!

Before you start making big plans for 2013, take a second and look over what happened this past year  (this is really easy to do if you have a fancy phone/facebook account).  Last year, I wrote a post about 2011 and until I started looking through all my pictures from the year, I had no idea I had done so much!  2012 was the same way.

Sure, not every day was perfect and not every thing that happened was magnificent and life-altering, but I bet the things that you took pictures of were pretty positive things.  So, let's keep it positive :)

I was so fortunate this past year (I swear, I'm not trying to gloat).  I got to camp and climb with good friends from DC.
I spent a weekend with my BFF forever in New York!  (This is our engagement photo...awkardly far apart, btw.)
I spent a lot of time in the kitchen (including time well spent making this coffee cake)!
Austin and I were able to make some pretty major life changes and move back to the mountains and closer to family.
We camped, we climbed, we mountain biked, we hiked.  If it was available outside, we did it.
I read some books (not as many as my sister's 53 this year though!).
I traveled to New Jersey, Indiana, and California for family weddings in 2012.
And probably the biggest change for me this year, was adopting The Dingo!

Before you start making resolutions for next year, and thinking about all of the weight you want to lose, or the yoga classes you want to take, or the miles you want to run, take a minute and notice all of the things that you are grateful for from this past year.  Plus, it gives you an excuse to stalk yourself on facebook.

Happy New Year!  I hope 2013 is even better than you could imagine!


Friday, December 28, 2012

Eggnog Monte Cristos

I hope you all had an amazing Christmas!  My trip home was too short, as always and I'm finding it really hard to readjust to regular life.  So, I think for the next few days I'm going to just keep pretending that it's not over.  Is that cool with you?  No?  Well, too bad!

I can't let Bing Crosby's smooth voice just fade away until next year!  I also can't let all that eggnog that I stocked up on, go bad in the fridge.
Since I drive home to my parents' house for Christmas, I don't get the luxury of leftovers.  Not to mention, our Christmas has become a little non-traditional to accommodate everyone's work schedules.  But if you have pounds of leftover turkey and ham and bowls full of cranberry sauce that you don't know what to do with, make this sandwich.  Or give it to homeless people.  Both options would be nice.

EGGNOG MONTE CRISTOS (makes 12 mini sandwiches)
Recipe from Food Network Magazine
Dijon Mustard
9 slices Sandwich Bread
6 slices Gouda Cheese
1/2 c. Eggnog
Freshly Grated Nutmeg
Butter (for greasing the pan)
Cranberry Sauce (for dipping)

1.  Layer your sandwiches in this order: bread, mustard, mayo, cheese, turkey, ham, bread, cheese, turkey, ham, mustard, mayo, bread.

2.  Cut off crusts and wrap tightly in plastic wrap (to keep the sandwiches compact).  Refrigerate 30+ minutes.

3.  Mix together eggnog and nutmeg.  Dip sandwiches in eggnog, then place in skillet with melted butter.  Cook over medium low heat until browned, flip and cook other side.  Remove from heat.  Cut into quarters.

4.  Serve with cranberry sauce for dipping.

Saturday, December 22, 2012


I used to be one of those people that hated eggnog.  I've found that eggnog is a pretty polarizing beverage. You either love it or you hate it.  There is literally no in between.  You'll never meet anyone who is like, "yeah, eggnog - it's ok."
Well, a few years ago, I decided to give it another try and found out that I had completely switched camps.  However, I still am not a huge fan of the alcoholic version.  So when I found this recipe called "Amazingly Good Eggnog," I thought it actually said, "Surprisingly Good Eggnog."  Which, I admit, is not a very good name for a recipe, but it did pique my interest.
I made it, bottled it up and brought it to an ugly sweater party.  We didn't really know anyone at this party, but coming in with a bottle of this stuff in your hand is guaranteed to make you some new friends.  Seriously, it works.

Recipe from Safeway
4 c. milk
5 whole cloves
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. cinnamon
12 egg yolks
1 1/2 c. sugar
2 1/2 c. light rum
4 c. light cream (2 c. half & half + 2 c. heavy cream)
2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg (fresh if you have it)

1.  Combine milk, cloves, 1/2 tsp. vanilla and cinnamon in saucepan.  Over low heat, bring to a boil.  (do not scald milk)

2.  In a large bowl, whisk together egg yolks and sugar until light yellow in color.  Slowly, whisk hot milk mixture into eggs.  Pour mixture into saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until thickened (about 3 minutes).  Strain and let cool for 1 hour.

3.  Stir in rum, cream, vanilla and nutmeg.  Refrigerate overnight.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Pecan Fingers

Christmas Cookies!!!  There's really nothing better than Christmas cookies, right?  Really all of them have something valuable to bring to the table, but cookies aren't like kids, you can totally choose favorites.
These are my favorites.  I'm going to let these cookies get away with more than the sugar cookies.  They're allowed to be a little misshapen.  They can break when I put them into my bag.  Because really these cookies will never be bad.
At my house, we make way too many cookies.  Sure, we give them away to the neighbors and friends, but still there are too many.  Somehow, between my dad and me, there never seem to be too many of these though.  (A good reason for doubling the recipe!)

Recipe from Great-Grandma
1/2 lb. butter
4 heaping Tbsp. powdered sugar
1 tsp. water
1 tsp. vanilla
2 c. flour
1 c. chopped pecans
powdered sugar to roll cookies in

1.  Beat together butter, powdered sugar, water, vanilla, and flour.  Stir in pecans.

2.  Shape into small oblongs (fingers).  Bake at 325˚ for 25 minutes.  Cool on a wire rack.

3.  Once cool, roll in powdered sugar.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Mocha Meringue Bark

This weekend, I finished my Christmas shopping!  The presents are wrapped and ready to be loaded into Sheldon (my Honda Fit) and driven home!  Only problem is that I have to wait until Thursday night to do it.

If you aren't finished shopping though and you need a last minute idea for that person that you don't know that well.  Maybe a co-worker or a neighbor.  Someone you feel like you should give a gift, but you've never actually  had a conversation with him/her that lasted more than 5 minutes.
You can't be expected to know what their hobbies and interests are.  Let alone what they already have or what they need.

This is precisely where food gifts come into the picture.  Food is always useful, always appreciated, and if homemade, it tells the person you care enough about them to spend time on them.
They don't have to know that this meringue bark is super easy and although it takes some time, it's almost all downtime.  Even if they do know (because they ask you for the recipe so you're forced to show them just how little effort you put into it), they'll still love you for it because it's delicious.

Recipe from Claire Robinson
1/2 c. blanched slivered almonds, divided
1/4 c. + 1 tsp. sugar, divided
4 egg whites
Pinch salt
1 Tbsp. instant coffee
1/3 c. mini chocolate chips

1.  In a food processor, blend 1/4 c. of the almonds and 1 tsp. sugar until forms the consistency of cornmeal.  Set aside.

2.  Finely chop the remaining almonds.  Set aside.

3.  Beat egg whites until very soft peaks have formed.  In a small bowl, combine remaining sugar and coffee. Gradually add sugar/coffee mixture to egg whites and beat until stiff peaks form (do not overbeat).  Gently fold in almond flour.

4.  Line a rimmed cookie sheet with parchment paper.  Spread meringue onto cookie sheet.  Sprinkle with remaining almonds and chocolate chips.

5.  Bake at 250˚ for 1 hour.  Turn off oven and leave meringues in oven overnight.  Break into pieces.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Clementine Cosmos

Let's be really honest for a minute.  Not everything about the holidays is sugar plums and gingerbread men.  Sometimes you have to go to awkward holiday parties hosted by your significant other's workplace.
That's enough to drive anyone to drink.  For real.

Last night we went to Austin's work party.  Not only did I know no one at the party, Austin didn't even know anyone at the party.
Needless to say, I really wish I had guzzled this entire bottle of cosmos before heading out.

Recipe from Claire Robinson
4 clementines
1 c. sugar
1 c. water
2/3 c. cranberry juice
1/3 c. lime juice
1 1/2 c. vanilla flavored vodka (or plain vodka to make them less sweet)

1.  Cut three of the clementines into quarters.  Cut the fourth clementine into thin slices for garnish.

2.  Squeeze clementine juice into a small saucepan.  Add sugar, water, and clementine peels.  Bring to a boil over medium heat.

3.  Pour into a strainer over a measuring cup - getting out as much juice as possible.  Cool to room temperature.

4.  Add cranberry juice, lime juice and vodka.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.

5.  Shake with ice in a martini shaker and pour into chilled martini glasses.  Garnish with a clementine slice.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Chestnut Mashed Potatoes

The holidays are super hectic.  Even if you're one of those people that doesn't get stressed out about anything.  Maybe you're one of those people that goes with the flow, doesn't sweat the small stuff, and is just generally very zen.
Well, good for you.  The rest of us desperately go on stress runs and take yoga 8 times a day just to get a glimpse into your life.

There's a lot to do right now.  There are presents to shop for, flights/drives to prepare for, decorations to put up, holiday parties to attend, ugly sweaters to don.  So even if you are going with the flow, the flow of things is pretty fast-paced right now.
But while you're running around frantically, try not to forget to eat.  For some of us (like my sister and I who always have at least one snack in our purse), this isn't really an issue, but I know there are those of you out there who just collapse into bed some nights trying to remember if you ate anything at all that day.  And there are those of you out there who have to make dinner for your family, because even if you're not hungry, they are.  So for a super simple pre-Christmas meal, try this: Mini Cheddar Meatloves, Veggie of choice, and these super delicious, holiday flavored, Chestnut Mashed Potatoes.

Recipe slightly adapted from Anne Burrell
1 bag peeled chestnuts
1 Tbsp. (or so) coarse seasalt
4 medium potatoes, peeled and quartered
1/2-1 c. whipping cream
4 Tbsp. butter
1/4 tsp. nutmeg, grated

1.  Place chestnuts in a large saucepan.  Cover with water.  Bring to a boil.

2.  Drop potatoes into water.  Cook until potatoes are done (test with a fork).

3.  Drain.  Mash potatoes with butter and all or part of the cream, until reaches desired consistency.  Stir in nutmeg.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Bûche de Noël (Yule Log)

Last night, I made my Christmas list.  I think the last time I made a Christmas list, my writing utensil of choice was a crayon.  This time, I typed it into Excel.  Is that what it means to be an adult?  
Some traditions (like writing a Christmas list) have fallen by the wayside, others (like making way too many Christmas cookies every year) are stronger than ever, and then there are our new traditions.  I'm not sure how long you have to do something for it to be a tradition, but for the past 3 years, my sisters and I have thrown a very small Christmas Eve party.  
You really only have to throw a Christmas party once before people will start expecting it again next year.  So I warn you to really think about the commitment you're making before you send out those invitations.
However, if you do decide it's worth it anyway (which it totally is), you need to start menu planning.  You can't just think about the food and cocktails.  It's the holidays, people will be expecting sweets.  Sure you can set out a tray of cookies, but wouldn't it be nice if you had another option too?  Yeah, I thought so.
Recipe from The Cake Mix Doctor
For the cake:
1 plain devils food cake mix
1 c. buttermilk
1/2 c. oil
4 eggs
3 Tbsp. cocoa powder
1 Tbsp. instant coffee

For the filling:
2 c. whipping cream
1/3 to 1/2 c. powdered sugar
4 Tbsp. brandy (optional)

For the frosting:
1 stick butter, at room temperature
3 c. powdered sugar
1/4 c. cocoa powder
1 tsp. vanilla
dash salt
1-3 Tbsp. cream

powdered sugar, for dusting

1.  Preheat oven to 350˚.  Grease jelly roll pan with butter, cover with parchment paper and grease paper with butter.  Set aside.

2.  In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients for the cake and beat until smooth.  Pour into prepared pan.  Bake for 18-20 minutes.

3.  Turn out onto a clean towel sprinkled with powdered sugar.  Remove parchment paper and immediately roll in jelly roll shape (rolling the towel into the cake).  Allow to cool 30 minutes.  (Don't worry about small cracks in the cake - they will be concealed by the frosting.)

4.  While the cake is cooling, prepare the filling.  In a medium bowl, beat whipping cream until soft peaks form.  Slowly add powdered sugar and brandy and continue beating just until soft peaks form.  Cover with plastic wrap (pressed against the whipped cream) and place in the fridge until you are ready to use it.

5.  Prepare Frosting.  Beat together butter, powdered sugar, and cocoa powder.  Add in vanilla and salt.  Very gradually add cream, until frosting reaches the desired consistency.

6.  When cake is cooled, unroll the log.  Cover with whipped cream filling and roll up the cake.  Cut off an inch thick slice, then cut in half (this is for the branch).

7.  Place roulade seam side down on a serving platter.  Arrange the branch where you'd like it.  Frost with chocolate frosting, using long strokes to make the grain in the wood.  Dust with powdered sugar (aka snow) to cover up any mistakes ;) and decorate with a few pine sprigs and cranberries.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Candy Cane Ice Cream

I have been in a funk all day.  It's been one of those days where I've been walking against the flow.  I was almost hit three the same parking lot.  My caesar salad had watery dressing.  Even yoga was awful today.
So after an unsatisfying, too short Savasana, and after an unsatisfying, too watery caesar salad, I walked outside and it was snowing!  
Finally, it feels like the Christmas season has begun.  I've always wondered what people in warmer areas do to get in the spirit.  I mean, when it's not cold outside, it just doesn't feel right to make a fire or sip hot cocoa.  
Well, I think I've come up with the solution: Candy Cane Ice Cream.  It tastes like the holidays but yet it's still cold and refreshing.  Could it get more perfect?  And, you know, with climate change, this recipe might start to make more and more sense throughout the country.

Recipe adapted from Alton Brown
3 c. half-and-half
1 c. heavy cream
8 egg yolks
9 oz. sugar
1 tsp. peppermint oil
1/4 c. candy cane, broken into small pieces

1.  In a medium saucepan, heat half-and-half and cream to a simmer.  Remove from heat.

2.  In a medium bowl, whisk egg yolks until light yellow in color.  Stir in sugar. 

3.  Slowly add 1/3 cream mixture to eggs, stirring constantly to temper.  Add the rest of the cream, transfer to the saucepan and place over low heat.  Cook to 170˚, stirring frequently.

4.  Transfer to a tupperware and let sit at room temperature (uncovered) for 30 minutes.  Add the peppermint oil and stir to combine.

5.  Move to refrigerator without lid.  When cool enough not to form condensation, cover and refrigerate for 4-8 hours.

6.  Add in candy pieces, transfer to ice cream maker and follow manufacturer's directions.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Bread

I have dropped the ball completely.  Let me explain myself.

1.  We have a little ball of energy running around the house biting at my ankles and hands every time I try to cook or take pictures of what little I do manage to get cooked all the way through.
2.  I started a new job.  Even though it is only part time, it's still new and it's hard to adjust.

3.  The sun likes to disappear behind the mountains around 4:00 these days (making it hard to take pictures).
Now you have 3 of my many excuses.  Oh wait!  Number 4 is that the weather is not cooperating!  I am the biggest fan of Christmas.  Love it.  Love the smells, the snow, the foods.  Love it all.  Well, yesterday it was 65˚ and sunny.  That's not helping my inspiration.
So, this pumpkin bread is the only thing that I have cooked since Thanksgiving.  And to be honest, it's not quite done in the center.  If you cook yours until the toothpick comes out clean, I promise it will reward you.

3 1/3 c. flour
3 c. sugar
2 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. nutmeg
1 can (15 oz.) pumpkin puree
1 c. vegetable oil
4 eggs, lightly beaten
2/3 c. water
3/4 c. semisweet chocolate chips

1.  In a medium bowl, combine first 6 ingredients.  Set aside.

2.  In a large bowl, mix together pumpkin puree, vegetable oil, eggs, and water.

3.  Gradually add dry ingredients to pumpkin mixture.  Combine well.  Stir in chocolate chips.

4.  Pour into 2 greased loaf pans.  Bake at 350˚ for 60-65 minutes (or until toothpick comes out clean)

5.  Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pans onto wire rack.

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