*I truly can’t say enough how so very sorry I am to the families of those lost in yesterday’s tragedy – so many thoughts, prayers and condolences to all of you
* * * * *
Well ladies and gents, we’re about a week and a half away til’ Santa squeezes those rosy buns down the chimney. And I’ve been thinking recently about how much I love this time of year – I really do just love it, maybe a little more every year. But there are some items that seem just a little more special during the holidays – here’s my list:
I don’t even want to know how much butter I’ve used in the last few weeks – but if I added it up, I’m sure I could have a small sized toddler made entirely of butter. Holiday recipes aren’t meant to be ‘butterless’ so hell, add an extra tablespoon or two – you’ll be back to the gym with the rest of the world on January 2nd, sweating yellow butter sweat.
For breakfast – for lunch – for an afternoon snack and then dessert (if not for dinner too) What is it about Christmas that makes people cookie crazy? They make amazing gifts and even better desserts so go ahead, try that new cookie recipe you’ve been eyeing all year – if there was any time to do it, now is it!
December = parties: work parties – family parties – parties for one – christmas eve – christmas day – new years eve – champagne – wine – ‘special punch’ – one tequila – two tequila – three tequila – FLOOR.
Drink up kids – your liver will also be back to the gym on January 2nd with a nice tall H2O on the rocks – so go ahead, get the family size Advil and finish that bottle of pinot! You know you wanna…come on now…
FAMILY AND FRIENDS
It could be your mom, a cousin, a BFFAOT (Apart Or Together – I saw you scratching your head) or your next door neighbor. The holidays are meant for spending time with the ones you care about the most in life and it doesn’t mean that if you don’t have a huge family with first, second and third cousins coming out of the woodwork that you can’t have just as great a time celebrating with a new friend, a co-worker, or heck even Fido the dog!
THINGS THAT SPARKLE
Shamefully bedazzled things of all shapes and sizes: wrapping paper – sparkly tops and dresses – a Clark Griswold portion of christmas lights. A line from an old favorite song of mine says “All that shimmers in this world is sure to fade away…” and while it’s slightly depressing and has NOTHING to do with Christmas, I feel as though it’s fitting. This is the only time of year where excessive sparkle is not only encouraged, it’s mandatory.
When you’re a kid and you open something like 1) underwear 2) new boots 3) a christmas ornament, after subtly rolling your eyes and looking around for the next box that looks like something more desirable that you can actually use for a whole day and then get sick of, well you don’t realize the importance of things that those ‘old people’ tell you that ‘someday you’ll appreciate’. Nothing could be more true than my Aunt Mary’s ornaments – every Christmas, she and Uncle Charlie would host the family for a Christmas party – Santa came – sounded eerily like our Great Uncle Dave, but of COURSE it was just a coincidence – and we’d get our gift from Santa’s sack, usually something small that was on our list but not Nintendo or Teddy Ruxpin – a more modest gift like a barbie or G.I. Joe.
Aunt Mary was an amazing painter – amazing actually doesn’t even accurately describe it. But she would hand paint – HAND paint – an ornament for every.single.grandchild (got all the way up to 17 + 2 great grand’s!) So holy mother of god – I cannot even imagine how long it took her to get all of these done. But every curve on the face of every snowman she painted was perfect, and we’d all say “Thank you Aunt Mary”, tossing the ornament to our mom’s to hold onto so we could get back to Polly Pocket or whatever ridiculous toy we got. But now, so many years later, they mean probably more to me than any stupid gift I ever got as a kid. And she knew that us dumb kids might not realize how special they were just then, but she knew that someday we would. Damn she was smart 🙂
And well, the list could go on and on and ON and on…but you all get the idea and I’m sure have your own favorites that make the Holidays that time of year that is enjoyed so much so, that it seems it’s over as quickly as it began. So take this next week and a half and savor each and every moment! Each and every favorite! And share some please – I’d love to know what makes the Holidays special for you 🙂
I’ve mentioned my cousin Erin before in my ‘Easier Than Ina’s Pecan Squares‘ post a while back. Well, she’s getting a shout out again. Erin lives in L.A, doing casting for all kinds of fun shows like Hell’s Kitchen, Nanny 911 and even the Biggest Loser (which clearly is a conflict of interest based on her baking talents) and the few times a year that she’s home, I think myself and the rest of my family feel like it’s our celebrity family member coming home from Hollywood to grace us with her presence and fill us in on all the latest goings on in Tinsel Town.
Like any hot L.A. celeb, Erin’s always reinventing herself and her style, rocking the sassiest of outfits and accessories that only someone who lived in L.A could pull off. So in addition to guessing what color nail polish and lipstick she’ll be wearing when she comes home, we also loveeeee being ‘tasting guinea pigs’ to all her latest baked goodies from her side business, BellaBoos Bakery. And she never disappoints in that department either. The dessert table grows exponentially any time Erin’s home for the holidays, and last year, it grew to include these ADORABLE snowmen cake pops, almost too cute to eat, but let’s be honest – nothing is that cute 🙂
Snowman Cake Balls (or pops)
*My Celebrity Baker Cousin Erin
*yields 18 snowmen
1 box cake mix, made according to instructions
(I used chocolate devils food cake mix)
1/2 cup of chocolate frosting (or flavor of your choice)
White melting chocolate
(I used Wilton’s white chocolate melting discs (2 – 12oz bags) – I would HIGHLY recommend using these…you’ll see why later)
Oreo cookies, 2 sizes – the mini sized and regular sized ones
Mini chocolate chips
1) Prepare your cake mix according to the instructions. Once it has baked and cooled, crumble it up into pieces and place in a large mixing bowl.
2) Add frosting to the cake – a lot of recipes for cake balls/pops call for the entire can of frosting, however I think this is far too much. I only used 1/2 cup and it was plenty. The cake itself is already quite moist, so personally, I think too much frosting can make it too mooshy, but start with 1/2 cup and feel free to add more until your cake ball dough reaches your desired consistency.
3) Take a good scoop of the dough (maybe 1/4 cup or so, depending on how large you want your snowmen to be – 1/4 cup will yield about 18 balls/snowmen) and roll it into a ball. Place on a wax paper lined cookie sheet. Once all your balls have been rolled, place them in the fridge to chill for about an hour (this just ensures that they’ll stay together when you dip them in the chocolate).
4) While your balls are chilling, prep your ‘top hats’ by pulling apart an Oreo cookie, scraping the cream off the sides, and placing the single cookie on wax paper, with a mini oreo on top.
5) Melt your chocolate discs in a double boiler. Once your chocolate has melted, start by taking just a little smidge of it to fuse the mini oreo to the larger one to make your hats. Then, with the remaining chocolate, dip your chilled cake balls in the chocolate with a toothpick or skewer of some sort, letting the excess chocolate drip a bit, then placing them on the wax paper.
6) Take your mini chocolate chips, making 2 eyes, a mouth, and then stick the orange tic tac in the center to make his ‘nose’. For the final touch, put that top hat on Frosty’s head – it’s winter for goodness sakes! Heat escapes through your head! (even if you are a snowman)
I must admit, these snowmen caused some heartache and frustration, and the source of that was brought on by the seemingly difficult task of melting white chocolate. I never have problems with milk or dark, but white….ohhhhh white….pain in my rump.
On my first try, I actually used Ghiradelli White Chocolate Chips. When I melted them in the double boiler, they turned to a big pasty ball of yuckniess, and I tried to remedy this by adding cream, which seemed to do the trick, however, when I went to dip the snowmen, well, let’s just say the finished product looked like a snowman does in March (see below)
So I sent a frustrated email the next morning to none other than celebrity baker cousin Erin, and this is what she said:
She typed the words right out of my mouth.
So to Michaels I went, gave it another go last night and the results were amazing! My sad, melty snowman became the happy, smiling ball of white stuff that I knew he was meant to be 🙂
By the end of the night, I couldn’t help but smile back at Frosty – he just looked so happy….
But then I ate him…and one of his friends…I think getting eaten is a lot less painful than a slow melty death don’t you?
I’ve mentioned before that my family is pretty serious about desserts – well, they’re even more serious about cookie swaps, or so I learned this weekend.
My Grammy Murphy is quite the grandmother – she was the first of anyone to get AOL, email and a ‘screen name’, her recipes for things like whoopie pies and pecan rolls are legendary (even though they never taste quite as good as when she makes them), and at 84, she still manages to have more style than I will ever have in my entire lifetime. AND, her new digs at the Assisted Living facility she just recently moved into are straight up 5-star, making Dave and I’s ‘love nest’ look like just that – a nest – made of sticks – where birds live. But if anyone deserves a sweet pad to hang their hat, it’s grammy Murphy – so that makes me just a little less bitter about it 🙂
My mom organized a cookie swap with all my Aunt’s this weekend to put some trays together for all those fab people who are there to help my grandparents on a day -to-day basis and everyone dawned their best baked goods and prettiest bows and ribbons to make some seriously good looking goody trays. Coming from a family that loves to bake, I think that the best part of the holiday season is that a huge tray of freshly baked treats wrapped up in cellophane and tied with a bow can be just as great a gift as a cashmere scarf or that blender you’ve been eyeing all year – and appreciated just as much, if not more, because there’s the added ingredient of TLC in them!
One of my favorites are these amazingly easy to make Chocolate Dipped Pretzels. I can’t remember when my cousin Jen started making these, but like many other things in the Murphy Family, they must be present on the dessert table for at least one Holiday to avoid stomping, shouting and crying fits – and that’s just my reaction! Pretty basic I know – pretzel – chocolate – dip – let dry – repeat. But, she took them to a new level by adding fun toppings and even hidden surprises like a slab of peanut butter hidden under the chocolate. So while being visually appealing, they’re equally as tummy appealing, especially when you bite into one and say “Wait, is that….is THAT what I think it is?”.
Holiday Chocolate Pretzels
* Adapted from my cousin Jen (if you think these are good, you should see her Trifle!) and Twist, A Unique Approach to Pretzels
mini salted pretzels
milk/dark/white chocolate (one or all three!)
*again, I use the Trader Joe’s 1lb chocolate bars and Ghiradellis’ White Chocolate Chips
1) Lay out your pretzels on wax paper-lined cookie sheets or wire racks.
2) In a double boiler (or in the microwave), temper your chocolate. To temper, take about 2/3 of the chocolate and place it in the double boiler (or microwave-safe dish). When the chocolate starts to really melt, remove it from the heat and add the remaining unmelted chocolate to the pan, stirring constantly until it melts into the melted stuff. The tempering will provide a nice shiny looking chocolate and avoid those unsightly little white spots that can sometimes pop up on chocolate. If you’re doing 2 or 3 different kinds of chocolate, be sure to repeat this process with each kind.
3) Assemble your pretzels:
For the Peanut Butter/Fluff pretzel – on one half of your pretzel, take about 1/2 tsp. of peanut butter and 1/2 tsp. of fluff, and stick them on the 1/2 of the pretzel that will go in the chocolate. Then dip that side in the chocolate and place on wax paper to dry. Top with sprinkles (or if you’re feeling really fiesty, mini peanut butter chocolate chips or rescees pieces!)
For the Nutella Pretzel – repeat the same process as above, only with Nutella. Top with sprinkles like I did, or for the fiesty (and not cheap like I am) dipper, sprinkle some chopped hazelnuts on the top.
For the Heath Bar Pretzel – dip pretzel in chocolate (with no filling) and sprinkle with Heath Bits (you can find those in the baking section a the grocery store)
For the Almond Joy Pretzel – same as above, and sprinkle with chopped almonds (I used the sliced almonds) and coconut
Honestly people, I think the thing I love so much about these is that your options are essentially endless – I had soooo many other ideas but 1) it’s a week night and 2) I still have a sugar hangover from the swap yesterday, so I kept my pretzels to a minimum. But really, you could do a spin on the last post, and do Dark Mint Chocolate with either Oreo crumbles or Peppermint bits. These are fun, so easy, and a serious crowd pleaser. Who doesn’t love Chocolate Covered Pretzels? I mean, really? They also wrap/travel really well, so load them into a holiday tin with some wax paper, or a fun jar with a snap top!
So shake up your Cookie Swap this year – be the mysterious swapper that brings Chocolate Pretzels instead of Chocolate Chip Cookies or Peanut Butter Kisses – make them wonder – and drool at the same time 🙂
Saltines get a bad wrap – they’re square with little holes in them, hard to swallow if you eat too many at once, kind of an ugly color, and for some reason I always associate them with having a stomach ache (that and flat ginger ale). For a while I thought all you could do to spice them up was slap peanut butter on them – until one fateful December when I discovered that they are the base for one of the easiest and most delicious sweet treats I’ve ever had in my life.
It was Sophomore year of college, right before Christmas break when Ash’s mom invited us gals out to the ‘burbs’ from Providence to have dinner with her family – a delicious pork dish with all the fixings was on the menu, a welcome change to the slop du jor we were used to at school. And then after dinner she put dessert on the table – I saw chocolate – YES. But then what in the…saltines? Are those saltine crackers under that chocolate? I was skeptical, but went in head first thinking “How bad can they be?”.
Since then, this ‘brittle’ as Ash’s mom called it has been a staple for every occasion imaginable – at bachelorette parties, we hover over the ziplock bag of it after a night out thinking “who needs pizza when you have brittle!” During the holidays, it’s perfect for wrapping up on a plate with pretty cellophane and ribbon and giving to co-workers, family members, or neighbors. And the best part is that it doesn’t take a lot of time or money to make – 5 basic ingredients – you can top it with pretty much anything imaginable, or just leave it plain and simple.
Saltine Toffee Brittle
(about 2 sleeves)
2 sticks unsalted butter
1 cup light brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 bag semi-sweet (or milk) chocolate chips
*chopped pecans, M&M’s, holiday sprinkles, etc. etc. for topping are optional
1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a large cookie sheet (preferably with sides) with aluminum foil. Spray the foil with non-stick cooking spray and line the tray with the saltine crackers.
3) In a medium saucepan, melt the butter, brown sugar and vanilla together. Let them come to a rolling boil for about 3 minutes.
4) Pour butter/sugar/vanilla mixture over the saltine crackers and place in the preheated oven for about 5 minutes, until the sugar/butter mixture starts to bubble.
5) Pour the chocolate chips over the saltines. Throw back in the oven for another minute, just to melt the chocolate chips a little more so they become more spreadable. Remove from the oven and spread the chocolate to cover the saltines entirely.
6) Place in the fridge to let cool and then break into pieces once completely cooled.
When I say this stuff is addicting, that is a total understatement. I couldn’t even wait for the stuff to cool last night and boom, 1 row of brittle, in my belly.
It can be served at room temperature, but it tastes really good cold/frozen as well. It freezes fantastically too, so break it up, toss it in the freezer, have a piece (or 2 or 3) every night for dessert, or you can save it for that holiday party you’re hosting. While no ones looking, take it out of the freezer, arrange it on a pretty Christmas plate, and say “Ohhh I just whipped this up! Enjoy!”.
Even puppies want in on it 🙂
Back to the office this morning, sporting my stretchiest and most forgiving pants with the taste of turkey still on the brain – I hope everyone had a great, great, great Thanksgiving weekend 🙂
The last four days were full of:
Some kitchen mishaps…
And now Christmas is in full effect at the Schoon house!
But still, I was itching to make good use of our leftovers, especially the stuffing. I don’t know about all of you, but for me Thanksgiving isn’t about the turkey or the pies – it’s about the stuffing. I.love.stuffing. I could eat it for days (and did). And I feel as though it never tastes as good at any other time of year than it does on Thanksgiving. This year, I made the standard and also a Cornbread Bacon stuffing from Martha Stewart that was so delicious! We had so much of it leftover, I did all kinds of googling to see what I could do with it. But I wasn’t finding anything that I thought sounded good. Then for some reason, meatballs popped into my head, not really sure why. But I thought “Why not take the stuffing as the ‘meat’ you’d use in a meatball, and prepare a ‘stuffing’ ball in a similar fashion?”. So I pulled up the recipe for Paula’s Crockpot Meatballs, made a few adjustments, gave it a shot, and most times when I go at things in this fashion, there’s always something that goes awry, but not this time!
Leftover Stuffing Bites
*yields 10 larger size balls or 20 smaller ‘bite size’ ones
1.5-2 cups leftover stuffing
(If you don’t already have stuffing, Pepperidge Farm has a really nice stuffing mix that is super fast and easy to make that would work well with these too!)
1/4 cup plain breadcrumbs
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
FOR DIPPING SAUCE
1 cup mayonnaise
2 tbsp. honey mustard
1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2) Combine egg, breadcrumbs, parmesan cheese and garlic powder in a small mixing bowl to form a paste.
3) Add the leftover stuffing to the paste, mixing with a spatula (or just your hands) until it becomes a dough like consistency.
4) Take 2 tbsp of the stuffing dough (for larger sized balls – 1 tbsp. for bite sized) and roll between the palms of your hands to form a ball. Place stuffing balls on a baking sheet coated with non-stick cooking spray.
5) Bake in preheated oven for 10 minutes – flip over and then cooking for another 10 minutes on the other side (20 minutes total).
6) Mix honey mustard and mayo together in a small mixing bowl and serve with stuffing balls as a dipping sauce.
I asked Dave to try one, and he said “It tastes like stuffing” (deep thoughts). Which it did – but it has a nice moist texture, similar to that of a meatball, with the same great flavor that everyone loves about stuffing. It’s a great way to re-purpose your leftovers, or if you don’t have the stuffing leftover, you could whip up a quick Pepperidge Farm batch and serve these as an appetizer at your holiday parties. And people will say “Hey, these taste like stuffing! YUM!” – GENIUS! Feel free to adjust the spices/seasoning if you wish – I wanted to go light on that aspect of it, only because the stuffing itself already has so much flavor that you don’t need to add a whole lot to it.
Well folks, that’s my last T-day recipe for ya – next will be ALL Christmas – ALL the time – get excited – I know I am!
*Many apologies for the less than appetizing picture – I was preoccupied with skipping through the house putting up Christmas Decorations when I realized I needed to snap a pic of these yummies before it got dark at 4pm – damn you natural light! They taste MUCH better than they look in the pic, swear!
I’m sure you’re thinking “Carrot Souffle? What in the world?”
I know – I know – but bear with me here…
A few years back, Dave and I attended a holiday dinner party at his former bosses house, and his wife did a bang up job with dinner! I remember sitting down to the table with bug eyes at how amazingly delicious everything looked – except for this one orangey looking thing, covered with nuts. I started to sweat, because it’s really in poor taste to not try everything at a dinner party, so I scooped a little teeny smidgen of it, and went at it with my fork in one hand and my glass of wine in the other, just in case I needed an emergency wash down.
I took my first teeny little bite, small enough that I could taste what I was eating but not so much so that if I was about to gag it would be totally obvious – and thought “oooh, mmmm….this is pretty good actually.” My next bite was bigger, and after only a couple bites my small little scoop was gone – but I wanted more! So I took seconds….thought about thirds but didn’t want to embarrass Dave in front of his co-workers by stuffing my face. I knew I had to have the recipe and finally, she emailed the recipe to Dave and he forwarded it to me, and since then, it’s become a staple at Thanksgiving and Christmas, like the mashed potatoes or green bean casserole. It’s a light and fluffy combination of pureed carrots and lots of other ingredients that are better not to know – but luckily for you, I’m gonna share them, right now!
*Dave’s former bosses fabulous cook of a wife! (guess I should have gotten her name, eh?)
*yields enough for a 9×13″ baking pan for a larger crowd – halving it would be just enough for an 8×8″ dish
4 lbs carrot, cooked and pureed
(I know – seems like a lot!)
1 & 1/3 cups sugar
8 tbsp flour
4 tsp baking powder
4 tsp vanilla
few dashes of cinnamon & nutmeg
For the topping
1 cup cornflake crumbs
4 tbsp. brown sugar
2 & 1/2 tbsp. butter, melted
1 cup chopped pecans
1)Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare your baking dish by greasing the bottom and sides with butter or non-stick cooking spray.
2) Cook the carrots in boiling water until fully cooked through. Puree them with an electric mixer or food processor and allow to cool completely. In the mean time while they’re cooling, you can prepare the topping by pulsing the corn flakes in a food processor (or just crushing with your hands in a ziplock), then adding them to the brown sugar, melted butter and pecans.
3) Once the carrots are completely cooled off (the eggs will cook when you add them to the carrots if they haven’t cooled enough), add all of the other ingredients and blend with a mixer until fully combined.
4) Pour carrot mixture into the dish and then top with cornflake/pecan topping. Feel free to make more of the topping if you’d like – it is quite delicious!
5) Bake souffle in preheated oven for 1 hour.
This Carrot Souffle is a sweet treat for your tastebuds to take bites of in between the turkey and stuffing and mashed potatoes and green bean casserole and….
Is it Thursday yet?