Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year's Eve

Hello All! I hope you had a wonderful holiday or break, however you chose to celebrate. I appreciate you letting me take time off from blogging. There was a great deal of cooking and baking, but honestly it all happened so quickly and often, I didn't get a chance to capture the process! My mom and I are tackling Julia Child's beef bourguignon recipe tonight and I'll be back later this week to recap our success or failure. Here is hoping for the former! It's a first for both of us and I'm pretty excited. I got Julia Child's famous cookbook for Christmas, so I imagine she will be showing up pretty regularly in the next few months.

However, I do have some party pictures to show you. On December 21st my family hosted a holiday cocktail party for about 65 family friends. In years past, we've hosted a more formal, sit down dinner. This year, we decided to mix it up and include multiple generations and groups of people. When my mom sent out invites, I'm pretty sure she didn't expect 65 "yes" RSVPs. So we cooked and cooked and cooked to prepare. It was such a fun night and was an amazing experience. Next year we might do a bit of catering to make the process easier, but it was such a blast. I have no comment about the next morning, however.

Here are some of the culinary highlights!

First, chocolate cupcake cookies. I don't think that's the official name, but it's what fiance likes to call them. I made them a few weeks ago for the 49er game, but I made them about 1/2 the size and they were perfect. They were the perfect bite. I also piped the frosting and it worked incredibly. I will never frost them any other way!

Next, the Cranberry Bliss Bars I made a few weeks ago. I cute them super small and they worked great for our finger-food theme. 

All of our food was bite size and required no utensils. I'll share some of the actual food below, but since my main contribution was dessert, that's my first focus. Here was the first part of the cookie bar. The cranberry bliss bars and my mom's rum logs.

Here is the second part of the cookie bar.

On the left is sticky gingerbread cake. Then on the right are iced gingerbread cookies.

On the left are the chocolate cupcake cookies. On the right are my family's famous sugar cookies.

For regular food, we had tons of options. There was a full table of food and two cheese stations.

I, of course, had way too much fun putting together the cheese plates. Because I'm a cheese monster. Obviously. Anyway, it was such a fun night and I can't wait until next year's party!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Cheap and Easy Weeknight Dinner Series: Hoisin and Garlic Pork

Everyone can use a quick meal this time of year. Whether you are busy shopping, wrapping, baking, cooking or traveling, a fancy dinner is the last thing you want to tackle. Fiance actually created this dinner the other night. We picked up a few pork chops and he dumped them in a bag with a few diced cloves of garlic, some hoisin sauce, soy sauce and a tiny bit of salt and pepper. The amounts don't really matter as long as you have enough to cover the meat. We left them in the fridge overnight and took out the bag about 30 minutes before cooking to let the meat come to room temperature. You could also marinate for a couple of hours in the afternoon if you wanted. Then we placed the pork on tin foil and broiled them for about 8 minutes on each side until cooked through. I also made broccoli-quinoa casserole for a side dish. It was an incredibly tasty, quick and filling meal that we both contributed to and enjoyed. It's a great option for the holidays when you just need to whip something together. Give it a try!

After marinating, but before cooking.

Just before gobbling down the final result.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Cranberry Bliss Bars

Next weekend my family is hosting a holiday party. Unlike previous years, it will be a cocktail party with heavy appetizers and I came up with the idea of a cookie bar for desserts. All of the dishes are finger foods, so I thought cookies and bars would be excellent. I am going to make my gingerbread cookies, chocolate cookies I made a few weeks ago and then these cranberry bliss bars. I will be sure to share all of the other recipes after the party, but I needed to make sure these bars were worthy of the occasion. The recipe is new and a party is not the time to risk a baking disaster. So my family and some friends are serving as guinea pigs.

I personally think these desserts are a huge success. These are just the most beautiful desserts. The colors are so vibrant and fresh, and the taste is amazing. The soft cookie on the bottom pairs so nicely with the crunchy chocolate on top. The cookies are also a nice departure from some traditional holiday desserts, but are sweet enough for any chocolate lover. I promise.

Cranberry Bliss Bars
recipe from here

1 Cup - Butter, Very Soft
1 Cup - Brown Sugar
1/3 Cup - Sugar
3 - Large Eggs
2 Teaspoons - Vanilla Extract
2 Cups - All Purpose Flour
1 1/2 Teaspoon - Baking Powder
1 Teaspoon - Dried Ground Ginger
3/4 Cup - Craisins
1 Cup - Lindt White Chocolate, Coarsely Chopped

4 Ounces - Cream Cheese, Softened
2 Tablespoons - Butter, Softened
3 Cups - Powdered Sugar
1 Teaspoon - Vanilla Extract
2 Teaspoons or more- milk

1/3 Cup - Craisins, Coarsely Chopped
1 Cup - Lindt White Chocolate, Coarsely Chopped
1-2 Tablespoons - Freshly Grated Orange Zest

1 ( 10 Ounce) Bag - White Chocolate Chips
2 Tablespoon - White Crisco

Start by creaming together the butter and sugars.
Add the eggs and vanilla and mix again. Add the flour, baking powder and dried ginger and mix just until combined.
Fold in the chopped white chocolate and craisins. Here is the white chocolate I used. It was super easy because it comes in droplets, so chopping was much easier than if the chocolate came in a block.
This picture shows how roughly I chopped the chocolate. The big pieces add a really nice texture.

Spread the batter in a 10x15 cookie pan. It will be thick, but I found a spoon worked best. I laid tin foil in the pan and then sprayed with non-stick spray and it worked great. So don't skip the tin foil! Bake for 20 minutes at 350 until just cooked. Don't overcook.
Once completely cool, beat together the butter and cream cheese for the frosting. Add the vanilla and milk and mix again. Add the powdered sugar and blend. Try and get the frosting as close to the edges as possible. I forgot the milk so mine was a bit thick.
Sprinkle your toppings over the frosting. I'd start with the orange zest next time because it is the lightest and has the most trouble sticking to the frosting. So the wetter the frosting the better. Then do the cranberries and end with the chocolate. Press down slightly to make sure the chocolate pieces are stuck.
See how pretty all the colors look?
To make the glaze, put the white chocolate chips in the top of a double boiler, or a glass boil on top of a pan with simmering water. Stir with a whisk. Once completely melted turn the heat down as low as possible and add the crisco. If the glaze isn't thin enough, keep adding crisco one teaspoon at a time until the desired thickness. Using a fork, drizzle the glaze over the top. I had a bit of difficulty with this step, but you'll get the hang of it after a while.

Let the glaze harden for an hour or overnight. Lift the entire thing out of the pan using the tin foil. Pull the foil away from the sides. By removing the whole thing from the pan before cutting, you preserve the really nice edges. See?
Apparently I'm incapable of eyeballing measurements. You can see how horribly lopsided my lines were. It actually worked out nicely because I was able to try squares and triangles.

The squares are definitely easier to cut and they can be cut a bit smaller, which is great for parties. However, the triangles are really pretty. So if I was making these for a professional event or something, I'd opt for the triangles.
I love the side view. These babies are really so pretty.
 Here are the triangles.
They lay out so nicely. In the future I'd do a better job with frosting to the edge, or I'd trim the edges so you don't see the crispier edges. either way, I think they are beautiful and tasty to boot!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Weekend Explorations

Hello All. Pardon my absence. I've spent the last few days in DC with my fiance and it's been lovely. What with flying and packing and madness, my posting has been a bit off. I promise soon I will be back on track with tons of holiday recipes and such. Last year I was feeling super creative around the holidays and did tons of crafts. This year I have no desire to pick up my hot glue gun. As a result, not many holiday craft posts are in the works. Maybe it's all the flights or what not, but I just want to be with my boo and relax. Rather, I want to have a house and decorate that space instead of my adorable apartment. To be honest, I did do a lot of decorating, but not in the creative way that the holidays usually inspire. I find myself in limbo once again. I know I'll be moving in the not-so-distant-future. So investing time, effort or dollars seems futile. I'm trying to counter this feeling by enjoying the moment. Some moments I do really well, others are total failures. I'm thinking some holiday baking this weekend might be just the solution. I'll keep you posted. In the meantime, here are some of my activities. 

Friday night was the night for all things twinkly and sparkly. Following a holiday party at this fabulous building...

We decided to head to Old Town, Alexandria. We were making our way to King Street and turned onto the main drag and I literally let out a gasp. Every tree for block and blocks and blocks were lit up and the total effect was simply breathtaking. Literally. Hence the gasp. Something about all the tiny shops and all the holiday spirit really melted my heart and there may or may not have been a glisten in my eye. Yes I'm a total sap.

We grabbed dinner at the Pizzeria Paradiso and the combination of the hot pizza, beer (for fiance) and our fancy party clothes created an evening straight out of a romantic comedy movie. I half expected to hear bells and for snow to fall. Not that I minded in the slightest. I firmly believe everyone needs a strong dose of corny every now and again.

Saturday and Sunday were filled with more good food and friends. My visits to DC are usually on a few days, so it was so nice to have almost a week to fit in lots of social visits with friends. We made the most of the opportunity. Then today after another social lunch, I walked around Downtown Holiday Market. I love taking advantage of fun little opportunities like these that cities provide. It was so fun to stumble upon this little fair and meander along the stalls. There was tons of interesting jewelry, but in my opinion the scarves and knitwear were definitely the main attraction. I would share the experience and my finds but apparently my camera cord was not on the list of things that made it into my suitcase. Anyway, it was a really fun experience and I'd encourage anyone who is downtown to just take a quick stroll through. Hope you are all enjoying the holidays, whichever holidays they may be.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Thanksgiving Dilemma

I find certain things about Thanksgiving to be particularly fascinating. People are very territorial over leftovers. Everyone seems to feel "meh" about the turkey, yet it's the centerpiece of the meal. Everyone has their favorite dish. And everyone seems to have an opinion about the stuffing. It's too soft or too hard or has too many or too few additional ingredients. Stuffing happens to be my favorite. That and pumpkin pie. I could eat an entire pie in under 24 hours without batting an eyelash. This fact isn't really surprising give my unhealthy love of carbs. Because I was traveling over the holidays, I only got to have one serving of stuffing. I was initially pretty bitter about it, until I remembered that I had a bag of stuffing mix from a specialty grocery store in my pantry. On a whim, I decided to make stuffing. Was this decision completely rational? No. No one needs an entire pan of stuffing. Especially since I didn't have anything to well...stuff in it. But I didn't care. And I loved my stuffing. I didn't eat the entire pan, but I did make quite a dent. And it made me really really happy. So the moral of the story is, when in doubt, eat stuffing.