Monday, December 20, 2010

whatcha got cooking? (Christmas edition!)

i truly enjoy baking. i also enjoy eating what i bake, but i know it's not in my best interest to always have homemade goodies floating around the house. thus, i really really enjoy baking for others. it's a win-win. i get to enjoy the baking (and some sampling), and pass the extra calories on. the christmas season is the perfect time to go on an all out baking spree. butter. sugar. more butter. yum! i was up to my elbows in flour, not to mention when all was said an done i had gone through 14 (yes, FOURTEEN) sticks of butter. oh lordy lou, no wonder it all tastes so darn good.





if you have any desire to get some baking done, i highly recommend these wonderfully delicious recipes. i can't pick just one, they are THAT good. enjoy!

Cream Cheese Christmas Cookies

Ingredients

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  • 1/2 cup green sugar crystals
  • 1/2 cup red sugar crystals
  • 1 cup pecan halves

Directions

  1. Cream together the butter and cream cheese. Add sugar and vanilla; beat until light and fluffy.
  2. Combine the flour and salt; gradually add to creamed mixture, beating until well blended. Stir in chopped pecans. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 15 minutes.
  3. On four sheets of aluminum foil, shape dough into four 6 inch rolls, 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Wrap each roll tightly in foil and refrigerate over night.
  4. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C). Line cookie sheets with foil. Remove rolls of dough from refrigerator one at a time. Coat each roll with red or green sugar crystals; cut dough into 1/4 inch slices.
  5. Place on prepared cookie sheets; top each cookie with a pecan half. Bake for 15 to 18 minutes or until bottom of cookie is lightly browned when lifted


Instead of red and green sugar crystals, i used traditional sprinkles. I also rolled the dough in wax paper, instead of foil. It was very very easy, and oh so good!

Nut Butter Balls (bad name, great cookie)

Ingredients

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups finely chopped walnuts

Directions

  1. Mix butter or margarine with sugar until creamy. Add salt, almond or vanilla extract, flour, and nuts. Mix WELL.
  2. Chill dough until firm enough to handle.
  3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C).
  4. Using fingers, shape dough into 1 inch balls or crescents. Place on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until light brown. While cookies are still warm, roll in powdered sugar. These keep well.





Spritz Cookies

Ingredients

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions

  1. Mix the butter or margarine, sugar, egg yolks and vanilla. Add the flour and mix by hand.
  2. Spoon into cookie press and press onto ungreased cookie sheets. Sprinkle with colored sugars.
  3. Bake in preheated 400 degrees F (200 degrees C) oven for 7-10 minutes.

this dough was magical in my pampered chef cookie press. so rich & buttery!



Best Toffee Ever (Really, ever!)

Ingredients

  • 2 cups butter
  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1 cup finely chopped almonds

Directions

  1. In a large heavy bottomed saucepan, combine the butter, sugar and salt. Cook over medium heat, stirring until the butter is melted. Allow to come to a boil, and cook until the mixture becomes a dark amber color, and the temperature has reached 285 degrees F (137 degrees C). Stir occasionally.
  2. While the toffee is cooking, cover a large baking sheet with aluminum foil or parchment paper.
  3. As soon as the toffee reaches the proper temperature, pour it out onto the prepared baking sheet. Sprinkle the chocolate over the top, and let it set for a minute or two to soften. Spread the chocolate into a thin even layer once it is melted. Sprinkle the nuts over the chocolate, and press in slightly. Putting a plastic bag over your hand will minimize the mess.
  4. Place the toffee in the refrigerator to chill until set. Break into pieces, and store in an airtight container.

okay, i know i said it didn't have a favorite...but, if you were only going to make one thing, make this. so so so easy, and it tastes amazing! no joke.

i have sampled everything (more than once), licked all the spoons, spatulas, and beaters (after i was finished with them of course), and packaged everything in to delightful jars to be delivered to wes' office tomorrow. okay, there may be a small box of treats hiding in the pantry. it is Christmas after all!






Wednesday, December 15, 2010

'tis the season

it truly is the most wonderful time of the year! okay, i say that when fall is approaching too. i am just a sucker for all the seasons. but really, Christmas is my most favorite season of them all. this year we are blessed to watch it all through coen's eyes. everything seems even bigger, brighter and more magical. oh joy!




the first weekend in december we bundled up and headed out to the tree farm. coen had so much fun talking to the animals at the petting farm. why are goats so friendly? seriously, i have never met a not friendly one. never.



we walked and walked searching high and low for the perfect tree. coen ran around the "forest" while i over-critiqued each and every tree wes suggested. but alas, we settled on the most beautiful noble fir. my favorite! we watched, while wes cut her down and hauled her to the car. whew! it looked like hard work, and we needed to warm up with a cup of cocoa. (ps: hot cocoa is coen's new most favorite thing in the entire world).



i was slightly concerned about how coen would handle a tree suddenly popping up in the living room. so far, so good. sure he likes to take santa and frosty for a walk now and then...but who doesn't?



a couple months back a good friend and i were discussing advent calenders. you know, the kind you buy for $1 and pop a small piece of disgusting chocolate out of each day? we both loved them as kids. during this conversation we questioned why they didn't make fancy chocolate ones. heck, we would pay $5 for one if it meant the chocolate would be good. mostly this got me thinking, and wanted to come up with a creative advent calendar that we could use each year. then, the pressure was on to get it done in time to start on december 1st. i set out on a mission, and was quickly overwhelmed with piles of baby socks, clothespins, and stickers.



it turned out JUST as i had wanted. i love it. the mismatched babies socks look adorable hanging on our mantle. i stuffed each sock with small prizes, stickers, and lollipops (no chocolate, i was afraid it would melt). he took to the idea right away, and seeing him gasp when i hand him a sock each morning is priceless.



the season wouldn't be complete without having the opportunity to wear a hideous christmas sweater. for our kids team christmas party, everyone sported their most ridiculous holiday gear. apparently, this theme has gotten so popular that i should have hit the thrift store weeks ago. they were totally sold out. i had to get creative, and thanks to the wide selection of broaches we did okay. my favorite was the red velvet ruffled sleeve sweater i found for coen. best 99 cents i have ever spent.



and so they meet again. coen and santa. precious. side note: santa doesn't give out candy canes anymore, rather a coloring book about planting a tree. healthy, yes. helpful (when you promised you toddler a candy cane), no.



oh what fun this season is. i am yet to be stressed. mostly just eager to hear all the giggles of christmas morning. may you all be blessed as you prepare to be with loved ones. enjoy the magic of the season.






Monday, December 13, 2010

whatcha got cooking?

i love eggs. from head down to my legs. i can eat them for breakfast, lunch and dinner. i'm not lying. i love them! coen has become quite the egg monster himself. it took him a while to come around, but now if he hears the mention of an egg, he expects 3 scrabbled up in front of him within seconds. when i came across this recipe, i knew it would be a hit. it is great for large groups or house guests. preparing it the night before is a must, so you can pop it in the oven in the morning. you MUST try this, if you don't you are really missing out. i promise.




canadian bacon strata (aka deliciousness)

Serves 6
  • Butter, softened (for pan)
  • 4 English muffins, split, toasted, and cut in half
  • 1/2 pound sliced (about 10 slices) Canadian bacon, halved
  • 1 1/4 cups shredded (5 ounces) sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1/3 cup finely shredded Parmesan cheese
  • 8 large eggs
  • 3 cups milk
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • Coarse salt and ground pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon hot sauce, such as Tabasco

  • Butter a 2-quart shallow baking dish (oval or square); set aside. In dish, alternately arrange, cut side down, muffin halves and Canadian bacon. Sprinkle with cheddar and Parmesan cheeses. Set aside.
  • In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, mustard, 1/2 teaspoon salt, a pinch of pepper, and hot sauce until combined. Pour over muffins and bacon; cover tightly with plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least 2 hours and up to overnight.
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place baking dish on a rimmed baking sheet; remove plastic wrap. Bake until puffed and set in the center (see note above), about 1 hour and 30 minutes. (Tent loosely with foil if strata starts to brown too quickly.) Let stand 10 minutes before cutting and serving.

  • Saturday, December 11, 2010

    beautiful chaos

    everyone who knows me, knows i thrive in a structured environment. i get comfy in a routine, i always have a plan, and you can't even try to convince me to put down the sanitizing wipe that's in my right hand. with that said, the past few weeks have been unstructured, my plans have proven to be unhelpful and it turns out that when the first two things are out of whack i could care less about those sanitizing wipes! man oh man, God has a sense of humor! i am well aware that it is time for me to post a "whatcha got cooking" on here. but guess what? i haven't cooked since thanksgiving! that's right, i'm on strike. now don't start feeling sorry for my boys. we had a solid week of left overs. mixed in with some eating out here and there. and last week we were in hawaii. no one went hungry. more importantly than being well fed, everyone seems to be happy. even me. perhaps a little dose of beautiful chaos was needed.





    i decided on a total whim one day that coen needed a haircut. again, not like me. typically i would call a week in advance and schedule the haircut around his nap to ensure that he could be in the best possible mood. ha! instead i called 30 minutes prior and i even woke him up to go! who am i?





    for thanksgiving we had a visit from wes' parents and grandparents. coen had so much fun with everyone. it was great for him to have them in his environment. he warmed up to everyone right away. of course everyone brought their doogies too, we have a total of 4 crazy labs running around the house.



    lots of good cooking.



    snuggles with gami.


    good times with pop pop.




    and a beautifully delicious thanksgiving dinner.




    we have so much to be thankful for...and we are! chaos and all.




    Tuesday, November 30, 2010

    go daphne, eat a cupcake!

    to help daphne celebrate her first birthday, shanny and i whipped up some amazing cupcakes with butter-cream frosting. decorating cupcakes may be one of my favorite things. eating them is a close second!




    when this sweet little peanut was given a cupcake she had no clue what to do with it. she looked at it for awhile, picked it up and chewed on the paper. such a sweetheart!



    gift time was coen's favorite part (he wasn't much for the cupcakes either!). daphne's mama did most of the unwrapping, while all the kids gathered around and played with the toys.



    the party was at the riverfront carousel. at first coen wasn't too sure about riding the "horses" but he warmed up to the idea and we rode at least a half dozen times. after a while it made me so dizzy, i had to let daddy have a go at it!



    we had a great time celebrating daphne. her mama, shanny and i have been friends since 1st grade at kennedey school. it is really special to have friends that know your history....all of it. happy birthday sweet daphne, here's to another great year!

    Sunday, November 28, 2010

    whatcha got cooking? (an experiment)

    every fall i see adorable little sugar pumpkins piled high in the produce section just begging to be made into something delicious. really though, who in their right mind would go through all that work for pumpkin puree, when you can buy it in a can? (other than martha stewart). i decided this year i was going to give it a go and i set out on a mission to find a recipe that called for fresh pumpkin. hello, slow cooker pumpkin soup!




    it took me about a week after i bought the pumpkin to work up the courage to slice it open. mostly i was feeling guilty about it. coen bonded with this little pumpkin and had been carrying it around the house for the past week. oh well. once i sliced the top off i quickly realized that i wasn't completely sure what i was doing. i googled, "how to slice a sugar pumpkin", but didn't come up with much (i learn best through pictures, not essays). the solution: treat it like a cantaloupe.



    peeling it was the tricky part. i went back and forth between a potato peeler and a knife. but soon this sweet little pumpkin was in 2 inch cubes. the smell of the pumpkin and onion cooking in the cast iron skillet was surprisingly delightful. however, the previous steps to getting that sweet little pumpkin into the slow cooker was A LOT of work.



    i was completely unprepared for this part; "tie the rosemary, thyme, sage, cinnamon, and bay leaves into a piece of cheesecloth..." for starters, i didn't have any cheesecloth and i had completely spaced buying fresh herbs. woops. so i got creative. i had some dried herbs from my mother-in-laws garden that i tied up in piece of first aid gauze. impressive?




    after i pureed the cooked pumpkin mixture, i sampled my hard work expecting to be delighted with fall flavors. i wasn't. it was missing something. i added a little brown sugar (about a tablespoon at a time, mixing in between till i was satisfied with the flavor), a tablespoon of butter, and a pinch of cinnamon...we were in business!



    i served it with warm bread, and it was delicious. a great way to send fall out with a bang! welcome, chilly chilly winter... we've been expecting you.

    Ingredients

    • 1 tablespoon olive oil
    • 1 medium sugar pumpkin, seeded and cubed
    • 1 medium onion, chopped
    • 3 cups chicken stock, or as needed
    • 1 sprig fresh rosemary
    • 1 sprig fresh thyme
    • 1 sprig fresh sage
    • 2 small cinnamon sticks
    • 2 bay leaves
    • 1/2 cup heavy cream

    Directions

    1. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add pumpkin and onion; cook and stir until lightly browned. Transfer to a slow cooker. Pour in enough chicken broth to cover the pumpkin. Tie the rosemary, thyme, sage, cinnamon, and bay leaves into a piece of cheesecloth, and place in the slow cooker. Cover and cook on Low for 4 hours.
    2. After 4 hours, remove the herb sachet. Stir in the cream, and puree the soup with a hand blender until smooth. Serve.

    * I added brown sugar, butter, and cinnamon to taste after the soup was pureed. Have fun experimenting with this soup and making it your own!

    Monday, November 22, 2010

    emalemaly

    recently, a very dear friend came to visit. having company is always exciting for coen, and her visit was no exception. i met emily just after wes and i started dating, wes had known her long before that. she is so special to us! i have always explained my friendship with her as "easy." she gets me, i get her. most of the time. this picture was taken about 7 years ago, just before we jumped off the deck into a snow bank.




    coen warmed up to her instantly. i mean, why wouldn't he? she is all fun and giggles! he gets caught up on the vowels in her name and pronounces it, "emalemaly", precious. (if you look closely, he is actually holding her hand in this picture. love.)




    it was high on our priority list to take her out to the edgefield estate for some good food, and even better brew. thankfully we had a clearing in the weather to actually walk around and enjoy the grounds. i can't say for certain, but i think she will be back. (if even just to go back to the edgefield!).




    she also got the grand tour of wes' office. however, i think it may have been the highlight of her visit. the week after her trip she was starting a unit on volcanoes with her 7th graders. what perfect timing to visit us! we let coen have a go in the conference room, he had lots of very important information to discuss.



    emalemaly, it was such a blessing to have you. thanks for giving us a reason to eat, drink and be merry! we love you!

    Thursday, November 18, 2010

    whatcha got cooking?


    hello, layered chicken and black bean enchilada casserole, why do you taste so good? tonight i made this dish and all of us gobbled it up. in fact after each bite coen would say, "more! more! more!" before he had even finished chewing. it is really quick and easy. i prepared it during nap time and popped it in the oven about an hour before we wanted to eat. to make it a bit healthier, i used reduced fat cheese and light sour cream, it was quite tasty! the best part of making a casserole like this is having leftovers for lunch. yummy!



    Ingredients

    Serves 8

    • 2 cups diced chicken breast meat
    • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
    • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
    • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
    • 1 (15 ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
    • 1 (4.5 ounce) can diced green chile peppers, drained
    • 1 (10 ounce) can red enchilada sauce
    • 8 (6 inch) corn tortillas
    • 2 cups shredded Mexican blend cheese
    • 1 (8 ounce) container sour cream

    Directions

    1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).
    2. Heat a large skillet over medium heat, and spray with vegetable cooking spray. Saute chicken with cumin and coriander until chicken is cooked through. Transfer to a medium bowl. Stir in the cilantro, black beans, and green chile peppers.
    3. Spread half of the enchilada sauce over the bottom of an 11x7 inch baking dish. Place 4 tortillas over the sauce, overlapping if necessary. Spoon half of the chicken mixture over the tortillas, and sprinkle with half of the cheese and half of the sour cream. Spoon the remaining enchilada sauce over the cheese, and make another layer of tortillas. Layer the remaining chicken mixture over the tortillas. Cover dish with a lid or aluminum foil.
    4. Bake for 30 minutes in the preheated oven. Remove the cover, and sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top and dot with sour cream. Continue cooking, uncovered, for an additional 5 to 10 minutes, or until cheese melts. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.