2015 Winter Holidays

I meant to get this post up – my Christmas week menus – Christmas week, but as usual, life got in the way. My baby got sick, so we spent a few miserable days cuddling as he recovered in time to enjoy lots of family visiting, and, of course, Santa. Since I’m late, I’ll give you the menus, and a little bit about what I’ve been up to, and why it’s been so quiet on the blog over the past few weeks.

So as I said, at the start of Christmas week, my sweet boy came down with a nasty virus and ear infection, making him a pitiful sight. We had a couple of rough days, sleeping all day, eating very little, and trouble breathing at night. Thankfully, Nutterbutter started recovering and returning to his normal, happy baby-self just as family started to arrive.

This was the first Christmas since I’ve been with my husband (8 years) Tree!where we weren’t traveling for Christmas. We ended up with a full house – several members of my family came for the holidays, as well as some close friends, our “local family,” as we think of them.

The week was amazing. I LOVED seeing my little ones crawling over and smiling at my 85-year old grandfather, teasing my uncles, begging my brother to color… It was the first Christmas where my daughter understood that Santa was coming, and her reaction on Christmas morning was priceless. She was absolutely speechless, eventually stuttering, “so… many…presents.” We truly had the perfect Christmas.

My mom stayed until New Years Eve, to watch the munchkins while daycare was closed. I love when my mom stays, but it’s always tough – I’d rather be home and hanging out with her instead of working or being productive at home.

Once my house emptied out, I focused on returning life to normal – getting through the laundry, putting away the Christmas stuff, finding a new home for all of the toys, etc. The normal, boring stuff. But most of all, I was knitting like crazy. My sister-in-law’s baby shower was this past weekend, and I really wanted to finish the baby blanket I had started for my first (!) nephew. Knitting was pretty much all I did for the better part of a week, but it was worth it. I finished it the night before the shower, later than I would have liked. I was pretty pleased with the way it turned out, and think both my brother and sister-in-law liked the blanket.

Never one to sit for long, when my nephew’s baby blanket was finished, I turned to organizing my photos (which I slacked on for the past few months) and finishing my son’s 3-6 month photo album. (I’m creating digital scrapbooks, four for the first year of his life.) I’m really making an effort to stay on track with finishing his albums – Nutterbutter is almost 9 months old, and I’ll have another album to start on very shortly. I can’t get behind! My daughter is almost 3 and I’ve yet to do any of her albums. (#fail!) I still have a long way to go on this project, but I feel better having started getting back on track.

So life is returning to normal after all of the winter holidays. I am getting caught up on or finishing some projects, and after a short break to focus on my home and family, I’m ready to get back to blogging. I’ve got a number of posts to finish up, and several new ones I’m planning, so stay tuned for regular updates. Without further ado, I give you my Christmas week menus! (Hey, you can still bookmark them for next year! ūüôā )

CHRISTMAS WEEK MENUS

Sweets for the Week

With unexpected additions from some family members, I decided to skip formal desserts for the week.
Instead, we had an assortment of cookies and candies.

White Chocolate Covered Oreos
Chocolate Chip Cookies
Caramels
Spritz
Polish “Chrust”
See’s Chocolates

Wednesday, Dinner for 8

Beef & Sausage Lasagna
Spinach Lasagna
Garlic Ciabatta Bread

Thursday (Christmas Eve), Dinner for 12 Adults, 2 Toddlers

Crab Cakes with Creole Sauce
Rice Pilaf
Roasted Carrots
Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Friday (Christmas), Breakfast for 10 Adults, 1 Toddler

Tomato & Asiago Frittata
Raspberry Dark Chocolate Chip Muffins
Mimosas

Afternoon Appetizers for 12 Adults, 2 Toddlers

Spanokopitas
Antipasto & Cheese Platter

Dinner for 12 Adults, 2 Toddlers

French Onion Soup*
Roasted Beef Tenderloin
Mashed Potatoes
Green Bean Salad
Roasted Brussels Sprouts

* I wasn’t super excited about the version of French Onion Soup that I made on Christmas Day, so instead I linked to my tried and true recipe.

{Menu} 2014 Holiday Party & Tips in Planning

Last year’s¬†annual holiday party did not go as planned. Our heater was being flaky (I’d argue it wasn’t working at all by the end of the week) and I had come down with a cold. Between the two, we had to cancel the party or risk everyone being cold and getting sick. I was super bummed – this has been¬†our big party each¬†year. I plan and look forward to it for months. More than half of the menu, to feed 40-50 people, was already prepared by the time we made the call to cancel. As hard as it was for me, I’m sure I wouldn’t be forgiven if everyone spent their upcoming Christmas vacations in bed with colds.

Even though we didn’t get to host the party last¬†year, I wanted to share the menu I had planned, in case something inspires you. In addition, I wanted to share a few tips and lessons¬†I’ve learned while planning these parties over the last 6 or so years:

1. ¬† I plan and execute¬†my menu each year.¬†This sounds silly and might offend some people, but I’ve learned not rely on others (or at least limit that reliance) for contributions. Inevitably, something happens and someone can’t make it, which has the potential of throwing everything off (one year, I had backup appetizers in my freezer, just in case… another year, I wasn’t prepared and had to ask someone to pick up a last minute item from the grocery store on their way to the party because someone arrived without the promised goods). Planning and executing myself means that I don’t worry that something may not go as planned.

2. ¬† I’ve learned to dial back on the desserts and increase the savory items. Year after year, my savory items were all gone by the end of the night but I was still left with a number of desserts. Sometimes this is due to guests preferences, other times because people end up bringing cookies and other sweets unannounced.

3. ¬† Start cooking and baking well in advance. I usually start cementing my menu in November, about a month away from the party. I start cooking and baking at the same time. Cookies freeze great; candy keeps well at room temperature. I store candies in airtight containers in my basement – cooler temps and not in sight to tempt us! Even some savory appetizers (such as the spinach and artichoke dip and meatballs on the menu below, or mini quiche that I’ve made in the past) freeze really well. This keeps me from feeling frantic in the week prior to the party, and rushing around the day of the party. I’ll even keep a little extra in the freezer in case I need to restock during the party.

Vanilla Almonds.4. ¬† Know your layout and the flow of guests throughout your house. We’ve always had two floors of the house for entertaining. Currently, our upstairs has a family room, kitchen, dining room, etc. The downstairs has a second family room and pool table. While I set most of the food out upstairs, I usually try to make sure there’s snacks – bowls of nuts, a small cheese/cracker or veggies tray, an extra plate of assorted cookies – in the downstairs as well.

But this final item is equally as important for your main entertaining space. Does everyone tend to hang out in the kitchen and family room? Maybe then, place the food and beverages in a dining room so that people move around the space a bit more. Our formal living room and dining room have been completely empty for the past two years, so we always set up a few folding tables for holding food and beverage stations.

These four tips have helped me kick things off smoothly every year.

This year, we’ve decided to change things up a bit. We now have two young children and the majority of our Chocolate Coconut Cookiesfriends have their own families. While we’ll still hold a holiday gathering, this year’s will be slightly smaller and more kid-friendly than it has been in the past. Come back tomorrow for our first annual Holiday Open House Menu.

{Menu}

Holiday Party, 2014

Sweet:

Gingerbread Cookies, Cranberry Oatmeal Cookies, and Double Chocolate Coconut Cookies
Spicy Espresso Dark Chocolate Almonds
Pecan Pie Bars
Black Bottom CupcakesSpinach-Artichoke Dip 3

Savory: 

Hot Spinach and Artichoke Dip with fresh bread
Mozzarella-Stuffed Meatballs in Marinara Sauce
Mini Italian Frittatas
Veggies with Fiesta Dip
Caprese Skewers

Drinks:

Beer, Wine, Assorted Soft Drinks

Gingerbread Cookies

What's_Baking_Badge

Ok, so I was terrible with¬†keeping up with the¬†12 Weeks of Christmas Treats this year.¬†Call me lazy if you’d like. I’ve been super busy and frankly, exhausted over the past¬†few (the first trimester does that to me, apparently!). It’s a wonder I’ve been able to get any posts out over the past few months.

Now that the first trimester has past, I’m trying to get back into the swing of things. If you’re still looking for a holiday cookie for a party, some care packages, or just to have around the house, then this week’s post,¬†something “gingerbread,” to satisfy the¬†What’s Baking? theme chosen by Catherine of Pursuing Domestic Goddess-ness, will work for you. I’ve never been particularly interested in gingerbread flavored baked goods, but I did have to stop myself from eating these. The flavor was fairly subtle and the cookies were super soft, just the way I like them.

Enjoy!

Gingerbread Cookies

Gingerbread Cookies

Adapted from All Recipes via One Little Project At A Time

Makes 2 1/2 dozen cookies

Ingredients:

  • ¬ĺ c. unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 c. + 4 Tbs. granulated sugar, divided
  • 1 egg
  • 1 Tbs. water
  • ¬ľ c. molasses
  • ¬ľ c. all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • ¬ĺ tsp. ground¬†cinnamon
  • ¬Ĺ tsp. ground cloves
  • ¬ľ tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 350F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.Gingerbread Cookies

Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and 1 c. sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes. Lower speed slightly and one at a time, add egg, water, and molasses. Scrape down sides of mixer and add all remaining ingredients (except for the 4 Tbs. sugar), mixing until just combined.

Use a cookie scoop to form 1-inch balls, shaping them between the palms of your hands as needed. Roll in remaining sugar. Place on the prepared baking sheets, about 2 inches apart.

Bake for 10-12 minutes, until edges are browned slightly. Allow to cool on baking sheet for a few minutes before moving to a wire rack to cool completely.

Store in an airtight container for up to a week.

Buddy the Elf Cookies

Unlike some people, I never really had any strong Christmas traditions of watching a particular movie. When my brothers and I were little, we would watch Christmas specials that my mom recorded (on VHS!) – the Smurf’s Christmas Special, Frosty the Snowman… the homemade movie had all of those amazing Coca Cola polar bear commercials (seriously, why did those every go away?).

But at a certain point, we got too old for the Christmas specials. I don’t know when we stopped watching – junior high? High school? It wasn’t until college that those Christmas specials were replaced with a movie.¬†Elf.

I remember coming home from college and talking about the movie. My mom rolled her eyes at me, but my brother jumped right into the conversation about what a great movie it was. Needless to say, Mom had to watch it with us. Several times that Christmas vacation. Thus began my newest Christmas movie tradition.

These cookies are inspired by that movie. For those of you that don’t know the movie, stop reading right now, and check out Netflix, On Demand, whatever. Watch it, and then finish reading this post. You should be picturing the scene where Will Ferrell is making a breakfast of pasta, candy, and maple syrup for his father’s wife. These cookies aren’t as sickly sweet as I imaging that breakfast would have been.Not surprisingly, I felt like I was eating a handful of candy when I ate a cookie.

I can’t wait to¬†turn my Christmas movie tradition into a movie + baking event with my daughter!

Buddy the Elf Cookies

Buddy the Elf Cookies

Adapted from Spoon or Foon

Makes 2-3 dozen cookies

Ingredients for the Cookies:

  • 1¬Ĺ c. all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • ¬Ĺ tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 14 Tbs. unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3 c. old-fashioned oats
  • 3/4 c. granulated sugar
  • ¬Ĺ c. brown sugar
  • 1 c. M&Ms
  • ¬Ĺ c. mini marshmallows
  • 1 c. Sno-Caps
  • 4 S’mores Pop Tarts, chopped

Ingredients for the Maple Glaze

  • 1/4 c. confectioners’ sugar
  • 1-2 Tbs. pure maple syrup
  • 1/4 tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat oven to¬†350¬įF. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper an set aside.2013_12.Weeks.Of.Christmas.Treats

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time and vanilla, beating until combined. Scrape down sides of the bowl. Add flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt, mixing well and scraping down sides of the bowl as necessary. Reduce speed to low and add oats, Sno-Caps, Pop Tarts, M&Ms, and marshmallows. The batter will be very thick. You’ll want to finish stirring with a wooden spoon to make sure the candy is evenly distributed.
Using an ice cream scoop, portion out cookie dough onto prepared baking sheets. Bake 14-16 minutes, until lightly golden. Allow to cool for a few minutes before moving to a wire rack (set on top of a paper bag to minimize the mess) to cool completely.
Make the Glaze. While cookies are baking, whisk together all ingredients in a small bowl. Drizzle over cooled cookies.
Store in an airtight container.

Chocolate-Flecked Babka

What's_Baking_BadgeThis month is my first to participate in a blogging event called What’s Baking?¬†Every month or two, a blogger will choose a theme, and the rest of us will bake something that fits in with the theme. It’s a great way to try out new recipes, sometimes out of your comfort zone.

This month, the theme of “Heritage Dish” was chosen by Ali from Sparks from the Kitchen. This theme couldn’t have come at a better time, as I recently saw my Polish grandparents. What’s Baking? was the perfect excuse to make something that my grandpa always enjoyed – babka.

Babka is a sweet yeast bread or cake from Eastern Europe. Growing up, my family served¬†the Jewish version, a bread (the cake version is associated with Christian Easter and other holidays). I don’t recall anyone ever making it but it was ordered from bakeries a time or two around both Easter and Christmas.

This version is streaked with semisweet chocolate. My coworkers polished off two loaves of this bread before noon one day. My grandfather, however, was not as impressed. He reminded me every time he had a slice, that I should have used raisins in it, and that it was a little heavy. But he ate two or three slices a day, so it couldn’t have been that bad. ūüôā

Baking Note: The original recipe made 4 loaves of bread. I halved the recipe below, because even though it’s freezable, four loaves is quite a lot. If you choose to freeze the dough, it can be frozen for up to a month. Defrost in the fridge 24-hours before using. Then roll out the dough, allow it to rest and rise, and bake.

Chocolate-Flecked Babka

Chocolate-Flecked Babka

Adapted from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day (by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois), p. 221

Makes 2 loaves

Ingredients: 

  • 1 1/2 c. lukewarm milk
  • 8 egg yolks
  • 3/4 Tbs. granulated yeast (1 packet)
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 6 Tbs. unsalted butter, melted, plus more for greasing the pan
  • 3 3/4 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1 c. finely chopped or shaved semisweet (or bittersweet) chocolate
  • 1/8 c. rum, divided (for soaking the bread)

In the bowl of a stand mixer, stir together milk, yolks, salt, and butter with a wooden spoon until fairly well combined. Attach bowl to mixer and fit with dough hook. Add flour and stir on speed 2 (the highest speed my mixer could handle using the dough hook) until all of the flour has been incorporated. The mixture will be fairly loose.

Cover loosely with plastic wrap and allow to rest at room temperature until the dough rises and collapses (or flattens on top), about 2 hours. (I tend to place the bread near the oven/stove, when it’s turned on to help it along a little).

When the dough has risen, brush with half of the rum and refrigerate (still covered loosely with plastic wrap) until chilled.

Here, the dough can be refrigerated for up to 5 days, or frozen for up to a month. If using dough from the freezer, allow to defrost in the fridge for 24 hours before resuming recipe below. 

On baking day, grease a standard loaf pan and set aside. .

Lightly flour a work surface with flour. Remove dough from fridge and cut dough in half. Dust with flour and shape into a ball by stretching the surface of the below around to the bottom. Roll out into a rectangle, approximately 1/4-inch thick. Sprinkle the entire piece of the dough (including edges) with half of the shaved chocolate (1/2 c.). Roll into a log, starting at the short end. Fold the ends of the log into the middle, so that the ends meet. Place in prepared loaf pan and allow to rise and rest, about 2 hours.

Repeat with the second portion of dough, if you’re baking both at once.

Shortly before before baking, ensure that a rack is in the center of the oven and preheat oven to 350F. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until golden brown and firm.

Remove from the oven and brush with rum. Allow to rest for a few minutes before moving to a wire rack to cool completely.

Serve at room temperature.

Store, tightly wrapped, at room temperature.