Monday, December 23, 2013

Early Family Christmas

We had our family Christmas early this year and it was such a fun day.  The kids got great gifts, we played games, had good food and just enjoyed hanging out with each other.  The nice part about doing it early is that there is still some Christmas left . . . it's not all over!  Here are some pictures from the day - it was hard to choose which ones to post here and as I look them over, I think about how I always wish I had more photos but in the moment, I want to enjoy it and not be constantly using the camera.  Anyways, these should give you a little taste of the day.  I love hanging out with my family!

Today's recipe is perfect for those instances where you are all done baking & making but you still need something to take to a neighbor, party, or friend.  This is the solution!  Easy, relatively quick (putting the pan in the refrigerator will help it to harden and set up quicker), and just 4 ingredients.  It turned out delicious!

You can use whatever chocolate you like - milk, dark, bittersweet, whatever is in the cupboard.  I used a 9x13 pan (but I think a larger pan would have yielded thinner pieces of bark in the end) and it made two small boxes of bark.

Peppermint Bark

1 lb chocolate chips
1 lb white chocolate chips
1/2 cup crushed candy cane
peppermint extract

Line a pan with parchment paper or waxed paper.  Melt the chocolate chips and spread evenly on the lined pan.  Let it cool and set (this will go quicker in the refrigerator).  Melt the white chocolate chips and add some peppermint extract (a few drops to start, taste it and add more if you want).  Spread the melted white chocolate in an even layer over the other chocolate.  Sprinkle with the crushed candy cane and press on it a little bit to make the candy cane stick into the white chocolate.  Let it all set up and then break it into pieces.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Baking Christmas Cookies

I love the Christmas season. . . the carols, picking out and wrapping gifts, the decorations, houses lit up . . . all of it!  And, not surprisingly, one thing I look forward to is making Christmas cookies.  This year, I'm getting together with a friend to bake (links to two of the recipes below).  Even though we're not doing rolled, decorated sugar cookies, I still wanted to share the recipe we used all through my childhood.  Our family would add a step between refrigerating and baking - brush the cut out cookies with a lightly beaten egg white and sprinkle with decorating sugar.  They turn out so pretty and yummy!
Since I don't have a photo of these (you can sneak a peek here), I'll share some pictures of our kids from when we picked out and decorated our Christmas tree.

What I'm baking this year:
Mary's Sugar Cookies (4-5 dozen)
from Betty Crocker's Cooky Book
1½ cups of sifted confectioner’s sugar
1 cup butter
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla
½ tsp. almond flavoring
2½ cups of flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cream of tartar
Mix sugar and butter. Add egg and flavorings; mix thoroughly. Sift flour. Stir dry ingredients together and blend in. Refrigerate 2 to 3 hours.  Heat oven to 375°. Roll out dough on lightly floured surface and cut with cookie cutters. Bake 7 to 8 minutes or until delicately golden!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Fall Sangria

I made sangria for a girl's night a few weeks ago and it was yummy!  This version is more of a fall recipe with the pomegranate and is fairly tart, which is how I prefer it.  If you want it sweeter, add a few tablespoons of simple syrup.  You could substitute cranberries and unsweetened cranberry juice for the pomegranate seeds & juice to make a holiday version if you're doing some entertaining in the next few weeks.  The recipe doubles really easily and you should get 8 decent glasses out of a double batch.

A couple of notes:  Other fruit would work well too - depends on how much fruit you like in your glass of sangria (I like a lot!).  I also think it works best to start with your wine and juice chilled.

Fall Red Wine Sangria (about 4 servings)
adapted from Bobby Flay

1 bottle dry red wine
1/3 c. pomegranate juice
1/3 c. orange juice
1/2 c. brandy
1/4 c. triple sec
1/2 of an orange, diced (pith, peel and all)
1/2 apple, diced
1 c. blackberries
1/2 c. pomegranate seeds (optional)

Dump it all in a pitcher, stir, and refrigerate for several hours to let the flavors combine.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Winter in Claremont

Winter has finally come to Claremont!  It's been beautiful in our town and I took these photos recently while I was out for a run.  I'll add a couple of recent ones of the girls - they've all three grown a ton recently and I can't believe how big they're getting!  The baby is starting to crawl and pull herself up - time to babyproof again and put away all the tiny lego pieces that are all over the house.

Today's recipe is from a book that I recently read and loved: "Bread & Wine" by Shauna Niequist.  In fact, I told one of my friends that this book was the type that I envisioned myself writing some day but she did it so well, that I'm off the hook and I don't need to write it.

I've made a few recipes from that book with good results and this one did not disappoint.  It's originally from Real Simple and it takes a little while to cook but there's not too much hands on time.  With the cold California winter weather we've been having, this dish was perfect.  For those of you who are gf, Shauna says that she makes this with gf breadcrumbs for her family.

Real Simple's Winter Cassoulet
serves 6

1 T olive oil
1 lb Italian sausage, casings removed (I used a chicken sausage)
1.5 cups chicken broth
1 onion, thinly sliced
3 carrots, diced
3 parsnips, diced
8 oz diced tomatoes (I used canned)
2 15oz cans of cannelini beans (or great Northern), drained and rinsed
1 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup plain breadcrumbs
1/4 c. chopped fresh parsley
2 T unsalted butter, melted

In an oven proof dutch oven, heat the oil over medium heat on the stovetop.  Cook the sausage until well browned, breaking it up with a spoon.  If there'a a lot of oil in the Dutch oven, drain it at this point before the next step.  Add the chicken broth, vegetables, beans, salt, pepper, and garlic and mix well, scraping up any brown bits that have stuck to the bottom of the pan.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer, stirring occasionally about 1 hour (until the sauce has thickened and the vegetables are tender).

Heat oven to 400 degrees.  In a bowl, combine the breadcrumbs, parsley, and butter.  Sprinkle evenly over the cassoulet and place in the oven.  Bake uncovered until the crust is golden brown (about 10-15 minutes).  

I haven't tried it yet, but the recipe says you can make it ahead and freeze it with out the breadcrumb topping.  Then, when you want to bake it, sprinkle the breadcrumb mixture on top and bake, unthawed, for 45 mins - 1 hour at 400 degrees.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Pumpkin Soup

One of the fun parts about having this blog is that it keeps me in touch with people who don't live nearby.  I hear that my husband's aunt often checks for pictures of my girls and now and then I get emails and notes from other people who read the blog.  My cousin Carol lived nearby while I was growing up and we went to church together.  Now that she lives in Illinois, I don't see her often but I love hearing from her.  She recently emailed me this recipe that she thought I would like.  She was right - it was delicious and much more flavorful than the pumpkin soup I usually make.  When we had this soup, I made a half batch and served it with a salad, but I wished I had made the whole amount so we could keep on eating it!  Adjust the curry to your preferences but I wouldn't recommend leaving it out altogether - it really adds to the overall flavor.  Thanks, Carol!

Pumpkin Soup (makes appx 8 cups)

1/4 c. butter
1 c. onion, chopped
1 tsp. garlic, minced
1/2 - 1 tsp curry powder
1.5 tsp. salt
3 cups chicken broth
1 (15oz) can pumpkin
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1.5 c. half and half

Saute onion and garlic in butter.  Add curry powder, salt and broth.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes.  Whisk together pumpkin, cream of mushroom soup, and half and half.  Add to broth mixture and bring it to barely a simmer.  Serve.