12.31.2008

Bake-Off 2008

*Our cake was supposed to look like this...

Well, this year's edition of the Family Bake-Off is complete, and I'm happy to report that my husband and I were the clear winners! Hooray!

My sister-in-law made this:
Chocolate Glazed Hazelnut Mousse Cake

And we made this:
Devils Food Cake with Peppermint Frosting

Both desserts were very good, but the flavor combination of chocolate and peppermint won everyone over. (Except my SIL, of course.) I have to admit, our cake did not exactly turn out as planned. The frosting really needed a stand mixer to get it to the right consistency, and we didn't have one, so we did our best - it turned out more like a glaze than a marshmallowy frosting. So the end result didn't look as pretty, but all the flavors were there. The cake was yummy, with a chocolate ganache layer and white chocolate/peppermint layer as well. I'm not sure I'd make it again - it was very high-maintenance - but we won!

...but it really looked like this. It still tasted great, though!

12.30.2008

Mr. Picassohead

Endlessly entertaining...

Mr. Picassohead

12.25.2008

Happy Holidays!

Merry Christmas, happy 5th night of Hanukkah, or just have a wonderful Thursday!
My nephew sends a smile your way...

12.23.2008

Holiday Menus

Even though we're spending Christmas at my in-laws, the "kids" typically take over menu-planning. My husband and sister-in-law are too opinionated not to take control. (I mean that in a very nice way.) We waited a while to start the conversation this year, and there were quite a few phone calls on Sunday, with ideas flowing. Here's what it's looking like:





Christmas:
Horseradish and Mustard-Crusted Beef Tenderloin - We've made this before. Super easy, and cooks very fast, so it leaves more oven-time for sides. Worthy of a special occasion, but easy enough for a regular family meal.
Parmesan Scalloped Potatoes - Haven't made this one before, but it has butter, cream, and cheese. How could it not be good?
Green Beans with Bacon and Shallots
And some sort of rolls/bread yet to be determined
What's the dish you're most looking forward to?

Holiday Desserts

*Image from Williams-Sonoma

So what are you all doing for desserts this holiday season? Besides the cookies and egg nog, of course. Those are just dessert appetizers. I'm talking cakes and pies and tortes and custards...
I previously mentioned our family bake-off, and while I can't share this year's entry just yet (my sister-in-law occasionally visits the blog), I thought I'd remind you of some previous entries, as well as another dessert I'm dying to make.

I really want to make this Pumpkin Cheesecake. It looks gorgeous, and I can already smell the pumpkin. It didn't quite make the cut for our bake-off entry, but it is staying in my file - perhaps next Thanksgiving.

Here's the Chocolate-Cranberry Torte my sister-in-law made last year, which easily won the contest. Our dessert was pretty yummy, too, but this torte is out-of-this-world good.

And a reminder for the Chocolate Pudding Pie. Super easy and everyone loves it.

12.22.2008

Three Beautiful Things...

...about snowstorms:


1. It's a great excuse to stay inside in front of a fire, drinking hot chocolate and watching movies.
2. The quiet falling of snow, especially after everything is already covered in white, is so peaceful.
3. Shoveling is great exercise! (How's that for spin?)

Here were the views from our window and front door this weekend:





What Were They Thinking?

Somebody put a Godiva gift basket (meant for our entire team) next to my desk at work. Does anyone really expect there will be anything left by the end of the day?

I Love Boston #7: Holiday Pops



















Reason #7 Why I Love Boston: Holiday Pops

I love living in a city that prides itself on the arts. I don't go to as many performances at Symphony Hall as I would like, but we've made it an annual tradition to attend the Holiday Pops. It's a wonderful holiday concert given by the Boston Pops each year. Beautiful music, sing-alongs, a guest artist or two....all in the gorgeous Symphony Hall.

Very unfortunately, this weekend's snowstorm caused us to cancel our plans to attend Friday night's concert. Needless to say, I was bummed. But I made the best of it by watching Christmas movies, wrapping presents, and drinking hot chocolate. I'll look forward to attending the show next year.

12.17.2008

Cupcakes

I don't think I had ever made cupcakes before, but I guess becoming a mom brings out a love of the tiny little desserts. This is a great cookbook, with tons of beautiful pictures of yummy cupcakes. I've only made a couple different kinds so far, but I can't wait to try more! The mini-strawberry cheesecakes look heavenly!

They only have a few of the recipes (adapted) online. Here are Chocolate Cupcakes and Vanilla Cupcakes. I made Devil's Food Cupcakes with a Rich Chocolate Glaze for the boy's birthday, and they were super super yum.
A great gift idea for any mom of young kids.

12.16.2008

Christmas decorations

We don't go too crazy with Christmas decorations at our house, but here's a little glimpse...

My mom made these stockings for us, and of course that makes them extra special. They match the tree skirt she made as well. The stockings will go on the mantle one day, when we have one again and don't have kids trying to pull them down. Until then, I like hanging them on the staircase.
We picked up this old sled in a thrift store for $10 - I love it. Having it out front makes it feel like we're ready to run out at any moment to have fun. We also always get a nice wreath for the front door.

My mom got this poster for me when she went to see Frank Capra, Jr. She knows how much I love 'It's a Wonderful Life'.
And of course there's the tree. You get a close-up view, because our living room is not very photogenic at the moment, and the baby gates around the bottom aren't very aesthetically pleasing. But despite all that, and the white lights, our tree is beautiful.  Kevin and I have picked up Christmas ornaments throughout the years, and our collection is pretty good at this point.

12.15.2008

Happy Birthday!

Happy Birthday to me!
What should I wish for?

Mmmmm.....chocolate!

Hooray for birthdays!

12.14.2008

How Time Flies

My baby is two years old! In two very short years, my little boy has gone from this...

...to this....

...to this!

Amazing!

12.11.2008

A few fun Etsy finds - "Winter Solstice"

Winter Solstice...that magical time of year when the days begin to get a little longer.

Sometimes I like browsing the shops on Etsy, because there are so many cool and unique things out there. Inspired by the Solstice, I thought I'd share a few recent finds with you.

Photograph by Alicia Bock:
Snowflake adhesive gift tags:

12.10.2008

A Few Recent Recipes

*Image from Cooking Light

I can't really call it This Week's Menu, but here are a few recipes we've recently tried and liked.

Turkey Mini Meat Loaves - The little boy ate a bunch of this, which means it must be good. I double the recipe but still bake in a muffin tin - it makes 6. It cooks faster than a regular loaf and I like the individual portions. I served with a salad and mashed potatoes.

Spaghettini with Garlic and Oil - Simple and easy, and can be made with items you probably already have in your pantry. Would be easy to experiment with this, too. Add broccoli or sun-dried tomatoes or mushrooms. Add shrimp or serve with scallops. We kept it simple and just served with bread and a salad.

Chicken Fried Rice with Bok Choy - I also made the Braised Chicken with White Wine, Tomatoes, and Peas, and I loved making two very different dinners at once, but this dish I'd only give an average rating. The Chicken Fried Rice, on the other hand, was so so yummy.

12.08.2008

Holiday Baking


We had our first snowfall this weekend, and it made me feel like baking. Unfortunately, I haven't come up with that signature item that I make every year for gifts. I'm still searching. Should it be a jam, or something decadent like these cranberry turtle bars, or should I stick to my favorite cookies or brownies? Since I don't have that answer yet, I decided to stick with cookies this year.

I realized that I've actually never made plain-old Christmas cookies. You know, sugar cookies with sprinkles and different shapes and designs. So I used this recipe and had a little fun. I didn't come up with anything super-creative or anything, and I discovered that I'd really love to have a few small cookie-cutters; but I think the results were pretty good, and they were definitely tasty. My husband and son particularly liked the chocolate-dipped ones. I also made a batch of raspberry thumbprint cookies, just to provide a little variety.

I wrapped up a few batches and delivered them to my neighbors on Sunday. A very nice way to spend a snowy weekend afternoon.

Do you have a recipe you make each year as a gift? I'd love to get some ideas. As I said, I'm still on the search for my own.



Sunrises, Car-Starters, and Coats

*Image from efatzo's flickr page
If ever there was a time that one needs to focus on the beautiful things in life, it's Monday morning.

Monday morning's Three Beautiful Things:

1. There was a gorgeous sunrise this morning. A pink sky followed by a bright orange ball in the sky. Made me forget how cold it was outside (for a moment, anyway!).

2. Automatic car-starters. Oh my, how happy I am that I insisted on getting this installed. I am lucky enough to have seat-warmers, too. It is so very nice to be able to get into a warm car on a very cold morning.

3. A said, "I'm going to school. It's really cold outside. Need jackets on." He put his books down so I could put his coat on him, and then he put his hat on himself. Oh, if it was always that easy.

12.05.2008

The Christmas Song - Nat King Cole

Just in case you need a little help getting in the spirit. Sometimes it's best to stick with the original.

12.04.2008

Five Senses Thanksgiving Week


*A loved the aquarium!

*Alligators - up close and personal. We could count their teeth!

See
- Alligators, jellyfish, sharks, and a very cool octopus at the North Carolina aquarium. The little boy had tons of fun.
- My mom lose at Scrabble several times in one week. What is going on?!?

Hear
- "What's this, Mommy?", stated about 10000 times on the plane ride home. But heck, I'll gladly answer questions all day, as long as the boy is happy. I gave him a book called "I Love Trucks", and he wanted to know every single thing in it.
- A singing "Row, Row, Row your Boat" while we played at the Children's Museum.
- Christmas tunes, which officially get me in the holiday spirit

Touch
- Sticky cookie dough and biscuit dough, lovingly kneaded by my hands.
- Air hockey piece, as I decidedly kicked my sister's arse.

Smell
- Turkey roasting in the oven, cookies baking, pancakes cooking...
- Christmas trees! Oh how I love this smell.

Taste
- Leftover turkey sandwiches
- That first glass of nog
- Who knew roasted brussels sprouts could be so tasty?
- Cookies, more cookies, and pie. Oh, and ice cream too.




*The Children's Museum was basically a dozen or so playrooms set up for maximum fun! This was their "outdoors" room, complete with tents and a campfire.

*We also had a lot of fun at the park down the street.

*We exchanged just a few gifts while we were together, maintaining our "Thanksmas" tradition. (I'll explain some other time.)
*We moved seamlessly from Thanksgiving to Christmas, as my mom completely decorated her house.

12.03.2008

Favorite Christmas Movies

*Seriously. It gets me every time.
As usual, in no particular order...

1. Miracle on 34th Street - The 2000 version is just wrong. Stick with the original.
2. National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation - Totally silly. Just a fun one for everyone.
3. It's a Wonderful Life - Makes me cry every single time. "To my big brother, George - the richest man in town." (I seriously teared up just typing that.)
4. A Christmas Carol - I prefer the George C. Scott version, although I am fond of the old b&w Alistair Sim version as well. It was my dad's favorite. I'm sorry, but Patrick Stewart is the guy from Star Trek - he's not Scrooge.
5. A Christmas Story - People typically love this movie or hate it completely. It cracks me up.
6. How the Grinch Stole Christmas! - Okay, this one isn't a movie (I've never seen the movie and have no plans to), but it's a great 30 minutes! I am pretty sure I can recite the entire thing by heart.
7. A Charlie Brown Christmas - We typically put this on while decorating the tree. I love how one scraggly branch becomes a cute (and full!) Christmas tree. And you gotta love Linus and that blanket.
8. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer - Ah, the land of the misfit toys. I also love Frosty the Snowman.
9. Love Actually - Not sure if this has quite reached "classic" status, but I do enjoy it, and we've watched it the last couple years. I've actually enjoyed the predictable and kinda cheesy The Family Man in recent years as well.

What are your favorite movies/shows to watch during the holidays?
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