25 December 2012

Merry Christmas

A very Merry Christmas to you and yours! I hope you're enjoying a wonderful day with friends and family, wherever you are.

24 December 2012

Christmas Eve Traditions

This is my first Christmas away from my family, and I'll admit, I'm a little misty-eyed at missing out on our family's traditions.  Growing up, every Christmas Eve was the same and I loved that.  We attend our church's Christmas Eve candlelight service and call for Chinese take-out as soon as we're in the parking lot.  As soon as we've stuffed ourselves silly with Moo Goo Gai Pan, Hot and Sour Soup, and egg rolls, we each get to open one present, usually pajamas.  When we were little, we would put on our new PJs and drive around town looking at Christmas lights.  As we got older, that turned into my sister and I parking it on the couch to watch our favorite, A Christmas Story.

I think Trish said it best: "As a matter of fact I like Christmas Eve the very best, because Christmas Day, while spectacular in so many ways, comes and goes so quickly, and Christmas Eve just has so much magical energy and excitement swirling around."

While I'm sad to be missing out on all of the excitement at my parents', I'm so excited to be a part of my husband's family Christmas and see what makes it special for them.  

Did you have any special Christmas Eve traditions growing up?  Have you started any new ones since moving out on your own, getting married, or having kids?

21 December 2012

Friday Favorites

Hard to believe it's our last Friday Favorites 'til Christmas!

I've loved looking through all of the reader photos in Tartanscot's Holiday Decorating Contest.  This outdoor dining scene is my favorite.  

Homemade apple-cheddar dog biscuits to fill your four-legged friends' stockings.

Pretzel M&M Hugs treats, all dressed up for Christmas. 

Are you squealing from the cuteness?

I am signing off for the next week to enjoy Christmas with my wonderful friends and family.  M and I will kick off the Christmas celebrations tomorrow when we exchange gifts and stockings and have our own Christmas dinner, just the two of us.  Then it's lots of shuttling between the two families. I can't wait to see everyone and give gifts!

What are your Christmas plans?  I'm always curious to hear about other people's traditions and how people manage multiple Christmases!

20 December 2012

Hostess Gifts

1 // 2 // 3 // 4 // 5

Looking for some last-minute hostess gifts? I hate to show up empty-handed to the home of anyone who's hosting us.  Here are some lovely, affordable gifts that any hostess would love to receive!

1. If your host/hostess are foodies, a fabulous olive oil or balsamic vinegar is always a safe bet.  Our local olive oil tasting room's chocolate balsamic vinegar was featured in the December Southern Living!

2. Hosting holiday guests can be incredibly stressful.  A decadent bubble bath is the perfect gift for an overextended hostess!

3. Cheese straws are my go-to holiday gift.  They're not so hard to make {once you get the hang of using a cookie press}, the recipe makes a ton, and they are incredibly delicious.  Don't skimp on the salt or cayenne pepper!

4.  Normally I give by the motto that all hostess gifts should be consumable, but at Christmas, it would be hard to turn down such a beautiful, elegant ornament.

5. Candles are always a safe bet for hostess gifts.  GP mentioned in a recent edition of GOOP that the Linnea Lights candle in 'Cashmere' is one of her favorites. 

19 December 2012

Menu Wednesday

Last week was a good eatin' week.  I only cooked 3 nights; one night we went out to dinner and Friday night we were at a rehearsal dinner for some dear friends.  Here's what I whipped up last week:

I did some serious menu-stalking on Kate and Rachel's blogs last week and decided to make this.  Oh my word. SO GOOD.  M was shoveling this in.  It was really easy to make and it made a ton {yay leftovers!}.  Don't leave the green beans out; they really add something special to this dish.

Aussie Breakfast Salad {Table Tonic}
This probably isn't a favorite of M's, but I love this meal when I'm craving something healthy, but need something substantial.  It's warm and hearty and has all sorts of interesting flavors and textures.  Plus it takes like 10 minutes to make.

I didn't take a picture because I was too busy inhaling.  Per Kate's advice, I made some adjustments here.  Namely, I only use 10 oz. of top sirloin.  I used halved Brussels sprouts instead of asparagus, since they are in season and asparagus is not.  I nixed the Gorgonzola and just grated a little Parmesan over the top at the end.  Holy moly.  I was SO skeptical about this meal. I just could not see how it was going to taste good together.  

I was wrong.  I want to eat this every day.  It was even better the next day cold.  Yum, yum, yum, yum!

That was it for us last week.  Did you make anything good I should know about?  I'm in a bit of a recipe rut {hence the blog stalking} and I'd love some new recipes!

18 December 2012

Buche de Noel: A Tutorial

So I promised you a tutorial on how I made my first Bûche de Noël last year.  Disclaimer: All of these photos were taken on my iPhone in the terribly crappy kitchen of our old condo in even worse lighting conditions.  It ain't pretty.

Let's start with the cake.  Here's the recipe:

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for parchment and pan
2/3 cup sifted cake flour* {not self-rising}
1/3 cup sifted cocoa powder, plus more for dusting
Pinch of baking soda
6 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 10 1/2-by-15 1/2-by-1-inch jelly-roll pan. Line with parchment; butter and flour paper, tapping out the excess flour.
  2. Sift flour, cocoa, and baking soda together twice into a medium bowl. Set aside. In a small saucepan over low heat, melt butter. Skim off white foam, and pour clear yellow butter into a bowl, discarding white liquid at the bottom. Set aside in a warm place.
  3. In a medium-size heat-proof bowl, whisk together eggs and sugar. Set bowl over a pan of simmering water; stir until mixture is warm to the touch and sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat, and beat on high speed until mixture is thick and pale and has tripled in bulk. Reduce speed to medium, add vanilla, and beat 2 to 3 minutes more.
  4. In three additions, sift flour mixture over egg mixture, folding in gently with a spatula. While folding in last addition, dribble melted butter over batter and fold in.
  5. Spread batter evenly in pan, leaving behind any unincorporated butter in the bottom of the bowl. Tap pan on counter to remove air bubbles. Bake until cake springs back when touched in center, 15 to 20 minutes. Don't overbake or cake will crack. Let sit in pan on a wire rack until cool enough to handle.
  6. Dust surface with cocoa powder. To make rolling easier, trim edges of cake, and cover with a sheet of waxed paper and a damp dish towel. Invert onto a work surface, and peel off parchment; dust with cocoa. Starting from one long end, carefully roll up cake in towel. Wrap in plastic; refrigerate until ready to use.
*I just make my own cake flour using the following recipe: For every cup of all-purpose flour, remove 2 tablespoons and then add 2 tablespoons of cornstarch. Sift 5-6 times. I just measure out 2/3 cup of this mixture and ditch the remaining 1/3 cup.  Otherwise, the measurements are too complicated for me.
Here is the egg and sugar mixture, the clarified butter, and the cocoa powder and flour mixture ready to get mixed together.  Also, can we talk about the bottles of bourbon and prenatal vitamins in the background? Don't be alarmed. I drink a lot of Manhattans and want my hair to grow.

 Moving on to the mousse filling...

  • 4 ounces semisweet chocolate
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 4 large eggs, separated
  • Pinch of cream tartar
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream


  1. In a double boiler, melt together chocolate and butter, stirring occasionally until smooth. Remove from heat, and transfer to a large bowl. Whisk in egg yolks, stirring well. Let cool to room temperature.
  2. In a large bowl, beat egg whites with cream of tartar until stiff. Whisk a third of the whites into chocolate mixture; gently fold in remainder of the egg whites.
  3. Whip cream until it holds soft peaks, and fold into chocolate mixture. Chill until set, about 1 hour
Melting the chocolate and butter. Would like to eat this as is.
Melted chocolate, butter, and egg yolks. Yes, please.
 Fluffy egg white clouds.

And then I got really tired of making cake and taking pictures, so I didn't document the ganache-making.  Here's the recipe:
9 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream

  1. Place chocolate in a medium bowl. Heat cream in a small saucepan until bubbles begin to appear around edges (scalding); pour over chocolate. Let stand 5 minutes, then stir until smooth. Set aside at room temperature until cool but pourable, stirring occasionally.
 So yeah, you're not really missing out on me not documenting that part.

 Now, unless you have someone in the kitchen with you who can take pictures at this point, it is impossible to document the actual cake assembly.  I realize that documenting the actual assembly would have been most helpful, since that's the most intimidating part.  So you just have to believe me when I tell you that it is MUCH easier than it sounds.  Here are the instructions:

  1. To assemble cake, carefully unroll genoise on the back side of a baking sheet (discard the plastic wrap and waxed paper, but keep the towel). Spread chocolate mousse evenly on cake to within 1 to 2 inches of one long end. Reroll cake, starting from other long end, using towel to help roll it. Cover with plastic wrap; chill until firm, about 1 hour.
  2. Place cake, seam side down, on a serving platter; tuck parchment around it to keep platter clean while decorating.
  3. Whip ganache at medium speed until it has the consistency of soft butter. Cut two wedges off ends of cake at a 45 degrees angle; set aside. Ice log with a thin layer of ganache. Attach wedges on diagonally opposite sides of log. Spread ganache all over log, using a small spatula to form barklike ridges. Chill until ganache is firm, about 30 minutes.
  4. In the top of a double boiler or in a heat-proof bowl set over simmering water, melt chocolate until smooth. Line a baking sheet with parchment. Spread melted chocolate 1/8 inch thick over parchment. Refrigerate until cold, 10 to 15 minutes. Roll paper back and forth until chocolate splinters; sprinkle over cake.* Chill cake until ready to serve.
  5. When ready to serve, arrange meringue mushrooms* around and on cake, and dust lightly with confectioners' sugar.
I did not make the chocolate splinters and I did not make the meringue mushrooms, although I may attempt the mushrooms this year because they are so cute!
So here was the finished product! I sent M to the grocery store that morning to buy some of the cheapo greenery they sold out front so that I could garnish the platter.  The important thing to remember is that if make any mistakes or it doesn't turn out perfectly, it's totally OK.  It's kind of like making truffles; the cake is supposed to resemble an actual log from nature, so it shouldn't be perfect.  It should look rustic.  

 I had always wanted to make one of these cakes, and I'm so glad I did.  First and foremost, it is absolutely delicious.  It is so rich and decadent that a very small slice will suffice.  We were able to take probably 80% of the cake with us to my parents and enjoyed it at our Christmas dinner there too.

The important thing to remember is that although it's not particularly difficult to make, it is incredibly time consuming.  A lot of that is inactive time {waiting for things to chill, etc.} but it took me the better part of an entire day to make it.  This is not a dessert you can whip up just before last-minute guests come by.  It's a showstopper and a special occasion dessert.  But it it so worth it!

Let me know if you try your hand at one.  Or better yet, if you've made one before and have any tips to share!

14 December 2012

Friday Favorites

Remember the hot cocoa recipe I posted last week?  This would be a fabulous way to package it up for gifts. I have these jars in our kitchen and they are the best!

Bûche de Noël has apparently become our traditional Christmas dessert. I had always wanted to make one and last year I finally did. It was a huge hit and M has already requested it become a regular at our Christmas dinners.  I'll be sharing the whole process next week, but this year I'm hoping to be brave enough to tackle these darling meringue mushrooms too!

I realize this is terribly 2003 of me, but I really want a pair of UGG Classic Cardy boots. They just look so comfy-cozy! I'm a little miffed that they no longer sell them in charcoal, but I'll settle for the grey.  You know, in case any of you need a last-minute gift idea for me.

Bon weekend!

13 December 2012

My House is Scrooge

So judging from the lack of comments, none of you has any Christmas treats to which you are loyal.  That's fine. More chocolate oranges por moi.

On to something a little more interesting {I hope}.  I am really struggling with decorating our house for Christmas.  Actually, I'm really struggling to decorate our house period.
When we moved in August, we moved into a place with more rooms and space than we had ever had before.  So that means we are in need of some furniture.  I had big plans for what I wanted/needed/envisioned and have a list at the ready.  But then the car disaster happened {and is, unfortunately, still happening} and all available funds were derailed.  And I just couldn't get excited for it.
So the current state of our house is a bit depressing.  We need to have a loveseat reupholstered, we need another couch, a new coffee table, a new sofa table, a new bed frame, rugs, rugs, and more rugs, a TV console of sorts, bookshelves, a sideboard, and something to function as a kitchen island.  See? Told you we needed a lot of furniture.  I really, really, really hate to buy mass-manufactured junk so I've been keeping my eyes peeled in local antique stores and on Craigslist and eBay for pieces that speak to me, but I've had very little luck.  And I hate to unpack and find a place for things when I know those places are only temporary until we get the furniture we need.  So we're currently living in a state of half-unpacked, half-unfurnished, 99% not decorated. It's no bueno.
Which made Christmas decorating a total snoozefest.  I mean, we put up our tree.  And it's sparkly and lovely.  But, much like all other areas of my decorating life, it's just not quite what I wanted or envisioned.  I have an incredibly strong aesthetic in that I can tell you exactly what I do and do not like, what my taste is, and what I want my home to look like.  I am HORRIBLE at execution.  I waffle between paralyzing fear of doing something that I won't like and biting the bullet, doing it, and having it turn out not quite right.  I totally get people who hire interior designers.
So back to our tree.  I am somewhere in between the NO THEME!! and THEME!! camps.  First of all, I've always known I would be a more-than-one tree kinda gal.  Except I have never put up more than one tree.  I own more than one.  I have the vision for them.  I just never do it.  I like the idea of our "main" tree being more of a memory tree but with one or two solid colored ornaments all over the tree to make it look cohesive.  The rest of them can be themed or color-coordinated to the rooms.
Second, I love the look of a more-is-more tree.  You know the ones I'm talking about.  TONS of ornaments, LOTS of twinkling lights, garland strewn about.  Except our tree was in this weird in-between stage of too much stuff so it looked busy, but not enough stuff so it looked intentional.  So I just kind of scaled back and have accepted it for what it is this year.
I realize I am probably WAY overthinking this, but as someone who is really passionate about and fascinated by and loves interior design, it is just so frustrating to not be able to put my aesthetic into actual action in my own home.  I grew up dreaming about decorating my home, and now I'm adult and I have a home and I am frozen.
Please tell me I'm not the only one who feels this way.  Help me.  Talk me off of the Christmas decorating ledge.  Give me some advice about how I shouldn't care so much about what it looks like if the tree is filled with ornaments that have lovely memories attached.  Or something like that.
In the meantime, enjoy the pictures of what my fantasy Christmas decor looks like and send an elf my way to make this happen for me.

All images are from my Christmas Pinterest board and, for the most part, can be linked to their sources from there.

12 December 2012

Christmas Treat Staples

For me, there are just certain things I HAVE to have in December.

I love these chocolate oranges.  They're a bit kitsch, but when I was growing up, I thought they were the height of haute gourmand sweets.  Have you ever had one?  They come wrapped in gold foil and are actually shaped like an orange. You just "peel" off a segment and bliss!

This is Christmas in a box for me.  When I was little, I danced in The Nutcracker every year. I was obsessed with it.  One year, this was one of my Advent gifts and I treasured it. It's black tea with vanilla and cinnamon and hazelnut. SO GOOD. This year I got panicky because I couldn't find it at our local grocery store so I ordered several boxes direct from Celestial Seasonings.  Of course, the next day I saw a huge display at the grocery store.  Oh well.
Panettone has been a more recent addition to my holiday treat repertoire.  I think its origins are when I discovered Food Network and Everyday Italian {RIP non-shitty Giada} in college.  I bought a box at TJ Maxx and whipped up panettone French toast {minus the syrup and berries. That's gilding the lily.} and I've been hooked ever since.  Oddly enough, non-Italian me is introducing this to my very-Italian husband this year.  It makes for a wonderful Christmas morning breakfast with bacon.

Are there any seasonal-specific treats that you just have to have?  

11 December 2012

Birthday Boy

We're childless yuppies, so yes, you're getting a dog birthday post. Deal with it.

My sweet Jake is 5 years old.  This is almost impossible for me to believe.  We celebrated with a trip to Middleburg for a birthday cake from his favorite pet shop and a scoop of vanilla ice cream from the local ice cream parlor.
We even let Ozzie get in on the fun with a snowman cookie.  He obviously is not as disciplined as his big brother.

Jakey, when did you grow up?  You used to be all squishy-faced and little!

And then you turned into a sweet young man...

And now you're our sweet grey-bearded puppy patriarch.  You have been such a good, patient big brother to Ozzie's brand of insanity {except when he gets near your bones}.  You are still as quiet and laid back as can be and you love nothing more than a good butt scratch.  Your favorite treat is being allowed on our bed, and although you've slowed down, you can still turn on the jets and outrun most of the dogs in the park.  

We always get comments and compliments on what a handsome boy you are and how sweet your personality is.  I hope that never changes! You are our distinguished gentleman and we love you oh-so-much, Jakey Boy!