merry christmas, darling

img_2458

dear husband,

Today we are spending our 4th Christmas together. I remember the first year I brought you home. We had really only been together for a few months, but at the time that didn’t seem weird to either of us. I think we both already knew that this would be the first of many many Christmases we would spend together.  I never doubted bringing you home so soon.

So here we are, already at our 4th… our 2nd as husband and wife.  I am so excited to get to spoil you this year, since you have never really let me do it before. By the time you are reading this you have already opened a few gifts from me.

#1: The newest Muse CD. When you opened it, you didn’t know that it was forshadowing of the gifts to come. I’m sure you loved the gift, but you would love it even more when you found out why I got you this CD.

#2: A note with a promise that you and I are going to take a trip in the Spring like we have been talking about. You have been trying to buy tickets and I keep telling you to wait. Well this is why. In March we are going to your favorite city, Chicago.

#3: Tickets to see Muse while we are in Chicago. We both agreed during the first few years we spent Christmas together that we wouldn’t exchange gifts. Stuff isn’t important to us. But making memories definitely is. I wanted to get experiences as your gift this year. I know that this gift will last forever in our memories.

#4: A box with a little note instructing you to come to my website. I wanted to give you the last part of the gift here because it will take a little bit of explaining. I found out after I had planned our trip to Chicago that you were really wanting to go see the Northwest. You kept sending me flight deals to Portland, OR and Seattle, WA. Had I known this when I originally planned the trip I would have started there.

After contemplating this for some time and doing some research, this is what I have come up with. The day after we see Muse perform in Chicago we are going to go to Union Station and get on a train. The train is called “The Empire Builder.”  The train will start traveling north through Milwaukee and passing through southern Wisconsin and the upper Mississippi River. The train will continue through North Dakota and Montana and will stop at several locations in Glacier National Park.  It will continue through Idaho and Washington and finally stop at Portland, OR.

This will take a little over 2 days. And during this 2 days we will have a relaxing trip filled with amazing views of the Northwest from the observation car, great food and wine tastings from the dining car, and our own little roomette where we can even get some private rest. We will have time to just enjoy each other’s company, watch some shows or movies on our tablet, meet new friends, and relax. When we arrive in Portland we will part with the train and explore the city for the next few days.

So there it is. Merry Christmas, darling. I love you so very much. I can’t wait to make these memories with you. And selfishly, this is a gift for me too. Traveling and making memories with my best friend, my love, my husband, is the best gift I could ever ask for. I hope you think so too.

love,

your wife

IMG_3360_2

photo by shelley stephens

Pomegranate and Lime Parfait

Pomegranate and Lime Parfait

My husband and I have been having a back and forth lately. Basically the same conversation in a slightly modified version, over and over again.

Chris: So are you going to tell me what you got me for Christmas?
Me: No.
Chris: Is it something to do with sports?
Me: I’m not giving you any clues.
Chris: What size of a box does it come in?

later in the day…

Chris: Is it some kind of electronic?
Me: I’m not answering that.
Chris: Just give me a little hint so I can guess!
Me: You won’t guess. You have never asked me for this, there is no way you will ever guess.
Chris: Ahhhh, what is it?!

Pomegranate and Lime Parfait

It’s a lesson in patience for both of us. For the first few years we spent Christmas together, we really didn’t get gifts for each other. We always adopt a family instead and just spend Christmas enjoying family time and good food. Gifts have never been important to us. But last year, he surprised me with my amazing DSLR camera for my blog. I had no idea he had even gotten me anything and he was so excited to see me open it. So this year, I wanted to do the same for him. I want a chance to surprise him with something awesome. And let me just tell you, he is going to be soooo excited. I was so excited about it I couldn’t even keep it a secret that I got him something at all. And as much as I want to tell him what it is, the excitement that day and watching him start to figure out what it is will be so worth it.

Pomegranate and Lime Parfait

In this instance, patience is such a simple issue. It is just a Christmas gift. But I do believe that it is such an important thing to learn. I’ve never been great at it. We live in the world of instant gratification and I fully admit that I am a slave to it. And I think patience is one of the many things that cooking and baking has helped me learn. Preparing something from scratch takes time. Takes energy. Takes creativity. Takes patience. And it is so worth it.

Like this pomegranate. Such a beautiful fruit filled with the most delicious seeds that are tucked away and held in place inside. The first time tackling this fruit can be intimidating. But I can assure you it is simple to open. It does take time, and patience.  Here is how to open a pomegranate:

How to Cut a Pomegranate

#1: Cut the top and the bottom off of the pomegranate
#2: Take your knife and score around the outside of the fruit about 6-8 times, depending on how large it is.
#3: Place in a large bowl of water.

How to Cut a Pomegranate

#4: Gently break the fruit apart into large chunks.
#5: Keeping the fruit in the bowl to avoid getting juice everywhere, gently break the seed casings away from the membrane. The seeds will sink, the inedible casings will float.
#6: Skim the membrane/pulp out of the water and discard.
#7: Strain the seeds and enjoy!

OR if you have absolutely no patience and don’t care the learn any with a pomegranate… 

#1: Just cut the fruit in half down the middle
#2: Score each half 4-6 times.
#3: Use a wooden spoon to whack the crap out of each half over the bowl and the seeds will release from the membrane.

I prefer the longer way. But on a really stressful day, smacking a pomegranate silly with a wooden spoon might feel pretty good.

Pomegranate and Lime Parfait

Pomegranate and Lime Parfait

Pomegranate and Lime Parfait

Ingredients

  • 1 pomegranate
  • 1 lime
  • 16 oz yogurt (I used SO Delicious Vanilla Coconut Milk Yogurt, and this was amazingly delicious with the flavor combinations)

Instructions

  1. Cut the top and the bottom off of the pomegranate
  2. Take your knife and score around the outside of the fruit about 6-8 times, depending on how large it is.
  3. Place in a large bowl of water.
  4. Gently break the fruit apart into large chunks.
  5. Keeping the fruit in the bowl to avoid getting juice everywhere, gently break the seed casings away from the membrane. The seeds will sink, the inedible casings will float.
  6. Skim the membrane/pulp out of the water and discard.
  7. Strain the seeds and set aside.
  8. Zest and juice the lime, set aside.
  9. Combine the yogurt with the lime juice.
  10. Divide yogurt equally between 4-6 cups.
  11. Top with pomegranate seeds and lime zest.
  12. Serve cold.
http://bakerbettie.com/pomegranate-and-lime-parfait/

Dark Chocolate and Peppermint Whoopie Pies

French Macarons… They are a baking hurdle that I have not yet accomplished. I have tried them 3 times, and failed miserably each time. I will master them someday, but until then I will stick to Whoopie Pies.

I think of whoopie pies as the poor man’s french macaron. They taste nothing alike, but they have a similar look. The french macaron is sophisticated and classy, while the whoopie pie is sloppy and fun. Both delicious, both adorable.

Whoopie!

 

Dark Chocolate and Peppermint Whoopie Pies adapted from Joy of Baking

Dark Chocolate Whoopie Pies

Ingredients

  • 1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 3/4 cups dark chocolate cocoa powder
  • campaignIcon
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • campaignIcon
  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg, room temperature
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • campaignIcon
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup strong coffee

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 375F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. In a large bowl sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (can also use a hand mixer), beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg beating well. Beat in the vanilla extract.
  4. In a small measuring cup mix the buttermilk and coffee. With the mixer on low speed, alternately add the flour mixture and buttermilk/coffee mixture, in three additions, beginning and ending with the flour.
  5. Drop heaping tablespoons (preferably using a small ice cream scoop) of the batter onto the prepared baking sheets, spacing about 2 inches apart. Smooth the tops of the cookies with moistened fingers.
  6. Bake for 9 -10 minutes or until the tops of the cookies spring back when pressed.
  7. Remove from oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
http://bakerbettie.com/410/

Peppermint Filling

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup vegetable shortening
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp peppermint extract
  • 1/2 cup light corn syrup
  • peppermint candies, crushed

Instructions

  1. Beat the shortening and butter until soft and creamy. With the mixer on its lowest speed, gradually beat in the confectioners’ sugar. Increase the speed to high, and beat until light and fluffy, about 3-5 minutes.
  2. Then, with the mixer on low speed, beat in the vanilla and peppermint extracts and slowly drizzle in the corn syrup. Continue to beat until the filling looks soft and fluffy.
  3. To Assemble:Take one cookie and spread a heaping tablespoon of the filling on the flat side of the cookie. Top with another cookie. Sprinkle crushed peppermints around the filling.
  4. The assembled cookies can be stored, covered, in the refrigerator for several days. Serve cold or at room temperature.
  5. Makes about 15 sandwich cookies.
http://bakerbettie.com/410/

No Bake Mini Cherry Cheesecakes

No Bake Mini Cherry Cheesecakes

Today I made a super easy and super adorable party dessert.  I made a double batch of these mini no bake cherry cheesecakes over my lunch hour today.  Half of them went to a party at work and the other half is being frozen for the party this weekend.

No Bake Mini Cherry Cheesecakes

Look at how cute they are!  And delicious I might add.  People always go crazy over anything that is a mini size of it’s original.  That also makes people feel less guilty about eating 2… or 10.

Enjoy!

No Bake Mini Cherry Cheesecakes

No Bake Mini Cherry Cheesecakes

No Bake Mini Cherry Cheesecakes

No Bake Mini Cherry Cheesecakes

No-Bake Mini Cherry Cheesecakes

Yield: Makes approximately 4 1/2 to 5 dozen.

No-Bake Mini Cherry Cheesecakes

Ingredients

  • mini cupcake foils (1 1/4 inch wide)
  • mini vanilla wafers
  • 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1 package unflavored gelatin
  • 16 oz cream cheese (room temperature)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup sour cream (room temperature)
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract
  • Cherry pie filling

Instructions

  1. Line up the cupcake foils on a half sheet pan.
  2. Put a mini vanilla wafer (flat side down) in each foil.
  3. Pour the gelatin over the lemon juice and let stand for 5 minutes.
  4. In a large mixing bowl beat the cream cheese until smooth. Add the sugar and beat until incorporated.
  5. Microwave the gelatin/lemon juice mixture for 30 seconds until the gelatin dissolves.
  6. Pour this gelatin/lemon juice mixture over the sour cream along with the vanilla and mix.
  7. Add the sour cream mixture into the large bowl of cream cheese and mix until well incorporated into the cream cheese.
  8. If serving that day: Fill each foil with approximately 1tbsp of the mixture. Refrigerate for 3 hours until set. Top with 1 tsp of cherry pie filling.
    If serving at a later date: Fill each foil with approximately 1tbsp of the mixture. Store in an airtight container and freeze. Move the refrigerator 4 hours before serving. Top with cherries right before serving.
http://bakerbettie.com/holiday-party-made-easy-part-3-no-bake-mini-cherry-cheesecakes/

Holiday Party Made Easy Part 2: Sparkling Wassail

Family holiday traditions.  They come in many different forms.  And there is something fascinating to me about hearing what traditions are important to other people.  But I didn’t always care about that.  I think when we are young it is hard to appreciate these traditions the way you do when you grow up.  I guess our perspective is skewed when we are young.  Our life just is, and it isn’t until we are older that we reflect on those meaningful things.

Sparkling Champagne Wassail

With my recent marriage, these things have been in my thoughts a lot lately.  There is something beautiful, but at times difficult, about blending two family’s traditions.  And with this, new traditions are born.  You have to come to terms with the reality that some traditions just won’t be the same anymore.  And as sad as this can seem, it is just life.  Families grow and change, and so will traditions.

Sparkling Champagne Wassail

But the memories are always there.  One of my favorite holiday traditions has happened ever since I can remember: our holiday parties.  Every year before Christmas our family would open up our house and have all of our family and friends over for food and drinks.  My mom always had our house looking amazing, so cozy and warm with all the lights and a fire in the fireplace.  And it wasn’t a Smith Christmas party without wassail.  It would simmer on the stove all evening filling the house with smells cinnamon and clove.  I get a little teary eyed thinking about this, but I also get excited to think that my husband and I will make memories like these together and someday with our kids.

Sparkling Champagne Wassail

In planning for our upcoming party I couldn’t plan the menu without thinking about wassail. So, I decided on a wassail with a kick.  The wassail part can be made up to a week ahead of time and stay chilled in the refrigerator until the day of the party.

What is your favorite holiday tradition?

Sparkling Champagne Wassail

Sparkling Wassail- Sparkling Apple Cider

Sparkling Wassail- Sparkling Apple Cider

Ingredients

  • 1/2 gallon apple cider
  • 3 cups pineapple juice
  • 1 orange
  • 2 lemons
  • 1/3 cup clove honey
  • 4 cinnamon sticks
  • 2 tbsp whole cloves
  • 1 tbsp allspice berries
  • 3 cups bourbon
  • champaign

Instructions

  1. In a large pot combine apple cider, pineapple juice, the zest of the orange and the lemons removed in strips with a peeler, the juice of the orange and the lemons, honey, cinnamon sticks, whole cloves, and allspice berries.
  2. Let simmer for 2 hours stirring occasionally.
  3. Let cool before refrigerating.
  4. On the day of the party mix the wassail with the bourbon.
  5. Serve 3oz wassail mixed with 2 oz champaign.
http://bakerbettie.com/holiday-party-made-easy-part-2-sparkling-wassail/

Pepper Nuts/ Pfeffernüsse

I am co-hosting a holiday party next weekend.  Well really, it is a birthday party for my best friend who is coming home to Kansas from Rhode Island.  But it’s the holiday season so it seems fitting to make it holiday themed.

I LOVE to entertain.  And I am always trying to find ways to make entertaining stress free.  My solution: come up with a menu of simple appetizers where most components can easily be made before the day of the party.  That way you can focus on hosting, having a good time, and leave the stress behind.

I decided that Pepper Nuts would be perfect as one of the offerings.  They are very popular in this area and they are a great choice if you want to make things ahead of time.  In fact, it is suggested to make these at least a week and up to a month before they will be eaten.  This way the flavors can mellow and develop a bit.  But don’t get me wrong, they are delicious the same day too!

If you aren’t familiar with this nut sized spicy little cookie you should give it a try.  They are kind of addicting.  It’s also easy to make tons of these and split them up into smaller portions for gifts.

Pepper Nuts/ Pfeffernüsse

Yield: About 600 tiny cookies

Ingredients

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 cup almonds, finely ground
  • 2 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp freshly ground cardamom
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp white pepper
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp ground allspice
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg

Instructions

  1. In a large bowl, cream the butter with the sugar using an electric mixer. Add the egg and ground nuts.
  2. In another bowl, mix the 2 1/2 cups of the flour with the baking powder, soda, cardamom, cinnamon, white pepper, cloves, allspice and nutmeg.
  3. Blend the dry ingredients into the creamed mixture until a stiff dough forms. If the dough is too wet, add 1 tbsp of flour at a time until it forms a stiff dough that is easy to roll.
  4. Shape the dough into a ball. (I think it’s easier to roll out the dough if it is chilled. Put in the refrigerator for 1 hour or in the freezer for 15 minutes)
  5. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
  6. Cut off a portion of the dough at a time and roll between your hands and a lightly floured work surface to make slim, ropes about 1/2-inch thick. Place 4 or 5 ropes on an ungreased cookie sheet. Cut ropes into 1/2-inch pieces using a sharp, small knife. Separate the pieces.
  7. Bake for 8 minutes or until the cookies are lightly browned and dry. Remove from the oven; cool on the baking sheet.
  8. Store in an airtight container for up to a month.
http://bakerbettie.com/holiday-party-made-easy-part-1-pepper-nuts/

Follow

Get every new post on this blog delivered to your Inbox.

Join other followers: