Tag Archives: holiday

Sausage Stuffing

Turkey day is fast approaching – I am actually hosting a friendsgiving (for 16!) this weekend so I needed to get my act together in way in advance but I know some of you are still working out your menus.  The best thing about my friendsgiving is that lots of people are bringing their family’s must have Thanksgiving dish so we will have a really fun mix of friends and memories around the table.  My family has several traditions, one being my grandmother’s stuffing with sausage.  My Aunt Carol gave me the recipe years ago and you can see its pretty simple but oh so good.  I have to say I had to tweak it a little as I think a nice hearty bakery loaf is better than Wonder bread and I used homemade chicken stock instead of the boullion but I would NEVER consider not using Jimmy Dean sausage like she did!

dsc04901

This year I am going to change it up again and mix in some cornbread to reflect our southern home but making it will still make me smile and think of my Nana and that is what Thanksgiving is all about.  If you need more thanksgiving ideas here is a post that compiles all the recipes.  Happy Thanksgiving!!

Sausage Stuffing (printable version at the end of the post)

Inspiration: my nana’s stuffing
Special Equipment:  none

  • 1 loaf of bread, preferably a rustic farmhouse style
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 3 onions, chopped
  • 1 fennel bulb, chopped
  • 2 stalks of celery, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons chopped sage
  • 2 teaspoons chopped thyme
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 1 pound Jimmy Dean sausage roll
  • 1 cup turkey or chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup Calvados (apple brandy) or another 1/2 cup stock

Cut the bread into bite size pieces and leave out on a cookie sheet overnight to dry out.

dsc04908

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.  In a large skillet heat the butter over medium high heat.  Add the onions, fennel, and celery and cook for about 10 minutes until softened.  Add the sage, thyme, fennel seeds and salt and pepper.  Cook for another minute then add to a large bowl.  Add the sausage to the pan breaking it up as you add it to the pan.

dsc04910

Cook over medium high heat until no pink remains, about 5 to 6 minutes.  Add to the bowl with the veggies.  Add the bread cubes to the bowl and toss all together.  Pour over the broth and brandy (if using) and stir to combine again.

dsc04918

Pile the stuffing into a 9 by 13 baking dish and bake for 30 to 40 minutes until the top is crusty.

Sausage Stuffing

  • Servings: 8-10
  • Print

Special Equipment:  none

  • 1 loaf of bread, preferably a rustic farmhouse style
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 3 onions, chopped
  • 1 fennel bulb, chopped
  • 2 stalks of celery, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons chopped sage
  • 2 teaspoons chopped thyme
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 1 pound Jimmy Dean sausage roll
  • 1 cup turkey or chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup Calvados (apple brandy) or another 1/2 cup stock

Cut the bread into bite size pieces and leave out on a cookie sheet overnight to dry out.  Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.  In a large skillet heat the butter over medium high heat.  Add the onions, fennel, and celery and cook for about 10 minutes until softened.  Add the sage, thyme, fennel seeds and salt and pepper.  Cook for another minute then add to a large bowl.  Add the sausage to the pan breaking it up as you add it to the pan.  Cook over medium high heat until no pink remains, about 5 to 6 minutes.  Add to the bowl with the veggies.  Add the bread cubes to the bowl and toss all together.  Pour over the broth and brandy (if using) and stir to combine again.  Pile the stuffing into a 9 by 13 baking dish and bake for 30 to 40 minutes until the top is crusty.

Happy Holidays from A Capitol Contessa!

I am going to take next week off to relax and hang with family and friends but I wanted to wish all of you a great holiday season.  If you are looking for some festive recipes to celebrate with here are a couple of ideas.  See you in 2017!!!  XOXO, ACC

Lamb Ragu

DSC01256

Individual Apple Crisps

DSC01488

Happy Hour

DSC02629

Sea Salt Chocolate Chip Cookies

DSC02165

Turkey Pot Pie Turnover

DSC01975

Mulled Cider

DSC01907

Ricotta and Pomegranate Crostini

Quick and easy snacks are essential this time of the year but that doesn’t mean we should sacrifice taste or presentation!  These crostini are beautiful with their snowy white ricotta and shiny pomegranate jewels dusted on top.  If you want to make life even easier go ahead and buy the seeds.  However, seeding a pomegranate is really fun and its much cheaper.  Make sure to use a really good baguette and high quality ricotta, otherwise this will taste flat since it uses so few ingredients.  I bought some local stuff or you can make your own ricotta.  These are great for holidays drinks with friends after work or even a little snack for Santa when he comes down the chimney!

Ricotta and Pomegranate Crostini (printable version at the end of the post)

Inspiration:  those lovely little holiday jewels, pomegranate seeds
Special Equipment:  none

  • 2 baguettes
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • XX ounces of ricotta cheese
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • several sprigs of thyme
  • 1 pomegranate or 1 package of pomegranate seeds

Preheat your oven to 340 degrees.  Slice the baguettes on a diagonal into 1/2 inch slices – you should get about 20-25 slices per baguette.  Line them up on baking sheets and then drizzle with olive oil, and season them with salt and pepper.

dsc05002

Bake until toasty, about 10-15 minutes.  Let cool (these can be made earlier in the day and stored in a container, just make sure they have cooled before putting them into a baggie or they will steam.  In a medium bowl combine the ricotta with salt, pepper and the lemon zest.  Spread about a tablespoon and a half of the ricotta on each crostini.  Seed the pomegranate (instructions here) and sprinkle the seeds over the crostini.  Pull off leaves from the thyme sprigs and sprinkle those on top as well.  These are great served at room temperature and can be left out for several hours.

 

dsc05006

Ricotta and Pomegranate Crostini

  • Servings: 50 pieces
  • Print

Special Equipment:  none

  • 2 baguettes
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • XX ounces of ricotta cheese
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • several sprigs of thyme
  • 1 pomegranate

Preheat your oven to 340 degrees.  Slice the baguettes on a diagonal into 1/2 inch slices – you should get about 20-25 slices per baguette.  Line them up on baking sheets and then drizzle with olive oil, and season them with salt and pepper.

Bake until toasty, about 10-15 minutes.  Let cool (these can be made earlier in the day and stored in a container, just make sure they have cooled before putting them into a baggie or they will steam.  In a medium bowl combine the ricotta with salt, pepper and the lemon zest.  Spread about a tablespoon and a half of the ricotta on each crostini.  Seed the pomegranate and sprinkle the seeds over the crostini.  Pull off leaves from the thyme sprigs and sprinkle those on top as well.  These are great served at room temperature and can be left out for several hours.

Coffee Infused Bourbon

As you all know I am a sucker for favors at parties – last year I did a candy cane vodka for our holiday party and it was a big hit.  This year I was inspired by a coffee manhattan I had at the movie theater of all places.  At the Atlantic Plumbing Cinema in the Shaw neighborhood of DC you can not only book your seat in advance (love that!) but they have a full bar with some really talented mixologists.  Patrick and I were there for a matinee and the bartender had been experimenting with coffee simple syrups and bourbon.  Since bourbon already has coffee notes in it, infusing it with fresh coffee beans just takes it to the next level.  I ran right out and bought some mega bottles of Bulliet Bourbon at Costco.  I needed to make 85 mini bottles (we have a lot of friends!) so got two 750 ml bottles but you can do it with any size or any amount really, even just for one cocktail.  I am not going to give you a recipe here since its stupid simple, just throw some coffee beans into the Bourbon and wait until it reaches the “coffeeness” level you like.  For a 750ml bottle I would recommend adding about 20-25 beans and shaking the bottle everyday for about 5 days.  The beans like to sink to the bottom or float to the top so shaking it helps make sure all the bourbon gets infused.  If you start with less bourbon then you could do the same number of beans, it will just take less time, about 2 days.

dsc04998

I get my mini bottles from here  but you can also usually find nicer glass ones at World Market or Home Goods if you are only making a couple for friends this season.  This year I decided to print my own labels (mostly because I didn’t get my act together to order any).  If you want to order some I can recommend Tinyprints for this.  They are pretty reasonable and have a bunch of cute designs.  If not just go out and buy labels and then go to Avery.com where they have templates like this Christmas lights one I used.  I do not recommend throwing in a couple of beans into the bottles you give out as decoration as they will continue to infuse the bourbon and at some point all you will be able to taste is the coffee.

dsc04996

You could certainly recreate my manhattan with the bourbon, drink it straight up or toss a little in your coffee for an extra holiday kick!  Luckily we have a bunch leftover as these are going to make perfect stocking stuffers.  Enjoy!

Stuffed Shells with Chicken and Spinach

Continuing with the make ahead theme these cheesy rich shells are just what Santa ordered for Christmas Eve dinner.  Make them several days ahead and then just pop them in the oven when people get hungry.  This dish also makes a great gift for a neighbor or friend that has extra family in town and no time to cook!  I give you several sizes that work for this recipe – you can chose to make one mega dish or several smaller ones to share or make throughout the week.  The shells are pretty rich with the bechamel sauce and all the cheese to I would only estimate 3 or 4 shells per person with a nice Caesar salad on the side.  There are a bunch of steps to this (might be the longest directions I have ever written) but since you can do it in advance no one needs to see you sweat.  Also sometimes its nice to bury yourself in the kitchen for a little alone time!

Stuffed Shells with Chicken and Spinach (printable version at the end of the post)

Inspiration:  feed a crowd
Special Equipment:  a large baking dish or several smaller baking dishes

  • 12 ounces jumbo shell pasta
  • 2 rotisserie chicken breasts, shredded
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 shallots, chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced or grated
  • 2 pinches of red pepper flakes
  • 4 ounces of diced pancetta
  • 1 pound baby spinach
  • 8 ounces ricotta cheese, room temperature
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest
  • 8 ounces grated mozzarella cheese
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 4 tablespoons flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Follow the directions on the pasta box and cook the pasta slightly al dente (the Barilla brand actually tells you how long to cook it for a baked pasta versus just serving them as pasta – if yours doesn’t just cook it a couple minutes shy of done).  Drain and spread the shells out on a baking sheet to cool.

dsc04954

Once cool, toss any broken pieces.  In a large skillet heat the olive oil over medium heat.  Add the shallots, garlic, red pepper flakes, and pancetta to the pan and saute for 5 minutes or until the shallots are softened and the pancetta has cooked.  Start adding the spinach in large handfuls to the pan.

dsc04943

From this…

As you add the spinach use tongs or a spoon to fold the spinach into the shallot mixture.  The spinach will start to wilt and you can continue to add until it all fits in the pan.  This should take about 3-4 minutes to get it all wilted down.  Once it is wilted, crank up the heat to medium high and cook off the liquid the spinach has released for about 6 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Take off the heat and reserve.

dsc04948

..to this!

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees, if planning on cooking the shells right away.  In a large bowl combine the ricotta, egg, lemon zest, half the mozzarella cheese and salt and pepper.  Add the chicken and the spinach mixture to the bowl and stir to combine.  Now that your pasta shells have cooled they are ready to be filled.  I use my hands but use a teaspoon if that helps.  To make sure I have enough to fill all the shells I divide the filling mixture in 4 and then fill a quarter of the shells and then continue until they are all filled.

dsc04960

In a saucepan heat the butter over medium heat.  When it is melted add the flour and stir with a whisk until combined and the flour has cooked, for about a minute.

dsc04966

Slowly pour in the milk while whisking so there are no lumps.  Increase the heat to medium high, just until the milk starts to bubble.  Then lower the heat to medium low and stir constantly until the sauce thickens and can coat the back of a spoon, about 5-6 minutes.  Stir in the nutmeg, salt, pepper and 1/3 of the grated Parmesan cheese.

dsc04968

This recipe makes one very large tray of shells in a 9 x 13 pan, a medium sized 9 x 13 and a 7 x 5 pan, or two 9 x 9 pans.  It all depends on how tightly you pack in the shells and how many people you want to serve at once (for these pictures I have a 9 x 13 pan and a 7 x 5 pan which served a family of 4 and a family of 2 respectfully – with leftovers).  Once you have selected your pans spread a thin later of the sauce on the bottom of the pan.  Then fill the entire pan(s) with the shells, open side up.  Top with the rest of the sauce and then sprinkle on the other half of the mozzarella and Parmesan cheese.

dsc04980

Cover the pans with tin foil.  If you are making the shells later, let the shells cool completely and store in the fridge for several days before baking.  If you are baking them right away bake the shells covered at 375 degrees for 30 minutes, then take off the tin foil and bake for an additional 10 minutes.  Allow to cool slightly before serving.

dsc04994

Stuffed Shells with Chicken and Spinach

  • Servings: 8
  • Print

Special Equipment:  a large baking dish or several smaller baking dishes

  • 12 ounces jumbo shell pasta
  • 2 rotisserie chicken breasts, shredded
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 shallots, chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced or grated
  • 2 pinches of red pepper flakes
  • 4 ounces of diced pancetta
  • 1 pound baby spinach
  • 8 ounces ricotta cheese, room temperature
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest
  • 8 ounces grated mozzarella cheese
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 4 tablespoons flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Follow the directions on the pasta box and cook the pasta slightly al dente (the Barilla brand actually tells you how long to cook it for a baked pasta versus just serving them as pasta – if yours doesn’t just cook it a couple minutes shy of done).  Drain and spread the shells out on a baking sheet to cool.  Once cool, toss any broken pieces.  In a large skillet heat the olive oil over medium heat.  Add the shallots, garlic, red pepper flakes, and pancetta to the pan and saute for 5 minutes or until the shallots are softened and the pancetta has cooked.  Start adding the spinach in large handfuls to the pan.  As you add the spinach use tongs or a spoon to fold the spinach into the shallot mixture.  The spinach will start to wilt and you can continue to add until it all fits in the pan.  This should take about 3-4 minutes to get it all wilted down.  Once it is wilted, crank up the heat to medium high and cook off the liquid the spinach has released for about 6 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Take off the heat and reserve.

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees, if planning on cooking the shells right away.  In a large bowl combine the ricotta, egg, lemon zest, half the mozzarella cheese and salt and pepper.  Add the chicken and the spinach mixture to the bowl and stir to combine.  Now that your pasta shells have cooled they are ready to be filled.  I use my hands but use a teaspoon if that helps.  To make sure I have enough to fill all the shells I divide the filling mixture in 4 and then fill a quarter of the shells and then continue until they are all filled.

In a saucepan heat the butter over medium heat.  When it is melted add the flour and stir with a whisk until combined and the flour has cooked, for about a minute.  Slowly pour in the milk while whisking so there are no lumps.  Increase the heat to medium high, just until the milk starts to bubble.  Then lower the heat to medium low and stir constantly until the sauce thickens and can coat the back of a spoon, about 5-6 minutes.  Stir in the nutmeg, salt, pepper and 1/3 of the grated Parmesan cheese.  This recipe makes one very large tray of shells in a 9 x 13 pan, a medium sized 9 x 13 and a 7 x 5 pan, or two 9 x 9 pans.  It all depends on how tightly you pack in the shells and how many people you want to serve at once (for these pictures I have a 9 x 13 pan and a 7 x 5 pan which served a family of 4 and a family of 2 respectfully – with leftovers).

Once you have selected your pans spread a thin later of the sauce on the bottom of the pan.  Then fill the entire pan(s) with the shells, open side up.  Top with the rest of the sauce and then sprinkle on the other half of the mozzarella and Parmesan cheese.  Cover the pans with tin foil.  If you are making the shells later, let the shells cool completely and store in the fridge for several days before baking.  If you are baking them right away bake the shells covered at 375 degrees for 30 minutes, then take off the tin foil and bake for an additional 10 minutes.  Allow to cool slightly before serving.

Classic Cheesecake

A couple weeks ago Patrick and I were having his boss over for dinner on a Friday night and I was trying to figure out a delicious yet special meal that I could serve after a full day of work.  Make ahead was a given, and since she is from New York it hit me – have cheesecake for dessert!  Somehow in the years we have been together I have never made my cheesecake for Patrick and now I have a feeling it will be requested often.  It is the perfect holiday item – the ingredients are super simple, it’s pretty hands off, it actually needs to be made in advance, lasts for days and is almost universally loved!  It is also a great dessert to bring to a family holiday meal or an office party, as transporting it in a springform pan means that it can’t really get crushed.

dsc04499

What a springform pan looks like in case you don’t have one

This is a pretty simple version with just a few twists thrown in to amp up the flavor.  I put orange zest and juice in the cheese mixture as I think the citrus helps keep the filling from being one note.  Also I like to add bourbon to the sour cream topping but since it’s not cooked off if you want you can just use vanilla extract.  While this cheesecake takes a little while to make and then you have to chill it, the actual hands on time is so minimal you could easily do it when you get home one night and then serve it the upcoming weekend.  Thursday I will post a stuffed shells recipe that can also be make in advance – pair the two and you can feed a huge crowd this season with zero hassle!

Classic Cheesecake (printable version at the end of the post)

Inspiration:  everyone’s favorite made easy
Special Equipment:  9 inch springform pan

  • 6 ounces or 1 1/3 cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 1 cup, a 1/4 cup and 2 tablespoons sugar, divided
  • 6 tablespoons melted butter
  • 16 ounces of cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon fresh orange juice
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest
  • 3 eggs, room temperature
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 2 teaspoons bourbon

Preheat your oven to 300 degrees.  Spray your springform pan with cooking spray or grease with vegetable oil.  In a medium bowl combine the graham cracker crumbs, a 1/4 cup of the sugar, and the melted butter.  The consistency should be like wet sand.

dsc04503

Using your fingers press the mixture into the bottom of the springform pan, trying to keep it as consistent as possible.  Using a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, or a hand held mixer, combine the cream cheese and 1 cup of sugar until smooth.  Add the orange juice and zest along with one of the eggs and mix to combine.  Add the last two eggs, and a pinch of salt and combine, making sure to scrape down the sides.  Pour into the pan over the crust and put in the oven (I put the springform pan on a baking sheet to make it easier to take out of the oven.)

dsc04509

Bake for 1 hour.  When the hour is up turn off the oven but do not remove the cake, instead open the oven door and leave it ajar for 30 more minutes.

dsc04510

In a small bowl combine the sour cream, the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar and the bourbon.  Spread evenly on top of the cheesecake and return it to the cooling down oven for another 30 minutes with the door ajar.

dsc04511

Take the cheesecake out of the oven and allow to completely cool.  Then cover the pan with plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for at least 3 hours or up to 2 days before serving.

dsc04532

Classic Cheesecake

  • Servings: 8
  • Print

Special Equipment:  9 inch springform pan

  • 6 ounces or 1 1/3 cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 1 cup, a 1/4 cup and 2 tablespoons sugar, divided
  • 6 tablespoons melted butter
  • 16 ounces of cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon fresh orange juice
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest
  • 3 eggs, room temperature
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 2 teaspoons bourbon

Preheat your oven to 300 degrees.  Spray your springform pan with cooking spray or grease with vegetable oil.  In a medium bowl combine the graham cracker crumbs, a 1/4 cup of the sugar, and the melted butter.  The consistency should be like wet sand.  Using your fingers press the mixture into the bottom of the springform pan, trying to keep it as consistent as possible.  Using a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, or a hand held mixer, combine the cream cheese and 1 cup of sugar until smooth.  Add the orange juice and zest along with one of the eggs and mix to combine.  Add the last two eggs, and a pinch of salt and combine, making sure to scrape down the sides.  Pour into the pan over the crust and put in the oven (I put the springform pan on a baking sheet to make it easier to take out of the oven.  Bake for 1 hour.  When the hour is up turn off the oven but do not remove the cake, instead open the oven door and leave it ajar for 30 more minutes.  In a small bowl combine the sour cream, the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar and the bourbon.  Spread evenly on top of the cheesecake and return it to the cooling down oven for another 30 minutes with the door ajar.  Take the cheesecake out of the oven and allow to completely cool.  Then cover the pan with plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for at least 3 hours or up to 2 days before serving.

Holiday Bark

Every year I try and find new things to gift that are edible.  At some point no one really needs more stuff and food gifts are a great way to tell people you care.  Second only to my spiced nuts, this bark always gets top ratings from my friends and family.  Bark is by far the easiest thing to make and you can mix up what kind based on the person you are giving it to or what is in your pantry.  This method makes bark even easier as it entails almost zero clean up.  Most recipes will have you “temper” the chocolate, which means slowly melting it over a double boiler while adding more chocolate as it melts to keep a steady temperature.  This keeps the chocolate from getting a gritty texture and a grey color (no good!) but is kind of a pain.

DSC02177

Years ago I saw a tip in Southern Living magazine about just putting the chocolate on a cookie sheet in a low oven.  The heat just barely melts the chocolate so you don’t run the risk of grey bark and it’s already spread out on the sheet so all you have to do is spread it out a bit more and sprinkle on the toppings.  Once the bark is hard you throw away the parchment paper which means only 1 spatula to clean.  Here I give you 2 different variations but use whatever kind of chocolate you like – other good bark toppings are crushed candies like peppermint, chopped dried fruit such as apricot or cranberries, you could even throw on mini marshmallows and graham cracker cookie shards and make smores bark.  The options are limitless so next time you get invited to a last minute holiday party, within an hour you can have the perfect hostess gift.

Holiday Bark (printable version at the end of the post)
Special Equipment:  parchment paper

  • 4 four ounce bars of good chocolate – I used 3 dark chocolate and 1 white chocolate bars
  • 1/3 cup chopped pecans
  • 1/2 a pomegranate, seeded
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt

Preheat your oven to 250 degrees.  Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper and line with chocolate pieces.  If you are going to use two chocolates like I did with the dark and white break up the pieces and mix them together so you can swirl them when they are melted.  Otherwise you can just unwrap the bars and lie them next to each other like I did with the 2 other dark chocolate bars.

 

DSC02178

Bake for 5 minutes – the chocolate should still be holding its shape but when you press it with a spatula its melted inside.  Using a spatula swirl the two chocolates together and spread them out so the layer is even (if you use one kind of chocolate just use the spatula to spread it out and make sure no logos remain).

Sprinkle with toppings evenly (I did one tray of dark and white chocolate with pecans and sea salt and one dark chocolate with pomegranate seeds and sea salt).

DSC02186

Place in the fridge and chill for at least 1 hour.  Break up the bark into smaller pieces and serve or gift.  If you use a fresh ingredient like the pomegranate seeds you should serve them right away or store at room temp for no longer than a day.  Any other topping stored in the fridge will last at least a week.

DSC02192

Holiday Bark

  • Servings: enough for 4-6 gifts
  • Print

Special Equipment:  parchment paper

  • 4 four ounce bars of good chocolate – I used 3 dark chocolate and 1 white chocolate bars
  • 1/3 cup chopped pecans
  • 1/2 a pomegranate, seeded
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt

Preheat your oven to 250 degrees.  Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper and line with chocolate pieces.  If you are going to use two chocolates like I did with the dark and white break up the pieces and mix them together so you can swirl them when they are melted.  Otherwise you can just unwrap the bars and lie them next to each other like I did with the 2 other dark chocolate bars.  Bake for 5 minutes – the chocolate should still be holding its shape but when you press it with a spatula its melted inside.  Using a spatula swirl the two chocolates together and spread them out so the layer is even (if you use one kind of chocolate just use the spatula to spread it out and make sure no logos remain).  Sprinkle with toppings evenly (I did one tray of dark and white chocolate with pecans and sea salt and one dark chocolate with pomegranate seeds and sea salt).  Place in the fridge and chill for at least 1 hour.  Break up the bark into smaller pieces and serve or gift. If you use a fresh ingredient like the pomegranate seeds you should serve them right away or store at room temp for no longer than a day.  Any other topping stored in the fridge will last at least a week.

Candy Cane Vodka

Every year our holiday party gets bigger and bigger.  I would like to think it’s because Patrick and I are so super popular but I think the reality is word has gotten out about our favors – little airplane size bottles of home infused liquor.  I had seen a bunch of cute ideas on Pinterest about giving out mini bottles of booze as favors but they were all the kind you find

img_20141206_170130.jpg

2014’s Homemade Fireball

behind the checkout at your local package store.  Not only prohibitively expensive but also not as fun as making your own!  Last year it was fireball, this year, candy cane vodka.  Other infused liquors can take up to months to get right but this is super easy, as the candy canes do all the work for you.  Crushed up they melt into the vodka within an hour and ta da!   It’s a pretty subtle flavor – something that tasted like liquid candy cane sounded too much to me like cough syrup, but if you want to amp up the flavor just add more candy canes.  It wasn’t that easy to find fillable “nip” bottles but after much research I found the best quality and price here.  You may remember these mini bottles from my very first post ever when I gave out habanero infused tequila at my blog launch party.  They are super easy to fill – made a bit easier if you have a small funnel.  I use the one that came with Patrick’s flask and it works like a charm but I think with a steady hand you could do it unaided.  I ordered really cute labels this year from Tiny Prints but if you want to save money just print out your own labels like I did last year or tie with a festive bow.  My friends hoard these things – I caught my friend Amy packing some bottles for a long international flight months after the party!  This recipe is for a huge amount (here is where Costco vodka can be your friend) assuming that you are going to make your own bottles but really it’s just a method – crush up a mini candy cane and throw it into your drink and you will get the same flavor.  Cheers!

DSC02115

Candy Cane Vodka (printable version at the end of the post)

Inspiration:   stocking stuffers or favors
Special Equipment:  mini bottles like these and a mini funnel (optional)

  • 1.75 liter bottle of vodka
  • 30 mini candy canes or approximately 15 regular size candy canes

Crush the candy canes in a plastic bag with the bottom of a pot or another heavy object.  They don’t need to be pulverized, just broken into small pieces.  I poured half of the vodka into a pitcher and kept half in the bottle so there was room for the candy canes but if you have a large enough pitcher for both, combine them together in one.  If not divide up the crushed candy canes between the two vessels and allow to sit for an hour, stirring once or twice.  Once all the candy canes have dissolved you can store at room temperature indefinitely.  Decant into small bottles – a 1.75 liter bottle will fill approximately 40 nip bottles.

DSC02122

Candy Cane Vodka

  • Servings: 40
  • Print

Special Equipment:  mini bottles like these and a mini funnel (optional)

  • 1.75 liter bottle of vodka
  • 30 mini candy canes or approximately 15 regular size candy canes

Crush the candy canes in a plastic bag with the bottom of a pot or another heavy object.  They don’t need to be pulverized, just broken into small pieces.  I poured half of the vodka into a pitcher and kept half in the bottle so there was room for the candy canes but if you have a large enough pitcher for both combine them together in one.  If not divide up the crushed candy canes between the two vessels and allow to sit for an hour, stirring once or twice.  Once all the candy canes have dissolved you can store at room temperature indefinitely.  Decant into small bottles – a 1.75 liter bottle will fill approximately 40 nip bottles.

Cookie Decorating Party

It’s easy to get bogged down during the holidays with all of the very important staff adults “have to do” like attend boring work parties, address and send hundreds of Christmas cards, not to mention the daily vacuuming of pine needles.  An easy fix is to spend an afternoon with some kids decorating cookies.  Seriously, I came up with the idea of this party because I thought it would be fun for some of the little people in my life but the adults had just as much fun as the kids.  It was so therapeutic that my friend Tara said she hadn’t been that relaxed in months! So bust out the frosting and sprinkles and have yourself a party.

DSC02129

Keep the party low key so you can enjoy yourself – I took several short cuts.  First and foremost cover your table!!  We made a ridiculous mess but I had put down craft paper before we started and at the end of the party I just rolled it up and tossed it (along with about 3 pounds of marshmallows).  I went a step further and bought premade dough.  Did you know they even sell it rolled out for you??  Normally I am a bit of a snob about these things but in the interest of my sanity, and the fact that I knew the cookie would just end up being a means of delivering frosting I took the shortcut and was glad I did.  If you want to make your own this recipe has always worked for me.

DSC02124

It is important to make the cookies in advance, even the day before if you want.  Cutting out cookies is hard enough for adults let alone kids but also you can’t frost them until they are completely cooled.  Trust me you don’t want to be the one telling the kids they have to wait an hour to decorate!  Turns out I had a million different holiday cutters (shocker) so we had snowmen, wreaths, trees, stars, gingerbread men, and snowflakes.

DSC02131

I decided to make my own frosting but you can certainly buy tubes of the premade stuff.  Just make sure you have lots as the icing went fast!  I used Wilton’s Royal Icing recipe – it’s great because it hardens fast but you may need to tinker with the proportions, I found I needed a lot more water than called for.  To make the different colors I really like gel coloring because you need a lot less of it than standard liquid food coloring and the colors are a lot richer.  I did white, red, green, blue, yellow and purple cause heck it was a girls cookie party.  I also put out some mini marshmallows and Hershey Kisses for decorating/snacking.  My friends Karin and Tara brought their adorable girls Sophie and Grayson who dove right in.

It is also important to have some non-cookie food to munch on.  I made mini pizzas and a cheese board (with some bubbly for the adults of course).  It was such a fun way to spend the afternoon and in the end each kid had a special box with their names on them to pack up their cookies and take them home.

DSC02136

Everyone had a great time and with about 1 hour of prep time I was able to pull this off.  Who can argue with a party that comes with a cookie goodie bag?  I think this just might become an annual tradition….

DSC02151

What You Need For A Cookie Decorating Party

Special Equipment:

  • different varieties of sprinkles, candies and marshmallows
  • craft paper for the table
  • milk for dunking
  • frosting and squeeze bottles for frosting (or tubes of frosting)
  • bags or boxes to take home cookies
  • cookie dough – premade or homemade
  • cookie cutters
  • snacks
  • a couple bottles of bubbly (in case of emergency)

Holiday Salad

When the holidays come around I basically wrap myself in everything Christmas – the house full of decorations, 24/7 carols on my iPod, and festive cocktails and dishes.  This salad is pulled from one of my recommended cookbooks, Ottolenghi, from Monday’s post Peep My Cookbooks.  It’s crisp and refreshing, which makes it a nice foil to the often heavy, comfort food type dishes that get cooked in December.  It also happens to be red, white and green!  The pomegranate seeds are little jewels in the salad but they aren’t just for show – they add a nice pop of juice and tartness.

Lots of supermarkets these days sell little containers of the seeds themselves but it’s a lot cheaper to buy a whole pomegranate and seed it yourself.  It’s really very easy (instructions below) and with the leftover seeds you can decorate a cocktail, stir them into rice or top ice cream.  Sumac isn’t the easiest spice to run down, middle eastern markets will carry it.  If you are in DC area, Yekta is an amazing Iranian market in Rockville.  Luckily our friends Debbie and Toby live around the corner so anytime I visit them I make sure to stop and stock up.  Otherwise you could find it online.  If you can’t find it I would just skip it as there isn’t really a comparable taste, smokey and lemony all at once.  Don’t worry, the rest of the components still make it a great dish.  This is also a good one for a buffet because it’s served at room temperature and the fennel won’t wilt under the dressing like regular lettuce will.  Doesn’t it make you want to run out and grab the book?

DSC00202

Fennel and Feta Salad (printable version at the end of the post)

Inspiration: Fennel and Feta with Pomegranate Seeds and Sumac from Ottolenghi
Special Equipment:  mandoline (or a very sharp knife)

  • 1/2 pomegranate or 1/3 cup seeds
  • 2 fennel bulbs
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons sumac
  • the juice of 1 lemon
  • 4 tablespoons tarragon leaves
  • 2 tablespoons parsley leaves
  • 2 1/2 ounces feta, cut into small cubes

First seed the pomegranate – halve the pomegranate and hold one half, cut side down over a bowl.  Use a spoon or another hard cooking tool to smack the skin side of the pomegranate.  Keep “spanking” the pomegranate and the seeds will loosen and fall into the bowl.

Set the seeds aside.  Next cut off the stalks of the fennel bulb saving some of the frilly green fronds for garnish.  Discard the outer layer if it’s brown or bruised.  Cut the fennel bulb in half and then use your knife to cut out the triangle of core on each half (its pretty tough but you can leave the core in if you don’t want to do this step).  Using a mandoline or a sharp knife cut the fennel in very thin slices.

Place the fennel in a bowl and toss it with the olive oil, sumac, lemon juice, tarragon, parsley and fennel fronds.  Toss well and season with salt and pepper.  Add the pomegranate seeds and feta and toss lightly until they are incorporated.

Holiday Salad

  • Servings: 4
  • Print

Inspiration: Fennel and Feta with Pomegranate Seeds and Sumac from Ottolenghi
Special Equipment:  mandoline (or a very sharp knife)

  • 1/2 pomegranate or 1/3 cup seeds
  • 2 fennel bulbs
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons sumac
  • the juice of 1 lemon
  • 4 tablespoons tarragon leaves
  • 2 tablespoons parsley leaves
  • 2 1/2 ounces feta, cut into small cubes

First seed the pomegranate – halve the pomegranate and hold one half, cut side down over a bowl.  Use a spoon or another hard cooking tool to smack the skin side of the pomegranate.  Keep “spanking” the pomegranate and the seeds will loosen and fall into the bowl.  Set the seeds aside.  Next cut off the stalks of the fennel bulb saving some of the frilly green fronds for garnish.  Discard the outer layer if its brown or bruised.  Cut the fennel bulb in half and then use your knife to cut out the triangle of core on each half (its pretty tough but you can leave the core in if you don’t want to do this step).  Using a mandoline or a sharp knife cut the fennel in very thin slices.  Place the fennel in a bowl and toss it with the olive oil, sumac, lemon juice, tarragon, parsley and fennel fronds.  Toss well and season with salt and pepper.  Add the pomegranate seeds and feta and toss lightly until they are incorporated.

%d bloggers like this: