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Obsessed: December
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I hope you all have been enjoying your holidays seasons!  No matter which holiday you may celebrate, this is a time to reflect and rejoice with your families and I know I’m looking forward to a few days off for some time to do this.   As I’m sure so many of you are in the midst of running around like headless chickens, just like me, I’m going to be pithy here today.  Here’s what I’m obsessing about this December…

Boston Pops Christmas Party album.  I am completely in love with Christmas music performed by orchestras!  At any given point during this time of year, you can catch me bopping along to “Sleigh Ride” in my car – I especially love the sounds of the horses clopping along!!  As I was creating a playlist for Christmas Day (we’re hosting!), I came across this album with some of the Boston Pops Orchestra’s best music and for $5.99 on iTunes, I couldn’t pass it up.  Since I’m still looking for some more great music to add, what are must-plays at Christmas?

 

10 Best Holiday movies.  Many of you told me what your favorite holiday movie is earlier this week and you overwhelmingly told me that Elf is #1.  I’m actually really surprised by this!!  Though I’m not sure I’ve ever watched this one in its entirety, this list sums up my Top 10 favorites with near perfect precision.  (Bad Santa isn’t one that I would ever consider on my list, however.)  Any list that includes The Muppet Christmas Carol, The Santa Clause, A Charlie Brown Christmas, and Love, Actually together on one list could have been written by me!

Sparkle Pleated Skirt.  I am so far from being a girly-girl (i.e. I wear a skirt maybe once a year) but I just can’t stop thinking about this skirt!  I’m planning to wear on Christmas paired with some tights and cute suede flats (the top has yet TBD) and I seriously cannot wait to “dress up” this year.   And just so you know, until Saturday shipping is only $8 and orders are guaranteed to arrive by Christmas Eve!

Downtown Abbey.  Season 3 starts January 6th!!  Here is another example of “don’t knock it until you’ve tried it” and if you’ve not yet watched Seasons 1 and 2, clear your schedule the week after Christmas because this show is totally addictive.  Available on both Netflix and Amazon Instant you’ll want to get caught up on a storyline that revolves around the “upstairs and downstairs” lives at Downton Abbey, the divide between a lord’s family and the house staff.  It’s set in England in the early to mid-1910s on the cusp of the Victorian Age ending and the beginning of the women’s rights movement and continuing through WWI.  I’ve already added a reminder to my calendar to set the DVR to record the whole series…I’m itching with anticipation!!

Eggnog French Toast + A Giveaway!
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Over the past few years, after I finally got over my aversion to bread pudding and bread pudding-esque foods, I’ve made a couple different versions of baked French toast.  I’ve enjoyed them all but to me, there’s no comparison to fresh French toast made on a hot griddle sizzling with butter.  The crispy browned edges and pools of melted butter and maple syrup floating on top get me every time.

My mom made eggnog French toast for a brunch she hosted five or six years ago and I fell head over heals for it.  As in, hold-me-back-from-getting-a-fourth-slice.  And I don’t know why I only remembered that version again back in November when eggnog showed up again on the shelves this year as opposed to years past but I knew I had to have it.  I adapted a tried and true recipe for French toast because, surprise surprise, I’ve screwed up French toast before, so I know this recipe will work great for you guys as well.  The eggnog, used in place of milk, lends a subtle flavor to this star breakfast and a little extra sprinkle of nutmeg in the eggnog-egg mixture boosts the feeling that it really is the holidays.  We used sourdough bread but any other type of hearty white or wheat, challah, French, or Italian bread will work great too.  The key to a great French toast is to make sure the bread is dry and this can be quickly achieved in a warm oven for 15 minutes.  Overall, this one is a true winner that will be perfect for a festive Christmas morning breakfast.

Giveaway time! Today’s giveaway is a super fun and girly one that will be gone in a flash because the entry period ends tonight!  Head over to the giveaway page to see what you can win and make sure you enter today!

 

Giveaway: Martha Stewart Cookies [CLOSED]
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[THIS GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED]

Whaaat?  Two giveaways in one week??  Heck yes!!  (P.S. – Don’t forget about the Lodge Cast Iron Skillet giveaway that ends tonight at 11:59pm!!)  I had been contemplating doing this giveaway closer to Christmas but I feel really strongly about your needing this book for your holiday baking.  To put it simply, I ADORE Martha Stewart Cookies.  This book is truly one of my favorites in the kitchen and for the past two Christmas seasons, it has been the primary source that I’ve used for new cookie recipes.

Here are a few things I’ve made and loved from this book:

[THIS GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED]

So in honor of Round 4 of “My Favorite Things Holiday Giveaway” series, I’m giving away one book to THREE lucky winners!  Good luck!!

To enter this giveaway here are The Rules:

  1. Answer this question in the comment section of this post (and only this post):  What is one item from your holiday wish list this year?
  2. Only one entry per person will be accepted and you MUST include a valid email address with your comment.
  3. If you don’t see your comment post right away, please don’t post another comment.  The delay happens because I moderate all comments.
  4. You have until Tuesday December 13, 2011 at 11:59pm Eastern to enter this giveaway…and you can potentially have this book in your hot little hands by Friday 12/16!
  5. Three winners will be chosen by that handy-dandy random number generator we’re all familiar with.
  6. The winners will notified on Wednesday December 14, 2011.  If you do not respond to my email within 48 hours, another winner will be chosen (also at random).
  7. Giveaway is open to entries with U.S. addresses only.

[THIS GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED]

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Disclosure:  This giveaway is sponsored by yours truly.

King Arthur Flour Store Goodies and Gift Card Giveaway – CLOSED
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[THIS GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED.]

Happy Monday!  I don’t know about you, but I’ve already got a list a mile long of new ideas and old favorites for my holiday baking…and I expect it will only be more difficult to narrow this list down as November wanes on and holiday recipes explode all over the Interwebs.  Now truthfully, I may not be able to help you narrow down your list but how about a little help with the ever-expanding expense of holiday baking?

King Arthur Flour has long been one of my favorite resources for baking supplies and every time I’ve stepped foot in the Baker’s Store in Norwich, VT, I’ve been transported to a baker’s heaven.  So….to kick-off my “Favorite Things Holiday Giveaway” series that you may or may not have seen on Facebook, I feel like you need to know about the greatness that is KAF via a few of my favorite King Arthur products, especially if you give away food gifts at the holidays and a few possibly unknown facts…

  1. Did you know that the KAF website supports a 2000+ recipe collection with recipes that are tested in their own test-kitchens.  I’ve made and blogged a few of these recipes…and have a ton more on my t0-make list…and you will too so go there now. :)
  2. Ever need a baking question answered while you’re in the middle of making a recipe with no one around to ask it to?  Well, how about using KAF’s free Baking Hotline?
  3. Have you been trying to bake gluten-free?  I’m definitely no expert in this field, but I’ve heard awesome things from gluten-free bakers about KAF’s gluten-free line of flours, mixes, and recipes!
  4. For more information, recipes, and sales/promotions, be sure to sign up for KAF’s emails (I get these emails and I promise they don’t bombard you with emails!) or follow them on Facebook and/or Twitter.

[THIS GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED.]

So…here’s what you can win in this giveaway:

(1) Set of Holiday Gift Tags and Ribbons (no more rooting around for pretty food-related gift tags!)

(1) 24oz bag of Baker’s Cinnamon Filling (for cinnamon buns or cinnamon swirl bread)

(1) 16oz bag of Malted Milk Powder (just ’cause you’ll love it as much as I do)

(1) 5lb bag of the famous King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour, AND…

(1) $50 Gift Card (oh yeah baby!!) — This is an e-card so you won’t have to wait for it to be shipped!

To enter this giveaway here are The Rules:

  1. Answer this question in the comment section of this post (and only this post):  What is your favorite holiday cookie?
  2. Only one entry per person will be accepted and you MUST include a valid email address with your comment.
  3. If you don’t see your comment post right away, please don’t post another comment.  The delay happens because I moderate all comments.
  4. You have until Thursday November 17, 2011 at 11:59pm Eastern to enter this giveaway.
  5. One winner will be chosen by that handy-dandy random number generator we’re all familiar with.
  6. The winner will notified on Friday November 18, 2011.  If you do not respond to my email within 48 hours, another winner will be chosen (also at random).
  7. Giveaway is open to entries with U.S. addresses only.

Disclosure:  King Arthur Flour is helping to sponsor this giveaway by graciously donating the 5lb bag of flour and the shipping costs associated with sending the flour.  All of the other products and the gift card are given by yours truly.

[THIS GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED.]

Maple Bacon Mini Quiche
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maple bacon quiche 1

What seems like ages ago, I hosted a French-inspired maple-themed luxury dinner party.  Each of the 5 courses included at least one dish that highlighted maple as the main ingredient and while this dinner was delightfully successful, time completely escaped me and I never had the chance to blog about all of the dishes I made.  And now we find ourselves heading back into Fall where maple continues to be a star ingredient so I’m taking the opportunity these next few weeks to share the recipes with you.  Are you excited or what?!

These maple bacon mini quiche started off my dinner party but made as a full-size quiche, it would be the perfect addition to any buffet or breakfast menu.  A delicately sweet and boldly savory quiche, this is a great all-around recipe. To amp up the maple flavor, I used maple-cured bacon – use it if you can find it!  A little bit of fresh thyme rounds out these quiche with an “herby” background flavor and I think it’s the thyme, not the bacon, that makes these mini quiche so addicting…or maybe it’s the buttery homemade crust…it’s really a tough choice!  Either way, put these on your next party menu – you and your guests will appreciate it.

Pumpkin Mousse Parfaits
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Welcome to Project Food Blog Challenge #7! Back in August, when the challenges were announced and I saw that a video was one of them, I literally lol’d because I was happy that I’d never have do this challenge.  I truly didn’t think I’d get to this challenge.  I’m floored that I’m still in this competition and I thank each and every one of you for voting and supporting me.  I also want to thank you for the support you’ve been showing the other bloggers in Project Food Blog.  Our readers have been the driving force behind this competition and personally speaking, you have instilled in me a level of confidence about blogging that I never would have achieved had it not been for these challenges.  I’ve pushed myself further than I ever dreamed I would as a blogger and this video is a testament to that.

For the Video 411 challenge, the peeps at FoodBuzz asked us to: “Channel your inner Julia Child and put one of your favorite recipes on film.” The original challenge said to choose a favorite from our blog’s archive but it was later changed to allow us to choose a new recipe…and that’s what I did.  For the past few years, I’ve been dying to make Ina Garten’s Pumpkin Mousse Parfaits and I took this opportunity to make them for the first time on camera for all of you to see.

This video isn’t fancy.  It isn’t flashy.  But it’s me.  It’s true to who I am and how I work in the kitchen. And it’s recipe-driven, just as Smells Like Home is.  Kyle and I aren’t filmmakers and in fact, this was the first time we had used the video function on my camera.  The editing was done by two college undergrads, one of whom edited the reality-TV-style videos for the research project I coordinate at work.  They worked on it between classes and their part-time jobs.  I’m proud to say this is my video and I’m thrilled with how it turned out, considering the butterflies that swarmed my stomach before Kyle and I started filming.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I do…

As I mentioned in the video, this is the perfect recipe for your Thanksgiving dessert if you’re looking to get away from regular ol’ pumpkin pie.  The longer the mousse blends with the gingersnaps (they can refrigerated for up to 3 days before serving!), the more the cookies take on a cake-like texture so you actually feel like you’re eating gingerbread cake between the pumpkin mousse layers.  This no-cook dessert screams fall and the holidays and if I had any say about what kind of pumpkin dessert would be served at my Thanksgiving dinner this year (which I don’t because my mother-in-law always makes a pumpkin pie which I’m not allowed to compete with), these parfaits would be on my menu.  I think you should put them on yours!

Guinness Chocolate Cupcakes + Bailey’s Irish Cream Buttercream
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I may have made these cute little cupcakes for St. Patty’s Day this year but don’t be mistaken…no one will complain if you bring these to work say, in the middle of August.  I had heard so so much about the now famous Guinness and Bailey’s cupcakes and honestly, at first, I wasn’t thrilled with the idea of beer cupcakes.  In fact, it took me two St. Patty’s days to finally work up the courage to make them. But boy am I glad I did!  I absolutely loved how they turned out and since the Guinness gives just a little undertone of flavor to the chocolate cupcakes, I was able to concentrate on the awesomeness of the Bailey’s Irish Cream buttercream.  Oh.My.Goodness. The buttercream was seriously great.  Because the buttercream isn’t cooked, the Bailey’s is a prominent flavor so if you’re serving them to those who are averse [ahem] to alcohol, they should probably be forewarned. Everyone who tried these cupcakes raved over them, even those who didn’t know there was alcohol in them, and I will not hesitate to make them again for anyone who requests them.

Caramelized Butternut Squash
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With Fall in full swing now, it’s impossible for me to resist almost any butternut squash recipe so when I came across this one in The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook, possibly my favorite of all of Ina’s books, I knew it was the perfect addition to the Week with the Barefoot Contessa challenge. And I figured this would go over well with the rest of the BB members since the Butternut Squash Risotto went over so well last October.

In short, the caramelized butternut squash was dreamy. I absolutely loved it and Kyle who isn’t a huge butternut squash fan really enjoyed it as well.  The combo of sweet and salty/peppery flavors here were just outstanding! The recipe itself was a piece of cake and since I decided to pick up some already peeled butternut squash, I know I saved myself some frustration by not having to peel it.  I think the key to this recipe is to turn the squash a number of times while it’s baking. This way, you will ensure that all of the pieces are well-coated with the butter-sugar mixture on the baking sheet and will caramelize evenly.  If I hadn’t already offered to bring all of the desserts to Thanksgiving dinner (thus saving my family the pain of eating my grandmother’s desserts), I would definitely bring this as a side dish!!

Cinnamon Sugar Halloween Cookies
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If you’re not already tired of seeing Halloween treats, here’s some more!  Just a couple of days ago, my office decided to do an impromptu Halloween treats morale-boosting-party complete with costumes (it’s this afternoon so I can’t say how this part went yet) and I immediately knew I would make these cookies for the party. Since making the Survivor Cookies for my cousin last summer, I’d gotten the itch to test out the royal icing waters even further and since I’ve had a pumpkin cookie cutter in my appliance closet (no joke – it’s a full closet in one of the bedrooms) for at least two years, I was happy to bust this little guy out.

The choice for cookie dough was simple since purchasing Martha Stewart’s Cookies a few months back.  I had bookmarked a number of recipes and this was one of them. It’s a basic sugar cookie recipe, though varying slightly in basic ingredients from the last recipe I used, but the addition of cinnamon at the suggestion of Martha is a brilliant one especially considering the time of year.  The cookies have just enough cinnamon flavor to perfectly complement the sweet royal icing making them cookies you won’t be able to keep your hands off of…aside from the fact they are so darn cute!

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I used the same royal icing recipe as last but swapped out 1/2 tbsp of water for 1/2 tbsp of vanilla extract, further helping to complement the cinnamon in the cookie.  If you’re still not sure about working with royal icing or need a refresher, be sure to check out Annie’s hints!