Merry Christmas!

May peace, joy, and love fill your holiday season and last throughout the New Year.

We'll be taking next week off from the blog so come check us back out in the New Year! We'll start with our regularly scheduled programming on Monday, January 4th with Meal Plan Monday! And maybe there'll be some new things in store for the blog in 2016.

Cheers - from our furry friends to yours!

Holiday Home Tour 2015

Welcome to our Holiday Home Tour: 2015 edition! I had so much fun decorating this year. Even though it was our second holiday in our home, since we are a bit more settled this year than last, I felt like decorating was much more impactful. I can envision decorating our mantle for years to come and look forward to creating many happy holiday memories here. This year's decorations weren't too different from last year but I did switch things up a little bit. The mantle decorations are a new addition (with a DIY piece - did you see it yesterday??) and of course the buffet required some new pieces because it's a new furniture piece I haven't decorated before!

Without anymore chatter please enjoy our holiday home tour!






Happy Holidays!
Past Holiday Home Tours: 2014 | 2013 | 2012

DIY Christmas Craft Roundup

Before coming out with our Holiday Home Tour post tomorrow I thought it would be fun to highlight some of the DIY Christmas crafts I've done in years past (and always meant to share on the blog but never did). Each year I seem to add some sort of DIY Christmas craft to our assortment. I typically don't set out to find the perfect DIY craft but there always seems to be something specific I want to add to the decor and can't find in stores. So I set off to make it!

Here are the crafts, a bit about why we made them, and a brief "how" for making them! If you'd like to make one and don't feel like there's adequate information please let me know. I did my best to give a general sum of the project where you can make it yourself but didn't outline every single detail. All of them are definitely on the beginner scale of crafting but they can be time consuming (and require patience).

2010 - Felt Ornaments

Why? We needed some ornaments for our tree. These DIY felt ornaments were our first DIY Christmas craft. In 2010 we were just out of college (and recently dating) and needed to deck out our tree on the inexpensive side. What was a crafting date night to produce colorful, personalized cheap ornaments turned into a wonderful holiday memory that we cherish and reminisce on each year when we pull out these ornaments. The felt ornaments are also unique and really make our tree stand out.

How? I decided that felt ornaments would be the most effective way to produce enough ornaments to decorate a whole tree. I found a template online for holiday shapes that would make good ornaments (here are the ones I used). The template was traced onto both cardstock paper and the felt. The felt shape was then glued onto the cardstock which provided the felt with a sturdy base. We then decorated the felt shapes however we wanted - our creativity and personality (and skill) really shine here! To decorate the shapes we would make cut outs in other colors of felt and glue it onto the felt base. To finish the ornament we used threaded an embroidery thread loop for hanging.

Materials: Cardstock, felt, tacky glue, embroidery thread. Scissors, needle.
Here's a close up of a few of them:

2012 - Yarn Christmas Trees

Why? I don't have a distinct memory of why I wanted these trees. I think I thought they would just be a fun project and they were! I love the way they turned out and have such fun putting them out each year. They seem to find their way into a different place each season. Out of all the craft projects I'm sharing in this post these are the easiest. I also used leftover felt from the ornaments (I bought lots of felt for that project).

How? Begin by hot gluing the end of the green yarn to the base of the styrofoam cone. Wrap the yarn around the cone and keeping each wrap of yarn as close to the one before it as you can. Place a dot of hot glue intermittently to secure the yarn to the cone. Continuing wrapping the yarn until it is coiled on the top and finish with hot glue. After the yarn has been wrapped around the cone, cut a base for the tree from brown felt that is slightly larger than the base diameter of the cone. Hot glue the felt to the cone. Next is adding the ornaments. I chose burgundy and white dots of varying sizes. Glue the ornaments to the yarn tree. Finally cut two diamonds for the star; lay one diamond on the table, place hot glue for the toothpick and glue the toothpick, add a bit more hot glue and add the other diamond onto the first. Now stick the toothpick into the top of the cone and you have a star on your tree! Repeat until desired amount of trees in your felt tree forest has been crafted!

Materials: Styrofoam cones (various sizes), green yarn, felt (for ornaments, star, base), toothpick, hot glue sticks. Scissors, hot glue gun.

2013 - Christmas Tree Skirt

Why? Well we decked our tree in ornaments and then we needed a tree skirt! It seemed fitting to make a tree skirt to coordinate with our ornaments. Off I set to figure out how! This project has the potential to be really "easy" but I chose to hand sew each individual sequin on so it was quite time consuming. Anyone can cut a yard of felt into a circle - the difficulty will lie in how you choose to adorn the tree skirt. I'm really opposed to tree skirts with large images on them because eventually the presents will cover them up. Therefore I planned some pops of traditional Christmas color for my skirt.

How? I followed this tutorial for preparing the skirt. It gives a standard measurement for how big the tree skirt should be and easy instructions for executing an even circle. Then you cut down the radius and cut a smaller circle for the base of the tree. I then cut an abundant number of 2" round green and white felt pieces. I alternated these around the base. I would place the green and white circles around the base (probably worked with about five at a time) and pin them down. Then I used needle and thread to sew the sequins onto the circles and the base. With one piece of thread I would sew the sequins and the edge of the circle down. This was in case a piece of thread ever breaks the tree skirt will not lose all of the sequins and border. Every now and then instead of sequins I would sew on a jingle bell. I'd be happy to share more details for the method to my madness but I doubt I'm going to inspire too many folks to DIY a tree skirt in this manner. Finally I added closure snaps to skirt in the back.

Materials: Felt, sequins, small jingle bells, thread, closure snaps. Scissors, needle.

2015 - Canvas Art 
with Reindeer Names

Why? We needed new seasonal decor for our mantle. We've learned over the past year that if anything goes on the mantle it needs to be unbreakable or not sentimental if it gets knocked off (because - cats). Last year's mantle decor didn't pass our new requirements. I started by stringing some lights onto a previous green garland we had. As I was out and about I began looking for decor pieces that had height and found two reindeer to flank both sides of the mantle. Then I decided canvas reindeer art would be the perfect finishing touch to the mantle. Well after much searching on Etsy and in craft shops I came to the conclusion that I was the only person with this vision. So off I set to execute this canvas reindeer name art.

How? To begin you'll need to do some planning and math. I sketched out the orientation of how I wanted the reindeer names in Paint and moved the letters around until I liked them. Next up is the math. Measure your canvas and decide how tall your rows will need to be to fill the space. I think my canvas was about 18" tall and I planned a 1" border, 6 - 2" rows, and 1 - 3" row (for Rudolph) with 1/4" between the rows. Then the width of the letters was set according to how much space needed to be taken up. All very precise... not really; I freehanded everything but you could be more precise! I would use a ruler and pencil to make general guidelines though. I fashioned the letters from crafting tape and lots of cutting. This is time consuming. After the letters were all taped I painted over the entire pieces with green acrylic paint. Once it dried I peeled off the tape and was left with white letters and reindeer names! Finally I outlined the letters in fabric paint - clear glitter for the reindeer names and red for Rudolph. Some green paint leaked under the tape and if I feel up for it I may use some white paint as touch up but it's only noticeable up close. I tell myself it gives it character!

Materials: Canvas, tape, acrylic paint, fabric paint. Ruler, pencil, scissors, foam brush.

Tune in tomorrow for our holiday home tour.

Meal Plan Monday Post

This week was our last CSA box of the fall / winter season. The farm has certainly kept our refrigerator full of wonderful produce and we will miss it. Our CSA allows us to select what's in our box each week and we are not required to use our weekly allotment if we don't want to (alternately we can choose to go over - whatever we want to do!). There were a few weeks during the fall / winter season where I got a smaller amount of produce and then we also we skipped a few weeks when we went on vacation. Therefore as the season has ended we have had extra credit that we needed to use for the CSA or we would lose it. Needless to say our refrigerator has been overflowing and it has been giving me something extra to consider in meal planning - using up what's already in the fridge before the new CSA box came! As I look at the meal plan we're sharing for the past week nearly everything has something from the fridge that we needed to "use up".

We also had the pleasure of receiving a box of fresh oranges from Florida. One of our neighbors has a child in the high school band and they sell fruit as a fundraiser - Patrick knows to order us a box each fall and we're always so happy when it's delivered!

We'll be in the kitchen using the rest of our last CSA box until Christmas. We hope you have a joyous holiday however you celebrate!

Meal Plan for Monday December 14 - Sunday December 20

Monday - Ricotta cheese pizza with balsamic roasted tomatoes, salad
Tuesday - Salmon, steamed broccoli, quinoa-rice blend
Wednesday - Dinner & a Movie Date Night: Dinner @ Zinburger and then Hunger Games 3.2 
Thursday- Taco salad
Friday - Leftovers
Saturday - Breakfast Peanut butter and chocolate banana crepes
   Lunch Kale salad with roasted beets, cottage cheese, oranges
   Dinner Chicken and tatsoi stir fry
Sunday - Breakfast Huevos rancheros-style grits
   Lunch Thai turkey chili
   Dinner Pork loin with arugula-quinoa salad and butternut squash

Cookies and Cocoa

Remember the other week how I hosted a cookie party on National Cookie Day without even knowing it was National Cookie Day?? Well I did it again! We hosted a Cookies & Cocoa holiday open house complete with hot cocoa bar on National Cocoa Day! Who knew what intuition I had!

When we were entering the holiday season I had no idea that we'd host three parties but everything worked out just fine. This holiday open house is something that I was particularly looking forward to because it was a casual "drop by if / when you can" party for our neighbors, co-workers, friends, and family. It was such a nice way to open our home and let everyone know how much we've enjoyed spending time with them this past year and building relationships.

The invitation was for "Cookies & Cocoa" so I knew those items needed to be well represented. The cookies were all set out on the kitchen table. There was trash, chocolate espresso snowcap cookies, brownies, saltine toffee, peanut butter blossoms, and sugar cookies. (Many thanks to my mom and a friend who each contributed a sweet!) We set out a hot cocoa bar along the stove and had cocoa warming in the crockpot. There were also a few savory options set up - veggies and dip, chips and salsa, baked brie with cranberry sauce and walnuts, and a baked crab dip. If you're interested in one of these recipes for the savory items please visit this holiday party google doc (link) which has all the party recipes from the dinner club cocktail party and the holiday open house. All the cookie recipes are below! Here are some snapshots:

Saltine toffees on upper dish; peanut butter blossoms on lower dish
Saltine Toffees as made by a friend who offered to bring them to the party
2 sticks butter
1 cup brown sugar
1-2 sleeves saltines
12 oz chocolate chips (can use more)
   Preheat oven to 350F, line a 9x13 baking sheet (with sides) with aluminum foil. Spray foil and lay out saltines so they cover the whole pan 1 saltine thick.
   Melt butter and brown sugar together. Bring mixture to a boil, while stirring constantly, let mixture boil with white frothy bubbles for 3 minutes until it creates a syrupy consistency
   Once it has boiled for the appropriate amount of time, take off heat and pour over the saltines. Use a large metal spoon to spread over all the saltines while being careful to not bunch all the saltines up.
   Place in oven and cook for 15 minutes. The sugar and butter will bubble and melt into the saltines.
   Remove from oven and pour chocolate chips over the saltines. Then with a knife begin to spread the chocolate chips out evenly as they melt. It will take a minute for the chocolate chips to begin to melt so be patient while spreading them around - they will melt and will then be really easy to spread and create an even coat across the saltines and caramels. Be sure to have a flat surface when pouring the caramel over the saltines and while spreading the chocolate chips so your bars will be even and not super thick.
   Place whole cookie sheet in the freezer overnight. The next day pull aluminum foil off and break into small pieces (1"x1" or 2"x2"). Best when served out of fridge or freezer as caramel will get very sticky on your teeth when biting these bars.

Peanut butter blossoms followed the Land O Lakes recipe
   Makes 48 cookies (I must've rolled my cookies too big because I didn't come close to 48 cookies)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup peanut butter
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 cup sugar
48 milk chocolate candy kisses, unwrapped - we used dark chocolate kisses
   Heat oven o 375°F.
   Combine 1/2 cup sugar, brown sugar, butter and peanut butter in bowl. Beat at medium speed until light and fluffy. Add egg, vanilla and salt; continue beating until well mixed. Add flour and baking soda; beat at low speed, scraping bowl often, until well mixed.
   Shape dough into 1-inch balls. If dough is too soft, refrigerate 30-60 minutes. Roll balls in 1/4 cup sugar. Place 2 inches apart onto ungreased cookie sheets.
   Bake 8-10 minutes or until very lightly golden brown. Immediately press 1 chocolate kiss in center of each cookie. Remove to cooling racks.

Chocolate espresso snowcap cookies from Martha Stewart
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
4 tsp instant espresso
1 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
4 tbsp unsalted butter
2/3 cup packed light-brown sugar
1 large egg
4 oz bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, melted and cooled
1 tbsp milk
Confectioners' sugar, for coating
   In a medium bowl, sift together flour, cocoa, espresso, baking powder, and salt. With an electric mixer, cream butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in egg until well combined; mix in cooled chocolate. With mixer on low, gradually add flour mixture; beat in milk until just combined. Flatten dough into a disk; wrap in plastic. Freeze until firm, about 45 minutes.
   Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment. Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Pour confectioners' sugar (about 1/2 cup) into a medium bowl; working in batches, roll balls in sugar two times, letting them sit in sugar between coatings.
   Place on prepared baking sheets, 2 inches apart. Bake until cookies have spread and coating is cracked, 12 to 14 minutes; cookies will still be soft to the touch. Cool cookies on a wire rack.

Sugar Cookies from Bake at 350 blog
3 c unbleached, all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 c sugar
2 sticks (salted) butter, cold & cut into chunks
1 egg
3/4 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp pure almond extract
   Preheat oven to 350.
   Combine the flour and baking powder, set aside. Cream the sugar and butter. Add the egg and extracts and mix. Gradually add the flour mixture and beat just until combined, scraping down the bowl, especially the bottom.
   The dough will be crumbly, so knead it together with your hands as you scoop it out of the bowl for rolling.
   Roll on a floured surface to about 1/4" to 3/8" thick, and cut into shapes. Place on parchment lined baking sheets (it's recommended to freeze the cut out shape on the baking sheet for 5 minutes before baking) and bake for 10-12 minutes. Let sit a few minutes on the sheet, then transfer to a cooling rack.
   Decorate as desired; I used the same royal icing from her blog and featured on the spiced pumpkin cutout cookies I made last month. I split the royal icing batch into thirds - left 1/3 white and dyed the remaining thirds red and green. My colors were a bit on the pastel side so I'm looking forward to mastering the correct colors in the future! I did have red sprinkles on hand that I put on the red icing to give it a bit more red!

Trash as made by my mom
1 stick of butter
1 cup of peanut butter
1 12 oz bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 12 oz box of Rice Chex
1 box of 10x powdered sugar
1 trash bag ( I used a 4 gal size garage bag)
   Melt butter, peanut butter, and chocolate chips in saucepan.
   Pour in cereal and stir until cereal is well coated. ( I tried to be as gentle as possible).
   Layer cereal and 10x sugar in trash bag.
   Shake well. Be careful. It can be messy.

And then there was a hot cocoa bar to wash down all the cookies! Despite the weather nearing 70 degrees our guests were still interested in having some cocoa and having fun at the cocoa bar.

We set up the hot cocoa warming in a crockpot. There was also coffee and a pitcher of water.

Patrick was in charge of the cocoa! Somehow I bargained with him that I would do the cookies if he would be solely responsible for the cocoa - how could he not pass up that deal?! Here's what he did:

Hot Cocoa
Warm together: 1 gallon whole milk, 3/4 cup cocoa, 3/4 cup sugar (ended up being sweeter than I liked, so I would do less), ~1 tbsp vanilla, sprinkle cinnamon, and ~1 tsp salt.
May initially warm up on the stovetop and then move to the crockpot. If you are planning to add more to the batch we would recommend keeping it on the stovetop so the milk will be heated quickly.

The hot cocoa bar was a lot of fun to set up! We had mini marshmallows, whipped cream, caramel sauce, and chocolate sprinkles as options for toppings and pirouettes and candy canes for the stirrers.

We had almost thirty in the house throughout the "floating" time that was given. What a festive way to spend the afternoon - with friends and family, cookies and cocoa!

Cheers! From our cocoa mug to yours; have a wonderful holiday!

Dinner club cocktail party

Last weekend was the weekend of parties for us! We hosted the dinner club on Friday night for a casual holiday cocktail get together, attended a wedding on Saturday, and then hosted a holiday open house on Sunday. We're featuring a roundup of the dinner cocktail party today and then the holiday open house tomorrow! If you've still got some holiday hosting to do hopefully this will give you some ideas.

We co-hosted the cocktail party with another couple in the dinner club. And you know what that means?! We only had to do half what we usually do for a party. Love co-hosting! Patrick and I were responsible for a few savory dishes, the desserts, and the wine. Our wonderful co-hosts provided the majority of the savory dishes including cheese fondue and the other drinks. They brought over a festive holiday punch that really set the mood for the party. Check it out...

Doesn't it look wonderful?! We had holiday music playing in the background and enjoyed everyone's company. Knowing we had a party just two days after this one I made sure I was super organized going into the weekend. I tried to do as much prep beforehand as I could. I made a google doc with all the recipes that I would need to be making for the cocktail party and the holiday open house. Then I had a to-do list broken out into each day beginning with Thursday for what I could make ahead and when to do it. Check out the document here (link) if you'd like to check out any of the recipes.

Here's a brief rundown of what we prepared for this party:

Veggies and dip - Mix equal parts of yogurt and sour cream; combine with ranch seasoning packet. I doubled the dip so I could have it for both parties. We served with broccoli florets, carrots, cherry tomatoes, and celery.

Chicken salad and crackers - Always good to have some protein offerings at any party! For this chicken salad I took the meat off a rotisserie chicken and shredded it. Then I added a dollop of mayo, spoonful of dijon mustard, handful of almonds, some diced pickles, and salt and pepper.

The brownies were a box mix. You really can't go wrong with a box mix for brownies in my opinion.

Red velvet trifle - I googled quite a bit and ended up following the recipe from Melissa's Southern Style Kitchen which puts a white chocolate spin on it. Check out the Red Velvet White Chocolate Cheesecake Trifle recipe here (link).

And finally there were some blackberry cheesecake bites - This was my favorite dessert! I followed Pioneer Woman's recipe (link)t and it couldn't have been easier.


Lemon risotto and new saute pan

We love all of our cookware, but since the time we got it about two years ago, one pan has stood out from the rest in terms of utility and frequency of use: our large nonstick deep saute pan.

For almost any dish that requires a saute we use this pan. The size accommodates our medium to large meals (we love having leftovers), the high sides keep us from making a mess and let us toss a pasta dish together, and it's bakeable, which comes in handy every now and then (e.g. fake bake or baked mac and cheese). Unfortunately, due to constant use and maybe some occasional overheating, the nonstick coating was starting to fail in the center of the pan. With the difficulty of washing it and concern about consuming the nonstick coating, we decided to seek out a replacement.

We found that replacement in a Le Creuset deep saute pan! We had been eyeing this pan online, and then Whitney was lucky to get a great deal on a floor model that had been on clearance in our local Williams-Sonoma. We were super excited! We've enjoyed our other Le Creuset cast iron enamel pieces. The enamel comes clean easily and hasn't showed any signs of accumulated wear. The one downside is that it's super heavy, but it's worth it to have a pan we love that will hopefully last forever. We've also decided that it makes sense to store it on the top since it is so heavy and we use it so much!

After we got the pan we used it for nearly five days straight, which only shows how much use we get out of our deep saute pans:
   Thursday - lemon risotto
   Saturday - warm lentil salad
   Sunday - sauteed apples for brunch
   Monday - kale and ricotta pasta bake
   Tuesday - asian pork with soba noodles and cabbage

It was a joy to use each time. Today we'll feature the lemon risotto recipe, which was a new risotto style for us. I probably wouldn't rank it above my favorite lemon spaghetti or some of our other risotto preparations, but it was still quite good.

Lemon Risotto inspiration from 101 Cookbooks
   Serves 4
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
2 shallots, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tsp fine-grain sea salt
2 cups lightly pearled barley or pearled farro - we subbed arborio rice
1 cup good quality dry white wine
6 cups light vegetable stock (or water) - we used chicken stock
Grated zest of 4 lemons
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup crème fraiche (or sour cream) - we used sour cream
3 big handfuls of greens, chopped - we used arugula
Handful of toasted pine nuts, for garnish - we omitted

   Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy saucepan over medium heat, then add the onions, shallots, garlic, and salt and saute, stirring constantly, for about 4 minutes, or until the onion begins to soften.
   Add the barley to the pot and stir until coated with a nice sheen, then add the white wine and simmer for 3 or 4 minutes, until the barley has absorbed the liquid a bit. Adjust the heat to maintain a gentle, active simmer.
   In increments, add about 6 cups of water or stock, 1 cup at a time, letting the barley absorb most of the liquid between additions; this should take around 40 minutes altogether. Stir regularly so the grains on the bottom of the pan don't scorch. You will know when the barley is cooked because it won't offer up much resistance when chewing (it will, however, be chewier than Arborio rice).
   When the barley is tender remove the pot from heat. Stir in the lemon zest, Parmesan, and crème fraiche. Taste and adjust - add more salt if needed, more lemon zest. Then stir in the greens. Garnish with toasted pine nuts and a dusting of extra Parmesan before serving.

Warm Lentil Salad with Sausage and Apple

It's no secret that Patrick and I take pleasure in weekend brunch. We love trying new brunch recipes (or sticking with old favorites) and having a relaxing morning in our home. On this particular morning for today's featured recipe we were hosting my parents for brunch before going to see a DPAC matinee. I'm not quite sure where I ran across this recipe but it's a warm lentil salad with sausage and apple and thus a new recipe. We served it with a cheese quiche which is an old favorite - grab the quiche recipe here.

Knowing our brunch would be more on the "lunch" side of things rather than the "breakfast" end we decided to steer towards a more lunch-based brunch with this salad that I think is perfect for brunch! I think it's so perfect that I wanted to share it before Christmas because I think it would be great to prepare around the holidays with family around. You can pair it with a quiche like we did and also add something sweet to the plate if you'd like. It's got sausage and lentils so it's quite filling too. It's a nice way to lighten up some holiday fare but still imparts lots of flavor and can please traditional palettes.

Warm Lentil Salad with Sausage and Apple
   Serves 4
4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, divided
2 tbsp red-wine vinegar
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
3 links hot or sweet turkey sausage, casings removed (we subbed pork breakfast sausage)
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups cooked or canned (rinsed) lentils
1 small bulb fennel, finely diced (we subbed green onions)
1 Granny Smith apple, finely diced
2 stalks celery with leaves, finely diced
6 cups arugula or mesclun greens

   Whisk 3 tablespoons oil, vinegar, mustard, salt and pepper in a large bowl.
   Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add sausage; cook, stirring often and breaking up, until cooked through, about 5 minutes. Add garlic; cook 30 seconds more. Stir in lentils and heat through, about 2 minutes. Stir in 5 tablespoons of the dressing and remove from the heat. Stir in fennel, apple and celery.
   Toss greens with the remaining dressing. Serve with the warm lentil mixture on top.

Happy brunching!

Meal Plan Monday Post

Well our crazy first thirteen days of December have come to a close! You can bet I slept good last night - and you can bet we will relax all through next weekend. In the past two weeks we have put up our Christmas tree and decked the halls, Patrick had three orchestra concerts (I attended two of them), hosted two luncheons, went to a matinee at DPAC, went to a wedding, hosted three parties at our house, went to a holiday party at the Carolina Inn, and lived without doors on our closet because we're painting! We're able to enjoy all the parties on the weekend because we're cooking at home on the weeknights. Here's last week's meal plan.

Meal Plan for Monday December 7 - Sunday December 13

Monday - Kale ricotta pasta
Tuesday - Asian pork with cabbage and soba noodles
Wednesday - Patrick had an orchestra concert; they provided him dinner since his call time was at 5:30pm and I grabbed a sandwich and salad at Panera beforehand
Thursday - Crockpot beef stroganoff
Friday - Dinner club cocktail party
Saturday - Fend for yourself day; have leftovers whenever you want
   We attended an evening wedding!
Sunday - Brunch My parents insisted on taking us to Guglhupf
   Afternoon Cookies & Cocoa holiday open house

It's Always Caturday
 Humans... we'll just nap here while you have all the holiday fun.
Don't worry about us.

Cookies and Wine Pairing Party

Did you know that December 4th was National Cookie Day?? Yeah, I didn't either. But I think my subconscious did! I unknowingly planned a cookie and wine pairing party for last Friday evening which just happened to be National Cookie Day. I hosted the pairing party for the new members of the Junior League as a social.

I spent quite a bit of time researching what pairings to feature at the party. It wasn't the easiest thing to find information on. If, however, you'd like to have specifically a Girl Scout cookie and wine pairing then there is a plethora of information for that! This "Baking Bites" website gives a good rundown on pairing wines and dessert. The majority of my information and pairings came from this "Swirl Savvy" blog post and then a bit of additional information from this "Vine Pair" graphic.

I landed on 7 pairings: Sugar Cookies & Prosecco, White chocolate-based Cookies & Moscato, Gingerbread Cookies & Riesling, Snowball Cookies & Pinot Grigio, Chocolate peppermint Cookies & Cabernet, Dark chocolate-based Cookies & Red Zinfandel, and finally Chocolate chip Cookies & Cabernet. Before the party I sent out a sign up to everyone coming and had the ladies choose which cookie or wine they wanted to bring. This worked out perfectly!

The pairings were all placed around the dining room table and the tasting happened at everyone's leisure. I was really proud of myself for using our Christmas dishes (the salad plate) and stemless wine glasses - no paper products! I had paper napkins but I actually forgot to put them out so this was really a zero waste party! Well, I guess technically I need to retract that statement. I cut out wrapping paper to place as a border around the table. Since there would be lots of small amounts of wine being poured I didn't want anyone to have to worry about dripping on the tablecloth so this was a good (and festive) way to protect against wine drips. The wrapping paper was later recycled though!

Now here are the tasting notes for the different pairings and I'm sharing the recipes for the cookies if they were homemade. The pairings are presented from light intensity to strong. The sugar cookies and prosecco are light on the palette and therefore were our first pairing while we end with the richness of chocolate chip cookies and cabernet. The tasting notes were printed onto the red card tents with a gingerbread man sticker on it!

Sugar Cookies & Prosecco
   The quintessential Christmas cookie, Prosecco’s hint of sweetness and bubbles go perfectly with the delicate flavors of the cookie. The bubbles in this sparkling wine go wonderfully with the crunchy sugar coating on the cookies as well.

White Chocolate-based Cookies & Moscato
   White chocolate tends to be more mellow and buttery in flavor, making it an ideal candidate for Moscato. This dessert wine will pick up the creaminess of the white chocolate. Moscato fabulously accompanies any fruit-filled cookie as well.

Red Velvet Cookies with White Chocolate Chips adapted from Inside BruCrew Life blog
   Prep Time: 45 minutes Cook Time: 9 minutes Yield: 36 cookies

1 red velvet cake mix (18 oz.)
1 stick butter, melted
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 1/2 cup white chocolate chips

   In a mixing bowl, combine the cake mix and butter, Add the egg, vanilla, and cream cheese and beat until mixed thoroughly. Stir in the chips by hand. Chill the dough at least 30 minutes.
   Roll the dough into 1 -1 1/2 inch balls. Bake on a nonstick surface at 350F for 9 minutes. Let rest on pan for 2 minutes before removing to parchment lined counters. Cool completely before storing in a sealed container for up to 5 days. Makes 36 cookies.

Gingerbread Cookies & Riesling
   The slightly sweet flavors of the Riesling make it an ideal pair for the spicy flavors of ginger. The wine will be a perfect match, showing delicious honey, vanilla & fruit flavors and is sure to be a holiday hit.

Snowball Cookies & Pinot Grigio
   Also often called Italian Wedding Cookies, these crumbly goodies are perfect with Italy’s most popular white wine.

Wedding Cookies
1 3/4 cup flour
3/4 cup nuts (I used pecans)
1 cup chocolate chips (I used mini chocolate chips)
3/4 cup butter (I used room temp butter)
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp rum
2 tsp cold water
confectioners sugar for rolling

   Mix butter and flour, then salt, rum, water, nuts, and chocolate chips.  Form into small balls.  Bake at 325 for 15-20 minutes.  Roll two times in confectioners sugar.

Chocolate Peppermint Cookies & Cabernet 
   A holiday favorite! Cabernets are a great match for any variation of mint and chocolate because they have pronounced minty nuances of their own. They offer a cornucopia of rich raspberry, blackberry and cherry, with hints of clove and mint that explode on the palate.

Chocolate Peppermint Crackle Cookies from Southern Living
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate baking bars, chopped
2 tablespoons butter, cut into pieces
1/4 teaspoon table salt
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract
2 large eggs
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup powdered sugar

   Microwave first 3 ingredients in a medium-size microwave-safe bowl at HIGH 1 to 2 minutes or until butter and chocolate are melted and smooth, stirring every 30 seconds. Stir in granulated sugar and next 2 ingredients until blended. Stir together flour, cocoa, and baking powder in a small bowl. Stir flour mixture into chocolate mixture until well blended. Cover bowl with plastic wrap, and chill 1 hour to 5 days.
   Preheat oven to 350°. Carefully drop dough by level spoonfuls into powdered sugar, using a 1 1/2-inch cookie scoop, and roll to coat. Place coated cookies 1 inch apart on 2 parchment paper-lined baking sheets.
   Bake, in batches, at 350° for 10 minutes or until cookies are crackled. Cool completely on a wire rack (about 20 minutes).

Dark Chocolate-based Cookies & Red Zinfandel
   Dark or bittersweet chocolate needs a stronger wine with concentrated fruit notes, and perhaps a hint of its own chocolate notes. Zinfandels have a history of perfecting the dark chocolate match, resulting in an unparalleled tasting combination.

Chocolate Biscotti from David Lebovitz
   Yields 50 to 60 cookies

   For the biscotti
2 cups (280g) flour
3/4 cups (75g) top-quality cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup (200g) sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 cup (125g) almonds, toasted and very coarsely-chopped
3/4 cups (120g) chocolate chips
   For the glaze
1 large egg
2 tablespoons coarse or crystal sugar

   Preheat the oven to 350F degrees.
   In a small bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt.
   In a large bowl, beat together the 3 eggs, sugar, and vanilla & almond extracts. Gradually stir in the dry ingredients, then mix in the nuts and the chocolate chips until the dough holds together.
   Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat. Divide the dough in half. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into two logs the length of the baking sheet. Transfer the logs onto the baking sheet, evenly spaced apart.
   Gently flatten the tops of the logs. Beat the remaining egg and brush the tops of the logs liberally with the egg. (You won’t use it all). Sprinkle the tops with the coarse or crystal sugar and bake for 25 minutes, until the dough feels firm to the touch.
   Remove the cookie dough from the oven and cool 15 minutes. On a cutting board, use a serrated bread knife to diagonally cut the cookies into 1/2-inches slices. Lay the cookies cut side down on baking sheets and return to the oven for 20 to 30 minutes, turning the baking sheet midway during baking, until the cookies feel mostly firm.
   Once baked, cool the cookies completely then store in an airtight container for up to two weeks. If you wish, the cookies can be half-dipped in melted chocolate, then cooled until the chocolate hardens.

Chocolate Chip Cookies & Cabernet
   America’s favorite red with America’s favorite cookie. Chocolate goes great with Cabernet, especially if the chips are of the dark variety. The fruit and acidity of the Cabernet will compliment the richness of the chocolate without either obscuring any detail of the other.

Tips / Notes 
-Set a knife next to each plate so that the cookies can be cut into smaller portions! This is a lot of sweet stuff! Also make sure to have a water pitcher on the table.
-The Gingerbread & Riesling as well as the Chocolate peppermint & Cabernet were our favorites.
-Have some goody bags on hand to divide the leftover cookies with folks.
-Make sure to have a small savory spread as well so if someone wants something heavier after all the cookies and wine they'll have it.

Patrick had an orchestra rehearsal on this particular night but I saved him a cookie from each pairing and there was plenty of wine leftover for him to have a personal cookie and wine pairing.

Here's the savory spread - chips with spinach artichoke dip, antipasti platter - olives, assortment of goat cheese, salami and crackers, and grapes.

And that's how you have a cookie and wine pairing party!