Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year!

There's nothing like chilling your GIGANTIC bottle of champagne (technically Asti, the favorite of Italian grannies everywhere and me) in freshly fallen snow.

Happy New Year to everyone! Andrew and I just had dinner at our favorite Korean restaurant which is within walking distance of the house. We have our pajamas on, the champagne chilled and ready to go and two DVD's to watch. My perfect idea of a good New Year's Eve. Hope you all are warm and comfortable where ever you are celebrating!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Cookie Confession

I've got a confession to make.

I'm obviously an avid baker, and 99 out of 100 times, would much prefer to much to make things from scatch.

But I do have a soft spot for Pillsbury Christmas Ready-to-Bake cookies. My disclaimer: I swear that I have not been given anything to write this post about the cookies! I honest to God like them and all the fun holiday shapes they come in.

I remember eyeing the Christmas choices (I believe it was between a reindeer, snowman or a Christmas tree) and I opted for the trees.

So what prompted me to write a post all about these cookies? Other than the fact that I love their overtly sweet flavor , crispy exterior and soft interiors? The fact that the Christmas ornaments on the trees pop up after you're done baking them!

I'm hoping this comes through on the pictures - the cookie dough goes in flat, and comes out like this:

A closer look at the amazing sight that caused me to exclaim out loud in delight - even Andrew agreed that they looked cool. I'm pretty sure none of their other designs do anything like this, and it's not even mentioned on the box.

Just had to share!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

After Christmas Craziness

So I made the mistake of going to the Wrentham Outlets the day after Christmas.

I was backed up on 495 for 20 minutes, which didn't seem that bad until I spent another 20 minutes looking for a parking spot. I had to stalk a shopper, which I hate doing, to finally snag a spot. If your familiar with Wrentham, you can tell by all the double-parked cars in the picture that the parking situation is not good:

My goal was to exchange two shirts that we had gotten Andrew's dad Tom for the correct size at Eddie Bauer.

I considered myself lucky that I wasn't a shopper waiting in the Ugg line:

Or the Coach line...

...which looked bad from every angle! At least it was fairly warm outside for all those waiting.

The parking situation got much worse in the time it took me to swap the shirts - here's all the cars that were waiting in what I thought was the aisle that I parked in:
Turns out, I was actually two aisles over. One enteprising woman actually got out of the passenger side of the car her daughter was driving and walked with me for a few minutes (despite claiming recent back surgery) until I was able to figure out where I had parked my car. It was a bit awkward but I had to give her props for having the chutzpah to get my spot. Lesson learned: never head to the outlets or the malls (I suspect) on the day/weekend after Christmas.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas Dinner 2009

At this point, I have to pause for a moment to thank Andrew's parents once again for a wonderful Christmas - they simply made it awesome.

After a great breakfast and a nap, I felt like all the "kids" (except poor Amanda, who was also cooking in the kitchen with Tom and Charlotte) in the house sauntered back into the dining room to find the table set for Christmas dinner - can you see the cute little presents scattered on the table?

Amanda, festively attired in shades of red, leads the way in trying out all the delicious food - we had turkey, Tom's famous sausage stuffing, asaparagus, creamed corn, biscuits, jello and "orange" mashed potatoes (from the addition of carrots):

Adam, visiting from California, looked happy to see the homecooked food although he's not as used to all my picture taking like Amanda is:
My delicious plate of food - I couln't be rude so I had to have a little of everything. :)

Another thing I love about Christmas - it's a time when family gets together to enjoy each other's company and good food:

After dinner, we headed over to Taunton for a few hours to spend time with my uncle Rich and my cousins Andrew and Andrea (as well as Andrea's friend Stephanie):

This was our first dessert of the evening - a choice between a beautifully decorated white cake, a cannoli cream cake and pumpkin pie. Andrew and I limited ourselves to a small slice of dessert each (knowing what was waiting for us back in Plymouth) and we dived into several rounds of Apples to Apples - what can I say, the game is great to play with all ages and both sides of the family!

With Andrew's family waiting patiently for us back in Plymouth to start dessert there, we headed back to find this monstrous trifle:

As well as homemade carrot cake and pumpkin pie:

I think my stomach is still full from Christmas.

Christmas Morning 2009

I'm not going to lie, I still wake up excited on Christmas mornings.

Especially when I see a table set with Christmas coffee cake (complete with currants):
And a bulging stocking - somehow Santa knew I could use more rubber spatulas, cupcake liners and Swedish fish:
Note the Swedish dala horse napkins that matched the horses on the table and the Ferrero Rocher chocolates waiting for us:

Another shot of the beautiful tree and presents waiting for us after breakfast:
This is the second tree downstairs next to the chimney where the stockings are usually hung - they were moved to the dining room chairs to allow easy access for all the "Santas" in the house to add gifts:
What's for breakfast besides coffee cake? Another Christmas tradition for Andrew's family - egg casserole:

As I helped play Santa by handing out gifts, there aren't too many pictures of gift opening from Christmas morning. But I did manage to capture Tom's big gift for Andrew's mom Charlotte:

Her engagement ring reset, with a diamond added on each side, and her wedding ring recoated to match her engagement ring - they looked brand new and shiny!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Cozy Christmas Eve

One of the best things I love about Christmas Eve is that I know families are gathered together everywhere, enjoying meals together and looking forward to the next morning.
While my parents and Amy were far away in Japan, celebrating Christmas 14 hours ahead of us, it was nice knowing that they were happy together celebrating the day while I was comfortably esconced with Andrew and his family.
One of the things I love about Christmas in Plymouth is how the house and table are decorated for the holidays. Note the candle centerpieces with Christmas beads, beads and trim on the chandelier and special Swedish horses napking holders, reflecting Andrew's mom Charlotte's heritage:
We enjoyed a cozy family style meal with baked ziti and garlic bread, accompanied by one of Andrew's sister Amanda's signature salads and homemade dressing - note the Christmas colors of the salad plus yummy olives:

The view that greeted us in the dining room? One of the two Christmas trees, with a ton of presents waiting under the tree:

We ended the night with several rounds of Apples to Apples, accompanied by wine and bottles of beer chilled in the snow off the back deck:

Is there a more new England site than that? A white Christmas that allows you to chill your beers comfortably without having to walk all the way to the fridge. :)

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Cranberry, Pistachio and White Chocolate Cookies

I think I may have found my go-to Cranberry, Pistachio and White Chocolate cookie.

I actually made a batch of these a week earlier while I was prepping for my fourth annual baking night with red and green colored white chocolate chips, sans nuts. I didn't think the cookies were anything special but Andrew and his sister Amanda kept raving about them, so I decided to make a second batch. With a little tweaking, these cookies looked and tasted great, and may make it into my annual Christmas baking list.

Adapted from Yankee Magazine's White Chocolate Chip Cranberry Cookie recipe.

2/3 cup finely snipped dried sweetened cranberries (I skipped the "snipped" part and just dumped in the cranberries as is - Ocean Spray Craisins or Trader Joe's dried cranberries both work great!)
2 tablespoons water (I omitted this part as well - I didn't think the cranberries needed to be softened)
3/4 cup white granulated sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup butter
1 large egg
2 1/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup chopped nuts (I used whole roasted and salted pistachios from Trader Joe's, plus I chopped a half cup to top the cookies with)
2 cups (12 oz package) white chocolate chips - (try to use anything that lists cocoa butter as an ingredient for a decent white chocolate - again, Trader Joe's came through on this front with the best quality and price)


  1. Heat oven to 375 degrees
  2. Cream butter and sugars, then add egg.
  3. In another bowl, combine flour, baking soda, salt, pistachios, and white chocolate chips. Add to first mixture. (I combined all the dry ingredients with the butter/egg/sugar mixture first, and then added cranberries, nuts and chips.

Look how pretty and festive all the ingredients look - I love seeing the red of the cranberries and the green of the pistachios:

4. Drop by spoonfuls on parchment lined cookie sheets. (I used my handy dandy Oxo cookie scoop to form rounded balls, gently pushed the tops into crushed pistachios and baked on my Silpat covered cookie sheets).

The ratio of cookie dough to ingredients was insane - I felt like there was barely enough cookie dough to hold all the pistachio, cranberry and white chocolate goodness but somehow, it all came together:

After coming out of the oven, I loved how the cookies retained their rounded shape, ensuring that they would stay crisp on the outside and soft on the inside:

The best part - the roasted pistachios on top. I couldn't stop picking bits off and eating them! Their saltiness and toasted flavor balanced out the sweetness from the chocolate and cranberries:

This batch ended up being split in two, one half for Andrew's Christmas Eve office potluck and one half for dessert at Andrew's parents' place on Christmas eve. I think I ended up with around four dozen cookies with my medium size scoop.

I also made a chocolate cake with white chocolate peppermint ganache for Andrew's Christmas potluck, but I was so frustrated by how messy the cake got at the end that I didn't bother taking picures. It apparently turned out amazing so I will have to make it again, this time carefully and with pictures documenting all the steps!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Very Berry Granola and Muddy Buddies

OK, I know it's been ages since I've blogged.
I had a wonderful trip to NYC over the weekend but sadly, I think I may have accidentally
deleted most of the pictures. There is a small chance that I did manage to upload the photos to Andrew's sister's (our gracious hostess) computer, so there may be catch up later this week.

So onto the present.

As a last minute decision, I decided to make some holiday treats as Christmas gifts for my coworkers. I'm usually not around for Christmas, as I usually spend a couple of weeks visiting my parents in Japan around this time. So it was strange to be in the office so close to holidays and not have anything to offer people.

Based on the fact that I've been on baking overload lately, I wanted something quick, relatively easy and something that could be packaged attractively.

I decided on homemade Berry Granola and Muddy Buddies.

I adapted a recipe from Martha Stewart to use for the granola:

Ingredients (I doubled this recipe)
2 cups of old-fashioned rolled oats
1/2 cup of sweetened shredded coconut (I upped this by an extra 1/2 cup because I LOVE coconut)
1/2 cup sliced almonds
2 tablespoons vegetable oil (I doubled this and the honey, so with the double batch, I had 8 tablespoons of each total)
2 tablespoons honey
1 cup dried blueberries (Replaced this with a cup of mixed berries (strawberries, blueberries and cherries) from Trader Joes and added a half cup of cranberries)


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

On a large rimmed baking sheet, toss oats, coconut and almonds (since I doubled the batch, I had to split the mixture into half for baking):

In a small bowl, stir together oil and honey. Pour over oat mixture and toss

Bake, tossing occasionally, until lightly toasted, 16 to 20 minutes (I mixed it every five minutes and baked it for 15 minutes total).

Place mixture in a large bowl and stir in blueberries. (I just poured the berries on top of the pan so the granola could remain on the bowl to cool):
After it cooled, I stored it in an airtight container (plastic tupperware) overnight.

Next, it was onto the Muddy Buddies.

9 cups of Chex cereal (I went with Corn and used the whole box)
1 cup of semisweet chocolate chips (I upped this to 1 1/2 cups)
1/2 cup of peanut butter (I upped this to 3/4 cup and used creamy peanut butter)
1/4 cup butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups of powdered sugar

In a large bowl, measure cereal (I skipped this step).
Microwave chocolate chips, peanut butter and butter in a microwaveable bowl on high for 1 minute, stir. Microwave for another 30 seconds or until mixture can be stirred smooth. Stir in vanilla. Pour mixture over cereal until evenly coated (I reversed this by pouring the cereal on top of the mixture):

Now for the fun part, pour the cereal into a two gallon resealable bag with the powdered sugar, seal, and shake until coated. (I had to split the batch into two parts since I only had one gallon bags):

Spread on waxed paper to cool:

In the morning, I packed the granola into Ziploc bags and placed them into cute Christmas bags I had picked up in Japan, along with a helpful hint from Martha Stewart. The hint (which I printed on individual tags) gave suggestions on what to eat granola with (since I was afraid not everyone was familiar with granola):

The Muddy Buddies were simply put into clear plastic bags and tied with raffia and everything was ready to go to for the office.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Coconut Macaroons

For my office potluck, I was given the challenge of making macaroons for the first time at the request of a British coworker.

Using Google, I found a simple recipe from Ina Garten:

What could be simpler than just five ingredients? And I swapped the kosher salt for the regular salt that I had on hand.

Whipping the egg whites went well - while I didn't take a picture, I used the Top Chef test of holding the bowl upside down to see if the egg whites were stiff enough. Lucky for me, they held on!

I had my doubts with the next step- how does one "gently fold" whipped egg whites into this gluey, clumpy mixture of coconut, condensed milk and vanilla?
With a lot of gentle mixing and folding, it all came together and I used my handy dandy Oxo cookie scoop to form the unruly mixture into something resembling a ball:

The macaroons were supposed to bake for 25 minutes until golden brown - all it took was 14 minutes for them to scorch in my oven, and this was with me lowering the oven temperature by 25 degrees:

Despite their less than golden brown appearance, everyone raved that they were perfectly crisp on the outside and moist and chewy on the inside. Personally, they were a little too sweet for me so I think I'll try it with unsweetened coconut next time:

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

December Office Potluck

I think my coworkers and I surpassed ourselves with this month's potluck. Don't get me wrong, the food has always been good in the past, even when we first started.
This month seemed to be more like a battle of the crock pots!

Close up look at my boss's "special" mashed potatoes and another coworkers AMAZING turkey white chili - I'm still waiting on the recipe for this, since she basically combined elements from three different recipes:

Teriyaki wings and a hearty beef chili:

We had a bunch of healthier sides, like salad and fruit salad, and not so healthy sides, like homemade corn bread; and spinach and artichoke dip:
Finally - the desserts! You may recognize some of the cookies from Sunday, as I provided three of the desserts. In the lower left corner are hermits - I usually never like anything gingerbread flavored but these were fantastic! Expect a post on them soon, as I was able to snag my coworker's mother's recipe for these:

I made carrot cupcakes at the request of one coworker, whose birthday we were celebrating:

And for the other coworker with a December birthday, coconut macaroons (more to come on these later):