December 2010


It’s Christmas! Right now, I am in Jersey and completely snowed in. The snow started Sunday morning, and we’ve been cooped up since then. Many of the roads aren’t even plowed, but thanks to me and my mom and Rachel, our place is looking pretty clear right now. After a long day of shoveling yesterday, my mom made her amazing spaghetti and meatballs. I’ve thought about trying to make this meal at home, but why mess with perfection?

Speaking of classic meals, my dad made our traditional English Christmas dinner on Saturday night. Like every year before, the menu includes prime rib, mashed potatoes, and my all-time favorite, Yorkshire pudding. This year, we added asparagus cooked with celery, onion, jalepeno and other spices to the plate. I ate FIVE pieces of Yorkshire pudding…

I only get it once a year, and yes, it’s that good! You start with egg and milk, then add flour, salt, and some of the meat drippings to a hot pan.

The result is a dish that’s golden-brown, crispy on the outside and soft in the middle. The key is a good piece of meat that gives lots of flavorful drippings, and a very precise timer. This is one dish you don’t want to overcook!

You’d think we’d be stuffed afterward, but we saved room for chocolate chip cookies. I think there must have been two bags of Nestle chips in this batch because they were seriously chocolate-y!

My mom bought big containers of Chobani so we’d have yogurt and fruit for easy, healthy breakfasts. Of course, we’ve managed to slip in a few treats as well. For Christmas morning, we got muffins from Dearborn Farms.

Here’s my half of a chocolate cheesecake yogurt muffin.

Then, the morning of the snowstorm, my mom went out and got salt bagels from my favorite place in Red Bank. Seriously, you haven’t had a bagel until you’ve tried one of these. I say that every single time I have one…because it’s true!

The outside is perfectly crispy and blistered, and the inside is soft, doughy and HOT!

Right now we are holed up for the rest of the night. We have lots of episodes of Friends, Arrested Development, and The Office to watch. Cookies are being baked. I might even try to rally everyone for a game of Apples to Apples! Merry Christmas everyone!

Even though I got to bake several times over the past few weeks, it still feels like I’ve barely opened my oven! Hopefully I can convince my mom to make another batch or two while I am home next week. Something tells me I won’t have to do too much arm twisting.

For one holiday party, I made simple sugar cookies sprinkled with red and green sugar crystals. I got to use my new cookie cutters: a star, tree, and a fat snowman.

The dough was a bit sticky, and even with added flour, I could still only roll one or two cookies at a time. It probably didn’t help that I was using a very scored plastic cutting board instead of a wood surface.

Still, they were fun to make and tasted delicious, which is all that really matters!

For another party, I made a version of cake balls, using a Ghirardelli flourless chocolate cake as the base. On its own, the cake was almost too rich. But rolled into balls, dipped in white chocolate, and sprinkled with peppermints, these turned into the most delicious little truffles.

Check out that rich center! I’m amazed they look so clean; my hands were literally coated in chocolate.

I brought these to the annual Laguna Beach carol singing party at Kate J’s house. In addition to my semi-homemade dessert, there was so much food, I couldn’t even taste it all. Highlights included baked brie, homemade tacos, rhubarb berry pie, and spiked apple cider. And, of course, the singing!

We even had props this year! For the Twelve Days of Christmas, “five golden rings” is the coveted line we all want to sing. Bling anyone?

I’m working a half day today and then I’ll be off to the airport for a flight home! I’m so excited…can’t wait to wake up in Jersey. Happy holidays everyone!

“Eat less, taste more” is the motto of a new restaurant that just opened next to my apartment building – Hostaria del Piccolo. A group of us went just two days after the official opening, which meant the staff was somewhat uncertain, but very enthusiastic. The space itself is very cool, with lots of wood and a rustic feel. We settled in with drinks, wine for me & the boy and some very interestingly-named European beers for the other half of the table. Weihenstephaner anyone?

The menu features classic Italian fare, from pizza and pasta to soup and salad, with some chicken, lamb and fish added to the mix. Some of the appetizers and salads sounded delicious (I’ll definitely go back for the FOGLIA SENZA: white beans, shallots, parsley and heirloom tomato served over pizza crust!!), but of course, I was there to test the pizza.     

The dough is made without any yeast, and apparently they experiment with all different types of flours, including kamut, soy, polenta, garbanzo, and even squid ink, which yields a black crust. It was a hard choice, but I ended up ordering the ZUCCA pizza, which is a white pizza made with mozzarella, roasted butternut squash, gorgonzola and sage.

The gorgonzola made this pizza taste anything but traditional. Honestly, I taste-tested my way around the table and think I ended up with one of the best selections. However, the gorgonzola was a little overwhelming for me (I couldn’t taste the squash or mozzarella at all!), and while I probably won’t order this one again, I will definitely be back.

Maybe I’ll try the ALÉ MAGNA next time, which is made with tomato sauce, mozzarella, Italian wurstel, and…fries?? With 30 pizzas on the menu, I’m sure I’ll have fun eating my way through it.

Sunday was heavenly in Malibu. The temperatures were in the mid to high 70s, and the sun was shining. The boy and I hit the water, where I got to test out my new wetsuit for the very first time! We went surfing and paddle boarding. While on the paddle board, I saw 2 seals jumping around within spitting distance. I swear, my legs were shaking so hard at the sheer awesomeness that I almost toppled off the board.

When we broke for lunch, it was almost 1pm and I was ravenous! We went to my favorite summer spot, John’s Garden, where I got an egg salad, avocado and sprout sandwich. The sandwiches here are massive but filled with the freshest ingredients. You can’t help but want to finish every single bite. The sunlight made it hard to get a good shot, but honestly, I wasn’t complaining about that!

We also had some salt & vinegar chips on the side, with Stewart’s diet root beer for me, Virgil’s cream soda for him.

Later that night, I finished off the day with a bit of chocolate gelato from Malibu Yogurt. This flavor, Italian Kiss, is incredibly rich and hands down my favorite. They rotate choices every few days, so we bought 2 large cups so we could eat a bit every night this week. Along with my new book, Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand – which I’m liking a lot so far.

Sunday was like July in December! I got a little taste of winter though on Saturday night, at Winston’s holiday party. I went to CVS beforehand to find the perfect Santa hat, but I ended up with this snowman version after the boy burst out laughing when seeing it on my head. Can’t beat an easy chuckle, right?

I’m not going to lie, a little too much of this…

…led to a not-so-nice headache Sunday morning. I never handle more than one glass of champagne very well, and I never learn my lesson! Thankfully, a few Advil quickly did the trick and we were still able to hit the water nice and early.

Can you believe it’s only a week and a half until Christmas?! Somehow, I’ve been shopping a dozen times and I still have more to do. I’m hoping to finish by Saturday at the latest. Sunday is the annual Laguna Beach Christmas Carol party and I don’t want to have to do anything that day but sing and bake & eat cookies!

As soon as the holiday season starts, everyone races to Starbucks for those red cups. I love a good mug of flavored coffee just as much as the next person, which is why I make my own every single morning! Thanks to World Market, I am now fully stocked with Chocolate Peppermint coffee and sugar-free Peppermint syrup for the rest of the month. I’ll be honest though; I’ve been drinking this flavor since the beginning of November and will keep going through January as well.

At night, I forgo coffee for some wintery tea or a little glass of Bailey’s on the rocks. I buy a bottle of this every December to sip while baking cookies or watching movies. I’ve been mocked one too many times for ordering this “old person/dessert drink” at a bar, but what can I say? Chocolate AND mint…what’s not to love?

Speaking of cookies, my mom sent Rachel and I the best package filled with Betty Crocker mixes, cookie cutters, snowmen dishes and oven mits, and all kinds of icing and sprinkles to decorate.

Of course, I broke into the package immediately to make a batch of Peanut Butter Blossoms. These are one of my absolute favorite cookies and so easy to bake. Quick too!

Good thing, because they disappear in just days…

What’s your favorite holiday cookie? I also love Spritz – perfect little buttery bites!

Trader Joe’s frozen garlic naan is pretty amazing. I’ve seen the fresh naan many times before, but never bought it because I figured it would go bad before I could finish off the package. Now, not only can I pull out a single piece whenever I want, it also cooks in just a few minutes. Look at the size of that hot, doughy bread! Thanks to Trader Joe’s and my rice cooker, I can now “make” Indian food whenever I want. Which is quite often actually :)

Here comes my belated Thanksgiving post! The boy had family in town visiting and we’ve been busy bees ever since. Still, I have to put up some photos because this year marked the first time that I was the day’s host! My parents always made Thanksgiving dinner for our extended family, so taking charge this year just felt right. I was SO excited, and couldn’t stop planning – from food to decor. For our two round tables, I made centerpieces out of hurricane glasses, fruit, and ribbon. So simple, easy and pretty.

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We made an epically long shopping list and bought all the ingredients the weekend before. I spent a lot of time planning and making a cooking timeline; hey, don’t knock it…everything went pretty smoothly! While I cooked, the rest of the crew went surfing and built up an appetite. Only in California, right?

Just in time, Rachel brought over appetizers, including the infamous baked brie. I might have taken a break from the kitchen to watch some of the parade and eat a slice of this guy!

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In addition to the homemade centerpieces and place cards, I decided to get crafty when realizing we’d need to buy tablecloths. Enter, butcher paper! About an hour before eating, I laid out the paper and crayons, giving us just about the coolest dinner table I’ve ever seen.

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The boy took our little setup one step further by playing a roaring fireplace video on the projector screen. It was the perfect final touch.

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My menu included lots of favorites and firsts. I made my first turkey, gravy, stuffing, and sweet potato casserole. The turkey was surprisingly easy, even though I never found a consensus for the final temperature, which was a little disconcerting. For the stuffing, I followed an Ina Garten recipe that I didn’t really love, but the gravy step-by-step came straight from my dad. I added flour, boiling broth, rosemary, salt & pepper to the turkey drippings and to my surprise, it actually worked!

The menu also included mashed potatoes, biscuits, roasted brussel sprouts, sautéed mushrooms, peas, yams & apples, Rachel’s broccoli casserole, and homemade cranberry sauce. Yup, for 4 adults and 2 kids. We made a pretty decent dent though!

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For the first time ever, my stomach seemed to have shrunk and I could only eat ONE biscuit and ONE overflowing plate. Good thing, because I saved plenty of room for dessert! Wednesday night, I took a cue from my mom (who made SIX pies for Thanksgiving) and baked two homemade pies: pumpkin and chocolate pecan. Both came out really well…I’ve been eating slices every night since.

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While eating pie and drinking tea, we watched A Muppet Family Christmas. Growing up, we had taped the original version that aired on TV, and watched it every holiday season. The boy was sweet enough to track down the DVD version and it was as funny as I remembered. Possibly a little cheesier as well. But, how can you not love these faces?

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So, it’s officially the holiday season! I have one tree decorated and another ready to go up this week. I’ve started my gift shopping, and have the Christmas station preset on my radio. The Holiday and Love Actually are on rotation, and there’s a bottle of Mint Chocolate Bailey’s in the freezer. I’ll be smiling for the next four weeks!

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