2015 Christmas Gift Guide

It’s almost time for presents, and if some of you are still left in the dark as to what to get your food-loving friends, I’m here to help!

For the ice cream lover:

Collage ice cream

Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home ($10 – $16)

Wilton Incredible Ice Cream Scoop, cuts through even the hardest ice cream (~$10)

Ice cream containers – disposable or reusable – the choice is yours!

For the occasional ice cream maker, a Cuisinart 2-qt Ice Cream Maker (~ $50)

For the hard-core ice cream maker, go for the Cuisinart ICE-100 (~$200)

For the baker:

Collage baking

The KitchenAid Stand Mixer ($200 – 300) reigns supreme. If it’s just not possible, a well-made hand mixer can stand in, though it won’t be nearly as good for breads and heavy-duty doughs.

A heavy duty rolling pin ($20) and some helpful rolling pin guides ($8)

Durable measuring cups and spoons ($10)

I love these Oxo Containers ($17) – they’re great for storing flour, sugar, and anything else you can think of! (That size holds a 5-lb bag of flour)

A trusty kitchen scale ($11) for those recipes that measure by weight instead of volume.

For the pizza-maker:

Collage pizza

I’ve gone through a lot of pizza-cooking devices and this baking steel provides the best results by far.

Or go all out for the Pizzeria Pronto propane-powered pizza machine! ($299)

A nice pizza peel ($25)

A trusty pizza cutter ($12)

For the bartender:

Collage bar

No bar is complete without a cocktail shaker – get one with style like this adorable penguin-shaped masterpiece ($20)

Step up your skills with the ultimate bar book ($12).

Never miss out on a drink with this carry-on cocktail kit ($23). It makes an especially great gift for guests who will have to fly back home after the holiday!

Try something new with Scrappys Bitters sampler kit ($24).

Always have great-tasting wine with this pocket-sized wine aerator ($30).

For the coffee-lover:

Collage coffee

We use our Nespresso ($200-300) every day and I love it just as much as I did on day one. The perfect gift for the caffeine-lover who wants their coffee in 60 seconds.

The only thing I love as much as our Nespresso is its milk frother ($99) – which does hot and cold froth (who knew that was a thing?). Upgrade your espresso into a latte, cappuccino, or macchiato with ease.

Experience coffee in a whole new way with a Chemex coffee brewer ($45 – 65).

Whatever you’re drinking, drink it in style with a gorgeous double-walled Bodum tumbler ($20).

For the avid home chef:

Collage

When I worked at Sur la Table, we used the Breville Smart Oven ($200-250) for EVERYTHING and I could not get over how consistently amazing the results were. It is by far the best toaster oven around (and can make everything from toast, to pizza, to cupcakes!)

The InstantPot ($120) is the new 7-in-1 that is taking the world by storm. It’s even on my very own Christmas List this year! It is everything from a rice cooker to a slow cooker and even a pressure cooker all in one compact little gadget!

Ranked highest by America’s Test Kitchen, this slow cooker ($70-80) heats evenly and has extra features like a countdown timer and “keep warm” feature so you don’t have to worry about your meal over-cooking!

No kitchen is complete without a sturdy dutch oven, although Le Creuset really has the market cornered you can save a bundle with this one from Lodge ($60)!

Also on my own list, the Food Lab’s guide to better home cooking ($20-30) uses science to level up your kitchen skills.

These are my favorite kitchen spatulas ($15 for 4) by far, I use them for everything and they are super affordable (and dishwasher-safe!). StarPack has a large range of other products that are above-average quality and very durable, too!

DISCLAIMER: This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you purchase one of the products that I linked to, I may receive a small percentage of commission for your purchase.

peppermint bark

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Since I couldn’t share my holiday basket recipes with you in December (that would have spoiled the surprise for the recipients!), I’ve decided to share them with you in January! Here’s a quick peek at what we’ll be covering…

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  • Gingerbread blondies
  • Peppermint bark
  • Parmesan-thyme crackers
  • Cheddar crisps
  • Cinnamon-apple bourbon
  • Toffee chip shortbread cookies

Today’s topic: Peppermint bark.

The first time I had peppermint bark was years ago at Williams Sonoma and at almost $30 a pop I limited myself to their free samples and other, cheaper, knock-off varieties of the holiday treat. While I was thinking about what to put in my 2014 baskets, I realized that I still had a good amount of Chocoley laying around and thought it would be perfect some holiday bark!

You can use any chocolate you like, of course, but I’ve already told you about how I love the snap of Chocoley’s Candy Molding formula, which makes a nice sturdy base for this bark without having to temper the chocolate at all. Just melt and pour, then top it with some white chocolate and a generous sprinkling of crushed candy canes on top and voila! You have a whole sheet-pan of peppermint bark for a fraction of what you would pay for the tiny bit you get from Williams Sonoma one!

peppermint bark

Ingredients

  • 14 ounces dark chocolate, chopped
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons peppermint extract
  • 14 ounces white chocolate, chopped
  • 3 candy canes, chopped or crushed

Instructions

  1. Line a sheet pan or 9-by-13 pan (for neater corners) with aluminum foil and/or parchment, smoothing out any wrinkles.
  2. Melt dark chocolate over just steaming water in a double boiler. (Alternatively, you can melt the chocolate in the microwave in 30 second intervals at 50% power, stirring in between each session).
  3. Stir in the peppermint extract and pour into prepared pan, spreading to form an even layer. Set in the fridge to firm up while you melt the white chocolate.
  4. In a separate bowl, melt the white chocolate in the same manner as the dark chocolate (it may take less time).
  5. Remove dark chocolate layer from fridge and pour white chocolate over the dark chocolate layer, spreading the white chocolate to form an even layer. Sprinkle with candy canes and return to fridge for about 10 minutes to set up.
  6. Set on the counter to continue firming up, about one hour, then cut into desired size chunks.
  7. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.
http://wee-eats.com/2015/01/11/peppermint-bark/

 

thursday things – merry christmas (and happy new year!)

resolution

Happy Thursday! (and Happy New Year!)

I spent my New Year’s Eve on the sofa with FH (Future Husband). That’s my new name for him now.  He loves it (even though he’s probably seeing it for the first time in this post).  My whole plan for New Years was to stay up and watch the ball drop on Times Square with one little hiccup – apparently they don’t broadcast that out here.

Oops.

So instead we ended up eating chinese food and watching a modern family marathon, then switching to watch the ball drop only to be disappointed when just our local news came on, and they didn’t even mention the ball drop.

Christmas was great – I was lucky enough to get a whole week off of work.  FH’s birthday is just a couple of days before Christmas, so I love having the extra time off to spend with him.

This year, I made him a fossil-filled dinosaur cake, because apparently in my head 32 is the new 2. 😉  The cake was inspired by 1 Fine Cookie,used my favorite chocolate cake recipe with a cream cheese frosting that was then covered in pulverized Oreos.

dino cake 2013

I also took him to see The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug (because it seemed like the kind of movie that dinosaur-loving kids like, right?) :) – Side note: did you know that Stephen Colbert is in there??

Christmas was full of food, movies, presents, and fun :)

xmas tree instagram

The Food

I hosted Christmas Brunch, which this year consisted of:

My usual meat & cheese spread – Chances are if you’ve ever come to my house, then you have indulged in this.  If you come over often, then you might even dread it by now. Seriously though, it’s the easiest, most stress-free and satisfying appetizer you can make! Just get a variety of meats and cheeses along with some sliced crusty bread and voila!

xmas apps instagram

This spread had some salami, prosciutto, parmesan, and I don’t even remember what other cheeses – then some fig jam and pesto on the side – basically a “build-your-own” bruschetta bar.  On the right are some little phyllo puffs I got at Trader Joes – not everything has to be labored over, ya know? 😉

You may also spot some deviled eggs (courtesy of the future sister-in-law) and some olives to the left.

Monkey Bread – This is one of FH’s favorites (OK, mine too).  And, since it’s so indulgent (think cinnamon-sugar meets caramel) I never make it.  Like, ever.  It’s dangerous if there are less than 10 people around to help you consume it.

monkey bread instagram

Cranberry-Orange Muffins – I had actually made these around Thanksgiving with my leftover cranberry sauce and froze them back then.  Thawed them the night before Christmas and voila – good as new!

Ham & Cheddar Frittata – It was actually my first time ever making a frittata and I am pretty sure I’m going to start making them every weekend from now on.  The leftovers heat up wonderfully and made a perfect breakfast for the rest of the week.  I even stuck a piece in between a toasted english muffin and made my own little on-the-go breakfast sandwich in no time flat!

frittata instagram

Honeybaked Ham (our once-a-year treat!)

Bacon – because, what’s brunch without bacon?

orzo salad arugula 9934

Orzo salad and a regular salad – because sometimes you need vegetables.

For the drinks we had mimosas & sangria – of course you could enjoy your juice alcohol-free as well if you prefer… 😉

In other news…

sophie betrayed instagram

The kitties lost their kitty tower on Sunday.  It was a sad day for them.  Sophie took turns staring out the door, where she saw it dragged out, and staring at me with her sad eyes.

Sam, on the other hand, just kept staring at the empty space where it once stood.  “Maybe it just turned invisible.”  “Maybe if I just jump there, it will actually hold me up.”

sam betrayed instagram

What kind of cruel human would steal their beloved children’s joy?  If they spoke english, I could tell them that their old cat tree was old and gross and that we had a brand new one on its way.  But they don’t speak english, so they just lay around like sad little lumps and stare at the wall.

I found a new favorite nail polish color – it’s a rich red with a bit of shimmer to it.  (The picture below really doesn’t do it justice, but we have like one light in our whole house so what can ya do).

nail polish instagram

I made it my “holiday” polish – or that’s the excuse I used when I bought it at least.  I don’t usually buy things like nail polish and make-up because there are so many better things I could spend my money on (like cupcakes and chocolate).

One of the gifts I got was this awesome waffle maker.  I recommend it 110%. I give it 6 out of 5 stars.  I love it.

waffle instagram

I’ve already made 10x more waffles than I’ve made for the whole rest of 2013 combined – seriously. In fact, just the other day we had waffles for dinner (with strawberries & whipped cream – a nice healthy meal!)  Plus, FH has been enjoying his endless supply of frozen waffles to reheat for his morning breakfasts.

Another gift that I’m loving is the Hyperbole and a Half book, which you also need to get.

It’s no secret that I love Hyperbole and a Half, but this is seriously the best thing I’ve read in a long time.  I’ve been reading and re-reading it (and laughing hysterically) whenever I find myself sitting idly on the sofa.  It’ll be the best $10 you’ve spent, I promise.

Links I’m loving

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This girl who is making the best out of losing her iPhone by taking pictures of herself posing as her iPhone thief.

For those of us who spend way too much time in the grocery aisle debating which can of tomatoes to buy, The Splendid Table is here to help.

In case you missed it up there – Did you know that Stephen Colbert is in the new Hobbit movie?

J. Kenji Lopez brings us the best chocolate chip cookies (and most extensive research of the science behind them) on Serious Eats.

How Sweet it Is documented all of her 2013 kitchen failures for us – wasn’t that so sweet of her?

BuzzFeed brought us 35 of the most heartbreaking food fails of 2013.

CollegeHumor reminds us that kids are jerks.  All of them.

Notall spiders are scary (some are just plain awesome).

Reddit helped me with my New Year’s Resolutions.

NPR shows us how to build an indestructible gingerbread house (hint: it involves marshmallows and gummy bear blood).

A plea from Bon Appetit begging us to please make their least popular recipe of 2013. (To be fair, it sounds friggin delicious!)

Christmas Cookie Box Roundup

snickerdoodle blondies from wee eats

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peanut butter sandwich cookies from some kitchen stories

gently-spiced double chocolate cookies from movita beaucoup

cranberry + orange cookies from a periodic table

vanilla sugar cookies from life tastes good

molasses spice cookies from minimally invasive

brown butter oatmeal toffee cookies from elephant eats

meyer lemon roll-out cookies from every little thing

deep dish pistachio + plum jam thumbprint cookies from of agates and madeleines

giant peppermint florentine cookies from shikha la mode

world peace cookies from wee eats

peanut butter + jelly + potato chip thumbprint cookies from spoon fork bacon

hazelnut shortbread cookies from playing with flour

s’mores cookies from wee eats

chai-spiced pistachio snowdrop cookies from savory simple

hot chocolate on a stick

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We recently had a cold snap here, which I hear is in store for the rest of the country as well.  (I don’t know what that means, because I’m pretty sure it’s actually “winter” for the rest of you, but that’s what the weather man said.)  I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of a better way to warm up than a nice cup of hot chocolate.

Not just any hot chocolate, but THE BEST HOT CHOCOLATE IN ALL THE LAND!

I know this because I was told so by my co-worker when she had some.  And also from those who received it in their Christmas baskets.

Oh, and it’s way more fun than regular hot chocolate, because it’s on a stick!  How fun is that?  Just stir it into hot milk (note: really hot milk, unless you want to eat the fudgey leftovers like I some people do).

It’s so good it’ll warm you right up.  It will warm your tummy and your heart.  Especially when served in an adorable, heart-warming penguin cup.  (BF took this pic with his iPad)


penger

This is nice to enjoy while warming your toes with your loved one, or as quietly as possible standing in front of the fridge.  I store mine in the fridge because I think it stands to reason they should last longer that way.  In the event that they hang around long enough that their shelf-life becomes a concern.

Did I mention that it’s also delicious on its own as a fudge-pop?  Like a lollipop made of fudge.  Fudge on a lollipop stick.  Whatever.  Or, ya know, as a cube of not-hot chocolate.

You should always taste for quality-control.  You wouldn’t want to gift a sub-par product, would you?

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Hot Chocolate on a Stick

[ Printable Recipe ]

  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk (1 1/4 cups)
  • 3 cups semisweet chocolate (chopped chocolate bars or chips)
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened baking chocolate, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (or extract of your choice)
  • Marshmallows
  • Lollipop sticks

1. Line an 8″ x 8″ pan with parchment paper or aluminum foil.

2. Heat the cream and condensed milk over low heat until steaming.  Remove from the heat and stir in the chocolate.  Set aside for 10 minutes while the chocolate melts.

3. After your 10 minutes have passed, return the pan to the burner and whisk over low heat until the chocolate has completely melted.  Whisk vigorously until the mixture is thick and shiny.  This is where you can add extract, if you wish.   I added a teaspoon of vanilla extract, you could make peppermint hot chocolate with peppermint extract, or hazelnut with hazelnut extract… you get the picture.

4. Pour the chocolate mixture into the pan and shake the pan to level.  Set aside overnight (I stored mine in the microwave… with the microwave off, of course).

5. Remove your chocolate from the pan by pulling your foil handles (if you covered the pan in foil), or you can turn it upside down if you like.  If you didn’t line your pan (aka – didn’t follow step #1), gently go around the edges of the pan with a butter knife to loosen the chocolate, then remove it from the pan.

6.  Slice into 1″ to 1-1/2″ cubes (I actually tried to size mine to the diameter of my marshmallows).  Heat a knife in hot water and wipe dry before each cut, for smoothest cuts.  Stick a lollipop stick into the center of the marshmallow, then the center of each chocolate block.  I wrapped mine in cellophane bags that were made for “cake pops” (the bags and sticks actually came together as a cake pop kit, but the sticks were a little shorter than I’d have liked.)

7. When you are ready to consume your hot chocolate, just stir it into 8 ounces of hot milk -plus or minus a couple ounces, depending on how chocolatey you want your hot chocolate.