Tag Archives: holiday

Holiday Baking Madness!

10 Jan

Hey everyone! Wanted to share some of the sweet treats I made last month for the holidays. With extra time on my hands, I wanted to take full advantage of my kitchen and bake up some homemade gifts to give out and bring to holiday dinners. I spent a lot of time looking at magazine and cookbook recipes and calling family members for recipes. In addition to the baking I did at home, I spent an afternoon at my grandmother’s house baking with her too!

Nana and I baked up a storm in her kitchen

Nana had already made quite a few cookies the week before, but we made some together for both of us to share. She gives out a lot of cookie boxes around the holidays piled high with delicious fruit-filled cookies, pizzelle, an frosted anise cookies. The day we baked together we did three different cookies – two biscotti and a lace cookie. One kind of biscotti had lemon and orange zest in the almond dough and the other also included chocolate and dried cherries. Both were delicious.

Two kinds of biscotti

Next up, Almond Oat Lace Cookies, which are from Bon Appetit. I actually made these for my friend Cari’s cookie swap a week earlier and wanted to try them again. Once the cookies are cooled they are delicious brushed with dark chocolate.

Here are the cookies cooling on parchment. You can really see the lacy texture here.

I was really ambitious one day and did the next three things: Anise Pizzelle, Peppermint Meringues, and Cherry-Pistachio Nougat. Everyone in my family makes pizzelle for Christmas. They can be made with different extracts (vanilla, anise, almond) and are sometimes dusted with confectioner’s sugar once cooled. You need a special press to make them – it kind of looks like a waffle maker. I got mine as a Christmas gift from my dad last year – such a great gift. They are pretty easy to make too.

Lots of pizzelle - they look like snowflakes.

The Peppermint Meringues were really easy to make as well and this was another recipe I got from Bon Appetit. It’s basically sugar and egg white whipped into a meringue which is piped and then baked at a low temperature. These had a red swirl to them which were perfectly festive for Christmas.

I liked how these came out and may try different flavorings next time.

The Cherry-Pistachio Nougat were another relatively easy recipe to make (again from Bon Appetit). Next time I make them, I’ll take the recipe’s recommendation to use edible rice/wafer paper on the top and bottom of the nougat to hold everything together. I had to put the nougat into paper cups because they were so sticky. I love the combination of cherry and pistachio and used orange blossom honey in the nougat which gave it great flavor also.

These nougat may not have looked perfect, but it tasted great.

Last, but certainly NOT least, I made Italian rainbow cookies. These really deserve a post of their own, which I’ll do shortly because it is quite the process to make them, but totally worth it. They are Jason’s absolute favorite “cookie,” though they’re more cakey than cookie-like. I really enjoyed making them and am pretty sure they were the overall favorite of everything in my dessert containers. They may be a Harty holiday staple from now on. Rainbow cookies are made up of three layers of almond cake with raspberry jam in between, all covered in melted chocolate. OMG is right!

What's not to love?! Almond cake, raspberry, chocolate - a killer combination.

Now that my baking extravaganza was complete, I wanted to find a decorative way to package everything up for gifting. I found awesome tags on etsy and the rest of my supplies at Michaels. I filled each “take-out” container with an assortment of cookies, wrapped them in holiday ribbon and bells and attached a tag to each. I fell in love with the packaging and couldn’t wait to give them away!

An assortment of delicious confections!

Here's one of the containers all wrapped up and ready to go.

Here's one with a tag that had a space for writing. So cute!

Our dining room table was full of red and silver containers - I made approx 20 containers of sweets!

It was so much fun to make and give edible gifts this year. I’d love to do it every year. If you live near us or saw me around the holidays, hopefully you got some and I’d love any feedback! If you has questions about any of these recipes, give me a shout. And in case you’re not done looking at pictures, here’s a picture I have to share. I didn’t actually make the cookies below (Dad and Barb did), but thought it was worth sharing anyway. How happy does Collin look?! Happy baking!

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A New Years Eve Feast

9 Jan

Happy New Year everyone! What a crazy year 2011 was for the Hartys – between planning our wedding and deciding to leave my job, it’s been a roller coaster. I for one am looking forward to an exciting 2012! Jason and I kicked the new year off with a dinner party hosted by our friends Mike and Jennifer in their home in Rhode Island. I was so happy to plan the menu with them and cook for the party which included 10 of our closest friends. The six-course sit-down dinner included appetizers, soup, salad, entree, cheese course and dessert! Yes, a cheese course. What can I say, I’m fortunate to have friends who love cheese as much as I do!

Jennifer and I did all the grocery shopping (all 2.5 hrs of it) on the Friday morning before New Year’s and spent the rest of the day prepping. Mike and Jennifer were a huge help in the kitchen. We got so much done Friday that Saturday was pretty stress-free and relaxed. After working in a restaurant, you realize how much can be prepped ahead of time and then finished right before it’s time to eat. The party started at 7 and lasted well into the wee hours of the morning – everyone had so much fun. Jennifer did an amazing job outfitting her dining room into an intimate setting using heirloom china and gold and maroon accents. Our guest list included friends Amy and Ken, Phil and Danielle, Jacq and John, Mike and Jennifer and Jason and I. Here’s a look at the dining room and the tablescape!

In addition to what you see here, Amy and Ken brought a gorgeous centerpiece of flowers and candles.

Here are the highlights of our soiree menu…

Signature Cocktail – We decided on serving a signature cocktail when everyone arrived, something fun and seasonal. I think it’s nice to have a drink already made for a party so everyone can enjoy the party and nobody is stuck mixing drinks. In comes The Long Hello Punch. I found this in Bon Appetit magazine and thought it sounded delicious. And it was. Jennifer even made the fruity ice ring to float in the punch and our friend Cari let us use her beautiful punch bowl set.

Appetizers – We served several bite-sized apps while people were hanging out before dinner. The mix of colors, textures and cuisines made for a good looking table too!

Shrimp Cocktail with Homemade Cocktail Sauce

Dried Figs, Parmigiano Reggiano, Prosciutto and Aged Balsamic

Tilapia Ceviche served with Sweet Potato Chips

Chorizo and Mushroom Croquettas with Saffron Aioli

Butternut Squash Bisque with Creme Fraiche, Spiced Pepitas and Fried Sage – For a warm, comforting first course, we served a creamy squash bisque that was garnished with creme fraiche, spiced pepitas (pumpkin seeds) and fried sage leaves. The soup started with a base of celery, carrot and onion. To that I added lots of butternut squash, fresh vegetable stock and herbs. It simmered until the squash was completely tender. I then pureed it and finished with butter and cream.

The finished bisque.

Here's Jennifer helping me garnish all the plates!

Winter Greens with Scallop, Avocado, Citrus and Tequila-Lime Vinaigrette – Our next course was a beautiful salad of winter greens (arugula, romaine, radicchio and endive) with blood orange, grapefruit and tangerine segments and a seared sea scallop. This was all tossed in a tequila-lime vinaigrette. Jennifer loves avocado and Mexican flavors so I thought this would be a fun second course! The radicchio and arugula were somewhat bitter but the buttery-ness of the avocado and scallop balanced it out and the citrus gave brightness to the whole dish.

I didn't realize how colorful this salad was until I started plating - gorgeous!

Red Wine Braised Short Ribs, Parmesan Risotto, Glazed Mushrooms, Roasted Root Vegetables – This was our main course and certainly a labor of love! I think this was everyone’s favorite dish too. Braised short ribs aren’t a quick dish to prepare, but if you’ve got the time they are 110% worth the effort. The short ribs were the only thing I actually used a recipe for. I used Barbara Lynch’s recipe from one of my favorite cook books, Stir. I served the short ribs with Parmesan Risotto topped with glazed oyster and shitake mushrooms and roasted vegetables (rutabaga, parsnips, carrots and acorn squash). Once the short ribs were cooked (they took 6 hours total) I strained and reduced the braising liquid with butter and thyme to make the sauce that finished the plate. If you want a melt-in-your-mouth unctuous dish that everyone will love – try making short ribs. If I didn’t serve it with risotto, I would’ve probably served it over polenta. It screams for a creamy grain to be served over. I for one can’t wait for an excuse to make them again!

A wonderful winter meal to have with friends...

Unfortunately, I didn’t photograph the cheese course (gasp) or dessert, but both were magnificent. Our friends brought a few different desserts (chocolate-dipped orange madelines, cheesecake and cookies) while Jennifer and Mike hand-picked a 5-cheese plate from one of my favorite places around, Formaggio Kitchen. We served the cheese with a kumquat mostarda, pear compote, sunflower honey and water crackers. The night continued much past dessert ending in fireworks and, of course, dancing. Here’s hoping 2012 is as delicious as it started!