Thursday, December 29, 2011

Top 10 Posts of 2011

It's hard to believe 2011 is coming to an end!  I thought I'd jump on the bandwagon and do a round-up of the most popular posts from this past year.  It was interesting to see which posts have been the most popular with you, my faithful readers, and of course traffic from Google.  So here are the top 10!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Merry Christmas!

Today is our last day of work for 2011 - yay!  Caleb and I will have tomorrow through Sunday together celebrating Christmas here at home, and Monday we're traveling to visit family.  I'm going to be busy soaking up every minute of our time together, so everyone have a very merry Christmas!  I'll be back next week :)

(image via here)

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Holiday Treats

Christmas is in 4 days!  Even with all that we've done for our 25 days of Christmas, I feel like the holiday season has passed by too quickly!  There are more Christmas movies I want to watch, a few more presents I need to wrap, and definitely more holiday treats I want to bake!  I blame this on the fact that Caleb and I have been sick for the past few days, so we've been taking in lots of fluids and getting extra sleep instead of doing fun Christmas-y things.  We'll see which of these yummy treats I find time to make before Christmas!

Are you still enjoying the holiday season?  Or are you ready for it to be over?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Soft Frosted Sugar Cookies

If you haven't already decorated sugar cookies this Christmas season with your spouse/significant other/kids, bust out the sprinkles and icing and do it!  Last week Caleb and I decorated sugar cookies together and it was so much fun!  I didn't have to roll the dough out and use cookie cutters because 1) my mother-in-law gave me this pan that bakes the cookies into shapes for you and 2) you can just roll the dough into balls and flatten them into circles to bake them!  So easy!  Also this recipe is for those delicious grocery store soft sugar cookies that are always frosted according to the holiday.  Like most things, these are SO much better homemade!

Soft Frosted Sugar Cookies
4 1/2 cups flour
4 1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 eggs
5 tsp vanilla extract

for the frosting:
5 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
7-8 Tbsp milk (plus more, as needed)
food coloring (optional)

To make the cookies, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl.  In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the butter and sugar and beat together on medium-high speed until soft and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. Beat in the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition and scraping down the bowl as needed.  Blend in the vanilla.  With the mixer on low speed, add in the dry ingredients mixing just until incorporated and evenly mixed. Cover and chill the dough for 1 hour.

When you are ready to bake the cookies, scoop a scant quarter cup of dough and roll into a ball.  Flatten the ball slightly and place on baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Repeat with the remaning dough, spacing the cookies at least 2-3 inches apart.  Bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes or just until set.  (Do not overbake!  The edges should be no more than very lightly browned if at all.)  Let cool on the baking sheet for several minutes.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

To frost the cookies, place the confectioners' sugar in a medium bowl.  Add the melted butter, vanilla, and milk to the bowl and whisk until smooth.  Whisk in additional milk as necessary, 1 tsp at a time, until you reach your desired consistency.  Tint with food coloring if desired.  Use an offset spatula or spoon to frost the cooled cookies.  If the frosting begins to thicken as you decorate, just continue to whisk in small amounts of milk to keep it workable.  Store cookies in airtight container.

source: recipes from annie's eats, originally from hostess with the mostess

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Biltmore

This past weekend for our little getaway we went to The Biltmore!  We had been to the Biltmore last year in the fall; that was our first time and we loved it!  But we have been wanting to see this incredible house decorated for Christmas, so Caleb took Friday off and we spent the day in Asheville.  The weather wasn't great, but since we were inside touring the house most of the time the rain wasn't a big deal.

The decorations did not disappoint: there was a Christmas tree in almost every room we toured (we saw 43 of the 250!), and the Christmas tree in the dining room was the most spectacular of all - 40 feet high!  There was also a gingerbread replica of the house in the kitchen; the details were impeccable!  The house wasn't crowded at all, so at times Caleb and I were the only ones walking down the hallways or looking in the rooms.  You're not allowed to take pictures inside the house, but I found a picture of the dining room with the Christmas tree and my other personal favorite- the library.  

If you ever have the chance, you must visit the Biltmore!  It is a beautiful house and it's so fun to imagine what life was like at the turn of the century - especially for millionaire Vanderbilt!  We definitely recommend purchasing the audio tour - you get lots of fun stories and background information that you would miss out on if you just breezed through.  



What did you do this past weekend?

Friday, December 16, 2011

Have a romantic weekend

Caleb took the day off and we're leaving in a little bit for a mini-getaway!  We're so excited to get away together and do something a little different.  Hope you have a great weekend!

(image from here)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

DIY Ornaments

Do you make your own ornaments?  I haven't made an ornament since probably elementary school!  But there are so many DIY ornaments that are really pretty!  How easy is it to grab a glass ball ornament and fill it with something?! Here are some fun DIY ornaments I've rounded up:

Origami box ornament from Creature Comforts

Sequin-filled ornament from You Are My Fave

German star ornament from Martha Stewart

Clay bird ornament from Jessica Jane Handmade

Confetti-filled ornament from West Elm that would be an easy DIY

Glitter leaf ornament from A Field Journal

Tissue paper glass ball ornament from Fresh Home Ideas

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Red Velvet Cupcakes

Red velvet is one of my favorite flavors of dessert, and Christmas is the perfect excuse to whip out red velvet recipes. Last Christmas I made this red velvet cheesecake, so this past weekend I decided to make cupcakes - a much faster red velvet option. 

Red Velvet Cupcakes
2 cups flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups sugar 
1 Tbsp liquid red food color
2 tsp white vinegar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
2 eggs
1 cup buttermilk

for the icing
2 (8 oz) pkgs cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
1 tsp vanilla

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder and salt.

Using an electric mixer, beat the sugar, food color, vinegar, vanilla, and butter in a large bowl until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time.  Reduce the mixer to low speed and alternately add the flour mixture and buttermilk, mixing just until incorporated.

Divide the batter between two 12-cup muffin pans lined with paper liners.  Bake at 350 degrees until a wooden pick inserted in the center of one comes out clean, 18-20 minutes.  Let the cupcakes cool in the pans for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire rack to cool completely.

To make the icing, use an electric mixer to beat the cream cheese and butter until smooth.  Add the confectioners' sugar and vanilla and beat until fluffy, 3 minutes.  Spread the icing on the cooled cupcakes and store in an airtight container. Makes 24 cupcakes.

source:  recipe from woman's day

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

More Christmas Festivities

It's hard to believe that Christmas is in less than two weeks!  Time seems to be going by so fast, which makes me extra glad for our list of Christmas activities to remind us to soak up every minute of this season.  We're having so much fun with our mini Christmas dates, and I'm trying to document them as best I can as a reference for future years.

How have you been celebrating the holiday season?

{December 5: go shopping for our Angel Tree child}

{December 6: catch up on holiday issues of magazines}

{December 7: Festival of Lights}

{December 8 & 9: watch Christmas movies}

{December 10: The Nutcracker}

{December 11: deliver Christmas goodies}

{December 12: Christmas concert by the Gettys}

Monday, December 12, 2011

Chicken Enchilada Soup

We have been eating so much soup lately!  I love turning on Christmas music and chopping up everything to have a big pot of simmering dinner on the stove.  The temperatures have really dropped here in the last couple of weeks, so a bowl of hot soup and some fresh bread has been the perfect dinner for us.  This soup is spicy!  Leave out the jalapenos if you can't handle the heat!

Chicken Enchilada Soup
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 green pepper, diced
1 onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
4 jalapeno peppers, diced
2 chicken breasts, cooked and shredded
3 cups chicken stock
2 tsp cumin
2 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 (28 oz) can diced tomatoes
1 (15 oz) can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 (15 oz) can corn, drained
16 oz pepper jack cheese, grated

Heat olive oil in large pot.  Add green pepper, onion, and garlic, and saute for several minutes.  Add jalapenos and saute 2 more minutes.  Add chicken, chicken stock, spices, and tomatoes.  Simmer about 30 minutes covered, until tomatoes have begun to break down.  Add black beans and corn and stir to incorporate.  Add the pepper jack cheese and stir to melt; cook 20 more minutes.  Serve topped with crushed tortilla chips and cilantro, if desired.

source:  recipe adapted from Homemade by Holman

Friday, December 9, 2011

Festive Happiness

After a long week or a hard day, it's necessary for me to stop and and take in the the little things that bring a smile to my face.

Have a great weekend!

beautifully decorated gingerbread cookies

decadent hot chocolate

pretty lights everywhere

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Holiday Essentials

Let's talk about some essentials for the holiday season.

First up - a red sweater.  It keeps you warm, it puts you in the holiday spirit, and it's perfect for snuggling up on the couch for a Christmas movie.  Bonus: the boyfriend cardigan is casual but the cashmere makes it sexy.

This is the perfect top coat to keep your nails looking festive.  (I've had it on my toes for two weeks now and it still hasn't chipped.) 

A playlist ready for your holiday shindig, to keep you sane in the car while on the road with the crazies who are Christmas shopping, and of course to sing and dance to while in the kitchen.  I love Michael BublĂ©'s album, but really I'm down with most anything.

A good supply of Christmas cookies.  They're fun to make, they're fun to eat, and they make a great gift.

What are a few of your holiday essentials?

P.S.  The winner of the Shabby Apple Necklace is #2 Natalie!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Meatball Ratatouille Soup

I admit I was a little nervous about this soup.  I don't like vegetables in soup that much (heck I don't even really like some vegetables out of soup), I don't usually like beef-broth based soups, and the night I had planned to make this I just wanted a big bowl of creamy mac & cheese.  But I was pleasantly surprised to find that I really liked this!  It had so much more flavor than I anticipated, and the medley of vegetables turned out to be really good.  This is a perfect way to get your kids (ahem, or wife) to eat vegetables.  We grated parmesan cheese on the top and served with freshly baked bread.

Meatball Ratatouille Soup
1 lb of meatballs, cooked through
1 onion, diced
1 green pepper, diced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
2 medium zucchini, diced
1 small eggplant, peeled and diced
1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes
10 oz beef broth + 10 oz water
1/2 tsp dried basil
1 bay leaf (I didn't have one)
salt and pepper to taste
grated parmesan cheese to garnish

Heat 1 Tbsp of olive oil in a deep saucepan.  Add onion and green pepper and saute for 2-3 minutes.  Add garlic and meatballs and saute another minute.  Add zucchini, eggplant, tomatoes, broth, and seasonings.  Simmer 15 to 20 minutes.  Serve with grated parmesan cheese.

source:  salad in a jar