Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas Baking

Growing up, my family would pack up our things each Christmas and pile into the mini van to head to my Grandma Joy's house in Springfield, Illinois. After hours in the car, my family would tumble out of the van and into Grandma's house where she would always have dozens of cookies waiting for us. Grandma Joy would make what seemed like thousands of cookies to give away to family and friends in old coffee cans and festive Christmas tins. Piecrust kisses, oatmeal scotchies, thumbprint cookies... sooo many different varieties. A lot of my Christmas memories are centered around the traditions started with my dad's side of the family... I think my love of baking began in Grandma Joy's kitchen.

This year, Curt and I decided to spend our first Christmas as a married couple with his family up in Massachusetts. It was really nice to be part of the Congdon/Iemolini family traditions. I wanted to bring some of my family traditions up to Massachusetts.... so along with having blueberry muffins on Christmas morning, I baked!

I had already baked 10 dozen cookies to give away to our neighbors and co-workers, so I decided to try something new.... Cranberry Orange Bread.

Cranberries are all over the place during the holidays and I wanted to take advantage of them... these tart little fruits have tons of antioxidants, so they are great for you and they taste great too!
* 2 cups all purpose flour
* 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
* 1/2 tsp baking soda
* 1/2 tsp salt
* 1 tbs orange juice
* 1 1/2 cup fresh cranberries
* 1/2 cup chopped pecans
* 1/4 cup butter, softened
* 1 cup white sugar
* 1 egg
* 3/4 cup orange juice

Preheat the oven to 350 and grease a loaf pan. Since I was giving these little loaves away as gifts, I wanted to give away a smaller size. I found these adorable little loaf pans at Michaels, so I used those and they turned out to be super cute!
In a large mixing bowl, cream the sugar and margarine. Add in the egg and the orange juice and mix until thoroughly combined.

Slowly add in the flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda and mix until just combined.
Next, add in the cranberries, pecans, and orange zest, then mix until combined.

(It took about 1 orange for 1 tbs of zest)
In the first batch I made, I put the cranberries in whole, but Curt thought it was a bit too much cranberry in one bite. For next batches, I cut the cranberries in half (thanks to the suggestion from Genelle!!!). The taste seemed to be a bit more evened out.

Pour into the greased loaf pans, then bake for an hour, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

And now for the finished product!

I thought that the breads looked pretty good once they were finished... but who would complain about a little bit of extra sugar?

(now that's a lot of bread!)

I made a little glaze by mixing together some powdered sugar and some orange juice until it had the right consistency. Then, I just drizzled it over the little loaves of bread. I think it gave the bread a nice sweet touch. Everyone loved it!

I couldn't just give out the bread in the pans, so I wrapped them in a bit of festive green cellophane and tied them up with red and white ribbons.

Cute huh?

(aren't the little loaf pans cute?!)

Tuesday, December 8, 2009


Thanksgiving is one of my all time favorite holidays. For Christmas, my family always did different things, such as travel, volunteer at soup kitchens, etc... but for Thanksgiving, my parents, sister and I would always be at home watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade in our pajamas while my mom started on the Turkey and my dad started on his famous stuffing.

While we spend the actual day of Thanksgiving with family, we have started a Thanksgiving Potluck for friends to attend as well. My girls LOVE any excuse to get together for some cocktails and food, so what better excuse than a holiday?!
As you can imagine, I cooked and baked a LOT of stuff over the past few weeks, so I'm just going to post a few highlights as well as pictures!
Thanksgiving Potluck!
Because there were about 20 people at the potluck, we made a turkey and a beef tenderloin for the main dishes. The turkey roasted in the oven for a couple of hours and came out a delicious golden brown.

For the beef tenderloin (modeled below by my adorable Curtman), I let it come to room temperature. I made a paste of rosemary, olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper and rubbed it all over the tenderloin. I let it marinate for about an hour. Then I wrapped it in bacon and put it on the grill. Bacon is great on everything, but I wanted to wrap it around the tenderloin so that it would stay tender with all of the bacon fat. Because there were about a million things in the oven, we cooked it on the grill. After pulling it off the grill, I let it rest for about 15 minutes to let the juices redistribute.
(Doesn't Curt look cute with an oven mitt?)
My dad made his famous dressing for the occasion. I have no idea how he makes it or what he puts in it (I do know that he does soak the raisins in red wine to give them a little kick). It's really yummy though!

(Here's the gravy and dad's dressing)
I also made a corn casserole, creamed spinach, and a macaroni and cheese. For the corn casserole, I used a recipe from my friend Rebecca!
(Angela's Sweet Potato Casserole and my Macaroni and Cheese)

The macaroni and cheese didn't really have a recipe. I just cooked the pasta and put it in a baking dish. In a saucepan, I melted different cheeses together... I don't remember what type I used... but I think cheddar, muenster, and pepperjack were included in the mix. I added some heavy cream to the mixture to make it creamy and thick. Then I just poured the cheese mixture over the noodles and mixed it all together. I topped it with a few handfuls of breadcrumbs and baked until the top was a nice golden brown.

(Here we have some garlic mashed potatoes -compliments of Billy-,
homemade cornbread -thanks Brook!- and my corn casserole)
Last year, Angela made this AMAZING sweet potato casserole, so I begged her to make it again. So... here it is with the macaroni and cheese.
Kylie was so hopeful that someone would drop food... she has such a cute face that I'm sure someone caved and dropped a bit of food. Last year, she managed to make away with a whole turkey leg because it was close to the table's edge. This year, I had to watch her very carefully!

(Here she is pouting because I made her leave the dining room)
Of course, we had tons of yummy desserts (rice krispy treats, cookies- thanks Caroline, apple pies- thanks to Kimba, etc...) but I forgot to take pictures of them (turkey coma). We also had some really good appetizers... Billy made guacamole and Julia made some really good shrimp and crab dip. Next time, I'll have to remember to take more pictures!
Thanksgiving Day
Since we were kinda turkeyed out from the Thanksgiving potluck, my mom decided to make prime rib instead. Can you say "Delicious!!!" ?
(Here's the prime rib! Soooo yummy!)
Since my sister's in Africa, having a huge feast for just my parents, Curt, and me didn't make sense. We ended up going to a family friend's house to celebrate with her and her family. She made a turkey and some mashed potatoes and a few other side dishes. We brought the prime rib, creamed spinach (I like it so much the first time that I decided to make it again), a lobster dip appetizer -served on cucumber rounds to save on calories, and a meringue cake.

(Here's the lobster spread on cucumber rounds!)
The creamed spinach was really easy! Here's my recipe!

* 5 Tbls. butter
* 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
* 1/4 tsp. salt
* 1/4 tsp. black pepper
* 1 dash ground nutmeg
* 1 cup half and half cream (I used fat free to save on calories)
* 4 oz. cream cheese (again, I used fat free)
* 1 small onion - minced
* 3 cloves garlic - minced
* (2) 10 oz. pkgs. frozen chopped spinach - thawed
* 1/4 cup water
* 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
In a saucepan over medium-low heat, melt 3 Tbls. butter, then stir in flour, salt, pepper, and nutmeg.
Slowly, whisk in the half and half, then stir in cream cheese. Increase heat to medium and whisk mixture constantly until thick and smooth. Remove from heat and set aside.

In a skillet over medium-high heat, saute the onions and garlic in remaining butter until they are soft and cooked through.

Stir in the spinach and water, then reduce heat to medium-low; cover; simmer, stirring occasionally, for 8 minutes.
Stir spinach mixture into creamy mixture; return to medium heat; heat, stirring often, until warmed throughout.
Remove from heat; fold in Parmesan. I had extra Parmesan, so I topped the whole thing with the rest of the cheese.

It was delicious!