Friday, December 26, 2014

Christmas 2014

Merry Christmas from our family to yours!

It's been a wonderful week so far, filled with family, friends, and of course tons of food. Over the weekend it really started to feel like the holidays since Matt finished work last Friday. No better way to kick off the holiday break than with cocktails and cheese plates! We had a bottle of St. Germain so made some fancy gin & elderflower cocktails in non-fancy glasses.

Matt's grandma also came over to bake our annual holiday cookies with me, a tradition I really love.

We baked up a storm! We made the traditional Crunchy Chocolate Pecan Cookies, Peanut Butter Truffles and Snowballs (we call them Crescent Cookies) but also a few new ones including White Chocolate, Cranberry & Macadamia, Nutella with Sea Salt and Peanut Butter White Chocolate Pretzel. Thankfully about half of these left the house to go to my office, our neighbors and to Matt's parents. I am sugared out!

We also took the kids for a festive day out with a little shopping, a cozy lunch at a creperie and a ride on the North Pole Express with Santa. (Couldn't get a pic with Riker's eyes open).

Once work wrapped up for me on Tuesday evening, my grandma, sister Amanda and her fiance Justyn got to our house for our annual Christmas Eve-Eve dinner (Nana's Tomato Mushroom Mac & Cheese), wine, movies and hanging out. They always come a day early because my sister and I cook all day on Christmas Eve day, and it's just nice to extend the holiday for one more night.

Usually on Christmas Eve I get a little stressed with all the cooking I have to do, but this year we cut the appetizer list down a bit and planned a dinner menu that I could mostly cook in advance, which really helped. It was totally stress free and much more relaxing. And when everyone arrived at 5:30, we were ready to go!

The dinner menu included:

- Baby greens with homemade balsamic dressing, cranberries, blue cheese and pecans
- Breaded chicken cutlets (we bought these from the butcher - one less thing to cook - and dressed them with fresh lemon, balsamic reduction and arugula)
- Kale and ricotta stuffed shells with butternut squash sauce (this is amazing - get the recipe here)
- Green beans with olive oil and fleur de sel
- Eggplant rollatini (made by my aunt)

Desserts included a wide array of cookies, truffles and pie.

Christmas morning with Riker was so much fun. This was the first year he really knew what was going on and looked forward to it for weeks, and seeing the joy on his face as he ran down the stairs that morning was one of the best feelings in the world.

Sadly I didn't snap any pics of Riker and Carson opening presents since we were too busy enjoying it with them, but that's the point, right? 

Since we're usually starving during present opening, the day before I had prepped some fruit cups for us to eat while breakfast was in the oven. They were a great way to start the morning before all the rich foods that come with Christmas dinner.

For breakfast I had pre-made (and then reheated that morning) a Broccoli & Cheese Quiche on whole wheat crust and a Cranberry Orange Bread, which slightly reminded me of being a kid since my mom always loved that flavor combination - every time cranberries were in season she would make Cranberry Orange Relish, and oftentimes on Sundays we would have orange cinnamon rolls. This bread was sort of a mashup of the two and tasted like home.

We cooked up some bacon on the side (I buy Applegate Farms and everyone loves it), along with coffee and mimosas of course. :)

My sister left after breakfast to head to Justyn's family's out in PA, and after naps, showers and a second cup of coffee we were off to Matt's parents' house for the big extended family celebration. It's so fun having a group of little cousins running around now. Their excitement is contagious and they're just so cute.

My two loves!

We got home late last night and are all pretty wiped from the week of parties, so we've just been hanging home in our PJ's all day. Matt and I both have off work until after New Year's, so it's nice to be able to just be bums today and not worry about the usual weekend to-do list. On Sunday we're headed to the Poconos for a few days of skiing and kid fun at the indoor waterpark, but until then, it's R&R for this bunch.

I hope you had a wonderful holiday and are gearing up for a great 2015!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Party Season (and a recipe for Jalapeno Corn Dip)

I know in my last post I had talked about getting into a routine and being able to blog more frequently, but the more I settle into parenthood of two, the more I realize that a routine just isn't in the cards right now. When Carson's napping, Riker wants to be played with, and when Riker's napping, Carson needs tending to, and there is a constant rotation of laundry, dishes, food-making, clean-ups, diaper changes, breathing treatments (Riker's asthma is back and requires 3 treatments a day), dog walking, and of course...our daytime jobs. Having these two amazing little people in my life is better than anything I ever could've imagined, and I grow more in love with them each day. But it is definitely busy!

Aside from all the busyness of regular day-to-day life, Fall was the beginning of a party season around here, and with Christmas right around the corner the celebrations continue! Baby showers, birthday parties and a big family Thanksgiving all were to be had over the last few months, but we've hosted our own handful of events as well.

In October Carson was baptized, so we held a small family brunch at our house after the ceremony. We hosted Riker's baptism lunch at a restaurant, but this time I wanted to do something more intimate, and I had a lot of fun planning it and cooking brunch favs like baked French toast, quiche and Everything Bagel Dip (tastes just like a bagel & cream cheese!), and building a DIY Bellini Bar.

Fun Fact #1: JWow's baby was baptized alongside Carson. And Snookie was the Godmother. Is this real life? 

Fun Fact #2: Carson wore the same christening dress that MomMom wore when she was baptized over 90 years ago. Matt's mom and aunt wore the same dress as well, over 50 years ago. The dress was handled with such love and care all these years, and I love the tradition that our baby girl was able to wear it as well.

And then there was brunch...

In mid-November Matt and I threw a "Fall Party" for about 40 of our friends, sans kids. Cocktails, pumpkin beers and plenty of appetizers were to be had, and with the late night dance party that ensued in our living room, you'd think we were all back in college again. So fun!

I spent days (weeks) scouring Pinterest for the best fall appetizers and drinks (hello apple pie shots!), and we ended up with quite a spread.

Highlights included an Ina Garten style cheese board...

Cranberry Brie Bites

Pear, Blue Cheese & Walnut Strudels

Pumpkin Pecan Baked Brie (made by my sister)

French Onion Soup Crostini

Pumpkin "Fluff" Dip (I adapted this recipe from 100 Days of Real Food by adding double cream cheese, maple syrup and spices, and folding it together with a batch of homemade whipped cream - it was super fluffy!)

Pesto Pull-Apart Bread (I also made a Rosemary Parmesan Pull-Apart Bread with some rosemary olive oil I had, and it was just as a big of a hit as the pesto one. Just depends on your herb preference)

There were a few other snacks around as well, but I would say the absolute biggest winner of the night was a very unassuming dish of baked cheesy Jalapeno Corn Dip. This stuff got devoured so fast and I've had multiple requests for the recipe. There are tons of versions out on Pinterest and elsewhere and really they're all good (my friend Cathleen started this dip trend at a BBQ over the summer, and my friend Heather makes a great version in the crock pot), but I think this is one of the best ones I've tried. I had some leftover gruyere cheese from the French onion soup crostini, so I spread that all over the top of it before baking. The gruyere sends it over the top!

It doesn't look like much, but it's creamy, cheesy, a bit sweet, a tad spicy, and overall one of the best spoonfuls of anything you will ever put on a tortilla chip. Recipe below!

The party season continued this weekend with Riker's 3rd birthday party (3rd!). I cannot believe my sweet little boy is three years old already. The time has flown. Rather than doing a big party this year, we had a small family dinner & cake at home.

I let Riker pick his birthday dinner, and he picked all his favorites:

- Cheese & crackers (He picked two special cheeses from a gourmet cheese shop at a Christmas Village we took him to last weekend)
- Carrots & hummus
- Baked chicken
- Steamed broccoli
- Homemade mac & cheese (do you think I grated enough cheese for 12 people?!)

And birthday cake of course!

The day after his birthday we took him to Storybookland for their Christmas light show and rides. He's actually big enough now to ride roller coasters and all. I'm in shock. Love this little man and all the joy and laughter he has brought our house!

The next few weeks will be filled with Christmas festivities and then a family ski & waterpark trip to the Poconos, all of which I'm really looking forward to. I hope your holiday season has been wonderful so far as well!

P.S. I don't get to blog as often as I'd like these days, but if you're on Instagram, I post lots of kitchen happenings and updates there. I'm at @MLBaratta if you want to check it out. :)

And now for that recipe...

Jalapeno Corn Dip

8 oz. package cream cheese
1 cup sour cream
8 oz. block of Monterey Jack, freshly grated2 jalapeƱos, seeded and choppedSalt and pepper (about a teaspoon each)

1 can corn, drained and dried on paper towels
1 cup gruyere cheese, freshly grated 

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Mix all ingredients except gruyere cheese in a large mixing bowl. Spread into a 2 quart baking dish and top with gruyere cheese. Bake for 20 minutes, until bubbling and slightly browned. Serve hot with tortilla chips (I like Garden of Eatin blue corn chips) or crostini.