Monthly Archives: December 2013

Coffee Cake a la Pippa

Last year, Haley and I got each other Pippa Middleton’s party planning book Celebrate for our birthdays. After going through the book, one recipe stood out to me the most – a coffee cake. I actually made this last year while we were in Tucson for Christmas and while it tasted great, we weren’t able to follow the recipe 100% accurately and it also didn’t have the best shape. So since then, I’ve been determined to get this perfected. Chip loves this cake and since he had been so patient and understanding of my Christmas excitement (hello, non-stop holiday music), I thought I would make this cake for him for our weekend spent decorating our tree. While the recipe itself is pretty easy to do, the hard part is in the ingredient search for the golden syrup and coffee flavoring. Apparently golden syrup is pretty common in Europe, but I couldn’t find this when I first made the cake last year. The recipe says honey can be used as a substitute, but don’t go this route; it was so hard to have the sugar and butter melt with the honey in the first part of the recipe. So this year, I did more searching and found it at World Market. The coffee flavoring took even more effort. After checking HEB and World Market and calling Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and Sprouts, I finally found it at Central Market. Thankfully this cake is so good that the search mission was worth it in the end. Now all I need is a pretty cake stand for the next time we make this so I can invite Pippa and her dear sister Kate over for brunch (Christmas gift, anyone?).

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup superfine sugar
  • 1 cup golden syrup (or honey, but do what you can to track the golden syrup down)
  • 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons instant coffee powder or granules (Starbucks Via instant coffee worked best for me here)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 2 cups self-rising flour, sifted
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
The long sought-after ingredients

The long sought-after ingredients

Ingredients for the buttercream frosting:

  • 7 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 3 teaspoons coffee flavoring or extract
  • cocoa powder

Directions:

  • Melt the sugar and syrup in a saucepan, together with the butter, over gentle heat. Stir in the instant coffee until dissolved.
  • Allow to cool completely (you could put the pan in a large bowl of ice cold water to speed up this process), then gradually stir in the eggs and milk.
  • Preheat the oven to 350. Grease and line an 8-inch round cake pan with parchment paper.
  • Pour the syrup mixture from the sauce pan with the sifted flour and baking powder into a large bowl. Beat until smooth, then pour into the cake pan and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until well risen and the cake springs back when lightly touched (I’ve never been able to cook this cake in under 25 minutes, I usually end up closer to 30 but would advise staying under 32ish minutes if possible). Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
  • For the buttercream icing, mix together the butter and confectioners’ sugar in a bowl, then stir in the coffee extract. Spread the icing over the cooled cake, dust with sifted cocoa powder and decorate with chocolate-coated coffee beans (or in my case, I also like to use chocolate covered almonds; also for some reason, I had to double the icing recipe the first time around last year but didn’t have to the other week, really have no idea why…).
Thanks for the recipe, Pippa

Thanks for the recipe, Pippa

Homemade Lasagna

Up until a few years ago, the only lasagna I ever had was Stouffer’s. As good as that stuff is, for some reason I thought it would be fun to learn to actually make our own lasagna. However, as I looked at different recipes, I realized that this would take a bit more work than our average dinner so we decided to wait on giving this a shot (we weren’t going to put over an hour into a regular weeknight meal, let’s just be honest). With the holiday season approaching three years ago, we thought a homemade lasagna would be perfect for our evening decorating our first Christmas tree. We were looking to create new traditions together and we thought a special meal while putting the tree up would be a lot of fun and something we could always do together. Now, it did take us a while to make the lasagna our first year and by the time it was finally ready it was late in the evening and we were starving. Thankfully we have mastered the recipe now and enjoy this time in the kitchen together as we get ready to decorate the tree and celebrate the holiday season.

Ingredients:

  • 9 uncooked lasagna noodles
  • 1 package (19 1/2 ounces) Italian turkey sausage (link or whole sausage)
  • 1/2 pound lean ground beef
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 can (28 ounces) diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 1 can (12 ounces) tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon fennel seed
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 carton (15 ounces) reduced-fat ricotta cheese
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
  • 3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Directions:

  • Cook lasagna noodles according to package directions. When finished, drain noodles and rinse in cold water.
  • Meanwhile, in a Dutch oven, cook the sausage, beef, and onion over medium heat until meat is no longer pink. Add garlic and cook 1 minute longer. Stir in the tomatoes, tomato paste, water, sugar, basil, fennel, and pepper. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

  • In a small bowl, combine the egg, ricotta cheese, parsley, and salt.
  • Spread 1 cup meat sauce into a 13×9 baking dish coated with cooking spray. Top with three noodles, 2 cups meat sauce, 2/3 cup ricotta cheese mixture, 2/3 cup mozzarella, and 1/4 cup Parmesan. Repeat layers twice.

  • Cover and bake at 375 for 40 minutes. Uncover, bake 10-15 minutes longer or until bubbly. Let stand for 10 minutes before cutting (this is what the original recipe recommended… we usually just eat it right away!).
First time making homemade lasagna - December 2011

First time making homemade lasagna – December 2011

Things I Love: Christmas Ornaments

This is the third Christmas Chip and I have spent together as a married couple. We’re still slowly creating our own holiday traditions, but my favorite one is collecting new ornaments throughout the year. Whenever we go on a trip together, we try to always buy an ornament to take home with us. Over the first two years of our marriage, we collected ornaments in Italy on our honeymoon, an ornament from when we saw The Lion King and The Nutcracker at The Majestic here in town, our first trip to Fredericksburg. This year we were able to add a few more ornaments from our different trips. While decorating our tree the other weekend, it was fun checking out each ornament and getting to reflect on what this year has brought us. We hope that someday our tree will have only these types of ornaments that will always remind us how we’ve been  blessed and all the different adventures we’ve had together.

Cork Ornament from a day trip to Fredericksburg with my parents and the Behams

Cork ornament from a day trip to Fredericksburg with my parents and the Behams

Seashell basket from Nantucket

Seashell basket from Nantucket

Cape Elizabeth in Maine

Cape Elizabeth in Maine

From the Red Sox vs. Yankees game at Fenway

From the Red Sox vs. Yankees game at Fenway

San Francisco Ornament

San Francisco Ornament

Grape leaf from Napa

Snowflake from another trip to Fredericksburg for our birthdays this year and a grape leaf ornament from Napa

I love Christmas trees

I love Christmas trees

A Full Weekend

Last weekend was a wonderfully full, holiday-packed weekend. As busy as it was, it left me very happy and grateful for the Advent season and the community we’re surrounded by.

Friday kicked off with our youth group high school girls sleepover. After meeting for dinner at the Quarry and going to the Trinity Christmas Concert (always one of my favorite events of the holiday season), we spent the night at Haley’s house decorating Christmas cookies (which quickly transformed into Little Mermaid cookies), laughing at a hastily attempted lip dub to “Roar,” and watching a bit of Pride and Prejudice before falling asleep for the night.

Decorating cookies

Decorating cookies

Christmas cookies

Christmas cookies

Little Mermaid cookies

Little Mermaid cookies

Saturday morning, Chip and Matt were kind enough to bring over some breakfast tacos before we all left for the annual Redeemer Christmas boxes outreach event. Here’s a video that was shared based on last year’s turnout. I’m so encouraged that this year we had even more people volunteering than last year and were able to make more boxes in less time. It’s pretty awesome to see so many groups from San Antonio come serve together.

Once we finished Christmas boxes, Chip and I went back to the Behams house before we all packed into Chip’s truck to go get our Christmas trees at Home Depot. Now last year, we went to a cute little Christmas tree farm and bought some (way too expensive) trees. This year, we toned it down a bit and got some serious deals! And let me say, the quality of the trees at Home Depot was really good so be sure to check them out.

Loading up at Home Depot

Loading up at Home Depot

Chip and I then came home to set up our tree and start cooking our traditional lasagna for dinner. We usually have “something” happen when we’re trying to get our tree up. Our first year as a married couple, we got into a nice little argument over whether or not the tree was straight. I will admit that I had Chip go back and forth half a dozen times in adjusting the tree so his frustration was understandable. Last year was pretty uneventful, but we made up for it last weekend. While Chip would lift the heavy tree up, I was trying to move the base around so we could get the tree in more easily. Unfortunately Chip brought the tree down before I was fully out of the way, which means my right hand was still on the edge of the stand… I’m not going to lie, it definitely hurt, but thankfully my fingers barely even bruised and were just more scraped up than anything. The sacrifices we make for Christmas decorations…

Christmas tree battle wounds

Christmas tree battle wounds

Once the lasagna was in the oven we got started on decorating. This is probably the fullest tree we’ve had so we ran out of lights about halfway through. Thankfully Chip offered to run to Target real quick to get us a few more strands (pretty sure he didn’t want me to go to Target because I totally would have come back with more Christmas decorations). We started putting up a few of our favorite ornaments when Matt and Haley came over to join us for dinner and dessert, which was a coffee cake from Pippa Middleton’s Celebrate book – I’ll be sharing that recipe later!

First Starbucks red cup of the year - perfect for decorating the tree

First Starbucks red cup of the year – perfect for decorating the tree

Wrigley couldn't believe we ran out of lights

Wrigley couldn’t believe we ran out of lights

Chip decorating the tree

Chip decorating the tree

O, Christmas tree

O, Christmas tree

Wrigs wasn't ready for the picture

Wrigs wasn’t ready for the picture

Love these two boys

Love these two boys

Redeemer Christmas Party

Redeemer Christmas Party

Sunday evening was the Redeemer Christmas Party, which we always really enjoy. It’s fun to get dressed up, eat a nice meal, listen to a Christmas sermon, and sing along to some jazzy holiday tunes. This year we were able to bring one of my former coworkers and her husband with us and had such a great time catching up with them and hearing all about their sweet baby girl. The Christmas party was a wonderful way to wrap up our very full weekend and also remind us the true reason for this advent season and that however busy we may be with “holiday” events, we don’t make Christmas happen. God does. And for that, I am extremely thankful.

Orecchiette with Broccolini and Sausage

Last year, one of my Christmas gifts was Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa Foolproof cookbook. We definitely have a few favorites from this book, including an awesome tomato soup that I really need to make soon as well as the “straw and hay with gorgonzola” recipe I shared a while ago. Another one we like to make from this cookbook is her orecchiette with sausage recipe. Now that we’ve made this dish a few times, there are a few changes we’ve made to the recipe, mainly in our use of broccolini. The recipe calls for broccoli rabe, but when I made this for the first time I couldn’t find broccoli rabe anywhere. I tried the HEB in Lincoln Heights as well as Central Market to no avail. I could have tried Whole Foods next, but come on. That’s a lot of effort for a vegetable. Since Chip likes broccolini, we decided to just go ahead and substitute with that. Below is our take on the recipe as well as the original steps in parenthesis so you can decide which way you’d like to make this meal. Enjoy!

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 pound mild Italian chicken sausage (or 1/2 pound sweet Italian pork sausage)
  • 1/2 pound sweet basil and roasted garlic chicken sausage (or 1/2 pound hot Italian pork sausage; we’ve also done different kinds of chicken sausage)
  • 1/3 cup good olive oil
  • 6 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 2  14.5 ounce cans crushed tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine – and you get to enjoy the rest of the bottle! ;)
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 pound dried orecchiette pasta
  • 3-4 bunches of broccolini (or 2 bunches broccoli rabe, 2 to 2.5 pounds total)
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving

Directions:

  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Prick the sausages with a fork and place them on a sheet pan. Roast for 15 to 20 minutes, turning once, until just cooked through. Slice 1/2 inch thick and set aside.
  • Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large, heavy pot or Dutch oven. Add the sausage slices and saute for 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until the pieces are browned. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and their juices, the red wine, tomato paste, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper and let the mixture simmer over low heat while you prepare the pasta and broccolini.

  • Bring a very large pot half filled with water to a boil and add 1 tablespoon of salt. Add the pasta and cook for 9 minutes exactly. While the pasta is cooking, trim the broccolini to just the florets (or the broccoli rabe to just below the leaves, then cut the leafy part crosswise in 2-inch pieces) and discard the stems. When the pasta has cooked for 9 minutes, add the brocclini to the pasta and continue cooking for 2 to 3 minutes, until the pasta is al dente and the broccolini is crisp-tender.

  • Drain in a large colander, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid, and add the pasta and broccolini to the pot with the tomato and sausage mixture. Stir in the Parmesan cheese and 1 teaspoon of salt. If the pasta seems dry, add some of the reserved cooking liquid (just fyi, we’ve never had to do this). Taste for seasonings, and serve hot with extra Parmesan on the side.

Sorry, Frosty

I recently wrote about how much I love Christmas music. Well, I have a confession to make… even though I could listen to Christmas music non-stop (which I have been for the past month and a half…), there are some songs that I honestly cannot stand. If these songs come on my Pandora stations, they are sure to get a thumbs down. Or if they come on the radio, I will either quickly pull up my Pandora app on my phone or if I’m in my car I’ll put in my Garibaldi Christmas CD or just halfheartedly sing along. I know. So terrible. I’m slightly ashamed.

 So which songs get under my skin? At the top of the list is “Frosty the Snowman.” Does that make me a grinch? I think part of it is because I never learned this story/song as a child past “Frosty the Snoman was a jolly happy soul….”, and another part is that to me this song has nothing to do with Christmas (is Frosty here just because he’s made of snow?). While I know the lyrics now as an adult, I just don’t have any interest in it. Sorry, Frosty, I don’t think we can be friends.

Another one that I really can’t stand is “Grandma Got Run Over by  a Reindeer.” I mean, really? How is this a Christmas song? Thankfully I will hear this song only a few times a year, guess it just isn’t a popular song request (can’t imagine why…). I also struggle with “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Clause.” I guess it’s cute-ish in theory, but definitely not my favorite. Pretty much the only version I will listen to is by the Jackson 5. Little MJ has some awesome Christmas music.

Now, my next one isn’t necessarily a specific song but anything by The Carpenters. I can’t take it. Everything they sing sounds so…. meh. Do they intentionally sing every song slower than normal? I will literally roll my eyes whenever their songs come on my Christmas stations and try to hit the skip button as quickly as possible.

One last song that just doesn’t do it for me is “Silver Bells.” For some reason I’ve just never been a fan of this tune.

Sigh… I feel so much better getting this off my chest. Are there any Christmas songs you could do without?

Weekend in Denver

Continuing with our year of travel, we spent time a few weekends ago visiting some very special people up in Denver. My brother moved to Denver following his college graduation in May, and one of my closest college friends Rachel moved there with her husband Mark once he finished his MBA program at Northwestern this past spring. We were so excited that we would get time with all of them during this trip!

We were able to catch a direct flight to Denver Friday afternoon, which was perfect. The flight was actually shorter than we had expected; we didn’t even get to finish watching The Heat before we landed! My brother and his girlfriend Teresa picked us up at the airport and we all went to meet Mark and Rachel over at The Yard House for a group dinner. It was so great getting to catch up with everyone over a good burger before heading to the Pomeroys for the night.

Saturday morning, Alex and Teresa came to pick up me and Chip for a full day. First stop: having breakfast with the wonderful Ashley Snow. Ashley was in the RUF first year girls’ Bible study I co-led my senior year of college. It was great getting to see her grow during her time at Trinity and now be one hardworking accountant (she just got her CPA!). I had some yummy chocolate chip pancakes and sausage with Ashley and her sweet dad, while Chip, Alex, and Teresa grabbed breakfast in town before joining us for some sports talk (there was a big football game that weekend). After we left Ashley’s, the four of us drove up to Boulder. My brother had been pretty set on us going on a hike while we were in town, and while I thought the snow would cancel this excursion I was mistaken. We would still be going on a hike. So we went to Chautauqua Park and did one of their small trails. Thankfully the sun finally came out just as we got started, so with that sunshine and all of our layers, the trail was a lot of fun. Let’s be real, Chip and I don’t see much snow (as in none at all) so we had a good time stomping around off of the trail and yes, I did throw a snowball at Alex (what kind of sister would I be if I didn’t do that?).

At the beginning of our hike

At the beginning of our hike

Chautauqua Park

Chautauqua Park

Our view of Boulder

Our view of Boulder

I wanted this little tree

I wanted this little tree

Alex was kind enough to lend us some of his beanies for the day

Alex was kind enough to lend us some of his beanies for the day

Put my duck boots to good use!

Put my duck boots to good use!

Alex and Teresa

Alex and Teresa

Enjoying the day in Colorado

Enjoying the day in Colorado

Chautauqua Park

Chautauqua Park

Chautauqua Park

Chautauqua Park

Chautauqua Park

Chautauqua Park

Chautauqua Park

Chautauqua Park

Chautauqua Park

Chautauqua Park

The four of us!

The four of us!

Such a mountain man

Such a mountain man

One more view of Boulder

One more view of Boulder

One of the many dogs on the trail. I pet just about all of them.

One of the many dogs on the trail. I pet just about all of them.

After we finished the trail, we drove back into town for lunch before heading out to see Red Rocks. It was pretty darn cold by this point, so after quickly walking around we got back in the nice warm car to drive back to Denver where Alex was able to show us his apartment and where he works. As his older sister, it was so great to see him settled in his own place and happy with where he’s at. Crazy to think my little brother is an adult! ;)

Red Rocks

Red Rocks

Red Rocks

Red Rocks

Red Rocks

Red Rocks

Dinner Saturday was such a treat; we all had homemade pizzas at the Pomeroys! It’s been a while since Chip and I had homemade pizzas, and we will definitely be using Momma Manny’s dough recipe next time.

Ready to roll out the dough

Ready to roll out the dough

Ready to go in the oven

Ready to go in the oven

Some great pizza

Some great pizza

Wine for the evening

Wine for the evening

Cookies will always be a favorite dessert

Cookies will always be a favorite dessert

We went to church with Mark and Rachel Sunday morning before having lunch together at Udi’s. We then hung out at their house all afternoon, which was so so good. I’m so thankful for our friendship with the Pomeroys and that despite however long it’s been since we last saw each other, we can always pick right up and talk for hours. Alex and Teresa came over late in the afternoon and took us to the airport for our flight back to San Antonio.

It was a quick trip to Denver, but one that left us so grateful with the time we were able to get with Alex, Teresa, Mark, and Rachel. Just don’t be too surprised if we have our future visits take place in the spring or summer… ;)