Tuesday, December 22, 2009

'Tis the Season For Baking....

So, it's the holidaze and I've been baking up a storm! My three favorite crowd-pleasers for this season are fudge, Neiman Marcus' cookies (I'll tell you a funny story about that later) and an apple pie recipe that I got from Real Simple that wowed my family at Thanksgiving. If you're like me and want to save some money this holiday season, baking your neighbors, co-workers, and friends some treats, (as a potluck addition, X-mas presents or as a thank-you-for-having-me-over) is a nice, inexpensive and delcious way to say that you appreciate them. Without further ado, here are the recipes all in one place to make it easy for you!

Fudge: Makes 48 servings or 3 lbs. Total time: 2 1/2 hours, includes cooling

1 7oz. jar of marshmallow creme
1 1/2 cups of sugar (you can cut this down a little if you like your fudge less sweet, my FI complained it was a little too sweet for his taste and he LOVES chocolate)
2/3 cup evaporated milk
1/4 cup of BUTTER (don't sub margarine in for butter, it has much more water and will affect the fudge)
1/4 tsp. of salt
2 cups milk chocolate chips (one 12oz bag)
1 cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 tsp. of vanilla extract

1) Line a 8x8 pan with aluminum foil, so that the foil goes over the side. (I put mine in a 9x9 because I didn't have a 8x8 and it turned out well and if you double the recipe- put it in a 13x9 pan.)
2) In a large saucepan, heat on low to start: marshmallow creme, sugar, evaporated milk, butter and salt. Make sure that you have your ingredients measured out before putting them in the saucepan to keep from burning- start it on low and slowly increase to boil to cook for 5-7mins, constantly stirring. Keep an eye to make sure it doesn't burn.
3) Remove from heat and pour in the chocolate chips, stir until melted and the mixture is smooth.
4) Stir in vanilla.
5) Pour into pan and chill the fridge for 2 hours or until firm.

Neiman Marcus' Cookies: Makes 120 cookies Total time: 1 hour, includes bake time

OK, before I give you the recipe, I owe you a story. I'm not sure if this is true or some sort of publicity stunt, I tend to think it's true. A woman, some friend of a friend of my mom's, was shopping at Neiman Marcus and had stopped by their bakery/cafe to have a shopping snack. She had decided to try their cookies and thought that they were to die for, the best things she's EVER tasted. So, she asked the salesman if he had the recipe and if she could have it. He said, "Sure it's 250." So, she (I guess having forgot she was at NM) said, "OK, put it on my bill", thinking he meant $2.50. She got her NM bill and lo and behold, $250 for this recipe. She was so upset that she decided to post the recipe everywhere so that NM wouldn't make another penny on it. I thought I'd try it out before pimping out the recipe and I have to say, they're pretty damn good. So, here you are- for free. Happy Holidaze!
2 cups butter
24oz chocolate chips
4 cups flour
2 cups brown sugar
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
2 cups sugar
1 8oz. Hershey chocolate bar, grated
5 cups blended oatmeal
4 eggs
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp vanilla
3 cups chopped nuts

1) Preheat oven to 375.
2) Measure the oatmeal and blend in blender until it's a fine powder.
3) Cream the butter, brown sugar and granulated sugar.
3) Add: eggs and vanilla.
4) Mix with flour, oatmeal, salt, baking powder, baking soda. Add: chocolate chips, grated Hershey bar, and nuts.
5) Roll into balls and place 2 inches apart on a cookie sheet.
6) Bake at 375 for 10 minutes (though I've cooked these at 25 minutes and they turned out perfectly)

Gingery Apple Crumb Pie (via Real Simple's November '09 Issue): Serves: 8 Total time: 3 hours, includes cooling
1 piecrust, store-bought or homemade, fitted into a 9-inch pie plate
1/2 cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
3/4 cup plus 1 tbsp. all-purpose flour. spooned and leveled
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 1/2 pounds of apples (about 4 apples like Granny Smith, Braeburn, or Empire), peeled and thinly sliced- when I did this for Thanksgiving I had extra slices, so you'd probably be safe with 3 apples instead of 4.
1 tbsp. grated fresh ginger
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. kosher salt (I've substituted regular salt for this and it's fine, if you don't have any kosher in your kitchen)

1) Set an oven rack in the lowest position and heat oven to 375F.
2) In a food processor/blender, pulse the butter, 3/4 cup of the flour, and 1/4 cup of sugar until large clumps form. Transfer to a bowl and refrigerate until ready to use.
3) In a large bowl, toss the apples, ginger, cinnamon, salt, and remaining 1/2 cup of sugar and tbsp of flour.
4) Transfer the apple mixture to the crust, sprinkle with the crumb topping, and bake until the top is golden and the apples are tender, 55 to 60 minutes. Serve warm at room temperature. (Vanilla ice cream optional but, HIGHLY recommended ;p)

I hope these recipes bring you, your family and your loved ones much joy this holiday season. Enjoy!
Happy Holidays- Team Bride.


Friday, December 4, 2009

The Engagement Story

Fernando had decided to take me on a romantic getaway because our schedules are so different and it feels as if we never see each other. I also had had one of those crazy weeks, my best friend’s bachelorette party was really becoming something unbelievable with a bunch of selfish you-know-whats making the party about their needs and making my best bud MISERABLE, to say the least. To top it off, I had made quite a few mistakes at work which seemed to occur all at once, you know when you keep making stupid mistakes on top of each other and it never ends? SO, we left Hermosa Beach and headed to Santa Barbara…here’s the Ventura Freeway along the coast:

That Saturday night, Aug. 22nd, after we arrived in Santa Barbara, we decided to go to dinner. Well, ladies, you know that he didn’t make reservations for a restaurant…I love him but, he is a man in the planning category LOL. So, we decided on Cava in Montecito- a wonderful Spanish restaurant. As we drove along the ocean on our way to the restaurant, we saw a courtyard with Renaissance arches lit up and fell in love. “That is where we should have our reception,” we both said. Let me explain about how I knew he was going to propose soon….he had asked my parents' permission two months ahead of time when we were visiting with my mom up in the Redwoods of Northern California.
So, we went to Cava- where I had the most delicious paella with a couple of Pisco Sours and Fernando had a chicken dish with a Mojito. Here we are in front of the beautiful mosaic fountain:

At dinner, Fernando was like, “Hey, let’s go back to that courtyard and take a stroll around. That looked like a really cool place.” ”OK, no problem and I want to check it out up close!” So, we finished our wonderful dinner and headed back along the ocean to Fess Parker’s Double Tree Resort. We got out of the car and as we walked up, it was breathtaking. I mean…LOOK AT IT! Well, it’s a little blurry because I was getting used to my new camera LOL….

So, we decided to climb some winding stairs to the upstairs Rotunda which overlooked the moon on the sea, gave you unobstructed views of the clear and starry night sky and gave me a bird’s eye view of the courtyard and it took my breath away.

Isn’t that the most perfect place to have a reception? It doesn’t have a ceiling so you can dine/dance under the stars. So, after I took this photo, I turned around and there was Fernando on his knee with the 3-carat diamond ring that was my great-grand aunt's wedding ring from 1902 and he asked me to marry him. Obviously, I said yes! Here’s us after he popped the question and as we embark on this new journey together: