A Merry Christmas, California Style

Merry Christmas to all of my friends and family and blog readers! I hope you are having a wonderful holiday filled with merriment.

Conservative Hubby and I are enjoying a holiday of sun, fun, and ... guess what?

The past two years, I've celebrated the holidays in our nation's lovely capitol with My Family. This year, after My Sister's cross-country move, we took the Family Celebration on the road to a new, warmer destination: Santa Monica, California.

And, for the first time ever, Conservative Hubby even came along!

So, for our Christmas Eve day, we did a few decidedly California activities.

My Father and Conservative Hubby spent part of yesterday morning hanging ten ... riding the waves ... or whatever it is cool people call surfing. My Mom, My Sister, and I enjoyed the action from the beach until about halfway through the surfing adventure when My Sister decided to join them in the water. (She's an old pro by now ... sort of.)

But more about the surfing adventure tomorrow ...

After surfing, we moseyed down to Venice Beach for lunch at a wonderful little organic ale house. And then we took a peek at the freak show that Venice Beach is known for. (It was a pretty calm day, actually.)

Conservative Hubby, of course, loved it. He said he thought he was breaking out in hives. And the crazies were commending him for his military service and his nice striped green collared shirt ... and no, Conservative Hubby is not nor ever has been in the military.

After that, we did some last-minute shopping on Santa Monica's adorable little Main Street before wrapping up the evening with our long-standing holiday tradition: chowder (which, for the past three years, has been served at My Sister's big farmhouse table).

As for today? Santa made a stop last night, so we have some stockings to explore. Then there's a brie and salmon strata in the oven calling our name. Later? Fish tacos on the beach for our Christmas Day dinner.

Not a bad way to spend the holiday, eh?

Merry Christmas!


Chocolate Peppermint Snowflake Tart

Sometimes the recipes I try are pretty good. Sometimes they're not that great. And occasionally, they're really great.

The really great recipes are the ones I mentally star, the sort of recipes I undoubtedly will come back to time and again.

I wasn't expecting this recipe, which I cut out of the newspaper one day last week, to be in the really great category.

Only it was. It is. It's on the hit list, I think.

It's a chocolate peppermint snowflake tart. The recipe, courtesy of the AP, goes a little something like this:

Crust ingredients:
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
½ cup sugar
¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, cut into chunks

Ganache ingredients:
1 ¼ cups heavy cream
8 ounces semisweet chocolate
1 ½ teaspoons peppermint extract
Powdered sugar, for dusting

Heat the oven to 375 F. In a food processor, combine the flour, salt, cocoa powder and sugar. Pulse to combine. Add the butter and process until the mixture forms a dough, about 30 seconds.

Remove the dough from the processor and break off about a third of it. Set this aside.

Press the remaining dough into the bottom and up the sides of a 9-inch tart pan with removable bottom. Use a fork to prick the bottom of the crust all over. Freeze for 15 minutes, then bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the center of the bottom feels firm.

Meanwhile, make the snowflake cookies.

Roll out the reserved dough between 2 sheets of parchment paper to 1/8 inch thick. Move the dough to a baking sheet, including the parchment paper, then refrigerate until firm, about 15 minutes.

Use 1- to 2-inch cookie cutters to cut out 8 to 10 snowflakes (of multiple sizes, if desired). If the dough becomes too soft, you may need to chill it in the refrigerator as you work. Once all of the cookies are cut, transfer them to a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and refrigerate for 10 minutes.

Bake the snowflakes for 10 to 15 minutes (depending on size of the cookies), or until firm. Cool the cookies on the baking sheet.

To make the ganache filling, in a small saucepan over medium, heat the cream until simmering. Add the chocolate and let sit off the heat for 2 minutes. Stir until smooth. Stir in the peppermint extract, then pour into the baked tart shell. Refrigerate until firm, about 2 hours.

When ready to serve, dust the snowflake cookies with powdered sugar, then arrange them on the top of the tart.

If I remember correctly (I was in a food haze when she said it), Kid Sister called the tart "Andes mints on steroids." I like this. Or perhaps it was the Girl Scouts' thin mint cookies on steroids. That might be even more fitting, with the bit of crunch the tart crust and cookies provide.

Either way, it's rich and festive and oh so yummy.


Getting Ready for the Holidays

The Christmas season hit full stride last week, when I attended five holiday parties in three days.

Then, last night, we celebrated Conservative Family Christmas at Conservative Parents' house. It was a lovely evening filled with merriment, good food, and way too many gifts.

Oh, and a roaring fire, which I was very excited about.

Although we aren't hosting any holiday get-togethers at our casa this year, I did the usual decorating.

(With Butter's help of course.)

And the penguins are back again this year to keep Butter company in the window.

It wouldn't be Christmas without them!


Appeasing the Cookie Monster

Before my annual Christmas cook-making extravaganza, I did some holiday decorating. A friendly, festive little cookie jar is among the things I set out each December.

Only this year, the little cookie jar wasn't quite as festive as in years past. In fact, when I came home from work one day I discovered he'd gotten rather demanding.

How do I know he'd gotten demanding?

Because he left me this note.

I didn't want to deal with a cranky cookie jar all month, so I obliged. I filled the cookie jar to the brim with Conservative Hubby's favorite Christmas tree cookies.

I thought this would appease the cookie jar.

Little did I realize that he'd be overtaken with a sugar high from all the sweets I left him and would go off the deep end.

Case in point: A few days later, I came home from work to find this:

Poor cookie jar lost his mind (and, apparently, his face).

Then again, I can't help but wonder if it was the cookie jar that lost his mind or some other character in my house ... perhaps the character that actually consumed all those cookies?

The world may never know ...


Peppermint Ice Cream

About that surprise I mentioned yesterday ... Remember? The one I said went along with the cookie plates we delivered last night?

It was this.

Jars of homemade ice cream.

But not just any homemade ice cream.

Jars of homemade peppermint ice cream.

Who doesn't love a festive frozen treat?

(Best of all, it was easy. All I did was add 1/2 teaspoon of peppermint flavoring to the traditional vanilla ice cream recipe I usually make. Then, in the last five minutes of ice cream-making, I dumped in a cup of crushed peppermints. Voila! Homemade peppermint ice cream.)



Tonight Conservative Hubby and I bundled up and embarked on a mini adventure that has become a tradition since we have lived in L-Town: Cookie deliveries.

We took cookie plates (plus a special surprise you'll learn about tomorrow) to many of our neighbors and a few other friends in town. (And yesterday, we took the same cookie plates to Conservative Family dinner to share the love with Conservative Mom and Dad and Kid Sister and T-Bear.)

Of course the cookie plates included the old standbys: sugar cookies, candy cane cookies, Christmas trees, peanut butter blossoms, and fudge.

But of course, as I did last year, I added a few new treats to the plates. This year, that included toffee and candy covered pretzels. Yum.

If you'd like a few treats yourself, stop on by. We have plenty of cookies left.

No, really. Please come over. Don't MAKE me eat all of these myself.



Every year, I try to make a new holiday treat to go with the old favorites.

After spotting what looked like an easy (and lovely) skillet toffee recipe on The Kitchn the other day, I decided I had to add toffee to this year's list.

I made it the other night, and I have to admit: I think it's pretty darn tasty.

Although, full disclosure: I broke it to pieces with my hands, and the chocolate was so darn soft the pieces are now littered with my fingerprints.


I promise, my hands were clean.


New Additions

Now that you've had over a week to fully digest Thanksgiving dinner and all the leftovers, I wanted to share with you a peek at a few new additions to this year's Thanksgiving table in Georgia.

By the time we hit Turkey Thursday, Conservative Family had already consumed two Thanksgiving dinners--one part of a fundraising dinner early in November, the other our annual dining experience with Q & MB and family.

So we were ready to mix it up--but just a little bit.

For starters, there was Kid Sister's new spin on her family favorite monkey bread, which you caught a glimpse of here.

Then, inspired by Pioneer Woman's domination of Bobby Flay on his Food Network show Throwdown, we decided to tackle two important recipes.

First up, Ree's Cornbread Dressing with Pancetta, Apple, and Mushrooms.

And Bobby's Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Pomegranates and Vanilla-Pecan Butter. (Yeah, Ree and and Bobby and I are on a first-name basis.)

Ooh la la. Both recipes were gooood. But don't take my word for it. Even My Mom ate and enjoyed both dishes--and she never touches stuffing and doesn't like Brussels sprouts.

Until now.


Monkey Bread

Most days, this blog could be called Cooking with Julie. Occasionally, it's Extreme Cooking with Conservative Boy.

But today we have a new guest star: Kid Sister.

In the first-ever episode of Cooking with Kid Sister, the lady of the hour is showing you to how to make her world-famous Monkey Bread.

Before I began dining with Conservative Family on Turkey Day, I hadn't ever heard of this creation called Monkey Bread.

(Although I have since learned that there are a few other people in the world who have been making this tasty treat in their families for years.)

And somehow, in the time I've become acquainted with this delicacy, it has gone from relative obscurity to mainstream appeal. Can you believe the recipe is now printed on the wrapper of bulk packages of Pillsbury biscuits during the holidays?

Kid Sister is a trendsetter. That's all I can say.

So anyway. The thing about this year's Monkey Bread is this: You won't find the recipe for it on any wrappers.

That's because this year Kid Sister got innovative.

And you're witnessing it right here.

You see, usually Monkey Bread involves little pieces of biscuit dough, of course. And lots of butter and cinnamon and sugar. But that's it. Just throw it all in a Bundt pan and bake.

But this year, stealing a page from her brother (or not), Kid Sister went EXTREME.

First, she sprinkled mini chocolate chips among the layers of dough. And then she poured a mixture of melted butter and brown sugar on top.

It was an experiment. Sometimes experiments fail.

For the record, this one wasn't a failure.

In fact, it was so delicious a fight almost broke out at the dinner table about which side should get to keep the pan of Monkey Bread by them.

It was so delicious we wondered why we even bothered with pie.

It was so delicious, I'm pretty sure Kid Sister is going to have to make the exact same recipe again next year.

And in the meantime, she really should tell Pillsbury to stop stealing her ideas.