The Husband’s {Annual} Dinner

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and are gearing up for a fun New Year! We’ve been in three states and will have slept in five houses by the time we head home this weekend…. but boy, I love it :)

Now, back to where I left off: My husband and I have a great relationship, and one of the keys of our happy marriage is that I do the cooking. I love it. He doesn’t. I like trying crazy things. He eats them without complaint (and maybe just one supplemental packet of fruit snacks later in the evening).

Well last year, our friends started getting on him about his lack of cooking prowess. He asserted that he could cook if he wanted, he just didn’t LOVE it.

They said he was full of it.

So, he set out to prove everyone wrong…. and made me one of the most delicious meals I’ve ever eaten (complete with handmade dark chocolate truffles and baked brie en croute.) Where did that come from?! He said it was his way of making up for lost time. And, his reason for making exactly one dinner per year for the foreseeable future. Quality, not quantity.

A year later, and with no dinners prepared in-between, he decided to make this a celebrated annual event. So, on to the computer, and off to the grocery store he went. (And yes, that means he has made dinner for us exactly twice since we were married June of 2009. No, not even mac n’ cheese).

I Christmas shopped, and he cooked (and called when he needed to know why Kosher salt was different from other salt, where the dill was kept, and if you put meat between the halves of the broiler pan or on top of it). Though he has some cooking vocab to master, dinner was totally delightful. And, it included eggplant, Greek yogurt and cauliflower.

Mind. Blown.

Try the recipes he used below (and maybe your man could even take a stab at it! At least once a year…).

You can find them all at FoodNetwork.com!

The Husband’s Second Annual Dinner

Encourage him to give it a try – You won’t be disappointed! Unless you have to clean up after him…

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Sea {Salty} Cookies, Eat Cookies

Oh, sea salt.

I love you on my roasted veggies, but mostly I love you on my chocolate… because The Husband doesn’t like you so I get to eat it all.

True story.

These cookies are not my invention, but I wish they were. I picked them from a sea of photos on Pinterest for a cookie exchange because they looked impressive, easy, chocolatey and involved salt and Kahlua. Perfection, am I right?

Not too sweet, I could really taste the rich coffee flavor of these little guys (and the bite of the salt on your tongue is a fantastic complement!). Go on, give ’em a try!Salted Mudslide Cookies

Recipe created by: How Sweet It Is

Ingredients

  • 2 cups + 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/4 cup dark cocoa powder
  • 3 tablespoons instant coffee powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) of unsalted butter, melted and cooled for 10-15 minutes
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 egg + 1 egg yolk, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup coffee liqueur + 1 teaspoon (Godiva, Kahlua, etc)
  • 1 cup chocolate chunks
  • sea salt for topping

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
  • Mix the flour, cocoa, coffee powder, salt and baking soda in a bowl and set aside.
  • In another bowl, mix the melted butter and sugars until they are combined. Add the egg, egg yolk, and vanilla and stir until mixed. Stream in coffee liqueur and mix.
  • Gradually add flour and mix until a dough forms – it will look crumbly at first, but it will come together. I even used my hands to help at one point. If you find you absolutely need more liquid add in a teaspoon of coffee liqueur, but it should come together. Fold in the chocolate chunks.
  • Refrigerate dough for 30 minutes. Try not to eat it. I suggest distracting yourself with a cheesy Christmas special on TV.
  • Remove dough from the fridge and roll into golfball sized balls. Set on a non-stick baking sheet with 2 inches between each. Bake for 8-12 minutes or until the edges are set and the middles are still soft (depends on your cookie size). The centers should be puffy. Do not over-bake. Remove from oven and immediately sprinkle with sea salt. Let cool completely just enough so you don’t burn yourself, then dig in!

These are great for Christmas… and for freezing and eating on long drives to Grandma’s house. You might even want to save one for her.

Enjoy!

On a side note:

  • My hairdryer decided to get festive and burst into a shower of sparks over the weekend… I keep forgetting to buy a new one until I’m dripping in my towel at 7:30a.m. before work.
  • I am in a brace for a tendon injury in my right foot and I have to wear tennis shoes everywhere for three weeks. Work. Shopping. I want to sob quietly every time I look at my stupid shoes with a cute outfit. And, I can’t run.
  • It’s only Four days until Christmas, so the above doesn’t really matter.
  • The Husband made his second “Annual Dinner” last night (Yes folks, this was the second dinner he has made in our 2.5 years of marriage. It’s about quality, not quantity, people).  It. Was. Fabulous. Recipes to come!

{Top Secret} Family Recipe

Random life lesson #642: Sister-in-laws know best.

In my naivety, I attempted a classic family cookie recipe for the Ugly Sweater party over the weekend (don’t worry…photo below). I knew it was simple. I knew how to google. I thought I was set.

Wrong.

Jessica, one of my dear sister-in-laws, makes totally killer mint chocolate chip mini cookies for just a few events throughout the year. I inhale them with abandon.

{This is Church camp, circa 2007. The cookies in question… in that unassuming box on the table. Not for long!}

They are like thin mints on steroids. Fudgy-fresh. Best eaten chilled.

Well, long story short,  my googled recipe didn’t turn out as good as Jessica’s. They were fine out of the oven (a little fluffy, perhaps) but, once they were cold, they just didn’t have the magic… In fact, my coworker Elizabeth said they were like rocks. (In my defense, they had been open on the counter at the office for two days…). Thanks for the reality-check, Elizabeth. :)

Soooo, I crawled humbly back to Jessica for the real recipe, which she generously gave me.

Folks, this is a closely-guarded FreshlyMinted family secret…. feel privileged. Very privileged.

And thank Jessica next time you see her for saving this post. Even though when she emailed the recipe to me she started her note with:

I can’t believe I’m doing this, but here it is…

We love each other… we really do ;)

Top-Secret Mint Chocolate Cookies

Ingredients:

  • 1 box chocolate cake mix (How cool is that?)
  • 1/2 cup oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 bag pre-chopped Andes mints (If you can’t find these, you can chop them yourself. Or, you can use seasonal mint chocolate chips…. heath bar, M&Ms…possibilities are endless!)
Directions:
  • Combine cake mix, oil, and eggs in a large bowl. Stir in mints.
  • Drop by rounded teaspoon on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 350 for 6-8 minutes.
  • Note:There is an art to baking these cookies to perfection. You underbake – they won’t hold their shape; you overbake – they are too crunchy; you find that very sweet spot in the middle – you’ve baked a soft version of the Thin Mint that tastes like heaven in your mouth.

Enjoy!

(And beware…there are a lot of imposter “Cake Box Cookies” out there. Listen to my Sister-in law,  and spare yourself the humiliation of breaking your co-workers teeth.)

Right, Carla?

Some more of our holiday fun for your enjoyment…

{Ugly Christmas Sweaters, The Nutcracker, Cookie Swap}

{Swanky Office Shindig…. yes, we did end the evening at Waffle House}

{The Little House}

It’s almost here… Merry Christmas!

Now my other SIL, Ashley, knows she is next on my hostile-takeover-recipe list… her famous rolls, maybe? No one is safe… Haha!

{festivities}

It’s only just begun…

It’s okay. Go ahead and sing the Carpenters’ song in your head.

I won’t judge.

We’ve been busy getting into the holiday spirit: Our tree, my parent’s tree and our annual “Thank God it’s Christmas” party with friends! I LOVE the Holidays (read: pretty much crazy/obsessed/drive-The-Husband-nuts-with-non-stop-christmas-music). So, I am totally in hog heaven right now.

{Best Christmas Tree impression}

We went to Kaleidoscope Farms to cut down our tree – our third “married” Christmas tree! They have a lovely little shop, a donkey, a reindeer, and absolutely beautiful trees…

{Hot Cider – Yum!}

It’s a tradition to go out to a fun dinner before we set the tree up. This year, we went to Alexandria’s (remember this concert?) for cocktails and appetizers, and then headed over to Revolver (Yum) for dinner and dessert.

It was divine.

After that, we trimmed the tree, drank “egg” nog (really soy nog… surprisingly tasty!) and listened to music… perfection.

The next day, we ran errands, strung lights outside, cooked, cleaned and headed over to Andy and Sara’s house for the Annual Thank God It’s Christmas party with our friends!

{Brussels sprouts with maple, cranberry and sliced almonds and roasted squash & harvest grains were my contributions. So much good food!}

Everyone brought delicious food and fun drinks, and we laughed, talked and ate until late that night. We also worked with Halley on her Christmas card project – she is sending cards to soldiers overseas and in VA hospitals. This is her second year of the tradition – such a worthy cause. It’s a great feeling to give back during the holidays. Learn more on Halley’s blog.

{Bottom right: Zane (14), Dad, Me, The Husband, Joe (21), Bekah (9)}

The Christmas-themed marathon didn’t stop there: on Sunday we headed over to my parents to get their tree with my siblings! Mom, Dad, Bekah, Zane, Joe, The Husband and I packed ourselves into the car for our annual trek to Timbuk Tree Farm.

We ALWAYS ride the bus, and we ALWAYS go to Granville for dinner and ice cream afterwards. We started these traditions with my great-grandparents years and years ago.

We ate at Brew’s Cafe (portobella mushroom sandwich with sweet potato fries) and then went to Whit’s Custard (PB Whister) for dessert. Everything was. to. die. for.

We trimmed the tree when we got home (it was MY year to put the star on top!) and drank egg nog… only UDF brand will do in that household (it is sinfully delicious).

{Whew! Yes, that did take as long as it looks. But I got the job done. Eventually. Let’s just say that there were some picky bystanders.}

It was a wonderful kickoff to the Christmas season, and we’ve got so much more to look forward to! Potluck at the office, Ugly Christmas Sweater Party, The Husband’s huge office party,  The Nutcracker, a cookie exchange, Office Christmas lunch downtown, family celebrations and lots of traveling… can’t wait!

What do you have in store in the weeks leading up to Christmas?

Uncle Glenn’s {Cheesy} Potato Soup

Sometimes, it is better just NOT to know what is in your favorite dishes.

But, there’s a problem with that. If you never get the recipe, you’ll never be able to enjoy that cake, pick apart those little creamy-bacony-puff appetizer things, scoop up mom’s gooey dip, or…. savor Uncle Glenn’s Potato Soup.

So, continue if you dare. A staple at our family gatherings, this cheesy, rich goodness is so worth it… especially if you need to whip up something for a crowd after a day of sledding. Or intense game playing/movie watching/shopping/present wrapping…

{My Uncle Glenn, my sister, my dad and Lulu the puppy – Too. Cute.}

Uncle Glenn’s Cheesy Potato Soup

Serves 6 (double for a crowd!)

Ingredients

  • 1 Two lb. bag of cubed frozen hash browns (you can use fresh potatoes too, but hey – we’ve got a bunch of hungry cousins on our hands. Can’t dawdle).
  • 1 Jar Cheese spread (Yep. That’s Cheez Wiz. Don’t hate.)
  • 1 Qt. Heavy Whipping Cream, room temperature (You’ve already done the Cheez Wiz…why stop now?!)
  • 3 Chicken boullion cubes
  • 1 1/2 Cups Chopped Carrots and Celery (See – vegetables! This is practically a health food… Food chopper/processor is the easiest).

Directions:

  • Place potatoes and bullion cubes in a stock pot. Add water just to cover, cook on medium-high heat.
  • When potatoes are soft (poke with a fork), add cheese, carrots and celery. Stir until cheese is completely melted.
  • Slowly add heavy whipping cream, continue stirring.
  • Reduce heat to low, stir frequently.
  • Simmer for about 15 minutes until warm through, and well combined.
  • (Note: To thicken, add instant potato flakes!)

This rich, creamy, fast soup is best paired with crackers, bread, bacon bits, and enough green leafy things to make you feel better about yourself… or (Uncle’s recommendation) deer salami. That part is totally optional.

Be brave. You’ll be the hero of family tales for years to come.

Enjoy!

Do you have any indulgent, quirky, fun, family-gathering favorites that you are looking forward to this season?

Care & {Keeping} of Friends

Best Friends.

We all have them… since childhood we’ve treasured them, made the mad, made up, made mud pies, gone to dances, gone to college, gone overseas, grown up, grown out, grown apart…

Sometimes, those best friends are a treasure for a fleeting time in our lives, and then things naturally progress to bigger and better things. That can be okay. But, there are other times when a simple lack of planning, lack of effort, lack of time, lack of interest, get in the way of the beautiful possibility of lifelong companionship.

{The Tin Man, Wicked Witch, Scarecrow, Dorothy, Toto and Glinda…}

Don’t always cut those glittering ties of childhood memories just because you’ve grown up. Sometimes, it’s worth it… sometimes it means the world to hold on to what was once dear, and make it dear again. And, I’ve found that there are some simple steps every friend can take to maintain these important connections.

{Meet “The Three”}

A Blonde, a Brunette and a Red Head: Hannah, Rachael and Samantha. We were more than the perfect punchline – we were soul-mates. Queens of the roost, we were all the oldest of our siblings. Hannah, the oldest of 9, Samantha, the oldest of 8, and I, the oldest of a measly 4. (My parents were under-achievers. Obviously : )

Hannah and I – friends since I was in the 1st grade, and she was in kindergarten – “let” Samantha join our group at the age of 14. We were inseparable. “The Three” enjoyed the same classic novels, became experts at Junior-year chemistry, were the harshest of fashion critics, cruised newly-licensed in cars with the tops down and scarves in our hair, listened to our parents slightly-warped records, ate ice cream with reckless abandon, put-putted, had picnics in the park, fell in love, went to camp, competed in school, painted our bedrooms crazy colors, fought, annoyed our little brothers, made-up and then…. went to college.

Me, close to home. Hannah, in Massachusetts. Samantha, in Virginia.

Our delightful little story could have ended there. In fact, we all felt it slipping away at times. New friends, different settings, changing interests, careers, boys, too many miles. It started to add up.

But, we fought back. We deliberately chose to press against the “natural” order of things, and their tendency to become disordered and dissolve. It took work, but it ended up better than we could have imagined. And so, even after two weddings, one of us in D.C., one in rural Ohio, another in Europe, we still are close…

Everyone seems to have one of those old friends that knows them better than anyone else. Try these tips to make that road to lasting friendship as bump-less as possible:

1. Give one another space. We’ve heard of “helicopter” parents, but helicopter friends can be just as bad. Even if you talked every day for 18 summers, that kind of contact is hard to maintain (and often unwanted) when you’re at different schools, different places in life, with new responsibilities and a job in front of you to do. Be okay with silence. Be okay not knowing her every move. Sometimes, it is that space that preserves a relationship.

2. Invest the time to catch up. You’re busy, they’re busy. You’re in for the weekend to see your parents, he is visiting grandma and has a long commute. Stop. Get a coffee. Take an hour to talk about life. Even if it is just the short version, jumping in with both feet and sharing the stories and joys and sorrows of the past three (or six, or 10) months with one another face-to-face makes a huge difference. It builds a bond – much better than a phone call – helps you remember why you loved each other’s company so much in the first place.

3. Find out how they’ve grown. This step might be the most important of all. When you’ve gone through a transformation, sometimes the energy to bring an old friend up-to-speed doesn’t even seem worth it. For example: When Hannah came home from college on the East Coast, lots of our friends poked fun at her for her new sense of style, turns of phrase and academic pursuits (An english/theater major?!). They also teased her with outdated stories and old nicknames.

Now, these weren’t mean people, but they weren’t giving Hannah any room to grow. The OLD Hannah is all they knew how to relate to! But, I could tell she was getting frustrated… but why bother telling them she’d found new passions, new interests and discovered a fun new style? I decided to ask her, and Samantha, an important question next time we sat down together.

Name three things that are different about you; three discoveries that you’ve made about yourself since you’ve left.

This question was a game-changer. Learning just those three things – free of judgement, no comments or comparisons or “But remember when you said you HATED skinny jeans? What Happened?!” – made all of the difference in our relationship.

Once afraid of the kitchen and anything but athletic, I had learned that I loved running and competitions, and adored trying new recipes. And Hannah had uncovered a love for Italian, and a talent and passion for art and poetry. Because we helped one another discover these things, we had each other’s backs. We didn’t accidentally hurt each other’s feelings by making jokes about my cooking abilities, or Hannah’s elementary school sketching skills, and in just a few minutes we had dug to the core of what our usual conversations circled around but never quite reached…

That was an OLD us, but now, we were introduced to the surprising, fun, fresh young women our best friends had become.

{Samantha and I Skype with Hannah, who is living in Orvieto, Italy}

Around the Holidays is a great time to re-connect with old friends. Make sure you take some time to do so this season! Do you have a dear friend that has persevered through life with you? Tell me about it!

P.S. More about friends will follow in coming posts – including some of Hannah’s amazing work! That whole English/Theater thing… yeah, it paid off.