White Elephant Gift Guide

Every year at least one friend or co-worker has a white elephant gift exchange and if you’re like me, you struggle to come up with a good gift.  I know you’re supposed to find something something old and obnoxious laying around to wrap up, but I tend to purge clutter quite often and forget.  I’ve come across a few great gift ideas this year on my hunt and thought I’d share them with you just in case you’re stumped on what to bring to your next gift exchange.

White Elephant Gift Ideas

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Holiday Break Checklist

I still can’t believe Christmas is almost here!  As I set forth on my journey back to The Mitten for a heavy dose of family time and a little R&R, I’ve made a little list of things I’m looking forward to during this much needed break.

Holiday Break List

 

 

 

 

 

That’s the Way the Cookie Crumbles

The cookie exchange challenge is on! My amazing work family has decided to have a cookie exchange amongst our team. We’re all very competitive and I take this task seriously – okay as serious as you can with cookie baking. I’m not much of a baker since there’s so much precision involved. However, there’s something about Christmas cookies that brings out the baker in me.

After reviewing my family favorites, I selected the Russian Tea Cake. These buttery powdered sugar balls of bliss are one of my favorites. The recipe is one my mom has used for as long as I can remember so you know it’s good.

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  • 1 cup unsalted butter softened
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cups finely chopped walnuts
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup powdered sugar (set aside to roll the warm cookies in)
  1. Combine all ingredients, mix well
  2. Refrigerate dough until chilled (makes it easier to roll them into balls)
  3. Roll dough into 1 inch balls and place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper
  4. Bake in a preheated oven of 350 degrees for 15 minutes.
  5. Once baked roll while still hot in confectioners’ sugar until coated.  Let cool and you can lightly dust with more powered sugar if needed.

Holiday Brunchin’

In previous years, I’ve hosting a holiday dinner/gift exchange for a few of my closest girlfriends and wanted to switch things up this year.  After watching an episode of “Brunch at Bobby’s” (swoon- yes I have a crush on Bobby Flay), I was inspired to host a brunch this year.  We had a variety of yummy food and drinks to enjoy!  I included the highlights along with a couple of recipes that should definitely make your next brunch menu.  Happy hosting!

 

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Bold Fashioned:

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Ingredients:

  • Templeton Rye Whiskey
  • Orange bitters
  • San Pellegrino blood orange sparkling soda
  • Luxardo maraschino cherries
  • Orange bitters

Directions:

  1. Fill glass with ice
  2. Pour 1 shot of rye whiskey over ice
  3. Add orange bitters (2-3 drops)
  4. Add approximately ½ can San Pellegrino blood orange sparkling soda
  5. Stir to incorporate
  6. Add 1 Luxardo maraschino cherry
  7. Peel a piece of the orange rind and squeeze into the drink and around the rim of the glass
  8. Sip and enjoy

 

Lemon Blueberry Bread

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Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
  • 1 cup fresh blueberries
  • 1/2 cup butter, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup granulated white sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup milk

Lemon Glaze

  • 2 tablespoon granulated white sugar
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice

 

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray cooking oil on the bottom and sides of a 9x5x3 loaf pan
  2. In a bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, and lemon zest. Remove 1 tablespoon of the flour mixture. Place the blueberries in a separate bowl and toss in the 1 tablespoon flour
  3. Using the electric mixer, beat butter until softened. Add the sugar and continue to beat until light and fluffy
  4. Add eggs one at a time. Beat in the vanilla extract. With the mixer on low, add the flour mixture in 3 parts and milk in 2 parts alternatively, starting with the flour and ending with the flour. Mix only until combined
  5. Scrape half the batter into the loaf pan. Add the blueberries in the middle. Add rest of batter on top
  6. Bake for 55 to 65 minutes. Or until a toothpick comes out clean
  7. For the glaze, stir the sugar with lemon in a microwaveable bowl. Place in microwave for about 30 seconds or until sugar has dissolved
  8. After the loaf has cooked, place on wire rack in pan. Poke holes in the bread. Brush the lemon glaze on top of the loaf. Cool completely

 

French Toast Bake

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Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup of melted butter
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 loaf of Texas Toast
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cup of milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Ground cinnamon for sprinkling
  • Powdered sugar for sprinkling

Directions:

  1. Melt butter in microwave. Add brown sugar. Stir till mixed
  2. Pour butter/sugar into bottom of 9×13 pan. Spread evenly
  3. Beat eggs, milk, and vanilla
  4. Lay single layer of bread in pan- use sliced Challah bread
  5. Spoon 1/2 of egg mixture on bread layer. Sprinkle some cinnamon on top, evenly
  6. Add a 2nd layer of Challah bread
  7. Spoon on remaining egg mixture. Sprinkle some cinnamon on top, evenly (I like to add extra)
  8. Cover and chill overnight
  9. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes
  10. Sprinkle powdered sugar on top before serving. Serve with maple syrup, optional

Hostess with the Mostess

We’ve all been there…heading to the in-laws, meeting the fam for the first time, or to a friend’s place for Thanksgiving and wonder “what to bring”.  The traditional bottle of wine or flowers is always a good idea, but I put together some alternative gift ideas for you to make your first meeting a memorable experience.
Hostess Gifts

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Keep your Sanity During the Holiday Travel Season

Tis the season for kindness, generosity, and merriment.  And then you arrive at the airport to angry sweaty people and invasive security scanners that make you resent the holiday season.  For the past 9 years, I’ve had the luxury of traveling back home for every holiday.  Needless to say, I like most people are not looking forward to the endless crowds and delayed flights.  However, I’ve found a few helpful tips to keep my sanity while traveling and hope you find them useful as we move into a busy travel time.  And remember, you’re not alone!

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  • Leave early: Being a city dweller myself, you never know how traffic or the impending security line is going to be.  Best to give yourself some extra time to account for the unexpected.
  • Dress Comfortably: Layers are your friend and bring an over sized scarf just in case you need to cozy up.
  • Pack Snacks: Being hangry just adds another element to an already stressful day.  Grab a few protein bars, turkey jerky or almonds to help satiate your rumbling tummy.
  • Stay Connected: Download the latest travel apps to help while you’re on the move.  You might also want to check out one of these:
    • FlightStatus gives you real-time updates on delays, baggage numbers and more
    • GateGuru gives you approximate times you’ll spend in security
    • SitOrSquat provides you with the cleanest bathrooms when you’re on the road
    • Waze gives you real-time traffic and road info
  • Travel Early or Late in the Day: Flight stats show planes traveling earlier in the day have a better on-time performance.  And if your flight is cancelled, you will have an option of taking a flight later in the day.  If you’re driving, it’s best to drive when everyone else is asleep – early morning or late at night if you’re a night owl.
  • Pack Light: I’m terrible at following this rule, but having a carry-on really helps expedite the airport process.  If you struggle with packing like I do, I’ve found the PackPoint packing list builder app to be extremely helpful.  It generates a customized list of what you should pack based on your agenda, weather, etc. – Brilliant!
  • If all else fails, know when to give up and have a cocktail 🙂

Friendsgiving

Thanksgiving is almost here and I’m looking forward to a few days off with my fam back in the Mitten.  There’s nothing better than spending time with family over scrumptious food and copious amounts of wine – well at least that’s how my family rolls!

Last weekend marked the 4th annual Friendsgiving with some of my dear friends to prepare for the main event.  We kicked off the first one with a traditional Thanksgiving meal and decided to evolve it over the years.  This year, the star of the show was the roasted beer can chicken (recipe to come).  It was out of this world amazing and I’m so glad my friend John decided to take on the challenge.

I was tasked with bringing a few appetizers and immediately thought of two I’ve been dying to try.  Both of them were easy to make and a smashing success.

Phyllo Cups with Brie and Cranberry Sauce

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Ingredients:

  • 2 boxes (15 count) Mini Phyllo Cups (sold in the freezer aisle)
  • 7 ounces of Brie
  • 1 can Cranberry Sauce

Instructions:

Heat your oven to 350 degrees. Remove the phyllo cups from the packaging and arrange them on a baking sheet. Fill each cup with a 50/50 mix of Brie and cranberry sauce. Bake for 15 minutes and serve.

 

Creamy Brussels Sprout Shallot Dip

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Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 cups Brussels sprouts, roughly chopped
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil, divided
  • 1 shallot, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup sour cream (light or regular)
  • 4 ounces (1/2 package) 1/3 fat cream cheese
  • 1 cup low-fat shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese + more for topping
  • 1/4 tsp each sea salt and ground black pepper
Creamy-Brussels-Sprout-Dip-minimalistbaker.com_
Courtesy Minimalist Baker

Instructions:

  1. Heat a cast iron or oven-safe skillet over medium heat. Once hot add 1 Tbsp olive oil, shallot and garlic. Stir constantly as to not to let it burn.
  2. Add Brussels sprouts, 1/4 tsp each sea salt and pepper and stir. Cook for 3-4 minutes or until tender and slightly wilted and then remove from heat, turning off burner as well.
  3. In a separate bowl mix together sour cream, cream cheese, mozzarella and Parmesan cheese, another pinch of salt and pepper and stir. Add Brussels sprouts mixture to the bowl and stir until well combined.
  4. Use additional Tbsp olive oil to lightly grease the cast iron so the dip doesn’t stick. Spoon dip back into the skillet and bake at 375 for 11-13 minutes or until hot and bubbly. Serve with tortilla chips.