Christmas & Creme Brulee

Creme Brulee 17

I can’t believe Christmas is over! It certainly snuck up on us this year. I say that every year, but it really snuck up on us this year. Confession: we didn’t even put ornaments on our tree! (Ducking and hiding.) We went to the tree farm about a week before Christmas, cut down our very first live tree since we got married, ooh’d and aah’d over how perfect and majestic it looked towering in our living room, draped it with some white twinkle lights — END SCENE. We even had a pile of ornaments sitting on the table waiting to be tucked into those glorious branches and it never happened. We’re the worst tree parents EVER.

Christmas & Creme Brulee - Offbeat & Inspired

Aside from the overwhelming magnitude of our tree neglect, we did manage to work in some favorite holiday activities (and a few new ones) before the big day arrived. We did our traditional homemade cocoa and spent a few evenings by a roaring fire while catching up on the latest ABC Family Christmas Movies (Christmas In Handcuffs anyone?). I did lots of baking and cooking, desperately seeking a balance between health and holiday treats. The balance was never found but I learned that if you eat your weight in chocolate, you actually do end up killing the craving — success, sort of? We attended our first Gingerbread House Party and it was OH so much fun. Our friends, Hannah and Ben had us over to dress up our cat (S’mores) and their dog (Moses) in Santa and Reindeer gear for a “family photo.” I observed while Hannah created the most delicious and difficult pulled cream candy known to man. Hopefully I’ll convince her to do a tutorial for Offbeat & Inspired so you guys can see how wonderful these candies are! She also made bourbon-soaked cherries wrapped in fondant and dipped in chocolate. I could have eaten those for days. Cheers to having a pro candy maker in our midst!

Christmas & Creme Brulee - Offbeat & Inspired

After the preliminary festivities, we packed up our cat and 4 days’ worth of clothing (or in my case, 3 weeks worth) for an 8-hour road trip north, destined for a little New York town called Albion where we would spend Christmas with Dave’s family.

Creme Brulee 3

Dave’s mom is a cook and a baker. A really good cook and baker. Every time we visit she has new recipes to share and new cookbooks for me to drool over. It’s so inspiring to hear about all the treats she whips up for family, neighbors and friends. Before we drove up this year, she and I e-mailed back and forth about what recipes we could try out together during our visit. This has become somewhat of a tradition — one that I really love! For this trip, she suggested creme brûlée. She used to be the head pastry chef at a cafe/quilt shop and creme brûlée was one of the most popular items on the menu. At first I was intimidated by the fancy nature of this dessert, but I’m all for learning! I would take notes with my camera and she would work her creme brûlée magic.

Christmas & Creme Brulee - Offbeat & Inspired

These turned out better than anything I’ve ever had in a restaurant. The thin shell of hard caramel was sweet and toasty with a perfectly smooth and creamy vanilla custard underneath.

Christmas & Creme Brulee - Offbeat & Inspired

As I’m getting older and still sort of easing into “official adulthood”, I find myself being more purposeful about taking note of the really special events and moments in life. Spending Christmas day with my husband’s family while Mom-in-law teaches me how to make creme brûlée from scratch on the counter tops of her cozy well-worn kitchen with flurries of snow falling outside is truly one of them.

Christmas & Creme Brulee - Offbeat & Inspired

Christmas & Creme Brulee - Offbeat & Inspired

Christmas & Creme Brulee - Offbeat & Inspired

Christmas & Creme Brulee - Offbeat & Inspired

Christmas & Creme Brulee - Offbeat & Inspired

Christmas & Creme Brulee - Offbeat & Inspired

Christmas & Creme Brulee - Offbeat & Inspired

Christmas & Creme Brulee - Offbeat & Inspired

Christmas & Creme Brulee - Offbeat & Inspired

Christmas & Creme Brulee - Offbeat & Inspired

Christmas & Creme Brulee - Offbeat & Inspired

Time with friends and family is such a treasure during the holidays. What memories did you make this Christmas? What traditions did you continue?

Creme Brûlée
Makes 6-8 (4-6 oz.) ramekins

2 cups of heavy cream
3 large eggs
1/2 cup of sugar (plus more for sprinkling)
3/4 tsp. vanilla

Preheat oven to 250 degrees F.

Bring 2 cups of heavy cream almost to a simmer over medium heat.

In a large bowl, stir eggs and sugar together until well blended.

Very slowly, add the hot cream to the egg mixture while whisking thoroughly until well blended.

Strain the mixture through a fine mesh sieve back into the pot used to heat the cream. Rinse out your large bowl and strain your mixture a second time back into the bowl.

Stir in the vanilla.

Divide the custard evenly between the ramekins and place them in a large baking pan. Fill the pan halfway with water.

Place the baking pan in the oven and bake until the custard has set, from 1 to 1 1/2 hours. The centers should jiggle slightly when the ramekins are gently shaken.

Remove ramekins from the baking pan immediately and transfer them to a cooling rack.  Cool to room temperature, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 8 hours.

Right before serving, generously sprinkle the tops with sugar and caramelize with a torch.

Chocolate Mint Cookies

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Growing up, my mom always made chocolate mint cookies for Christmas. I remember helping to put the little Andes mints on the top when the cookies came out of the oven, and I’d often attempt to sneak a few into my mouth for good measure. Of course, when there weren’t enough mints for the last tray of cookies it was glaringly obvious who was guilty of stealing them, but a bit of mischief was part of the fun of baking with Mom.

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Homemade Eggnog

Homemade Eggnog

Growing up, my mom always made eggnog around Christmas time. As kids, I remember going into the fridge to grab a snack, and then getting really excited when I saw the gallon jugs of milk replaced with gallons of homemade eggnog (non-alcoholic, of course).

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Peppermint Mocha Soap

Peppermint Mocha Soap 1

When the cold weather hits, you can almost always find me with a hot beverage in hand – cider, tea, hot chocolate and nearly any type of coffee concoction. One of my favorite wintertime treats is the peppermint mocha. It’s the perfect drink to kick off the Christmas season – chocolatey, minty and needlessly caloric. What more could you ask for?

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Harvest Focaccia Bread

If I had to choose my favorite type of bread, I think focaccia would be the clear winner. When I saw a recipe for Harvest Focaccia from Food Network, I had to give it a try. Topped with herbs, fruit and nuts, this bread showcases the flavors of fall – and with winter right around the corner, this bread is the perfect accompaniment to seasonal soups.

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Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Fudge

When I made the Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Truffles last week, my taste-testers (i.e. family and friends) ate them up in no time. I took that as a good sign, so I’m at it again with the no-bake no-egg cookie dough creations. This time in the form of fudge!

Just like the truffles, this recipe comes from The Cookie Dough Lover’s Cookbook, by Lindsay Landis. I originally borrowed this cookbook from a friend, but after making two delicious and indulgent treats I think I may be ordering it for myself. I hope my taste-testers are OK with trying out a few more cookie dough recipes!

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Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Truffles

My husband, Colson, is definitely the sweet tooth in our house. Don’t get me wrong, I love dessert. But I can go without it. It’s not that I have some uncanny sense of self-control – I’d just rather have a plate of nachos or a second piece of lasagna instead. Much to Colson’s frustration, when his dessert craving hits our sugar inventory is nearly nonexistent.

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Garlic and Sun-Dried Tomato Corn Muffins

Usually when I have friends and family over to eat, I mix up my menu with tried-and-true dishes I know everyone will love alongside a few new recipes I’ve never attempted before. I figure if the new dishes don’t turn out, I can fall back on the old favorites and pretend the failed recipe never existed. I mean, why not add to the adventure of entertaining by making something new?

A couple weeks ago, I saw a corn muffin recipe that gave classic cornbread a savory makeover. I’m always a little nervous when I make new recipes for guests, but I think this one has officially earned a spot in my regular entertaining repertoire.

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Chocolate Hazelnut Soap

This past weekend, one of my best friends came to visit. She and I have known each other since those uncomfortable junior high days of braces, over-sized glasses and zero sense of style. Fortunately, we survived the preteen years and have come out the other side with an awesome friendship and (hopefully) a little less adolescent awkwardness.

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We spent this past weekend hanging out downtown, eating great food, reminiscing about old times and of course, crafting. I couldn’t wait to share my new love of soap-making. I’ll admit, after my last soaping mishap I was a bit nervous to create my own recipe. But when you’re crafting with friends, the mistakes are half as frustrating and the successes twice as fun, so why not give it another shot?

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Mini Pumpkin Pies

Pumpkin pie has never been something I particularly loved.  I’ve always been more of an apple pie sort of gal, but when my sister was visiting we decided to do pumpkin pie for fall’s sake.

I’ve had these Le Creuset mini cocottes (baby Dutch ovens) for a while now and I’m absolutely in love with them.  Aren’t they adorable?  Basically, if something can be made “mini”, I’ll do it just so I have an excuse to use these cute little things.

Keep reading!