Friday, November 29, 2013

Aunt Jann's Christmas Elves

My aunt Jann decided to host my family's Christmas Eve get together this year. Its a pretty exciting thing because its been years since she hosted... and many of our Christmas Eve childhood memories are us being with family, at her beautiful house, eating her scrumptious food! 

But, one stipulation was that me and my siblings, and our significant others, needed to help her decorate her tree. In return she feeds us with yummy food and drinks. (We made this deal of decorating for food years ago when she first grew tired of all of the many Christmas preparations). She calls us her "Christmas Elves".

We all went over there today, hung out, decorated the tree, enjoyed her delicious homemade chili, and even recreated a picture me, my brother and sister took years ago when us elves helped trim her tree. 

Here are some pics:
This is me and my bow-making skills, and my sis and I getting the ribbon just right.

The sissy working her magic.

This is the pic we recreated. I cant remember how long ago the top photo was taken, but I think I was in my early twenties. I am now 30... so it was some time ago. 

Here, Aunt Jann is showing me, my sis, and my brother's gf some pics of us when we were younger.

And here is her fancy tree, all finished. Beautiful, isn't it?!

We really enjoyed spending time with our aunt and uncle today, and look forward to Christmas Eve when our whole family can be together to celebrate the meaning of Christmas.

Hope you had a wonderful day!


Turkey Greatness!

Happy Thanksgiving Friends!  I hope you all had a wonderful day with family and had the opportunity to reflect on the things you are thankful for. 

Not only was this the first Thanksgiving I have ever hosted, it was also the first family get together I have ever hosted for my husbands family! Needless to say, I was putting a little pressure on myself to make sure the meal went off without a hitch. (And I hoped it would taste as good as my moms!). Here is a rundown of how I prepared and roasted the turkey:

The first question I posed was TO BRINE OR NOT TO BRINE? My mom makes fabulous, moist turkey and does not brine it beforehand. But my dad did a brine on the turkey last year, and I remember the bird being really moist. I saw an episode of The Pioneer Woman and thought her brine looked good, so I pushed away my fears and decided to go all in.

What You'll Need for the Brine

3 Cups Apple Cider
2 Gallons Cold Water
4 Tablespoons Fresh Rosemary (Or 2 to 3 Tablespoons Dried Rosemary)
1 & 1/2 Cups Kosher Salt
2 Cups Brown Sugar
3 Tablespoons Peppercorns
The Peels of 3 Large Oranges

First, cut the tops and bottoms off the oranges (so it won't roll around) and cut the peels off.

Add all ingredients into a large pot (stock pots are great!).

Bring this to a boil, then turn off the heat, cover, and let it seep until its cooled to room temp. (Let me tell you, this takes a lot longer than I thought it would! Haha. The Pioneer Woman says that halfway through the cooling process, you can put the pot in the refrigerator to speed it up. I had to do this. First, I got another large pot and poured the brine from one pot to another over and over to let some heat escape. Then I kept the brine in the two pots and put them both in the fridge. I figured it would cool faster that way).

Once the brine has reached room temp, we put the turkey in an oven bag (breast side down) and poured in the brine (there are brining bags out there, we just couldn't find one). We put that in a roasting pot and into the fridge. The Pioneer Woman says you want to brine a turkey for at least 16 hours, although 24 hours is better for larger birds. My turkey only got to brine for about 8 hours, but it was still scrumptious! 1/2 to 2/3 of the way through the brining process, flip the bird over in the bag. 

Once you have brined the bird for as long as you want, discard of the brine, rinse the turkey, then soak the turkey in some cold water for about 15-20 minutes (you can do this in a clean sink, a large pot, or do like us and just use another oven bag). After those 15-20 minutes are up, drain the turkey of any water trapped in the cavities, and pat dry with a paper towel. 

My family has been roasting their turkey "The Alton Brown Way" for years, and let me tell you - this turkey will come out perfectly roasted and super moist every time. 
Here's what you do:

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.
After brining the turkey and patting it dry, place the turkey on a roasting rack in a shallow roast pan or cookie sheet, breast side up. Tuck the wings under the turkey so they don't flap about. Get out some foil and fold into a large triangle, large enough to cover the breast of the turkey. Rub some canola oil on the foil to prevent it from sticking to the turkey. Press it against the breast to mold it to the appropriate shape and size. Set the "breast plate" aside for later use and rub some canola oil on the outside of the turkey. Place the turkey/roasting pan in the oven on the bottom rack, feet side in first (and it might be a good idea to add a cup or two of water to the bottom of the pan so the drippings don't burn and make your fire alarm go off). Roast the turkey for 30 minutes at 500 degrees. Once those 30 mins are up, change the temp to 350 degrees, put the breast plate on the turkey and then let it do its thing until the temp of the thickest part of the breast meat reaches 161 degrees. (TIP: get one of those digital meat thermometers that you can put in the turkey before putting it in the oven, and then set the thermometer to go off once the internal temp of the turkey has reached 161 degress. Its so handy!)

When the turkey hits 161 degrees, take it out of the oven, and let it rest (just sit there) for 20-30 minutes (covered in foil to keep in the heat) before you cut into it. If you don't let it rest, the juices will flow right out of the bird when you cut into it, and will make it dry it out. 
Here it is! Looks good, no?!

And here is my handsome hubby, ready to carve the turkey!

I'm so happy with how the turkey turned out! I will definitely always roast my turkey the same way. And I'm guessing I will always use the same brine recipe - it worked so good, why change it up?!

Let me know if you give this a try and how it turns out!

I couldn't have made this delicious turkey without the help of The Pioneer Woman, and Alton Brown.

Here is the link to the Pioneer Woman's website with her brine recipe:
(Her directions are much more clear, and wittier! lol. And she has some great pics. Also, her recipe calls for bay leaves. I didn't have any, so I didn't use it in my brine). 

And here is the link to Alton Brown's roasted turkey recipe on the Food Network website:
(This page also has his brine recipe, which my dad used last year and it was great - although my dad doesn't like Allspice, so he didn't use it. It also mentions some things you can put in the cavity of the turkey to enhance the aromatics. I didn't do this. I just follow his roasting directions). 

~ Brianne

Saturday, November 23, 2013

SUPER Yummy Gluten Free Chocolate Pumpkin Cake

Ok, so I have been craving pumpkin bread and pumpkin cookies all month long. But being allergic to gluten added some difficulty to my quest to find a yummy pumpkin flavored treat that I can eat. I decided to take matters into my own hands and throw some things together... and luckily for me, it turned out WONDERFUL! And, its super simple because I used a gluten free cake mix to help me out! 

Here's What You Need:

Gluten Free Chocolate Cake Mix (I used Betty Crocker)
(and you'll need the ingredients listed on the cake mix - in this case, some eggs, water and butter)

15oz can of Pumpkin Puree

1 & 1/2 Teaspoons Each of Cinnamon, Nutmeg and Ground Cloves
(I might have actually used a little less on the cloves)

Vanilla Extract
(I never measure with vanilla extract - I love it too much. I just poor in what looks good. But if you need some sort of guideline to follow, try about a tablespoon... or two :)  )

*Milk Chocolate Chips - Optional

Here's What You Do:

Mix all those delicious things together real well. Then, grease a cake pan or bunt pan (this is what I did), and poor in the batter. (This is actually where I added the chocolate chips. I meant to just add a few to the batter, but forgot to, and didn't realize it until I had poured the batter into the bunt pan. I just sprinkled in a handful and then pushed them under the surface of the batter). I baked the cake according to the directions on the cake mix. When the cake was still warm, I flipped it out of the bunt pan onto a platter and went to work on a glaze. (Feel free to use good old canned frosting! I just didn't have any on hand... so this is what I did...)


In a microwave safe bowl, I threw in some powdered sugar, drizzled in a little milk, some vanilla extract, and some cinnamon. This is all done to taste, so I don't have any measurements to give you... just tweak it until it you like the flavor. Pop it in the microwave for a little bit to help dissolve the sugar. 

I sprinkled some brown sugar over the bunt cake, then drizzled on the glaze.

I had no idea how the cake was going to turn out, but I was SOOOOO happy with the flavors - and it was SO moist! I took the cake to work and all the girls loved it! 

I didn't think to get a pic of the cake until we were nearly finished with it, so I'm sorry its not a good photo! But I will be making another one for Thanksgiving, so I'll be sure to get a decent pic for you :)

UPDATED 11/28/13 ** Here is an updated pic! I made the cake for Thanksgiving - and it was a hit!
(I was so busy running around cooking all sorts of things for Thanksgiving, that when I made this cake I totally forgot to put in the spices!!! But, being the clever lass I am, I decided to take some brown sugar, then add a little cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves and I sprinkled that over the top of the cake once it was baked. Then when I made the glaze, I added some nutmeg and a little clove to the cinnamon/vanilla/powdered sugar/milk that I already use. It worked perfectly!!! I think my husband and dad prefer the cake this way. Just wanted to let you know of another way to make it).

Enjoy! And let me know if you make any modifications, and how it goes!!!


My First Stenciled Wall!

I was itching to do SOMETHING to my dining room wall (well, our main floor has more of a Great Room feel, so really, its just the wall our dining table sits against), and my husband and I were going back and forth on whether we wanted to stencil it or wall paper it. It took us a few months to figure out what we wanted to do, but we ended up stenciling it, and I LOVE the outcome!

First, I will say, stenciling was a little more challenging than I thought it would be, and I was pretty frustrated with the process at times, but it was worth it in the end. (Although I am waiting a little while before I do my next stenciling project, haha). 

We ordered our stencil from We used the Gabrielle Demask stencil design: 

This is what our wall started out like:

My husband then painted two layers of Behr Cracked Pepper (matte/flat finish) on the wall:
(The paint is not quite dry yet in this pic, so it looks a little darker than it actually is)

I was in charge of stenciling, We used Behr Broadway in a high gloss finish. Here are some of the "in progress" pics:

You want to use a stencil roller with very little paint on it, so you don't get seepage, but even with using very little paint on the roller, I still had some issues along the way of paint seeping under the edge of the stencil and building up, causing your lines to bleed/smudge. After I had used the stencil a few times, I had to let the paint on it dry, then peel it all off (which was VERY time consuming and annoying). There are definitely imperfections, but when you step back and look at the whole wall, you don't notice those small blemishes. (I'm very much a perfectionist, and it bothers me that some areas are not perfect, but really, the imperfections give it character... and your guests really have no idea they are there. I have had many people think we used wall paper on the wall!).

The final outcome is GREAT! We love it!

 (Sorry the lighting isn't really great on this pic).

We still need to add some decor to the wall (thinking of getting one of those shiny white acrylic deer head busts possibly, or maybe just putting the studded black leather mirror that we used to have on this wall back up.... I haven't made up my mind yet). I'll post updated pics once I have this wall decorated. 

Let me know your thoughts or if you have any questions!

Until next time,