Thanksgiving has passed and two days later our tree was up! Usually after I'll spend a few hours lacing each branch with lights. I still haven't been able to bring myself to buy a prelit tree. I remember being little nd setting up our tree. That entire night was then dedicated to my father weaving strings and strings of lights around each branch. It's such a vivid memory that it a weird way stringing the lights on my own tree somehow makes me feel connected to him. Although I'm sure if he were here he'd tell me I was a fool and that prelit trees are the best invention since sliced bread!

Since I can remember we almost always had a fake tree because ornaments are a huge deal in my family. We used to drive to the biggest christmas store in Michigan every year and every year we'd pick out one new ornament. Now when we decorate my moms tree it is so fun to reminisce. My mother of course saved every ornament we every made, my personal favorite is the Elmer's glue blob with green and red glitter I made her in kindergarten. Since I moved to California it's been like starting over. Scott and I have slowly started collecting ornaments that we get as gifts every year. Here our some of my favorites!!!

My tree of course is adorned with a feather head dress. The pictures are of my grandfathers when they were in the Navy and the Army.
The first ornament I put on my tree this year. Maddie James's handprint made into a snowman family. We made these with her last christmas. For the next 7 days at bath time I could hear her mother cursing my name because she was still finding white paint in her hair and between her toes!
A buffalo for my mom because when we took a family trip out west in our can I became obsessed with buffalo!!!
A pierogi from my brother and sister in law. Celebrating my polish heritage!
A sushi roll I got for Scott in Salem when I was working on the east coast.
Glittered frog from my favorite cousin Candi!
The polar bear my cousins Jackie & Eric made me. It's dressed exactly like I was when I danced in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular.
Santa, reminds me of my mom because she loves her Santa ornaments.
Santa cop for Scotty!
 
After Scott started working for the PD there were a few things that I had to get used to. Not celebrating holidays on the actual day was one of them. Needless to say we will not be enjoying a turkey tomorrow but instead on Sunday and then again the Sunday after that. At first this was a weird concept for me but actually I appreciate the time I spend with him even more so now. It makes every year interesting and every year there are new traditions started. This year instead of a turkey on thanksgiving we will be decorating our Christmas tree and I will be making food for the PD.

I was looking for some easy appetizers to make at the first official Thanksgiving in our new house. As soon as I saw this one months ago I was sold, baked Brie with Cranberry Sauce and Walnuts from Simple Bites. One of my favorite appetizers is the one my cousin, Candi, introduced me to years ago, Baked Brie with Apricot Preserves, Almonds, and Rosemary, click here for the recipe. It has turned into a staple every time we get together. I tested it out the other day while we were painting and listening to Christmas music. It was a hit, Scott even liked it and he's not a fan of "soft cheese". I absolutely loved tasting the hint of orange zest. The recipe was quick, simple, and prett mess free...right up my alley.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Baked Brie with Cranberry Sauce and Walnuts
By: Simple Bites

Prep time: 5 mins
Cook time: 15 mins
Total time: 20 mins
Serves: 1 round of Brie

Ingredients
  • ¾ cup cranberry sauce
  • 1 16-ounce brie round
  • Zest of one orange
  • ⅔ cup walnut pieces
  • Crackers for serving

Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Remove the top of the rind from the cheese using a serrated knife, and discard the rind. Place the cheese, cut side up on an oven safe plate or bowl. Just make sure to use a larger plate or a bowl so your cheese doesn't start oozing off the plate like mine is in the above photo. Bake at 350 degrees F for 10 minutes.
  3. Remove from the oven and top with the cranberry sauce. Bake for an additional 5 minutes, or until the cheese is soft and warm. Sprinkle the top with orange zest and walnuts.
  4. Serve immediately with crackers.

Notes
For a simple cranberry sauce combine 4 ounces cranberries , ⅓ cup orange juice, and ¼ cup sugar. Bring to a boil, then reduce to medium and simmer till thickened and cranberries have popped. For extra flavor add ⅛ teaspoon nutmeg and cinnamon.   
 
To get into the Thanksgiving holiday spirit I decided to host a pumpkin pie bake off this weekend.  Just me, three recipes, a little cursing, and lot's of pumpkin.  I didn't want to do the plain old recipe so I went in search of recipes that incorporated different flavors and textures.  Finally I settled on a Pumpkin Cheesecake by Paula Deen, a Ginger Pumpkin Pie by The Kitchn, and a Tripe Chocolate Pumpkin Pie by Martha Stewart.  Literally I spent the better two days of my weekend in the kitchen.  The last time I did that many dishes was when we baked 220 cupcakes for a cupcake contest....worst idea ever.  My brother still hasn't forgiven me for making him frost all 220 by himself.

The winner....drum roll please...Triple Chocolate Pumpkin Pie by Martha Stewart.  Good old Martha never lets me down.  My plan was to cut three slices for Scott to try and let him pick.  What ended up happening was I ate his triple chocolate piece and saved him the last bite.  I loved the flavor, texture, and overall idea of this pie.  This pie has a graham cracker crust topped with a thin layer of chocolate, filled with a pumpkin chocolate filling, and topped off with drizzled chocolate.  What a great spin on a traditional pumpkin pie.  The layer of chocolate separating the crust from the actual pie filling was tasty and looked really cute when you cut into the pie.

Second was almost a tie but if I had to pick I would put the Ginger Pumpkin Pie by The Kitchn.  Unfortunately the consistency of the pie didn't turn out quite right.  It ended up being a bit more pudding like rather than the traditional pie texture.  I read some of the reviews and no one else had the same problem so my guess was bakers error.  This has a great ginger taste to it and a little kick in the after taste.  This pie has a graham cracker crust filled with a ginger pumpkin pie filling.  This filling has ground ginger and three tablespoons of fresh ginger.  They suggested baking one day in advance because the ginger flavor is more pungent the following day.  If you don't like ginger than this is probably not your kind of pie.  In the reviews people suggested making this pie with a gingersnap crust, sounds like a great addition to me.  

Third is the Pumpkin Cheesecake by Paula Deen.  A graham cracker crust filled with a pumpkin cheesecake filling.  I loved the flavor of the pumpkin in the cheesecake and this graham cracker crust turned out great.  This was actually a great cheesecake but in comparison to the other two it was just ok.  However if you like cheesecake this would be a great addition to your Thanksgiving dessert table.  

The recipes are below the pie photos!  Happy Thanksgiving!
Triple-Chocolate Pumpkin Pie

Ingredients:Crust:
2 cups finely ground graham cracker crumbs (about 16 crackers)
3 ounces (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
2 tablespoons packed light-brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate (preferably 61 percent cacao), finely chopped

Filling:
6 ounces semisweet chocolate (preferably 55 percent cacao), chopped
2 ounces (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 can (15 ounces) solid-pack pumpkin
1 can (12 ounces) evaporated milk
3/4 cup packed light-brown sugar
3 large eggs
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

Topping:
1 ounce milk chocolate, melted
whipped cream, optional

Directions:Make the crust: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine graham cracker crumbs, butter, sugars, salt, and cinnamon in bowl. Firmly press mixture into bottom and up sides of a deep, 9 1/2-inch pie dish. Bake until firm, 8 to 10 minutes.

Remove from oven, and sprinkle bittersweet chocolate over bottom of crust. Return to oven to melt chocolate, about 1 minute. Spread chocolate in a thin layer on bottom and up sides. Let cool on a wire rack. Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees.

Make the filling: In a large heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water, melt semisweet chocolate and butter, stirring until smooth. Remove from heat.

Mix pumpkin, milk, brown sugar, eggs, cornstarch, vanilla, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and a pinch of cloves in a medium bowl. Whisk 1/3 pumpkin mixture into chocolate mixture. Whisk in remaining pumpkin mixture until completely incorporated.

Transfer pie dish to a rimmed baking sheet, and pour pumpkin mixture into crust. Bake until center is set but still a bit wobbly, 55 to 60 minutes. Let cool in pie dish on a wire rack. Refrigerate until well chilled, at least 8 hours (preferably overnight). Before serving, drizzle melted milk chocolate on top. Serve immediately.

Recipe from Martha Stewart.



Ginger Pumpkin Pie  

1 graham cracker pie crust (see instructions and recipe here
15-ounce can pumpkin puree OR just under 2 cups homemade pumpkin puree
2 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
2/3 cup dark brown sugar
3 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon 
1 teaspoon ground ginger 
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup whipping cream 
1/2 cup whole milk

Heat the oven 375°F. Bake the graham cracker crust for 10 minutes then remove and let cool in the refrigerator while you make the filling. .

Whisk the pumpkin puree with the eggs, egg yolk, and brown sugar. To grate the ginger, use a piece of ginger about 4 inches long and grate to a pulp using a Microplane or fine grater. Discard the tough fibers; just use the milky juice and puree. Whisk the grated ginger, cinnamon and ginger spices, salt, and pepper into the pumpkin mixture. Add the cream and milk and whisk until smooth. Pour into the graham cracker crust.

Bake for about 50 minutes at 375°F, or just until set. Check after 30 minutes and tent with foil if the edges seem to be browning quickly. (I let mine get fairly dark, as I like the flavor!) The filling will continue to firm up after it comes out of the oven.

Refrigerate the pie after it is just cool to the touch. Let cool for at least two hours before slicing and serving.

Recipe by The Kitchn



Pumpkin Cheesecake

 Ingredients
Crust:

1 3/4 cups graham cracker crumbs
3 tablespoons light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 stick melted salted butter

Filling:
3 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, at room temperature
1 (15-ounce) can pureed pumpkin
3 eggs plus 1 egg yolk
1/4 cup sour cream
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
2 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

For crust:
In medium bowl, combine crumbs, sugar and cinnamon. Add melted butter. Press down flat into a 9-inch spring form pan. Set aside.

For filling:
Beat cream cheese until smooth. Add pumpkin puree, eggs, egg yolk, sour cream, sugar and the spices. Add flour and vanilla. Beat together until well combined.

Pour into crust. Spread out evenly and place in oven for 1 hour. Remove from the oven and let sit for 15 minutes. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 4 hours.


Recipe from Paula Deen
 
Two months after moving in Scott and I finally decided on a color to paint one room in the new house! Although at first it was an epic fail. We took a trip to Home Depot to pick up samples, that took all of five minutes. Probably our first mistake...not taking our paint sample selection more seriously.

We knew we wanted to go with a lighter shade of grey. Coincidentally grey is the most complicated color to ever exist. Every grey ends up have a shade of blue, green, or purple in it. Scott and I learned this the hard way. As in buying paint by the gallon painting and painting an entire wall what ended up being a pretty periwinkle. FAIL! Needless to say we were back at Home Depot the next day to buy a sample that we ended up loving! Moral of the story spending $8 on the sample is not overrated.

This weekend we will be tackling the dining area. May the gods of patience be shining on us because we are planning to use a large wall stencil. I'm sure one, if not both of us, will be in tears at some point this weekend. More photos to come!

Paint #1 - Behr Manhattan Mist
Apparently the mist over Manhattan is a purple one!

Paint #2 - Behr Natural Grey


 
UPDATE 12/31/12 click here.

Christmas is coming and I've already started shopping!  Christmas has always been a big holiday in our family.  Every year the Rustowicz children made a gift to give all of our aunt's and uncle's.  One of my absolute favorites has to be when we glued colored ornaments to an ice cream cone.  Add a little glue and some sprinkles and we had ice cream cone ornaments.  I love the tradition of homemade gifts and it's one I try to carry on.  

Another vivid memory I have is my dad making homemade vanilla extract.  I can remember the huge bottle of brandy sitting under our sink and my dad shaking it every so often.  For the last couple years I've thought of making vanilla extract and finally I am doing just that.  Last year Marissa and I made 40 pairs of snowman earrings...super cute.  Spoiler alert....sorry to my family that's reading...this year's handmade holiday gift will be homemade vanilla extract.

I found a great deal online at Beanilla, 25 Madagascar Vanilla Beans for $25 + free shipping.  They also have a variety of other beans.  I really wanted to make some vanilla using their Mexican Vanilla Beans, however they were out of stock.  These are suppose to have an additional hint of spice to them.  Bonus...you can be cheap with your vodka.  Using bottom shelf vodka is most common because it will not add any additional flavors to your vanilla. Finished pictures to come!

Here's a link to some great priced bottles by Mountain Rose Herbs.  Also some really cute vanilla labels by Live Laugh Rowe.

Homemade Vanilla Extract
1 cup vodka
5 vanilla beans


Measure out 1 cup of vodka, or more depending if you are doubling the recipe or not.   I tripled my recipe and put the left over vodka in another jar.  
Using 5 vanilla beans per one cup of vodka, slice your beans lengthwise starting 1/4" from the end of the bean.  There should be a 1/4" on both ends of the bean that is left uncut.
Place your beans in a bottle and cover with your vodka.  Place in a cool dark location and shake 1-2 times a week.
Vanilla will be ready to use in 8 weeks.
 
A twist of fall added into this classic cookie favorite.  It's that time of year, fall is here and I have of course turned into a pumpkin whore.  I will add it into anything and everything I can.  Even our dog, Winston, enjoys pumpkin in his bowl during this time of year.  After searching for some new recipes to try I ran across this recipe on one of my favorite blogs, Annie's Eats.  How does one resist a recipe like pumpkin snickerdoodles?  Exactly...

The texture of this cookie is absolutely amazing.  Adding pumpkin into this recipe makes these cookies more cake like.   However I wish the cookie had more pumpkin flavor, it was hard to taste it at all.  I read a couple of the reviews and some people suggested adding pumpkin pie spice into the cookie dough as well.  Adding more pumpkin would change the consistency of the dough and cause trouble when baking.  Otherwise it was a great recipe, they baked perfectly and tasted great.  I considered not sharing this recipe but decided it was really a great cookie that I'm sure you will enjoy.  Click on the link below for Annie's recipe.

Pumpkin Snickerdoodle,Cookies by Annie's Eats.