Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Love Birds Cookie Set {and a tutorial}

Over Christmas I received a bird cookie cutter, and have been dying to use it ever since. With Valentine's Day right around the corner, I thought a "Love Birds" set would be really cute. Remembering some really neat Czech folk art that we had seen on a trip to Oklahoma last year, I decided to use that as inspiration for this sweet blue and pink cookie set.

Sweet Elise: Love Birds Cookie Set

Most of the cookies were pretty straight forward. I usually draw out my designs so that I know where I'm headed, and that certainly helped with some of the detail on the bird. But it was the LOVE cookie that I wasn't quite sure how to approach. I follow a lot of cookie decorator blogs, and have watched my fair share of tutorials, but haven't strayed much from the traditional pipe and flood method. So the LOVE cookie was the perfect opportunity to try out a transfer method that I had seen via the brilliant SweetAmbs blog and tutorial. I wanted the letters to be perfect, and wasn't sure that drawing them out directly on the cookie would get me there.

The idea behind the tissue paper transfer method is pretty simple. All you need is a dried cookie, tissue paper, an edible marker, and the design/text you want to use.

Step 1: Gather materials, and get your cookies on a raised surface if possible. This makes it easier to pipe designs without hunching over. (side note- the "Amy" stool that is use is from my childhood days, and while it cracks me up, I love using it for my cookie decorating.)

Sweet Elise: Tissue Paper Transfer

Step 2: Trace the design on the piece of tissue paper, using an edible marker. Place that tissue on top of your blank cookie, and trace the letters again- pressing hard enough for the marker to seep through.  Remove tissue paper.

Sweet Elise: Tissue Paper Transfer

Step 3: Use your piping bag or bottle to outline and fill in the design. In this case, I did the opposite letters first and let them dry before doing the rest. This kept definitive lines between them.

Sweet Elise: LOVE Cookie

That's it! Obviously not an ideal method if you're doing dozens of cookies- but I'm just not there yet. So for now, this allows me to get <nearly> perfect letters or designs on a few cookies that I add to a set. Again- brilliant!

I'm really happy with how this set turned out, and especially loved the color combo. Blue and pink just looks so pretty together. I also have to give a big thank you to my talented friend and neighbor, Studio Mama B.,  who took the pretty pictures of the finished set. I've been torturing you all with ugly iPhone pictures, so it's nice to have some that look way more professional. Thank you Caroline!!

Sweet Elise: Love Birds Cookie Set

Monday, January 27, 2014

Out and About: Haymaker

We celebrated Hank's 39th birthday over the weekend. His actual birthday was Friday, but we usually lay low Friday nights since we get up super early for long runs on Saturday. I brought home Chinese take-out and we watched a movie. Poor guy didn't even get a special dessert from his baker wife. But I did have some fun things planned for the weekend.

About 20 friends met up for a post-run breakfast at our usual spot Taco Deli. After an afternoon of relaxing (I didn't even make him work on our painting project that afternoon) we met up with more friends for dinner at Haymaker on Saturday night. We don't get out as much anymore, so I wanted to take him somewhere fun and different. This place was fairly new, and everything that I read about it pointed towards a ridiculously good beer menu, including a lot of local labels and good craft beer. Done and done!

The Holland House: Haymaker Austin

The food only got moderate reviews, but I figured worst case scenario we'd get some apps and a few drinks, and then head elsewhere. After browsing the menu, it looked like the apps alone could make a great meal, so I really didn't worry about it. Touted as "regionally-inspired comfort food", the menu contained items like pretzel bites with house made mustard, beer cheese with kettle chips, and the mother of all apps- the pimiento cheese cristo. Homemade pimiento cheese on white bread, beer battered and fried. I consider myself a connoisseur of pimiento cheese, so I absolutely had to order this. We weren't disappointed.

The Holland House: Haymaker Pimiento Cristo

It was the perfect size for 4- each of us got our own little triangle. I wasn't sure what to expect as far as the amount of breading. But it was almost like an extra crispy grilled cheese. The layer of beer-battered goodness on the outside of the bread really took this sandwich up about twenty notches. It had a great tangy flavor, and the pimiento on the inside was equally as good. I could have been done right then and there.

More friends joined and we proceeded to order dinner- everyone choosing something from their variety of sandwiches. I'm not sure why I picked a patty melt, but for some reason it sounded good. And it was good- but I have been eating pretty healthy, so I think the overload of grease and cheese just didn't seem as appealing. I only ate half of mine (along with some house made kettle chips), and I was done for the night. Overall I'd give the food a B++, and that's only because this isn't a place you go to for a "healthy" meal. But the quality of the ingredients was good, and I thought the menu had a nice variety of items. We'll definitely be going back.

As far as atmosphere goes, this really is a "neighborhood" bar. It has a big (heated) patio out back, and several different seating areas inside. There are TVs for sports (though it's not a sports bar), several pool tables, and yet it is also kid friendly. We saw several young couples out with babies and children. I think it's awesome to have a cool place to go where it's totally ok to take your kids. Overall I think Hank enjoyed his birthday, and we had a really fun weekend.

The Holland House: Hank and Friends
Hank and some of his running buddies at Taco Deli

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Super Bowl Sausage Dip

I wish I knew who to give credit to for this delicious, creamy concoction. All I know is that someone served it at a party once, proclaiming it to be the best 3-ingredient dip ever. And who am I to disagree?

This is my go-to dip for just about any sporting event viewed on TV. It's inexpensive to make (under $10), easy to put together, and always a crowd pleaser. I recommend doubling the recipe if you have over 6 people, and half of them are guys. Also, be sure to grab the sage sausage. Plain would probably work, but I think the sage is the "secret" ingredient in this dip.

Super Bowl Sausage Dip
(serves 6-8)

1 tube sage sausage
1 can Rotel*
8 oz cream cheese (reduced fat is just fine)

1. Brown sausage over medium heat, breaking into crumbles with a spatula until cooked through.
2. Drain sausage crumbles and return to pan.
3. Add Rotel and cream cheese, stirring until cheese is melted.
4. Serve with a bag of chips and watch it disappear.

*note: If you live in a place where there is no Rotel, I am so sorry for you. No really- we Texans could simply not survive without it. It's possible that you could substitute one can of diced tomatoes mixed with a small can of chopped green chilies. Or you could just email me and ask nicely for me to send a few cans. I just pity the person who has to go through life never experiencing the greatness that is Rotel.

The Holland House: Super Bowl Sausage Dip

Do you have a go-to dip or party food that you love to serve on game day?

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Beer Bucket Cake

My brother is a Christmas baby, and the tradition has always been that my grandmother made him a yellow cake with chocolate frosting for his birthday celebration after Christmas dinner. A few years back, when my grandmother was no longer able to bake on her own, we started working on his cake together. And when she passed away, I took over the tradition completely. It has always been fun coming up with silly ideas or designs for his cake, usually themed around his interests at the time.

Early cakes were amateur at best, but have gotten a little better each year. Last year's cake was a hard one to top. My brother had recently made a big career move from architecture to the oil and gas industry. The idea of an oil rig cake came to mind, and I pieced together pretzels and melted chocolate to make this cake:

The Holland House: Oil Rig Cake

When it came time to start planning out his cake this year- I was really stumped. There weren't any new jobs or hobbies that came to mind. So I started to think about the things that he really likes- and St. Arnold's beer came to mind (specifically the Christmas Ale, so thoughtfully crafted for a Christmas birthday!) I did a google search for "beer cake", and came across all kinds of pictures of beer bucket cakes. Bingo!!

Most of the cakes were covered in fondant (which I prefer to avoid), and they also contained edible ice cues (no clue how to make!!) So after some brainstorming and researching, I came up with a plan. I would make his traditional yellow cake, but use chocolate ganache for the frosting. It would dry firm, and hopefully allow me to make something that looks like a wooden beer bucket. I also ordered isomalt from, and referenced this video for making sugar ice cubes.

I was able to make the ice cubes a week ahead of time, but waited until the day before his birthday to bake and assemble the cake. Since I had to transport it to my parent's house, I waited until I got there to put the actual bottles on top. I also needed a few volunteers to drink the contents, and my dad and husband were happy to oblige. Once the bottles were emptied, I melted some extra ganache to pour in the hollowed out middle (I made the cake three layers to accommodate for carving out the top). I added the empty bottles, and then poured the ice cubes around it, using more ganache to make things stick.

The Holland House: Beer Bucket Cake

The cake might look difficult, but it was surprisingly easy compared to more time intensive cakes that I have worked on. But having said that, there are definitely some things I would do differently. While the ganache tasted great, I think the "beer bucket" part would have looked better if I had made actual panels out of the chocolate, and then glued them around the side of the cake with melted ganache. I also would have spent more time on the label for the bucket- it just didn't look authentic at all. All that really mattered though was that my brother was both surprised and happy with his special birthday cake. Seeing his face made it all worthwhile!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Sweet Elise: Year in Review

2013 was definitely a learning experience for me. A few friendly requests for baked sweets gave me the push that I needed to turn my love of baking and cookie decorating into a small side business. I spent the latter half of 2013 practicing, taste testing, and developing a business plan. If I'm going to do something, I want to do it right! I'm taking all of the things I have learned so far, and moving full steam ahead for what will hopefully be a very successful 2014. I'm off to a great start already with a full calendar through February. A few recent jobs have also resulted in some new client referrals, and I'm hoping to build off this momentum as I work to build a larger client base.

It's fun looking back through pictures, seeing both the good and bad. Not everything I make turns out perfect. While taste will always be the most important thing to me, I do want to continue learning and perfecting my decorating techniques. I'm signed up for a cookie class in March, and hope to spend a little more time in the kitchen practicing. Hank has been given the official title of "Chief Sweets Taster", so I don't think he'll mind putting that title to use.

Enjoy the slideshow, and feel free to leave a comment letting me know what your favorite sweet of 2013 was.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Adventures in Babysitting and a Sunday Supper

It's totally ok to write a weekend recap on a Tuesday night, right? Especially if it involves the world's cutest 13 month old and meatloaf?!

We had a fun weekend and I just couldn't go without bragging about the fact that we babysat a 13 month old (and kept her safe, happy, fed AND clean) for a whole 7 hours. And this was AFTER I ran 10 miles. It's a modern day miracle. Our neighbors and good friends down the street ask us to babysit on occasion (I swore to them that we were more than capable of doing so), and they had a day wedding to attend this past Saturday. I had already committed us to a baby shower for the afternoon, so when she asked if we could help with Kaia, I told her only if it was ok for her to go with us.

Like I said, we've babysat her multiple times and she loves us. But we're mostly there when it's her bedtime, and hardly ever have to do a thing except check the monitor to make sure she's still in her crib. This time she was awake the whole 7 hours that we were in charge, and we had to transport her, watch over her, and generally just keep her happy (which is a super easy thing to do). She was an angel the whole time, had fun playing with the other kids at the shower, and by the time we got her home, fed and changed her, she went straight to bed without a fuss. I told Hank if I knew that we would have a baby exactly like Kaia, I'd do it in a heartbeat. She made US look good, she's just that easy of a baby. We had a great time though, but man- being a "parent" is definitely a lot of work. We're just not used to being out in public while also being responsible for another human being.

We slept in on Sunday, and then I made my weekly trip to the grocery store and got to work on cooking a souther Sunday supper. We had invited two friends over who I love cooking for. Since Hank rarely gets meat, I decided to do a manly meatloaf with mashed potatoes and fried okra. Sunday suppers aren't supposed to be healthy, right? I'm not much of a meatloaf fan, but I wanted to do my best to recreate the delicious one that I had on our trip to Nashville. It was so moist and tangy!

After browsing a few recipes online, I decided to consult my cookbook collection and found a recipe in Ruhlman's Twenty. This book focuses on the 20 techniques needed to be a successful cook. Chapter 3 is on water. And you're probably wondering what that has to do with meatloaf. But I'm here to offer you a life altering tidbit if you like to eat meatloaf, but struggle with keeping it moist. You put it in a loaf pan as usual, but you put that pan in a larger/deeper roasting pan and then fill it with water. You cook the meatloaf in a water bath! Brilliant, I tell you. I'm not going to lie and say it was an easy process, but it was totally worth the work, including the homemade chipotle ketchup. The guys loved it!

You can't have a Sunday supper without serving dessert, and I used the guys as my guinea pig for a Salted Caramel Chocolate Tart from another new cookbook. It was the only thing that I took a picture of because honestly, meatloaf and mashed potatoes are NOT pretty. The tarts were delicious, and I will definitely be making them again.

The Holland House: Salted Caramel and Chocolate Tarts

Friday, January 10, 2014

Feeling Like a Runner Again

It has been two years since I ran my first (and only) half marathon. While it was not a terrible experience, it certainly didn't go as well as planned. I got injured about 6 weeks out, and my training was very limited. In fact, my longest run heading into the race was only 9 miles long. But... I did it! I even finished with a respectable time of 2:15:39.

Since that race, my running has been sporadic to say the least. I needed a break. I just didn't plan for that break to be almost a year. In that time, there has been a serious change in my body, and not one for the best. I knew if I was ever going to find a way to get my fitness (and body) back, I would need to put something on the calendar to hold me accountable and to stay motivated. I wanted a challenge. And so another half-marathon it is. I'm officially signed up for the Austin Half-Marathon on Feb. 16.

Training has been going well, considering I really didn't start getting more disciplined until about a month ago. I didn't run as much as I wanted to over the holiday, but I did manage to fit in an 8 mile run when we were in Oklahoma. Typically I do longer runs with my friend Nikki, but I didn't have that option. I sucked it up, and actually clocked my fastest time at that distance all on my own. It felt awesome!

Now that holidays are over and we're back to reality, I did a great job of sticking to a schedule this week. I did two kettle bell work outs, and ran 9 miles (all at a sub 10:00 min pace). Tomorrow morning I have a 10 mile (hilly) run with Nikki, and I'm actually looking forward to it. The weather should be nice, and it will feel good to find a steady pace that we can sustain for the upcoming race.

How many weeks make a habit? I know it's more than one, and I need to stay patient, positive, and motivated if I'm ever going to make the changes I so desperately want. That means one step at a time, literally, and working hard to make good decisions about what I put into my body. I don't want to count calories, and I don't want to cut all fun things out of my diet. I just need to be smart. This week was a good one, and I think it's important to at least stop for a second to acknowledge it. It feels good to feel like a runner again.

The Holland House: Feeling Like a Runner Again

Monday, January 6, 2014

Lunch In A Box: Chickpea Pesto Salad

Today it's back to reality. A regular work schedule, a half-marathon in 6 weeks, and a weigh in at work as part of a holiday weight loss challenge. I failed miserably at finding a way to be independently over the holidays, so I guess it's time to face the music. I think we did a decent job of balancing our holiday indulgences with a few healthy meals and workouts, but it's time to buckle down and get serious. Not only do I have my race, but Hank is running the Napa marathon the first weekend in March. My goal is some serious clean eating between now and our California trip.

On Saturday I was running late for a hair appointment and forgot to eat lunch, so I grabbed a quick snack at the Snap Kitchen next door to where I get my hair done. I have not eaten there before, but have a co-worker who regularly follows their meal plans. They have fantastic, healthy options...but $3 for a small chickpea snack?! No thank you. Convenient, yes. But I can do so much better than that.

I snapped a picture of the ingredients on the package and attempted to recreate this at home. I spent $4.35 at the grocery store, but also used items I already had at home. I made a few adjustments and  was able to get 4 lunch-sized portions from what I made. A much better deal for the price.

The Holland House: Chickpea Pesto Salad
Chickpea Pesto Salad 
(makes 4 lunch-sized servings)

juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp chopped garlic
1 T olive oil
1/2 bunch cilantro
1/2 tsp sea salt
3 grinds of black pepper
2 T slivered almonds
handful of spinach
white and light green parts of 2 green onions

2 cans chickpeas (rinsed and drained)
1 red bell pepper (diced)
dark green parts of 2 green onions
1/4 red onion

1. Put all ingredients for pesto in a blender or Vitamix. Blend until mostly smooth. (This should be a fairly liquid pesto.) 
2. Put remaining salad ingredients in a large bowl, then toss with the pesto.
3. Server over a bed of greens, or eat as a side snack.

The Holland House: Chickpea Pesto Salad

For lunch I served the Chickpea Pesto Salad over spinach, and added hummus with carrots (for a later in the day snack) and some low fat cottage cheese. Lots of fiber, a decent amount of protein,and a super healthy/clean lunch. I'm rather proud of myself! I really like the punch of lemon in the pesto (I ended up using 1 1/2 lemons), and the cilantro gives a good flavor too. I added spinach to the pesto as an after thought, just to beef it up some. Can never go wrong with extra spinach.

The Holland House: Chickpea Pesto Salad

How are you starting this "back to reality" week right?

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

So long to a fantastic 2013

I realize that I'm officially a day late in putting together an end-of-year post, but we've been spending time with family (in Texas and Oklahoma) for Christmas and I'm just now getting some down time.

What a great year 2013 was. Highlights include our wedding, an amazing trip to Nevis, adopting Brees, welcoming our nephew, and starting some home improvement projects. While 2014 is off to a shaky start (I'm sick, and we found out our water heater needs replacing), I have no doubt it will be yet another great year.

I did my best to put together a quick year in review in pictures. While I remember doing so many more things, the pictures seem to be heavy on our 5 animals. Go figure! I hope that everyone had a fun and safe New Years. I'm still working on some goals for the year, starting with a half marathon in February. I'd love to hear any of yours if you've already gotten a head start on it.

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