Archive for December 2009


Wine Cork Wreath

December 29th, 2009 — 7:59am

100_2449Now that Christmas has passed, I’ve finally found the time to work on all of the projects I had hoped to accomplish before the holidays (e.g., cookies, crafts, etc.). My first priority was to get started on the wine cork wreath I’d been envisioning since seeing one in a boutique storefront just before the holidays.

I’ve been collecting wine corks for a few years and had enlisted my parents to do the same. I’ve amassed bagfuls. I always figured I’d eventually find the perfect project in which to deploy my collection. When I saw a beautiful wreath last month intricately designed with wine corks and a big red bow, I knew I had finally found my match.100_2448

My first step was to find a styrofoam wreath ring from the craft store. I then spray painted the white ring with almond-colored paint, so that any holes in my work would blend better with the corks and be less jarring than stark white. After the paint had dried, I began gluing the wine corks directly onto the wreath ring with a glue gun. I tried to use similarly sized corks and only natural corks (instead of plastic corks, which easily made up about a third of my collection). I used a horizontal pattern on the front of the wreath, and a vertical pattern on the sides.

I still need a few more corks to finish the project (drink up, kids), but I’d say it’s safe to assume my wreath will be ready to hang for Christmas 2010. And now on to those cookies…

1 comment » | Crafts & Design

Iron Chef December: Fondue & Spirits

December 26th, 2009 — 3:45pm

december-016If the longevity of your guests is any indication of the success of your party, then Matt and Julie threw one hell of a dinner party. This month’s iron chef dinner featured the theme “fondue and spirits.” Those of us who own fondue pots dived up responsibilities for cheese fondue, oil fondue (shrimp, chicken, and beef), and chocolate dessert fondue. Julie instructed everyone else to bring a side dish that incorporated “spirits.” The dishes ranged from bourbon meatballs to Kahlua cake to beer bread. And as if anticipating a slightly more wild affair, Julie moved our usual weekday dinner party to a Friday night—effectively alleviating us from all “school night” responsibilities.

december-0071december-0051december-0131My contribution to the dinner party was chocolate fondue. I used a classic chocolate fondue recipe with a touch of espresso and paired it with fresh fruit (strawberries, bananas, and raspberries) and homemade marshmallows and pound cake. My only set back was that I drove 45 minutes to and from the grocery store in a blizzard the night before the party, only to realize the very next day that I had left a bag of groceries (with the fruit and a few other key ingredients) at the grocery store. Luckily I recovered from the incident, and arrived fondue and fruit in hand.

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december-023december-024The party began at 6pm. I was the first guest to arrive. The table was set immaculately and the house looked festive and full of holiday cheer. Julie immediately offered me a class of “Mrs. Claus’ Wildside Punch,” a lethal concoction she had mixed using 3/4 liters X-Rated Fusion Liqueur, 3/4 liter Cabo Wabo Blaco Tequila, 3/4 liters pomegranate juice, and 3/4 liters cranberry juice. I gladly accepted. As the remaining guests streamed in, we set to work preparing fondue pots, mixing final ingredients, and preparing drinks.

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For the next nine hours, we dipped, sipped, savored, and laughed. We enjoyed a multi-course fondue dinner, a wine tasting game that Matt and Julie had carefully prepared, and even celebrated Jeremy’s 29th birthday with Kahlua cake. The party was a success on every level. Thank you, Matt and Julie!

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Pumpkin Seed Trail Mix

December 23rd, 2009 — 8:48am

I love to make my friends homemade gifts around the holidays. There’s nothing quite like a labor of love to show your friends how much they mean to you. A few years ago I made hot chocolate kits, last year it was bottle cap magnets, and this year I opted for trail mix in a jar. I found an interesting recipe in Martha Stewart Living a few months ago for a trail mix “bursting with contrasting textures and flavors—salty pumpkin seeds, spicy ginger, crunchy almonds, chewy cranberries, rich coconut.” I made four batches of the recipe, bottled the mixture into glass jars, tied gold thread around the rim, and delivered to my friends in festive gift bags.

Pumpkin Seed Trail Mix

1 cup raw pumpkin seeds
1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
coarse salt
1/2 cup large unsweetened coconut flakes
1/2 cup whole almonds (toasted)
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup candied ginger (cut into 1/4-inch pieces)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine raw pumpkin seeds and olive oil on a rimmed baking sheet. Season with coarse salt. Toss to combine. Spread in a single layer. Toast, stirring halfway through, until golden, about 8 minutes. Place toasted pumpkin seeds, coconut flakes, almonds, dried cranberries, and candied ginger in a bowl. Mix to combine. Divide among jars, containers, or bags. Trail mix can be stored at room temperature for up to 2 weeks. Makes 3 1/2 cups.

Comment » | Kristin's Kitchen

Triathlete Christmas Ornament

December 21st, 2009 — 9:57am

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I just had to share a picture of the Christmas ornament a friend of mine gave me over the weekend. I love the aero bars and helmet. It looks just like me! What a perfect gift. The ornament is from Dana Paige Designs.

1 comment » | Racing and Training

Homemade Marshmallows

December 20th, 2009 — 6:26pm

In their cookbook, Baked: New Frontiers in Baking, authors Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito describe homemade marshmallows as a “rhapsodic pleasure”, a “cloudlike square that melts in your mouth or in your hot chocolate.” When I first found a recipe for homemade marshmallows in ReadyMade magazine a few years ago, I couldn’t believe my eyes. You can actually make marshmallows, I asked myself incredulously. Using the recipe and the following YouTube video produced by Derek and Lauren from the Curiosity Shoppe, I set to work making my first batch of homemade marshmallows. My plan was to give my friends a bag of marshmallows along with jarred cocoa powder as hot chocolate kits for Christmas.

By no fault other than my own, my marshmallows didn’t turn out quite like the ones in the video. I seem to remember cursing because I didn’t quite have enough corn syrup for the recipe. And so I hoped the amount I had would do. And since I didn’t have a KitchenAid mixer at the time, I employed a lot of elbow grease, yet make very little progress getting my mixture to look as fluffy as Lauren and Derek’s. Alas, my peppermint marshmallows turned out a little slimy and over-peppermint flavored. But my friends were great sports and acted as if they were the best thing they had ever tasted.

Gearing up for last Friday’s fondue party, I decided to try my hand at homemade mashmallows again. This time I used a recipe form Alton Brown of the Food Network. Surprisingly, marshmallows require very few ingredients and can be whipped up in a short amount of time (no baking required). But I will say that having a KitchenAid mixer on hand makes things so much easier—especially for the Food Network recipe, which requires 12 to 15 minutes of whipping!

The marshmallows were a great addition to my chocolate fondue last weekend. And the recipe made several dozen marshmallows, so I’ve been enjoying the leftovers. There’s nothing quite like homemade marshmallows. Sweet, sticky, fluffy, and flavorful. With fondue, hot chocolate, s’mores…the possibilities are endless.

Comment » | Kristin's Kitchen

(Not My) Aunt Johnnie’s Pound Cake

December 20th, 2009 — 4:10pm

december-0032Before I get into December’s iron chef fondue dinner, I’d like to share the recipes for pound cake and marshmallows that I used to accompany my chocolate fondue. I’ll start with the pound cake.

You know that Sara Lee pound cake you can buy in the freezer section of the grocery store? Well, forget about it. It tastes like frozen cardboard in comparison to the homemade variety. Surprisingly, making pound cake from scratch is relatively easy and pays dividends in taste. I found my favorite recipe for pound cake at allrecipes.com. It’s called Aunt Johnnie’s Pound Cake. And no, I don’t have an Aunt Johnnie. But that reminds me…ok, quick tangent.december-006

Several months ago, I hosted an apple-themed iron chef party and made a recipe from allrecipes entitled Grandma Ople’s Apple Pie. During the party, I repeatedly referred to the pie by that name, and pretty soon everyone there actually thought I had a Granda Ople and that the pie was some secret family recipe. Then someone asked me about my Grandma Ople, I was like, what are you talking about? I don’t have a Grandma Ople! And all my friends busted up laughing. It was pretty funny. Apparently I need to be a little more clear next time that I’m not actually related to Aunt Johnnie or Grandma Ople. Although I’m sure they’re wonderful people. december-010

Anyhow, back to the pound cake. So the first time I made pound cake a few years ago, I quickly realized where the name “pound cake” comes from. With ingredients like shortening, butter, sugar, and eggs, this cake certainly isn’t for lightweights. It’s heavy and delicious, moist and flavorful. And absolutely perfect for chocolate fondue. You can find the recipe here.

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Ironman World Championships on NBC Tomorrow!

December 18th, 2009 — 2:40pm

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NBS Sports to Air Coverage of Ironman World Championships

December 18th, 2009 — 2:03pm

thumbsNBC Sports will be airing taped coverage of the 2009 Ironman Triathlon World Championships on Saturday, December 19, 2009 at 4:30 PM ET (3:30PM CT). Al Trautwig will provide the commentary. More details at ironman.com. Following is the press release issued by NBC Sports.

IRONMAN TRIATHLON, SATURDAY, 4:30 PM ET

NBC Sports presents taped coverage of the Emmy Award-winning 2009 Ford Ironman Championship, this Saturday at 4:30 p.m. ET from Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. The show highlights 1,800 triathletes from around the world competing for the coveted Ironman title. Coverage will feature Australia’s Craig Alexander and Great Britain’s Chrissie Wellington who will both be defending their 2008 Ironman titles.

The race consists of 2.4-miles of swimming through tough ocean waves and 112-miles of biking, and a 26.2-mile marathon run through challenging lava-covered terrain. Only 100 professional triathletes are competing for the title. The rest are amateurs who are competing to either win their age group or competing just to finish.

The truly compelling and inspirational stories come from the pool of amateurs. Two stories are those of Rudy Tolson-Garcia, a double amputee who’s trying to finish the Ironman and Elizabeth Thompson, who was unable to walk 2-years ago after suffering a stroke.

Al Trautwig provides commentary.

1 comment » | Racing and Training

Snow Day!

December 18th, 2009 — 12:57pm

december-0141It almost goes without saying that once you graduate from high school, “snow days” cease to exisit from the realm of possibility in one’s life. No matter how much snow falls, you’re probably going to have to trudge to class or fight traffic and slippery roads on the way to work. In fact, prior to last week, in all of my years at UW-Madison, both as a student and member of the staff, I don’t think the university had ever closed for more than evening classes.december-0111

It’s always funny in the office when the weather is predicted to take a turn for the worst. What starts out as chatter and people anxiously peering out the windows, quickly erupts into a full panic, with many insisting that they need to leave the office ASAP and probably won’t be into work for the next week or so. Last Tuesday was one of those days. I witnessed the anxiety and excitement first hand. All day. The call to close the university on Wednesday wasn’t officially made until approximately 8:30pm on Tuesday night. I was actually still at the office at that time. We were hosting a “call-out night,” during which our student volunteers phone recently admitted students to congratulate them and see if they have any questions about the university. At one point, one of the students comes to my office and says….Uh. I just got like 17 text messages from my friends. Apparently the university is closed tomorrow. And it’s amazing how quickly that sort of  news travels. Before I knew it, UW-Madison was the number one search term on Google.

In the last few days of freedom before finals, students wholeheartedly embraced the idea of a day off from classes and the chance to frolick in the snow. On Tuesday night, students gleefully took to the streets and bars, and a few freshman scheduled a Wednesday afternoon snowball fight on Bascom hill through Facebook—which grew from a small groups of friends to a RSVP list of 6,000.

My snow day was a little less action packed. Part of me wanted to go into the office and get work done. Thus my internal debate:

Good Kristin: I know it’s a snow day. But what a perfect opportunity to go to the office and get ahead while the office is nice and quiet!

Bad Kristin: Shut up, fool. It’s a snow day. Sleep in and play! december-015

Luckily in this case, bad Kristin prevailed and I relished the opportunity to enjoy an unexpected day off from work. I slept in late. I made myself a wonderful breakfast of Blueberry Flax Pancakes and French press coffee. I baked pound cake (for Friday’s fondue party). I experimented with hot chocolate recipes. I went snowshoeing and caught a glimpse of the snowball fight on Bascom hill. And I unburried  my car. That part wasn’t fun. Ugh. I might have even turned on the TV. Gasp. And I never turn on the TV. All in all, a very enjoyable, albeit not particularly productive, winter day.

Comment » | Madtown Lovin'

Hot Chocolate Research

December 17th, 2009 — 1:49pm

december-021It’s definitely hot chocolate season in Wisconsin. With plummeting temperatures and massive amounts of snow covering the landscape, a mug of steaming hot chocolate is just what the doctor ordered.  I love hot chocolate and its warm chocolate flavor, and requisite gooey marshmallows that melt in your mouth. My fondest memories of hot chocolate are from when I lived in Aspen for a ski season after I graduated from college. Every time I went skiing (which was often), I would reward myself with a steaming mug of hot chocolate after I had completed a pre-determined number of ski runs. I’d sit and rest my weary legs and savor every last drop of chocolaty goodness. And then force myself back out into the cold. Sometimes it went on like that all day. Four runs. Hot chocolate. Three runs. Hot chocolate. Two Runs. Apres Ski. Ahhh…to be a ski bum again.

During last Wednesday’s “snow day,” I began contemplating hot chocolate and the possibility of making a cup from scratch. For years, I’ve used Swiss Miss or some other hot chocolate mix, and have been consistently unimpressed with the results. Inevitably, my hot chocolate always tastes too watered-down and bland. So with nothing else to occupy my time (and really, what better time to embark on hot chocolate research) I set to work experimenting with hot chocolate recipes. The first recipe I tried was pretty simple—cocoa powder, sugar, water, milk, and vanilla. The results were very good. Much more rich and flavorful than the standard box mix. Now I’m starting to experiment with other ingredients—all spice, cinnamon, vanilla beans, peppermint, various chocolates, etc. I’ll report back with my scientific results and favorite recipes in the coming weeks. Until then, hopefully you’ll be inspired to whip up a batch of homemade hot chocolate, too. And maybe some homemade marshmallows while you’re at it! More on that in a bit.

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