Christmas Collab 2017

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Every year, a few days before Christmas, J and I stuff gifts and bags and suitcases and winter coats into our little car and brace ourselves for the trek north. Christmas has been and always will be one of my favorite holidays, but the older I get, the less magic it seems to hold. 

As a child, there was no Christmas tree that greeted me on Christmas morning, no stories of Santa Clause and his reindeer and the elves at the North Pole, no Christmas movies, but somehow, the whole month of December, and especially Christmas morning, still arrived at our small little community tinged with gold, draped in tinsel. . . with a flurry of magic. 

Family gatherings were loud and messy, full of 12-foot tables groaning under the weight of enough food to feed a literal army. Each year we couldn't wait for the gift exchanges, snow angels after lunch, and card games with stolen cups of coffee that were mostly just filled to the brim with french vanilla creamer. And then, at about 8 or 9 p.m., we'd pack up bicycles and buggies with unwrapped gifts and half-eaten tins of sugar cookies while making one last sprint to tag a cousin and scream "not it!" while mothers yelled in the background to get going. Then we'd dash out the driveway with tired bodies and full hearts, already counting down to next year.

I don't know about you, but I now sometimes find myself spinning in circles, bewildered at where that childhood joy of Christmas ran off to hide. Maybe it was the naiveté of childhood that we saw Christmas without stress and worries and comparison and drama. Maybe we just didn't understand how difficult and financially painful it was to plan, organize, and host events and parties while we just got to reap the reward of the hard labor.

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Or maybe there's a reason why children often have more joy at Christmas than adults. Maybe it's the same reason why God said that we must become like little children if we are to enter the kingdom of heaven. 

Children see clearly. Their souls aren't yet tarnished by the ways of the world. They haven't quite learned all the rules; their unbridled joy hasn't been tamed yet. 

This year, I want that unbridled joy back again. I want to see Christmas clearly again—not just for the sweetness of time with family and tables loaded over, I want to see Christmas for the desperate sacrifice that the Father made in parting with His only Son. I want to see Christmas for the beautiful redemption it provides, the reconciliation to God it enables, the eternal promise of glory it offers.

As you contemplate and celebrate the birth of our Savior, I encourage you to see it once again through childlike wonder, to let your heart swell unbridled with joy, to sing loudly without care of what others think. And perhaps, if we seek the most humble of spirits, in the most earnest of faith, you and I can see clearly this Christmas without the worldly care that too often blurs and taints adulthood perspectives.

Christmas Collab 2017 Recipe Guide

A week ago, Katie Ann and I put together the Christmas collab, and as I cooked and stirred and baked, memories of Christmases and shared meals and snow games flooded in. I can't wait to make more memories with my loved ones this year, and my hope is that these recipes help you make sweet memories around the table on Christmas morning or any day of the month that you need to feel a little closer to the real meaning of Christmas. 

You can also head over to Katie Ann's website to check out her end of the collab, complete with Christmas DIYs and an incredible Christmas morning cocktail. 

Christmas Scones

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These Christmas scones are a variation of Pinch of Yum’s amaaaazingly delicious blueberry scones. There was a period earlier this year where I made those blueberry scones every single Saturday morning. And they were almost always gone by nightfall. Her recipe is so good, that there’s nothing to improve upon except for seasonal variations.

Ingredients
2 cups flour
½ cup sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
½ tsp nutmeg
½ cup butter
1 egg
½ cup heavy cream + a few extra tablespoons
½ cup dried cranberries
½ cup crushed pistachios
Raw sugar

For the Icing
1 cup powdered sugar
1 tbsp water
2 tbsp heavy cream

Directions
Preheat oven to 400°. Mix flour, sugar, baking powder, and nutmeg together. Cube the butter and add to the dry ingredients. Blend in well using a pastry cutter or by leaving your stand mixer on low for a good five minutes. Your dough should look like a mound of fine crumbs by now. If not, continue mixing or blending.

Mix the egg and heavy cream together in a separate bowl and add to the crumb mixture while the mixer is on low. Continue mixing until just combined. Lastly add the cranberries and mix just until combined. Plop the dough onto a well-floured surface and roll out into circle, until a little less than an inch thick. Cut like a pie into equal triangles. I usually get about 8-10, depending on the size I want.

Transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet and brush the top with the extra heavy cream. Sprinkle the raw sugar on top and bake for 18 minutes. I like them a little undercooked for a softer bite. If you like crunchier scones, bake for an extra 2-4 minutes.

While the scones are baking, combine the powdered sugar with the water and heavy cream and beat until smooth. To assemble the scones, place the cooled scones on a serving platter and drizzle the icing across the top. Sprinkle with crushed pistachios and serve with fresh coffee to the pajama-clad loved ones crowded around the tree!

Shakshuka

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Shakshuka has piqued my curiosity for awhile now, and after messing around with it for a few times, I couldn’t resist the temptation to serve it for the Christmas collab. It’s a simple dish by nature, but so delicious, combining some of my most favorite ingredients (read: cilantro, cumin, and tomato) with breakfast elements.

Ingredients
1 yellow onion
1 green pepper
2 cloves garlic
1 28 oz can of diced tomato
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp coriander
Salt and pepper
½ bunch of cilantro
¼ cup olive oil
4-5 eggs

Directions
Heat olive oil in pan over medium heat. Add diced onion and pepper and cook until translucent, about 10 minutes. Add minced or smash garlic and cook for another 2-3 minutes. Add tomatoes and stir to combine. Add seasonings and let simmer for at least 15 minutes. Add chopped cilantro and let simmer for another five minutes. Add olive oil and stir to combine. Lastly, create wells in the tomato mixture and drop in cracked eggs. Cover and let cook for about 3-5 minutes, depending on consistency desired for the eggs. Serve immediately with country bread or oven roasted potatoes.

Green Shakshuka

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To get into the Christmas spirit, add a green shakshuka to the table. The key to this dish is to be quick on your feet and not let it overcook. If it sits on the stove for too long, it’ll get dark in color, just like deflated Christmas cheer on December 26.

Ingredients
1 yellow onion
1 bunch of spinach (or 1 bag of spinach)
½ bunch of cilantro
3 cloves garlic
1 jalapeno
¼ cup olive oil
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp coriander
Salt and pepper
3-4 eggs

Directions
Heat olive oil in pan over medium heat. Add diced onion and cook until translucent, about 10 minutes. Add minced or smash garlic and cook for another 2-3 minutes. While onions and garlic are cooking, combine spinach, cilantro, garlic, jalapeno, olive oil, cumin, and coriander in blender and blend until completely smooth. Add to pan with onions and stir to combine. Add salt and pepper to season to taste. After mixture is heated through, create wells and drop in eggs. Cover and let cook for about 3-5 minutes, depending on consistency desired for the eggs. Serve immediately with country bread or oven roasted potatoes.

Oven Roasted Potatoes

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Ingredients
1 yellow onion
3 cloves of garlic
6-7 medium red potatoes
Salt and pepper
Olive oil

Directions
Preheat oven to 400°. Heat olive oil in pan over medium heat. Add diced onion, cook for 10 minutes or until translucent. Add minced or mashed garlic to the onions and cook for 2-3 minutes longer. Add chopped potatoes to the pan, season with salt and pepper, and cook until potatoes are softened, about 15 minutes. Transfer to a cooking sheet and bake for 15 min, stirring potatoes halfway through. Broil for an extra two minutes for extra crispiness. Transfer to serving bowl and enjoy immediately.

Country Bread

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Baked in little mini tins, this bread is sure to catch the attention of your guests and their stomachs. Don’t slice the loaves, simply encourage everyone to rip into their bread. Merry Christmas, ya filthy animals.

Ingredients
2 cups flour
1 tsp yeast
1 tsp salt
1 cup warm water, 120°

Directions
Mix the yeast, flour, and salt together. Add the warm water and stir to combine well. Cover and let rise for two hours. (THAT’S RIGHT, NO KNEADING REQUIRED) After two hours, separate dough into three equal tins and let rise for another hour. Bake for 350° for 45-50 min. If you’re unsure of whether or not they’re done, you can test your loaves by knocking on top of them. When they sound hollow, they’re done!

Overnight French Toast

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This french toast has three parts to it--the custardy bread, a caramely drizzle, and a crispy, crunchy streusel topping. Nothing is wrong in a world with this french toast in it. NOTE: This has to sit overnight, it’s what makes the soaked bread into a custardy goodness.

Ingredients
1 loaf of Texas Toast bread (don’t get just the regular bread, go Texas Toast here)
6 eggs
1 ½ cup milk (I used almond milk)
½ tsp cinnamon

For the caramel:
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup white sugar
½ cup butter
2 tbsp heavy cream

For the topping:
½ cup butter
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup flour
1 tsp cinnamon

Directions
Rip the bread into small pieces and toss into a 9x12 pan. Combine the eggs, milk, and cinnamon and dump over the bread mixture. Cover with plastic wrap and let it chill in the refrigerator overnight.

The next day, preheat the oven to 350°. To prepare the caramel, melt the sugars with the butter over medium heat. Bring to a boil, stirring continuously, until the sugar is dissolved—just a few minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the heavy cream. Let cool.

Next, combine the brown sugar, flour, and cinnamon in a bowl. Using a pastry cutter, cut in the butter until you have combined pieces about the size of peas.

Take out the pan of soaked bread and drizzle the caramel sauce across it. Sprinkle the topping evenly to cover and bake for 50 minutes. Remove and let cool. Serve with maple syrup for added sweetness (as if it really needs it).