Hi, I'm Rachel.

A few years ago I could barely boil water.

True story.

Determined to be a kick ass wife, I developed a love for football and learned to cook in my tiny Jersey City kitchen. I spend my days working in Manhattan, my nights and weekends chasing after a rambunctious toddler, and the hours in between cooking with my husband and feeding my TV habit...oh, and I blog about it all! 

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Entries in holiday (26)


8 Holiday Party Planning Tips

I woke  up this morning to an open window in my living room. Apparently a certain someone who I live with thinks its cool to have open windows in 30 degree weather. Now I'm wrapped in a robe and blanket with frozen fingers. Brrrrr!

Anyhow, thanks for your giveaway entries yesterday! If you haven't entered yet but like cookies and sweet treats, head over to yesterday's post to enter to win a box of homemade holiday goodies! The giveaway is open until tomorrow evening and goods will ship out on Monday.

Meanwhile, I'm now in full-on holiday mode! To prove it, I even painted my nails in Essie's Loophole last night... a sweet silvery color that's perfect for the season. And in addition to enjoying our Christmas tree every evening, we are also hosting a little dinner party on Friday evening with both sets of parents. I'm excited to have them over to not only see our Christmas tree, but to also see our newly renovated apartment! No one has seen the place since we installed lighting or painted the whole thing.

I'm also mildly stressed out since I work all day on Friday and have my office holiday party on Thursday (which means there will be absolutely no work done at home that evening). Luckily, I started planning well in advance and am feeling ok about the situation. Here are my tips for smooth holiday party planning!

My Holiday {or Anytime} Party Planning Tips:
1. Take stock of who is attending, any food allergies or aversions.
For example, my parents do not really eat carbs and I know that my mother-in-law doesn’t like asparagus. I take all of these points into consideration before planning what I will make. Though I may still serve dishes with carbs (most likely) and possibly roasted vegetables (which may include asparagus), I will be sure to have plenty of other dishes and options so that everyone has plenty to enjoy. With this in mind, I start to brainstorm.

2. Think about timing before the party and when you will be cooking for the party.
If you are hosting on a Friday evening after work (as I will be), then try to pick dishes that can be made in advance (like the night before or very early morning of) and seamlessly reheated or baked off before serving. There’s nothing I hate more than cooking after guests have arrived. I simply want to throw dishes in the oven and wait for them to heat while I’m enjoying the party with my friends and family. Same goes for planning appetizers.

3. Figure out how ‘heavy’ you want to go with the appetizer portion.
If you are hosting a cocktail party, then I’d go for some heartier, more filling appetizers, like shrimp cocktail, smoked salmon, a tart cut into bite-sized pieces, small lettuce wraps or tea sandwiches. If you are hosting dinner, I’d keep the appetizer portion light. I feel terrible when someone prepares a huge, beautiful dinner but I’m too stuffed from appetizers to enjoy it.

4. Decide on cocktails.
I think it’s just as important as the food to have a stocked bar. I do not believe in breaking the bank when it comes to alcohol. If you have a few guests whom you know only drink a particular cocktail, then go ahead and have that on hand (for example, I know my Dad really only drinks rum & Coke, so I will be sure to have that for him). Otherwise, I think it’s 100% ok to simply have some wine, beer and a signature cocktail. My favorite is Prosecco (Italian champagne) or sparkling white wine with cranberry-pomegranate juice. I serve it in a white wine glass and garnish with fresh cranberries. It’s easy, inexpensive and completely sophisticated and festive. Oh and make sure to have soda on hand for non-drinkers.

5. Pick your dessert(s).

Again, I don't think you have to go crazy with a veritable Viennese table here. Pick one or two desserts (like my frosted eggnog sugar cookies, which is what I will be serving! or a cake or pie) and that's all that is necessary. For a bigger party, you can request that some guests bring desserts. Also, make sure to load up your coffee maker and tea pot before guests arrive so you can simply turn it on when it comes serving time.

5. Make a detailed list.
I create my menu (including beverages) and then make a shopping list right next to it so that I don’t miss a beat. We’ve all been in the spot where you’re mid-way through a dish and have to run out to pick up that last ingredient. I hate that! A detailed list will get you most of the way.

6. Purchase all food and liquor early.
I like to do this the weekend before, if possible. This way, you are prepped and ready to go well in advance for cooking your food. And it’s an added bonus to not have to worry about it at the last moment before you want to start cooking. Of course, if you are purchasing something like fish or meat, you will want it to be extremely fresh, so I’d leave this one thing until the day of or before to purchase.

7. Make assignments.

Everyone asks what they can bring to your gathering. So tell them! It makes it easier for your guests so they aren't guessing what you might like or want (let's face it, no one shows up empty handed anyway!), and less stressful for you to be responsible for every dish. I don't believe you have to be totally specific, but if you are light on appetizers and dessert, I think you can definitely ask guests to fill in the gaps and let them decide what they want to make.

8. Have a cocktail and/or a cookie!
Relax! It’s just your friends and family and no one expects things to be perfect. And just an added tip? They won’t be. Just make sure to enjoy yourself at your party, otherwise all your hard work is for naught. I like to mix up my own cocktail before guests arrive and take a moment to sit on the couch with my feet up. You just did a lot of work! Reward yourself and enjoy it.

So there you have it. Simple tips to keep you stress free for your holiday parties!

Questions of the Day:

How do you stay sane when it comes to party planning?

What are your favorite dishes to serve at a gathering? I haven't totally solidified my menu yet and am still on the hunt for ideas!


psst...don't forget to enter the homemade holiday goodies giveaway!


Peppermint Chocolate Fudge Oreo Trifle for One

Happy Monday all! I hope you had a fabulous weekend. We spent most of it trading out our Fall decor for Christmas, shopping for our Christmas tree, getting some serious cooking and baking done and spending a lot of time on the couch. Shaun was a bit under the weather and so it was nice to just hibernate for a while before all of the holiday craziness sets in!


So with all of this wonderful holidayness approaching, I do have one concern...my jeans size. I typically gain a few pounds around the holidays and to be honest, I'm not really at a 'happy weight' right now as it is. Throw in a number of parties (not to mention cookie baking) over the coming weeks and it's not really looking like I'll be fitting into my pants for much longer.

So in theory, I should just like...not eat all of those things that are bad for me.



The problem is that I wait all year for December and all of its goodies, so...I don't want to not eat delicious, seasonal eats. And that's why I had to find a not-terrible-for-me alternative that's just as decadent and holidayish, but without 10 pounds of butter and sugar. I'll save those for the real deal on the 24th and 25th.

This trifle was super duper easy and can be made in a snap. All it takes are a couple of Oreos, some chocolate pudding and a little whipped cream. Oh and a candy cane. Very important. It makes a large trifle for one, so you will definitely not be left hungry. I promise.

Peppermint Chocolate Fudge Oreo Trifle for One
2 Oreo cookies, crushed (I used reduced fat)
1/2 C sugar free/fat free instant chocolate fudge pudding, prepared with 1/4 tsp peppermint extract added in
whipped cream
1/2 candy cane or 1 peppermint candy, crushed

Take a small glass. Layer in one crushed Oreo, followed by 1/4 C of the pudding and a bit of whipped cream. Repeat the layers. Garnish with crushed candy canes.

Dig in. And don't forget a spoon!

So there you have it. A completely easy, low calorie dessert that you'd never ever know was off-the-charts unhealthy. And if you want to make it even more festive, I hear sprinkles make everything better :)

Questions of the Day:

How are you staying on track with eating before the holiday season?

Do you have any favorite lightened up desserts?



My Holiday To-Make List + November Foodie Penpals

One of my favorite things about the impending holiday is the copious amount of baking that I get to partake in.

Last year, I spent an entire day in December baking with my mom. We set up both of our stand mixers and went to town until her beautiful kitchen looked like this:

To me, it's simply not Christmas without cookies. For as long as I can remember, I've baked holiday cookies with my mom before Christmas and this year will be no exception. Next weekend, the baking shall commence! Of course, we have a list of our 'regulars' that must grace our Christmas party every year, but I also have a few things that I want to add to the mix this year, if not on our baking day, but at some point during the season.

Our 'Regulars':

Thumbprints (filled with raspberry jam)

Chocolate Cherry Kisses

Chocolate Crinkles/Snowflakes

Butter Cookie Cutouts

Eggnog Snickerdoodles

Seven Layer Italian Rainbow Cookies (a first for us last year, but one that is now in the permanent collection!)

We also add a few new ones in the mix to try. Last year it was Mama Pea's peanut butter dough balls, malted sandwich cookies, and red velvet sandwich cookies with white chocolate buttercream!

our cookie tray from Christmas '10

On My 'To Add' List (so far):

Marshmallows (perhaps of the peppermint persuasion)

Salted Caramels (I have a recipe I've been eyeing!)

Gingerbread Cupcakes

Something with eggnog

I'm sure I'll have more as I start scouring magazines, cookbooks and Pinterest! I can't wait to start on some baking this weekend! With so many holiday parties and gatherings coming up this month, I have no doubt that the goodies will be put to good use :)

On another fun note, today is the November Foodie Pen Pal Reveal Day! This is my first time participating and it was incredibly fun! Thanks so much to Lindsay @ The Lean Green Bean for putting this together...what a fantastic idea. For my first pen pal, I received a box of goodies from Emily @ As Dreams Become Reality. I am so happy to have found Emily and her blog because she is simply adorable and we clearly have similar tastes, based on her care package :) I opened the box to find her sweet note...

So incredibly thoughtful to not only send me lots of pumpkin & peanut butter goodies but to also include Shaun! Very sweet :) Let's take a peek at the goods, shall we?

In the mix: Trader Joe's pumpkin butter, pumpkin spice granola & tempting trail mix, Clif MoJo bars in mountain mix & pb pretzel, some Tazo tea bags in calm and cinnamon spice and some pb packets, including Justin's & PB & Co.

Wow! Isn't that a great mix of goods? You know I dug right into all of it, especially that pumpkin butter! How perfect for the season. I also thoroughly enjoyed the Clif bars post workout this past weekend :) Thanks so much to Emily for such a great box of goodies!!

If you want to learn more about Foodie Penpals, or to join up, check out Lindsay's blog today for info, and also for a whole lotta links to other Penpal write ups!

So there you have it! Lots of fun and yummy things happening this week in the Humiston house :)

Questions of the Day:

What's on your baking list this season? Anything I should be including on my list?

Have you ever had a pen pal? I had a French pen pal in middle school via my French class. It was so cool to get letters from a girl my age in another country!