Friday, October 23, 2015

The Art of the Thank You Note



It's no secret that I'm in the midst of wedding insanity. 40 day countdown is upon us, people!

I expected the stress. I expected the financial kick-to-the-groin. I even expected the dreaded "you'll invite this person you've never met because they expect to get an invitation, even though they won't come!".

Ugh.

One thing I didn't expect? This is going to sound totally awful, but I did not expect to be so overwhelmed by the love, support, and generosity of my family and my future-family. As such, I've felt the need to really examine thankfulness, chiefly in the form of the Thank You Note.

Having written a fair amount already- and with hundreds (yes- literally hundreds) more in my near future, I found it important to develop a sort of 'formula' to keep myself from getting overly-frazzled each time I put pen to paper.

Without further ado....

Minnesota Nicely's Thank You Note Guidelines
For weddings, graduations, showers and general generosity. 

Be Prepared

First and foremost- it is never a bad idea to have an arsenal of 'Thank You' cards on hand. You never know when you'll need one spur-of-the-moment, and the faster you can get a thank you note out, the better. Check out TJMaxx or Target for super cheap, yet beautiful/fun/artistic thank you cards.

Second- keep addresses up to date. Again, you never know when you'll need to send out a card, so putting together a file of friends and family addresses is a must. Bonus- you'll be ready to send out invitations, holiday photos and birthday cards whenever the mood strikes.

Take Advantage of the Guest List

If you are sending out invitations for a shower/graduations/party/etc, print the addresses on clear labels. Trust me- this is stupid easy to do and has a great pay-off. Once you've printed the address labels for the party, print a second sheet for your thank you cards.

Thankful for Presence vs. Presents

One of my favorite wedding mishaps comes from a cousin of mine. On her invitations, she printed the standard 'So-and-so request the honor of your presences at the marriage of...", but instead of 'presence' as in attendance, she put 'presents', as in "request the honor of your gifts at the marriage of...". Eek.

Not only is this an important grammatical distinction to make sure you pay attention to, but this is also a great reminder as to what we should be truly thankful for: Presence, not presents. Your card should always strive to make sure the recipient knows that you are thankful for their thoughtfulness and their physical presence at your gathering/event. In fact, I think that this is such an important focus that I recommend 'sandwiching' your thank you with this message. Open and close the note with some form of 'thank you for your thoughtfulness/thank you for coming' to really reinforce that you appreciate their presence.

Elaborate on the Gift

When you're thanking someone for a present, be sure to include a little tidbit as to how you're going to enjoy the gift. Aunt Sally gave you a nice set of mixing bowls? Great! Let her know you can't wait to use them to make Grandma Gertrude's famous fudge recipe. Cousin Betty brought a fresh new stack of kitchen towels? Wonderful! One can never have too many towels to clean up after a fun day of baking. BFF Eliza got you that new book you've been longing for? Excellent- let her know you can't wait to take some much needed 'me time' to relax and read.

In some way or another, people want to be sure that they got you something you'll enjoy, not just something you'll use. Let your gifter know why you're thankful for their present and you'll put a smile on their face.

Enemy, thy name is Generic

When you've got 30 thank you notes to write, it can sometimes be tempting to carry on with a generic message. DON'T. Each message doesn't have to be uniquely crafted (actually, I would encourage you to have a few repeat phrases to use for each note) but there should be some personal touch included for each individual. Get heartfelt for your mom, formal for your stuffy Great Aunt, and totally chill for your friends. The recipient should be able to hear your voice in the words, so if you're writing the same note over and over again, it's going to sound less like you're sincere and more like you're a robot. Include your personality!

Example

So let's put all of this together, eh?

Dear Hannah,

I just had to take a moment to thank you for coming to my bridal shower. I'm so happy you were able to make it! It truly would not have been the same without you there.

I'm so overwhelmed by your generosity- those wine glasses are gorgeous! I can't wait for us to break them in on the next girls night. Let's not wait too long!

Again- thank you so much for being there to celebrate with me. Your friendship means the world to me, and your support over these last few crazy months has been the only thing keeping me from becoming a Bridezilla! I can't wait to party with you at the wedding!

Lots of love, girl!

See- easy enough! And if you're still struggling, go ahead and start with the underlined text. Those phrases can be the base template for all of your thank you notes, while still allowing you to personalize the message and tailor the voice of the note to the recipient.

Now get out there and thank someone!

Monday, October 19, 2015

The Ultimate Sugar Coma Breakfast

Okay guys- I promise that after this recipe I'll take a break from the cinnamon. 

Maybe.

But....


Is there anything better than waking up to a batch of warm, gooey cinnamon rolls? Before this morning, I would have said "No! Of course not! Now shut up and let me eat in peace!"

But then...

I made a Cinnamon Roll Breakfast Bake.

And I topped it with bacon.

And cinnamon sugar pecans.

And I ate entirely too much of that sticky sweet deliciousness- especially for someone who has to fit into a wedding dress in a month.

Oops.

The beautiful thing about this bake is that you can make it as 'lazy' as you want by using store-bought cinnamon roll dough (think Pillsbury) or by making your own (my favorite recipe). If you do opt to use your own cinnamon roll recipe, make sure the rolls aren't too 'wet' (i.e. minimal butter in the filling and a little firmer dough if usually very soft). This will ensure that your bake doesn't get overly soggy, and that your dough still soaks up some of the egg batter.

I highly recommend the addition of the pecans and bacon- they both provide a wonderful textural contrast to the soft cinnamon roll bites.

Cinnamon Sugar Breakfast Bake

  • 2 cans cinnamon rolls (or approximately 16 homemade rolls)
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted + 2 TB butter, melted
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 2 tsp cinnamon 
Preheat oven to 375 and grease a 3 quart baking dish with the extra 2 TB melted butter. Be sure to grease up the sides of the dish. 

Cut each roll into 4 pieces (if using homemade dough that produces especially large rolls, cut into 6 pieces) and add to baking dish. 

In a large bowl, combine all remaining ingredients. Pour over cinnamon roll pieces and bake for 25-30 minutes, until the center is no longer jiggly. 

Allow to cool for ten minutes, then top with syrup or glaze (use package glaze from store-bought rolls or make your own with heavy cream, powdered sugar, maple syrup and a touch of coffee to desired consistency/sweetness), bacon pieces and chopped cinnamon sugar pecans.  

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Cinnamon Sugar Pecans

Another cinnamon recipe?

Yes- ANOTHER! 

While the rest of the internet is obsessed with pumpkin spice this and pumpkin spice that, I've been seduced by cinnamon. 

Cinnamon is just such a wonderful flavor, and it's a perfect spice to enjoy throughout the fall and winter: cinnamon rolls, spice cake, cinnamon dolce lattes, apple cinnamon whiskey sours, and now....

Cinnamon Sugar Pecans!


Seriously, start making these right now. They will make your house smell amazing while they bake, and once they come out the of oven you'll probably have to nibble on one, two, twelve, 1/2 the pan... If you try for a pan a week, then I predict that by time the holidays roll around, you might have enough stocked up to get through at least one office party potluck.

Cinnamon Sugar Pecans

  • 1 pound pecans (3-4 cups)
  • 1 egg white
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
Preheat oven to 250. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or lightly grease with cooking spray. 

Place pecans in a large bowl.

In a medium bowl, mix together sugars, salt and cinnamon. Set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk egg white and vanilla together until frothy. Pour over pecans and toss so that all nuts are evenly coated. Fold in the sugar mixture and continue to stir until most of the mixture adheres to the pecans. 

Pour pecans out on the baking sheet (along with any residual sugar mix) and smooth to an even layer. 

Bake for 1 hour total, stirring every 15-20 minutes.

Allow to cool before storing in an airtight container. 


Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Cinnamon Spice and Everything Nice

There's a chill in the air throughout the day...

The leaves are changing and falling in my face...

I can drink coffee without sweating like a mad woman...

It's FALL!

Which means fall cocktails are in high demand. My standby has always been red wine- but then again wine is always my standby, whether it's 100* or -15*.

So let's get a little more creative, eh? Something that celebrates the flavors of fall, gets the cheeks a little rosy, and makes me forget that winter is just around the corner.


Oh hello handsome.

This little guy is a phenomenal fall twist on the traditional whiskey sour. Sweet enough to be enjoyed by those of us a bit 'put off' by anything too strong, but flavorful enough to be a proper cocktail. The real star of the show is the homemade cinnamon simple syrup.

FYI- it's called 'simple syrup' because it's like....really frickin' simple to make- so no excuses!

Also, I won't tell you to go out and buy some fancy shmancy whiskey/bourbon for this cocktail since we're mixing it with several things- HOWEVER- a good quality apple cider is a must. Look for something local, fresh and with the smallest ingredient list possible. Protip: Apples should be the first and only ingredient.

Anyway- here's the recipe. Now whip one of these bad boys up and toast to fall!

Apple Cinnamon Whiskey Sour

  • 4 ounces apple cider
  • 4 ounces bourbon/whiskey
  • 1/2 ounce fresh squeezed orange juice
  • 4 dashes bitters
  • 1 ounce cinnamon simple syrup 
To make cinnamon simple syrup: combine 1 cup water and 1 cup sugar in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and cook 3 minutes, stirring. Remove from heat, then add 1-2 cinnamon sticks (1 is a light cinnamon flavor, 2 is pretty strong but delicious!). Allow mixture to cool, transfer to a mason jar and store in the fridge until needed.

To make the cocktail: in a large cocktail shaker, combine all ingredients and a small handful of ice. Shake vigorously for 20 seconds, then strain into a tall glass filled with ice. Garnish with cinnamon sticks and sliced apples. 

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Pork Posole

It's stew season, baby! 

When the weather really begins to turn and there's a constant chill in the air, I love nothing more than coming home to a stew that has been simmering in the slow-cooker all day. The house just smells like a stick-to-your-ribs hearty dinner...what could be more comforting?

While I usually usher in fall with a traditional beef stew, I felt like doing something a little more interesting this time around. 

Addendum: the fiance is out of town for the next two weeks, and while I miss him, I find his work trips are a great time to try new recipes and either A.) have no one know about a failure, or B.) greedily devour the entire thing myself.  

This stew was definitely outcome B.


Man- this recipe was a slam dunk. I literally cannot stop eating this stew. I portion some out, heat it up, inhale the whole bowl and repeat until I'm so full I fear I'll begin to melt into my couch.

Posole- it's a dangerous game.

Pork and Hominy Stew (Pork Posole)
Adapted from Food Network Magazine 

  • 3-4 pound pork butt, bone-in
  • 2 poblano peppers, seeded and chopped
  • 1 16 oz jar salsa verde
  • 1 30 oz can hominy, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 bunch cilantro, chopped
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt, pepper
  • 2 small yellow corn tortillas 
  • Garnishes: chopped romaine hearts, 1 avocado (diced), lime wedges, sour cream
Chop pork into one inch pieces. As you approach the bone, do your best to cut around. Place pork pieces and bone/remaining meat into slow-cooker. Add in peppers, salsa verde, hominy, cilantro, chicken stock, seasoning. Crumble the corn tortillas into small pieces and add to the slow-cooker. (This will amp up the corn flavor and thicken your stew!)

Cook on low for 7 hours. Remove pork bone. Serve with a squeeze of lime, romaine lettuce, avocado and sour cream.