December 22, 2009

What I've Been Doing Lately

This season I have done a lot of baking (as you can tell by my past posts) and getting ready for the holidays. I haven't been making many meals as I have been either working or at a party. I have been working on this gift for Lou.

It's not perfect, not even close. I hope she likes it.

Well, fellow bloggers. I will be taking some time off for the holidays. You should too. Enjoy time with family and friends. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. See you soon!

December 21, 2009

Baking Party

I had a fun baking party with my in-laws this past weekend. We made way too many treats, and didn't make all that we had planned. It was just going to be the girls, but then neices and nephews and a couple husbands showed up. It was crazy, but fun!

My beautiful Sister-in-Law Aiden, and me frosting the sugar cookies.
Here are some of the treats - Ginger Cookies, Candy Cane Shortbread,  Chocolate Dipped Pretzels, and Peanut Butter Kisses. We also made sugar cookies, but we ate them before I got a picture.

They were all delicious. But I have to say my favorite were the Ginger Cookies.
Here is the recipe if you want to make some for Santa this week.

Ginger Cookies
from Paula Deen
3/4 cup vegetable shortening
1 cup sugar, plus more for rolling
1 large egg
1/4 cup molasses
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Line cookie sheets with parchment paper or nonstick baking mats. Using an electric mixer at low speed, cream the shortening and sugar until thoroughly combined. Add the egg and molasses and beat until completely incorporated. Sift together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and salt and add to the mixture. Stir until combined. Roll the dough into balls about 1-inch in diameter. Roll the balls in sugar. Place 1/2-inch apart on the prepared cookie sheets. Flatten the balls slightly with your fingertips. Bake for 12 minutes. Cool on wire racks.

December 18, 2009

Holiday Time Saver

This time of year is full of family, parties, and of course - treats. But sometimes you are hopping from one event to the next that you are feeling a little ragged, right? Well, here's a little helpful tip - take something store-bought and add something homemade. This fools people that you made the whole thing by yourself.
This was my treat to bring to a family party:

I bought these little brownies from Costco, then I made a buttercream frosting, and topped with crushed candy canes.
Here's another tip: Hand your kids a bag of candy canes (you can leave the paper on, its easier to pull off once their crushed), a rolling pin, and let them have at it!
Here's my buttercream recipe:
Buttercream Frosting
2 sticks butter, room temperature
6 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1-5 Tbsp milk
few drops food coloring (optional)

With hand mixer, beat butter until light and fluffy. Add powdered sugar and beat until texture is like small beads. Add vanilla and 1 Tbsp milk. Beat until fully combined. Continue adding milk, a tablespoon at a time until you have reached desired consistency.

Make this work any time of year: use different color food coloring and toppings (use candies, sprinkles, nuts, etc)

December 17, 2009

Pecan Toffee

People tend to be scared by candy. It's not hard. You just have to be there. So maybe try this while your kids are napping.
This is a great recipe brought to you by my mom. She used to make these every Christmas. I have made them for the past few years - even sent it to my husband (who was just a friend then) in a care package 6 years ago. I think this is what won him over.
If you don't like Pecans, you could make this like my mom - with Almonds or any other nut. The harder the nut the better (the softer ones burn easier). Or, just leave the nuts out.

Pecan Toffee
1 lb butter
2 c sugar
5 Tbsp water
1 tsp vanilla
1 c chopped pecans
chocolate for dipping
about 1/4 c finely chopped pecans for topping

Melt butter in pan, add sugar and water. Cook on medium high heat until 312 degrees. Don't stir sides. Be patient, this takes time. Remove from heat, add vanilla and 1 cup chopped pecans. Immediately, pour onto buttered sheet-cake pan (or pan lined with parchment paper). Do not scrape bottom or sides of pan. Spread to desired thickness (about 1/4 inch thick). As it cools, core into 1" square pieces. When completely cooled, break along scored lines. Dip in chocolate. Place on waxed paper and top with remaining nuts.
For easier chocolate-ing, chocolate pieces may be place on hot toffee until melted.
Sarah's Note: The scraping of sides and bottom of pan is really just for those without non-stick pans. If you have a non-stick pan, it is okay, stuff doesn't stick or burn as easily.

December 16, 2009

Peppermint Bark

This is a great last minute treat. Only takes a few minutes to prepare and is so easy. Plus, it seems kinda fancy, and everyone loves it.

Peppermint Bark
20 ounces dark chocolate
20 ounces white chocolate
10-12 candy canes, crushed

Cover jelly roll pan sheet with parchment paper, with about 2 inches hanging over on the two short sides. In a double boiler, melt dark chocolate. Spread evenly in lined jelly roll pan. Place in freezer while you prepare white chocolate.
Melt white chocolate in double boiler. Remove from heat, set aside for about 2 minutes. Remove pan from freezer. Pour white chocolate evenly over dark chocolate. Don't mess with it too much or your Brown will mix with your white. (Which gives you a marbled look, if that's what you want. I like the layered look.) Sprinkle with candy canes. Allow to cool completely.
Lift the chocolate out of the pan by the parchment paper. Break into desired sizes. Remember, it's supposed to look rustic. Don't be too uniform.

This bark is very versatile. Put in whatever you like: nuts, dried cranberries, any dried fruit, pretzels, candies, whatever you like. You could also dye the chocolate any color you like!

December 15, 2009

Mint Chocolate Swirl Cookies

I am doing these in honor of my baking party this upcoming weekend. It is a tradition in my husband's family for all the girls to get together and bake. These cookies are very fun to make and are impressive too! I took these to a cookie party at my friend, Jeri's house. I even won "Most Beautiful Cookie" and tied for "Most Festive."
Okay, a little disclosure before you start scrolling down. It is long. Don't worry about it. I just found a bunch of tips that really helped me as i went along. The purple are my tips. If this is too confusing for you, and you just want the recipe click here.

Mint Chocolate Swirl Cookies
Adapted from Food Network

Mint Dough:
½ c sugar
2 Tbsp powdered sugar
¼ tsp salt
1 egg
1 to 1¼ tsp peppermint extract
1 cup butter, at room temperature
2 c all-purpose flour

Chocolate Dough:
1¼ c sugar
¾ c cocoa powder
¼ tsp fine salt
1 c butter, at room temperature
1 egg
1½ c all-purpose flour

For the mint dough: Mix the 2 sugars and the salt together in a medium bowl. In another small bowl, whisk the egg and mint extract and set aside. With a hand held mixer beat the butter until smooth in a large bowl. While mixing, gradually add the sugar mixture, and continue beating until lightly colored and fluffy, about 1 to 2 minutes. Stop mixing and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the egg mixture and beat until smooth. Gradually add the flour, mixing slowly until blended.

Turn the dough out of the bowl, divide in half. Place the halves between 2 pieces of lightly floured parchment or waxed paper. Roll into a 10 by 12 by 1/4 inch rectangle. (tip: before dividing dough, draw with a Sharpie a 10 x 12 rectange on the back side of the parchment paper, this will make your layers the exact same size. See my pictures below. Don't forget to flip it before rolling the dough. Also, if the dough gets too sticky and unmanageable, stick it in the fridge or freezer for a couple minutes) Slide the sheets of dough/parchment sheets onto a baking sheet, and refrigerate until firm, about 2 hours or overnight.

For the chocolate dough: Whisk the sugar, cocoa, salt in a medium bowl. With a hand held mixer beat the butter until smooth in a large bowl. While mixing, add the cocoa mixture, and continue beating until lightly colored and fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes. Stop mixing and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the egg and beat until smooth. Gradually add the flour, mixing slowly until blended.

Turn the dough out of the bowl, divide in half. Place the halves between 2 pieces of lightly floured parchment or waxed paper. Roll into a 10 by 12 by 1/4 inch rectangle. Slide the sheets of dough/parchment sheets onto a baking sheet, and refrigerate until firm, about 2 hours or overnight.

Put 1 of the chocolate doughs on the workspace and remove the top sheet of parchment. (I would remove the one you rolled it out on, the one with the square. It is easier to remove while cold and your dough is probably stuck more to that peice or parchment rather than the top piece.) Brush dough lightly with cold water. Place a sheet of vanilla dough on the workspace, and remove top sheet of paper. Using the bottom piece of the paper to lift the dough, place the vanilla dough on top of the chocolate dough. Take care to line up the edges of the 2 doughs and trim as needed. Lightly press to smooth and seal the doughs together. Remove the top piece of paper. Brush the surface of the dough lightly with cold water. (By the time you get all this done your dough has probably warmed up a little, if not, wait - it is much easier to roll it up when it is a little warmer than fresh out of the fridge) Position the sandwiched doughs with the long edge facing you. Using the edge of the paper as a guide, roll the doughs into a tight cylinder, 2 inches wide. (The chocolate dough will probably crack as you roll it, just smooth it out with the warmth of your fingers, if that doesn't work, fill in the holes with the scraps you trimmed off earlier. Again, if the dough gets unmanageable or is sticking too much to the parchment, place it in the fridge for a few minutes.) Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 1 hour. Repeat with remaining 2 sheets of dough.

Evenly position racks in the oven, and preheat to 325 degrees F.
Slice the dough crosswise into 1/4-inch thick cookies. Lay about 1/2-inch apart on parchment-lined baking sheets. Bake until just golden - not too dark you'll lose the definition of the spiral, about 14 to 16 minutes.

Now, take the cookies to a party and win an award!

December 14, 2009

Christmas Candy

This were my gifts for neighbors and friends. I got the buckets at an After Christmas Sale a year or two ago. Then I bought cute tissue paper, plain celophane bags, and used these cute tags made by my talented sister - and their free! (I didn't get a picture with them). The buckets are filled with Pecan Toffee and Peppermint Bark. Those recipes are coming this week!

I did an assembly line, and whipped out 12 gifts in just a few minutes.

Get excited for these recipes to come:

Pecan Toffee

Peppermint Bark

December 08, 2009

Potato Stamps

I love this idea - it combines three of my favorite things: Food, Crafts, and Christmas! Super easy too. Just take a raw potato, cut in half, then cut out the image you want. You can use a carrot too for smaller images. This is great for kids who need a little better handle.
My mom taught me this when we were really little. It is super fun for kids and adults alike! I love buying blank wrapping paper and making it my own. 

This was one of the papers I have made. Trees are super cute and easy, candy canes, the words "ho ho ho." It would also be cute to have the person's initial of who was receiving the gift in Christmas colors. Do anything! Try it out!

December 04, 2009

What's in Season - December

When winter time comes around I feel like I spend a lot more time with the frozen produce than with fresh. While this is a great tip, there are still some items you can get that are fresh, in season, and delicious.
Here's what's in season this month:

Every year for Christmas the doctors get together and buy a box of oranges for all the nurses in Labor and Delivery. If I get a box this year, you will be seeing some Orange-themed recipes for sure!

Citrus Fruits
Brussel Sprouts
Winter Squashes (like butternut, spaghetti, or acorn)
Sweet Potatoes

December 02, 2009

Cuban Braised Beef

Still recovering from Thanksgiving? Well, this recipe is no work! (well, very little.) Put this in before you leave for work, or after the kids leave for school and its ready in time for dinner! I didn't include step by step instructions because literally it is: dump, turn on, shred, done. It also has one of my favorite features - it's cheap!

Cuban Braised Beef
adapted from Real Simple
1 28-oz can diced tomatoes, drained
2 bell peppers, sliced 1/2 inch thick (I used a red and a green)
1 onion, cut into 8 wedges
2 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp ground cumin
Salt & Pepper
1 1/2 lbs flank steak, cut crosswise into thirds
Long grain rice, cooked
fresh cilantro
Fresh lime wedges

In a 5 to 6 quart slow cooker, combine the tomatoes, bell peppers, onion, oregano, cumin, 1 1/2 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper. Stir. Nestle the steak among the vegetables. Cook covered until the meat is tender and pulls apart easily, on high for 4-5 hours or on low for 7-8 hours.
Cook rice just before serving, according to package directions.
Using two fork, shred the beef and mix it into the cooking liquid. Serve with the rice and top with the sliced avocado, cilantro, and a squirt of lime. 
* Sarah's note: This is very flavorful and is great as is. I added the lime (can you tell my non-professional word: squirt). If you wanted to add some heat, put 1 tsp of red pepper flakes in the tomato mixture.