Taking a Break

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

I hope all of you had a wonderful holiday with your families this year.

Our Christmas wen't pretty well, but I swear the present opening took forever!
When my brother and I were little, we would get yelled at to slow down and show off what each thing was or every gift would have been opened in less than 5 minutes flat. Reli on the other hand was so worried about what everyone else was doing, and too busy asking to open each toy right away, that I practically had to open her last few gifts myself just so that we could go eat breakfast!

"OoO, what'cha got over there?"
 

Then we headed over to my Grandparent's house for lunch where we all ate way too much 
and then enjoyed far too many cookies and desserts! 

No one could believe how big Aurelia has gotten, including us!
As soon as Ant took the picture below he showed it to me and said
"Holy Moly! She looks like a 4 year old in this one."

Oh well, at least we'll have another tiny one for next Christmas.


Over all, this was my favorite picture of the day : D
Talk about growing up...I can just hear the little teenager voice
"Are we done yet?"


Now that we are home, I've decided to take the rest of the week off from posting to catch up on everything that I slacked on while getting ready for Christmas. Besides the laundry, dishes, and general cleaning around the house, there are tutorials, book reviews, and recipes that need updating right here on the blog. 
It just seems like a good idea to start the new year with at least a little bit of organization in my life.
(and squeezing in a nap or two wouldn't hurt either!)

I'll be back on Saturday though, so good luck to everyone working on New Year's plans and parties.
Have a great week!
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Merry Christmas to All!

Friday, December 23, 2011

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I thought I would have just a little more time to post something before we left for my Dad's house for Christmas. Alas, my timetable was bumped up a bit, and I'm still not ready to go. I'm hoping that my little brother's "stolen" internet will be functioning enough to let me post about our Christmas Eve, but it is one of those deals where you have to lean to one side, stand on one leg, and stick out your tongue in order to get anything to work! So, just in case, I wanted to wish everyone a

Merry Christmas
Happy Hanukkah
Wonderful Holiday
or 
All Around Great Weekend!

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Cookie Week - Palmiers


When Ant and I lived in Rome, there was a little bakery on the corner that sold jumbo versions of these, and for me it was love at first bite! In Italian they are just referred to as "pastries" (just like half the other things in the case ; )  so for us they were just called Swirlies. I had never encountered them in the states before, so it was a few more years before I realized that most people here called them elephant ears. Imagine my delight when I stumbled upon them on Pinterest one day and realized just how easy they are to make!

(Elephant Ears) 

Ingredients:

Lots of granulated sugar
Puff pastry
Parchment Paper 

Preheat oven to 400°F. Sprinkle about 1/4 cup of sugar over your workstation. Roll out the puff pastry to about 10X12 inches. Sprinkle another 1/4 cup of sugar (and spices if using) over the dough.

Roll up the left vertical side inward, stopping in the middle of the dough. Roll up the right side of the dough. The two rolls should be meeting at the middle and touch. Press the two sides together gently and let the dough chill in the fridge for at least half an hour. Repeat with any more puff pastry you may have.


 Starting at one end, cut off pieces of the log, in slices about 1/2 inch in thickness. Lightly sprinkle sugar onto each side. Pinch and press the sides of the two rolls together to ensure that they don't unroll during baking. Place on large parchment lined baking sheets, or a baking sheet lined with a Silpat. They will increase in size dramatically, so leave plenty of room between each cookie and only bake a dozen at a time.


Set the tray in the middle of the oven. Bake for about 10-15 minutes or until the sugar has caramelized. Allow them to cool on a rack for 10 minutes. Serve and enjoy.

They didn't turn out as good as the ones in Rome, but they were pretty yummy. A lot of the sugar seemed to "melt" right out of the dough though, so next time I'd probably try a large crystal decorator type sugar.

Wouldn't they be fun with different colored sugars?

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Cookie Week - Chocolate Surprise Cookies

Thursday, December 22, 2011



I've been making these for a few years now, and they have turned into one of my families favorites. It might have something to do with the fact that the cookie part tastes more like cake than cookie, or it could just be the overload of chocolate! I know it isn't much of a surprise if the marshmallows are peaking out, but my frosting was a bit warmer than it should have been, and that made it harder to work with. Still yummy though!

Chocolate Surprise Cookies
(3 dozen)


1¾ c. Flour
¾ c. Cocoa Powder
½ t. Baking Soda
½ t. Salt
8 T. Softened Butter (1 stick)
1 c. Sugar
1 lg Egg
½ c. Milk
1 t. Vanilla
Marshmallows - (I normally use mini, but this time we cut big ones in half)
Frosting (recipe below)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Mix the flour, cocoa, salt, and baking soda in a medium bowl and set aside.
In a mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
Add the milk, egg, and vanilla to the butter and mix until well combined.
Slowly add the flour mix to the butter mix until completely incorporated.
Drop  tablespoonfuls (or cookie scoops) onto a greased cookie sheet and bake 8-10 minutes.
(The cookie will look puffed up, and like it isn't done in the center but take it out anyway!)
Press marshmallows into the warm cookies and set aside to cool.


Frosting

2 c. Powdered Sugar
4 T. Melted butter (½ stick)
¼ c. Cocoa Powder
¼ c. Milk
¼ t. Vanilla

Whisk all the ingredients together and frost the cookies when they are completely cool.


As you can see, there are no complaints about these ones around here!

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Cookie Week - Hidden Kisses

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


These are one of this year's "experimental cookies". I had never baked or even tasted them before, but they looked interesting so I thought I'd give them a try. Unfortunately, they weren't as flavorful as I thought they would be. It really tasted like there was an ingredient missing. I'm thinking that the lack of salt has something to do with it. I can't think of any other cookie recipe that doesn't call for at least a dash of salt!


We put Reli to work unwrapping the kisses, and were both surprised 
when she didn't start stuffing them straight into her mouth!

Hidden Kisses

3/4 cup butter, softened
1/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 1/2 cups flour
25 Hershey kisses
3 tablespoons confectioners' sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder

Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Combine butter and brown sugar in a medium bowl.
Beat with an electric mixer set at medium speed until light and fluffy. 
Beat in vanilla extract and cinnamon. Stir in flour.
Shape dough into twenty-five 1-inch balls and squish into flat circles. 
Place a kiss on each circle and fold dough around candy.
Arrange cookies 1 inch apart on ungreased baking sheets. 
Bake until golden, about 15 minutes.
Sprinkle confectioners' sugar and cocoa on hot cookies.
Cool cookies on baking sheets for 10 minutes. 
Transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

Flatten...


and Fold.


Kinda just looks like a blob to me.



Oh well, I guess they can't all be winners.
Have any of you ever tried these before?
What did you think, was something missing?
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Cookie Week - Peanut Butter

Monday, December 19, 2011


I'll be honest, if this wasn't my husband's favorite cookie, I wouldn't bother making it each year. I know it is one of those "classic" holiday cookies, but I tend to like a more chewy texture, and these most often end up dry and crunchy. Besides, they don't actually taste like peanut butter to me, and isn't that the whole point? Maybe I should try the peanut butter blossoms instead. Everyone seems to like those, and then I would at least get a bit of chocolaty goodness for my troubles ; )


I will share my Gramma's recipe though, just in case any of you happen to be looking for the basic Peanut Butter recipe, but if you think you have a better version, please send it over. Even Gramma admits that these tend to be on the dry side, but she thinks that is "just the way they are".


Peanut Butter Cookies

1 cup shortening (or lard)
1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup peanut butter
3 cups flour
2 beaten eggs
1 t. vanilla
2 t. baking soda
dash of salt

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Combine dry ingredients in a medium bowl and set aside.
In mixing bowl, cream together shortening, sugars, and vanilla.
Add eggs and peanut butter.
Slowly sift dry ingredients into creamed ingredients.
Roll the dough into tiny balls, place on a greased cookie sheet, and "smoosh" with a fork.
Dough can also be rolled out and cut with cookie cutters.
Bake 10 minutes. (I tend to take them out before they look done or they end up really hard!)



My quality control officer didn't seem to mind them, but I'm still not sold!
Do you have a cookie or desert that you make because everyone else loves it, but you secretly don't?
I promise I won't tell : )

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Cookie Week - Extraordinary Chocolate Chip

Sunday, December 18, 2011

I LOVE baking cookies for the holidays, so this week is dedicated to the recipes that my family and I whipped up this year. Most of these are the old standbys that most people already make, but I also like to try a few "experiments" every season as well. If you happen to have a recipe at your house that is an absolute must make cookie, please feel free to share it with me. I'm always looking for new treats to fill out my cookie plate!

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Extraordinary Chocolate Chip Cookies


The most popular cookie in the U.S. (if not all of North America) is by far the chocolate chip. Some like them crispy, some like them chewy, and most even like them raw, but for this reason most bakers wade through hundreds of versions of the basic recipe in search for the "perfect cookie". 

During college I began my ultimate search, and it was years later before I found a recipe so good that even my Gramma (our resident family baker) wanted to borrow it from me. It is golden, chewy, and most surprisingly found in almost every grocery store in America! 


Have you ever checked out the back of a bag of Gold Medal® flour?
Well you should, because that is where you just might find your most Extraordinary Chocolate Chip Cookie!

1 1/2cups butter or margarine, softened
1 1/4cups granulated sugar
1 1/4cups packed brown sugar
1tablespoon vanilla
2eggs
4cups Gold Medal® all-purpose flour
2teaspoons baking soda
1/2teaspoon salt
1bag semisweet chocolate chips

Heat oven to 350°F. In large bowl, beat butter, sugars, vanilla and eggs with electric mixer on medium speed or with spoon until light and fluffy. Stir in flour, baking soda and salt (dough will be stiff). Stir in chocolate chips.

On ungreased cookie sheet, drop dough by tablespoonfuls or #40 cookie/ice cream scoop 2 inches apart.

Bake 11 to 13 minutes or until light brown (centers will be soft). Cool 1 to 2 minutes; remove from cookie sheet to cooling rack.



Tips to make them perfect:

- Make sure your butter isn't TOO soft. Butter nuked in the microwave because you "forgot" will ruin most cookies!
- Don't leave them in the oven until they look done. They will still look a little gooey in the middle.
- Make the dough ahead of time! You can roll it into a classic "Pillsbury dough log" or use a cookie scoop to freeze individual balls that you can use later.


- If they start to get too crisp, add a piece of bread to the tin or bag and they will soften.
- make them with little kids so you can get some adorable pictures like this...



 Hope everyone is having a great weekend, and don't forget to send me your favorite cookie recipes!
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Homemade Holiday Gifts - Soap

Friday, December 16, 2011

 Back at the beginning of November I happened to find two 10 lb. blocks of melt and pour soap at the local thrift store. I had absolutely no experience with making soap, but bought one anyway. (You know how it is with craft supplies, and it was only $4.) When Ant saw the giant brick on the table that evening he was very "What is that!?" about it, and I explained that it was "Duh, a giant block of soap!" and that I had been thinking about using it to make something for my 2 tween-aged cousins for Christmas.  (I may have also mentioned that there was another 10 lb block still at the store.)

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After a few minutes to my surprise Ant says "That's a good idea! You should go get the other block tomorrow, and then make stuff for the girls, your aunt, my mom, Nana, and maybe even Gramma too!"
(I really hope none of them are reading this right now, or the jig is up!)

Anyway, after the initial shock wore off that Ant thought me making things for everyone (especially his family members) was a good idea, I ran back out and got the soap block the next morning. 

What the heck do you do when you have 20 lbs. of soap, and no idea how to make anything with it?
You goggle. A lot.

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Turns out the melt and pour process is ridiculously simple. You melt... and pour...
I should have known right?
So, I gathered all my supplies together, and got to work.


I found a few soap supplies at AC Moore and Michael's, but not much. They do both carry soap base though, so I grabbed a 2 lb. block of goat's milk and one of shea butter. Then you need a mold, a knife, a spoon, and a glass or metal bowl to melt it in. I used a measuring cup just to make life easier. 

Cut your base into chunks and place them in the measuring cup.
Zap it in the microwave for 30 seconds at a time until it is melted.
Stir in your scents and any "extras" you want to add.
Pour into a mold, spray with rubbing alcohol to kill the bubbles, and let it cool.
Ta Da, Soap!

If you are using a plastic mold you can spritz it lightly with cooking spray to make the bars easier to remove!

I had a rough time finding scents that I liked at my local stores, so I placed an online order at brambleberry.com. They have tons of scents and supplies, and were very helpful when I had questions. I ended up with; 8 scents (plus a sample they sent), 2 molds, 2 bags of citric acid (for my fizzies), and a jar of palm oil (for my sugar scrub cubes), all for about the price I would have spent on 2 presents!
How awesome is that? Score one for the homemade gifts!
All of these scents were nice except for the hot cocoa. Ant and I agreed that it just wasn't "right".


When all was said and done, this is what I had... 

That is 7 people with roughly 6 bars of soap each. Plus fizzies, sugar scrubs, and bath salts for the younger set, and 3 "manly" scented soaps for my little brother. That stuff over to the right is the "defect/leftover" pile which is just for me! And can you believe that I still have 3 lb. of soap left? 
All because I found $4 soap blocks at the thrift store!

I'm going to list all my "flavors" below, but a few notes...

-I'm very "seat of my pants" when it comes to crafting, but you can find hundreds of actual recipes on goggle.
-Things like dried herbs, ground spices, honey, powdered milk, sugars, oats, nuts, etc. can all be great add ins.
-Don't be afraid to raid your spice cabinet and pantry for extra ingredients. 
-Check out the SoapQueen website for bunches of recipes and tutorials.
-Experiment and have fun! 

Almond
goat's milk, honey, and ground almonds
(This scent came from Michael's)

Gingersnap
shea butter and cinnamon

Oatmeal, Milk & Honey
goat's milk, honey, and ground oats

Bergamot & Yuzu Fruit
(This scent came from Michael's)

Christmas Tree

Turkish Mocha
shea butter, goat's milk, cocoa powder and coffee grounds

Creamsicle
This was the sample scent I received. 
My attempts to embedd little erasers didn't go so well, 
but I forgot to spray them with alcohol.

Berry Wine

Orange Spice
ground cloves
(This is my favorite scent, and I also used it for the sugar cubes)

Now I need to get my tush busy wrapping up everything on that table.
Hope you all have a great weekend, and good luck getting your holiday projects done!

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