Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Ifs

If I decorate my house perfectly with plaid bows, strands of twinkling lights and shiny balls, but do not show love to my family, I'm just another decorator.
If I slave away in the kitchen baking dozens of Christmas cookies, preparing gourmet meals and arranging a beautifully adorned table at mealtime, but do not show love to my family, I'm just another cook.
If I work at the soup kitchens, carol in the nursing homes, and give all that I have to charity, but do not show love to my family, it profits me nothing.
If I trim the tree with shimmering angels and crocheted snowflakes, attend a myriad of holiday parties, and sing in the choir's cantata but do not focus on Christ, I have missed the point.
Love stops the cooking to hug the child.
Love sets aside the decorating to kiss the husband.
Love is kind, though harried and tired.
Love doesn't envy another's home that has coordinated Christmas china and table linens.
Love doesn't yell at the kids to get out of the way, but is thankful they are there to be in the way.
Love doesn't give only to those who are able to give in return, but rejoices in giving to those who can't.
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never fails.
Video games will break, pearl necklaces will be lost, golf clubs will rust, but giving the gift of love will endure.
Merry Christmas, friends.

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Thursday, December 23, 2010


My first time making rumballs. I've never actually had a rumball prior to this occasion...

According to my husband (who has had rumballs before), these weren't bad. A bit on the dry side but not excessively so - an extra splash or two of rum would take care of that problem with no ill-effect. More rum? Yes please!

I'll probably try a different recipe next time, just to see what's out there. you have a recipe I could try?

*no source cited because I can't remember where I got the recipe...*

2 1/2 cups crushed vanilla wafers
2 tablespoons cocoa
1 1/4 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup spiced rum
2 tablespoons corn syrup
1 cup crushed almonds

Sift cocoa with 1 cup of the powdered sugar. Stir in the rum and syrup. Add crushed wafers and nuts; mix together thoroughly.

Form into balls and dredge with remaining powdered sugar.

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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Candy Cane Meringue Kisses

The first time I tried a meringue cookie I remember thinking that it was the strangest thing I'd ever put into my mouth. Food-wise, that is. I've put other fascinating things into my mouth but this is heading off onto an uncharted and most likely unwelcome tangent so I'll end it now...

...annnnd meringue candy cane kisses! So pretty, no? The texture of a meringue cookie is interesting: very light and airy but with a delicate crunch as you bite into it. These particular cookies are flavored with peppermint but you could substitute vanilla, almond, whatever you'd like, really.

Meringue cookies make lovely gifts and require the barest minimum of packaging - something that allows the receiver to see what's inside works nicely here.

I'm probably going to regret this but...what's the strangest thing you've ever put in your mouth?

Candy Cane Kisses
Canadian Living
Makes 70

2 egg whites

pinch cream of tartar

1/4 teaspoon peppermint extract

1/2 cup sugar

red or green paste food coloring

Line 2 baking sheets with parchment and set aside.
In a medium bowl, beat egg whites with cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Beat in peppermint, then sugar about 2 tablespoons at a time, until stiff glossy peaks form.

Fit a pastry bag with 1/4 inch plain tip. Use a small clean paintbrush or cotton swab to brush the inside of the bag with 2 stripes of the food coloring, opposite one another.
Preheat oven to 200F. Spoon meringue into pastry bag. Pipe 1 inch cookie kisses onto baking sheets, 1 inch apart.

Bake until cookies are dry, about 1 1/2 hours. Turn off the oven and let cookies remain in the oven another 30 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely.
Cookies will keep up to 1 week stored in an air tight container.

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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Shepherd's (or Cottage) Pie

It's not very often that we are missing something from the list of ingredients for Shepherd's Pie Cottage Pie (Shepherd's Pie is made with lamb, Cottage Pie is made with beef but I've always called it Shepherd's Pie no matter the meat).

For some reason, Shepherd's Pie rarely makes it on the menu but I'm aiming to change that. Winter is the season for hearty comfort foods such as this!

What's your favorite comfort food?

Shepherd's Pie
Simply Recipes
Serves 4

1 1/2 pounds ground beef

1 onion, chopped

1 - 2 cups vegetables (carrots, corn, peas, etc)

1 1/2 - 2 pounds potatoes (about 3 large)

1/2 cup butter, divided

1/2 cup beef broth

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

salt and pepper

Peel and quarter the potatoes; boil in salted water until fork-tender.
While potatoes are cooking, melt 4 tablespoons of the butter in a large frying pan. Saute the onions over medium heat until soft and nearly translucent. Add vegetables according to how long they'll take to cook - carrots in first, corn and peas nearer to the end of cooking time. Add the beef and saute until browned. Season with salt and pepper. Add Worcestershire sauce and 1/4 cup of beef broth; cook uncovered over low heat for 10 minutes, adding remaining beef broth gradually, as needed.

Mash potatoes in a bowl with remaining 4 tablespoons butter and season to taste. Distribute beef mixture in a baking dish and top with mashed potatoes.
Bake at 400F until browned, about 30 minutes. Broil in last few minutes of baking, if necessary, to complete browning of potatoes.

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Monday, December 20, 2010

Peanut Butter Blossoms

When I first saw a picture of these cookies I thought "I want to make those."

Then I made them.

And...meh. Don't get me wrong - this is a perfectly good peanut butter cookie recipe, and the chocolate Kiss on top is nice but...the whole package just didn't do it for me.

Have you ever made something that you had high hopes for that, in the end, didn't meet your expectations?

Peanut Butter Blossoms
How Sweet It Is
Makes 48

1 cup unsalted butter, softened

1 1/2 cups peanut butter

1 cup sugar

1 cup packed brown sugar

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

3 1/2 cup flour

2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons milk

1/2 cup sugar for rolling

48 Hershey's Kisses, unwrapped

Preheat oven to 375F.
Cream butter and peanut butter till smooth. Add sugars and cream for 2 to 3 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating till combined. Stir in vanilla. Add flour, baking soda and salt, mixing until just combined. Add milk. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes or up to 2 days.

Roll dough into 1 inch balls and roll in sugar. Place on baking sheets about 1 inch apart. Bake for 5 minutes, remove from oven and press 1 Kiss into the middle of each cookie. Return to the oven and bake an additional 2 to 3 minutes. Remove and let cool completely.

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Friday, December 17, 2010

Chocolate Espresso Snowcaps

Hold the phone. Christmas (yes, I said Christmas, get over it) is only how many days away? I'm thankful to be on top of my baking projects so far this year...yes, there have been a few recipes tossed directly into the trash (who's counting? Not me!) but I think I've finally found my kitchen mojo again, thank goodness.

So, these cookies. Did they ever test my patience. The dough is sticky and very, very soft. Do not attempt to shape them without allowing them a good sit in the fridge or even the freezer - I went so far as to return the bowl of dough to the fridge between setting up sheets of oven-ready cookies. Running my hands under cold water just before shaping helped as well.

Despite being one of the most finicky cookies I've ever made, they are delicious. I underbaked them just slightly because I prefer a chewier cookie, but even with the underbaking there is a slight crackle when biting into them. The espresso powder gave these cookies a whole new dimension that even myself, not a coffee drinker, enjoyed. However! I doubled the recipe and instead of using eight teaspoons, used only six. I suggest taking into account the preferences of those who will be eating these cookies, and use the appropriate amount of espresso powder based on that.

I was asked if instant coffee would work in place of the espresso powder and in my opinion, I do believe it's possible. My suggestion is to heat the tablespoon of milk and use it to dissolve the instant coffee granules.

What's the most finicky cookie you've ever made?

Chocolate Espresso Snowcaps
Martha Stewart
Makes 18

1/2 cup flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
4 teaspoons instant espresso powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
1 large egg
4 ounces bitter or semi sweet chocolate, melted and cooled
1 tablespoon milk
powdered sugar for rolling

Sift together flour, cocoa, espresso powder, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. In a large bowl, cream butter and brown sugar till light and fluffy. Beat in egg until well combined; mix in cooled chocolate. With mixer on low, add flour mixture gradually. Beat in milk until just combined. Refrigerate until firm, about 45 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350F. Line baking sheets with parchment and set aside. Shape dough into 1 inch balls. Pour powdered sugar into a medium bowl and working in batches, roll balls in the sugar twice, letting them sit in the sugar between coatings. There should be no dark dough visible.

Place cookies on baking sheets, 2 inches apart, and bake until cookies have spread and coating is cracked, about 12-14 minutes. Cookies will be soft to the touch. Cool cookies on wire rack.

Cookies will keep for up to a week in an airtight container at room temperature.

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Friday, December 10, 2010

Gingerbread Trees with Lemon Icing

I lamented via Twitter and Facebook how I was having a terrible, no-good baking day. Four projects, all thrown into the bin. In a last ditch effort to regain a shred of my dignity, I made the dough for these gingerbread cookies and tossed it in the fridge to chill overnight; I was hoping for better luck the next day.

This is a very basic gingerbread cookie recipe. The twist is the lemon icing which, although I was hesitant about at first, turned out to be exactly what these cookies needed.

I want to be honest about these cookies. They really are quite pretty, and once 'flocked' (get it? flocked? haha?) with the tangy citrus icing, don't taste too bad - if a bit on the under-spiced side. It's the texture I've got a problem with. My goodness but do they crumble! I experimented with baking times in an attempt to reduce the dry, crumbly texture but was not able to resolve the problem. If I make them again, I'm going to try reducing the amount of flour in the recipe as well as handle the dough as little as possible. Perhaps I'll roll them out a little thinner as well.

Once the icing has dried and hardened, the cookies can easily be packaged and given as a gift. My mother in law loves gingerbread, so another batch with the above adjustments will most likely make their way out of my kitchen soon.

Gingerbread Trees with Lemon Icing
Everyday Food
Makes 60

2 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1 large egg
1/4 cup molasses
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 1/3 cups powdered sugar
sanding or coarse sugar

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, ginger, cloves, cinnamon and salt. In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar till creamy, about 3 minutes. Add egg and beat to combine. Add molasses and beat to combine. Scrape down bowl as required. With mixer on low, gradually add flour mixture and beat till combined. Wrap dough in plastic and refrigerate till firm.

Preheat oven to 350F. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out dough to 1/4 inch thickness. Cut dough into small 2 inch wide shapes.. Arrange cookies on a parchment lined baking sheet and bake till firm and golden at the edges, 10 to 12 minutes. Let cool completely on parchment on wire racks. Cookies will keep in airtight containers up to 1 week.

In a small bowl, combine lemon juice and powdered sugar and whisk till smooth. Drizzle over cooled cookies and sprinkle with sugar, if desired.

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Monday, December 6, 2010

Tuna Salad Sandwich

A couple of years ago my parents took the whole family to California for a Disney vacation (so fun!!). Matt and I decided to try and lose a bit of weight prior to the trip so we could hit up the pool or wear clothes to beat the heat, without embarrassment.

We chose something called the ChangeOne plan and it worked really, really well for us. Together we lost a total of 40 pounds!

One of the lunch suggestions from the book is this tuna salad sandwich. Tuna sandwiches can be notoriously heavy laden with mayonnaise, eliminating any healthy aspect of the tuna itself. This recipe keeps the texture and flavor of a traditional tuna sandwich but without the artery clogging ingredients.

It's really, really good on a grainy, whole wheat bread - add some crunchy lettuce, a pickle or two and a few tomato slices, if you'd like. Listed below the recipe are a few flavor variations to consider as well.

Tuna Salad Sandwich

Serves 2

1 can white or light tuna in water, drained

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 tablespoon plain yogurt

1 tablespoon low fat mayonnaise

1 tablespoon pickle relish

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon minced onion

3 slices whole wheat bread

lettuce and tomato slices

Place tuna in a bowl and combine with the lemon juice. Add the yogurt, mayo, relish, mustard and onions and combine well.
Line 2 bread slices with the lettuce and tomato (if desired). Top each with half the tuna mixture and the remaining slices of bread.


Tex Mex: replace the relish and mustard with salsa.

Indian: add 1 teaspoon curry powder and 2 tablespoons raisins.

Italian: replace the yogurt and mayo with fat free Italian dressing.

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